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Open Thread 63.75

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496 Responses to Open Thread 63.75

  1. Spookykou says:

    Could anyone tell me if the legal system I often see in fiction of a single law man who basically acts as law enforcement and judge, was ever actually used, and if so, is there a name for it? The two primary examples I am thinking of are fictional accounts of ancient china with magistrates who acted primarily in isolation and with the authority of the emperor, and a fictional understanding of the wild west, with local sheriffs filling a somewhat similar role.

    The best example of this idea that I know of is the Judge Dee novels.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      The Roman office of censor is, perhaps, a weak example of this.

      An elected office, the censor was one of the most dreaded because he had the sole right to remove citizens from the list, and was charged with maintaining traditional Roman morality.

      Censor’s punishments were not judicial punishments, though, I don’t believe – instead they would make one ineligible for rank or office, or remove someone from the list of citizens. In other words, they did not hold judgments of life and death in their hands. However, they were essentially independent in their actions, being guided by only their own consciences. The only check I know if is that censors had to publish the reason for inflicting their mark on a citizen, and both censors had to agree that it was deserved.

      I wonder, if there’s someone more familiar with the minutiae of Roman law than I am, if there were occasionally officials empowered by the emperor to venture into the provinces and act essentially as the personal representatives of Law, during the imperial period?

      (Come to think of it, a law man bringing civilization to the wilds of the Gallic frontier, Dacia, or Armenia might make for a fun story even if it never happened)

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        I wonder, if there’s someone more familiar with the minutiae of Roman law than I am, if there were occasionally officials empowered by the emperor to venture into the provinces and act essentially as the personal representatives of Law, during the imperial period?

        What do you mean by this?

        A governor? The Roman Empire did have governors. Anything of a lower tier than that? Usually, no. The Romans had very, very little interest in performing much nation-building or enacting empire-wide legislation beyond military and some economic matters. They expected some token worship of the imperial cult to happen just to be sure people would stay loyal, but other than that, Rome had better things to do than to ‘teach’ some ‘savages’ how to wear a tunica. For those inhabitants of the empire who weren’t part of their local elites, Roman rule was rather distant.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          I meant essentially anything below the level of proconsul, who as I understood it had quite wide leeway in making and enforcing laws within his province (answerable to the emperor, of course). But he, like you pointed out, would essentially never concern himself with the sort of day-to-day interference in the provincials’ lives that you see with, say, the sheriff of a classic Western town.

          I was wondering if there were ever any comparatively minor officials empowered to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the provinces on behalf of the imperial administration, as a potential answer to Spookykou’s question. I don’t think there were, but I’m not an expert.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Nope. In the 1st century AD especially, the imperial administration was tiny; Rome itself didn’t even have a thousand people we’d call civil servants. The things that administration was concerned with were rather large concerns: the inflow of grain from Egypt, secession, taxation, and the like. More low-tier offenses were left for the people of a province to deal with themselves.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Anything of a lower tier than that? Usually, no.

          What you’re describing matches up very closely with my understanding of the Principate period (Augustus through the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century), but there was a radical shift in attitude and institutions during the Dominate period (Diocletian through Justinian or Heraclius), one of the big features of which being direct imperial rule of the provinces by a centralized bureaucracy.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Well, sort of. The bureaucracy was more centralised, yes, but this again focused on military and economic matters. You have a governor who makes sure a province brings in enough money and soldiers for the Empire’s good, but no such thing as some capital-appointed sheriff who solves crime or somesuch.

          • Eric Rall says:

            That makes sense, although I’d imagine there would be some overlap. For example, how would enforcement have been handled for Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices?

          • DavidS says:

            My understanding – entirely from the History of Rome podcast – was that it wans’t massively enforced. But I also get the impression that with less bureaucracy a lot of laws (including sometimes the religious orthodoxy ones) became a case of “If you break the laws and annoy people then they can denounce you to local roman authorities who then might or might not intervene depending on various other factors’. Rather than systematic hunting for lawbreakers, breaking laws makes you vulnerable to rivals/enemies.

    • Eric Rall says:

      This model applied to an extent in Medieval Europe, where in many times and places there wasn’t a clean distinction between executive and judicial aspects of government. In theory, a lord with powers of justice would be responsible both for enforcing local laws and judging those accused of violating them. The scope of the punishments under a lord’s judicial powers varied, described as “High, Middle, and Low Justice”: the lord of a manor might have Low Justice only (judging day-to-day matters and imposing minor fines or corporal punishment), while a King or Emperor would have High Justice powers (full judicial authority, including the ability to order capital punishment).

      The modern distinction between roles grew out of different ways of delegating pieces of a lord’s authority. In England, for instance, Kings started pretty early delegating their law enforcement authority to Sheriffs (county-level officials primarily responsible for calling out and commanding the militia) and their judicial authority to Judges who would ride circuit around the country to hear cases. I’m not sure exactly when and how the model was extended to lower levels of justice.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Now that I’ve actually done some thinking rather than talking about Rome a bit, this kind of thing did happen. It describes some instances of inquisitions very well.

      • Spookykou says:

        Yes I can see that, inquisitions seem to have an element of independence to them, deriving their authority directly from the highest authority in the land. Which might be a better phrasing for what I am getting at. A highest authority of law and justice that then empowers individual people to act as agents of that authority.

    • I think the Judge Dee novels give a reasonably accurate picture of the system. Van Gulik was a scholar as well as an author.

      The magistrate was, in effect, both chief of police and judge. On the other hand, he was subject to Imperial control, in part through the office of the censorate. People who did very well in the Imperial exams–as in the top few thousand results out of a population of a hundred million or so–might get to be magistrates. People who did even better got to be censors, with the job of checking up on the magistrates to be sure they were doing their job and not corrupt.

    • Hetzer says:

      Could anyone tell me if the legal system I often see in fiction of a single law man who basically acts as law enforcement and judge, was ever actually used, and if so, is there a name for it? The two primary examples I am thinking of are fictional accounts of ancient china with magistrates who acted primarily in isolation and with the authority of the emperor, and a fictional understanding of the wild west, with local sheriffs filling a somewhat similar role.

      I know nothing of ancient China, but in the old west such a person was a “justice of the peace”. Roy Bean is the only real-world example of such a person I can recall at the moment, and I’m not sure how prevalent the practice was. What I can tell you is that if your first thought upon hearing about this practice was “Oh dear, so much power vested in one person could really get out of hand”, you win a cookie.

      Bean did not allow hung juries or appeals,[10] and jurors, who were chosen from his best bar customers, were expected to buy a drink during every court recess.[11] Bean was known for his unusual rulings. In one case, an Irishman named Paddy O’Rourke shot a Chinese laborer. A mob of 200 angry Irishmen surrounded the courtroom and saloon and threatened to lynch Bean if O’Rourke was not freed. After looking through his law book, Bean ruled that “homicide was the killing of a human being; however, he could find no law against killing a Chinaman”.[10] Bean dismissed the case.[10]

      From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Bean

  2. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    So two open threads ago, in the God subthread, someone linked to what I thought to be quite an excellent explanation of the Argument From Motion, and now I’ve been wandering around Aquinas, Augustine, and Aristotle all day.

    I’d love more classical philosophy in this threads (and less, y’know, US partisan politics, I can get that any damn place).

    If anyone has any other fun arguments/debunking/explanations of the Five Ways, I’d love to explore those. Or arguing about the Forms. Once, a few months ago, we had a decent little discussion of whether or not Plato’s Republic was intended as a serious political treatise or a metaphor for the human soul.

    Or we could do Asian philosophy! Anything, really. If I’d known I would stumble into the start of one of these threads (instead of five days late, as usual), I’d have come more prepared. Maybe next time.

    • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

      There’s quite a long thread still going there about whether metaphysics is actually possible, if you’re looking for more or want to get your hands dirty.

      I’d love more classical philosophy in this threads (and less, y’know, US partisan politics, I can get that any damn place).

      I think even abstract considerations about whether Forms exist has political undercurrents. Maybe seeing what sides are taken on this will be a good way of testing that hypothesis.

      • Dabbler says:

        Where is the thread about whether metaphysics is actually possible? I’d like to know please.

      • Mark says:

        Metametaphysics.

        So, is it correct that you are defining metaphysics as a deductive process that tells us something important about the structure of reality, and asking whether such a thing can exist?

        As I understand it, you believe that there is a problem, in that the fundamental object of a metaphysical argument cannot be (or hasn’t been) clearly defined, and therefore cannot be used for a solid deduction.

        But if the objects of a metaphysical argument are empty abstract terms, that we can then (individually) associate with some sense data, or intuition, I’m not really sure why that should be a problem.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        There’s quite a long thread still going there about whether metaphysics is actually possible, if you’re looking for more or want to get your hands dirty.

        It might be easier to continue it here, to save everybody the trouble of clicking through.

        Anyway, you’ve asked a couple of times how “a string of characters can be metaphysically meaningful”. I’ve still got no idea what your problem is, or why you’re asking it. We communicate meaningfully using strings of characters all the time — and I assume you agree, otherwise spending your time writing strings of characters on this site would be a rather eccentric use of your time — and I see no reason why this should suddenly become problematic when those strings of characters are about metaphysics. Sure, there’s the possibility that you’ll make an argument with some ambiguity in it somewhere, but rejecting metaphysics tout court seems a bit extreme, akin to throwing your hands up and declaring that, since everything we say is open to misinterpretation, meaningful communication is therefore impossible, and everybody should spend their lives in silence.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          At the risk of confusing the issue: the question of whether “a string of characters can be metaphysically meaningful” has itself been up for debate. First off, the proposition itself is ambiguous, but this can pretty quickly descend into some snarly cubbies, so I’ll take a risk and assume you mean “a string of characters can bear meaning”, and not require that meaning to be “metaphysical” – whatever that might mean. (I’ve met professional philosophers who would literally argue with you over this.)

          Anyway. Characters bearing meaning takes metaphysicists to all sorts of fun places, such as whether it’s the characters bearing them, or if it’s more correct to think of the characters as forming strings which then associate with language-independent referents, which may then be related to each other to form propositions, which are the primary truth-bearers. And then they argue about how contextual referents (e.g. pronouns) figure into that; what it means to wrap a proposition in a contextual frame (“Bob is ill” vs. “Bob is ill at 4 a.m.”), etc. etc. etc. I have a book on my shelf that devotes an entire thirty-page chapter to this.

          If this all feels like a lot of twaddle to you, then I could genuinely submit that this might be what ASPAGR was getting at, in part. And if not, well, I could offer this as one sense in which metaphysicists have a really hard time producing any concrete axioms – a lot of the literature reads like an exploration of fractal rabbit holes. And I say this as someone who actually produced some operational stuff from it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Maybe, but then that’s a discussion over which metaphysical theory is correct, not whether metaphysics per se is valid.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            That’s kinda my feeling, too. I don’t see anything that wrong with metaphysics; it’s just relatively new. Physics had some of the same growing pains for centuries.

            The one special problem I see metaphysics having is that the name-referent problem appears to be a first class challenge. In physics, you can say “electron”, and other physicists know what you mean, even if they might dispute that there are electrons. But some metaphysicists will question whether names can even be mapped to referents in that way. (In our work, we just muscled past that with an argument that this was all in the context of using databases anyway.)

          • StellaAthena says:

            What do you mean metaphysics is “new”? Metaphysics is one of the oldest fields of knowledge! Metaphysics probably predates physics significantly, depending on when you want to consider physics as having started.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Sorry; I am of course well aware that metaphysics has been a thing since Aristotle… maybe what I should have said is that metaphysics hasn’t really been “scientificated” until recently? I think even that’s not quite right, but I at least get a strong sense that physics has a sort of dominant mainline school of thought, whereas metaphysics has multiple parallel schools running, because there are no good experiments they can propose to knock any of those schools out.

          • StellaAthena says:

            In light of that, can you clarify your previous comment because I don’t understand how that makes sense in the new context. Also, what does “scientified metaphysics” mean to you?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Sorry again – I could have sworn I’d seen the term “scientificated” coined here (and that you’d even seen it yourself), but now I can’t find it, so…

            …I meant that physics has a strong scientific methodology driving the way it produces truth, and seems to have had that since a bit before Newton (or Bacon, depending on where one wishes to draw the line). Observation, then hypothesis, then experiment, then test, then evaluate. AND if you want to posit truth any other way, it’s universally understood that you’re on theoretical ground and if the universe indicates otherwise, then your position is refuted, and you accept those terms and all in all it’s a grand game from which everyone has derived great value.

            From a layman’s perspective, I view chemistry to have been scientificated at about the same time in history. Astronomy, somewhat beforehand. Biology and medicine, measurably after – scholars were grasping at straws a bit longer there, until people like Pasteur and Watson and Crick were able to turn more of the lights on. And I see metaphysics as later still, having to wait on Russell and Searle and Quine and others.

            To be glib at the expense of clarity, a field is scientificated when it has acquired some universally recognized experiments under its belt for turning up truth. Fields like biology and medicine (and computer science, et al.) had to wait for the tools to arrive. Metaphysics appears to have this added challenge, where its very definitions aren’t quite gelled – to my mind, an interesting innate feature of the domain. (Metaphysics is the only domain I know of where “what is truth?” is itself a nontrivial question.)

        • Andrew G. says:

          It might be easier to continue it here, to save everybody the trouble of clicking through.

          So, what is your example of a “rigorous” metaphysical argument? I continue to maintain that no such thing can exist.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Premise 1: Here is one hand,
            Premise 2: And here is another.
            Conclusion 1: There are at least two external objects in the world.
            Conclusion 2: Therefore, an external world exists.

            Here, it is baked into the definition of “hand” (or “here” if you prefer) that hands are objects. Implicitly there is a Premise 3: “I am not a hand.”

            Alternatively, we have this more succinct one:

            Premise 1: If God exists then the world exists
            Premise 2: The God exists
            Conclusion 1: The world exists

            Presumably you’re going to say “that’s not what I mean by rigorous. Prove your premises.” Congrats, you can now refute every argument you will ever hear in your life as being insufficiently justified. This isn’t just a metaphysics problem. This is a science problem, and a math problem, and an everything problem. That doesn’t seem like a very useful to do though.

            Most of metaphysics isn’t about rigorous arguments. It’s about trying to convince yourself and others about reasonable assumptions. An iconic example of this is free will. Pretty much everyone in the free will and determinism debates agree on the logical consequences of various beliefs. The disagreement is about what words like “free will” and “determinism” should mean, and then if those definitions make the sentence “I have free will” true or false.

            Relatedly, I would recommend this short video about magnets which I think explains this remarkably well.

          • skef says:

            If only our host would put “definition” on the banned words list for a couple months.

            How about “baked into the concept of ‘hand'”?

            (But WRT to the other point, I don’t think there’s a general consensus that the debate over free will and determinism is semantic.)

          • StellaAthena says:

            Ah yes, “concept” would have been a better thing to say than “definition”

            I’m not saying it’s just semantic. It is partially semantic, and it’s partially about if various premises are true. We aren’t sitting with a set of axioms and arguing about the conclusions. We are sitting with three sets of axioms and saying “yes your logic is fine, but your axioms aren’t true” (plus a semantic layer on top of that).

            I’m a compatibilist. I understand why libertarians and hard determinists believe what they believe, I just think that they are wrong about basic facts about the universe (including the proper way to define the concept of free will). They’re not reasoning poorly, their basic facts are wrong.

          • skef says:

            Not the problem, but a problem with using logical proof as a model for argument or disagreement is that it’s almost always a hyperbolic comparison. If it were literally premises that people disagreed about then debate would quickly, and on both sides, shift to those premises. People often can’t enumerate their premises — reasoning is messier than that. And many of our conclusions are probabilistic rather than certain.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Well, yes. It does shift to being about premises and definitions. Which is why works of metaphysics generally spend more time arguing that their assumptions and definitions are reasonable and should be accepted by the reader than they spend articulating the logical consequences of their beliefs.

            (Am I misunderstanding? It feels like you’re objecting to what I’m saying but I don’t really see how it’s an objection)

          • skef says:

            What are the “basic facts” they have wrong?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            So, what is your example of a “rigorous” metaphysical argument? I continue to maintain that no such thing can exist.

            All physical objects undergo change.
            All things that undergo change are contingent.
            Therefore, all physical objects are contingent.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Libertarians are generally attached to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities as a description of free will (an action is free if the actor could have done something else). I think that this is a bad definition of free will, for the usual compatabalist reasons. Thomas Aquinas articulates it pretty well in On the Free Choice of the Will.

            Hard Determinists are wrong about determinism being true, insofar as determinism means “the future states of the universe are totally determined by the present states.” I think that that is a factually incorrect description of the world. Notably, none of Copenhagen QM, GR, or classical mechanics fits that criterion. I believe that they also generally take a PAP inspired view of free will.

            I’m on board with whoever (I think it was Hume) argued that free will consists of being determined by ones internal states in an appropriate way. I cannot flesh out exactly what this looks like because my view is still under construction, but I definitely reject PAP. I think determinism is false, but that it’s not inconceivable that determinism is “functionally true” for this conversation. Notably, when talking about free will we usually are concerned with everyday scales which handles some of the QM issues by a combination of the law of large numbers and indistinguishability. GR indéterminism likewise doesn’t seem particularly relevant to human action. Therefore it’s plausible that human action is determined, or is roughly determined, or something like that. If I were to be convinced that human action is determined, that would not destroy by belief in free will.

            If I believed that PAP was the right way to define free will, and I believed that we self-evidently have free will, then I would believe the libertarian conclusions. If I believed that PAP was the right way to define free will and I believed the universe was deterministic, then I would believe the hard determinism conclusions.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Well, yes. It does shift to being about premises and definitions. Which is why works of metaphysics generally spend more time arguing that their assumptions and definitions are reasonable and should be accepted by the reader than they spend articulating the logical consequences of their beliefs.

            To put it another way: in metaphysics, the justifications for the existence of things IS the goal. (At least, today.)

            In physics, everyone at least agrees on observation and logic, and also agrees on what things can be observed – balls rolling, leaves burning, etc. In metaphysics, the bottom sorta drops out on what can be questioned – only observation and logic are left, like we’re mathematicians trying to build everything from just a compass and straightedge.

            This is rather daunting – like being told you can’t build houses anymore, after you’d been building them all the while, because now you’re forced to build wood.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ StellaAthena:

            Premise 1: Here is one hand,
            Premise 2: And here is another.
            Conclusion 1: There are at least two external objects in the world.
            Conclusion 2: Therefore, an external world exists.

            This argument isn’t rigorous, not because the premises aren’t proved, but because the conclusions don’t follow from the premises.

            Premise 1: If God exists then the world exists
            Premise 2: The God exists
            Conclusion 1: The world exists

            This argument doesn’t appear to contain any metaphysics.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Do you agree with “If the external world doesn’t exist, then objects don’t exist”? Or, perhaps more productively, why do you think the conclusion doesn’t follow?

            Why is the second example not metaphysics? Do you also not like the Original Mr X’s example?

          • quanta413 says:

            I can see an obvious objection. You’ve smuggled in at least one additional premise that is required to make the argument work.

            Premise 3: A hand is something that exists in the external world.

            To be honest though, to me this argument feels like window dressing on empiricism more than actual metaphysics. I mean you’re talking about hands and assuming they are things that exist in the external world.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ Mr. X:

            (1.) All physical objects undergo change.
            (2.) All things that undergo change are contingent.
            (3.) Therefore, all physical objects are contingent.

            Consider (2). Is this intended as a premise, or as a deduction from the nature of the concepts “change” and “contingent”?

            If it’s just a premise, then this argument is just logic.

            If on the other hand it’s intended to be derived from generally applicable concepts of “change” and “contingent”, then it’s not rigorous: you can’t pin down “change” and “contingent” tightly enough to exclude the possibility that something might change necessarily, or exist necessarily while still changing. (We even have examples, e.g. from applying the hairy ball theorem to physical quantities.) You can of course adapt your definitions of “contingent” and “necessary”, but then you are tweaking your definitions to fit the argument.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            A contingent being is one that might have been otherwise. If something changes, then it must be contingent, because it could have been (was) other than it is.

          • StellaAthena says:

            @quanta I think that rather than thinking of it as an extra premise, it’s really part of the concept of hand. Hands are objects. “is an object” is part of what it means to be a hard. Thus since I know that this is a hand, i know a hand exists, so I know an object exists. Therefore there must be an external world in which those objects exist because objects require a world to exist in.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ Mr. X:

            A contingent being is one that might have been otherwise. If something changes, then it must be contingent, because it could have been (was) other than it is.

            Suppose something necessarily exists but has other contingent properties. Do you classify it as contingent?

            Suppose something necessarily exists in a state which is (necessarily) a non-constant function of time (and therefore it is changing). Is it contingent?

    • The original Mr. X says:

      If anyone has any other fun arguments/debunking/explanations of the Five Ways, I’d love to explore those.

      I think I’ve linked to this before, but no harm in bringing it up again:

      Ed Feser: So you think you understand the cosmological argument?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Perfect! This is precisely what I was hoping for.

        • Andrew G. says:

          Feser substantially misrepresents critics of the cosmological argument in that post. In particular, Robin Le Poidevin spends three chapters on cosmological arguments (temporal, modal, and Leibnizian), out of which 1.5 pages is devoted to the “basic” argument against which Feser fulminates in his piece.

          (I should also point out that our host has tackled this question too)

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            The timing of that link, given Unsong’s latest interlude, is uncanny.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            In particular, Robin Le Poidevin spends three chapters on cosmological arguments (temporal, modal, and Leibnizian), out of which 1.5 pages is devoted to the “basic” argument against which Feser fulminates in his piece.

            Why bother bringing it up at all, given that it’s a total straw man?

            (I should also point out that our host has tackled this question too)

            No offence to our host, but that’s a really bad argument he gives there. It’s a pity he didn’t read Feser’s post before putting it up, really:

            2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

            Part of the reason this is not a serious objection is that it usually rests on the assumption that the cosmological argument is committed to the premise that “Everything has a cause,” and as I’ve just said, this is simply not the case.  But there is another and perhaps deeper reason.

            The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which just happens not to have a cause.  It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be.  On the contrary, the cosmological argument – again, at least as its most prominent defenders (Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.) present it – is concerned with trying to show that not everything can be a “brute fact.”  What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist.  And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place.  And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.

            Different versions of the cosmological argument approach this task in different ways.  Aristotelian versions argue that change – the actualization of the potentials inherent in things – cannot in principle occur unless there is a cause that is “pure actuality,” and thus can actualize other things without itself having to be actualized.  Neo-Platonic versions argue that composite things cannot in principle exist unless there is a cause of things that is absolutely unified or non-composite.  Thomists not only defend the Aristotelian versions, but also argue that whatever has an essence or nature distinct from its existence – so that it must derive existence from something outside it – must ultimately be caused by something whose essence just is existence, and which qua existence or being itself need not derive its existence from another.  Leibnizian versions argue that whatever does not have the sufficient reason for its existence in itself must ultimately derive its existence from something which does have within itself a sufficient reason for its existence, and which is in that sense necessary rather than contingent.  And so forth.  (Note that I am not defending or even stating the arguments here, but merely giving single sentence summaries of the general approach several versions of the arguments take.)

            So, to ask “What caused God?” really amounts to asking “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?”, or “What actualized the potentials in that thing which is pure actuality and thus never had any potentials of any sort needing to be actualized in the first place?”, or “What imparted a sufficient reason for existence to that thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else?”  And none of these questions makes any sense.  Of course, the atheist might say that he isn’t convinced that the cosmological argument succeeds in showing that there really is something that could not in principle have had a cause, or that is purely actual, or that has a sufficient reason for its existence within itself.  He might even try to argue that there is some sort of hidden incoherence in these notions.  But merely to ask “What caused God?” – as if the defender of the cosmological argument had overlooked the most obvious of objections – simply misses the whole point.  A serious critic has to grapple with the details of the arguments.  He cannot short-circuit them with a single smart-ass question.  (If some anonymous doofus in a combox can think up such an objection, then you can be certain that Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. already thought of it too.)

          • skef says:

            What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist.

            On it’s face, this is a deeply weird argumentative “move”. An “explanation” is an epistemic entity. Whether an “ultimate explanation” is a possibility is an interesting question, kind of like whether there can be an “ultimate cause”. So the argument, as described, takes the first as a premise to prove the second. If the proof works, why not take it as evidence that there can’t be an ultimate explanation?

            And there is evidence from formal analysis of fundamental problems with a trying to explain a system within the system. The Godel proof doesn’t depend on self-reference, but something akin to it. Turing’s halting proof has similar features. Maybe that sort of thing just isn’t possible to do in a consistent way.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Gödel’a theorem is explicitly about self-reference. Gödel invented a structure that allows you to prove that there is a sentence, S, that is not provable if and only if the sentence whose Gödel number is k is true, where k is the Gödel number of S.

            Furthermore, this is entirely irrelevant to the conversation at hand.

          • skef says:

            @StellaAthena

            You’re offering one instance of the kind of simplified version of the argument that Feser is complaining about. Starting with “God necessarily exists” allows for all sorts of simple objections.

            The quote from Feser describes a transcendental proof based on the premise that there is “an ultimate explanation of things”. There are admittedly tricky representation/what is represented issues with the term “explanation”, but an explanation is roughly a thing such that it could be the content of your explaining something to me. Stipulating that there must be an “ultimate explanation” is not much different than stipulating that there must be a conclusive (and presumably a priori) argument for why there is something rather than nothing. Why must there be such a thing?

          • Spookykou says:

            Warning, I know nothing about philosophy OR metaphysics so these might be simple or stupid questions.

            Based on reading this thread, the cosmological argument is that there Must Be a thing without a cause, to start the chain of cause and effect that is present in our universe?

            Even assuming that is true and a causeless thing must exist, I am not sure what work this argument is actually doing? I can see how this supports the idea of ‘God’ in as much as, we call the thing that fundamentally must exist without cause ‘God’. But it says nothing to any other attributes of this causeless thing outside of it being causeless.

            As far as I can tell Scott’s talking about something pretty orthogonal to the cosmological argument in that post, and he does not actually mention the cosmological argument, at least not that I saw(again I know nothing, maybe the things he is talking about are an understood proxy for the cosmological argument?). I am not sure to what extent his argument is a “really bad argument”, it seems to actually work quite well with your explanation of the cosmological argument.

            There are some missing bits in our understanding of the universe. The cosmological argument says that, at least some of those missing bits, are a causeless ‘thing’ that must by definition exist for the chain of causality to begin, and for our universe to exist as it does. Cool. Theist then say that this causeless thing is God with all the various other attributes they want to ascribe to God. Now to put words in someone’s mouth, Scott is saying the causeless thing is probably something profoundly simple and there is no good reason to assume that it is anything even kind of similar to God as God is normally defined.

            This of course is all assuming that the cosmological argument is correct(or my, possibly very flawed understanding of it), and a causeless thing must exist.

            Again! Warning, I know nothing about philosophy OR metaphysics.

            But off the top of my head, it would seem that causality is only a thing if you also have time right? So how do causeless and timeless interact? It seems like there might be something in there that would be an actual argument against the claim that a causeless thing must exist? Although I am obviously not the person to make it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Skef:

            An “explanation” is an epistemic entity.

            Not necessarily; “explanation” can also mean “cause” or “reason for”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Spookykou:

            Even assuming that is true and a causeless thing must exist, I am not sure what work this argument is actually doing? I can see how this supports the idea of ‘God’ in as much as, we call the thing that fundamentally must exist without cause ‘God’. But it says nothing to any other attributes of this causeless thing outside of it being causeless.

            Aquinas spends quite a lot of time deducing the divine attributes from God’s status as uncaused cause.

            As far as I can tell Scott’s talking about something pretty orthogonal to the cosmological argument in that post, and he does not actually mention the cosmological argument, at least not that I saw(again I know nothing, maybe the things he is talking about are an understood proxy for the cosmological argument?). I am not sure to what extent his argument is a “really bad argument”, it seems to actually work quite well with your explanation of the cosmological argument.

            Well, as I said to Jiro, the existence of an uncaused cause is the conclusion of the argument; it’s not something arbitrarily tacked on, as Scott seems to think (“You can’t just add “…and it’s infinitely simple” to the end of a pre-existing description”).

            Plus, there’s the bit about how “[t]o modern materialist philosophy, this [divine simplicity] is meaningless and absurd”. Given that one of the points of contention is whether modern materialist philosophy is actually correct, you might as well just say “Assuming that I’m right and you’re wrong, this is meaningless and absurd”; it just completely begs the question. Plus, given the rather wacky conclusions that modern materialist philosophy leads to, I don’t think its correctness can in any way be treated as obvious.

            But off the top of my head, it would seem that causality is only a thing if you also have time right? So how do causeless and timeless interact? It seems like there might be something in there that would be an actual argument against the claim that a causeless thing must exist? Although I am obviously not the person to make it.

            Aquinas, IIRC, followed Aristotle in treating time as the measure of change, rather than a thing in its own right (as, for example, Newton thought). So he’d probably say it’s the other way around: you have causality (God creating the universe), and as a result you have time.

          • skef says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Alright, but if it were to mean “cause” then the argument would presuppose an “ultimate cause”, and it would be question-begging again.

            (Uses of “reason” have the same representation/facts represented dichotomy as “explanation”, so it wouldn’t seem to alter the issue much.)

          • Spookykou says:

            Aquinas spends quite a lot of time deducing the divine attributes from God’s status as uncaused cause.

            It seems to me that ‘causality is a thing such that a causeless thing must proceed it’ is at least a reasonable position, given my understanding of the universe, and the information that I already have.

            If Aquinas is deducing these things from biblical reference or similar, I don’t see how that would be a compelling argument. Zoroaster himself could have said in no uncertain terms that the one true god was causeless, and this would still not be compelling evidence that Orhmazd was real, or that Orhmazd was the causeless thing required for our universe to exist.

            The only thing that Aquinas could be deducing divine attributes from, that would be relevant, would be the fundamental attribute of being causeless. However, as I have no frame of reference for what a causeless thing should be like, and I imagine Aquinas did not either, then it seems unlikely that any deductions about the necessary attributes of a causeless thing, beyond causelessness would be particularly compelling.

            If it is in fact the second case, would you be willing to point out the particular instance that you think is most compelling evidence that a causeless thing must also be [blank]. I must apologies but your link seemed like a bit too much information for me to wade into randomly.

          • StellaAthena says:

            @skef

            @ Stella You’re offering one instance of the kind of simplified version of the argument that Feser is complaining about. Starting with “God necessarily exists” allows for all sorts of simple objection

            The quote from Feser describes a transcendental proof based on the premise that there is “an ultimate explanation of things”. There are admittedly tricky representation/what is represented issues with the term “explanation”, but an explanation is roughly a thing such that it could be the content of your explaining something to me. Stipulating that there must be an “ultimate explanation” is not much different than stipulating that there must be a conclusive (and presumably a priori) argument for why there is something rather than nothing. Why must there be such a thing?

            I don’t know what this refers to. My comments in this entire thread have been limited to discussing the nature of modern metaphysical arguments, quoting Aquinas, and criticizing you about Godel’s Theorems. Maybe you meant to tag someone else?

            @Spookykou

            I would recommend this article for background information and context, and the website in general for a great source of philosophical information. In general however, the biggest qualm I have with what you’re saying is this: Your criticizing someone who lived 700 years ago because you think his assumptions are unjustified. This is what I think of as the cardinal sin of historical philosophy. If you’re not going to engage with a philosopher who lived hundreds of years ago on their own terms and from their own worldview, just say “I have different assumptions from Thomas Aquinas and so we disagree” because that’s secretly the only thing that you said in that long comment. This is a man who lived 200 years before the first articulation of anything you would recognize as logic happened (Leibnitz) and 600 years before Boole and De Morgan sat down and invented what you are referring to when you say “logic.” Of course you don’t buy his arguments. They don’t accord with logic. By our modern standards, a significant portion of what he believes is just false in a way that’s sufficiently blatantly obvious that pointing it out isn’t interesting. His ideas do survive in arguments and positions that modern people take, but that hasn’t been the topic of this thread so far.

            If you do not explicitly place yourself in his shoes and take on his assumptions it will not make any sense. I’m not saying you’re doing this deliberately, I’m just saying you are in fact doing it. If he was a modern philosopher you two could debate who has better assumptions, but most people today who aren’t religious and well educated Catholics don’t agree with Aquinas’s world view.

            Thomas Aquinas is deducing these things from his contemporary widely accepted body of knowledge. If you want to really understand where he is coming from, I would recommend you first get acquainted with Aristotle, in particular Nichomachean Ethics, Metaphysics, and On the Soul. Plato’s Republic would probably be helpful too. Then you can read Saint Augustine of Hippo, in particular reading De Doctrina Christiana and Confessions. Now you can start reading Aquinas, reading his commentaries on the aforementioned works of Aristotle, then Law, Politics, and Morality, and finally Summa Theologica.

            I have read most of the works I have listed here (only read excerpts of Law Politics and Morality and haven’t read De Doctrina Christiana), have a degree in philosophy, and have to work through Aquinas very slowly. There is probably good secondary literature on the topic that can distill this into something you can read in a day, but this topic really predates my expertise, so I don’t know what that is.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Skef:

            Alright, but if it were to mean “cause” then the argument would presuppose an “ultimate cause”, and it would be question-begging again.

            I don’t see how? Aquinas et al. show by the CO that there must be a first cause, and then go on to deduce the various attributes that cause would have. I don’t see how that begs any questions at all.

            @ Spookykou:

            If it is in fact the second case, would you be willing to point out the particular instance that you think is most compelling evidence that a causeless thing must also be [blank]. I must apologies but your link seemed like a bit too much information for me to wade into randomly.

            Yeah, sorry, that link was more there for rhetorical effect than anything else — “You might think nobody makes these arguments, but look, Aquinas makes a whole book of them!”

            But, to do my best to give an example of the sort of argument Aquinas makes (caveat: it’s been ages since I looked at this in any detail, so I’m a bit rusty):

            Change consists of a potential thing or state of affairs being actualised. A potential thing can’t actualise a potency; only an actual thing can do that. If the first cause was made up of actualised potency — that is, if it was contingent — it would require something before it to actualise its potency. But then it wouldn’t be the first cause. Therefore, the first cause isn’t made up of actualised potential, but is pure actuality (pure act) — that is, it is a necessary being.

            Coming into being and going out of existence are both examples of change, and hence anything that comes into being or goes out of existence must have some potency in it. But the first cause is pure act, with no admixture of potency, as we just saw. Therefore, the first cause can neither come into being nor go out of existence.

            Time is a measure of change. But the first cause doesn’t change. Therefore, the concept of time is not applicable to it. It is outside of time — that is, eternal.

            If there were more than one first cause, they would have to be distinguished by one having a potency that another lacks. But as we saw above, the first cause must be pure act, and therefore there would be nothing to separate two first causes from each other. Therefore, there can only be one first cause.

            Anyway, that’s just a very brief summary of a few arguments, but I hope you get the idea. As I said, I’m a little rusty with all this, so any flaws you spot are almost certainly my fault. If you want to go into more detail, I’d recommend getting a good piece of secondary literature on the topic — Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition is a good start (if you’re into polemics), or his Aquinas would also be good (if you want a more even, scholarly tone in your writing).

          • Spookykou says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Those arguments seem very similar to what I already understood, I think I might not be making my objection very clear.

            I am totally willing to buy into the idea that the nature of causality is such that their must be a first cause, and that the first cause is timeless, and causeless.

            It seems to me that this idea is a pretty logical position, given my admittedly limited understanding of causality.

            However, even if it is true that there must be a first cause, the logic and reasoning that leads me to believe this, do not impart any other attributes on the first cause. I have no reason, based on the arguments that the first cause is real, to think that the first cause is anything other than causeless and maybe timeless.

            As I see it, there are two ways to then tie God into this more general argument for the existence of a “First Cause”.

            1.) The first method, is to look at scripture, religious writing, etc, and come to the conclusion that, based on these descriptions, God is causeless and timeless, and therefore God must be the “First Cause” since the first cause is also causeless and timeless.

            2.) The second method, is to look at causelessness and timelessness, and derive any other attributes of a thing that is both causeless and timeless, and then to call the thing that has at least those two attributes and possibly more, God.

            I actually mostly accept that the second method could be true and don’t know any good argument against it. However I have not seen any examples of deriving attributes from those two primary attributes.(which is what I was asking for in my previous comments) So at this moment, the ‘God’ from the second argument is just a causeless and maybe timeless something.

            The first method is actually fine also, if you believe in the veracity of the religious texts. But if you already don’t believe in the religious texts, then the fact that you believe in a first cause, and the texts claim that their God is the first cause, is not actually an argument that you should believe that their God is the first cause. The only evidence that the First cause, that y’all both believe in, is anything like their God, is a source material that you fundamentally don’t believe in.

            @StellaAthena

            Your criticizing someone who lived 700 years ago because you think his assumptions are unjustified.

            This was not my intention, I think many of his assumptions seem perfectly reasonable to me.

            As I said above, I buy into the part of the argument that says we need a first cause, it seems like a very logical argument. However, just because I agree that the idea of a first cause is logical, that does not mean that I agree that God is that first cause. What I am looking for is an argument for God being the first cause that is just as logical as the argument for the first cause.

            I did not mean to offend, and I hope I do not come off as someone speaking from authority or certainty about any of this. Unfortunately I do not have the means to study this, or many things, as much as I would like to, and if you feel like my understand is so fundamentally wrong as to make any further conversation worthless, I understand, and I thank you for your time thus far.

          • Spookykou says:

            Reading the link it seems that I am stuck on the fourth point, kind of. I am not trying to say that such arguments do not exist, I am just asking for examples of them, which you provided.

            The example arguments you gave, as far as I can tell are as follows.

            1. The First cause is immutable, and necessary

            2. The First cause is immutable

            3. The First cause is timeless

            4. The First cause is singular

            These are all interesting ideas, thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Spookykou:

            Well, one other argument that might fit the bill would be:

            Evil is a privation of good. A privation of good is a kind of unactualised potency. The first cause, being pure act, has no unactualised potency. Therefore, there is no evil in the first cause. Therefore, the first cause is all-good.

          • StellaAthena says:

            @SpookykouSorry, I didn’t mean to come across quite so harshly. It’s really difficult though, especially because proofs are written relative to a common body of knowledge. There are lots of things that you’ll probably find objectionable that are well established facts of Aristotle. What I meant was that if you don’t have this body of background knowledge, you’re going to just have to accept that certain things are well established knowledge in Aquinas’s context.

            I don’t know Aquinas well enough to go through arguments with you, but his total body of work is available online. Mr X seems to have a better grasp on it than I do, so I’ll leave the explication to him.

            Sorry for being bad at communication.

      • rlms says:

        It would be helpful if he actually gave a short summary of the “proper” cosmological argument, rather than just complaining that people don’t argue against it.

        • StellaAthena says:

          Well, here’s Aquinas on the Third Way

          The third way is taken from possibility and necessity and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not possible to be, since they are found to be generated and corrupted. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which can not-be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. Now if this were true then even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist begins to exist only through something already existing. Therefore if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus now nothing would be in existence — which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has already been proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore, we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

          • skef says:

            On this level of argument, I’ll just note that if one of the things that needs to come into existence is time, then this reasoning is incoherent and needs to be re-worked without “always”, “at one time”, “then”, etc. If time doesn’t need to come into existence, then the relationship between “God” and “time” is left mysterious by this reasoning.

            From a B-Theory perspective, there’s a four-dimensional construct that has no “generation” or “corruption”. Maybe there’s some weird reason it’s necessary that it exists that we don’t have a handle on. None of this argument is germane to that question.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Wow, the theories of a man who lived 800 years ago don’t jive with something invented in the 1908? I’m shocked.

            If you want to just use modern logic to “debunk” Aquinas, it’s much easier to just point out that the sentence “… if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence.” is not true.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ StellaAthena:

            Wow, the theories of a man who lived 800 years ago don’t jive with something invented in the 1908? I’m shocked.

            The kind of person who defends cosmological arguments as being actual proofs of the existence of God will routinely claim that metaphysical argument is more reliable than science. The fact that their conclusions turn out to be based on assumptions about how the universe works which turn out to be comprehensively falsified by science is therefore important.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The kind of person who defends cosmological arguments as being actual proofs of the existence of God will routinely claim that metaphysical argument is more reliable than science. The fact that their conclusions turn out to be based on assumptions about how the universe works which turn out to be comprehensively falsified by science is therefore important.

            Which assumptions are you talking about here, and which scientific experiments have been done to falsify them?

          • Andrew G. says:

            Time as a concept separable from space.

            Experimental evidence as provided by all tests of the theory of relativity.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Augustine’s metaphysics (and study of Genesis) gave him an impressively accurate view of Time as a part of the created world. He even realized that it must have had a beginning, contra Aristotle and physicists up until very recently.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Time as a concept separable from space.

            In addition to what Jaskologist said, in what ways does the cosmological argument require time to be separable from space?

      • Jiro says:

        Answering “what caused God?” with “God has X, and things which have X don’t have causes” isn’t really answering the question. It’s just hiding the question inside your definition of X.

        “Why do you think the earth is flat, despite looking round from orbit?” “Oh, it has flat-but-looking-round-ness. Things which have flat-but-looking-round-ness are flat but look round from orbit. See, I answered it.”

        • The original Mr. X says:

          God’s being uncaused is established as a conclusion of the argument, not tacked on at the end to try and get out of a difficulty. You’d know that if you’d actually bothered finding out what the cosmological argument says.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Exactly.

            If we accept the premise of a finite universe, and we accept the premise of causality it follows that there must have been a “first cause” that created the universe as we know it. What St. Aquinas called the “unmoved mover”.

          • Controls Freak says:

            blockquote>If we accept the premise of a finite universe

            If you mean “finite in time”, then this is a standard objection… that totally still misses the point! From Feser’s post:

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

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

            The main reason this is a bad objection, though, is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning. Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and Leibnizian cosmological arguments are all concerned to show that there must be an uncaused cause even if the universe has always existed. Of course, Aquinas did believe that the world had a beginning, but (as all Aquinas scholars know) that is not a claim that plays any role in his versions of the cosmological argument. When he argues there that there must be a First Cause, he doesn’t mean “first” in the order of events extending backwards into the past. What he means is that there must be a most fundamental cause of things which keeps them in existence at every moment, whether or not the series of moments extends backwards into the past without a beginning.

            In fact, Aquinas rather famously rejected what is now known as the kalam argument. He did not think that the claim that the universe had a beginning could be established through philosophical arguments. He thought it could be known only via divine revelation, and thus was not suitable for use in trying to establish God’s existence.

    • onyomi says:

      Among those insisting that the popular version of the cosmological argument is bad, is libertarian and historian of Catholicism, Tom Woods. But having listened to this podcast, I came away very dissatisfied, because it seemed to me that he describes a distinction without a difference.

      He says basically: “no, the cosmological argument isn’t that you need God to set everything in motion at the beginning of the universe, but rather that you need God at every moment as the ultimate cause of any change in the universe.” He gives the example, apparently drawn from Aquinas, of a person using a stick to push a rock. You can trace the movement of the rock to the movement of the stick, and the movement of the stick to the movement of the hand, and the movement of the hand to the movement of the arm… (and presumably the movement of the arm to some nerve impulses…), but the argument, apparently, is that, in order to avoid an infinite regress at any given moment, there must be some entity existing outside of time as the ultimate cause of all change.

      I haven’t read Aquinas myself, but it seems to me that the problem with this argument, at least as Woods presents it, is that it describes as “simultaneous” events which, in fact, merely follow each other very closely in time. In fact, the movement of the stick does precede that of the rock and the movement of the hand that of the stick and the nerve impulses the movement of the hand, and, presumably, whatever brain state existed just before the nerve impulse was sent causes or directly gives rise to the brain state which sends the signal, and so on. Tracing temporally close yet still sequential events back through time, of course, eventually results in bringing us to the beginning of the universe and the argument that God needed to be there to set everything in motion.

      In other words, the popular version of the cosmological argument seems to me to make more sense than this supposedly more sophisticated version Woods is describing, which would explain its popularity, even if it isn’t what Aquinas actually argued. Or am I not understanding Woods’s argument? Or is he not presenting the “true” cosmological argument clearly enough?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Different cosmological arguments, I think, but both are valid.

        This comment is here because I typed it and hit “Post.” That is the cause.

        But what becomes of that chain of events if we turn off all the computers? Perhaps the computers are the ultimate cause, needed at every moment to sustain the comment.

        • onyomi says:

          It makes sense to say that software doesn’t exist without hardware to run it on because that’s how we know, from daily experience, that hardware and software work. But what about the universe would suggest that it is like a piece of software which needs some kind of hardware, called “God” to run on at all times?

          My existence at this moment seems to require my having existed a moment ago, which required me having been born, which required my parents meeting, which required my parents having been born, and so on, back to the beginning of the universe, where we might stipulate, something existing outside of time must have set things in motion.

          But my existence at this moment does not seem to logically require the existence of an oversoul existing outside time and keeping the universe running at all times. Even assuming that any being existing “outside time” would necessarily never start or stop doing anything, it would still be the infinite temporal regression which might seemingly necessitate God’s existence, rather than the simple fact of anything ever existing or happening at all.

          In other words, the supposedly strawmanish popular version of the argument seems to be better than the supposedly sophisticated version.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It’s usual in these situations to distinguish between a per se causal series and a per accidens causal series. A per accidens causal series is one like the example you give — your grandparents give birth to your parents, who give birth to you, who give birth to children, who in turn give birth to children of their own, etc. In this sort of series, each member has causal power independent of the previous members: after you’re born, you can (assuming you survive to maturity) have children of your own, regardless of whether your parents are still around. Aquinas thought that such a series could theoretically go on for ever (personally I disagree, for much the same reasons as Craig and other defenders of the kalam argument give, but the kalam wasn’t very well-known in medieval Christendom). The other sort is a per se causal series, like the stick-stone-arm-nerve-neuron example Woods gives. In this sort of series, each member only has causal power insofar as its imparted by the previous member of the series: the stone can’t move without the stick pushing it, etc. Because each member of the series doesn’t have any causal power of its own, the series can’t go on for ever, but has to have a first member to impart the causal power in the first place.

            Now, the continued existence (as opposed to initial generation) of contingent things is generally considered to be an example of a per se series, for reason which it’s too late for me to look up now but which I can try and ferret out for you if you want. So, your continued existence does depend on God’s continued action. I don’t think anybody would describe the popular argument as a strawman, because people do obviously defend it; they’d instead say that it isn’t as strong as the philosophical argument, for the reasons mentioned above, and also (in some cases) because they think it smacks too strongly of the deist “God made the universe, then buggered off” conception.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I recall Woods making this distinction, and, assuming he represents Aquinas’s view correctly, I think this is the crux of my problem with it: we can forgive Aquinas for not realizing that, even though the movement of the hand, stick, and rock seem simultaneous, actually they only appear to be. But the problem is, I can’t think of anything in the real world that would serve as an example of the so-called per se series.

            Any given movement of the rock is caused exhaustively by a movement of the stick and any given movement of the stick is caused exhaustively by the movement of the hand. The fact that, should the hand drop the stick, it will cause no further movements to the rock, proves nothing about the cause of any prior movements.

            I can’t think of anything in the world which both occurs exactly simultaneously and which share a causal relationship. Can you? Any two events which occur exactly simultaneously must each have a prior cause which is not the other–maybe the same event, maybe a different event, but an event seemingly cannot be the cause of another, truly simultaneous event.

            But once we introduce any temporal gap God seems to again become unnecessary, except as the one who set things in motion and can now bugger off, since the state of the universe one second ago seems to be sufficient cause for the state of the universe right now.

          • StellaAthena says:

            How about a gear train connecting a motor to a wheel?

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not very mechanical, but I don’t see how that would be fundamentally different. Any movement of any of the parts would trace to a temporally prior movement or event in some other part, even if it’s two parts moving each other.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The issue of tiny time delays is something of a red herring, albeit one that lots of explanations of Thomism do little to clear up. Perhaps a helpful analogy would be a clarinettist playing a piece of music: tiny time delays between the different stages of the process notwithstanding, it still makes sense to say that the continued existence of the music depends on the clarinettist’s continued action in playing it, in a way which wouldn’t make sense when talking about, say, the continued motion of a clock hand or of the pieces in a game of mousetrap.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Ah, I hadn’t realized you were caught up on the temporal priority bit. I agree with Mr X, and my gearbox example works similarly. What I’m saying is effectively that an object that moves as it is pushed in one continuous fluid motion and then stops when that motion stops is an example. The gearbox is a particularly nice example of this phenomenon, because the gears stop each other from moving when the motor is off (so there’s no “slow down” time after the force stops being applied) and because it’s clearly constructed out of a number of individual constituent objects.

          • Andrew G. says:

            it still makes sense to say that the continued existence of the music depends on the clarinettist’s continued action in playing it,

            But here you’re talking about very high-level abstractions; as an analogy to physical causation this completely fails.

            Any claimed instance of a “per se” causal series involving simple physical events is one of two things: either it’s a “per accidens” causal series that is disguised by the fact that the events occur very close in time (as in the hand->stick->stone example), or it’s a map/territory confusion.

          • StellaAthena says:

            That’s because you’re taking physical causation as the basic idea. Metaphysical causation is the basic idea, and physical causation is an example of metaphysics causation. The music is not an analogy.

          • lvlln says:

            Yeah, “music” is just a term we use to describe a sequence of air vibrations. For any given air vibration that forms the “music,” it was caused by the air being pushed through the clarinet, which was caused by the clarinetist’s lungs contracting. If the clarinetist stopped contracting her lungs, the “music” would stop, but the last air vibration that she caused would still happen, and it would happen (a very very very VERY short time) AFTER she already stopped contracting her lungs.

          • onyomi says:

            @Andrew G and StellaAthena

            What would an example of metaphysical causation or a non-physical per se series be? Are we saying, like, you need the concept of numbers and “+” and “=” before you can have “2+2=4”?

            As lvlln describes, the music is always being caused by the movements of lung and limb which immediately precede them. If, at any time, the musicians all stop, then the music will stop too, albeit an instant after they stop moving.

            My point is, there does not seem to be any reason to think that the universe is like a piece of music which God has to keep playing in order to keep it existing. It could be like a stereo, which God can turn on and then bugger off. Cosmological arguments seem to need God to set things in motion, but after that, the physical laws of the universe itself (even if God designed or caused them to be) seem sufficient to keep everything rolling.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Andrew G:

            Any claimed instance of a “per se” causal series involving simple physical events is one of two things: either it’s a “per accidens” causal series that is disguised by the fact that the events occur very close in time (as in the hand->stick->stone example), or it’s a map/territory confusion.

            Bare assertion isn’t the same as proof.

            @ Onyomi:

            My point is, there does not seem to be any reason to think that the universe is like a piece of music which God has to keep playing in order to keep it existing. It could be like a stereo, which God can turn on and then bugger off. Cosmological arguments seem to need God to set things in motion, but after that, the physical laws of the universe itself (even if God designed or caused them to be) seem sufficient to keep everything rolling.

            “The physical laws of the universe itself” are just descriptions of the behaviour of physical objects; they don’t have any causal power in their own right, as they would have to to keep everything rolling.

          • onyomi says:

            “The physical laws of the universe itself” are just descriptions of the behaviour of physical objects; they don’t have any causal power in their own right.

            If I jump up in the air, gravity pulls me back down. That is, gravity causes me to come back down rather than just float off into space. In what sense does gravity not have “causal power” in this case?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If I jump up in the air, gravity pulls me back down. That is, gravity causes me to come back down rather than just float off into space. In what sense does gravity not have “causal power” in this case?

            If you jump up in the air, you fall down again because of the curvature of spacetime caused by the Earth’s mass. IOW, it’s the Earth pulling you back down, the law of gravity being a handy way to describe the effects of massive bodies distorting spacetime.

          • onyomi says:

            So I’m pulled back to Earth by a distortion in space time we call “gravity.” The distortion in space time is sufficient cause for my falling back to Earth.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            So I’m pulled back to Earth by a distortion in space time we call “gravity.” The distortion in space time is sufficient cause for my falling back to Earth.

            The distortion in spacetime only exists as long as (a) spacetime exists, and (b) massive objects exists to distort spacetime. Hmm, sounds kinda like a per se causal series to me… 😉 So it can’t be a sufficient cause for you falling down, because it depends for its operation on other things happening concurrently, and doesn’t have any independent causal power of its own.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t see how this qualifies as a “per se causal series.” The existence of space time and massive objects one moment ago is sufficient cause for the existence of space time and massive objects right now, and so on, back to the beginning of the universe. In fact, the whole crux of the cosmological argument seems to be that things don’t suddenly start existing without a cause. We should not, then, expect them to stop existing without cause, either.

            It’s just a fact about the universe that massive objects distort space time in such a way as to pull things toward them. That, alone, is sufficient causal explanation for things being pulled toward massive objects. It doesn’t explain why the universe exists in the first place, or why we have a universe in which massive objects distort space time in such a way, but that again brings us back to the beginning of the universe. It still doesn’t necessitate God doing anything right now so that I don’t float off into space. It could still very well be the “set things in motion and bugger off” God.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ Mr. X:

            re. the nonexistence of “per se” causal series Bare assertion isn’t the same as proof.

            It’s an observation from experience of argument with Thomists.

            That things behave as dictated by the laws of physics is not an example of a causal series because, firstly, even on the most charitable interpretation there is only one cause/effect pair (with “the laws of physics” as the cause and whatever physical phenomenon being the effect), and one item does not make a series: there is no reason to believe that one needs an additional cause behind the laws of physics; secondly, even treating physical events as a separate thing from the “laws of physics” is a highly dubious distinction.

            @ StellaAthena:

            Metaphysics is posterior to physics, not prior. The concepts used in metaphysics are adopted from observation of the world, that is to say, observation of the operation of the laws of physics. (And this then goes wrong because concepts derived from macro-scale observation break down at the micro-scale.)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I don’t see how this qualifies as a “per se causal series.”

            Because the curvature of space time depends for any causal power on the prior interaction of the massive object with spacetime. It’s not something that can just keep going and pulling things downward if the object or spacetime cease to exist.

            The existence of space time and massive objects one moment ago is sufficient cause for the existence of space time and massive objects right now, and so on, back to the beginning of the universe. In fact, the whole crux of the cosmological argument seems to be that things don’t suddenly start existing without a cause. We should not, then, expect them to stop existing without cause, either.

            If the things that keep a massive object in existence cease to be operative, the massive object itself ceases to exist. Consider the music and the clarinettist again: if the clarinettist stops playing, the music stops.

            It’s just a fact about the universe that massive objects distort space time in such a way as to pull things toward them. That, alone, is sufficient causal explanation for things being pulled toward massive objects.

            No it’s not, because the existence of spacetime and massive objects is left unanswered. Let’s back up a bit: you said that the physical laws of the universe, the specific example you gave being gravity, were sufficient to keep the universe rolling along. But “the physical laws of the universe” are just the term we give to the causal regularities we observe among physical objects: they can’t explain the existence of the universe, because they already presuppose that the universe exists.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Andrew G.:

            That things behave as dictated by the laws of physics is not an example of a causal series because, firstly, even on the most charitable interpretation there is only one cause/effect pair (with “the laws of physics” as the cause and whatever physical phenomenon being the effect), and one item does not make a series: there is no reason to believe that one needs an additional cause behind the laws of physics; secondly, even treating physical events as a separate thing from the “laws of physics” is a highly dubious distinction.

            As I said to Onyomi, the laws of physics are just descriptions of the causal regularities we observe in nature. Being descriptions, they don’t themselves have any causal efficacy.

            Metaphysics is posterior to physics, not prior.

            On the contrary, physics, and science more generally, depends on metaphysics (or rather, a certain metaphysical view of the world) for its validity. Unless you assume that the universe exhibits causal regularity, acts according to a logical structure, and is such that humans can understand its working, — which are all metaphysical propositions — the scientific method lacks any validity, and trying to investigate things using it is doomed to failure.

          • onyomi says:

            they can’t explain the existence of the universe, because they already presuppose that the universe exists.

            Again, it seems the cosmological argument only requires God create the universe, not that he keep it running at all times.

            The whole point of the cosmological argument, as far as I can tell, is that you need to posit an “unmoved mover” or an “unchanged changer” in order to avoid an infinite regress of changes stretching back in time, since daily experience tells us that nothing changes without cause.

            One only needs an “unmoved mover” to explain the change from nothing to something. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe God is necessary to prevent something from turning into nothing. If anything, for something to turn into nothing would require a causal explanation in a way which things staying the same would not.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            G. H. Joyce has some good things to say on this matter:

            I. The cosmological argument. In this first proof we shew that it is necessary to admit the existence of a first cause of all finite things, and that this cause is intelligent and personal. We are here, be it noted, concerned with efficient causation, an efficient cause being that whose action makes the thing what it is. The point is of importance as the term ‘first cause’ may be employed in another sense. When, e.g., the materialist says that no other first cause of the universe need be postulated save ether,{1} he is in fact asserting that a material cause is sufficient, and that we may dispense with efficient causes altogether. We must, further, by way of preliminary, call attention to another distinction, this time among efficient causes themselves, viz., that between a cause in fieri and a cause in esse. A cause in fieri is the cause of the thing’s becoming what it is: a cause in esse is one whose action sustains the thing in being. If a smith forges a horse-shoe, he is only a causein fieri of the shape given to the iron. That shape persists after his action has ceased. So, too, a builder is a cause in fieri of the house which he builds. In both these cases the substances employed act as causes in esse as regards the continued existence of the effect produced. Iron, in virtue of its natural rigidity, retains in being the shape which it has once received: and, similarly, the materials employed in building retain in being the order and arrangement which constitute them into a house. It may, perhaps, be asked whether in these examples we are dealing with efficient causation. Can iron be said to be an efficient cause of the conservation of the shape, as the smith is the efficient cause of its origination? Do the building materials really exercise an efficient causality in regard of the permanence of the structure? Reflection will shew that the question must be answered in the affirmative. Inasmuch as the persistence in being of the accident supposes a continuous exercise of conservation on the part of the substance, it stands to the latter in the relation of effect to cause.{2}
            There are, however, certain effects which require the continued action of the same cause which first produced them. In this case we have a cause which is at one and the same time a cause in fieri and in esse. Thus not only does a candle produce light in a room in the first instance, but its continued presence is necessary if the illumination is to continue. If it is removed, the light forthwith ceases. Again, a liquid receives its shape from the vessel in which it is contained; but were the pressure of the containing sides withdrawn, it would not retain its form for an instant. Similarly, a certain measure of heat was needed that the icecap, which once covered northern Europe, should melt, and the soil become capable of supporting vegetation. But the same cause must remain in operation if the effect is to continue. If ever the temperature of these regions should sink to its former level, Europe would again become icebound. In all these cases we have causes in fieri et in esse .
            It must not be imagined that we wish to maintain that the cause in fieri is altogether unconnected with the being of the thing which it produces. Becoming is the passage from potential to actual being. The cause which affects the transition — the process of change from the potential to the actual — is indirectly the cause of being also. But its direct effect is limited to the process: and the cause of the thing’s continuance in being must be sought elsewhere.
            In the present proof we are concerned only with causes in esse: the question of becoming — of the origination of things — does not come under consideration.
            The preliminaries of our argument are, however, not yet complete. Besides the vital distinction which we have just noticed, two philosophical principles bearing on causation claim our attention.
            It must be observed, first, that an effect properly so called demands the actual operation of the cause of which it is the effect, and ceases with the cessation of that action. The horse-shoe, it is true, continues to be, long after the smith has ceased to act; but this is simply because it is not the effect of his action as regards being, but only as regards beeoming. Had he stopped work during the process of becoming, that process would have ceased likewise. Precisely the same is true as regards the cause in esse. Were the substance iron to lose those natural qualities of rigidity, etc., which conserve the shape once given to it, that shape would disappear. This truth was expressed in the saying, Cessante causa cessat effectus{3}
            The other point which calls for notice is this: that whatever demands a cause in fieri demands also a cause in esse. It is absolutely impossible that a thing, which requires a cause to bring it into being, should remain in existence independently of a cause in esse retaining it in being. At first sight this truth may present some difficulty. We are accustomed to regard substances as enjoying an absolutely independent existence in their own right and apart from any conserving force, so soon as the process of becoming is complete. When the bird develops from the egg, or the oaktree from the acorn, or when a human being, complete as a member of the species, though as yet far from full maturity, is produced by generation, we readily recognize that the transition from potentiality to actuality demanded a causein fieri; but the idea that the completed entity needs to be sustained by a cause of its being strikes us as strange. Yet it may easily be shewn that so it is. For to what is the existence which the thing possesses due? This existence requires, we admit, a cause to bring it into being, and can only be explained by reference to this efficient cause. But viewed as a fully constituted and enduring substance, it does not depend upon the cause in fieri. That cause, as has been pointed out, only effects the process of becoming. Moreover, it is no longer operative: and what is no longer operative cannot be now exercising causality. But, most assuredly, the persisting existence calls for explanation no less than does the original passage into existence. The nature is not the sufficient reason of its own reality in the full sense of the term. That which even for a single instant is the sufficient reason of its own existence is self-existent. But a nature which is capable of self-existence needs not to wait for the action of an efficient cause in order to exist; it must have existed from all eternity. Probably most people imagine that, once constituted, the substance can somehow conserve itself unless brought into contact with hostile agencies which are too powerful for it. Yet to say that a thing conserves itself is to say that its persistence through each successive moment is to be attributed to its own existing nature. But the existing nature is the precise thing which we are seeking to explain. We are thus driven by sheer logical necessity to admit that the finite substances of this world, inasmuch as they require a cause in fieri, depend for their present actual existence upon a cause in esse, even though that cause is not an object of sensible experience.
            We pointed out just now, in regard to the shape of the horse-shoe, that were the iron to lose the qualities which are the cause in esse of that shape, it would cease to be. Its permanence in being, as well as its origination, demand a cause: and the permanent existence being a present effect must be due to the operation of a present cause. What is true of the accident is no less true of the substance. The blacksmith and the horse, as well as the shape of the horse-shoe, need a cause in esse. The greater difficulty which we experience in grasping this truth where substances are concerned is due to the fact that sense does not assist us to realize the dependence of substances, as it does the dependence of accidents. But the verdict of reason is conclusive.

          • Andrew G. says:

            On the contrary, physics, and science more generally, depends on metaphysics (or rather, a certain metaphysical view of the world) for its validity. Unless you assume that the universe exhibits causal regularity, acts according to a logical structure, and is such that humans can understand its working, — which are all metaphysical propositions — the scientific method lacks any validity, and trying to investigate things using it is doomed to failure.

            Not at all. Science doesn’t require those assumptions; the fact that it works is sufficient.

          • StellaAthena says:

            “It has worked in the past” does not entail “it will work in the future” in any meaningful way. David Hume wrote a very compelling argument where he pointed out that any argument for the principle of logical induction has to appeal to another principle and cannot be self-justificatory. The reason for this is that any “self contained” argument for logical induction is also an argument for logical anti-induction. There’s also what’s termed the “new problem of induction” which points out that all of your lived experiences are logically consistant with infinitely many future extrapolations. So how do you know that the one that you like is right? What gives you te right to privledge one hypothesis over another, when both have exactly the same track record for predicting the past?

          • Megaflora says:

            While scientific inquiringly seems a great deal simpler if you assume things like “the observable world exists” and that “(assuming no unforeseen cosmic disasters destroy it) the sun will rise tomorrow”, I’m not sure I see why it is necessarily.

            You can still track your supposed sense-data (hallucinations or not), form hypothesis based on said observations, and test & discard them based on new data.

            I guess I don’t see why a brain in a vat in an arbitrary simulated world couldn’t do science. Even “the consistency of physical laws” can be treated as a tentative hypothesis that can be discarded if new information comes to light.

            That’s basically my view of the world, I’m totally open to the probability that in the future, what we call “reality” will go off the rails completely, but given my accumulated sense-data, I don’t assign a high enough probability to this for it to impact my life in any way.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I guess I don’t see why a brain in a vat in an arbitrary simulated world couldn’t do science.

            A brain in a vat could do science, but only if the simulated world was logical and consistent. If the world isn’t logical and consistent, it’s impossible to predict what will happen; if it’s impossible to predict what will happen, it’s impossible to come up with testable hypotheses; and no testable hypotheses, no science. It’s no coincidence that science as we understand it was first developed in western Christendom, where the belief in the order and intelligibility of the cosmos was taken for granted by most intellectuals, and not in the Islamic world, where occasionalism and voluntarism were the order of the day (if everything that happens is due to God’s direct intervention, and it’s impossible for our puny intellects to understand what God will do, well then…).

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ StellaAthena:

            “It has worked in the past” does not entail “it will work in the future” in any meaningful way.

            It does not “entail” it in the sense of logical entailment, but that doesn’t matter for any practical purpose. We are more certain of the fact that physical laws will continue to operate unchanged than we are of any possible metaphysical conclusion.

            To quote our host:

            Beyond these specific problems like the Copernican Principle lies a greater a problem which makes all others pale into insignficance.

            People who haven’t calibrated their theorizing against hard reality still think verbal reasoning works.

            There have been a couple hundred proofs of the existence of God thought up throughout the centuries. And more recently, there have also been a couple hundred proofs of the nonexistence of God thought up. Clearly, a couple hundred proofs of something doesn’t make it so.

            “But no one ever said something must be true just because someone has published a proof! The proof must be correct! The proofs of the existence/nonexistence of God are just wrong!”

            Well, yes. Of course. But which side’s proofs you think are wrong tend to have a very very very strong correlation with which side you personally subscribe to.

            Our faculty for evaluating chains of deductive reasoning similar to proofs of the (non)existence of God, or a lot of what goes on in philosophy, or god help us politics, is – pardon my language – really shitty. And we never realize this, because it is selectively shitty. It tells us it has logically evaluated arguments, and determined our opponents’ arguments are wrong, and our own arguments are right. And this is nice and consistent and convenient so we assume it must know what it’s doing. If it gets proven wrong once or twice or sixty times, we can dismiss that as a fluke, or an edge case, or It’s Beside The Point, or The Real Question Is Whether You Are Racist For Even Bringing That Up.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If our reasoning abilities are so shitty, that applies to the reasons Scott or anyone has for believing that science is a better way of finding stuff out that insert-alternative-here. IOW, the argument you link to is self-refuting.

            ETA: Plus, contrary to what Scott says in that post, the centre of the universe was not seen as a “privileged position” by most pre-Copernican people. Heck, Dante puts Satan at the centre of the universe — some privilege! Sure, it’s just an illustration and doesn’t affect the structure of the argument, but when the main example an author uses to illustrate his point is so completely backward, it doesn’t exactly encourage confidence in his grasp of the relevant facts.

            ETA ETA: Also, “Well, yes. Of course. But which side’s proofs you think are wrong tend to have a very very very strong correlation with which side you personally subscribe to”? Well what do you expect to happen? How many people are really going to say “Yes, the arguments for God’s existence are right and the counter-arguments are wrong, but I’m going to stick to being an atheist anyway”? That would be a completely bizarre attitude to have.

          • Megaflora says:

            A brain in a vat could do science, but only if the simulated world was logical and consistent. If the world isn’t logical and consistent, it’s impossible to predict what will happen; if it’s impossible to predict what will happen, it’s impossible to come up with testable hypotheses; and no testable hypotheses, no science.

            I don’t think we disagree here, a world that behaved randomly could never produce science (more importantly, it couldn’t produce or sustain observers).

            What was getting at was that I don’t think that it is necessarily to start with a metaphysical assumption that “the universe exhibits casual regularity” in order to do science (historically, this was no doubt a strong driving belief that fueled the takeoff of science). The physical observation that we can make extremely constant predictions about what we will observe in the future seems sufficient. I don’t really attach much weight to the question of whether they are “really real”.

            Similarly, I don’t think accepting the consistency of formal systems of logic or mathematics requires any metaphysical beliefs, although for most people it does require trusting experts on the topics.

            Maybe I just have a different conception of what metaphysical beliefs consist of. In my mind they are statements about all possible worlds. I suppose I have a metaphysical belief that mathematical statements are valid in all possible worlds, but I attribute this to the fact that mathematics is a formal system, not due to any underlying feature of the cosmos (aside from that fact that in one tiny section of space/time, sapient beings developed the aforementioned formal system).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The physical observation that we can make extremely constant predictions about what we will observe in the future seems sufficient.

            Can we?

            Imagine you have no scientific knowledge, and try and imagine what the world looks like to you. You see that the weather changes all the time, often without warning; storms suddenly arise and then just as quickly die down again; people get ill or drop dead without warning; some illnesses spread, some don’t, and there’s no obvious reason why; earthquakes strike without notice and end just as suddenly; occasionally a swarm of locusts appears over the horizon, again without warning, eats everything in sight and then vanishes again. The idea that you could make highly accurate predictions about what would happen in future would probably seem somewhat counter-intuitive.

            Of course, once you’ve got the required metaphysical foundations in place, you can carry out scientific research without explicitly referring to those foundations; but that doesn’t mean that those foundations aren’t necessary, or that they’re as self-evidently obvious as it seems to somebody growing up in a scientific culture. There’s a very good reason why the scientific method was only invented in one part of the world.

          • Andrew G. says:

            Thales preceded Aristotle by a couple of centuries (iirc).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Thales preceded Aristotle by a couple of centuries (iirc).

            Yes, Thales, the first known philosopher, did indeed precede Aristotle, although I’m not sure why this is relevant.

          • Megaflora says:

            Like I already mentioned, I don’t disagree with the historic role a particular series of metaphysical models played in the development of science.

            The stories humans tell themselves to make sense of their place in the world matter when it comes to societies deciding what to pay attention to, what behavior to promote, and what is seen as within the realm of the possible. We have plenty of our own myths today, and I think that while they do direct scientific inquiry, they are not themselves part of science.

            Science can thrive outside of the cultural context it grew up in, and it will likely continue to do so in the future once our own cultures are seen as antiquated.

          • StellaAthena says:

            @Andrew G

            We are more certain of the fact that physical laws will continue to operate unchanged than we are of any possible metaphysical conclusion.

            This is nonsense in general and is mathematical false for any rational Baysean. “Science works” is a metaphysics claim that you are more certain of than you are of any scientific claim.

            @Everyone
            When I brought up multiple consistant explanations, I wasn’t talking about brains in bats. I was talking about bleen and grue. “Bleen” is a property of objects that is peicewise defined as “at t = 20 billion years, green.” Grue is likewise, but with blue and green switched. Do you have any particular reason to prefer “green” and “blue” to “grue” and “bleen”?

            @Megaflora

            What was getting at was that I don’t think that it is necessarily to start with a metaphysical assumption that “the universe exhibits casual regularity” in order to do science (historically, this was no doubt a strong driving belief that fueled the takeoff of science). The physical observation that we can make extremely constant predictions about what we will observe in the future seems sufficient. I don’t really attach much weight to the question of whether they are “really real”.

            “When I threw the ball up, it came down” is a physical observation.

            “Whenever I throw the ball up, it will always come down” is a physical prediction

            “I am justified in making the above prediction because of this set of observations” is a metaphysical proposition. It’s not so much that you need a metaphysical justification for science as any justification for science is inherently metaphysical (some caveats, but approximately true when talking about “the scientific method” or something along those lines)

            Similarly, I don’t think accepting the consistency of formal systems of logic or mathematics requires any metaphysical beliefs, although for most people it does require trusting experts on the topics.

            More or less the same response as before.

            Do you had any training in mathematics, philosophy, or logic? Who do you consider an expert on the topic?

            Maybe I just have a different conception of what metaphysical beliefs consist of. In my mind they are statements about all possible worlds. I suppose I have a metaphysical belief that mathematical statements are valid in all possible worlds, but I attribute this to the fact that mathematics is a formal system, not due to any underlying feature of the cosmos (aside from that fact that in one tiny section of space/time, sapient beings developed the aforementioned formal system).

            Yes, this appears to be the fundamental problem: you have an incorrect idea of what a metaphysical statement is. Metaphysics as a field is pretty tricky to define, but at a minimum a “metaphysical problem” should be a problem that metaphysicians talk about. If we tentatively define metaphysics as the problems that metaphysicians are interested in and no one else is, we get a body of problems that intersects your definition, with containment in neither direction, and a very large number of things in the metaphysics bubble that is not in the overlap.

            Where did you get this opinion from? Clearly you didn’t get it from reading metaphysics, so I’m curious what produced it. Have you ever read a work of metaphysics in your life?

            Here is a number of metaphysical questions that do not appear to meet your criterion. At a minimum, mainstream academic thought doesn’t appear to /care/ if the answers to these questions are invariant across all possible worlds. The question “is the answer to any of the following questions invariant across all possible worlds” is a different question from each of these questions. Another issue with your criterion is that if we live in the only possible world, then all questions are metaphysical questions.

            Disclaimer: I have a degree in philosophy and am a (non-professional) metaphysician. These questions are biased based on my research interests and are not intended to be reflective of the scope of metaphysics as a field.

            1) What makes a person “the same person” as they were yesterday? Let’s say I get scanned by a machine, my particles are scrambled, and particles far away are reconstituted into someone who is materially identical to the person who stepped into the machine. Is this person me? Does the potential for there to be a time lag between destruction and reconstitution change the answer to this question? What if the other body is materialized before my current body is destroyed? What if the machine produces two bodies instead of one? What if instead of being teleported, I am in a terrible accident and the two hemispheres of my brain get severed. Dr. Frankenstein puts each half into a new body, and each new body declares that it is me? What if I get amnesia and neither body remembers being me? What if only one body remembers being me? On what basis would you make the determination in any of these cases, and does it generalize?

            2) In the mid 1900s, mathematics was codified into axioms known as the Zermelo Frankel Axioms. Later, an additional axiom known as the axiom of choice was added. Mathematicians also considered a different axiom, known as the axiom of determinacy. These two axioms are logically contradictory, in the sense that ZF+C disproves D and ZF+D disproves C. It is currently believed* by most philosophers and mathematicians that in any application of mathematics to the real world cannot “experimentally” determine if we should use ZFC or ZFD. On what basis should this determination be made? We’re mathematicians “right” to choose the axiomatic schema on the basis of popularity within the community? If so, What of the community later decides to prefer

            3) There is an asterisk after “believe” in the previous question. How would such a belief be justified?

            4) If I prove something using ZF+D, is that mathematics? What if I prove something using PA (an axiomatic schema that only proves things that are true in ZF, but does not prove everything that is true in ZF) and specifically frame it as a problem answered in PA and not in ZF?

            5) Is it possible to hold two logically contradictory beliefs? Is it possible to hold two logically contradictory beliefs and be aware of this fact?

            6) Some metaphysicians (such as myself) will answer “yes” to question 5 (the preface paradox is a good example of this IMO). When people discover that they believe contradictory things, some people tend to try to adjust their beliefs to be more in accord with logic. Is there some kind of obligation to do this? If so, describe it. As I change the word “people” to other words (sentient life, dogs, sentient computers, ants, trees, God, “rational beings”) does the answer to this question change?

          • Andrew G. says:

            Grue is likewise, but with blue and green switched. Do you have any particular reason to prefer “green” and “blue” to “grue” and “bleen”?

            You invoke Bayesianism but then fail to notice that “grue” is a more complex concept than “green” and therefore has a lower prior probability? (In fact it has a very small prior, because “green becoming blue at time t₁” shares hypothesis space with “green becoming red at time t₁”, “green becoming off-white at time t₁”, “green becoming blue at time t₂”, etc.; it has two extra arbitrary moving parts.) And that we have evidence that this kind of hypothesis has a low posterior probability, because we have no reason to privilege the future over the past in considering the time at which the property changes?

          • skef says:

            @Andrew G

            The way the grue/bleen argument is set up is supposed to insulate it from the sort of criticism you’re offering. Defining green and blue in terms of grue and bleen is about as complex as defining grue and bleen in terms of green and blue. To call “grue” a more complex concept than “green” it seems one would need to resort to something like a definition. But people don’t need to be able to articulate definitions for concepts they can use confidently. There’s also the tricky question of what concepts if any are “primitive”, and whether “grue” could be a primitive concept. If it could it wouldn’t need and perhaps couldn’t have a definition, as it would feed into the definitions of other non-primitive concepts.

            Which isn’t to say that the argument is unassailable. What I’ve always found strange about the literature on “the new riddle of induction” is its disconnection from what might be called “material simplicity”. Whether or not the concept grue is “more complex” than green, a grue detector would need more parts than a green detector. So it seems like an expert in grue would end up knowing about green and blue in the way than an expert on green would not need to know about grue and bleen. Because unification is a virtue in scientific research, it seems like scientific understanding would generally tend to drift from grues to greens, and therefore address the “new riddle”.

            @StellaAthena

            Many of your observations on this sub-thread are helpful, but all the talk of credentials and what others may or may not have read seems out of proportion with the details of your discussion. In the way of a couple examples: Your recent #5 seems like a strictly psychological (and more narrowly cognitive) question. Most of #6 is at the intersection of epistemology and ethics, which doesn’t seem particularly metaphysical unless all of philosophy falls under that category. None of your content is out of place here, but the credential/experience stuff seems unnecessary and perhaps counter-productive.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ Mr. X:

            If our reasoning abilities are so shitty, that applies to the reasons Scott or anyone has for believing that science is a better way of finding stuff out that insert-alternative-here. IOW, the argument you link to is self-refuting.

            Believing that science is better than the alternatives doesn’t require trusting one’s reasoning abilities: one can simply look at the results.

          • StellaAthena says:

            @skef thank you for the criticism. I shall endeavor to endevour to be less abrasive. Your comments about grue detectors vs green detectors is interesting, I shall think on that.

            @megafloss apologies for my rudeness.

            @Andrew G All conclusions require trustingly your ability to reason. As I mentioned earlier, there’s are infinitely many theories consistant with any set of evidence. Someone who has no trust in their reasoning would have trouble choosing a theory to believe at all… their science would look a lot like pure Popperian falsificationism. Doing science requires reason, and therefore trusting science requires trusting reason.

            Skef assserts that the grue/bleen is immune to that argument, but I want to point out how. In a world we Belen and grue are our base terms, we would define “green” as “first grue, then suddenly changing to bleen” and “blue” as “first bleen, then suddenly changing to grue.” Not only does it dodge the linguistic/conceptual complexity objection, it also dodges the sudden change objection (unless you use induction). Green means first grue, then suddenly changing to bleen.

          • StellaAthena says:

            @skef if we build a logic gate function that has access to reference data, it appears that 1) it takes more space to encode raw observational data for determining bleen than blue (I’m going to go look to see if, e.g., Kolmogorov complexity has a place here) as well as 2) given access to stored data, the function that determines blue from green has a lower circuit complexity than the function that determines bleen from grue. However, even if we say that green and blue are more natural on these grounds, it’s unclear that all the concepts we like and want to keep pass as the simplest by this metric.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ StellaAthena:

            Skef assserts that the grue/bleen is immune to that argument,

            No, Skef said that the grue/bleen argument is designed to be immune to that counter-argument; I say that it fails at that design objective.

            There is a sense in which, regardless of which concept you initially take as primitive, “grue” is still necessarily more complex than “green” because it has an arbitrary moving part that cannot be removed. Skef’s description in terms of detector complexity is one way to express this.

          • StellaAthena says:

            What do you mean by that? Grue objects are always grue. It’s green objects that have an arbitrary moving part: one moment grue and the next bleen

          • sierraescape says:

            What do you mean by that? Grue objects are always grue. It’s green objects that have an arbitrary moving part: one moment grue and the next bleen

            @Stella If scientists with grue and bleen as priors decide to measure the frequency of a particular photon, they will decide that at first it follows the characteristics of one color and then it follows the characteristics of the other. In fact, they invent a novel new color to describe this: green. At first it’s decried by the general population, but then everyone starts using it when they realize that now they don’t have to specify EVERY SINGLE GREEN OBJECT as “it is grue for now, but it will turn bleen.” Green and Blue are the real colors, grue and bleen are necessarily fake because you cannot invent those colors from observation. In other words, sure, you can invent new colors to make the existing ones seem complicated, but they don’t have a basis in reality. They don’t actually exist. There are hardly any truly grue and bleen objects, and as descriptors of photons green and blue make far more sense–they’re not based on the concepts “grue” and “bleen” (because where did those concepts come from? Nowhere!) but on the frequency of the photon itself, with no other information tacked on like a sudden change in frequency that grue or bleen would have. It’s just a case of mixing up map with territory.

          • StellaAthena says:

            1) I had actually always interpreted this as being about colors rather than about light frequencies, but I don’t think that differences is important to the example.

            2) The “change” isn’t observed by scientists because it hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen for 2,000 years.

            3) I don’t see how this could be confusing maps and territories. “Grue” and “Green” are on the same level. There are three things going on: first, objects reflecting light at a certain wavelength; second, our brains interperting that and giving us a particular experience; third, the use of language to describe that experience. The terms grue an and green are both examples of the third. The territory is the second (or, I guess, the first, but I think that’s a conflation to avoid in general)

      • The original Mr. X says:

        He says basically: “no, the cosmological argument isn’t that you need God to set everything in motion at the beginning of the universe, but rather that you need God at every moment as the ultimate cause of any change in the universe.” He gives the example, apparently drawn from Aquinas, of a person using a stick to push a rock. You can trace the movement of the rock to the movement of the stick, and the movement of the stick to the movement of the hand, and the movement of the hand to the movement of the arm… (and presumably the movement of the arm to some nerve impulses…), but the argument, apparently, is that, in order to avoid an infinite regress at any given moment, there must be some entity existing outside of time as the ultimate cause of all change.

        The point is that each member of the series doesn’t have its own causal power, but gets it from the previous member of the series: the stone only moves insofar as it is pushed by the stick, which only moves insofar as it is moved by the hand, which only moves insofar as it is moved by the nerve impulses, which… Because each thing only gets its causal power from the thing before it in the sequence, the sequence cannot be infinite, but has to terminate in a first mover, which imparts causal power to the other members of the sequence. So, even though there is a slight delay at each stage of the sequence, it still makes sense to say that the sequence at any given moment is supported by God, because at any given moment it ultimately depends on God for its causal power.

        • onyomi says:

          Because each thing only gets its causal power from the thing before it in the sequence, the sequence cannot be infinite, but has to terminate in a first mover, which imparts causal power to the other members of the sequence. So, even though there is a slight delay at each stage of the sequence, it still makes sense to say that the sequence at any given moment is supported by God, because at any given moment it ultimately depends on God for its causal power.

          How is this different from the popular version of the argument Woods and, above, Feser, claim nobody who knows what they’re talking about ever made? I. e. that you need God to set the universe in motion?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I don’t think anybody’s denying that you need God to set the universe in motion. The view they’re pushing back against is the one you find with 18th-century deists, who think that once God designs the universe it can keep going without him and he can just bugger off and go do something else with his time and it wouldn’t make any difference to the rest of us.

          • onyomi says:

            Okay, but as I argue above, the cosmological argument seems not to imply anything beyond that deist view, since it only argues that God is necessary to set things in motion. It doesn’t seem to show anything about why he’s necessary to keep things in motion.

            In the game Mouse Trap, the hand that turns the crank may be a necessary precondition for everything else to happen, but the owner of that hand very well may bugger off after turning the crank and everything will happen just the same.

      • “I haven’t read Aquinas myself, but it seems to me that the problem with this argument, at least as Woods presents it, is that it describes as “simultaneous” events which, in fact, merely follow each other very closely in time. ”

        I have read Aquinas, a very long time ago, so this is from memory.

        The argument hinges on Aristotelian physics, in which in order for something to move it must be being moved–no inertia. I no longer remember how Aristotle explains the fact that if you throw a stone it keeps moving after it leaves your hand, but he does have some explanation in which something is continuing to move it.

        Aquinas actually considers the case of non-simultaneous causation. His example is ancestry. In order for me to exist my father must have existed, and his father, and … . But my existence does not depend on the current existence of any of them. He concludes that with that sort of causation you can have infinite regress, with Aristotelian motion you cannot. So the primum mobile argument collapses once you shift from Aristotle to Newton.

        That, at least, was my conclusion fifty some years ago reading it.

  3. skef says:

    I’ve noticed a good amount of “it depends on how you define it” reasoning here, which from the perspective of contemporary philosophy sounds very post-war. In that spirit:

    Is the pope a bachelor?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Depends on how pretty you think you are.

    • onyomi says:

      I think it would be awesome if someone made a whole dictionary for a language set up like this or this. Seems like a huge job.

      Reading about this sort of thing makes me see all kinds of facts about English words, for example, which I intuitively already knew but hadn’t already thought about. For example, what’s the difference between a dagger and a knife? Basically all daggers are knives but not all knives are daggers, because “dagger” implies a stabby weapon and a knife could be used for e. g. cooking. This is the sort of information which is hard to divine using a regular dictionary, especially as a second language learner.

        • onyomi says:

          Very interesting. I didn’t know this existed. Thanks!

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I was going to mention WordNet as soon as I got home from work. Turns out, WordNet is exactly what this VisuWords app is based on. (The UI tech appears to be ThinkMap, or something very close to it.)

          It’s truly a valuable resource – I feel kinda bad about mentioning the limitations we’d found with it when we tried to use it for some semantics-focused apps. For one thing, it’s kinda incomplete, which is saying something, given that it’s got over 200,000 words and concepts in it, last I checked. Visualize “hat”, for example, and you get far from every hat in existence. (Again, the list you do get, however, is still reasonably long.)

          More importantly, it didn’t facilitate reasoning over some fairly common words, like “eats” – you can’t say that since cats eat meat, they’ll eat anything that is a kind of meat according to WordNet, because you’ll end up concluding that cats will eat mummies. This does mean that you can at least refute that “cats will eat any type of meat”, though, which is something. But you can’t even refute that without some extra extensional information.

          And generally, this is WordNet, not MeaningNet; this model is focusing on word relationships. But even this leaves something to be desired. Again, with the eating example, “is a kind of” is a word relationship, but it has different senses; horseflesh is a kind of meat, but in a different sense that cold cuts are. There’s no clear way to sort the kinds of kinds.

          Still, it has uses, and even feels kinda fun sometimes.

      • thehousecarpenter says:

        The difference between the meanings of “dagger” and “knife” seems fairly clear from the respective entries in Wiktionary:

        A stabbing weapon, similar to a sword but with a short, double-edged blade.

        A utensil or a tool designed for cutting, consisting of a flat piece of hard material, usually steel or other metal (the blade), usually sharpened on one edge, attached to a handle. The blade may be pointed for piercing.

    • JulieK says:

      I was going to say yes, but the first definition here is “A man who is socially regarded as able to marry, but has not yet.”

    • HeelBearCub says:

      You have to pair this with a question about an animal, e.g. the scatological tendencies of bears.

      In that vein:

      Is the pope a bachelor? Can you milk a bull?

    • Drew says:

      I’d say that he’s a bachelor. I’d just use the word to mean, “Of age. Neither married nor widowed.”

      Continuing on: The Pope and the Pope Emeritus clearly have a relationship. Can we say it’s a monogamous relationship, given that they’ve both promised to not sleep with anyone else?

      And if “not sleeping with anyone else” isn’t sufficient for monogamy, how long of a dry spell would turn a previously monogamous relationship non-monogamous?

      • skef says:

        I’d say that he’s a bachelor. I’d just use the word to mean, “Of age. Neither married nor widowed.”

        Interesting, most people have “male” in there somewhere …

        But on the “I just use the word to mean” front, does the scope of that qualification extend to Humpty-Dumptying? Can I use “bachelor” to mean “female duck” by doing something like what you do?

        • Wander says:

          A female bachelor is a spinster.

          • Randy M says:

            I’ve never seen the phrase “eligible young spinster” though.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, because a spinster is specifically a woman who’s past marriageable age.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right, “bachelor” means a man who hasn’t married yet but still could. “Spinster” means a woman who never will marry.

          • Andrew G. says:

            In the traditional form of the banns of marriage as used in the Church of England, the prospective bride was referred to as “spinster” (unless, presumably, they were a widow).

            This usage might date back to the 1600s, though the text of the 1662 prayer book doesn’t seem to require it:

            the Curate saying after the accustomed manner, I publish the Banns of Marriage between M. of – and N. of -. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, or third] time of asking.

            “M. of -” and “N. of -” were (at least during the period when I attended church) actually expanded as “Firstname Lastname, [bachelor|spinster|widower|widow] of [this parish|name-of-other-parish]”.

          • Eric Rall says:

            “Maiden” is probably the closest traditional equivalent to “bachelor”, but it also implies virginity which “bachelor” does not. I suspect that’s part of why it’s fallen into disuse in favor of “bachelorette”.

          • sflicht says:

            Can vouch for the fact that in some variants of British English (e.g. in Hong Kong) “spinster” is a direct female analog of bachelor, rather than connoting “will never marry”. For example, a legal form asking if you’re married might have a checkbox for “bachelor/spinster”.

          • JulieK says:

            No, because a spinster is specifically a woman who’s past marriageable age.

            I would say both “spinster” and “old maid” refer to a woman who is not too old to marry, but is past the age when most women marry.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Just as a guess, the connotation of spinster that tracks with age is a referant to years of likely child bearing.

        • Deiseach says:

          a spinster is specifically a woman who’s past marriageable age

          Isn’t that an old maid? A spinster may be an old maid, but not all spinsters are!

          • The original Mr. X says:

            In my part of the Anglosphere the two terms are used interchangeably.

          • John Schilling says:

            Every dictionary I can quickly find, agrees that in contemporary usage “spinster” refers to unmarried women who are past the usual age for marriage or otherwise unlikely to marry, and is often considered
            offensive. “Spinster” for unmarried women generally is always given as archaic or limited to specifically legal/ceremonial contexts.

            Wikipedia Summary.

      • Loquat says:

        I’m going to have to be a wet blanket here and point out that it makes no sense whatsoever to apply the word “monogamous” to a social relationship that was never meant to include sex to begin with, just because both parties had independently sworn not to marry or have sex (your “not sleep with anyone else” is rather misleading, as their vows presumably prohibit them from sleeping with each other as well).

    • Deiseach says:

      Is the pope a bachelor?

      (a) one definition of bachelor is “unmarried man”

      (b) given that the current pope is both a priest and a member of a religious order, under both conditions he has taken a vow of celibacy

      (c) celibacy does not mean “vows not to have sex”, it means “vows never to marry”; the sexual abstinence part is understood as implied, given that chastity and continence are required within and outside of marriage

      (d) the pope has not, to my knowledge, sought dispensation from this vow nor was he married before ordination

      (e) therefore the pope is indeed a bachelor

      (f) if we’re talking about holding a degree, he is also a bachelor in that sense 🙂

      • skef says:

        Just to make a point about definitions in one way, “unmarried man” as a definition of “bachelor” has a problem that would make almost anyone reject it when it was pointed out, which is that “unmarried” means to almost anyone “not married” rather than “never married”, which includes divorcees, who are not considered bachelors.

        So that definition doesn’t capture the concept. To use the word that way is to (partly) Humpty-Dumpty it. Now, that problem is easily corrected in a way that wouldn’t affect your argument. But making that correction doesn’t argue either way about further corrections that might be necessary. People who use these concepts competently can’t always easily articulate them. So starting out with “one definition of bachelor is …” begs the question of whether the pope is a bachelor. It stipulates the question at hand rather than arguing for it.

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    How do neurotypicals learn social norms?

    I’ve seen complaints (from the past world before google) from nerds about being expected to play sports, except that no one would explain the rules. This leaves an interesting question open. How do most people learn the rules of games?

    For something that isn’t as potentially verbal, there was a recent flap about British banks expecting men to wear the right kind of tie in order to get promoted. How do people who know the right and wrong ties learn the difference?

    Some time ago, I couldn’t get seated at a restaurant because I wasn’t appropriatedly dressed. It took asking whoever was telling me this about five times until he told me that it was because I was wearing shorts.

    Let’s try not to be distracted by whether this is a sensible rule. To my mind, the interesting part is why I had to ask so many times.

    My impression is that while he wasn’t cordial, he wasn’t trying to be difficult. It’s possible that he had trouble believing that anyone could need to ask, so I had to keep trying until the fact that I was asking registered. However, my guess is that once a social rule is internalized, it isn’t stored verbally, it just seems obviously correct. It may never have been handled verbally– it may be a looks right/looks wrong sort of thing.

    • Randy M says:

      Different situations might come up differently. In the case of sports, a lot of kids will learn them in a youth league, and if not, many sports are covered briefly in phys ed in middle school. I’m surprised that the people you mention couldn’t find sports enthusiasts to discuss the rules in detail, though.

      A lot of norms are taught by parents. “Cover your mouth when you sneeze.” “Don’t point or stare at people.” Things that the children will do and get corrected for.

      The seating at the restaurant and like the ties aren’t merely norms as class markers. If you aren’t the sort of person who has learned the proper dress for the (presumably somewhat upper class) establishment, or knows what kind of fashions executives wear (idk, dark solid colors well fitting?) then you probably aren’t part of the group, and there’s no need to tell you because you don’t have the other behaviors that group members would exhibit.

      Some people are good at discerning these collections of small behavioral signs, but I don’t think that’s a category that encompasses all “neurotypicals”.

    • skef says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by “verbally”. Maybe that it’s not represented in the form of a belief — a separate (or separable) proposition regarded as true?

      Cf. the above thread on “bachelor”. Bachelor is a concept, and being a word (or lexeme) is verbal in some important sense. But that doesn’t necessarily make the concept easy to articulate for someone who can still use the concept competently. I think it’s quite likely that we learn social norms in a similar way.

      I’m not sure what to say about games, though. I would guess the primary problem with (complex) games is not that the rules can’t be explained, but that it’s not the kind of thing one can easily explain all at once. American Football is particularly complicated, and kids who like that sort of thing, or are in families enthusiastic about it, probably learn over time. I don’t see why most of that learning wouldn’t be from verbal instructions/clarifications.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      By neurotypical do you mean non-ASD or what? A lot of us are weird as all hell but well within the normal range.

      I’m a bit puzzled at the sports thing. Sports rules are one of those things that are exhaustively drilled into kids in PE. I didn’t retain any of it because I didn’t care, but it was explained to me at length and in great detail.

      For dress, that’s definitely a “one of these things is not like the other” reaction. If you picture a Fortune 500 board meeting in your head and then mentally insert a guy in cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt into the scene you can feel the atmosphere go from Wall Street to Caddyshack. It’s incongruous and even a bit funny.

      That said, there are dress codes for male fashion. If you want to definitively know whether an outfit is Business Formal or Semi-Formal there are sources one can consult. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect a social climber in a class-conscious society like the UK to have dedicated some effort to learning. Not having picked up that skillet by the time you’re working at a major bank is probably not a good sign.

      • StellaAthena says:

        “neurodivergent” is an emerging term to refer to people with certain kind of conditions in the DSM (for lack of a better phrase to use), such as developmental disorders. The basic idea is that there’s something importantly different between chickenpox and polydactyly. In the former case, something is changing you to be different from the way you would otherwise be in a negative manner. In the latter case, you are different from most people in a medically recognizable fashion, but it’s “you are different” rather than “something is making you wrong.”

        Historically speaking, with mental conditions this distinction is not drawn. Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD are spoken of as if something is wrong with you, just like chronic depression is. As with all new categorizations, the line is fuzzy and not standardized but roughly speaking personality disorders and developmental disorders are on one side of the line and most everything else is on the other side.

        This is not the same thing as saying treatment is bad. I am autistic and ADHD and would take a pill to make my executive function disorder go away in a heartbeat. Managing symptoms that cause me significant difficulty in life is good. But I wouldn’t take a pill that would make me allistic (not autistic). It’s not so much that I enjoy being weird (though I do), as it is I cannot conceptualize what it would be like for me to not be autistic. I feel as if a person who is just like me in every way but not autistic is different from me in ways that are very important to me, and in particular to my sense of self. While there (generally) isn’t a pushback against treatment for symptoms from people who think in this framework, there is often pushback against cures.

        The idea is new and still in flux but I hope I’ve motivated the thinking behind it a little bit. Finally, to actually answer your question, “neurotypical” (commonly abbreviated “NT”) is the antonym of “neurodivergent” (commonly abbreviated “ND”, and sometimes called neuroatypical).

        • skef says:

          The basic idea is that there’s something importantly different between chickenpox and polydactyly. In the former case, something is changing you to be different from the way you would otherwise be in a negative manner. In the latter case, you are different from most people in a medically recognizable fashion, but it’s “you are different” rather than “something is making you wrong.”

          Historically speaking, with mental conditions this distinction is not drawn. Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD are spoken of as if something is wrong with you, just like chronic depression is.

          Either I don’t really agree with this, or “medically” is doing a lot of work.

          Set aside a) whether polydactyly has really been considered a “medical” phenomenon, and b) whether autism spectrum disorders should be considered disorders. There are any number of trends in psychological difference that are generally accepted and commented on and not considered disorders. One would be the “artistic temperament”. Another would be the “Type A personality”. And there have also been distinctive cognitive arrangements that are more comparable to polydactyly in terms of the attitudes experts held towards them, such as synesthesia.

          Autism spectrum disorders were put into the “psychological disorder” specifically because they were seen as debilitating. That may have been wrong (although some instances in the category do seem at least as debilitating as, say, being born without an arm) but it wasn’t for lack of available categories.

          • StellaAthena says:

            I’m not sure what your objection is. Is it that the analogy is bad because polydactyly isn’t debilitating? That was chosen arbitrarily… celiac disease is debilitating. There’s a difference between celiac disease and chickenpox. Do you disagree?

            I am not saying that being autistic is not debilitating. Being autistic is debilitating, and I think that’s even in the DSM definition.

          • StellaAthena says:

            For the record, I’m not endorsing this view, though I find parts of it reasonable. I’m just trying to explicate it.

          • skef says:

            Maybe I just don’t understand what relevance the distinction is supposed to have.

            “In the latter case, you are different from most people in a medically recognizable fashion, but it’s “you are different” rather than “something is making you wrong.””

            This makes it sound like the argument is another version of the nature/nurture debate, in which case the problem would be that most biological phenomena are a combination of both. Say you get a brain tumor, and that affects your cognition. If you get one because you’re genetically prone to brain tumors, then that’s partly “you are different” rather than “something is making you wrong”. On the far end of the spectrum, you might be so prone to brain tumors that you’ll get one no matter how you live, and therefore at least arguably entirely a matter of “you are different”. But from a medical perspective a brain tumor that results entirely from environmental effects and one that results from genetic factors will be treated based on the likely outcomes for the person who has it.

            If the comparison were between chickenpox and cancer or chickenpox and lupus rather than chickenpox and polydactyly, what significance would it have?

        • “But I wouldn’t take a pill that would make me allistic (not autistic). It’s not so much that I enjoy being weird (though I do), as it is I cannot conceptualize what it would be like for me to not be autistic.”

          Interesting. What if there were a pill that would make you allistic for a day. After the day you get to decide whether to take it again. Do you take it?

          I don’t have any of the standard “disorders” so far as I know, although I think I have some characteristics in the direction of ADHD. But I’m odd in a variety of ways, some pretty unambiguously good, some bad. It would be interesting to spend a little while closer to normal in a bunch of ways and see how I liked it.

          • StellaAthena says:

            I would take the pill, under the assumption that I get the make the determinism as I am now, not as I am under the influence of the pill. I think that’s what you’re going for, but it’s a little unclear to me.

            I think that thinking of human diversity in terms of classified disorders is the wrong way to do it, because the DSM exists for a reason and that reason isn’t to give an accurate classification of the diversity of the human brain. It’s to treat people who hurt. That’s why in many cases it specifically says that you need to fit a certain description, AND have this fact significantly negatively impact your life. This emphasis on disruption to one’s life really messes with it’s usefulness as a description of human diversity.

            ——

            People ask me a lot “what is it like to be autistic” and I fundamentally don’t know how to answer that question. I can give you a list of things that people think are weird about me. I can give you a list of things that bother me that don’t seem to bother most people. But that doesn’t really describe what it is like to be autistic, I don’t think. What I would usually reply with is “sure, describe what it is like being allistic first though”

            It’s not that I believe that I am indescribably fundamentally different. It could be that almost all of my experience are exactly like yours, but the only brain I’ve seen from the inside is mine. The only thing I have to go off of is a rough estimate based on how often people tell me my mind works in funny ways, or are confused or off put by my behavior. By that type of metric, I’m forced to conclude I’m exceptionally different from most people.

            Being on the spectrum means that my brain developed in a manner that is significantly different from most people. Saying “I can’t conceptualize being allistic” is actually rather similar to saying “I can’t conceptualize being a dog.” If you ask someone what the interal experience of being a dog is like and how it differs from being a human, the answer is “how the fuck am I supposed to know?” I perceive this question in the same fashion: different in extremity but not in type.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Some time ago, I couldn’t get seated at a restaurant because I wasn’t appropriatedly dressed. It took asking whoever was telling me this about five times until he told me that it was because I was wearing shorts.

      I’m curious what kind of a restaurant it was and what the appropriate dress was.

      Because the reason he was struggling to give an answer may have more to do with the fact that the rules are malleable and not defined simply.

      So we might say that the restaurant required semi-formal dress, in which case you might easily have been able to be seated if you looked like this

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It was a small town bar– I’d call it nice enough but not fancy. I wasn’t as dressy as the woman in the photgraph.

        • hlynkacg says:

          note that “dressy” is another one of those social norms that is not explicitly defined/taught.

        • John Schilling says:

          It is fairly explicitly taught for men’s formal attire, it just isn’t part of any school curriculum to guarantee that nobody misses out. If you go looking for style guides, it’s not hard to find the information.

          What constitutes acceptable formal and/or business attire for women, is much less well defined and subject to more frequent shifts. This is, as I understand it, a real problem for some women.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I thought semi-formal dress meant black tie.

        That looks more like business casual to me. Admittedly the upscale end of business casual, but business casual nonetheless.

        • Brad says:

          It did. Now what used to be called formal dress is almost never worn and what used to be called semi-formal dress is only very rarely worn. Thus the phrases are available for re-purposing and have been in some contexts.

          • Spookykou says:

            I imagine ‘local culture’ plays a role, in Texas we have Austin for example which has dramatically lower standards of formality than Dallas just a three hour drive away, and I would assume that some of the north east would have even stricter expectations of formality than Dallas. But in general it seems that the desire for formality has been steadily decreasing for a while now in much of the western world.

            I heard an interesting story about casual Fridays(I think in Japan) being instituted to try and save money on air conditioning costs. It is more expensive and or more uncomfortable to be formal in hot and humid environments.

          • Brad says:

            I live in the Northeast. I’ve been to a handful of black tie events in my entire life, only one that wasn’t a wedding. People go to meet the President, testify before Congress, and argue before the Supreme Court in what that wiki link calls “informal wear”.

            I believe the last time a white tie state dinner was held in the White House was back in 2007 when Queen Elizabeth II was visiting.

            White tie aka “formal wear” is more or less period costume at this point in the United States. Given that it makes sense to re-purpose the term to refer to what we actually wear in formal situations.

          • Matt M says:

            “People go to meet the President, testify before Congress, and argue before the Supreme Court in what that wiki link calls “informal wear”.”

            I feel like this is an underrated problem – that the language to describe styles of dress is laden with implications that are the exact opposite of reality.

            “Informal” wear is super formal by today’s standards. “Business casual” is fairly formal and specific. Even numerous occasions for “casual” dress imply a standard that is well above, say, a t-shirt and cut-off jeans.

            We keep trying to shoe-horn modern styles of dress into category names that were in use 200 years ago and it just creates a huge amount of unnecessary confusion.

          • andrewflicker says:

            As a result I prefer telling people context-dependent with a brief example, like so:

            Dress code: Modern wedding level (tuxedos, formal dresses)
            or
            Dress code: Professional Office (no jeans, button-up shirts, etc.)

          • Randy M says:

            Although that might not be quite enough context. I’ve been to a lot of weddings, an I might never have seen a Tuxedo.

          • andrewflicker says:

            That’s exactly why I include the examples- in case where your context experience might not match. This is an ostensive definition.

          • Randy M says:

            Sure, sure, the way you state it is quite helpful, I’m just pointing out another instance of fashion drifting yet further.
            Or I only know proles.
            But that’s not mutually exclusive.

    • Aapje says:

      @Nancy

      – Reading (neurotypical) books/magazines
      – Talking with friends, hearing them brag, getting mildly punished for breaking the norms.
      – Experimenting
      – Parental guidance (the least important one)

      Nerds tend to have friends that don’t have these skills either. Also, they tend to put less effort into learning the rules when they are young and then try to learn the rules later, when it is no longer socially acceptable to be lacking so much in these skills.

      Also, autistic people tend to want clear rules, rather than the fuzzy logic that defines interactions with humans (rather than computers, which are more predictable).

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      I learned the rules of a lot of sports by playing them in video games

    • moridinamael says:

      It seems likely to me that the reason he was reluctant to tell you the reason you wouldn’t be permitted was that he couldn’t find a way to communicate it “delicately”. I would guess that he tried several decreasingly formal and indirect ways of saying “You can’t come in because you’re wearing shorts” because he felt that just saying it outright would be construed as rude.

    • bean says:

      I’ve seen complaints (from the past world before google) from nerds about being expected to play sports, except that no one would explain the rules. This leaves an interesting question open. How do most people learn the rules of games?

      I think the problem there is that at the time (how far before google?) sports was the sort of thing you learned when you were young, and getting older without understanding them would be very weird. It would be like someone who was in their 40s, and had no clue how to drive, despite having an otherwise-normal life up to that point. (Not an immigrant from somewhere where cars are rare or something.)
      There’s also the problem, noted elsewhere, the game rules are often somewhat hard to understand when printed on a page, and much easier to see in action. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been explaining a board game, and have said “you know, it’ll make more sense when we’re playing, and I’ll point it out then”. And it almost always does, too.
      Combine these two, and you get a nerd who has a only a vague understanding of the basic rules of football thrown into a situation where they are expected to understand most of the rules themselves, and everyone is looking at them weird because they don’t.

      • Mark says:

        Now you’ve got me feeling self-conscious.

        I’m almost 40 and I can’t drive.

        (Having said that, I wouldn’t judge someone too harshly if they didn’t know the rules of tennis, so maybe I’m alright?)

    • rlms says:

      I think the specific example of bankers’ ties is probably to do with explicit requirements to wear a tie that marks you as a member of an elite university club or similar, rather than a general style thing. So people who know the right tie (and indeed own the right tie) do so because one of their contacts in the industry told them.

      In general, I think people learn dress codes by a combination of explicit instruction and pattern matching from dress codes they’re aware of (e.g. “everyone at [old high-status company] wears x, everyone at [newer lower-status company] wears y, so for my interview at [middle-status] I should wear mean(x, y)”). They don’t necessarily learn them perfectly though — wearing something that makes you seem a bit out of place the first time you go somewhere isn’t exactly uncommon.

    • onyomi says:

      I have this problem where others seem to learn by osmosis things I need to be told explicitly. Once someone tells me something explicitly, I usually catch on pretty quickly, but I seem not to absorb certain “common sense” things which “everybody already knows,” until I either look them up (Google is a big help; no matter how stupid the question (seemingly, the stupider the question, actually), thousands have had it before you) or just ask.

      Learning to drive and maintain a car was full of such examples. I have to change the oil? Why? What is a dipstick? Oh, so the yellow line means two way and the white line means two lane. And the broken line is a lane you can cross and the solid line one you cannot. And so on. Like, I don’t think they told us this stuff in driver’s ed. It was deemed too “obvious.”

      On the other hand, one also should realize how much everyone else is pretending like they know what they’re doing.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Learning to drive and maintain a car was full of such examples. I have to change the oil? Why? What is a dipstick? Oh, so the yellow line means two way and the white line means two lane. And the broken line is a lane you can cross and the solid line one you cannot. And so on. Like, I don’t think they told us this stuff in driver’s ed. It was deemed too “obvious.”

        At least in NY the DMV gives out handbooks with all of the meanings of road signs and markings as well as a lot of other driving minutia. You’re supposed to study it before the written exam, and a few idiots like me actually do, but the questions are so insultingly easy that I doubt anyone would ever need to.

        Car maintenance is traditionally passed on father-to-son, though that seems to have broken down for my generation. I can barely change a tire much less oil.

        • onyomi says:

          I recall the written test was mostly obscure knowledge no one knows, and which is useless as factual knowledge without an intuitive grasp, like the exact safe following distance for driving in the rain. But it also was the kind of multiple choice test where a moderately intelligent person could guess the correct answer by process of elimination.

          And in fairness to my father, though he’s not super handy himself, my usual reaction to him saying “son, come look at this tire with me,” was something akin to “Dad! I’m about to beat this boss in Final Fantasy…”

        • The Nybbler says:

          Car maintenance is traditionally passed on father-to-son

          I got some that way, though some learned later on from books or from other people. Rules of the road mostly from observing and annoying the crap out of my parents riding in the car as a young child. We lived in the suburbs so lots of car rides.

          I can barely change a tire much less oil.

          Oil’s easy in a normal front-engine car. It’s just not worth doing yourself; you can get it done for about the same price as buying the oil, not get oil on yourself, not lose any skin removing the filter, and not have to deal with the used oil. (just don’t go to Jiffy Lube; that’s something that should still be passed down the generations)

          I’ve re-mounted a car tire with a hand (bicycle) pump. I’m keeping that one in case I’m wrong about everything, there is an afterlife, I meet Robert Heinlein in it, and he gives me that spiel about what a human being should be able to do. “No, Bob, I couldn’t do all that. But did you ever seat the bead of a car tire with a hand pump? No? Well I’m going to go talk to Asimov now.”

      • Deiseach says:

        Like, I don’t think they told us this stuff in driver’s ed. It was deemed too “obvious.”

        I’m surprised to hear that; over here you have to do a test before you get your licence and there is a handbook/online version that instructs you in these things (a driver theory test was introduced in 2001 to go along with the practical driving test). The “Rules of the Road” booklet was used for years before that (and is still) for questions during the test.

        So you’d definitely be asked the ‘obvious’ questions when sitting your test like “what is that line for”, “speed limits on various roads”, “safe stopping distances” and the like.

        • I don’t know about Ireland, but my impression is that the U.K. takes driving exams much more seriously than the U.S. That might explain why the inhabitants are not all dead, despite narrow, twisty roads with high hedges and driving on the wrong side of them.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            NC certainly tests on the meaning of signage and road markings, as well as other useful knowledge.

            For instance, I believe one possible question requires you to know that the period just after it begins to rain is typically the most hazardous, as loosening deposits on the road are deleterious to traction.

          • rlms says:

            The written component of the UK driving exam is certainly pretty easy. I have no experience with the practical part (I’m in the first year at a university where you aren’t allowed to own a car), but I think it can be quite hard; my local test centre has a 30%ish pass rate.

      • CatCube says:

        Learning to drive and maintain a car was full of such examples. I have to change the oil? Why? What is a dipstick? Oh, so the yellow line means two way and the white line means two lane. And the broken line is a lane you can cross and the solid line one you cannot. And so on. Like, I don’t think they told us this stuff in driver’s ed. It was deemed too “obvious.”

        Where did you learn to drive?! In Michigan, our class for our driver’s license (given through the local school) had a literal textbook and written tests for every single one of these things.

        • onyomi says:

          We did have a class to take at our high school, but it was only a “number of hours” requirement. The result was we all essentially sat in a study hall for a few days while a gym teacher got up in front of us and chatted about random things, occasionally reading from a textbook.

          • CatCube says:

            What kind of moron did you have teaching this class? There’s absolutely no reason to believe these things are “obvious.” They go over them in college classes on traffic design and the MUTCD, for fuck’s sake!

      • AnonEEmous says:

        to keep this anecdote vague, this reminds me of sorting vests, a task me and the gang did fairly often

        basically there were a couple different kinds and I could never figure out which was which until one of my friends explicitly pointed out a really obvious feature that one type had and the others didn’t

        i never had a problem telling them apart again

    • Urstoff says:

      I can only speak from experience, being a neurotypical but having worked (often in explicitly social contexts) with ASD young adults, but the major difference to my mind is that I have an awareness about the possibility of rules at all, whereas such a possibility never even crosses the mind of someone with ASD. They know what a dress code is (to take your example), but it is never something that comes into consideration as a possibility for any social environment. In contrast, a neurotypical will draw on past experiences and generalize from that (e.g., in the last fancy restaurant I was in, everyone was wearing a jacket). My simple explanation/hypothesis is that a neurotypical engages in the (unconscious) induction of social cues/norms, whereas a neuro-atypical will (generally) only do so if explicitly prompted.

    • Deiseach says:

      For something that isn’t as potentially verbal, there was a recent flap about British banks expecting men to wear the right kind of tie in order to get promoted. How do people who know the right and wrong ties learn the difference?

      Honestly? That’s class difference in that particular example. A combination of being taught by parents/others and absorbing by osmosis from the environment (what clothes your parents/their friends/authority figures wear).

      There’s probably also a hint of the old school tie there, although literally wearing one might be seen as exactly the kind of gaucherie that means you are not “a good fit for our company culture”.

  5. Are People Interested in a South Bay Meetup?

    (I posted this earlier, but late in the thread so people may not have seen it)

    We are thinking of hosting another South Bay meetup in San Jose. Possible dates are Friday December 9th or Saturday December 17th. Are people interested, and do they have strong preferences between those dates?

  6. Rock Lobster says:

    I recall seeing a few articles a while back about experiments with building multi-story buildings, and even high-rises or skyscrapers, out of engineered wood materials instead of the more traditional reinforced concrete. I’m curious, is this something that could actually pan out, economically or technologically?

    Here’s an example of an article on this topic: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21706492-case-wooden-skyscrapers-not-barking-top-tree

    • Aapje says:

      Evolution has made some enormously strong materials by arranging relatively weak materials in ingenious ways, so it doesn’t seem necessarily impossible. Also, the way that this is approached seems to be that they gradually increase the height of the buildings, which seems a fairly safe approach.

      • John Schilling says:

        Trees are the results of millions of years of evolutionary optimization for making a wooden structure that can safely hold a leaf higher than any competitor in the neighborhood. I would expect that anything we can make of wood for the purpose of holding up an office full of busy people and their stuff, will be substantially shorter than the tallest trees.

        Which still leaves room for some rather tall wooden buildings, even if not skyscraper-esque in proportion.

        • Rock Lobster says:

          My understanding is that these designs use engineered wood materials rather than plain old lumber, for what it’s worth. So it would be analogous to a carbon nanotube in that regard.

        • The Nybbler says:

          There’s already a tower taller than most redwoods, with no fancy engineered wood involved:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliwice_Radio_Tower

          I expect that without the other constraints trees are subject to — having to feed itself, to grow, only one trunk in most cases, etc, that the height of the tallest feasible wooden structure (or even building) is not too related to the height of the tallest trees.

          • bean says:

            Buildings and radio towers are very different things. A radio tower basically just exists to support itself. Nothing heavy has to go at the top. A building exists to support its contents, in the same way a tree exists to support leaves. Notice how many very high buildings taper significantly, or have long spikes on the roof to make height. This cuts down a lot on how much of your ground floor is taken up by structure. If you’re looking at the highest (fiscally) practical wooden building, as opposed to the highest one you can build as a publicity stunt, then I expect John is right.

          • Iain says:

            The constraints on maximum tree height actually have more to do with limitations on water transport than structural integrity. Here’s a paper (pdf).

    • CatCube says:

      According to that link, SOM and Arup are involved, so there’s likely to be something there. The question in my mind is how they’re controlling deflections. Wood is much less stiff than steel or concrete, and it’s a lot harder to do moment connections. That would place a lot of reliance on X or K bracing, and those seem like they’d get large quickly. It has been a while since I’ve done anything with it, so I’m not really up on state of the art, though.

      Maximum deflection is usually the controlling consideration in steel design, rather than strength. For tall structures, people can get seasick if you don’t take care to control sidesway. Plus, if you get enough sidesway, the P-Delta effect can cause collapse.

  7. John Schilling says:

    The decline and fall of Western Democracy?

    Two men with one study, but if the polling data holds up, it looks like only 25% of millenials think it is essential to live in a democracy, 50% that it is important but not essential, and 25% that it is actually a bad or very bad idea. About 65% in Europe and 80% in the US believe that a military takeover could be legitimate. The numbers look better among older citizens, but even among baby boomers only about two-thirds see democratic government as essential and military coups as inherently illegitimate.

    This is based on 2014 polling data across multiple Anglospheric and European nations, and it is a substantial decline in support for democratic government from similar polling in 2015. So it’s not a reaction to Trump, it’s not the generically timeless disaffection of The Yoots Today, and I doubt it is Mencius Moldbug single-handedly converting the world to the benefits of pre-Revolutionary French Monarchy. So what gives?

    • Randy M says:

      I scanned the links looking for the exact wording of the military question, since I think it could be in keeping with a constitutional democracy for the military to act in what could be described as a military take-over–acting to countermand an order to arrest members of the opposition party or to confiscate all weapons, etc. They say something like “a military take-over if the government proves incompetent” which does not define an unambiguously unconstitutional, so that is worrisome.

    • bean says:

      My first thought on this is to remember that ‘Yes Prime Minister’ clip on polls, and all of the other delightful ways that this kind of data can be manipulated. For instance, the question where you get 25% essential is “Is it essential to live in a country that is governed democratically?” I can think of several ways to read that, which could lead to answers which don’t reflect attitudes towards a generic western democracy. Theoretically, that question should be mutually exclusive with ‘would you take a job in Singapore, Dubai, or Hong Kong?’. Or even ‘can countries which are not democratic do well?’ I would have to say yes to both of those, and would probably put an 8 or 9 on the question, which theoretically puts me in the 50% that think it’s good but not essential. This pattern seems to repeat throughout. There’s lots of cases when they only screen the highest section of answerers, and then compare across generations. That leaves a lot of room for elderly Hispanic women to sneak in.
      I’m also reminded of the Churchill quote about democracy being the worst system except for everything else. If you gave people a ranked-choice option, I suspect the results would be rather different.
      (I’m also in the group which denies a military coup absolute legitimacy. I can certainly think of cases where the military seizing power is the best possible outcome. After all, we’ve been told that rebellion is our duty if the government becomes tyrannical, and who has the most guns?)
      Specifically on the ‘democracy is bad’ question, I’d love to see that linked with political affiliation and the political party in power at the time. I bet if you took a survey of attitudes towards democracy right now vs 4 (or 8) years ago, you’d have at least broadly similar results in terms of badness, and very different results by ideology. The mid-90s, as far as I’m aware, were a period of somewhat less polarization than we have right now.

      • hlynkacg says:

        This was essentially my take as well.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’d like to see data from 4-8 years ago myself, but the data from 1995 is still important. As you note, it’s trivial to engineer a single study to produce undemocratic or anti-democratic responses, and could be done unintentionally. But if you ask the same questions of a similar population twenty years apart and get different answers, and particularly if the answers from the twenty-somethings in 1995 and the answers from forty-somethings in 2014 are similar, that looks more like a secular shift than a polling error.

        • bean says:

          But if you ask the same questions of a similar population twenty years apart and get different answers, and particularly if the answers from the twenty-somethings in 1995 and the answers from forty-somethings in 2014 are similar, that looks more like a secular shift than a polling error.

          Well, a lot of the questions on democracy were not included until 2005, and they didn’t do a comparison between the 2005 and 2010 numbers. And 5% isn’t necessarily that big of a shift (which is about what the cohort shifts they saw were). Some people are going to treat poll questions as signalling opportunities. 1995 was about the high point of ‘the end of history’, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people in general were more likely in 95 to say ‘yay democracy’ than they are now, or were in 2005 or 1985. Note that the researchers did not include much data for other surveys which could flesh this picture out.

          • John Schilling says:

            The polling shift for “Having a Democratic System is a Bad/Very Bad Way to Run This Country”, which is the one we can directly track across a generation in Foa & Mouk, looks like 7% absolute but 41% relative. Democracy = Bad is still a rare position but, from this data set, one that has grown significantly.

            Democracy = Meh and Coups = Meh look like they gave grown to strong majority positions among millenials over the same period, but that’s less certain from the data at hand. I’d like to do a deep dive into the WVS database myself, but I probably won’t have time for the next week or so.

          • bean says:

            The polling shift for “Having a Democratic System is a Bad/Very Bad Way to Run This Country”, which is the one we can directly track across a generation in Foa & Mouk, looks like 7% absolute but 41% relative. Democracy = Bad is still a rare position but, from this data set, one that has grown significantly.

            That’s possible, and I’ll admit that it’s usually possible to explain away any paper of this sort, regardless of how true it is. But I still smell something wrong with this. There are enough questions in the World Values Survey to cherry-pick the alarming ones, and I’m really not sure how much of the change is driven by attitudes and how much is driven by circumstances. If you’re annoyed at Republicans being obstructionist in Congress, a strong leader who doesn’t have to deal with them is good. If you’re annoyed at Obama, the military running things sounds good.
            Another really important fact is that the question about democracy being a good way to run the country had only four options, very good, fairly good, fairly bad and very bad. That seems likely to throw the statistics off of what we’d naively expect them to be if a neutral option was included. I pulled the actual results to verify this, and it breaks down across the 4 categories as 37.8/41.9/12.2/4.9 with 3.2% no answer. I suspect that a lot (if not a majority) of the ‘fairly bads’ are people who are not wild about it, but might have gone neutral instead if that had been an option.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      it’s not the generically timeless disaffection of The Yoots Today

      Why not?

      Your wording implies we’re looking at the difference between adjacent years, which is almost certainly noise. In fact, this statement:

      This is based on 2014 polling data across multiple Anglospheric and European nations, and it is a substantial decline in support for democratic government from similar polling in 2015.

      Doesn’t even make chronological sense. What gives?

    • BBA says:

      Tell everyone about how amazingly well China is doing for 20 years and eventually they start thinking China is onto something.

      • Tibor says:

        This is something that I find unfortunate about libertarians pointing out how good China is doing. Sure, China is doing so much better that in did under communism, it is a great thing as it lifts hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and clearly demonstrates how even the extremely flawed and still very economically unfree Chinese capitalism is superiour to command economy and socialism.

        But while the message is “even partial capitalism is better than socialism, call in exhibit China”, it is often heard as “the Chinese system is perfect and we should all copy it”. I think libertarians should emphasize they don’t mean the second thing when they talk about China.

        • The interesting comparison is China to Russia. There are lots of differences that might explain why China’s shift away from communism was so much more successful than Russia’s. But one difference is that Russia tried to introduce both capitalism and democracy, China only capitalism.

          • hyperboloid says:

            It’s debatable how much the Russians really tried to introduce democracy. But if that were the explanation wouldn’t you expect the Czech republic or the Baltic states to have done a lot worse?

          • Tibor says:

            @hyperboloid: One difference is that Czechoslovakia was democratic prior to WW2 (as pretty much the only country in central Europe at the time) and even the Empire had some elements of democracy baked into it (the oldest Czech political party still in existence – the social democrats – were founded 1878). Russia went from absolutism straight to communism without ever having anything remotely close to a democratic regime. That might be why it didn’t work out. Another reason is that Russia is huge and democracy works better in smaller polities (I think that the US, China, India or Brazil would all benefit from splitting into smaller countries).

          • bean says:

            The interesting comparison is China to Russia. There are lots of differences that might explain why China’s shift away from communism was so much more successful than Russia’s. But one difference is that Russia tried to introduce both capitalism and democracy, China only capitalism.

            I think the answer to this one is just Russia. It’s basically contrarian-land. Things happen there that could not happen anywhere else. It’s got a mid-size economy, a decaying nuclear arsenal, horrible demographic problems, and somehow is about the third or fourth most powerful country in the world. It gets taken over by the communists, who completely failed everywhere else in the world until the Russians were backing them up.

          • Tibor says:

            @bean: What makes Russia unique is just its enormous size. The Russian state had a unique opportunity to colonize next to its own territory where there were no strong polities present. That means that unlike the Spanish, Portuguese or English, they could more easily hold onto those colonies. The reason they are still powerful is that a) they have nuclear weapons and b) they have a lot of natural resources. The second point being a direct effect of the sheer size of their country.

            Russian culture definitely values strongmen, is very socially hierarchical and the government of Russia has been strongly centralized for centuries (unlike in Europe where the king was often subject to de facto, sometimes even de jure, elections of the nobles). Not the best starting point for a democracy (or liberalism of any kind). It can be argued that India has a similar problem with its caste system and all, but I don’t know that much about India.

            Russia is not the only country where communism succeeded to take over the state (without foreign intervention) – China became communist on its own, Cuba became communist despite US interventions. True, in Eastern and Central Europe, communists would not have succeeded (any longer than the Nazis have at least) without a support from Moscow (the first wide anti-communists riots started in Pilsen in 1953, then East Germany a month after that and then Hungary in 1956. All were violently suppressed and especially the last two would have probably overthrown the communist regimes were it not for Russian military intervention. North Korea would probably not exist today were it not for Chinese support (a question is what would have happened to the country without either Chinese or US interventions), similarly for communism in Vietnam (again, I’m not sure what would have happened there with no interventionism).

            You have communism succeed in two very hierarchical and centralized societies (Chinese and Russian), which I think is no coincidence.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @tibor

            China became communist on its own

            The soviets actually invaded, and set up a beach head for Mao, though the Chinese Communists did the work of taking the rest of the country.

            Cuba is a strange example because it experienced an entirely home grown revolution that only went full Communist to secure Soviet aid.

          • Tibor says:

            @hyperboloid: Interesting, I didn’t know that. I can see how this stuff lead the US to the idea that communism spreads like cancer unless killed at the root.

        • BBA says:

          It’s not just the libertarians. Thomas Friedman (no relation), the New York Times’ leading cheerleader for the Clinton-Bush pro-globalization consensus, used to write a lot about how rapidly China is growing, and why can’t we be dynamic like them?

          (He was also known for warning that the great experiment in Iraq had not yet failed, but the next six months would be critical, many times over the course of several years. No, I’m not a fan of his.)

          • Hetzer says:

            Where can I go to get a good handle on what’s going on with China these days (I, too, am not a fan of Thomas Friedman)?

            I haven’t heard or read much about modern China other than the usual “China stronk. 21st century is China century (best century).” from western news magazines.

            I see a lot of disagreement about whether China is in good shape or if it is heading towards an internal social/political conflict leading to balkanization, or if the environmental damage from the heavy industry in the last few decades will catch up to them and kill them all.

            Oh, and also: I’m new here, just made my account today. I’m confused by how there is no reply link at the bottom of a lot of comments. Am I doing something wrong, or is that by design?

          • Acedia says:

            @Hetzer

            The reply button disappears after you get 3 nested levels deep, I assume for readability reasons. The convention is to post a reply to the parent comment instead, with a tag at the top to indicate who you’re talking to, as I’ve done with this comment.

          • @Hetzer:

            For a description of what happened to China from Mao’s death to about 2010, I recommend How China Went Capitalist by Ronald Coase and Ning Wang. I don’t know what would be a good source for events since then. The current leader seems to understand the logic of a market society much less well than Deng and his people did.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Here is the web site for the survey. You can do online analysis, but it seems like a hassle. First you have to choose the year, then the country, and only then can you search for questions. Once you get to a question, it lists equivalences in other years, but they aren’t links. Because there aren’t any permalinks. The downloads don’t sound too bad, though.

      It would probably better to check with a different survey in event. GSS has a good interface, where you first search questions and the browse interface indicates when it was asked. For example, «How proud the way democracy works» was asked 3 times in 20 years. I don’t see much change. Yet «How well did democracy work in america ten yrs ago» shows marked decline 2004 to 2014. [Do those last two links work for you? Sometimes they fail for me, but I don’t see a pattern.]

      • John Schilling says:

        Neither link works for me, but the GSS home page link does. Would like to do a deep and comparative dive into the GSS and WVS databases on this, time permitting, but I’m not optimistic on the time front and you’re right that the WVS interface isn’t helping.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Leaving aside issues of how the poll was conducted – if there’s a drop from 1995 to 2014…

      Surely the shine wearing off after the end of the Cold War would have something to do with this? We millenials haven’t lived in a world where Democracy was the good guy, threatened by the bad guys, etc. BBA points out the way that China has been presented – very “China is eating our lunch!” – and people will start to say, “well, why is that?” If you were born in the mid to late 80s onwards in a democracy, your experience has been of economic ups and downs, foreign policy blunders (depending on where you’re from), etc, with no heroic narrative.

      I would guess that has something to do with it.

      • DavidS says:

        Possibly also the idea of the alternative? That in 1995 ‘not democractic’ was read to mean ‘communist’ or ‘tinpot dictator’ and now people mean… something else. Anarchist? Libertarian? Technocractic anti-populist?

        • John Schilling says:

          I would very much like to believe that half the Millennial population was sufficiently well-versed in the various forms of anarchism, libertarianism , even death-eaterism, to have independently reassessed the mainstream consensus about How Democracy Ought To Be Done, but I think that level of interest in politics is still more of a 5% thing than 50%.

          • Matt M says:

            Is it possible that they’re simply absorbing some of it from cultural osmosis?

            Like, I’m a libertarian anarchist well versed in political theory. My friends and family know that I am this. They know that I don’t vote, oppose “democracy” etc. They also know that I am not some crazy fascist supervillian.

            So even though they haven’t read any libertarian political treatise, they know that society includes at least one intelligent, morally sound person who believes such things, so might be more inclined to answer that “it could work” even if they don’t know exactly what “it” is?

    • Salem says:

      Maybe some of them have been to Dubai?

      50 years ago, all the successful, stable countries in the world were democracies, so people assumed democracy was vital. Now, there are quite a few nice places to live that aren’t, and people have noticed.

      I suspect immigration also has something to do with it. I don’t see those poll numbers broken down by ethnicity, but I suspect white Europeans are most likely to think democracy is vital, and immigrants/children of immigrants most likely to see it as optional. This is both for cultural reasons, and because immigrants are more likely to have noticed the breakdown in correlation between democracy and the good life.

      • Tibor says:

        I don’t know. I’ve been to Dubai. From a European perspective it is a pretty awful place to live. They have huge fancy skyscrapers there but that’s about it (and I prefer cities without skyscrapers anyway). Socially, the country is terrible (although probably slightly less so than the Saudi Arabia) and all of its wealth comes from oil and pretty much nothing else. Not to mention the climate there, but of course that has little to do with the country’s policies (the worst thing was that it was 45 degrees outside but something like 20 inside, since they have air conditioning everywhere and it was set insanely low relative to the outside temperatures…in our hotel we could not even change the temperature, so ironically I slept under two blankets in one of the hottest places on Earth in August because I was too cold). I talked to a Pakistani taxi driver who was working there and he was amazed by the place but that is because he is comparing Dubai with Pakistan and not with Europe (and also the Emirates are culturally closer to Pakistan).

        I don’t think there are enough non-European immigrants to poll those high numbers even if your hypothesis were correct. I think it is more likely a case of dubious wording and interpretation as suggested by others in this thread.

        • bean says:

          It works a lot better if we replace “have been to Dubai” with “have heard propaganda about Dubai”. The question specifically asks about where the respondent would live, not the country where the respondent currently lives, which leaves lots of wiggle room. The paper compounds this by only counting people who give a 10 (the maximum value). I suspect that most people here would not give that question a 10, either. I might be willing to live in Dubai or Singapore for a while, although I certainly wouldn’t give up my US citizenship.

        • Salem says:

          Dubai doesn’t have oil. Think again.

          But your comment practically makes my case. Pakistan is a democracy, but Pakistanis are keen to go live in Dubai, which is not. And you’re more likely to have noticed this if you’re of Pakistani origin than just English.

          • Checking Wikipedia, “today, less than 5% of the emirate’s revenue comes from oil.”

            So they do have oil, but it isn’t the major source of wealth.

          • John Schilling says:

            I believe that the 5% figure is for Dubai specifically, rather than the UAE as a whole. Saying “Dubai is dependent on oil exports” is rather like saying “Moscow is dependent on natural gas exports”; the stuff is produced elsewhere, but the money flows through the financial center of the polity.

            And I believe that Dubai has done a sufficiently better job than anyone else in the region at building the financial infrastructure to support oil exports, that a good fraction of their cash flow comes from acting as an intermediary to other countries’ material trade.

          • Matt M says:

            John Schilling,

            The relevant question would be – to what extent is Dubai’s success in terms of “supporting oil exports” a result of intentional decisions they made about economic policy or whatever, as compared to just a fluke of geography (they happen to be physically located in place between major oil suppliers and major oil consumers)

          • Rob K says:

            @Matt M
            I believe they spent a lot of the oil revenue they did get in the mid 20th century on developing their port. So a mix of good location, oil revenue to get them kickstarted, and a smart choice to use the money in a way that helped them attract future economic activity.

          • John Schilling says:

            Dubai is no better than any other random chunk of Persian-gulf coastline to serve as a material waypoint in oil shipments. Unlike e.g. Oman or Bahrain, it does not have any natural deepwater harbors, and it never had enough oil of its own to justify building a major oil terminal to serve the local market (that would be neighboring Abu Dhabi). It does have some rather impressive artificial harbors, and supporting commercial infrastructure, constructed as a matter of deliberate policy during the brief period when the emirate did have a fair deal of oil revenue. Any of the Emirates could have done that, as could several of the surrounding nations. Dubai and Bahrain are the ones that actually did.

          • Tibor says:

            Isn’t it a bit like saying that Moscow has no oil? Dubai is a part of the UAE and the whole country’s economy depends mostly on oil.

    • onyomi says:

      I definitely can’t believe that 80% of Americans think a military coup in the US could be legitimate. Maybe a military coup in a place which didn’t have a democracy (or had a democracy we didn’t like) could be seen as legitimate (after all, we’ve kind of engineered that ourselves in the past…), though even that would surprise me.

      I think the wording of the question makes a big difference: though the results are still surprising, I can imagine people hearing the question “Is it good to have a strong leader who doesn’t have to deal with parliaments and elections,” and only hearing, basically, “wouldn’t it be nice if the president could just do things and not deal with all this stupid wrangling with that no-good, do-nothing Congress?”

      If you phrased it as “would it be good for Barack Obama or Donald Trump to be able to declare themselves dictator for life and never hold any more elections?” I’m sure you’d get a very, very low number of “yes,” responses.

      That said, I do think it’s true that people have lost faith in democratic institutions in recent years, including the necessity of checks and balances, etc. which many may see as stupid red tape: filibusters, “obstructionism,” etc.

      • John Schilling says:

        As Randy M already noted, the specific wording was “if the government proves incompetent”, and the context was implied but not IIRC explicitly stated to be the government of the respondent’s country – all western democracies. And it was explicit about a military takeover, not a civilian president cutting red tape.

        “Incompetent” leaves a fair bit of room for interpretation, but it’s not at all the same thing as “tyrannical” or “non-democratic”.

        • bean says:

          It’s phrased as ‘an essential characteristic of democracy’, and the 80% number comes from people who put 1s on their answer sheets. If we look at people who put 1-5, then the total for all Americans is 68.9%. For those under 29, it’s 61.2%. If we apply their standard methodology in another way (only counting the top interval instead of the bottom), then only 4.4% of millenials think that coups are important, as opposed to 5% of the overall population. (If I really wanted to push the numbers, I’d aggregate 9 in, with 3.1% of the total and 1.7% of those under 30.)
          This same pattern occurs in other places (civil rights, for instance). Under-30s are more likely to go to the center of questions instead of the extremes, which makes it easy to look at one extreme and sound alarms.

  8. Dabbler says:

    Hi. I’ve been having emotional abuse problems at home and I’d like help.

    I’m 24 and my parents have used my Aspergers Syndrome as an excuse to attack my self-confidence on multiple occasions. I still only have a Learner’s Permit, I only got a girlfriend recently because for years both my parents and an Aspergers psychologist were pressuring me not to even try, although they don’t do it any more my parents once saw fit to storm into my house against my will to search for my credit card (I was too emotionally weak to resist) etc.

    After trying to get them to compensate me by helping me with driving and my parents continually trivializing my demands for help becoming normal as unimportant, I have decided to cut them from my life in every way that I, still dependent on them for a few things, can manage whilst pushing towards achieving more. After effort I have gotten my parents to accept this, but when I called my Asian grandfather overseas he chewed me out on it.

    Admittedly I asked his perspective first foolishly thinking he’d have a good one. But he refused to hear out my side of the story and lectured me over the phone about how any girlfriend I had would need to make sacrifices, how I shouldn’t try to drive because my girlfriend would be scared I wouldn’t get to my destination etc.

    The question is- how do I get an old man from a traditional East Asian culture to accept boundaries? Especially when he trusts his child over me and sees me as an autistic who can’t do anything because he hasn’t seen my progress in person? Trying to get him to hear my side of the story didn’t work.

    • Spookykou says:

      Honestly, trying to find an argument to convince your grandfather of this seems like a fruitless endeavor. I would just focus on living your life the best you can. If somebody is convinced the LHC will destroy the world after the first few conversations, then there probably is no obvious construction of words that will change their mind, so just move on. You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into, or something like that.

      • Dabbler says:

        So you’re saying I should just tell him he’s cut off? Refuse to speak to him and his wife (who will undoubtedly side with him. I know them well enough to say that) again?

        • Spookykou says:

          I would only cut them off if you need to cut them off. I personally just disregard most of what my family says, which makes them considerably easier to get along with. But as a general rule, if somebody is on net a negative influence in your life, regardless of how they relate to you, you should limit interaction with them, or if it is bad enough, cut them out completely.

          Basically, I don’t think there is an argument that is going to change his mind, so you will have to show him your progress by living your life, if even after you show him progress he still won’t change, than I would assume that he will never change. The question then is if your life is better or worse with him in it. Keep in mind knock on effects, like your relationship with your parents, etc.

    • Aapje says:

      The best way is not to depend on him for your emotional validation. Your granddad seems to be using arguments which can be true, but seem to be not what you need to hear right now. Instead, you want a pep talk. You can’t really expect him to just be able to offer this, if it is not in him.

      In theory, you can explain your boundaries and then consistently punish bad behavior right away. So if he says the wrong thing, hang up. However, this merely allows you to end certain behavior, not make him act like you seem to want. It’s also a risky strategy that you should only use for relatively severe boundary violations (as you can destroy the relationship entirely if he doesn’t comply or he can use his pull with your parents, who have pull with you). I’m not convinced that this is warranted or smart at this point.

      The question is- how do I get an old man from a traditional East Asian culture to accept boundaries? Especially when he trusts his child over me and sees me as an autistic who can’t do anything because he hasn’t seen my progress in person?

      I think that you are answering your own question here, you have to show him something that clearly demonstrates your progress, so he starts to trust your ability to overcome.

      I noticed that pretty much everyone in your comment doubts your ability to achieve and/or believes that you are harming yourself by aiming high, which suggests that there is something about you that makes people feel this way. If you are still seeing that psychologist, I would suggest directly asking him/her why you are perceived this way and to work on fixing this.

      In your comment, you using very negative framing (“I still only have a Learner’s Permit, I only got a girlfriend recently”). This suggests that you have a strong tendency to focus on failures, rather than successes. I would suggest trying to reframe your achievements relative to your disability. For example, it is completely normal for people with autism to only be able to get a driver’s license at a later age. You seem to be doing quite well for your age. So say “I already have my learning permit.” Similarly, “I already have a girlfriend.”

      When you speak less dismissively about your own achievements, it is likely that others will also become less dismissive in return. It’s not a lot of fun for people to give pep talks to someone who is very negative.

      • Dabbler says:

        Actually, I wanted somebody who I could talk to that wouldn’t try to put me down. I didn’t think my grandfather would give me a pep talk, I thought we could just talk about the situation as it stands. I’m pretty isolated right now and I wanted somebody I could talk to who wouldn’t emotionally abuse me further.

        You’re ignoring the option “cut him off entirely”. Whilst I’m not certain about that, I don’t think it should be off the table either. I thought there might be a way to get him to see reason.

        The very form of emotional abuse I have been experiencing all this time is people refusing to let me even make a serious attempt to be normal. I wanted to drop out of university and my parents put psychological pressure on me to stay. I want to do university full time and my parents put psychological pressure on me. Only when I started ignoring my parents did I start achieving things.

      • quanta413 says:

        Building on what Aapje said about not depending on one person for emotional validation, I also agree reframing things for yourself would be good. 24 is pretty young. I had a girlfriend who still didn’t have a license at 24, and I’ve had multiple friends who hadn’t had a girlfriend by then either or barely had one. These were reasonably successful people. Sure most people get those things done earlier, but it sounds like part of the reason you didn’t have a girlfriend earlier is your parents and psychiatrist told you not to.

        • Dabbler says:

          The reason I resist such reframing is because my parents have used it all along, first as a form of abuse then to validate themselves.

          In broad terms, I said that something was clearly wrong that I couldn’t do things (go to university full time, get a girlfriend, use the tram system on my own etc). I wanted to try, but due to my self confidence issues my parents had made me feel I needed permission from them.

          Mum and Dad would then say “You’re doing great!” even though I was only doing university half time, still had aides imposed on me in classes by my parents, didn’t have a relationship couldn’t use the trams etc. I kept begging and pleading with them to help me make a serious attempt to fix myself, but they refused.

          Nowadays, they still say the same sorts of things to try and validate themselves. That they didn’t do anything wrong, that they didn’t emotionally abuse me. That all the times I wanted to try (and remember here that actually putting in serious effort would naturally lead to improvement and that is what they were trying to stop me doing) were just me being unrealistic.

          I’m used to framing it in a negative manner because I’m trying to tell people that what was done to me was not okay. These are simply the most obvious points of evidence. But I didn’t get a job of any sort until I was 23. I couldn’t go anywhere without my mother taking me. I got yelled at all night when I was trying to sleep, simply because I mentioned I wanted permission to see a prostitute, because as I said my parents had got me to the point where I felt I needed permission for everything.

          And my parents trivialized my feelings at every turn, thinking it was nonsense on my part not to feel okay with this because it was objectively good.

          (EDIT: The reason I turned to my grandfather is because I’m in desperate need, if not for emotional support, then at least for somebody I can talk to this about)

          • andrewflicker says:

            I got my driver’s license when I was 27. Had a permit for maybe 6 months before that – practiced with a few friends from work in the parking lot and whatnot.

          • Neither my 26 year old daughter nor my 23 year old son have drivers’ licenses yet. I was in my early 20’s before I had a girlfriend in any serious sense of the term.

          • Dabbler says:

            If it was just that then yes that would be a good argument. But the driver’s license matter is the culmination of a lot of things. I don’t have a degree either. Nor did I have a girlfriend for years. When I turned 23 I couldn’t go anywhere without help because my parents had suppressed my capacity to even use the tram system through fear.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dabbler

            Raising a kid is a balancing act between encouragement and protecting the kid from overreaching. A balance between setting boundaries and allowing the things that are necessary for personal growth. A balance between doing things for them and letting them try (and succeed or fail) on their own. Etc. This is already quite hard to do for normal kids and many parents get it wrong.

            What you are saying about your parents sounds much more like they have a hard time trying to get this right with you (which you can’t really blame them for too much, given that dealing with exceptional people by definition means that you cannot simply copy what others do), rather than intentional emotional abuse. That you accuse them of this and demand that they admit to it, rather than assume their good faith, can in itself be considered emotional abuse (and you should stop doing that).

            At the end of the day, growing up is about realizing that other people can never have as much expertise on what you need, which are appropriate goals, etc, as yourself. It’s also about learning that other people are imperfect, just like you. It’s about learning that well-meaning behavior by others can be unpleasant to you, but also that your well-meaning behavior can be unpleasant to others. It’s about learning that your choices have consequences and that the way that you get treated often is shaped by how you act, present yourself, etc.

            Frankly, in the posts by you, I see serious red flags of you being stuck in an overly dependent mindset, where you keep blaming others for not helping you enough or trying to help in the wrong way, while they actually seem to be doing their best. This is a very destructive mindset.

            Sorry for the tough love, but I suspect that your life would improve if you focus much less on ‘what people do to you’ and much more on your own actions. Furthermore, your ‘glass half full mindset’ will make you unhappy no matter what you achieve. No one has a perfect life and the people who always look at what they don’t have will never be happy.

            Don’t be Richard Corey.

          • Dabbler says:

            I’m going to address these points bit by bit.

            First, mistakes prior to the age of eighteen I consider forgivable on that basis. But it is the responsibility of parents to try and make me into an adult.

            In a natural environment, a person learns gradual independence through making their own decisions and making their own mistakes. Mum and Dad never allowed me to make a decision at all and suppressed any attempt I made to gain even teenage level independence through fear.

            This is basic. Actually making an attempt is basic. Once I grow up, I am supposed to claim responsibility for my own life and look after myself.

            When I was in school my parents promised me time and time again I would flourish at Melbourne University. They worked me hard and subjected me to more stress than I could handle against my will, justifying it on the explicit basis that they were trying to make me able to be a normal person. Then they changed their mind and refused to allow me to even have a say in the decision. I had given them everything they had asked- I had done MORE on multiple occasions.

            But they betrayed my trust, claiming they had never intended to make me a full adult. I obviously wasn’t flourishing. Yet they claimed I was.

            Yet all their fears were proven false later. After having panicked over getting a Learners Permit I discovered that having gotten H1 marks at Melbourne University it was easy. After finally getting on the trams and making a serious attempt after years of fear I mastered them within weeks. After being told for years it was impossible to get government welfare or go to the airport by myself I discovered both were easy when I actually tried. If I had listened to my parents, I still wouldn’t be riding the tram let alone anything harder.

            Finally, persistence is important for a reason. Precisely because of my shame I was obsessively trying over and over again. Had I kept going, I would have improved and, over time gotten better even on the most pessimistic estimates.

          • Dabbler says:

            I admit I’m emotional and angry here. I’m not going to lie and claim I have self control when I write this. But given you are reinforcing emotional abuse what do you expect?

            Besides years of self-hatred, I was constantly afraid of my parents. When I tried to date for the first time I was afraid of what would happen if my mother found out. I was afraid of talking about the fact I was an atheist to my father because he found enough reasons to shout at me anyway. I was even afraid to work on university assignments without my mother sitting next to me because of my self-confidence , even though with hindsight I know she wasn’t actually doing anything but sitting next to me.

            My parents constantly violated my boundaries. Once I lost my credit card. I wanted to hide the fact from my parents so I could get a new one but I needed details from them. When they found my parents intimidated me into letting them into my flat, which I had tried to say was off limits to them. The card had only $20 dollars. I tried to protest but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.

            My parents trivialized my feelings, itself a form of abuse. They claimed I was doing great when people I knew younger than me were completing their degrees ahead of me- not flourishing by any stretch of the imagination, but they still claimed I was. I said I was ashamed of how I was on multiple occasions, but they dismissed this as nonsense.

            My parents openly said I was forbidden from going to a prostitute. I was 23, yet they said they could forbid me for my own good for religious reasons I didn’t share- even after they knew I was atheist. When I tried to argue with them, we both shouted at each other, but I wanted to storm off and go to bed. Then my Mum came into my room, intimidated me by not letting me get up, shouted at me for hours, and threatened to hit me with raised fists (which I NEVER did to her or anyone else. I tended back then to hit myself in frustration but that’s not the same thing).

            In classic abuser fashion Mum acted nice later on, but only after having scared the shit out of me for a whole day in which the time she phoned she expressed further anger at me. Everyone else claimed she was justified simply because I had tried to suggest a prostitute, even though I had just been dumped by a girl I had been chatting for several months with and was planning to meet.

            As for your Richard Corey analogy, a good analogy here would be the emotional abuse inflicted on Victorian women as a matter of course in Victorian culture. Happiness is about more than apparent material wealth. It is a myth that that kind of life can ever satisfy.

            Our culture is very harsh on those who try to impose Victorian-seque norms, even if it still happens in some places. By the same logic it should be very harsh on those who try to do something similar on the basis of a mental disorder.

          • Mark says:

            Or the fact that they openly said I was forbidden from going to a prostitute.

            That one seems fairly normal to me. I’m not sure what my mum would do if I told her I was going to go and have sex with a prostitute, but I think the best I could hope for would be shocked and embarrassed silence (and my mum is ridiculously liberal).

            I think it’s admirable that you were really open about what you were thinking, but the reaction is not surprising.

          • Brad says:

            If this is how you see things then you need to cut them off. Not mostly, but totally. You can’t go running back for money. Yes, it’ll tough. Yes, you’ll be poor. Yes, being poor sucks. But there are lots of other poor people out there, including poor people with a variety of disabilities. You can survive without their money, especially in a country like Australia with a generous welfare state.

            I don’t know exactly how your grandfather will react, but your claim that you deserve to be treated as an independent human being with full agency will be a much stronger one.

          • Dabbler says:

            There are other points as well. And yes I know this is a bit long- it’s hard to control myself under the circumstances.

            Every time I tried to take a new step into independence the parental response was the same. They did their best to make the process feel as intimidating as possible when I already lacked self confidence.

            I try to give evidence and my parents just dismiss it. I tell them that there are other people with Aspergers doing far better than I do in an effort to establish some kind of objective standard- they don’t care. I try to point out false predictions my parents made (such as the impossibility of welfare, or of my going to the airport, or of me living on my own). They continue to maintain they are right.

            They wouldn’t even let me call the situation as it was. When I ashamedly referred to myself as a man-child they said I wasn’t even though not being able to do those things is clearly the sign of one. They told me to be proud of myself when every single person around me was shooting ahead of me. They go back and promises and pretend they said nothing of the sort.

            http://verbalabusejournals.com/about-abuse/long-term-verbal-abuse-symptoms/

            I have or had many of the symptoms. From their list:

            -You lose your spontaneity and excitement for life. (thinking I had to get permission for every thing I did is definitely a lost of spontaneity)
            -You suffer postponement, loss or shattering of dreams. (thanks to the abuse I gave up on ever looking after myself)
            -You feel trapped and on-guard. (definitely the former)
            -Others say you have low self-esteem. (everyone did. Even my parents)
            -You find that you rely on another person to tell you what you should feel or do. (my parents)
            -You want to escape or run away but may not know what you want to escape from and feel you don’t have anywhere to go if you left.

          • Tibor says:

            @Dabbler: I don’t know much about people with Asperger’s syndrome, so I can easily be missing something, but generally the situation seems clear to me – you have different opinions on how to live your life than your parents. You are 23, i.e. old enough to get by without their support. You cannot have the cake and eat it too – if you want their money you have to deal with the fact that they want you to do things their way. If they are so unreasonable in their demands or if you feel like they are then you cannot take their money.

            I find it really strange to ask your parents whether you can have sex with a prostitute – you cannot expect your parents to agree to that and it is not at all strange that they are angry. Not to say that I have moral problem with some people wanting to pay for sex (I think I would not enjoy it myself because I feel like I need something a bit more than just the physical thing, but I might be an outlier among men, I’m not sure), but this is a normal reaction parents would have – the more so given that you’d be paying that prostitute using their money.

            You are either adult and independent enough to do it anyway and not to have to ask or you are not – but things like this will only reinforce their conviction that you are not fit to live your life on your own without their interference. It could be that you feel like that because of how your parents have been treating you or for whatever other reason. But if you recognize that your asking them for permission was stupid, then that’s a good step to stop doing it, I think.

            Generally, if you think they cannot be reasoned with, aim to be independent in everything, don’t ask your parent’s permission about things and most importantly, don’t live off their money. Completely forbidding them to come to your flat which they paid for is also a bit strange to me, but perhaps it makes sense given your relationship with them.

            18 is an arbitrary threshold for adulthood. I am 27 and I don’t feel quite as an adult yet (I feel like I won’t until I have kids of my own) – but I am completely independent of my parents’ finances and I have been since I was your age. People who don’t go to the university become independent even earlier. The simplest thing for you is to do the same (and it would be a good idea even if your relationship with your parents were normal, you don’t want to be the kind of a guy who’s 30 and still lives with his mother).

            Like I mentioned, I don’t know how the Asperger’s syndrom comes into play here, so perhaps what I said is nonsense in your particular case.

          • Mark says:

            I’m feeling self-conscious again.

            I’m in my thirties and I still live with my mother.

            I actually don’t think it’s such a bad thing. My mum makes me dinner.

            And once you get over like, 25, they kind of give up on expecting you to do stuff. No-one really cares what middle aged people do.

            So, yeah. I say live at home with your parents, as long as there is a minimal amount of nagging.

          • Tibor says:

            @Mark: I don’t want to sound too harsh. In Italy this seems to be actually quite common for example. But I imagine that even if living with your parents doesn’t feel annoying at all to you (it would to me and I have a good relationship with them), it will be seen as big turn-off for any potential girlfriend of yours.

          • Mark says:

            Let me ask you this question. Which is truly the less attractive, in our so-called society? The ordinary thirty-five year old man, skulking in his parent’s basement, who, twice a day, manages to find the energy to break out of a rut of self-hating torpidity and masturbation, and emerges to messily eat the spaghetti that his despairing mother has prepared for him…

            or is it the businessman… in his suit and tie, drawing up his expense account?
            ============================

            It’s not really a concern for me at the moment, but I think there are probably many women who are down to earth and not particularly concerned either way. Non-aspirational working class people, particularly.

          • rlms says:

            @Mark
            Is this some kind of post-ironic trolling? The answer is “basement-dweller, obviously”.

          • Tibor says:

            @Mark: Is that a cake or death question?

          • Mark says:

            I don’t know – there’s something of the romantic hero about the basement dweller. Rejecting social norms to focus on his own pleasures/pains… that kind of thing.

            And, personally, I find the superficially repulsive but thoughtful man more attractive than the purely conventional one.

          • Dabbler says:

            Clarification point. I do work for my parents now. I don’t outright sponge of them. Thanks to Australian technicalities I can also exploit some welfare as well (I asked first before doing this). Not to say that the idea of cutting my parents financially doesn’t have a point. I can explain why I haven’t done it up until now, but I thought I’d get that much out there first. I also, as I said, live in my own flat.

            The way I see it there are two ways of looking at it. Either things are my “fault” for having Aspergers Syndrome and being unable to cope, or they are my fault because of my actions.

            I’m starting with the first because it appears to be Aapje’s reaction and because it’s easier to explain.

          • Dabbler says:

            First, as I mentioned before it is society’s practice to judge actions made on the basis of sexual or racial prejudice, including treating adults like children, very harshly. I am simply applying this basis consistently.

            Second, my parents consistently got things wrong in a manner which could only indicate prejudice. For a period of about a year now I have been consistently succeeding against parental predictions. Yet every single time they have warned me against trying things, claimed they were impossible, and thus many times made me afraid to try things for months until I actually did.

            They claimed getting a job was impossible. They claimed getting a girlfriend was impossible. Then that going to the airport was impossible. Then that moving out was impossible. Then that getting any kind of welfare for me was impossible.

            Third, many times I knew intellectually perfectly well what to do. I was simply afraid to do it for purely psychological reasons- a clear sign of emotional abuse.

            I was afraid to drop out of university, even though I knew that I could make a lot more progress on independence without it. I was afraid of going to university full time even though I was getting H1 level marks and had no interest in a Law degree so there was no point to trying for such high marks. I was afraid to try and get a girlfriend even though there was no harm in trying because of my mother’s reaction.

            This is also a Part II point. But I could have done a lot of things if I wasn’t so afraid. The source of the fear was my parents constantly making everything seem harder, combined with my lack of confidence precisely because my parents forced me to focus on academia for so long.

            ——————–

            On the prostitute point: I’ll get to that in Part II.

          • Dabbler says:

            Next is the argument that my own actions led me to failure.

            Prior to the age of about eighteen, I believed that my parents had my best interests at heart. My EQ was low and I had no understanding of the world that did not come from a variety of related sources- my parents, my psychologist, and for a time my aides at school. Although at this time they were doing good, in the name of suppressing my anti social behavior they made me trust my aides and psychologists, even when that meant believing somebody who appeared to be saying the opposite of what they were. I had ingrained a pattern where any dissent on my part from social norms was seen as a symptom of disease.

            Then things started to get worse. I started using the train and tram system for the first time, until my parents started forbidding me from going on my own because they’d changed their minds. I said I was an adult and they had no right to do that.

            So my parents piled on the pressure. The psychologist I was taken to told me I should do what my parents say and that this was perfectly normal, and that it was only my Aspergers preventing me from seeing this. Everyone around me told me I was doing great, when I should point out I WAS TOO AFRAID TO EVEN GO SHOPPING.

            I got confused and intimidated by the obvious bullshit. I had no idea they meant “You’re doing great because you have Aspergers and can’t do better.” I had trusted my parents all my life to make me into an adult and had no idea why they were turning on me.

            Because of contradictions it was impossible to cope. I asked my parents what I had to do to be recognized as an adult. They told me it was impossible. Every single time I tried my parents didn’t even bother to put effort into seeing if it could be done. They just told me it was impossible, and because they had gotten me intimidated from childhood I was too afraid to do anything about it.

            So, like any abuse victim, I ended up so victimized by superior power I had no choice but to take it.

            Nobody had ever told me, not even once, that prostitution was a different sort of thing. I honestly didn’t know. And I couldn’t find out because I was so afraid I couldn’t do anything. And I couldn’t not ask because I had gotten to the point where I was afraid to act.

            ———————-

            Yes I’m not perfect. But nobody could have expected better of me. My emotional intelligence in those days, unlike my other faculties, was poor. Very poor.

            I didn’t understand the concept of social status until I read about it on LessWrong. How was I supposed to realize that taking parental favors would make my status worse?

            You might say “Then how did you think you could get a girlfriend?”. With the benefit of hindsight, a mixture of persistence through sheer trial and error and the fact that with an actual concrete goal I wouldn’t have gotten into that mess in the first place.

            ——————

            I realize I forgot to address one thing. Why did I take parental favors for so long after I realized?

            Because I held out hope that my parents might compensate me and make it up to me. My father might have said no compensation was needed, but my mother kept talking about how she would do all these things to compensate me (before screaming whenever we got into a fight that I should be grateful she was doing them).

            I accepted them for a long time because I was desperately working on looking for a job and trying to have a relationship. I figured that they were what I was owed, and that there was no problem.

            I realize now that my parents will never make it up to me. But it took a long time and it was hard to accept that my parents had screwed me over six years of my life and that no matter what I did I would never get them back.

          • Mark says:

            @Dabbler
            Sounds like a really difficult situation for you.

            I’m going to make a suggestion here, but it might not be a very good one.
            Anyway:

            Have you thought about showing your parents what you write here? Or communicating your thoughts to them in writing? If your face-to-face communication isn’t as good as your writing, or if you’re afraid of their emotional reaction to what you might say, it might even-up the ‘balance of power’.

            Beyond that, I (obviously) don’t know your parents, but I would say that almost all parents are trying to do the best for their children. Parents don’t really know what they are doing, they get emotional, and make mistakes. That’s human, so don’t be too harsh on them for it.

            Most of the worst things in life come from people taking things too far when acting on a sense of aggrieved entitlement, though we need something of that ‘entitlement’ to give us the energy to stand up to others.
            It’s a balance. For me “cut family out of my life” (have no contact with them)* is taking it too far, unless they’ve been malicious and are dangerous to me.

            But, we all have to strike our own balance and live with the consequences.

            * Wouldn’t be so bad if it was temporary and there was a fairly good reason.

          • Dabbler says:

            My writing is basically a revision of the same kind of explanations I’ve tried to give to my parents. Originally however, the last straw was my parent’s tendency to give me bullshit. I didn’t mention this because it was more what convinced me it would never change then part of what made the issue bad in the first place, but it is why I ended it.

            First, there was the continuous double crossing. This had happened before, with my parents claiming I simply misunderstood about the promise I would flourish (apparently they meant flourish for an autistic), about forcibly stopping me going to the airport when I actually could pay with my own money for once (Dad said he’d come with me in March, then in April, ruining a long distance relationship when I kept delaying), then . Every time they claimed I misunderstood when they said nothing of the sort before and it was very convenient for them to motivate me with a false promise.

            They invalidated my feelings (I believe that is the technical term) by claiming it was ridiculous I was ashamed and not giving a crap, a behavior they have repeated for years. I made very clear that I desperately wanted progress because I still don’t have a license at 24, paralleling my shame over not having a girlfriend, not having a degree, not being able to use the tram system, etc. Yet like every other time before my parents acted like this was invalid.

            Third, they continue to blame it on Aspergers Syndrome, saying their abuse was all my fault. Dad claims it is purely Aspergers, while Mum claimed to apologise then in a heated rage claimed the issue was just Aspergers Syndrome. I had THOUGHT I had made progress and gotten her to understand as she at least talked about making it up to me for all they had done, but apparently that was just a lie.

            I’ve tried explaining it to them. A lot. It has gotten no results. Dad yells at me that it’s my fault, while Mum claims to accept but showed her true colors over an argument that erupted over the drivers license.

          • Brad says:

            Clarification point. I do work for my parents now. I don’t outright sponge of them.

            This seems like a terrible idea. Now instead of just having emotionally abusive parents* you also have emotionally abusive bosses.

            *Accepting for the sake of discussion that is accurate.

          • Dabbler says:

            I’m desperate for a job. The alternatives would be sponging off them or being cut off financially. I recognize now I have to get cut off financially, but as I said I held out hope for compensation.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      As a general rule, you shouldn’t actually tell people that you’ve cut them off.

      They’ll put it together pretty fast on their own but the ambiguity is still valuable. If you ever do want to reconcile down the line it’s a lot easier to say “I’m sorry I didn’t call, life was so crazy back then wasn’t it?” rather than having to walk back an explicit rejection.

    • skef says:

      I don’t have any comprehensive advice, but I do want to make one observation about the situation.

      If I were you, I would not assume that the fact that you have Aspergers has much to do about your grandfather’s views about this situation. The primary source of his annoyance may just be that you’re not doing what your parents tell you to. Contemporary western culture is unusual in how much independence from family it allows for. So he might not be the right person to talk about this stuff with, not because he’s a bad person, but because his assumptions just aren’t the ones that apply to your life.

      If it’s important to keep talking with him about the challenges you face, try to avoid the issue of what your parents would prefer entirely. If he keeps bringing that up himself, it may just be something he can’t avoid talking about. From his perspective, it’s probably you that should be accepting boundaries from him, not the other way around. In that case, you might stop talking to him.

  9. doubleunplussed says:

    Anyone want to weigh in on the Wikileaks/Assange conspiracy theories?

    For those not in the know, these range from wikileaks being compromised to Assange being dead.

    /r/WhereIsAssange (warning: tinfoil) is where most of the speculation is happening.

    • Dabbler says:

      Seconding that I’d be curious about this, although I have nothing of substance to add.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Since Ecuador cut off the Internet, there have been (non-live) interviews with him but nothing placing him inside the embassy (or even unambiguously showing that he was alive after that time). I take this to mean either he’s no longer in the embassy or Wikileaks wants someone to think that.

      Some people who know him claim to have seen him since then. “Dead” seems unlikely. In CIA/MI5 secret prison, slightly less unlikely but still unlikely.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I heard he’d come out of the embassy and been arrested, although I suspect that was untrue.

  10. Ceofy says:

    Hello! I’m looking for awesome physics books to gift to a friend who has a passion for physics and is currently an Engineering Science undergrad. He really liked Quantum Computing Since Democritus, I think partially because of how technical it gets compared to other pop physics books, and because of how much the author assumes you know already. Does anyone have any suggestions for books like that?

    • Mark says:

      Yes.

      My approach to political talk is something like the swimmer’s joke: “If you’re swimming in the lane next to me, the answer is yes, we are racing.”

      Though I’m increasingly getting the feeling I’ve accidentally wandered into a baptisimal pool.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Perhaps not, but if so it’s like democracy: “The worst system except for every other one available.”, to whit “gut instinct”, kneejerk emotional/empathic reaction, etc.

  11. nimim.k.m. says:

    Usually the most interesting posts on SSC are the ones where Scott reviews (or lambasts) bad statistics. It’s usually a great opportunity learn (or I thought so).

    In the same spirit, I recently read a paper whose results got mentioned in news and tried to review if the results made sense (and if media got their reporting right). Turns out, only thing I got was a headache, and in the end I was none the wiser and still had no clue if the paper’s statistical methodology was sound or if I just did not understand what they were doing and why. I have studied basic statistics and probability (you know, t-tests and such and bit of Bayes) and I thought I was good at it, so this was a bit of disappointment to me…

    …but anyway, I wonder if the commentariat here could recommend textbooks or other materials for (self-)learning this stuff. I already know about Andrew Gelman’s blog but that’s it.

    • StellaAthena says:

      Experimental design is huge. I don’t have any references off the top of my head, but learn everything you can about intellectually honest experimental design.

    • NatashaRostova says:

      It’s not something you pick up casually. It took me a couple years in undergrad, an MSc in Econ/Causal Inference, as well as spending hundreds (thousands) of hours doing social science research (independent and join with respected academics), studying stats/math/coding, and reading philosophy of science (70% of studying was outside of any course).

      I was about 19 when I thought “wow — philosophy of science and inference is really interesting” and 23 when I realized I was starting to get a handle on it. Now I’m 26 and have learned more since then, but no longer am picking things up at an exponential rate.

      So don’t fret. The stuff you want to learn requires a base level of statistical numeracy, but is less related to heavy math-dense measure theory or statistical notation than you might initially think.

      “Mostly Harmless Econometrics” (the first half) is a great half textbook/half research companion taught in many top notch causal inference courses. The Stanford Philosophy pages (and their links) on counterfactual science/philosophy of statistics/philosophy of science, is also an interesting and not entirely-dense place to start. Gelman’s accessible papers are a great place to start.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Thank you for the book recommendation, I was able to find it! I’ll check it out.

        Also, thanks to andrewflicker for the MOOC links, too, but I’ve already done some 10x-tier courses, that was the reason I was disappointed.

  12. Tibor says:

    Mark V Anderson was interested about Vietnamese in the Czech republic in the last (hidden) OT. He suggested that most of them immigrated while both countries were communist (Vietnam is, incidentally, still at least nominally a communist country today). He also wanted to know where people are from.

    The view on Vietnamese immigration is partly correct, but there has been a lot of immigration from Vietnam since 1989 as well. I would say that most current Czech Vietnamese were either born in the country or immigrated after 1989.

    Wikipedia says this:

    Vietnamese immigrants began settling in the Czech Republic during the Communist period, when they were invited as guest workers by the Czechoslovak government. Migration was encouraged by the Vietnamese authorities, with the intention that the migrants would return with skills and training.

    Following the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia, many Vietnamese decided to remain in the country rather than return home. This first generation of immigrants has traditionally made a living as vendors in street markets or stalls. In recent years, however, a significant number have moved towards establishing their own businesses and integrating more broadly into society, similar to the experience of other overseas Vietnamese in Western countries. However, the small business sector remains the key economic domain of first-generation Vietnamese people in the Czech Republic.

    Vietnamese immigration continued in the 1990s and 2000s (decade), with Vietnam being one of the countries targeted by the Czech Republic’s skilled migration programme.

    I should mention that there was a lot of prejudice towards the Vietnamese, especially in the 90s, but their industrious nature and the (on average) great academic performance of their children (who speak perfect Czech with no accent) has diminished that considerably (not entirely, but I think that most Czechs actually like the Vietnamese today). Another thing that helps is that they are Buddhists which goes well with the mostly Atheist (or indifferent to religion) Czechs, a lot of whom are actually quite fond of Buddhism (at least in an abstract way, not really being Buddhists per se).

    Also a great thing that the first generation Vietnamese parents did was leaving their children with Czech “grandparents” – if their family business went well enough for them to afford it, they would find and pay Czech pensioners to look after their children during the day so that they would learn the language (a kindergarten would be an option too of course, but especially the first generation Vietnamese work basically the whole day every day and the Kindergartens usually close down at six pm or so). I think they were not so fond of Czech culture, Vietnamese parents tend to find it too frivolous and libertine I think, but a side effect is that their children, while still being distinct, have become a lot more Czech culturally as well. Nowadays I observe quite a few (relative to the Czech Vietnamese population) pairs of Vietnamese and Czechs among teenagers or people in their early 20s, which was something you would not see 10 or 15 years ago (most first generation Vietnamese immigrants strongly prefer a Vietnamese partner). Mostly it’s a Vietnamese girl with a Czech guy…I guess it is because Vietnamese men tend to be rather short and women don’t like short men.

    As for me, I am indeed Czech, currently doing my PhD in Germany (I am not sure where I will go afterwards, it depends on a lot of factors, but all else being equal, I am very fond of Switzerland…I might also end up coming back to Bohemia or perhaps working in Bavaria…spending a year or two working in Hong Kong is also something I would probably not turn down, I really enjoyed my visit there 3 years ago).

    • dndnrsn says:

      Interesting.

      I’m pretty sure though that “too frivolous and libertine” is the classic first-generation-immigrant complaint. The second and especially third generations are generally viewed as corrupted and made lazy by the environment.

      • Tibor says:

        To be fair, Czechs are the first in Europe in beer (although not alcohol in general) consumption, the highest or second highest on marijuana smoking, 70% irreligious, with liberal attitudes towards prostitution and sex in general. Prostitution is legal and drugs are all decriminalized with marijuana being not quite legal (only medical one) but tolerated even by the police (Portugal has basically the same attitude towards drugs from what I observed in Lisbon and read about their laws, but all other European countries are much stricter on drugs). And many of them proud of pretty much all of those things (including the weed and beer). Guns are easy to obtain legally also (I’m not sure what the “typical” Vietnamese attitude towards guns is), although not as easy as in most US states (you still need a gun license but it is cheaper than the driver’s license and you only need to pass not too demanding shooting and theoretical exams).

        Also, there is much less respect towards parents than in Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese parents seem to be extremely controlling of their children, especially the first generation immigrants. They basically treat them as children until they have children of their own. So I think that compared to them we really are much more libertine.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Oh, definitely. I don’t think it’s just an Asian thing either – my father is European, and bemoans the effect of Canadian culture on his offspring. You basically make Czech society sound like Canadian, but with more guns Beer’s expensive here though.

          • Tibor says:

            There are not that many privately owned guns here actually, definitely a lot fewer than in Switzerland, let alone the US, just the gun laws are liberal so you can easily get one if you want to.

            Beer is cheap – the average price in a pub might be like 30 crowns, that’s just over 1 Euro and almost no beer costs more than two Euros (when it does it is something exotic imported like Mexican beer, Guinness is also dear in comparison with Czech beer but usually only found in Irish pubs anyway).

          • dndnrsn says:

            Meanwhile, a five-dollar pint here is cheap and that doesn’t include tax or tip. A Euro is about a buck thirty-three Canadian. Part of this is that my province taxes alcohol especially heavy, but even in other provinces or the US it’s more expensive than Europe.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Huh, I didn’t know Canada taxed alcohol so much; the only countries I knew of doing so are Scandinavian ones. Maybe it’s a cold place thing.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          all other European countries are much stricter on drugs

          And Amsterdam, of course, is definetly not packed with quaint shops selling weed.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            To be fair, how a country treats cannabis can vary a lot from how it treats other drugs. And in any case, as far as I can glean, Czechia has made the personal possession of all drugs (in quantities small enough to not plausibly be intended for supply to others) legal, whereas the Netherlands hasn’t, even if in practice they go easy on enforcement.

          • dndnrsn says:

            For a second I read cannabis as “cannibals”.

          • Tibor says:

            The Netherlands have liberal policies regarding cannabis (I’m not sure about cannibals) but drugs as a whole are treated the most liberally by Portuguese and Czechs. What winter Shaker days is accurate for both countries. Selling drugs is still illegal but not persecuted much except for drugs like meth or heroin. Large scale drug production is also persecuted (in fact this is a domain of Vietnamese organized crime – they export a lot of drugs to Bavaria, mostly weed but also meth IIRC).

          • hyperboloid says:

            Czechia has made the personal possession of all drugs legal

            @Tibor
            Do you have an opinion on the English language name of your vowel deprived homeland? Most Americans probably still think Czechoslovakia is a thing, in part because we’re morons, but also because “Czech republic” just sounds awkward.

            But I’m not sure Czechia is any kind of improvement as it’s just going to make things like this more common.

            Is there something wrong with calling the country Bohemia? It brings to mind a kind of European sophistication that is miles away from the dreary image of the post communist east.

            By a show of Internet hands, what would my fellow Anglophones rather do; travel to Prague, visit the land of Kafka and Čapek, and enjoy a fine pilsner while touring the castles of Bohemia, Or ride goat from airport when you come to make benefit glorious nation of Czechia?

          • BBA says:

            Bohemia is only part of the Czech Republic.

            Then again, it’s the part that gets most of the tourists, much like Holland is to the Netherlands, and “Holland” is an accepted English name for the Netherlands.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I avoid saying “Czech Republic” because I don’t usually want to talk about the state. Similarly, I don’t say UK or USA. But Winter Shaker was talking about the law!

          • Tibor says:

            @hyperboloid: The reason we do not have a good single word English name for our country is that we cannot agree on what it should be and we’ve been arguing about it ever since Czechoslovakia split in 1993.

            Czechia is supported by some people but others point out that it sounds like Chechnya and we don’t want to look like those “primitive Eastern Europeans” (a slight exaggeration but not a big one – apart from the fact that Chechnya is not in Europe -, “eastern” is almost synonymous to “bad” to many, perhaps even most Czechs, at least as long as it is in the sense of Eastern European and Czechs tend to refer to themselves as Central European).

            Bohemia is the historical English name of the country, the literal translation of the Czech name of the kingdom would be simply Czech Kingdom. The word Bohemia has a Latin root which is also the root from which the word Bavaria is derived – the Gallic* tribes that inhabited this region were called Boii by the Romans.

            One reason Moravians don’t like it is that they say it is not the name for the whole country, there’s also Moravia in the east and (Czech) Silesia in the northeast, see this picture.

            At the same time, the historical Kingdom of Bohemia also included Moravia and Silesia (and at times, albeit briefly, also Brandenburg, Lausitz, what is now western Poland and technically also Luxembourg, at other times modern Austria, Slovenia and Croatia – which is probably why Shakespeare thought Bohemia has a sea, his geographical knowledge was a bid outdated though 🙂 ) and the last time Moravia was not a part of the Kingdom was in the 10th century (then Bohemia was a part of a duchy and subsequently kingdom called Great Moravia). For 800 years, the name Kingdom of Bohemia was apparently not an issue for Moravians, now it is. As you could probably guess I am a fan of calling the country Bohemia. I think the most serious objection is actually that it does not sound anything like “Czech-something”, so many people don’t know what you mean. But “Dutch” also sounds nothing like “Holland” or “The Netherlands”. Czechia sounds equally stupid as “Dutchia” to me.

            I also do not like the “republic” in the name. For me there is a clear distinction between the state and the country (Bohemia was a part of 6 different states during the 20th century but it was still the same country). The two word name referring to the state is especially annoying if you talk about the country with people and constantly have to say two words instead of one. Imagine having to say “United States” every time instead of “US” or “America”. And nobody would get what you mean if you started saying “CR”. This is partly why some people say “I’m from Czech”, which however sounds horrid since it’s ungrammatical. Of course, when talking about laws, it is probably correct to use the name of the state.

            *Interestingly, one can still find some genetic traces of the Gauls in the Czech population today (in terms of similarities with Gallic populations such as the Irish)

            EDIT: Looks like Chechnya is actually still considered to be a part of Eastern Europe (although just next to the border with Asia), at least according to Wikipedia.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            But “Dutch” also sounds nothing like “Holland” or “The Netherlands”. Czechia sounds equally stupid as “Dutchia” to me.

            “Dutch” is a variant of “Deutsch”, so presumably if you wanted to name a country after the Dutch it would be Dutchland. (Might get a bit confusing with Deutschland right next to it, though.)

            Hmm… Come to think of it, “Czechland” has a certain ring to it, maybe we could use that?

          • Tibor says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            Czechland definitely makes more sense and sounds better than Czechia to me. There is a precedent – you already have Poland and Switzerland (neither of whom are called “something-land” in any of their native languages, Poland is Polska in Polish and Switzerland is die Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Svizra in German, French, Italian and Romansch, respectively) and it would perhaps be easier for foreigners to locate it by name than with Bohemia (but I think that is just a matter of time one way or another).

            I also heard a (probably not seriously meant) suggestion that we should call ourselves The Holy Roman Empire to boost tourism :-). I would absolutely support that though. There is also a precedent – Prague was at times the Imperial capital. I think we would need an emperor to make it sound credible though and that could be a problem. One would also need to invalidate the dissolution of the Empire in 1806 somehow. That could be especially tricky as the last Holy Roman emperor, Francis II, was among other things also the King of Bohemia.

          • Iain says:

            Split the difference and go with the Holy Roman Republic.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think we would need an emperor to make it sound credible though and that could be a problem. One would also need to invalidate the dissolution of the Empire in 1806 somehow.

            Not at all a problem: just agree on a candidate and have him crowned by the Pope. Voila, you have your Holy Roman Emperor.

          • Tibor says:

            @Iain: Holy Roman Republic is perfect. Now only to convince the Pope to act as a ceremonial head of the state (which is largely what the Czech president is anyway)…

          • John Schilling says:

            I think we would need an emperor to make it sound credible though and that could be a problem.

            If it’s just for tourism and civic pride, Emperors aren’t necessarily a problem. We’ve had one of those ourselves. And I understand the current line of Habsburgs are a fairly inoffensive sort, though you might have to argue custody with Austria.

          • Tibor says:

            @John Schilling: Yeah, Otto von Habsburg would be the natural candidate. As long as Austria does not want to revive monarchy, we’d be fine. When they do, there would have a to be a Second War of Austrian succession, I would imagine. There is some Czech nobility as well (although noble titles have not been legally recognized ever since 1918), so one could find someone even if Otto is not willing.

            Fun fact – the Austrian imperial anthem – Gott erhalte – had a different last verse with each Emperor. The current version (made by the royalists) calls on Otto to come back and to re-establish the monarchy. Another interesting thing is that the anthem has a German, Hungarian, Czech, Italian, Croatian, and perhaps also a Polish version, corresponding to (almost) all languages of the Empire (I think that Slovak, Slovenian and Romanian versions are missing). Another fun fact about that anthem is that the melody is the same as that of the contemporary German national anthem (and indeed any German national anthem, not counting the communist DDR one, given that Germany as a unified state was only founded in 1871). However, it was actually originally composed for the Habsburgs and Germany “stole it”, just changing the lyrics.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      That is very interesting. It does sound like Vietnamese in Czechia (yes I really like that name) are pretty similar to those in the US. Industrious and conservative. Although that could perhaps be said for most immigrants. Are there a bunch of Vietnamese restaurants in Czechia? I find that the beneficial aspect of Vietnamese in the US, if perhaps shallow.

      One area I expect they are different is their politics. I think US Vietnamese are traditionally Republican and Red, because most of them came from South Vietnam after the war as refugees and they hated communism. (but I don’t know about the second generation) I’m not sure how that would translate into Czech, but I suspect the Czech version of Vietnamese are not particularly anti-communist. Do Vietnamese get to vote in Czechia? (I apologize to those who don’t like that name) It is my understanding that in Germany there are multiple generations of Turks who aren’t allowed to become citizens; I’m not sure if other European countries treat immigrants similarly.

      • Tibor says:

        Yes, we do have a lot of Vietnamese restaurants. They used to set up “Chinese” bistros but then they found out that people actually appreciate Vietnamese cuisine as well (I actually prefer it to faux Chinese bistros, although those are still around in high numbers). Other than that, the Vietnamese mostly started as stall vendors in the 90s, selling a lot of clothes with brands like “Adidos” and “Niku” as well as cheap cigarettes and garden gnomes to Germans (that’s why there are a lot of Vietnamese living in the westmost part of the country and there you can sometimes see those stalls even today), but in the early 2000s, they’ve largely moved to regular shops and the bistros I mentioned. Also they have a lot of small grocery shops which are open until very late (like 10pm, which is otherwise unusual, except for big stores like Tesco or Kaufland) and also at the weekends. That is something I find very handy. They push their kids to study a lot, so it remains to see whether they take over their family businesses (the second generation Vietnamese are at most my age, i.e. still under 30).

        I don’t think Germany forbids Turks to become citizens and I also don’t know how many Turks are German citizens. They are definitely more Turks living in Germany than Vietnamese in Bohemia (perhaps 3 times as many, btw Bohemia is quite accurate here, very few Vietnamese live in Moravia or Silesia). Getting Czech citizenship is not particularly easy, I am not sure if it is harder or easier than getting German citizenship (in both cases it is definitely much more difficult than in the US or Canada). Non-citizens can vote in local elections if they have a permanent stay permit (or are resident EU citizens) which is not that difficult to obtain as long as you have a job (and it might be even easier in Germany). My guess is that most second-generation Czech Vietnamese and German Turks already have the respective citizenship. Both countries introduced the possibility to have a double citizenship recently.

        I’m not sure about Vietnamese voting patterns. I would not expect the Northern Vietnamese to be more supportive of socialism though. After all, they experienced full scale socialism first-hand, did not like it and left the country. Given their attitude and culture, I would expect them to vote right-wing parties (which does not necessarily mean conservative parties in the Czech republic, conservatives are not necessarily right-wingers, the division is more like it used to be in Germany with the social democrats being the “worker’s party”…most cities actually vote center-right or “progressive left” and the countryside votes center-left or “old time” socialists…they biggest left wing party, the social democrats, seems to be currently shifting from being a classical socialist party to a more “progressive” kind of socialism such as that of the SPD in Germany). They seem to see it as their duty to look after the welfare of their family, not as the duty of the state. Since a majority of them is self-employed in small businesses, I think they are not enthusiastic about tax hikes either. I don’t know any Czech Vietnamese well enough to know who they vote for though. I had some Vietnamese classmates but that was in high school.

        The comparison of Turks in Germany and Vietnamese in Bohemia leads me to believe that the culture of origin does indeed influence the success of immigration. I don’t think the Czech republic is better in its integration initiatives than Germany but Vietnamese have integrated themselves (in a shorter amount of time) far better than the Turks who tend to have much higher unemployment rates, lower education and language problems even in the 3rd generation. To be fair, many Turks came as Gastarbeiter to do manual labour, so they were probably not the smartest people Turkey had to offer (I know a couple of Turks from Istanbul and ironically, they seem more European to me than German Turks – on the other hand, these are also people who study a master’s degree, so that’s hardly representative either).

        Then again, the first Vietnamese also came as guest workers and nobody expected them to stay. I’m not sure what kind of jobs they wanted them to do, perhaps they were selecting for more qualified people whereas Germany demanded mostly unqualified labour.

        The Turks tend to vote left-wing parties in Germany, the SPD and the Greens (one of the high-ranking politicians of the German Green party is a German Turk). I think this is a general pattern with Near and Middle East immigrants in Europe. However, it could be an effect of them largely being low-skill immigrants rather than being caused by their culture.

      • knownastron says:

        Re: Vietnamese restaurants

        I think the ability to open a Vietnamese or a Chinese restaurant has played a huge part of the rise of immigrants from those countries. Looking at my parent’s restaurant, not only are my parents doing really well, but they also give stable employment to about 20 low-education, non-English speaking Vietnamese immigrants.

        I contrast this to other Asian immigrants that don’t have quite as desirable cuisines. I wonder how big of an effect this has had through the decades.

        • dndnrsn says:

          One thing that happens is cuisines getting “discovered”. An example would be Korean food: it went from Koreans in North America often running restaurants that served Japanese food (my impression is that most sushi places are actually run by Koreans), a mix of Japanese and Korean, or “pan-Asian” along with a handful of Korean restaurants mostly frequented by other Koreans, to non-Koreans frequenting those Korean restaurants and more of them popping up (because they are cheap and good and, at least where I am, there was/is a craze for ostensibly southern US style BBQ, and the version of Korean food we get is big on grilled meats, BBQ type stuff, etc), to Korean food getting trendy and more expensive places popping up and foodie magazines noticing and so on.

          Currently this is happening to Filipino food – the alt-weekly is promoting Filipino restaurants, and probably in a year or two someone’s going to open a high-end Filipino restaurant that’s going to get a good review in the glossy local magazine for people who have money to burn.

          • Brad says:

            In my experience (NYC) Korean BBQ is not particularly cheap. Especially if you are are dining by yourself or as a couple.

            I guess it depends on your basis of comparison — compared to Michelin starred restaurants it is, but as compared to any other ethnic food except sushi it comes near the top.

            I love it and a wish it was a little more affordable.

          • Tibor says:

            I like Peruvian food (based on the cooking of some Peruvian friends of mine) but there are very few Peruvian restaurants around (I think there is one in Berlin, but nothing in human-sized cities, at least none that I know of).

            I also tried some kind of a spicy ethiopian “goulash” once which was really good, but the best thing about it was that you eat it with a special kind of an ethiopian bread which had a slightly sour taste and I love almost everything that is sour (I never understood the people who throw away the pickles from McDonald’s cheeseburgers – that’s the best part!).

          • psmith says:

            Tyler Cowen thinks that Georgian food (as in Caucasus) will be the Next Big Thing.

            All-you-can-eat Korean barbecue in Los Angeles is an excellent deal, depending on how much meat you care to eat in one sitting. Great night out for a group of 4-8, too.

          • Where we are (San Jose) there are two good small, low decor, Korean restaurants. I think they are the least expensive of the ethnic restaurants we eat at, and that includes dishes that are almost all meat.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Korean food tends to be pretty cheap where I am, and as psmith points out, all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ is a good bargain if you have the ability to consume vast quantities of meat. Which I do.

            Then again, there’s a ton of cheap sushi places here. One of the go-to “cheap drunk eats” places when I was an undergrad was a sushi place.

          • Brad says:

            To put some numbers to it, an order of galbi is generally at least $25. It’s not really enough by itself for two, so throw in $12 or more for panjun or $15 for a gopdol bibimbop.

            In contrast I can go out for Thai get a curry for $12 and an entree papaya salad for $10, which together is enough for two.

            I mean it makes sense, you’re buying beef, but still. Not cheap.

          • Iain says:

            Huh. Around here I can get all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue for $20/person, and good bulgogi/bibimbap/jjigae for $10.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah, prices here are pretty low. Odd.

        • Tibor says:

          When I visited Hong Kong it was obvious that the locals like everything European (Europe seems to have the same “cool exotic” status there as East Asia does in Europe). On the other hand, the only European restaurants I noticed were Italian. It might be a good business idea to open a non-Italian European cuisine restaurant in Hong Kong. Italian cuisine is IMO the very best cuisine of all (if I had to pick just one) but something like a German or Czech (pretty much the same) cuisines might have a potential to become a trendy exotic thing in HK. Hongkongers seem to like dumplings, albeit rice ones, so they might also like Czech cuisine in which knedlíky (or in German Knödl…kind of dumplings made either of potatoes or a type of bread) are the staple food.

          In Singapore, in one of the centres with hawker stalls where they serve food (50 or perhaps even more stalls with good and cheap food…each stall with something different) I noticed a “European cuisine” stall. It was a funny caricature of European cuisine – for example, you would have a schnitzel, but cut to stripes so you can eat it with chopsticks and served with boiled eggs…things like that. I am pretty sure that the “Chinese cuisine” one gets in an average bistro in Europe has little to do with actual Chinese cuisine (also, there is probably no single “Chinese cuisine”, the Hongkongese, or Southern Chinese Xiaolongbao seems to be very different from other kinds of Chinese cuisine) and it was fun to experience how the East Asians probably view the “Chinese” food in Europe (of course, there is a difference between a bistro and a more fancy Chinese restaurant which might actually serve something more authentic). I did not try the “European food” so I could not judge its taste.

        • “I contrast this to other Asian immigrants that don’t have quite as desirable cuisines.”

          Off hand, I find it hard to think of any undesirable Asian cuisines. Korean. Indian. Chinese. Vietnamese. Japanese. All yummy.

          Who am I missing?

          • Tibor says:

            Filipino cuisine is not very good, at least judging from my visit of the country.

          • rlms says:

            Afghan? Burmese/Laotian/Cambodian? Indonesian? They may be nice, but they don’t seem to create restaurants in Western countries. (And you missed Thai of your yummy list).

          • Aapje says:

            Chinese-Indonesian restaurants were the first foreign restaurants in The Netherlands, actually (due to Indonesia having been a Dutch colony).

          • rlms says:

            Interesting. Are they nice?

          • Iain says:

            I’ve had Laotian food. It was alright. Warning: if the menu says that the papaya salad is spicy, believe it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Indonesian food is good, but where I am there’s no solely-Indonesian restaurants, due I suppose to a lack of Indonesians and the Dutch immigrants having assimilated some time ago.

            I don’t know of anywhere serving Laotian, Cambodian, Malaysian, or Burmese food.

          • psmith says:

            I’ve been to Afghan places in Fremont, CA. Kebabs, flatbread, various savory yogurts and chili pastes, rice, clear soup. I liked it. I’ve also enjoyed the Filipino food I’ve had in the States.

            (Also, Hamid Karzai’s brother owns a famous Afghan restaurant in Baltimore.).

            I don’t hear much good about Tibetan food, lots of tea with yak butter and tsampa, although IIRC there is a place claiming to serve Tibetan food in Berkeley that does a decent trade.

          • Rob K says:

            The Europeans did dedicate an entire age of exploration to getting access to their spices. Makes for a strong starting point.

          • Brad says:

            I have a Tibetan neighborhood near where I live. Momos, their dumpings, are very good, as are the meat stews (forgot what they are called). Don’t love the butter tea.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’ve had Burmese at a place called Rangoon in Philadelphia. Philadelphia also has several Afghan places. And NYC has all of those.

            Tibetan I had in Boulder, Colorado (maybe as low altitude as Tibetans are comfortable with? Does it work in that direction?). I’m not a fan.

          • psmith says:

            Momos, their dumpings, are very good, as are the meat stews (forgot what they are called)

            TIL

            Boulder, Colorado (maybe as low altitude as Tibetans are comfortable with? Does it work in that direction?

            Much of the reason behind this rather peculiar demographic is that Tibetan guerillas were secretly trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at Camp Hale outside of Leadville. Camp Hale was used as a training camp for expatriate Tibetans to be inserted to foment uprising in Tibet after the region was retaken by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, between 1959 and 1965.

            From 1958 to 1960, Anthony Poshepny trained various special missions teams, including Tibetan Khambas and Hui Muslims, for operations in China against the Communist government. Poshepny sometimes claimed that he personally escorted the 14th Dalai Lama out of Tibet, but sources in the Tibetan exile deny this.

            The site was chosen because of the similarities of the Rocky Mountains in the area with the Himalayan Plateau. This was a contemporary plan of the CIA to the one that trained dissident Cubans in what later became the Bay of Pigs incident. The CIA parachuted four groups of Camp Hale trainees inside Tibet between 1959 and 1960 to contact the remaining resistance groups. But the missions resulted in the massacre of all but a few of the team members. A condition of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USA and China was that the Tibetan plan in Colorado’s mountains was abandoned but the remaining Tibetans, having no free homeland to return to, opted to stay in the friendly environment and homelike terrain.[6]

          • sflicht says:

            There is (or perhaps was?) a famously good Afghan restaurant called the Helmand in Cambridge, MA.

          • sflicht says:

            I’ve never been to a Lao restaurant in the US but a friend of mine cooked Lao food for me a couple weeks ago. It was great! Very similar flavor profiles to Thai, but more aggressive with spice.

            I’ve never been to Burma, but a friend who went there said he was unimpressed with the food.

            Filipino food is fantastic in my experience, although the country is very poor. Really interesting fruits (which I’ve never seen exported, even in Asia; probably they’re hard to ship). Lechon (roast pig) is present in many cultures and hard to do that badly, but they do it as well as anything I’ve had elsewhere, and serve it with good condiments.

            With the possible exception of Burma, we’re pretty close to proving the proposition that all Asian food is good. More generally, the only place I’ve visited where I came away generally unimpressed with the regional culinary traditions is Puerto Rico. So maybe the broader point to make is that almost all ethnic food is good.

          • Iain says:

            Additional exception: I travelled through Botswana and Zimbabwe a few years ago, and never found anything particularly delicious, the closest exception being the can of roast caterpillars we bought by the side of the road that tasted surprisingly like bacon. The fresh mangoes were great, though.

          • sflicht says:

            Yeah, I enjoy West African, North African, and of course Ethiopian food, but I have never tasted cuisine from sub-equatorial Africa.

          • @RLMS:

            Afghan food is good. It is also closer to medieval Islamic cuisine than modern middle eastern food is, although I admit that feature may appeal to only a limited audience. I believe there are both Burmese and Cambodian restaurants in my area. Not sure about Indonesian.

          • sflicht says:

            @David Friedman,

            When you say that modern Middle Eastern food doesn’t authentically reflect medieval Islamic cuisine, does that primarily apply to the most Ottomanized regions (Turkey and the Levant)? Or is it also true in Arabia, the Mahgreb and Messopotamia? What about Egypt?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            There is much Indonesian food available in the Netherlands, and it ranges from knock-off cheap and kinda bad to actually very, very good. No complaints at all.

            I’ve never had things like Laotian or Cambodian food, but I suspect a similar thing is going on here: the people from those countries might have been opening restaurants in France. If our American commentariat hasn’t had Indonesian before, I could see the cuisine of French Indochina not coming here very much.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The last true Indonesian restaurant where I am closed a while ago. The closest one can get is chicken satay at “Asian Fusion” places and this one Dutch restaurateur who keeps closing/reopening/renaming his place. It’s unfortunate, because Indonesian food is really, really good.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Interesting. Are they nice?

            The classic Chinese-Indonesian restaurants adapted their food to an audience that had little or no experience with foreign food and that was very cost sensitive. So they took out the ‘heat’ by default (you would be asked if you wanted a satchel of sambal) and served big, cheap portions. So it wasn’t that refined, but very good ‘comfort food.’

            During the past two decades we see more authentic and/or creative restaurants, mostly when children took over the restaurant from their parents and want to do something more classy.

  13. Tibor says:

    In one of the previous OTs, someone (Mark?) mentioned that he believes that Jonathan Haidt to have a blind spot for the left wing liberal sanctity/purity moral foundation. I wrote an e-mail do Haidt mentioning the example from the Guardian someone posted here as well as my conviction that a lot of left wing environmentalism is motivated by sanctity more than by care (I also suspect a lot of the left wing opposition to GMOs and nuclear power – regardless of its merits, since people usually do not base opinions on merits anyway – is motivated by sanctity).

    Haidt replied (ten minutes after I send him my question):

    yes i agree, left has sanctity:
    http://www.yourmorals.org/blog/2010/02/in-search-of-liberal-purity/

    I also asked him whether he thinks there is such a thing as a libertarian sanctity to which he replied

    no clear findings, but i’d predict mostly absent, except for the principle of liberty

    So in any case his moral foundation research is still a work in progress.

  14. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    Was The Guardian trolled by a SJW Poe?

    • Deiseach says:

      I have no idea; I don’t know if I believe this Godfrey Elfwick actually wrote that article, but I’d like to believe it. It would be so much better if it were a parody that the Guardian fell for, but I still have the feeling that there may actually be a genuine Guilty White Liberal out there lambasting himself for his brush with racism!

    • JulieK says:

      “Poe’s Law” should be used to describe the real thing being mistaken for a parody, not the reverse. “The world is even crazier than I thought” is more interesting than “I was so ignorant/uncharitable, I mistook a joke for the real thing.”

    • Tibor says:

      To be a bit charitable – while the article is ridiculous, it is published in the opinion section of The Guardian. Guardian might be very left-wing, perhaps even with Manichean tendencies, but I read an article in Die Welt in the opinion section that advocated banning dancing during Easter in Germany and which was almost as ridiculous as the Guardian piece (except that the author was a conservative) and felt more like a parody of a conservative view.

      That said, the UK seems to be strangely unconcerned with freedom with their mass surveillance, draconic (even by European standards) gun laws and a strongly PC political culture), so I would not be too surprised it the article were real.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        To be a bit charitable – while the article is ridiculous, it is published in the opinion section of The Guardian.

        “But I repeat myself.”

        • Tibor says:

          In the words of the Dude: “It’s, you know, just like your opinion, man!” There’s a lot of various and fringe stuff to be found in the opinion sections of newspapers. This is why they often include the disclaimer that the expressed opinions are not necessarily shared by the newspaper itself.

  15. WashedOut says:

    I’m curious as to people’s attitudes on the importance of work and career.

    When I was younger I was presented with the following dichotomy (for want of a better word) – you either live by one of the two following codes:

    1) If you’re doing something you’re not totally passionate about, and that isn’t your ‘true calling’, you’re wasting your time and betraying yourself.

    vs.

    2) As long as your work is at least semi-enjoyable and you can put food on the table reasonable happily, that’s fine. Your job simply exists to facilitate the things you actually want to do outside of work hours.

    Which one do people on SSC resonate with and why?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I lean heavily towards #2. Yeah it’s a good idea to kind of enjoy what you are doing most of the day, but it is extremely unlikely one can find something one is passionate about which also puts food on the table. In any case, there is no one activity that I want to spend that much time on — so even if I am somewhat passionate about it, I will become less so when I am forced to spend so much time on it that I am dependent on it for my living. To make money at something, one generally has to be somewhat subordinate to one’s employer or customers, and not just do what you want to. I can’t imagine being passionate about something that requires me to be subordinate to someone else’s desires.

      Anyone who agrees with #1 — how do you have time to comment here when you are so passionate about your life’s work?

    • Dabbler says:

      Definitely 2. Just because I’ve never been in danger of starvation doesn’t mean I don’t realize that it’s the case.

      An unsatisfying job is just one payoff amongst many. It could easily be worth it for a reason unrelated to the job entirely.

    • onyomi says:

      I think 2 because even if you succeed in turning your passion into a career, you’ll find it becomes “work” once you rely on it to pay your bills. It may be enjoyable work, but it is still “work.”

      • WashedOut says:

        In light of the responses so far, consider the case where there isn’t much room for crossover of passion into leisure time, for instance, acting.

        Tim is a 20 yr old amateur actor trying to get his career off the ground. Acting is all he wants to do, but its tough out there – he’s had knockback after knockback and can’t pierce the cliques of the acting scene. His family tells him viewpoint #2 above and suggests he get a job in something steady, acknowledging that it would be unfulfilling.

        Tim starts working at Dullsville Pty Ltd and hates it, and every moment in the office he wishes he could be spending his time refining his craft and trying to get into the acting industry. When he gets home from work he is too physically and emotionally drained to practice his skills and do research, and anyway it’s not the same when acting is relegated to hobby-status.

        What now?

        Would Tim actually be better off in terms of well-being if he stuck to the path of pursuing passion, however seemingly unobtainable? Is the struggle part of his happiness? Or should he re-structure his life so that his happiness no longer depends on “making it” as an actor?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Tim’s gotta eat and put a roof over his head, is the issue. If you don’t have passions which can support you and you’re not independently wealthy, pursuing your passions full-time simply isn’t an option.

        • Jordan D. says:

          I think this relates back to the thing which Scott calls The Lottery of Fascinations. I consider this in the context of three people I know, one of which is myself.

          My Cousin – This cousin wants to be an engineer, is talented, motivated and had all of the advantages in life you need to become an engineer. She is going to a top school, is well-connected and has high honors. There is approximately no chance that she will not find a good job prior to graduation, and she will almost certainly end up working in the exact subset of the field which most fascinates her within a few years. For her, options 1 and 2 are the same things.

          Me – My dream was always to become a lawyer, ideally to hold one of a specific set of offices someday. I had pretty mediocre grades but a good LSAT score, got into a low-ranked law school and got a pretty good job through internships. It’s a good enough job that I could be happy working there and doing other things I enjoy in my spare time, but given a few years I could also pursue my original dreams without too much risk. So I’m currently at number 2 but could pursue number 1 without worrying about ending up on the street.

          My Friend – This friend wants to be a Broadway star. He hates pretty much all forms of satisficing work, and is happy only during rehearsals and performances. He is strictly okay, talent-wise. His chances of breaking into the Biz and making it big are very limited, but to the extent that they exist he will need to focus on getting very small ensemble parts and working on off-Broadway productions for peanuts. If he takes a 9-5 job somewhere, he will hate it and never achieve his dream- but also he will probably not achieve his dream anyway.

          So for my cousin, there is no dilemma; I’m happy satisficing and maybe chasing dreams a bit later; and my friend will never be happy with his lot unless he hits the metaphorical lottery or makes changes to the things which drive him.

          Given my upbringing and cautious nature, I’m always inclined to try to convince my friend that he needs to find more serious work and try to save and invest a bit- but knowing him, I’m not sure he even can do that. Everyone has a certain threshold of crap they can put up with without snapping, and I think his is both unusually low and his definition of ‘crap’ is much more expansive than mine. So he’s going to chase his dream, and I’m not even sure I can say that’s the wrong decision. It would be wrong for me, but maybe it’s not for him?

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I’m closer to #1 than #2. I don’t think you need to have a “true calling”, but it seems to me that if there’s something you’re truly, deeply, wildly passionate about, making a living off it is probably possible, provided you steer clear of tournament fields and/or hue to the more generally profitable aspects of things.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I agree with 2, and that was how I was raised. It’s a Maslow’s hierarchy sort of thing: fulfillment is great if you can get it but first you need to make sure you’ll be able to eat.

      At the same time, I’m not sure my opinion counts here. It seems vaguely wrong to extol doing work you’re not crazy about for the stability when you’re on the path to your dream job. Kind of like having your cake and eating it too.

    • Urstoff says:

      Closer to 2 simply because it’s more flexible. The vicissitudes of life require that one not be so staunch in the belief about what you have to be doing. That and people change as they grow older and accumulate experiences and social ties.

    • Matt C says:

      Very much 2. I’m really bored with making a living these days. But the money and benefits are good (by my standards anyway).

      Part of my willingness to accept 2 is I expect I would get bored with most anything eventually. When I first started programming for a living I thought it was the bee’s knees. Half my brain was at work all the time. I would have been willing to do it for free. But over time most of the awesome has dribbled away.

      Getting competent at something tends to make it routine, and routine is boring. I think you can push against this and look for ways to keep yourself stimulated, but in practice it is easier to settle into the comfortable rut.

    • John Schilling says:

      Absolutely #1, BUT integrated over life as a whole, not just “work”.

      For most people, the thing they will wind up being most passionate about (even if they don’t realize it when they are 18-22 and deciding on a career) is raising a small group of children to be happy, healthy, and successful.

      If that’s what you are going to be passionate about, you are going to need a way to pay for it, and you are going to want it to provide a steady income without requiring you spend 60-80 hours a week away from your family. Maybe you can find something that meets those requirements while also being a secondary passion in its own right. If not, you are probably a candidate for #2, put food on the table as reliably as possible.

      • Your comment is along the lines of one I was going to make. There seem to be a fair number of people who work at some tolerable job to make a living, put their energy and passion into something else.

        The ones I was thinking of are people with hobbies such as SCA or SF fandom. Arguably it also includes people who spend a lot of time in online conversations like this. But your example of bringing up children is a good one as well.

        My reaction to the original question was that it was making a binary choice out of what was really a continuum. In my case I’ve managed to make a reasonable living doing what I want, so the choice doesn’t really apply.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I lean to 2 for reasons otherwise mentioned, but also because your day-to-day work doesn’t always involve the big picture you think you’re into. For example, I like scientific studies. I thought I would try doing a scientific study. It’s 1% interesting decisions about science and methodology, and 99% tedium and bureaucracy and getting people to sign consent forms in exactly the right way. Everything is going to be 99% irrelevant busy work, but you can select for jobs where the irrelevant busy work is something you kind of enjoy in its own right, and which pays a decent wage.

      • Garrett says:

        I’ve come up with the phrase:
        “They pay you for the parts of the job you don’t want to do”.
        If a job was watching hit TV shows and eating ice cream from the comfort of a hot tub, it wouldn’t pay very well.
        I work in a field which I find very fascinating, but the particular projects/work I’m engaged in is not very interesting. I mostly involves fulfilling requirements I find absurd as written by people I don’t agree with in order to make money with a service I don’t think is very good.
        But it makes both my employer and me a good chunk of change, so I’m satisficing.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I believe there’s middle ground between 1) and 2), or maybe this belongs to under the item 2), depending on what ones definition of ‘semi-enjoyable’… assuming you meant “tolerable / not outright terrible”:

      Your work does not need your passion (I don’t have many passions), but I believe that ideally one should be able at least to some extent believe in what they are doing, that it’s in a some way meaningful to somebody and in general useful to society to keep going on doing in. In my limited experience, otherwise it starts to eat you and in the end it won’t be even semi-enjoyable…

      A couple of years ago I was a summer intern in place where I concluded I was doing totally useless crap. Even if the work wasn’t outwardly too bad, actually the secondary features were quite nice, tasks were not too difficult and approximately matched my skillset, I even got a quite good pay for an intern and I sort of “semi-enjoyed” doing it in the beginning… but by the end of the summer I was miserable going there every morning and was overjoyed when the internship ended. I reconsidered my career choices afterwards.

    • shakeddown says:

      I’m switching from #1 to #2 this year – finishing my PhD in pure math and going to work as a software engineer. So long range, I’d say 2 – but I’m pretty happy I at least had a genuine go at #1 for a while (and I’m even a bit proud of some of the stuff I managed to do). But it’s not something I’d be willing to dedicate my life to unless I had the abilities to be at the top of the field, and I fall short of that.

  16. Emil says:

    Hello,

    I’m looking for a prediction/confidence tracker.

    This should be a website or an app that allows me to write down predictions & confidences, afterwards record the result, and have a running total of my accuracy.

    E.g. I would like to record “Italian referendum NO w/ 70% confidence” and, on Sunday, mark this prediction as true/false/conditions not fulfilled and get a point award based on accuracy for true/false predictions. (What’s the scoring system called where claiming 100% confidence and being wrong gives infinite penalty?)

  17. Tekhno says:

    If you dropped a main battle tank off the Burj Kalifa would it live?

    • psmith says:

      It would be extremely painful.

    • Rowan says:

      The rapid deceleration from hitting the ground at high velocity is not a kind of damage tanks are made to withstand very much of. If the solid metal shell of the armour stays intact, that just means the softer bits inside of the tank that the armour is there to protect will be impacting against the inside of the armour at terminal velocity. And the terminal velocity of a main battle tank is very high because it’s very dense and the sloped armour makes its shape almost streamlined.

    • bean says:

      They still haven’t figured out how to drop MBTs out of airplanes with parachutes. The US has built air-droppable tanks before, notably the M551, but even that was difficult to drop. Basically, the problem is that there are lots of things in a military vehicle which don’t take large shocks that well. An MBT is bigger and heavier, and would suffer at minimum total destruction of everything that makes it a tank and not a big block of metal. My guess is that it would be reduced to scrap. Wrong kind of strength for the job.

    • Tekhno says:

      Is it possible some damage might be mitigated by the tank punching a really big crater in the concrete?

      • bean says:

        Not really. I’m not an expert on collision mechanics, but unless the concrete is in the form of a bunch of medium-thickness layers, well-separated, the tank is essentially going to be fighting an immovable object. As such, it will take some of the damage.

  18. BBA says:

    I don’t want to rehash last thread’s long tiresome debate about the Electoral College, but I’d like to bring up a point that many of the participants missed, and doesn’t come up often.

    The Constitution says nothing about how states should allocate their electoral votes, leaving it to the legislatures. The common system is for all of a state’s electors to be elected at-large statewide, but that was not part of the Constitutional design and actually took a few decades to become the norm. It still isn’t used in Maine and Nebraska, which allocate one elector to the winner of each congressional district and two to the overall winner of the state, although they have few enough votes that their split slates never really matter. There’s no constitutional barrier to other states adopting the Maine/Nebraska model, or for that matter full proportional representation via the d’Hondt or Schulze methods, but it’s never going to happen.

    The system was meant to be nonpartisan, but once you have parties they’re impossible to get rid of. And once you have parties, winner-take-all by state is obviously better for any particular state than splitting the slate proportionately or by district. If a state has one party that dominates every election, then obviously that party would want winner-take-all to silence the opposition and make their votes worthless. If you’re a swing state, then obviously each party wants the entire pie instead of having to split with the others. This, more than the overrepresentation of small states in the EC, is what led to this year’s wide gap between the popular vote and the EC result. Nobody designed this or thought it was an optimal way to run an election, but now nobody has any reason to change it. It’s broken and cannot be fixed. It’s Moloch.

    • borda says:

      What states are most at risk of triggering a negative-sum escalation of the partisan EC allocation rules?

      For big states, if California were to proportionally split its votes it would doom Democratic presidential candidates–but this seems unlikely given Republicans’ statewide difficulties. Texas seems to be in a similar situation, but with the parties reversed.

      Very small states don’t really have enough EC votes to make a proportional split all that meaningful, but if enough of them switched the Democratss would probably start picking off single EC votes from places like Wyoming, which often have liberal urban enclaves (Laramie).

      Tight battleground states switching to proportional allocation are also unlikely to radically shift the EC calculus, as most will split roughly 50-50, eliminating the potential return on campaign investment (a win only nets an extra 1 or 2 votes).

      It seems like ultimately the medium-size states that are outside the true battleground zone are actually the most crucial: if a state like Oregon unilaterally went proportional, the Republicans would net a decent EC advantage. Similarly on the Democratic side, a Georgia split would guarantee a sizeable chunk of new EC votes.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      It’s broken and cannot be fixed. It’s Moloch.

      Well, if you don’t like the results you can, of course, just throw up your hands and decide that it’s Moloch. Other people might believe that the interests of large numbers of small states beat out the interests of the one large state where the losing candidate ran up her vote totals, so it’s fine.

      • BBA says:

        I wasn’t talking about the advantage of small states. That was designed. This wasn’t.

        Pennsylvania and Florida are not small states.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ ThirteenthLetter
        Other people might believe that the interests of large numbers of small states beat out the interests of the one large state

        Ah, but if California broke into, say, five smaller states, then we California would get ten Senators. I doubt the small complaining Red states would be happy with that.

        • CatCube says:

          As long as three of them are red and two are blue (looking at a map, not an impossible set of cuts to make) I don’t think you’d have much of an issue with the red states. The blue states on the other hand…

          • StellaAthena says:

            Can be mollified by admitting DC as a state finally!

            At least in the Senate. Assuming the red parts get ~25 EC votes and the democratic parts get ~30 (guesstimating based off of presidential election voting numbers) it’s suddenly a much harder route to 270.

    • Rob K says:

      A number of states have passed laws signing them on to an interstate compact that would, in any election in which a majority of states have signed on to the same compact, commit their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. 195 EVs currently signed on.

      In theory you could pass similar interstate compacts to promote other methods of EV allocation, though it’s less clear why you would do so. But, say, California and Texas could each pass laws saying that if the other splits its votes by CD so will they.

    • BBA says:

      And now I see that Larry Lessig has written a piece on the same topic, which tells me that (a) I’m onto something here and (b) like most of Lessig’s pet causes this is doomed to failure.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’d say the chance of the Supreme Court changing the method of allocating electors after the date of choosing of the electors is zero.

        The chance of them finding the winner-take-all rule unconstitutional and requiring a change for future elections is not quite zero, but I’d say it’s pretty close to zero. There have been cases where the Supreme Court has found against at-large elections for various seats, but they were based on the Voting Rights Act, which doesn’t apply here.

  19. hyperboloid says:

    This is fine. Nothing bad can happen.

    He put out a press release that said that he had spoken to the “president of Taiwan”. Legally there is no such person, even in her own country Tsai Ing-wen is 中華民國總統 ( Zhōnghuá Mínguó Zǒngtǒng, president of the Chinese republic ). The active phrase being 中-fucking-華. This fiction is maintained for very good reasons.

    Jesus Harambe Christ, if I somehow manage to survive the trump administration without developing cirrhosis of the liver it will be a goddamn miracle.

    • Hetzer says:

      I guess I don’t see the problem… ?

      (Please spoon feed me).

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        Part of the thaw in Chinese relations since the 70s has been our position of de facto neutrality and de jure one-China on the Taiwan issue. This is the sort of thing that would convince China that Trump is not just a clown, but someone who will explicitly and publicly threaten their interests.

        • Hetzer says:

          Thanks for the info.

          Didn’t Trump already threaten their interests during his entire campaign? Talking about re-shoring jobs, renegotiating trade deals and promising not to let them get away with devaluing their currency?

          I guess I don’t see why everybody’s first thought seems to be “oh God Trump is tempting fate”. He had a phone call with the President Grand Poobah (disputed) of Taiwan. A nation country island that the US trades with an awful lot, for semiconductors and the like. This occurred at a time when Trump, as the President-Elect, is placing and receiving many phone calls with many statesmen from all over the world, many of them insubstantial congratulatory verbal back-slapping. Our president is forbidden to talk to Taiwan directly, for fear of causing some shame and idle worry in the minds of some thin-skinned communists who can censor what their population hears about in the news anyway? Are the chinese not rational actors, who would wait to start launching missiles or releasing bioweapons until they had had time to confirm their suspicions (whatever they might be) and talk it over with the US?

          It’s like everybody covering the event really believes the old internet meme about how “the purpose of a ninja is to flip out and kill people”. I remember there being a lot of concern over Trump’s “temperament” in the weeks leading up to the election; worries that he was an emotional child, prone to aggressive negotiating tactics in the face of personal slights, like walking out of big important meetings in a huff. Now it sounds like we’re worrying that China’s diplomats suffer from that same condition.

          • Iain says:

            From China’s point of view, Taiwan is a wannabe separatist province, gone temporarily renegade. Chinese nationalists feel very strongly that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China:

            In a recent online poll, 97% of mainland Chinese respondents said that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” 85% favored using force to “reunify” Taiwan with mainland China, and 60% favored using force against Taiwan within the next five years to preempt further support in Taiwan for formal independence from China.

            The existing strategic ambiguity about Taiwan exists in part to give Chinese leaders leeway to not invade Taiwan. Moreover, Taiwan is not the only separatist issue on China’s plate. Tibet and Xinjiang both have active separatist movements, who might (Chinese leaders fear) be emboldened by a completely independent Taiwan. In short, the status of Taiwan is a touchy question and affects China’s internal stability. US policy has been very carefully crafted, ever since America formally recognized Beijing in 1979, to make it clear that nobody is trying to intentionally destabilize China or overthrow its government.

            As part of that policy, no American president has officially talked to Taiwan since 1979. Trump, already known for his anti-China rhetoric, just bulldozed right through that precedent. It would be easy for China to see this as a declaration of hostile intent. We have to hope that they have a good enough read on American politics to be confident that Trump is an idiot and did it by accident.

            This will probably be a flash in the pan. But when people were saying before the election that Trump could blunder his way into a war, this was the sort of thing that was envisioned as a first step.

          • sflicht says:

            It is of course still the case that no American president has talked to Taiwan since 1979.

          • Hetzer says:

            @Iain

            We have to hope that they have a good enough read on American politics to be confident that Trump is an idiot and did it by accident.

            Hmm, now I’m wondering if Trump is doing this on purpose, as Anonymous Bosch said. Trump has negotiated things publicly before. Maybe he likes to not just hear what his adversary is saying to him, but what everyone else watching on the sidelines might have to say as well. Aren’t a lot of countries near China pretty upset with what China has been doing in the South China Sea lately? I imagine being on the receiving end of such a tactic could make someone self-conscious and less confident, especially if they’re not sure if Trump is just being aggressive or if he’s really stupid or crazy enough to provoke a war.

            This will probably be a flash in the pan. But when people were saying before the election that Trump could blunder his way into a war, this was the sort of thing that was envisioned as a first step.

            Either way, you now have me watching US/China relations more closely. Thanks!

            @sflicht

            Oh, you.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            It would be easy for China to see this as a declaration of hostile intent.

            …If they wanted to, of course. Or they could just let it slide.

            None of what you said contradicts the previous poster’s comment about how “now it sounds like we’re worrying that China’s diplomats suffer from that same condition.” China could, if it wished, shrug and say “we’re a big strong nation and we’re not going to freak out at every little thing.” Like, you know, people keep insisting the United States absolutely must do.

            Look, I agree that Trump is sloppy and will probably stomp on all kinds of stuff without even thinking about it and that’s bad, but at the risk of playing the already cliched “this is how you get Trump” card… The whole situation where every other nation in the world can be as emotional, destructive, thin-skinned, and shortsightedly nationalistic as they please, while the United States is somehow obligated to take punch after punch in the junk with a smile on our face, is one of the ways you get Trump.

          • Iain says:

            No. If China gets worried here, China isn’t being thin-skinned. Their concern would be that this phone call is a prelude to Trump’s administration coming out with clear support for Taiwanese independence, and maybe independence for Tibet and Xinjiang while he’s at it, in a deliberate attempt to destabilize Chinese domestic politics.

            There are ways to counter Chinese influence in the area. America already does a lot of them. The TPP was, in some part, an effort at another one. Recognizing Taiwan would be different, though. It wouldn’t just fight China’s influence of its neighbours – it would strike directly at the legitimacy of the Chinese state itself.

            To continue your metaphor of personal violence: states slap each other in the face all the time. Trump just pulled out a knife. Probably he just wants to peel his apple. But who knows? The wise thing to do is stay calm, but move your hand just a little bit closer to your own knife.

            Aside: I don’t know where you get the idea that America is “obligated to take punch after punch to the junk”, but – to be blunt – that’s crazy talk. There is a country in the world that likes to wander around bombing whoever it wants and meddling in everybody else’s domestic politics, but it’s not China. From any objective standpoint, the US is the least constrained actor in global politics. (Discounting, of course, self-imposed constraints like “respect for international law” or “unwillingness to commit genocide”.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            From the USs point of view, messing with the Taiwan situation (where Taiwan is de facto an independent country but everyone pretends it’s not) has basically zero upside and a very high (if low-probablity) downside — China gets upset, invades Taiwan, the US intervenes (Taiwan Relations Act), WWIII.

            However, I think the real change here is not Trump, who is not President yet (formally, he hasn’t even been elected) talking to or about the “President of Taiwan”; that’s still all informal and thus within the rules. It’s the fact that a pro-independence party now runs Taiwan. Even a President Trump offhandedly referring to an independent Taiwan could likely be smoothed over by double-talking diplomats; Taiwan declaring independence could not.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            From any objective standpoint, the US is the least constrained actor in global politics.

            Yeah, that’s sure kept Russian jets from constantly buzzing our ships, and Iran from taking American hostages and holding Death-To-America parades.

            Again, there may be super good reasons why we just lie there and take this sort of thing (…or maybe there aren’t) but nationalists will eventually get sick and tired of it. This isn’t a moral statement; it’s a statement of fact. If you don’t want nationalists getting upset and electing Donald Trump as President, non-nationalists need to find some way to ensure these things don’t happen as often.

          • Iain says:

            So your standard for “lying there and taking it” is that occasionally things happen in the world that you don’t like? You will not be satisfied with America’s place in the world until Iranians are denied the right to say mean things about America in public?

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’d be satisfied if they just stopped taking hostages TBQH.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            You will not be satisfied with America’s place in the world until Iranians are denied the right to say mean things about America in public?

            Y’know, “Iranians having the right to say mean things about America in public” is a weird way of describing official government-run parades and national celebrations in a theocratic state. That’s like describing the Nuremberg Rally as grass-roots activism.

            But that aside: it would be a good start if, when Iran takes our citizens hostage and harasses our ships and sponsors terrorists and holds Death-To-America parades and gives us and our allies grief at every turn, we don’t respond by paying them massive ransoms, acting as their unpaid advertising agents, and signing agreements with them that say it’s totally awesome for them to build an atom bomb eight years from now.

            It’s the all-or-nothing view of geopolitics that’s been one of the most infuriating things about the current administration’s foreign policy and its cheerleaders in the press. That our choices are supposedly either we smooch up to Iran/China/whoever and give them everything and don’t dare utter a word of reproach, or else we go straight to global thermonuclear war, and there’s absolutely no other option in between.

          • Iain says:

            I don’t know what world you’re living in where the US is constantly kissing up to China and Iran. In the world I live in, that’s preposterous. For starters, the US Senate just extended sanctions against Iran for another 10 years.

            This is what successful diplomacy looks like. It is possible to oppose a country on some things without opposing them on other things. It is possible for an agreement to solve some problems, without solving all problems. If you are angry because the world does not roll over and beg on command, then the problem is with you, not the world.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            For starters, the US Senate just extended sanctions against Iran for another 10 years.

            In the teeth of ferocious opposition from the executive branch that has been coddling Iran, yes. You’re arguing my point if you’re citing the Senate’s actions.

            It is possible for an agreement to solve some problems, without solving all problems.

            But some agreements, such as paying ransom for hostages, cause more problems.

            If you are angry because the world does not roll over and beg on command, then the problem is with you, not the world.

            Except that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that when the United States fails to make even a symbolic pushback against nations which are giving us grief, and, indeed, attempts to cover for their malevolent behavior (as the current administration has done numerous times) nationalists get upset, and you may not like how they vote.

            (Not to mention that once again we’re in a situation where China can be as thin-skinnedly nationalistic as it wants, but the United States can’t. Why is that?)

          • Iain says:

            In the teeth of ferocious opposition from the executive branch that has been coddling Iran, yes. You’re arguing my point if you’re citing the Senate’s actions.

            I don’t know where you get this stuff. From my link: “The ISA will expire on Dec. 31 if not renewed. The White House had not pushed for an extension, but had not raised serious objections.”

            (Also, your “ransom” talking point is nonsense. Even if you don’t buy the administration’s claim that the payment just happened to coincide with the release of the hostages, the US owed the money to Iran since 1979 for selling weapons and never delivering, and they paid less interest on the debt than anybody expected. This is how diplomacy works.)

            Stop getting all your news from angry neocons.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Iain
            So your argument is that the US Government deferred payment for 37 years but couldn’t wait another 3 months to avoid an appearance of impropriety?

            If you honestly believe that, I own a bridge in London that I’d like to sell you.

            Edit:
            Wait a minute, 1979? Are you referring to the Iranian Revolution?

            I don’t see how you can claim that we owed the current Iranian government money for failing to deliver on a deal that we had made with the government they overthrew.

          • Iain says:

            If you think about it, I bet you can think of reasons that it is bad to set the precedent that your debts are erased when the government to whom you owe them is overthrown.

            I’m not denying that the US probably more-or-less exchanged prisoners for money . I’m just pointing out that the money that changed hands was Iranian money. It’s a bit rich to complain when both sides are handing back something that doesn’t belong to them. Here’s Politifact.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Iain
            Based on that response I can only conclude that you are either arguing in bad faith or you don’t understand what “ransom” means.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlynkacg:
            In an exchange of prisoners, is one side paying a ransom?

          • Iain says:

            To be fair, it is true that I didn’t completely unpack my argument.

            Why is it bad to pay ransom to hostage-takers? Because it sets the precedent that you will pay money for hostages, encouraging them to take more hostages in the future. Why it is less bad to pay back money you already owe to hostage takers? Because there is a finite set of debts / hostages / whatever that your counterpart has a legitimate claim on. Both sides know that you will have to give them back eventually. If you only exchange your Things That Properly Belong To Them with their Things That Properly Belong To You, then you aren’t setting a long-term precedent. (Provided, of course, that you are willing to stop stealing their stuff.)

            Putting this all back in context: it is self-defeating to complain that America gets the short end of the stick because it has to meekly pay ransom for hostages when it already owed the money. Poor innocent America, getting taken to the cleaners good deals on its debt payments!

            Should I assume that you are also angry about the Algiers Accords that ended the original Iran hostage crisis?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            If you only exchange your Things That Properly Belong To Them with their Things That Properly Belong To You, then you aren’t setting a long-term precedent. (Provided, of course, that you are willing to stop stealing their stuff.)

            Iran promptly took a bunch more hostages after we paid the last ransom, so your argument in favor of paying that ransom, uh, doesn’t hold up. Sorry.

          • Iain says:

            When the US gives something for those hostages that wasn’t already Iran’s, let me know.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            I note that you skipped lightly over the bit where, after we paid the ransom, Iran took more hostages.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ HBC
            No, as a ransom is generally understood to be a sum of money or equivalent.

            That said, they are in the same class and a lot of the arguments against ransoming also apply to prisoner exchanges. However, their impact is lessened the fact that trading cash for a prisoner is fungible in a way that “we’ll release one of your guys if you release one of ours” is not.

            @ Iain
            Two things; First off, that money was not “already Iran’s”. Secondly, even if it were, it has no bearing on whether or not it was appropriate or prudent for the US to “exchange prisoners for money”.

        • Deiseach says:

          It took me three whole pages of Google results (the stories were all the US media saying this was Trump causing an affront to China) to see what the Taiwanese were saying. I have no idea about their reaction to the phone call (see the ‘three whole pages of US newspapers wringing their hands and their readers’ withers’) but this article suggests that Taiwan is concerned the USA may dump it in order to appease China:

          “The reality is that Taiwan already has very little strategic value to the US — far less than we often imagine,” former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) said, rejecting a statement by Academia Sinica research fellow Joanne Chang (裘兆琳) that Taiwan is the “crown jewel” of the US’ East Asia policy.

          Chang earlier said that Taiwan is crucial for the efforts to foster China’s democratization.

          “Taiwan might be China’s crown jewel, but it is not the crown jewel of the US, so there is always the possibility that if negotiations break down, the US will put us on the table,” Su said, adding that he is “alert but not worried” about the possibility of Washington abandoning Taiwan, calling for close attention to be paid to negotiations between the US and China over places of geostrategic importance.

          So Trump’s phone call may have been reassuring to them and possibly not so diplomatically horrible as it seems? After all, if the view there (and in China) was that the USA will simply walk away, roll over, or otherwise let the mainland do what it likes, this phone call says differently and that nothing can be taken for granted in that situation – that for the sake of personal advantage, the US will give China what it wants.

          I think the idea of Taiwan as a bargaining chip is probably correct, and Trump’s phone call may have sent the message to China that this chip still has value and won’t simply be surrendered by the US.

          EDIT: Okay, me being an idiot, I did not think to look at the home page of that website to see what (some) Taiwanese reaction to the phone call was. D’oh! Anyway, they seem to take it as a hopeful sign:

          Trump has triggered a sense of uncertainty over US policies regarding its stance in the Asia-Pacific region, saying after his election victory that Washington would withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and asking US allies to increase their spending on defense.

          During his election campaign, he also accused Taiwanese firms of stealing US job opportunities.

          Trump reportedly agreed to the call, which was arranged by Taiwan-friendly members of his campaign staff after his aides briefed him on issues regarding Taiwan and the situation in the Taiwan Strait, sources said.

          Since being elected, Trump has spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

          International relations experts said that a communication channel was lacking between Taiwan and the US, and that bilateral communications had to be carried out through the American Institute in Taiwan, the US Department of State and the US National Security Council, which they said at times gave rise to poor communications like the friction between former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration and that of then-US president George W. Bush.

          If the telephone conversation between Tsai and Trump could prompt the establishment of a direct communications channel between the two sides, misunderstandings would be reduced, thereby benefiting the relationship, experts said.

      • hyperboloid says:

        (Please spoon feed me).

        Ok, so first a history lesson.

        In the second half of the nineteenth century the western imperial powers first arrived in China in force. As Britain, France, and Portugal demanded China sign unequal trade agreements and allow the establishment of colonies on Chinese territory, the Qing dynasty found itself unable to resist. After the humiliating defeat at the hands of the British in the first opium war misfortune was piled on misfortune, as China faced The Taiping rebellion, defeats in the second opium war, Sino–French War, the boxer rebellion, and the first Sino-Japanese war. As China’s Manchu rulers grew weaker and ever more despised by their own subjects nationalist sentiment surged and groups like Sun Yat Sen’s Tongmenghui flourished promising to expel the barbarians, which by this point meant the Qing as much, or more then China’s imperial tormentors.

        In 1911 Sun and the nationalists launched Xinhai Revolution, and with the help of defecting Qing general Yuan Shikai’s Beiyang Army, deposed the emperor. After being proclaimed president of the new republic of China, Yuan refused to share power, violently suppressing Sun’s followers and eventually declaring himself emperor. Yuan’s reign would prove short lived as the ailing “Hongxian Emperor”(as he called himself) found little support. He eventually gave up the title, after 83 days of rule, before dying three months later plunging the country into warlordism and chaos.

        The nationalists soon returned, now calling themselves the Guomindang, and in a soviet backed alliance with Chinese communists they were able to wrest control of most of the country away from the warlords. Not long after Sun’s death in 1925 the alliance with the communists fell apart and Sun’s successor, general Chiang Kai-shek, violently suppressed them. Chiang’s triumph would prove short lived as China’s century of humiliation continued with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and, after the Japanese withdraw, the nationalist defeat in a renewed civil war against the communists.

        When the Chinese civil war finally came to an end the nationalists retreated to their last bastion on Taiwan and established their capital in Taipei. Following an anti-Communist policy the United States continued recognize the Guomindang led republic as the only legitimate Chinese government and did not seek to establish diplomatic relations with the mainland.

        In the 1970s as president Nixon sought to end the US involvement in Vietnam on favorable terms, his advisors, led by secretary of state/national security advisor Henry Kissinger, hit on the idea of opening up relations with the Mao Zedong’s government. By improving relations with Mao they hoped to better America’s position in Asia while driving a wedge between the Beijing and and Moscow.

        When Nixon finally did go to China and his diplomatic efforts began to bear fruit the US was faced with a seemingly intractable dilemma. The government in Taipei was still officially the “Republic of China” and claimed sovereignty over all of Chinese territory. Furthermore the PRC would never recognize an independent Taiwanese state that could contest the Communists claim to be the sole legitimate representatives of the Chinese people.

        To solve this problem a convenient fiction was created. The United States would declare that it, in the words of the shanghai Communiqué of 1972:

        “acknowledges that Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States does not challenge that position.”

        And it would extend recognition to Beijing while breaking off formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. At the same time the US would continue It’s security guarantees made under the defunct Mutual Defense Treaty through a new framework. This legal structure (it’s not a treat because only sovereign countries can sign treaties) is the Taiwan relations act, it holds that:

        “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities… [and] maintain the capacity … to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan

        On Taiwan, not of Taiwan, because Taiwan is not a country, it’s just an island with people on it, and those people have a government that the United States sells arms to, but they’re still totally part of China.

        Confused yet? Well it gets worse, because everybody has a different interpretation of this bizarre situation. The following statement made by the Taiwanese government in 1992 is indicative.

        “Both sides of the Taiwan Strait agree that there is only one China. However, the two sides of the Strait have different opinions as to the meaning of ‘one China.’ To Peking [sic], ‘one China’ means the ‘People’s Republic of China (PRC),’ with Taiwan to become a ‘Special Administration Region’ after unification. Taipei, on the other hand, considers ‘one China’ to mean the Republic of China (ROC), founded in 1911 and with de jure sovereignty over all of China. The ROC, however, currently has jurisdiction only over Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu. Taiwan is part of China, and the Chinese mainland is part of China as well.

        The PRC believes that in the long run the relevant parties have committed to unification but for now they are content to allow Taiwan to govern it’s own affairs as long as they don’t formally declare independence or form military alliances with other states, aside that is form the not-a-treaty they have with Washington.

        You ask:

        Are the Chinese not rational actors?

        Within the constraints of their political assumptions, yes they are. It is often said in the United States that the Communist party buys the support of it’s citizens through economic growth, that is only partially true. The true source of ideological legitimacy for the PRC is that they completed Sun Yat Sen’s nationalist project of a unified Chinese republic.

        State propaganda has ginned up a climate of jingoism that both secures and threatens the Communist party’s monopoly on power. If the government was shown publicly to be weak on the face of western threats and incapable of defending China’s sovereign unity, then popular anger might directed inwards rather then out, and the Communists might go the way of the Qing. Strange as it may seem, to the CPC Taiwan could pose an existential threat.

    • onyomi says:

      Apparently Trump has been tweeting about cross-Strait relations since at least 2011, so whatever else it might be, it seems unlikely to be a goofup or careless mistake, as Beijing apparently wants to portray it (though I doubt they really see it that way).

      As someone who really doesn’t want to see Taiwan nuked, I have mixed feelings about it: on the one hand, Taiwan is a flourishing democracy with more people than Australia with which we have strong economic and strategic ties. It’s retarded we have to pretend it doesn’t exist, and this seemingly can’t just go on forever.

      But on the other hand, the CCP is painted into a rhetorical corner with all their national greatness stuff, and it’s absolutely true that the average PRC citizen still has a very scary attitude with respect to Taiwan (though I also wouldn’t tell a pollster, in China, that I think Taiwan should be independent). And, of course, they don’t want a US military base right off their shores either. “Don’t back China into a corner” seems like it should be on the top of any POTUS’s list of foreign policy goals.

      On the other hand, this is never going to end how the PRC wants it to, meaning the status quo is untenable.

      The question with Trump is always: “stupid? or stupid… like a fox??” I think we can dismiss the idea that it was just a goof. Which means Trump thought it would be a good idea, strategically. He could be wrong, and I certainly don’t want to see any US-China brinkmanship. At the same time, I like the stance, which he campaigned on, of talking to everybody. Apparently he’s already annoyed India by buttering up the leader of Pakistan. But I like a leader who prefers to talk to all parties rather than using sanctions, targeted military “actions,” etc.

      I also think it’s irresponsible of e. g. the NYT, to do the CCP’s propaganda work for them in describing Trump’s actions as “an affront.” I’m not saying our press needs to be a propaganda arm for our government, but it feels to me, based on some of the reporting, like they care more about making Donald Trump look bad than about possibly increasing diplomatic tensions.

      Though he was far from my first choice, this also reaffirms my feeling that, of the likely choices, Romney is the best for State (please, anyone but Bolton). We could probably use a soothing, photogenic Mormon as a foil to Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip, “bad cop” style.

      • Deiseach says:

        Like I said before, I’m amazed to see Democrats/Democrat-leaning sources castigating Republicans for not being tough enough, not being hardline enough, not being hawkish enough, towards foreign leaders like Russia – and now China as well?

        When did it flip from “We’re the party of jaw-jaw not war-war, we want diplomatic solutions, we’ll talk to anyone and everyone in the name of peaceful co-existence” to “You gotta lay down the law and let them know we’re not going to be kicked around anymore, there’s a new sheriff in town!”

        • onyomi says:

          In fairness, this could be interpreted as being too tough or bellicose with respect to China–as provocatively upsetting the status quo.

          The longterm outcome China wants is for Taiwan to become a real part of the PRC. The longterm outcome Taiwan and the US want is for Taiwan to be an independent US-friendly sovereign. Neither side can tolerate what the other wants, and so they maintain this weird fantasy where there is only “one China” except we have this weird island with 20 million people with its own independent government.

          If it is a signal that the Trump administration intends to confer increased legitimacy on the government of Taiwan, this could be interpreted as the US pushing against the status quo and in favor of its preferred outcome–i. e. “being tough” on China, or even engaging in dangerous brinkmanship.

          But, as you say, from the perspective of the Taiwanese, their fear is that America will, at some point, decide it’s not worth antagonizing China to keep protecting them. Therefore Trump has to walk a tightrope of assuring Taiwan it won’t let China just take over, but also assuring China it won’t help Taiwan declare independence.

          What China really doesn’t want is for Taiwan to be emboldened to actually make some official declaration of independence, at which point they’re stuck between looking weak to their own people or starting a war with a US ally. It’s like, we want China to think we got Taiwan’s back, but Taiwan to think we don’t. If Trump deemed that the PRC was getting too bold and feeling like maybe the US would sacrifice Taiwan, then maybe it was the right thing to do to maintain the balance. But if it emboldens the Taiwanese to “push the envelope” in a way they haven’t previously dared, maybe it was not.

          • ivvenalis says:

            Like you said, the status quo is totally absurd and untenable. I think the major sticking point is Taiwan’s continuing claims to the Chinese Mainland. The deal we want probably looks something like: the ROC renounces all claims to the Chinese mainland (there would still be a couple of uninhabited islands under dispute, whatever) in return for the US publicly pledging to use nuclear weapons to fend off a Chinese invasion, and the ROC builds the facilities to become a nuclear threshold state as a hedge against the USA reneging. The ROC pays the US somehow, 80% of the cost of building and maintaining a sufficient independent nuclear arsenal or something. Avoiding a permanent Cuban Missile Crisis, dangerous to both sides of the Strait, motivates everyone to keep the deal going.

          • onyomi says:

            I think the major sticking point is Taiwan’s continuing claims to the Chinese Mainland.

            I don’t think that is the sticking point because ROC claims to be the legitimate government of the mainland are even less credible than PRC claims to be the legitimate government of Taiwan, and the US already recognizes the PRC as the legitimate government of “one China.” Also, no Taiwanese seriously suggest annexing the mainland, while many Chinese seriously suggest annexing Taiwan. Therefore, ROC claims to the mainland are a bargaining chip not worth much to anyone, especially as more and more young Taiwanese self-identify as “Taiwanese” rather than Chinese.

            The Taiwanese gave up their own nuclear program some time ago in exchange for an implied guarantee of US protection. Any attempt to put nukes there now whether by the US or the Taiwanese themselves, even in exchange for the US stepping down, would be interpreted by Beijing as an aggressive step towards Taiwanese independence, which they’ve already publicly committed not to tolerate.

            There also might, ironically, be a sense in which the PRC prefers a US-backed Taiwan to a more independent Taiwan, possibly with its own, more powerful arsenal. The implied deal being that we don’t tolerate China forcefully annexing Taiwan, but in exchange, we stop Taiwan from putting the CCP in a position where they have to choose between attacking a US ally or looking weak to their own people.

        • onyomi says:

          This piece sort of expresses my concern that the NYT is doing the CCP’s propaganda work for them:

          …But there’s another way to think about it: the media are also signaling China about how it could/should react. If China doesn’t react strongly, the media won’t be validated (they will then say nothing about their failure). Consider Evan Madeiros’ words in The Atlantic:
          “The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House National Security Council, told the FT. “Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for U.S.-China relations.”
          Madeiros was Obama’s Asia czar and would have had high position in the Clinton Administration. He rotated out of the Obama Administration to the Eurasia group, which does business in China, and there he is in FT and Atlantic quoted as if he never worked for a firm which does business with China (just like Henry Kissinger, you’ve made it when the media never mentions your business interests). Think he is signaling China about how it should react? Your guess is as good as mine, but a strong reaction would benefit Madeiros’ friends and hurt Trump. No conflict of interest there!

          In other words, congratulations, media, you just gave China permission to go to its limit.

          Indeed, the Chinese initially said (WaPo):
          Asked about Trump’s call during a conference on international affairs in Beijing early Saturday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, called it a “small action” that “cannot change China’s standing in international society.”

          The breach of protocol will “not change the One China policy that the U.S. government has supported for many years,” he said. “The One China principle is the foundation for healthy development of ­Sino-U.S. relations. We don’t wish for anything to obstruct or ruin this foundation.”
          It was only later after the media shitstorm that they apparently realized that they had support from US media and anti-Trump folks, and that they could really run with this.

      • Iain says:

        Apparently Trump has been tweeting about cross-Strait relations since at least 2011, so whatever else it might be, it seems unlikely to be a goofup or careless mistake…

        I think it is too optimistic to assume that Trump is informed about an issue just because he has tweeted about it. Is that his only (non-recent) tweet about Taiwan? I can’t find evidence of another, although searching for tweets is miserable and I could easily have missed something. I would give good odds that if you could dredge up recordings of cable news on November 18, 2011, you would find a short segment on selling F16s to Taiwan.

        During the GOP debates, Trump went on an extended riff about China taking advantage of the US via the TPP, only for Rand Paul to step in and point out that China was deliberately excluded from the TPP. I have no difficulty believing that Trump is as ignorant as he seems on this sort of issue. If this was a calculated slight, then one of Trump’s advisers probably did the calculation, not Trump himself.

        • onyomi says:

          There is other reason to believe Trump has at least somewhat done his homework with respect to China, but it is also very likely that he was urged on by pro-Taiwan advisers like Stephen Yates.

          As usual it’s hard to tell to what extent Trump is playing the Republicans and the Republicans are playing Trump. On some issues it feels like he’s leading them, kicking and screaming, in new directions. On others it feels like he’s in danger of becoming a rubber stamp for whatever they already wanted to do. It’s definitely possible this is closer to the latter.

          The fear is that he’s such a loose cannon he’ll do something completely stupid on his own, leaving his advisers to pick up the pieces. I don’t think that’s what happened here. If it turns out to have been a bad idea, it will be the fault of Trump’s advisers as much as his own, I’d say.

      • Hetzer says:

        I also think it’s irresponsible of e. g. the NYT, to do the CCP’s propaganda work for them in describing Trump’s actions as “an affront.” I’m not saying our press needs to be a propaganda arm for our government, but it feels to me, based on some of the reporting, like they care more about making Donald Trump look bad than about possibly increasing diplomatic tensions.

        Oddly enough, our press has served as a propaganda arm of the government in the past. In addition to cases like wartime censorship of the spanish flu outbreak, there’s also this:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird

        Nothing to worry about, though. I’m sure this program has been “stopped” as thoroughly as NSA dragnet surveillance in the wake of the Snowden leaks.

        Anyway. The mainstream (legacy) media has been losing readership and revenue for a while, yet only recently began showing signs of real desperation (“fake news”). For the first time ever, in this last presidential race, I found it very easy to read a story on NYT or watch it on CNN, google the relevant who/what/where/when, read through the primary source material, and find relevant information the journalists didn’t bother to mention. Information which (by pure coincidence) seemed to always put Trump in a better light and/or put Hillary in a worse one. It was hilarious watching CNN try to scare me into accepting them as a necessary middle man to find out what was in the Podesta emails:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DcATG9Qy_A

        While it’s technically true that it’s illegal to possess those emails, it is not illegal to only view them. Receiving them and reading them in your browser, off of Wikileaks’ website? Legal. Downloading and saving a copy on your hard drive (and not just in your browser cache)? Illegal.

        It is a strange game these people play, using the truth to tell lies. A combination of lying by omission and attempting to keep the reader from noticing that there are only a couple of sentences of real hard news content by diluting it with pages and pages of spin, speculation, and concern-trolling.

        Although from time to time, they do mix it up by telling a bald-faced lie, like the assertion that “it’s different for the media” than for individuals. No, it’s not, the 1st amendment is clear that everyone is de jure part of “the press” (press passes are merely an unofficial way to expedite granting established journalists entrance to events and access to VIPs), and with the internet and social media being what it is today, that is also our de facto status as little people now.

        It will be interesting to watch this play out. The MSM may be getting help from congress soon:
        http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-12-02/house-quietly-passes-bill-targeting-russian-propaganda-websites

        It’s kind of funny and kind of sad to watch the MSM cling to its 20th century information denial strategy in the face of entire websites sprouting up for the sole purpose of debunking the MSM narrative (otherwise known as “alternative media”). Google and Facebook are now leaning on web advertisers to terminate their relationships with “fake news” sites, which indicates to me that viewership is exploding and the MSM is in a desperate state, and wants to cut off their competition’s oxygen. Personally, I’m reaching schadenfreude levels that shouldn’t even be possible while watching this unfold. I think that Trump didn’t defeat Clinton so much as he defeated the media.

        Re: China
        I admit I am callously unconcerned with the welfare of anyone who is not an American, yet realize this is far from a universal attitude here. To those who disagree with me on this: I respect your opinion. But to me, this talk of the China/Taiwan situation being “dangerous” rests on the assumption that China can project military force across the Pacific to the US.

        Can they? I ask because I’ve noticed that China is building artificial islands in the S. China Sea to serve as stationary aircraft carriers. That’s not something you do unless, err… you only happen to have one aircraft carrier with a less-than-great history of reliability.
        That leaves doomsday-tier nuclear or maybe biological weapons, I guess. Does China have nuclear ICBM (submarine- and/or ground-launched) capabilities anywhere close to what Russia has?

        Finally, I’m assuming that nobody else (who poses a danger to the US) would rush to China’s aid if there were a military conflict between the US and China. I suppose Russia might, unless Trump bribes them by lifting some sanctions or something, in keeping with his general promise to try to improve US-Russia relations.

        P.S. Try not to get an ulcer, hyperboloid. We wouldn’t want you to miss out on all the excitement :3

        • suntzuanime says:

          My understanding is that China does not have the nuclear capability to destroy the US as a nation, merely to cause unpleasant amounts of death and destruction. A nuclear deterrent, rather than the means to win a nuclear war.

          Given this, I would expect a war over Taiwan to remain conventional. And I wouldn’t expect an invasion of the US mainland. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. Our conventional military would still have to fight, and it’s not clear that we would win easily given that China has the advantage of fighting on their own shores. And if we lose, we probably don’t lose California or anything, but being thrown out of Asia is not good news for us geopolitically. Not to mention the loss of money and lives that we’d suffer, even if we did win.

          • Hetzer says:

            A nuclear deterrent, rather than the means to win a nuclear war.

            Sounds about right.

            Our conventional military would still have to fight, and it’s not clear that we would win easily given that China has the advantage of fighting on their own shores.

            Wouldn’t NATO come into play? And what about Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia/Indonesia? My understanding of the situation is that China has managed to at least annoy everyone else in its neighborhood – especially Japan with their rare earth minerals grab – though I guess the Philippines made some arrangement with China recently. I wonder how desperate China would have to be to enter into war with the US; it seems like the US might be able to bring a lot of friends with serious firepower along with it, while China could (maybe?) get some BRICS countries on its side, though Trump could neuter that arrangement by wooing India and Russia.

            Actually – if Trump’s dealings with Taiwan enrage or destabilize China, could he pivot to India for trade? It’s another big country with a high population and a low cost of manufacturing. And I never hear anything about India teetering on the brink of balkanization.

            I admit I am kind of trying to think like a bratty 8-year-old with a machine gun who only wants the cool kids at his birthday party, since it is:
            a. Fun
            b. Basically what the Trump administration will look like (worst case scenario)

          • One thing I don’t think we know is how good the Chinese army is. The last war they fought was with Vietnam almost forty years ago and, considering the relative size of the two sides, they didn’t do very well. But there have been enormous changes in China since then and it’s hard to guess what the effect on the army has been.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Taiwan is not part of NATO, the NATO countries would not be obligated or likely to join in the war. It’s not exactly clear how things would play out with US-aligned Asian minors; they seem likely to be as much a vulnerability as an asset. China can’t really project power on the US mainland, but they can threaten Honshuu.

            EDIT: I don’t think China would bring in any meaningful allies either. Russia would actually present an existential nuclear threat to us, which would heighten the risk of escalation, and Russia wouldn’t stand to directly gain from it. Beyond that, the idea that like, Brazil or South Africa are going to steam in a fleet to assist the Chinese invasion of Taiwan is frankly laughable.

        • hyperboloid says:

          @Hetzer

          I admit I am callously unconcerned with the welfare of anyone who is not an American

          In that case cross-straight relations is a strange issue for the United States to flex it’s muscles on, sense it should make very little difference to the US whether Taiwan is formally independent country or not.

          Our relations with China are essential to containing Iran, and North Korea, and to dealing with global challenges like climate change. The main arguments I’ve heard for a tougher US policy on Taiwan are almost all coming form ideologically motivated necons championing the ROC as a bull work of democracy in Asia. From a narrow realist point of view it’s clear what the right move is.

          @suntzuanime

          My understanding is that China does not have the nuclear capability to destroy the US as a nation, merely to cause unpleasant amounts of death and destruction. A nuclear deterrent, rather than the means to win a nuclear war.

          I don’t think it’s possible to win a strategic nuclear war in any meaningful sense, but lets put that aside for a moment.

          China has about 66 ground based missiles that can reach the Continental US, divided into four classes; 10 DF-4s, 20 DF-5As, 12 DF-31s, and 24 DF-31As. You can probably add about 24 submarine based JL-2s to that.

          The DF-4, and base model DF-31 are basically limited to hitting Alaska, The DF-5A, DF-31A, and Jl-2 have the capability to strike the vast majority of the country, and importantly are capable of carrying multiple warheads .
          If you assume the Chinese have MIRVed out all their missiles
          then you could be talking about several hundred warheads delivered to the US mainland, but I’m not sure how many missiles actually have multiple warheads.

          Quick, somebody put up the John Schilling signal signal! So we can get a better read on China’s nuclear capability.

          Now do I think a nuclear war with China is likely? Not really, but we need their help on north Korea and Iran, and as you say they can do a lot of damage to us in Asia. It’s just not worth provoking a confrontation over Taiwan, of all things.

          • suntzuanime says:

            To quote my favorite movie, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But the idea is that they couldn’t do enough damage to keep our nuclear counterattack from destroying them as a nation. Given that, they aren’t going to initiate the use of nuclear weapons except in the most dire contingency, certainly not just to prevent an independent Taiwan.

          • hyperboloid says:

            At least with regards to the continental US, China has what is generally called a “counter value”, as opposed to a “counter force”, nuclear strategy. That is to say that they target population centers and infrastructure rather than their opponents weapons systems. Their intercontinental weapons are meant as a last ditch method to deter attack on the mainland rather then as offensive implements.

            The only scenario where I can imagine China initiating the use of nuclear weapons against the US is tactical strikes in the pacific. There china might believe that it had the upper hand logistically and could absorb any US counter attack.

            But I think the real nuclear danger that comes from antagonizing China is not a shooting war between the US and the PRC, but collapse of American policy on North Korea and Iran. Without Chinese assistance it may be very difficult to prevent proliferation steaming from nuclear programs in either of those countries.

          • John Schilling says:

            Quick, somebody put up the John Schilling signal signal! So we can get a better read on China’s nuclear capability.

            You’ve got it about right on the technical details, and most of what I could add on that front would be very bad form to talk about in public. Except that I’ve now seen it discussed in public that China has probably not MIRVed its DF-31As but rather used the capability for enough serious decoys to ensure that US missile defenses will be essentially useless.

            Unless the United States can somehow pull off a Glorious First Strike and destroy essentially the entire Chinese arsenal on the ground (or in port), they can kill tens of millions of Americans and probably put us into failed-state territory in economic and political terms. And they probably have enough flexibility to e.g. nuke Guam or Pearl harbor, tell us that was just to make sure we don’t send any more carrier battle groups to meddle in China’s internal affairs, and ask if we’d like to up the ante.

            Taiwan is far more important to the PRC than it is to us. Taiwan is roughly as important to the PRC as Hawaii is to us, for roughly the same reason, and assuming that the PRC would not risk total war over Taiwan would very likely mean making the same mistake that the Japanese made when they figured they could bomb Pearl Harbor and negotiate a cease-fire.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The idea of the last remnants of the Confederacy seizing Hawaii and holding out there supported by Japan would make a cool alt-history scenario.

        • Controls Freak says:

          I’m sure this program has been “stopped” as thoroughly as NSA dragnet surveillance in the wake of the Snowden leaks.

          Do you have any reason to believe that bulk collection hasn’t been stopped in accordance with USAFA?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The “USA Freedom Act” has loopholes you could drive a dumptruck full of magtape through. It bans collection with no discriminator. There’s nothing to keep the same collection from continuing by requesting all discriminators within a finite class of discriminator.

          • Controls Freak says:

            There’s nothing to keep the same collection from continuing…

            This is a very common, “If we ignore all the other conditions, then there’s nothing to keep X from happening,” type of claim. No offense, but generally, that means that a person isn’t familiar with the constraints that exist and the types of justification which has to go into a request. So, let’s go with an example.

            You are an evil senior NSA agent. You want to exploit Congress’ no good, very bad language in USAFA. You have a brilliant idea! Why don’t you try…

            requesting all discriminators within a finite class of discriminator.

            So you start to put together the application for the FISA Court. There are only a finite number of telephone numbers in the world. You’ll just request the metadata related to all of them. Two questions:

            1) What additional information are you required by law to include in your request?

            2) How would you write this additional information for a request that asks for metadata related to the entire finite set of telephone numbers in the world?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @ControlsFreak, they were already exploiting that exact sort of loophole. They were only allowed to ask for three months of data. So every three months like clockwork, they’d ask for another three months. Everyone involved knew they were doing this and why, but they let it happen.

            Of course they wouldn’t do anything as silly as asking for data for three months for each individual telephone number. No, they’d ask for information on all calls originating or terminating in Alabama. And all calls originating or terminating in Alaska. And all calls originating or terminating in Arizona. And all calls… you get the idea.

          • Controls Freak says:

            they were already exploiting that exact sort of loophole

            This is completely false. Before, there was no need for a specific selection term. Now, there is a need for a specific selection term. You claimed that this is no barrier to running the same type of program. This would require a very different type of loophole, and it likely betrays an ignorance of what is required of a specific selection term.

            they’d ask for information on all calls originating or terminating in Alabama.

            1) What additional information are you required by law to include in this request?

            2) How would you write this additional information for a request that asks for metadata related to all call originating or terminating in Alabama?

          • Jiro says:

            This is completely false. Before, there was no need for a specific selection term. Now, there is a need for a specific selection term

            That’s just a quibble based on the phrase “exact sort of loophole”. Obviously, no past loophole is going to be exactly the same as a loophole they can use now. The exact same request won’t work any more because the request does not include selection terms that they are now required to add.

            But the point is that not that the NSA can use the same loophole, but they can use the same type of loophole–getting around a ban on broad requests by making multiple narrow requests that add up to a broad one.

            (Or are you claiming that the rules are written so well that there are no possible loopholes of this type?)

          • Controls Freak says:

            That’s just a quibble based on the phrase “exact sort of loophole”. Obviously, no past loophole is going to be exactly the same as a loophole they can use now. The exact same request won’t work any more because the request does not include selection terms that they are now required to add.

            Then we probably have a duty to at least try to demonstrate where such a hypothetical new loophole is going to come into play. It’s always possible that there’s a loophole out there that we don’t see, but we’re flying dangerously close to “The Law Doesn’t Matter” territory. If the current set of legal requirements is always radically insufficient because we can imagine the possibility of a loophole that we have no actual reason to believe exists, then the law is simply incapable of acting as a suitable constraint on government.

            the point is that not that the NSA can use the same loophole, but they can use the same type of loophole–getting around a ban on broad requests by making multiple narrow requests that add up to a broad one.

            And that’s why I asked for an example of how to structure those multiple narrow requests. While you can break any set up into a union of smaller sets, that’s boring. It doesn’t tell us anything about whether any particular collection of smaller sets (which covers the space) could actually be requested under current law.

            are you claiming that the rules are written so well that there are no possible loopholes of this type?

            It’s literally impossible to show that it is impossible for loopholes to exist. What we can show is that really broad claims like, “There’s nothing (emphasis added) to keep the same collection from continuing by requesting all discriminators within a finite class of discriminator,” (with the implication being that we can just pick any ol’ set of discriminators) are probably silly. It’s best to proceed by example, which is why I’m glad that Nybbler followed up with, “they’d ask for information on all calls originating or terminating in Alabama.” Now, we can go check whether this example actually works. The law requires specific forms of justification and additional information to go along with this request. I’m pretty sure that the second you actually engage with the law and try to justify that particular example request, you’ll run into a constraint.

    • ivvenalis says:

      The One China policy is silly, and the United States doesn’t need the CCP’s permission to make phone calls to Taiwan, even if the CCP is worried that might interfere with their ability to oppress ethnic minorities. The Republic of China and Taiwan are the same thing, and is a geopolitical entity distinct from the People’s Republic of China. See how easy that is? I can copy-paste hanzi too, watch this: 正名.

      • hyperboloid says:

        The one China policy may be a silly fiction, but such fictions are crucial to international relations, and the good order of world affairs.

        The Republic of China and Taiwan are the same thing

        That is the question isn’t it? even within Taiwan that is a huge dispute, and the sort of people who concern themselves with nationalist projects of 正名 are very much convinced that they are not the same. It is an argument between two parties within a democratic country that the United States should do it’s best to stay out of.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        The One China policy is silly, and the United States doesn’t need the CCP’s permission to make phone calls to Taiwan,

        So what? Not needing China’s permission doesn’t make it a good idea. There’s no upside to this and some pretty dramatic downsides depending on how China reacts. They take the one nation stuff pretty seriously.

  20. borda says:

    Hello friends. Does anyone know where I might find that great short story about acausal trade between two superintelligences? It appears that the original version is currently unavailable:

    http://www.raikoth.net/Stuff/story1.html.

    Call me crazy but the movie “Arrival” seemed to have some conceptual parallels.

  21. Deiseach says:

    Reflection caused by the title of this paper: could the ‘talking/speaking/singing swords’ in tales and legends come from the basis that inscriptions on swords are a form of “talking”, given that some (a lot? many?) of these inscriptions are invocations to saints/God for protection or other such purposes?

    What’s more, in regards to words of power Kieckhefer writes:

    “In a culture where writing is uncommon, it may well appear magical. Even ordinary script may seem to bear extraordinary power, and it is not surprising when people in search of magical weapons or magical protection seize upon the written word.”

    Also, if it’s true that up to now, few or nobody ever considered “How can we interpret mediaeval and earlier inscriptions on swords? How about we look at examples of other inscriptions or writings of the period?” and instead it was “We just don’t know, we have to guess”, I am astounded. Where’s the joined-up thinking, guys?

    • I once knew someone who had a singing axe. It was a throwing axe that functioned like a tuning fork. The owner struck it sideways against something and it started singing. He then threw it. I could hear it doppler up and down as it rotated, shift tone as it passed me (shifting down because it was now moving away from me), and it went silent when it sunk into the target.

  22. sierraescape says:

    I’ve been thinking of choosing a very obscure issue in Congress, doing a ton of research into it, and then sending a report to a congressman who represents me. Can anyone comment on the effectiveness of this?

    • Hetzer says:

      Your congressman is pleased that you have chosen to contact his office.

      He believes that your issue – along with criminalizing flag burning – is critical to upholding our democracy, and he will continue to fight for your issue, as well your right to live in a country where flag-burning does not happen, for as long as he represents you in the great state of Wherever (WH).

      Signed,
      Your Congressman
      (Burn after reading).

      But seriously, I’m not sure. If you decide to do it, though, be sure to post the report here so any interested parties can send it to their congresscritter/senators as well. Might as well go for the saturation bombing approach, right?

      You could also find some political advocacy groups in your congressional district that have experience with lobbying congress, odds are there are few where you would want to help out and volunteer or donate to. If you get in touch with those people and give them some idea that you might be an ally on their issue, they might be able to tell you how likely your idea is to be effective, or maybe give you tips on how to best present the information (I personally know a woman who lobbies congress for a union, and she at least doesn’t mind when I ask questions about how the process works).

      • sierraescape says:

        Will do. Anyways it will be nice to iron out any holes in reasoning before sending it.

        Finding political advocacy groups is a great idea. I’m starting to think I should start at the city or county level—if only to gain experience and field testing before moving up—and at that level any groups I find are probably a ticket to getting my paper read.

    • dndnrsn says:

      You would probably have more success with actually getting in contact with a representative the lower you go, I imagine.

    • DavidS says:

      I suspect you’d have to pass fairly high ‘why should I care’ and ‘how do I know this guy isn’t a kook’ tests.

    • skef says:

      Call the issue X. Then consider different answers to the question “Does your research on X reveal that it is important that a particular X-related thing occur, for which legislation would be appropriate?”

      No: “Then why are you contacting Congress about this?”

      Yes: This is a good opportunity to reconsider your preconceptions about “lobbyists”.

      • Incurian says:

        No, call the issue, “IMPORTANT SAFETY PROGRAM FOR BABIES AND POSSIBLY MINORITIES.”

      • sierraescape says:

        Lobbyists need sponsors, right? I figure any issue prominent enough to have lobbyists is a waste of time for me to research, because the lobbyists will just do my job better than I can. I suppose at a more local level I don’t have to worry about that.

    • stevenj says:

      I’m an economist working for a consulting company that tries to get legislation, regulation, and court cases to go well for our clients.
      A large part of my job is researching policy issues, writing papers, and giving them to policy-makers (congress critters, executive branch agencies, and judges).

      Here are a few tips that might not be obvious.
      (This is US-specific, the institutional details are a bit different in other countries.)

      1. Get your paper to the right person, specifically your congressperson’s legislative assistant (LA) for the relevant policy area. If you just send it to the congressional office, it will get read by someone assigned to constituent mail. They’ll make a note of the issue and which side you’re on, and will report aggregate stats to their boss. They won’t really consider your arguments/evidence. If you’re lucky, they will pass your paper to the LA, but you can’t count on that. Look for congressional staff directories in order to find the name of the LA. E.g., here’s the staff directory for my senior senator: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/mlm/congressorg/bio/staff/?id=210. If I wrote a paper on tax policy, I would address it directly to Senator Richard Durbin’s Tax Policy LA, Lakecia Foster (at Senator Durbin’s office). It’s the LA’s job to be aware of all the arguments and evidence about live issues in their policy area, and to keep their boss informed. If you write a good paper, the LA will rely on it in creating summaries for their boss.

      2. Consider sending your paper to the appropriate executive branch agencies. When crafting regulations, they are required to solicit opinions from the public, and generally take substantive comments very seriously. A well-researched and well-written paper has a much greater chance of influencing policy when an agency is considering a regulation than when Congress is considering legislation. Note that the average level of expertise is much higher at the agencies than at the congressional staff. The agencies have large teams of full-time specialists who have dedicated their careers to the topic, compared to the typical LA, who is a young generalist assigned to a very broad topic area, and will only have the job for a few years before moving on to something else.

      3. Be very upfront about about the side you’re on, and what interest(s) you have in the matter. Policy makers are very sensitive to being manipulated by biased source, and they will want to apply the appropriate level of scrutiny to your paper. If they can’t figure out what your angle is, they will tend to discount you entirely.

      4. Focus on verifiable facts that the policy maker can check for themselves. Your job is to tell them something they don’t know. They aren’t very interested in rhetorical or theoretical arguments — they’ve seen all of them a thousand times before. Verification is important — if you’re audience doesn’t know you or your reputation, their ability to double-check your claims will enhance their trust in you.

    • Deiseach says:

      I suppose it depends on what the issue is, and if your representative thinks this is something they can get a bandwagon rolling on.

      I did see a lot of “here’s how to contact your representatives/congress persons, here’s a script to use, and here’s how to call back to make sure they’re not just feeding you a line” in the wake of the election about calling up and complaining/expressing opposition to the supposed policies of the incoming Trump administration, and I’m sure that at least some congress persons’ offices are fully occupied fielding such calls/letters/emails. So how successful you will be depends on what you are doing, and why you’re doing it.

      Is it for a genuine reason that you think issue P is being neglected? Is it an experiment? Is it mischief-making in the “protest and snarl up Trump” as above? Because the ones who are on the ball will by now have a “Thank you for your communication” canned answer before they then dump whatever issue you’ve raised, as Hetzer describes below, even if you are going to follow up with more phone calls/letters.

      Unless it’s something they feel they can make hay out of, in which case they’ll be happy to stand up with “My constituents are very concerned about Issue P and I am doing all I can to make their concerns known”.

      • sierraescape says:

        Hm. I was thinking if it was an obscure enough issue, the congressperson in question could just take the lead on it. I guess that raises the bar for whatever paper I write—it now has to convince the congressperson to put a significant amount of time and energy into whatever the issue is. So that makes sense. Finding an issue which they’re already going to be motivated to champion would greatly increase my chances of actually making a difference.

        I don’t have an issue in mind; it’s more experimental. I figure the research can’t be counterproductive, the experience might be nice to have later, and there’s a chance of making a real difference.

        • Deiseach says:

          I was thinking if it was an obscure enough issue, the congressperson in question could just take the lead on it.

          Not unless there are votes/good PR in it for them. To be fair to politicians, whom I criticise as much as anyone, they do put in an insane amount of work, both in time and effort. Everyone wants their local representative on the case when it comes to a special interest, and they get pulled in ten directions at once.

          So while you might (for instance) raise the topic of drainage which is worthy and necessary, unless it can be ‘sexed up’ with “Bad drains flood local homes, residents outraged, what are our councilors doing about this, local representative takes pro-active lead”, they are not going to bother. They’ve already got six appointments, are chairing three different committees, and holding clinic hours on their day off this week.

  23. pseudon says:

    Am I the only one for whom the mobile version of ssc turned much less useable due to the line length?

    It works again for me on Chrome on Android when enabling “Request desktop site”. , Maybe this was a change in WordPress?

  24. Tekhno says:

    Why do black holes that are sucking in material have a traffic jam that creates the accretion disc? The material closest should be going in faster, stretching it apart, yet apparently the material piles up before going in and gets hotter instead. What is it piling up against?

    • Iain says:

      Accretion disks are made of matter in orbit around black holes. The angular momentum of the matter around a large star doesn’t disappear when the star collapses into a black hole. The only reason that matter falls in at all is that it jostles with other matter and radiates away energy as heat. Accretion disks aren’t limited to black holes; you can and do see accretion disks around stars.

      Black holes don’t have any more gravity than any other object with the same mass. They just keep all that mass in a smaller area.

  25. Deiseach says:

    And my team managed a stunning and unexpected result today.

    Went from two-nil up at half-time to being beaten four-three in extra time.

    That’s okay. That’s fine. I’m fine. It’s all good. Top of the table before Christmas, ha ha ha, who expected that to last into the New Year, right?

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