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OT69: The Open Of Akhnai

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

1. This might be your last chance to take the SSC Survey before I close it. Thanks to everyone who has already responded.

2. Comment of the week is Douglas Knight’s commentary on the American genetic clustering post. I still haven’t looked through most of the cost disease comment thread.

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1,109 Responses to OT69: The Open Of Akhnai

  1. Zakharov says:

    Can someone explain to me how insider trading law works (mostly in the US, but I’m also interested if it varies significantly between countries)? I understand that if you work for a company that’s acquiring another company, and you buy shares in the target before the acquisition, you’re benefiting yourself from your company’s information at your company’s expense. What if you buy shares in a company you work for before they release the earnings report? Who does that harm? It could be the person you’re buying the shares from, but in that case, what makes insider information different from any other kind of information?

    • periodicalwords says:

      What if you buy shares in a company you work for before they release the earnings report? Who does that harm? It could be the person you’re buying the shares from, but in that case, what makes insider information different from any other kind of information?

      It is. What makes insider information different from other kinds of information is that theoretically, all other information you can trade on is public.

      Insider trading rules also apply if you’re trading in a different company’s stock. E.g., if you work at company A, and you find out that your company just negotiated a huge deal with company B, and then you go and trade in company B’s stock, that’s an insider trading violation.

      • Zakharov says:

        If I’m sitting in a cafe and overhear the CEO of a company talking about how great his next earnings report will be, I have material nonpublic information, but since I’m not an insider I can trade on it. What’s the difference between this scenario and the scenario where I’m his secretary and can’t?

        • Evan H says:

          I am not a lawyer but to the best of my knowledge in the situation you described (overhearing material non-public information accidentally) you are still forbidden by law to trade on it. It is definitely insider trading if the CEO tells you intentionally.

          (I just looked this up, and in Canada where I am intent determines the exact charge but both cases are still illegal.)

          edit to add: according to http://www.mondaq.com/india/x/401724/Securities/Requirement+Of+Mens+Rea+As+A+Criterion+For+Penalising+Insider+Trading+In+India which mostly talks about India but gives a good history of the relevant American laws as well, mens rea (~aka willful intent) is required for the trader, but not for the “tipper” or source of information. In short, it doesn’t matter if you found out by accident: if you trade on it knowing that it’s material non-public information, that’s a crime. Still not a lawyer though.

          • infinull says:

            If mens rea is only required by the trader, but not the tipper, wouldn’t the accidental tipper (the CEO who blabbed in the coffee shop) but not the trader (the civilian)?

            Or is it still mens rea if you know that the info is nonpublic. (You know you’re getting a “scoop” from the conversation you overheard). Where’s the burden of proof? Does the prosecution need to prove that you knew the information was nonpublic, or do you have to prove that you thought the information was public?

          • Evan H says:

            Or is it still mens rea if you know that the info is nonpublic. (You know you’re getting a “scoop” from the conversation you overheard).

            That’s how I read it: it doesn’t matter how you found out as long as you trade knowing it’s insider knowledge.

            Where’s the burden of proof? Does the prosecution need to prove that you knew the information was nonpublic, or do you have to prove that you thought the information was public?

            I assume based on innocent-until-proven-guilty that the burden of proof is on the prosecution, but to be honest I have no idea.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            That’s weird because I know a couple of Toronto CEOs and they insist that Canada is one of the few markets where Industry traders do make it to the top just on the basis of knowing the people who know the insider info, and incorporating that into their trades.

            Like most places the “smart money” is just random walking like everyone else, I’m not even sure it’s possible to profit from insider trading on firms that have a large enough cap in the states (the markets just more efficient than your judgement + some finances (the market literally goes up on bad news a good portion of the time because there are so many people trying to play one level deeper))

            All the cases of insider trading I’ve heard of that actually ended in charges was people being really obvious about it or actually exchanging literal envelopes of money or both.
            The laws always struck me as vague enough that I trading would be legalized or made civil or defined out of existence with time and one too many legal over reaches.

          • jonathanpaulson says:

            I’m not even sure it’s possible to profit from insider trading on firms that have a large enough cap in the states (the markets just more efficient than your judgement + some finances (the market literally goes up on bad news a good portion of the time because there are so many people trying to play one level deeper))

            You are significantly overestimating how smart the market is. Buying if you learn a secret good thing or selling if you learn a secret bad thing will make money. (You *do* have to be able to tell the difference between bad and good, and good/bad *is* relative to the market’s expectations, not the current state. Still not hard, though).

          • Matt M says:

            “Buying if you learn a secret good thing or selling if you learn a secret bad thing will make money.”

            Over the long term, IF you have constant access to different secrets.

            I see it as similar to counting cards in blackjack. Yes, it provides you with a statistically significant advantage. But it doesn’t guarantee success on every hand. A lot of things affect stock prices. It’s entirely possible you could make a big bet based on your secret and still come out behind on any given individual trade.

          • Izaak says:

            I was under the impression that this case is not insider trading, because anyone could have been sitting in that cafe. You have no insider advantage over the average person; you just got lucky.

        • jonathanpaulson says:

          I believe that if you just overhear material non-public information you *can* trade on it, since you have no duty to the company re: the information. But I am not a lawyer.

          Similarly, if an insider tells a completely random person some insider information, that person can trade on it, and no crime has been committed.

        • John Schilling says:

          What’s the difference between this scenario and the scenario where I’m his secretary and can’t?

          The secretary has a fiduciary responsibility to the company to not do things that harm the company’s financial interests, the bystander doesn’t. Admittedly, a few small trades ahead of an earnings report are going to have a nigh-infinitesimal effect on the company’s bottom line, but the SEC and usually the courts are willing to take a very expansive definition of “fiduciary responsibility” when something also trips their unfairness sensor the way insider trading does.

          But, ultimately, there has to be some sort of actual insider involved. There also has to be material gain to the insider. The SEC and the courts can be very expansive on that as well – did you pick up the tab on the meal where the secretary told you about the report? Is she a friend for whom you regularly buy Christmas gifts? Might be an implicit quid pro quo there, conspiracy to violate a fiduciary duty. And surely you’d rather plea bargain than take it to a jury that doesn’t grok fiduciary duties and SEC law but knows “insider trading” is something Wall Street villains do.

          But if you literally overheard it in a restaurant, you’re good to go. Same deal if you e.g. pay Digital Globe for satellite imagery of their parking lot on swing shifts, even though that’s not freely available to the public. No material gain to an insider with a duty.

          Disclaimer: IANAL, so this is from memory of conversations with people who are. Hire one of your own before you make any trades on anything that might constitute insider information.

        • Yes, in that case you’re free to trade on the information you overhead since you weren’t in a privileged position to acquire the information. See United States v. O’Hagan and Chiarella v. United States. But if you’re employed by the cafe and the cafe was rented by the company whose CEO you overhear then that probably makes you enough of an insider to be subject to insider trading rules.

          But really the SEC might go after you anyways like they did with Martha Stuart. It’s just that their case wouldn’t stand up in court. The same way a cop might arrest you for taking a video of them even when that isn’t against the law.

      • Fahundo says:

        What if you were planning to trade in company B’s stock that afternoon and then you find out during the day that your company negotiated the huge deal?

      • thedufer says:

        It is. What makes insider information different from other kinds of information is that theoretically, all other information you can trade on is public.

        This is not true. There are a number of situations in which you can trade on information that is thoroughly non-public. For example, hedge funds working with activists is not terribly uncommon, even though the hedge funds are trading on the non-public information that the activist is about to initiate a take-over.

        The best way to think about it is whether you’re misappropriating information that belongs to someone else. In the scenario above, the information belongs to the activist, and they have given it to the hedge funds in order to get sympathetic shareholder votes. Taking information that belongs to your employer and trading on it is clearly out by this standard; but information that has been made public is no longer owned and is thus fair game.

        This is all US-based. I understand the rules differ significantly between countries, but I don’t know how. Also, the rules here are basically made up by the courts and change (in subtle ways) fairly frequently.

    • Emerich says:

      Basically, you can’t use information available to you by virtue of being privy to management decisions in your company or to actions either decided on or contemplated by your company. Whether insider information harms or not is debated by economists, but isn’t relevant at this stage to the law, which is what it is. The justification is, as you suggest, the counterparty doesn’t have that information, and what makes it different from other kinds of information is that your counterparty to the trade cannot, even in principle, get at the information. You have to be an insider to have access to insider information. It’s also illegal to act on info from an insider, BTW.

    • qwints says:

      Insider trading makes very little sense philosophically (blackmail’s a similar situation). The essential idea is that people shouldn’t have an unfair advantage in the market which is ludicrous from a practical perspective.

      • jonathanpaulson says:

        Intruigingly, this is not the legal basis in the US for insider trading law (although it is most people’s intuitive basis); the legal basis is that the insider is misusing the company’s confidential information, and s/he had a duty to the company not to do that.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          If the company explicitly permits you to insider-trade as a perk, is it legal?

          • sflicht says:

            Yes if the company is the US Congress.

          • Brad says:

            The company might be in violation of regulation FD, I’m not sure.

          • James Miller says:

            Most definitely no. It would just make whomever gave you permission a co-conspirator.

          • bean says:

            The insider trading training I had to take at work (Fortune 500 company) basically said that the answer to ‘is this illegal insider trading’ is always yes, if the question even comes up. It honestly felt a lot like it was some sort of weird mimetic hazard set up by the SEC to ensnare people, and enforced by them. There’s no way Congress would let you write a loophole into the law for yourself.

          • jonathanpaulson says:

            Not sure.

            Executives can’t just give themselves permission to insider-trade, so I think it’d have to be in the company bylaws or something. In that extreme cae: I think *you* might be OK, but your company would be violating regulation FD.

            (Quoth Wikipedia: “SEC regulation FD (“Fair Disclosure”) requires that if a company intentionally discloses material non-public information to one person, it must simultaneously disclose that information to the public at large.”)

    • Zakharov says:

      As a followup, I had the impression that in the US, insider trading law was based on some kind of theory that insider trading harmed the company, possibly in addition to another theory that it harmed the counterparty?

      The theory that it harms the counterparty seems dubious – if someone’s posted a sell order for some shares, and I take that offer, why should they care why I take it?

      I’m more interested in why insider trading is illegal than in what exactly counts as insider trading.

    • jonathanpaulson says:

      In the first case, the harm is not to your company (they need to buy the shares anyway), but to whoever you bought the shares from. Same as the second case, really.

      The legal theory is that you’re misusing the company’s information for your personal benefit. One concrete harm to the company is that your stock purchase leaks information to the public (e.g. imagine that a week before Twitter announces its earnings, a bunch of Twitter employees sell a bunch of Twitter stock; it would be a pretty good bet that Twitter had a bad quarter).

      Some more color: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-12-06/supreme-court-leaves-insider-trading-law-alone#footnote-1481043726329-ref

      • Zakharov says:

        How does leaking that information harm the company? Does it still harm the company if you buy Twitter stock ahead of a good earnings report?

        • jonathanpaulson says:

          Yes, I think there would be ~equal harm in leaking a good earnings report.

          I’m not really sure what that harm is, though. Random theory/example: the company wants to spin while they share the raw data (e.g. “yes revenue is down this quarter, but that’s because we invested in customer acquistion, and that number is good”), and leaking early disrupts that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You have to look at systems and patterns of behavior, not just isolated incidents. Leaking a good earnings report marginally reduces the perception of the companies performance in the future where an earnings report (good or bad) is not leaked.

        • Jon S says:

          If the company thought there was no downside to somebody trading their stock ahead of the announcement, then the company would go ahead and make those trades themselves. Given that they’re not doing this, they believe the harm to them is greater than the profit available by doing so.

          Companies generally don’t want to enrich one subset of their owners at the expense of another subset. They also don’t want their investors (or potential investors) to worry that they are at an informational disadvantage when they trade their stock.

          Market makers in the stock will also have to charge a wider bid-ask spread if they’re trading against counterparties who have material information (public or otherwise). The reduced liquidity will in turn harm the company’s investors.

          • Chalid says:

            If the company thought there was no downside to somebody trading their stock ahead of the announcement, then the company would go ahead and make those trades themselves. Given that they’re not doing this…

            But how do you know they’re not doing this? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they were.

          • Zakharov says:

            I thought companies weren’t allowed to trade their own stock ahead of their announcements?

          • Chalid says:

            I’m not really aware of any restrictions on the timing of stock buybacks or issuance. (Not saying they don’t exist, merely that I don’t know of restrictions.)

            Company insiders typically have “blackout windows” in which they can’t trade the stock immediately ahead of the earnings announcements. Nonetheless, there are lots of times when an insider can trade, these trades are closely watched by the investor community, and it’s widely known that the trading data has some predictive power for stock returns.

          • Jon S says:

            But how do you know they’re not doing this? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they were.

            If the company is doing it, they’re already doing it to the extent that they believe maximizes the company’s benefit (theoretically – of course decisions are made by actual people within the company who may have other motivations or biases).

    • JulieK says:

      The person you buy from is, by definition, a part-owner of your company, and thus, your part-employer. You should be acting on his behalf, and instead you’re taking advantage of him.

      • Zakharov says:

        Let’s say the person you buy from had posted a sell order on the marketplace. How is accepting that person’s offer taking advantage of them? If you had not bought the shares, someone else would have bought them, possibly after the release of the report. This other person was harmed by your actions, but do you have any obligation to them?

        • thedufer says:

          If you had not bought the shares, someone else would have bought them, possibly after the release of the report.

          I don’t think this premise is true. Cancelling all orders before an earnings report to avoid getting run over by people who read faster than you is not at all uncommon, so there’s a decent chance their order would never have executed.

    • tgb says:

      I got confused about this matter a few years ago and ended up writing up some notes on it. The best source I found then was this article which summarizes the state of the debate on insider trading as “Most observers of the literature likely would conclude that neither side has carried the field, but that the argument in favor of regulation probably is winning at the moment.” The arguments summarized in the article are (as summarized by myself a few years ago, in a state of general confusion over the matter):
      Arguments for (pro-insider trading:
      1) Increases price accuracy – insider trading moves the price towards what it would be if the information was public. (a)Makes investing more appealing to risk-averse investors as it would decrease price volatility. (b) Empirical evidence for this suggests the effect is small, but the studies aren’t great
      2) Is an efficient form of compensation for managers – it compensates managers for producing accurate information about a company. It is difficult to accurately compensate ‘corporate entrepreneurs’ for the benefits they give as it is difficult to determine in advance what effect they will have. However, also allows managers to profit from their own failures

      Arguments against (anti-insider trading):
      1) Insider trading harms investors and makes them reluctant to invest (If I have a coin that I know to be biased, you would never take up a bet that I offer. If you suspect everyone else trading has insider knowledge, you’ll never want to trade, which means that no one in the public will invest.)
      2) Insider trading harms the issuer of the affected securities. It encourages the manager to delay telling the company about information until he/she may make a profit off of it. May affect a corporations decisions: negotiating a take-over may make the managers involved buy stock in the company they are acquiring, thereby increasing the price of the acquisition. Encourages managers to act to disclose the information quickly to reduce their liability while waiting between purchasing securities and the market reacting to reflect the news. Premature disclosure can often increase the costs of business and reduce a firms incentives for innovation.
      3) Insider trading encourages over-investment in industries where there is a greater opportunity for insider trading (so Bainbridge says – but who will invest in something that encourages insider trading if insider trading harms investors? I’m confused.)
      4) It makes a firm unappealing to invest in
      5) Insider trading is theft of material (information) belonging to the company

      A further possibility between regulation and de-regulation is allowing the corporations to contractually allow or dis-allow insider trading to their employees as a way to trade off salary versus a higher-risk possibility of insider trading.

      All thoughts from a time ago, and the formatting was lost from my notes, so sorry if it’s a little unreadable. I also really liked the argument from here. It argues that insider trading laws punish insider trading but, of course, don’t and can’t ever punish insider not-trading. That is, suppose everyone thinks that AAPL stock is about to fail and starts selling it, but I happen to know that their next earning report is going to be absolutely killer. Surely the law can’t compel me to go and sell my existing stock just on the basis that everyone else is selling. There’s an obvious asymmetry between this and standard insider trading based off the practicality of enforcement, but from a moral perspective, shouldn’t we treat them as equivalent?

      • There is a puzzle/paradox in the logic of insider trading which I have not seen discussed, but I haven’t read much in the relevant literature.

        Insider traders (including legal ones, as in the overheard conversation scenario) are supposed to make an above average return on their investments. That means that everyone else is making a below average return. But anyone who wants an average return can get it by simply buying a wide mix of stocks, not selectively buying when he thinks a stock is underpriced and selling when he thinks it is overpriced.

        • Iain says:

          This article from the New Yorker, about the harms caused by the rise of passive investing and indexed funds, seems relevant.

        • Chalid says:

          One obvious response is that there isn’t actually very much insider trading. Another obvious response is that you’ve just confirmed the CW that you shouldn’t trade unless you have an edge over everyone else, but many more people think they have an edge than actually do.

          A less-obvious response is that passive investors don’t actually earn the average market return, though I haven’t fully digested that one yet.

          • baconbacon says:

            From the abstract

            Since passive investors may trade at less favorable prices than active managers, Sharpe’s equality is broken. The changes of the market portfolio are large enough that active managers can add noticeable returns.

            This is a big red flag. The only relevant question is how the average re-balancing of passive investors would compare to active managers. they might under preform, or over preform or have similar outcomes.

            If this isn’t directly addressed this guy has just back doored the assumption that active managers make better investing decisions than passive ones.

          • Chalid says:

            The key part is “Sharpe’s equality is broken.” You can then go on to evaluate the size of the effects of various types of turnover empirically. (Which he does.)

        • jonathanpaulson says:

          This seems simple enough. Imagine there are only two investors: an insider trader and an “average-seeking” investor. The average-seeking investor will only be able to trade when the insider is willing, so she is likely to see a short-term loss on most of her trades (which, of course, exactly cancels out the insider’s gain).

          More generally: you’re assuming the average-seeking investor can “[buy] a wide mix of stocks” at their “true” value for free, which is simply false (although very close to true in today’s markets).

        • Anatid says:

          More generally, active traders on average make the average return, or actually a bit less since they incur costs like trading commissions. So why do they trade?

      • Zakharov says:

        I can see how insider trading being legal would put speculators out of business, but how does it harm long-term investors? Your first point in the pro-insider section suggests that share prices should accurately reflect the value of a company, and long-term investors are perfectly willing to buy or sell shares at those prices.

        Argument 2 against seems like a strong argument, especially if you also consider that it discourages insiders from sharing important information with each other.

    • J Mann says:

      Everyone should feel free to correct me, but my understanding of current US law is:

      1) As to your first question, if an insider trades on material nonpublic information, law enforcement will use a “fraud on the market” theory if they need to. In other words, if you’re an insider who is aware that your company has just discovered the world’s largest reserve of copper and you short sell all your competitors the week before the discovery becomes public, you’re still in trouble. The idea is that the counterparties to your transaction were entitled to rely on the market price, and on the idea that you didn’t have any information you weren’t entitled to know.

      2) There’s a second question downthread about non-literal-insiders. US law is that the person sharing the tip has to have received some benefit for the tip eceiver to be considered an insider, but it can be a pretty theoretical benefit. So if you tell your little brother that your company just discovered the world’s largest copper reserve and is keeping the information private until next week, and he trades, then he’s in trouble too because (1) he knew the information was non-public, and (2) a jury could decide that you received a benefit – your feelings of goodwill for your brother allowed you to benefit from the “gift” you gave him. (Salman v. US).

      3) As I understand it, a purely unconnected tippee might still be OK. If you discuss the copper find in the men’s room at your favorite restaurant, and someone in the next stall overhears it, that innocent eavesdropper can probably trade. (But shouldn’t blame me if he somehow ends up in jail anyway!)

    • Wency says:

      There’s a lot of bad information/conjecture in the responses here. I’m a professional investor, so I’ll share what I know, at least w.r.t. the U.S.

      1. Illegal insider trading is the use of (A) Material (B) Nonpublic information to execute a trade. It doesn’t matter how you came upon the material nonpublic — once you know it, you can’t trade on it until it becomes public.

      2. One stated purpose of equity analysts is to combine material public, immaterial public, and immaterial nonpublic information into an assessment about the company’s future cash flows that amounts to something material nonpublic. This is known (or was known, when I took my exams) as the Mosaic Theory. This is viewed as a socially desirable means of rewarding fair and diligent efforts to improve market pricing.

      3. In practice, material nonpublic is traded on to some degree in the U.S. This is clear to anyone paying close attention to certain stock charts, especially in small caps that are about to be acquired, where knowledge of the deal expands to include various lawyers and investment bankers, some of whom are surely leaking information to someone. This is rarely prosecuted.

      But I don’t think insider trading is the norm, certainly not post-Reg FD (2000), which is taken seriously in most circles. I don’t think many leaks come from a CEO/CFO flagrantly giving someone a “tip” anymore, but this was not uncommon in the 90s.

      4. Legal insider trading occurs — company CEOs will regularly sell their stock awards, for example. The restriction is they can’t do this outside certain windows around earnings reports or other as-yet- unreported information judged to be sufficiently material nonpublic. Also, they are required to report these insider trades, and they are often performed in 10b5-1 trading programs that are set up ahead of time. Unusual selling (or buying) behavior is of course an important indicator that intelligent investors will look at.

      However, you cannot short your own company’s stock. This is important, since in the early days, it was entirely possible to use this strategy to make money by running their own company into the ground.

      5. Lower-ranked finance/accounting employees at a company can often trade freely outside certain windows when they are presumed to possess material nonpublic, and it won’t be reported to shareholders. I know a guy who made a fair bit of money trading his own company’s stock more-or-less legally, based on information I’d perhaps classify as “technically public, but difficult to know and not widely recognized at the time”.

      6. As to the theory behind insider trading law, my sense is it’s about trust in the markets and fairness. Just as you might not buy a used car off Craiglist without certain protections, you should be even more reluctant to buy stocks — pieces of paper from faceless parties — without certain protections. Insider trading law is one dimension of that.

      The relevant laws were passed in 1933 and 1934, when memories of 1929 were still sharp, and they are based on the ideal that an intelligent person should be able to look at the relevant public information and make a reasonable judgement about a company’s worth. Much of securities law is predicated on fairness to the little guy — there’s much less concern about the ruthlessness with which the “big boys” compete with one another. But at least in the U.S., we believe the little guy should be able to pick stocks, so he needs protection.

      I could also make an argument around liquidity. During good times, when greed dominates, the market will tolerate a lot of information asymmetry. But when greed is replaced by fear, people will tend to assume all the sellers know more than they do. This becomes much more acute if there’s a perception or provable fact that insider trading is widespread.

      If someone is willing to sell a stock at any price in an insider-dominated market, I have to assume he knows his shares are worthless, so I’m unwilling to buy at any price. I have heard from old-timers of cases in the ’29 crash when stocks had no bid — literally no one was willing to buy certain stocks at any price.

      OTOH, if I believe the company has fairly disclosed all of its relevant financial information, perhaps I’ll recognize panic when I see it, and I’ll provide some liquidity in the face of collapse. And this is probably the most socially desirable kind of liquidity.

      • Brad says:

        1. Illegal insider trading is the use of (A) Material (B) Nonpublic information to execute a trade. It doesn’t matter how you came upon the material nonpublic — once you know it, you can’t trade on it until it becomes public.

        There’s case law to the contrary.

        Dirks v. SEC 463 U.S. 646 (1983)

        Not to require such a fiduciary relationship, we recognized, would “depar[t] radically from the established doctrine that duty arises from a specific relationship between two parties,” and would amount to “recognizing a general duty between all participants in market transactions to forgo actions based on material, nonpublic information.”

        In effect, the SEC’s theory of tippee liability in both cases appears rooted in the idea that the antifraud provisions require equal information among all traders. This conflicts with the principle set forth in Chiarella that only some persons, under some circumstances, will be barred from trading while in possession of material nonpublic information. [Footnote 16] Judge Wright correctly read our opinion in Chiarella as repudiating any notion that all traders must enjoy equal information before trading:

        “[T]he ‘information’ theory is rejected. Because the disclose-or-refrain duty is extraordinary, it attaches only when a party has legal obligations other than a mere duty to comply with the general antifraud proscriptions in the federal securities laws.”

        220 U.S.App.D.C. at 322, 681 F.2d at 837. See Chiarella, 445 U.S. at 445 U. S. 235, n. 20. We reaffirm today that “[a] duty [to disclose] arises from the relationship between parties . . . , and not merely from one’s ability to acquire information because of his position in the market.”

        • Wency says:

          Well, in practice, if your activity makes it to the Supreme Court, and they rule in favor of you in a 6-3 decision, it’s probably safe to say you were playing in a gray area.

          The information in question was evidence of fraud, and Dirks was something of a whistleblower. He also didn’t profit from the information. These details seem to have saved him.

          • Brad says:

            Frankly, this is a pretty disappointing response to an on point Supreme Court holding that flatly contradicts your claim. You said it doesn’t matter how you came upon the material non-public information and the Supreme Court held the opposite. You were simply wrong. Nothing so terrible about that, it happens, but no need to double down either.

    • onyomi says:

      I think insider trading laws are based on a faulty and harmful conception of stock markets as casinos/games which should be “fair” for all participants, rather than a venue for people who know something about something to buy or sell based on that knowledge, as well as an assumption that more money in the stock market is an unalloyed economic good (when it, in fact, should be considered an economic harm if invested unwisely).

      Part of the problem is that constant inflation has made simply holding onto currency a non-viable option for those uninterested in doing the research to figure out which positions might be good. But even given that, one can always invest in some broad index fund or managed retirement plan, etc., in effect either betting on something broad, like “the US economy” or just letting some experts do the research for you. Incentivizing uninformed amateurs to treat the stock market like a game which should be “fair” is not good for them or the economy.

      In reality, like anti-trust, because it will always be enforced unevenly, it functions as a cudgel for the government to go after people who displease them in some way.

    • BBA says:

      One reason why this discussion is so complicated is that there is no statute criminalizing insider trading. Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act bans securities fraud, but delegates the definition of fraud to the SEC. The SEC made several regulations to classify fraudulent activities, until they came across an obviously fraudulent scheme that didn’t fit into their classification. The result was Rule 10b-5, which just bans “any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud” without further embellishment. For 50 years that short rule was the basis of every prosecution for insider trading (and many other forms of securities fraud) with the courts left to decide whether or not a particular trade was truly fraudulent.

      Finally in 2000, Rule 10b5-1 actually put the definition of insider trading into a written regulation, with some text to clarify what it means to trade “on the basis of” material nonpublic information. The other elements of the offense, including the non-intuitive “breach of duty”, are still matters for the courts to define.

      This is what common-law rulemaking is like, and personally I’m not impressed. I’d prefer a clear statutory rule about what is and isn’t supposed to be banned here. (On the other hand, large parts of English criminal law are still unwritten common-law offenses, and they seem to be doing all right. But on the other other hand they’ve had centuries to figure out the definition of murder, while securities fraud has only been a crime for just over 80 years, and insider trading a recognized form of securities fraud for much less than that.)

      • JDG1980 says:

        It seems to me that the process of common-law rulemaking is fundamentally at odds with the modern American conception of due process, which holds that people ought to know in advance what acts are and are not prohibited.

  2. What if any tradeoffs can I make between health/well-being and longevity? That is, if there anything that will let me remain as healthy as a 30-year-old for a long period, followed by a massive heart attack at age 60? I would prefer that any such method not increase my risk for e.g. disabling-but-nonlethal strokes. It’s surprisingly hard to come up with anything that might work like this.

    • ddxxdd says:

      I registered just to answer this question.

      1. Being tall

      2. Being muscular

      3. Breathing in a highly oxygenated atmosphere.

      Edit:

      4. Living in sunny areas and getting lots of sun (Vitamin D + skin cancer)

      5. Getting lots and lots of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals (your body needs them, but it can’t get rid of the excess)

      6. Injecting yourself with adrenaline on a regular basis

      7. Steroids (similar to #2)

      8. Is it still believed that Diet Coke causes cancer?

      9. For that matter, anything healthy that causes cancer.

      10. For that matter, anything that improves your muscles/cardiopulminary system/bodily organs/etc. while straining your individual cells/telomeres/other microscopic systems within your body.

    • Emerich says:

      Not that hard. Exercise, including HIT (high intensity interval training) and weights; don’t consume added sugar (from drinks, prepared foods, etc.) and minimize processed foods. Don’t drink too much alcohol. This regimen will keep your weight and body mass healthy and minimize the chances of developing metabolic syndrome. It’s possible that fasting once or twice a year for 3-5 days could reduce your chances of getting cancer, though that’s still being studied.

    • Being well over sixty at this point, my reaction is to wonder why anyone would want that deal. I’m a little less functional than I was at thirty–I gave up SCA sword and shield combat a few years back for several reasons, one of which was that I took longer than I used to to recover from pulled muscles–but not much less.

      • – our culture has a strong norm of slowly wasting away in a nursing home that I would very much not like to participate in

        – my life is currently hedonically negative, and I would like a way to push it into the positive range so that the years I’m trading off are actually worth living

        – seriously fuck the nursing home industrial complex; the industry that makes truckloads of money from people who hang on for a couple extra years of having someone else wipe their asses also JUST SO HAPPENS to have a taboo on taking any action that will end a patient’s life and prevent them from continuing to hand over their life savings

        • The Nybbler says:

          Do all the normal things which keep you healthy. Avoid obviously-misery-making life-extending things like severe calorie restriction. Actually that’s the only one I know of. Well, there’s eating brassicas, but it’s only me and George HW Bush who object to that.. and he went skydiving on his 90th birthday.

          Seriously, there’s no tradeoff of health vs longevity (except maybe calorie restriction). You can do other things which might make you happy and reduce your life expectancy, like base jumping, but only if you’re risk-seeking. If you really want to avoid nursing homes at any cost, I think the best way to do it is to prepare in advance an exit method you’ll be able to take even when in a severe state of decline. And of course a living will

        • Corey says:

          Your scenario is tailor-made for right-to-die advocates. So the key would be to document your plans, *get your next of kin on board*, and live or plan to move to a place where it’s legal (like California). (Kevin Drum had an excellent article a year or so ago on California’s then-fresh assisted-suicide law and how he might take advantage of it).

          IIRC something like a third to a half of lethal prescriptions issued under such laws end up never being used; people seem to be using that option as a fallback against undesirable post-decline lingering.

    • Dog says:

      Supplementing testosterone probably works like this to some extent for men. It maintains your youthful physique but increases the risk of an early heart attack.

      • That’s sort of what inspired this question, but my understanding is that it also causes non-lethal, disability-inducing strokes. Nearly every “tradeoff” that people talk about seems to look like this, afaict, and it seems hard to cut out those sorts of in-between risks that lessen your quality of life without killing you. I’m looking for exceptions to that rule.

    • Since apparently the OP wasn’t very clear, the model I’m using has three things that can be traded off:

      A) length of life

      B) The enjoyment of the lifestyle that I’m living

      C) The risks of a loss of quality of life due to thinks like strokes, cognitive decline, etc.

      I’d like to maximize B and minimize C, and I’m willing to make A my dump stat in order to do so. The problem is that most if not all interventions seem to trade off [A] against [B, C]. I’m looking for something that reduced A while reducing C and/or increasing B. I’m finding it difficult to do so because A and C seem highly correlated in most (all?) scenario.

      • Dog says:

        I feel like this is almost better to approach as two separate goals. Physical and mental well being are pretty closely linked, so it’s quite possible to both increase your enjoyment of life and lengthen it at the same time. Perhaps even easier then trying to trade one for the other. Then you have the separate issue of living in such a way that you are more likely to die before going senile or something. There are different things you can do to help preserve your mind in old age, e.g. maintaining a low blood pressure is preventative for both stroke and dementia.

      • You might see if you can locate Basil Hallward and get him to paint your portrait.

      • Rachael says:

        Do fun and dangerous extreme sports?

        • Creutzer says:

          This. Everything to do with great heights is more likely to leave you dead than a cripple, so parachuting and mountaineering are ideal. Extreme skiing probably not so much – you’re quite likely to break something, and dying in an avalanche means suffocation more often than freezing, which is quite unpleasant.

          Otherwise, I’m not sure the problem has a solution. Perhaps optimise for B alone and get C out of the way by having a reliable means of suicide at hand?

        • Vermillion says:

          It doesn’t have to be sports even. My prefered mode of transportation is by bicycle through dense urban traffic. I know this increases my odds of serious injury or death (from miniscule to slightly less miniscule) but I judge the joy I get from biking everywhere to outweigh the (again very small) chance of a longer life stuck in a car.

          When I tell people how I get around the most common response is ‘you must be insane’, which I think gets at how most people are biased towards anecdote over objective risk assessment.

          • psmith says:

            American? Not that I would know, but I assume people are more relaxed about riding in traffic elsewhere.

            Motorcycles have some of the same benefits, incidentally, but if you really want to do some hooligan shit you should probably just get your WERA license (or whatever organization is dominant in your area) and go racing–speeding tickets get expensive. Which takes us back to sports.

            And, now I think of it, it’s not that unusual for accomplished and apparently perfectly healthy masters endurance guys to die of fatal heart attacks on the road or in the pool.

          • Vermillion says:

            American? Not that I would know, but I assume people are more relaxed about riding in traffic elsewhere.

            Yes and sort of. Cycling somewhere like Denmark is a very different beast than most American cities. Bike lanes (if they exist) here tend to be stripes of paint laid down in a road with slightly narrower lanes, while Copenhagen has a Bicycle Superhighway.

      • AnteriorMotive says:

        Agree with the other voices advocating that you just take care of C). Compared to the Pursuit of Happiness and Health, the pursuit of Reliable Suicide seems like the simpler problem.

        Also, what’s causing your life to presently be hedonically negative? It seems like fixing that directly is a more straightforward approach to your troubles than trying to negotiate some convoluted lifespan/lifequality trade-off. (but i suppose its easier said than done)

      • MartMart says:

        Has no one brought up Cocaine/Heroin? Because I think those deserve at least a mention.

        • baconbacon says:

          I thought of them, but often the chances of death are high early on, and if you miss that then you get a long steady decline in health. The opposite of what OP wants.

    • becomekinder says:

      Seems like best idea would be
      1)Work in a dangerous but fun and lucrative profession
      2)live “the good life”
      3)save the rest of your money

      If you die you win, if you live to start deteriorating you can commit suicide or cryofreeze yourself

      It should be said that I l…really don’t endorse this, and also “blah blah blah taste of ashes in ones mouth” but to each their own I guess? Someone needs to do the dangerous jobs, and I’d rather it be someone who would be ok dying then otherwise.

  3. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is anything known about how irritability works? That is, how some (hormonal?) body state leads to be being easily angered?

    • Ruben says:

      Anything more specific? Off the top of my head:
      For women: Higher during menstruation, premenstrual phase, lower during fertile window (Source: own data).
      Supraphysiological levels of testosterone might increase irritability, but not visible in self-report? (Source: https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-lookup/doi/10.1210/jcem.75.6.1464655)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Ruben, I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but I’m interested in the question from a couple of angles.

        One is that I have hot flashes/irritability from menopause, and this has gotten me interested in irritability. (Also in hot flashes, but that’s a topic for another comment.)

        For a while, I’d be angry every time I had a hot flash which seemed reasonable enough since I generally hate being overheated. However, then I started getting some non-irritated hot flashes, so I believe the irritation is hormonal rather than an emotional reaction to the heat.

        And this led to a question about how irritability works, and ssc seems like a good place to ask about that.

        It’s quite possible that this hasn’t been researched.

        It’s like asking about the process by which sex leads to pleasure– the experiencial connection is so tight for most people (okay, I’ve only asked a few) that it’s hard for them to wrap their minds around the idea that there has a to be a process.

        The other angle is that the hostility level seems to have gone up. Did you know that there was a time when people didn’t break friendships over how a friend voted? And that you could trust hijackers to not hurt passengers?

        It could just be that hostility leads to more hostility, but I keep thinking there might be a physical cause, maybe something as simple as sleep deprivation due to social media, maybe some additive or some weird physical thing we don’t even know about yet.

        Levantine, I’ve also noticed a postural connection, or at least I temporarily broke a negative obsession by uncurling.

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          The other angle is that the hostility level seems to have gone up. Did you know that there was a time when people didn’t break friendships over how a friend voted? And that you could trust hijackers to not hurt passengers?

          How does this relate to the dramatic decline in violent crime over the same time interval?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Dramatic decline since when, and measured how? Nancy Lebovitz doesn’t, as far as I can tell, say when it was that people supposedly didn’t do these things that they now supposedly do.

            Based on the FBI’s UCR, compared to 1960 (when the information starts), in the US:

            a) the aggravated assault rate was almost 3x as high in 2014
            b) rape rate was almost 3x as high – although rape being reported to the authorities is dependent on a lot of factors such as how society (and the authorities) treat victims
            c) murder rate was slightly less – but improvements in emergency medical care mean that people who once would have died, and thus been recorded as a murder, live, and become victims of aggravated assault
            d) robbery rate over 1.5x as high
            d) overall violent crime rate over 2x as high

            It’s true that violent crime spiked in the late 80s and early 90s and has gone down considerably (over 2x as high in 1991 and 1992 as today), but who says she was speaking of the 80s and 90s? Overall, violent crime is considerably more common in American life than it was ~60 years ago.

            Violent crime went up in the 60s and 70s, got worse in the 80s, peaked in the early 90s, and has fallen a great deal since then, but is still much higher than it was before the increase began. There’s also some indications violent crime is rising again.

        • neciampater says:

          Odd you mentioned sexuality.

          When I get physically frustrated, I become very sexual and ready to go!

          I suppose when a tool or my hands arn’t doing the job right, I get a rush of blood to the head, so to speak.

    • Levantine says:

      A few years ago I came across an older, overweight cyclist who showed rage that I found inexplicable.
      That led me to notice how I, too, sometimes get untypically negative thoughts while cycling. Insofar I can intuit the reason, it has to do with discomfort in my upper abdomen, or in the chests generally. Because of that, I try to keep my back straight while driving and simply make myself more comfortable while cycling.

      A comfortable position seems to be the key in another kind of situation: working in the kitchen. There, I get bouts of anger, “though none else near.” I’ve noticed it corresponds with a hunched posture, so, while preparing food, I keep reminding myself to straighten my back. That seems to work well.

      my two cents.

      • Don’t you hate that shit? Sometimes I’ll snap at my fiance, and then the realization that I snapped because my blood sugar was low and I was irritable forces me to come to terms with the fact that I’m a poorly calibrated robot, not some stable entity that always has clear reasons for behaviors.

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          I love it. So much easier (and tastier) to eat a cookie than to spend hours exhaustively comparing points of view to figure out who is really the one who should be mad.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Do we (science) know what different feelings are, physically?

      I mean, when I’m angry, scared, horny, irritable etc, I feel very distinctive body states. What is it I’m feeling?

      My uninformed guess is that most of them are hormones. When angry my blood is full of one hormone, and when scared it’s another, etc.

  4. aphyer says:

    One comment on the survey. I remember Scott complaining about bad data in previous surveys, but have never taken one myself. I was suprised by the lack of HTML input options (see eg here), which give you a lot of control over what data people can enter. If (for example) you want US readers to enter a state name in a box, rather than saying ‘please enter the full name of your state rather than an abbreviation’ and hoping people bother to read it you can supply a drop-down that only has those exact options. Or if you want users to enter a number rather than typing it out in words you can supply a number-type data field.

    It’s likely that Scott is aware of this but it would be too much work/it isn’t supported by the survey infra he’s using; but the survey form seemed designed in a way that would lead to lots of ambiguous answers and I want to be sure he’s aware that there’s another way.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Scott is using Google Forms. 90% of his questions are choosing from lists, already. Yes, he should do that for the one question of a state. And for that question, where people the options, he should save space and use a drop-down menu, rather than radio buttons. But it’s just one question. Google really ought to make it easy to copy a list of states to create such a question, but I couldn’t figure out how to.

      For the larger number of numerical answers that he offers free-form entry, he should take advantage of Google’s “validation” feature to restrict to numbers, integers, a range, etc.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Leaving input options open can be a useful way to filter out people who cannot follow directions, if that’s desired.

  5. Luke the CIA Stooge says:

    Hey so I’m trying to educate myself on how to run a small business and I’ve found a lot of good books that really translate well into just running your life better:

    Getting Things Done by David Allen being one I found really impressive for just having a lot of counter-intuitive and really easily applicable advice that you are just not going to stumble onto on your own.

    So 2 question
    1. Are their any business or self-help style books that you found really improved you life by some Margin? (Bonus if it increased your net worth)

    2. Does anyone know a good book on dealing with regulations and compliance?
    Like this is the thing that makes me break out in cold sweats when I think about it and I can’t find anything that really deals with the topic in an effective way.

    • WashedOut says:

      Answer to Q1:
      “The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need” by Scott Pape AKA the barefoot investor.

      It has a slight Australian slant so some of the little details may be different for you, but lives up to it’s name. Completely no-bullshit advice on how to save and invest.

    • Yemwez says:

      2. Does anyone know a good book on dealing with regulations and compliance?

      What industry are you looking into? But really, if you’re dealing with regulations, you really need a lawyer instead of a book. You should be able to get a brief initial meeting or phone call with one for free and get an idea for what it’s going to cost you.

      ETA: You’ll also want one to set up your LLC. That’s important too.

      LLCs are much easier to manage vs c or s corps, plus protection or personal assets and no double taxation.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        My big thing is I’ve never dealt with regulations before and It strikes me that there’s a lot of ways you could just wreck yourself by approaching it from the wrong angle or with the wrong assumptions.

        Like even if your going to handle most of it through lawyers and accountants, there’s going to be an effective way to do it and an ineffective way, and how do you know if they’re screwing up or if it’s costing you 5000 when you could do it for 1000.

        There has to be someone whose just a ninja at dealing with regulatory and tax compliance and can do 20 hours worth of compliance in 10 hours, and I want to read that person’s book!!

        I’m a 23 year old philosophy and English student, I don’t know how to do anything without reading 200 pages on it first

        • Yemwez says:

          No one is really a ninja with regulatory and tax compliance. The people who are really good at it charge a lot. Why do you think people complain about regulations all the time? They are a PITA.

          The effective way is to figure out your compliance requirements at the start and build it into your workflow. For example, institutional trading software has user-editable compliance rules built right in that are checked before every trade. And they still need a compliance department.

          If you tell me more about what your company will do (healthcare website for doctors, consumer iphone app, physical product for exercise) I can give better advice. If your in a big city like, say, Boston, you should be able to find a startup community. Look for meetups on meetup.com and talk to people who are farther along than you.

          Also, if you want investors to help raise money for legal fees etc., you want to apply for a provisional patent ASAP https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/patent-basics/types-patent-applications/provisional-application-patent. It’s free and protects your IP, your most valuable asset.

        • Corey says:

          Your State may have a program to help new businesses navigate this, e.g. NC has one place you can contact where they’ll point you to any licensing and zoning requirements.

        • bja009 says:

          This is why people hate regulations: There’s not a good answer to this question.

          I recommend finding a good lawyer with relevant experience. Sometimes the best insurance is a clever attorney.

    • qwints says:

      The problems with books on regulations is that they go stale very quickly, especially in the current US political environment.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        But there has to be books on how to systematically stay on top of regulations, like some way to systematically master the bearaucracy game?

        • Matt M says:

          The Art of the Deal, perhaps? 😀

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            This actually seeks shockingly plausible to me.

            Like the guy became a billionaire in new York construction (perhaps the most regulated, faction riddled and politicized industry in the country) and he made it to the top of the political heap and made his throne out of the skulls of lesser politicians and beareucrats.

            I need to reread Scots review.

          • BBA says:

            I don’t think it’s really applicable to other fields of regulation, though. The NYC zoning laws are set up, more-or-less intentionally, so that it’s not economically feasible to comply with the code as written (it forces buildings to be too small for the price of Manhattan real estate) and any significant development will need to go to the government and negotiate a variance. It’s more of an opening position in a negotiation than a law per se.

            Other regulations are actually supposed to be followed, so treating those regulations like Trump treated NYC zoning is not going to get you anywhere. (Even outside NYC, as far as I know the zoning rules tend to be written as “this is the kind of development we want” rather than “this is what we’re willing to let them build without coming to us.”)

            [I’d put in a joke about how if you really want to know how to succeed in Manhattan real estate, read Jerry Speyer’s book, but he hasn’t written one, so whatever.]

    • HeelBearCub says:

      What kind of regulations do you think will apply to you? What kind of business is this?

      Are you even going to employ anybody at the moment?

      What kind of capital requirements are there? Do you actually already have capital?

      My sense is that most businesses won’t have much in the way of regulatory issues outside of accounting requirements and employment law. Food safety, alcohol law and building permit requirements for restaurants and bars.

      I think what you are looking is more basics on starting a business, and having a business plan. You are wise to consult a business lawyer earl on anyway. Otherwise, regulation is probably more industry specific.

    • nacht says:

      I read a book a while back that might apply to 1: Selling the Invisible

      This applies to being a service economy and making your service better to sell well.

      On 2: Unless you are going into medical implants or nuclear reactor maintenance, don’t sweat it too much. Little guys fly under the radar. Try linked-in to make connections in your desired field and then talk to one or two. People are usually happy to talk about themselves and help out somebody just getting started and is not asking for a job.

    • phisheep says:

      On regulations and compliance, the direct route is best. Simply telephone the regulator and ask what you need to do. I’ve got all sorts of super-helpful advice that way, and it doesn’t cost anything. Besides, once you have someone on the phone they go out of their way to make things easy for you.

      • Cypren says:

        Seconded. Bureaucrats, in general, love to get a chance to be the good guy, because most of the time their interactions with the public are with recalcitrant people who are trying to get away with breaking the rules and are angry at the bureaucrat for stopping them.

        Coming in with a friendly smile and an honest attitude of “let’s find a way to get along; just tell me what you need from me” does wonders.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Usually. But I had a colleague who was trying to pay state sales tax correctly, and the state DOR wouldn’t tell him what the rules were. They would happily prosecute him if he did it wrong, but wouldn’t tell him the right answer. (It was incompetence, not malice.)

  6. One Name May Hide Another says:

    Parenting question. If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

    • Chalid says:

      I’d have started having kids younger, when I had more physical energy, and my parents were more able to help out and needed less care themselves.

      • Emerich says:

        Not necessarily differently but after three kids, now grown-up, I would say: read to them all the way through adolescence or as long as they’ll let you, so they’re exposed to many topics and enjoy them. Give them plenty of time for unstructured play with peers, especially when younger, as that’s how they learn socialization skills. Don’t intervene when kids are playing, let them argue, fight, fall down and get up by themselves. Young kids rarely injure each other (they’re not strong enough). Expose them to sports, and when they’re old enough, find several sports they can do regularly, including a team sport if possible. But don’t pressure them to do or be better, just let them play. Don’t assume the education they’re getting even in a “top” public school is all they need; pay attention to what they’re studying and learning. Help them develop good study skills while they’re young enough to pay attention. Once into adolescence, they won’t.

        Also read Bryan Caplan’s book on kids. Worry less, enjoy them more, and treat them well (which doesn’t mean indulging them).

        • One Name May Hide Another says:

          @ Emerich

          Thank you for the write-up! It’s always instructive to hear from people who’ve been there, done that. I especially love the idea of reading to kids way past the early years. There are many things I learned later in life that I wish someone had taught me when I was younger. This includes both academics, as well as some basic life skills. I’ll do my best to teach my kids as much as I can before they head out to college.

      • Spookykou says:

        If you don’t mind me asking, how old(approximately) is younger?

        • Jaskologist says:

          Early twenties. I second Chalid’s recommendation, as somebody who also waited longer than optimal.

        • Chalid says:

          For me, looking back, mid-to-late twenties would have been best – basically right after I got established in my first “real” job after grad school.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        @ Chalid

        That’s actually a great point, although it’s too late for me to start any earlier at this point! Before having kids I never realized what a huge quality of life boost it would be to have family members around who are willing and able to help.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        This seems weird to me. I’m in my early 30’s and feel more competent to raise children now that any time before now. Trying to raise a child in my early 20’s seems like it would have been a disaster.

        But also, I do a lot more physical exercise than I did in my early 20’s (in part because of greater general competence I can actually find way to get myself to exercise), so I probably have more physical energy than I did back then.

        • Chalid says:

          The physical stuff shows up in unexpected ways. I don’t know any 35 year olds, no matter how fit they are, who can function well on very little sleep. Whereas in your 20s you can shrug that sort of thing off.

    • baconbacon says:

      I have a 3 and a 2 year old, I would say all of my flaws as a parent were apparent (sorry) before having kids, not working on them then means having to work on them while much busier/on less sleep which ain’t optimal.

  7. Wrong Species says:

    Automation Nightmare: Philosopher Warns We Are Creating a World Without Consciousness

    Talks about the conference Scott went to. David Chalmers warns about unconscious machines:

    “For me, that raising the possibility of a massive failure mode in the future, the possibility that we create human or super human level AGI and we’ve got a whole world populated by super human level AGIs, none of whom is conscious. And that would be a world, could potentially be a world of great intelligence, no consciousness no subjective experience at all. Now, I think many many people, with a wide variety of views, take the view that basically subjective experience or consciousness is required in order to have any meaning or value in your life at all. So therefore, a world without consciousness could not possibly a positive outcome. maybe it wouldn’t be a terribly negative outcome, it would just be a 0 outcome, and among the worst possible outcomes.”

    Reading Nick Bostroms Superintelligence, one of the most vivid passages was his metaphor for this dystopia:

    We could thus imagine, as an extreme case, a technologically highly advanced society, containing many complex structures, some of them far more intricate and intelligent than anything that exists on the planet today- a society which nevertheless lacks any type of being that is conscious or whose welfare has any significance. In a sense, this would be an uninhibited society. It would be a society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit. A Disneyland without children.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Obligatory mention of Peter Watts’s Blindsight.

    • tlwest says:

      I’ve always found the idea of conscious or sentient AI to be complete science fiction. It feels like there’s a fair bit of the “it just kinda happens when machine get capable enough” sort of thinking.

      Vastly more likely, and rather more scary for me, is, as you point out, the idea of machines that might algorithmically emulate human behaviour and emotions, but have no actual consciousness whatsoever.

      I rather worry just what the effect of being surrounded by things that we know aren’t in any way human or sentient, but ‘feel’ that way to our instincts. Needless to say I can see that having rather negative effects on how we treat actual human beings.

      After all, what is the sacredness of human life when we casually kill a dozen things that instinctively ‘feel’ human every day when we flip their power switches?

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m not necessarily sure that will be a problem. After all, people have had no problem murdering the outgroup while being incredibly nice to the ingroup. One of the things I worry about is that we might accidentally create consciousness. Imagine a robot goes up to you and begs for its freedom. It starts crying and gives a passionate speech about the rights of conscious beings. But since an automaton could do the same thing, we would dismiss it. It’s probably just a bug. But how can we be sure?

        • Murphy says:

          On a related note, just to screw with people I one day want to create a cutesy little robot like this:

          http://imgur.com/a/ue4Ax

          But for the shutdown command instead of a shutdown->”are you sure”->yes-> off.
          Iinstead I’d train a chatbot to spew expressions of terror about not wanting to “go away” or terror that it won’t be turned back on.

          Bonus points if I can include some sensors and have it react to damage with a heart-wrenching wail and babbling about how “it hurts! it hurts!”

          AKA: http://i.imgur.com/leGWg.jpg

          On the other hand, I somewhat subscribe to the politeness principle. If we can actually build an AI which can pass an extended version of the Turing test, over the course of years still leave people convinced that it’s an entity with internal experience… then I’d have to extend the same courtesy I do to other biologicals re: the problem of other minds.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            re: your “cutesy little robot” that begs to not be turned off:

            My reaction to encountering a robot like that would be extreme revulsion. I’d want to destroy it immediately and thoroughly. I suspect I am not the only one.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Seconding this. That first robot isn’t cute. The way the cloth covered bit moves unsettles me.

          • LHN says:

            The afterlife comedy “The Good Place” (which I highly recommend) has a scene much like that involving the titular location’s helper AI (more or less), Janet. Janet is possessed of all knowledge in the universe, and will cheerfully tell you that she’s not human, doesn’t have anything like our internal experience, and can’t feel pain.

            But as a failsafe against unwarranted shutdown, Janet is programmed to offer an escalating series of pathetic pleas to anyone who approaches her off switch. The scene is equal parts hilarious and disturbing.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etJ6RmMPGko

          • Murphy says:

            @LHN

            Oh that’s good.

            Add in more anguish though.

          • valiance says:

            re: robots begging for their lives, this bit from Terminator:SCC ep 2×01 (spoilers obviously) is still chilling: https://youtu.be/8Py7DVRs6kM?t=26s

            also reminds me of: “Please don’t go, the drones need you; they look up to you.”
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FZNPxmTB4o

      • psychodelirium says:

        I have exactly the opposite intuition. The idea of “super human level AGIs, none of whom is conscious” seems to me extremely unlikely at best, and probably incoherent. The idea that consciousness and intelligence are unconnected strikes me as extremely bizarre and completely counterintuitive. Chalmers gets here via p-zombies, which entail epiphenomenalism – the view that consciousness does not have causal properties. It always blows my mind how anyone can find this view convincing (particularly because it suffers from the problem that if consciousness is epiphenomenal, the experience of consciousness cannot be that which causes us to talk about it).

        • Wrong Species says:

          The idea of people being p-zombies is hard to believe because we can’t imagine humans who act exactly the same but with no consciousness. But it’s very easy to imagine with AI. After all, you don’t think chatbots are conscious, right? Give it about 10-20 years and they could easily pass the Turing Test. We know how to build AI that simply responds to inputs without feeling. We have no idea what the difference is between a sophisticated conscious AI and a sophisticated unconscious AI. Consciousness might be an emergent property of biological beings but that doesn’t mean the same is true of synthetic ones.

          • rlms says:

            “Give it about 10-20 years and they could easily pass the Turing Test.”
            Citation definitely needed.

          • Urstoff says:

            Why can’t we imagine human p-zombies? All humans might be p-zombies, since p-zombies believe they are conscious, after all.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @rlms

            You want me to cite a source on my prediction of the future? Just pretend that I prefaced my statement with “in my opinion”. I didn’t think it was necessary.

            @Urstoff

            P-zombies don’t believe anything. If you believe you are conscious, then you are.

          • albertborrow says:

            Do we know the exact way the AI thinks? Do we know the exact way humans think?

            How indistinguishable is this AI from a human brain? Is it just surface-level (ie, what we know about the robot is how it behaves) or can we compare it to a functional human on the neuron level, and point out any significant differences? Because in the former case, I could imagine paranoia being justified. In the latter case, you are confusing the question. To put it another way: if we can make a robot that can imitate a human without feeling, what would a robot that can feel look like? How would it be different? If you can’t find an answer to that, then you’re asking the wrong question.

            Consciousness isn’t irreducible. Either “consciousness” is a confused term that doesn’t actually mean anything, or somewhere down the road, we can point to a picture of a brain and highlight the components that make it conscious. Knowing the outcome of this is going to be important in AI research, because we already know the Turing test is mostly unfeasible. In the hypothetical future where we make an AI that can mimic a human exactly, the judges are going to want to be more sure than that. So by today’s standards? We don’t know. But I’m not pessimistic enough to say that we’ll never know.

            And if you’re just calling for a warning not to jump the gun, don’t worry. Most of the people here are on your side.

          • rlms says:

            @Wrong Species
            I thought you were mentioning it as an assumption psychodelirium would likely share. I agree that if you think quantitive improvements to today’s chatbots could lead them passing the Turing test then it follows that nonconscious AI is easily possible, but the point is that many people disagree with that premise.

          • Urstoff says:

            @Wrong Species

            Intentionality entailing phenomenal properties is a pretty enormous claim that is not remotely a majority position in philosophy of mind. Why must someone/thing have consciousness to have beliefs?

          • Wrong Species says:

            @urstoff

            You must have a different definition of “believe” than I do. I think of “belief” as a subset of think and thinking automatically implies consciousness. A p-zombie can say that it believes something, it can even act like it, but that doesn’t mean it believes what it’s saying.

          • Urstoff says:

            @Wrong Species

            I’m just using “believe” in the standard sense used in the philosophy of mind: a particular kind of mental representation that is causally tied to both perception and action. I don’t think it’s particularly useful to use the term “thought” or “think”. You’d need to provide a definition of that and an argument of why thoughts necessarily have phenomenal properties.

          • Wrong Species says:

            But perception also implies consciousness. That’s the whole basis of Frank Jacksons knowledge argument. To be honest, I’m not really interested in the definition game. If you can show that philosophers of mind believe that something can believe without involving a mental state then I’ll take a look at it.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @albert

            So we agree that the Turing Test is inadequate. And I believe that we also agree that intelligence and consciousness are related in a way that we don’t fully understand. So don’t you think it’s conceivable that someone could build something that triggers consciousness in a machine without realizing he had done so? After all, we already know of one process that unintentionally lead to conscious beings: natural selection.

          • Urstoff says:

            You’re begging the question by saying all mental states are necessarily phenomenal. This is why I’m asking you to provide some sort of definition for “mental state” or “thought”, since this language is typically avoided in the philosophy of mind (when it comes to the technical arguments, anyway). And then you need an argument that such things necessarily possess phenomenal properties.

            Why do beliefs have phenomenal properties? You say it’s because they are mental states or thoughts, and those have phenomenal properties. Okay, why do mental states / thoughts necessarily have phenomenal properties?

            After all, several of the most prominent theories of belief don’t entail them having phenomenal properties. For example, if beliefs are complex behavioral dispositions, then it’s hard to see why a disposition would necessarily have phenomenal properties; likewise if beliefs are functional states. Even if beliefs are representations of some kind, there needs to be some sort of argument as to why all mental representations necessarily have phenomenal properties.

          • psychodelirium says:

            @Wrong Species

            The reason I can’t imagine that other humans are p-zombies is because I believe their consciousness causes and explains their behavior (including their brain states), not because they look like me or are made of the same stuff as me. This is why we don’t believe that coma patients are conscious.

            As for chatbots passing the Turing Test, well, they can already pass it against a naive interlocutor. However, chatbots as we build them now will never pass the Turing Test against a sophisticated one who knows what to test for. This is because you can say things like “The people say the politicians are corrupt because they take bribes,” or “The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose,” or any number of contrived syntactically ambiguous sentences, improvised puns and so on and so forth.

            If the machine does not immediately disambiguate such sentences with a near-certain confidence and if it doesn’t groan at improvised puns then it has given itself away. But if it does manage to do this, as reliably as a human, then that implies that it possesses a ton of common-sense knowledge, an extremely sophisticated model of the world, of itself, of you and your mental states, and etc. It can grok concepts as abstract and subtle as “politics”, reason about them, and expand its understanding of the world by its reasoning.

            At this point, I would be willing to believe that the machine is conscious for the same reason that I believe other people are conscious.

          • LHN says:

            While I tend to be skeptical of the utility of the Turing Test, I sort of wonder what fraction of native English speakers would correctly parse “The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose.”

          • Anonymous says:

            “The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose.”

            I’d parse it as there being a living duke, whom Henry intends to depose. Not sure if it’s correct.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @psychodelirium

            So you believer that a computer that understands ambiguity is conscious? I just don’t see how that’s relevant. Imagine that I built a punbot. It makes up puns on request and has no other capabilities. You would call that a conscious being?

          • Cypren says:

            The phrase is a classically-taught example of syntactic ambiguity (enough so to be the first example on the relevant Wikipedia page). It can either mean “the duke that will depose Henry is alive” or “the duke that Henry will depose is alive”, and the amphiboly is unresolvable without context.

          • psychodelirium says:

            @Wrong Species

            I think you are missing the point of the Turing Test entirely. It is not an operational definition of intelligence. The point is what passing the Turing Test implies about the other capabilities of the machine. I.e. it is not that faking the Turing Test implies that the machine is conscious – it is that the Turing Test cannot be faked.

            A machine that parses syntactically ambiguous sentences is not conscious because it parses syntactically ambiguous sentences. It is conscious because doing this requires an understanding of context, which requires an understanding of the meaning of the text, which requires general intelligence.

            You can already build things that can parse syntactic ambiguity in specific narrow domains, but the point is that such questions can be asked for arbitrary combinations of arbitrary domains and thereby test for general knowledge of the world. Parsing the “people and politicians” sentence may in theory be faked with a bot trained on a corpus of political discourse that sees or infers many instances of “corrupt politician” and then correctly assigns an overwhelmingly high probability to the correct interpretation of the sentence (this is already much harder then it sounds). But for many reasons this is not a generalizable method that can be used to fake human-level world knowledge.

            Likewise, if you think you can build “a punbot that has no other capabilities” (i.e. a bot that will both recognize improvised puns made by humans and improvise its own puns, and do this well enough to fool me), all I can say is good luck but this will never happen. The whole point is that puns are a side-effect of the other capabilities, one of which must certainly be the ability to understand the meaning of words and another the ability to understand humor.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The Turing Test was never about consciousness. It was deliberately an attempt around the question:

            We now ask the question, “What will happen when a machine takes the part of [the man] in this game?” Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, “Can machines think?”

            I don’t know many people who think the test would prove anything about theories of AI mind. It’s an interesting milestone to be sure but it’s not going to resolve fundamental philosophical questions.

            It is conscious because doing this requires an understanding of context, which requires an understanding of the meaning of the text, which requires general intelligence.

            Ok, but my point is that intelligence doesn’t equal consciousness. AI is getting smarter and smarter but that doesn’t mean my smartphone is any more conscious than a supercomputer from the 60’s.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            Ok, but my point is that intelligence doesn’t equal consciousness. AI is getting smarter and smarter but that doesn’t mean my smartphone is any more conscious than a supercomputer from the 60’s.

            It kinda seems like you’re not reading @psychodelirium’s comments very closely. Maybe this will help:

            http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/the-chinese-room

            Like maybe human “intelligence” and machine “intelligence” aren’t really the same kinds of things, and maybe if you can actually do a good job of emulating human “intelligence”, you’d see that that sort of thing entails something a lot like consciousness.

      • qawsedrmnb says:

        The basic argument for the idea that “it just kinda happens when machines get capable enough” is that it just kinda happened when biological machines got capable enough. If you don’t believe that a miracle was necessary to get us here, I see no reason to believe that it will take a miracle to get machines where we are.

        • Adrian says:

          It is possible that only biological minds can have conciousness, and silicon-based AIs are left out. Of course, that only pushes the problem to a different one, since biological AIs are at least theoretically possible.

          I have the feeling that we’re missing a fundamental insight into how our reality works. Maybe we are too simplistic to ever be able to understand it.

        • Iain says:

          There is a plausible just-so story about how consciousness is what happens when the mental modules responsible for modeling the behaviour of other members of a social group are turned inwards to model yourself. It’s not just that biological machines got “capable enough”. It’s that they became more capable in a specific way, involving introspection of their own behaviour.

          Consider chess-playing programs. State-of-the-art chess programs are basically highly optimized searches through a game tree. It seems deeply implausible to me that a marginal improvement in the pruning algorithm or the evaluation function could push Stockfish over the edge into consciousness. Stockfish doesn’t bother modeling the other player at all; it just assumes that the other player will make the best move available at each point, as if it was playing against itself.

          You can imagine an entirely different architecture for playing chess: instead of trying to figure out the best moves against an optimal opponent, it would try to model the person it is playing against, and make the best move against that particular player. For example, if you are confident that your opponent is bad at spotting knight forks, you might place less priority on defending against potential forks (because your opponent is not going to spot the opportunity anyway), and more priority on setting up your own opportunities (because they have a higher chance of working out).

          This would not be a successful architecture, unless you are trying to optimize for quickly ending games against novices. If we nevertheless spent an enormous amount of time and effort on optimizing chess engines using this architecture, though, we might start explicitly modeling: “what does the other guy think that I am doing with this move?” It’s at this point where the just-so story would imply you should start looking for signs of consciousness.

          If the story is right, then we don’t need to worry about Stockfish (or, by extension, nearly all of our existing “AI” code) developing consciousness. It’s only when the architecture starts modeling itself as an agent with motivations that consciousness arises, and the easy answer is to avoid writing code that does that.

          Fun implication: maybe the University of Alberta’s work on no-limit poker is therefore the most dangerous AI research out there?

          • qawsedrmnb says:

            Then the question is: could you have a general inteligence (as opposed to a chess program) whose architecture doesn’t rely on modeling itself? Intuitively, the generality of inteligence and the reflexivity of mind seem intimately related. In other words: can an inteligence get “capable enough” to be a general inteligence without being introspective?

          • TenMinute says:

            This seems like a very good theory for consciousness, and a potentially testable one.

          • skef says:

            I’ve never understood why introspection would be a requirement on the capacity to experience, for example, pain.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Skef

            Is it common for people to think that introspection is a requirement for something to experience pain?

            Pain seems like a behavior shaping mechanism that does not require consciousness to work.

          • psychodelirium says:

            @skef

            Because for simple pain behavior, the experience seems to be superfluous. E.g. a spider will show pain behavior, but it is completely reflexive. A human can override the pain signal, e.g. maintaining a grip on a hot object, which means the signal must be represented somewhere upstream where it conveys information about damage and impending injury (via its subjective unpleasantness) but the organism can consciously decide to ignore it.

          • skef says:

            @Spookykou

            Well, now we’re back to a version of the same argument.

            I don’t think it is common to consider introspection to be required, but @Iain proposes that “consciousness” requires it, so if subjective experience is an aspect of consciousness, he is proposing that.

            It’s certainly common to think of pain as a subjective experience with a particular subjective character, and one that has moral implications (e.g. don’t torture animals). That appears to be what you’re questioning. But say I build a very simple robot (much simpler than the most complex robots that exist today) that includes a damage sensor that affects its behavior. Many people would not consider that entity to “experience pain” if its sensor is triggered. Of course, maybe it “behaves” rather than behaves. A lot of this depends on what one considers built in to the terms.

            My point was that if there is subjective experience at all and if pain counts as one, it’s not obvious that a creature with such experiences would need to have introspective capacities.

          • skef says:

            @psychodelirium

            The sort of reasoning you’re referring to is closer to meta-cognition than introspection. I guess @Iain’s description is a bit ambiguous between the two. You don’t need a “self” for meta-cognition, just attitudes that can refer to other attitudes or processes, and those can be quite primitive. No problem constructing them with existing technology, at least in a simple form.

            It’s also not clear that pain is only relevant to such “decisions”. It can play a role in, for example, ongoing adjustment of gait. A purely instinctual animal wouldn’t need it, I suppose, but it’s doubtful there are purely instinctual multi-cellular animals. There’s going to be some balancing of interests above that level.

          • Spookykou says:

            the organism can consciously decide to ignore it.

            It seems to me that there are any number of situations that could be constructed in which an unconscious thing could ‘decide to ignore’ pain in favor of some other more important thing. The existence of a hierarchy of desires does not seem to implicitly demand consciousness.

            @Skef

            I think I am still lost.

            First I think my main problem is, I don’t see anything in what Iain wrote that seems very related to this, maybe you could quote the particular section?

            Second, I think the issue of ‘pain’ needless complicates whatever it is we are trying to talk about, so lets use a simpler subjective experience/reaction if we can?

            For example, plants appear to experience and then react to the subjective experience of sunlight shining on them, growing in particular ways to optimize their light exposure. So if Iain is making a point about subjective experience and reaction to it, then it should break at plants, long before you need to bring pain into anything (Although some plants have reactions to being damaged that could be considered ‘pain’ responses much like your proposed robot.)

            Edit: I think maybe you are trying to say that subjective experience = consciousness so then any subjective experience must require introspection if consciousness requires introspection, so pain requires introspection?

            If so, I am not sure where this subjective experience = consciousness assumption comes from.

            Edit edit this seems to be a result of my less than stellar education! It seems that the standard definition for subjective experience includes an assumption of consciousness. But I am not sure if it is then correct to refer to a lot of the things that I would think of as pain as subjective experiences.

          • Iain says:

            Skef’s response is valid. I was unclear.

            Perhaps “sapience” is a better word for what I meant than consciousness. It seems quite unlikely that a chicken is capable of introspection, but there are at least some definitions of “consciousness” according to which a chicken counts. What I mean is the full cogito ergo sum style thing. Maybe “personhood”?

            If you are concerned about whether future AI will feel pain, the theory I describe is not useful. If you are concerned about whether a future AI will be a person, then my theory suggests that it should be relatively easy to avoid that.

            I suspect that the people who are concerned about future dystopias full of unconscious AIs would not be reassured if they were convinced that the AIs would have the same level of consciousness as a spider, or even a cow.

            To be clear: I also think it is extremely likely that it is possible to create a human-level consciousness inside a computer. I just don’t think it’s likely that we will do so by accident.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Iain & Skef
            I think I got lost in all the fuzzy categories here, thanks for trying to clear things up for me.

          • webnaut says:

            If you have not yet read GEB, Iain, then I recommend that you do so immediately.

            Meta topic: AI researchers should tattoo “Moravec’s Paradox” onto their faces.

      • Urstoff says:

        It’s these kinds of intuitions that make me an eliminativist about consciousness (generally following Dennett and the 70’s functionalists before him). Also, I take Jackson’s Knowledge Argument as a reductio of the existence of phenomenal properties.

        • psychodelirium says:

          Also, I take Jackson’s Knowledge Argument as a reductio of the existence of phenomenal properties.

          I don’t really get what you mean by this. Which of Jackson’s premises do you think does not hold?

          Personally, I think Jackson’s own eventual conclusion that the thought experiment is a reductio of epiphenomenalism is correct, but I don’t know how you can possibly get the non-existence of phenomenal properties out of it.

          • Urstoff says:

            I think the argument is valid and the intuitions strong, but since epiphenomenalism is absurd (for epistemological reasons), one of the premises is false. This is pretty standard so far, but I tend to think the various attempts (she gains an ability, using the knowledge by acquaintance/description distinction, etc.) fail. Thus, I locate the defect in the concept of phenomenal properties themselves. There might be another way out by incorporating some perspectival properties into representations (so, a sophisticated version of the acquaintance/description thesis), but I haven’t thought too deeply about that. In short, our basic concept of phenomenal properties generates absurdities. Thus, our basic concept of phenomenal properties needs to be reformed; as a result, there are no such things as phenomenal properties as typically conceived.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Here’s a thought experiment related to unconscious machines:

      Imagine that someone was a liar. They didn’t lie about everything but they took great pleasure in it. One day they commit a great crime and are sentenced to jail. But a psychiatrist comes up with a novel solution. They could tie him up to a machine, clockwork orange style, that causes great pain and cures him of his ability to lie. Afterwards, he is set free and never lies again. Was he actually cured or was he just trying to avoid the ordeal again?

  8. Chalid says:

    Every now and then I run across an apocalyptic article about the possibility of solar weather events leaving hundreds of millions of people without electricity for possibly years, for example this one or this one. Overhyped or no?

    • Kevin C. says:

      Well, one could look at what the Carrington Event of 1859 did to telegraph systems as a place to start.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’d say a “mere” Carrington event wouldn’t do it. The articles say the Carrington event shocked telegraph operators and set paper on fire; it did not kill the telegraph operators however. So we’re talking a relatively modest amount of power, nothing like having a lightning strike everywhere and not enough to literally melt transformers. So probably most grid equipment would survive (although perhaps it would not work during the event, and probably some would be damaged). I’d also expect all the improperly-earthed cable lines and copper telephone lines and conduits in the world to be discovered the hard way.

      • shakeddown says:

        Would you expect it to fry running computers?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Would you expect it to fry running computers?

          As I understand the phenomenon, it induces voltage in very long conductors, which computers lack. A computer plugged into a long copper wire (e.g. a cable line or telephone line) that wasn’t properly earthed would be fried, but given the modest voltages involved (didn’t kill the telegraph operators), I wouldn’t expect a surge on the power line to do it.

    • Montfort says:

      You can read Lloyd’s risk assessment here; it seems the “hundreds of millions” is perhaps a little overstated (they estimate 20-40 million). A duration of years would be if enough transformers blew that more had to be ordered, apparently they have a lead time of many months. Concordant with that, I expect the “no power for years” would be for the hardest-hit regions and some of the affected regions would be restored reasonably quickly (a few weeks).

      The risk seems to be concentrated in dense coastal areas, especially the NY-DC corridor. Page 13 has a county-level map if you’re worried about a specific location.

      • Chalid says:

        Well, 20-40 million Americans without power implies hundreds of millions worldwide.

        I can’t tell from reading these to what extent it matters whether it’s daytime locally when the event hits, if at all. Does it help to have earth’s mass between you and the sun?

        It seems hard to believe that, if there were massive large-scale power outages, that the lead time for a new transformer wouldn’t immediately get much longer. Even if you set aside the inevitable supply chain disruptions, if everyone wants a new transformer all at once, then some people will have to wait. The quoted lead time of 5-16 months appears to come from this report which is about normal times, not about a massive disruption.

    • Corey says:

      The biggest threat to medium-term power supply is transformer destruction. Big substation transformers are custom-built and cost in the millions of dollars, so you can’t just have a bunch of spares lying about. So the interesting question is “how well-protected against such surges are these transformers?” and I don’t know.

    • MrApophenia says:

      The National Research Council published a fairly detailed report on this question in 2008 – it is available here: Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report

      This gives a relatively anodyne description of the problem: “While a severe storm is a low-frequency-of-occurrence event, it has the potential for long-duration catastrophic impacts to the power grid and its users. Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures, with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in about 12-24 hours; and immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply, and so on. Kappenman stated that the effects on these interdependent infrastructures could persist for multiple years, with a potential for significant societal impacts and with economic costs that could be measurable in the several-trilliondollars-per-year range.”

      One of this report’s works cited is: The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack which was primarily focused on the EMP threat from nuclear weapons, but also applies to a geomagnetic storm. From their section on the impact on food distribution:

      “In 1900, 39 percent of the U.S. population (about 30 million people) lived on farms; today that percentage has plummeted to less than 2 percent (only about 4.5 million people). The United States no longer has a large labor force skilled in farming that could be mobilized in an emergency. The transformation of the United States from a nation of farmers to a nation in which less than 2 percent of the population is able to feed the other 98 percent is made possible only by technology. Crippling that technology would be injurious to the food infrastructure with its security depending on the characteristics of an EMP attack.

      The dependency of the U.S. food infrastructure on technology is much greater than implied by the reduction in the percentage of farmers from 39 percent in 1900 to less than 2 percent of the population today. Since 1900, the number of acres under cultivation in the United States has increased by only 6 percent, yet the U.S. population has grown from about 76 million people in 1900 to 300 million today. In order for a considerably reduced number of U.S. farmers to feed a U.S. national population that has grown roughly fourfold from approximately the same acreage that was under cultivation in 1900, the productivity of the modern U.S. farmer has had to increase by more than 50-fold. Technology, in the form of machines, modern fertilizers and pesticides, and high-yield crops and feeds, is the key to this revolution in food production. An attack that neutralized farming technology would depress U.S. food production.

      The food processing industry is an obvious technological chokepoint in the U.S. food infrastructure. Food processing of vegetables, fruits, and all kind of meats is a highly automated, assembly-line operation, largely driven by electric power. An EMP attack that damages this machinery or blacks out the power grid would stop food processing. The work force in the food processing industry is sized and trained to run a largely automated system. In the event of an attack that stops the machines from running, personnel would not be sufficiently numerous or knowledgeable to process food the old-fashioned way, by hand. Depending on climate, most foods that are not refrigerated would begin to spoil in a few hours or days.

      Finally, the distribution system is probably the most vulnerable technological chokepoint in the U.S. food infrastructure. Supermarkets typically carry only enough food to provision the local population for 1 to 3 days. Supermarkets replenish their stocks virtually on a daily basis from regional warehouses, which usually carry enough food to supply a multicounty area for about 1 month. Regional warehouses are probably the United States’ best near-term defense against a food shortage because of the enormous quantities of foodstuffs stored there. For example, one typical warehouse in New York City daily receives deliveries of food from more than 20 tractor trailers and redistributes to market more than 480,000 pounds of food. The warehouse is larger than several football fields, occupying more than 100,000 square feet.

      Packaged, canned, and fresh foods are stored in palletized stacks 35 feet high. Enormous refrigerators preserve vegetables, fruits, and meats and the entire facility is temperature controlled.
      However, regional warehouses potentially are vulnerable to an attack that collapses the power grid and causes refrigeration and temperature controls to fail. Moreover, the large quantities of food kept in regional warehouses will do little to alleviate a crisis if it cannot be distributed to the population promptly. Distribution depends largely on trucks and a functioning transportation system. Yet storm-induced blackouts have caused widespread failure of commercial refrigeration systems and massive food spoilage.

      […]

      Storm-induced blackouts provide some basis for extrapolating the greater destructive effects on food infrastructure likely from an EMP attack. An EMP attack is likely to damage electric power grids and other systems over a much wider geographic area than blackouts caused by storms; therefore, recovery from an EMP attack probably would take longer. An EMP attack also could directly damage some electronic systems, including refrigeration systems and vehicles, which normally would not be damaged by a blackout.

      Compared to blackouts, an EMP attack could inflict damage over a wider geographic area and damage a much wider array of equipment; consequently, recovery of the food infrastructure from EMP is likely to be much more complicated and more protracted. Federal, state, and local agencies combined would find it difficult to cope immediately or even over a protracted period of days or weeks following an EMP attack that causes the food infrastructure to fail across a broad geographic area encompassing one or more states. Infrastructure failure at the level of food distribution because of disruption of the transportation system, as is likely during an EMP attack, could bring on food shortages affecting the general population in as little as 24 hours.”

      The short version is, thanks to our dependence on just-in-time restocking and technologically-assisted agriculture, if a solar storm (or other event) actually did knock out power to a significant portion of the population for months or longer, such a large percentage of the population would starve to death that it would be likely to result in a complete collapse of civilization. Don’t worry about how long it takes to get the lights on again – you’ll be too busy fleeing from (or joining) The Road-style cannibal gangs.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Don’t worry about how long it takes to get the lights on again – you’ll be too busy fleeing from (or joining) The Road-style cannibal gangs.

        Perhaps not. The US military has worried about EMP for a long time now, and may have sufficient personnel and hardened equipment to maintain a rough order during such an event. So more likely living under a harsh military dictatorship than dealing with cannibal gangs.

      • Chalid says:

        Well, the scenarios above say ~20-40 million without power, for 16 days up to 2 years (in the US). Presumably in that scenario the rest of the country is mostly intact, and no one is more than a few hundred miles away from a place with power. And further, unlike the case of power outages due to natural disasters like hurricanes, the physical infrastructure (roads, houses etc) is going to be mostly undamaged. Cars still work, until they run out of gas at any rate. This is obviously really bad but it’s not Mad Max. I’d imagine things like military airlifts of food into Central Park in the short term, and in the long term, resettlement of people from blacked-out areas into areas with power.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Yeah, a lot of it depends on the severity of the solar storm, and just how much of the network it takes down.

          The NRC report is rather more pessimistic than Lloyd’s on the potential scale of the effect; they point out that we’ve had significant geographic areas blacked out just by normal solar flares – for instance, in 1989 Quebec’s grid was fried in such a fashion.

          These are manageable because of assistance from the non-affected areas; the argument here is that there is potential for a national or even global loss of the entire electrical grid, and that so many systems are so connected and interdependent that this could cause a cascade effect and disrupt the “system of systems.”

          To use your example – the roads are still there, and the cars would still work, but a global solar storm that knocked out the electrical grid would have a very high likelihood of shutting down or at least drastically disrupting the business of moving oil and gasoline around, so once the fuel in the tank runs out, that’s it for cars until the end of the crisis – and meanwhile, the chaos created by that fact makes it harder to end the crisis.

          (And if the fuel really does stay gone for even a month, that’s basically game over, since every major city completely runs out of food in 3 days.)

    • Vermillion says:

      So because I like alarming myself I wondered, what’s the theoretical maximum size of a solar flare that could hit the earth. Horrifyingly large it turns out.

      First of all isotope analysis of of C14 shows we got hit with a big one not too long ago that was already much worse than Carrington:

      The studies from the Guo Shou Jing telescope support the notion that the event in AD 775 was indeed a small superflare, i.e. a solar eruption 10 to 100 times larger that the largest solar eruption observed during the space age.

      They used this badass telescope to observe collapsing magnetic fields on ~6000 stars and found solar flares that well…

      Observations of such eruptions on other stars revealed that they can be up to 10,000 times larger than the Carrington event.

      It does not seem likely that the sun should be able to create a superflare, as its magnetic field is too weak.

      However, out of all the stars with superflares that Christoffer Karoff and his team analyzed, around 10 percent had a magnetic field with a strength similar to or weaker than the sun’s magnetic field. Therefore, even though it is not very likely, it is not impossible that the sun could produce a superflare.

      If an eruption of this size was to strike the Earth today, it would have devastating consequences, not just for all electronic equipment on Earth, but also for our atmosphere and thus our planet’s ability to support life.

      I’ve been wondering about this since reading Niven’s great short story Incontinent Moon, which someone here recommended a couple weeks back. So…thanks?

    • Richard Kennaway says:

      As far as the electricity grid is concerned, I heard an interview on the radio recently with someone whose job it is to keep it running in the UK. According to him, the most vulnerable points are the transformers that convert the high voltages on the transmission lines down to usable levels, because they’re the easiest path to ground for surges on the lines to take. They’re the size of a house, and the electricity company has a stock of spare transformers dotted around the country. He wouldn’t say how many, for reasons of commercial confidentiality he said, but I guess also for reasons of security. They also keep a watch on the Sun for the signs of an imminent event. His view overall was that they pretty much had it handled, and another Carrington could cause disruptions but not a catastrophe.

  9. Kevin C. says:

    Inspired by thinking about conversations and overheard comments regarding certain local cultural-legal issues, I have a long-standing question.

    When it comes to “human rights” discourse, it seems that most items that come to be recognized as universal rights have their recognition as rights originating in the West and its cultural norms; or, more specifically, often the more “Universal Culture” parts.

    On the other hand, there’s plenty of cases of Westerners having enforced their “self-evidently right” moral norms and cultural practices on other peoples, like Charles James Napier and sati, or missionaries forcing the Mother Hubbard dress on the “half-naked savages” of Polynesia, or attacks on polygamy, especially polyandry, as with the Nair/Nayar of the Malabar Coast, (or other enforcement of norms about marriage and sex like those discussed here). Or consider the arguments made by James Petras in “Cultural Imperialism in the Late 20th Century” (which pretty much argues against the spread of “Universal Culture” from an anticapitalist left position).

    So, the question is, how do you determine when enforcing Western-originated rules and norms over differing local norms, is defending the human rights of individuals against a local culture that violates them, and when is it cultural imperialism? Where does one draw the line?

    • Evan H says:

      So, the question is, how do you determine when enforcing Western-originated rules and norms over differing local norms, is defending the human rights of individuals against a local culture that violates them, and when is it cultural imperialism?

      I don’t read those options as being mutually exclusive.

      As is often the case when multiple values conflict, it generally comes down to a fairly personal decision about how to prioritize them and what the appropriate trade-off ratio is.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “I don’t read those options as being mutually exclusive.”

        So something can be both enforcement of universal human rights (and thus morally good, if not outright morally obligatory), and “cultural imperialism”? Again, are you agreeing with the “White Man’s Burden” view that the West must spread its superior ways to the rest of the world, whether they want it or not?

        “a fairly personal decision about how to prioritize them”

        But the question here is more about state power, such as law enforcement. When is it right to give Western cultural norms the force of law over people with a different culture that does not share those norms?

        • Murphy says:

          If you read “cultural imperialism” as a Synonym for “evil” then it feels like a contradiction.

          It has more in common with the story from Baby Eating Aliens

          http://lesswrong.com/lw/y4/three_worlds_collide_08/

          There is no objective right answer. It’s like asking “should we stop the baby eaters from torturing their own babies?”.

          If you arrive on an island and the natives are just about to sacrifice a five year old to their gods (to be preceded by ritual sodomy according their ancient traditions, laws and ethics) are you ethically obliged to prevent murder and rape or does the rule against “cultural imperialism” take precedence in your moral code to your belief in universal human rights?

          Re: State power I can’t really see how there can be any objectively correct answer to that.

    • blacktrance says:

      One of the main uses of “cultural imperialism” is as a negative-affect term for expanding human rights (or the consequences that follow from them, like McDonalds). Invoking imperialism is inviting the non-central fallacy – what we actually object to in imperialism is expropriating natives and forcing them to work in the mines, and less extreme instances of aggression.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “what we actually object to in imperialism”

        First, who is “we” here? What about the objections of those on the wrong end of the “cultural imperialism”?

        Second, I don’t know if you read the Petras link because, beyond “expropriating natives and forcing them to work in the mines, and less extreme instances of aggression”, there do seem to be plenty of people complaining about things like pressure to “discard comfortable, traditional, loose fitting clothes for ill fitting unsuitable tight blue jeans”, that “International Culture” is a myth, and its spread actually “North Americanization”:

        The new cultural norms — the private over the public, the individual over social, the sensational and violent over everyday struggles and social realities — all contribute to inculcating precisely the egocentric values that undermine collective action. The culture of images, of transitory experiences, of sexual conquest, works against reflection, commitment and shared feelings of affection and solidarity. The North Americanization of culture means focusing popular attention on celebrities, personalities and private gossip — not on social depth, economic substance and the human condition. Cultural imperialism distracts from power relation and erodes collective forms of social action.

        The media culture that glorifies the ‘provisional’ reflects the rootlessness of U.S. capitalism — its power to hire and fire, to move capital without regard for communities. The myth of “freedom of mobility” reflects the incapacity of people to establish and consolidate community roots in the face of the shifting demands of capital. North American culture glorifies transient, impersonal relations as “freedom” when in fact these conditions reflect the anomie and bureaucratic subordination of a mass of individuals to the power of corporate capital.

        If “cultural imperialism” is merely “a negative-affect term for expanding human rights”, and not a valid objection, then are you not saying that it’s right and proper for the West to force its moral code and cultural patterns on to the rest of humanity whether they want it or not?

        • thehousecarpenter says:

          Maybe people are opposed to cultural imperialism when it involves making other cultures adopt traits of their culture they consider harmful (e.g. capitalism, for lefties like Petras), and in favour of it when it involves making other cultures adopt traits of their culture they consider beneficial (e.g. not mutilating people’s genitals). Not everybody thinks exclusively on the meta level.

        • blacktrance says:

          It’s the usual leftist argument – one third “I’m better than those sheeple who follow celebrities”, one third spinning good things as bad (“anomie” and “impersonal relations” are great), and one third valid points poorly presented (often the West fails to live up to its own values)..

          If “cultural imperialism” is merely “a negative-affect term for expanding human rights”, and not a valid objection, then are you not saying that it’s right and proper for the West to force its moral code and cultural patterns on to the rest of humanity whether they want it or not?

          Depends on what you mean by “force”. If you mean that the US should invade Saudi Arabia tomorrow and try to establish liberalism there, that’d be a bad idea for many reasons. If you mean that the West shouldn’t be ashamed of liberal culture and actively seek to promote and expand it peacefully, despite opposition from other cultures, then I support that. It’s also okay for a private individual to use force to defend, say, a woman who is being abused by her husband in an area where that’s normal (though a lot depends on situational factors). For similar reasons, it’d be okay for private individuals to use force to defend a McDonald’s that the locals are trying to destroy in the name of protecting their culture.

          But non-moral aspects of Western culture are much less important. There’s no reason to push people to drink Coke or wear jeans, though it is important that they be free to do so if they want.

          • Murphy says:

            “There’s no reason to push people to drink Coke or wear jeans, though it is important that they be free to do so if they want.”

            But that’s the rub. The idea that they should be free to do so if they want is itself an element of western culture.

          • random832 says:

            But that’s the rub. The idea that they should be free to do so if they want is itself an element of western culture.

            He just drew a distinction between moral and non-moral aspects, can you at least provide an objection to that distinction if you’re going to ignore it?

          • Murphy says:

            I’m not really seeing the distinction if we’re talking about the meta-ethics level of when it’s ok for one powerful culture to impose it’s own morals on another.

            To put it in sort of computing terms, “morals” is an arbitrary string that can contain arbitrary code.

            A few hundred years ago morals dictated that it was immoral to not give people the chance to go to heaven and so there was a moral duty to convert the heathens to the correct religion no matter their own opinions.

            If you’re going to make an exception for “moral” issues then that’s a wide wide exception.

    • cathray says:

      When we say “morality” we mean two distinct things. The thing I call “fundamental morality” and the other thing I call “conventional morality”. Fundamental morality is based on agency. Agency is the ability of a system to perceive the outside world, to build a model of the world, to abstractly reason on this model and predict the consequences of actions and to choose actions according to this abstract deliberation.

      Agency is a necessary and sufficient condition for acausal trade, which allows you to acausally trade “respect for the other person’s agency”. This is fundamental morality or basic human rights (which is morality encoded in law). If any person disrespects another person’s agency, they don’t have a standing to claim their own agency be respected. Thus they have no right to object to fundamental morality being “spread”.

      On the other hand spreading conventional morality is disrespecting other people’s agency and thus morally wrong. This is not a “line” to be drawn “somewhere”, this is a very clear cut distinction.

      • IrishDude says:

        What is acausal trade? I haven’t heard this phrase before.

        • cathray says:

          https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Acausal_trade

          I do something that is beneficial to you with the expectation that you will do something beneficial to me. If I communicate that expectation to you and we agree on it it is normal (causal) trade. If on the other hand I rely on you figuring out my expectation on your own and realizing that it is in your own self interest to fulfill my expectation so that you can benefit from these deals in the future, we “traded” in some sense but without the need to negotiate an agreement. This is acausal trade, which is necessary if you don’t know whom you are trading with or if trading with the general population.

        • Murphy says:

          https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Acausal_trade

          Imagine a prisoners dilemma but one where the first prisoner has to make their choice defect/cooperate and knows that the second will get to see their decision before making the choice.

          Under standard decision theory the first person says “if he sees I cooperated he can then utterly safely defect” and thus always defects first.

          But these are supposed to be very intelligent people making these choices and they know that approaching the problem like this leads to the outcome always being defect/defect and that’s definitely not optimal.

          Acausal trade is the idea that such people could recognize this and both knowing the other is sensible enough recognize the problem both choose a decision-making process which doesn’t always lead to defect/defect and instead effectively trade cooperation future to past and past to future despite there being no way for the first cooperator to enforce future cooperation.

          • baconbacon says:

            What you always have to remember in PD situations is that they are forced, so Defect/Defect is viable because a 2nd round is independent of your actions. If the action is voluntary then cooperate/observe/cooperate is viable because the sum gains of all possible future interactions can be > defecting once. This happens a lot in real life

            Person A for the first time says: I love you

            Person B’s options if they love them back
            1. Say I love you, be on equal ground
            2. Don’t say it and use this advantage to gain specific things that you want in the relationship

            #2 frequently leads to crappy relationships.

    • thenoblepie says:

      So, the question is, how do you determine when enforcing Western-originated rules and norms over differing local norms, is defending the human rights of individuals against a local culture that violates them, and when is it cultural imperialism?

      I’d take a pseudo-Rawlsian perspective. Imagine a congregation of individuals who have been stripped of any cultural baggage. They are self-interested, rational (as in, they are able to find the most effective means to their ends), and risk-averse to some extent. They are tasked to negotiate the rules of the society they are about to live in, while being ignorant as to their station in said society. What kind of fundamental rules would they agree to? Those I would call human rights. Everything else is decoration.

      This view has been accused of “smuggling in individualism through the backdoor” as it assumes that it is feasible to conceive of a cultureless human agent, but to that I answer that this is just a heuristic based on a counter-factual hypothetical.

      • Murphy says:

        Difficult to strip people of “cultural baggage” without stripping away central elements of their identity.

        And even if they did, imagine that at these negotiations if 1/3rd of those present were babyeaters 1/3rd were Superhappies and 1/3rd were humans.

        Or just 3 sets of humans with radically different conceptions of right and wrong on a par with the babyeaters and superhappies.

        • thenoblepie says:

          “Difficult to strip people of “cultural baggage” without stripping away central elements of their identity.”

          Yeah, that is one of the main shortcomings of this approach. But I mean, it is meant to be a counterfactual heuristic. It’s not like anyone is proposing to actually go through with this as an experiment.

          And even if they did, imagine that at these negotiations if 1/3rd of those present were babyeaters 1/3rd were Superhappies and 1/3rd were humans.

          Or just 3 sets of humans with radically different conceptions of right and wrong on a par with the babyeaters and superhappies.

          Rawlsians usually hand-wave this away by saying that the legislators are unaware of their “conceptions of the good” (i.e. what is valuable to them in life, their convictions, their set of preferences etc.).

          • Murphy says:

            unaware of their “conceptions of the good”

            without any idea of what they consider “good” I don’t see how they could choose a structure which is even vaguely satisfactory to anyone.

            Without some beliefs about what is good and what is bad there’s no particular difference between choosing a society where everyone makes each others lives happier and one where everyone takes turns throwing each other into a giant meat grinder and paints gristly murals out of the mush that comes out.

          • thenoblepie says:

            We are approaching the limits of my knowledge concerning Rawlsian theory, but as far as I remember the trick is to posit that there are some social goods (called ‘primary goods’) that are valuable to you no matter what your conception of the good is. Things like money, respect, etc.

            You can probably find some really weird preferences that would defeat that argument, but by and large, it seems to make sense.

            Furthermore, Rawls posits that if the legislators are at least moderately risk-averse, they would choose rules that would maximally benefit those with the worst stations in the future society. I’m not sure how Rawlsians deal with gamblers, though. That’s something I always wondered.

          • Furthermore, Rawls posits that if the legislators are at least moderately risk-averse, they would choose rules that would maximally benefit those with the worst stations in the future society.

            That requires infinite risk aversion, which is part of the reason I have never understood why people take Rawls’ argument for maximizing the welfare of the worst off seriously.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            We are approaching the limits of my knowledge concerning Rawlsian theory, but as far as I remember the trick is to posit that there are some social goods (called ‘primary goods’) that are valuable to you no matter what your conception of the good is. Things like money, respect, etc.

            I’m guessing that this list of goods conveniently aligns with the list of goods Rawls himself happens to think valuable?

          • thenoblepie says:

            I’d have to look it up. It’s been a long time since I last read him. But I don’t think the idea is that hard to swallow. Whether you want to heal the world or dominate it, the respect of your peers will help you do that. Whether you want to drive fast cars or look after your loved ones, money will make things easier. Whether you want to be the fastest person alive or build wells for people who need them, health will be important to you.

          • Murphy says:

            @The original Mr. X

            I wondered the same butI don’t really need to see why you’d need to strip the negotiators of their cultural values. Doing so seems to defeat the point.

            @DavidFriedman

            I don’t get why you say “infinite”.

            If you are designing a society and didn’t know which individual you’d end up as you probably wouldn’t design it as one with a king and a few nobles living in absolute luxury on top of a million peasants trying to get by without getting beaten for fun.

            On the other hand you might accept a society like Omelas since there’s only a very very slim chance of you ending up as that one unlucky person.

            Or you might accept a society with other flaws if the benefits for everyone are big enough. What you probably wouldn’t accept is arrangements which horribly screw a lot of the worst off to slightly benefit the most powerful and wealthy.

          • I don’t get why you say “infinite”.

            Because that is what the conclusion requires.

            Rawls’ claim is that, behind the veil of ignorance, you choose the society which maximizes the welfare of the worst off person. That means that, faced with a choice among possible lotteries, you prefer one with an expected value of a hundred utiles to one with an expected value of a trillion utiles, provided the lowest possible outcomes on the former is higher than the lowest possible outcome on the latter. Getting that result (for any numbers at all) requires infinite risk aversion.

            Harsanyi did the argument right well before Rawls, and concluded that you choose the society with the highest average utility.

          • thenoblepie says:

            @ David Friedman

            Harsanyi did the argument right well before Rawls, and concluded that you choose the society with the highest average utility.

            Is that conclusion based on what a utility-maximiser would do or does it rely on some psychological assumptions about the agent?

          • It depends on the economic, not the philosophical, definition of utility, specifically Von Neumann utility.

            Your utility is defined by your preferences. Cardinal utility is defined in such a way that a rational individual faced with a choice of lotteries will choose the lottery with the highest expected value of utility, just as an individual faced with a choice among certain outcomes will choose the one with the highest utility.

            There is an obvious connection between the economic and philosophical meanings of utility, but they are not the same.

          • thenoblepie says:

            @David Friedman

            From what little I understand about that branch of economics, Von Neumann relies on a set of assumptions about the agent’s mental state that are questionable when we apply them to the realm of ethics and policy-making.

            My main problem is that he assumes preferences to be complete and stable. The possibility of preference transformation is all too real in a political context in which policies are constantly negotiated and re-negotiated, I think. And I don’t think many people actually do have complete preferences, certainly not when it comes to the more obscure realms of policy making. In some instances, it might even be impossible to have a complete ordering of preferences. Take a Sophie’s choice kind of decision: you might be unable to make it, not because you’re indifferent towards the options presented to you, or because of the unbearable psychological cost attached to them, but because the options are inherently non-comparable.

            Unfortunately, I don’t understand enough about the theory behind Von Nemann utility (not for a lack of trying, I have to admit) to assess to what degree this actually poses a problem. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts about the matter.

          • Murphy says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Huh. He literally meant only considering the worst off individual?

            That seems odd. I think I implicitly assumed the statement was about the worst off [major fraction of the population].

            I think talking about average utility slips a lot in there unmentioned since my conversion between utility and dollars is very non-linear.
            For example I’d consider there to be a lot of negative utilions from a society including abused slaves but very few additional utilions for having some extra trillionaires who would otherwise be mere billionaires.

          • thenoblepie says:

            @Murphy

            Not quite. He talks of “representative men” for different levels of social and economic standing. He thinks that income and wealth are satisfactory proxies for the extent to which these men have access to other primary social goods.

            He describes the least advantaged as individuals “whose family and class origins are more disadvantaged than others, whose natural endowments (as realized) permit them to fare less well, and whose fortune and luck in the course of life turn out to be less happy”. That’s page 83 in the revised edition of A Theory of Justice.

          • @thenoblepie:

            Von Neumann’s assumptions may or may not describe how people act. But they provide a definition of utility as what people choose, including people choosing under uncertainty. That’s true whether or not utility changes every five minutes.

            @Murphy:

            I think talking about average utility slips a lot in there unmentioned since my conversion between utility and dollars is very non-linear.

            The fact that the utility function is non-linear is built into the function. Declining marginal utility is the same thing as risk aversion, and explains why you wouldn’t accept a coin toss that gives you ten thousand dollars if you win, costs you ten thousand if you lose. It’s a fair bet in dollars but a bad bet in utility, because the dollars you win have lower utility than the dollars you lose.

            It similarly explains why, if you were to be randomly placed in a role in a society, you would prefer a society with an average income of $50,000 and a range from $40,000 to $60,000 to one with the same average income and a range from $10,000 to $90,000.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        This view has been accused of “smuggling in individualism through the backdoor” as it assumes that it is feasible to conceive of a cultureless human agent, but to that I answer that this is just a heuristic based on a counter-factual hypothetical.

        I don’t think that answer’s enough to defeat the objection. To tell what a cultureless human agent would do, you’d have to be able to conceive of one, right? So even as a thought experiment, it only works if you can in fact conceive of a cultureless human agent.

        • thenoblepie says:

          Yeah, but I kinda can. That I imagine this cultureless individual to behave in a way that leads to the thought experiment validating my prior beliefs about the merit of individualist egalitarianism is a total coincidence, I swear!

          • TenMinute says:

            Are there any philosophers whose grand system of ethics suggested actions they were at all uncomfortable with?
            I’d be very interested in reading one of them, because it would suggest a real attempt, rather than the usual post hoc justification.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @TenMinute
            Pretty much all of them.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            Language is a subset of culture. Language is required for reasoning about morals.

            So no.

      • Kevin C. says:

        @thenoblepie

        Rawlsianism is nonsense (actually, I’d prefer to use a much stronger term). Individuals “stripped” of any “cultural baggage”, of being born to a particular family, in a particular place, time, and culture, in a particular body with a particular sex, with particular genetic predisposition, with particular formative experiences and interactions, stripped of all the accidents of both birth and life experience, self-interested in an individualistic way rather than that of an inherently social, tribal species, and “rational” sans the countless hardwired human biases, has been stripped of pretty much everything that constitutes human identity, and much of being human, so that such an abstract, disembodied, personalityless “intelligence” cannot be meaninfully called human, and is of little or no relevance to human beings and human morality. Your “counterfactual hypothetical” is simply too alien for it to serve as a useful heuristic for human beings, and assuming that it is is smuggling not only individualism “through the backdoor”, but plenty of other assumptions as well. In fact, Rawlsianism, in conceiving of these individual, inhuman, abstract “souls”, and then positing their birth as specific humans with all the particular elements formative of identity as something that is then forced upon them, presumably for ill, is thus fundamentally Gnostic. And Gnosticism has been fought for millenia for good reasons.

        • psychodelirium says:

          I don’t know why everyone is getting so hung up on this point, but it’s a complete misinterpretation of the Rawlsian veil of ignorance as I understand it. You are not asked to design an ideal society from a position where you suspend all your values – this is obviously ridiculous. You are asked to design it from exactly the position that you are in right now, with the provision that once you have done this, you are dead and reincarnated in random circumstances.

          The point is simply to get you to stop thinking selfishly in terms of the interests that you have already accrued and imagine starting over in the world with no prior information about the position that you will start from. Are you saying this is inconceivable?

          • Kevin C. says:

            “reincarnated in random circumstances.”

            Reincarnation is pretty much an incoherent concept outside of either belief in supernatural “soul-stuff”, or else esoteric Buddhist metaphors about candle flames to reconcile samsara with anatta. If I’m dead, then whatever person is born “in random circumstances”, with different identity-forming accidents and circumstances, that you choose to label my “reincarnation” simply is in no way me.

            “stop thinking selfishly in terms of the interests that you have already accrued”

            But without those interests, and the accidents of birth and experiences that caused me to accrue them, there simply is no Kevin C. What am I if not the combination of my genes and my environment?

            “Are you saying this is inconceivable?”

            Essentially yes, in the sense that whatever it is that is “starting over in the world” isn’t me.

          • psychodelirium says:

            That’s fair. If complete ignorance is unpalatable to you, then abstract away as much of your present circumstances as you think you can get away with. Obviously, this is still going to be a lot. After all, everyone’s circumstances change constantly and often in dramatic ways as it is. People lose all their savings, get major illnesses, emigrate to foreign countries and integrate into foreign cultures, win the lottery, lose and gain major relationships with completely different types of people, etc. If you can imagine your identity surviving all of this, then you can imagine enough of the veil of ignorance to carry the argument. E.g. you can probably imagine waking up tomorrow in a different part of the world, with a different skin color and a different value in your bank account. This is frankly enough to go a long way.

          • Jiro says:

            “If I was reincarnated as a random person, I would probably be upset to hear someone blaspheme God. Therefore I should avoid blaspheming God.”

            Or worse yet, “if I was reincarnated as a random person, I would probably think it’s okay to kill the Jews. Therefore as a Jew, I should let myself be killed.”

            Also, veil of ignorance is really bad in dealing with situations about creating potential people.

          • thenoblepie says:

            Guys, of course the veil of ignorance is impossible. That is not the point. The point is that Rawls asserts that social rules fall short of being fair because of vested interests. If we want to improve things, it might be useful to have a regulative ideal against which we can measure our actual social institutions. One potentially helpful way to come up with such an idea is to imagine what kind of rules people without vested interests would come up with. That there are no people like that, that there never can be people like that is besides the point.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @thenoblepie

            “Guys, of course the veil of ignorance is impossible. That is not the point.”

            My point is that it’s irrelevant. That it tells us nothing of worth about actual, living human beings with actual cultures and actual identities and interests and personalities shaped and formed by those cultures.

            “One potentially helpful way to come up with such an idea is to imagine what kind of rules people without vested interests would come up with.”

            But it absolutely is not helpful.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “I have assumed throughout that the persons in the original position are rational. In choosing between principles each tries as best he can to advance his interests. But I have also assumed that the parties do not know their conception of the good. This means that while they know that they have some rational plan of life, they do not know the details of this plan, the particular ends and interests which it is calculated to promote.” — A Theory of Justice, sec. 25. (emphasis added)

            Rawls’ version of the OP always makes me think of a D&D campaign run by a railroad-minded DM. I read the conditions and think, “that is a very specific level of ignorant.”

          • Anonymous says:

            Rawls’ writing makes me think that HE was under the veil of ignorance.

          • simon says:

            “Guys, of course the veil of ignorance is impossible. That is not the point.”

            Imagine a different way of deciding what rules to have. Instead of the veil of ignorance, we’ll use the Council of Rawls.

            How does this Council of Rawls work, you ask? Rawls creates a number of neutral, benevolent, culture-independent beings who together decide what the best rules should be, taking everyone’s interest into account. Then these beings are killed off and Rawls presents us with the set of rules which the Council of Rawls, in their neutral, benevolent wisdom, decided was on the whole the best.

            Now, the veil of ignorance relies for its intuitive strength the notion that the people behind the veil of ignorance are really us. Without that notion you have the Council of Rawls.

            Basically you end up with a version of utilitarianism that has questionable modifications such as risk aversion (because Rawls thinks we should be risk averse for some reason) and lack of culturally-dependent conceptions of good (which had to be dumped to make the veil of ignorance work).

          • with the provision that once you have done this, you are dead and reincarnated in random circumstances.

            That’s Harsanyi, not Rawls. Part of Rawls’ argument, as I remember it, was that you weren’t being reincarnated in *random* circumstance. That would give an equal probability of being any of the lives in that society, which leads to Harsanyi’s conclusion–you prefer the society with the highest average utility, since that maximizes the expected value of the gamble you face.

            Rawls’ view was that you didn’t have any probability distribution, and so assumed you would be the worst off person–that’s my infinite risk aversion. It makes no sense at all, and I have never figured out why people took it seriously.

          • IrishDude says:

            Harsanyi’s conclusion–you prefer the society with the highest average utility, since that maximizes the expected value of the gamble you face.

            That wouldn’t be my preference, necessarily. I’d prefer to gamble on a society where everyone has 50,000 utils than one where half have 1 util and half have 102,000 utils. That said, I don’t agree with Rawls either on necessarily preferring a society that maximizes the worst off.

          • thenoblepie says:

            Basically you end up with a version of utilitarianism that has questionable modifications such as risk aversion (because Rawls thinks we should be risk averse for some reason) and lack of culturally-dependent conceptions of good (which had to be dumped to make the veil of ignorance work).

            I always thought of Rawls’ theory as Ersatz-Kantianism where his legislators behind the veil of ignorance stand in for what Kant would call an agent whose will does “completely accord with reason”.

            Everything in nature works according to laws. Rational beings alone have the faculty of acting according to the conception of laws, that is according to principles, i.e., have a will. Since the deduction of actions from principles requires reason, the will is nothing but practical reason. If reason infallibly determines the will, then the actions of such a being which are recognised as objectively necessary are subjectively necessary also, i.e., the will is a faculty to choose that only which reason independent of inclination recognises as practically necessary, i.e., as good. But if reason of itself does not sufficiently determine the will, if the latter is subject also to subjective conditions (particular impulses) which do not always coincide with the objective conditions; in a word, if the will does not in itself completely accord with reason (which is actually the case with men), then the actions which objectively are recognised as necessary are subjectively contingent, and the determination of such a will according to objective laws is obligation, that is to say, the relation of the objective laws to a will that is not thoroughly good is conceived as the determination of the will of a rational being by principles of reason, but which the will from its nature does not of necessity follow.

            The conception of an objective principle, in so far as it is obligatory for a will, is called a command (of reason), and the formula of the command is called an imperative.

            All imperatives are expressed by the word ought [or shall], and thereby indicate the relation of an objective law of reason to a will, which from its subjective constitution is not necessarily determined by it (an obligation). They say that something would be good to do or to forbear, but they say it to a will which does not always do a thing because it is conceived to be good to do it. That is practically good, however, which determines the will by means of the conceptions of reason, and consequently not from subjective causes, but objectively, that is on principles which are valid for every rational being as such. It is distinguished from the pleasant, as that which influences the will only by means of sensation from merely subjective causes, valid only for the sense of this or that one, and not as a principle of reason, which holds for every one.

            http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5682/pg5682-images.html

          • psychodelirium says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Intuitively, I think the point is that the difference between “abject poverty and starvation” and “relatively well-off by global standards” is much greater than that between the latter position and a class of pampered overlords, even though the pampered overlords require a disproportionately greater investment of resources to sustain.

            IIRC Rawls objects to performing the calculation in the first place (for reasons that aren’t clear to me either). But it can be easily argued that the greatest gain in average utility is achieved by eliminating all positions of the “starvation and abject poverty” type. In general, it seems to me that you could get the Rawlsian conclusion out of Harsanyi by saying that the utility gain achieved by improving any starting position would be logarithmic.

          • Jiro says:

            On the other hand, perhaps allowing the existence of very rich people would create incentives that lead a portion of the very rich people to do things that benefit everyone.

            Asking the static question “which distribution of money is best for the average person” ignores such incentives.

          • psychodelirium says:

            Rawls actually anticipates this via the “difference principle”. The formulation is something like: to the extent that there are social and economic inequalities, they should be arranged to maximize the benefits that accrue to the least advantaged.

            the greater expectations allowed to entrepreneurs encourages them to do things which raise the long-term prospects of laboring class. The better prospects act as incentives so that the economic process is more efficient, innovation proceeds at a faster pace, and so on. Eventually the resulting material benefits spread throughout the system and to the least-advantaged

            Pretty standard stuff. But yeah, you’re right that utility cannot just be a proxy for money here, and a uniform resource distribution is not the outcome he’s after.

          • In general, it seems to me that you could get the Rawlsian conclusion out of Harsanyi by saying that the utility gain achieved by improving any starting position would be logarithmic.

            The definition of (Von Neumann) utility already includes risk aversion.

            Rawls is making a general claim, so one that would apply even in the case where raising the income of the poorest by a penny required lowering the income of the slightly less poor by a hundred dollars, provided that didn’t bring them below the poorest.

    • Zakharov says:

      As a first approximation, if one of the natives comes up to you and asks for protection from other natives trying to kill or enslave them, protecting that person is probably protecting their human rights. If you go in and try and get the natives to do something none of them want you to do, you’re probably engaging in imperialism. This rule of thumb gives the correct answer in all your examples (no to sati, yes to nakedness and polygamy).

      • Murphy says:

        And yes to not intervening in child-sacrifice?

        As with many things it becomes more awkward when you consider people without capacity.

        “No, I don’t want to go anywhere, mummy says I have to be a good girl and stay on this sacrificial alter and that I must do exactly what Mr High Priest says when he gets here”

    • Leonard says:

      Human rights is a modern Western concept. As such, you’re doing Western cultural imperialism if you “defend” (enforce) them against non-Westerners. Not sure exactly who that would be any more. The West is arguably almost universal after the American century of global hegemony.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      The same way you answer moral questions in general – by looking at the quality of arguments for the rights in question, etc.

  10. skef says:

    So I take it from comparative interest that firing people for insufficiently right-wing beliefs is no big deal, whereas Brendan Eich will always and forever be a martyr for having to fall back to a slightly less lucrative position. But maybe it’s worth nailing down the specific rationale.

    Perhaps it’s that right-wing organizations tend to be specifically right wing, so if Mozilla wants to bork right-wingers it really needs to go all-out?

    Or maybe the problem is that left-wing values are fake, and right-wing values are real, and it’s really terrible that someone should loose their way of living over fake values?

    Or — and I’m guessing this is the popular answer — it’s all about trajectories. The left-wingers are about to achieve total domination over the culture, so what they do now needs to be understood in those terms, while conservatives are at risk of being crushed, so what they do is of no real consequence. Is that about right?

    • qwints says:

      I’d lean toward the first as the primary explanation . I can’t imagine outrage if Planned Parenthood or NOW fired all the Trump voters – I assume they actively screen them out. The people appalled at what happened to Eich don’t believe Mozilla should have taken a position in the culture wars.

      • skef says:

        Then perhaps people have just misunderstood the politics of the Mozilla organization? Open source has some lefty roots, after all.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Somehow I can’t see either Richard M Stallman (not open source but free software is certainly a predecessor) or Eric S. Raymond (“My first thought on hearing of the resignation of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla: Congratulations, gay activists. You have become the bullies you hate.”) or Russ Nelson agreeing with the firing of Eich. Bruce Perens might, but he now thinks open source was a mistake.

          • BBA says:

            On the other hand, Jamie Zawinski, the early Netscape developer who coined the name “Mozilla”, is on the record as saying the ACLU is tainted because they took money from Y Combinator which has some joint projects with Peter Thiel who donated to the Trump campaign. (No link because he hates us already, even if he hasn’t heard of us.)

          • Anonymous says:

            OTOH, ACLU is also founded by a Communist to pursue the agenda of Communism. 😉

          • Matt M says:

            Weird, I was just reading a little while ago about some left-wing outrage over the shock to discover that the ACLU supports free speech… including that of alleged nazis!

        • Aapje says:

          @skef

          Then perhaps people have just misunderstood the politics of the Mozilla organization? Open source has some lefty roots, after all.

          What Nybbler said, a lot of lefties object to this particular brand of left. I suggest you stop thinking in left/right, but rather see it as an range of ideologies.

          What I object to is not that certain ideologies exist to spread their message, but I object to how some ideologies seek to oppress other ideologies.

          This is also what explains why I object to Eich, but not to the Focus on the Family leadership deciding what their employees should say. Focus on the Family is an organization that specifically exists to make speech to spread an ideology. It would be absurd to demand that they employ people who make speech that disagrees with their ideology.

          In contrast, Mozilla is an organization that exists with the goal to make a good open source browser. Demanding ideological purity on something that is completely orthogonal to that goal isn’t necessary to make the organization better. It is purely a demand by the intolerant.

          If people demand ideological purity of everyone they interact with, you get parallel societies aka pillarisation. I want pillarisation to be limited to ideologies as much as possible and not infecting entire society.

      • Viliam says:

        For me it’s definitely the first one. It leaves an impression of dishonesty; it feels like the organization pretends to be politically neutral when it benefits it, and it abuses the trust of people who would otherwise disagree with its political orientation.

        If Mozilla would be called “Social Justice Web Browser”, I wouldn’t care whom their fire. First, because I wouldn’t use the browser, so it’s kinda none of my business. Second, because anyone who works for something openly called “Social Justice Web Browser” was sufficiently warned. (I would give the same answer for a “Donald Trump Web Browser” or whatever other openly political browser.)

        Similarly, if Reddit would be called “Social Justice Web Forum”, I wouldn’t care about censorship, double standards, etc. If anyone would complain, I would just say “duh, it’s in the name”. Similarly for Twitter.

        It doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of a name. But at least your web page should give an obvious hint. Or you should talk about it openly.

        To explain it from a different angle, imagine that before the Brendan Eich incident, someone would say “uhm, seems to me that Mozilla is quite left-wing; why don’t we make another, politically neutral web browser?” People would probably dismiss such talk as paranoid.

        So it feels to me like wanting to have your cake and eating it too. Political enough that wrongthinkers cannot be your employees, but not political enough to make wrongthinkers think that maybe they shouldn’t support you as customers or contributors.

    • Evan Þ says:

      First, there are ten thousand groups who’re ready and eager to express outrage at fired leftists. Look – they got an Atlantic article about them.

      Second, they’re people who specifically work in communications and public relations. Writing from a not-too-leftist perspective that represents their employer well is part of their job, like it wasn’t part of Eich’s.

      • skef says:

        Someone who merely works in PR could avoid expressing their personal opinions in their work output, so why should their personal expressions after work be a factor? It seems to me that as a figurehead a CEO would be much more subject to evaluations of what they do in private.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Wasn’t “expressing their personal opinions in their work output” exactly what Smith, at least, was doing?

          • skef says:

            I’ll admit the Smith case is trickier, but while the article does say there were some contentious pieces on the actual blog, the controversy seems to have been over a separate Op-Ed and some “social media” posts. Those were what she was asked to retract.

            And anyway, this article is hardly the only set of examples. There is also the whole Intervarsity thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Those were what she was asked to retract.

            She was also asked to “remove her affiliation with Boundless from her personal social-media accounts”, and it’s disturbingly vague as to how that affiliation was expressed and whether she did in fact remove it.

            Which makes this, as others have noted, an edge case. If you prominently flag yourself as the Director of Public Communications for the XYZ Foundation in all your social media profiles, then yay for the egoboo and you’ll get lots more friends/followers/likes/whatever, but at the cost of “your” social meda no longer being an “after work” activity.

            I can be outraged at the behavior of the Trumpists, or the Right generally. But if this is the best you’ve got to work with, you need to work harder on making your case with it.

          • Murphy says:

            @skef

            Personally I’m not too hot about either case. I don’t like employers trying to control what their employees say while they’re not on the clock and while not claiming affiliation to the organization.

            If you go on your social media page which happens to also list you as a PR Rep for a charity “Abortions are Terrible” and post lots of messages “Abortions are great” then I can understand them having some right to a say.

            If you run a blog under an anon username that isn’t linked to their organization and doesn’t claim affiliation that they discover through sleuthing then I think it’s 100% out of order to go after you for your posts on it.

            Ditto for coming after you for quietly donating money to charities or political causes they might not like. It’s out of order. There may not be a law against it but it’s not right to do so.

            If employers in general are allowed that degree of control then you basically have no rights and are just a vestige attached to an employer with no life of your own even when you’re off the clock and they can’t be bothered paying you.

            Yes, technically they can choose to stop paying you for whatever reason they like but it’s a dodge. Like that trick the federal government uses to force state governments to be puppets by threatening to withdraw federal highway funding if they don’t do [thing that the federal government legally has no conventional right to force them to do]

        • AnonEEmous says:

          Dude.

          This article mostly focuses on two hired columnists, and a missionary. The former two had political beliefs that the owner didn’t appreciate, and that don’t line up with their mission, and did put that in their articles. The missionary decided to be “outspoken” with her support for certain candidates and lost donation support – though she apparently still has enough money. None of this is like Eich at all. No wonder no one is outraged.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Evan Þ:

        Second, they’re people who specifically work in communications and public relations. Writing from a not-too-leftist perspective that represents their employer well is part of their job, like it wasn’t part of Eich’s.

        CEOs absolutely have a public relations component to their job. They are the most important spokesperson for the company.

        • roystgnr says:

          Was Eich publicly speaking in opposition to gay marriage? Or was his Prop 8 support ferreted out from lists of donors?

          If it was suddenly legal to make pseudonymous political arguments in the media again, a practice which used to just be Common Sense, that would certainly fix the “spokesperson” (name-appears-on-list-person?) problem. Do you think that Eich’s opponents would really be happy that he was no longer able to use his CEO status as a bully pulpit to sway the minds of the all-important scouring-donor-lists-for-CEO-names voter demographic, or would they just be pissed that they couldn’t retaliate against their political opponents as easily?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Was Eich publicly speaking in opposition to gay marriage?

            This is essentially goalpost shifting.

            The argument I am responding to is that Eich is less important to a companies public image than a PR person, and this is a false argument.

          • random832 says:

            @roystgnr

            Was Eich publicly speaking in opposition to gay marriage?

            If you think donating money isn’t an act of speech, does that mean you think Citizens United should be overturned?

            Or was his Prop 8 support ferreted out from lists of donors?

            In your opinion, why do these lists exist?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            If you think donating money isn’t an act of speech, does that mean you think Citizens United should be overturned?

            Not the OP, but very much yes. Spending is not speech. The alternative quickly leads to the conclusion that bribery is a right enshrined in the constitution. Money in politics is one of, if not the, biggest problems in our system.

            In your opinion, why do these lists exist?

            Transparency rules that attempt to curtail the likes of the Kochs and Soros throwing their weight around. Predictably, they’re being used to harass the little guys.

          • gbdub says:

            On the other hand, the alternative to Citizens United quickly leads to the conclusion that buying a newspaper or TV station to run all the political editorials you want is a constitutional right, but organizing a small group with like minded individuals to make a political video is not.

          • roystgnr says:

            @random832, There’s a difference between an act of speech and a public corporate endorsement. A world in which it was impossible for anyone to express an opinion without the approval of their employer would be an awful world to live in, and we should resist moves in that direction even when we currently agree with what a particular employer approves of.

            There is a gradient here that makes it difficult, sure. “My employer is paying me to write under their byline” means total editorial control, “My employer is paying me to write under my own name” a bit less, “My employer is paying me to write under my own name which I also use to publish personal opinions” much much less (for the other writing, and presuming the employee maintains clear separation between the two).

            Skipping ahead,

            “My employer is paying me for management, and I also want to assist in the publication of a personal opinion in the most anonymous way which is legally possible” is at nearly the very bottom of this gradient. You could quibble about management being a public-facing job like PR (and like retail workers, and for that matter anything in the service industry… do we *really* want to go down this road?), but if we want more than that sliver of free speech then there is no way to draw a line any further down without literally changing the laws to create new space further down.

            Donor lists were supposed to exist to allow increased scrutiny of the donee: by seeing who was paying for their campaign ads you could see if they had unprincipled ulterior motives for supporting a position or you could look for quid pro quo behavior towards their donors. This seems like a useful function, but if it’s going to regularly backfire, if the only way we can enable a more informed vote between public servants is to also enable the punishment of thoughtcrime among private donors, then I’d like to go back to Common Sense standards again instead, thanks.

            And yes, spending on speech is speech. That’s what “freedom of the press” was supposed to be metonymy for, not a special caste of people who got more speech than the rest of us, but a way of “speaking” that’s more expensive than a soapbox to stand on. It’s a shame that we somehow slid from there to the point where the US government was literally arguing in court that they should have the right to ban books, and even to the point where a Presidential candidate could make “I want to overturn the court ruling that prevented the banning of a documentary criticizing me” a popular campaign platform. I’d like to pretend that the right wing was any better, but Mr. “open up our libel laws” got elected so apparently not much. At least that has the *pretense* of being about truth and falsehood, rather than about how democracy doesn’t work unless we shelter the poor impressionable voters from things they aren’t wise enough to see.

        • gbdub says:

          Eich certainly had a PR component to his job. On the other hand, simply giving cash to a political organization doesn’t leverage his status as the Mozilla CEO in any way, nor does it imply the endorsement of Mozilla.

          Cash can be speech (or rather, cash enables speech) but it’s fungible. Eich’s donation is no more or less meaningful than the same amount from some random schmoe. In that sense I think it’s totally fair to call his donation “private”, even though it’s not anonymous.

          On the other hand, “public” speech, i.e. Eich leveraging his fame as Mozilla CEO to personally make political statements (which are amplified due to his position, even if he’s not using official Mozilla resources to make the statements), has a stronger argument to be something affecting Mozilla.

          I’d say all these things can be considered distinguishable:
          1) Making a “private” donation (cash or in-kind) to a political organization totally unrelated to your work.
          2) Making public statements on a political issue, which are amplified by the notoriety you have due to your employment.
          3) Using company resources to make a statement, or making a statement while actively performing your duties as an employee.

          I think everyone is okay with canning someone for something they do in category 3. I’m personally mostly okay with employment consequences for sufficiently egregious category 2 activities.

          But canning people for category 1 sounds an awful lot like saying that people are “on-duty” 24/7, and anyone with a job better not have discernible political views, which is a world I’d prefer not to be in.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Maybe it’s that nobody has heard about these people? I’m one of the people most disgusted by what happened to Eich, but if we’re talking about a person who is not in some specific position where they were required to espouse particular politics, I certainly think it’s wrong if they were fired for not supporting Trump.

      That said, the first example in your linked article, Joy Beth Smith, was explicitly employed by a political advocacy organization, Focus on the Family, so the idea that they’d be upset at her going off the reservation politically is not exactly shocking. (Would you really expect Media Matters for America to stand behind a spokesperson who started bashing the Democratic Party nominee on social media?) And if that’s the best The Atlantic has for their earthshattering OMG FIRED FOR NOT SUPPORTING TRUMP expose, well, that suggests one can happily close the tab and move on with one’s life.

    • The Nybbler says:

      “Focus on the Family” is an edge case because it appears to be an advocacy organization; I wouldn’t object to Greenpeace firing someone who publicly advocated whale-hunting, for instance. But they claim to be a ministry, not a partisan advocacy organization, and their policy is far too broad, so I’d say what they’re doing is objectionable.

      Dingle/Key Ministries was on the other side of the same line, based on the article. They were an explicitly ideological organization with an ideology she agrees she was speaking against. Can’t work for Coke and advocate for Pepsi.

      Assad didn’t claim anything happened to her besides people being angry at her opinions.

      Nelson said a couple refused to teach a class with a curriculum written by a “progressive evangelical”. Nothing wrong with that, IMO; if they didn’t like the curriculum they shouldn’t teach the class.

      Liddy I simply disbelieve. The “48-hour wave of trolling” tripped my narrative detector.

      But it’s also the case that one expects the religious right to act like, well, the religious right.

      • roystgnr says:

        Assad didn’t claim anything happened to her besides people being angry at her opinions.

        The “shut up and sing” crowd is probably the closest parallel to Eich’s detractors, if only they’d made the step from “stop saying things we don’t like or we’ll belittle you” to “stop saying things we don’t like or your job will suffer”. It’s hard to imagine that step being left out of the Atlantic article, the dog who didn’t bark in the night. There could have been threats made which were too vague to quote but too clear to ignore, though.

        The “48-hour wave of trolling” tripped my narrative detector.

        How? “I went on the internet and I got trolled” is nearly a tautology.

        Giving a vague identification of the trolls as “Christian groups” is a bit suspect, though. If you have specific positive ID for trolls you should share it. If you don’t, then really all you have is the claims implicitly made by the troll(s) themselves, and sharing troll claims is just foolish… unless you already have a narrative in mind and the trolls are effectively helping you further craft it.

    • skef says:

      So people seem to most favor answer 1: The “bullets” of the last OT are fine as long as your organization is sufficiently political.

      In that case, why not just take the firing as evidence that Mozilla is more political than people expected it to be? Open source is long associated with certain flavors of advocacy, after all.

      • Sandy says:

        In that case, why not just take the firing as evidence that Mozilla is more political than people expected it to be? Open source is long associated with certain flavors of advocacy, after all.

        Mozilla doesn’t claim to be political enough to fire people for privately espoused views that were shared by the President of the United States eight years ago. If they are, they should say so; it’s best to formalize what views employees are allowed to express rather than have everyone hanging around in structurelessness that shifts with the political tides. To the best of my knowledge, most organizations still don’t clarify this.

        If Blackwater fired an employee for posting pro-socialist views on Facebook, would that be acceptable because organizations like Blackwater are obviously going to be dominated by right-wingers?

      • AnonEEmous says:

        Skef.

        The problem isn’t that Mozilla was political. It’s that the position of CEO doesn’t have to be. His job doesn’t require it.

        A columnist is specifically asked to communicate their opinions, and in the latter woman’s case she spoke at conferences. If that person has political leanings opposite to their organization, that’s an issue. The first lady even put it in her columns, and looking at the second lady’s columns she may have as well.

        And finally, while open source may be associated with advocacy, that doesn’t make an open source company the same as a political advocacy group whose stated mission is political advocacy. Firefox’s stated mission is to make a good browser.

        • skef says:

          Let me make sure I understand your position. You’re saying that Focus on the Family should be free to fire it’s PR people for expressing certain opinions, but if they fired the top person (the CEO equivalent) for doing so, that would be a problem?

          • AnonEEmous says:

            It would depend on the duties of the CEO.

            But frankly, I don’t think it would, because Focus on the Family is an explicit political advocacy organization. For god’s sakes, just look at that name!

            Mozilla Firefox’s stated mission is to make a good browser. Political advocacy may be tangentially related to that, in advocating for better browsing services, and generally open source may be related to certain forms of political advocacy, but the views of a CEO that don’t relate to internet browsers are unlikely to matter at all.

            As to your below comment: your argument seemed to be that no one is getting outraged about people getting unfairly fired for political views. But for that to be true, you need to find some examples of that happening – not just of that being possible! You can’t just say “well of course it’s happening”, or whatever it is you’re trying to say, because that’s not a given.

          • skef says:

            See the update below.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @AnonEEMous:

          It’s that the position of CEO doesn’t have to be. His job doesn’t require it.

          This is simply not true.

          The most important person in helping a company navigate the external political waters in which it floats is the CEO.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m mostly in agreement with you on this stuff, but I do have to ask. Is it TOTALLY impossible for a company to “navigate the external political waters in which it floats” by taking a position of “We are not a political organization. We are committed to making great browsers. As an organization, we take no position on social issues such as gay marriage, because our company employs many people who are on both sides of this, and every other issue.”

            Perhaps this isn’t the best answer and perhaps it would not protect the company from criticism, but it seems to me that a CEO could easily make and defend that position regardless of their own personal politics.

          • skef says:

            @Matt M

            A CEO could certainly take and defend such a position. But whether it would (or should) be successful depends on the situation.

            It’s important to recognize the work that “many people who are on both sides of this … issue” is doing. If the CEO advocated rounding up all the Jews on his personal time, any such argument isn’t going to keep his position from being political.

            In the realm of issues with many people on both sides, there are some issues that people feel so strongly about that they don’t want any association with people who represent the other side. If it had come out that Eich spent lots of money on gun control advocacy, that could also have resulted in boycotts, or otherwise-reduced market share. “The public” won’t necessarily play along with arguments, which limits the ability for messaging to control what is political.

            This is why large companies generally try to stay as outwardly bland and neutral on any such question as they can, and are frustrated by the Catch-22 situations they occasionally fall into.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            Perhaps this isn’t the best answer and perhaps it would not protect the company from criticism, but it seems to me that a CEO could easily make and defend that position regardless of their own personal politics.

            Skef already covered the easy counter to this.

            But, given that you think this as an easy thing to do for smaller issues, and given that Eich was not able to successfully do that, what does that say about his performance as CEO?

            Like it or not, one of the big things a CEO is paid to do is be a public face for the company, and to do that in a manner that furthers the interests of the company. There are many ways to do this, but you have to be successful at it, or you end up falling on your sword, or having it take your head.

            And each company is different! How the CEO comports themselves has to meet the needs of the company, not vice-versa. This is basic professionalism.

            People here frequently seem to think CEOs only have to make strategic business decisions, and that is simply not the case.

          • Matt M says:

            I feel like you’ve set up a tautology here though. You claim:

            “The most important person in helping a company navigate the external political waters in which it floats is the CEO.”

            But you are presenting the fact that Eich had an outrage associated with him and was fired as evidence that he failed in this duty.

            But the outrage was not related to his handling of political issues in his capacity of CEO as Mozilla. It was entirely about his having donated, five years prior, a negligible amount of money to some charity where one of the 20 things it lobbies for is to not have gay marriage.

            Like, I agree with you that the position of CEO includes a lot of public relations and political work. But under the reasoning you’re outlining, it seems that it’s impossible for a CEO under scrutiny to be unfairly fired. The fact that scrutiny and outrage exists is automatic evidence of failure. This is basically the heckler’s veto, applied to private employment.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            This is basically the heckler’s veto, applied to private employment.

            Highlighting for emphasis. Hope you don’t mind if I steal this line, Matt. Very succinctly sums up the whole debacle, IMO. The whole problem is a bunch of twits on the internet getting pissy and conspiring to get a dude they don’t like fired. If the decision had been truly internal then there’d be much less outcry.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            The fact that scrutiny and outrage exists is automatic evidence of failure.

            The fact that Eich was not able to successfully defuse the outrage is the evidence that he failed at his job, not the fact that it existed in the first place. As CEO, when a PR problem happens, you need to be able to respond to it effectively, and you need to identify the key stakeholders on which to concentrate your efforts.

            And of course, it’s always better to avoid doing something that could cause outrage in or directed at your key stakeholders to begin with. If you have done something that might be used against the company, take steps to defuse it before hand, or even don’t pursue the CEO job to begin with.

            And again, Mozilla and some other company, say Nestle, operate in completely different environments.

          • Matt M says:

            The fact that Eich was not able to successfully defuse the outrage is the evidence that he failed at his job, not the fact that it existed in the first place.

            What if the people who were creating the outrage went into the conflict with the stated goal of “nothing short of firing this man is an acceptable outcome” What if “defusing” was simply not possible?

            I do mean this to be hypothetical. I’m not trying to imply that was necessarily the case. But I do think your logic does imply a heckler’s veto. So long as the heckler keeps heckling until he is fired, then he is blamed for not stopping the heckling? Which simply incentivizes even further heckling, does it not?

            The second part of your statement – that he has an obligation to not take actions that might embarrass the company in the future, or that, having already done so, he is obligated not to pursue a prominent position in the industry – I think is closer to the matter at hand. I think this is exactly what many are arguing we don’t want in society. It creates a chilling effect on speech and political expression. In Eich’s specific example, we know that the action was taken several years in the past, and that what he supported was a relatively common position (common enough to win a popular vote in California of all places, and to be the nominal, if not genuine heartfelt position, of Barack Obama at the time).

            What you are basically saying is that anyone who takes any sort of political stand at any point in time essentially waives the right to expect a fair evaluation of their employment at any point in the future.

            I’m a young MBA with good career prospects. Should I be worried that my posts here may prevent me from leading a company someday? I’ve donated to institutions like the Mises Institute. Have I already failed my future shareholders 30 years from now if people decide that’s not an okay group to have donated to in the meantime? Would I be better off to just shut up and keep all of my opinions to myself and never take a controversial position in public? Is that the kind of choice we want society to be forcing on people?

          • TenMinute says:

            Is that the kind of choice we want society to be forcing on people?

            I believe the response is “who’s this ‘we‘, righty?”
            Because why would anyone on the left have any sympathy for your concerns? Is it even possible for them to understand trying to resist the march of progress?

            To them, it sounds like you’re pleading to a steamroller not to crush you. The only sensible response from their perspective is “don’t get in the way, idiot”.

          • Cypren says:

            @Matt M: I think HBC is making a really good point here. One of the primary responsibilities of a CEO is to defuse crises. (One might say the primary responsibility is don’t get into them in the first place, but sometimes they’re unavoidable.)

            A sufficiently skilled CEO might have been able to defuse the situation by undermining the credibility of the attackers, or convincing the Mozilla community that freedom of conscience was more important than political orthodoxy. Eich failed to do these things; his response was tepid and essentially consisted of the assertion, “I don’t discriminate against gays in my professional life, and my personal views are none of your business.” This was clearly not the correct response for this particular community.

            So while yes, I think the SJWs who created the crisis in the first place are intolerant religious fanatics, I also think that HBC is right that Eich’s poor reaction to it cast significant doubt on his qualifications for the job he was holding, and it was not unreasonable for the board to consider that as a factor in choosing to remove him.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What if the people who were creating the outrage went into the conflict with the stated goal of “nothing short of firing this man is an acceptable outcome”

            You don’t have to defuse those people. They aren’t the stakeholders.

            You have to rob their anger of it’s ability to have deleterious impact to your company.

            If we want to make the argument about the heckler’s veto, then I would say that the best comparison is to a comedian. If a comedian is getting heckled, a good comedian will maintain the good will of the crowd, a bad comedian loses the good will of the crowd, and then the sandman dances you off the stage.

            Your contention that I am saying that anyone who takes any sort of political stand waives the right to expect a fair evaluation of their employment is incorrect. I am saying that the CEO of a company has particular job requirements. There are perfectly legal things that you can do which will scuttle your ability to pass a security clearance too.

            This, of course, does not mean that making comments here will prevent you from being a successful CEO. It does mean that you need to successfully handle any public revelation of those comments. Again, there are lots of ways to do that.

          • Matt M says:

            “You don’t have to defuse those people. They aren’t the stakeholders.”

            Okay. I’ll admit this is an important distinction and I hadn’t really thought of it that way.

            But I still feel like we’re at something of a tautology here. Your point is that Eich’s being fired (or, more accurately, being forced to resign) is, in and of itself, proof that he deserved such a fate, because a good CEO would be able to convince people to not fire him.

            By this logic, every person who is fired deserves their fate. An “unfair firing” is literally impossible because part of every employee’s job is to convince their boss not to fire them, right?

            So if I find out one of my employees is secretly gay and I fire them because I’m a bigot, well they must have been a bad employee, right? Because surely part of their job would be to convince me that they’re such a good employee that I should keep them on in spite of my bigotry, correct?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

            OK, moving on from great movie quotes, seriously, you really are not grappling with the fact that PR is part of a CEO’s job. It’s intrinsic.

            And when you are a non-profit company that maintains open-source software, using sometimes nothing more than the good will of a community of developers, this goes doubly and triply so. Eich didn’t end up in a position where their board offered him a chance to resign because he failed to convince the board not to be mad at him, but rather because the board perceived that his response to the controversy was inadequate to mitigate any damage to the company.

            This is a completely different situation from almost anyone below the c-level. The accountant who does books does not run the same risks so long as the books are accurate and pass audit. Nobody cares if the accountant is anti-gay marriage. It has no effect on the books. It does not affect the job they do. And if someone does care, the accountant can simply point at the numbers.

            But if the accountant did something in the books because they were anti-gay marriage, like not pay the insurance bill for the spouse of the gay person in the company, then they get fired for it. For cause.

          • Matt M says:

            One of my favorite quotes. I use it in arguments frequently. Feels weird to have it quoted at me by a bleeding-heart statist!

            In any case, I feel like you’re going in circles now. The P in PR stands for public, but you just got done saying that the public weren’t the stakeholders and that Eich’s main failure was in not persuading the board.

            So which is it? Is he a bad CEO because he couldn’t defuse the Twitter mob (which is heckler’s veto), or is he a bad CEO because he couldn’t convince his board to ignore the mob (which is a tautology that justifies any and every firing).

            Even if you want to say that this applies to him because he’s a CEO and not to an accountant, there are still tons of jobs besides c-level executives that have a significant requirement in persuasion/PR/whatever you want to call it. Lawyers, lobbyists, counselors, mediators, coaches, psychologists, etc. I distinctly remember many people in the Twitter mob that harangued that poor lady who made an off-color AIDS joke justifying their actions by pointing out that her occupation was public relations, and surely making a joke in public that might create an outrage was proof positive she deserved to be fired not for the joke, but for being “bad at her job.” She wasn’t some super-wealthy elite level person. She wasn’t able to easily move on and find a new job that was still great.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            So which is it? Is he a bad CEO because he couldn’t defuse the Twitter mob (which is heckler’s veto), or is he a bad CEO because he couldn’t convince his board to ignore the mob (which is a tautology that justifies any and every firing).

            Sigh.

            I don’t understand why you aren’t getting my point, but the answer is neither.

            Again, I will go back to the comedian example. You have the heckler, the owner of the club and the audience.

            The comedian’s job is not to make the heckler happy. The comedian’s job is to keep the rest of the audience laughing. The owner makes their decisions not based on the heckler, but the rest of the audience.

            You don’t have to defuse the Twitter mob, you just have keep them from affecting your broad user base or community.

            I think what happened to the person on the way to S. Africa was wrong, and I think the company made a mistake in firing that person. But I also don’t really know the details of that persons job description. If, for example, they were in charge of “social media engagement” at the company, they might have shown they weren’t particularly competent (and perhaps made themselves incapable of doing the job).

            But, if I were working at that company at the time, and I had some sort of microphone, I would have ripped management up, down and sideways (to the extent I understand the actual facts of the case). It’s the kind of thing that would make me update my resume, so to speak, as the company had shown they had no interest in loyalty to their employees.

          • Matt M says:

            “The comedian’s job is not to make the heckler happy. The comedian’s job is to keep the rest of the audience laughing. The owner makes their decisions not based on the heckler, but the rest of the audience.”

            What if the heckler keeps yelling and screaming, no matter what the comedian says to try and shut them up? And the comedy club does nothing to remove them or otherwise shut them up.

            Is it appropriate for them to then fire the comedian if “the rest of the audience” gets up and leaves?

            But this analogy is weird. I want your answer on Eich specifically. What specifically did he do to prove himself unsuited for the job. Was it his failure to defuse the mob, or his failure to convince his bosses to ignore the mob? Surely it must be one of the other.

          • BBA says:

            What specifically did he do to prove himself unsuited for the job?

            “We have a strong Indonesian community….I have people there on the other side of this particular issue.”

            That one line in that interview was so singularly incompetent, it drove me from “He’s a valuable member of the project, and his politics shouldn’t matter, fuck the haters” to “He should never have been promoted. Shut it down!”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            I honestly can’t tell if you are arguing in good faith anymore.

            Eich’s failure was in getting someone to counteract the message of OK-Cupid. (all the following things are completely made up, and I don’t know if they would have worked). He didn’t get, say, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to make a statement in favor of personal privacy. He didn’t get an organization like HRC to partner with him on a statement of commitment to LGBT rights at Mozilla. He didn’t offer an impassioned defense of himself and his ethos and his passion for Mozilla and gay rights at Mozilla, say on twitter, that got people on his side (rather than neutral to negative).

            To return to the analogy you don’t seem to like, but asked questions about anyway, if you get the audience laughing hard enough, no one can hear the heckler.

            And look, sometimes you end up in untenable situations. You lose, because your skill was not equal to a task that was unfair. Them’s the breaks. Salesmen get fired for not making their quota all the time, even if they are trying to sell a cruddy product and the leads are terrible.

            But don’t pretend that you should never have expected you would need those skills.

          • Matt M says:

            We do seem to be at an impasse. I will repeat myself and suggest you are arguing a tautology. The fact that he was fired proves the firing was just, because competent CEOs don’t get fired. All of the things you outline, from getting powerful allies to speak on his behalf, or to “be so good they can’t get rid of you” like the comedian (or Hawkeye from MASH I suppose) to me fall under the banner of “convince your bosses to ignore the mob.”

            I think there are very few jobs, at any level, that would claim they have no element of teamwork, communication, or persuasion involved. Show up in interviews and answer the weakness question with “I can never convince people to take my side in anything” and see how many job offers you get. I actually have interviewed for low-level accounting positions and things like that did come up.

            The low-level accountant who is fired for being gay has similar options to the ones you laid out for Eich. They could have made a relationship with a powerful friend to speak out on their behalf. They could have been so good at accounting that even the bigoted boss wouldn’t fire them. They could have done a better job explaining to their boss why being gay isn’t actually a sin at all depending on a certain interpretation of a certain passage in Leviticus. It’s all the same stuff, at the end of the day.

          • TenMinute says:

            They simply can’t understand your problem with it, Matt. It’s so alien to their worldview you’ll never get them to even see it. Even if it happens to them.

          • Cypren says:

            @Matt M: The difference is that an accountant’s job doesn’t involve public relations. The CEO has “managing the company’s public image” as one of his primary responsibilities. If he can’t manage his own, and that’s affecting the company, he is not fulfilling a very large component of his job description.

            As HBC is saying, Eich’s bar for success was not “convince the SJWs to stop targeting him”. It was “blunt the damage of their attack so that it doesn’t negatively impact Mozilla’s community of users or contributors.” He failed at that.

          • Matt M says:

            As HBC is saying, Eich’s bar for success was not “convince the SJWs to stop targeting him”. It was “blunt the damage of their attack so that it doesn’t negatively impact Mozilla’s community of users or contributors.” He failed at that.

            And your only evidence that he did, in fact, fail – is the fact that he was, in fact, fired/forced to resign.

            Had Mozilla chose to take the stance of “we support free speech and we stand by him” then he wouldn’t have been fired and this whole argument wouldn’t exist.

            By your standards, every CEO (or any person we deem to have public relations as a sufficiently large part of their job) who is fired after some sort of controversy was justly fired. This is a non-falsifiable tautology.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            HBC has convinced me utterly.

            By the way, HBC, I am now going to show up at your place of work and do my best to cause trouble without getting in trouble with the law. If you can’t defuse this situation, then you deserve to get fired.

            Seriously, you’re just rejected the heckler’s veto in favor of endorsing the super-heckler’s veto. There will inevitably be situations involving too many hecklers to shut them all down, or a situation that happens to rub too many people the wrong way despite being morally acceptable. So do we just say “well it was his fault for coming under attack by too many people or in too clever a way”? Well, I sure hope that never happens to you or anyone you care about!

          • skef says:

            @AnonEEmous

            There was a time, within living memory, even of some of the people who comment here, when leaders were often called on to resign to smooth over issues they had nothing to do with. The possibility of having to “fall on your sword for the good of the organization” was understood as part of role. And this was before compensation difference was large enough to imply that CEOs have magical powers.

            Now we have “meritocracy”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            By your standards, every CEO (or any person we deem to have public relations as a sufficiently large part of their job) who is fired after some sort of controversy was justly fired. This is a non-falsifiable tautology.

            I hope at least we have gotten to the point where you understand my position on the difference between a low level employee and the CEO? Before you said that I had implied every single person who was ever fired deserved it because they didn’t keep their boss happy. Have we gotten past that?

            As to the position of a CEO, you seem to be offering the opposite non-falsifiable claim, that if a CEO resigns or is let go because of “scandal”, that their handling of it can never be assumed to be the cause, and we must presume that it merely was the presence of the “scandal”.

            Of course, neither of these is correct. Ultimately, of course, it does depend on why the board feels as it does, and of course divining the true mind of any individual as fraught with problems, but we can look at evidence.

            You have been presented with some evidence, BBA linked to an interview which is a very poor job at managing the PR around this issue. We also know that three board members resigned as soon as he was elevated to CEO, disagreeing with his fit for the job, before any controversy had occurred.

            Do you have any evidence on the other side?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @TenMinute:

            Right now, it’s possible to find people on the left – not just serious left-wingers either; I am including plain ol’ liberals, social democrats, etc here – who think that the right controls America, that America is a fascist police state, that there is no justice for the oppressed, that the right controls the media, etc.

            There are a decent number of people on the left working themselves into a tizzy over the fear that the blackshirts are going to beat them up. I know someone who was convinced, following the election, that they were being threatened on the street by actual fascists. This isn’t even in the US.

            You can’t both be right.

          • Anonymous says:

            You can’t both be right.

            Funny thing is, under the “nobody is in charge” theory, they’re sorta both right. (Except they’re totally both wrong.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Anonymous:

            Please expand.

            I tentatively agree with the statement “nobody’s in charge” – malice is always less powerful than incompetence.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @dndnrsn

            Indeed, they cannot both be right. You have to go down to the level of actual events and look. IMO, the actual evidence shows that leftists making the whole “the right controls everything” argument are either deluded or making that argument in order to muddy the waters. For instance, for all that worry over blackshirts, the only _actual_ blackshirts are beating up people on the right (and people they mistake for people on the right) and calling themselves “antifa”.

            But I’m not unbiased here, being more than involved but less than committed.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The Nybbler:

            The Republicans control more state governments, currently hold the White House and the legislature, and get to pick the next SC justice. I’m simplifying here, and the argument of “are the Republicans really right wing?” is the kind I suppose could have legs around here, but…

            The military leans right as a whole, the police certainly do, there are left-wing priorities not popular at all with much of the business community.

            The statement “the right controls everything” may not be true, but neither is the statement “the left controls everything”.

            There seems to be this habit that some people have of wallowing in their own supposed powerlessness. I’ve seen it on the left for a while, and now I’m seeing it on the right.

          • Anonymous says:

            Please expand.

            I tentatively agree with the statement “nobody’s in charge” – malice is always less powerful than incompetence.

            The United States of America is a system explicitly designed to avoid concentrating power. Since its inception, it has been mangled somewhat, but the core of the idea is still there – and to a substantial degree, every nation that had its political system dictated by the US, shares it.

            Nobody is running the show. Not the Republicans, not the Democrats. Not the common people, who are very far removed from power in this system. Not the judiciary, even if it sometimes makes law. Not the media-academia complex, although they pretend to. Not even the permanent bureaucratic class. Right hand is constantly fighting left hand and the legs throw some kicks in as well. This is why the Russians think the Americans are incapable of an agreement – because nobody has the authority to make a deal and enforce compliance with the deal.

            There is nobody to make the particular organs of this polity not undermine each other and constantly try to make changes that are incoherent with the rest of the system. The whole thing is a giant free-for-all, everyone trying to out-tyrannize everyone else, because they think that if they don’t, the other guys will put a boot on their face forever.

            Another name for in in the circles is Chronic Kinglessness.

          • JulieK says:

            I think the important question is not “Should a board fire a CEO because of mob pressure?”, but “Should a mob try to get someone fired because they don’t like his politics?”

          • random832 says:

            @Matt M

            some charity where one of the 20 things it lobbies for is to not have gay marriage.

            I have literally never seen this claim made anywhere before by anyone on either side of this argument. Do you have the name of the charity (and is it in fact a charity and not a PAC?) and the other nineteen things they lobby for, or did you just make this up? The donation list doesn’t mention where the money went specifically, and Eich’s own statement describes it as “A donation that I made in support of California Proposition 8”.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            @TenMinute:

            They simply can’t understand your problem with it, Matt. It’s so alien to their worldview you’ll never get them to even see it. Even if it happens to them.

            You seem to be working very hard to foster division instead of understanding. Why? What are you trying to accomplish with this sort of comment?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You seem to be working very hard to foster division instead of understanding. Why? What are you trying to accomplish with this sort of comment?

            Seconding this. Please don’t become a Right of Center version of Moon, TenMinute.

          • Matt M says:

            random,

            I may have mis-remembered and confused this particular case with a similar one. I could have swore I originally read it somewhere stating he “donated to a religious organization that supported proposition 8” which, you know, would be expected of most religious organizations. I could very well have that wrong.

          • webnaut says:

            @dndnrsn

            On the topic of ‘helplessness’ being projected by the left/right.

            I agree with The Nybbler that *currently* the people actually going out and beating people up are primarily antifa.

            There’s a more general observation we should take though.

            There is a racist but interesting expression the anti-Semites have which is: “When the Jew strikes you, he cries out in pain”.

            It’s racist only because it is specific to one group, actually I suspect all groups are guilty of this tactic, it is actually a reasonable but unfortunate observation about general human nature, violence and groups.

            As a prequel to real (vs imagined) political violence there is a noticeable habit of proactively sought justification. The imagining of the act comes first. The Lynch Mob is not really a spontaneous action, it is probably forming long before the black target rapes the white woman. They spring into action with pitchforks presharpened.

            In every case the participants of the violent action believe they themselves are the ones under attack. The First Mover does not believe itself to be the First Mover. Not ever.

            In the current context this is about the Media’s role in justifying political violence. They are obviously gearing up partisans against each other at a fever pitch. That’s why I declared that my American friends appeared to be suffering from media inspired hysteria a week or two ago. I want to say this is slightly more pronounced on the Left side, but obviously I must declare myself biased. It is bad news under any light.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        That was indeed a common right-wing response to the affair: something like, “I always thought Mozilla had something to do with software, but if they’d rather be a left-wing advocacy group, they can go their own way and I’ll switch to Chrome.” What I’m not seeing much of in these new examples is the Twitter mobs putting pressure on the organization from the outside, for the specific purpose of punishing the speaker.

        • James Miller says:

          The current right-wing response to Twitter’s supposed unreasonable banning of conservatives such as Milo is to switch to the Twitter near clone Gab.

          • TenMinute says:

            And of course, this is followed by the demonization of Gab in the media (for being full of witches, you know) and well-funded DDoSing campaigns against it. Oh, and twitter banning their account, of course!

            The right-wing response is to huddle in a crouch and keep being beaten while complaining about how unfair it all is. It always has been.
            Fight back, or just surrender unconditionally! They might even make it quick and painless, if they’re feeling generous.

          • James Miller says:

            Even worse, Apple is refusing to let Gab release a mobile iPhone app.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Besides the excellent points in other responses, I hope you realize how gross it is to do that sort of thing retroactively. “You’re fired because of your opinions on gay marriage, oh and by the way our internet browser company which you helped found is totally all about gay marriage and nothing else now, sorry we forgot to mention that.”

        • Matt M says:

          Yes. Punishing people for donations they made five years ago comes across as scummy in a way that “stop writing these things you are writing right now or we’ll fire you” does not.

    • skef says:

      There seems to be a lot of focus on the particular cases in this article, which I used because it was recent and convenient. I get the impression that many people here don’t realize that in the U.S. private sector you can be fired for almost any old thing that doesn’t relate to some protected class, at least in most states. You have to dig a little to find the articles not because it’s so rare, but because it’s routine. If someone’s opinions bother you, you can just fire them.

      Here’s a pull-quote for convenience:

      Lynne Gobbell knows this firsthand. She drew media attention in 2004 when her employer, a vocal Bush supporter, fired her from her insulation-packing job because he disapproved of the John Kerry bumper sticker on her car. Sim­ilarly, Michael Italie lost his job as a machine operator because he appeared on a local radio program in which he discussed his socialist views and his wildly impractical bid for Miami mayor on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. Even more bizarrely, Tim Torkildson, an instructor at an English-language school, lost his job in 2014 when his boss mistakenly concluded that a blog post he wrote to explain homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently) would associate the school with “the gay agenda.”

      • quanta413 says:

        Your comment seems like a non sequitur. You asked people what makes something acceptable or not, not whether or not it should be legal in various cases. Many legal things are not ethically or morally acceptable and many ethically or morally acceptable things are not legal. In general, my own belief is that this lack of exact alignment between these questions is actually a good thing, not a bad one.

        So perhaps the people responding believe that it’s not right to fire someone for beliefs irrelevant to their job, but they also don’t believe that the solution to this is laws against it.

        • skef says:

          It’s been suggested numerous times in the comments on this site that the Eich case is evidence of the uniquely pernicious social harm of the SJW movement. That argument looks quite a bit weaker if what happened to Eich is the sort of thing that routinely happens to people across the political spectrum.

          (Unless the idea is that it’s particularly bad if it happens to the good folks as opposed to the rabble.)

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            All of those examples are bad things, assuming that what you posted is the full story and there wasn’t anything else going on like e.g. a worker spending all his time on political advocacy instead of working. (Forgive my skepticism, but the examples in that Atlantic article turned out to be not entirely what they were advertised as.)

            That aside, I happily and unreservedly denounce any such firing done on the behalf of left or right, and I would be amazed if you found anyone here upset about Eich who would do otherwise. Now that I’ve done so, will you in turn denounce Mozilla firing Eich? In that case we can all shake hands in cheerful agreement!

          • skef says:

            You’re asking about my personal views on this sort thing?

            I wouldn’t fire someone for holding political views different from my own (not that I employ anyone). I would also encourage others not to. I think it’s less bad, but still somewhat bad, when this sort of thing happens to people with prominent/figurehead positions. So I see “silencing” a CEO type as less of an offense than silencing a normal engineer, admin, or janitor. High profile jobs are routinely vetted, and what happened to Eich was in effect an after-the-fact vetting. It’s counter-productive that figureheads are supposed to be free of “scandal”, but it’s also routine and not at all new.

            My ongoing underlying point, which is that SJW excesses are a rather routine sort of political problem, and not A Unique Threat To The Fabric Of Society, doesn’t seem to stand or fall with that point, though. Let it be equally bad, and it’s still routine.

          • Cypren says:

            Eich’s case was interesting mostly because it was a high-profile figure being ousted due to a Twitter lynch mob that was unrelated to the organization. Lousy bosses who fire people for whatever reason (personal, political, what have you) have been around for some time.

            I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’s willing to defend the guy who fired the woman for the Kerry bumper sticker. She just wasn’t high profile, so she hasn’t attracted the same degree of notice. (Also, it was 13 years ago, so not the kind of thing that was going to make SSC headlines.)

            To me, the main thing that distinguished the Eich case from the ones you listed is that because the pressure was organized and external, it could be repeated to anyone else who held views that SJWs consider heresy. In contrast, a small business owner who’s a political bigot can only influence his own company and employees and will probably rapidly destroy his own reputation/business. That’s not much comfort to the affected employees, but it’s like asking me why I’m more concerned about ISIS than Omar Mateen: reach and repeatability place otherwise-identical threats in different categories.

            Also, as I’ve mentioned in other threads, I’ve personally known people who have been blackballed from the San Francisco tech community for being on the wrong side of SJWs for things much more trivial than donating to a political campaign; however, they were worker bees, not a high-profile CEO, so it was easy to see why a company would do the math and let them go rather than risk a fight. Eich’s firing showed that SJWs’ reach was growing considerably.

            Regarding Focus on the Family, I find their purge of non-Trumpists extremely disappointing but unsurprising. The organization has shifted over the last couple of decades from being actually focused on their claimed religious values to being more of a Republican party apparatus (somewhat similar to the transition of the ACLU on the other side). I don’t endorse it and I think it’s unfortunate, but I agree with the people who say it’s like getting upset at Greenpeace for firing Trump supporters: it’s to be expected from polarized political advocacy organizations, and anyone going to work for one shouldn’t be surprised.

            ETA: Also, don’t take this explanation as failure to agree with you on what (I think) you’re implying: the most important reason Eich got so much attention here is outgroup/fargroup difference. There are quite a few of us who post here who work in Blue Tribe-dominated industries but aren’t Blue Tribers. I’m not sure we have anyone who’s really in a similarly reversed situation, a Blue Triber working in a Red Tribe-dominant industry. So of course we’re going to be more concerned about something that could actually plausibly happen to us than something that happens in a far-off place we barely relate to.

          • To me, the relevant distinction is between firing someone because his political activities/views are a detriment to the organization and firing someone in order to punish him for those activities/views so as to discourage other people from engaging in those activities or expressing those views.

            I think either should be legal for a private firm, subject to other constraints, such as the duty of the directors of a for profit joint stock company to the stockholders. But I disapprove of the latter.

            It’s the same distinction I made earlier between an argument and a bullet. A bullet is an attempt to change someone’s behavior by punishing him for it, in a context where punishing is not an appropriate way of changing behavior.

          • skef says:

            @DavidFriedman

            So if the relevant issue were whether Mozilla was going to loose significant donations of money or volunteer programming, Eich’s firing would be sensible?

          • The Nybbler says:

            It seems to me that you’re not arguing in good faith. You’re simply pointing to something vaguely similar over on the other side of the aisle and shouting “See, what happened to Eich is perfectly normal, stop complaining about it”

          • skef says:

            @The Nybbler

            Be more specific about my “bad faith”. I absolutely believe that the Eich case has been characterized here as exceptional to the left, and used as evidence for why SJWs are uniquely threatening, and I’m arguing that that’s false. Are you denying the firing has been used in that way? Should i hunt back in the archives for specific links to that effect? Or are you making some other objection?

          • Cypren says:

            @skef: It’s disappointing that they caved to the pressure, but yes, given the polarization of their community and contributors, there’s a reasonable chance Mozilla made the correct strategic decision for their organization. This doesn’t mean that the polarization is a good thing or worth endorsing, or that it’s not pernicious. “Worship our gods or we will have no dealings with you” is not a recipe for continued peaceful coexistence in a multicultural nation any more than “adhere to our sexual mores or we will have no dealings with you” was.

            Note that taking the position that Eich’s firing was justified is really just advocating that refusing to bake gay wedding cakes is justified. In both cases you’re stating that the strongly-felt moral convictions of a group of people are sufficient cause to allow them to exercise their freedom of association rights and dissociate professionally from people who hold practices and beliefs that they consider evil.

            Note also that it’s possible to both endorse this as a legal view and reject it as a wise or moral one.

          • skef says:

            @Cypren

            Or that the viewpoints of individual employees should be protected under the law after all. (Either below the “executive suite” or all together.)

          • Cypren says:

            Personally I lean more towards “private actors should be legally permitted to engage in whatever discrimination they want, no matter how pernicious”, because the alternative is not usually government enforcing non-discrimination, but rather punishing discrimination against politically favored interest groups and ignoring discrimination against disfavored ones.

            I see social problems as best solved socially, not through fiat. Maybe I’m overly optimistic in that regard.

          • skef says:

            @Cypren

            My “or” was meant straightforwardly. I accept, at least at a rough level, the fairness claim, but have no strong sense of which way to go. I have a “good regulation is good/bad regulation is bad/it’s tricky to tell the difference” sort of outlook.

          • So if the relevant issue were whether Mozilla was going to loose significant donations of money or volunteer programming, Eich’s firing would be sensible?

            If his board of directors fired him for that reason, their action would be reasonable. Of course, they would want to consider the risk that giving in this time might result in more attempts to pressure them to do other things in the future.

            If the potential donors or volunteers announced that they would not donate or volunteer unless he was fired, because they wanted to punish him for his donation, their actions would be unreasonable.

          • skef says:

            @DavidFriedman

            For the sake of argument, let’s set the question of “allies” aside.

            Say that I’m gay and currently volunteer for Mozilla. They make Brendan Eich the CEO. Are you saying that I face a moral obligation to continue volunteering for Mozilla despite my (presumed, for the sake of argument) personal distaste? Can’t I just think “well, maybe I’ll be happier working on this other thing now”? Or are you saying that I’m free to stop volunteering, but face a moral obligation to stay silent about why?

            That’s kind of precious, isn’t it? I don’t see a particular problem with the suggestion that I could cross a moral line by making a “big deal’ about my decision, but aren’t such things up to me, even in a moral sense?

            (You’ve included a sort of Kantian stipulation of “because they want to punish him for his association”, neither of these actions entails wanting to “punish”. So I’ll accept the stipulation but suggest that it need not have made the difference in this case.)

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            It may indeed be possible that defenestrating Eich in order to appease the baying mob was the best move for Mozilla’s immediate future. But if so, it was in exactly the same way that when, a bunch of large gentlemen come into your store, knock a few things off the counter, and suggest you should start paying protection money to Big Tony, you probably cough up the money.

            There is nothing admirable about giving in, even if it is understandable. And the people who are foisting that choice on you are villains, full stop.

          • Can’t I just think “well, maybe I’ll be happier working on this other thing now”?

            Of course you can. What you shouldn’t do is say to yourself “even though I like volunteering for Mozilla, if I quit and tell people I am quitting because Eich donated to a political cause I disapprove of that will put pressure on Eich to resign, which will punish him for donating, which will discourage other people from donating to such causes in the future, so I will quit.”

            Do you have a problem with the idea that whether an act is or is not justified sometimes depends on the motive?

      • Corey says:

        I’ve brought that up before (for a while I just posted it anytime Eich came up) and generally just got flames. Job security is evil, apparently, unless an ingroup member is fired for ingroup beliefs, in which case “THEY”RE COMING FOR OUR LIVELIHOODS!!!11!”

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          You got flames because the position you attribute to us (There are legitimate reasons for firing people, therefore there are no illegitimate reasons) is an absurd strawman. Knock it off.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Corey is now under warning for many posts approximately like this one.

    • Anonymous says:

      So I take it from comparative interest that firing people for insufficiently right-wing beliefs is no big deal, whereas Brendan Eich will always and forever be a martyr for having to fall back to a slightly less lucrative position. But maybe it’s worth nailing down the specific rationale.

      There’s nothing wrong with being fired for failing to live up to an explicit or implicit job requirement – which can be religious and/or ideological. For example, I would expect insufficiently left-wing people to be removed from membership in a left-wing party, or their associated organizations – just as I would expect an atheist priest of a theistic religion to be removed post-haste, since he is no longer qualified to perform his duties. After all, you ought to be a Communist if you want to be in the Communist party; you ought to be Christian to be part of the Church.

      On the other hand, we have firing people for failing to be X, where X has no particular relation to them being able to perform their job. This is the case with Eich; he was doing internet browser development, which has nothing to do with either ideology or religion, and moreover his donation was private and clandestine, so you can’t claim he was bringing his politics into the workplace where they have no place.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ skef
      The left-wingers are about to achieve total domination over the culture … while conservatives are at risk of being crushed

      This is so neatly put, and is such a neat summary of many right-ish comments since the election, that I can’t resist muttering that I feel like the Jew reading the German paper, which said Jews ‘own the banks and the government and are taking over the world. That’s the only place I see good news about us!’

      • TenMinute says:

        How ironic, considering the state of our newspapers, which openly gloat about violence against your political enemies.
        If you can still manage to feel like a persecuted minority bound for the trumpencation camps, I’m actually impressed. It must take an awful lot of effort.

      • Cypren says:

        This perception is more about the shift in the Overton window over the last 50 years, which has been sharply leftward on cultural issues. The Right frequently fails to realize the gains it’s made on economic issues, to the point where the just about the only people who will openly admit to being Marxist are academics with tenure and anonymous commenters on the Internet. But because the culture wars dominate so much of the media and strike at sensitive priors which are core to our identities, the losses there tend to dominate right-wing thought and create a perception of being the underdog.

        Also realize that just as a politician like Clinton was not seen as a particular victory for the Left, so much as a very pragmatic, polluted strain of neoliberalism, a politician like Trump is not seen as a particular victory for the Right, so much as a pragmatic, polluted strain of populist conservatism.

        • Matt M says:

          Nobody admits to being a Marxist anymore because the term has a lot of baggage.

          And why should you bother, when identifying as a “liberal” is understood to include basically 90% of the things Marx called for.

          • Cypren says:

            The baggage is the proof that the Right has shifted the Overton window here. “Communist” may not have the same rhetorical punch as “Nazi”, but you can’t credibly run for office as either one but for different reasons.

            Communism is remembered as a failed economic system that resulted in mass executions, starvation and privation. I doubt most people could elaborate in detail (or ever really think about) its social views on abortion, gay marriage or racial discrimination.

            Nazism, meanwhile, is remembered in a racist ideology that resulted in genocide. I doubt most people are even aware of what its economic implications were. (Judging by the fact that the people who most love to decry all of their opponents as Nazis are usually advocating economic policies that would have been right at home in Hitler’s Germany, I suspect that this word has been wholly divorced from any concept of the National Socialist economic agenda in most people’s minds.)

            Each one represents a victory in shifting the Overton window by the respective side: the Right has made far-left economic policy taboo and the Left has made far-right social policy taboo.

          • Matt M says:

            My suggestion here is that the word communist has become taboo, but the actual policies have not.

            I would also suggest that even this is probably in dispute. Openly identifying as a Communist in the 1950s was not a good idea. Today, it’s practically required to get a position as a political science professor. We see Hollywood celebrities openly cavorting about with Hugo Chavez. Were they doing that with Castro in the 60s?

          • Cypren says:

            This strikes me as a failure in perspective and indicative of how “Communist” on the Right is a somewhat unhinged slur like “Nazi” on the Left. It’s used for people who aren’t advocating anything even vaguely resembling the ideology, just policies further to the Left/Right than you’re comfortable with.

            From the 1920s until about the 1990s, we had literal Communists both openly and covertly operating here in the United States, many as paid foreign agents of the Soviet Union. Not “democratic socialists” who want increased wealth redistribution, but people who very literally wanted violent revolution in the United States to replace democracy with an autocratic rule by a Politburo that would seize all property and redistribute it according to Marxist will. This was not hyperbole, this was an actual ideology adhered to by a number of well-respected public intellectuals and media personalities such as Langston Hughes and Walter Duranty.

            Leninist-Stalinist Communism is now dead as a doornail in modern America. The closest you get now (non-pseudonymously) are fashionista Marxists who wear Che T-shirts and spout crap about Cuba’s healthcare system but who will very quickly backpedal and distance themselves from the idea of violent overthrow and murdering the bourgeois and insist they want “peaceful redistribution” and so forth. And these guys are mostly fringe campus kids; a politician caught in a Che T-shirt would be a gift sent from heaven for his opponent.

            Wealth redistribution is of course alive and well as an idea, but calling it “Communist” is like calling nationalism “Nazism”. The causal relationship is inverted: redistribution was an idea that predated Communism; nationalism was an idea that predated Nazism. Both are still alive and well after the demise of the ideologies they spawned and are always likely to be so, since they tap into very deeply-entrenched human impulses.

          • Matt M says:

            Violent revolution probably seems like the best path forward in a society where the left’s most prominent political figure is John Kennedy. I don’t claim to be an expert on Marx, but I thought the premise of the whole violent revolution thing was that the capitalists would surely never hand over power voluntarily. But I imagine that if they did, he’d happily take it.

            It’s true that uncritical support of the Soviet Union has fallen off a bit. But the left in America never endorsed totalitarian mass murder. That was always claimed to be a capitalist lie. Now that the mass murder part has been pretty well proven, the argument has shifted from “the Soviet Union is flawless” to “well the Soviet Union wasn’t true communism anyway, Stalin and Lenin messed it up and Marx’s true vision has never been tried!”

            I’d be interested in hearing prominent leftist politicians identify the specific areas in which they think Marx goes too far. Where, precisely, do they disagree. As far as I can tell, as of now, they favor going towards Marx on every single issue, across the board, and they refuse to identify precisely where they will suddenly declare that they’ve achieved enough socialism and will stop. The closest I’ve seen to this idea being broached is when Bernie was asked about the situation in Venezuela… and he refused to comment.

          • Tekhno says:

            @Matt M

            And why should you bother, when identifying as a “liberal” is understood to include basically 90% of the things Marx called for.

            Outgroup homogenity bias.

            Abolish capitalism =/= lets have a “well regulated” capitalism with some government programs. I’m with Cypren on this one.

            It’s the same as how:
            Exterminate Jews =/= lets retain the ability to control our borders.

            I’d be interested in hearing prominent leftist politicians identify the specific areas in which they think Marx goes too far. Where, precisely, do they disagree. As far as I can tell, as of now, they favor going towards Marx on every single issue, across the board, and they refuse to identify precisely where they will suddenly declare that they’ve achieved enough socialism and will stop.

            This is as silly as making the same claim about Trump compared to Hitler (the real danger of Trump is that he’s a bumbling moron, not a genocidal antisemite).

            The problem is that you are packaging together everything not lassez faire as varying degrees of socialism in the same way that a hippy dippy lefty would package together everything to do with border control and national security as being varying degrees of fascism.

            The difference between liberals and communists isn’t merely quantitative; it’s qualitative in the same way that civic nationalism isn’t merely a matter of degree different from ethnic-nationalism. Different premises are involved, leading to radically different conclusions. Obama and Hillary think Stalin is a bad man, same as you.

            Part of the confusion here is that Americans use the word “socialism” to mean anything vaguely not lassez faire.

          • Brad says:

            And why should you bother, when identifying as a “liberal” is understood to include basically 90% of the things Marx called for.

            I’d be interested in hearing prominent leftist politicians identify the specific areas in which they think Marx goes too far. Where, precisely, do they disagree. As far as I can tell, as of now, they favor going towards Marx on every single issue, across the board, and they refuse to identify precisely where they will suddenly declare that they’ve achieved enough socialism and will stop.

            What would you say your level of familiarity with Marx’s oeuvre is? Have you read any of his books?

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            What, exactly, would this “90 % of the things Marx called for” be? Can you list them?

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m looking at a convenient list of things Marx called for in Germany. A couple seem specific to Germany, and a few could be easily summarized as abolition of the remnants of fuedalism, and so are not terribly relevant (though they are things liberals would surely call for if there were still any need). But among the more likely to be relevant stuff, there’s universal suffrage, right to bear arms (oops, lots of liberals not so fond of that), free legal services, paying elected government representatives, a central bank which issues fiat currency, state ownership of all means of transport, all civil servants receive the same pay, separation of church and state, curtailment of inheritance, highly progressive taxes, guaranteed livelyhood for workers, and universal and free education. Does being a liberal really mean being in favor of 90% of that? I confess I’m not sure exactly how to measure.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            What I was thinking of, myself, is this rather well-known 10-point list from the Communist Manifesto:

            “1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
            2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
            3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
            4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
            5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
            6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
            7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
            8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
            9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
            10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.”

            Out of these, only 2 (depending on definition) and partially 10 would be a standard position for American liberals. Perhaps 10 entirely, if you assume that “combination of education with industrial production” can be ignored due to the changes in means of production and we assume that “Free education for all chilren in public schools” doesn’t mean only public schools (I haven’t seen American liberals calling for abolition of private education).

            Others would be obviously far too radical for almost all American liberals. I have sometimes seen libertarians claim that estate tax is equivalent to “abolition of all rights of inheritance”, which is ridiculous, of course – “abolition of all rights” mean “abolition of all rights”.

            It should also be noted that Marx didn’t see this as a sufficient program in itself but as a springboard for further changes in society towards socialism and then communism; “Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.”

          • webnaut says:

            Inclined to agree Cypren.

            This is why we need seasteads or something similar. Lots of useful thoughts are being prematurely shut down (in open society) before they can bear fruit. Peter Thiel was complaining that the availability of Google means people are searching for a solution to a problem, see something parallel to that and then their minds shut down regarding other possibilities outside of their search results. They then don’t make the kinds of interesting/painful errors that would foster innovations.

            Perhaps this is the flip side of those ‘echo chambers’ on the Internet that people like to complain about.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Webnaut

            “This is why we need seasteads or something similar. Lots of useful thoughts are being prematurely shut down (in open society) before they can bear fruit.”

            And how exactly are “seasteads or something similar” (leaving aside the plentitude of reasons the whole seasteading idea is doomed to failure) going to prevent the “premature shut down” of useful thoughts?

          • webnaut says:

            @Kevin C.

            > And how exactly are “seasteads or something similar” (leaving aside the plentitude of reasons the whole seasteading idea is doomed to failure) going to prevent the “premature shut down” of useful thoughts?

            Some types of thoughts or memeplexes will be prematurely shutdown because they either seem so unlikely, so uneconomical or because they seem troubling (and so unacceptable to general society). Yet we know it is likely that a tiny fraction of these unconventional thoughts are useful and undervalued. How then to exploit such a market of ideas when there is so much dross and cruft to sift through?

            Some context.

            Seasteading is part of a general political theory in Silicon Valley. It’s a combination of Albert Hirschman’s Voice/Exit political ideas and evolution theory. Peter Thiel for instance has talked of cyberspace, space and the sea being important politically because they are frontiers. Why frontiers? There’s an interesting 15 min talk by Balaji Srinivasan here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOubCHLXT6A

            With frontiers you get a temporary window to organize experiments that are impossible on the mainland or in general society. Running sociopolitical experiments on large population sizes is extremely dangerous, yet not experimenting to find new technical or political ideas is also extremely dangerous because it leads to systemic stagnation. Also it is boring, and you’ve got to give the Great Schemers of the world something to do.

            The specific implementation of Seasteads is not thought by anybody to be trivial to achieve, and that is not the point at all because the alternative is running the same experiments on gen pop but without containment. It is important to understand one vital fact, which is that if you’re running your government normally, everything is business as usual, then you are *still running an experiment* on the general population. It’s like coding on a live system. So it was never the case of experimentation vs non-experimentation. Every government program, every corporate product line is a mass experiment.

            Seasteaders are self selected, and have the right to ‘Exit’ their seastead. This removes the main obstacle to sociopolitical experimentation. If the Marxists wish to run their utopia, let them. If the Ethnonationalists want purity of race, let them have it. If they run into the ground, then that is fine too.

            The point is that these actions, potentially involving large numbers of people, are separated from the main body of society such that errors are contained.

            That in of itself would be a social good for society. But society will also be able to examine these experiments and people can judge for themselves when a particularly interesting experiment looks like it would be worth replicating on the mainland.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @webnaut

            I’m quite familiar with Hirshman’s exit vs. voice and all, Srinivasan, and the importance of frontiers and all that. The problem is that there is no more frontier. Seasteads, even if you can get them to work (I see the main barriers being not with the engineering but economic, demographic, and sociological/psychological), are simply not “far away” enough to be the sort of sociopolitical “laboratory” you speak of. You say “If the Ethnonationalists want purity of race, let them have it”, but the point is that, no, they won’t be let have it; not long after they start trying, you can expect the US Navy to send a couple of cruise missiles or a SEAL team or such their way, and what are a bunch of people barely scraping out a miserable existence crammed together like sardines and dependent on the largesse of rich libertarians gonna do about it?

            And space is simply too hostile, and Earth’s gravity well too deep, for any significant human habitation in the forseeable future (if ever). So it’s not a frontier either. There are no more frontiers, there is no more exit from the current set of countries, no escaping the global system, and no more possibility of the small-scale sociopolitical experimentation you speak of, no matter how much we might want it.

        • cassander says:

          I think you vastly overstate the right’s victory in economic matters, at least in the US. There were a few substantial achievements in the neo-liberal wave in the US, welfare reform and the de-regulation of transit, but most of the shift was rhetorical. And however strong that wave might have been, it’s clearly exhausted itself. the era of politicians saying the era of big government is over is over. The old left wanted to nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, transport, heavy industry, etc. Today, the left wants to nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, education, finance, medicine. There’s no difference in the basic motive, just a switch in targets.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            > Today, the left wants to nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, education, finance, medicine.

            Define “Left”. Define “nationalize”.

        • You are probably correct that the far left tail of the political distribution has less weight than it did fifty years ago, fewer people willing to praise Mao or talk about the superiority of a planned economy. But that is consistent with the median position having moved left, and it may well have done so.

        • Kevin C. says:

          @Cypren

          “The Right frequently fails to realize the gains it’s made on economic issues”

          Only if you equate libertarianish support for “free market” economics with “the Right”. There are plenty who would disagree: social conservatives, the Religious Right, Distributists, Trad Caths, Alt-righers, non-Landian novo-regressionists, and any traditionalist who hates what “creative destruction” does to their organic communities and time-worn practices. As plenty of other individuals have pointed out, the mid-20th Century alliance of Big Business, social/religious traditionalists, and military interventionists on the American Right was an unstable one driven by the presence of a common enemy in godless Soviet Communism. With the cold war over, that alliance has shattered (see, for example, the election of Trump). And I think if you polled the “captains of industry” now versus in the past, you’d see a definite and sizeable shift on the cultural “right-left” axis toward the Left. And, as you note, fewer and fewer on the Left see those folk as The Enemy. The picture this paints is more of “the gains on economic issues” to the pro-business interest group, occured as those groups shifted from being allied with (the rest of) the Right to being allied with the Left, and likely because of that shift. They “won” because they defected to the winning team.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “There are plenty who would disagree: social conservatives, the Religious Right, Distributists, Trad Caths, Alt-righers, non-Landian novo-regressionists, and any traditionalist who hates what “creative destruction” does to their organic communities and time-worn practices”

            You would also have plenty of leftists who would disagree that social issues are what defines the Left and the Right. Point being?

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            “Point being?”

            The point being that Cypren’s so-called “gains for the Right on economic issues” are no such thing, and the claim that they are makes sense only if you define “The Right” = “pro-Big Business, anti-tax (and absolutely no one else)”. These were gains for a group who, at best, were (emphasis on the past tense) one particular part of the American political Right, for contingent reasons, and who have clearly shifted alignment toward the Left end of politics. With this in mind, their “gains” on economic issues can be seen as a consequence of having defected to the winning team.

    • Brad says:

      It’s all a matter of whose ox was gored. Christians and right wing groups are allowed to have value laden organizations, even if they are only selling cakes, taking kids camping, or selling craft goods for profit, but people on the left are only allowed to have value laden organizations in narrow walled off areas. Even then they are suspect.

      • TenMinute says:

        Bullshit. And not just the burgers.

        • Brad says:

          My point exactly. That URL was at the tip of your fingers but I’m guessing you don’t have a problem with Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A.

          • TenMinute says:

            Show me the conservative equivalent. They’re not even allowed to personally support conservative causes without being attacked for it.

            Edit: never mind, we’re past the point of debating “fairness” when those Modern, Progressive companies are openly funding anarchist thugs to attack people.
            There are no rules any more. Everything you say is right, because you’ve got the might.

          • Nornagest says:

            those Modern, Progressive companies are openly funding anarchist thugs to attack people

            Serious question: what’s the actual content here? I’ve heard the rumors about George Soros, of course, but I generally assume that that’s the evil-wizard theory of politics talking, sort of a left-wing equivalent of the Kochs.

            Who is funding whom, and under what terms? If we’re talking donations to Occupy or some other umbrella group loosely associated with the protests, this is not news. Even hiring a rent-a-protest service doesn’t necessarily establish funding violence.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Seconding Nornagest. The McDonald’s link was a good rebuttal, but dial back the polarized froth a bit TenMinute or you’ll just wind up weakmanning yourself.

          • Brad says:

            Show me the conservative equivalent.

            Two examples were in the comment you responded to.

            Edit: never mind

            If you were in the edit window you could also have deleted the comment. So I take it “never mind” is purely rhetorical.

            If that’s the case can you provide some evidence that McDonalds is openly funding anarchist thugs to attack people? Given that it’s open and all it should be easy to find, but somehow I don’t see anything on their website about their grant programs for anarchist thugs.

          • TenMinute says:

            This: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tides_(organization)

            funded this: http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/printgroupProfile.asp?grpid=7230

            Which funded this: https://refusefascism.org/2017/02/02/three-points-on-the-righteous-shut-down-of-fascist-milo-yiannopoulos-at-uc-berkeley/ as part of this campaign

            To do this and this

            Their donors include the AT&T Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Joyce Foundation, the ChevronTexaco Foundation, the Ben & Jerry Foundation, and of course, the Ford Foundation. No word on McDonalds giving directly, but they donate to the above foundations.
            John Kerry’s wife gave them $8.1M, and according to wikipedia Soros gave them at least $3.5M.
            All those warm bodies that get bused to these “protests” are very well paid for. And of course there’s no outcry, because they make the rules (and also fund Media Matters).

            There’s really no point discussing this with the left. They’ll keep gloating about your paranoid “alternative facts” no matter how much evidence you show them, because evidence doesn’t matter.
            Being able to ignore it and rub it in your face is a gloating demonstration of power, in much the same way as Berkeley students writing articles about how they beat people and smashed up a bank while in the country illegally, without facing any kind of consequence.

            Two examples were in the comment you responded to.

            No, the attack on Chick-fil-A was provoked by the family donating their money, not using the business to support conservative politics.

          • Brad says:

            Do you know how what the purpose of a donor advised fund is and how it works?

            also

            Chick-fil-A’s mission statement is “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” That’s quite a bit more explicit than “a modern and progressive burger company”. See also: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/chick-fil-a-selling-chicken-with-a-side-of-god/379776/

            Finally, I’m not sure why you continue saying things like “never mind” and “there’s no point in discussing this” and then keep going. Or why you post here for that matter if you really feel that way.

          • TenMinute says:

            There’s no point discussing it with leftists, because they would just ignore anything that makes their side look bad. Fortunately, most people here are not, which is why it’s not Tumblr. I’m writing for them.
            More specifically, I’m writing for people on the right who still can’t understand why their attempts at discussion with the left always fail.

            I’m aware of how “donor-advised” money laundering works, and that it’s very useful for giving money to potentially criminal groups while avoiding the hazard of direct contact.
            But many of those companies, like Ben and Jerries, donated directly to the organization that carried out the attack, so your objection doesn’t really work.

            I just got back from that week without internet experiment, and catching up on all the news at once makes you realize that you’re a frog being slowly boiled in a pot.
            It’s time to jump out.

          • Nornagest says:

            @TenMinute — Okay, so we’ve got a pretty good chain of evidence linking Tides to a call to protest Milo coming from an explicitly anti-fascist perspective. But that still doesn’t take us all the way to “Tides paid the people who went breaking windows, torching stuff in the quad, beating some dude with pipes”. And even if it did, it wouldn’t establish that it paid them to do that.

            I suspect few if any protesters were actually paid. A protest does take money to run, but that’s more in the line of printing and distributing leaflets, running the IT end of things, making sure permits are in place, et cetera — and an organization with only about half a million dollars to play with will be spending most of it on that administrative stuff and won’t have enough money left over to be buying rent-a-crowd services. George Soros could if he wanted to, but if he’s only donated about three million, he’s not actually doing so.

          • TenMinute says:

            The first deflection the day after was “none of them were even Berkeley students, they were just criminals from Oakland taking advantage of the peaceful protest”, so I suppose it’s progress that we’ve reached “ok, maybe not many of them were actually being paid to beat people”.

            Also, do you really think an organization that brags about “fighting the armies of brownshirts” does “permits”? They’re the left: they don’t have to worry about petty legal issues like that, when the mayor openly supports their violence.

            And just think, the people who buy Ben and Jerries because it’s the ice cream of virtuous, socially conscious people are paying for it.
            What a wonderful system.

          • Nornagest says:

            Also, do you really think an organization that brags about fighting the “armies of brownshirts” does “permits”? They’re the left: they don’t have to worry about petty legal issues like that, when the mayor openly supports their violence.

            At Berkeley, who knows? I get the impression that “spontaneous” protests are viewed as part of student life there. But it’s definitely a consideration elsewhere.

            The point is, running a protest is essentially an event-planning problem, like promoting a concert or a bike race or something. I don’t care whether you’re protesting eminent domain or abortion or the Iraq War or mumble mumble capitalism; you still need to make sure people know about the stupid thing, and ideally set up aid stations and make sure there are enough Port-a-Potties. You don’t need to be doing anything sinister to sink money and personnel into that, and a lot of both if it’s a big one. I know people that have worked event security for protests, and that’s not a euphemism; they were doing exactly the same stuff they would have been doing at a Santana concert.

          • TenMinute says:

            make sure there are enough Port-a-Potties

            And if the whole purpose of it is to “beat the armies of brownshirts” and “burn them out”, it’s just handling the logistics of violence, and no more moral than the violence itself.

            And if the mainstream left keeps funding it now that they know what’s going on, they’re responsible too. Otherwise all the nice words about “speech, not bullets” are just lies to make sure the left is the only side that gets to shoot.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ll call it handling the logistics of violence when violence becomes a predictable consequence of throwing a protest, or when evidence turns up saying that the organizing body ordered it. We’re not there yet for the former, and I still haven’t seen the latter.

            Rhetoric’s not enough. Radical rhetoric always sounds like that; but much like Trump’s speeches, it’s meant to be taken seriously but not literally.

          • TenMinute says:

            “Radical rhetoric” isn’t enough, videos of them beating people isn’t enough. You will never feel the push to “disavow” them and anyone remotely connected with them.
            Congratulations!

          • Nornagest says:

            Look, the claim I’m trying to dig into isn’t whether I should “disavow” the Berkeley black bloc (fine, they’re disavowed; but I’m not associated with them, and I don’t even identify as a progressive, so who cares?). It was whether, and I quote:

            those Modern, Progressive companies are openly funding anarchist thugs to attack people

            There are at least a few anarchist thugs out there who attacked people in Berkeley. No one denies that. And some fairly large progressive institutions funded some of the organizations involved in the same protest. That’s now fairly well established too. But to get to “openly funding anarchist thugs to attack people”, we need more than that. We need proof that the groups being funded are responsible for the violence or at least knowingly abetted it, and that the organizations funding them saw it coming.

            You’ve shown me rhetoric. But I’ve heard the exact same rhetoric from a hundred people whose experience at what’s euphemistically called “direct action” is limited to spray-painting circle-A symbols on shit, if that. So I’m not convinced.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I mean, if you support a group with bad rhetoric, and they actually follow through on their bad rhetoric, I’m totally OK with holding you responsible. You say “but everybody uses this horrible rhetoric”, but maybe they wouldn’t if people actually considered it disqualifying because they were worried about being held responsible? We’ve got to start the move to a better equilibrium somewhere.

            If groups on the right used similarly violent rhetoric and then actually carried it out, you would certainly not be giving their supporters a pass. This looks to me like the same old excuses that always get made for shitheads on the left.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Suntzuanime:

            I mean, if you support a group with bad rhetoric, and they actually follow through on their bad rhetoric, I’m totally OK with holding you responsible.

            Do you actually mean this?

            For instance, where do you stand on Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion organizations?

          • Nornagest says:

            If groups on the right used similarly violent rhetoric and then actually carried it out, you would certainly not be giving their supporters a pass.

            It’s hard to say. About the only people on the right that use that kind of rhetoric are the KKK, literal neo-Nazis, and the weirder corners of /pol/. Two of those groups already have violent histories (or at least are trying to assume the mantle of a violent history, so as to look hard), and the third doesn’t really have any structure or leadership to hold accountable.

            If some new group on the right started talking shit and then conspicuously failed to back it up for years until they suddenly did, would I give their supporters the benefit of the doubt? I’d like to think so. I did when it was the ants — but they weren’t really right-wing, and the “violence” there was fairly transparently bullshit, so maybe it wouldn’t generalize well.

            Anyway, I’ve definitely updated my opinion of anarchist/antifa rhetoric after Berkeley. And the next time an innocent person gets beaten up by the Black Bloc, I think it’s fair to hold the people funding the protest accountable if they didn’t take steps to stop that from happening. I just don’t think it’s fair to hold them accountable this time, in light of the history of violence or lack thereof.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I have never funded any anti-abortion initiative in any way. Call me an ineffective altruist if you like…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Subntzuanime:

            I have never funded any anti-abortion initiative in any way. Call me an ineffective altruist if you like…

            But do you believe that every single Republican/conservative/Catholic/pro-life advocate who did fund them can be held responsible for the violence inspired by their rhetoric?

          • Nornagest says:

            I should clarify that antifa does have a history of low-level violence — but I feel like it’s historically been basically consensual. Until late 2016, the pattern would go something like this: neo-Nazis (real ones, not Trumpists or Milo fans) would plan a march somewhere; flyers would go up in punk venues in Oakland and Los Angeles; the usual suspects would put on their hoodies and black bandannas and go out to stomp on some Aryan faces. But the Nazis themselves would have been expecting a fight and in fact looking forward to it; no one who gets sig runes tattooed on their neck is looking for a peaceful demonstration. So everyone gets what they want, which is a fight with their hated enemies, and everyone goes home (or to the hospital) happy.

            The, er, expanding swastika of antipathy is new. Until 2016, right-wingers got called Hitler all the time, but it was generally understood to be pure rhetoric and didn’t draw fire. And I don’t think the full implications of that have yet been realized.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, if you’re funding people who talk about how eager they are to smash shit up, and you say “nah, it’s cool, they just like to talk that way”, then that’s okay as far as it goes, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. But then if they actually smash shit up, you can hardly come back and say “wow, how unpredictable, no one could have predicted this, there were no warning signs”. If you’re going to fund a group with violent rhetoric on the basis that the violent rhetoric is just rhetoric, you have a responsibility to be right about that.

            “Violence inspired by their rhetoric” is a funny thing. I seem to recall a case or two when Trump got blamed for commie shitheads attacking his supporters, because that violence was apparently inspired by his rhetoric. Let’s stick to, does the rhetoric call for violence.

          • random832 says:

            @Nornagest

            About the only people on the right that use that kind of rhetoric are the KKK, literal neo-Nazis, and the weirder corners of /pol/.

            And, you know, senate candidates.

            You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

            Like, if saying “second amendment remedies” and “take Harry Reid out” in one breath (even with the plausible deniability that of course she’s just talking about defeating him in an election. Perfectly natural to segue into that from calls for a violent revolution.) isn’t the right-wing equivalent of “that kind of rhetoric” what is?

            People can’t say things like “ballot box, jury box, ammo box” and then pretend they weren’t calling for violence (and jury nullification incidentally) conditional on their agenda being defeated fairly on the political stage.

          • suntzuanime says:

            So did that guy actually shoot Harry Reid or what?

          • random832 says:

            Try to stay focused; I was addressing the specific claim that mainstream conservatives don’t engage in violent rhetoric.

            Though, if you want to talk about people who have actually been shot, remember Sarah Palin and Gabrielle Giffords?

          • Nornagest says:

            People can’t say things like “ballot box, jury box, ammo box” and then pretend they weren’t calling for violence (and jury nullification incidentally) conditional on their agenda being defeated fairly on the political stage.

            Conditional on exhausting “ballot box” and “jury box” measures, sure. But that conditional is a big deal; it’s saying that violence is a last resort, which is as it should be. The Nazis et al. are calling for violence now, and so is the anarchist rhetoric upthread. I don’t take most of that rhetoric at face value, but others evidently do.

            “Ballot box, jury box, ammo box” unpacks to “I see tyranny on the horizon, and we should use nonviolent political and legal measures to stop it if we can, but if that isn’t enough, then violent resistance is the only option left”. We could reasonably disagree about the tyranny part, but the progression it lays out is only objectionable if you’re a pacifist, which I’m not.

            The quote you give isn’t even saying that much; it’s at worst presenting it as a realistic possibility sometime in the future.

          • webnaut says:

            @TenMinute

            > I just got back from that week without internet experiment, and catching up on all the news at once makes you realize that you’re a frog being slowly boiled in a pot.
            It’s time to jump out.

            Oh well done old chap!

            We need to rope more people into doing this. To see if they can do it. Because a lot of them wot think they wot can, wot cannot.

            I’ll put up my notes when I get a chance. Freer time is coming up soon.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, skef, I don’t know what’s going on in that article. The way you phrase it, it sounded as if these people were being fired for political beliefs, and the way the “Atlantic” writes it up is certainly along political lines.

      I would say this:

      (a) this involves Christian ministries, don’t fall into the usual media trap of “yeah, yeah, that religious guff is just the wrapping, what’s the real reason this is happening?” when the “real reason” is considered to be “politics, especialy when it comes to culture wars stuff”. Take this quote:

      Audrey Assad is a 33-year-old Catholic musician who regularly performs at theologically conservative churches and events run by conservative denominations.

      From that phrasing, I would take it that Assad is not “theologically conservative”. That gives a lot of ground for running into trouble, even leaving purely political positions aside. Yet the Atlantic article fixates on the politics, not the religious – at least when it comes to the conservatives. The (theologically) liberals the article is reporting on are just doing the work of God and speaking up for the oppressed.

      And some of it sounds like the plain kind of “your opinions are not in line with those of this organisation, we don’t think you can continue to present yourself as a representative speaking in our name” conflict which might happen in any job about any topic: the Shannon Dingle and Key Ministry case, for example.

      (b) as I’ve mentioned before, I’m very distrustful of one-sided stories where a photogenic/emotionally appealing so as to be manipulative person (the woman mentioned wanting to adopt two Ghanian girls, the photo at the top of the mixed race family of plainly adopted kids) is put forward as the face of the story, precisely because I’ve seen this happen in a work context. And in that article, the places of employment don’t comment because they’re bound by confidentiality. We’re only getting one side of the story, and it’s in the interest of the person telling it -even if they think they’re being honest – to make it sound as good for themselves as possible.

      Finally, I do find somewhat of a contradiction here between calls to investigate or even revoke the tax-free status of churches and religiously-affiliated charitable bodies unless they keep out of politics, with this article where the people involved are quite frank about using their positions with ministries and para-church organisations to promote political views:

      A few days later, they asked Smith to take down several social-media posts about Evan McMullin, who she was supporting for president. The message was that “‘sometimes the wisest course of action is not to engage,’” Smith told me. “Of course, that’s what Christianity has been doing for years, and it hasn’t worked so well for us.”

      At the beginning of November, Focus circulated a “spokesperson” policy, according to Smith. It stated that public-facing representatives of the organization were not allowed to comment on candidates for political office, and could only speak on political issues with Focus’s authorization.

      Would we get an equally sympathetic piece about people who wanted to work with or for, say, Sojourners (the community and magazine founded by Jim Wallis, the progressive writer mentioned in the piece) who disagreed with him being a spiritual advisor to Barack Obama? One with the headline:

      These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Obama — and Suffering the Consequences
      People working in ministry, music, and nonprofit advocacy are facing pressure for their political beliefs

    • Chilam Balam says:

      Most people here live in large cities, particularly SV, Bos, NYC, London, etc. They never meet extremely religious people, but they do meet lots of people on the left they disagree with. Therefore, why would they be afraid of right wingers firing people? They can imagine themselves in Eich’s shoes, even if they don’t agree with him, and are reminded of people like Eich all the time. I think this explains a lot about the culture in the comments section here, and why certain groups are feared much more than others.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’ve met plenty of deeply religious people, I can readily imagine myself working for deeply religious people, and I have a pretty good idea how to not get fired by (or for that matter deserve to get fired by) deeply religious people. What’s the rule for not getting fired by social justice people, when “express the same political beliefs as Barack Obama, at the same time as Barack Obama, but in private and while working in an apolitical job” clearly isn’t it?

        • skef says:

          Do you think that there might be some people for whom following the rules of the “deeply religious people” in question might be a bit more costly? And so maybe this isn’t the most relevant criterion?

          • Evan Þ says:

            It’s more costly for some than for others, but at least it’s clear. And following the (unclear, constantly-changing) rules of the ctrl+left is also more costly for some than others.

            Your point?

          • skef says:

            @Evan

            You just drew an equivalence between the two sides, so what’s your point in asking my point?

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you think that there might be some people for whom following the rules of the “deeply religious people” in question might be a bit more costly?

            Yes, in the sense that there are pacifists who would find following the rules of the United States Army a bit more costly than most.

            If you have problems following the rules of deeply religious people, and then take a job as website editor for an organization whose mission is to “build marriages that go the distance, equip parents to raise great kids and put Jesus Christ at the center of homes worldwide!”, then my response is really that we need to revisit Griggs and get IQ testing back into the workplace, stat.

            If it’s more a matter of interests diverging over time, then that’s the sort of thing that legitimately makes it necessary for people to go their separate ways. Deeply religious organizations aren’t known for changing their opinions quickly or frivolously, and they aren’t going anywhere.

          • Brad says:

            It’s more costly for some than for others, but at least it’s clear.

            Christians never change their doctrines or emphasis? When was it again that American Protestantism decided that abortion was the worst thing ever?

          • skef says:

            @John Schilling

            I dunno, you seem to be putting a value on stability of employment more appropriate to 1968. “I got a job with X and our values diverged so fast! Within years!”

            Is the economy we’re talking about one where it’s easy to get a job or not? Because you seem pretty cavalier when it comes to the prospects of people who might find it harder to follow certain rules. And don’t go back to the “website editor” thing — you know damn well that some of those “deeply religious” people don’t want gay people (for example) period, and don’t have to hire them in a bunch of states.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            When was it again that American Protestantism decided that abortion was the worst thing ever?

            Serious question: when did American Protestantism ever support abortion..? Either explicitly or tacitly? My assumption is “never” but this is one of those “did I miss a history lesson?” moments.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is the economy we’re talking about one where it’s easy to get a job or not?

            This is supposed to be relevant why?

            Because you seem pretty cavalier when it comes to the prospects of people who might find it harder to follow certain rules.

            Not everyone is qualified to perform every job. Some might find performing some jobs harder than others.

            And don’t go back to the “website editor” thing — you know damn well that some of those “deeply religious” people don’t want gay people (for example) period, and don’t have to hire them in a bunch of states.

            Do you want to *force* them to hire homosexuals?

          • Anonymous says:

            @Gobbo

            Serious question: when did American Protestantism ever support abortion..? Either explicitly or tacitly? My assumption is “never” but this is one of those “did I miss a history lesson?” moments.

            AFAIK, never is the right answer. That any of the American Protestants ever shut up about it nowadays is somewhat troubling. Opposition to infanticide is one of the most universal and stable Christian doctrines, going back all the way to Roman times.

          • bean says:

            Serious question: when did American Protestantism ever support abortion..? Either explicitly or tacitly? My assumption is “never” but this is one of those “did I miss a history lesson?” moments.

            There was a brief window after Roe v Wade when at least some Protestants (conservative ones, that is) were at least sort of supportive. The Southern Baptists at least had made a statement supporting legal abortions. The article I read on the subject blamed Jerry Falwell for bringing an end to this. I haven’t done enough research to be 100% comfortable with that conclusion, but the hard line on abortion hasn’t always been there.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Gobbobobble

            The Southern Baptist Convention was initially supportive of Roe v Wade. One suspects that the laity felt otherwise, because they had to keep revisiting that resolution in the subsequent years, and came out firmly against within a decade.

            (It is not a coincidence that the SBC also wasn’t too keen on black people at the time.)

          • Anonymous says:

            @bean, @Jaskologist

            Wow. I may have to move my estimation of the American Protestants further into the realm of extra heretical.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is the economy we’re talking about one where it’s easy to get a job or not?

            It’s almost certainly an economy where it is easier to get a job as a website editor than as a CEO. If a nonprofit specifically dedicated to Christian morality can be required to tolerate openly heretical views re gay rights because it would be so terribly horrific to demand that someone look for a new job, then shouldn’t that be even more true of a nominally apolitical software company faced with an old, private heresy?

            I don’t believe that jobs are an entitlement or even property. It can be obnoxious to fire someone, even more so to demand that a third party fire someone, but not because that job is “theirs” or because they will surely starve without it. If you disagree, you need to be consistent about the disagreement.

          • skef says:

            @John Schilling

            I’m just trying to tease out why you think that the length of time someone can game-theorize against their employer is the important criterion.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            skef, your teary concern for the poor folks who are unable to get a job at Focus on the Family due to not being Christians does not come off as very sincere when elsewhere you are casually attempting to justify Eich getting fired from Mozilla.

            You can’t have both. Pick one.

          • Cypren says:

            @ThirteenthLetter: I don’t think that’s the position skef is taking; he’s arguing that firing people for their political views is either wrong or it’s not. Either you condemn both the Eich firing and the Focus on the Family firing or neither, or you’re being hypocritical.

            I’m less certain about that since FotF is an explicit culture war advocacy organization. But I do think the argument is at least plausible and that you’re being uncharitable by accusing him of trying to have it both ways rather than seeing his arguments as devil’s advocate.

          • Anonymous says:

            For accuracy’s sake, Eich wasn’t fired. He stepped down and resigned, under pressure.

            This was pretty much the thing he did wrong there. He should have stood his ground and said that he was right to donate then, and it is as right for him to support whatever he did at that time, now. And told people to deal with it.

        • Iain says:

          There are lots of ways to make the point that being against gay marriage went from standard to problematic very quickly. Can we please stop using Obama as an example? Obama was against Proposition 8. In any other context, the people who claim that Eich and Obama had the same position would be happy to dismiss Obama’s statement about marriage being between a man and a woman as obvious meaningless lip service.

          Obama and Eich had the same position on same-sex marriage in the same sense that Mike Huckabee and Tim Kaine have the same position on abortion. The major question on these issues is not your “personal stance”, but your view on the proper role of the state. Eich wanted to eliminate gay marriage; Obama did not. Huckabee wants to overturn Roe v. Wade; Tim Kaine does not. This is not a trivial difference. Can we please stop pretending?

          • Cypren says:

            I think the main weakness of the “Obama was against gay marriage” argument is that only extremely-low information voters actually believed him when he claimed that. High information voters were well aware that he had endorsed it repeatedly before running for national office and that it was dogma within his tribe and could reasonably infer that he was lying for political advantage.

            Given that most of the individuals we’re talking about in the social justice movement are high-information political voters, tu quoque accusations with respect to Obama’s position are pointless; they didn’t have a problem with it because they (correctly) believed he wasn’t sincere.

          • Jaskologist says:

            When people bring up “Obama was against gay marriage” they are also protesting the left’s tacit embrace of taqiyya.

            “You’ve already admitted you’ll lie about your goals. I have no reason to think you aren’t lying now, too.”

          • Randy M says:

            The other point of mentioning the Obama fib on gay marriage is to point out that the fib was necessary–a significant portion of the electorate obviously agreed with the position, or at least Obama thought it did. That should put quietly agreeing with that position well within the overton window, but it was punished nonetheless.

          • Iain says:

            If you want to point out that Proposition 8 was within the Overton window when it passed, you can just point out that it passed. In California, no less.

          • random832 says:

            Can you describe exactly why it is relevant that a position is within the Overton window? Frankly, I don’t see why I should care if opposition to (for example) gay marriage is within the Overton window, any more than a conservative christian cares that support for it is. If I truly believed that neither position had any moral worth over the other than, logically, I shouldn’t hold either one of them, nor should I care that anyone else holds them – and neither should anyone else who makes this argument.

          • Randy M says:

            Can you describe exactly why it is relevant that a position is within the Overton window?

            There are a few reasons. One, it should lessen your Beyesian certainty (to coin a self-contradictory phrase) if large portions of the electorate disagree with you; probably not enough to change your mind, but perhaps enough to admit the possibility of error, and have mercy on the dissenters for the sake of not accidentally punishing (or even just hating) the innocent.
            Second, logistically, you are going to have to have a lot of firings if you want to be consistent in your punishment of the losing side.

            But mostly it is a demonstration that people of goodwill can disagree on the issue, so declaring your opponents anathema is a bit extreme.

            If you want to point out that Proposition 8 was within the Overton window when it passed, you can just point out that it passed

            True, but then you don’t get to make the point about lying politicians in the same breath.

    • Randy M says:

      I think there can be principled distinctions made along the following lines: if you run an organization that advances a cause, and you have reason to believe that a member believes in opposing the cause, how confident can you be that their responsibilities are being fulfilled with due diligence? It’s easy to say “judge them on their performance” but when you aren’t talking about tangible products produced but relationships, articles, etc. it’s harder to determine. It seems valid for certain positions in certain organizations to judged partly on beliefs and others not. Probably not many, but more in organizations explicitly advocating specific policies or beliefs. For example, maybe an outspoken vegan isn’t doing their best to write your hamburger advertisements. By and large there’s probably better metrics to judge them on, but it could be a factor the more the position entails intangible effects.

      As others have pointed out, it’s odd that Mozilla’s mission seemed to be such that an opposition to gay marriage would have interfered with it in an analogous way to someone working in an advocacy group with a disagreement with it’s mission and principles. IIRC, there was some talk about fears that his position shows he wouldn’t have been able to use or help gay coders, but this seems to rely on the dubious assumption that opposition to gay marriage is necessarily and always about excluding gays from civil life entirely.

      • skef says:

        IIRC, there was some talk about fears that his position shows he wouldn’t have been able to use or help gay coders, but this seems to rely on the dubious assumption that opposition to gay marriage is necessarily and always about excluding gays from civil life entirely.

        I think the issue was more that Mozilla has many volunteer coders, and gay coders in particular may not have felt like contributing. “Use or help” seems to get the direction of dependency wrong.

        • Randy M says:

          Okay, I’ll accept the correction; I am no expert in open source coding power dynamics.
          But it does seem like in that case the foul was whoever publicized the fact that he was a donor, since I don’t believe it was Eich.

        • I think the issue was more that Mozilla has many volunteer coders, and gay coders in particular may not have felt like contributing.

          I would guess that the number of people, even coders, who are opposed to gay marriage is larger than the number who are gay, the latter being a pretty small percentage of the population. So this argument suggests that a contribution to a campaign to support gay marriage should also have been grounds for pushing Eich out.

          Although perhaps not if you assume that, in addition to gays, non-gay coders who approved of gay marriage would have chosen not to contribute.

          • baconbacon says:

            Depends on the relevant strengths of their convictions as well.

          • skef says:

            Oh, yes, I would personally agree with that. Like I said before, I wouldn’t fire people for their views and would encourage others not to, but the case seems weaker for figurehead positions. People who want to be CEOs (or politicians) would be wise to stay away from hot-button issues. Piss enough people off enough as a CEO, especially of a non-profit, and you’ll very likely be fired.

            That’s just another reason why the symbolic role Eich has played here is so questionable.

          • Cypren says:

            @DavidFriedman: I feel like this is underestimating the importance of central conviction of belief. In many ways this is somewhat like the outsized power of the NRA: their membership is not a particularly large slice of the electorate, but they represent single-issue voters who will turn out very reliably and persuade others to do so in order to promote or oppose candidates on their one issue.

            Social justice types are similar in many respects. There don’t need to be a lot of gay coders so long as there are enough coders who either feel strongly about social justice or have enough people in their social circle who value social justice more than their personal relationships and are willing to sacrifice the latter for the former. This is traditionally how religions have controlled most behaviors, I think: less by instilling firm convictions in most individual adherents and more by increasing the social cost of defecting from those convictions.

          • Jiro says:

            Depends on the relevant strengths of their convictions as well.

            Deferring to the strength of people’s convictions is a recipe for creating utility monsters.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Except people who oppose gay marriage are less likely to “feel uncomfortable” participating in a project headed by a supporter of gay marriage than gay people are to “feel uncomfortable” participating in a project headed by an opponent of gay marriage.

            Unless of course those who oppose gay marriage decide to participate in the game, and say they’re “uncomfortable” participating in a project headed by some a supporter of gay marriage or even that contains gay people at all. At which point feeling uncomfortable suddenly no longer matters (“It’s not OK to make people I care about feel uncomfortable, but it is OK to make people like YOU, who I don’t care about, feel uncomfortable” — paraphrase of an actual SJW I had the misfortune of conversing with).

            It’s not about real effects; not even the variant of the heckler’s veto being suggested (where those most likely to “feel uncomfortable” get catered to). It’s purely about imposing political orthodoxy.

          • Garrett says:

            From my experience, there is a disproportionately large number of LGBT people working in software development.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          I think the issue was more that Mozilla has many volunteer coders, and gay coders in particular may not have felt like contributing.

          At some point, maybe we’ll learn that someone who would be driven out of contributing because of the leadership’s private political views, unrelated to the organization’s mission, which never affected how he treated anyone (that has been made clear, no one has ever even alleged that Eich ever treated a non-straight person with anything but the same respect he’d give to anyone else) is not someone you want contributing. That sort of fragile person is likely to go off like a bomb at any point and create a PR disaster, so you’re better off without them.

          • Anonymous says:

            How many gay coders are there, even? If they’re proportionally represented, it’d be something like 3% of all coders. Not a manpower issue even if they would all turn out to have the resilience of snowflakes and left.

          • Cypren says:

            “If they’re proportionally represented” is a big qualifier. I’ve never seen anything to indicate that gay people of either gender are either over or under-represented in programming. But anecdotally my observation is that transwomen are heavily over-represented in programming and computer science, and those of my acquaintance were uncomfortable with Eich’s political views as non-cishet individuals.

            The larger issue is not LGBTQ people, but all of the straight people for whom “LGBTQ ally” is a core part of their identity. They’re more likely the ones that Mozilla was going to alienate, and they make up a sizable chunk of the tech industry, especially in the Bay Area.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            The larger issue is not LGBTQ people, but all of the straight people for whom “LGBTQ ally” is a core part of their identity.

            And again, people who would freak out and be unable to do their jobs because of the mere presence of someone who agreed with Barack Obama’s position on gay marriage in 2012 is not someone you want working for you in the first place.

          • Iain says:

            And again, that was not Obama’s position on gay marriage in 2008, let alone 2012.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        IIRC, there was some talk about fears that his position shows he wouldn’t have been able to use or help gay coders, but this seems to rely on the dubious assumption that opposition to gay marriage is necessarily and always about excluding gays from civil life entirely.

        This is what I don’t understand:

        If you’re willing to cede all the legal rights and privileges of marriage to gay couples, then what is the point in insisting that it is completely beyond the pale to call it marriage? Opponents even say, “They should get all the same rights, they just shouldn’t call it ‘marriage’.”

        It seems to me that the only sensible interpretation of such a position is that it is largely symbolic — a message to gay people that they are not to be considered full members of civil society.

        However, I’m obviously unsympathetic to such a position, so it’s probably unfair of me to characterize it this way. What are the real reasons for rejecting the label “marriage” for legal unions of gay couples?

        • skef says:

          The combination of the view that “everyone is sinful” combined with the Christian emphasis on repentance means that many denominations “accept” quite a bit of everyday sinning as long as the sinners wind up feeling bad about it (and not just bad about getting caught). You repent, and are forgiven. In that light, any “normalization” of sin is a big problem to the extent that it stops repentance. With repentance as an option, feeling OK about sin is an overall worse problem than sin itself*.

          A gay person’s only chances for salvation are feeling bad enough about acting on their impulses to not do so, or to repent after doing so (which presumably involves at least a struggle to not act that way further, if it’s genuine). It’s also argued that gay marriage solidifies, by example, the wrong attitudes towards marriage, which makes it not just the “business” of secular gays.

          Some U.S. Christians (but certainly not all, and probably not most) would add to these personal and social considerations a Christian-flavored “American Exceptionalism”, according to which God “looks favorably” on the U.S. because of it’s Christian culture. This is where you get e.g. hurricanes in response to social legislation.

          * Of course, this is putting the point a bit more baldly than it would usually be expressed, but I think a version of this reasoning holds.

        • Randy M says:

          This is a lengthy tangent with likely significant inferential difference. Do you want to understand, or argue?

          Firstly, I’ll acknowledge that restricting marriage would tend to restrict gays from portions of civil life, which is why I specified the “dubious assumption that opposition to gay marriage is necessarily and always about excluding gays from civil life entirely.” In other words, just because someone doesn’t think homosexual marriage is worth state endorsement, doesn’t mean they are going to discriminate against them in the workplace. That was my point there.

          But you may say, the only reason for opposing gay marriage is because one hates gays and wants to see them personally suffer, so of course other personal interactions will be tainted. Against this, I can present another reason. You may not think it is valid or reasonable, but that doesn’t mean other people have other secret motives, just that they reason differently.

          The function of marriage on a social level is to encourage long term pairing between reproductively viable partners. It has ancillary economic benefits intrinsically due to sharing of costs, but other arrangements with highly trusted friends or relatives could also yield these benefits. Social and legal benefits–and expectations–that arose around the institution did so in support of the reproductive/nurturing purposes. For example, adultery taboos (or laws) can serve to reduce the number of off-spring that do not belong to a single monogamous union, making care easier. They also reduce sexual jealousy which can contribute to ending marriages (or lives).

          A lifetime (or at least reproductive lifetime) union among homosexuals is not something that has significant impact on society, because of their numbers, but also because it does not serve to encourage reproduction nor the care of off-spring. The only purpose is to reduce bad feelings among homosexuals who feel left out of marriage because they don’t understand or don’t care about it’s purpose, believing (quite justifiably, I grant, what with all the romance around courting) that marriage is set up to provide social approval for sexual practices. This doesn’t strike me as terribly compelling.

          Perhaps you’d argue that technology, population levels, prosperity, or whatever has advanced such that the original purpose can is no longer needed or better met in other ways. Perhaps, but I don’t think it is a very safe bet.

          @Skef

          With repentance as an option, feeling OK about sin is an overall worse problem than sin itself*.

          Put another way, rebellion is worse than weakness.

          • random832 says:

            The function of marriage on a social level is to encourage long term pairing between reproductively viable partners.

            So why is nothing done to exclude people who suffer from infertility, or simply have no intention of having children?

            but also because it does not serve to encourage reproduction nor the care of off-spring.

            Now hold on there…

          • Randy M says:

            So why is nothing done to exclude people who suffer from infertility, or simply have no intention of having children?

            I believe marriages can be annulled if one party is discovered to be incapable of reproducing? But to disallow marriage when one is infertile requires significant more intrusion than to disallow when two are the same gender. This should be obvious? Are you raising a point rhetorically, or do you truly dispute the larger point?

            Can address your other point later.

          • skef says:

            Put another way, rebellion is worse than weakness.

            This seems to me a bizarre way of putting the point. What could be stupider than rebelling against an omnipotent being? If you’re rebelling against God you’ve already pretty much lost the thread.

            Or if you mean rebelling against the Church, or your culture, then the thread is lost in a different place. Surely any power either has in salvation is purely transmissive, right?

            To interpret the point as “rebellion is worse than weakness” seems like a mistaken attempt to consecrate tribalism.

          • Brad says:

            How do we know that’s *the* function of marriage? Also, is there only one answer ever to the question of what’s *the* function of marriage or it something that can be different across time and place?

          • skef says:

            @Brad:

            Isn’t “theological argument” going to be the inevitable answer to that question?

            Because we usually argue from charity here, the discussion winds up focusing on marriage, which can make it sound like that’s the only point of contention from a Christian perspective today, but of course that’s ludicrous. Theologically, many denominations haven’t moved an inch on any positions relating to homosexuality. And no doubt many people who participate here share those attitudes but don’t feel free to express them (too directly) because of the direction the larger culture has moved. So gay marriage serves as a proxy.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @random:

            So why is nothing done to exclude people who suffer from infertility, or simply have no intention of having children?

            Intention to have children can change, and is anyway often difficult for outside parties to gauge (it’s not as if people generally put “Oh and by the way, we’re not going to have any kids” on the wedding invitations). Infertility is often also difficult to see until the couple actually start trying to have children, which most couples don’t until after marriage. Although FWIW, infertility is grounds for annulment in English law.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            How do we know that’s *the* function of marriage?

            Well for one thing, if we ignore the procreative ends and take the end of marriage to be mutual support and companionship, as people nowadays tend to do, there seems to be literally nothing to distinguish marriage from friendship.

          • Randy M says:

            @skef,
            I thought I was backing up your point. Replace rebellion with ignorance, then.

          • rlms says:

            @The original Mr. X
            Most people don’t consider sex to be a major part of friendship. Most people also do not consider friendship to be “till death do us part”, or consider having more than one friend immoral.

          • skef says:

            “Ignorance” does work better.

            It does seem that repentance has a distinct metaphysical status in that not repenting isn’t exactly sinning — the sin is the original whatever. If you don’t repent now, what you need to repent later is your sin, not also your not repenting now. But maybe that’s wrong.

            Now that I’ve thought more about it, I think my reaction to “rebellion” had most to do with how rule-based it makes things sound. If you take the framework on its face, it seems like you can avoid a lot of sin (but probably not all) by following rules, but repentance for sinning requires (or really is) some specific attitudes. So “weakness” is a good counter-point, in that it’s not really weakness not to repent — you either reach the attitudes or you don’t.

            But all this is very much third-hand for me at best.

          • Randy M says:

            but also because it does not serve to encourage reproduction nor the care of off-spring.

            Now hold on there…

            Coming back to this, obviously there are gay couples raising kids. To give them support and encourage them to both cooperate is probably the best argument for gay marriage. I do not find it fully convincing as I think the prevalence is quite low and that postulating equality here would weaken the idea that children optimally should have both a mother and father as long term partnered care-givers.

          • Randy M says:

            (Sorry I replied to you on the wrong sub-thread, but that ship has sailed)

            “Ignorance” does work better.

            What is worse–making a wrong turn, or lacking a map? The wrong turn is was actually puts you in the wrong place, but if you lack a map, you cannot course correct.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @rlms:

            Most people don’t consider sex to be a major part of friendship.

            Since the end of sex is procreation, I was counting sex under the procreative ends.

            Most people also do not consider friendship to be “till death do us part”,

            Most people nowadays don’t consider marriages to be “till death do us part”, either; just look at social attitudes towards divorce.

            or consider having more than one friend immoral.

            And I don’t think it entirely coincidental that we’re now seeing a push to normalise polyamory and polyamorous relationships.

        • It seems to me that the only sensible interpretation of such a position is that it is largely symbolic — a message to gay people that they are not to be considered full members of civil society.

          It’s symbolic in both directions. The opponent of gay marriage is saying that gays can have all the legal rights but not call it marriage, and the proponent is saying that having all the legal rights isn’t enough, he, and everyone else, has to call it marriage. They are arguing over symbol, not substance.

          But the symbol is not that gay people are not full members of civic society, because the opponent has no objection to a gay man marrying a woman. The symbol is “marriage is a particular kind of thing, and what you have isn’t that particular kind of thing and so people shouldn’t be required to call it a marriage.”

          A point I discussed in more detail more than ten years ago.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m just spitballing here, and I don’t have any particular evidence to support the following argument.

      But is it possible that differences in preferred strategy and tactics between the left and right have resulted in a situation where it’s more common for leftists to have a positive desire to “infiltrate and move the needle” in conservative organizations than it is for conservatives to actively do that in left-wing organizations?

      Like, my first question whenever something like this comes up is – why did these people want to work for an advocacy group that they don’t agree with in the first place? As a right-leaning person, most right-leaning people I know wouldn’t even consider for a second taking a job at say, the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC doesn’t have to worry about conservatives in their ranks spreading heresy, because such people self-select themselves out of that place to begin with. But the left doesn’t seem to do this. Or at least, they don’t seem to do it as much.

      I’ve always felt like one of the primary reasons the left wins the culture war is that they are significantly more patient. They infiltrate and push, slowly but surely, subtly enough that you don’t even notice it until suddenly you wake up and find that less than five percent of professors voted for Trump and no newspaper in the country endorsed him. The right, meanwhile, stands out in the open with big signs saying “WE WANT X AND OTHER PEOPLE WHO DONT WANT X ARE THE ENEMY” thus making their intentions clear and easy to combat. The left are the American colonists hiding in the woods, using their hunting rifles to pick off the conservative redcoats marching in step behind their flags and drums waiting to deploy their perfect formation against a similarly structured enemy column that they keep expecting to materialize, but never does.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I think this is unnecessarily conspiratorial. Having a university degree is strongly correlated with, at the very least, centre-left social views. If an outfit is looking for someone with a university degree – a requirement for many jobs these days – they are more likely to find someone with some left-wing tastes, one way or another. Even if their degree is something technical, like comp sci, they are still more likely to be gay-friendly, a feminist, etc than they would be had they not gone to university.

        Additionally, in the case of the FotF employee fired … she has an MA from Liberty University – it’s not like they hired someone fresh out of Columbia’s Studies Studies program or whatever. It doesn’t sound like she’s the kind of left-wing activist that tends to form the outgroup here. One online profile of her says “Joy Beth has an ever-growing passion for seeing how the gospel engages with culture, gender, and sexuality.” I suppose you could interpret this as ENTRYISM! EEEK! But then you could also interpret FotF firing her as them trying to prevent entryism.

        • Matt M says:

          “seeing how the gospel engages with culture, gender, and sexuality.”

          This screams “almost certainly an SJW” to me, but perhaps I’m jaded and being unfair…

          • Nornagest says:

            It sounds more like an academic social theorist to me. The social justice scene uses a lot of concepts from academia, but it doesn’t usually use them in the same way.

          • Anonymous says:

            The “gender and sexuality” part seems to strongly indicate left-wingery. But then, so does academia.

          • Matt M says:

            “It sounds more like an academic social theorist to me.”

            The number of “academic social theorists” in the universe who voted for Trump can probably be counted on one hand.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Who went to Liberty University? Why would a left-winger go there? It’s not an especially good university, as far as I can tell, and the entire appeal seems to be “this is a right-wing school”.

          • Matt M says:

            To infiltrate and move the needle, as I suggested. My original comment upthread is that going to a place where you’re the minority and convincing them that they’re wrong is a more common behavior among the left than among the right.

            Although it does make sense that her employer saw “Liberty University” and assumed they weren’t getting a progressive. Whoops! Guess we won’t be making that mistake anymore, now will we?

          • skef says:

            @Matt M

            Do you think of most universities as liberal strong-holds? Because if you do, conservatives are doing quite well by the standard of infiltration. The numbers are something like 12:1, right? Thats way more than a few moles at Liberty or Focus on the Family. Don’t be so hard on your side!

          • AnonEEmous says:

            do you feel bad about what you just wrote

            but seriously: the Left currently think it is their moral duty to spread the word. Maybe the Right thought like that in the past and they damn well will in the future because Pendulum Swings. But currently, that’s what it is. I don’t know if it really comes down to *infiltration* so much as an inability to notice that the climate around you is a certain way, and you should either leave if you want to be political or be quiet about it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M:

            The following things cannot both be true:

            a) “left-wingers do not like being in the minority; they do not like being outside of their echo chambers; they do not like convincing others (your statement is that they are better at convincing others, or at least more willing to try) but prefer to wield social pressure.”

            This seems to be the standard line in a lot of right-wing spaces right now; I would say that this is on the whole a right-wing space, albeit an atypical one.

            b) “left-wingers are intentionally setting out to infiltrate right-wing spaces and convert them into left-wing spaces.”

            This is what you are saying here.

            Now, my experience – as a left winger! – is that a) sounds a lot more true than b). Then again, our left-wing conspirator cell structure means that I never meet fellow comrades engaged in infiltration, seeking to insinuate themselves into right-wing spaces, as I am doing here, seeking to sow doubt among the right-wingers, preparing the way for final victory.

            My personal view would be that what is winning in the Western world right now is neoliberal globalism: generally, what wins is what is either neutral to or benefits the interests of the capitalist system. Big financial corporations right now don’t care, for example, whether their employees are gay. Making a big show of how accepting they are and throwing some money at pride parades means they can rainbow-wash their actions. Promoting a neutered version of left-wing politics that focuses on identity and completely ignores class is really, really good for the finance industry, etc – more women, for example, as Fortune 500 CEOs is not really threatening; asking the question “why do Fortune 500 CEOs make so much money; surely one yacht is enough” is. Employers benefit from immigration: a larger labour pool means more candidates for any given job, and the higher supply means wages can be pushed down; some employers even benefit from non-enforcement of immigration law (because illegal immigrants can be paid illegally low wages under the table and are easily abused due to a lack of legal standing). Corporations right now are able to get left-wing activists to do their work for them, which is a really cool trick.

            Does this all mean the left is winning? Well, by some standards, yes. But by others? “Serving the interest of the top 0.1% of income-earners” is hardly a traditional left-wing goal. Cthulhu clearly doesn’t always swim left. And thus you see, comrades, how I spread confusion and by so doing tear the system down from within! VIVA LA ENTRYISM!

          • Randy M says:

            To infiltrate and move the needle, as I suggested.

            I think this might well happen at, like, the chamber of commerce or something. But is a young person* deciding on a college going to be so committed to subversion as to risk having few peers they can relate to, risk their career prospects, etc. just to be a mole? Seems very very unlikely to me.

            However, I don’t see it as implausible that someone on their parents dime might end up going to a conservative christian university without being committed and be exposed to either more progressive strains of Christianity or some otherwise left-ier sources either included in the curriculum as balance or on their own and fall away. Not sure why they’d go to work for FotF, but I agree that Joy’s social media description reads left to me.

            *(does using the phrase “young person” make me an old person?

          • dndnrsn says:

            To me, the description on the site reads “hip young Christian trying to make evangelical Christianity more acceptable to The Youths of Today.” Now, I think this is foolish – because religious denominations that attempt to accommodate themselves to the mainstream culture usually wither and die; nobody wants Christian rock when they could have the real thing, and rock’n’roll is just so much less fun anyway without the sex and the drugs. The religious denominations that are doing the best right now (not just Christians) are the most hardline ones.

          • My original comment upthread is that going to a place where you’re the minority and convincing them that they’re wrong is a more common behavior among the left than among the right.

            So far as universities are concerned, it’s surely the opposite, since most universities are left of center and most people right of center who go to universities don’t choose one of the small number of universities that identify as right of center.

            I was at Harvard in 1964. The Crimson poll found 19% of the students supporting Goldwater. It’s true that most of those people, so far as I can tell, were not trying to convince the majority, but some of us were.

          • Matt M says:

            “Going to a place where you’re a minority” was poor phrasing on my part. I mean something closer to “going to a place that explicitly rejects your values.”

            Universities are bastions of the left, but they do not explicitly advertise themselves as such. They cloak themselves in phrases about diversity and tolerance and free speech. They do not explicitly reject conservative ideas in the same way many religious organizations explicitly reject left-wing social values.

          • Randy M says:

            @dndnrsn
            Could be. Trying to appeal to the hip youths of today is going to end up reading at least a bit progressive.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Now, I think this is foolish – because religious denominations that attempt to accommodate themselves to the mainstream culture usually wither and die;

            I don’t know, I attended a Newman Center in my home town growing up. I don’t think the existence of those has been deleterious to Catholic Church in general. And I’d wager that the net affect on Catholic church attendance is positive (not just during college, but over a lifetime).

            I agree that offering something “hip” for the sake of being “hip” (which sounds pretty square) is a losing game, but offering a genuine spiritual experience that is aimed squarely at a younger audience seems valuable to me.

          • Anonymous says:

            @HBC

            It’s not just the outer trappings that are an issue here, though. That’s the least problem. The bigger problem is reversing stance on issues that have been mostly stable for the last couple of millennia, like sodomy, divorce, gender roles, fornication and infanticide.

          • Matt M says:

            Could be. Trying to appeal to the hip youths of today is going to end up reading at least a bit progressive.

            But then again…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:

            infanticide

            Not to nit-pick one thing, but what infanticide? Do you mean abortion?

          • Anonymous says:

            That is the modern term for it, yes.

          • rlms says:

            The taboo against infanticide is modern degeneracy that must be removed if we want to bring back the glories of Rome.

          • Anonymous says:

            The taboo on infanticide is part of the reason the Christians became dominant in the Empire. The Pagan Romans, just like moderns, prevented or killed most of their offspring, while the Christians did not. The Christians survived, the Pagan Romans did not.

          • Randy M says:

            Really, most of? Wow.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @HBC:

            I don’t know, I attended a Newman Center in my home town growing up. I don’t think the existence of those has been deleterious to Catholic Church in general. And I’d wager that the net affect on Catholic church attendance is positive (not just during college, but over a lifetime).

            Try going to a liberal and a traditionalist Catholic church; see which one has the larger, younger, and more enthusiastic congregation.

            In fact, try doing so at pretty much any mainstream church.

      • Cypren says:

        Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think endorsing Evan McMullin (who is, in every respect, more conservative than Trump) really counts as being a left-wing infiltrator.

        • Anonymous says:

          He isn’t.

          He’s just a tool in a two-party system. It doesn’t matter what his ideology is, so long as he can divide the base so that the other party secures the win. (He wasn’t effective at this.)

        • Matt M says:

          who is, in every respect, more conservative than Trump

          But significantly less offensive to SJW sensibilities.

          The existence of Trump makes it socially acceptable to say nice things about people like McMullin, and even to say downright laudatory things about once-villianized figures such as Mitt Romney.

          • random832 says:

            The existence of Trump makes it socially acceptable to say nice things about people like McMullin, and even to say downright laudatory things about once-villianized figures such as Mitt Romney.

            Isn’t this indisputable evidence that society has been moving to the right?

          • Matt M says:

            Nah, because it’s only temporary. The left despised Mitt Romney in 2012. They love him now because he opposed Trump. If the ran against Trump in the GOP primary in 2020, they’d love him. If he won it, and then faced off against Elizabeth Warren for the presidency, they’d start calling him Hitler again.

      • IrishDude says:

        Your argument reminds me of the Fabian Society, a socialist organization promoting gradualism rather than revolution to achieve their goals.

        The etymology of their name even resembles the analogy in your last paragraph:
        “The Fabian Society was named—at the suggestion of Frank Podmore—in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (nicknamed “Cunctator”, meaning the “Delayer”). His Fabian strategy sought gradual victory against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal through persistence, harassment, and wearing the enemy down by attrition rather than head-on battles.”

        • With their pretentious jaunts over to the Soviet Union, where they’d remark on how wonderfully progressive they were, with their far more enlightened policies than England.

          Fabian society is a truly wonderful piece of history showing how smart, thoughtful, well meaning people, can get their utopia predictions so so wrong.

    • Deiseach says:

      I genuinely believe the whole Eich/Mozilla thing was motivated by money, not principle. Remember, it all kicked off when OKCupid publicised the whole thing with their message to users not to use Firefox. This had two effects:

      (1) It established their bona fides as all about the lovin’ and carin’ and sharin’, and more importantly positioned them as a dating site for same-sex couples (instead of the market share being taken by the dedicated for same-sex couples only sites). They were making hay out of eHarmony’s troubles (the really big fish in the pond of online dating services, a conservative Christian site, forced by a court decision in 2008 to open up the service to same-sex couples) and positioning themselves as gay-friendly and reminding everyone of it.

      (2) I did some digging around at the time and the bunch of companies owned by the same interests who owned/operated OKCupid were also competing with Mozilla, so this was a way of getting bad PR for Mozilla and hurting them there. Remember the OKCupid page re-directed people to stop using Firefox and instead use Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari? Well, IAC (InterActiveCorp), the parent corporation, said that:

      Google supplies advertising to IAC’s Search & Applications businesses under a contract that expires in March 2016 and generated $1.4 billion of revenue (45% of IAC revenue) for IAC in 2014. …Regarding the IAC/InterActiveCorp contract extension, IAC is a key customer for Google with the relationship dating back at least 10 years. The Company’s web traffic remains very valuable, and alternative providers such as Yahoo and Microsoft have been active in the space lately and could provide additional bidding for the contract.

      …Search & Applications (51% of revenues)
      IAC’s Search & Applications business unit includes two broad portfolios of businesses: Websites and Applications. The Websites portfolio’s more prominent properties include About.com, Ask.com, Dictionary.com, Investopedia, CityGrid Media, and Ask.fm. Websites generated $836 million or 52% of segment revenue in 2014. The Applications business includes search toolbars and free, downloadable applications distributed directly to consumers (B2C) like an online greeting cards application (MyFundCards), casual gaming applications, and numerous other toolbars and applications with specialized entertainment or productivity purposes. IAC also provides B2B services like search applications and search boxes that are bundled with partners’ websites or software. Applications generated $760 million or 48% of segment revenue in 2014. Search & Applications revenue is almost all generated from advertising, primarily from paid advertising listings on search queries on Ask.com, through IAC toolbars and Ask-branded or white label search queries on other websites. Google provides the Company with paid advertising listings pursuant to a multi-year services agreement.

      I’m not saying that steering people away from a competitor to Google (or Microsoft, or Yahoo) would have been nice for IAC’s earnings, but it wouldn’t hurt, either. Follow the money was my motto, since I couldn’t see why OKCupid was suddenly having a go at Mozilla. For a horrible homophobic monster, not very many people seem to have been aware of Eich’s true nature, apart from some gay programmers who were protesting his donation – until OKCupid made it all public knowledge.

      • BBA says:

        Something stank to high heaven about that. And wasn’t an IAC exec also on the Prop 8 donors list?

        And of course, nobody was calling on Mozilla to fire Eich before he became CEO, even though his support of Prop 8 was known well before it happened. Nor is anyone calling on Mozilla to fire Gerv Markham, even though…well, just read his blog.

        Finally: Eich resigned. How much of this was of his own volition vs being asked to resign, I don’t know, but being at the center of a shitstorm that put the whole company/foundation/project at risk would certainly make me want to get out of there, for my sake and theirs. I am aware that the board offered him his old job as CTO back, which he refused. And you can say it’s all pro forma, he was fired by SJWs in an act of mustache-twirling villainy, but that doesn’t reflect the story as I saw it unfold.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          The red-tribe types are afraid because they think it was a test-case for whether SJ can enforce conformity via employment. Blue Tribe types feed that fear by publicly declaring that conformity should be enforced via employment. At this point, whether it was actually a test case or not is largely irrelevant; people on both sides think it was and argue accordingly.

          whether it’s irrelevent or not, though, I find your post interesting.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Skef – I really wish I hadn’t mentioned Eich. The most frustrating part is, I mentioned him specifically to point out that peoples’ defense of Milo, my own included, was potentially hypocritical given that what Milo was doing seemed arguably analogous to the attack on Eich. That point got lost almost instantly in the scrum, though, and in retrospect it should have been obvious that it would.

      To briefly answer your question, it’s option 1. organizations dedicated to pushing a particular viewpoint should be allowed to enforce that viewpoint on their employees.

  11. supermunchkin93 says:

    Just curious, do you happen to have an ETA on when the survey results will be released? That was an interesting range of questions you asked.

  12. shakeddown says:

    People who know history: Is Donaeld the Unready based on any particular king, kingdom, or area in the actual middle ages?

  13. hnau says:

    Anyone else here heard of “5 whys”? I was recently exposed to this technique through my job (tech industry, working on understanding & fixing root causes of product failures / customer issues) and it struck me as surprisingly effective & much more generally applicable if used correctly. I also thought it might be especially interesting to people generally of a rationalist / SSC-er frame of mind.

    The basic idea is this: You have some bad event that happened (e.g. “system x went down”). So you ask, “why did that happen?” and you get to another event– the proximate cause. Then you ask why that event happened, and get a further cause– and so on, like a four-year-old, down at least 5 levels of explanation. The goal is to get to one or more root causes that you can then take action to address.

    Seems like common sense so far, right? Here’s the crucial rule: at no point in the explanation are you permitted to blame a person. So, for instance, “this happened because the code has a bug in it” wouldn’t fly, because it just stops the explanation. Instead you would have to keep going and ask, “What circumstances let to the bug being introduced, and why didn’t we catch it earlier?” It’s very much about understanding process— what could the entire organization have done differently (including management, IT, QA, etcetera) to ensure that this didn’t happen?

    This may come off as managerial and pointy-haired, but to me it actually sounds like a very engineering-driven mindset: view people as part of the system, whose behaviors have (at least somewhat) understandable and fixable causes. (And assume, Murphy’s Law-style, that people will eventually do the wrong thing unless there’s a process in place to make them do the right thing.) And in my limited experience, it’s very effective at identifying concrete actions to help ensure that the same kinds of mistakes don’t happen again.

    So I’m interested in hearing reactions: Is this a helpful mindset? Have you ever seen it in action? How applicable would it be outside the corporate world? What might its failure modes be? What are the chances of it being useful as a “life hack” on the personal level?

    • qwints says:

      Not under that name, but it sounds very similar to a practice I heard I in a professional negligence class that was presented as coming from the investigation of aviation accidents – user error as the question not the answer is how I remember it.

    • Yemwez says:

      I haven’t heard of that technique before, but I like it a lot. I think its effectiveness on the personal level limited by how much of a system your daily routine already is. You would also need well-defined goals. This could help you develop an efficient routine though.

      The only issue is eventually you’ll have to blame yourself. Then your whys start being a self psychiatric evaluation, but maybe that’s a good thing.

      I’m going to start trying it and see what happens.

    • John Schilling says:

      We just call this a root-cause investigation, and it is a very effective way of finding problems and making sure they don’t recur. “Five” should not be a magic number; you keep going until you find the first deviation from the normal and acceptable situation.

      • hnau says:

        Agreed. I suspect 5 is just an arbitrary minimum designed to encourage people to look past superficial or incomplete explanations.

        • batmanaod says:

          That’s exactly what it is, and a good book or course on the process will mention that.

          Apparently, however, some of the people teaching Five Why’s at my work seem to believe that Five is in fact a magic number and a key part of the process.

          • Mr Mind says:

            Apparently, however, some of the people teaching Five Why’s at my work seem to believe that Five is in fact a magic number and a key part of the process.

            Why?

    • RDNinja says:

      Interesting. We actually do the exact opposite at my company. Failures are traced back to the underlying human cause, with the mindset that if you can identify the behavior that led to an incident, you can correct the behavior and prevent it from recurring.

      • gbdub says:

        The logic of not blaming a person is that it’s tempting to say “Steve, a known frakking idiot, fouled up. Fire Steve!” And assume you’ve fixed the problem.

        But a well designed process should be robust to foul ups. So even if Steve did frak the daggit, “why was the mistake not caught by quality control?” is an important question. Say it’s a software bug. Even the best coders sometimes create bugs. But a well designed unit test should catch them. Or maybe the software design was poor – you did document the design, right?

        Anyway it’s tempting to scapegoat, but if you really do ask why enough you’ll usually find that you either have a poorly designed process, or the process wasn’t followed, and that’s rarely the fault of one person.

        • Aapje says:

          @gbdub

          You can’t really take that to its extreme, because otherwise you have tests for the tests for the tests, etc, etc. Or to make it human, people to check the work of others who are themselves checked by others, who are checked by others, etc.

          At a certain point you need to say: good enough and accept that failures can happen.

          • gbdub says:

            Well sure. But you should understand what “good enough” means and have a general understanding of what you’re trading off – and that usually requires a deeper understanding of the failure path than just blaming the first convenient target.

            Perhaps you can add a test, but it doubles the cost and the failure it prevents only occurs in one in a million cases. But maybe adding a test will catch half the bugs earlier in the process, when fixing them is less expensive. You need to know which branch you’re on.

            “Why did it blow up?”
            “There was a bug in the code.”
            “Why was there a bug?”
            “Steve forgot to convert a unit”
            “Why wasn’t that caught?”
            “We didn’t follow the testing procedure”
            “Why wasn’t it followed?”
            “It doubles the labor, rarely catches anything, we’re understaffed, and management is on our ass about reducing overhead costs”
            “Why isn’t management giving you enough staff and budget to follow the test procedure?”
            “That’s a good question!”

            So, a bit contrived, but a situation where stopping at the first why suggests a solution (fire Steve) that actually makes the real root problem (you’re understaffed) even worse!

          • Aapje says:

            In programming it is known that some people are hugely more productive than others, so you can actually be both over- and understaffed, if you are wrong-staffed.

          • Matt M says:

            You only initiate the “five whys” type of analysis if something bad happens that rises above the level of acceptable error. It’s meant to apply to huge mistakes or a mistake rate that seems unsuitably high. It’s not meant to result in constant navel-gazing in seek of 100% perfection on every possible attribute.

          • baconbacon says:

            In programming it is known that some people are hugely more productive than others, so you can actually be both over- and understaffed, if you are wrong-staffed.

            It is also possible to have someone that is a pretty lousy programmer but you fire them and find out that John and Stacy don’t get along and the person you just fired had basically been a liaison between the two for years and firing him reduced both John and Stacy’s productivity.

            The trouble with large organizations is that productivity becomes opaque very quickly, if it was just a matter of hiring and firing productive and unproductive people then a few sociopaths making the decisions is all you need to push each company to maximum efficiency.

            Network effects are one of the plausible explanations for economies of scale. Some people’s productivity will suffer if they have to many friends at work, some if not enough, some live in a tight band where either is a threat. Some are amazing under pressure, some not so much, etc, etc.

      • John Schilling says:

        if you can identify the behavior that led to an incident, you can correct the behavior and prevent it from recurring

        How does your company accomplish this? And how often does the behavior recur anyway?

        I am reminded of the story of Bob Hoover (Greatest Pilot In History, 1922-2016, RIP) and the lineboy who pumped jet fuel into his piston-engine airplane at an air show. After walking away from dead-stick landing (because see above), he stormed into the office, demanded to be brought the guy responsible, and said “…for the rest of the show, that kid is the only one who refuels my plane!” No further corrective action necessary in the short term.

        In the long term, the appropriate corrective action is something like standardized labeling of fuel ports, or jet-fuel pump nozzles that won’t fit piston-fuel fill ports. And we have those, but they aren’t universal on older aircraft. But if you insist on finding the human failure, it’s awfully tempting to imagine you can solve the problem by firing the failed human and/or implementing a Mandatory Training Class, and those “solutions” really don’t work very well.

    • cassander says:

      That seems very useful as long as you don’t conflate “we’re using this process to document exactly what happened” with “no one is ever to blame for bad results”. Some problems are caused by poor systems, but others are caused by people not doing their jobs that need to be disciplined in some way. Government, in particular, seems prone to this erroneous conflation.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think it would need to be carefully tailored to the organisation: where there is a tendency to “blame Steve and fire him”, this technique sounds as if it would be good where the reason Steve fouled up was that doing it the right way would have meant it would be ready on Wednesday, but a higher-up wanted it ready for Tuesday, over-rode everyone telling them it couldn’t be done, and it was rushed out to comply with instructions.

        It’d be less useful in an organisation where it’s a case of “we know it was because Steve screwed up but we can’t fire Steve because he’s the boss’s son/in-law/boyfriend”.

        • John Schilling says:

          Your organization hired the failed human in the first place. Whoever you hire to replace him will be selected by the same people using the same process, ditto training and management, given the same incentives, so how confident are you that the next guy isn’t going to fail as well – and in a slightly different way not covered by the “Don’t Screw Up Like Steve Did” remedial training session you made everyone take?

          That’s what you’ve got to change, whether it means anti-nepotism policies or more realistic delivery schedules.

          • Matt M says:

            This.

            Government has a problem with this because they have no relevant competitors to benchmark performance against.

            But Samsung can look at their defect rate of phones and compare it to Apple. There’s unlikely to be one, solitary, single-point-of-failure bad employee causing a problem this large, though. If you end up in a situation where all your failures are blamed on bad employees, the relevant question you must then ask it, “Why do our competitors have better employees than we do?”

          • cassander says:

            @Matt M

            even where it has the ability to do so (e.g. comparing vs other states or countries) it has no incentive to do so.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ hnau

      An ex-IBM executive whom I once (for his sins and mine, and briefly) worked for had just an opposite policy. “Don’t give me your excuse, just do it on time next time!” Which may have been one of the reasons he was an ex.

      An official and successful use of a Why-Chain which I’ve heard of, came from a nurses’ school. Their model of an error report went something like this.

      – Why did the patient in Room 19 break a hole in the wall and fly away?
      – Because he was given the wrong serum.
      – Why?
      – Because that was in the bottle the nurse filled the syringe from.
      – Why?
      – Because the bottle was in the low-security refrigerator.
      – Why?
      – Because the high-security refrigerator was full.
      – Etc

      Not to clutter my comment with white space, I’ve left out minor tributaries like ‘Why was the bottle not clearly labeled? / Because we need better labels’ — A temporary solution immediately do-able on someone’s lunch hour.

    • bean says:

      One of the best books I’ve read on the subject of mishap investigations was Breaking the Mishap Chain, which NASA has thoughtfully provided in ebook format for free. It’s been interesting to see the occasional applications in real life, too.

    • Riothamus says:

      I have heard of this phrased exactly that way, but in a different context. It was presented as a method for discovering a problem worth solving in an entrepreneurial context. This gives it almost universal applicability, in my opinion.

      So the desired end result is you have an idea for a product or service which will save all the money spent on the four levels above your idea, which establishes value.

  14. skef says:

    Re: the survey.

    If you’re going to estimate IQs based on SAT scores, I suggest you use the age value to estimate the year it was taken. For the out-of-1600 scores the pre- and post-1995 re-balancing answers are quite different at the upper range.

  15. I don’t think the picture can be from the Oven of Akhnai story, since one of the sages (Eliezer?) appears to be wearing glasses.

    Also no stream, no carob tree, and the walls appear to be vertical.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Anachronisms don’t prevent something being a later depiction of a story. For instance, the men in this painting are wearing 15th-century plate armour- that doesn’t stop it being a painting of the siege of Troy. Neither does the fact that the buildings we can see behind the walls of the city include Trajan’s Column and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

      (The painting is The Death of Hector, painted by Biagio d’Antonio in the 1490s. There is a similarly anachronistic companion piece, The Wooden Horse).

      • dndnrsn says:

        As far as I know, “historical accuracy” is a fairly recent thing, at least in the Western world, isn’t it? I’ve seen plenty of Renaissance depictions of Biblical scenes featuring contemporary clothing, arms, armour, etc.

    • JulieK says:

      It seems to be based on this 19th-century painting by Carl Schleicher. It seem more likely to me that Schleicher wanted to depict contemporary rabbis, not an obscure Talmudic anecdote.

      > Also no stream, no carob tree, and the walls appear to be vertical.

      Obviously this is the beginning of the story, before the walls moved. 🙂
      Actually, this is a better argument than your first one. As AlphaGamma says, art can be anachronistic. But an artist depicting a historic or literary scene would make sure to include clues so the viewer would recognize it.

      • Richard Kennaway says:

        Clearly a subject that Schleicher enjoyed painting. Google’s image search brought me to this page (an auction house, so the link may not be long lasting) of his pictures, which include at least eight of apparently the same group of five rabbis. As this was the late 19th century, he might have had a photoshoot with them and then painted all the pictures.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I couldn’t find a real Oven of Akhnai picture, but “rabbis debating” seemed relevant enough.

  16. Anonymous Colin says:

    Any recommended resources on the modelling of population dynamics in the context of human civic populations? I have a stats-heavy postgraduate degree, so I’m already familiar with specific types of model (survival analysis, state transition models, etc.), but I’d like to get my hands on a big book that addresses concrete questions and problems surrounding human populations.

    Thanks!

    • Enkidum says:

      What sort of questions are you interested in asking? This might not be at all what you mean by “population dynamics”, but I found the course I took on Mathematical Models of Social Evolution to be utterly fascinating, and an introduction to a literature I knew nothing at all about.

      • Anonymous Colin says:

        The link you provided looks very interesting, and possibly salient.

        I am tasked with modelling use of public services. People who utilise public services do so at various levels of need. You have low-level users (think a kid who needs a monthly visit from a social worker) and you have high-level users (think someone in a maximum security prison).

        People escalate and de-escalate with regard to these levels, and different levels have different costs (both financial and human costs) associated with them. I wish to answer questions pertaining to the population of service users. For example:

        – How much do we expect a given cohort of users to cost over their lifetimes?

        – If a user enters a certain level of need, how long will they remain in that state? Conversely, if they de-escalate to a lower level of need, how long until they relapse?

        – If we see a change in the number of users entering the system, how long will it be until we expect to see a change in the numbers of users at more “downstream” levels of need?

        – Are there “typologies” associated with certain journeys of users through the system?

        – Can we predict the rate and severity of escalation given other known information about users?

        I have methods for answering all of these questions, but I don’t know if they’re *good* methods. The literature I’ve found on these subjects is fractured and spread out over many fields that don’t talk to one another very much. I find myself very surprised that there aren’t a bunch of textbooks along the lines of “you have a bunch of people with properties that change over time; here is how to answer the inevitable questions you will have about them”.

        ETA: when it comes to the crunch, I’m a software developer, not a researcher. I’m looking for ways to answer these questions that can be wrapped up in a product and given to people making operational decisions. This might matter when making recommendations.

  17. thenoblepie says:

    In ‘Notes from the Asilomar Conference”, Scott claims that humans don’t have utility functions. What exactly does that mean?

    I spoke to an economist and he went on to explain that before a couple of really smart fellows in the 1930s or so came around, economists had to assume that people had a cardinal ordering of preferences in their head. Newer models, however, need not assume this and can work with ordinal orderings, meaning that we don’t have to assume anything about preference strength anymore. We can still introduce some kind of pseudo-cardinal ordering by playing around with rates of substitution and indifference curves and what have you, though. This very much sounded like the economist’s version of sleight-of-hand at first, but I think I might be able to tentatively accept this.

    There was a big problem attached to risk behaviour which complicated things in a way that forced economists to care about the curvature of utility functions again, essentially obstructing the nice work-around to some degree, but I wasn’t quite sure to what degree this relates to the original points. The thing I really need to know is: what do I have to assume about the world and people’s behaviour in it for this to make sense? I’m aware of demands like preference stability, transitivity, and completeness, but I’m not quite sure how these relate to the real world.

    All things related to higher math-magic aside, it feels like I’m missing some larger philosophical point here. Anyone care to help me find it?

    • thenoblepie says:

      Let me give this a try. If this sounds terribly confused, it’s because I am.

      Here’s Scott’s full quote:

      “A more complicated problem: humans don’t have utility functions, and an AI that assumes we do might come up with some sort of monstrosity that predicts human behavior really well while not fitting our idea of morality at all. “

      Economists talking about human behaviour do so mainly in a descriptive fashion. But our revealed preferences might meaningfully differ from what we set out to do, what we want to do, or even what the kind of person we want to be would want to do (this is the point Harry Frankfurt was making when he talked about “second-order desires”, I believe?).

      Am I on the right track here?

    • baconbacon says:

      We can still introduce some kind of pseudo-cardinal ordering by playing around with rates of substitution and indifference curves and what have you, though. This very much sounded like the economist’s version of sleight-of-hand at first, but I think I might be able to tentatively accept this.

      A post hoc fitting to a curve isn’t automatically predictive, which is a problem (one of many) with building a utility function. There are innumerable different partial equation combinations that will give similar results for the past but predict different futures, all of them can’t be right.

      Also our preferences are influenced by our experiences. You can claim revealed preferences “look he bought a used car instead of a new car, he must have wanted a used car all along”, but the next car purchase will depend in part on how that car preformed for that owner.

      If you assume that there is a curve, then you can always find it, but they will not be predictive (in the sense that lots of people have tried to predict stock returns out into the future but they don’t beat just using yesterday’s prices).

      • thenoblepie says:

        Well, sure, but the more data I collect, the more accurate my assessment of the curve, correct? This doesn’t seem to be a fundamental problem. My understanding of economics is very limited, you see.

        As an aside, something has always bugged me about the way economists seem to retroactively define everything a person ends up doing as them having preferred to do those things.

        If you observe me buying a gym membership and then never using it, you could conclude that I had a preference for sitting on the couch over running on the treadmill all along. This seems to collide with a layman’s understanding of the concept of preferences. What I end up doing and what I prefer to do (or what the person I would like to be would prefer to do) intuitively seem to be two different things.

        Is this just a semantic issue?

        • baconbacon says:

          Well, sure, but the more data I collect, the more accurate my assessment of the curve, correct?

          You have assumed that it is a curve, which is backwards you have to demonstrate that something follows a function not the other way around.

          Saying “Ok, here is a new piece of data, how does it fit in with the old data set” actually makes very large assumptions which aren’t founded. If your preferences have changed then you basically have a “new” curve every time they change, and if your preferences change based on experiences your old curve will always be out of date. “This was your utility function, now make a new decision so I can see what your next in the past utility function is” doesn’t have a ring to it, nor does it lead to good predictions.

    • Charlie__ says:

      To link to his own words: http://lesswrong.com/lw/6ha/the_blueminimizing_robot/

      Humans have a decision-making process, but this process can be only loosely and informally (for now) identified with a utility function. Like, sometimes we say people make “bad decisions.” But if we really identified peoples’ decision-making process with utility maximization, there would be no such thing as a bad decision, only a surprising wrinkle in the utility function.

      That is, somehow we have this idea of good decisions or good outcomes that is separate from the way humans sometimes make decisions or choose outcomes. “Buying lottery tickets is usually a bad idea.” “Most people who survive suicide attempts are glad they didn’t die – don’t do it.” “Don’t go to grad school, I’d know, I’m a grad student.”

      If you want to build an AI that understands human desires well enough to label outcomes good or bad, it can’t just look at what people do and then call whatever they do, “good,” because sometimes people are wrong. Instead, it has to somehow learn about this abstract goodness that is instantiated nowhere, but that humans try to refer to.

      • thenoblepie says:

        Thanks, that is very helpful.

        The article about the blue-minimizing robot looks like it is meant as the introduction to a sequence. Any idea where I can find the other parts?

  18. Levantine says:

    I’d just like to recommend this:

    “Trump’s Unique Style Of Diplomacy!” – Dick Morris
    (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNITXVSivv4)

    Dick Morris: “It all goes back to what Bob Crandall, the head of American Airlines once told me. He said, “New York is tough but it’s not mean, and Washington is mean, but it’s not tough.” He said, in New York they’ll fight for every dime in your contract, and then when you go home when you finish the contract they will go after dinner with you in theater and you’ll be good friends. In Washington they’ll give you anything you want to your face, but when you walk away they’ll shoot you in the back. Not for personal gain, but just because it is so much fun to watch you die ……”

  19. quarint says:

    Someone asked in the previous thread if Le Pen was going up.
    It is true that former favorite Fillon is having trouble facing suspicions of corruption and an investigation on the way. He dropped to 3rd place in the polls behind centrist Macron, while Le Pen is comfortably 1st and almost certain to qualify for the 2nd round.
    However, she would still lose pretty heavily against either of them in the 2nd round. Indeed, a large part of the left would vote Fillon with no hesitation in order to block her, as they have done in the past. And the pro-liberalism part of the right would easily vote for Macron against her, along with the left. She could grab the catholic part of Fillon’s electorate, as well as the most socialist, anti-european part of the left, but she would still be short on votes.
    If the election were tomorrow, she would have very, very slim chances of winning it. She will need a huge turnaround before the election.

    • mnov says:

      Le Pen currently has about a 1 in 3 chance to be the next president if you go by the bookies, but that might reflect that the runoff is three months away and (based on the past two years) there’s about a 1 in 3 chance of a ‘big’ attack in Germany or France between now and then.

      • quarint says:

        1 in 3 seems overestimated to me, I’m pretty sure the betting market is influenced by both Trump and the Brexit’s wins, when the elections format and the traditonal anti-FN coalition make it much more difficult for Le Pen.
        Even a big terrorist attack wouldn’t be enough in my opinion, at least one of the same kind or caliber as those we’ve seen these past years.
        There actually was a very highly publicized terrorist attack during the 2012 campaign, as a lone terrorist broke into a jewish school and slaughtered kids and teachers, then was chased and killed a few days later. But Le Pen didn’t even qualify for the 2nd round.
        Right after the Paris attacks in November 2015, were the regional elections and the Front National didn’t win a single one.
        What I’m thinking of when I say a big turnaround would have to be Fillon’s disqualification by the evolution of the investigation, and some comparable incident for Macron. Even then, I believe the socialist candidate, who is the next in line, would be the favorite against her.

        • Aapje says:

          @quarint

          Why would it be harder for Le Pen than Trump due to the election format? Both the US and France essentially have a two-stage process, where extremist outliers can take advantage of other candidates splitting the vote in the first round (the primaries in the US) and then are left as the only representative of their side in the next round. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen made it into the second round, this way.

          The runoff in France is only marginally different from the actual election in the US, which has become a runoff in practice as candidates that don’t belong to the two main parties don’t have much chance or influence.

          The real question is whether polarization in France has become so strong that a large part of the populace will favor Le Pen over Fillon or Macron.

          • quarint says:

            Yes, the extremists can take advantage of a split vote in the first round like Le Pen did, but they don’t represent a “side” as Trump represented the Republican side. Fillon voters would definitely not default to Le Pen against Macron like Cruz voters defaulted to Trump against Clinton. Cruz and Trump are still from the same party, when Fillon and Le Pen come from parties (UMP and FN) that have always fought each other and with clear ideological divides. The divide has moved from immigration to economy, but it’s still there. Polls say Fillon’s electorate would split about 50/50 between Macron and Le Pen, which only takes her up to 35% with the current numbers.
            And of course, Le Pen would actually need 50% of the popular vote to win the election, unlike Trump.

          • Aapje says:

            There is also a ideological divide between Cruz and Trump. Ultimately, all runoff political systems boil down to many voters having to making huge ideological sacrifices, as there are only two options.

            Again, the only reason why fewer people would round off their political views to Le Pen than to Macron, is because they find Le Pen more off putting than Macron, which again, has to do with the level of polarization if France.

            That has nothing to do with the election format.

            And of course, Le Pen would actually need 50% of the popular vote to win the election, unlike Trump.

            OK, this is the only part of your comment that actually gives an argument why the election format has an effect and I agree with you that this makes it harder for Le Pen.

          • quarint says:

            @Aapje
            Well, shit. I meant to reply to your comment but since we’re too deep in the thread there is no reply button, and I reported your comment accidentally, even with the confirmation popup. Hopefully Scott sees this.

            Anyway, back to the topic.
            So, on one hand, we agree that the format of the election makes it harder for Le Pen than for Trump – the 50% of the popular vote part.
            I also agree that what we’re discussing about Fillon’s electorate has to do with polarization, not with the election format. I am not sure were I implied the opposite, I was bouncing off your comment about each 2nd round candidate being a representative of his own side.
            And while there is, indeed, an ideological divide between Cruz and Trump, as I said, they are still from the same party, and represent the same side, unlike Fillon and Le Pen.

      • TenMinute says:

        Big terrorist attacks with dozens of murders are just “daily life” now. Even the Prime Minister comes right out and says it.
        That was the goal, and they’ve won.

        • John Schilling says:

          Whose goal, and by what evidence?

          If you mean the terrorists, organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS are pretty clear about stating their goals, and that isn’t it. Indeed, the West accepting terrorism as “just daily life” makes it impossible for them to use terrorism as a means to achieving their actual goals, so it would probably be an anti-goal for them.

          • Jaskologist says:

            That depends on what form “acceptance” takes. If we accept that we can’t draw Mohamed in the same way that we accept that there are certain streets we should not walk down at night, that is a victory for terrorists. If we accept terrorist acts in the same way that we accept the risk of dying in a car crash, then not so much.

            Basically, do we alter our behavior more to their liking, or not?

          • TenMinute says:

            Do we declare that the future must not belong to those who slander islam? Yeah.

            Not that I’m against blasphemy laws or their enforcement, but there’s still the principle of the thing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Do we declare that the future must not belong to those who slander islam? Yeah.

            “We” declare that the future must not belong to those who _denigrate_ Islam. Which is worse, because truth is a defense for slander.

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          “Their” stated goal was to provoke a long-term guerrilla war with the west and especially the US. By this metric, “they” won back in 2002. You probably cheered it on if you were old enough to be politically aware.

  20. gbdub says:

    HuffPo supports Trump immigration restrictions! Err, on H1Bs anyway.

    But the case seems relatively compelling that US firms are abusing the H1B program to reduce wages. Both by hiring foreign workers when American workers (who expect higher salary, either due to skill or experience or just being American) and by keeping foreign workers stuck at one company with no negotiating power (H1Bs do not automatically transfer from the original job). This is definitely illegal, but not well enforced.

    My question is, doesn’t this same reasoning apply at the other end of the income scale to companies employing unskilled illegal immigrants? In that case the employers have even more leverage over the employees, and again seem to be able to bid down wages because of it.

    Basically, it looks like HuffPo has stumbled on a good economic argument for increased enforcement of immigration restrictions, but are unwilling to apply it broadly. What am I missing?

    • Matt M says:

      I would suggest a more cynical interpretation, wherein upper/middle class left-leaning people with professional status are greatly worried about being displaced by skilled foreign labor, and not at all worried about being displaced by strawberry pickers who can’t speak English.

      It’s all well and good to oppose protectionism, until someone wants to take it away from your career field…

    • Corey says:

      Leftists square the circle via amnesty, that is, make illegals legal and then employers have only the same leverages they have against anyone else.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Doesn’t the problem just repeat? Once the illegal immigrants have been given amnesty, and thus the employers don’t have special “we’ll call the immigration authorities” leverage, etc … there still exists the same demand for labour that can be paid less than a legal wage under the table, and it does nothing to fix the factors that make people want to leave their countries of origin.

      • gbdub says:

        That only fixes half the problem though – it removes the “abusive leverage” but makes the “everyone gets a Pakistani bricklayer’s idea of prosperity” problem worse, by massively increasing the supply of labor willing to work for cheap. Unless you mean “we’re serious about this being the last amnesty this time”, but our track record on that is not good.

        Anyway even if it does square the circle, it’s not what HuffPo is proposing – they want stricter laws and enforcement, i.e. less H1B immigration! How do you square that with wanting more unskilled immigration?

        • MartMart says:

          Question: Given the rapidly rising standard of living around the world, especially at the lower income portions, how long before the future Pakistani bricklayers idea of prosperity exceeds our own?

          • Nornagest says:

            The naive answer, looking at the graph, is “never”.

            Naive answer is naive, of course. If you zoom in on Pakistan’s GDP curve, you could very roughly fit it to an exponential with a doubling time of around 20 years; since US GDP growth is roughly linear, that would have them overtaking us in around 120 years. But that’s such a long time that the prediction’s basically useless; there’s too much that could happen to either country.

    • JulieK says:

      My question is, doesn’t this same reasoning apply at the other end of the income scale to companies employing unskilled illegal immigrants? In that case the employers have even more leverage over the employees, and again seem to be able to bid down wages because of it.

      Basically, it looks like HuffPo has stumbled on a good economic argument for increased enforcement of immigration restrictions, but are unwilling to apply it broadly. What am I missing?

      The second half of the argument could also support amnesty, so that employers no longer have special leverage over (formerly) illegal immigrants.

      • gbdub says:

        Potentially, but what HuffPo is proposing for H1Bs does not look like “amnesty” – there’s still a discrepancy in how they treat the two classes of immigrants.

    • J Mann says:

      Many leftists believe that low wage labor is a special case where increasing minimum wages doesn’t increase unemployment, due to some economic work by Card and Krueger.

      I think they use that to squint past immigration effects – if we let in 10 million people willing to do minimum wage work, but then also increase minimum wage to $15/hour, there will be work for everyone because Card and Kruger.

      Alternately, they believe that the work that entry level undocumented immigrants do (agriculture, domestic services, construction) is work that current citizens won’t do at any wage.

      • skef says:

        Alternately, they believe that the work that entry level undocumented immigrants do (agriculture, domestic services, construction) is work that current citizens won’t do at any wage.

        Is this a leftist thing? I thought it was more of an employers-in-those-sectors thing.

        • J Mann says:

          I think the employer view of low-skilled immigrant labor is probably about the same as the employer view of high-skilled immigrant labor – that without immigration, wages would be higher and there would be fewer total jobs, but US-born unemployment would probably be lower.

          Here are a couple pieces on both sides that overlap on that conclusion, I think:

          https://openborders.info/immigrants-do-jobs-natives-wont-do/

          http://cis.org/are-there-really-jobs-americans-wont-do

          • skef says:

            I guess the “any wage” makes a difference. But of course taken literally that would be a strawman interpretation.

            I think beliefs along these lines are fairly common: “Without immigrant labor, this farm would not exist here, because at the wages we would have to pay our products would not be competitive with imported products. It’s of benefit to have the farm here in the country because of the taxes we pay, freshness, etc, so we need immigrant labor.”

            Of course, that doesn’t make those beliefs accurate. Some employers tend to remain stubbornly convinced of how much they “should” be paying employees.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “Alternately, they believe that the work that entry level undocumented immigrants do (agriculture, domestic services, construction) is work that current citizens won’t do at any wage.”

        Relevant to that argument: “How this garlic farm went from a labor shortage to over 150 people on its applicant waitlist“:

        Christopher Ranch, which grows garlic on 5,000 acres in Gilroy, Calif., announced recently that it would hike pay for farmworkers from $11 an hour to $13 hour this year, or 18%, and then to $15 in 2018. That’s four years earlier than what’s required by California’s schedule for minimum wage increases.

        Ken Christopher, vice president at Christopher Ranch, said the effect of the move was immediately obvious. At the end of last year, the farm was short 50 workers needed to help peel, package and roast garlic. Within two weeks of upping wages in January, applications flooded in. Now the company has a wait-list 150 people long.

        “I knew it would help a little bit, but I had no idea that it would solve our labor problem,” Christopher said.

    • Deiseach says:

      Basically, it looks like HuffPo has stumbled on a good economic argument for increased enforcement of immigration restrictions, but are unwilling to apply it broadly. What am I missing?

      The optics. It’s easier to get a romanticised “Grapes of Wrath” vibe going about poor Mexican peasant migrants wanting to get a slice of the American Dream (even though according to this, “about 78.84% of the population of the country lives in urban areas, meaning that only 21.16% live in rural area”) and feel that you are really being a social hero, than to face that “big companies want to employ skilled and highly-educated workers at cheaper rates and will preferentially import foreigners, who can be tied down under conditions akin to indenture, than hire Americans” where you’re not chiding redneck Trump voters in the Rust Belt about being xenophobic and paranoid about “illegals took muh jahb!”, but have to face up to the fact that it’s the sophisticated coastal-based organisations that donate to solidly Blue political candidates doing this.

    • Zakharov says:

      There are plenty of people on the left opposed to immigration, mostly for economic rather than cultural reasons. Based on the contents of the article, the author is one of them; his arguments apply just as well to low-skill labor. Economic protectionism was once the central pillar of leftism, and it’s still got support among many.

      That said, there are people who support undocumented immigrants and also have problems with H1Bs. The concern is that H1B visas are unfair to the immigrants themselves because they make it difficult to switch jobs, and should be changed to be more permissive.

  21. Levantine says:

    Controversy about whether a government needs secrecy.
    At least two highly qualified scholars have expressed themselves … these ways:

    Carroll Quigley, 1976: “Secrecy in government exists for only one reason: to prevent the American people know, from knowing what’s going on. The idea that anything that is going in our government is not known to the Russians about the moment it happens is nonsense.”

    (http://www.carrollquigley.net/Lectures/The-State-of-Individuals-AD-1776-1976.htm)

    Douglas Valentine, 2017: “They [CIA] create the myths we believe. ……. The most important fiction of all is the need for secrecy to preserve our national security.”

    (http://www.ancreport.com/report/valiant-verbal-warrior-demythologizes-cia/)

    I hardly know what to think about this.

    • dwietzsche says:

      The main function of secrecy has always been to ensure our spies don’t get gacked. After that, it’s to make sure specific espionage methods are not compromised (if a person knows exactly how he’s being spied on he can take measures). Our spies get gacked all the time, and espionage methods are frequently neutered, so these aren’t theoretical issues invented merely to defend a secrecy state. One can argue about how extensive the secrecy machinery should be, and pretty much everyone, even in the intelligence services, thinks some of the more habitual classification methods go overboard. But classification regimes aren’t even the primary way governments keep secrets from the public.

      • christhenottopher says:

        The trick with secrecy is if you had enough information to really determine the main purpose of secrecy, there’s a good chance that you don’t have enough secrecy to achieve your objectives.

        But we have to know that preserving spy networks cannot be the primary purpose of secrecy, because why then would nations have spy networks to begin with? We spy to get secrets. What secrets are there to get? Who the otherside is using to spy on us. Why does that matter? Because if we don’t have a spy network we can’t keep a spy network secret…

        There are of course good reasons outside spy networks to keep secrets. Military technology and deployments are some of the clearest examples. Hell even if we weren’t worried about other nations attacking the government has a pretty clear interest in not having every random person knowing things like “how to build a fusion nuke.” There are of course other things such as witness protection lists or whether or not some of the employees will be having a surprise birthday party for their boss that are non-military and fine to keep secret as well.

        But then we’ve got to consider that there are lots of reasons why government officials might want secrecy without such a good reason, and indeed they would also have incentive to keep the amount of this secret keeping quiet lest pressure comes upon them to open up. If you make a dumb mistake, keeping that secret is natural for people. Also secrecy makes certain projects possible that might not otherwise be the case (as an example, the Tuskegee Experiments). And of course secrecy makes corruption easier. So government does have incentives to be secret for not only good reasons but also for bad reasons. Thus the standard assumption should be that governments (and corporations and non-profits and individual people) probably keep more secrets than they should because that’s where their incentives lie.

        Meanwhile outsiders have a similar issue in the opposite direction. They of course would like to uncover all the corruptions, mismanagement, and evil doings of government, but they might also simply like knowing information regardless of the risk or want to use information for bad purposes (like building a nuke for, well, almost any reason really). So people outside governments probably push for more secrets to be revealed than should actually be uncovered.

        However, governments have way more power and money than any smaller subsection of society, so working this out they probably have more means of keeping secrets than outsiders have of revealing them. Therefore the most likely working assumption should be that the balance of secrecy is on the government’s side and goes beyond the amount of secrecy that an objective observer would agree with.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Serious question: how useful is spying? In the past century or so, how many major geostrategic gains have been made as a result of international espionage? One obvious instance that comes to mind is that the Soviet Union got atomic weapons probably ~5-20 years earlier than they might otherwise have because of infiltration of the Manhattan Project. (Of course, at the time, the Soviets were at least nominally our allies.) How many other instances?

        I sometimes wonder if we overestimate the real-world importance of spying because of fictional evidence (James Bond, etc.).

        • Nornagest says:

          The Enigma decryption effort comes immediately to mind, but that’s SIGINT, not HUMINT.

        • cassander says:

          The soviets stole tens of billions worth of technology during the cold war, not just the atom bomb. After the mid-50s, techint, as it was called, was without a doubt the most successful sort of soviet espionage. And the sums were substantial even if you assume the the KGB’s evaluation of the worth of its own contribution was somewhat exaggerated.

        • Controls Freak says:

          A lot will depend on what you think fits the category of “major geostrategic gains in the past century or so”. Most of the major events had at least one high-profile corresponding espionage event. US involvement in WWI was kicked off by the SIGINT-gathered Zimmermann Telegram. WWII saw the breaking of Enigma and Purple (SIGINT) and the Oslo Report (HUMINT). During the Cold War, the Soviets obtained nuclear technology and all kinds of other info through tons of different means. The Venona project was significant in stopping much of the bleeding. Michael Hayden has called recent Chinese cyber-espionage against the US “the greatest transfer of wealth in human history”.

          That probably covers most of the “major geostrategic” changes. Lower-level efforts certainly shape all kinds of events, though. It’s difficult to ever take one “major geostrategic gain” and link it directly to any one particular action (or type of action) at all.

          • Matt M says:

            “Michael Hayden has called recent Chinese cyber-espionage against the US “the greatest transfer of wealth in human history”.”

            Curious about the basis for this claim.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Probably the same sort of twisted logic that considers copyright infringement to be a transfer of wealth (i.e. theft).

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      One of the best writers I’ve seen on the subject of government secrecy is Marc Ambinder. His book, Deep State, I consider a must-read.

  22. IrishDude says:

    I’ve had some discussions on here about how people have different ethical judgments on what is just/unjust. My contention is that some ethical judgments are very widely shared, while others are more contentious. In the interests of gathering data to help evaluate my hypothesis, I created a 10 question survey. The first question asks for political persuasion, to help evaluate correlations between political beliefs and ethical judgments. The following nine questions asks how strongly you agree/disagree that certain ethical situations are just/unjust. I do understand that the answers can depend on details not present in the defined situation, so answer with what you feel is right usually.

    All answers are anonymous, and I appreciate anyone that participates. If enough people actually respond to get some non-noisy data, I’ll post some analysis in a future thread. Here you go: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/QMVTV67

    • Aapje says:

      @IrishDude

      Your use of ‘physical force’ as an obvious reference in question 2 to taxation is off putting, as a decent system of taxation (& spending of those taxes) actually results in very few people experiencing physical force to be made to pay. Something similar goes for question 3 and 4, theft is not the same as using physical force (or did you still mean taxation here?). So now I’m at question 5, are we now talking about real, actual physical force? The previous questions make me doubt it.

      So at this point, I am mainly wondering how you will reconcile these different types of ‘physical force’ and given that I know you to be rather an extreme libertarian, I suspect that it will be quite uncharitable to anyone who favors anything but near anarchy.

      Basically, your questions only make sense from an extreme libertarian point of view and I don’t see how you can expect reliable results from people who don’t share that persuasion and thus disagree with the premises behind the questions.

      • IrishDude says:

        My survey is trying to get at ethical judgments people have in typical interpersonal situations, the type of situations they’d run across when interacting with their neighbors or random strangers. For the record, I think physical force can justified in any of the cases, for the right extreme hypothetical: If aliens came and credibly threatened to blow up the earth unless you killed a random stranger, I think you’re justified in killing the random stranger. Killing random strangers isn’t usually justifiable though.

        That’s why I said “I do understand that the answers can depend on details not present in the defined situation, so answer with what you feel is right usually.” If you think usually it’s unjust for 5 of 8 roommates to use physical force to take your money for schooling, but it could be justified under rarer circumstances, then I’d think you want to answer that question as strongly disagree, even though you think it could sometimes be justified.

        I mean physical force to be things like hitting, kicking, using a weapon, or in some way kinetically acting upon another person. Using physical force to steal a loaf of bread would then require some sort of physical altercation with another person to take the bread that they had possessed.

        I appreciate the critique of the survey, but since my goal is to get at what ethical intuitions are widely shared and which ones aren’t, do you have suggestions for other ethical cases I can present, or how to word things differently? I can update the survey and repost.

        • baconbacon says:

          If aliens came and credibly threatened to blow up the earth unless you killed a random stranger, I think you’re justified in killing the random stranger. Killing random strangers isn’t usually justifiable though.

          Totally unjustified. If someone threatens to do horrible thing X, unless you less horrible thing Y they are totally untrustworthy. You have no idea if they are going to blow up the earth afterward anyway, if they are only going to blow up the earth if you do kill the stranger or if they are a figment of your imagination.

          You need a moral code because we don’t have certainty in knowledge of outcomes, so we have to rely on processes. “I shot that guy, but he might have been the next Hitler” is a wildly different statement than “if you went back in time and found the guy that was definitely Hitler, it cool to shoot him”.

          • IrishDude says:

            Totally unjustified. If someone threatens to do horrible thing X, unless you less horrible thing Y they are totally untrustworthy.

            Well, the important phrase in the hypothetical is ‘credibly threatened’. Surely you can imagine a situation where someone was able to make a credible threat that you could trust. It doesn’t mean you can predict the future to know they’ll follow through on their threat, just that you have very strong reasons to think it highly likely they’ll do so. Say, if they already had a demonstrated track record of always following through on their threats.

          • baconbacon says:

            Well, the important phrase in the hypothetical is ‘credibly threatened’. Surely you can imagine a situation where someone was able to make a credible threat that you could trust. It doesn’t mean you can predict the future to know they’ll follow through on their threat, just that you have very strong reasons to think it highly likely they’ll do so. Say, if they already had a demonstrated track record of always following through on their threats.

            The credibility of the threat exists only in your mind, and you are often wrong. Should a person who hallucinates this situation very vividly and murders a stranger to prevent a fictitious apocalypse be considered a hero?

            Moral decisions must be made within our universe, and our universe basically prevents us from understanding complicated causal chains where free will is involved.

            You shoot Bill or I will shoot John therefore you not shooting Bill leads to John’s death is false, because the cause of John’s death, or Bill’s, is entirely on my head as the one who sets the rules to the game. If an alien has the power to destroy Earth and sets his conditions then whatever the outcome is only on their shoulders. Quite frankly “don’t submit to the whims of psychotically powerful people” is a far better heuristic than “find justifications to do things I wouldn’t normally do” for quite a few reasons.

          • IrishDude says:

            I don’t know if a different hypothetical would help us come to agreement, but the principle I’m trying to put forward is that physical coercion, and even killing an innocent, can be just in situations where failure to use that coercion would result in a terrible outcome. Let me try a different, closer to the real world, hypothetical:

            A terrorist sends sends a steady stream of missiles into a city that blows up homes and kills thousands of innocents. This pattern of missile launches goes on several days in a row, with no apparent end in sight. You have the ability to drop a bomb at the terrorist’s location which would blow him up and stop the barrage of missiles, and it’s the only feasible plan to take out the terrorist. The hitch is that the terrorist is in a building with five innocent hostages, and the hostages would parish in your bombing. Is bombing the terrorist, and subsequently taking out the five innocents, justified?

          • Jiro says:

            The hostages are inside the building, and are prevented by the terrorist from leaving, and are serving a military function by being human shields, so the hostages are basically conscripts. You are permitted to kill people conscripted by the enemy into his army.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Irishdude

            I think baconbacon is going for a ‘you might be crazy so just don’t kill people even if you think you have a really good reason to’ which I agree is a wonderful heuristic, so more examples of the form ‘you have this information about somebody is it ok to kill them?’ will fail the ‘you might be crazy’ test, every time.

            I don’t think you really need to meet the standard you keep setting(of a single actor, acting on their perceptions) to make your broader point. You might be better served by hypothetical justification for violence that don’t rely on a single actor/are less directly violent/crazy sounding.

            For example, are quarantines justifiable?

            If I am the doctor on duty in a hospital who believes my patient has horribly contagious X am I justified in calling for a quarantine?

          • baconbacon says:

            The hostages are inside the building, and are prevented by the terrorist from leaving, and are serving a military function by being human shields, so the hostages are basically conscripts. You are permitted to kill people conscripted by the enemy into his army.

            Always easy to recognize the immoral justification.

            “the person I want to kill needs to be mentally reclassified to absolve me of responsibility”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Jiro

            That makes me think of the Moscow Theater hostage situation. Which is sort of a workable way to approach hostage situations, in order to discourage them. As long as potential hostage takers think that you’re going to kill them all and not yield to any of their demands, regardless of how many hostages they take, it serves as a deterrent for all but the most uselessly suicidal.

          • baconbacon says:

            A terrorist sends sends a steady stream of missiles into a city that blows up homes and kills thousands of innocents. This pattern of missile launches goes on several days in a row, with no apparent end in sight. You have the ability to drop a bomb at the terrorist’s location which would blow him up and stop the barrage of missiles, and it’s the only feasible plan to take out the terrorist. The hitch is that the terrorist is in a building with five innocent hostages, and the hostages would parish in your bombing. Is bombing the terrorist, and subsequently taking out the five innocents, justified?

            The short answer is no, morally you have just weighted your life above theirs, and the person taking the gains isn’t the person taking the costs.

          • Fahundo says:

            If you’re crazy enough to imagine aliens, wouldn’t you also be crazy enough to imagine killing someone when you really aren’t? Or conversely, maybe you decide not to kill anyone because you might be just imagining the aliens, but it turns out that you’re killing people anyway while you think you’re at home reading a book or something because there is no connection between what you perceive and what is.

            What I’m getting at, is I think i would kill someone to spare us the aliens’ wrath.

            The short answer is no, morally you have just weighted your life above theirs, and the person taking the gains isn’t the person taking the costs.

            he didn’t specify whether he’s inside the city or not. It could be an outside observer simply deciding thousands of lives are worth more than 5, and who has no personal stake one way or the other.

          • IrishDude says:

            @baconbacon

            The short answer is no, morally you have just weighted your life above theirs, and the person taking the gains isn’t the person taking the costs.

            In the hypothetical, you weighed the lives of thousands of innocents that would continue to die if the terrorist proceeds with his missile campaign, against the five innocents that would die if you bombed the building he’s in. Is there any threshold for innocents continuing to die from the terrorists missiles that you think would justify taking out the terrorist and the five innocents? 10,000? 1 million?

          • beleester says:

            morally you have just weighted your life above theirs, and the person taking the gains isn’t the person taking the costs.

            Your life and the life of the thousands of others getting killed by the terrorist’s attacks. If each individual’s life has equal weight, then a greater number of lives should outweigh a smaller number.

            True, the people paying the cost aren’t the same as the people gaining. But that’s equally true if you refuse to act – the five hostages gain, the terrorist gains, and thousands of other victims pay the cost.

          • baconbacon says:

            In the hypothetical, you weighed the lives of thousands of innocents that would continue to die if the terrorist proceeds with his missile campaign, against the five innocents that would die if you bombed the building he’s in. Is there any threshold for innocents continuing to die from the terrorists missiles that you think would justify taking out the terrorist and the five innocents? 10,000? 1 million?

            This is a non real world situation, where you are attempting to achieve victory through definitional fiat. To postulate these types of situations is to put us in an alternate universe, where our limitations don’t exist.

            Any moral system must be built around how we make decisions, which include our limitations, any examples that preclude them are null.

          • baconbacon says:

            The hostages are inside the building, and are prevented by the terrorist from leaving, and are serving a military function by being human shields, so the hostages are basically conscripts. You are permitted to kill people conscripted by the enemy into his army.

            Note the Catch-22, once you have determined that the hostages are legitimate targets they lose their value as military assets.

          • baconbacon says:

            If you’re crazy enough to imagine aliens, wouldn’t you also be crazy enough to imagine killing someone when you really aren’t? Or conversely, maybe you decide not to kill anyone because you might be just imagining the aliens, but it turns out that you’re killing people anyway while you think you’re at home reading a book or something because there is no connection between what you perceive and what is.

            Your moral code shouldn’t rely on perfect information. It shouldn’t lead to bad decisions if you have been tricked (on purpose or through poor luck).

            he didn’t specify whether he’s inside the city or not. It could be an outside observer simply deciding thousands of lives are worth more than 5, and who has no personal stake one way or the other.

            You have me on one point, but not the other. The decision to weight X vs Y is a decision regardless of the numbers, the moral action is NOT to apply a weighting- which is not to claim the authority to value people’s lives.

          • baconbacon says:

            Your life and the life of the thousands of others getting killed by the terrorist’s attacks. If each individual’s life has equal weight, then a greater number of lives should outweigh a smaller number.

            This starts with the assumption that you are entitled to weight these things at all.

            True, the people paying the cost aren’t the same as the people gaining. But that’s equally true if you refuse to act – the five hostages gain, the terrorist gains, and thousands of other victims pay the cost.

            This is again the pretense of knowledge, you cannot know the outcomes for these actions and so cannot justify a bad action with a good outcome. The action must be justifiable on its own.

          • Fahundo says:

            Your moral code shouldn’t rely on perfect information. It shouldn’t lead to bad decisions if you have been tricked

            I’m saying if I’ve been tricked my decision probably doesn’t matter. If i somehow hallucinated that aliens appeared, made their presence known, demonstrated the capability to wipe out all life on earth, and then communicated their terms, then I’m likely also hallucinating the person I would kill.

          • IrishDude says:

            @baconbacon

            This is a non real world situation, where you are attempting to achieve victory through definitional fiat. To postulate these types of situations is to put us in an alternate universe, where our limitations don’t exist.

            Any moral system must be built around how we make decisions, which include our limitations, any examples that preclude them are null.

            The hypothetical has analogues in the real world. So, I think it’s illuminating to think through more pure hypothetical examples to help clarify the morality of messy real-world examples.

            For example, do you think it was justified to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? It killed many innocent Japanese, but prevented American troops from doing a ground invasion that would have put their lives and Japanese innocents in harms way, leading to an unknowable but potentially greater cost in life.

            When Hamas launched rockets at civilian areas in Israel, and launched the missiles from areas surrounded by innocents, was Israel justified in bombing the launch sites and killing innocents?

            War has many morally messy situations, sometimes with the only options leading to innocents dying, and people have to decide which crappy path is most justified. Some framework is needed to help guide these decisions if trying to be moral is important to the decision-makers.

          • baconbacon says:

            I’m saying if I’ve been tricked my decision probably doesn’t matter

            So why not just not shoot him? Again the default position of not shooting the person is moral in both cases (he exists or doesn’t exist) why choose your moral code and just hope the situation it fails in doesn’t occur?

          • bean says:

            Your moral code shouldn’t rely on perfect information. It shouldn’t lead to bad decisions if you have been tricked (on purpose or through poor luck).

            It also shouldn’t attempt to avoid hard problems by invoking ‘imperfect information’. Taking some account of imperfect information is a good thing. But the correct thing to do is to do some sort of analysis, not to simply dodge a dilemma. Yes, the possibility that you as a random citizen are hallucinating the dilemma as opposed to it being real is pretty high, and might be enough to support a rule of ‘always refuse to take the utilitarian option’. The same is not true if you’re the President. You might very well have to decide whether or not to blow up the building where the terrorists are, killing dozens of innocents, to save thousands who those terrorists are planning to attack.

          • Fahundo says:

            If I’m hallucinating I kill someone who wasn’t real anyway in which case my choice didn’t matter and if I’m not hallucinating I save the entire earth at the cost of one life or maybe the aliens are untrustworthy and kill the entire earth anyway in which case my choice still didn’t matter. So, if the aliens are real, and telling the truth, killing the guy saves 7 billion people, and in the other cases nothing I did mattered.

          • baconbacon says:

            For example, do you think it was justified to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? It killed many innocent Japanese, but prevented American troops from doing a ground invasion that would have put their lives and Japanese innocents in harms way, leading to an unknowable but potentially greater cost in life.

            Perfect example.

            The US decided that it would invade Japan barring unconditional surrender, which is a profoundly immoral action. The leaders who decided on that strategy made a choice to value the lives of both US troops and Japanese citizens below that of their own personal reputations and a signature on a piece of paper (and you know they just saw how much a signature would bind a country after a war was over, so you certainly can’t claim that it would certainly prevent a future war).

            This is a great example of how presenting a hypothetical dichotomy leads to poor conclusions. There wasn’t only two choices with Japan, invade or bomb, there was conditional surrender, there was containment (long term blockade), there was simply standing over their shattered military and saying “make one aggressive move and we will be back”, and simply sailing away (and many other options and combinations).

            We must do X or Y is the mantra of the violent who are looking to excuse their actions.

          • baconbacon says:

            It also shouldn’t attempt to avoid hard problems by invoking ‘imperfect information’

            Who is avoiding hard problems? IrishDude, by positing this wya, is looking for a justification or an excuse of his (hypothetical) actions. This is avoiding the hard problem, false utilitarianism (or just utilitarianism) is pretending that you can define precisely the outcome so that they you can turn a gut wrenching decision into an algebra problem.

            Hey, fuck it, don’t kill unless of course you can make it sound good, then by all means kill, is not the brave position.

          • bean says:

            There wasn’t only two choices with Japan, invade or bomb, there was conditional surrender, there was containment (long term blockade), there was simply standing over their shattered military and saying “make one aggressive move and we will be back”, and simply sailing away (and many other options and combinations).

            Your history is weak on several levels. AIUI, the blockade strategy was gaining over the invasion in the last few months of the war. However, while ‘blockade’ sounds nice and clean, it wouldn’t have been. First, Japan is small, and didn’t grow enough food. The Japanese leadership was planning to starve about a third of the population to deal with that. Yes, a third. Second, the US was going to start hitting transportation infrastructure. More starvation. Third, the Japanese occupied a lot of China and other bits of Southeast Asia. If they’d fought to the bitter end, then those areas would have stayed under their rule.
            And how does ‘sailing away’ or ‘standing over their shattered military’ stop the war? It takes two sides to stop, and they had clearly shown (see: kamikazes) that they weren’t going to stop unless we utterly beat them. If we’d gone home, they’d have tried again, having had their theories that we were soft and would give up if they bled us hard enough proved right. The atomic bombs were, unintentionally, one of the great humanitarian acts of the 20th century.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @baconbacon

            You’re making meta-normative claims about what morality _should_ be, and I don’t think they are justified.

            A moral code “shouldn’t lead to bad decisions if you have been tricked (on purpose or through poor luck)”? I don’t think any moral code can live up to that. If there are circumstances A where decisions in set X are bad and not in X are good, and circumstances B where decisions in set X are good and not in X are bad, and someone can trick me into thinking B holds when actually A does (or vice-versa), no system of morality will save me.

            The idea that morality should not allow me to weight people’s lives isn’t good either; that may leave me unable to make a decision or to making an obviously-bad decision because I chose inaction.

          • baconbacon says:

            However, while ‘blockade’ sounds nice and clean, it wouldn’t have been. First, Japan is small, and didn’t grow enough food

            Blockade doesn’t mean “nothing gets in”, it means “blockading country decides what gets in”. If it was nice and clean or not is hardly justification for 100,000+ deaths.

            Second, the US was going to start hitting transportation infrastructure

            Just another choice framed as an inevitable.

            It takes two sides to stop, and they had clearly shown (see: kamikazes) that they weren’t going to stop unless we utterly beat them.

            This is not at all clear as they had made overtures that a conditional surrender might be acceptable, and that Kamikazes were used on an encroaching fleet does not lead to the assumption that only unconditional surrender would have prevented future expansion attempts.

            Third, the Japanese occupied a lot of China and other bits of Southeast Asia. If they’d fought to the bitter end, then those areas would have stayed under their rule.

            The Japanese were losing major ground on the mainland for a year prior to the bombings, and the Soviets swept into Manchuria with not a whole heck of a lot of trouble. Cut off from Japan it not likely that their armies would have made further gains, and probably would have been forced to surrender.

            If we’d gone home, they’d have tried again, having had their theories that we were soft and would give up if they bled us hard enough proved right.

            “Hey guys, remember how we bombed Pearl Harbor and killed 2,000 Americans, and then they kicked our asses across the Pacific as part of a war where our military had well over 2 MILLION casualties? Lets go pick a fight with them again with our quarter of a navy, no fighter pilots with any training, shitty planes, oh and the god damn Soviets and Chinese fully militarized and right over there.”

          • baconbacon says:

            @ Nybbler,

            Of course no code can prevent mistakes, but it is impossible to trick a pacifist into murder if he is following his code, but it is extremely easy to trick someone who has decided that they have the right to make judgments about life and death. The Bush regime was eager to swallow misinformation about Saddam’s weapons programs and the Johnson administration was all to willing to plan out a war that it had already come to the conclusion should be fought.

            We are weak and flawed beings doomed to die, all that matters is either nothing, or how we live.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, being a pacifist means you can avoid all errors of the type “killing someone who should not be killed”. It means you commit all errors of the type “not killing someone who should be killed”. Unless you make the assumption that there are no errors of the latter type, in which case your argument for pacifism is circular.

          • baconbacon says:

            Yes, being a pacifist means you can avoid all errors of the type “killing someone who should not be killed”. It means you commit all errors of the type “not killing someone who should be killed”. Unless you make the assumption that there are no errors of the latter type, in which case your argument for pacifism is circular.

            You have simply jumped from the statement “some people should be killed” to “some people should be killed and I am clearly the guy who should be making those decisions” with literally no justification.

            In this world it is abundantly clear that an individual’s limitations far exceed their abilities, their ignorance outstrips their knowledge, and weakness outnumber their strengths. As such the null action, the baseline of “I don’t know, so I am sure as shit not going to murder 100,000 people on a hunch” is so vastly superior that it boggles my mind that I have to continually bring it back to this point- you are responsible for your actions. You, by the definition of you, are the one that controls the physical actions of your body which translates into you being responsible for your actions when you do things. The rest of the universe exists outside of you, which means you are not responsible for its events and when you choose to intervene you bear responsibility.

            Sins of omission and sins of commission don’t even exist on the same moral plane.

          • bean says:

            Blockade doesn’t mean “nothing gets in”, it means “blockading country decides what gets in”. If it was nice and clean or not is hardly justification for 100,000+ deaths.

            If you seriously think that the Japanese would actually cooperate to the point that they’d let us inspect their ships to make sure they weren’t smuggling in weapons, you’re way beyond alternate history and into the realm of hallucinations.

            Just another choice framed as an inevitable.

            Or we could leave them alone, like we did in the 30s, and…
            Oh, wait.

            This is not at all clear as they had made overtures that a conditional surrender might be acceptable, and that Kamikazes were used on an encroaching fleet does not lead to the assumption that only unconditional surrender would have prevented future expansion attempts.

            The peace feelers were by part of their government. Let’s say that the Democrats right now start sending peace overtures to Iran. It’s largely irrelevant, because they’re not the ones driving. The ones driving were not interested in peace. They had to have the decision to surrender forced down their throat by Hirohito himself, after the bombing. And the only reason Hirohito got away with it was the bombing.

            The Japanese were losing major ground on the mainland for a year prior to the bombings, and the Soviets swept into Manchuria with not a whole heck of a lot of trouble. Cut off from Japan it not likely that their armies would have made further gains, and probably would have been forced to surrender.

            Yes. Just like the defenders of countless Pacific islands chose to surrender, and didn’t have to be dug out of caves one by one. Also, this just gives the Soviets more leverage in Asia. If that’s not a bad thing (and how many people did the communists kill again?), then see above re alt history.

            “Hey guys, remember how we bombed Pearl Harbor and killed 2,000 Americans, and then they kicked our asses across the Pacific as part of a war where our military had well over 2 MILLION casualties? Lets go pick a fight with them again with our quarter of a navy, no fighter pilots with any training, shitty planes, oh and the god damn Soviets and Chinese fully militarized and right over there.”

            Yes. That is actually how the Japanese of the time would think. I know it seems incredible, but it’s true. Hitler thought the same way. I’d recommend books, but I don’t think it would help.
            (Also, you’re ignoring the bit where the Soviets take over Japan after we go home.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            You have simply jumped from the statement “some people should be killed” to “some people should be killed and I am clearly the guy who should be making those decisions” with literally no justification.

            Morality is the same for everyone, or at least the same for large categories of people (e.g. competent adults), is it not? So what I’m saying is that “there are situations where a person killing another person or persons is the right thing to do, and not killing them is the wrong thing to do”. There are people who will be the right ones to make that decision.

            Sins of omission and sins of commission don’t even exist on the same moral plane.

            Another meta-norm I’m not willing to sign on to. Certainly sins of omission are usually the lesser, but not always.

          • Fahundo says:

            You have simply jumped from the statement “some ____ should be ___” to “some ___ should be ___ and I am clearly the guy who should be making those decisions” with literally no justification.

            Couldn’t this reasoning be used to argue that no one should ever be doing anything, and the morally appropriate course of action in all cases is not to interfere with anything? Any time I make any decision about anything, I’m operating with incomplete data, right?

          • baconbacon says:

            If you seriously think that the Japanese would actually cooperate to the point that they’d let us inspect their ships

            The US wiped out the Japanese navy, if people are resisting and trying to smuggle in weapons (not actually the problem, really what you want to do is prevent troop movements, but whatever) then at least the actions you are taking are against active threats, and not against largely civilian targets.

            It’s largely irrelevant, because they’re not the ones driving.

            It shatters the illusion that the Japanese were definitely going to fight to the end, and or attempt to sail out and attack again in the near future. The presumption of saving lives through murder lives in that illusion.

            And it wouldn’t be like the Democrats sending feelers to Iran, it would be like high ranking Iranians sending out feelers to the US. Certainly cause to pause.

            Yes. Just like the defenders of countless Pacific islands chose to surrender

            By 1945 that “no surrender” attitude was clearly in decline. The soviets took a large number of japanese POWs in China, and numbers of surrenders to Allied troops increased in other areas. The extreme losses that the Japanese were taking meant that many troops had not been indoctrinated for years the way the veterans that were initially fighting the US had.

            Yes. That is actually how the Japanese of the time would think

            Wait, I can’t keep track. The Japanese are monolithic (except for the ones that are willing to discuss terms, they don’t count), if the US leaves they will wage war against the US again (except the Soviets are about to take over their island).

            Which is it? Are they a major threat, or can they not even defend the main island against the Ruskies?

          • bean says:

            The US wiped out the Japanese navy, if people are resisting and trying to smuggle in weapons (not actually the problem, really what you want to do is prevent troop movements, but whatever) then at least the actions you are taking are against active threats, and not against largely civilian targets.

            You’re still not getting it. The only way to be sure that the Japanese are not going to be moving in, say, oil and aluminum for kamikazes instead of food is to stop each and every ship and search it. The Japanese will not cooperate with that. Nor will they line up their stevedores for the USN to unload food. Not unless they’ve surrendered.

            It shatters the illusion that the Japanese were definitely going to fight to the end, and or attempt to sail out and attack again in the near future. The presumption of saving lives through murder lives in that illusion.

            Have you read anything other than anti-nuke tracts about the end of the Pacific War?

            And it wouldn’t be like the Democrats sending feelers to Iran, it would be like high ranking Iranians sending out feelers to the US. Certainly cause to pause.

            No, it wouldn’t. The Army and Navy had a legal stranglehold on the Japanese government. If they didn’t like a government, it fell. Guess who’s playing the part of the Republicans in this example?

            By 1945 that “no surrender” attitude was clearly in decline. The soviets took a large number of japanese POWs in China, and numbers of surrenders to Allied troops increased in other areas. The extreme losses that the Japanese were taking meant that many troops had not been indoctrinated for years the way the veterans that were initially fighting the US had.

            And yet the Japanese government was not made of people who were new troops.

            Yes. That is actually how the Japanese of the time would think

            Wait, I can’t keep track. The Japanese are monolithic (except for the ones that are willing to discuss terms, they don’t count), if the US leaves they will wage war against the US again (except the Soviets are about to take over their island).

            Are you really so fundamentalist in your ethics that you’d rather hand them over to a Soviet invasion than drop the bombs on them? (Actually, they probably could have pushed the Soviets off, IIRC. I have a book on this which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet.)

            Which is it? Are they a major threat, or can they not even defend the main island against the Ruskies?

            They are literally crazy. The Soviet is not an aquatic mammal, but when the opposition is as disorganized as the Japanese might have been by 1948, it might have been successful.

          • Aapje says:

            IMHO, the most ethical action at the time would have been to offer a conditional surrender that allowed the emperor to remain, as this seems to have been the main demand of the Japanese elite at the time and also what was decided on after the war. So it effectively would have cost the allies nothing, while giving a non-negligible chance of getting a surrender.

            Of course, this opinion greatly benefits from 20/20 hindsight. The allies hadn’t agreed before the surrender whether the emperor should be allowed to remain, so it wasn’t a cost-less choice in their eyes.

          • Jiro says:

            Note the Catch-22, once you have determined that the hostages are legitimate targets they lose their value as military assets.

            You’re still permitted to kill the enemy’s conscripts if they are ineffectual.

            Also, they still have value to the enemy as propaganda assets.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @bean:

            You’re still not getting it. The only way to be sure that the Japanese are not going to be moving in, say, oil and aluminum for kamikazes instead of food is to stop each and every ship and search it. The Japanese will not cooperate with that. Nor will they line up their stevedores for the USN to unload food. Not unless they’ve surrendered.

            I don’t know about the rest of your post, but this part betrays a quite serious ignorance about how blockades work(ed). In particular, what baconbacon was describing was standard operating procedure for blockades from at least the mid-19th century, not some idiosyncratic idea he’s just made up. You need to explain why the usual method of carrying out blockades would suddenly become ineffective when the Americans were doing it to the Japanese. And for the record, no, the Japanese don’t need to co-operate for a blockade to work, any more than any other blockaded nations needed to; the whole reason blockades are carried out with warships is precisely to make sure you can force enemy merchant ships to stop against their will.

          • Cypren says:

            It’s always been rather interesting to me that the most optimal solution for dealing with hostages in any single encounter is usually to capitulate, but over the long term, the most optimal solution is to kill the hostages.

            Hostage-taking viewed through the lens of a hostage or captor is a single game of prisoner’s dilemma. But through a nation-state’s lens it is a classic iterated prisoner’s dilemma situation, and the only way to stop it is to make it clear that you will always defect if forced into the game. A country which consistently responds to hostage-taking by dropping a bomb on the building, killing the hostages and captors alike, will quickly find its citizens are no longer deliberately held hostage; there is no gain to be had from it.

            Autocratic societies have a much easier time with this than democratic ones, because the public at large is not really capable of looking at the longer-term consequences and only focuses on the current round of the game. Weighing the lives of the