"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

OT81: Open Djed

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

1. There’s now a Meetup tab on the top of the blog, with a list of times and places for all of the in-person SSC meetups going on around the world. Take a look – and if you’re a meetup organizer, make sure the times and places for your meetups are up to date.

2. Highlighting some good comments from the Griggs vs. Duke thread: Mark Anderson on various things including international hiring norms, Walter on other regulatory issues promoting credentiolocracy, and Sebastian on the way legal cases work. And Robert VerBruggen links this paper on the broader effects of disparate impact laws. Also, Eliezer Yudkowsky on Facebook about the way that minimum wage laws help enforce credentiolocracy.

3. Other good comments: Larry Kestenbaum (himself an elected official) on why (contra a Current Affairs article I linked) it makes sense for the Democrats not to concentrate on Georgia (and some further clarification).

4. Thanks to everyone who emailed Katja about rationalist housing in Berkeley. You should have heard back about various house-viewing options; if not, try sending her a reminder. There are always new houses opening up nearby (including one I’m trying to rent) so it’s not too late to get your name on the waiting list if you’re interested.

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1,332 Responses to OT81: Open Djed

  1. Dabbler says:

    Requesting advice.

    My parents were sufficiently emotionally abusive thanks to prejudice against me on the grounds of autism that I went no contact with them. I don’t know if they are narcissistic, but they have persistently acted as internet portrayals of narcissistic parents do. I made it very clear at the time that my goal was to be independent. However, my parents have:
    (a) Failed to transfer my rent bill from myself to them despite repeated demands from me for them to do so (indirectly via others) due to incompetence. Because of my lack of organisational skills and believing my parent’s lies several times in a row, I have failed at financial independence and now owe them several thousand dollars. I also have lost over $300 in expenses, factoring for lost work hours (I am paid by the hour), trying to sort out the matter myself.
    (b) “Forgot” about transferring my gym bill, so now I owe them several thousand more dollars. They lied that I only owed them $700, because although they know perfectly well that I went no contact with them and lost my ties with all my friends and family because I wanted to be independent and an adult that badly they were either too lazy to check properly or so patronizing they thought it for my own good.
    (c) Despite my express desire to handle things on my own, I have reason to believe that have been meddling with the body I rent my flat from to stop me being kicked out- behind my back, and not only without my consent but against my express wishes.

    Having a problem with this might sound whiny to many. And I don’t dispute that in many ways I am emotionally immature. But an important part of emotional maturity is (a) Being financially independent and (b) Taking the consequences of my actions. My parents and I were severely psychologically codependent, and I was growing up to be nothing more than a pathetic manchild. I had tried for six years to get my parents to change, and they still sabotaged my attempts to learn to drive, refused to take responsibility for a single mistake, and regularly demeaned and insulted me. They do not give two s__ts about my preferences.

    I need help.

    • James says:

      What do you mean by “I now owe them several thousand dollars”. You mean they paid for things on your behalf to that value, and you feel obliged to pay them back? Or that they are in some way actually trying to retrieve that money from you?

      If the former, and the debt is purely in your own sense of obligation, I think my advice would be to accept that they’ve done you some favours up til now and aim for financial independence, as best you can, going forwards. Is that achieveable/realistic?

      Your parents having helped out where you were struggling isn’t really that big a deal–that’s kind of what parents do. I say this as someone who used to, like you, hate feeling like I wasn’t independent to the extent that I would try to resist financial help from my parents (even when I needed it). But I’ve since become less scrupulous about it. I don’t think the belief was doing me any favours. If I could explain what’s changed then I would, but I’m not sure I can summarise it.

      • Dabbler says:

        James- If it were a matter of moral obligation, you’d be right. It isn’t. It’s them paying for things behind my back, then doing everything in their power to sabotage me when I try to repay them.

        The problem is that they (a) Don’t respect my boundaries (hence trying to make me accept aid I don’t want), (b) Have undermined what I am trying to learn (how to manage my money), and (c) Undermined one of my major goals (being respected by those around me as a man) by making the world perceive me as dependent on them.

        I already drew a boundary line six months as a cutoff point for any further aid, which was violated without my consent. If I continue this pattern, then my parents will find new ways to continue to stop me from achieving things on my own without my consent, following your logic I would continue accepting more and more help, and would never become independent at all.

        I suffer from self-confidence problems and every other thing I have tried to achieve has collapsed. Self-confidence is not the sort of thing that can be fixed with encouragement- I have to achieve legitimate successes, such as genuine financial independence, in order to fix my own psychological problems.

        (EDIT: On your point about your own past problems- Given how empty my life is of anything like a genuine achievement, my self-confidence problems, and the fact that my parents emotionally abused me for six years, I have much more need to be independent than most)

        • James says:

          What about just starting the independence clock from now, and focusing on being solvent going forward? After all, everyone has some period – typically at least up to 16, and in many cases as far as 21, or more – when they’re totally dependent on their parents (not just financially, but for food, and changing their diaper). OK, this period was a little longer for you, but it doesn’t seem any use fretting about it. No-one else frets about owing their parents for all the time, effort, and money their parents spent raising them!

          I see that “owing” your parents money seems a big deal to you, and you seem kind of hung up on paying them back, but… I think part of autism is that certain things (rules?) can come to seem like a big deal that really aren’t, and that part of learning to survive in the real world is learning when you need to drop those rules. I would put to you that this is one such case.

          If you really can’t do that–if you really, truly feel like you have to pay your parents back–then I’d suggest that you make this a lower priority than:

          i) paying every other bill you owe (rent, gym bills, whatever), and making sure that you can continue to do so
          ii) building up some funds to deal with other unforeseen expenses/problems, perhaps up to losing your job. (Being able to deal with unforeseen expenses is a good thing for almost everyone, but maybe especially so for you because you seem bad at foreseeing expenses.)

          Only when you have that covered, if you still have any surplus, would I suggest you put it towards paying your parents back. (Consider that parents are more understanding creditors than most other people you may end up owing money to.) I know your independence is important to you, but in some sense it seems to demonstrate more life aptitude and independence to take some time to make sure you can stand on your own two feet, to be confident that you’re on the road to real independence, albeit slowly, than to rush to achieve one outward sign of independence (not owing your parents any money) in a way that makes you vulnerable to potential future catastrophes a few months down the line.

          Good luck.

          • Dabbler says:

            I already explained that. My parents have repeatedly violated my boundaries by trying to force me to accept them paying for me when I don’t want it. If I don’t stick to the line I have already drawn, they will keep doing this over and over again.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dabbler

            The normal ‘growing up’ pattern is that the child demonstrates life coping skills and then the parents scale down their assistance. You seem to desire to want to be cut loose and be forced to succeed on your own, but:

            – There is a reason why this is not the normal pattern, it runs a high risk of getting you into a huge mess which is hard to recover from.

            – I don’t see how you are actually being held back by your parents. The complaints you have mostly boil down to how pretty mild parental behavior harms your self-confidence. This is primarily a matter of your own mental processes and I have little faith that without parental support you will suddenly get self-confidence. Everyone’s life consists of things they fail and things they succeed at. Life coping skills consists of gradually improving yourself so you succeed at more things, while not letting your self-confidence be destroyed by failures. The complaints about your parents don’t actually prohibit you from making progress. For example, you can prove you don’t need their aid by saving up more money than you get in aid from them. If you succeed at this, you have objectively proven that you don’t need their financial aid.

            – You seem to believe in a black/white model of success: either you are independent and you have succeeded or you are dependent and you fail. That kind of all or nothing thinking inevitable results in statements like ‘given how empty my life is of anything like a genuine achievement,’ because you refuse to see small achievements as genuine. However, the best way to gain self-confidence is to start seeing those small achievements as important steps that together form a major achievement, even if the individual steps are small. As Lao Tzu wrote: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A big benefit of small steps is that they are actually doable. No one can jump a thousand miles at once.

            So my challenge to you is to find a goal that can be achieved gradually, like my aforementioned suggestion to start saving money. Stop blaming others for holding you back, but find ways to achieve your goals given the way that others act. Most importantly, if you succeed at achieving part of your goal, start celebrating it as an achievement even you’d prefer to do better. Most humans would like to do better in life, including the ones that you see as successful. It’s not realistic to be perfect, so be glad for what you are capable of.

          • James says:

            You seem to believe in a black/white model of success: either you are independent and you have succeeded or you are dependent and you fail. That kind of all or nothing thinking inevitable results in statements like ‘given how empty my life is of anything like a genuine achievement,’ because you refuse to see small achievements as genuine. However, the best way to gain self-confidence is to start seeing those small achievements as important steps that together form a major achievement, even if the individual steps are small.

            Yep. This part’s important.

          • Dabbler says:

            I will give you a full answer (in stages) tomorrow. I would have today, but I was kicked out due to automatic logoff and lost my post.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          I feel like I’ve read this post here, or one just like it, years ago.

          • James says:

            It’s the same guy.

          • Dabbler says:

            Yeah, it is. I keep thinking my parents will change their ways and back off, but they keep finding new ways to thwart my independence which I haven’t even conceived of.

            Reflecting on the chat so far, I think they can’t stop conceiving me as a child no matter what. They just assume that because I have Aspergers I can’t do things, even after all the times I have proven them wrong, all my rational arguments, all my emotional pleadings- everything. They’re prejudiced, and it’s painful because they use this prejudice to hurt me at every turn.

    • Anonymous says:

      (a) Failed to transfer my rent bill from myself to them despite repeated demands from me for them to do so (indirectly via others) due to incompetence. Because of my lack of organisational skills and believing my parent’s lies several times in a row, I have failed at financial independence and now owe them several thousand dollars. I also have lost over $300 in expenses, factoring for lost work hours (I am paid by the hour), trying to sort out the matter myself.

      Clarification needed. Do you owe your parents, or the landlord? If the former, please explain what sort of financial arrangement you have with your family, because AFAIK, descendants explicitly owing their ancestors money is not a typical situation.

      Why are you transferring the bill from yourself to your parents, whom you want to be independent from? Makes little sense to me.

      (b) “Forgot” about transferring my gym bill, so now I owe them several thousand more dollars. They lied that I only owed them $700, because although they know perfectly well that I went no contact with them and lost my ties with all my friends and family because I wanted to be independent and an adult that badly they were either too lazy to check properly or so patronizing they thought it for my own good.

      Your parents are either directly undermining your efforts, or are so forgetful to be completely unreliable. In both cases, I would attempt to not rely on them doing anything in particular that you need done. Deal with your own shit. If you can’t deal with things like paying your bills, you have no business living on your own, really.

      (c) Despite my express desire to handle things on my own, I have reason to believe that have been meddling with the body I rent my flat from to stop me being kicked out- behind my back, and not only without my consent but against my express wishes.

      This would be… normal parent behaviour. They’re trying to help you to succeed, despite what may seem to be great ingratitude on your part, and they are at least trying to hide their meddling, which shows consideration of your wishes (if not compliance with them). They might have surmised that you need some “training wheels” time, and I’m not sure I would reach a different conclusion if I were them.

      Having a problem with this might sound whiny to many. And I don’t dispute that in many ways I am emotionally immature.

      How old are you, again?

      But an important part of emotional maturity is (a) Being financially independent and (b) Taking the consequences of my actions. My parents and I were severely psychologically codependent, and I was growing up to be nothing more than a pathetic manchild. I had tried for six years to get my parents to change, and they still sabotaged my attempts to learn to drive, refused to take responsibility for a single mistake, and regularly demeaned and insulted me. They do not give two s__ts about my preferences.

      I think they do give a crap about it, but they disagree that you’re competent to do what you say you want to do. Again, not sure if I would disagree.

      I need help.

      General advice: ASAP find someone who pulled off what you are doing, and request mentoring and/or start copying everything they do.

      Regarding the particular problems you face, I would advise either getting organized, or hiring an accountant (there probably are firms that do by-the-hour services to small customers) to pay your bills on time and such. Probably less of an expense that getting kicked out of your home and being slapped with late fees.

      Remember: Being independent is not about being isolated. It’s simply being able to deal with crap that life throws at you, including by delegating to others.

      BTW, “financial independence” means being able not to work for a living and still pay your upkeep, indefinitely, regardless of people’s (employers’, spouses’, governments’, etc) opinions of you. It doesn’t mean simply living by yourself and having a job.

      • Dabbler says:

        Clarification needed. Do you owe your parents, or the landlord? If the former, please explain what sort of financial arrangement you have with your family, because AFAIK, descendants explicitly owing their ancestors money is not a typical situation.

        Why are you transferring the bill from yourself to your parents, whom you want to be independent from? Makes little sense to me.

        My mistake when typing. I want to pay the bill which my parents used to pay.

        Your parents are either directly undermining your efforts, or are so forgetful to be completely unreliable. In both cases, I would attempt to not rely on them doing anything in particular that you need done. Deal with your own shit. If you can’t deal with things like paying your bills, you have no business living on your own, really.

        I don’t have anyone else to turn to, and my parents persistently undermined my efforts (yes yes I shouldn’t have given in but I’m stuck now!) every time I tried to learn basic skills, including bill-paying. I have transferred every bill I actually knew of. Attempting to “learn by doing” is the only option I have left.

        I think they do give a crap about it, but they disagree that you’re competent to do what you say you want to do. Again, not sure if I would disagree.

        This attitude has been persistent in the past and destructive. Persistently trying, failing, and eventually succeeding has worked very well for me. Every parental intervention so far has sabotaged my ability to succeed.

        This would be… normal parent behaviour. They’re trying to help you to succeed, despite what may seem to be great ingratitude on your part, and they are at least trying to hide their meddling, which shows consideration of your wishes (if not compliance with them). They might have surmised that you need some “training wheels” time, and I’m not sure I would reach a different conclusion if I were them.

        In terms of their subjective view, that sounds about right. But an adult is supposed to come off the training wheels.

        If it were other people I’d consider any offer they made to help me. But my parents outright stated their intention to never let me get off “training wheels” many times. I don’t trust them.

        How old are you, again?

        25. Hence why I don’t dispute that I’m emotionally immature. Although I’d contend this is largely because of parental emotional abuse, the point is fairly moot now as I need to try and fix it.

        Stopping my parents from interfering any more is part of this, as it allows me to really succeed or fail on my own and thus learn from the experience.

        General advice: ASAP find someone who pulled off what you are doing, and request mentoring and/or start copying everything they do.

        Regarding the particular problems you face, I would advise either getting organized, or hiring an accountant (there probably are firms that do by-the-hour services to small customers) to pay your bills on time and such. Probably less of an expense that getting kicked out of your home and being slapped with late fees.

        Thanks to automatic credit card systems, my rent is now paid automatically. An accountant would be a very good idea if billing problems happen again, although right now I’m so deeply in debt that it’s bad for the moment.

        I have been trying and failing to find someone to help me who has gone through what I went through. If I found any such advice I’d eagerly take it. I can’t, so I come here.


        Remember: Being independent is not about being isolated. It’s simply being able to deal with crap that life throws at you, including by delegating to others.

        Although I disagree on definitions, the decisive fact is that I am desperately trying to be someone who earns respect- both my own (psychological issues) and other people’s. Any dependence on my parents or their friends leads to social pressure to accept more and more, until I forfeit any possibility of either.

        —————–

        Correcting my terminology then. My goal is to pay for myself in life through what I legitimately earn through my job, and not rely on money from others in any way, shape, or form.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          You might want to ask your questions at the Dysfunctional Family thread at Making Light.

        • Anonymous says:

          Right. What you are trying to do is, roughly speaking, correct. It sounds as though you have two mothers, with all the overprotectiveness (only child?).

          Things to try:
          – Settle the change of billing with the landlord. Don’t consult your parents. The landlord may or may not agree, but you don’t know until you ask. They may be skeptical of your ability to pay. You may want to move to another place, if all else fails.
          – Talk to your father in the absence of your mother. It’s a good bet that he’ll be more sympathetic to your plight. A good argument to use is to indicate that you will have a very tough time attracting a wife and administering a household if you do not acquire life management skills first. Your parents presumably want grandchildren, which is a further argument that you need to man up and learn basic self-sufficiency.
          – Get out of debt ASAP. Eat ramen for a while, if that’s what it takes. Do whatever you need to get back into the black.
          – Make some friends, seriously. If you have hobbies other than anime and video games, try attending social events related to those hobbies – people who get along with you are likely to be in attendance. If you do not have hobbies other than anime and video games, get some. Go to church, scan the bulletin boards for Bible studies, catechesis for adults, that sort of stuff. Get to know the people you work with.

          • Dabbler says:

            Thank you. The discrimination is fundamentally based on autism though, and both my parents have openly said that they would prefer if I was celibate due to the belief autistics cannot raise children therefore cannot have relationships.

            Incidentally, my boss is a family friend who also put massive social pressure on me to, amongst other things, pay my debts slower until I threatened to go onto welfare rather than stay at his job. I’ve been giving in to way too much pressure to pay off less debt.

            That sounds like it would be good advice if I wasn’t strictly no contact with my parents (yes I’ve used indirect intermediaries, but that has only been bare minimum). But I will follow it all anyway.

          • Anonymous says:

            Godspeed, friend. Do tell how it all works out.

          • Dabbler says:

            I already attend regular social events, and have gone no contact with my parents. The landlord bill is already settled. My debts can be divided into several parts:

            -Rent Debt: Accumulated because . My parents have claimed my total debt was just $700, but this didn’t factor for gym debt and they may have lied even then.
            -Student Loan: $1000 due at the end of the month. I am on track to pay this.

            -Gym Debt: Accumulated over months because I believed my parents had done as I asked and transferred the bills to me. The trouble is that this is thousands of dollars, my parents have no inclination to tell me the true figure.

            ————————————————–
            -Work hour Debt: This is the bit which is really overwhelming. This is because my boss is a family friend following my parent’s old habits- putting massive pressure on me NOT to work off my debt like a responsible adult, and getting frustrated when I try to discuss ways to pay it off.

            I am angry at him because this debt is partially his fault. He was the one who outright refused to let me work for him during my university exams (university I only take because I don’t think I’d keep my job if I didn’t because Julian thinks uni trumps work), leaving me no choice but to go into debt for him (about $2000 of the total debt).

            The debt was explicitly made on the basis of paying it off in work hours, but by now amounts to about $3500.

          • Jiro says:

            I think you need to explain which of those debts are the kind of thing where a court would agree that you owe the debt, and which of those debts are “debts” where someone says you owe them money and makes you feel bad about it. You are being vague about this.

            Did you actually sign a contract which gives you this work hour debt?

          • gbdub says:

            So your boss gave you (paid?) time off for your exams, and you’re interpreting this as debt to him?

            Or was there some other bill you couldn’t pay because you weren’t allowed to work (but if that’s the case, how are you paying it off in work hours)?

            which of those debts are “debts” where someone says you owe them money and makes you feel bad about it

            The way he’s describing it, it sounds more like he’s the one insisting that he owes money to parties who would prefer to forgive or defer the debt.

          • Dabbler says:

            The work debt would be viewed as a contract- we agreed over email that I would make up the hours I didn’t work and I kept receiving regular pay on that basis. Admittedly Julian is putting pressure on me NOT to care about work hours so much, but that comes to the principle of the thing.
            —————————————————————————–

            For years my parents have pushed hard to try and force me to be as unindependent as possible, ganging up on me with the help of my “friends”, a terrible psychologist who I didn’t realize for years didn’t deserve his authority,

            Based on my experience in giving in in the past, they won’t stop at this. They will keep pushing and pushing and doing everything they can to erode my independence at every turn. I can’t give in. My only recourse is to drive them out.

            I wouldn’t have thought this applied to my current boss, but this is the man who heavily pressured me into contacting my sister who had gone no contact with me, constantly pressures me not to care about the fact that I owe him over $3000 in lost work hours, and forced me to owe him in the first place by making me take time off for exams. This is sabotaging any chance I have of EVER being independent.

          • Evan Þ says:

            The work debt would be viewed as a contract- we agreed over email that I would make up the hours I didn’t work and I kept receiving regular pay on that basis.

            In that case, I understand – I’d probably feel morally obligated to pay that off, too, if I was paid by the hour. If your boss isn’t letting you, though, I don’t see anything you can do except retroactively term it a gift and maybe give some money to charity.

            Frankly, given what else you’ve said about your boss, I’d recommend finding a new job. Have you tried that?

          • Dabbler says:

            Retroactively terming things gifts has been the way people have attempted to suppress my attempts to learn independence for years. I’m done with accepting it because it is how my mess got this bad.

            —————————————————————————–

            Yes, I really should find a new job. This thread has convinced me to start searching Saturday (given I’m caught up right now).

            But, to be fair, given the state of the economy this is very hard. I have no qualifications except an incomplete Melbourne University degree and some work experience. I tried to find a job for months and months and came up with absolutely nothing.

          • gbdub says:

            The work debt would be viewed as a contract- we agreed over email that I would make up the hours I didn’t work and I kept receiving regular pay on that basis. Admittedly Julian is putting pressure on me NOT to care about work hours so much, but that comes to the principle of the thing.

            Was this agreement reached before or after you threatened to quit when he told you to take some time off for your exams? Because if it was after, I’d say you’re the one who forced him to re-term a gift into debt.

            Most people, when their boss offers them some extra paid leave in a time of unusual stress (which exams totally are) think, “man, I’m glad my boss is such a nice guy, who cares about his employees’ well being”. You think “my boss is an abuser who wants to undermine my independence”. I don’t know you and I don’t know Julian, so maybe there’s some other trauma that justifies you interpreting his actions this way.

            But have you considered another perspective? That you are the one forcing him to accept payment he doesn’t want (your unpaid labor)? You don’t owe him anything, because he doesn’t want what you’re trying to pay him. If you are in debt to someone, they can forgive that debt. That’s their prerogative, not yours. If you still feel obligated, “pay it forward” and help out someone else. Donate a few hours of every paycheck to a charity for some thing Julian likes until your “debt” is repaid. Spend your “owed” hours volunteering somewhere.

            You want to be a responsible independent adult. Part of that, a very important part of that, is learning to gracefully accept gifts and help when you need it. I’m totally serious about this. Treating every interaction with other humans as a zero-sum game of debts and tallies to be repaid is not a mature adult attitude.

            I’m a fully independent 30 year old man. When my mom visits, she still insists on buying me dinner at least once. Even though I make quite a bit more money than her. She still spends more on me for my birthday than I do for hers. Because she’s my mom and I’ll always be her baby boy. And you know what, I graciously accept it, because it makes her feel good and I don’t feel like accepting this threatens my adulthood.

            Maybe things are too badly broken with your parents to ever get back to this point. But it seems like you’re falling into the same pattern with all the adults in your life. They try to help, you term it sabotage, assume in indebts you to them, and then hate yourself for having a debt that only you consider an obligation. That’s not healthy and frankly is way more off-nominal than owing a few grand to people you know (tons of independent neurotypical adults do!).

          • Dabbler says:

            gdub:

            First, given how emotionally immature and unskilled I am the process of me learning adulthood is very fragile right now. I can’t afford to do things like that because my capacity to stand on my own is so pathetic as it is.

            Second, when I DID try the approach of accepting things like that the result was almost a psychological breakdown.

            Third, you’re right in that Julian has done other things. He pressured me to get in contact with my sister even though that violated my no contact, automatically blamed me for going no contact with my parents, automatically blamed me when my sister when no contact with me because after all our years together I had to have been a d__k, tried to pressure me not to try so hard to learn to drive, forced me to accept a phone on false pretenses, etc etc.

            I threatened to quit and go onto welfare (but work for free to pay off the debt in hours) so he backed off on that stuff. But that doesn’t mean I forget.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          If this situation has being going on for years, I don’t suppose anything will change it. However, I do have one suggestion:

          Open a savings account, and deposit in it every month the sum you would pay for rent, gym, and any other things your parents are paying for you against your wishes.

          After a year, show your parents the account statement, with monthly payments and no withdrawals. This should demonstrate to everyone your ability to pay your own bills.

          What you do with that money then is up to you.

          If you *can’t* manage this, consider whether the current situation is better than alternatives such as homelessness.

          • gbdub says:

            I would second this.

            While your parents were paying your rent, what were you doing with the money that would normally go to rent?

            Because (apologies if I’m misinterpreting) it sounds like you didn’t notice that you weren’t paying rent for some period of time, because you had assumed they transferred the bill to you (using some autopay system or something?).

          • Dabbler says:

            If I need to persuade my parents to let me become independent, then I have already failed at being an independent adult. Not only would this be a ridiculous contradiction in terms, but trying to negotiate after continuing improvement failed time after time as my parents continued to refuse to budge and abusively denigrated me, often outright sabotaging me.

            I am capable of saving money, but I can’t save it when I don’t even know that the bill is being paid in the first place. It’s relatively minor now, since now that I know I have corrected the situation regarding both rent and gym.

            —————————————————————————–

            I have tried the approach of getting my parents to accept by rational argument or empirical disproof many times. But:
            -Although my parents were proved wrong time after time by their own admission they did not change.
            -They often pretended to change then broke their own promises (e.g. with driving lessons).
            -They flat out refused to negotiate with me on several major occasions.
            -On driving in particular, ludicrous over-caution led to half-assed lessons. My parents tried to force control over my spending even after I had moved out and pressured or outright intimidated me into giving up at every turn. These are not the sort of people who listen to reason.

            More fundamentally, I have gone no contact with my parents. I cannot, emotionally speaking, accept such abusive people having any right to parent me or have authority over me in any way.

            This is an issue because when I tried this I had so many emotional breakdowns in the middle of my flat that I almost got kicked out. I am not capable of controlling it- I know because I tried for six years and the emotional pressure increased more and more to the point where the problem got worse and worse. If I tried to cope with the sheer shame of it, I would probably end up getting kicked out for sheer stress.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Just to point it out, saving money is a good thing anyway in general.

          • Dabbler says:

            Evan- If I haven’t paid off my debts, then as I have already pointed out that’s not truly saving as objectively speaking I’m either in debt or taking charity and thus as good as in debt.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dabbler

            Charity is not debt. Savings plus debt is also different from no savings and no debt, especially if some/all of the debt is ‘soft debt’ or even imaginary.

          • Dabbler says:

            Aapje- I am drafting a reply to the main argument between us, which will address this better. Suffice to say (since I haven’t got a good idea of how to redraft it properly yet)”
            a- It is precisely because my capacity to be an adult is in such a weak state that I cannot afford any sort of compromise. Accepting charity would be such a compromise.
            b- None of these are one-off cases. The people doing this will keep trying to force more and more gifts of one sort or another on me. They will thus erode my independence bit by bit, when my independence is so weak that I can’t afford for it to be eroded at all.

    • Well... says:

      My opinion only, but:

      Past experience with similar posts (categorizable under the general heading “autistic SSC reader asks for advice about how to deal with parents who Just Don’t Understand”) tells me that engaging in this thread is not going to be a productive use of time for anyone–Dabbler included.

      • sierraescape says:

        Seconded. All advice internet strangers can give is highly context-dependent (if focused on the situation) or easy to ignore (if focused on the relationship).

      • Douglas Knight says:

        This reminds me of Nancy’s comment.

      • Dabbler says:

        Right now I’m pretty desperate- enough to try almost anything to stop my parents from doing what they’re doing.

        • Anonymous says:

          What have you tried to get them to stop doing what they’re doing?

          • Dabbler says:

            I will give you the full story on this tomorrow.

          • Dabbler says:

            The only ones that are relevant to a solution (as opposed to showing my parents cannot be trusted) are things that happened since I went no contact, so I’m sticking to those.
            —————————————————————————–

            I first discovered the problem when I realized that my rent had not come out my account, and discovered to my extreme stress that I owed my parents a massive amount of extra money. I was trying to learn to drive at the time, but I had lost track of money so much I simply thought it had to have been paid by then and that the rest of the money was mine. This is how I first went into debt to my parents.

            I went to C.O.B and told her to demand from my parents what had happened. Everybody assumed I had screwed up and my parents insisted I try again. I was distracted learning to drive, so I moved on.

            —————————————————————————–

            The same thing happened a month later. I was stressed and C.O.B insisted it was my fault while I insisted it was my parent’s fault. I was stressed, and there was nothing to but try.

            ———————————————————

            I can’t remember precise timing, but the third attempt blurs into me going no contact with C.O.B and a massive social campaign to put pressure on me to accept aid I didn’t want.

            C.O.B forced me to take driving aid. I came expecting to pay, and when the money was refused I got angry. This was a major fact in me eventually going minimal contact followed by her going no contact. I have made clear to her son I will not accept any reconciliation if she will not let me pay her.

            I went to person after person amongst my friends begging for their help paying my parents. All these people refused due to concerns about my financial safety- when I had explained to them, very clearly, how I had enough! They treated me like a child and patronized me.

            Eventually I found a way to pay. But I went no contact with two people, one being my childhood best friend, because of a combination of this betrayal, putting massive pressure on me to accept aid driving, showing contempt for my ambitions and disrespect in general.

            ———————————————————

            The fourth time, I THOUGHT it was over. I finally got Student Housing Australia to put a stop to the rent. But I had not even considered the gym bill because I was too caught up trying to learn to work and drive.

            I tried hiring Angelica for this amongst other things, but on this one she proved useless.

            I then got my cleaner (for a fee) to go to my parents and demand a change, while my gym company received enough credit card details to transfer the fee.

          • James says:

            I went to person after person amongst my friends begging for their help paying my parents. All these people refused due to concerns about my financial safety- when I had explained to them, very clearly, how I had enough! They treated me like a child and patronized me.

            Just for the record, this is bizarre. You tried to borrow money from your friends to pay off your parents? I’m not surprised they refused; it must have seemed very strange to them. It’s hard to see how owing money to your friends is any more independent than “owing” money to your parents.

            It also seems sad that you “went no contact” with your best friend. Obviously, none of us know your whole situation, but the impression that I’m getting is of people being (justifiably) concerned about your well-being, trying to help, and you interpreting this as a slight, disrespectful, whatever, and “going no contact” with them. I don’t want to say with certainly that your perception is wrong – those slights could be real, at least in one or two cases! – but the fact that it seems to be such a frequent recourse for you makes me wonder if you might be overreacting to normal concern from those who care about you. Maybe you should ease off a tiny bit on the “going no contact” thing?

          • Vermillion says:

            Everything you are describing sounds to me like you are in or very close to being in a serious mental health crisis.

            I urge you to seek professional help. If you’re still in college you can find free or reduced cost counseling, if not, please look into services elsewhere.

            I do not think is an issue with your parents, your debts, or anything else you seem to be very concerned about. If you seek help and they feel that you are correct in your concerns then I will admit I was wrong and humbly apologize.

            Good luck Dabbler.

          • Dabbler says:

            Oops- I forgot the context.

            At this point, I literally did not know how to use the bank to pay my parents money. So I was begging for help in terms of cash delivery to my parents.

          • James says:

            OK, that’s a bit different. My apologies; I misunderstood.

          • Deiseach says:

            Dabbler, you do not seem to be handling the situations you describe well. You say you get stressed and this seems very much to be what happens, but the way you go about things is not helping your case.

            (1) Demand people take money from you. I know this is because you want to establish financial independence, which also seems to loom very large in your mind as “if I don’t pay, that is taking charity, and taking charity is failure”

            (2) Then you immediately go “no contact” if people don’t accede to your wishes, which I am presuming means cutting off all contact. Do you not see how this does make you seem childish and unable to function? In general, people don’t have the luxury of cutting off all contact with those they don’t find helpful or sympathetic. I could get off the phone with someone in the tax office and swear I was going “no contact” with them because they had treated me poorly, but that would not help me sort out my tax affairs and would get me in trouble.

            From the way you describe it, it sounds as if you went to your friends, asked them “please make my parents take money from me”, and when they couldn’t or wouldn’t do this (and how can they make your parents take money if they don’t want to? force the banknotes into their clenched fists?), then you dropped them dead and cut off all contact with them.

            This is not a mature way to handle your problems. And burning all your bridges (your tactic of resort seems to be “go no contact”) is only adding to your problems.

            I think you do need to get an outside, neutral party to help mediate, but part of that is agreeing to what they say even if you don’t want to do it, and not going “stomp foot cut off all contact”.

            I really do wish you good luck, but I think you need to seriously get help in sorting out the way things are getting out of proportion with you about what does and does not constitute being an adult and being independent. Wanting to pay your own way is good. Trying to force people to take money when they don’t want to, and dropping all contact with people who can’t force those people to take money, and brooding over it until you’ve made a mountain out of a molehill, is not good.

        • Well... says:

          I was speaking from past experience based on other autistic commenters going through apparently similar ordeals with their parents and writing similar requests for advice here. You might be more open to suggestions than those commenters were, and giving a quick read now that you’ve written some responses, it looks like you are.

          Sorry to have prejudged you wrong. Pattern updated, hope no harm was done.

          • johnjohn says:

            I’m pretty sure it’s just the same guy over and over again?

            Am I wrong?

          • Well... says:

            I honestly don’t remember. (Move me one notch back toward Lebovitzism I guess.) If it’s the same guy he sure has changed his tone since last time, at least toward other commenters.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that you guys are referring to Kevin C, who is also autistic and asked for advice, but has substantially different problems.

            Dabbler has asked for advice here before (a year ago?) and the problems and tone seem quite consistent between then and now.

          • johnjohn says:

            Ooh. For some reason Kevin C didn’t fall into the “autist” bucket in my head.

          • Well... says:

            I definitely remember Kevin C asking for advice about something else–socializing or finding a job or something–and then shooting down every suggestion people gave, no matter how good or reasonable.

            But I also seem to recall one or two other autistic commenters doing the same thing but on threads where they asked for advice about dealing with their non-understanding parents who allegedly weren’t granting them (the commenters) enough independence/letting them make mistakes and grow.

            I suppose it’s even possible I have morphed the aforementioned Kevin C thread together with Dabbler’s 1y/a thread in my memory, though I’m fairly (maybe 85%?) sure I haven’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            There was a guy named “Carinthium” back in OT27/28 asking for advice in a similar situation, with a more explicitly atheist-vs-religious-parents angle. He may be who some of you all are remembering.

            I don’t recall, nor do my notes of the threads I have participated in make any mention of, anyone outside of Carinthium, Dabbler, and Kevin C in this general class of lengthy advice threads for isolated autistic rationalists and the like.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I am curious. Dabbler do you ever post at LGF?

            (Aside: Does this sort of speculation amount to doxxing?)

          • Jaskologist says:

            Do you actually keep notes of the threads you participate in, or was that said in jest? Don’t you pretty much participate in all of them?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t actually participate in every thread, but at this point pretty close to every open thread. If nothing else, someone has to keep bean honest on the battleships.

            And yes, after enough “now where did I post that thing I want to refer back to?” and “where did Scott introduce the LizardmanConstant(*)?” moments that involved moderately tedious hunts through the archives, I did make and do maintain a brief cheat sheet.

            Never had to do that on usenet, because at least before Google mucked it up DejaNews had a proper search function. They don’t build them like they used to.

            * Noisy Poll Results and Muslim Climatologists from Mars

    • Brad says:

      Unless I’m confusing you with someone else (Australia, right?) this has been going on for years. I no longer believe that you actually want to cut your parents out of your life. If you did, you would have by now.

      I don’t know if your parents are actually abusive or not. We only have one side of the story. But you clearly think they are. That being the case quit going back to your abuser. Don’t get an allowance. Don’t borrow money from them. Don’t call them. Block their number. Don’t email them. Filter their emails. Don’t write them. Throw away their emails. If they want to sue you over past debts, let them. You are probably judgment proof anyway. Don’t work for their friends. Don’t ask their friends for favors. Don’t pick one of their friends as a landlord. Heck, just avoid their friends altogether. Quit defining yourself vis-a-vis your conflict with your parents.

      • carvenvisage says:

        The track record you dredge up is really not very informative. If OP can’t escape people paying his fucking bills nothing you can reveal about the guy can surprise me (short of murder or rape) or lower my estimation of how together the guy has things. When I read that I don’t think “HAHA, gottem!”, I just think you are very unsympathetic or very cracked in the head to bring it up as if the guy is posing as a great leader of men.

        “This guy tells us that he’s (currently) in a pathetic situation, but actually he’s also been that way for a while, so it’s actually a really pathetic.” Well, okay, thanks for your civic contribution, but no one else is keeping score here.

        Then this bit is even worse, a lot worse:

        I no longer believe that you actually want to cut your parents out of your life. If you did, you would have by now.

        Your heuristic seems to be “if you failed badly before, you’ll fail again, don’t pretend otherwise ” (optional: “…bitchhh”). So apparently no one is ever pathetic, or no one who is ever pathetic climbs their way out. Or perhaps the sentiment is even that they have no right to try?

        _

        The second part of your post seems to have some potential but if it was me there’s no way I’d listen to a word you say after you say failing to escape weakness yet means you don’t want to escape it. I mean this is a terrible thing to say in general but especially if the situation to escape is weakness itself, then you would expect that sometimes the protagonist would not be as quick and competent as you prefer.

        • Dabbler says:

          If you don’t mind me asking, what do you think I can do about my bills? I already went no contact with my parents, they repeatedly either lied to me or were incompetent about transferring the bills to me, all my friends have refused to help me even in basic payment delivery,

          I figured out how to get SHA to transfer my bills to me (they resisted a lot, and I’m not sure if it was my parents behind the scenes or stubbornness), but
          the problem with my gym was that I was emotionally distracted when the bill was supposed to have been transferred (this was the day I went no contact), then as I struggled to learn basic work skills and basic driving skills the thought never even crossed my mind.

          I’m not very organized with my credit card- I regularly check, but I don’t have the organisation skills to look through detailed records. By the time I found out it was too late.

          Since my social skills are poor (and based on past experiences any solution depending on good social skills is unworkable anyway) and contacting my parents again would make it worse, what can I do about them doing things behind my back?

          • carvenvisage says:

            If you don’t mind me asking, what do you think I can do about my bills?

            The problem is that based on what you wrote I have no idea if you are financially solvent (maybe not precise word) or even potentially so.

            Are you making a lot of money? You sound very confident that you can make or are making enough to cover your outgoings. Hopefully that is the case, because if not it’s possible your ideal of avoiding your parents aid may have to wait.

            Remember it is common for parents to act insultingly towards their offspring, and borne by many with great patience and even acceptance. I was just reading ghandi’s autobiography, and he imposed what should have been only self-imposed medical restrictions on his sons and his wife, who almost died on some occasions.

            The average parent is bad by an absolute standard, and furthermore it is hardest to bear insults when you have no status of your own, but can you really expect parents to be so much better than the natural human condition of being a confused and overassertive monkey?

            My own parents resemble the low mid range of what you see on places like reddit-raisedbynarcissists, but I’m sure they never set out to disadvantage me, and rather were simply weak in some ways and stupid in some others. You may find much more patience for your parents if you view them as struggling apes rather than fallen angels.

            However I freely admit it is much easier to forgive a weakness when it is not at this moment keeping you weak (which seems to be your appraisal), so I am not suggesting you to swallow what you see as insults -refusal to do so is a most healthy and noble impulse, –but if your situation demands it, you will survive it and gain independence later. (like many young people on this planet have and must)

            Since my social skills are poor (and based on past experiences any solution depending on good social skills is unworkable anyway) and contacting my parents again would make it worse, what can I do about them doing things behind my back?

            If you can afford to cut them out then it will be easy compared to what you have already done. If you can’t afford to you might have to tolerate the indignity of accepting your parents help when you need it. It would be a great blessing if this is the extent of your problem.

            _
            _

            In terms of making more money and cutting expenses, (other than keeping track of them) some things to look at:

            1. humble accomodation.
            2. Reduce expenses. You probably don’t need an iphone, that is a very high range phone. When I was in an uncertain but better financial position than you my phone cost ~25 dollars . It is also possible to eat very cheaply for example.
            3. possibly looking into supplementary work. Look up “high turnover positions” to find areas where they are more likely to try people on, and which often involve part time work that might fit in with a regular working schedule. Or if your current job is higher range than that you might ask advice online or from institutions for help with how to transfer your skills to more independent (but note, perhaps less secure) employment. My experience is that work is not half so difficult or miserable as my parents convinced me, though I am not autistic (nor was extremely unfit) and you might have greater struggles. In any case you should explore your options and seek to understand your situation, particularly whether you are doing normal work for normal pay in your current job.

          • Dabbler says:

            (To explain later comments: Control by my parents USED to be far, far worse than it was. I was trying to solve the present problems, and I should have known it would get back to this)

            Financially speaking, assuming I keep my job I easily have a surplus. Enough of a surplus that repaying debt fast enough is difficult, but I’ve never had a problem repaying debt.

            Changing my accommodation is hard because I do not have the organisational skills to track down a new place. If I could do it at all, it would strain my executive function skills to it’s absolute limit. I’m also on a contract which lasts until next June.

            I am trying to cut expenses, although I don’t know how to cook any dish but spaghetti bolignase (will work on later!). I would have not purchased an iphone after I lost my last one, but my boss outright forced me to purchase one for work purposes.

            What you say about supplementary work is a very good idea. This weekend should be a good time to implement it.

            ———————————————————

            Your theory doesn’t make logical sense. I could accept raisedbynarcissists being wrong (although I would need an explanation). But logically speaking, it would imply.

            -An inexplicable double standard. My parents checked off online abuse checklist after online abuse checklist, including abusive behavior that would be condemned as “you have to get out!” in any abusive boyfriend (including things that the Internet constantly condemns as abusive in Edward Cullen, demonstrating a social norm of what is acceptable). Yet I am supposed to accept this in my parents?

            -A contradiction of so much of our culture. I am supposed to believe in “Power Corrupts” and that people should not be allowed to wield power unchecked, and condemn the overcontrol of, for instance, women in the Victorian era as absolutely wrong. Yet I am supposed to simply ignore parental power unchecked over me, AND the fact that control of me paralleled women in the Victorian era in how bad it was!

            -The standard of adulthood is supposed to be 18, or at least 21. Not only have I clearly failed to succeed, I clearly failed because my parents sabotaged me. They had no intention of ever letting me succeed my that age and never even attempted it. Yet I am supposed to just accept this contradiction?

            ———————————————————

            You might something say something like “Our culture is illogical”. But if the logic of our culture points to something the culture does not in fact do, then I refuse to accept the contradiction, and never forgive my parents (who I can go no contact with!) because it makes no sense.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dabbler

            The standard of adulthood is supposed to be 18, or at least 21. Not only have I clearly failed to succeed…

            Only legally. Many neurotypical people are dependent far longer than that. In places like Italy, it is normal for people to live with their parents for a long time and that frequently lasts into their 30’s.

            What many people do to preserve their mental well-being is to redefine their definition of success to something that they can actually achieve.

            Ultimately, life is not an exam with objective rules where you pass or fail. IMO, wanting to succeed in the eyes of others is a fool’s errand. There is always a higher level of societal status and chasing it just makes you a slave to the irrationality and typical-mind fallacies of others.

            I suggest focusing on your own well-being much more than being perceived as a success based on how you think that neurotypicals define success (which you probably can’t accurately assess anyway, as autistic people tend to be very bad at doing so). It seems that you have build up a definition of success in your mind that will magically make you happy if you achieve it, but IMO this is self-deception and the result is merely that you are turning non-problems into problems (and thereby are placing barriers into your own path).

            For example, wanting to pay back debts to those who don’t want to be paid back is a non-problem. It is meaningless with regard to your future independence, it is meaningless legally, it is meaningless socially, etc.

            Quite a few people get financial aid from their parents long after they turned 21. Like gbdub said elsewhere, they just regard it as a loving gift and not a debt. These people are neurotypical and don’t see themselves as failures for doing things that you fret over immensely. Why are you doing that to yourself?

            Start asking yourself more sensible questions:
            – can I support myself without getting financial aid?
            – can I do the basic things that go into running a household (cleaning, cooking, paying bills)
            – How can I get help for the things I struggle with in a way that works for me (for example, having a person check your finances to find out if you forgot something is probably preferable to them doing the finances for you)

            And again, stop seeing this as a black/white thing. Many neurotypicals struggle with supporting themselves/their family. Many neurotypicals have problems managing their finances. Many neurotypicals need help with paying taxes. Etc, etc.

            If you only consider yourself a success if you surpass a large number of neurotypicals, then isn’t that an unreasonable high demand to put on yourself?

            By the standards for autistic people, you already seem to be in the top 30% percentile by my estimate. IMO, a glass half empty person is never going to be satisfied, since when they manage to fill up a glass, they’ll just move on to a bigger half-filled glass and despair over their inability to fill it fully. Turning yourself into a glass half full person seems the most reliable way to increase happiness.

          • Dabbler says:

            Answering your last post is difficult to explain. This one is easy.

            —————————————————————————–

            I tried your approach from about age 18 to 23. It didn’t work. It turned out I was psychologically incapable of seeing myself as I was as a “success” or being happy no matter how much I internalized a different idea of adulthood and no matter how hard I tried to be satisfied.

            I tried an approach similar to what you said, but found that I was heading towards a psychological breakdown. So I resolved to change course and never go back that way again.

            The ONLY thing that has worked in increasing my life satisfaction and long term happiness has been real successes in closer approaching adulthood as I contend it should be (as I will justify in my other response post).

          • skef says:

            I tried your approach from about age 18 to 23. It didn’t work. It turned out I was psychologically incapable of seeing myself as I was as a “success” or being happy no matter how much I internalized a different idea of adulthood and no matter how hard I tried to be satisfied.

            The ONLY thing that has worked in increasing my life satisfaction and long term happiness has been real successes in closer approaching adulthood as I contend it should be (as I will justify in my other response post).

            One could argue, and I believe, that there are two kinds or levels of anarchy. The second is social: everyone accepts that governments have no authority, and therefore government ceases to exist. The first is personal: you accept for yourself that governments have no authority, making it just another social phenomenon that you interact with however you feel appropriate, and that interacts with you however it does.

            Maybe that analysis is wrong; it’s certainly unsatisfying in some ways. But you really need to start embracing the personal view of “adulthood” in your situation. The law will protect a person in many ways from being harmed by one’s parents, but isn’t very useful when it comes to preventing them from helping you, or what is perceived as help.

            You’ve voiced your objections and they’ve continued. You need to start thinking of them as like an eccentric millionaire who has taken a unwelcome interest in your life. Irritating, condescending, perhaps, but not something to get overly distressed about. As long as you’re prepared to at any time to take over whatever accounts they are paying for, you’re an adult.

            (Edited:) More specifically, there is a point at which worrying about what you can’t control, especially when that thing is a parent, calls your “adulthood” into question. On that level, what your concern is at least borderline self-contradictory. People have to deal with their dumb parents and the dumb things they do. It’s part of the gig.

          • Dabbler says:

            Proper response tomorrow. For the moment- What makes you think that this is psychologically possible for me at all? Last time I tried anything along those lines I nearly had a breakdown after all.

            There are a whole host of detailed reasons, which I will explain tomorrow. On a minor note, until after I had gone no contact with my parents I had honestly, genuinely never heard of a conception of adulthood which required me to accept restrictions on my independence. Such a thing is obviously contradictory.

          • skef says:

            On a minor note, until after I had gone no contact with my parents I had honestly, genuinely never heard of a conception of adulthood which required me to accept restrictions on my independence. Such a thing is obviously contradictory.

            Suppose that instead of paying some your bills, your parents were living in a van right outside your window, yelling at each other all night. You call the police, and they say, “Yeah, it’s technically illegal, but we don’t really enforce that law. By the way, don’t do anything to them yourself beyond talking to them, because that’s illegal too and we do enforce those laws.”

            What I’m saying is that you should start thinking of what they’re doing as like that. It’s a nuisance, and ideally you should be able to prevent it, but you can’t, and no one else is likely to step in. Most people live with all kinds of nuisances.

          • Dabbler says:

            A nuisance regarding my sleep does not directly threaten me being an independent adult. A nuisance that prevents me paying my own bills does, as it prevents me learning good life skills.

            That is ignoring the fact that such a nuisance can lead to worse. My parents always tend to push my independence down further and further when I give in to them.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dabbler

            Proper response tomorrow. For the moment- What makes you think that this is psychologically possible for me at all? Last time I tried anything along those lines I nearly had a breakdown after all.

            I can’t speak to what you can do or whether your earlier attempt was actually what I/we suggest.

            I believe that my description is what most people do to be ‘adults.’ You seek to become an adult, yet you seem to have a mindset that is incompatible with ever considering yourself to be one.

            When a person has goals and/or subgoals that are impossible, the only real solution is to change those goals. In your case, the edifice seems to be built around a goal of adulthood, which you seem to map 1-on-1 on independence, which you currently seem to map 1-on-1 on paying all your bills, today and those from the past.

            It’s a common autistic error mode to monomaniacally optimize along a single axis and presumably you cannot do any different. So my attempt was to get you to recognize that this axis is not a binary, but that people can be more or less financially independent. You seem to be using a strict standard that goes substantially beyond what is commonly necessary to be considered a passable adult.

            Can’t you set yourself a goal which is feasible and once you’ve achieved that, shift to a different monomaniac focus, like learning how to cook N different meals (or whatever)? As it is, you seem to have made very little progress since you’ve last asked for help, so what you are doing seems to not be working.

            On a minor note, until after I had gone no contact with my parents I had honestly, genuinely never heard of a conception of adulthood which required me to accept restrictions on my independence. Such a thing is obviously contradictory.

            Ha.

            Many people consider adulthood synonymous with taking responsibility, not independence. They will rate a parent, who is responsible for the well-being of their spouse and child, as far more adult than a single person who (objectively) is far more independent. This will be true even if the single person has a coffer full of golden florins, while the family person is much poorer.

            This is probably part of the disconnect here. Many people consider someone financially ‘an adult’ when they can pay for their expenses, regardless of whether they actually do so! If they have a person paying for the bills, but are saving more than they are getting in handouts, then this means that the person can cope with the handouts ending.

            Why can’t you set that as your goal? Then if/when you achieved that you can move on to improving your life/capabilities in different ways.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dabbler

            A nuisance that prevents me paying my own bills does, as it prevents me learning good life skills.

            You are paying N bills right? What difference does it make whether you pay N+1 or N+2 bills?

          • gbdub says:

            It turned out I was psychologically incapable of seeing myself as I was as a “success” or being happy no matter how much I internalized a different idea of adulthood and no matter how hard I tried to be satisfied.

            That is a much, much bigger problem than being in a few thousand dollars of debt, and a much bigger threat to your future well being. Basically you’re unwilling to accept a standard that doesn’t cast you as a failure, even though everyone else is telling you that that standard is way too harsh.

            But you really need to start embracing the personal view of “adulthood” in your situation.

            I disagree. His personal, overly strict, nearly impossible to meet standard of “adulthood” is precisely what is holding him back, because he’s emotionally abusing himself and threatening his own physical and financial well-being over failing to live up to it. I think we need to consider the possibility that Dabbler is an unreliable narrator and that advising him to “go on, keep holding yourself to an impossible standard” is basically enabling his self-harm.

            An example:
            Alice and Bob are two 25 year olds. Alice lives on her own, goes to university, has a job. She has some difficulty staying organized and occasionally gets behind on her bills. As a result, her parents have given her some financial support to the tune of a few thousand dollars.

            Bob is like Alice, but has no debt. However, he has cut off all contact with his family because accepting assistance from people who he used to depend on causes him to suffer emotional distress bordering on psychological breakdown. He is attempting to cut himself off from his boss too, because he sees the boss’s unsolicited offer of free time off and encouragement to reconnect with his family as emotional abuse and a deliberate attempt at “sabotaging his independence”.

            Who is worse at adulting? Who is likely to be better off five years from now? Alice or Bob?

            Dabbler, you’ve laser-focused yourself on the problem of independence (defined strictly and rather idiosyncratically as not owin’ nothin’ to nobody), because it seems tractable. You can tabulate debt and payment in a spreadsheet and once the balance hits zero, TA-DA! You’re a Certifed Independent Adult. I get why that’s attractive. But you’ve created a super harsh zero-sum standard, one that’s convinced you that you’re a failure when by any reasonable standard you’re not. And it also seems like you’ve been using this fail-table as a crutch to avoid some deeper issues that are frankly more important. I strongly suspect that if you ever do manage to zero the tally, you’ll still be unsatisfied. I just hope when you do you finally realize it was the standard that was a failure, not you.

            You have struggles very common to your generation, exacerbated by no-fault-of-yours symptoms of your neurodivergence and by overprotective parents (and objectively, the parents are probably a mixed bag – overprotective parents suck, but neglectful ones are much worse). None of this makes you less of an adult, or less of a whole person!

          • James says:

            Some great stuff here, all round. I hope he takes it on board.

          • Dabbler says:

            It’s 1:00 in the morning on my end and I have a very busy day tomorrow. Apologies to Aapje, but I’m responding to this one instead of your other one for tonight then logging off. I’ll respond to everything else tomorrow.

            ————————————————————————————————————————————-

            Actually, paying off debt is my focus at the moment because it’s all I have left. My driving attempt collapsed because a bad teacher who stopped teaching me after my failed lesson (meaning I had to rush around looking for new instructors who wasted time testing the basics), then people continuously bullying me to give up and wait for Julian to get back so he could start teaching me making me so stressed I gave up, then lack of money to continue without taking help.

            My dating attempt collapsed because at this point I’m getting such serious anxiety attacks it was hard to even log on to date, let alone be confident while doing so. These anxiety attacks were also affecting my work, and were made worse by pressure not to work so hard.

            There is nothing unrealistic about financial independence. I already have a surplus sufficient to, in principle, repay debt and pay for plenty more in expenses. All I have to do is try and (a) Force my boss to stop forcing me to borrow money through paid time off, and (b) Track down all my bills so my parents can’t pay me any more money. I then have to figure out how to repay it faster (which is admittedly very hard!).

            ————————————————————————————————————————————-

            The problem here, though I know you don’t want to hear this, is emotional abuse. This emotional abuse consisted of my parents taking advantage of my lack of life experience and factors I will explain in my response to your other line of posts (fits better there!), people constantly ganging up on me and denigrating me for trying, and doing everything they could to make the anxiety disorder part of autism even worse.

            It was because of this emotional abuse that at age 23 I didn’t know how to use the train and trams on my own, had never dated, didn’t have the organisational skills to achieve basic tasks, had never gotten a job, was still living with my parents, and wasn’t even capable of doing full time university (ALL things in which this pattern had repeated!). In addition to this, the lack of self-confidence made me too afraid to attempt chores, go shopping on my own,

            To do as you are suggesting would mean giving in to the exact same pattern that was used to emotionally abuse me for at least five years depending on definition. It would mean doing this in face of friends who backed my parents up to the hilt and would continue the exact pattern. It would mean throwing away the masses of effort I invested in this cause.

            This is ignoring the fact that I want to be an actual independent adult. But at this point, true though it is, people will just ignore it if I continue pointing that out.

            ————————————————————————————————————————————-

            There is also the sheer number of cultural contradictions I would have to suspend disbelief about, but that’s a separate post. Suffice to say that I simply cannot suspend disbelief about your version of adulthood being adulthood because it contradicts too many things Western culture claims in theory about the freedom individuals are supposed to have, personal responsibility and more.

            Actually, come to think of it a few to start with:
            -People criticize millennials constantly. If I abandoned my efforts at independence, I would fall straight into the millennial stereotype of being lazy and over-entitled. Yet everyone here is slamming me for doing my utmost NOT to be entitled!
            -Plenty of conservative types tend to criticize those raised in comfortable homes for how weak they are. Another minor factor was that I wanted not to be somebody who deserved such criticism, which mean taking on the full burden of all these bills. Yet people are criticizing me for it!
            -Finally, think of SJW type criticisms of people as not truly deserving their success due to privilege. Admittedly I can’t get rid of this completely. But how am I supposed to NOT feel ashamed of myself (and keep in mind my anxiety problems here!) when I am taking massive amounts of help from others to take a single step!

            The last one is the most painful because I desperately want autonomy as well as independence. If people force help on me they can also force reciprocity. The thought of having my life controlled by others that deeply is one that, psychologically speaking, is very distressing to me.

            ————————————————————————————————————————————-

            I ignore responsibility because right now I am concentrating on something far more basic. If I could succeed in dating, I would consider starting a family partially for that reason.

            As for your point about bills- the point is that if I am receiving a service I should be paying for the service myself!

          • Aapje says:

            @Dabbler

            Suffice to say that I simply cannot suspend disbelief about your version of adulthood being adulthood because it contradicts too many things Western culture claims in theory about the freedom individuals are supposed to have, personal responsibility and more.

            Western culture is a lie (and actually partially an amalgam of subcultures). There is no consistent and rational narrative that can be extracted from it and the demands are not healthy for many people. That’s why you have to accept to be a ‘failure’ to a certain extent, because being a 100% success in the eyes of all of society is impossible (because different parts of society demand different things and those demands cannot be realistically be met concurrently and/or are inconsistent). A large number of people will be psychologically hurt/damaged if they try to maximize societal status or adherence to the norms of subcultures rather than seeking to balance it with their own well-being. This is especially true for most neuroatypicals (although psychopaths may be better suited to it than neurotypicals).

            As for your point about bills- the point is that if I am receiving a service I should be paying for the service myself!

            Friendship and family relationships are not purely transactional, although transactionality plays a larger role than most people admit/realize. Getting the right balance between transactionality and (a semblance) of altruism is an important life skill to be regarded with fondness as a peer who equally participates in mutually satisfactory relationships. Admittedly, it is a skill that is very hard for autistic people, but having failing at this skill as a goal (which is true if you seek to make every relationship purely transactional) seems counterproductive. Erring on the side of transactionality is probably a good idea (although you’d often want to obscure it a little, like time-shifting it and/or paying back in kind), but not to the extent that you do.

            Secondly, paying for a service doesn’t create a lot of life skills. If you are dependent on someone else to do something for you because you can’t do it yourself, then you don’t have the ability yourself and are dependent on outside help. If you do have the ability and let someone else do it for convenience or other reasons, then you are not dependent on outside help. In neither case is financial remuneration an important issue beyond practical reasons (which can be significant, but not for reasons of personal ability).

            Now I’m thinking that you may have chosen to maximize transactionality because you have difficulty acquiring skills and setting up automatic payments is low skill/effort and can be made part of a narrative that turns it into a major achievement on your successometer, but it is nevertheless mostly a delusion.

            I understand that shattering this delusion may result in a personal crisis, but you seem to be in a rather poor local optimum that is persistent and far below what I think you can achieve. I understand that breaking your mental model apart and building up a new one is risky, but you may want to experiment with building up alternative successometers, while retaining your old one and trying to find one that works better for you.

          • Deiseach says:

            the problem with my gym was that I was emotionally distracted when the bill was supposed to have been transferred (this was the day I went no contact), then as I struggled to learn basic work skills and basic driving skills the thought never even crossed my mind

            Dabbler, that”s the main problem. You get stressed and distracted and forget things because you can only handle one thing at a time.

            So make lists and reminders. Don’t let yourself forget. You know you forget things when you’re stressed. When you’re not stressed, write them down (“phone gym”, “cancel phone plan”) and put a reminder somewhere – write it down on a wall calendar, something like that – so that three weeks later you will see “Oh, I forgot about the gym, I have to do that this week!”

            That will help you control things, and when you control things, you will not be as stressed.

          • carvenvisage says:

            The way I’d find out everything I was paying for, if I didn’t know, is to make a spreadsheet to track it, as follows:

            0. have access to spreadsheet software. Google docs is free if you have a google account. Excel might be better.

            1. Make a new spreadsheet document

            2. Leaving column A and rows 1-3 empty, write “Accomodation” in box B4, then along row 4 (C4, D4, etc) every other regular payment that you can think of. (Like gym, phone, whatever utilities aren’t covered under rent, any tax you pay occupying that unit, loans repayments, etc. And other ones particular to yourself- ~university-food-hall-subscription, spotify, dollar shave club, etc.)

            3. keep an eye out in your life for any things which may have slipped your mind. -Do these driving lessons cost money? that kind of thing.

            4. whenever you pay a bill (or receive notice of its standing payment) write the date in a new line on column A, and input the figure aligned with it in the corresponding column. (multiple payments on same day go in the same row).

            5. If any column doesn’t have payments then you have something to look into.

            You can also use this approach to track your finances more generally, and can add things like an auto tally at the bottom of the column to count the total paid for that service. (one would then make a new spreadsheet or ‘sheet’ (tab) for each taxyear).

            If tax is not taken straight out of your paycheck you should also keep track of how much you are taking in and what tax you expect to pay so you can plan around it.

            And you can probably find better help for this kind of thing in various places on the internet and IRL. (I listed some in previous post)

          • carvenvisage says:

            About your current job, what sort of ‘tier’ of work is it? (not bottom tier if you must have an iphone for work purposes?) It is a easier to replace a low level job than a higher level one and the steps to take might be different as well.

            About the ‘humans are monkeys’ argument, yes I was saying it’s normal not that it’s good. It might be some consolation if you were stuck with it. If possible it’s better to escape it and get some distance.

            I did not say anything about forgiveness. I am questioning the objective severity of the transgression, which in my belief exists relative to the moral capabilities of the transgressor- a lion killing someone is not the same as a person doing it, and if someone doesn’t listen to you the transgression itself is different if they are someone with brain damage than if they are a normal person, and if they are a normal (monkey) person compared to what I naturally imagine humans are like.

            This reorientation of perspective is not at all the same as forgiveness.

            But in any case the best time to be magnanimous is either: 1. when you have to, or, 2. when you can easily afford to, and not so much when you are struggling against the effects of a transgression.

            Now, my main remaining concern is that I don’t know if you have this job mainly because of the family connection, or if that just got your foot in the door. This would be a major component in the strength of your current position, so I think it’s important to clarify.

          • carvenvisage says:

            *So I think it would be useful to clarify. (‘Important’ is slightly too grand a word.)

      • Dabbler says:

        I have already gone no contact with my parents, which I thought would be the end of it. I was naive and believed that my parents (who did not know I was about to go no contact) would ACTUALLY TRANSFER THE BILLS. I do my utmost to repay them via intermediaries.

        I do not get an allowance. I did NOT borrow money from them- they paid my bills behind my back so now I owe them money. I have not called them or emailed them, and did not let them email me or contact me in any way.

        My landlord is not my parent’s friend but a private corporation. The only reason I asked my parent’s friends for favors is because I literally didn’t know how to pay bills, was distracted trying to learn to work AND learn to drive at the same time, and if I wanted not to contact my parents I needed help to actually repay them. I’ve gone no contact with all my parent’s friends bar one because they kept betraying me.

        As for working for a friend of my parent’s… you have a point. I didn’t realize that my boss would be so influenced by my parents. Now I am too much in debt because I made expenditures I wouldn’t have because I was acting on the assumption he wouldn’t be so lenient (and outright pressure me to lower standards!) as to call into question whether it was an actual job, so I can’t quit.

        • Brad says:

          Don’t worry about paying them back. Yes, in one sense it might be considered the responsible thing to do, but in a larger sense it is just leading to indefinite further entanglement. You have the whole rest of your life to be independent, go and be independent instead of worrying about being retroactively independent by paying off these supposed debts.

          In terms of transferring bills just talk to the service provider (landlord, telephone company, electric company, etc.) Tell them that you are now talking over responsibility for X bill and if they give you are hard time threaten to cancel the service. If necessary actually cancel the service and use a different provider — up to and including moving.

          • Dabbler says:

            I have thought about that. The problem with that is- what happens when my parents violate my consent again and intervene behind my back? If I don’t find a way to put an end to their behavior once and for all, I will NEVER be independent.

            I know how to do that now (although Student Housing Australia resisted strongly, and I was misled by being told an automatic program would do it for me which turned out not to). But the problem is- what if there is a bill I don’t even know exists?

          • Brad says:

            I don’t really understand how they can go behind your back and pay bills for accounts you sign up for and they never have anything to do with.

            So for example, you have a cell phone? If the cell phone provider won’t transfer the bill to your name and put a verbal password on the account before any changes can be made, then cancel the account and get a new one. That new one will be in your name and your parents will have no way of knowing about it to pay for it. Same thing for your internet bill, your water bill, your electric bill, your gym bill, your rent bill, and so forth and so on.

            As for bills that you don’t know exist, they will come out of the woodwork. People want to get paid.

            I really think you should stop focusing on getting your parents to change their behavior and instead focus on changing your own circumstances to a one where that your parents have no opportunity to affect your life in any way.

            If someone wanted to pay my e.g. credit card bill, he’d hard pressed to do so because he wouldn’t have my account number and the credit card company wouldn’t just give it out because someone called and asked.

          • Dabbler says:

            The reason is that I am very poor at organisation, and furthermore am distracted by a combination of work, university, and trying to live a life in general. I am very inexperienced at this and all sorts of bills slip my mind.

            If I don’t know a bill even exists, I can’t contact anybody to tell them to transfer it can I?

            For instance, I lost an Iphone which I believe had a phone plan. But I only just remembered that existed just now. Who knows how many bills I have simply failed to think about?

            Moving would, logistically speaking, be very very difficult for me. I am capable of lesser things, but my organisational skills are so poor I would be stretched likely beyond my limits trying to move house on my own.

          • Brad says:

            Organizational skills sounds like something you can work on that doesn’t involve trying to change anyone else’s behavior. Don’t worry about past bills that may or may not exist, instead concentrate on going forward keeping track of and paying all the bills you know exist.

          • Dabbler says:

            That would be the same as giving up on being an independent adult. Basically, I’m giving up and saying that if my parents are going to pay large parts of my bills and intervene by my bank, my boss is going to force me to take free money and gifts, and somehow that’s miraculously going to count as independence.

            I have already sacrificed a massive amount of time, effort, and resources to try and be an independent adult. Why would I give up now?

          • Brad says:

            I don’t know. It seems to me you are putting the cart before the horse. *If* you could be responsible for all your needs going forward, I think you’d be in a very good spot vis-a-vis independence.

            That involves some things that are very hard for you: likely getting a new job because your boss isn’t really in an arm’s length relationship with you. Maybe moving because your current landlord is taking money from your parents. Perhaps signing up for new phone and gym service and so on.

            These things are very hard, and I’m not minimizing that, but they are possible. They are things you can do yourself without changing anyone else. At the end, if you accomplish them, you’d have achieved what most people would consider a large measure of independence.

            Instead of doing what you can right now to insure that you will be independent going forward you seem to want to obsess with how you can convince your parents to “respect your boundaries”. You can’t. You aren’t able to force anyone else to see things how you see things.

            What you *can* do is begin to create circumstances such that they can’t interfere with you anymore. That’s what you should be working on, as hard as it is to do.

          • Dabbler says:

            I have actually lost my phone. My worry is that my parents, even though they were outright told this, might think I would naturally get it back later and still be paying for it anyway.

            On the job- You’re very right. I’ll give it one last chance. That being said, I am very concerned about quitting because of the hours I owe Julian. If I quit I can’t repay him.
            On the landlord- The landlord’s representative claimed that she never talked to my parents since I made clear that they shouldn’t. I don’t think a business would point blank lie to me like that.
            On everything else- The problem is that this works very well- for things I actually think of. Given my organisational skills, who knows what I’ve failed to think of?

    • BBA says:

      The central problem here is (1) your parents still see you as a child, dependent on their support for everything and (2) given all you’ve said about your struggles with functioning independently, they may be right.

      You call them “abusive.” I feel like if anyone today treated me, age thirty-mumble, like my parents did when I was five, that would count as abuse – but the way they treated me then wasn’t abusive. Circumstances change.

      Today your parents look at you and see the five-year-old. I don’t think your rigid insistence on “independence” and doing everything your way is going to change their viewpoint.

      • Dabbler says:

        I have gone no contact with my parents, and use intermediaries to stop them only when they harass me. In case it was not clear, I was not looking to persuade them- I was looking to somehow force them to stop.

        Any approach based on persuasion fails on the principle of the thing. If I have to try and persuade others to let me be an adult, then that is failing at being an adult as my independence is dependent on others.

        ————————————————————————————————

        In addition, I tried the approach of persuasion for years and it never worked. I tried to explain how I felt to my parents time and time again, I tried arguing with them and demonstrating flaws in their reasoning, I tried empirically disproving, and nothing work. Only after two years were responded to with continuous sabotage on their part (before that I had internalized self-hatred and didn’t try) did I decide I could never make it work.

        There are two possibilities as far as I can tell. The first is that my parents would never accept me as an adult no matter what I did because of anti-autism prejudice (they constantly used my autism as an excuse, claiming I shouldn’t consider myself a failure because of it).

        The second is that this involved social skills I didn’t have. But if so, this is ludicrously unjust of my parents. Not only I am autistic, but my parents constantly emphasized relying on aides and support workers they appointed to teach me social skills and that I couldn’t succeed on my own, and I believed them because I was a child and they had professionals do it. I was supposed to be taught everything I needed to know, but I honestly had no idea that independence involved negotiation because nobody taught me that.

        I tried to succeed at negotiations using the crappy negotiation skills THEY taught me. And I’m supposed to take it as if they’re being fair to block me when I never had the skills to negotiate in the first place because of them?

        • Deiseach says:

          I hate to sound like I’m piling on here, but you sound as if you think your parents are being deliberately malicious. Yet at the same time you acknowledge that you do lack skills for independent living; being unaware of how the bills for various things worked and simply assuming they’d automatically be transferred over; forgetting about your lost phone and that if you were still on a monthly payment plan (instead of a ‘pay as you go’ one) that money would still be taken from your account if you didn’t stop it; that you have very poor organisational skills, that you are not up to the task of finding new accommodation on your own; that you take on too much at once (trying to learn to drive and life skills and attend university).

          So, from an outside view, it’s understandable why your parents would consider you unable to manage independently. That’s aside from things you have said about their attitudes to autism, which do sound – if true – to be unhelpful and to be holding you back.

          So what you need to do, instead of demanding your parents and boss do this, that and the other or else you will go no contact – a demand that sounds, forgive me for saying this, childish and also makes you sound less able to handle things to an outside viewer, is to recognise that you do have poor organisational skills and work out a way to get around this.

          Make a plan. Figure out “what do I need to do to get a flat of my own?” Break it down into steps. WRITE DOWN THOSE STEPS. Do them one at a time – maybe the first step is “figure out how much rent I can afford?” and do that, and mark it off.

          Second, you don’t have to do everything at once, or by a set date. You can’t do it, anyway, since your executive dysfunction hampers you. So give yourself plenty of time – say three months? – for something like “find a new place to live”. Follow the steps one by one, but don’t try to rush them all at once. Maybe you can only do one step of your plan this week, that’s fine, that’s not a waste or a failure.

          The two big obstacles to being seen as capable of functioning independently are these:

          (1) Not being able to plan and follow through on that plan

          (2) Having a meltdown and abandoning everything when you run into an obstacle

          Figure out ways to work around those and you will be a lot further on the way to “independent adulthood”.

          Things like – you have a phone now? Then write the details down – what plan are you on, what monthly payments, if the phone is lost or stolen what to do in that case – and put it somewhere you will be able to access those notes easily. I tend to use the calendar with Microsoft Mail to make notes of when I have to do things, but I’m sure there are better schemes out there.

          DO THAT FOR EVERYTHING. What is the bin collection day and what bins to put out. When are bills (electricity, phone, rent, etc) due and how much. Regular check bank account to make sure your money is going in and your bills are being paid, and that you are not (say) letting a direct debit still run even after cancelling it with the phone service or whatever. “Do the laundry today YES TODAY”. Stuff like that. Stuff you can do for yourself, not dependent on “my parents said they’d transfer over the gym bill but they lied”. Also – remind yourself to check that yes, they transferred over the bill. Again, break it down into steps: “phone or call in to the gym. Ask about the bill. Ask if it’s now in my name. If not, get them to cancel subscription and take out new one in my own name and billing details, either in that gym or another one. If another gym, work out what gym I would go to.”

          Show that you can get your shit together and won’t have a meltdown if you miss or forget something, and that you are working on getting your shit together.

          • Dabbler says:

            Plenty of good ideas in here. I will give a full response to them tomorrow. I will also explain why the solution of “do things more gradually” is a proven failure, “throw myself 100% at a problem” has had the best success rate of any strategy I have tried so far, and being accountable to my parents has only made things worse.

            Although I don’t understand why you are ignoring the fact that I have gone no contact with my parents. I only responded through intermediaries in order to respect this no contact, and only when they gave me no choice through their actions.

            Regardless of my solution, I do not intend to have my parents in my life ever again. Any solution which requires me to be accountable to them is a failure both because they cannot see reason (as I will demonstrate tomorrow) and because of how contradictory that is.

          • Charles F says:

            Make a plan. Figure out “what do I need to do to get a flat of my own?” Break it down into steps. WRITE DOWN THOSE STEPS. Do them one at a time […] and mark them off

            Simple and kind of obvious, but also the best advice anybody ever gave me. I would add “document what you did for that step” as a pretty important component though. Not sure what anybody else’s organizational/executive function problems tend to consist of, but getting distracted by other projects/tasks then forgetting where I was in the last one and skipping steps, making things increasingly complicated as I have to figure out how to go back and fix earlier parts of the process while keeping up with what’s going on is something I spend less time doing now.

            So give yourself plenty of time – say three months? – for something like “find a new place to live”

            [nitpick]I’ve learned from experience that trying to do this in three months is risky. I start six months before a lease is ending. It’s easier to sublet one of the places for (most of) the overlapping time than it is to be homeless for a month or three.[/nitpick]

          • Dabbler says:

            Given when my rent on this flat expires, though, I’m thinking I should start making plans in about December-January. That would be six months before my rent runs out.

            Otherwise good advice.

    • Viliam says:

      A lot of text was already written here, and I doubt the chances of solving someone’s huge problems by posting an SSC comment, and yet I can’t resist, because I know someone with much weaker of your problem, but still serious enough to recognize the pattern.

      Seems to me, you are making two huge meta mistakes, which generate many other problems:

      1) You focus on what other people are doing, instead of what you could do.

      Sure, it is legitimate to complain about behavior of other people, once in a while. But it becomes a problem when complaining takes a large part of your attention, a large part of your time, a large part of your interaction with other people. Complaining should be a one-off thing: you complain; you either achieved something or not; you update on the outcome and move on. Don’t repeat yourself.

      The more resources you spend on complaining, the less resources you have to fix your life. Usually you can’t change other people; you can only change yourself; so this is where your energy should be focused. You could start by assuming that your parents will forever remain as they are now, and devise a plan how to become more adult regardless. You are not in the “changing your parents” business; you are in the “changing yourself” business.

      Also, endless complaining is one of those things that make you seem less adult. Complaining about parent figures is what children typically do. You don’t have to go to the opposite extreme — even adult people sometimes complain to their friends, and ask for help or advice. But make your complaining short, and then focus on what you can do.

      2) You focus on the past, instead of the present and the future.

      What happened, happened. Every day is a potential new start. Sometimes the problems of the past are not solved, they just become irrelevant and forgotten. If you could hypothetically start doing things 100% right today, in a year or two no one would even notice a difference between you and people who started from less problematic situations. That’s what you should focus on.

      You will never be able to magically change the past. You can only stop the processes that started in the past; but you have to stop them in the present.

      (Also, if my intuition about the person you remind me of is correct, I suspect that you are a perfectionist; that if you achieve only 99% of what you originally planned, you are frustrated and make your frustration visible. The problem with this is the opportunity costs: the time and energy you spend on getting some issue A from 99% to 100% would be much better spent on some other issue B that you can meanwhile neglecting completely.)

      Now more specifically…

      Why do you even need an expensive gym? Download a copy of Convict Conditioning, and exercise at home, using only your own weight and a pull-up bar. Saving money is a part of being adult. Regardless… if you want to have bills transferred to you, here is what you do:

      You go to the gym and say, with a smile: “Hi, I am Dabbler D. Dabblerowski, your customer. I would like to change my billing address to XY, starting now.” Optionally, show them some ID containing the address. Then I would really really expect them to change the billing address. Don’t tell them about your parents (they don’t care and it only makes you less adult). Don’t ask them to retroactively do anything about the past payments, except perhaps: “By the way, if there are still some unpaid bills sent to the old address, I apologize for that, and please send them again to my new address.”

      (If you try this, and it somehow doesn’t work, then that is a specific problem you post to SSC open thread. What exactly you did, what exactly did they tell you. Then we can try finding a solution to the specific problem.)

      This is how you fix the future (of the gym bill) once and forever. And I strongly suggest letting the past go, at least until you have solved all other important things in your life. As a side effect, you only have to worry about paying the monthly bill, not about the unknown thousands. Focus on paying all your current and future bills yourself; that ensures that your debts (both real and imaginary) will stop growing.

      Generally, your strategy for dealing with abusive parents should be “whatever minimizes your contact with them” (and that includes time you spend thinking and talking about them). If it’s paying money, then pay the money; if it’s not paying money, then don’t pay the money. Otherwise, you are playing their game.

      You wrote: “My parents have repeatedly violated my boundaries by trying to force me to accept them paying for me when I don’t want it.” How specifically did they do that? I want to focus on the mechanism how they achieved it, as opposed to the fact that they did. Because, when I e.g. go to a shop to buy food, there is no way my parents could have paid instead of me, because they are simply not there when I am paying. Do they take your bills out of the mailbox? But you don’t live with them, so are they going to pick your mailbox at the place you live? I mean, if it’s just that you haven’t changed the address yet, do it now.

      By the way, you focus on financial independence. What about other aspects of life? Are you eating healthy food? Are you cooking for yourself? A rule of thumb: make 30% of your food be fruit and unprocessed vegetables. — The larger picture here is that if everything else is okay, you are still doing okay, even if you have some unsolved debts.

      By the way, find some new friends. How? I guess find some club or lesson where you would like to participate, and you may meet interesting people there. Toastmasters or dancing lessons could give you extra skills and an opportunity to meet people. Having more friends makes you less dependent, because you don’t depend on any specific one of them. It is dangerous to have few friends, if some of them start acting against you. More friends can help you easier find a new job, etc.

      It feels like you are focusing too much on one thing (paying the past bills). If that would be the only problem in your life, it would make sense; but it actually feels like you focus on that to avoid some other aspects of your life. Try seeing the larger picture. This battle over the past bills is just a silly game, and you are just as guilty as your parents for continuing to play it. The goal is not to win the game, but to stop playing it.

  2. OptimalSolver says:

    I’m having a hard time reconciling the certainty people express over anthropogenic global warming with what we know about Earth’s climatology over the last billion years.

    I mean, if climate change is really happening, it seems to me that it would be because that’s just what the Earth does. Radical changes in climate had been happening for eons before the appearance of the first hominids, so why the absolute conviction that humans are to blame for this one? It seems that it’s the expectation of long-term climatological stability that’s erroneous here.

    The extreme politicization of the issue doesn’t help, and I’ll admit that I’m not immune. The view that AGW is a replacement religion for those who can’t go without has its merits, in my opinion, what with what looks an awful lot like Original Sin, Fall, Redemption and heretical outgroups. The claims of “It’s Science!” don’t hold much water as unpalatable scientific results are usually fought tooth and nail.

    It’s troubling to me because this is the only issue where I doubt the scientific consensus, though I cut myself some slack by choosing to believe that climatology isn’t exactly a hard science.

    Edit: And the fact that Trump picked the anti-AGW side reduces the possibility of unbiased, clearheaded research to about zero.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Astronomy isn’t exactly a hard science either (no controlled, reproducible experiments!), yet there isn’t a large movement of people dedicated to prove that black holes are an hoax and NASA is a money-harvesting scam.

      From what I understand:

      1) It is undeniable that climate is warming up.
      2) According to models of past climate evolution, it shouldn’t be doing so at this point of time, and certainly not at that speed.
      3) The only major difference we can work out between before and after the period of warming is humans starting to massively pump out CO2 in the atmosphere.
      4) We have a clear and simple explanatory mechanism of how CO2 would cause climate to warm up.

      There may be a better explanation, but none of the climate-sceptics seem willing or able to provide it — solar activity has not changed during the last 40 years, and Earth axial tilt shifts should be pushing the climate toward *cooler* trends.

      • lupis42 says:

        The comparison to Astronomy is surprisingly apt, but not in the way you mean. First, there are is a movement of people who think that, to some degree, NASA is a money harvesting scam and the achievements of the space program were faked for cold-war reasons. It’s a fringe movement because very few people are using astronomy as a way to justify forcing the majority of the population to change the way it lives.

        I’m generally sympathetic to the scientific consensus, but “this new evidence suggests that we’re all doomed unless everyone drops what they were doing and starts working on remaking the world in the ways I wanted all along” screams bullshit to me. Start replacing coal plants with nuclear plants and I will absolutely sit up and take notice, but as long as the solution to climate change is to do exactly what environmentalists wanted before they heard of climate change, I will continue to take their predictions of doom with a healthy mountain of rock salt.

        • Callum G says:

          I think the “replace coal with wind” faction is bigger simply because they’re the political group that has been more likely to care. If a scientific consensus emerged which seemed to support one groups long term goals, then you’d expect that group to rally behind it right? Hypothetically, let’s say a consensus emerged that the earth was dangerously bloated with coal, then you’d expect coal supporters to incorporate that consensus into their political dialouge. It would be evidence based reasoning, it should be seen as a good thing. To dispute the evidence based on the political group that picked it up would be absurd.

          The key point is the separation of the ideas conception and it’s subsequent politicalisation. Climatologists don’t seem so politically motivated to conspire to produce fraudulent evidence, and it seems that even companies such as ExxonMobil knew about global warming through independent early research.

          So the reason we see more “replace coal with wind” than “replace coal with nuclear” is simply because the issue mattered more to the wind people so they picked it up and ran with it. Other than that, nuclear has a lot of problems of its own so maybe a more feasible comparison would be “replace coal with clean coal” or “replace coal with gas”. Both of those aren’t perfect to an environmentalist but they are movement we’ve actually seen.

          • OptimalSolver says:

            Climatologists don’t seem so politically motivated to conspire to produce fraudulent evidence

            We are living in very different realities.

          • Jiro says:

            The reason we’re not seeing “replace coal with nuclear” is that the left, and specifically the environmentalist left, are anti-nuclear and they won’t stand a solution to climate change that goes against their ideology. It’s not a question of not mattering, it’s a question of active opposition.

          • Callum G says:

            I agree. Leftist environmentalists are the most vocal on climate change, and tend to be anti-nuclear. As such we tend to hear climate change evidence coupled with anti-nuclear solutions. Though this politicising isn’t a good reason to dismiss the evidence of climate change.

            On the other hand, leftist environmentalists don’t like coal or gas and yet clean coal and replacing coal with gas have been used/touted against climate change. These are solutions outside of the leftist environmentalist remodel of the world, so to dismiss climate change as a fraudulent tool to support a political narrative is unfairly reductive.

          • DocKaon says:

            We don’t see replace coal with nuclear, because nuclear is the most expensive form of power in current production. It’s important to remember nuclear power projects were declining years before Three Mile Island. Nuclear power is expensive, requires massive up front investment, takes decades to begin earning money, and is subject to massive cost and schedule overruns. Capitalism far more than environmentalism killed nuclear power.

            The only plausible way to make nuclear power the solution to global warming is nationalization of the power industry and a massive government building spree (i.e. how France got it’s nuclear power). Solar and wind on the other hand coexist quite peacefully with capitalism, just requiring some subsidies to get started. At some scale of renewables, we may have to start addressing the variability of power supply, but hopefully by that point power storage will be economically viable.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That depends on how we define “expensive”. Yes nuclear power has exceptionally high up-front costs (a portion of which can be blamed on the afore mentioned political opposition) but in terms of expense per MWH produced over the typical life time of a plant it’s an order of magnitude cheaper than wind or solar.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlykacg:
            Are you including the back end costs of storing the spent fuel for thousands of years?

          • Brad says:

            One problem is that front loading 50 years of costs means tremendous loss of optionality. Let’s say I can build a solar plant with levelized cost of $0.75/kwh or a nuclear plant with a levelized cost of $0.60/kwh. But the solar plant is far less front loaded and so has a break even point of 10 years of operations where the nuclear plant has break even of 40 years of operation. A lot can happen in 40 years. It’s a big risk even if the projected payout over 50 years is higher.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            The only plausible way to make nuclear power the solution to global warming is nationalization of the power industry and a massive government building spree (i.e. how France got it’s nuclear power).

            Surely a carbon tax would also increase the viability of nuclear relative to coal.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are you including the back end costs of storing the spent fuel for thousands of years?

            The cost of storing the spent fuel for thousands of years is no greater than the cost of storing it for fifty years. And is almost lost in the noise unless boosted beyond reason by nucleophobia and/or NIMBYism.

            Whether NIMBYism boosts the cost of nuclear waste disposal more than it does e.g. wind power, is an interesting question that I haven’t looked in to.

          • Rob K says:

            @hlynkacg

            an order of magnitude cheaper than wind or solar

            Que? I looked this up quickly to make sure I wasn’t missing something, but EIA projections for the 2017 energy forecast confirm my understanding that levelized cost of solar PV is below nuclear at this point (that’s before accounting for the storage investment that would be necessary to go above certain levels of solar contribution, of course).

            See https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/electricity_generation.pdf for source, I’m referencing Table 1a.

          • BBA says:

            Speaking as a pro-nuclear vaguely-left person, I gave up on trying to convince anyone of the desirability of building more nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster. Every time I tried to say “but the alternative is coal, which is deadlier even setting aside CO2” I got drowned out by scaremongers yelling about the dead zone in Japan. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The cost of storing the spent fuel for thousands of years is no greater than the cost of storing it for fifty years.

            That seems obviously false. Monitoring costs alone should make this untrue. But you seem to be saying that the existing 50 year solutions are the same as solutions designed to last 1,000 or 10,000 years, and I don’t believe that to be the case.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Suppose a solution that lasts 50 years costs a million dollars.

            Funding the exact same solution for a second fifty years requires an up-front investment of 1/7 of a million (assuming the up-front investment earns 4% for fifty years). Funding the exact same solution for a third fifty years requires an up-front investment of 1/50 of a million. A little iteration shows the grand total converging to 1.16 million to fund an indefinite series of 50-year plans.

            That doesn’t take into account that in 50 years we may very well have better solutions available.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            Why is the second 50 presumed to be less expensive than the first 50? And so much less so? Other than making your numbers work?

            There really isn’t a reason why a deadly substance with a half life of 1000s of years, which also makes toxic that which it comes in contact with, should be assumed to be easier to deal with for the second 50 years than the first. You have do something with equally toxic as before waste, and deal with the remains of the previous solution.

            I mean, nuclear power is 50+ years old already and we don’t seem to have advanced much in the long term solution realm (AFAIK, which is by no means at expert level). This seems to be so much the case that existing plants are simply extending their storage into decades in what are supposed to be very temporary pools (again, AFAIK).

            And none of this takes into account the risk of “commons” type problems like long term leakage into water supply, which are unlikely, but won’t be paid for if they do happen.

          • Brad says:

            @HBC
            It isn’t presumed to be less expensive, it is presumed to have a lower net present value. For example if the interest rate is 1% over the rate of inflation then an obligation of whatever the inflation adjusted equivalent of 1 million 2017 dollars due in 2067 requires an investment of $608k today. Due in 2117, 340k. A stream of $1 million 2017 dollar a year payments from now until forever would only require a $100 MM investment today.

          • Iain says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Doctor Mist is assuming that you can invest money today — with a 4% annual return — and use it to pay for storage in fifty years (and a smaller amount of money to pay for storage in one hundred years, and so on).

            The math works out, so long as you are willing to expect a 4% return on investment in perpetuity (which I think is the biggest problem with the argument).

          • John Schilling says:

            Why is the second 50 presumed to be less expensive than the first 50? And so much less so?

            Well, the first fifty years involves processing the radioactive waste into a suitably immobile form, sealing it into nigh-impenetrable steel drums, digging a really deep hole, burying the drums, backfilling the hole with concrete, putting up some warning signs, and hiring some security guards.

            The second fifty years involves maybe hiring some security guards.

            Really, if you’ve done it right you don’t need the security guards, and if you assume there will still be an institution capable of hiring security guards in fifty years you’re doing it wrong. But even so, the net present value of a trust fund capable of maintaining a modest 24/7 security force over a no-dig site in perpetuity is small compared to the cost of encapsulating the waste and digging the hole – which shouldn’t be impossibly expensive itself, though we can certainly make it so.

          • Iain says:

            @John Schilling:

            You implicitly assume that we are no longer using nuclear power in 50 years. If we are, then all of those costs are ongoing.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            I though modern nuclear designs were efficient enough that the waste was less radioactive then the uranium ore that was dug out of the ground in the first place? And there were reactors that could use the waste from other reactors to produce power?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @HeelBearCub, Et Al

            Are you including the back end costs of storing the spent fuel for thousands of years?

            I am. In addition to what Brad, John Schilling have said modern closed loop reactors are also a lot safer / cleaner than the Cold War era designs used in existing US commercial plants.

            @ Brad

            One problem is that front loading 50 years of costs means tremendous loss of optionality.

            That is a fair critique.

            @ Rob K
            Thank you for the link.

            After skimming the report I feel like there’s some chicanery going on in that chart. If I’m reading it correctly the DOE estimates that it would cost an average of 96.2 dollars a MWH to replace 90% of the US’s existing generation capacity with nuclear power. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. What seems “off” is that this is compared directly to replacing only 25% of our generation capacity with solar at a cost of 72.7 dollars a MWH. The obvious question being “what about the other 65-75%?”.

          • Brad says:

            @Alex Zavoluk
            In theory you could “burn” radioactive waste in a fast-neutron reactor for example. However, in order to set up a fuel cycle like that you’d need a) more highly enriched fuel then is generally used and b) to reprocess the waste from conventional nuclear reactors. Both a and b raise proliferation concerns and such concerns have kept the idea from ever being implemented in the United States. I think France may have tried, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

            You can also use a particle accelerator to transmute waste into less long lived isotopes, but I believe that approach is considered too expensive to be practical at the current time.

          • Rob K says:

            @hlynkacg capacity factor refers to the percent of the listed capacity that a generation source produces, averaged over time. Because solar panels aren’t always in direct sun they have a low capacity factor. Nuclear, on the other hand, is basically running at full power when it isn’t down for maintenance or refueling (since the fuel is such a low share of the total cost). The capacity factor is part of the levelized cost calculation.

            We all learn stuff all the time, but this is the sort of thing you should probably research before making bold assertions about generation costs.

          • Nornagest says:

            The second fifty years involves maybe hiring some security guards.

            Or building terrifying Lovecraftian concrete hellscapes.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            HeelBearCub,

            My apologies. The others have it exactly; I was making an argument from present value of money, in response to your:

            you seem to be saying that the existing 50 year solutions are the same as solutions designed to last 1,000 or 10,000 years

            If you assume an annual discount rate of 4% — which may or may not be reasonable; some people seemed to find it high — the difference between the cost of taking care of a certain volume of waste for fifty years and in perpetuity is about 16%. If the discount rate is only 2%, the difference is still only 59%.

            And that’s the cost if all you do is kick the can fifty years down the road every fifty years. I don’t advocate this; it’s just a thought experiment to show why it’s silly to get yourself in a swivet about a few thousand years.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            Yeah, once it was pointed out, I saw that I had mis-read/mis-interpreted your post. I have a feeling that argument actually proves far too much though. We can run it backwards and see that, in fact, the storage of nuclear waste generated 50 years ago is not funded in perpetuity. We can also see that, for example, the cost of Medicaid for the current elderly was not payed for 50 years ago, when it would have clearly been a pittance.

            In addition, the NPV argument ignores the idea that opportunity cost is real cost. No matter how much we have to fund it in current dollars, assuming that we have actually calculated the future cost correctly, the future cost will be just the same in terms of opportunity.

            As to hlynkacg and John Schilling saying that storing nuclear waste is trivial, I think empirical evidence is strongly on the side of it not being trivial. And as other have pointed out, assuming a long term reliance on nuclear power means a long term reliance on nuclear waste disposal, meaning you will be continually adding more waste, and needing to store it. I’m not sure where you think that you can not have an institution dedicated to this.

            If in 500 years we end up with 1000 Chernobyl sites because the “nigh impenetrable” casks were more on the side of “nigh” than “impenetrable”, that is a real cost. The idea that you think you can safely bury nuclear waste and not monitor it seems not just irresponsible but also politically naive.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Rob K
            Fair point, but the even then the question remains. What about the other 75%? Your own source states that the cost of “dispatchable” and “non-dispatchable” recourses are not directly comparable due to the need for back-up generation capacity which is not included in the non-dispatchable recourses’ cost calculations.

            So here’s the thing, we know from experience that building a 500 MW solar farm in the Southwest is likely to cost you somewhere around 2 billion a pop. Ivanapah, Solar Star I & II, Blythe Mesa, along with most of the nm NM & AZ projects have all been in this price/output range. We similarly know that 4.5 billion will buy us 2 A4W nuclear reactors rated at 500 MW each plus a bunch of incidentals we don’t really need, and the A4Ws will have a capacity rating of 90% vs the solar installation’s 25%.

          • Rob K says:

            @hlynkacg yeah, as I said, those costs are before we think about storage costs.

            If you have an informed critique of those EIA numbers I’m open to it, but the history is that they’ve tended to miss slightly high on solar costs (there isn’t really anything to benchmark them for nukes). A hand-waving citation to a CSP plant and 3 PV installs, compared to average construction costs for aircraft carriers built across 3 decades, isn’t persuading me that EIA is wrong.

            I’m not arguing that it would be smart or cost-effective to try to replace all our generation with solar over the next several years, but the cost trajectory of PV since ~2010 suggests to me that continuing to install PV for now and pushing research on energy storage technology is a perfectly sane and economically competitive approach to emissions reduction.

            I don’t, by the way, think nuclear would have been an insane approach; while construction costs on recent utility-owned reactors haven’t been encouraging, it’s possible we would see a learning curve and cost improvement with sustained investment. But the “nuclear is the only serious response to emissions issues” argument has been left behind by technological development at this point.

          • Callum G says:

            @DocKaon

            This is true. Storage of waste is definitely not a task with an easy solution. Yucca mountain is an interesting case study.

            Also:

            The timeline for nuclear is so long that there are definitely quicker solutions to get up and running.

            The decommissioning phase is expensive and in the past the bill has fallen to the tax payer to clean up.

            Uranium still needs to be mined, reducing energy independence and increasing the emissions.

            So that environmentalists want to steer clear of nuclear isn’t that much of a surprise and I don’t think it has a lot of credibility to use the preference to dismiss climate change.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Rob K

            I’ve made my critique. Is there anything specific in my reply you take issue with?

            Furthermore I strongly disagree with your assertion that there is “no baseline” for nuclear power cost. The obvious points of comparison are France and Japan’s civil programs and the US Navy.

            Basic engineering principals would tell us that when your “power plant” costs as much or more than an aircraft carrier, and the aircraft carrier is generating more electricity something has gone wrong.

            @ Callum G

            It’s the fact that environmentalists prefer to mine very large amounts of cadmium, coal, and other fossil fuels, in place of uranium that calls thier motives into doubt. Ditto, for Yucca mountain NIMBYism.

            Fukashima is effectively the worst case scenario for a modern nuclear disaster and if AGW is the catastrophic threat it is often portrayed as a hundred or so Fukashima scale disasters over the next 500 years is getting off light.

          • Aapje says:

            This is worrisome:

            With a federal promise to take highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear plants still unfulfilled, closed reactors are dipping into funds set aside for their eventual dismantling to build waste storage on-site, raising questions about whether there will be enough money when the time comes.

            It violates Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules for the plants to take money from their decommissioning trust funds to pay for building the concrete pads and rows of concrete and steel casks where waste is stored after it is cooled in special storage pools. But the NRC is granting exemptions from those rules every time it is asked.
            […]
            Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning fund already is short enough — it contains about half the estimated $1.24 billion cost of dismantling the reactor, removing the waste and restoring the site — that the plant plans to follow an NRC-allowed procedure called “SAFSTOR,” in which the closed reactor is mothballed for up to 60 years in hopes the fund will grow enough to cover the cost.

            Note that this mess came about because of the government refusing to honor their promised subsidies to nuclear waste storage. So the business model was already based on subsidies.

          • Rob K says:

            @hlynkacg

            US Navy reactors use highly enriched uranium, a technology not available on the civilian market.

            I got overly curious about this, so I crunched some numbers to see what I could come up with using various cost estimates, keeping everything but construction costs as modeled by EIA. As a reminder, EIA levelized cost of 2022 nuclear is $90/MWh, solar is $73/MWh.

            I swapped in the midpoint estimated capital cost for North America from the World Nuclear Association for the EIA’s estimate, which would drop the levelized cost of electricity to $80/MWh, holding all else equal. I also plugged in the cost of the Flamanville reactor in France, which would take the LCOE up to $115/MWh. Both of these are still over the EIA’s estimated solar costs.

            Taking a look at the solar side, I was able to find solid cost estimates for the Topaz plant, which was constructed from 2011-2014. Plugging those in for EIA’s numbers produces a levelized cost of $132/MWh for that plant, the most expensive figure. I couldn’t find cost figures for the other specific plants you cited, but did find an average figure for all utility-scale plants that came on line in 2015 (from here) which produces an estimate of $84/MWh LCOE for plants completed in that year.

            2015 solar has a levelized cost slightly higher than WNA-estimated nuclear, and, and lower than EIA-estimated nuclear. EIA’s assumption that 2022 solar will be cheaper than 2015 solar seems reasonable given the past decade of price trends.

            tl;dr solar is cost-competitive with favorable assumptions of nuclear costs as of today. It is likely to become cheaper in the future. Investigation of likely trends on storage costs, which would be the other piece of the puzzle if solar was going to account for a majority or sizable minority of total generation, will have to wait for me to have another chunk of free time to torch.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            HeelBearCub-

            We can run it backwards and see that, in fact, the storage of nuclear waste generated 50 years ago is not funded in perpetuity.

            That’s not really how time value of money works. You calculate it by assuming you actually set aside the money and let it appreciate, but what that exercise shows you is that it’s not rational to prefer, say, spending $1 today over spending $1 tomorrow, or spending $10 in a year over $1 today, or spending $150K today over spending a million dollars in fifty years.

            In societal terms, perhaps we don’t actually put $116K in a 4% trust fund that pays out $1M in fifty years to spend on waste management. If we’re smart, we spend it on things that seem, in fifty years, to have been money well-spent, even though we now have to come up with a million for another stint of waste management. (Perhaps it was spent on malaria nets so that Africa is a vital and dynamic contributor in a world economy to whom a million 2017-dollars is small change.)

            Medicaid might be something of a red herring. As Scott has so ably described, the problem is less that we didn’t invest properly than that the thing itself has become vastly more expensive than projected. It strikes me that nuclear waste sequestration isn’t especially likely to suffer from that kind of cost disease, but even if it does, I don’t see why it would hit the succession of 50-year solutions any harder than it would the hypothetical 10000-year turnkey solution.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            In 50 years, assuming that you calculated the inflation rate on nuclear wast containment correctly, your $116K will have appreciated to a value sufficient to pay for the next 50 years of containment. It will also have appreciated to a value sufficient to pay for many other things. Your opportunity cost in 50 years is still the value of all the other things you could pay for then. It’s not “nearly free” or “minuscule”. It is what it is.

            When I reach 65 and retire, I could use $2M to buy an annuity or buy a yacht, but not both. It doesn’t matter that I got the $2M by investing $100K in the past. Funding my annuity still has a cost of $2M.

          • Brad says:

            One implication of assuming a positive real return for 50 years is that the society that exists on the other end is much richer. If the difficulty of the task in question doesn’t also get harder and harder in real terms — which is only likely to happen if some kind of cost disease applies — then it is likely to be increasingly trivial for that society to undertake the fixed difficulty task.

            Consider if John Adams had agreed to deliver 10,000 tons of beef to Tripoli every year, by now it wouldn’t even be a rounding error for the US government.

          • gbdub says:

            then it is likely to be increasingly trivial for that society to undertake the fixed difficulty task

            This has always been my objection to “we need to spend billions to make sure this storage is impregnable for 10 millennia!”

            In 10 millennia, hell in a century, the likelihood is that we’ll either have a much cheaper/simpler/better solution to the nuclear waste (burn it in another reactor / lob it into space / let our autonomous hole-digging bots dig a better hole and line it with unobtanium nano-crystals). Or society will have collapsed, in which case who gives a damn anyway, a locally uninhabitable chunk of desert due to a radiation leak will be the least of our worries

          • Randy M says:

            Or society will have collapsed, in which case who gives a damn anyway

            The mutants. Won’t somebody pleeeeease think of the mutants!

          • Doctor Mist says:

            HeelBearCub,

            Your opportunity cost in 50 years is still the value of all the other things you could pay for then. It’s not “nearly free” or “minuscule”. It is what it is.

            Okay, but I don’t think I see your point. It’s still the case that a million-dollar 50-year solution in 50 years has the same effective cost as $116K today, and a million-dollar 50-year solution in 100 years has the same effective cost as $20K today.

            A solution that will handle the problem for 10,000 years without further thought, but that costs a hundred million today, is a bad choice, even if we knew what it looked like.

            A solution that will handle the problem for 10,000 years without further thought, and that costs only two million today, might well be preferable to my succession of 50-year solutions even though it is nominally more expensive, because it eliminates doubt about interest rates and self-discipline. I’d be interested in the design, but my analysis of the 50-year solution makes me feel like it’s not particularly urgent.

            I might have misled you by talking about malaria nets. Think of it like David Friedman’s parable of the cars and the wheat — you can build cars by building car factories, or by growing wheat and sending it to Japan. Malaria nets might not directly add a million dollars to the gross world product of 2068, but fifty years is a long time and we do seem to be getting richer even without them.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Rob K
            Naval reactors use enriched uranium because they need to be small and light enough to fit inside a ship or submarine’s hull. In any case this is a regulatory hurdle rather than an engineering problem or physical constraint.

            In any case you still haven’t addressed the big issue which is that a solar plant still needs 3.6 times the rated output of a nuclear plant (or equivalent in back-up generation) to meet the same level of service.

          • Aapje says:

            @hlynkacg

            That is not a useful discussion, since you should be calculating the price per usefully generated kW anyway.

            The real issue with solar is how to deal with the irregularity of production (during the day, during the year, etc) and mismatches of normal production periods (light hours) with usage patterns (also in the evening + night).

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s the problem, per the quoted report a solar plant should be expected to provide an estimated 25% of it’s maximum rated output over the course of it’s lifetime compared to 90% for nuclear.

            The point I’m trying to make to Rob K is that the ultimate price of a solar plant isn’t just the price of solar, it’s the price of solar plus whatever back-up systems you have in place to cover the shortfall.

          • Aapje says:

            You need to keep in mind that we need backup systems anyway, since demand varies. If we were to only have nuclear plants with constant production, we’d also be in trouble, since they can’t scale up and down with load.

            If we keep the share of solar below a certain threshold, it seems that existing backup systems work fine. AFAIK, Germany is the only country pushing up against that limit, so for other countries, any decision about whether to add some extra solar doesn’t require (significant) increases in backup plants.

            It is relevant for future scenario’s with large scale solar and wind power. Many proponents are optimistic about the development of new energy storage methods.

            My position is that we should seek to push solar to the maximum that is doable with existing backup systems and invest heavily into research for new energy storage methods. Given the large costs reductions of solar panels, I think that this is the economically most sensible choice as well. Then we can later decide what to do based on the knowledge/technology that we have then.

        • “this new evidence suggests that we’re all doomed unless everyone drops what they were doing and starts working on remaking the world in the ways I wanted all along”

          It’s not unusual for a group to propose solutions in line with their usual thinking. In fact, it’s almost tautologous. For some reasson, it’s only a problem when the left do it.

          • lupis42 says:

            It’s not only a problem when the left does it, although it mostly comes up in that context. But it’s no more convincing to opponents than the NRA saying “this school shooting would have been mitigated/prevented if teachers could carry sidearms.”

            Arguments that we need to dramatically change our way of life, or give up certain cherished beliefs are much more persuasive when they are being made by people who are giving up some of their own cherished beliefs than they are when most of the people making them seem to be making no comparable sacrifices/lifestyle changes.

        • start replacing coal plants with nuclear plants and I will absolutely sit up and take notice,

          Are you quite sure there are no objective argument against nuclear?

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are plenty of arguments against nuclear. None of them can hold up against an existential threat, as postulated by catastrophic AGW.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            If nuclear power can reduce carbon emissions, I would make at least a favorable reference to Three Mile Island in the House of Commons.

          • lupis42 says:

            There are lots of arguments against nuclear, but most of them are much weaker than the extreme arguments being made against coal and (to a lesser extent) oil and gas.
            There are also lots of arguments against solar, wind, and hydro. Problems can be solved. Most climate activists seem to the think the problems with nuclear are greater than the problems with coal. I’m prepared to believe them, but I would be prepared to reconsider if they reversed their position.

          • random832 says:

            Most climate activists seem to the think the problems with nuclear are greater than the problems with coal.

            I’m not convinced this is actually true – I think you are applying outgroup homogeneity bias and including the views of ‘traditional’ environmentalists, when it’s really not fair to extend the term “climate activists” to that group at all.

        • Rob K says:

          @hbc while what you’re saying about opportunity costs is true in some contexts, in this case you can’t decouple the storage costs of nuclear fuel from the benefits of the existence of a power plant.

          We could describe the decision to construct any power plant as a decision to spend money, in amounts and at times dictated by the type of power plant, in order to receive valuable electric power, also in amounts and at times dictated by the type of plant. Both the costs and the benefits of any kind of power plant will have a present value determined by when they are received and the discount rate applied.

          Consider, for instance, an imaginary power plant that is cheap to construct and operates without fuel for 40 years; it is substantially cheaper than all alternatives over that time frame. For 200 years after closure, however, it will kill anyone who enters it. This means that it needs to be well-guarded, which will cost money after the plant has stopped operating, but we can pre-fund the cost of this guarding program with a portion of the plant’s revenue during its operating window.

          Thinking of long term costs in the way you are would militate against making investments that will incur long term costs, but provide enough benefit in the shorter term to set aside escrow funds to cover those long term costs. (Now, said escrow funds need to actually be set aside, which is a separate conversation.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            First, 200 years is an extremely short window compared to the window we are talking about, which is 1000s of years.

            And I’m not decoupling the costs from the benefit. In fact, decoupling them is specifically what I am objecting to. I’m merely saying that any calculation of cost vs. benefit needs to take into account the fact that current nuclear power comes with extremely long term costs which can’t simply be hand-waved away.

            When you make nuclear power you are committing to 1000s of years of safe containment. That’s a cost that needs to be taken into account when stacked against the benefit.

            To quote the venerable Mr. Loaf, “So now I’m praying for the end of time. So I can end my time with you.”

          • Matt M says:

            But when you actually get around to doing the discounting, the difference in cost between say, a 100 year annuity and a “until the end of time” annuity typically ends up being very little. THe value of a benefit or the cost of a harm that occurs 1,000 years for now is a rounding error – it’s virtually zero.

          • John Schilling says:

            First, 200 years is an extremely short window compared to the window we are talking about, which is 1000s of years.

            Since you bring it up, why are we doing that?

            Yes, the stuff will still be radioactive. Weakly so, compared to fresh nuclear waste, but still dangerous with sufficient exposure. It was weakly but smewhat dangerously radioactive when we found it, as uranium ore, and mostly harmless because it was tightly bound and deeply buried. In much less than a thousand years, it will again be weakly radioactive, tightly bound, and deeply buried, with the added bonus of professional analysis to verify that this combination should provide adequate safety going forward.

            Meanwhile, when we make nice environmentally-friendly solar cells, we leave behind wastes with elemental poisons like arsenic that have half-lives of literally infinity, which do wind up buried but not nearly so deeply and with no talk about how we have to provide containment until the end of time.

            So the bit where nuclear power is being called upon to promise active containment for its waste for thousands or tens of thousands of years, strikes me as adversarial special pleading. Figure out how deep the stuff needs to be buried, bury it, and be done with it already. Whether it is radioactive or not, whether the source is a nuclear power plant or a solar cell factory.

      • John Schilling says:

        yet there isn’t a large movement of people dedicated to prove that black holes are an hoax and NASA is a money-harvesting scam.

        There also isn’t an organized movement demanding that the existence of black holes means the government has to adopt massive, controversial political and economic changes that just happen to coincide with what that movement was demanding before anyone had heard of black holes.

      • cassander says:

        yet there isn’t a large movement of people dedicated to prove that black holes are an hoax and NASA is a money-harvesting scam.

        That’s because no one is proposing to take your car away as part of a tens of trillions of dollars scheme to eliminate black holes from the universe as a threat to human existence.

        • no one is proposing to take your car away

          Citation needed.

          tens of trillions of dollars

          Ditto.

          • cassander says:

            Citation and citation

            And those are just the easiest examples to find. there are plenty more, all from AGW sympathetic sources. They are nothing if not ambitious with their cause and my money.

          • Yeah, i was guessing it was a hyperbolic reference to the slowly-phased in diesel ban.

            The second one is a doozy. There is $10T of fossil fuel in the ground–so we should burn it even if it kills us? Does someone actually have a COST-benefit analysis? (yes, lots).

            And just think of all that gold in seawater.

          • cassander says:

            Yeah, i was guessing it was a hyperbolic reference to the slowly-phased in diesel ban.

            it’s not the first time such a thing has been tried, only the most recent. Stating that people want to do what they flat out say they want to do is not a “hyperbolic reference.”

            There is $10T of fossil fuel in the ground–so we should burn it even if it kills us? Does someone actually have a COST-benefit analysis? (yes, lots).

            You seem to be ignoring the benefit side of that analysis. And it’s not just the cost of the oil. It’s replacing the trillions of dollars of oil infrastructure that make that oil worth something to begin with.

            As for the cost side, if burning it was directly poisonous, then we could do such an analysis. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) there is no such direct connection. Burning it increases the likelihood of a catastrophic event in some non-linear way that is extremely difficult to predict with any accuracy. So no, I’m not willing to gamble tens of trillions on prediction of people who have, so far, failed to actually predict what they said they could.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Stating that people want to do what they flat out say they want to do is not a “hyperbolic reference.”

            Referring to a future ban on sales as “taking your car away” certainly is.

          • cassander says:

            @Anonymous Bosch

            You’re focusing on the specifics of this particular instance, not the long trend of attempts to ban cars, and the ever increasing levels of emissions regulation. My evidence was intended as illustrative, not exhaustive.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            I downgraded how seriously I take you after seeing you reference a ban on selling certain types of cars as ‘proposing to take your car away.’

            This is not even close to being a reasonable statement.

          • Chalid says:

            tens of trillions of dollars

            Fossil fuels in the ground might arguably be *worth* tens of trillions of dollars (I don’t care to audit the number), but it also costs tens of trillions of dollars to extract them. And they have value beyond burning them, most importantly in the chemical industry.

          • cassander says:

            @Aapje

            I’ve referenced numerous other attempts to outright ban the use of cars in certain places. And I referenced only actual legislation, merely plans and calls to action. If you don’t think the environmental left would be on board with taking away people’s cars, I think you need to re-examine your priors.

            @Chalid

            If the cost of extraction was higher than the sale value, the deposits wouldn’t be worth anything. That they are worth something indicates that the extraction cost is considerably less than the sell value.

            The point, though, is that it’s not right wing loonies claiming the pro-AGW crowd wants trillions of dollars and that crowd denying it. They flat out admit that their ambitions will cost trillions. Hell, sometimes they even seem to think that that cost is a good thing. this does not make me inclined to trust them.

          • Chalid says:

            If the cost of extraction was higher than the sale value, the deposits wouldn’t be worth anything.

            that is precisely the point.

            Your link did not contain any methodology so I don’t trust it to have done anything more sophisticated than “number of barrels in the ground times current oil price” to come up with ten trillion.

            Much of the oil in the ground certainly is worthless, except for option value.

          • Iain says:

            @Cassander:

            They flat out admit that their ambitions will cost trillions. Hell, sometimes they even seem to think that that cost is a good thing. this does not make me inclined to trust them.

            That is not even close to a reasonable summary of that cartoon. If I said that a manned expedition to Mars would be a good thing, and listed a bunch of reasons that had nothing to do with money, would you conclude that I approve of manned space travel because of the cost?

            Given that you are currently defending yourself against accusations of misrepresentation, you might consider being a little less fast and loose with your claims.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            I’ve referenced numerous other attempts to outright ban the use of cars in certain places.

            That is still not taking away your property. Any and all attempts to phase out polluting cars so far have involved subsidies for replacing a car or banning cars that pollute more than X amount from certain areas (where pollution is already high and the impact on people’s health is substantial).

            Cars have relatively short lifetimes. If you ban the sale of a type of car/level of pollution now, you will have very few left after 15-20 years. You can speed that up a bit with cash for clunkers programs.

            I suggest that you just retract your hyperbolic statement rather than try to defend it. You’d come out a lot better if you’d claim it was an emotional outburst rather than claim to still stand behind it.

            If you don’t think the environmental left would be on board with taking away people’s cars, I think you need to re-examine your priors.

            Your paranoid beliefs, which are inconsistent with the evidence, is noted.

            People on the left are not just morons who love burning dollars/euros. Some actually can use a calculator & think long term and choose a path that has good results for relatively low negative societal impact, despite the insistence by people like you that listening to environmentalists would destroy human welfare.

            It’s especially amazing to me how so many critics of environmentalism seem to have no understanding of the concept of ‘time,’ despite many environmentalists explicitly making arguments for how they want to make long term change. Instead, their proposals get treated as if they want to implement their entire agenda in 1 day, which would do what the critics argue, cause major negative disruption, which is exactly why they are not advocating it.

            In real life, environmentalists did have quite a few successes and those didn’t destroy human welfare. Perhaps you should update your views to not be inconsistent with the evidence.

            That they are worth something indicates that the extraction cost is considerably less than the sell value.

            They merely have to be marginally profitable to sell, not considerably profitable. Your link pretends that if it costs $1000 to extract $1001 worth of oil, $1001 of value has been created.

          • Chalid says:

            OK, here’s my attempt at thinking about it.

            The market cap of the world fossil fuel sector is ~$5 trillion. As an estimate of foregone value, this ignores state-owned companies and private companies, but this error is compensated for by the value of the oil to the chemical industry, and also that these are not always pure-play fossil fuel companies (Chevron owns solar facilities, wind farms, along with non-energy assets like corporate real estate, cash on the books, etc). So let’s call $5 trillion a starting point for the NPV, which, fine, is not too far from $10 trillion.

            But the more important thing is that noone is actually talking about instantly eliminating fossil fuel use. Any sensible plan is going to be about gradual cuts, so short-term production of these companies is going to be mostly unaffected. Due to discounting, a very great deal of the value of a company comes from the next several years of expected earnings. Government action that, say, cut production by 3% a year from market expectations in perpetuity would definitely hurt stock prices but we’re talking about a ~20% effect and not an ~80% effect here. So I’d divide that $5 trillion by ~5 to get ~$1 trillion as a first estimate of costs.

            Obviously there’s room for a few factor-of-2 level errors but I don’t really see tens of trillions of dollars as plausible.

          • cassander says:

            @Chalid

            Again, the point wasn’t rigorous analysis of costs. the point was that even the pro-AGW people don’t dispute that their program will cost tens of trillions.

            @Apje

            That is still not taking away your property.

            No, it’s taking away use of your property, which amounts to the same thing.

            Cars have relatively short lifetimes.

            the average car in the US is 12 years old. Many are much older than that. that is not a short period of time.

            If you ban the sale of a type of car/level of pollution at time T, you will have very few left after 15-20 years. You can speed that up a bit with cash for clunkers programs.

            that does not mean that such action is costless.

            I suggest that you just retract your hyperbolic statement rather than try to defend it. You’d come out a lot better if you’d claim it was an emotional outburst rather than claim to still stand behind it.

            Again, there’s nothing hyperbolic about it. the pro-AGW side openly brags about wanting to do these things.

            Your paranoid beliefs, which are inconsistent with the evidence, is noted.

            I claimed environmentalists want to ban cars, and they’re banning cars. How is that inconsistent?

            People on the left are not just morons who love burning dollars/euros. Some actually can use a calculator & think long term and choose a path that has good results for relatively low negative societal impact, despite the insistence by people like you that listening to environmentalists would destroy human welfare.

            I didn’t say they were idiots. I do, however, thing that their calculations are seriously off. Please kill the straw manning.

            It’s especially amazing to me how so many critics of environmentalism seem to have no understanding of the concept of ‘time,’ despite many environmentalists explicitly making arguments for how they want to make long term change.

            Funny, what’s amazing to me is how many environmentalists seem to think that by placing their preferred policies at some point in the future, they magically become free lunches.

            In real life, environmentalists did have quite a few successes and those didn’t destroy human welfare. Perhaps you should update your views to not be inconsistent with the evidence.

            Please point out where I’ve criticized, e.g. banning CFCs. Then remember that you are asking for literally tens of trillions of dollars, and remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

            They merely have to be marginally profitable to sell, not considerably profitable. Your link pretends that if it costs $1000 to extract $1001 worth of oil, $1001 of value has been created.

            My link is an argument made on your behalf, not mine. I picked it as an act of maximum possible generosity to your point of view. Stop acting like it’s some insidious right wing plot.

          • cassander says:

            @chalid

            But the more important thing is that noone is actually talking about instantly eliminating fossil fuel use.

            Again, doing it over time doesn’t magically make this free.

            But the more important thing is that noone is actually talking about instantly eliminating fossil fuel use. Any sensible plan is going to be about gradual cuts, so short-term production of these companies is going to be mostly unaffected. Due to discounting, a very great deal of the value of a company comes from the next several years of expected earnings.

            Government action that, say, cut production by 3% a year from market expectations in perpetuity would definitely hurt stock prices but we’re talking about a ~20% effect and not an ~80% effect here. So I’d divide that $5 trillion by ~5 to get ~$1 trillion as a first estimate of costs.

            except 3% cuts aren’t what the AGW crows is proposing. What they want is massive and short term (i.e. <10 years) reductions in use, and tus in extraction.

            Obviously there’s room for a few factor-of-2 level errors but I don’t really see tens of trillions of dollars as plausible.

            Your estimate of the value of the fossil fuel industry is far too low. Saudi aramco alone is worth trillions. And we have to add in the value of coal extraction. The world produced something like 35 billion dollars of oil in 2016, which at 50 bucks a barrel was 1.8 trillion dollars. That’s just the price of raw crude, no refining, no transportation, and that’s 2% of global GDP. the costs of replacing everything that sustains that are massive, and well into the tens of trillions.

          • the average car in the US is 12 years old.

            And he proposal you were complaining about was phased in over nearly twice that.

            And we have to add in the value of coal extraction.

            #

            And you have to remember that phasing out fossil mean phasing in something else.

            Funny, what’s amazing to me is how many environmentalists seem to think that by placing their preferred policies at some point in the future, they magically become free lunches.

            And if you do remember that, you will see how the “free lunch” is not magical. Would you have argued against phasing out the horse in favour of motorised transport by noting the value of the horse market, and ignoring the potential value of the car market?

            The point, though, is that it’s not right wing loonies claiming the pro-AGW crowd wants trillions of dollars and that crowd denying it. They flat out admit that their ambitions will cost trillions

            Citation needed. Not a cartoon.

            Actually, the cartoon was posted before, by Friedman, if I recall and thoroughly debunked. The fact that there are multiple reasons for getting off fossil is not a bad thing, and it takes pretzel logic to make it look that way.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I think the concern on the right is that the left will alter the perception of cars, using its leverage in various places, until owning cars looks unreasonable, and taking them for the good of the car owner and nearby individuals looks virtuous. Which is me basically unpacking “they’ll move the Overton window”.

            “Noting paranoid beliefs” is doing the opposite of what you want if you want to defuse this concern, because it makes you look exactly like someone pushing on that Overton window.

            If you want to defuse, I would suggest sticking to exploring the claims of substance, and avoiding bald accusations of hyperbolism. And since the other side is now on alert, you’ll also now have to avoid even implied accusations.

          • You seem to be putting forward rules where I have a duty to be factual and the other guy doesn’t. I prefer universalisable rules.

            I have no idea why noting someone’s paranoia would increase their paranoia.

            Even a cursory glance at the legislation that. cassander is complaining about shows that it is only about replacing one type of car with another.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            cassander is under the same rule to be factual as you do. All you have to do is challenge the claims he made. You did do some of that; the problem is that you (and Aapje) didn’t stop there.

            I have no idea why noting someone’s paranoia would increase their paranoia.

            You should rethink this.

            Even a cursory glance at the legislation that. cassander is complaining about shows that it is only about replacing one type of car with another.

            Better.

            Addendum: I don’t see how David Friedman’s post of that cartoon could have been debunked, given that his argument was partly that the value of the solutions in that cartoon were under debate (true – they still are), and that they were then being used to refute the value of exploring alternate solutions to AGW (true – they still are).

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            That is still not taking away your property.

            No, it’s taking away use of your property, which amounts to the same thing.

            Lots of Europeans never drive their car into London or Berlin. Many bigger EU cities have park + ride anyway, which I have used in the past, because you’d be an idiot to drive into the city center of many of these cities & pay the huge parking costs & face the traffic, when you can park at the perimeter and take a bus into the city center.

            People can still drive their ‘banned’ cars in 99% of the country, in the places where a car actually makes sense (many people in those cities don’t own a car exactly because it makes little sense). So for 99.9% of people, it is a small loss of utility. Because the loss of utility is quite limited, the effect on second hand prices is limited, so the few affected people who need this specific use from their car can replace it without substantial loss.

            the average car in the US is 12 years old. Many are much older than that. that is not a short period of time.

            Your link was for EU plans, where the average age is 7.4 years. If/When similar plans are proposed in the US, you can ask for a longer transition period because the US market is different.

            But you can’t just mix and match these things, claiming that EU environmentalists are being irresponsible because their plans wouldn’t work in the US, when their proposal was not for the US in the first place.

            that does not mean that such action is costless.

            No one ever said it was, but the claim by many opponents is that environmental proposals are extremely damaging to the economy. If you merely argue that ‘the benefits you get are not free and also have costs’ then this is a really weak objection.

            I claimed environmentalists want to ban cars, and they’re banning cars. How is that inconsistent?

            I actually can read and cite things back to you: “That’s because no one is proposing to take your car away as part of a tens of trillions of dollars scheme to eliminate black holes from the universe as a threat to human existence.”

            ‘Taking away X’ has specific meaning, where you have property and then are forced to no longer have that property. None of the proposals have that effect.

            Also, no one is talking about banning cars, they clearly want to gradually replace one type of car by another type of car. Just like they banned the sale of polluting cars in the past. Perhaps no one told you, but most of the cars that were sold in the past cannot be sold new today. It’s just now that you seem to have woken up to how gradual tightening of environmental regulation works, after it has been practiced for ages.

          • carvenvisage says:

            re: paranoia

            TL:DR It is characteristic of malicious intentions to use insults to defame rather than argument to convince.

            For an example imagine you are a discoverer of global warming, and I am a fat cat businessman who you naively came to with your data. Am I more likely an honorable fat cat or a crook if I respond:

            “oh I see why you think that from that data, but here take a look at this data…”

            “oh my god!….”

            “I will have to think about this”

            “Get your paranoid ramblings out of here, no fraud like you is going to bring down Edgar Q. moneybags! You’re a BUM!”

            ?

            Likewise, on a lower level, if you’re putting forward evidence for global warming –despite worries that people are complacent and more interested in their narrow interests than the world’s future– and I told you it was paranoia to think something like that could happen, would that not be evidence of your ‘paranoid’ conspiracy theory that so many loyal god-fearing americans could be complacent with the future of the planet?

          • Aapje says:

            I’m getting rather pissed off that people are getting angry over my ‘paranoid’ statement, but completely ignore how that was in response to claims that are not even close to the truth.

            Sure, I made an subjective accusation, but the other person made objectively false statements and is moving goal posts constantly to avoid owning up to that.

            I guess this topic is so mind-killing that I have to take the mountain road (not just the high road) while the person you guys agree with can get away with murder.

          • Chalid says:

            Your estimate of the value of the fossil fuel industry is far too low.

            You don’t know what Saudi Aramco is worth and I don’t either, but estimates seem to be in the hundreds of billions to very low trillions.

            Also I’m not exactly going to weep if a policy reduces the value of Russian/Venezuelan/Saudi/etc oil.

            I just realized I forgot to write it out: Energy market cap came from estimating 6% of world market cap being in oil and gas and the total stock market being ~$70 trillion; 70*0.06 ~ 4.2, round up to 5 as a nice round number. For caveats see previous post.

            And we have to add in the value of coal extraction.

            The coal industry is pretty tiny compared to the oil industry in terms of its market value.

            Frankly I suspect that once you account for air pollution externalities (lung cancer etc) coal’s contribution to the world is negative.

            Again, doing it over time doesn’t magically make this free.

            Right, discounting is not magic, it’s finance 101.

            The world produced something like 35 billion dollars of oil in 2016, which at 50 bucks a barrel was 1.8 trillion dollars.

            This is precisely the kind of analysis that everyone keeps telling you is worthless for determining the economic value of oil in the ground. Exxon had total revenues of ~$250 billion and only made $8 billion last year, so, for Exxon, the cost of production is similar to the value of the oil; the discount factor is massive.

            What they want is massive and short term (i.e. <10 years) reductions in use

            3% a year compared to market expectations is really pretty drastic, I think, but I suppose there must exist crazy people who thinks we can cut 10% a year. You can always find a weakman. I think the vast majority of environmentalists would be happy with 3% a year cuts; it’s more aggressive than what the US agreed to in Kyoto for example, which was apparently 17% between 2005 and 2020 or a bit over 1%/year absolute.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @aapje I am very sorry for the impression I was mocking you, I was responding purely to this expression of incomprehension by another poster.

            I have no idea why noting someone’s paranoia would increase their paranoia.

          • Aapje says:

            @carvenvisage

            Sorry, I got a little ragey.

          • cassander is under the same rule to be factual as you do. All you have to do is challenge the claims he made.

            A claim that is completely non-factual can only be challenged by pointing out that it is completely non-factual. You can fight facts with other facts, you cannot fight thin air with facts. Having a duty to be factual is pointless unless it is enforceable, and enforcing it requires the ability to point out lapses.

            I’m getting rather pissed off that people are getting angry over my ‘paranoid’ statement, but completely ignore how that was in response to claims that are not even close to the truth.

            Yep.

            Addendum: I don’t see how David Friedman’s post of that cartoon could have been debunked, given that his argument was partly that the value of the solutions in that cartoon were under debate (true – they still are), and that they were then being used to refute the value of exploring alternate solutions to AGW (true – they still are).

            Partly. IIRC, he started with the the ususal “this cartoon proves that the left, unqiuely and despicably, want left wing solutions”
            and then fell back to “we don;t have 100% proof that all thses things are desirable”.The first claim was thoroughly debunked, the second is pointless without detail.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            A claim that is completely non-factual can only be challenged by pointing out that it is completely non-factual.

            As opposed to pointing it out as non-factual and also deciding to get a few insults in, which you seem intent on doing, and is the exact opposite of an effective challenge.

            It’s especially grating when you (and Aapje) do this thing where the other guy points out that X implies Y and you respond that X is not technically Y, talk past the claim that X -> Y, and then declare the other guy paranoid or hyperbolic for the absence of a claim you ignored.

            And then declared your own opinion as if it were fact, and then tsk-tsked the other side for not rising to your vaunted heights.

            Normally I’d be much more patient and forgiving about people who do this, but you’re coming off especially deluded about it in this thread.

            unqiuely and despicably

            I’m extremely certain, after years of reading Friedman’s writings, that this is not what he said. If I’m correct, then whatever was debunked was largely only in the minds of the debunkers.

            fell back to “we don;t have 100% proof that all thses things are desirable

            That’s not a fallback. That’s a proper qualification of the merits of these solutions. Furthermore, you missed the point of his claim, if it’s the same claim he made in his blog post. It has almost nothing to do with whether those solutions are good; rather, it has to do with the motive of people in choosing those particular solutions to address global warming, as opposed to other potential solutions. This isn’t pointless; rather, it is the central point he was making (in the blog post at least).

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            It’s especially grating when you (and Aapje) do this thing where the other guy points out that X implies Y and you respond that X is not technically Y, talk past the claim that X -> Y

            I have given specific argumentation why X does not in fact lead to Y nor is equal to Y, while the hyperbolic statements insinuate costs that are orders of a magnitude above the costs that people will realistically suffer.

            That you classify this serious engagement as ‘talking past’ something just reaffirms the level of mind-killing/unbridgeable inferential distance.

            Cassander repeatedly engaged in narrative-driven, emotionally triggering phrasing which in effect produces false beliefs among those who take it at face value and don’t realize that reality is far less extreme than the hyperbolic statements. The statements that Cassander made are at most true for some outliers and even then are severely mitigated by the limited scope (as the outliers can trade with the non-outliers, something that libertarians ought to realize & see as a benefit, but apparently can’t because pro-environmentalism seems to be automatically classified as strictly anti-libertarian).

            If the effort I put in just leads to this kind of response, I should perhaps just let these statements stand or just react with low effort snark & accept that this topic is too mind-killed in this space to have a real conversation about, just like I did for another topic. However, such disengagement just leads to a destruction of rationality. I’d prefer to resist such further tribalism, but I’m also not a masochist.

            And then declared your own opinion as if it were fact, and then tsk-tsked the other side for not rising to your vaunted heights.

            I apologize for insisting that words are used in a way consistent with their commonly accepted meaning, rather than a ‘functionally equivalent’ way that is only accepted by one side of the debate and which frames the debate in a destructive way.

            Please proceed to laugh at the silly environmentalist who wants to break down your (garage) door and take your car, leaving you to walk 100 miles in the snow to work, uphill both ways!

          • cassander says:

            @APje

            Cassander repeatedly engaged in narrative-driven, emotionally triggering phrasing which in effect produces false beliefs among those who take it at face value and don’t realize that reality is far less extreme than the hyperbolic statements. The statements that Cassander made are at most true for some outliers and even then are severely mitigated by the limited scope (as the outliers can trade with the non-outliers, something that libertarians ought to realize & see as a benefit, but apparently can’t because pro-environmentalism seems to be automatically classified as strictly anti-libertarian).

            First, you are reading an awful lot into a single sentence here Apje.

            Second, the claims I am sourcing are not outliers. the pro-AGW crowd (FWIW I dislike this label, but I lack a better one) is not a group prone to dissembling. they talk openly about making dramatic changes in the way that society operates. They are actively passing legislation moving towards these goals. They don’t hide this, they have an expansive vision, and they consider this a good thing. trying to say “no, really they just want minor changes” is not going to fly when “An apollo program for clean energy” is not an uncommon or unpopular phrase among them.

            If the effort I put in just leads to this kind of response, I should perhaps just let these statements stand or just react with low effort snark & accept that this topic is too mind-killed in this space to have a real conversation about, just like I did for another topic.

            I’d love to have such a conversation, but it can’t start with you saying “those things people on my side are saying aren’t real.” At best, it has to be “lots of people on my side think X, this is stupid, Y is actually a reasonable point though.” And no, that is no a double standard. I will happily call out the idiocy of the people who, e.g. flat out deny that the world is getting warmer. Reasonable debate can be had as to how much warmer, but the actual deniers (not the people labeled as such) are flat out wrong.

            Please proceed to laugh at the silly environmentalist who wants to break down your (garage) door and take your car, leaving you to walk 100 miles in the snow to work, uphill both ways!

            You are reading an awful lot into a single sentence. Might I humbly suggest that you’re the one being emotional about this topic, not me?

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            the pro-AGW crowd (FWIW I dislike this label, but I lack a better one) is not a group prone to dissembling. they talk openly about making dramatic changes in the way that society operates. They are actively passing legislation moving towards these goals. They don’t hide this, they have an expansive vision, and they consider this a good thing.

            All this is true, yet it still doesn’t make your claims correct.

            One can desire major changes, while counting heavily on normal replacement patterns of durable goods to do much of the heavy lifting. Looking at history, it is trivial to point at immense changes that didn’t have large negative impacts on incomes/well-being: replacing horses by cars, computers, the smartphone, etc.

            The legislation that has already passed has certain characteristics. Your claims did not accurately reflect those characteristics, but are IMO, highly deceptive.

            I am not claiming that you did this intentionally, but I am disappointed that you seem unable to engage with my actual argument. You never address the meat of my objections. Instead I get accused of not providing the meat, which is upsetting, because I put in effort and I feel that the response is a violation of the social norms that are generally upheld for other topics.

            Anyway, I see little productive result from engaging in further discussion, so perhaps we should let this go.

          • cassander says:

            All this is true, yet it still doesn’t make your claims correct.

            One can desire major changes, while counting heavily on normal replacement patterns of durable goods to do much of the heavy lifting. Looking at history, it is trivial to point at immense changes that didn’t have large negative impacts on incomes/well-being: replacing horses by cars, computers, the smartphone, etc.

            One could, but that is something the environmental left largely rejects.

            The legislation that has already passed has certain characteristics. Your claims did not accurately reflect those characteristics, but are IMO, highly deceptive.

            I am not claiming that you did this intentionally,

            You could have fooled me, but if I misread you I apologize.

            but I am disappointed that you seem unable to engage with my actual argument.

            What argument do you think you’ve made? What I got from you is “environmentalists don’t literally want to break down your garage door, take your car, and crush it in front of your eyes tomorrow, therefore your point is entirely without merit.” Now, this is a long thread with multiple participants so perhaps i missed something more substantive, but that’s not an argument, it’s pedantic point scoring.

          • we don;t have 100% proof that all thses things are desirable

            @Paul
            That’s not a fallback. That’s a proper qualification of the merits of these solutions.

            We don’t have 100% proof of anything, so , wjhile it’s a proper thing to point out,, it’s aslo pointless.

            It has almost nothing to do with whether those solutions are good; rather, it has to do with the motive of people in choosing those particular solutions to address global warming,

            It *should* be about whether those thigns are good, and it should not be about motives. Ad hominem and all that.

            PS I think your attempts at refereeing are failing quite badly because of a lack of even-handedness.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            What argument do you think you’ve made? What I got from you is “environmentalists don’t literally want to break down your garage door, take your car, and crush it in front of your eyes tomorrow, therefore your point is entirely without merit.”

            In my eyes, “proposing to take your car away” is a claim that strongly suggests that:
            1. All car owners will be forced to give up the petrol/diesel car they own and/or
            2. All people lose the ability to use individual car-shaped transport to get from A to B

            You invited these interpretations by the sloppy and hyperbolic way you expressed yourself and your refusal/inability to produce a ‘lawyered up’ statement when challenged. Because you didn’t make very specific claims, but simply threw out a lot of links, this also made it harder for me to address you effectively. I feel that I am being blamed for this.

            Anyway, I addressed (1) by arguing that the main mechanism is at the point of sale, not at the point of ownership. Banning the sale of non-electric cars does not force people to get rid of their car before they would normally replace it. Cash for clunker programs merely incentivize early replacement. Of course the subsidy comes from taxes, so you can argue that it burdens certain taxpayers and is financial coercion, but in practice the subsidies usually are granted for fairly old cars, at a point where most of the ‘clunker’ cars have already been replaced (otherwise the program would be too costly). So you can’t just claim that the coercive effects are substantial. Also, the remaining clunkers are disproportionately owned by poorer people. So you can see it as a subsidy to the poor and a disproportionate burden on environmentalists, as those are far more likely to replace their more polluting car before the subsidy is enacted. Since you seem to dislike environmentalists, I presume that you are quite willing to have a disproportionate burden on your outgroup. You probably consider a subsidy that disproportionately goes to poor people to be wrong, but the issue of wealth redistribution is orthogonal to the issue of an overall increase in the burden on citizens. As your claim was about the latter, I consider the wealth redistribution effects to not be in support of your claims.

            The secondary mechanism of banning certain cars from certain cities hasn’t applied to all petrol/diesel cars in the past and doesn’t apply to all petrol/diesel cars for the proposal you linked (which is more extreme than actually implemented programs in the past and I consider it very likely that the proposal will be watered down if it is actually made into law/policy). AFAIK, the number of miles driven in the cities in question is just a small fraction of the total number of miles driven in the countries in question, which means that the loss in utility is small. Of course one can argue that the ability to drive in cities is important utility of owning a car even if this is done infrequently. I anticipated this logical objection (that you didn’t make, but I tried to steelman your argument) by arguing that the utility of taking your car into the center of these cities is low and that (even in cities without a ban) very attractive alternatives have been set up, in the form of Park + Ride. So based on this I reject the claim that banning certain petrol/diesel cars from certain cities can be equated to a major loss of utility that forces more than a very small number of people to give up their cars. In my opinion your rhetoric is thus more wrong than right, since as you didn’t specify that “proposing to take your car away” through a major loss of utility is at most true for a rather small group with specific circumstances, I think that most people will read your statement as applying to all car owners.

            As for (2), in my eyes a Tesla looks sufficiently functionally similar to a petrol/diesel car to claim that people will retain the ability to own individual car-shaped transport to get from A to B.

            None of this means that I am arguing that your point is entirely without merit, which I never argued. What I did try to argue is that your strong statements are completely disproportional to the actual effects. If you had chosen to walk back your statements in favor of a motte position, I would have responded with approval. My policy is not to show approval for statements that are too hyperbolic and that I consider more deceptive than truthful. This may be ineffective to engage you in a productive way because of how you like to engage in debates. I realize that my preference for certain debate norms/style is subjective and not always effective, but my opinion in this case is that your use of hyperbolic statements is destructive to the ability to have a reasonable debate, where it is clear what is actually claimed.

            This is my general objection to hyperbole, snark and other debate techniques which IMO are often emotionally effective, but convey much less information than less emotionally effective, but more ‘lawyered up’ statements. This puts a burden on the other person to try to figure out what the claim actually is or alternatively, to make a best guess which can then result in an accusation of straw manning. Personally, I feel that people have a burden to try to be so clear that it is much harder to be intentionally or unintentionally strawmanned. My desire is to have debates on SSC be more information dense and emotionally sparse.

          • they talk openly about making dramatic changes in the way that society operates.

            They talk about making improvements. You need to say why cleaner air in cities, energy security for the future, etc, are bad things.

            One could, but that is something the environmental left largely rejects.

            Ciation needed.

            “environmentalists don’t literally want to break down your garage door, take your car, and crush it in front of your eyes tomorrow, therefore your point is entirely without merit.

            Your motte point is unsupported, so far. You haven’t show why gradual -this and phased-in-that aren”t worth doing.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            We don’t have 100% proof of anything, so , wjhile it’s a proper thing to point out,, it’s aslo pointless.

            This claim is itself lacking any point I can see. Like, where do I go? “You don’t have 100% proof that it’s pointless”?

            It *should* be about whether those thigns are good, and it should not be about motives. Ad hominem and all that.

            When the goodness of those things is under debate, and there’s very little information to go on, one of the factors ends up being the motives of the people proposing those things. This isn’t an ad hominem, although it could easily be used as part of one. It’s an observation that affects the probability of whether those things are actually good, given what we know.

            PS I think your attempts at refereeing are failing quite badly because of a lack of even-handedness.

            I think your priors are getting in the way of your attempts to assess my posts. I’m not claiming to be the authoritative referee here, so maybe that’s the issue. I’m pointing out something one side is doing that I think is wrong. If you like, I’ll make it explicit that I’m not claiming that I’m being comprehensive here.

          • When the goodness of those things is under debate,

            There is a broad consensus in favour of cleaner air in cities, energy security and so on, which is precisely why politicians are able to move on those things. It is not a 50:50 debate, It’s consensus apart from a few demurrers.

            GW itself is more of a fraught debate…but that is a different debate.

            I’m pointing out something one side is doing that I think is wrong.

            That was what I was doing, but apparently I’m not allowed to..

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            There is a broad consensus in favour of cleaner air in cities, energy security and so on, which is precisely why politicians are able to move on those things. It is not a 50:50 debate, It’s consensus apart from a few demurrers.

            There is broad consensus in favor of cleaner air in cities if the offered alternative is dirtier air in cities. There is unknown, but significantly smaller, consensus if the offered alternative is whatever else people could have if they didn’t spend that money on cleaning the air, because people tend not to be surveyed about that. The “few demurrers” could easily be people who suspect they’re being offered a false choice. They likely believe that if air that is cleaner by some unspecified amount comes at the expense of poorer education or being able to afford to live only in poorer quality homes, then they’re worse off than if they’d declined to have “cleaner air”.

            So it goes for the solutions in that cartoon. They’re all tradeoffs; a lot of people had gone over those tradeoffs before. Their advocates, however, behave in a manner consistent with unawareness of the tradeoffs.

            [pointing out something one side is doing that I think is wrong] was what I was doing, but apparently I’m not allowed to…

            No one claimed you weren’t. Although in this case, I’m claiming that I’m not doing the thing you claim I’m doing. And I’m getting the impression from this and the last few posts that you’re being deliberately facetious. There’s no reason for you to drag an otherwise good faith discussion back like that.

          • he “few demurrers” could easily be people who suspect they’re being offered a false choice. They likely believe that if air that is cleaner by some unspecified amount comes at the expense of poorer education or being able to afford to live only in poorer quality homes, then they’re worse off than if they’d declined to have “cleaner air”.

            That just boils down to some people losing an argument in exactly the way that people lose arguments in a representative democracy, There’s nothing unfair o unusual about it.

        • You seem to be ignoring the benefit side of that analysis. And it’s not just the cost of the oil. It’s replacing the trillions of dollars of oil infrastructure that make that oil worth something to begin with.”

          You are tacitly assuming that the one and only climate change proposoal anyone has is complete ban on fossil starting tomorrow. That’s not going to happen. With a relaistic stepping down of fossil consumption, infrastructure can go through natural wastage.

          Meta question: why do you argue this way, on a forum full of pedantic nerds? What did you think was going to happen?

          • cassander says:

            >. That’s not going to happen. With a realistic stepping down of fossil consumption, infrastructure can go through natural wastage.

            If natural wastage was enough, you wouldn’t need to massively subsidize the alternatives to make it happen. Those subsidies cost money, specifically, they will cost the amount of the difference between the cost of the two systems. that cost is trillions, and spreading it out reduces the cost only marginally. That the pro-AGW side is calling for those subsidies, and admits that they will cost trillions, puts the lie to this argument.

            Meta question: why do you argue this way, on a forum full of pedantic nerds? What did you think was going to happen?

            To be honest, I was surprised by the low quality of pro-AGWposting in this open thread and their inability critically examine their own positions.

          • Aapje says:

            Fossil is already subsidized. Your argument only works if this is not the case.

          • cassander says:

            @Aapje

            the vast majority of “subsidies” trotted out for fossil fuel companies are simply normal tax rules that apply to them, like a depletion allowance. Fossil fuels are certainly less subsidized than other forms of energy, particularly if you look at subsidy per megawatt. That said, I’m all for ending any actual subsidies for fossil fuels. What I don’t want to do is to end them then use the money subsidizing something else.

          • Admits that they will cost trillions

            Citation needed.

            Of course there have been many studies of the subject by competent economists. Some of them have come out against AGW measure on the whole. None of them support the most apocalyptic anti-AGW claims — global economic meltdown and so on.

            What I don’t want to do is to end them then use the money subsidizing something else.

            Because when the oil runs out, we don’t need anythign else in place to replace it?

          • cassander says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z s

            Citation needed.

            There’s a whole thread dedicated to such citations above, and that doesn’t even get into the trillion in taxes they want to impose.

            None of them support the most apocalyptic anti-AGW claims — global economic meltdown and so on.

            I didn’t make any such claims. We can spend trillions on climate mitigation, sure. we can also spend trillions digging a giant fricking hole, then filling it again. That doesn’t make either a good idea.

            Because when the oil runs out, we don’t need anythign else in place to replace it?

            Oil doesn’t just run out some day. As oil gets scarcer, it gets harder to find, the price will rise, and the market will organically begin to replace it. But even there, the effect isn’t linear. 5 years ago the price of oil was 100 bucks a barrel, today it’s 50. Why? because at 100 bucks, it was worth spending the money to figure out how to squeeze oil from rocks, and we did, and it turns out that once you’ve figured it out, that costs about 50 bucks a barrel to pull off profitably. There is no peak oil, in the classic sense.

          • random832 says:

            @Cassander

            How exactly does the depletion allowance work? If the total amount of the allowance over time exceeds their cost basis in the property, and the amount by which the property value rises is not taxed, then it is absolutely a subsidy, and that’s true of any kind of property for which this ‘normal tax rule’ applies. At the very least, if they ever sell the property, all of the depletion allowance they have ever claimed on it should be considered a capital gain.

            Consider this: I buy a piece of land for $1000000. Oil is discovered on it, and now the value is $6000000 (this is a capital gain that will not be realized until I sell the land). Over the next eleven years, I pump all the oil out of it, taking $5000000 in depletion allowance (reducing my taxes on my other income), and at the end the land is back to being worth only $1000000 and I sell it, paying no capital gains tax because the sale price does not exceed the cost basis.

          • Oil doesn’t just run out some day. As oil gets scarcer, it gets harder to find, the price will rise, and the market will organically begin to replace it.

            That’s an argument that subsidy ins’t strictly necessary. not that it’s bad.

            the trillion in taxes they want to impose.

            Citation needed.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s an argument that subsidy ins’t strictly necessary. not that it’s bad.

            To the extent that a subsidy prevents the market from sending accurate price signals, that seems pretty bad to me.

            I used to have arguments about “peak oil” with my left-leaning friends all the time. They seemed to think that the reason to fear peak oil (even though they believed solar and wind and biodiesel were clearly superior forms of energy generation) was that we would go from $2 gasoline to “the world is entirely out of oil and it’s now Mad Max” basically overnight.

            But clearly in a functioning market economy, this would not happen. The price of oil would adjust to reflect its relative scarcity and efficiency compared to other forms of energy on a daily basis. We wouldn’t go from “cheap and plentiful” to “expensive and super-rare” overnight, it would be a very slow process, and much like diamonds, it would never really “run out” – it would just get really expensive such that it would no longer be suited to certain tasks (much as how diamonds aren’t well suited for many tasks).

            BUT, if the government has a stated policy of ensuring that oil is “always affordable” then it will give false signals of the relative scarcity of oil. It’s sort of the same effect as laws that prohibit “price gouging” during natural disasters, only on a national/global scale. The anti price-gouging law ensures that you still get your $2 gas at the gas station… right up until the point when the station is entirely out of gas and there is no gas to be found at all, (or, to the extent that you can find some on the black market, it’s probably MUCH more than $2).

            Prices contain VERY valuable information, information that is absolutely vital to the proper functioning of a market economy. Anything that obfuscates this information is potentially very harmful.

          • cassander says:

            @random832

            How exactly does the depletion allowance work? If the total amount of the allowance over time exceeds their cost basis in the property, and the amount by which the property value rises is not taxed, then it is absolutely a subsidy, and that’s true of any kind of property for which this ‘normal tax rule’ applies. At the very least, if they ever sell the property, all of the depletion allowance they have ever claimed on it should be considered a capital gain.

            As I understand it, the ideas is to treat land as a capital good. If you buy a machine and use it to make stuff, it wears out. You’re allowed to consider the decline in the quality of your asset (the machine) as a business expense. A depletion allowance works the same way, but for land instead of traditional capital.

            Now, this might be bad tax policy, or it might not. But what it isn’t is a subsidy to oil companies the way the government paying you 5 grand to buy a tesla is a subsidy to electric cars. It’s a general tax principle that happens to apply to oil companies.

            >Citation needed.

            no, it isn’t. I’ve given several. I will indulge you one last time, please stop it, you know that this is what is demanded.

            http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-carbon-tax-4-trillion-save-humanity-global-warming-economists-nicholas-stern-joseph-a7763376.html

            http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/190167-cbo-carbon-tax-chops-1-trillion-from-deficit

            http://www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/Perspectives_for_the_Energy_Transition_2017.pdf

          • hlynkacg says:

            no, it isn’t. I’ve given several.

            He has a habit of doing that.

          • But clearly in a functioning market economy, this would not happen. The price of oil would adjust to reflect its relative scarcity

            But if you lower taxes by the same amount, you can protect consumers form the shock.

            To the extent that a subsidy prevents the market from sending accurate price signals, that seems pretty bad to me.

            if people’s actual objection to environmentalism is purely that
            is not libertarianism , they should say so: it would save a lot of time.

          • no, it isn’t. I’ve given several. I will indulge you one last time, please stop it, you know that this is what is demanded.

            Those were a lot better than your previous sources: looks like it’s paying off

            He has a habit of doing that.

            .

            Maybe I have a reason, too. Mainstream sources do quote high costs to AGW measures, but in relation to high costs for doing nothing.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I’m referring to your habit claiming that your opponent has not provided any citations/examples when a cursory inspection of the thread will show that they have.

          • Do you believe that all citations are equal?

            Cartoon = blogpost = newspaper article=peer reviewed paper?

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @TheAncientGeek:

            If that’s your true objection, you should probably say “that citation isn’t good enough for me” and explain why, ideally with your own citations, rather than claiming cassander hasn’t provided citations.

            Going with the catchy one line of refutation is probably easier, but is demonstrably false and doesn’t do good things to the quality of discussion.

          • Quoting myself:

            Citation needed. Not a cartoon

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @TheAncientGeek:

            Cassander provided an article supporting his point (on the large cost of dealing with global warming) the first time someone questioned it.

            The cartoon posted upthread was not used as evidence of the costs, but as evidence that the left thinks the costs and benefits of dealing with global warming are worth it even in the absence of global warming. It doesn’t support the point very well, since it lists the benefits but not the costs. Someone could maybe make an argument that this means the left isn’t thinking about the costs, but I agree that it’s not a very convincing backup, especially in the form of a political cartoon.

            But very few of cassander’s sources (just the one, that I can see) are cartoons. The one you repeatedly quote and say “citation needed” to, the cost of compliance, is one he’s provided several sources for, none of which appear to be cartoons.

            Other people have come up with good critiques of his first source: it doesn’t seem like anyone’s tackled his later ones. It would probably improve the quality of the discussion if you made your own critiques or referenced the existing ones rather than pretending that he hasn’t given sources for his claims.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Perhaps a good starting point would be providing your own sourced estimate of the costs of dealing with global warming? It certainly seems like the kind of thing that would lead to an interesting discussion.

            If it was missing something or under/over priced, I’m sure someone would point out the error, and we could slowly converge on the actual costs.

          • Cassander provided an article supporting his point (on the large cost of dealing with global warming) the first time someone questioned it.

            The article was pretty much nonsense, and from a motivated source. Citations need to actually prove a point.

            Perhaps a good starting point would be providing your own sourced estimate of the costs of dealing with global warming?

            It’s not some arcane topic. see, eg:

            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jan/04/consensus-of-economists-cut-carbon-pollution

            ..it’s just that it is very difficult for one side of the debate to make their point using ordinary, mainstream sources. But there is no law of the universe saying the facts have to support everybody equally.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “The view that AGW is a replacement religion for those who can’t go without has its merits, in my opinion, what with what looks an awful lot like Original Sin, Fall, Redemption and heretical outgroups.”

      See http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/25/is-everything-a-religion/

      • OptimalSolver says:

        Yes, I’m aware that “my political opponents are irrationally trying to substitute their former religion” is a regular accusation, but it seems to me to apply to some things more aptly than others. I’m saying this as an atheist, BTW.

        The fact that the population most strident about AGW are descended from the population that formalized the concept of Original Sin, and are renowned in psychology for being a guilt-based culture rather than a shame-based one, well it raises all manner of red flags for me.

        • 1soru1 says:

          What is your proposed mechanism by which the language used, and emotions felt, by people looking at evidence of climate change causes the atmospheric temperature to change in the ways their models predict?

          Is it some quantum woo thing? Seems pretty powerful, if it can melt glaciers. If it is a religion, then it seems likely to be a true one: it has working miracles.

          Alternatively, you could take the position that the fact the US military was at one time worshiped by cargo cults as not being particularly strong evidence that the US military does not exist.

          • OptimalSolver says:

            Well a study published last year in Nature found no difference in rainfall patterns between the 20th Century and the pre-industrtial era:

            http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/climate/climate-model-predictions-on-rain-and-drought-wrong-says-study/news-story/2facdf4b28e1df599974e9c1bda0f18f

            That certainly wasn’t in the predictive models, so perhaps they aren’t as miraculous as you believe.

            As an aside, despite this study being published in the most prestigious science journal on the planet, it received barely any coverage. An oversight, I’m sure.

          • strange9 says:

            @OptimalSolver So first of all, because the link you provided is behind a paywall, I’ll go ahead and assume you’re talking about the 2016 paper from Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist (and others).
            With all due respect, it does seem to be a bit disingenuous to present a paper that itself talks about a lack of “hydroclimate response to higher temperatures” as an argument against anthropogenic global warming. The paper itself is predicated on the idea that the climate is, in fact, getting much warmer. In fact, in another 2010 paper,
            (http://agbjarn.blog.is/users/fa/agbjarn/files/ljungquist-temp-reconstruction-2000-years.pdf), the same author does a novel temperature reconstruction over the past two millennia, and it agrees well with other models. Furthermore, as the author states, ” Since AD 1990, though, average
            temperatures in the extra-tropical Northern
            Hemisphere exceed those of any other warm decades
            the last two millennia, even the peak of the
            Medieval Warm Period, if we look at the instrumental
            temperature data spliced to the proxy reconstruction”.

            Finally, the paper itself is presented as a refinement of hydroclimate models, not as a particularly revolutionary shift in the field. As a result, I wouldn’t naively expect it to get any more (popular media) coverage than it did. Most papers don’t even get the recognition of being in nature (which is, as pointed out, quite prestigious).

          • anomdebus says:

            @strange9 If you go to the link via a Google search, you can read the article.

        • beleester says:

          The fact that the population most strident about AGW are descended from the population that formalized the concept of Original Sin

          America is 70% Christian. It would be more surprising if the American environmentalist movement wasn’t mainly descended from Christians. I don’t see how this proves anything.

          I would bet that coal miners are also “descended from the population that formalized the concept of Original Sin.”

      • Autistic Cat says:

        LOL it seems that mathematics is also a religion. It has its priests (mathematicians), virtues (using inductive reasoning and writing good proofs), sins (writing non-rigid proofs or wrong proofs), heroes (famous mathematicians such as Paul Erdos, Alexander Grothendieck and Terrence Tao) and rituals (taking math courses, reading math books and papers, writing math papers, giving research talks, publishing). If you perform the rituals and have the virtues you are probably going to get tenure and become math professors, the High Priests of mathematics.

        When I was a TA for a beginning formal math course it seems like I was an Apprentice Priest of Mathematics preaching and introducing new recruits into our ranks. Many Apprentice Priests desire to become High Priests. It’s hard but I’m still working towards that goal by performing rituals.

        • carvenvisage says:

          One might reason their way to deism, but not to Ganesh, Jehovah, or the FSM. Mathematics is a religion which can be deduced from first principles.

          One can even teach it by means of reason rather than revelation, even if that is not the generally preferred method.

          • Nick says:

            Mathematics is a religion which can be deduced from first principles.

            If a ‘religion’ is defined to be a system of ideas that contains unprovable statements, then Gödel taught us that mathematics is not only a religion, it is the only religion that can prove itself to be one.

            😀

    • ManyCookies says:

      I mean, if climate change is really happening, it seems to me that it would be because that’s just what the Earth does. Radical changes in climate had been happening for eons before the appearance of the first hominids, so why the absolute conviction that humans are to blame for this one?

      My layman understanding is that the absolute change is not unusual/problematic so much as the speed of the transition; 100 years is very quick as far as significant geological/environmental events go.

      Take sea level. If the earth at the start of the 20th century just happened to have a two meter higher sea level, all else being equal, our coastal cities would just be a few miles more inland. If the sea level rose two meters over a thousand years, we’d gradually shift new construction projects inland as old buildings naturally depreciated. But if the sea level rose 2 meters over the course of 100 years, that’s a lot of coastal real estate around the world that a. will still be in use b. is gonna get flooded.

      Similar idea for wildlife. The coral in our alternate universe would probably just have their temperature stress baseline a bit higher than in ours. If the water temperature gets hotter over a couple thousand years, that’s probably enough time for evolution to do its thing and favor coral with a slightly higher temperature stress baseline. If the water temperature gets hotter in 100 years… yeah those coral are likely screwed.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Most people that believe in evolution (or any complex enough science) believe in it in a religious way too, and couldn’t tell you the first thing about whether they believed in the mechanism of say, punctuated equilibrium vs. phyletic gradualism. That’s just how the average person that doesn’t work on science for a living is gonna use it, as a signifier of “I am one of the smart ones rejecting the anti-scientific types/my parents growing up/I teacher I didn’t like (etc.)” Spend 5 minutes smoking cannabis with college kids and you will see how many people believe in quantum mechanics for extremely tenuous and mystical reasons…

      But none of the politics or misguided understanding of the hoi polloi changes a single thing about the actual science being done by the scientists, where the predictions have been confirmed against the skeptics in basically every case so far. We don’t know about the long-term predictions, but we can look at the short-term ones starting from around 1990 and what they said about today, and see that the root of the climate science we have today does have predictive power and is thus confirmed as scientific. Regardless of how “hard” climatology may or may not be, it’s record is clearly better than climate skepticism, which is obviously traceable to carbon extraction interests or the influence of their propaganda in every case.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        We don’t know about the long-term predictions, but we can look at the short-term ones starting from around 1990

        Arrhenius’ 1896 first calculation of global warming from human emissions of CO2 was quite correct. Serious concerns had reached the level of presidential advisor
        half a century ago: “Dr. Donald F. Hornig, a science advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson, warned the 1968 Annual Convention of the Edison Electric Institute [ … ] ‘Such a change in the carbon dioxide level might, therefore, produce major consequences on the climate – possibly even triggering catastrophic effects such as have occurred from time to time in the past.’ ” In ’68 it was a more careful “might” that is now somewhere like a 99.99% certainty.

        • bean says:

          This is probably very convincing to those who don’t know of the big concern about global cooling in the 70s.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            The ‘big concern’ was mostly outside scientific debate.
            Wikipedia, first paragraph (emphasis mine): “This hypothesis had little support in the scientific community, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s and press reports that did not accurately reflect the full scope of the scientific climate literature, which showed a larger and faster-growing body of literature projecting future warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.”

            EDIT: see also

      • Autistic Cat says:

        That’s because mere atheism can not make irrational people rational. Secularization simply created secular irrational people out of Judeo-Christian irrational people. Rationality hasn’t improved at all.

        • Anonymous says:

          >Judeo-Christian

          Triggered.

          • Are you claiming that Judaism and Christianity are completely unrelated? Sorry that’s not true.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Judeo-Christian” is about as valid a socio-religious descriptor as “Christo-Islamic”.

            “Judeo-Christian values” are just Christian values. Judaism and Christianity were pretty much entirely separate from approximately the second century AD, and some proto-Marxists came up with “Judeo-Christian” to justify lumping Christians and Jews in the same category (and to justify including the Jews into American Christian society, in the US later).

            The paint hasn’t even dried on this constructed phrase.

          • Judaism Christianity and Islam have common themes in theology, compared to the Dharmic religions.

          • Anonymous says:

            Judaism Christianity and Islam have common themes in theology, compared to the Dharmic religions.

            I don’t deny that. I object to the implication that A is largely indistinguishable from B, or that B had significant influence on A since A separated from B a couple of millennia ago, by calling them both “AB”.

            (This is not always wrong, since there can be closely related, mutually influencing entities that you can squint and call by a name that includes both. Calling Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the sundry tiny heresies that all originate from Judaism by a common “Abrahamic” moniker is fine. Picking two of them, as if they have substantially more in common than any random two in the set, is what’s wrong here.)

          • @Anonymous As a religious descriptor the term “Abrahamic” is the most appropriate one. Socio-politically “Judeo-Christian” is really just about Christians and assimilated Jews.

          • Anonymous says:

            As a religious descriptor the term “Abrahamic” is the most appropriate one. Socio-politically “Judeo-Christian” is really just about Christians and assimilated Jews.

            That’s precisely the problem. The Jews are either assimilated (some are), in which case they now have Christian values of the host population, or they are not really assimilated (others aren’t), in which case they still have Jewish values.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @Rationality Corner

            In addition to what Anonymous said; I would point out that the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, and Islamic, traditions are sufficiently distinct enough from modern Judaism and the Catholic/Protestant lines of Christianity to warrant a separate classification despite the fact that they are all “Abrahamic”. Heck, even Zoroastrianism could be viewed as “Abrahamic” you squint.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            How do “Christian” values differ from “Jewish” values, in the sense of this discussion? The former has a wikipedia article which appears quite succinct and sounds familiar, but I know very little about Judaism and have no idea what counts as “Jewish values”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @The Element of Surprise

            Well, “Jewish values” redirects to “Jewish ethics“.

        • engleberg says:

          I hope I’m not so methodistical as to complain about other people’s alternate rationalities, which bring them pleasure and cause me no pain; indeed provide me with amusement and them with ways to evolve theories I’d never think of.

          • OptimalSolver says:

            They only cause you no pain because they don’t have the legally sanctified institutional power to. It’s apparently much easier to rack your opponents into agreeing with you than debating them.

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      if climate change is really happening, it seems to me that it would be because that’s just what the Earth does

      So what? That means homo sapiens cannot do it, too? The more important questions are: a) can we mitigate the warming?, and b) how do we deal with the consequences?

      It’s a first that 7.x gigapeople, massively interdependent economically, highly connected informationally, and mobile to an unprecedented degree are facing huge shifts in economy, habitability, geopolitical power, etc.. It is simply irrelevant to us now if Mama Earth had been moody before we popped into existence.

      …so why the absolute conviction that humans are to blame for this one?

      You cold start to google summaries of the reports by the overwhelming majority of the best minds in the field. (Scott had a piece about that majority, IIRC.)
      Asking to be evangelized here without learning about this particular science and the general social/structural institutions of science will not really convince you. You will need a general impression of how scientific results are gathered from data, criticed, refined, tested, etc. to estimate for yourself how much credit you give a claim. Sorry for the harshness, but science is not a “believe me”-charisma wrestling.

      And the fact that Trump picked the anti-AGW side reduces the possibility of unbiased, clearheaded research to about zero.

      Could it be that instead of “research” you meant to say “discussions of results and actions to be taken”?

    • ksvanhorn says:

      This isn’t a binary question — there are many possible degrees between “we’re all going to die” and “it’s all a hoax.” You might want to check out the “lukewarmist” position on AGW. Climate scientist Judith Curry’s blog is one place to start. And note, by the way, that the IPCC’s estimates for global warming fall far short of the existential catastrophe that many alarmists tout.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I don’t think anyone has said it yet, but you seem to have the history of this thing wrong.

      AFAIK, scientists noticed that increasing CO2 increases the retention of heat in atmospheric gas in attempting to explain prior ice ages. CO2 was also noted to be a by-product of burning fuel, and that running fossil fuels should increase atmospheric CO2. Predictions were made over 100 years ago about the potential for AGW and scientific study proceeded as it normally does, finding both confirmation of the hypothesis, and gaps in it.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Radical changes in climate had been happening for eons before the appearance of the first hominids, so why the absolute conviction that humans are to blame for this one?

      It’s troubling to me because this is the only issue where I doubt the scientific consensus, though I cut myself some slack by choosing to believe that climatology isn’t exactly a hard science.

      Well then.

      There is extremely high confidence, through both proxy records and models, that the speed of the CO2 spike in the last 150 years is unprecedented in our natural history. There is considerable natural flux in CO2 levels and they have gone higher or lower in the past. But these natural changes in the carbon cycle’s equilibria take place on the scale of hundreds of thousands of years.

      CO2’s radiative absorption is even more bedrock-hard science, having been conclusively established long before even Arrhenius’ first attempt at a general circulation model. You will find no informed scientist who thinks this will have zero impact on our climate and ecosystems. We are, as Elon Musk has pointed out, running a large uncontrolled experiment on the global effects of rapid CO2 elevation. Many of the effects will be subtle, more will be unpredictable, but a rise in atmospheric temperature is the stuff of Physics 101.

      (If your rejoinder to this is to mutter something about water vapor, as though scientists are all just choosing to ignore it for whatever reason, you are on level zero of the debate and need to start pinballing back and forth a few times absorbing more criticisms and counter-criticisms before forming an opinion. Climatology is, surprisingly, kind of difficult!)

      That’s why the sophisticated skeptics do not dispute “anthropogenic global warming” as a proposition, instead pointing out that “catastrophic” is an unstated component of the common position and disputing that. They argue the extent of the climactic changes, or that the net benefits are undercounted, or that adaptation later (when the effects will be worse but our technology may be better) makes more sense than mitigation now.

    • enye-word says:

      I mean, if climate change is really happening, it seems to me that it would be because that’s just what the Earth does.

      Relevant xkcd.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      If you can’t assess the science itself and have a hard time figuring out how unanimous the scientific consensus is, it might help if you look on which side the money is.

      Sure, environmentalist get donations and it’s certainly a major movement, but on the other side you basically have the biggest industries on this planet. The big money is overwhelmingly interested in arguing that there is no climate change, at least none caused by humans and I’m pretty sure that right now you could make very good money as a climate scientist, who comes up with good arguments against climate change.

      To me that makes it a lot more likely that climate change deniers are talking out of their … might not be entirely honest.

      • JayT says:

        The thing is though, if you do go against the consensus then you will probably be ostracized from the climatology community, so you would have to be paid enough that your day job doesn’t matter any more, and you would have to be willing to give up being in the field you dedicated a large part of your life to, which is the bigger issue. The deniers might have more money on their side, but it’s very hard to go against the grain in a field like this when the sides are so politically charged.

    • DocKaon says:

      What part of the spectroscopic and thermodynamic arguments do you disagree with? All of your problems with the response to global warming would be happening whether or not global warming is real. Any movement good, bad, or indifferent will have many of those features. So actually look at the real science and not the caricatures of those who have a massive vested interest in slowing action.

    • Anthony says:

      Read Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg. In it, he lays out the evidence that
      1) global warming is occurring,
      2) that there is a pretty high probability that human industrial activity is a significant contributor (there is some evidence that there are other things going on, but they don’t explain all the warming),
      3) that global warming isn’t all bad, and some of the scare stories aren’t actually true, but there are some significant costs, too,
      4) that most of the proposed solutions for right now are either not feasible, and/or will make things worse, but that some will help (especially going nuclear), and that future society will have more ability to implement more effective solutions, provided we don’t cripple industrial and technological society now.

    • pontifex says:

      The anti-global warming arguments prove way too much.

      You could basically use arguments like these against any part of science. Isn’t global warming / evolution / relativity / quantum physics REALLY just a bunch of experts, out of touch with the common people, drawing grand inferences from limited data? Isn’t (insert random controversy here) quite concerning if you have no context? Waggle eyebrows suggestively. When this argument gets debunked with exhaustive data, go back to step 1, over and over until people get tired of spending the effort to debunk your falsehoods (the Gish Gallup).

      • The Nybbler says:

        The predictions of both special and general relativity can be (and have been) replicated in controlled experiments, so you can leave relativity out of it. Same goes for quantum physics.

        The “exhaustive data” in climate science isn’t. Nobody talks about those Vostok ice cores any more (once a warmist centerpiece), because skeptics noticed that CO2 lagged temperature, and ante hoc ergo propter hoc is an even worse fallacy than its opposite. The data and methods behind the Mann “hockey stick” were pretty thoroughly taken down by McIntyre and McKitrick, IMO. The Climategate emails show the warmist side was at least attempting to manipulate the peer review process to prevent publication of opposing research; before that, you heard a lot about how all the peer-reviewed research was on the warmist side. Every global climate data set has had a series of “adjustments”; these adjustments have nearly always tended to make the past cooler and/or the present warmer. This accelerated to a ridiculous pace during “the pause”, the ~18 year period between El Niños when no warming was evident; as far as I’m concerned, at this point the data is hopelessly corrupted. Lukewarmist site wattsupwiththat used to have a chart showing that half the temperature anomaly is due to corrections; there’s currently an article (which I haven’t examined) claiming nearly all of it is.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          The data and methods behind the Mann “hockey stick” were pretty thoroughly taken down by McIntyre and McKitrick, IMO.

          And since then there have been dozens more. Slightly bendier sticks, same result. McIntyre has been content to “respond” to most of these new ones by picking at individual proxies, which is entirely worthless unless the multiproxy reconstruction as a whole doesn’t validate without them as with MBH98.

          Nobody talks about those Vostok ice cores any more (once a warmist centerpiece), because skeptics noticed that CO2 lagged temperature, and ante hoc ergo propter hoc is an even worse fallacy than its opposite.

          The Vostok ice cores are discussed extensively in the IPCC. Here is a summary from AR4, which was published in 2007. There’s a newer discussion in AR5 but that’s only available as a big-ass PDF.

          Every global climate data set has had a series of “adjustments”; these adjustments have nearly always tended to make the past cooler and/or the present warmer.

          100% false. Ocean adjustments make the past warmer, not cooler, and ocean adjustments (as you’d expect) have greater effects on GMST than land adjustments.

          These are the arguments of someone who has bothered to memorize a list of talking points on one side, not someone who has actually engaged with the mainstream science in any serious way. Most of the stuff in your post could be addressed with a simple site:skepticalscience.com search. And I’m not even endorsing SkepSci as a particularly neutral or 100% reliable source, they’re pretty basic too and I don’t like Cook’s methodology on things like the consensus. But they would give you the level 1 rebuttals to the level 1 criticisms you’re making.

        • pontifex says:

          There’s ALWAYS a controversy in science, though. For example, who has seen “dark matter”? Why are quantum mechanics and relativity still at odds, decades after both were proposed? Why did the guy who invented relativity hate quantum mechanics and “spooky action at a distance”? What are the scientists hiding from us? Waggle eyebrows suggestively. etc. etc. You just haven’t been exposed to high-quality propaganda against quantum mechanics or relativity, because nobody has an incentive to create that propaganda.

          The “exhaustive data” in climate science isn’t. Nobody talks about those Vostok ice cores any more (once a warmist centerpiece), because skeptics noticed that CO2 lagged temperature, and ante hoc ergo propter hoc is an even worse fallacy than its opposite.

          https://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-lags-temperature.htm

          The data and methods behind the Mann “hockey stick” were pretty thoroughly taken down by McIntyre and McKitrick, IMO. The Climategate emails show the warmist side was at least attempting to manipulate the peer review process to prevent publication of opposing research; before that, you heard a lot about how all the peer-reviewed research was on the warmist side

          https://www.skepticalscience.com/Climategate-CRU-emails-hacked.htm

          This accelerated to a ridiculous pace during “the pause”, the ~18 year period between El Niños when no warming was evident; as far as I’m concerned, at this point the data is hopelessly corrupted.

          https://www.skepticalscience.com/no-warming-in-16-years.htm

          This is a Gish Gallup, pure and simple.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is a Gish Gallup, pure and simple.

            You’re correct, your post is a Gish gallop. Your last link, denying that the “pause” occurred, lacks one major thing: any chart or table showing temperature over the period in question. Your Climategate link fails to address my particular point about Climategate. Your Vostok link rebuts a claim that I did not make — that the Vostok core proves CO2 does not cause warming.

            There’s ALWAYS a controversy in science, though. For example, who has seen “dark matter”?

            Nobody. And there’s a small minority of scientists who think there’s another explanation for the anomalies attributed to dark matter, though so far these alternate explanations have not worked out.

            Why are quantum mechanics and relativity still at odds, decades after both were proposed?

            You’ll have to be more specific. As far as I know, neither makes predictions at odds with the other under conditions we can measure.

            Why did the guy who invented relativity hate quantum mechanics and “spooky action at a distance”?

            This isn’t really a scientific question, but as it turns out, the EPR paradox was resolved experimentally in favor of “spooky action at a distance”, but without breaking relativity in the process.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            While I confess to a small degree of satisfaction seeing my reply quietly passed over, I need to also point out that your post had no evidence whatsoever. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, and “assert a bunch of points without sources, nitpick opponent’s sources” is another Level 1 Skeptic failure mode I expect in the Daily Caller comments section, not here.

            And since I missed it at first:

            The Climategate emails show the warmist side was at least attempting to manipulate the peer review process to prevent publication of opposing research;

            This might be a meaningful argument if Phil Jones was the Pope of Climate Science as opposed to one of tens of thousands of climate researchers. Since the papers he threatened to exclude from the IPCC were, in fact, included and discussed, I do not think it is.

          • pontifex says:

            Let’s assume for a moment that you are right. All the computer models are wrong, all the scientists are crooks on the payroll of some politician, all the journal articles are worthless. If that is true, you should be terrified! It means that we are radically changing the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, and we have no idea what is going to happen.

            Of course, you are not terrified. And why? Because your position isn’t actually “skepticism.” Just like creationists are not actually “evolution skeptics.” They’re pushing an alternate worldview, biblical literalism. And similarly, “climate change skeptics” are mostly interested in building support for a model where humans have no effect on the earth’s climate, and the future is just going to look like the past.

            The problem for you is, there is very little support indeed for such a model. I think a lot of anti-global-warming people intuitively sense that they would be laughed out of the room if they straightforwardly proposed it. That’s why you see all this sniping at this or that minor point in that journal article. But you can’t build your case just by tearing down someone else’s case. You have to actually build the case! And for that you’ll need computer models, mathematics, survey data– all the things you are currently criticizing as inadequate.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            I suspect this is where we get the “actually, I’m a lukewarmer” speech which always happens once the frontline soldiers (“It’s a fraud! Earth isn’t actually warming!”) get shot down.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Anonymous Bosch

            I didn’t respond to your post because there’s no point. Neither of us is going to convince the other or anyone else. You point to skepticalscience, I point to wattsupwiththat. You claim McIntyre is merely picking at individual proxies, I claim that the proxies McIntyre is picking at are responsible for the hockey stick (and that the techniques involved are prone to produce hockey sticks). And it goes in circles until one of us gets tired. I got tired during the Pausebuster adjustments.

            If that is true, you should be terrified! It means that we are radically changing the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, and we have no idea what is going to happen.

            I would quibble with “radical”. The Great Oxygenation Event, THAT was radical. But in general I agree; in terms of temperature, we have little idea what is going to happen, and we have little idea what HAS happened. What I do know is that we have global temperature data that, when it hasn’t fit the model (“The Pause”), people have gone and looked for ways to adjust it to fit the model. It is possible all those adjustments were legitimate. But because they were looked for in a biased manner, they still bias the data. The data simply cannot be trusted.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            I didn’t respond to your post because there’s no point. Neither of us is going to convince the other or anyone else. You point to skepticalscience, I point to wattsupwiththat. You claim McIntyre is merely picking at individual proxies, I claim that the proxies McIntyre is picking at are responsible for the hockey stick (and that the techniques involved are prone to produce hockey sticks). And it goes in circles until one of us gets tired. I got tired during the Pausebuster adjustments.

            I pointed to SkepSci as a suggested avenue for further inquiry by you. My three links were to a list of citations on Wikipedia, a subchapter of IPCC-AR4, and a blog with graphs by Victor Venema (a German professor of meteorology).

            The claim that the proxies McIntyre picks at are responsible for the hockey stick requires that one re-do the analysis with the remaining ones and demonstrate they no longer validate. McIntyre, as far as I know, has done this for MBH98 and the non-dendro M08 reconstructions, and no other multiproxy. Furthermore, Mann’s use of principal components analysis is by no means universal. Of the papers listed on the Wiki page linked I know for a fact Wahl, Ljungvist, and Shi utilize non-PCA methods. (I’m sure many others do as well, I’d just have to look them up). Dismissing these with a wave of your hand tells me you have not bothered to read any of the primary literature in this field, satisfying yourself with criticisms/summaries on skeptic blogs who have also mostly not done so.

            And of course it goes without saying that this is the only point that you bothered with. I cannot think of a more concrete way to disprove the point that “nobody talks about the ice cores” than explicit discussion in the IPCC, which is as central a “warmist” text as one could ask for. I cannot think of a more concrete way to disprove the point that “adjustments always increase the trend” than showing the before-and-after trendlines for global data (not just the CONUS, the source of the “half of all warming” talking point).

            A rational person might update their beliefs, or perhaps shy away from the sources which have supplied these falsehoods. “Agree to disagree” is “I am unwilling to admit scientific facts which might upset my political priors” (cf: the incompatibility of well-mixed atmospheric pollution with your desired form of government) and further do not wish to admit this is the case. That I am not persuaded does not mean I am not persuadable. But it seems pretty disingenuous to run in, drop some quick turds, then say “too much effort” while continuing to reply to the other guy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            McIntyre himself goes in circles too. Someone invents a new way to find hockey sticks, McIntyre finds a new problem. As I said, there’s no point in rehashing all the climate science here, it won’t convince anyone.

            I cannot think of a more concrete way to disprove the point that “nobody talks about the ice cores” than explicit discussion in the IPCC, which is as central a “warmist” text as one could ask for.

            My language was imprecise here. The Vostok cores used to be presented as proof-positive, checkmate denialists (though the term wasn’t in vogue yet I don’t think), that CO2 caused warming and our current CO2 levels were going to cause a lot of warming. This was in the popular press and pop-science press, not the IPCC reports. When skeptics pointed out the cores showed CO2 lagging temperature, they were jeered at, but the data is pretty clear and eventually the popular and pop-science press stopped talking about the Vostok cores. Though we still get “myth” pages whose titles imply the lag doesn’t exist.

          • pontifex says:

            But in general I agree; in terms of temperature, we have little idea what is going to happen, and we have little idea what HAS happened.

            If this is really what you believe, then you must agree that we need to stop changing the earth’s atmosphere, because we cannot predict what is going to happen. The change in atmospheric CO2 has been significant and measurable– from 300 ppm in the 1960s to 400 ppm today. If we can’t predict whether this is safe, then we should not change it.

            So, by your own reasoning, we need massive government action to prevent co2 emissions. Probably even more massive than someone like Al Gore or the IPCC would argue for, since those people believe that climatologists can make predictions about the future, and you don’t.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If this is really what you believe, then you must agree that we need to stop changing the earth’s atmosphere, because we cannot predict what is going to happen. The change in atmospheric CO2 has been significant and measurable– from 300 ppm in the 1960s to 400 ppm today. If we can’t predict whether this is safe, then we should not change it.

            I do not hold to the Precautionary Principle, so nope.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            So, by your own reasoning…

            That model of argument (“By the logic of your point of view, which I don’t agree with and don’t know nearly as well as you do, you must agree with me! Checkmate, atheists!”) has never convinced anyone in the history of the world.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “By the logic of your point of view, which I don’t agree with and don’t know nearly as well as you do, you must agree with me! Checkmate, atheists!”

            That’s strawmanning. Don’t do it.

            That model of argument has been convincing to me at times, but only if the other side does a good job of understanding my reasoning, or at least looks like they’re trying. If they look like they’re doing it just to stage a smackdown, then yes, it just looks comical. (But you looked like you were strawmanning the general case.)

          • I suspect this is where we get the “actually, I’m a lukewarmer” speech which always happens once the frontline soldiers (“It’s a fraud! Earth isn’t actually warming!”) get shot down.

            Strange how you get lukewarmers
            on both sides.

            I do not hold to the Precautionary Principle

            In any context?

          • pontifex says:

            That model of argument (“By the logic of your point of view, which I don’t agree with and don’t know nearly as well as you do, you must agree with me! Checkmate, atheists!”) has never convinced anyone in the history of the world.

            I apologize if I came across as snarky. That wasn’t my intent.

            Rather, I was trying to point out that we’re dealing with a motte and bailey here. Skepticism about mainstream climate science is just the motte. The bailey is a very specific model of the climate where human actions have no consequences and the future is going to look exactly like the past.

            The motte (Being “skeptical” and unsure about what is going on) still means you should be in favor of more research and a ban on changing the atmosphere until we do understand it. The AGW position only makes sense if you assume the bailey (human actions have no consequences). But proving this would be extremely difficult, so they talk about the motte and hope you will forget the difference.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The motte (Being “skeptical” and unsure about what is going on) still means you should be in favor of more research and a ban on changing the atmosphere until we do understand it.

            This either requires assuming the Precautionary Principle, amounts to Pascal’s mugging, or both.

            I would be in favor of more research if I believed it would contribute to the state of knowledge of the world. Unfortunately, it appears the point of research is to demonstrate the truth of the favored models, not to test them. The various adjustments made to eliminate “the pause” demonstrate that conclusively. So now I’m a radical agnostic when it comes to climate: I don’t know and neither does anyone else, because the data is hopelessly corrupted.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            They are testing the models and gradually improving them.

            However, you want the scientists to throw out all their modelling when a prediction is not 100% correct and give up.

            That kind of all or nothing science is silly.

            PS. Note that most climate predictions actually involve confidence intervals, not exact predictions, although the media generally can’t deal with the former and thus reports them as if they were exact predictions. A lot of AGW rhetoric about the fallacy of climate science is based on misconceptions how confident climate scientists in the past were about their predictions.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think using AGW to mean “Anti Global Warming” is correct?

            AGW is generally Anthropogenic Global Warming, AFAIK.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            They are testing the models and gradually improving them.

            I think I can accurately predict Nybbler’s response to this: which definition of “improve” is being used here? A good one would be refinements that increase total understanding of climate behavior. But the one we seem to get is refinements that strengthen the prior explanation of CAGW.

            It’s like the old tale about the guy looking for a quarter under a streetlamp. A passerby observes that it might be closer to where he thinks he drops it, fifty feet away, but the guy insists on looking under the streetlamp because it’s easier. Imagine that guy now constructing elaborate explanations for why that quarter might have bounced or rolled or been pushed into the lit area by some sort of microtremor, and I suspect this is where a lot of people think climate science is heading, based on what they see in the press.

            This is compounded by evidence that suggests that guy is attacking people with alternate explanations as uneducated and unable to grasp the subtle ways in which earth and atmosphere can interact to move his quarter into the light (and sure enough, he does have a degree, and there are indeed a few kooks and carpetbaggers trying to use bad and motivated reasoning on him, but not enough to explain the entire crowd now gathering).

            It’s quite possible that there are large groups of climatologists we don’t hear about that are genuinely asking questions like “are we sure these temp readings are accurate?” and “could it be something else causing these effects?” and working as hard on a model that suggests non-AGW as others do on the model that suggests AGW, but to people who don’t follow the topic that closely, the evidence that they’re getting recognition is swamped by evidence that they’re getting denied grants or called “misinformers”.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brinkley

            It’s quite possible that there are large groups of climatologists we don’t hear about that are genuinely asking questions like “are we sure these temp readings are accurate?” and “could it be something else causing these effects?” and working as hard on a model that suggests non-AGW as others do on the model that suggests AGW,

            This is the kind of misconception that I’m talking about, actually. Climatologists don’t work on models that seek to prove AGW, they seek to build models that best predict the climate and these models happen to show AGW.

            This predicted/theorized outcome did impact how much effort was put into the modelling, but shouldn’t impact the outcomes. Of course biased scientists exist in all fields, but they exist on both sides of the AGW issue.

            So, what you are asking is like going up to a physicist and asking them: can you work on a model that predicts that objects fall away from the earth? It makes no sense for scientists to work backwards on models, starting with desired outcomes, rather than models that are most consistent with the measurements. Newton’s law of universal gravitation was never going to be replaced by Baldrick’s law of floating, but was replaced by general relativity which was mostly consistent, but fixed flaws to be better in the same vein.

            Anyway, the IPCC did address the criticisms by people like Lomborg and did find and fix flaws in their reports that changed the models a bit, but didn’t result in substantially different predictions. People like Lomborg ultimately had fairly weak objections and when pressed, the skeptics generally had to retreat to fairly weak motte’s, like challenging the cost/benefit of taking measures now vs hoping for future solutions. That is criticism at the political level, not the basic climate science modelling.

            Do you accept that a relative low number of climate science skeptics can be because those who looked into the issue had to update their beliefs towards the AGW stance to be consistent with the facts?

          • John Schilling says:

            This is the kind of misconception that I’m talking about, actually. Climatologists don’t work on models that seek to prove AGW, they seek to build models that best predict the climate and these models happen to show AGW.

            That’s what they should be doing. How confident can we be that it is what they are doing?

            To take a less controversial example, Physicists didn’t work on experiments to prove that Millikan correctly measured the unit charge, they worked on experiments to best measure the unit charge and these experiments happened to show that Millikan got it right. Except that he hadn’t, but nobody wanted to publish any experimental results that contradicted the consensus around the revered famous guy.

            Scientists are not immune to cognitive bias, and political polarization introduces biases of a kind and degree not normally seen in the course of science.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I basically claimed that there was evidence that X (climatologists look exclusively for models that predict climate) is false. Your response here is to claim that that’s a misconception, because X is true. But you didn’t offer any evidence that X is true, which is precisely what I was hoping to bring out.

            So, what you are asking is like going up to a physicist and asking them: can you work on a model that predicts that objects fall away from the earth.

            I’m sure it feels that way to you. To me, it actually feels much more like me going up to that physicist and saying that there keep having to be all these exceptions to planets moving in perfect circles, and so maybe we should try a theory that doesn’t depend on perfect circles, and that physicist telling me that I don’t have a degree in physics and so I should stop presuming to meddle in the affairs of educated people such as himself, and dispense with my obvious misconceptions.

            And then proceeding to phys-splain how models work.

            Your characterization of Lomborg’s objections might be accurate, AFAIK – I didn’t follow the issue closely enough to be an expert on what several dozen luminaries in the field said during the entire span of 2001-2017. But given your characterization of skeptics, the theory that you’re delivering a motivated explanation of what’s going on has more current weight for me.

            For example, one claim you make is that “People like Lomborg ultimately had fairly weak objections and when pressed, the skeptics generally had to retreat to fairly weak motte’s, like challenging the cost/benefit of taking measures now vs hoping for future solutions.” But when idly browsing around, I find this cite from a book he published in 2001: “This chapter accepts the reality of man-made global warming but questions the way in which future scenarios have been arrived at and finds that forecasts of climate change of 6 degrees by the end of the century are not plausible.” This does not sound like a retreat; it sounds more like a claim he made almost exactly when the whole CAGW issue became widely known.

            You also left out the important fact that the CAGW side was openly calling for drastic economic reallocations to be made as early as 2001, and repeatedly since then, and then presenting themselves as being pro-science with much more defensible yet weaker claims such as “CO2 concentrations can cause air temperature to rise”.

            Do you accept that a relative low number of climate science skeptics can be because those who looked into the issue had to update their beliefs towards the AGW stance to be consistent with the facts?

            I can’t accept it, because it doesn’t explain, for example, the decision to refer to global warming as “climate change” better than the explanation that global warming adherents were themselves retreating to a motte. It also does not explain the reaction of AGW adherents to skeptics who appeared legitimate. Furthermore, that reaction forces me to debate the premise that what you refer to as facts here were both sound and complete. If they were, then I think enough people would have seen merit in simply sharing them as if with fellow interested parties, rather than presenting them as dogma as if to people they expected to reject science too sophisticated for them to understand.

            Claiming you’re too tired to explain all this for the umpteenth time – well, I can sympathize, but you seem to be unaware of all the unscientific behavior in evidence from the CAGW side.

            I implied, in a response to Vermillion (just below), that I’m willing to sit back down and look at all of the evidence yet again. But it will have to be slow, and it will have to be in good faith.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            That is a fair argument, but my perception is that climate science is the most picked over and controversial of sciences*. A random sociologist can get away with a lot and if their science fails to replicate, society and the profession will usually just shrug and move on. It’s rare to see an industry who has an incentive to disprove the science and support those who poke holes in it.

            Climate science failures get major attention, cause major loss of face among a large percentage of the population and major players have an incentive to undermine AGW.

            While that provides some incentive to cover up errors, it provides a far stronger incentive to be very conservative with the predictions and to quickly fix errors to show that they are not deliberate and/or covered up. For example, the (in)famous hockey stick was put in the IPCC report with four different reconstructions that all gave that same outcome. Counter-papers were published and counter-counter-papers. At least one criticism that had a small effect was accepted. Since the initial inclusion of the hockey stick, dozens of separate reconstructions have been done to see if it would change the result.

            To me, that appears like doing science the right way and I would love for the rest of science to adopt somewhat similar levels of scrutiny over their outcomes. I see far and far stronger evidence of scientific failures elsewhere in the scientific community.

            * Far more than a field like gender studies, which is just ignored by many, not pored over.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            a large percentage of the population and major players have an incentive to undermine AGW.

            You seem again to be leaving out the existence of major players with an incentive to promote AGW.

          • Matt M says:

            Climate science failures get major attention, cause major loss of face among a large percentage of the population and major players have an incentive to undermine AGW.

            Really?

            As far as I can tell, climate science failures get major attention from people who were already skeptical of climate science anyway while non-skeptics attempt to ignore them. The skeptics how, and the non-skeptics respond with “who cares that’s just one minor thing the overall science is still sound” and at the end of the day, absolutely nothing changes.

          • Vermillion says:

            I implied, in a response to Vermillion (just below), that I’m willing to sit back down and look at all of the evidence yet again. But it will have to be slow, and it will have to be in good faith.

            Glad to hear it! I propose postponing it till the next open thread since this one’s almost run it’s course and also so everyone can take a minute to catch their breath and remember that we’re talking to real people who came by their disagreements honestly.

          • Nornagest says:

            it doesn’t explain, for example, the decision to refer to global warming as “climate change” better than the explanation that global warming adherents were themselves retreating to a motte.

            This one’s actually pretty simple. The models often predict disruption to global weather patterns which can lead, at least in the short term, to persistently colder weather in certain regions — possible breakdown of the Gulf Stream, which would cool Europe, often gets cited in this context. The world’s still warmer on average, but “global warming” can be read to imply warming everywhere, which is not necessarily the case.

            I’m pretty sure whoever made these decisions had gotten tired of hearing “global warming must be a hoax, amirite guys” every time there was an unusually cold winter in a particular region, too, but changing the preferred terminology on that basis would be less scientifically defensible.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I basically claimed that there was evidence that X (climatologists look exclusively for models that predict climate) is false. Your response here is to claim that that’s a misconception, because X is true. But you didn’t offer any evidence that X is true, which is precisely what I was hoping to bring out.

            Again, the answer to your statement/question is mu. Scientists are (ideally) not looking for outcomes, but for the best models, often debating at a level of detail that you and I consider relatively insignificant, but which isn’t insignificant to them or to achieve a gradual improvement of the models.

            An example is the studies surrounding the hockey stick. Scientists did try many different analyses to see if they would get significantly different outcomes. This did not come about. This indicates that the general outcome is true and that the scientific disagreements are about the extent to which it is true. To critics, this often looks like there is no opposition, but again, this is like claiming that there is no scientific debate because no one is arguing that masses repulse each other. Concluding that scientists are not being critical because the heated arguments in science don’t match the tribal lines in greater society merely shows that there is a disconnect between society and scientists. We all know how stupid society can be, so it seems unwise to automatically conclude that the fault of this disconnect is on the scientific side.

            Of course, scientists are humans and humans succumb to tribalism, so you will find bad scientists. However, concluding that all the scientists who have a different view from you succumb to tribalism, while those (few) who match your views are immune, seems like a bad conclusion.

            Lomborg[…]This does not sound like a retreat; it sounds more like a claim he made almost exactly when the whole CAGW issue became widely known.

            Here is evidence of Lomborg making false statements (start reading at the ‘Lomborg’s public comments on sea-level rise’ paragraph). You can verify those accusations yourself. When Lomborg is challenged, he tends to go to his ‘I accept AGW’ motte.

            I can’t accept it, because it doesn’t explain, for example, the decision to refer to global warming as “climate change” better than the explanation that global warming adherents were themselves retreating to a motte.

            There never was such a decision. The IPCC was founded in 1988 and the abbrevation means…Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The term actually was used before that, for example, a very significant early study from 1956 is titled “The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change.”

            Global warming and climate change are different terms that refer to different things and are used concurrently. For more information that dispels the myth you have come to believe, I refer you here.

            It also does not explain the reaction of AGW adherents to skeptics who appeared legitimate.

            You need to be more specific if you want a response to this.

            @Nornagest

            That seems logical, but the actual explanation is even more innocent than that. See above.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brinkley

            You seem again to be leaving out the existence of major players with an incentive to promote AGW.

            I don’t really see those incentives being so significant to be worth mentioning. I’m not aware of any countries that will benefit substantially from the attempts to reduce CO2 emissions, including my country, which sits on a lot of natural gas. Even countries with little natural fossil reserves like France don’t seem to have major benefits of the kind that would suggest a rational desire to promote AGW. The French car companies don’t seem to have a major advantage when it comes to electric cars, for example (my perception is rather the opposite).

            The big companies that benefit are fairly few in number and mostly came about recently, like Tesla. So they could not have strongly influenced the supposed bias in the climate science unless Elon Musk invented a time machine or unless you want to argue that the IPCC would make a U-turn if not for the pressure by Tesla et al.

          • John Schilling says:

            While that provides some incentive to cover up errors, it provides a far stronger incentive to be very conservative with the predictions and to quickly fix errors to show that they are not deliberate and/or covered up. For example, the (in)famous hockey stick was put in the IPCC report with four different reconstructions that all gave that same outcome.

            How many different unit charge measurements gave outcomes that matched Millikan’s oil-drop experiment, complete with the botched viscosity correction?

            The problem is, the alleged incentive to “fix errors to show that they are not deliberate”, does not apply to individual scientists whose results agree with the existing consensus. Publishing a result that agrees with the consensus is the popular move, and if it turns out to have been wrong, well, who remembers the names of any of the people who wrongly agreed with Millikan? Publishing a result that agrees with the consensus makes you a member in good standing with the relevant scientific community, and if it turns out to have been wrong, everybody else was wrong too so they aren’t going to throw you out. It may now be a slightly less prestigious community, but that was inevitable the moment the rest of them got it wrong.

            Flip side, the people whose results disagree with the consensus have it easier if they keep quiet and let someone else be the person to correct the record. Because whoever does that will spend some time in relative exile before the record gets corrected, and at the end of the day who remembers the guy who finally published the correct value for the unit charge?

            If “the scientific community” consisted of one guy, or enough guys to meet around one table, then they might be motivated to correct errors early. But we’re a few centuries late for that.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t really see those incentives being so significant to be worth mentioning. I’m not aware of any countries that will benefit substantially from the attempts to reduce CO2 emissions, including my country, which sits on a lot of natural gas.

            Countries are not in any event well-suited to convey such incentives to scientists, except perhaps to crudely silence them by cutting their funding.

            The internal incentive for scientists is to be invited to go to places like Copenhagen or Kyoto, talk to literally the most powerful men in the world, and have them listen as you tell them what they need to be doing, when your job is otherwise seen as e.g. a particularly boring sort of weatherman. Everybody likes to feel important.

            This is of course as much of an incentive for climatologists to promote a theory of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Cooling as the opposite, so long as they all agree on the sign. There are secondary incentives to promote consensus in that regard, one of which is being aligned with the actual facts at least in regard to the sign.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            True, but most of those benefits only remain (to that extent) if they keep their status as sufficiently reliable truth-tellers. All the incentives line up most strongly if scientists work in a field where the science is societally very relevant, make fairly accurate predictions so their status rises and let the politics/false statements be done by others.

            You can also imagine a scenario where scientists realize that (a subset of) society is very interested and fudge the science. For instance, I think that this is true in certain social sciences, where people do try to prove certain politics and fudge the science to get outcomes that match their activism.

            Since both scenarios are plausible, you actually need to look at which scenario the evidence points to most strongly. A lot of critics don’t and merely claim that the incentives for the second scenario exist and that this is sufficient to cast strong doubt.

            When you look at the science around (gendered) domestic violence, recognizing the ways that the science is fudged is often quite obvious once you know the tricks. You actually see a split in the research where one group of scientists makes one claim and the other group makes a substantially different claim. You have papers by dissenting scientists on the IMO right side that point out the errors and bias by the other side. You see that the offending side puts very little effort into responding to these criticisms. There is no central platform where the objections to the dominant theory are actually addressed rigorously.

            This is all very different in climate science, which does have that platform, where no one has been able to convince me that obvious tricks are used, which does respond to criticism rather than ignore it, where the critics don’t provide a well-supported alternative model/explanation, etc.

            So when you claim that the animal may be a chicken, but I actually hear oinking, see no feathers, but pink skin, a twirly tail, a snout, etc; then I’ll call it a pig, not a chicken. You can keep arguing that a random animal may be a chicken, but when the question is whether the animal in front of me is a chicken, you actually need to make that case based on case-specific data, not generic claims.

          • John Schilling says:

            True, but most of those benefits only remain (to that extent) if they keep their status as sufficiently reliable truth-tellers. All the incentives line up most strongly if scientists work in a field where the science is societally very relevant, make fairly accurate predictions so their status rises and let the politics/false statements be done by others.

            Once you enter the realm of political controversy, the way you maintain your reputation as a truth-teller is to tell your side what it wants to hear. The incentives and institutions that normally serve to keep scientists honest, are not well suited to this environment.

            When you look at the science around (gendered) domestic violence, recognizing the ways that the science is fudged is often quite obvious once you know the tricks. You actually see a split in the research where one group of scientists makes one claim and the other group makes a substantially different claim.

            In domestic violence, you have scientists on both sides. And more importantly, scientists on both sides are clearly doing important work, a source of respect and prestige, because domestic violence is obviously a big problem and everybody wants to know the cause. People disagree, and you get controversy.

            With AGW, everybody knows the cause but disagrees over whether it is important enough to matter. So anyone who sides with “not that important”, is basically saying “…and stop listening to me or affording me respect”. That’s going to put them at odds not just with scientists who sincerely believe the opposite, but with the political tribe that has made itself the patron of their community, with all the scientists whose views have been tinged by that patronage, and with all the scientists who see the other political tribe’s attacks as something the entire community should band together against.

            Take the other position, you get the respect of the minority of peers who happen to agree with you and have the intellectual integrity to hold and express a view when all the incentives point in the opposite direction, and you get to be the darling of Republicans (ugh!) for a little while, but knowing that if your views win out it means everybody on both sides goes back to dismissing your entire field as irrelevant.

            This is a very asymmetric set of incentives, which greatly weakens the traditional role of actual truth as a tiebreaker in disputes. And while we still do get some dissenting opinions published, we also get e.g. people explicitly conspiring to “redefine what the peer-review literature is!” to prevent dissenting opinions from being published. So I’m not as convinced as you are that I am looking at a healthy scientific community responding to truth-aligned motives.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            [M]ost of those benefits [to scientists speaking to powerful figures] only remain (to that extent) if they keep their status as sufficiently reliable truth-tellers. All the incentives line up most strongly if scientists work in a field where the science is societally very relevant, make fairly accurate predictions so their status rises and let the politics/false statements be done by others.

            All those incentives line up strongly only if consensus is clear. If there’s widespread disagreement on what the science says, power loses interest, because there are few clear decisions to make.

            Clear consensus can happen in two ways. One is for the evidence to all actually support one conclusion. Another is for conflicting evidence to be resolved in some way until it all agrees. That is precisely the point where cognitive bias can gain a foothold. If I have some evidence for X and some for Y, and suspect X, I might focus really hard on verifying Y – checking the instruments, combing the processing code for bugs, scrutinizing the reasoning – without performing the same check for X. Or just not checking X as stringently. Or even just noticing I only have enough money to check one or the other, and I honestly didn’t suspect either one, but I just flipped a coin. Or maybe Y was just easier to scrutinize than X.

            It is not enough to just “look at which scenario the evidence points to most strongly” if the evidence collecting process itself is vulnerable to fudging.

            Or researchers might be human, realize they’re not making as money as they could if they made a momentous announcement, found one to make, and got really irritated at a relative handful among them that wouldn’t shut up about evidence that conflicted with the announcement, and leaned on them in various ways like writing refuting papers, framing them as sloppy during convention talks, refusing to work with them, and so on.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            There seems to be some confusion about what I meant about the “the decision to refer to global warming as “climate change””. I wasn’t referring strictly to climatology scholars. I was referring to AGW adherents – scholars being just a minority (and not even a proper subset, to boot).

            I read the link at skepticalscience. It addresses only scholarly mentions. It doesn’t look at hits in periodicals AFAICT. To call this a myth is premature. I’m sorry about the confusion, however.

            (Side note: this is yet another example of SS answering the question it wants to answer, which is invariably going to favor the AGW view. It’s also clear from the tone of the article. I also note that SS was cofounded by the very person who misrepresented his own collected evidence about consensus in climatology. In general, links to skepticalscience tend to lower my level of belief in AGW, rather than raise it, for these reasons. (To be fair, I’ve seen anti-AGW websites that pull the same stunts, which is why I decided to check the link anyway, just in case.))

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            Once you enter the realm of political controversy, the way you maintain your reputation as a truth-teller is to tell your side what it wants to hear.

            From my perspective the climate scientists mostly stay out of the realm of political controversy. Their critics often pretend that this is not the case, but their arguments usually criticize non-climate scientists, like Al Gore, who get conflated with climate scientists for some reason. This makes sense from a tribal POV because a lot of non-climate scientists say stupid/hyperbolic things that are fairly easy to debunk, while the climate scientists mostly say smart things.

            Even famous dissenting ‘climate scientists’ like Lomborg are on closer inspection not even attacking what climate scientists actually argue, but either lie about what the climate scientists claim or have claimed & also focus a lot on the proposed solutions, which is the part of the debate that is much harder to scientifically prove and thus far more subjective. So there is this smoke screen where a lot of pro- and anti-AGW people believe that the debate is about the things that climate scientists are claiming, but if you dig into it, you see that the actual debate is often about what people think/claim that climate scientists are claiming. There is often remarkably little overlap between the two.

            Take the other position, you get the respect of the minority of peers who happen to agree with you and have the intellectual integrity to hold and express a view when all the incentives point in the opposite direction, and you get to be the darling of Republicans (ugh!) for a little while, but knowing that if your views win out it means everybody on both sides goes back to dismissing your entire field as irrelevant.

            Yet we know for a fact that corruption of science by the tobacco industry happened. The same reasoning that you used could be used to argue that this is impossible, yet it happened. I’m pretty sure that the fossil fuel industry has much more money than the tobacco industry, so it seems to me that they could do the same, if climate science was really so ‘soft’ to allow for this.

            We all know that science is an extremely competitive field, where many wannabe-scientists don’t make the cut. Furthermore, there is large scale exploitation/underpayment. It seems rather trivial for someone with money to sweep into a situation like that and offer some of these people a job. We know that colleges have let the industry (partially or fully) finance professors, so the mechanism is already in place to do this with low effort.

            Some of the anti-AGW people here seem to have paradoxic beliefs where they argue that billions of dollars will be sacrificed/lost unnecessarily and that some industries will be heavily hit, but somehow these industries won’t use a fraction of that money to influence scientists or even just fund their own research group (you don’t need that many if climate science is really so easily debunked as claimed). It’s especially amusing that several of the critics here are libertarians, who AFAIK believe that businesses are capable of and willing to do doing research just as much as the government, but somehow the fossil fuel industry won’t do that even when there is a risk that their large, valuable reserves become worthless.

            I think that you only look at the incentives that support your theory of some grand conspiracy, but you don’t look at and/or easily discount the incentives that work against it.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            There seems to be some confusion about what I meant about the “the decision to refer to global warming as “climate change””. I wasn’t referring strictly to climatology scholars. I was referring to AGW adherents – scholars being just a minority (and not even a proper subset, to boot).

            You just provided evidence for the point that I made in my comment just above this one.

            The complaint that commoners who believe in AGW are often wrong is a completely different argument to climate scientists being wrong, but these two get conflated all the time. I’m not really interested that much in a tribal debate whether pro- or anti-AGW people more often tell falsehoods. There is no objective way to gauge this, so it just ends up being a tribal assessment based on apex fallacy for the outgroup (focusing on the greatest idiots on the other side) and ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy for the ingroup (rejecting that the many idiots on your own side actually are on your own side).

            Can we just agree that most people are incapable of and/or unwilling to examine the evidence in sufficient detail (which is very hard in this field), so most people just believe in the memes that are popular in their tribe?

            Note that the existence of dumb memes in your outgroup doesn’t prove that a steelmanned version of their claims is wrong and doesn’t prove that your ingroup has better memes. Ultimately, you can argue a lot of wrong things based on the reasoning that you use. For example, most people, including the vast majority of those who favor it, have wrong ideas about capitalism. So by your reasoning this disproves capitalism, no?

            Ultimately it is just a really, really bad idea to form opinions based on (rejecting or accepting) memes, rather than on a steelmanned and fact-based assessment.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The complaint that commoners who believe in AGW are often wrong is a completely different argument to climate scientists being wrong, but these two get conflated all the time. I’m not really interested that much in a tribal debate whether pro- or anti-AGW people more often tell falsehoods.

            Can we just agree that most people are incapable of and/or unwilling to examine the evidence in sufficient detail (which is very hard in this field), so most people just believe in the memes that are popular in their tribe?

            Sigh… …sure, fine, I’m mostly irritated at the meme layer in front of actual climatologists. But that also appears to include the media layer, a former major Presidential candidate, several world leaders of the majority of the world’s economy, and even a few people who manage to get themselves into academic publications as if they were scientists and misrepresent people who actually are scientists, and people who hide behind academic-seeming articles to defend notions like “the notion that the term ‘climate change’ was promoted much more than ‘global warming’ in recent years is a myth”. So pardon me if I think that irritation is a wee bit justified.

            Meanwhile, yes, I have little problem with climatologists that are being scientifically genuine about their research, and who incidentally appear to be very reluctant to claim AGW, as opposed to that minority who believe AGW so faithfully that they’re willing to decline support for other scientists for disagreeing with them.

            Note that the existence of dumb memes in your outgroup…

            The only reason this whole meme-war sub-argument came about was because you made a claim about why there are relatively fewer climate skeptics. It wasn’t about meme-wars, and the opposition to climate skeptics isn’t purely meme-bots. It includes opposition from people calling themselves scientists who aren’t behaving scientifically.

        • With AGW, everybody knows the cause but disagrees over whether it is important enough to matter. So anyone who sides with “not that important”, is basically saying “…and stop listening to me or affording me respect”.

          So why doens’t FAI work like that? Someone who already has a reputation gets listened to, even if they say “nothing to see here”.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            So why doens’t FAI work like that? Someone who already has a reputation gets listened to, even if they say “nothing to see here”.

            Because the importance of AI is clear and profound even if there is no danger from it. Especially if there is no danger from it.

    • Vermillion says:

      So I’ve had an idea and I’m interested in gauging the interest level; a kind of IQ2 style debate on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) from the commentariate. Because I’ve been reading up thread and really this and similar discussions seem to accomplish little more than giving me agita. So how about we try something different?

      In an Oxford style debate, the winners are determined not by the absolute number of people who do or do not agree with your arguments, but by how many people are swayed from their positions before debate began. This is not the thread for that debate, this is for setting the terms. Here’s what I propose:

      Two teams of two*, Agree and Oppose, who will post arguments in favor or in opposition to these three statements.
      A) AGW is a real** phenomena that
      B) Has the potential to inflict substantial*** economic damage on the global**** economy and so
      C) Costs***** should be paid to prevent or mitigate these damages

      For examples of what I’m envisioning here are three you could watch or listen to. Of those debates, in terms of convincing members of the live audience, the ‘oppose’ side has won 2/3.

      For how we’d proceed on the forum what I envisioned was one thread (maybe next week to give everyone time to marshal their arguments) with posts from the designated champions that could then be responded to by the other side or by any other interested parties. Before opening up the debate maybe we could have a Google form that SSC readers could (if they want) mark themselves down as Agree, Oppose or Undecided for A, B, and C.

      Thoughts?

      *Or more, or less, I think having just a couple dedicated posters might make the arguments easier to follow though.
      **How do we define real here? What is our evidentiary standard? In civil cases (which if we are to consider economic damages in point B seems appropriate) there are two levels, 1) Preponderance of Evidence and 2) Clear and Convincing Proof. Debatees might also consider Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (or beyond a shadow of a doubt) but personally I think that’s overly burdensome. We’re debating the economics here, so I’d call this civil not criminal. Personally I think the burden of proving point A (and thus points B and C) lies with the Agree side. The Oppose side is of course, free to accept a weaker claim of evidence but reject the stronger.
      ***I don’t know how to define substantial, but I’d think it would be in the range of 100s of Billions – Trillions USD/year. Again I would put it to the Agree side to define both what the odds are and what the damages might be, Oppose could dispute one or both.
      ****Could also restrict to just the US if desired.
      *****Since A and B are defined by the Agree side maybe the costs would be something that Oppose should define, and Agree respond to?

      • pontifex says:

        I understand that your intentions are good, but it’s silly for scientists to debate with non-scientists about their fields. This would just be a rehash of the Scopes Monkey Trial where people use emotionally charged rhetoric. And at the end of the day, the politicians would go home, the scientists would go home, and nothing would have changed.

        Science is about building a consistent worldview by accumulating evidence. It usually happens very, very slowly. Each piece of evidence is like a very, very small brick in a giant structure that we are building.

        Very seldom is it “obvious” in advance what the answer is going to be. For example, 300 years ago, it might have been reasonable to have a debate about whether the earth was 5,000 years old. There were pieces of evidence that pointed both ways! But now we have so many different sources of evidence (radiological, fossil, geological, evolutionary, etc.) that this question is no longer reasonable. Having a debate about whether the earth was 5,000 years old would accomplish nothing.

        Scott wrote about this earlier (sorry, I don’t have a good link). Basically, the popular conception of science is that you get a Really Smart Guy in a room and he goes Eureka! and finds the obviously correct solution.

        The reality of science is that you accumulate evidence slowly, over a long period of time. Most of the evidence can be interpreted many different ways. But slowly a pattern emerges, and it becomes settled science. And if people want to challenge that pattern, they have to make an equivalent amount of effort. Not just throw around some emotionally charged rhetoric or cherry pick “hey, this one piece of evidence out of 10,000 pieces could be interpreted a different way.”

        If you had to prove from scratch that lead caused lead poisoning, or cigarettes caused lung cancer, it would be quite hard! In fact, one of the greatest statisticans of the 20th century, Ronald Fisher, was convinced that smoking did not cause lung caner! But today, we know that it does, because we have so many different pieces of evidence (autopsies, chemical analyses, epidemiological studies, etc.) that all are best interpreted that way.

        • Jiro says:

          I understand that your intentions are good, but it’s silly for scientists to debate with non-scientists about their fields.

          Fine, just don’t use any money paid for by taxes on non-scientists and don’t create any policies that restrict non-scientists.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I agree with Jiro; this “scientists arguing with non-scientists” smacks of argumentum ad guildum.

          And it sounds especially rude on a forum full of people who understand science well enough to describe it every bit as well as you did. You are far from being the only scientist here. It’s not even the case that the only learned people here are all on the AGW side. It’s also not even the case that the decisions of import here are purely matters of climatology; they also involve economics, including local economics, and no one here is an expert in everyone’s local economics.

          Speaking of which, arguing that only scientists are qualified to argue this issue necessarily introduces an incentive incompatibility problem, in which one can expect the scientists to form a consensus that whatever is going on requires more resources / prestige to be funneled to said scientists for $PlausibleReason. So it’s suspicious on that front.

          The description of science as a gradual effort is indeed more accurate, I think, than as always being a flash of brilliance, but (1) that clashes with the way AGW has been presented and (2) it’s not bulletproof, either. If initial data being interpreted in a way that turns out much later to be wrong, and causes subsequent data to be interpreted in the same way, then this mistake could persist for decades, looking all the while like the correct interpretation. If a scientist suffers penalties for offering a different interpretation, the effect compounds, each stage leading to an increase in the penalty, and in the perceived certitude of the original interpretation. This has actually happened in history; it’s not merely hypothetical.

          As for an IQ2-style debate: I’m also greatly in favor of the constructive attitude, although I’m lukewarm on such a debate, except perhaps as a way to bring a lot of the sub-issues to light at once. I’ve listened to a couple of them; they sound dangerously like a cage match, two enter, one leaves, and I think they shouldn’t be. They should rather be one stage in a gradual process (again, I think that’s more realistic).

          Alternately, I would like to see very small sub-issues brought forth here, things that any tech-heavy crowd could probably ingest. Think along the lines of bean’s battleship series.

        • Vermillion says:

          Yeah I guess I’d like to think that this board can do better. And that while it’s not easy to communicate complicated scientific discoveries in a clear manner, that is for sure a barrier that can be overcome, by the scientists making sure their findings are comprehensible and by the public making an effort to comprehend it.

          If you don’t want to be a part of the debate that’s one thing but I think that having that kind of open, honest discussion is the only way to actually change people’s minds. Not the people who are debating probably, but possibly some of the onlookers. That’s what I like to imagine anyway.

        • pontifex says:

          I apologize if I came across as arrogant. That wasn’t my intention. And just for reference, I am not a scientist myself. I am an engineer.

          I just feel like I have the same arguments with AGW people over and over again, on different bulletin boards. Are we really learning from these arguments, or is it just an excuse to vent?

          There is a difference between having an interesting discussion on something on the cutting edge of research– like how does ketamine work as an antidepressant? — and trying to put the whole field of climatology on trial. Scott talked about this before– scientific consensus is actually pretty powerful overall. It is an extraordinary claim to dispute it, requiring extraordinary proof.

          Plus, I think the AGW position is internally inconsistent. “Skepticism” doesn’t justify complacency. Only a well-defined and well-understood model of the climate where human actions had no negative consequences could do that. And AGW people are far from having anything like that model.

          Anyway. If people could have an intelligent and well-conducted debate about global warming anywhere (a big if) I guess it would be here. And maybe I would participate. But this stuff, to me, is exactly like Creationism. And while I will try to be respectful of people, I simply have no respect for AGW as an idea.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I’ll repeat what HeelBearCub said above: AGW typically stands for “Anthropogenic Global Warming”, not “Anti-Global Warming”. So you probably meant “anti-AGW” above or something like that.

            I urge you to revisit some of those rants, in a mindset of there being some legitimate cause there. Nybbler delivered a criticism of the Precautionary Principle you seem to subscribe to here, for instance. He rants, but so are you, here; who’s to say he’s not equally tired of what he considers an inconsistent argument coming from your side?

            I accept that anti-AGW looks like creationism to you. Will you accept, in the same spirit, that AGW looks like a religious crusade to the other side? That that’s not neatly explained by the other side simply being “anti-science”?

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      1. We’re pumping out a lot of CO2 from burning fossil fuels in the last century or two, enough to affect atmospheric composition.

      2. Measurements of atmospheric CO2 indicate that about half of this is sticking around in the atmosphere, and the CO2 level is accordingly rising.

      3. A fairly well-accepted piece of physics indicates that extra CO2 increases the greenhouse effect, which makes the Earth warmer than it would be otherwise.

      [Edit. 4. Despite some wobbles, the temperature seems to have risen a bit, and sea-level certainly has.]

      So, from all the above, global warming is real. The follow-up questions, such as to what extent the warming is affected by negative and positive feedbacks, the long-term effect on sea level (short term, it’s been rising at about 3mm/year for nearly a century, which now amounts to a whole foot), what benefits and harms are likely in various places from a given amount of warming, whether we should concentrate on reducing CO2 or living with the effects, etc. are considerably more up in the air.

      But AGW is definitely a thing. (Hey, I grew up when everyone was scared of global thermonuclear war. I can live with the threat of good weather.)

  3. TS says:

    From Eliezer’s facebook post:

    So my experimental prediction is that no country with no minimum wage *and* NGDP steadily increasing in a band between 4%-20% per year has a college credentialism problem (for jobs not otherwise specially legally restricted in supply e.g. taxi medallions or medical residencies), although that may have just eliminated all developed countries.

    The obvious example here (and somebody pointed that out in Eliezer’s facebook post) is Germany, which didn’t have a minimum wage until recently. And the difference doesn’t seem to be that Germany doesn’t have credentialism, but that the credentials are much more specific. There’s a state-supported vocational training system that trains people for a lot of jobs that would require university degrees in other countries (nurses, for example). Also your university degree is very specific for the jobs you can have. Getting a job as a programmer requires a CS degree, getting a job as an engineer requires an engineering degree, getting a job as a statistician requires a math degree, getting a job as a teacher requires a teaching degree and so on. Medical doctors don’t take some unrelated bachelor first but essentially immediately start with the equivalent of medical school. The degrees also don’t have a lot of unrelated classes like in the USA. If you study physics, you’ll have only physics and math and maybe a handful other science classes. University is seen as something that prepares you for a narrow range of specific jobs.

  4. J Milne says:

    What do people mean when they say ‘Abstract objects exist’, and what’s a good argument for believing this claim? I found the corresponding SEP article unhelpful.

    • OptimalSolver says:

      What do people mean when they say ‘Abstract objects exist’,

      “These completely non-corporeal entities need to exist or my intricate worldview falls apart!”

      See: mathematical and moral realism, Platonic idealism, etc.

      I found the corresponding SEP article unhelpful.

      I find SEP articles TL;DR. Even when I do manage to muddle through one, I find I’ve forgotten almost everything within a few days at most. Personally, slide notes are far more effective for learning a new field than large, dense texts, and I include textbooks under that. Superficial learning, maybe, but what’s the point of struggling with large texts if I’ll just forget everything anyway?

      • J Milne says:

        “These completely non-corporeal entities need to exist or my intricate worldview falls apart!”

        I guess I’d like a defense from someone with a more favourable view of it… But the tweet that led to me asking this ( https://twitter.com/1renist/status/891371324194598912 ) is certainly an example of what you’re referring to.

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think moral realists describe ethics as “objects.” Two plus two may equal four without there existing any platonic twos or fours out there.

        • OptimalSolver says:

          Well they certainly talk about them as things “out there” in objective reality that can be discovered, like gravity, rather than what they are, preferences of individual or groups of agents over world states.

          And of course, these objective morals line up perfectly with the preferences of the realist. What I don’t see are moral realists saying “I personally feel that act x is completely abhorrent and repugnant, but on an objective level, I deduce that act x is actually Good.”

          • onyomi says:

            Try Michael Huemer on ethical intuitionism.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            And of course, these objective morals line up perfectly with the preferences of the realist. What I don’t see are moral realists saying “I personally feel that act x is completely abhorrent and repugnant, but on an objective level, I deduce that act x is actually Good.”

            So how do you explain people changing their minds about moral issues? Or do you just eschew explanation in favour of drive-by ad hominems?

          • than what they are, preferences of individual or groups of agents over world states.

            That’s only a theory, and not much of one. Are all preferences ethical? What about conflicts and disagreements between preferences.

            And of course, these objective morals line up perfectly with the preferences of the realist.

            That’s a bit unfair. You can defend metaethiical objectivism without specifying an object level ethics.

      • I find that philosophy more than almost more than any other field, is something where its not intuitively obvious when I don’t know something. I don’t know how to construct a high-tension bridge across a large river, and that’s obvious to me. But I’d say most people would claim that they know what consciousness is, until they actually try to write down a non-fallacious and consistent definition and find, like most philosophers find, that’s its pretty near impossible (personally I think the idea is wonky).

        I think SEP is pretty good, but the subject matter is usually particularly brain-melting and even relatively intelligent people massively underestimate how hard it will be to absorb, and how they need to read more than once for any of it to truly sink in. My philosophy grades in tertiary education suggested I’m not incompetent at philosophy, but I definitely feel I have to do a lot of re-reading even for a simple SEP article to truly appreciate what it’s saying. This applies much much more to actual primary texts its, summarizing, though perhaps I’m just a slow thinker!

        I like your first point, I think it’s usually on the money, though of course that wouldn’t refute a claim of that kind.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          SEP, and similar publications such as the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, don’t put me off as much as they did at first. I attribute my familiarity now largely to a friend who both grasped a large portion of the literature and enjoyed explaining it to laypeople.

          There are some interesting gedankens in it, especially for people like us. “What is consciousness?” strikes me a bit as hurling people into the deep end of the pool. Much simpler games include the aforementioned sorites paradox, the Ship of Theseus, or distinguishing rigid and non-rigid properties. Very little math, real world examples abound, and they encourage thinking technically and being nitpicky about definitions.

          And yet, SEP and CDP are still going to scare people away. They’re both good in that if you run across a term you’ve not seen before, you can go straight to it. If their definitions refer to a dozen other unknown terms, then you can go to those too. And now you’re in a web of unknowns, like trying to understand War and Peace with a Russian dictionary at hand. You’ll get there eventually, but you might be more efficient if you had a basic text to start with.

          But search for “basic philosophy text” and it’s a mug’s game there, too, because philosophy is actually a lot of different subtopics, and even the subtopics are terms you’re unlikely to be familiar with unless you’re lucky – metaethics, consequentialism, solipsism, post-modernism, Epicureanism, semiotics, metaphysical realism, perdurantism, mereology. Maybe start with a known famous philosopher? Good luck there – Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, Decartes, Plato, Russell, and Quine all wrote about all sorts of subtopics, and often produced stuff even they weren’t happy with later. Best thing you’re likely to get here is a history lesson. Try tackling a specific problem, maybe? You’ll probably worse off, since the name you use for your problem is probably not the name it goes by in the literature (and if you knew the name, you probably wouldn’t be here in the first place). Even if you try what looks like a major, basic subtopic – such as Logic – you’ll invariably have to read a lot of words before you start learning how to answer whatever questions you might have.

          In short, learning philosophy feels like looking for a needle in a haystack when I’m not quite sure what a needle is.

          Every so often, I search for what I would think of as a “practical introduction to philosophy”. So far, I’ve come up empty. Even with the usual suspects, like the Dummies guides or Oxford Press.

          • Nick says:

            In short, learning philosophy feels like looking for a needle in a haystack when I’m not quite sure what a needle is.

            You’ve hit the nail (err, needle) on the head there. It’s a lot harder to find what we want in an introductory philosophy text if we don’t know what we want. (This point was revealed to me by a similar discussion of the often conflicting goals of intro philosophy courses.) Are we trying to teach the history of philosophical ideas? Are we trying to teach how to think philosophically? Are we trying to teach about certain problems? Of course, there’s little use in doing one without some of the others. Understanding a certain figure, idea, or problem is going to require learning what a good argument is and how they might go wrong. It’s immensely helpful attacking a problem to look at how people have thought about it in the past. And a certain figure probably shouldn’t be separated from the views or arguments he advanced.

            In my experience the best approach is to find a philosophical problem that someone thinks is worth solving, then look at historical attempts to solve it, including both details about the figure responding, their wider views, and what precisely their arguments are, then repeat; bonus points if one is either tasked with or independently attempts a solution oneself. But I’m the student, not the teacher. 🙂

    • Nick says:

      Abstract objects (like, say, universals) are called on to solve a number of problems in philosophy. One is the problem of referents: when we make a claim like “this ball is round” or “this ball is red” the ball clearly has a referent in the world, but we want the predicate like ’round’ or ‘red’ to refer to something too, because otherwise what is the claim really about? So, there is such a thing as roundness, or redness, and we’re appealing to what that is to ground our claims.

      Another is the problem of commonality: we observe that two balls are round and red, and we might even say they’re round and red in the same way—maybe one has a greater diameter or some eccentricity, or the other is a slightly paler shade of red, but surely we still mean something when we say they’re round and red. Well, what then? Nothing other than that both balls ‘possess’ or ‘share in’ or ‘exemplify’ the very same roundess, or the very same redness.

      Another is the problem of knowledge. We might be tempted to think our knowledge of the world is grounded in particular material things, like what I know about this ball: it’s round, it’s red, it’s sitting on my desk. But facts about a particular are bound to change: the ball could deflate, I could paint it blue, it might roll off the desk or cease to exist entirely. Since the same could be said for any particular thing, it seems our knowledge is radically contingent on how things are at the time we’re speaking, or the time we’re speaking of. But universals, we can see, don’t change. Painting the ball blue doesn’t change the nature of red, and deflating it doesn’t change the nature of roundness. Indeed, it seems we know what red is and what round is regardless of what we think we know about any particular round or red thing at any given time. But surely we need a referent for this knowledge, or it’s grounded in nothing after all. So, there is such a thing as redness, and such a thing as roundness.

      None of this is to say that universals solve the problems raised, or don’t bring problems of their own, or that there aren’t other or better solutions for these problems. But these were and are regarded as serious problems worth solving, and universals were taken to have real explanatory power when they were proposed.

      • Bugmaster says:

        But surely we need a referent for this knowledge, or it’s grounded in nothing after all

        I understand that you’re trying to steelman universals, but still: I’ve never seen a good defense of this proposition, which sounds like a false dilemma right from the get-go. Anyone who tries to defend it starts off with some variant of “but surely” — a clear indication that they have no argument to speak of. But surely there must be a better defence out there ?

        • Nick says:

          “And don’t call me Shirley!” is always a fair response. 🙂

          I have mixed feelings about the appeal myself, and when my professor relied on it back in my metaphysics class I pressed him on it. He didn’t think it was straightforwardly true either, but establishing it wasn’t the point of this argument, and a lot of people more or less believe it anyway, whether they realize it or not. For those who don’t, you’ll of course have to step back and establish it first.

          I’m up for trying to defend it though. If there’s another possibility for the referent, what is that? If it doesn’t need a referent, how does that work?

          • Bugmaster says:

            If there’s another possibility for the referent, what is that? If it doesn’t need a referent, how does that work?

            Well, one way to respond would be, “both”.

            On the one hand, there (probably) doesn’t exist a non-physical Platonic ideal of “redness” out there; in fact, the very concept is likely incoherent. Is there any way to detect this Platonic redness, other than by observing that people claim to see red things sometimes ? If the answer is “no”, then “Platonic redness” is just a synonym for, “the reason people claim to see red things”, and thus has no explanatory power. Saying “people see red things because there’s a reason people see red things” is tautological.

            On the other hand, though, we can look at the bigger picture. All of us humans have been shaped by millions of years of evolution in a very particular shared environment. We all have very similar receptors in our eyes, connected to very similar brains. In this situation, we should expect most of us to react to certain wavelengths of light in a similar way. Not an identical way, mind you — which one of the reasons why different human cultures all have slightly different color categories — but similar. Thus, we do share a common referent for color: it is our biology, which was shaped by our evolution on Earth, which was ultimately shaped by the physical laws of the Universe. This referent is a bit fuzzy and stochastic, but it’s as absolute as you can get, without delving into dualism.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Bugmaster @5:42:

            Despite agreeing with pretty much all of this, I don’t think it scratches the itch of why there must be certain things and not certain other things. All you appear to have done with the account of eye receptors is elevate the principle of empiric evidence as the primary proof of what exists. That I happen to consider this the most useful account, does not make it the truest one.

            (So which account is truest? I tend to claim that it doesn’t matter; empiric evidence is “good enough”, since it got me fast cars and tall buildings and pretty pictures. Universals are useful too, so they also exist. There’s probably a term of art for this viewpoint, and I feel sheepish for not knowing it. I’m not sure it’s utilitarian.)

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Paul Brinkley:

            That I happen to consider this the most useful account, does not make it the truest one.

            What’s the difference ? I genuinely don’t understand this statement.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I’m not sure I could answer satisfactorily, sadly. Perhaps by example:

            Suppose you had a machine that you could put questions into, and it would spit out the answer. It wouldn’t answer any question, but you get the sense that the more precise the question you put in, the greater the chance that you get a useful answer out. What’s useful? Let’s say it’s whatever tells you how to grow the crops and build the house and survive and be entertained long enough to ask more questions.

            This works really well, for decades – practically your whole life.

            Then one day, the machine stops working the way you expect – questions you expected to be precise, were returning only vague answers or that annoying “insufficient information” error you frequently get when you haven’t hammered the question into good enough shape. You want to fix the machine, but how? (Naturally, you tried asking it, and got an II error.) In a flash of insight, you realize that you need a good mental model of how the machine works. At least, you think that will help. So you try to understand that model.

            But no matter how you do try to study that model, you get this sense that you can’t break out of the usual cycle you had of figuring out questions about the model by writing them down and putting them into the machine. It’s a habit you can’t break. In fact, you have trouble even thinking of it as a habit; your very notion of what habits are, necessarily involves your thinking in terms of putting questions into the machine and expecting answers of certain quality. You’ve stopped thinking of the machine as this funny box sitting in the house you’ve built; it’s a part of yourself.

            Now, instead of saying it was a machine, suppose I said it was your cycle of sensing the world, noticing a pattern, testing the pattern, relying on the pattern, and repeating.

            How would you fix this process, if you had reason to believe that the process itself was somehow munged? I don’t just mean that there’s a pattern you haven’t thought to notice, or a test you haven’t figured out how to design. What if there are things that you will never discover, no matter how many patterns you notice / sense, and how many iterations of tests and refinements you carry out?

            If your response is something like “well that’s silly, if it will affect me at all, I’ll sense it, and my sensing or not will be the test”, then you’re about where I am. I agree; I just can’t prove it without being in a proof framework I can’t grasp.

          • What’s the difference ? I genuinely don’t understand this statement.

            Let’s say that usefulness is the ability to predict observations , and truth is correspondence to reality.

            If you are in some kind of virtual reality you can predict observations, but that tells you nothing about what is going on outside the box.

            Even if you are not, being able to predict an apparent event does not give you the correct interpretation. Knowing that the sun will rise does not tell you whether the sun is the eye of Ra or a fusion reactor.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @bugmaster that’s a great answer for redness but redness has a special vulnerability to it because it’s a ‘two place’ description, being relative to the observer as well as the object. Try doing one for roundness where it is an attribute rather than ‘qualia’.

            There’s probably a term of art for this viewpoint, and I feel sheepish for not knowing it.

            pragmatist?

            Re: difference between truth and usefulness:

            That is an amazing answer. I wish I had thought of it. …Actually that isn’t even true, I can’t imagine thinking of it.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Paul Brinkley, TheAncientGeekAKA1Z:

            The analogy with the machine is a good one; but I think it exposes a deeper problem. You ask, “how would you fix this process, if you had reason to believe that the process itself was somehow munged ?”. But the bigger question is, how would you even know if the process was broken ? In the past, such events had apparently happened many times; and each time, the answer was something to the extent of “OIC, I thought my entire reasoning process was flawed, but now I understand that the planets don’t follow their predicted orbits because there’s this one super important detail that my model doesn’t account for”. So, how could you, even in principle, distinguish this situation from the one where some genuinely ineffable thing exists ? I honestly can’t think of one, and I am not convinced this is possible in principle. And, if it’s impossible for me to tell in principle which case is right, I’ll just pick the one that seems to be more useful. On that subject:

            If you are in some kind of virtual reality you can predict observations, but that tells you nothing about what is going on outside the box.

            How good is the simulation ? If it’s 100% perfect, so perfect that it’s a priori impossible to ever observe anything that could lead you to believe that there’s an “outside” to your box, then I’d argue that this simulation is, in fact, reality. Philosophically speaking, this of course may not be the case; however, the assumption that you are in a simulation has zero explanatory power by definition, since you have defined it as not affecting anything (not even human minds, BTW, since your mind is also a part of the simulation). So, it becomes irrelevant as soon as you propose it.

            @carvenvisage:

            Try doing one for roundness where it is an attribute rather than ‘qualia’.

            I don’t think this makes a great deal of difference. If I understand you correctly, you are contrasting “roundness” with “redness” because you can precisely define “a round surface” as “a set of points all of which are equidistant from a single other point, known as the center”. But you could do that with redness as well, if you wanted, e.g. “a wavelength of light that is precisely 650 nm”. You might argue that this is arbitrary: “why 650 as opposed to 651 ?”. But I could ask the same question about roundness: “why do they all have do be equidistant, why can’t half of them be 0.01% off ?”. In the real world, no macro-scale object is going to be perfectly red or perfectly round, and I’m ok with that. On the other hand, just because you can define something, doesn’t mean that this thing must exist in some Platonic realm (though, of course, the opposite is also true).

          • carvenvisage says:

            No that isn’t it at all.

            When I say “red” I’m aiming either at my subjective experience, or at its external correlate, not at the platonic realm. Red is an approximate concept that refers to multiple things. Of course it doesn’t have a single ‘referent’ we can extrapolate to from them.

            When I talk about a circle I am aiming at the platonic realm, along the 100% straight line that passes through a squiggle on paper and a pie tin.

            And arbitrariness doesn’t matter. “the side of the road you’re supposed to drive on in X country” is 100% arbitrary but it is still a real thing. What novel an author writes is down to them but a book still contains more than its paper and its ink and its cover and its bindings.

          • How good is the simulation ? If it’s 100% perfect, so perfect that it’s a priori impossible to ever observe anything that could lead you to believe that there’s an “outside” to your box, then I’d argue that this simulation is, in fact, reality.

            By hypothesis, it is not.

            however, the assumption that you are in a simulation has zero explanatory power

            It has zero *predictive* power, but is by hypohesis true anyway. You are gainsaying my argument by setting usefulness equal tot truth.

            Note, BTW that the virtual reality box is only an illustration. The actual argument is that being able to predict phenomena doesn’t give you their correct interpretation.

          • @CarvenImage

            You seem to be treating “platonic realm” as meaning only exact definition, whereas in the context, it is ontologically loaded.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            But the bigger question is, how would you even know if the process was broken?

            That’s exactly what I was talking about when I said “You want to fix the machine, but how?”. 🙂 I encourage you to reread that part in that light.

            Your response is about the same one I produce, right down to the point where you can’t visualize a genuinely ineffable phenomenon (although in my case I’d probably call it indetectible), and so you just go with what’s “useful”.

            I mean, if you could tell something was wrong, that’s by definition detectible. How could something be both detectible and indetectible?

            (You might notice how I smuggled that glitch into the machine analogy. If the machine stops answering your questions as well, the correct thing for a sense-predict-test adherent to do is to exploit that difference in observation to learn about it. It doesn’t matter that that machine is actually your sensory apparatus. That apparatus is more than your five classic senses or even the dozen or so that seem to actually exist, and you really are allowed to try to analyze the mechanism logically, contrary to what I implied.)

            TheAncientGeekAKA1Z’s succinct example touches on another potential flaw in our sense-predict-test cycle. If the sun is actually the eye of Ra, maybe it’ll “blink” someday. But it might not do so for millions of years, and until then, it behaves like a huge ball of plasma with gravity and magnetism and all that other physics stuff we worked out. We might not have any way to poke the eye and make it blink before then. But then January 28, 5692119 AD rolls around and it blinks and now we have millions of years of recorded observations to rethink.

            So in general, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But we notice that it doesn’t have to be a 100% guarantee for us to bet resources on it and accept the risk and enjoy smartphones and skyscrapers in the mean time. In other words, “useful” is good enough.

            …but it’s still not necessarily True.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Paul Brinkley:
            Sorry, I think you misunderstood my point. I agree that all kinds of unlikely things could be possible, e.g. the Sun could in fact be the eye of Ra. However, the number of highly unlikely things is infinite; if I worried about each and every one of them, I’d never get anything done. Instead, I choose to worry only about the things that could potentially affect me in some way. This is why I ask the question, “how would we know if the machine is broken ?”. If your answer is, “ah, precisely ! How would we know ?”, then what you’re really saying is, “the broken-ness of the machine could not possibly affect anyone in any way (otherwise, this is how we would know that it’s broken)”. Well, in that case, I am going to just ignore that possibility. Of course, if at some point in the future someone detects a glitch in the Matrix, then I’d absolutely re-evaluate my beliefs — because glitches are detectable, and therefore can affect me in some way.

          • Replacing truth with usefulness has consequences: for one you need to be highly tolerant of beliefs you don’t share, since it is hard to prove that a belief isn’t useful to the believer. That is something that is arguably hard-wired into capital-p Pragmatism:

            https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatic-belief-god/
            http://www.iep.utm.edu/james-o/#SH3a

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Bugmaster: I think I understood your point just fine. You say if you worried about all the highly unlikely things, you’d never get anything done; I agree, and said so. You say that I say that “the broken-ness of the machine could not possibly affect anyone in any way”; I agree, and said so. You say you’d just ignore that possibility in that case; so would I. We’re agreeing on a great many things.

            …but the things we’ve both chosen to believe in this case are still not True. 🙂

            Yes, yes, I know. Why would we ever, ever care? Well, my terse response is black swans. You and I and everyone else knows that things that went as expected in the past might still go differently in the future. This also touches on AncientGeek’s point; there may exist a handful of people who believe something will go differently despite reliable past results, and we probably need a way to manage that information that isn’t simply that they’re insane because they believe a false thing.

            And then you might say, well, I’m not talking about mere black swans, like Apple stock going down tomorrow or the Vikings winning the Superbowl; I’m talking about glitches in the Matrix or the sun sprouting a pupil and funny-looking eyeshadow and other brain-vat levels of improbability. And again, I sympathize. Trust me, my money’s going in the same roulette slot as yours.

            So why do I still distinguish “the sun is not the eye of Ra” from Truth? It’s still hard to explain. Maybe I’ll answer with another question: why do mathematicians distinguish integers from numbers constructible from {the integers plus addition}?

        • A lot of defenses of abstract realism are based on arguments from correspondence theories of truth and reference-only theories of meaning, but universals are a bit different. If you don’t have real universals to explain how things resemble each other, you need another mechanism. Natural laws and causality present a similar problem: what does it mean for two occurences to instantiate the same law?

          On the other hand, though, we can look at the bigger picture. All of us humans have been shaped by millions of years of evolution in a very particular shared environment. We all have very similar receptors in our eyes, connected to very similar brains. In this situation, we should expect most of us to react to certain wavelengths of light in a similar way.

          That doesn’t address the issue at all. You are presuming that external objects have similar reflectance characteristics and humans have similar perceptual characteristics. You are not explaining how similarity works.

          • Bugmaster says:

            (I think you replied to the wrong post, FWIW, but no big deal)

            what does it mean for two occurences to instantiate the same law?

            From my point of view, not much, because I don’t believe that laws have a separate existence from things that are acted upon by the laws. Laws are just abstractions made up by humans. For example, consider “F=ma”. In the grand scheme of things, there are no such things as “force”, “mass”, or “acceleration”. There aren’t even such things as “electrons”. There may or may not be some sort of “strings” or something; right now, we don’t know for sure, but “F=ma” is an excellent abstraction that works in many cases, so at least it’s not totally wrong.

            You are presuming that external objects have similar reflectance characteristics and humans have similar perceptual characteristics.

            I rather think that I’m observing this, not presuming it. If you show the same object to a bunch of humans, and ask them what color it is, most people will answer something like “red”, “crimson”, “dark pink”, or some variant thereof. I don’t need to invoke dualism in order to merely state this is the case — or do I ? If I do not, then we have two competing explanations for why this happens: your dualistic one, and my monistic one. The dualistic explanation has very little (if any) explanatory power and a host of other problems; the monistic explanation is intuitively unsatisfactory (due to all the uncertainty involved), but appears to work a lot better, so that’s why I’m sticking with it.

          • laws are just abstractions made up by humans.

            Thats a popular answer, but it fails to account for a number of things. We expect lawlike regularities to hold in the future, and a law that si just a human description can’t bring that about.

            I rather think that I’m observing this, not presuming it. If you show the same object to a bunch of humans, and ask them what color it is, most people will answer something like “red”, “crimson”, “dark pink”, or some variant thereof. I don’t need to invoke dualism in order to merely state this is the case — or do I ?

            It has nothing to do with dualsim. It is just that you are no explaining away similarity, because your account of it assumes and requires it.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z:

            We expect lawlike regularities to hold in the future, and a law that si just a human description can’t bring that about.

            I’m not sure what you mean. Human models of the Universe are descriptive, not prescriptive. When I say, “the Sun will probably come out tomorrow”, I’m just voicing a prediction, not commanding the Sun to rise on time !

            It is just that you are not explaining away similarity, because your account of it assumes and requires it.

            Firstly, even if my explanation for X is completely false, that doesn’t your explanation true by default; as I mentioned above, the notion of abstract universals suffers from all the problems of dualism (such as lack of explanatory power, internal inconsistency, etc.). Secondly, it sounds like you’re begging the question here. We observe humans giving similar responses to the question, “what color is this ball”. Your explanation of this phenomenon is, “abstract universals must exist”. Why ? Because we could only notice similarity if abstract universals existed ? That’s circular reasoning; you can’t assume X in order to prove X.

          • Nick says:

            I’m not sure what you mean. Human models of the Universe are descriptive, not prescriptive. When I say, “the Sun will probably come out tomorrow”, I’m just voicing a prediction, not commanding the Sun to rise on time !

            But physical laws aren’t just predictions, and how sure you are that the sun will come up tomorrow has little directly to do with physical laws anyway (since plenty of physically realizable things could throw orbits out of whack, right?). Consider something like F=ma. Even if that formulation is just our current best-guess about what the world is doing, the world is going to keep on doing what it’s doing, and it’s only a matter of our discovering what that is, whatever that is, right? “F=ma” might be map, but the lawlike behavior it’s describing is territory, no?

          • Human models of the Universe are descriptive, not prescriptive. When I say, “the Sun will probably come out tomorrow”, I’m just voicing a prediction, not commanding the Sun to rise on time !

            You can’t describe the future because it hasn’t happened yet. You can’t have any confidence in a prediction based on past evidence unless you assume that the world operated in such a way that past regularities continue to hold in the future. I.e some kind of lawful regular ity in the territory.

            Firstly, even if my explanation for X is completely false, that doesn’t your explanation true by defaul

            I haven’t offered an explanation and I am not wedded to Platonism

          • Bugmaster says:

            I believe I have addressed your objection in my other comment, but please let me know if that’s not the case.

          • I’m not seeing the relevance.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Thanks for actually trying to answer the question.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Agreed. My comment above was a bit snarky, but I also very much appreciate the effort.

    • John Nerst says:

      “Exist” is a risky word that appears to have a clear definition but doesn’t. What it means is context-dependent, and arguments like the ones you’re describing uses it as if it has a single well-defined meaning.

      Ontologies are maps of reality, and as such they tend to not match their territory perfectly. A map is a model made of entities and their relationships, and as anyone who’s designed a database or programmed in an object-oriented language knows, there are different valid ways to model things and how you should do it depends on what you want to achieve.

      (By that I don’t mean to say that all models are equally accurate. They aren’t.)

      Now when you say “[entity] exists”, what you’re trying to say is that your map with [entity] in it should be considered valid (that’s how I read it).

      It could have a stronger meaning as well, though. Even if the models we typically use are simplified and not 100% accurate, reality does exist and there must be some model, however intractable, that captures it as it really is – it’s entities and relationships are the ones in which the “source code of the universe” is actually written.

      That an entity exists could in that sense be taken to mean that it’s a fundamental component of reality. I don’t know to what extent there still are philosophers who genuinely believe in idealism – that ideas and concepts are what reality is made of – but personally I consider that such a strange idea that I don’t really know where to start discussing it.

      I guess that’s a common problem with something like your original question: when you get to saying that some abstract thing exists you’ve probably already gone past the point where the real philosophical disagreements lie.

    • James says:

      How about a pragmatist take on such claims? “Xs exist” “The concept of ‘X’ is useful for understanding and navigating the world.”

    • The original Mr. X says:

      What do people mean when they say ‘Abstract objects exist’,

      I’m afraid I’m not sure how the statement in question could be made any simpler.

      and what’s a good argument for believing this claim?

      That fact that it’s possible for two or more things to share the same property.

      • J Milne says:

        I’m not conceived it makes sense to think of things sharing properties beyond us simply declaring that they do. For instance, ‘redness’ seems to be often suggested as a property that things share, but there’s no reason that two objects that you and I might agree on as ‘red’ might not be thought of as having distinct colours by some alien that happens to partition the colour spectrum in a different way. Indeed, I find it hard to believe that if you take any two English speakers, and ask them to clearly delineate the area of a (say) photoshop colour palette into red and not red, that they’ll produce the same two areas.

        Another example that I’ve seen is that there’s some abstract Horsiness that all horses have in common. But if you believe in evolution, you believe in a lineage stretching back from every uncontroversial horse to some extremely basic form of life, and again it seems clear that declaring some particular collection of ancestors to be horses and the remainder to not be must be completely arbitrary, and so Horsiness is just some convention that we humans use to communicate, rather than some abstract category existing independently of us.

        So to return to what it means by ‘Abstract objects exist’, I guess my issue is that it seems both uncontroversial and not very interesting if we simply mean that humans like to arbitrarily label things, and it seems plainly false if it means that things like Redness and Horsiness are well defined notions that exist independently of us inventing them. Which do you take it to mean?

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I’m not conceived it makes sense to think of things sharing properties beyond us simply declaring that they do.

          So on what grounds do you think we group objects into different categories? Sheer arbitrary act of will? Would you say that the only thing making you, e.g., a human rather than a pot plant, is arbitrary social convention?

          But if you believe in evolution,

          I’m going to stop you right there: evolution is a scientific theory, and absent realism, the scientific method is invalid. You can’t validly generalise experimental findings in a world where no objects have any properties in common, after all.

          • J Milne says:

            I think of two red things as being both red because I’ve been taught that that’s how we partition the colour spectrum. But it seems obvious that we could have partitioned it in a different way. Indeed we know of extant languages that do this!

            And I’m pretty sure I’m allowed update my beliefs about e.g. things I regard as red without any commitment to the existence of redness. But we don’t need to go down this route and I’d rather not. Instead I’d like you to say where the delineation defining Horsiness or Redness lies, assuming you believe that this are abstract properties that exist beyond our conceiving them. You should be able to do this without shifting the discussion to the foundations of my beliefs.

            (Apologies for earlier typos, writing from phone)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’d define horsiness as Nick does below, and redness as the property of reflecting light on a certain part of the spectrum. I’d rather this didn’t degenerate into a round of you asking me to define whatever property pops into your head according to some arbitrary strict standard, however, because this would be a red herring for two reasons: firstly, there’s nothing about realism requiring that every universal be easy to define (indeed, that’s the point of most of Plato’s dialogues); and secondly, there’s nothing about realism that requires every category term we use to have a corresponding universal. Even if I were unable to come up with a satisfactory definition of horsiness, therefore, this wouldn’t prove that there was no universal of horsiness; and even if you were able to prove that there was no universal of horsiness, this wouldn’t prove that there were no universals whatsoever.

            Instead, I’m going to repeat my question about your being human, which you didn’t address in your last reply. If the idea of people deciding that you’re really a pot plant seems too far-out, consider an example of something that’s actually happened a lot in recent history. Say the rest of humankind decides that people of your ethnicity aren’t actually human at all; do you remain a human despite what they think, or do you cease to be human and become something else instead?

          • J Milne says:

            I’d define horsiness as Nick does below

            I mean, he doesn’t define it, he suggests that we define it “according to which feature or features distinguish a horse from similar species” which is clearly circular.

            I’d rather this didn’t degenerate into a round of you asking me to define whatever property pops into your head according to some arbitrary strict standard, however, because this would be a red herring for two reasons: firstly, there’s nothing about realism requiring that every universal be easy to define (indeed, that’s the point of most of Plato’s dialogues); and secondly, there’s nothing about realism that requires every category term we use to have a corresponding universal.

            I’m sorry but I don’t think I’m being strict if I reject your definition of redness as “the property of reflecting light on a certain part of the spectrum”, as that appears to be the definition of any colour. What part of the spectrum? Why that part? Do you accept that you might call something red that others might deign to call something else? How do you resolve such a difficulty to ascertain who is ‘correct’?

            Even if I were unable to come up with a satisfactory definition of horsiness, therefore, this wouldn’t prove that there was no universal of horsiness; and even if you were able to prove that there was no universal of horsiness, this wouldn’t prove that there were no universals whatsoever.

            Can you at least tell me when we should expect there to be a universal then?

            Instead, I’m going to repeat my question about your being human, which you didn’t address in your last reply.

            Yes, our categories are arbitrary. See e.g. http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-made-for-man-not-man-for-the-categories/ There are obvious reasons why we choose to group all humans together, and that’s why we do it. Similarly why people may have made an effort to remove undesirables from the classification in the past. As for potted plants, suppose a nasty wizard casts a spell that slowly transforms you into one. On day one you turn green, day two your skin becomes bark, and so on. On day one, are you a green human, or a human-esque plant? What about day two?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Yes, our categories are arbitrary. See e.g. http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-made-for-man-not-man-for-the-categories/

            The fact that a Hebrew word for sea-creatures sometimes get translated as “fish” doesn’t at all prove that our categories are arbitrary.

            There are obvious reasons why we choose to group all humans together, and that’s why we do it.

            Actually, no, it’s not at all obvious: if there are no universals, no things can have any features in common, so there’s no good reason why we should group some entirely arbitrary set of dissimilar things together and call them human.

            Similarly why people may have made an effort to remove undesirables from the classification in the past.

            And what do you think about such efforts? If society decides that a group formerly considered human aren’t human at all, is society mistaken in this belief, or does the group cease to be human?

            As for potted plants, suppose a nasty wizard casts a spell that slowly transforms you into one. On day one you turn green, day two your skin becomes bark, and so on. On day one, are you a green human, or a human-esque plant? What about day two?

            I’d say you become a plant when you lose your mind. But the actual thought experiment involved people deciding that you were a potted plant without you undergoing any change in yourself. If all categories are arbitrary, categorising you as a pot plant is no more or less arbitrary than categorising you as a human; do you in fact think that this is the case?

            I think of two red things as being both red because I’ve been taught that that’s how we partition the colour spectrum.

            Never mind partitioning for now; do you think it’s possible for two things to be on the same place on the colour spectrum?

          • Nick says:

            I mean, he doesn’t define it, he suggests that we define it “according to which feature or features distinguish a horse from similar species” which is clearly circular.

            Be fair. I wasn’t being circular, I was being vague and overly general. 😀 Consider the following example. I give you a ball (red), and ask you what it is, and you say it’s a ball. I give you another one, and ask for a new definition–no repeats. This time you say it’s a blue ball. I give you another one, same deal–you say it’s a green one. Acknowledging that they are largely similar (round, bouncy, slightly reflective), you’ve defined each according to the feature which distinguishes it from similar ones. Nothing circular about it. Notice you had no trouble identifying what was similar and what was different about them. Under the genus ball, you have several species: the red ball, the blue ball, the green ball. (This example is misleading in several ways, but I think it serves its purpose okay here.)

            In the case of horses, you can do the same. Acknowledging that they have much in common with the zebra and the ass, and that they perhaps belong to the same genus (here broadly construed), you can nevertheless identify specific differences which distinguish the kinds. Again, there’s nothing circular in noticing some things are similar in certain respects, and different in others. I grant that this does nothing against your earlier question about the arbitrariness of these taxonomies—that’s a more serious objection, and I’ll get back to that soon.

          • J Milne says:

            Actually, no, it’s not at all obvious: if there are no universals, no things can have any features in common, so there’s no good reason why we should group some entirely arbitrary set of dissimilar things together and call them human.

            Things have features in common when we declare them to. The process is dependent on us first defining the feature in question, and there’s no way of doing so that isn’t in some way arbitrary.

            But the actual thought experiment involved people deciding that you were a potted plant without you undergoing any change in yourself. If all categories are arbitrary, categorising you as a pot plant is no more or less arbitrary than categorising you as a human; do you in fact think that this is the case?

            Yes. Suppose I meet these people by travelling to a far away land. First I’d think that the word they use for human is the same as the word they use for potted plant. I have my own way of viewing the world, and I separate potted plants from humans, and will work from this perspective even when encountering those who don’t. If they went further as to always expect potted plants to behave in the same way humans do, I’d have little hope for their success at surgery or horticulture. Similarly, let’s say a child uses ‘horsies’ to talk about horses and donkeys, and associates this category with going for rides and feeding things sugar lumps. I’d think it was a perfectly fine category for the child to use. If the child grows up in a society where horses and donkeys have different uses, it would learn to further subdivide its horsies category, and make a finer distinction. Our society is one which is far more interested in horses than donkeys. Our ‘horse’ category has an enormous number of subdivisions to help us keep track of what we’re interested in. Our ‘donkey’ category is far coarser, because we’re less interested.

            I think John Nerst’s reply above is a better explanation of what I’m trying to say here.

            And what do you think about such efforts? If society decides that a group formerly considered human aren’t human at all, is society mistaken in this belief, or does the group cease to be human?

            I don’t think this is a meaningful question. As a society, we’ve a fairly well-understood concept of what red is. If someone comes along and says that something blue is red, we say that he’s wrong. If someone comes along as says that something reddish-orange is red, some of us would say ‘No it’s red’ and some would say ‘No it’s orange’ and some would ‘It’s sort of in between and I’d call it reddish-orange to be safe if I were you’. It doesn’t make sense to talk of the object being red, or orange, or reddish-orange, it only makes sense to talk about what we call the object.

            Never mind partitioning for now; do you think it’s possible for two things to be on the same place on the colour spectrum?

            It depends what you mean! We can make a device that detects the wavelength of light reflecting off a surface, which has some certain level of sensitivity, and we can declare that two surfaces have the same colour if this machine produces the same number. But inevitably, the machine ‘buckets’ families of wavelengths together, and is insensitive to some level of distinction. Worse, the machine will probably be far more sensitive than we are, and tell us that two things are different colours when we think of them as having the same colour. What actually happens is we have multiple meanings for ‘things of the same colour’. In everyday use, it’s used for uncontroversial appeals to the society-approved colours, like saying a leaf has the same colour as grass. In a lab we’ll use it to refer to instances when our machine has the same output.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Things have features in common when we declare them to.

            Which means that they don’t actually have features in common, it’s just a game we play for some reason.

            The process is dependent on us first defining the feature in question, and there’s no way of doing so that isn’t in some way arbitrary.

            Ex hypothesi, there’s no feature for us to define in the first place. It’s all just completely arbitrary. Why, on your account, did we decide to group some things together as being red, when actually there’s no feature of redness (or any other feature, for that matter) that can distinguish them?

            Yes. Suppose I meet these people by travelling to a far away land. First I’d think that the word they use for human is the same as the word they use for potted plant. I have my own way of viewing the world, and I separate potted plants from humans, and will work from this perspective even when encountering those who don’t. If they went further as to always expect potted plants to behave in the same way humans do, I’d have little hope for their success at surgery or horticulture.

            Why would potted plants behave differently to humans, if they don’t share some features that humans lack?

            I don’t think this is a meaningful question. As a society, we’ve a fairly well-understood concept of what red is. If someone comes along and says that something blue is red, we say that he’s wrong. If someone comes along as says that something reddish-orange is red, some of us would say ‘No it’s red’ and some would say ‘No it’s orange’ and some would ‘It’s sort of in between and I’d call it reddish-orange to be safe if I were you’. It doesn’t make sense to talk of the object being red, or orange, or reddish-orange, it only makes sense to talk about what we call the object.

            I didn’t ask about redness, I asked about humanity. If a fascist government took control and declared that all Jews were now to be considered non-human, would they be wrong to do so? What if a majority of the country agreed with them?

            It depends what you mean! We can make a device that detects the wavelength of light reflecting off a surface, which has some certain level of sensitivity, and we can declare that two surfaces have the same colour if this machine produces the same number. But inevitably, the machine ‘buckets’ families of wavelengths together, and is insensitive to some level of distinction. Worse, the machine will probably be far more sensitive than we are, and tell us that two things are different colours when we think of them as having the same colour. What actually happens is we have multiple meanings for ‘things of the same colour’. In everyday use, it’s used for uncontroversial appeals to the society-approved colours, like saying a leaf has the same colour as grass. In a lab we’ll use it to refer to instances when our machine has the same output.

            I didn’t ask whether we could measure their colour to whatever arbitrary standard of accuracy it would take to satisfy you, I asked whether, as a matter of fact, it’s possible for two things to be on the same place of the colour spectrum.

          • J Milne says:

            Which means that they don’t actually have features in common, it’s just a game we play for some reason.

            Ex hypothesi, there’s no feature for us to define in the first place. It’s all just completely arbitrary. Why, on your account, did we decide to group some things together as being red, when actually there’s no feature of redness (or any other feature, for that matter) that can distinguish them?

            I like this map/territory analogy, so I’ll try and explain what I mean with it. Suppose our territory is the human body, and we’re trying to make a map. We might notice the nose as something we want to communicate about, and want to agree on some convention in order to do so. So we take a pen and draw a little circle around it, and declare that this area is what we mean when we talk about noses. I’m saying that there are many little circles we could make, and there isn’t a ‘correct’ one. And even if we have a vote and pick one and declare it to be the best one, when we turn to another individual, with a slightly different nose and try to mimic our original little circle, we’ll inevitably end up with different people drawing slightly different circles.

            Why would potted plants behave differently to humans, if they don’t share some features that humans lack?

            I’m happy to accept that potted plants and humans look different on the ‘territory’. But so do, inevitably, two different humans. Our choice to regard the two humans as sufficiently similar to belong to the same category is, well, a choice.

            I didn’t ask about redness, I asked about humanity. If a fascist government took control and declared that all Jews were now to be considered non-human, would they be wrong to do so? What if a majority of the country agreed with them?

            They’d be wrong according to my definition of human, but right according to their own. No such thing as ‘wrong’ definitions in and of themselves. Trying to reach some level of agreement about definitions is a useful thing to do if you wish to communicate effectively though.

            I didn’t ask whether we could measure their colour to whatever arbitrary standard of accuracy it would take to satisfy you, I asked whether, as a matter of fact, it’s possible for two things to be on the same place of the colour spectrum.

            Again, it depends what you mean by that. What spectrum? I say that an apple is red if it looks like my idea of red. I say a wavelength is 680nm if that’s what my little machine tells me. I say a photoshop palette colour is (201, 123, 123) if that’s what the computer tells me. But I don’t know how to talk about points on the colour spectrum in the abstract way that you seem to be asking about in your question. I hope this doesn’t seem evasive since I mentioned spectrums earlier and now seem to act like I can’t talk about them, but I always had in mind something that I could talk about, e.g. outputs from a spectrometer or what have you.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I like this map/territory analogy, so I’ll try and explain what I mean with it. Suppose our territory is the human body, and we’re trying to make a map. We might notice the nose as something we want to communicate about, and want to agree on some convention in order to do so. So we take a pen and draw a little circle around it, and declare that this area is what we mean when we talk about noses. I’m saying that there are many little circles we could make, and there isn’t a ‘correct’ one. And even if we have a vote and pick one and declare it to be the best one, when we turn to another individual, with a slightly different nose and try to mimic our original little circle, we’ll inevitably end up with different people drawing slightly different circles.

            You’re still ignoring the fundamental problem with your account, which is that, under your hypothesis, making maps should be of no use to anyone, because nothing can have anything in common so your map can tell you about, at most, one person’s body.

            I’m happy to accept that potted plants and humans look different on the ‘territory’. But so do, inevitably, two different humans. Our choice to regard the two humans as sufficiently similar to belong to the same category is, well, a choice.

            Do you and I share some features that we don’t share with pot plants? Yes or no?

            They’d be wrong according to my definition of human, but right according to their own. No such thing as ‘wrong’ definitions in and of themselves. Trying to reach some level of agreement about definitions is a useful thing to do if you wish to communicate effectively though.

            Why, though? Again, in a nominalist universe, nothing can have any feature in common, so there’s no basis on which to draw maps, and no reason why doing so would be useful.

            Again, it depends what you mean by that. What spectrum? I say that an apple is red if it looks like my idea of red. I say a wavelength is 680nm if that’s what my little machine tells me. I say a photoshop palette colour is (201, 123, 123) if that’s what the computer tells me. But I don’t know how to talk about points on the colour spectrum in the abstract way that you seem to be asking about in your question. I hope this doesn’t seem evasive since I mentioned spectrums earlier and now seem to act like I can’t talk about them, but I always had in mind something that I could talk about, e.g. outputs from a spectrometer or what have you.

            I honestly don’t see why you’re having so much difficulty with the question, unless you are just trying to avoid answering it. Is it possible for two apples to both reflect light of a wavelength of 680 nm? Yes or no?

          • J Milne says:

            You’re still ignoring the fundamental problem with your account, which is that, under your hypothesis, making maps should be of no use to anyone, because nothing can have anything in common so your map can tell you about, at most, one person’s body…

            Why, though? Again, in a nominalist universe, nothing can have any feature in common, so there’s no basis on which to draw maps, and no reason why doing so would be useful.

            Not at all, my map that identifies noses would be very useful for, say, rhinologists. You seem to be saying that things can’t look similar without some abstract property existing which they share, but I don’t see why that must be the case. If anything, the reverse process happens — we regard things as similar and we define some property which we declare them to share. You assert that the opposite happens, but then can’t give me a single clear definition of an abstract property.

            Do you and I share some features that we don’t share with pot plants? Yes or no?

            We say that humans have noses and plants don’t, for example.

            I honestly don’t see why you’re having so much difficulty with the question, unless you are just trying to avoid answering it. Is it possible for two apples to both reflect light of a wavelength of 680 nm? Yes or no?

            Sure, I think I could get that reading twice on my little machine that measures wavelength to the nearest nanometer. If you’re asking whether two things to reflect light at the same wavelength to an arbitrary level of precision, then I’m going to start worrying about how to measure wavelength.

          • you seem to be saying that things can’t look similar without some abstract property existing which they share,

            The issue is more that if you reject platonic realism, you need something else to explain similarity and difference.

          • J Milne says:

            The issue is more that if you reject platonic realism, you need something else to explain similarity and difference.

            But platonic realism doesn’t seem to explain the territory any more than whatever the negation is, it seems to just be a statement that this particular map is the map. That your particular labelling (redness, horsiness) is the correct one. Can I not say that there is a territory, but different maps suffice for different purposes?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You seem to be saying that things can’t look similar without some abstract property existing which they share, but I don’t see why that must be the case.

            Because to be similar just is to share one or more property. If there are no properties, it’s impossible for things to share them, and hence impossible for things to be similar to each other.

            We say that humans have noses and plants don’t, for example.

            Sure, I think I could get that reading twice on my little machine that measures wavelength to the nearest nanometer. If you’re asking whether two things to reflect light at the same wavelength to an arbitrary level of precision, then I’m going to start worrying about how to measure wavelength.

            If you could stop changing the subject and give a straight answer to the questions, that would be great.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Do you accept that you might call something red that others might deign to call something else? How do you resolve such a difficulty to ascertain who is ‘correct’?

            Do you accept that you might call something 3 which I might call 2 +1?

            (overlapping categories does not mean invalid categories)

          • Bugmaster says:

            If there are no properties, it’s impossible for things to share them…

            This is technically true; however, there may be other explanations for why we consider disparate objects to be similar other than “properties exist”. For example, one such explanation could be, “because we are all creatures that have evolved on the same planet in the same universe, and thus our minds work the same way”. This changes the reason for why we perceive similarity from the dualistic “properties” to the monistic “universe”, thus eliminating a lot of problems.

          • J Milne says:

            Because to be similar just is to share one or more property. If there are no properties, it’s impossible for things to share them, and hence impossible for things to be similar to each other.

            I don’t think this is safe, because you seem to define things as sharing a property after noting similarity…

            Why can’t I say that we have some sense of similarity, and we define certain properties to help us keep track of what we mean. Certainly our senses don’t give us access to any complete description of similarity, we miss on on certain light frequencies, we struggle with identifying differences at small scales, we struggle at distinguishing structural colour from the psychological experience of seeing colour.

            If you could stop changing the subject and give a straight answer to the questions, that would be great.

            I think this is very unfair. I’ve always made an effort to reply to each part of your post, and ask for clarification when it isn’t clear what you want. In this case it isn’t clear if you’re asking about the idea of two waves being of the same wavelength to arbitrary precision, which I don’t think is a well-defined idea since ‘wavelength’ breaks down at small scale, and ‘arbitrary precision’ requires insight at every scale.

            Anyway, here are some questions I put to you that you ignored:

            Do you accept that you might call something red that others might deign to call something else? How do you resolve such a difficulty to ascertain who is ‘correct’?

            Can you at least tell me when we should expect there to be a universal then?

          • For example, one such explanation could be, “because we are all creatures that have evolved on the same planet in the same universe, and thus our minds work the same way”.

            And it remains the case that any sufficiently detailed expansion of that theory is going to have to appeal to pre-existing properties and similarities at some point.

            Why can’t I say that we have some sense of similarity, and we define certain properties to help us keep track of what we mean

            Because if that is your only account of similarity,. difference, etc, you are implying that the territory is a featureless blob.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I don’t think this is safe, because you seem to define things as sharing a property after noting similarity…

            I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say here.

            Why can’t I say that we have some sense of similarity, and we define certain properties to help us keep track of what we mean. Certainly our senses don’t give us access to any complete description of similarity, we miss on on certain light frequencies, we struggle with identifying differences at small scales, we struggle at distinguishing structural colour from the psychological experience of seeing colour.

            Because you’ve given no explanation for why we’d get “some sense of similarity” from looking at things if they aren’t in fact similar.

            I think this is very unfair. I’ve always made an effort to reply to each part of your post, and ask for clarification when it isn’t clear what you want. In this case it isn’t clear if you’re asking about the idea of two waves being of the same wavelength to arbitrary precision, which I don’t think is a well-defined idea since ‘wavelength’ breaks down at small scale, and ‘arbitrary precision’ requires insight at every scale.

            I asked whether it’s possible for two objects to reflect the same wavelength of light, and you responded with irrelevancies about spectrometers. Either you’re trying to avoid answering the question, or you’re confused about the difference between metaphysics and epistemology.

          • J Milne says:

            I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say here…

            Because you’ve given no explanation for why we’d get “some sense of similarity” from looking at things if they aren’t in fact similar.

            You say that “Because to be similar just is to share one or more property”, so let’s say our definition of similarity is dependent on first our understanding of properties. So when do things then share a property? You can’t say ‘When they’re similar!’ because this is circular. So what do you say?

            I asked whether it’s possible for two objects to reflect the same wavelength of light, and you responded with irrelevancies about spectrometers. Either you’re trying to avoid answering the question, or you’re confused about the difference between metaphysics and epistemology.

            Because I don’t know what you mean. If you asked me 1000 years ago I’d tell you that yes I’ve seen things that are indistinguishable by colour. If you ask me today I’d say yes I’ve measured things that are indistinguishable by wavelength. You seem to be appealing to some transcendental notion of identical colour that I don’t understand, and which you refuse to define.

          • “Because to be similar just is to share one or more property”,

            English allows you to use the “shared property” phrase to express “similar property” but that doesn’t mean taking the phrase literally is a good idea. We must resist the bewitchment of our intelligence by our language.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You say that “Because to be similar just is to share one or more property”, so let’s say our definition of similarity is dependent on first our understanding of properties. So when do things then share a property? You can’t say ‘When they’re similar!’ because this is circular. So what do you say?

            Things share a property when it is possible to predicate the same property of both things. E.g., if it is possible to say of both X and Y, “This is red”, then X and Y share the property of redness.

            Because I don’t know what you mean. If you asked me 1000 years ago I’d tell you that yes I’ve seen things that are indistinguishable by colour. If you ask me today I’d say yes I’ve measured things that are indistinguishable by wavelength. You seem to be appealing to some transcendental notion of identical colour that I don’t understand, and which you refuse to define.

            This really isn’t difficult. Two objects have identical colour when they both reflect light of the same wavelength. Note that objects reflect light even when we’re not around to measure them. Is it possible for two objects to reflect light of the same wavelength?

          • Iain says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            You are skipping large chunks of your argument.

            I asked whether it’s possible for two objects to reflect the same wavelength of light, and you responded with irrelevancies about spectrometers. Either you’re trying to avoid answering the question, or you’re confused about the difference between metaphysics and epistemology.

            Yes. It is possible for two objects to reflect the same wavelengths of light. So what?

            You seem to be saying that recognizing a similarity requires us to also recognize the ‘existence’ of an abstract property which embodies the similarity. If two things are both red, then there must be some abstract property of redness. But why? I can define any number of other shared properties. My fork and my pen are both made up of a non-prime number of atoms. Both “fork” and “pen” are shorter words in English than in French. (“Fourchette” and “stylo”, respectively.) They are both currently closer to my left toe than they are to your right thumb. Do these properties ‘exist’? Did they ‘exist’ before I made them up just now?

            Whatever you would like to say about left-toe-vs-right-thumbness, it clearly ‘exists’ in a very different way than my fork exists. It is unclear why we should use the same word in both cases. Tabooing the word “existence” for a moment, I would say that it is possible to define left-toe-vs-right-thumbness. In a sense, left-toe-vs-right-thumbness is a function: you feed it the state of the universe, and it tells you whether or not the universe is arranged such that your statement is true.

            Redness works the exact same way. We define what it means for an object to be red, and then we examine the universe to determine whether or not a particular object meets that definition. The definition can and will vary based on context: a “red light” is very different depending on whether you are driving, or strolling through the seedier parts of Amsterdam late at night.

            The only thing that differentiates colour and weight from prime-atom-ness and bilingual-word-lengthness is that the former set of properties is far more likely to be useful in daily life. But that’s contingent: you can imagine a world in which I spend my spare time translating old computer games from English into French, in which case the length of translated words might suddenly become very relevant when I want to fit text into narrow constraints.

            What do we gain by talking about universals?

          • J Milne says:

            Things share a property when it is possible to predicate the same property of both things. E.g., if it is possible to say of both X and Y, “This is red”, then X and Y share the property of redness.

            And when might that be?

            This really isn’t difficult. Two objects have identical colour when they both reflect light of the same wavelength. Note that objects reflect light even when we’re not around to measure them. Is it possible for two objects to reflect light of the same wavelength?

            As I said, wavelength as an idea breaks down at small scales (apparently 10^-9, but let’s say 10^-100000000000000000 to be safe). Identity between two numbers is something that holds at any level of precision.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Yes. It is possible for two objects to reflect the same wavelengths of light. So what?

            So if they both reflect the same wavelength of light, they both exemplify the same property, namely of reflecting that wavelength of light.

            Do these properties ‘exist’? Did they ‘exist’ before I made them up just now?

            Location relative to other things is a relation, not a property. Structure, on the other hand, is a property. Which word we use to describe something is a property of our language, not of the thing itself.

            Incidentally, since you’ve brought up words, I’ll point out that the possibility of using language to communicate is another disproof of nominalism. When you say “pen” and I say “pen”, both those utterances are particular instances of the same word — or, if they’re not, it’s impossible for us to actually talk about the same thing, in which case, what’s the point of this discussion?

            The definition can and will vary based on context: a “red light” is very different depending on whether you are driving, or strolling through the seedier parts of Amsterdam late at night.

            Erm, no. The meaning of the lights might be different, but a red light in a traffic sign is red in exactly the same way as a red light in a brothel.

          • J Milne says:

            @Original Mr. X

            Just to make clear,

            And when might that be?

            isn’t supposed to be the start of an endless train of demands to be more specific, I really am just interested in how ‘similarity’ can be downstream of having shared properties, because it seems like it should be the opposite way around. So when you say two things are similar when they share a property, such as being red, I wonder how you came about your definition of redness without noting that things have similar colours and partitioning up the colour spectrum to help label them.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            isn’t supposed to be the start of an endless train of demands to be more specific, I really am just interested in how ‘similarity’ can be downstream of having shared properties, because it seems like it should be the opposite way around. So when you say two things are similar when they share a property, such as being red, I wonder how you came about your definition of redness without noting that things have similar colours and partitioning up the colour spectrum to help label them.

            I think you’re getting too hung up on the words we use to describe things, and not on the properties those words describe. Our use of the word “red” comes from seeing things with the same colour and coming up with a word to describe that colour; but those things were the same colour (i.e., they reflected light of the same wavelength) before we came up with a word to describe it, and would have been the same colour even if no humans had ever seen them.

          • J Milne says:

            I think you’re getting too hung up on the words we use to describe things, and not on the properties those words describe. Our use of the word “red” comes from seeing things with the same colour and coming up with a word to describe that colour; but those things were the same colour (i.e., they reflected light of the same wavelength) before we came up with a word to describe it, and would have been the same colour even if no humans had ever seen them.

            I’m not sure that’s really accurate. In Plato’s time, people said two things were red when they appeared red to the human eye. Thousands of years later, it’s clear to us that the human eye isn’t able to distinguish between slight shifts in colour, so they were really detecting similarity in colour, rather than identicalness. I would maintain that it’s just as true today that we have no more claim to the truth of when two things are identical than we did back then. Maybe we have higher precision, but we also have compelling reasons for thinking that there are levels of precision that we can never reach. So for us to measure two light rays and obtain the same reading, I think we’re still detecting similarity rather than identicalness. This is why I’m suspicious of any account that attempts to define similarity in terms of sharing identical properties.

            Maybe the best foundation to work from is to note that every two points of the territory are inherently, by virtue of being distinct points, dissimilar. And our maps are attempts to exploit that dissimilarity in useful ways.

          • isn’t supposed to be the start of an endless train of demands to be more specific, I really am just interested in how ‘similarity’ can be downstream of having shared properties, because it seems like it should be the opposite way around.

            Human judgements of similarity have to be downstream of whatever arrangement the territory is running off, which could include property-sharing taken literally, ie Platonism.

          • . I would maintain that it’s just as true today that we have no more claim to the truth of when two things are identical than we did back then. Maybe we have higher precision, but we also have compelling reasons for thinking that there are levels of precision that we can never reach. So for us to measure two light rays and obtain the same reading, I think we’re still detecting similarity rather than identicalness. This is why I’m suspicious of any account that attempts to define similarity in terms of sharing identical properties.

            Precision has very little to do with it. A Platonist doesn’t have to believe that a pony or mule fully partakes int he form of the horse.

          • J Milne says:

            Human judgements of similarity have to be downstream of whatever arrangement the territory is running off, which could include property-sharing taken literally, ie Platonism.

            Could I have an example?

            Precision has very little to do with it. A Platonist doesn’t have to believe that a pony or mule fully partakes int he form of the horse.

            In the context of defining ‘red’ as light of some particular wavelength it seems to matter. And if you believe that everything either does or doesn’t have each particular property, then I don’t see how you can avoid being precise in your definition of what holding a particular property means.

          • I don’t even know what an example would look like. The *argument* is that a human, or other entity capable of making a judgement about classification, has to have a certain level of structure, and that structure very likely contains some shared (mulitply instatiated, whatever )properties; the cones cells in your eye are like other cone cells, and the rod cells like other rod cells. And all that was in place before you made your first judgement, it is not being conjured up by the process of judgement itself.

            nd if you believe that everything either does or doesn’t have each particular property,

            What I said about horses and ponies is equivalent to repudiating that.

          • J Milne says:

            I don’t even know what an example would look like.

            I mean an example of a shared property that is ‘prior’ to similarity.

          • Electron A has a charge of 1.602 x 10-19 coulombs
            Electron B has a charge of 1.602 x 10-19 coulombs
            Electron C has a charge of 1.602 x 10-19 coulombs
            […]

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            (I do recall this issue being mentioned in one of Michael Loux’s editions of Metaphysics. I might reread it at some point for this.)

            AncientGeek claims that this “red” that we can’t tell is 680 or 681nm is still downstream from a real red, with real properties, such as probability of absorption by certain compounds, components in an eyeball, and so on. And that therefore all these similarity judgements are based on a mind-independent reality.

            But wait! J Milne might say. (He didn’t, but this seems to jibe.) We didn’t have to call this property red. We could have called it mauve or spleg or something, and “red” could have referred to some different set of exemplars and maybe settled down around 700nm or even 800nm instead. So red is still defined by ourselves and our similarity judgements!

            Not so fast, AncientGeek and Mr. X might reply. The “red” we humans settle on isn’t really the important thing. There’s still this thing bound to 680nm, whether we call it red or spleg or give it no name at all. We have to be very pro-territory here. The map is still just a map.

            For that matter, we don’t even care that it’s bound to 680nm. That’s just the most useful way we have so far to describe it. Before we had a concept of wavelengths, we used a different description. It doesn’t matter; the universe still does what it does with red or mauve or spleg things.

            For that matter, the universe doesn’t care either. In some sense, there’s no such thing as universals. There’s no Red Lodge #498991 in the twelfth dimension where all the roses and rust spots go to renew their membership cards. There’s no central control of this, as far as we* know. Rather, the universe appears to be very predictable in various ways; that’s the only reason we can postulate universals at all. We might be wrong, but don’t bet money that I can jump off the Washington Monument and fly tomorrow.

            So to answer the latest question: damn near every shared property is prior to similarity, on the authority of the universe appearing to operate by predictable rules. Similarity exists only in our minds, which we likewise observe as existing only after the universe did. Or maybe we’re all figments of your imagination, J Milne, but which theory is more useful?

            *some of us, at least

          • J Milne says:

            Electron A has a charge of 1.602 x 10-19 coulombs
            Electron B has a charge of 1.602 x 10-19 coulombs
            Electron C has a charge of 1.602 x 10-19 coulombs
            […]

            Huh, it seems people are so convinced that every electron is identical that some think there’s just one that travels through time. Fair enough.

          • In what way is that a counterargument? You seem to be implying that it’s just some religious conviction?

          • J Milne says:

            No no that’s me accepting that that appears to be a perfect example of what I was asking for.

        • Nick says:

          I would add re: horsiness that our defining species cladistically is not the only possible way to define them. There are alternatives such as phenetic classifications or cluster theories or morphological classification. While it’s immensely valuable to speak of biological species as defined cladistically and there’s no surprise that’s the ubiquitous approach, there are drawbacks: we would have to describe two identical species from different branches as different species, for instance. So at least insofar as we want to speak of horsiness morphologically, there’s no reason to think it suffers as much from the arbitrariness problem you propose: we can define it precisely according to which feature or features distinguish a horse from similar species. And if a horse somehow bears a pegasus, and this pegasus goes on to bear more pegasi, we should have no qualms about identifying these as, morphologically, a different species distinguished by being winged, regardless of how much or how little is, say, the genetic difference.

          I should mention I’m basically cribbing this suggestion from Real Essentialism, a book by David Oderberg. I’d be happy to discuss his take on it further, but I really don’t know what bearing it has on the wider views of Aristotelians, only that it has garnered praise from some of them (his take on morphological species in particular). And my knowledge of the biology in question is like hilariously crazy limited, so I’m not really qualified to talk behind elaborating on examples he proposes, if my example of magical creatures above didn’t already prove that.

          • J Milne says:

            I don’t see how this escapes the arbitrariness problem. What is a wing? It’s, again, whatever we say it is. I might happen to allow the same word for the appendages flightless birds sometimes have that certainly have the appearance of wings, whereas others might be quite strict on the requirement that they aid in some sort of flying.

          • Nick says:

            Don’t get caught up on how we do or don’t use the word. We say planes have wings too, but they don’t have any place in our taxonomy. It doesn’t seem to me that your example casts any doubt whether we can in principle classify flightless birds or winged horses.

          • J Milne says:

            My point is that any taxonomy is invariably arbitrary. See for instance the way the blogroll to the left of the screen is taxonomised.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @J Milne:
            “Arbitrary” is not the same thing as “totally random”. For example, the shape of each individual pebble a riverbed is pretty arbitrary; and yet, most of them will be oval and streamlined-looking. Every pebble is slightly different, but you’ll rarely (if ever) see one shaped like a 12-pointed star, or something like that.

        • do. For instance, ‘redness’ seems to be often suggested as a property that things share, but there’s no reason that two objects that you and I might agree on as ‘red’ might not be thought of as having distinct colours by some alien that happens to partition the colour spectrum in a different way.

          Let’s postulate an entity than perceives only physical properties and all the physical properties with no perceptual quirks. Surely such an entity would perceive two hydrogen atoms as being identically similar.

          seems plainly false if it means that things like Redness and Horsiness are well defined notions that exist independently of us inventing them

          How about waterness or electronness? Are there no natural kinds?

          Yes, our categories are arbitrary.

          Yes, and that observation doens’t solve the problem. It’s ridiculous to suppose that the world operates on the exact categories of 21st century US English, but it’s also absurd to supposed that it has no order or structure at all until humans start imposing heir categories on it.

          • J Milne says:

            Let’s postulate an entity than perceives only physical properties and all the physical properties with no perceptual quirks. Surely such an entity would perceive two hydrogen atoms as being identically similar.

            Would they? Before people might have said two grains of sand were identical. And people might have said two carbon atoms were identical before we discovered isotopes. And people were happy to assume the trickiness stopped at the level of protons, electons and neutrons, until quarks came along and whatever else since then.

            And why couldn’t an entity regard them as different for occupying different spaces? Or if they encounter them at different times?

            How about waterness or electronness? Are there no natural kinds?

            I don’t see how there can be.

          • Would they? Before people might have said two grains of sand were identical. And people might have said two carbon atoms were identical before we discovered isotopes.

            Current science says that hydrogen is hydrogen (the isotopes are called deuterium and tritium) , and in any case, my *intention* was to put forward some kind of bedrock similarity.

            And why couldn’t an entity regard them as different for occupying different spaces?

            Similarity and difference are probably tied up with space and time somehow, but that doesn’t get you to pure nominalism.

            I don’t see how there can be.

            That’s not much of an argument. No matter how much variation you allow in categorisation and perception, that does not logically entail the non-existence of natural kinds.

          • J Milne says:

            Current science says that hydrogen is hydrogen (the isotopes are called deuterium and tritium) , and in any case, my *intention* was to put forward some kind of bedrock similarity.

            Right, and my intention was to highlight that no bedrock similarity we’ve ever had has lasted very long.

            That’s not much of an argument. No matter how much variation you allow in categorisation and perception, that does not logically entail the non-existence of natural kinds.

            I think it should reduce your certainty that you can reason about the world in a very precise way. I mean, what’s an example of a natural kind that you’re 100% certain of?

          • Nick says:

            Would they? Before people might have said two grains of sand were identical. And people might have said two carbon atoms were identical before we discovered isotopes. And people were happy to assume the trickiness stopped at the level of protons, electons and neutrons, until quarks came along and whatever else since then.

            It seems to me you’re not denying the possibility of natural kinds here, just the difficulty of finding them definitively. More importantly, you seem to be thereby granting that finding sameness at some level would qualify as explanation (just the way I suggested at the start that locating a universal in both balls does).

            I think this qualifies as a retreat, and a key one too. The abstract realist isn’t necessarily committed to any particular natural kind and many are happy to defer to the scientist on which ones are more or less plausible. I don’t think that decreases their confidence that such things exist in principle, nor should it. Consider your argument being used to prove there are no elementary particles, on the grounds that we keep finding smaller ones. Do you think that argument would be persuasive?

          • Right, and my intention was to highlight that no bedrock similarity we’ve ever had has lasted very long.

            Maps aren’t 100% accurate, but you can;t infer the nonexistence of a territory from that.

            I think it should reduce your certainty that you can reason about the world in a very precise way. I mean, what’s an example of a natural kind that you’re 100% certain of?

            I don’t see why I need one. But you need to explain how an unstructured world gives rise to structured experience.

          • J Milne says:

            It seems to me you’re not denying the possibility of natural kinds here, just the difficulty of finding them definitively. More importantly, you seem to be thereby granting that finding sameness at some level would qualify as explanation (just the way I suggested at the start that locating a universal in both balls does).

            I think this qualifies as a retreat, and a key one too. The abstract realist isn’t necessarily committed to any particular natural kind and many are happy to defer to the scientist on which ones are more or less plausible. I don’t think that decreases their confidence that such things exist in principle, nor should it. Consider your argument being used to prove there are no elementary particles, on the grounds that we keep finding smaller ones. Do you think that argument would be persuasive?

            I think my issue is that the idea of natural kinds seems to require a level of certainty that I don’t think we can ever have access to. That we shouldn’t really expect to have a meaningful discussion about them. If you and I meet and start talking about rocks, say, I think despite the fact that we might not have some conclusive definition of such things, and despite the fact that there might be some edge case materials that we would struggle to say are rocks or not, we could have a meaningful discussion. We could point to examples of what we mean, and describe properties that we feel we have some sensory apprehension of.

            But when you talk about the ‘possibility of natural kinds’, my first worry is that I don’t really know what you mean. When I look at historical examples, they seem to consist of things that turned out to not really be natural kinds after all, when the definition seems to suggest that there really shouldn’t be any ambiguity (it’s natural!!). And, again, I’m not saying ‘natural kinds don’t exist’. I think John Nerst’s reply above was very helpful for me in understanding the curious amount that seems to be hidden behind the word ‘exist’.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            When I look at historical examples, they seem to consist of things that turned out to not really be natural kinds after all, when the definition seems to suggest that there really shouldn’t be any ambiguity (it’s natural!!).

            There are several kinds of ambiguity, which it would be helpful to untangle here. It could be that (a) the actual categories themselves are ambiguous, (b) the categories are clear, but it’s difficult for us to tell which category something belongs in due to problems finding enough data or whatever, or (c) the categories are clear, but a particular object belongs to several categories, making it difficult for us to classify it. As far as I can tell, only (a) would really pose a problem for metaphysical realism, but your examples so far seem to relate to (b) and (c).

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The downfall of each natural kind appears to be due to a refinement in our observations in each case. Two grains of sand were identical until you look even moderately closely. Two carbon atoms were identical until you measure their mass very, very carefully. Quarks are AFAIK still in the “inferred” bucket – they’re the easiest way to explain what we can see when we manipulate hadrons (which are also exceedingly hard to observe).

            We could extend this principle backwards as well. We used to think earth was earth until we started noticing sand behave differently from rock, etc. In all cases, we’re seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or in general sensing a difference between things we previously thought of as the same.

            Which implies sensation is the primary determinant of natural kind, and is therefore the most natural… well, it’s not a kind in this, um, sense. Rather, it’s a framework for determining kinds. Which I doubt is news around here.

            The thing that interested me a few years ago was when I stopped thinking in terms of objectively natural kinds, and instead in terms of a natural engine for categorization, and of a lattice of kinds that were the most fundamental we knew of at any given time. And that that lattice would continue to grow complicated as we refined our ability to sense.

            I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever get to a most fundamental set of kinds. Last I checked, we’re at twelve particles and four forces, and holding. But I don’t see why we’d stay there forever, and I don’t know that we’d even prove that 12/4 is all there is. And that’s leaving out non-physics kinds, like numbers and colors and words and whatnot. But it does at least look certain that if we discover more or prove we’re done, it’ll be by using that sensation engine.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The downfall of each natural kind appears to be due to a refinement in our observations in each case. Two grains of sand were identical until you look even moderately closely. Two carbon atoms were identical until you measure their mass very, very carefully. Quarks are AFAIK still in the “inferred” bucket – they’re the easiest way to explain what we can see when we manipulate hadrons (which are also exceedingly hard to observe).

            Nothing about realism requires two things to be identical. Do you think that when Plato said there was a Form of Man, he was unaware of the fact that individual men differ from each other in various ways?

          • Nick says:

            I think it’s worth emphasizing that most philosophers who believe in natural kinds aren’t committed to saying that elementary particles (whatever those turn out to be) are the only candidates for being natural kinds. As I said somewhere above, the behavior of compounds of these particles are nonetheless delimited by the laws which govern their constituents and so may well have natures of their own. Atoms, molecules, and for an Aristotelian even biological species are candidates for natural kinds.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Of course Plato was aware of individual differences! However, it is also clear to me that he and other philosophers wanted to be able to infer new facts about individuals in the world, to do so by classifying them, and that they wanted to not have to worry about the fact that things in the world were not ideal exemplars of their classes.

            For example, if I want to infer that Socrates is mortal, I begin by observing that he is a man*; but I don’t want to run aground on observations that he’s kinda on the old side, has a weird birthmark on his leg, seems to dislike drinking wine, etc. And then having the debate descend into wrangling over what the ideal man is, and what it means to deviate from that.

            Likewise, I’d like to be able to make claims about grains of sand, carbon atoms, and quarks, and have those claims hold, even for other people, even when I’m not aware of them, and even if they’re not ideal grains, atoms, or quarks. So would virtually all realists (I suspect).

            Deviations from the ideal are interesting, because they naturally raise the question of whether that affects our predictions about the individuals. This sand is not as clear as that; will they still stick to each other when wet? This carbon atom weighs just a bit more than that one; will it still bond with four hydrogen atoms? Will it behave differently in any other way? Can we tell it from other carbon atoms reliably? Hence our drive for precision in our measurements, and our drive to care about classification, and our care about whether these drives are sound.

            *I’m also relying on everyone agreeing with the claim “all men are mortal”, which is nontrivial, but a separate problem.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Nick: Yeah, I kinda conflated a somewhat separate issue there. Though, for reasons I gave just now, I think this was a crucial issue.

            I’m now trying to imagine what it was like when physicists, noticing how individuals deviate from ideals in their experiments, happened across subatomic particles that really do appear to be identical by every conceivable measurement. What’s their mindset? Are they anticipating a theory of everything, explainable using 12 particles and 4 forces and nothing beneath? Or have they decided that since atoms were thought to be indivisible only to be proven wrong later, that someone will discover away to tell one muon from another, and it’s a matter of time? I should ask a physicist the next time I run into one. (Maybe David Friedman has an inside track on this, given his doctorate.)

            Non-physics kinds are even more of a mess, based on the philosophy tracts I’ve read. Debates still drag on about the validity of various part / whole systems, possible worlds, universals, endurantism vs. perdurantism, propositions as primary truth bearers, and on and on. I’ve gone with the working theory that there is no such thing as a “natural” kind; they’re all arbitrary (maybe with the exception of those 12 particles and 4 forces), although many are useful.

          • As I understand it, claims about the indistiguishability of fundamental particles are fairly robust, because if they were wrong statistical thermodynamics wouldn’t work.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I have at least two ways of looking at it (to be fair, you probably do too). One is as you described. Another is that the “indistinguishability of fundamental particles” explanation is robust enough to explain the things we’ve observed in statistical thermodynamics experiments so far.

            Which is to say, I suspect, on the basis of historical evidence, that we’ll someday observe things that “IoFP” doesn’t explain yet, and we’ll have to upgrade the robustness of that explanation. (FAIK, that’s true as of now. Any thermodynamicists in the house?) In that sense, IoFP isn’t absolute truth; it’s just that it’s true enough.

          • Iain says:

            I am not a thermodynamicist, but Scott Aaronson presents what appears to be a compelling argument for the case that electrons are truly indistinguishable-by-the-universe (as opposed to indistinguishable-by-humans):

            Another famous example here concerns identical particles. You may have heard the slogan that “if you’ve seen one electron, you’ve seen them all”: that is, apart from position, momentum, and spin, every two electrons have exactly the same mass, same charge, same every other property, including even any properties yet to be discovered. Again the skeptic interjects: but that has to be wrong. Logically, you could only ever confirm that two electrons were different, by observing a difference in their behavior. Even if the electrons had behaved identically for a billion years, you couldn’t rule out the possibility that they were actually different, for example because of tiny nametags (“Hi, I’m Emily the Electron!” “Hi, I’m Ernie!”) that had no effect on any experiment you’d thought to perform, but were visible to God.

            You can probably guess where this is going. Quantum mechanics says that, no, you can verify that two particles are perfectly identical by doing an experiment where you swap them and see what happens. If the particles are identical in all respects, then you’ll see quantum interference between the swapped and un-swapped states. If they aren’t, you won’t. The kind of interference you’ll see is different for fermions (like electrons) than for bosons (like photons), but the basic principle is the same in both cases. Once again, quantum mechanics lets you verify that a specific type of information—in this case, information that distinguishes one particle from another—was not present anywhere in the physical world, because if it were, it would’ve destroyed an interference effect that you in fact saw.

            More in the same vein at the link.

        • Structure, on the other hand, is a property.

          Structure often breaks down to relations. An equilateral triangle is 3 points standing in certain relations to each other.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      It may depend on who you’re quoting.

      Some say “abstract objects exist” and are referring to numbers. Some say it and refer to physical forces like gravity or magnetism. Some say it and refer to properties or universals (see Nick’s comment above, which I think lays this out really well).

      And there are other kinds of abstract objects. I often think of words, songs, and other artifacts, as well as universals – as opposed to things you could put on a table, or travel to, or describe as having a location.

      The SEP article is talking mostly about this abstract / concrete distinction, rather than about just universals (what we often refer to as properties, or types, or classes, or kinds).

      They lay out some obvious examples of each. I can point to a vase. That’s concrete. Ditto the Eiffel Tower, and your DVD of Aliens. Obvious examples of abstract objects include the number 2, the color red, and the movie Aliens itself. I can’t point to these or specify their location. I could, however, point to various expressions of it – the “2” squiggle I wrote a few sentences ago, or the one you see on your monitor right now, as well as the words “two”, “dos”, and the Japanese two-stroke kanji I can’t easily type here. These all refer to or relate to the abstract concept of two, in the same way that every DVD of Aliens might relate to or be a concrete expression of the movie.

      The article goes on to outline some of the gray areas, and the struggle to come up with a useful formal abstract / concrete distinction. We’re sure it has to classify the above easy examples correctly. They’re our regression tests.

      For example, one philosopher (Frege) says abstracta have to at least be mind-independent. Mind-dependent things are really weird in this context – stuff like my impression of that “2” squiggle after staring at it. No one seems to think that’s concrete, but Frege claimed it’s not even abstract, either – he was going after this pure, ideal concept of two-ness that anyone touches when they think about it, but does not own. My impression of “2” is not yours, but we’re both thinking about the same {thing which we refer to as 2 or two or dos or…}.

      Then there are a few other proposed criteria in the SEP article. Each has its problems. The overall conclusion is that there isn’t a settled distinction, even though there’s consensus on the easy examples. (I think.)

      I used to work in this stuff for about twenty years, so I’m sorta used to SEP-ish ways of talking about these things, and enjoy attempting to translate them to laymanese, so if you have further questions, by all means, reply.

      • Nick says:

        Some say “abstract objects exist” and are referring to numbers. Some say it and refer to physical forces like gravity or magnetism. Some say it and refer to properties or universals.

        You’re right. When I gave my answer, I picked one kind of abstract object, because I wasn’t about to rehearse arguments for all of them. I considered laying out some groundwork first about this, but I felt the answer was already super long. One thing that’s bothered me a bit is that since then the conversation has ranged over a lot of different varieties of abstracta, like numbers and natural kinds. We don’t want to give the impression here that a philosopher who says one kind exists will readily admit another one does too! So your reply, as an introduction, is great in its own way.

    • Urstoff says:

      Even Quine believed in sets.

      • J Milne says:

        Quine seemed happy to believe a lot of things that I find hard to make sense of. Like the idea of ravens being a natural kind. As I said about horses, considering the ancestry of everything we might currently call a raven seems like it would lead to edge cases where we need to make some arbitrary cut offs about what is and isn’t a raven.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          The horse and raven examples look like instances of the general Sorites paradox. It’s a good term to be familiar with, and even a bit fun to bring up at (certain) parties (your typical rationalist could probably name it in a trivia contest), since it’s an issue that anyone has likely run into in daily life. It’s been studied for thousands of years, and has several responses, and there’s no apparent consensus on which response is best.

          It’s even a bit dangerous, since if you try to lay out a Sorites paradox in formal logic, you come away with the unsettling notion that formal logic is all bunk and we may as well go with old wives’ tales all the way down.

          My personal tack – and probably most people’s, whether they’ve even heard the term – is to say that there’s no useful notion of “horse” or “raven”, past a relatively near point. The SEP quickly mentions the concept of vagueness here, and that meta-property is useful – it suggests to me that the more vague my sense of an ideal, the less certainty I can assign to claims about individuals that exemplify that ideal.

          So: “horses are fast”, but I can’t bet a lot of money on a specific horse running fast. Maybe some. Maybe a lot, if I’m betting it will run faster than a human. But that’s because I have better measurements comparing humans and horses – two vague bell curves separated by a lot of space. Similarly, I might have more useful claims I could make, if I had better and more comprehensive measurements. (Like if, say, I were Charles Murray…)

        • Urstoff says:

          Quine’s notion of natural kinds is pretty weak, though. It’s just a similarity space that confirms inductions (and similarity spaces are rife with edge cases). And Quine thinks that superficial similarity spaces get replaces by theory-laden similarity spaces as sciences develop, so he would have no problem ditching “Ravens” as a relevant natural kind if a more theory-laden notion of corvids was better at confirming inductions. And, of course, his use of ravens as an example comes from Hempel.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Are there any anti-depressants that aren’t sedatives? I figure there must be, but I don’t know the first thing about mental meds.

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t think most of them are sedatives (per se, as in falling into a certain pharmacological category) at all, though some have sedative effects on some people.

      I, for one, always found them highly activating and had to take them in the morning.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Wellbutrin / bupropion is a mild stimulant. I’d have to ask my girlfriend if you want the current best guess on the mechanism (something involving dopamine?) but it’s pretty obvious once you start taking it how much more energy you have.

      • Yemwez says:

        Yes. Wellbutrin is a Selective Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor (SDRI), whereas most antidepressants are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI)

  6. Wander says:

    If you found yourself transported into a hunter gatherer society some 10 thousand or so years ago, is there any skill or knowledge that you would be able to offer them to improve their life? Much like that scene in one of the Hitchhikers books, I often wonder exactly how easy it is to translate our advanced modern knowledge into concrete improvements to primitive life, at least as an individual with no access to modern infrastructure.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wheelwrighting.

    • Nick says:

      Basic measures to prevent disease seem like a good one, like how to handle sick people and when it’s most crucial to wash one’s hands come to mind. Modern man may or may not know better which foods are better avoided or how to cook them (though I certainly wouldn’t).

      How about teach them some modern games? Ones that could reasonably be played, of course. I don’t know how many times in history tic-tac-toe has been reinvented, but it’s a way to pass the time and socialize.

      • Well... says:

        “Guys, listen, if you’re gonna sneeze you should at least cover your m–”

        [chokes on own organs as they liquefy thanks to some weird 10K y/o virus you have no immunity to]

        • anomdebus says:

          I’d think you would have a better chance at having an immunity to their microbes rather than vice versa. Though I guess I am not certain how many viable potential pathogens we carry around these days.

    • dndnrsn says:

      How much would stuff like “here’s how you make soap, wash your hands, poop downstream of where you eat, boil your water” help them? I don’t know the answer to that question.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you dress it up in religious ritual, it could be pretty damn good.

        • Deiseach says:

          If you dress it up in religious ritual, it could be pretty damn good.

          Until people come along and laugh at you about superstitiously not eating pork or shrimps, then everyone dies of various parasitic/food poisoning diseases 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Last I saw, there’s like a billion people still superstitiously not eating pork. In the current year! 😉

    • MNH says:

      I don’t know exactly what levels of technology there were 10 thousand years ago, but I won’t let that stop me from speculating:

      A loose understanding of kilns and pottery seems easy to try and make use of. I am far from an expert, but I think my starting process of making a big box of mud with a slit at the bottom and an open top, letting it dry, trying to get a big fire going in there, then making some shapes out of clay and tossing em on in there could probably get me some crude pottery after a few dozen tries.

      Similarly, a loose agricultural understanding doesn’t seem bad. I’ve never done more than gardening, but (tediously) hand-tilling some earth, planting and tending some seeds, and then waiting for them to grow into food doesn’t seem so hard to me if people aren’t already doing that. Also, knowing to rotate crops to maintain the soil quality would be a nice tidbit I’m sure. I also think some basics of irrigation wouldn’t be that hard to figure out (at the very least, digging ditches to guide water downhill from a river can’t be too bad, right?).

      My grasp on simple machines is far less loose, although it’s hard for me to guess what applications they would have without pre-existing infrastructure for manufacturing. Like, I have no doubt that I could design primitive crossbows or compound bows, but I doubt I could actually make one with the available materials. Levers, meanwhile, seem easy to implement but I have no idea what they would be useful for unless I had other construction-related goals that I wanted to move heavy objects for. I would also definitely invent the wheel if no one had yet (and if the practical challenges like manufacturing and overcoming friction aren’t insurmountable–my first thought would just be to use some abrasive like sand to try and smooth things down… I’m sure all sorts of other problems would crop up though).

      Sadly, even if I got the kiln thing figured out, I would refrain from dabbling in anything to do with metals unless I could direct some expendable primitive peons as my boots on the ground, because it’s my understanding that I’d be at least as likely to blow some shit up and die as I would be to actually get anything useful out of it. Also, I don’t know the first thing about how one actually gets metals (throw some rocks in some hot kiln fire and pray, baby). Which is sad, because applying my E&M knowledge a few millennia ahead of schedule would be by far the most exciting idea to me, but I haven’t the faintest clue how to make a battery so I think I’d be a very long way from actually doing anything useful with that anyways (and I recognize that metals would be far more useful in simpler applications anyways). I hear you can magnetize ceramics if you anneal them in an existing magnetic field, so maybe I could build a very crude compass or something that way? Probably a useless avenue to go down, though.

      The basics of hygiene seem like an easy call, as other commenters have mentioned. Similarly, the basics of nutrition would be easy enough–I could at least prevent people from getting rabbit fever in the winters and such, I think.

      Thanks for the question–I’m way over-caffeinated and had a lot of fun speculating out my ass about this.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I can’t find it now, but a few years ago I saw a video of a guy who made a knife (good looking one too) out of bog iron. So he starts with dredging rocks up from a lake, and then smelting them and forging the knife. Anybody know what I’m talking about?

        • Urstoff says:

          Something from the Primitive Technology youtube channel, perhaps?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            This video preceded that series, but there’s probably something similar in it. Regardless, it seemed like one of those “not impossibly difficult if you know what you’re doing” sorts of things.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Was it gorgeously shot over a winter in (some Scandinavian country) or the like? I used to see those linked on the reddit front page all the time when I spent time there.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t remember the winter part, but it was pretty yes. And yes I saw it linked on reddit, off a default sub.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            John Neeman, maybe?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, but that’s a very nice video. I’ll see if I can find it later. It’s much lower production value, but it’s just some guy in a canoe dredging up bog ore off the bottom of a lake and then smelting it in a stone…thing. Smelter, I guess?

    • Callum G says:

      I’ve had thoughts like this on my mind ever since Scott did his Seeing Like A State article. I’m thinking one day I want to write some rationalist fiction around this if no one else does (although probably back to Shakespearean times).

      The first issue would be learning enough to contribute, namely language and enough social standing to be able to persuade the tribe.

      After that, basic medicine and horticulture would be useful. Agriculture with selective breeding would be handy as well. Construction knowledge would be useful as well for both tools, weapons and homes.

      I think the real power would be in establishing some sort of value of experimentation to fill in the gaps of knowledge we’d bring; there’s a lot of things that I know about conceptually but couldn’t do practically. I know that clay can be mixed with other things and fired to make this cool building material called brick, but I don’t exactly know the recipe. I know seeds should be placed at a uniform depth in ploughed soil, but I don’t know the spacing, depth or the difference between good and bad ploughing. Overall though, I think across a lifetime we would be very useful.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Be careful, because all that horticultural/construction knowledge will transform the hunter-gatherer society into an agrarian one. Which is fine, since historically speaking that’s what happened; but I’m not sure if it’s allowed according to the parameters of the original challenge.

        • Nornagest says:

          Well, ten thousand years ago is just about when the agricultural revolution happened in our history, so at least you won’t get the Time Cops on your ass.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Precisely my thinking, though as usual I’m late to the party here. In terms of immediate concrete skills and detailed knowledge my main ones would be hygiene and antiseptic protocols and first aid/CPR, but the real value would be:

        A) trying to get empiricism and structured experiment adopted as a useful tool for improving knowledge and ways of doing things (even ancient man appreciated this to some extent, but there have been plenty of refinements over the centuries even on a purely theoretical level that would be applicable without needing a post-industrial tech base)

        and

        B) A lot of hints as to explanations that would help skip some of the long swaths of bad explanations for things.

    • cassander says:

      If they have metalurgy, gunpowder.

      • Anthony says:

        I don’t know how to make saltpeter, or where to find sulfur, in a pre-agricultural society. Do you?

        • Nornagest says:

          Sulfur can be found natively in current or former volcanic environments (very distinctive — bright yellow deposits, feathery or chalky). Saltpeter is sometimes found native, too, but IIRC it was usually collected after leaching from various disgusting substances (guano, e.g.).

          What I don’t know is how to properly combine the three into a consistently burning substance without blowing myself up.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Sulfur deposits can be found near many hot springs. I’m not sure if simply evaporating the sulfurous water would work, but I’d try it. Also there are often deposits in the vicinity of volcanos. Sulfur has a distinctive color and odor, and I suspect once you get past the language barrier you’ll find people in the pre-agricultural societies already know where to find it. Saltpeter may be found in bat-inhabited caves; my understanding is that under the piles of guano you find saltpeter crystals. The process for making black powder would be rather laborious without machine grinding. You grind up the three elements, mix in the proper proportions (which I can’t remember), then grind the mixture while wet, break into granules, and let dry.

          I don’t think many pre-agricultural societies would have had the metallurgy to make use of it in any case. Agriculture precedes the bronze age.

          One of the SF series I read had modern people crashed on a primitive planet (no indigenes, however) start with a limestone kiln, the idea being that this is the quickest way to reach a higher level of technology. First trick is getting a refractory vessel and a fire hot enough, which as I recall involved clay and a bellows. However, I can’t say I’m all that sure what you’d do once you got your quicklime, slaked lime, etc. If you’re looking to start a primitive chemical industry, you probably also want sulfuric acid, which is not too hard (burn sulfur and saltpeter together with steam, any alchemist can give you details); this gets you the other major acids easily enough. Not really sure what you’d do from there.

          • anomdebus says:

            Where do you think wizards come from? Obviously, time travelers who can only make black powder in order to awe the natives with sparkly explosions.

          • Nornagest says:

            The first uses that come to mind for lime are as a setting agent for cement, and as a flux in smelting.

          • Tuna-Fish says:

            The best place for saltpeter is indeed the floor of a bat-filled cave, or really any place where a lot of excrement has pooled in a place where water cannot wash away the soluble parts of it. However, it won’t be found in immediately usable large crystals, it’s just mixed in with all the other material.

            You can recover it by dissolving as much as possible of the material on the floor into water, and then filtering, leaving the salts dissolved into the water. This water now has a lot of different kinds of salts, but mostly just table salt and saltpeter. Let that dry out and you have a lot of mixed salt crystals.

            To use properly, you need to separate out the table salt. The process involves the fact that the amount of them that can be dissolved into water varies greatly with temperature. That is, one of them can be dissolved roughly as well at low temp and at high temp, while the other dissolves a lot better at high temp. Off the top of my head, I cannot remember which is which. However, this can be found with experiment.

          • Aapje says:

            Saltpeter is less soluble, so it will crystallize before regular salt. So water mixed with salt and saltpeter was warmed up, evaporating the water and then saltpeter crystals would form.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t know how to make saltpeter, or where to find sulfur, in a pre-agricultural society. Do you?

          You can make saltpeter from human byproducts. Namely, urine. You’d have to improvise pretty strongly, but urine, hay, wood ash and water are available in pre-agricultural societies.

        • John Schilling says:

          If what you all think is important is the recipe for gunpowder and the source of the ingredients, then the lesson you will be teaching is a cautionary tale:

          “Science is BAD, it is EVIL. It is man treading on the domain of the Gods, and the Gods will punish man for this transgression. Remember the one called Future!Bob, who came to teach us how to perform miracles of fire and thunder? Remember how the Gods smote Future!Bob with fire and thunder as a fitting punishment for his sins? Took him three long, painful days to die, it did. Don’t be like Future!Bob”.

          There’s a reason civilized people insisted that people into that sort of thing build their powder mills e.g. on rafts in the middle of lakes, and that’s with a century or more of experience in how to make powder mills that don’t blow up blow up rarely don’t burn down the whole village when they inevitably blow up. If that’s not your area of expertise, don’t go there.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Eh, Future!Nybbler isn’t an idiot (even if he doesn’t know how to make saltpeter, which makes the whole thing academic). He’s not going to be working with larger-than-lab quantities of gunpowder himself. He’ll be glad to build a small demonstration mill but operating the big one will be left to the unfavored sons of the local chief’s opponent, and it will (as long as Future!Nybbler is around) be built away from the village.

            In later ages, avoiding getting strung up when the mill blows up because some local genius decided to substitute cheap iron for expensive bronze for one of the parts might be a bigger problem.

            If that’s not your area of expertise, don’t go there.

            No risk, no reward.

      • Tuna-Fish says:

        If they don’t have metallurgy, then metallurgy.

        Thanks to re-enactment, art projects and weird hobbies, I know how to go from bog iron to useful iron objects. Bog iron can be found anywhere with acidic bogs.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’m know I’m late to the party but assuming I’m not in immediate danger I’d start by building a rudimentary kiln, and a charcoal mound. These would let make pottery for cooking & carrying water as well as fired bricks for building a less rudimentary kiln or forge for basic smelting/metal work.

      This also seems like an opportune moment to advertise one of my favorite Blogs/YouTube Channels, Primitive Technology.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I assume that language is magically solved? That is, I can understand them and they can understand me?

      If so, I think that people are dramatically missing the most important thing that you all could definitely introduce them to: writing. This is like 5,000 years before written language developed.

      Charcoal or paint on rock could work, or you could try to figure out something cuneiform-like. Give people some ability to write down important information, more detailed than they could manage with art, in a way that survives for a while, and you let these people who have skills that are much, much more relevant to their life circumstances than yours are, accumulate and multiply their skills.

      (Follow up writing with math. Get going with some basic math using Arabic numerals and 0 in 8,000 BC and the eventual gains should be pretty fucking awesome. Though you certainly won’t live to see the most important gains.)

      • Iain says:

        Once you have writing, you can also spend your time writing down as many useful things as possible, even if they aren’t currently feasible. (“Once you have electricity, here is what I remember about early lightbulbs.”) You may not have modern infrastructure yet, but you can definitely speed up the process of attaining it.

    • Rosemary7391 says:

      What about things like domestication of animals and associated uses/byproducts? Were they around by then? If you can nab some sheep, spinning and felting gets you rope and cloth. That opens up lots of construction possibilities, traps and carrying implements, portable shelters, carrying more stuff on animals.

      • Nornagest says:

        Dogs had definitely been domesticated by then, and had spread to most of the world (they made it to the Americas, for example). Goats, pigs, and sheep had likely been domesticated but were probably limited to certain areas. Cattle and cats are borderline, and all other domestic animals are a definite no.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      The time-travelling hero of Robert Silverberg’s ‘House of Bones’ came to recognise that the hunter-gatherer tribe he was marooned with didn’t have all that much to learn from him. But at the end, he WAS planning to invent beer.

  7. John Nerst says:

    Sometimes you come across old quotes that seem to perfectly describe something that happens in the here and now. I’m thinking of quips about human nature or particular social problems that arise again and again.

    Does anyone else react to this with a sense of dread and hopelessness? Whenever there is some problem or destructive pattern that most people seem unaware of or at least isn’t common knowledge, and it turns out that Plato or Nietzsche or Tolstoy or whoever knew about it and wrote about it it seems like there’s no progress.

    If centuries old understanding by the most well known thinkers of all time remains mostly unknown, what point is there to keep talking? Isn’t public discourse hopelessly broken? If something hasn’t become well understood in many decades or centuries, what reason is there to think that it ever will? Are we condemned to write the same thinkpieces over and over again reiterating points that everyone would know if we had a good enough way to summarize and disseminate insight?

    Am I making any sense? I think what I’m after is that unless every time people discuss something, the sum total knowledge and insight relevant to the issue from our intellectual history is there, available and active in their minds, we’ve suffered a failure of knowledge distribution. Put like this I realize it’s extreme, but on a gut level I do feel it.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      You wouldn’t expect an average person to be able to calculate the circumference of the Earth by measuring shadows, yet that was done over two millennia ago. Hell, you wouldn’t expect an average person to even remember what the circumference of the Earth is.

      That is to say: it’s unreasonable to expect so much from ordinary people. People retain the information they need in their day-to-day lives. All of the rest of human knowledge is left to specialists like us. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone needs to be a scholar.

      • Anonymous says:

        That is to say: it’s unreasonable to expect so much from ordinary people. People retain the information they need in their day-to-day lives. All of the rest of human knowledge is left to specialists like us. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone needs to be a scholar.

        Indeed.

        My Russian language professor once asked our class for opinions on some issue of Russian grammar or other, and put the matter to a vote. The majority voted wrongly, of course, and he explained why – where knowledge is required to respond correctly, the majority is probably wrong, since they lack knowledge.

      • John Nerst says:

        Of course it’s unreasonable to expect it, I guess I didn’t make that clear. It’s just that that fact really bothers me, the same way it bothers me that if you clean something it’ll have to be cleaned again – meaning that when it gets dirty it feels like every time you’ve cleaned it has been in vain.

        Or put differently: it’s like the situation where people are starving everywhere all the time even though there is plenty of food, just because we can’t get the food to where it’s needed. Or people dying from easily preventable diseases because it’s too difficult to distribute medicines, etc.

        It’s like a constant catastrophe that’s still entirely normal. I guess by that I begin to comprehend what it’s like to be a political radical like a communist or an an-cap: there’s this deep-lying feeling that something is hopelessly broken and no one seems to notice (yet I think, unlike utopian-ists, that what I want is ultimately impossible. Unless we become the Borg I guess, but that brings other problems…).

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s like a constant catastrophe that’s still entirely normal. I guess by that I begin to comprehend what it’s like to be a political radical like a communist or an an-cap: there’s this deep-lying feeling that something is hopelessly broken and no one seems to notice (yet I think, unlike utopian-ists, that what I want is ultimately impossible. Unless we become the Borg I guess, but that brings other problems…).

          My chosen metaphor would be being an einheri, preparing for a battle at the end of the world you are fated to lose.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s just that that fact really bothers me, the same way it bothers me that if you clean something it’ll have to be cleaned again – meaning that when it gets dirty it feels like every time you’ve cleaned it has been in vain.

          Entropy. Always going to be easier to let a rock roll down a hill than trying to push it back up again. It’s still better to clean the house and try to teach people to behave better, though 🙂

      • random832 says:

        You wouldn’t expect an average person to be able to calculate the circumference of the Earth by measuring shadows, yet that was done over two millennia ago.

        By average people, though?

        Hell, you wouldn’t expect an average person to even remember what the circumference of the Earth is.

        40,000 km is a nice round number, but of course that number was defined based on (the best measurement of, two centuries ago) the circumference rather than the other way around, and that wasn’t the case two millennia ago.

    • Anonymous says:

      Does anyone else react to this with a sense of dread and hopelessness? Whenever there is some problem or destructive pattern that most people seem unaware of or at least isn’t common knowledge, and it turns out that Plato or Nietzsche or Tolstoy or whoever knew about it and wrote about it it seems like there’s no progress.

      That’s because there is no progress. Human nature effectively precludes a state where problems which are solved stay solved. This is particularly true for social technologies that are invented and reinvented to curb the destructiveness of people’s vices. At first it works, because people are well-motivated by personal experience of the evils of not curbing the problem. The problem declines, and people begin existing who have no personal experience of the evil, and are not motivated to continue expending effort to keep the problem they’ve never witnessed under control. Eventually, they’re the majority, and maintenance of the preventative measures fails, returning to the initial situation.

      Right now, we’re in the final stage, where our institutions are falling apart, because our mostly-still-living ancestors decided to reallocate the effort budget away from maintaining the nice world they grew up in, on the mistaken assumption that the maintenance was not needed. Maybe in a generation or two, we can get started on rebuilding the structure of society conductive towards cooperate-cooperate.

      If centuries old understanding by the most well known thinkers of all time remains mostly unknown, what point is there to keep talking? Isn’t public discourse hopelessly broken? If something hasn’t become well understood in many decades or centuries, what reason is there to think that it ever will? Are we condemned to write the same thinkpieces over and over again reiterating points that everyone would know if we had a good enough way to summarize and disseminate insight?

      The default situation is public discourse being broken and/or non-existent. If public discourse isn’t broken, it’s a rare, limited and brief occurrence. Not to mention, I’m skeptical of public discourse being particularly useful for anything with regards to solving society’s problems. Towards exacerbating them, on the other hand…

      Am I making any sense? I think what I’m after is that unless every time people discuss something, the sum total knowledge and insight relevant to the issue from our intellectual history is there, available and active in their minds, we’ve suffered a failure of knowledge distribution. Put like this I realize it’s extreme, but on a gut level I do feel it.

      You are making sense.

      I don’t think there’s anything much to be done, really except build civilization again on the ruins of the old one. Maybe, one day, we will luck into some way of stabilizing the situation in the middle of the cycle, but we’re nowhere near a solution.

      • This is particularly true for social technologies that are invented and reinvented to curb the destructiveness of people’s vices.

        Has technological technology never solved a social problem?

        • Anonymous says:

          Solved? Not sure. (Let’s call it “physical” tech, OK? Like computers and agriculture and aspirin are physical tech, but monogamy and democracy and religions are social tech.)

          There are a few physical technologies that do help out with social problems. For example, DNA and blood testing helps keep crime down and reduce erroneous convictions. On the other side, we have plenty of physical technologies that make things worse socially, like easy-to-use cheap contraception, or easy-to-use ranged weapons.

          • ike easy-to-use cheap contraception,

            I was thinking of that as something that made things better. Of coruse a lot wil depend on whether you think of promiscuity as wrong because of its consequences, or whether you think it is inherently, wrong deontologically. Or maybe you are doign that thing where you sell your deontology to to others based on its consequences…

          • sconn says:

            If the length and quality of women’s lives is important, then contraception may be one of the most beneficial inventions in centuries. Maternal and infant mortality both *plummet* when birth control is available.

            I also suspect that without it, we’d be dealing with a lot of overpopulation-related problems, but that’s more speculative.

        • johan_larson says:

          Reliable birth control has mostly solved the problem of unwanted pregnancies. The old solutions were shotgun marriages and orphanages. It used to be easy to adopt a baby, because so many of them were given up for adoption. These days it’s a huge hassle, because the agencies can afford to be more selective.

          Reliable paternity tests cut through an awful lot of the mess of paternity suits, which used to be based on reputation, for lack of anything better to go on.

          Both of those are examples of technology (mostly) solving social problems.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            The old solutions were shotgun marriages and orphanages.
            You forgot infanticide by killing or neglect, and death by backstreet-abortionists. Contemporary psychology will add social costs of development in bad circumstances. Yes, there is definitely improvement.

      • Jaskologist says:

        At first it works, because people are well-motivated by personal experience of the evils of not curbing the problem. The problem declines, and people begin existing who have no personal experience of the evil, and are not motivated to continue expending effort to keep the problem they’ve never witnessed under control.

        I have a personal theory, which this margin is too narrow to contain, that this is basically the story of the Old Testament.

        • Nornagest says:

          You mean how every three or four generations the Israelites forget the entire plot up to that point and start worshiping a golden calf or something? It fits.

          • John Schilling says:

            Unless it’s the Israelites wandering in the Sinai, in which case this happens every three or four months even though the corpses from the last round of divine smitings are still smoldering. Well, pretty close.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, the timeline for that bit never made much sense to me.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s not so much a failure of general dissemination, as it is that human nature doesn’t change very much. Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings” has the general gist: every time we think “Ah yeah, but it’s gonna be different this time!”, “This time for sure! Lead to gold!”, then reality smacks us in the mush because human nature – and the societies we build out of that nature – runs in the same kind of channels.

      And changing human nature is a big, complicated, messy business; see all the pharma posts on here where basically we’re just drenching the brain in chemicals and hoping for the best that some of them will work a bit better than others. We don’t know (for all the enthusiasm of the “I’ve got an MRI machine!” crowd) how the brain works, what bits of it do what exactly in more than a fairly crude way, how it all links up, and what the hell genetics can really tell us if we tweak this gene and remove/paste in that about how it will affect things like intelligence.

      • Anonymous says:

        And changing human nature is a big, complicated, messy business

        That particular technology exists and has existed for millennia, without interruption until recently. But for some reason, executing serious offenders has greatly reduced our willingness to execute serious offenders. It’s as if these two are linked! 😉

        • Deiseach says:

          That particular technology exists and has existed for millennia, without interruption until recently.

          You don’t think the fact that it has “existed for millennia, without interruption” demonstrates that it doesn’t work to change human nature? Executing murderers has not stopped murder, else by the 12th century we would have had no more notion of why there were laws still around against a crime no-one was committing, than we would have had of trying to fly by flapping our arms.

          • Anonymous says:

            You don’t think the fact that it has “existed for millennia, without interruption” demonstrates that it doesn’t work to change human nature? Executing murderers has not stopped murder, else by the 12th century we would have had no more notion of why there were laws still around against a crime no-one was committing, than we would have had of trying to fly by flapping our arms.

            It hasn’t stopped murder, but it has reduced it. Take a gander at Human Universals by Donald Brown. (Actually probably from the Blank Slate by Pinker, I just misremembered where it was from.) One of the diagrams is most instructive – primitive peoples have violent death rates that would utterly destroy us, were they transplanted to our societies. These societies have violent death rates among males that dwarf the casualties of the World Wars.

          • And that was definitely cured by capital punishment, specifically, not by the rule of law in general?

          • Anonymous says:

            Hm. Good question. Hard to disentangle that one.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If the “warrior gene” results in more aggressive behavior (like crime), wouldn’t centuries of culling these people have resulted in fewer people passing along warrior genes?

          • moonfirestorm says:

            That would depend on how much of that culling happens before they have children, right?

            Presumably even someone committed to a life of crime has a while before they start getting to death-penalty offenses.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What do you make of Pinker’s claim that people are less violent than they used to be?

        I think that convincing the vast majority of people (at least in the developed world) that they don’t want to own slaves is quite an achievement. No guarantee it will last, but it has held for quite a while.

        • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

          It will hold, because the cheap slave labour kills incentives for technological progress that translates into power. Once the ruling class understands that, there is no going back. Just like cheap natural resources keep countries underdeveloped (exception: Norway).

          • The Nybbler says:

            Just like cheap natural resources keep countries underdeveloped (exception: Norway).

            Larger exceptions: United States and Canada.

          • Nornagest says:

            The ruling class is not an agent. Ruling-class people are agents, and they will happily work against the interests of their class if it gives them a personal advantage. Not all of them, but you only need a few to thoroughly outcompete the others.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            The ruling class is not an agent. Ruling-class people are agents, and they will happily work against the interests of their class if it gives them a personal advantage.

            Developing a technology is usually too slow and the results too uncertain to do that. We’re on a societal/(proto-)national level here, not individuals.

          • Nornagest says:

            Let me make this a little more concrete, then. Suppose you’re a legislator in a first- or second-world country that’s fallen on hard times in the not-too-distant future. A proposal has come to the table to create new forms of involuntary servitude — not whips-and-plantations slavery, oh no, but some other way of making people work for you without paying for it. Let’s say, to expand your existing system of penal servitude and contract out prisoners to local companies suffering from labor shortages. Your government makes money, the companies you’re contracting with make money, everyone wins. Except for the prisoners you’re compelling to forced labor, but they’re prisoners, right?

            You have been told by a historian your committee scraped up somewhere that slave labor inhibits technological progress, indirectly and over a period of centuries. On the other hand you’re dealing with a labor crisis now, and plus you stand to personally benefit from the proposal, because you own stock in a couple of those companies. And you’re still telling yourself that it isn’t really slavery.

            I can see this decision going a couple of different ways depending on how you feel about the particulars. I can’t see your historian’s advice having much to do with your decision. But it is decisions like this that ultimately drive where your culture’s going to go, not some kind of vague class interest.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            A country seriously considering prisoner-slaves as a solution to a workforce shortage is a failing state anyway, I’d say, and certainly not an example for the rule of people understanding long-term non-egotistic/nepotistic thinking.

            About every contemporary first- or second-world country in a crisis has a high unemployment rate. So the labor shortage of your example would only be relevant to high-qualified/domain-experienced workers or experts. Try to get them to do their best in a hated social position where they are also morally despised (convicts) and for no (or under-valueing) remuneration. Good luck! (Also, the smarter ones are less likely to get caught in the first place, and crime negatively correlates with education).
            Just imagine Madoff working for naught in a finance company.

            The societal fallout will be bad:
            Falling behind, compared to no-slavery nations, because a large or critical (it has to one of these, or your example would be pointless) part of the working population is not motivated to work smarter (and thus shorter or less hard) or to invent/improve (by being allowed to keep the spoils).
            Social tensions result from having a part of the population seen as less worthy of freedom (laws cannot permanently silence basic human decency, think of the ’60s).
            There will be desire for revenge and/or for sabotage in the enslaved, necessitating enforcement wich is by nature not pleasant.
            The enslaved will become disingenuous and/or brutalized, and so will be people immediately dealing with the slaves; this social deterioration will permeate from there into the general population.
            Being temporary for the individual and/or as a nationwide measure is not likely to change the above to a meaningful degree. And as soon as they are free, they will leave the country; being qualified, they will have good prospects elsewhere.

          • Nornagest says:

            Don’t fight the hypothetical. The backstory to my scenario is not important; it was just meant to illustrate one semi-plausible way of moving a modern society incrementally closer to slavery. You could substitute others without loss of generality; the important part is the incentives of the people voting on it, not the details of the proposal itself.

            (Incidentally, it’s not much of a hypothetical. Many American states did exactly what I described in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there are looser analogies to more modern programs.)

          • Doctor Mist says:

            That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            @Nornagest
            the important part is the incentives of the people voting on it, not the details of the proposal itself

            We have a different value of ‘understanding’ in once the ruling class understands that. To me it entails not losing sight of consequences in the face of short-term gains. But a more cynical worldview is certainly not totally unrealistic.

          • Nornagest says:

            No, I’m not saying the ruling class is short-sighted. I’m saying the ruling class doesn’t make decisions, individuals like the senator in the hypothetical do. Those people might individually be more or less far-sighted, but no matter how enlightened they are, protecting the long-term interests of their class is going to be way down on their list of priorities relative to protecting (or, if you’re being cynical, enriching) themselves and their children and solving the immediate problems they’re confronted with. And given those priorities, pursuing an otherwise solid plan that interferes with long-term technological progress is not a bad call: the benefits are large, immediate and personal, the drawbacks long-term, diffuse and societal.

            The idea of a class interest only makes sense insofar as it doesn’t substantially interfere with individual interests. Compare gene-centric vs. organism-centric evolution: an adaptation can do the most wonderful things for an organism, but it’s still doomed if thereby disadvantages the gene’s propagation.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            I get your point as a general principle; my statement didn’t allow for exceptions and needs softening: something about ‘predominant culture’ instead of ‘ruling class’ and a ‘strong pressure’ in that direction instead of ‘not going back’.

            Anyway, thanks for the enlightenment! 🙂

        • Deiseach says:

          What do you make of Pinker’s claim that people are less violent than they used to be?

          Less violent? I don’t know. Less likely to react violently, due to social sanctions including the risk of arrest and jail? Probably. People don’t duel anymore, but they still stab one another after drunken (or even sober) arguments. Maybe less likely to get into fist fights, but much more likely to seek redress via legal means, or means such as using social media to get a witch hunt going.

          Look at the little treasures of Evergreen State College (unpixellated pictures readily available online if you really want to see their smug mugs) who decided posing with baseball bats was the thing to do – ah yes, the fighters for tolerance, peace, and love! Willing to smash your head in! Though granted, this was more posing than anything else, but the notion of being rough and tough and striking fear into the enemy by using force and threats was something they were in love with, so go ahead, tell me that violence has decreased in the hearts of humans, Steve!

          • Anonymous says:

            OTOH, there is a case to be made that removing the tail of the most violent from the genepool has a lasting pacifying effect. (Until being violent becomes a fitness bonus again, then all bets are off.)

            There’s also the Church banning cousin marriage, yielding much larger in-groups.

          • John Nerst says:

            Considering how this topic started, I must ask: have you read his book about this?

          • Anonymous says:

            Who, Daisy? Which book, The Blank Slate?

          • John Nerst says:

            I was thinking Deiseach, and “The Better Angels of Our Nature”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Considering how this topic started, I must ask: have you read his book about this?

            No, and I really should do, shouldn’t I? But I just find something off-putting about Pinker’s writing, which is unfair: I will try to give it a fair go 🙂

          • John Nerst says:

            Not that you have to (even though I think it’s quite good), it just illustrates the point: how good of a discussion can we have about violence and history without everyone knowing all there is to know about it? And Pinker’s 600-page tome is really just a start.

          • rlms says:

            Evergreen’s students of 2017 posture threateningly but don’t do much harm; Oxford scholars of 1355 caused a riot that killed over 90 people. Violence has definitely decreased in that demographic at least.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Deiseach:

            “Less violent? I don’t know. Less likely to react violently, due to social sanctions including the risk of arrest and jail?”

            Less violent means less violent behavior.

            I’m inclined to think that needing habitual inhibitions to stay out of jail probably means that a lot of people believe those inhibitions are part of their nature, and the inhibitions would last for a while even if the police weren’t available.

            Also, I think inhibitions can be trained in by way of guilt and shame and lack of experience, it’s not fear alone. There might even be some idealism, ethics, or good will mixed in.

            A great many modern people have never killed an animal, and find it difficult to do so.

        • John Schilling says:

          It is still unclear whether the effect Pinker observes is a reduction in violence or a concentration of it. If the latter, the end state is really amazingly bloody wars every century or two, and I can’t help noticing the thousands of thermonuclear missiles sitting around waiting for targets.

          OTOH, the number of thermonuclear missiles took a big drop about a generation ago, so maybe?

        • James Miller says:

          Disagree because of all those hydrogen bombs. We are like a person who has gone from cutting himself to playing Russian roulette. As to slavery, would it increase the wealth of a modern industrialized country if it legalized slavery?

        • Autistic Cat says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz That’s because slaves are no longer profitable.

          • Anonymous says:

            Really depends on the definition of ‘slave’, but forced manual labour competes poorly against machinery and minimum-recompense paid labour, sure.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Slavery was still profitable when it was actually outlawed, though.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            Citation needed? The USSR and the Nazis both ran forced labor camps; my vague understanding is that the Nazi ones were not profitable but I don’t know about the USSR. More importantly, this is a change that happened in the 19th century, and are we really sure that they were less profitable way back then?

          • Anonymous says:

            The USSR and the Nazis both ran “let’s extract some value from these people we’re exterminating” camps. Profitability was strictly secondary.

            I wonder: At least some of the US prisons farm out their prisoners for labour. They presumably earn some money doing so, since the prisoners are paid some pennies too (AFAIK). In which case – is the prison making more money off their labour than they spend to house, feed and secure the prisoners?

          • dndnrsn says:

            The use of slave labour in Nazi Germany during the war wasn’t just of people sent to concentration camps, though – they also sought people from the occupied territories, early on voluntarily, but quickly it turned to press-ganging people. It was intended to free up ablebodied men for military service – but they seriously underestimated the degree to which an (often half starved) slave labourer would be less productive.

          • engleberg says:

            In WWI, the Germans used forced labor from northern France and Belgium to pretty effectively. General Jack’s Memoirs stress that the British soldiers attacking at the Somme were exhausted from stoop labor while the Germans were fresh. According to Speer he couldn’t stop the guards from stealing the food he sent to his slave labor in WWII, so they kept dropping dead before he could get much out of them.

          • James Miller says:

            “According to Speer he couldn’t stop the guards from stealing the food he sent to his slave labor in WWII, so they kept dropping dead before he could get much out of them.”

            Seems like something Speer would say after the war if he had deliberately underfed Nazi slave labor because he calculated that the extra work he could have gotten out of them if they were properly fed would not have been worth the food cost. If Speer really cared about stopping guards from stealing food he could have said, “if your prisoners’ appear undernourished you will be sent to fight the Russians.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There’s still agricultural slavery, manufacturing slavery, sex slavery, and domestic slavery. I assume it’s somewhat profitable.

            In particular, the economics for domestic slavery haven’t changed a lot.

          • Evan Þ says:

            In particular, the economics for domestic slavery haven’t changed a lot.

            They most certainly have, I say, looking at my electric oven, interior plumbing, and washing machine.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @Evan: Good point but I do wonder in which direction that changes things. These appliances would increase slave productivity and therefore make slaves more desirable, right? (Variation on the standard “tech needn’t depress wages” argument.)

          • Evan Þ says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog, for someone with a large number of houses to clean (like a hotel-keeper), sure. But most of us only have one house, and with all these labor-saving devices, there wouldn’t be enough work for a slave there. Even setting aside all moral and financial considerations, I wouldn’t know what to do with one for more than an hour or two each day.

            Meanwhile, the labor-saving devices have decreased the cost of the alternative: now I only need to spend an hour a day, or so, keeping house myself. For a whole lot of people, even if they’re morally insensitive, that starts to run pretty close to the fixed costs of keeping a slave – e.g. food, clothes, and the intangible costs to privacy.

            (The one exception is childcare. Technology like the vacuum cleaner and washing machine has made that somewhat easier, but it’s still hard and very labor-intensive.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            Childcare has gotten _harder_, at least for older children. They’re expected to be supervised more closely than they were, and not permitted to work nor in most cases to accompany a parent while that parent works.

          • INH5 says:

            Empirically, domestic slaves have been used and still are used in modern developed countries, and not just by rich people who live in mansions.

            Now maybe the families that use domestic slaves are simply mistaken about whether their arrangements are “profitable,” but I doubt it. While it is true that a slave owner has to provide food, clothing, and other needs for a slave, modern technology has drastically reduced the cost of those things. The average family in the US only spends around 16% of their budget on food and clothing. And if both parents in the family work, then those costs have to be compared to the price of things like daycare services.

          • random832 says:

            They most certainly have, I say, looking at my electric oven, interior plumbing, and washing machine.

            And vacuum cleaner. I once read somewhere that beating rugs was the most labor intensive single task in maintaining a household.

        • Mary says:

          Aristotle observed that if looms would weave by themselves and lyres play, there would be no need for slaves.

          I suspect the achievement is allowing people to achieve what they used to need slaves for, without slaves.

        • INH5 says:

          I think that convincing the vast majority of people (at least in the developed world) that they don’t want to own slaves is quite an achievement. No guarantee it will last, but it has held for quite a while.

          On the other hand, the vast majority of people in the developed world are perfectly willing to buy products made using slave labor, as long as it happens far enough away to be “out of sight, out of mind.”

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps said people don’t fully trust the sources who are telling them the product they buy is produced from literal slave labor (as in, not counting sweatshops that simply have pay people in developed countries consider to be insufficiently high)

            If I truly believed Product X was produced by no-kidding literal slave labor, I wouldn’t buy it. But if someone tries to tell me “Your sneakers were made by slave labor!” I’m going to assume they’re full of shit unless they provide some pretty compelling proof.

            Even the article you link seems to mix “bad working conditions,” “low pay,” and “child labor,” and “slavery” almost interchangeably. These things are not the same.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            INHS, there would be even more slavery if people were willing to personally own slaves.

      • John Nerst says:

        I’m not just talking about practical, intractable problems of human nature but small, petty things as well. There are people all over the world having conversations about things that would be greatly improved if they only had full awareness of what had been said on the topic before. And that information exists, it’s available, we just haven’t got a way to store and distribute it effectively. That bothers me.

        I realize I sound like a crazy person.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Isn’t that what the Bible is? And all the memes we reference from it?

          Somebody’s working and not getting where they want in life, and they see their neighbor doing well, and instead of figuring out what they’re doing wrong, they hurt their neighbor. That’s Cain and Abel.

          As I said, your observation is from Ecclesiastes 1:9, that there’s nothing new under the son.

          But, it’s extremely difficult to tell people anything they don’t want to hear, and they’ll probably snap at you for it. Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is holy; do not throw your pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

          • Iain says:

            that there’s nothing new under the son.

            The New Testament is commonly believed to provide an argument against this.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Wow, what an awful typo on my part. Good catch Iain.

            ETA: Although theological speaking, Christ was the Word incarnate, and the Word existed before all ages, so Jesus wasn’t new either.

          • Randy M says:

            “nothing new under the son” is not the same as “the son is nothing new”

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I think what I’m after is that unless every time people discuss something, the sum total knowledge and insight relevant to the issue from our intellectual history is there, available and active in their minds, we’ve suffered a failure of knowledge distribution.

      Binaries are bad. Don’t think in terms of failure or success, but degrees of success. Of course we aren’t going to transmit everything, but can we do better? There is one binary that is important: are we accumulating or dissipating? But this is a long-term question and asking it about a single topic in a single time is not so important.

      One response is to encourage people to read old works. Another response is to consider the possibility that most people aren’t actually discussing anything and seek out people who are.

      • John Nerst says:

        Things are probably getting better in many ways and insight is being accumulated, albeit slowly and with painful inefficiency.

        Maybe it’s just that the advent of social media has made so much more low-quality conversation visible that things appear worse. To use another metaphor: it’s like wading through diamonds in the rough, you know each one of these ugly rocks could be cut and polished into a perfect specimen, but it would take astronomical amounts of time and effort to even make a dent in the problem of turning all that potentiality to actuality. With this in mind all the rocks look even uglier.

        But improvement is possible, just soo slow and laborious.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          James Hannam claims that the printing press had a negative effect on the advancement of knowledge, by making it easy to promulgate superstition. I’m skeptical, but he’s correct about the raw observation of what was printed.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Does anyone else react to this with a sense of dread and hopelessness?

      I actually have the exact opposite reaction. I find it deeply comforting to think that people of the past were essentially “like me”. The fact that there is common ground* between myself and a culture as functionally alien as ancient Greece or stone age Amazonian tribespeople is a reason for hope rather than dread.

      I can see how this might bother believers in Whig history who view ethics/society is a problem to be solved but I am not one of them.

      *Yes, even if that “common ground” is bad puns and dick-jokes.

      • John Nerst says:

        I enjoy that feeling too – that we’re all the same in that we’re people and the ancient Greeks were just like us. What I don’t enjoy is the feeling that the understanding our civilization produces is so poorly integrated, preserved and disseminated that almost none of it actually reaches the vast majority of the population.

        It’s like when people go through a decade of schooling and still don’t understand percentages because 99% of everything failed to stick. Collosal failure.

        • Deiseach says:

          What I don’t enjoy is the feeling that the understanding our civilization produces is so poorly integrated, preserved and disseminated that almost none of it actually reaches the vast majority of the population.

          I’m more inclined (because I’m a grumpy old conservative) to blame that on the Dead White European Males Ugh and Everything Must Be Relevant To The Youth! views of education; that schools don’t/shouldn’t teach the Classics because that is Eurocentric and irrelevant and boring and who needs to know that anyway unless they’re going to study history in university in which case they can learn it there?

          Also we mustn’t ask the little possums to read anything older than twenty years ago at the very most because the way old-timey people wrote is hard to read and understand, with their fancy prose styles and words not commonly used on Twitter! Thanks be to God I was too ignorant to know I shouldn’t be reading all that 19th century stuff because it would only puzzle and confuse my poor delicate little 20th century teenage brain 🙂

          • Bugmaster says:

            Also we mustn’t ask the little possums…

            I have no idea why, but I can’t stop laughing at this line. The imagery is just too perfect.

            That said, though: is there any evidence to suggest that an education in the classics has a positive effect on society in general, or maybe just on education in other fields specifically ?

            The obvious answer is, “duh, of course it does” and “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it” etc. But, since this answer is obvious, I’m instantly suspicious of it; many obvious ideas are wrong.

            That is to say, does the act of reading the classics really have the power of turning a little possum into a well-educated human; or is it rather the case that some people an handle an in-depth education, but most can’t, and thus they naturally gravitate towards those newfangled non-educational curricula ?

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            @Bugmaster

            That is to say, does the act of reading the classics really have the power of turning a little possum into a well-educated human; or is it rather the case that some people an handle an in-depth education, but most can’t, and thus they naturally gravitate towards those newfangled non-educational curricula ?

            One vote against the usefulness of classics: Despite the widespread classical upbringing amongst the ruling elites (or at least, more classical than what we have today), the early 20th century didn’t manage to avoid great mistakes like WW1 (or any stupid war).

            On the other hand, the institutions of classical education produced lots of people who could comment on the miserable contemporary happenings while sounding exceedingly civilized, quoting Homer and Virgil. Even the sheer rhetorical skill around then was impressive. Maybe it was because people actually took poetry seriously? (I’m now thinking about how Iron Maiden references Tennyson and Coleridge and starts Aces High by playing a record of Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” speech. In forty years’ time, is someone going to do anything similar with Trump’s tweets? And who the heck is Tennyson of our time, for I have not heard about them?)

            Also, assume that the classical education is widespread. Most of the populace will not get much about it (think about Wodehouse's description of Bertie Wooster's haphazard understanding of the Greek classics and the Bible after his public school upbringing), but some will understand it and will occasionally create something so magnificent that even the masses will enjoy it. One Oxford scholar spends time researching Norse sagas and other obscure legends, and then writes a series of fiction that proves astoundingly popular success and decades later today permeates our popular culture.

            And sometimes, something truly amazing happens. For example, as some other commenter reminded me in the previous OT, the Renaissance got started because Petrarch successfully managed to convince lots of people to be fascinated about the classics. Did it improve anything? That remains an open question, but certainly not much immediately. Yet after a couple of hundred years, suddenly ideas like democracy, freedoms and rights of men, and the rule by a written law started to get popular, and one can’t help if there there was some relation between one event and the other. Also, despite what the naysayers say, I think the end result that is the current Western norms of government and judicial process are improvements over the widespread governmental practices in, say, Renaissance Italy.

          • Matt M says:

            And who the heck is Tennyson of our time

            chica chica slim shady?

          • hlynkacg says:

            …is there any evidence to suggest that an education in the classics has a positive effect on society in general, or maybe just on education in other fields specifically ?

            The obvious benefit in my eyes is that a shared cultural language facilitates coordination. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is what makes cooperation on any scale larger than immediate kin/acquaintances possible in the first place.

            See this exchange above where Anon’s meaning was immediately apparent to me but not to John Nerst. At the most basic level, knowing who the Einherjar were is useful information that will help you understand and thus cooperate with (or fight against) Anon more effectively. Figurative miles of inferential distance can be crossed with a simple name or phrase so long as both of us know the story behind it. For example…

            Molon labe.

            Ants and Grasshoppers.

            Jesus wept.

            The gods of the copybook headings.

            Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra 😛

            Edit: SamChevre also provides a helpful illustration below.

          • hlynkacg says:

            And who the heck is Tennyson of our time

            Obvious candidates; Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and “Dr.” Dre Young.

            Edit:
            @ Matt M
            I know you’re joking, and yet…

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That said, though: is there any evidence to suggest that an education in the classics has a positive effect on society in general, or maybe just on education in other fields specifically ?

            One obvious benefit is that exposing yourself to the thought of people millennia before your birth helps you to overcome the prejudices of your own time, and also the chronological snobbery that sees said prejudices as self-evident truths. From what I can tell, the “But it’s [present year]!” fallacy was very rare in the days when everybody was classically educated.

          • John Nerst says:

            Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

            I was waiting for that reference 🙂

            A common background of myths, stories and concepts enabled a heightened, efficient and in some ways, better, language. I wonder if, with the cultural fragmentation of the 21st century, this rich texture to language is being lost (specific communities like this one, where you can say “moloch”, “paperclipper” and “adaptation-executor” and expect to be understood, notwithstanding) and ordinary languages are being reduced to a sort of pidgins, suitable only for superficial communication between subcultures. I actually wrote a short piece on that a few months ago.

          • DeWitt says:

            I’m more inclined (because I’m a grumpy old conservative) to blame that on the Dead White European Males Ugh and Everything Must Be Relevant To The Youth! views of education

            Just how common are these views, anyway?

            I graduated high school in 2012, and it included six years of Latin, three of Greek, twenty-five books in my native language as well as a number in English to read, as well as another few things you might or might not consider conservative. How good would you say your view on current education is? Despite some loud people espousing the views you do, there’s about as many people being loud about your own views, and it’s not clear to me that things have changed particularly much one way or another.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ John Nerst

            I think that cultural fragmentation is the result of this loss. If you knock down the unifying cultural framework the culture stops being unified. In my more cynical moments I wonder how much of the damage is a product of enemy action.

            @ Dewitt

            Just how common are these views, anyway?

            Anecdotal but in my experience; Going through high-school the North Eastern US in the mid-late 90s, not common but not unheard of either. Going to college in California in the early 2010s quite common. I’d guess maybe 1/3rd or so of the humanities department were sympathetic to the argument but then I can’t say for sure because I was a dirty STEM-lord. 😛