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Open Thread 66.75

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

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773 Responses to Open Thread 66.75

  1. paranoidfunk says:

    What in the world do you guys make of the Julian Assange Reddit AMA?

    One asker prudently called for Assange to prove he’s alive and well by doing some ad hoc written minutia and signing it with his private PGP key; Assange responded to the question but refused to do the task, which, among other poor answers, made many folks think he and Wikileaks are compromised. I am starting to think such myself…and I don’t understand why he would do an AMA at this time.

    Is it bizarre that a (private) organization with a well-publicized goal of transparency is rather opaque?

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      While everything is circumstantial, Wikileaks’ behavior over the last year has me pretty convinced that they’re a Russian cut-out now.

      – On top of refusing the key, the AMA had wildly inconsistent answers on Trump/RNC intel
      – Insisting that Russia wasn’t their source despite Wikileaks submissions supposedly being anonymous by design
      – Rejecting the Panama Papers leak and then sniping at them for being a Soros plot to smear Putin
      – The constant “THESE leaks are bad” special pleading whenever something anti-Trump leaked; their Twitter was basically indistinguishable from a Trump SuperPAC

      This is on top of the highly suspicious timeline of behavior from 2010-2014 documented in this comment

      • cassander says:

        Suppose wikileaks is a pure and noble organization run entirely by angels, dedicated to one thing, transparency. They publish any authentic information that gets sent their way, regardless of source or political considerations. Then say the russian government starts sending them information on people they don’t like.

        from the outside, would that organization look any different than a russian cutout?

        And then on a more philosophical front, if actual wikileaks’ behavior is indistinguishable from angelic wikileaks, do we actually want that to change? would we prefer if wikileaks was overtly partisan?

        • Iain says:

          Did you read the post to which you replied? Anonymous Bosch gave plenty of evidence that doesn’t fit your explanation:

          – Rejecting the Panama Papers leak and then sniping at them for being a Soros plot to smear Putin
          – The constant “THESE leaks are bad” special pleading whenever something anti-Trump leaked; their Twitter was basically indistinguishable from a Trump SuperPAC

          Angelic Wikileaks presumably wouldn’t spend its time tweeting stuff like this. (That last one is particularly delightful. Heaven forbid an organization publish leaked material!)

          • J says:

            > Did you read the post to which you replied?

            That is unnecessarily combative.

            cassander’s post begins with “Suppose”. They are asking for our thoughts on a hypothetical situation, not claiming that the hypothetical situation is true.

          • Matt M says:

            “That last one is particularly delightful.”

            Wow. That really is bad, and absolutely makes me willing to believe they have been compromised – or at least, that the people who were running it say, five years ago, are NOT the people running it now.

      • Art Vandelay says:

        Which anti-Trump leaks are you talking about? The one’s about him Putin getting him elected and the FSB having compromising material on them? Because in that case they could quite validly think the leaks were completely bogus without being at all pro-Trump or pro-Russia.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          Click Iain’s last link in the reply above. They’re condemning them, not evaluating them.

    • CatCube says:

      I don’t know about Anonymous Bosch’s statement that Wikileaks is in league with the Russians, but it seems obvious to me that it became a vehicle for Assange’s ego a long time ago. To that end, sticking his thumb in the eye of the US will get him fawning coverage, in a way that covering Russia or other repressive states will not*. Plus, it’s easier for him to recruit English-speakers to deal with documents in English, where the language barrier with other countries makes the ego-feeding spreading of information more difficult.

      * I expect that if he were to publish internal documents that Russia is jailing reporters, it’d maybe spend a few days of getting attention but mostly sink beneath the waves of “shitty country being shitty to reporters, eh, what’re you gonna do?”

    • Moon says:

      It’s shocking to me about Assange. It is just one more instance of how crony capitalism just overtakes and co-opts everything and everyone. Every time someone starts to do anything independent, creative, or principled– as soon as it gets big enough to be noticed, it’s enveloped by the crony capitalist globalist system. People in these hacking organizations used to have principles. Now they are unabashedly pro-Russia, pro-Trump, anti-Democrat, and pro-U.S.-Republican- crony-capitalist establishment.

      The hacking groups are aligned with the Powers That Be now, not trying to help the people.

      Trump’s cabinet is totally crony capitalist. And even though he won votes by claiming to be anti-establishment, he shows no signs of planning to govern that way. And I am sure that if he did start to do anti-establishment sorts of things, that the Republican party would make trouble for him and would likely remove him from office or de-activate him somehow. Then Pence, a Right Wing crony capitalist establishment neocon globalist guy, would have full control.

      Trump is a feature, not a bug, for the Right Wing establishment. He was his party’s method of winning votes through his billionaire, reality TV show star, alpha male imitation, type of charisma. Now that they have got the votes and the presidency and SCOTUS, he’ll do what the establishment wants or else he’ll be de-activated.

      • Mark says:

        Definitely could turn out that way, but I’m kind of hoping for an “Only Trump could go to Socialism” effect.

      • cassander says:

        Wikileaks is a charitable foundation incorporated under german law. It runs on less than a million dollars in donations a year. What on earth does it have to do with crony capitalism? This is unhinged even by your standard moon.’

        > He was his party’s method of winning votes through his billionaire, reality TV show star, alpha male imitation, type of charisma.

        that must be why the party fought as hard as it possibly could to stop him.

        • J says:

          > This is unhinged even by your standard moon

          Can we please have fewer personal barbs on SSC? Respectful conversation is one of my favorite things about this place.

      • Nornagest says:

        Mike Pence is not a neoconservative, unless “neoconservative” to you just means “a person on the Right born after 1955”. The word originally referred to people who identified with the center-left during the mid-20th century but migrated to the right during the political realignments of the late Seventies, Paul Wolfowitz types who were tepid on traditional conservative talking points but opposed to the counterculture and strongly in favor of a hawkish foreign policy; during the Bush II administration it expanded to cover people like Dick Cheney and (eventually) Bush himself with conservative backgrounds but similar political goals. Pence is about as far from that as you can get and still call yourself a conservative.

        “Globalist” is similarly questionable, and “establishment” and “crony capitalist” aren’t much better. (You could call Wilbur Ross, Steven Mnuchin, and especially Rex Tillerson crony capitalists without blushing, though, and Reince Priebus is about as establishment as it gets.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        This seems a bit unfair to crony capitalism.

        Perhaps it would be better to call it Moloch.

        I agree that having Assange as a Russian agent is very drab compared to him being an independent hacker.

        Possibly a bit irresponsible of me, but I was very disappointed when Chalabi turned out to be an Iranian agent (was this proven?) rather than an extremely ambitious independent con man.

        • cassander says:

          Lenin took money from the germans, but I would hardly call him a german agent. I would not be surprised if chalabi took money from the iranians, I would be very much surprised if he was ever in it for anyone other than Chalabi though.

    • thehousecarpenter says:

      The consensus on the WhereIsAssange subreddit seems to be that he’s now been proven to be alive and not under duress.

      Here is some reasoning Assange gave for not supplying the PGP key:

      Many were calling for “proof of life” but we are interested in something quite different. Anything that we did that claimed to be some kind of proof of life would be to set the precedent on what mechanism could be used to reduce concern about how we were faring. The calls, for example, that I issue a PGP signed message.

      That’s fine if you can understand that it’s me issuing the PGP signed message, but a PGP signed message doesn’t tell you who has issued it at all. It’s just a plain message. So, let’s look at what kind of precedent we would be setting. We would be setting the precedent that when there’s a concern about whether one of our staff has been kidnapped or me, that concern can be destroyed simply by someone issuing of a message of text, which is coupled to a particular cryptographic key.

      But if WikiLeaks is under a threat so serious that its people have been kidnapped then it is possible that it might lose control over its keys. The reality is that it’s quite hard to protect keys from that kind of interference. The way WikiLeaks manages its keys, its submission keys, for example, they are not used to sign messages, but even if WikiLeaks did sign a message in this case, what would it be saying? It would be setting a precedent that could be very dangerous in the future.

      If you produce the person and show that they are not under duress, you can either hack a WikiLeaks key or take control of infrastructure or take control of a person and then claim that they had produced some signed message.

      We are much more interested in creating a precedent for proof of freedom from duress. Or making it hard for our people to be under duress. The best way to do that is live video. Because even if you were under duress (there’s various forms of duress that could be applied) if you have live video then you’ve got a few seconds to put things out. You can slip in code words into what you’re saying. (I’m not, by the way. I’m not!) But you can slip in code words into what you’re saying that your people could then see. So, yes, I’m alive and free from duress, but I am in a very difficult situation.

      Whether that makes sense, I’m not really qualified to assesss (I don’t know much about cryptography and all that).

      • sflicht says:

        I think it’s a controversial but defensible position. Wikileaks is definitely a target of APTs, and their paranoia about key compromise seems reasonable to me.

      • Aapje says:

        @thehousecarpenter

        To sign a document with a private key, you normally need two things:
        – The private key
        – The password for the key

        The former is a file on a storage device, which can be taken from a person by force. The latter can be obtained by torture, coercion or such. It seems that pretty much no one can stand up to that in the long term.

        A way around this is to signal compliance to your kidnappers, before you are actually mentally broken and then to sneak in an innocent-seeming distress signal (and/or refuse to include an ‘I am safe’ signal) that is known to other trusted people. Then they know that you are compromised and will stop trusting you.

        This is a classic espionage trick, where spies who meet each other use these signals to reduce the risk of trusting a ‘flipped’ spy.

        • John Schilling says:

          The former is a file on a storage device, which can be taken from a person by force. The latter can be obtained by torture, coercion or

          …having ever actually used the password for its intended purpose, on a computer where a moment’s carelessness some time in the past left it vulnerable to a zero-day exploit by an FSB hacker, and which now hosts a keylogger so deeply rooted in its OS that nothing short of reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling everything from backups will do – and how far back do you have to go to get a known-clean backup?

          For someone like Assange, it is reasonable to assume the Kremlin would put its A-team on securing full control of his computing environment. It is probably not reasonable to assume that he has maintained perfect opsec discipline for the entire duration of his activist campaign. The normal workaround for this includes rotating keys as well as passwords, but if people are insisting proof-of-life be traceable to a heritage key, Assange is right to note the vulnerability of that scheme.

          • Aftagley says:

            Assange’s argument here doesn’t hold up.

            Yes, there are tons of potential scenarios under which a nefarious actor could get access to his key. This article describes Assange’s lax attitude towards OPSEC, so it’s very possible that Assange suspects his key could be compromised.

            The thing is, according to the people in that reddit, Assange had previously stated that the PNG key would be used as a proof of life, as referenced by this redditor:

            Security goes two ways. You are on record as indicating absence of the key is a signal of compromise, and now you refuse to prove you have the key. Sure, someone else could have the key — but then they’d likely prove they had it to “prove” they were you.

            Since they haven’t, it seems to indicate that no bad actors are claiming to be you and have the key.

            Since you haven’t used it, it appears to indicate that you also don’t have access to the key. Your vague answers on here make this stranger, as you’d likely tell everyone if you lost access to the key.

            So the conclusions that can be drawn are all confusing, and mostly bad.

            A potential danger of trusting Assange without the code was pointed out by another redditor who said:

            Say that you had never memorized the key, but had written on a piece of paper, and when the CIA rendered you on Oct. 17 you ate it. I’m assuming that you’re intelligent enough to realize that a memorized key would always be extracted and took the same precautions I would.

            Now, I figure the CIA can force you to do just about anything they want by threatening your family. Because of these threats you’re effectively working for the CIA, and if I was the CIA and I was giving you a job description it would go something along the lines of: “Return to the embassy and remain there; assist us to convince the world that Wikileaks is still a functional, independent agency”. So, you’re here on reddit doing that, and whatever else your handlers direct you to. It strikes me though that the one thing your handlers cannot by any means force you to do is to give up a key you don’t have. Drugs won’t work, torture won’t work, killing your family won’t work; there is literally no way for them to recover that key.

            You signing with the key proves nothing. The CIA may well have been able to torture it out of you or seize it, and in that case they can use it as well as anybody. But the inability to sign with the key would be one of the only indicators we would have in such a scenario.

            The upshot of all of this is that there is 0 reason for him not to use the key in this scenario. If he’s worried about establishing proof of life, he could make it very clear that the key will never be used again to verify proof of life; that would assure people that he’s safe and has access to the key while also preventing the scenario he talks about in his post.

            TLDR: him having the key wouldn’t be proof of life, but him not providing the key is highly suspect.

          • Mr Mind says:

            vulnerable to a zero-day exploit by an FSB hacker, and which now hosts a keylogger so deeply rooted in its OS that nothing short of reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling everything from backups will do

            There’s no such a thing: it’s not the case that the deeper you dig the more untraceable you become.
            Modern OS’s have three rings: kernel, process and user. Granted, a kernel level trojan can hide from lower processes by being the first to trap interrupts, but other kernel level can uncover it with a little cleverness.

          • Iain says:

            There’s no such a thing

            False. Here’s one example.

          • John Schilling says:

            Assange’s argument here doesn’t hold up.

            I would rather say that Assange’s argument here holds up, but that is promise years back to use the key for proof-of-life was ill-conceived. The key never could be more than suggestive-evidence-of-life, but having overcommitted then forces him to chose between losing credibility now and losing security going forward.

    • Absolutely not. Why would anyone be surprised such an organization eventually became infiltrated or …well, can’t actually serve its purpose of leaking documents anymore?

      Wikileaks seemed to be pissing off every group of nations and assassins in the world. He isn’t and was never going to be able to hire anyone smarter or well educated then those working in the NSA or the electronics groups in Russia and China….or quite frankly any well organized country’s best hired security equivalents.

      And I can’t say I like wikileaks either. I remember some major leak awhile ago, and it was reported as “So, this major figure in the middle east is actually a political pragmatic dealing with terrible cards, and this just blew his cover”. But perhaps that’s not the case since I didn’t go into the actual released documents.

      Snowden released his documents through trusted media sources,journalists, activists of various sorts,and was very very careful.

      1. A random leaks website is stupid

      2. A well-known leaks is probably very very stupid.

  2. Salem says:

    What have you changed your mind on recently?

    • Salem says:

      I’ll start!

      I used to think telecoms companies would inevitably decay into commodity pipe providers. Now I increasingly think they can prosper, but in different ways to the present.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Very recently, I’ve become less skeptical on global warming, with a few caveats.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      I’ve become much more sympathetic to (non-government) labor unions.

      • Spookykou says:

        I’ve become much less sympathetic to labor unions.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Would Anonymous Bosch or Spookykou care to expand on recent changes that led to these opinions shifting? I’d be pretty willing to update my opinion of labor unions, but haven’t seen/read anything “new” that shifted it one way or another in quite a while.

          • Spookykou says:

            Mine is not rigorous at all, I just work at UPS in a Union automotive shop and I hate our union steward.

    • Tekhno says:

      I’ve become more worried about government debt after becoming less worried.

    • Tracy W says:

      That export substitution schemes might be more successful than I previously thought.
      That the ASPIRE risk assessment model might be more useful for National Accounts than I first thought.
      That Eric Hobsbawm is smarter than I thought. (He disses the Aussies. Gotta like a guy who does that.)

    • sty_silver says:

      I changed my mind on private vs public schools based on the SSC article, and changed my mind from “USA needs more regulations” over “yudkowsky disagrees so I don’t know anymore” to “we probably need more regulations on large corporations and probably should cut them on many other places”. And my trust in Scott’s beliefs has gone up a lot.

    • IrishDude says:

      I thought Trump would be uniformly bad as president, but based on some of his nominees I think that he might at least have an anti-regulatory streak that could do some good.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve become more dubious that there’s a big reservoir of violent racism that will be activated by the Trump campaign.

    • Well... says:

      Over the past year or so I’ve gone from mostly identifying with the Alt Right to constantly thinking up criticisms of it, and even writing a few of them down.

      • BBA says:

        Funny, I’ve gone from seeing the alt-right as obnoxious trolls who sometimes have a good point buried in the mounds of bullshit to “death’s too good for them.”

        • suntzuanime says:

          I’ve noticed that the group identified as the “alt right” has shifted over the past year or so, as the existence of such a group became an issue in the presidential campaign. Has your perspective on the-group-that-would-have-been-known-as-the-alt-right-a-year-ago changed, or just the referent of “alt right”?

          • BBA says:

            I want to say it’s the first but to be honest with myself it’s some of both.

            I don’t buy the meme that alt-right is just a euphemism for neo-Nazi, if that’s what you’re getting at. For one thing, they’re just part of the alt-right “movement” and for another they’re better described as Wehraboos. (That neologism isn’t mine but it’s awesome.)

          • Montfort says:

            Wehraboo is a much different thing, in my experience. I see it used to describe very enthusiastic fans of the Wehrmacht (almost exclusively, but some will branch out to WWI, too). You know, the ones who go on about how german tanks were the best, germans had the best tactics, the best airforce, etc., etc.

            Many of them are quick to disclaim nazism, some even blame it for Germany’s loss, and a lot of the ones who like nazism mostly like it through a weird nostalgia filter and wouldn’t support a similar political movement today.

          • Montfort says:

            In my experience, “Wehraboo” is not really used to describe neo-nazis. Instead, it’s used for very enthusiastic fans of the Wehrmacht (and sometimes the WWI-era german military, too). You know, the kind of person who goes on and on about how great german tanks, tactics, smallarms, etc were, usually claiming they were the best.

            This group of people are often quick to distance themselves from the politics of the times, some will blame Hitler/Holocaust stuff for germany’s defeat, and a lot of the ones who don’t immediately disclaim the nazis see them in a weird nostalgia-filtered way but don’t seem likely to support similar policies today. Of course, to be fair, I imagine most neo-nazis interested in history are wehraboos.

          • Well... says:

            Both have changed for me as well, to the extent the two can be separated.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @BBA:

            I thougt “Wehraboo” was a derogatory term for wargamer types with a distorted understanding of WWII (characterized by buying the “clean Wehrmacht” myth, thinking the Germans had uniformly better equipment, thinking the Germans were uniformly better soldiers, overlooking the ways in which the German military was deficient, ignoring the things the German military did have going for them in favour of pretending they were supersoldiers, thinking every tank was a Tiger, etc). Instead of being neo-Nazis, they’re dupes who buy the claims of post-war German generals’ memoirs that the German military wasn’t Nazis.

          • Montfort says:

            As the double-post indicates, I was having some difficulties with some sort of spam filter. Apologies if the point seems over-emphasized now.

        • cassander says:

          Man, remember “Love Trump’s hate”? That was a fun 15 minutes.

    • TenMinute says:

      That people who unironically call themselves “rationalists” have any highly developed skill other than rationalization.
      Hence the name, I guess.

      • Spookykou says:

        I can’t make any sense of this. What is this skill that “rationalists” have that I can derive from the name “rationalists” that is not a skill for rationalization?

        • Randy M says:

          Tenminute is saying that he used to believe rationalists were better at thinking rationally, and now he believes rationalists are better at telling themselves they are thinking rationally (aka rationalizing).

          • Spookykou says:

            Oh wow my brain failed me there. I read that any as an a and thought there was some Other skill that tenminute was alluding to but not expressly stating.

  3. Alex Zavoluk says:

    Does anyone else find Newcomb’s paradox to be too contrived to be useful? I know impossible thought experiments are sometimes helpful, but if you can perfectly prediction the future, that would seem to be equivalent to sending perfect information back in time, right? Traveling faster than light, under relativity, means that causality is violated (so causes can happen after their effects, see e.g. http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/52249/how-does-faster-than-light-travel-violate-causality).

    If the someone finds out the Oracle’s prediction, and tells it to me, I can change my behavior and make the Oracle wrong.

    Am I missing something?

    • shakeddown says:

      I think causality isn’t a fundamental concept in physics and the “solution” to Newcomb’s paradox is to note that it assumes causality is.
      (This is an analogue of the pile paradox. “Pile” isn’t fundamental and so asking when something is a pile is nonspecific).

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        IIRC, it can be shown that you can only have 2 of the following:

        -superluminal travel
        -relativity
        -causality

        And all of the evidence points towards our universe having the last 2. Maybe Newcomb would be enlightening in a universe where this is not the case, but that doesn’t make it useful here.

      • You seem to be using causality to mean determinism.

    • DrBeat says:

      I think the usefulness of Newcomb’s paradox is at a level way more basic than most people engage with it on, and points to the opposite conclusion that most people around here get — at least when it is presented with the stipulation that the Oracle is not only asserted to be perfect, but has correctly predicted an arbitrary number of previous choices in the game.

      All those previous people has access to every single bit of information that you do (well, the number of previous correct predictions was lower). All of them had all of the information you have to determine that the highest payout was always from choosing two boxes. Every single person who followed your reasoning and two-boxed wound up with less money than the people who one-boxed, no matter how clever their logic.

      This means the correct answer is to one-box. The useful lesson I derive from it is against the common “rationalist” pitfall of assuming oneself to be in a better position than everyone else, despite having no more information than everyone else, because you think your logic is very clever and assume nobody else must have thought about anything at all. It being contrived is part of why people can say “But no, look, I just think about it and see the right answer is to two-box!”, and you can respond is “Why do you think you’re the first person who thought of that? Why do you think you’re going to do any differently than they did?”

      It is probably not what the paradox was meant to illustrate.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        People (well, philosophers, anyway) who think the rational thing is to two-box don’t do so because they think by doing so they’re going to outsmart the alien. They simply hold that this is an instance where irrationality is rewarded.

        • The Newcomb Paradox doesn’t hinge, I think, on flawless prediction. It’s merely a convenient shortcut, but the paradox still works even if you assume a predictor who is correct 90% of the time. The expected value calculation still tells you to one-box.

          Actually, I think a more precise answer to the Newcomb Paradox is that the winning strategy is to make sure that your decision procedure makes you the sort of person that would one box, AND, GIVEN HAVING ACCOMPLISHED THAT, if there is a way to still two-box while keeping your one-box decision procedure, then do that. Otherwise, just one-box.

          The predictor is not looking into your future. It is evaluating your decision procedure.

          That said, you can’t have a one-box decision procedure and then two-box if determinism is true and we are biological computers. (A real computer with a one-box decision procedure can only help but one-box, I think we agree, no?) You would need some sort of “free will” to make that a realistic expectation that you could achieve that switcheroo on the predictor.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s merely a convenient shortcut, but the paradox still works even if you assume a predictor who is correct 90% of the time.

            If the predictor does the equivalent of making a correct prediction and then throwing a die, reversing the prediction with a 10% chance, then yeah.

            But if the predictor is incorrect because there are certain circumstances where he can’t reliably predict, and these circumstances only happen a certain percentage of the time, so that 10% inaccuracy is not randomly distributed between different scenarios and different decision algorithsm used by you, then no.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            > Actually, I think a more precise answer to the Newcomb Paradox is that the winning strategy is to make sure that your decision procedure makes you the sort of person that would one box, AND, GIVEN HAVING ACCOMPLISHED THAT, if there is a way to still two-box while keeping your one-box decision procedure, then do that.

            This is what I was thinking about when you mentioned that a 90% accurate oracle produces the same result.

        • Mr Mind says:

          Then they:
          – conflate causal decision theory with rationality (since evidential decision theory one-boxes);
          – aren’t able to step up from object level rationality and apply to themselves.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            They don’t conflate causal decision theory with rationality. They just hold, substantively (and for good reason) that doing what evidential decision theory recommends is irrational.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I mean, it’s obvious that you’d want to program a robot to one-box, right? People are just getting confused because they believe in free will, right?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            No.

            The question is which decision is rational, not which decision procedure would you want to program into a robot beforehand if you knew they would one day be faced with the puzzle and wanted it to collect money.

            If there was a predictor that gave out millions only to agents who formed beliefs or made decisions on the basis of astrology, or who believed contradictions, that would not make it rational to do so, even though programming a robot to do that would be the best way to make money.

            Two boxing is the dominant position among people who study this problem.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Philosophisticat

            One-boxing is only irrational because the parameters of the problem state Omega can’t mess with the boxes after we’ve made our choice.

            But… that’s not actually true. If Omega can examine us and determine which way we will decide, we’ve essentially already made our choice, just by being what we are. The mechanisms of our brain and body may not have ground through their predetermined paths to the point of making us grab one box or two, but that they would is inevitable. If the perfect Omega exists (or can exist), there is no choice made at the nominal decision time, and rationality or irrationality of the “decision” made at that point is irrelevant.

          • Yes,precisely. If free will is an illusion, then we have already made our decision (much like my computer has already “made” its decision to run my avast anti-virus scan 5 seconds from now, even though the decision has not been executed yet, because unless I intervene right this second nothing will stop the deterministic programming).

            We think we are making the decision to two-box at the moment of execution, but really the computational pathways (including our ability to be conscious of the problem and our own decision-making) were set up in advance to make us make that choice.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Your mistake is modelling the human brain as a closed system. Deterministic or not, it will still vary its outputs dependent on inputs, and one of those inputs is what it finds in the box.

            Consider the following, wholly deterministic program:

            PRINT "Gob's Program: Y/N?"
            INPUT A$
            IF A$ = "Y" THEN PRINT "PENUS"
            IF A$ = "N" THEN PRINT "PENUS!"

            What will this print? We can’t say without knowing what gets input into it.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Yes, this was my take on it too.

        Either you accept the premise of the thought experiment, and the choice simplifies to “do I want $1K or do I want $1M?” rather than anything complex, or you reject it and the rest of the thought experiment with it.

        In a way, it seems almost like a philosophical marshmallow test. Can you restrain your compulsion to get the 110% Perfect Solution and walk away with a cool million or will you give in and settle for a grand instead?

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Or maybe you accept the premise of the thought experiment, and the choice simplifies to “do I want $1k or not?”

          I find it’s easier for students to see this when we frame it as “the alien gives you a wad of $1000, and says ‘if you’d like, you can hand this back to me right now.'”

          The whole point is that there are two very simple ways of looking at it, both with apparently completely obvious, but contradictory, recommendations.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If aliens are walking around giving people a million dollars for being the sort of person who hands back a thousand dollars, you better fricken believe I’m handing back the thousand.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I think it’s easy to get a misleading picture of the causal structure from that description of the case.

          • Spookykou says:

            Wouldn’t framing the problem this way run against peoples ‘honest woodcutter’ heuristic, does Omega give me a million if I just politely refuse his gift of 1000 as being too much?

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Let’s assume the boxes are transparent, and you can see how much money is in each. Do you still one-box?

        • holomanga says:

          I do, because saying I will here means that Omega can read this comment and stop worrying about me two-boxing, so it’ll give me a million dollars in Box A instead of nothing.

    • Protagoras says:

      On your second point, that the oracle can’t successfully predict you if you find out the prediction does not entail that the oracle can’t successfully predict you if you don’t find out the prediction. That the former task is impossible for a certain class of subjects (those who will change their behavior to falsify the prediction) is not without interest. It means, for example, that people in that class will never be able to perfectly predict themselves. But it is not nearly as remarkable as it would be if the latter task were impossible. Evidence of the latter task being impossible is much harder to find.

      • Jiro says:

        You can attempt to make your decision by simulating the oracle, in which case the same issue comes up. It’s a version of the halting problem, and postulating that the oracle can unconditionally predict anyone’s decision is equivalent to postulating that the oracle can solve the halting problem.

        • Protagoras says:

          Thank you for expanding on why the impossibility of both predicting and telling the subject about the prediction for a certain class of subjects is impossible; it is indeed interesting because it is linked to a larger class of interesting problems. And, of course, it follows that if our oracle is in that class, it can’t predict itself, and it also follows that if you are in that class, an oracle you can simulate is impossible, as anyone you can simulate can’t predict you perfectly.

    • Spookykou says:

      I heard what I thought was a fairly functional run down of a Newcomb’s problem.

      Voting is often considered irrational because the probability that your individual vote will matter is so low.

      Now imagine that there are 1 million perfect clones of yourself. Technically the above is still true for any given clone, but if you can get around that and pre-commit to vote, then you and your million become a very important voter block.

      You can then reduce this down to more and more realistic states, until you get to, the rationalist community(my clones!) is some decent number of like minded people who, if they could ‘irrationally’ all pre-commit to vote, would become a considerably more important voter block than they currently are.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Right, people like Eliezer promote Newcomb’s problem as a warm-up to cooperation in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This claims that was why Newcomb came up with it, although the last time I looked into it I reached the opposite conclusion. Both come from military research. PD from RAND and Newcomb from LLNL.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Focusing on the perfect prediction of the future is missing the core point of the Newcomb paradox. You can lower the percentages and the puzzle (divergent recommendations from two plausible decision procedures) still arises.

      See e.g. the Smoking Lesion case for a more realistic case which is structurally similar in the ways that matter.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The world in which the Newcomb alien exists is a world where there is evidence that one of those plausible decision procedures is better than the other. This unfortunately fails to shed light on the real world where we do not know if a Newcomb-type predictor can exist.

        • beleester says:

          No, the paradox still exists even if the predictor is only moderately good.

          Let’s suppose that instead of the 100% perfect Omega predictor, there’s a decent psychologist who can predict which box you’ll pick 60% of the time. As before, if he thinks you’ll take Box A, it will contain $10,000 and Box B will contain $1000. If he thinks you’ll take both, Box A will be empty and Box B will still contain $1000.

          So, if you take Box A, you have a 40% chance of getting nothing, and a 60% chance of getting $10,000. If you take both boxes, you have a 40% chance of getting $11,000, and a 60% chance of getting $1000. The expected value of one-boxing is $6,000. The expected value of two-boxing is $5,000. One-boxing still comes out on top.

          (If the payoff in box A is large enough, it’s worth one-boxing even with a 51% chance, or a 50.1% chance.)

          You don’t need a Newcomb alien, you just need someone who knows you well enough to do better than a coin flip.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            You’re right that the paradox exists even for imperfect predictors (and indeed even without predictors at all). But the expected value of each action is precisely what’s at issue – there are two notions of expected value, evidential expected value and causal expected value, which assign different values to the options in the problem.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            If the predictor is imperfect, the optimal strategy becomes “convince the agent you one-box, but then actually two-box.” “Perfect prediction” is relevant because it implies you can’t do that.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Not related to the main topic, but I wonder how much Eliezer’s (error-riddled) thoughts about the Newcomb problem from a decade ago have pervaded the rationalist community and whether that’s partly why you see so many one-boxers around these parts.

    • rahien.din says:

      Newcomb’s problem is not a paradox. It is a decision tool.

      The alien’s probability of predicting my choice correctly = p
      Payout A = A
      Payout B = B
      Ratio Q = A/B. This is used to condense the payout variables to a single usable unit. In the original problem, R=1,000, but this is no different from box A of 1,000,000 / box B of 1,000 and box A of 10 / box B of 0.01.

      Value of one-boxing = Value|one = A*p + 0*(1-p) = A*p
      Value of two-boxing = Value|two = B*p + (B+A)*(1-p) = B*p + B + A – B*p – A*p = B + A – A*p

      We could define a relative value function, which will be > 1 when one-boxing is preferable, and < 1 when 2-boxing is preferable.
      Relative value function = Value|one / Value|two = A*p / (B + A – A*p) = Q*p / (1 + Q – Q*p) = RVF(Q,p)

      This is equivalent in form to post-test probability, with p replacing the likelihood ratio and Q replacing pre-test probability. Essentially, the problem asks, how do we convert pre-decision payout ratio into post-decision payout ratio?

      When Q > 1, and p >= 1, RVF(Q,p) > 1, and one-boxing is favored. This further clarifies the decision.

      If p operates as a likelihood ratio in our overall value function, then we can treat the alien’s prediction as a binary test. Assuming that the alien being correct has the same probability for either prediction, we can draw a confusion matrix to convert this odds-operator into the sensitivity and specificity of the alien’s prediction testing, where A choice / A prediction = c, A choice / A+B prediction = 1-c, A+B choice / A prediction = 1-c, and A+B choice / A+B prediction = c. Since p is A;A over A;A+B, we find that p = c/(1-c).

      Since p = c/(1-c), sensitivity = sensitivity = c, = p/(1+p). When c >= 50%, p >= 1. Accuracy in a binary testing regime is nothing more than the average of sensitivity and specificity, and since these are equivalent, accuracy is equal to c. Therefore, if the alien’s prediction accuracy is greater than 50%, and the ratio of payouts in boxes A and B is greater than 1, one-boxing is favored.

      One premise of the problem states that the alien is at least nearly-perfect in its predictive skill, and thus it is reasonable only to conclude that its accuracy is greater than 50%. One premise of the problem states that box A’s payout is greater than box B’s payout. Therefore both conditions are met such that one-boxing is the rational choice.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      I don’t think Newcomb’s Paradox is impossible, or even particularly impractical. If I set up a mechanical trapdoor system that drops the million dollars as soon as the participant touches the thousand dollar box (and do the one-box/two-box choice by offering them first the opportunity to take the thousand box), I’ve perfectly simulated a flawless Newcomb’s oracle, no predictions needed.

    • suntzuanime says:

      When you type 2+2 into your calculator, you can be pretty damn sure that it’s gonna output 4. This does not violate causality.

    • Mr Mind says:

      If the someone finds out the Oracle’s prediction, and tells it to me, I can change my behavior and make the Oracle wrong.

      In the paradox, there’s no forward link from Omega to you precisely because that will cause an instability in the state of Omega’s prediction.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think that the gross differences in the payouts distort our thinking on the problem.

      If the first box had a potential $10 and the second $0.01, you can 1 box because a penny is worthless.

      But if we change the values to $1001 and $1000, or even $10.01 and $10, you can see how the monetary values distort thinking.

      If we accept the premise of Omega, then the correct answer is still to one box. If we accept that, whatever Omega predicted they did it before I even heard the question about the boxes and the boxes already have whatever they have and I can’t effect it now, the obvious answer is still to two-box.

      These aren’t really compatible world views, and Omega is actually a fiction, so you are being asked “assume a world where a fictional technology that seems to violate the laws of physics is real”. There aren’t particularly right or wrong answers in a case like that.

      In our world, the odds that Omega is just a made up fiction foisted on me by some psychology pofessor are much higher than Omega being a real thing that people have decided to use to give away money.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        Payout values do distort intuitions about this, but I don’t really understand the rest of what you say here. Maybe you’re thinking of a different version of the case, but I don’t see how anything about the case violates the laws of physics, what you take to be the “premise of Omega”, why you think accepting it would make one boxing correct, why it’s incompatible with the rest of the description of the case, why you think there can’t be right or wrong answers about thought experiments involving technology that violates physics (which again, does not seem to me to be involved in the Newcomb problem, nor its more realistic analogues), or what the relevance of the last sentence is.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Philosophisticat:
          Omega has made their choice already, before I am in the room, before I know that I am to be presented with two boxes. At least in the version of the problem I am familiar with.

          It violates the laws of physics that any choice that I make can go back and change Omega’s decision. Although (via Wikipedia) “the problem states that the Predictor is never wrong”, that still doesn’t change the amounts of money in the boxes when I am first presented with the boxes. The die has been cast. Whatever I do can’t affect it.

          But if we accept the premise, that Omega is, in fact, never wrong, then we are accepting that the decision I make now has some influence on what Omega decided back then. If we accept that, accept the fiction on its own grounds, then I should choose to take the one box.

          The last sentence is a caution to attempting to use Bayesian statistical analysis to try and make the monetary values relevant. If I am using Bayes, I need to take that possibility into account, and it dominates the possibility that Omega exists.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Omega never being wrong doesn’t entail that the decision you make has influence over the past, any more than the perfect accuracy of my predictions about rocks falling down rather than up entails that the present falling of rocks has a causal influence over my past psychology. On the standard version of the thought experiment, it is built into the case that your action has no effect on Omega’s prediction.

            Perhaps you think that human wills violate the deterministic order in some way that makes it impossible to predict them even in principle. That is not part of physics. But the puzzle does not rely on perfect accuracy, anyway – as long as you think it is possible in principle to predict someone’s behavior with a high degree of certainty, you can come up with a version of the puzzle.

            From what you wrote, it seems you think absent backwards causation, it is just obvious that you should take two boxes. I do think you should take two boxes, but it is not immediately obvious (or rather, it is just as immediately obvious that you should take one box). The motivation for one boxing doesn’t rest on backwards causation.

            The following seems very plausible:
            If you have two options, A and B, and if you choose A (that is, conditional on choosing A), you expect to get a lot of money, but if you choose B, you expect to get only a little money, you ought to choose A.

            This reasoning tells you to one box.

            Now this principle also seems plausible:
            If you have two options, A and B, and are sure that for every possible setting of facts outside your control, you will get more by choosing B than A, you ought to choose B.

            This reasoning tells you to two box.

            That’s the puzzle – it doesn’t have anything to do with backwards causation. I think we ought to reject the first principle, but I don’t think it’s obvious.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat:

            What does it mean for you to choose 1 Box once you have heard about the two boxes in front of you? Does it have any affect on the contents of the boxes? Or does box 1 already contain whatever it contains?

            Let’s also look at it from another way. Someone set up those boxes. They either did or did not put money in box 1. Do they also know what you are going to do before you do? That million in cash is somewhere, and someone knows where it is.

            Perhaps I would very much like to be the kind of person that Omega would predict would 1 Box. But once I have been informed why there are two boxes in front of me, Omega has already made the decision about what kind of person I am. The person in charge of loading box 1 has done so. No one can change that.

            The rules of the game (as I understand them) state Omega made the decision before the beginning of the game. Depending on how you want to interpret that statement, it seems like any knowledge that this game even exists constitutes the start of the game. Perhaps that is too strict for your tastes, but it seems to me otherwise you would, in the thought experiment, be informed of Omega and the game, and then ushered into the room with the boxes.

            Nozick thought that the solution might be that you were supposed to precommit very determindly to one-box. To me this actually violates the spirit of the thought problem.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @HeelBearCub

            You don’t have to convince me that you should take two boxes – I agree! And so do most philosophers. But I think you’re not appreciating the force of the argument for one-boxing.

            By two-boxing, you’re taking the option that you expect will give you one thousand dollars, over the option that you expect will give you a million dollars. That should make you feel a bit funny.

            This isn’t a case where we lack an argument for either side – it’s a case where there are extremely compelling arguments on both sides.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            I feel like the Newcomb problem is really just the Fair Coin problem in disguise. Someone offers you a fair coin and offers you two-to-one odds on it landing on heads after being fairly tossed, for as many bets as you like. You flip and it lands on tails. You repeat this an arbitrary number of times.

            After doing this ten thousand times and losing ten thousand chunks of money, should you try again for the ten-thousand-and-first time?

            The answer within the context of the problem is obviously yes; the coin and toss are defined to be fair, so your expected value is positive for betting. Within the context of reality, however, you should recognize that you being wrong about a given-but-arbitrary premise is probably more likely than a one-in-2^10000 streak, and reject the question.

            —-

            That being said, obviously the right answer to Newcomb’s Box is to carry around planks, nails, and a hammer with you at all times, and before Omega finishes its pitch, build a box around it, then one-box that box, thereby gaining Omega for yourself.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat:

            A few thoughts.

            Remember, I said I thought the specific monetary values really distort the problem. Change the values to 1 Billion and 1 Million. Now what do you do? 1 Trillion and 1 Billion?

            Second, remember I said originally that the problem really depended on whether you believe the fictional description of Omega. If you believe the fiction, you should one box. But this should be irrespective of the amounts. Imagine that the values are 2 million and 1 million. If you believe the fiction, you should 1 box. Now how funny do you feel about 2 boxing? How funny do you feel about 1 boxing?

            The specific amounts make me think this is really just Pascal’s wager in disguise.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @heelbearcub

            The values (and other features of the description which should not be relevant) do affect people’s intuitions at the margins, because people are silly (William Macaskill argues that it’s actually a rational response to meta-uncertainty, but that view is pretty out there). I don’t think that fact tells us anything interesting about which of the two competing ways of reasoning about the case is correct. No matter what the values are, the argument that you should pick the option that you expect will give you the most conditional on you choosing it sounds pretty attractive.

            Again, I don’t understand what feature of the fiction you think, if one believes it, makes one boxing correct. Earlier you suggested that it was the assumption that the predictor is never wrong, because it implies backwards causation. But as I mentioned, that thought is a mistake on two counts – the predictor being never wrong (as opposed to almost never wrong) is an inessential detail, and the possibility of perfect prediction in no way implies backwards causation (the opposite, in fact! It follows immediately from determinism of the future by the past).

            Pascal’s wager, and Robert’s fair coin problem, have a completely unrelated structure, and the two types of decision theory do not give different recommendations in either of those cases.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think that fact tells us anything interesting about which of the two competing ways of reasoning about the case is correct.

            By two-boxing, you’re taking the option that you expect will give you one thousand dollars, over the option that you expect will give you a million dollars. That should make you feel a bit funny.

            You appear to be contradicting yourself at this point. Do the values matter or don’t they?

            And the reason I am saying this is similar to Pascal’s wager is simply that 1 million dollars is the kind of money (especially in the 60s) that will let you simply retire and live comfortably off of the interest from your very cautious investments. At it is conditional on believing in Omega and following the holy tenet that though shalt one box. Only if you believe and follow the dictums of the faith, eschewing the enticements of the sinful second box, can you receive your reward of life-long comfort.

            No, it’s not presented with the same flair as this, but the argument is essentially the same.

            Im curious, because you did not answer, what if the amounts were 1 billion and 1 million? Do you think this changes how people think about the problem?

            What if the amounts were $10 and $0.01?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I don’t even see a prima facie contradiction in what you quoted of me, but to be clear: the values affect peoples’ intuitions. They don’t affect the correct answer, on any plausible account (except MacAskill’s, which is an oddball that involves heavy duty assumptions about how to make decisions when you’re unsure between decision theories). On all competing decision theories, whether or not they support one boxing or two boxing, the values do not make any difference to the correct choice.

            So it does change how people think about it, but that’s a failure of people. As long as the greater-than relations are preserved, whether the numbers are a million and a billion or a penny and a dime makes no difference, except psychologically for people who are responding to irrelevant features of the case.

            In Pascal’s wager, you are rewarded for believing something, and your decision concerns whether to believe something (or to do something which may lead to belief). That’s lacking precisely the distinctive feature of the Newcomb case, which is that your expectation of payoffs is conditional on your choice in a way that comes apart from the possible effects of your choice. In Pascal’s wager, by contrast to the newcomb problem, on every plausible decision theory the payoffs matter.

            Interestingly, there is a well-known religious analogue to the newcomb problem, but it has nothing to do with Pascal’s wager. Some Calvinists apparently hold that God has already determined whether you are saved or damned, so nothing you can do can affect that outcome. He has determined this thanks to his perfect prediction of how you will act – he saved those he knew would be good and damned those he knew would be evil. Do you have reason (of the avoiding damnation type) to act well? The two boxer says no, the one boxer says yes.

            Are we on the same page that this:

            But if we accept the premise, that Omega is, in fact, never wrong, then we are accepting that the decision I make now has some influence on what Omega decided back then.

            Is a mistake?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Although it’s not important for reasons above, for the hell of it here’s my hypothesis about peoples’ intuitions about the case, and why they’re affected by changes in the numbers that should be irrelevant.

            There are two arguments, each very powerful, for opposite conclusions about the case. When presented with the case, I think one of two things tends to happen. Either people only see one of the arguments, and fail to recognize the other, in which case they form a confident judgment for one side, or they recognize both arguments, feel uncomfortable, and then, because they’re not equipped to decide between them on sophisticated grounds, use some kind of heuristic like “how much of a sucker do I feel like if this is the right way to think about it and I do the other thing?” When the value differences are high (1000 vs. 1000000) they tend to feel like more of a sucker for two-boxing. When the value differences are low, they feel like less of a sucker for two-boxing.

          • What if I convince everyone to make their decision procedure: base your one-boxing or two-boxing decision off of the observation of the radioactive decay of some atoms?

            How is Omega going to keep its perfect record in that case? Only if there’s no such thing as true randomness, and only if Omega can observe the particles that would affect that later quantum system and calculate all of the causes and effects leading up to it, only then could Omega make the correct prediction all the time.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            In the original version of the thought experiment, Nozick stipulated that if you try to cheat and make the decision at random you get nothing. The predictor might not be able to know the reading on the geiger counter, but it can predict that you’ll use one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat::
            I am now very confused by your position.

            @HeelBearCub

            You don’t have to convince me that you should take two boxes – I agree! And so do most philosophers. But I think you’re not appreciating the force of the argument for one-boxing.

            By two-boxing, you’re taking the option that you expect will give you one thousand dollars, over the option that you expect will give you a million dollars. That should make you feel a bit funny.

            That was, I thought, your argument for the strength of the argument for one boxing. Now you seem to be completely eschewing that this was an argument for one-boxing at all. So, I’m not sure what you think the actual strong argument for one-boxing is.

            And the specific values are very important to the popularity of this problem and how it neatly divides people. It has to do with how the utility of money scales in relation to how much you have and how much you make.

            If the values were, say $1 and $1000, we would find far more people willing to say they would one box, simply because they give up nothing by one boxing, and get something of significant utility. And I think you would find philosophers to be far less intrigued by the problem.

            As to Pascal and Omega, Omega also rewards you for believing something. The structure of the problem is that if you believe that Omega can accurately predict what you will do, you one box because to do otherwise is to give up eternal life $1M. Sure you have to give up Sunday mornings $1000, but that is a pittance compared to your reward.

            If I don’t believe in Omega’s perfect predictive power, I take my Sunday mornings $1000 and hope the other box still contains cryonics and anti-aging medicine $1M.

            In order to one-box, I have to believe that whatever decision I make is, somehow, then reflected in the content of the first box. (So I disagree that statement was a mistake). Otherwise, yes, the only way Omega exists is in a sort of Calvinist world where it’s all pre-determined.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Of course, the problem with the randomness clause is that if you roll a dice to determine whether or not you one-box, two-box, or go with your intuition, Omega now needs to predict that die roll to know whether to put a thousand, a million, or nothing in advance of the die roll.

            Plus, he still fails for Omniscient Bob, who’s deterministic algorithm for boxing is “Watch Omega calculate what Omniscient Bob will do, then do the opposite.”

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I’m not sure what’s confusing you. That is the argument for one-boxing. I’m not eschewing it. You didn’t explain where you think I’m doing so, so I’m not sure how to clear up your puzzlement. It seems like you still think that the argument relies on believing my action has a causal impact on the past. It doesn’t. Perhaps you also think that somewhere I’m claiming that. I’m not. The crucial feature of the plausible principle I cited in favor of one-boxing, and evidential decision theory more generally (the one-boxer’s preferred decision theory), is that it involves comparing your expectations about what will happen conditional on your acting, which precisely in cases like this comes apart from comparing the effects your action might have (as causal decision theory, the two-boxer’s preferred decision theory suggests).

            Philosophers are not interested in this problem merely because ordinary people are confused and split about it. That does make it more fun, but even if ordinary people were uniformly one-boxers or two-boxers, it would still be a case where two independently very plausible ways of cashing out decision theory give contrary recommendations.

            You’re trying way too hard to pattern match this case to Pascal’s wager on the basis of the problem involving decision tables that include both a large number and a small number.

            I still cannot understand your defense of the claim:

            But if we accept the premise, that Omega is, in fact, never wrong, then we are accepting that the decision I make now has some influence on what Omega decided back then.

            It’s simply not true that in order to one box, you have to believe that your action has an effect on the past – you could accept the principle I mentioned, or evidential decision theory, the second most popular view among decision theorists.

            But even if, per impossible that were not true, it’s not a defense of the claim above! Read your claim carefully. To defend it, you have to think that the only way predictions, or at least predictions about human behavior, can be always correct, is if the future has a causal impact on the past. Do you think that in order for my prediction that objects will fall down and not up to be always correct, there needs to be backwards causation? If not, then why do you think that this is not true of human actions? Maybe you misspoke, and that’s not the claim you want to make after all. If so, you really need to be more careful, because you’re being confusing as hell.

            And even if, per DOUBLE impossible, all that were ALSO wrong, it wouldn’t matter because you can restate the problem using an agent who is merely very very reliable.

            I feel like I’m exhausting my ability to explain what I thought were pretty straightforward points, about which just about everyone who works seriously in this field, no matter their stance, agrees, and I’m finding your responses befuddling.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat:
            Lets’s see if we can get our confusions as to each others’ positions out of the way one-by-one? (In other words, I am happy to engage on the other points you raise, but let’s get this one out of the way).

            I’m not sure what’s confusing you. That is the argument for one-boxing. I’m not eschewing it.

            You have now, it seems to me, both claimed that 1) the amounts are irrelevant and that 2) the specific difference in amounts are the strong argument for one-boxing. These two claims seem incompatible to me.

            This is the heart of my confusion about your position as to the argument of one-boxing. You have said that people are silly and that they have weird intuitions that are tweaked by the specific amounts. But you are also the amounts are irrelevant. If the amounts are irrelevant, than the argument should apply for any amounts where B1 > B2, but your strong argument for one-boxing is not this argument.

            Does the strong argument for one-boxing hold if B1 = $10.01 and B2 = $10? If not, how are the specific amounts irrelevant?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Ah. I am not claiming 2). Not sure where you think I claimed that. I think the argument for one boxing rests only on the claim that your expectation for how much you receive, conditional on choosing one box, is greater than your expectation for how much you receive, conditional on choosing two boxes. I think the degree to which it is greater, and any other feature of the payoff is irrelevant. So yes, I think the strong argument for one-boxing applies just as well even if the amounts are 10.01 and 10.00.

            I can imagine that people’s intuitions about the case vary based on the amounts, because I think people are dumb and their judgments are sensitive to things that don’t matter (framing effects etc.). I’m not actually certain of it, but I know William MacAskill relies on this claim in some arguments of his, so I assume some philosopher has done a terribly run poll of undergraduates about it somewhere. In particular, if you make the one-box payout 1000.01, you will get more two boxers, and if you make the amount in the second box 0.01, you will get more one boxers. That’s psychologically interesting, I guess, but I don’t think it helps us decide between the correct answers.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not sure where you think I claimed that.

            I’ve quoted it, but here it is again:

            But I think you’re not appreciating the force of the argument for one-boxing.

            By two-boxing, you’re taking the option that you expect will give you one thousand dollars, over the option that you expect will give you a million dollars. That should make you feel a bit funny.

            How is that not an argument that has to do with the specific amounts?

            And if that is not the forceful 1-box argument, then what is the forceful 1-box argument?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            The argument is that the expectation on taking one box is greater than the expectation on taking two boxes, and you shouldn’t take the option conditional on which you expect to get less over the option conditional on which you expect to get more. I don’t know where you’re getting the thought that the amounts matter, aside from one being bigger than the other. I’ve said over and over that they don’t. In any case, that should be cleared up.

            That is the forceful argument. Your response is perplexing me again.

          • Jiro says:

            Plus, he still fails for Omniscient Bob, who’s deterministic algorithm for boxing is “Watch Omega calculate what Omniscient Bob will do, then do the opposite.”

            You dont need Omniscient Bob. You need the similarly-initialed Omega B. Omega B’s algorithm is “Predict what Omega will do, then do the opposite”. It’s the halting problem in disguise.

          • Protagoras says:

            And it’s interesting that it’s the halting problem in disguise, but I am not Omega B, and I am not Omniscient Bob. There is no logical problem with a universe containing one Omega who can infallibly predict everyone who is not Omega (unless you add problematic conditions like having Omega tell people its predictions), and the original problem was about what to do as yourself when confronted with that Omega.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat:

            the expectation on taking one box is greater than the expectation on taking two boxes

            In other words, conditional on accepting that Omega really is an omniscient perfect predictor however that could be made to happen, you should one box. Because if one box, Omega will have predicted this, and you will get the larger amount. Yes?

            As to the other part, it was interpretation of what you meant with specifically this sentence:

            That should make you feel a bit funny.

            It’s not a sentence one would typically write about the difference between $10.01 and $10.00. Whereas, if the amounts where $1M and $10M, one could easily write the sentence “Passing up a sure $1M should make you feel a bit funny.”

            Nevertheless, I think I understand your position on this, assuming I am correct above.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            In other words, conditional on accepting that Omega really is an omniscient perfect predictor however that could be made to happen, you should one box. Because if one box, Omega will have predicted this, and you will get the larger amount. Yes?

            Yes, bearing in mind that Omega doesn’t need to be a perfect predictor for this to be the case. If Omega is merely a very good predictor, it will still be the case that your expectation conditional on one boxing is greater than your expectation conditional on two boxing.

            I know you think this violates physics or requires backwards causation or whatever – it doesn’t, but I don’t know what else to say about that except what I’ve already said e.g. about predicting falling rocks.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat:
            In my OP, I said:

            If we accept the premise of Omega, then the correct answer is … to one box.

            In other words, if we accept that the decision I make now has some impact on what is in the boxes (however you want to state that that happens, backwards causality or not), then the correct answer is to one box.

            So, I’m not sure where our disagreement actually is?

            So, to go back to the earlier post, you said:

            But even if, per impossible that were not true, it’s not a defense of the claim above! Read your claim carefully. To defend it, you have to think that the only way predictions, or at least predictions about human behavior, can be always correct, is if the future has a causal impact on the past.

            Let’s suppose that as I walk in the room and I see a scale that is measuring the weight of the table and its contents. After the experiment, I will be told what the weight of the the table, the two boxes and $1000 (call that X), as well as the weight of all of that plus $1M (call that Y).

            When I walk in the room, which number do I see on the scale? X or Y?

          • suntzuanime says:

            It depends. Are you going to one-box or two-box?

            It might help to think of the causal diagram. The causal root here is your nature. Your nature causes Omega to form beliefs about your nature, those beliefs cause Omega to believe you’ll 1-box, and that belief causes Omega to put money in the opaque box, and the money causes the scale to read a certain way. Your nature also causes you to 1-box.

            If your nature were otherwise, it would cause Omega to form different beliefs about your nature, which would cause Omega to believe you would 2-box, and thus not put money in the opaque box, and so the scale would read differently. In this case your nature would also cause you to 2-box.

            There’s no need for backwards causation, just stop treating your decisions as causeless and “freely chosen”.

          • Jiro says:

            And it’s interesting that it’s the halting problem in disguise, but I am not Omega B, and I am not Omniscient Bob.

            But asking what you should do implicitly asks what a perfect reasoner in your position should do, not what someone with limited reasoning capabilities should do.

            (And if the question is “what should someone with limited reasoning capabilities do”, it can’t be answered without specifying exactly how those reasoning capabilities are limited.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @suntzuanime:
            I already said a Calvinistic world is compatible with one boxing (sort of).

            But at the time I see the number, I haven’t even heard the question. Quite odd to have the answer already recorded before I am even asked.

            Now, as to the “sort of”, if Omega is a perfect predictor, can it tell me of its prediction before I decide? How is that different than placing the money in the box, measured on the scale?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @HeelBearCub

            In my OP, I said:

            If we accept the premise of Omega, then the correct answer is … to one box.

            In other words, if we accept that the decision I make now has some impact on what is in the boxes (however you want to state that that happens, backwards causality or not), then the correct answer is to one box.

            So, I’m not sure where our disagreement actually is?

            Our disagreement is that you are misidentifying the “premise of Omega” and the role it plays in the argument for one-boxing.

            Obviously if your choosing one box actually affected what was in the box, one boxing would be correct according to any decision theory (and any interest in the problem would just come from backwards causation or time travel issues, instead of the decision theory puzzle it in fact is). But that’s not the example, and there is still an argument for one boxing without it. That’s what you don’t seem to be grasping.

            Let’s suppose that as I walk in the room and I see a scale that is measuring the weight of the table and its contents. After the experiment, I will be told what the weight of the the table, the two boxes and $1000 (call that X), as well as the weight of all of that plus $1M (call that Y).

            When I walk in the room, which number do I see on the scale? X or Y?

            You see X if there is nothing in box 1, and Y if there is a million. You haven’t told us which is the case. I have no idea what relevance you think this has to the quote of mine that precedes it or our dispute in general, and I feel like it would be a bad idea for me to try and reconstruct your reasoning. If you have a worry about the possibility of knowledge of the future in an indeterministic universe, then lets make explicit that the universe is deterministic, or just make the alien very very accurate and set aside concerns about knowledge. Either way, you can still pose the newcomb problem, and there is still an argument both for one boxing and for two boxing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat:

            Obviously if your choosing one box actually affected what was in the box

            In a non deterministic world where Omega is a perfect predictor, what does it mean to say I have the choice, my choice will comport with what is in the boxes, but the choice did not have any effect on the boxes?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I repeat the last two sentences of my previous post.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Philosophisticat:
            Let me then point back at what I said before:

            Otherwise, yes, the only way Omega exists is in a sort of Calvinist world where it’s all pre-determined.

            So I don’t think we have been in disagreement about a deterministic view? I’m fine (within the confines of this problem) with a well-ordered deterministic universe.

            As to Omega just being very accurate, but not perfect, this strikes me as a dodge to get around the problems I have specifically mentioned, so I don’t see how it is an answer to the issues I am raising.

            The reason I brought up the existence of information available to me about Omega’s prediction (the scale or Omega telling me their prediction) is it shows what appears to be a logical contradiction with the idea of a perfect predictor that is interacting with me on a prediction they have made. It seems vaguely akin to Goedel’s incompleteness theorem.

            Look, I’m sure you can run circles around me in formal logical proofs. I’m sure there is some reason why my position is (apparently?) irritating you. But I think it might be because I am less familiar with the standard language philosophers use, especially in relation to this problem, and not because we are necessarily disagreeing.

          • Jiro says:

            If Omega is merely a very good predictor, it will still be the case that your expectation conditional on one boxing is greater than your expectation conditional on two boxing.

            If a “merely very good predictor” is the equivalent of “Omega always makes an accurate prediction, and then with some fixed probability, messes that prediction up”, you are correct, but being a “merely good predictor” in that sense has the same problems as being a perfect predictor.

            If “a merely good predictor” means “Omega makes an accurate prediction, except under certain circumstances”, then your expectation depends on what those circumstances are, and depending on the circumstances may even mean that Omega can’t predict you at all. Just because Omega usually makes a good prediction doesn’t mean that Omega usually makes a good prediction independent of circumstances.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It’s not at all odd to have the answer recorded before it’s even asked. I can write down what my calculator will respond when I punch in 2+2, even before I pull it out of my drawer.

            If you consider the position “your actions are caused by your personal characteristics” to be “Calvinism”, then Calvinism seems obviously true.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @HBC

            If you agree that in a deterministic universe, and in an indeterministic universe where Omega is an imperfect but still quite reliable predictor, there is both a very powerful prima facie argument for one boxing, and a very powerful prima facie argument for two boxing, which does not depend on the particular values attached to the problem, then we don’t disagree. But it seems to me that you disagree with much of that.

            It’s precisely my aim in gesturing towards the imperfect predictor to ‘dodge’ your worry. I think you’re thinking about the case in a way that misses the main philosophically distinctive and interesting puzzle, by narrowing in on inessential side details, like the particular values, or more general worries about prediction and indeterminism or free will.

            Whether or not it’s possible for anyone to perfectly predict anything in an indeterministic world, what the relationship this is with backwards causation, what weird stuff might happen if someone reliable tells you what you are going to do before you’ve made the decision, and so on, might be interesting on their own merits, but it’s not what’s responsible for the sense of paradox that philosophers are interested in, which involves divergent recommendations from two different kinds of attractive decisionmaking principles. So from my point of view, it’s as though I presented the trolley problem, and you became caught up in the details of trolley mechanics – I’m trying to get you to think about the other, more philosophically salient features of the case.

  4. Art Vandelay says:

    Question here for Anarcho-Capitalists:

    I understand the appeals of AnCapLand, I can’t say I’m the biggest expert on the topic but from what I know it sounds better than our current system. But it also seems rather like the stuff of utopian fantasy, just like imagining we could live in a world completely free from violence or exploitation where everyone always cooperated and helped each other.

    Left anarchists at least have some sort of precedent on their side – there are/have been societies without rulers that are/were economically egalitarian. Of course, the standard rejoinder is that what is possible for hunter-gatherers or primitive farmers is not possible for a society with modern technology.

    But with anarcho-capitalism, as far as I know, there is no precedent for anyone living in such a society.

    So, is there any precedent that I am unaware of? And, if not, what makes you believe that such a society would be possible in the real world (beyond the fact you can make an imaginary model of AnCapLand where everything works just swell)?

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      David Friedman has written extensively on the example of medieval Iceland.

      • Art Vandelay says:

        Thanks for the interesting link, I read the introduction and will get through the rest later.

        I do, however, have some doubts that 10th-13th Iceland was a capitalist society (and I’m not sure David Friedman is claiming that either) seeing as capitalism is generally not considered to have come into existence until several centuries later (of course, this depends on how you define capitalism and there are people who argue that it’s been around much longer).

        • John Schilling says:

          If you’ve got three people sitting around a tavern saying “hey, if we pool our money we could buy a boat, hire some guys, sail off to Britain, buy some stuff, then come back here and sell it at a profit to be distributed among ourselves!”, then you’ve got capitalism in fact even if you don’t have Adam Smith to give it a name or a government to bless it with corporate status. And it is capitalism at home in Iceland even if you don’t bother to pay for the stuff you take from Britain.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I’m not sure I’m understanding you correctly. Are you saying that capitalism means “buying and selling things”?

          • Randy M says:

            I think he’s saying it is investing resources in an enterprise in hopes of making a profit.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Actually, maybe that was ungenerous. I guess you’re defining it as the existence of wealth that is employed for the purpose of creating more wealth, ie. the existence of capital.

          • JayT says:

            Capitalism, at its heart, just means that the means of production are not controlled by the state. Adam Smith didn’t create capitalism, he just defined it.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            The problems with these definitions is that they mean that pretty much every society that has ever existed was capitalist. The term rather loses it’s usefulness in this case.

          • John Schilling says:

            Black markets are necessarily(?) capitalist, and pretty much every society whose official economy has been anything but laissez-faire capitalism has had black markets, so capitalism exists everywhere. However, some societies e.g. Maoist China have gone to great lengths to try to suppress capitalism and ensure that all productive resources (as opposed to consumer goods) are owned and managed by the State. We generally use the term “capitalist society” to refer to the ones that use state institutions to promote rather than prevent the private ownership and use of the means of production.

            And yes, there’s a necessarily fuzzy border and we could probably use a quantitative scale of some sort. If you’re allowed to “own” productive assets but the state takes 80% of your profits and regulations control 60% of the decisions you’d otherwise make yourself, maybe your society is 70% Not-Capitalist.

            Icelandic entrepreneurs with joint ownership of a boat and the silver to pay the crew, a plan to obtain goods and a market in which to sell them, a negotiated agreement on how to split the profits, and a battleaxe waiting for any helpful bureaucrat from the Ministry of Viking Affairs, that’s asymptotically close to 100% capitalism.

          • Protagoras says:

            I would say that capitalism properly so-called requires a heavy trusting strangers component which is absent from black markets (which strongly encourage doing business with people you know, since they are, you hope, less likely to turn you in to the authorities). Adam Smith did not invent capitalism, but it is largely a modern (in the sense of the past few centuries) phenomenon, even if many elements associated with it are much older.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            Since the point is to contrast capitalism with primitive socialism, maybe we should define capitalism (just for the purposes of this discussion) as requiring the condition that Marxists find most annoying, namely “alienation of labor.”

            I’m not a Marxist and am not sure what that means, but an approximation might be “it only counts as capitalism if most people need to work for a firm in order to avoid destitution.”

          • Nornagest says:

            @hoghog — That seems to exclude any society with a lot of subsistence farming going on, which is most of them historically — even the United States up until the mid-20th century or so.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            With these very broad definitions I’m not entirely sure what distinguishes anarcho-capitalism from some/all varieties of left anarchism. For example, as far as I know, plenty of left-wing anarchists wouldn’t say that nobody would ever be allowed to “invest resources in an enterprise in hopes of making a profit” (Randy M), and in all varieties “the means of production are not controlled by the state” (Jay T) because no state would exist.

            I also think “Guys, lets buy ourselves a ship and go off to distant lands to seek our fame and fortune” is completely different from “Guys, we have this excess capital and we should probably invest it in a way that will give us a profit. I think it would be profitable to buy a ship and then sail off to England to obtain some goods which we can then sell for considerably more than our expenditure in this venture” and although we have no way of proving it, I’m fairly confident that medieval Icelandic people were more like the former than the latter – more adventurers than entrepreneurs.

            I would personally be more inclined to define capitalism by the mode of production, but seeing as most people seem to be tending towards something more like “markets exist” or “capital exists” then it seems fair to stick to that sort of area. Still, surely to be anarcho-CAPITALIST then markets or concentrations of wealth that are used simply for the pursuit of profit would have to be predominant features of society and/or have some integrating function.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            The problems with these definitions is that they mean that pretty much every society that has ever existed was capitalist. The term rather loses it’s usefulness in this case.

            It looks to me like the broad definition of capitalism merely returns “anarcho-capitalist” to the same level of generality as “left anarchist”– a term which you do not appear to regard as useless any more than I do.

            ETA: It might be best to taboo the word “capitalism” for purposes of this discussion: it subsumes quite a number of different elements, only some of which anarcho-“capitalism” really requires.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Art Vandelay

            One point that distinguishes left anarchists from ancaps, at least based on discussions I’ve read, is left-anarchists oppose all hierarchy, even voluntary ones. E.g., left anarchists are opposed to a woman building wealth, buying a factory, hiring workers, and keeping a share of the profits for herself.

            Also, left anarchists seem to be opposed to the concept of rent, where say a fishermen builds a net and then rents the net out to others for an agreed to fee.

            And though I don’t quite understand the exact distinction, left anarchists seem to support personal property but not private property. They think individuals can own toothbrushes, but not factories.

          • Nornagest says:

            And though I don’t quite understand the exact distinction, left anarchists seem to support personal property but not private property. They think individuals can own toothbrushes, but not factories.

            Left anarchism shares a lot of intellectual DNA with socialism, and one gene they both carry involves democratizing the “means of production” (a Marxist phrase, but the idea’s considerably more widespread). This makes less sense now than it did in a late-19th, early-20th century context when making anything substantial involved either lots of natural resources or enormous clanking engines or both, but modern commentary often treats it as categorically different from personal property anyway. More sophisticated versions sometimes reanalyze it in terms of economies of scale, which IMO is more defensible.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Nornagest

            I understand that basic idea, but there’s boundary cases like whether a computer counts as personal or private property, given that it can be used for pleasure or to increase your productivity. The fuzziness sort of relates to my fisherman example, where if he creates and uses his own net it seems personal property, but if he lets other people borrow the net in exchange for apples suddenly a transgression has occurred and the net is now illegitimate private property.

          • JayT says:

            I will admit that I don’t completely understand left-anarchy, as it seems quite contradictory to me. How exactly do left-anarchists intend to enforce the equality of people? Who would stop a person from opening up a factory and paying small wages to the workers?

          • John Schilling says:

            One thing to consider is that an awful lot of political and economic theory dates to a time when the economy was still mostly agrarian, and thus “means of production” was almost synonymous with “land”. If you’ve got a society where the State, or the Church or the Nobility, own all the land and the people are almost all serfs who toil on someone else’s land, it’s fair to describe that as “not capitalist”, and the neighboring society of small landowners as “capitalist”, even though both have a narrow class of merchants and tradesmen who own their tools and sell their work in a market.

            And I think many of the subdivisions of anarchy, particularly anarcho-capitalism, came about from the increasing need to explain how exactly “anarchy” is going to work for people who are neither Exploited Peasants nor Vile Exploiters in a non-agrarian economy.

          • I’m not a Marxist and am not sure what that means, but an approximation might be “it only counts as capitalism if most people need to work for a firm in order to avoid destitution.”

            That is not a definition anywhere close to the way in which people who approve of capitalism, in particular anarcho-capitalists, use the term.

            What we are arguing for is a society coordinated by voluntary transactions in a framework of property rights. That could be an agoric economy, one in which everyone is self-employed.

            Indeed Robert Lefevre, a charismatic if mildly nutty extreme libertarian who I believe was responsible for converting the Koch brothers to libertarianism, argued in favor of that as the ideal system–coordination by trade going all the way down to the individual level.

            I suspect most libertarians would see that system as at least emotionally attractive, even if they recognized that there were legitimate reasons to have firms with more than one person in them.

            Which suggests that the Marxist view of what capitalism is and the libertarian view have very little in common.

          • I’m not entirely sure what distinguishes anarcho-capitalism from some/all varieties of left anarchism.

            I think the basic difference is how you imagine the coordination problem being solved, how you get the acts of many individuals to interact in a way that lets them achieve their objectives. If I want to build a car, what is the mechanism by which enough steel and aluminum and glass … get produced and assembled?

            The anarcho-capitalist answer is decentralized coordination via private property, exchange and prices.

            I don’t think there is a single left-anarchist answer–my impression is that a lot of left-anarchists haven’t thought seriously about how difficult the coordination problem is. But insofar as there is an answer, it’s either organizations of workers (anarcho-syndicalist) or some sort of voluntary cooperation by generous people who figure out what others need and produce it.

            If there are any left anarchists here, perhaps they can give a better answer.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @IrishDude and David Friedman

            Perhaps I didn’t express myself clearly. My point was not that I don’t see any distinction between ancap and various forms of left-wing anarchism, it was that if the capitalist part of ancap merely meant “the means of production are not controlled by the state” then it would be indistinguishable from any other form of anarchism (“investing resources in an enterprise in hopes of making a profit” is perhaps slightly better because some left-wing anarchists are unlikely to be that keen on the idea of profit unless it’s taken in its more general sense).

            The original assertion I was disputing (although I don’t have nearly enough knowledge to know for sure) was that Iceland in the time of the sagas was an anarcho-capitalist society. David, it would be interesting to get your two cents on that one (coincidentally, I most associate the idea that capitalism far predates Adam Smith’s time with an academic with the same surname as you Jonathan Friedman).

          • Tracy W says:

            @Art Vandelay

            Actually, maybe that was ungenerous. I guess you’re defining it as the existence of wealth that is employed for the purpose of creating more wealth, ie. the existence of capital.

            Like a knife.

          • @Art:

            Iceland was what I usually describe as a semi-stateless society. There was a legislature and a court system but no executive arm of government, so if someone wronged you it was up to you to prosecute him and after you got your verdict it was up to you to enforce it.

            It was reasonably capitalist in my sense of the term, since the coordination mechanism was private property and voluntary exchange, although the details were odd by our standards–a considerable element of gift economy, where instead of bargaining for a price you gave someone something and counted on his reciprocating.

            I think it’s worth distinguishing between anarcho-capitalism, which describes institutions, and libertarian, which describes outcomes. As I pointed out in Machinery, one could have an anarcho-capitalist society whose decentralized legal systems included some non-libertarian laws–my example being a law against heroin use in a society where a very large majority of the population disapproved of heroin.

            There were some non-libertarian elements in the Icelandic society. In the early period there were thralls, slaves, although thralldom seems to have vanished sometime in the eleventh century. And after Iceland went Christian in 1000 A.D. there were various religious restrictions, including mandatory tithes. It was probably more libertarian than most contemporary societies, but less than modern libertarians would approve of.

            I hope that answers your questions. For more details see the webbed book chapter I already mentioned.

      • There is a more recent, more detailed and more accurate account of saga period Iceland in the book I’m currently writing, a draft of which is webbed at:

        http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Legal%20Systems/LegalSystemsContents.htm

        The chapter on Somalia is also relevant to the workability of stateless societies.

        Anarcho-capitalism, at least my version, doesn’t assume that everybody will be nice. The argument is that institutions for using force to protect rights do not need to be governments with a claimed monopoly over force and special rights that other people do not have.

    • IrishDude says:

      I think you find bits and pieces of anarcho-capitalism in different places, like Medieval Iceland and the ‘Wild’ West before the state exerted control. International trade between merchants was governed by Lex Mercatoria with no over-ruling government state. Also, at the international level there is no super-state, making relations between nation-states one of anarchy. Though conflict still exists within this international anarchy, things are mostly peaceful between nation-states which provides some evidence for what might be seen in AnCapLand.

      Even within states you can still find rules, arbitration, and security provided privately and observe how that works to get some insight into what AnCapLand might look like.

    • Matt M says:

      “But it also seems rather like the stuff of utopian fantasy, just like imagining we could live in a world completely free from violence or exploitation where everyone always cooperated and helped each other.”

      I would like to say as an AnCap myself, that this sort of thing bothers the heck out of me. To me, one of the biggest appeals of AnCap is that it is explicitly not utopian. It does not promise some sort of Earthly paradise where there is no famine, no disease, no violence, no exploitation, etc. It correctly sees that these things are consequences of life in general that cannot be eliminated by a mere change in the mechanism of governance. It correctly identifies that many of them involve complicated trade-offs.

      AnCap does not promise no violence, it merely promises slightly less violence than you would receive under the state. It does not promise massive wealth and abundance for everyone, it merely promises more total wealth and a better chance at abundance than you receive under the state.

      Any AnCap who speaks in these utopian terms – who acts as if it’s a magic panacea that will “solve” all of our problems, is not a person to be taken seriously and should not be considered representative of the ideology. The only problem AnCap truly “solves” is the problem of the state (which is no small problem). Scarcity and competition still exist. Human nature still exists. Greed and crime and violence and disease and hunger still exist. It just gives you a little bit less of those things than the state does.

      Leave the utopian nonsense about the “new man” who will remake the world into paradise for the communists. They’re good at that sort of outlandish fantasy. AnCaps should stay grounded in reality and appeal to logical reasoning.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Ancaps have impeccable logical reasoning. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that reasoning has little to do with reality. Ancaps create all of these plausible scenarios but they don’t seem that interested in doing the necessary legwork to actually show that all aspects of the free market are superior to government intervention. A perfect example is the popularity of Austrian economics. It uses logical “axioms” and seems fundamentally opposed to any kind of evidence against it. Coincidentally, it supports free market policies. Theoretically, someone could spend years and years studying the economics of health care, finance, food regulation, transportation, immigration, intellectual property etc. Then after this come together and decide that all aspects of the free market are better but I don’t think that usually happens. It was one of two reasons that I couldn’t believe it anymore(the other being skepticism on the voluntary nature of ancap).

        • Moon says:

          Yeah, that’s the problem with ideologies in general. Those who hold them usually seem to be allergic to real world evidence and facts.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Everyone holds an ideology. Libertarians are a different breed in that there is such a mismatch between good logical reasoning and lack of supporting evidence. They also are unique in that they make much bolder claims than the typical partisan. They aren’t unique in accepting evidence that supports their worldview and opposing that which doesn’t. That’s called human nature and everyone has to fight that urge if they want to be intellectually honest. No ideology has a monopoly on rationality.

        • Matt M says:

          “Theoretically, someone could spend years and years studying the economics of health care, finance, food regulation, transportation, immigration, intellectual property etc. Then after this come together and decide that all aspects of the free market are better but I don’t think that usually happens.”

          This is much easier said than done. Studying “the economics of X” involves studying the decisions made by hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, trillions of people interacting with each other in countless ways influenced by countless variables.

          The Austrian economists deal with this objection in their works. The gist of it is: Yes, you can study what happened to the price of potatoes when a potato subsidy was granted in 1920s England, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the effectiveness of the free market in general or of the economics of food or any other such thing. It tells you only about the market for potatoes in 1920s England. You can try and extrapolate those lessons out to other locations and other products if you want, but this is often a futile exercise because there are so many confounding variables and no real possibility of a “controlled experiment.”

          Look at the situation today, where almost any given event causes all sides to claim victory and to announce that it “proves” their theories correct. The 2008 financial crisis is evidence that deregulation causes bubbles and therefore we need stronger oversight of greedy speculators. Or it’s evidence that the fed inflated the housing bubble on purpose and we need to abandon keynesianism in favor of the gold standard. Or it’s this, that, and the other thing. Something that is “evidence” of ten different contradictory positions is no evidence at all.

          This is the benefit of using logical axioms. It brings clarity to the issues. One must say “no, THIS axiom is wrong and here is why.” But it seems to me that critics of Austrian economics rarely do this. They just say “well this one study had this one effect which suggests government intervention helped therefore your whole axiom thing is obviously bunk,” which is pretty shaky reasoning IMO…

          • Wrong Species says:

            That’s all true, but you have to admit from the outside it sounds like a really convenient excuse, especially when those axioms end up supporting libertarianism. It’s hard to tease causality but some proposition have much stronger evidence than others. Since the recession began Austrian economists have been telling us that inflation is right around the corner and the Fed is setting us up for a recession even worse than the last one. It’s been almost a decade without either of those happening, I feel justified in saying that is evidence against them.

            The question is what would constitute evidence against free markets? From my vantage point, a lot of things seem to point that way, any of which is potentially devastating to the ancap project. If ancap produced a world which was wealthier, less violent and better in many ways but had millions of people dying from lack of healthcare, I wouldn’t want to live in that world. And I think most people would agree with me.

          • Matt M says:

            “That’s all true, but you have to admit from the outside it sounds like a really convenient excuse, especially when those axioms end up supporting libertarianism.”

            OK – so which axiom is wrong, and why?

            “The question is what would constitute evidence against free markets?”

            What I’m trying to say is that this is the wrong question. In a sense, you would be right to say “Austrians don’t care about evidence,” but I already explained to you that what we think of as “evidence” is not, in fact, evidence at all. There might be “evidence” that can inform our thought process and therefore cause us to reconsider certain axioms. But that evidence must be interpreted in such a way as to answer the question I posed above: Which axiom is wrong, and why?

            Don’t just tell me “the government printed a bunch of money and no inflation happened – therefore your axioms are bunk!” Explain to me why they were able to do that. Which traditionally held logical deductions of economic science were violated for this seemingly impossible thing to occur? If you can’t explain it in those terms – then your case is on no more solid ground than the people who were “wrong”.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Matt, imagine that I was a Christian. But not just any Christian, but one who had my own denomination which I call Rapturian. I tell you that it is based on these axioms and if you don’t prove these axioms wrong, then you can’t prove my religion wrong. Also, I tell you that these axioms point to the Rapture happening soon. You ask me to define “soon” and I say that I can’t say for sure but it’s probably going to happen by the end of the year. The end of the year comes and there is no Rapture. So I say it’s probably going to be by the end of this year, and again no Rapture. This goes on for 10 years. Wouldn’t you say that there seems to be something wrong with my analysis even if you couldn’t quite pick out what was wrong with the axioms?

            You say that my question was the wrong question but I don’t think so. Economics is a science just like any other. The problem is not its fundamental nature, but its difficulty. The thing is that some pieces of evidence are stronger than others and the evidence is strongly pointing away from high inflation being a pressing concern. No, one study is not going to prove someone right or wrong. But if there were 100 studies all pointing to a conclusion and we couldn’t find some fatal design flaw? That doesn’t automatically prove anything but it is incredibly strong evidence for its proposition.

            (Also, I’m out of my element here but inflation comes from the amount of money and its velocity. Printing a bunch of money doesn’t automatically create high inflation.)

          • Iain says:

            @Matt M:

            I hereby declare the creation of a bold new school of economic thought. I call it “Peano Economics”. You can find its axioms here. I claim that it explains the entirety of the modern economy. Do you disagree with me? Prove me wrong! Which axiom is wrong, and why?

            That is to say: internal consistency is good, but not in itself sufficient for an economic theory. A theory must also demonstrate an ability to explain and predict empirical results — otherwise, what is the point?. Austrian economics does not have a good track record in this latter department.

          • Matt M says:

            Wrong Species,

            I’m a bit out of steam here and probably won’t reply to all of that point by point. I’ll just say that many of your objections are reasonable. It’s understandable to be skeptical of someone who basically says “Look here, I devised this whole economic system based on THE POWER OF LOGIC and it just so happens to conclude that everyone should be a libertarian which just so happens to be what I am!” (I’ve famously made a similar assertion towards socialism and environmentalism, so I definitely understand the logic of what you are saying here)

            I would also say that Austrians definitely appreciate how “No look – if you just read this 1,200 page economic treatise by Rothbard you’ll see that our positions are logically sound” is NOT a very good response to common criticism. One would think someone would have figured out a solution to this by now, but no such luck really.

            That said, I think there are answers to your criticisms. Maybe I’ll get to them later. But my intention in this topic was never to convince you (or anyone else) to accept the superiority of my beliefs or any such thing. Just trying to correct a couple misconceptions, as I see them.

          • Matt M says:

            “A theory must also demonstrate an ability to explain and predict empirical results — otherwise, what is the point?. Austrian economics does not have a good track record in this latter department.”

            And keynesianism does?

            Austrian theory can predict empirical results ceteris paribus – but the problem is that unlike physics (we did discuss physics envy vis-a-vis economics in a previous topic, did we not?), there is no, and can be no controlled experiment involving vast numbers of independent actors. The problem is that in real economic situations – the ceteris paribus assumption never holds. “All else” is literally never equal.

            Yes, Austrians were wrong about inflation. And the Keynesians were wrong about the stimulus’ effect on unemployment. For some reason they get away with just saying “welp, guess the economy was worse than we thought, but trust us, things would be EVEN WORSE if you didn’t do what we said to do” the Austrians receive no such benefit of the doubt. Instead it’s, “YOU WERE WRONG THIS PROVES YOUR ENTIRE THEORY AS USELESS AND POINTLESS.” If I were to tell you that surely we’d have had even less inflation in the absence of the fed’s money printing, would you just handwave that away and say “well that seems reasonable” like most people do with the stimulus stuff?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Fair enough. Politics is a touchy subject so understanding my point is really all that I ask for.

          • Tekhno says:

            If you believe that ceteris paribus never holds and that history is not a science experiment, shouldn’t that lead you to no economic theory whatsoever, rather the highly specific theories of Austrianism? Saying that the charge equally applies to Keynesianism and any other schools doesn’t help exonerate Austrian economics if you believe we can’t gather empirical data on societies. If we can’t then we are simply stuck and should be don’thaveaclueitarians instead of libertarians.

            Axioms don’t actually help here since any axiom would be as good (useless) as any other if we can’t gather empirical data.

          • If you believe that ceteris paribus never holds and that history is not a science experiment, shouldn’t that lead you to no economic theory whatsoever

            Austrian economics isn’t the only alternative to Keynesian. In the academic world it isn’t even the most important. It also isn’t the only approach compatible with libertarianism or popular with libertarians.

            The Chicago school approach combines elements of a priori theory and empricism. You form plausible conjectures based on theory. But the world is sufficiently complicated so that theory never gives you a certain result, and even if it did you might have made a mistake in your theory.

            So you derive from your conjectures predictions that you can test against the real world and accept, reject, or modify the theory on the basis of the results of those tests.

          • Iain says:

            And the Keynesians were wrong about the stimulus’ effect on unemployment.

            Here is a post Paul Krugman made in January 2009, well before the stimulus was passed, arguing that the stimulus was likely to be too small. (If you want to verify that I’m not cherry-picking, you can confirm that it is the first Google hit for “krugman stimulus unemployment”.) Here’s his conclusion:

            I see the following scenario: a weak stimulus plan, perhaps even weaker than what we’re talking about now, is crafted to win those extra GOP votes. The plan limits the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad, with the rate peaking at something like 9 percent and coming down only slowly.

            Here’s the US unemployment rate as it actually happened. I suppose if you want to nitpick, you could point out that Krugman’s back-of-the-envelope estimate of peak unemployment was off by nearly 1%?

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          A big part of the gist I got from Austrian economics is the Fatal Conceit – the idea that we could know everything about an economic system, or at least, enough that we could make consistent predictions about it. The unknowns simply outrun the knowns. The argument Wrong Species levies against Austrian economics seems much more suited to Keynesianism – broad, sweeping conclusions about what one can do to control money supply, inflation, and so forth, and conspicuously blind to evidence that it doesn’t work in many cases.

          Meanwhile, the Austrian claim that if you nail down as much as you can, there will always be more that you haven’t, that will upend your entire campaign, seems to have held up every time.

          While I respect what I think the Chicago school is trying to do, I can’t help but wonder if it’s on a hopeless errand as well, trying to prove things about situations that will never be known completely enough to be predictable, or predicting only outcomes so rare that we can’t use them in routine decisions. However, it at least has more epistemic humility than the Keynesians.

  5. dndnrsn says:

    Roleplaying games thread!

    GMs: How much “flavour text” do you put into descriptions?

    Players: How much do you like, when you’re getting given a description?

    Personally, when I’m running a game, I try to keep it to a minimum – gaming time is limited and the players want to do things more than they want things described to them. A player’s imagination is usually better than what I can come up with, and I’ve found that giving them something for their imagination to work off of is better than describing it.

    Important details aren’t flavour text – let’s say they’re scouting out the enemy encampment; I’m going to give them the number of enemies, their positioning, etc. But I’m not going to give a detailed description of the smell of the food some of the men-at-arms are cooking up – “there’s a few men cooking around the campfire” is good enough. If one player thinks “oh they’re making rabbit stew” and another thinks “they must be roasting some venison they shot” it doesn’t really matter much.

    As a player, I’m not really sure if I have a preference, as long as the game keeps moving.

    • Skivverus says:

      At least a little is good; the players aren’t fighting spherical cows, after all.
      Well, unless the players have infiltrated a beholder’s farm or something, in which case the spherical cows will be foreshadowing for the spherical (and very angry) farmer, but you get the idea.

      Edit for actual content: More seriously, the line between flavor text and important detail is blurry. This week’s flavor text could be next week’s important clue, or vice versa. It depends on how much improvisation you’re willing to do.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I find that I’m OK at “solo improv” if it’s slightly in the medium term. Give me 5-10 minutes, and I can hack something together. In-the-moment improvisation is only really on the table if I’m playing off of the other people at the table, though. Generally, I’m overall weaker on improvisation than some GMs I’ve played with – I make up for it by focusing a lot on prep, note-taking, etc.

      • Nornagest says:

        Now I’m imagining a beholder in a trucker cap.

    • Randy M says:

      Flavor in RPG exposition is like spice in cooking. A detail or two is helpful, but beyond that it is probably counter-productive. People have shorter attention spans for listening than reading, especially when what they are listening for is how they want to respond. And you are right that their imaginations will fill in a picture just as rich whether you say “eerie graveyard” or “long abandoned graves are laid out in uneven rows, the fog obscuring the names on the crumbling headstones with ornate dwarvish carvings of gargoyles and angles adorning crypt doors…” In the former case it might not be identical mental pictures, but the tone will match, and as you say, the critical elements–things players can interact* with or need to overcome–will be called out additionally either way.

      (*Yes, technically they can interact with everything, but hopefully you let them interact with features not mentioned too. )

      • dndnrsn says:

        Something I only just thought of is that the amount of description often varies based on what the players are familiar with. Let’s say they’re staking out Senator Secretvillain as he gives a speech in the financial district, and duck into a bar across the street to wait until he gets into his limo so they can follow him – “you walk into the bar; it’s a plush but soulless semi-high-end chain place; the TV is playing muted CNN in the corner.” If it’s Professor Secretvillain and they’re on-campus, they duck into a resolutely non-chain coffee shop full of scruffy-looking student types with laptops sucking up free wifi. In both cases, my players have been to the financial district, they’ve all been to university, and they know what bars and cafes are like.

        If they’re following Duke Secretvillain as he visits Imperial City and duck into a tavern, I’ll have to give a little more detail, as none of my players live in a medieval world – but we probably all know a bit of the history. If it’s ducking into a Martian-run establishment Admiral Secretvillain as he visits Imperial Station, more detail still, because this is something wholly fictional we have no experience of.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I subscribe to the ‘just enough’ school, and I prefer to try to get some of it done through mixed media.

      My games are largely Roll20 games, so where possible I spend some time beforehand taking the basic map and adding details- putting statues in rooms, adding decorations and rugs and whatnot- and then allowing the players to look at those while I’m talking and decide if anything seems important enough to inquire about further. Some of my friends use the built-in DJ feature to add appropriate sound effects too, but I try to keep the line quiet except for songs at dramatic or comedic moments.

      (In one campaign, I played the intro song for ‘The Littlest Hobo’ twenty-four times, which I think is a valid defense if any player had tried to murder me.)

      Details which are hard to communicate by decorating maps, things like the height of the ceiling, the material and apparent state of doors, I try to put in the text or verbal description of a room. I also let tokens fill in for descriptions of monsters, but will usually give a little description of an enemy to give players a feeling for its present state. This also allows me to throw off the people who have memorized the bestiaries by using non-standard token art.

      I take picking token art out very seriously because, I’ve noticed, it doesn’t matter how you describe a player, NPC or monster- after a minute, players will start referring to features of creatures by what they see.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’ve never used Roll20, myself. One thing I do for pencil-and-paper prep is I use a lot of handouts – anything where the PCs are dealing with stuff on paper I’ll probably have a handout. “In the town hall records, they can find the death certificate for Hail-Azathoth Waite” = handout. I find that this reduces screwups when players take information down wrong and then get confused and I have to rescue them.

        Speaking of picking art – I’m reminded of the most egregious case of misplaced art. The FFG Warhammer 40k games reused a lot of art, with the result that they would illustrate NPCs using characters with completely different weapons, armour, etc.

    • Nornagest says:

      Imagination is powerful but you need to give it something to work with, ideally something brief and evocative. Quality is way more important than quantity — if you find yourself counting tents or describing the color of the raiding party’s sleeping furs, you’re wasting your own time and your players’. But saying that they have a cookfire set up in the shelter of one of the standing stones, or that two of them are butchering a stolen ox? That adds real flavor and gives your players cues they can work with when they’re describing their own actions.

      The right value depends on the group and the system. If you’re running a more cinematic system, or one that has a stunt mechanic, you’ll probably want to add more details for your players to use; crunchier, more rules-heavy systems need it less. Similarly, some players like atmosphere or benefit from stronger imagery, and some just want to get straight to the actions.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yeah. Describing every detail of the frat party the characters are stepping into as they do their off-the-books investigation into the missing veterinary students is unnecessary.

        The guy behind the bar in the pink polo looks up, stops pumping beer and (rolls … guy realizes that PCs are clearly not students, and are probably cops or something, but are clearly trying to do “how do you do, fellow kids”, and are not in uniform or flashing badges, and maybe if he plays it cool there won’t be any trouble … rolls again … he doesn’t notice the characters’ concealed guns, though) un-pops his collar.’ (players roll and notice he’s obviously nervous) “Uh, hey, bro, can I, uh, offer you a beer?” he mumbles, proffering a red party cup.

        This accomplishes a lot fairly quickly, and I’m pretty sure everyone in the party has been at a frat party, or at least in a frat house, at least once. You don’t have to fill in the smell of weed coming from upstairs, the lack of a displayed event permit, the guys paying $10 and girls paying $5 to get in, the underage drinking, the sticky floors, the pool table that has seen better days, etc.

    • AnarchyDice says:

      I tend to take a two prong approach. I tie the scene in with the basic details, “alchemist lab” “embalming chamber” “wheat field by a barn”, with the actionable items, “firepit in the corner” “slumbering hound on the steps” “old wooden door in the west and east walls” “slow drip from a lowpoint in the ceiling”. I want to evoke a shared vision of the space and offer some concrete steps the players can take, although they are free to explore other things that would conceivably fit with the basic details.

      I let my players tell me what they want to know about beyond that initial summary. If my players investigate something further, I usually give them all but the hardest to discover secrets without a roll, attention is more often the limiting factor than a good search check. You’d be surprised how many traps my players have walked into without even looking despite describing the room as having soot stains on the floor or the smell of oil. Granted, half of those trap signs are red herrings, but they often don’t even give them a second thought.

    • Spookykou says:

      Flavor text is best for me when it is important details, and in general I think GM’s should include fewer ‘important details’.

      If you take the time to tell me that we are going to the haunted witch light fens, I better run into ghosts. If the foul stench of corruption fills the air, then some reanimated wolves whose matted fur is broken up by giant polyps better show up, and they damn well better not just be generic wolves. If you tell me that the lonely road is flanked on either side by dead trees whose branches reach down at you like the broken hands of an old man, Evil Treants! I am generally not interested in any attempt to ‘set the mood’ just for setting the moods sake.

      On the flip side If you tell me the guard captain is Beatrice Beaumont of Hightower then the fact that she is a Beaumont and or the fact that she is from Hightower better come up at some point. I don’t like, or want to keep a notebook with me so that I can write down all the proper names of every other thing, don’t even bother to give names to NPC’s that are not important and recurring.

    • Unsaintly says:

      Most of the time, the players can fill in what they need from a minimal setup. “You enter the lord’s house, as he’s descending the grand stairs into the hallway”. If they need more information, they can ask for it. “How many servants are there? Six, four down with you, one following behind the lord and another on a balcony above you doing some cleaning”
      I have three exceptions to this rule
      First, when they arrive in a new city or significant location. Adding a couple extra paragraphs worth of description can lend a city life, and will inform all later imaginings of it. Describe the architecture, the mood and look of the people, the shops and traffic, the guards and wall, anything and everything. Do this once per location, though, or it gets old.
      Second, when traveling. I like to add in extra detail to any skipped-over travel segment, to call to mind those scenes in Lord of the Rings when epic music plays and you get distance shots of people walking across the land. Here’s where I mostly include scents and sights, just a few flavor details to remind people that they’re traveling and make it less like teleportation.
      Third, major boss fights. Add in a bunch of detail to the scenes here, make it feel more real and it will be more memorable. While no fight should be in a featureless white room against fearless motivationless enemies, the really important battles deserve to be fleshed out better than “you’re fighting in the throne room. There’s some torches on the wall. The Dark Lord attacks you”.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I attempt to follow the advice most of the people advocate: giving a few key details and letting the players build the scene in their heads.

      In reality, I have kind of a detail problem. I have a very clear and detailed mental image of what scenes and characters look like and I usually narrate extemporaneously rather than reading from notes. So sometimes background details like the livery badge of some retainer will slip out, and then players assume that those are important clues. Cue an hour trying to find out how Earl Rando is involved in what’s going on while I scramble to improvise.

      It used to be a lot worse. In one of my earliest games the party spent an inordinate amount of time gearing up for an easy fight because they wrongly assumed that the enemy order of knights would be tough in proportion to how fancy they were. In my current game it just causes the party to keep their eyes peeled for woolly mammoths wherever they go.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Also relevant to what Spookykou has about proper names up there – my players are extremely good at going on wild goose chases. The more detail I give them, the more they think something is important. Unfortunately, trying to compensate for this by only giving details for things that are important breaks the verisimilitude.

        It’s sort of the problem with TV cop shows where you know who did it because they’re an actor you’ve seen before playing a one-episode character.

        • Randy M says:

          The more detail I give them, the more they think something is important. Unfortunately, trying to compensate for this by only giving details for things that are important breaks the verisimilitude.

          I don’t think either of your player groups are unusual here. It’s the same principle behind ‘Chekov’s gun.’
          But verisimilitude isn’t really about being true to life; it’s more like being true to narrative. Or about being true to the narrative we tell ourselves to make sense of life. In our lives there are thousands of interactions that don’t have lasting significance, and our unconscious edits these out of our memory, our internal story about ourselves.
          So when the GM spends lots of words & time describing something of no consequence, it seems off, even if in real life we can see near infinite detail on any scene or object or person if we chose to examine it closely. You are not just the objective world, you are the character’s perception of the objective world.

          Now of course if you want to have any sort of ‘game’ in the story of the rpg–that is, a sense of accomplishing things through clever play–you can’t just tie narrative flags around the only important features of the world, because that removes some of the discovery. But, nor do you want them to pick up every rock and look under it as they go.

          I think the solution would be to carefully choose what the red herrings are, and then present them in roughly equal detail with the clue. But try to make the red herrings tie into something significant. The suspicious person lurking in the doorway was another detective hired to investigate the kidnapping. the player notices the crest because it bears a resemblance to his family’s crest and that’s why it catches his eye.

          If you want them to know things about the world, like that there are intricate designs on the armor, perhaps it’s better to just say that (“Every soldier, from the page to the commanding officer has intricate designs on their armor–this must be a kingdom with great concern for it’s heritage.”) rather than give exactly what the designs are (“You pass a knight with the heraldry of a bugbear raising a red standard”) unless you want them to think this could be significant.

          I’m not describing my standard practices here–just somethings that seem like good ideas at the moment for the sake of discussion.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Oh, I don’t think it’s unusual. It’s just something tricky to deal with, and something a lot of RPG designers, published adventures, etc ignore. I might try some of this stuff to get around it, though.

    • Aftagley says:

      From a player perspective, the quantity of the exposition is, at least in my mind, far less important than the quality. If your GM is really good at giving exposition it’s never going to feel like a massive data dump. If s/he’s not, no amount of preparation or brevity will make it seem like it’s quality.

      From a GM perspective, I generally keep my initial overviews of the situation pretty sparse and stand by to answer any questions. Just because you’ve written the details of an area doesn’t mean you need to say them. I probably only end up presenting 40-60% of the stuff I think up for my campaigns.

    • Mr Mind says:

      That really depends on the system. I usually play with Dungeon World, which is entirely flavor-text based: flavor text is guided by the mechanics, so you cannot fire a rule if it’s not justified by the narration (an important detail: descriptions in Dungeon World are usually given by the players, not the DM).

  6. Jiro says:

    Scott: I don’t think hlynkacg’s ban was well thought out. He didn’t say that Brad endorsed violence against Trump supporters. He said that Brad’s position implies that Brad should endorse violence towards Trump supporters.

    It’s ultimately no different from what you said in http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/02/23/in-favor-of-niceness-community-and-civilization/ where you told AC that if he really believes what he said, he should go buy a gun and start shooting people. That doesn’t mean you are accusing him of wanting to shoot people right now–it means that wanting to shoot people is the logical implication of his beliefs.

    • suntzuanime says:

      He directly accused Brad of “feel[ing] little compunction about using violence to achieve political goals”. This is a strong accusation, and I think it’s fair to ask him to back it up, although assuming he can’t back it up and banning him preemptively is going too far. People do occasionally endorse the use of violence to achieve political goals in this comments section, and if they’re not going to get banned for it we should at least be able to call them out on it without fearing bannings ourselves.

      • Jiro says:

        He directly accused Brad of “feel[ing] little compunction about using violence to achieve political goals”. This is a strong accusation, and I think it’s fair to ask him to back it up,

        It’s a much weaker accusation than accusing him of endorsing violence against a particular group. The more specific the group on which someone endorses the use of violence, and the more specific the description of the violence, they more likely they are to be a genuine threat. Saying “I want to shoot Joe Blow in the head” is a lot more likely to be a danger to Joe Blow than saying “I endorse violence on human beings” is a danger to human beings. The latter is often bluster.

        All hlynkacg did was treat the likely-bluster as if Brad really meant it, pointing out that if he did mean it, it has terrible implications.

        • Iain says:

          Can you point to a post where Brad endorses violence at all? hlynkacg certainly never did.

          I think Scott made the right call here.

    • Mark says:

      With context, I think the ban of Brad is worse. He was just using hyperbole to object to a mischaracterisation.
      But given that hlynkacg apologised for his statement, I don’t think either of them should have been banned.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that they can both use a little time to cool off, but would prefer a shorter period, 2 weeks or so.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The real problem there was that he did it on a different post, so it looked like it came out of nowhere.

        I also would prefer 2 weeks to be the default, but at least it’s not indefinite.

        • Aapje says:

          Yeah, that was ugly. When people start bringing grievances from one discussion into another, it tends to go downhill fast.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What happened was that someone reported Brad, I saw his comment, I banned him, he emailed me asking why h hadn’t been banned too, I didn’t have a good answer, so I banned h too.

      I don’t have as much time as I’d like to sort through all of this, but if either of them disagrees with my decision they’re welcome to email me. I definitely think defusing the thing where people accuse their opponents of believing/supporting terrible things is important.

      • Jiro says:

        I think it is a mistake to confuse “my opponent supports terrible things” and “my opponent supports things which logically imply terrible things”. That’s why I brought up the example of you telling AC to go buy a gun and shoot people. You didn’t think he actually wanted to shoot people; you thought that his beliefs would, if he thought about them, which he probably didn’t lead to shooting people.

  7. Matt M says:

    I recall during a recent discussion of immigration, someone mentioned how in Switzerland, you had to get approval from the local community in order to gain citizenship.

    I found this article to be rather amusing.

    Swiss Locals Deny Citizenship to ‘Annoying’ Vegan

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      How did Switzerland get so awesome? Semi-serious question.

      Swiss German sounds a bit silly but, aside from that, they’re such a cool country. I would try to immigrate myself if it weren’t for my pathological hatred of cowbells.

      • cassander says:

        excellent political architecture.

        The Swiss system was all about devolving power to the lowest level, then creating strong institutional safeguards that made it extremely difficult to de-localize that power, except for a highly limited number of areas of collective responsibility like defense.

        The american system tried to do the same thing, but largely failed in that it didn’t have any mechanisms that worked to counteract centralizing tendencies. The swiss pulled it off better.

        • Matt M says:

          Well it DID have mechanisms (nullification) but then one half of the country won a total war on the other half and kind of discouraged that sort of talk going forward.

          • shakeddown says:

            General question: Are you actually against the north forcing the south to end slavery at gunpoint? Would you actually support states being allowed to deny people residency if their neighbors didn’t like them?

          • Matt M says:

            “General question: Are you actually against the north forcing the south to end slavery at gunpoint? Would you actually support states being allowed to deny people residency if their neighbors didn’t like them?”

            1. Yes
            2. Hard to answer, as I am against the existence of states entirely. I support private property owners being allowed to deny people residency for any reason they please.

          • cassander says:

            Nullification was not a good mechanism. it wasn’t formal or reliable enough. I’d much prefer e mechanism where federal laws could be invalidated if enough (precise number and method subject to debate) declared themselves in favor of doing so. The senate sort had a role like that but didn’t do a very good job of it.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Switzerland also had a civil war at around the same time (though with total casualty figures for both sides that didn’t reach triple digits!) resulting in dramatically increased power for the federal government. Before then, the cantons were essentially independent states associated by treaty.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Said total war happened well after the half of the country which lost that war leveraged federal power to impose its answer to the “can people be property”question on the other half. Antebellum federalism was too unstable and was never going to last.

          • Aftagley says:

            @Matt M

            “General question: Are you actually against the north forcing the south to end slavery at gunpoint? …

            1. Yes

            I realize this is somewhat off-topic, but could I ask why? Is your answer specifically as it relates to the US civil war, or is that a generally applicable idea (albeit for a fairly specific scenario)?

            My thought on this tends to reduce down to, ‘if you’re using force to ensure the subservience of a group of people, there is no problem with another group of people using force to prevent you from doing so.’

            I don’t think I’ve run into someone with your stated opinion above and I’d love to hear your reasoning.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Well, the deontological argument is that You Mustn’t Slavery and so We Shall Kill You. The utilitarian historical-materialist argument is that slavery of that sort was on its way out anyway and the civil war we fought to end it maybe a decade or two early was really bloody and expensive. The next level historical materialist argument is that the American Civil War was a war of imperial unification, and you’re gonna get those when you have a loose confederation of related states, and slavery is just a good retroactive excuse/imperial founding myth.

          • Matt M says:

            “I realize this is somewhat off-topic, but could I ask why? Is your answer specifically as it relates to the US civil war, or is that a generally applicable idea (albeit for a fairly specific scenario)?”

            Mainly specific to the U.S. but probably generally applicable as well. There are numerous reasons I think so, to include things like “was a direct violation of the spirit of the constitutional compact,” and “basically ended federalism in America,” and “went way too far in how the war was prosecuted against one’s own civilians” and “the idea that the war was fought mainly because of slavery is a lie” and “why did we stop with the southern states? why didn’t we travel around the world and liberate slaves globally?”

            Mainly I am unconvinced that the benefits of ending slavery a little earlier than it otherwise would have ended justified the costs of the war, not only in terms of lives lost and property damaged during the war (which was very very large) but in terms of long-term consequences of damage to the American system of government whose costs may be immeasurable.

            In a general sense, I would say that yes, it can be morally justified to use force to free someone from enslavement – but it isn’t always justified, and just because something is justified does not necessarily mean it’s a good idea and/or worth the cost. I would be morally justified in traveling to Syria and trying to free some child brides from the clutches of ISIS – but given my lack of resources, training, and skills – this would be a horrible plan that would result in little more than my certain death. If I tried to do it anyway, people would be right to say “that was pretty dumb and he shouldn’t have done it.” Even if I somehow miraculously free a couple slaves, but it comes at the cost of having my arms and legs cut off and having to spend millions of dollars in medical care for myself, my close friends and family may be justified in asking whether it was truly worth it.

          • John Schilling says:

            The next level historical materialist argument is that the American Civil War was a war of imperial unification, and you’re gonna get those when you have a loose confederation of related states, and slavery is just a good retroactive excuse/imperial founding myth.

            I mostly agree with the cartoon general’s take on the ACW, but phrasing it this way raises an interesting question: What myth is going to be used to retroactively justify the European Unification War?

    • shakeddown says:

      Wait, Switzerland can kick you out of your home deny you citizenship for being unpopular? That’s insane.
      Edit: Now I’ve read the original article. This sounds unbelievably terrible. Like, I can suddenly see how that’s the part of the world that had the holocaust. If you’re okay with denying someone (who’s lived in Switzerland practically their whole lives, and have Swiss children) the right to citizenship over being annoying, it’s not that huge a step to killing undesirables, when the political climate is right for it.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        It didn’t seem like she was being kicked out. The woman has been living in Switzerland for most of her life and has children with Swiss citizenship there. I might be wrong but it doesn’t seem like there was any risk of her being forced out of the country.

        It seemed more like the community was saying “there is such as thing as being Swiss, and you are not Swiss” in response to her open contempt for the Swiss and their way of life.

        • shakeddown says:

          Why do I feel you’d be saying something very different if it were someone being denied California residency for loudly supporting Trump?

          • Jiro says:

            She seems to have residency.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            If, analogously, San Franciscans voted to deny residency to some guy from Staten Island because he walked around with a red MAGA cap yelling “Lock Her up!” all the time… I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that. It’s not hard to keep that shit online and just be a regular person in your own neighborhood.

            The main sticking point for me would be symmetry. If San Francisco has the right to decide what kind of community they want to be, other cities and towns deserve the right to come up with their own definitions. On a national level they would all have to be willing to tolerate one another’s intolerance so to speak.

            Otherwise it’s like the old joke: “you can have any color car you want, as long as it’s black.”

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          One of the saving graces of not being Swiss is that when the community says something like that you can answer “Who the fuck asked you?”

        • shakeddown says:

          A better parallel: Say you were born in Georgia but moved to California in second grade and have lived there ever since. One day, you need to renew your driver’s license or something, and the guy at the DMV notices you’re not registered as a California resident. You look up the conditions to register, and find out you need your neighborhood to approve you. So you knock on your neighbors’ doors, and they go “Well, you haven’t talked to us since you spent all that time canvassing for Trump. We feel that’s uncalifornian, so we refuse to approve you.” As a consequence, you have to fly all the way back to Georgia and redo your driving test just to get your damn license renewed.

          Wouldn’t you be a little bit infuriated?

          • suntzuanime says:

            As painful as it is for some people to hear, the states of Europe are still sovereign nations. Hell, Switzerland isn’t even in the EU!

            Her residency is unchallenged. It’s a question of citizenship, which does not map to a US citizen moving from one non-sovereign US state to another.

          • Tracy W says:

            Wouldn’t you be a little bit infuriated?

            From the description, you infuriated your neighbours by canvassing all that time for Trump. Hardselling doesn’t tend to make people popular.

            What’s the saying? “If you met one person today who was an asshole, you met an asshole. If everyone you met today was an asshole, you’re the asshole.”

      • Aapje says:

        Wait, Switzerland can kick you out of your home for being unpopular?

        Not getting citizenship doesn’t mean that this person is kicked out of their home. Switzerland has a open labor market deal with the EU, so the vegan can just stay in Switzerland with her original Dutch citizenship.

        I can suddenly see how that’s the part of the world that had the holocaust

        WTF. Switzerland is one country with a (political) culture that is quite different from the rest of Europe. They didn’t participate in the Holocaust and refused annexation to Nazi Germany.

        This is really an extremely bigoted statement and it makes very little sense.

        If you’re okay with denying someone (who’s lived in Switzerland practically their whole lives, and have Swiss children) the right to citizenship over being annoying, it’s not that huge a step to killing undesirables, when the political climate is right for it.

        If I don’t invite you to live into my home permanently, that means that I am ready to kill you. -> this is the silly logic that you are employing. Seriously…it’s very, very, very bad.

        • shakeddown says:

          It’s not your home, it’s hers. She’s been living there since she was eight. How would you feel if your neighbors decided to take away your citizenship because they thought you were annoying?

          • Mark says:

            Sorry, I think you have to respond to the “WTF… They didn’t participate in the Holocaust…This is really an extremely bigoted statement and it makes very little sense.” bit too.

          • shakeddown says:

            That was mostly me being hyperbolic in expressing how horrifying this is. The actual basis is that swiss-german culture is pretty close to Austrian-German culture (enough so that the difference between current Switzerland and current Austria is probably smaller than between current Austria and Austria a century ago), which started the holocaust. The reasons it didn’t spread to Switzerland were strategic (Germany didn’t invade), not cultural.

          • Mark says:

            I’m no expert, but “the difference between current Switzerland and current Austria is probably smaller than between current Austria and Austria a century ago”?

            Couldn’t that just mean that Austria has come a long way away from being a holocaust country?

          • Aapje says:

            @shakeddown

            She’s been living there since she was eight

            That’s simply not how nationality works. The normal rule is that one country ‘owns’ you and if you want to (also) be ‘owned’ by a different country, they have to accept you. However, the normal rule is also that you cannot just be disowned.

            You can dislike it, although that is probably because you fail to understand all the repercussions/reasons for the system we have, but that has very little to do with Switzerland, but rather with the international rules governing nations/nationality.

            How would you feel if your neighbors decided to take away your citizenship because they thought you were annoying?

            Her citizenship is not being taken away, she is simply not getting an extra/different citizenship. It doesn’t strengthen your argument when you make things up.

            PS. Some people end up not being ‘owned’ by any nation, making them stateless, which is very, very bad for these people.

          • Aapje says:

            @shakeddown

            The reasons it didn’t spread to Switzerland were strategic (Germany didn’t invade), not cultural.

            An invasion would have meant that the Swiss people would be forced to accept the Holocaust happening on their territory. How is this proof that Swiss culture is conductive to the holocaust??? If a bank employee is forced at gun point to hand over money, does that mean that he was secretly a bank robber, just waiting to come out?

            It’s…I mean…Just…no..no..no

          • Mark says:

            @Aapje
            I don’t think of citizenship as being ‘owned’ I think of it as being an owner.

          • quanta413 says:

            The locals didn’t take her citizenship away. The locals don’t want to grant it to her. The Swiss government still may override the locals concerns if it wishes. Every country reserves the right to control who is and isn’t a citizen, it’s just that in Switzerland, your local community actually has some input. Considering these are actually the people who have to deal with your shit and not far flung bureaucrats, this isn’t a crazy idea. This part of the process strikes me as a way to maintain a strong local and national identity. This sort of process will have downsides (stifling conformity; weird rejections), but there are upsides as well (improved cohesion, higher trust).

            You’re giving a caricature of their reasons. From their point of view, it’s less “citizenship denied because annoying” than “citizenship denied because she tries to leverage nonlocal media against our village traditions in order to destroy them”. Or as they put it “The reason why they have yet again clearly rejected the naturalization is that Nancy Holten very often expresses her personal opinion in the media, and also gathers media coverage for rebelling against traditional [Swiss] things within the village.” http://www.thelocal.ch/20170109/annoying-anti-cow-bell-campaigner-denied-swiss-passport

          • Matt M says:

            “I don’t think of citizenship as being ‘owned’ I think of it as being an owner.”

            The state can strip you of citizenship without your permission. You need their permission to renounce your own.

            It’s clear who owns who.

          • Mark says:

            @Matt M

            I don’t think that’s true. I’m pretty sure that as a normal British person they can’t revoke my citizenship, and that I am free to renounce it?

            If not, is this a recent change?

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps it’s different in different countries.

            In the U.S. renouncing your citizenship is a long and complicated and expensive process. I’m not sure to what extent they supposedly have to “approve” it in the end. But if you put up barriers to something, it shows that you have the power. They are saying “only people who do X can renounce” which means you are not “free” to do it.

            The state stripping you I believe can be done, but requires some sort of criminal proceedings or trial or some such thing. I’m less confident on how this one works. I’ll admit I’m just assuming it’s something they can theoretically do (but is not likely done often, if at all)

            Edit: This recent piece answers a lot of the questions. TLDR version is – they can, but only under certain circumstances (of course, if they hate you enough, they could always just make up some charges)

          • quanta413 says:

            @Matt M

            I think in practice, if you’re troublesome enough for the U.S. government to want to revoke your citizenship and you leave the western world on a trip to the middle east or africa at least, it’s simpler from their point of view to just hit you with a hellfire missile. Less legal wrangling to deal with.

            Now if you sit around in Europe on the other hand, I think it’s probably just not worth the pain for them.

          • Aapje says:

            Perhaps the least inaccurate analogy is that citizenship makes you a child of a parent (government). If you do bad things, the parent can be held responsible to a certain extent. They can also be forced to pay for your college, etc. If you like a different parent better, you can’t just move into their home, unless they accept you. Of course, this analogy breaks down in some ways too.

            Anyway, article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a nationality.” Most countries seem to interpret this so they won’t strip citizenship if that would leave a person stateless (so basically, they can only strip people with dual citizenship).

            Some countries strip your nationality if you take on another.

            Some countries don’t allow you to renounce your nationality at all (like Morocco).

            Some countries grants citizenship by birth on their soil (like the US). Some merely by blood. Some have a mix of these.

            Basically, it’s complex, but with some principles that are broadly shared.

          • Mark says:

            I suppose that “citizenship” could be either a blessing or a curse, depending on the legal system.

            You could say the same thing for “ownership”. If the legal responsibilities associated with ownership were changed to make it sufficiently unappealing, it’d be, you know, bad.

            So, (leaving aside the legal stuff for a moment) I think that citizenship should be about belonging to something and having an increasing say in how you live.

          • John Schilling says:

            She’s been living there since she was eight.

            And she somehow didn’t ask for citizenship until she was forty-two? I think her moral case would be a whole lot stronger if she’d applied when she was eighteen or whatever. If she’s going to spend half her life being that wishy-washy about whether she’s a citizen of the country she lives in, she’s in a poor position to expect a firm and favorable decision when she does get around to demanding it.

            Also, if you falsely accuse millions of innocent people from participating in the Holocaust, because you think it makes your argument more emotionally appealing, that is kind of beyond the pale.

          • Aapje says:

            @Mark

            I suppose that “citizenship” could be either a blessing or a curse, depending on the legal system.

            Indeed. For example, some countries restrict foreigners from owning land or owning a large share in companies, from inheriting, from donating money to local political causes, etc, etc. So being a national can give you more options.

            On the other side, having a nationality can mean that you are forced into military service, be taxed even when you are abroad, be treated more harshly by the legal system*, etc.

            Dual citizenship can result in a stalemate when you get into trouble, where both countries expect the other to help you.

            * If you get caught for breaking morality laws in the Middle East, it seems much better to be a foreigner, as they usually seem to just expel you then, rather than put you in prison for a long time or give you many lashes.

        • multiheaded says:

          WTF. Switzerland is one country with a (political) culture that is quite different from the rest of Europe. They didn’t participate in the Holocaust and refused annexation to Nazi Germany.

          Only for a very narrow definition of “didn’t participate”.

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

          (Seriously, this behavior *is* pretty consistent imo. Fuck Switzerland.)

      • Matt M says:

        Isn’t Switzerland pretty much the only place in continental europe that DIDN’T have the holocaust?

        • Aapje says:

          AFAIK, the list of countries where the holocaust didn’t happen is identical to the list of countries that were not occupied by Nazi Germany: Andorra, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Vatican (not too many Jews there though).

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            Don’t forget the eternal glory of Denmark! Occupied but no Holocaust.

            (But yes, “whether the Holocaust happened there” is a terrible metric)

          • Aapje says:

            Sorry, but 472 Danish Jews were deported to Theresienstadt. The Danish people did resist more than any other nation, but they still had the holocaust.

          • Matt M says:

            I remember visiting an “Occupation Museum” in Estonia that claimed they were quickly declared Judenfrei and as a result, not much holocaust-related action happened there other than standard military occupation stuff.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Wikipedia says that 75% of Estonian Jews fled to Russia and that virtually all of the rest were murdered. The Nazis actually murdered ten times more non-Estonian Jews in Estonia than Jews from Estonia itself, as the Nazis preferred to perform much of the holocaust in Eastern Europe, to hide it from the German people as much as possible.

            Anyway, there is a complex mix of reasons for why higher percentages of Jews where killed in some countries than others, involving many factors, only some of which can reasonably be attributed to collaboration/resistance. In fact, some forms of collaboration can even have reduced the efficiency of the holocaust in those countries. For example, the countries that had a collaborating government implemented the holocaust less efficiently than those that had a cabinet made up of Germans.

            For pretty much every occupied country, you can cherry pick some facts to create a logical argument that they resisted the holocaust more than most other countries, or that they were complicit more.

            That Estonian museum seems to have done this too, as it is obviously true that once almost all Estonian Jews were murdered (which happened quickly, because few were left), the Nazis stopped killing Estonian Jews.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Finland (allied to Nazi Germany, so not occupied although there were German troops on Finnish territory)- the only Axis country whose army had field synagogues.

            They did deport a very small number of non-Finnish Jewish refugees to Germany, plus there were Jews among the Soviet POWs they sent to Germany. I don’t know if that counts as “the Holocaust happening” in Finland.

      • Mark says:

        I’m in two minds – on the one hand I think it’s pretty funny and kind of admirable that the local people have a say in that kind of thing, on the other, they seem petty and awful.

        I can’t imagine that it’s a particularly effective strategy for preventing undesirables from achieving citizenship – I guess she’d be free to move to Zurich or something and get citizenship there? Maybe you have to live in a specific canton for a given period of time?

        I’m just going to imagine that she is just *really* annoying and that this is just a kind of light hearted comeuppance. I’ll be happier that way.

        • shakeddown says:

          I can understand that. I’ve been in the position of being denied (largely symbolic) rights because some people around me didn’t like me (long story…), so I guess I took this too personally.

        • Aapje says:

          @Mark

          I’ve seen the media report that there is a big racial bias in these decisions and that non-whites have extremely low admission rates.

          Basically, most people seem to vote based on their first impression.

          • Mark says:

            I guess the idiocy of rural life might be a useful counterbalance to the idiocy of the ivory towers.

            It’s still idiotic though.

          • Aapje says:

            @Mark

            Most non-white immigrants prefer to live in cities, AFAIK. If the entire city gets to vote, very few will actually know the person.

        • NIP says:

          >they seem petty and awful

          How, exactly? They have legal say in who gets to be a part of their community. They find her to be not only personally insufferable, but actively contemptuous of the values of their community, going so far as to bring in outside influence, which is none of her damn business. Why shouldn’t they keep her out? Put yourself in their shoes.

          • Mark says:

            It’s not purely a question of who gets to join the local embroidery club – it has wider implications. If they were magnanimous they’d be able to acknowledge that.
            I think it’s vindictive -she already lives there – how much further is citizenship going to affect her ability to disrupt their practices?

            I guess – on the margin the position is idiotic, on the grand scale, perhaps sensible.

            I’d prefer to see local people embracing immigrants while central government makes it more difficult.

          • Matt M says:

            “I’d prefer to see local people embracing immigrants while central government makes it more difficult.”

            Does the immigrant carry no obligation to embrace the local culture of the place they want to immigrate to? Why should the whole community have to accommodate her when it would be far easier for her to accommodate them?

            Is it not legitimate to ask the following question: “If she hates Swiss culture so much, why does she want citizenship there anyway?”

          • Mark says:

            Our culture is somewhat universalist.

            For utilitarian reasons it’s best to keep the hypocritical parts of universalism as far from the people as possible.

            [
            Better answer – because you are allowed to have an opinion about cows having bells on their neck in a normal society without making yourself a pariah.

            The custom is meaningless in the grander scheme of things – if you consider the bell on neck to be more important than the person making a moral decision – your culture sucks.

            Culture could probably suck in worse ways though?
            ]

          • Matt M says:

            “Better answer – because you are allowed to have an opinion about cows having bells on their neck in a normal society without making yourself a pariah.”

            It is not “having an opinion” that seems to be the problem. She seems to be actively hostile towards the practice, aggravating others with her unwanted opinions, and inviting hostile outsiders to crusade against local custom.

          • Mark says:

            It’s a right to be annoying.

            If she were to become a citizen, she could be annoying, so it seems churlish to deny her citizenship for being annoying.

            As I understand it, there is quite a big difference between Germanic/Scandinavian culture and British culture, in that in Britain we tend to embrace (tolerate?) eccentricity and individualism. To me, the idea that someone should be denied citizenship because they object to cows having bells on their necks is insane, and the people enforcing the rule are complete shits.
            I wouldn’t say that the system of having the people deciding on citizenship is wrong, however, because there are so many other systems that might be far worse.

            All I can say is that, as an individual, I want the right to say I don’t like cows having bells on their necks, and I don’t think that should be a criteria for citizenship. I’d rather, if foreign customs are going to cause a problem, that the central government makes it more difficult for people to immigrate in the first place, and petty differences don’t become the basis on which we decide suffrage.

          • Matt M says:

            “It’s a right to be annoying.”

            And yet, it’s not a right to be granted citizenship of any particular nation.

            In any case, I feel like you haven’t sufficiently answered my question.

            Do you believe there is any obligation whatsoever on a prospective immigrant to support, embrace, assimilate, etc. the local culture of the place they are attempting to immigrate to?

          • shakeddown says:

            > It’s a right not to be given citizenship to any nation
            So what, all the undesirables no country wants should just move to that one tiny patch of the Sahara that’s not claimed by any nation?

          • Matt M says:

            “So what, all the undesirables no country wants should just move to that one tiny patch of the Sahara that’s not claimed by any nation?”

            We’re not talking about some poor refugee who was forcibly removed from their homeland due to some evil prejudice. This is a Dutch person who just feels like living in Switzerland instead. Stop being so melodramatic.

          • Mark says:

            I think there is a duty to embrace the culture you are coming in to, but I think that part of *my* culture is the right, and duty, to reject parts of your culture that you consider to be stupid.
            And also, a right to a private life. If you want to wear an Islamic hat, good luck to you. Bans on hats are also contrary to my culture.

            So, it’s a kind of complex question. Personally, I’d like to avoid the problem, for the time being, by having central government impose restrictions on immigration, with those restrictions based on things such as ‘family ties’, ‘qualifications’, ‘is this person (with the information we have available) likely to make things worse for everyone else’.

            Your opinion on cow bells, or whether you get on with your neighbours shouldn’t come in to it. The correct response to an annoying neighbour is to avoid them – not deny them suffrage.

            But, in practice, I fear that the local cow bellers might have (while still flawed) better judgement than central government.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Mark

            This situation involves more than just a person having a different opinion than the local population. She’s not just saying “I like chocolate” but “I like chocolate AND I don’t think you should be able to eat vanilla and will work to stop you from doing so.” She’s an activist trying to get her view of the world enforced on the entire local population. I can see why the local community feels the way it does about denying her citizenship.

            Also, I don’t find suffrage to be a big deal, though I understand other people do.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        I didn’t think either “awesome” or “holocaust”– I thought “homeowners’ association after they elected Mrs. Grundy”.

        • Protagoras says:

          Made me think of Kundera’s description of life under communism, how the local party councils used their authority primarily for petty personal vendettas.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Citizenship is only a right for the people for whom citizenship is a right. If you’re going to kindly extend citizenship to people who do not have it by right, you might not want to extend it to people who are excessively whiny about key elements of your culture.

    • Polycarp says:

      Swiss cows love wearing cow bells. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Simmental, which is famous for its beautiful, curly haired cows. Cows only wear bells there when they are on the high alp in the summer. When they are in the valley during the winter the bells hang on the house/barn. The cows love to be on the alp. If you ring a cowbell when the cows are down in the valley, they get very excited (like when you ask your dog if it wants to go for a walk). It is considered nasty behavior to ring the cows’ bells and get them to falsely anticipate going to the alp.

      • TenMinute says:

        That’s adorable. Thanks for the explanation.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        To be fair, that only shows that cows like the outdoor lifestyle that coincides with the times when they wear the bells, not that they enjoy wearing the bells per se.

        I wonder if a compromise position could be reached, with some sort of magnesium-aluminium alloy bells that are still clanky enough to be heard over a reasonable distance, but really lightweight compared with the traditional (I assume) steel ones?

        • JayT says:

          Even if you are making the bell out of steel, aren’t cow bells usually fairly thin pieces of metal? Any cow bell I’ve ever held couldn’t have weighed more than a pound or two, and I can’t imagine that is all that uncomfortable for an animal the size of a cow.

        • Jiro says:

          If someone told me they didn’t like the fact that I wore green shirts, and offered a compromise “well, if you really like green shirts, how about you wear blush-green or yellowish-green shirts, they’re sort of green after all, but I don’t find them as bad as full green”, I would reject that compromise.

          Also, I don’t feed utility monsters, so the implied argument “you don’t lose much by making the compromise, but the guy complaining would gain a lot” doesn’t convince me.

          • Spookykou says:

            This implies that the Swiss care about the composition of the cow bell in the same way that you care about the color of your shirt, do we have any reason to think that they do?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Spookykou,

            I don’t think the point was about how much Jiro loved green shirts so much as his refusal to bend to people who think they can tell him what shirts to wear.

            It’s an infinitely lower-stakes version of the maxim of “don’t negotiate with terrorists.” If someone feels like they have the ability to redesign your habits and/or traditions to better fit their preferences, it’s better that you firmly correct that misconception as soon as reasonably possible.

          • Well... says:

            @Dr Dealgood:

            I thought Jiro was sort of speaking for the cows, as if saying that if Jiro-the-cow didn’t like wearing cowbells, making the cowbell slightly lighter wouldn’t change the fact that he doesn’t like wearing the cowbell.

          • Aapje says:

            I am extremely allergic to demands that I change my habits to make other people happy, when those people are merely unhappy because of belief and not because of fact.

            For example, if there is no evidence that cows suffer from wearing these cow bells, my sacrifice would not actually provably make the world a better place. It would simply make people happy who easily blame others and are not willing to do the hard work of proving that their accusations are correct, but instead prefer to bully people into submission.

            In short, it would reward several bad habits and do nothing good for the world.

          • TenMinute says:

            Something tells me that the Swiss care a lot about people telling them what to do with their cowbells, and are both likely to (and justified in) replying with counter-advice on where to shove them.

            Somebody has called this “don’t feed the dis-utility monster”. They start making claims about immense suffering that can be avoided by you doing one simple thing, but when you do it they’re still infinitely suffering, and you just need to do this one other thing, or you’re choosing to be evil again.

            The Swiss had noticed she also wanted to get rid of church bells, and that she would move on to it if they gave in on the cow bells.
            At some point you just have to say “maybe this bellphobic person doesn’t belong in a community that really likes bells, because it would have to change everything about itself to make her happy”

            When the cannibal says “I’m hungry, just let me eat your arm”, you don’t reply “well ok, I don’t really need both arms, and that sounds like a fair compromise!”
            You say “get out, filthy cannibal. If I give you my arm today, I won’t be able to stop you coming back for my head tomorrow”.

          • Spookykou says:

            The Swiss use cow bells.

            Somebody comes along and says that they think cow bells are too heavy and hurt the cows.

            The Swiss say, too bad we are going to keep using cow bells, cow bells are important to us.

            Well what about a compromise where, moving forward, we buy these lighter but otherwise equally good bells?

            Is the frame work around the original compromise that I saw.

            Now, I read Jiro as saying, why should he do that compromise that leaves him worse off if he doesn’t care about the people who want the cow bells to be lighter.

            My counter is, what if the compromise doesn’t actually leave him worse off in any way, would he still reject doing it?

            If someone told me they didn’t like the fact that I wore green shirts, and offered a compromise “well, if you really like green shirts, how about you wear magical green shirts, that are the same in every possible way except that they don’t appear green to me personally”, I would reject that compromise.

            Is what Jiro is actually arguing for, without more information on how much the Swiss care about the particular material used to make the bells they use for their cow bell.

            Edit: actually rereading the comment, Jiro expressly states the position I am ascribing to him.

            Also, I don’t feed utility monsters, so the implied argument “you don’t lose much by making the compromise, but the guy complaining would gain a lot” doesn’t convince me.

            All I am calling into question is the ‘you don’t lose much’ part, which I think could potentially be ‘you don’t lose anything’ or even ‘you gain some'(the bells are actually cheaper AND louder while also being lighter, go figure?!) and I see no good reason to conclude that any one of those three is obviously correct. So if Jiro rejects the compromise based on the first assumption being true, does their opinion change in the latter cases?

          • LHN says:

            I’d be leery of switching to the magical green shirts as eroding the norm that other people (who aren’t one’s custodial parent, spouse, or boss) don’t get a vote on what one wears. (I can imagine the letter to Miss Manners: “My colleague wears these eye-searing shirts! What can I do? “Cultivate patience and fortitude, dear Reader. But by no means should you offer unsolicited fashion advice.”)

            Obviously that’s not unrebuttable– if that color predictably causes pain or epileptic seizures in a subpopulation or something, it’s a different conversation. But I’d be leery of defining discomfort down, or basing the decision on hard-to-verify subjective criteria which could easily expand.

          • TenMinute says:

            ‘you don’t lose anything’ except your autonomy. Because now you’ve introduced an agent into your decision-making that doesn’t care about your well-being, and will never stop trying to force you to compromise it.

            And when the person in question has publicly said they don’t want you to wear shirts at all (or even complained about church bells, in the real life example), you suspect they’re just using the first compromise to bully you into making more, and more, and more.

            The only real compromise comes with a credible commitment to not change the terms of the deal as soon as it becomes convenient. Otherwise it’s just a compromise death-spiral into giving up everything you care about.

            Just say No to utility monsters, kids. Or get very used to hearing

            I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further

          • Spookykou says:

            It appears that I was not clear, but I was not/am not actually trying to/interested in engaging in a cost benefit analysis of switching from steel to magnesium-aluminium alloy bells.

            I was simply calling out the unfounded assumptions implicit in Jiro’s shirt metaphor which claims a direct loss in value from switching to an inferior product(bell/shirt), which we have no reason to assume would be the case for the bells, as it is for the shirts. Please feel free to respond to that point if you think we have some reason to conclude that the magnesium-aluminium alloy bells would be obviously worse to the Swiss in the same way that a yellow-green shirt is obviously worse to Jiro.

            Or in other words, a link to an article about the Swiss obsession with Steel bells.

            @LHN Perfectly reasonable, although I think it is important to keep in mind that being able and willing to engage in compromise is not clearly a net negative.

          • Jiro says:

            The whole point of using a green shirt as an example is that a shirt that isn’t green still functions as a shirt and the only difference between a green shirt and another one is personal preference. Just like the cowbells. The color of a shirt isn’t important to me.

          • Artificirius says:

            @Spookykou

            Buying them seems like an obvious one.

          • Aapje says:

            @Spookykou

            Even having to spend mental effort on this is a cost.

            Some utility monsters believe that they have the right to decide for others that their costs are unimportant. When people disagree, they deploy superweapons, where people are implicitly or explicitly called animal abusers, racists, sexists, etc, etc.

            At that point we are no longer having a ‘safe’ difference of opinion. We are in a war, where the other side is trying to actively harm my status to force me to give up my opinion because of the harm I suffer from this status lowering. Giving into this makes their superweapon stronger. So knowing this, I need to add this cost to my calculations:

            Willingness to oblige = utility of giving in – cost of giving in – expected future cost of making the superweapon stronger.

            So even if the benefits outweigh the cost by a little, I should probably fight back. Because tomorrow they will have a demand about something that is very costly to me and they will deploy their even more powerful superweapon against me.

            PS. As this activist is against both cow bells and church bells, presumably for different reasons (as churches don’t suffer from the weight of the bells), she most likely is lying about her actual motivations, which may be an aversion to the sound of bells. If she chose the ‘animal rights’ angle because that offers better superweapons, that shows why empowering superweapons is bad.

            PS2. This is also why we should defend freedom of speech for people who have toxic ideas.

          • Spookykou says:

            Praise Jiro for actually responding to me!

            Ok so the source of my confusion is here,

            only difference between a green shirt and another one is personal preference.

            which, to me, implies that you have a personal preference for green shirts, but I have no reason to think that the swiss have a similar personal preference for steel bells. However, if from the beginning it was the case that,

            The color of a shirt isn’t important to me.

            Then there is no conflict, and I just don’t/didn’t understand the conflict in your metaphor as to personal preference.

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t have a personal preference for green shirts. I have a personal preference for being able to wear any color shirt I want without having to run it by someone else.

          • Aapje says:

            Also, Jiro can change his mind. Freedom has value even if you don’t currently want to exercise it.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Well, I was away for a day or two, not expecting my mostly-facetious comment to have generated such heated discussion.

            I would say though that it is not prima facie ludicrous that cows do find the weight of a cowbell annoying, and if our would-be Swiss citizen is sincere about this issue, then it should be possible to test to see if they have a preference. Maybe set up a pair of milking stalls, such that, in one, they get a steel bell tied to them, in the other, an ultra-lightweight-yet sonorous alloy bell, for long enough for them to learn which is which, and see if they start to queue up for one milking pen much more than the other.

            If the Swiss cows care more about the composition of their bell than the Swiss humans do, then you can’t really dismiss the whole thing as utility-monsterism.

    • rahien.din says:

      In Switzerland, local communities often have a larger say in citizenship applications than the federal government.

      This is fascinating. In practice, your community has to sponsor your citizenship application.

      This would incentivize potential immigrants to integrate into their society visibly, and they would have to strike a balance between advocating for their own cultural norms and adopting the norms of their adopted home.

      Moreover, it would offer a proving ground for potential immigrant populations. If Town A rejects a group of immigrants out of the fear that they would alter the culture or economy too significantly, and Town B accepts them to their cultural and economic benefit, then at least Town A can make an informed decision.

      I wonder if that kind of system would fix some of what’s wrong with our own immigration policy.

  8. Thegnskald says:

    Question for the right: Given that our healthcare system is in many respects terribly broken, and given that Medicare’s primary drawback is the high administrative costs associated with payments, what would be wrong with a Federal mandate that states establish their own universal healthcare systems, a la the way unemployment insurance is handled now?

    Which is not to say to abolish the private healthcare system, which, whatever its drawbacks, is one of the best in the world, and which exists parallel to the public system in many countries today to help ameliorate the issue with top-down medical edicts.

    But certainly it looks like a better option than the current system of forcing hospitals to treat ER patients, which drives up private healthcare costs considerably for many reasons (overuse of the ER relative to lower cost options, and patients without insurance being subsidized by those with, to name two)

    Certainly it looks better than the corporate welfare act we got from the so-called leftists in Congress.

    • Randy M says:

      Set up private health care system without touching the private healthcare system basically means taxing everyone in order to provide care for those that can’t afford it.
      Is this meaningfully different from what we have now?
      Perhaps in that there would be an assurance that all maladies would be treated with the best available care, not just acutely life-threatening ones. This doesn’t seem like a way to contain costs. Americans aren’t likely to react well to decoupling the rationing process from the ability to pay. I’m not sure why it is more just to do so, anyway.

      Having state provided healthcare basically means making health care equivalent to education, right? Which is tasked with reforming itself every few years because even when freely provided it is unable to achieve the standards set.

      I’m not against some states trying it. I’m just not optimistic.

      • dndnrsn says:

        “All states must provide public health insurance” would basically create a situation similar to what Canada has. All maladies aren’t treated with the best possible care, and there’s a lot of stuff that goes uncovered. The upside, however, is that people are rarely ruined financially by sudden health crises. It also makes life a lot easier for small businesspeople and the self-employed in general.

        Having people without health coverage wait until it’s a crisis then go to the emergency room isn’t great for costs either.

        (As for education, arguably, the problem is that the standards are unrealistic and no major voice in the debate wants to admit several serious problems that exist).

        • Randy M says:

          This is all reasonable.

          Having people without health coverage wait until it’s a crisis then go to the emergency room isn’t great for costs either.

          I guess. My intuition is that a lot of people will go for concerns that would clear up on their own, but maybe this is more a function of personality than coverage.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It probably is. I could consume a lot more health care than I do – both public resources, and also through private insurance for stuff the public system doesn’t cover. I probably should – got a few nagging joint injuries I should do something about, for instance. But I don’t, because finding the time is a pain. I mean, it would cut into my gym time, and then how would I get new joint injuries, huh?

          • Cadie says:

            This is partly solved by making it annoying to go to the doctor. Preferably not so annoying that people won’t go when they need to, but enough that they’ll consider whether it’s necessary first, and if not, most of them will stay home. Long waits in the waiting room can work… urgent cases get seen first, and if you’re an otherwise healthy person with a runny and stuffy nose you might be waiting several hours. That should deter most whose complaints are minor.

            Another possibility is to make going to the doctor not free, just cheap. If you’re above the poverty line you pay $20 a visit, if you’re under it then you pay $5, and likewise prescriptions have a low co-payment instead of given for free. Something like that, combined with the nuisances of getting there and waiting (even without extra wait times), would encourage people not to go to the doctor for things like colds and very mild injuries. Free services get a lot of overuse. Cheap services get much less, even if the fees are easily affordable to most.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Cadie

            You can ration health care by making it annoying to go to the doctor, but I suspect this selects for hypochondriacs rather than sick people.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ several

            Have there been any studies of how many actual, current doctor visits are unnecessary?

        • IrishDude says:

          Just a note on whether preventive health care saves money in general:

          “The evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall,” CBO director Douglas Elmendorf wrote in an Aug. 7, 2009, letter to Rep. Nathan Deal, the top Republican on a congressional subcommittee involved in the debate.

          Elmendorf explained that while the cost of a simple test might be cheap for each individual, the cumulative cost of many tests adds up:

          “But when analyzing the effects of preventive care on total spending for health care, it is important to recognize that doctors do not know beforehand which patients are going to develop costly illnesses. To avert one case of acute illness, it is usually necessary to provide preventive care to many patients, most of whom would not have suffered that illness anyway. … Preventive care can have the largest benefits relative to costs when it is targeted at people who are most likely to suffer from a particular medical problem; however, such targeting can be difficult because preventive services are generally provided to patients who have the potential to contract a given disease but have not yet shown symptoms of having it.”

          http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/feb/10/barack-obama/barack-obama-says-preventive-care-saves-money/

          EDIT: I don’t think you’re necessarily talking about preventive health care in your comment, so my post isn’t a critique, just adding more context around this issue.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Huh, I didn’t know that. Thanks for posting. Even if it results in higher costs, though, the health outcomes are probably better enough to justify it, both for the people in question, and for the people who would need emergency room care no matter what – if you’ve just been hit by a car, you probably don’t want the ER to be full of people who are there in the crisis stage of something that could have been averted or dealt with earlier.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            The problem is false positives. For example, if you start examining poop for signs of cancer, you will get a decent number of people who have those signs, but don’t have cancer. Those people will still get a colonoscopy, which is not just harmless, because some of those people will die or have severe complications from the colonoscopy.

            So your benefit calculation becomes: QALYs won by screening – QALYs lost by screening.

            The ratio of true positives to false positives depends strongly on how common a disease is. Very few diseases are both common enough and have an affordable and relatively accurate test to filter people with, that screening is worth it, if you look at the costs for achieving 1 extra QALY.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I don’t want two hundred people taking an ounce of prevention to prevent one person from needing a pound of cure. That is a horrible misallocation of resources which is encouraged by our current system of privatized healthcare, which is necessarily kept in line by our tort system.

            I want a public healthcare option – not welfare, not income limited – which cannot be sued for missing a condition it made no sense to test for, which doesn’t need countless administrators to comply with right-wing demands for fraud accountability, which can’t be forced to pay for treatments that don’t pass a cost benefit analysis; we shouldn’t be spending millions of dollars to give one person an additional six months of life, we shouldn’t be employing more administrators than doctors, we shouldn’t be running huge panels of expensive tests to cover our asses against lawsuits.

            Healthcare is a mess. It is going to take concessions from both sides to fix it. A public option would destroy many of the perverse incentives built into the current system, particularly the insane way insurance companies have become our defacto medical providers.

          • Matt M says:

            “which can’t be forced to pay for treatments that don’t pass a cost benefit analysis”

            So, death panels.

            I’m not trying to vilify you with this – but I do think it helps to be clear what we’re talking about here. This is the dealbreaker in terms of why what you want will never be supported by the public (at least, not if it is framed honestly).

            Scarcity exists. Health care resources are limited. We can choose to distribute them via market forces, or via government rationing. In both cases, some people will not get the treatment they want and will die sooner than otherwise because of it. In the private market, the decision will be made based on one’s own resources and willingness to pay. In the public market, it will be made on the “cost benefit analysis” of faceless bureaucrats. Pick your poison – but concede that it is, in fact, poison.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Ah, but I have no intention of eliminating the private system. So the “death panels” don’t exist any more than they exist today – rather, we’d have “bankruptcy panels”. You can get that treatment, but not from the state.

            Insofar as you can’t pay for it, you couldn’t have paid for it anyways.

          • Matt M says:

            “Ah, but I have no intention of eliminating the private system.

            Insofar as you can’t pay for it, you couldn’t have paid for it anyways.”

            I’m not sure this will be satisfactory for most of the people who are advocating for a “public option.” They think what that means is “poor people can have whatever health care they want and rich people will be forced to pay for it.”

            This is why when Obama does speeches and interviews he has to dismiss “death panels” as a crazy right-wing conspiracy, but when Paul Krugman is caught speaking candidly to an audience of like-minded individuals, he says “death panels and higher taxes are the solution here”

          • Thegnskald says:

            I, too, am unsatisfied that we don’t live in a universe with unlimited resources to achieve every worthwhile thing we could achieve.

            Given that we live in a universe which is disinterestedly hostile to our existence, incremental improvements are the way to go. It is what the left used to be great at, until we became addicted to all-encompassing cultural victories handed down by the Supreme Court.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M
            I’m not really seeing how “poor people can have whatever health care they want and rich people will be forced to pay for it” implies death panels. Indeed, it seems to imply infinite resources and therefore an absent of cost benefit analysis. But in any case, given the more reasonable assumption of finite resources, cost benefit analysis doesn’t imply death panels. It implies that people who want treatment that doesn’t pass government cost benefit analysis will have to get it on the private market, much as they do now.

          • Matt M says:

            “It implies that people who want treatment that doesn’t pass government cost benefit analysis will have to get it on the private market, much as they do now.”

            And what I’m saying is – that’s not what people want. What they want is for individuals to be able to demand the government provide them with the treatment they desire, regardless of cost benefit analysis. “Cost benefit analysis” is, itself, a death panel.

            The fact that you can theoretically go obtain said treatment on the private market if you’re willing to pay is irrelevant – these people already have that option and declare it insufficient. Wealthy people of means will presumably keep fancy private insurance and not take the “public option” so the question of “you can still get it if you can pay” is irrelevant. The only people the government will be in the position of declining are people who clearly can’t pay.

            I’m not saying you’re wrong – I’m just saying that what you are proposing will never gain any significant popular support, because it does not adequately meet the demands (which in my opinion, are terribly unrealistic and probably impossible) of those who are most enthusiastic about health care reform.

          • Thegnskald says:

            rlms –

            I believe Matt’s argument is that many leftists wouldn’t agree to a health system that doesn’t cover everything. I don’t disagree with his assertion – indeed, fighting ill-advised leftists trying to expand care beyond its merits will probably be an ongoing battle, which I hope the sensible elements of both the left and right will be up to.

          • Randy M says:

            The fact that you can theoretically go obtain said treatment on the private market if you’re willing to pay is irrelevant – these people already have that option and declare it insufficient.

            What’s desired is a rational system in which resources can be carefully allocated where they will do the most good , providing low cost necessary treatment to all, then higher cost necessary treatment as affordable, while sternly denying unnecessary treatment (or very high cost very low success treatment like will inevitably happen at the end of life).

            Such a plan could get broad consensus; the problem is that the borders of the above categories are indistinct and subjective. Add that to democracy, and is it really a recipe for keeping costs restrained any better than the status quo while improving access?

            (I ask as someone who has paid a great deal in medical expenses the last decade, though a combination of insurance, out of pocket, and private assistance–and to great results).

          • Matt M says:

            “What’s desired is a rational system in which resources can be carefully allocated where they will do the most good , providing low cost necessary treatment to all, then higher cost necessary treatment as affordable, while sternly denying unnecessary treatment (or very high cost very low success treatment like will inevitably happen at the end of life).”

            And I guess I’m disputing that this is what’s truly desired. Particularly the “where they will do the most good” and “denying unnecessary treatment” parts. Nobody asks for treatment they think is unnecessary. The very virtue of asking means they consider it necessary, and the government turning around and declaring it isn’t constitutes a “death panel” which Americans seem to find strongly distasteful.

            What you propose is what is desired in theory – but is not desired in practical reality. Practical reality means that your 90 year old aunt dies of cancer when her doctor explicitly told you that treatment exists which might save her but some government bureaucrat said her life wasn’t worth it. The American people do not seem ready to stomach such scenarios.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M
            Thanks, I understand what you mean now (I was confused because “death panels” isn’t a term commonly used by left-wing advocates of healthcare reform). I don’t think what you mention is a huge problem, because (as you say) desire for a public healthcare system that doesn’t do cost benefit analysis is ridiculous, and I find it difficult to imagine anyone who wants being an important part of a movement for healthcare reform. It seems unlikely that someone could become influential on the subject without having the slightest idea of existing public healthcare systems are like.

          • Randy M says:

            What you propose is what is desired in theory – but is not desired in practical reality.

            Yes, I guess it wasn’t clear that my first paragraph was restating the position for public health care and my second was raising what I see as a serious objection to it.

          • Iain says:

            It’s worth noting that the term “death panels” was coined by Sarah Palin while attacking a provision of the ACA that would have allowed doctors to claim Medicare reimbursement for voluntary discussions about living wills and end-of-life counseling — that is to say, precisely the sort of thing that might help bring down health care spending in the last year of life, as is being discussed in the other branch of this thread. As a result of Palin’s demagoguery (along with a bunch of other Republicans who climbed on board) the provision was dropped from the final bill.

            PS: Matt M, you mention Krugman being “caught speaking candidly to an audience of like-minded individuals”. Do you mean the time he wrote about it on his NYT blog, or the time he made the argument on broadcast television?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Thegnskald:

            I want a public healthcare option – not welfare, not income limited – which cannot be sued for missing a condition it made no sense to test for, which doesn’t need countless administrators to comply with right-wing demands for fraud accountability, which can’t be forced to pay for treatments that don’t pass a cost benefit analysis; we shouldn’t be spending millions of dollars to give one person an additional six months of life, we shouldn’t be employing more administrators than doctors, we shouldn’t be running huge panels of expensive tests to cover our asses against lawsuits.

            And you’re describing … well, my experiences with health care in Canada, at least. People’s complaints here are mostly about rationing, government not paying for stuff, etc.

            I’ve had doctors not run tests they could have because they deemed it uneccessary. I’ve had multiple doctors tell me that a cold was probably viral and so antibiotics were useless (and to come back if it didn’t get better), waited for antibiotics while a strep test was processed, got told to use over-the-counter painkillers when I did something to my back.

            @Matt M

            And what I’m saying is – that’s not what people want. What they want is for individuals to be able to demand the government provide them with the treatment they desire, regardless of cost benefit analysis. “Cost benefit analysis” is, itself, a death panel.

            Are Americans just that much less realistic than everyone else, or are you exaggerating? I know of no public health care system that does this. In Canada, it’s mostly the well-off bitching that they don’t get as good health care as they would if they paid out of pocket, and stories in the newspaper about people with super-rare diseases not getting expensive specialist treatment that no cost-benefit analysis would justify, people not getting experimental/unproven treatment they want, or parents with disabled kids not the expensive (and often experimental/unproven treatment) treatment those parents want for their kids.

          • Matt M says:

            Iain,

            My memory is that the first time he used the phrase it was at some conference or something, and it got picked up by the conservative press, and then he went on to use it on TV and in his column, but I’ll concede I could very well be wrong about that.

            I do think it’s fair to maintain that the mainstream, public-facing position of everyone in favor of Obamacare was, in fact, “no there aren’t death panels that’s crazy” while privately, everyone involved was fully aware that there would, in fact, be government agencies deciding which potentially life-saving treatments are “worth paying for” and which ones are not.

          • JayT says:

            dndnrsn, the Americans that worry about death panels are people that have good insurance and don’t use any public kind of health care. In most cases, they get whatever care the doctor recommends, and they are afraid that if we moved to a public system that they would lose that, so the only way to make public healthcare acceptable to those people is if they get the same kind of care they are used to.

          • Iain says:

            @Matt M: You are conflating two different meanings of the phrase “death panels”. While the ACA was being debated, Republicans were running around like Chicken Little clucking about faceless government bureaucrats deciding that your grandmother had become a burden on society and it was time to euthanize her. That was obviously never on the table, and the only rational thing to do was to deny it.

            The kind of “death panel” that Krugman endorsed was the obvious sort of thing that everybody in this comment section agrees is necessary: a body that evaluates the evidence and decides what sorts of treatments are worth paying for. It’s worth pointing out that the American system already has those; they’re called insurance companies.

            I endorse what dndnrsn says about the Canadian health care system. Americans who argue that a rational approach to health care spending is incompatible with human psychology need to grapple with the existence of health care systems around the world that nevertheless seem to make it work.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            It doesn’t really matter how much people may desire a rational system in which resources can be carefully allocated where they will do the most good. Even if you managed to set such a thing up, each careful allocation which resulted in someone being denied life-saving care would cause the introduction of a bill in Congress– preferably named for a dead child– to ensure that nothing of the sort could happen again.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @JayT:

            Really? How many people with private insurance that good are there? I was under the impression that the intent of “death panels” was to get people in general to think that some tribunal of bureaucrats would be triaging all end-of-life care.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Cerebral Paul Z:

            Doesn’t really happen in Canada. I’ve been seeing stories in the paper, usually one every week or two, for years, usually about how the government won’t pay for therapy for a disabled kid, or something like that. Never changes anything.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are conflating two different meanings of the phrase “death panels”.

            I don’t think the two meanings are all that different, just that “euthanize grandma” is mostly shorthand for e.g. “discontinue grandma’s chemo and send her off with a hospice voucher”. I doubt, but would enjoy seeing numbers, that any great segment of the population envisioned the government literally killing anyone’s grandmother.

            And, yes, death panels are necessary. Absolutely every health care system is going to have them. Death panels are also intolerable to almost everyone who came of age in anything resembling a social welfare state. So the political success or failure of any health care system is going to depend very much on how well it plays the game I call, “Hide the Death Panels”.

            Unfortunately, the time when it is hardest to hide the death panels is when you are trying to change the system, particularly in a polarized political environment. Things long and safely hidden, like the death panels of the post-WWII American health insurance system(*) tend to pass without notice if they are left alone, whereas new activity draws attention, and one’s political opponents will happily buy millions of dollars in television advertising to point out just where you’ve hidden the death panels in your system (while piously denying they have any of their own). If you are fortunate enough to have a system that works tolerably well, maybe try leaving it be and working at the margins for your improvements.

            * Or the UK / Canadian systems, same reason.

          • Matt M says:

            The kind of “death panel” that Krugman endorsed was the obvious sort of thing that everybody in this comment section agrees is necessary: a body that evaluates the evidence and decides what sorts of treatments are worth paying for. It’s worth pointing out that the American system already has those; they’re called insurance companies.

            Two things on this. One, this comment section is not representative of the American electorate. The fact that everyone here wants X and agrees it would be good says nothing about X’s overall political viability. Two, yes, we already have this in the form of insurance companies. And the people who want socialized medicine want it specifically because they think it will PREVENT that sort of thing from happening. So when conservatives say, “Actually, people will still die from being denied health care under your government system” that takes a whole lot of wind out of their sails. People don’t want one system where children die to be replaced by a different system where different children die instead. They want a magical happy land where nobody dies. They won’t vote for you unless you promise them that. And if the same people promising that are found, behind the scenes, saying “of course we understand that some children will die we aren’t idiots here” they end up losing their credibility with the public.

            I endorse what dndnrsn says about the Canadian health care system. Americans who argue that a rational approach to health care spending is incompatible with human psychology need to grapple with the existence of health care systems around the world that nevertheless seem to make it work.

            It’s not that it is incompatible with human psychology, but that it is incompatible with the cultural values and political climate in present-day America. The fact that Canada or Sweden has it does not change this. We are not Canada or Sweden. And their systems have problems of their own and it’s not difficult to find Canadians and Swedes who will tell you what those problems are, so when the American left tries to sell you on “just do what Canada does and it’ll all be perfect” that falls flat when it’s easy to communicate with actual Canadians who can tell you about having to wait nine months for an MRI or whatever.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            The process I described already has more or less happened in the US. Health Maintenance Organizations started as a plausible private-sector attempt to contain costs by denying care that cost more than it was worth; the flow of state legislation undermining their ability to say no to anyone started soon after.

          • JayT says:

            dndnrsn, I’m not an expert on this subject, so I am going purely off of personal experience, and I can’t give any numbers. That said, from what I’ve seen, pretty much every white collar worker that I know has insurance that provides that kind of service. If I ever hear someone complain about their insurance turning something down it’s a complaint in that they have to spend a bunch of time on the phone getting it sorted out, not that they are going to end up without treatment.

            Now, white collar, upper middle class people are obviously not a huge part of the overall population, but they do have more of a voice in politics than the people in the lower classes, so their concerns are louder.

          • Iain says:

            @John Schilling: I’m talking about stuff like this:

            On the radio show of former Sen. Fred Thompson on July 16, 2009, McCaughey said “Congress would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.”
            She said those sessions would help the elderly learn how to “decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care … all to do what’s in society’s best interest or in your family’s best interest and cut your life short.”

            Or this bit, from Palin herself:

            The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil

            @Matt M: I think we have come to a general consensus on principles, and are only disagreeing in terms of where we are placing the emphasis. We agree that some form of rationing is necessary. We agree that making changes to health care is fraught with difficulty and requires thoughtful consideration, even when your political opponents are not reckless demagogues. I personally think it is interesting to note that, at least among elected politicians in America, there is a significant imbalance in the distribution of thoughtful considerers vs reckless demagogues along the political spectrum, but your mileage very likely varies on that point, and I don’t think we’ll get much more out of discussing it further. I am happy to leave it at that.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @JayT:

            Huh. My experience of private insurance in Canada – which is how one gets insurance for dental, prescription drugs, vision, specialists not covered by the public plan/getting to see them faster in some cases, etc – is that there’s different tiers.

            Is gold-plated, price-is-no-object private insurance for white-collar types the norm in the US?

          • John Schilling says:

            @Iain: Your Palin quote is specifically about “death panels” deciding to withhold life-saving care, not active euthanasia, so I’m not sure what the disagreement is. Even Thompson, doing his best to make his constituents fear for their grandmothers’ lives, wasn’t willing to go that far.

          • Randy M says:

            Specifically Palin’s quote shows a fear of government deciding what lives are worth living, divorced from cost concerns. I think it was more of a slippery slope argument hinting that the death panels to control costs would turn into government using health care access to control people.

          • JayT says:

            There are definitely different tiers of insurance in the US, but my experience is that the tier offered to most while collar workers is quite high, and then they also have the option to get even higher end plans for an extra fee.

            I am a computer programmer and my wife is a teacher, and we both have what would be considered high end plans.

          • Iain says:

            @John Schilling: If you like, feel free to mentally adjust my post to “While the ACA was being debated, Republicans were running around like Chicken Little clucking about faceless government bureaucrats deciding that your grandmother had become a burden on society and it was time to euthanize her take away her health care and pressure her into euthanizing herself.” Here are 10 Internet Points. Don’t spend them all in one place.

            (Edit to add: also, to be scrupulously fair, the Republicans were not literally clucking.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            Are office drones “white collar”, then? Programmers are pretty high-status, and teachers exist in a weird twilight zone where pay isn’t necessarily great but job security and benefits are often good.

          • JayT says:

            I would say most salaried office drones would be considered white collar. The insurance plans I’m offered are the same as what’s offered to anyone else that works here, and the “office drones” outnumber the programmers.

            Like I said though, I don’t know any actual numbers, and most of my close friends who I would talk about health insurance with are either programmers or teachers, so it is possible that my bubble is made up of the only people in the country with good health insurance, but I suspect that isn’t the case considering how many people were worried about losing their current coverage when the ACA came about.

          • IrishDude says:

            Before the ACA passed, a Gallup poll showed 80% of Americans Very Satisfied or Satisfied with the quality of their health care and 61% Very Satisfied or Satisfied with their health care costs.

            Most Americans were pleased with their health care before ACA, which is one reason there was widespread concern about creating a massive new program to ‘fix’ something that seemed to be working for most people to help out the few that it wasn’t working for.

          • Matt M says:

            “Is gold-plated, price-is-no-object private insurance for white-collar types the norm in the US?”

            I think the general rule is that the majority of plans cover the majority of things. Typically, the difference in what makes a plan “good” or “bad” is the extent to which they charge you co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles, etc.

            I believe the difference in the typical plan for a white collar skilled professional and a blue collar worker is less “white collar covers things blue collar doesn’t” and more “white collar gets everything for free, blue collar has to meet a $1,000 deductible and pay a $50 co-pay for everything and 10% of any procedure that costs over $1,000”

            “Most Americans were pleased with their health care before ACA, which is one reason there was widespread concern about creating a massive new program to ‘fix’ something that seemed to be working for most people to help out the few that it wasn’t working for.”

            Hence Obama’s famous “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” which ended up being named Politifact’s “lie of the year” in 2013 – as well as the general implication that premiums would fall for most people, when in reality for many they increased by a lot.

            The ACA was sold to the public as “this will make health care better and cheaper for everyone” but was quickly revealed to be nothing more than a massive new entitlement program for the lower class. You’ll note that even its defenders (Obama, Krugman, etc.) have given up most of the former arguments and now only defend it on terms of “look at all these people who didn’t have insurance before, but do now!” Which is technically true, but is not what was promised.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am not sure about a blue collar white collar distinction in quality of insurance. At UPS the blue collar workers get the same/better insurance than management. I assume the biggest difference is just in how much your insurance is subsidized, I get good insurance through UPS, and for a time I was able to get good insurance through the ACA (although I believe I was in the bracket that received the most government subsidies or something?). The only time I have ever felt like I had ‘bad insurance’ was when I briefly had a private insurance plan before the ACA which cost a large amount each month and still made me pay through the nose for each doctors visit, I only got the plan to deal with a specific situation, and dropped the plan as quickly as I could.

            Anyone with decent government or employer subsidized insurance in America is probably pretty well off in the insurance department.

          • rlms says:

            @IrishDude
            40% dissatisfied with cost is quite a large proportion (although I don’t know how meaningful it is). In any case, presumably it would be significantly reduced if US costs per capita decreased 2.5x the OECD median to 1.5x or something (cite).

          • Aapje says:

            Healthcare is just really expensive, so I’d expect a large percentage to declare dissatisfied with the costs no matter what system you have.

            Especially as it is insurance-based. With an insurance you often don’t get anything tangible for your money, so it emotionally feels bad, even though you rationally know that you want risk pooling.

          • IrishDude says:

            Healthcare IS expensive, even if most people said they were satisfied with their health care costs (I also agree 40% is a significant minority dissatisfied with costs). Partly because end-of-life care can be enormously costly. And in part because the insurance model is used for routine low-stakes care, instead of for unexpected catastrophic incidents. Most people don’t know what things actually cost since there’s middlemen paying for everything, and therefore there’s no shopping around for good quality, low-priced care. This stops an important market mechanism for price containment.

            I’d like to see insurance move to covering catastrophic care and have most day-to-day health care expenses paid for completely out-of-pocket directly by the consumer. I think it would force a lot more efficiency into the system. Something like what the Oklahoma Surgery Center does is a step in the right direction, where they list the exact price for each surgery they perform:

            “It is no secret to anyone that the pricing of surgical services is at the top of the list of problems in our dysfunctional healthcare system. Bureaucracy at the insurance and hospital levels, cost shifting and the absence of free market principles are among the culprits for what has caused surgical care in the United States to be cost prohibitive. As more and more patients find themselves paying more and more out of pocket, it is clear that something must change. We believe that a very different approach is necessary, one involving transparent and direct pricing.”

            http://surgerycenterok.com/pricing/

            All that said, I expect a lot of Americans would grumble about moving in a free market direction due to status quo bias. Paying directly out of pocket for almost everything would feel like a hassle compared to using 3rd-party payers. And, most people don’t know how much they’re currently paying for health insurance given the employer pays a large portion towards it (which really comes out of the employees compensation) or their insurance is paid for by others through Medicare and Medicaid.

          • John Schilling says:

            Healthcare is just really expensive, so I’d expect a large percentage to declare dissatisfied with the costs no matter what system you have.

            Why, when pretty much all of the systems used in the industrialized world are designed to hide the expense from most of the consumers?

            What fraction of British citizens could tell you, within a factor of two, the number of UK£ taken from them in taxes every year for the purpose of funding the NHS? Or how much is borrowed for that purpose with the expectation/commitment to tax them in the future? What fraction of insured US workers could tell you, within a factor of two, how much larger a salary they could have negotiated if their employer didn’t offer health insurance as a benefit?

        • Thegnskald says:

          Not insurance, healthcare. Insurance is what got us into this mess in the first place.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The options with public healthcare, outside of a voucher system, are “government directly employs all medical personnel, etc” and “government reimburses medical costs”. If I go to see my doctor about something covered by public health care, my doctor then bills the government. The government controls what gets reimbursed and how much, which means that some things require extra payment from me. One way the government tries to control costs is fiddling with reimbursement.

          • Thegnskald says:

            There is a third option: The government directly employs some medical personnel, maybe even most, but certainly not all.

            You don’t pick your doctor, you don’t pick your treatment, unless you are willing to pay for it yourself.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You don’t really get to pick your doctor or treatment that much in Canada, either, if it’s on the public dime. That’s one of the complaints – it’s often hard to find a doctor who’s taking on new patients, because depending on where you are, it might be a net money-loser for your doctor to take on more patients. I only ended up with the GP I’m with because I was legacied in – my father has the same GP.

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, that’s the other complaint about socialized medicine, like the NHS or VA. Maybe you have a medical issue covered by the system, but there’s no assurance of getting treatment in a timely manner, even if you are promised treatment.
            This is due to the decreased payments to doctors, etc. that come about as a cost control measure. Remember, this was part of ACA, but then postponed (repeatedly?) with supplemental legislation.

            How is this issue addressed?

          • dndnrsn says:

            It isn’t, really. Everyone complains about it but nobody wants to pony up the extra tax dollars that would fix it. Care is rationed, with waiting lists – if something is critical, you will be dealt with quickly; if not, you might wait a while.

          • cassander says:

            @Thegnskald says:

            >There is a third option: The government directly employs some medical personnel, maybe even most, but certainly not all.

            In the US, that means at least in excess of 10 million people. it would be the largest organization in the world by most of an order of magnitude. It’s completely unworkable.

            And that’s before I get to point out that we do do that for veterans, and do a shitty job of it.

        • Garrett says:

          As someone who grew up in Canada and now volunteers in healthcare in the US, there are a lot of things I observe are different (but in my case are anecdotal):

          * The US has services available much more quickly. My Dad needed an MRI at one point to plan treatment for a back injury with possible spinal involvement. It took months to obtain and required him to first get an X-Ray and CT-scan despite the doctor saying that neither of those would be useful. When I ran into knee problems I was x-rayed immediately and when things didn’t resolve within a week I was ordered an MRI. Time to imaging was measured in tens of hours.

          * The waiting time for ER visits for anything but the most acute injuries was measured in hours, and I’d expect it to be upwards of 10 hours. When I have relatives come and visit from Canada I’ll do a quick stop by an ER to show the waiting room. It’s typically empty, despite being a full-service major hospital. The ERs are usually staffed well and there is good pt. flow.

          * The Canadian Healthcare system is happy to have you wait and wait and wait for procedures like hip replacements. Bonus points if you have to wait several years only to be told that you’re now too old for the procedure.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The waiting time for ER visits for anything but the most acute injuries was measured in hours, and I’d expect it to be upwards of 10 hours. When I have relatives come and visit from Canada I’ll do a quick stop by an ER to show the waiting room. It’s typically empty, despite being a full-service major hospital. The ERs are usually staffed well and there is good pt. flow.

            It might be a full service major hospital, but I don’t believe this is typical.

            ER waits are very frequently brutal and easy anecdotes of said wait times abound.

          • IrishDude says:

            ER wait times have been in the 2-3 hour range for me in the past (I’m American). However, in the past several years Urgent Cares have opened up that allow walk-in treatment for situations like needing stitches or antibiotics for a sinus infection, and the wait times there are typically under an hour. I imagine the proliferation of minute clinics and urgent cares has helped reduce strains in ERs, though I haven’t been to an ER in several years and couldn’t say for sure.

            EDIT: To add context, I was last in an ER about 8 years ago when I broke my ankle. The wait time to get seen was actually not too bad, less than an hour, but after being initially seen it took a bit to get treated and dismissed.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Both times I’ve walked in to my local (US) ER (broken bones, both times) I’ve not had a long wait time for initially seeing a doctor, though once they did the initial evaluation there was a long time waiting for further treatment.

            This ER does triage for walk-ins; there’s a waiting area (which was quite full both times) which some cases bypass.

          • Nornagest says:

            The hospitals in my area (a major city) have taken to displaying ER wait times outside. They usually hover around five to ten minutes. The couple of times I’ve had to go or take someone to the ER in recent years, the actual wait was similar.

            Of course that’s probably a biased sample, since hospitals with crappy wait times would have no incentive to advertise them, but it is a data point. One thing about ERs, though, is that you can’t count on the demand to be continuous — if a bus full of nuns plowed into a daycare, for example, I don’t doubt that it might lead to a temporary shortage of trauma surgeons. But that would be as much of a problem in Canada as it is here.

            (On the other hand, I’ve experienced Urgent Care wait times upwards of an hour.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            ERs can’t refuse treatment for non-insurance.

            Therefore, ERs accessible to proportionally larger uninsured populations will be increasingly likely to have horrible wait times.

            Obviously the ACA changes some of this calculus.

    • cassander says:

      >but certainly it looks like a better option than the current system of forcing hospitals to treat ER patients, which drives up private healthcare costs considerably for many reasons

      ER costs are something like 2% of all medical costs, and people with insurance are MORE likely to use the ER than those without, for obvious reasons. This is not what is driving US costs. And uncompensated care is also about 2% of costs (not the same 2%). Neither is what is driving US costs.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I was unaware it was that low.

        Any idea what payment-related administration costs are? I am given to understand they are quite high, but I was also under the conception that ER costs are quite high.

        Broadly, the issues as I understand them are administration, unnecessary panels of tests, inadvisable care (for example, keeping people on life support when they shouldn’t be, or repeatedly saving people in situations where their quality of life is terrible), and legal costs (including malpractice insurance). Are those apt?

        • Matt M says:

          inadvisable care (for example, keeping people on life support when they shouldn’t be, or repeatedly saving people in situations where their quality of life is terrible)

          I think this is a really big deal. I’ve read that nearly 30% of medicare costs are spent on patients who die that year. While surely ALL of these aren’t necessarily ill-advised “keeping a brain-dead person on life support” scenarios, it strongly suggests that we would save a lot of money if people made more “realistic” end of life choices…

          • herbert herberson says:

            It’s interesting. I’ve done a lot of end-of-life planning for people and have literally never heard anyone say they wanted to stay plugged in. Part of it, of course, is that you’re right, a lot of that spending is on more ambiguous situations, but it still seems like a problem that could be substantially mitigated while respecting, and indeed increasing, individual autonomy.

          • Matt M says:

            I think it’s less “stay plugged in when brain dead” and probably more “hey mr. 90-year-old, you have horrible cancer that has a 1% chance of being cured entirely but maybe a 50% chance of extending your life by six months if we give you this $500,000 treatment – which is paid for by medicare and not by you – so do you want it or not?”

            Of course, without medicare, the story would be how as a society, we’re just letting old cancer patients die even though treatment exists that might cure them.

            I think most of the problems with medicine stem from how we view medicine as “different” from other goods and services on the market. That we behave as if “no price is too high!” when clearly, sometimes, it is. That we expect all people to have easy access to the best quality of every available treatment and anything less than that is seen as uncivilized savagery. These are unrealistic expectations that cannot possibly be met in anything remotely resembling a “cost efficient” manner.

            Edit: I’ll add that the doctor doesn’t actually tell the patient the cost of the treatment – why should he? Why should the patient care if he’s not paying for it? The doctor himself probably doesn’t even know.

          • cassander says:

            @Matt M

            In my personal experience, you also have the families to consider. By my grandparents’ ends, they were pretty ready to check out. They were in their 90s with various degenerative conditions that ranged from embarrassing to debilitating. But just because they were ready to go does not mean that we were ready to let them go, and I’d happily have spent every dollar medicare has to keep them around a few more days.

          • Thegnskald says:

            cassander –

            My great grandfather purportedly complained a lot about how, every time he thought he would finally die, some fool went and dragged him to a hospital.

            He was 90 something when he died. He hadn’t wanted to live for a decade; he was blind, unable to move around on his own, and the sort of person who can’t stand sitting around. I watched my grandfather, who came out of retirement three times out of boredom, struggle with the same listlessness when he reached the point where he couldn’t work anymore. I am not happy that he died, but I am happy that he didn’t have to live through the much more extreme situation his father lived with.

            We shouldn’t keep people alive against their wishes. We also shouldn’t keep people alive when they cannot express their wishes anymore, a situation I saw with my grandmother, who was robbed of her volition by Alzheimer’s, and who I regard as fortunate in having a family that wasn’t intent on keeping a shade haunted in her final year by loved ones fifty years dead in this world.

            I understand not wanting to let go – there is a lot I would give to have my grandfather back, who was the person I was closest to, and who died while I was on a flight to see him to say goodbye. But his torment isn’t one of them, nor the loved ones of others, because that wasn’t a bargain he would have accepted either, and there are many people dying for lack of resources far less than those needed to sustain him in a morphine-mediated agony a few days more. Those last days wouldn’t be his, they would be mine, and recognizing that brings some grace.

          • cassander says:

            @Thegnskald

            >We shouldn’t keep people alive against their wishes. We also shouldn’t keep people alive when they cannot express their wishes anymore, a situation I saw with my grandmother, who was robbed of her volition by Alzheimer’s, and who I regard as fortunate in having a family that wasn’t intent on keeping a shade haunted in her final year by loved ones fifty years dead in this world.

            “Their wishes” can be tricky. How much of you desire to stay alive is motivated by the desire not to leave the people you care about? Surviving spouse syndrome is a real thing.

        • cassander says:

          If there were a few simple, painless changes that would save hundreds of billions, they’d probably have been implemented a long time ago. The truth is that the american healthcare “system” is a horrendous mess of conflicting mandates, subsidies, and programs, many of which work at cross purposes and almost all of which create bad incentives. Untangling the mess is difficult and threatens the ricebowls of tens of millions of people. There are no silver bullets, just peeling back layer after layer of kludge.

          • If there were a few simple changes that did not require much agreement or cooperation they would have been made by now. Fixing something socio political isnt like fixing code.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It doesn’t look like we are doing anything like peeling layers of kludge off, but slathering more on. We’re stuck in a local politicsl maximum that is quite terrible, and changes tend to make things worse rather than better.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Thegnskald

            It’s worse than that. Doing nothing ALSO makes things worse.

            (Did I mention I’m a pessimist?)

          • cassander says:

            @Thegnskald says:

            >It doesn’t look like we are doing anything like peeling layers of kludge off, but slathering more on. We’re stuck in a local politicsl maximum that is quite terrible, and changes tend to make things worse rather than better.

            I agree completely.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      My alternative to the mess we have now is a free market system, with medical welfare for those who can’t afford it. Welfare for medical reasons is necessarily a different animal from regular welfare, where you pay each person a certain amount each month. For medical welfare, a new agency would need to be set up to be vet the expenses of those on the welfare. This would be complicated and expensive, but less so than what we have now. And then most people in the country could treat their medical expenses like every other expense they have now, like food, lodging, and transportation.

      What the US had prior to ObamaCare was not free market, of course. To get the true benefit of the free market for those not on welfare, insurance would need to be de-regulated and tax benefits trashed, medical services de-regulated and tax benefits trashed there too, and drugs de-regulated. Well, each of these alone would benefit the country, but all of them would benefit it the most.

  9. NIP says:

    Would anyone like to have a discussion about Neal Stephenson’s essay/book “In the Beginning Was the Command Line?”

    I re-read it recently (the first time was during a brief fling with trying to learn to code, but it turns out I’m pretty dumb) and was again struck by the prescience of a lot of the ideas and concepts he discussed, and the lucidity with which he explained them. While ostensibly the subject of his essay is the history of computer-human interfaces (the titular Command Line and Graphical User Interfaces, respectively) he manages to relate and interweave it with so many other topics that by the time I finished my mind was buzzing. I couldn’t decide which of his insights I felt to be the most significant. All of them seem to me to have critical importance in understanding not just computers and how we interact with them, but the whole modern world. Not only that, but a lot of the ideas he talks about back in 1999 seemed to have cropped up again in the minds of other heterodox thinkers who, even if they’ve read his work, may have forgotten that Neal seems to have predicted the future.

    Did anyone else who has read it feel the same way? What was your favorite inisight, or the one you found the most significant? I personally can hardly choose just one, but to start us off, I love how he relates GUIs to Disney’s “mediated experiences” and how a lot of assumptions can be smuggled through the backdoors of people’s mind’s when they consume cultural products, which can then cause conflict. Literature, he argues, is explicit and allows engagement and argument, much like a command line interface; while works of art like Disney’s “Maharajah Jungle Trek”, which are passively experienced by millions, can’t be argued with or engaged, and can’t be credited to a single person’s ideas. (He also uses the example of American television and film, which is so widely consumed that many people in foreign countries believe they have Miranda rights.) In that way, they are a sort of filter, like a GUI, a layer of abstraction between a person and a world which is no doubt much more complicated than the abstraction makes it seem. Moreover, he argues that culture in this abstracted form can be used as a sort of weapon to pacify people and turn them into “feckless” human beings who are used to having their thinking done for them by intellectuals. He goes on to explain that this kind of thing is recognized as a sort of cultural imperialism by traditional cultures:

    “A huge, rich, nuclear-tipped culture that propagates its core values through media steepage seems like a bad idea. There is an obvious risk of running astray here. Words are the only immutable medium we have, which is why they are the vehicle of choice for extremely important concepts like the Ten Commandments, the Koran, and the Bill of Rights. Unless the messages conveyed by our media are somehow pegged to a fixed, written set of precepts, they can wander all over the place and possibly dump loads of crap into people’s minds.

    Orlando used to have a military installation called McCoy Air Force Base, with long runways from which B-52s could take off and reach Cuba, or just about anywhere else, with loads of nukes. But now McCoy has been scrapped and repurposed. It has been absorbed into Orlando’s civilian airport. The long runways are being used to land 747-loads of tourists from Brazil, Italy, Russia and Japan, so that they can come to Disney World and steep in our media for a while.

    To traditional cultures, especially word-based ones such as Islam, this is infinitely more threatening than the B-52s ever were. It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords, multiculturalism and diversity, are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or “honoring diversity” or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop judging each other-to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.

    The lesson most people are taking home from the Twentieth Century is that, in order for a large number of different cultures to coexist peacefully on the globe (or even in a neighborhood) it is necessary for people to suspend judgment in this way. Hence (I would argue) our suspicion of, and hostility towards, all authority figures in modern culture. As David Foster Wallace has explained in his essay “E Unibus Pluram,” this is the fundamental message of television; it is the message that people take home, anyway, after they have steeped in our media long enough. It’s not expressed in these highfalutin terms, of course. It comes through as the presumption that all authority figures–teachers, generals, cops, ministers, politicians–are hypocritical buffoons, and that hip jaded coolness is the only way to be.

    The problem is that once you have done away with the ability to make judgments as to right and wrong, true and false, etc., there’s no real culture left. All that remains is clog dancing and macrame. The ability to make judgments, to believe things, is the entire it point of having a culture. I think this is why guys with machine guns sometimes pop up in places like Luxor, and begin pumping bullets into Westerners. They perfectly understand the lesson of McCoy Air Force Base. When their sons come home wearing Chicago Bulls caps with the bills turned sideways, the dads go out of their minds.”

    There’s not much I can add to that. He goes on to sort of waffle and hedge and say that maybe such cultural influence has its good sides, but he doesn’t sound nearly as convincing when he does. What are your thoughts, SSCers? Or we could discuss any other ideas or passages you like, it’s all the same to me. It’s an intensely fascinating work, all around.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      I think my favorite part of that is the description of the Linux salesperson next to his yurt:

      Hacker with bullhorn: “Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!”

      Prospective station wagon buyer: “I know what you say is true…but…er…I don’t know how to maintain a tank!”

      Bullhorn: “You don’t know how to maintain a station wagon either!”

      Buyer: “But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to elevator music.”

      Bullhorn: “But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!”

      Buyer: “Stay away from my house, you freak!”

      Which was probably the best description of why Linux never really got popular for home users I’ve ever read.

      • NIP says:

        I thought that was pretty funny, too. Though as a non-tech-savvy pleb who only recently made the transition from Windows to Linux, I have to say that even the most “user-friendly” Linux distros and community resources can be quite intimidating to newcomers. There’s a lot of assumptions that Linux makes of your intelligence and ambition that frankly, isn’t there for everybody.

        That being said, I’ve pretty much fallen in love with Linux since reading Neal’s book-length endorsement of it, even if, like in any good relationship, it sometimes drives me nuts.

      • John Schilling says:

        “But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!”

        Was this ever really true? Because the bit where I get manuals on tank maintenance written by and for professional mechanics left on my doorstep with random sticky-notes and highlighting, isn’t nearly as useful.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Exactly this was, indeed, my #1 objection to this essay when I read it.

          The quoted bit not only has never been true, it’s so much the opposite of the truth (and so obviously, pervasively so) that I have a hard time seeing how it constitutes anything other than a blatant, knowing lie.

          Edit: In fact, when I read Stephenson’s essay (a while back), this part angered me so much that I want to comment a bit.

          (disclosure: have CS background myself, write software for a living, have worked in tech support for many years also)

          The quoted objection—that Linux does not come with any guarantee of support, or any reliable support at all, or (often) any support whatsoever (because posting “I have this problem” on a forum and being told to RTFM is not “support”), and that the investment of time, effort, and willingness-to-waste-time-dealing-with-problems-yourself required to use it as your OS of choice for general productivity is massive—is probably the single most serious objection to using Linux as a consumer (including “power user”) OS.

          Again: this is a really serious, consequential issue, and one which is not incidental but rather is fundamental to what Linux is and how it gets created, maintained, etc. It doesn’t go away no matter how many of Linux’s virtues one enumerates (and it certainly has many virtues).

          And rather than engaging with that issue, rather than seriously grappling with it or even acknowledging that it exists, Stephenson chooses to breezily dismiss it with an insulting caricature of the hypothetical objector, which paints anyone who thinks this is a problem as a brainless consumerist sheep.

          The sheer scope of the intellectual dishonesty that this displays is, quite frankly, staggering.

          • Iain says:

            Agreed. As much as I love Linux (and I’ve been using it on personal laptops for over a decade now), John Schilling’s metaphor is a lot closer to reality than Neil Stephenson’s.

          • NIP says:

            Yeah, I have to agree as well. Neal was pretty damn glib about how great Linux is and how dumb you’d have to be not to use it, a fact which I only found out after having plugged in the live USB. It was an adventure, to be sure, even if it was only Mint (aka “babby’s first Linux distro”.)

            …and those guys telling you to install Gentoo? They’re just bastards.

            I don’t know what the impediment to all these intelligent volunteers trying to make Linux more accessible to normies is, but they’d be better served by packaging their distros with an “Intro to CS 101” than by all their evangalizing about “muh freedoms”.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @NIP:

            This is a total tangent now, but for what it’s worth, I’ve found that the best Linux experience by far (especially for the purposes of playing around with it to learn the ropes) is running it in a VM (I use VMWare Fusion on the Mac for this, personally). I’ve got a couple of VMs—one with Ubuntu, one with Mint—and it’s really quite pleasant. (I use them to test that my websites will work right on Linux browsers.)

          • Jiro says:

            Although Windows normally doesn’t come with any support either.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Jiro –

            Windows tries to be easy to use.

            To a significant extent, the attitude of Linux people is that you should be able to maintain your own operating system, and that everybody should be willing to use a command line.

            (It has gotten better, granted, but over the same time, Windows and Apple OSes have gotten better as well, and so still significantly lead in usability)

            Linux is a fine operating system, it just isn’t nearly as easy to use as the commercial alternatives, and not many people are so ideologically committed to anti-commercialism as to sacrifice ease of use.

            I could also comment on the failure of open source to live up to its ideals – the people most likely to look for security holes, as it transpires, seem to be those looking to exploit them.

          • John Schilling says:

            To a significant extent, the attitude of Linux people is that you should be able to maintain your own operating system, and that everybody should be willing to use a command line.

            The operative word there being “attitude”, in the pejorative sense.

            If I gave ten thousand top Linux gurus a custom OS with all the capability, cruft, and features of a full recent Linux distro, written in undocumented assembly code, how many do you think would be able to reliably maintain it?

            Willingness to use a command line is not the limiting factor. Lots of people who are willing to use command lines, are unwilling to use Linux. I’m on the edge myself, by now. Because the biggest part of “maintaining your own operating system”, even if it is an operating system you actually wrote yourself, and even if you are perfectly comfortable with command lines, is the documentation. The documentation for Linux distros is increasingly inadequate for anyone who isn’t a full-time professional.

            And this goes beyond Linux, but a forum where a community of nerds might offer three or four possible answers to your question if you phrase it in a manner that makes you seem worth their attention, is not a substitute for proper documentation. Even for me, and I’m fluent in nerd (albeit not the CS dialect).

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Some of my thoughts on this essay are in my reply to John Schilling, below. That aside, I just want to comment that Stephenson later said the following:

      I embraced OS X as soon as it was available and have never looked back. So a lot of In the Beginning…was the Command Line is now obsolete. I keep meaning to update it, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to say this is unlikely.[1]

      (OS X is, of course, very much a GUI-based OS.)

      So it seems the railing against GUIs was, perhaps, a bit misplaced. Insofar as your thinking about the issues you discuss in your comment is informed by the GUI analogy, might that thinking also need to be re-examined? I don’t know.

      That said, I actually agree with your general perspective on culture. (And I think these points can be made, and perhaps made better, without this sort of analogical thinking.)

      • NIP says:

        >”I embraced OS X as soon as it was available and have never looked back. So a lot of In the Beginning…was the Command Line is now obsolete. I keep meaning to update it, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to say this is unlikely.”

        That two-timing bastard – after he roped so many people into Linux! Including me!

        In defense of Stephenson’s railing against GUIs, though, he does try to make a few arguments in favor of them. Or, at least, he tries to explain why they’re never going away. As to how that relates to his arguments on culture that may have affected my own views, I noted to myself while reading that he at one point compares his Disney themepark analogy to medieval cathedrals; and I realized that implicit cultural osmosis/conditioning is just a thing all cultures do and have always done. I believe the point Stephenson was trying to make, and the one I’d agree moreso with, is that this type of conditioning is now occurrring on a scale and speed never before seen, across national boundaries, and the consequences are as yet unforeseen. In addition, the *type* of cultural conditioning now ongoing is almost a sort of anti-culture; as Stephenson noted, it’s less cultural imperialism and more like cultural nihilism, blurring distinctions and creating very jaded, “feckless” individuals amendable to globalist consumer culture.

        So the problem is not mediated experiences/GUI per se, but reckless use of them to smuggle crappy ideas into people’s heads without allowing for engagement and argument at the individual level. At least, I think that was his point.

        >I think these points can be made, and perhaps made better, without this sort of analogical thinking

        Probably, but simple-minded folks like myself will always love analogies.

  10. onyomi says:

    Good article in favor of niceness and community and the value of tolerating actual diversity of opinion. Especially liked:

    But what we see in the debate about the ACA is that different factions saw it as being about different things. Not only did they disagree about what policy they should choose, but they disagreed about what kinds of evidence is relevant, what kinds of values are at play, and how those values are expressed or embodied by particular parts of the ACA.

    The solutions to our very real problems are hidden in bits and pieces across all of the many different factions and perspectives that make up our societies. We ought, then, to be focusing on better ways of drawing from these disparate factions and taking advantage of our disagreements, so that we can together come up with better solutions.

    Due to the conceded inevitability of factionalism, I am still skeptical that any unit of political organization should be near so large as the US, but I think he offers a more compelling case than most that “diversity makes us stronger, not weaker.”

    • NIP says:

      Didn’t seem that compelling a case to me.

      The fact is that there are such things as irreconcilable differences. He said himself that factions can’t agree that the same issues are even problems at all. It’s even worse than a difference in material interests, it’s a difference in worldview and morality. To use the ever-popular subject of abortion, there is no possible world in the mind of a pro-choice person where any restriction on the availability of abortion is just; any compromise on that is merely a holding action until the ignorance of pro-lifers can be “educated” out of them (or more easily, their children.) Conversely, there is no world in the mind of a pro-life person where making abortion available on demand is just; any compromise is just a defensive retreat until the forces of moral decency make a comeback. There is no compromise. There cannot be in issues of right and wrong. The same goes for almost any other issue on his little chart. In every case, the grave moral injustice of one faction is considered to be merely irrational hysteria by the other.

      I share your skepticism that any polity the size of the U.S. should even be allowed to exist. The only solution in my mind is partition. One set of laws for one faction, a different one for another.

      • Spookykou says:

        What do you mean by ‘no possible world’?

        My understand of the pro-choice opposition to any and all restrictions on abortion, is that there are already a lot of social and regulatory restrictions on abortion that result in some number of people who would want to have an abortion being ‘unable’ to have one. As such, any policy that seems to make getting an abortion harder is seen as an unnecessary evil. It is not that they actually think that getting an abortion should be a painfully easy and trivial decision.

        A possible world, where none of these social or regulatory restrictions exist and nobody thinks that anybody who wants an abortion has any problem getting an abortion, a world where getting an abortion is easier both socially and regulatorily than getting a tattoo, is I imagine a world where some number of in our world, pro-choice people might be more amenable to arguments that getting an abortion should be harder than getting a tattoo.

        However, the pro-life position is simply that abortion is wrong, so outside of very fringe cases where carrying the pregnancy to term is likely to kill both mother and child, I don’t think any amount of social agreement on the issue would change their policy positions.

        Edit *Tattoo might be a bad example, where I live there is almost no social stigma about Tattoos but that is not I think generalizable to the broader united states/world.

        • Randy M says:

          However, the pro-life position is simply that abortion is wrong, so outside of very fringe cases where carrying the pregnancy to term is likely to kill both mother and child, I don’t think any amount of social agreement on the issue would change their policy positions.

          There are pro-choice factions, or at least pro-choice rhetoric, with equal absolutism. “My body, my choice” implies that no government regulation on medical issues is justified.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am certainly willing to accept that there are people who hold that position, and even that there are people who would hold that opinion in my hypothetical, but do you disagree with my characterization of the broader pro-choice movements motivation for objecting to policies that make it more difficult for women to get abortions?

            Edit: I am just trying to draw a distinction between the pro-choice position that is motivated by a lack of social agreement, and the pro-life position that is more directly motivated by the object level issue of having abortions or not having abortions.

          • Randy M says:

            Let me only venture that those who are activists tend to take an absolutist position based on principles and not numbers on the margins. If a pro-life law was shown to have literally no effect, I think it would face no less opposition nor support.

            edit: Very similar to the discussion in the last thread on how slavery would be completely unacceptable; I think they see the issue similarly.

        • NIP says:

          >What do you mean by ‘no possible world’?

          In the context of the article that onyomi linked, the author was arguing that the different perspectives of factions in a liberal democracy can be brought together to find common solutions to problems, which is to say that in his mind, there is a world in which everyone gets to have their cake and eat it. I’m saying that such a world doesn’t exist in the minds of the people who would be having these theoretical dialogues.

          >any policy that seems to make getting an abortion harder is seen as an unnecessary evil. It is not that they actually think that getting an abortion should be painfully easy and trivial decision.

          This is the argument of *some* pro-choice activists, not all. But even if nobody was making the argument that abortions should be easy and trivial, the logic used to justify abortions even in these limited cases is, from a pro-life point of view, completely arbitrary. Perhaps, as you say, in a theoretical world in which getting an abortion were as easy as getting a tattoo, pro-choice people might actually be amendable to some restrictions. Even so, that is immaterial to the pro-life side. As you note, to them, it’s simply murder. No amount of consensus from the rest of society would change their positions. Irreconcilable differences.

          • Spookykou says:

            I see, I didn’t read the article so I was simply responding to the hypothetical you put forward as I understood it. If the ‘possible world’ requires that we still have wide spread social disagreement about the issue, then I agree that policy compromise would be difficult if not impossible for either side of the issue.

      • onyomi says:

        I agree that the second half of the article, in which he proposes what to me is the novel connection between Hayekian “wisdom of crowds” and “diversity” (that is, that a diversity of opinion creates more “wise” crowds), felt like a bit of a non sequitur relative to the first half of the article, in which he points out all the reasons for inevitable factionalism, including actual differences of terminal values, as opposed to just differing ideas about how to get where we all, theoretically, want to go. It feels a bit like two halves of two good articles cut and pasted together such that conclusion doesn’t quite follow, but I liked the Hayekian connection enough to post it.

        One good thing about being an anarchocapitalist is that I get to dodge the question of how much diversity (of thought, of culture, of skin tone) is ideal for allowing a wide range of ideas without creating irreconcilable differences. For me, the right level is whatever level people moving, interacting, and organizing freely would arrive at, with people tending to join factions and legal systems which seem to “work” for them and to leave those which don’t. My guess is that the ideal level is probably somewhat more diverse than Japan and less diverse than the US, and that the ideal polity size is probably closer to Singapore than the Russian Federation.

        • NIP says:

          >For me, the right level is whatever level people moving, interacting, and organizing freely would arrive at, with people tending to join factions and legal systems which seem to “work” for them and to leave those which don’t. My guess is that the ideal level is probably somewhat more diverse than Japan and less diverse than the US, and that the ideal polity size is probably closer to Singapore than the Russian Federation.

          I think you just turned me into an anarchocapitalist by accident (assuming that’s all you need to believe to be one).

          But in all seriousness, I’m very frustrated by the weird double-bind we seem to be in the U.S. where our establishment works for diversity, but then tyranically binds all these diverse elements tightly together in a sack made of federal and state legislation, and periodically hits them with a stick to keep them angry at each other. Like Neal Stephenson said in a quote in my own OP further up:

          “It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords, multiculturalism and diversity, are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or “honoring diversity” or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop judging each other – to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.”

          and:

          “The lesson most people are taking home from the Twentieth Century is that, in order for a large number of different cultures to coexist peacefully on the globe (or even in a neighborhood) it is necessary for people to suspend judgment in this way.”

          I don’t think it is ever good or necessary for people to suspend their judgement, even if they’re all trapped in a metaphorical sack together and would come to blows otherwise. As Ken Watanabe said in Godzilla: “Let them fight!” Either that, or let them go their seperate ways!

          • Anonymousse says:

            In The Diamond Age, he goes on to discuss how this leads to hypocrisy being the ultimate vice. If your beliefs cannot be judged, the only judgment left is of how well you adhere to these stated beliefs.

            Quote is a bit long, but it’s included here.

          • Anonymousse says:

            Stephenson discusses how this leads to hypocrisy being the ultimate vice in The Diamond Age. When you can’t judge the beliefs, you can only judge one’s adherence to their beliefs.

            Quote is a bit long, but included here (just the first google link that includes it).

          • Anonymousse says:

            Stephenson discusses how this leads to hypocrisy being the ultimate vice in The Diamond Age. If you can’t judge the belief, you can only judge one’s adherence to their beliefs.

            Tried to post a link, but it didn’t get through. The relevant passage is an easy google search away. In fact, I’ve seen it posted here before!

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m very frustrated by the weird double-bind we seem to be in the U.S. where our establishment works for diversity, but then tyranically binds all these diverse elements tightly together in a sack made of federal and state legislation,

            The US establishment, and the establishment of western countries generally, is only really interested in the LETELU (looks exotic, thinks exactly like us) type of diversity.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I think you would enjoy The Tyranny of the Ideal. The author is a liberal but he makes similar points to you using what could be called a “Hayekian framework.” For what it’s worth, I think “Freedom of Ideology” is probably the best argument in favor of libertarianism.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        What exactly do we mean by “irreconcilable”? Abortion is apparently not an irreconcilable difference in the United States, since the United States is not engaged in a civil war over abortion.

        You implicitly define irreconcilable differences as “there is no compromise that would be considered just by all”, but that is the case as soon as two people (1) disagree and (2) follow maximizing moral systems like utilitarianism.

        • NIP says:

          >Abortion is apparently not an irreconcilable difference in the United States, since the United States is not engaged in a civil war over abortion

          I don’t see how that follows. Civil war isn’t the only outcome of irreconcilable differences; politics is another (the corrolary of Clausewitz’s famous maxim being “Politics is war by other means.) The current legislation on abortion isn’t the result of compromise, but judicial fiat. Those on the pro-life side did not compromise, they lost a battle. With Trump set to appoint at least one conservative justice, there is a faint glimmer of hope, no matter how remote, that they can win the next one.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            Sorry, I was unclear. The point of my second paragraph is that there is no such thing as a compromise that everyone agrees with, so there is no method to arrive at agreements between more than one person other than politics. In other words there is no meaningful distinction between the kind of compromise that can actually exist, and the outcome of a “battle.”

            (By the way, Clausewitz’s maxim is that “War is politics by other means,” which carries the opposite connotation of yours. In either formulation though, it is a silly maxim. In almost all real decisions there is a salient moral difference between pursuing war and pursuing politics.)

          • NIP says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog

            >By the way, Clausewitz’s maxim is that “War is politics by other means,” which carries the opposite connotation of yours

            I know what the original maxim is. What I wrote, if you’ll read it again, was:

            “the *corrolary* of Clausewitz’s famous maxim [is] ‘Politics is war by other means.'”

            Which is basic logic.

            >In almost all real decisions there is a salient moral difference between pursuing war and pursuing politics

            I respectfully disagree. In both war and politics, the eventual goal is to force your will on an (initially) unwilling party. If your will is morally wrong, then the result (even a compromise) is an injustice whether it is achieved by war or politics. Only the methods involved are different.

          • onyomi says:

            I agree that the corollary of the Clausewitz maxim is much more interesting (because arguably less obvious but no less true), at least in the developed world, today.

            This article proposes that no nation state need be larger than an urban “megaregion.” I am inclined to agree. That is, everyone talks about compromise as if it is an obviously desirable end, but I think compromise is desirable only insofar as it prevents a win-lose/lose-win dynamic. If there is a way for you to get 100% of what you want and me to get 100% of what I want, that is better than compromise (this will not, of course, entirely satisfy those who think they know better than others what is good for them, but screw those guys).

            The bigger and more diverse the nation state the more compromises will be necessary to prevent societal breakdown. The question is, is the tradeoff in bigness worth it? So far as I can tell, there aren’t a lot of advantages to being bigger than a “megaregion” beyond, perhaps, an increased ability to fight off, deter, or, more likely, bully other incorporated megaregion federations.

            But the ability to be the world’s policeman is not worth all the awfulness of US politics to me. As for deterrence, I think most, if not all US megaregions, by way of treaty, perhaps, with other megaregions, would be able to muster the resources to mount effective deterrence without otherwise being politically incorporated.

            Re. the Hayekian idea, I think it has some merit, but I think a country the size of the USA has long passed the “gain efficiency and effectiveness through the wisdom of crowds/economies of scale” point, and well into the “incredibly unwieldy and every solution is way, way sub-optimal due to exigencies of coalition politics” range.

        • Tracy W says:

          There are countries that are not the USA. In NZ abortion is illegal except on the grounds of the health of the mother. Health grounds include mental health. So basically if you want an abortion you can have one. Legally.

          There is a small firmly anti-abortion contingent that protests the number of abortions that happen, and some posters here and there, but on the whole life goes on.

    • Aapje says:

      @onyomi

      I would argue that there are costs and benefits to diversity, so you have an optimal amount of diversity, where you have enough diversity to have lots of creative problem solving, but not so much diversity that it becomes impossible to create laws without many people becoming deeply unhappy because their core values are being violated. When that happens, you actually get people talking completely past each other. I feel that the article doesn’t recognize that its solution (we need people to work together on optimal solutions) is jeopardized exactly because there is a lot/too much diversity.

      In general, I think that many anti-nationalists don’t understand that you need nationalism (as in: creating a ingroup feeling among most citizens and substantial agreement on terminal values) to make a big government* work.

      I also believe that the article fails to distinguish between various forms of diversity, even though this is important. Differences in terminal values are very different from differences in what solutions people think will work best. The latter are far easier to overcome than the former and even more importantly, differences in terminal values don’t improve the capability for good decision making, they just make it harder to find broadly accepted solutions. If you have one solution that objectively maximizes the outcome for the terminal values of group A and another solution that objectively maximizes the outcome for the terminal value of group B, then a compromise solution will merely sacrifice a bit of the outcome for each group to preserve unity. Neither group will be better off for making concessions to the other, so they need to be convinced to sacrifice a bit of their terminal values (this is why nationalists tend to favor creating an artificial ingroup feeling shared by all citizens, for instance, by teaching national myths).

      This is very different from having people prefer competing solutions, because dogmatic beliefs about which solutions work best can be overcome by listening to people with other solutions. In principle, you can do things like testing out both solutions or creating compromise solutions that take the best from each approach, to make laws that are better for everyone. So in theory, you can get people to make concessions about solutions, without requiring things like an artificial ingroup feeling (but in practice, this is usually not true, because many solutions cannot be objectively assessed very well).

      * Probably anything bigger than a village.

      • NIP says:

        >Differences in terminal values are very different from differences in what solutions people think will work best. The latter are far easier to overcome than the former and even more importantly, differences in terminal values don’t improve the capability for good decision making, they just make it harder to find broadly accepted solutions.

        +1 for wording what I was trying to say much better than I possibly could.

    • Moon says:

      “The solutions to our very real problems are hidden in bits and pieces across all of the many different factions and perspectives that make up our societies. We ought, then, to be focusing on better ways of drawing from these disparate factions and taking advantage of our disagreements, so that we can together come up with better solutions.”

      This is very interesting, and I think true. However, it is incredibly hard to do in the current polarized tribalized situation of the U.S. When people’s tribal identity is based more on bashing the opposite tribe than on one’s own tribe’s values, beliefs, ideas for policy etc., then that throws a wrench in the works. E.g. consider that rather large group of Trump supporters who were highly enthusiastic about chanting “Lock her up” about the other party’s candidate who had been proven guilty of nothing illegal. Trump voters who were way more enthusiastic about that, and about bashing other liberals, than they were about anything Trump had to say.

      When people vote an “Eff you vote” toward the other side, rather than actually believing in their candidate and his platform, you have a whole other situation there.

      • Urstoff says:

        Right. We’ve moved past any willingness to engage with others to a frothing, zero-sum view of politics: any compromise is viewed as losing, and it’s more important to win than to do what’s best for the public.

        I don’t think differences in terminal values are insurmountable if there is a willingness to engage in dialogue and come to a compromise, but that’s certainly not the socio-political environment we currently live in (did we ever live in such an environment?).

        • Matt M says:

          “and it’s more important to win than to do what’s best for the public.”

          This kind of phrasing bugs me, because this isn’t how any person actually thinks. Both sides think that their side winning IS what’s best for the public.

          • Urstoff says:

            Yes, but winning is not always possible. It seems to me that they’d rather fight to win no matter how small the chance than reach a much more probable compromise.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, I think your true disagreement then is with their assessment of the probability of victory for their side.

            It sounds like you are accusing them of acting in bad faith. Of saying/thinking “yes a compromise would surely be better for most people but I want to get my way so no compromise ever!” That is not the thought process involved.

          • Urstoff says:

            I don’t think there’s a thought process to it at all. Tribalism prevents any rational consideration of compromise from even coming up.

          • TenMinute says:

            reach a much more probable compromise.

            For a compromise to be profitable, you need to trust the other party not to simply betray you.
            Do you trust the other side that much? I don’t.

        • NIP says:

          >I don’t think differences in terminal values are insurmountable if there is a willingness to engage in dialogue and come to a compromise

          I’m curious; could you give a hypothetical example of such a compromise in terminal values?

          • Urstoff says:

            The compromise isn’t in the terminal values, but in the expected outcome. Like any compromise you choose a second best option because it is more achievable than the best option. That’s the nature of compromise, right?

            A compromise on abortion might look something like the pro-life side accepting the day after pill and the pro-choice side accepting that all non-abortion options (e.g., adoption) must be exhausted before aborting a fetus after, say, 20 weeks of pregnancy. Neither is optimal, but it could be a stable equilibrium that’s better than the other side getting everything they want.

          • Aapje says:

            @Urstoff

            Yes, but the question is why people would be willing to do this. One reason is ‘power,’ but there is a problem when the balance of power changes over time. In that case, the political groups have a strong incentive to wait with compromising until their power is maximal, but then the other side has minimal power, so they don’t want to. So you will have a permanent stalemate.

            It’s even worse when parties can get absolute power, sometimes, because then they will be incentivized to push through all their desires during a period when they rule and block all attempts at push back when they aren’t.

            The US system also has the fun feature where gaining control of the supreme court can give you the ability to ignore democracy and push through major reforms without compromising (which the American left used very effectively for abortion, minority rights, etc). The downside is that this causes even more ‘might is right’ politics where people focus on outflanking each other, rather than normal politics of debating and finding compromises.

          • NIP says:

            @Urstoff

            >The compromise isn’t in the terminal values, but in the expected outcome. Like any compromise you choose a second best option because it is more achievable than the best option. That’s the nature of compromise, right?

            That is indeed the nature of compromise, but I’d argue that it’s also the nature of terminal values that they can never be voluntarily compromised. They’re always going to be in the nature of a cease-fire; one side gains the upper hand, but doesn’t have the power or will to finish the job. Certain thinkers have even suggested that in recent history, these “compromises” only ever go one way.

          • Moon says:

            The problem includes unwillingness to compromise, but also includes much more. When you hate the other side more than you like your own side, and you are convinced that the other side is evil, maybe even the Anti-Christ, and that the other side is stupid and weak also, you can’t even hear or consider for a moment what the other side has to say.

            You can’t even have a discussion with your ears and eyes open, in that condition. As you “listen”, you are only waiting your turn to speak, while you construct your argument against the evil stupid weak ones. Every conversation with the “enemy” tribe turns into one in which your arguments consist entirely of bulverism.

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

            I learned about that term recently, at this site. Wonderful term, especially as it is so very common in the U.S. today. On line political discussions are usually chock full of it.

            Learnings like this are what keep me coming back here, despite the many problems I have experienced here, due to being one of those rare liberals who stands up for myself, rather than acting as a door mat.

      • cassander says:

        >“Lock her up” about the other party’s candidate who had been proven guilty of nothing illegal.

        Do you consider that those trump supporters are morally different from these people?

        If not why not? If so, does that have any impact whatsoever on your off stated belief that only republicans are tribal?

  11. Mark says:

    I’m wondering if anti-Islam propagandists aren’t missing a trick.

    The rise of Trump, to some extent, demonstrated that if we vilify someone, it makes them appealing to our enemies.

    It would have been far more effective to try to make Trump look like more of the same, all mouth no trousers, a hypocritical politician, rather than the devil incarnate.

    Anyway. Islam.
    Anti-Islamites are always going on about how Islam is the worst thing ever created and completely outside of the norm of human behaviour, which (1) sounds kind of stupid to anyone who isn’t rabidly anti-Islamic and (2) probably makes it more exciting than it actually is.
    They’d be better off adopting the narrative presented by Tom Holland in ‘In the Shadow of the Sword’, that Islam was essentially a hodge-podge continuation of the Roman Empire and Zorastorian Persia, and that the Umayyads, the progenitors of the Islamic empire, were originally Roman clients, in much the same vein as the Goths.

    • Moon says:

      Maybe that–hodge-podge continuation of the Roman Empire and Zorastorian Persia– makes sense to some intellectuals. But most people aren’t intellectuals.

      The case with Trump was not just that villifying him made him more attractive to voters, in this particular presidential campaign. The Republican party and Right Wing media have spent decades pushing voters to reject establishment politicians. Trump benefited from many decades of propaganda to that effect. Vilifying your enemy might not have much effect, unless most people have already agreed for decades that you– in this case, the political establishment– are the real enemy.

      Article below describes the decades long campaign to bash the political establishment.

      http://www.vox.com/2016/5/6/11598838/donald-trump-predictions-norm-ornstein

      • Mark says:

        Interesting! Maybe I’ve just been completely manipulated (entirely likely), but I feel like it’s better to be wary of power than not.

        I think that suspicion of power shouldn’t be beneficial to the right.

        The problem with Trump isn’t that we’re too wary of power – it’s that we were tricked into believing he’d undermine existing power structures.

      • Well... says:

        So? Just drop the proper nouns:

        “Islam is a hodgepodge of a bunch of older religions and exhibits the worst tendencies of all of them. [list a few of these]”

    • Matt M says:

      “They’d be better off adopting the narrative presented by Tom Holland in ‘In the Shadow of the Sword’, that Islam was essentially a hodge-podge continuation of the Roman Empire and Zorastorian Persia, and that the Umayyads, the progenitors of the Islamic empire, were originally Roman clients, in much the same vein as the Goths.”

      I fell asleep halfway through this sentence. Good luck explaining THAT one to the average Trump voter…

      • Mark says:

        Islam is a copy. The guys who set it up were raiders paid by Rome. They copied their ideas from Rome and Persia, then turned on them.
        It’s like how the CIA funded al Qaeda and then you get Bin Laden. That’s the whole history of Islam! We just have to stop giving these guys money!

        • Matt M says:

          “They copied their ideas from Rome and Persia.”

          This is probably tricky because “western civilization” in most schools still draws a direct line of Greece-Rome-England-USA. If WE copied Rome, then surely Islam couldn’t have done so also. Persia may work better rhetorically, but most people have no idea what “Persia” is so I’m not sure it has any punch to it.

          Edit: Maybe producing a few more 300 sequels would help with this. To the extent that anyone knows about Persia it’s as the bad guys who got their asses kicked by a ragtag group of Spartan heroes.

          “It’s like how the CIA funded al Qaeda and then you get Bin Laden. ”

          This probably doesn’t fly in most red states still (although Trump has come close to it I think)

          “We just have to stop giving these guys money!”

          This one is largely in line with things Trump has in fact already said!

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            300 is the most repulsively fascist movie that I’ve seen, so I’m not sure that it will help with the ‘humanize these people’ agenda.

          • Mark says:

            OK – how’s this:
            Islam is a copy. The guys who set it up were raiders paid by Rome. They copied their ideas from Rome, then turned on them.
            They turned on them!
            It’s like how the USA gave all that money to those guys… we gave them so much money! Then you get Bin Laden. That’s the whole history of Islam! We just have to stop giving these guys money!

            Or maybe they can have a two tier program – assume that people with a modicum of interest in the origins of Islam aren’t complete poopy heads, and then just emphasise current problems for everyone else?

          • Spookykou says:

            @Aapje

            I could be wrong, but I think the purpose of the 300 sequels in Matt M’s comment is to dehumanize the Persian empire?

            Totally unrelated to the topic, but would you be willing to explain in more detail your views of the movie 300?

          • Mark says:

            @spookyou
            I think he was saying that nobody knows what Persia is except that it’s evil, so it doesn’t make any sense to say that Islam copied Persia if your agenda is to reduce the vilification of Islam.

            300 was pretty bad in the sense that the empire of Cyrus the Great (essentially the most inclusive and anti-slavery guy in the ancient world) was made to look like the monster slavery club, while the “free” spartans with their slavery and monstrous practices, were the Western supermen.

          • Aapje says:

            @Spookykou

            The argument was that we should make Islam acceptable by portraying it as a continuation of Persia. If you familiarize people with Persia as a state of horrible people (which the movie 300 did), that seems to defeat the purpose of this.

            As for 300: the movie essentially depicts the Nazi myth. You have the chiseled white Greeks vs the genetically impure Persians. The latter are poor fighters, but threaten to overwhelm the Greeks simply because they outnumber them (‘The Eternal Jew’ portrayed Jews as rats who outbreed the Aryans).

            Nevertheless, the Greeks can still stop the Persians if they come together as one. Unfortunately, the people in power (Ephors) refuse to mobilize the entire army against the Persians. The Ephors also happen to be horribly deformed (= Jews, who are in control) and get paid off by the Persians for doing this (so the Jews stabbed the Aryans in the back, which is the Nazi explanation for their loss in WW I & there is an international Jewish conspiracy).

            King Leonidas gathers 300 of the best (= most genetically pure) fighters and goes to war. Along the way, he encounters a deformed person (= genetically impure person = Jew) who was spared from being killed, which the movie shows was the Greek custom for deformed children. The deformed person asks to join the army, but is rejected by Leonidas for being unable to fight well (Jews have nothing to offer in the struggle for survival). The deformed person instead goes to the Persians and betrays the Greeks by divulging a secret path that can be used to encircle the Greeks (‘stabbed in the back by the Jews’ story number 2). The battle then happens and the Greeks would have won, if they had not been encircled due to the betrayal by the genetically impure person (Jew).

            Just imagine what would have happened if the deformed traitor (Jew) had been killed after birth (and the Ephors)! Leonidas and his Aryan band of brothers would have won. Alas, they didn’t kill all Jews, so they lost.

            So, this is why I object to the message of the movie, which is: you need to make the sacrifice of killing all genetically impure people (= holocaust), even if you feel sympathetic to them, because they have no compassion with you and will cause you to lose everything if you don’t.

          • Spookykou says:

            So I think I maybe I understand my confusion.

            Your main post is supposed to be an alternative way for people to attack Islam that you think would be more effective.

            I thought the negative aspect of the word ‘copy’ was supposed to come from the fact that the thing they copied from was bad. So, load Persia with negative affect with a bunch of 300 sequels, Islam is just a copy of Persia, Islam is bad.

            Instead the negative aspect of the word ‘copy’ is…that Islam was financed by Persia/Rome and then turned on them?? I am not sure why the fact that Islam is a copy of Rome or Persia is relevant though?

            Isn’t the negative thing here (the way to attack Islam) just in showing that they have a history of biting the hand that feeds them, or something?

            As to 300, I am aware of the mischaracterization of Persia, but I didn’t connect that aspect of the film with the phrase ‘repulsively fascist’.

          • Nornagest says:

            Helots — the people on the lowest rung of the Spartan caste system — lived in a somewhat different condition than slaves in other Classical city-states, and some writers draw a distinction in kind. I think “serfs” is probably the right word; they were bound to the land rather than owned by individual Spartiates (though they could be assigned to them as servants), could not be bought or sold, and had to pay fixed tithes every harvest. All of that is pretty close to how a serf in central Europe 1500 years later might live.

            More generally, it’s probably a good idea to take depictions of the Spartans as straightforward bad guys with a grain of salt (though that’s not to say the Persians were bad guys either; even Herodotus, the main source for 300, is pretty sympathetic to them). They didn’t write much, and so most of our knowledge of them comes through their enemies. Even in cases where we’re reading writers from allied city-states, their cultural practices would have looked really weird and were probably distorted to some extent.

            Imagine you’re living in the year 3000 in a world where the Soviet Union won, and you’re trying to reconstruct the culture of ancient America. Except that instead of building skyscrapers and interstate highways and making durable books and video recordings, this America lived in styrofoam huts and recorded its entire cultural tradition on nitrocellulose filmreels that liked to dissolve or catch fire after a few decades. It’s kind of like that.

          • Aapje says:

            @Spookykou

            My mistake, I switched the argument around in my head (too much moving back and forth through the comments.)

          • Mark says:

            In the specific context of Islamic thought, and Western emotes, it could be particularly powerful.
            In general, I think that to say that something is unique gives it power. A copy is commonplace. Removes the mystique.

            If ancient Rome == Islam (in many respects) we’ve made our job of criticising it far easier. We all know that the Romans sucked for myriad reasons – Islam sucks for the same reasons.(We can criticise them because they are us? No kid gloves?)

            The thing about al Qaeda was really just a response to Matt M’s request for a trump friendly version.

          • Spookykou says:

            Maybe it just doesn’t resonate with me very well, I never thought of Islam as a unique or mysterious thing.

            Also, I am not sure how many people are both anti-Islam and know enough about Rome to actually have a very critical opinion of it? I thought the popular(popular culture) image of Rome was more good than bad?

          • Protagoras says:

            Not really true that most of our knowledge of Spartans comes from their enemies. There were a lot of Spartan fanboys all over Greece who thought their city could be great too if it were more like Sparta, and a decent amount of what we know of Sparta comes from the fanboys, not the critics.

          • Mark says:

            I guess what I’m saying is that “Islam is a historically situated and commonplace bad thing” is a better criticism than “Islam is an ahistorical anomaly of absolute evil” especially when Islam likes to view itself as a magical ahistorical conjuration.

          • Iain says:

            It all depends on who you are trying to convince. I would postulate that, for many of the most rabid anti-Islam voices, it’s less about convincing other members of society that Islam is bad, and more about convincing yourself that you are Defending Western Civilization from the Forces of Evil.

          • TenMinute says:

            Yes. If you don’t, you run the risk of noticing the real threats to our civilization. And if you get in trouble just for criticizing terrorism, imagine the consequences of trying to fight a group that really has power over you.

        • Islam is a copy. The guys who set it up were raiders paid by Rome.

          The guy who set it up wasn’t a raider paid by Rome, he was a trader working for a wealthy widow who eventually married her. The raiding when he was running things was mostly against the members of his tribe, the Quraysh, who had declined to accept his message from God and eventually tried to kill him (before he started raiding them).

          By the time the Muslims got to Byzantine and Sassanid territory it was as conquerors.

        • Deiseach says:

          Mark, I sincerely hope this is a tongue-in-cheek leg-pull and you are not remotely anywhere within an ass’s roar of suggesting this as an actual strategy.

          (1) Tell everyone Islam is only a copy.

          Duh, Dante for one got there before you; mediaeval European thought tended to treat Islam as a Christian/Christian-inspired heresy, which is why Dante puts Mohammed and his son-in-law Ali into the Malebolge of the Sowers of Discord in the Eighth Circle of Hell:

          While I was caught up in the sight of him,
          he looked at me and, with his hands, ripped apart
          his chest, saying: ‘See how I rend myself,

          ‘see how mangled is Mohammed!
          Ahead of me proceeds Alì, in tears,
          his face split open from his chin to forelock.

          ‘And all the others whom you see
          sowed scandal and schism while they lived,
          and that is why they here are hacked asunder.

          (2) Make Persia boring? You are going to make lamassu boring to me? 🙂 It must be the bones of thirty years since I heard Saeed Jaffrey recite a ghazal in Farsi on a BBC radio quiz and I thought it was one of the most beautiful languages I’d ever heard. (Don’t even talk to me about “300”, that was such a parody of everything and so shockingly deliberately bad on history even for a modern version of a ‘swords and sandals’ movie that I couldn’t watch it, not even for pretty men in barely nothing but red cloaks and sandals).

          (3) Even Chesterton in his poem “Lepanto”(and that is a poem that really needs to be recited aloud for the swing and rhythm of the language and the pleasure from the shapes of your tongue and mouth as you speak) makes it sound cool:

          Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
          (Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
          He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
          His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.
          He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
          And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,
          And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
          Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
          Giants and the Genii,
          Multiplex of wing and eye,
          Whose strong obedience broke the sky
          When Solomon was king.

          They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
          From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
          They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
          Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;
          On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
          Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
          They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
          They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
          And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
          And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
          And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
          For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
          We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
          Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,
          But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
          The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
          It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate ;
          It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!
          It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
          Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
          For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
          (Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
          Sudden and still—hurrah!
          Bolt from Iberia!
          Don John of Austria
          Is gone by Alcalar.

    • TenMinute says:

      Has anyone tried “Islamists are almost as evil as those horrible Christians we constantly call irredeemably evil” yet?

    • and that the Umayyads, the progenitors of the Islamic empire, were originally Roman clients

      How does one square that with the fact that Muawiya, the founder of the Omayyad dynasty, was governor of Syria before he became caliph–Syria having been recently conquered from the Romans (i.e. Byzantines)?

      • Mark says:

        I believe the argument is that the Qurayash were Roman clients situated somewhere near Syria, and that the familiarity of Muawiya with Syria is evidence of this relationship.

        The Umayyads, according to Muslim historians, were Qurayashis who had made a fortune trading with the Romans, and had then invested it in Syrian real estate: a tradition that would seem to indicate an origin, not in the depths of Arabia, but somewhere along the imperial frontier.

        • and that the familiarity of Muawiya with Syria is evidence of this relationship.

          His older brother was in command of the army occupying Syria, and when he died Muawiya took over. I’m not sure what that had to do with familiarity. Is the argument about the Umayyad family in particular or the Quraysh more generally?

          • Mark says:

            There is a tradition that the Umayyads in particular owned property in Syria and Holland argues that their familiarity with the area might have aided their success.

            More generally, for several reasons, he believes that the “Qurayash” might have been a “Qarisha” – a confederation – foederati.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Abstruse points of religious doctrine are not going to have any effect in a religious war; the other side’s footsoldiers don’t understand, because it’s in the interests of the guys running the other side that they don’t understand, and the guys running the other side don’t care, because it’s in their interests not to care.

      Painting Islamism as a boring nothing might have some effect in keeping the sort of losers who would join up with any violent countercultural idology from signing up with it, but your problem there is the enemy has a vote too. If Islamists are detonating themselves on buses every week your refrain of “No, really guys! They’re totally uninteresting and not especially evil! Stop looking!” is going to get you laughed out of office in a heartbeat because it is quite clearly not true.

      This is the sort of approach that got Bush and Obama in so much trouble dealing with the terrorism issue. They both thought that they had absolute freedom to spin a self-serving narrative about Islamist terrorism without anyone trying to contradict them, and they were both dreadfully wrong.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Is this targeting at the anti-Islam crowd, or the crowd who might potentially become Muslim terrorists? If the latter, why would this be any more effective than the “Religion of Peace” talk of the past decade? If the former, it will either be laughed off the same as “Religion of Peace” or become simply another barb to toss at Muslims, like some atheists do with Mithras against Christians.

  12. p duggie says:

    What do you think is going on with the high rate of Florida pedestrian deaths (by car) and the over-representation of Native Americans in pedestrian deaths in North Dakota

    • quanta413 says:

      Could you provide a source and more context please? I may look into this in more detail later but don’t have the time at the moment. Some random thoughts occur which should hopefully be falsifiable with data.

      1) Something about Floridas laws/signage/urban layout isn’t working as well as in other states.
      2) Native Americans live in areas with more car/pedestrian accidents. Urban/Suburban/Rural split maybe? I would have thought Native Americans were more likely to live in rural areas that had less accidents so the direction surprises me. But maybe the relevant factor is something else like drunk driving or reckless driving varying between areas. Do tribal areas have the same sort of highway patrols and coverage of the roads by patrols in time and space as the rest of the state?

    • JayT says:

      From the five minutes of googling I did, I see that North Dakota has one of the highest rates of drunk driving. Add in the high rates of alcoholism on reservations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the drunk driving rates on and near reservations were very high, leading to more accidents of all kinds. I’d have to research to see if that is true, but it seems reasonable.

      As for Florida, they actually have lower drunk driving rates, so maybe it has something to do with the high average age of the population? Older people tend to get in more accidents, and maybe older pedestrians aren’t as good at avoiding accidents? Most of the pedestrian deaths in Florida were people over 65 according to the article I read.

      These seem like fairly reasonable reasons, but I’d have to do a whole lot more research to be confident.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Just as a random note- I recently did a stats paper on accidents in Arizona, and driver age didn’t have much statistical correlation with much of anything.

        EDIT – I should say, I meant “advanced driver age”. Younger drivers were more likely to get into alcohol-involved crashes, I believe.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Florida’s the only place I’ve seen someone run a (stale) red light to nearly run over a person in a wheelchair crossing the street. (also nearly running ME over, but I’m more agile). Probably age-related maladies, both of drivers and pedestrians.

  13. Controls Freak says:

    Continuation of the [nominally, prospective] consent discussion with Earthly Knight from here, which began here.

    J/Tim has sex with S/Tammy without first securing her consent.

    ..we immediately move to hiding what we’re doing and using an unqualified “consent”. If we do this, we simply cannot distinguish whether we care about attitudinal or expressive consent.

    I think it would be really useful for you to respond to the Sleeping Beauty cases. Let me restate them (or maybe fully state them for the first time in this conversation; I don’t recall how much I’ve said to date). There are two Sleeping Beauties, both of whom are conscious, yet unable to speak or move. That is, they are unable to give any form of expressive consent. When their respective princes kiss them, it violates their ability to express consent to an act before it occurs. We agree on this. However, the two differ as follows:

    Sleeping Beauty A finds her prince rather handsome, of good character, and is generally attracted to him. She would not be opposed to him kissing her in any event, but especially given the specifics of her situation, she actively desires that he kisses her.

    Sleeping Beauty B finds her prince absolutely repugnant. Not only would she normally reject his advances, but even considering the specifics of her situation, she would rather remain in a spell-bound state of conscious slumber than entertain the idea of being kissed by someone so odious.

    Given that both Sleeping Beauties experience a violation of their ability to express consent to an act before it occurs, do you think there is also some additional violation or harm caused to Sleeping Beauty B that is not caused to Sleeping Beauty A?

    • Earthly Knight says:

      The Sleeping Beauty cases are not good ones, because part of the fairy tale is that the prince’s kiss is needed to free the girl from the sorcery, which means the prince has a moral obligation to kiss her even if he is unable to secure her consent. Let us modify them as follows:

      Two women lie paralyzed but conscious in two identical hospital beds. Each is approached by an identical orderly who intends to kiss her full on the lips. The first woman, let’s call her Mary, finds the orderly repulsive and wishes he would not kiss her. The second woman, let’s call her Carry, thinks the orderly is a dreamboat and wants him to kiss her. The women are otherwise identical.

      I do not think there is a significant moral difference between the violation Mary experiences and the violation Carry experiences. I would expect Mary to suffer the greater harm, but there is no guarantee that she will– perhaps Carry will decide halfway through that, no wait, what this guy is doing is super invasive and rapey, while Mary will discover she is happy just to feel some human contact, even if an ugly guy did kiss her against her will. I also think that it’s a mistake to tie the wrongfulness of consent-violations too closely to the harm they cause, if “harm” means the experience of negative phenomenal states. Rape under anesthesia causes no “harm” in this sense, but it is no less wrong for all that.

      • Controls Freak says:

        Please don’t avoid the question. And don’t think about any moral obligation on the Prince. We’re not talking about blameworthiness here. We’re talking about harm that we’d like to remedy. Is there an additional harm?

        I also think that it’s a mistake to tie the wrongfulness of consent-violations too closely to the harm they cause, if “harm” means the experience of negative phenomenal states.

        There is an implicit “only” that you’re hiding. You think that “too closely” shades, uh, too closely to “only”. But that totally betrays the fact that you’re still not taking my position seriously. We agree that we can consider violations of expressive consent. The question is whether we care at all about violations of attitudinal consent in addition.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Is there an additional harm?

          It’s actually impossible to answer whether Mary or Carry experiences the greater harm without knowing idiosyncratic details of their psychology, for the reasons I gave in my last comment. I do not think there is a harm that carries any moral significance, if that’s what you’re asking. The violation consists in the kissing without consent (what you call “expressive consent”), not in the victim’s mental states.

          • Controls Freak says:

            It’s actually impossible to answer whether Mary or Carry experiences the greater harm without knowing idiosyncratic details of their psychology

            Ok. Then, let’s consider another variation.

            Betty likes a man who takes charge, especially when he’s hunk-o-rific. She thinks, “If I don’t want to consent, I’ll say so.” When her date initiates sex, she remains silent and enjoys it.

            Veronica is picky about all events that impact her. She gets especially upset when something affects her in a very direct way that she didn’t explicitly ask for. When her date initiates sex before acquiring her expressed consent, she corrects him, “Stop for a second! For the record, you need to ask me before you do something like that. That being said, I want to have sex with you, so now we can continue.”

            Here, Veronica pointed it out after the violation, but the violation of expressive consent occurred for both. So, we can stop our hypo before she spoke up (we can imagine something occurred to interrupt both the sex and the lecture if you need some semblance of realism rather than just living in hypo land). It seems like we can repeat your argument here. The harm resulting from the violation of expressive consent is variable… depending upon idiosyncratic details of their psychology (…I hate to say it, but nearly all harms are). Nevertheless, you’re willing to say that such a harm is a legitimate harm which can be considered. Why is this different?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Like I said somewhat earlier, I think “harm” is not the right way to characterize it. It’s the autonomy-violation that’s important.

          • Controls Freak says:

            So, I’m not sure I made my entire argument clear. I may have left an inferential gap too large. Let me try again to map it out.

            We have a latent disagreement over whether a harm analysis is useful. However, the primary concern is choosing between attitudinal consent, expressive consent, or some combination of both. At this point, I think you’re at least on board with the idea that these two things are different.

            To the extent that we care about harm at all, you seemed to think that we’re still forbidden from considering attitudinal consent, because it’s dependent upon an individual’s psychology (I would protest slightly that it is likely dependent upon society’s model of a range of plausible psychologies, but that’s not important yet). I wanted to point out that if we’re killing attitudinal consent that way, we can kill expressive consent via the same means. So, if harm is on the table, then we’re back to the basic question of why we can only consider expressive consent instead of attitudinal consent. In case you want to number the major issues, let’s call this Issue 1.

            I think the second issue I’d like to hear a response to is why you think that harm analysis is inappropriate, especially when we’re consider potential legal regimes. Isn’t remedying harm a core purpose of law?

            Finally, for a third issue, let’s take harm off the table. If we do that, then we’re again back to square one, because we haven’t successfully killed off either form of consent. I would appreciate if you’d explain why you think we must accept one autonomy violation and not the other. That is, why is a violation of expressive consent a valid autonomy violation while a violation of attitudinal consent is not? I’ve read back through your comments, and I don’t think you’ve explained this besides simply stating that you use one instead of the other.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Before we get into the harm stuff, let me ask: in the version of the paralysis case where the kiss ends up harming Carrie more than Mary, even though Carrie but not Mary wanted to be kissed, who do you think experiences the greater violation?

            I would appreciate if you’d explain why you think we must accept one autonomy violation and not the other.

            What you are asking here, in my terms, is why we should accept that consent is constituted by a public speech act rather than also introducing new types of consent as adjuncts. Two reasons:

            1. It comports better with ordinary usage. “She wanted to have sex with him, but didn’t consent” and “she decided to have sex with him, but never got a chance to consent” both sound fine, while “the paralyzed woman silently consented to have sex with him” sounds like a passage lifted from a rape erotica written from the perspective of the rapist.

            2. Its unificatory power. I need only the one type of consent, consent sans phrase, to get all of the clear cases right, while you’re required to introduce three or four just to accomplish the same goal. You start with “mental consent,” but this can’t capture the autonomy violation in cases where S decides to phi but doesn’t say she decides to phi, forcing you to introduce “expressive consent” to go along with it. But these two will sometimes come apart, so you have to add in “prescriptive consent” and “legal consent” as well in order to pick out which form of consent is morally and legally relevant in each case. These look like the epicycles of a flailing definition to me.

          • Controls Freak says:

            rather than also introducing new types of consent as adjuncts

            Try not to smuggle in so much in future comments, please.

            It comports better with ordinary usage.

            We can come up with plenty of ordinary usage that goes the other way. “She consented to having sex, but never verbalized it.” Like my discussion forever ago about the difference between factual/legal consent (using youth as the example), there are lots of ordinary uses of the word ‘consent’ that are unqualified… and they often have different subtle meanings. That’s the whole point of Westen’s book – to actually point out what we mean when we use the term in different ways.

            Honestly, I could care less whether we think some common usage is X% this or Y% that. We have better terminology that makes what we’re talking about clear. Given clarity in our concepts, we need to justify why one type is legitimate while the other isn’t. It seems utterly backwards to appeal to ordinary usage to accomplish this.

            Anyway, this exact failure in reasoning permeates your second point, too. You have stuck in your mind that we’re inventing different types of consent in order to fix some problem, and that’s flatly false. Instead, we actually have different concepts. We use the word “consent” to refer to different things, colloquially. I find it utterly absurd to claim that because I’m pointing out these different uses and creating clear definitions (and noticing that you rest on a particular one), my position is somehow invalidated.

            I’m not even going to respond to your strongest claim right now (that you think it gets the clear cases right), because we absolutely must settle this first. Do you honestly think that these definitions aren’t even legitimate concepts? Do you really reject all of the cases which show why we need to give these concepts different labels? If so, we probably can’t continue. If not, you need to change your tune.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            “She consented to having sex, but never verbalized it.”

            Your sentence suggests that the woman consented through some other public communicative act, through body language or participation or what have you. If we construct the sentence more carefully, e,g., “The woman consented as she lay completely motionless and silent on the bed,” it still reads like a riddle.

            Can you come up with an apt-sounding sentence in which someone is said to consent where it is also clear that they are not communicating their “consent” in any way?

            Honestly, I could care less whether we think some common usage is X% this or Y% that. We have better terminology that makes what we’re talking about clear.

            You are proposing that we revise the language we use to attain greater conceptual clarity. That’s fine, but given that “consent” in ordinary usage overwhelmingly refers to the public communicative act, you should use different terms for the other kinds you are introducing. I suggest “intent to consent,” for your “factual consent,” “consent” sans phrase for your “expressive consent,” “morally binding consent” for your “prescriptive consent,” and so on. Otherwise you are sort of just demanding that other people use the term “consent” to mean something it doesn’t, which strikes me as a bit confusing and unreasonable, and unlikely to catch on.

            Do you honestly think that these definitions aren’t even legitimate concepts? Do you really reject all of the cases which show why we need to give these concepts different labels?

            Certainly I agree that people sometimes want to consent, decide to consent, or intend to consent. I do not see what is gained by insisting that people treat all of these things as subtypes of consent, though.

    • Mark says:

      You really have to view morality from the perspective of the individual – the only question is how big the individual is.

      For a normal human, action can’t be based on what others think, only what we think they might think. The thought process of B is so unimaginable (“I’d rather remain paralysed than have momentary physical contact with an unattractive person”) to be irrelevant to us.

      If we lived in a world where we had good reason to believe that most people would rather be paralysed than be kissed, we would not kiss them.

      The idea that we can make an ethical calculation based on the amount of harm actually caused is ridiculous. The question is how much harm we think we might have caused (or how much harm we have caused to ourselves.)

      • Controls Freak says:

        I’d encourage you to read the entire [admittedly lengthy] exchange, Mark. The question [at least right now] is whether we actually care about attitudinal consent as a thing at all. Obviously, in a hypo such as this, there are all kinds of practical concerns that we’d take into account in order to determine blameworthiness… but that’s not the point of the hypo. The point of the hypo is to illustrate (1) Attitudinal consent is different from expressive consent, and (2) We might care a little bit about the harm caused by violating attitudinal consent.

        These factors will later come into play in more complicated analyses… but the question at hand is whether these are even coherent concepts that we care about enough to be inputs to such an analysis. In some cases, the harm might be outweighed by other concerns; in others, it might not be. All of that is moot if we simply do not consider the harm to be legitimate in the first place. I want to know whether the harm is legitimate for consideration at all.

  14. TenMinute says:

    Ken at Popehat does a good job of writing persuasion targeted to people with different belief systems, a la Scott’s old “Climate Change Action for the republicans who live in my head” post.

  15. Sanchez says:

    I believe that global warming is real and will have drastic effects on the world economy, but (and maybe I’m reading this wrong) it seems like there are many economic actors who do not believe this. From my vantage point, i.e. assuming climate change will have drastic effects on the economy, all sorts of things should be mispriced. How can I use this to my economic advantage? Buy up land in Siberia?

    Or is my premise, that the economy has not yet responded to global warming like it’s a serious threat, just wrong?

    For the sake of the question assume that climate change will have major effects, but nothing apocalyptic. I don’t think I’d care about economic advantage at that point.

    • Land in places where its value would be much greater if warmer is one possibility. But remember that we are talking about changes that are slow in human terms–possibly two or three degrees C by the end of the century. How much more will land in northern Canada, probably a safer buy than Siberia, be worth as a result, how much will depend on other changes hard to predict? The gain has to be pretty large to be worth waiting most of a century.

      One useful antidote to a lot of exaggerated talk is Figure 10.1 in the latest IPCC report. It shows various estimates of the effect on humans of different amounts of warming, measured by the change in world income that would have the same effect. For warming of up to three degrees C, the estimates range between zero and three percent. Spread over most of a century that’s a very slow change.

    • Aapje says:

      @Sanchez

      Much of Siberia would go from permafrost to swamp, which still doesn’t make it very valuable. Also, if the land actually becomes valuable, it would probably be taken from you. So it is likely that you lose no matter what.

      I would argue that you are thinking too long term. IMO, many skeptics underestimate how the push for alternative energy sources by the believers will push down the cost of alternative energy (especially solar, which is extremely easy to improve, as it is a semi-conductor technology*), greatly devaluing fossil fuel assets. So you might want to get long term put options on the stock of fossil fuel companies (LEAPS) or invest in solar companies, Tesla, etc. Then you don’t actually have to wait for solar to win or global warming to have serious consequences, you would profit from the perception shift, which happens much earlier.

      PS. The above is still pretty risky with a lot of uncertainty.

      * As we have seen for computers and for solar panels themselves. Also, most of the cost is one-time (production, transport, installation), with almost no ongoing maintenance required, unlike for wind energy. This gives maximum potential for fast

      • Well... says:

        Coastal Virginia used to be mostly swamp.

        • Aapje says:

          I live in a place that use to be (mostly) swamp. It’s potentially very productive land, but that first requires a lot of drainage and hard work. You probably have to do it yourself on a large scale if you want to earn a lot of money.

          If you just buy some plots of land and the land becomes interesting for large scale development, a Russian oligarch will just kick you off the land.

        • CatCube says:

          We call it “wetlands” now, and prohibit people from turning it to constructive use.

        • TenMinute says:

          Potomac wetland restoration project when.

        • Aapje says:

          @CatCube

          From an environmental perspective, it really is some of the most bio-diverse type of land and important to migration birds who tend to love it (so removing all of it impacts the other places where the birds migrate to/from as well).

          Of course, humanity tends to compete with nature and it’s subjective how much nature you are willing to turn ‘productive.’

    • Matt M says:

      An interesting question. I’ve had the same thoughts – although in the opposite direction. Basically that I don’t believe in global warming, and am wondering how I can take advantage of that. Oil stocks seem reasonably compatible with the theory, but oil may become obsolete for other reasons (as Apaje suggests – the mere fact that a lot of people DO believe in GW will force investment into alternative sources which could theoretically displace oil even if GW is entirely fake).

      I’ve thought about things like coastal real estate – but I see no particular evidence that it is currently “undervalued” or any such thing. Prices haven’t fallen as GW concern has risen. In fact, I’ve used this as a common objection before – as in, if GW is so indisputably real, why are developers still spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build fancy new condos in Manhattan with expected useful lives of several decades? Why do so many rich left-leaning people continue to invest in coastal cities – shouldn’t they all move to Dallas or at least, I dunno, Pittsburgh?

      • Aapje says:

        Exactly, I believe that fossil fuels are on their way out no matter if global warming actually happens.

        Like they say: don’t mine for gold, sell the pickaxes

        You earn money no matter if there is gold or not.

    • John Schilling says:

      Monsanto was my pick the last time I thought the market had undervalued global warming. That was shortly after the start of the hiatus; fortunately MON was a solid company in its own right so I still wound up making a good return. So, #1, probably don’t invest in something that is only a winner in the event of climate change going the way you currently predict.

      #2, land is gong to be a lagging indicator. People are reluctant to sell a going concern, much less a way of life, just because of a few bad seasons. And most investors will be too conservative to buy Canadian permafrost until it is actually productive. But whoever is farming the land, and wherever, if there’s climate change in any direction they are going to need new seed tailored to the new conditions. They probably won’t care if it’s Pure Evil Genetically Modified Seed, or too expensive for them to really afford, if the alternative is selling the farm that has been in the family for generations (or at the other end, missing out on the first-mover advantage for that Canadian permafrost).

      And the price of the stock will start to move, not when the climate changes or the farmers buy new seed, but when it becomes clear that the climate will change and there will be lots of new seed-buying. Which brings us to #3: for best results, don’t buy the things that need actual climate change to be profitable, but the things that profit from anticipation of imminent climate change.

      Green energy is too obvious not to have been efficiently factored into the market at every level, so go with something less obvious. Having farmers and even a seed dealer in the family made that an easy place for me to start looking, but there are others.

  16. Thegnskald says:

    Fellow leftists: When did we become tolerant of regressive taxation? The PPACA is one example, payroll taxes are another; just because a corporation is nominally the payer of the taxes doesn’t change the effective tax dynamic, and an effective 7.3-10% additional taxes on the lower classes’ effective wages is unacceptable, particularly given that the effective tax effect from these policies on the top 1% is less than 1%.

    So why is the right the leading opposition to payroll taxes? This should be our fight.

    • Mark says:

      I seem to remember that in ‘The Affluent Society’ Galbraith argued for the desirability of sales taxes (despite them being regressive) because they serve to reduce the amount spent on pointless private goods.

      Perhaps taxing pay can serve to attack consumerism from the other direction and reduce the amount of pointless work people do?

      • Thegnskald says:

        There is an inconsistency between taxing minimum wage workers to lower their spending and pushing for higher minimum wages to increase their ability to meet their basic needs.

        Which is to say, the idea that we are too consumerist has merit, but the solution to that probably isn’t going to be punishing those who consume the least.

        • Mark says:

          It’s consistent if you simply want to get rid of low value labour.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That doesn’t seem very leftist.

            On the other hand, if you push for a high minimum wage to increase ability to meet basic needs, then increase sales tax, exempting essential goods, to put luxuries out of reach, you’ve got a (possibly) working method of government paternalism.

          • Tekhno says:

            @The Nybbler

            It almost sounds like something a Fascist government would do, not that I’m calling Mark a Fascist. It just fits well with the idea of every citizen being a soldier and a national resource, but comfort and luxury being degenerate, at least if you take it to its extreme. The state makes sure the capitalists serve the national interest by paying workers enough, but simultaneously makes sure that the consumption of corrupting and addictive luxuries is moderated. The workers eat their daily bread and live an austere and manly life.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Tekhno

            All this talk of an “austere and manly life” makes me feel like you’re trying to sell me on fascism here (I kid, I kid).

          • The Nybbler says:

            Neither paternalism nor austerity nor the combination of the two is limited to the fascists.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Daily bread? Come on, carbs are the least austere and manly of the macronutrients.

            (What do you call a right-winger who doesn’t eat grains? A paleoconservative)

            (I’m sorry)

          • Tekhno says:

            @quanta413

            I prefer a “lazy and boyish life”, but that’s because I’m a man-child. There’s some merit to Fascism, howe- WAIT HOLD ON LET ME EXPLAIN!

            I not-secretly think that Fascism is kind of cool and interesting from an intellectual perspective, and although I think it’s a bad idea, I believe that we’d consider it in a totally different – but still negative – light (remember when those wacky Italians tried to do Rome again! BWHAHAHA!), if Hitler hadn’t come to power and put the opportunistic and buffoonish Mussolini under his thumb, forever associating Fascism with white nationalism and anti-semitism rather than its governing philosophies. Some of the concepts to do with updating corporatism to the industrial age were adopted by non-fascist states and continue to this day, such as the social corporatist system of national union bargaining in Sweden.

            The idea of parliamentary corporatism is a very interesting idea, and intellectuals like Giovanni Gentile developed the idea a lot further than Mussolini for whom everything was instrumental. I think a “democracy of industries and labor” is quite an interesting idea that hasn’t really been tried, so we can’t really compare it to the current model of democracy where representatives are based around districts instead. You could have all sorts of governments with this system if you truly let it work as a metapolitical thing instead of the slave of Fascism where it merely becomes a bureaucratic extension of a separate dictatorial state, designed to produce a pre-prescribed outcome. It’s appealing for similar reasons that Futarchy is appealing.

            @The Nybbler

            Neither paternalism nor austerity nor the combination of the two is limited to the fascists.

            But seldom do any other philosophies admit that this is what they are going for. That’s what makes it notable.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Part of the issue with defining Fascism in terms of Corporatism (or vice versa) is that economics is arguably the least important part of fascist ideology. The Fascists themselves paid very little attention to economic policy in itself, as opposed to it’s role in wartime mobilization or as a way of reducing class tensions.

            After all, the rough Corporatist model was widely used before and after Fascism as a political movement. If the same term can reasonably describe Guilds in medieval Venice and the economies of post-war Japan and Norway then it’s hard to put it at the feet of Mussolini.

          • cassander says:

            @Dr Dealgood says:

            >Part of the issue with defining Fascism in terms of Corporatism (or vice versa) is that economics is arguably the least important part of fascist ideology. The Fascists themselves paid very little attention to economic policy in itself, as opposed to it’s role in wartime mobilization or as a way of reducing class tensions.

            This somewhat is true of the Nazis, they had a more domestically focused wing but they got iced by hitler once they came to power. It definitely wasn’t true of the other fascist movements.

          • Tekhno says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            The medieval form of corporatism was very different from “democracy based around industries” though, so it was definitely an update. The real problem is that there’s a tremendous tension between that and the idea of having a dictatorial system separate to that, because what happened in practice is that the Chamber of Corporations became a subordinate organ, in which industrial democracy was scuppered.

            Fascist intellectuals were very interested in the idea of Corporatism, because the entire point of Fascism is that separate economic interests are bundled and then formalized to play out centrally. The problem is the contradiction in having this kind of democracy, which is supposed to work in a bottom up fashion, and then simply appointing representatives from the top, rendering it the exact bureaucratic organization the system was supposed to avoid.

            Corporatism was at least supposed to be central to Fascism, but there were deep flaws in Fascist ideology that prevented it from even coming into being. One reason might be that Mussolini was a political opportunist who delegated the creation of this new theory to Gentile, and after the fact of gaining power in government.

            @cassander

            This somewhat is true of the Nazis, they had a more domestically focused wing but they got iced by hitler once they came to power. It definitely wasn’t true of the other fascist movements.

            Corporatism wasn’t a part of National Socialist ideology at all, to my knowledge, even among the left wing of the party.

            Because Hitler made Mussolini his bitch, the ideological content became fluid to match the needs of National Socialism, despite the theoretical ideology being very different on paper (there’s nothing on race in the Doctrine Gentile created). This is why I say that if Hitler had not come to power, we might view Fascism differently. It’s more likely that Italy would have been included in a common anticommunist alliance.

            It’s worth considering that before the 1938 racial exclusion laws, Italy did not have any laws against the Jews, and when it did bring them into play due to pressure from Germany, they were wildly unpopular due to the high integration of the Italian Jewish community.

            If we teleport ourselves back through history, instead of rewinding, we get a better context for events. Before the Pact of Steel, the rest of the world had some guarded positivity about Fascism that can be used to quote people out of context from the rewinding perspective of history to suggest that they felt that the racial theories of Nazism had merit.

            “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.

            But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.” ~ Ludwig Von Mises

            Fascism at the time was seen as a temporary antidote to communism. There’s some evidence I can’t locate this second that MI5 was even involved in funding Mussolini during the early period for this reason. The main reasons for trepidation from critics were its militarism, and for liberal critics, its statism.

            Some would argue that the reason it all ended in tears was something inherent to Italian Fascism, but I think this is more rewinding where Nazism and Fascism are the same ideology. Fascism was subordinate to Nazism due to geopolitics, and the Soviets had a vested interest in calling the Germans “Fascists” instead of “National Socialists“.

            The Holocaust was a product of something inherent to Nazi ideology – conspiratorial antisemitism – something absent from Fascism for most of its history. Plus Mussolini was a Trump who could have been pulled about by Britain if not for Germany.

          • cassander says:

            @Tekhno

            >Corporatism wasn’t a part of National Socialist ideology at all, to my knowledge, even among the left wing of the party.

            the strasserites wrote the 1920s Nazi economic plan. It’s not the most coherent plan, and while it’s certainly not enthusiastically corporatist, it’s not opposed to corporatism, while it is opposed to socialism and capitalism. the movement would adopt more corporatist lingo as time went on.

            > This is why I say that if Hitler had not come to power, we might view Fascism differently.

            of that there’s no doubt.

          • Tekhno says:

            @cassander

            The 25 points are more about abolishing “unearned incomes”, fighting usury, profit sharing and nationalization than is about corporatism. Corporatism would be where instead of voting for representatives based on parties, we vote for them based on industry and other sectoral interests centrally, so that all economic interests have representatives all the time.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          There is an inconsistency between taxing minimum wage workers to lower their spending and pushing for higher minimum wages to increase their ability to meet their basic needs.

          Yes, although that could be solved by not taxing essentials (food etc.) which people need to live, whilst having higher taxes on non-essential items.

    • Tekhno says:

      pointless private goods.

      attack consumerism

      This is my least favorite part of leftism. I get far more triggered by “You don’t need that”, than “You need that”. There’s something deeply at odds between the part of the left that follows the Herbert Marcuse type line of reasoning where capitalism has infected us with needless material desires (For a pop culture example see the movie “They Live” where the aliens command us to “consume”), and the part of the left that sees the problem in the uneven distribution of consumerism rather than consumption per se. The latter seems aligned with some kind of HG Wells type future of easy living and material progress, and the former seems aligned with some austere Georgia Guidestones type existence from the darkest fever dreams of Alex Jones.

      If it wasn’t for the right, I don’t think these two parts of the left would be friends.

      • beleester says:

        I don’t think this is a strongly left-right thing, seeing as “back in my day, we didn’t need all this complicated technology” or “Why do poor people need cell phones?” are stereotypically right-wing versions of the same impulse.

        But yeah, I’m not a fan of it either way.

      • Tekhno says:

        People often talk of a four axis model, in which left and right have libertarian and authoritarian subdivisions, but you could probably create an extra subdivision based on techno-pessimism vs techno-optimism.

        A left wing techno-pessimist is probably a hippy who wants sustainable consumption and less of the alienation and inequality caused by techno-capitalist society, and a left wing techno-optimist is probably some kind of Gene Roddenberry type who wants humanity to spread out into the galaxy as a unified force of reason and progress. A right wing techno-pessimist would be a nostalgic Tolkien type conservative in the moderate form and a Ted Kaczynski type inegalitarian primitivist in the most extreme form, whereas a right wing techno-optimist could be anything from the most basic capitalist optimist to a Nick Land type who wants technology to transcend humanity.

        • John Schilling says:

          People often talk of a four axis model, in which left and right have libertarian and authoritarian subdivisions, but you could probably create an extra subdivision based on techno-pessimism vs techno-optimism.

          Yes, but only the techno-optimists believe we will ever have practical 3-D displays on which to plot such a model. Not sure whether that’s a bug or a feature.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      The leftist project requires higher taxes than the rightist project does. One way to secure large taxes is with taxes that are hidden from most voters. The main examples are the payroll tax and corporate taxes. A good non-example is the gas tax.

      In the abstract, the Democrats should want lower payroll taxes**, higher gas taxes, and should be ambivalent about corporate taxes. But since they also don’t want lower taxes overall, the national Party is ambivalent on the payroll tax, are ambivalent on gas taxes, and want higher corporate taxes*.

      *This takes the form of wanting to close loopholes without lowering the default rate.

      **There are leftists that want the social benefits of employment to become decoupled from having a job, and they might be ambivalent about payroll taxes, but I am ignoring them.

      • TenMinute says:

        The Ur example is the VAT that is used to fund large parts of the European social project.
        Incredibly regressive, yes, but all but a tiny portion of it is hidden in the increased price of the product as it is taxed along the production chain.

        If you think your agency spending money does more good than the original owner spending it, the tax being “regressive” doesn’t matter.
        Sure, the prole pays most of his income in income taxes, council taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, parking fees, congestion charges, and permitting fees, but that money does him more good in your hands anyway!

        If you don’t take his money, how is he going to buy himself bread, rent a room, see a doctor, or fund the Royal Opera?

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Interestingly the biggest support for something like a VAT in the US comes from the far right (Ted Cruz), as you’d naively expect. I wonder how long this situation will last.

          • Randy M says:

            Cruz supports VAT? Huh. I’ve never read conservative commentary in support of it, though some prefer shifting income taxes to sales taxes.

          • Protagoras says:

            Conservative politicians want to spend as much as liberal politicians, just in slightly different areas, and at a certain point massive deficits do start to become a bit of an embarrassment. So it’s not surprising that they would be interested in hidden taxes too.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, but then I’d expect they’d also keep their support hidden.

          • Matt M says:

            This surprises me as well, and I’d be interested in seeing a source on that.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Protagoras

            Rand Paul is on the libertarian side of conservative, but he actually proposed significant reductions in government spending:

            “At various points in the budgets, Paul questions the constitutionality of progressive income taxes, eliminates almost all federal education and housing programs, ends the biggest anti-poverty tax credits, eliminates foreign aid, institutes large defense cuts, slashes the State Department budget by more than two-thirds, and cuts the Food and Drug Administration budget to limit government “intrusion into the nation’s food supply.” It’s the most detailed expression of what a libertarian approach to budgeting would look like to date, with Paul specifying even the tiniest agencies he wants to do away with (goodbye, Government Printing Office!).

            If implemented, these proposals would result in a dramatically smaller federal government. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Paul’s FY2014 budget would reduce spending to 16.4 percent of GDP by 2023. By contrast, Paul Ryan’s budget would reduce spending to 19.1 percent of GDP, and Senate Democrats’ budget would keep it at 21.9 percent. The gap between Paul’s budget and Ryan’s is nearly as big as the gap between Ryan’s and Democrats’.”

            http://www.vox.com/2015/4/7/8360691/rand-paul-budget-president

            In general I think conservatives support less spending than liberals (compare Paul Ryan’s spending of 19.1% of GDP to Senate Democrats spending of 21.9%), though not by much, but at least a few conservatives propose more drastic spending cuts and I don’t see that on the liberal side.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Matt M

            Cruz proposes the VAT as part of a replacement for the current tax system, not as an additional tax:

            “At the last Republican presidential debate, I presented the Simple Flat Tax — which, for a family of four, exempts the first $36,000 from all income tax, and above that amount collects one low rate of 10 percent for all Americans. It eliminates the death tax, the payroll tax, the corporate income tax, and the Obamacare taxes; ends the corporate carve-outs and loopholes; and requires every business to pay the same simple business flat tax of 16 percent. That plan will unleash unprecedented growth, create millions of new jobs, raise after-tax incomes for all income levels by double-digit percentages — and abolish the IRS as we know it.”

            http://www.nationalreview.com/article/426886/five-freedom-ted-cruz

            The business flat tax is the VAT, which is described in more detail here:
            http://taxfoundation.org/blog/ted-cruz-s-business-flat-tax-primer

          • Matt M says:

            “In general I think conservatives support less spending than liberals, though not by much, but at least a few conservatives propose more drastic spending cuts and I don’t see that on the liberal side.”

            And yes, this is really worth emphasizing. “Conservatives want to spend just as much as liberals” strikes me as not at all true, at least on average. Some conservatives want to spend as much as some liberals, but I think if you asked the question “how much do you want spending in total to increase/decrease” of every sitting member of congress and then averaged out the two parties, the Democrat answer would be significantly higher than the Republican answer.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m basing my assessment on the track record of what conservative politicians have done when they have had power power, not on the policy statements of a single fairly atypical conservative.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @IrishDude

            That seems extraordinarily naive. If you institute a lower and flatter income tax AND a VAT, then in the fullness of time the income tax will creep back up and become more bracketed, while the VAT will remain (and/or creep up) You’ll end up with more total tax than you had before, because people don’t notice the burn so bad from two 30% taxes (one on income and one on consumption) as they would from one 50% tax.

            I don’t believe Cruz is that naive.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Protagoras

            Do you think if liberals had been in control instead of conservatives, would spending have been lower, higher, or the same? Conservatives could increase spending from what it was the previous year, but at a lower rate than liberals would if they were in control, and this would reflect conservatives supporting less spending than liberals.

            I agree that most conservatives don’t support the types of drastic spending reductions put forward by Rand Paul, but in general support somewhat less spending than liberals, and with Paul Ryan as budget chairman at least proposed spending more than 2% of GDP less than Senate Democrats.

          • IrishDude says:

            @The Nybbler

            Note that Cruz’s proposed VAT isn’t on ordinary citizen’s purchases, like it’s implemented in other countries, but applied to businesses. It replaces all business taxes with a 16% tax on (revenue – capital costs – spending to other businesses). He’d institute a flat tax of 10% on individual income (with a deduction varying by family size). Though I don’t fully grasp the implications of his proposed business VAT tax, I’m not sure what is inherent in this proposal that would cause either the business or individual tax rates to creep up.

            My preference, if we’re to have any taxes, is a national sales tax like the FairTax, as it seems the most streamlined and transparent and doesn’t disincentivize saving and investment.

          • Matt M says:

            “Do you think if liberals had been in control instead of conservatives, would spending have been lower, higher, or the same?”

            It might also be worth noting that actual liberals in Congress always insist it would be much lower. Consider the constant drumbeat we had about how Paul Ryan was going to gut the federal government because he’s an Ayn Rand worshiping anarchist.

          • Protagoras says:

            When I’ve seen numbers about the size of budgets actually enacted with one party or the other in control of Congress, the differences have been negligible. Not sure why so many here are putting so much stock in the various things politicians say or propose, as opposed to what they actually do.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t know the numbers, but my impression lines up with Protagoras’ that Republicans in power have very little demonstrated desire, or at least, priority, to constrain spending; never mind that each party will claim otherwise.

          • IrishDude says:

            I think Republicans spend way too much too. As evidence, see the budget just passed by the Republican-controlled Senate that increases the debt by 9 trillion dollars over the next ten years. However, I also see a few Republican voices, like Rand Paul and Justin Amash (and the Liberty Caucus) vote against these budgets for spending too much money: https://twitter.com/libertycaucus/status/819656662894149633

            I just don’t see any criticism from Democrats that government spends too much (their criticism is usually gov’t doesn’t tax enough, or spends too much on the military and not enough on entitlements), and I think as bad as Republicans are, Democrats are slightly worse on spending. This doesn’t come from rigorous analysis of Democrat controlled budgets versus Republican controlled budgets (I’d be interested in seeing that, though), but from my impressions that Democrats believe strongly that government expansion helps more people and that they try to follow through with those beliefs when in power.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @Protagoras: I think if you gave the Democrats OR the Republicans guaranteed control of government for 50 years, spending would go down. Right now there is an incentive to spend as much as possible (since if either side reserves spending, the other side will eventually blow it all on their priorities). In a situation like this I’d expect Republicans to actually gut the welfare state (without fear of reprisal), and I’d expect the Democrats to start redistributing money more efficiently, by lavishing less on the middle class and more on the poor.

  17. sty_silver says:

    If you accept the dangers of AI risk (regardless of what exact probabilities you put on it) is there any reason to ever donate to a charity that deals with anything else? I’m confused because SA seems to be doing it and it seems like a really bad idea to me.

    • Deiseach says:

      is there any reason to ever donate to a charity that deals with anything else?

      “If you are not eaten by that tiger running after you right now, in twenty years’ time you run the risk of developing bowel cancer. Should you decide to figure out how to get away from the tiger, or stop running and start working on a cure for cancer, given that cancer is more deadly than tigers in the number of people it kills?”

      AI risk may be real, urgent and likely to happen faster than we expect. But if you’re currently dying of a preventable disease, you won’t care if the God Emperor AI arises in six months’ time to enslave all humanity if you’ll be dead in three months’ time.

      • sty_silver says:

        Isn’t that just saying “your problem might be larger, but the other thing is a problem, too”?

        Sure there are individual people who will benefit more from donating to Against Malaria foundation. I’m saying it’s not the utilitarian thing to do.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      It is reasonable to discount the utility of future people/morally considerable entities, particularly those in the far future. They may never exist for reasons that are unrelated to AI, and even if they do exist it is hard for us to tell what would be good for them. It is also conceivable that improving present society will let us deal with these problems more adroitly. This makes existential-risk charities much less of a slam dunk. All these arguments apply to asteroid risk, global warming risk, etc.

    • James Miller says:

      No. Part of the reason is that unfriendly AI would not only destroy life on earth, but would also eliminate all life within its “paperclipping” sphere of destruction, while in contrast something like runaway global warming or a nuclear holocaust wouldn’t harm extraterrestrial life.

  18. Tekhno says:

    WARNING: EXTREMELY AMATEUR OPINIONS ON AGI RISK

    According to my reasoning, intelligence has four main components: effectiveness of pattern recognition, speed of operation, memory, and the volume of all of that.

    The human brain is made out of “meat”, more or less, and electrochemical synapses are inherently slower than purely electrical semiconductors. This is not a feature of arrangement, but purely a feature of what the brain is made out of versus what computers are made out of. The human brain also has a less stable memory, probably due to similar chemical reasons. The human brain is a certain size because of the cost of “meat”, the difficulty in pushing out babies with gigantic noggins, and the difficulty in supporting giant heads both in terms of energy, and literally.

    Only the remaining pattern recognition is an arrangement issue. In software, more effective arrangements would be due to better algorithms, and in hardware, better architecture.

    Evolution could not get around the limitations of meat because it didn’t have a load of processed semiconductor materials lying around. Pattern recognition, however, depends on arrangement, and once you have a general purpose pattern recognition module, it’s going to outcompete a more limited pattern recognizer, which is what led to human domination of all other animals. The architecture singularity has already happened.

    This implies that FOOM is right out the window. The advantage of AI which will make them far smarter than us is that they can run the general intelligence method/arrangement/architecture/algorithm at vastly higher speeds, with much greater memory, and at a volume that is dependent on industrial resource constraints rather than biological ones. If evolution has already taken general pattern recognition up to its limits, then a self-evolving AGI wouldn’t be possible, because the ceiling for thinking better and not just faster would have already been reached, except for minor variations. If it were otherwise, then we could come up with a new arrangement for “meat” that boosts human intelligence vastly too. It seems more likely to me that if you come up with a general purpose pattern recognizer like the brain, then it’s not so much FOOM as an instantaneous leap to levels of superintelligence depending on the inherent speed and memory capacity the materials can support, and then the volume of the resulting computer. Superintelligence in a head sized volume would then basically be the equivalent of a human genius living life a million times speeded up and with perfect recall. Also, no AGI would have the starting advantage to out-accelerate the others, because you either have the low ceiling general purpose capacity or you don’t, and then the difference in intelligence mostly comes down to the same difference we see today between regular computers and supercomputers; mostly a volume issue.

    People in the field, why am I wrong?

    • You seem to be passing easily from the idea that general purpose pattern recognition is easy to the idea that it is inevitable.

    • Skivverus says:

      Can’t speak to the rest of it, really, but on this:

      The human brain is a certain size because of the cost of “meat”, the difficulty in pushing out babies with gigantic noggins, and the difficulty in supporting giant heads both in terms of energy, and literally.

      All I have to say is: C-sections.

      • Tekhno says:

        That just allows for larger brains, not brains that recognize patterns in a fundamentally superior way. We’d be smarter because we could handle more data if we had a bigger brain, not because we would have a better method for handling the data.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I remember reading somewhere that the issue is not just the size of our brains (after all, there are animals with bigger-headed infants than us in absolute terms); rather it’s that the needs of bipedalism, having our legs squarely under our centre of gravity, create a pressure towards a narrow pelvis, while the needs of intelligence, which is intimately related to the manual dexterity that bipedalism makes possible, create a pressure towards a wide pelvis, and there’s very little room for compromise from where we are now.

        • Aapje says:

          @Winter Shaker

          Yeah, but with C sections, we remove the evolutionary ‘punishment’ for babies with large heads. So what may happen is that babies will get bigger and bigger heads, until humans can only give birth through C section.

    • gbdub says:

      Somewhat related, one of the things that bothers me about the FOOM concept, or at least amateur discussions of it (I admittedly haven’t gotten deep enough into serious academic work on AGI) is the lack of consideration for physical limitations – an AI will still have them!

      You can’t turn a whole planet into one big superfast computer, because at some point the transmission time from one node to another, even at the speed of light, is going to limit your cycle speed. Not to mention lossy transmissions, heating issues, etc. An AI starting from a box in a lab isn’t going to magically solve those limits overnight, and they will constrain its growth.

      Now one thing an AI could do that a human brain really can’t is make little limited sub-versions of itself, turn them loose on a problem, and report back on the results. The human brain can do some forms of multitasking (e.g. breathing and walking while thinking) but we (or at least most of us?) can’t really sustain two trains of conscious, creative thought at once – a synthetic brain might lack that limitation.

      But another limitation of amateur talk on AI risk that would overcome that human limitation – what about synthetic augmentations to human brains? Consider the vast improvement in (potential) productivity, knowledge, and recall that a smartphone provides – and that with a clunky touch interface. What if we could seamlessly access those same capabilities just by thinking it through a brain-machine interface? Done right, human brainpower could go up a ton. And maybe if we start using such interfaces from birth our meat-brains would reconfigure to take advantage of the new “sense” just as the brain can rewire connections after loss of sight or limb.

      So is the brain-machine interface problem easier or harder than the AGI problem? Because if the former is easier I think that would really change the calculus on AI risk.

      • beleester says:

        Transmission time in the nervous system, over chemical channels, is slow as hell compared to electricity. Our brains are apparently very good at “thinking” despite having a much lower “clock speed” than any computer, so I don’t know how much of a bottleneck the physical limits are.

        Also, while we haven’t made a planet-sized brain yet, we’ve learned how to do other parallel algorithms on a global scale, which is why Google has a zillion servers and yet still acts like a single entity from your perspective. AFAIK, neural networks are a very parallelizable algorithm (each neuron can be run independently).

        Though I’m not sure if “just adding more neurons” is an infinitely scalable solution in the first place. Even if you can add all the neurons you want to a brain without hardware limitations, will you keep getting more and more intelligence out of it? Or do you eventually get diminishing returns?

      • Tekhno says:

        Our brains are apparently very good at “thinking” despite having a much lower “clock speed” than any computer

        Better architecture for general purpose pattern recognizing. This still has physical limits, and I’m arguing that evolution might have already reached the limits for architecture alone. If it hadn’t, we could re-arrange a brain to some vastly superior arrangement, even with the same chemical limits.

        This is why I doubt recursive self-improvement and singletons. Computers have all the advantages brains don’t in terms of speed and memory inherently due to the materials they are made out, where electricity beats electro-chemical every time. The only thing left is the arrangement or architecture (or algorithm if its software), and brains beat computers out in that factor easily. If general purpose pattern recognition gave an absolute advantage, then evolution should have already probed its limits, since improving it is just an arrangement question and not a question of extra material or energy resources.

        So I’m arguing in my OP that the reason that AGI will be so much smarter than humans is that they will combine the higher limits to speed and memory given by materials sparse in nature with the limits to pattern recognition that should already have been probed by nature if an absolute advantage is accrued with every incremental improvement. This suggests that brainlike general purpose architectures or algorithms will spread into computers incrementally and then once computers have that capacity, we’ll be more or less at the physical limits with nowhere to FOOM to.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Electricity may permit architectural improvements biochemistry doesn’t. Also, our brains could easily have gotten caught in a local maximum, and there could be massive architectural improvements available just on the other side of a sharp drop.

          • roystgnr says:

            Our brains might not have *reached* even a local maximum yet. Why would we expect they had? Human brains have been evolving for a couple million years; we just hit the point at which we could invent civilization (loosely speaking) orders of magnitude more recently. Wouldn’t it be an incredible coincidence if the level of intelligence needed for that turned out to be roughly 99% of the level of intelligence that was physically possible?

            For that matter, wouldn’t it be odd if human brains were unique in the biological world at being more optimized than technology could replicate despite also being under far more onerous constraints? Technology has given us better structural materials than bone, better motors than muscle, better energy storage than fat, better air conditioning than sweat glands, better communication than vocal cords… The human brain is pretty impressive but if it turns out to be hitting the limits of engineering possibility then that will be the exception, not the rule.

          • Tekhno says:

            @Thegnskald

            there could be massive architectural improvements available just on the other side of a sharp drop.

            There could be, but are there any reasons to believe that this is likely?

            @roystgnr

            Human brains have been evolving for a couple million years; we just hit the point at which we could invent civilization (loosely speaking) orders of magnitude more recently.

            Something to do with architecture meant that apes cottoned onto general intelligence, and then our brains went through an explosive increase in size up to the point where energy and natural birthing constraints prevented further increases.

            If there were massive innovations to make that had nothing to do with size, speed, or memory, where humans could be 1000s of times smarter, purely through increases in general pattern recognition, civilization would just speed up selection in that direction, because races of dullards would be pushed back by races of hyper-geniuses. The entire point of general intelligence is that it is unlike other adaptions that are niche specific, so any incremental improvement would be devastating. That’s kind of why recursive self-improvement in general intelligence is considered an x-risk.

            Why aren’t we a sub-breed kept in zoos like other apes for the amusement of a 2000 IQ homo species?

            Probably because there isn’t much room to improve general intelligence, as opposed to speed, memory, and size. There must be limits.

            How could it improve? Is there room for humans to be 1000 times better at recognizing things as faces? There are trade-offs in pattern recognition once you start hallucinating faces all over the place. We could, however, transcend boundaries that have nothing to do with general intelligence, and simply apply greater speed, memory, and volume to have a computer run the pattern recognition process at 1000 times the speed.

            Wouldn’t it be an incredible coincidence if the level of intelligence needed for that turned out to be roughly 99% of the level of intelligence that was physically possible?

            Because the singularity (in general pattern recognition) already happened.

            For that matter, wouldn’t it be odd if human brains were unique in the biological world at being more optimized than technology could replicate despite also being under far more onerous constraints? Technology has given us better structural materials than bone, better motors than muscle, better energy storage than fat, better air conditioning than sweat glands, better communication than vocal cords… The human brain is pretty impressive but if it turns out to be hitting the limits of engineering possibility then that will be the exception, not the rule.

            This isn’t under dispute, and is part of my actual argument. I already believe that computers can be vastly more intelligent than human beings. That’s not what I’m questioning.

            My argument is that AGI will not have much higher “G” than us, and that its vastly greater intelligence will come from the AI part.

  19. Thegnskald says:

    Ancapistans/libertarians –

    How do you resolve the issue of cultural drift and short-term political memories resulting in the gradual reinstitution of the forms of government you intend to replace?

    Modern forms of government represent a likely attractor point, and the convergence of first world nations to a mixture of social welfare corporate democracy, and capitalism is certainly evidence, however weak, that this is where sufficiently wealthy societies tend to end up. (Yes, the interference between governments means we can’t take each nation as an independent data point, but that merely weakens our evidence, it doesn’t discredit it.)

    And assuming this is, in fact, an attractor point we can’t help but fall into, why try to implement a solution which will only return to the same local maximum, instead of improving that local maximum?

    • The Nybbler says:

      If the system is indeed as stable as that, “improving that local maximum” is as futile as trying to break us out of it. If it’s only a _local_ attractor point, radical change is more likely to be lasting than less-radical change.

      I mean, what else is a libertarian to do? Watch as government share of the economy and government intrusiveness into our individual lives steadily increases until we reach the Brave New World?

      • Thegnskald says:

        Well, from the looks of things, the libertarians are mostly failing to get their preferred policies, and can’t even get the anti-establishment vote to swing for them; the radical approach doesn’t seem to be working out that well for you.

        Coordinate, pick one policy that matters most, pursue it; become single-issue voters until it gets enacted. Pick another. Repeat.

        Occupational licensing looks like a good choice to me for a first move; it looks to me like it enjoys reasonably bipartisan support.

        The alternative is to build up institutional power, which is kind of anathema to libertarians; that goal might be achieved by pushing for state-run trade schools, which would be sort of the opposite of libertarianism, but which would start to establish a base of power. Alternatively, undermine existing institutional power; establish trade organizations, like, say, a programmer’s guild, with an emphasis on education and certification and advancement paths. Collect a few exceptional programmers, call them masters, and start training apprentices into journeymen.

        If you’re sufficiently successful, you would undermine the institutional power of the universities.

        Would it work? Not certain. But it looks better than beating your head against a wall for the next fifty years.

        • IrishDude says:

          On occupational licensing, I donate to Institute for Justice which is effective at challenging these types of state laws.

          I’m less optimistic about libertarians using elections to reduce the influence of government and more optimistic about technology, like Uber, airbnb, 3D printers, and bitcoin. As far as libertarian political influence, it’s nice to see Peter Thiel having the ear of Trump, though I don’t see that as a sustainable long term plan towards smaller government.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Well, from the looks of things, the libertarians are mostly failing to get their preferred policies, and can’t even get the anti-establishment vote to swing for them; the radical approach doesn’t seem to be working out that well for you.

          Yeah, nothing’s going to work; liberty has neither strong constituency nor powerful champion nowadays. That doesn’t mean we’re going to give up and try to help the surveillance/welfare state work better, it just means we’re going to lose.

          A programmer’s guild is exactly the wrong thing; we’ve already got the IEEE pushing for licensing for programmers (the Professional Engineering license for Software Engineers); a programmers guild would naturally push for similar barriers for entry. Right now there’s no legal barrier to entry for programming, so it can only get worse.

          • Thegnskald says:

            There are substantive barriers to entry, they’re just invisible to you. It is increasingly difficult to get a development job without either experience or a college degree. The previous path to employment through self-teaching is narrowing every year.

            More, self-teaching is itself a significantly difficult endeavor, and requires access to resources that are much more available for the middle classes than the lower classes, not least of which is significant access to computer time (an hour in a crowded library isn’t exactly condusive to learning) and books and/or the internet.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are barriers to entry, but they are not government barriers. There is currently no legal requirement to have a bachelor’s degree, membership in the ACM or IEEE, a certificate from a coding “boot camp”, or even a high school diploma, to write code professionally. From a libertarian point of view, this is as good as it gets.

            It is true that jobs which will take people without at least a bachelors degree are rare. (This represents an improvement over a few years ago where masters degree requirements were becoming common.) But these private requirements are not a problem from a libertarian point of view, though I would agree that a CS degree is neither necessary nor sufficient to be able to program. And in fact there are attempts to do something about it, such as those coding boot camps.

          • Thegnskald says:

            TheNybbler –

            It is a problem for libertarians. It supports the necessity of a state-run university system, no?

            As libertarians are so fond of saying, incentives matter.

            If you want to achieve your goals, it is insufficient to say “It isn’t government, so it isn’t a problem”. You must also ask, “Does this encourage the expansion of government?”

            If you solve a Left problem without government, Leftists won’t try to solve it using government.

          • Jiro says:

            There are barriers to entry, but they are not government barriers.

            A libertarian could argue that a government-created incentive counts as a government-created barrier (for instance, de-facto prohibiting IQ tests and forcing employers to use college education as a proxy).

          • The Nybbler says:

            It is a problem for libertarians. It supports the necessity of a state-run university system, no?

            Not really, no. No one ever says “If we shut down the state universities, where would we get computer programmers”? For one thing, the proposal isn’t on the table. But even if it were, that would be among the very _last_ objections.

            If you solve a Left problem without government, Leftists won’t try to solve it using government.

            Solving it using government is an end in itself for many. When it’s not, private solutions tend to have characteristics leftists find unacceptable; they’re not going to be universal and egalitarian.

            @Jiro

            A libertarian could argue that a government-created incentive counts as a government-created barrier (for instance, de-facto prohibiting IQ tests and forcing employers to use college education as a proxy).

            One could, but in that case attacking the “government created incentive” would, if successful, be more useful than trying to create some sort of private solution. If someone were to come up with a private certifying agency for computer programmers, it would end up subject to the same attacks as employer-sponsored IQ tests, and be forced either into the mold of a college or into uselessness.

          • Deiseach says:

            It is increasingly difficult to get a development job without either experience or a college degree. The previous path to employment through self-teaching is narrowing every year.

            Isn’t that what you’d expect, though, in a field that is becoming established? Has become established?

            At the start, it’s all “Can’t get enough warm bodies to fill positions so we’ll take anyone who walks in the door”. By now, though, programming/coding/development/whatever you want to call it is A Proper Job and people are training for it, studying for it, sure they want to work in it, teaching themselves, and so there’s enough of a pool of potential employees out there now for employers to go “Okay, we don’t need to take the first guy who walks in the door, now we can get choosy about experience or what languages or whatever”. And the trouble with self-teaching being, that’s fine when you’ve got one or three guys all doing their own thing, but now you have a team or even a few teams and you need to know that they all have a common basis to work from, so “I taught myself to do it this way which is not how you taught yourself to do it that way” isn’t good enough anymore.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Libertarian-ish approaches seem to be the hip new thing in Liberaltopia, see e.g. Matt Yglesias on development. Since liberals are hardcore consequentialists, they can be easily seduced to libertarian ways of thinking by implementing lots of libertarian policies that work. So I think improving the local maximum could be a runaway process.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Yglesias has been consistent in pointing out the downside of restrictive zoning as regards density for as long I have been reading him.

          But I don’t think he favors eliminating zoning. He favors changing the existing zoning requirements in certain places..

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      And assuming this is, in fact, an attractor point we can’t help but fall into, why try to implement a solution which will only return to the same local maximum, instead of improving that local maximum?

      This sounds like you’re making a point about gradualism vs radicalism, which is something I generally endorse. I think simply pushing things in a socially liberal / fiscally conservative direction is as good as libertarians can hope for.

  20. Well... says:

    Does anyone know of a legal case where a university has been successfully sued for allowing a student (esp. a grad or postgrad student) to publish plagiarized work?

  21. JayT says:

    I had a few friends bemoaning the state of journalism, saying the normal complaints like they are “only going for ratings”, “they don’t bother researching anymore”, and “things were better back in the old days”. It kind of all felt a little rose colored glasses-influenced to me, but I can’t figure out a good metric to decide if the state of mainstream media really is any better or worse than it has been in the past. I mean, terms like yellow journalism weren’t created because people were so impressed with the quality of the newspapers. When I pressed my friends on why they thought things used to be better none of them could really articulate why they thought that beyond the comments above.

    Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

    • TenMinute says:

      It’s now much harder for even the most willfully blind people to ignore the problems that have always existed.
      From the right perspective, that looks like things getting worse.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      My main thought is that this is really important and really hard.

      You could just look at surveys of trust in journalists. My impression though is that these trust ratings are going down for all institutions. Unless there is an epidemic of corruption across all aspects of Western society (which, I’m right here in Western society and I can tell you that there isn’t) this looks like either (1) a shifting definition of the word “trust” or (2) people internalizing the “trust no one” mantra.

      You could look at the front page articles on the NY Times, Le Monde, etc. and just count how many turned out to be mostly accurate (ask 3 historians of the relevant time period). That would be very interesting, but it also wouldn’t quite address your question. For example, maybe governments lied to journalists more or less in the past.

      Besides, a lot of criticism of the news centers on what is considered newsworthy (e.g. “the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is ignored since it implicates US allies, the humanitarian crisis in Syria is over-reported since it implicates US enemies”). One could restrict to articles that include “n people died when…” in the first paragraph, and check the correlation between n and number of words dedicated to that event in the newspapers, weighted by circulation of that newspaper.

      You could develop a battery of survey questions to measure how well-informed or misinformed the public is. You would need to keep updating it in order to keep it current, and you would need to figure out how to weight new additions as you add them. Maybe give a question high weight if it is predictive of a person being correct about the old questions? This is pretty sketchy…

      • Well... says:

        You could also lift the most biased, ridiculous sentences out of, say, NYT articles from 1917 that don’t inherently reveal when they were written and ask people to guess when they were written. It wouldn’t prove your point but it would demonstrate it.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It’s not even a demonstration if you’re cherrypicking. Rates are everything, anecdotes that have been adversarially selected are worthless.

          • Well... says:

            Basically that’s true, but I think a lot of people have this idea that journalism used to be this totally legit field where everything was researched as well as possible and reported in an unbia–*stifles laugh*–unbiased way. (uncontrollable giggle fits) So, just a few examples from “the paper of record” ought to be enough to destroy that illusion.

      • cassander says:

        That trust in media is declining does not necessarily indicate that it used to be better, just that people used to think it was better.

        • JayT says:

          This was one of my biggest arguments, but it fell on deaf ears.

        • Aapje says:

          @cassander

          That trust in media is declining does not necessarily indicate that it used to be better, just that people used to think it was better.

          People are better educated now than in the past, so an argument can be made that they are better at recognizing the bad stuff.

          I also think that a very strong argument can be made that people don’t value media by their objective quality, but rather by the valuable insights that the media gives them minus the falsehoods that the media spreads. As the populace has become more educated, the media clearly didn’t improve by the same amount.

          So less and less of what the media brings gives value to people and more is recognized as disinformation. It’s no wonder that people dislike the media more.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If people were better at recognising bad arguments and misinformation, I’d expect political discourse nowadays to be of a higher standard than it was in the past, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

          • Aapje says:

            I’d expect political discourse nowadays to be of a higher standard than it was in the past, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

            How can you tell? A key feature of the last decades is that communication technology became much better and especially, empowered the lower classes into widely sharing their opinion. A logical consequence is that this would cause the average level of political discourse that is visible to people like us to go down, if the level of education was constant during this time.

            If the level of education went up during this period, you’d expect the average level of political discourse to go down less or stay the same. As we don’t know what the level of discourse would be without changes in education, the quality of the political discourse is a metric that tells us little.

            If people were better at recognising bad arguments and misinformation

            Note that I’m not claiming that the abilities of people went up across the board, but rather that they became more equal. Journalists always had a reasonably good education and pretty much stayed the same; but many of their readers jumped up a decent amount.

      • Jiro says:

        You could look at the front page articles on the NY Times, Le Monde, etc. and just count how many turned out to be mostly accurate (ask 3 historians of the relevant time period).

        I don’t expect newspapers to lie all the time; I expect them to lie when they need to lie to get the news to support the narrative. That’s going to depend on how much news is political in the first place, as well as on how much news would support the narrative even without any lies.

    • Well... says:

      I have lots of thoughts about this. But I can be annoying, so I’ll limit it to this (unless you want to to hear more):

      Rather than bemoan the state of journalism, we should bemoan the existence of journalism.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      Before Internet, there were ABC, CBS. and Huntely and Brinkley — and newspapers that took a lot of money to start and maintain, much of it from paid subscribers. Now any fringe group can start a web page with all the slant their (free) readers like, cso the respectable sources are racing them toward the bottom.

      I think it’s possible to find some good sites on each side, so that by reading both, we can get the whole view, decently written. If we’re willing to pay for it.

    • registrationisdumb says:

      I also feel like it is worse than before, but I have nagging suspicions that my opinion is more or less influenced by some of the following:

      -media saturation is much higher now that the internet and social media is a thing. If 10% of stories were bullshit in the 90s and 5% are bullshit now, the bullshit stuff now would be on my facebook new’s feed and I’d be forced to read it.

      -journalism is more overtly political than before. I’m not sure if actually is more political, but the tone has become more adversarial and political biases are becoming clear.

      -Society may have shifted in a way where actual conflicts of interest are becoming apparent. Maybe they were lying just as much, but we didn’t notice it. The Duke lacrosse case comes to mind. No-one really cared if it was true because everyone was on the same side of the culture war.

      -journalists might be talking about things that are easier to call bullshit on. Most people aren’t educated enough to call out bullshit cancer cures, but smart enough to call out gender war stuff.

      -back in the day, I used to get more news from people rather than journalists. The big stories were about the headmaster getting fired or the local plant having layoffs, not about secret cabals of pedos in DC.

  22. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    How do you think accurate machine translation will affect cultural drift? In particular
    (1) Will the world’s values start to “average out”?
    (2) Will cultural change slow down in the long term? I believe the fastest way to get organisms to evolve is to put them all on separate islands, with occasional ferries between the islands. Compare to language-speakers, with occasional laborious translation.

  23. Tibor says:

    What do you think about this? I feel like it is extremely pathetic (as in full of pathos) and ridiculous. One thing I kind of like about Obama is that he said on multiple occasions that people should listen to those who have different opinions (while clearly addressing “his” tribe) and apparently is not all so fond of inquisition-like ideologists at US colleges. It is particularly interesting that he says that of all people, since the kind of people on the left who are most susceptible to being dogmatic and bigoted towards other opinions are also likely to listen to him in particular. But this thing with the “Freedom medal” feeds into the general “end of times is coming, now we’re going to be a fascist dictatorship or something” hysteria. Also, it is kind of strange to award your own vice-president. Last year, the Czech president (who has way less power than the American one, about the same as the Austrian president) gave some more or less analogous awards to (among other people) some of his friends and supporters whose contributions to the country as a whole are debatable. This annoyed a lot of people (rightly, I think). This seems like the same thing, except that Obama is good with PR and the media like him.

    What annoys me even more is that European media even bother writing about stuff like that. Especially the BBC is really completely useless as a source of information nowadays, since all they write about is Trump (this is not directly about Trump bit sort of is anyway). Biden getting some kind of a US award is completely irrelevant for the rest of the world. I just hope they will get bored with this sort of thing soon and that there won’t be 4-8 years of covering every minor thing about details in daily politics of a far away country (albeit an important one). There definitely had been a lot less coverage of US politics in Europe before the whole election circus started and I don’t remember it being anywhere close to this intensive during the previous US elections. This is not just annoying, but it also distracts people from issues in Europe, most of which have little to do with the US.

    Another annoying topic are the refugees (not so much in the BBC, because the UK is really not so much involved). That is at least more relevant, but I still feel like it distracts people from a lot of other things – really bad new laws can be passed unnoticed when everyone is fixing their attention to the refugees and to Trump.

    • Aapje says:

      I agree that giving such a medal to your friend for being your friend is nepotism. However, it is also the most benign form of corruption, so it doesn’t really register for me as significant.

      When I first heard about this, I didn’t link the name of the medal to the ‘end of democracy is coming’ narrative and I think that very few people do. I think that you are oversensitive here, pattern matching your concerns too much on what happens.

      • Tibor says:

        OK, maybe I am just too irritated about the constant stream of irrelevant US politics news in European media that I do indeed overreact.

      • Matt M says:

        Agree. I’m actually less annoyed with this one than with the one a few weeks ago where he gathered up a bunch of hip celebrities and gave them all medals and the media treated it as if it was this really big, important, significant ceremony we should all pay attention to. Politicians glorifying each other has been going on since the dawn of time. It’s boring and expected. Politicians glorifying certain cultural elites isn’t totally unheard of either, but probably comes closer to resembling evil terrible regimes than the former does.

    • hyperboloid says:

      But this thing with the “Freedom medal” feeds into the general “end of times is coming, now we’re going to be a fascist dictatorship or something” hysteria

      Why? The presidential medal of freedom was not made up by Obama it’s been around since the Kennedy administration , a list of recipients can be found here. Awarding it to cabinet officials has been a long standing , if in my opinion insipid, ritual of American politics.

      The word freedom in the name of the medal is used in the “freedom fries” sense of “uniquely American quality of being awesome”, and does imply that the recipient did anything to stand up for human rights or democracy. Prior winners include Richard Petty, Plácido Domingo, and John Wayne; so it’s not exactly the Nobel peace prize.

      Giving a special gold star to random people he likes is just one of the silly rituals of pompous regalia preformed by the high priest of America’s civic religion. I don’t see why obama giving it to Biden is any more significant than Ford giving it to Rockefeller.

      • Tibor says:

        Ok, I guess you’re right then. However, then while my first point is probably void, it makes the other one stronger – why the hell does the BBC not just write about it, but highlight it as their main news? This is not news and the UK is not America.

        Die Welt also mentions that, although at least not as their main news story today, so that is a bit better (though their main story is another of the neverending Trump escapades).

        And as I said, that is not just annoying but also possibly dangerous. The current Czech president is a similarly divisive figure as Trump (except that he’s sort of a conservative left-winger) and the media keep writing about inconsequential stuff that he does (even though, unlike the POTUS, he does not really have much real power), which distracts attention from far more important things. And while Trump does have quite a lot of power in the US today, his personal influence on the rest of the world is not all that great either, so I really don’t want to read about him every day in most European newspapers, especially since this mostly serves as a distraction from more important things. I mean even the upcoming elections in the Netherlands and definitely the elections in France are much more important from the perspective of any European country than who the US president is. Particularly writing about his latest faux pas belongs to the tabloid genre.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Because the medal was given to Joe Biden not Joe Schmoe or even the guy who plays Joe Dirt.

          It’s in the US and Canada section, somebody has the Joe Biden beat, and they wrote a story because it’s an easy piece to write and is a “human interest” story to boot.

          Obama and Biden are both charismatic and Biden also gets weepy, so that doesn’t hurt. Plus we just had a raft of Biden-Obama memes which raises the likelihood that a Biden-Obama buddy story makes it into coverage.

          • Tibor says:

            So? Joe Biden is just another US politician, he’s not even the president. I don’t know how charismatic he is, they usually don’t write about him in European newspapers. It’s not like he actually does anything important from the European perspective.

            Even if he is charismatic, this is equivalent to having a personal story about Brad Pitt (who is very likely both more charismatic and popular than Biden) on the first page of the BBC news website. It is in the US and Canada section, sure, but it is also the main story (or at least it was this morning) which pops up on the BBC when you open it. That is what annoys me (it would probably annoy me a bit less if it were not for a seemingly neverending stream of fairly unimportant US news in European media lately).

          • Matt M says:

            David Spade is a million times more deserving of a medal than Joe Biden. What has Biden ever accomplished that’s even 1/10th as beneficial for humankind as Tommy Boy?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tibor:
            You seem to be confusing how media actually works with how you would like it to work.

            Most media organizations loves a “fluffy” feel good story they can lead with from time to time. It’s the journalistic equivalent of posting pictures of kittens. People like to read these things, even if those people aren’t you.

            You didn’t say “what are you talking about” so assume you saw some of ~1M Biden-Obama memes that went around last month. If Biden wasn’t such a goof, you might have seen this article, but the editor wouldn’t have put it front and center. But given his current status as a presumably lovable and irascible good guy it’s not surprising that an anglophile news site would feature this just for the clicks.

            I mean, what sort of feel good story CAN you write about the presidential transition right now?

          • Matt M says:

            “You didn’t say “what are you talking about” so assume you saw some of ~1M Biden-Obama memes that went around last month. If Biden wasn’t such a goof, you might have seen this article, but the editor wouldn’t have put it front and center. But given his current status as a presumably lovable and irascible good guy it’s not surprising that an anglophile news site would feature this just for the clicks.”

            Also worth noting that among big-name politicians, Biden was probably the least involved with/tainted by partisan mud-slinging during the election. He managed to emerge from the cesspool relatively well liked by taking the intelligent and reasonably path of mostly staying out of it. He’s pretty much the only Democrat left that Republicans are allowed to say or think nice things about.

          • Tibor says:

            @HeelBearCub: Yes I saw those memes…becase the BBC linked to them. Which shows the level on which it now operates. Maybe you’re right that I have unreasonably high standards for “serious media”. But then I do think that they used to be seriously better, more “serious”, less click-baity and less black and white, the BBC in particular. Maybe this has less to do with the US elections and more with the fact that traditional media are having a decline. But one of the reasons they do might be that they do not provide much substantial information any more. It is particularly annoying when the BBC, which has a source of funding independent of any sales, does that. Indeed, the whole idea of a state-owned (de facto) tax-funded television is that it should have higher standards than this. When it is not only partisan (which I can live with) but also superficial and clickbaity (which is a lot more annoying), then I can just say that I’m glad I don’t have to pay it from my taxes. But it is also sad. I used to really like the BBC (even as a libertarian, I was willing to admit that they are fairly good, even though I am in principle against funding a state TV by taxation), even two years ago, I would consider it fairly good. But if it does not get back to where it was, I will probably stop reading it altogether soon.

          • Aapje says:

            The Dutch equivalent of the BBC (more or less) ran the story in their news broadcasts today.

            Of course, Holland is probably the most anglophilic country where English is not the native language (yet). This year had daily coverage of the US primaries, even.

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: But the US is not England %$(#$(@#! :-))

            But seriously, isn’t this ridiculous? We (as in Europeans) are not in the US and while it is a very important country and an ally, this kind of coverage makes it look like European journalists actually live in America (maybe they really like Rammstein a lot 🙂 ). Now, German, Czech or Austrian media are not as terrible in this (they are still mostly focused on domestic or European issues) as the BBC, but since Trump’s candidature the US coverage has increased everywhere and even after the elections it has not dropped down again. I might be getting a bit unreasonable about being annoyed by it so much…but…it…is…annoying 🙂

            Of course, US elections were always covered by European media more than say Dutch or Czech elections (except for their local media of course). I do not deny that America is an important country (and unlike China, America actually has real elections), so it makes sense to pay some more attention to them than to, say, Australia, but this is just way over the top.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            I see this as the consequence of globalism. The well-educated form communities with other well-educated people in other countries (like I am doing right now, although we are not uncritically globalist here). They form an ingroup with US, UK, Dutch and other members. A threat to one ingroup member, becomes a threat to all (like this community helped Multiheaded get out of Russia). So they all cared about Hillary over Trump, defeating Brexit, Wilders not winning too much, etc.

            However, because everyone in this community speaks English and majority of the community is American, it it extremely focused on the US. Most members cannot read Dutch media sources and thus can’t get obsessed with Dutch election news, because they quickly run into a language barrier.

            Also, American culture is less globalist anyway, so the American globalists are still relatively nationalist compared to globalists elsewhere. So there is far more interest by non-American globalists in American news than vice versa.

      • BBA says:

        Yeah, it’s roughly the equivalent to a knighthood in the UK. Irrelevant but fun for normal people to talk about. Abnormals like us just stare in confusion.

        • Tibor says:

          Are politicians awarded with knighthood just because they managed to climb up to a high enough function in their party’s hierarchy? I though this was reserved either for some outstanding people who have achieved something scientifically or culturally significant or heroes who have saved other people’s lives while risking their own.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            Theoretically, I think he got rewarded for his jobs, like being a senator and vice-president, not for managing “to climb up to a high enough function in their party’s hierarchy.”

            My country has a somewhat similar system as in the UK and people definitely get rewarded for holding powerful jobs. After leaving office, every Dutch prime minister is guaranteed the highest class of civilian medal.

            A less educated person who spends all of their free time volunteering to help rape victims, for decades, but always as a worker, rather than a manager, will never get more than the lowest or perhaps second-lowest class of medal.

            Personally I find this rather offensive, but then again, it’s just a piece of metal with a bit of ribbon.

          • Randy M says:

            Since Vice President isn’t directly elected, I think it’s safe to say “holding his job” and “climbing his party hierarchy” are pretty similar in this case, unless there was something outstanding about his tenure, and what exactly that would be either way escapes me.

          • Aapje says:

            @Randy

            Technically, people vote for a ticket with 2 names, rather than just the president, right? So he actually is directly elected.

            Also, keep in mind that I was talking about the theoretical justification for these rewards. In practice it is clear that far more subjective reasons play a role. But if you focus on the latter, then it still makes little sense to just attribute Biden’s medal to him being a big shot Democrat. Al Gore didn’t get a medal and he did no less than Biden. It makes just as much sense to point to people feeling sad for him for losing his son and opting out of running for president himself as a result. Or because Obama and Biden really like each other (and their families too, apparently).

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: Well, sure, but usually, you have to be the head of your party or close to that to be the party’s (prime) minister candidate and when you are then you are a candidate almost automatically. At least in Europe. It seems to be a bit different in the US.

            I looked up the Czech awards. There is the Order of the White Lion, which is the highest award and it is usually given either to soldiers or to foreign politicians (it seems to be used as a form of diplomacy when awarded to them). Then there is the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk which is awarded to

            individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the development of democracy, humanity and human rights.

            Then there are two lower ones, the Medal of Heroism which

            rewards acts of “heroism in combat” or those “deeds aimed at saving other human lives or substantial material values” which put the recipient at significant risk of death

            And then the lowest one is the Medal of Merit, which

            is awarded to people for service to the Republic in a number of different public areas, including: “the economy, science, technology, culture, arts, sports, enlightenment and education, defense and security of the state and the people”.

            But neither of those seems to be awarded to Czech politicians (except for those who also did something other than politics to merit the award). I find it strange that someone is awarded something just for having been a prime minister or a president. You don’t award unelected bureaucrats, so why award the elected ones? I think the outrage was about the last medal, because the president cannot award the others ad libitum (and even this one seems to need to be countersigned by the prime minister first).

            But you’re right of course, that it is really not all that important.

          • Randy M says:

            @Aapje I fully admit to the possibility of multiple factions of Democrats. Being a Democrat politician who is really liked by the President is pretty close to what I had in mind, though I’ll accept a quibble about it not being technically climbing the hierarchy.

            Technically, people vote for a ticket with 2 names, rather than just the president, right?

            Technically, sure. But I think Obama had 99.9% of the responsibility for Joe Biden being VP and voters .1%, given there being very few VP picks that would have turned people off of voting for Obama for president.

          • Aapje says:

            @Randy

            Sure, but that .1% is used as justification for having the vice-president succeed the president if he dies. So it is a fairly important .1%.

          • Randy M says:

            Sure, I guess I was sloppy there.

          • DavidS says:

            In the UK I think knighthoods are like other honours. Largely given to big figures in various fields, espefcially ones with some public service angle but not just heroes etc.

            And until recently leading politicians eg ex prime ministers were basically guaranteed a place in the House of Lords. Which I’m fine with personally – its meant to be an expert chamber and when scrutinising govt having headed the govt is valuable expertse

          • Tibor says:

            @DavidS: Well, I can see the logic in that (with the House of Lords) How does it work with that anyway? Do you actually have to be nobility (I suppose knighthood would be enough given your comment about prime ministers…unless the monarch can award people higher noble titles as well) to be eligible for a seat there? And how do you actually get one? I just know they are for life.

          • rlms says:

            @Tibor
            Life peers (nowadays always barons) are created fairly arbitrarily by the Prime Minister (in the case of those expected to reliably turn up to the House of Lords and represent a political party), by a Commission (in the case of apolitical ones). Knighthoods are given more freely (generally in periodic lists) and do not give the right to sit in the House of Lords. Important retiring politicians (and e.g. archbishops and governors of the Bank of England) are often made Lords. Less important ones, or ones who turn down baronies, are often given knighthoods instead.

    • Sivaas says:

      I initially wondered if this was kinda over the top, but then I had a look at a list of the recipients of the medal.

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

      It kinda just gets thrown around arbitrarily, and I couldn’t tell you anything important the previous two Vice Presidential recipients had done.

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      Yeah, it bothered me a little bit, too, but everyone was so happy for Biden that I felt Scroogey saying anything. It seems like a participation trophy turned up to 11; what did Biden accomplish that was an “especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”?

      Ultimately, though, it’s a feel-good story that only increases the net happiness. I think it’s pretty vapid as awards go, but I’m content to keep that to myself and let everyone have their fun.

    • cassander says:

      It’s sad and pathetic, but it’s definitely not a new sort of sad and pathetic. The presidential medal of freedom is an award with a long history of dubious distinction. Bush gave one to Reagan, Carter gave one to LBJ, Bill gave one to carter and Ford, Obama gave one to Bill and Bush the Elder. Ford gave one to Rockefeller, and Carter gave one to hubert humphry for dying.

      Other dubious awards are Robert Macnamarra, James Cagney, Robert Deniro, helen keller, George tenet, Billie Jean King, and Muhamad Ali

  24. IrishDude says:

    Has anyone tried doing a DNA testing kit from 23andMe? If so, did you find the information they provided back interesting or helpful? My wife has casually mentioned interest in it, but before I splurge $200 for a kit as a present I’d like to know what other people’s experience has been.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Isn’t the real action taking the raw data to SNPedia? I believe the info they provide now is mostly fluff after the FDA got involved.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, I think all they can do now is trace your ethnic ancestry. The primary use case I’ve seen recently is a bunch of alt-right people taking it to figure out how racially pure they are.

      • IrishDude says:

        So, are you suggesting you get raw data from 23andme that you can then get analyzed more thoroughly elsewhere?

    • Tekhno says:

      Ah. The “will the coming alt-right death squads kill me” testing kit. I have a suspicion that there might be some Jewish* and/or Roma gypsy somewhere back in my bloodline, so I’d be interested to know too.

      *I have the classic Ashkenazi gap between high verbal IQ and low processing IQ.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “will the coming alt-right death squads kill me”

        This really doesn’t add anything to your comment. All it does is beg for people to misinterpret what amounts to snark aimed at someone.

        I didn’t find what 23andMe gave me as to genealogy very useful. But that is perhaps because I am just to much of a general European mutt, mixed in the USA, from the remnants of various ethnic waves.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Alt-righters are a silly bunch, they’ll take the snark in stride.

        • Tekhno says:

          I’m actually being half-serious.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This might be even worse.

          • Tekhno says:

            Worse because some alt-righters might be upset by it, or worse because I’m being crazy paranoid if I think illiberal governments have a shot at coming to power in our polarizing environment?

          • Matt M says:

            “Worse because some alt-righters might be upset by it”

            Aren’t you actually mocking the far left? The people who have an (obviously irrational) fear of alt-right death squads coming after them?

            In all seriousness though, a product that provides a detailed report on your ethnic ancestry seems like it would appeal equally to the far left and the far right – who are the two groups most concerned about people technically being X% of race Y.

            My comment about alt-righters using it to determine their own purity was serious BTW. I know that Christopher Cantwell and Lauren Southern have both done this (not sure whether either identifies as alt-right currently, but you get my point).

          • Tekhno says:

            Aren’t you actually mocking the far left? The people who have an (obviously irrational) fear of alt-right death squads coming after them?

            Since I could possibly have Gypsy and/or Jewish ancestry, which side of the half-joke do you think I’m on?

            It doesn’t sound obviously irrational to me. It sounds obviously irrational to fear alt-right death squads coming after you now, but perhaps not so irrational thinking ahead that in, say, ten years time alt-right death squads might be coming after you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tekhno:

            Worse because snarking about something you are serious about makes it very hard to then see the serious argument as in good faith.

            What you are essentially doing is setting up a straw man, attacking it, saying you aren’t serious about it and asking people to take it seriously all at the same time.

            Then later, someone will point to your snark as a reason to not take the well reasoned argument seriously.

            Example: Trump ran as a populist, nativist demagogue, but we spend all of our time arguing about whether he is a literal, literal nazi or a figurative, literal one, because that is the argument those guys want to have, the one where they cherry pick the most extreme cases, half-refute them, and then say that proves everyone is wrong.

          • Tekhno says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Worse because snarking about something you are serious about makes it very hard to then see the serious argument as in good faith.

            What’s this snarking thing you keep going back to? It’s just gallows humor. I think there’s a serious chance that alt-right death squads coming to kill me could be in the cards at some point in my lifetime given just how much things have polarized since 2010, and how much genocidal rhetoric has spread about on the internet.

            What you are essentially doing is setting up a straw man, attacking it, saying you aren’t serious about it and asking people to take it seriously all at the same time.

            What tone would count as being serious? I stated it pretty matter of factly. The absurdity only comes from you reading that and finding it to be an absurd proposition.

            I’m not sure where the strawman is exactly. I’m not even sure whose position you think I’m strawmanning.

          • Mark says:

            I think that any resurgence of scientific racism would be based on a finer detail of genetic trait than general ethnic group.
            (No people with stupid gene xyz65)

            That is to say, I think it’s possible for eugenics to be a problem, and I think it’s possible for cultural prejudice to be a problem, but if we’re using these tests to find the mud bloods, well… I mean Voldemort was actually a mud-blood, wasn’t he?
            I’m not sure how popular it could possibly prove to be.

          • Tekhno says:

            I think that any resurgence of scientific racism would be based on a finer detail of genetic trait than general ethnic group.
            (No people with stupid gene xyz65)

            I don’t because I knew the alt-right when it was just a group of fringe white nationalists, before it briefly broadened into this vaguer thing thanks to Milo Yiannopoulos and Trump, before narrowing back into white nationalism due to Richard Spencer and copious boundary drawing efforts/drama.

            I’ve spent a few years now trying to subvert and push the white nationalists towards IQ chauvinism instead, arguing from the sake of consistency; “If you think black people are inferior because of low IQ, then surely Jews…” but that’s not what they really care about. The motte here is an infinite circle of “whites are the best because whites are the best because whites are the best because whites are the best because…”

            Most people are stupid and easily affected by emotional memes like “white identity”, and I’ve seen this shit spreading and getting more and pervasive over time.

            I’m not sure how popular it could possibly prove to be.

            Depends on how fine grained the criteria for who is white and who isn’t turns out to be according to whatever the ideology says it is. I think they can define it broadly enough to include 99% of people who look white and thought they were white before the test, leaving the 1% with a nasty surprise.

            Better make sure you aren’t likely to be part of that 1% ahead of time. Best check for obvious things like “Oh, it turns out that half of the family on my estranged father’s side were Jewish.” before crunch time.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It’s not clear to me that IQ chauvinism is better than just plain ol’ racism. I mean obviously it has benefits from the perspective of a high-IQ Jew, but surely there are as many losers as there are winners.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tekhno

            Ah. The “will the coming alt-right death squads kill me” testing kit.

            I can read that with an implied tone that is either sardonic or sarcastic. You could be mocking the alt-right for their obsessions or you could be mocking everyone else for taking things the alt-right says literally.

            You have scare quotes in there, so I’m not supposed to take it literally, and usually those provide a pejorative connotation.

            You also said that you were “half-serious.”

            All of that looks to me like you trying to demean or belittle someone’s position (obviously the alt-right, now).

            Death squads seem to me to be so many steps down the road that we would be well advised to take seriously the harms of what is actually happening and being proposed, rather than jump,to a hypothetical ten years in the future.

            Because “you know who else was a vegetarian? Hitler.” isn’t the kind of argument that can get people to take the danger of the alt-right seriously. Not around here anyway.

          • Space Viking says:

            @ Tekhno:

            Hope for a successful Trump administration. That would keep white nationalists bottled up for the foreseeable future, as the vast majority of white Trump supporters are willing to give civic nationalism a go as long as it works better for them then globalism. I would be happy with that myself. But if civic nationalism fails, then yes, it’s then time for ethno-nationalism.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @suntzuanime

            Sure, there’s a lot of losers with IQ chauvinism. But they’re OTHER PEOPLE. You know, people who don’t read this blog. That makes it infinitely superior to white nationalism.

            Also the idea isn’t to exterminate or expel the low-IQ. Just to reduce their breeding levels and give them the sort of regimentation they need as they perform grunt work for us, the elect.

            (Does that sound fashy to you? Because it sounds fashy to me. Not serious, of course; for one thing, I wouldn’t want the responsibility.)

      • TenMinute says:

        Just for reference, the 1/8th rule has fallen out of favor. As long as you’ve never used the phrase “fellow white people”, you should be fine.

        Good luck!

        • Tekhno says:

          I’m fairly sure I’m super super white. I’m Pale McPaleperson with blue eyes. The only reason for the nagging doubt is that I asked my mother about it and she said that she remembers an old photograph of some gypsy looking relatives her mother had.

          It’s pretty reassuring to know which side of the death squads you’re going to end up on.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s pretty reassuring to know which side of the death squads you’re going to end up on.

            I’m sure the kulaks thought so too

    • Skivverus says:

      Yes, and did find it of idle interest, though haven’t really explored it enough to call it ‘helpful’. No interesting-enough-to-test-for diseases. They do highlight potential-Jewish ancestry (along with Neanderthal ancestry, a few geographic subdivisions of Asian ancestry, a few subdivisions of European ancestry, and others I don’t recall off the top of my head); I’m somewhere between 5-15% Jewish myself, apparently (don’t remember the exact percentage), and also part Neanderthal (the latter apparently contributes to my lack of heigh