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Open Thread 81.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit, the SSC Discord server, or the Cafe Chesscourt forum.

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648 Responses to Open Thread 81.5

  1. gbear605 says:

    Hey guys, I’m doing this crazy scavenger hunt called GISHWHES and for one of the questions we need to get 400 responses to a survey, so if you could answer it, that would be great! Thanks! https://goo.gl/forms/fPCIwIKvauvgIdyB3

    • Charles F says:

      FYI: There’s just one easy question.

    • entobat says:

      Pfah! What makes you think I brush my teeth with my dominant hand?

      • yodelyak says:

        Yep. Ever since I saw that tedtalk on the subject… or maybe it was a quora post… I have found brushing with the opposite hand to be very enjoyably weird. It feels like learning.

        I tried it recently on my 26-month-old nephew, and found him unable to grasp the concept. Even after four tries, where I’d show him what I meant, and then would bring his attention to the fact that he’d unknowingly put his dominant hand on his other hand to guide it, he did not seem to be able to both attempt the task of brushing his teeth *and* attend to the location of his dominant hand, to prevent it from helping. I guess you probably don’t have very many 26-month-olds answering your survey, but you don’t really know you aren’t getting children, given you didn’t ask respondents for their ages… anyway. Apparently just feeling snippy.

  2. Well... says:

    Does anyone here know which was the first automobile to feature windows that opened by retracting into the door? And what was the mechanism by which a person opened and closed them? (Crank? Lever? Were they automatic?? etc.) Links to pictures would be awesome too.

    • skef says:

      This question is going to be difficult to answer because early cars were based on horse carriages and retracting windows predate them. I’ve found references to at least some of the 1907 Detroit Electric models having crank windows, but it’s difficult to tell from pictures.

      As to mechanism, I believe straps with holes (basically like a belt) was the usual mechanism before cranks, but I don’t know the timing. You can see a window strap in one of the images in the linked carriage from 1860

      • Well... says:

        Interesting. I wonder if there’s a diagram of the strap design out there somewhere. Will DDG for it.

        • skef says:

          Based on the picture, I would guess it’s just attached to the bottom of the window, and there’s a channel for it to come up at the bottom of the opening in the door. You pull on it to get the window to go up, and put the knob on the door right below through one of its holes, to pick a level. Let go of the strap and gravity takes the window back down into the opening.

          Or it might be attached to the door on the other side of the window, again below the opening, if that makes the raising and lowering a bit smoother.

          • Well... says:

            I figured it was one of those two mechanisms too. But yeah, either way: pull more strap out to raise the window, let more strap in to lower the window.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think this might be shown in action on a stagecoach early in “The Hateful Eight”?

  3. bean says:

    Naval Gazing
    The Battleships of Pearl Harbor, Part 2
    Series Index
    When we left Pearl Harbor, it was the evening of December 7th, and most of Battle Force was on the bottom of the harbor. But what happened to the ships afterwards? We’ll go through the ships in the order which they returned to service (if they did) and then look more broadly at the use of the survivors during the war.

    Maryland was the first ship ready to go to sea again, albeit with some damage. Tennessee was slightly behind her, as she was wedged by the West Virginia. Both ships were sent to Puget Sound at the end of the year, and repairs were completed in February. Pennsylvania was sent to San Francisco at the same time, returning to duty in March. All three ships (along with Colorado, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Idaho) served as part of TF 1, the backup to the carrier fleet until after Midway. Tennessee and Pennsylvania were sent to the states for comprehensive refit, running 8/42-5/43 and 10/42-2/43 respectively. Both received the standard upgrade, a reconstructed superstructure resembling those on the fast battleships (although there was less work done on Pennsylvania than the others), 5”/38 secondary guns in place of the former mixed secondary battery and upgraded fire control. Tennessee was also blistered against torpedoes, restricting her to the Pacific or a long journey around South America. Maryland was never refitted.

    Nevada was refloated in February of 1942, and provided valuable experience for the salvage of California and West Virginia. One of the most important lessons was the necessity of paying attention to air quality, as two men were killed by hydrogen sulfide produced by the immersion of paper products in water. She was temporarily repaired at Pearl Harbor before being sent to Puget Sound Navy Yard for a full overhaul and modernization, which was completed in October. Her refit was much like Tennessee’s, but without the blisters.

    California was the next to be salvaged. She was in much worse shape than Nevada, and had to be extensively lightened. All of the guns (except those of Turret 4, which was underwater) and the conning tower and mainmast were removed. A cofferdam was built around the deck edge, essentially giving her extra freeboard, and all possible openings were sealed. Pumping then proceeded, gradually lowering the water level inside the ship, with removal of stores and bodies going on as more of the interior was exposed. Great care was taken to preserve her interior equipment, particularly electrical systems, the responsibility of a Commander Hyman G. Rickover. She refloated in late March and was docked in April, undergoing additional repairs to structure and machinery until October, when she sailed for Puget Sound, receiving the same type of refit as Tennessee. She returned to the fleet in January of 1944.

    West Virginia was probably the most impressive salvage effort of the attack. She was badly damaged, and not raised until May of 1942, through the use of underwater concrete to seal pre-built patches on the ship. Cleaning out the ship was a very unpleasant job. All heavy weights had to be removed, such as oil, ammunition, and anchors. The worst problem, though, was dealing with the meat lockers, which had obviously gone off. On West Virginia (the last ship salvaged) they pumped seawater through for several days to remove the stench. She was reconditioned at Pearl Harbor, and sailed in May of 1943 for Puget Sound, where she underwent a refit similar to that of Tennessee and California, emerging in July of 1944.

    Oklahoma was the least valuable battleship at Pearl Harbor (due to her age and poor engines), and the decision was made to refloat and right her to clear the harbor, with no intention of returning her to service. (32 crew trapped deep in the hull were saved a few days after the attack, by cutting in through the bottom.) The righting was done via building derricks on the hull and pulling on them with winches on Ford Island, a method called parbuckling and also used on the Costa Concordia, running March-June 1943. The hull was then patched and refloated, then drydocked to strip her and make her seaworthy for the tow to the West Coast for scrapping. That tow in May of 1947 ended 500 miles from Hawaii when Oklahoma sank in a storm.

    Arizona was obviously a total loss, and the only question was if it was worth trying to raise her for scrap. As it was, she was stripped by divers, the most notable salvage being Turrets 3 and 4, which were installed as coastal defense batteries in Hawaii. One of them was test-fired for the first time on VJ day, while the other was never completed. Her superstructure was scrapped in 1942. The guns of Turret 2 were recovered and reconditioned, later being installed on Nevada in the fall of 1944. The remains of the ship are still in Pearl Harbor, forming the USS Arizona memorial next to where the USS Missouri is moored, and a trickle of oil still leaks from her tanks.

    Utah was left more or less as she was, except for minor stripping of valuable equipment during the war. Her berth wasn’t important, and it would have cost too much to remove her. She remains there today.

    The most common use of the older battleships was shore bombardment in support of amphibious landings. Nevada and Pennsylvania (joined by Idaho, who had been in the Atlantic during Pearl Harbor) first fired their guns in anger in the Aleutians, bombarding Japanese-held positions and supporting the landings on Attu, the only land battle of the war fought on US soil.

    Nevada was then transferred to the Atlantic, where she supported the D-Day landings, and the follow-on landings in Southern France in August of 1944. She returned to the Pacific as the fighting moved inland in Europe. In the meantime, the other ships had provided similar support at Makin, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, and the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam as the US marched closer to Tokyo. Then it was time to return to the Philippines, as MacArthur had promised in 1942. But that will have to wait until Wednesday.

    • gbdub says:

      In the past you’ve been discouraged when some of your posts didn’t get a lot of comments, so I’ll throw in a +1 thanks again for another good post. I just don’t have much to add/question with this one.

    • John Schilling says:

      Counting the score, I get six battleships sunk in the literal sense of being damaged and ending up resting on the sea floor rather than floating on its surface. Of these, three were salvaged and restored to operational service during the war. The three that weren’t included the one that was blown up by a magazine explosion, the one that capsized, and the one that was so old she would never have been used as anything but a training ship in any event. The other three battleships present were damaged but remained afloat, and so returned to service much faster.

      Interestingly, a year earlier a British surprise attack by carrier-based torpedo bombers had caught the Italian battleship fleet at anchor at Taranto. In that one, nobody bothered to drop bombs on the decks of the not-torpedoed ships, it was sinking or nothing. Three battleships were literally sunk, with two returning to service later in the war (and the third probably would have if Italy had lasted into 1944).

      So, while attacking the enemy in port has its advantages (enemy can’t maneuver, combat readiness low, etc), it does raise the bar on actually destroying enemy ships. Unless you achieve almost literal blow-them-to-bits levels of damage, a few tugboats will usually suffice for the enemy to make sure his ships sink on an even keel on a shallow, sandy bottom for easy recovery. Attack them at sea, and a few big holes below the waterline is enough to end them. The port strike is for people who can then turn a temporary advantage into a decisive victory.

      • bean says:

        I’d question the inclusion of Utah in your lists. She wasn’t just so old she would only have been used for training. Her guns had been removed. There were AA guns on top of her turrets.
        And West Virginia was very lucky not to turn turtle. She probably should have, if not for prompt counterflooding, and that probably would have meant she’d join Oklahoma in the ‘not worth salvaging’ category.

        The other three battleships present were damaged but remained afloat, and so returned to service much faster.

        Philosophical question. Was Pennsylvania afloat when she was in drydock? Was she raised during the attack when they flooded the drydock to put out the fire on Cassin and Downes? (Interestingly, the only ships salvaged that didn’t make it to the west coast under their own power. Their machinery was removed and new hulls were built at San Fransisco, and given the old ship’s names and hull numbers.)

        But you’re very correct about the risks and rewards of attacking ships in port. I thought we could add Valiant, Queen Elizabeth, and Tirpitz to that list, but it looks like all three remained technically afloat after they were attacked by frogmen in port.

    • Protagoras says:

      I’ve been reading the Turtledove series The War that Came Early; some of its departures from history are plausible enough, a few are definitely implausible, but there are plenty where I’m not entirely sure. One sequence that isn’t described in nearly enough detail (because no POV characters are involved) starts with a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which doesn’t go nearly as well (one carrier was in Pearl and lost, but otherwise damage seems to have been light, including no lost battleships). Presumably because with most of their fleet intact they thought they had sufficient resources to do so (and perhaps because they continued to underestimate the Japanese), the Americans send a massive fleet to support the Philippines. This gives the Japanese the decisive battle they wanted, and the Japanese do in fact end up winning it. The consequences of this don’t turn out to be all that huge (which seems right), but based on previous discussions around here I wonder if there was any chance the Americans would have charged into the decisive battle had circumstances been different, or if that was one of the cases where Turtledove’s plausibility seriously slipped.

      • bean says:

        This is one I genuinely don’t know. I should really read more on US strategy pre-WW2 for dealing with Japan, but I have so many other books to read first.

      • John Schilling says:

        US War Plan Orange definitely did have the US battle fleet sailing across the Pacific at first opportunity to defeat its numerically inferior Japanese counterpart in a Jutland of the Orient. Both sides sought that battle as a matter of policy, and if the USN had sufficient battleships would almost certainly have shown up for the fight.

        Where both sides disagreed, and would have submitted to reality for arbitration, was the effectiveness of Japanese light forces (aircraft, submarines, torpedo-armed destroyers and cruisers) at cutting the American battleship fleet down to size before the decisive battle. The Japanese probably overestimated the effectiveness of submarines and destroyers against properly-escorted battleships, everybody underestimated the effectiveness of airplanes, and the scenario where the US is down a carrier or two but accepts the invitation anyway is probably a best-case scenario for Japan.

        • cassander says:

          >, and the scenario where the US is down a carrier or two but accepts the invitation anyway is probably a best-case scenario for Japan.

          Seem to me the result of this is just another midway. That is, the carriers duel, one side gets hit badly and withdraws, and the battlewagons never really enter into it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why would the United States have withdrawn a perfectly good, numerically superior battleship fleet just because some aircraft carriers had been beaten, when the doctrine was that it was the battleships and not the aircraft carriers that were going to pound the Japanese fleet to scrap?

            That would be akin to, e.g., the British withdrawing from Jutland just because their battlecruisers had been hit badly.

          • bean says:

            Seem to me the result of this is just another midway. That is, the carriers duel, one side gets hit badly and withdraws, and the battlewagons never really enter into it.

            Unlikely. Midway occurred in a world where both sides were well aware that battleships without air cover were vulnerable, and one side had lost all air cover while the other side still had quite a bit. In the universe where no battleship has been sunk by air attack at sea, the side stripped of most air cover might press on.

          • cassander says:

            >Why would the United States have withdrawn a perfectly good, numerically superior battleship fleet just because some aircraft carriers had been beaten, when the doctrine was that it was the battleships and not the aircraft carriers that were going to pound the Japanese fleet to scrap?

            The same reasons the Japanese didn’t send their battleships to bombard midway and hunt down the remaining carriers.

          • bean says:

            The same reasons the Japanese didn’t send their battleships to bombard midway and hunt down the remaining carriers.

            That was in a world where Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk by air attack. If the claim ‘no modern battleship was ever sunk by air attack at sea’ remains true, then people are going to continue to press their luck until a modern battleship (or five) are sunk by air attack while at sea.

          • John Schilling says:

            Furthermore, “hunt down the remaining carriers” doesn’t work because the US is obviously going to keep its unscreened carriers away from enemy battleships using their superior speed and reconnaissance capabilities. And bombarding Midway is mostly pointless at that point; it was never the point to begin with, and it had been mostly neutralized on the first day anyhow.

            If the main portion of the USN’s fighting strength had been (believed to be) in a task force of battleships present at Midway, then sinking those battleships would have been Japan’s primary objective from the start. Japan’s battleships were faster than the USN “standard type”, their floatplanes were more than adequate to hunt down a task force at sea, and no Japanese admiral would have backed away from the Decisive Battle just because of a few pansy-ass aircraft carriers.

            And the US wouldn’t have been trying to run in any event.

        • Protagoras says:

          OK, so Turtledove looks good on that one. Thanks!

  4. Well... says:

    Consider the set “transhumanists with tattoos.”

    Hypothesis 1: people become transhumanists, then get tattoos because they realize tattoos are a way they can “augment” or “perfect” the shoddy work of evolution. (This hypothesis is not meant to rule out that transhumanists may have tattoos before becoming transhumanists, only to say they get additional tattoos afterward, using transhumanism as a justification.)

    Hypothesis 2: people think about the various choices they’ve made, including the decision to get tattoos, and realize they were trying to “augment” or “perfect” the shoddy work of evolution. Then they realize they are transhumanists. (This hypothesis is not meant to rule out that transhumanists may get additional tattoos after becoming transhumanists, only to say they had tattoos beforehand and arrived at transhumanism by deducing it from reflection on their own decisions, including the decision to be tattooed.)

    Questions for y’all:

    1. Do you think transhumanists tend to have tattoos at higher rates than similar non-transhumanist groups? What about at higher rates than similar socio-economic groups? Are the tattoos themselves likely to depict distinctive kinds of things?

    2. Do you think transhumanists tend to have tattoos before becoming transhumanists?

    3. Which hypothesis (1 or 2, above) is likely to be true in more cases?

    4. What are your other thoughts on the intersection of transhumanism & tattoos?

    I don’t know any transhumanists in real life–none that I know of–but I’ve heard lots of people give rationales for getting their tattoos and most of those rationales boil down essentially to transhumanist ones, in my opinion. I think it’s interesting that so many people say pro-transhumanist things about one thing or another when if you flat out told them what transhumanism is and asked if they support it they’d (I think) say no. (To me, this makes transhumanism slippery and threatening, not “so obviously true people agree with it even when they don’t mean to.”)

    • Well... says:

      Are the tattoos themselves likely to depict distinctive kinds of things?

      Here I’m referring to the tattoos of transhumanists depicting distinctive kinds of things from the tattoos of non-transhumanists. In case it wasn’t clear.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        1) Transhumanists probably have far fewer tattoos of Jesus than the general population.

        2) Speaking of “general population,” they probably have fewer gang tattoos, too.

        3) I’m imagining a tattoo of a partly-furled ribbon saying, “Mother: you should sign up for cryonics!”

        4) Am now considering a Tattooine tattoo….

    • beleester says:

      I’ve heard lots of people give rationales for getting their tattoos and most of those rationales boil down essentially to transhumanist ones, in my opinion.

      Examples? Most rationales I’ve heard are things like “It looks nice” or “It’s personally meaningful and I wanted to memorialize it,” neither of which sounds transhumanist. Unless you have a really broad definition, like “Wanting your body to look prettier is transhumanist.”

      I also don’t like the framing in your hypotheses. Saying that you got the tattoo to “perfect evolution’s shoddy work” implies that the lack of a tattoo is an imperfection, or that you should have evolved to have the tattoo you want from birth, and both of those sound like really unlikely views even for a transhumanist.

      Like, I can imagine a transhumanist saying “I get tattoos because there’s nothing special about the original state of my body, so who cares if I draw on it?” or (like hypothesis 2) “Getting tattoos made me realize I’m okay with my body looking different, so I became a transhumanist.” But I have a hard time imagining someone saying “Getting tattoos made me realize that evolution really dropped the ball when it designed my body.”

      Framed the way I put it, I guess hypothesis 1 sounds plausible, but I’m not super confident in either.

      • Well... says:

        The main example is the “My skin is a canvas” rationale, which I think is the most common one I’ve heard.

        “Evolution’s shoddy work” is the same as saying “there’s nothing special about the original state of my body [that it got to from evolution],” isn’t it?

        Also, I know transhumanists probably don’t necessarily think about their philosophy while they put on their pants in the morning, and maybe I’m making a wrong assumption here, but if a transhumanist makes a major and permanent change to his body that requires undergoing a painful and potentially expensive procedure, isn’t he likely to have a transhumanist reason for it?

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m no transhumanist, but I’ve spent a fair bit of money over the years repairing evolution’s shoddy work at the dentist. Many other people do so at the LASIK clinic, or at the orthopedist getting replacement joints. No tattoos, though.

    • Nornagest says:

      I suspect transhumanists are less likely than non-transhumanists to have tattoos, for basically tribal reasons.

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed. I come from a family that is very heavily tattooed. If you asked them your thoughts on transhumanism the response would probably be something like “Hey whatever floats their boat as long as they don’t come in MY bathroom, know what I mean?”

    • Shion Arita says:

      I don’t know that many transhumanists IRL, but I don’t think the ones I know have tattoos, myself included.

      I’d guess they probably have more than the general population, likely because they’d have less aversion to modifying their bodies in general. And they’re probably more open to doing unusual things as a general statement.

      As a general statement, I think tattoos are cool in the abstract, but what people choose to get as the subject is rarely something I like.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I hope you get some replies from transhumanists about why they do or don’t have tattoos, and what they’ve seen at meetups or online about transhumanists with tattoos.

      So I used my favorite brain extension and searched on [transhumanist tattoo], and turned up a little. There are other links as well, but I get the impression that specifically transhumanist tattoos exist but aren’t a huge thing.

      This doesn’t answer the question of whether transhumanists like tattoos more or less than other similar people. I’d bet on it being mostly about whether they’re from the tattoo-getting demographic.

      I would say that tattoos are a mildly transhumanist part of mainstream culture, but this doesn’t mean that people with tattoos are strongly transhumanist. Body-building might be in the same category.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I’m not sure I’d call myself a transhumanist per se – sympathetic to transhumanism, perhaps, or transhumanist-adjacent – but while I have had laser eye surgery and would strongly consider other forms of functional upgrade to my body, I have absolutely no interest in getting tattoos. I’m not sure quite what the mix of instinctual aesthetic dislike of tattoos specifically vs. dislike of making public visual statements is – I don’t even wear clothes with designs more complicated than stripes of two colours, and rarely even that – but those seem like the two factors at play.

    • John Schilling says:

      Hypothesis: Transhumanists are mostly less than 35 years old, because transhumanism is a new, growing, and optimistic ideology and youth correlates with optimism. Approximately everyone below the age of 35 gets tattoos because it’s the fashionable thing to do and youth correlates with not thinking or caring about what happens if tattoos become unfashionable twenty years from now.

      Don’t ask me for an explanation of why tattoos have become fashionable; that falls under the category of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. The AIs are going to be baffled by that one too.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I can explain why tattoos have become fashionable, but not why they *had* to become fashionable. Perhaps all fashion is like that– explanations can only rise to the level of plausible.

        Tattoos were edgy, but even after they lost their edgeiness (I think they’re still a little edgy– I don’t think I’ve seen a mainstream political candidate with a visible tattoo), they’re still fun. People below the upper class still don’t get much custom stuff. And tattoos are conspicuous consumption.

        Strange but true: as far as I can tell, there was no science fiction which predicted tattoos and piercings going mainstream.

        Babel-17 doesn’t count– the body modifications were pretty much on the fringe.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t know any transhumanists in real life

      Me neither. I’m not even sure what it means to be a transhumanist exactly. Not to be mean or dismissive, but given the current state of technology is there much to distinguish a transhumanist from any other science fiction sub-genre fan that wishes he could live in the world of his books?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “Not to be mean or dismissive, but given the current state of technology is there much to distinguish a transhumanist from any other science fiction sub-genre fan that wishes he could live in the world of his books?”

        There are some transhumanists who do things like putting magnets under their skin.

      • Spookykou says:

        I think of nootropics, adderall for everyone, etc, to be transhumanist ideas. I would also plop most elective surgeries into a similar category, those prosthetic feet that make you faster than people with human feet*, etc.. However, I think of transhumanism as a catchall for ‘using technology to improve beyond your baseline’ which might be idiosyncratic.

        *This might not be true.

  5. TolstoyFan99 says:

    What is an argument that you find very convincing, but that people who disagree with you consistently dislike to address?

    • Wrong Species says:

      Most people have terrible arguments against vegetarianism. And I think they know that their arguments are bad but they don’t really care. Some are more sophisticated but their arguments are about as convincing to me as a really intelligent theologian arguing for God. It has the clothing of a good argument but it just doesn’t work.

      Also, if you bring up Singer’s drowning child argument, they can’t articulate a reason against it. They just look at you like you’re stupid and change the subject.

      • entobat says:

        I didn’t realize there were principled vegetarians (who don’t feel guilty about not being vegan). Are you implying you have good arguments for vegetarianism that aren’t also arguments for veganism?

        I’m vegetarian because I have been historically; at this point it would be very painful to stop eating eggs / dairy, more painful than I value the suffering of milk cows and egg-factory hens. But it’s also ethically dangerous for me to try eating meat, for fear that I’ll enjoy it and put it in the same class as dairy and eggs, so I stay away.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Veganism generally starts from the premise that animals are morally equivalent to humans. So cows have the same bodily autonomy rights as people. But vegetarianism is more about saying that animals have a non trivial moral worth. So I don´t really see anything wrong with milking a cow but I would say that killing a cow requires a higher justification than ¨it tastes good¨.

          Of course, someone could say that in practice, factory farming causes cows to suffer even if they aren´t directly killing them for human consumption but that´s different than the argument in principle.

          • Spookykou says:

            Veganism generally starts from the premise that animals are morally equivalent to humans.

            I only know one vegan, but this is not an accurate description of their beliefs, is this common?

            Also, assuming animals have moral worth, the belief that we shouldn’t enslave animals for food purposes seems more then sufficient to get someone to veganism.

            dislike to address

            but that´s different than the argument in principle

            So what is your answer to the argument that factory farming causes cows to suffer, given you accept that they have a non-trivial moral worth?

          • The Red Foliot says:

            Eating meat ostensibly gives humans pleasure, so the trade-off is between how much suffering the animals endure and how much pleasure humans are provided with. It is difficult to reach any conclusion to this riddle of ethical calculus, as both the suffering and the pleasure are obscure. In light of the hedonic treadmill, do humans really gain any long term benefit from eating meat? I think it is at least possible. Likewise, animals are so stupid it’s difficult to say whether dull lives of sitting in cages are as boring to them as they would be to humans. So, without definitive measures of these things it’s a matter of speculation.

            Myself, I would be very much in favor of enforcing limited vegetarianism on everyone. My own assumption is that meat probably doesn’t make people happier, may in fact make them less happy in excessive quantities, and comes at some cost to the animals. I do not care if the overall animal population gets culled due to reduced demands for their meat, as I don’t consider ‘life’ to be of inherent worth (it is how life is lived, if anything, that is important to me). I also think there is a profound environmental and economic cost to relying on livestock for sustenance, one I would rather reduce. I’m also highly tolerant of social engineering and would prefer to see governments take a more active role in organizing their citizenry.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I think it’s a perfectly sound argument. I just don’t feel it’s as compelling because I’m more interested in theoretical arguments. Or maybe just the idea of a cow suffering seems more abstract than a cow being killed. If a person tortured a person and then let them free it wouldn’t seem as bad of an action to me as someone who killed them in cold blood(although it would probably reflect worse on the torturer as a person). So maybe it’s a reasonable position or maybe it’s a cognitive quirk but I certainly understand someone who puts their efforts in to ending factory farming as a first step and if they pushed me, I couldn’t argue against them.

            But as far the theoretical arguments for veganism, it just doesn’t strike me as compelling at all. For example, making your kid do chores could technically be considered slavery but I’m certainly not going to propose banning chores. Why not? Because I don’t think children have the same autonomy rights as adults. And I would put animals much lower on that scale. On my scale, animals are worthy of not being tortured for fun but I would hardly consider milking a cow to be torture. Rights to bodily autonomy seem more suited to humans than animals. I’m not a utilitarian. I don’t even see all people as being morally equal. If I had to choose between five strangers and a member of my family, I would choose my family every time without the slightest sense of guilt. I don’t see a reason I should see animals having all the same rights as people.

          • entobat says:

            I agree with Spookykou, though perhaps because I just ignore all the vegans who make dumb arguments like “all animals have equal personhood”.

          • Spookykou says:

            Edit: Removed Snarky comment

          • Spookykou says:

            I don’t think the theoretical argument is in your favor/you are framing it strangly.

            As I see it, the theoretical argument, or the generlizable one, goes something like.

            I assign moral worth to animals.

            It is wrong to cause harm to things I assign moral worth to.

            The conflict here being that you think most people agree to these two clauses, however they continue to inflict harm upon animals.

            The problem is that everyone will use an idiosyncratic definition of harm, that just stops wherever they are comfortable with it stopping, after which point, they have decided harm is no longer being done.

            This defends you from veganism in the same way it defends everyone else from vegetarianism. I think that torturing an animal is wrong, given the moral worth I ascribe to them, but killing them for meat is ok(it is quick, their lives are kinda shit either way, they don’t have dreams of the future, w.e). Obviously everyone is doing this, but at least veganism seems less arbitrary in their line drawing, they are trying in as much as they are able to capture all forms of ‘harm’ commonly accepted.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Do you think milking a cow is “harming” it?

          • Spookykou says:

            It seems perfectly reasonable that some sort of automated milking machine could be an unpleasant experience for a cow, more to the point, it is very plausible to me that the lives of dairy cows are generally unpleasant. Even more to the point, are you a vegetarian/milk drinker, who doesn’t enjoy any other animal byproducts? If so why was that the line you picked. If not, shouldn’t we look for the worst case of animal suffering for a product you eat, not the best?

            Although I think I can clarify what I am really driving at here, which is two separate points.

            You are going to get two kinds of people, the red tribers I work with would all agree with the, torturing an animal is wrong, but killing an animal to eat it is okay.

            The second kind, are going to be like a lot of blue tribers, me(and I think Entobat) who agree that killing an animal just to eat it is wrong, and also just in general causing an animal to suffer is wrong. So for most people, I imagine, your question is either a non-starter, or it is a call to go beyond just vegetarianism.

            Although given the particular nature of your response, I think you agree with this, and are rather trying to quibble over how harsh the living conditions of the animals actually are, instead of contending that it is okay for animals to live in horrible conditions. This is a more reasonable position than I thought you held at first, and I think a question that can be easily answered by investigating the living conditions of the animals whose products you consume.

          • Jiro says:

            But vegetarianism is more about saying that animals have a non trivial moral worth.

            It’s reallky hard to justify the claim that animals have a non-trivial moral worth on an individual level, because if you say something like “I think a chicken is worth 1/10 of a human”, that implies you’d make all sorts of tradeoffs, like trade the life of one human for 11 chickens, that nobody is actually willing to make. (It also implies that in a lifetime, any non-vegetarian is a mass murderer.)

            I would without qualms destroy a building full of a million chickens to save one human, if you ignore the value of the chickens to humans and ony consider the chickens’ inherent moral worth.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Jiro

            Plenty of people would trade a room full of random strangers for a loved one. Other species will almost always be more strange to us than a random human.

            I’m not sure your argument abstracts well. Moral consideration fundamentally derives from our ideas about our relations to other things and entities, not from any ‘intrinsic’ worth.

            I’d choose the 11 chickens over a known psychopath any day. 😛

          • Matt M says:

            Plenty of people would trade a room full of random strangers for a loved one. Other species will almost always be more strange to us than a random human.

            I used to listen to neocon radio host Dennis Prager on a regular basis. One of the things I liked about him was that he spent a lot of time (relative to other talk radio hosts) on issues like abstract morality rather than “political outrage of the day.”

            He used to regularly refer to this survey, I’m probably getting the exact numbers wrong, but it was something like “40% of teenagers would save their own pet rather than a random stranger if forced to choose,” and he considered this morally outrageous (I agree). He would often cite this specific example as emblematic of the moral decay of today’s youth.

            I think what Jiro is saying is a logical extension of this. Not only do I agree, but I go much farther. I would personally strangle 100 puppies to save the life of a random stranger. I wouldn’t enjoy it. It may even leave me psychologically traumatized in some way. But I would do it. I consider animal life (and animal suffering) absolutely trivial when compared to human life (and human suffering).

          • carvenvisage says:

            @Matt M is the implication that these teenagers would save their pet because of a general principle about the value of all animals?

            -That perhaps they’d save a random beefstake cow before a random stranger, too?

            Because I get the exact opposite lesson from the story: human instinctive assignment of moral value is not reliable, it’s better to go based on reason.

          • carvenvisage says:

            my argument against vegetarianism/veganism is that if everyone was raised with power from human sacrifice as a crutch (of great genuine power) to lean on, and everyone who was uncomfortable with it gave it up with no concern for the power they were relinquishing, then ‘morally inclined people’, would be a weaker faction as a whole, which sounds pretty dangerous. -Who knows how much worse things can get if norms propogate which cause those who might improve things (reflective people) to cripple themselves, remove themselves from the board?

            Quantitively the situation with meat is vastly different, but qualitatively it’s very similar. Obviously killing something to consume its flesh is not ideal angelic behaviour, but if I could insert a glitch into the universe where no one inclined to question it ever did, I don’t know it wouldn’t improve the world’s trajectory.

            Seems like its partially an empirical question.

            how much do humans benefit from meat eating?

            how much do you in particular, having probably been raised in it and possibly built yourself around it?

            how much can you afford to weaken yourself?

            How much do (people like) you have a right to weaken yourself?

          • Charles F says:

            @carvenvisage
            Interesting analogy, but I don’t think it works against vegetarianism. I think the most relevant power there is probably economic. Meat is expensive, and if you switch to a vegetarian diet, or a low-meat diet, you can spend less on food and have more money left for yourself.

            Related, I think it’s true that going vegetarian (from a more typical western diet) tends to improve your health and decrease medical spending. I don’t believe that’s true for going vegan, but I could be wrong.

            Apart from fairly rare people who react really poorly to a vegetarian diet. It doesn’t seem to me like it’s a sacrifice. Were there any particular ways you think it makes people worse off?

          • rlms says:

            @carvenvisage
            That’s an interesting argument, but I think it’s also terrible. Vegetarianism probably makes the average Westerner healthier, and cultivates the virtues of restraint and following one’s moral compass.

          • bean says:

            Related, I think it’s true that going vegetarian (from a more typical western diet) tends to improve your health and decrease medical spending.

            This doesn’t actually prove anything about eating meat, though. A typical American diet is terrible. Everyone knows this. But vegetarian doesn’t just mean ‘doesn’t eat meat’, it also usually means things like not eating junk food.

          • Charles F says:

            @bean
            About eating meat, no. About the ethics of converting westerners to vegetarian diets wrt this argument, I think it does. If doing the moral thing is making you more powerful (healthy), not less, than you were before and than the average person doing the immoral thing, then I think that’s a problem with applying the argument. Even if there’s a less moral option that has even better health benefits, say paleo/ketogenic diets, that could easily appeal to immoral people too, you get to eat even more meat and you get healthier. Whereas advertising vegetarianism would only give that extra health benefit to people moral enough to be vegetarian, so it does a better job concentrating “power” in the “right” group.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Were there any particular ways you think it makes people worse off?

            Mostly a general feeling of caution, with some in mind that *might*. here are some:

            1. we probably need a lot of the same things an animal needs, animal flesh probably contains a lot of stuff human flesh needs preprocessed (by the animal). Also (I could be completely wrong on this) I imagine animal muscles might be easier to turn into human muscle than tofu or whatever, seeing as they’re already muscle.

            2. the one mentioned about growing up with it and adapting yourself to it, whether psychologically or biologically or whatever. E.g. to some people their chicken dinner or favorite takeaway (or even meat eating more generally) is a long established and important reenergising ritual in their lives. It doesn’t follow that you can replace this with salad or with anything. (so this is kind of two things: general adaption, and specific attachments we might have built around a habit of meat eating)

            3. general greater difficulties in preparation, and possibly lower satisfaction from not eating delicious meat. (though, bonus, you don’t have to handle raw meat)

            4. Initial upheaval from adjusting to new lifestyle and having to learn new things.

            5. there’s also potentially the principle of presuming a change you don’t understand will tend to make things worse. If you let me tinker with a spanner under the hood of a car, the car will come out a lot worse from any random changes I make. Is our habit of meat eating coincidential or worse? (-completely unlike a car which has a purpose). I don’t know that it isn’t, but my prior would be that it’s probably beneficial from a selfish perspective. Even if only in terms of meat tasting good, which I personally wouldn’t be inclined to underrate.

            6. this one is kind of unfair, and probably shouldn’t count, but being a vegetarian is as a bit weird to many. You could argue it’s ‘spending weirdness points’, or that food is a big part of people’s lives that you might have a harder time relating to them about.

             

          • Charles F says:

            @carvenvisage
            1) I think this is a bit too simplistic, but not entirely wrong. Certainly we need to support a lot more than our muscles/fat, and you shouldn’t expect generic animal muscle/fat to have all the stuff you need for healthy eyes or skin. And being already muscle, meat does have a good amino acid balance for building human muscle, but it all has to be broken down and build back up anyway, so you’re not really better off than with a similarly balanced set of plant sources.

            2) Absolutely a big deal, but not impossible to work around. You can gradually adapt to being vegetarian. And I think everybody who suggests an abrupt and complete shift is hurting people and the cause.

            3) Same as above, basically.

            4) I like learning new things. And there wasn’t an upheaval so much as a gradual increase in the number/variety of vegetarian things I could make and decrease in the number of times where meat seemed significantly better than the next best thing. But for somebody set in their ways, this could make them worse off.

            5) I think for this to apply, our diets would have to not suck so much. Remove a major food group from some diet that developed over millennia without the influence of food producers, and yeah, you’re going to run into problems. But if we’re talking about converting modern people, they’re probably going to get slightly healthier.

            6) I think it’s fair and should count. Whether it’s a net harm is up for debate, and depends a lot on location. (I never had problems with it in CA, but in WI people think I’m weird and going out to eat is hard.)

          • Aapje says:

            AFAIK a substantial amount of land has low value for agriculture and is best used for grazing. So 100% veganism would probably be inefficient.

            Of course, we use high value land to feed animals now, so…

      • Philosophisticat says:

        These are also the first two that came to mind.

      • baconbacon says:

        Also, if you bring up Singer’s drowning child argument, they can’t articulate a reason against it. They just look at you like you’re stupid and change the subject.

        I’ll take this as an accurate representation of the issue at hand.

        Let me turn it around. Instead of walking to class you are walking to work where you earn a solid hourly wage which you donate the majority of to hungry 3rd world children. Now you pass a child drowning in a pond, diving in will get your clothes muddy and wet which is unacceptable at work, causing you to go home and miss a few hours of work, lose a few hours of pay, and fail to save several starving children. What should you do? It is a moral imperative to rush to work and ignore the drowning child!

        Say you and your friend, who also donates as much of his salary as he can to hungry third world children, are walking to work when you see a drowning child. Your friend rushes over to save the kid, be quick! You must tackle your friend before he gets soaking wet and prevent him from saving the child, the moral imperative here is to prevent the child from being saved.

        SDC is all about fixed pie morality. I have this you have that, and total suffering is X, if I give some of this to you then total suffering is X-1. Capitalism isn’t about one thing, consume, as he imagines though. If capitalism is about one thing (which it isn’t) it is the urge to produce, which creates a richer healthier world in most cases, not a more impoverished one.

        • baconbacon says:

          Long story short, SDC starts with a moral obligation, and the conclusion is that the moral obligation isn’t an obligation after all. If saving the drowning child is not a moral obligation at all then the entire logic chain falls apart.

        • rlms says:

          Your hypothetical doesn’t really work (although I agree that Singer’s argument isn’t convincing). In order to be able to save several children with donations from a few hours’ wages, you’d have to be donating and earning unrealistically high amounts.

          • baconbacon says:

            Numerous websites claim the sot to feed a hungry child for several weeks very cheaply. 3 weeks of food in a Kenyan camp costs ~$10.

          • rlms says:

            I’m pretty sure that the best recent estimates for the cost of saving a life are in the low thousands. See here (also shows what is wrong with just looking at cost of food/nets/whatever).

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbacon

            How many Kenyans are actually starving to death and would be saved with $10?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “Save a life” is vague. Does adequately feeding someone who is malnourished and therefore more likely to die of disease count?

          • Nornagest says:

            It probably counts as saving some fraction of a life in proportion to the excess likelihood of disease and how much the food you bought them helped.

          • rlms says:

            To a first approximation: take 1000 starving children who don’t receive charity, and 1000 who do. Over whatever period we’re looking at, 7 die in the first group, and 6 in the second. So the cost of saving one child is the cost of feeding 1000.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ this general thread

            You walk past a child drowning in a pond. Does your moral obligation (according to Singer) to save them diminish based on their life expectancy once you have saved them?

          • rlms says:

            Yes, obviously.

          • baconbacon says:

            Yes, obviously.

            Singer (to be consistent) would say no.

          • Nornagest says:

            Standard utilitarianism says yes, so I’m pretty sure Singer would also say yes. It also says your moral obligation diminishes based on their expected quality of life, though in neither case is it likely to diminish enough that getting your clothes dirty is more of a burden. The lives you can save by donating your implausibly high-and-yet-hourly salary are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, though.

          • Matt M says:

            “Hey kid, before I save you, could you please fill out this family medical history, discuss your parents marital situation, and estimate the amount of lead paint which exists in your home?”

          • baconbacon says:

            Standard utilitarianism says yes, so I’m pretty sure Singer would also say yes.

            Singer’s argument stems from the claim that saving the child is a moral obligation, that overwhelms the “trivial” cost to you. It doesn’t matter if that person would live 10 years more or 80, the gap is enormous. What is the comparison between a day of life and soggy pants really? Singer uses the drowning child to highlight an alleged moral imperative, that a
            inconvenience to you is nothing compared to the life of the child.

            The imperative is binary, which is where it gets it weight from. Rewrite it “there is a child on the edge of starvation in Africa, you are about to buy a $10 shirt you kind of don’t need. Don’t you have an obligation to send that money to the child?” The logic from SDC only flows toward “yes” if you don’t consider the future of that child. If you do then your response is (can be) “what happens after that $10 of food is gone? Am I obligated to continue feeding that child for life? Until they are an adult? Where does the obligation end?

            The example only holds if it is a single iteration, an either you save their life or you don’t.

          • Nornagest says:

            It doesn’t matter if that person would live 10 years more or 80, the gap is enormous.

            I agree, but that wasn’t the question. The question was if the moral obligation to save them diminishes. Which, if you’re a utilitarian, it does: the difference between the choices goes from the utility of N years of life minus the disutility of wet pants to the utility of N-K years of life minus the disutility of wet pants. Either one’s large and positive, but the first one’s larger.

            It’s true that in the final analysis, utilitarianism will only recommend one option, which is to save the kid, but I don’t think it’s correct to say that all utilitarian imperatives are thereby equal.

          • baconbacon says:

            It’s true that in the final analysis, utilitarianism will only recommend one option, which is to save the kid, but I don’t think it’s correct to say that all utilitarian imperatives are thereby equal.

            The whole argument flows from the statement that gets his audience to agree that saving the child is an imperative, how many in his audience would then agree that it is not only fine to not save the child, but an imperative to not save the child in some circumstances. The majority would reject him base position and leave all the ‘logic’ that comes later worthless.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        I mean, “I don’t care” is a valid argument on its own, right? Like, “regardless of sentience, as a human supremacist I assign massively more value to human life than that of farm animals” might be evil (also, my position), but doesn’t seem obviously wrong.

        • Matt M says:

          This is basically my position. The value I assign to animal life is basically zero. The justification by which I oppose say, deliberately torturing animals for sport, is essentially “I personally find this aesthetically unpleasing” rather than some sort of appeal to the animal’s supposed right to not have pain inflicted on it.

          I’ve said before in debates about environmentalism that I would personally volunteer to shoot the last surviving polar bear cub if I thought it would decrease global energy prices by 5%.

          • Anonymous says:

            “I personally find this aesthetically unpleasing”

            I also find it indicative of the character of the torturer. After all, this is the sort of person who’s likely to be similarly cavalier about hurting humans.

          • Matt M says:

            After all, this is the sort of person who’s likely to be similarly cavalier about hurting humans.

            I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

            Particularly if the argument goes “I’m fine with torturing animals because the act will provide humans with positive utility”

            Just because you value human utility 100x more than animal utility does not mean you’ll necessarily value one specific human’s utility over another specific human’s utility.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

            I didn’t say it necessarily is. But it would make me very suspicious of the person who does this, because they have already demonstrated that they do not respond with distress when faced with the animals’ squirming and pain vocalizations, which humans share to a degree (obviously, this mostly applies to higher animals, as the more alien critters are, well, pretty alien). I would not expect this person to be affected with distress when faced similar behaviour from a human, and that’s one less deterrent from torturing said human for lulz. Which doesn’t mean this person definitely will torture a human at some point, but that’s not the point.

          • Matt M says:

            I see your point, but there are probably limits to that line of reasoning as well.

            What about a doctor who has to perform a medically necessary but rather painful procedure (for which anesthesia is unavailable for whatever reason) on a patient?

            I knew some corpsmen in the Navy who told me this was one of the hardest parts of learning/doing the job. The need to focus specifically on the rational requirement for treatment as you hold someone down and inflict pain on them while they scream at you.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          “I don’t care” is always a valid argument, but in some circumstances it makes you a green fanged monster who needs to be restrained with a cattle prod instead of reasoned with.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Depending on whether you mean a “green, fanged monster” or a “green-fanged monster”, I might be OK with this.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It turns out that when it comes to eating animals, it just makes you an ivory-canined monster.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Luckily for me, Singer’s theory requires green fanged monsters be given the same moral consideration as anyone else.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            I just realized something annoyingly wrong with my post – the dichotomy between “reasoning” and “poking with a cattle prod” is super false. Maybe in a state of nature it would be like that, but the whole point of politics is to have something in between!

            Also responding “LOL” seems against the culture of this place, but as long as I’m writing this comment, hella LOLs to the 3 comments above this.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          “I don’t care about the Jews, therefore it’s okay to kill jews” is not a valid argument.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “I don’t care” in this case explicitly means assigning NO rights or absolutely inferior rights to animals. It’s not “I don’t care” in the sense of “I don’t care about what’s going on in East Timor right now.”

          • Philosophisticat says:

            You can’t “assign” no rights or inferior rights to things that do not have no rights or inferior rights, and there was no argument given for thinking that animal suffering is morally irrelevant. Perhaps people here are just radical subjectivists about morality. But then it’s fair to point out that their defense of eating animals is on a par with the defenses available to justify genocide or slavery.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t understand what you are saying here:

            You can’t “assign” no rights or inferior rights to things that do not have no rights or inferior rights

            But then it’s fair to point out that their defense of eating animals is on a par with the defenses available to justify genocide or slavery

            Yes, it’s okay to eat animals because they are not people. It’s also okay to hold people who aren’t actually people as slaves or kill them because they are lesser people. That’s not where the majority is, because we think certain human rights are applicable to all humans.
            And for the most part, only humans. Cows can’t vote and they don’t get free speech.

          • Aapje says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I’ve never seen a cow getting convicted for mooing the wrong way.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I’m saying that the moral status of animals is precisely what is at issue in these disputes, and so saying “well they’re not humans so they don’t count” is begging the question. Pointing out that we don’t treat animals as having rights or interests that matter (which is not actually accurate anyway – our attitudes towards them are inconsistent) does not address the arguments (marginal cases, etc.) that they do have those rights or interests. I’m not sure why you bother pointing out that cows don’t vote or have free speech. The position of vegetarians doesn’t concern the right of cows to vote or speak (which they cannot do) but rather the moral relevance of their interests. And pointing out what actual practices are is irrelevant to what the practices should be.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I’m saying that the moral status of animals is precisely what is at issue in these disputes, and so saying “well they’re not humans so they don’t count” is begging the question

            There’s not a question for the majority of people because the majority of people don’t care, like the poster said. There is no issue to people who think that the moral status of animals is a silly question to raise in the first place, which is the majority of people.

            If your position were “I think human sub-group X has no moral status therefore it’s okay to kill them,” your position would be reasonable, but you are stating that would be wrong. Why? Most people who disagree with this disagree because they disagree with the premise “human sub-group X has no moral status,” not the connection to “therefore we can get rid of them if we want to.”

            For most people, “animals have no (or little) moral status” is axiomatic.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            “I don’t care about the Jews, therefore it’s okay to kill jews” is not a valid argument.

            Why, though?

          • Deiseach says:

            From comments on here about meat eating:

            This is the sort of person who’s likely to be similarly cavalier about hurting humans

            But then it’s fair to point out that their defense of eating animals is on a par with the defenses available to justify genocide or slavery.

            People, you have just made me very glad I read this today. Scroll down to the Bitter Raw Apricot Seeds photos.

            Sanctimonious vegetarian/vegan: Eating meat is sooooo bad! It’s the same thing as genocide or slavery!

            Sanctimonious vegetarian/vegan: *ostentatiously fills up on virtuous vegan foods, for example today a nice vegan smoothie with these yummy ground apricot kernels*

            Sanctimonious vegetarian/vegan: *keels over deaded*

            Wouldn’t have happened if you stuck to a nice chop!

            And before you all clutch your pearls over Wishing me to die of poisoning isn’t funny!, let me remind you that you are the ones who compared me (and other meat-eaters) to a genocidal slaver who would probably get my kicks torturing humans (and implicitly that we don’t care about killing Jews, so nice Nazi analogy there, thanks for that), so how the hell did you expect I would react?

          • random832 says:

            Perhaps people here are just radical subjectivists about morality.

            I’m saying that the moral status of animals is precisely what is at issue in these disputes, and so saying “well they’re not humans so they don’t count” is begging the question.

            Call it subjectivism, call it deontology, or call it intuitionism, but at the end of the day you have to have axioms. Utilitarianism and consequentialism aren’t complete moral systems. Whether or not, say, animals have moral weight (or how much if they do) isn’t something you can logic your way into without any real premises.

        • Wrong Species says:

          My argument for vegetarianism would be something like

          1. Animals have a non trivial amount of moral worth
          2. It´s wrong to kill a being of moral worth unless there is a sufficiently good reason
          4. “Eating meat is tasty” is not a sufficiently good reason to kill a being.
          5. Therefore, it´s wrong to kill animals to satisfy your taste buds.

          As far as I can tell, this is a perfectly valid argument(valid as in the conclusion follows from the premises). But if you reject premise 1, I don´t really know how to argue against that. However, most people would feel uncomfortable saying that there is nothing inherently wrong with torturing a cat for fun.

          • Nornagest says:

            I am not going to get drawn into this pointless argument, but you are equivocating between strong and weak senses of “moral worth” between points 1 and 2.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Yeah, that’s pretty much the gist of it. I guess you could try to argue that one can be consistent with the “I don’t care” view and not like torture for both aesthetic and virtue ethics reasons.

          • baconbacon says:

            As far as I can tell, this is a perfectly valid argument(valid as in conclusions follow from the premises).

            reverse logic
            1. Animals have moral worth.
            2. Raising animals increase total moral value in the world.
            3. Raising animals and killing them after time X = increase of moral value over no raising animals.
            4. Raising animals for butcher and sale allows for profit to be reinvested in the raising of more animals.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Nornagest

            Please elaborate. I don´t want to get in to a “pointless argument”. I just don´t want to make a bad argument. But as far as I can tell, if something has moral worth, then at the very least, your duties toward them would consist of not murdering them without a sufficiently good reason.

            baconbacon

            There´s a reason I said non trivial moral worth. Utilitarian arguments don´t really work on me and vegetarianism doesn´t require utilitarianism. I certainly don´t accept the repugnant conclusion. It just requires you to not accept causing harm without a good reason. So I certainly don´t accept that people need to take whatever necessary steps to improve animal welfare. I just think that saying I have a duty to not cause harm unless for sufficiently good reasons is pretty compelling. So I would reject premise two.

          • Deiseach says:

            Causing unnecessary pain for no good reason (and “it makes me feel good” is not sufficient of a reason) is bad/wrong, therefore torturing cats is wrong.

            Raising and eating sheep/pigs/cows for food is not wrong since eating meat is natural and we need to eat to live; eating food we find palatable is generally a way of surviving (since unpalatable food is generally poisonous/noxious/otherwise unsuitable for us) and since there is no single, recognised as universally binding and authoritative, law or moral authority to impose universal eating habits on humans, as long as we can digest meat as a foodstuff and do not cause trivial or unnecessary or disproportionate harm to the animals we raise when raising and slaughtering them, we are within our rights to eat what we like.

            Humans have the right of choice as to how they wish to live. Those who do not wish to eat meat cannot be compelled to do so; those who do not wish to become vegetarians/vegans cannot be compelled to do so.

          • Nornagest says:

            Please elaborate.

            Sorry, no. I know from experience that this topic never goes anywhere good, so perpetuating it is not in our best interests. I only said as much as I did because of people-being-wrong-on-the-Internet forces, giving into which is a vice but one that’s hard to resist.

            I realize that I haven’t shown you a clear proof. That’s okay. Claim victory if you want.

          • Aapje says:

            1. Humans are designed to have a mixed diet: meat and plants.

            2. There are also animals that are designed to also or exclusively eat meat.

            3. Many of these animals cause great suffering to the animals they hunt, while humans generally try to keep the suffering low.

            4. Shouldn’t we be shooting polar bears before we stop eating meat?

          • Charles F says:

            @Aapje
            Wild animal suffering might be much greater than animal suffering caused by humans, and I do think it’s worth looking into. But that’s probably not where the low-hanging fruit (for a society that gives animals moral weight) is though. There are a lot more humans than polar bears (and they can be more easily convinced not to eat meat), and I don’t believe we try to keep the suffering low. The act of killing them is going to be nicer, but polar bears don’t put them in factory farms for years before killing them.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Nornagest

            I both love to eat meat and have a general anti-lefty bias about as strong as anyone here. If you have an argument to assuage my guilt, I would love to hear it. And I’ve feel like I’ve shown that I can handle these kinds of discussions without getting in to a heated argument. If we knew each other in real life, I could understand the pragmatism of avoiding such a confrontation but that’s the beauty of this place. We can have intellectual debates without it spilling over in to our personal lives. What if you laid out your case and then that was it? After that, you would be under no obligation to respond. Seriously, out of all the people who find vegetarian arguments convincing, I’m probably one of the least predisposed to accepting them. I want to hear a good argument against vegetarianism.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Deiseach

            I feel like a conservative catholic should know that just because something is natural, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. As far as the palatable nature of food, going without meat isn’t a death sentence. You can survive and live a healthy life under a vegetarian diet. If we lived in a different place in a different time, I could see the argument. But we live in a period of abundance. You are going to be fine on a vegetarian diet.

            @Aapje

            Like I said above, this isn’t a utilitarian argument. I’m not really concerned with what polar bears do and I don’t feel that we have an obligation to help animals, just an obligation to not hurt them without a compelling reason.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Wrong Species —

            Ugh. Fine. But just this once.

            The problem I see in your argument is that moral worth isn’t defined well enough to carry the kind of water you want it to carry; and, because of that, that saying animals have moral worth and then that it’s wrong to kill something that has moral worth is basically assuming your conclusion. We can easily say that animals have moral worth in at least one sense: most of us would agree that torturing animals for kicks is wrong, so stuff happening to animals clearly isn’t totally morally inconsequential. But it doesn’t follow from that that they have the same kind of moral worth that people do, that every moral statement we make about people applies to animals equally or at least in some proportion. And that’s what we need to be able to make statements like your step 2.

            There are various ways of resolving this problem, and they give different answers depending on the details. The classic utilitarian answer is to say that animal and human moral worth comes from the same source, viz. the ability to feel happiness and pain; but this actually doesn’t disallow humanely slaughtered meat under some fairly reasonable assumptions. Though it might disallow factory farming if you believe some of the more lurid stories about it, and it goes some really weird places when you start thinking about natural systems. Personally, I’m skeptical, but then I’m not a utilitarian so it doesn’t matter anyway.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Nornagest

            I won’t hold it against you if you don’t respond but I’m going to throw my two cents in.

            I certainly don’t think animals are equivalent in moral worth to humans. It’s a sliding scale. But I feel like saying that if an animal has some moral worth, the very least you are obligated to do is not kill them because the end process makes you happy. You agree that torturing an animal for fun is not acceptable. But what’s really the difference between that and killing an animal because it tastes good? I could make the case that factory farming is way worse than an individual torturing a cat. With the cat, it’s only one creature. With the factory farm, you are both torturing and killing an animal just to make a buck. In both cases, you are simply disregarding the animal itself to make yourself feel good.

          • albatross11 says:

            Wrong Species:

            What would be the moral course of action of a sentient obligate carnivore given this line of argument, assuming they lack the technology to vat grow meat?

          • Charles F says:

            @albatross11
            Doesn’t the qualifier “because the end result makes you happy” kind of sidestep that qualifier? If you’re an obligate carnivore, the end result makes you alive. (And probably not happy, since you’re moral) And we’re generally pretty forgiving about doing what you need to do to survive.

            Maybe the moral thing to do would be to hunt other obligate carnivores? In that case every time you kill something to survive, you can reasonably guess that you’re saving other things from being killed.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        The Singer argument is unconvincing because it’s such transparent emotional blackmail.

        “Would you callously watch a child die to save yourself a load of laundry? No? Then you must live like a mendicant friar in order to support my various pet projects!”

        No.

        Peter Singer isn’t my god and he isn’t my master. He has no claim to judge me and no authority to compel me. I’ll spend my money however I damn well like and if he doesn’t approve he can go jump in a lake.

        There’s no reason to deploy a sophisticated counterargument against an argument which boils down to “Obey me.” An unsophisticated dismissal is actually preferred since it signals how little ability the interrogator has to enforce their desires.

        • TolstoyFan99 says:

          One reason to deploy sophisticated counterarguments, is that you might find it fun and challenging to do so. That’s what I had in mind when I made my first comment.

          I don’t think Singer, or his admirers, would agree that his argument boils down to “obey me.” I do agree that the emotional blackmail aspect of his arguments take most of the fun out of it.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Maybe my perspective is different because I encounter the “fun intellectual debate” formulation much less frequently than the “strident activist” one.

            In the spirit of fun intellectual debate, I have to warn that any debate about animal welfare will rapidly become a debate about utilitarianism. I personally reject utilitarianism in favor of a half-formed conception of virtue ethics using evolutionary niches as a rough approximation of telos. So utilitarian arguments aren’t terribly convincing to me.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            What is moral blackmail?

      • rahien.din says:

        Singer’s moral doctrine contains the following necessary properties :
        1. Insensitivity to proximity : neither physical, emotional, nor cultural distance is sufficient to negate or counterbalance one’s moral duty.
        2. Insensitivity to ignorance : ignorance of moral duty is not not sufficient to negate or counterbalance moral duty.
        3. Insensitivity to intent : acts of commission and omission are morally indistinguishable.
        4. Primary senstivity to relative moral utility : the primary driver of the decision is the relative moral utility of each potential action.

        Recapitulated : regardless of whether I am aware of suffering or am near to it, I have a moral duty to use my resources to end it.

        It very adequately answers his initial case :

        If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

        But Singer only applies his ethics to those who would give aid, rather than those who would receive it. We must recognize that these things are not separable, and that acts of commission are the same as acts of omission. We are obligated to use our actions and non-actions to benefit those who suffer more than us, wherever they are, and regardless of whether we know of them.

        Therefore, I am not morally permitted to accept aid unless I am sure that, by accepting it, I will not deprive someone more deserving of it.

        • Deiseach says:

          If that is his wording, then he only presumes that the death of the child would be a bad thing. Neither he nor we know if it’s good, bad or morally neutral. Haven’t we had a comment thread about time-travel and what single figure would we remove to change history for the better?

          Re-formulate it like this:

          If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought not to wade in and pull the child out. This is because the child is four year old Adolf Hitler, so saving him would mean a very bad result while the death of the child would presumably be a very good thing.

          Am I or am I not morally obligated to save drowning four year old Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot?

          • rahien.din says:

            A Singerian butterfly effect is nothing with which I wish to contend.

            Am I or am I not morally obligated to save drowning four year old Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot?

            Well this if-then-ing quickly gets quite convoluted.

            Imagine four-year-old Adolf, drowning in an Austrian pond. You pull him out of the pond, and cradle him in your lap while his shudders of fear resolve, and as he returns to calmness, you look him in the eye and say, “You are safe now. Remember this day, Adolf. And leave the Jews, gays, and gypsies alone.”

      • Nornagest says:

        I hate this fucking argument, because it comes up constantly and no one ever convinces anyone.

      • Deiseach says:

        Singer’s drowning child argument is bollocks. It basically asks you why you aren’t a full-time lifeguard (after all, if you want to save drowning children, isn’t this the most efficient way? and who doesn’t want to save drowning children, what monster would say “No I don’t want to be a lifeguard”?)

        When you can come up with a better backing than guilt-tripping for the foundation of your argument, I’ll listen. But you won’t convince me by “Won’t somebody think of the children?” appeals. I may or may not (depend on whether it would do any bloody good, people often drown when trying to save others) jump in to save a drowning child in front of my eyes. I’m fairly sure that right this moment as I’m sitting here typing this, there are children drowning somewhere in the world. But funnily enough, being willing to jump in and save a drowning child crying for help in the sea that I’m walking beside does not make me want to hop on a plane and seek out drowning children globally that I can save.

        Has anyone ever answered “no” to that argument, by the way? I wonder what the ‘rational arguer’ would do if the exchange went like this:

        Them: Suppose you saw a child drowning in front of your eyes, what would you do?

        Random person: Nothing.

        Them: Exactly! You’d jump in and – wait, what?

        Person: Nothing. Not my kid, not my problem.

        Them: But – but – a drowning child!!!!

        Person: So? It’s up to their parents or caretakers to make sure they’re safe, and if the kid can’t swim, then the parents shouldn’t have let them in the water. Not my responsibility, unless I’m a lifeguard. And I’m not a lifeguard and nobody is paying me to risk my life for someone’s kid too dumb to stay out of the water when they can’t swim.

        Them: But! Child! Drowning!

        Person: Yeah, I got that. When are you going to start the rational argument part and drop the emotional appeals to sentiment part?

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          When you can come up with a better backing than guilt-tripping for the foundation of your argument, I’ll listen.

          Are you saying that feelings of guilt are generally an unreliable guide to what is right and wrong? It’s certainly not infallible, but guilt-tripping seems to me like a totally legitimate form of moral argument. (Of course, we have a social more against guilt-tripping. But this is probably because we would prefer to be able to act immorally without feelings of guilt.)

      • Spookykou says:

        I am not a perfect person, and I don’t come close to meeting the standards that any sort of generalizable moral philosophy would hold me to. I also can’t fully endorse any moral philosophy, as I am not aware of a perfect one, which allows me some wiggle room. That being said I would like to be a ‘better person’ and will make vague motions in that direction in as much as I am able.

        When I want to feel guilty about my moral failings, eating meat is far from the top of the list, so I am not too worried about it, that is a problem for a person far better than me.

        • Wrong Species says:

          This is a very odd position. You seem to be granting that vegetarians are right but you are not good enough of a person to be one. Fair enough. But you also say that you want to be a better person but you’re going to find another way. If you think eating meat is indefensible, then probably one of the best things you can do is the easiest: eat less meat. It doesn’t even require that you go out of your way to do something, it just requires that you make a vegetarian meal every once in a while. What is an easier way to be a good person than that?

          • Spookykou says:

            I can see how you could get that, but that was not really what I was going for. It is more of an all purpose response to ‘why are you failing at this moral question?’. In particular it is only for minor moral questions, that I don’t have clear answers to anyways. I want to be better, and it is possible that this, and any number of other things, could result in me being a better person, but at least for now I have other things to worry about.

            In as much as I have a moral philosophy I am some kind of consequentialist, I legitimately think that my personal choice to eat meat or not will have zero impact on animal suffering. I could stop there, except I am also a one boxer so this answer leaves me a little uncomfortable.

            So, specifically, I don’t think Vegetarians are right, I think Vegans are kinda right. For instance I think eating beef and enjoying cow products but not eating chicken or chicken products, is morally superior to eating eggs but not eating beef. Given the relative amounts of animal suffering that I think goes on between raising chickens vs cows.

            Even given that I am torn on exactly how right vegans are. I actually do put less moral weight on the killing of animals, vs their suffering, for a number of complicated reasons. It is also not totally clear to me how exactly I assign moral worth to things. For instance I assign moral worth to many inanimate objects, I think it would be justifiable to physically assault a person to stop them from destroying a Rembrandt, for example. I have also always felt that, the ‘harm’ of murder, is to the loved ones of the victim, for instance. So this is all very complicated and I don’t really know how I feel.

            Ultimately, I don’t think I would ever go in for the abstinence version, no matter where I end up on the morality question. I don’t care about purity, or virtue signaling that I am a vegan or what have you, so the total drop in animal suffering from me eating a few steaks a year or eating none is, IMO actually zero.

      • Jiro says:

        My response to Singer’s drowning child argument is that he is taking rhetorical advantage of the fact that people talk imprecisely. People who say that they would save a drowning child don’t really mean they would save the drowning child under all circumstances, including edge cases. Rather, they imagine a central case, and say that they would save the drowning child in that central case. Most people aren’t even going to think of edge cases at all, let alone allow their assessment of edge cases to affect their answer. And a drowning child scenario that is similar to an effective altruism scenario (someone running into a million drowning children that by chance are arranged and timed such that he can save them with little individual effort for each one but a lot of cumulative effort) is very non-central.

        It’s like asking people whether they think the government should tell you what you can do in the privacy of your bedroom, and when they say “no”, use it to claim they should be in favor of legalizing incest.

        • Vegemeister says:

          It’s like asking people whether they think the government should tell you what you can do in the privacy of your bedroom, and when they say “no”, use it to claim they should be in favor of legalizing incest.

          But that argument is actually correct.

          • lvlln says:

            Yeah, I’ve never understood people’s impulses that legalizing incest is some absurd thing that can’t possibly follow from the reasoning that legalizes, say, sodomy. The whole point of the reasoning that government shouldn’t tell you what you can do in the privacy of your bedroom is that one’s own personal disgust at what consenting adults do with each other privately should have zero factor in whether or not it’s legal. I haven’t seen any argument why incest and sodomy are different in this regard.

            Well, not any good argument, anyway. Some people invoke children, which isn’t persuasive in an era of reliable birth control and abortion. Others invoke power dynamics, which quite clearly breaks the “consenting” part of “consenting adults.” It all seems like a bunch of ad hoc excuses in order to justify letting their own personal disgust response dictate the law. Which looks exactly the same as the behavior of those who make anti-sodomy arguments.

          • Matt M says:

            Some people invoke children, which isn’t persuasive in an era of reliable birth control and abortion.

            Doesn’t it also take multiple generations for inbreeding to actually lead to observably negative results?

            Like, if a randomly selected brother/sister (with no previous family history of inbreeding) had a baby, the odds of that baby having something seriously wrong with it are fairly small, right?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @lvln,

            Some people invoke children, which isn’t persuasive in an era of reliable birth control and abortion

            Because people never compensate for risk, and the sort of people who would commit incest are excellent decision-makers. /sarcasm

            I’m a biomedical scientist and please believe me that we have more than enough congenital disorders to deal with as it is. Inbreeding between first cousins is responsible for a 4-5% increase in postnatal mortality, and between uncles and nieces that is predicted to rise to 8-10%. Once you get beyond that into the realm of parental or sibling incest, I’ve seen estimates of 20-30%.

            I’m begging you not to help normalize adult incest. This is a really goddamn serious issue.

          • lvlln says:

            Because people never compensate for risk, and the sort of people who would commit incest are excellent decision-makers. /sarcasm

            I don’t know the statistics; are people who would commit incest any worse or better decision-makers with respect to risk assessment than the general population? Have there even been studies done on this?

            I’m begging you not to help normalize adult incest. This is a really goddamn serious issue.

            “Normalize” and “legalize” are different things, I think (heck, even “normalize” and “tolerate” are different things). My intuition is that incest – and, in particular, incest that results in offspring – would remain fairly uncommon regardless of its legal status (or whether it was tolerated), especially if the empirical knowledge about likely health effects to offspring become widespread. I could be wrong on this, as intuition is a very poor way of determining if something is correct, but I also haven’t seen any support that I’m wrong.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Doesn’t it also take multiple generations for inbreeding to actually lead to observably negative results?

            This sounds very close to a discussion Lazarus Long had in Time Enough for Love, regarding two twin slaves he had bought and summarily emancipated. They had no taboo toward incest (and ISTR there may even have been bioengineering at work making them effectively unrelated in this case), but Long still took the time to teach them about the risk, and his account went into some detail.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @lvlln,

            I don’t know the statistics; are people who would commit incest any worse or better decision-makers with respect to risk assessment than the general population?

            Almost tautologically.

            People will a good ability to assess risk just aren’t going to have sex with their close relatives.

            I could be wrong on this, as intuition is a very poor way of determining if something is correct, but I also haven’t seen any support that I’m wrong.

            Look at what happened with single motherhood. What was once taboo is now a solid plurality.

            Tolerate becomes celebrate with clockwork regularity. It’s happened every time we were assured that it wouldn’t over the last hundred years. There’s no reason to think that this time will be any different.

            We know that societies where most marriages are between first cousins exist and even casual observation shows what a shit-show they are. I shudder to imagine what a society where even parental incest is tolerated would look like.

          • lvlln says:

            People will a good ability to assess risk just aren’t going to have sex with their close relatives.

            You wrote that the increase in postnatal mortality was 8-10%. 8-10% is big, but it hardly seems like such a huge increase that it makes no sense for someone with good risk assessment abilities not to take the risk.

            Given that things like condoms have 97% effectiveness for a year-long period, and the effectiveness can be increased by using other forms of contraception at the same time, not to mention abortion, that 10% is also working on a very small probability of an offspring actually being produced.

            Look at what happened with single motherhood. What was once taboo is now a solid plurality.

            Tolerate becomes celebrate with clockwork regularity. It’s happened every time we were assured that it wouldn’t over the last hundred years. There’s no reason to think that this time will be any different.

            We know that societies where most marriages are between first cousins exist and even casual observation shows what a shit-show they are. I shudder to imagine what a society where even parental incest is tolerated would look like.

            This is a much stronger argument, IMHO. I agree that this slippery slope is a legit concern. I don’t fully buy it, though. For instance, unlike with single motherhood, I don’t think there’s a very strong decades-long movement consisting of 10s of millions of people supporting the celebration of incest. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned that it may be normalized, but that the tolerate->celebrate progression is something that requires active enforcers to happen, and I’m not so sure that enough active enforcers exist for this.

            I also don’t see how parental incest is on the table, at least in the typical case where parents raise their children. The power dynamics clearly rule out consent ever being possible in such a relationship. Even once the child has become an adult.

          • Jiro says:

            But that argument is actually correct.

            The argument isn’t correct because people who say that they want the government out of their bedroom don’t literally mean that they want the government out of their bedroom. They really mean “we want the government out of our bedroom in central cases”. You’re taking a statement that is really about central cases (even if it is not worded precisely) and interpreting it in a way which is literal, but is not what they meant.

            If someone told you that he likes pizza, would you assume that he likes squid ink pizza? After all, it’s a type of pizza, and his statement about liking pizza was unqualified.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Condoms are effective if they’re used consistently. People, as a rule, don’t use them consistently.

            That’s why condom distribution hasn’t done much to check the spread of HIV and why the rate unplanned pregnancies hasn’t declined for decades. I linked a Wiki article above on that very topic.

            And an 8-10% increase in the chance of your kid fucking dying is not worth porking your niece! I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt that they legitimately don’t know the risks. Because otherwise you’d have to be a monster to even consider it.

            For instance, unlike with single motherhood, I don’t think there’s a very strong decades-long movement consisting of 10s of millions of people supporting the celebration of incest.

            Not to be flippant, but the movement wasn’t “decades-long” for its first few decades. And it picked up those tens of millions of supporters along the way.

            It’s possible that this will fizzle like the nascent pro-pedophilia movements during the sexual revolution. I fervently hope that it does. But we can’t know whether it will or won’t without the benefit of hindsight.

            I also don’t see how parental incest is on the table, at least in the typical case where parents raise their children. The power dynamics clearly rule out consent ever being possible in such a relationship. Even once the child has become an adult.

            The framework of consent-based sexual ethics you’re working from is, at most, two or three generations old. If you’re a supporter of affirmative consent then it was invented within the current generation.

            Free Love believers in the sexual revolution didn’t think that extreme age differences or intoxication prevented consent. Affirmative Consent believers today think that they do. Neither you nor I know what the future of sexual morality is going to look like.

            So how confident are you that you’re living at the end of history?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Checking on a thing I’ve heard: the big risk for reinforcing bad recessives isn’t exactly incest. It’s how closely related the parents of the couple are.

            If the couple’s ancestry is from the same small region and ethnicity, the risk is much higher than it would be for a brother/sister pair whose parents are from four different continents. (Yes, I know, there’s a small chance that people from four different continents could have very similar genes, but let’s not fight the hypothetical too hard.)

          • lvlln says:

            Condoms are effective if they’re used consistently. People, as a rule, don’t use them consistently.

            That’s why condom distribution hasn’t done much to check the spread of HIV and why the rate unplanned pregnancies hasn’t declined for decades. I linked a Wiki article above on that very topic.

            Again, condoms aren’t the only form of birth control; more reliable methods exist, and using multiple forms at the same time is also a common option. I also don’t think it’s reasonable to predict the rate of condom use – and use of other contraceptives – in population of incest based on the general population, if information about the heightened risks becomes commonplace.

            And an 8-10% increase in the chance of your kid fucking dying is not worth porking your niece! I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt that they legitimately don’t know the risks. Because otherwise you’d have to be a monster to even consider it.

            I’m not an expert, but I don’t think incest is unique in causing a heightened increase in risk of death for the offspring. People do things every day all the time that increase probability of death of their offspring, whether it be going on road trips, buying trampolines, getting pets, etc. I don’t know the exact %s involved, but I’m not convinced that 8-10% crosses some threshold of monstrosity. Particularly when that 8-10% is working on an already very very minuscule probability of an offspring even existing in the first place, given combination of contraceptives and abortion as preventative measures.

            Not to be flippant, but the movement wasn’t “decades-long” for its first few decades. And it picked up those tens of millions of supporters along the way.

            Feminism was around for a long time before single motherhood blew up in the past half century or so, didn’t it? It seems obvious to me that feminism would naturally pick up support for a woman’s right to raise children with no man. I don’t see any similar movements where it’s natural for them to pick up normalizing incest as a good thing to achieve.

            The framework of consent-based sexual ethics you’re working from is, at most, two or three generations old. If you’re a supporter of affirmative consent then it was invented within the current generation.

            Free Love believers in the sexual revolution didn’t think that extreme age differences or intoxication prevented consent. Affirmative Consent believers today think that they do. Neither you nor I know what the future of sexual morality is going to look like.

            So how confident are you that you’re living at the end of history?

            I’m pretty confident that history isn’t just something that happens, but is rather somewhat affected by the people and their choices. Of course there’s a danger that the idea of consent-based sexual ethics could be rolled back either in general or in the case of incest in the future. I think people, at least in the West, are very cognizant of that and are guarded against that danger. Because of that vigilance, I think it’s unlikely that it will be rolled back, and that it’s unlikely that any efforts to roll it back will go undetected until it’s unstoppable.

            I think fears of unbounded negative consequences in the future is a fully general argument against supporting anything.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Nancy,

            Yes, from what I understand even “unrelated” people from highly inbred populations can still have an elevated risk of these issues. That’s part of why certain populations are recommended to see a genetic counselor before attempting to conceive children.

            And of course the incest taboo is often drawn a little haphazardly. Islam, for example, allows first cousins to marry but forbids marriage to one’s wet-nurse. While certainly disgusting, the latter is far less dangerous than the former.

            @Lvlln,

            So you grant that condom use is sporadic and unreliable. If I show you the stats on hormonal birth control, I assume that you’ll grant it in that case too.

            Which means that your argument is essentially about IUDs and vasectomies. Inconvenient medical procedures which have existed for the entirety of the twentieth century with no significant impact on the rate of unplanned pregnancies. I really hope you’re not counting on that to suddenly make the 1960’s dream of consequence-free sex a reality.

            And of course that’s missing the obvious point that we’re only talking about unwanted pregnancies. Once incest is legal, how exactly are you planning to stop these people from having kids? The only people who would support you on that will be the bigots you just finished kicking out of power.

            I don’t see any similar movements where it’s natural for them to pick up normalizing incest as a good thing to achieve.

            You can’t conceive of a movement which might pick up legalizing adult incest, despite being part of one?

            Your definition of consent-based sexual ethics makes incest a logical next step. You’ve deployed exactly the arguments which were used in the LGBT movement when I was a kid. What is missing?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            lvlln:

            “I think fears of unbounded negative consequences in the future is a fully general argument against supporting anything.”

            +1.

          • lvlln says:

            So you grant that condom use is sporadic and unreliable. If I show you the stats on hormonal birth control, I assume that you’ll grant it in that case too.

            Which means that your argument is essentially about IUDs and vasectomies. Inconvenient medical procedures which have existed for the entirety of the twentieth century with no significant impact on the rate of unplanned pregnancies. I really hope you’re not counting on that to suddenly make the 1960’s dream of consequence-free sex a reality.

            Again, I don’t see the general rate of unplanned pregnancies as predictive of rate of unplanned pregnancies specifically in incest, in a world in which knowledge of heightened health risks are widespread.

            Also, abortion is still a thing that exists. I honestly don’t care much about unplanned pregnancies if they’re not carried to term.

            And of course that’s missing the obvious point that we’re only talking about unwanted pregnancies. Once incest is legal, how exactly are you planning to stop these people from having kids? The only people who would support you on that will be the bigots you just finished kicking out of power.

            If the heightened risks to the offspring is sufficiently monstrous, then there will be the will among the population to try to prevent it. If the population doesn’t deem it sufficiently monstrous, well, that’s their (our) call to make. Sure, the system is imperfect, but I think we’re in a state where the risks are generally thought to be far worse than they actually are (I usually hear comments about kids with flippers or 3 arms when birth from incest is discussed) that under-estimating the risks is a danger that we’ll see coming and can prepare for.

            You can’t conceive of a movement which might pick up legalizing adult incest, despite being part of one?

            Your definition of consent-based sexual ethics makes incest a logical next step. You’ve deployed exactly the arguments which were used in the LGBT movement when I was a kid. What is missing?

            Again, legalization and normalization are different things. Furthermore, normalization of LGBT was driven largely by the idea of being born that way. I don’t think we’re in danger of widespread belief that preference for incest is inherent in the same way that one’s sexuality or sexual identity is, and if such a danger were to arise, I think we’d see it coming.

          • Iain says:

            I don’t know the statistics; are people who would commit incest any worse or better decision-makers with respect to risk assessment than the general population?

            Albert Einstein married his own first cousin. (Not only were their mothers sisters, but their fathers were first cousins as well.)

            They did not have any children.

          • Nornagest says:

            Islam, for example, allows first cousins to marry but forbids marriage to one’s wet-nurse. While certainly disgusting, the latter is far less dangerous than the former.

            I have no idea if 7th-century Arabia was one of them, but a lot of cultures historically believed that some traits were imparted to a baby through nursing, carried somehow in the milk, rather than strictly through heredity. Wrong, of course, but if you believe it, then marrying your wet nurse would be incest in a very literal sense.

          • Jiro says:

            If you’re actually going to argue the incest example, lots of people have pointed out that the increased chance of birth defects with incest is no greater than the increased chance of letting people above age X have children, but we allow that (I don’t remember exactly what X is).

            What makes incest wrong is a combination of
            1) Conflict of interest between family power dynamics and responsibilities, and sexual relationships, and
            2) Because humans are not normally attracted to close relatives, it is very likely that any incestuous relationship is a result of something else going wrong, independently of whether incest itself is bad. (Except for the case of siblings raised apart and meeting as adults.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Nancy, that effect is an order of magnitude smaller than incest. 1st cousins have a relatedness of 0.25, whereas the inbred communities in Nabil’s link have a relatedness of up to 0.03, smaller than 2nd cousins. And most communities aren’t inbred.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Oops, actually 1st cousins are 1/8, only 4x as bad as the worst population on the list. And 2nd cousins are 1/32, comparable.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @Jiro:

            It seems like your second argument could be used to argue against legalizing homosexuality as well. “Well, people aren’t normally attracted to their own gender, so if they are it’s a signal that something else went wrong”. Actually, it’s a fully general argument against any fetish.

            People have the sexual preferences they have: you can psychoanalyze why, but ultimately you’re harming them (in the negative-utility sense) by not allowing them to fulfill those preferences, so there needs to be a real harm if they do, rather than “they shouldn’t do this because something’s wrong in their heads”.

    • Protagoras says:

      The version of the problem of evil that invokes Heaven as most Christians seem to think of it. Heaven seems to be fatal to the Free Will Defense. If Heaven exists, either

      1) Souls in Heaven still perform evil acts, or

      2) Souls in Heaven no longer have free will, or

      3) It is possible for free will to coexist with never doing evil (actually, this should already follow from Christian doctrines that say God is like this).

      1 means Heaven doesn’t live up to its billing. If 2 is the case, then either Heaven once again fails to live up to its billing, or free will is overrated, since paradise is compatible with its absence. And if free will is overrated, then the story that God had to allow evil to allow free will makes no sense; God just shouldn’t have allowed free well. And of course if 3 is the case, then God didn’t have to allow evil to have free will; God could have created a world of free beings who don’t do evil.

      I’m not saying nobody has a response to this. Ed Feser, for example, has a response that doesn’t exactly fit into my neat little framework, because he has some rather strange (and I would say implausible, but that’s tangential here) doctrines about what free will is anyway, as well as about what the afterlife is like. But in 99% of cases where I’ve seen Christians respond to the problem of evil, they respond to some easier straw version of the problem they’ve imagined for themselves, rather than the version they’re actually being confronted with.

      • sickofpalantirs says:

        I’m sort of confused by why 3 doesn’t solve your problem? Why does free will allowing the possibility of never doing evil rule out the possibility of choosing evil if you have free will? You seem to be saying that if anyone can choose to never do evil that is compatible with never having the choice to do evil, which seems to not be the case.

        IE God creates earth – gives us free will, we can choose to do evil or not. Some choose not (at least under Catholic doctrine – though admittedly there’s some wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff around Christ’s sacrifice and the power of the Holy Spirit helping with that). Those who do not sin still have free will – they just chose not to sin.

        • Protagoras says:

          Because free will is supposed to provide an excuse for evil. If it’s possible to have free will without evil, it isn’t providing an excuse for evil any more. Perhaps you have some other excuse, and that’s fine; that’s not what I was talking about. But so many Christians seem to think free will somehow is the excuse, and that’s what I’m saying can’t work.

          • sickofpalantirs says:

            What I’m trying to say is that evil has to be a possible choice for free will to exist, but if no one chooses evil that doesn’t mean free will doesn’t exist. So I would see heaven as a place where free will exists but no one chooses evil.

          • Protagoras says:

            @sickofpalatirs, I don’t know how much more clearly I can explain this. If heaven is supposed to be as you describe, then the problem of evil is the question of why God didn’t make everywhere like that. And the answer “because then nobody would have free will” isn’t available, because they would, so another answer would be needed.

          • Murphy says:

            @protagoras

            Generate N random sentient entities capable of choosing to do evil.

            Test those entities for tendency to actually do evil. Any which show zero tendency to choose evil put in box A, any which show non-zero tendency to choose evil put in box B.

            Assuming the chooser has some dislike of simply deleting all who would fail to get into box A then you have some non box A places where sentients choose evil.

            All sentient entities in box A could be capable of choosing to do evil but are the result of sampling to collect only those which don’t make that choice.

            Though that would raise an interesting question: is it possible to get kicked out of heaven when you’re already in. If paradise lost is reasonably cannon then we could conclude that the answer to that is yes.

            So you can have a location with both free will and no evil if you first select for non-evilness of candidate entities and then immediately expel all who do evil into a spiritual vat of boiling oil.

            Sort of like how everyone in North Korea has the democratic free choice to vote for someone other than dear leader.

            Which suggests lakes of boiling blood are still on the cards even after getting into heaven.

          • bean says:

            @Murphy

            Though that would raise an interesting question: is it possible to get kicked out of heaven when you’re already in.

            Absolutely not. The whole point of heaven is that you’re there forever. By the nature of eternity, of it is possible to get kicked out (and impossible to get back in), then eventually everyone would get kicked out.

            If paradise lost is reasonably cannon then we could conclude that the answer to that is yes.

            The canon closed about 1600 years before Paradise Lost. It’s a literary work, not a religious one, and talks about the fall of man with Adam and Eve, not people getting kicked out of Heaven. These are different things.

          • Aapje says:

            @bean

            Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

            Revelation 12:7-12

            Or don’t they count?

          • bean says:

            @Aapje
            Not a proper theologian, so all answers are low confidence.
            Angels do not work like humans morally. That was a one-time event caused by Satan’s rebellion, and there does not appear to be a continual bleeding of angels. Humans get their chance to make a moral choice on Earth, and after they die, that choice is fixed.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @Aapje and @bean a little

            Heaven is an overloaded term that could possibly mean:
            1) Atmosphere: Birds fly through the heavens.
            2) Outer space: The stars shine in heaven.
            3a*) Where God current dwells: After his resurrection Jesus ascended to heaven.
            3b*) Where Christians go after they die.
            4**) The time after Jesus returns and before the Great White Throne Judgement: Christians will rule with Jesus in heaven during the Millennium.
            5) The time after the Great White Throne Judgement: Christians will spend eternity in heaven.

            So to answer your question Revelation 12 is talking about either outer space or where God dwells at some time before writing. Again the timing (as far as I know) is not a settled matter, some say pre-creation, some say post-creation pre-fall of Adam, some say at or around the death of Christ.

            The initial question could be referring to any of the last three options I gave and still be an interesting question.

            *A small minority of Christians say these are different places.
            **Details around the Millennium reign of Christ (or lack there of) is a very very deep rabbit hole with different denominations having different stances.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Murphy

            I feel like your first part answers the question, and there is no need for the ‘getting kicked out’. The people who make it into heaven will never make an evil choice, god knows this, god knows everything.

          • Murphy says:

            @Spookykou

            Which yields predestination.

            “sure, you lived a sinless life on earth, gave everything to the poor and died saving a bus full of orphans and nuns…. but god knows the future and 1.7 billion years from now you would have taken the lords name in vain after hitting your finger while doing heavenly DIY… so into the lake of fire with you”

            Though we might wonder what kind of people would be so safe that for the rest of infinity they’re never going to sin:

            “but what about that guy over there you let in, I saw him on the news, he ate children when he was on earth”

            “oh before he died he suffered massive brain trauma that radically changed his personality, he’s basically incapable of sin or counting to 10 now and god looked into the future and saw that he’d never sin if let into heaven.”

            “What about that baby you just threw into the pit of fire?”

            “oh, god looked into the future, he’d have been a right dick once he was older if we let him into heaven”

            Re: the start of my other post:

            Merely being sinless for, say, 100 years doesn’t guarantee you’ll continue as such.

            merely watching a sample for 1 to 100 years doesn’t tell you what it will do for the next 200 trillion years.

            Someone could roll a dice every year for their entire lives and never get a 6. That doesn’t mean the dice can never show a 6 if you continue for another 200 trillion years.

            So either you don’t have free will in heaven or you stand to be judged for choices you’ve not made yet making free will basically irrelevant.

          • John Schilling says:

            Merely being sinless for, say, 100 years doesn’t guarantee you’ll continue as such.

            merely watching a sample for 1 to 100 years doesn’t tell you what it will do for the next 200 trillion years.

            But we routinely, and reliably, predict whether e.g. a part will withstand the environmental extremes of a decades-long space mission, by exposing it to a few minutes or hours of an even more extreme environment.

            What is the relative ratio of sinful temptations on Earth vs. in Heaven? Note that, in heaven, you probably can’t profit from sin like you can on Earth, because the Big Guy’s probably not going to let you get away with that. And the cited idea that you’re going to swear blasphemously after hitting your thumb with a hammer is just silly.

            So either you don’t have free will in heaven or you stand to be judged for choices you’ve not made yet making free will basically irrelevant.

            If your definition of “free will” requires that your brain be wired such that there is a finite probability each day of your e.g. raping your mother, then perhaps not. I would not be so hasty to rule out the possibility that there are minds which are capable of exercising free will which nonetheless will not, p=1, ever actually decide to execute maternal rape.

          • Murphy says:

            Interesting thing about probabilities, I remember my old lecturer making the point that p=0 for an event does not mean that the thing can never happen, it can still happen. once.

            Funny things happen when you start throwing infinities into the mix.

            it doesn’t really matter what test you apply to a metal plate nor even really how mild the stress it will face, once you’re talking about it needing to last infinity years it is going to fail. It might take a googleplex years or graham number years but it will fail.

            Perhaps everyone lives their eternal lives suspended in a warm saline bath with any parts of their brain that might cause them to trend towards sin removed but, well…

            Even if there’s not much to covet in heaven we’re still talking thoughtcrime. Do you know many people who could go a trillion years without even thinking things in contravention of religious rules?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Murphy

            Heaven requiring one to go “sinless” is faulty theology. Repentance is kind of a big deal.

          • random832 says:

            Interesting thing about probabilities, I remember my old lecturer making the point that p=0 for an event does not mean that the thing can never happen, it can still happen. once.

            It can even happen an infinite number of times. If you throw a dart at a dartboard, p=0 that it lands on a point where at least one coordinate is an integer (This might even hold for rational numbers, it’s not as obvious visually if so).

          • John Schilling says:

            So, the argument is that humans with free will must necessarily be modeled as mechanistic random processes. And that this is so obviously true that all followers of the Abrahamic religions must believe and understand it so that the consistency of their arguments may be judged by it.

          • Brad says:

            It can even happen an infinite number of times. If you throw a dart at a dartboard, p=0 that it lands on a point where at least one coordinate is an integer (This might even hold for rational numbers, it’s not as obvious visually if so).

            That’s an nonphysical example though. Once you have a dart and points with finite sizes it goes away.

            Though maybe that was your and murphy’s point.

          • random832 says:

            Test those entities for tendency to actually do evil. Any which show zero tendency to choose evil put in box A, any which show non-zero tendency to choose evil put in box B.

            The problem of evil, as classically stated, is also the problem of omniscience. If God can’t simply not create the ones who were going to be put in box B, then he’s not omniscient.

          • Murphy says:

            @Gobbobobble

            That only makes it more remarkable since you’re accepting entrants who spent their entire lives sinning in every way imaginable and then felt really sorry about it on their deathbed.

            then once they get to heaven, they still have free will and their old mind but will apparently just happen to never do anything sinful ever again.

            I mean the whole debate is absurd anyway since we’re talking about self contained P & ¬P style contradictions from the get go but that one falls to common sense as well as logic.

            either nothing counts as a sin in heaven, or nothing that counts as a sin is physically or mentally possible in heaven (bye bye free will) or people who’ve never done anything wrong can be rejected based on what they would do a trillion years from now but will never get the chance to do making your actual choices irrelevant or heaven is a NK style “one wrong thought and it’s torture for you” place.

            or possibly more simply both P and ¬P and anything is possible and nothing needs to make sense, neither logical nor common. Hence any debade on it is pointless since nothing needs to be coherent or make sense.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Hence any debade on it is pointless since nothing needs to be coherent or make sense.

            I guess this is closest to my own view. I believe heaven exists outside time so getting there necessitates some sort of mortally-incomprehensible transcendence of mind.

            But when I try to stumble towards it, I fumble around the edges of the notion that it is a place where there is no external incentive to sin so the only sin would come from an internal desire to do so. That people who don’t *want* to sin, but do anyway in life due to various flaws in themselves and the world, are freed from the reasons to do so (e.g. no more stealing to feed one’s family). Those that have the inner desire to do wrong for wrong’s sake are almost-tautologically those that go to hell. I don’t think this constitutes a loss of free will.

            But then I’ve never gotten deep into theology so caution: may contain heresy.

      • Wrong Species says:

        It does seem weird to say that free will was necessary but no longer is but I could imagine a similar situation. Imagine that at your wedding, you could take some kind of potion that would make you eternally love the other person. Of course, you don’t want to take that potion with just anyone. You want them to be somebody that you’re compatible with. But the idea that your family could eventually be torn apart because you no longer have strong feelings for that person depresses you. So you use free will to find the right person and then take it away once you’re sure of it. Maybe God has a similar thought process. He wants people that he spends eternity with to love him even if they didn’t have to. But he also wants heaven to be a perfect place. So Earth is just a testing ground to find the right people.

        • Protagoras says:

          Close to Feser’s solution. But it implies that people in Heaven can’t change. Which to me seems to imply that they’re not actually conscious, that it isn’t really an afterlife. Of course, Feser and I disagree on many issues in the philosophy of mind.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Free will seems like a similar but separate issue from consciousness. If every single one of my actions was being controlled by some other person, I would still have the feeling and self-awareness of being controlled. Heaven is like a contract you sign knowing that you can’t get out of it and neither can the other guy. Sure, you’re giving something up but you’re getting something out of it. A lot of Christians would find it comforting to know that they would be incapable of sinning.

          • Deiseach says:

            So if not being able to change your mind means you’re not conscious, how does that get around your objection that God could have created a world of people who freely chose never to do evil?

            Now you’ve not alone eliminated free will, you are doing away with consciousness. Next we eliminate humans altogether, I suppose (paperclips never choose to do evil, after all!)

          • Protagoras says:

            @Deiseach, I suppose you’re right, I should have focused on how Feser’s afterlife doesn’t look to me like it contains freedom. But Feser has his own version of freedom, which while extremely vague is definitely not the standard libertarian version. As I said at the outset, this particular argument does not seem to work against Feser, though again this seems to me to be because of other commitments of his which are at least equally problematic (and which I don’t really feel like digressing into during the present discussion).

      • John Schilling says:

        4) The admission requirements for Heaven effectively screen out anyone who would ever chose to perform an evil act unless subject to temptations that don’t exist in Heaven

        5) It is impossible for an evil act to harm another resident of Heaven, and so heaven lives up to its billing in spite of the “evil” after all. Or perhaps because of it; inconsequential “evil” being often amusing.

        • Wrong Species says:

          If a sizeable group of people in Heaven stopped worshiping God and instead mocked him, that would technically not harm anyone but it would certainly not be what we think of as Heaven.

          • Anonymous says:

            They could be instantly cast out of Heaven for that infraction, though. I mean, Lucifer was.

        • MrApophenia says:

          4 is what I was thinking too. It doesn’t completely guarantee no one in Heaven ever does anything evil, but it does make it much more likely. Heaven becomes less ‘absolute perfection’ and more ‘really exclusive resort.’

        • Jiro says:

          Your #5 is essentially equivalent to #3, except with “harm from evil” substituted for “evil”. It still raises the question of why God can’t make Earth like that.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Could you link to Feser’s response? I couldn’t find it on Google.

        • Protagoras says:

          I believe I got most of my understanding of his views on the afterlife from his blog; I couldn’t tell you which specific posts (and they weren’t explicitly addressed to the subject of the problem of evil, so I’m not sure how to search for them). Maybe he remembers where he talked about it, so perhaps you could ask him.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        I can imagine someone thinking that free will on earth means that the rewards in heaven are deserved or earned, and that this could explain why God must allow free will on earth, despite its absence in heaven.

        I think the free will defense is lousy for other reasons.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Isn’t the official Catholic doctrine on this that people with Heaven become fully one with God and stop existing as separate entities? Someone correct me if I am off base.

        If that is right it does seem to avoid this problem, though. Assimilation into a single cosmic mind may not sound like everyone’s idea of paradise, but it does explain the lack of evil acts. You don’t see a lot of Borg on Borg crime, either.

        • RDNinja says:

          No, that would be heresy. Even God on His own exists as separate entities (i.e. the Trinity).

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Not a Catholic, or indeed religious at all, so excuse my ignorance, but is there a reason why you call that ‘heresy’ rather than simply ‘mistaken (according to mainstream Catholic beliefs)’?

            This is probably me being weirdly sensitive about this, but the word ‘heresy’ carries very strong connotations of ‘belief that you can be legally punished for holding’ (or, I suppose, expressing, since it’s very hard to detect an unexpressed belief), which makes it seem wrong to use in cases where the religion in question actually lacks the legal power to enforce punishment (the situation is currently pretty different in various parts of the Islamic world, of course).

            It’s like the difference between ‘I think you’re wrong and here’s why’ and ‘I think you’re wrong and therefore ought to be set on fire’.

            Even if someone just means ‘X is heresy according to the doctrines of Y religion, which I do not necessarily subscribe to’, there’s something about unqualifiedly describing something as heresy that really raises my hackles.

          • bean says:

            Also not a Catholic, but a Christian.
            The point of heresy as a distinct comment is that it’s a signal that not only is this opinion wrong, but it’s wrong on a fundamental point of doctrine. From a Christian perspective, it’s putting people’s souls in danger. The traditional response of going after it as hard as possible made sense in an era when the church viewed itself as the guardian of souls. There are areas where you can disagree, but there are also ones where you can’t.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Winter,

            I accidentally clicked “report” on your August 7, 2017 at 8:02 AM comment.
            Apologies.

            Does anyone know how I can cancel that? Tried looking for a FAQ and am unable to find one…. 🙁

          • rlms says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy
            You can’t, but don’t worry about it. Accidental reports (or even one-off deliberate ones) have no effect other than possibly slightly annoying Scott.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Winter Shaker

            Heresy is pretty much “stuff you made up that the Church officially differs on”. There is material heresy, which is being wrong in this way but being unaware or mistaken about the Church position, and there’s formal heresy, which is maintaining that opinion even while knowing the proper Church position. Material heresy is error, but is not sin. Formal heresy is sin, and can result in censure by the Church. (There’s also heterodoxy which is “stuff you made up that the Church has not weighed in officially on”.)

          • MrApophenia says:

            I just did some Googling on this an found a bunch of stuff that is mostly just in opaque religious language I find confusing, but seems to indicate both for and against the original statement – there was one bit about St. Paul talking about union with Christ in Heaven as being closer than the union of a finger to a hand, but also the Catechism does apparently specify everyone retains their own identity in Heaven.

            My main takeaway, I think, is being reminded why I mostly don’t mess with theology.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Sounds like Hinduism, not Catholicism.

        • Deiseach says:

          Isn’t the official Catholic doctrine on this that people with Heaven become fully one with God and stop existing as separate entities? Someone correct me if I am off base.

          Incorrect. That’s more the popular view of Nirvana (which I do not know enough about to explain as a Buddhist concept but take the following as general impression); that individual identity is illusory and fleeting, and once we attain liberation we return to the Universal Oversoul of which we are all sparks, as drops of water merge once again into the ocean.

          Catholic/Christian theology is that human souls are individual, are created, are not derived from God as part of His spirit but are separate, are eternal, will be re-united with the glorified body at the General Resurrection, and enjoy bliss or suffer punishment according to our deeds on earth (our sins and our genuine repentance, if any).

          We will be happy with God, but not in God. God as the Highest Good and that which is most worthy of love will be the object of contemplation and enjoyment for the souls in bliss for eternity, but they will not be sunk in God and lose our identities.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I like a bit in the Divine Comedy, which has Heaven divided into levels. A woman in one of the lower parts is asked whether she envies those above her, and she says no, she’s feeling all the bliss she can, and she’d have to be a different person to feel more. (This is from memory.)

            I have no reason to think that Catholics believe Heaven is divided into levels. I assume it’s something Dante chose to make for a more interesting poem.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Not sure about Roman Catholicism as such, but in some of Jesus’ parables, He describes greater and lesser rewards in Heaven. Myself, I don’t think it’d be anything like Dante’s description, though.

          • Mary says:

            You will sometimes run across the description of Heaven being like a gallon jug, a teacup, and a thimble being completely and therefore equally full of water.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve always thought of Heaven as basically the equivalent to wireheading.

        Does a wireheader have “free will”? I would say technically speaking he does. He could sacrifice tons of pleasure and instead go back to his weary existence. But he won’t. Similarly, the souls in heaven live in a constant state of exalted bliss. The possibility for them to commit evil still exists, but it requires giving up said bliss, which no one chooses to do.

        • Protagoras says:

          Another one of the many proposals that doesn’t solve the problem at all, since it still seems obvious that if that’s how it works God should have made everywhere like that.

          • RDNinja says:

            It could be that free will is required, but just for a bit. There’s a lot of Biblical metaphor depicting hardships in life as a refining process. Maybe free will is just part of that temporary process, and isn’t needed in heaven.

          • Protagoras says:

            One of the endless answers that solves the problem by making God not omnipotent. An omnipotent being has no need of temporary refining processes, being capable of producing desired results instantly.

          • RDNinja says:

            One of the endless answers that solves the problem by making God not omnipotent. An omnipotent being has no need of temporary refining processes, being capable of producing desired results instantly.

            You assume that God is interested in only the final product, and not the process for its own sake. All parents want their children to grow up to be mature and responsible, but how many would snap their fingers and skip their childhood if offered the chance (well, besides Adam Sandler)?

          • Protagoras says:

            OK, so now you’re saying that God allows suffering because suffering is good. Which, sure, would solve the problem, but as usual at the cost of raising a whole bunch of other problems.

          • Skivverus says:

            Dunno that it necessarily implies “suffering is good”, or at least not in a central definition of “good”; I’d expect something more along the lines of “obvious intervention would result in human-style Unintended Consequences, which, God being omniscient, He knows enough to avoid.”
            Consider a dichotomy for interventions between “all the time, every time”, and “only sometimes (but maybe most of the time)”. The former would be indistinguishable from laws of physics/sociology/etc (since they’d be present for as far back as God was intervening, which is “every time”), and would probably be counted as laws of physics/sociology/etc. The latter results in justified objections from fairness.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Skivverus, Unintended consequences are useless, as God is omnipotent as well as omniscient. For anything that might have bad consequences, God could make the same thing without the bad consequences. The only way your explanation works is if suffering is (well, sometimes) good.

          • Skivverus says:

            Still depends on how you’re definining omnipotence; allowing someone to take stupid and/or malicious actions, and preventing them from learning that those are in fact stupid and/or malicious things to do because you’ve removed the negative consequences of their actions, strikes me as deceitful.

            Also, a thought on the “everywhere” bit – this seems resolvable by counting diversity as a positive: a world where diversity was not good would simply consist entirely of paperclips/[insert maximally-“good”-per-unit-volume substance here]. After that it’s sufficient to say that all those perfect utopias really do exist – we’re just not (currently) in one of them.

          • Protagoras says:

            In other words, you’re saying suffering is good, Skivverus. If that’s your position, perhaps you should try to actually defend it instead of pretending it isn’t your position.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Protagoras

            I don’t think that follows at all. At most, Skivverus is suggesting that suffering may be necessary.

          • Skivverus says:

            Analogy: “every positive number exists, and we could be in any one of the positive numbers*,” as opposed to “why can’t God make all the numbers positive infinity?”

            *Alternatively: “every ordered tuple containing a positive number”

      • Wander says:

        I think most of our understanding of evil as it stands involves us having a physical body.

        • RDNinja says:

          And the Bible does specify that we will have new and perfect bodies in heaven, not become disembodied spirits. (See 1 Corinthians 15)

        • Mary says:

          Which is not the orthodox Christian view, which entirely attributes it to the spiritual side. Animals, having bodies but not spirits can not do evil; angels, having spirits but no bodies, can.

          • Deiseach says:

            No, it’s not the spirit, it’s the intellect. Animals do not know right from wrong because they’re not intelligent enough, so we can’t say that a tiger that killed a man committed murder but we do say that a man who killed another man committed murder. We also get into free will here because a tiger is a predator so we can’t say that it chooses to kill prey animals or even humans.

            Angels, being intellectual beings who do have knowledge of good and evil, can fall by choosing to do wrong.

            Spirit = good, body/material = bad is getting into Gnosticism which, under its various types, is generally a heresy. The tangled history of Manichaesim and did it or didn’t it influence Christianity is also relevant here, as generally it considered the material to be a trap, snare or medium of suffering for the divine sparks contained within, and this suffering would only be eased when that divine light was liberated to return to its source.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ll also note that animals do have souls, per the Catholic definition of a soul. Just not rational souls like humans have.

      • rahien.din says:

        I dunno, Protagoras. Your question is fascinating, and I agree with your analysis of the question you pose. But ultimately, it reduces down to basic theodicy : “But if God could make Heaven perfect, why didn’t God make this world perfect, too?”

        So it’s an interesting challenge, but ultimately it doesn’t lead anywhere new.

        3 is correct (as you point out, it’s most consistent the faith you are challenging). Mechanistically, what occurs to me is that entering Heaven is a moral event that is akin to becoming literate. After learning to read, one can no longer see a sequence of letters and words and not read them involuntarily. The reaction to the world is fundamentally and irrevocably changed. I think it would be the same thing for entry into Heaven – a sort of moral literacy would become part of your makeup, such that one could not encounter a situation without “reading” it morally.

        (You would almost certainly object “Why doesn’t God make everyone morally literate to begin with?” which, as above, is fair but is not new.)

        I believe that the Biblical account at least strongly implies that the world’s imperfections are deliberate on God’s part, beginning with the loneliness of Adam. It doesn’t give us any reasons for that deliberate choice, beyond that God did it for God’s glory.

        But how could there be a good answer to “Why isn’t our world perfect?”

        Imagine if F. Scott Fitzgerald bodily entered the world of The Great Gatsby at a time prior to the book’s events, and told newly-married Myrtle “Two things will happen. You’re going to have an affair. You’re going to get run over by a car.” She asks why. Is it better for God to answer genuinely “It’s symbolic and emotionally meaningful and directly provokes an important conflict in the life of someone more important to My Story,” or to answer mysteriously “For My Glory”?

        Either she asks the question and gets the genuine answer and is faced with accepting that her transgressions and death are plot devices, or, she gets the mysterious answer and is no less mystified than before. It’s similar to a theological/theodical psychopath button – a button that irrevocably reveals the purpose for suffering and transgression.

        • Protagoras says:

          The original request was not for new arguments, but for arguments to which the responses almost always evade the issue.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, you’ve got fewer evasions now! 😉

          • Deiseach says:

            The original request was not for new arguments, but for arguments to which the responses almost always evade the issue.

            In other words “I’ve got this knock-down objection and I will treat any argument addressing it as an evasion because i’m convinced that it can’t be beat”.

            If you’re setting the conditions for “I decide if this is an evasion or not”, and “I don’t want new arguments, I want the old arguments that I judge the responses are evasions”, then what are you asking for? You already say you think the responses are evasions, not true answers, and you’re not interested in new answers – it sounds as if what you really want is “Wow, yeah, rock-solid argument, no answer to that one, you win!” That may not be what you want, but it is what it sounds like.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Deiseach, rahein.din seemed to be criticizing me for the lack of novelty in my argument. I was explaining why it lacked novelty, by mentioning what had been requested in the comment that started this thread (which was not by me). You seem to have drawn some additional inferences that have nothing to do with what I was saying.

      • Deiseach says:

        3) It is possible for free will to coexist with never doing evil (actually, this should already follow from Christian doctrines that say God is like this).

        “People who freely choose never to commit murder means that free will doesn’t actually exist”. Discuss. Because if they really had free wills, they would choose to commit murder sometime, and if they don’t commit murder, then free will is not necessary because there can be a world where people have no choice as to whether or not they commit murder, and not committing murder is the same thing as committing murder in a world without free will where determinism something something nobody chooses anything it’s all genetics and environment making the choices for us something something.

      • random832 says:

        On the subject of afterlives, the whole “you end up in only one or only the other for all of eternity” thing seems to itself create a problem.

        It is essentially impossible for Hell to be different at all from Heaven (even a little bit, let alone the actual torture so often depicted) and still be a proportional response to any amount of evil done in one lifetime.

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, the excellent discussion of the problem of evil by David Lewis, “Evil for Freedom’s Sake,” just sets aside the question of hell, explaining in a footnote that Lewis found it too difficult (he tries to be charitable to theodicy throughout, and apparently that exceeded his resources for charity).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I may as well mention someone C.S. Lewis quoted as saying that they had to believe in Hell, but they didn’t have to believe anyone was actually in there.

            I’ve wondered about Hitler having to endure all the suffering he caused. We’re talking about geological time.

            I don’t remember the source, but there’s a speculation that there’s only one soul going back and forth through time, which strikes me as the only way to get actual justice– you experience all the effects of everything you’ve done. Everyone I’ve mentioned this to is horrified at the idea of having to be bad people. I’m not sure how much being Bach is worth, and there are a lot of other people who have experiences I’d want to experience.

          • Protagoras says:

            The one soul idea sounds extremely Buddhist to me. I don’t know if any Buddhist has come up with exactly that, but it seems to fit perfectly with how they think of karma and how they try to use their various other metaphors to explain it.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            The Egg?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            No, but thanks. I ran into the idea much earlier (to the extent that time exists).

            Unfortunately not online, but Henry Kuttner’s “The Children’s Hour” is a smaller scale version of “human minds are larger than they seem”.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Who said anything about proportionality?

          • Wrong Species says:

            If God punishes you less proportionality than what you have done, he is a merciful God.

            If God punishes proportionally to what you have done, then he’s a just God.

            If God punishes you disproportionately to what you have done, how can he be anything but a cruel and vengeful God?

          • hlynkacg says:

            “Proportionality” is a human conceit. God may show mercy on the balance while still punishing N > 0 souls.

          • random832 says:

            “Proportionality” is a human conceit.

            If God’s behavior cannot be judged by any standard, then the problem of evil vanishes entirely, since you can simply declare all suffering inflicted directly or indirectly by God’s actions or inaction to be good.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Cannot (or ought not) be judged by your standard is not the same thing as “cannot be judged by any standard”.

        • bean says:

          On the subject of afterlives, the whole “you end up in only one or only the other for all of eternity” thing seems to itself create a problem.

          Disagree. God is infinitely worthy, and any failure (sin) is thus of infinite magnitude. (If this offends moral intuition, the alternative is that Hitler eventually gets into heaven because we can establish a ratio from what he did to any sin which obviously shouldn’t be eternally damning.)
          So the only way into heaven is to be perfectly clean, which is obviously impossible unless I’m justified by Jesus.

          • random832 says:

            If this offends moral intuition, the alternative is that Hitler eventually gets into heaven because we can establish a ratio from what he did to any sin which obviously shouldn’t be eternally damning.

            Okay, let’s talk about why Hitler eventually getting into heaven (for sufficiently long values of eventually, depending on the magnitude of torture he’d have gone through in hell) should necessarily offend moral intuition.

          • Aapje says:

            Probably because he would demand vegetarianism in heaven.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, they do say all dogs go to heaven; they never mentioned what happens to them there…

          • Winter Shaker says:

            God is infinitely worthy, and any failure (sin) is thus of infinite magnitude.

            This is one of the most horrible justifications that Christians routinely make for why their god isn’t monstrously evil.

            A god that was infinitely worthy wouldn’t have set us up to fail and then punish us infinitely for that failure in the first place.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I’m not necessarily convinced by it, for reasons that are pretty complicated, but I think the following sort of argument against abortion is very powerful, and I find that defenders of abortion tend to avoid addressing it at all costs.

      Given the uncertainty about what is involved in personhood and morality, general epistemic humility, and the large number of intelligent people who disagree, you should not be more than, say 90, or 95% confident that abortion is permissible. And if abortion is wrong, it is almost certainly very, very wrong – akin to murder. So you should see getting an abortion as taking an action that is at least 5-10% likely to be akin to murder. And that’s taking an unacceptable moral risk.

      Louis C.K. plays on this kind of point in his last netflix special.

      Relatedly, I think “if abortion is permissible then so is infanticide” type arguments are pretty powerful and rarely addressed coherently or plausibly.

      Another contender: arguments for the permissibility of incest (or I suppose, rather, objections to the arguments against incest).

      • lvlln says:

        I heard this argument for the 1st time on Julia Galef’s Rationally Speaking podcast a few months ago, and it was the 1st time I ever found my views on abortion shifted. I’m not sure it’s the 1st time I’d heard an argument of such a structure, but I’d never heard it on the subject of abortion and spelled out so clearly. It makes a lot of sense.

        I still consider myself pro-choice, but I have a lot more doubt now and also a lot more sympathy for people who are pro-life.

        It also made me think more seriously about other areas this sort of epistemic humility could and should be applied. It pushed me more towards incrementalism rather than extremism as a strategy more likely to lead to good outcomes while avoiding disastrous ones.

      • RDNinja says:

        This was the first example I thought of. Roger Ebert was the only mainstream pro-choicer that I’ve seen acknowledge that pro-lifers really do believe what they claim about the humanity of the fetus.

        • Art Vandelay says:

          Despite being pro-choice, I’m of the opinion that most people on my side of the debate frame it as being about evil right-wingers wanting to subjugate women because as soon as you imagine believing that a fetus is a person with the same moral worth as you or me it becomes much harder to claim that the right-wingers are really just being evil. I’ve always found the way it’s framed as being about wanting to control women’s bodies utterly bizarre.

          • Corey says:

            Usually this hinges on conservative support for abortion in cases of rape/incest, because that undermines that argument – it’s not less of a murder after all.

            But that reasoning has several problems:
            – Support for rape/incest exceptions is declining
            – You can’t expect a political movement to be entirely self-consistent; it’s often too much event to ask this of one individual
            – I learned from Deisach that some of this support could have been for political-expediency reasons (that is, conservatives thought banning abortion even in those cases would meet with significantly more resistance)

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        The moral risk argument is a little bit self-cancelling though: if the moral risk that blastulas are morally considerable is compelling, so is the moral risk that all the cows that this blastula might someday eat are considerable. It gets even weirder once you throw in farther-out moral possibilities (there is surely some chance that anti-natalism is strongly required, or that infanticide is just one of our species’ responsibilities to Lord Ba’al).

        In other words, moral risk doesn’t solve anything – you still need to estimate probabilities and payoffs, which is just how ethics always worked.

        • baconbacon says:

          you still need to estimate probabilities and payoffs, which is just how ethics always worked.

          Ummm, no?

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            Sure it is. People pretend to be certain about ethics, but they aren’t and they know it. Everyone is doing these calculations all the time (in the same sense that you are solving partial differential equations when you walk).

          • baconbacon says:

            Utilitarian ethics presupposes that choices are about probabilities and payoffs, but not all ethical systems are outcome based.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            I don’t think I’m assuming utilitarianism. You could be a deotologist and not know what the correct moral laws are. Everyone needs to reason under moral uncertainty.

            Using the word ‘payoffs’ was misleading. For a virtue ethicist, ‘payoffs’ should be interpreted as ‘merit or blame’. For a deontologist it should mean ‘accuracy and precision in acting correctly’

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s okay to kill a six week old baby* because you eat hamburgers. Yeah, that convinces me!

          *Why should severing the umbilical cord be the magic moment at which a potential human becomes an actual human? I’ve recently read a hysterical – and I do mean hysterical – comment about late-term abortion which basically accused pro-lifers of being “forced birthers”, of the usual left-wing talking points about “not caring when the baby is born, only for the blob of cells”, and that they are valuing the potential human life over the real, existing human life and so on and so forth.

          So tell me what constitutes “humanity”, how we can measure this, what are the legal tests to define “personhood” by which someone is granted human rights, how a former person can lose personhood, and where the bright line between “potential” and “actual” human lies, and at what moment you step over from one side to the other.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I don’t think moral risk is a fully general argument though. Some risks are more obvious and harder to explain than others. I do not give significant moral worth to animals. If I get pulled 100 years into the future when it’ll have been worked out and proven and obviously, duh, of course cows have souls and I’m going to hell for eating so many delicious hamburgers without an ounce of remorse, I can still explain why I was pretty darn sure they didn’t.

          Pull a slave owner from 1850 into today and see how ridiculous his explanations are for how he couldn’t possibly have known slavery was wrong sound. I mean, the slaves are human. They talk, act, think like humans. Worship God like humans. Lots and lots of other people of your same race were really, really angry about this whole thing and telling you in no uncertain terms how evil it was. “But I was really sure it was good and right and just!” sounds way more like motivated reasoning to hold on to an evil system that provided material benefit to you.

          If the deontological structure eventually solidifies around the pro-life way of thinking our time traveler from 2017 to 2117 is going to have a hard time explaining how they thought this was okay. What do you mean you didn’t know the fetus was a human life? It’s the same way you started. If people want the fetus they sure treat it like a human life. Throw baby showers and everything. If someone kills a pregnant woman you charge them with a double murder. You can’t possibly tell me you had no idea there might be anything wrong with this.

          The moral certainty espoused by many on the pro-choice side does not seem warranted. It is non-obvious that abortion is not an atrocity.

          • rlms says:

            “If someone kills a pregnant woman you charge them with a double murder.”
            AFAIK, that isn’t true in general. In the US, it’s only been true since 2004.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I’ve always found it very convincing that abortion is equal to infanticide, and I agree that both are wrong, and preferably avoided. My position has been that some wrongs should be legal on semi-utilitarianist grounds to prevent other wrongs. I’m not an utilitarianist: yet laws are not one-to-one mapping to morals but only a necessary good-enough proxy for the society to function, so on the subject of laws, utilitarianism has some sway. And that’s why there should a term limit that we should stick to. While any such line is purely imaginary and arbitrary, such fictions are enforceable by law.

        Human morality will not have fully coherent answer on some issues (if someone claims so, that’s probably your cue to spot totalizing ideology that likely misses some crucial details), but nevertheless, it still exists, and it’s the only one we have, and we still must get by.

      • J Mann says:

        I think the typical response to arguments in favor of incest are some kind of Chesteron’s Fence or unforeseen risk argument, combined with the idea that there’s just not much available benefit to the reform. I wouldn’t agree, therefore, that people don’t engage the argument – I think they reject based on reasonably sound grounds.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          The typical argument against incest is an appeal to the possibility of defective offspring followed by moral dumbfounding when the problems with that reply are explained. You should also distinguish arguments for the wrongness of incest from arguments against changing social norms surrounding incest.

          • J Mann says:

            OK, I concede that I have not been in enough discussions of incest to confidently identify the typical arguments.

            For what it’s worth, I can think of several arguments to back up the intuitive “ick” response, but I can’t tell you whether they are typical.

          • Jiro says:

            Who does the original question apply to, though? 90% of people will present bad arguments about anything, whether true, false, justified, or unjustified. If you want something for which people refuse to address good arguments, the answer is “everything”.

            The question lacks useful meaning unless you restrict “people” to “thoughtful people” and maybe not even then.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The whole article on Abortion and Moral Risk is just utterly fascinating because you can generalize it to almost any ethical issue. His talk about a slave trader is notable:

        But consider John Newton, author of ‘Amazing Grace’, slave-
        trader and (eventually) abolitionist. At some point, Newton came to believe that the people he had formerly sold into slavery had moral status and that his actions were morally repugnant. This change was neither a result of Newton’s religious beliefs (which he already held when he was captain of a slave ship) nor of any new
        factual insight. Instead, Newton seems to have come to a realization
        that the same facts he was aware of earlier had a moral significance he had failed to register before:
        “The reader may perhaps wonder, as I now myself, that knowing the state of the vile traffic to be as I have here described, and abounding with enormities which I have
        not mentioned, I did not at the time start with horror at my own employment as an agent in promoting it. Custom, example, and interest had blinded my eyes.”

        And when Newton proceeds to offer arguments against the slave trade, his arguments are distinctively moral in character. Although they often involve an emphasis on certain facts (specific ways in which slaves were treated) these facts are the same facts that Newton observed first-hand while still supporting slavery.

        Surely, if the advocates for the slave trade [which has just been shown to involve rape] attempted to plead for it, before the wives and daughters of our happy land, or before those who have wives or daughters of their own, they must lose their cause. Newton had long known of the rape-practices he refers to here; what is new is the moral insight. So Newton seems to be a clear example of how we can be grotesquely mistaken in our moral views even with complete knowledge of the non-moral situation. The same seems to be true of many other cases: the revisions in people’s attitudes toward animals or women or gays may often owe something to factual input, but other times the main stimulus is simply the realization that one’s moral principles are awry.

      • entobat says:

        As a data point, I am pro-abortion, pro-infanticide, and pro-incest.

        • Deiseach says:

          Your philosophy is consistent, if repugnant.

          • entobat says:

            Thanks!

            Blastocysts do not have personhood; this does not magically change when they become fetuses. Fetuses do not have personhood; this does not magically change when they are removed from the uterus.

            Obviously a 10-year-old has personhood, so there is some day between conception and 10-year-old-ness where personhood manifests, and we should probably err on the side of caution in figuring out where it is. But I see no reason to believe that “the day of birth is probably fine” is insufficiently cautious.

            I sympathize greatly with pro-gay-marriage arguments like “everybody should be free to be with who they love” and “don’t legislate your own religion”—I dare say moreso than most of the people who wield them, since I am usually just called a troll for taking them to their obvious conclusions.

            I’ve had similar experiences when agreeing with right-wingers who say that legalizing gay marriage opens the door towards legalizing polyamory and incest.

            (It should go without saying that I think killing someone else’s baby is kind of a dick move, and that incestual relationships where consent is impossible vary from squick-inducing to outright rapey / abusive. Just as it should go without saying that abortion advocates do not support aborting another person’s fetus, nor do gay marriage advocates support gay rape.)

          • Blastocysts do not have personhood; this does not magically change when they become fetuses. Fetuses do not have personhood; this does not magically change when they are removed from the uterus.

            Obviously a 10-year-old has personhood, so there is some day between conception and 10-year-old-ness where personhood manifests, and we should probably err on the side of caution in figuring out where it is. But I see no reason to believe that “the day of birth is probably fine” is insufficiently cautious.

            I don’t agree with your final result, but I understand the comment. I think it was in some college class I took long ago that I came across the comment that humans are not conscious until they learn to talk. I think this means that babies don’t really think of themselves as different from others, and it is only at some point after living in human society that they do think this way. And perhaps the difference is language.

            Thus people think and act much as animals in their first few years, so perhaps they should have the same moral worth as animals? I don’t buy this normative conclusion, but I can understand that someone might. I think people have moral worth even before they think like people, but I don’t have any analytical framework to say why.

      • Jiro says:

        Given the uncertainty about what is involved in personhood and morality, general epistemic humility, and the large number of intelligent people who disagree, you should not be more than, say 90, or 95% confident that abortion is permissible.

        What you’re actually measuring is how badly people pick reasonable-sounding low numbers such as 10% and 5%, not anything to do with epistemic humility.

        Also, this ends up being a variation on Pascal’s mugging: you want a low-probability, poorly founded estimate of something to be balanced out by the high consequence of getting it wrong. You’re using larger numbers, but the basic problem still exists.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Pascal’s mugging is about using extraordinarily bad consequences to overwhelm the extraordinarily low probability. 5-10% is not that low and if you aren’t willing to grant the pro-lifers that probability, you need to reexamine your position. The ethics of abortion is not a simple matter.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s why it’s a variation and not exactly the same thing. The real problem here is drawing conclusions based on poorly founded estimates. There’s a LW-based idea that you can just figure out the probability that you’ve made a poorly-founded estimate, roll that into your estimate, and get good results, which I don’t find convincing.

    • lvlln says:

      That the norm of free speech is a good thing and protects the weak in our society. The argument goes that the norm of free speech is a fairly recent innovation, and before that, disagreements were generally adjudicated through violence, which tends to favor the strong, wealthy, well-connected, etc. The norm of free speech is the acknowledgement that being strong is orthogonal to being correct in any given disagreement, and allows the weak to make their case against the case of the strong without fearing violent retribution from the strong merely for speaking out.

      People who disagree seem to believe that the norm of free speech is – and has always been – a tool for the strong to oppress the weak, and that rolling it back will remove the unfair constraints from the weak and even the playing field in their fight against the strong. I don’t quite follow this, since the constraints would be removed from the strong as well, at which point the fact that they’re the strong means they have the advantage when it comes to shutting up the other side through violence or threats thereof.

      I’d definitely be curious of what a strong version of this position is, but I’m afraid that may be getting too far into culture war territory.

      • Matt M says:

        IMO the “strong version” is something like “the norm of free speech is a nice idea that has never actually existed.” Something like “Free speech has been promised to all, but functionally, has only ever existed for the strong. When the weak speak out against the strong, the strong use their political/financial power to crush them, regardless of the norms. The norm is used only as a constraint on the behavior of the weak. The strong are free to speak out against the weak and hide behind “but muh freeze peach” whenever the weak attempt to fight back.”

        Maybe somewhat similar to the “banning guns constrains law abiding citizens but does not constrain criminals at all” logic. If the norm promises to protect both sides, but functionally only protects one side, the side not protected would be better off if the norm didn’t exist at all.

        • lvlln says:

          I see, thanks, that makes the argument a lot clearer. The argument is heavily dependent on an assertion about empirical reality being true, but presuming the assertion is correct, that argument does make a lot of sense.

      • Brad says:

        To make a meta-meta-argument, I don’t know why you expect a meta-norm to be any more conserved than an object level one.

        The class of argument seems to be of the form of an appeal to self interest: It typically is pitched at some group that has perceived power in the present and asks what happens when you are no longer in power. The argument goes that if you put in place a meta-rule that would require you to make concessions now it will protect you later on if you fall from power.

        But why would we expect that to be true? If the Russian Czars gave the communists fair trials how would that ensure that the communists would give the White Russians fair trails?

        • lvlln says:

          Well, whether we expect a meta-norm to be conserved isn’t some logical question to answer but rather an empirical one whose answer is heavily dependent on the current context and reality as it exists.

          I think the advantage that meta-norms have is that they are less likely to run into conflicts with people’s idiosyncratic object-level values than object-level norms are. Meta is relative, of course – any meta-norm is also an object-level norm in another context – so people may have idiosyncratic preferences of meta-norms that cause conflict, but I think in practice the more meta you go, the less common the insoluble conflicts are.

          I’m not sure, but I think whether one can expect meta-norms to be conserved is fairly dependent on the structure of society, particularly how high-trust it is and how well its enforcement institutions work. At some point, society is just a faith system of how one human expects another human to behave, after all – we’re not doing empirical tests on every new stranger we meet in order to predict how they’ll respond to our inputs – that would take more resources than is reasonable.

          I think, in general, having a society where good faith is the default is better than one where we have to start from scratch in terms of trust with every new stranger we meet. I think the historical evolution of societies indicates that those are the societies that tend to prosper and create lives of less suffering for their inhabitants. But I’m not an expert on this by any means, so I might be wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            A meta-norm is far easier to protect from divide and conquer strategies. Because those object-level differs per person, different people will object at different times. So if you move the norms slowly, you can beat down one small group of protesters, then move the norm and beat down the next small group, etc.

            If people collectively believe in a hard meta-norm, then small violations threaten the meta-norm and will result in massive resistance.

          • walterbadgett says:

            “At some point, society is just a faith system of how one human expects another human to behave, after all – we’re not doing empirical tests on every new stranger we meet in order to predict how they’ll respond to our inputs”

            For an excellent interactive demo of this phenomenon (and the mathematical necessity of it), see: http://ncase.me/trust/

          • Brad says:

            Well, whether we expect a meta-norm to be conserved isn’t some logical question to answer but rather an empirical one whose answer is heavily dependent on the current context and reality as it exists.

            I think that’s right. But I think that supports my original point: the argument from future self interest needs to explicitly make some of these claims, and preferably back them up with some kind of empirical evidence applicable to the particular situation, rather than just assuming meta-norm conservation.

            I’m not sure, but I think whether one can expect meta-norms to be conserved is fairly dependent on the structure of society, particularly how high-trust it is and how well its enforcement institutions work.

            Isn’t that just bumping the problem up one level? I would especially not expect norm enforcement mechanism to be stable under a revolution at the object level. High trust might be a little safer but I’m not sure how much.

          • lvlln says:

            @Brad
            Well sure, like anything else, we shouldn’t ever presume meta-norm conservation a priori. We need to convince others that a meta-norm is valuable and then keep fighting to keep it enforced. Eternal vigilance and all that. I don’t think there’s any point here on which we disagree.

        • hlynkacg says:

          In addition to what lvlln and Aapje have said about meta-norms being less susceptible to object level attack or divide and conquer you should also consider that someone’s choice to either adhere to or violate a norm is useful information in it’s own right.

          If the Czar gives Communists a fair trial and the Communists do not reciprocate it tells everyone watching that the Communists are not to be trusted.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Unfortunately, most people don’t actually use this information. That might be partially due to this being confused with so many other issues in reality?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But some people use the information. And they use the evidence to convince others. It takes awhile, but, well, long arc of the universe and all.

          • Brad says:

            That’s pretty cold comfort to the White Russians I would think.

            The argument is generally of the form “following this meta-norm will protect you in the future” not “following this meta-norm will ultimately cause history to look unkindly at your successors”.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The alternative is to be the monsters that the long arc of the universe will eventually bend against.

          • lvlln says:

            Well, if you have good reason to believe that your opponents won’t abide by the agreed-upon norms (I think many people here would compare it to “defecting” in a prisoner’s dilemma), then it seems reasonable not to constrain oneself to those norms.

            The trick is figuring out what “good reason” is. And (outside of trivial cases such as the opponent outright announcing the intent, or a proven history of “defecting”) this is a Very Hard Problem with no known solutions. The very 1st step to figuring out the solution is to acknowledge that, because having a “good reason” would unconstrain you, you are highly motivated to believe that you have a “good reason,” and thus you and people who support you cannot ever be used as a reliable guide for figuring out what a “good reason” is. If one’s own internal judgment is enough to make the call, then literally everyone can justify literally anything as being a “good reason” and “defect” immediately, and so there’s no reason even to have meta-norms in the first place.

            I think outsourcing the judgment to as many parties with as many conflicting opinions and incentives as possible would be a good start, but even that probably doesn’t get us all the way there in determining if something is a “good reason” to believe that your opponents aren’t trustworthy.

            One may be tempted to just throw everything out and declare everything to be object-level norms and make all the fights be on those lines, but I don’t think the evidence suggests that that’s a stable or desirable state of society, at least according to values that I think I share with most people (e.g. staying relatively physically safe, having a somewhat comprehensible and actionable way for gathering food, clothing, shelter, relationships, and luxuries, etc.). But I could be wrong on that.

          • Brad says:

            Maybe it’s a flaw in my reasoning ability, but I like to make things concrete sometimes to work out implications.

            I won’t pick the obvious one because feelings are raw. But how about the laws of war?

            If you tell a soldier that he shouldn’t torture captured ISIS fighters because if he’s captured because following that norm makes it more likely that if he’s captured by ISIS they won’t torture him — he’ll presumably laugh in your face. That doesn’t mean there’s no good arguments for not torturing captured enemies. On the contrary I think there are very good ones. That’s just happens to not be one of them.

            I’m not saying that all meta-norms are bad and should be discarded. Or that any specific one should. I’m saying that one class of arguments for specific meta-norms (i.e. the argument from future self interest) is often made in an incomplete and (to me) unconvincing way. If the argument from “history will judge you harshly” fits better then by all means advance that one.

            Well, if you have good reason to believe that your opponents won’t abide by the agreed-upon norms (I think many people here would compare it to “defecting” in a prisoner’s dilemma), then it seems reasonable not to constrain oneself to those norms.

            Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Aren’t we talking about the situation where a dominant group is deciding what norms to follow are rather than talking about a situation where there is preexisting, well nigh universally accepted norm (which we could say is agreed-upon by all though I’d argue that doesn’t quite capture how norms work)?

          • lvlln says:

            I’m not saying that all meta-norms are bad and should be discarded. Or that any specific one should. I’m saying that one class of arguments for specific meta-norms (i.e. the argument from future self interest) is often made in an incomplete and (to me) unconvincing way.

            That would have to depend entirely on the specific circumstances, though. If the soldier has good reason to believe that ISIS would abide by non-torture norms, then that argument would be a good one. It’s just that we happen to know from empirical evidence that ISIS doesn’t constrain themselves to anything other than their own specific interpretation of Islamic doctrine.

            So the issue isn’t that class of argument, but rather the specifics that “often” surround that argument as it is made to you.

            Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Aren’t we talking about the situation where a dominant group is deciding what norms to follow are rather than talking about a situation where there is preexisting, well nigh universally accepted norm (which we could say is agreed-upon by all though I’d argue that doesn’t quite capture how norms work)?

            Just because a group is dominant doesn’t mean there aren’t preexisting, well nigh universally accepted norms. Norms rarely just get birthed fully formed by fiat, I think. If a group is dominant, they get to choose whether to follow that preexisting norm or to trash it in favor of something that might be less constraining for them. Or they could decide to strengthen the norm by continuing to follow it or even encouraging an even more constrained version of it, with the hope that if they lose power, the strength of that norm will carry on.

            And the behaviors of whoever is dominant next will probably be somewhat affected by what they observed the current dominant group do. If the current dominant group does the former and just discards meta-norms at convenience, the next dominant group seems likely to do something similar, since they can reason that if that group came back into power, they won’t be constrained by such norms again. If the latter and attempts to strengthen the norm is made, then it seems the next dominant group could reason that historical evidence indicates that if this norm stays around, this group will continue to abide by it if they should come into power again.

            Now, since violating meta-norms can be so freeing, anyone who’s in a dominant position would be highly motivated to determine that whoever was previously in the dominant position had already destroyed or damaged those norms and thus they’re now entirely justified in ignoring those norms. Which is why no one should ever trust their own judgment or that of their supporters in making the call of whether a meta-norm was conserved by the previously dominant group, and try to defer to outside opinion as much as possible in making such a call.

            Continuing to support a meta-norm while you’re dominant certainly doesn’t guarantee that the next dominant group will continue it either. But it seems to me that it’s more likely that they’ll continue it than otherwise. I think how much difference you expect that to make is likely dependent upon how high trust the society in which this takes place is – but that’s just me spitballing.

            And if you expect to stay in power forever, it makes perfect sense to violate all norms and just fight without constraints. It’s just that history seems littered with people who mistakenly expected to be in power forever, so one should consider believing one will be in power forever as extremely poor evidence that one indeed will be in power forever.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If you tell a soldier that he shouldn’t torture captured ISIS fighters because if he’s captured because following that norm makes it more likely that if he’s captured by ISIS they won’t torture him — he’ll presumably laugh in your face.

            I’m saying you don’t torture captured ISIS soldiers (generalize to “terrorists” hereafter) because future enemies, dissidents, subversives, etc, will use that as an indictment of your society and claim for the moral high ground. Which is exactly what happened after the Iraq war. See Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, etc. Yes, of course the terrorists are going to torture you if they capture you. That’s one of the reasons we know they’re the bad guys. Of course the commies aren’t going to give you a fair trial. That’s how we know they’re the bad guys. Of course X group is going to fire you for dissent. That’s how we know they’re the bad guys.

          • Brad says:

            @lvlln
            To put my cards on the table, I don’t think the free speech norm as is commonly defined around here was ever well nigh universally accepted.

            Some subset of first amendment law does have that status*, but not the broader societal-wide notion that e.g. Scott supports.

            I think passing hate speech laws, and packing the Supreme Court so they’d be upheld, would be an example of tossing out preexisting meta-norms, but not most of the type of things we often debate in here. To my mind those debates are more in the nature of discussing what new meta-norms we should try to make well nigh universal or maybe what you call “encouraging an even more constrained version of” the preexisting version.

            * In other words most Americans think those principles should apply in every society, not just that they should contingently apply in the US because the Supreme Court says so.

          • lvlln says:

            To put my cards on the table, I don’t think the free speech norm as is commonly defined around here was ever well nigh universally accepted.

            This is an empirical question. Unfortunately, it’s one that would be very hard to answer. Hard to discuss, even, without getting deep into culture war issues. But that empirical question is clearly where any issues lie, not in the question of the use of meta-norms in general.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Conrad Honcho

            Precisely.

      • I’ve always thought the value of free speech isn’t that everyone has the right to speak, but that everyone has the right to hear diverse opinions. Thus I am much more concerned about my right to hear diverse opinions that about my right to respond to them. I do want to respond to them, because I think my responses bring out more rational discussion (which is why I comment on SSC). But I find it far more important to be able to hear everyone else’s opinion than it is to speak myself.

        I’m not sure how this affects Ivlln’s comment, but I do think it does affect the discussion. If only the strong can speak, it hurts everyone trying to understand the truth, not just the weak.

    • J Mann says:

      I brought this up last thread. I find it really mystifying, which implies I’m likely to have overlooked something, but I’ve never figured out what.

      As I understand it, many or most advocates of a robust response to global warning believe that there is a scientific consensus that:

      1) There is a substantial risk of catastrophic effects on humanity and things humanity cares about (like species extinction) over roughly the next 30-200 years as a result of global warming if we continue on our currently predicted course.

      2) This risk is sufficiently substantial to justify fairly drastic intervention in the economy.

      3) Every year that goes by where we continue on our present course and do not drastically intervene in the economy increases the chance that the catastrophe will occur and will be unavoidable.

      I also believe that the following premises are consensus among informed experts:

      4) Any plausible carbon limitation will reduce the risk of heat catastrophe somewhat, but will at best bend the future temperature curve down somewhat, and will still leave most of the risk on the table.

      If all those premises are true, then isn’t it obvious that we should be doubling down on our current work on researching and testing geoengineering? If you’re telling me that (1) I need to restrict carbon use, subsidize solar, etc., because a catastrophe has a reasonable chance otherwise occurring and (2) that it will probably occur even if I do all of that stuff, then shouldn’t we be testing space mirrors and artificial cloud cover right now?

      (Granting that we do some of that stuff, shouldn’t we be doing more? Why isn’t THAT the main topic of the Paris and Kyoto accords instead of voluntary carbon limits?)

      • There’s a lukewarmer position, that the effects of GW will be expensive rather than catastrrophic.

        There are also non-GW reasons for getting off fossil. If we do a load of geoengineering and don’t reduce our use of fossil, we could be hit with an energy crisis, for instance.

        • J Mann says:

          I understand why lukewarmers aren’t motivated to take drastic action –

          I guess my questions are:

          (A) if you’re Al Gore or Bill Nye and you think (1) this is super double plus urgent, (2) that every year we don’t do carbon rationing might be the year it becomes too late to avoid people eating each other in the streets, and (3) we’re at least several years away from carbon rationing, why aren’t you spending at least as much effort on alternatives to carbon rationing?

          (B) Do domain experts believe (A)(1)-(3) above? If so, why aren’t they publicly pushing substantial geoengineering research and testing?

          • Bill Nye for one actually is keen on geoengineeing..

            http://uk.businessinsider.com/bill-nye-climate-change-geoengineering-2015-11?r=US&IR=T

            I guess my counter questions would be “Why are lukewarmers always ignored” and “why doesn’t anyone check anything”.

          • J Mann says:

            @AncientGeek

            1) Thanks, that’s interesting.

            2) If I’m understanding your second question correctly, then

            (a) one possibility I’ve always considered is that warmists are in fact pushing geoengineering with the same urgency as carbon rationing and I just don’t notice it, but my perception is that geoengineering activity is more than zero but much less than I would expect given my premises at the beginning of this subthread; and

            (b) is the correct response for me to say, “actually people sometimes check things” and link to someone doing that? I’m too lazy.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s the same reason as to why those people don’t push nuclear energy: Their assessment of AGW danger is exaggerated for ideological reasons, and they won’t do things that are outside their ideology or actively opposed by their ideology, just because they would be justified by the claimed level of danger.

          • Montfort says:

            Jiro, perhaps, in the spirit of intellectual charity and the culture-war-free open thread, you should consider the alternative that they may believe what they say they believe, and simply disagree with you about other things you believe, or what tactics and strategies will be effective.

            It’s easy to claim your opponents must support Y if they really believe X, much harder to actually prove it.

          • Jiro says:

            The whole question is basically “here is the proof, what does it prove?”

      • TolstoyFan99 says:

        I’ll take the other side of this one, just because a counterargument occurred to me when reading it not a really personal conviction.

        It seems like it’s possible to grant each of your premises, and still be opposed to space mirrors or artificial cloud cover on more specific grounds. Aren’t there many plausible-sounding anti-catastrophe policies I could have added to your list without changing the structure of your argument?

        E.g. (1), (2), (3) and (4) hold so “shouldn’t we be imposing economic sanctions on China until they turn off their steel factories?”

        • J Mann says:

          Well, nuking their factories would get you a two-fer of both reducing economic activity and increasing the earth’s reflectivity, but I think sanctioning countries for not reducing their carbon is unlikely to work because (1) those countries will respond and (2) I don’t think you could get a consensus to do it.

        • TolstoyFan99 says:

          “I don’t think you could get a consensus to do it” seems like it could defeat any proposal.

          (Adding a non sequitur a few minutes later:) If you are in a position to set any policy on any issue, you have to accept that it will affect people who disagree with the policy. This seems to arise in an especially grim way when talking about climate change, where the stakes, and the costs associated with addressing it, are so high.

          • J Mann says:

            Well, if I’m correct that the current political system won’t approve a proposal, then I’m also correct that your alternatives are (a) look for a different proposal and (b) settle for nothing.

            It’s possible that you could continue to advocate for change and get a world organization that forced other countries to obey, but I would guess you are talking 8-50 years to achieve that kind of thing. My understanding is that climate advocates believe we don’t have that kind of time.

            (Or some kind of coup to remove Congress from power and install an eco-dictatorship of the masses, but I also predict you will fail at that.)

            It’s possible that I’m not correct, of course, but given that Congress wouldn’t approve Kyoto, I don’t see them agreeing to try to force other countries to approve it through sanctions.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            Space mirrors have a similar coordination problem. Luke-warmers won’t want to pay for it (though there is a political advantage over emissions control – it’s paid for by the government so the costs are obfuscated). The international angle is also difficult, particularly if it’s possible to control which parts of the Earth are shadowed, and how much

          • J Mann says:

            Space mirrors arguably have the advantage that their window of effectiveness is better shaped. If warmists are correct, then at some point, many lukewarmers will have to admit that the Earth is growing intolerably warm.

            At that point, we probably won’t want to just drop the temperature 4 C immediately, but we would want something that could drop the rate of increase to around 0, and then we could consider a gradual decrease. The more work we had done by that point to eliminate uncertainties, the better.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The main problem with a space mirror is that it’s also effectively usable as a giant magnifying glass. Guess who’s the anthill.

          • John Schilling says:

            Space “mirrors” being used to reduce insolation at Earth do not need to have specular reflective surfaces.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Technically true. But how would you sufficiently assure everyone – specifically, leaders of other nations – that your space “mirror” could not be used as a weapon, or quickly modified to add that capability?

          • John Schilling says:

            A solar reflector needs to be visible to function at all, meaning pretty much anyone with a telescope can look at it and see that it is a diffuse rather than a specular reflector. And you can’t really “modify” diffuse to specular reflection short of actually going out and visiting each reflecto-sat to replace the outer surface.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The space mirror *might* be usable as a short term weapon. I’m more concerned that you wouldn’t have to do anything fancy with it to affect temperature and rainfall to cause crop failures for someplace you’re not fond of.

          • Nornagest says:

            John would probably know better than I would, but I don’t think a solar reflector would be that specific. The proposals I’ve seen for them place them at the Sun-Earth L1 point, the optics of which work out such that they can’t be used to shade any particular part of the Earth — the angular size of the Sun’s disk from Earth is too big for that to work. It’d be like trying to shade someone’s right eye, and nothing else, from a campfire by holding a silder dollar in front of it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            A solar reflector needs to be visible to function at all, meaning pretty much anyone with a telescope can look at it and see that it is a diffuse rather than a specular reflector.

            The side that needs to be diffuse needs to be visible to the sun, not to us. …When in use, at least. It’s obviously possible for that mirror to not be in the right position at all times due to being in an orbit, unless it’s at L1, and if it’s there, it’ll be harder to see in a telescope, and that important side will again be facing the sun.

            And you can’t really “modify” diffuse to specular reflection short of actually going out and visiting each reflecto-sat to replace the outer surface.

            Wouldn’t such a device need to be designed to permit this? You seem to be positing a dumb mirror – sole job is to sit in space and shield us from some of the sun. What if it turns out to reflect too much, and we need to “switch it off”? I was assuming that no one would advocate putting something that important between the earth and the sun without various contingencies.

            And therefore, with such contingencies designed in, whoever controls the mirror controls its insolation. Even if it’s relatively dumb and just sends insolation away, its position will end up mattering. “Nice nation state you have there. Shame if it were to get 20% less sunlight for the next year…”

          • John Schilling says:

            1. Aside from the L1 case, or various perversities that will be generally and suspiciously recognizable as “never let the dirtlings see the front”, orbital mechanics will at least occasionally put the front face in view of dirtling telescopes. But more importantly, by the time anything like this happens and in large part because of the infrastructure-building to make something like this happen, small satellites with cameras will be common enough that getting pictures from any angle will be easy enough.

            2. If you need to “turn off” a solar reflector, changing the front face from a specular to a diffuse reflector won’t help, nor will turning it into an absorber or making it an exotic plaid of silvered glass and carbon black. You’d need to make it actually transparent, which would be a very tall order. Or you’d just need to turn it edge-on to the sun, using whatever attitude control system otherwise kept it perpendicular to the sun.

            3. We’re talking more like 0.2% less sunlight than 20%, and neither one of those is what you meant when you said “giant orbital magnifying glass”. So put those goal posts back where you erected them. And then leave them for cinematic supervillains to play with, because outside of comic books or the odd Bond flick, “orbital mirror = solar death ray” is a silly idea that doesn’t hold up to even casual analysis.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            1. Conceded – this wasn’t a very strong claim to me, either. More of a “just saying”.

            2. Turning a reflector edge-on is much closer to what I imagine. And again, there’s still a matter of these space mirrors being intended as shades, and given that, there’s still the issue of what part of earth they’ll be shading.

            3. We’re talking more like 0.2% less sunlight than 20%, and neither one of those is what you meant when you said “giant orbital magnifying glass”. So put those goal posts back where you erected them.

            Funny. …Well, I’ll cheerfully admit I was exaggerating, but I hoped the audience would understand it was, and speak to the moderate core of the claim. You didn’t open with 0.2%, but I agree that that’s about the order of magnitude of insolation reduction we’re talking about.

            And yes, I am aware of how Moonraker-y this all sounds. But if we’re talking 0.2% of total earth insolation, then that’s a lot of mirrors – BotE calc puts it at about 60000 sq.km. (Or rather, enough mirrors to redirect 60k sq.km at whatever distance you actually place them, but since this is likely to be rather close to earth, it’s close enough.)

            Consider that it takes only a fraction of a sq.km to cause noticeable problems to an area about the size of a parking lot. One sq.km ought to be enough to boil the water in a building. There’s 60000 up there. I’m not saying someone’s going to melt Moscow unless Putin saves vs. Death Ray at -8; it’s enough to hit this or that training camp or admin building or factory, though.

            The question to me isn’t whether this is physically possible, but rather more of whether the engineering necessary to flex a square kilometer of surface would be detectable and addressable with defensive measures. Sure, this is literally all ply-in-the-sky technology, and I defer to your expertise in speculating about that. But it doesn’t look implausible. (Maybe the tech needed to put this stuff in space would naturally come with the tech to protect against it. Shrug. Probably depends on the nation state though.)

            Meanwhile, if I’m to put the goalposts back, then I have to admit that all this time, I was implying not just that this could be used as a magnifying glass AFAIK, but whether it could constitute a credible threat to J. Random HeadOfState to the point that he raises hell about it. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it up sooner, but I kinda thought it would be a given.

          • bean says:

            Paul, the entire point is that it doesn’t have to be a mirror. To a first approximation, you can use a white mesh instead. There’s no way to turn it into a death ray, and while it’s a tiny bit less efficient, if you’re willing to put it around the L1, I suspect that will be rounding error.

          • random832 says:

            Just out of curiosity, how much insolation reduction would it be if we could line up the moon so that the equator gets a total eclipse every new moon?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m kind of dubious about geo-engineering, but I’m not sure my arguments are strong enough to say never ever do it.

        There are the risks of making mistakes, and the difficulty of reversing those mistakes. It’s not as though dams were necessarily as good an idea as they seemed to be, and they’re a much smaller thing. Preventing forest fires isn’t as brilliant as it seemed at the time.

        The other aspect, which I *think* is merely aesthetic, is that any change through geo-engineering is going to be better for some people than others, and probably bad for some people. I’m not looking forward to the arguments.

        • J Mann says:

          Thanks! But if we agree that warming has enough chance of catastrophic change to be worth drastic economic intervention and that even drastic economic intervention still leaves us subject to a substantial risk of catastrophic warming, then shouldn’t we at least be desperately sponsoring research and testing geoengineering, rather than discussing it as an interesting possibility?

          I understand if someone is not convinced that there’s a catastrophic risk in front of us, and think that mitigation strategies are sufficiently cheap (or even net beneficial in the absence of global warming) that they’re worth trying anyway.

          I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but it would make sense to say “global warming’s costs are manageable, so we shouldn’t risk even opening the door on geoengineering. But we should do government enforced carbon mitigation, because that’s nearly zero cost or even net benefit.” If THAT’S the warmists’ argument, then I think we’ve got a basis for discussion. I don’t think there’s a consensus that carbon mitigation is a free lunch, but it would be delightful if it were.

          • yodelyak says:

            J Mann,

            What’s hard about the geoengineering conversation, for me personally, but I think for a lot of other people also, is that it introduces another degree of freedom into an area where discourse has already broken down, and despite available facts that should be sufficient to power a consensus policy. Let me back up, and explain how my experience makes me want to cabin discussions of geoengineering somewhat carefully. I’m pretty firmly in the alarmist camp, and have been since 2006 or so, to the point where I’ve made career-scale investments in getting better at talking about the issue to “deniers” or “skeptics” as well as to luke-warmers. What I’ve found is, when I have a reasonable-volume conversation with someone one-on-one, or in a small group, I can make very significant headway in terms of acquainting them with new, compelling facts, and with lines of reasoning (or, in some cases, defects in their reasoning) that often result in conversion to a much more climate-alarmist position. What I’ve found is that geoengineering is usually raised in conversation by people who’ve just noticed that they’ve been converted, and don’t like thinking they were wrong in the first place, or by 3rd parties who see someone else get converted, and then try to use geoengineering as a way to leap in and “save face”–and watching the whole discourse’s ongoing failure to create consensus (though I’ve never really met anyone who can argue in good faith with me, one-on-one) just leaves me suspicious of the geo-engineering folks, unless they *also* are willing to do the work to persuade people on the problem of climate change as well.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @yodelyak

            If someone is trying to save face like that, it just means that you changed their mind but they don’t want to admit it. Let them have their pride and take the win.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think an appeal to geoengineering means they’ve changed their mind. It’s a counter to “what if we make the world better for nothing?” That argument leaves out the downside of alarmists’ plans (massive government regulations, curtailment of my lifestyle, etc).

            Skeptics are generally not of the mind that they know the earth isn’t warming or that the effects won’t be too bad. They think you don’t know either, and so they don’t want to make sacrifices. Geoengineering satisfies “what if we make the world better (without sacrificing our lifestyles) for nothing?”

        • Jiro says:

          There are the risks of making mistakes, and the difficulty of reversing those mistakes.

          The risk you should take to prevent world-destroying catastrophe is much greater than the risk you should take to prevent minor inconveniences. Global warming, if it’s really as catastrophic as claimed, should be plenty to justify it. Maybe geoengineering has a 20% chance of killing millions of people, but that’s a lot better than a 100% chance of destroying civilization as we know it.

          Also, anti-AGW measures that are more widely proposed would have big consequences–just in different areas. There’s a fundamental disconnect between “it’s so catastrophic that we should do things with massive consequences to the economy (that happen to fit our existing ideology)” and “it’s not catastropic enough that we should do things with other possible massive consequences”.

      • Sluggish says:

        I’m not sure whether it’s totally relevant, but the situation seems analogous to one which comes up for me occasionally and I wonder whether it suggests an answer to your question.

        I don’t eat meat, and (very very occasionally) I have conversations with my friends about why that is. In these conversations, the subject of artificial meat is often brought up. What frustrates me about this is that it appears to me to often be a way of my friends deferring responsibility – rather than making any personal sacrifice, they’re appealing to a future innovation which will make their sacrifice unnecessary. They also never mention actually investing in / donating to artificial meat research.

        It probably isn’t rational, but I wonder whether that’s part of the issue – that the people who are concerned about global warming perceive the appeal to geoengineering as a way of getting out of their responsibilities re: reducing their carbon use now.

      • John Schilling says:

        If all those premises are true, then isn’t it obvious that we should be doubling down on our current work on researching and testing geoengineering?

        Doubling down on geoengineering would mean admitting Blue Tribe might not win a decisive victory over those dastardly Reds on this front. Defeatism is generally considered second cousin to treason, and not done in polite company.

        Working quietly on back-up plans in a secluded, deniable forum, is perhaps allowable.

        • The Nybbler says:

          This is the culture-war free thread (though climate change is iffy on those grounds already)

        • 1soru1 says:

          Yes, that would be how it would seem like if you got all your information about how the Blue tribe think from Red sources.

          The alternative perspective is that it seems that at least one faction of the Red tribe is so determined to destroy the environment out of spite. And none of the other are interested in stopping them. If they won’t agree to trivial measure like subsidies for the development of renewable energy, then they certainly won’t be in favor of launching space mirrors. It is hard to see any way in which savingthe planet can be made an excludable good.

          Which means it could be 100% feasible and safe without ever being profitable.

      • J Mann says:

        Thanks everybody for their input. I’ve picked up a bunch of possibilities. You can combine them to get various permutations with more of one, less of the other. In no particular order:

        1) Some warmists don’t think that the risk of warming catastrophe is sufficient to justify the risks that would be created by pushing geoengineering research – i.e., that after we achieve whatever risk mitigation we get from carbon reduction, the remaining warming catastrophe risk doesn’t justify the risk of more aggressively pushing geoengineering. Some of the people think that government enforced carbon mitigation is either very low cost or net beneficial, and most think that geoengineering is very dangerous.

        2) Some think that geoengineering is unlikely to work, and that excessive discussion of geoengineering will erode support for carbon mitigation. (Derail). Some think that people proposing geoengineering aren’t sincere. (Concern trolling or Bulverism, depending on which side you site).

        3) There is definitely some work going on regarding geoengineering. I supposed it’s possible that it’s a near-optimum level even given the apparent expert consensus that warming catastrophe is nearly as likely with carbon mitigation as without it. This is particularly true if warming advocates don’t publicize geoengineering for fear of deflating momentum for mitigation.

        I think that’s pretty explanatory for how I differ from other laypeople; I’d love to know what the domain experts think. Granted, that’s a tough issue, because first you have to decide what domain we’re even talking about.

        • pontifex says:

          I would add that, it wasn’t completely obvious that the Paris Accords would fail. A similar approach called the Montreal Protocol was pretty effective at phasing out the substances that were destroying the ozone layer.

      • pontifex says:

        If all those premises are true, then isn’t it obvious that we should be doubling down on our current work on researching and testing geoengineering? If you’re telling me that (1) I need to restrict carbon use, subsidize solar, etc., because a catastrophe has a reasonable chance otherwise occurring and (2) that it will probably occur even if I do all of that stuff, then shouldn’t we be testing space mirrors and artificial cloud cover right now?

        I believe there is a general fear that people will make things worse through botched attempts at geoengineering. I don’t know if this fear is reasonable or not– as you say, it hasn’t been discussed or studied very much compared to some other topics.

    • Urstoff says:

      “Why a $15 minimum wage? Why not a $50 minimum wage?”

      Minimum wage supporters dismiss it as a stupid objection, but, in my experience, never give reasons for why they think it’s stupid. It may be a bad objection to the minimum wage, but addressing it would (hopefully) force minimum wage supporters to articulate their beliefs regarding the relation between productivity and wages.

      • That doesn’t look tough to me: minimum wages relate to minimum standards of living.

        • baconbacon says:

          What minimum standard of living?

        • Urstoff says:

          Why a minimum standard of living? Why not a very comfortable standard of living?

        • TolstoyFan99 says:

          It sounds like you’re saying that minimum wage supporters don’t argue for a $50 an hour wage, because a $50 an hour wage is not necessary for a humane standard of living.

          But I think that is not addressing what minimum wage opponents are getting at, when they bring up the $50 dollar hypothetical. They believe that there are bad unintended consequences to a minimum wage, which they are trying to illustrate by picking an extreme number that would obviously drive employment to zero.

          It is the first step of a two-step argument, to get you to admit that there are utilitarian costs to setting a minimum wage at D dollars, which increase with D. Step two (maybe someone can produce it?) is to argue that benefits minus costs is a negative number when D is a positive number.

          • Matt M says:

            Right, it’s a different argument entirely.

            Person A: Why $15? Why not $50?
            Person B: Because the poor don’t need 50.

            But the problem is, person A is not disputing what poor people need. Rather, he’s suggesting that a minimum wage is bad economics, regardless of whether it fills a need or not.

          • Which is to say that it is deontology versus consequentialism.

            But person B has their own version: would you still expect the sky to fall in the if the MW were set as $0.01?

          • TolstoyFan99 says:

            The $.01 argument is not troubling to marginal thinkers. Economists believe that the effects of a $D minimum wage policy depend continuously on D. $.01 is a pretty close to $.00, so they believe the costs and benefits associated with it will be pretty close to the costs and benefits associated with a $.00 policy.

            $5, $15, and $50 are much further from $.00, and it is consistent to believe that their effects would be much different (and consistent to believe that their effects would be much worse).

          • baconbacon says:

            But person B has their own version: would you still expect the sky to fall in the if the MW were set as $0.01?

            Individuals who believe that a lower minimum wage is better can maintain consistency. That is $8 is better than $10, $2 is better than $8 and $0.01 is better than $2, and finally $0 is better than $0.01. People who advocate for a $15 minimum wage must explain why higher is better (ie $15 is better than $10) up to a point, but that even higher is worse (ie $15 is also better than $25).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            would you still expect the sky to fall in the if the MW were set as $0.01?

            Most minimum wage opponents don’t think the sky will fall across the current range of MW increases, particularly since policies are debated and implemented slowly and publicly.

            I think a lot of the intellectual class would be totally on board with absolutely no minimum wage, though. I would be.

          • Matt M says:

            People who advocate for a $15 minimum wage must explain why higher is better (ie $15 is better than $10) up to a point, but that even higher is worse (ie $15 is also better than $25).

            Broadly speaking, this also applies to almost anyone who is a “moderate” on the need for government intervention into the economy.

            Unless you are an anarchist or a communist, you end up needing to explain why state intervention is better to a certain point, but then too much of it is worse.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Unless you are an anarchist or a communist, you end up needing to explain why state intervention is better to a certain point, but then too much of it is worse.

            Yeah, people have the correct intuitions about the directions (usually, with exceptions re: immigration and trade), but no real framework to discuss the actual level of intervention needed.

            So it all boils down to tribal signaling and status quo bias.

            Not the worst system, though. Could be much worse.

          • People who advocate for a $15 minimum wage must explain why higher is better (ie $15 is better than $10) up to a point, but that even higher is worse (ie $15 is also better than $25).

            Which they can do by appealing to minimum cost of living as per my original response.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            People who advocate for a $15 minimum wage must explain why higher is better (ie $15 is better than $10) up to a point, but that even higher is worse (ie $15 is also better than $25).

            TheAncientGeek’s already supplied a very reasonable answer, but to supply another: introducing a radical change is much more likely to cause problems.

          • Matt M says:

            $15 is nearly doubling the current federal minimum wage.

            That’s NOT radical?

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            I think that the proposal is to raise it gradually.

      • Protagoras says:

        Also, I think a lot of minimum wage supporters buy into Adam Smith’s theory that the owners of capital are engaged in widespread conspiracies to suppress the cost of labor. It is entirely consistent to think that if businesses are paying less because they’re engaging in price-fixing, forcing them to pay slightly more will raise wages without raising unemployment (because the workers were previously worth a lot more to the employers than they were paying, and with the moderate minimum wage are still going to be worth more than the employers than they are paying), but forcing them to pay a lot more (overshooting the goal of compensating for the price-fixing conspiracy) will have the bad effects on employment predicted by economists.

        • skef says:

          Also, I think a lot of minimum wage supporters buy into Adam Smith’s theory that the owners of capital are engaged in widespread conspiracies to suppress the cost of labor.

          Capitalists aside, we do have a quasi-governmental entity setting the federal interest rate partly in response to the level of employment.

        • Urstoff says:

          I think that’s the most likely non-dismissive response, which then allows one to ask for evidence for this kind of price fixing and why they think the extra labor costs of raising the minimum wage would only come out of company profits.

          • If there is unemployment, and there almost always is, employers would be fools not to pay less than they could afford.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am not sure what proof would look like.

            However, as I understand it a decent chunk of SSC works in tech, and I have seen it expressed here that people should semiregularly change jobs in order to get paid what they are worth. Which implies that they are otherwise not getting paid what they are worth by their current employer.

          • The Nybbler says:

            However, as I understand it a decent chunk of SSC works in tech, and I have seen it expressed here that people should semiregularly change jobs in order to get paid what they are worth. Which implies that they are otherwise not getting paid what they are worth by their current employer.

            That’s not a conspiracy, though; if there was a conspiracy, the “diagonal move” wouldn’t work. There’s a lot of things which contribute to it; the fixed costs of a job hunt are one, the uncertainty of the new job is another, lack of visibility into market salaries by employees (unless you actually start the job hunt) is yet another. And there are more, but none involve a conspiracy in general, though as the Apple-Google agreement shows, there are sometimes particular conspiracies.

          • Spookykou says:

            That’s not a conspiracy

            I am not sure why it actually being a conspiracy is relevant to the idea of employers capturing more of the value from their employees, thus a minimum wage would just redistribute that value back to them rather than causing more unemployment.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            allows one to ask for evidence for this kind of price fixing

            Anecdotal, when I was a 6+ year permatemp the ‘temp’ agency said they couldn’t do anything about my wage because it was determined by the other company, and the other company said they couldn’t do anything about my wage because it was determined by the temp agency. The temp agency HR person also blatantly violated NLRB statute by ‘advising’ us at orientation not to discuss our wages (there were other possible violations too).

            The temp agency is a major temp agency, the other company is a subsidiary of a Fortune 100 company. I’m leery of seeing these as isolated incidents, especially given what I’ve read on EER issues since then.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            So, this part is true:

            There’s a lot of things which contribute to it; the fixed costs of a job hunt are one, the uncertainty of the new job is another, lack of visibility into market salaries by employees (unless you actually start the job hunt) is yet another

            But it doesn’t apply to unemployment per se, especially periods of high unemployment. Actually, all of the above are more likely to happen in periods of low unemployment.
            Here’s how it works:
            -Business sets fixed pay bands for a job range: IE, Staff Accountants can make between 60k-80k per year.
            -Businesses allocate wage increases to departments according to pre-planned budgets (IE, wage bill is targeted to increase 4% this year).
            -Managers hand out the wage increases as they deem necessary (3% for Bob, 5% for Alice, etc).

            These regimes tend to be a lot less flexible than the hiring regimes. So in periods of low unemployment, markets are bidding up employee wages by huge amounts, far faster than the above regimes can handle. So there’s an arbitrage opportunity.

            Not all employees take advantage of this arbitrage opportunity due to search costs, information asymmetry, etc.

            In periods of high unemployment, the relationship is actually reverse. The wage of an employee is going down, but the business is not cutting your wages. If you are hourly, you might have hours cut, but even that is unlikely. Lay-offs are more likely, but businesses will attempt to avoid that to keep employee morale high.

            So, high unemployment=your company is actually overpaying you. Otherwise, you’d see a lot of people jumping ship in those periods, too.

            The Temp market, consultant market, and other markets for short-term labor (especially low-dollar short-term labor) do not resemble the above at all. It’s a Darwinian experience.

            Companies may take steps to avoid massive brain drain, though. My last company hired a lot of people in the recession that were massively underpaid. When the economy started heating up circa 2012, the company put in mandatory pay increases for the bottom ranges to keep employees from leaving, and shrunk the average wage increase.

      • secondcityscientist says:

        Part of the reason I think a substantially higher minimum wage would be good (realizing that this isn’t necessarily the pitch most people make for it) is that a higher minimum wage would cause inflation. Historically, the US economy has worked pretty well when inflation was around 4% and pretty poorly when inflation was too much higher or lower than that. This is observational only, I don’t think there’s a theory of “why 4% is great” although there is theoretical modeling of “why 0% or lower inflation is bad”.

        Currently, we’ve had around 2% inflation, with a bias towards sub-2% inflation from institutions that can do something about it, for most of the current economic expansion. 2% is OK, but the result has been uneven economic performance and a lot of people are unhappy about the economy. How could we get to 4%? The Federal Reserve either can’t get us to 4% inflation or won’t. Fiscal policy could probably get us there, but it hasn’t and probably won’t. $15 minimum wage could possibly get us there, eventually, with some bumps along the way. $30, $50, whatever, would probably produce too much inflation, and bigger bumps.

        • lvlln says:

          I’m not sure, but I think the Fed actually has 2% as its target inflation, with a bias for staying a little under than that. They have a dual mandate for keeping inflation at that level while also minimizing unemployment. I think if their goal was just 4% inflation, they have the tools needed to achieve that. Just not the will.

          • Brad says:

            It’s worth noting that this inflation target is as decided by the FOMC, not set by the statute that they operate under. There has been some discussion by committee members that perhaps it is appropriate to revisit it.

            One proposal I thought was interesting was to change over to a target index rather than an a target rate. So, if in the first year after the policy went into effect actual observed inflation was 1.5% then the next year the fed would be targeting inflation such that it would be 2% over the two year period — that is to overshoot 2% for that next year until the economy “caught up”.

        • veeloxtrox says:

          Would you be willing to elaborate on why 0% or lower inflation is bad?

          • Brad says:

            He’s one reason: it discourages investments relative to positive inflation.

            If the inflation rate is negative why bother investing? You can just sit on your savings and come out ahead — at no risk. On the other hand if there is positive inflation just sitting on your money means it slowly goes away. You are almost compelled to invest to just keep pace.

          • John Schilling says:

            We have discussed this at length before.

            TL,DR: Inflation of 0% isn’t bad, but substantial deflation can be very bad in ways that are hard to fix, so everybody targets some small positive number just to be safe. The potential badness is, A: everybody who has substantial debts payable in nominal dollars (e.g. most homeowners and college students) finds it increasingly difficult to pay these off and, B: we lose the economic camouflage that makes economically necessary minor wage reductions palatable and C: the supply of money available for profitable investment dries up as “just stick it in a vault and wait until it is worth more” becomes the safe alternative. The last bit is the one that makes deflation hard to fix, because if you try to just print new money to generate inflation, the recipients may just stick it in vaults rather than spending it.

          • Matt M says:

            He’s one reason: it discourages investments relative to positive inflation.

            This shouldn’t be the case if the risk premium doesn’t change.

            Whether you earn -5% on cash and 5% on investments, 0% on cash and 10% on investments, or 5% on cash and 15% on investments, investments are still more attractive than cash in any of those environments.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think that’s true if there’s an inflection point in the utility curve at real zero (e.g. if loss aversion is widespread).

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Whether you earn -5% on cash and 5% on investments, 0% on cash and 10% on investments, or 5% on cash and 15% on investments, investments are still more attractive than cash in any of those environments.

            While -5% vs 5% may be equivalent to 5% vs 15% for Homo economicus, the sign change is very relevant for non-optimal, satisficing Homo sapiens

          • Matt M says:

            While -5% vs 5% may be equivalent to 5% vs 15% for Homo economicus, the sign change is very relevant for non-optimal, satisficing Homo sapiens

            So we lasted what, five minutes, before throwing our hands in the air and saying “animal spirits!?”

            I’m pretty sure the justification for investment, whether we’re talking about some middle class family putting $1000 into an index fund or whether we’re talking about ExxonMobil deciding to build a new refinery, is NOT “if we don’t do this we will lose our money to inflation.”

            Rather, they look at the real returns their investment is expected to generate and decide if the returns are worth the estimated risk. If you hold the risk premium constant, it will not come into play in this decisionmaking. The real return will be the same, therefore the evaluation criteria are the same, therefore the result does not change.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Matt M

            Yeah man, that’s what the model says so it must be correct.

            As a satisficing pleb, I for one would gladly park my money in a 5% ROI shoebox. Much easier and less stressful than doing a graduate degree’s worth of research into how to squeeze more out of it. I go along with the suspiciously simple mantra of “just buy index funds” because I can’t be arsed to do active finance and precisely because my savings would wither away under a mattress or in the shitass savings accounts on offer.

            If you hold the risk premium constant, it will not come into play in this decisionmaking.

            “If we assume a spherical cow in a vacuum…”

          • Charles F says:

            I’m pretty sure the justification for investment, whether we’re talking about some middle class family putting $1000 into an index fund […] is NOT “if we don’t do this we will lose our money to inflation.”

            That was exactly the rationale parents and teachers gave me when I was growing up. A lot of them actually said CDs were the way to go because then you could keep up with inflation without risking the stock market.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I don’t think you can create inflation simply by raising the minimum wage. I suppose you can somewhat increase the marginal propensity to consume, stoking total aggregate demand, but there needs to be a monetary base to enable that demand.

          If the Fed has a 2% inflation target, then the minimum wage absolutely cannot cause inflation, and neither can the federal government. The Fed will take actions to bring us down to 2% inflation or below the moment it goes about that level.

          Since the Fed is empowered to pay interest on reserves, it’s basically impossible to stop this. You’d need legislation to change the Fed’s powers.

          • Chalid says:

            Even in the absence of Fed compensation, minimum wage earners don’t make and spend enough to make a dent in the headline inflation rate. You might well get localized inflation in goods where they spend a disproportionate amount of money, though.

          • secondcityscientist says:

            I am willing to hear arguments about why a raised minimum wage won’t create inflation, but most anti-minimum wage arguments go the other way.

            And sure, the Federal Reserve could jack up rates to counteract the inflation but that would be quite terrible for the economy. The inflationary shock caused by $15 minimum wages would already cause some problems for the economy, but they could be smoothed over with accommodative monetary policy. If $15 minimum wages cause actual inflationary pressure and the Fed moves towards contractionary monetary policy, it would cause the moderate job losses to become widespread instead. It would be the Fed ruining the economy to keep their inflation numbers on track. I don’t have high opinions of the Fed’s public-mindedness, but even I don’t think they’re that cruel.

          • Chalid says:

            There are about 2.6 million people who make at or below minimum wage. Let’s very very generously say they all work full-time at minimum wage; then their total income is 2.6 million * 2000 hours per year * 7.25 / hour or about $38 billion dollars; this is probably too high by a factor of four or more but let’s go with it. Doubling the minimum wage costs businesses roughly another $38 billion (another overestimate). Total wages paid in the US are 8 trillion, so a very crude upper bound on the impact of doubling the minimum wage would be a one-time bump in total wages by about half a percent. Impact on inflation would be significantly less than that because of all the other components of costs (land, commodities etc) and because some of this is going to lead to reduced profits rather than pure increased prices.

            Most of the ignored factors in the above suggest that the half-percent estimate is too high. The one ignored factor that I can think of leaning in the other direction is that the estimate ignores all the people earning between the current minimum wage and the new raised minimum wage.

          • Brad says:

            Raising the minimum wage should have knock on effects on other low wages. Consider a job one level up from the lowest paid at, say, walmart. If the lowest paid moves up $2/hr and narrows the gap gap between the two jobs significantly, walmart probably has to raise that wage too. At least sooner or later.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The inflationary shock caused by $15 minimum wages would already cause some problems for the economy, but they could be smoothed over with accommodative monetary policy. If $15 minimum wages cause actual inflationary pressure and the Fed moves towards contractionary monetary policy, it would cause the moderate job losses to become widespread instead

            I don’t think this is the right way to think about it.
            No matter what, if minimum wage increases inflation, the Fed raises rates to combat inflation.

            Two scenarios:
            1. Min Wage causes a massive supply shortage in economy due to mass unemployment. Less supply, same amount of money=inflation. Economy is overheating for the new Natural Rate of Unemployment (higher because of min wage), and the Fed throttles back the supply of money.
            2. Min Wage increases demand. This doesn’t cause job losses. It causes the opposite: jobs are created as min wage employees buy up more stuff. Economy overheats, and the Fed cuts down rates.

            There’s not really a scenario where a minimum wage increase causes the Fed to become more accommodating. Especially if the Fed has a hard inflation target (which it does). The Fed is institutionally committed to controlling inflation. It has in the past, and will in the future, commit to a devastating recession if required to break inflationary expectations.

            Also, the long-term inflation rate has no real link to the unemployment level. The exception might be very low amounts of inflation, because deflation might be damaging, in a way low inflation is not.

          • secondcityscientist says:

            My model was price of labor goes up -> quantity of labor demanded goes down. This is some job losses. Automation, closure or offshoring of cheap-labor-intensive businesses.

            On the other hand, price of labor goes up -> price of labor-dependent good or service goes up. This is the inflation. Especially seen in sectors with inelastic demand and non-negotiable labor requirements.

            Additionally, there would be an increase in the amount of money low-income workers have (for the ones that still have jobs). This would increase demand for stuff they use, increasing the price levels for those goods and services. More inflation.

            I think all of these will happen if we raise the minimum wage substantially. At that point, the Fed sees a higher unemployment and also higher inflation. What do they do? Raise rates and raise unemployment? Keep rates steady and allow higher inflation? I don’t think the answer is obvious – they do have a dual mandate, after all. They are human, and in some ways we can’t predict exactly what they’ll do.

            Chalid does provide good numbers that the inflation might not be as high as I would like, but I think this bit:

            The one ignored factor that I can think of leaning in the other direction is that the estimate ignores all the people earning between the current minimum wage and the new raised minimum wage.

            is a big enough hole to drive a substantial amount of wage increases through. In addition to those people, there’s also going to be people who think “Well I need to be making more than minimum, I’m worth more than that guy” and they’ll demand a raise over and above $15.

      • albatross11 says:

        Isn’t this basically a question about why the people setting the minimum wage will set the price correctly?

        I mean, let’s suppose there is an optimal minimum wage rate for, say, Seattle. Let’s call it W*. Setting W* too high or too low means you lose some of the social value. Go below W1 and the social benefit goes to zero (or a little lower, thanks to enforcement costs). Go to W2 and the social benefit goes to zero, and above W2 the costs (lost jobs from too-high minimum wage) outweigh the benefits (more money made by minimum wage employees who have effectively had the government step in and do a kind of coerced collective bargaining on their behalf).

        An opponent of minimum wage laws might say that there is *no* minimum wage that gives a positive social benefit. But you might also oppose minimum wage laws even if you think there’s some range between W1 and W2 where there’s a social benefit, because you don’t think the authorities will do a good job keeping the minimum wage somewhere in that window. After all, in most other areas of life, putting the legislature in the business of setting prices isn’t done, and the reason it isn’t done is because they will pretty reliably suck at it.

        I mean, it’s plausible to me that you could make the world better off by setting a minimum wage at some optimal level that would improve the lot of the poorest workers a little more than it worsened the lot of the people who were priced out of having a job. But it’s sure not obvious to me why I should think the state legislature or city council or US congress will do any kind of decent job finding that level. They have neither the information nor the incentive to do a good job.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          There’s also the problem that what is optimal in Seattle will be nowhere near optimal in Topeka, because the cost of living in Topeka is somewhere around half Seattle’s. In fact, optimal in Topeka is likely to differ enough from optimal in Kansas City that, in general, we’ll want to set the optimum on a roughly per-metropolitan area basis – the area within which a minwage worker of reasonable expected means can be expected to commute.

          At that point, it makes more sense for a minwage to be set locally, if it’s going to be set at all. But at that point you may as well have each locality publish the data it would collect in order to determine an optimal minwage, and even publish what it believes to be an optimum window, and then let employers set wages as before. This would satisfy minwage opponents, since the market is still in control of the price of labor.

          So now the question becomes a matter of which data one might seek to determine this window.

    • cassander says:

      The arguments for school choice. I’m not saying there are no good arguments against it, but the ones I actually here are almost universally terrible.

    • Well... says:

      I don’t know if this counts as an argument I find “convincing” since I’ve always eaten both meat and vegetables (as long as I could chew my own solid food anyway), even without having an intellectual justification for doing so, and the argument is more of a “gotcha” against moral vegetarianism, but:

      Vegetables have their own analogs of complex nervous systems and are much closer to sentient than most people realize. The everyday acts of growing, harvesting, processing, preparing, and eating vegetables therefore might plausibly inflict much worse horrors on them than anything comparable done to animals.

      I don’t say this to mean we should only eat fallen fruit like Jainists (nor that we should only eat meat–Eskimo company excluded) but rather that we should accept that we survive only as part of an unbreakable chain of violence and predation; death and destruction in the service of life and creation and vice versa, and not get too hung up (within reason of course) on exactly what kinds of body counts or negative-utility points we’re racking up.

      • Charles F says:

        The practical utilitarian counterargument is, I think: “How were you feeding the animals that were raised for meat? If plants are going to suffer and die either way, we might as well use their calories more efficiently by eating them directly.”

        But this is interesting, so going beyond that:

        Background: I only avoid animal products because I think the conditions they’re kept in are awful. Killing them reasonably humanely is not an issue for me.

        Growing:
        I’m not really familiar with farming practices. Is there anything about modern agriculture in particular that you think is causing untold suffering to corn stalks? What sorts of signals from the plants are you looking at for evidence that this is distressing? Farmers do a lot to make sure they grow well and stay healthy, I could imagine being provided fertilizer, protection from pests, the right amount of sun and water, etc, being akin to vegetable wireheading.

        But it’s certainly possible that they have a bunch of other systems that detect overcrowding and lack of animals that would spread their seeds or other stuff that’s correlated with their flourishing that I’m not thinking of, and that those aren’t being properly stimulated and they’re miserable. What are those other systems?

        Harvesting:
        Again, I don’t know exactly how modern farming practices work. I could see this being really really awful if a plant is suddenly missing all of its fruit/seeds and treats that abnormal event as a signal that it’s doomed. I think for some plants we mulch them pretty soon after, so It’s reasonably similar to killing an animal, but leaving them in place, barren, probably also happens.

        Processing/Preparing
        I don’t think I quite believe that these complex, closer-to-sentient-than-I-realize systems exist in the fruits and vegetables that have been separated from the plant. So it seems unlikely to me that these bits matter. Correct me if this is obviously wrong.

        Eating
        I guess it’s not necessarily the case for things that don’t experience things and make decisions in the way a more sentient thing does, but since until qualia are a part of physics and we can sort systems into good and bad buckets, we don’t have a lot of really reliable ways of determining what things are plants suffering and what things are plants flourishing, I think it’s fine to apply the heuristic that we generally like things that evolution has made us like to increase our fitness to plants. Evolution made them make their fruits taste good so that they would be eaten and spread their seeds, so I’d guess they consider being eaten flourishing, and I think eating raw fruits/vegetables is morally quite safe. (Cooking them might make them suffer since being exposed to high heat is probably not correlated with spreading viable seeds, but I’m still skeptical about the almost-sentience contained in a carrot)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          You could add the category of the amount of food that gets wasted.

        • Well... says:

          One might respond to the utilitarian that the way grass or corn is bred, grown, harvested, and prepared for food livestock is relatively humane compared with the way numerous vegetables are bred, grown, harvested, and prepared for/by humans.

          There’s some variance, to be sure. A cow, as far as I know, kind of rips grass out of the ground and swallows it, then regurgitates it and chews it for a while, and if I remember right this process is repeated for one or two more cycles. I’m not sure by which point the grass plant is dead enough to not be sending or receiving distress signals.

          A sheep on the other hand neatly shears off the top of the grass, which is actually good for the grass though it might also invoke a distress signal.

          Humans, meanwhile, will breed a lettuce plant into some hideous caricature of its natural self by playing all sorts of twisted games with its offspring, then chop it from its roots, rip its leaves out one at a time, yet generally do things to keep it alive as long as possible before eating it. Experienced cooks will tear rather than cut the lettuce leaves into small pieces. Then the lettuce is usually sprinkled with a highly acidic compound before being consumed.

          I absolutely love salad, but I’m very glad I have no way to receive the signals its ingredients are sending out.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think this is a case of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. What makes you think that these “analogs” of nervous systems are comparable to our own?

        • Charles F says:

          What makes you think that only things comparable to our nervous systems have moral weight?

          • Wrong Species says:

            This opens up an entirely new potential subject but…

            My general thought process is that I know I feel pain. After this point, the certainty begins to drop. Other people around me generally look like me, act like me and have the same anatomy as me so there’s a good chance that they suffer like I do. Chimpanzees are also very similar to me so they probably can suffer to some extent. But the more dissimilar the species, the less certainty I have. And vegetables don’t have the same anatomy and obviously lack any external indication of suffering. I could fall prey to Pascal’s Mugging and never eat a vegetable for fear of causing suffering but then I would have to do a lot of other weird things too.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Seriously, what’s the big deal about pain and suffering?

            It’s possible to be in chronic pain yet still have enjoyment in life. Why aren’t the other feelings and emotions considered as per quality of life and continuance of life? Why aren’t drives in general considered? Why is it always capacity for pain/suffering (which is similar to our own)?

          • Well... says:

            @Wrong Species, whose handle is somewhat ironic in this conversation…

            Is it obvious to you when a fish is suffering? What about a clam? What about an aphid larva? If it is completely impossible to tell when these things are suffering, is it safe to conclude that they don’t suffer?

            I don’t think this is Pascal’s mugging. It seems quite plausible to me that all living things, when experiencing trauma, can be put into some kind of distress mode that is unpleasant to experience, of which human suffering is just our version. I would be much more surprised to learn that suffering is some special adaptation found only in very intelligent, high-agency species.

            Also, I think you are looking at only one possible conclusion if I am right. The conclusion you came to was that to be moral you should never eat a vegetable. (This is the conclusion the Jainists came to–points for consistency!) The other conclusion is that causing suffering to other organisms by eating them is perhaps regrettable but not automatically immoral, and so maybe you should relax and try to enjoy your cheeseburger.

          • Wrong Species says:

            What does it even mean for a being that lacks a brain or nervous system to have an “unpleasant experience”? I obviously can’t be certain but I feel pretty confident in saying that there is nothing that it is like to be a vegetable. They don’t have any kind of experience. That’s not what life means. It just means they do things like grow and reproduce. If you’re going to use an argument to justify meat eating, then you need a more compelling reason then “well, I sure feel like it would be weird if plants weren’t conscious”.

          • Well... says:

            @Wrong Species:

            Plants have systems by which they receive signals from the environment, from other organisms, etc. and the ability to send signals as well. If that isn’t a nervous system, then what is a nervous system?

          • Wrong Species says:

            A calculator can send and receive signals. Do you think it’s conscious?

            I could give a less flippant answer and we could go back and forth but it’s obvious that you don’t really even take your own argument seriously. Does the existence of plant consciousness change anything about how you interact with the world? No, you’re just using it as an excuse to justify meat eating. Given that plants don’t give external signals of consciousness, don’t have the same parts we have in providing our own consciousness and the guy who’s making the argument doesn’t even take it seriously, I don’t think I’m going to lose any sleep over the exceedingly unlikely scenario that plants are conscious beings.

            If you want to eat meat, fine. I’m not in a position to judge you. And if you don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about that, then I can’t do anything about that either. But please don’t make dishonest arguments to justify your actions.

  6. secret_tunnel says:

    Potential metaphor for the world-bending lengths to which an AI will go to accomplish a trivial task in such a way that it gets marginally more of what it wants: people reverse engineering Super Mario 64’s code and spending 12 consecutive hours holding down the analog stick in order to manipulate the game’s physics, all in the name of beating a level while pressing the jump button as few times as possible. Old-ish video, but crazy fascinating.

    • ManyCookies says:

      What is this “half button press” nonsense?

      I’ve always enjoyed the Red/Blue Pokemon speedruns, which just completely break the games in half with their glitches. A recent Any% run involves breaking a cutscene to walk through walls, then turning the items menu into a memory editor and changing their map position to the end of the game.

      • shakeddown says:

        I like the half button idea! (In case you haven’t seen it, it’s that you come into the level with it pressed, so you get the benefits of holding the button but not of pressing it). It’s a neat way to be even more minimalistic.

        • Matt M says:

          I remember the first page of the manual for EVERY N64 game had some fine-print instructions basically saying “Do not hold the analog stick in any direction or hold a button down when you power on the device”, seemingly for this exact reason

          • eyeballfrog says:

            Holding down a button doesn’t lead to any problems, but holding the control stick causes that to be set as “neutral” for the control stick. This can be fixed by unplugging the controller and plugging it back in, or by pressing L+R+Start to reset the neutral position.

      • beleester says:

        Literally 12 seconds into the video, he explains what a “half button press” is and why it makes sense to count that way.

      • DrBeat says:

        What is this “half button press” nonsense?

        Whatever you say, T. J. “Henry” Yoshi.

    • Anonymous says:

      What the fuck did I just watch?

  7. Shion Arita says:

    The post about the minimum-A-press Mario runs led me down a bit of a rabbit hole that led to me learning something interesting:

    In the past, a significant source of computer errors was due to chip packaging materials containing trace amounts of radioactive isotopes. The emitted alpha particles could interact with memory cells and flip bits. The amount of radioactivity required to cause significant errors is very small: chip materials have to be made to have alpha emission rates a few orders of magnitude lower than ‘normal’ materials. It took a while and quite a bit of effort to figure out that these alpha particles were the cause of this error.

    When the source of the problem was identified, someone realized that Isaac Asimov predicted and wrote about the phenomenon in The Caves of Steel, where a robot is taken out by an alpha emitter randomizing data in its brain. The person wrote to Asimov and congratulated him on his prediction.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      Asimov Isaac was of course driven to think through such grave dangers because he was one of us recognized they could seriously impede future paperclip production.

  8. johan_larson says:

    I’ve written a short essay about a question of morality that has long troubled me:

    One of the charges that’s sometimes leveled at atheists and agnostics is that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing because ultimately they don’t have any reason to fear consequences when they do wrong. If no one’s watching, the thinking goes, people steal. For believers there is always Someone watching but for unbelievers, there isn’t. Therefore unbelievers cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

    My answer is here. Comments are welcome, both here and there.

    Also, I can’t believe I’m the first to come up with this argument. What long-dead thinker did it first?

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Yeah, I think I’ve read similar arguments, but can’t point to any. The general form would be that many emotional motivations and behavioral compulsions (e.g. “duty”) exist in many people without having been trained into them solely by religion. The danger is in those people who do have their various senses of obligation trained/reinforced into them from a predominantly religious point-of-view. These people have a hard time transitioning to atheism, having to relearn basics that most of us learned areligiously as small children.

      My own, very personal answer to the original charge:

      Periodically (on the order of daily, and sometimes multiple times per day) I’ll get an intrusive thought (a flashback – specifically an emotional flashback as my wife pointed out, having researched the topic) of a time when I did something that harmed another, or was embarrassing, or was against the moral code that exists in my head, or just involved interactions with other people that I found unpleasant due to some behavior on my part. I’ll feel immediately bad feelings (toward self usually, sometimes in general) and often physically or verbally react to the image (as people with PTSD-flashbacks do).

      This is a psychologically painful experience. It is a petite hell occurring on an approximate daily basis. I avoid various circumstances which can cause new flashback-worthy moments when possible (though still interact quite a bit with the world and with other people; I’m not a hermit).

      Religious people can always come to god before it’s too late (or so they think) – and hey, some of their groups even laud those who preach about how horrible they were, which is an incentive to be a redeemed sinner; I’ve got no such release-valve.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      This seems more like an empirical question more than a philosophical one tbh.

      If religion promotes pro-social behavior, or irreligion promotes anti-social behavior, they should logically come from the extent to which one practices religion. Church attendance seems like a good proxy for that and is well-studied. So why not trawl the literature and see what shakes out?

      I’ll reply to this comment once I get out of work and can find a meta-analysis or review on the subject.

      • rlms says:

        Yes, the obvious answer is that atheists do do the right thing approximately as frequently as theists, because both of them are motivated largely by evolutionary impulses and cultural influences.

        • albatross11 says:

          In order to know whether atheists and religious people do the right thing at the same or different rates, we must first define what “the right thing” is. And we probably need to decide how to define atheists and religious people. But you could imagine trying to answer this question empirically. (You’d also have to worry about confounders–atheists tend to be more educated and ethnically distinct from theists in the US, for example, and race/ethnicity and education both correlate with crime rate.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m not convinced church attendance is a very good surrogate for religiousness.

        I’d really like to see a survey about whether people have had major decisions about sex and/or money affected by their religion.

        • Evan Þ says:

          According to the statistics, self-styled Christians who regularly attend church have a much lower divorce rate than those who don’t.

          I don’t have a link, but I seem to recall another survey showing that those who have a Biblical worldview – as measured by their answers to several theological questions – have an even lower divorce rate.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The question is more about whether religion makes them good people, not whether it makes them act like good people. Imagine that we had two identical groups of people except in one difference in their religion. One of them says it’s permissible to strangle their children and the other thinks it’s taboo. Surely enough, the first group has far higher rates of child strangulation. While the first group is “worse” at morality, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s because they are worse people. It’s just that they have different incentives than the latter group.

        The sophisticated religious argument is something like religion helps society build up these pro-social civilizations. Thanks to inertia, a religious society that goes to secular may still have people who do good things. But without the fear of God, people will eventually cheat the social contract and society will gradually degenerate.

        • Deiseach says:

          The question is more about whether religion makes them good people, not whether it makes them act like good people.

          Is there a difference? I’m seeing a lot going around lately of a meme which says “Good isn’t what you are, it’s what you do”.

          I do think there is a difference between being someone who is internally converted, to use that phrase, and someone only acting in a certain manner, but there does seem to be a notion floating about that you don’t have to be “good” (as defined by social grouping) as long as you do good (mostly it’s younger people with the idea that yeah, so V drinks and swears and sleeps around but at least V is out there doing things to help people while you just preach about being good and act holier-than-thou but don’t really do anything).

          • Wrong Species says:

            I would say that doing good is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being good. If you’re only doing good because everyone else is doing good and don’t actually believe it yourself, then you’re probably not going to be good if the incentives change.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I’ll reply to this comment once I get out of work and can find a meta-analysis or review on the subject.

        I’m bad at pre-committing to things. If it helps, I spent that time working on a really kick-ass BECMI retroclone.

        Anyway, I found a promising criminology meta-analysis here which claims that religiousity has a moderate deterrent effect (r = -.12) on crime. I swear I’ll actually read past the abstract once I’ve gotten some of my real work done.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I read the argument you made there as being that atheists can be trustworthy because they may have a sense of duty, where duty is not dependent on theist belief. I see this as a special case of the general notion that everyone possesses enlightened self interest. It might manifest as any rationalization from basic drives, including duty.

      I’m not aware of any specific sources I can cite. I suspect Sam Harris addresses this somewhere in The Moral Landscape. I think he’s far from the only one, but this is the first work that occurred to me.

      I skimmed the SEP article on atheism and agnosticism. There’s a section there on the argument against them, but it’s discusses solely in terms of abstract logic.

      The notion that atheists cannot be trustworthy due to lacking faith sounds like it comes out of memeville. To wit, someone expresses fear at atheists’ reliability because there’s no root set down, no faith in a higher power. There’s a common meme I’ve seen around that responds with similar fear in theists, because their sense of right and wrong relies solely on faith in a higher power, and that the only reason this theist or that doesn’t steal, rape, or kill is because they think some entity the rest of us can’t see is telling them not to. I admit to being mildly amused at the latter, since in the end, the members of both groups admit to being compelled to good behavior by something invisible.

    • Well... says:

      I saw this argument a lot back when I was an atheist and used to waste hours of my life I’ll never get back debate the existence of God with strangers on the internet. My response then, if I remember right, was that people either like to do good things or don’t, (though fortunately we often do), and we use faith or empathy or whatever else to justify it afterwards.

      I still think that’s often true even though I’m no longer an atheist.

      I think the critique is actually legitimate though, if you replace “atheist” with “nihilist” (in the modern sense).

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Out of curiosity what are you now, and what were you before you were an atheist (if there was a before)? Any broad strokes in your philosophical evolution you’d care to mention?

        I’m not looking for a debate, or even a discussion, just genuinely curious.

        • Well... says:

          I was an atheist from as early as I can remember until about age 27. Broadly speaking, I came to believe in the God of my people (“YHVH”). There was no drama in it; after going back and reading the Torah for a few months, I was doing some mundane task one day–cleaning dishes or some such thing–quietly realized I believed in God.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Your argument isn’t good for two reasons. The first is that you point out that atheists can do good things without a belief in God. Religious people don’t necessarily deny that. Like Nabil says, this is more of an empirical question. Another is that you mention Christianity is common in prisons. Of course, we don’t actually know if that’s true because you didn’t give any evidence. But that wouldn’t surprise a Christian if it were true. Why? Because in the same way that you are more likely to hear someone preach at you to be healthy at a hospital, you’re more likely to hear someone preach the benefits of religion to people who need it the most. Why would that be surprising?

      • Anonymous says:

        Another is that you mention Christianity is common in prisons. Of course, we don’t actually know if that’s true because you didn’t give any evidence.

        It is true in the sense that there are many Christians in prison, in a Christian-majority country. It is not true in the sense that they are overrepresented or even evenly represented. In fact, in the United Kingdom, Christians are underrepresented (48.5% of prisoners, versus 61.3% of general population), while the irreligious are overrepresented (30.5% of prisoners, versus 24.1% of general population).

        Source: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN04334/SN04334.pdf

  9. Levantine says:

    Scott Alexander, July 3.: “A recent question I got from some people who might be able to affect policy on the matter eg advise various companies – is partisan polarization on social media a problem? If so, what would be the most effective ways that social media companies might be able to help fight it?”
    http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/03/ot79-open-road/#comment-518121

    Cialdini: “Influence”: Ch. 5 (midsection “Off to Camp” …) describes practices that have helped diminish conflicts between groups. Translated to social media setting, such practices might go like this:
    You, the social media company, receive a user’s report (complaint) against another user; you take a look, see a conflict for which you’re disinclined to decide ‘right versus wrong’ … and then block most functions for the reported and the the people who have reported them, until they together execute a task. The task should be designed that its execution must depend on cooperation from each participant in the online conflict.

    Its execution could be online (a combination of online and real life might be even better; the company could create some form of reality shows ….).

    The above design needs refinement, and later modifications (evolutionary), of course. What I’m doing is just pointing to – let me see – Sherif et al. (1961) showing that “imposition of common goals” (Cialdini) on the conflicted groups reduces reduced conflicts effectively.

    • Jiro says:

      Under this system, nobody would ever report a stalker.

      Also, some people (such as trolls with throwaway accounts) don’t mind being blocked as long as their target is blocked too.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wouldn’t mind if the social media moderators did take a look, but what seems to be happening is Aggrieved Genuine Person/Troll says “this user posted distressing hurtful stuff, I’m reporting them to get them blocked”, Mindless Drone/Algorithm on the other end automatically blocks that user without ever looking to see “Okay, yeah, they really said Hitler didn’t go far enough”, user then has to jump through sixteen hoops to get their “Fancy Cake Icing Techniques” blog or Facebook page back up.

      Imagine a gang like the internal Googlers all calling for the head on a pike of someone, and all agreeing that they’d issue multiple complaints and calls for blocking on the account of someone in disfavour, even if it was only “Fancy Cake Icing” account. If I were confident someone, some real human, would check to see “Did Fancy Cakes really say black people should be re-enslaved?”, I’d agree – but I think we know that wouldn’t happen, it would end up with an algorithm blocking on the basis of “N number of complaints were received so this must be true” – and it’s very easy to get N number of people to agree to make a complaint in order to “punch a Nazi”.

      • Levantine says:

        some people (such as trolls with throwaway accounts) don’t mind being blocked as long as their target is blocked too.

        Solution might be, if someone apparently doesn’t mind being blocked, his complaint is ignored.

        it would end up with an algorithm blocking on the basis of “N number of complaints were received so this must be true”

        I completely agree about that problem. Hence, my suggestion excludes that kind of response.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          How would you determine that someone doesn’t mind being blocked?

          The setup we’re dealing with here is a throwaway account, where it’s going to establish some minimum activity (developed through trial and error) to “prove” it’s not just a fake account, then report the person it’s targeting. The “work together” system kicks in, and the throwaway account doesn’t respond, and probably never logs in again.

          You can maybe say “ok, they’re not logging in or doing stuff, they’re not a real account”, but how do you distinguish that from “they’re blocked, can’t do anything on the platform, and thus see no point in logging in”?

          You could maybe have the ban be for a fixed amount of time, and it can be sped up by accomplishing a task together (so if the throwaway never participates, the other banned user eventually comes back), but that seems like a fundamentally different system. And I’m not sure there’s a great optimal time. Too short, and the legitimate disagreeing users just throw out the ban. Too long, and the troll can easily turn it into a permanent ban by prepping a new account in the meantime, since after all he only has to do it every X months/years.

  10. Matt M says:

    Here’s one from reason combining two things we’ve recently debated: Cost disease AND “streetcars versus buses”

  11. Anonymous says:

    OK, so it’s possible to breed chickens to grow about twice as quick to be about twice as large, inside of twenty years. Similarly, it is possible to breed silver foxes to dog-like domestication inside of ten generations (roughly ten years). (There are probably other such examples of unnatural selection, and I would be pleased to hear about them.)

    I wonder if it’s possible to breed chickens twice as large (not by mass, but by height/volume), without either government or commercial backers. Like, on a family farm.

    Any applied geneticists around?

    • baconbacon says:

      I’m not sure of the question.

      Is it “can you take the same stock from 50 years ago and breed a chicken 2X as large on a family farm”

      or is it

      “can you take current super chickens and make them 2x as large on a family farm”

      • J Mann says:

        I think Anonymous is asking whether they can breed a race of superchickens on their family farm, starting today from current stock and ending with chickens 4x as large as 50 years ago.

        It’s either a thought experiment about the limits of selective breeding and genetics or the first step in a plan of super-villainy.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Yeah- if it’s the former, the answer is probably yes, if you’re careful and clever and have enough stock. For the latter, the genetic diversity has already been “mined” for the high-growth alleles, and you won’t be able to generate enough mutations or find enough rare alleles to make that significant a jump again in only 20 years of breeding.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yeah, but I’m optimizing for different things. I’m going for overall size, while the commercial endeavours were aimed at producing birds that grow fast and heavy in muscle.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Can you, with funding available to a family farm and starting from today’s stock, raise chickens that are twice as tall, in under 20 years?”

          • baconbacon says:

            Actually, maybe if you were just gunning for a single trait like height, and had significant funding to put towards it.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why do you think so?

          • baconbacon says:

            Selective breeding is a numbers game with two basic parameters. The number of generations and the size of each generation. If a factory farm is pumping out 10,000 chicks each generation in their breeding program and you are raising 100 in yours they are going to start each successive generation with larger mating pairs than you are. There is just no way to achieve the same level of success in the same time period with that many fewer combinations tried.

            Also current chickens have already been partially selected for height as much as it correlates to putting on weight. A lot of alleles that would promote tall and skinny chickens (probably what you would end up with if you selected for height alone) have been bread out of the gene pool pretty aggressively. If you want to breed tall chickens you should probably be looking for wild/ancient stock as much as possible and going from there.

          • Anonymous says:

            Ancient wild stock, huh? I’ll look into that. Good idea!

    • Jaskologist says:

      Mutations are a numbers game, so it’s possible for it to happen on a family farm, but it gets a lot more likely the more chickens you throw at the problem.

      • johan_larson says:

        It would also help to increase the rate of mutation. But then you’re into radiation, mutagenic chemicals, rubber gloves and respirators, so the invitation to join “Mad Scientists for a Better Tomorrow” should be arriving any day.

        • J Mann says:

          Asking for a friend – if you did want to increase the rate of chicken mutations on a family farm in a way that increased your chance of breeding turkey sized chickens, is there a practical way to do that?

          My understanding is that back in the 60s, innovations like pink grapefruit came from literally irradiating seeds then seeing what happened. (I imagine a Jack Kirby style ray gun like the one Peter Parker and that spider saw in his original origin story, but probably nothing so cool).

          • Loquat says:

            This may be a stupid question, but if you want turkey-sized chickens, why not just raise turkeys?

            If you want to be a mad scientist about it, you could try to breed turkeys that taste like chicken.

        • baconbacon says:

          Most of selective breeding isn’t novel mutations, its combinations of alleles.

      • Anonymous says:

        Mmm. Yes. But then, raising chickens in itself is at least marginally profitable, so it’s not like I couldn’t just scale up.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Maybe you should first breed for a shorter life cycle, to speed up future selective breeding projects?

    • Brad says:

      Based on this comment I went and read the wikipedia article on red junglefowl (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_junglefowl) but one thing I’m unclear about is what exactly is domesticated about the chicken? I get it for dogs, horses, or even cows, but what behaviorally does a chicken do or not do that makes it suitable for use as a livestock that the junglefowl doesn’t?

      • Anonymous says:

        Junglefowl don’t produce eggs year-round. They lay one or two (sometimes, if the original eggs are lost) clutches, typically 4-7 eggs yearly.

      • Well... says:

        Chickens are just lizards. Big dead fat lizards that aren’t especially appealing lying there on your dinner table (unless of course they’ve been chopped up and fried by The Colonel or simmered in a creamy, buttery Indian sauce).

      • keranih says:

        Laying chickens lay early, they lay many eggs, they lay large eggs, and they are tolerant of large groups of each other and are relatively easily socialized with humans.

        Meat chickens have much the same temperament (if not better) and also have much higher rates of lay than junglefowl but are specifically specialized for body shape and rate of growth.

    • keranih says:

      I wonder if it’s possible to breed chickens twice as large (not by mass, but by height/volume), without either government or commercial backers. Like, on a family farm.

      …leaving aside entirely the lack of definition of “family farm”…the general rule is that you can make about a 1% improvement on a closed herd/flock of 100 animals per year. So in ten years you could have a 10% increase in whatever trait you were looking for.

      That’s by focusing on one trait, though. Height and weight are linked, but are not the same trait. And height is not health, nor fertility, nor color. If you want attention paid to any of those, you will slow the impact on the primary trait.

      There is a reason why people who do this “professionally” use large animal groups. However, if it take nine months to get a baby from a woman, it does not follow that using three women you can get a baby in three months.

      Having said that about professionals – the top egg laying *duck* is the Khaki Campbell, which is a mallard type developed by a hobby breeder. They can outlay most commercial chickens if properly managed with light. (Top meat ducks are pekin types from China.)

  12. Deiseach says:

    A guide for the tourist to the exotic and impenetrable dialect of Dublinese 🙂

  13. HFAMaximizer says:

    Concluding a rational discussion

    This post is inspired by https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/6rjhja/argument_by_consensus_results/

    I personally believe that all sides of a rational discussion need to conclude it properly. They need to learn something from the discussion, either agree to agree or agree to disagree. If people don’t agree nor do they agree to disagree the discussion is not properly concluded. Furthermore one should not leave when their arguments are refuted. They either need to refute the counterarguments or concede that they made a mistake. We all make mistakes and mistakes do not show that we are stupid.

    • Mark says:

      I agree.

      I think you should also be be allowed to call “nitpick”, though.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      “They either need to refute the counterarguments or concede that they made a mistake.”

      Would, “I’m sorry but I’m having great difficulty forming my thoughts into words and putting it down in writing, but I still disagree with you and believe I have good reason to do so.” be acceptable?

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        This should be acceptable. However this indicates that the discussion isn’t over. The person is still obliged to return to the discussion and offer the reasons within a reasonable amount of time.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Sorry, can’t do. My connection to others in a social sphere is too tenuous to come back consistently.

          • HFARationalist says:

            That’s fine. Then you probably should state that you can’t be back for reasons unrelated to the rational discussion.

          • Charles F says:

            Weren’t you going to quit switching names?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Charles F I think HFAMaximizer is hellbanned for unknown reasons.

            I intentionally leave “HFA” static so that everyone knows who I am.

          • Nornagest says:

            SSC doesn’t have a hellban. If HFAM is being ignored, it’s because people are seeing the account’s posts and choosing to ignore them.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest I can no longer post as HFAM without Scott ever banning me in a thread as far as I know. So yeah the term hellban isn’t accurate.

          • Nornagest says:

            If Scott had banned you, he would have put up one of those ominous posts in bold red and added you to the register of bans in Comments. (Exceptions apply for bots and Sidles alts, but you are neither.) He hasn’t. Scott therefore hasn’t banned you.

            What might have happened is you tripping WordPress’s automatic spam management. That’s an automated process that Scott has no control over, but it’s executed on a post-by-post basis. The exact criteria for a bad post are opaque to me but seem to include posting lots of links.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I don’t see you on the list of bans, so yeah, you probably angered the spam filter.

  14. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    I have some a lot of free work time at the moment. I understand that some of you sort of like long somewhat nerdy descriptions about topics other people might find boring, so I decided to put together a bit about Accounts Receivable functions.

    I didn’t cover even the bare essentials, so if there’s any interest, I’ll probably type some more up at some other point this week. In the future, I might go into some specifics for my industries, and general business pitfalls and issues.

    So background for the SSC reader:
    Business customers rarely pay for product when received. Supply chains are conducted entirely cash-free, with money billed and collected far, far away from the actual employees working manufacturing lines, maintaining critical infrastructure, or driving cargo-filled trucks. Wal-Mart doesn’t want to stop working just to sign a check for their delivery guy, after all.

    Often times, the general public doesn’t even pay at the point of sale. Ever go to a doctor’s office and receive a bill later? Same general concept.

    These unpaid sales are called “Accounts Receivable.” They are considered assets to the company since the company can reasonably expect to collect. Since companies expect to get money soon, it is considered a “Current Asset,” similar to cold hard cash.

    Often times, Accounts Receivable (A/R) can be a huge chunk of a company’s current assets. For example, GM has $76 million in current assets, of which $31.7 million is A/R. That’s more than inventory and cash combined.

    So, A/R is a big function for companies and one of the major Accounting groups. It’s typically considered lower-tier than practically all other Accounting functions (Except Accounts Payable, which is NOT the same as Accounts Receivable, and irritates us to no end when we are mistaken for the other), but still is important to ensure the company can collect cash, prevent fraud, and keep books in order.

    I will refer to A/R in two fashions: as the asset, and as the department responsible for collecting that asset. This matches the business lexicon, so it’s how I naturally speak. I apologize for any confusion this may cause.

    I’ll dive next into day-to-day functions. I like to divide our day-to-day functions into the two big Cs: Cash and Collections.

    For purposes of this exercise, I’ll be considering a hypothetical company “Rearden Steel”. I have no experience with the steel industry specifically, so my descriptions of activities may not reflect actual industry standards.

    Cash Application:
    Most customers pay bills promptly and correctly. There’s nothing worse than irritating a reliable customer with questions about their check, only to find out that the check went missing. A/R is responsible for “applying” cash from the bank account to the actual bills on a patient’s account.

    This all moves through web applications. These apps will create profiles for each individual customer account or invoice. Within each customer account will typically contain information on each individual invoice. It will also information on each “unapplied” check, where “unapplied” checks are checks available to apply against a customer invoice.

    (Terminology note: “Invoice” means “bill.” They typically will have a unique ID, to enable searching in our systems. Here is an example, with the Invoice Number in the top right corner:
    https://acme.invoicehome.com/assets/invoice_templates/en/invoice/1-3aee116beb4c75ca9d23a8827c76b87cca15df15b5902a4635294db92611c09b.png)

    So, consider our A/R Accountant for Rearden Steel. He will navigate to a web browser, and pull up a web application much like this:
    http://www.gsiaccountingapps.com/sites/default/files/images/products/features/FeaturedImage1_0.png

    This web application will actively pull all data from the ledger. The A/R accountant will navigate to the account for Taggart Transcontinental Railroad and see that Rearden Steel is owed $100,000 for certain steel deliveries made in July. He will also see if Taggart has then paid the $100,000 in August.

    (Terminology note: In common parlance, “ledger” translates roughly to “the books.” As in “the books are balanced.”)

    From there, the A/R accountant will navigate to another web application that allows cash application. It may look a lot like this:(you can see the “Cash Posting” description on the active tab) :
    http://www.rinax.ca/assets/images/accounts-receivable.jpg

    The A/R accountant will select Taggart Transcontinental’s $100,000 check, and apply it to the $100,000 charge from July. This will clear both items from the A/R web applications, and automatically perform the following journal entry in the background:

    Debit | Credit
    A/R 100,000 A/R 100,000

    Nerd Note: in our system, “Unapplied Cash” is not a separate account. All unapplied cash is automatically journaled into the A/R. This should be considered identical to the following:

    Debit | Credit
    Unapplied Cash 100,000 A/R 100,000

    In my mind, unapplied cash should be considered a liability, similar to an overpayment, not an asset. It’s money that you cannot verify is actually owed to your company, and therefore you may need to return to it the customer.

    ( Terminology Note: “Journal Entry,” “Debit,” and “Credit” are all terms in the double-entry book-keeping method. Describing it is beyond the scope of this comment. Double-entry book-keeping was developed during the Renaissance and is currently the foundation for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. It helps immensely in reconciling accounts and preventing fraud.
    A short description can be found at Wikipedia:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-entry_bookkeeping_system )

    As all journal entries are effectively automated, A/R accountants can know very little about the basics of accounting. This means that I, an Economics Major, can perform the job relatively well. It also means my prior supervisor did not fully understand the difference between a debit and a credit (which is fundamental to accounting).

    Thankfully, most customers will provide a “remittance advice” that tells the A/R accountant how to apply a check. This is sort of like a more intense version of the “memo” line on your check. They will look like this:

    http://www.docspile.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Remittance-Templates-297854.png

    Hopefully, these numbers will tie out to the actual invoices on the account, and the check can be applied correctly.

    Failing in cash application is called “misapplication” and can be difficult to untangle. There are two varieties of possible application errors.

    Wrong Account: Rearden Steel may have received a check from Canadian National Railway, and placed it on the account of Canadian Pacific Railway. Thankfully, this is typically well-controlled. Companies have set routing and account numbers, which allows us to apply payment to the correct account.

    Wrong Invoice: Unfortunately, this is much more frequent. Business customers typically have many, many charges on their account. For example, Rearden Steel may have filled the following, separate orders for Taggart Transcontinental:

    -$50,000 rolling stock Missouri Line June 2017
    -$70,000 steel cars New York June 2017
    -$200,000 Rearden Steel rolling stock John Galt Line July 2017
    -$60,000 bridge steel Arizona July 2017

    If Taggart Transcontinental sends a check of $130,000 with no remittance advice, our A/R accountant may apply it to the bridge steel and steel cars (they add up to $130,000 after all). However, it may very well be a $50,000 for the backdated Missouri rolling stock, and $80,000 first installment for the Rearden steel stock (a reasonable 40% within the first 2 weeks of delivery).

    System error: There are also problems with various web applications not communicating properly, or missed transactions. Rearden Steel will receive a file (typically EDI-820) from Midas Mulligan Bank at the end of every business day, detailing the checks received from the prior day. This is then scrubbed and staged for loading in the Rearden Steel system. Any changes in format or interruption in the data-feed can cause a file to file entirely or load any partial data. Duplication is also not unknown.

    Transposition errors, changes in delimiters, or changes in fields may also cause errors in the cash app system: for example, the check number may show up as a check amount, and the check routing number may show up as the check cut date.

    In this case, the data in the Accounts Receivable system will be incorrect, and the A/R accountant will have to flag company IT to fix the problem. This is where reconciliation work is handy, but that’s something to cover later.

    As many have probably guessed, much cash application has been automated over the years. Algorithms are generally smart enough to deal with simple matches, like “$100,000 payment with certain identifies is applied to $100,000 bill under certain conditions.” Match rates can vary from 50% up to 98%, depending on the industry.

    In my last position, there were 48 different passes the system performed to apply cash, each matching on 5-6 different criteria. A lot of thought gets put into how to automate this process

    Digression: I worked for a Fortune 50 company that had a data transmission halt, and restart, in the same night. This company received somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 payments daily. This caused a $200 million variance in our system. Our IT team could not figure out which transactions were duplicated. Thankfully I had enough knowledge in Excel to identify duplicated transactions (non-trivial, as there are a surprising number of companies that simply duplicate their payment IDs and payment amounts), but this may have been quite a challenge for the other people on my team.

    Hopefully this gives a basic idea behind cash app. Typically, it’s regarded as boring drudgery. Virtually every A/R accountant I talk to is sick of dealing with unapplied cash every day.

    • bean says:

      Interesting. Thanks for doing this.
      One nitpick:

      For example, GM has $76 million in current assets, of which $31.7 million is A/R. That’s more than inventory and cash combined.

      Either they have $76 million in net assets, or this is just wrong somehow. I suspect GM’s office supply asset category is more than $76 million.

      • GMHowe says:

        Should be $76 billion. To save space large values often have the final three zeroes truncated in financial statements.

        http://www.nasdaq.com/symbol/gm/financials?query=balance-sheet

      • SamChevre says:

        Just a note–current assets is a much much much smaller number than net assets. Current assets are cash-like–cash, paper, bills, accounts receiveable–basically, they are expected to be converted into cash within a year, at their current valuation. Office supplies, buildings, investments in equities and bonds and buildings–none of those are current assets.

        • Matt M says:

          Not to get too nitpicky here, but my instinct is that office supplies would be a current asset because you expect to use them up within a year. Office equipment would be a long-term asset with an estimated useful life.

          • SamChevre says:

            Hmm. I’m an actuary, not an accountant, so I might be wrong–but I thought that current assets had to be converted to cash within the current year.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Office supplies, if categorized as an asset, would be a Current Asset, like inventory.

            Usually they aren’t significant, and they are really short-term, so they are just expensed whenever they are purchased.

            For non-accounting nerds, if Ford bought $1 billion in steel for their cars, that would be classified as an asset. If Ford bought $10 million in pens, it wouldn’t even on the balance sheet. They’d just say “We made $180 million revenue, let’s take out the $10 million in pens and call it $170 million,” and you’d never hear about the pens again.

            Note: I am not in charge of the balance-sheet, so I might be wrong about that….

          • Deiseach says:

            I imagine it depends on the consumable if you’re going to do consumables accounting; if you’re talking about office supplies, it’s not worth the effort of recording “we have six reams of paper left at the end of the year” as an asset (stock taking is a different matter) for the balance sheet. If you’re talking about “we have a warehouse full of binder agent for making our pharmaceuticals”, it’s a different matter – though that’s stock, really, not consumables as such.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Bookmarking this; I imagine there are other primers on A/R out there, but this one’s readable, informative, and here. Looking forward to more.

    • Deiseach says:

      This is very relevant to my interests, since as part of my clerical work I have to tidy up the lack of keeping track of invoices for another centre, and I’m sure I pestered the life out of one of our suppliers’ Accounts Receivable department haggling over “you guys say we owe this balance but by our accounts we’re in credit” (they were right, but it was only when I got copies of the missing invoices and matched them to our payments that I got it straightened out).

      So it’s good to see how it works from the other side! 🙂

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yup, A/R should be courteous to our partners, because a lot of times the invoice wasn’t sent…or was sent incorrectly/missing backup/etc. I have as many arguments with our billing department as I do with our customers!

        You guys tend to have a different mindset from us. Much more process controlled. Sometimes we have to go through our A/P to try to refund a customer, and it’s annoying how many different forms we have to fill out, and how many steps we have to take to verify the money is actually legitimate.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s easier if everyone keeps track of the paperwork, and we have a pretty good software accountancy package that really helps us match orders to payments, but all too often it tends to go:

          (a) People in the other centre order stuff
          (b) Stuff arrives
          (c) Delivery notes/pro-forma invoices/maybe even actual invoices are included
          (d) Packaging all goes in the bin, including any paperwork
          (e) Supplier sends out letter/email “Hey, about that bill you never paid”
          (f) Us (well, usually me) – okay, we never got a bill, what you mean we owe you money? Them – we did too send you a bill and you do too owe us money
          (e) Me to people in other centre: “Hey guys, did you by any chance get an invoice with that delivery?” People in other centre: “Uh – I dunno, all the packaging is in the bin?”
          (f) Me: D’oh! *write grovelling email to supplier apologising and if it isn’t too much trouble could they send us a copy of the invoice and we’ll pay it this month, cross our hearts and hope to die?*

          🙂

    • Spookykou says:

      I work in a hub with the people who input our invoices to be forwarded for payment, and it is shocking to me how bad we(or at least the admins who work here) are at it, and how accepting our vendors seem to be. I also work for a fortune 50 company, and maybe the weight of our name keeps people doing business with us, but we regularly owe 50-100k(outside of our 45 day payment terms) to a vendor, who is probably only bringing in 2-3m a year.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, having a really big name lets companies get away with just about anything because

        1. Everyone desperately wants your business (and more of it)
        2. They’re confident that if you’re late, it’s just standard slow bureaucracy stuff, and not that you’re secretly trying to stiff them or are about to go out of business

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh God, trying to keep straight (a) our suppliers claim we didn’t pay them (b) did we pay them? (c) did they issue an invoice and is that why we didn’t pay them? (d) did you, the person in our centres who ordered this stuff, keep the invoice and forward it to me so we could pay them? (e) actually we did pay them, the screw-up is on their end (f) no really, look, here’s the copy of the cheque (it’s a rule that we make photocopies of all cheques and corresponding invoices and keep them together so we have concrete evidence of what got paid when) – yeah, an awful lot of time goes just on plain “that got mislaid somewhere in the pile”.

        We pay end-of-the-month, so if a statement hasn’t been issued by then, or there’s more invoices that aren’t on that statement, they roll over into the next month. I imagine a lot of companies have running totals like that. And yeah, there are companies (even big names) that do deliberately pay late just to squeeze that last drop out of the turnip.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        There’s a lot of stuff slipping through the cracks ( like Deiseach mentioned), but I suspect a lot of huge companies hold payments as long as possible. I know my mother’s company explicitly does this, and I know in my last company management wanted to do something similar but was talked out of it. Apparently not paying children’s hospitals or something might be a PR disaster? *roll eyes*

        Here’s an article about it:
        https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-09-30/big-companies-don-t-pay-their-bills-on-time
        Wal-Mart DPO (days payable outstanding) has risen from 35 days to 38 days in the last year.

        For non-business people, 3 days is a huge deal. If a large customer paid us 3 days late at my previous company, it would be escalated to the CFO. Companies that paid late routinely were escalated to a Corporate Director about 2 steps down from the CFO (or 4 steps up from me).

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          One customer dealt a near deathblow to my previous company by going from “net 30” to “net 90”. It necessitated a very large loan from myself in order to make our payroll. (Another customer finished us off later, and I now have to figure out how to report this loss on my current tax return.)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I had experience with B. Dalton’s being late with payments, including having a bunch of rules about how an invoice had to be submitted– and if it wasn’t just right, there was another long wait.

          I was full of self-pity because I thought they were skunking me because I was a small business. Then I found out that they were doing the same thing to the air conditioner repair companies and the publishers.

          I also had a revelation. B. Dalton’s claimed they were having trouble with their computers., but Land’s End could pack up boots and mail them in a few days, which has got to be harder than sending a check.

          Eventually I came up with a special price for Obnoxious Large Companies, though I was only dealing with one of them. They never noticed.

          Maybe I’m missing something, but I think they deserved to go bankrupt.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Many years ago, we had a business consultant with decades of experience tell us that companies will go far out of their way to justify waiting as long as possible to cut an actual check. I believe him, but it doesn’t always make sense. As you say, Land’s End and other retailers will tend to ship material goods promptly. Why? If they don’t, customers will go elsewhere. They will delay a check as long as possible. Why won’t their suppliers go elsewhere?

            This gives me the impression that the market for suppliers is substantially smaller than for retail. But I’m not sure that’s the only factor at work. Maybe Beta Guy can speak more to this.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            This gives me the impression that the market for suppliers is substantially smaller than for retail. But I’m not sure that’s the only factor at work. Maybe Beta Guy can speak more to this.

            Beyond my area of expertise. I would guess that suppliers are more locked into customers than customers are locked into suppliers (depending on the industry). A customer might be able to conclude a new contract with a new supplier relatively quickly.

            A supplier without customers immediately lined up is in a desperate cash position. A company that loses a supplier may not be in such a bad position, still having inventory and other stuff to sell. Also, switching out customers may entail serious changes in your production model. So, all businesses are desperately afraid of losing business.

            My other guess is that many B2B customers/wholesalers are actually larger than their relevant suppliers. So, like, Wal-Mart is huge, way bigger than almost all of their suppliers.

    • Chalid says:

      Thank you very much for writing this!

      How big are the teams needed to handle A/R?

      Are there ways for a company to manipulate the total A/R numbers that it reports to investors?

      How time-sensitive is the work? Does a company have to get everything reconciled by the end of business, or can it let things slip for a while? Is there a “crunch time” around when company financials are released?

      It’s typically considered lower-tier than practically all other Accounting functions

      What are the high-tier accounting functions? What drives the hierarchy? Perceived level of skill required?

      • Matt M says:

        I can’t remember the specifics, but my accounting professor in grad school was absolutely insistent that A/R was one of the easiest and most likely places that a company could hide something and engage in all sorts of shenanigans…

        Something to do with how they are recognized. And how you can change your assumptions from one cycle or another which affects your numbers and the change will be buried in the fine print.

        So if you’re having a bad quarter and you want to make it look better, you could change your collectability assumption from 75% to 90% and that would make your assets seem higher that quarter even though your actual business hasn’t changed.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Answers:
        1. A/R departments are big, as far as corporate departments go. At my current company, I’d say we take up about 8% of all corporate floorspace. We are about 35 strong out of, say, 2000 total employees (many of which are field employees).
        My prior company was about 35 times the size in terms of revenue. We had (I think), 80 people in our company doing A/R, and an additional 200 people in an outsourced company.
        Smaller companies (20-50 heads?) can outsource the entire function, or have an A/R clerk and an overseeing Staff Accountant.

        2. A/R can be manipulated in a lot of ways. I suspect it’s actually the most commonly manipulated number, but not usually the big part in really, really big scandals like Enron. I plan to post a bit about this, as I was part of the SOX compliance group to ensure our numbers weren’t getting manipulated.

        3. So, time-sensitivity varies a lot. Our day-to-day work usually involves dealing with customer disputes about exact payment amounts. Most customers pay the majority of their bills on time. If they don’t pay on time, all hell breaks loose. Companies forecast cash and missing a payment means the company needs to borrow money to make current bill payments. This depends on what payment schedules are, though.
        There’s usually a mad-dash at month-end to clear up as much as possible (typical for any accounting function, I suspect).
        There is also a lot of time pressure whenever a reserve for bad debts is set. There are typically a lot of questions about why we are reserving different amounts for different accounts, so a lot of research goes into setting a reserve.

        4. Higher tier functions would be anyone who creates the actual financial statements and annual reports. Those are directly distributed to investors and the SEC. That’s my impression anyways. There are accountants who handle the actual books and investigate variances between different accounts (basic Staff Accountants), along with Capital Accountants, and Treasury folk who are more finance but also typically have some accounting muscle behind them.

        Hierarchy is driven by perceived level of skill as well as how close the function is to the Executive Board. I think I probably won’t ever talk to the CEO, but the people who prepare financial statements are basically two steps removed.

        • Hierarchy is driven by perceived level of skill as well as how close the function is to the Executive Board. I think I probably won’t ever talk to the CEO, but the people who prepare financial statements are basically two steps removed.

          Not necessarily true about proximity. Back when I supervised Accounts Payable at a medium sized firm, every check over $1500 was signed by the CEO, and he wasn’t at all shy about expressing his displeasure directly to AP (by which I mean to me). He was very cost conscious, and so watched AP very closely. That doesn’t mean the AP clerks were paid any better than anywhere else, to the contrary. Maybe I was a little higher level than most AP supervisors would be with only 4 clerks reporting to me.

          At many firms where cash control is supreme, AR and cash collection has very high visibility to executives. That doesn’t mean AR clerks in such companies get paid more. I think it all comes down to (perceived) skill, and supply and demand. As long as AP and AR clerks can be found at pretty cheap wages, that’s how they will be paid. And they can be so found, so I wouldn’t recommend a career in either AR or AP if you can get a professional position.

          Edit: I mean working as a clerk in AP or AR. I presume there are decently paid positions managing large AP and AR teams.

    • Loquat says:

      Interesting to hear it from the A/R side of things. I’d estimate a double-digit percentage of my time at work (health insurance) is currently spent talking to people in or connected to various providers’ A/R on the subject of whether we have received and paid their bills – often the bill is not present or invalid and they need to fix that, but frequently it’s some species of misapplication. It’s fascinating how often they seem to lose our remittance advice when there’s more than one claim being paid on the same bulk check and just apply the whole amount to one claim, especially when the bulk check is for rather more than that one claim billed.

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s fascinating how often they seem to lose our remittance advice when there’s more than one claim being paid on the same bulk check and just apply the whole amount to one claim

        Oh yes! Had a great example of that at work, where the company handling staff pensions for us kept emailing that we hadn’t sent the month’s subscriptions in and we (I) had to keep sending back scans of the cheques to prove we had.

        Turned out that despite carefully stapling photocopies of the payments breakdowns to the cheques for the separate centres each month, what happened when these were received was the cheques were pulled off the printouts, the printouts discarded (without making a note that “This cheque is in payment of account such-and-such”) and the cheques simply lodged. Then, as far as the account manager was concerned, they’d never received payments for centre A in month X because the receipts hadn’t been allocated against centre A for month X 🙂

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          This really sucks. At the very least, the payments should reflect on your account balance, even if they cannot be applied to certain charges. I mean, you have a payer name on it, for crying out loud!

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, that was fun. The first time it happened, the boss said to me “Hey didn’t we pay this? I’m pretty sure I signed the cheque!” and I was “We very much did pay this!” Thought it was just a once-off, but then it happened again the next month with Account Manager for the pensions firm emailing “Guys, you didn’t pay us – again“.

            So the boss tells me “Sort that out, will you?” and between the jigs and the reels (and a long exchange of emails and sending breakdowns of payments etc), we figured out this was what was happening. So the Accounts Manager asked us to email them directly with a copy of the payment schedule every time we sent a payment, and that seems to have sorted it out. (Fingers crossed!)

            I have no idea what the people opening the post on their side were doing; the cheques were being cashed, as I could prove from our bank statements, so they were definitely getting them, but somewhere between “cheques being received” and “cheques being lodged”, the “set this against account” was not happening 🙂

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m wondering whether there should be some autists strategically placed in A/R and A/P, just to improve the odds of having some people who will follow procedures.

        • Protagoras says:

          I seem to remember a story, I think it was on Acephalous from back when SEK was a grad student, of SEK sending his university a check for his fees, and having the entire check ($2000 or so) applied to his library fines (of which he had about $5), and so the university insisting that they still needed his $2000 in fees. Took him a while to clear it up, inevitably.

    • johan_larson says:

      All of this indirection in payment seems awfully complicated. Any reason a company can’t simply insist on payment on delivery? Just give the driver a cheque. Consumers are usually expected to pay on delivery, why not businesses too? Why do they need the extra 30 days of slop?

      • Deiseach says:

        Payment on delivery is kind of messy; it’s okay if you have a company credit card and can pay online at the point of order, but (a) if it’s coming via the normal post they aren’t really set up to take payments (b) third-party couriers often don’t like taking payments, because if the money goes missing they’ll be held responsible and if they routinely carry cash/cheques for other parties this makes them an attractive target for theft (c) some places prefer paying by cheque to keep a paper trail.

        30-day period really is a relic of business practice, I suppose; it gives you time to return any defective goods, it lets you control your cash flow (if you can forecast that you’ll roughly have monthly payments of X thousand or whatever, you can make sure to have that in your bank account to go out) and it smooths out the wait between waiting for your own customers to pay and having the money to pay your suppliers/creditors.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Excellent question! There’s some bit of research on this. However, I’m not horribly familiar with it, so I’ll give it some superficial treatement:
        https://academic.oup.com/rfs/article-abstract/10/3/661/1635350

        Suppliers lend to constrained firms because they have a comparative advantage in getting information about buyers, they can liquidate assets more efficiently, and they have an implicit equity stake in the firms. Finally, firms with better access to credit offer more trade credit.

        So this paper suggests that suppliers ability to offer credit is heterogeneous: some suppliers are better able to offer credit than others or determine credit-worthiness than another firm. They can basically use this as a competitive advantage to win business. If MY firm can give net 30 terms, and YOUR firm can only accept payment on delivery, I have a big advantage in winning over customers.

        This is basically “Trade Credit,” and it is not fixed. I am reading some papers that suggest overall trade credit varies depending on the state of credit in the economy. For instance, credit standards tightened up in the mid-late 50s, but major firms with a lot of money extended credit, especially to firms likely to lose out business with banks.

        Basically, it’s a way businesses can compete to win customers. Trade Credit also varies with firm characteristics (IE, firms that are not liquid will not agree to long-terms), so it’s not JUST business custom.

    • Montfort says:

      That was an interesting read.

      The thing I’ve always wondered about finance (double-entry bookkeeping in particular), is how they came up with the convention that Assets = Liability + Equity. To my mind, it seems more natural to say Equity = Assets + Liabilities, so that, e.g., a liability of a $5000 dollar loan is represented as -5000. But I assume I’m missing something, since everyone does it the regular way.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I understand this might make more intuitive sense, but it doesn’t actually work in the day to day. The inclusion of negative numbers basically means you are doing triple-entry bookkeeping, and sometimes booking entries on 2 lines, and sometimes booking entries on 3 lines.

        Also, you’re doing away with the close process, or you are doing away with balance transactions. Under traditional accounting, we record a sale like this:

        Receivable 100k Revenue 100k
        Cost of Goods Sold 80k Inventory 80k

        This shows us selling 80k of goods at 100k, for a profit of 20k.

        At the end of the month, we “close” our intermediate accounts like so:
        Revenue 100k Income 100k
        Income 80k Cost of Goods Sold 80k
        Income 20k Retained Earnings 20k

        Under this triple-entry bookkeeping, we’d do the following:
        Inventory (contraasset) – (100k)
        Cost of Goods Sold (asset)- 100k
        Receivable (asset) – 150k
        Cost of Goods Sold (contra-asset) – (100k)
        Retained Earnings (equity) – 50k

        Basically every entry is a close entry to make the accounts balance.

        The only other way is to make Revenue a Contra-Asset, so you’d have this:
        Receivable 150k
        Revenue: (150k)

        You’d want to do this to preserve your normal monthly close processes, because that’s the only way to generate your income statements.

        To me it seems a lot more convoluted.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          To me, the way it made sense was to say “Companies don’t own anything. The human beings who own the company ultimately own everything. So if you’re keeping retained earnings, that’s a liability — you can at any point pay that out to your owners.”

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            That’s fair. For traditional accounting, think of it less in terms of ownership and more in terms of financing assets. You have $100 billion in assets, and you financed it with $80 billion in loans and $20 billion in equity.

            That’s the basic idea behind Assets=Liabilities+Equity.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, the conceptual framework I always use is “where did these assets come from” and the answer is invariably “either debt or equity”

  15. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    http://www.npr.org/podcasts/381444908/fresh-air

    The August 7 podcast is an interview with Robert Wright, author of Why Buddhism Is True. As the beginning of the interview, he explicitly frames meditation as a way of pushing back against evolution in the sense of being less ruled by evolved impulses.

  16. dndnrsn says:

    Since this is the Naval War thread, a Naval War related topic.

    I recall @bean saying that Sealion was dead not even in the water from the start. Part of what he said – it was a relatively brief comment – was that winning the Battle of Britain in the air was not in the cards for the Luftwaffe.

    bean: can you expand a little? I was under the impression that the segment of the Battle of Britain where the Luftwaffe was primarily going after the RAF was pretty neck-and-neck, and scholars still argue over which side was getting the better of it. By some accounts, the Blitz was a straight up strategic error that gave the RAF breathing room and failed to break the will of the British.

    Further thought – has bombardment from the air ever delivered as much and as well as its proponents claim?

    • Evan Þ says:

      Further thought – has bombardment from the air ever delivered as much and as well as its proponents claim?

      The atomic bombardment of Nagasaki.

    • cassander says:

      bean: can you expand a little? I was under the impression that the segment of the Battle of Britain where the Luftwaffe was primarily going after the RAF was pretty neck-and-neck

      Neck and neck at the time, yes, but the long run trends were very much in the UKs favor, as their strength persistently grew throughout the conflict, while that of the luftwaffe either stayed steady or declined depending on what your measure is.

      The blitz certainly was an error, but it wasn’t a decisive error. the RAF was consistently out building and out-attriting the luftwaffe.

      >Further thought – has bombardment from the air ever delivered as much and as well as its proponents claim?

      Evan Þ has the right of it, but there’s also the first gulf war and the transportation plan.

    • bean says:

      bean: can you expand a little?

      Yes. Basically, the British were building about as many fighters as the Germans, maybe a few more. They were definitely losing fewer pilots. Basically, if a British pilot got shot down and bailed out, he would be back on duty in a couple of days. If a German pilot got shot down and bailed out, he would spend the rest of the war in a POW camp. This is obviously in the favor of the British, as the shot-down pilots learned how to not get shot down again. Also, if things had gotten really hot, 11 Group would have moved to bases in the Midlands, out of range of German fighter escorts. They wouldn’t have been as effective that far from the target, but they would have been more than adequate as escorts for bomber raids on the invasion. The Germans simply couldn’t have gotten the sort of air superiority over England that the allies did over France in 1944.
      The British overestimated German production, while the Germans underestimated British strength. So the reports from both sides ran the same way, even though they were both wrong. That made it harder to figure out an issue already clouded by British national mythology.

  17. Garrett says:

    Whelp.
    I work at Google.
    I feel like shit right now.
    I can’t sleep.
    (No comment)

    • Charles F says:

      Sorry. Hope you feel better.

    • albatross11 says:

      I wonder how many really high-value, smart, productive people just decided they will never work for Google.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yeah, from over here at center-right, I can’t help but see this firing as a fundamentally intolerant act. In a tolerant society or organization, everything is open to civil debate. And while the essay could certainly have been better, it was well within the domain of civility. But Google fired the engineer who wrote it. Google just showed that at least on the issue of its diversity policies, it isn’t a tolerant organization.

        There’s a lot more IBM in Google than they like to acknowledge. Never been happier I left.

      • Matt M says:

        Probably near-zero.

        Such a decision would only be logical if you think this case would have been adjudicated any differently at any other sufficiently large corporation. (and if you think that, you probably aren’t that smart IMO)

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Baidu maybe? I wonder if Chinese corporate culture makes it any different? If so I wouldn’t be amazed if some people decide to work for them instead of Google, they’re in the same region doing the same stuff.

        • Well... says:

          Maybe this case’s outcome is the deciding factor for a lot of smart people who choose between Google and a not-sufficiently large corporation.

    • hlynkacg says:

      If this is about what I think it’s about…

      Don’t panic, panic is the enemy.*

      Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill anyone you meet find a new job. Look out for yourself, look out for your friends, personal networks are worth 10,000% more than professional ones at this point.

      *Or if you prefer, Fear is the mind killer.

    • Ivy says:

      I do too. If it helps, the vast majority of people I’ve talked to at work, conservatives and liberals alike, didn’t want the guy fired. I can see why the execs made the decision they did, but there will be a backlash, and there won’t be a witch hunt anytime soon.

    • Protagoras says:

      It became inevitable that Google was going to decline when they decided to be evil after all.

      • Brad says:

        Have you shorted GOOGL then? Or at least divested from it?

        • Protagoras says:

          I am not an active investor. I fear that some of the mutual funds I own certainly contain Google stock, but making sure the mutual funds I’m invested in only include the stocks I believe in would constitute being an active investor, which, again, I’m not.

          • Brad says:

            I understand in general the rationale for not being an active investor — most of us don’t have any knowledge advantage we can capitalize on. However, you know for certainty that one of the biggest companies in the world is going to decline. That’s extraordinarily valuable. Given that, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t trade on that knowledge.

          • Protagoras says:

            I forgot who said it, but it is certainly a truth one must keep in mind that the market can stay irrational longer than I can stay solvent. That sort of thing is a big part of the reason not to be an active investor unless you have extremely detailed information.

      • Wrong Species says:

        What did you expect from Google? They’re under investigation for gender discrimination by the Department of Justice. Any other company would have fired the guy. Are they all evil?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I used to work for Google. If it’s doing this to you, it’s probably time to move on. Maybe out of Silicon Valley.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      I don’t even work at google and this still made me emotional and cost me productivity. I’m glad this place here exists 🙂

    • Jaskologist says:

      Now’s not the time to lose sleep, now’s the time to quietly plot revenge!

      Carefully document the hostile working environment. Damore is suing; forward the more egregious stuff you see to him; it might aid him in his trial. Make sure to do this on some sort of burner accounts, of course; you’re directly under the Eye of Sauron right now.

      Keep your own private stash of mutually assured destruction handy in case they come for you. CA actually has pretty good protections against firing people for their political beliefs, but IANAL. And maybe start looking for a new job sooner rather than later so you can exit on your timetable rather than theirs.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Or if you are interested in Monte Cristo-style, ultra-painstaking revenge, unionize.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          While hilarious, you assume that the union would not also be hijacked by the same forces that Damore thinks have hijacked Google.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, saying “Our work environment is too left wing, let’s unionize, that’ll show em!” is certainly…. uh…. something.

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, you almost never see union bumper stickers on the same car as BLM or Coexist bumper stickers. (Actually, you hardly ever see union bumper stickers on cars, period — it’s usually trucks in my experience.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Judging by the extent to which they voted for Donald Trump, private-sector labor unions seem susceptible to hijacking by very different forces than the ones at work at Google.

            Which I would expect is the basis for the Dumasian revenge fantasy: Get two groups of your enemies in a locked room, just as they realize they hate each other even more than they do you. Toss in some zero-sum status and money games for them to play, leave the table set with rusty knives, and enjoy.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Blue-collar unions are better described as hard hats than as leftists. It’s very easy to see them the GOP, in its 2017 form, getting them to shift to their side.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Unions don’t just increase wages and offer workers people who will stand up for them, they also create solidarity within the workforce. Google’s employees being divided into hostile camps who hate each other more than they hate management has their investors laughing all the way to the bank.

            Workers can’t expect to have their opinions (or anything else) respected by a company that will cut them loose in an instant for the sake of the bottom line. You have a right-wing government already and it didn’t do shit about this because it, being right-wing, embraces private property; the only answer is to organize!

  18. HFAMaximizer says:

    Rational and absolutely individualist transhumans

    Perhaps as johan_larson said here, humanity is too irrational to be made rational en masse without seriously harming humans.

    Assuming that he is right, I wonder whether we should create such a subgroup of upgraded humans once transhumanism becomes reality. Its membership won’t be mandatory however this subgroup will be armed so that the rest of humanity can not simply decide that they are annoying outcasts and get rid of them.

  19. onyomi says:

    Comparing these two sets of lyrics:

    ‘Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in
    So shame on me now
    Flew me to places I’d never been
    So you put me down oh
    I knew you were trouble when you walked in
    So shame on me now
    Flew me to places I’d never been
    Now I’m lying on the cold hard ground
    Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble
    Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble

    and

    Alas, my love, you do me wrong,
    To cast me off discourteously.
    For I have loved you well and long,
    Delighting in your company.

    Greensleeves was all my joy
    Greensleeves was my delight,
    Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
    And who but my lady greensleeves.

    Alas, my love, that you should own
    A heart of wanton vanity,
    So must I meditate alone
    Upon your insincerity.

    The latter sounds much more “elevated” and poetic to my ear. Which is not to say the former is crap. There are worse song lyrics out there; stupider love songs, probably some of them from the Renaissance. Yet still I have this strongly divergent impression.

    What I’m wondering about right now is the extent to which it is only the antiquated sound of the vocabulary of the latter which gives me this “elevated” impression? Put another way, when Shakespeare heard “Greensleaves” did he get the same thing out of it as I get out of Taylor Swift (setting aside for a moment the different presumed genders of the objects of the poem)?

    When we read the Declaration of Independence, how much does it sound impressive and elegant to us because it really was impressive and elegant at the time, and how much because it’s just old? To what extent is “cast me off discourteously” just 16th century for “break up with me like a jerk”?

    It seems sort of like there’s a treadmill whereby new vocabularies must be constantly invented to keep from sounding stodgy, just like fashion. At the same time, major linguistic changes seem to be largely the result of more extrinsic factors–Normans invade, etc. I realize on some level I’m asking a simple question: just consult historic usage, read old dictionaries, etc. but I guess I’m more just musing on the difficulty of really getting inside the heads of people who used the same words we do know, but slightly differently, 400 years ago.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Wiseacreing now (I’m not a music person):

      You’re comparing ‘impressionistic’ lyrics to ‘realism’ lyrics. Realism still exists in song today. What do you think of the greensleeves lyrics versus this: https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=just+the+way+you+are+lyrics&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 (ignore the fact that Bruno isn’t trying to rhyme words)?

      Your main point is a worthy one to consider. I don’t know. Writing things for public consumption was 1) a more difficult process back then, 2) took longer time, 3) was done more by the upper classes than the lower (at least in the surviving relics we have access to – barring graffiti), 4) was consumed more by the upper classes than the lower classes of the time, and 5) had fewer competitors; and all of these reasons are reasons why a particular text we know of would be more “elegant” or even stilted than today.

      but I guess I’m more just musing on the difficulty of really getting inside the heads of people who used the same words we do know, but slightly differently, 400 years ago.

      It’s a hard enough task even with one’s contemporaries.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m more just musing on the difficulty of really getting inside the heads of people who used the same words we do know, but slightly differently, 400 years ago.

      Tolkien discusses this in an (unsent) letter from 1955:

      [In December 1954, Brogan wrote to Tolkien criticising the archaic narrative style of parts of The Two Towers, especially the chapter ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ ; he called this style ‘Ossianic’, and said he agreed with a critic’s description of it as ‘tushery’. At the time, Tolkien made no reply to this; but when on 18 September 1955 Brogan wrote again, apologising for being ‘impertinent, stupid, or sycophantic’, Tolkien began to draft what follows. In the event he did not send it, but instead wrote a brief note saying that the matter of archaism ‘would take too long to debate’ in a letter and must wait until their next meeting.]

      The proper use of ‘tushery’ is to apply it to the kind of bogus ‘medieval’ stuff which attempts (without knowledge) to give a supposed temporal colour with expletives, such as tush, pish, zounds, marry, and the like. But a real archaic English is far more terse than modern; also many of things said could not be said in our slack and often frivolous idiom. Of course, not being specially well read in modern English, and far more familiar with works in the ancient and ‘middle’ idioms, my own ear is to some extent affected; so that though I could easily recollect how a modern would put this or that, what comes easiest to mind or pen is not quite that. But take an example from the chapter that you specially singled out (and called terrible): Book iii, “The King of the Golden Hall’. ‘Nay, Gandalf!’ said the King. ‘You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better.’

      This is a fair sample — moderated or watered archaism. Using only words that still are used or known to the educated, the King would really have said: ‘Nay, thou (n’)wost not thine own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall . . .’ etc. I know well enough what a modern would say. ‘Not at all my dear G. You don’t know your own skill as a doctor. Things aren’t going to be like that. I shall go to the war in person, even if I have to be one of the first casualties’ — and then what? Theoden would certainly think, and probably say ‘thus shall I sleep better’! But people who think like that just do not talk a modern idiom. You can have ‘I shall lie easier in my grave’, or ‘I should sleep sounder in my grave like that rather than if I stayed at home’ – if you like. But there would be an insincerity of thought, a disunion of word and meaning. For a King who spoke in a modern style would not really think in such terms at all, and any reference to sleeping quietly in the grave would be a deliberate archaism of expression on his part (however worded) far more bogus than the actual ‘archaic’ English that I have used. Like some non-Christian making a reference to some Christian belief which did not in fact move him at all.

      I think we see the opposite in TV shows/movies/novels set in supposedly mediaeval/before the 20th century times (including a lot of the Victorian detective mysteries) which have the heroes/heroines thinking and acting, if not speaking, in the up-to-date attitudes of the 20th/21st centuries, and the villains naturally have all the Bad Old Attitudes. Worse is the lack of understanding of the times, which leads modern creators to assume the attitudes were Bad Old Attitudes and not ones that made sense in their own context; my bête noire of this is the 1994 “Little Women” where Marmie (played by Susan Sarandon) is talking to Meg about how she should behave at her first grown-up fancy ball. The book has the atttitudes of the time, which promote modesty and virtue etc. but from within the context of self-respect, frivolity, and showing others (because the people at the ball are going to be richer and from a higher social class) that good breeding and a moral character are not dependent on wealth. The movie has Marmie telling Meg (in a cynical fashion, though doubtless all involved thought they were being liberated) that she has to act in a way that will snare a guy so she must pretend to be modest and virtuous in the accepted style, else people will judge her to be a ho and that’s the double standard in action (I’m paraphrasing here but that’s the gist).

      Complete lack of understanding of the mindset of the times (they cannot be sincere in thinking this is about self-respect, it has to be sexual repression and hypocrisy), coupled with “if these are the Good Guys, then they have to be in full agreement with what we think is the right and proper thing to do”.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I think we see the opposite in TV shows/movies/novels set in supposedly mediaeval/before the 20th century times (including a lot of the Victorian detective mysteries) which have the heroes/heroines thinking and acting, if not speaking, in the up-to-date attitudes of the 20th/21st centuries. Worse is the lack of understanding of the times, which leads modern creators to assume the attitudes were Bad Old Attitudes and not ones that made sense in their own context

        Complete lack of understanding of the mindset of the times (they cannot be sincere in thinking this is about self-respect, it has to be sexual repression and hypocrisy), coupled with “if these are the Good Guys, then they have to be in full agreement with what we think is the right and proper thing to do”.

        This is why I couldn’t stand Sleepy Hollow, despite a strong draw to its premise. Instead of doing anything interesting with the timeshifted colonial, they just make him a Modern Progressive Who Happened To Live In The Past.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This is pretty much the norm for historical fiction regardless of medium, isn’t it? An admirable character has to be presented as either an enlightened modern, or at a minimum not bigoted by the standards of their times, with a strong signal to the reader that they are set in their ways. I don’t know how you could do it any other way – how do you get readers/viewers to see as a good guy someone who is by the standards of our time backwards in their attitudes and behaviour?

        • Charles F says:

          I don’t have specific insights about this, but one series (edit: not historical fiction, maybe this sort of thing wouldn’t work there) I thought didn’t do a bad job of it was the Iron Druid chronicles. The MC is 3000 years old, so he grew up with kind of a bronze age set of morals. He’s definitely not a paragon of modern ethical behavior, but because conflicts between the mythos/attitudes of the past and the current culture is kind of a theme, I think it works.

          • carvenvisage says:

            I actually stopped reading that based on the perception the guy talked more like the movie clerks than an ancient or immortal. There was a thing about the guy making a point of thinking or at least talking like the times though.

            There’s a cool aspect of this in that me not buying that the guy is an ancient totally meshes with the guy having 3000 years practice being a chameleon. And going to the trouble of thinking that way (as well as talking that way) might be just the kind of prudent precaution someone who manages to live that long might take.

        • qwints says:

          I don’t think that’s the case. A few counter examples (of varying quality and historical accuracy) that come to mind readily
          – Bernard Cornwell’s “The Last Kingdom” books, Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” and Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” all of which have characters who don’t appear to be moderns thrust into the past.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Follett? Really? I’ve read 2/3 of his medieval and his 20th century series, and I would say he is a pretty strong example of the good characters being enlightened moderns or set in their ways but not outright bigots.

            The good characters in his medieval books are either spunky empowered women or the sensitive intelligent not-especially-masculine men who love them. In his 20th century books, the good characters are either first wave feminists or men who are entirely supportive of them, are not racist, are OK with homosexuality, etc.

            There are narrator-ish characters who are not those things – the occasional violent toxic-masculine rapist knight or devoted Nazi – but they are clearly not good guys you are supposed to root for.

          • qwints says:

            Doesn’t he only have 2 medieval books (Pillars + the sequel)? Pillars certainly has active female characters, but I don’t recall any of the characters having anything resembling modern politics. The characters are motivated by advancing the church, the ‘rightful king,’ their material position or love. Looking online, it looks like the miniseries probably did fall into that trap.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah, those are the 2 I’ve read. The good main characters still come off fairly modern-seeming. It’s more that behaving in a way that makes sense for the time (a lord who thinks peasants are different and inferior, a man who thinks women are different and inferior, etc) marks a character out as a villain.

        • Alejandro says:

          Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series is very good in this respect. A young person insisting on marrying for love (almost always treated as folly by older characters, even the sympathetic ones) sometimes leads to happiness but often to disaster, while plenty of arranged marriages result in happiness (though more than a few don’t). While sympathetic characters are in general morally against things like spousal abuse and cruelty to slaves, none of them sees them as utterly beyond the pale (rather than distasteful signs of a low character), and none of them ever concieves of female equality or abolition of slavery.

          It is also extremely well-researched and well-written. Having read a lot about the period (the late Roman Republic) I found the portrayals of Marius, Sulla and Pompey completely believable. There is a bit of Caesar hero-worship, but it’s not a significant issue with the series before the fifth book.

      • onyomi says:

        For a King who spoke in a modern style would not really think in such terms at all

        This is a very good point.

        Sometimes an Elizabethan and I use different words for the same thoughts because meanings and implications of words shift.

        But sometimes an Elizabethan’s choice of different words reflects the fact that he actually thinks differently (carves reality along different conceptual lines, has different baseline assumptions and acculturation, etc. etc.).

        Makes me think about premodern courtesans, which I’m reluctant to describe as “prostitutes” for a modern readership, even though they literally are prostitutes. But “courtesan” isn’t 16th century language for “prostitute”; rather, it refers to a thing which largely no longer exists, though it shares some features with today’s concept of “prostitute.”

    • Matt M says:

      Trouble is probably one of my favorite pop songs of the last 10 years or so.

      That said, I fully agree with this premise and have long assumed this is a huge factor in our evaluation of antiquated literature/drama/music.

      Even Shakespeare had the groundlings. And they didn’t just hoot and holler at the bawdy jokes, they presumably kept up with the larger plot as well. Today, Shakespeare is seen as an elitist, upper-class thing, but presumably it wasn’t at the time, because tons of lower class people turned out for it.

    • Nornagest says:

      Not to belabor the obvious, but you’re comparing a song that’s been popular for five centuries to one that’s been popular for five years. The antique language probably does contribute to the poetic sound, but it’s also not unlikely that “Greensleeves” is just better.

    • Dog says:

      Your first example contains many cliched phrases or slight variations on cliched phrases (“I knew you were trouble”, “shame on me”, “put me down”, “the cold hard ground”), and I think this is largely why it seems inferior to me – it feels tired, and the phrases no longer have much emotional resonance. Greensleeves might also be full of antiquated cliches (I see one that has survived to the present, “heart of gold”), but even if it is, they haven’t lost their impact for modern listeners through overuse.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        To add to this, Shakespeare’s poem has a broader vocabulary and a slower pace to it, which may contribute to its air of gracefulness. It also elaborates on its emotions more thoroughly and with less repetition. The other song seems cheap and gaudy.

    • rlms says:

      Interesting fact from Wikipedia: in the Elizabethan era, green dresses coded prostitution/promiscuity, leading to possible humorous interpretations of the song where the narrator is lamenting his rejection by (someone who believes, maybe mistakenly, to be) a lady of questionable virtue.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Reading the webster-hayne debates made me a lot more sure that they just used to talk gooder than us.

    • James says:

      There’s a case to be made that the quality of pop music (in the broadest possible sense) lyrics has declined even since the start of the twentieth century. Lots of people are of the opinion that the (very popular, mainstream!) work of the great American songwriters of the jazz era (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, etc) are of a level of sophistication that more recent pop lyrics can’t reach. I’m no expert, but I’d say that in a sense they’re probably right. So it’s certainly possible that they’re also in some sense “worse” than Greensleeves-era song.

      It’s just that the aims and purpose of lyrics, have shifted somewhat. Modern pop the lyrics do do a good job of what I would argue they’re supposed to be doing–expressing a sentiment and evoking feelings, simply, in a way that sounds goods and supports the music. I’d say that there’s been a shift away from lyrics that stand on their own, as lyrics (through complex storytelling, or subtle nuances, or whatever), towards lyrics that support the music they’re being sung over. (You can still find the literary, storyish stuff if you know where to look for it, but it’s no longer to be found in the mainstream.) In those terms, they’re doing a fine job, but when you compare them to the older style on paper they will come up short.

      And, by the way, an interesting case study for the comparison you’re talking about might be T-Rex – lots and lots of Marc Bolan’s lyrics used a faux-archaic style, full of Romantic-sounding poeticisms and their fair share of Tolkienesque tics. “I love the way your eye it doth shine like an Egyptian ruby”.

      • random832 says:

        Lots of people are of the opinion that the (very popular, mainstream!) work of the great American songwriters of the jazz era (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, etc) are of a level of sophistication that more recent pop lyrics can’t reach.

        Who are the greatest songwriters of the modern era they are comparing them to?

        • powerfuller says:

          Good point — a lot of times things seem of higher quality in the past mostly because history has already filtered most of the garbage out, while we’re still living with ours. Comparing apples to apple would be comparing random current pop songs to random broadside ballads, not the anthologized ones.

        • James says:

          Erm, I don’t know, Max Martin, Dr Luke, and so on? I don’t think the claim is that great songwriting existed then and doesn’t now. I think the interesting thing is that great songwriting reached the top of the charts then, and doesn’t now. That’s why I emphasised the part about it being popular and mainstream, not snobby or elitist.

          And don’t take me as one of those people who hates the present and will always put it down in favour of the past. I listen to a hell of a lot more modern pop music than I do old jazz, and I guess on balance I prefer it. And yet the argument that there was once a certain sophistication to pop songwriting, now lost, makes some sense to me.

      • gbdub says:

        I would say that the role of music in entertainment has changed. Modern pop is made to be consumed over headphones while you’re working out, while you’re dancing in a club, or when you’re singing along in a stadium. Not conducive to depth and nuance.

        Perhaps in the past you might sit in your room and really get into an album. There are a few music geeks that still do, but that role in entertainment has largely been taken over by Netflix binging.

        Basically, what if music is more “disposable” because that’s just how we listen to it now?

        • James says:

          More or less right, I think.

          I hadn’t thought about the niche of intently listening to records at home being taken over by Netflix – it’s an interesting thought.

          I’m the kind of music geek who laments the loss of this sort of thing, of course.

    • J Mann says:

      I’d say both factors listed come into play.

      First, you’re right that we’re conditioned to hear old timey language in a certain way. I think you’d get a similar effect if you picked something that wasn’t actually good, like a forgotten Hollywood knight movie or a random Thor comic from the days when the Norse gods spoke in mock Shakespearean.

      Second, Sturgeon’s law applies. You’re picking something that survived for centuries because people liked it, (and probably edited here and there in the singing for the first few hundred years when it seemed like a particular word fit better) with a random song that mostly wants to put emotionally resonant lyrics on a catchy hook.

      I think if you pulled some of the best modern lyrics, they could give a Greensleeves a run for its money, although my perception is that a lot of the great lyricists now don’t focus as much on scanning and formal meter as they do on poetic imagery.

      I’m not expert enough to say for sure, but based on an untrained ear, I’d say Eminem is an exception to what I would characterize as a lack of structure and form:

      You’re walking down a horror corridor
      It’s almost four in the morning and you’re in a
      Nightmare, it’s horrible
      Right there’s the coroner, waiting for you to
      Turn the corner so he can corner ya
      You’re a goner, he’s onto ya
      Out the corner of his cornea
      He just saw you run, all you want is to rest
      ‘Cause you can’t run anymore, you’re done
      All he wants is to kill you in front of an audience
      While everybody is watching in the party, applauding it
      Here I sit, while I’m caught up in deep thought again
      Contemplating my next plot again
      Swallowin’ a Klonopin
      While I’m noddin’ in and out on the ottoman
      At the Ramada Inn, holding onto the pill bottle, then
      Lick my finger and swirl it ’round the bottom
      And make sure I got all of it
      Wake up naked at McDonald’s, with
      Blood all over me, dead bodies behind the counter, shit
      Guess I must’ve just blacked out again—not again!

      3 am

      and it’s a little played out, but you can’t beat it for combining narrative, technical composition, and a hook:

      Yo, his palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
      There’s vomit on his sweater already: Mom’s spaghetti
      He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
      To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting
      What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
      He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
      He’s choking, how? Everybody’s joking now
      The clock’s run out, time’s up, over—blaow!
      Snap back to reality, oh, there goes gravity, oh
      There goes Rabbit, he choked, he’s so mad, but he won’t
      Give up that easy, no, he won’t have it, he knows
      His whole back’s to these ropes, it don’t matter, he’s dope
      He knows that, but he’s broke, he’s so stagnant, he knows
      When he goes back to this mobile home, that’s when it’s
      Back to the lab again, yo! This whole rhapsody
      Better go capture this moment and hope it don’t pass him

      Lose Yourself

      • random832 says:

        I’m not expert enough to say for sure, but based on an untrained ear, I’d say Eminem is an exception to what I would characterize as a lack of structure and form:

        I suspect rap generally probably preserves poetic forms much better than any other musical genre.

  20. Deiseach says:

    The fairies don’t like the new road 🙂

  21. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So I’m trying to divest of Google products, and right now I’m looking for a new search engine, browser, email client and mobile OS. The last of those is the one which is really giving me trouble.

    My priorities are that any service:

    1. is reasonably secure. I’m not doing anything that I desperately need to hide, but this and a few other incidents are making me think that I need more security.
    2. has a convenient UI. I’m not a programmer (yet?) and would prefer that things work with the minimum amount of fuss on my end.
    3. isn’t controlled by SJWs. Self-explanatory given the circumstances.

    You guys are all very smart, and quite a number are experts in this area. I’d really appreciate any recommendations.

    • RDNinja says:

      I recently switched to Brave as my mobile browser. Virtually identical UI to Chrome, but with a built-in ad blocker (which, through some mumbo-jumbo I don’t understand, is supposed to reimburse the site owners for the loss of ad revenue or something). It was developed by Brendan Eich, of the famous purge from Mozilla.

    • Brad says:

      In terms of mobile OS, if you want to use a smartphone your only real choices are: android or android derivatives, iOS, and Windows mobile.

      BlackBerry OS and Firefox OS are dead.

      There’s Samsung’s Tizen but AFAICT there’s only one phone on the market that uses it, the Samsung Z2, and it isn’t available in the US. Anyway, Samsung qualifies as a megacorporation I think.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Yeah you caught me between edits.

        Megacorporations are a problem because they’re easily captured, but open source communities haven’t been wowing me either these days.

        I’d like to pivot away from Windows if possible but if that’s the only game in town I’ll play. Microsoft doesn’t exactly inspire trust though.

        • Brad says:

          FWIW, I probably wouldn’t have responded if I saw it after the edit.

          But since I’m here already, it is worth noting that iphones have the best security in the business. Mostly because apple fully controls the hardware, the software, and the app store. UI/UX is more subjective but I consider iOS superior to windows mobile. I can’t and won’t comment on whether or not you like the politics of apple or microsoft better.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I guess I should clarify why I care about this. It isn’t a disgust reaction: I’ve known Google was a progressive company for years and I didn’t care until this came out.

            The problem is that companies like Google are collecting tons of data on me and are giving full-throated support to ideological purges. Right now they’re only trying to destroy their own employees: how long before they turn on their customers?

            Which is why Apple products make me nervous. They’re secure from the outside, ok. How secure is your data from Apple?

          • Nornagest says:

            Which is why Apple products make me nervous. They’re secure from the outside, ok. How secure is your data from Apple?

            Probably more secure than Google’s are from Google. Not because Apple’s just that awesome (they make some good products, but I’d probably work for Google before I worked for Apple, even after the recent news) but because its business model is different: Apple is basically a hardware company, whose software line is basically meant to drive hardware sales. This means it lacks the direct incentive to compromise your stuff internally that Google, which is basically a data-driven advertising company, has. You can believe Apple when it says your stuff’s end-to-end encrypted, or not, but for Google to say the same thing would amount to it saying “our entire business model sucks”.

            On the other hand, I trust Google’s infosec chops more than I trust Apple’s.

          • Brad says:

            I trust google’s infosec chops more than apple’s too. But google’s infosec chops play a smaller role in an android phone, even a nexus, than apple’s does on an iphone. And I trust apple’s infosec chops more than I trust Huawei’s.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s a good point, too.

    • qwints says:

      I’ve heard good things about silent circle’s android fork.

      • Charles F says:

        Was going to recommend this. One of my friends had a blackphone and I thought it had a nice enough UI.

        Anybody care to share their favorite gmail alternatives for those of us to lazy to keep a private mail server up and running?

      • Brad says:

        I don’t know anything about silent circle specifically, but unless it is a hard fork, I think it qualifies as being controlled by google. If you are constantly folding in changes from the upstream that you don’t have the capacity to really review, you are a glorified patchset not really a separate product.

    • Aapje says:

      DuckDuckGo is a good search engine that doesn’t track you. So you don’t get profiled and you don’t get results that fit your bubble.

      • Well... says:

        I only use DDG. I’ve set all my computers and mobile devices to default to it. I love it.

        I also recommend signing up for the DuckDuckGo privacy bulletin–basically a recurring email you get a few times a weekthat contains privacy tips for people who aren’t super techy.

    • dodrian says:

      If your goal is to avoid your data ending up in the hands of Google (or another big corporation), then an Android fork is probably your best bet at the moment.

      If you avoid installing Google apps, AFAIK it won’t be able to ‘phone home’. While most of the work in creating the OS was done by Google, if you have a fully open source fork then it should operate completely independent of Google.

      While it will be for the most part easy to use (installing popular apps without Google Play might not be), depending on your phone setting it up can be a huge pain. Also, Google are slowly pulling features back into their propriety bundle of Google services making it harder and harder to operate the latest Android without them.

      A possible alternative that I have no personal experience with is Ubuntu Phone/Touch. It was recently nixed by Canonical, but as open source software I’m sure some people will be keeping it going for a while.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Anyone know about Replicant’s security? They seem like free software zealots, which is promising.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      If this is about “voting with your wallet” in any way, consider using an ad-blocker and/or tracker blocker. I hear good things about ublock origin, but I find ghostery okay too, even though it’s not open source.

  22. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Military historians, there’s somewhat in the news about pushing boundaries– ships and planes deliberately getting closer to each other than is entirely practical, training exercises that just happen to be near fraught territories, weapons tests likewise….

    Does this kind of thing ever go really badly? Can it be discouraged? Should it be discouraged? How much of it is commanded from the top? Is it sensible strategy (tactics?) at least some of the time?

    • bean says:

      This is nothing new. During the Cold War, ships would occasionally trade paint, and getting in the way of each other’s formations was a common sport. Big exercises happened in disputed areas. It’s basically all posturing.

      Does this kind of thing ever go really badly?

      Wars rarely start by accident. You occasionally get things like the EP-3 collision in 2001, but even then, there’s a reasonably hard limit on how bad things can get because neither side wants a war.

      Can it be discouraged?

      Probably not. Both sides know how the game is played, and for one side to discourage it in the other would be an escalation of the situation.

      Should it be discouraged?

      Again, probably not. It’s basically a way of showing commitment to something. These days, it’s often the Chinese trying to push us around. Not pushing back would be a bad thing.

      How much of it is commanded from the top? Is it sensible strategy (tactics?) at least some of the time?

      Not sure, and definitely. It’s a way for nations to signal that they’re serious without war.

      • John Schilling says:

        The US and USSR eventually got sick of it and established the Incidents at Sea Agreement, which did a fair job of minimizing such, er, incidents. Not terribly controversial; this sort of behavior is a (mildly) negative-sum game that is only ever a winning move if your adversary decides to cede the field. Once everybody has demonstrated that they won’t cede, it is in everybody’s interest to cooperate.

        We’ll probably get there with China eventually. North Korea, not so likely.

    • gbdub says:

      The obvious example would seem to be the collision of the Chinese fighter and US Navy P3 back in 2001?

      Or the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers, though in that case it was less “pushing boundaries” than “actual trespass that we didn’t think the Soviets could do anything about”.

  23. Le Maistre Chat says:

    A strange thought occurs to me. Why don’t Kantians call for the elimination of human resources departments, when they’re explicitly designed and named to treat humans as tools rather than ends?

    • rlms says:

      Because there aren’t any.

      • Well... says:

        Fascinating theory. My employer claims to have an HR department; there’s even a website with real clickable links and tons of copy and everything, and a hotline you can call where somebody answers–I know, I tried it out.

        But I suppose you’re right, it could just be someone from another department answers the phone and pretends to be from HR, and the website might have been created by marketing or something and they just gussied it up to make it appear to be the HR website.

        Employees claiming to work in the HR department might actually work in a different department but be under contract to lie and say they work in HR, and to do work that looks like HR work if anyone outside of HR is looking. Heck, they might keep up the front even when nobody is looking, just to really complete the illusion.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          “There’s no Pepe Silvia? You gotta be kidding me! I got boxes full of Pepe! All right. So I start marchin’ my way down to Carol in HR and I knock on her door and say ‘Carol! Carol! I gotta talk to you about Pepe.’ And when I open the door, what do I find? There’s not a single goddamn desk in that office! There…is…no…Carol in HR. Mac, half the employees in this building have been made up. This office is a goddamn ghost town.”

          • Well... says:

            A few years ago at my last job I tried a system of keeping the project lead up to date by printing out the latest iterations of the screens of the app we were building and pinning them up on the wall in a giant site map, complete with various color-coded sticky notes to show which ones had been tested, which ones were heuristic-analyzed, etc. I also had these colored darts I would have people throw at the wall as an exercise to force me to explain the research behind the design of whatever the darts landed on, so the wall was covered in those darts too.

            A few days into it I stood back and realized it really reminded me of that scene from IASIP.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            That’s a really cool system: did it end up helping, or terrifying your coworkers?

        • Jiro says:

          I think he means there aren’t any Kantians, not that there aren’t any human resource departments.

          • Well... says:

            Hahaha, I know. I thought it was funnier to examine the other possible meaning instead.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Pretty much everyone can will that the maxim “let there be no human resource departments” should become a universal law.

    • Urstoff says:

      There’s enough fuzziness in what it means to treat a person only as a means (rather than as both a means and end) that the application of the formula is pretty wide open.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      This is one of those truly odd places in corporate America where you find truth in advertising. A resource is something to extract and use up.

      As soon as you’re in a conflict with your company, you find out really quickly whose side HR is on (spoiler: not yours). Even the nice, maternal-looking HR lady (and I swear I once worked at a place where she was named Carol).

      That said, I’ve been known to erase “resources” on whiteboards and replace it with “people”.

  24. MrApophenia says:

    Minor side point in one of Scott’s recent post, and doesn’t really impact the main topic of debate, but it got me curious – he mentions AP classes being voluntary and open to everyone. Has that been the experience of folks here? It certainly wasn’t true at my school, where the school very deliberately selected students for AP classes; it also wasn’t true at the school where my wife was an AP teacher for years, where the same thing was true.

    To be fair, they wouldn’t put someone in an AP class if they actively didn’t want to be there. But they definitely selected the set of students who were going to be offered a slot. Likewise, I imagine if someone really wanted to get into an AP class and they pushed it hard enough they probably would – but they would need to do some pushing. It definitely isn’t just something you sign up for.

    That said, that’s just two schools, so maybe not indicative of broader practices.

    • Nornagest says:

      I recall this only very vaguely, but as best I remember, some but not all of the AP classes in my high school were voluntary — there were no non-AP versions of the higher-level science and math classes, and those were elective insofar as you could theoretically choose not to take them, but most were mandatory in practice for anyone that wanted to get into a competitive school. For English and history, though, the AP classes ran concurrently with the regular ones and collected the generally higher-performing students. I did take them, I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to, but my parents may have been involved at some point.

      • My high school had a new principle my sophomore year who realized that school prestige (and in some way, her compensation) was measured at least partially by the number of AP tests taken by students.

        So she cancelled all non-AP-but-honors sections of everything and mandated all AP _class_ students take the tests. So much like Nornagest, if you wanted to get into college, you took ten AP classes.

      • My high school had a new principal my sophomore year who realized that school prestige (and in some way, her compensation) was measured at least partially by the number of AP tests taken by students.

        So she cancelled all non-AP-but-honors sections of everything and mandated all AP _class_ students take the tests. So much like Nornagest, if you wanted to get into college, you took ten AP classes.

        • random832 says:

          What effect did that have the pass rate, and how did that go for the school prestige and her compensation?

          • No idea.

            Despite being public, the school was full of rich kids and local elites (town with several prestigious colleges–I basically went to Smith for my last two years of high school) so we had enough successful alumni that I don’t know if anyone cared about that sort of thing. Like three kids from my class of 200 went to Harvard (not me, not that I’m bitter or anything.)

    • Montfort says:

      My high school was atypical, but in general, if you asked to be in an AP class, you’d get into it. Unless they ran out of space and couldn’t schedule more sessions, or it didn’t fit with other parts of your schedule.

      My impression of the schools my siblings went to were similar, though I think you may have had to go through a meeting with a counselor and a teacher if they didn’t think you would be able to handle it – you could still power through and get your seat, but I could see that deterring some weakly-motivated students. And, on the flip side, a counselor might ask a good student why they weren’t taking AP versions of certain classes.

      At the time I was going to school, the local high schools were all trying to push up their rate of minority AP testing, which may have affected those experiences.