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Open Thread 77.25

This is the (late) twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit, the SSC Discord server, or the Cafe Chesscourt forum.

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1,214 Responses to Open Thread 77.25

  1. phil says:

    Any thoughts on the phrase “concern trolling” as used here http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/06/bret_stephens_is_an_expert_concern_troll.html

    I don’t have any particular opinion on the root argument here, but its hard for me to not equate the use of “concern trolling” with “Person disagreed with me, was polite/nice while doing so, other people might be positively inclined to consider his ideas due to his politeness/niceness, therefore, I am against his politeness/niceness”

    “Concern Trolling” as a concept, doesn’t seem like a helpful concept for anything other than political point scoring

    am I thinking about this wrong?

    • dodrian says:

      I’m also skeptical based on the repeated claim of “Person carefully selected data and points to disagree with and ended up misrepresenting the original view they were arguing against.” Hmmm, that sounds to me like, I dunno, all of journalism?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      So here’s an oversimplified model that I think captures the idea: we can’t engage with every argument, so we have to triage. We try to listen to some number of arguments from people who basically agree with us but might have insights we don’t and some​ number from those who disagree and want to change our mind on a large scale. A concern troll is someone from the latter group who tries to make us count them against the former quota.

      • gbdub says:

        But then aren’t you just triaging based on who’s making the argument, rather than whether the argument is any good? Only listening to people who don’t want to change your mind isn’t exactly a virtue.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          I think it’s a practical necessity to sometimes use info outside the argument. For one thing, deciding which arguments to read in the first place has to be based on something other than their contents. But also whether to debate with someone can depend on whether you think they have an open mind on the issue.

          • gbdub says:

            You don’t have to engage directly with a concern troll to engage with the concern raised. It’s either worth considering, in which case you should answer it, at least for yourself, or it’s not, in which case you should say so.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yeah, I think that’s what “concern trolling” originally meant, people invading an advanced forum and trying to make it re-litigate basic topics. But this particular article is about a NYT columnist. But Stephens isn’t an invader; the paper invited him specifically for long-distance engagement. If Oremus wants the NYT to be an echo chamber, he should condemn the editors, not Stephens. Moreover, the NYT is a focal point for long-distance engagement. People who want to do it should engage with Stephens, instead of being tempted by all the local “concern trolls.”

        So I think Phil’s equation is quite accurate for this piece.

    • gbdub says:

      The only objectionable thing about concern trolling is the disingenuousness – claiming to care about something you don’t, in order to persuade people who do care about that thing into doing something you want for other, unstated reasons.

      But armchair psychoanalyzing to “prove” that someone is concern trolling is, to me, equally irritating, and that Slate article has that in spades.

      The thing about concern trolls is that they might well be raising valid concerns. If they do, an accusation of concern trolling is just an ad hominem that doesn’t address the concern raised. And Oremus (the Slate author) even admits that Stephens does raise a real concern! But rather than focusing on the much stronger part of his argument, namely that he believes Stephens’ concerns can be adequately addressed, he just links to those better arguments and goes off on an extended ad hominem rant about how it’s “clear” what Stephens’ “really believes”, simply because Oremus disagrees with the arguments raised in Stephens’ earlier columns.

      Oremus also does another annoying rhetorical trick – he writes something like “concern trolling is that thing wildly over diagnosed on Twitter”, thus casually deflecting any critiqueson the form of his argument (oh no, you’re thinking of those crazy Tweeters, not me) without ever fully explaining why his accusation of concern trolling is much better.

      Anyway the whole piece comes off as basically “Bret Stephens is a dangerous nonbeliever – shun him!” rather than a rational counterpoint to Stephens’ actual column.

      I think concerned contrarians are important contributors to a healthy ideology, particularly one that hopes to make progress on a controversial topic in a democracy. When the movement stars trying to eject them for being impure, that’s a bad look, and leads to dogma, not truth.

      TL; DR closing thoughts: “I disagree with A, because reason X, which I know you don’t care about. But you do care about Y, and should disagree with A for that reason” is a perfectly valid argument. That’s just targeting your pitch to your audience – I don’t see any reason why someone must feel strongly about Y to be allowed to raise it as an issue.

      “Concern trolling” only happens when you intentionally conceal X as your major motivation. And even then, an accusation of concern trolling is just an ad hominem, it doesn’t sufficiently address Y.

      • Brad says:

        “Concern trolling” only happens when you intentionally conceal X as your major motivation. And even then, an accusation of concern trolling is just an ad hominem, it doesn’t sufficiently address Y.

        It’s true that accusing someone of concern trolling is ad hominem and doesn’t strictly go to the merits, but concern trolling doesn’t go to the merits either.

        When someone says “I’m one of you, I agree with what you are trying to do, but here are my concerns” that’s not logical reasoning. That’s an appeal to emotion. So at that point both sides are playing rhetorical games.

        • Odovacer says:

          When someone says “I’m one of you, I agree with what you are trying to do, but here are my concerns” that’s not logical reasoning. That’s an appeal to emotion. So at that point both sides are playing rhetorical games.

          I really don’t understand concern trolling. What’s wrong with voicing one’s concerns? Does a person have to agree with everything in a group/party/whatever so as not to be labeled a “concern troll”.

          Edit: I understand this definition. That “concern trolling” is someone lying to you about supporting something or being part of a group. However, many times people can support/be a part and still have reservations or different ideas. That doesn’t mean they’re trolling!

          • Matt M says:

            What’s wrong with voicing one’s concerns?

            The point is that the concerns are probably not legitimately held.

            Say I go to a left-leaning climate change blog, and I don’t believe in climate change, I’m a big free market guy who wants the private sector to sort it all out and it’s probably a hoax by the Chinese anyway.

            I know if I say THAT, everyone will dismiss me as a stupid troll.

            But I also know that if I say something like “My concern with these global emissions treaties is that they place an undue burden on developing nations who have suffered too long at the hands of colonialism, capitalism, and other western evils” they may in fact listen to me and re-evaluate their support for such a treaty. It is at least a little disingenuous, on my part, to make an argument I don’t truly believe for the sole purpose of getting the other side to agree with my positions under reasoning more palatable to their own sensibilities.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            The problem is that many people fail to believe that certain positions can be genuinely held, so there is a large risk that the accusation of ‘concern trolling’ simply becomes a generic accusation of all beliefs that are just outside the Overton window of the accuser. Then the result can be that the slightly heterodox people are run off, shrinking the Overton window. Then the new slightly heterodox people are run off, until the community counts 1 person.

          • gbdub says:

            How is that any more disingenuous than “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”? You and I both want something, but for different reasons. You’re saying it’s disingenuous of me to appeal to the reasons that matter to you in order to convince you – I don’t buy that, unless I’m deliberately concealing that I don’t care about your reasons, or don’t honestly believe that your reasons will be affected.

            Consider the old tagline for Miller Lite – “Great Taste, Less Filling”. You and I are debating which terrible beer to purchase for a party, Miller Lite or Coors. I prefer the taste of Miller Lite, but don’t give a damn about the “filling” part. But you’re on a diet and counting calories.

            Is it disingenuous of me to appeal to your calorie counting as a reason to choose Miller Lite, simply because I care more about the taste?

            The “worst” case scenario here is that I convince you to choose Miller Lite – and we both get something we want. That seems like a poor reason to reject this form of argument offhand.

            Or is it more disingenuous than steelmanning or “playing Devil’s Advocate”? In that case you’re explicitly arguing for things you don’t believe or don’t care about, but trying to bring up the best opposing arguments you can. We recognize the value of that – why not the value of having otherwise unraised concerns brought up? Maybe I don’t care about the concern. But if you would, aren’t I doing you a service by raising that concern?

          • Jiro says:

            Is it disingenuous of me to appeal to your calorie counting as a reason to choose Miller Lite, simply because I care more about the taste?

            It’s not disingenuous… as long as you tell me “well, I want you to have it at the party because of its taste, but….” The argument probably isn’t “it has fewer calories and everything else about it is exactly the same as the other choices”. Rather, you’re proposing a tradeoff, which is a matter of judgment. If you’re proposing a tradeoff and I know that the benefit you’re claiming is one you don’t care about but which you have motivation to praise, I can discount your judgment appropriately.

          • gbdub says:

            Why am I required to run off all the arguments only I care about before I can talk about the arguments only you care about?

            If I don’t care about calories, but you do, my telling you “Miller Lite has fewer calories” does not harm you in any way and in fact helps you, in that it gives you information you may not have had otherwise.

            Me telling you “I like the taste of Miller Lite better, choose it for that reason” and leaving out the calorie part, on the other hand, does harm you by leaving out information that I know would be relevant to your decision making.

            You are of course in either case entirely welcome to say “well I care about the calories but not that much, there are other things I like more about Coors”.

            Now, of course the most complete statement is “I prefer Miller Lite because of its taste, and you should prefer it too because it’s lower calorie”, but that first clause is ultimately irrelevant to your decision (except insofar as you care about my taste preference) so why does it matter if I include it or not? How does whether or not I care about Miller Lite’s calorie content affect whether or not you do?

          • Jiro says:

            Why am I required to run off all the arguments only I care about before I can talk about the arguments only you care about?

            You aren’t required to do that (not even in the narrower sense of “required to do that, if you want to be honest”).

            You are (in order to be honest) required to not conceal your bias.

            it gives you information you may not have had otherwise.

            It is trivially true that giving me extra information won’t hurt, since I could always ignore the information. But you’re not asking me to ignore the information, you’re asking me to consider it. Considering information and arguments from you may harm me, and this harm is likely to be higher if you have external motivations.

        • lvlln says:

          When someone says “I’m one of you, I agree with what you are trying to do, but here are my concerns” that’s not logical reasoning. That’s an appeal to emotion.

          I don’t see how the part I bolded necessarily follows from the previous statement. That’s entirely dependent on the actual content of those concerns. If those concerns are along the lines of, “what you are trying to do makes me feel bad, and you should care that I feel bad,” then absolutely it’s lacking in logical reasoning and a complete appeal to emotion. If those concerns are along the lines of “what you are trying to do has XYZ unintended consequences for ABC reasons, and I believe you would prefer not to do XYZ,” then that’s logical reasoning. There’s no guarantee that it’s good logical reasoning – ABC reasons might not exist, or they might not actually imply XYZ, or XYZ might not be something worth caring about, or any number of other problems – but at the very least, it’s a logical argument based on merits, not an appeal to emotion.

          It’s definitely possible that the vast majority of cases that are labeled “concern trolling” are cases of the former, not the latter, which would mean it’s a reasonable heuristic just to round anything labeled “concern trolling” to an appeal to emotion. But that doesn’t say much about any given individual case of something labeled “concern trolling,” which can be inspected on its merits, i.e. whether it’s an argument based on logical reasoning rather than an appeal to emotion, whether it’s a good argument based on logical reasoning rather than one filled with holes, etc. So attaching the label “concern trolling” to any specific case cannot serve to discredit that case as an appeal to emotion – at best, it opens it up to more scrutiny and skepticism to inspect its merits.

          • Brad says:

            The first part is always an appeal to emotion. It may or not be followed by logical reasoning. By the same token, it’s possible that an accusation of concern trolling can be followed up with and you’re wrong for reasons X, Y & Z. But in either case the part under focus (“I’m one of you” and “no, you are lying about being one of us”) isn’t strictly speaking germane.

          • lvlln says:

            The first part is always an appeal to emotion.

            Ah, I see. Yes, you’re right. The proper response, then, would be that the fact that you’re one of us and that you agree with what we are trying to do is a completely irrelevant point with respect to the merits of your concerns, and I don’t care that you’re one of us.

            But the concerns that are raised still need to be engaged with on their merits. Just because the 1st part is an appeal to emotion doesn’t at all discredit the actual concerns which may or may not be valid on their merits. That is to say, the statement “An accusation of concern trolling is just an ad hominem, it doesn’t sufficiently address Y” is true.

            Now, if every time something is labeled a “concern troll,” it’s of the form above where people are objecting ONLY to the “I’m one of you” part as being irrelevant, but never implies by itself that the concerns raised are incorrect (though perhaps disingenuous), then I don’t think labeling something a “concern troll” would actually be an ad hominem. But I think the reason people do consider it to be an ad hominem is that it IS sometimes – perhaps even often – invoked as a means by which to dismiss those concerns that are raised, without actually engaging with those concerns on their merits.

          • Brad says:

            But the concerns that are raised still need to be engaged with on their merits.

            Not necessarily. One could reasonably conclude as heuristic matter that it isn’t worth the time to engage on the merits with someone utilizing such a tactic. Further they might point out the tactic for the benefit of third parties that could come to a similar conclusion.

          • lvlln says:

            One could reasonably conclude as heuristic matter that it isn’t worth the time to engage on the merits with someone utilizing such a tactic.

            Whether or not such a heuristic is reasonable is up in the air, though. For it to be reasonable, at a bare minimum we’d need knowledge that some high proportion of cases that get labeled “concern trolling” posit concerns that are actually fallacious arguments or not worth engaging with for some other reason. This is, of course, regardless of the “I’m one of you” part being an appeal to emotion, since that fallacy doesn’t imply that the concern raised after is also fallacious (indeed, even the concern raised being disingenuous doesn’t imply that the concern is invalid or not worth engaging with).

            Now, the value of that “high proportion” is going to vary from person to person depending on how much they value their time versus engaging with arguments that may improve, say, their understanding of reality or their effectiveness at accomplishing their goals, etc. Someone might not want to engage with a concern unless they’re absolutely 100% sure that the argument raised in that concern is worth engaging with, while others might be willing to do so with even a 0.001% chance they might come out of the engagement without having wasted their time.

            But regardless of the subjective nature of that threshold, I don’t think there’s evidence that anyone knows the actual value of that number to such an extent to make such a heuristic a reasonable one.

            I can certainly understand someone adopting such a heuristic for the benefit of their own mental health or to preserve their free time or to optimize for pleasurable/agreeable interactions instead of conflict or some other personal reason. But then it must be acknowledged that such a heuristic isn’t designed for getting at the truth, but rather for the health/time/pleasure/etc. of the person using that heuristic. So that case wouldn’t actually tell us anything about whether or not the concern raised was valid or not.

          • gbdub says:

            But in either case the part under focus (“I’m one of you” and “no, you are lying about being one of us”) isn’t strictly speaking germane.

            Exactly, which is why I think the accusation of concern trolling should be made rarely, if at all. It immediately moves the conversation from the germane (the validity of whatever concern the concern troll raised) to the irrelevant (whether or not the concern troll is really “one of us”).

            As we see in the example: Oremus spends a whole column arguing about Stephens’ sinister hidden motives, instead of actually answering the (I would say interesting) question of how to deal with the regressive nature of carbon taxes. I personally give zero damns about what Stephens “really believes” but several damns about how a carbon tax would be implemented in practice.

          • Brad says:

            @lvlln
            We develop heuristics with incomplete information all the time. That’s part of what it means to be a heuristic in the first place. To put it into the local slang, it’s a form of Bayesian reasoning.

            And such reasoning is absolutely necessary. You can dismiss time considerations as lesser than searching for truth, but leaving yourself open to denial of service attacks is de facto a very poor strategy for seeking truth.

            Consider the math professor that reads every unsolicited manuscript that comes in the door — because after all even if such manuscripts tend to be filled with crank reasoning no one knows the precise probability than a unsolicited manuscript will be fallacious. Do you think, all other things being equal, such a professor is more or less likely than a colleague that doesn’t read unsolicited manuscripts to contribute to our understanding of mathematics?

            Maybe the heuristic is a bad one, I don’t know for sure. But given that you don’t either I don’t think you have to grounds to criticize its use when heuristics exactly like it (if not that one itself) are an unavoidable requirement for moving through life.

            I think the best response for a third party in the actual group, but with a different heuristic for the value of reading potentially good arguments, is not to try to convince those dismissing the concern troll but rather to read the concern troll’s further points yourself and rescue any which are worth rescuing.

          • gbdub says:

            Everyone has heuristics of course, but the devil is in how strict you set the filters, so “some heuristics of this form are okay, therefore this heuristic with the same form but higher gain is equally okay” is not totally valid.

            If your filter is set strict enough that an NYT columnist making an argument that you yourself admit is a relevant one is the dialogue equivalent of a denial of service attack, then I think your heuristic is too strong. And that’s the heuristic Oremus is proposing.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s easy to feel like someone on the other side is making an argument in bad faith, and a little of that feeling can make discussions a lot harder. That’s one reason we really need discussion fora where most people are actually arguing in good faith.

          • Deiseach says:

            But often the “I’m one of you, I agree with your aims” part is to try and defuse any anticipated “well, you’re one of those dirty no-good Others, of course you’d say this!” reaction. It’s trying to establish bona fides to get the person to listen to you in the first place.

            I agree it’s an appeal to emotion, but unless it’s a lie or a cover for the real reasons someone is making an objection, I don’t think that alone marks something out as “concern trolling”.

          • lvlln says:

            Consider the math professor that reads every unsolicited manuscript that comes in the door — because after all even if such manuscripts tend to be filled with crank reasoning no one knows the precise probability than a unsolicited manuscript will be fallacious. Do you think, all other things being equal, such a professor is more or less likely than a colleague that doesn’t read unsolicited manuscripts to contribute to our understanding of mathematics?

            I think a math professor would have some rationale for concluding that the heuristic that any given unsolicited manuscript isn’t worth reading, based on observed reality. That is, the observation that writing novel papers in math is pretty darn hard and is almost never done by people who aren’t both highly intelligent and highly educated. As such, any given manuscript from someone whose education level or intelligence the professor has no knowledge of is unlikely to be worth reading.

            One enlightening thing about this example is that engaging with a paper isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. The professor could read the names of the authors of the manuscript and let that guide them on whether or not to proceed reading more. And the professor can divide it even further: read the abstract, then decide whether or not to proceed; skim the rest of the manuscript, then decide whether or not to proceed; read the entire manuscript, then decide whether or not to proceed with checking references and/or deep diving into arguments.

            And indeed, I believe that a professor who follows such a heuristic would tend to be more productive than one who just throws away every manuscript. Maybe I’m wrong about the typical experience of a typical math professor, but at least my experience with math professors at my college didn’t give me the impression that they were handed random manuscripts at such a high rate that simply reading the title and authors of every manuscript that came in their doors in order to filter them out would have a noticeable negative impact on their productivity. Maybe some superstar professors whose names are known to the layman might experience that, but those people due to their celebrity have to follow different rules than the rest of us.

            In the case of something labeled a “concern troll,” it seems unlikely to me that, for most people who encounter things labeled “concern trolls,” they’re so inundated by arguments labeled “concern trolls” such that skimming the concern that’s raised in order to ascertain if it’s one worth engaging with is a significantly high cost. For someone of the stature of, say, Paul Krugman or Anita S, sure. They’re so famous that I doubt they have time to even read the names of the people who send them things that might get labeled “concern troll.”

            And, of course, pre-committing to doing a deep dive into every argument that gets labeled a “concern troll” leaves one open to abuse via DDOS or even just DOS. But no one’s talking about a deep dive for every argument they encounter that gets labeled a “concern troll.” Merely that they not dismiss it just because someone labeled the argument a “concern troll.”

            I think the best response for a third party in the actual group, but with a different heuristic for the value of reading potentially good arguments, is not to try to convince those dismissing the concern troll but rather to read the concern troll’s further points yourself and rescue any which are worth rescuing.

            I think it’s possible and good to do both. I definitely agree that the best thing to do is to engage with the point and raise them yourself if they’re valid. Unfortunately, my experience tells me that that’s a near sure-fire formula for getting one labeled a concern troll oneself. Which is why I think it’s good to do both; it may be that the only way to actually get a valid argument through to someone engaging in the “argument gets labeled ‘concern troll’ -> argument isn’t worth engaging with” heuristic is to get them to – however briefly – override that heuristic in favor of actual fundamental analysis.

            Lastly, again, I think such a heuristic of ignoring arguments that get labeled “concern trolls” can be a very healthy and good one to follow for one’s individual health and satisfaction. And it’s entirely reasonable that one would optimize for that rather than for getting at the truth or for maximizing the effectiveness of achieving political change. This isn’t a “lesser” consideration, merely a different one. It’s only “lesser” from the perspective that finding the truth is the most important value worth pursuing. In some contexts, this may be the case, but I believe that in many – likely most – other contexts, it’s not. The only issue is when someone claims to be getting at the truth while following this heuristic. If all you’re saying is that such a heuristic may be personally healthy for the individual following it, I don’t think we disagree. If you’re making the case that such a heuristic useful for landing at true conclusions, I disagree; I don’t claim that it’s certainly wrong, since I don’t have access to the underlying statistics, but I don’t think there’s enough evidence to claim that it’s true.

          • lvlln says:

            @albatross11

            It’s easy to feel like someone on the other side is making an argument in bad faith, and a little of that feeling can make discussions a lot harder. That’s one reason we really need discussion fora where most people are actually arguing in good faith.

            I agree. I’d add that, if one decides that dismissing arguments that one feels someone on the other side is making in bad faith is a good thing, then it seems likely to quickly lead to one honestly believing that every argument for a position one disagrees with is being made by the other side in bad faith. I think one way to combat that is to engage with arguments on their merits, and I think another way to combat that is to use a heuristic of requiring a very high bar before concluding that an argument is being made by the other side in bad faith. At the very least, to clear the bar should require input from some minimally invested 3rd party.

            That’s only if one is interested in getting closer to having true beliefs via valid arguments. If one wants to prioritize personal health or comfort – very worthy priorities, undoubtedly – then such a heuristic might not be ideal, and the one Brad suggested may be far better. But I think, either way, one should be honest about what one is interested in.

          • At the very least, to clear the bar should require input from some minimally invested 3rd party.

            Another solution is to argue with people you disagree with in one area but already know in another, and so can be reasonably sure that their arguments, whether or not correct, are made in good faith.

            I’ve been involved in that situation on both sides. Quite recently I had an interaction on climate issues with someone I had interacted with in the SCA context. It was clear from her FB posts that her automatic response to anyone questioning her “we are destroying the planet” views was to assume the questioner was stupid, ignorant, or evil. I don’t know whether I shook her faith in her position, but I think she at least paid more attention to my points than if she had not already had reason to know I was none of those things.

            Someone else I know from SCA and think highly of is seriously involved in online regulation issues and pretty clearly strongly in favor of policies I am inclined to be against, which makes me less sure of my position.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Do you think, all other things being equal, such a professor is more or less likely than a colleague that doesn’t read unsolicited manuscripts to contribute to our understanding of mathematics

            Bearing in mind that maths ‘cranks’ aren’t concern trolling (that implies malice), so answering yes here doesn’t apply 100% to engaging with hostile actors, yes of course such a professor is more likely to contribute to our understanding, because all else won’t be equal when someone has the ability and the willingness to engage with well meaning but confused actors and set them on the right track.

            the professor who does this will be smarter, more determined, more curious, more generous, and have more love for the field, than the average one who doesn’t, and especially than the one who makes a big show of their contempt for cranks.

            -which I think is the equivalent of the ‘concern troll’ crier, not the average professor who quietly ignores the crank because they don’t have the time/energy/interest to set them straight.

            Public discussion also isn’t a ‘field’ where you go off and solve problems by yourself using your solitary genius, or where ‘cranks’ are few and far between. (-most people are “cranks” when it comes to these kind of arguments)

            It’s one where the point is showing yourself to 1. be trustworthy, 2. have thought things through, 3. be honestly/well intentioned, 4. engagable.

            That isn’t like making discoveries in maths. It has little to do with individual undistracted intelligence.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          When someone says “I’m one of you, I agree with what you are trying to do, but here are my concerns” that’s not logical reasoning. That’s an appeal to emotion. So at that point both sides are playing rhetorical games.

          But this appeal to emotion is, essentially, an appeal to get past emotion. It’s saying “look, you can consider what I’m saying on the merits, and in fact have no reason not to”. Or at least “What I’m saying is in fact important, so please listen to it”.

          This type of group signalling pisses me off. But it’s unfortunately effective, or at least somewhat so. Unfortunately many are all too eager to keep their ingroup pure, especially these days.

      • phil says:

        This clarified my thinking here significantly, thank you

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        But armchair psychoanalyzing to “prove” that someone is concern trolling is, to me, equally irritating, and that Slate article has that in spades.

        The Slate article is pretty bad, but there’s plenty of extrinsic evidence that Bret Stephens’ NYT climate article was a concern troll. Namely everything he’d ever written about climate for the WSJ. Stephens previously had no problem expressing certainty about the lack of anthropogenic global warming. He called it “discredited,” a “mass hysteria phenomenon,” and confidently predicted temperatures would be about the same in 100 years. To an observer familiar with his past positions, it’s pretty clear that his real objection is the underlying theory, not the degree to which overenthusiastic activists elide uncertainties when discussing it.

        Now perhaps Stephens’ opinions have changed since his move from the NYT to the WSJ. But if that’s the case he should’ve made his own views the topic of his opening column and explained clearly what caused him to move off them. Then people would’ve had more confidence that his arguments weren’t just soldiers.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      I mean, bringing up reasonable seeming-concerns *can* be a fallacy. It’s one that has been discussed on this blog multiple times, under terms like “isolated demands for rigor.” I wouldn’t call it trolling, but if you bring up arguments not because you want to thoroughly discuss all the possible costs and benefits of a proposal but because you want to present a facade of unbiasedness while actually arguing for one side, that would be epistemically unvirtuous.

      Now, I have no idea if that’s what Stephens is doing, and certainly I don’t expect Slate to be capable of distinguishing between the two. In fact, it would probably difficult for anyone to say with confidence that someone else is making an isolated demand for rigor, and probably most accusations of concern trolling are unfounded. But the concept is not without merit.

      • Jiro says:

        It’s one that has been discussed on this blog multiple times, under terms like “isolated demands for rigor.”

        Or motivated reasoning.

        Concern trolling is sort of like deliberately motivated reasoning.

    • meh says:

      I feel like this is a valid way to change peoples minds. We know arguing directly opposed to someones beliefs is almost never effective, so ‘concern trolling’ is likely more effective at nudging people. The issue here is that the troll in question is nudging in a direction you are opposed to.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      as with every possible argument to sincerity, it depends if the person is being sincere or not, and also if the person is correct or not

      as usual, sincerity is indexed in a bayesian sense to correctness, under the assumption that these usually correlate and correctness is difficult to spot – in other words, someone insincere shall be assumed to be wrong. People on this site prefer the epistemic approach – is this person actually right or wrong – and so do I, for the record.

      does that clear it up sufficiently

    • hls2003 says:

      This does not at all comport with my understanding of the term “concern troll.” Concern trolling is not the same as opposition; not even the same as dishonest opposition with isolated demands for rigor, etc.

      The gravamen of concern trolling, in my opinion, is a facetious offer of advice to a party, couched in terms such that it purports to be “for their own good,” but which advice is offered by an opponent. The advice is usually either (1) deeply counter-intuitive or contradictory to what the party is currently doing, or (2) calls for the party to “save themselves” by agreeing with / acting in conformity with the opponent’s position, or (3) mocking a current strategy as being advantageous to the opponent.

      It is almost always deeply insincere, but even if it is arguably sincere, it is concern trolling if it purports to know, value, and protect the interests of the party better than the party himself.

      For example, if a hardcore Democrat partisan says “I am deeply concerned for the future of the Republican Party. I really appreciate having a healthy Republican Party in my country, and they are becoming captured by white identity politics. Therefore, for your own good, you need to repudiate this by changing your political platform to embrace affirmative action for blacks, denouncing White Privilege in a public speech, and having all current office holders in Southern states resign” – that is a concern troll.

      If a partisan Republican says “You’re cracking up, Democrats. Your rabid shouting, mobbing, and obstruction to the fairly elected President is making you look like insane idiots to the ‘Silent Majority’ who decide elections in this country. If you don’t immediately cease all this talk of ‘Resistance,’ the Democratic Party will be moribund for a generation” – that is a concern troll.

      If Mark Steyn (currently defendant in defamation lawsuit more or less for calling Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph “fraudulent”) says “Please, climate change activists, keep on trying to silence your political opponents through the courts. It makes it clear to everyone who’s embracing the thought police. It proves you don’t have any confidence in your arguments, or else you should stop litigating against people like me and embrace robust public debate of policy” – that is mostly a concern troll (also partly just invective).

      If Bret Stephens says “I don’t think the arguments supporting climate change are sound, for X reasons. Here are some other arguments to consider” – not a concern troll. That is opposition.

      • rlms says:

        Agreed. See wikipedia here. The classic example is the Republican staffer who pretended to be a Democrat on left-wing blog comment sections suggesting that it was a waste of effort running against the Republican candidate. The Democrat ultimately won.

      • rlms says:

        Agreed. See wikipedia (apparently I can’t link, it’s the internet troll page). The classic example is the Republican staffer who pretended to be a Democrat on left-wing blog comment sections suggesting that it was a waste of effort running against the Republican candidate. The Democrat ultimately won.

        • hls2003 says:

          That example (including the deception) is so extreme that I’d almost put it outside the bounds of concern trolling. From my perspective, it would have been more “the very definition of concern trolling” if the Republican staffer had admitted to being Republican, and then “advised” the Dems not to waste their resources because it was so important for them to save their dollars to compete against Bad Candidate X.

          Even though I actually thought the argument not to filibuster Gorsuch made some political sense (the argument being that Dems should have reserved the remaining institutional capital of the filibuster for a more controversial nominee, horse-trading for some concession or keeping their powder dry for the eventual replacement of Ginsberg or Kennedy), any Republican publicly making that argument to a Democrat was concern trolling.

          For me, the heart of concern trolling is not trying to pretend you are “one of them,” it is asserting that you are not “one of them” but nevertheless are going to tell them what to do out of disinterested, charitable, Christian concern for their well-being (which advice usually ends up looking like “do something that helps my side because in reality it’s for your own good.”)

          EDIT: Note that in my definition, the idea a concern troll offers may sometimes genuinely be wise. But any time you see a column begin with “A little free advice for…” it’s usually a concern troll, whether the free advice is smart or not.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        but i think it’s also worth noting that some of those statements at least appear to be true

        which is, of course, the problem; concern troll is an ad hominem shortcut (basically, “you have reason to lie) to assessing the truth of the issue.

        • hls2003 says:

          Right, absolutely. As I noted above, concern trolling doesn’t have to involve anything false or incorrect. It simply is inherently subject to heightened skepticism, on the grounds that the person offering the advice has reason to wish you ill, yet purports to be “helping.” As I understand the definition, concern trolling doesn’t get at the merits except obliquely on a heuristic level for assessing confidence; it is properly a description for an obnoxious mode of discourse.

      • carvenvisage says:

        even if it is arguably sincere, it is concern trolling

        if it’s actually sincere it obviously can’t be trolling. It’s pretty aggressive to have an accusation of malice in your name for ‘ordinary human hypocrisy, which people find it hard to escape’.

        _

        “You’re concern trolling”= you have attacked with malice towards me, you owe me.

        Sometimes it’s *actually true*, most of the time it’s just someone clumsily trying to engage with people who’s concerns they don’t understand or priorities they don’t share.

    • J Mann says:

      It’s pretty remarkable.

      To take the first accusation as an example, Oremus argues that Bret Stephens is literally lying about his opinion – that Stephens claims:

      (a) to be concerned about the possibility that a shift to a carbon tax would disproportionately burden the poor and

      (b) to intend to do some more research and update his opinions,

      when Oremus knows that:

      (a) as a former opinion editor for the Wall Street Journal, Stephens does not give a shit about the poor and quite possibly is a serial killer who preys on them in secret, known only to police as “the monocle”; and

      (b) Stephens knows full well that designs for a carbon tax are totes awesome and would not possibly be regressive once implemented by the US Congress, which has a reputation for getting this right.

      OK, if Oremus is right, then I’m not too worried about the concern trolling, which I would classify more like challenging Collins with something like “Gail, but what about the poor – aren’t you worried that cash for clunkers deprived them of cars they needed for jobs.” I’m more worried about the actual lying, which is not something I look for in a journalist.

      On the other hand, it’s a pretty serious accusation – I’m inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, at least until Oremus comes up with something from Stephens showing that he does indeed hate the poor and wish them ill.

      And of course, those are only relevant questions to an inquiry into whether Stephens is a liar. If you want to know whether a carbon tax hurts the poor, you pretty much need to look at the evidence pro and con. A tu quoque attack on Stephens isn’t super illuminating on the question, except to the extent it encourages you not to rely on appeals to the authority of random journalists’ opinions.

      • Chalid says:

        Well, if Stephens had as a WSJ opinion editor repeatedly pushed to make the tax code more regressive (seems likely, as lowering the top marginal tax rates is pretty much the #1 priority of the WSJ editorial page) then it looks pretty suspicious for him to claim that he’s very concerned about the regressivity of this particular tax. I’d certainly suspect dishonesty.

        • J Mann says:

          That’s definitely possible. I think the analysis overstates the number of supply-siders who think that it would be good policy to tax the poor, and in hundreds of columns, Stephens doesn’t ever seem to have personally endorsed raising taxes on the poor.

          It’s definitely possible that Stephens doesn’t give a shit if the poor pay more taxes, in which case he isn’t concern troll, he’s a liar. On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that he thinks that shifting the burden off the middle class and onto the poor is bad policy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            he isn’t concern troll, he’s a liar

            Concern trolling is a form of lying.

          • J Mann says:

            @HeelBearCub: I don’t think necessarily.

            I think the classic concern trolling would be a challenge to the other party – “Gail, aren’t you concerned that a carbon tax would be likely to be regressive?”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @J Mann

            Isn’t the classic form of concern trolling something like “I’m just as worried about global warming as you are, but we shouldn’t propose a carbon tax, because it’s regressive”, when the person doesn’t really care about global warming?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @J Mann/@dndnrsn:

            “Gail, aren’t you concerned that a carbon tax would be likely to be regressive?”

            My understanding of the classic concern troll is that they operate as follows:

            When a carbon tax is proposed: “I’m just concerned about the regressive affects of a carbon tax”

            When cap-and-trade is proposed: “I’m just concerned that caps will be set too high to make a difference.”

            When direct regulation of output is proposed: “I’m just concerned the regulatory agencies will be captured by the polluters”

            Every single proposed solution is rejected because of these concerns, and the aim is to take advantage of the human tendency to engage in no action in the face of uncertainty. The concern troll wants to induce uncertainty not as a means to provoke better solutions, but as a means to induce a hidden desired course of action.

          • J Mann says:

            @HeelBearCub – Huh, that definitely wasn’t how I had used it, but looking over recent internet usage, you’re absolutely right that that’s how the term is used. Thanks!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @J Mann:
            You are welcome and thanks for the acknowledgement.

    • onyomi says:

      The problem I see with this is that while it may, sometimes, refer to a real thing (people disingenuously pretending to care about things you care about in order to convince you of something, a la this meme), it is too likely to be abused in the following way:

      There are many if not most political issues where the difference is not a difference in desired outcome but a difference in ideas about how to bring about those outcomes. Believe it or not, most conservatives don’t want the poor to die in the streets due to lack of access to basic healthcare and most liberals don’t want the US to be like Venezuela. They just have different views about cause and effect.

      So if a conservative says “look, I care about the poor too, but I disagree about the best way to help them,” the default assumption should not be that the conservative’s care for the poor is fake (after all, how could anyone who cared about the poor oppose raising the minimum wage??), but that he has different ideas about how to help them. The idea of “concern trolling” justifies assuming your ideological opponents are being disingenuous when, in most cases, they probably just disagree with you about how to get where you’d both like to go.

  2. Matt M says:

    The more I read about the Portland stabbing, the more certain I am that it’s worth questioning the original narrative. A few things jump out to me in this article.

    1. Why is he in one of those glass cases like he’s Eichmann or something? Are they worried someone in the crowd is going to shoot him? Who might it be that might do that? Or perhaps they want to visually depict him in a manner typically associated with Nazis such that everyone will associate him with Nazis?

    2. He seems to be intelligent enough to realize that self defense + free speech is the only chance he has. I don’t think he has a chance in hell at getting out of this, but IF he could establish that his behavior towards the women in question was in fact lawful and was not intimidation or menacing, AND could establish that he did not start the physical confrontation and had legitimate reason to fear for his life, he may have a case here.

    3.

    Another man, Shawn Forde, also defended the girls and tried to deescalate the situation, police said. Two of the charges against Christian — unlawful use of a weapon and menacing — relate to his alleged interaction with Forde, court documents show.

    This is the first I’ve heard about this one. Apparently there was a fourth guy who was not stabbed. The only thing we know about this guy is that he tried to de-escalate the situation, apparently in contrast to the other three? And the other three were stabbed, and he was not. This suggests the motives were, in fact, at least a little bit defensive in nature and not based in hate or white supremacy or whatever.

    4.

    Police have said they were investigating a May 25 incident in which video shows Christian on a Portland train, aiming pejoratives at a conductor.
    “It looks like we have a Christian or Muslim (expletive) bus driver. I’ll stab you, too, (expletive),” he said on the video, which CNN affiliate KOIN obtained.

    If he’s such an Islamophobe, why would he use “Christian or Muslim” as if they are interchangeable? Given that we also know he spoke positively of Bernie Sanders on Facebook, perhaps instead of being a right-wing Trump supporter, he’s a Bill Maher style leftist who hates all religious people? This particular brand of hate is not at all uncommon in Portland, while being a militant white supremacist definitely is…

    • herbert herberson says:

      re: 1: Do you really think that they installed a glass box in the courtroom for this particular case just to make a oblique political association? At any rate, here’s an article discussing a crime with no particular political implications where the defendant is pictured in the same sort of box.

      re: 3: Or it suggests that he was subdued before he could attack the fourth person, or that whatever burst of emotion that had prompted his violence began to fade at that time, or even that he was acting only against the people who continued the fight after the fourth person disengaged, but that it was a fight he started and he is therefore barred from any legal or moral claim to self defense, or any number of things that didn’t occur to me in the 90 seconds I took to think about it.

      re: 4. That does support the “psychotic” case some, but it’s not like anti-Christianity is uniquely leftist. Plenty of neonazis out there who think all the trouble started when people traded in Woden for a peacenik Jew.

      (also, while Portland is famously liberal, inland Oregon is famously a hotbed of radical rightism–and his time in prison likely would have exposed him to those types)

      (also, also, there’s no question that he was at least some kind of Trump/alt-right supporter based on his social media and protest activity. the questions before the jury are whether he was some kind of Bernie-or-Bust person that went to Trump after Bernie lost, which appears to have been the case, and/or whether the basic fact is that he’s psychotic and any political activities are just outlets of that psychosis)

      • DrBeat says:

        the questions before the jury are whether he was some kind of Bernie-or-Bust person that went to Trump after Bernie lost

        I am very, very scared and despondent over this being a relevant question before any jury.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m pretty sure the actual question before the jury will be “Did this guy, in fact, stab two other people to death?” Maybe “Does he have any reasonable claim to having acted in self-defense?” I’m not sure whether the jury or the judge decides if he’s mentally incompetent in Oregon, but that’s another question that may come up. His political leanings will probably only be of interest if the prosecutor is trying to get a sentence enhancement for hate crimes, but since he’s murdered two people already, that’s probably the difference between in prison for the rest of his life or the rest of his live + epsilon.

          • Matt M says:

            Is it even technically possible to get convicted of a hate crime for murdering heterosexual white males?

          • johan_larson says:

            @Matt M

            At least in Canada, I don’t see anything that precludes hate crime statutes being used to prosecute someone who, say, advocates mass murder of specifically white people. There isn’t anything in the text that for example says the target group has to be disadvantaged.

            I have no idea what’s in case law, but I can’t imagine there’s a lot of it; these laws are pretty new.

            Here’s a good place to start:
            http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/what-counts-as-a-hate-crime-in-canada-1.3307395

          • CatCube says:

            Oregon does still have the death penalty.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            The FBI’s report on hate crimes in 2015 shows about 19% of hate crimes where the motivation was racial/ethnic hatred were against whites. So it looks like the answer is yes.

          • Eltargrim says:

            @johan:
            There’s weak evidence that, in practice, racially motivated violence against white people will not be taken as seriously as one against a minority demographic.

            That said, one data point, one judge, and the crown advanced the racially motivated theory, so it really could break either way in a given case.

    • Deiseach says:

      Going off the topic you raise in your comment here, but this part brought something to mind:

      Or perhaps they want to visually depict him in a manner typically associated with Nazis such that everyone will associate him with Nazis?

      I don’t know if you guys know about the new Wonder Woman movie. I haven’t seen it (and am not really planning to see it) but seemingly it’s set in the First World War (isn’t that a change from canon where WW was involved in the Second?) Anyway, someone on Tumblr approvingly reblogged stills from it of the Amazons taking out a German machine-gun nest on the White Cliffs of Dover(? so it looked to me, maybe it was meant to be on the French side of La Manche? But definitely white cliffs!) with a tag about “taking out Nazis”.

      This is the First World War, remember. But it would seem that “German soldiers = Nazis” no matter what, either that or they were trying to make the political point by associating that with the whole “punching Nazis” meme.

      • herbert herberson says:

        I mean, sometimes people are just ignorant.

        The choice to do WWI instead of WWII was pretty important to the plot and theme of the movie, which was Wonder Woman marveling at the senselessness of war and trying to stop it via a deus ex machina–harder to pull that off when one of the two sides are Nazis.

        • Deiseach says:

          I wondered if perhaps the film makers thought the Second World War and Nazis were over-done, so they picked the First World War instead, plus with all the Captain America movies, the Nazi-punching is associated with him so they wanted to avoid stepping on those toes, never mind that having both Cap and Wondy slugging it out with the Germans on the same battlefields at roughly the same times would be over-egging the pudding 🙂

          But yeah, looks like for some people it’s “Us versus the Germans is Us versus the Nazis alla time, alla place”.

          • Sandy says:

            There is actually a bit in the movie that shows how even the German generals were sick of the war and the whole thing was just the project of a few rampant egos.

      • John Schilling says:

        Canonically, Wonder Woman’s origin story starts in World War II; this movie shifts it to World War I specifically to avoid having Naziesque Evil Villains for most of the story. WW winds up fighting on the allied side, albeit in Belgium rather than Dover. There’s a Dover scene, but it’s where she’s waiting for a ship to the front and seeing the mangled human remnant returning from it. For most of the movie, she is on a naively optimistic quest to find and defeat the One Evil Supervillain who is making the generally good and decent German people fight such an incomprehensibly horrific war against the generally good and decent people on the allied side.

        Spoilers Below:

        She identifies what she not-unreasonably believes to be the one evil supervillain responsible. Defeats him in a brutal fight that ends with her sword run through his chest, very non-superheroic. And they don’t stop. Not the German soldiers, not the Allied ones, and not because any of them are Evil Nazis but because all of them are humans and killing each other in bloody senseless wars is part of what humans do. What she just did herself. It very nearly breaks her, and when she reinvents herself as a superhero it has to be one who brings her own very strong core principles to the fight because neither “side with the Good Guys” nor “defeat the Supervillain” is a useful guide.

        Also, because this is a Hollywood Comic-Book Movie, they then say “just kidding” and in the last act introduce an entirely new Evil Supervillain for her to kill and so immediately end World War I and save the day. I wish I were not making that up, and I wish they hadn’t have done that. But for the 80% of the movie that is really good, it’s important that the story be set in the World War that didn’t have Evil Nazis opposed by unambiguous Good Guys.

        But if Tumbler has this as Wonder Woman vs The Nazis, Tumbler is missing the point.

        • Nornagest says:

          Huh, I might actually see this now. That’s a superhero plot I haven’t seen done before, which definitely isn’t what I was getting from the trailers.

          Shame about the last 20%, though.

        • Matt M says:

          Tumbler is missing the point.

          oh, say it isn’t so 🙂

        • CatCube says:

          I can’t help but wonder if the whole “killing one guy” thing as ending WWI immediately could have been fixed with a little better storytelling. When they left Themyscira, Diana fell asleep in the Aegean sea and woke up when they were in the Thames, about to pass under Tower Bridge.*

          I think they just didn’t want to spend a few minutes explaining the travel through the Mediterranean, getting on an Allied ship to get back to the UK. Then Diana’s first exposure to Man’s World would have been making a connection in some random Italian port, plus they would have had time to discuss what they were going to do in London and couldn’t have done the fairly ridiculous spectacle of trying to herd Diana through the necessary discussion with Allied leaders about the gas factory.

          Similarly, they could have showed that killing Ares didn’t actually end the war, but that more fighting and negotiation had to happen in the time between Diana being in Belgium and her showing up in London in civilian clothes. I get the sense they were just trying to wrap the movie up and didn’t want to spend the 10 minutes.

          * I did have to go to the bathroom around this time, so maybe I missed something that explained away the sudden cross-continent jump in location. If that’s the case, I’d wonder why they didn’t use it to get to Belgium closer to their intended target.

        • Brad says:

          **** Spoilers ****

          On the “just kidding” point, it is true that after WW kills Ares the two sides throw down on that particular battlefield throw down their weapons and embrace each other. And the armistice goes through, ending the war. But we the viewer know that an ever more bloody war is coming in a few short years. I think we and WW are both supposed to be at least partly convinced by Ares speech that it isn’t him, the evil is inside man. That’s what the intro and extro are about.

          I’m sure a great story could have been told ending at the point where she kills von Gas Attack, but it would have left untied the question of whether the whole mythos of the Amazons was all nonsense or not. If you want to have a super hero movie you need some kind of explanation for the super powers, like being a Greek (demi?)god. Otherwise you are off in the land of mysterious magical realism, and that’s a whole different genre with a whole different target audience.

        • John Schilling says:

          I can’t help but wonder if the whole “killing one guy” thing as ending WWI immediately could have been fixed with a little better storytelling.

          “Fixed” in the sense of conveying useful information to a key character so she doesn’t make a big mistake, yes. Not clear that this is better storytelling, though. The ancient Greek storytellers understood that sometimes you get the best dramatic mileage by standing back and letting your prideful heroes go make their big mistakes. Since Diana of Themiscyra actually is a very proud ancient Greek about whom great stories can be told…

          If you want to have a super hero movie you need some kind of explanation for the super powers, like being a Greek (demi?)god.

          Like being sculpted from clay and infused with a divine spark by an actual Greek god, to be the champion of her people in a style of warfare that went out of style with Achilles and company, so now she has to redefine herself for a new mission in a new world?

          Works for me, and works better if we don’t have “and oh yeah, there are still Evil Demigods lurking about that have to be defeated in single combat by a Divine Hero” as a copout lurking in the wings for every unimaginative writer to come. Works better if the Old Gods are simply gone.

        • Brad says:

          Well, I’m convinced. I now like the movie less than when I left the theater.

        • Nornagest says:

          Watched it tonight. I agree with most of John’s review; I think that it was made pretty clear that killing the bad guy at the end isn’t what ended the war, but it would still have been a stronger movie without a direct confrontation with said bad guy. He’s part of the Wonder Woman mythos and he’s too heavily foreshadowed to cut totally… but there’s nothing that says we have to have two superhero fights at the end, and it’s not like there haven’t been superhero movies made before where the man behind the man gets away clean. Or they could have just ditched some of the foreshadowing.

          On the other hand, I also think they made too much of the Germans as villains — sure, it’s very explicitly a WWI movie, but we see that side using slave labor and conducting unethical experiments, and all the mooks wear (historically correct for 1918, but still) stahlhelms. They’re not Nazis, but they’re definitely Nazi-coded, and I think that weakens the plot overall. There’s more than enough horror in WWI to make convincing antagonists without delving into that stuff.

          Still, that was an hour and a half at least of A+ superhero movie — better than anything DC’s done since Dark Knight, and Marvel since… depends on your taste, but it’s been at least a couple years. So I’m not too disappointed.

    • CatCube says:

      This story at least has a very basic narrative of the events. It still elides a lot of stuff, but not nearly as much as other stories, including that CNN one.

      BLUF is that Christian was drinking on the train and started yelling epithets at the two girls. The two younger guys intervened (Namkai-Meche and Fletcher), Christian pushed Fletcher, Fletcher pushed back, then Christian started stabbing. Best (the Army vet) then moved to intervene and was himself stabbed.

      I haven’t dug up the story to post a link, but when the guy was arrested he bragged about stabbing people in the neck. Like Jared Lee Loughner, trying to get a coherent narrative out of this guy is going to be a lost cause. Contra your point 2, I don’t think there’s any considered defense here. He seems to have a…let’s say idiosyncratic view of what his rights are, similar to how sovereign citizens think that a court can’t prosecute them because of the fringe on the flag.

      For your point 4, Portland is pretty leftwing, but the rest of Oregon is not. It’s eminently believable that there are right-wing hate groups in and around Portland that filter in from the surrounding areas. There are also moderate right-wingers here (I know because I am one). As far as left wing nonsense, it’s frustrating, but it seems to be confined to protests and the like. I wore an Army uniform every weekday on the MAX during my commute to work for two years, and never once had a problem. The left wingers are out there, they’re crazy, but they only get themselves wound up in large groups and not on an individual basis.

    • J Mann says:

      Does anybody have background about the “March for Free Speech” that Christian attended? I’ve heard it called “right-wing” and “alt-right,” but I can’t find much contemporaneous coverage about who organized the march or what it was about.

      Christian seems like a nut. Some of his postings are clearly anti-racist, others look fairly racist.

      http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2017/05/who_is_jeremy_christian_facebo.html

    • carvenvisage says:

      This suggests the motives were, in fact, at least a little bit defensive in nature and not based in hate or white supremacy or whatever.

      It’s only ‘defensive’, if you ignore the part where he (allegedly) harassed a whole carriage shouting for ages then stabbed the first guys to get angry about it. What’s the guys excuse, ‘he felt unsafe’? Well what about the whole carriage of people he was acting like an unhinged lunatic in close proximity to?

      If I’m determined to keep abusing people, and escalate situations so that people who try reasoning/deescalation give up, it’s not ‘defensive’ for me to reescalate the situation when people are finally provoked to try more active measures, because them doing so is predictable and my fault.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The rules are, if you’re a crazy homeless guy in our society, you’re allowed to be as verbally abusive as you want and if anyone does anything about it, they’re at fault for poking the crazy. You’re also allowed to be physically abusive to a limited degree, slapping anyone who comes within range, for instance. The authorities will do nothing about this, because as a crazy homeless guy you’re too much of a pain in the ass to deal with. If anyone does anything to you, they _will_ be punished, as it is society’s purpose to protect the weak from the strong. If they start something verbally and you escalate to violence, THEY will be punished, again, because they should have known better.

        So no amount of verbal abuse matters a bit, because crazy homeless guys are _allowed to do that_.

        • skef says:

          This is roughly in the spirit, but you’re missing the liberty angle. Matt M should start a freedom patrol. They will ride the buses and light rail looking for injustice. When men start screaming at teenagers, they will do nothing. It is only when someone gets up to try to run interference that they will spring into action: “Excuse me, this is public transportation! Let the man have his say!”

          • Matt M says:

            Society distinguishes between physical and verbal confrontations, and for good reason. If you choose to escalate a verbal confrontation into a physical one, you do so at your own risk, and I don’t feel especially sorry for you if the result goes poorly for you.

            Don’t start a fight you aren’t equipped to win.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Matt, you are talking like they physically attacked him and he retaliated. I have found no proof that this is so and it’s hard to believe that he would be on trial for murder if this is what happened; at the very least there would be the argument of self-defense, despite the political atmosphere.

            If not, then they escalated a verbal confrontation into a verbal confrontation, and he killed them.

            As a side note: just take the loss. The man was an avowed white supremacist, he murdered people after harassing Muslim girls. That’s a loss. I took it; you can take it too.

            Oh, and an edit:

            Prosecutors who have reviewed videos and interviews with witnesses say in court papers that Christian yelled hateful comments at two black girls, one of whom was wearing an Islamic head covering called a hijab.
            When the girls moved away from Christian, he made a sudden move toward Namkai-Meche. The two got into a confrontation, prompting Fletcher to stand up.
            Christian shoved Fletcher in the chest and then pulled out a knife that he concealed in his right hand, prosecutor Ryan Lufkin wrote. Fletcher pushed Christian back, causing him to stumble.
            Christian asked Fletcher to “Hit me again!” as Fletcher kept telling him to get off the train.
            Christian then stabbed Fletcher, Namkai-Meche and a third man who intervened, Best.

            Looks like he himself escalated the situation by shoving someone. That person did shove him back, obviously, but he was the one who escalated the situation, and apparently took the return of his shove as a cue to start knifing away. Fuck this guy.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve never claimed he’s innocent. Merely pointing out some questionable holes in the established narrative. It can have a few holes and be over-exaggerated and the guy still be guilty of murder.

            There’s probably some middle ground between “this guy is probably a murderer but surely the people he killed didn’t make the wisest decisions themselves” and “the guys who confronted him saved those poor girls from an evil assault and are truly heroes”

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I’ve never claimed he’s innocent. Merely pointing out some questionable holes in the established narrative.

            OK, then let’s go over those holes:

            1. Why is he in one of those glass cases like he’s Eichmann or something?

            Explained upthread, though of course he might as well be a Nazi anyhow.

            2.AND could establish that he did not start the physical confrontation and had legitimate reason to fear for his life, he may have a case here.

            Yes, this is technically true. Unfortunately, as I noted, this is not what happened; by all accounts he shoved first.

            3. This is the first I’ve heard about this one. Apparently there was a fourth guy who was not stabbed. The only thing we know about this guy is that he tried to de-escalate the situation, apparently in contrast to the other three? And the other three were stabbed, and he was not. This suggests the motives were, in fact, at least a little bit defensive in nature and not based in hate or white supremacy or whatever.

            From the quote you posted,

            Another man, Shawn Forde, also defended the girls and tried to deescalate the situation, police said. Two of the charges against Christian — unlawful use of a weapon and menacing — relate to his alleged interaction with Forde, court documents show.

            It sounds like he tried to de-escalate the situation and was menaced with a knife. At the very least, as a result of this interaction the killer was also charged with unlawful use of a weapon and menacing. Does that really sound like self-defense to you?

            If he’s such an Islamophobe, why would he use “Christian or Muslim” as if they are interchangeable?

            Because he’s a white nationalist and an atheist? The two aren’t mutually exclusive, you know.

            Given that we also know he spoke positively of Bernie Sanders on Facebook, perhaps instead of being a right-wing Trump supporter, he’s a Bill Maher style leftist who hates all religious people? This particular brand of hate is not at all uncommon in Portland, while being a militant white supremacist definitely is…

            On his Facebook page, Christian shared a post with a video and photo of him performing a Nazi salute during the march. In a comment on his page Christian proclaimed, “I am White and a Nationalist for Vinland.”

            It’s fine to ask questions. But try asking Google, instead of Slate Star Codex. And be advised: sometimes, there is no middle ground, and you’ve just got a man stabbing necks for no good reason.

          • Matt M says:

            And be advised: sometimes, there is no middle ground, and you’ve just got a man stabbing necks for no good reason.

            Sure, although I’d suggest that the “good” is doing some work in that statement. He stabbed necks because some Portland dudes decided to “stand up to hate speech” or what have you. And this was the result.

            I’m not trying to say Christian is a persecuted hero. But I think I am trying to say that his victims probably aren’t heroes either. And the way that this incident is being used as an excuse for the mayor of Portland to deny the constitutional right of free speech and assembly to right-wing groups bothers me a lot.

            But it doesn’t really matter. You and I are already 10x more informed on the specifics of this case than the average person is. The media narrative is “deranged Islamophobic Trump supporter was assaulting Muslim girls and these guys heroically gave their lives to protect them” and I don’t think that narrative is accurate. So long as we can agree that said narrative is at least highly exaggerated and generalized, I’m satisfied here.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Sure, although I’d suggest that the “good” is doing some work in that statement. He stabbed necks because some Portland dudes decided to “stand up to hate speech” or what have you. And this was the result.

            They stood up to harassment on public transport. Let’s ignore the aspect of hate speech for the moment; look at this quote:

            They had tried to intervene, police said, after another passenger began “ranting and raving” and shouting anti-Muslim insults at two young women.

            He was ranting at them, raving at them, and insulting them. Why shouldn’t bystanders attempt to intervene? Maybe it was a dumb move because they got killed, but there was nothing morally wrong with it. These kids tried to be heroes, and got killed for it.

            But I think I am trying to say that his victims probably aren’t heroes either.

            Yeah, there’s a reason I called them heroes to preface this quote. You can argue that what they did was dumb heroism, but heroes are dumb. On top of that, such dumb heroism is our best hope to solve these types of problems without resorting to constant government interventionism, in the form of increased law enforcement. So I support it, and I imagine you do too.

            And the way that this incident is being used as an excuse for the mayor of Portland to deny the constitutional right of free speech and assembly to right-wing groups bothers me a lot.

            Yes, me too. But it is a powerful excuse. You cannot deny this.

            But it doesn’t really matter. You and I are already 10x more informed on the specifics of this case than the average person is. The media narrative is “deranged Islamophobic Trump supporter was assaulting Muslim girls and these guys heroically gave their lives to protect them” and I don’t think that narrative is accurate. So long as we can agree that said narrative is at least highly exaggerated and generalized, I’m satisfied here.

            We can’t.

            I haven’t seen a lot of people call him a Trump supporter. In fact, I just Googled again and I can’t see that. But either way, he did at points support Trump and seemed very much “anti-globalist”. What I have seen people call him is a “white nationalist”. This is true.

            On top of that, the guy clearly had a hatred of Muslims. And a hatred of Jews. That’s usual for white nationalists. The hatred of Christians seems semi-conditional, but even so; he hated all three major religions. But he only ended up harassing one, and seemed to have far stronger condemnations of it.

            So sure, the media narrative is slightly overblown. But it’s basically 90% accurate.

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            And the way that this incident is being used as an excuse for the mayor of Portland to deny the constitutional right of free speech and assembly to right-wing groups bothers me a lot.

            Is there an incident here I’m not aware of? I knew about the cancelling of a parade due to refusals of the police to make an effort to protect the Republican Party marchers, but that was before the stabbing; AFAICT it was the main reason for Christian’s actions.

            There were marches last Sunday by “right-wing” groups and counterprotests, but since I was out of town with a shitty internet connection I didn’t bother reading news stories about who it was, and CNN can’t be trusted to honestly report the stances of right-wing groups so I don’t know the breakdown of who it was, exactly. I didn’t get my train from the airport delayed late in the day, so it probably didn’t devolve into riots.

          • Matt M says:

            Maybe it was a dumb move because they got killed, but there was nothing morally wrong with it. These kids tried to be heroes, and got killed for it.

            I mean fine. I guess in a general sense it’s cool for people to think this is a good idea. But I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to any of my friends or family.

            “Shouting anti-Muslim slurs”, to me, does not rise to the level of “this is a situation where I must intervene.” But maybe I’m just a coward. Then again, I’m an alive coward.

          • Matt M says:

            Cat,

            The mayor of Portland has refused to grant permits for alt-right protests on city property, and has urged the feds to do the same (they won’t) while invoking the completely incorrect “hate speech is not protected” lie that we keep hearing more and more often.

          • John Schilling says:

            What about, e.g., people shouting at their waitress for being five minutes late with a cup of coffee, or airline gate agents for saying that the flight is overbooked? You just never speak up for those being verbally abused, and speak of this here with self-approval rather than shame?

          • carvenvisage says:

            @John Schilling

            There’s no way a normal red faced guy in a restaurant is as threatening as this guy. You can watch videos of him ranting the day before about how he was going to stab people, and as well as the crazy he’s also a hulking neanderthal-looking dude. Crazy is another level from belligerent.

          • carvenvisage says:

            “Shouting anti-Muslim slurs”, to me, does not rise to the level of “this is a situation where I must intervene

            This makes it sound like the guy was just minding his own business but sadly suffering from tourettes.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not sure of the wisdom of intervening with the obvious crazy guy, but I’d much rather live in a society where screaming insults and threats at a couple women on public transit gets the men in the car to get between you and them and tell you to shut up. My guess is that this guy was one of the many crazy people walking the streets that should instead be in some institution somewhere, so that public spaces and public transit is safe for everyone else.

  3. rahien.din says:

    Thank you to everyone who answered my questions in OT 76.75. I really enjoyed reading your generous and thoughtful responses.

    Here’s to another installment. As always, I want to learn more about modern conservatism. To that end, I want to ask specific questions, and I’m hoping you will answer. If there’s an obvious follow-up question, or I need clarification, I will ask other questions. Otherwise, my default setting is shut up and listen.

    Next questions :
    1. What would you like me to read? Books, essays, blogs, magazines, historical texts, etc.
    2. What do you think are the major threats facing America, from within and without, in terms of existential risk and in terms of unacceptable societal change?

    As always, I would ask two favors, because if this erupts into a massively multiplayer online mutual blowtorching, I will not learn anything and might get banhammered. Firstly, Red Tribers : I think it would be easiest to learn from conservative ideas allowed to stand on their own, without resorting to mere opposition to liberal ideas (though, obviously, if I ask what you don’t like about a certain liberal idea, that’s unavoidable). Second, Blue Tribers : I hope you will let any responses stand on their own, without any attempt to rebut them / pick a fight / sneer / etc. Even if you think something is flat wrong, please try to hold your peace in my subthread.

    Edit: Thanks, Vermillion. If I can find a good link to Heaney’s “Terminus,” I’ll put that somewhere.

    • Vermillion says:

      That link to the poem doesn’t work FYI.

      Edit: Glad you noticed before the edit timer was up, looking forward to the upcoming responses.

    • bintchaos says:

      I would like to point out Dr. Hsu ‘s climate science thread…as a window into conservative thought.
      Its pretty fascinating.. a beautifully articulated window into the science/anti-science issue.
      https://infoproc.blogspot.fr/2017/06/epistemic-caution-and-climate-change.html

    • commenter#1 says:

      1. It’s realllllllly long. But I’ve always considered Atlas Shrugged to be Grey Tribe’s magnum opus F-You to the Blue Tribe. As in: this is the logical extreme of what happens when a society elevates compassion over reason as a guiding principle.

      For more traditional conservative perspective, A Tale of Two Cities or Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France are classic take downs of utopian impulses.

      2. Idiocracy – i.e. exponential breeding of the permanent underclass. I personally know multiple men who are between 30 and 35 years old, have between 6-7 children, with 3-4 significant others, and they’re not done yet! All of the children are on welfare. All of the mothers are on welfare. There is an actual line to get child support because the fathers don’t make enough to support all of the children through wage garnishment. For some of them, this behavior is already 2-3 generations in.

      I’m all for welfare to support the unfortunate and the unlucky. But reliance on public support requires giving up some options. People on the public dole should have mandatory, long-lasting birth control – either depo shots or IUD’s.

      • Nornagest says:

        Hopefully I have enough Gray Tribe bona fides around here to say this without it coming off as sneering, but: the first third of Atlas Shrugged would be an outstanding Gray Tribe manifesto. But when you pull in the other two thirds, it’s no good — the message the plot ends up pushing is effectively “we’re fucked, and the only thing that can save us is class warfare”. Not Marxist class warfare, but class warfare nonetheless — and where the standards for being part of the productive class are set so high that practically no one meets them. It is incredibly alienating, and for a lot of people I can see it subverting the book’s best and most important point up to then, which is “it’s okay to work for yourself”.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          An important secondary point is that there’s a difference between getting money and getting paid for useful work, but it’s quite possible to get rich doing useful work.

      • People on the public dole should have mandatory, long-lasting birth control – either depo shots or IUD’s.

        Way to reign in the power of the state!

        • Anonymous says:

          Just give the females an education and the males an ample supply of video games and porn. That’ll take care of most instances of reproduction right quick.

      • Garrett says:

        As a Gray Triber, on Atlas Shrugged:

        Atlas Shrugged is a very important book for me in that it bootstrapped my journey into philosophy and also pushed me into atheism. I agree on its importance. At the same time, I’m a person who re-reads books routinely for fun and I’ve never managed to re-read Atlas Shrugged because it’s a pretty terrible book as far as writing goes.

        If your goal is to engage in one of the shared experiences of the Gray tribe, by all means, read the book. It’s got one of the highest pages-per-dollar ratios you’ll find in a mass-market paperback.

        If your goal is to understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy, I’d highly recommend Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. This is a pop-philosophy book which goes into great detail the underlying ideas. The first 3 chapters are a bit of a drag because there’s a lot of argumentation that “A is A”. But after that point things become much more relatable. And you’ll quickly be able to see how much public presentation of her arguments is just … wrong.

    • Space Viking says:

      For me, conservatism flows from biology, which, as a former left-libertarian – now alt-right – I was insufficiently familiar with. Read Greg Cochran’s book, The Ten Thousand Year Explosion, and then read his blog, West Hunter, including the archives. They’re not long, and were endlessly fascinating to me even when I was on the left. You’ll also see West Hunter in Scott Alexander’s blogroll. The implications of biology formed the intellectual root of my conservatism.

      The emotional root of my conservatism comes from art, and the sense of continuity with Western civilization. See Lord Clark’s classic art history series, Civilisation.

      As for threats to America, this is what keeps the right up at night:

      1. Nuclear war. This has been the primary threat unceasingly since 1949, and is the main reason I and others in my conservative bubble voted against Hillary Clinton.

      2. Demographic change. Low-IQ mass immigration, unless halted, will change America into a middle-income country. If you import Mexico long enough, you become Mexico. This threatens our culture, our standard of living, our physical safety, and our crucially important global role as the engine of scientific and technological progress. Mexicans are bad enough, Muslims and Africans are worse. It must be stopped soon, as immigrant birth rates are high, and even then, we’ll need incentives for recent immigrants to leave.

      3. The Left. I don’t mean left-libertarians and classical liberals – they are few in number and harmless enough – I mean the rising left: socialists and SJWs and ethnic identitarians. What we see in universities today is the future. Unless stopped soon, their attacks on us and everything we believe in will lead to civil war: not now, but once they’ve locked in a permanent majority due to demographic change, and lose all constraint. Immigrants vote mostly for the Democrats; young immigrants, overwhelmingly so.

      4. Terrorism, mostly due to tail risks: suitcase nukes and bioterrorism. It also strengthens the surveillance state.

      5. Tyrannical government. The Deep State grows in power every year. Perhaps Trump can slow it down, but I doubt that he can stop it.

      As a transhumanist, I’ll add aging and AI risk, but those are not common positions on the left or right.

      • sidewalkProf says:

        Do you mind clarifying your thinking behind the 1st bullet point (nuclear war)? I feel like that point in particular is arguing by assertion. Per the spirit of the original post, I want to underscore that I’m not trying to spark a debate about the validity of the claim, I’m just interested to hear what specific evidence/beliefs/models you’re using to make the claim (assuming I’m reading it right) that “Hillary Clinton as President implies a significant increase in the risk of nuclear war, which is not implied by the Presidency of any other candidate”. (If I misunderstood your claim, please correct me too!)

        PS. I’m a conservative from a very blue state, so while I think I’ve done well at broadening my thinking about social and philosophical issues, I readily caveat that in terms of my thinking about international-relations I’m generally stuck in a Blue Tribe bubble. So please accept the possibility of me missing something that to you is obvious.

        • Nornagest says:

          Hillary was perceived as a hawk; in particular she’d favored a no-fly zone over Syria, which would have brought a point of contention with Russia (which was, and still is, providing air support to Assad’s side and might understandably be peeved if their aircraft were being shot down).

          That particular issue probably wouldn’t have amounted to much besides the usual posturing and saber-rattling. But actual issues were scarce enough in the last election that any objective policy proposal was being interpreted far out of proportion to its object-level significance, and this was no exception. And to be fair, increasing tension with Russia probably does incrementally increase the probability of nuclear war.

          • bintchaos says:

            HRC was a hawk alright– she had seen the sims.
            ANY no-fly zone topples Assad in the simulations.
            Obama’s Red Line would have toppled Assad.

          • Hillary was perceived as a hawk;

            Was she perceived as someone who would do reckless and not listen to advisors?

          • Sandy says:

            Was she perceived as someone who would do reckless and not listen to advisors?

            She was perceived as someone who would be doling out the reckless advice herself, given that she was the one who pushed Obama into a Libyan intervention he didn’t want.

          • Nornagest says:

            @TheAncientGeek —

            From the OP:

            Blue Tribers : I hope you will let any responses stand on their own, without any attempt to rebut them / pick a fight / sneer / etc.

            I would rather honor OP’s intent in this subthread and not play gotcha games.

        • Space Viking says:

          Sure. The claim, in expanded form, is: Hillary Clinton made various brazenly anti-Russia comments during her campaign, e.g. support for a no-fly zone in Syria, support for overthrowing the Assad regime, support for providing arms to the Ukrainian government, calling a potential Russian cyberattack on the US an “act of war”. That’s all that I remember, but there were more.

          These comments are believable because Clinton is a known hawk: she was pro-Iraq War, she pushed for the Libya intervention as Secretary of State, and she tried to convince Obama to overthrow Assad.

          Compare this to Donald Trump, who expressed support for getting along with Russia and potentially allying with them against ISIS.

          Also, the Democratic Party is considerably more anti-Russia than the Republicans, except for a few neocon holdouts, so Clinton in office would have been pressured by her base to increase US-Russia tensions. If you doubt this, see the polls.

          Also, we on the right had concerns regarding Clinton’s temperament, her possible alcoholism, her health, and her good judgment — overthrowing Gaddafi was her baby, and it was disastrous. We did not trust her to make decisions of war and peace. We know that the left say similar things about Trump, and we don’t believe them.

          Note that this issue is more about individual politicians than it is left/right. Bernie’s foreign policy would have been terrible, but at least he would not have caused a nuclear war. But if John McCain were president, I would fear for my life. Conservative thinking on foreign policy is moving toward isolationism, away from neoconservatism, and toward realism, away from pro-democracy liberal interventionism.

          All of these things gave us pause. Russia is and always has been the only power capable of physically destroying the United States, so good relations are paramount, literally more important than anything else. I’m not saying that Hillary Clinton would have started a nuclear war, she probably wouldn’t have, but she would have raised the risk, and that is unacceptable.

          • sidewalkProf says:

            Thanks for expanding on this! Definitely found it valuable.

          • albatross11 says:

            An interesting question (on which I don’t have the answer, but I did think about this before the election): Were we more likely to have a nuclear war under Trump or under Clinton? It’s not obvious to me which one is more likely–Trump seemed less belligerent toward Russia[1], and maybe less enthusiastic about bombing people. On the other hand, Clinton clearly understands how to play the diplomatic/foreign policy game the way the US has always played it, and would be a lot more predictable to our allies and enemies than Trump.

            [1] At this point, Trump is probably less able than Clinton to make concessions to Russia that would make sense for keeping peace or improving relations, because anything he does will be attacked by the other side as evidence of his Russian ties. This probably makes a war with Russia slightly more likely.

          • John Schilling says:

            Much more likely to have a nuclear war under Trump. Slightly more likely to have a nuclear war with Russia under Hillary. Nuclear wars with Not Russia are about two orders of magnitude less catastrophic than nuclear wars with Russia, so on the balance I think Trump comes out the winner in this one category.

          • random832 says:

            [1] At this point, Trump is probably less able than Clinton to make concessions to Russia that would make sense for keeping peace or improving relations, because anything he does will be attacked by the other side as evidence of his Russian ties. This probably makes a war with Russia slightly more likely.

            A few weeks ago, someone here made a comment that, if not for that, Trump would make a nuclear war ultimately more likely as a future president would have to claw back whatever concessions Trump had given to Russia, after Russia had already started taking them for granted.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that the Russians are too cynical to take anything for granted.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Aapje

            ?

          • random832 says:

            Maybe not “take for granted” in the conventional sense, but I (and whoever made the original comment I’m thinking of, stated in a more explicit way than my summary) meant more along the lines of “considering it part of the new status quo, and considering its removal as ‘taking something away’ rather than ‘not giving something'”

          • bintchaos says:

            The Doomsday clock is only 2 1/2 minutes away from midnight.
            The Qatar crisis is real, complex, immediate, and was started by ONE SINGLE COMMENT from Trump.
            Israel has ~200 nukes right?

          • Aapje says:

            @random832

            I think that Putin works from an adversarial/zero sum model, where he considers people who help him to be fools who are confused or manipulated into harming themselves for the benefit of Putin/Russia.

            With such a model, you can never trust the other person to keep hitting himself.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @John Schilling

            Much more likely to have a nuclear war under Trump.

            With whom? How does the nuclear exchange play out in your mind?

          • bean says:

            The Doomsday clock is only 2 1/2 minutes away from midnight.
            The Qatar crisis is real, complex, immediate, and was started by ONE SINGLE COMMENT from Trump.
            Israel has ~200 nukes right?

            So? The Saudi nukes are in Pakistan, who hasn’t taken action against Qatar. The Israelis are probably just content to sit back with their popcorn. Why would this turn nuclear?
            The fact that the ‘doomsday clock’ is at the second-highest setting ever is just absurd, and is more a way of booing Trump than anything else. The idea that we’re closer to a global catastrophe today than we have been since 1960 is absurd.

          • bintchaos says:

            The Clock posts once a year in January– before inaugration usually– How can this be about booing Trump?
            Do you understand the extreme risk involved in the Trump/Kushner “strategy” for ME peace?

          • John Schilling says:

            With whom? How does the nuclear exchange play out in your mind?

            Most likely with Trump ordering a preemptive attack on North Korea after some ICBM test, SSB deployment, or more violent provocation. Whether because he genuinely believes North Korea is about to launch a sneak attack on the US, or because it is the only way to make good on four years of tweets about how North Korea is going to be Dealt With, Real Soon Now, or both. Trump’s preemptive attack might not be nuclear, the Pentagon would push back on that, but the North Korean response would likely escalate to nuclear levels before it was over.

            Same deal in Iran is a lower-order possibility.

            These are not, to be clear, likely outcomes. Just less unlikely than Hillary’s hypothetical nuclear war with Russia.

          • bean says:

            The Clock posts once a year in January– before inaugration usually– How can this be about booing Trump?

            You must not have been watching the same election I was. The booing started on November 9th, and hasn’t stopped since. It has nothing to do with Trump’s actual policies as implemented, and everything to do with the expectation of his policies by those who run the clock. Obama got the Peace Prize for being Not George Bush, even though he hadn’t done anything yet. This is pretty much the same.

            Do you understand the extreme risk involved in the Trump/Kushner “strategy” for ME peace?

            No, I don’t see the extreme risk. It’s a mess, but that fits both the ME and the Trump Administration.

          • bintchaos says:

            “Booing” is not a recognized input to the clock simulation. Popular vote might be. Number of protest marches probably is, but those will be incorporated into next years run.
            The Clock is a complex large scale simulation– there isnt a place to put a liberal thumb on the scales.
            BTW have you heard of Trump Repellent Theory?

            The extreme risk in the Trump/Kushner plan for ME peace (carrot and stick for covert alliance with Israel, KSA & vassals will do it, Qatar and Turkey wont) is if the general ME population realizes what is happening, and the Defenders of the Faithful and the Guardians of the Land of Two Holy Sites (House Saud) either collapses or is forced to go “full-Ottoman” to retain power. There’s a reason US has 2 airbases in Qatar and zero in the Kingdom.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            The Qatar crisis is real, complex, immediate, and was started by ONE SINGLE COMMENT from Trump.

            Evidence, please? For someone so into complexity theory, you seem to be willfully ignoring any non-Trump factors that would have gone into this situation. Qatar and the other Gulf States have agency and their own agendas that helped get them into their mess.

          • John Schilling says:

            Donald Trump has made a grand total of two tweets that even mention Qatar, the earliest of which was on June 6, 2017 at 07:06:35 AM (presumably EDT). That was the day after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Egypt, the Maldives, and Bahrain had all separately announced that they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve wondered whether cutting off Qatar is Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Egypt, the Maldives, and Bahrain trying to show they’re willing to do something about terrorism while not actually doing anything difficult.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Booing” is not a recognized input to the clock simulation. Popular vote might be. Number of protest marches probably is, but those will be incorporated into next years run.
            The Clock is a complex large scale simulation– there isnt a place to put a liberal thumb on the scales.

            “Sitting in a room is more or less how these decisions get made. Despite science being in the Bulletin’s name, its methods are more Socratic than anything else. Every year, the ten scientists and security experts on its board gather for a one-day discussion where they review what worried them last year and anticipate new concerns. There are no minute-hand-divining devices and no instability-predicting supercomputers: ”
            R. Meyer, 2016, on the methodology of the Doomsday Clock.

            There’s nothing but thumbs on that scale. Seventeen, at last count, and with a bit of quick googling I’ll wager that ten of them are on the liberal wing of the US political spectrum with the rest more apolitical than conservative.

          • Nornagest says:

            And now I have an Iron Maiden song stuck in my head.

          • bintchaos says:

            @John Schilling
            I’m sorry, but my experience of the Clock was in a theory of computing class where we were studying large scale multimodular simulations of complex adaptive systems. I have no experience of it being instead a star-chamber of liberal extremists with their thumbs on the scale. I thought it was a large scale heavily parameterized simulation.
            Trump said he caused the split with Qatar.
            Tillerson is on today trying to do damage control.
            @Nancy Leibowitz is correct, this is really a 30 year old internal fight among GCC members, and Trump has been used to advantage KSA position. Worrisome, isnt it?
            KSA can’t change their support for Wahhabism. They tried to have a US airbase in the Kingdom and almost got toppled.
            That is why Incirlik (Turkey) and Uhdeid(Qatar) are the major bases used in the fight against IS.
            Trump just jeopardized that with a tweet.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            bintchaos, thanks for the credit but my name is Lebovitz.

          • bintchaos says:

            oh pardon…its that german W or V thing I have phonetic trouble with.
            Wont happen again.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I’ve wondered whether cutting off Qatar is Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Egypt, the Maldives, and Bahrain trying to show they’re willing to do something about terrorism while not actually doing anything difficult.

            Well, also Qatar runs Al Jazeera which frequently serves as a propaganda arm for the Muslim brotherhood, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, basically every terrorist group trying to undermine the other Sunni states in the Middle East (and Israel). It’s not exactly a good neighbor, so this seems like a good bit of detente: the other ME nations get to bring Qatar to heel with the approval of the US.

          • bintchaos says:

            Except it is thoughtless and …well stupid to alienate Turkey and Qatar which have ginormous military airfields at Incirlik (also home to the NATO nukes) and al Uhdeid (critical in the airwar against IS) by getting scammed into taking sides on a 30 year old internal GCC slap fight.
            And Trump did it at the suggestion of KSA which can neverneverever host a US base.

          • bean says:

            And Trump did it at the suggestion of KSA which can neverneverever host a US base.

            They did it in 1990. And there are lots of other options to fight ISIS. There’s Kuwait, Bahrain, Cyprus, and these weird ships with flat tops we seem to have a lot of.

          • bintchaos says:

            The problem with bombing is that because of SNT you create more terrorists than you eliminate. For example, droning. Each kill creates a minimum of at least 2 more terrorists because negative influence propagates along multiple networks including both social and kinship trusted networks.
            So US isn’t even running in place…its running backwards.
            And US only had a that base for a heartbeat– because it was destabilizing the Saudi government. Let us also remember that OBL used that (extremely short-lived) base as rational for 911, to drum up anti-US fervor among the mujahideen.
            UAE is a KSA vassal so US could conceivably build a new base there– at great cost lol… but theres still the NATO nukes at Incirlik.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Each kill creates a minimum of at least 2 more terrorists

            Interesting claim. Do you have any methodology to support this estimate?

          • bintchaos says:

            yup.
            But its classified.
            Remember COIN? US invested heavily in SNT applications to build trusted networks in Anbar?
            All those guys got fired.
            Some of them work for the Atlantic or for Brookings now.

          • Controls Freak says:

            …mind if I ask which agency you work for?

          • bintchaos says:

            pas du tout.
            But I cant tell you.
            Coates and Rogers testimony before congress was really fascinating to me.
            They had the same panicky deer-in-the-headlights look and they were supercareful about what they said–every word.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Ok. Are the reasons why you seem to treat drone strikes different from other kinetic activities also classified?

          • John Schilling says:

            But I cant tell you.

            For those who don’t know how this works: Almost everyone with a high-level security clearance is allowed to tell you which agency or contractor they work for. The ones who aren’t, also aren’t allowed to talk openly and freely about even the broad aspects of their classified work

          • bintchaos says:

            @John Schilling
            Truedat.
            For interested parties I recommend carefully scrutinizing the Weds pre-Comey testimony from Coates and Rogers.
            They have that deer-in-the-headlights look for a reason.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The ones who aren’t, also aren’t allowed to talk openly and freely about even the broad aspects of their classified work

            And, regardless of whether you work for one of those sooper-sekrit organizations, going around in public talking about how you have a security clearance is one of those things a security officer would specifically frown upon.

          • bintchaos says:

            Again…if you are curious about this.
            rewatch Coates and Rogers and see what they can and can’t say in public.

          • Deiseach says:

            The claim, in expanded form, is: Hillary Clinton made various brazenly anti-Russia comments during her campaign, e.g. support for a no-fly zone in Syria, support for overthrowing the Assad regime, support for providing arms to the Ukrainian government, calling a potential Russian cyberattack on the US an “act of war”.

            These are the reasons which would make claims of Russian state interference (Putin knew/ordered/oversaw/whatever) about the hacking and/or interference in the election believable to me – not that he was pro-Trump but that he was anti-Clinton, and for very good (from his view) reasons. That Trump managed to get the Republican nomination was just gravy on top; the main target was Clinton because of the Russian perception that if she won the election, she would be an anti-Russian hawk.

            Trump doesn’t need to be in the Russians’ pockets for this; it’s enough that he’s perceived as friendly, or at least friendlier, (and of course would like to do business with/in Russia) but the Russians would have been happy for Anyone But Hillary to win, even if it hadn’t been Trump.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I was going to be slow to call bintchaos a liar, but John kinda jumped in and did it for me. I agree with him, and I really think bintchaos is simply lying. I don’t recall Coates/Rogers talking about drone strikes, and a ctrl-f of the transcript returns zeros hits for “drone”, “strike”, “predator”, “reaper”, “UAS”, or “unmanned”. Of course, I’ll leave open the possibility that I missed something, so if you would like to point to a specific section of the transcript that is remotely relevant to a discussion of the terrorist multiplier of drone strikes, I’ll go look at that section of the video. Until then, I’m operating on the assumption that you’re just completely full of it and have no methodology to support your estimate.

          • bintchaos says:

            I’m sorry… I’m talking obliquely about clearances, loyalty oaths, and who holds your billets for your SCI/EBI. This is what I was talking about.

            The ones who aren’t, also aren’t allowed to talk openly and freely about even the broad aspects of their classified work


            That is what I meant about Coates and Rogers.
            I cant give you any specifics about drones or civilian casualties…are you nuts?
            I have said enough.
            If you are too thick to figure it out, thats okfine with me.
            @Deiseach
            remember NO ONE thought DJT would win. Not the Russians, not Trump’s own team. That is why no transition team, no lined up appointments. The Russians were just messing with us, trying to delegitimize democracy.
            I don’t think Putin is all that crazy about the randomness Trump brings to the equation, especially on Assad.

          • Matt M says:

            the main target was Clinton because of the Russian perception that if she won the election, she would be an anti-Russian hawk.

            Eh, I dunno. I see no particular reason to believe that a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush would be any better for Putin than Hillary would. Remember, back in 12, Obama was openly mocking Mitt Romney for suggesting that the Russians were probably up to no good, with the media gladly jumping on board “lol these dumb conservatives are still fighting the cold war, DONT THEY KNOW ITS OVER NOW?”.

          • John Schilling says:

            A Cruz or a Rubio seems less likely than a Clinton to have thought the poor suffering moppets of Aleppo were worth risking superpower war over.

            More importantly, if you are going to be facing a hostile president, you’d probably rather face a weak hostile president than a strong one. At the time the hacking was going on, the best bet was that Hillary was going to win, and revealing that she had conspired with the DNC against Sanders wasn’t going to change that. But it might give her a fractured base when she took office.

      • Schibes says:

        Hi Space Viking! Just as you moved from left-libertarianism to the alt-right, in perhaps a similar timeframe I have moved from conservatism to left-libertarianism. Since you judge me “harmless enough” here are some cheerful, mild rebuttals to your threats:

        1. Nuclear war. This has been the primary threat unceasingly since 1949, and is the main reason I and others in my conservative bubble voted against Hillary Clinton.

        Voting against Hillary Clinton seems to have reduced the odds of a nuclear war with Russia while greatly multiplying the risk of a nuclear exchange (let’s not call it a war per se) with North Korea. I suppose we’ve made the American mainland somewhat more safe at the expense of making our allies in South Korea and Japan significantly more vulnerable. Seems like a bit of a wash, although an amoral one.

        2. Demographic change. Low-IQ mass immigration, unless halted, will change America into a middle-income country. If you import Mexico long enough, you become Mexico… Mexicans are bad enough, Muslims and Africans are worse.

        Mexico is a Christian country and a developed country. There are many, many worse fates to befall a nation then becoming Mexico. A lot of countries would LOVE to become Mexico. Have you ever been to Mexico? I have. It’s not half bad, and if you know a little bit of Spanish you might actually enjoy yourself. As for Muslims and Africans, I don’t have any rebuttal to that other than that I was in a hospital a couple years ago being treated by a Dr. Ali who was born in Somalia and at no time was I ever in concern for my life, and I was very glad at the time, as sick as I was, that he decided to make the trip over here, because he did a fantastic job. I realize that a single Muslim terrorist attack completely negates the caring and skill of a thousand Dr. Alis, but perhaps for future generations this need not be the case.

        3. The Left. I don’t mean left-libertarians and classical liberals – they are few in number and harmless enough – I mean the rising left: socialists and SJWs and ethnic identitarians…

        Well you saw this with the Sanders campaign, every time he tried to steer the conversation back to class warfare he got derailed by identity politics. I think the moment I realized Sanders was finally toast was when Black Lives Matter hijacked one of his rallies. Don’t worry, at some point we’ll have an election based around good old fashioned class warfare again, maybe after Dodd-Frank gets repealed and the banks bugger up the economy again like in 2008 except twice as bad. Until then yes, it’s identity politics all the way down.

        4. Terrorism, mostly due to tail risks: suitcase nukes and bioterrorism. It also strengthens the surveillance state.

        I think it’s right to be concerned about those things but they would be 6th or 7th on my list of left libertarian nightmares, below things like climate change and the opioid crisis (35,000 dead last year! As many as car crashes. First time that’s ever happened. Let’s see how much that drops in 2017 now that Barney Fife General Beauregard is the attorney general).

        5. Tyrannical government. The Deep State grows in power every year. Perhaps Trump can slow it down, but I doubt that he can stop it.

        It’s been amusing me to no end watching Trump and his minions toss around the phrase “Deep State” like it’s some sort of new conspiracy to undermine America that they just uncovered when really it’s been more or less running things in this country for the last 40 years or so, if not longer. Perhaps THE seminal essay on the Deep State was published on that most solidly liberal of sites, Moyers & Company back in 2014 when Trump was still fussing over birth certificates: http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/ It’s just a sexier way of saying “Professional Bureaucracy” or if you’re feeling less charitable, “Apparat”.

    • sidewalkProf says:

      As with last time – thanks for asking this. Providing my originally-blue-tribe-now-mostly-libertarian opinions, but also excited to see what everyone else offers here.

      1. I wish I could recommend some specific really solid thing for #1, but sadly don’t have any single reference to point you at. I’d just advise reading a lot of psychology and economics, especially ones that acknowledge the divide between normative and descriptive models. Things like Freakonomics, Thinking Fast and Slow, Misbehaving, etc may or may not change your political stance (depending on your deep-seated values), but it will inevitably make you (this is the generic you, not making any assertions about where you specifically are on this spectrum) able to spend more time discussing things in effective-tactics space rather than in emotional-space. I think Freakonomics’s discussion of things like how Roe v Wade decreased the crime rate is a great example (and, if we’re forced to classify it, is actually a blue-tribe anecdote, as most reasonable people will read it as an argument in favor of allowing abortions) – it demonstrates how what looks like a discussion about values, sanctity of human life, etc has huge side effects – which sometimes are (arguably) large enough in scale to become more relevant than the first-order consequences of the decision entirely.

      Re: 2, honestly I think it’s just scale/complexity/ego depletion. In my particular values system, my happiness is deeply intertwined with the degree to which I’m able to model the world around me accurately. So for me, greater complexity is *always* a huge negative, and of the time spent thinking about the “big” questions, I’m usually focused on “how can we reduce this problem to something where a single human fully understands what’s happening to them?” (For a bit of grounding, this leads me to beliefs like “we should enforce every single law on the books every single opportunity we have”, because I’d much rather live in a world where the model is simple – what’s written down explicitly – compared to one with intricate, maddening complexities of human nature, precedent, interpretations, etc.

      To reframe that in the context of your original question – the threat facing America (or at least its citizens) is our need to maintain ourselves in *all* respects as a single entity.

      Apologies, I’m prone to rambling so trying to be concise here, but please speak up if you’re confused about what I’m saying here and I’ll try to clarify.

      • Deiseach says:

        if we’re forced to classify it, is actually a blue-tribe anecdote, as most reasonable people will read it as an argument in favor of allowing abortions

        Yeah, but doesn’t that cut across other Blue Tribe values, if the solution to the problem of poverty and disadvantage comes down to “kill the poor”?

        • Loquat says:

          Probably depends on your prior view on abortion, IMO. If you already think of abortion as killing a baby, then it’s “killing the poor”; if you already think of abortion for financial reasons as a morally acceptable choice then it shows abortion results in fewer unwanted children growing up in poverty and turning to crime plus maybe the women who aborted went on to have other children later in life when they could give them a better start.

          So, the word “reasonable” is maybe not the most accurate option in the above sentence, and might be better replaced with “pro-choice”.

    • albatross11 says:

      I’m not exactly a conservative (more of a lapsed libertarian), but I will recommend Thomas Sowell’s book _Knowledge and Decisions_ as one that I found useful in understanding the world from a conservative perspective. A major theme in the book is how a lot of decisionmaking processes get broken because the people pushing for the decision don’t have any way of knowing how it’s working out–they get no effective feedback. (I recall he talked about this w.r.t. judicial activism in particular–a judge ends up making a decision in court without any real way of gauging how that decision actually works out, and no mechanism for any effective feedback to arrive to tell him how to make better decisions next time.)

      (It’s important to distinguish Thomas Sowell the newspaper columnist, whose columns were mostly generic bashing of the other side, from Thomas Sowell the writer of deep and interesting books. Same guy, but very different quality of output.)

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      What should you read?
      Proverbs from the Bible.
      Anna Karenina, because the family and family life are central to conservatism and the novel explores all the problems that prevent good family formation.
      Les Employes,/i> Balzac followed by The Firm and The Problem of Social Cost by Coase

      Biggest threat is likely the various pension systems over the next 30 years, as multiple societies both age and grow slowly.

      However, the threat I suspect we’re least prepared to deal with would be global agriculture over the next century if solar cycle 25 follows 24’s and trends toward a grand minimum or the overdue mega quake/tsunami on the Juan de Fuca Plate.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m a very conservative libertarian, and strongly religious: I think if you let people alone, and use force only to sustain exit rights, the societies they build will be very conservative.

      In ascending order of required commitment, reading I’d suggest.
      Doug Muder, Red Family Blue Family: Making Sense of the Values Issue. From the left, but gives a very fair description of the right. (Note that I think that describing the key conservative constituency at this time as the “married working class” rather than the “white working class” captures the key difference better.)

      Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, well summarized here. The book is higher-commitment, but the link is a good starting point.

      The last chapter of The Bell Curve; not the part about intelligence, but the final chapter, saying “so, if intelligence varies, and isn’t really mutable, what kind of society should we build? We should build a society with clear, understandable rules, in which you don’t need to be smart to have a valued place.”

      Erik von Kuenelt-Leddihn, Leftism: from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, the introduction and the first four chapters. It’s available as a PDF download. It provides a very useful guide to some distinctions that are important to conservative thinking (freedom vs tolerance, fairness vs equality). It is not hard to read, but it’s a dense book.

      On number 2, the major threat facing America is the break-down of the institutions that support family formation and maintenance. The out-of-wedlock birth rate has skyrocketed (3.1% and 24% for white and blacks respectively in 1965, 18% and 64% respectively now), and the divorce rate has risen hugely over the same time frame. As a result, the percent of children under 18 living with both parents has fallen from around 85% to around 65%. Key institutions, in my mind, are a strong stigma for divorce and cohabitation outside marriage (say, as strong as for smoking in the office); a labor market designed to prioritize two-parent, one-income families; and churches that can mobilize the needed support for caring for a small child.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      If you can tolerate partisan writing, a good sample of the conservative blogosphere can be found at National Review and at the Federalist.

      NRO uses a huge variety of writers, of widely varying quality – some are thoughtful and insightful, some are mostly bomb-throwers. Each has his or her own hobbyhorse that she relentlessly promotes. They do a good job representing a broad spectrum of conservative opinion on the news of the day, but they’re also heavily anti-Trump (they even devoted a whole issue to attacking him), so I can’t say that they’re representative of the entire right wing.

      The Federalist is similar. I like their content, but they’re often less wonky and more social war-y than NR. They trend more towards traditional social conservatism, I think.

      Reason, of course, is a popular libertarian site.

      As for books, I can only echo what others have written. Thomas Sowell. Charles Murray. Victor Davis Hanson does great ancient history, but also insists on analyzing modern culture as if he were a 5th-century BC Mediterranean olive farmer. William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale is a good intro to “mainstream” conservatism as of the ’50s, and lots of right-wingers are heir to that tradition.

    • acrimonymous says:

      I think you need to define what you want more precisely.

      I, for one, don’t see much continuity between what I thought of as conservatism when I was in university circa 1995 and what is called conservatism today.
      Also, I went to a well-regarded but extremely liberal university and often had cordial discussions with people. Today, I never talk to anyone about politics except very occasionally, as now, as a fly-by Internet comment.

      Do you want to understand conservatism as a political movement? Then there are books like The Unadjusted Man and The Roots of American Order that can give you a taste of where things were in the past. Are you looking for a book that provides a cogent “pro-conservative” argument in the context of modern US politics? I don’t think such a thing exists. If you can hold your nose long enough, you can try We Are Doomed by the infamous John Derbyshire. This is an interesting book because it was written before his ouster from National Review magazine, and as such represents a bridge between the NR coalition that William F. Buckley created (that is now, I believe, defunct) and the modern-day “alt-right” movement. I think it probably is a fair demonstration of what refugees from the NR coalition were thinking about at the time and how they ended up drifting away.

      The notion that there is a series of readings that can convince one of Conservatism the way one might be convinced of Utilitarianism is mistaken. People end up as conservatives because of their total life experiences. That said, Tom Wolfe and Peter Singer had notable influences on me. I recognize From Bauhaus to Our House and some of Singer’s essays as prompting inchoate perspectives to be more structured. In the case of Singer, I got to some point at which I couldn’t argue with Singer’s reasoning but his conclusions I regarded as crazy, and so I decided to reject some of the premises. That’s how I ended up on the new right. In the case of Bauhaus, as you may know, there is nothing in there that comes close to a political program. Just, if it prompts you to think, it prompts you to think.

      As far as threats are concerned, “existential” has to be defined more specifically as well. AI is a different kind of existential threat than immigration and both are different from the rise of China. The question is complicated by the fact that much of what concerns me as “threat” has already taken place. For example, the replacement of an agrarian society with a Western frontier by a non-agrarian society with 2 coasts and no frontier has already made the US a fundamentally different place than what I grew up perceiving it to be. Likewise, demographic change has already happened. It’s just working itself out now. I’ve already given up on the idea that a nation that is recognizably continuous with the historical US of A will exist into the future. What I am most concerned about now is the encroachment of laws designed to control expression, as these appear to be growing in popularity in the Anglosphere and Europe.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, I think media culture overemphasizes the political controversy of the minute (changes to details of Obamacare) at the cost of ignoring long-term stuff that matters a lot more, and is making irrevocable changes. Very often, we sleepwalk into huge permanent changes to our society with little debate, while we’re all yelling at each other about some burning issue that has little impact on the world.

        Our immigration policies are one example–it’s not clear the changes we’ve made to our society this way were a bad idea, exactly, but we’ve substantially changed the makeup of our country (hispanics are now a larger group than blacks) over the course of a couple generations, with very little actual discussion of the matter in public. Sometimes, the discussion was suppressed by calling opposition to immigration racism, but more often, it was just that more immigration was in the short-term interests of most of the powerful people in our society, so there wasn’t really a large well-funded opposition. In general, if the leadership of both parties is in favor of something, it really isn’t up for debate, even if much of the public opposes it. (See also: bank bailouts, the war on drugs, the ever-growing surveillance state.)

        Another example is the growth of the use of the criminal justice system as a local revenue source, with all the corruption that implies. It’s happened quietly over many years, but seldom become a major political issue, I guess because both Republican and Democratic local governments do it.

        We do sometimes talk about the growth of entitlements, but it seems like almost no surface-level political controversy considers the fact that the discretionary budget gets smaller every year, leaving less and less room for any kind of new policies or response to a current crisis. A large chunk of the budget is tied up in things we’ve promised to various interest groups–social security, medicare, medicaid, etc, that almost can’t be changed. This is probably more important than the next 30 political controversies of the moment, but it’s kinda boring and hard to visualize, so we mostly ignore it.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Interesting point about the discretionary budget. This could form part of a vicious cycle with partisanship: (1) When your party is in power, you want to commit as many resources as permanently as possible, since the other side is just going to blow it all on tax cuts/handouts anyway. (2) Since so much of the budget has been committed, every policy change activates someone’s loss aversion, so everyone feels under attack from the other side all the time.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Another conservative blog I find worth reading is The American Interest. This is Walter Russell Mead’s usual haunt; he wrote another worthwhile book: Special Providence. Any time you see references to Jacksonians, Jeffersonians, Hamiltonians, or Wilsonians, they’re almost certainly references to the major schools of American foreign policy thought which Mead identified in that book.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Further question on reading matter: what do the conservatives here think of The American Conservative? Are they crypto-liberals? Or is it like The Intercept where they’re too purist to map onto party?

      • Alemo says:

        I read TAC daily. I wouldn’t call them crypto-liberals (maybe Millman and Larison fit that bill), but rather a mix of paleoconservatives, traditional religious conservatives, and mainstream conservatives who all oppose foreign intervention as a distinguishing point with respect to neocons.
        Their opinions slanted toward “Never Trump” with thoughtful consideration of some unique ideas he “espoused” during his campaign (isolationism, trade protectionism, skepticism of federal education policy, etc.). Rod Dreher has some interesting ideas re: traditionalism in the country’s social fabric, and his “Benedict Option” theory which calls for traditional Christians to shore up their faith in the face of Moral Therapeutic Deism, currently America’s most widely practiced form of Christianity. One idea that I’d say percolates through most of the columns is a skepticism of modernity’s (progressive’s?) desire to rework reality to fit their needs, rather than conforming to “ancient truths/traditional order/things we know to work.” Lots of material to be dissected.

    • Civilis says:

      1. No idea. Most of the places I used to recommend have dropped in relative value since the 2016 election. Best I can say is get a good spectrum, and read some of the comment sections, even (especially) a few of the ones filled with the low-information flame wars. If you want to pull America together, these are the people you’re going to need to persuade.

      2. Biggest long term risk is the erosion of trust at the center of American society, which can be traced back as a root of a lot of American problems. I don’t think there’s any existential threat or external problem the US faces at this point absent this social breakdown of American society. (Yes, some Russian bunker operator could accidentally cross a few wires and trigger a missile launch, or the SMOD could finally show up, or any number of other rare catastrophic things we can’t really do anything about could occur. Worrying about those won’t make them go away, and won’t really help.)

      Society only functions when people trust enough in society to make small sacrifices for the greater good because it will work out better for them and their descendants in the long term. We’ve gotten to the point where that trust is basically gone for enough people that society is starting to fail. The US has never been perfect; there were valid reasons to have shame for our ancestor’s treatment of blacks and native Americans, for example. The problem is that we’ve gone from ‘what did we do wrong and what do we need to change’ to ‘what did they do wrong and what do they need to change’ where there is no reason to change one’s self.

      In the interest of not turning this into a blame game, as that’s not the point of this exercise and contributes to the very problem I’m describing, I’m going to leave it at that for now.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Most of the places I used to recommend have dropped in relative value since the 2016 election.

        Ditto. If you’d asked me a year and change ago, I’d’ve recommended The Economist. But their Trump hysteria pushed me away pretty hard (“fucksake, I was counting you guys to be the ones who actually know how to fight this guy, but noooo, you’re just doing shriller and shriller pearl-clutching like everyone else”). I’m hoping that it’s gotten better post-election, but haven’t quite emerged from my Non-political Podcasts detox to check yet.

        • albatross11 says:

          Amen. Trump strikes me as a uniquely awful choice for president, and yet, the most visible and loud of the people pushing back against him are nuttier than a boxcar full of fruitcakes. I suspect this has to do with the feedback loop created by social media and the attention economy, but there’s probably a lot else going on, too.

          I’d like a rational resistance to Trump. Fortunately, he’s his own resistance (inductance?)–so far, he’s ineffectual at governing and mainly good at getting attention. But he can still damage institutions and alliances that we will miss when they’re gone, and help drive the country toward ever-less-rational political debate.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Yep. And, like Dan Carlin says (ok fine I have one exception to no-politics), Trump getting elected has been really damaging to the cause of those who want a [competent] outsider elected. It’s really rather depressing to think that for at least the next 20-30 years the response will be “What? No. No no no. Did you see what happened last time we tried that?! We’re sticking with the swamp candidates from now on.”

          • hls2003 says:

            I look at Trump as a symptom of a decayed electorate, not a cause. That’s the electorate as a whole, not just the conservatives, so the unbearable nuttiness of the portion of the electorate who opposes him is equally predicted.

        • bintchaos says:

          Has anyone recommended the Unz Review?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Are they really a modern American conservative source?

          • bintchaos says:

            You tell me…
            Dr. Cochran, John Derbyshire, and Steve Sailer are contributors.
            Razib Khan was until recently.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I would say that modern mainstream American conservatism is much more finance-friendly, less nativist, etc. The Buchanan wing of the Republican party has shrivelled, Derbyshire got booted from NR, etc.

          • bintchaos says:

            Derbyshire and Dr Cochran and Steve Sailer are at Unz.
            So was Razib Khan until very recently.
            How are these people not a part of the conservative coalition?
            Are they somehow excommunicated from the church of conservatism?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think we can call Derbyshire getting booted from NR an excommunication, can’t we? Modern mainstream American conservatism looks rather different than Derbyshire or Sailer. Compare the Republican 2012 postmortem to the Sailer Strategy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:

            I would say that modern mainstream American conservatism is much more finance-friendly, less nativist, etc.

            CoughTrumpCough

            I’m not sure the modern conservatism you are espousing is as dominant as you think it is. The nativist streak has been there for quite a while, in uneasy alliance with finance, and social/religious conservatism and some elements of libertarianism.

            The modern Republican, of whatever stripe, has had to play ball with the white nativists. Remember that the big things Bush couldn’t get while he was still popular were immigration reform and SS privatization.

          • bintchaos says:

            well we certainly cant talk about that here… aich bee dee is a ban word.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            I read Trump as a party base revolt, in large part. You’re right it’s not absolutely dominant. But the Republican party is a lot less nativist than it used to be, less (effectively) social conservative, etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            On what are you basing the idea that the Republican Party is less nativist now than it has been? Since when?

            Reagan passed an immigration reform bill, and fairly easily IIRC. The steady movement of Southern (and rural) white conservatives into the Republican camp over the last ~60 years should have made the party more nativist, not less.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Consider how Pat Buchanan has moved from someone with influence in the Republican party to a fringe figure. Also, there’s the “What’s The Matter With Kansas” thesis – that there’s a big gap between what the Republican base wants, and what they get. For both parties, there’s a huge gap between the leadership’s position on immigration (as measured by law and policy) and what the base wants. It’s especially dramatic with the Republicans. Remember when Jeb! was going to win easy by getting Hispanics to vote Republican, and then it turned out that the Republican base disagreed with the 2012 postmortem?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            Pat Buchanan is not actively involved in anything in particular, to my knowledge. I think he was a fringier figure when he was more active, which will tend to leave you on the fringe even as your ideas tend towards mainstream.

            Folks like Steve King and Jan Brewer don’t seem to me to be really unrepresentative of a mainstream segment of the Republican Party. Look at the differing fates of Jeb and George W. (and the overall reception to their immigration proposals) to see an example of which way the party is moving.

            Your example of “the base” vs. “the elites” seems to support my contention, not yours. The primary landscape is littered with RINO scalps over the last decade. Almost of all of the “Never Trumpers” have bent the knee or are on the outside looking in. Boehner tried to get some piece parts of immigration reform through and he couldn’t do it (and eventually gave up his seat and his gavel because the party had moved out from under him on too many issues).

            Reagan got immigration reform. W. proposed immigration reform and was lauded by the party in general, but couldn’t get it passed. Rick Perry was booed (figuratively) off the stage when he proposed immigration reform.

            And Trump is president with an 80% approval rating among Republicans.

            I think the movement is pretty clear.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Buchanan was an advisor to three presidents and ran for the nomination twice. Now he writes for online magazines that sit exactly where alt-lite turns into alt-right.

            As for the rest of your points, I think that the elites usually win over the base. Sure, RINO scalps everywhere, but do the people complaining about RINOs ever get what they want? The Tea Party hasn’t led to smaller government, etc. And Jeb! was undone by the Bush name becoming toxic thanks to his brother’s awful foreign policy as much as anything else.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:

            Now he writes for online magazines that sit exactly where alt-lite turns into alt-right.

            And Steve Bannon is now in a more powerful position than Buchanan was. Buchanan caused a minor dust-up as a candidate and Trump won the primary.

            As to the elites “always winning over the base”, why didn’t immigration reform come anywhere close to passing?

            I think you are engaging in an argument that would mean that if, say, single-payer didn’t pass, it means the Democratic Party is moving right. This is a huge error. Ideological movement usually means compromised victories, not crushing conquest.

            Again, Reagan to W. to Trump. What direction is that on the immigration in terms of actual policy?

          • Matt M says:

            Didn’t Buchanan once have approximately the same role to Nixon that Bannon now has to Trump (some token official position, but mainly an informal advisor on how to reach a particular group of the electorate)

          • acrimonymous says:

            Unz hosts some conservative writers, but UR is not conservative.

            This is an interesting post, though. So far, we have got people recommending “conservative” outlets like The Economist, NRO, and the Unz Review. Thus proving my point that “conservative” today has nothing in common with the Reagan era or before and probably can’t be reasonably defined. I mean, come on–The Economist??!!

          • albatross11 says:

            Unz gives a platform to a really wide range of people, whose beliefs maybe kinda-sorta fall into a very broad “conservative” bin, but who are not in general part of the mainstream of conservative thought.

            I think Steve Sailer’s blog is one of the more interesting ones around. Muggle-realist + traditional Republican. The comment threads are usually at least somewhat worth reading.

            Greg Cochran’s blog is also worth reading, though you just have to accept that he’s going to call anyone who disagrees with him, for good or bad reasons, an idiot.

          • bintchaos says:

            I would recommend Dr. Hsu’s blog over Cochran’s or Sailer’s.
            He really rare– a theoretical physicist PhD with observable conservative tendency.
            Although he doesnt actually do theoretical physics, but adminstration and genetics.

          • CatCube says:

            @acrimonymous

            It’s worth noting that the person “recommending” the Unz Review as representative of conservatism is one of the furthest-left people on SSC.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            So, I think you are making a good point. I did not admit enough nuance when I talked about “modern mainstream conservatism” – the wing that currently leads is not truly dominant, and the way I spoke suggests it is. It’s more like a plurality.

            That said, if a majority of D voters or party members wanted single-payer, but the elected representatives didn’t work for that, it would suggest that the elected representatives are to the right of the D voters (and single payer is far more practical than “deport all the illegal immigrants”).

  4. Anonymous` says:

    I would like to continue the dark-side-of-quantum-immortality discussion from the last open thread.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      The issue is very much akin to anthropics and SSA vs. SIA. The quantum immortality idea is the SSA-like one, and says that you should only care about your average utility over branches where you’re alive and conscious, so you can happily play quantum Russian Roulette. The mainstream MW view is more like SIA: that you should care about your total utility over the tree, weighted by the Born probabilities, and thus playing quantum Russian Roulette is a horrifying waste of 1/6 of a life.

      The latter view leads to normal behavior, mostly indistinguishable from what you’d do under Copenhagen. The former view leads to all the weird eternity-of-torture stuff.

    • lvlln says:

      Kind of an aside: I would recommend the Zero Escape game series (999, Virtue’s Last Reward, and Zero Time Dilemma) as one that touches upon this topic, in a video game-specific way. Also plays with some related concepts like the Sleeping Beauty paradox and the anthropic principle

      • secret_tunnel says:

        Strongly second this recommendation. They don’t deal with any concepts that would blow a person who already knows all about this stuff’s mind, but they’re awesome mysteries that use the gaming medium to do some really really cool stuff with how they tell their stories.

    • rahien.din says:

      Ugh. The idea of quantum immortality presupposes general immortality.

      The formulation of the original problem is misleading and is prone to overextension. Suppose the following :
      – Instead of a vial of lethal gas, the box contains a gumball machine.
      – If radiodecay is not detected, the machine will dispense a gumball.
      – If radiodecay is detected, the machine stops dispensing gumballs.

      Are we forced to conclude, therefore, that in a single world of all possible worlds, the machine will dispense gumballs until the entire universe is subsumed in a giant black hole, formed from condensed gumballs, a la the mole of moles?

      No. Eventually, the machine will run out of gumballs.

      Same thing with a human life, the duration of which is not merely determined by an arbitrary experimental apparatus. Eventually, we all die. So unless the experiment has a defined length, every lifetime ends in death. One of those deaths will occur via dehydration, starvation, disease, or old age (depending on the parameters of the experiment). We can not even allow that an experimental apparatus could somehow confer immortality.

      We can only conclude that, unless the quantum suicide experiment has a limited duration, it will maximally last as long as the researcher’s natural life. Quantum immortality is possible iff general immortality is possible.

      If we are baseline immortal… then the reason why quantum immortality is worse than general immortality is precisely because you are trapped in a box for the rest of your life with a suicide machine. It seems to me that this situation is bad for a similar reason that being a non-immortal trapped in a box for the rest of your life with a suicide machine would be bad.

      • random832 says:

        I think fully general quantum immortality relies on the idea that spontaneous random changes to atoms (i.e. one of your DNA molecules rearranging itself to have longer telomeres) have a vanishingly small, but technically nonzero, probability. (but the probability of such changes resulting in you being fully healthy rather than merely technically alive is much lower) And the more certain your classical-physics death, the more proportional weight weird quantum events contribute to the timelines in which you are still alive.

        • rahien.din says:

          Ugh, that’s Science as Attire.

          Besides, that idea proves too much. By that logic, literally anything is possible, including the researcher spontaneously developing tolerance to the toxic gas, in which case they survive forever in every world. It pays no rent. You can’t take it seriously.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            The quantum immortality position, that one should maximize average utility across possible futures containing oneself, is mathematically coherent and leads to dramatically different behavior if taken seriously.

            And it’s true full stop that weird possibilities like spontaneous macroscopic changes have epsilon, rather than zero, probability.

          • rahien.din says:

            ADifferentAnonymous,

            Beliefs and ideas must pay rent by constraining expectations. Claiming that “even really weird things like macroscopic changes can have non-zero probability therefore we have to take those probabilities seriously” literally permits anything. That claim is a fake explanation.

            Mathematical coherence can not forge truth from error.

          • random832 says:

            My understanding of quantum immortality is that the point of it is that weighing events by their probability within the branches in which you are alive is as legitimate as weighing them by their probability within all possible futures including the ones where you are dead.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Rahien: If you’re maximizing average utility on branches where you survive, then weird tiny probabilities can become relevant. These aren’t lawless: physics tells us which chances are more miniscule than others. (For the rest of us, these tiny chances are implied invisible)

            Immortality people expect to experience immortality, possibly in a mangled state. They absolutely do anticipate experiences as a consequence of their belief.

          • rahien.din says:

            random832, ADifferentAnonymous,

            Back up a step.

            If we are going to be doling out probability mass, then we have to start with a reasonable idea of the base probabilities, so that we can calculate appropriate proportions.

            But epsilon is not a reasonable probability. To describe epsilon as “tiny” is to arbitrarily assign it a definite and meaningful value. In doing so, we permit everything with epsilon probability to occur and our reasoning proves too much. For instance, the probability of a metal plate becoming staying cool on the side facing a heat source, but getting hot on the other side, due to handwave-heat-conduction-handwave, is epsilon. Saying “epsilon > 0” amounts to saying “I believe that this actually could happen and you aren’t allowed to dispute that” under the guise of mathematics. It’s a fake explanation.

            Even if the underlying claim is merely “Given sufficiently numerous worlds, every thing with nonzero probability will happen,” it’s an error. It is equivalent to “It is meaningfully possible that anything with nonzero probability could happen in our world.” This claim does not merely permit us to widen our anticipations to consider that any thing could occur, it attaches an enormous caveat to any idea that does pay rent. The claim actually erodes rationality.

            Edit: sorry, wanted to include everyone

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            There are quantitative laws determining all of the tiny probabilities I’m talking about. If I accepted quantum immortality I could set about determining which seemingly-impossible extensions of my life are more probable than others, and which interventions, if any, will make it so that they’re happy ones. I would then expect to probably experience those after my natural lifespan ended. Rent would be paid.

          • Anonymous` says:

            Even if the underlying claim is merely “Given sufficiently numerous worlds, every thing with nonzero probability will happen,” it’s an error. It is equivalent to “It is meaningfully possible that anything with nonzero probability could happen in our world.”

            It is not meaningfully possible that particle-bouncing incidental immortality can happen in our world. The idea is that there could be an anthropic engine that reliably gets you to the ludicrously rare world where that does happen, and NOT the other ludicrously rare worlds where e.g. the metal plate warms on the wrong side or gumballs teleport into the gumball machine from other planets. This is what random832 and ADifferentAnonymous are referring to when they talk about averaging/weighing futures/events over only futures containing your alive self.

          • rahien.din says:

            ADifferentAnonymous,

            There are quantitative laws determining all of the tiny probabilities I’m talking about.

            This is a conceptual error.

            Epsilon is not a tiny number that we can calculate from known quantities. Epsilon is a positive number so small that if Xn falls within X∞ ±ε for a sufficiently-large n, then Xn converges to X∞, no matter how small ε becomes. It is a boundary, not a zone. If you can derive a probability from some natural law, it isn’t epsilon.

            If I accepted quantum immortality I could set about determining which seemingly-impossible extensions of my life are more probable than others, and which interventions, if any, will make it so that they’re happy ones. I would then expect to probably experience those after my natural lifespan ended. Rent would be paid.

            Incorrect.

            You can’t assume quantum immortality is true so that you can grant meaningful probabilities to seemingly-impossible circumstances in order to figure out how quantum immortality is true. This is a logical fallacy.

            Moreover, if you have somehow gotten yourself to the claim that “all seemingly-impossible circumstances are up for grabs,” you can’t then claim “we could then rule out certain circumstances as seemingly-impossible.”

          • > It pays no rent.

            MWI versus Copenhgaen pays no rent, yet the faithful are supposed to believe. Why>

          • rahien.din says:

            TheAncientGeekAKA1Z,

            That’s different. The thought process in Copenhagen vs MWI is :
            1. We have observed something weird for which there is no apparent physical explanation
            2. We must start to entertain weird hypotheses in order to develop experiments

            It pays rent once it helps us design experiments and constrain expectations.

            The thought process I object to is different :
            1. Spontaneous human immortality is seemingly impossible, but there are wildly improbable scenarios in which it could occur
            2. If spontaneous human immortality is credible, then examining the problem on vast timescales is permitted.
            3. If examining the problem on vast timescales is permitted, then we can give credence to wildly improbable scenarios
            4. If we can give credence to wildly improbable scenarios, then spontaneous human immortality is credible.

            There’s a circle in that there logic. And, it is a deadbeat idea because the statement “If examining the problem on vast timescales is permitted, then we can give credence to wildly improbable scenarios” deliberately de-constrains expectations. It is fallacious.

          • episcience says:

            rahien.din, do you deny that under quantum mechanics it is theoretically possible for the atoms in my body to spontaneously quantum tunnel in the form of a healthy 18-year-old? I’m trying to figure out the root of your disagreement here.

          • That’s different. The thought process in Copenhagen vs MWI is :
            1. We have observed something weird for which there is no apparent physical explanation
            2. We must start to entertain weird hypotheses in order to develop experiments

            To steelman it (substituting “no classical expalantion for no physical explanation”), you aer talking about quantum versus classical, not MWI versus CI. Of course QM gives you and advantage over classical: I was talking about interpretations. Interpretations do not produce differing predictions.

          • smocc says:

            @episcience

            I certainly deny that it’s obviously possible. Quantum mechanics does not say that anything is possible with a certain probability. For one thing, QM still respects conservation laws, like conservation of energy, and mass (roughly). It respects laws about entropy pretty well too. And there are transitions that are forbidden for other reasons too, just because of wave-function forms.

          • rahien.din says:

            TheAncientGeekAKA1Z,

            Whoops, I erred. It would have been more correct to say “In either Copenhagen or MWI, the thought process is see something weird, formulate testable hypothesis, take measurements…” And even if that is more correct (and insofar as you would believe, my intent) I think it still fails to address your question. I blame hypocaffeinemia.

            Your mention of interpretations makes me think I may not understand your question entirely. Would you elaborate a little further?

            episcience,

            How seriously do you take the idea of “theoretically-possible spontaneous macroscopic quantum tunneling”?

            It is not to say that there is no hyperexpansive and overcredulous interpretation of scientific humility that permits spontaneous macroscopic tunnelling, or spontaneous human immortality. But that type of thinking is anti-rational. That type of thinking literally permits everything. It permits that end-stage pancreatic cancer could be cured by interpretive dance. It permits that the universe could gradually transmute itself into a uniform block of gruyere.

            It permits that the universe could change itself so that spontaneous macroscopic tunnelling and spontaneous human immortality are no longer permitted. Once you have invoked magic, everything is up for grabs, even the spontaneous annihilation of magic.

            We must understand what it means to think rationally, and why it is so important that beliefs constrain reality. The initial section of Sequences is instructive, particularly the entry on Fake Explanations.

          • How seriously do you take the idea of “theoretically-possible spontaneous macroscopic quantum tunneling”?

            It’s known to work microscopically, and the theory doesn’t put any hard cut off on it: that means that whether or not there is macroscopic tunnelling is not a separate theoretical proposal, but a quiantitative issue, a question of how much “stuff” of various kinds is available.

            In small universes (single branch, limited time) , you can round of very low probabilities to impossibilities, but QI arguments are explicitly based on large universes, so appelalng to the rounding-off rule looks like question begging.

          • rahien.din says:

            TheAncientGeekAKA1Z,

            QI arguments are explicitly based on large universes, so appelalng to the rounding-off rule looks like question begging.

            I make no such appeal. Nor do I need to.

            As above, the “sufficiently-large and sufficiently-long” universe line of argumentation, as it pertains to spontaneous human immortality, is definitively an example of question-begging.

          • Th Large universe doesn’t beg the question all by itself. And an argument whose conclusion is jointly imlied by its premises is a normally called a valid argument, not a circular argument.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            rahien,
            You are mistaken about spontaneous macroscopic tunnelling. Quantum mechanics as we understand it explicit permits it, and assigns it a probability. (Calling it ‘epsilon’ was an abuse of notation on my part. For a given scenario, the probability of such an occurrence would be a real, finite, very very small number).

            Tiny probabilities of apparently impossible events aren’t just a quantum thing, either–thermodynamics also allows things like half the ocean freezing and the other half boiling spontaneously.

          • rahien.din says:

            TheAncientGeekAKA1Z,

            an argument whose conclusion is jointly implied by its premises is a normally called a valid argument, not a circular argument.

            This is not such an argument as you describe.

            The argument is :

            A = Spontaneous human immortality is credible
            B = Examining the problem on vast timescales is permitted
            C = We can give credence to wildly improbable scenarios

            1. If A, then B
            2. If B, then C
            3. If C, then A

            That is an argument whose conclusion is one of its premises.

          • rahien.din says:

            ADifferentAnonymous,

            I see your point regarding the prior use of epsilon. I think your “very very small number” is doing the job of “unlikely but of real significance.” That seems arbitrary/dismissive to me, but I would cede the point that I haven’t done that math[1] per se and so I don’t specifically know what miniscule probabilities could emerge from equations thereof.

            However… I am exceedingly skeptical.

            As I said before, math can not forge truth from error. For instance, the idea that half the ocean could boil while the other half freezes is a terrible misconception. There is a vast gulf of difference between “the superficial math of the problem does not disallow X thing” and “X thing has a real probability and we can count its occurrence as rare-but-credible.” Traverse it at great hazard to your rationality.

            Even if we grant tiny finite probabilities to these purported occurrences, it does not resolve the circularity of the spontaneous human immortality argument.

            [1] Have you? It would be very helpful if you would supply those calculations.

          • random832 says:

            A = Spontaneous human immortality is credible
            B = Examining the problem on vast timescales is permitted
            C = We can give credence to wildly improbable scenarios

            Why do you think B depends on A rather than being an axiom?

            You can make any argument circular by taking away its axioms.

          • Jiro says:

            As I said before, math can not forge truth from error. For instance, the idea that half the ocean could boil while the other half freezes is a terrible misconception.

            It is possible that half the ocean could boil and half freeze. It’s not impossible–just very, very, very, unlikely.

            What is confusing you is that normally, “very, very, very, unlikely” is treated as “not possible”. But there are specific contexts in which it can’t be treated like that.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            I haven’t done any such calculations, and I don’t really see how they would help this discussion.

            You seem to be suggesting that sufficiently low probabilities aren’t “credible”, messing we should behave as if they were zero. But this isn’t a function of the probability alone; it also depends on how much the outcome would matter and whether adjusting our behavior around it has costs. Whether to play the lottery depends not just on the odds of winning but also on the size of the payout and the price of the ticket.

            The quantum Immortality argument involves putting tiny probabilities in the denominator. That’s why it matters that they be nonzero and doesn’t matter how close they are to zero. You can’t foreclose this reasoning by pointing out how small the probabilities are.

            (For what it’s worth, I do think that paying attention to such miniscule chances is a big red flag for QI, but that’s a heuristic, not a logical refutation.)

          • John Schilling says:

            A = Spontaneous human immortality is credible
            B = Examining the problem on vast timescales is permitted
            C = We can give credence to wildly improbable scenarios

            I don’t much follow the quantum immortality debate, so I may be missing something, but I believe the usual argument is more properly:

            B = Examining the problem over vast ensembles of universes is permitted

            So, if B then C. If C then A. B is the premise, imported from the MWI, leading to A as the conclusion. Vast timescales come with A, and possibly with nigh-eternal suffering.

          • rahien.din says:

            random832,

            The question of human immortality relates to a single life. If everyone dies within a century or so after their birth, then a century or so is the longest timescale we can examine.

            If we want to consider spontaneous human immortality, that can only be because of very unusual and rare things. These would have very small frequencies in time, and thus could only exert “real” effect over bizarrely long timescales. A century or so is not long enough. Likely, a human would have to live an astoundingly long time in order to even encounter one these events.

            Therefore, if we want to consider the situations in which rare events cause spontaneous human immortality, we have to start with the cases in which a single human being lives an astoundingly long time.

            That person’s chance of encountering immortalizing events depends on their already being immortal.

          • random832 says:

            Likely, a human would have to live an astoundingly long time in order to even encounter one these events.

            I don’t see where the disagreement is. For most people, for the vast majority of the probability space that exists for them at any moment, the only one they will ever encounter will be their own.

            MWI is that all timelines exist. QI seems to be based on the idea that, almost by definition, whatever “continuity” exists of the self, it only “continues” into the ones where that person lives. The answer to “Why don’t “I” continue into the ones where I halt” is “because, like you just said, in those you halt rather than continuing”. It’s not a circular argument to point out that the opposite is a contradiction in terms.

            For the ones where you live forever to not exist at all isn’t just a rejection of QI, it’s a rejection of MWI. If you cannot come up with a rejection of QI that does not reject MWI, then “MWI implies QI” is probably true.

          • rahien.din says:

            All,

            I understand the arithmetic : events with incredibly small probabilities will occur, given sufficiently large time, space, and/or branching-world-ensemble scales. Yes: if you multiply even a miniscule number by a sufficiently-large number, you get 1.

            It is an error to do so. It is anti-rational. Not irrational. Destructive of rationality.

            MWI as we have been discussing it here literally permits anything to happen. If every event has a finite non-zero probability, and there are sufficient worlds to make everything happen, then for every event there are worlds in which that event occurs.

            Could I wake up tomorrow morning a saltwater crocodile? Something something quantum tunneling something something probability – yes and in fact this will happen in some worlds. Could the earth “quantum tunnel” into the sun in the next 15 seconds, leaving us all behind in the vacuum of space? Yes and and in fact this will happen in some worlds. Is there a world in which the Hawking radiation from Sagittarius A spontaneously reorganizes into ATP that “quantum tunnels” into every cell of my body, preventing my need to eat food for energy? There are infinite such worlds. So there is no way for you to tell me, “You will not wake up tomorrow a saltwater crocodile.” And given that we can not predict which world we will find ourselves in, MWI (as defined here) predicts that literally anything could happen to anybody at any time.

            It can also explain any observation. If a flag waves in a breeze, the explanation would be “We’re in a world where that happens.” If I wake up tomorrow and my children have been replaced by pygmy marmosets, the explanation would be “We’re in a world where that happens.” If I wake up tomorrow, and the particles in my brain have “quantum tunneled” into a configuration that makes me believe my children should be pygmy marmosets, “We’re in a world where that happens.”

            It also tells us that literally anything could have happened. We could be in a world in which, ten seconds ago, the universe consisted of a uniform block of strawberry cream cheese, or in which we were all saltwater crocodiles, but through something something quantum something something, it instantaneously achieved its current form with all the molecules and particles in our brains arranged in such a way that none of us is the wiser. There are infinite such worlds, according to MWI.

            And you can’t say or imply “Well, weird things happen in some worlds, but those worlds are distant.” There is no “default world,” or if there is, you can’t prove we are in it, were in it, or will stay in it. There are only worlds, and other worlds, and other other worlds.

            These are necessary conclusions of this version of MWI we have been discussing. This is why MWI is a fake explanation. It is equivalent to “magic.”

            The error that underlies it is a disguised infinity. If we permit that there are as many worlds as there are potential events, we are effectively allowing for infinite worlds because there are infinite things that could happen. Multiply anything by infinity and what do you get? A conceptual error.

          • random832 says:

            Yes: if you multiply even a miniscule number by a sufficiently-large number, you get 1.

            You’re not multiplying it by an arbitrary large number, you’re dividing it by itself. Which should make it more clear that these are things that naturally fall out of a worldview (i.e. the idea of considering only futures in which you live in the first place) rather than something that is purporting to be proven from logical first principles.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Rahien,
            I didn’t realize you were against all MW.

            I think you’re getting tripped up over how to have probability in an ontology.

            Classically, we have the idea that there’s a tiny probability of things like the oceans half-freezing half-boiling. Nevertheless, our expectations are constrained, by the very fact that we do assign such low probabilities to these outcomes. We do not expect to see these happen; we expect to see the physics we’re accustomed to.

            Under MWI, we believe that things like the earth tunneling into the sun do happen, but that the configurations have very low amplitudes, and therefore correspondingly low Born probabilities. Our expectations are constrained by this; we do not expect to see spontaneous macroscopic tunneling.

            Quantum immortality is the belief that makes things weird–it states that we should condition our expectations on our survival. Once we enter a situation where our survival requires tiny-probability events, then we expect to see tiny-probability events. This still doesn’t leave explanations completely unconstrained, because if you really knuckle down and do the math it’ll turn out that some tiny-probability events are not as tiny as the others.

          • rahien.din says:

            ADifferentAnonymous,

            I’m not against any interpretation of MW, and in fact, I am fully and deliberately agnostic. I truly meant it when I qualified “MWI” with “as we are discussing it here,” IE, it is not that all interpretations of MW are wrong, just that the one we have been discussing here. That should have been pretty clear.

            Neither do I misunderstand QI. I know what you are saying by “we condition our expectations upon our survival.” I have been trying to explain why the reasoning you describe as “we condition our expectations upon our survival” is an error.

            The issue is far more fundamental:

            we have the idea that there’s a tiny probability of things like the oceans half-freezing half-boiling

            No. We do not have this idea. It is an entry-level conceptual error in physics.

            Asserting “the math predicts a non-zero probability for…” is totally insufficient. Our equations might fail to rule it out, but that does not mean it is definitely true or possible. Math can not forge truth from error.

            If your understanding of QI allows you to give credence to these errors, then either QI is false, or your understanding of QI is false, or both.

            And, I hold by my points that the case for QI rests on circular reasoning, that QI is a fake explanation, that the math behind the calculation is erroneous, and that if we accept QI then we are abandoning rational thought.

          • Soy Lecithin says:

            The issue is far more fundamental:

            we have the idea that there’s a tiny probability of things like the oceans half-freezing half-boiling

            No. We do not have this idea. It is an entry-level conceptual error in physics.

            Not at all. This is an entry-level conceptual truth, rather. It’s common to find such examples as water spontaneously boiling, the air molecules in a room spontaneously flowing to one side, etc. in introductory quantum mechanics (and thermodynamics) textbooks.

            Asserting “the math predicts a non-zero probability for…” is totally insufficient. Our equations might fail to rule it out, but that does not mean it is definitely true or possible. Math can not forge truth from error.

            Finding a non-zero probability for an event and failing to rule out an event are, at least in this context, very different things. Quantum mechanics does much much more than “fail to rule out” macroscopic tunneling. It straight up says it will happen some of the time. This idea isn’t up for discussion without quantum mechanics being up for discussion.

            If your understanding of QI allows you to give credence to these errors, then either QI is false, or your understanding of QI is false, or both.

            Some of your arguments against quantum immortality sounds suspiciously like arguments against quantum mechanics. For the record, I think that the idea of quantum immortality is nonsense. But any arguments against quantum immortality that don’t presuppose the truth of quantum mechanics aren’t going to be very effective.

            Could I wake up tomorrow morning a saltwater crocodile? Something something quantum tunneling something something probability – yes and in fact this will happen in some worlds. Could the earth “quantum tunnel” into the sun in the next 15 seconds, leaving us all behind in the vacuum of space? Yes and and in fact this will happen in some worlds. Is there a world in which the Hawking radiation from Sagittarius A spontaneously reorganizes into ATP that “quantum tunnels” into every cell of my body, preventing my need to eat food for energy? There are infinite such worlds. So there is no way for you to tell me, “You will not wake up tomorrow a saltwater crocodile.” And given that we can not predict which world we will find ourselves in, MWI (as defined here) predicts that literally anything could happen to anybody at any time.

            Yes! (at least for rhetorical purposes). Quantum mechanics changes the paradigm for predictions in physics from “This will happen, and that will not happen,” to “This has probability x of happening, and that has probability 1-x of happening.” And to be clear, this isn’t a feature of many-worlds interpretation; it’s a feature of quantum mechanics, itself.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Ah, so I do seem to have misunderstood your views on MWI.

            Let me try one more time to get a handle on how you’re seeing this:
            Do you admit the idea of an extremely low probability?

            If we forget about weird physics phenomena and just deal in normal probabilities, and I say that I have a nonzero chance of flipping a fair coin heads 1,000 times in a row, do you object? Am I failing to constrain my expectations, if I believe that this ‘could’ happen (with probability 1/2^1000)?

            As far as I can tell, you think there’s some level of improbability where a chance is no longer ‘credible’, and any reasoning that makes reference to the chance being greater than zero is automatically wrong.

          • rahien.din says:

            ADifferentAnonymous,

            Not to worry. I have probably misunderstood you, as well. If SSC permitted us signature lines, mine would be a link to the Illusion of Transparency. Also, this will be the last I write in this subthread. I’ve probably put down three or four thousand words.

            I am not throwing out MWI, nor quantum mechanics in general. I am saying that, if we are to believe in MWI, our belief must be rational and appropriate. I will describe the version of MWI we are discussing here (that in which we find such things as QI or spontaneous macroscopic quantum tunneling (SMQT) to be credible) as MWI*.

            I am not even arguing for a threshold at which probabilities become finite-but-non-credible. Your coin is an example of extremely-low-but-finite probability. Even if a coin landed on heads 3^^^3 consecutive times, it would be astounding, but we would not be forced to reinterpret coins. That is an entirely credible scenario, and insofar as we can fit it into an experiment, there is no number of consecutive heads-es that would exceed the bounds of credibility.

            I should clarify what I mean by “credible.” Let’s go back to epsilon. It is a finite positive value such that, no matter how small ε becomes, if Xn ±ε = X∞, then Xn converges to X∞. So (like ∞) the proper use of epsilon is not really as a number but as a concept. It is “a finite number so small that it is indistinguishable from 0.” Though not precisely the same mathematical situation, I would loosely analogize epsilon to : 1 – 0.999… One can conceive (as do some mathematical trainees, high on intuition) of a finite positive number that emerges from that calculation, like 0.000…1, but it would be an error to postulate 0.000…1 as an instantiated quantity or ratio that we could multiply by some finite constant to get 1. Instead, 0.999… = 1. Their difference is 0, or, in some metaphorical sense, ε.

            There are credible events which have low finite probability, and non-credible events that have epsilon probability. My assertion is that there are some events that we should and do consign to the domain of epsilon probability. And the consignment thereof is a deliberate and instrumental constraint on anticipation.

            Physics is basically the study of the consistent behavior of masses, as acted upon by energies and forces. The only way we know about the consistent behavior of masses is from observations of the movement of masses, as demonstrated by replicable experiment, by direct experience, and by practical application. We have seen masses consistently move in X fashion, therefore, we infer X relationship between masses, energies, and forces.

            If we assume that things like SMQT are possible, their effects can not be ignored in our conceptualization of physics. Consider Galileo’s experiment at Pisa. There is only a single way that the outcome thereof could have arisen from the interaction of masses and forces. There are many more ways it could have resulted from SMQT, including: the apparent movement of the balls is due to them incrementally SMQT’ing once a Planck-second, in apparent obedience to the actual relationship between masses and gravity ; prior to the moment in which the balls rested on the ground, the universe was a uniform distribution of elementary particles, but by SMQT, reinstantiated itself Omphalos style in the configuration of an Italian genius, looking at two balls on the ground, with the physically-encoded memory of two balls of different weights hitting the ground at the exact same moment ; some combination thereof.

            In the same way, every single event anyone has ever occurred could have been due to SMQT simulating real physical relationships in real time, or, due to Omphalos-like reinstantiations of the universe. In either of those categories of events, the simulation could occur in a manner faithful or unfaithful to the true physical relationships. If we are not permitted to assign these scenarios epsilon probability (as I have described it), we must conclude that, by MWI*, each such event does occur in its own world. We can term them “false worlds,” as opposed to “true worlds,” in which these effects do not occur as I have described and instead, the apparent physics is the result only of the underlying relationships between masses, forces, and energies[1].

            We can further describe these worlds. If there are false worlds, then there are “accurate worlds” and “inaccurate worlds.” SMQT events could appear to violate the natural order, or could be effectively invisible by simulating the true natural order. Accurate false worlds are false worlds in which SMQT events invariably simulate the true underlying relationships between masses, forces, and energies. Inaccurate false worlds are those in which SMQT events simulate something else. If there are false worlds, then there are also “continuous worlds,” and “discontinuous worlds.” Though they are permitted to do so, SMQT events are not required to occur the same way every time. Continuous false worlds are those in which SMQT effects do occur the same way every time, creating the appearance of a different physics. Discontinuous false worlds are those in which they do not.

            Any of these descriptions could apply locally or generally, in that a world could be described as overall inaccurate, discontinuous and false, but there could be periods in which the world is true, periods in which it is accurate discontinuous, etc.

            Consider that there is a set of worlds which are true. Even if we grant that each of the false worlds has a miniscule finite probability, we must also grant that there are sufficient number[2] of these worlds that we assign them a large total probability mass. And this probability mass is much larger than for true worlds, because there are far more numerous ways that SMQT could simulate or violate the apparent natural order than ways in which the natural order could proceed unperturbed. This is as simple as mere entropy. Therefore, the probability mass of accurate continuous false worlds is vastly larger than that of true worlds. These are then dwarfed by the rest of the full set of worlds, including accurate discontinuous, inaccurate continuous, and inaccurate discontinuous false worlds. Thus, there is a low likelihood of finding oneself in a true world[3].

            It is impossible to verify that you were or are in a true world, even experimentally. Not only is very instance of observation subject to manipulation of the experimental apparatus by SMQT, mental process have some basis in chemistry and physics and are just as vulnerable to SMQT. If we can’t verify that our observations were not subject to SMQT, and if there is a substantial probability of finding ourselves in a false world, we can not reject the null hypothesis of “any and/or every event is due to SMQT, including our perceptions of SMQT and non-SMQT events.” It is further impossible to conclude that, even if we are in an accurate false world or a true world, that we are in an accurate continuous false world. Whatever their source, we can not claim that the predictions made by our experiments will hold, or if they do appear to hold, that this is even true or accurate.

            So, to hold to MWI* requires that one embrace the non-falsifiable null hypothesis that nothing in one’s perceptions, experiments, or interpretations has any basis in or interpretive power for the past, present, and/or future.

            This includes the experiments, theory, and mathematical efforts that led to the supposed conclusion of MWI*. If you believe in it, and consign no probabilities to epsilon (as I describe it), MWI* itself requires that you strongly consider MWI* to be almost certainly false.

            That’s the danger of an idea that can literally explain everything. These ideas invariably dismantle themselves. If you get to such an idea via math, then you either did the wrong math or you are misinterpreting/misapplying correct math. Math can not forge truth from error.

            I avoid that danger by assigning epsilon probability to certain scenarios, prior to any observations. Mississippi River turning to magma? Epsilon. Oceans half-boiling half-freezing? Epsilon. SMQT? Epsilon. QI? Epsilon. We can envision ways in which those could happen, but we also know that they won’t, even if the math could lead us down a weird rabbit hole. Yes, this is arbitrary. But it’s also the only correct, rational course of action.

            [1] I am not thus required to reject quantum mechanics wholesale. Our knowledge of quantum mechanics, including its inscrutable and counterintuitive weirdness, is verified by experimental replication and practical application. (In fact, SMQT could accurately or inaccurately simulate quantum mechanical experiments.) I am not arguing for some kind of immature Laplacian determinism. I am arguing against certain things being a feature of quantum mechanics.

            [2] If y’all are permitted to do so then by golly so am I.

            [3] If you prefer : there is a substantial and meaningful and significant probability of finding oneself in a false world of some kind.

            [4] I emphasize : PRIOR TO ANY OBSERVATION. I will update my beliefs if we observe multiple instances of macroscopic quantum tunneling that we can replicate with the right apparatus. Then I might start to give more credence to SMQT, albeit with extreme caution.

          • Jiro says:

            It is impossible to verify that you were or are in a true world, even experimentally.

            No, it’s not. “Verify an experiment” doesn’t mean “verify with 100% certainty”. When you conduct your experiment, there’s always the chance that your result is due to SMQT and not due to the original hypothesis being true, but it’s such a small chance that the experiment can still be verified to almost 100% certainty, even if not exactly 100% certainty.

            SMQT only matters when
            1) the result is impossible in more likely ways, yet
            2) we can ignore the cases where the result doesn’t happen.

            This is almost never true and certainly isn’t true for normal experiments. It is only true for quantum immortality because in quantum immortality, only the worlds where you are conscious still count–so the fact that you have a 99.9999..99% chance of dying doesn’t matter, making SMQT actually important.

          • rahien.din says:

            Jiro,

            This is almost never true and certainly isn’t true for normal experiments.

            What is your basis for this claim?

          • Jiro says:

            If you can think of an experiment where both those conditions hold true, feel free to tell me.

          • rahien.din says:

            You can’t reject the null hypothesis – spontaneous macroscopic quantum tunneling hasn’t contaminated the experiment – for any experiment. This includes the experiments that helped describe quantum mechanics.

            There are infinite worlds in which that has happened. You have no basis for claiming that we aren’t in one of them.

          • Jiro says:

            You can’t reject the null hypothesis – spontaneous macroscopic quantum tunneling hasn’t contaminated the experiment – for any experiment.

            You can’t 100% disprove the null hypothesis. But you can reject the null hypothesis.

            “Reject” doesn’t mean “reject with exactly 100% confidence”.

          • rahien.din says:

            You can’t reject it at any significance level.

          • Jiro says:

            You can’t reject it at any significance level.

            Where are you getting this from? A quantum random result that verifies your experiment is extremely unlikely. If the unlikelihood is less than the significance level, why would you not be able to reject it?

          • rahien.din says:

            Jiro,

            Where are you getting this from?

            We’re not allowed to say “SMQT is rare because of X experiments, and we can trust X experiments because SMQT is rare.”

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Rahien,
            First, thanks for the big write-up. I did find it helpful.

            Second, the statement footnote 2 is attached to is the problem. An infinite series can have a finite sum. The aggregate probability of all false worlds is likewise finite, and in fact still extremely low.

            If any QI argument claims that an infinite collection of possibilities must have a high aggregate probability, attack the argument there because that premise is wrong.

          • Jiro says:

            We’re not allowed to say “SMQT is rare because of X experiments, and we can trust X experiments because SMQT is rare.”

            By this reasoning, we could never trust experiments anyway, because we couldn’t ever tell that experiments didn’t involve mistakes (any experiment to check the frequency of mistakes could itself have been affected by mistakes).

          • rahien.din says:

            Jiro,

            Well, sure. That too is a necessary consequence of your line of reasoning.

            But it’s your line of reasoning that I argue to its necessary logical consequence. If you are considering that a human being could conceivably live for an infinite duration, you’re multiplying the miniscule-but-finite probability of spontaneous human immortality by an infinite number of world branchings. You aren’t allowed, then, to claim that any event is too improbable to occur.

            And thus you can not reject the null hypothesis : all of our quantum mechanical experimental and practical data is tainted by SMQT, such that our data/perceptions are totally incorrect and SMQT is actually tremendously common. IE, SMQT could appear to violate the natural order by simulating a low rate of SMQT. Experiment and observation can not reject this null hypothesis – not even to support the claim that SMQT is rare.

            ADifferentAnonymous,

            The aggregate probability of all false worlds is extremely low.

            Says who, and on what basis?

            Merely describing something as an infinite series does not mean it converges to a large number, a small number, infinity, or zero. At the most basic : even if we describe the probability mass of false worlds as the sum of an infinite series, we don’t know and can’t know what series to use.
            – If SMQT is rare, then the correct series converges to a small, finite number and our experiments are (our world is) accurate.
            – If SMQT is common, then the correct series converges to a much larger number and our experiments are (our world is) inaccurate.

            Experiments can not help us choose.

            Math can not forge truth from error.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Says who? Says the mathematics of quantum mechanics, irrespective of interpretation.

            I can’t give you a mathematical argument for this, but it’s a consensus in physics that as scales approach the macroscopic the probability of classically-expected outcomes approaches one. If it were ever shown otherwise, it would be the result of the century.

            ETA: see #4 here for a simple mathematical argument about the probability of SMQT.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Okay, just reread that last Rahien post… “Experiments cannot help us choose”.

            I guess I didn’t address the claim being made.

            The short answer is basically occam’s razor/universal prior/Solomonoff Induction, which you can look up the sequence posts on. In short, quantum mechanics as we formulate it is a simple theory that predicts our observations with high probability. QM with frequent SMQT would predict our observations with extremely low probability.

          • rahien.din says:

            ADifferentAnonymous,

            Thanks for charity. I make no claims to transparency!

            The short answer is basically occam’s razor/universal prior/Solomonoff Induction, which you can look up the sequence posts on. In short, quantum mechanics as we formulate it is a simple theory that predicts our observations with high probability. QM with frequent SMQT would predict our observations with extremely low probability.

            Okay!

            Now imagine a high-SMQT universe in which SMQT suddenly becomes extremely rare, allowing the universe to proceed in the manner of a low-SMQT universe. How would we condition our expectations?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            You mean a universe where SMQT is likely according to the laws of physics, but by chance happens rarely if at all? The prior for being in such a universe is equal to the prior of being in the high-physical-probability-of-SMQT universe, times the (tiny, tiny) probability of SMQT occuring rarely for a long time in such a universe.

          • rahien.din says:

            No, I mean, assume we observe a high rate of SMQT for a while, and then abruptly, a low rate of SMQT such that the measurable laws of physics then predict a low rate of SMQT. How do we condition our expectations when the situation turns from unpredictable to predictable?

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      I actually had some idle thoughts about this almost a decade ago on a long-abandoned livejournal. My conclusion was that the best way to avoid such a situation was to attempt suicide in the most total and foolproof way possible. In other words, manipulate the odds so that any mundane, crippled course of survival is much less likely than you having undiscovered crazy superpowers. Nothing that people have survived in the past like shooting yourself in the head or jumping out of a plane. Only absolutely deadly stuff like lowering yourself to the Challenger Deep in a bathysphere and hitting an exploding hatch so the only way out is for you secretly be Aquaman.

      • Anonymous` says:

        Assuming QI (which despite instigating this thread I don’t necessarily believe in yet), in the Challenger Deep scenario, your head starts getting crushed by water pressure and then after pain but before death the water particles start missing you.

        To really escape the trap you’d have to set up a scenario where you no longer have the ability to suffer but are still conscious, I think, not just a scenario where escaping death is even more unlikely than normal. But then you get into the profound weirdness of how many/which changes you can make to your brain before you’re “dead” from the perspective of QI and this branch “doesn’t count anymore”.

        There also might be a “make something positive more likely than particle-bouncing escape” exploit, but it’s going to have to be really clever.

  5. NIP says:

    The time has finally arrived! Back in…February, I think? I dropped a link to a Holocaust revisionist documentary that I had found on YouTube. Predictably, it wrinkled a lot of people’s sprinkles. Various commenters accused me of trolling or posting in bad faith, without any intent to have a real discussion. A few were curious, but all agreed that ain’t nobody got time to sit and watch a four-hour documentary on a controversial topic at the prompting of an infrequent commenter.

    Then Said Achmiz suggested, in a heartwarming gesture of good faith and respect for free speech, that if I were really serious about having a discussion about this film, that I should make a transcript of it and host it on a website so that everyone could read it at their leisure, since SSC’s commentariat are generally more reading than visual-oriented. Various commenters agreed that if I did this, they’d read it and give it a chance. So, taking them at their word, I did just that. I had never so much as toyed with HTML or CSS before, but with the assistance of a few people (who know who they are and who have my sincerest thanks), I managed to cobble together what I consider to be a passable imitation of a website, on which I am hosting the transcript of the film along with various screenshots, links to sources, and commentary/clarifications by yours truly.

    For those who’ve been waiting for this, and for those who haven’t but may be curious, I now invite you to go to my website – but before you do, keep a few things in mind.

    First, this is my first website, so please try to be understanding of any errors I may have missed and be gentle with feedback (though if you notice anything I need to fix, please tell me!) The site should function correctly on mobile devices, but then again, it may not. In any case, it “Works On My Machine”, and will probably work fine on laptops and desktops.

    Secondly, the free webhosting service I’ve been using has been experiencing just enough issues to make me worry, but not enought to stop using it, in the form of 403, 500 and 502 errors related to the seemingly constant maintenance they’re performing on one network node or another. Service has been much better in the last week (apparently they finished some major changes) so I’m optimistic, but if you get one of these errors while trying to view my site, I apologize but can’t help you. You’ll just have to wait and try again later. I’ve been working on getting a WordPress blog up, but it’s not finished, so if for some reason everyone is telling me they can’t view my site, I’ll try this again in another open thread when my WordPress blog is done.

    Third and last, I want you to know that I do take this topic seriously and that I worked very hard over several months to accomodate the commentariat here so that we could have this discussion. As I mentioned, I’m taking you all at your word that you’d be willing to read the transcript and have a calm, reasoned conversation on the subject of Holocaust revisionism. If you wish to take part in the discussion, please show me the same courtesy I’ve shown you and read the transcript in its entirety before commenting. Contribute to discussion by making calm, specific criticism or comments related to the content of the transcript. If you don’t want to do this, then please just…don’t comment! No one is forcing you to be part of this discussion.

    Without further ado, here is a link to my website. Give it a thorough read and then come back and let’s all discuss our thoughts (take your time; not only is it very long, meaning I won’t expect many replies right away, but I’m gonna go to sleep after posting this, as I’ve been awake for over 24 hours just so I could get the first post EDIT: and still missed it, lol). Is there any credence whatsoever to revisionist arguments, or are they all insane bigots? Is the truth somewhere in between? Whatever the answer, I think we can hash it out in a mature, civil manner.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      As detailed here, this thread is /pol/ trolling us by trying to get us to look into this stuff. Please don’t feed the trolls. Also, NIP is banned.

      • Leit says:

        Hmm. Reading that, I don’t get the impression of trolling at all. I see that he’s put sincere effort into trying to convince people here of something he believes is correct, and in learning new skills to present that information. There’s no suggestion of insincerity, the OP defends the commenters here as reasonable and your ban policy as based on rules-breaking rather than POV, and he has been engaging apparently in good faith in the comments further down.

        Seeing this makes me inclined to stop bothering with SSC at all, because this does look like some sort of cultural sacred cow that you’re banning based on a thread that you haven’t bothered to actually skim, much less read, simply based on where it was posted.

        Christ, Scott, what the hell?

        • gbdub says:

          Did you read the /pol/ thread? Scott’s description is accurate – this is explicitly admitted trolling.

          • registrationisdumb says:

            Given that something as innocuous as innocuous and obviously true as HBeeDee is banned here, I’m not surprised Scott would ban other things that go against his personal worldview.

            It is obvious he wants an echochamber here.

          • Anonymous says:

            It is obvious he wants an echochamber here.

            My assessment is that he wants the intersection of “echo chamber” and “diversity of thought”. You can disagree, so long as Scott doesn’t care about the subject! 😉

          • albatross11 says:

            He tabooed the term, not the ideas, which have been discussed extensively, including in this thread.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Kind of a long op. Impressive in a way.

          • Aapje says:

            Impressive and kinda sad.

            The guy did a lot of work for very little pay off. Just because he thinks that the (((Illuminati))) are hanging out on SSC.

          • rlms says:

            It’s quite funny really that this was all a Machiavellian plot to “redpill” the movers and shakers of the SSC comments section.

            However, I think it might be worthwhile to have a genuine discussion about Holocaust denial without a troll pushing one side. It’s useful to see that stupid things can be convincingly argued for if you pick your facts carefully. I also worry slightly that this means anyone can censor SSC discussion of a topic by making a plan on /pol/ to troll us about the topic. Hopefully there aren’t many people who want to do that.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s useful to see that stupid things can be convincingly argued for if you pick your facts carefully.

            http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/02/14/abraham-lincoln-necromancer/

          • Leit says:

            I did. Did you?

            Nowhere was trolling implied or admitted. Unless you consider getting their heterodox view in front of the posters here and then arguing in favour of it in order to try and influence them to be trolling. And I mean, trying to influence others is kind of the point of many of the discussions here.

            I’d accept if Scott didn’t want certain types of influence – he’s already banned on that basis – but dismissing an apparently earnest poster as a troll on the strength of the existence of a thread on 8ch where said poster says nothing about being insincere… that’s rather poor.

            Basically, it comes off as a “no-one could seriously hold this belief” discreditation with a thin justification.

          • rlms says:

            @Leit
            NIP’s comments here are written from the perspective of someone with an open mind about Holocaust denial and no motive other than truth-seeking, the posts on the /pol/ thread suggest they have already made up their mind and are trying to persuade others.

            They describe themselves as “not a Nazi” in a comment here, and describe SSC as “k*ked to and run by a literal k*ke” (I assume Scott would prefer not to have his blog appear in search results for this racial slur, so I’ve censored it). That seems insincere to me.

          • gbdub says:

            If deliberately misrepresenting yourself on one forum, then going onto another forum to brag about what you’ve done and the shitstorm you created, and further recruiting additional people to lurk and create another shitstorm, all while referring to the first forum’s host using racial slurs, is not trolling, then nothing is.

            Also, given NIP’s deliberate attempt to recruit additional holocaust deniers to join up for the express purpose of “tactically redpilling” this forum, I’m going to be unusually suspicious of any rare or recently added commenters in this thread, and would encourage others to do the same. Apologies to any innocents caught up in this.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s not quite trolling in the normal sense. It’s concern trolling, a comparison I pointed out before Scott linked /pol to prove it’s concern trolling.

            And it has a lesson to teach for the concern trolling stuff at the top of this thread, which is here at the same time as a Nazi concern troll by pure coincidence.

            Yes, in theory, an argument’s facts and logic are right or wrong regardless of the source. No, the world doesn’t work that way, because believing the other person’s argument depends on his credibility and his judgment, not just his facts and logic. Also, you’re an imperfect human who probably can’t rebut every single logically flawed argument out there, so if the source is unusually likely to produce flawed arguments, it may not be worth listening to him.

            Concern trolling is real. Motivated reasoning is real too. People’s motivations for arguing matter.

          • ebil_nahzee says:

            >this is explicitly admitted trolling

            No it most certainly isn’t. You might feel that it is implicitly admitted trolling, but there is nothing explicit about it. He was genuinely trying to discuss something that you really can’t discuss anywhere else. We warned him in the previous /pol/ threads that there was nothing rational about you guys and this was the response he would get, but he was insistent that you would be reasonable and stick purely to the facts. Good job proving us right.

          • onyomi says:

            “Concern trolling” is a bad concept. The only time I can see it being applicable is when someone is genuinely arguing in bad faith. And we already have a term for that. It’s called “arguing in bad faith.” Which is not what happened here.

            If you want to say “sorry, I’m not going to consider your arguments because it’s a waste of my time because the probability they are valid is too low,” then fine.

            If you want to say “sorry, I’m not going to consider your arguments because the probability you are arguing in good faith, based on my past experiences with you/people like you, is too low,” then fine.

            If Scott wants to say “sorry, I just don’t want any discussion of this anathema topic on my blog, even polite, nice discussion,” then that’s perfectly understandable.

            But to say “ah hah! you were just plotting to convince me of this evil thing you believe by politely presenting me with evidence for it! Good thing I caught you on this other page sneakily saying how you were going to… try to convince me of this evil thing you believe by politely presenting evidence for it” seems bizarre.

            The arguments themselves may or may not be bad for reasons of Gish Gallop or whatever. I haven’t read them.

            The arguer may or may not be worth listening to, and it also makes sense to say “I’ve got no time to listen to antisemites from /pol/” (though if you’re surprised that’s what NIP turned out to be, I don’t think you were paying attention months ago). If the ban is for associating with horrible people (I think most of the really awful posts linked are not by NIP himself, except the top one and the one with “cash money”), then say it’s for associating with horrible people.

            But the idea of “don’t be fooled by his attempt to politely, nicely present you with evidence and arguments for his evil viewpoints… the politeness and the niceness are just an act! As proved by the fact that he believes something evil and has evil friends and therefore cannot possibly argue for anything sincerely” seems highly pernicious to me because it creates a tool for unfalsifiably dismissing anything you don’t agree with.

            To take a less inflammatory example, imagine a regular SSC poster comes on SSC to say “hey guys, I’ve been posting on this social justice board where they have a really strong commitment to anti-Muggle Realism, but they also seem very reasonable and committed to careful evaluation of evidence, so I spent a bunch of time putting together this elaborate presentation to convince them of the truth of Muggle Realism! Let’s hope they see the light!” Then, on the said SJ board, the SSC poster gets banned for being a troll after someone finds his SSC posts clearly indicating his intent to try to convince them of something evil.

            After all, Muggle Realism is evil. Therefore no one could sincerely, nicely, politely offer arguments in its favor–especially if it turns out they indicated their intent to do so elsewhere!

            Actually, this reminds me of the problem with “Sacred Principles as Exhaustible Resources.” Basically, you can only fight for free speech if you didn’t intend to fight for free speech. You can only present arguments for something awful if you didn’t intend to convince anyone.

          • Jiro says:

            “X is evil” is one of those things which isn’t universally right or wrong–it depends on what X is. So Nazis are evil and muggle realists aren’t–because “proof by grammatical similarity” is not proof. Yes, anyone can be called evil, but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as evil, it just means that true things can sound a lot like false things.

            Plenty of people get accused of being Communists or fascists, including people who are not actually Communists or fascists. Are those terms just ways of unfalsifiably disagreeing with someone, or are they terms which are misused, but also have real meanings? People even get called “liars” who aren’t. Obviously calling someone a liar is a way of unfalsifiably disagreeing with someone, just like “evil”, right?

          • skef says:

            To take a less inflammatory example …

            Or on the other hand, we could consider a more inflammatory example. There is concern on the other site that this one is “k*ked to hell and run by a literal k*ke”. Setting aside the inflammatory language, this statement has some factual support! If it can be fully supported that would be good to know, as those not yet k*ked to hell might want to intellectually protect themselves. I don’t myself see the forum as k*ked to hell, but of course I’m a f*gg*t. Like, extentionally a f*gg*t. So I suppose anything I might say on the matter is questionable at best.

            What do you think, onyomi? Is the forum k*ked to hell? What factors do you see as counting for and against the proposition?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi

            Is not “well guys I found this thing, and I don’t know what to think of it, so what do you think” bad faith when it’s false? If someone says they believe in Horrible Banned Discourse, and gives their reasons why, and so on – compare that to someone coming on and talking about how they have stumbled across this stuff about IQ, and so on, and what do people think of it – does the latter not involve at least some degree of bad faith? I may not be remembering whatever OT it was back when correctly, though.

            Ironically, someone just showing up here and saying they were a Holocaust denier or a gas chamber denier or whatever and seeking argument would probably not have been banned for trolling. Someone can believe things that are some combination of incorrect and morally wrong, without acting in bad faith.

            I find myself amused by the parallelism of neo-Nazis or whatever saying that SSC has a significant commie population who supposedly complain SSC is too right-wing; meanwhile, the commies are saying that SSC is full of fascists (who, presumably, complain SSC is too left-wing). Also that we’re “socialites.”

            (side note: neither Horrible Banned Discourse nor Death Eaterism is actually banned here, @registrationisdumb. The terms are banned, for whatever reason or combination of reasons.)

          • onyomi says:

            @Jiro

            But the accusation I’m disputing here is insincerity. I see no evidence that NIP was insincere. My problem with the idea of “concern trolling” is that it seems to allow you to assume insincerity on the basis of horribleness of the belief alone.

            Like if I were arguing with an admitted Stalin apologist and then discovered that same poster on a different board saying “look at all this evidence I’ve amassed in my quest to convince onyomi Stalin wasn’t so bad” then I would take that as evidence of sincerity, not insincerity.

          • onyomi says:

            @Dndnrsn

            Is not “well guys I found this thing, and I don’t know what to think of it, so what do you think” bad faith when it’s false?

            Yes, I can agree with you here, and to the extent NIP pretended to have been neutral on the question and just kind of exploring it for the heck of it, then yeah, that was arguably disingenuous.

            But like I said above, it always seemed clear to me who NIP was, and it didn’t seem to me like he exerted much effort to hide it. After all, how many people who truly have no opinion on the matter are going to expend hours and hours transcribing a documentary arguing for a thing and then setting up a website devoted to it? How many people from /pol/ who just happen to be interested in this are just kind of neutrally exploring the idea?

            I mean, he basically came on here months ago and said “hey guys, who’s interested in reading a transcription of a documentary on X??” and some people (not I) said “me!” Then everyone acts surprised to learn he’s a sneaky Xer interested in making arguments for X?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            But like I said above, it always seemed clear to me who NIP was, and it didn’t seem to me like he exerted much effort to hide it.

            I didn’t feel this way, and more importantly I didn’t want to believe this, because it suggests that there is no room for neutral truth-seeking

            and who knows, maybe there isn’t. But if not, well, that’s a depressing notion.

            so yeah, glad he got the boot.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi

            As I recall, it was “hey, found this Youtube video”, and “make a dang transcript ain’t nobody got time to watch that” was the logical response. The trope of “oh hey guys, just happened to come across this thing, 100% neutral, what do people think” is not a new thing, and thus cause for suspicion, but assuming good faith is supposed to be part of the culture around here, right? So jumping straight to “you’re being sneaky, you sneaky Nazi” was not the immediate response. And the offsite “descending into the lair of the enemy, to do battle with them” thing was evidently noticed overnight.

            I’m of the view that Holocaust denial falls apart when viewed in the context of real historical scholarship (and not your grade 10 history teacher putting Schindler’s List on instead of teaching). The strategy of “you can’t talk about that” doesn’t work very well in the age of the internet – we’ve seen that with a whole bunch of things. I’ve never seen a Holocaust denier do more than throw stones at a few bits of dubious eyewitness testimony (for which “vast conspiracy” is not the most parsimonious explanation) and attack details of certain camps in Poland – eg I’ve never seen any of them provide alternate theories to the mass shootings by the Einsatzgruppen in the East, or provide a coherent explanation as to what exactly happened to all those people if they weren’t shot/gassed/starved/worked to death (“oh, they were just shot/starved/worked to death” is a bizarre position to hold, since it’s hardly less monstrous). Unfortunately, this was just another case of the former.

            What I find puzzling is that someone would put so much effort into it, especially when it’s more of the same low-quality stuff the internet’s already got reams of, and not do a better job of the false-flag component. (Perhaps it’s part of some vast conspiracy?)

          • onyomi says:

            @AnonYEmous

            I didn’t feel this way, and more importantly I didn’t want to believe this, because it suggests that there is no room for neutral truth-seeking

            and who knows, maybe there isn’t. But if not, well, that’s a depressing notion.

            I mean, when Scott wrote his consequentialist FAQ or non-libertarian FAQ, was he engaged in neutral truth seeking? Did he have no opinion on consequentialism or libertarianism when he began to write? And should he have? Did the fact that he wrote a consequentialist FAQ turn out to mean he was unwilling to ever consider an anti-consequentialist argument in the future?

          • onyomi says:

            @Dndnrsn

            As I recall, it was “hey, found this Youtube video”, and “make a dang transcript ain’t nobody got time to watch that” was the logical response. The trope of “oh hey guys, just happened to come across this thing, 100% neutral, what do people think” is not a new thing, and thus cause for suspicion, but assuming good faith is supposed to be part of the culture around here, right?

            Well, okay, if that was the impression he gave then that was disingenuous, though as someone who believes many things others would react very badly to elsewhere (including IRL), I guess I can sympathize with not coming right out and announcing one’s abhorrent beliefs very explicitly. Like if I were discussing tax policy with a friend who I know is a mainstream Democrat, the first sentence out of my mouth isn’t “well, I’m a libertarian who thinks taxation is theft, but… have you considered this argument?” (though I also make no bones about my views even discussing them IRL, which is maybe why I tend to just shut up when politics comes up IRL).

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I mean, when Scott wrote his consequentialist FAQ or non-libertarian FAQ, was he engaged in neutral truth seeking?

            If he wasn’t, then he wasn’t claiming to be either.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            I have a clear memory of NIP presenting their self as a complete neophyte on the question, but having watched the video they found it compelling. They also in the OP said they did not want people to just reject out of hand but wanted people to comment on it only if they watched the whole four hour video (which then led to a request for a transcript).

            I’m not surprised they were lying, but that I (and others) didn’t buy their lies doesn’t make them any more truthful.

          • onyomi says:

            @HBC

            That’s not really how I remember it, but okay, maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention.

            I guess the bigger question is: people around here, myself, and, I think, you included, put a lot of stock in niceness and politeness. I tend to feel I can have a conversation with anyone about anything if they are willing to be nice and polite. I may decide at some point it’s not worth my time, but I won’t just dismiss them as I would someone engaging in ad hominem, etc.

            This raises the following problem: niceness and politeness can easily be interpreted as evidence for dishonesty or deceptiveness if the other side is pre-convinced you are evil.

            Which is not to say there’s no difference between nice, polite, honest and nice, polite, dishonest. In some ways, the latter is probably more dangerous than anyone since it’s harder to dismiss it as mere emotional flaming. And to the extent NIP was being dishonest, I support banning him for dishonesty, but not for nice, polite dishonesty.

            Which is my problem with “concern trolling” as a concept. If the problem is duplicity, disingenuousness, bad faith, etc. then accuse someone of duplicity, bad faith, etc. But don’t cultivate a prior which says niceness and politeness correlate with bad faith because I don’t think they do.

          • Jiro says:

            But don’t cultivate a prior which says niceness and politeness correlate with bad faith because I don’t think they do.

            It’s not necessarily that they correlate, but that they don’t anti-correlate. If 100% of the nice Holocaust deniers are arguing in bad faith, and 100% of the rude ones are arguing in bad faith, then that’s no correlation at all.

            Holocaust denial is so poorly supported by history and so often motivated by evil and done in bad faith that listening to arguments for it is a waste of time, whether polite or not. It’s just like listening to arguments for perpetual motion machines or homeopathy or creationism or 2+2=5, except replacing “evil” with “deluded” or “ignorant”.

          • onyomi says:

            @Jiro

            As I said:

            If you want to say “sorry, I’m not going to consider your arguments because it’s a waste of my time because the probability they are valid is too low,” then fine.

            If you want to say “sorry, I’m not going to consider your arguments because the probability you are arguing in good faith, based on my past experiences with you/people like you, is too low,” then fine.

            But there’s a difference between not listening because you assume the likelihood of good faith is too low based on past experience, and actually accusing someone of bad faith. If, as others have said, NIP pretended to be neutral on the issue while actually have a strong agenda, then fine, ban him for demonstrated duplicity. But don’t ban him for duplicity on the theory that it’s impossible to argue for x in good faith, just because few have done so in the past. That seems like a recipe for epistemic disaster.

            For example, if someone says “hey guys, check out this 100,000 word essay I wrote on why 2+2=5,” I think it’s good practice to say “not interested; probability of being right is too low to be worth my time.” I don’t think it’s good practice to say “haven’t read it, but I know you’re deluded because it’s impossible to believe that without being deluded.”

            Similarly, if someone says “hey guys, check out this long philosophical treatise I wrote on why rape is ethical,” it’s good practice to say “nope, probability you are arguing in good faith and not just trying to justify something evil is too low, so not worth my time.” It’s not good practice to say “nope, you’re evil, because no one who’s not evil could argue that case, and I don’t listen to evil people.”

            Triage is about treating the patients you think have the best chance of survival, not killing the ones you think don’t.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi

            I’m not sure there was much niceness or politeness going on either. This is Scott’s place, and showing up and putting on a nice face while calling the host ethnic slurs elsewhere is the opposite of nice and polite.

            The lies about factual matters (rather than about motivation) didn’t help either – eg, the Germans kept plenty of paperwork relating to the Aktion Reinhard camps. What happened at those camps is not attested solely eyewitness testimony.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            Here is the comment where they introduced the video.

            I stumbled upon a video a year or two ago which is critical of (a specfic part of) the Holocaust narrative. Now, prior to this I had had little interest in the Holocaust as a historical subject.

            -I am not a “Holocaust denier” or an anti-semite, nor have I ever been. The contents of the video I’m about to share with you have not caused me to become either of these things. What they have done is cause me to become interested in critically re-examining the conventional narrative of the Holocaust. I hope the same will be true for you.

            The implications of this video, if true, are extremely disturbing to me, and it’d be nice to hear someone else’s perspective. Please don’t presume that I’ve made up my mind on anything or that I’m coming at this topic with an axe to grind or with prejudice.

            So, I guess make up your own mind, but given the /pol/ thread Scott linked, that all seems highly-disingenuous to me.

            And this all pattern matches with a general type of disingenuous argumentation. As soon as one has been exposed to this form of argumentation, one realizes what a ethically crappy form of argumentation it is, how it is designed to pick off those most prone to common biases (and therefore it is ineffective to pattern match to to this). So, one takes care not to appear to engage in this form of argumentation.

            So, if I see the quack, and the walk, and the swim, I am going to be very wary of that being a duck I am dealing with.

            Sure, some people innocently stumble on all the markers without being a duck. But, from a Bayesian perspective, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t assign a high-prior to “duck”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, if NIP is a troll, they’re the most civilised troll I’ve encountered! Shame if this is all an elaborate sting; I thought the linked videos and transcript were pure fruitcake, but NIP did seem on the face of it to be engaging with us in good faith.

            Another reminder, as if I needed one, that every time I think I’ve finally become cynical enough – no, I really haven’t.

            🙁

          • danred76 says:

            I came here from that thread. (I’ll probably get the banhammer too) No one from /pol/ really cares about this place. Except for our mutual NIPpon friend who for whatever reason thought this site was worth debating. He’s not trying to troll and in the minds of any anon who does come here they probably don’t have that in mind either. They are most likely here to argue in good faith. There probably are some trolls who come along with that but hey, it’s the internet first and foremost and this site comes secondary to the rules of the land.

            the posts on the /pol/ thread suggest they have already made up their mind and are trying to persuade others

            And are you saying that all the posters or even just a good portion of the posters here don’t have the same disposition on different subects? Others here haven’t “made up their mind and are trying to persuade others” on anything they talk about? Awfully disingenuous to be honest. But I’m just beating a scarecrow here, don’t insult us.

            If deliberately misrepresenting yourself on one forum, then going onto another forum to brag about what you’ve done and the shitstorm you created, and further recruiting additional people to lurk and create another shitstorm, all while referring to the first forum’s host using racial slurs, is not trolling, then nothing is.

            Also, given NIP’s deliberate attempt to recruit additional holocaust deniers to join up for the express purpose of “tactically redpilling” this forum, I’m going to be unusually suspicious of any rare or recently added commenters in this thread, and would encourage others to do the same. Apologies to any innocents caught up in this.
            As to your first claim, as far as I remember, NIP did no such thing as insult Scott and in fact defended him several times. I however did laugh at the extent of his stereotypes and may have insulted him but I honestly can’t remember and have no interest in reading through my posts again or that thread in general. He also certainly did not show up to brag about any “shitstorm”, that too is disingenuous and and an insult to NIP. He did however come to “recruit” but not to lurk and create a shitstorm. To foment discussion, as he has repeatedly asked of us to follow Scott rules and not insult as we please which is very difficult by the way. We refer to each other using racial slurs regardless of whether or not we even know what race the insutee is thank you very much.
            As to the second half, do you expect to have a fruitful conversation on this topic without earnest holocaust deniers? Isn’t the point of this site to engage in discussion of topics with opinions that would be looked down upon in Scott’s social circles. Free discussion of anything and all that? I didn’t realize the rules for this site stated “holocaust deniers allowed”. You seem to outright supporting this place acting as a hugbox concerning actually taboo subjects which is ridiculous at best.

            I honestly doubt this comment will be seen at all considering how late I am to even show up and I may end up banned for all this anyway, but I suppose it hardly matters. I will say this though that from what I’ve read of these comments, and I only picked out a very few, this place suffers from two things. Names, which create ego and reputation which is attached to posts and therefore causes the reader to have a preconceived response to the content based on that identity attached to it, and this rule of politeness. Certainly this second grievance is nothing more than personal opinion and an argument could be made that the first is as well, but the fact of the matter is that from what I’ve seen here, many of the resident posters must be extremely thinned skinned. Forgive me for saying this but in all the years I’ve spent on imageboards I’ve seen more fruitful argument come from anonymous posters slinging racial slurs and ad-homs in the same breath as a long well thought out post. Here’s the question I’ll leave you all with if anyone has even bothered to stick around to read this. Which site has the freedom to speak about anything they want? SSC, where certain words are banned. Or the site Scott so graciously linked in his divine post? And bear in mind while /pol/ will treat you like a whipping boy for having a different opinion, especially on certain topics you won’t be banned unless you picked a bad time and the board is in the midst of a raid. Also the marxists and left-leaning individuals left of their own volition and were not banned and forced out. Their arguments were hilarious, they would lose constantly and they would become asshurt when insulted which just adds fuel to the fire so they made their own board with furries and traps.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            As to your first claim, as far as I remember, NIP did no such thing as insult Scott and in fact defended him several times.

            I mean, he defended him by substituting greater insults by lesser insults, and arguing that some of the insults applied generally to everywhere.

            just popping in to say that, not replying to the remainder, no offense

        • skef says:

          Set aside the question of trolling. However unpleasant conversation here can sometimes get, the participants are generally treating each other as ends, not means. The premise of this exercise is apparently that the people who talk here might be used as widgets in a process of influencing further people who, you know, might actually matter.

          Can you really not see that distinction and it’s relevance?

      • cactus head says:

        I think it’s worth honestly engaging with the material even if over on the /pol/ thread people (including the OP!) are shitposting about subverting and redpilling rationalists. If the holocaust did not happen, I desire to believe that the holocaust did not happen, etc. 😛 I also don’t think banning the OP so quickly is a good way of handling this situation. Quite a few commenters here were interested in the discussion taking place. NIP should be given more of a chance to respond to the replies here, if for no other reason than the sheer amount of time and effort it took for him to write the transcript.

        Also,

        >implying /pol/ is one person

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Hmm. Well, this was very disappointing. :\

        Edit: I mean, I’m disappointed that NIP turned out to be a troll after all (not that Scott banned him). Not very surprised, but disappointed.

        Edit2: And an antisemitic troll, at that. Very sad!

      • dndnrsn says:

        Generally speaking (less aimed at our host than a general question): what is the right thing to do when someone is trolling/pulling a Gish Gallop, and making false claims? Is it better to ignore, or to contradict falsehoods? The former may make you complicit; the latter may prove of value to bystanders, and prevents the conspiratorial claim “look, they’re suppressing what we’re saying; they must have something to hide.” Because there are certainly some false claims being made below.

        • John Schilling says:

          If they are trolling as politely as NIP did, in a forum where you would normally respond to honest argument, it is probably worth charitably addressing a few of their strongest claims and then bowing out with something along the lines of “…and I hope this explains why I don’t agree with your position, but I really don’t have time to address it further at this time”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Something where the person doing it certainly spends more time than the people responding doesn’t seem like classic trolling. But dealing with Gish Gallops is annoying – the effort needed to address a string of half-truths and falsehoods is annoying, and I’m not sure anybody’s going to be convinced of anything.

            EDIT: additional thought: it is really bad that what the average person learns about the Holocaust is the “Hollywood version” that is prey to this sort of thing. An actual scholarly version tracking the progression of the Holocaust from shootings in Poland in ’39 to larger and larger shootings in the East in ’41 to death camps in that year and later is far more interesting and robust.

          • Matthew S. says:

            If one is operating specifically in rationalist space, there is already a relevant SOP for this situation. You ask them, “What sort of evidence would cause you to change your mind?” If they give you an answer, it will probably be limited in scope to their strongest claims anyway.

            (In the case of Holocaust denial, this might include linking to some of the Nazi archives which have been digitized and put online, although given that they ask you to acknowledge you have a legitimate research interest when logging in, because of privacy concerns for the victims and their descendants, I’m not sure how I feel about pointing trolls in that direction.)

            If they refuse to offer any answer, they’ve essentially conceded the argument, and one should treat the subject as closed.

          • Jiro says:

            You ask them, “What sort of evidence would cause you to change your mind?” If they give you an answer, it will probably be limited in scope to their strongest claims anyway.

            That’s bad practice.

            1) Epistemic learned helplessness makes it a bad idea to change your mind after hearing evidence but before seeing if other people can poke holes in the evidence.

            2) If he says that, he invites you to find loopholes in his description of what evidence can satisfy him. Humans aren’t perfect at describing such things, so there’s a good chance you’ll find one. He’s then stuck either changing his mind because you found a loophole, or looking foolish because he said he’d change his mind and didn’t.

      • skef says:

        Those people who are expressing something like “we should have continued the discussion, maybe we would have learned something important about the Holocaust” should harder about the epistemology of massive conspiracy theories.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Y’know, underneath the militarized language and constant slurs, it sounds like NIP just wanted to sincerely try to persuade people who would try to listen. Insofar as a shit storm is touted, it seems to be a way of marketing to the skeptics–NIP wanted real debate. And he’s now being mocked on that thread for having been so idealistic.

      • Oh this is terrible. NIP did a great thing in turning the four hour video into a transcript. I read the transcript about a third of the way through, and it wasn’t very impressive, and I am somewhat amenable to dissension of Holocaust orthodoxy. But I was looking forward to further discussion.

        Do you really know that NIP is the one on the nasty linked site of Scott’s? I certainly can’t tell they are the same. I certainly would have preferred to not ban NIP even if it is certain. It seems to me it shows that SSC is pretty safe against so called concern trolling. IF NIP acted like a true troll, we would have ignored him or at least his arguments. Instead he tried to infiltrate this somewhat moderate forum with the pretty far out idea of Holocaust revisionism. If he had convinced many of us that he was right, then I think it would have been deserved. As it it was, the transcript was just a bunch of random shots at some of the proponents of traditional Holocaust theory, and I saw no one very convinced. Although the language on the web site Scott linked was pretty nasty, I say let them come in do their best. Only their good ideas will get anywhere, and so far we haven’t seen any.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          That NIP is the person on the linked thread is clear, yes. I mean… read it. He’s not, like, hiding it or anything.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I want to just post “False flag!” and be done, but that seems in poor form.

            But the idea that /pol/ is going to get their jollies by pretending they are NIP seems extraordinarily convoluted.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The 8ch thread is before the NIP post (and says so).

    • Vermillion says:

      As you predicted the server seems to be down or somesuch because your site isn’t loading for me. I’ll try again later, no guarantee I’ll have anything useful or interesting to say about it.

    • Deiseach says:

      I will definitely give it a go, it just happens that this weekend is going to be crazy busy at my place of employment so I haven’t time right now for more than some hit-and-run commenting. But you did the work and put your money where your mouth is, so the least we can do is respond in kind 🙂

    • AnarchyDice says:

      I read fairly in depth up to about chapter 8, then skimmed to the conclusion. I have to say that this is fairly well argued, although I get the whiff of cherry-picked or at the very least biased reporting of the same type the mainstream media does of not giving the whole story, although it could well be the case, my inner referee just starts throwing flags whenever witness credibility is called out on weird unrelated things like the author of that youtube video argues about the no-wound-from-bullet story that is weirdly focused on in the first chapter (although later, Wernick is shown to be unreliable regarding corpses, gas chambers, and others).

      However, without delving into the research or cited pieces myself, the arguments presented moved me much closer to the belief of “6 million is likely a heavily inflated number, but rounding up jewish people into camps with the resultant starvation, violence, deaths, and disease was still terrible and had a large body count. Although it maybe wasn’t -gas the jews- level bad in the manner of the industrialization of murder it was still a terrible mark on history with genocide still as the functional intended result”

      • Said Achmiz says:

        I’m going to reply in a lot more depth to this, but for now, let me just comment that yes, this video’s sources are indeed quite cherry-picked (which is not nearly the least of its sins). To give a simple example from near the start:

        The narrator cites Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, whose research showed 5.1 million Jews killed (yes, just Jews, not all Holocaust victims, as the narrator says—that part is actually … let’s charitably say, accidentally poor wording on the narrator’s part).

        And it’s true: Hilberg is a respected Holocaust historian, and his estimate for the number of Jewish Holocaust victims is 5.1 million. (Wikipedia has all of this, I won’t bother linking)

        But he’s not the only Holocaust historian! There are many others; and all the others disagree with Hilberg’s figure. Hilberg’s estimate is, in fact, very nearly the lowest among mainstream Holocaust historians (and by far the lowest among those who wrote later and had access to more sources):

        The early postwar calculations ranged from about 4.2 to 4.5 million in The Final Solution (1953) by Gerald Reitlinger (arguing against higher Russian estimates),[339] and 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg, to 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky.[340] Yehuda Bauer and Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust estimate 5.59–5.86 million.[341] A study led by Wolfgang Benz of the Technical University of Berlin suggests 5.29 to 6.20 million.[336]

        Martin Gilbert arrived at a “minimum estimate” of over 5.75 million Jewish victims.[343] Lucy S. Dawidowicz used the prewar census figures to estimate that 5.934 million Jews died (see table).[12]

        (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust#Victims_enumerated)

        Why does the narrator pick Hilberg, out of them all? Is it a coincidence that he picked the historian whose estimate for the number of Holocaust victims was the lowest available? In fact, why use just one source, when there are many? Why does he not even mention that other estimates exist, that other historians disagree?

        Filtered evidence is how these sorts of conspiracy theories work.

        • NIP says:

          let me just comment that yes, this video’s sources are indeed quite cherry-picked (which is not nearly the least of its sins).

          I look forward to seeing you prove that assertion when you have the time, fam.

          Why does the narrator pick Hilberg, out of them all? Is it a coincidence that he picked the historian whose estimate for the number of Holocaust victims was the lowest available? In fact, why use just one source, when there are many? Why does he not even mention that other estimates exist, that other historians disagree?

          I think I can answer those questions pretty easily. First, though, allow me to correct you. He doesn’t just use Hilberg as a source. You did read the whole transcript, did you not? Hilberg is his main authorial source, yes, but he also looks at Yitzhak Arad’s “Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps”, and he specifically mentions in the first few minutes of the film that he does this for reasons of cross-verification in case Hilberg is uniquely wrong. Then, besides the two mainstream historians he pulls sources from (and I should remind you that it’s the sources he’s ultimately criticizing, sources which many other Holocaust historians also use), there’s a whole bibliography’s worth of sources he pulls data from. I don’t actually have a full bibiography, but just from memory I know he looked at:

          – Websites like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yale’s Avalon Project, nizkor and deathcamps.org, etc.
          – Books like “The Death Camp Treblinka” by Alexander Donat, “Voices and Views” by Deborah Dwork (which is full of excerpts from historians’ works), the Nuremburg transcripts, etc.
          – Magazine articles, periodicals, etc.

          …and this is setting aside the primary sources he digs up from Hilberg and Arad’s biblographies. So when you say

          why use just one source, when there are many

          You’re being a little more than disengenous. Please stop that, ol’ buddy ol’ pal. It’s beneath you.

          As for why he picked Hilberg as his first source, it probably has something to do with the fact that Hilberg’s “The Destruction of the European Jews”, according to Wikipedia:

          …is largely held to be the first comprehensive historical study of the Holocaust. According to Holocaust historian, Michael R. Marrus (The Holocaust in History), until the book appeared, little information about the genocide of the Jews by Nazi Germany had “reached the wider public” in both the West and the East, and even in pertinent scholarly studies it was “scarcely mentioned or only in passing as one more atrocity in a particularly cruel war”.

          In other words, the Narrator picked it because it’s chock-full of some of the very first comprehensive looks at primary sources. So when you say:

          Is it a coincidence that he picked the historian whose estimate for the number of Holocaust victims was the lowest available?

          …I have to say, quite probably. Considering it’s the very first comprehensive, in-depth look at Holocaust history and that, as I mentioned, it certainly is not the only source he looked at, as well as the fact that the “final tally” of the entire Holocaust isn’t the focus or scope of this film, at all, I’d say it’s entirely coincidental that he picked Hilberg and that Hilberg’s estimate was the lowest.

          Filtered evidence is how these sorts of conspiracy theories work.

          It’s also how erroneous historical narratives can work 😉
          Also, objection, your Honor! Conspiracy theory? Assertion without evidence!

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Does he cite any of those other historians listed in the Wikipedia article I quoted? (Lestschinsky, Bauer, Rozett, Benz, Gilbert, Dawidowicz)

            Does he cite any other estimates for the total number of Jewish victims, other than Hilberg’s estimate? Does he acknowledge that there are other estimates, from other mainstream historians?

            Does he use any source other than Hilberg to establish the number of Jewish victims?

            We’re talking about just the claim about the number of victims, now. Nothing else.

          • NIP says:

            @Said

            No to all of those. Would you mind explaining why that’s relevant?

            I should also remind you that if Hilberg’s estimate is the lowest, and if that estimate is wrong and the true number of total victims is higher, that actually strengthens many of the Narrator’s arguments, particularly those regarding burial space, killing effieciency, body burning, etc.

            But as far as I can tell, since the focus of the film is on only three camps, the total number of victims is largely irrelevant, unless Hilberg’s figures are ridiculously out of step with other historians. And from the numbers you yourself cited, while their totals differ, they’re all in the ballpark of 5-6 million.

            EDIT: Should have said “if the purported number of total victims is higher.”

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Ok. So, just so we’re clear, let me reiterate:

            The narrator made a claim: that while the usual figure cited for the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust is 6 million, in fact the number was 5.1 million.

            In support of this claim, he cited a real and apparently reliable source.

            The narrator emphasized the reliability of this source.

            What he didn’t mention at all, however, was:

            a) this source is not the only available reliable source; many other experts exist;
            b) this source disagrees with all other experts in the field.

            The claim that in fact, the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust was 5.1 million, not 6 million is presented as true; and if we take the narrator’s words at face value and don’t do our own research, it appears to be well-supported; but in reality, it’s not only not well-supported, it’s actually just false (according to the expert consensus).

            Set aside why this is relevant. Do you contest my summary?

          • NIP says:

            @Said

            Do you contest my summary?

            Yes, in one particular:

            The claim that in fact, the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust was 5.1 million, not 6 million is presented as true;

            The Narrator himself isn’t claiming that the 5.1 million number is correct. The whole point of his film is dispute Hilberg’s and other people’s sources for three camps in particular. He stating that 6 million is a commonly quoted figure for the number of Holocaust victims, which is true. And then he’s saying that Hilberg, who is one of many Holocaust historians, has a figure that differs (though not significantly) from that number or from numbers given by other historians – which is also true.

            You seem to be implying that the Narrator purposefully chose Hilberg’s death total because it’s the lowest compared to the commonly quoted figure of 6 million, in order to…do what, exactly? As I mentioned, if Hilberg is (considered to be) wrong by other historians in his total death tally, and if the tally is in fact higher, that actually strengthens a lot of his arguments.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Addendum to my above comment:

        this is fairly well argued

        The key to this—to this entire genre of claims/arguments/theories/etc.—is that how well-argued it is, is almost irrelevant.

        1. I present you with a big pile of facts.
        2. I make an argument based on these facts.

        Is my argument good, bad? Convincing, not? It doesn’t matter, if that pile of facts is cherry-picked, full of distortions, or filled with outright lies.

        If you take my pile of facts at face value—if you trust that I haven’t simply lied to you (about the facts themselves, about their provenance, about the existence of other facts that might be relevant)—then you’ve already been deceived. By the time you’re picking apart my argument, judging whether it’s convincing or not, you’ve already bought into the lies.

        This sort of video (and similar things in this genre) works by exploiting viewers’/readers’ natural tendency to take facts at face value, while scrutinizing verbal arguments. You naturally assume: “well, he wouldn’t just lie, or cherry-pick, or fail to mention something like ‘this source I selected disagrees with literally all other sources in this field'”. It’s not even a conscious assumption—it just doesn’t occur to most folks to think of that sort of thing. So you focus on how good the argument is, because the argument is right there in the open.

        But the argument is the tip of the iceberg.

        • Jiro says:

          You know this connects with the argument at the top of the thread about concern trolling. Nazis are motivated to argue that the Holocaust was exaggerated. The fact that the argument was made by a Nazi is a good reason not to listen to it, because just the fact that it was made with someone with those motivations means it’s probably crap.

          “Look at this argument, examine it on its own merit and ignore that I’m a Nazi” is really not the way to go, even though rationalists like to think that the validity of an argument is independent of its source.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Jiro:

            “Look at this argument, examine it on its own merit and ignore that I’m a Nazi” is really not the way to go, even though rationalists like to think that the validity of an argument is independent of its source.

            There’s a subtlety here:

            The actual validity of an argument is, indeed, independent of its source. (Thinking otherwise is the genetic fallacy.)

            Your epistemic state w.r.t. the validity of an argument, however, is not independent of its source. When someone tells you a true fact, you have to condition your new beliefs, not just on the fact itself, but also on the fact that this person has told you this. (This is the notion of filtered evidence.)

            But yes, you are quite right when you say

            The fact that the argument was made by a Nazi is a good reason not to listen to it, because just the fact that it was made with someone with those motivations means it’s probably crap.

            … with the caveat that “probably” is the operative word here. The reasoning is not “a Nazi said it, so it is thereby false“; it’s “a Nazi said it, therefore it’s probably false“. (formal probability-theoretic derivation available upon request)

            (Of course, we can also—if we’re so inclined—actually examine the argument, and the alleged facts, etc., and do our research on the topic, to correct for framing/filtered. etc.; this examination and research would then screen off the fact that we originally heard the argument from a Nazi.)

          • NIP says:

            Nazis are motivated to argue that the Holocaust was exaggerated. The fact that the argument was made by a Nazi is a good reason not to listen to it, because just the fact that it was made with someone with those motivations means it’s probably crap.

            Where are you getting the idea that he’s a Nazi? Is it because….he’s criticizing the Holocaust narrative? I’ve never heard that definition before. If that’s true, that makes me a Nazi, but I wasn’t the last time I checked. You learn something new everyday, around here.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @NIP:

            I didn’t say the video’s narrator is a Nazi.

          • NIP says:

            @Said

            You’re right, you didn’t. Jiro did. Which is why I quoted him.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @NIP:

            No, no he didn’t.

          • Anatoly says:

            Suppose I’m a Nazi and I happen to think that the evidence I was able to examine, even after allowing for my own motivated reasoning and honestly trying to correct for it, shows that the Holocaust was exaggerated.

            Is there anything I can do to present my argument in a way that’d make you weaken the influence of my Nazi prior and give my argument a fair hearing? For example, would it help to start with “I understand how my being a Nazi might make you think it isn’t worth your time to even read this, but please consider that I value reaching the truth higher than my Nazi ideals, and I’ve tried very hard to correct for possible Nazi biases etc.”?

            Are there ways for me to buttress/present my argument so that it’d even become irrationally prejudicial for you to dismiss it merely because I’m a Nazi?

          • NIP says:

            @Said

            No, no he didn’t.

            Okay, let’s take another look at what Jiro said.

            You know this connects with the argument at the top of the thread about concern trolling. Nazis are motivated to argue that the Holocaust was exaggerated. The fact that the argument was made by a Nazi is a good reason not to listen to it, because just the fact that it was made with someone with those motivations means it’s probably crap.

            “Look at this argument, examine it on its own merit and ignore that I’m a Nazi” is really not the way to go, even though rationalists like to think that the validity of an argument is independent of its source.

            I suppose you’re technically correct. He didn’t outright say that the Narrator is a Nazi. He’s merely discussing why we shouldn’t trust anything a Nazi says, in a thread about Holocaust revisionism. He totally isn’t implying anything about anyone in particular at all. Glad we cleared that up.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Anatoly:

            I already addressed your points implicitly, but to reiterate:

            Is there anything I can do to present my argument in a way that’d make you weaken the influence of my Nazi prior and give my argument a fair hearing?

            There are many things you could do, yes. (Such as the ones you listed, sure. They wouldn’t have much of an effect. But they’d have nonzero effect.)

            Are there ways for me to buttress/present my argument so that it’d even become irrationally prejudicial for you to dismiss it merely because I’m a Nazi?

            I never said anything about dismissing your claims merely because hypothetical-you are a Nazi.

            What I said was that your interlocutor must condition his conclusion (i.e., his posterior probability distribution across possible accounts of the relevant facts/etc.) on all the facts, including the fact that you’re a Nazi and you’re the one making the claims and presenting the evidence and so forth.

            Nothing you, or anyone else, can do, can change the fact that correct belief-updating can only result from conditioning on all the (relevant) facts. Conditioning on only some of the relevant facts, and ignoring some others, makes the conclusion necessarily less likely to be correct.

            You could say other things, such as “I know I’m a Nazi but please consider my arguments anyway”. That, then—the fact that you said this—would also be a fact your interlocutor have to condition on, in addition to the fact that you’re a Nazi.

            And, as I’ve said—if I did my own research on the topic, from scratch, ignoring everything you said and approaching the matter from a blank-slate starting point—then that would screen off all the aforesaid facts about you. They would no longer be relevant.

        • NIP says:

          Is my argument good, bad? Convincing, not? It doesn’t matter, if that pile of facts is cherry-picked, full of distortions, or filled with outright lies.

          Okay, true. But surely you will come back with some evidence to support all or any of these claims?

          This sort of video (and similar things in this genre) works by exploiting viewers’/readers’ natural tendency to take facts at face value, while scrutinizing verbal arguments.

          I’m confused. Is your argument here that, because this is “the sort of video” or the “sort of genre” that is untrustworthy, that…it’s untrustworthy? Isn’t that a circular argument, a la Bulverism?

          But the argument is the tip of the iceberg.

          I’m looking forward to seeing what’s under the water, because you’re blue-balling us pretty hard, fam.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            I’m confused. Is your argument here that, because this is “the sort of video” or the “sort of genre” that is untrustworthy, that…it’s untrustworthy? Isn’t that a circular argument, a la Bulverism?

            Please don’t be dense.

            Not literally every sentence said in a conversation on a topic is an argument for a position.

            Sometimes people say things that are:

            – explanations;
            – comments;
            – asides;
            – etc.

            When I say “this sort of video is …”, I’m not claiming that it’s untrustworthy. I’m not trying to prove anything. It’s not an argument in support of a point.

            I’m explaining how videos (and they are usually videos; it’s much harder to pull off in text, for what should be obvious reasons) of this kind work, how they convince people. I’m commenting on the rhetorical/persuasive mechanisms that they use.

            Refuting the video’s points is a separate matter.

            —-

            Separately from the above (yes, it’s possible to make more than one point, on different things, in the same post!):

            Talking about whether a video (or essay, book, etc.) is “trustworthy” or “untrustworthy” is borderline-nonsensical. It’s certainly not even close to the level of precision required to make any progress on a tricky or complex topic.

            The video makes claims. Are those claims accurate or inaccurate?

            The video provides facts. Are they true facts? Or are they lies, inaccuracies, mistakes, distortions?

            Are important facts omitted?

            Are the sources cited real? Are they quoted faithfully? Are the sources cherry-picked? Are the quotes cherry-picked?

            Are disagreements among experts faithfully reported? When speaking of a field of study (be it Holocaust history, occupational psychology, metallurgy, or theoretical mathematics), is the consensus in the field (or lack thereof) accurately reported?

            Are the arguments given valid? Are errors committed? Are fallacies or distortions of reasoning indulged in? Are biases corrected for?

            Is evidence properly updated on? Are priors and base rates taken into account?

            These are specific issues. “Trustworthy vs. untrustworthy” doesn’t even begin to suffice, to encapsulate all of them.

          • NIP says:

            @Said

            Please don’t be dense.

            I’m afraid I can’t oblige you there, my friend. Don’t go falling for the typical-mind fallacy, now. I’m not very smart! Perhaps I simply didn’t understand your point. Also, there’s no need to be so defensive! Relax. Take it eaaasy. Make a soothing beverage. We’re just having a conversation.

            When I say “this sort of video is …”, I’m not claiming that it’s untrustworthy. I’m not trying to prove anything. It’s not an argument in support of a point.

            Well okay, if you say so. But it seemed an awful lot like that you were implying that the video was untrustworthy via classification.

            I’m explaining how videos (and they are usually videos; it’s much harder to pull off in text, for what should be obvious reasons) of this kind work, how they convince people. I’m commenting on the rhetorical/persuasive mechanisms that they use.

            Videos of what kind? Documentaries? Do they all have the same rhetorical techniques in common? Have you watched a lot of them? From your initial suggestion to turn this film into a transcript, you don’t seem like you’d have the time. But if I’m mistaken, could you go into detail about how all Holocaust revisionist videos are the same, and what techniques they use?

            Refuting the video’s points is a separate matter.

            And one that I’m much more interested in!

            Lots of questions

            All very good questions, that I’d love if you began to provide answers to, if possible.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @NIP:

            Well okay, if you say so. But it seemed an awful lot like that you were implying that the video was untrustworthy via classification.

            This is SSC; sometimes we just make comments that seem relevant and topical. Not every sentence of every comment is an argument for a “side”, even by implication.

            I understand that there are internet communities where this isn’t the case, and where it’s customary to engage in back-and-forth verbal battles where every word uttered is a round fired at the opponent.

            This is not such a place.

            Videos of what kind? Documentaries? Do they all have the same rhetorical techniques in common? Have you watched a lot of them?

            I have watched and read a good number of things. Many things have many things in common.

            All very good questions, that I’d love if you began to provide answers to, if possible.

            You took four months to post this transcript! It is acceptable if I take more than one day to post a considered response, yes? 😉

            (That response will not take the form of an SSC comment; I have a blog of my own, where I’ve got considerably more freedom of word count, formatting, etc.)

          • NIP says:

            @Said

            This is SSC; sometimes we just make comments that seem relevant and topical. Not every sentence of every comment is an argument for a “side”, even by implication.

            That may be true, but for future ease of communication I’d appreciate it if you could make such distinctions a little more clear in your posts.

            I have watched and read a good number of things. Many things have many things in common.

            That’s, uh…true. Thanks for clarifying.

            You took four months to post this transcript! It is acceptable if I take more than one day to post a considered response, yes? 😉

            (That response will not take the form of an SSC comment; I have a blog of my own, where I’ve got considerably more freedom of word count, formatting, etc.)

            I apologize if I gave the impression that I was pressuring you to give a response, because that wasn’t my intention at all. I was merely stating my interest in your future response.

            Though if I may make a suggestion to make the discussion (at least between the two of us) a tad more amicable in the future, I’d appreciate it if you could try to focus as much as possible on providing concrete counter-evidence rather than essays on meta-points. I know I said I’m not all that smart, but I do understand the importance of methodology, priors, etc. in historical research. I just would like to see actual examples of how this film fails at that, in future.

            EDIT: I should add that going on these sorts of tangents without presenting counter-evidence paired with it comes off as bloviating and dismissive to some people, including me. Just fyi.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            … I’d appreciate it if you could try to focus as much as possible on providing concrete counter-evidence rather than essays on meta-points.

            This being a public forum, you are not the only one who may read my comments. Consequently I am not writing only for you—even when my comments are addressed to you!

            Counter-evidence is forthcoming. More commentary on meta-points is also forthcoming.

            Anything I say that you feel is irrelevant—feel free to ignore! 🙂

          • NIP says:

            @Said

            This being a public forum, you are not the only one who may read my comments. Consequently I am not writing only for you—even when my comments are addressed to you!

            Oh, I know that very well. This is part of my concern.

            Anything I say that you feel is irrelevant—feel free to ignore! 🙂

            If I feel that piles of irrelavancies are being used to appear to make a point without actually making one, I’ll feel free to point that out, as well.

          • Atlas says:

            I should add that going on these sorts of tangents without presenting counter-evidence paired with it comes off as bloviating and dismissive to some people, including me. Just fyi.

            I would like to add that I, for one, share this perception. I think in a case like this, where the factual questions are hotly disputed, the ratio of evidentiary discussion/meta-level discussion should be particularly high.

            If we’re just trading meta-observations, I’m not a Holocaust denier (or “revisionist”), and as it happens I’m Jewish, but it really frustrates me that, when I see the question mentioned, there seems to be a whole lot of questioning the motives of Holocaust deniers, censoring Holocaust deniers, debating whether it’s even worth addressing Holocaust deniers, going off on tangents, etc., and relatively few attempts to factually dispute the central points deniers make. (Though obviously there are many who do, like Holocaust Denial on Trial.)

          • Jiro says:

            it really frustrates me that, when I see the question mentioned, there seems to be a whole lot of questioning the motives of Holocaust deniers, censoring Holocaust deniers, debating whether it’s even worth addressing Holocaust deniers, going off on tangents, etc., and relatively few attempts to factually dispute the central points deniers make.

            One would expect that “debating whether it’s even worth addressing Holocaust deniers” would have to come before factually disputing their points.

            Factually disputing their points and *then* arguing that it’s not worth factually disputing their points would be useless.

          • J Mann says:

            For what it’s worth, I find it both (a) informative and (b) delightful that an 8chan effort to see how rationalists respond to holocaust denial resulted initially in a discussion of how rationalists approach factual questions.

            Said, I’m also looking forward to your blog posts, whether they’re on the evidence for holocaust denial or the methodology by which a rationalist might approach the question.

    • dndnrsn says:

      On the subject of bringing up possible inaccuracies in eyewitness accounts: this one is a favourite of Holocaust deniers, but it runs into the problem that for everything, eyewitness accounts run into this trouble. If you read soldier’s memoirs, for example, you will come across stories and details that aren’t correct from time to time. Is the correct conclusion to draw from this that the wars in question never happened? No. The correct conclusion is that people make honest mistakes, memory is unreliable, people will repeat stories for effect rather than for information, etc.

      Ultimately, Holocaust denial posits a theory that is harder to believe than the reality. The effort needed to perpetuate a deception of that scale would be greater than the effort involved in murdering five or six million people by shooting, gas, disease, and starvation.

      • baconbacon says:

        I read a little bit of the transcript and was going to post something similar. In regards to the claimed escape getting shot in the shoulder there are dozens of possible explanations (he saw the guard raise his gun and fire, the bullet missed him, he escapes and later has an unrelated injury to his shoulder that he assumes must have been from the bullet, or something other than a bullet hit him at that time etc).

        A lie is very different from a mistake.

        • NIP says:

          In regards to the claimed escape getting shot in the shoulder there are dozens of possible explanations (he saw the guard raise his gun and fire, the bullet missed him, he escapes and later has an unrelated injury to his shoulder that he assumes must have been from the bullet, or something other than a bullet hit him at that time etc

          Mmm, see, that would be a good argument if Wiernik had either made any of those assertions himself, or had been at all unclear or equivocating in what he said happened. But neither of those are true. Let’s quote Wiernik himself, in full:

          The pursuer was gaining and I heard his running feet close behind me. Then I heard a shot and in the same instant felt a severe pain in my left shoulder blade. I turned around and saw a guard from the Treblinka penal camp. He again aimed his pistol at me. I knew about firearms and I noticed that the weapon had jammed. I took advantage of this and intentionally slowed down pulling the axe out of my belt. The guard, a Ukrainian, ran up to me yelling, “Halt or I’ll shoot!” I came up close to him and hit him savagely with my axe across the left side of his chest. He collapsed at my feet with a vile oath.

          I was free and ran into the woods. After penetrating a little deeper into the thicket, I sat down among the bushes. From the distance I heard a lot of shooting. Believe it or not, the bullet did not wound me. It went through all of my clothing and stopped at my shoulder, leaving a mark. I was alone, resting.

          Nooot a lotta room for alternate explanations there, I’m afraid. To quote my own comment on the transcript:

          Note that he didn’t say that the guard missed, which would have been believable. He doesn’t say that the guard was unable to fire due to a jam, for the first shot, anyway. That too, would be believable. He doesn’t claim that it grazed him, which would have been believable. He doesn’t even claim that what happened was a miracle, which would be unbelievable but perhaps not impossible, depending on your metaphysics. No – he just straight up *doesn’t know that what he just described is impossible,* because he is lying. He says, in the second-to-last paragraph of the book, that he “knew about firearms”, yet he offers his incredible tale of being shot point-blank unscathed with a meek “believe it or not”. Well, Jankel old boy, what if I don’t believe it? What’s more astounding is that neither this, or his other impossibilities regarding body-burning, are ever brought up by Hilberg, Arad, or other so-called historians as worthy of discussion. As we’ll see, neither did anyone who used his testimony to sentence people to death and imprisonment.

          Seems pretty cut and dry to me.

      • NIP says:

        On the subject of bringing up possible inaccuracies in eyewitness accounts: this one is a favourite of Holocaust deniers

        Probably because, as I’ve unfortunately learned, it is depressingly easy to do.

        it runs into the problem that for everything, eyewitness accounts run into this trouble. If you read soldier’s memoirs, for example, you will come across stories and details that aren’t correct from time to time. Is the correct conclusion to draw from this that the wars in question never happened? No. The correct conclusion is that people make honest mistakes, memory is unreliable, people will repeat stories for effect rather than for information, etc.

        That would be a good point, except that eyewitness accounts are literally the only evidence whatsoever for the existence and function of Sobibor, Treblinka, and Belzec. Moreover, these camps were supposedly secret and known only to a few until the war was over, unlike your example of a war with unreliable accounts from soldiers. Also, wars tend to be big and have a lot of participants, which means for every unreliable account there’s like five believable ones. There were supposedly a lot of people involved in the three death camps that are the subject of the film…but not a lot of eyewitnesses.

        Ultimately, Holocaust denial posits a theory that is harder to believe than the reality. The effort needed to perpetuate a deception of that scale would be greater than the effort involved in murdering five or six million people by shooting, gas, disease, and starvation.

        Not really. Considering that the most powerful nations on Earth conquered the territory on which the supposed crimes occurred, tried and executed or imprisoned any witnesses who’d be able to contradict the story, and then had direct control over the media and educational institutions of the countries involved in disseminating the story in the first place. And, as the documentary goes into detail to prove, the effort required to kill all those people in the manner described by historians would have been a lot more.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m still only on the first part, and the narrator has got my back up because he’s so dogmatically sure every source he quotes is lying. He doesn’t put a tooth in it – “Rajzman even begins lying the minute he hits the witness stand.”

      What he does not seem to understand is the psychology of the method. When you’re dealing with eliminating a source of what your political philosophy is telling you are sub-human wretches responsible for undermining and polluting your nation and your culture, it doesn’t happen all at once. You have to include a programme of dehumanising them so that natural sympathies won’t be raised in the guards and soldiers and all the rest of the forces required to run the operation. So things like turning a guy into a caricature to be mocked, and shaving the hair of women so that they look strange and odd and laughable is all part of it. He considers the “hair for mattresses” story to be a blatant lie, but he doesn’t seem to consider it could be a coarse, mocking joke indeed told by “the masters” to the inmates working to cut off the hair of the women. It doesn’t have to be true, even from the point of view of the Germans.

      Looking at a website about Auschwitz, they say that hair was cut off (in this case from the bodies after they had been gassed) and was packaged to be sent to a factory in Bavaria to make “various products”, including cloth. So it is indeed possible that at these different camps, they cut off women’s hair (because women tend to have longer hair than men) before gassing them for similar use. The “use it to stuff mattresses for German women” could be the ‘joke’ told to the workers as to why they were doing this.

      Regarding the cutting off hair to control typhus (so the “mattress stuffing” was not the real reason, so the testimony given using that story is a lie, runs the reasoning of the narrator), it was body hair that was shaved off; head hair could have been cut off before/after gassing the victims for use:

      Prisoners in all the Nazi concentration camps, who were selected for work, had all their body hair removed immediately upon arrival, in an effort to prevent typhus, which is spread by body lice.

      He raises some questions but doesn’t seem to look for the steelman explanation of “why did he/they say this”; he simply pulls the quotes, says “this is a lie” and then, satisfied that he’s proven this, goes on to build on his conclusions that “all this so-called testimony is lies, the histories written using these sources are therefore contaminated and unreliable even where they’re not lying themselves, and so my view of the matter is the only feasible true one”.

      Re the book by Wiernik – maybe he’s correct that the guy is a fantasist. Probably there were a few after the war who exaggerated or invented stories in order to (a) explain how they survived when others didn’t (b) get acclaim and sympathy. Maybe some of the things he says never happened, maybe none of them did. But maybe some of them did, and our narrator isn’t impartial enough to look for the “sounds unlikely but it could have happened like this”, e.g. in the “shot at point-blank range and it didn’t wound me” story of Wiernik’s escape; there are plenty of “miraculous escape” stories recounted from war-time experiences of being shot and the bullet was stopped by a cigarette case or other item. People do have unlikely escapes and near-misses.

      I don’t know. There’s just something about the whole tone of this, even in the transcript, that is off-putting and makes me not want to read on. I do feel he went into this with “I don’t believe all that stuff about what happened, I’m going to investigate the real truth” rather than a neutral “so I decided to check some commonly-accepted facts in wide circulation to see if they added up” attitude.

      • NIP says:

        I’m still only on the first part, and the narrator has got my back up because he’s so dogmatically sure every source he quotes is lying. He doesn’t put a tooth in it – “Rajzman even begins lying the minute he hits the witness stand.”

        I’d say that he’s so sure, in that particular case, because he goes on in the very next paragraph to explain why the first thing out of Rajzman’s mouth at the witness stand is a lie. To quote the transcript:

        Rajzman even begins lying the minute he hits the witness stand.

        Here he reads his oath to tell the truth, and then he says: “In August 1942 I was taken away from the Warsaw ghetto.” But at the University of California Berkeley we find an article Rajzman wrote that was included in a United States House of Representatives hearing transcript.

        Rajzman writes on page 121 that on September 17 he was taken to the train and deported. But at Nuremburg, a year later, he says he was deported in August. It’s likely he changed his story after realizing that his September 17th date didn’t fit with Warsaw deportation train records, as seen here in Yitzhak Arad’s book.

        …and all of that is in fact, true. And meticulously sourced.

        When you’re dealing with eliminating a source of what your political philosophy is telling you are sub-human wretches responsible for undermining and polluting your nation and your culture, it doesn’t happen all at once. You have to include a programme of dehumanising them so that natural sympathies won’t be raised in the guards and soldiers and all the rest of the forces required to run the operation.

        You seem to have put a lot of thought into this. Do you have an experimental result to back up this assertion? 😛

        shaving the hair of women so that they look strange and odd and laughable is all part of it

        Or, if you prefer to use Occam’s Razor, it might have been because there was a typhus epidemic going around. Oh, wait…

        it was body hair that was shaved off; head hair could have been cut off before/after gassing the victims for use…

        Prisoners in all the Nazi concentration camps, who were selected for work, had all their body hair removed immediately upon arrival, in an effort to prevent typhus, which is spread by body lice.

        …you already know that. Also, where did you get that quote? I never encountered a single mention of body hair being shaved off in my research. And wouldn’t it be strange to try to prevent the spread of typhus among people who are about to be gassed to death?

        People do have unlikely escapes and near-misses.

        Not like Wiernik’s, they don’t. And this is setting aside the fact that if Wiernik had indeed been a laborer at an extermination camp for as long as he claims, he would have known that bodies don’t burn on their own, that they don’t merely leave ashes when consumed, that water wells surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pounds of rotting flesh in the ground can’t be drunk from, etc etc etc…

        I don’t know. There’s just something about the whole tone of this, even in the transcript, that is off-putting and makes me not want to read on.

        To quote the Narrator himself:

        This will be repulsive to some, but sometimes you have to look at things that are unsettling in order to quit believing a lie.

        • Nornagest says:

          And wouldn’t it be strange to try to prevent the spread of typhus among people who are about to be gassed to death?

          It’s in the quote you quoted:

          Prisoners […] who were selected for work

          These prisoners were expected to die eventually, but the Nazis wanted to get slave labor out of them first. You get more labor out of a slave if they’re not dying of typhus.

          • NIP says:

            @Nornagest

            Okay, but none of the eyewitnesses I’ve looked at say that it was just those selected for work. I’ll ask again: where is that information Deisach quoted coming from?

        • Jiro says:

          Eyewitnesses are known to be unreliable on details. The fact that an eyewitness said something contradictory doesn’t mean he’s “lying”.

      • Aapje says:

        People do have unlikely escapes and near-misses.

        And way more people don’t have unlikely escapes and near-misses, but for some reason those people are not as vocal.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m not engaging with the movie, but thank you for doing the work of making the transcript.

      • NIP says:

        You’re welcome! It was quite a lot of work, but I couldn’t have done it without help. Thanks again to those who assisted (they know who they are, but I won’t mention them myself in case they don’t want to be tarred with the “denier” brush.)

    • Atlas says:

      The time has finally arrived! Back in…February, I think? I dropped a link to a Holocaust revisionist documentary that I had found on YouTube. Predictably, it wrinkled a lot of people’s sprinkles. Various commenters accused me of trolling or posting in bad faith, without any intent to have a real discussion. A few were curious, but all agreed that ain’t nobody got time to sit and watch a four-hour documentary on a controversial topic at the prompting of an infrequent commenter.

      At the risk of bolting the proverbial door after the proverbial horse has bolted…why did you cite an audio recording (and then go to the presumably considerable trouble of transcribing it) rather than an essay/book/blog post covering the same material? (Specifically, I presume that the same arguments are made in content released by e.g. the Institute for Historical Review or the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.) Audio/visual materials are useful for theatrical propaganda, and good to listen to while you’re playing videogames/on the subway/walking the dog and can’t read, but when it comes to speedily and comprehensively evaluating arguments text is much better. (A propagandist like Stefan Molyneux makes videos, a real philosopher like Scott Alexander writes essays.) I think most arguments can be made within 10,000 words (~20 pages), which at the average reading speed of 200 WPM (probably higher for SSC readers) is over 4x faster than watching a 4 hour vid. And it’s much easier to refer back to text during an argument as well.

      • NIP says:

        As was pointed out way back when I dropped the video, it was simply a cultural misunderstanding. Not everyone agrees that putting information in video format is inherently propagandistic. Some people process information visually. Not everyone is a speed-reader, or even a reader at all. I underestimated the degree to which SSC users are dismissive of audiovisual content, especially of a controversial nature. That’s all.

        a real philosopher like Scott Alexander writes essays

        Scott’s a psychiatrist, not a philosopher.

        • Atlas says:

          As was pointed out way back when I dropped the video, it was simply a cultural misunderstanding

          Fair enough (I’ve become more “autistic” about trying to do things logically recently, so I apologize if I came off as rude, I meant to offer good faith suggestion 🙁 .)

          Not everyone agrees that putting information in video format is inherently propagandistic.

          I didn’t and wouldn’t say it’s inherently propagandistic, just that I think the comparative advantage videos have over text is their ability to stir emotions, rather than convey information.

          Some people process information visually. Not everyone is a speed-reader, or even a reader at all.

          I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume that people in the SSC comments section, of all places, are probably readers. (And I quoted the figure for average reading speed.)

          Also, not to beat a proverbial dead horse, but you could have also cited works in both media in that case.

          I underestimated the degree to which SSC users are dismissive of audiovisual content, especially of a controversial nature.

          I realize that you probably received a lot of unfair vitriol (and not a lot of evidence based counter arguments) for posting about a controversial topic, for which I offer my sincere condolences. I for one fully support civil, open and free discussion of this issue.

          Scott’s a psychiatrist, not a philosopher.

          Professionally, yes, but I meant in the context of his writing, and I think “philosophy” is a better way to describe what Scott writes about on SSC than “psychiatry”. (Like how in a recent interview with Ezra Klein, Tyler Cowen, an economist by training and profession, said that he thinks of himself more as doing philosophy than economics.)

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Scott’s a psychiatrist, not a philosopher.

          Wait, what?

          Of course Scott’s a philosopher. What’s him being a psychiatrist got to do with it?

          • NIP says:

            @Atlas

            Professionally, yes, but I meant in the context of his writing, and I think “philosophy” is a better way to describe what Scott writes about on SSC than “psychiatry”. (Like how in a recent interview with Ezra Klein, Tyler Cowen, an economist by training and profession, said that he thinks of himself more as doing philosophy than economics.)

            Fair point. I was merely being a tad autistic myself for a moment. You guys are rubbing off on me 😉

            I didn’t and wouldn’t say it’s inherently propagandistic, just that I think the comparative advantage videos have over text is their ability to stir emotions, rather than convey information.

            I would agree with you, generally speaking. But in this particular case, the documentary we’re talking about is extraordinarly dry. There’s not even any music tracks that aren’t part of video clips he’s excerpted. I’d wager that 50% of the film is just still shots of pages of books. Sort of a compromise in terms of meda, you may say. But that’s just my opinion. I realize now that I should have considered my audience a little more carefully. In the end, that’s why I followed Said’s advice and made a transcript.

            @Said

            Wait, what?

            Of course Scott’s a philosopher. What’s him being a psychiatrist got to do with it?

            See above. Just a touch of the ’tism, fam.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Ah, well. It happens 😉

          • Jiro says:

            If being autistic makes you act evil, people are going to treat you as evil.

  6. albatross11 says:

    One of the unforseen positive impacts of the Middlebury fiasco (with Charles Murray being kept from speaking) is that there are people who aren’t white supremacists trying to engage with some of the important ideas of muggle realism. Sometimes the goal is to debunk those ideas; maybe it’s just to think them through properly. Often the goal is to salvage what the writers think are valuable mental tools or areas of research from being thrown away because those things seem to be the tools of the outgroup.

    This is an attempt to make a more careful statement about race, heritability of IQ, etc., by some people who aren’t remotely muggle-realists. In particular, this is a smarter version of the common (and silly) rhetoric that says race doesn’t exist and therefore shut up about race and IQ.

    A big thread in this article is that it would be very hard to really nail down evidence that the black/white IQ difference is genetic, and this seems plausible to me–trying to untangle genes vs environment in the American environment looks hard. My main qualm with their article is that it seemed to me, as a non-expert in the relevant fields, that equally strong arguments could be made for why it would be really hard to nail down evidence that the black/white IQ difference is environmental. That is, I think if we follow their approach, we have to end up saying that the evidence isn’t sufficient to make any confident statements about whether that IQ difference has a genetic component or not[1]. Otherwise, they’re engaging in an isolated demand for rigor, demanding enormously higher standards of evidence for a genetic hypothesis than for an environmental hypothesis. Someone who wanted to claim a genetic explanation could toss out equally-valid demands for rigor to undermine any environmental argument.

    [1] And indeed, that’s really close to what Herrenstein and Murray said in their book.

    • bintchaos says:

      Inheritance is complex.
      I think you have you have to make a distinction between molecular differences in brain biochemistry and symbolic and behavioral inheritance, as differentiated from genetic and epigenetic inheritance.

    • The Red Foliot says:

      Yet we have seen Taiwan and South Korea, for example, go from poor societies with populations that could barely survive to countries with some of the highest living standards in the world.9 Thus, there are probably better accounts than genetic ones for explaining geographic variation in standards of living and associated social outcomes, explanations such as institutional differences in the rule of law and so on. For now, research and theory suggest that genetic differences are a potential—but highly unlikely—explanation for national, racial, or ethnic differences in behavior and socioeconomic success, but such an explanation is a very difficult case to make.

      The reasoning here is distorted. What the observation shows is that genetic differences, if they exist, are overshadowed by other factors in their role in national economic success, not shown to be ‘highly unlikely’.

      Overall the article says that differences in racial genetics are difficult to determine due to confounders, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility of their existing or even show that they are unlikely.

      • albatross11 says:

        Steelmanning their argument: There’s a persistent thread of muggle-realist argument that says that the dire poverty in much of sub-Saharan Africa is largely genetic in origin–the folks there just aren’t smart enough to manage a better civilization than what they’ve got. South Korea and Taiwan demonstrate that the argument proves too much–both are places where a similarly-thinking muggle-realist in 1900 would have told us that those countries were poor because their natives simply didn’t have the inherent mental ability to do better. That implies that it’s not a great idea to assume that poverty and dysfunction in a country come from the inability of their people to manage better.

        The broader issue is that when you look at different races and measure their outcomes, that’s always observational. We know that there are a lot of ways that the lives of blacks and whites in the US, say, are really different. We can try to correct for some of them in our observational studies–try to match parents of similar socioeconomic status or income or education to see how their kids do, for example. But we have to recognize that we’ll *never* get all the differences in life experiences, and in fact, adding a lot of corrections for different things (or excluding all but a really carefully curated subset of participants in your study who are massively range-restricted) is a good way to get a statistical model that’s very complicated and can have a lot of subtly screwy assumptions built in. That’s one reason it’s hard to really have confidence in any assertion about a genetic basis for differences in stuff like IQ or school performance between blacks and whites.

        But like I said above, this isn’t just an argument that applies to genetic causes. It applies just as well to environmental or social causes. For example, if you want to assert that the IQ difference is caused by differences in culture and upbringing, I think you’ll have the same kinds of problems–you will never really be sure you’ve eliminated all the subtle and unsubtle confounding stuff that comes up comparing American blacks and whites.

        If you accept this line of argument, I think you should be bashing everyone who claims certainty that there is no genetic component to the black/white IQ difference just as hard as you bash Charles Murray.

        I’m skeptical that this is such an intractable problem that nothing can be done but to throw up our hands. Instead, I suspect we can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on from the available evidence, even though that will never 100% nail things down. But I don’t think we can do that very well unless we make the same demands for rigor of all sides of the argument.

        • The Red Foliot says:

          So what you’re saying is that, although there is undoubtedly evidence that ‘other factors’ than genetics greatly affect socioeconomic conditions of a country, there is no way to rule out the possibility that genetics may play an enabling role in allowing those ‘other factors’ to develop such as they do?

          So, for instance, Korean politics and culture played a great role in developing their country to its current state–but it’s impossible to determine that their politics and culture were utterly deterministic and not contingent on them having the right genes as well?

          That seems like a valid point, and indeed I don’t think the article above says anything against it.

        • Wrong Species says:

          There are 54 countries in Africa and not one of them is a first world country, other than perhaps Seychelles, which has no indigenous population. East Asia also started at a low spot and yet they all(with the notable exception of North Korea) seem to be converging with the West. Hell of a coincidence, isn’t it?

          • baconbacon says:

            East Asia also started at a low spot and yet they all(with the notable exception of North Korea) seem to be converging with the West. Hell of a coincidence, isn’t it?

            East Asia, why East Asia? Is it because if you just use Asia the comparison falls apart?

          • Nornagest says:

            Of course, the way exponential curves work, Africa could just have started a few years later and this kind of analysis wouldn’t uncover it.

            You need to look at the actual GDP graph to tell the difference, and when you do, some interesting data emerges: most of sub-Saharan Africa is economically flat for as far back as the data goes, averaging shallow declines 1975-2000 and shallow increases 2000-now. But there are some exceptions, and they don’t seem to be driven by ethnicity: compare Botswana to neighboring Zimbabwe.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @baconbacon
            No, it’s because East Asians are genetically and culturally distinct from other Asians.

            @Nornagest

            I don’t believe all economic differences can be reduced to genetics. Botswana is doing relatively better than Zimbabwe. They’re still not anywhere close to a Western European country.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m more interested in the shape of the graph than whatever the present value happens to be, as that’s what determines whether convergence is possible. (Analogous to complexity classes in computer science, if you have training there.) Zimbabwe’s is a mess, and I don’t expect them to approach the West in the foreseeable future; Botswana’s looks a lot like China’s, and they might.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @baconbacon, Wrong Species
            If you look at it socioeconomically, rather than racially, it makes sense. Lots of correlation there. But then it becomes impossible to say whether it’s the society perpetuating itself, or the society shaping the genes which then perpetuate the society.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Botswana’s GDP growth can change at any time. I wouldn’t count on the economy approaching first world status. We’ll see.

          • baconbacon says:

            @baconbacon
            No, it’s because East Asians are genetically and culturally distinct from other Asians.

            Where does this distinction end?

            Mongolia (GDP per capital of ~$4k per person, 4% growth rate) isn’t converging on the West), China’s PPP GDP per capita would put it 3rd on this list of African countries . Very quickly “all of East Asia” becomes “South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have Western level standards of living and China, Mongolia and North Korea don’t”.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            If you look at the extent to which societies penalized violent behavior in their past vs. the levels of violent behavior found in descendants of those societies today,
            or,
            The extent to which societies rewarded intelligence in their past vs. the levels of intelligence found in descendants of those societies today, you seem to find a huge amount of correlation.

            The nurture argument is less persuasive because the descendants of those societies are now dispersed across many foreign lands with foreign cultures, and their homeland cultures have altered radically as well (from how they were historically), yet they still seemingly fit the same pattern, regardless of where they’re dispersed to. If culture was the key then you’d expect a huge amount of variation across so many different cultures, but instead, you find only a little. Genetics is the only alternative explanation that accounts for such homogeneity across culturally disparate racial groups.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @baconbacon

            Don’t forget Hong Kong. Also, Singparore to a certain extent. It’s not East Asian geographically, but it does have a majority Chinese population in a similar way to the US and Canada being more similar to Europe than the Americas. I think everyone agrees that North Korea is as poor as it is because of its government. Like I said earlier, I don’t think all economic growth can be reduced to genetics. Command economies can severely depress a country’s wealth. China started later than the others and is following the exact same path. Now maybe you’ll object that there are countries in Sub-saharan Africa with high growth rates, which is true. But China has held these high growth rates for over 20 years while industrializing. That isn’t true in Africa. So it seems safe to say that China will join its neighbors in reaching first world status.

            That leaves Mongolia, which I’ll grant as a concession with two caveats. One is that they didn’t start liberalizing their market until the Soviet Union fell, putting them at disadvantage even compared to China. Two, they are on the periphery of East Asia, which makes them more of an edge case. I feel pretty confident that China will catch up with the rest of East Asia. I wouldn’t say the same about Mongolia. So every country in East Asia is either on the same path or has a communist government holding it back, with the possible exception of Mongolia. Meanwhile, even the best run Sub-Saharan African countries are poor while the region has barely, if at all, improved its economy relative to 50 years ago.

          • albatross11 says:

            Foliot:

            Thomas Sowell discusses this in his Culture books (Migrations and Culture, Race and Culture, Conquest and Culture). His take is that people bring their culture along with them, and lose it very slowly even when they’ve assimilated in most visible ways. This seems to me to be one intelligent alternative to a lot of muggle realist interpretations of the history of ethnic groups.

            I’m not convinced it catches everything, but it’s clearly a big part of the way the world works. For example, when German immigrants seem to end up running breweries in lots of different countries–that looks pretty convincingly like culture and path dependency. I’m a lot less clear on how culture could explain Jews being so heavily overrepresented in physics on both sides of the Atlantic, say.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ Wrong Species

            30 years ago it would have been a totally different story. It was “look at Hong Kong and Japan, clearly being a western protectorate state is the way to go….. and just kind of ignore South Korea, cause their GDP per capita isn’t so hot, but then again they are on the right track. Yeah China has had some growth, but they started from nothing and its only been a handful of years, Japan is about to overtake the US in total GDP!”

        • Atlas says:

          Steelmanning their argument: There’s a persistent thread of muggle-realist argument that says that the dire poverty in much of sub-Saharan Africa is largely genetic in origin–the folks there just aren’t smart enough to manage a better civilization than what they’ve got. South Korea and Taiwan demonstrate that the argument proves too much–both are places where a similarly-thinking muggle-realist in 1900 would have told us that those countries were poor because their natives simply didn’t have the inherent mental ability to do better. That implies that it’s not a great idea to assume that poverty and dysfunction in a country come from the inability of their people to manage better.

          I think this is a good point, and often make it myself, but Gwern had an interesting comment on a previous post (can’t remember which one) where he claimed that actually in 1900 Europeans thought that China was a sleeping giant (as in Napoleon’s famous, possibly apocryphal quote). So maybe muggle-realists in 1900 were more on the money than one might expect.

          The broader issue is that when you look at different races and measure their outcomes, that’s always observational. We know that there are a lot of ways that the lives of blacks and whites in the US, say, are really different. We can try to correct for some of them in our observational studies–try to match parents of similar socioeconomic status or income or education to see how their kids do, for example. But we have to recognize that we’ll *never* get all the differences in life experiences, and in fact, adding a lot of corrections for different things (or excluding all but a really carefully curated subset of participants in your study who are massively range-restricted) is a good way to get a statistical model that’s very complicated and can have a lot of subtly screwy assumptions built in. That’s one reason it’s hard to really have confidence in any assertion about a genetic basis for differences in stuff like IQ or school performance between blacks and whites.

          But like I said above, this isn’t just an argument that applies to genetic causes. It applies just as well to environmental or social causes. For example, if you want to assert that the IQ difference is caused by differences in culture and upbringing, I think you’ll have the same kinds of problems–you will never really be sure you’ve eliminated all the subtle and unsubtle confounding stuff that comes up comparing American blacks and whites.

          Well put. I would add that I think it’s reasonable to say that one can expect “racism” to have quantifiable, material effects (e.g. nutrition, income, school quality) if it does indeed depress IQ, and maybe it would be good to taboo the epistemic superweapon “racism” in such arguments. I think the “you can never possibly quantify racism” argument proves too much from a different angle, as well: imagine a world where whites and blacks consistently were measured as having the same mean IQ. Couldn’t you claim, using the same logic described above, that whites have a natural mean IQ of 115, and then just hand wave when anyone challenges you to show what specific factors are preventing whites from reaching this mean?

        • Anon. says:

          South Korea and Taiwan demonstrate that the argument proves too much–both are places where a similarly-thinking muggle-realist in 1900 would have told us that those countries were poor because their natives simply didn’t have the inherent mental ability to do better.

          Obviously no. The muggle realist would go and measure IQs in SK and Taiwan and correctly predict they would experience high growth in the future. Read Garett Jones.

    • Deiseach says:

      Part of the problem is that the African-American population in the USA is not a pure African population, there is a heavy (to one degree or another) admixture of white ancestry in there too. So how do you disentangle “intelligent white genes” from “less intelligent black genes” in that case, which is the danger most feared (i.e. that some people will take it to mean “intelligent white genes” and “less intelligent black genes”).

      So even if it could be shown that the average IQ of, say, the population of Chad was in the high 90s which is below the average IQ of the white population of the USA – what does that say about the rest of the continent of Africa? And does it have any bearing at all on the African-American population which probably has little to no ancestry derived from natives of Chad and a lot of ancestry derived from the various white immigrant populations in the USA?

      • The Red Foliot says:

        I think the trouble is that ‘race’ is socially constructed to be based on physical similarities only, so that whatever cognitive similarities there are are purely incidental to the method of sorting. That’s not to say there aren’t cognitive similarities, just that they aren’t inherent attributes to races. While it’s inconclusive, one might look at the evidence today and, on the basis of their own partial judgment, guess that blacks probably have slightly worse genes for intelligence than other races, on average. That is a fair, socially relevant assessment, but it isn’t necessarily a relevant one if you’re thinking about the evolutionary and migratory forces that could have shaped the distribution of group intelligence.

        Once you start thinking about those forces, it becomes necessary to delineate population groups in a different way, as the forces that shaped Chadian intelligence were undoubtedly different from those that shaped African Americans’, and grouping them together based on physical similarities is arbitrary.

        So that’s not to say that differences don’t exist, or that assessments of those differences are invalid, just that to go on to further reasoning you have to greatly refine your model.

        • Deiseach says:

          While it’s inconclusive, one might look at the evidence today and, on the basis of their own partial judgment, guess that blacks probably have slightly worse genes for intelligence than other races, on average.

          Still does not get around the problem of “if blacks have worse genes, what about African-Americans who do not have purely and solely black genes, they also have white genes in the mix”? Then you would have to argue that successful and intelligent African-Americans are those with a higher/greater proportion of white ancestry (and hence better white genes) and those who aren’t, have a greater inheritance of worse black genes, which is then not too different from “intra-population differences are greater, due to genetic variance, than inter-population differences” and we needn’t drag in ‘bad’ black genes versus ‘good’ white genes at all?

          • Nornagest says:

            For what it’s worth, “colorism” — favoritism given within the African-American community to individuals with lighter skin — is a thing, with its own politics that don’t usually make it to the ears of white folks. Doesn’t map one-to-one to European ancestry, but there is a correlation.

          • J Mann says:

            Has that issue been studied?

            Presumably, if the intra-group differences are mostly genetic, and if we could know the proportions of ancestry from people with ancestors in both groups, then we’d expect IQ to vary proportionately with IQ mix if the “mostly genetic” hypothesis holds out, and proportionately with some mix of appearance, ethnicity of custodial parents, ethnicity of neighborhood, etc. if the mostly environmental (and the environmental variable in question is racism) hypothesis holds out.

            Of course, if it’s mostly envirornmental (and the variable is something we haven’t thought of) or mixed, I’m not sure what happens.

        • cassander says:

          >I think the trouble is that ‘race’ is socially constructed to be based on physical similarities only, so that whatever cognitive similarities there are are purely incidental to the method of sorting.

          I don’t know what you think you mean by this, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

          People cannot directly measure race, true, so we rely on heuristics like skin color. These are not completely accurate, but that doesn’t mean that race lacks biological reality. Yes, it’s perfectly possible, theoretically at least, to extract, say, the genes for darker skin and stick them in those of otherwise non-african descent, but that’s not how people have ever reproduced. Grouping people based on physical distinction is NOT arbitrary, it’s a reflection of much broader differences that simply aren’t visible.

        • albatross11 says:

          Race is an easy-to-observe socially-defined thing that correlates with genes, culture, environment, starting resources, etc. It’s also a thing that we care about w.r.t. antidiscrimination law, affirmative action programs, and claims of racism.

          In the US context, blacks’ ancestry is mostly from one area in Africa, and there’s a lot of shared culture and history that presumably drives all kinds of stuff we care about. This tends to get messed up when you look at immigrant blacks. For example, blacks who have immigrated from the Caribbean tend to do quite well relative to American-born blacks, and so do their kids, which makes an argument for culture being important. (On the other hand, immigration is a filter, so we may be getting a large fraction of the smartest, most driven Caribbean blacks coming to the US. Something like that is definitely going on with the population of Indians and Chinese in the US, for example.)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think race is a common surrogate for ethnicity.

            That is, American WvB racism is actually about perceived ethnic difference, so Carribean blacks look like American blacks but have a clearly different accent, so that reflexes which are actually about ethnicity don’t get set off in whites.

            See also that Americans tend to be bewildered by ethnic hatred between groups that “look alike”.

        • I think the trouble is that ‘race’ is socially constructed to be based on physical similarities only, so that whatever cognitive similarities there are are purely incidental to the method of sorting.

          That isn’t quite right. The physical similarities are due to adaptation to a similar environment, so one would expect them to correlate to some extent with cognitive similarities due to adaptation to a similar environment.

          There are, of course, cases where the similarity is in only one feature of the environment, possibly relevant to physical or not cognitive (or vice versa). But that is likely to result in less physical similarity. SubSaharan Afrians and people from southern India and Australian aborigines all have dark skin, presumably an adaptation to a lot of sunlight, but are very different in other physical characteristics. We are, as a result, less likely to lump them into a single racial category than groups that are more similar.

      • Drew says:

        So even if it could be shown that the average IQ of, say, the population of Chad was in the high 90s which is below the average IQ of the white population of the USA

        To go further, even if we granted this, it’s not clear that it would make any kind of policy difference for Chad.

        When reading these arguments, I like to switch “genes that produce the potential for intelligence” for “genes that produce potential for athletic ability”. Athleticism obviously has a genetic component. There are some people who are held back by genetic limits. Genetics will show up among elite athletes.

        But the overwhelming majority of people are nowhere near their theoretic limits. Instead, my mile-time sucks because I don’t run consistently. I’ll get outrun by anyone who trains regularly, even if I have better genes.

        When we see population effects, I expect the major causal chain to be, “Genes make running appealing -> Person runs -> Person has high-athletic performance.”

        The same thing should be true about intellectual ability. “Genes make reading appealing -> Person reads -> Person can talk about complex subject.”

        So, even if we granted a 10-point difference, it’s not clear that it matters.

        An individual can still choose to spend their time reading, and (active-reader, bad genetics) is going to result in more skill than (no-active-reading, good genetics) for pretty much any real-world application.

        A big problem with the debate is that the left has bought into a silly false-dichotomy where we either believe that no effect exists, or believe that vast numbers of people are doomed.

        Without that dichotomy, the whole debate becomes as much of a mild academic exercise as “are there genetic differences in VO2 Max?”

        • Aapje says:

          A big problem with the debate is that the left has bought into a silly false-dichotomy where we either believe that no effect exists, or believe that vast numbers of people are doomed.

          To believe that racial IQ differences doom vast numbers of people, you already have to believe that people with low IQs have little economic value in modern society.

          As IQ is a normal distribution, without racial IQ differences you’d still have vast numbers of people who are economically worthless. They just won’t be disproportionately black.

          What I find rather disturbing is that quite a few leftists seem far more upset at an uneven racial distribution of the poor, rather than their total number.

          • What I find rather disturbing is that quite a few leftists seem far more upset at an uneven racial distribution of the poor, rather than their total number.

            Yes indeed. there seems to be a belief that being poor, or being treated badly by the police, or going to prison, is somehow inherently worse for the participants in these bad environments if it is disproportionately higher for a particular race. It’s not so bad if the cops beat you if you are White. But it’s been my impression that this mindset was mostly an American one. Is this true for similar partisans in Europe?

          • Aapje says:

            Europe consists of countries with different cultures and different situations, so it would be wrong to speak for all of them. In the Netherlands, my perception is that much of the black community is heavily into a narrative of oppression, very clearly based on US Anti-Racism. They use that terminology (regularly even without translating it) and frequently copy American claims even when they make little sense (my country never had domestic slavery, nor domestic segregation, nor racial disenfranchisement, nor racial redlining and the percentage of black people is far lower than in the US).

            In contrast, the much bigger Muslim community tends to be much more rational in my eyes, as they tend to focus on specific issues (like police profiling or job discrimination), without trying to fit it into a grand theory based on vilifying the oppressive, colonialist, sexist white man.

            I would say that the Dutch white left doesn’t buy into the SJ narrative anywhere near as much as the American white left, although those that do are trying to spread the message (and so do their opposition, so you have increased polarization). In my eyes, the far greater fault of a large part of Dutch white left is their elitism/neoliberalism, where they make choices that negatively impact the lower classes and then argue that this is just inevitable in a globalized world. They don’t seem to get that a very high level of globalization is itself a choice and that it’s actually very viable to make choices that limit the negative impact of globalization on the lower classes.

            I’ve never seen a discussion of potential racial IQ differences in the Dutch mainstream. Probably because real conservatism doesn’t exist in The Netherlands and the anti-Muslim/migrant debate centers around culture & religion, not economic issues.

            The Dutch white elite left is very strongly into gender quotas right now and I worry that they move into racial quotas in the future. It’s hard to explain why they aren’t already.

          • The Dutch white elite left is very strongly into gender quotas right now and I worry that they move into racial quotas in the future. It’s hard to explain why they aren’t already.

            Could that be because Dutch Blacks and Dutch Muslims tend to be pretty segregated populations, and so the elite Whites simply don’t notice them too often? I don’t really know much about demographics in the Netherlands, but that is my impression.
            Whereas of course genders are right there.

            But racial quotas are bound to happen sooner or later. Some protest entrepreneurial type will see that as something he can have an impact on, and will start egging on his compatriots.

          • As IQ is a normal distribution, without racial IQ differences you’d still have vast numbers of people who are economically worthless.

            At a tangent to the main discussion … . I don’t think one should assume that people with IQ noticeably below the mean are economically worthless, just (on average) worth less than people with higher IQ. This feels to me like a variant of the absolute advantage/comparative advantage mistake embedded in the common use of “competitive.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            Sure, but people are also actually just looking at the numbers where if the percentage is not close to 50%, they get upset. They could easily get similarly upset if Muslim are not 6%. In fact, surveys even show that people tend to grossly overestimate the number of Muslims, so if anything, ‘they’ should be quite upset over working in mostly white work spaces.

            @DavidFriedman

            I think that there is a minimum wage reference in your comment that you are carefully not making explicit, yet you are also carefully not offering any alternative suggestions. 🙂

            Or you became a communist 😛

          • @DavidFriedman

            I think that there is a minimum wage reference in your comment that you are carefully not making explicit

            ???

            The term I was responding to was “economically worthless.” Someone who produces (say) $5/hour when the minimum wage is $6/hour isn’t economically worthless.

          • Aapje says:

            You can have different definitions of ‘economically worthless’:
            1. Produces nothing of value
            2. Produces less of value than the absolute minimum to live on
            3. Produces less of value than what society considers the absolute minimum

            You seem to use definition 1, however, as most people derive value from other people not dying, any human can earn some ‘sympathy money’ (like when begging). So I only consider 2 and 3 to be reasonable definitions. Furthermore, in any decent society, people are prevented from dropping under a minimum and if so, society would be better of without them (not suggesting that this ought to result in getting rid of them of course, but merely from a perspective of who is a net contributor vs who is not).

          • You can have different definitions of ‘economically worthless’:
            1. Produces nothing of value
            2. Produces less of value than the absolute minimum to live on
            3. Produces less of value than what society considers the absolute minimum

            I was using 1. I can see an argument for 2, on the grounds that someone who cannot produce as much as it takes to keep him alive is in some sense worthless on net to others. But have you thought about what 2 actually comes to?

            Real per capita income in the developed world at present is twenty to thirty times what the global average was through most of history, so you are talking about something easily an order of magnitude lower than current minimum wages.

            I don’t know what “society considers” means, society not being a person. Minimum wage laws are the result of a political process, not a moral judgement.

            Does it make sense to you to say that Bob is economically worthless and Bill is not when the only difference between them is that Bob lives in a country with a minimum wage of $10/hour and Bill in a country with a minimum wage of $5/hour?

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Societies can make moral judgments too. They are just compromise morals laid down in policies, laws and social mores (which is not so different from personal morals, which are also often compromises and which tend to strongly influenced by the social context).

            Does it make sense to you to say that Bob is economically worthless and Bill is not when the only difference between them is that Bob lives in a country with a minimum wage of $10/hour and Bill in a country with a minimum wage of $5/hour?

            None of my three definitions featured the minimum wage, so your question doesn’t reflect what I argued.

            The minimum wage level is different from the welfare level because the former has a variety of (possible) purposes and effects, beyond pricing people with low productivity out of jobs. Welfare can be more reasonably be argued to be the level from definition 3.

            If:
            – society has decided that a person needs a monthly income of X
            – Bob is actually is only capable of earning X – 50 dollars
            – welfare is a minimal system that tops up the monthly income to X
            Then:
            – Bob costs society 50 dollars per month, which is more than 0, which is the economically neutral point.

            Of course, this is highly simplistic, because it assumes no taxes (pretty much everyone pays consumption tax) and doesn’t count the government services that the person consumes (pretty much everyone gets government benefits in kind). It’s also not a lifetime analysis, where in reality, people usually are very costly to society early and late in life.

            So realistically, one can probably argue that you need to pay a certain amount of taxes in your lifetime to be economically neutral.

          • None of my three definitions featured the minimum wage, so your question doesn’t reflect what I argued.

            A little further up the thread, you wrote:

            I think that there is a minimum wage reference in your comment that you are carefully not making explicit

            That’s why I was interpreting your point 3 as a reference to the minimum wage.

            If:
            – society has decided that a person needs a monthly income of X

            I still cannot make any sense out of “society has decided that a person needs a monthly income of X.”

            People in a society may believe that it is desirable to make sure everyone has an income of X, and if enough believe that it may happen. What does that have to do with “need”?

            If the argument is that anyone with an income below X is living a life not worth living, you would expect the same people to argue that, if welfare to level X can’t be arranged, poor people should be painlessly killed, which I don’t think is the position such people actually hold.

            – Bob is actually is only capable of earning X – 50 dollars
            – welfare is a minimal system that tops up the monthly income to X
            Then:
            – Bob costs society 50 dollars per month, which is more than 0, which is the economically neutral point.

            That seems an odd definition of “economically worthless.” Other people in the society choose to provide the welfare. The question is why:

            1. They are Becker altruists, who get utility from the utility of others and are spending money on the poor in order to raise their own utility.

            2. They are politicians who are buying the votes of the poor.

            3. They suffer disutility from knowing that other people are poorly off. The ideal solution for them would be for the poor to all drop dead, but since they have no practical or moral way of arranging that they choose the second best solution of welfare.

            3 looks like the only version in which the poor are in some sense producing negative value. Following out that line of argument you also have to conclude that atheists produce negative value in a religious society most of whose members strongly disapprove of atheism, homosexuals in a society with traditional views of homosexuality, … . It’s a logically consistent view–indeed, the view that Robert Bork propounded in an old article explaining why he was not a libertarian (not the way he put the argument)–but not one that many people are comfortable with.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            This is just us arguing semantics, to quote Wikipedia:

            A need is something that is necessary for an organism to live a healthy life. Needs are distinguished from wants in that, in the case of a need, a deficiency causes a clear adverse outcome: a dysfunction or death. Needs can be objective and physical, such as the need for food, or psychological and subjective, such as the need for self-esteem. There are also needs of a social or societal nature.

            Plenty of people define ‘need’ less strictly than a lack of something resulting in death or a fate worse than death. For example, Henry Murray argued that humans have psychogenic needs, which if not met, result in psychological pain. I believe that this model is a fairly useful way to look at the world, as it seems clear to me that well-being requires far more than the physical well-being of the body.

            In general, you seem to desire fairly hard definitions, which are less culturally dependent. While I respect this desire for solid underpinnings, such demand for rigor can obscure reality if true, but fuzzy models are rejected as being inconvenient, because one cannot draw many hard conclusions from them.

            3 looks like the only version in which the poor are in some sense producing negative value.

            I think that we all experience both utility and disutility from others, which is correlated to their poverty, but certainly not strictly. But my point is more that societies have a definition of minimum standards for well-being, which can simplistically be expressed in purely economic terms. If we assume a theoretical society where anyone earns this amount of money, we don’t need welfare and all government spending is ‘extra’ (when compared to the minimum that people consider necessary). Such a society would presumably be ancap Utopia, as the lack of need for redistribution means that the free market can supply all needs (well, if we ignore the other problems of ancap). However, anyone who isn’t able to earn the amount of money to pay for the minimum standards for well-being requires money to be spent on welfare and thus reduces the pool of ‘extra’ money.

            In hindsight, ‘economically worthless’ is not really a very good term for this, but I do think that many people agree with the basic concept that some people are a ‘drain on the system*.’

            * Which is a rather negative way to put it, implying that these people are the problem, rather than the system

          • Plenty of people define ‘need’ less strictly than a lack of something resulting in death or a fate worse than death.

            I, on the other hand, regard “need” as a word that ought to be eliminated from political discourse, since it has no useful meaning. It’s used to imply that some wants are infinitely more important than others, usually with the further implication that the existence of those wants is objectively determinable. Both claims seem to me obviously false.

            We observe humans routinely trading off trivial benefits against life–not generally against a certainty of dying but against a very small increased probability of dying. Do you regard such acts as clearly a mistake, something nobody should do? If not, are you not conceding that all wants, including the want for life, are on the same scale of value, hence that the distinction between needs and wants makes no sense?

          • bintchaos says:

            sheesh
            its a complex adaptive systems problem.
            P[dying] convolved with P[survival] convolved with P[reproducing]

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I agree that needs and wants are pretty much interchangeable, for some definitions of ‘need’ and ‘want’.

            I don’t actually need to live, for example. I want to…

            In general, ‘need’ only makes sense if you already accept a goal, which makes it subjective and thus a ‘want’ more than a cosmically necessary thing, like a law of nature. Unless you believe that we have no free will, I guess.

  7. Tarpitz says:

    There’s a line of economic argument popular among parts of the British left (and presumably elsewhere) that goes something like this:

    1. Governments that borrow in and print their own currency can never go bankrupt, as they can always print more.
    2. The British government (near enough) borrows in and prints its own currency.
    therefore
    3. Arguments to the effect that government expenditure on desirable thing X is unaffordable are always unsound.

    It seems to me pretty clear this proves too much. On its face, the implication would be that government should print money to fund anything even slightly desirable – free everything for everyone, all the time, missions to Alpha Centauri, the works – with no regard for cost, and should stop levying taxes entirely.

    It also seems pretty clear to me that the hole in the original argument is that “X cannot go bankrupt” does not entail “X can afford anything”. Moreover, we know at least one mechanism for this: hyperinflation.

    Advocates of the above argument will point to the fact that quite large amounts of quantitative easing in many developed economies have not led to hyperinflation, or indeed even notably high inflation. I have no desire to argue that quantitative easing is importantly different from outright debt monetization; if anyone here does, I would be interested to hear that argument. I do suspect that QE has lead to some undesirable asset bubbles, notably in UK housing, but that might be a price worth paying for greatly improved health and social care (or maintaining current levels of health and social care in the face of rising dependency ratios) or for a basic income, or for whatever other thing we might like the government to do.

    The question, then, is the exact nature of the relationship between monetization of government activity and inflation. Can it be modelled with tolerable accuracy in only two dimensions, at least given that we are interested in the question as applied to an advanced economy in the early 21st Century, or are other factors important enough to demand their own axes? If there are, what are they?

    My hunch is that somewhere on that graph there is an elbow, where the money multiplier increases in response to increases in the money supply and inflation goes loco. My assumption is that the steelman of the original argument says that we’re nowhere near that point, and could print a lot more to fund useful activity (or tax cuts) without risk. My skepticism about humanity’s grasp on macro-economics leads me to worry that we would probably be very, very bad at identifying the location of the elbow before we reached it, and should consequently err on the side of not going anywhere remotely near it, but if I’m wrong about that, it would mean leaving a lot of utility on the table.

    Would be very interested in the thoughts of the SSC readership in general, but particularly those of any knowledgeable Murphyite economic leftists present. Most of all, if my steelman of the original position is wrong (perhaps you don’t think there’s an elbow at all, for example) that would be valuable information.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      The way that hyperinflation works is that increased demand causes prices to rise, which in turn prompts more money printing. In the case of recent quantitative easing, most of the money that was printed (effectively) is sitting around doing nothing. One of my economics professors showed us a graph of excess reserves (cash held by banks in excess of what they are legally required to hold). Similar graph here. Notice that it is flat, at 0, until QE starts in late 2008, when it spikes to billions of dollars. If all of the money that was effectively being printed during QE just sat in banks doing nothing, it would not lead to hyperinflation. It probably would not have many other effects, either.

      > it would mean leaving a lot of utility on the table.

      Well, no, because marginal government spending is probably not that beneficial utility-wise. Inflation to pay for things is effectively a tax on savings and on wage-earners who can’t renegotiate salaries quickly. If you actually spend the money you print, which is what you suggest we do, will most definitely lead to price increases. And moreover, inflation is not a long-term solution to pay for things, since everyone will adapt to the amount of money you expect to print each year, and will quickly either turn into hyperinflation or fail to pay for things.

      • Nornagest says:

        If I’m reading that graph right, there’s two trillion dollars of reserves just sitting around in banks doing nothing. I thought the whole reason banks wanted to hold money was so they could then turn around and lend it out to other people. Why would they be holding onto those kinds of resources? And given that they are, shouldn’t that lead to some kind of user-facing change in banking?

        I notice I’m confused, in other words.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          Banks, like any other agent, will only lend if their expected return compensates for the risk of not being repaid. During a period of high economic uncertainty, with lots of businesses failing (financial ones especially) and not nearly as many new ones starting, you can expect that quality investments are few and far between and so banks just don’t have any good investments to make. Anyone who had money in the bank during this time period would also note how little of a return they were earning (<.1% a year IIRC).

          And given that they are, shouldn’t that lead to some kind of user-facing change in banking?

          What sort of change? QE happened relatively quickly and most people probably expected the recession to be relatively short, so they can just hold onto the cash as a reserve. No reason to give it away, or piss of your customers by trying to charge them more fees or something.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure. But that graph goes back a while, and while we’re certainly in uncertain economic times, 2017 doesn’t look much more uncertain to me than, say, the 1987 stock market crash or the Savings and Loan crisis or the dot-com bust or the post-9/11 downturn. To be fair, there is a visible blip in September 2001, but it’s tiny by comparison.

          • baconbacon says:

            Those reserves didn’t come out of ‘nowhere’. Banks took loans that were on their books and sold them to the Federal Reserve, and now they are holding cash (which has been paid a small rate by the Fed for years) and the Fed is holding securities, where as it was the opposite way in 2006 (the Fed wasn’t literally ‘holding’ the cash, but as a lender of last resort it functionally was).

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            It does seem to be going down, and it will probably take a while to eat through all of those reserves. Banks aren’t really used to having reserves, and unless you can find another time when the government engage in lots of QE, you won’t see another similar spike, because banks don’t usually want to hold on to excess reserves.

        • Why would they be holding onto those kinds of resources?

          I think this kind of comment is why some people seem to be in favor constant stimulus, whether fiscal or monetary (not that I’m saying that is your opinion, Nornagest).

          Money is NOT resources. The economy does not grow by spending more money (maybe reported growth, but not real growth). Resources are things like goods and labor. Money is used for two things: to provide a comparative measure between more than one kind of resource, and to allow exchange between such resources.

          Sometimes economists call for an increase in the money supply because of excess resources not being spent. It might be that there are actually real resources not being used in the economy which monetary stimulus could shake loose, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. There are times that holding back resources are a good thing for the economy, waiting for a better place to use them. Fooling people into spending those resources early by simulating a better economy than actually exists is where the government thinks it knows better how to spend resources than those who hold them, which I think is rarely true.

          I think monetary (or fiscal) stimulus is almost always a bad idea. Money should grow at the rate of the economy, to maintain stability.

          • Nornagest says:

            Okay, I get the point you’re trying to make, and for what it’s worth I agree with it, but I still feel compelled to defend my phrasing here. From a god’s-eye view of the economy, no, money is not a resource; you can’t just add more money and get more stuff. (Well, you sort of can when growth is being constrained by the money supply, but that’s a second-order effect and not important here.) But from the perspective of an individual bank, money is absolutely a resource. It’s not in Chase’s job description to modulate the economy by doing magic with the money supply; that’s what the Fed does, and they don’t hold money, they print it. (Well, mostly they issue electronic money.) Chase’s job is to loan money to people, and all their incentives point in the direction of loaning as much money to as many people as they can by law. Sitting on it does them no good, unless they’re literally unable to find people they expect to pay it back.

            Did the 2008 crisis spook them that badly?

          • baconbacon says:

            @Nornagest

            Lots of resources sit “idle”. You don’t see lumber companies cutting down every individual tree on all their land at once, even though trees are a resource and a lumber companies job is to produce lumber.

            Chase’s job is to make profits for their shareholders.

          • Did the 2008 crisis spook them that badly?

            I think the answer to this is yes, and that’s a good thing. It appears to me that business has learned the lesson of the Great Recession much better than the government has. The lesson is to be more conservative with your resources (and yes money is a resource to an individual firm, because it is equivalent to a claim on other people’s property). But the government seems to yelling “stimulate! stimulate!” constantly, without any conception that immediately using all resources is one of the things that got us into so much trouble in 2008. Republicans are as guilty of this as Democrats; it isn’t a leftist thing.

    • Deiseach says:

      Governments that borrow in and print their own currency can never go bankrupt, as they can always print more.

      I thought the problem with this was that paper scrip is a promissory note and has to be backed up by something of real value; that this is part of why forgery is illegal (because those notes are not issued by the government and thus not backed up by real currency), that this leads to hyper-inflation (this was the reasoning behind the German plan to forge British bank notes to crash the economy during the war) so that you get things like Weimar Republic Germany where people have to hand over blocks of bank notes to pay for a loaf of bread, and the Third World nations that had to print million-unit of local currency notes precisely to avoid their citizens having to hand over blocks of bank notes? That this degrades your currency to the level of Monopoly money and you’ll be routinely handing over a thousand dollar bill to pay for your Big Mac if this is indulged in?

      If all that has gone by the wayside and the government can just print as much more coloured paper as it likes, then really there’s no reason to prosecute forgery; if you need an expensive repair on your car, don’t take out a bank loan, just fire up the 3-D printer and run off a couple of thousand bucks instead. After all, that’s what the Mint is doing!

      • Matt M says:

        You say this somewhat in jest, but there’s a certain fragment of the Austrian school that would argue that your analogy is 100% correct, and that the printing of fiat currency is, in fact, forgery in the exact same way that it would be forgery if you printed currency yourself at home.

      • Nornagest says:

        Major currencies haven’t been denominated in anything but themselves for decades now (the Bretton Woods system, under which e.g. the dollar was gold-backed, collapsed in the early Seventies). This effectively replaces trust that the government (or bank) will not print more certificates than it can redeem in gold under normal circumstances, with trust that the government will keep the supply of fiat money tight enough that it stays a reliable store of value.

        Forgery is illegal because it subverts that trust: adding to the money supply devalues all the other money in circulation. Print off a million dollars in fake money and you’re effectively stealing slightly less than a million dollars’ worth of value from everyone else holding USD.

        • Deiseach says:

          Print off a million dollars in fake money and you’re effectively stealing slightly less than a million dollars’ worth of value from everyone else holding USD.

          But if the US (or another) government decides “to heck with word of honour and gentlemen’s agreements not to print extra money, we’re going to do that and you can’t stop us”, aren’t they in effect doing the same thing?

          I know the argument there is “if I owe money to the bank and can’t pay it back, they can re-possess my house, but if the American government can’t pay its debts, what are the Chinese going to do – invade the USA and take over the entire country as seized assets?”

          But er, why not? A big fear back in the 80s/90s when Japan was booming economically and buying up American property and corporations, there was a fear (how genuine I can’t assess) that they would in fact end up ‘owning’ the country. If we can imagine the US ‘liberating’ a smaller foreign nation that couldn’t pay back loans and debt, in order to acquire their natural assets under the guise of ‘installing a democratic government to oversee the transfer of power from the wicked evil dictator (who used to be our good pal until he decided not to pay danegeld any more)’, why not something similar for the debt-holders of US debt, if not by military force, by subtler means?

          • hls2003 says:

            This type of forcible debt repayment used to be very common – for example, seizing port cities by gunboat and diverting tariff or duty revenues to pay the debt. It was a primary cause of both the Monroe Doctrine (no European interference in the Americas) and Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (the U.S. might intervene in other countries to prevent unpaid debts or other provocations tempting Europeans to interfere).

          • Nornagest says:

            If the American government can’t pay its debts, the Chinese probably won’t invade and repossess Fort Knox. We still have more nukes than they do. But no one will want dollars anymore, which would cause chaos in dollar-denominated assets, starting with American taxes, and would be every bit as devastating to the American government’s ability to get stuff done as a war would be.

            It probably still wouldn’t let China literally buy Los Angeles, because that land would still hold a fair bit of the value it used to (if somewhat less, because American real estate isn’t as valuable when America doesn’t rule the world) and its owners are not obligated to accept payment in dollars. Probably they’d insist on getting paid in yen or yuan or Bitcoins or Kongbucks or something.

          • John Schilling says:

            I know the argument there is “if I owe money to the bank and can’t pay it back, they can re-possess my house, but if the American government can’t pay its debts, what are the Chinese going to do – invade the USA and take over the entire country as seized assets?

            Refuse to loan the U.S. government any more money, and that’s not just the Chinese, even domestic US citizens and corporations will stop loaning the government money. At that point the United States Government absolutely has to balance the current-accounts budget, which means either immediate tax increases of $360 billion/year, immediate spending cuts of $360 billion/year, or some sort of thinly-camouflaged money-printing scheme which leads promptly to hyperinflation, or government checks start literally bouncing.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            But if the US (or another) government decides “to heck with word of honour and gentlemen’s agreements not to print extra money, we’re going to do that and you can’t stop us”, aren’t they in effect doing the same thing?

            So long as the government doesn’t do that, and doesn’t behave like they are going to do that, they are considered to have a credible commitment to not do it.

            Once they break that trust, everyone else responds in kind (higher interest rates on loans, fewer people taking the money, etc.)

    • herbert herberson says:

      “3. Arguments to the effect that government expenditure on desirable thing X is unaffordable are always unsound.”

      Is what you’re talking about the same thing as Modern Monetary Theory? If so, then this part is not accurate–the argument, rather, is that the one and only upper bound on the government budget is inflation.

      The other interesting part of that approach you didn’t touch on is that the purpose of taxes shouldn’t really be understood as a way to procure revenue, but rather a way to force individuals to use, or at least get ahold of some of, your currency.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I believe what I’m talking about is Modern Monetary Theory as propagated on Facebook, usually in meme form, by people who ought to have the brains to know they don’t know what they’re talking about. In fairness, Google leads me to conclude that the person most responsible for popularising these ideas among the UK left, Richard Murphy, came to them independently and only himself discovered that MMT was the term for this aspect of his views in 2013.

        Would it then be fair to say that the serious point of disagreement is over the probability distribution of changes in inflation for any given amount of monetization?

        • herbert herberson says:

          I’d say that’s one of two. The other, and probably bigger one, is whether central banks should act independently of the state and add money to the supply through the banking industry, or whether they should be subservient to the government and add money to the supply through deposits in the government’s general revenue.

    • Chalid says:

      I don’t think anyone sophisticated really believes the line of argument that you lay out at the beginning, because, as you say, it’s obviously wrong.

      You’ll see arguments that a country that borrows in its own currency won’t experience a Greek-style crisis; this is probably correct, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have other types of problems or crises.

      As I understand it (which is, honestly, not that well), the point being made is that if a country experiences an adverse shock such that investors are less willing to invest in or lend to the country, then that economy’s net exports (exports minus imports) must increase to make up the gap. (Note that this shock doesn’t have to relate to government debt; of the PIIGS only Greece and Italy had lots of government debt, and it’s funny how anti-debt people ignore that and focus on Greece as a reason to stop borrowing.) Anyway, how this adjustment occurs depends on the country’s currency:

      If the country has its own currency the adjustment takes place primarily through devaluation, which is relatively painless compared to the alternatives.

      If the country is part of a currency zone like the EU the adjustment takes place through greatly increased interest rates and recession, which is what happened to Southern Europe.

      If a country does have its own currency, but borrows in a different currency, then the rapid devaluation of the home currency leads to an explosion in the size of the debt in local currency; this gives you the Asian crisis of the late 1990s.

    • Brad says:

      The question, then, is the exact nature of the relationship between monetization of government activity and inflation. Can it be modelled with tolerable accuracy in only two dimensions, at least given that we are interested in the question as applied to an advanced economy in the early 21st Century, or are other factors important enough to demand their own axes? If there are, what are they?

      I’m not an expert, but it is my understanding that we are at the point where inflation is mostly an observed variable. We have some hypothesis are about what might influence it in this or that direction, but nothing like a formula.

      This upsets people that want to say “we can’t do X it’ll cause hyperinflation” and the people that want to say “we can do X, no risk it’ll cause hyperinflation”. The best bet under such uncertainty is to take small step in the X direction (assuming that’s something you’d want to do in the absence of concerns about inflation) and see what happens.

      • John Schilling says:

        This upsets people that want to say “we can’t do X it’ll cause hyperinflation” and the people that want to say “we can do X, no risk it’ll cause hyperinflation”. The best bet under such uncertainty is to take small step in the X direction (assuming that’s something you’d want to do in the absence of concerns about inflation) and see what happens.

        “How did you go bankrupt?”
        “Two ways: Gradually, then all at once.”
        E. Hemmingway, The Sun Also Rises, 1926

        The transition from ordinary inflation to hyperinflation is nonlinear, chaotic, and irreversible. Because it isn’t just mathematical, it is also psychological. As Alex Zavoluk points out above, people price their expectations of your future money-printing behavior into their rates. Hyperinflation marks the transition to a consensus belief that you are in fact going to crash the economy and everybody else needs to decouple from it if they are going to survive the experience.

        So with your “best bet”, what happens is that either you get some uselessly noisy data on the marginal impact of money supply vs. low levels of inflation/deflation, or you find out after the fact that the last tranche of quantitative easing was the one that pushed the inflation rate from 11% to 12,000%. Please go make your “best” bets in some other nation’s economy, where they may serve as yet another cautionary tale for ours.

        • Brad says:

          Please go make your “best” bets in some other nation’s economy, where they may serve as yet another cautionary tale for ours.

          Inflation is nowhere near 11% much less 12,000% despite people like you claiming it was going to be any day now. It is in fact struggling to hit the target of 2%.

          Did you update at all? Or just get even more histrionic?

          • Nornagest says:

            Don’t be a dick.

          • CatCube says:

            He, uh, wasn’t claiming it was 11% currently. That number was obviously used as a hypothetical breakpoint between “reasonable” inflation and runaway hyperinflation; it’s hypothetical because the whole point of his post was that you can’t tell where it will occur until it’s happened.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is in fact struggling to hit the target of 2%

            And if you “take a small step in the X direction”, it will reach 3%. The next steps get you to to 4%, 5%, 7%, then back to 6% because this is noisy data. Then 7% again, then 8%, then 10% and on to 11%. The step after that you go to 20%, then you take a hurried step back and inflation only goes back down to 18%, and you stand still for a beat while you calculate how much it will cost to take ten steps back. While you are waiting inflation goes up to 100%. Now millions of registered voters will go hungry this month if you don’t pay for emergency programs whose costs call for three steps’ worth of quantitative easing and hey, the last three steps only resulted in 12% inflation so you do it. The next three steps push you from 100% to 800%, and before you can react it goes up to 2500% and then 12000%.

            Gradually, then all at once.

          • Brad says:

            The last decade is evidence to the contrary. We took several steps towards X and no such escalation occurred. When the world and your model disagree, it’s not the world you are supposed to throw out. Not even if you built an entire morality around your model.

            And if you “take a small step in the X direction”, it will reach 3%. The next steps get you to to 4%, 5%, 7%, then back to 6% because this is noisy data. Then 7% again, then 8%, then 10% and on to 11%.

            No one is suggesting taking additional steps beyond 3-4%. But we haven’t gotten there. We spent years below target. In no small part because of faith based objections to figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            The last decade is evidence to the contrary. We took several steps towards X and no such escalation occurred.

            Bob over there took several steps past the sign saying “Danger: Minefield”. Bob didn’t blow up. This is, indeed, evidence that there is no minefield. But it is very weak evidence, and Bob is a damn fool.

            We’ve been watching people step carefully in the direction of inflation, only to have it blow up into hyperinflation, for over eight hundred years now. The exact number of steps, the threshold value of inflation, at which it blows up, is different every time. Nobody knows how to calculate it. Deflation has its own problems, and there’s good reason to target 2% inflation rather than zero.

            But, given the marginal and transient gains involved, what’s your case for taking even one more step in the direction of a known catastrophe at an unknown distance?

          • Chalid says:

            Examples please?

            Here is Wikipedia with a list of hyperinflations. It looks like every single one involved the aftermath of a war or very major political instability. There are no cases of a country simply borrowing too much in peacetime, trying to inflate it away, and getting hyperinflation.

            In the section on high but non-hyperinflationary episodes has the vaguely analogous case of Mexico in the 1980s, but that was because it had debt denominated in a foreign currency (USD).

            Meanwhile countries have run at 10% or higher inflation for decades and enjoyed robust growth. Korea averaged somewhere around 20% from 1950 to 1980.

            So it looks to me like if you don’t lose a war or have a revolution you won’t have hyperinflation. What is an example of careful steps going too far and leading to hyperinflation in a way that might be relevant to the US?

          • Chalid says:

            And I want to add that the *cost* of excessive worry about about hyperinflation is lowered growth; a lot of people think that the Fed’s inflation target is much too low for example, which, among other things, may have made the Great Recession worse.

          • Tarpitz says:

            The current Venezuelan hyperinflation (800% in 2016, per Wikipedia) looks to me very much like the product of a peacetime mismatch between government revenue and expenditure.

          • baconbacon says:

            In no small part because of faith based objections to figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

            This is just a weird objection. The Federal Reserve not only engaged in unprecedented major programs but also a few odd ducks (operation twist) trying to figure out what “worked”.

          • John Schilling says:

            Here is Wikipedia with a list of hyperinflations. It looks like every single one involved the aftermath of a war or very major political instability.

            “Very major political instability” is ill-defined for the heavy lifting it is being asked to do here.

            Robert Mugabe has seen no serious challenge to his rule in at least thirty years, and it’s been longer still since any major war Zimbabwe; they’ve still got hyperinflation. Likewise North Korea. The Depression-era hyperinflations in Hungary and Poland don’t seem to be associated with anything I would call “very major political instability”, but I’m not an expert there. Then there’s the Yuan dynasty; I again am not an expert on the subject, but the Chinese national museum’s currency exhibit doesn’t blame those multiple hyperinflationary incidents on anything but fiscal mismanagement.

            That’s just from Wikipedia’s “notable examples” list, which is not exhaustive. They also list 1980s Mexico , during a seventy year streak of peace and one-party rule, as not technically hyperinflation but that just means it took a few years rather than a few months to destroy 99.9% of the peso’s value.

            It is curiously absent from the “hyperinflation” article itself, but wikipedia’s article on the economy of Venezuela explicitly calls out the current state as hyperinflation. In a nation with nineteen years of peace and one-party rule with a political opposition far less significant than the current US Democratic Party.

            Similarly, Argentina 1989-1990 is ackowledged as hyperinflationary by Wikipedia, and that’s difficult to tie to war or very major political instability.

            Or just go with the full list. Lots of peaceful nations there; maybe you can find excuses to write them all off for “very major political instability”, but I think that would be a very great stretch.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            For whatever it’s worth, there’s levels of inflation between 2% and “hyper” that very much suck.

          • Chalid says:

            Looking at the complete list linked by John Schilling (57 countries), the vast majority (44) are related to events which I think we can all agree qualify as major instability: the Soviet Union’s collapse, WWI, and WWII, and their aftermaths.

            Excluding those events, the complete list is just 13: Zimbabwe 2008, Peru 1990, France 1795, Nicaragua 1991, Congo 1993, Argentina 1990, Bolivia 1985, Peru 1988, Chile 1973, Angola 1997, Brazil 1990, Zimbabwe 1998, North Korea 2010.

            I guess we can say that having a brutal dictator or civil war or being in the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, covers all the remaining cases except Chile 1973 (Allende?)

            I don’t know a ton about the Latin American debt crisis but I do know the oil shocks plus the fact that the countries weren’t borrowing in their own currencies were key aspects of it. Ditto for Venezuela today.

            For me to think that an inflationary episode was really relevant to the US, it’d have to be a country that was politically stable, not in a major war or recently emerged from one, had debts primarily in its own currency, wasn’t poor by the standards of the day, and had a reasonably diversified economy (ie no petrostates), and happened in the past several hundred years. I don’t think these are unreasonable criteria for me to ask for.

            You’re not going to convince anyone that it could happen here by pointing to Yuan Dynasty China or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

          • John Schilling says:

            For me to think that an inflationary episode was really relevant to the US, it’d have to be a country that was politically stable, not in a major war or recently emerged from one, had debts primarily in its own currency, wasn’t poor by the standards of the day, and had a reasonably diversified economy (ie no petrostates). I don’t think these are unreasonable criteria for me to ask for.

            “Had [large] debts primarily in its own currency” and “wasn’t poor by the standards of the day”, bring you to the null set, which I think kind of is unreasonable. And that’s before you bring in the overarching requirement of “tried to monetize away its debt or long-term deficit”, without which hyperinflation isn’t an issue.

            Better than 90% of the sovereign debt on Earth is issued in one of half a dozen or so currencies, all of which are administered by nations which are rich, peaceful, politically stable, and which have a long track record and ongoing commitment to Not Monetize Away Their Debt. This is not a coincidence. But if one of these nations were to up and say “ha ha fooled you!” and try to monetize away their debt, is there any reason to doubt that the results would be any different than for anyone else?

            You might as well argue that jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge would be a wickedly awesome thing for a sane person to do, and yet safe because the only people who ever die doing that are the suicidally insane ones and we expect suicidal people to die. There’s no evidence that sane people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge would die, just a theory, and how can you stand in the way of awesomeness with just a theory and no evidence?

          • Chalid says:

            “Had [large] debts primarily in its own currency” and “wasn’t poor by the standards of the day”, bring you to the null set

            You’ve got the US, UK, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, China, Scandinavia, and a whole bunch of European countries pre-Eurozone. I think you’ve got several hundred country-years of data, perhaps even thousands.

            But if one of these nations were to up and say “ha ha fooled you!” and try to monetize away their debt, is there any reason to doubt that the results would be any different than for anyone else?

            … and *wow* this is a change in your standards. First you say that small steps in the direction of higher inflation are incredibly dangerous because it is “chaotic” and “nonlinear” and that you could find that the “last tranche of quantitative easing was the one that pushed the inflation rate from 11% to 12,000%” and that we have been watching people “step carefully in the direction of inflation, only to have it blow up into hyperinflation, for over eight hundred years.”

            It is of course not literally impossible to achieve hyperinflation. Sure, if Trump declared his intention to monetize the entire national debt, we might get uncomfortable inflation (though not hyper-). But another tranche of quantitative easing? The fed changing its inflation target to 5%? No way. This would be literally historically unprecedented AFAICT.

          • John Schilling says:

            You’ve got the US, UK, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, China, Scandinavia, and a whole bunch of European countries pre-Eurozone.

            One of your standards, and the one I called out as most objectionable, was: “not poor by the standards of the day”. When were the US, UK, Japan, Canada, etc, ever considered poor?

            Japan if we go all the way back to the 1940s, perhaps. Likewise “European countries pre-Eurozone”, but by strange coincidence that gets you the worst case of hyperinflation anywhere, ever.

            … and *wow* this is a change in your standards. First you say that small steps in the direction of higher inflation are incredibly dangerous because it is “chaotic” and “nonlinear”

            Fine. If you want to run an experiment in say Norway where you try to see how much money-printing it takes to push inflation from 2.5% to 3%, that would probably be pretty safe. And pointless.

            But that’s not what you are proposing, and you know it. The United States (and much of the Eurozone) does have a very large national debt and ongoing deficit, and you are proposing to see how much of that you can monetize away. The answers, every time someone else has tried it, are “not enough to matter” and “oops, too late”.

            Yes, all the “too late” data comes from poor nations. Because only poor nations are stupid enough to do that, because the economic stupidity necessary to do that also makes you do other things that make you poor. There’s no reason to believe that being rich insulates a nation from hyperinflation, any more than there is reason to believe that being sane insulates a person from blunt-force trauma after jumping off a bridge.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Miyazaki’s _The Wind Rises_ has somewhat about the Japanese considering their socity to be poor and backward in the 1940s.

            This is mostly an excuse to recommend the movie.

          • bintchaos says:

            I love the movie but its so sad…Miyazaki always had such strong anti-war themes and in this movie its like he’s conceded the necessity of war for the Japanese….its like a eulogy.
            I dont understand about the inflation stats either– I think oversampling and seasonal adjustments are distorting the picture.
            For example (and this is anecdote) Bruno Mars tickets for this fall are 300$ each– and those aren’t even good seats.

          • Jiro says:

            I can just imagine what Miyazaki would think of a movie which was all about the scientific wonder in creating the atom bomb. We could call it “The Mushroom Cloud Rises”. I can’t imagine he’d like it very much.

            “Glorifies Japanese participation in the war”, to Westerners, is easy to mistake for “is anti-war”, since both of them involve opposing the Americans.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I saw The Wind Rises as being about war as an activity done by ordinary people with ordinary human motives. This can look like glorifying Japan’s part in WW2, but it didn’t seem that way to me, it was more like a corrective to Japan simply being the bad guys. I have no idea how the movie went over in Japan.

            I also consider to be unspeakably beautiful. Literally. Usually, when I like the way a movie looks, I can say things about composition and the use of color. In this case, it looked great, but I have no idea why.

          • bintchaos says:

            You didnt think the overwhelming theme was sadness, melancholy?
            I cant help contrasting Wind to the power and beauty of Nausicaa, Mononoke and Howl.
            The kaiju eiga were the obvious responses to the War.
            Miyazaki is much more layered and complex.

          • Jiro says:

            I saw The Wind Rises as being about war as an activity done by ordinary people with ordinary human motives.

            The atom bomb was created by ordinary people with ordinary human motives, but if a Westerner were to depict the atom bomb that way, it would be seen as a horrible whitewash.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            If war is mostly done by ordinary people with ordinary human motives, I want to believe war is mostly done by ordinary people with ordinary human motives. And I want it said in public.

            Perhaps it would be good to have a movie depicting this for both sides of a war.

          • Nornagest says:

            Miyazaki’s pretty good with that, I’d say. I don’t agree with all of his politics, but he usually does an outstanding job of humanizing the people on both sides of whatever (usually fictional) conflict he’s looking at, to the point that most of his movies don’t really have villains. Nausicaa, the one setting of his that tackles WMDs directly, is no exception — although it’s clearer in the manga than in the movie.

            I haven’t seen The Wind Rises yet, though.

          • Jiro says:

            If war is mostly done by ordinary people with ordinary human motives, I want to believe war is mostly done by ordinary people with ordinary human motives.

            “War is done by ordinary people with ordinary motives” isn’t a factual proposition that you can say that for; it’s a matter of emphasis. Nobody’s asking that Miyazaki literally not show the Japanese as humans. Self-deception and blind loyalty and willful ignorance are human traits too, and someone who makes weapons for an aggressive war full of atrocities has engaged in those very human things, which is not Miyazaki’s spin.

            It’s like having a movie about someone who always wanted to be a business administrator and achieves happiness running a Nazi concentration camp.

          • Zodiac says:

            It’s like having a movie about someone who always wanted to be a business administrator and achieves happiness running a Nazi concentration camp.

            To me that sounds like a great concept if executed correctly. Now I want that movie.

          • Protagoras says:

            Though he didn’t specifically run any concentration camps, otherwise the example seems almost deliberately intended to be a reference to Adolf Eichmann.

          • Aapje says:

            …based on the false idea that Eichmann didn’t have personal convictions.

    • baconbacon says:

      1. Governments that borrow in and print their own currency can never go bankrupt, as they can always print more.

      This is either literally false, or only true in a misleading sense. In the literal sense places that have seen hyperinflation often (always?) have periods where the inflation increases are vastly greater than the money supply increases. Any government obligation tied to the inflation rate (for the US government TIPs and SS would fall into this category) would bankrupt them during this period.

      You could argue that in the modern world the building of presses isn’t necessary, and that 10x the amount of money formerly in existence can be created with the stroke of a key, however this is just a dodge of the issue above. What happens during hyperinflation is that the currency no longer functions as money as people stop accepting it, and they turn to alternatives like gold, foreign currencies and barter. Technically the argument could be correct, but only if you assume that the government in question can perpetually borrow in its own currency in the face of inflation levels that cause the public to stop accepting it, it is basically a catch 22.

    • James Miller says:

      Macroeconomics has lots of flaws, but one thing they know with near certainty is that printing lots of money causes inflation.

    • The Nybbler says:

      One thing about the crash is you also didn’t see massive deflation. And the crash should have been a seriously deflationary event; all sorts of asset values going to zero. So one possibility is the quantitative easing only cancelled out the deflationary effects of the crash.

      There’s more going on, though; as Alex Zavoluk points out, there’s the enormous increase in excess reserves. Why wouldn’t the banks be lending those out? Is the Federal Reserve trying to fill the hole in the economy left by the crash with a bunch of assets that essentially only exist on balance sheets, and making it clear to the banks that they need to play along?

    • J Mann says:

      Brad:

      To quote Krugman from back in the day, a reasonable model for modern inflation is that it will be whatever the Fed wants it to be, plus or minus a small factor to account for the fact that Alan Greenspan is not actually God. In other words, the Fed is targeting inflation, and as a result, we’ve gotten a small monetization of the debt. (You’ll need some kind of accountant to explain why tripling the money supply didn’t result in a sharp drop in the debt, but it apparently didn’t.)

      So right now inflation is low because the Central Banks stop easing operations when they think it might rise, and the easing operations they’ve done are for the specific purpose of raising inflation to where they want it to be.

      My intuition is that actual monetezation of the debt would require much larger operations (based on the fact that we don’t seem to have successfully monetized much debt so far) and an abandonment of the interest rate target as the standard to set monetary policy.

      • Brad says:

        In other words, the Fed is targeting inflation, and as a result, we’ve gotten a small monetization of the debt. (You’ll need some kind of accountant to explain why tripling the money supply didn’t result in a sharp drop in the debt, but it apparently didn’t.)

        I think any disagreement we have will end up being in here. Are you pointing here to the accounting fiction that the Fed is a separate entity from the USG and treating that as a real?

        The federal reserve dramatically expanded its balance sheet and used to the newly created money to buy debt instruments of the United States (including the GSEs which likewise ought to have their legal and accounting fictions disregarded for our purposes). Drawing a line around all federal entities and looking at what happened in and outside, trillions of dollars were created through the expansion of the balance sheet and no corresponding external liabilities were created at the same time.

        How is that not monetization?

        • J Mann says:

          The general answer is that if the Fed will hold the securities indefinitely, then it’s monetizing the debt, but if it’s going to sell the securities eventually as interest rates pick up, then the ultimate effect on the government balance sheet is the difference between the buy and sell prices, plus the foregone interest.

          I’d actually be delighted to learn that the US government’s long term financial prospects had been improved by the QE operations – have you seen any analysis of whether that has happened, and by how much?

          My default assumption is that the ultimate effect on the US government balance sheet is predicted to be small (I’ll accept market or expert predictions), and that material monetization has a good chance of having more substantial effects.

          In an unfortunately circular effect, if market participants expect the Fed ultimately to unwind its position, then you won’t see much inflation, but if they expect the position to be irreversible, then you will see more. I’m not smart enough to look at TIPS spreads during shocks or whatever and tell you what the market thinks, but it is a data point that no one in the government has, as far as I know, released a budget that assumes QE is permanent.

        • Brad says:

          The exact same thing would be true if there was no fictional intermediary. A government that monetized could always decide to demonetize at some point down the road. I don’t think it is reasonable for ‘the market expects it to be reversed at some future date’ to be the pivot on which the definition of monetization turns.

        • J Mann says:

          @Brad – Thanks!

          1) I agree with you that the intermediary issue is not material. As to me at least, you can consider that issue resolved.

          2) I think whether the position is likely or expected to be unwound is material, however, if you are interested in one of the following two ultimate questions.

          2.1) Has the US government improved its long term financial situation? For example, have we extended the date of entitlement reckoning by a few weeks as a result of QE?

          2.2) Is future monetization likely to lead to inflation?

          I’ll grant that you can definitely characterize the QE activity as a “temporary monetization” or a “monetezation expected to be followed by a roughly equivalent demonetization.”

          However, if the question you are asking is: Does QE show us that we can safely monetize the US debt without risking hyperinflation?, then I think you have to take the expected duration into account in order to see whether the effects of this market activity are likely to be seen in a permanent monetization.

          • Brad says:

            Re 2.1
            I’m not sure I share your premises. First because I think the entitlement reckoning is mostly about out of control healthcare cost growth. Second — and this one is directly related to the subject at hand — I don’t think the concept of a fiat issuer saving money for future expenses is a particularly coherent one to begin with.

            Contracting the money supply today, when the economic circumstances wouldn’t otherwise call for it, because we have a big chunk of anticipated expenses in a decade or two doesn’t make much sense. At least not if the “savings” are just going to be forgone spending. You might be able to make some sort of case for a sovereign wealth fund type setup, but you’d have to see what the return trade for that versus the returns of investing in your own countries’ people and infrastructure would be. Or the trade off of just reducing the money taken out of the economy (i.e. cutting taxes).

            2.2
            Despite accusations to the contrary, I think I’m being pretty little-c conservative here in what I’m saying. I’m not saying that QE’s success is evidence for the fact that we can do something radically beyond QE without any worry. But I do think we can continue to take baby steps in the same direction as needed and as conditions allow–i.e observed inflation remains low.

            FWIW, at least in the United States, I don’t think now is the time. Unemployment is very low, and inflation is finally starting to nudge up.

            The main points I’m trying to make is that:
            1) We don’t know what controls the rate of inflation. We aren’t even especially close to knowing. If someone tells you he does, check your wallet.
            2) Macroeconomics is not a morality play.There may well be moral and immoral choices to be made, but first we need to understand what is going on. And what’s going on is often highly counterintuitive. We can’t just extrapolate from 18th century Puritan notions of personal finance which aren’t even necessarily optimal even for households.

          • J Mann says:

            Well, if we have a 2% inflation target, then we’re going to do exactly as much monetization or demonetization as is required to hit that target.

            Assuming that you’re not proposing that we stop targeting inflation, then I guess the way to implement baby steps would be to move the inflation target up to 3 or 4 percent and see how much money we make.

            If we do the alternative (hey, let’s monetize $500B and see what happens to inflation), then we’ve given up inflation targeting, which is a pretty radical change.

    • cassander says:

      It doesn’t just prove too much, it’s demonstrably wrong, particularly in the UK, which actually did go bankrupt in its own currency in the 70s. Printing money is not an escape from debt, it’s just another method of default, paying people back in dollars (or pounds, whatever) that are worth less than they anticipated instead of paying back fewer than anticipated.

  8. albatross11 says:

    This is what I really hope will happen w.r.t. muggle realism sorts of discussions in the next few years. Heritability of intelligence and personality, certainly explaining differences between individuals and maybe explaining some differences between racial or other large identifiable groups, seems pretty solid. So we need people to the left of Charles Murray and Steve Sailer to think through what this means for policy, and to come to some decent conclusions.

    And the moral points she makes in her article seem to me to be correct and really important: Differences in peoples’ abilities, whether from genes or environment or other stuff, are important for figuring out who should go to medical school and who should try to become a plumber instead, but they don’t have any *moral* significance. People with higher IQs and better educations are *NOT* more valuable in moral terms, and I don’t see a lot of obvious reason to think they behave in more moral ways overall.

    Right now, a lot of our society seems set up to take the people at the bottom and grind them in the gears of the system, either to raise money (as with policing for a profit and charging money for jail time and such) or just because nobody really cares what happens to the losers (homeless people sleeping on storm grates). This screws over plenty of people with normal intelligence, but it really clobbers the folks at the bottom of the intelligence and education and social class ladder. I think one part of the explanation for this comes down to the cognitive stratification Murray talked about in _The Bell Curve_ and more recently, in _Coming Apart_. In some other world where we *hadn’t* turned Murray into a pariah and talked about what a wicked book _TBC_ was without bothering to read it, maybe we would have started thinking coherently about how to address this.

    • Matt M says:

      People with higher IQs and better educations are *NOT* more valuable in moral terms, and I don’t see a lot of obvious reason to think they behave in more moral ways overall.

      If a doctor and a plumber are the last two passengers on a crashing airplane and one parachute remains, how do you decide who gets it?

      1. Give it to the doctor, because he is clearly more valuable to society in economic terms (which we will use as a stand in for morality)
      2. Attempt to apply some sort of moral test to see which person is “better” in strictly moral terms? (how much did they give to charity last year? have they ever committed a crime?)
      3. They are completely equal in every way, flip a coin

      Legit curious to hear people’s answers here.

      • Vermillion says:

        I don’t trust myself as a perfect judge of either economic or moral worth so I would go with coin flip.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        1 would have the best immediate consequences and create decent incentives. 2, if implemented perfectly, would create the best incentives for people to be good in the ways they can control. I think the main rational motivation for 3 is that implementations of 1 and 2 can go very wrong.

      • lvlln says:

        I would answer 3, for about the same reason as Vermillion. I’d add that I disagree with the part of 3 that says: “They are completely equal in every way.” Obviously, a doctor and a plumber are not completely equal in every way. But their right to stay alive are. I reject the notion that someone’s right to stay alive has any relationship with how much value they provide to others or anything of the sort (e.g. the fact that a doctor is more likely to increase quality of life or length of life of more people than the plumber has exactly zero impact on who I believe deserves more to stay alive). And that’s mainly because I don’t trust anyone or any group of people to make that call.

        • Matt M says:

          Just to be clear, the obvious reducto ad absurdum of this position is something like, if the two passengers are Hitler and Mother Teresa, do you still flip the coin? Or are you now willing to trust your own judgment?

          • lvlln says:

            Well, substituting someone I actually respect as a moral figure for Mother Teresa – Ayaan Hirsi Ali perhaps? – yes, I still flip a coin. Both Hitler and Hirsi Ali have exactly equal rights to stay alive. I find the notion of someone deciding that their own judgment is suddenly valid or trustworthy just because they judge a case to be extreme to be morally repugnant and obviously abusable. If we go along with such exceptions, then it just incentivizes people to honestly believe that every case is an extreme case, and therefore their own judgments are valid in every case.

            It’s akin to the phenomenon of “free speech is OK, but hate speech is just too extreme” followed by “arguing against against a law that would force you to address everyone by their preferred pronouns is hate speech.”

          • Jiro says:

            I find the notion of someone deciding that their own judgment is suddenly valid or trustworthy just because they judge a case to be extreme to be morally repugnant and obviously abusable.

            I do not. My judgment is bad, but it’s not completely 100% terrible. The error bars on my judgment are not large enough that I’m going to make a mistake when comparing Hitler and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

            If we go along with such exceptions, then it just incentivizes people to honestly believe that every case is an extreme case, and therefore their own judgments are valid in every case.

            I don’t see a way around this. We have to let humans make some judgments. Nobody says “if we allow people to kill each other in self-defense, that incentivizes people to think every killing is in self-defense”. Or “if we allow proportional response, that incentivizes people to think every response is proportional”. Or “if we allow people to not pay tips to restaurants for poor service, that incentivizes people to think that all service is poor”.

          • Matt M says:

            To completely derail this conversation even further…

            What do you find objectionable about Mother Teresa?

          • lvlln says:

            @Jiro

            My judgment is bad, but it’s not completely 100% terrible. The error bars on my judgment are not large enough that I’m going to make a mistake when comparing Hitler and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

            I don’t think any individual is qualified to make an accurate judgment on the size of the error bars of their own judgment.

            I don’t see a way around this. We have to let humans make some judgments. Nobody says “if we allow people to kill each other in self-defense, that incentivizes people to think every killing is in self-defense”. Or “if we allow proportional response, that incentivizes people to think every response is proportional”. Or “if we allow people to not pay tips to restaurants for poor service, that incentivizes people to think that all service is poor”.

            For those specific examples, I think we outsource the judgment call to others; an (theoretically) impartial judge & jury determine if a killing was self-defense. Likewise with proportional response. For tips, we rely on social shaming, though I’m actually very much pro-outlawing tipping, in part due to the failures of the mechanism of social shaming that have been on display in the past few years.

            In general, I don’t think any individual can be trusted on their judgment. I think free speech and democracy are the band-aids that help to alleviate this problem – we need to constantly discuss with others who have completely different perspectives, in order to get to the least-worst judgment possible in any given situation. And there’s still no guarantee that we’re making the right call. It’s just a constant process by which we struggle to get it the least wrong together.

            @Matt M

            What do you find objectionable about Mother Teresa?

            Mainly, I don’t know enough about her to judge if she was particularly good or particularly bad. I’ve heard things about her here and there that paint her in both positive and negative lights, and as such I don’t really respect her as a moral figure, not any more than I would any random person.

          • Deiseach says:

            The error bars on my judgment are not large enough that I’m going to make a mistake when comparing Hitler and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

            But what if this sinking lifeboat situation happens before Hitler is Hitler? All you know then is that you have an Austrian amateur artist and a Somalian-Dutch-American writer in the boat, and you need to judge which of them “deserves” to live.

            The old-fashioned “women and children first” attitude would lead you to pick Ayaan Hirsi Ali simply because she’s a woman, but absent that, how can you choose? And that’s our “doctor and plumber” quandary, not “plainly evil and wicked genocidal dictator versus feminist heroine”.

          • lvlln says:

            @Deiseach

            Matt M was specifically invoking a reductio ad absurdum situation that took the original doctor vs. plumber situation to the extreme, presumably in order to ascertain if I would bite the bullet. Which I did. So I understood Jiro to be talking specifically about that extreme case wrt trusting that his judgment error bars are bounded below some threshold, not the original more general case where it would be more murky.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        I mean, the example sort of fails here because there are tons of doctors, so even if the doctor is “more valuable”, his marginal contribution is really small. I guess you could replace the doctor with a famous scientist or something.

      • gbdub says:

        If I’m in a position to decide, I’m probably on the plane, so I’m taking the ‘chute myself and getting the hell out of there.

      • albatross11 says:

        Most of life isn’t very much like choosing the last spot in the lifeboat. Nor do I think we can actually come to an agreed-upon ranking of value of humans, since those values are both subjective and multidimensional. (Does it matter than Dr Smith is a bachelor and Plumber Smith is a father of three? Depends who you ask.)

        As a matter of setting policy, I am very much opposed to trying to decide on a ranking of which people are more or less valuable–I don’t believe we are likely to get good policy out of that in almost any situation.

      • rahien.din says:

        3b. They fight.

        In the future, I would do a better job with parachute inventory and preflight checklists. (And technically, clean water and effective sanitation have been more important to humanity’s health and advancement than most of medicine.)

        Also, I would be extremely suspicious of any system/algorithm created by smart people that purports to establish that smart people are definitively more valuable than their countrymen in moral terms.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        You know, the good answer is an easy one.

        The morally more righteous one — in particular, if any of the two is more righteous enough for it to count on any measurable scale — will volunteer to give the parachute. And because this act makes them the righteous one, we should not overrule their final decision.

        The survivor will recount the tale, and inspires the other members of the society towards more virtuous behavior in general and in similarly dire situations in particular.

        If neither of them are willing to settle for the noble sacrifice, toss a coin. It would still be remarkable if the one who loses also accepts the result. The tale will affirm the norm of trust in the society.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Beat me to it.

        • Matt M says:

          And because this act makes them the righteous one, we should not overrule their final decision.

          Dang. I was hoping for a King Solomon style “The one who volunteers to die has proven himself morally superior, and thus is given the parachute” ending.

          • random832 says:

            The problem is that the scenario falls apart if there is a third person aboard the plane empowered to give them the parachute (Because who says he gets a parachute?). Only examples that work for the possible behavior of two people – possibly with no-one else watching – can be true results of the scenario.

            I would be wondering if there is any way to rig things so that one person can use the main chute and one can use the backup chute from the same pack. But that scenario can be eliminated by making it more than twice as many people as parachute packs – you don’t get to put the trolley on a track with no-one tied to it.

        • Nornagest says:

          Good answer.

        • rahien.din says:

          The norm-promoting effects are counterbalanced by rewarding selfishness, IE, if you really want to survive in dire situations, your best bet is to manipulate the other person into acting virtuously.

          In which case, we are back to my strategy of 3b. they fight (!). Except that this fight is not overt and physical, but instead is covert and mental/emotional, which favors high-IQ persons.

          Insofar as these norm-promoting and behavior-rewarding effects have these impacts on society (which as you say could be “in general” and not limited to “similarly dire situations”), the conclusion of your strategy is a world in which smart people can survive or win by manipulating others into virtuous self-sacrifice.

          Ultimately that is erosive of widespread virtue, and will tend to segregate morality from intelligence.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I don’t think you understand. Manipulating people into acting virtuously is the freaking point. The idea that morality and intelligence are (or ought to be) intrinsic to one another is a distinctly modern, specifically WEIRD notion.

          • rahien.din says:

            I don’t think you understand. Manipulating people into acting virtuously is the freaking point.

            I do understand. nimim.k.m.’s hope is that this strategy would manipulate most people in society into acting virtuously. I try to show that it won’t work that way.

            A person is more likely to give up the parachute if they believe in the norm and want to perpetuate it. They can come to that state either genuinely, or due to some manipulation by their opponent. It follows that a person is more likely to get the parachute and survive if they manipulate their opponent into perpetuating the virtue-norm.

            This is an exploitable system. I agree that morality and intelligence are not intrinsic to one another. Selfish intelligent people will try to manipulate their opponents out of their parachutes, every time.

            Think of four people, representing combinations of binary values: high(H) vs low(L) IQ, and virtuous(V) vs selfish(S). Imagine the following interactions :

            HV vs LV : 50% chance of survival for either person
            HV vs LS : HV dies
            HV vs HV : 50% chance of survival for either person
            HV vs HS : HV dies
            HS vs LV : LV dies
            HS vs LS : LS dies
            HS vs HS : 50% chance of survival for either person
            LV vs LS : LV dies
            LV vs LV : 50% chance of survival for either person
            LS vs LS : 50% chance of survival for either person

            Selfishness and high IQ definitely increase the chance of survival. Now hopefully there are not enough crashing planes for this system to affect society. But, if this is to constitute a norm, then likely these will be rules that society plays by. Meaning, over the long term, they will have significant effects. Successive iterations show that the overall prevalence of virtue decreases, and P(selfishness|high-IQ) increases.

            So this system/norm would do the opposite of what it purports. It would overall decrease virtue, and it would result in high-IQ people being more selfish.

          • hlynkacg says:

            All you’re saying is that the winning move in a one-off prisoners is always to defect. We know that and that’s precisely why we all agree before-hand to punish defectors. Yes people who are both highly intelligent and selfish are corrosive to society and that’s why “too clever by half” is an insult.

            Assuming an even distribution of H L V and S and assuming that all dilemmas are one-offs you’d be right. But “the system” does not exist in a vacuum and the whole point of having norms is to skew the distribution by ensuring that no dilemmas are one-offs.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            If one of them is smart enough to think about exploiting the system under the time constraint, it stands to reason that it would be their moral duty to act with magnanimity, because they do realize the wider implications. If they don’t, well. Who said that the justice prevails and the good win, despite that everyone involved knows — we know — what the good and just would be?

            As Nybbler said downthread, “morally righteous behavior is for suckers.”

            This is why virtue is called a virtue, not “business as usual”. Honorable and virtuous behavior is exceptional, though admired when it happens. We still retell the Plato’s tale how Socrates chose die with style instead of running out of Athens like a coward, because most people would not be inclined to do that. The story about a son of the god, half a god himself, thus the most powerful being in the existence, who decided to die painfully so that we could be better off turned out to be amazingly popular.

            However, the wider context are not falling airplanes (that do not usually come with parachutes anyway), but our actions in our everyday lives. Which kind society do you want to believe in? Your responsibility to act to maintain it scale with your capabilities. Looking at state of the world, where the morally unscrupulous win at business and politics, and societies with high trust and low corruption are rare, it looks like an unfruitful task. On the other hand, nobody said that moral right would be easy or that it pays off. On the contrary, the usual culturally shared notion is that it’s hard, and in the end, you are the dead sucker.

            I don’t probably win at morality, either. But I do notice that the platform we are having this discussion is by blog a person whose most famous posts are eloquent ramblings in favor of trust, society, niceness, and other community norms and lamentations against the everyday mundane evil arising from the lack of coordination. Or maybe it’s the one about cactus people.

          • Aapje says:

            @nimim.k.m.

            This is why virtue is called a virtue, not “business as usual”. Honorable and virtuous behavior is exceptional, though admired when it happens.

            I strongly disagree. Honorable and virtuous behavior happens all the time, but because it is a social norm we don’t admire it very strongly as it is required of everyone. What we do is punish people who don’t do it.

            Nobody pats you on the back for not running a red light when it is safe to do so. It is a virtuous act that upholds the Schelling fence, but we don’t treat it as being virtuous, because we don’t people to see it as going beyond what they ought to do. In some other countries, it is normal to run red lights and those people act with less virtue.

            We only strongly admire people who act with honor and virtue beyond the normal standard we demand of people and/or people who act this way in extreme situations where the cost is very high.

          • rahien.din says:

            hlynkacg,

            All you’re saying is that the winning move in a one-off prisoners is always to defect.

            I don’t think this is a prisoner’s dilemma. The whole dilemma of the prisoners is that cooperate/cooperate maximizes payoff, but that they have no good way to get there from the default position of defect/defect, as they are prevented from communicating.

            In contrast, in this system, cooperate/cooperate and defect/defect have identical payoffs. Moreover, the players can communicate. This is like two prisoners in the same cell before questioning, trying to talk each other into taking the fall, when the outcome for mutual cooperation and mutual defection is, identically, a prolonged stalemate.

            Moreover, in this system, we deliberately do not punish defectors. The norm can only be promulgated (and the system can only succeed) to the degree that survivors/winners are believed, when they extol the virtue of their dead/defeated opponent.

            nimim.k.m.,

            Which kind society do you want to believe in? Do you really believe that virtue is for suckers?

            [Appeal to authority/venue/emotion]

            I am criticizing a system that, widely applied, would weaponize virtue in the hands of evil intelligent people. This system will destroy virtue by creating the “virtue is for suckers” game and therefore it is bad.

          • Civilis says:

            Ultimately, you can’t directly determine how virtuous someone is, you have to have some proxy marker you can use instead, like the amount of time or money given to charity.

            In a system where status is tied to virtue, the correct move for someone that wants high status is to use the most commonly used markers for virtue. We even have a phrase for this: “virtue signalling” (the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue).

            I am criticizing a system that, widely applied, would weaponize virtue in the hands of evil intelligent people. This system will destroy virtue by creating the “virtue is for suckers” game and therefore it is bad.

            People with the combination of intelligence, common sense, drive, and social skills to determine and achieve the set of markers that best signals status will always be of high status in society. A system where virtue is accorded status is better than one that relies on something like power for status, because often the markers for virtue are something you want almost as much as virtue itself. It’s still good to have intelligent evil people donating money to charitable causes to look good. You still run into problems once people stop auditing how virtuous those ‘charitable causes’ are.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You’re wrong about cooperate/cooperate and defect/defect having identical payoffs. The cooperate/cooperate scenario is what nimim.k.m. described above. The survivor will recount the tale, and inspire the other members of society towards more virtuous behavior. This does not happen in the defect/defect scenario.

            Furthermore, where are you getting the idea that we deliberately do not punish defectors? Punishing defectors is what makes a social norm a norm. I would have thought this was obvious but it seems that it needs to be explicitly stated; Good != Nice.

          • Civilis says:

            You’re wrong about cooperate/cooperate and defect/defect having identical payoffs. The cooperate/cooperate scenario is what nimim.k.m. described above. The survivor will recount the tale, and inspire the other members of society towards more virtuous behavior. This does not happen in the defect/defect scenario.

            Doesn’t the survivor in a defect/defect case have an incentive to claim that the case was actually cooperate/cooperate? If I’m a habitual defector, I want as many people to be cooperators as possible.

            If I’m selfish and able to pass as virtuous, I still want as many people around me to be virtuous as possible, so long as I can still pass as virtuous (given it’s not a binary, as long as I can still have enough markers to give me the status advantage I seek).

          • rahien.din says:

            hlynkacg,

            The cooperate/cooperate scenario is what nimim.k.m. described above. The survivor will recount the tale, and inspire the other members of society towards more virtuous behavior. This does not happen in the defect/defect scenario.

            Civilis beat me to it.

            where are you getting the idea that we deliberately do not punish defectors?

            Honestly, I wondered why you hadn’t gotten this idea, until I realized there are multiple definitions of “defector.”

            The first is the overt parachute-snatcher who refuses even to display virtue. Sure, those people get punished in accordance with how norms are usually policed. (As Civilis points out, I don’t think those people event exist.)

            The second is the evil winner, who manipulates their victim into ceding the parachute.

            In a tactical sense, those people are going to be really hard to identify. They will look exactly like non-evil winners. In order to even devise a norm-policing strategy, we would have to start by assuming that a meaningful proportion of winners are evil, and that in and of itself weakens the norm.

            In a strategic sense, even if evil winners are punished for their defections, this has the effect of weakening the norm. People will see that a significant proportion of winners are evil, and that will make them more likely to believe that their future opponents are evil. Widespread belief in the norm will be eroded if people think that many do not follow it and in fact use the norm only to manipulate.

            So, sure, we would punish those who fail to display virtue, if anyone is so stupid. But if we would adhere to this strategy, it is counterproductive to punish the evil winners.


            ETA : forgot the link to Civilis’ post

          • bintchaos says:

            Great discussion thread, gratitude.
            Have any SSC commenters read Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid?
            Complexity science is redefining evo theory of cooperation, fitness selection, altruism etc. with the addition of Cooperation Competition Paradigm.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            @Aapje

            Thank you for making that comment, I fell a bit optimistic about humanity again.

            @others, regarding the “evil intelligent people” defecting:

            I don’t think one could design a foolproof system where evil, sufficiently intelligent (so that they can hide their tracks) people do not win. I tend to believe that there’s is no other option than to do your best to propagate the message that being evil is dishonorable and you should feel bad about it even if you nobody catches you (especially when it comes to raising kids and teaching them to act ethically when they are adults). Punish the defectors that are caught. And on the flip side of the coin, admire the virtuous publicly.

            Apropos, I’d like to make a recommendation to everyone interested in this discussion, that is, to see Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon if you ever have an opportunity.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The survivor will recount the tale, and inspires the other members of the society towards more virtuous behavior in general and in similarly dire situations in particular.

          What, wait? Seems to me that

          1) If the survivor felt shame at this turn of events, the survivor probably would not recount the story accurately.

          2) If the survivor did not feel shame, the lesson given would be “righteousness is for dead suckers”.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Rather you are alive because the people around you were righteousness. A smart individual will thus seek righteous company/encourage righteousness in those around them.

            A less smart individual will conclude “righteousness is for dead suckers” but be smart enough to keep their damn mouth shut.

            A truly stupid individual will say as much, and be shocked, shocked when the so-called righteous decide to throw them overboard.

          • Randy M says:

            What if the survivor felt gratitude or admiration? “I was not strong enough to give the parachute to Joe Plumber; rather he insisted I take it. I hope someday to get a chance to pay forward his kindness.”
            (I agree with “let them work it out among themselves” in terms of the best way to fight the hypothetical, but that seems to be dodging the question.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            Rather you are alive because the people around you were righteousness. A smart individual will thus seek righteous company/encourage righteousness in those around them.

            The smart individual will be encouraged to encourage this sort of self-sacrificing righteousness in those around him, but selfish “villainy” in those he cares about most. This is a great racket providing the “righteous” don’t catch on, but I don’t think I’d call it righteous.

          • hlynkacg says:

            This is a great racket providing the “righteous” don’t catch on,

            That’s a big proviso.

        • Randy M says:

          Can someone convince me that the most moral act, from the point of view of someone trapped in the plane, is to offer the parachute to the other man? I was initially quite sympathetic to this answer, but thinking about it more, I wonder.
          It is certainly altruistic, but it ignores the fact that I have duties on the ground, and handing over the parachute, no strings attached, seems to ignore these (you can determine the intent on that pun yourself).
          I wouldn’t consider this analogous to a situation where a soldier jumps on a grenade to save the lives of his friends–trading his one life for several others. Nor for a situation where I risk my life by charging a gunman–taking a greater risk for death for another’s sake.
          I’m also not endorsing “fight it out” or “grab it a and run.” And I guess if the hypothetical is designed to require a slit second decision, shoving it at the other guy is optimal. But if we have a moment or two to have a conversation, I’m going to make my case before offering it freely, and I think I would take it if offered unless the other guy has a very compelling case.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            I was answering a question “is any of them morally better enough to deserve the parachute more than the other one”. In most cases, that’s impossible to judge. But in this hypothetical, either of them can make the decision to be a better person, at least in one regard, in a way that it counts.

            I’m also outright rejecting the banal utilitarian option of evaluating which one of the two would provide more material value to the society. Also, it is not an actionable policy, because in the hypothetical, you are not there to decide who gets the parachute: the passengers have to resolve it amongst themselves with only the information they themselves bring to the table.

            And if they both try to argue their case before decision, can they trust each other to tell the truth about their conditions? (Any time spent also opens to door for manipulation by an “evil winner”, and is possibly fatal to both depending on how long time they have in this scenario.)

            Ideally, you would want to live in the world where people are willing to offer the parachute willingly and without prompt, because it nicely solves these kind of problematic ethical situations, where there isn’t really an option that is good and fair and just to everyone concerned. That’s why offered the “throw a coin and accept a result” as an another option.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Better answer: punch out the other guy, steal the parachute, then tell everyone how wonderful and righteous he was for gifting it to you.

      • Wrong Species says:

        If I was God, I would probably choose 1. But realistically, I would probably choose 3. It’s hard to look someone in the eye and tell them that they have to die because their marginal contribution to society doesn’t quite cut it.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s easier to look them in the eye and say they have to die because a freaking coin landed on the side with Abe Lincoln on it?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Yes, actually. Randomness is seen as more fair than trying to objectively weigh people’s varying qualities. By definition, it doesn’t involve favoritism. Call it a quirk of human psychology but people prefer no bias to possible bias, even if the latter could potentially have better consequences.

          • Matt M says:

            . Randomness is seen as more fair than trying to objectively weigh people’s varying qualities.

            Seen as, yes. Actually is, no.

            At some point don’t we have to step up and say “Random chance is stupid, yes, I may make the wrong decision and it sucks that I’m in this situation, but I trust my own judgment better than the flip of a freaking coin?”

          • Wrong Species says:

            How do you go about weighing people’s good vs bad qualities in any kind of objective manner? Maybe the doctor is a terrible person while the janitor is a saint. You can’t judge someone’s worth just by looking at their occupation. If it was completely lopsided to one person being better in almost every conceivable manner, I would probably go ahead and choose but when you have so little knowledge of them or one isn’t clearly superior to the other, you might as well just flip a coin. How do you know you can trust yourself to make the right decision? It’s not like you’ve been in this situation before. Maybe there is a 60% chance you make the right decision in which case you should do so. But maybe it’s a 40% chance, in which case you shouldn’t. Faced with uncertainty, a 50% chance is not a bad compromise.

          • How do you go about weighing people’s good vs bad qualities in any kind of objective manner?

            Just round of moral standing to instrumental worth…

      • baconbacon says:

        Let the two of them decide between them since it is their lives at stake.

      • John Schilling says:

        (Does it matter than Dr Smith is a bachelor and Plumber Smith is a father of three? Depends who you ask.)

        Dr. Smith? The Dr. Smith?

        Him, we throw out of the plane without a parachute, even if there are plenty of parachutes. And if there’s any danger of the plane crashing, it’s because you didn’t throw out Dr. Smith soon enough.

      • The Nybbler says:

        To heck with both of them, I’m taking the parachute myself.

      • Well... says:

        4. Who raised better kids.

      • 1soru1 says:

        My preferred solution is not to crash the airplane.

        This is not just snark, the only plausible situation that leads to a dilemma like that is one deliberately engineered to create it. A plane that crashes with one parachute and time to discuss who should get it is being remote controlled by a pulp villain.

        The analogy to contemporary economics is obvious, right?

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Great question! I would do (1) if no one will ever hear about it, otherwise (3). (1) leads to the fall of civilization if people come to expect it, but in a one-off it is better.

        (Analagously, if you are the US president and the USSR has just sent enough nukes to irradiate the entire first world, the correct response is to not retaliate. But 5 minutes earlier, when the USSR was threatening to irradiate the first world, the correct response is to publicly do whatever you can to commit future you to retaliation)

      • J Mann says:

        If it’s an infrequent event, flip a coin in the interests of equality. Probably if it’s a frequent event too.

        If I were a better economist, I might have the doctor pay for the parachute. Simplest way would be to pay before the flight for the parachute in the event of a crash, so that parachute-wanters could subsidize lower prices for parachute-not-wanters. Presumably, if a lot of people wanted to pay the cost of having an extra parachute on the plane, the airlines would start including more. (I might regulate maximum cost if I thought that the airlines were able to generate artificial scarcity).

      • Cadie says:

        4. Without other significant information or a volunteer, I’d give the parachute to the doctor because they’re more likely to survive. They almost certainly know more about the human body and how to keep one alive than the plumber. This matters if they land somewhere where they aren’t found very quickly. Either one or both might already have injuries from whatever is making the plane crash – even mild-seeming head injuries can turn into something nasty. And landing even with a parachute can cause injury. The doctor can better anticipate this and deal with it, catching warning signs of trouble faster and doing what they can with what they have to keep the damage to a minimum.

        My choice, though not the reasoning, would change if there was a good reason to think the plumber had a better shot at surviving mild to moderate injuries and waiting for / finding help. Such as s/he is 30 and in robust shape vs. a very frail 75-year-old doctor. We really want to avoid the scenario of both of them dying, and since it’s highly unlikely the one left behind will survive the crash, it makes sense to give the parachute to the one who would fare better after landing.

    • Randy M says:

      People with higher IQs and better educations are *NOT* more valuable in moral terms

      I think this is actually the position that Murray and Sailer hold.

      I don’t see a lot of obvious reason to think they behave in more moral ways overall.

      Theoretically no, but higher IQ does seem linked to conscientiousness and time preference. I don’t think it does to any extent which would enable prejudging guilt on the basis of race or class, of course.

      maybe we would have started thinking coherently about how to address this.

      This in fact is the theme of Sailer’s recent articles although he doesn’t really get around to any specific policy proscriptions.

      • Ha Sailer ever come out with a clear manifesto? he seems vaguely right-wing, but vaguely.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Didn’t he come out with a clearly expressed view of the need for white political solidarity and supremacy? It’s not exactly a manifesto of what to do with that power, but it is a statement of principles of a sort.

      • Well... says:

        I haven’t read Sailer in a few years (before then I read him every day) but toward the end of when I was reading him my impression was that he seemed to resist being clear about his honest views on anything. It was a lot of winking and gesturing and phrasing things for plausible deniability. I got a sinister flavor from it, which I admit was largely contributed to by his commenters.

        • BBA says:

          Everything by Sailer I’ve ever read (including his comments here) gives me a camel’s-nose-under-the-tent vibe. He has a real knack for sounding nice and reasonable and then halfway through I realize what he’s arguing for and it creeps me out that I agreed with the beginning.

          • Brad says:

            There was an exchange here a few weeks back where he stridently attacked a poster that had made anodyne statement worrying that his visa wouldn’t be renewed. It was pretty terrible.

          • bintchaos says:

            I like the camel analogy.
            But I compare to Sailer to a vampyre politely angling for an invitation into your house.
            (vampyres can’t come in unless they are invited)
            It creeps me out too to interact with him because he has an agenda, and if you read any of his old stuff, its pretty obvious.
            Once the Vampyre gets in the House, he invites other vampyres in, and soon pretty much everyone in the House becomes a vampyre, and you wind up having to burn the House down to get rid of them.
            Its like Dr. Alexander’s witch analogy in the Eternal Struggle post.
            Moral of this story?
            Reject vampyrism in all its forms.

          • Mark says:

            Hmmm… but vampirism spreads.

            The problem with race talk isn’t that it might be convincing, it’s that it makes you look bad (witches are the better analogy).

        • albatross11 says:

          BBA:

          What do you think Sailer’s agenda is? I feel like I have a relatively clear idea from reading his blog, and while I often disagree with him, it doesn’t seem obviously nightmarish or sinister to me.

    • bintchaos says:

      Much as we need people in the Red Tribe to stop pandering to their base on climate science, evolution, and the non-competitivity of conservative ideology in 21st century America (except in Jesusland).
      I’d ask for a pony too but I already had several.
      Didn’t help.

      • Deiseach says:

        If you want me to take your opinions seriously, please don’t make sarcastic comments about “Jesusland”. Find some secular political jibe nickname to use, please.

        For someone who claims to have been raised Catholic and who demonstrated in a previous comment thread that they had the fine details of Islamic theology at their fingers’ ends, you don’t show much sensitivity to those of us who may actually take our Christianity as seriously and don’t like how it’s been turned into a political applause light (both by the “yay, religion!” and “boo, religion!” sides) in the USA.

        (This has been the semi-occasional dose of traditional Catholic harrumphing. We now return you to your regular schedule of programming).

        • bintchaos says:

          I’m sincerely sorry.
          Thank you for ur estimable crits– it means you have hope for me ( I think).
          Jesusland is just shorthand for redstate, fly-over country, heartland, non-coastal non-urban America. What would you prefer I use?
          Remember I’m at least 50% scifi… Jesusland comes from Richard Morgan’s Thirteen, aka Black Man in the UK– i didn’t mean it as a slur, but as a descriptive.
          Empathy is really hard (for aspies especially, but I’m not making excuses).
          I’m trying to improve.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            “Red states” isn’t quite descriptive because there are a lot of states that are red everywhere except for the dense urban population centers. In SSC parlance, “Red Tribe” is fine and everyone knows what you mean. In the wider world, “the Republican base” or just “conservatives” is likely understood.

          • bintchaos says:

            thanx, thats super-helpful.
            🙂

          • Matt M says:

            “Red states” isn’t quite descriptive because there are a lot of states that are red everywhere except for the dense urban population centers.

            Every state is red everywhere except the densely populated urban centers.

          • Deiseach says:

            Even “fly-over country” is better; the Jesusland versus United States of Canada meme after the 2004 election irked me because of the smuggery inherent in the “naturally the ignorant hicks voted for Chimpy McHitler” view it encouraged; ah, if only the educated and nice liberals could break away from the knuckle-draggers and form their own more perfect union with the lovely like-minded people in the Great White North! How happy and blissful that land would be!

            Nope, you’re all one nation, they’re your fellow-citizens, many of them are only cursorily religious in a cultural way, quite a few aren’t even religious at all, and you have to hang together or all hang separately; if you can’t even find a way to live with those beside you, it says that all your great notions about living harmoniously with those of other cultures, creeds and nations is bushwah.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Matt M

            Good point.

          • bintchaos says:

            oh my goodness I didnt mean to get everyone so worked up.
            Jesusland is a real place in my scifi universe– its a partition of America in a Richard Morgan book.
            Its just a permanent part of my skull furniture that apparently doesnt map well to red tribe/blue tribe convos.
            Sorry.

          • Randy M says:

            oh my goodness I didnt mean to get everyone so worked up.

            This is a kind of rude conversational tic, where you exaggerate other people’s response to play the martyr.
            You don’t have that many people commenting in this thread, and only Deiseach made a comment that even approached worked up, and it could also be characterized as politely informative. Google “Jesusland” and count how many pages it is until you find one referencing the book Black Man rather than the unflattering map or the memoir–huh?
            Interestingly, it is five pages, and then one finds a blog by, um, you. That was random. It does seem like you knew back in March that the phrase is meant to demean the referent as “Ignorant, racist America”

          • bintchaos says:

            sigh
            I am aspergers positive.
            I honestly don’t get why things I say are offensive so I appreciate the explanation.
            Morgan’s Jesusland is more real to me than the internet meme– its eems like a perfectly useful meme complex.
            I just used it as a literary device for a blog post. Theres a big wall around Morgan’s Jesusland, not to keep people out, but to keep people in. Abortion is illegal– birth control is illegal– all schools are private and for profit. Prisons are for profit…its sort of the natural projection of conservative hopes and liberal fears.

          • Civilis says:

            I just used it as a literary device for a blog post. Theres a big wall around Morgan’s Jesusland, not to keep people out, but to keep people in. Abortion is illegal– birth control is illegal– all schools are private and for profit. Prisons are for profit…its sort of the natural projection of conservative hopes and liberal fears.

            If you’re trying to learn about conservatives, re-read that again, and look for something that really, really doesn’t fit any of the multitude of American positions that get lumped into conservative.

            Is there any reason what-so-ever to consider “a wall to keep people in” something conservatives would ever hope for?

          • 1soru1 says:

            > Is there any reason what-so-ever to consider “a wall to keep people in” something conservatives would ever hope for?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Act_of_1850

            Historically, this is so much something hoped for, as accepted as a necessity. The precondition is the existence of a necessary segment of the population who would be radically better served by a neighboring state that it is impossible to conquer. Slaves in the South, the middle class in East Germany, the educated in Morgan’s JesusLand, fertile females in the Handmaid’s Tale, and so on.

            But then isn’t that reluctant acceptance true of a wall to keep people out too? Who thinks a wall is an end in itself, as opposed to something unfortunately necessary?

            Now you may say ‘no true conservative’. But if conservatism as you use the word doesn’t describe someone who is happy with the way things are in the face of foreign countries with economic advantages, then you may need to pick a less confusing name for whatever you are talking about.

          • Jiro says:

            But if conservatism as you use the word doesn’t describe someone who is happy with the way things are in the face of foreign countries with economic advantages, then you may need to pick a less confusing name for whatever you are talking about.

            That is roughly like saying “Those Democrats believe in a republic! So they should really be called Republicans!”

          • Civilis says:

            Historically, this is so much something hoped for, as accepted as a necessity. The precondition is the existence of a necessary segment of the population who would be radically better served by a neighboring state that it is impossible to conquer. Slaves in the South, the middle class in East Germany, the educated in Morgan’s JesusLand, fertile females in the Handmaid’s Tale, and so on.

            That doesn’t map onto any conservative I’ve read, or if you consider the pre-Civil War slaveholders somehow conservative, any conservative since 1900. It would be much easier for me to say that
            because of the behavior of the Warsaw pact and Cuba that keeping people in is something liberals hope for and conservatives fear. During the Vietnam war, the conservative chant was ‘America: love it or leave it’, and we’ve been rather hopeful to the point of taking donations to help those celebrities that promise to leave for Canada next time the Republicans win the election.

            Having someone that doesn’t want to be here stuck here is a drain on resources. You can’t expect them to contribute to society and you have to spend effort to keep them in line. There’s a reason conservatives oppose slavery, be it the chattel type or the socialist type.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > That is roughly like saying “Those Democrats believe in a republic! So they should really be called Republicans!”

            Except, like, the other way round. The post I was replying to was objecting to the use of the word ‘conservative’ in a science fiction novel to describe a group that had beliefs that were presented as an adaptation of contemporary US conservative morality to a near future scenario.

            You either find that plausible or you don’t, you can’t play a ‘gotcha’ with the dictionary.

          • J Mann says:

            Bintchaos, what did you think about the Cold Commands trilogy? I enjoyed it quite a bit – Morgan can be challenging, but is often rewarding.

          • bintchaos says:

            Loved it and love everything Morgan has ever written, especially the Quellquist Falconer/Takeshi Kovacs stuff.
            Altho Cold Command is more grimdark wuxia than political…
            I’m an insatiable consumer of hard scifi, starting from gradeschool, when I thought Dune and Ringworld were the greatest books ever written.
            Morgan was kindof the prophet of the genre of political scifi–I love KSR, the Mars series and Aurora are the best.
            And of course my avi– from Cixin Liu the 3body Problem– its really mathy.

        • Protagoras says:

          Hmmm. You know, you never show the slightest bit of respect for people to whom sex is something that is meaningful and important in their lives. I realize that it doesn’t seem to matter to you, and that from the perspective of someone for whom that’s the case, it would surely all seem very silly, and of course sometimes harmful. Which is kind of like how your religion looks to outsiders. I thus find it hard to have much sympathy for your complaints here.

          • Deiseach says:

            You know, you never show the slightest bit of respect for people to whom sex is something that is meaningful and important in their lives.

            Oh sweetie pie, was I mean and horrible and made you feel all frowny-faced? Let me make it up to you by kissing you all over your darling little face! Don’t I respect your sex-positive lifestyle? How very naughty of me! I probably need a good spanking, right? 😉

            Kiss kiss kiss, and go forth and be happily liberated!

          • CatCube says:

            @Deiseach

            OK, c’mon. I agree that almost anything under the “sex-positive” label is utter nonsense, but this is uncalled for.

          • John Schilling says:

            Agreed on both counts. If the saccharine silliness that is most of sex-positivity deserves an occasional snarky parody, that probably shouldn’t be directed at real people who are posting in good faith.

          • Protagoras says:

            I thought it was very kind of Deiseach to immediately provide an example of the sort of thing I was talking about. Thanks!

          • Deiseach says:

            Protagoras, we could get into mutual name-calling. I was gearing up for some snarky comments, but instead I’ll leave it at this; your deity is Venus Genetrix and mine isn’t. I am not happy with Aphrodite for her punishment of Hippolytus, but that is a separate quarrel between those who follow the rules of nature’s law and the due to society, and those of us who would prefer to follow Artemis and Athena and not pay the debt to nature 🙂

            Well, let me offer you some lines of poetry to honour the goddesses and spirits of love!

            We shift and bedeck and bedrape us,
            Thou art noble and nude and antique;
            Libitina thy mother, Priapus
            Thy father, a Tuscan and Greek.

      • Well... says:

        Aside from the obvious, one problem with the “Jesusland” epithet is that the specified area begins about an hour (or less) outside basically any urban center. It isn’t some isolated remote region in the Southeast.

        [Edit to add: just saw Matt M made this point too. I leave mine here to underline its importance.]

        • bintchaos says:

          The thing about political scifi is we can test-drive the future in multiple scenarios.
          In Morgan’s Jesusland, the interior of the US has seceded from Canada and the coastal regions…the Rim, aka the Union. Jesusland is actually the Confederated Republic. It certainly seems plausible that this could happen in view of the extreme polarization sundering the US where contractors pulling down confederate generals’ statues are receiving death threats. Morgan was where I first heard of Jesusland, and he does acknowledge its inspired by the internet meme, much like Herbert’s Dune was inspired by Islam, arabic and resource theft in the Middle East– he says the spice is a metaphor for oil.
          The Handmaids Tale is certainly another vision of a dystopic future…and I’m watching it with friends every wednesday (one ep left). One thing that is really resonant to us (liberal high educational attainment academic types) is the resonance between the Berkeley riots and Offred’s flashbacks to her university days and the rise of Gilead. We talk about the hatred and anger visible on the faces of Identity Europa and the Proud Boys, and their fury at being excluded from Berkeley university culture and society.
          So it is utterly believable to me that a wall built to keep people out might turn into a wall keeping people in.

          • Well... says:

            It certainly seems plausible that this could happen

            Only if you lack an understanding of your geographical situation. America isn’t blue in thick bands along the coasts and red in the interior. It’s red everywhere with tiny dots of blue here and there, mostly along the coasts. Consider this county-level election map and remember it’s actually not even that granular; if you broke it down further into households, the blue clusters would look even smaller, and many large peninsulas of blue would become tiny islands–even in Southern California and New England.

          • Deiseach says:

            Jesusland is actually the Confederated Republic

            Really?

            Why didn’t he go the whole hog and call it the “Dictatorship of Evil Slave-Holding Misogynist Witch-Burning Xenophobic Homophobes Who Probably Don’t Even Sort Out Their Recycling From The Rest Of Their Garbage”, while he was at it? Just to drive the point home, you know.

            This review doesn’t entice me to read it, and while in 2007 you might have got away with “alpha male really manly man stud who is, um, black and has the ancestral genes for violence and conquest and is sexually superior so he entices away the chick from her white partner”, you certainly couldn’t get away with that today 🙂

          • bintchaos says:

            But this is the future. At the secession event those blue islands just got captured by the seceding states. The Confederated Republic needs some percentage of doctors and engineers etc– those people just got fenced in.
            This is very interesting — do conservatives worship the past and liberals worship the future? Is that why conservative scifi is so (Rabid Puppies) horrible?

          • littskad says: