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OT73: I Lik The Thred

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

1. I’ve already gotten reports of successful SSC meetups in Austin and Oslo. The Austin one was bigger than my quarter-of-people-will-actually-show-up rule would have predicted (more like half), so future organizers be warned. If you’re interested in going to a meetup, check the meetup thread for times and places in your city. If you already went to one this weekend, let me know how it went!

2. Comments of the week: K explains the bizarre ways scuba divers act when they’re running out of air. John Nerst uses meetup data to calculate different cities’ SSC readers per capita. And SomethingElse on what it means to criticize fields.

3. In Chesterton On AI Risk, the, uh, Chesterton manuscript was kind of mean to Maciej Ceglowski and said he talked a big talk about helping the poor but probably didn’t donate much to charity himself. He notes that he actually donates a lot to charity, including a $15000 donation to MSF last year. Although the whole thing was kind of a joke, it crossed the line insofar as it insulted real, named individuals. The, uh, Chesterton manuscript regrets the error, and I’ve added this (and some other things) to the Mistakes page.

4. Some people have complained that the comment section here fills up so quickly that they’re discouraged from participating. One crazy suggestion is to split it in two – figure out some way to mirror the site with half the commenters going to one version and the other half going to the other, so that each one has a manageable number of comments. Then the best comments from both can be highlighted in the open thread. I don’t know how to do this technically right now and before I try to figure it out I want to see if people actually think this is a good idea, so please take this short survey to vote.

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907 Responses to OT73: I Lik The Thred

  1. One Name May Hide Another says:

    How likely is it that it was actually Assad who was responsible for the most recent chemical attack in Syria?

    Philippe argues pretty convincingly that it may not have been the regime’s doing after all. Now, given that I don’t have much background knowledge in this area, I’m aware that it’s quite easy to convince me, so I’d be very curious to hear some counterarguments to what Philippe has written.

    A brief summary of some points of interest from Philippe’s blog post:

    1. The NYTimes article blaming the attacks on Assad relies on witness testimony, but these witnesses live in Al Qaeda controlled territory, so their testimony is probably influenced by what the terrorist group wants the world to hear. Furthermore, NYTimes uncritically cites some other people with clear ties to Al Qaeda. What’s also interesting is that one of the authors of the article, Michael Gordon, is known for co-authoring an older, now discredited article that claimed Saddam Hussein was trying to build atomic weapons.

    2. The theory that the regime bombed a rebels’ weapons storage facility was dismissed by the NYTimes based on, again, witness testimony, as well as the opinion of unnamed “experts.” The “expert” cited by The Guardian doesn’t seem to have much relevant education.

    3. The previous chemical attacks in Ghouta are accepted to have been perpetrated by Assad, but that very well might be untrue.

    3.1. The US government made this claim without citing any evidence at all. NYTimes published a front-page article analyzing the situation and claiming it must have been Assad. However, the NYTimes’s analysis was soon called into question in a study by an MIT prof (Postol) and a Tesla analyst (Lloyd). NYTimes ended up publishing an amendment/retraction of their initial article, but they did it during the holidays and hid it deep inside the paper.

    3.2. According to independent investigators, the rebels most likely have used chemical weapons in the past.

    3.3. Seymour Hersh (known for breaking the Abu Ghraib scandal) argues that Erdogan had provided the rebels with sarin gas for the purpose of carrying out a false flag attack in order to get the US involved.

    3.4. A Belgian writer and an Italian journalist abducted by the rebels said upon their release that they overheard the rebels refer to the Ghouta attacks as a false flag.

    4. Trump was really wrong to attack Syria.

    • Matt M says:

      Personally, I’d say less than 50%. It just makes so little sense for Assad to do this. Everything to lose and very little to be gained. The man may be a tyrant but he doesn’t seem to be irrational/stupid. Pretty much the only thing he could do to guarantee he ends up being executed in a public square is “piss off the United States to a significant degree.”

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Why would Assad think a chemical attack would piss off the US (president), or piss him off enough to do anything about it?

        • John Colanduoni says:

          Especially considering the previous president didn’t respond this way the last time Syria was accused, even though he took stronger actions elsewhere in the world. Not to mention the fact that the current president strongly condemned both the previous president’s interventions (including those in Syria) and interventions in general.

          I suppose in hindsight some of the dynamics of Trump’s administration at play here were already visible, with the healthcare fiasco and the positions and disposition of his advisors. However I have a hard time writing off Assad as stupid for assuming that one of Trump’s big promises to his base of supporters would end up being broken so flagrantly (they sure as hell didn’t see it coming).

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          Admittedly part of this is hindsight Bias, the human mind overweighing the odds they’d give the events that actually did happen.

          But Peace prize Obama almost went to war in Syria over their use of chemical weapons and Republicans not only are more hawkish than their democratic counterparts but want to be seen as more hawkish.
          I genuinely have a hard time imagining the scenario where the US doesn’t respond with military force to something like this just because every institutional force seems like it would harshly punish the individuals who held back.

          Kerry stumbled his way into a sweetheart Russia negotiated disarmament when this happened under Obama and the “redline” attack still followed him (and Hillary) until the end of 2016.

          Like the only way Trump wouldn’t respond with military force is if he was actually in the throws of the alt-right, let them kill eachother faction, and even then he wouldn’t want to go up against the Neo-cons and the media and the department of defense all at once.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            “I genuinely have a hard time imagining the scenario where the US doesn’t respond with military force to something like this just because every institutional force seems like it would harshly punish the individuals who held back.”

            I don’t understand why this is the case.

          • herbert herberson says:

            I can easily imagine a scenario where the US doesn’t respond to something like this with military force.

            I cannot easily imagine a scenario where Assad takes the risk that it will without a significant upside for taking that risk, though.

          • tomogorman says:

            Why does Assad have to assume no military force for this to be rational from his perspective? Seems like he just has to assume an at most proportional response – which is what Trump did – and calculate that it was worth it. Given that the airfield strike seems to have done little to seriously degrade the capacity of the Syrian armed forces its hardly unlikely that Assad came out ahead even given the U.S. response.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        I’m surprised by how little traction the false flag theory is getting.

        Like the odds it was a false flag have to be atleast 20% given the priors you would have for Assad risking everything, vs. the achieveability and strategic exploitability for an enemy of the regime (everything that’s happened so far is a really obvious consequence of a sarin gas attack attributed to Assad, and it’s not obvious anyone in the American Gov could have acted differently without incurring a personal cost.

        I’m like genuinely confused as to whether everyone in Washington is pattern matching “false flag theory”=kook, or if everyone realizes there’s a really large chance this was not the syrian regime but they’re pretending they think otherwise because the social and institutional dynamics will punish them for not toeing the Washington line. Or if I’m just way off

        Anyone with more Washington Experience/Knowledge:
        Does the media/washington culture enforce really suspect consensuses on epistemic matters of fact?

        I feel like most people will think the answer is obvious (one way or the other), but try to present a compelling argument as if you where persuading someone who thought otherwise and had good reasons to think so.

        I really want the best versions of both sides of this argument because i doubt I’m going to find it elsewhere.

        As far as practical epistemology experts who can deal with controversy this community is kinda it.
        (I recently wrote a philosophy of history paper last minute, so i just rejigged alot of less wrong and thought how EY or Scott would solve the problem of Historical Causation and I got an A with the Prof acting like i’d made some kind of breakthrough.)

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          “and it’s not obvious anyone in the American Gov could have acted differently without incurring a personal cost.”

          Trump had personally said in the runup to the election that he wanted to go after the families of terrorists. US citizens cheered this.

          Assad can plausibly argue that this attack was intended to do just that.

          Going against that prior statement incurred a foreseeable personal cost to Trump.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Assad can’t really make appeals to the American alt-right/ hard right (if you can give a plausible means for him to do this i’m all ears)
            And this is simply not a case where the cost to trump outweighs the benefit, so some YouTube a Breitbart personalities are mad at him for a week that’s nothing compared to having the neocons like McCain and Rubio not thinking about how they could just impeach you and just have Pence sign off on everything.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            You could be right. I’ll read more analysis over the next few weeks to gather background information.

            Thanks.

            Edit to add:
            “Assad can’t really make appeals to the American alt-right/ hard right (if you can give a plausible means for him to do this i’m all ears)”

            In my mind he was making a direct appeal to Trump’s stated nature, not to part of Trump’s constituency.

        • Desertopa says:

          I’m like genuinely confused as to whether everyone in Washington is pattern matching “false flag theory”=kook, or if everyone realizes there’s a really large chance this was not the syrian regime but they’re pretending they think otherwise because the social and institutional dynamics will punish them for not toeing the Washington line. Or if I’m just way off

          It’s not like there’s any shortage of media publications who don’t feel the need to toe the Washington line. But I do think think that positing false flag operations tends to be a big credibility gamble. People who posit false flag operations tend to look particularly credulous if they’re disproven, so people who’re concerned about their credibility tend to be hesitant to make such accusations.

        • Nornagest says:

          It doesn’t have to be a false flag operation or a deliberate move by Assad. It could be an old-fashioned fuck-up. Perhaps a pallet of sarin shells got dug up from a cache in the desert that everyone had forgotten about and fired at a target without anyone realizing what they were. Perhaps the ammunition was found in a back room by a junior officer that did know what they were but didn’t appreciate the geopolitics involved. Ordinarily either one would be spectacularly incompetent, but this is year 7 of a nasty and protracted war, and Assad’s regime (along with every other side on the ground) is probably suffering from some pretty serious personnel and training shortcomings.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        On the contrary: it is quite reasonable that Bashir Assad would consider himself immune to American intervention.

        Consider that Syria spent years helping kill U. S. troops in Iraq without getting so much as a scratch from the evil warmonger George W. Bush, and then Obama cravenly backed down on his “red line” in order to preserve his phony-baloney nuclear deal with Iran and proceeded to ignore multiple previous chemical attacks, and then Trump both a) campaigned on opposing intervention in Syria and b) even though he’d promised to oppose the Iran deal, has done very little about it once in office. It has been a long time since we resorted to anything besides harsh words and, once the civil war was well underway, ineffectual assistance to loser rebel factions, and going after Iran’s puppet regime in a meaningful fashion could give Iran an excuse to pull out of the nuclear deal. So why would Assad think we’d directly attack him under any circumstances?

        Bashir Assad became Syria’s leader in 2000 and for really his entire span in power, he’s had to pay no consequences for messing with the United States or ignoring our demands. I’d bet there was no one more surprised than him when the airbase was hit.

        • sflicht says:

          Doesn’t the covert/overt support of the US, Turkey, and various Gulf States for the Al Qaeda allied rebel opposition count as “consequences for messing with the US or ignoring our demands”? I’d say so.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            American support for the opposition is covered under the rubric of “ineffectual assistance to loser rebel factions.”

        • vV_Vv says:

          Assad may have underestimated Trump willingness to attack him (I think everybody did), but what did he have to gain from using chem weapons in a war he was already winning?

          If Trump did nothing then the allegations of him being a Russian puppet would have intensified. Assad must have certainly realized that putting pressure on the US president, even a seemingly neutral one, was probably not worth whatever tactical gain he may have got from that chem attack. So what’s the point?

          • rlms says:

            “but what did he have to gain from using chem weapons in a war he was already winning?”

            Presumably the same thing as in 2013, when Assad used chemical weapons to no response from a US president who’d threatened to do so (rather than one who’d promised not to).

          • The Nybbler says:

            Assad must have certainly realized that putting pressure on the US president, even a seemingly neutral one, was probably not worth whatever tactical gain he may have got from that chem attack.

            Possibly he simply underestimated the degree to which chemicals are _different_ to Americans. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about how dying from Sarin is no worse than being perforated by shrapnel or buried under rubble, and you might have a point, but it’s still perceived as different. This is the same thing interventionists tried (unsuccessfully) to tap into by stigmatizing “barrel bombs”.

          • herbert herberson says:

            To get that “no response,” Assad had to give up 600 tons of chemical weapons and sign onto the Chemical Weapons Convention. Even if you think he withheld some weapons, that has to be understood as a genuine and not-insignificant cost to the regime.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            There is a significant military advantage if he can use them and get away with it. He is trying to drive guerilla fighters out of dense urban areas, and if possible would probably like to do that without flattening all the infrastructure. If he can get away with using gas, it makes that task much simpler. That’s how he used it in 2013; that was a massive gas attack followed up with the army coming in to take the urban area.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Makes sense, thanks.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Personally I’m not fully convinced by this argument, though I admit I can’t really say for certain where I stand. But I did have a few problems with this post.

      First, any rebel group would have the same incentive to lie or not regardless of whether they’re Al Qaeda associated. The emphasis on that point seems to mostly be a reverse halo effect (this group is bad with one thing so therefore they must be bad at everything).

      On the point with the expert they dismiss, OK he didn’t go to school for chemistry, but are we really going to say that a guy who was the commanding officer for the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear regiment for the UK didn’t receive some training while in the service on how these types of weapons work? I’m not convinced by the dismissal of him just because he didn’t go to a university for it.

      Regarding Assad’s incentive to use the weapons because he’s winning, the article argues Assad was winning 4 years ago during the previous attack blamed on him. Look how that turned out (namely 4 years of war). Not to mention that casualties throughout the war have been high, finding an alternate way to win makes sense even given current victories to cut down on casualties and speed up the long slow process of final victory. Remember that the regime still has a TON of territory it needs to take back to secure the country still. Why attack now? Well Trump was against intervention against Syria the first time they got blamed for an attack and the Tillerson quote about not prioritizing regime change anymore could have been taken as a sign the US was not interested in intervention. This timing can be argued both for the regime feeling secure enough to use alternate weapons that might win the war faster and cheaper just as well as the desperation leading to false flag attacks argument.

      I think the article is right to have us question the eye-witness testimony and to suggest a false flag is possible, but it didn’t make a slam dunk case to me. I’m staying mostly agnostic for the moment with a bit of a lean towards “yeah Assad did it” simply because my priors probably are somewhat more trusting of the mainstream Western media (mostly I assume they mislead by contextualizing stories poorly rather than getting them completely wrong, I know there are cases where that happens but that doesn’t make it the norm).

      • vV_Vv says:

        This timing can be argued both for the regime feeling secure enough to use alternate weapons that might win the war faster and cheaper just as well as the desperation leading to false flag attacks argument.

        There is also the “post-hoc” false flag possibility, that he hit the rebel weapon warehouse which contained chem weapons and was then falsely blamed for using chem weapons, which is the official position of the Syrian and the Russian governments.

    • Protagoras says:

      One thing that occurred to me is that while I will take an expert’s word that blowing up Sarin will destroy Sarin, the impression I had of the reports of the chemical attack is that it was not actually all that clear what chemicals were being used; Sarin seemed to be just a best guess. Though checking further now, it seems that Turkey has said “probably Sarin” based on examining victims, which is still just “probably,” and is not an unbiased source. This is important because I’m pretty sure the “bombs will destroy this, they won’t scatter it around” rebuttal to the Russian story applies to some chemical weapons but not others.

      • vV_Vv says:

        One thing that occurred to me is that while I will take an expert’s word that blowing up Sarin will destroy Sarin

        I’m not an expert but I find this claim hard to believe. Surely it must be possible to rupture a sarin container and disperse its content without destroying it.

        Some kinds of sarin ammunition are binary: instead of containing sarin itself they contain two precursors which are mixed only when the ammunition is fired or shortly before. In this case I suppose that blowing up the ammunition may not allow the precursor to mix and react efficiently. But not all types of sarin ammunition are binary.

        • jonm says:

          From the discussion of various experts and looking around the Internet (see sources below) I think that it is generally believed that sarin in Syria would have been stored as two separate precursors (even if within the same weapon) because 1) this is by far the most common approach, 2) the shelf life of mixed sarin is extremely short, and 3) there’s lots of evidence (prior to this attack) of people saying this is how Syria stores its sarin.

          The only scenario where it could have been rebel sarin is if the rebels actually have substantial manufacturing facilities where they are producing and mixing sarin. This makes zero sense unless you are then using it immediately on the battlefield, which is definitely not happening. Otherwise it makes much more sense to have much more limited production facilities and store the precursors until you need them.

          What makes a lot more sense is that Al Qaeda and other rebel groups were making substantial incursions in that region (which they were) and either the Syrian government or an individual commander made the decision to stall that advance using chemical weapons thinking that there would either not be a US reaction or that it would not be so bad as to counteract the advantage of using the weapons.

          Sources:
          http://armscontrolwonk.libsyn.com/assads-chemical-weapons
          http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22307705
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarin
          http://www.mdpi.com/2305-6304/2/3/391/pdf
          https://theconversation.com/seek-and-destroy-dismantling-syrias-chemical-weapon-stockpile-18870

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Further amplification from commentary on weaponsman.com :

          Commenter 10x25mm Says:
          G and V series nerve agents have to be produced and mixed in fragile borosilicate glass lined vessels with borosilicate piping. Divergent thermal coefficients of expansion are a real problem here. Very sophisticated glassworking skills are required to set up such equipment and then confirm containment. Artillery and bomb strikes would almost certainly compromise containment. This kind of process equipment also does not travel well, especially in war zones. Nerve agents also require a lot of electricity in their production and Khan Sheikhoun hasn’t had electricity in years.

          Cyclosarin (GF) is the only G or V series nerve agent which lends itself to binary deployment. Its precursors are an order of magnitude more complex to produce than the other nerve agents’. The others’ precursors take too long to mix and react – a period of minutes. Sunni terrorists attacked U.S. troops in Iraq with a Saddam era cyclosarin binary artillery shell rigged as an IED. U.S. troops escaped serious injury because even the cyclosarin binary precursors did not react at detonation velocity.

          Cyclosarin binary ordnance uses shell rotation, or a gas fired internal mixer in the case of air dropped cannisters, to mix the agents after firing or release. This mixing function determines the minimum distance or drop altitude for such ordnance. This results in a peculiar mission profile unique to nerve agent air strikes.

          I cannot comment on the commenter’s technical qualifications beyond noting that he has the details of the IED in Iraq exactly right because I was in country at the time.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Seems wrong. The US produced binary shells (M687) with GB (sarin), not GF (cyclosarin). And the only difference between GB, GD, and GF is the alcohol used; the precursors of GF aren’t “an order of magnitude more complex” because it’s the DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride) common to them which is the difficult part to make, not the alcohol. The alcohols for GB (isopropanol) and GF (cyclohexanol) are both cheap and common.

            I imagine the binary IED used in Iraq didn’t work because it needed to be fired from a gun to mix the chemicals properly.

          • youzicha says:

            The document that jonm linked above (http://www.mdpi.com/2305-6304/2/3/391/pdf) says that in the case of Syrian chemical weapons, they had binary precursors for sarin, but they would mix them to create unitary sarin (immediately) before filling them in shells. They did not have storable binary munitions.

            I don’t think the Syrian story is that rebels would be manufacturing sarin from scratch. What they claimed in the news reporting I saw was that they had bombed a factory making sarin ammunition, i.e. filling existing sarin into shells. In that case, there would be ready-mixed sarin present at the site.

            Also, I think there is other evidence that links the Syrian government to the attack? E.g. someone on Twitter posted a photo of a small bomb crater that looks like it was created by a chemical weapons bomblet.

      • youzicha says:

        According to their declarations to the OPCW, Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile consisted of sulfur mustard, sarin, and VX; out of those three this must have been sarin, because VX would have remained in the area longer. The same is true for the other nerve agents: while sarin evaporates as fast as water, soman and tabun can persist for 1-2 days, and VX for weeks or months. So because people could go to the site later the same day without being affected, we can probably narrow it down to sarin. (Also, sarin is easier to manufacture than the other nerve agents. The Soviet union had a soman stockpile, but nobody else has manufactured large quantities of soman or tabun.)

        I think the claim that the nerve agents would definitely be destroyed is dubious. Last time airstrikes were discussed, people were saying that directly bombing Syria’s chemical weapons would be problematic because it could release the chemicals into the environment. Apparently in 1991 the U.S. did an airstrike on Iraq’s chemical weapons factory in Al Muthanna, which led to environmental release. This time, American officials are saying that they deliberately avoided targetting what they believe to be stored sarin in order to avoid scattering it.

    • James Miller says:

      I suspect that the purpose of the attack on Syria, which took place (I think) while Trump was meeting with the Chinese dictator, was to convince China that if China doesn’t do something about North Korea’s weapons development program, Trump might well launch a first strike attack on North Korea. Remember, Syria is of no real importance to America, North Korea is of massive importance to us, and Trump is a master negotiator who likes grand gestures. China’s ordered preferences towards North Korea is probably (1) do nothing, (2) have China step in and halt North Korea’s weapons program, (3) have the U.S. attack North Korea. To get China to do (2) Trump had to convince China that he was willing to do (3), and attacking Syria while meeting with Xi was a costly (and therefore credible) signal that Trump would do (3). Related YouTube video of how to credibly establish your willingness to use force.

      • nacht says:

        I believe you have hit the nail on the head. Strategy and negotiation at play.

        For the US, Syria is strategically better being at war than at peace (it would seem since 9/11 we have kept a “hot-zone” to attract all the crazies- far from US soil, conveniently on easy terrain to spy from above, and far from US hearts and minds).

        While North Korea, as you point out, is a very different situation so close to China and the rising dragon situation. Maybe Trump listened to the neo-cons after all

      • tomogorman says:

        Sorry, but this should be far to little evidence to meaningfully advance that claim. The attack on Syria is at essentially zero cost to the U.S. whereas an attack on North Korea would not be. Even if China does not get involved and North Korea is unable to use its nuclear weapons (big ifs) an attack on North Korea guarantees massive destruction to South Korea and probably Japan from North Korea’s conventional weapons along with large casualty numbers to U.S. troops in Korea. There is no particular reason to believe that the U.S. willingness to launch a no cost strike against a target that cannot meaningfully retaliate signals anything with respect to U.S. willingness to launch a strike against North Korea.

        • James Miller says:

          You make a valid point about the low cost of the military strike, although you go too far in saying that it was essentially zero in that Russia and Iran might retaliate against us because of the strike. But, ask yourself, “what would the world look like if, while meeting with Xi, Trump’s primary goal was to signal his intention to attack North Korea if China did not act to stop North Korea’s weapons program?”

          • Matt M says:

            Isn’t this privileging the hypothesis?

            I feel like Alex Jones probably asks his listeners, “What would the world look like if it was secretly run by a cabal of baby-eating lizard-people” and that seems really deep and insightful at the time.

          • James Miller says:

            Matt M,

            Yes it is, but since the set of possibly hypotheses is small, it’s not that bad.

          • tomogorman says:

            Russia and Iran are not likely to do much in retaliation; the size of the strike is calibrated to avoid that.
            If President Trump wanted to credibly signal that he intended to attack North Korea he would probably need to start a full scale buildup in the region and have some indication that Japan and South Korea were willing to cooperate – the scale of an action in North Korea is just so much larger than this.

        • pontifex says:

          The attack on Syria is not zero cost. It certainly costs taxpayer money. It risks the lives of the US military (maybe a very small risk, but there is still one). It could make Russia less willing to cooperate with the US, or provoke them into another act of aggression in eastern Europe.

          Anyway, the point isn’t whether the attack was zero-cost. A loaded gun is not scary if you don’t believe the person holding it is willing pull the trigger. Trump just did.

          This is also a good public relations move for Trump. It partially defuses allegations that he did nothing while children were massacred in Syria. It also makes him look less like a Russian stooge. Remember that Trump spends a lot of time thinking about his image.

          tl;dr: when it comes to foreign policy, Trump is playing poker. Obama played golf.
          (And I say this as someone who thought that Obama was a pretty good president overall)

          • JohnBuridan says:

            What do you mean Obama played golf?

            I thought Obama’s foreign policy ideas were extremely solid and fairly comprehensive.

          • James Miller says:

            JohnBuridan

            Not sure if you are being sarcastic. Obama’s goal was to be on the right side of history, which is why he helped depose one of Americans best allies, Mubarak.

          • Iain says:

            I suspect that Mubarak’s decision to step down may have had more to do with the hundreds of thousands of protesters lining the streets than with anything Obama said. It is unlikely that there is anything Obama could have done to keep Mubarak in power. It is nearly certain that doing so would have involved publicly and obviously turning a blind eye to widespread violence against Egyptian civilians. If you think that latter course would have been preferable, I suggest that you argue for it explicitly, instead of simply asserting that it was clearly superior.

            In general, I think Obama did a pretty good job on foreign policy. I don’t agree with all of his decisions, but I respect that they were made by a thoughtful, intelligent man, doing his best to surround himself with smart people and make good decisions. This is a good long-form interview.

            There are not nearly as many easy answers in foreign policy as people like to pretend. I think bombing Syria’s airbase was a bad idea on the merits, but I’m willing to accept that reasonable people can come to a different conclusion. I am less concerned by the decision, and more concerned by the apparent process that led to the strike. Here is the entirety of Trump’s press release following the initial use of chemical weapons:

            Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.

            Literally half the statement is a political attack against his predecessor. Following the attack, senior administration officials started talking about this as part of “leadership week”:

            The White House sees this as “leadership week”: the decision to order a missile strike on Syria after its deadly nerve-agent attack on its own citizens, including children; a prime-time announcement to the nation from Mar-a-Lago last night, in which Trump said, “God bless America and the entire world”; his assertive stance on North Korea, with the rogue state testing him by firing a ballistic missile; and meetings with the heads of state of Egypt, Jordan and, continuing today, China.

            In combination with his complete 180 on the prospect of getting involved in Syria, I’m concerned that Trump is making foreign policy decisions based on short-term political considerations, rather than any serious weighing of costs and benefits. That is not a good thing.

          • Mark says:

            In the end, didn’t Obama turn a blind eye to widespread violence against Egyptian citizens, though?

          • Iain says:

            Not on the same level as would have been necessary to shut down the protests in Tahrir Square and keep Mubarak in power, and not by people that America explicitly stepped in to support.

            And again, Obama had very little control of popular outrage, or the allegiances of the Egyptian military, which were the actual factors that caused Mubarak to step down. Openly supporting violence against civilian protesters was a necessary condition for keeping Mubarak in power, but probably not a sufficient one.

          • Brad says:

            My favorite part of the whole incident was when they trotted out a state department spokesperson to explain that while US law required us to cut off aid following a military coup it didn’t require the government to ever determine if a military coup had occurred in particular place.

            https://www.lawfareblog.com/if-you-think-you-had-bad-day-friday

            QUESTION: Okay. So quite apart from the law, what do you call it when the military of a country overthrows the democratically elected president, takes him into custody, holds him incommunicado for weeks, and now comes up with – starts investigating charges that he was involved in a jail break and murder and that kind of thing? What – forget about the law. How would you describe that scenario?

            MS. PSAKI: Well, we would say that there’s a need to move forward towards an inclusive process, and that we’re opposed to the arbitrary arrests, and that we’re focused on moving ahead. I’m not going to give it a one-word name. I don’t think there’s a need for that.

            QUESTION: Well, maybe you could give it a two-word name with an apostrophe in the middle of it. Yeah? Coup d’etat?

            MS. PSAKI: Well, if I come up with a good name for you, I’m happy to let you know.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I’m actually rather impressed (by both parties) that the questioner was able to hammer home their point. I’m so used to (the perception that) high-level press conferences go to “no further questions” the second someone asks something not sufficiently milquetoast.

          • pontifex says:

            I don’t see how anyone could reasonably think that Obama’s foreign policy was a success.

            During the Obama years, Russia annexed Crimea and terrorized Eastern Ukraine, while we did nothing. Reactionary regimes in China and Russia consolidated power and put in place systems to control the internet. State-sponsored hackers stole millions of records from the US Office of Personnel Management. Snowden and Assaunge humiliated the US diplomatic corps and blew the cover of tons of US intelligence assets.

            Meanwhile, the Middle East slid into chaos and anarchy. Libya still doesn’t have a real government. Islamic State emerged as a successor to the Taliban and Al Quaida and took over large swathes of Iraq. Christians and minorities in the middle east are basically getting genocided. The Syrian Civil war began. Europe was flooded with literally millions of refugees. South Sudan, the country the US was so eager to win independence for, collapsed into warlordism and desperate poverty.

            Obama’s “pivot towards Asia” completely flopped. China is becoming the big power in Asia, and everyone knows it. North Korea does whatever it wants– which lately means launching missiles that can hit American allies.

            The only bright spots in this picture are things that Obama had nothing to do with, or sometimes even actively opposed. Al-Sisi managed to keep Egypt from chaos, by becoming a strongman. The long and bloody civil war in Sri Lanka ended when the government crushed the Tamil Tigers. Colombia’s military finally brought FARC to the negotiating table.

            If this is success, I’d hate to know what failure looks like. I guess pressing the big red button that launches the nukes would count? Well, he didn’t do that. But by every other measure, US foreign policy looked incompetent and impotent during the Obama years. It’s been a really bad few years for democracy.

          • Nornagest says:

            Islamic State emerged as a successor to the Taliban and Al Quaida and took over large swathes of Iraq.

            ISIS has nothing to do with the Taliban except that they’re both run by fundamentalist Muslims. It does have something to do with Al-Qaeda, but it’s less a successor and more a schismatic group; Al-Qaeda is still around, and in fact has links to many of the opposition factions fighting ISIS in Syria.

          • tomogorman says:

            Zero is a little bit hyperbolic but not really. Yes Tomahawks cost money but we have 3-4 thousand of them (source: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/07/obama-once-looked-to-downsize-tomahawk-missile-system-used-in-syria-strike.html) The Syrian’s don’t have anything that can retaliate against the ship that fired them, so the act itself didn’t put soldiers at risk. The strike was carefully sized to not be something that would provoke further response. This is hardly the first time we have done something like this — President Clinton made similar moves in the 90s.
            I don’t address what effect this may have other than weather it sends any meaningful signal to China regarding what we are likely to do in North Korea. It doesn’t. The size of the action in Syria is so much smaller than what an action in North Korea would entail that they are not comparable. It would be like saying my readiness to walk down the block signals my readiness to run a marathon.
            However the idea that this signals some willingness to use force generally that Trump has that Obama did not is laughable. Obama launched more intense strikes against Libya on less provocation, kept up an extended drone campaign, coordinated bombing campaigns against Islamic State, and increased (for a time) operations in Afghanistan. By this silly logic – everyone should have been terrified of Obama’s “willing(ness) to pull the trigger”. And in fact Obama threatened to do the same to Syria on the same provocation, but got lucky and the threat alone got them to cease using chemical weapons for the rest of his Presidency. Its not clear why they were willing to use chemical weapons now, it might be they thought Trump would let them get away with it OR it might be something else entirely. True, Syria didn’t get rid of the weapons as they promised they would, but Trump hasn’t gotten even the promise.
            Sorry, the idea that this nothingburger demonstrates that Trump is doing better foreign policy than Obama is ridiculous.
            (And I say this as someone who agreed with President Trump’s previous policy that we should probably just let Assad win because at this point the war dragging on is worse. Likewise I agree that this strike was reasonable under the circumstances as Syria did promise to obstain from using chemical weapons, and, I hope we don’t feel pressured to do anything more because there is no good to come from getting further caught up in the Syrian civil war.)

          • Iain says:

            @pontifex: It really depends on what you think the alternatives were. The United States is not omnipotent. A bunch of bad things happening proves nothing unless you think there was a feasible foreign policy that would have avoided them. Taking just your first paragraph, because I am not made of time:

            During the Obama years, Russia annexed Crimea and terrorized Eastern Ukraine, while we did nothing.

            If the alternative was “President McCain risks WWIII in defense of Crimea”, I think Obama comes out looking alright.

            Reactionary regimes in China and Russia consolidated power and put in place systems to control the internet.

            So was Obama supposed to overthrow the Russian government and the Chinese government at the same time, or one after the other?

            State-sponsored hackers stole millions of records from the US Office of Personnel Management. Snowden and Assaunge humiliated the US diplomatic corps and blew the cover of tons of US intelligence assets.

            These do not seem like aspects of foreign policy that it is reasonable to place at the feet of the president.

            Beyond that: the end of the Cuban embargo and the nuclear deal with Iran are reasonably important achievements. Funny how you don’t even mention them.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            even assuming that the end of the Cuban embargo is a good thing, and I cede that because I’m just so curious: how the hell is it an achievement?

            As far as I could tell, it would be an achievement if it was difficult or we got something extra out of it. So was it, or did we? Or am I missing something here?

          • Nornagest says:

            We get someone to sell Nikes and Big Macs to. From an economic perspective that’s good because we’re now selling more Nikes and Big Macs; from an ideological perspective it’s good because Nikes and Big Macs tend to be corrosive to communist ideals. (Not so much to authoritarianism full stop — see China — but we have historically been willing to overlook that.) From a humanitarian perspective it’s good because, if someone’s buying a Big Mac, they think more or less by definition that they’re getting a better deal on it than on whatever they were eating before.

            I can’t speak to its difficulty, but policies standing for fifty years generally do not go away overnight.

          • herbert herberson says:

            The eagerness by which the bipartisan Washington establishment applauded Trump’s missile attack makes me think that I haven’t been giving Obama enough credit as a peacemaker. I had thought of him as someone who betrayed his base and the positions he staked out early in his career to participate in the pointless destruction of Libya and make an attempt at invading Syria, but perhaps the better picture is of someone who tried and sometimes failed to hold back the bloodthirty hordes of the Potomac.

            Ending the Cuban embargo is an achievement because domestic political forces managed to keep it going for half a century. From a left-liberal perspective, the embargo was a clearly stupid policy, which means the people supporting it must have been powerful; defeating them is therefore somewhat impressive.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            We get someone to sell Nikes and Big Macs too.

            maybe i should’ve been more clear and phrased this differently:

            Cuba has every reason, beyond simple anger at America, which can’t govern Raul Castro to any significant degree, to want to trade with us. It’s a given that they are OK with this. So it’s not like we gained anything especially. It may have been the right decision, but is it an achievement?

            I can’t speak to its difficulty, but policies standing for fifty years generally do not go away overnight.

            I can’t either, but I’m pretty sure Obama just did it on his own. How hard could it have been?

          • Iain says:

            There was a non-zero amount of bargaining between Obama and Raul Castro about exactly what the terms of the thaw would be. You don’t hold secret meetings in Canada, facilitated by the Pope, if you don’t have anything to talk about. Nixon’s visit to China presumably wasn’t any harder to arrange, but is widely seen as a pretty big deal.

            It has been obvious for decades that the Cuban embargo was a stupid policy that wasn’t accomplishing anything. Maybe it was low-hanging fruit, but Obama still deserves credit for picking it.

          • Nornagest says:

            So it’s not like we gained anything especially. It may have been the right decision, but is it an achievement?

            We gained something relative to the status quo ante. We did not extract any particular concessions from Cuba that I know of (though I can’t rule out ones I don’t know of; a lot of the terms of this kind of deal are always secret), but not everything in geopolitics is zero-sum.

            If you’re doing something stupid, and then you stop that, it may be hard to call it a triumph, but you have still stopped being stupid.

          • Matt M says:

            It has been obvious for decades that the Cuban embargo was a stupid policy that wasn’t accomplishing anything. Maybe it was low-hanging fruit, but Obama still deserves credit for picking it.

            The general consensus was always that everyone was afraid of Cuban backlash in Florida.

            *Note: Trump won Florida

          • John Schilling says:

            @pontifex:

            A loaded gun is not scary if you don’t believe the person holding it is willing pull the trigger. Trump just did.

            A loaded gun is also not terribly scary if the person pointing it at your head carefully aims it at an inanimate object before pulling the trigger – there are a number of reasons why basically every law enforcement agency in North America trains its officers to never, ever fire warning shots, one of which is that they basically don’t work.

            The Shayrat attack may have killed a dozen or so people, and we may consider that to be of great moral significance even as we conspicuously inquire into their names or even exact number. What are the odds that Bashar al-Assad considers the death of a dozen-ish anonymous nobodies to be of any moral significance? That he believes that Donald Trump considers this to be of any moral significance?

            @tomogorman:

            I don’t address what effect this may have other than weather it sends any meaningful signal to China regarding what we are likely to do in North Korea. It doesn’t. The size of the action in Syria is so much smaller than what an action in North Korea would entail that they are not comparable.

            Why do you imagine that an action against North Korea would be any larger than the one against Syria? True, a military action aimed at destroying or greatly degrading North Korea’s nuclear arsenal would need to be quite massive. But the Sharyat strike did not destroy nor greatly degrade Syria’s chemical warfare capability. The Sharyat strike was calibrated to Send A Message without risk of retaliation, embarrassing civilian casualties, or God forbid a single US military death. Why is it not plausible that the United States would conduct a similar strike to deliver a similar, materially irrelevant, message to North Korea?

          • tomogorman says:

            @JohnSchilling:

            Why is it not plausible that the United States would conduct a similar strike to deliver a similar, materially irrelevant, message to North Korea?

            So many reasons: 1) what would be the point of such a strike? the Syria strike at least arguably could deter the Assad forces from using chemical weapons again – but there is no reason to think the ability to inflict a similar low level of damage would deter North Korea from possessing nuclear weapons 2) there is no way to make a similar strike against North Korea as low risk as the strike against Syria. Syria doesn’t have the capacity to conduct a retaliatory military strike against U.S. assets, but North Korea does 3) even if we thought such a strike were possible why would China care – if such a non-escalatory strike is possible then North Korea gets the equivalent of losing a dozen or so people and use of an airfield for a short time – this is not something China is concerned about – their interests are in the survival of the North Korean regime as client state 4) if this is just general Nixon madman theory (you need to give Trump what he wants or seriously risk him doing something stupid that hurts everyone – the signal theory still doesn’t work, because the Syria strike isn’t mad – its perfectly rational given U.S. vs. Syrian capabilities.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Syria strike at least arguably could deter the Assad forces from using chemical weapons again – but there is no reason to think the ability to inflict a similar low level of damage would deter North Korea from possessing nuclear weapons

            Why not? It isn’t the level of damage from the Shayrat strike that deters the Russo/Syrian alliance from chemical warfare, but the vaguely-implied threat that if they don’t knock it off the next strikes will be bigger or more numerous. Why can’t Trump believe that if he launches sixty cruise missiles at North Korea, that won’t carry the same “This was a warning; next time will really hurt so you better knock it off with the gas/nukes” message?

          • Wrong Species says:

            @John Schilling

            Thanks to nukes, I don’t think there is a middle ground between total war and non-confrontation. The assumption is that any nuclear power directly attacking another nuclear power is going to get nuked in return. That’s completely different from Syria where our options are much more flexible. If Syria released chemical weapons now, we could up the ante by bombing more airbases. Or we could bomb all of them. Or we could go directly after Assad himself. Or we could even directly send troops to pacify the country. We’re probably not going to do the latter but that flexibility is key to our ability to project power.

            Now maybe in North Korea we could send a few missiles to send a message. They might back down. It’s just as likely that they will go on an all out attack to the south. If we wanted to attack North Korea, we would probably have to knock out the vast majority of their missile capability.

          • John Schilling says:

            Thanks to MAD, I don’t think there is a middle ground between total war and non-confrontation.

            The Vietnam and Afghanistan wars would seem to argue otherwise. But how do you see MAD as at all relevant to Korean peninsula affairs? That would seem to me to be a classic case of UOD, which is nearly the opposite of MAD. At most, North Korea may be able to cause substantial damage, short of total destruction, to a third party that Trump somewhat cares about. And even that is not Assured.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Vietnam and Afghanistan didn’t have two nuclear super powers directly fighting each other. And while South Korea isn’t the US, it’s still an ally which make nuclear war undesirable. I think it’s fair to say that nuclear deterrence means nothing if you aren’t willing to respond to other nuclear countries who so blatantly disregard your sovereignty, which makes it hard to believe a limited air strike could be done without wider ramifications.

          • John Schilling says:

            Vietnam and Afghanistan didn’t have two nuclear super powers directly fighting each other.

            Neither do Syria or (hypothetically) North Korea. North Korea is not a superpower. North Korea aspires to be seen as a great power when it grows up, but it is not and never will be a superpower.

            OK, now I want someone to write a near-future SF novel where North Korea plausibly becomes a superpower. But really, no. North Korea is about as far from being a superpower as it is possible to be while in possession of working nuclear weapons.

          • tomogorman says:

            Why not? It isn’t the level of damage from the Shayrat strike that deters the Russo/Syrian alliance from chemical warfare, but the vaguely-implied threat that if they don’t knock it off the next strikes will be bigger or more numerous. Why can’t Trump believe that if he launches sixty cruise missiles at North Korea, that won’t carry the same “This was a warning; next time will really hurt so you better knock it off with the gas/nukes” message?

            Because North Korea can hit back in lots of ways that Syria can’t of which Nukes are only the most serious but also including proportionate retaliation with their conventional artillery. Because North Korea already endures more damage than this strike caused from global isolation and sanctions largely because of its nuclear program – so minimal damage from this strike is unlikely to be the tipping point. Because a shift in U.S. policy toward provoking a war with North Korea would freak out Japan and South Korea.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        No, James, Trump is not a master negotiator.

    • 1soru1 says:

      I don’t think that Trump’s conversion to suddenly spend taxpayers money avenging dead Syrians, in contrast to pretty much everything he had ever previously said on the topic, was plausibly predictable by anyone outside his inner circle. Starting a war yes; starting a Middle Eastern war for humanitarian reasons no.

      So if you are going to have a conspiracy theory, he, or someone with influence or leverage over him, would pretty much have to be involved.

      Occam’s razor says Assad did it; he had motive, opportunity and capability. Putin would be the backup option, or perhaps other figures surrounding Trump, such as Kushner. The US ‘deep state’, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel are not impossible, but it for any of them it would have been incredibly difficult and risky, with a low probability of a useful outcome even if executed perfectly. Hard to see that they wouldn’t have had better options if they were in the mood for a bit of a ruthless gamble.

      The one thing you can be reasonably certain of it was not the rebels; they don’t have the infrastructure to manufacture chemical weapons more sophisticated than mustard gas, or the kind of rigid hierarchy that would allow ordering an attack on your own side without mass defections .

      • sflicht says:

        How did Assad have motive? Unless you think the motive is gleeful pleasure in the suffering of his Sunni citizens, strategic consequences be damned?

        • 1soru1 says:

          He is the Lion of Syria. They are his enemies. He wants to kill them, or force them to surrender.

          If he had free reign to use domestically-produced WMDs, the war would be over in months and he would be the undisputed ruler. Without them, the war drags on for years and ends in a Russia-brokered ceasefire, with Putin quite likely forcing him to step down when he gets the right concession.

          He probably would have estimated 90% chance of getting away with it, a 9% chance of a slap on the wrists by way of retaliation, and 1% of real consequences. He was unlucky, but you can’t say he miscalculated.

          For other suspects, only Russia, the USA and North Korea are known to have stockpiles of modern chemical weapons. Other countries with secret programs, will want to keep them secret, not hand them out to wildcat schemes with a remote chance of doing anything more than deterring Assad from doing something that, according to the theory, he didn’t do anyway.

          You can come up with fun conspiracy theories for any of the more plausible perpetrators; Putin is the one who has a documented record of false flag attacks and several plausible motives. But realistically it was either Assad being Assad, or a bomb hit some pesticide and the symptoms got misreported.

          • phil says:

            I don’t really like your breakdown of Assad’s estimations

            I think if those were his real estimations he badly miscalculated

            I think they misestimate the degree to which the idea of Trump as a puppet or ally Putin is both a liability for Trump in US domestic politics, and also probably grates on Trump on a personal level

            I think Trump should have been seen as eager for an occasion to change that narrative

            I’d put the odds at something more like (maybe) 40% no consequences (if you think Trump is a true isolationist ideologue), 55% functional slap on the wrist the probably negates the tatical advantage from having used these weapons in the first place (which is about where I think we are now), 4% real consequence where this wound up being a significant net negative for Assad on the ground, and 1% catastrophic net negative with Assad dangling in the square

            for me, the question is what is how cautious is he about actions that move the odds on catastrophically bad outcomes, even slightly

            ———-
            ———-

            I also think this thread (and the general American mindset at large) overestimate the degree to which Trump needs to cater to the isolationist (Alt-right?) wing of the right

            That’s really a small fraction of the GOP, basically a swing fraction, (ballparking it at 25% of the GOP is probably overestimating it)

            and, Trumps only competition for that faction, that wouldn’t be starting from functionally 0, is, maybe, Rand Paul

            most of the GOP is made up of people who voted for Bush twice, who supported Trump mainly out of party loyalty, and never would have voted for Hillary

            the isolationist people don’t really move the needle on a national scale

      • I don’t think that Trump’s conversion to suddenly spend taxpayers money avenging dead Syrians, in contrast to pretty much everything he had ever previously said on the topic, was plausibly predictable by anyone outside his inner circle.

        I though the dove stance would last up until the first insult. I shouldhave placed a bet.

        • herbert herberson says:

          I thought the breakdown would come from the incoherent contradiction between it and his antagonism towards Iran. -1 point for “seriously but not literally”

      • tmk says:

        in contrast to pretty much everything he had ever previously said on the topic

        Trump is a populist, so does not have principles. When he criticized Obama and Hillary over foreign interventions, it was not because he is against wars, but because he is against Obama and Hillary. Just like when he criticized Obama for playing golf, it was not because he actually has an issue with presidents playing golf.

        As for the original question: Assad has used chemical weapons before, and it was as likely to attract western intervention them. Similar dictator Saddam Hussein also used chemical weapons. It’s a way to assert dominance.

    • Tekhno says:

      My big problem is that trying to remove Assad and making that the ultimate goal of military intervention is likely to make things far far far worse then they are already (for reasons that involve Europe and Russia among the obvious ISIS one). I’m seeing a lot of people saying that they were against intervention up until the gas attack. Don’t they know that there have been gas attacks before (with fingers pointing at everyone)? This is just the case with the strongest evidence that it’s Assad that has done it and not some other party. Why make this is a red line beyond which we all 180 like Trump did?

      With my ever growing lack of trust in any of the authorities involved, I don’t think arguing over responsibility should even be the main issue. It’s ultimately a circular game of appealing to different authorities, and one side has the dead babies trump card. If those against intervention accept it as a necessary condition, then if an authority people see as legitimate comes out with “hard evidence”, all other arguments from that side will be discarded as they instantly lose political capital. Once the dead babies card has been played, people’s threshold for legitimacy goes down.

      I’d rather ask what the plan for the aftermath of removing Assad is. All of those who have been pushing it for years now still seem to be in the underpants gnome stage and that isn’t exactly reassuring. I think there’s a prevailing feeling that things have reached the absolute worse case scenario so we have to do something, but things can get still yet get much much worse.

      I predict Islamists taking over (Al Nusra, ISIS, or other), other countries in the region being plunged into wars like Syria, Israel possibly panicking and doing something stupid, refugee movement to Europe on a scale that makes recent movement look like nothing, with economic migrants from other regions riding the wave, acceleration of the up to now radicalization of the right in Europe, and worst of all, the West going up to the brink with Russia.

    • I have just noticed that someone had shared my post on this open thread. (Thanks to One Name May Hide Another for sharing it and having some nice words about it.)

      I’m really busy right now, so I don’t have time to reply to people’s objections, but just by skimming this thread it seems to me that a lot of them have already been made by folks on reddit, where I have replied to them.

      Also, in many cases, the points that people make are already addressed in my post if you read it carefully and follow the links it contains. (Of course, you may think some of them are not addressed satisfactorily and you may even be right about that, but you should at least acknowledge what I say in response to them and explain what it’s not convincing.)

      So if you think that something doesn’t add up, you should first make sure that I don’t already address your worry in my post, though you may have missed it on a first read. (It’s a very long post with a lot of links and I may not be the best writer so I think it wouldn’t be surprising.) Another thing which is a lot more infuriating is when people attribute to me claims I not only never made but that I explicitly pointed out I was not making in my post.

      I’m sure people will also come up with objections I didn’t address in my post and, if I have time, I will try to come back here and see if I have a reply to them, but unfortunately I can’t promise anything because my plate is really full at the moment. I hope that, even if you ultimately disagree with me, you will find my post interesting.

      • 1soru1 says:

        One point clearly not addressed is that the autopsies of several of the casualties in Turkey have confirmed the presence of Sarin. Evacuees have also been interviewed there, matching the stories of those remaining. Of course, that is compatible with the narrative that Turkey was behind the attacks.

        Secondly, and I say this only in case you are unaware of your own bias, look at your usages of the phrases ‘weapon’, ‘chemical weapon’, and ‘sarin’. Look how often you make a statement about one that would be false if is used the narrower word, but is only relevant to the argument if it is read as the stronger one.

        • I plan to write a follow-up in which I will reply to critics. I will discuss, among other things, the statement by the Turkish government which you mention. It may take a little while though because I have a lot of work to do that has nothing to do with my blog and, at the moment, I’m pretty sick, which means I’m not very productive.

          Secondly, and I say this only in case you are unaware of your own bias, look at your usages of the phrases ‘weapon’, ‘chemical weapon’, and ‘sarin’. Look how often you make a statement about one that would be false if is used the narrower word, but is only relevant to the argument if it is read as the stronger one.

          I don’t believe there are any such phrases in my post, but perhaps I’m wrong. If I’m wrong, however, you need to give me some examples, because otherwise you’re not going to convince me or anyone else who is rational.

    • Anonymous says:

      I eagerly await the day when the ME oil will run out and the ME will be irrelevant again.

    • zluria says:

      For myself, the eye-witness reports looked very convincing. This is the video:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ritljieE-8
      These are people who were injured in the attacks, and then only recovered in a hospital in Turkey. There is a teenager and a middle-aged women among the witnesses, but the stories all agree. They don’t claim that they know who was behind the attacks, but they describe an airstrike.

      I can’t bring myself to believe that these people are all systematically lying. Are they all highly trained Al Qaeda operatives? Did they stick around waiting to be gassed so that they could then blame Assad? And if they are lying, why wouldn’t they go the whole hog and claim that they recognized Assad’s planes?

      This is the weak point in your argument. The eye-witness reports look extremely credible.

      Now, as to who carried out the attacks: None of the rebel groups, who arguably had a motive (breaking up the peace talks and making Assad look bad), have the means to carry out an airstrike with chemical weapons.
      It could only have been Assad or the Russians. But if Assad had no motive, the same holds true for Putin. And at this point Assad is pretty much a Russian stooge, so there’s not much difference between the two options.

      So what’s your false flag option? Israel? The US itself? Frankly, these kinds of theories seem vastly less likely than Assad or the Russians having done it.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I don’t have time to reply to this in full depth at the moment but:

      -I think that the odds of it being a false flag are notably lower than it being an accident, and are in turn notably lower than that it was exactly what the US and the NYT say it was.

      -“False Flag!” is a claim that gets trotted out a LOT, and based on previous experience and evidence my heuristic is that the claim is almost always bullshit, and that in the rare cases where it’s NOT, it will come out relatively quickly because it’s very, very difficult to successfully pull off a false flag attack and make it stick for any period of time.

      -Sy Hersh has reported 30 of the last 2 major US scandals. He is the very definition of a stopped clock that is right twice a day.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Seymour Hersh is also claiming that there was a massive cover-up about the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Citing him uncritically, instead of pointing out that he always chooses the conspiracy theory, either means 1) the author knew about this and chose not to tell us, or 2) the author didn’t know.

      • Alan Crowe says:

        The Air Raid on Bari is a example of the kind of accident in question.

        Remember that Assad had plenty of chemical weapons before the fighting started. He gave up the ones that he still controlled, but that leaves more in barrels and storerooms in rebel territory, just waiting for the ordinary accidents of war to release them.

    • Deiseach says:

      3.3. Seymour Hersh (known for breaking the Abu Ghraib scandal) argues that Erdogan had provided the rebels with sarin gas for the purpose of carrying out a false flag attack in order to get the US involved.

      I’d agree vaguely that it’s not impossible Erdogan has means of contacting some faction of rebels and that this operation would be the kind of operation he’d favour, except not to get the US involved. Rather, he wants to position Turkey as the natural leader in this region, so if the West keep their noses out, and Russia and Assad are disfavoured, Turkey can come in as defender of the suffering people and neutral helpful peacekeeper.

      Mainly though, my money is on Assad dunnit.

    • rlms says:

      It seems biased to claim that Michael Gordon is unreliable because he wrote a discredited article about Saddam Hussein, then introduce Seymour Hersh as a reliable source who broke the Abu Ghraib scandal, rather than someone who wrote a book of conspiracy theories about JFK based on hearsay and a hoax. Relevantly, Hersh also claims that the 2013 chemical attacks (widely believed to have ben committed by Assad) were a Turkish false flag. There is some criticism of that here (and the fact that Turkey didn’t actually invade is more evidence against it).

    • howardtreesong says:

      I’m entirely unconvinced. With respect to the current attack, the United States has published evidence of aircraft tracking from Shayrat to the attack site. That’s of course not conclusive, but it’s also not data that I’d expect rebels to have, and they’d need it to conduct a false flag attack. Much of the rest of this seems composed of fairly basic fallacies — such as appeals to authority.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I don’t think either side is claiming it wasn’t Syrian airstrikes that happened. Assad is claiming that their legitimate airstrikes hit the rebels’ chemical weapons.

        • howardtreesong says:

          Ah, I see. The idea that legitimate airstrikes hit chemical weapons seems rather less likely to me than Assad’s affirmative use of chemical weapons. Is Assad’s story that his strikes deliberately sought to hit chemical weapons stores, or that doing so was just happenstance?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Chances are better than 0.5 that it was Assad. The Islamic State is a parasitical basket case state and the other Syrian rebels are losers without industrial capacity. So for any given chemical attack, we can assume at least a 0.5 chance it was him, because if chemical weapons were consistently getting to others and being used in false flags, he’d destroy everything and beg UN inspectors to stay. So Ghouta being a false flag would actually increase my prior that it was him this time.
      It’s a really horrible situation, because hurting the secular dictator only strengthens the Islamic State, but doing nothing would have been a step toward normalizing chemical warfare.

      • Forty Winks says:

        Looked at coldly, as long as the gas attack has a decent chance of being Assad’s work, it makes sense to treat it as if it were definitely his.

        The logic is this — if he did it, and the US doesn’t respond, he’ll keep doing it. Maybe cautiously at first, claiming each time it was a false flag on the part of the rebels, but eventually, if the US continues to ignore it, flagrantly. The result is the long-standing prohibition of the use of poison gas is fully revealed as a sham, and the US’s enemies can say, “See? Super Man is really just Clark Kent. All those promises he spouted when he was running around in a red cape were hogwash. All you people who thought he was going to protect you might want to think about getting Lex Luthor on the phone and seeing if you can work something out.”

        If, on the other hand, the US responds as it has, what can Assad do? He could use poison gas a couple more times to see if the US is serious and thus lose several more airbases (or maybe even a palace or two), or he can stop right away. Either way, a victory for Truth, Justice and the American way. And the foes of the US will tend to think, “damn, they apparently draw their boundaries a lot further out from their immediate interests than I thought. Maybe my dream of rejiggering my border with my neighbor is something I ought not to be dwelling on right now.”

        But maybe the attack was a false flag. Maybe the Saudis, or the Israelis or the Illuminati were behind it. Doesn’t matter. The narrative consequence are the same. But what if the false-flaggers keep doing it? Well, first you have to ask why would they? Presumably, their reason for the gas attack would be to lure the US into committing a fortune in blood and treasure and overthrowing Assad. The US responding by taking out a single airfield makes it clear the hoped-for large scale intervention isn’t going to happen. The US is essentially saying it is okay with Assad winning, it just won’t let him win in a way that humiliates the US.

        There are two reasons why it is unlikely that false flaggers would decide to keep on perpetrating false flag gas attacks in the hope of tricking the US into degrading Assad’s forces one airfield at a time. First, the more times they repeat their trick, the greater the likelihood that they will be unmasked and face consequences — a stern talking to and withdrawal of access to cool new weapons systems if they turn out to be the Saudis or Israelis, a shower of missiles aimed at their secret headquarters on the plateau of Leng if they turn out to be the illuminati.

        The second reason is, the US’s limited response makes it clear they can live with an Assad victory. Thus, even if the false flaggers are confident in being able to keep their identity secret, the US can, at any time, just declare a given gas attack a false flag perpetrated by ISIS and bomb them instead. One false flag might be worth a shot; repeated false flags are too risky and unlikely to result in the desired outcome anyway.

    • Yosarian2 says:

      The US government has since given a detailed flight path of the bomber that dropped the chemical weapons, they had it on radar the whole time.

      Another key point here is that Assad had one of the largest stockpiles of this chemical weapon in the world; he gave up hundreds of tons to the UN weapon inspectors after the 2013 attack but i don’t think anyone is surprised he had some hidden away.

  2. The Nybbler says:

    Richard Spencer punched AGAIN?

    Isn’t getting beat up a lot somewhat contrary to his philosophy?

    • christhenottopher says:

      The punching misses the real crime here. The counter protesters had a vuvuzela they were blowing. I would probably rather be punched than having to listen to that godawful torture device.

      But yeah can we stop punching people? It gets them in the news and establishes bad political norms.

    • WashedOut says:

      I can’t help but notice how the term “glitterbombed” is now used quite casually in reporting. Modern violence has such a feminine character!

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Glitter-bombing is violence?

        • Eltargrim says:

          In the same way a pie in the face is violence: possibly assault and/or battery (depending on jurisdiction); certainly preferable to a fist; but still should be discouraged, although less vehemently than the fist.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I take your point. It is relevant.

            But I feel like the specific example you are using isn’t quite analogous. I’m not sure I can perfectly articulate why, but I’ll try.

            Typically a pie in the face requires a certain amount of force, requiring as it does direct application of the pie to the face. Glitter does not. Pie must be cleaned off before continuing your previous actions, glitter can be treated as a festive addition (sure, their are limits here).

            I’d argue that glitter bombing is less disruptive and violent than even sustained shouting.

          • Brad says:

            It certainly counts as tortuous battery (intentional harmful or offensive physical contact). There’s case law about blowing cigar smoke in someone’s face that is on point. Criminal battery (confusingly enough called assault in some states) is a more mixed bag. Many jurisdictions require some injury as an element.

          • Eltargrim says:

            @HBC: before I get into a long-winded reply, can we clarify if the discussion is whether or not glitter-bombing is violence (i.e. the definition of the word), or whether glitter-bombing is acceptable (i.e. how to treat it in the moral and legal contexts)?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Glitterbombing with large pieces of glitter is essentially harmless; with smaller pieces it can mess up people’s eyes.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Eltargrim:

            I specifically raised violence as the issue, to which you responded. My answer was in reference to violence.

            My initial aside about seeing the point you were making was intended to acknowledge something similar to the idea that they both raise issues about acceptability.

          • Eltargrim says:

            @HBC: I appreciate the clarification.

            Despite its importance, I think we both can agree violence isn’t a particularly well-defined term, particularly on the lower end of things. For example, barring the shouting of threats, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize shouting as being violent. We can all agree that a punch is violent, but is a poke? A pinch? A touch?

            What’s the minimum level of interaction required for something to be “violent”? Personally I require either physical interaction or threats of physical interaction for something to qualify as violent, which disqualifies a lot of speech. My requirement for resulting harm for something to be considered violent is quite low. The cost of cleaning glitter out of my clothes would certainly qualify. It’s the interference with my person that galling, not necessarily the potential for injury.

            I don’t think it’s particularly incongruent to characterize glitter-bombing as being violent. Are we approaching (or at) the point on the violence spectrum where it’s not worth doing anything about it? Probably. But if somebody walked off with my unattended coffee, I’m still a victim of theft, even if I can easily replace it.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’d argue that glitter bombing is less disruptive and violent than even sustained shouting.

            I agree with this statement. I’d much rather be glitterbombed than have someone screaming in my face.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It is definitely less violent, and I’d view it as a mostly harmless prank after-the-fact.

            On the other hand, if you rush up to try to glitter-bomb some famous politician, you shouldn’t be surprised if their body-guards shoot you as a possible assassin instead. It’s not reasonable to expect them to distinguish that in the heat of the moment.

            See also: giving the president a chocolate gun.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            You can think of both as mock executions.

            They show that your adversary can get to you, and next time it could be a real bat/bullet.

          • mupetblast says:

            The notion of microaggresssion is being taken more and more seriously these days, is it not? I’m curious to what extent that might validate the idea that glitterbombing is absolutely, unequivocally violence.

          • Aapje says:

            Glitter is pretty micro, I guess.

        • lvlln says:

          There’s always the risk that the glitter was shrapnel-grade…

        • Deiseach says:

          Glitter-bombing is violence?

          Ever tried washing off glitter? Gets everywhere and weeks later you’re still finding traces 🙂

        • Marie says:

          Well, maybe, as it’s apparently possible to calculate the suffereing/violence exchange rate between torture-units and glittery-speck-in-the-eye units. If 3^^^3 Spencers are glitter bombed…

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      The worst part about this is we’re going to have another six weeks of smug left-wingers bragging about how they’d totally punch Hitler.

      (Because random street violence totally kept the Nazis from gaining power the first time OH WAIT.)

    • Acedia says:

      Spencer says he wasn’t punched and since the videos show only the glitterbomb and no punch, I’m inclined to believe him. There would have been dozens of smartphones recording him so someone would have clear footage of him getting hit if it had actually happened.

      • The Nybbler says:

        So we have totally intact and uninjured yet sparkly white supremacists? It IS part of his diabolical plot; he’s going to rally Twilight fans behind him!

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m confused; that article says Spencer was leading a protest/rally against the air strikes in Syria, the antifa crowd seem to have also been arranging anti-air strikes protest, but they preferred to attack and chase after and punch Spencer?

      So what’s the more important cause here: the Syrian people getting bombed or punching Spencer?

  3. Loquat says:

    Sign of the Apocalypse #584: Bob Ross joins the cult of Cthulhu and shows you how to paint happy Shoggoths

    (aka what happens when you feed a video frame-by-frame through Deep Dream)

    • Tekhno says:

      I can’t actually watch this while wearing headphones. I get a tickly feeling like millipedes are crawling into my ears and I start breathing heavily.

      • MuncleUscles says:

        All these neural network generated sounds and visuals strongly remind me of hallucinations experienced under the influence of psychedelic drugs like LSD which makes me suspect that they’re coming close to simulating the impaired functioning of our brains, and the discomfort comes from the fact that your brain isn’t entirely sure some of its circuits aren’t malfunctioning.

        I also wonder if this approach in a more targeted way could be use to induce certain experiences by effectively hacking the brain.

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      There are some artifacts of modern life where i’m genuinely curious what would happen if we left a premodern alone in a room with them.

      If we time-kidnapped an ancient roman and just left them alone in a room with this on loop for an hour what do you think would happen?

      • Zodiac says:

        I think he’d be sitting in a corner, crying, thinking the demons are coming to eat him.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I imagine it would be roughly what modern day alien abductees would typically report.

      • alethenous says:

        “This is going to be another of Zeus’ weird sex games, isn’t it.”

      • Loquat says:

        I wonder if a 5-minute video on loop for an hour would have different effects than an hour-long video – with the former, our subject may well notice that the freaky demons keep doing the same things again and again regardless of what he does. Hell, even a completely normal short video on repeat might freak him out, or make him think the people in it were being tortured in Hades or something.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          See, I’ve always found the notion that ancient people would assume videos are real people trapped in a box to be a bit “Our Ancestors Were Stoopid”. They had portraits and statues, plays and puppet shows. It’s a quite a technical jump but no great cognitive leap to motion pictures.

          The Bob Ross Cthulhu vid, sure, that’ll freak people out. It does today. But regular videos? I doubt it.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve heard stories about how when movies were new, if people saw a clip of an oncoming train they would scream and try to jump out of the way because they thought a train was about to hit them.

            Not sure if this is actually true or just something made up.

          • Loquat says:

            I mean specifically the fact that it’s a looping video, though – an ancient Roman would certainly be familiar with plays, but if you watch some actors perform the same scene 5 times they’ll inevitably be a bit different each time, and furthermore if their audience starts trying to deliberately interfere with them they’ll at least give some evidence of noticing. If someone’s from a time period where photography didn’t exist, and sound recording didn’t exist, but the supernatural was believed to be real, I think motion pictures with no context of explanation would be a hell of a cognitive leap.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Nowadays we create similar feelings in people through 3D-movies.

            The earliest movie makers certainly did intentionally try to get people to feel this way. One of the earlier short movies has a gunman shoot at the audience.

          • LHN says:

            [T]here are no surviving contemporary accounts of the audience reaction to those 1896 showings, there is no concrete proof that audiences ever went scurrying for the back of theater as the train pulled in on screen, and Loiperdinger thinks that such a reaction is unlikely.

            “There is no evidence at all about any crowd panic in Paris or elsewhere during screenings of L’Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat – neither police reports nor newspaper reporting,” he says. The screen the film was shown on was small (around seven feet wide), and the picture quality was not only lacking color, but it was full of grain. The image flickered noticeably, and of course, there was no sound. In other words, there was no way anyone was confusing the film for reality.

            http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/did-a-silent-film-about-a-train-really-cause-audiences-to-stampede

  4. Matt M says:

    Question for Scott re: Determining Consent

    Let’s say one is of the opinion that the mentally ill/disabled in America suffer egregious abuses of their rights. Is there any organization out there dedicated to advocacy for such people – either in a micro (lawyers who take up their cause pro bono) or macro (groups who advocate for policy changes at the highest political levels) sense?

    Basically, if you wanted to write someone a check to contribute to change in this area, where would you start?

    • watsonbladd says:

      ASAN does a lot of work on various policy things. There are some other disability organizations out there.

      • Matt M says:

        Thanks for the reply. I’d be somewhat reluctant to get into an autistic-specific focused thing for various reasons. I think that issue is a lot more complicated. But it’s a start I guess.

  5. Report on the San Jose meetup:

    The highest count I got at one time was about thirty, but people were coming and going, so I’m guessing a total of about forty guests. The first arrived around 2:00, the last left about 7:30.

    I now have a sheet with people’s emails, but I’m not sure what I should be doing with it. If anyone else wants it for future meetups I’ll be happy to scan it and email a copy. If we do another we’ll probably just announce it here, since that seems to work.

    • zorbathut says:

      I know I wouldn’t necessarily see a recurring meeting posted here; I don’t always read the comments, nor do I often scroll through comments. If Scott does another meetup-summary-post I’ll see it there, but otherwise, send to emails please!

    • Glenn says:

      I did not make it to this meetup but would be interested in being added to the list of emails! gwillen AT nerdnet DOT org. Thanks!

  6. bean says:

    An important technical topic and one that I have ignored until now, is underwater protection. (Series index) Heavy gunfire and bombs are not the only means of sinking battleships, and protecting against torpedoes and mines requires a very different set of solutions. A typical torpedo of WW2 carried between 400 and 1000 lbs of high explosives, and it would be impossible to put enough steel on the side or bottom of a ship to withstand such an explosion, particularly with the tamping effect of the water. Instead, the torpedo defense system serves to dissipate the explosive force, through a combination of spaces kept empty and filled with liquids. Besides the obvious effects of blast, the structure of the ship can cause damage through fragmentation.
    Early torpedo defense systems were fairly simple, basically placing the coal bunkers outboard of the spaces to be protected. This actually worked pretty well, as the explosion used up energy chewing up the coal, and the coal also caught any fragments, but it had a couple of problems. First, the coal, if burned, no longer provided protection, and if the coal was held in the bunkers to provide torpedo protection, it drastically reduced the ship’s endurance. Also, if the coal was to be used in normal service, the bulkhead had to be pierced by scuttles, which tended to spring open when hit. This could be avoided if the bunkers were only accessed from above, but that was operationally awkward. Some countries chose to place armor inboard of the bunkers, while others, including the US, didn’t. Occasionally, there were voids outboard of the coal, although coal’s bulk meant that they were seldom large enough. Another advantage of coal was that a typical full bunker was about 60% full by volume, which limited how much off-center weight flooding of the bunker after a hit would produce. A corresponding disadvantage was that coal dust was a serious explosive hazard.
    With the introduction of oil-burning boilers (see the installment on engineering), coal was no longer an option for protection. The British, at least, thought that oil was too flammable to store in the sides of a ship, and stored it only in the double bottoms of their ships. This turned out not to be true, and liquid layers formed the basis of almost all later torpedo defense systems. Liquids help deal with both aspects of the torpedo problem. The shock is spread out nearly evenly across the back (holding) bulkhead of the layer, and any fragments are caught and brought to a stop. Ideally, the holding bulkhead will be light and elastic, and will stretch without breaking or impacting anything behind it. Thus, there needs to be a void and another bulkhead, preferably armored, inboard of the liquid layer. It’s best to have another void layer outboard of the liquid layer, so that the gas bubble has room to expand freely, which depletes it of its energy.
    The single most important factor in a torpedo defense system (TDS) is the depth of the system. Actually, that’s not quite true. The most important factor is to avoid serious design flaws. This is harder than it sounds. Probably the most effective system ever was that on the Tennessee and Colorado classes, which had a void outer layer, three liquid layers, and another void layer. The three innermost bulkheads of the system were armored, but light and elastic. At Pearl Harbor, the system worked well. West Virginia was sunk because several of the torpedoes hit the belt above the TDS and pushed it in. California’s TDS also withstood the hits on her, and she sank due to her uprepared state. This system was very deep due to the classes turboelectric propulsion system, which did help a lot.
    There were several interesting innovations that deserve discussion. The first is bulges. These were a British invention, and basically consisted of bulging the hull below the waterline to improve the depth of the system. They were commonly refitted to earlier ships with poor TDSs, but tended to slow the ship they were fitted to. (This wasn’t always the case, though. Hydrodynamics is a complicated subject.)
    The next is tubes. Some ships, notably British, had their voids filled with tubes. These were intended to serve much the same purpose as the liquid layers, absorbing energy and intercepting fragments, but they didn’t work as well as the liquid layer system. A related idea was that of water-excluding material. One of the most serious problems in void-based systems is that when a torpedo hits, the former voids become filled with water, and this causes the ship to list, even though the voids are compartmented to limit the flooding. Some nations filled the voids with materials intended to keep the flooding out, but it never worked very well.
    The most innovative attempt to solve the TDS problem is probably the Italian Puligese system. This replaced the voids with a tube in the lower corner of the ship, which was empty and surrounded by water. The theory was that the energy of the torpedo warhead be spent crushing the tube. In practice, it didn’t work very well. Sources vary in ascribing the failure to poor workmanship or a fundamentally flawed design.
    Torpedoes weren’t the only threat that TDSs had to deal with (for this reason, some refer to them as side protective systems). Mines detonating on the sides of the ship and bombs falling alongside are much like torpedoes, but in the 30s, designers became aware of a new threat, that of diving shells. This is an obvious problem, because shells are best stopped by steel, not by water and air. And the steel required is thick, which means that it is not elastic and breaks into pieces under the shock loadings imposed by a torpedo hit. On the Iowas, the armored belt was extended down and tapered to form the bulkhead behind the third of the four TDS voids. In theory, this had the advantage of allowing the ‘gas jet’ to vent outboard of the belt, as opposed to systems which had the belt outboard of the TDS, and would have allowed the resulting damage to go over the top of the system behind the belt. Unfortunately, the system was not tested until the Iowas (and the South Dakotas, which shared the system) were well underway, and it turned out not to work very well. The original plan had been void-liquid-liquid-void, but the system was instead filled liquid-liquid-void-void to improve performance.
    The Yamatos had several problems. The Japanese were very concerned about diving shells, and also extended their belt down to the bottom. However, the design of the joint between the upper and lower belts was poor, and it tended to break under explosive loads. (This is why subscale testing is never entirely accurate, and why TDS development is so expensive or hit-and-miss.) The Japanese also refused to use liquid loading in their TDS, which seriously compromised its effectiveness.
    A couple of issues that need to be covered before I wrap this up. First, oil has the same issue as coal, in that it can’t protect the ship if it’s not there. Oil tanks can be filled with water, although this does tend to leave sludge. (This might have been why the Japanese didn’t use liquid loading. The British used only seawater on the Nelsons, which they excluded from standard treaty displacement.)
    Second, and most importantly, even a really good TDS doesn’t protect the ship against attacks that don’t hit it. Because depth is important, it’s impossible to protect the ship outside of the citadel. The most serious vulnerability is the shafts, propellers and rudder, which are necessary for the ship to move, but cannot be armored. This was what doomed Bismarck, and contributed heavily to the loss of Prince of Wales.
    I don’t expect I’ll do another one of these for a while. The next one will probably be on the pre-dreadnought, which hasn’t been covered well. I’ll probably do one on survivability and damage control at some point, because there were several things I had to leave out of this one.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Incomplete paragraph!
      ” This system was very deep due to her”

      • bean says:

        Good catch, and right before the edit window closed. That was supposed to be about the turboelectric propulsion system, and has been corrected.

    • Aapje says:

      In a submarine simulator that I used to play, there was the choice to fire magnetic torpedo’s under a ship, so they would explode upwards. In the game, this was very effective in breaking (merchant) ships in two.

      Is there any defense specific to this attack? Perhaps by putting liquid layers at the bottom of the vessel?

      • bean says:

        Under-bottom attacks were one of the things I had to leave out for length, and am planning to cover in ‘damage control and survivability’. The basic answer is that an explosion under the ship is tremendously more damaging than one on the side, and there’s not much the designer can do about it, for two reasons. First, an underwater explosion has to use its energy somewhere. On the side of the ship, the TDS just has to keep it out until it runs into the surface and the energy goes to throwing up water. Under the bottom, that’s not an option. Second, width/depth is all-important. A typical TDS is 15-30 feet deep. A double/triple bottom of that depth would basically use all of the ship’s underwater volume, which is obviously unacceptable. Those tend be more like 5 ft deep. The bottom often does have liquid in it, but because it’s suitable for tankage at low cost, not for protective reasons. Some ships did have deep double bottoms due to fear of under-bottom attack, though. It was a major factor in British thinking at one point. They’d developed something called a B-bomb, which would be dropped ahead of a ship, sink down, then float back up and go off under the ship. (The only case I know of this sort of thing actually happening has already been mentioned here, in the form of the Kamikaze that sunk the William D. Porter.) It drove a lot of their design choices in the runup to WW2, though. (It was much smaller than the typical torpedo or mine.)
        Attempts to get this effect also drove the attempts at magnetic detonators. The problems of the Mk 14 are well-known, but the other powers had the same problems.

    • Jugemu says:

      Interesting, I didn’t know there were so many layers. How thick was each layer? And by depth do you mean the thickness of the total set of walls, or…?

      • bean says:

        I don’t have details on individual layers, although I’m kicking myself for not including some numbers and diagrams. Depth is (I believe) measured from the outer side of the hull to the holding bulkhead. Relative layer depth varied widely with the system design. The TDS on the Iowas was 18′ deep (not sure where along the slope it was measured, that’s just what my books say). The Tennessee-class (damaged view from Pearl Harbor, as I couldn’t find an intact section online) was approximately 30′ feet deep. The Yamato was 23′ deep.
        Here’s a section of most of the WW2 fast battleships. Here’s a diagram of the Puligese system.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I’m curious about the other aspects of torpedo defense. It sounds like planes could sometimes strafe them successfully. Could a deck-mounted gun ever do the same? Were there any other forms of active torpedo defense?

      I know ships were “degaussed” to protect them from magnetic mine detonators–did this work against torpedos too?

      • bean says:

        It sounds like planes could sometimes strafe them successfully. Could a deck-mounted gun ever do the same? Were there any other forms of active torpedo defense?

        I’ve heard of many cases where guns were fired at incoming torpedoes. In almost all cases, they did nothing. Torpedoes typically run at 10-15 ft down, which is deep enough that bullets are basically stopped. Active torpedo defenses are the fusion power of the naval world. They’ve been 5-10 years off since the 50s. And that’s not an exaggeration.

        I know ships were “degaussed” to protect them from magnetic mine detonators–did this work against torpedos too?

        It looks like it would probably have helped against a magnetic influence exploder, although it might not have provided complete protection. (Nobody who doesn’t have a security clearance knows for sure.) Obviously, it wouldn’t do anything against a contact pistol.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          Wikipedia on the Battle Off Samar:

          At 0915, an Avenger from St. Lo—piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) Waldrop—strafed and exploded two torpedoes in Kalinin Bay’s wake about 100 yards (91 m) astern of her. A shell from the latter’s 5 in (127 mm) gun deflected a third from a collision course with her stern.

          Is that account wrong?

          • bean says:

            I don’t know for certain. I do know that shooting at torpedoes is difficult enough that navies have yet to introduce an active anti-torpedo system, despite plans going back to the 50s. This is based on experiments conducted by scientists and engineers. I also know that humans are not nearly as reliable observers as we’d like to think, particularly under the sort of stress that you get when you see several battleships bearing down on your CVE. As such, my best guess is that something else was going on there. For all we know, it was a hapless group of marine mammals caught up in the battle, or something of that nature. Or maybe they were rolling natural 20s on their attempts to shoot at torpedoes. They were certainly very lucky that day, as well as very brave.
            Edit:
            Actually, it might have been that the torpedoes were in the ship’s wake, and that it made them run shallow. Likewise, a 5″ gun just might be able to reach down to a deep torpedo. I will reiterate that gunfire is not a good counter to torpedoes, and that anyone who dealt with a torpedo that way was very, very lucky.
            I’m not criticizing anyone who has fired a gun at torpedoes. You use whatever weapons you have, regardless of how well-suited they are to the target. Shooting at torpedoes is like using rifles against attacking airplanes, in that it can’t hurt and occasionally helps, as well as keeping the troops busy. But it’s not a serious answer to the problem of torpedo attack.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a firearms blog where a fellow — I forget the name — fires guns into a line of water-filled milk jugs to test the performance of the ammunition he’s using. Four gallons is usually enough to stop full-power pistol ammo; eight gallons stops most rifle rounds.
            A Grumman Avenger would likely have been firing .50 caliber heavy machine guns, which are much more powerful than these small arms (they also mounted .30 medium machine guns, firing the standard rifle round of the day, but probably wouldn’t have been using them for strafing by 1944; I haven’t been able to find out which Avenger variants participated in Samar, though). But ten feet of seawater is much more than eight milk jugs.

          • bean says:

            @Nornagest
            Mythbusters fired a .50 BMG sniper rifle into a swimming pool once. It didn’t penetrate anywhere near 10 feet. I’m sure there are clips on YouTube.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Yeah, mis-attribution would have been my best guess, followed by something screwy with the Japanese torpedoes.

            The wake possibility is pretty fascinating, though–I never cease to be amazed by all the crazy variables in play in real battles.

          • bean says:

            Yeah, mis-attribution would have been my best guess, followed by something screwy with the Japanese torpedoes.

            Japanese torpedoes were usually very good. They did their testing, unlike the US. Stories of the Japanese successfully shooting US submarine torpedoes should be treated with extreme skepticism.

            The wake possibility is pretty fascinating, though–I never cease to be amazed by all the crazy variables in play in real battles.

            War is horrendously complicated. Seeing this actually brought to mind another possibility. It’s possible that the torpedoes were disabled by the ship’s wake directly. The Casablancas weren’t that powerful, which reduces this possibility, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Or it could be that they were fired at maximum range, and that the crew saw the end-of-run explosions as normal.

          • bean says:

            I checked Morison’s account of this incident, and he said something rather different and more plausible. Waldrop detonated one torpedo as it was porposing towards the end of its run. So it wasn’t at depth, and could be gotten at with a machine gun. He also doesn’t say it was 100 yards from the ship, which he would have if the action report had said so. Unfortunately, wiki doesn’t give a cite for that section. Morison also says that the St. Lo’s 5″ deflected a torpedo, instead of Kalinin Bay. That’s unlikely, but if the torpedo is behaving erratically due to being at the end of its run, then it’s vaguely plausible that it was shallow enough to be affected by the shell. (Or it could have decided to turn on its own.)
            Hornfischer gives a slightly different account, crediting Waldrop with two torpedoes, one off of the Kalinin Bay, the other near St. Lo. He doesn’t mention the porpoising, and credits the carrier’s machine gunners with potentially stopping other torpedoes. No mention of distance, and he does credit St. Lo’s gun with a third torpedo. I’ve found too many errors in Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors to be inclined to resolve errors in Hornfischer’s favor on matters of fact.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            There’s a firearms blog where a fellow — I forget the name — fires guns into a line of water-filled milk jugs to test the performance of the ammunition he’s using.

            I’m pretty sure that you are talking about this blog.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Multiple testers -do- use stacked milk jugs or other water containers as a very rough jury-rigged replacement for ballistic gelatin, but what you’re doing there is very different from, say, shooting 1 10-gallon container of water.

            With regards to the sea, the mythbusters example is closer, and anything that isn’t within a couple feet of the surface is not going to be reachable by small arms fire, and in fact higher energy rounds (like .50BMG) actually come to pieces -faster-.

            Interestingly enough, counter to my expectations, the shockwave from a 5″ shell’s bursting charge would appear to only add maybe 6-10 inches to its effective reach into water for the purposes of detonating a torpedo (the paper isn’t -exactly- similar, but gives us something to go on).

          • bean says:

            Interestingly enough, counter to my expectations, the shockwave from a 5″ shell’s bursting charge would appear to only add maybe 6-10 inches to its effective reach into water for the purposes of detonating a torpedo (the paper isn’t -exactly- similar, but gives us something to go on).

            Every account says ‘deflected’ and not ‘detonated’. The best-case is that the shell either damaged the gyros or physically pushed the torpedo around. More likely, the torpedo was behaving weirdly anyway, and just turned on its own. Or it was a dolphin.
            Interesting paper, though.

  7. Thecommexokid says:

    You’re right, that is a crazy suggestion. I agree that the comments section can be overwhelming if you’re not very quick to the post, but in terms of possible solutions, I’d rather have other sorting options than chronological for comments that involved some kind of “upvote” or “like” mechanism. But I am well aware that is a highly contested issue among SSC commenters.

    But my No. 1 wish if you are thinking of making technical changes to the comment section—and this one should be entirely uncontroversial—would be for reply notifications! I can subscribe to all the comments of a post, but not specifically to comments that reply to my own comments. I have to remember that I commented on whichever post and go search for my username to see if anybody replied to me.

    • Siah Sargus says:

      I honestly love this comment section — it makes perfect sense that it would be crowded in here. I don’t think splitting up the comments will do any good, for a number of reasons, especially for those of us with multiple devices we read ssc on. But I am totally in agreement with the suggestion above; reply comment notifications would make everything more manageable.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Could top-level comments spawn a new discussion page? Making the open thread page a kind of aggregator.

      Would it help much if they did?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Bakkot, can you make this happen?

      • Bakkot says:

        Not… easily, unfortunately. Most of what I do is client-side: after you load the page, some stuff happens. Getting notifications without loading the page is outside my particular domain. People with more ability and willingness to wrangle PHP than myself might be able to make actual notifications happen. Or someone willing to run a separate service to scrape the WordPress API and send emails or whatever.

        That said, I could kinda fake it – for example, I could make a page which would show you new replies to comments you’d made recently on the computer you’re currently using. You’d have to manually open the page, and switching to a different computer would cause it to forget what you were doing, but it would perhaps be better than nothing.

        • Anonymous says:

          Another poor man’s notification would be the a list of replies to your posts, but that would have to wrangle maximum indenting somehow – maybe presume that max level indents in which you’ve participated is for you, or any post that includes your handle, or something.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          Bakkot,
          The easiest thing to try first, would be a button down by the Reply and Hide buttons, saying ‘Hide this User’ — ie ‘Hide all posts by this User’.

          No more programming needed, except better explanations needed about what the buttons really do, and maybe some encouragement from you and Scott.

          By using both Hides pretty liberally, I’ve cut down the number of immdiately-visible posts and got my screen pretty uncluttered.

        • PedroS says:

          On my android smarphone, I no longer can read the comments comfortably with the images on because the avatars (which are rendered in a very large size) overlap the text. Can anything be done to prevent this bug?

        • Glenn says:

          I have no prior WordPress experience, but I know PHP, have some general familiarity with webdev, and am willing to wrangle. Would it be worth me having a go at it?

        • I realise someone else is already giving this a shot, but if that fails for some reason, I love wrangling PHP (I’m one of those crazy people who actually enjoy the language, despite having an IT Security background).

          Drop me a line at pinkgothic at gmail dot com if I can help. 🙂

      • random832 says:

        One possible issue might be that it’s not particularly easy to model the relationships between comments past the threading limit (though for this particular request, just adding “and anyone who mentions my name” might be enough).

    • Said Achmiz says:

      What would make the comment section massively more readable for me:

      A “highlight threads with new comments” feature.

      That is, if a comment is not itself new, but has descendants (immediate or otherwise) that are new, highlight that comment (perhaps, the same style of highlighting as actual new comments — an outline — but in light red or orange or some such color).

      (Bonus subfeature: An option (checkbox/etc.) to select between “highlight top-level comments of threads with new posts only” vs. “highlight parents comments of subthreads at any depth, if they have new posts within them”.)

      Edit: An alternative implementation of basically this very same thing — and in fact very possibly a better implementation — would be “show only threads with new comments”. (That is, have threads without new comments start out collapsed/hidden, as if the user had clicked “Hide” on each of them.) For this variant, the analogue of “bonus subfeature” described above would be mandatory, imo: an option to select between “hide only full threads with no new comments” vs. “hide subthreads with no new comments as well”.

      Edit 2: With said alternate implementation, usability would then be improved a lot by adding an “expand/collapse auto-hidden comment threads” toggle button.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Oh, seconded. This would really help.

      • Bakkot says:

        Most of what you’re describing would have more UI than I’d really want to add. Here’s something I’d be willing to do: at the top of the comments (probably after the ’52 RESPONSES TO OT73: I LIK THE THRED’ text), three buttons: collapse all threads, collapse subthreads without new comments, expand all threads. (Maybe just the latter two, come to think.) Would that satisfy you?

        (Both of the “collapse” options would really just collapse the top-most comment in a subthread, which would hide its children but not mark them as collapsed, so that when said top-most comment was expanded you wouldn’t also have to expand each of its children.)

        Also, can you expand on

        For this variant, the analogue of “bonus subfeature” described above would be mandatory, imo: an option to select between “hide only full threads with no new comments” vs. “hide subthreads with no new comments as well”.

        ? I don’t understand why the “full thread” vs “subthread” distinction would particularly matter here.

        Edit to add: that said, the fact that you can C-f for `~ new ~` (without the spaces) to jump through new comments obviates much of the use for this, no?

        • Password says:

          I think the fact that comments other than those at the top level are expanded by default is a significant contributing factor to the comments feeling cluttered. If a reader isn’t interested in a given top-level comment they usually won’t be interested in the responses, and having to either scroll through the responses or hide each thread we’re not interested in is a non-trivial annoyance.

          My suggestion would thus be to make it only show top-level comments unless you either expand particular threads, or click the “Show all child comments” link (or whatever you prefer to call it).

          • onyomi says:

            This seems like a relatively simple (not being technically inclined, don’t know how difficult it would really be to implement) and innocuous way to greatly improve readability. If possible, I’d suggest trying this ahead of any other, more significant changes.

          • Bakkot says:

            This would be a major UI change, which I’m pretty strongly averse to. I could add a “collapse child comments” alongside the “collapse threads without new comments” proposed above, but I wouldn’t want to make the change you’re proposing the default. (Unless Scott wants me to, I guess.)

            I don’t think I know of any major comment systems which work this way either (except Facebook, I guess, kinda, but it doesn’t have much nesting), which suggests that people who design comment systems don’t see much advantage in this. Admittedly their incentives aren’t quite aligned, but it makes me more hesitant.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Bakkot:
            Could you add the status of a “collapse already read” checkbox as a global (to SSC) cookie property?

            In other words, don’t turn the behavior on by default, but let the user leave it on.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            I second HeelBearCub’s suggestion. That definitely seems like the correct way to go.

          • Bakkot says:

            HeelBearCub, sure, that sounds reasonable. I’ll try to get around to it sometime soonish. (Or, of course, for anyone with JS experience reading this, pull requests welcome!)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Livejournal has “collapse child comments” as a default. I think it kicks in when there are more than 50 comments on a post. You just see the poster’s name.

            I don’t love it– it’s somewhat inconvenient to have to keep expanding comments, but it isn’t awful. It would be nice to have an “expand all” button.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Let me clarify that “collapse already read” should mean:

            “collapse any comment thread (or subthread) where neither the
            top comment of the thread (or subthread), nor any child comments, are new”

            and not

            “collapse any comment thread (or subthread) where the top comment of the thread (or subthread) is not new”

          • Bakkot says:

            Beta implementation ready; soliciting feedback.

            Opt in.

            Opt out.

            (You can leave feedback here instead of reddit, if you want.)

          • CatCube says:

            @Bakkot

            I kind of like it. Though I didn’t realize just how few top-level comments there were in this 680-odd comment thread.

            Edit: My browser does now seem to be running slow, especially when typing comments. Windows 10 with Edge.

          • onyomi says:

            My problem with how it looks right now is I want an option to have all the top level comments, active or not, automatically expanded so I can see what they’re about and not just the author, but none of the replies to those comments expanded, so I can expand only those threads with a top-level comment which interests me. Is that possible?

          • dodrian says:

            @Bakkot

            My initial thoughts are really positive! Just a couple of page refreshes and I’m feeling much less overwhelmed than usual this late into an open thread. Looking forward to testing it on the new one tonight. Thanks!

            I would second onyomi’s suggestion of having a ‘top level and new posts’ option, or at least showing the first few lines of top level posts (fading out and having a ‘more’ link or something). I can attempt a pull request a bit later, but every time I try to mess with some CSS something goes terribly wrong :-/.

            Related: how would I run my own version of the js file on the live site? I imagine Chrome or Firefox developer tools would allow this – what should I be looking for?

          • Brad says:

            Bakkot:

            Off topic, but I’ve been getting the “cheating” message for every comment I report for the last few weeks even though I only report once.

          • Bakkot says:

            @CatCube: No idea what’s going on with the slowdown; it shouldn’t be done anything after the initial sort.

            @onyomi: That’s technically feasible, but I worry about proliferating options. I’ll think about it.

            @dodrian: What I do is block the script with an adblocker or whatever, then make a userscript version of it and install it using GreaseMonkey (on Firefox) or by dragging it to the body of chrome://extensions (on Chrome).

            The userscript header I use is

            // ==UserScript==
            // @name SSC Comments
            // @namespace http://github.com/bakkot/SlateStarComments
            // @description dev
            // @include http://slatestarcodex.com/*
            // @include https://slatestarcodex.com/*
            // ==/UserScript==

            which seems to get the job done.

            @Brad: No idea what’s up with that, sorry. That’s a server-side thing, which I occasionally get involved in but which is usually outside my domain. I’ll try to look when I get some time.

          • Chalid says:

            I’ll second Catcube in that SSC loads really slowly on Windows 10 with Edge. No problems on my other computers.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          … Would that satisfy you?

          It would be an improvement, certainly. (Having threads/subthreads without new comments default to being collapsed would really be ideal.)

          Edit to add: that said, the fact that you can C-f for `~ new ~` (without the spaces) to jump through new comments obviates much of the use for this, no?

          Definitely, definitely not.

          • Bakkot says:

            Can you expand on these and the “I don’t understand why the “full thread” vs “subthread” distinction would particularly matter here” question I asked above? I can’t design a good solution without understanding the constraints.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            re: Cmd-F “~ new ~”:

            1. I hit Cmd-F “~ new ~”. Browser jumps to the first new comment. Where is this comment? What is it replying to? What’s the context? I have no idea. I have to navigate up the tree and look.

            2. I hit Cmd-G (i.e. “find next”). Browser jumps to next new comment. Where am I now, in relation to where I was just a moment ago? Is this in the same thread or subthread? Or somewhere totally different? I have no idea.

            There’s no context, no sense of structure of a conversation, when I try to navigate this way. I have to do lots of work (scrolling around) to see where I am each time I jump. No good at all.

            re: full thread vs. subthread: I might prefer to view the entirety of a conversation where anything new has been added (if I wish to review the full state of the thread, to understand the context and branches and so forth), OR, I might prefer to ONLY view those comments which have new comments among their direct descendants. This depends on various aspects of my browsing habits, and will vary from user to use and even from day to day, etc.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I’m not Said Achmiz, but the selective collapse function you describe would just satisfy the hell out of me.

      • habu71 says:

        My only request/suggestion/probably-rather-dumb-idea is that of whether the comment section could be made to fill the entire width of the monitor. I for one would be less discouraged if I didn’t have to scroll downwards for 5 minutes to get to the end of the section.

    • nelshoy says:

      For those who don’t know, there already is a second (usually much smaller) discussion on every post in the SSC subreddit. Reddit comment navigation is IMO much superior to WordPress, but that’s not a universally held opinion. But maybe more traffic could be redirected there?

      • Evan Þ says:

        Maybe I should just suck up and get RES, because without it, I see a whole lot of disadvantages to the Reddit commenting system.

        • nelshoy says:

          Care to elaborate? What’s wrong with reddit-style comments?

          • Evan Þ says:

            There isn’t any maximum indenting depth, and you need to load a new page every ten comments or so. When people keep replying to each other, it’s sort of hard to reference past points in the discussion.

            More significantly, new replies aren’t distinguished in any way. If anything drives me to RES, it’d be that.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, my first reaction to the idea of further splitting the comments is that we already have an alternate comment space called the Subreddit.

        I also really dislike the idea of splitting up the comments in a way which is out of individual commenters’ control. With the Subreddit and all the hidden OTs, the commenting has been split up enough already.

        The answer, if, indeed, one is needed (I, personally, don’t find it to be that terribly overwhelming, though I do spend too much time on SSC and also feel no compulsion to read everything), is to make the interface more user-friendly by enabling, say, notifications of replies to one’s own comments and/or threads you specifically subscribe to (but not notification of all replies in a given thread, as appears to be the only option now), making it easier to find new comments without control F, having a “only show threads with new replies” option as suggested above, etc. etc.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I also really dislike the idea of splitting up the comments in a way which is out of individual commenters’ control.

          This is my main driver, too. I responded to the survey with “strongly against”, and then modified that to one step toward neutral, since I think I haven’t heard the passionate argument for why people don’t comment.

          I can tell there’s a part of me that would feel bad because I feel like I’d be missing content if people were split into subrooms. OTOH, that same part ought to feel bad that I’m missing content from people who are too intimidated by the current comments to post. So for that reason, too, I feel compelled to hear from someone who’s intimidated, in what way they’re intimidated.

          Also, this motivates me to post very few comments. I regularly read, but try to say something only if I think it fills out the “tree of reasoning” – e.g., adds a substantive point. I try to refrain from just posting to be entertaining. (Unless it’s an effort-entertainment.) That might be bad if some readers on the margin want entertaining comments to pull them in.

          Also, there’s the off chance that more commenters would risk turning SSC into what Slashdot was around the time I stopped reading. Throw open the gates, and the quality goes down (which drives away commenters too). It might be that the forum is attractive mostly because it drives more frivolous comments away than it attracts substantive ones.

    • ashlael says:

      I will mention that at the weekend SSC meet up I organised I think I was the only non-lurker and many of the other people expressed a strong dislike of nested comment threads as part of the reason they don’t participate in the comments.

      • Bakkot says:

        Wait, dislike of nested comment threads per se, not just the particular ones here? Does that imply a preference for, say, Shtetl-Optimized style linear threads?

        • ashlael says:

          That was certainly how I understood the comments that were made; personally I feel the same way. Simple chronological ordering feels simpler and cleaner and the practice of quoting the person you’re responding to makes it easy enough to keep track of a distinct conversation.

          I understand others prefer the status quo and those preferences are totally valid of course. Just making the point that there are lurkers who stay lurkers at least in part because of the commenting system. I have no idea how representative the Canberra group is of the wider population of non-commenters.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m reasonably sure I’d like the option of choosing chronological (oldest first), chronological (newest first), or nested, with chronological numbering of the comments to make reference easier.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Wah?

            This makes essentially no sense to me.

            One single thread is good if you have very few commenters, or you don’t care if anyone actually reads what you write. Or you don’t care about keeping track of what has already been said.

            But, take for example the battleship sun-thread that has been going on lately. How the heck does that happen without sub-threads.

            Some nesting is needed. But too much is unmanageable. What is here is perhaps close enough to optimal.

          • AeXeaz says:

            @HeelBearCub

            You can still have ways to keep track of what’s been said in flat threads. I really like the 4chan model – when you reply to a specific comment your post links to the parent comment and another link is added to the parent comment to your link. You can also hover your mouse cursor over a comment link to have that entire comment show up in a popup.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I’m with HBC, the nesting here is basically optimal.

            If it were flat comments, I wouldn’t bother reading more than 10 or so because the topics would jump around too much, especially on the open threads. Nesting provides necessary organization.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “I really like the 4chan model – when you reply to a specific comment your post links to the parent comment and another link is added to the parent comment to your link.”

            This is the first thing I’ve heard about 4chan that I really like.

            I haven’t seen two-way links, though Charlie Stross’ blog has straight chronological comments with links to what is being replied to. Tragically, it *doesn’t* have links from the earlier comments to replies so you can get back conveniently to what you were reading.

            How does 4chan handle links to multiple replies?

          • AeXeaz says:

            “How does 4chan handle links to multiple replies?”

            Here’s an random example of a thread from one of the worksafe boards (this link won’t last forever, threads on 4chan are ephemeral):
            https://boards.4chan.org/an/thread/2351106

        • Mammon says:

          4chan-style linear threads with linking and quoting are actually quite convenient for long-running conversations.

          • Mark says:

            I can see how they would be convenient for participants in the conversation, but are they convenient for readers?

            I don’t think they are.

          • Anonymous says:

            They’re more convenient than their absence. As a reader, I can use them to track where the conversation begun, and read it using the reverse links (absent from earlier chan software).

    • rlms says:

      There is one general problem with all current comments systems that I know of. Linear systems are great for single conversations, but horrible if you want branches for different topics. Nested systems can branch, but if you have a linear conversation it inevitably goes off the side of the screen. One solution would be to store comments internally as an indefinitely nested tree, but to display long chains where each comment has one child branch that is much deeper than the others linearly.

    • Gregor Sansa says:

      I have been scared away by the huge comment sections.

      The last time, when you mentioned this idea in the “beauty of our weapons” post, I had a complicated idea for how to split: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/03/24/guided-by-the-beauty-of-our-weapons/#comment-480198

      The basic idea is that:
      -there’d be a upvote/downvote mechanism, but you couldn’t see how many upvotes something had
      -you could decide how many comments you wanted to see
      -every comment would be visible to some people; highly-upvoted comments (and their thread ancestors) would be visible to many
      -as a comment got more upvotes, the number of people able to upvote it would grow linearly while the number able to downvote it would grow exponentially. Thus, in theory, each comment would have an “equilibrium” number of upvotes.

      The downside is that if you weren’t logged in, you’d see different sets of comments depending on your ip; and then if you logged in to reply, you’d have to temporarily set yourself to “see all” in order to make sure you still saw the thing you wanted to reply to.

      I realize that the complexity of this idea makes it probably unviable, but I put it out there in case it prompts someone else to have another idea which has most of its virtues without the complexity.

      • ignition says:

        Even if you don’t show the votes and they don’t directly change commenting behavior, we risk a strong echo-chamber effect whenever comments are sorted by popularity.

    • dodrian says:

      My issue with upvote/like systems is that they ‘gamify’ the comments.

      When there’s a record of likes or upvotes people write posts to optimize the number of likes they receive. It encourages people to make short jokes and reply more frequently to ‘win points.’ It works well on lighthearted, humorous topics on reddit and the like, but doesn’t always contribute to an enriched discussion.

      When there are downvotes involved it’s too easy to downvote because you disagree with or feel uncomfortable with what’s written, rather than the intended use of promoting good discussion, demoting posts that don’t contribute anything substantive. It’s not possible to moderate upvotes/downvotes. That said, I haven’t tried reading the SSC reddit, and it might work better than I cynically imagine it to.

      • Gregor Sansa says:

        You’ve made good points, so you deserve pushback.

        “Gamification” is easy to handle: don’t show upvotes/downvotes.

        On upvoting/downvoting because of agreement rather than contribution: I’d argue that this corresponds in Bayesian statistics to the likelihood (contribution) versus the prior and/or posterior (agreement). You want to pay attention to the data that affects the likelihood, but do NOT want to favor the data that agrees with your current probability (the posterior for the past and the prior for the future). When I put it that way, I can imagine that you could give explicit buttons for both: “agree/disagree/contributes/unhelpful” (I know, poor parallelism, these words could be fixed).

        The problem then would be that people wouldn’t use “agree/disagree” if it had no effect. So show people “agree” votes, but actually show and hide based on hidden “contributes” votes. And make “contributes/unhelpful” count more insofar as they go against the same voter’s “agree/disagree” (on both the comment and the other comments by the same commenter).

        Like my above idea, this has too many epicycles in its current incarnation, but may be useful as a first step.

        • Bakkot says:

          “Gamification” is easy to handle: don’t show upvotes/downvotes.

          This doesn’t solve the problem, since you can still infer rankings from the sorting order.

          • homunq says:

            Not if you use my other idea, where each comment would be visible to a random subset of viewers that was bigger/smaller as it had more upvotes/downvotes. (Yes, you could still infer to a limited extent, but not to a useful one).

            As for my earlier point about “agree” versus “respect” corresponding to the Bayesian distinction of probability (prior or posterior) versus likelihood:

            In Bayesian statistics, there are actually three things: the model, the prior, and the likelihood. You add the (log) prior and the (log) likelihood to get the posterior, but since you can just turn around and use that as a prior in the future, it’s not a separate fourth thing. In everyday non-Bayesian terms, these are paradigm, beliefs, and evidence. A good voting system would sort comments by the quality of their evidence, but avoid discounting them based on unpopular beliefs or paradigms.

            I think having separate buttons “agree/disagree” for beliefs and “respect/disrespect” for evidence would be useful. Some people might argue that “agree/disagree” is not useful; but it is not actually possible to be a Bayesian without a prior, and I think having visible vote counts (but no “karma” or comment-visibility consequences) for that would be interesting. It would also help in finding people whose “respect/disrespect” voting was suspiciously ideological.

          • Jiro says:

            What’s to prevent someone from making respect/disrespect and agree/disagree moderations for maximum impact on his outgroup rather than to honestly differentiate between disagreement and respect?

          • homunq says:

            > What’s to prevent someone from making respect/disrespect and agree/disagree moderations for maximum impact on his outgroup rather than to honestly differentiate between disagreement and respect?

            First off, most people are not that trollish. Second, even if you were that trollish, it’s not clear that it would benefit you; the outgroup comment might be seen by fewer people, but those who did see it would see that it had more agreement. Third, if you did this consistently, you’d leave a pretty obvious statistical trail, and thus increase the chances of getting yourself banned as a troll. (If you organized a group to do it, the statistical fingerprints would be even more obvious.) Fourth, even if moderators didn’t catch you, you’d leave clues visible even to ordinary users (especially if nyms were visible for “agree” counts); and so the community itself could mobilize to counteract a trollish minority.

            (I’m using the word “troll” in its loosest sense here, for any person or group being antisocial or aggressively cliquish in an online space that isn’t theirs.)

            None of the above mechanisms is bulletproof, but combined, I think they’re enough.

            One additional idea that this prompts: not only could the “agree” data be public, but each user’s “agree/respect” correlation quintile could be public. (Problem is that calculating “agree/respect” correlation more properly would involve looking at users not just comments, and maybe even doing a PCA on the “agree” data… which is massively overcomplicating things.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I wouldn’t expect a lot of people to maliciously mark disagree/disrespect, but I’d expect pretty much everybody to unconsciously maintain a much higher threshold for respecting outgroup arguments, and a much lower threshold for respecting ingroup ones. Halo/horns effects are going to have their fingers on the scales no matter what, and whether we like it or not, most of the people here are not l337 enough to avoid or counter them.

            Trolls are really the least of our worries here, at least until we get a troll obsessed enough to work at scale, Eugene Nier style.

          • Jiro says:

            Third, if you did this consistently, you’d leave a pretty obvious statistical trail, and thus increase the chances of getting yourself banned as a troll.

            My experience with being downvoted to oblivion by Eugine Nier on LW is that moderators do not respond in a timely manner when told that there is a statistical trail leading to an abuser. (And they certainly don’t seek out such statistical trails themselves.)

            Furthermore, some of the other ideas suggested here (such as not showing upvotes/downvotes) would make it more difficult for users to detect statistical trails in order to bring them to the attention of moderators.

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, Scott is roughly infinity times more responsive to this sort of thing than the LW admins were.

          • homunq says:

            To reiterate the scheme I’ve “suggested” (but which probably needs simplifying):
            – both “agree/disagree” and “respect/disrespect” buttons. The latter might instead be called “ponder/skim” or something.
            – net “agree” counts per comment would be visible with the comment, along with a button to show the nyms of agree-ers and disagree-ers, but would not affect anything else. “Agree” counts by user (agree karma) would not be visible or meaningful.
            – “Agrees/disagrees”, both incoming and outgoing, would be used to run a PCA that would estimate each user and each comment’s position in a multidimensional ideological space.
            – Each user’s “respect neutrality” would be calculated; the average dot product of their ideology with comments times their respect for that comment. This would use a hierarchical model with a flexible 4-moment hyperdistribution, in order to give a reasonable prior value to users who never or almost never used “agree”. A user’s respect neutrality quintile would be public.
            – Respect/disrespect from a given user would be weighted by their respect neutrality percentile. Possibly the least neutral quintile would be discounted alltogether.

            So, now that I’ve explained my ridiculously overcomplicated proposal, I can respond.

            Nornagast: insofar as somebody had a lower threshold for respecting things they agreed with, they’d tend to have a lower respect neutrality percentile, so their respect would be worth less.

            Jiro: you’re right that this scheme would be somewhat opaque to everyday site users, so I was wrong about that. But it would at least be relatively self-correcting for first-order failure modes.

            I realize that this is WAY too complicated. It’s offered not as a serious proposal in itself, but in the spirit of an “overdesign-then-simplify” process.

          • Skivverus says:

            @homunq
            That system looks similar to something I came up with; parallel/convergent evolution, maybe?
            The respect/disrespect axis I think makes sense as respect/report: I’m thinking StackExchange-style cultural norms where downvoting is relatively rare.
            As for agree/disagree, I think there should be a way of sorting comments by that – consensus for, consensus against, controversial, and apolitical (least agree+disagree votes).

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh, okay. That’s less obviously susceptible to bias. It’d be a huge amount of work, but you knew that.

            Might still be gameable in interesting ways, though. A new user is going to start with no detectable slant; are they therefore going to be weighted highly by the algorithm? If so, you’re encouraging sockpuppet voting.

        • dodrian says:

          Actually, the idea of never showing up/downvotes is a good one – and never revealing commentors’ counts. Do you know of sites that do this?

          As you mention, even just thinking carefully about what to name the links may help a lot too. I’ve been lazy in calling everything ‘likes’ and ‘upvotes’, but if the system were implemented in a way that it wasn’t obviously comparable to FB/reddit it could avoid some of the issues I mentioned enough that I might be on board with the idea.

  8. anonymousskimmer says:

    US Corporations are state-created governments which are allowed to violate civil rights the states themselves are forbidden from violating. No other state-licensed sub-state government is allowed to violate said rights (are HOAs state-licensed?).

    Criticisms?

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Well, the only actual law enforcement ability these corporate “governments” have is that they can call the real government and have it throw someone off their property if that person won’t cooperate with whatever they’re asking. Which you yourself could presumably do to any random person who is on your property, as well. Is that enough to make them, or you, a government in any meaningful way?

    • ashlael says:

      edit: my comment implicitly assumed that the poster I was responding to was claiming that corporations were equivalent to national governments rather than sub-national state or local governments, which was uncharitable.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I feel like this is one of those things where the phrasing of the question reverses the intuitive answer. Should corporations be allowed to village civil rights the state is forbidden from violating? Gut says no. Should the state hold its actions to a higher civil rights standard than the one enforced on private entities? Gut says yes.

    • Nornagest says:

      Every other word of this is dubious, but I’ll focus on the last sentence. Corporations do not in general have powers which are not available to individuals or to other types of associations. They are more common than other types of associations (almost all of which have to be state-licensed in one way or another if they want to own property in common), but that’s because “corporation” is just the catch-all phrase for legally recognized associations created for profit, and profit is a strong motive for association.

    • suntzuanime says:

      They’re not allowed to violate civil rights the states themselves are forbidden from violating. They can’t take your property or your life without due process of law. Most of the other civil rights are about what sort of laws the states can make and enforce with their monopoly on violence; as the corporations do not have a monopoly on violence, they cannot violate those civil rights even if they wanted to.

      • Jiro says:

        He may be referring to such things as the government being required to not discriminate when private organizations are allowed to discriminate. The Boy Scouts would not be permitted to keep out atheists and gays if it was run by the government.

        Of course, that’s because the government is paying for those things run using funds collected by the use of force.

  9. Siah Sargus says:

    What would a(n aspiring) rationalist name their child? I can’t imagine it would be traditional. Or normal. What would it be optimized for; verbal beauty, visual aesthetics, symbolic meaning, or something else? I think even the people who never plan to have babies still have a list of their favorite names in the back of their head. For me that list winds up being used for dogs and fictional characters.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I can’t imagine it would be traditional. Or normal.

      Uh, why not?

      I don’t currently have any plans to have kids, but if I did, I’d name a son after my grandfather, for example… which, AFAIK, is a fairly commonplace (and certainly traditional) approach.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Uh, why not?

        Exactly. The aspiring rationalist names their child in a way that is advantageous to the child, and forecloses the fewest opportunities. That argues for naming the child in a conventional way.

        ETA:
        Of course, failing that, I suggest going for a really bad pun.

        • Siah Sargus says:

          But all what you are doing is conforming. Even though that minimizes the risk that they wind up with a name that is culturally low-class in twenty or thirty years or so, you haven’t given them anything unique. Obviously there is a lot more to asthetics than originally, in fact, in a lot of ways they may even be opposed. But I feel like every answer in this thread has been too safe, and the true social pattern is right in frony of us; Lower Class people use names that are simple, or once had an air of class to them, but have since been overused; Middle class prople signal wealth by picking names with pedigree, but not ones that are too common as to require disambigiation in the classroom or wotkplace; but rich people, the upper class, with a few exeptions, can afford to counter-signal and give their children unique or outlandish names, especially if the parents are famous. Popular new names usually start at the top of the socioeconomic ladder and work their way down. If a name catches on, it will quickly become lower class within a generation or two. I is hard to predict which names won’t, and it sucks to be an young Emma, followed by tide of Emmas, because that means you lost some tangible social signaling mechanism to noise. So the best answer is to give a child a name that is both rare, simple, and not used by proles. And avoid anything that sounds like Aiden. And don’t use y unless you have too.

          • Dissonant Cognizance says:

            I think you may be overweighting celebrities when thinking about “upper class” names.

            Looking at the Wikipedia list of wealthiest families, you have the Waltons, who named their kids Jim, Sam, Alice, Lukas, Ann, Christy, and Nancy. Then the Kochs: Frederick, Charles, David, and William (incidentally, I never realized there were so many actual Koch brothers). Third is Mars, whose most recent generation is numerous, but also plainly named with the exception of inexplicably-Dutch Marijke, and all the Forrests, who are following the grandfather rule.

            So for super-wealthy families, the tendency seems to be common, easy to spell, easy to remember names. They may actually be counter-signalling their wealth, since the greatest threat to a wealthy American heir, after financial mismanagement, would be the social and political consequences of seeming like a stuck up aristocrat.

          • The Nybbler says:

            No need for any countersignalling. Sam Walton’s parents were Thomas and Nancy, his wife was Helen, daughter of Hazel and Leland — but Leland went by L.S. The whole Walton clan seems to have had common names — William, Louisa, James, Mary, Thomas, etc. There’s a Clara, but that was probably more common at the time.

            With the exception of the L.S.s (father and son, I assume the father was named after former Governor of California… maybe there’s more to that), the Robsons seem to have common names too. So the plain names precede the wealth.

          • CatCube says:

            But all what you are doing is conforming

            So what? If you want to be a nonconformist*, be one in your own life. Don’t inflict it on your children. They can find their own ways if they want, and will pick their own obnoxious nicknames if nonconforming in name is what they want. Pick a blank slate and let the kid fill it in.

            * Strictly speaking, I’ve never actually met a nonconformist. Alleged “nonconformists” mostly just conform to a different group, then pat themselves on the back. That’s why you see all of the goth kids dressing in nearly identical clothes. To tie it back to names, if you name your daughter “Sunshine” and she wants to be a goth, you didn’t do her any favors, even if she’s as “nonconformist” as you.

          • Siah Sargus says:

            @CatCube

            I would never name anyone Sunshine.

            I think you’re missing the point. It’s not about conformity. It only matters pragmatically how many other people share their name. And there is definitely a sweet spot between obscurity and saturation. You wouldn’t deliberately go to that place if you wanted to be a nonconformist.

          • Lower-class people often give their children unique or outlandish names too. Maybe different unique or outlandish names from the upper-class people. I think upper-class people like to go for names that have some history behind them (“Camilla”, “Zara”), whereas lower-class people are more likely to invent names. At least in the UK; in America my impression is that there’s a racial divide among naming customs in lower-class people, with the lower class blacks opting for unique/outlandish and the lower class whites opting for traditional, although maybe I’m wrong and the lower class whites do in fact go for unique/outlandish as often as the blacks (seems to be a pattern in the USA that things seen by the middle class as black things are actually just lower-class, racially-neutral things, also avoided by middle-class blacks).

            Also, I think people are a lot more likely to give traditional names to boys rather than girls, across all classes.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I resisted posting this earlier, but this commentary (from 1999) now seems relevant:

            http://www.theonion.com/graphic/most-popular-us-baby-names-7296

      • psmith says:

        Not so long ago, somebody proposed pretty much this as a good heuristic for naming one’s children and a now-banned commenter went absolutely bananas with rage.

        (Possibly because it was Steve Sailer who brought it up in the first place, though I don’t remember.).

        • Anonymous says:

          Fascinating. Link?

          • Brad says:

            If that’s the thread in question, psmith’s description isn’t terribly accurate. Steve Sailer’s suggestion has nothing to do with naming after a grandparent or other traditional naming practices.

          • quanta413 says:

            Yeah, Steve Sailer’s advice is rather more specific. It’s certainly part of traditional naming, but it’s pretty obvious to me why EarthlyKnight was triggered given their rather strident disagreement on the subject.

            Then again, EarthlyKnight reacted with incredible vehemence a lot.

          • Siah Sargus says:

            I have to admit, I do like androgynous names more than most, so I don’t see anything wrong with your Taylors, Jessies, and Sams. (Although, perhaps, those names are a touch to common at the moment.) Relatedly, it bothers me that name-appropriation really only seems to happen in one direction in Western Culture (male to female), which means that woman have an awfully large traditional pool of names compared to men, some of which were clearly once mens names (Alison) other, not so much (Tifany). I have a pretty good idea for why this happens, too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Siah Sargus

            Apparently “Alison” wasn’t from a man’s name (it’s not “Ali’s Son”); it’s a variant of “Alice”, which is female all the way down.

            “Tifany” is from “Theophania” and has a male version in Greek, but for some reason the male version never made it to English. If it had I would guess it would have been “Fane”.

            What’s you’re reason for name-appropriation going only one way? I’d probably go for the obvious; at nearly all points in time a boy named Sue (and his parents) would have a much rougher time of it than a girl named Mike. So a fad of naming girls by a boy’s name would tend to take that name away from the boys, and a fad of naming boys by a girl’s name… never happened.

          • Nornagest says:

            If it had I would guess it would have been “Fane”.

            “Theodoros” came to English as “Theodore” (the female version, Theodora, existed but is now archaic), so I’m guessing it would’ve been something along the lines of “Theophan”.

        • howardtreesong says:

          Very interesting, but what’s the cause for rage over an issue like that? That seems as though it’s a very strange issue to cause anger of any sort, much less furious rage.

          My parents gave my elder brother the same initials as my father’s father and gave me the same initials as my father’s mother. Hopefully, that won’t cause the banned and furious commenter to come back from the realm of the silenced and attack me.

    • ashlael says:

      My kids are named Anastasia, Jade, and Levi. There’s no real pattern of “optimisation”.

      • Siah Sargus says:

        But those are well-picked names? You might not have a system, but you certainly understand the art.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I would just take the 20-30th most common names for the year the child is born and pick one of those, assuming we’re looking at this solely from a rational perspective. Why wouldn’t a rationalist pick a traditional name? There’s a much bigger risk from a bad name than reward for a good name. Better to play it safe, assuming you care about if your kid is going to be made fun of compared to your aesthetic sense.

    • ti4 says:

      You might want to make sure that the names fit the social class/group that you want your kids to inhabit.

    • pipsterate says:

      To me, a rational name would be whatever gives your child the highest chance of success in life. Something that will serve them well in professional and social contexts. So it seems to me that what you’d want is a name that’s fairly common, but also traditional/respectable and somewhat associated with the upper classes. A name like this will put people at ease around your child, and view them as trustworthy and eligible for leadership roles.

      If you live in a primarily English speaking country, I think the most rational naming choice is something from the royal family post 1066. It’s a bit easier to get ahead in life if you have a name that many people think of as normal but also somewhat upper class. It gives you a higher social status and makes you seem more trustworthy.

      The problem with giving your kid a trendy, popular name is that it may go out of style by the time they grow up, burdening your child with what will become an outdated, silly name. (A name that is just plain unusual can be worse, since it puts your child in the “outgroup” in the eyes of most people, whether that’s in a religious, ethnic, or cultural sense. I don’t approve of this sort of bias but the sad fact is that it exists.) Royal names have a much longer half life in terms of popularity and appeal to a broad group of people. James was a great name hundreds of years ago, it’s a great name today, and it has a very good chance to still be a great name for at least the next hundred years.

      Other good names for boys include John, Richard, and William. For girls it’s a bit trickier, since there haven’t been as many queens as kings, so names like Victoria or Anne sound a little bit outdated now. Elizabeth is the safest choice I can think of. As the name of the current monarch, it’s traditional yet not outdated, and it can be shortened into Liz or many other nicknames.

      If you live in a non-English culture where these names wouldn’t be appropriate, it’s probably safest to look for local popular names with a long half life.

      Another fairly safe option is to just pick your favorite name from the last few generations of your own family.

      To me, rationality means thinking in terms of maximizing utility and avoiding unnecessary risk, making decisions based on evidence, and being aware of ingroup/outgroup distinctions. So my very weird thought process leads me to some very normal names. But of course that’s just my own personal view.

      • Brad says:

        If you include Queen Consorts, you have a list of Queen names that includes:
        Elizabeth, Mary, Victoria, Anne, Alexandra, Adelaide, Caroline, Charlotte, Catherine, Henrietta, Jane, Margaret, Joan, Isabella, Philippa, Eleanor, Berengaria, Matilda, Adeliza

        It’s more of a mixed bag than the men (Berengaria?!?) but there are some timeless names in there.

      • Siah Sargus says:

        The most salient piece of advice here is to never give your kid a trendy name. But what happens when old fashioned names become trendy as a sort of revivial, as often happens? It would be impossible to predict how everyone else will be naming their children after you. In fact, its a lot like trying to predict the stock market. Which is why I think it is beneficial to pick considerably less popular names, so they have less baggage and less social status value fluctuations.

    • Anonymous says:

      In general, I’d suggest useful names, nothing silly or fancy.

      For example, if you’re a cosmopolitan nomad upper class professional and expect your kids also to be, I’d suggest names that are easy for foreigners to learn and say. That way they can follow business opportunities and not annoy their new social network by having a name that’s unpronounceable. Find especially names that are written in the exact same way in many languages.

      • Aapje says:

        Indeed, both my parents, my brother and myself have first names that are alien to English-speaking people. It’s certainly sub-optimal. Mine is actually the least worst, since at least it’s phonetically fairly similar to a German name that is not that uncommon in the US, so Americans just pattern match my name to the German name as long as it is spoken to them.

        As a non-American, I would pick a name that works well in my country and in English (and preferably other languages as well). So names like Elizabeth, Laura, Emma, Richard, Robert, Lucas etc. These names are perfectly valid in Dutch and English. They are also common royal/upper class names.

    • What would a(n aspiring) rationalist name their child? I can’t imagine it would be traditional. Or normal.

      ‘Cos it’s all about signalling?

      • Siah Sargus says:

        Everything is about signaling, obviously. We should never want to give children beautiful names unless it is sociosexually viable to do so. Creativity is frowned upon in this domain, because it might confuse people who hear the name as to the yearly earnings of their parents.

        • Signalling what though? “We’re special and different”?

        • A traditional name can be beautiful. If you don’t find any traditional names beautiful, that’s fine, but not everybody will agree. Personally, I think familiarity generally contributes to name beauty, and creativity generally detracts from it.

          I suggest people not get too worked up about this matter, anyway, because your children can always change their names when they get older to whatever they want. Also, you can give your child a middle name, which they can use to introduce themselves with if they prefer it over their forename—so it might be a good idea, if you have some sort of naming strategy in mind for the forename, to use a different naming strategy for the middle name, and then your child can choose without having to come up with a new name themselves.

    • Callum G says:

      I would name my children something that is easily pronounced, easily spelt, doesn’t rhyme with anything (especially anything cruel), is not going to be anold person name of the future and isn’t heavily linked to any particular person or ideas e.g. “Khalessi” or “Barack”.

      • random832 says:

        is not going to be anold person name of the future

        Why is this a concern? By the time it’s an old person name, your child is going to be an old person, unless you’ve caught the trailing edge of a trend, and being an old person with an old person name doesn’t seem like any great misfortune.

        • Callum G says:

          In case they get involved with a longevity project or just happen to look after themselves and stay looking young. People put a lot of effort into avoiding the effects of age, I don’t want my kids to be betrayed by a name.

          • CatCube says:

            This is no different than any other fashion. I can’t remember where I saw it (it may have been here, now that I think about it) where a commenter posted a photograph from the early ’60s, with a couple of young women getting into a car. Another commenter said that it was weird to see young women dressed like his grandma; of course, his grandma dressed as she did when she was young, and now her choice of clothing is “old people’s clothes.”

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      An example from someone in a related (sympathetic?) field:
      “Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow”

    • Chalid says:

      I think the research says that having a name that is easy to pronounce (not necessarily common) is helpful for career success. And there are advantages coming from a name appearing early in the alphabet so that you appear at the top of lists. So the best name is probably something like Aaron.

    • the anonymouse says:

      A couple of notes:

      For a girl, think vaguely Anglosphere-upper-class, but boring. Anne, Elizabeth, Mary. But do not fall afoul of sounds-upper-class-but-interesting, because down that road lies stripper names. Ashley. Erm, Madison. Mercedes. Lexis. (Purely from a signaling perspective, aspirational folks without much social capital like the idea of fancy, but don’t like boring, so you get faux-fancy names that, about a half a generation later, collect dollar bills in the dead of night.)

      Also, please, no cognate of -aiden. My kid’s class has at least four(! that I’ve noticed) variants of Aiden, Jaden, Kaiden, and Maden. Even if you love it, you missed the boat by about a dozen years.

      • dodrian says:

        I struggle to keep track of the various and numerous “*a[iy]den”s in my charge.

        As an educator I try really hard to learn the names of kids, even if I’m just there for one class. I can pretty much immediately remember the kids with popular names (some Bible names are especially common – John, Matthew, Paul, James, Elizabeth, Anna, Mary, Sarah etc). If I have a list it doesn’t take me too long to associate the easily-spelled-and-pronounced-ones (MacKenzie, Meredith, Asheed, Jamal, etc), but struggle a lot with the long, obscure and/or ambiguously spelled ones (to the point where I can’t really think of any good examples).

        My advice (from a teaching but not parenting perspective!) would be to find a popular baby names list and pick an easily-recognizable one from the bottom half – common enough that it’s easy to remember and they don’t get too many ‘how do you spell that?’ questions, but not so common that she’s one of the 7 Emmas in her class.

        Unrelated anecdote: My wife would like to name our [hypothetical] first child after her late father, Donald, but we’re not sure how others would react if we have the kid in the next four (eight?) years…

        • gbdub says:

          “Donald” is pretty easy, just go by “Donnie” until Trump blows over. That’s a better kid name anyway.

          “Donald” is one of those weird male names where I’d be tempted to change the nickname over a lifespan. Like, “Chuckie”, “Jimmy” etc feel like weird names for an old man, but calling a Toddler “Chuck” or “Dick” (currently) feels odd. But maybe that’s cyclical and doesn’t matter for an individual person who rides the wave of their names acceptable-ness.

    • howardtreesong says:

      We named our daughters Nicole and Gabrielle. I wouldn’t say rationalist principles had a great deal to do with those decisions. We would not have given them very unusual names, but we did want to have names for our children related in some way — so both are at least vaguely French. We knew perfectly well that both names were highly susceptible to nicknames (“Nicki” and “Gabi”), neither of which I ever use. One child goes by a nickname to her friends; the other does not. If we’d had a son, we would have also given him a vaguely French name, although we never got as far as listing candidates for same.

      I think having some relation between children’s names is a nice idea, if only for some general sense of familial unity.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Having a common name makes it easier to avoid doxxing and makes it easier to escape youthful indiscretions that Google would otherwise forever tie to you.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        Honestly, I’m not sure unique identifiability is that negative. Yes, these are the risks.

        But having your own unique string, and associated web presence? Super useful in e.g. academics; may be even more beneficial in entertainment or similar highly self-promotional careers.

        • Matt M says:

          My perspective as someone who has a ridiculously common first AND last name, such that I like to brag than I am “un-googleable,” is that I’d rather be in the position I am in, than in the reverse.

          You’re right that sometimes it helps to be known, but I think it’s far easier to adopt a “handle” and build a presence/identity around an alternate name of your choosing than it is to escape your legally given name from birth (should you want to). Consider that many famous people, actors, musicians, authors, etc. use stage names already. It’s a common practice that nobody will hold against you. Much more common than say, legally changing your name (or keeping your given name a secret from everyone you know) to avoid being stalked online or what have you.

          • Siah Sargus says:

            An interesting point. But I don’t think that having an incredibly common name protects you from doxxing the same way you do. (For instance, you can narrow searches by zip code or city name, and arrive with a small list of people with your name that are relatively easy to sift through. I’m not going to go into any further detail, cause I don’t want to be the one to tell people how to dox properly…)

          • Matt M says:

            Right. I’m quite sure that a sufficiently motivated person could find out who I am easily enough. As they could for our host here.

            But the vast majority of people aren’t that motivated and don’t really know how to do it. It’d take some time, and some effort, and some thought – things that are generally in short supply. I think “someone could dox you if they knew what they were doing and were willing to spend 15 minutes of effort on it” is an order of magnitude difference from “google your name and there everything is”

      • Aapje says:

        I have a name that is mostly likely unique and it is one of the reasons why I do my best to stay anonymous. I have zero plausible deniability.

      • It also just allows you some control over how much information you reveal about yourself, whereas somebody with a unique name can be Googled and (if they use the Internet a lot) have a rather large amount of their life history revealed. Even if it’s perfectly inoffensive, some people, including me, would feel uncomfortable about having so much information available about them for so little effort.

    • Zodiac says:

      No matter if rationalist or not, on behalf of the child I ask you to give them a name easy to pronounce for foreigners or at least something that is easy to pronounce in English. As somebody with a very exotic name people have actively avoided speaking to me because they had no idea how to pronounce my name (or sometimes even thought it was a joke and not really my name).

    • dndnrsn says:

      Nobody’s suggested naming a son “Bayes”? Come on, people.

    • howardtreesong says:

      I dated a girl long ago named “Mercedes,” who had a sister named “Portia.”

      I wouldn’t give my kids joke names. I’d have been happy, however, to give my two dogs joke names. I proposed “Chili” and “Hot” but my two normally-named daughters vetoed that idea. The dogs now recognize their own names, so we established code names by which we refer to them when we don’t want them to know we’re talking about them. It’s all rather comic.

    • Nornagest says:

      What should one name their child? Something traditional, but not yet out of fashion, because the downside risk here is way bigger than the potential gain unless you’re trying to become a celebrity. Think the Four Evangelists, famous English kings and queens, that sort of thing. You can get as exciting and symbolic as you want for middle names, though.

      What do aspiring rationalists name their children? Nerdy stuff.

    • Urstoff says:

      I just assumed all rationalists were required to name their children Eliezer regardless of sex

    • Jiro says:

      Also, don’t use an obviously ethnic name unless you are of that ethnicity.

      • Evan Þ says:

        So what about the Chinese practice of adopting “American names” in addition to their local names? Or are Anglo-American names exempt because we’re the flag of global culture?

        • Jaskologist says:

          Adopting the names of the culture you have moved to should be considered an exception.

          For that matter, so would adopting an “English name” or “Chinese name” if you interact with those people a lot, but that’s something done by adults to themselves.

        • Deiseach says:

          So what about the Chinese practice of adopting “American names” in addition to their local names?

          I thought that was more to enable Anglophones to have an easy to pronounce name they can call them by; if the “American name” is anything like their original, that’s a bonus. If we’re talking second- or third-generation immigrant it’s a ‘normal’ name, but someone “straight off the boat” is unlikely to be called Joe or Lucy or Sam (I was thinking Wendi Deng, who had a name that was a homophone of, or could be easily converted into, a Western name, but apparently Lucy Liu has a ‘Chinese name’ Liu Yu-ling – whether that’s one her parents gave her or one she adopted I have no idea; her bio states that she was born Lucy Liu in New Jersey and says nothing about a Chinese name).

      • AeXeaz says:

        Why not?

        • lvlln says:

          I think doing that would significantly raise the risk to both your child and yourself to being bullied and ostracized. Now, if you can coordinate it with enough others so that names being ethnically neutral becomes the norm or at least not incredibly uncommon, maybe you could avoid those negative repercussions, but I don’t think that’s the direction things are heading.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think the odds of a Sean being bullied depend on whether he’s got an Irish Catholic grandparent.

            Maybe if you are talking about a name like Rahul for someone with white parents.

    • Something you like that’s not weird. Who knows. Stop making rationality feel like a cult.

      • Siah Sargus says:

        Cults don’t have nearly the same amount of pull when it comes to naming children than regular old religion does. Besides, naming conventions say a lot about the culture that you are in, and rationality, like it or not, is also a culture.

    • James Miller says:

      If you really want to use a fun, non-standard name, give your kid a secret name and tell him/her that if you ever have someone else pick up him/her they will use the secret name.

    • John Schilling says:

      What would a(n aspiring) rationalist name their child? I can’t imagine it would be traditional. Or normal.

      As others have pointed out, it is decidedly not rational to impose an abnormal or non-traditional name on a child one wants to be happy and/or successful in the world as it presently and forseeably exists.

      What nobody seems to have mentioned yet is, at least in the Anglosphere, one is expected to give each of their children two names. And it is socially acceptable for someone to use either their first or their middle name (or both, or the initials derived therefrom) in all but the most legalistic of contexts. The advice given here for choosing traditional names that will predictably give their children the greatest social advantage is sound, and should be applied to at least one of the child’s given names – probably the first. The belief that a child will derive some non-trivial benefit from a conspicuously non-traditional name is likely overstated, but if sincerely and reasonably held by the parents can safely be applied to the child’s other given name.

      Then let them chose, and respect that choice.

      • Matt M says:

        This is a very good point that I had never thought of.

        Traditional first name + unique middle name definitely seems like the way to go

    • Reasoner says:

      Read studies about which names people find most trustworthy, most intelligent-sounding, sexiest, etc. and name your kid that.

    • timorl says:

      In case you just want data points my son is named Alfred. The rationalist community might be one of the few societies where this name should be associated the way I thought about it. And it is quite a unique name while still being considered mostly normal (at least where I live). It also has the advantage of being easy to pronounce in many languages and my girlfriend valued this property for reasons explained by some other commenters here.

      Ah, whatever, I’ll also tell the story of naming my child, since there will be no more relevant point. Be warned — this will be boring.

      I wanted two main things from the name — that the meaning would be nice (or at least not annoying to me) and that it would be associated with some good people, historical figures or family members. Both requirements had similiar weighs, so first we (me and my girlfriend) tried choosing a naming convention after our (great-)grantparents. For some strange reason this didn’t go well with both our families — both liked the names from the other family, but not the ones from their own. This was espiecially sad for me, since one of the names actually meant “destroyer of peace” and another was pretty much just “happiness”, both of which I really liked, while at the same time being mostly normal names in my country. After that fiasco we loked through a lot of names that came to mind and on several lists of names. At this point I started getting really annoyed that seemingly most names are various versions of “gift from god”, “praises god”, “thank god”, “god’s hammer” or “god damn I wanted a daugther” stuff like that. In my annoyance I decided that maybe we shouldn’t go with half-measures and just call him “god” — obviously not literally, just Theon. I did not know that such a name existed and googled it getting this. The guy was not only a great, although not famous, scholar, but also the father of Hypatia of Alexandria, which very much fit my then very anti-theistic (because of all the god-praising names) mood. This name was my pick for a long time, but my girlfriend was worried (probably with good cause), that it would be too unique for the child’s good, so we eventually dropped it and went for Alfred. I won’t explain why Alfred, this shuld be a very easy riddle for you guys.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        The main problem with Theon these days I think would be the Game of Thrones associations…

      • Alfred is a good name. It sort of makes every camp happy—undoubtedly traditional, familiar to everybody, but also not very common at present. Although in the UK the shortened “Alfie” is pretty common.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      What would a(n aspiring) rationalist name their child? I can’t imagine it would be traditional. Or normal.

      Why not? If being traditional and/or normal leads to the best outcome, surely the rational course of action would be to act in a traditional, normal way.

      ETA: If you really don’t want to call your child something traditional, my advice would be to give them a traditional legal name and come up with a quirky nickname, or at least to give them a traditional first name and save the unusual name for the middle name. That way you can still came them something novel in day-to-day life, but if they decide to follow a “serious” profession where having a weird name might be a drawback, they still have a more standard moniker to use.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      For what it’s worth, I have a rare and fairly obscure name from the history of philosophy (nominative determinism!), and I prefer it to having a common name. The main disadvantage has been having to repeat it multiple times to service workers. So I give a fake name at Starbucks.

      • howardtreesong says:

        I have a commonplace first name, but always give a fake name at Starbucks just for general amusement purposes. During allergy season a few years back, I gave a fake name (let’s say “Ray”), but then promptly forgot what name I gave. Five minutes later, I’m standing at the bar, irritated that I don’t have my drink as the barista is shouting “RAY! RAY! YOUR LATTE IS READY, RAY!”

        I’m still amused at this every time I think of it.

  10. ashlael says:

    I organised the Canberra meet up, turnout was just shy of 100% and I also had emails from other interested people who didn’t come. So yeah, be aware that there are lurkers/non survey takers who may feel like coming along – not that they are unwelcome of course!

  11. anonymousskimmer says:

    Ethical question:

    Were those who internally sounded the warning about the risks to the space shuttle Challenger ethically obliged to warn the astronauts themselves?

    • carvenvisage says:

      I don’t have an answer but I think the decision hinges a lot on the faith they have in their superiors and institutions. Some unintuitive standards are in place for good reason, others aren’t and your ‘prior’ for what is most likely before the specifics come into view should probably account for how trustworthy the force behind the rules you’re expected to defer your judgement to is. Back then I’d say it was a lot easier to assume that the people in charge basically knew what they were doing and were acting in a basically good and coordinated way. America was the land which swooped in and beat the nazis. no way the people running things are just a bunch of bureucratic crooks.

  12. yodelyak says:

    15 attended in Portland, causing some consternation before we broke into two groups. Probably that should count as a good success.

  13. deluks917 says:

    I think it would be useful to collect actual data about the SSC meetups. I sent the meetup organizers of the pre-April-13th meetups an email asking for a report. The questions I requested they answer were:

    1) A brief description of what happened
    2) What went well
    3) Advice for later meetups
    4) Are there plans for more meetings
    5) How many people attended
    6) Anything else you find useful to include

    The organizer of the Chicago meetup has now made a google group for the SSC meetup organizers. I think this should be useful for sharing information. The organizers of the later meetups have now also been invited to join this group. We are going to try to get a report from every meetup. The SSC meetups are extremely exciting and the community might want to know how they are going.

    Several reports are already in! This blog’s spam filter catches suffiently long posts. So I am going to link to the reddit thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/64hu3f/ssc_meetup_reports_how_did_things_go_and_how_many/

  14. AnonYEmous says:

    Given that you’ve prefaced your suggestion of splitting the comments section into two with “crazy but might work”, let me add in my two cents: strongly disagree; it will work for a certain value of work but almost certainly isn’t worth the gains. Now let me add in my idea: the order of comment appearance should be randomized (by thread, of course.)

    Why? Well, one of the biggest problems I have with commenting on the internet is the idea that my comment will be too far down and no one will see it, meaning I’ve just shouted into the void. I’ve managed to get a couple of top comments purely by accident and that was nice, but that’s not a consistent system. I don’t know that other people don’t comment for this reason – there certainly are other ones – but a chance to at least reach some people some of the time would definitely be a nice incentive, especially if you’re late to the party and there’s like 200 comments.

    One concern is that this might make it difficult to follow certain discussions, but there’s an easy fix I can steal from some other commenters: in the same way that there’s a “new comments” bar, insert a “new replies” bar. This could notify you of replies to your comments, or replies to comment threads you are in, or even replies to threads you bookmark so you can see the replies more easily.

    Oh, and by the by; Scott, if you’re reading this, the new comments bar has been a little wonky recently. When you open up an open thread and a comment you made a day ago is marked “new”, that’s when you know that something’s off.

  15. I recently went to the International World Wide Web Conference for 2017. Was a great chance to pick the brains of some pretty senior people in web/tech, and generally check out what’s cutting edge in the field. I did a bit of a write-up of my experiences:

    My impressions of the 2017 International World Wide Web Conference

    Highlights include Mark Pesce’s (VRML co-inventor) keynote on Mixed Reality Service (vaguely like DNS for the AR world) and me doing a pretty bad job trying to raise AI risk with a Google AI researcher.

    I’d appreciate any thoughts or help on where I should put this post, as several subs seemed to reject its submission and my social networks don’t actually include that many people that read much tech stuff, sadly.

  16. A simple split would not improve the usefulness/readability per unit of time, though it would improve performance in a browser. I’d personally much favor splitting the OTs by topic somehow, so that it’s easier to go looking for the posts you’re likely to be interested in. Politics would be the obvious candidate to split in my mind.

    Alternatively maybe some kind of comment tagging system could be used, so filters could be applied. Not sure about implementation though.

  17. angerson says:

    I have a question for Scott (or anyone else in a similar situation!).

    I’d like to find a Really Good psychologist/psychotherapist(?) in the Silicon Valley area. I don’t have dangerous depression or harmful thoughts, but I do have some deeply knotted worries and emotional detachment that I’d like some help with. I want that help from a doctor whose expertise I can trust to feel Right (as SSC and LW writing tends to), but I don’t know where to look. I don’t think that I need medication, but I would not be against seeking diagnosis.

    David Small’s image of the all-knowing psychologist in Stitches is what I’m looking for — a doctor who I respect and understand that knows a whole lot about their field and the different sorts of people they treat (knowledge of internet-culture-type things would be a gigantic plus). I get that feeling about Scott, which is why I think this is a good place to ask. I’m afraid of my issues being explained away enthusiastically as “it’s your dad!” (as a therapist did recently), or of realizing that I don’t respect the doctor at all, or of realizing that I’ll have to explain imageboards and visual novels.

    Can you suggest anyone?

  18. atreic says:

    Big comment threads are hard to comment on, because you worry that everything’s already been said and no-one is going to read your comment. But reading 200 comments to see if your Really Interesting Point has been said is too much like hard work, and so you tend to just say it anyway. And then you have 201 slightly duplicative comments that people can’t be bothered to read before they say anything. Discussion curation is hard, people prefer the sound of their own voice to reading other people’s voices, I don’t think there’s an easy solution. But I think splitting randomly into small groups with no particular grouping is only going to make it worse – the Good People who read everything, and reply thoughtfully and don’t duplicate are not helped by it (they can’t read everything, so they duplicate even when they don’t want to). And there’s a feeling that you’re ‘missing something’, which is not very open/free internet. Splitting things out into meaningful groups, either on topic (so if it’s a linkspost, different spaces to comment about each link), or by position (so if you’re looking to see if someone has already said ‘this is stupidly unlibertarian’ you can read the ‘this is totally wrong’ comments rather than the ‘I agree with this’ comments, although I hate hate hate this idea, because I like the debate and discussion), or even in rough real life groupings, so you could chat about the slatestarcodex post of the day with people you were likely to see at your Boston SSC meetup, might work, but seems more trouble than it’s worth.

    • people prefer the sound of their own voice to reading other people’s voices

      Possibly worth mentioning: This is not universally true. For example, I need to consciously remind myself that I’ve not actually said a word in some conversations, since I’m so busy listening, and online I prefer other people making the points that are on my mind to writing them out myself.

      I’m only outspoken in contexts where no one else appears to be or where I judge the likelihood of a comment with what’s on my mind being made to be low (both in real life and online; this does mean I can get extremely outspoken in some contexts, which surprises some people).

      I suspect this is largely because quite in general, by the time I get to the discussion here, those points already tend to have been made. For this medium, that’s probably always going to be that way, since most SSCers are in a very different timezone than I am (and also more intelligent than me – which I cherish, but it does mean I’ve usually got very little to add).

  19. Devin Weaver says:

    Over the past few months, I’ve been brewing on the idea of a moral system, in the same vein as Utilitarianism, Contractualism, Liberalism, Reaction, etc. I’ve discussed it some with my friends before, but they haven’t given me anything more substantial than “This feels wrong, though I can’t explain why.”

    So I’m sharing it here, in the hopes that you can give some more constructive feedback/criticism. I’d post it on my blog, but I don’t have one and don’t wanna make one.

    Since I don’t know if it already has a name, for the sake of this comment I’ll refer to it as capital-O Organism. It’ll make sense eventually.

    THE PREMISE:
    We are multicellular organisms. More specifically, a human being isn’t an indivisible, strictly-defined, singular entity, but rather a loose conglomeration of smaller entities called “cells”.

    I say “loose”, because we know that all of those “cells” aren’t always on the same page. Coordination failures still exist on this level: cancer is the result of a cell refusing to stop replicating when the others agree it should. Allergies are the result of the cells in your immune system misinterpreting what the cells in the rest of your body say is dangerous. Hiccups are your brainstem temporarily forgetting how breathing works. I’m not a doctor, but I get the impression a lot of medical conditions are the result of these type of coordination failures.

    And I say “conglomerate”, because those cells aren’t identical to each other. White blood cells are different from neurons are different from muscle cells are different from bone cells are different from red blood cells are different platelets are different from… you get the idea.

    All this is to say, it makes sense to to think of cells as organisms in their own right, rather than just as parts of a greater whole. Each cell in a human is just as much its own entity as any amoeba; the only difference is in how each meets its own biological needs.

    This isn’t to suggest that humans AREN’T also organisms. Rather, it suggests that organizations of organisms, are themselves organisms. In the same way that humans form communities to meet their individual needs, so too do cells form you. In this sense, an organism isn’t an individual entity, but a type of organization.

    This idea, in itself, isn’t new. Any idea, theory, or mindset that treats groups as individual actors – such as this blog’s observation that corporations and states fall into Molochian traps just as easily as individuals – implicitly assumes this.

    What Organism does is take this idea to its most extreme logical conclusion.

    Imagine a complex upside-down tree-like structure of organisms within organisms within organisms. At the very bottom are cells, which every organism is made out of. At the very top is some meta-organism, which we’ll call capital-L Life, which every organism is a part of.

    Organism postulates that:
    1. Life literally and actually exists, right now, in the real world, in the same way that communities and civilizations exist.
    2. Life has existed and will continue to exist, as long as more than one living cell exists in the entirety of the cosmos.
    3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

    MORALITY:
    Let’s term “Survivability” as “the total amount of time Life will exist in the universe”.

    Good is defined as something that increases Survivability. Bad is something that decreases it.

    This is judged on the largest possible scale; if an action that would normally decrease Survivability ends up increasing it, then it’s judged as good, even if that increase is only visible 40 quintillion years from now.

    It’s also judged as precisely as possible; if something only increases Survivability by 2 Planck Time, it’s still better than an action that only increases it by 1 (but not as good as something that increases it by 3).

    Note that what happens to any organisms except for Life is irrelevant. If obliterating a galaxy somehow has a net Survivability increase, then it is good.

    GENERAL PRINCIPLES
    These aren’t as strictly defined as the values above. These are more general heuristics that have, at the very least, shown useful in the past.

    1. Account for Unknowns.
    You do not and cannot know exactly how much any given action increases or decreases Survivability, nor what all factors affect it, so never assume you do. Nevertheless, make your best guess. A lot of Rationalist principles apply well here.

    2. Diversity is Accounting for Unknowns. A parable: A farmer decides he really likes a certain species of banana, since they’re delicious, and thus profitable. So instead of planting banana seeds, which might lead to bananas that have mutated away their deliciousness, he plants their branches, which ensures every banana is genetically identical, and makes a killing. Then a massive plague the cloned bananas are genetically susceptible to comes along and wipes out the entire crop, and the farmer goes out of business. Meanwhile, his competitors, who continued using seeds and selling less-delicious bananas, stay in business, since only a few of their crops were vulnerable. Note that it doesn’t matter whether or not those other farmers actually know anything about genetics or plagues.

    3. Cooperation is Competitive.
    This is similar to Meditations on Moloch, but slightly reframed.

    Imagine that inverted tree structure again, where, say, humans are at level n=1, small communities are n=2, civilization is n=3, and so on until you hit Life at n=infinity. At level n, an organism’s most competitive if it defects against other level n’s – see: prisoner’s dilemma, Malthusian trap, et al. However, organisms at n+1 are only more competitive than other n+1’s if their corresponding level-n’s cooperate; a town populated by Puritans will obviously perform better than a town populated by sociopathic anarchists. Also, level-n+1’s can compete against level n’s, and will almost always win if they do so; no matter how strong one hunter-gatherer is, they’ll probably lose a fight with a pack of wolves.

    So, under this system, even though it initially looks like it’s in an organism’s best interest to defect and go full individualist, it actually isn’t, since it’ll be outcompeted by an n+1 organism built out of cooperators. Its best interest, then, is to cooperate with other n’s to build an even more competitive n+1 organism.

    (In other words, Individuals who defect always outcompete individuals who cooperate, but groups of cooperators always outcompete groups of defectors. Also, groups outcompete individuals. )

    This continues at level n+1, n+2 — the rules apply to groups just as well as individuals, hence why I classify both as “organisms” — and so on up to n=infinity, at which point the organism’s only competitor is “things that make Survivability less than infinity”.

    IMPLICATIONS:
    There are a few reasons that I like this.

    First is that it seems to be what we’re doing already, albeit mostly unconsciously.

    Take the virus, an organism so simple that some scientists don’t even consider it one. It uses whatever “brainpower” it has to replicate as much as possible, sometimes in impressively complex ways.

    Compare, humans, who, instead of mindlessly replicating, built civilizations and language and the internet.

    Both the human and the virus are optimizing for Survivability here; the human’s just thinking about the n+1 or n+2 levels, whereas the virus doesn’t have the brainpower to see past its level n. We could theoretically imagine an organism even smarter than humanity, who competes at levels n+5, or even n+infinity (the number that comes immediately after five, as we all know).

    Which leads me to my second reason: if we did invent a megalomaniacal superintelligence that only optimizes for one value, Survivability is what I’d want it to optimize for. I’m not certain enough to say that it’s the root of all human values, but it sure does seem to correlate with a lot of them.

    KNOWN ISSUES
    1. There’s a lot of blurred distinction between “is” and “ought” going on here, eg “Survivability IS what we’re optimizing for, therefore we OUGHT to be optimizing for it”. Criticism of this seems fair, and the best I can really say to it is “If your job IS to build skyscrapers, you OUGHT to be the best at building them, or you’ll be fired and replaced by the guy who is,” and then shrug when you ask why skyscrapers specifically.

    2. Survivability is such a meta-level value that it’s sometimes hard to scale it down it down to the level of “how much should I give to which charity this month” or whatever. An exact numerical value for how long donating $537.14 to the Against Malaria Foundation will extend the existence of all organic life in the universe probably exists, but it’d take more computational power than exists on Earth to calculate it, and even then you’d probably end up missing a variable or two. In this case, I’d say “Imprecise answers are better than no answers, so make an educated guess,” but this feels insufficient.

    3. You could say that Organism’s just reskinned Utilitarianism. It pretty much is, but I think “utility” and “Survivability” are different enough values to be worth drawing a distinction, in the same way a superintelligence optimizing for paperclips is different from a superintelligence optimizing for cheeseburgers.

    4. I probably could have chosen better, less confusing names for the terminology I used here. If you have better words, I’m open to them. Consider the terms like variable names; they don’t have any value themselves, they’re just markers to help us keep track of the actual values.

    • onyomi says:

      A problem I see with this viewpoint is that individual cells within an organism are much more specialized than individual organisms, even accounting for division of labor, variable talents, etc.

      That is, even if we strain the analogy enough to say that intellectuals are like society’s neurons, manual laborers like society’s muscles, etc. the fact remains that my individual liver cells are just not autonomous moral actors in the way, e.g. garbage collectors are. Put another way, it isn’t people all the way down: my individual cells are not microcosms of me; they are very different parts of me doing very different things, most of it automatically, and what happens automatically is not generally understood to belong to the realm of ethics. I may “dislike” cancer cells for malfunctioning, but it doesn’t really make sense to say they commit evil. Similarly, a plague may wipe out a whole society just as easily as a genocide perpetrated by a dictator, but we call the latter “evil,” the former “tragic.”

      Evolution optimizes not for survival of cells, organisms, or societies, but for survival of genes. Genes come in bundles because that helps them survive. Genes for multi-cellular organisms further encode cellular specialization because that was a successful strategy. This doesn’t, however, mean that all cells have moral value in the way that most moral systems ascribe at least some moral value or agency to all thinking, individual people. If you tell me my liver is malfunctioning and must be replaced, I will not feel bad for my liver. Its existence is purely instrumental as far as my consciousness is concerned, and only consciousnesses make decisions (or, if one is purely deterministic, give rise to the subjective impression of making decisions).

      Insofar as it exists at all, morality seems only to exist at the level of decision-making (we don’t ascribe moral good or bad to unconscious acts of e.g. the weather, or cancer cells’ non-decisions to replicate out of control). My liver is no more conscious than the weather (nor can it, on its own, feel pain; those are the neurons attached to it), hence its survival or non-survival only has moral value insofar as it facilitates or detracts from the survival or non-survival of the moral agents we thinking parts of organisms care about, e.g. the thinking, feeling, decision-making parts.

      I think would-be moral systems have to account for the most common moral intuitions, among which are “happiness is good” and “suffering is bad” (though moral prescriptions can only extend to sources of happiness or suffering which result from conscious decisions). Only thinking, feeling things (i.e. neurons, or, arguably some fancy computer circuits) feel happiness or suffer. Therefore, it makes good moral sense to sacrifice any number of liver cells to save one thinking, feeling brain, but the reverse is not true even if sacrificing one brain could somehow net you a zillion immortal liver cells.

      • If we evolved our morality to have a social effect to reduce evil, it would follow that our moral stances would be limited to the subset of evil that had intent behind it. In other words, for most evil we’d simply want to take physical steps to stop it (helping out someone wounded in accident), but where a person specifically chose evil, a social-psychological reaction involving disapproval, disgust and so forth. So maybe the biological approach Devin is proposing might be compatible with the focus on choice-related evils as you suggest, because you don’t need to really think about non-sentient evils in the same way as sentient ones to stop them.

    • Alex says:

      3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      Nature knows nothing about moral imperatives. You are starting from a moral conviction and trying to frame that conviction as the way the cosmos is ™. This rhetorical trick of course has a long history.

      A charitable reading of your posts suggests that you have a long thought about your own implicit moral biases that make you believe this.

      A less charitable reading suggests the answer “nicht try”.

      • I think you’re second criticism (both readings) is a bit uncharitable and attacking the person a bit.

        I think your first criticism is far more understandable. In a way you’re suggesting there’s an is/ought problem here – the existence of some uber-life-entity isn’t the same as a moral imperative to assist that entity just because you’re a part of it. Perhaps you’ll allow me to suggest a minor variant. Say your moral intuition was literally a part of a wider cooperative process going on within life. Like let’s say the personal manifestation of the evolutionary forces of kin selection, group selection and the genetic component of reciprocity. Then when you ask “what is the moral thing to do?”, the objective answer would be something like “adopt a cooperative posture with other genetic organisms”.

        Basically, if you factually establish morality as part of something biological, there is now objective answers to moral questions, and the individual can decide whether they are moral or not (although they cannot decide objectively what morality is ie. moral relativism).

        Edit> Tired, wording reads poorly

        • Alex says:

          I meta-agree that if we’d agree on what IS, we still would have an is-ought problem (and the OP addressed this).

          However, I fear that we do not agree on what IS. Neither “life” (as an uber-entity? not sure if I read you correctly) nor evolution has an inherent intent or purpose. The life we can observe is good at being alive, yes. But that is a tautology, not a deeper truth of the “cosmos”. Were this not so, we wouldn’t observe life. There IS no force in “cosmos” that “keeps life alive as long as physical possible” (OP’s words, not yours) and therefore we have no IS from which we could (incorrectly) derive an OUGHT in the first place.

          Also I don’t understand how you think that getting your biology right leads to moral relativism. We have not proven that biology-driven moral cannot exist and if it exists would it not be absolute?

          My criticism is quite the opposite: the OP presents a morale based on convention (i. e. a relative norm) and frames it as if it were based on biology or a great cosmical rule (i. e. an absolute norm).

          • Neither “life” nor evolution has an inherent intent or purpose.

            I mostly agree with that. I guess we agree it’s basically physics and chem in action as it applies to DNA/RNA, without rhyme or reason. It’s more when I think about what purpose is, there seems like good evidence to believe its a phenomenon arising out of the evolution of life, and good reason to believe our moral sentiments are connected to this wider phenomenon.

            So to clarify I was saying not that this is a form of cultural relativism, but that it negates relativism, because although people can choose whether or not to be moral, they can’t just arbitrarily choose what morality is. That’s because it’s an objective process that you can point to, identify and study through biology (eg. we know about kin selection, group selection and genetic reciprocity).

            So the OP maybe cannot say “you should cooperate with life”, as that still runs into the is/ought problem, but he/she could say “it’s moral to cooperate with life”, and point to objective scientific evidence why morality is part of a trend to a cooperative process in life generally. I personally wouldn’t go quite as far as OP’s life-as-a-single-entity, but I definitely think it’s closer than most other philosophical systems who don’t seem to have a very sound basis for their oughts.

      • Devin Weaver says:

        Admittedly, I think I might have a really weird internal definition of “moral”. I see it as a moral imperative in the same way that “drink water every day” is a moral imperative; I doubt anyone’ll say you’re going to Hell for not doing it, but, I mean, you gotta stay hydrated, man.

        Incidentally, I think I’m actually committing the exact opposite fallacy of what you’ve described; I’m taking the way the cosmos Is™, and framing it as moral conviction. This seems intuitively strange, but I’m not sure how different in kind it is from noticing you enjoy happiness, reframing it as ‘utility’, and making it a moral imperative to pursue.

        • JohnBuridan says:

          Sounds like you are creeping towards panpsychism, which I think can be held by rationalists, although it does require belief that there is purpose… such as preserving Life, as you say.

          Belief in moral purposes which exists outside of an individual’s conviction are difficult to establish so be forewarned that your ideas will be held to some harsh scrutiny. 🙂

    • This is quite similar to my own philosophical perspective which I’ve been working on for some time. I call mine the Life Ethic, and I describe it in some considerable detail here. It looks like we do differ on a few points, but overall I’m almost shocked to discover another person with this sort of biological morality. I’ve encountered very few people who share this view beyond yourself. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places. No guarantees we agree on all issues, but we should definitely talk more! Do you have an email/reddit account I can PM you on?

      Most people’s intuition tends to feel uneasy about biologically rooted morality and drawn to psychological versions. This is hard to shake even if you point out the fundamental problems with pretty basic ideas in those versions, like impossible to define notions of “consciousness”. I suspect there is trouble seeing how autonomy and freedom operate in a social system based on biological morality, but I think that’s a lack of familiarity with how compatible they are, rather than a studied criticism. I’d be keen to hear about the reactions you’ve encountered with your friends etc.

      • Devin Weaver says:

        Don’t have a reddit or an email I’m willing to share publicly. I do have a Twitter (@patriarachnid) you can DM me at, though I realize that’s not the best medium for longform communication.

        • I won’t post it here but you can get my email off my blog. I’m trying to avoid caving in and getting Twitter if I can help it, though the fomo is a thing for us all sometimes O_o

    • liskantope says:

      I see this as basically a reframing of utilitarianism with a more concrete specification of exactly what defines “utility”, and I lean towards endorsing it. As for the potential “is vs. ought” problem, it’s occurred to me for a while now that perhaps “ought” has to rest on an axiomatic definition based in some way on what “is”, so one can’t entirely escape blurring the two.

    • Tracy W says:

      Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      How do you know? How do you reconcile this assertion with your later example of a farmer planting a monoculture to make more money?

      Criticism of this seems fair, and the best I can really say to it is “If your job IS to build skyscrapers, you OUGHT to be the best at building them, or you’ll be fired and replaced by the guy who is,” and then shrug when you ask why skyscrapers specifically.

      Isn’t this a reasonable sign that you should abandon this line of argument then? If this is the best counter-argument you can think of its pretty weak. (Other issues: perhaps you shouldn’t build skyscrapers. Perhaps no one should build skyscrapers in this particular location. Perhaps even if you should be building these skyscrapers you should also be spending some time with your family. Perhaps you won’t be fired because there’s a limit to how many skyscrapers the best skyscraper builder can build anyway.)

      • Devin Weaver says:

        I am a bit disappointed that I haven’t yet managed to empirically solve Nihilism, but I’m a bit reassured by the fact that nobody else has, either.

        A problem with most moral philosophiesis that they’re really bad at convincing outsiders to follow them, regardless of how sound they seem from the inside. Assume you met an alien species that’s equally as intelligent as humans, but biologically incapable of experiencing happiness. How do you get them on board with Utilitarianism?

        So I propose that “keeping things alive” be set as the terminal value, since I imagine that’s something even the joyless aliens could get on board with, as evidenced by the fact that most joyless life forms are already on board with it. It doesn’t cure the fundamentally absurd nature of the cosmos, but if everything from dolphins to cyanobacteria is already dedicating everything they have to pursuing it, it’s clearly the least absurd option we have.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          Assume you met an alien species that’s equally as intelligent as humans, but biologically incapable of experiencing happiness. How do you get them on board with Utilitarianism?

          I mean, it probably depends on how you’re defining “happiness.”

          But if they don’t experience joy/pleasure or pain or have any type of subjective experiences, then there’s no point in trying to convert them to utilitarianism, or to anything at all. What arguments could you use to persuade them to any point of view? They have nothing to gain or lose; even if they possess life, they’d have no particular reason to value that life.

          There seems to be an implicit assumption here that moralities should be universal and apply to all beings. I don’t see why. A being’s values will necessarily reflect that being’s nature. I mean, I think there’s a case for extending human values to some animals because they have the same emotions we do (and maybe some day that will be the case for AIs as well) but why should we have the same moral system as aliens that are wired in a fundamentally different way? Or the same “moral system” as bacteria, which probably aren’t conscious at all?

          It’s hard for anyone to imagine what a conscious lifeform with no emotions would act like. When people try to write such beings in fiction, they usually end up just writing them as if they have emotion. Even a generic “desire to stay alive” is a feeling; without that, it’s debatable whether a conscious being could really be said to have a will or motivations at all.

          That’s not to say such a being couldn’t exist, but their existence would be irrelevant to human moralities.

          it’s clearly the least absurd option we have.

          Forcing someone to stay alive when they’re suffering horribly with no hope of relief seems pretty absurd to me. Keeping people and animals breeding constantly to maximize “life” regardless of the quality of life also seems absurd. Unless I’m misunderstanding something, wouldn’t an exclusively life-based morality dictate both those things?

    • rlms says:

      What do you think the point of a moral system is?

    • Ninety-Three says:

      2. Life has existed and will continue to exist, as long as more than one living cell exists in the entirety of the cosmos.
      3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      The problem I see is that this your moral imperative can be trivially satisfied: I can fulfill it by building indestructible box which contains one living cell, and making sure the box and cell survive until the heat death of the universe.

      Instead of cooperating to build a competitive n+1 organism, we can build an isolated n=0 organism and be content when all higher ‘n’s die off. You might say that there’s a risk this plan will fail and a random gamma-ray burst kills our one cell before the end of the universe, but indulge me in a hypothetical here: if Laplace’s Demon can guarantee the continued existence of one cell in a box, isn’t it morally neutral for the entire rest of Life to die off forever?

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Agreed.

        I’d take it further and say that under Organism, the most morally valuable activity is essentially Horcrux-making–that is, finding places to put cell cultures where they’ll be unlikely to die.

        • Devin Weaver says:

          Why build one Horcrux when you can built a billion? Assuming there’s always a greater-than-zero chance that it could be penetrated and destroyed by gamma rays or some other force you didn’t account for, the best option is to develop a civilization capable of creating these black boxes, and encourage its growth and prosperity as much as possible. Let it spread to other planets, in case the one it’s on has its sun go supernova. Let it spread to other universes, in case the one it’s in suffers Heat Death. Meanwhile, have it continuously build black boxes along the way.

    • Jupiter says:

      Blog that may be of interest to you: z9s.blogspot.com

    • That utility function would value a hardy species of algae managing to hold on to existence on an otherwise barren planet for a trillion and one years over a galaxy-spanning civilization dying out in a trillion years. So instead of a paperclip maximizer, you have a primitive-life-form-lifespan maximizer, which might not be much better.

      • Devin Weaver says:

        The problem with the algae is that it has no way to escape the rock it’s stuck to, and thus will inevitably die when its local sun goes supernova. Even if the galaxy-spanning civilization itself dies in a trillion years, it can facilitate the spread of that hyper-durable algae to other planets, something the algae itself can’t do. Thus, the galaxy-spanning civilization still has considerable value.

        • Iain says:

          There’s a problematic explore/exploit dynamic here. You can plausibly keep things going for a long time with the claim that we need to learn more, but at some point that clock is going to run out, and your society will have a moral obligation to dismantle itself to preserve resources for the probes that will be spreading your nigh-eternal algae (or whatever the low-energy, high-survival answer turns out to be).

      • This reminds me of Scott’s own story stub, which is a quite a good criticism, about priests or something covering worlds with vats of DNA to optimize for a similar biological utility function. That’s a fair objection, and I think there’s several potential answers that may address them. Firstly as OP already mentioned, a lack of variety is a significant weakness throughout nature, which is one of the reasons recent branches of the the tree of life have sophisticated methods of actually encouraging it (eg. sexual reproduction). I think sophisticated thinkers like humans represent huge potential value to life as a whole too (eg. building an asteroid defense system, extending our biosphere to other planets). A happy, free society of super-intelligent humans that valued other biological species seems pretty close to an optimal end goal to me.

        I think the other possible consideration is that it’s hard to think of a utility function that doesn’t go nuts when its applied infinitely. I guess if we’re true rationalists we can try to go along for the ride, but applying moderation also seems like a reasonable approach given even a small amount of uncertainty about our goals (which is something rationalists ought to have).

        I’ve also noticed that in nature, maximizing reproduction is not always (rarely?) a good strategy to ensure survival. For example, bacteria colonies can die if they don’t limit their consumption of their food source. In a futurist context, aggressive expansion might look a lot like an ebola outbreak to any existing inhabitants of the galaxy, so an algae maximizer probably is a bad idea anyway. With survival as the goal instead of maximization, I think this utility function’s effects look a lot more sensible for more future scenarios.

    • Deiseach says:

      All this is to say, it makes sense to to think of cells as organisms in their own right, rather than just as parts of a greater whole. Each cell in a human is just as much its own entity as any amoeba; the only difference is in how each meets its own biological needs.

      This isn’t to suggest that humans AREN’T also organisms. Rather, it suggests that organizations of organisms, are themselves organisms. In the same way that humans form communities to meet their individual needs, so too do cells form you. In this sense, an organism isn’t an individual entity, but a type of organization.

      I think St Paul got there first with this metaphor 🙂

      1 Corinthians 12-26:

      12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

      14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

      21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      I mean, utility function not up for grabs, but this morality is obviously hostile to the continued existence of any person, as being a person takes up resources that would be “better” spent defending some bacteria.

      • Humans are probably a lot better at preventing asteroid strike than bacteria, so it’s possible to imagine versions of this approach that are much more closely aligned with everyday moral intuition.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      I think the most interesting idea here is your scaling idea of Life and its relationship to the statement Cooperation is Competitive.
      This leads me to believe you would really, and I mean really, enjoy the book A Cooperative Species by Gintis and Bowles. It’s a game theoretical and experimental psychology approach to human altruism.

      I don’t think the OUGHT explicit in your moral system is a huge bug. It is accounted for in your description of what you think reality is. Let me know if I’m getting this wrong.

      Life is inherently good.
      Human Life is inherently good as well.
      Human Life has evolved such that it requires us to value Life.

      [The teleological move/ virtue ethicist move to make here is:]
      And it is inherently good to act in accordance with our humanity, whatever that is.
      Therefore, we should strive to Value life.

      I think a legitimate moral system requires first a thorough description and account of what a human is at various levels and then uses that to provide some type of system which humans can more or less use for understanding and acting out their role/place/pickyourterminology in society.

    • carvenvisage says:

      3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      This is the part that ‘feels wrong’ to me. It seems to imply that eternal torture or suffering is preferable to eternal nonexistence (death). That isn’t what I’d choose for myself, and certainly not choose for someone I had a more sacred responsibility towards.

      Not surviving is bad, but there are probably worse things, and there are things so good they’re worth risking it for even to a major extent, as well as tradeoffs of very slightly greater ‘life’expectancy in exchange for loss of Qo’L’, which aren’t going to be worth it in basically anyone’s values.

       

      I think part of what this gets at is that good orders are more survivable, because arrangements which cause needless suffering or leave value on the table will be less resilient and grow/become secure etc slower than ones that don’t.

      With that in mind really looking for survivabillity might be a good way to approximate goodness, and yet more probably a useful exercise in service of that purpose.

      “Might this kill us all one day?” Is a question that can detect moral errors, which are long term security errors, as well as short term/direct security errors.

  20. Kevin C. says:

    I remember how bad (and how much I hated) the stupid “self-esteem building” nonsense (or as they dubbed it, “Positive Action”) was when I went to public school back in the previous century. And now I read this: “California high school replaces girls’ bathroom mirrors with ‘notes of affirmation’“.

    Based on a brainchild of one its students, Laguna Hills High School officials had the mirrors taken out of the school’s girls’ bathrooms … and replaced with notes of “affirmation.”

    The notes include little sayings such as “You are important” and “You are loved.”

    Sabrina Astle, a member of the school “Kindness Club,” said she came up with the idea because she wanted to “make a difference.”

    Because that’s just what our young women need to prepare them for the challenges and rigors of adulthood[/sarc].

    • Zodiac says:

      I really wonder if these people don’t understand self-esteem problems or if I’m a rare brain mutant. My usual reaction to this kind of stuff is a cynical sneer followed by a spiral of negative thoughts for why these notes are wrong or don’t apply to me.

      • liskantope says:

        I feel completely the same way. My kneejerk reaction today would be sacastic and eye-rolling, so imagine the reaction of kids who have reached the age where capacity for sarcasm and eye-rolling is typically reaching its peak.

      • Marie says:

        I am having zero luck retracking down the paper I read a while ago, and have no clue if it would survive a replication study, but it basically said that the “say affirming stuff to yourself in the mirror” tactic helped mildly a lot of its participants (at least for a bit) but backfired and had negative results for about 25% of participants (who had “this is idiotic and stupid and doesn’t apply to me oh god I’m a failure” responses). It thus cautioned against using it as a blanket strategy for boosting self-esteem. Made me feel better about having always had the eye-rolling negative-backfire response, and gave me more tolerance for people who recommended the strategy (as apparently there’s a sizable percentage of minds for whom it has neutral or positive results).

    • Maybe they should replace them with AR mirrors that blur the student’s image and automatically overlay their school test results and likely future careers. Or maybe dead people that appear behind you if you spend too long applying makeup.

      Obviously I’m joking, but more seriously, the idea is good if they’d replace the messages with something more useful, like maybe something about future careers in science etc.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Obviously I’m joking, but more seriously, the idea is good if they’d replace the messages with something more useful

        Like a mirror?

        I’m not joking: mirrors have utility, that’s why we put them there!

        • I think the idea was that mirrors might magnify the obsession/anxiety over body image that seems to develop for a lot of women in their teens. I don’t think removing a signal that emphasizes appearance is bad, I just favor a message like “science is cool” replacing it rather than “you’re a beautiful and unique snowflake” or some such rubbish.

          • Zodiac says:

            I would probably still be pissed at that since I would see this as a try of manipulating me instead trying to convince me with actual arguments. Which might actually yield a short term positive result in the body image matter since I would simply be thinking about other things.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, maybe this is different for me because I’m a man/introvert/whatever, but I’ve never really associated the presence of a bathroom mirror with thinking about my physical attractiveness. I’ve always seen it as a utilitarian thing.

            BUT, if you put up a bunch of sticky notes on the mirror saying “You are a beautiful person no matter what anyone says” that would pretty clearly be a message of “START THINKING ABOUT HOW ATTRACTIVE YOU ARE NOW” which is probably more likely to make me feel depressed than a blank mirror would.

    • rlms says:

      Chesterton’s fence!

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s a silly idea not because of the affirmation but because you want a mirror in a bathroom so you can comb your hair, fix your face, see if you have something stuck in your teeth or dropped a big blob of ketchup on the front of your blouse at lunchtime, etc. It has a practical function. If you want to put up posters and affirmative messages and little lectures about the beauty industry, knock yourself out but this is missing the wood for the trees.

      • lvlln says:

        I think the reasoning is that you couldn’t possibly care to comb your hair, fix your face, remove something stuck in your teeth or care if you have a big blob of ketchup on the front of your blouse if you already believe that “you are loved” or “you are important.” I mean, those issues all have to do with how you are perceived by others, so if you’re interested in correcting them, that means you must have an issue of self esteem, because you shouldn’t care how you appear to others, right?

        It’s rather silly, because you can’t just declare by fiat that one’s appearance to others doesn’t matter and expect it to stick, but I see what they’re getting at.

        I think there’s a stronger case for hygiene and safety. A person might have an injury or a dirty object on their face or neck that they might not notice if not for a mirror. That has to do not with how others perceive that person, but with the health of that person, and the lack of a mirror can severely hamper that person’s ability to recognize and correct the issue.

      • I basically think the opposite. I’ve used bathrooms with no mirrors before, and nothing bad happened. However excessive messages telling everyone how special they are and reinforcing mindless positivity are actively harmful to those people and others.

      • carvenvisage says:

        or missing the trees for the wood?

  21. Tibor says:

    Where do you stand on free will?

    A big question, I know, but one that always seemed to me to have quite an obvious answer – I considered the possibility that there is no free will quite absurd. I discussed it with a friend who tentatively supports the conclusion that there is no free will and I ended up realizing I (well both of us) don’t quite know how to define free will in the first place.

    Her main argument was that it only makes sense to talk about free will if, when you go back in time (without the ability to keep the experience from the present) to any given moment, you decide to do something different than you did originally and you do it consciously (i.e. it does not count if you do things differently just by random chance). I agree that if you define free will this way, then it almost trivially does not exist, but at the same time I don’t like her definition very much because I feel that something is missing and that this is not quite what most people mean when they talk about free will. I am not sure how I would define it myself however. I tried a couple of things which had an opposite problem – free will trivially existed under those definitions so I think they contained too much.

    I assume that there are a lot more elaborate available to this question that what I could come up with and definitely what I could come up with in the time I am willing to dedicate to this question. I also assume that some people here are familiar with those arguments, hence this comment 🙂 Thanks!

    Btw, these sort of problems seem typical of all philosophy…I don’t think one can really discuss it very well without having a solid axiomatic basis and once one carefully defines every used term – which makes me more sympathetic to the philosophers who do this kind of “useless” philosophy (although at this level, the difference between mathematics and philosophy seems quite blurry). Discussing things like morality without these fundamentals seems to me like trying to design a space ship without having a clue about basic geometry. If that is too hard a problem then maybe morality and all other high-level questions should perhaps be discussed outside of philosophical framework and adopt more empiricism and heuristics instead (sort of the way physics relates to maths). Or perhaps I understand the term philosophy too strictly and it already includes both these things (like if both maths and physics were contained under one term).

    • Tracy W says:

      I think free will debates are mostly debates about definitions. Free-willers and determinists in my experience don’t disagree about any real-world observable consequences. The only point this debate gets meaningful is when we start talking about how to treat people who do morally bad things.

      • ashlael says:

        I struggle to understand why a determinist would argue for a particular course of action. Who are they expecting to convince?

        It’s a bit like forming a solipsist society.

        • Montfort says:

          What do you mean, “why”? The initial conditions of the universe and the laws of physics ordained it.

          • Tibor says:

            I don’t think the opposite of free will is necessarily determinism. If all non-deterministic. You could imagine that some kind of true independent randomness exists and there is a machine which has a true random generator and produces zeros and ones based on that and strings of those correspond to some actions it takes. I am not sure if it makes sense to say that that machine has a free will.

        • John Colanduoni says:

          Arguments are (demonstrably) part of the gears of the universe even if you are a determinist. It’s like saying there’s no point in aiming your shot in a game of pool because where it actually goes is up to physics.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          It’s a bit like forming a solipsist society.

          I tried forming a solipsists’ society once, but for some reason nobody else turned up.

    • liskantope says:

      The issue of free will is the topic in philosophy which I have the strongest convictions about, but even at the peak of my philosophy debating skills I’m not sure I could ever argue them effectively. Right now I’m letting myself get distracted at work, so I shouldn’t get into any long explanations, but I will summarize it this way. I am essentially a compatibilist because (as you say) it’s hard to define free will (this boils down to defining “can”), and I believe the only rigorous definitions for it must involve descriptions of physical processes. I quote myself from a long blog post as follows:

      For almost as long as I can remember seriously considering the question, I’ve always been some sort of a compatibilist. I believe that, whether or not we act completely deterministically, our intuitive notion of freedom can be explained via deterministic mechanisms, and moreover, this is the only really sensible way to define what it means to be free. There is simply no coherent way to define non-deterministic freedom. But it is possible to define freedom from a purely naturalistic and deterministic perspective: it would be something like “a free decision is an event in which the XYZ chemical processes happen in the brain”. This sounds messy and inelegant from the purely abstract point of view, but it should translate to something within the human experience that does coincide with free decision-making.

      This might look like nothing more than playing with words. Why do we care about whether or not we have free will, apart from some academic interest in metaphysical questions (which, as I’ve implied above, isn’t usually sufficient for me to want to seriously investigate something)? We care about it, because we want to know how to place responsibility (and attributes that commonly come with it, like virtue or blameworthiness) on people for their choices. And at first, my hand-wavy definition above doesn’t seem to actually give us any kind of practical answer to that.

      But now, the idea is to stop thinking of attributes like praiseworthiness or blame as somehow cosmically-ordained properties and instead consider the act of bestowing praise or blame as a physical event in and of itself, and then consider whether that event results in good or in harm. In other words, when considering whether a particular moral judgment is warranted by someone’s choice, ask yourself whether reacting according to that judgment (praising or condemning that person’s behavior in a certain manner) will result in maximum good done for the world. In this way, it boils down to an application of utilitarian principles.

      Now the naive way to make this kind of evaluation would be to say that if someone’s choice most likely resulted or will result in net harm, then you should react with condemnation, while if it most likely had or will have a net positive result, then you should react with praise. But sometimes a particular expression of condemnation (or praise) of a bad (or good) choice won’t actually maximize utility, and this is where the practical issue of degrees of… free-ness comes in. (See what I narrowly avoided there?)

    • I’ve noticed most debates about free-will are full of equivocation precisely due to the difficulties with definition. I think political or personal free will is easy enough – your ability to make choices with partially known outcomes, proportional to the absence of deterrents or incentives applied by other people (eg. absence of threats). That obviously is a thing and it’s clearly morally significant too, such as in political discussions or criminal justice proceedings. Metaphysical free-will is in my opinion not a useful concept as without equivocating to the personal or political versions it doesn’t really say or mean anything. Basically it doesn’t causally prevent or enable you to do anything, and as mentioned above it’s near impossible to define,

    • Anonymous says:

      I cannot distinguish between deterministic unknowns and free will. I am obligated by my religion to believe it exists, though, and I will so long as the question’s open.

    • themountaingoat says:

      I tend to think that determinism and free will are not in conflict. Any definition of free will that has labels my decision to not jump off a building not free because it was determined by my happy upbringing doesn’t seem to be corresponding with the intuitive concept the term is meant to be describing. Of course we get counter intuitive results when a term is defined in a way that doesn’t match our intuition.

      It seems to me that a choice should be defined as free if it if changing the mental characteristics of the person involved could change the choice. Whether those mental characteristics are themselves determined by something is irrelevant.

    • Elephant says:

      I really liked reading Daniel Dennett’s “Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbow_Room_(book)), which, at least to me, clarified a lot of the issues of what’s really meant by free will, and why determinism isn’t as constraining as one might think.

    • Wander says:

      I’ve always found free will debates somewhat redundant. It certainly feels like there’s free will, and because of that it doesn’t seem like it matters if it’s really there or not. I know it has philosophical and theological implications, but it doesn’t seem to impact the real world at all. If you punch someone in the face and say “the universe was deterministic, I had no choice in taking that action”, they can quite easily just punch you back and same “yeah, same”.

  22. I suppose this is a good place to shill one’s own blog? I recently wrote a thing about government enforcement of contracts, why it’s important, and how it’s varied between different places in important ways.

    • It is. No idea if true but article seemed convincing. Have you considered adding some form of graphics to the overall design so your blog is more easily visually recognized?

      I really feel like 1000s of grey tribe bloggers all writing reasonably well on their separate blogs should organise their collective thoughts together somehow. Trying to find and read good blogs feels like sailing the ocean at night with no map, as search really doesn’t cut it for very specific styles or writing quality.

      • John Nerst says:

        Agreed. I’ve been thinking of ways to try to integrate fragmented rationalist-adjacent writing into some sort of intuitively navigable structure, but it turns out it’s difficult – the best way to organize knowledge still seems to be through human mind.

        Also, related: finding things you want to read also depends on whether what you read is read by many others like yourself (i.e community matters) because it’s more meaningful to read something that you know will become part of common community knowledge. For example, I read articles here on SSC even if they are peripheral to my typical interests and I wouldn’t necessarily read them if they were published somewhere else.

      • Yes, I probably should do some sort of visual customization. I’m not sure what I’d use off hand but I’m sure I can think of something.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I would suggest that the use of the word “shill” is doing you a disservice here.

      There is a balance that needs to be maintained between adding value to the existing SSC comment community and promoting your own blog. Generally, I would suggest providing at least the highlights in your post here as well as linking to the longer blog post.

      That said, I found the blog post cogent and interesting and I am curious if there is any more support for your musing that the greater number of officials per capita in Europe vs. China was a driver of the industrial revolution by enabling a rise in contract law and (my interpretation) capitalism.

      • I’m currently quite happily employed as a robotics engineer but if I were to change careers and become a historian this is certainly the sort of thing I could research to find more evidence for or against my thesis. On my to-read stack is The Long Divergence which, I’ve heard, argues that the Islamic world was held back not by lack of contract law but by lack of legal corporations that could outlast their initial members. You might have eight Arab merchants who pool their money for a trading expedition to India and have legal tools to sort out any disputes that arise. But in Europe you could also have eight people pool their resources for a water powered mill and pass their interest in the mill down to their heirs. That made development more of a state project in the Islamic world which, for things like mills, doesn’t necessarily allow for much innovation.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I’ve heard of the concept of a waqf in Islamic law- which difference between this and a European corporation is the important one? Is it important that a waqf is inalienable? Or was the issue that a waqf must have a single founder?

          (While they are usually charitable, it is entirely possible for a waqf to be set up to specifically benefit the founder’s descendants)

    • IrishDude says:

      Are you familiar with Lex Mercatoria? It’s merchant law that governs international trade, contracts and all, outside the purview of the state. Here’s a nice article on the subject. I’ll post an excerpt, but I highly suggest reading the whole thing:

      “Is the State necessary for flourishing international trade? Conventional wisdom thinks so. According to that wisdom, private international commerce would wither without intergovernmental treaties, State courts dealing with international affairs, and State-crafted legal practices for international merchants. Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest that a world legal system is needed to ensure the continual growth of international commerce.

      Superficially, at least, the idea that State involvement might be indispensable for international trade seems sensible. Without it, how could merchants from different legal systems—not to mention cultures, languages, and religions—make binding contracts, providing the security they need to trade with persons beyond their nations’ borders? Without a world court for private international commercial agreements, what law would take precedence in commercial disputes? Which nation’s courts would handle merchants’ disagreements? And how could merchants secure a fair hearing in the courts of their adversaries? Without a supranational legal system, or at least national governments’ cooperation, these and myriad other potential problems stemming from commercial conflicts between parties from different countries would seem insurmountable.

      Yet private parties have surmounted these problems—without government. International trade first took off under a private international legal system called the lex mercatoria, or Law Merchant. It continues to thrive under private legal arrangements today.”

      • This wasn’t mentioned in your article but medieval european merchants also had their own nominal currency they used to denominate debts so that those weren’t subject to the vagaries of one prince or anther deciding to debase their currency. It was a really remarkable organization.

        You don’t need government if your operating in a sufficiently small community that personal reputation is sufficient. If you have a hundred merchant houses in Europe they can form fairly satisfactory arrangements among themselves just as you can in a farming village of 100 families. But for industrialization you ultimately need a more complicated commercial system than can be supported by one cozy clique.

        And it suffered from the same problem as modern capitalism in the third world. Only the privileged have access to those courts.

        • Matt M says:

          Eh, technology is such that you can easily track and quantify personal reputation even among large groups over great distances (ebay, uber, etc.)

          • And that might very well enable practical anarchism in the future a la Bruce Sterling’s Moderators and Regulators in Distraction, or I think Charlie Stross also did something similar in Halting State or Rule 34.

        • IrishDude says:

          You don’t need government if your operating in a sufficiently small community that personal reputation is sufficient.

          As noted by Matt M, rating systems such as the ones used by Amazon, Uber, ebay, Yelp, tripadvisor, AirBnb, etc. make tracking reputation of strangers much easier. Lots of these services such as Amazon and ebay even provide private dispute resolution if one party feels the other broke terms of the contract. It’s too expensive in time and money for most people, including the less-privileged, to go through state courts to resolve contract disputes. Lots of large (privileged) companies choose to use private arbitration instead of public courts as well, as they find if more efficient and equitable than state enforcement.

          Even before the rating systems were in place, reputation could be tracked through branding. If a large national chain such as McDonalds opens up in your small town, you can have a good idea about what quality of product and service to expect even if you haven’t been to that particular restaurant before. Same with all other national and global brands that works hard to maintain reputations for quality products/services and contract-worthiness.

          Also, other non-state methods can be used to enforce contracts even when the negotiating parties don’t have any idea about the other’s reputation. For example, each party can provide collateral to a trusted 3rd party that would award the collateral to the harmed party in the event of one party breaking the contract.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Which came first, the high trust society, or the contract?

        • IrishDude says:

          It’s easier to make contracts with people you trust. However, systems that incentivize keeping contracts can make it such that you can deal with scoundrels and they’ll still hold up their end of the deal.

          One of the big hypes around blockchains and Bitcoin is that you don’t need to trust people any more for contracts that are placed on them, you just need to trust algorithms that can be easily verified. Trustless contracts can be set-up, which has the potential to facilitate many more positive sum interactions than is possible in a world where you have to trust people.

          • Aapje says:

            One of the big hypes around blockchains and Bitcoin is that you don’t need to trust people any more for contracts that are placed on them, you just need to trust algorithms that can be easily verified.

            I think that this is way overhyped, because most transactions cannot be directly linked to the payment. For example, if I buy something online, both the buyer and seller can defect by either not sending the item or by claiming not to have received it. So even with bitcoin the system can only work if there is a decent amount of trust that the sender will send the item and the buyer will not claim to haven’t received it when they have.

            Even on the darknet people base their buying decisions on trust.

          • IrishDude says:

            I think that this is way overhyped, because most transactions cannot be directly linked to the payment.

            It could be overhyped, but what’s exciting about the future is nobody knows for sure. The distributed ledger concept is a new capability that’s never existed before, and I find that new technologies can change the way people previously did things. Perhaps people will come up with many more uses for transactions that are directly linked to payment, certain transaction types that don’t exist now due to frictions that come from requiring trust of people.

            Ethereum currently has a $4.3 billion market cap, so that’s a decent sized bet on the promise of smart contracts.

            So even with bitcoin the system can only work if there is a decent amount of trust that the sender will send the item and the buyer will not claim to haven’t received it when they have.

            Even on the darknet people base their buying decisions on trust.

            OpenBazaar is a new opensource bitcoin marketplace that allows anyone to become a 3rd party moderator to transactions, with the ability to rate moderators to build up reputations. It’s pretty early days, but it allows a marketplace like ebay or Amazon without centralized dispute resolution, with a free market for moderators.

            This system still requires trust of the moderator, but doesn’t require trust between the buyer and seller. There’s no censorship possible given the decentralized nature of the platform, so it’s possible in the future OpenBazaar will have transactions that currently take place on the darknet.

            Also, I’ve never used darknet marketplaces but my understanding is most, if not all of them, have some sort of rating system to indicate the trustworthiness of the sellers. If so, that reduces uncertainty when trusting sellers.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            Trusting ratings means that you don’t trust the algorithms to guarantee that no one will be swindled. If the algorithms were trustworthy in themselves, you wouldn’t need the ratings.

            You actually seem to be arguing that there is value in the distributed nature of the system, which may be true, but it’s not because you no longer have to trust people, as you argued.

            Anyway, I consider cryptocurrencies to be very interesting, but it’s also a very young technology that is quite immature and risky (some of my coins have been stolen, for example, and this seems far from rare).

            A major issue with cryptocurrencies and (derivates of) Bitcoin specifically is that records are public, which is a major privacy issue. Do you want everyone to be able to see what you bought (which can be used to establish a very accurate picture of your life)? Monero partially fixes this and may be the 2nd generation cryptocurrency.

            However, even then you have various risks that still need more research before it becomes feasible to move to these cryptocurrencies on a large scale.

          • Matt M says:

            A major issue with cryptocurrencies and (derivates of) Bitcoin specifically is that records are public, which is a major privacy issue. Do you want everyone to be able to see what you bought

            They can see that you paid Person X Y coins, but they don’t really know what you bought, do they? I mean I guess in some cases you could probably figure it out, if the vendor is a small business that only sells a few products or whatever.

            But I’m totally comfortable with the public knowing that yesterday, I paid Amazon $36.63. Don’t really see how that harms me in any particular way.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            That is true, although not all sellers sell such a big range. If you buy from BDSMGearForCheap.com, that gives a lot more information than when buying from Amazon.

            However, if you want to reduce the need for trust, you may want to put both the sold items and the price in the blockchain. Otherwise you have merely encoded half of the transaction and then you still need a lot of trust between the seller and buyer merely to agree on what was bought for the money you transferred.

            Ethereum puts a contract in the blockchain, so people can see exactly what you bought. So if people know your Ethereum address, they know that you bought the pink handcuffs.

          • IrishDude says:

            You actually seem to be arguing that there is value in the distributed nature of the system, which may be true, but it’s not because you no longer have to trust people, as you argued.

            Well, I was arguing two things but didn’t make that clear. First, I’m intrigued by trustless contracts and dispute that just because most current transactions can’t be directly linked to payment means that will remain the case in a future where trustless contracts are well-developed. New capabilities can change paradigms for interactions (e.g., cars/roads and development of suburbs).

            My second response was to rebut your specific claim that transactions with bitcoin require trust between buyer and seller, as there’s apps that provide 3rd party moderation.

            (some of my coins have been stolen, for example, and this seems far from rare).

            If you have bitcoin, I suggest getting a hardware wallet like a Trezor.

            A major issue with cryptocurrencies and (derivates of) Bitcoin specifically is that records are public, which is a major privacy issue. Do you want everyone to be able to see what you bought (which can be used to establish a very accurate picture of your life)?

            That’s a known issue, and there’s some solutions out there like using tumblers (algorithmic money laundering) or using ShapeShift to purchase alternative cryptocurrencies and then buying new Bitcoins that aren’t connected to your identity.

          • Nornagest says:

            you may want to put both the sold items and the price in the blockchain. Otherwise you have merely encoded half of the transaction

            You could put a hash of the confirmation page, or of some other itemized proof of purchase, in the blockchain. That provides forward verification without breaking privacy.

          • IrishDude says:

            Monero partially fixes this and may be the 2nd generation cryptocurrency.

            I think it likely for there to be multiple cryptocurrencies each optimized for different functions. Perhaps Bitcoin is best as store of value, Monero/Zcash is best for anonymity, Ethereum is best for smart contracts, etc.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            My second response was to rebut your specific claim that transactions with bitcoin require trust between buyer and seller, as there’s apps that provide 3rd party moderation.

            That just pushes the problem one level up, as that 3rd party then needs to have trust in the buyer and seller and/or vice versa. At most you can argue that the decentralized nature of the system reduces the power of central actors, which seems highly useful for the (second and) third world, but less so for the 1st world.

            I just haven’t seen any killer applications yet using bitcoin. Of course, those may still come, but I’m not going to declare the revolution until I see something amazing.

            If you have bitcoin, I suggest getting a hardware wallet like a Trezor.

            I just mined some bitcoin and litecoin myself. The bitcoin, I sold. The litecoin was stolen from the mining pool before I had it pay me out.

            That’s a known issue, and there’s some solutions out there like using tumblers (algorithmic money laundering) or using ShapeShift to purchase alternative cryptocurrencies and then buying new Bitcoins that aren’t connected to your identity.

            Yeah, I’m not arguing that the problems can’t be solved, but it’s still a decent amount of work to set everything up. It needs to become far easier to have something secure and with privacy and such.

            @Nornagest

            That is a good idea, although you’d probably want to hash a shared information carrier, like a mail. Otherwise the seller can just claim a malfunction and delete the page. Then you have no hard evidence except that there was a page with information.

            @IrishDude

            I think it likely for there to be multiple cryptocurrencies each optimized for different functions. Perhaps Bitcoin is best as store of value, Monero/Zcash is best for anonymity, Ethereum is best for smart contracts, etc.

            Yeah, Monero can’t be used for colored coins, trust networks, timestamping and decentralized digital ID, for example.

          • Iain says:

            My personal suspicion is that cryptocurrencies will turn out to be a dead-end, but that blockchain technology may end up being genuinely useful as an intermediary in various business contexts.

            The real sweet spot seems to be using blockchain as an auditable distributed database of transactions between semi-trusted parties. For example, the shipping industry is looking into the idea of using blockchain technology as a decentralized paper trail. Here’s another example of using a private blockchain to reconcile electronic transfers between banks. If there is an existing out-of-band business relationship between the relevant actors, you don’t have to burn billions of cycles on a proof of work scheme. All you need to do is guarantee that everybody can easily detect any fraud.

    • Vermillion says:

      It was a good interesting post and a wrinkle on the industrial revolution I hadn’t considered before. I found that there were a fair number of grammar/punctuation/word choices that were off though and that kinda bothered me because I am pretty pedantic.

  23. Trofim_Lysenko says:

    So, I tend to come to a lot of these Open Threads several hundred comments late, and due to internet restrictions at my workplace I can -read- them on my breaks, but can only post about once per day (once I get home) except on days off. I had wanted to raise a point with HBC and other pro-feminist posters here and feel them out. To avoid spamming the bottom of that thread, I am reposting it here. It started with my reaction to the assertion that the goal of Feminism was fundamentally and explicitly egalitarian. That is, as I understand it, equality of legal status/social treatment/career choices for men and women.

    Repost begins:

    Do you sincerely believe that 21st century western society is so inadequately egalitarian on gender grounds that it requires a national movement of professional full time activists to fight for it? I specify 21st century western society for a simple reason: It’s where I live, and presumably where the overwhelming majority of you live. It’s where discussion ends up centered. It’s where we’re talking about when people debate over whether there is or isn’t a wage gap, whether abortions are too easy to get nor not easy enough, depiction of women in entertainment media, gender representation in STEM fields, whether or not Tech (meaning Austin, Silicon Valley, and so on) is a hostile environment, and so on.

    It’s all very well to point out that things are still truly fucked up for many women in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Central Africa, but the discussion is still going to end up fixated on where we all live because it takes a lot of conscious effort for humans to care more about lots of strangers far away than a few ones closer to home, and because all but the most extreme MRA type is going to agree with feminists that the sort of treatment that goes on in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Central Africa is not acceptable. “It shouldn’t be ok for husbands to tune up their wives” has become (and yeah, feminism deserves credit for this!) the default norm for us here (western liberal democracies) and now (early 2017), to say nothing of female genital mutilation, etc.

    If egalitarianism is the goal, what are the metrics by which that goal is measured, and at what point do you declare victory and go home?

    For example, on the issue of gun rights, I can be very specific: If we were to get to a point where there was nationwide reciprocity for a robust system of shall-issue CCW licensing schemes, a repeal of most of the provisions of the GCA of ’68 and almost all of the NFA of 1934, and there was sufficient popular support that attempts at reinstating them were…well…about as likely as someone repealing Roe v Wade…

    …I’d call that fight “over”, and I’d roll my eyes at groups like the NRA and GOA and so on still existing. I wouldn’t attack them, but I wouldn’t view them as fighting the good fight…and to be honest that’s pretty much how I feel about feminism in the context of day to day American life most of the time.

    I know you guys (HeelBearCub, anyone else who wants to articulate a pro-feminist position, considers themselves an “ally” or a Feminist Male Auxiliary or what have you) don’t “speak for the movement”, but can you clearly articulate what the victory conditions are? Surely, there is some point where you would agree that further policing is counterproductive, leading to purity spirals, circular firing squads, and blowback, and the goal would be to stop short of that point, right?

    To make my own position clear, I think that here and now while we may not be AT that point of “declare victory, everyone can relax”, we are much closer to it than is generally acknowledged by those labeling themselves as Feminists. I think that a lot of the activism at this point is not actually that effective in addressing what -does- remain, and there are issues and places where we’re already well into purity spiral mode.

    At the same time, I am well aware that most people who are sympathetic to modern movement feminism and/or who self-identify as “Feminists” or “Feminist allies” disagree, so I am trying to elicit more information from them on this point with an eye towards sparking a more general discussion. I’m happy to go into the weeds from there, but again I have to warn that I can only post a couple times a day at best.

    …and with that I have to run or I’ll be late to work.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      Not HeelBearCub, but I generally consider myself feminist, so I’ll take a shot. (Also, I appreciate the phrasing of your post — curiosity is always a great framing for disagreements!)

      I’ll say off the bat that I’d say the goal of defining endpoints for feminism is much more difficult than gun rights, because while with gun rights you’re talking about legal status, with feminism we’re mainly talking about individual & cultural attitudes. I’d say that legally, gender equality is fairly well enshrined (though queer rights are often much less so).

      But: say guns have exactly the legal restrictions you describe above. But anyone who owns a gun is considered violent and untrustworthy. Additionally, there’s high expectations for how you clean, care for, and display your gun, such that even your fellow gun owners might unpredictably shun you. Gun owners are passed over for promotions, because management find them alien and unrelatable and they spend too much time cleaning and polishing their guns to be reliable workers. Besides, even if they were promoted, it’s hard for them to do their jobs, because customers talk to them like they’re violent children, and who could blame them? Instead, gun owners are more likely to be asked, and more likely to accept, low-reward tasks. Because of their shameful actions, gun owners are frequently stabbed by domestic partners. Also, no one wants to sell ammunition — it’s seen as kind of vulgar, only sold in sketchy areas, and costs 5x more than it currently does, because companies can afford to charge that much. Does that sound like the society you want?

      Now, that may be a bit extreme. I’m not saying that’s exactly the situation with the status of women in Western countries, just trying to give a gut sense of why this is more cultural than legal.

      Actually, scratch that. Those examples are pretty directly based on the treatment of women. Then the question is: what’s the real prevalence? How much am I exaggerating based on a narrative that never dies?

      Experiencing physical violence at the hands of domestic partners is 3x more common for US women than men. I believe (I’m at work, not going to hunt down *too* many links for now) that while there is some outright discrimination in hiring/promotions, more of it comes via gender differences in accepting & receiving tasks with low promotability. (Incidentally, I’m really curious for more analysis of this. I’m a bit statistically skeptical because social science, but from skimming it seems pretty thorough. I’d say it offers quite a credible explanation of lots of workplace gender effects, and how they are cultural rather than malicious.)

      These statistics changing, in addition to a few other things such as media representation, would be persuasive criteria for “declaring victory”.

      Finally, on the issue of “how close are we” I think that in Western countries, gender equality is very unevenly distributed. There are liberal places, especially in cities, secular circles, and highly educated fields, where things are very egalitarian. I think that in those circumstances, “purity spiral mode” is a real threat.

      (I also think it’s worth mentioning that as a guy, it’s easy to not see a ton of gender issues. I find that too facile & unverifiable to give that as the only answer, but still: believe women. This doesn’t mean “believe unconditionally everything every woman says”; it means “believe women more often than you think, especially with the weight of experience.” I follow many female scientists on Twitter, and it’s always really shocking to read e.g. the stories of “it’s field season, here’s how to go into the wilderness and make sure that your own staff that you hire don’t try to rape you.)

      However, there are places that are much less egalitarian; typically though not always, these are not cities, not secular, and have lower levels of education. I think that much of the reason for feminism to exist in Western countries should be to make these environments more equal. But feminists are less likely to be found in these places, and I think that’s really unfortunate — both for the potential good they can do, and for making dumb purity spirals elsewhere. It’s pretty clear how selective pressures work — in addition to feminism just being popular among liberals, if you’re a radical feminist lesbian from a small religious town, life is going to be a whole lot easier in SF.

      Honestly, now that I phrase it that way, I think that (in this specific way — would be weird as hell more broadly) feminism could benefit from explicitly adopting the trappings of religion, and designating “missionaries” to work in these areas. Hopefully, that could be done in such as way as to provide an outlet for purity death spirals.

      • Matt M says:

        But anyone who owns a gun is considered violent and untrustworthy. Additionally, there’s high expectations for how you clean, care for, and display your gun, such that even your fellow gun owners might unpredictably shun you.

        This may be closer to true than you perhaps realize.

        Everywhere I go in Texas it seems like most businesses (virtually every national chain) have large signs pointing out that regardless of relatively permissible state laws, they have (and are choosing to exercise) the right to ban guns from their premises.

        I grew up in Oregon which famously has “surprisingly” friendly gun-laws for a state that has been virtually taken over by the blue tribe in every other policy area.

        There has been controversy over doctors and insurance companies asking about individual gun ownership by patients/applicants.

        Within the sub-group of “enthusiastic gun owners” there’s definitely a divide over open carry, particularly as an antagonistic method of protest. Some people believe open carrying whenever possible is a great way to advance the cause, others believe it’s stupid and harmful.

      • Iain says:

        I endorse maybe_slytherin’s post. In particular, I want to second this part:

        I also think it’s worth mentioning that as a guy, it’s easy to not see a ton of gender issues. I find that too facile & unverifiable to give that as the only answer, but still: believe women. This doesn’t mean “believe unconditionally everything every woman says”; it means “believe women more often than you think, especially with the weight of experience.” I follow many female scientists on Twitter, and it’s always really shocking to read e.g. the stories of “it’s field season, here’s how to go into the wilderness and make sure that your own staff that you hire don’t try to rape you.

        • Barely matters says:

          A truly depressing number of my friends have confided this year that they’ve started audio recording their sexual encounters with new partners to head off the possibility of an accusation.

          One has even gone as far as to detail that once they have the microphone running they specifically go through the motions of bantering about the girl’s driver’s license (asking “Is that seriously how you spell your last name?”) to get them to verify name and age before asking something that would demonstrate active consent. They know that it’s illegal, but most of them say they’d take a charge for illegal recording to stop a rape allegation threat.

          This absolutely cuts both ways.

          • Matt M says:

            A truly depressing number of my friends have confided this year that they’ve started audio recording their sexual encounters with new partners to head off the possibility of an accusation.

            I’ve heard rumors of frat houses where everyone is required to use video recording of any encounters in their own rooms. Unofficially of course. Because that’s probably illegal.

            Also it’s not always enough. The victim can still claim they were drunk or that the video doesn’t show the entire context of the encounter or whatever.

          • Iain says:

            Okay, sure — but how many of those friends of yours have actually experienced a false rape accusation?

            I am willing to believe that there are men out there who are just as worried as most women. I am not willing to believe that the incidence rate of false accusations of rape is anywhere close to equivalent to the incidence rate of rape itself. It’s hard to get concrete numbers, but the FBI and the British Home Office both report that police classify 8% of rape accusations as false. False rape accusations all get counted, by definition, as rape accusations, whereas plenty of incidents of rape never get reported to the police, so the actual ratio is necessarily going to be lower.

            It may cut both ways, but one side of the blade is pretty clearly sharper.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I don’t disagree that Rape is a bigger risk than false rape accusations, but:

            1. Numbers of false rape accusations usually only include those that are proven false.

            2. Current figures are based upon the high bar that exists to prove those charges, changes on that regard will probably change incentives and therefore rates. It’s hard to determine how much, but we should consider it when proposing a modification of the system.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Iain:
            I take your broad point, and I think it’s correct, especially as regards the usefulness of recordings.

            False rape accusations all get counted, by definition, as rape accusations, whereas plenty of incidents of rape never get reported to the police, so the actual ratio is necessarily going to be lower.

            I’m not really sure that is a correct.

            As an example, did the infamous UVa incident get reported to the police? My recollection was that it was only reported to the administration.

            More generally, given that false rape accusations exist, and given that we are looking at a rape accusation that is false, there are a variety of reasons for them, many of which won’t result in a report to the police.

          • Iain says:

            @Whatever Happened To Anonymous:

            1. Numbers of false rape accusations usually only include those that are proven false.

            This also happens in the other direction: sometimes the police decide that a real rape accusation is false. If you click through the link in my previous post, you can see that both the FBI and British Home Office studies have been questioned on those grounds. It seems reasonable (in the absence of more detailed data) to guess that the two effects are of similar magnitude and roughly cancel each other out, which is part of why I picked those two studies. (In retrospect, it probably would have helped if I had mentioned that in my previous post.)

            @HeelBearCub: Fair. It is certainly possible that the rate of false accusations is higher in on-campus accusations handled by the administration. I will point out, though, that the police did investigate the UVa incident.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Police have a bad incentive to declare accusations false, pressure people into withdrawing them, etc – they can declare the case closed, so there isn’t the chance of an unsolved case, which can look bad. The highest estimates of what % of rape accusations are false tend to come from asking police officers what % they think are false, and are dramatically (and unbelievably high) – like, up to the 50% range.

          • Aapje says:

            The police also have bad incentives to ignore exculpatory evidence.

            The bad incentives go both ways.

          • Barely matters says:

            Okay, sure — but how many of those friends of yours have actually experienced a false rape accusation?

            In the last year, 3.

            This always ends up being a jerk circle, because the next step is that the person asking says “So how do you know they’re *Really* false, huh? Maybe you just know a lot of rapists.”

            In one of the cases the accusation came a week after the woman was caught by the guy’s roommate having a tantrum, threatening to self harm and then call the cops if he didn’t come outside to talk to her. The roommate told her she was never welcome around there again, and phoned her in as a noise complaint. (The terrifying part of this one is that after telling this story, the response from people who know her is that she in fact *has a known history of doing this*, and they still just laugh it off as if these are just youthful indiscretions)

            The other two I have to take as an article of faith, with emphasis on the timing. Both happened only after the couples had broken up from multi year relationships, and the accusers had recently seen the guys with their new girlfriends (Along with the accompanying public facebook shitstorms preceding the accusations). So we have a pattern, for sure.

            As for total numbers, I’ll relink Douglas Knight’s contribution to the following thread. 15% of cases that have convictions based on DNA evidence.

            Seriously though, I wouldn’t even want an unreported, social false accusation. Seeing the breakdowns these guys went through was enough to convince me on that. I’d be downright amazed if the false accusation rates on those were lower than the rate of accusations that went to trial and conviction.

      • cassander says:

        I’ll say off the bat that I’d say the goal of defining endpoints for feminism is much more difficult than gun rights, because while with gun rights you’re talking about legal status, with feminism we’re mainly talking about individual & cultural attitudes. I’d say that legally, gender equality is fairly well enshrined (though queer rights are often much less so).

        I’d say this is evidence to Trofim_Lysenko’s point, you only fight over culture once you’ve won everything else. And speaking to your example of culture, I would argue that it’s basically impossible to have that disparity between legal gun rights and cultural attitudes towards guns, that if people felt that way, the first thing that would happen is politicians would start trying to ban guns in order to win brownie points. That people aren’t doing that for feminism is proof that feminism has basically won, not that it has lost.

        Experiencing physical violence at the hands of domestic partners is 3x more common for US women than men.

        And? men are about 10 times more likely than women to be perpetrators of violence than women generally, If anything this stat speaks to men restraining themselves vis a vis their women relative to everyone else.

        These statistics changing, in addition to a few other things such as media representation, would be persuasive criteria for “declaring victory”.

        This presumes that there is no non-discriminatory basis for such statistical disparities. Do we not accept that we have achieved gender equality until the fastest female sprinter is as fast as the fastest male sprinter?

        • Spookykou says:

          And? men are about 10 times more likely than women to be perpetrators of violence than women generally, If anything this stat speaks to men restraining themselves vis a vis their women relative to everyone else.

          Couldn’t this also be explained by single men being more violent?

          • Nornagest says:

            It could be, but that would be a pretty weird result.

            On the other hand, young men are more violent than older men, and young men are probably also less likely to cohabit. I’m not sure if this gets us to the observed 3:1 ratio, but it’s probably responsible for some of it.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @Maybe

        So far as I can tell, the best data set we have for a contemporary discussion in a US context is the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS). I see it’s already been linked below since I couldn’t post all day. If anyone else has strong feelings about the methodology used to produce this report, feel free to chime in, but I think this is still the best basis for discussion of prevalence of victimization in the US.

        There are various issues I could take with some of the definitions, but I am willing to mostly accept them for the sake of argument at this stage of things (we can always get into that later). Regardless of whether you use more conservative definitions, it seems quite clear that women are victimized at a rate several times that of men overall, especially in terms of rape vs. other forms of sexual violent victimization. The disparity closes somewhat, but only somewhat, if you note that this survey files all incidences of a male being forced against their will to penetrate another person (male or female) as “other sexual violence”, not “rape”. I can’t really update that conclusion based on AnonYE’s paper because it’s paywalled. AnonYE, do you have a non-paywalled link?

        However, leaving aside the possible definition issues mentioned above, I’m STILL not sure that this tells us we’re failing to make things better for women. How much of this disparity is due to biological differences between the sexes, starting with the obvious things like mean physical strength? My understanding is that right now the research on the role of, say, testosterone on aggression is really muddled and inconsistent, but are the feminists here satisfied that this disparity in victimization rates is actually 100% -cultural-? Once again, to be clear, I am not making the claim that “our work here is done”, but I think that the changes in society between 1960 and today are so incredibly dramatic (grab any issue of Life, Time, or People from the early 60s vs. today and compare the advertising content) that the narrative DOES require a significant revision.

        Furthermore, I’ve been looking at the ground-level programs for dealing with issues of domestic violence that were created on a feminist framework, and the results have…not been particularly encouraging, and while this includes the “Duluth Model” it doesn’t appear to be limited to it. This is the best summary I’ve found, the money quote being (emphasis in the original):

        The overarching observation in reviewing the literature is that the more rigorous the methodology of evaluation studies, the less encouraging their findings.

        The results of the rigorous individual studies reviewed here, as well as most meta-analyses and systematic reviews conclude that there is no solid empirical evidence for either the effectiveness or relative superiority of any of the current group interventions. Across many rigorously conducted studies, treatment effects are small, if an effect exists at all, when comparing intervention to no intervention (control). Likewise, there is no significant, scientifically-verified difference between the effectiveness of different program models.

        What, then, at this point are the further changes that we make that will actually be effective in reducing victimization rates without excessive collateral costs? I’ll go ahead and categorically reject any lowering of the evidentiary standards or streamlining of due process for sexual violence cases, and I’ll say that I am at best profoundly skeptical of the argument that the content contained in popular media (to include advertising, films, video games, television, etc) contributes in any statistically significant and causal fashion to sexual violence in society for the same reason I’ve been profoundly skeptical of pretty much the exact same argument applied to plain old generic violence in society.

        Now, that said, I make it a policy to believe a woman when she tells me about some experience she’s had or at least to express as much empathy as possible. I’m well aware that as a male I’m not going to see or be aware of all incidences of sexism, and I’m certainly aware of more instances of it in my workplace than I would have suspected prior to working at my current job. Note that this conduct is in the form of inappropriately forward comments and ogling on the part of customers to employees. And in the case of people who have failed to take a verbal warning, we -have- had to bar some guests from the casino entirely.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          lucky for me I have the help of more, ahem, competent posters, so I’ll just copy Quanta’s reply to me

          That’s gated, but people can read the underlying survey at the cdc. You can see a lot of the tables here. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_e#Table6

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Yes, I found that on my own and actually linked it in the post you’re replying to. I think you missed what I was saying in the body of my post, though, which is probably at least partially my fault for having logorrhea of the keyboard.

            I can’t find in those statistics anything that supports the claim contained in the title of the study. The closest I can come to is “about equal, and even then not entirely, with regard to annual victimization -other- than rape”.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          I’ll go ahead and categorically reject any lowering of the evidentiary standards or streamlining of due process for sexual violence cases

          Not sure if you mean this as a matter of principle or just for the purposes of this discussion, but if it’s the former I take issue. One of my main feminist premises is that our current institutions were evolved and optimized with essentially no selection pressure for treating women decently, and so even our bedrock institutions must be up for questioning (albeit with a high burden of proof for changing them).

          And changes to due process don’t have to mean anything as dramatic as presumption of guilt or something. The right to face one’s accuser, for instance, doesn’t seem that essential–suppose victims could testify via one-way teleconference, receiving cross-examination questions in text form only to minimize intimidation by the lawyer.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            IANAL, but in criminal cases, one’s accuser is the State, isn’t it? (Alleged) Victims aren’t required to testify for the trial to go forward.

            If you open the door to anonymous civil suits… well, you’re ludicrously naive if you don’t think it’d be primarily used by monied parties looking to beat up political/business/social opponents.

          • Brad says:

            Theoretically the state is in the driver’s seat and can even compel testimony from an unwilling victim. Practically it is very difficult to win a criminal case where the victim is uncooperative.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            The last time we tried doing without the right to confront one’s accuser, we ended up with a bunch of preschoolers abused by robots and clowns in secret rooms. Even if you don’t see the use of it, this particular gate is best left in place.

          • Aapje says:

            @ADifferentAnonymous

            One of my main feminist premises is that our current institutions were evolved and optimized with essentially no selection pressure for treating women decently, and so even our bedrock institutions must be up for questioning (albeit with a high burden of proof for changing them).

            How do you account for traditional rape laws only applying to women, women not being drafted, alimony laws, etc, etc.

            You have to work pretty hard to rationalize away all the evidence of women’s interests being considered, I think.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, that’s an easy rationalization. You just assert that in the bad old days before feminism, women were treated as Literally Property. Thus, anything that appears to have been protecting women’s interests, was really just protecting the valuable property of men.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            A matter of principle. And the right to face one’s accuser means precisely the ability to have a witness’ testimony cross-examined, and for a jury to be able to observe that witness in order to make their own determination about their credibility.

            Solutions like testifying via one-way teleconference can certainly preserve that ability, and in fact I’m pretty sure that is already provided for in sexual abuse cases in at least some jurisdictions, though IANAL.

            As far as receiving cross-examination questions in text form, I think that may be going too far in limiting the options of the cross-examining lawyer.

            Consider as another example of this same right the disputes over the use of classified sources, testimony, and other evidence during terrorism trials and tribunals post 9/11. It’s the same mechanism.

      • Matt M says:

        “I follow many female scientists on Twitter, and it’s always really shocking to read e.g. the stories of “it’s field season, here’s how to go into the wilderness and make sure that your own staff that you hire don’t try to rape you.”

        What if I told you Twitter is also filled with men giving cautionary advice to college-aged males of “Here’s how to host a frat party and make sure you don’t get falsely accused of rape,” or “Here’s how to make sure your girlfriend isn’t lying about being on birth control.”

    • JonathanD says:

      I consider myself a feminist and will reply later when I have more time, but I have a quick question. What is a purity death spiral? Google, surprisingly, doesn’t provide a quick answer.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        My interpretation, based on seeing it in a few SSC-type discussions, is an endless cycle of finding faults in people’s words/actions being insufficiently progressive, especially when played alongside “oppression olympics”.

        • dndnrsn says:

          A purity spiral is a generic thing and can happen regardless of the specific community values.

          • Brad says:

            Perhaps in the abstract. But like “virtue signaling” the meaning of the phrase has been changed by the overwhelming pattern of usage.

            In both cases I find the meaning shift unfortunate.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I agree. There are terms that are useful, but have become marked, so you can’t really use them to mean the original meaning without at the very least giving the (possibly false) signal “I am one of this kind of person”. Another example would be “problematic”, although that marks you as a different sort of person.

      • Skivverus says:

        The mechanism is roughly similar to a dollar auction: the top bid (read: lifestyle choices, public positions/posturing, etc.) gets the dollar (read: authority), but the top two bids both pay in. Each participant has to keep escalating lest they get second place, but the amount they “win” doesn’t escalate to match.

        Generalizing that with a bit of math: the top X bids get the dollar, the top Y bids pay in. X = Y is a standard auction; X Y has the free rider problem instead: “why bid more for X when you expect to be one of the Y anyway?”

      • Deiseach says:

        My understanding of it, and I’m taking examples from some stuff I’ve seen, is where a group gets together and agrees on a laudable aim. Not everybody in the group has the same opinions and values about a lot of stuff, but they all agree that (say) there should be more public parks in the town.

        So they work and organise and lobby and finally they get the town authorities to build a new park. Mission accomplished, right?

        No, now we have to decide what trees and shrubs and flowerbeds and so on are going to be in the park.

        And this goes on and on and gets more into petty details (will dogs be allowed? benches?) until eventually you end up with a small group willing to cut each other’s throats over whether one particular flowerbed will be planted with narcissi or daffodils. Everyone could at first agree on “I like/don’t like flowers/dogs/ponds whatever, but what we all have in common is we want a new park and we’ll work to get one”. As that aim was achieved, the goal changed, and people dropped out or were driven off for not being in sufficient agreement about the new goal and the aims. And the goals get more and more fine-grained, and the ideological demands of complete and total agreement on the fine points get more stringent, and you end up driving out most of the original large group for their lack of ‘purity’ until you destroy what you started out with, nothing gets done, but the two people left are absolutely 100% in line and think the correct thoughts on the topic of narcissi.

        • Aapje says:

          Yeah,

          Basically a purity spiral happens when people gain status by direction pushing. If a group rallies around increasing X, then any success in achieving X causes the people in the group to lose status, since they are now mainstream and no longer valiant activists fighting evil. So they can only maintain their status by demanding more X than before.

          Such purity spirals can be externally directed or internally. An example of the former is people who build their identity around beating people with another identity up. If they can’t find ‘pure’ enemies, they have a tendency to just loosen their standards, until they are beating up people who are extremely moderate.

          An example of internal focus is communities that favor eradicating bad statements/behavior/etc from their community, where people gain status by calling others out, kicking them out of the group and such. These kind of communities have a tendency to just keep kicking out fringe members, until the community evaporates like a small black hole.

        • Machina ex Deus says:

          …eventually you end up with a small group willing to cut each other’s throats over whether one particular flowerbed will be planted with narcissi or daffodils.

          Seriously? We’re supposed to just blithely accept your equating a narcissus with a daffodil? This is just the kind of underhanded rhetorical move I’ve sadly come to expect from you daffodil partisans.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      As a mostly-progressive, I endorse maybe_slytherin’s response, but to add my own:

      I agree that how to measure success is a troubling question. I do believe in enough innate gender differences that I accept complete outcome equality is unreasonable. We’ll pretty much never have wives hit husbands as often as husbands hit wives, and we’ll likely never see women equally likely as men to focus fully on their careers. So the obvious answer, hoping for all measures to be equal, is no good.

      But really my approach is to take feminist issues on a case-by-case basis, rather than trying to assess the overall state of gender equality, and I find myself persuaded by a lot of cases. Ask me about a specific one, and I can do my best to define an endpoint.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        We’ll pretty much never have wives hit husbands as often as husbands hit wives,

        http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/17596591211244166

        hooray for egalitarianism

        • neciampater says:

          Especially in shelters!

        • quanta413 says:

          That’s gated, but people can read the underlying survey at the cdc. You can see a lot of the tables here. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_e#Table6

          I was somewhat surprised to find that the CDC’s data do indeed have 12 month survey data for 2011 that show roughly equal rates of physical violence committed against men and women (overlapping confidence intervals). The lifetime prevalence rates are higher for women. Possibly a sign of a cultural shift? Possibly due to differences in how people of different genders are trained to view/remember these things?

          Another serious confounder across the data is that men are more often victimized by men than women are by women, and the perpetrator/victim gender/gender proportions vary across the categories of victimization. (due to differences in fractions of population which are gay compared to lesbian? Due to prison? Very unclear to me why this would be) so while the received rates of violence are roughly equal, men are probably more likely to be perpetrators. It maybe be possible to get the full breakdown from the raw data of F/F, F/M, M/F, and M/M violence for each category.

          • SomethingElse says:

            It could very well be that women have always been more prone to hit their partners and any disparity in e.g. police reports is merely an artifact of men and women having different average capacity to inflict the kind of harm that requires medical attention.

            My prior for culture war related stereotypes such as “conventionally masculine men beat up their partners” is that they tend to be believed mostly via the availability heuristic and as such are strongly influenced by popular media tropes.

            So i don’t take it for granted that the widespread belief that women are disproportionately the victim of DV is is or ever was empirically justified.

        • maybe_slytherin says:

          Yay, thanks for data! Even if it’s depressing.

          I had thought that rates for physical violence were still pretty skewed, but it was close to equal if you included verbal & psychological components. Apparently I was wrong!

          Thanks to quanta for pointing out more confounding factors, though.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @ADA

        Well, I have a whole list, but since Maybe_Slytherin started with discussion of the comparative rate of sexual violence, let’s start there. I figure we can save the other questions for later and maybe get the other pro-feminist posters to speak.

        On that note, at this point I pretty much Know what the common critiques are. Honestly, at this stage I’m most interested in figuring out where the goalposts are for the -individuals- here who would consider themselves “a feminist” or “pro-feminist” or “allies” or what-have-you.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          So there are two ways to look at this. One is in terms of the identifiable factors affecting the sexual violence rate, the other is in terms of the rate itself.

          In terms of the first, the main answer is “no Brock Turner shit.” As long as there’s even one sitting judge who would give a sentence like that, there’s cause for feminist advocacy. I’d also require that rape victims are asked to consider what they’re doing to the perpetrator’s life, no more often than robbery victims or murder witnesses. And people everywhere, including fraternities, treat signs an acquaintance may have raped someone the way they treat signs an acquaintance might have EDIT: killed ( not ‘liked’) someone. These are hastily-constructed goalposts, but I think they’re in the ballpark

          On the other view, the results-based one–I might set some arbitrary numbers and say that 10% lifetime rape rate are each cause for feminist advocacy on the issue to exist. Even if it were conclusively proven that no known policy measure would help with these stats, someone ought to be brainstorming new policy measures.

          • CatCube says:

            The problem is that people are also willing to disbelieve murder or theft accusations–or really, accusations of all types–against group members. Look at murder by US troops in Afghanistan, for an example. People disbelieving bullying charges in the workplace for a more minor example.

            Disbelief of victims and lenient sentences happen in a lot of different kinds of crime, but right now sexual violence is in the spotlight. I don’t know that it’s actually waved off by bystanders more than any other crime.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t know that it’s actually waved off by bystanders more than any other crime.

            Well things get complicated when you have a crime that can, theoretically, leave no evidence. In the cases of theft, there is a missing item. Generally speaking, to be believed, you would have to prove that you owned the thing and that you no longer possess it. In the case of assault, you would have to point to a bodily injury, etc.

            So the relevant comparison here would be not between rape and theft, but between rape and theft where the alleged victim cannot even establish that they owned a certain thing and that it was taken from them at all. I imagine many people who come to the police and say “yes I was just robbed of $10,000 worth of gold coins that I cannot prove I ever purchased and never told anyone I had” are not taken very seriously.

            Sexual assault is somewhat unique in that the physical and material circumstances of “a horrible and grievous wrong was perpetrated here” and “the most beautiful expression of human love” can potentially be the exact same.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @ADA

            As long as you have discretion in sentencing, there are going to be disputes over sentences. That being the case, I take it that you favor national mandatory minimum sentences for rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, and various related crimes?

            @CatCube

            Is it your claim then that police are refusing to investigate, or prosecutors refusing to press charges, on rape and sexual assault cases where there exists sufficient evidence to give a good chance of conviction in a jury trial?

            Or, in the case of workplace sexual harassment/quid pro quo/hostile work environment cases that managers/supervisors/HR departments are likewise refusing to investigate, or having investigated are ignoring evidence?

            For example, I am a supervisor at my job, and my team is actually almost entirely female (so for that matter are my two fellow co-worker’s, my boss, my boss’ boss, my boss’ boss’ boss, and the majority of the HR department). If one of my team members came to me claiming sexual harassment on the part of another TM or employee, I would most likely believe them (or at least that there was some inciting incident, I only have one TM with credibility issues). Whether or not I believed them I would record their claim and pass it on immediately to HR to begin an investigation.

            So, is it your contention that people are -not- taking that step? That they are, but that the investigations are often insufficiently thorough? Or that when such investigations are coming up with insufficient grounds for termination/disciplinary action that this is unacceptable and belief that the accusations are credible should be sufficient?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            @TL It’s not about the legal system, it’s about the culture (feminists think there are improvements to be had in the legal systems too, but I don’t know them well enough to comment). There shouldn’t be a judge who opts for leniency in an utterly unambiguous rape case because he doesn’t want to ruin a college kid’s future. Or at least, there shouldn’t be a jurisdiction on the country who would let him sit after that.

            @catcube: You’re right about the group thing, but there’s a threshold where someone dies something sufficiently bad that they lose that protection. I’m pretty sure frat bros would not brush it off if they see signs a bro might have killed someone.

          • CatCube says:

            @Trofym_Lysenko

            Is it your claim then that police are refusing to investigate, or prosecutors refusing to press charges, on rape and sexual assault cases where there exists sufficient evidence to give a good chance of conviction in a jury trial?

            Maybe I stated my point badly, but I think you and I are in violent agreement. I don’t think that police or prosecutors refuse to investigate or press charges where sufficient evidence exists in most crimes, and they *do* fail to press charges where there *is* insufficient evidence. What I’m stating is that I think, for the most part, rape isn’t any different on this score; however, if insufficient evidence to prosecute a thief or murderer is a problem, it pretty much stops there, where if the crime is rape, the refusal to continue gets smeared across the mediascape. This leads to the perception that rape gets “treated differently” and I don’t think it really does.

            As far as investigations in the workplace not being vigorous enough, I think that on the margins, people who are popular or who are in good with the boss can get things slow-rolled because “oh, he’s a good dude, and he’d never do that.” This isn’t just for sexual harassment, it can happen with nonsexual workplace bullying, and until it gets large enough, embezzlement and the like.

            I don’t think that sexual harassment is any more likely than the others to be swept under the rug, and I’m pushing back against the “rape culture” idea that it gets treated differently than other crimes.

            @ADA

            There shouldn’t be a judge who opts for leniency in an utterly unambiguous rape case because he doesn’t want to ruin a college kid’s future.

            If you remember the “Affluenza” case, that was where a judge gave a lenient sentence to a kid who killed someone because he didn’t want to ruin his future. What I’m saying is that this happens all the time for all kinds of crimes, but when it happens in rape cases, it gets trotted out as a product of misogynism.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @ADA

            While I tend to believe that the accused in that case was guilty, and that the judge’s leniency was…well, mis-judged and out of the same faulty reasoning as the ‘affluenza’ case CatCube mentioned, ‘utterly unambiguous’ seems strong to me for a case where the strongest charges had to be dropped, leading the legislature to later go back and broaden the definition for those crimes in order to avoid the same issue.

            And I would say that there is no functional difference between a society with legally enacted mandatory minimum sentencing, and one where the judge CAN be more lenient, but could never do so without being guaranteed to lose his seat at the bench.

            @CatCube

            We seem to be, although my confidence level is less high depending on the cases (both legal and workplace) in question. I think those margins are hard to measure and might be bigger spaces than we realize.

    • quanta413 says:

      Obviously people’s answers as to stopping points are interesting, but does someone have an a good historical explanation on some significant reform movements arc from start to finish (whether or not they succeed)? For example, on the abolition movement or the temperance movement.

      I feel like that would provide more insight than people trying to come up with some overall stopping point.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        Abolition is certainly interesting, partly because it has such a well-defined end goal. A couple others that come to mind:

        — Food safety & packaging, a.k.a. the movement to not get random noxious chemicals & tampering. While there are way more incidents documented in recent years, as a social/political issue I’d say it’s pretty much solved
        — More broadly, a lot of workplace safety stuff courtesy of the labour movement; maybe more tractable to discuss child labour as one example
        — Religious tolerance between protestants & catholics — obviously a huge historical issue, and I don’t know how much it was a “movement” in the sense you mean

        But yeah, having real historians pitch in would be great.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think it’s worth noting that it’s not a social issue because it has been broadly addressed by the existence of OSHA, state level agencies, and increased automation.

          Where government enforcement of occupation safety is weaker, I think you probably see more social activity. Mine safety seems like a possible example, although it’s probably also wrapped up with other things, including disasters being relatively telegenic.

      • Brad says:

        As I understand it, in way over simplified form:
        The Second Great Awakening -> Abolition -> Temperance + Women’s suffrage

        All four movements being notable for having much stronger involvement by women than one might expect (other than the perhaps the last).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      As you have already pointed out, I can only speak for myself. In addition, I don’t accept that everyone (perhaps anyone?) who identifies as a feminist or a feminist ally speaks for me.

      Let me unpack that a bit before I go on. Feminism is a very broad topic. I’d argue that it is similar to “liberty” as a topic. I donate to the ACLU and generally support their stances. I am not a libertarian. Nor am I the kind of person who equates liberty mostly with force (military and/or otherwise). The point being here that topics this broad don’t lend themselves to easy endpoints, and for a variety of reasons. We might as well ask, “When will the work of liberty be complete?”

      Perhaps you consider that unfair, but given the complexity of society, and the fact that we are social animals that values status, it’s hard for me to think that the work of egalitarian feminism can ever truly be complete.

      Nevertheless, I think we can see one answer to your question in the fact that intersectional feminism is ascendant. And frequently one sees this referred to simply as intersectionalism, full stop. What you see then is a movement that is continuing in pursuit of egalitarianism, and identifying that merely looking at gender will not accomplish this. Personally, I would like to see more intersectional feminists talk about class, and I think we are beginning to see a movement towards this.

      One analytical framework that I think is perhaps incompletely applied is the concept of structural oppression. In order to understand whether or how bias exists, we have to examine the power structures inside which the activity is taking place. An individual structure (say, a cultural institution) can be biased against almost anyone. That doesn’t mean we need to destroy cultural institutions in general, but simple be aware of the need to change these institutions so they are more egalitarian. The cultural institutions around parenthood have changed greatly in my lifetime, and I believe that fatherhood, as cultural institution inside parenthood, is stronger than ever.

      Much in the way rationalists talk about “raising the sanity water line”, I would say mainstream intersectionalism is about raising the egalitarian waterline.

      • Matt M says:

        We might as well ask, “When will the work of liberty be complete?”

        With the caveat that I fully acknowledge many would disagree, I would have no problem answering this question. I’ll bet you can even guess what my answer would be!

        • Protagoras says:

          When the last king has been strangled with the entrails of the last priest? No, I suppose that classic answer is probably not yours.

      • quanta413 says:

        The cultural institutions around parenthood have changed greatly in my lifetime, and I believe that fatherhood, as cultural institution inside parenthood, is stronger than ever.

        Unless I’m vastly mistaken on your social and economic class, I find it hard to believe that your views on the strength of fatherhood as a cultural institution aren’t almost certainly vastly influenced by your personal experience as a member of a particular socioeconomic class which has been doing very well overall for the last few decades. Unlike most others.

        For the U.S. as a whole the direction is exactly the opposite of your perception. In many groups, fatherhood as an institution has been declining and weakening. And these groups are much larger than your group.

        http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/17/1-the-american-family-today/

        http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2008/jun/23/barack-obama/statistics-dont-lie-in-this-case/

        https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/P60-255.pdf

        Combine the first link’s info that back in 1960, 87% of children lived with two parents. According the third link, in 2013, 25% of children lived with a single custodial parent (and from the footnote, we see that this proportion excludes joint or split custody arrangements). So the number of children with only one parent has doubled since 1960. And usually, the missing parent is the father. A doubling in the rate of children with absent fathers from 1/8 to 1/4 is a pretty severe weakening of the cultural institution of fatherhood.

        For fascinating correlations between single motherhood rates and homicide rates, see https://randomcriticalanalysis.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/racial-differences-in-homicide-rates-are-poorly-explained-by-economics/

        EDIT: just to be clear, I don’t think this happened due to anyone’s intention or due to feminists or something unless you count second order effects that can probably could have been counteracted by a different cultural arrangement. Like feminists contribute to desire for contraception -> it becomes available ->sex less linked to babies -> cultural institutions decline may be a valid chain but it’s not one that I worry about assigning some sort of responsibility for. There are too many people and institutions contributing to the chain at various points for me to think that matters much. Granted, I understand that many cultural conservatives make precisely this argument as to why the sexual revolution was bad.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, you are probably both right and wrong about my social and economic class. I’m the son of a professor and a school teacher. So, you are right on that account.

          My grandfather on my father’s side was the operator/owner of a gas-station, and died of cancer when my dad was 17. His father ran a stall in the farmers market. My grandfather on my mother’s side was among other things a carpenter and a border agent. Eventually he and my grandfather ran a preschool. Before that they were farmer’s on my maternal grandmother’s side and I’m not sure what happened up in Canada on my maternal grandfather’s side.

          The expectation in my house when I was growing up was that dinner was on the table by 5:30 and that my dad would be in the study after dinner was over, or perhaps watching T.V.

          Sure, they didn’t get divorced until after I went on to college. He was technically present in the house.

          Your numbers don’t speak to what I am talking about at all.

          • quanta413 says:

            My numbers may not speak of quality or what you mean, but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality. How likely do you think it is that improvements among present fathers are enough to cancel out the vast increase in absent fathers? This could be easily argued many ways because of how flexible subjective measures can be. Do you think all phsyically absent fathers would have been absent in any way you care about anyways? I find this highly unlikely.

            Of course, it would be difficult for me to have any numbers speaking to what you are talking about. I’ll need to know what specific things you are talking about first. I think I have some idea of what you speak, and I think it has improved for the upper class. Even then I suspect it will largely remain out of reach of most data. I think anecdotal evidence is unlikely to convince anyone of much although it may be interesting to talk about anyways.

            Given that quality is subjective, much harder to measure than presence and absence, and presence/absence correlates well with things like homicide (see last link I had in post), how confident do you feel about your belief that fatherhood is stronger across the U.S. as opposed to only inside your group(s)?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You keep putting your thumb on the scales.

            An automatic assumption that having both parents (mother or father) in the same domicile equates to a net positive is a thumb. I assume that you were cognizant of this as you wrote it.

            The fact that you have done this kind of thing multiple times over this thread and last makes me much less willing to engage further.

            Nonetheless, the thing I am talking about is the expectation that fathers as much as mothers are responsible for and capable of providing for the entirety of the needs of a child, physical and emotional, at every stage of life, regardless of the sex or gender of that child. That is the change in the cultural institution of fatherhood I am speaking of.

            In the context of the past open thread, it’s this strengthening of the cultural institution of fatherhood, and the public perception of that institution, that leads to greater incidence of shared custody and sole custody by the father in the context of a divorce.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            An automatic assumption that having both parents (mother or father) in the same domicile equates to a net positive is a thumb. I assume that you were cognizant of this as you wrote it.

            Come off it. (In addition to unwarranted personal aspersions,) the post said:

            Combine the first link’s info that back in 1960, 87% of children lived with two parents. According the third link, in 2013, 25% of children lived with a single custodial parent (and from the footnote, we see that this proportion excludes joint or split custody arrangements). So the number of children with only one parent has doubled since 1960.

            You’re the one reading “absent fathers” as “fathers not cohabiting with the mother” and claiming it’s a thumb on the scale.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Gobbobobble:
            That is not a meaningful response to what I wrote.

            The implication of what quanta wrote is that the mere presence of someone we can label with appellation father is automatically a net positive. His math does not consider that the presence of some parents in their children’s lives is net negative.

          • quanta413 says:

            You keep putting your thumb on the scales.

            You have made this accusation against other people before and it’s still not clear to me what exactly you mean or why it bothers you. The way I view it, everyone puts their thumb on the scales when arguing in the sense of usually doing their best to argue for their position. If you want me to go into a particular assumption explicitly that’s fine; I’m always happy to try.

            Anyways, at least here I think maybe I was too unclear what assumptions I was trying to come from. So let me elaborate.

            An automatic assumption that having both parents (mother or father) in the same domicile equates to a net positive is a thumb. I assume that you were cognizant of this as you wrote it.

            The fact that you have done this kind of thing multiple times over this thread and last makes me much less willing to engage further.

            In third link, I was talking about the 1/4 of children with their mother referred to sole custody by mother only and does not include joint or split custody so when I say absent fathers I don’t mean “parents are not under the same roof” I mean “the child does not live with the father ever as far as we know”. I made a note of this in that post. The first link was for comparison purposes so that we know how often the father was at least physically present in 1960.

            Fathers who are physically present (whether in the same house or through joint physical custody) may be available whereas fathers who aren’t or are rarely physically present can’t be available and so we can give a rough upper bound on how much contact fathers could have with their children. How much they actually participate may be more or less but it is much harder to actually measure, so absent the more detailed data we might like changes in physical custody should be taken into consideration when comparing the present to the past. I am not making an argument that the past was definitely better; I’m making the argument that at least one objective indicator is worse and would require compensating changes that are hard to observe in other areas to cancel.

            So in my previous post, please read the “absent fathers” in my post as referring to mostly absent from the child’s lives. Assume that joint or shared custody arrangements count as present fathers in what I said because that is what I intended to convey even if I did not succeed. I am not assuming that the mother and father have to be in the same domicile. I’m just doing my best to give an upper bound on how many fathers could be present a significant amount of the time with the actual data I have.

            Nonetheless, the thing I am talking about is the expectation that fathers as much as mothers are responsible for and capable of providing for the entirety of the needs of a child, physical and emotional, at every stage of life, regardless of the sex or gender of that child. That is the change in the cultural institution of fatherhood I am speaking of.

            I agree these things are good changes, but I think they also should be weighed against changes in things like how well the parents can provide for a child and how often both parents (whether mother and father, or two mother, or two fathers) are available to the child (where available includes joint or shared custody arrangements).

            Additionally, I think that the overall cultural view of fathers in the past is not necessarily accurate or is perhaps accurate for a short time window before modern feminism but inaccurate as regards the roles of fathers before that. See for example the brief description for this book of colonial new england fatherhood which is rather distinctly different from both our immediate predecessors of the 1950s and from today. https://www.amazon.com/Making-Manhood-Growing-Colonial-England/dp/0674010582

            I had a book I really enjoyed on the changing roles of upper class men in New England from the 18th to 19th centuries including the increasing role of fathers, but I can’t find the damn book right now and can’t remember the name. Will summarize and link to later if possible.

            In the context of the past open thread, it’s this strengthening of the cultural institution of fatherhood, and the public perception of that institution, that leads to greater incidence of shared custody and sole custody by the father in the context of a divorce.

            However, the incidence of divorce itself has risen as well. If fathers used help raise their children 20% of the time when married and 0% post divorce are now helping 40% of the time when married and 20% of the time post-divorce. That is a possiblity that as I understand it would leave your view completely fulfilled. But if fathers used to help raise their children 40% of the time in marriage and 20% post divorce and that hasn’t changed that would leave your view unfulfilled. However, absent bulk evidence on these rates, I’m not inclined to assign a large change either way in difficult to observe variables. I personally do not trust what people say is their ideal arrangement to actually reflect what they do.

            And the evidence I linked in the last open thread has sole (edit: or primary, woops) custody going to the mother about 70-90% of the time currently. Until I’m presented with time series evidence (I may have missed it earlier; I tried to find some, I can’t find it easily, and I don’t want to have to compile raw data right now), I find your claim that the strengthening institution of fatherhood has led to more shared custody unconvincing.

            EDIT:
            @HeelBearCub

            The implication of what quanta wrote is that the mere presence of someone we can label with appellation father is automatically a net positive. His math does not consider that the presence of some parents in their children’s lives is net negative.

            Our views of how terrible the past was clearly differ. It’s not that I think that some parents may or may not be negative, it’s that I see no reason to assume the past was terrible enough in this way to cancel out something I can be certain is worse now if other things largely stayed the same. Additionally, the correlation between things like single-motherhood rates in a community and homicide gives me evidence that my assumptions aren’t totally crazy.

            If you would like to explicitly argue that fathers in the past tended to be more of a negative than fathers are now, I would be very interested.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @quanta413:
            One example: If the parent is engaged in spousal or child abuse, why do you think that the subsequent lack of custody by that parent should be assumed to be a net negative?

            Second example: If a child is a product of a brief sexual encounter that was not intended to conceive a child, and the father has no interest in parenting, why do you think a resulting marriage/cohabitation can be assumed to be net positive? (Harder to make this example gender neutral, for biological reasons).

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            One example: If the parent is engaged in spousal or child abuse, why do you think that the subsequent lack of custody by that parent should be assumed to be a net negative?

            You are claiming that I assume things that I didn’t say and that are the opposite of what I believe. I would appreciate it if you don’t do that. When I talk about bulk statistics, I’m not saying that every individual subcase is an unalloyed good or bad; I’m saying on average across the many cases something is either good or bad. I don’t assume that this case would be a net negative; I assume the loss of the abusive parent is net positive.

            However, I have already considered these cases, and what I do assume is that these cases are a rare subset of families (keep in mind that I don’t consider things like spanking a child a sign of abuse in and of itself whereas I know some people would), and that they were likely roughly as common in the 60s as they are now. Probably it is easier to get away from an abusive spouse now that it used to be since no fault divorce is easier. Less abusive parents may be good, but it doesn’t necessarily strengthen or weaken the institution of fatherhood as far as I can tell.

            So since I care about averages or medians most, I worry first about the majority of situations where people aren’t abusing their spouse or children. I think since these are the bulk of all cases and lots of damage can still be done here even with no abuse they should be considered before edge cases.

            Second example: If a child is a product of a brief sexual encounter that was not intended to conceive a child, and the father has no interest in parenting, why do you think a resulting marriage/cohabitation can be assumed to be net positive? (Harder to make this example gender neutral, for biological reasons).

            Once again, you claim I am assuming things I haven’t said and don’t believe. If the father truly has absolutely 0 interest in his progeny, then that is not a net positive. However, I believe this is also a rare case or at least it’s rare that a strong societal pressure would be… unable to change his mind.

            Even lots of cohabiting or married people accidentally have children (my recollection is it’s on the order of 1/4 children). And people seem to really like their children! (or at least develop a hindsight bias after a year of suffering), so I figure shotgun marriages might not be as terrible as the alternative given that they were once accepted practice.

            Perhaps more importantly, I have already pointed out that I wasn’t talking about only marriage/cohabiting. If a father is interested in his accidental progeny but wants to remain under a separate roof but have custody 3 out of 7 days or something, that seems like an improvement over 0 out of 7 to me.

            So would you like to either give evidence that these cases aren’t rare or an intuition as to why the rare cases matter more than the common ones?

            Or try to specify something like a utility function over the various subcases (and I can too)? Cases being something like: one parent abusive, parents together; one parent abusive, parents separated, sole custody; one parent abusive, parents separated, joint custody; both parents good, parents together; both parents good, parents separated, sole custody; both parents good, parents separated, joint custody; etc.
            And then frequencies for the various cases can be estimated.

            I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t mention that I view an increase in the number of fathers who fail to be fathers as a weakening of the institution of fatherhood whether the fathers personally want it or not. Duties exist even if you don’t like them and sometimes should be socially enforced. It’s surprising how with the right norms often you can almost force someone to do things like raise their biological offspring in an acceptable manner.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @quanta:
            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            Now, it’s not my contention at all that every divorce is a net positive for the state of fatherhood. I’m saying that you can’t count every increase in singe-parent households as negative. For example, If half of that net increase is positive, it cancels out.

            In addition, I’m saying that, on balance, the state of fatherhood is stronger because fathers generally view themselves is needing to be more involved with all aspects of their children’s lives. A relatively small average increase in the quality of 3/4s of households with two parents outweighs the 1/8th increase in single parent households, even were those universally negative.

            As to your question about abuse, and statement that you believe it to be so rare that we can discount it as significant, I don’t think even today’s numbers, with lifetime incidences around 25% for women and 8% for men, bear that out.

            And if we want to travel back in time to 1964 we can see that attitudes about domestic violence were a little different:

            ‘The periods of violent behavior by the husband,’ the doctors observed, ‘served to release him momentarily from his anxiety about his ineffectiveness as a man, while giving his wife apparent masochistic gratification and helping probably to deal with the guilt arising from the intense hostility expressed in her controlling, castrating behavior.’

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            I find the interpretation that because I think on average the presence of fathers is more positive than their absence that therefore I must think this is true of every individual case… very unique. Absence places a hard cap of the “father contributes at most money to rearing the child” (and often not even that). Most people grow up with their parents and don’t seem to hate their fathers or mothers and even have positive relationships, so I’m willing to assume that most parental relationships although not perfect are better than an absent parent. If I was to say that “mothers just being there isn’t guaranteed to be positive and therefore it doesn’t matter if the proportion of children who don’t see their mother rises to 25% because a lot of those relationships were probably a net negative anyways” I would be making an extraordinary claim. The natural claim is that on average each parent is a net positive; otherwise, what are parents even doing?

            Now, it’s not my contention at all that every divorce is a net positive for the state of fatherhood. I’m saying that you can’t count every increase in singe-parent households as negative. For example, If half of that net increase is positive, it cancels out.

            It’s not divorces that result in joint custody that I think are a problem. And it’s not just divorces that result in sole custody either, out of wedlock births are probably a larger issue in many communities. See last link in first post on correlation between single motherhood and homicide rates across cities. Given the social pathologies we see when fathers vanish, one should have to give at least correlative proof that it is the case that the numbers of negative fathers avoided is able to cancel out the number of situations that would have had a positive father.

            And just to repeat, again, it isn’t divorces in and of themselves that I’m saying are a problem. It’s cases where the father is mostly physically absent because in those cases we can pretty much guarantee he’s absent in every other way too.

            In addition, I’m saying that, on balance, the state of fatherhood is stronger because fathers generally view themselves is needing to be more involved with all aspects of their children’s lives. A relatively small average increase in the quality of 3/4s of households with two parents outweighs the 1/8th increase in single parent households, even were those universally negative.

            The standards for fatherhood may have changed in a lot of ways for upper class people, but I don’t buy that they lead to an increase in quality on the order of 16.6% of the value of the loss of a father of the 1960s without bulk evidence.

            As a separate issue, I’m not even convinced the overall changes for fatherhood and motherhood are significant in a positive way for lower and lower middle class people for whom the economic situation has tanked hard where rather than having one parent usually available; they may now require both parents working full time or even more. The reasons for this are unrelated, but I still think those changes were not good for motherhood or fatherhood.

            As to your question about abuse, and statement that you believe it to be so rare that we can discount it as significant, I don’t think even today’s numbers, with lifetime incidences around 25% for women and 8% for men, bear that out.

            Those lifetime incidence rates are roughly equal to the ones I’ve read for victimization across everyone a person ever encounters. Not just the spouse or co-parent or your own parent. Unless you give evidence that the rates for people’s actual spouses and co-parents are that, I’m not going to take those numbers as even accurate to an order of magnitude on the question at hand. If those lifetime incidences include all possible perpetrators it makes sense to divide by something like the number of people you encounter in private enough situations who could abuse you to get parental and spousal abuse rates. That would reduce those numbers by a factor of 10 or 20.

            Plus the number of single parent households in 1960 was still 12.5% in the source I gave. The divorce rate in 1960 was about 9% according to the graph on page 65 of this document https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsus/mgdv60_3.pdf. This is not a staggeringly low number; it was clearly still possible to get a divorce in 1960. I expect abusive situations to be the most likely situation to lead to divorce. Divorce being legally easier and socially more acceptable should increase the proportions of divorces that occur for less severe reasons all else equal.

            And if we want to travel back in time to 1964 we can see that attitudes about domestic violence were a little different:

            ‘The periods of violent behavior by the husband,’ the doctors observed, ‘served to release him momentarily from his anxiety about his ineffectiveness as a man, while giving his wife apparent masochistic gratification and helping probably to deal with the guilt arising from the intense hostility expressed in her controlling, castrating behavior.’

            I do not dispute that attitudes have changed; this is a point of agreement between us. I dispute that a hard to measure change in attitudes is enough that we should expect it to cancel out the obvious massive changes in other factors we can actually measure.

            Also, the source you quoted says that it comes from a study of 37 cases of assault. That means that regardless of what the doctor said, the state itself classified all of these incidents as a crime. I’d rather not play a game of quote mining people; I could quote mine the craziest man-hating feminists in a way that makes disputing the value of fathers sound malign by trying to load any such claim with an aura of comparison to crazy people but it wouldn’t prove anything to either of us.

            We both agree abuse was probably more prevalent in 1960 than in 2015. We differ on what we expect the actual base rates are and what the change in numbers are likely to have been and how to weigh it vs more typical cases. We are at an impasse because neither is able to bring enough data to bear.

            So, I think we should either agree to disagree for now… or try to each specify utility functions to formalize our intuitions or agree to estimate rates of child abuse by parents over time or look at correlations between single parenthood and other social indicators across time and place, or something along those lines. Unfortunately all are pretty time consuming. Recommend and discuss books on the topic in a top level comment in the next open thread? I dunno. I think it’s pretty clear we’ve reduced our disagreement down to these sorts of specifics.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @quanta:
            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            When asked about it you start talking about averages. That isn’t a statement about averages. It’s akin to “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

            I’m not sure if you don’t know how I interpreted this, or refuse to address my interpretation.

            You admit that the prevalence of domestic violence was higher, and that attitudes were fairly blasé, but bring up quote mining the worst examples. That’s Time reporting on their own (positive) reporting from 1964, a decidedly mainstream a publication.

            These are more examples of why I am frustrated in my conversation with you.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ HBC:

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            Given that children of intact families to better on a whole host of metrics than children of single-parent families, this is a reasonable assumption to make, at least when considering things on the societal level.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            Again, for what feels like the billionth time, you are talking about, as quanta is now saying he is talking about, the average.

            I interpreted him saying that every single case was a net positive. That the mere absence of any individual father can be determined to be a negative.

            I assume you are not saying this now. So, I’m not sure how you are addressing what I am saying.

            And that is before we get into any counter-factuals on your specific example.

          • Randy M says:

            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            I’d say the literal and charitable reading of the sentence HBC quoted an objected to is that the ceiling on absent fathers is in every case zero. Not stated but implied by the comparison is that the ceiling on present fathers is higher.

            Whether the net is positive in every case or even on average isn’t a logical necessity of the statement.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ HBC:

            Neither Quanta’s nor my own posts require present fathers to be a net plus literally every time, just for them to be a net positive more often than absent fathers.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”
            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            You said that your father wasn’t involved much in your upbringing, as evidence for how bad the institution of fatherhood was in the bad old days and (by implication) how much better it is today. Quanta was pointing out that a large portion of children have even less meaningful contact with their fathers than you did, and suggesting that it is unlikely that the fathers who do have contact with their children are sufficiently better than their own fathers to make up for this. Quite simple, really, and nothing about it requires fathers’ presence to be a net positive in every single case without exception.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I will just say that you are incorrect about what I think about my father’s involvement in my childhood.

            There were good reasons for my parents to divorce. No, there was no physical abuse.

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I am sorry you are finding our mismatch in style/belief frustrating. I too have been frustrated with our conversation at times, but overall I enjoyed arguing with you about this. I am fine with stopping here. I have tired out.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @HBC

        I’m not sure I follow you here, HBC. Egalitarianism, equality in treatment and options and choices and power, is the goal…but at the same time you reject the possibility that this goal can be measured in a quantifiable way or be said to be achieved?

        I’m confused because the answer to your question is “when everyone in a society has as much liberty as [philosophy] puts forth is the correct amount for each given policy area”. I can give you my personal “at this point, there is sufficient liberty” optimum for just about any given social or cultural question, though I’m happy to admit that in many cases my confidence level in my own opinion isn’t all that high. Any given progressive/left-liberal, conservative, libertarian, centrist, anarchist, fascist, etc can do the same, and while one progressive might disagree with another about exactly where that line gets drawn, they’re going to be closer to each other than they are to the fascists. Political and moral philosophies are expected to at least offer a framework for trading off the amount of liberty afforded individuals vs. [insert other terminal value here]. I find it hard to credit that you can’t likewise identify any stopping point for your own philosophy.

        There is literally NO trade-off for which a 0.0000000000…..00001% improvement in equality is not worth it? Are you an anarcho-socialist as well, then, since any hierarchical structures could theoretically place a man above a woman and thus endanger egalitarian feminism? I certainly never got that impression from your posting.

        Regarding the concept of structural oppression:

        Can you give me a concrete example of structual sexism? Or structural oppression of females if you prefer? Because I’ll be honest and admit that I am one of those people who is profoundly skeptical of the conceptual validity of “structural/institutional –ism”. My own stance on that sort of framework so far has been that it doesn’t really hold water, to be honest: that either you can reduce the “structural” bias to the bias of an individual or group of individuals (even a very large group) and address it on that level, or you can reduce it to underlying inequalities of fact (I believe that there’s such a thing as objective reality, and I don’t believe it can be –ist).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Trofim:
          Perhaps you are familiar with the oft mis-attributed quote “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty“?

          The point I was making is that we aren’t in a natural condition of liberty or egalitarianism. That which we have is the result of work.

          Perhaps you would understand better if I put it in terms of democracy? The work of democracy isn’t ever done, either. It’s much easier to maintain democracy than to attain it, though.

          Here is one specific example of structural sexism, the default male.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Yes, the kind of structural sexism which doesn’t seem to hurt anyone at all. And that’s coming from a rabid feminist site like Wonkette.

            I personally am similarly annoyed that “woman” is a piece of extra information which if unreferenced in the joke makes the viewer think they misunderstood the joke. But let’s consider why the gender default exists: because it’s a time-saving assumption. Rather than figuring out if someone is either XX or XY, simply assume XY unless XX. So why is XY the default? Well, if you look at some of the monkey research a couple threads back, you notice that male monkeys had much weaker sex preferences compared to female monkeys; extrapolate that out using anecdotal experience and you can argue that men have much higher variance, whereas women usually have a few easily-identified signifiers. In other words, a man is a man because he isn’t a woman; men don’t really have any other universal traits.

            Still fine with the double standard being knocked down, as with many other double standards feminism is curiously resistant to knocking down. But let’s not act like this one is a big deal.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Here is one specific example of structural sexism, the default male.

            Your example involves the trivial topic of a single person misgendering an animated crocodile and involves pattern matching, which tends to just reaffirm preexisting beliefs. For example, in this case the person who misgendered might just have mixed up two of the many animals on the show in their head or it could have a typo. A single example of a person doing something where you cannot be sure why, is not good evidence that ‘default male’ even exists.

            However, I actually do agree with you that gender roles involves assumption about what men and women are like and do; and also that this can lead to assumptions about gender based on what someone likes and does. However, ‘default male’ is a really poor way to describe this.

            For example, I have heard about a father who was addressed as a ‘she’ in a letter from his school about his child. Imagine that we would do a solid experiment that would show that schools assume that the parent they interact with is a mother, even in the absence of information about the gender. Would that be the ‘default female?’ So IMO, calling the phenomenon ‘default male’ is itself sexist and pushes people into only considering one side of the issue.

            Aside from this, it seems that your definition of ‘structural’ boils down to pervasive behavior and/or the behavior being culturally acceptable. Is that accurate?

            Because I regularly see the conflation of structural with institutional, which are two very different things, if we take the above definition for ‘structural.’

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Trofim:

            I certainly understand that for some cultural standards there is “maintenance work”. However, there are dramatic differences in the approaches and tactics used when an idea is revolutionary and being pushed against the status quo, and when the idea has become the status quo and is in turn being defended from other would be revolutionary (or reactionary, if you prefer) challenges.

            At what point would you consider that feminist ideals have attained mainstream buy-in in American culture, then, if you prefer? What would your metric for success be?

            So, as far as the default male idea, have they verified that holds true with female observers? That is, that a female observer viewing a gender-neutral figure (without features that code male or female) will also presume that the figure is male?

            I note that if the photo attached to the article is accurate then it’s a poor example, since the crocodile -does- code as female (there are pretty clear breasts). I’m not sure if this makes the writer’s point stronger (questioner made the assumption of male despite the coding, thus revealing stronger implicit bias) or weaker (questioner is just bad at coding generally, and thus a poor sample).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure you read the article all the way through?

            The big point there is that writers actively resist having female characters because of the default male. They don’t write characters as female unless there is a specific reason for them to be female.

            That’s not a small thing, that’s very large.

            And yes feminists are also quite concerned about roles where the default assumption is female. They talk about this all the time. See complaints about every example of housework or child care being done is done by a female.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            but the article gives no explanation as to the real problem with this. At best, you can argue “fewer female roles”, but those roles were tiny, and women will always have enough roles because, at the least, the men need love interests (if they aren’t gay). So fewer incidental roles, but occasionally more if the writers want to make a joke about women specifically as well, something which doesn’t get talked about in the article. Who cares?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            but those roles were tiny, and women will always have enough roles because, at the least, the men need love interests

            I’m assuming you haven’t thought about the narrative structure of a typical story?

            Stories typically revolve around a protagonist and various and many roles that interact with that protagonist. Love interest is only one role.

            That means that there aren’t “enough” roles for females, depending on what you think “enough” is, but more to the point it leads to a fictional world that is overwhelmingly male. Females are love interests or nothing.

            Unless there is a specific need for a female protagonist, the protagonist will also be written as male, meaning that females are also under-represented as protagonists.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I’m assuming you haven’t thought about the narrative structure of a typical story?

            class, what do assumptions do

            Stories typically revolve around a protagonist and various and many roles that interact with that protagonist. Love interest is only one role.

            But usually every character has a love interest. And that’s not to mention that, in practice, there are plenty of female friends as well, because having that extra woman signifier lets you do things with the character.

            That means that there aren’t “enough” roles for females, depending on what you think “enough” is, but more to the point it leads to a fictional world that is overwhelmingly male. Females are love interests or nothing.

            cool but is this actually true

            no it isn’t

            at the end of the day, there is an enforced floor for women’s roles thanks to love interests, and then you have other roles that often exist regardless.

            Unless there is a specific need for a female protagonist, the protagonist will also be written as male, meaning that females are also under-represented as protagonists.

            except in cases where you want your protagonist to be female which happens a lot

            it’s stuff like this that reveals an aspect of feminism, which is not so much equalizing as it is flattening. Should the specific cases where you want a woman be nonexistent in exchange for nonspecific cases being 50 / 50 split? Even if you say so, you’re taking with one hand and giving with the other. Of course, feminism usually pretends to want both and then only ends up giving without taking, but even the idealistic side has to admit that it’s not doing unalloyedly good things.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            class, what do assumptions do

            and I’m out.

          • random832 says:

            Should the specific cases where you want a woman be nonexistent in exchange for nonspecific cases being 50 / 50 split?

            I don’t know where you’re getting that from. There are obviously always going to be specific cases where you want a character to be a woman and specific cases where you want a character to be a man, and I don’t see where anyone is saying otherwise.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            and I’m out.

            Good. This statement:

            I’m assuming you haven’t thought about the narrative structure of a typical story?

            was clearly disrespectful. If you can’t handle that level of disrespect turned back, then the logical move is to get out. Have a good one.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I don’t know where you’re getting that from. There are obviously always going to be specific cases where you want a character to be a woman and specific cases where you want a character to be a man, and I don’t see where anyone is saying otherwise.

            Yeah, you’re right. This is a lost case.

            Still, I’ll retreat to arguing that, either way, this is a minor point, mostly applicable to unimportant characters. A study the Mary Sue cites notes that 42% of television characters are women, which seems pretty damn good to be honest – yeah, OK, it could be 50, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world if it stays around 42, especially given that there may be confounders as regards number of actors or most talented actors.

          • Matt M says:

            Unless there is a specific need for a female protagonist, the protagonist will also be written as male, meaning that females are also under-represented as protagonists.

            I think you’re generally right that this is the case – but this strikes me as yet another area where matters complicate very quickly in terms of trying to specifically quantify the problem and identify a desired end-state.

            The key question here becomes: When, exactly, is there a need for a specific-gendered protagonist?

            We can probably intuitively agree that Wonder Woman has to be female, but that Rey in The Force Awakens does not. But what about something like, The Bride from Kill Bill? Obviously at some point, fairly early on in the process, it’s abundantly clear that Tarantino said to himself “The hero of this story has to be a woman.” The plot is structured such that a lot of the charm of the movie would go away if you tried to gender-flip the cast. That said, it’s not as if it would be impossible for him to write a compelling story about a man betrayed by a woman and seeking revenge against her and her various male associates.

            It almost seems like whether the role “needs” to be a certain gender or not is largely dependent on, at what point in the creative process, the gender is decided.

            At least for some genres. A lot of this may be easily explained by the fact that some of our post popular genres of entertainment essentially require male-oriented casts, for various reasons. War films have to have male protagonists, because men are the ones who actually fight wars. Super hero films have mostly male protagonists, because super heroes mostly spend their time punching people, and all but the most ardent feminists would concede that punching people is something men do better (and generally enjoy doing more) than women. Most historical dramas have male protagonists, because historical oppression of women mostly limited them to the role of behind the scenes influences, and they were not allowed to hold the significant power required to make someone relevant in a historical tale.

            But I wonder if the “male default protagonist” holds true on say, the Hallmark Channel. Or Lifetime TV movies. I would assume not, because the genre in question is female-focused.

            In any case, I feel like there’s no real way to measure this without making some pretty deep and personal judgments of content creators on a case by case basis. It requires one to look, film by film, show by show, and say “that character could have been female, but that one obviously has to be male” which just seems a little weird and icky to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            I think you’re generally right that this is the case – but this strikes me as yet another area where matters complicate very quickly in terms of trying to specifically quantify the problem and identify a desired end-state.

            I’m certainly not saying these things are easy, or that trying to address issues like this aren’t complex. Or that these considerations should override artistic vision.

            Rather I’m speaking about one particular issue, and how it affects storytelling.

            To go for a very stark comparison of how things can change in this regard, compare the cast of Quincy, M.E. with the cast of Bones.

            And yet the recurring characters in Bones that aren’t the every episode regulars run about 2 to 1 male to female (eyeballing it). Perhaps some of that is due Sweets leaving the show though.

          • Matt M says:

            To go for a very stark comparison of how things can change in this regard…

            Right. But what happened 20 years ago is not relevant, what’s relevant is what is happening now.

            I wonder, if you only go back to say, 2015, if the problem of “all default characters are male” exists to any noticeable extent. I would guess not, or at least to a very small extent. People seem to be hypersensitive about this stuff. The amount of stories written with specifically female protagonists in mind seems to be increasing. Maybe it’s not totally even just yet, but once again, it’s hard to judge. But I think the general point is that the sample of “movies from 2015 – present” looks very different than the sample of “movies from 1975 – present”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            Why are you rejecting the testimony of a writer who is writing in 2015 in saying that the default male has affected his writing?

            Why are you simply ignoring the second part of my post where, even in a show that makes a very conscious effort to have a balanced male/female characters in the lead roles, that the ancillary characters still run 2 to 1 male?

            I am both acknowledging that things have changed and showing how more improvement can be made.

            I’m not saying this is some unique evil perpetrated in a conscious manner to keep women in their place. I’m acknowledging that is complex and full of nuance.

            It seems to me that your position could (perhaps uncharitably, but perhaps not) be summarized as “It’s full of complexity and nuance, so we shouldn’t examine it”.

          • tomogorman says:

            Look at 2015 then – from top ten Grossing movies:
            Star Wars Force Awakens: 2 leads Rey and Finn 1F and 1M; major supporting Han, Chewie, Poe, Kylo Ren, Hux, Leia – 1F and 5M
            Jurassic World: 2 leads Owen and Claire (and thats being generous to give Bryce Dallas Howard equal billing with Chris Pratt) 1F and 1M; but supporting cast is solidly male – Claire’s nephews, head of security, CEO, raptor assistant, lead scientist – all males for 0F and 6M
            Avengers 2: Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Hulk, Thor, Ultron, Quicksilver male, Black Widow Scarlet Witch female 2F and 7M
            Furious 7: protagonist crew spilts 2F 5M (with focus on the men) and the vilain is male.
            Inside Out: the emotions split 3F 2M, they are in a girl, and she has two parents so 5F 3M
            American Sniper: male protagonist
            Minions: Minions may not be gendered, but are definitely coded male. Their employer in this one is a woman, but her partner is male – still a mostly male movie.
            Hunger Games 2: female protagonist with 2 male love interests. Important supporting cast is her sister and Coin (female) and Snow, Abernathy, and Heavensbee male. so 1F lead, supporting cast 2F 5M
            The Martian: Male lead, the remaining crew of the mission is 2 women and 3 men, major NASA characters are about evenly split.
            Cinderella: Female Lead, Female Villain, Female Godmother, Male Love interest 3F 1M
            So in 2015 from the top 10 movies you have 5 with male leads (Avengers and Furious 7 are ensambles, but male dominated – and with the male leads getting more screentime), 3 with female leads, and 2 with joint leads (and thats being generous to Jurassic World)
            Supporting cast has greater male representation in all but Inside Out and Cinderella.
            So even with all the feminism, women are still less represented in movies than men are.
            Things may be getting better, but that doesn’t mean feminists should stop.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I did read the entire article, that’s why I’m asking if this apparent default male phenomenon is documented as occurring in both genders, thus representing a cultural bias rather than a “typical person” fallacy. Also, on what grounds does this tendency qualify as “actively resisting”? To me, that implies that such a writer would reply to the suggestion “hey, this character should be female” with “no way!”. An answer like “I’d never even considered that” fits what he’s describing better and isn’t terribly active.

            But let’s set that aside, and assume for the sake of argument that this apparent phenomenon IS bi-gendered and thus represents cultural bias, and is extremely prevalent as claimed: can you explain why this is a very large and impactful thing? If we were in a situation with literally no or very close to no female protagonists, or where females were overwhelmingly depicted in only a single way with deviations inevitably singled out for punishment, I would agree. And we may have been closer to that point some time in the past. But I don’t think we’re they’re now, and while I know you and AnonYE haven’t been having a great discussion, as far as I can tell the studies he cited about percentage of female characters in a sample of TV and Film seem solid.

            So, can you explain why this is a “big thing”?

            And you still haven’t answered my question about metrics for success or establishing mainstream buy-in. Would you agree with Jonathan D’s, maybe?

            When gender motivated bad stuff happens and women relating said stuff to their networks are met instead with sympathy and surprise – because it’s so rare – then we’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

            As I say below it seems hard to measure, but seems a pretty good starting point for discussion in terms of social behaviors.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trofim:
            I asked because you were concentrated on the crocodile example, which seemed to be just an interesting example at the beginning, rather than the writer’s self report of how the default male affected the stories he wrote. And he does indicate that he actively resisted making characters female because, as he said, it was something else you had to explain about the character. He did not want characters to be female unless that had something to do with the joke.

            Your question about whether this is true for both genders misses one aspect, which is that writers rooms have continued to be majority male.

            As to why this is a big deal, to the extent that it continues, it means that the range of roles we are willing to imagine females in is necessarily truncated. The roles are predominantly ones which are stereotypically gendered.

            This then affects how we view the world. I’m sure you can think as some aspect of yourself which you find to be frequently poorly represented in media (“all nerds are like they are in Big Bang” might be a popular one around here). Reducing the female roles to only certain feminine tropes, and not making the wide range of tropes which are essentially gender neutral available, means this will smack one in the face much more frequently.

            And what does victory look like? When writing with a “default male” perspective stands out as being noticeable for its rarity, something that is done as a conscious choice, for good reason. When the default is not to assume male or female.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I am aware of the gender disparity among tv/film writers, but absent more evidence I am not sure what it signifies. I’ve never been satisfied that proportionality of representation or the lack thereof was sufficient evidence to conclude there were underlying biases (individual or ‘systematic/structural’) at work. Necessary, but not sufficient. For example, alternative explanations for something like the gender imbalance of the show Bones could be that it’s a show with a law enforcement emphasis, and law enforcement is a field with an actual ratio of around 4:1, not 2:1. Another could be that it reflects viewer demographics that the casting is optimizing for based on the assumptions that the average schmoe needs to see someone like them to identify with them.

            I also don’t see the support for the assertion that more male writers than females necessarily and inevitably means less roles for women, even if we assume that the claim about “default male” assumptions are true more in general among these writers.

            And honestly? I can think of many aspects of myself, especially politically and philosophically, that are treated as downright hostile by the majority of the entertainment media I consume. I wasn’t aware enough to notice or care until my teens, and I learned to mostly stop caring by my mid 20s. If I couldn’t handle hostile and ignorant depictions I would be restricted to consuming perhaps 10-20% of the fiction I do now.

            I would see the merit of your argument if I could look out at the cultural landscape and see that female roles were reduced “to only certain feminine tropes, and not making the wide range of tropes which are essentially gender neutral available”. I do not see that description matching well at ALL to the material I see out there.

            That’s not to say I don’t see places where improvements could be made. Speaking of female roles written by males, and in a tangent, I’m still bitterly disappointed (though not at all surprised) that the Honor Harrington film optioning went nowhere.

            As far as the default is not to assume male or female…do you mean in terms of how to choose character roles? If so, that would seem to imply that your end goal is the total abolition of the concept of gender roles in western society, as that is the only circumstance I can imagine in which that default is in any way plausible. If that is not your end goal, then can you explain how that not assuming works?

          • Brad says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            @HBC

            I am aware of the gender disparity among tv/film writers, but absent more evidence I am not sure what it signifies. I’ve never been satisfied that proportionality of representation or the lack thereof was sufficient evidence to conclude there were underlying biases (individual or ‘systematic/structural’) at work. Necessary, but not sufficient. For example, alternative explanations for something like the gender imbalance of the show Bones could be that it’s a show with a law enforcement emphasis, and law enforcement is a field with an actual ratio of around 4:1, not 2:1. Another could be that it reflects viewer demographics that the casting is optimizing for based on the assumptions that the average schmoe needs to see someone like them to identify with them.

            Given the overarching question you are asking — when is it time for a movement to declare victory — does it make sense to set the burden of persuasion this way? If there’s concededly a problem and a group is working on eliminating it, it doesn’t strike me as reasonable to insist that the group continually provide on demand proof that the problem still exists. On the contrary someone claiming the problem no longer exists ought to bear the burden to prove that it doesn’t. (And if you think there was never a problem to begin with then “when do you declare victory and go home” is the wrong question.)

            In that context, saying 50/50 might not be the natural outcome of an egalitarian society doesn’t get you very far. Sure, it might not be. But also it might be. Pointing to the numerical disparity is prima facia evidence of non-egalitarianism. It’s rebuttable but actually has to be rebutted. Generating hypothetical explanations with no evidence doesn’t rebut anything.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            […] the average schmoe needs to see someone like them to identify with them.

            I miss the days when this was the attitude that people campaigned against.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Brad

            I was conceding the “default male concept is a real trend, and is pervasive in entertainment media or at least in TV/Film” to HBC for the sake of discussion and to avoid getting bogged down in wrangling. To be honest, I am not entirely convinced that it exists as a specific gender-bias phenomenon.

            As for the burden of proof, I’m asking the questions specifically because I am open to being convinced and I am legitimately interested in the answers. Responding to that with “Don’t ask ME to prove something, you must prove the opposite or concede that our views are correct” is…less than convincing.

            If you phrased it “All other things being equal, numerical disparity is prima facia evidence of non-egalitarianism”, I would agree with the statement. But on what empirical basis do you ground the assertion all other things ARE equal? If anything, my intuition is that statistical distributions are almost never flat in reality.

            So I don’t understand how you can offer that assertion with a straight face, to be honest. We talk about all people being equal as a legal and moral principle. It’s one that I agree with strongly. I do not believe it follows that we can state that the overrepresentation of blacks in the NBA or the United States Military represents institutional racism against whites on the part of those institutions, nor would you, I suspect. Instead, we would look to other underlying factors, some of which MIGHT have origins in bias (the claim that blacks are overrepresented due to lack of other equally good career opportunties in civilian society for example), some which don’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trofim:
            A few thoughts:
            1) You are going very “meta” when asking why it happens and what this signifies when we don’t need to. The writer is giving you a specific statement of how bias that evolved essentially memetically was preventing him from writing female characters for no good reason. He gave you the reason. You then ignore it in favor of making up all sorts of other possible reasons.

            I think you are likely doing this (unconsciously) because it is inconvenient for your argument.

            There is a cognitive mistake, whose appellation is escaping me at the moment, wherein people tend to increase their estimated probability of a given thing occurring the more pieces of information they know about it (when this should, all things being equal, make the probability less likely). The default male strikes me as a similar problem, but in reverse.
            We assume that we have learned something new about a given character when we find out they are female, but we haven’t added any more information at all, as we were already assuming their gender.

            On a rationalist (or rationalist adjacent) site, I would think people would generally desire to eliminate this kind of bias.

            2)

            And honestly? I can think of many aspects of myself, especially politically and philosophically, that are treated as downright hostile by the majority of the entertainment media I consume.

            I’m guessing those aspects aren’t represented in 50% of the population.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I said that I was willing to accept, for the sake of argument, that this bias existed and was common, so that we could discuss why it mattered. It doesn’t follow that my willingness to accept it for the sake of argument means that I should accept it proves that gender disparities in writer’s rooms are evidence of bias.

            As far as his reasons, to be honest while I come away from that account believing that his statement that he reacted to changing the gender of a character from male to female made him uncomfortable, I do not necessarily believe his explanation as to why. Neither my experience with people in general nor my exposure to psychological and psychiatric discussions have led me to believe that people are, on average, all that good at decompiling their thought processes and debugging them. Hell, I apply the same skepticism and restricted confidence levels to my OWN explanations to myself for my OWN behavior. Similarly, it doesn’t follow that I accept that because this bias was present in this writer that it is a feature that is common, or even common in men.

            Again, as far as assuming gender goes, as I said before I think we’re more or less stuck with that unless we have a society where sexual characteristics are entirely decoupled from gender roles, and where gender roles have essentially ceased to exist. Otherwise unless we are deliberately overriding our rational functions, we’ll get a heuristic that tells us the highest probabilities, which are nearly equal (in the absence of other information or cues) are that the person (IRL) or character (in fiction) is either male or female, with a few percentage points for androgyne/agendered/genderfluid/nonbinary/etc. If you’re operating in a context where androgyny, intersex condition, and genderfluid/genderqueer persons are much more common than the global baseline of course this intuition should shift to account for that if it’s functioning properly.

            Regarding depicitions in the media, you are correct that they’re not present in 50% of society. However, your own example that you offered (geeks on the Big Bang Theory) isn’t 50% either. So was that entire line of questioning just a red herring?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trofim:
            It wasn’t a red herring. It was supposed to provide an inroad to empathy. As a programmer, the way tech is represented in storytelling is usually annoying to me. But it’s a small part of most stories, and many/most stories don’t have any tech aspect at all.

            If every character in every story had a tech aspect to them, and it was always wrong? I hope you can be charitable here and see my point without forcing me to go into exhaustive detail.

            As to your point about gender roles, here is a question:
            If we need a character who is very annoying, this is their salient feature in the story, what do gender roles have to say about that? If we need a character who is a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant or … why does writing any of those as female mean we are destroying all gender roles?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I have empathy for the complaint of poor representation. It’s annoying. And if it were true that every representation of females was a bad one, or even an overwhelming majority were, I would agree that there was still a big problem here. But that’s a very, VERY counterfactual comparison. I don’t think that was even a good analogy in the 1980s for film, and even earlier for print fiction (though I’d say probably 10+ years later for comics and non-drama TV). And I think it requires that level of ubiquity to have the widespread societal and individual self-image distorting effects that people inveigh against. And without that actual harm, what you’re left with is people objecting on grounds of aesthetics/propriety.

            Answer is it depends. First question, is the story set in the real-world, or a “real-world-but-with…” variant, historical or modern? If so, I am going to try and make gender ratios reflect as much as possible unless part of the “but with” twist would change that (for example, magic or technology could forcibly level the playing field for women even in older, more prejudiced societies, resulting in more women in a given field than you’d expect based on reality). If not, then what kind of a secondary world am I creating? When Kameron Hurley wrote the Bel Dame Apocrypha, she certainly did not approach it with an eye towards not making assumptions about character gender.

            Second question, what is the annoying character’s relationship with the person they’re annoying? A parent? An annoying mother-daughter relationship is different from an annoying mother-son relationship is different from an annoying father-son relationship is annoying from an annoying mother-son relationship.

            “But Trofim, you’re the writer, you can write the type of annoyance and the style of the relationship in any way you want!”

            Yes, I can, but if I were to just go through and, say, flip a coin to genderswap characters (or go one better, roll a D4 or D6 to catch various trans and agendered and nonbinary possibilities in there), and tweak them…then I have created a very specific sort of setting that may very well not resemble the world that my reader is going to find believable. Now, in genre fiction that’s can be a good thing.

            To use just two examples, one of my favorite science fiction series when I was in 7th-8th grade was the Oankali trilogy by Octavia E. Butler, and Ada Palmer did some very interesting things with narration and gender in Too Like The Lightning just last year. If you enjoy science fiction, I’d strongly recommend all those books, though if you only pick one I’d recommend Too Like The Lightning.

            In short, while we can often come up with reasons to make any given character male or female, the amount of reasons available to us and the amount of creative room we have are finite UNLESS we are going out of our way to create an arbitrarily unusual setting.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          Statistics here:

          http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2014-15_Boxed_In_Report.pdf

          In 2014-15, female characters comprised
          42% of all speaking characters on
          broadcast television programs and 40%
          of all characters on broadcast, cable, and
          Netflix programs.

          and

          http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/research/

          Females accounted for 37% of major characters, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2015, and also a recent historical high.

          So you won’t stop until everything is 50 / 50? Why? Let’s consider that there isn’t an especial shortage of female roles at this point, and as you note there were many female protagonists starring in leading roles. Why does it have to be 50 / 50? If you accept any level of gender having influence on groups (and if you don’t, you’re wrong) then you wouldn’t expect a 50 / 50 split. But given how many women and female protagonists there clearly are in movies, what is the downside to not having a 50 / 50 split? Women have representation, women have opportunities for roles, so why must it be totally split?

          • rlms says:

            Yes, women are probably genetically predisposed to not being protagonists.

          • Aapje says:

            If women are genetically disposed not to be risk-takers as much as men and if fictional media is going to have similarities with reality, then women are genetically predisposed to not being protagonists.

            However, even if risk-taking is merely a gender norm, that still doesn’t mean that fictional media has to ignore gender norms in its story telling, anymore than it has to ignore other norms.

            People produce and consume fictional media for a variety of reasons and I disagree that people should be banned from having their own reasons and instead, all fictional media needs to have the goal of re-education based on a single agenda of promoting a rather biased view on equality.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @HeelBearCub
        topics this broad don’t lend themselves to easy endpoints, and for a variety of reasons. We might as well ask, “When will the work of liberty be complete?”

        Agreed — applied to actual (ie First and Second Wave) feminism as well as to liberty.

        What you say below is one reason I don’t use the words ‘egalitarian feminism’, ‘intersectional feminism’, ‘egalitarianism’, etc.

        Nevertheless, I think we can see one answer to your question in the fact that intersectional feminism is ascendant. And frequently one sees this referred to simply as intersectionalism, full stop. What you see then is a movement that is continuing in pursuit of egalitarianism, and identifying that merely looking at gender will not accomplish this.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think what you are saying here is that the work of 2nd wave feminism isn’t “done”?

          I agree with that. Many gains have been made, but more can be, and existing gains still need to be maintained.

          I’m not sure, but it seems like might also saying that the male/female divide is the only place where there is work to do? That doesn’t seem correct to me, but again, I’m not sure if I am taking your meaning correctly.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            I think what you are saying here is that the work of 2nd wave feminism isn’t “done”?

            Right.

            I’m not sure, but it seems like might also saying that the male/female divide is the only place where there is work to do?

            It’s the only place I’m interested in.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ Trofim_Lysenko

      1970s feminist here (aka ‘Second Wave’).

      If egalitarianism is the goal, what are the metrics by which that goal is measured

      Here’s a clear one. In the US, 51 female senators, 49 male senators.

      and at what point do you declare victory and go home?

      And bake cookies?

      /Sorry, must leave soon./

      • Gobbobobble says:

        That’s a respectable intermediate goal but a shitty endpoint. It would (with current demographics) be 49F/51M if whatever underlying factors that kill off men dramatically faster than women were addressed.

      • lvlln says:

        I’m not sure how having a 51F-49M split in US Senate reflects the achievement of the goal of gender egalitarianism; could you clarify?

        It seems to me that the nature of elections is so messy that it doesn’t make much sense to expect the population of US Senate winners in a gender-egalitarian world to be demographically representative of the population of voters/citizens/residents. For instance, there’s no good reason to believe that a Senate candidate of one gender would be particularly more attractive to voters of the same gender, since there are many other differences between candidates than gender, and those differences, such as party affiliation or policy positions tend to be considered more important by voters. And that’s before taking into account the incredible variability in the number of voters each US Senator needs to win over in order to win a seat, depending on the state.

        If we look at a weaker claim that it should be a heck of a lot closer to 51F-49M than the extreme male majority it is now, then there’s the question of, what sort of population is the US Senator pool drawn from? Is it reasonable to believe that in a gender-egalitarian world where males and females are equally encouraged to go into politics and other competitive fields from birth, where political parties provide equal support women and men candidates and voters vote with no consideration for the candidate’s gender, that the people who are elected should be somewhat close to the population/voter base? This is an extremely difficult question to answer, and it’s not clear to me that anyone has any idea of the answer, much less that the answer is Yes.

        Like, one of the reasons I identify as a feminist and consider feminism to be an important movement even today is that I believe women still face structural disadvantages in various areas, including politics. But I don’t think it follows that if we did succeed in ridding the world of those disadvantages (as well as advantages in other areas, obviously), that this would lead to a world where the US Senate had a 51F-49M split, or anything like that. I could also imagine such a split easily being the result of incredibly non-egalitarian means.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I could also imagine such a split easily being the result of incredibly non-egalitarian means.

          Like a number of third-world countries, which explicitly reserve some percentage of legislative seats to women or ethnic minorities.

          Also, let’s not forget that the US Senate breakdown is reflecting the culture of fifty years ago when prospective Senators were growing up, or the culture of twenty-five years ago when they were first getting into politics, at least as much as now.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            the US Senate breakdown is reflecting the culture of fifty years ago when prospective Senators were growing up, or the culture of twenty-five years ago when they were first getting into politics, at least as much as now.

            Hm? If we ever get to anything near 50/50 Senators, it will reflect/be a metric for some future culture, not our current one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyxb:
            I think the point being made is that the average senator does not spring from the womb to the senate. There is a “push-me-pull-you” aspect where someone conceives of a career in politics, pursues it, and this eventually leads to becoming a senator.

            Then they are usually in the senate for a very long time, as incumbency is powerful.

            Thus the current senate makeup reflects an accumulation of societal attitudes over time and is a very imperfect reflection the current attitudes.

        • quanta413 says:

          Given “true egalitarianism” it seems to me all the factors you name (such as lack of correlation between voter gender and candidate gender, same way of raising boys and girls etc.) should theoretically cancel out be irrelevant anyways.

          So obviously, once the fight is won, we should see that the number of women in the senate behaves varies according a binomial distrubtion with p~.5 and n=100. So 50 women on average over many years with a standard deviation of 5 over each 6 year period.

          I’m kind of joking, but I think the point is valid. If you have an ideal world, and you’re pretty much within measurement error of it for a while, you can relax.

          • Matt M says:

            Does the ideal end-state see perfect gender equality in every profession? Or just politics?

            It’s a bit of a cliche at this point among MRA-leaning folks, but I think the observation of “Feminists don’t seem to mind that 95% of coal miners are men” is worth addressing.

          • lvlln says:

            That only applies if we take “true egalitarianism” to mean a world in which the only difference between males and females were that one group was labeled male and the other group was labeled female. And yeah, if that were the case, we’d expect the population of 100 US Senators to roughly reflect the gender split, with some error in either direction.

            Assuming there are no issues of biology that get in the way, this seems a reasonable goal. But that’s one heck of a huge assumption, one that we don’t get to just make. Of course, it’s equally wrong to assume that issues of biology WILL get in the way, or that they do, they will point in any specific direction – it could be that due to biological differences, in a gender-egalitarian world, the 100 Americans successfully elected as US Senators should be almost all women, but current US political system is so heavily biased against women that the current ratio is the other way around. This is why I say this is an incredibly difficult question to answer.

            Now, if what’s meant is that the method of selecting US Senators should be twisted around so that regardless of biological issues, the end result is that the 100 winners reflect the general population demographics, then I’m not sure that’s what people usually mean when they say “egalitarianism.” I think “equity” is commonly used for that.

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s a bit of a cliche at this point among MRA-leaning folks, but I think the observation of “Feminists don’t seem to mind that 95% of coal miners are men” is worth addressing.

            Of course, in practice, nobody wants to follow their ideology towards disadvantage. Ideologies are tools to accomplish goals and a way of shaping goals.

            There’s also almost certainly a strong influence from the fact that feminist activists are usually either upper class or ascending towards the upper class. Working women with no degree (read: probably not feminists) might find some typically male jobs at least somewhat more attractive than their upper class counterparts.

            To me, it’s pretty obvious that it would be somewhat hypocritical to want 50% in high status areas and not in low status areas for equality reasons, but it’s also pretty obvious that this behavior is so typical of humans everywhere that it’s probably impossible to combat.

            @lvlln
            I personally don’t have any particular strong views on how much biology should feed in to results, but it’s pretty clear that a lot of feminists do and you’d be forced to argue with them blow by blow to convince whoever’s watching that the common feminist assumption that biology is 99% irrelevant is wrong.

          • Matt M says:

            To me, it’s pretty obvious that it would be somewhat hypocritical to want 50% in high status areas and not in low status areas for equality reasons, but it’s also pretty obvious that this behavior is so typical of humans everywhere that it’s probably impossible to combat.

            I feel like you’re acknowledging the complication without really answering the questions.

            Let’s say we end up achieving equality in high status areas, but men outnumber women in low status areas. Would that then indicate that society is biased against men? And then, if the work of feminism could be declared “done”, the work of MRA would still be justified and needed? And the MRAs could say “We will not declare victory until women are equally represented among the prison population as men?”

          • quanta413 says:

            I feel like you’re acknowledging the complication without really answering the questions.

            Yeah, I guess that’s true; I don’t really know how to answer it. If men and women were equal in high status areas but not low status areas, MRAs probably would be justified in a fight against that.

            Anyways, my personal preference would be to take equality in much broader groups as a sign of mission accomplished rather than just equality of representation across every groups like senators or prisoners. But I have no clue how to specify the larger segments to look at.

          • Matt M says:

            And is this not a problem?

            Like, if my ONLY critique of feminism was, “The goals are not clearly defined which leads to a constant shifting of the goalposts,” would you accept that as legitimate criticism?

          • quanta413 says:

            And is this not a problem?

            Like, if my ONLY critique of feminism was, “The goals are not clearly defined which leads to a constant shifting of the goalposts,” would you accept that as legitimate criticism?

            Sure, it’s a legitimate criticism. I weigh it against positives. I also try to keep in mind that a group’s stated goals and real goals often don’t align. It’s not an uncommon or immoral strategy to ask for X, raise hell, get .5X, wait a few years, ask for X again, raise hell, get .5X, repeat until you’ve got 10X. Wait a few decades making sure 10X never goes down, then declare victory on your deathbed.

            I’m also not a feminist or a member of any reform movement though so I probably accept the criticism more easily than they would because it’s no skin off my back.

          • Aapje says:

            Matt M

            Let’s say we end up achieving equality in high status areas, but men outnumber women in low status areas. Would that then indicate that society is biased against men? And then, if the work of feminism could be declared “done”, the work of MRA would still be justified and needed? And the MRAs could say “We will not declare victory until women are equally represented among the prison population as men?”

            It seems to me that it is impossible to achieve one without the other merely by equality of opportunity, as IMO some the same things that push men towards senator positions push them towards (the sharp end of) organized crime and non-criminal dangerous jobs & some the same things that keeps women away from senator positions also keep them away from (the sharp end of) organized crime and non-criminal dangerous jobs.

            So the only way for feminists to achieve this would be by special treatment for women, which anyone who favors equal opportunity over equal outcomes would oppose.

          • Matt M says:

            So the only way for feminists to achieve this would be by special treatment for women, which anyone who favors equal opportunity over equal outcomes would oppose.

            Which is sort of my point.

            So in order to satisfy the motte of feminism (we just want equal opportunity for everyone), one should theoretically be JUST as concerned at men occupying the vast majority of low status positions (dirty jobs, criminals, homeless, etc.) as they are at men occupying the vast majority of high status positions (CEOs, politicians, etc.)

            And yet, pointing out that men occupy the majority of low status positions typically gets one labeled as a sexist pig who is obviously serving the needs of the oppressive patriarchy.

            I think virtually all objection to feminism is based on the premise that feminists claim to want equal opportunity, but their words and actions and revealed preferences indicate that they actually do, in fact, want special treatment for women.

        • random832 says:

          It seems to me that the nature of elections is so messy that it doesn’t make much sense to expect the population of US Senate winners in a gender-egalitarian world to be demographically representative of the population of voters/citizens/residents.

          Why not? If there’s nothing in particular that makes (e.g.) men stronger candidates, it’s reasonable to expect that it’s demographically representative of the population of candidates. Assuming there’s nothing that makes men more likely to go into politics, it’s reasonable to expect that the pool of candidates is demographically representative of the population of citizens. You could expect random variation, of course, but statistically it’d probably be skewed in one direction about as often as the other.

          Either of these things being true, for whatever reason, whether the reasons are good or bad, can reasonably be characterized as a “non-egalitarian world”.

          • lvlln says:

            Why not? If there’s nothing in particular that makes (e.g.) men stronger candidates, it’s reasonable to expect that it’s demographically representative of the population of candidates. Assuming there’s nothing that makes men more likely to go into politics, it’s reasonable to expect that the pool of candidates is demographically representative of the population of citizens.

            Those are 2 huge assumptions we don’t get to just make. They might be true, they might be wrong because men actually tend to be stronger candidates or men actually are more likely to go into politics, or they might be wrong because women actually tend to be stronger candidates or women actually are more likely to go into politics.

            Either of these things being true, for whatever reason, can reasonably be characterized as a “non-egalitarian world”.

            That’s a highly unusual definition of “non-egalitarian.” Under that, an egalitarian world (wrt gender) is one in which there are no differences in political competence or proclivities between men and women on average at the population level, which is an empirical claim not only about society but also about biology. So if it turns out that there are biological differences that, say, causes a higher proportion of women to get into politics than men, then the only way to achieve “egalitarianism” is via radical bioengineering on the level of Brave New World. Or perhaps extreme authoritarianism (e.g. outlaw members of one gender from running for office if their gender is overrepresented in the Senate).

            This might be a goal worth pursuing. But that’s not what I understand by “egalitarianism,” and I don’t think most people understand it that way either. I think that’d fall more under “equity.”

          • random832 says:

            They’re not assumptions, they are definitions: things that are true of an egalitarian world. If they are not true then we do not have an egalitarian world; if they cannot be made true then we cannot ever have an egalitarian world. (the ‘extreme authoritarianism’ solution you mentioned doesn’t actually make anyone equal, it just spreads the misery around)

            This remains true even if there are only “good” reasons (inherent biologically-determined differences in capability) for them to be the case; that would just mean that being a non-egalitarian world would be value-neutral.

            Anyway, even if there are biological factors, it seems uncontroversial that non-biological factors exist, and any biological factors are difficult to measure or reason about until they are eliminated.

          • Aapje says:

            @lvlln

            If Empathizing–systemizing theory is correct, then men are more likely to prefer work involving systems and women more likely to prefer work that is more personal.

            That theory matches my perception, although there is a lack of solid evidence.

            I would argue that politics is more systems-oriented, than people-oriented, so if the theory is correct, you’d expect a permanent gender gap.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It has been said in jest that feminism is the belief that if you put all the stats in a spreadsheet with men in one column and women in the other, the two columns should be the same.

            I think this is one of those “many a truth said in jest” scenarios.

          • lvlln says:

            @random832

            Again, I think you are conflating “egalitarianism” and “equity.” Your vision of an “egalitarian world” is one in which, say, the world record holder for the 100m dash has equal likelihood of being male as female, because males and females are identical in ability on average and in the extremes. I think that may be a good goal, but I don’t think that’s what’s meant by “egalitarianism.” Rather, I think posits a world in which people are given equal rights & resources, and where luck of birth plays a role in one’s success and failure in any given field only as far as they determine their merits (obviously all merits are the result of luck of birth, such as intelligence, strength, conscientiousness, willpower, etc. – I don’t think when people say “egalitarianism,” they mean that we should flatten all of those as well so that luck of birth has literally zero impact on their success in a given field).

          • random832 says:

            @lvlln the difference is that there is clear and compelling evidence of biological differences that affect athletic results, and there is no such clear and compelling evidence regarding political success (or political participation). Maybe there are such differences, maybe there aren’t. Maybe the question is too charged for there to even be any credible research on whether there is or not. But since the non-biological factors are much more obviously present, maybe the question ought to wait until those have been eliminated. “Maybe women just naturally aren’t interested in politics” may become a more reasonable thing to say if the gap still remains after the obvious mechanisms of discrimination are gone, but we’re not there yet.

          • lvlln says:

            @random832

            the difference is that there is clear and compelling evidence of biological differences that affect athletic results, and there is no such clear and compelling evidence regarding political success (or political participation).

            I agree that there is no clear and compelling evidence regarding political success or participation differences between the genders due to biological reasons. At least, I’ve seen none that are clear and compelling, much less anywhere near as clear and compelling as related to athletic results.

            But that’s neither here nor there. What’s actually relevant is, is there clear and compelling evidence that there are no biological differences between the genders regarding political results or participation? If we can confidently answer Yes to this question, then the US Senate absolutely should be roughly 51F-49M with some error in either direction, and any significant or sustained deviation from that would be evidence that we have not achieved egalitarianism.

            But, as far as I can tell, we can’t confidently answer Yes to that question. I know I can’t. And as long as we don’t know with some level of confidence that there are no biological differences between the genders when it comes to political success or participation, setting a 51F-49M US Senate split as a goal seems to be putting the cart before the horse.

            Again, if the goal isn’t egalitarianism but rather equity, that seems just fine. For that, the mechanisms are irrelevant and we just want to get US Senate to roughly have the same demographic split as the population at large, by hook or by crook. I’m sympathetic to this point of view.

            EDIT:

            Maybe there are such differences, maybe there aren’t. Maybe the question is too charged for there to even be any credible research on whether there is or not. But since the non-biological factors are much more obviously present, maybe the question ought to wait until those have been eliminated. “Maybe women just naturally aren’t interested in politics” may become a more reasonable thing to say if the gap still remains after the obvious mechanisms of discrimination are gone, but we’re not there yet.

            This sub-thread is specifically about the assertion that 51F-49M US Senate as a specific indicator that shows that egalitarian feminism has been achieved. If the obvious mechanisms of discrimination are there, then it would make sense to point to those obvious mechanisms and elimination of them as the indicator, rather than the 51F-49M split. The US Senate population is at best a weak downstream indicator that is muddled by the big big unknown regarding biological factors. Obviously present discriminatory factors are, by definition, obvious and discriminatory, so they would be both non-controversial and properly reflect the discrimination women or men are facing in the political system.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @lvlln
            The US Senate population is at best a weak downstream indicator

            For my point, being a downstream indicator is a feature.

          • lvlln says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            Sure, but even granting that being downstream is a feature, it’s still got the fatal problem of being muddled by biological factors we don’t know and don’t get to just assume don’t exist.

            Again, that’s unless you mean that this would be the result of society-wide bioengineering in order to completely destroy any biological factors that might exist, or perhaps a radical transformation of the means by which US Senators are selected. But, again, I don’t think that’s what’s generally understood by “egalitarianism.”

          • Chalid says:

            Doing international comparisons of legislatures would seem to be an obvious next step. There is wide variation in the fraction of women in legislatures and I think it would be challenging to attribute that to biological sex differences (is there so big a genetic difference between Chileans and Argentinians?) – so it seems natural to conclude that culture and institutions do have a pretty big impact and are worth examining.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          For instance, there’s no good reason to believe that a Senate candidate of one gender would be particularly more attractive to voters of the same gender

          The mechanism I see is that in a gender-blind culture, the voters would not care what gender a candidate was. Most pools of possible candidates would be at about 50/50 already, because of equal opportunity all the way up the pipeline/s.

          • lvlln says:

            Equal opportunity all the way up the pipelines is clearly an egalitarian goal, almost by definition, I think. I think it requires a huge unwarranted assumption to believe that such a situation would lead to most pools of possible candidates being at about 50F/50M. It very well may cause such a pool split. It might also actually cause 100F/0M, in which case aiming for a 51F-49M split in US Senate would be very poor goal when it comes to achieving egalitarianism. I don’t know, and as far as I know, no one does.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ lvlln

            I’m not very interested in egalitarianism for all irt all. T_L used the term ‘egalitarian feminism’ iirc after defining it to mean egalitarian relation between men and women – what I call gender-blind/ness. I try to avoid using the e-word or related words, for reasons described in my reply to HBC a couple of hours ago.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most pools of possible candidates would be at about 50/50 already, because of equal opportunity all the way up the pipeline/s.

            In order to get 50/50, you need equal opportunity plus equal aptitude plus equal desire. When you always implicitly assert the latter two without defending them, the rest of us learn to roll our eyes and move on when you take the stage.

            Eyes rolled, moving on.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            We don’t know one way or the other. There’s no point in spending bandwidth saying “We don’t know”.

          • John Schilling says:

            We don’t know one way or the other.

            We don’t know one way or another whether the relevant physical facts make it possible for 51/49 gender equality to be achieved across professions without explicitly sexist quotas or the equivalent, yet you specify 51/49 gender equality across professions as the only acceptable victory condition in the struggle against sexism?

            We may not know one way or another, but I think you are being selectively disingenuous in pretending you haven’t firmly made up your mind.

          • lvlln says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            We don’t know one way or the other. There’s no point in spending bandwidth saying “We don’t know”.

            Exactly. Which is why having a goal that implicitly assumes “We DO know, and the answer is there are no such differences” is so problematic.

            Again, unless your actual goal is just 51F/49M result by hook or by crook. But I think it’s clear that that’s not what’s generally understood by the idea of feminism being egalitarian.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @lvlln
            Which is why having a goal that implicitly assumes

            When you say “Which is why having a goal that implicitly assumes” — you’re making several assumptions right there. I’m not going to try to untangle, here and now, all the assumptions about assumptions in this thread.

            Speaking of assumptions, I hope no one has assumed I’m the kind of feminist that attacks geeks/nerds. We Second Wave feminists are with Marlo Thomas, seeing non-sterotypical women as natural allies of non-sterotypical men.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @houseboatonastyx

        Some of my reply below has, I think, been duplicated already. Blame my infrequent post windows. Anyway, so, senate representation as a metric:

        That makes sense as a nice quantifiable goal. I’m curious, though: Is that a predictive metric? Are you saying that you believe that, ceteris paribus, the number of men and women in high political office would match or nearly match the sex ratio of the population at large?

        Or is it a normative one? That is, regardless of whether that would be true given a natural and bias-free society, we need to MAKE it true in order to achieve proper representation of female interests in politics?

        Is it a mix of both?

        And to clarify, since I’m not sure if that last question was intended to just be humorous in general or a dig in response to me apparently saying “shut up and go away”, I was not asking “when will you shut up and go away”. More trying to elucidate the distance between your perspective and my own. If I need to explicitly state my position on various feminist issues I suppose I can, but that’s not really the point.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @Trofim_Lysenko

          Anyway, so, senate representation as a metric:
          That makes sense as a nice quantifiable goal. I’m curious, though: Is that a predictive metric?

          On a quick look-up, dunno from ‘predictive metric’. Where you say ‘predictive’ vs ‘normative’, I might say ‘descriptive’ (which it was) vs ‘prescriptive’ (which it was not).

          Are you saying that you believe that, ceteris paribus, the number of men and women in high political office would match or nearly match the sex ratio of the population at large?

          Basically yes.

          51F-49M would be getting warm, anyway. A Schelling Point for beginning to even think about considering slacking off pushing for certain 1970s goals as achieved, though they would still need eternal vigilance (ie defense).

          If I need to explicitly state my position on various feminist issues I suppose I can, but that’s not really the point.

          Please don’t 😉 That would lead into a three-way debate among you, me, and the Third Wavers.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Houseboat

            As I explained to Brad above, I am pretty skeptical in general of claims that we can confidently use numerical distributions in order to determine equality and the presence or absence of bias.

            To be clear, that is not the same thing as saying “I don’t think there should be more female politicians”. On that, I am neither opposed nor in favor, since it seems orthogonal to any of the qualities I care about in a politician.

    • JonathanD says:

      So, having let this sit for a day, more articulate people than me have made most of the points I’d want to make better than I can. I’ll start by conceding that most of the legal work is done. What we’re working at now (IMO) is cultural, and as maybe_slytherin says, therefore hard to measure.

      I’m on my second marriage. My ex-wife was a civil engineer. She would say that she had never been to a job site where she didn’t have to prove herself to the (almost exclusively male) construction crew, and that that was a common experience among the women in her role and something men didn’t have to put up with. I can offer a handful of anecdotes if you’re interested.

      My wife is a priest in the Episcopal church. She’s writing a paper right now on the gender inequity in our church. It’s extensive, though again, not formalized. But both in and out of the church, a woman in a collar gets very different treatment than a man in one.

      So here’s a victory condition. When crappy things happen to a woman, because she’s a woman, and she goes and tells her friends or professional network about it, the response is usually an outpouring of “me too” stories, because this stuff is incredibly common. When gender motivated bad stuff happens and women relating said stuff to their networks are met instead with sympathy and surprise – because it’s so rare – then we’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

      • lvlln says:

        That seems to be a very vague victory condition. How do we tell if it’s been achieved? How rare is “so rare?” Does every single network where women relating gender motivated bad stuff have to be met with surprise because it’s so rare, or is it x% of networks, or is just one network enough? And how do we observe and weigh these interactions and networks?

        Furthermore, it seems that in order to achieve that victory condition, it’s far more important to manipulate people’s perceptions of – and tendency to complain about – gender motivated bad stuff happening than actually changing the rate of gender motivated bad stuff happening. I believe studies tend to show that people are bad at determining if they’re being treated fairly, and they tend to err on the side that there is bias that is creating disadvantage for them. This indicates that even creating a perfectly egalitarian society might not be enough to cause complaints of gender motivated bad stuff happening to become rare for certain values of rare. Not unless people’s perceptions or tendency to complain were also adjusted downward.

        And maybe that’s not a bad goal, but I don’t think being less likely to perceive and complain about gender related bad stuff fits in with the egalitarian goals of feminism.

      • Zodiac says:

        Since feminism is always mixed up with equality I feel inclined to ask if we extend this standard to men.
        Duringmy school time there were many male students that felt unfairly treated by teachers fo being male. Usually when they said this the reaction was the accusation that they are bad students and deserve it (which was somewhat the case but in their perception the female students weren’t better and got a free pass).

      • SomethingElse says:

        So here’s a victory condition. When crappy things happen to a woman, because she’s a woman, and she goes and tells her friends or professional network about it, the response is usually an outpouring of “me too” stories, because this stuff is incredibly common.

        It would be good to have a base rate for this sort of thing before treating the frequency of anecdotes as evidence. It seems to me like nearly everyone I have ever known can tell a number of similar stories where their experiences are particularly trying or their achievements particularly impressive.

        What percentage of working people can tell a story of each of these types?
        “My boss is especially incompetent because…”
        “My job is particularly stressful because …”
        “The team I work on is especially competent because …”
        “People think [BadThing] about members of my profession, but what they don’t understand is [GoodThing].”

        What percentage of teenagers can come up with some kind of story to participate in a conversation of the following sorts?
        “My parents are borderline abusive, for example [Anecdote].”
        “My problems are especially complicated and deep because …”
        “Most of my peers are shallow and conventional, whereas I am more [Attribute], for example [Anecdote].”

        Now I am sure that women Civil Engineers having to prove themselves is actually a thing, but so are bad bosses and domineering parents. If people have a general tendency to construct self-lionizing narratives (and I am pretty sure they do), they will still tend to do so within a) the actual conditions of the world and b) the familiar tropes which are likely to be believed by an audience.

        So the actual signal of “Lots of women can tell a story to the effect that they are discriminated against” needs to be corrected by some factor like:
        (Feminist Culture Share) + P(Self-Lionizing Narrative)

        • Artificirius says:

          Have you considered the fact that being tested might be a fundamental part of certain fields? That this isn’t a case of women and only women are tested to see if they can hold up?

          • JonathanD says:

            @Artificirius, In this particular case, yes. Said ex-wife had a wide acquaintance, and the sort of hazing she dealt with was met with surprise and disbelief on the male side of the profession.

            Example (probably the worst): “Well, a lady engineer. Neat. It’s cold out sweetie. Why don’t you just sit up in your car and when we’re ready we’ll have you come down here and put your stamp on our work. Thanks.”

            Not only was this sort of thing not a familiar experience to male engineers, they had trouble believing someone would think they could get away with such a thing and would even try it, whereas to her female engineer friends this was a particularly bad example of a reasonably common story.

            Probably everyone does get tested in a field like that. But women get tested in more severe and demeaning ways. (For those who are curious, she had that guy off the job site by noon.)

            I should caveat here that some years have passed. The quotes are approximate and the details may not be exact.

          • Artificirius says:

            I wouldn’t call that being tested or asked to prove herself. And I am not surprised at her colleagues reactions. (Similarly, I am also astounded that someone would actually say something like that and think they would get away with it, though I suppose it does depend exactly how long ago said incident took place)

            Leaving the anecdote aside, I expect that both men and women experience testing, hazing etc by their colleagues for their suitability in their job in jobs, particularly where said jobs are formerly/currently male dominated. Some percentage of those incidents will solely be because the target was a woman, some will not, and approximately zero will be because the target was a man.

            Efforts to stamp out the first will likely fail to distinguish between the first and second, whether by intent or not. Similarities between the second and the third will be ignored. Particularly brutal forms of hazing will be stamped out across the board, though I expect more tolerance for instances when the targets are men than women.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Hard as hell to measure in an objective or systematic fashion, but I’d agree that would seem to be significant. I’ve had mostly female friends for most of my life (add in my current workplace and I think the Army was the only time I was in a traditionally male-dominated environment), and the incidence rate among them for stalker/creep behavior online and IRL is 100%, and for some form of sexual assault is at least 33%.

        My perception from combining friends’ accounts with discussions in and about the workplace is that creep behavior is fairly common in general, but is very unevenly distributed, and that Scott very much has a point in his old posts about the messaging mostly missing or bouncing off the people who are actually the problem.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @JonathanD
        I’ll start by conceding that most of the legal work is done.

        I disagree. A lot of lip service has been passed, but some of it needs teeth.

    • Dahlen says:

      I’m a fairly atypical feminist, in that my focus is not on the usual talking points of abortion, equal representation, the glass ceiling and the wage gap, etc., and neither do I come from the privilege theory tradition, or from the side of the movement that neglects the role of biology. Still, my thoughts on gender issues lean pretty unambiguously feminist, in the broad understanding of the word, and maybe I am eligible for answering this question. Here’s why I still get worked up on gender issues, and still find it worth my while to push for some change.

      1) I believe sexism is, in some sense, innate. Males greatly exceed females in most measures of aggressiveness, lust, and desire for high status, and in exercising these drives over women they often make them suffer, from the household level to the cultural-institutional level; and, unlike the case of male-male competition, women can’t or won’t fight back symmetrically, or commensurately. Sexual conflict is a determinant of poor relationships between the sexes in many animal species (and while you’re on the page, I’d like you to pay particular attention to The Chart, which is probably foundational to my kind of feminism). The particularities of the male sexuality (high libido, extremely excitable sexual organs, desire for sky-high frequency of sex, polygamous tendencies, no compunctions about sex with strangers, occasional lack of investment in children), coupled with their exact opposites in female sexuality (moderate/low libido in most cases, low sexual excitability often up to anorgasmia, occasional pain during sex, unwanted pregnancies, higher susceptibility to STDs, sexuality often conditional on romantic attachment) means the sexes are poorly calibrated for one another, in ways that often cause women to get the shorter end of the stick. Societal factors such as concomitant slut-demand and slut-shaming (for lack of a better term), homosociality (which can cause some men to have literally no use for women other than for sex), gender roles that work towards widening the existing discrepancies rather than building bridges, androcentrism, and this weird thing humans do where male and female efforts towards attractiveness diverge (in plain English, men don’t pay enough attention to their looks despite not being sufficiently in-demand, while women obsess over looks which earns them even more unwanted attention) — these all work towards aggravating gender issues.

      When you notice these sorts of things, you may be inclined to embrace human nature and go full Red Pill, and I have no doubt that the guys who do are at least partly in it because it’s the narrative that validates their worst parts. If the red pill theory actually followed the norms of science as it likes to brag, they probably should be made to declare a conflict of interests, at the very least. But I went the other way and arrived to the conclusion that it’s probably more ethical and pro-social to side with the women here, because their interests in these respects seem to be more conducive to the interests of society as a whole.

      This is why I don’t think one can put an end to gender issues, maybe unless there starts to be some selection pressure in favour of less “problematic” men and more agenty, willful, capable women. I think that, if there is to be eugenic pressure, it might as well be in that direction, but since I’m too useless at genetics to have any right to an opinion about the possibility to select for sex-linked traits, I’m not going to talk about this too loudly or too often.

      In that sense, no, I don’t think feminism is ever going to “win”. You can’t win against nature, even when nature proves to be rather disappointing in the moral realm. It may affect some segments of society utterly disproportionately, but it can’t be anything more than a weak opposing force to the kind of sexism that does most harm. You may as well ask when we are going to stop policing, providing healthcare, or educating our children. I do think, however, that feminists could use engaging in some less stupid forms of activism.

      2) Yes, we’re in the 21st century, but by definition that means that the 19th and 20th centuries weren’t so long ago. In many countries, there are people alive who lived to see women not being allowed to vote; marital rape not being a thing, legally; arranged marriages happening constantly, etc. You can’t change mentalities on something as profound as this in just a hundred years; if it appears you did, you should look harder for what you’re missing. We still have a lot of artifacts, more or less obvious, left over from very very sexist eras. A sense of historical perspective is of much use here. A hundred years really isn’t all that much.

      3) I don’t exactly live in a Western country. One could say that it is in the process of Westernisation, but some cultural trends from the West, such as feminism, diffuse into our cultural milieu with much difficulty. A majority of our male population, and, very importantly, the culturally dominant part, is represented by douches. Gopniks, as they’re sometimes called. Chavs. Scumbag Steves. All brawn and no brain. Just the opposite of gentlemen. Even some of those who have managed to join the ranks of the upper middle class still have lots of chavish traits carried over from the environment they grew up in, the people they spend time with and so on. The good parts of the patriarchy have gone on to a better place, but the bad parts have stayed with us. Any attempt to even bring up feminism is met with relentless mockery; it’s like Breitbart the whole country over. Even much of the womenfolk have adapted so as to live in symbiosis with these guys. There’s nothing anybody can do about this, except emigrate. This makes me think I really don’t think we’ve reached peak feminism yet.

      My usual reaction when I hear feminism-related stories from America is bafflement. And what adds another layer of confusion is all the extremist backlash I see online, to the extent that it makes me wonder what is worse: a society with ubiquitous garden-variety sexism, or a society with a feminist mainstream and a Literally Taliban fringe.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        This is by far the most persuasive variety of feminism I’ve ever encountered. I wonder if right-wing authoritarians would accept a feminist matriarchy to replace the old patriarchy (as a force of order and control) if the overreach of maledom were explained to them in this way. It might be a way to effect an Anschluss between authoritarian leftists and authoritarian rightists. They both basically want the same thing, but ideology has clouded their minds and made them focus on secondary rather than primary concerns. All the rightists need is a sensical argument for why a matriarchy would be, for moral reasons, a necessary foundation for any future utopian society to be built upon, rather than a patriarchy.

  24. gww says:

    The Birmingham (UK) meetup went well, we had 6 turn up which is way more than 25% of the survey’s 10, partly because we became kind of a catchment area for the north of England. We mostly just chatted; topics included introductions, SSC/LW/other-rationalist-blogs-communities-and-fiction, AI/ML, Trump/Brexit/etc as well as general chat.

    There will hopefully be another meetup in a month or so. Is there going to be a way of announcing these? Perhaps Scott is planning a regular meetup thread or something? I have emails for people who attended, but more than one person came because they just so happened to be nearby, so something like LW’s map might be useful.

  25. J Mann says:

    I would be sad if I wasn’t in the same half as my favorite commenters, whether it was by chance or by schoolyard pick.

    I’d much rather see Reddit style sorting and a client that could collapse and expand threads, but my next best choice is status quo.

  26. Matt M says:

    Question for John Schilling re: North Korea

    I recently attended a right/libertarian conference and during a panel discussion, an audience member asked the following question:

    “Why are we so sure North Korea has nuclear weapons? Critical mass for a nuclear weapon is considered to be 15 kilotons, but their tests have only been 1 kiloton, which can be achieved with a really large fertilizer bomb” (I may be messing up the numbers/units here)

    The response from a member of the panel who described themselves as a lifelong member of the “intelligence community” who still had many high level contacts in various agencies replied “Many people in the intelligence community are not convinced they have nuclear weapons, for the reasoning you just described. It’s entirely possible all of their tests so far have been of conventional weapons.” (I’m paraphrasing here)

    Is this plausible? What are your thoughts here generally?

    • bean says:

      No, it’s not. Their first tests were failures (and they failed in a way previously considered impossible) but their most recent tests have in fact has the seismic signatures of ~15 kT weapons. Of course, they’re claiming more because they don’t want to admit that they screwed up the first couple so badly, but they do have the weapons.

    • Nornagest says:

      The minimum yield for nuclear weapons isn’t 15 kt; 15 kt is what we could squeeze out of very early nuclear weapons with very smart people working on the problem. I can find references to small tactical weapons yielding 0.5 kt on Wikipedia, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen yields as low as 200 t elsewhere but I can’t find the reference.

      • bean says:

        Not exactly. 10-15 kT is sort of the natural yield of an early nuclear weapon. To get a lower yield, the easiest way is basically to take a high-yield weapon and then make it less efficient. There’s no reason to expect the Norks to do that intentionally. They’re interested in strategic weapons (and yields), not tactical ones, and even if they were interested in tactical yields, they’d probably test full-power first to make sure their data is clean. Efficient low yields take a lot of design art, which they simply don’t have, and have no reason to develop.

    • John Schilling says:

      First, “critical mass” for a nuclear weapon isn’t 15 kilotons, it is exactly zero kilotons. In order to achieve any nuclear yield at all, you have to have a supercritical mass, with the yield depending (among other things) on the degree of criticality. Note in particular that the United States has produced and still maintains many nuclear weapons with yields of less than 15 kilotons and even less than one kiloton.

      Second, North Korea’s nuclear tests have had yields of (roughly) 0.5 kilotons, 5 kilotons, 10 kilotons, 10 kilotons, and 20 kilotons. There are reliable reports, that I haven’t quite been able to confirm, that the North Koreans preannounced their first two tests to China as “expect a four-kiloton blast today”. That’s quite a bit more than one kiloton.

      Third, the easiest sort of nuclear device to develop, will have a yield of about twenty kilotons. It will also be too heavy to use as a weapon in the modern era. Nor will it have any other utility – in particular, it will not be useful as a learning experience, because it tells you nothing that isn’t already tabulated in textbooks and it doesn’t resolve any of the difficulties associated with building lightweight, deliverable nuclear weapons. Also also, it is almost impossible to screw up if you try to build such a device, and almost certainly impossible to screw up twice – if your first attempt produces any yield at all, your ne