THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

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### 1,081 Responses to Open Thread 85.75

1. bean says:

Air Travel – Safety Part 2
(Effort post index, including series index)
Trigger Warning: Frank discussion of airliner crashes
Last time I discussed safety, I talked about the standard procedure for addressing airplane-level structural problems found before they cause a crash. But the majority of aviation incidents today are more complicated, mostly because of how good we are at finding purely mechanical problems before they bring down a plane. I’m going to neglect terrorism and other outside factors throughout, as that’s a rather different discussion.
When people think of plane crashes, they tend to think of the plane slamming into the ground, and everyone onboard being killed immediately. While this does happen, it’s actually fairly rare. The last crash of this type by a major commercial airliner was that of Flydubai 981 in March of 2016. The exact cause is still under investigation, but it appears to have been a piloting screw-up in difficult weather conditions. (EgyptAir 804, two months later, is still of undetermined cause.) In the US, the last mainline crash where everyone onboard was killed was that of American Flight 587, in November of 2001. That crash was due to structural failure after the co-pilot overused the rudder to counter wake turbulence from the plane taking off ahead of them.
Somewhat more common are various incidents where the plane impacts the ground slowly enough that some or all of the people onboard survive. The most prominent recent example of this is Asiana 214, the 777 that crashed when the pilots brought it in short at San Francisco airport in 2013. This kind of incident ranges from extreme cases where only one passenger survives (surprisingly common) to cases where everyone is evacuated safely, such as the US Airways flight that ditched in the Hudson.
And then there are the cases where something goes badly wrong, but the plane itself is only damaged (although it may be subsequently written off), and everyone aboard survives.
To illustrate these better, I’m going to look at some prominent incidents, and what they tell us about what causes planes to crash. This will be weighted towards recent events, although I may throw in a few older ones.

Air France 447: An A330 flying from Brazil to Paris crashed in the Atlantic in June of 2009, killing all 228 onboard. The investigators were unable to find the ‘black boxes’ for two years, which delayed the final report until 2012. The case was particularly mysterious because there were no obvious problems with the airplane before it hit the water. The sequence as eventually pieced together runs as follows:
1. The pitot tubes (the devices that provide airspeed data) iced up as the airplane was flying at the upper edge of a storm over the Atlantic.
2. The flight control computer detected the loss of airspeed data, disabled the autopilot, and switched to an alternate control law. (The Airbus fly-by-wire system has different control laws for different situations, like a lack of air data.)
3. The pilots overcorrected for a roll induced by the turbulence of the storm, and put the airplane into a steep climb for reasons that are not really understood.
4. The pilots ignored several stall warnings, and continued to try to climb. The Airbus flight computer normally prevents the pilot from flying into a stall, but it was inoperative due to the use of the alternate law, so the airplane stalled. Also, the stall warnings became inoperative due to the extremely high angle of attack. [John: since aerodynamic stall is caused by high angle of attack, this is a major oversight]
5. The pilots were unable to return the airplane to normal flight before it hit the ocean.
Ultimately, the cause of the crash was that the pilots did not fly the airplane properly. Reducing angle of attack during a stall is the standard and only way to resolve the problem. Why they continued to pull up is unknown, as this is piloting 101. A possible contributor is the design of the fly-by-wire system. In normal mode, it provides stall protection, not allowing the pilot to fly into a stall, and the pilots may not have realized that this protection was no longer in place. Obviously, if the pitot tubes had not iced up, there would have been no crash. The so-called ‘swiss cheese model’ is often used to describe air crashes. In this model, there are a number of layers (pilots, airplane, maintenance, etc), each with holes in them. When the holes line up, an accident occurs. Good systems have few or small holes, while bad systems have larger holes. In this case, we can identify at least three layers, the pilots themselves, the pitot tube icing, and poor procedure/training in alternate flight modes. Any of these three not occurring would have saved the airplane.
Sidebar: Black boxes are not actually black. There are two of them, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR), both colored bright orange. They are incredibly durable, and record on a loop until power is lost. The data on the FDR is very comprehensive.

Asiana 214: I mentioned this above, but it’s another case where poor piloting and external factors interacted to cause a crash. Asiana is a South Korean airline (North Korea has one airline, Air Koryo, which is famous among airline geeks for being rated as the worst airline in the world), and Flight 214 was a 777 from Seoul to San Francisco. On the day of the accident, the instrument landing system on the runway was out of service for maintenance. This forced the pilots to use a visual approach. The pilot flying the plane was new to the 777, but experienced on other airplanes. The command pilot was a new flight instructor, but with a lot of time on the 777. They came in too low and slow, partially due to a belief that the autothrottle was running when it was in fact not [John: there is some disagreement whether an autothrottle should be used at all on a visual approach]. The landing gear and tail struck the seawall, while the rest of the plane slid almost half a mile down the runway before coming to a halt. Two of the escape slides deployed inside the fuselage, and had to be punctured to clear evacuation routes. Of the 307 onboard, only three died. Two of them were not wearing their seatbelts on landing and were thrown clear, dying on impact. (This is why you should always wear your seatbelt during takeoff and landing.) The third was run over by a rescue vehicle, possibly after also being thrown out of the airplane.
Our slices of cheese are again more complicated than simple pilot error. The crew also failed basic piloting, but the missing ILS, the misunderstood autothrottle, and the inexperience of the crew also were probably contributing. Many Asian airlines are known for placing more reliance on automation than US and European airlines do, which probably played a part. [John: The common factor in these two is that when the automation stopped working, the human pilots didn’t understand what was expected of them]
Sidebar: Human factors is really important in a lot of these cases. It’s tempting to blame the pilots for not understanding the autothrottle, but if we do that, we never see improvements. We’ve learned a lot about how to design good interfaces from incidents like this, and because the pilots never will be perfect, the rest of the system needs to be as good as possible.

I’ll probably continue looking at crashes later, but that’s enough for today.

• schazjmd says:

This was fascinating, bean, thank you. I’m just baffled that anyone would not be wearing their seatbelt on landing.

• Randy M says:

Sorry if this is off-topic; there was an airplane that disappeared over, I think the Indian Ocean about a year ago. Was any trace of that ever uncovered?

(edit Yes, the Malaysian one, thanks)

• gbdub says:

If you’re thinking of the Malaysia Air flight, I believe some pieces positively ID’d as part of the plane have washed up, but we still don’t have a good idea what happened or even where the plane ultimately crashed.

• bean says:

The closest I can think of is MH370, which was back in early 2014. They did finally find one part on Renunion. Best current theory (and I actually got to talk to one of the NTSB guys involved) was that the pilot decided to do his best Bond Villain impression and make the plane disappear. He almost got away with it, too. The engine transponders were installed after AF 447, and neither Boeing nor Malaysian knew about them.

• Randy M says:

make the plane disappear.

You mean commit suicide, or sell it on the black market?

• John Schilling says:

There’s no black market for 777s. You could e.g. sell the passengers to ISIS for ransom or propaganda purposes, and that was one of the early (almost certainly false) suspicions, but there’s no practical use for the plane itself outside of legitimate air commerce.

• Randy M says:

I don’t actually imagine such a thing being possible due to pretty much every air flight being noticed, monitored, and tracked by someone if it goes anywhere interesting, but I can’t see a Bond Villain(tm) plan being “crash plane mysteriously and mock the authorities from a watery grave”.

• bean says:

John is spot-on. Something like that is not particularly useful unless you’re planning to move people from one international airport to another. And they’re very closely tracked. It’s not like a car where you can change the plates. Boeing has a system where you can get information on every single jet they’ve ever made. There are half a dozen different databases maintained by recreational plane-spotters. If it turned up on the black market, someone would notice.
As for mocking the authorities from a watery grave, “bond villain” is how the NTSB guy described it to me.

• dodrian says:

I presume that it would also be impossible to sell parts off of it? As in, anything big, expensive and assembled (like an engine) would also be tracked with a serial number or something?

• bean says:

I presume that it would also be impossible to sell parts off of it? As in, anything big, expensive and assembled (like an engine) would also be tracked with a serial number or something?

Hmm…..
Everything has a serial number. And I mean everything, except maybe the rivets. But there are still records of what batch those are from. On the other hand, all of the work that goes into tracking all of this stuff makes certified parts very expensive, so a market grew up in parts that had fake certs. The FAA cracked down on it in the US a few years ago, but if you’re selling to operators in parts of the world with less stringent regulators, you might be able to sell some of the parts that way, and alter their serial numbers or get them ignored. But this seems absurdly high-risk, given that you’ve murdered a couple hundred people to do it, and you can’t rule out that someone will figure it out. Also, you have to dispose of a 777 carcass, and believe me, those things are big.

• Civilis says:

I’m just letting my bad-technothriller-plot skills run wild as a theoretical exercise, but could the airframe have value even if unflyable? I know rogue states like North Korea can’t just go and buy 777 blueprints to build their own knock-offs. So you slip a team of secret agents aboard, fly the plane to North Korea, put plane in a deep hangar and the passengers in a hidden mass grave, and a decade later Air Koryo gets something that looks remarkably 777-like.

• hyperboloid says:

@Civilis

I know rogue states like North Korea can’t just go and buy 777 blueprints to build their own knock-offs

Can’t they? Paying the right people to do a little industrial espionage seems a lot more practical then steeling an airplane, and killing it’s passengers.

• bean says:

I’m just letting my bad-technothriller-plot skills run wild as a theoretical exercise, but could the airframe have value even if unflyable?

I recall seeing similar speculation in the immediate aftermath. I just don’t think it’s plausible. That kind of reverse-engineering is a lot harder than it sounds, and you could get about 90% of the design art by slipping agents into Boeing or (more likely) a Chinese heavy maintenance shop. It would probably be easier and cheaper for Air Koryo to get widebodies from the Russians, but I can’t see why they’d want them in the first place. Also, if that’s what you are trying to do, then there are easier ways to do it. Have someone hijack an airplane and demand to be flown to North Korea. Once it’s on the ground, impound it for whatever reason. It’s not your fault that some nutjob chose to fly it to you, and even if your involvement comes out, you didn’t murder a bunch of people in the process. That’s the big problem I have with all of the plans to get the plane itself. Killing the passengers is a much bigger deal, and it’s hard to impossible to see why someone would do that as part of a plot to get the plane itself if they weren’t trying something so heinous they didn’t care. Also, the plane went the wrong way for North Korea, and everyone else can just buy 777s.

• Civilis says:

I guess I was coming up with a creative way to ask ‘how valuable are the trade secrets on the construction of a commercial aircraft?’ Yes, we know China’s going to both try to get compromised individuals into Boeing to get them details, and any aircraft we sell them they’re going to reverse engineer. But presumably, China can’t just order one Boeing 777, no spare parts. Any aircraft sale to China’s going to have to include enough commercial aircraft to legitimately fly, and the purchase price is going to include a de facto ‘you’re paying for the planes and the reverse engineering you’re going to do on them so you can build your own knock-off’.

• bean says:

But presumably, China can’t just order one Boeing 777, no spare parts.

Which is why they ordered lots, with spares. There’s a couple reasons Boeing isn’t that scared of this kind of reverse-engineering. First, reverse-engineering is really hard, particularly on the level of design a modern airliner is working on. You can’t just copy parts blindly. China still has to buy fighter engines from Russia, IIRC, and modern commercial engines have the same issue. Second, big airliners are operated internationally. That 777-copy isn’t going to be much good if nobody else will give it a certification because it’s a shameless ripoff of a Boeing product and Boeing is very unhappy about this. Third, I’m not even sure it would be economical. Boeing is building a lot of them, and you’re essentially having to build the entire parts chain over from scratch. Pirated cell phones, AIUI, work by the factories overbuilding parts, and selling the extras on the black market. Not going to happen here.

• John Schilling says:

China has rolled out their A320 knockoff, or close enough as makes no difference, and it probably did involve some degree of reverse-engineering of actual A320s.

They still, after a decade of trying, can’t build engines for it. They’ll probably get that right in a few more years, but only with the active assistance of I believe mostly Russian engineers. Modern jet aircraft are almost defined by their engines, and the best (i.e. only economically competitive) jet engines are almost impossible to build without having a team of first-rate metallurgists who have already spent a couple of decades building modern jet engines.

Reverse-engineering won’t help you there, because the issue isn’t knowing what the finished product looks like but knowing how to make it. Having a complete 777, or for that matter having a complete set of blueprints for a 777, won’t let you actually make one. You need a detailed knowledge of the manufacturing processes.

[ed: ninja’s by bean, of course]

• bean says:

China has rolled out their A320 knockoff, or close enough as makes no difference, and it probably did involve some degree of reverse-engineering of actual A320s.

A couple of points on this:
1. They at least made it look somewhat different, which definitely means they had enough understanding to do a lot of their own engineering.
2. It’s a narrowbody, which means mostly domestic or short international flights. They can do just fine with it even if the FAA/EASA deny certification.
3. It’s not really competitive with the A320neo and 737Max. All of the orders (except for one from GE leasing, which will probably go to a Chinese operator) are from Chinese airlines.
Basically, it’s a potential threat to Boeing/Airbus, but it’s not one they can solve easily, and it’s also not huge. Bombardier is a bigger concern.

• gbdub says:

These types of accidents seem like a hard problem. On the one hand, rule 1 is “fly the plane”. If in either case the pilots had done the “1st day of flight school” thing when the automation failed, the accidents would have been avoided.

On the other hand, automation has prevented a ton of accidents, and there are plenty of scenarios where trusting your instincts instead of your instruments will make you very dead.

• John Schilling says:

On the other hand, automation has prevented a ton of accidents, and there are plenty of scenarios where trusting your instincts instead of your instruments will make you very dead.

Just to be clear here, “automation” and “instruments” are two different things. If you are flying an airplane in an environment without a visible horizon, you absolutely need to use flight instruments to maintain stable level flight or you will die. Depending on the aircraft, you may also need to use instruments to e.g. maintain center of gravity withing acceptable limits by shifting fuel between different tanks. No exceptions.

This is not automation. Instrument flying, from Jimmy Doolittle on down to the present, can be accomplished by a human pilot observing mechanical instruments and by his own judgement making direct inputs into mechanical flight controls without so much as an analog feeback controller anywhere in the system.

• gbdub says:

I am aware of the difference between automation and instruments, but it’s fair to note it. Point was there are times when you need to trust things other than your personal perception and rely on what (you think the) the machine is telling you, and times when you shouldn’t, and deciding when to flip from one mode to the other is a nontrivial user interface problem.

• hlynkacg says:

deciding when to flip from one mode to the other is a nontrivial user interface problem.

It really isn’t. I read a lot of NTSB reports for work and people who trust the automation instead of their instruments produce NTSB reports (get in accidents) far more often then the inverse.

• johan_larson says:

Is a stall condition difficult to recognize in a large powered aircraft? When I was training for my PPL in gliders, we spent quite a bit of time dealing with stalls: how to recognize them, when they are likely to occur, and how to get out of them. Is it just harder in an airliner?

• bean says:

I don’t think it should be. I strongly suspect that the pilots simply didn’t realize what the deactivation of the primary control law meant in the moment.

• CatCube says:

The part that concerns me is that they didn’t recognize, “low airspeed, nose-high attitude, rapidly dropping altitude.” Maybe I’m limited by my low experience and all of it in light aircraft, but those three things together should scream “STALL!” even without warnings from the cockpit flight systems. And unless something is radically different, recovery is mostly just pushing forward on the stick to drop the nose and gain airspeed.

I mean, it’s easy to see the mistake if they were at a low altitude where that didn’t become apparent in the time you had before you hit the ground, but these guys had what, three minutes?

• John Schilling says:

Part of the problem is that nobody other than test pilots ever deliberately stalls an airliner. Training is all done by flying to incipient stall and then immediately recovering; the test standards IIRC allow for only 100′ of altitude loss, which is not possible for a full stall. Flight simulators can’t accurately model a full stall, though people are working on it, and I don’t believe the operators’ manuals for any of the current airliners allow deliberate full stalls for training.

Some airlines have, post-447, been sending their pilots to “upset training” programs using either surplus military trainers or old Gulfstream bizjets (which do allow full stall), and of course your typical US airline pilot is going to have 1000+ hours tooling around in an F-16 or a Cessna for their hands-on stalling experience. But someone who went through ab initio training to become an airline pilot may have basically learned, even though that wasn’t the intent, that actual stalls are mysterious and scary and certain death to be avoided at all cost, which fortunately Airbus’s automation will mostly handle for you.

• smocc says:

Why can’t flight simulators accurately model a full stall? I am intrigued.

• John Schilling says:

Fundamentally different aerodynamics, with turbulent flow detaching from the upper surface of the wing, that don’t occur anywhere else in normal or even most abnormal flight operations. You’d have to do substantial wind-tunnel testing to measure the raw aerodynamic inputs for a stalled-flight model, and there has been no demand for that because Everybody Knows that nobody ever ever really stalls an airliner in the first place.

There’s talk of changing that, but as far as I know nobody has yet rolled out an airliner simulator that actually does full stall behavior.

• Aapje says:

http://aviationweek.com/awin/full-stall-simulators-take-shape

It seems that it’s just because they haven’t been programmed with the proper response for that state. This seems to be a lot of extra effort, because it’s a special state that rarely happens, so you have to do a lot of work to figure out how the specific plane responds during a full stall.

Edit: ninja’d

• johan_larson says:

Making a wide-body airliner fall from the sky but recover safely sounds like fun.

Hypothetically, if I bought one of these aircraft, got all the proper qualifications to fly it, and then went out and repeatedly stalled it and spun it, what would happen?

• Nornagest says:

Well, you’d have invented the world’s most expensive extreme sport, for one.

• John Schilling says:

You’d be operating outside the placarded limits and the specifications laid out in the owners’ manual. I think that this is legal if and only if you register the plane as an experimental aircraft, at which point you can no longer charge people money to fly in it. Not sure if there’s a way to recover costs for providing flight instruction in an experimental aircraft. And going from experimental back to certified operations is a tricky proposition as well.

So, as Nornagest says, a very expensive extreme sport. But legal, so long as you do it without endangering people on the ground.

Hmm, if you want to do it above 18,000 feet, say to duplicate the Air France 447 experience, you’ll need to be flying IFR, so air traffic control is going to have to clear this. I suppose technically you could just ask for a block altitude clearance and not explain why you’re going to be using the whole block over a 15-second period…

• The Nybbler says:

I’m not an airline designer, but I’m guessing after a few iterations of this, something rather important breaks from repeated stresses well above what are expected in normal operation, and you fail to recover.

• johan_larson says:

Imagine the reaction at Boeing HQ when they got wind of it.

Marketing: This is great exposure, if he doesn’t crash. If he does, not so much.

Eng: We sure would love a chance to inspect that aircraft after a few rounds of aerobatics.

Finance: Our stock is trading heavily, but it’s approximately level, ironically enough.

Execs: I picked the wrong day to stop drinking.

• bean says:

Making a wide-body airliner fall from the sky but recover safely sounds like fun.

If we ever meet in person, remind me to stand far away if you think something might be fun.

You’d be operating outside the placarded limits and the specifications laid out in the owners’ manual.

Wait. There are commercial Vomit Comet operators, and they can charge money. No idea what part of the FARs they’re under though. But if you can’t stretch those to cover, you’re probably right about the legal basis.

I’m not an airline designer, but I’m guessing after a few iterations of this, something rather important breaks from repeated stresses well above what are expected in normal operation, and you fail to recover.

You’d be surprised. The planes are quite tough. Although I would want a really good fatigue inspection after every run.

Eng: We sure would love a chance to inspect that aircraft after a few rounds of aerobatics.

Service Bulletins: No! They’ll inspect it, and find some crack in some stupid location caused by this stupid person flying the airplane in a stupid manner, and the FAA will come up with a stupid rule that we have to fix the thing. And we will have to explain to engineering why they can’t do it the way they want. Repeatedly. It will be a stupid waste of time we could better spend on satisfying the whims of the FAA and engineering which are less stupid, or in some cases not stupid at all.

Execs: I picked the wrong day to stop drinking.

They weren’t too happy the last time.

2. Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

In the previous thread, All I Do Is Win mentioned:

I can at least report what the alt-right would answer (to the best of my knowledge—I follow them closely):

“What is the best thing the Trump administration has done?”

Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

I’d like them to expand on this in this CW permitted thread. Gorusch doesn’t seem like a particularly alt-rightish judge, is it because of his strong commitment to the first ammendment (which nowadays greatly benefits these groups)? Or because a Hillary-chosen judge would be much worse? Or some other reason?

• All I Do Is Win says:

Gorusch doesn’t seem like a particularly alt-rightish judge

The alt-right (in the US at least, which is what I primarily follow) believe that the conception of the United States, originally, is fundamentally compatible with the alt-right. Since Gorusch is an originalist, he’s de facto helpful to alt-right political goals.

However, that’s a long-term thing. In my lifetime, the most effective weapon progressives have had are the courts. Having Gorsuch on the Supreme Court greatly reduces the effectiveness of that attack vector. Ironically, I’m not sure reducing this attack vector is actually helpful to the alt-right. Here’s why:

Relying on the courts to settle cultural issues, when the momentum for the culture has been clearly moving towards progressive ideals, has been a huge strategic mistake. Literally every single cultural issue that has been decided preemptively by the court “discovering” some heretofore unknown right in the US Constitution has caused the issue to metastasize in the body politic. When that happens, essentially, the culture becomes frozen at that point in time, sides lock in, and because the court decided the issue, legislative fixes become impossible as a cultural mechanism to release the tension.

Instead, the country has a gaping wound that can’t be healed through normal cultural processes. Abortion is the prototypical example, but I would also put gay marriage in that category now. What’s frustrating to me is that these issues were clearly moving in the right direction (and did so in other Western nations), but in the US, activists got greedy and felt it Had. To. Be. Done. Now. So instead of these being dead issues (with the right answer) today, they’re live issues with open wounds, political footballs to be tossed around every election.

(In 4GW terms, progressive ideals “won” at the legal level, but lost at the moral level. That’s a terrible tradeoff today.)

The correct thing for the Supreme Court is to never get out in front of the culture. Every time they do, they damage their own legitimacy and make it impossible for the culture to continue to evolve towards progressive ends.

So IMO, Gorsuch is actually not as clear of a win as the alt-right thinks it is (nor is Trump, actually), and may be a blessing in disguise. By causing these issues to be solved by the culture going forward, not the courts, I think a much more lasting peace can be achieved in the progressive direction. That’s not at all what the alt-right wants. 🙂

Interracial marriage was a hot cultural issue where public opinion was moving towards progressive ideals when the court reached out and preemptively settled it. It didn’t turn into a gaping wound. Ditto for condoms. That’s two counterexamples for posited rule that only has two examples for it.

• All I Do Is Win says:

Interracial marriage was a hot cultural issue where public opinion was moving towards progressive ideals when the court reached out and preemptively settled it.

I can’t tell if you are joking or not. The country literally passed the 14th amendment specifically to address racial inequalities in application of the law. Interracial marriage is clearly an example of that, the court didn’t need to go out on a limb there or get “in front” of the culture.

I’m suggesting that all issues be addressed that way, with amendments when necessary.

• rlms says:

I think you are wrong about the facts regarding public support for gay/interracial marriage over time, see here.

The country literally passed the 14th amendment specifically to address racial inequalities in application of the law. Interracial marriage is clearly an example of that, the court didn’t need to go out on a limb there or get “in front” of the culture.

These guys didn’t seem to think so:

By the Fourteenth Amendment, all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are made citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside, and the States are forbidden from making or enforcing any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, or shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The proper construction of this amendment was first called to the attention of this court in the Slaughterhouse Cases, 16 Wall. 36 , which involved, however, not a question of race, but one of exclusive privileges. The case did not call for any expression of opinion as to the exact rights it was intended to secure to the colored race, but it was said generally that its main purpose was to establish the citizenship of the negro, to give definitions of citizenship of the United States and of the States, and to protect from the hostile legislation of the States the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, as distinguished from those of citizens of the States.

The object of the amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting, and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other, and have been generally, if not universally, recognized as within the competency of the state legislatures in the exercise of their police power. The most common instance of this is connected with the establishment of separate schools for white and colored children, which has been held to be a valid exercise of the legislative power even by courts of States where the political rights of the colored race have been longest and most earnestly enforced.

Laws forbidding the intermarriage of the two races may be said in a technical sense to interfere with the freedom of contract, and yet have been universally recognized as within the police power of the State. State v. Gibson, 36 Indiana 389.

and in terms of getting out in front of the culture:
https://content.gallup.com/origin/gallupinc/GallupSpaces/Production/Cms/POLL/bb8ic2qate-wa_cbgc2ifg.png

(Loving v Virginia was handed down in 1967)

P.S. Update the language a little bit and this is something I could imagine reading from some of our H B D friends.

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it. The argument necessarily assumes that if, as has been more than once the case and is not unlikely to be so again, the colored race should become the dominant power in the state legislature, and should enact a law in precisely similar terms, it would thereby relegate the white race to an inferior position. We imagine that the white race, at least, would not acquiesce in this assumption. The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits, and a voluntary consent of individuals. As was said by the Court of Appeals of New York in People v. Gallagher, 93 N. Y. 438, 448, this end can neither be accomplished nor promoted by laws which conflict with the general sentiment of the community upon whom they are designed to operate. When the government, therefore, has secured to each of its citizens equal rights before the law and equal opportunities for improvement and progress, it has accomplished the end for which it was organized, and performed all of the functions respecting social advantages with which it is endowed.

Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.

@Brad What the heck happened between 1995 and 1998, that’s a huge jump!

It looks like there was a sharp increase for both whites (45-61) and blacks (68-77). The was a large drop in no opinion (15-9) over those two polls but not enough to explain the jump. It isn’t mentioned in gallop’s writeup http://news.gallup.com/poll/163697/approve-marriage-blacks-whites.aspx

In short, I don’t know.

• All I Do Is Win says:

@rlms

I think you are wrong about the facts regarding public support for gay/interracial marriage over time, see here.

I don’t think those polls measure what you think they measure, which is the legal acceptance of interracial marriage—but that’s what the Supreme Court ruled on.

People can believe miscegenation is a bad idea, while also believing it should be legal and is protected by the Constitution (as amended).

If anything, opposition to miscegenation has risen in the last 10 years, not decreased. That’s alarming. (I haven’t seen a similar trend opposing gay marriage.)

• Aapje says:

My guess would be a change in the polling method.

• Controls Freak says:

> …abortion… gay marriage… interracial marriage… condoms… oh, and courts preemptively settling cultural issues…

I usually categorize these topics by whether or not they involve a deep philosophical rift rather than simply being the hot political potato of the day. Abortion involves a hotly-contested and very deep philosophical question – what constitutes “[human] life [with moral value]”. That’s about a deep of a philosophical question as we’re likely to see, so it’s no wonder that the topic is a gaping wound regardless of what the Court said.

Interracial marriage was very much, “Race is a thing; marriage is a thing; what are we going to do about it?” At best, you could say that theories of racial inferiority/superiority were at stake, but those were always more politically-motivated rather than presenting a truly persistent philosophical rift.

Condoms are even more trivial. “We have this stupidly simple tech that stops pregnancy. What are we going to do about it?”

Gay marriage could have fallen on this end of the spectrum, but it comes in the midst of a massive philosophical debate. What is sex? What is gender? What is sexuality/orientation? What is marriage? This one has the potential to lead to a much longer gaping wound, because people simply weren’t asking these types of questions fifty years ago. (Some people might be reopening the questions, “What is race,” and, “What is marriage,” but they weren’t particularly live at the time.)

• All I Do Is Win says:

I usually categorize these topics by whether or not they involve a deep philosophical rift rather than simply being the hot political potato of the day.

That’s a good way of looking at things! Thanks.

• Wrong Species says:

I don’t think this is necessarily true. Look at what is happening to gay marriage. Ever since the Supreme Court ruling in 2015, it has continued its upward pace. Even christians don’t seem as motivated in opposing it as they used to.

But let’s say that you’re right when it comes to abortion. It does look pretty stable since 1973. But that doesn’t really matter. A stalemate is a progressive victory because abortion is still legal. Maybe the support for abortion would be higher without Roe vs Wade. Either way, conservatives can’t win unless they can overturn it.

• All I Do Is Win says:

Yes, Christians aren’t as motivated to oppose gay marriage as they used to be. That’s is true. However, it’s not because they have accepted gay marriage, it’s because it’s not an issue they can win on right now. In the future? Sure, because it’s still an open issue at the cultural level.

The culture is actually moving traditional in Gen Z, at least amongst white people (according to a study of ~40,000 Gen Z students done recently), with reduced support for gay marriage and enhanced support for traditional marriage. This is an alarming development, and not at all what I’d expect. Young people are typically less conservative, and we’re seeing the exact opposite.

Outwardly, everything is great, progressive culture is everywhere respected and ascendent. Internally, the numbers look bleak IMO.

One of the reasons I come to this site is to see how progressives are dealing with these types of changes. So far, they’re not even aware they’re happening, much less formulating a coherent response. That’s troubling.

• Wrong Species says:

Isn’t Generation Z full of kids under 18? Assuming your reference is right(and I’m highly skeptical), I wouldn’t really trust the political opinions of teenagers to be stable.

• All I Do Is Win says:

@Wrong Species

Yes, this is a survey they’ve been running for a long time to track political attitudes for that age cohort (i.e. not just Gen Z, but the ones that came before it too).

Result: Younger generations are becoming markedly less progressive, at least among whites and asian males.

• Wrong Species says:

I’m going to need to see this survey.

• Standing in the Shadows says:

This is an alarming development, and not at all what I’d expect. Young people are typically less conservative, and we’re seeing the exact opposite.

Especially true outside of the universities, and it’s getting noticeable.

I’ve started to come to really enjoy tutoring and teaching the kids born after 2000. It’s like a sea change. And the other old farts who have the opportunity to teach kids outside the of the Political Commissar structures of public school and the universities are noticing it too.

So many of the kids make fun of the tumblr addicts and the SJW ragejoys they know in their public schools. They trade memes and zingers about clueslessness from and their antipathy towards the cohorts born between about 1960 and 1999.

And they are rediscovering chastity, which surprises even me. A few weeks ago I asked one of the kids about the bracelet he was wearing, and he flipped it over to show me it read, in big block letters, “NOFAP”. Even an old guy like me was able to figure out what that meant.

• Nick says:

It’s a trend that folks have been noticing in the Catholic Church for a while—a fair number of young Catholics (millennial-age and younger, that is) are quite conservative. It’s very much a thing in France, too. Rod Dreher has been writing about it, First Things has been writing about it… I’m not sure who else. Scares the wits out of old liberals, though!

• Jiro says:

“A right-wing justice is bad for the right” fits in the category “telling one’s opponents that something which is straightforwardly bad for them and good for you, is for some complicated reason really the reverse.” I have a strong prior against such things being true.

• Anonymous Bosch says:

Gorusch doesn’t seem like a particularly alt-rightish judge,

He put a fake club in his yearbook called “Fascism Forever” to troll the liberals he argued with. I disagree.

• Gobbobobble says:

Trolling liberals is sufficient to get categorized as “alt-right” now?

• rlms says:

If not that, what would you say the alt-right’s central characteristic is?

• Nick says:

Necessary but not sufficient, surely, however central or noticeable it is.

• Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

Presumably, the desire for a white ethno-state.

I do have to commend Gorusch for apparently being one of the first ever /pol/ posters.

• rlms says:

@Whatever Happened To Anonymous
I think most people would say Milo is centrally alt-right, and I’m fairly confident that he doesn’t want an ethnostate.

• The Nybbler says:

Milo is not centrally alt-right. He did not include himself in his guide to the alt-right, for instance. That’s if you’re using the motte, where the alt-right is your internet-savvy white nationalists and white supremacists. Milo is central in the bailey (those to the right of Hillary who aren’t with the establishment GOP, including most Trump supporters) but the bailey isn’t very useful. I suspect Gorsuch is simply an establishment conservative.

What the alt-right is depends on what time period you’re talking about.

Richard Spencer initially coined the term in 2007-2008 as a rebrand of white nationalism to separate pro-white advocacy from anti-other advocacy (klan, nazis).

No one cared because identity politics weren’t quite as virulent then and few people have ever been interested in white nationalism.

Slowly the term expanded as other people wanted a description for “right-wing-but-not-Republican,” like monarchists. I first heard the term in 2015 as a reference to Death Eaters.

Then Trump happened. Lots of people who reacted strongly against the regressive left but also hated the neocon GOP establishment got lumped into the alt-right. This is the time during which Milo wrote his “establishment conservative’s guide the alt-right” article on Breitbart, and it included everybody from unironic nazis to 4chan trolls to paleoconservatives and social libertarians. This is also the context in which Steve Bannon said Breitbart provides a platform for the alt-right, which was an unforced error giving everyone cover to claim Steve Bannon is a white nationalist (he’s not). Also, during this entire period, still practically no one had ever heard of Richard Spencer.

Once the election was over, Spencer is on camera doing “heil Trump” stuff and the alt-right instantly collapses back into “white nationalism only.” And then Charlottesville killed the whole thing. If your initial goal was to separate pro-white advocacy from klan and nazis, then Rule Number Zero should be “no klan, no nazis” and instead they marched with the klan and nazis. And during the first major event that anyone might have paid attention to them. And even while protesting for something that’s object-level popular (the vast majority of Americans, including black Americans, are against taking down Confederate statues). One should always be very glad to have political opponents this incompetent. Spencer is so incompetent at politics I’d give even money he’s controlled opposition.

To be honest, I would taboo the term “alt-right” because when someone says it I have no idea if they mean “no really, just pro-white stuff,” “pretending to be pro-white only when really just nazis,” or “le ebin frog may-mays.”

• dndnrsn says:

Why explain by malice what you can explain by stupidity? Spencer is a grad school dropout – so he’s spent a bunch of time in academia. Right-wingers in academia seem, in my experience at least, to have a tendency to adopt a style one could call trolling – they’re unlikely to convert anyone, so they may as well ruffle their feathers. You can see the smirk on Spencer’s face when he says “luegenpresse” in the “Hail Trump” video.

Why explain by malice what you can explain by stupidity?

Why not both?

I find his choice of statements and issues so bizarre I can’t even call it trolling. For instance, he’s against the RAISE act which would dramatically reduce legal immigration, and likely bias it towards anglosphere countries with requirements like “must speak English.” While this isn’t “white ethnostate,” you would sure think it would align with his interests. Nope. He apparently wants unskilled 3rd worlders that middle class whites would lord over, or something? That sounds like “white supremacy” and not “white nationalism.” It’s so bizarrely and weirdly inconsistent and incoherent that I find it hard to believe the man believes the things he purports to believe.

And to be so casually incoherent about politics so extreme they make you a pariah and get you literally punched in the face on the street…it just seems very odd. It’s so incredibly stupid, for someone who doesn’t seem incredibly stupid, I have to give equal weight to malice.

• dndnrsn says:

Extremists have a tendency to “consider the good the enemy of the perfect”, so to speak.

• mobile says:

Matt Stone and Trey Parker have few peers when it comes to trolling liberals, but they are certainly not alt-right.

• Matt M says:

They troll everyone though.

If you troll liberals (progressives might be a better fit of a word here)
exclusively, you’re probably alt-right.

• Gobbobobble says:

Doesn’t the alt in alt-right imply a certain degree of trolling the “default”-right?

• Matt M says:

Hmmmm, maybe. Personally, I see it as less of “we also troll the right” and more of “unlike those wusses in the traditional right who cowtow to the left, we openly troll them”

Like, if someone on the left calls you a racist, the traditional right response is to provide a list of five reasons why the left are the REAL racists. The alt-right response is to say “**** you, who cares” or something like that.

• Gobbobobble says:

Hmm, that makes sense. I still disagree that trolling liberals/progressives is sufficient evidence to predict alt-right over *-right, but I can see where you’re coming from now.

I suspect the continued disagreement stems from how badly the verb “troll” has been tortured in recent years. Perhaps what I’m getting at is that the label alt-right implies a not-insignificant degree of disrespect for the default-right, and the 6-o’clock-news definition of “trolling” appears to be roughly “being openly impolite toward”.

That said, I agree that the alt-right label is more likely to draw people who are willing to be brazenly disrespectful, because establishment parties are much more disinclined to work with people who don’t play by the rules. IMO Charlottesville makes a pretty good case study for whale cancer.

• The Nybbler says:

The alt-right’s view of the traditional right is that they’re pushovers (I think the 4-letter c-word they use is banned). I expect this means they’re simply not worth trolling.

• Matt M says:

Gorsuch is also a very “safe” answer to that question in the sense that he appeals widely to the right in general, but is also far enough right that it seems somewhat reasonable to suspect that a standard milquetoast republican might not have nominated him.

It’s something that can be spun as uniquely Trump, something that the left wasn’t able to stop or hold up, and will never be able to reverse.

3. gph says:

Tangential to the Different Worlds post:

How many people here have noticed or experienced some form of group bullying in the workplace, even if it’s really subtle? What did you think the reason for the bullying was? Do you feel like on some level the reason the person was getting bullied was at least partially because of their actions and/or lack of competence?

I bring this up because I’m one of the ones working in the tech industry who feels like people are either over-exaggerating about sexism/harassment or things must really be worse at most companies and I’ve been lucky enough not to work at any of them. Of course I could also be blind to a lot of minor forms of ‘abuse’ that don’t seem important to me but when built into an overall pattern they can be really detrimental to a person. The micro-aggression theory. I’m somewhat biased against that, but willing to accept there can be some truth to it.

But reading through some of the posts in the other topic had me reflecting on what might constitute bullying/harassment. The only pattern of hostility or bullying in the workplace I can think of came in the form of low-key group bullying of the weakest member on the team. It reminded me a lot of playing team sports as a kid/teenager, I can think of a couple instances where I witnessed and even participated in ‘bullying’ whoever sucked the most or was dragging the team down with their performance. This generally took the subtle form of no one really being friendly or hanging out with the kid, but could also escalate into taunting and even some minor physical abuse. And as cruel and horrible as that sounds, from a group dynamics perspective it makes a lot of sense. We were working together to win, and if you weren’t doing your part why should the rest of the group get dragged down by it? Looking back it was definitely pretty shitty since we were just playing a game that didn’t have any real impact on our lives or general survival.

But what about situations where someone performing terribly really does have a significant impact. For instance as part of a software development team. Which brings me back to the low-key group bullying in the workplace. Before thinking about it I wouldn’t have really considered it bullying in the traditional sense. There’s not any intentional abuse, people don’t go out of their way to cause problems/suffering in the persons life. It’s more like everyone gets fed up and tired of that one person who can’t understand simple programming concepts and either screws things up or can’t get their work done without someone holding their hand. And eventually their mess is going to fall on the rest of us to pick up. So they slowly get ostracized. People stop helping them as much. And why should we? For the most part we had to figure this shit out ourselves, and when we did need help we knew the right questions to ask and earned at least some respect of the person we’re asking. I can’t tell you how frustrating it can be to try and answer a question when you know the person doesn’t even have the foundational understanding to truly grasp what you’re saying. I’ve only worked about 6 years in software development, but I’ve seen this kind of situation unfold for a few people. One of them eventually found their footing and I think and hope things generally got better for them. A couple others
basically washed out, they probably got jobs at another company where the cycle might have restarted or they changed careers. Can’t say I know for sure.

I guess this is all to say there’s likely some issues around sexism in tech that starts well before anyone is hired (social programming / cognitive development from a young age), but a lot of the real bullying and harassment in the workplace actually comes in the form of ‘taking out the weakest link(s)’. And while it might not be the nicest or most efficient way of handling things, I can understand why it happens, and honestly I’m not sure I’m going to act any differently if I notice it happening.

But I’ll gladly hear counter viewpoints/experiences compared to mine.

• andrewflicker says:

I’ve seen individual bullying at workplaces, but group bullying seems much rarer. Only times I can recall seeing anything like it is when the team/dept leader was themselves leading the bullying, and other group members participated as a way of becoming closer to the seat of power (probably mostly unconsciously, but who knows- a lot of people are more sociopathic than is largely acknowledged).

In practice, bullying at a workplace is pretty easy to stop (in the US) if the department head is smart and cares to stop it- simply fire the offenders. In practice, people find reasons not to fire people, are willfully blind to problems in their department, etc., etc.

• The Nybbler says:

Aside from the bullying coming from the Social Justice crowd (which was endemic, and some of which you can now read on Breitbart), the only clear incident of bullying I saw at Google was when one very senior person responded (via email; none of this was in-person) to a question from one of my more junior teammates by essentially telling her he didn’t have time for her stupid questions. He didn’t put it quite that blatantly (and I don’t remember exact words), but it was clear enough and upset her. He was in the wrong and I told him so (also in clear terms; the “stupid” question was about a piece of code he was responsible for and wasn’t working properly), and he backed down. But I (and my manager and basically anyone who had the misfortune of dealing with him) already knew he was an asshole before that incident, so I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with sexism.

• nimim.k.m. says:

And while it might not be the nicest or most efficient way of handling things, I can understand why it happens, and honestly I’m not sure I’m going to act any differently if I notice it happening.

Why would you consider upholding the current state of affairs (subtle passive-aggressive psychological torment that apparently can go on for a long period of time) preferable instead of working to solve the problem without prolonged periods of making people miserable (either try to uplift the weakest programmer or kick them out)?

I’d personally leave such workplace if I could, because barring miraculous hiring decisions, there’s always going to be someone on the team that does not perform as well as the ones who perform very well, and whether they become the designated target is out of their control (whether the company hires someone who is less capable than them is down to luck).

• gph says:

Well its not an automatic pick on the weakest link, they have to be both bad enough that it has noticeable affects on the team, and despite others trying to help they still aren’t improving.

I agree with you that there should be a more reasonable way of handling it, like going to the manager and having them eventually let the person go. But its almost never that simple in a corporate environmemt. Fact of the matter is, once someone gets hired there is a myriad of factors that make it really difficult to let them go. The people that interviewed and hired them don’t want to look stupid or wrong, even if they are quite bad at their job they can usually at least accomplish simple tasks and finding a replacement can’t be done immediately and your nearly always trying to meet a deadline of some kind, and on top of all that even here in the US managers are reluctant to fire people unless they have some clear and provable reason lest they file a lawsuit and all.

And overall I probably came across as too aggressive in describing the situation. I was reluctant to call it bullying and before reading scotts post I wouldn’t have. Its not really a concerted effort and some of my colleagues are more tolerant of bas coworkers. But theres definitely a subtle shift I’ve seen after someone has been sucking at their job for months and shows no improvement. People start getting shorter with them and stop helping them as earnestly. And it bleeds into the social relationship too, its hard to talk and go to lunch with someone that is actively making your job more difficult than it would otherwise be if they were even adequate at their job.

• Andrew Hunter says:

I’ve been bullied at Google. I am not sure how to identify the group, per se, that bullied me–the best label I could give them would be “normies”. The people who think they’re cooler than those dweeby engineers who work in bizdev or sales or PM or whatever. (Yes, there is a major, powerful group at Google who thinks they’re higher status than the engineering staff. This is the biggest difference between now and when I started. It’s incredibly sad, to me.)

The most blatant example of this: I once was sitting in a conference room alone waiting for an interviewee. Two recruiters at a nearby desk, who thought I couldn’t hear them, spent a good twenty minutes talking about how ugly I was and how pathetic I looked / was dressed / was as a person. (I suppose this is not, perhaps, a central example of bullying; since they seemed to not think I could hear them, they presumably weren’t doing it with the intention of hurting me directly. Nevertheless, it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of this class, so I cite it a lot.) Since they still work at Google to my knowledge, and in my best estimation nothing would have happened had I filed complaints against them, I tend to cite this as the day I decided Google was no longer a place meant for people like me.

(And of course I’ve been verbally abused by various SJW types; a prominent one I won’t name but who you know if you follow the press acounts of Google shit tried to get me fired once. But I’m not even counting that.)

• mfm32 says:

Interesting — having had some contact with Google, I’m really surprised that anyone with a brain thinks they’re higher status than eng there. It was fairly obvious, at least to me, that eng absolutely runs the show and everyone else serves at their pleasure. PM seemed like it could sometimes be the tail that wags the dog, but always with a nod to the supremacy of eng.

Care to elaborate on the dynamic you’re referring to?

• Andrew Hunter says:

It was fairly obvious, at least to me, that eng absolutely runs the show and everyone else serves at their pleasure.

This was true eight years ago. It is not true now.

I am a little reticent to spill too many beans/reveal private information, since I do respect my confidentiality obligations, but suffice to say that the status games have totally changed, and evil losers like me are expected to perform subservience.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Been bullied, and seen bullying.

In the cases of the bullying I’ve seen, it’s because the bullies in question have asshole personalities. They targeted other people because those people annoyed them.

Like, in one instance, the bully was picking on a quiet, overweight guy who had trouble fitting in. He eventually left the company. The bully immediately went on to another girl and started making fun of her because she was ditzy.

The guy bullying me was just because he was an asshole that never thought he was wrong, liked to tell other people what to do, and yell when things weren’t done according to his way (even if his way was impossible). At one point he yelled at me because I said I needed to play around with a query to get the results I wanted, and he said that he knew how to do it off the top of his head to get exactly the results he wanted. So I came to his desk, and we spent an hour as he fiddled with the query…

And still didn’t get the results he wanted. Because the results he wanted was impossible (fields did not exist in our system). We literally had a team of 70 people manually doing what he wanted, and he assumed he could just automate those jobs away because he was so smart.

That guy was a known asshole, though. He was eventually called out on it, because one of our business partners complained about him. So it was a known issue.

So, nothing specific about the victims. Just asshole perps.

4. Nick says:

SSC, whom do you think is an overlooked or underrated figure in history?

I’m going to restrict to people who are no longer alive. I’m also going to restrict to people you think folks here probably haven’t heard of; just use your best judgment on this, we probably don’t need to hear for the 37th time about our Lord and Savior Stanislav Petrov. A little biographical information or neat facts is of course welcome.

• bean says:

Karel Bossart, designer of the Atlas, the first US ICBM. Responsible for major advances in rocketry, but overshadowed by Korolev and Von Braun.

• rlms says:

She was born into a noble family, then orphaned and forced into exile. At 14, she married a much older foreign mercenary. Following his death, she took command of his army and became very powerful and wealthy thanks to the devotion of her troops and the magical powers her enemies attributed to her. This biography might sound like it belongs to a certain Game of Thrones character, but I’m actually talking about Begum Samru, the 18th century Indian warlady. Other facts about her: she converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 28 and thus became India’s only ever Catholic ruler; her great-grandson was the first British Asian MP; and the inheritance of her massive fortune is still being disputed today (if your surname is Reinhard, investigate your ancestry!).

Also, in the same way that most female political leaders are right-wing rather than progressive feminist types, the only plausibly trans (Wikipedia claims he wore a veil and makeup, and kept a male harem) leader I know was the 3rd Caliph of Córdoba (presumably a fairly conservative place by modern standards).

• Nornagest says:

The Caliphate of Cordoba doesn’t get much attention at all. I knew about the Muslim presence in Spain, but I’d assumed they got taken over by the Abbasids along with the rest of the Muslim world until I read The Long Ships.

• honoredb says:

John Wilkins. If you haven’t read Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, the most you’ve heard of Wilkins is probably the Borges essay poking gentle fun at one of his projects (referenced in the SSC blogroll). But Wilkins may be more or less single-handedly responsible for our modern concept of the scientific community–subsidized by various states, but in itself apolitical. By ingratiating himself with all the powerful religious and political movements of the day, he was able to ensure the survival and patronage of the Royal Society through an extremely chaotic period in European history, and set a precedent for pluralism in the process.

He also hit on maybe the most consistently effective plea for science funding that’s ever been made: “One day, if we keep studying, we’ll be able to visit the moon!”

• Nick says:

Hooke was another figure Stephenson was trying to rehabilitate, at least for his scientific contributions. Rebuilt London after the 1666 fire, and he made contributions to physics, horology, and microscopy, among others.

• SamChevre says:

All these are well-known, but in small circles: I’m curious whether they are well-known on SSC.

The majority of people alive today owe their lives to this chemist, who developed a process that is critical to modern agriculture. Fritz Haber, who developed the process for synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen in the air.

Modern conscientious objector status in the US owes a good bit to these two men, who died chained to their cell doors at Fort Leavenworth after months of abuse. Joseph and Michael Hofer

• The Nybbler says:

Haber I knew, the other two not.

• actinide meta says:

I once read a work of fiction which speculated that the real genius behind the Haber-Bosch process was Haber’s wife Clara. I don’t know enough about the actual history to know if that’s plausible or completely fanciful, but it was interesting!

Titus Lucretius Carus isn’t overlooked, in that he’s quite famous, but most people don’t know that he discovered Brownian motion in the first century B.C.

Judging from its English translation, De rerum natura is a very beautiful poem filled with exquisite detail. It undermines itself on the moral philosophy front, mostly because Lucretius’ passionate intensity contradicts his message about tranquility. But when it comes to natural philosophy, the argument he makes for atomism is much better than one would expect.

From Book II, lines 127-141:

[Turn] Your attention to the mores that drift and tumble in the light;
Such turmoil means that there are secret motions, out of sight,
That lie concealed in matter. For you see the motes careen
Off course, and then bounce back again, by means of blows unseen,
Drifting now in this direction, now that, on every side.
You may be sure this starts with atoms; they are what provide
The base of this unrest. For atoms are moving on their own,
Then small formations of them, nearest them in scale, are thrown
Into agitation by unseen atomic blows,
And these strike slightly larger clusters, and on and on it goes –
A movement that begins on the atomic level, by slight
Degrees ascends until it is perceptible to our sight,
So that we can behold the dust-motes dancing in the sun,
Although the blows that move them can’t be seen by anyone.

Now obviously Lucretius wasn’t a scientist and didn’t approach the problem scientifically. If he had the world might have been very different. But given how critical that observation was in the history of science it’s remarkable to see it so far before it’s time.

• Yaleocon says:

Gotta disagree here. He theorized, but saying that he “discovered” it is overly ambitious. Rather, he inserted it into Epicurean metaphysics to justify free will existing, which he was having a hard time with, given his otherwise hard-determinist primitive atomism. Moreover: Brownian motion doesn’t involve the kind of causeless action Lucretius wanted. Even deterministic systems can be chaotic systems. and if Lucretius had been more of a scientist, he would have investigated the real causes of the chaos, rather than postulating a cause in a completely ad-hoc way (to satisfy a purely philosophical doctrine, no less!).

As a matter of philosophy and of science, I have to side with Cicero, who rightly ridiculed him over this “swerve” doctrine.

• William Marshall.

David Ricardo.

John Wilkes.

• hyperboloid says:

William Marshall.

Blacula, or the 1st Earl of Pembroke?

If we’re going with unappreciated figures from twelfth century English history, I go with empress Matilda, the woman who was in great part reasonable for putting her son, Henry II, on the throne.

• The first Earl of Pembroke was Gilbert de Clare. William married the fourth Countess, Isabel de Clare, and the title was recreated for him. So the Marshall was the first Earl in the second creation of the title.

He was also regent of England.

Matilda was also, along with Stephen, responsible for a pretty ugly civil war.

• cassander says:

There isn’t enough bile and venom in the world to give Woodrow Wilson half the reputation he deserves. The man was a monster in human form, there was practically no bad idea from the early 20th century he wasn’t in favor of, and didn’t try to ham fistedly implement.

He was was an exceptional even by the standard of his day who re-segregated Washington DC and the federal civil service He was a eugenicist and a prohibitionist. His meddling in world war one cost millions of lives, 100,000 of them american. While waging that war he had tens of thousands of Americans jailed for dissent, including one of his opponents in the 1916 election. Despite this immense cost, his intervention achieved none of the objectives he sought to achieve, as he threw away an amazingly strong diplomatic position through sheer pigheadedness while laying the groundwork for communism, nazism, world war two and and virtually every subsequent conflict of the 20th century. He was a man so arrogant and self righteous that he ironically invaded countries to “teach them to elect good men” and that Georges Clemenceau called him JC (Jesus Christ) in private correspondence.

All in all combined the absolute worst aspects of the american character in one man, the parochialism and racism of the South married to the puritanism and intellectual arrogance of the North. And despite all of this, he’s still relatively well thought of today.

• Protagoras says:

I rarely agree with you on political matters, but on this one I’m definitely with you.

• SamChevre says:

Seconded: Wilson is earnestly attached to his ideas, and forceful in implementing them–and they are terrible ideas.

• dndnrsn says:

I agree that Wilson was terrible. He seems to be dropping in people’s esteem, but more due to his racism than his horrible interventionist foreign policy – when he deserves to be loathed for both. The adjective “Wilsonian” should be an insult.

• Paul Brinkley says:

The adjective “Wilsonian” should be an insult.

I’m reluctant to do this, despite the convincing evidence presented here. Same goes for Andrew Jackson. Mostly because I really like the way Walter Russell Mead presents both adjectives as accurate descriptors of American foreign policy (along with Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism). Jacksonianism and Wilsonianism come off as steelmen of the vision of two otherwise dastardly individuals, and I have little problem making the distinction (after all, all four had not-so-great moments).

• dndnrsn says:

On the whole, attempts to “bring [peace/democracy] to the world through foreign intervention” have probably caused more harm than good, and that’s when intentions were actually good (which often they aren’t). The best case scenarios (WWII and Korea) were to some extent fixing the results of Wilson’s intervention.

He seems to be dropping in people’s esteem, but more due to his racism

Were there any pre-modern era presidents that weren’t racist? Lincoln freed the slaves but also made unambiguous statements that could only be interpreted as white supremacy.

During a debate with Douglas he said:

I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause] … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

• dndnrsn says:

Well, yeah, I’ve seen people condemn the abolitionists because they weren’t enlightened enough by today’s standards, even. But Wilson was probably more racist than the standard for white Americans in his context, and more recently. People are trying to get Wilson’s name taken off stuff, not Lincoln’s.

As for Lincoln-Douglas, regardless of Lincoln’s actual positions, he was trying to minimize what Douglas was pushing, the idea that Lincoln was an abolitionist who wanted racial equality.

• Incurian says:

People are trying to get Wilson’s name taken off stuff, not Lincoln’s.

Funny you should mention it

• Gobbobobble says:

@Incurian

Race protestors campaigning against the man who gave the fucking Emancipation Proclamation – I am now seriously wondering whether thecollegefix is an Onion-type site.

• Matt M says:

Far be it from me to take the side of screeching campus SJWs, but the emancipation was a tactic to help win the war, which was the only thing he ever cared about, period. He didn’t do it out of the kindness of his heart or his inherent belief in the equality of man or any of that nonsense he gets credit with today.

• Lillian says:

Lincoln was genuinely and consistently against slavery. It’s the entire reason the South seceded! They were terrified that an open abolitionist had been elected President.

He was also a principled man who placed his duty to the Union above his personal moral beliefs, hence his comment that he would preserve slavery to save the Union. It is however very unlikely that someone who was not against slavery as Lincoln was to have used emancipation as a tool of war. It certainly seems very convenient for a man who abhors slavery to conclude that the best way to keep the rebel states in the Union was to free their slaves.

• Deiseach says:

He didn’t do it out of the kindness of his heart or his inherent belief in the equality of man or any of that nonsense he gets credit with today.

Granted, but he still did it. If you’re more interested in results than purity of motive, this should count. Which would they have preferred as president at the time: someone genuinely believing in racial equality who didn’t manage to get Emancipation or someone who cynically hopped aboard the abolition wagon and got it passed?

But that brings us back to the problem that it is perceived all this statute toppling is more about virtue-signalling and public exercising of power (“we can do this now because we’re on the up and you’re on the down of the wheel of fortune, so too bad for you!”) by one bunch, and stringent demands for purity by the new inquisitors of another group (thought crime!), and not about the actual crimes or flaws of the persons commemorated by the statues and memorials.

I think if the argument were made in terms of “This statue of Lee (or whomever) was erected in the 50s by a racist group for racist reasons”, it would be easier to be sympathetic for calls to take it out of public view. But as it is, it really is “screeching” about “Lee was a racist and a fascist!” and ignoring “yeah, but he didn’t take the opportunity offered to him to lead a guerrilla resistance after the war, which would have drawn things out much longer and made the affair even bloodier and more vicious than it had already been; he did what he could to get the south to accept the terms of surrender and go along with the reconstruction”.

• Nornagest says:

I’ve been reading the Flashman novels recently, and they’ve introduced me to all sorts of interesting characters from the mid-1800s. Ranavalona I of Madagascar is a particularly memorable one, as is James Brooke, founder of the Brooke dynasty in northern Borneo.

• dodrian says:

Ignacio Anaya, credited with the invention of nachos.

• JayT says:

He’s not overlooked in the field of mathematics, but to the population at large I think very few people know who Leonhard Euler is, and I think that’s a shame. He’s arguably the most influential pure mathematician to have ever lived, and from all I’ve read sounded like an all around nice guy. In terms of accomplishments he should be as well known as people like Einstein, but he is not.

• CatCube says:

Not even just pure mathematics. The equation he developed to determine the buckling load of a compression member is used in engineering to this day.

• JayT says:

Oh yeah, his influence touches pretty much everything. We couldn’t having this conversation without his work. I was just saying that as a pure mathematician, he’s arguably the most influential.

• keranih says:
• bean says:

Interesting.
Note: We need to fight more enemies who have horses.

• keranih says:

Or, you know, just fight with more allies with horses.

• bean says:

But ‘stealing an enemy’s horses’ is one of the four tasks you have to do to become a war chief. I don’t think an ally’s horses count. Although in the Middle East, there probably isn’t that much difference.

• The Nybbler says:

Once you steal the first horse, they’re no longer an ally 🙂

• Nick says:

I think this one might be my favorite so far.

• keranih says:

You might like this also: Horse Soldier by Corb Lund (fan video.)

• Sniffnoy says:

I only recently learned about Émilie du Châtelet. This surprised me, because she’s the person who came up with the idea of conservation of energy. Like, you’d think she’d be mentioned in every high school physics class, right? It’s not like she was little-known at the time, some obscure figure who did the real work while someone else stole the credit or some other story like that. She seems to have been well-recognized for her work at the time, best as I can tell, and just seems to have been somehow largely forgotten since then. Hell, if nothing else I would expect I’d have heard of her from feminists trumpeting her as an example of a great female scientist, you know? Posted up there on the classroom walls alongside Marie Curie and all them. And yet I honestly only learned about her recently. Possibly this is just a gap in my own knowledge, but it really seems like she just isn’t well-known these days, so I thought I’d point her out.

• Douglas Knight says:

Do you know what her contribution was?

Wikipedia says that Huygens proposed that kinetic energy* is conserved in elastic collisions. Most people didn’t notice, because they were distracted by the claim (also made by Wallis and Wren) that vector momentum is conserved and Descartes’s scalar momentum is not. Leibniz noticed and elaborated on Huygens. He promoted energy as work, meaning complementary with gravitational potential energy (for constant gravity, as on the surface of the Earth). He suggested that heat is random motion, so kinetic energy is conserved in inelastic collisions. ‘s Gravesande demonstrated that the deformation of a certain inelastic collision is quadratic in the velocity, thus providing support for the importance of kinetic energy. du Châtelet replicated these experiments and promoted kinetic energy.

A lot of the debate is hard to follow because people were confused. People believed that work and vis viva existed and had to be identified, rather than trying to propose new laws. In particular, Leibniz, ‘s Gravesande, and du Châtelet all seemed to be arguing against conservation of momentum, on the grounds that there can be only one conserved vis viva. And yet before them Huygens had endorsed both conservation laws. du Châtelet’s contribution may well have been addressing something so confused we can’t understand it.

* this seems to say that Huygens did not identify kinetic energy, but merely described the result of the elastic collision and Leibniz extracted from this the invariant.

• Sniffnoy says:

Oh, huh, you’re right. That’s odd; I guess I was just reading too fast earlier because I remember looking that that same page! Or maybe I’m just remembering wrong and somehow failed to check there.

Yeah looks like other people did in fact propose conservation of kinetic energy earlier.

Ah! I think I see my mistake. If you look at the paragraph on du Chatelet, it says that other people knew about conservation of momentum but didn’t distinguish energy from momentum. That… seems to contradict what’s written earlier, about other people proposing conservation of kinetic energy, which is clearly distinct from momentum. Maybe her contribution was conservation of energy as a general principle? It looks like earlier people maybe only thought of it as holding in special cases.

Hard to say based on that; would probably have to investigate more in depth to determine precisely. In any case it pretty clearly seems like my simple description of her as the person who came up with conservation of energy is misleading at the least and her contribution is less than I thought. Thanks for correcting me there.

• Philosophisticat says:

In philosophy, I think Thomas Reid is quite underrated. If he’s brought up at all it tends to be only for his (decisive) objections to Locke’s theory of personal identity, but his work is actually full of gold. He has an absolutely devious argument showing that visual space is non-euclidean (!), before non-euclidean geometries were even discussed by mathematicians (!!).

In the world of Jazz, Rudy Van Gelder. Gelder was the producer/recording engineer for almost every album of consequence in jazz from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, including Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” Sonny Rollins “Saxophone Colossus,” and hundreds of other albums me and every other jazz nerd in college listen to on endless repeat.

It’s astounding to me to think one man had such a huge, albeit imperceptible, influence on my art form. It makes wonder if, had Mr. Gelder not applied his magic to all these influential records at a time when audio recording quality was just beginning to exit its primitive phase, would they be as enduring? Charlie Parker’s records, for example, sound horrendously shitty, and are very hard to listen to today. Would that fate have befallen the jazz masters of the 50’s and 60’s, at least to some extent? Very possibly yes, but thanks to Mr. Gelder, not something that came to pass.

• . says:

Zeng Guofan (though I think he is well known in China). During the Taiping rebellion, the empire was losing control of the situation, and rebels were overrunning Hunan. The government needed someone to organize and lead an army against them, and it was essential to put the right person in charge. Vindicating every western stereotype of Chinese degeneracy, they decided on Zeng Guofan, a literature professor and Senior Deputy Secretary of the Board of Rites. He was an excellent poet, and deeply knowledgeable in Confucian philosophy. As of a few years before he had a high political role in the army, but no real military experience; he was however deeply knowledgeable on Confucian philosophy. Needless to say he and his lieutenants turned the tide of entropy and eventually crushed the rebels.

• quaelegit says:

OMG, this guy is the basis for Kindo Marana in The Grace of Kings! Man, I should actually go learn Chinese history so I can get more of the references in that book 😛

Incidentally, I highly recommend this book (The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu) to anyone who is a fan of high fantasy, especially Game of Thrones — its basically a more cheerful less explicit GoT based on Romance in the Three Kingdoms and apparently other awesome bits of Chinese history 😛

• Rob K says:

Ephialtes, the guy who came between Themistocles and Pericles in the sequence of “architects of Athenian imperial democracy.”

The record on him is a little hazy, but it appears that in the early years after the Persian wars Athens was steering towards a government in which a small council of senior politicians, the Areopagus, exercised the most governing power. Ephialtes used conflict with Sparta and internal political maneuvering to weaken that body and pushed towards more popular government, laying the groundwork for his successor, Pericles, to construct the full fledged democratic system of the mid 5th century.

Given how tightly Athenian democracy and Athenian naval empire were intertwined, he may have changed the history of the Mediterranean world pretty dramatically.

• AlphaGamma says:

Not to be confused with Ephialtes of Trachis who betrayed the Greek army at Thermopylae. There are a few cases like this- for instance, the name Eratosthenes can refer both to a mathematician known, among other things, for calculating the circumference of the Earth and to the victim in an Athenian murder case where he had been caught in adultery with the killer’s wife.

The name Ephialtes means “one who leaps upon/onto”. For this reason, it is the Modern Greek word for “nightmare”, which apparently dates back to Galen.

• Yaleocon says:

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. Mostly-beneficent Catholic dictator who put Portugal on a solid footing after decades of sectarian conflict. Really, it’s worth following the link to read about the history of his rise and rule, but the wildest thing to me is the fact that he got his power largely by threatening to resign unless he was given more power–and the people then in charge, recognizing how desperately they needed him and his incredible competence, simply gave him more power.

He saved Portugal from both fascists and communists, balanced the budget and drove economic growth, separated church and state, opposed racism and Nazism and helped refugees escape Germany (if remaining diplomatically neutral in WWII).

He was also an authoritarian dictator. His “Estado Novo” has earned the label of “fascist” from some, and even if it wasn’t anti-Semitic or waging aggressive wars, he made broad use of secret police and at least one prison camp to “keep order.” He supported Franco, and earned praise from him. These might be justifiable given a history of failed Republicanism in Portugal, such that he enjoyed popular support when he took power, and threats from Communists and syndicalists were a powerful motivator in a lot of his more repressive actions. But there’s no denying that his rule was distinctly illiberal. Also, his colonial policy was typical of the time, perhaps leaning toward the worse side–but what was typical for the time was so bad that this doesn’t reflect well on him. There are a lot of ways to look at him, but if the criterion is “overlooked”, then this complex, obviously brilliant, and notable figure makes the cut.

• quaelegit says:

Cool, thanks for making me aware of this guy!

I haven’t finished the Wiki article yet, but how did he remain Prime Minister of Portugal until 1968 despite dying in 1940?

• AlphaGamma says:

Where does it say he died in 1940?

• quaelegit says:

…er, I misread “1970”. That’s embarrassing.

• quaelegit says:

Can I nominate Talleyrand? I feel like he should get a prize for surviving so many upheavals of the French Government despite being so prominent — every time there was a change in power, he had a big target on his back. And he got a surprisingly good deal for France at the Congress of Vienna. (My understanding of it is basically: France in 1814 was like Germany in 1918, but France actually came out ahead in the peace negotiations.)

Also for Americans he was the instigator of the “notorious” XYZ affair, which gets points for having a cool name (but it’s actually kind of boring).

• There is a biography of Talleyrand by Duff Cooper–who was the only member of Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet to resign over Munich. It’s very good, clearly pro-Talleyrand. I had first encountered Talleyrand in a Kipling story which has a description of him, in exile in America, playing dice, right hand against left, and “looking at his face, it was a wonder that the poor dumb cubes dared disobey him.”

(From memory, so not verbatim)

Fascinating character. By Cooper’s account, everyone who didn’t know him hated him, everyone who knew him liked him. He resigned from Napoleon’s government before the Russian invasion after giving up on the attempt to persuade Napoleon that conquering the world was a really bad idea.

• Deiseach says:

He resigned from Napoleon’s government before the Russian invasion after giving up on the attempt to persuade Napoleon that conquering the world was a really bad idea.

To be fair, that would seem like an impossible task. Hindsight (and probably ordinary foresight at the time) tells us why Talleyrand was right, but from Napoleon’s point of view it was “I started out a nobody from Corsica and now I am Emperor of France. Everybody at every step of the way has said ‘there’s no way you can do this’ but I did it.”

• quaelegit says:

I first encountered him in The Eight by Katherine Neville, and this was intriguing enough that I read most of a biography of Talleyrand (may have been Coopers, I don’t remember — it was definitely very sympathetic to Talleyrand). Weirdly, I got the impression that I would hate him if I met him in real life — he was so slippery! But I absolutely loved reading about him 🙂

• cmurdock says:

Yelü Dashi, founder of the Qara Khitai khanate. Being a forgetful person I can’t recall much of why, but I remember while reading Michal Biran’s The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History thinking he came across like some sort of “East Asian Alcibiades” what with the double-dealings and political chicanery. He’s also on the list of candidates of historical figures who may have inspired the legend of Prester John.

• Machina ex Deus says:

Yes, he’s dead (2009), and while you’ve heard of him, 99% of the people around you haven’t.

I seriously want to get a picture of him to hang in my house.

• aNeopuritan says:
5. AutisticThinker says:

Exploring Math with AT 1: Formal Mathematics vs Informal Mathematics

Most non-mathematicians aren’t aware of formal mathematics. Instead all the mathematics they have learned and used such as algebra1 [1] and calculus are informal mathematics. So..what’s the difference between formal mathematics and informal mathematics? Well before we can illustrate the difference between two kinds of mathematics we first need to introduce what is formal mathematics.

Let’s play a logical game first. There are a collection of objects[2] which we refer to as S. Now let’s define a binary operation * (i.e. something that takes two objects in S as inputs and produce an object in S) that satisfies the following property:
(G1) For any a, b, c in S we have (a*b)*c=a*(b*c)

OK we just got…one abstract binary operation and one property, right? What can we do about it? Great! Let’s choose four objects we can find in S, x, y, z and w. Do we know whether ((x*y)*z)*w=(x*y)*(z*w)?

Hmmm good question! Since the only condition we have are the fact that * is a binary operation on S and the fact that * satisfies (G1) we have to use them if we ever want to get something done. Let a=x*y which is in S due to * being a binary operation, b=y, c=z. Apply (G1). We get ((x*y)*z)*w=(a*b)*c=a*(b*c)=(x*y)*(z*w). So the weird equation we pondered isn’t really that weird. In fact it is factually correct based on the conditions.

What we have just done is a proof in formal mathematics. Welcome to the secret world of mathematicians!

In formal mathematics everything has to be proven using deductive reasoning. There are axioms (such as ZFC) and definitions we assume to be correct. Then the job of the (formal) mathematicians is to prove implications of axioms and definitions called theorems[3]. All mathematicians are (formal) mathematicians.

So what’s the difference between informal mathematics and formal mathematics? Well, the difference isn’t about what people discuss but how the stuff people discuss is discussed. In formal mathematics everything has to be either a part of some axiom/definition or it has to be proven to be legitimate, correct mathematics. Proofs have to be reasonably rigorous [4].

There is a formal mathematics version of natural numbers such as this https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set-theoretic_definition_of_natural_numbers and there is a way to learn and teach complex analysis within informal mathematics (e.g. Only calculations and memories of certain results are required. No proofs necessary!). The most well-known subject both formal mathematics and informal mathematics cover is probably calculus. In informal mathematics people do learn what a limit is in some vague way but either do not learn the formal epsilon-N definition or just look at it without doing anything about it. There are lots of calculations but little reasoning. On the other hand in formal mathematics proofs are emphasized while calculations aren’t. There is a joke that if you deal with integers above ten you are probably not doing formal mathematics which is accurate for most formal mathematicians.

[1] The word “algebra” has at least three completely different meanings. In informal mathematics “algebra” refers to some of the stuff people learn before calculus involving manipulation of mathematical symbols such as adding, subtracting, solving equations, etc. Here I use “algebra1” for that purpose.

In formal mathematics there are at least two meanings of the term, “algebra”. “Algebra” can refer to the study of some abstract system involving a set/class/etc and some (usually binary) operations that satisfy certain properties. This will be referred to as “algebra2” in the rest of this post. For example “linear algebra2” and “abstract algebra2” are algebra2.

For mathematicians who know some about algebra2 there are also another meaning of the word “algebra” which I refer to as algebra3. An algebra3 is an algebraic2 structure which is basically a vector space with a binary operation called multiplication. Lie Algebra3s, Associative Algebra3s, Group Algebra3s, Hopf Algebra3s etc are all algebra3s. The research on these algebraic2 objects are in the field of algebra2.

[2] Mathematicians usually call these collections “sets” if they are not particularly weird and call these objects “elements” of the sets.

[3] We also call some theorems lemmas or corollaries. These are terms unrelated to whether a result is correct. Main theorems are usually pretty clean. Lemmas are the more technical stuff what are required to prove a main theorem. Corollaries are simple implications of main theorems. You can simply think of all of them as theorems.

[4] In actual research papers mathematicians don’t often offer rigorous proofs. However to an expert in the field the gaps can be filled in and the results can be understood (i.e. proven on their own). That’s why rigor is still implicitly around even though there can be large gaps between steps in a proof.

• Charles F says:

Is algebra2 also called a group, and algebra3 also called a ring? If so, is there a reason to avoid using the common names? It might make things clearer and make typos like the one at the end of the algebra3 paragraph where it calls all of the “algebra3″‘s “algebraic2 objects” less common if you used the common words.

Also, I think using TeX would improve things a lot, and there are extensions (e.g. TeX all the things in chrome) for displaying it in mathjax.

Lastly, let me know if I should delete this comment to avoid putting clutter in a two-part post

• AutisticThinker says:

No. Algebra2 is an area of mathematics, not a particular class of mathematical objects. Algebra3 is this thing: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algebra_over_a_field

A group is a set with one binary operation that satisfies three nice properties. A ring is a set with two binary operations (usually called addition and multiplication) with some nice properties. A ring is certainly an (Abelian/commutative) group with respect to addition. An algebra3 isn’t necessarily a ring at all. However a (unital) associative algebra3 is indeed a ring.

I don’t think an intro post requires TeX though future posts likely do.

• Not A Random Name says:

An algebra3 is an algebraic2 structure which is basically a vector space with a binary operation called multiplication.

I got confused here, thinking that vector spaces already have a binary operation called multiplication and ended up reading up on that. Turns out I they do but what you wrote is still correct.

For the record:
A vector space V over a field F has two kinds of multiplications. Regular multiplication in F and scalar multiplication of scalar and vector (resulting in a vector).
But algebras also have an additional, third kind of multiplication that not an intrinsic part of every vector room: Multiplication of two vectors (resulting in a vector), I imagine the cross product probably qualifies as an example.

So my initial notion of “Wait if that’s true then isn’t every vector space an algebra3?” is in fact not true.

• AutisticThinker says:

Scalar multiplication and multiplication are completely different.

Here is why. Let A be an algebra3 over field K.

Scalar multiplication: A*K->A
Multiplication: A*A->A

The crucial difference is that to be a multiplication instead of a scalar multiplication you must multiply two elements of your algebraic structure which is A here and obtain an element of the same algebraic structure. On the other hand in scalar multiplication you let an element of your algebraic structure multiply something else (i.e. an element of K).

The former is an operation in any module/vector space structure while the latter is a real multiplication (we only get a magma here). If the multiplication is associative and unital we get a ring structure.

The cross product is something else. This is only available for K^3 (K is a field. You can think of it as R or C) and related algebraic structures. You don’t have it for general K^n. It is in fact a Lie Bracket. K^3 together with addition and cross product constitutes a Lie Algebra.

• bean says:

That was interesting. Thanks for doing this.

• AutisticThinker says:

You’re welcome! 🙂 I’m glad that you (and hopefully others) enjoy it. 🙂

The next post in this series will be in OT86 which will be a gentle introduction to algebraic (i.e. algebraic2) systems. I won’t force you guys to do exercises in group theory or something. Instead I will just introduce the cool ideas, namely the spirit of abstract algebra (i.e. abstract algebra2). From groups to Lie Algebras (i.e. Lie Algebra3s) the spirit of (abstract) algebra never changes.

6. Robert Liguori says:

I have a really culture-war-y question. I preface this by acknowledging this, and that my own experiences mean that I’m not likely to come at this in a particularly unbiased way. That being said:

There is a…rhetorical tactic, for lack of a better term, that I’ve found draws very definite and hostile responses from the (again for the lack of a better term, and I apologize for the imprecision and loaded nature, but which I do think is describes an actual worthy-of-a-descriptive-phrase group in society) “pro-SJW” side. The base point of it is that you take a claim that is made about a particular group (e.g., “The disproportionate number of police shootings against blacks clearly demonstrate widespread racism in society.” or “On the numbers alone, tech is ridiculously pro-male.”), find an unfavored group for which the statement is similarly true, and make your own statement in return (“The disproportionate number of police shootings against men clearly demonstrate widespread misandry in society.”, “On the numbers alone, tech is ridiculously pro-Asian.”) In the rare occasions when people try to play “But that’s different for our favored group!”, you just look a little closer, and find another unfavored group with which to repeat your earnest, parroted claim. I say rare occasions, because most of the time, when I engage with this tactic, either the person I’m talking to leaves immediately (in unmoderated spaces, or moderated spaces not dominated by (and again imagine slightly cringey finger-quotes here) “pro-SJW” moderators), or I catch an official sanction from the moderation shortly thereafter.

So, first, what do people think about this tactic? Is it super-trolly, or a valid rhetorical strategy, like Socratic questioning? My own feeling is that it is not optimally earnest, but that it is very effective; it lays out clearly the degree to which the stated fact is merely a justification for an existing preference, and makes it obvious the degree to which special pleading for favored groups is being invoked.

I am very, very cautious of assuming that assuming I’ve stumbled across an armor-piercing tactic which is Super Effective against my ideological enemies because They Can’t Handle the Truth. This is the kind of thing which everyone should look twice and thrice and yet again at any evidence which seems to support this kind of hypothesis…but I’ve taken as good a look as I am able at the cases where I’ve used it, and this tactic seems to motivate (again, finger-quotes) “pro-SJW” people to end the conversation with me with an alacrity and finality I don’t seem to see with (what seems to me) far ruder responses.

So, what do you all think?

• Randy M says:

I’m not sure, but I think the answer has either “systematic” or “power” in it. Not being sarcastic here, this is pretty much the same as when conservatives say “can’t blacks be racist too” and liberals say “no, because they don’t have power”. But I don’t think I could make this make sense if I tried.

• Robert Liguori says:

Mmm. The whole power thing is a conversation I’ve had before, and one that has lead to me using the tactic, because simply asking “I’m [insert group here]. Do I have power?” produces heat but no light.

• Garrett says:

If $attribute leads me to have power, how can I convert the power from$attribute into real, useful-to-me work?

• Thegnskald says:

The theory says you already do, it is just invisible to you.

• AlphaGamma says:

And the definition sometimes move again if you propose an example where a black person most certainly does have power- such as the authority of a military officer over subordinates or a prison guard over prisoners- to saying that that power doesn’t count because it’s not systematic enough.

• Aapje says:

Yeah, the goal posts are forever moving.

• keranih says:

While I think that the idea of ‘centuries of oppression’ is extremely overblown (seriously, no 18 year old has experienced ‘centuries of oppression’), I also think that there is something to the idea of broadly held social biases being included in the weight of how we treat each other.

I think the weight given to “institutional biases” is all out of proportion and even at more realistic levels is used to remove agency, responsibility, and independent adult status from individuals, but I also think the manner in which we have been brought up, having become accustomed to it, has an effect, and should not be totally discounted.

(But people who think that having been subject to bias imparts, as a blanket effect, the ability and desire to never exhibit bias to actual live humans are *seriously* deluding themselves.)

• Aapje says:

@keranih

The issue is not the claim that there are broadly held social biases, but the claim:
1. that these social biases are overwhelmingly held by white people/men/etc
2. that these social biases are merely selfish, rather than used in service of what people perceive as a just society
3. That the social biases mainly work along the axes of race and gender, rather than class, ingroup preferences, etc

People who make one or more of these claims tend to do such things as claim that men objectify women, even though it’s common for women to criticize female looks and all the things that counts as objectifying women when men do it; happen to men by women as well.

So for me the issue is not so much the weight given to “institutional biases,” but that the perception of how these biases work is very much incorrect.

• keranih says:

@ Aapje –

I don’t think I disagree much with you – at least I pretty largely agree with the claims you point out and the impact of them.

I have seen some anti-identity-priority people, though, who completely reject the idea of “institutional bias”, and I don’t agree with that.

• Aapje says:

I think that there are very few people who don’t believe in institutional bias. Pretty much all discussions I see where institutional bias is debated are about:
– whether one specific form of institutional bias exists and/or
– the size (or even sign) of the effect and/or
– whether some institutional bias is just

For example, both AA proponents and traditionalists think that some forms of institutional bias are just, although they obviously disagree on which ones.

In debates, people who oppose each other very strongly can perceive each other as denying that institutional bias exist, when a specific claim that institutional bias X exists is completely denied by one person, but is a core belief of the other person. However, that perception is usually an artifact of inferential distance where denial of X is interpreted as denial of all institutional bias, because the person can’t imagine that someone who denies X does believe in other forms of institutional bias or because the definition of institutional bias that the person uses is itself biased.

• Thegnskald says:

That is because you are talking about completely different things.

Systemic oppression isn’t the same kind of oppression as individual oppression; it is about trends, rather than specific things.

So a black person is more likely to be treated a certain way; a specific white person being treated the same way once doesn’t constitute a trend.

Imagine a society of 90% Zerp, and 10% Gerp; they both hate each other, for our purposes. The experiences of Zerp and Gerp people, even though they both hate each other in parallel ways, nonetheless are going to be different, because it is easier for a Zerp person to never have to deal with Gerp people.

That’s what they’re talking about; the difference in experiences.

(I think it is wrong anyways, however, because it treats majority groups as monoliths, assigning meaning on the basis of scrutability.)

• Aapje says:

So a black person is more likely to be treated a certain way; a specific white person being treated the same way once doesn’t constitute a trend.

Yeah, but a specific black person or woman who is treated a certain way is also not a trend, but just a data point.

It’s very common that individual experiences are used to claim systemic oppression, where individual experiences that match the narrative are accepted, but those that diverge are not. That then makes the narrative unfalsifiable and also results in an extreme perception of reality (since only the more extreme data points are accepted).

Imagine a society of 90% Zerp, and 10% Gerp; they both hate each other, for our purposes. The experiences of Zerp and Gerp people, even though they both hate each other in parallel ways, nonetheless are going to be different, because it is easier for a Zerp person to never have to deal with Gerp people.

That is not a given. If people self-segregate, many Gerps can actually deal with other Gerps 90% of the time, not 10%. Simplistic models/analogies can be very deceptive as reality is a lot more complex than a box with differently colored balls that bump into each other when you shake it.

But I object to your analogy even more because I think that ‘hate’ is a very bad way to describe all the instances where people are treated differently for their race/gender/etc. Many cases are well-intentioned attempts to deal with cultural differences, attempts at rational choices based on (perceived) group differences, etc. It’s a huge mistake to classify these all as intentional oppression as that classification can not explain negative intragroup behaviors, sacrifices by members of one group for members of the other group and other behavior that doesn’t involve members of one group harming members of the other group.

• Thegnskald says:

The analogy is intended to explain the concept in a neutral way, not to correctly map onto reality.

• Charles F says:

My impression of the tactic is that just throwing out that comparison is super trolly.

Putting Scott-post levels of effort into researching the differences and trying to identify what points contribute to each groups over/under-representation is cool and worthwhile.

My problem with just calling hypocrisy and leaving is it seems like a transparent attempt to distract from a real discussion of a problem by pointing at something harmless, something harder, or a legit problem that is just not the thing they wanted to talk about.

basically:

it lays out clearly the degree to which the stated fact is merely a justification for an existing preference, and makes it obvious the degree to which special pleading for favored groups is being invoked.

seems like an accurate description. And it’s a low-quality strategy (Bulverism?) because it doesn’t address whether the existing preference/special pleading is actually bad. Or the merits of the things they’re suggesting in support of those preferences.

• Robert Liguori says:

I feel that simply conceding the framing in terms of what positions, regardless of their relative truth content, get assumed to be good-faith real problems and which are assumed to be distractions from the same is going way too far.

Like, in a discussion of police brutality against groups, would you assume that one of my examples was definitely given in good faith, and one definitely wasn’t? If so, why would you? If we accept the statements given as given honestly, as actual arguments meant to start from a position of neutrality and argue towards a point based on a real-world fact, why shouldn’t we accept similar statements about differnet groups if the same fact is true?

And if we don’t accept that, then why aren’t the people making the original statements super-trolly?

• Charles F says:

In a general discussion of police brutality against groups, both examples could come up and not be trolling. In a discussion about racism, the person who made the second comment would be trolling (or maybe not trolling and just accidentally low-quality). And the opposite for a discussion about misandry.

Giving some group control over the context and allowable examples and assuming things outside of that are distractions would be bad. But anybody can find two numbers that are different. If you want to bring up your two numbers, you have to explain why it’s appropriate to compare them to the disparity that was already brought up. Like, presumably you’re aware that men are involved in more violent/high profile crime than women, so of course they’re going to be shot disproportionately. Are you saying their comparison is ignoring the same factors? Who can tell? You just added two numbers and a ton of condescension. Show your work.

Or better yet, I think, talk to people about the things they want to talk about and save the basic premise questioning for places where that’s appreciated.

• Iain says:

My problem with just calling hypocrisy and leaving is it seems like a transparent attempt to distract from a real discussion of a problem by pointing at something harmless, something harder, or a legit problem that is just not the thing they wanted to talk about.

Seconding this.

This is generally used as a rhetorical trick, not a substantive one. It doesn’t contend with the meat of the argument being presented; it just attempts to hijack the conversation into a discussion of something else. I assume that somebody somewhere must have asked this sort of question in a true spirit of inquiry, but in practice it always seems to be a setup for some sort of “checkmate, atheistsSJWs!” It’s a prima facie sign of bad faith. It’s not surprising, then, if people decline to spend time explaining what they see as the distinction. (Assuming, of course, that they have a clear conception. There are plenty of people out there who support ideologies they can’t fully explain. That’s a fact about those people, and not necessarily about the ideologies they support. You would not like your own ideological stances to be judged on the basis of their least compelling adherents, either.)

I think you’re assuming the initial argument was in good faith. If the initial argument is framed in a way that assumes bad faith, then you either need to throw out the frame or just not have the argument.

“Tech is sexist against women because there’s more men than women in tech” is a bad faith argument. It assumes the only reason there aren’t more women in tech is because the men in tech are sexist, when it could just as well be lack of interest on the part of women. And as soon as you step into this frame, you’re basically screwed, because you have to make an argument that can be construed as sexist (“women are less interested in tech than men”) in order to reject the “men are sexist against women in tech” argument.

If on the other hand you reframe, “yeah, I totally agree with you! And have you noticed how sexist the elementary school teaching profession is?! It’s almost all women! So oppressive!” Now the shoe is other foot and they essentially have to make your argument for you, that no, it’s not that elementary school teaching is institutionally sexist it’s that fewer men than women are interested in teaching elementary school.

• Iain says:

“Tech is sexist against women because there’s more men than women in tech” is a bad faith argument.

No, it’s not a bad faith argument. It’s just a bad argument. “What about men being shot / Asians in tech / male teachers?” is in bad faith not because the premise is false, but because the people who raise the question transparently don’t care about the issue itself, and are just using it as a smokescreen.

The Socratic method is (at least in theory) aimed at finding truth. This sort of whataboutism is generally aimed at scoring points. People can tell the difference.

• bean says:

No, it’s not a bad faith argument. It’s just a bad argument. “What about men being shot / Asians in tech / male teachers?” is in bad faith not because the premise is false, but because the people who raise the question transparently don’t care about the issue itself, and are just using it as a smokescreen.

Why do you have to care about the issue itself to use it as a test of an argument class? This basically demands that we throw out Proving Too Much as a technique due to ‘bad faith’.

but because the people who raise the question transparently don’t care about the issue itself

Of course they don’t care about the issue. The entire point is that the issue is built on false premises and therefore should not be cared about.

Is it wrong to make the “Why are you worried about terrorism? More people die in car accidents” argument unless you care passionately about auto safety?

• rlms says:

What are your goals? If you want to look good to your allies and third parties, it’s a solid tactic (like all gotchas). In terms of changing minds, it might work on a small proportion of unsophisticated SJ people, and provoke some sophisticated ones into presenting good justifications for their opinions. Generally, I think making the same point in a less confrontational way “OK, but it seems to me that you could say the same thing about [men/Asians]. What makes that different?” is likely to be more productive.

• Robert Liguori says:

Well, my usual goals are to expose what seems to me like clear and obvious hypocrisy, and to repay low-effort rhetoric with low-effort rhetoric.

In my own experience, asking why a given unfavored group is different will more often than not produce a statement which may or may not be true about the groups, but one which almost certainly doesn’t apply to all groups, and one which I can easily find another comparison for. But this then turns into a giant sprawling multi-layered completely unproductive argument.

Take the power argument mentioned above. This is something I’ve seen happen directly. Bring up an unfavored group suffering discrimination, and you’ll often be told they have structural power. Bring up another group which doesn’t have structural power but which does make the comparison obviously not generally true, and there will be another reason for that group, and so on, until the original argument is long gone.

Someone willing to use special pleading once will do it again, I’ve found.

• Douglas Knight says:

to expose what seems to me like clear and obvious hypocrisy

Expose to whom? If you are trying to expose it to a neutral audience, maybe it works. Maximizing the ratio of your opponents hostility to your own may well help this goal (at what cost?). But if you are trying to convince an audience that leans against you, I am skeptical that this is a good idea.

It is certainly true that there are liars out there. Probably you should expose them to the world. Exposing them to themselves doesn’t seem very helpful. If you are going to engage with someone, you probably should have some glimmer of hope. Producing a sprawling argument may not seem productive to you, but it seems to me the best way to make people suspicious of simple slogans.

and to repay low-effort rhetoric with low-effort rhetoric.

Vengeance? Whatever floats your boat. But vengeance is not compatible with most other goals. You should probably not try to accomplish both at once.

• All I Do Is Win says:

Well, it’s not trolling. Trolling is when you say or do something deliberately offensive just to piss everyone off, that you also don’t really believe.

You’re actually just laughing at them, by returning a “true fact” that mirrors their argument. Or rather, making a joke of their “argument” because—really—it’s not an argument at all. But the key aspect is laughing.

SJWs, if they are anything, are deadly serious people. Laughing at them is basically their kryptonite, which is why they disengage immediately.

Is it a valid rhetorical strategy? Absolutely. Also: effective.

It’s not particularly nice to laugh at people who usually genuinely care for others, though, so I guess it’s up to you if you want to continue being what is colloquially known as “a dick.”

• Robert Liguori says:

Honestly, I could cop to the given definition as trolling for this case. I don’t, for instance, think that the gender gap in police brutality shows that society is structurally misandrist. Saying that I do could certainly be construed as mockery, but I feel that there’s an implied “I don’t believe you actually believe in your reasoning. If you did, then you would agree with the statement ‘N’, given here, where another group meets the premise you put forward but you do not accept the conclusion for them.”, but much shorter and punchier.

I’ll have to think about the point of mockery, though. It…doesn’t feel like I’m laughing, to me, but I can imagine how others might see it that way. Thanks for that point of feedback.

• Randy M says:

I don’t, for instance, think that the gender gap in police brutality shows that society is structurally misandrist.

What you (probably) believe is that there biological differences between men and women leading men to act more impulsively or violently than women. So when you bring this up, it implies that blacks are similarly more impulsive or black than whites. Which offends your interlocutor, even if they wouldn’t buy the premise that men and women differ.

In the last open thread someone posted a link to an article about slow cookers vs pressure cookers vs a regular oven. It was pretty interesting and had some great info on taste differences between them.

It also had a laughably terrible argument about safety. It boiled down to arguing that it was safe to leave the oven on unattended because fewer people die from fires started by unattended ovens than fires started by unattended slow cookers. It totally ignored the issue of the denominator in each case.

That’s about as far from the culture war as you can possibly get, but if I was in a discussion and someone said something like that I’d be very unlikely to try to convince him he was wrong. There would have to be some special circumstance or I would just change the subject. Perhaps paradoxically when an argument is too far wrong it becomes less worthy of engaging. If there’s a whole group of people nodding their heads to the terrible argument, I’m even less likely to step in.

As I said, there are special circumstances — if I’m being paid to do a job and leaving this wrong notion out there would hurt my employer than I feel more obligated to step in. Or if it involved a long standing friend that I knew would be able to see the problem and would appreciate the correction. Or if it was in the context of a debate and I thought I could sway the audience by pointing out the issue with the argument and it won’t hurt me more than it’ll help me (because I get kicked out or because people think I’m a dick, etc).

In this case, I guess the last part may or may not apply. You have to apply your model of the audience.

• Robert Liguori says:

Here, I think, we can talk about base rates respectfully and without people assuming too many things, at least on the topic of appliance safety.

But if I was in an environment in which people really wanted to make the point that pressure cookers were safe because of the total number of accidents, and social sanctions were applied to people who questioned this, I’d totally start deploying “My pet hippo is definitely safer than a dog. Look at how many people in America get mauled by pet dogs versus pet hippos on average!”

Then again, I definitely have less sensitivity towards fear of being excluded from social groups on the internet, or being thought a dick, than most people. But personally, if taking an accepted statement of the type “Group X has property Y, therefore Z should apply to them.” and changing out X from a favored group to an unfavored group while holding Y equally true is being a dick, then I’m proud to be a dick.

…I also may have just invoked the meta form of my tactic there. It’s late and I can’t quite tell.

Then again, I definitely have less sensitivity towards fear of being excluded from social groups on the internet, or being thought a dick, than most people.

Clearly there are non-trivial numbers of people that revel in being “super-trolly” online.

If you think it’s a lot of fun, or for the greater good, or whatever — go forth and troll. I can’t stop you and don’t especially want to try.

But yeah, it’s generally super trolly (in the broad contemporary sense, not in the narrower but older usenet sense).

• Aapje says:

My experience is that I sometimes think that a claim is laughably terrible, but if I try to counter it, I find that it is quite a bit stronger than my initial impression. The process of crafting a counter-argument puts my snap judgement to the test.

A risk of not engaging is that I am actually wrong, in whole or in part, yet never get to realize this since I dismiss criticism out of hand.

I would generally say that truly bad arguments have a fairly short and clear explanation of why they are wrong. Now, many people may not come up with the best counterargument or don’t have the skill to write incisive rebuttals. However, I think that it is a major red flag when no one in a community is willing or able to do this.

For common bad (types of) arguments, you often see that some person or people create effort posts to point out why the (type of) argument is wrong & then many others refer to this by linking to it or by putting a name to it (like motte-and-bailey).

If a community doesn’t do this, it strongly suggests that there is a taboo against taking some counterarguments seriously, because the consequences of them being true would be too severe, rather than the issue being the level of effort that people are willing to put in.

• Philosophisticat says:

A fact provides evidence for another claim only against a set of background information. For all but the most simple issues, “X shows/proves/provides evidence for Y” really needs to be understood as “X [together with background] shows/proves/provides evidence for Y”. Your interlocutors might find your tactic obnoxious because it uncharitably ignores the background and makes no effort to fill it in, where filling it in might show your Gotcha! analogy to be misapplied. Some of your interlocutors might have trouble articulating the relevant background – others may be perfectly capable of doing it but identify your behavior as a low-effort bad faith point-scoring tactic and reasonably judge that you’re not worth engaging.

You should also probably readjust your definition of “effective” if annoying people to the point where they stop engaging with you gets read as a success. Even if what you think you’ve done is rendered your opponents speechless and exposed their intellectual bankruptcy for the world to see, to a reflective observer who is not already on your side, it’s not likely to look that way.

Instead of dropping in your “there are more homeless men than women, checkmate SJWs!” and watching smugly while your liberal professor’s jaw drops and he runs out of the room in shame, consider possible relevant disanalogies and background claims which might undermine the symmetry, even if you don’t think they’re true. This shows some thought and willingness to be charitable on your part and even if people still blow you off at least you’ll look less bad.

• Robert Liguori says:

This kind of reference to a nebulous set of background facts, which conveniently are assumed to always cover assumptions favorable to the Favored Groups and excuse those of the Disfavored, is one of the reasons I do find my punchy formulation useful.

If there are additional salient background facts which mean that for Group X, property Y implies Z, and this is not true of all Group Xes, then those facts should damn well be brought up in Y. If they cannot be easily and cleanly stated in advance, then Y sounds a hell of a lot more like an excuse than a real piece of reasoning, and when Y keeps getting riders attached to it, and always ends up being merely a piece of rhetoric to demonstrate how bad/good a Favored/Disfavored group has it and never actually cleaves into the set of potential Xes, the whole thing seems obviously like a justification.

If a fact is being stated as a genuine piece of reasoning, then the background qualifiers for which Xes Y makes Z true of should be obvious and straightforward. If a moment’s thought can’t call up the complete list, then you clearly do not actually believe Y being true of an arbitrary group means Z, and therefore, you’re not advancing an actual argument. And the fact that Y needs to invoke the concept of background facts instead of containing them is super-convenient.

Also, this entire premise only happens in one direction. No one thinks that people making the original statements have considered “Wait, let’s think of all the ways black people are disanalogous to white people to explain the police violence rate.” before they made their statements.

The original statements are presented as complete and sufficient because they sound persuasive on their own. They sound as though property Y is sufficient entirely to explain the truth of Z. If they are incomplete-but-earnest statements, then a reformulation of them shouldn’t be any ruder than the original statement.

What I see here is that there are a set of “For group X, Y is true, therefore Z.” statements which are taken as normative. Challenging these statements is seen as rude and disruptive, even though they are, by everyone’s admission, incomplete and non-persuasive in isolation. They seem to serve merely as signposts, reminders that “For group X, Y is true.” is a point which has been agreed upon. If these statements are meant to be neutral arguments, then swapping out X is a perfect way to test their truth. If they’re rhetoric, then there’s nothing wrong with repaying them with symmetric rhetoric.

And if the only reason that statements like this make me look bad is because people really, really want to keep the statements applying only to their Favored Groups, without putting all the attributes that make their groups Favored in their initial statement, then I’m comfortable looking bad.

• The Nybbler says:

This kind of reference to a nebulous set of background facts, which conveniently are assumed to always cover assumptions favorable to the Favored Groups and excuse those of the Disfavored, is one of the reasons I do find my punchy formulation useful.

Your punchy formulation is obnoxious, but you’re right that the original framing is as well. It’s an appeal to an unstated principle which wouldn’t hold up to examination if it was stated. Your formulation is a reductio applied to that principle, but they were pretending the principle didn’t exist, so it looks like a non sequitur.

Actually trying to get the principle out in the open doesn’t go any better. In general, this group has no meta-level principles; the ones they state or appeal to implicitly are invented ad-hoc because they think they sound good. If you attempt to use them in other contexts, they’ll just move to the object level or apply another principal. This has the effect of creating something that looks like a system with axioms, conclusions, and chains of logic leading from one to the other, but it is not; it’s all “painted on”; the axioms, conclusions, and the chains of logic are all axiomatic.

• johnjohn says:

It’ll come off as super trolly because if you want to react to that argument it derails everything.
The only way to react to something like
“The disproportionate number of police shootings against men clearly demonstrate widespread misandry in society.”
in earnest when you’re talking about police violence against blacks, is by having a long discussion on whether the two situations are in fact equivalent or not. Which makes it look like you don’t want to deal with the actual topic at hand.

You might think that the reason they react so negatively is because “They Can’t Handle the Truth”, but from their point of view, the deflection and “whataboutism”, will make it look like you’re the one who can’t handle “The Truth”

“Whataboutism” isn’t a logical error as such, but it does come off as awfully trolly in a debate, like something akin to the gish gallop. There’s no limit to how much “whataboutism” one can pour into the debate to “poison the well”

So if your intent is to truly change minds, I don’t think you’ve found your “super weapon”

(I’m making no value judgments in this post, just trying to describe how I think most of your opponents will perceive the interaction)

• Robert Liguori says:

If the rail your argument is on depends on special pleading for your group, why shouldn’t it be derailed? It’s a wrong (or at least incomplete) argument.

And accusations of “Whataboutism” are entirely a matter of framing. The only reason they are a thing at all is because people implicitly accept that statements about the properties of some groups are Done, and are valid topics for discussion and concern, and Not Done for others. Again, no one says “Hey, knock it off with your trolly discussion of silly racial stuff in this serious conversation about misandry, we’re talking about a man who was shot by the police (who happens to be black.)”

• johnjohn says:

It’s a wrong (or at least incomplete) argument.

Agreed.

I think most people are aware on some level that statements like “The disproportionate number of police shootings against blacks clearly demonstrate widespread racism in society.” consists of countless unstated assumptions.
They’re intuitively aware that it’s more like
“The disproportionate number of police shootings against blacks (combined with implicit assumption A, B, C, D…) clearly demonstrate widespread racism in society.”
and when you shoot back with
“The disproportionate number of police shootings against men clearly demonstrate widespread misandry in society.”
the natural reaction is something like
“I don’t have the hours, days, or months to spare, for explaining you all the reasons why you’re wrong™”
Because you’ve already telegraphed that if they did go into implicit assumption A, your reaction would be “but then what about X, Y and Z?”

I just don’t think cracking the debate wide open will make most people want to engage with you. Even on less incendiary topics

• rahien.din says:

Isn’t this just a variant of Spurious Correlations? To view it with charity : it’s a request for something more than mere correlative statistics, asking for rigor in identifying root causes. To view it without charity : it’s a deliberate obfuscating maneuver, designed to smokescreen the obvious root causes.

As a tactic I don’t think it will have much traction unless applied as a sort of adjunct. You won’t convince anyone based on this tactic alone, but you might be able to use it gently to support a request for rigor.

This all boils down to the idea that correlations are a chimera of [restating priors] and [updating].

• lvlln says:

I think people of all sorts tend to be impervious to arguments of the form “Using the reasoning by which you concluded A implies B, we can conclude that C implies D, but we know that C implies D is wrong or at least controversial, and therefore you are wrong to conclude that A implies B.”

I think in the specific case you brought up, other people above have it right that while SJWs are literally claiming “Statistical disparity is evidence of oppression,” that’s not what they mean. What they actually mean is “statistical disparity in the context of a world in which group X has been historically oppressed by group Y is evidence of oppression.” I think this issue is exacerbated by SJWs tending to expect others to be extremely good at picking up unspoken context, and people who argue against SJWs often being people who lack the capacity for picking up context as well as the median human (at least, that’s my perception – it may not reflect trends at large).

I don’t know the reason why they’re so opposed to stating the italicized part when you challenge them, but certainly that’s behavior I’ve seen often. I think there’s a widespread belief that the italicized part is an unquestionable truth, something that everyone ought to agree on as being so obviously true that any statement that questions its veracity has got to be trolling or just plain evil.

My pet theory is that there’s a very real fear that the empirical evidence supporting this belief isn’t quite as rock solid as they believe/want to believe/were taught to believe/is useful to believe, and so they want to avoid pointing attention at that underlying belief, lest that attention lead to scrutiny. I’m largely basing this on my own experience as a proto-SJW in my college years (I graduated before modern SJWs really became a thing, but I was very much part of leftist groups whose attitudes and tactics that modern SJWs seem to have adopted and taken up over 9,000) dealing with cognitive dissonance introduced by real empirical findings that clashed with my deeply held beliefs about the state of the world, and deciding that the correct course of action was to shut myself and others up whenever discussion headed toward analyzing reality empirically in such cases, and even outright stopping my brain from thinking if I find myself analyzing it in my head. But that may just have been me, and I may be doing pattern-matching too aggressively. It’s just that the patterns seem to match so darn well.

• Robert Liguori says:

What they actually mean is “statistical disparity in the context of a world in which group X has been historically oppressed by group Y is evidence of oppression.”

I don’t think they mean this. I think that they have reserved the phrase “has been historically oppressed” to mean always and only “is a group we favor”.

See: Asians, Jews.

I note again that I am seeing in miniature the structure of argument that lead to the formulation of my tactic. The original statement made was made with no implication that historical oppression was a necessary component, and when the extra condition is added, there are still other groups to which the new component applies, and which still makes the original statement very much nonsense.

I believe in holding people to what they say. I also believe that there is a great deal of room for charity when people say “Apologies, clearly I overstated my original claim, here’s a more nuanced version which I think can be held to rigorous standards.”

But this isn’t what I see. I see people making claims which are clearly justifications after-the-fact and not evaluations of every group X which has property Y, and when they’re called on it, adding the qualification Y-1, again without actually looking at the set of groups in X to see if applies in all or even most cases.

Replying to an agreed-upon, socially-normy “X group has Y property, therefore Z.” with a reformulation in the exact same manner with different X can be rude, certainly. But in a world where the original statement is intended as an earnest argument and not a proclamation of allegiance dressed up as one, a counter-statement isn’t any more rude than the original statement.

• lvlln says:

I think I chose my words poorly. I agree with you that “has been historically oppressed” seems exactly equivalent to “is a group we favor” as defined by general usage. I think the issue is that their fundamental belief is that “has been historically oppressed” automatically implies “is currently oppressed,” and that under “is currently oppressed,” any disparities that are not in the “currently oppressed” group’s favor is automatically evidence of that current oppression. Both of these have no justification logically, but also both of these seem to be very stable beliefs that are impervious to reasoned criticism.

So I think they THINK they implicitly mean “has been historically oppressed,” even if they really do implicitly mean “my favored group.”

It’s circular, and it falls apart under scrutiny. What you are doing by providing an example of the exact explicit logic they’re using is pointing a spotlight at the implicit belief that they didn’t state. And that spotlight is terrifying, because it invites scrutiny.

So it’s easier to just claim – sans evidence – that such arguments are mostly made by bad people in bad faith, therefore they can’t waste time in the off-chance that you really are just asking in good faith. That way, they don’t have to scrutinize their own fundamental beliefs, which carries the risk of them changing their minds.

• lvlln says:

Also as an aside, I find your description of your experiences with this type of argument to be very reminiscent of what Freddie DeBoer described in his essay about people espousing the pro-campus-censorship position. Different topic, but similar space involving similar (in my experience, quite often the exact same) people.

• Rick Hull says:

Great essay, thanks for sharing

• episcience says:

You might think you are making a similar argument, which will expose hypocrisy. But the intersectional feminist/anti-racist approach is more nuanced than how you are presenting it. The idea is that, through a combination of forces, a marginalised group is oppressed and a powerful group is privileged in a number of subtle and variagated ways in different areas of society.

It is not a claim about individual members of groups (most of the time), nor a claim about specific actions of organisations, or even organisations more generally. The argument is on the level of societies and cultures, and they are (in their minds) picking up on an area such as police violence as evidence of the overall thesis of society oppression/privilege for the group in question.

Without showing that (say) Asians control various levers of legal, cultural, and historical power, your argument doesn’t really strike at the roots of their beliefs, and you are not really engaging with what their (unstated) premises are.

• Robert Liguori says:

But Team SJW has not shown that their designated outgroups control various levers of legal, cultural, and historic power. And their arguments for the fact that this has been done almost always turn back to claims about group differences.

I also note that these arguments are again entirely one-directional. The groups you mention never say “Look, the combination of forces mean that women are just oppressed. We can’t expect them to fairly compete with men in a large number of arenas. These are structural forces, and held so constant we can expect them to apply to all women, all the time, simply because they are women. The fact that this one woman seemed to score better than the male contenders in this trial? Almost certainly trial error. She’s laboring under systemic oppression, and for the benefit of our organization, we need to face the facts on the ground, and hire privileged to the extent we legally can.”

There’s no argument here, is my problem. I don’t perceive nuance. I get zero sense that the theories being advanced are based on actual reasoning, and that they won’t be abandoned as soon as they lead to a conclusion that is not the conclusion that is desired.

• episcience says:

That’s fine — I’m not mounting a object-level debate here, just pointing out the meta level disconnects. I think that if you criticised liberals/leftists with an argument as in-depth or as nuanced as this comment, you aren’t trolling, missing the point, or arguing in bad faith. I was just responding to the tactic you made in the top-level comment, which most on “Team SJW” would find unconvincing for the reasons I’ve already stated.

• keranih says:

The idea is that, through a combination of forces, a marginalised group is oppressed and a powerful group is privileged in a number of subtle and variagated ways in different areas of society.

I think this is the defensible and not-actually-too-crazy version of identity-focused politics.

I think this is *not* the version largely used in practice, and I think the efforts of the more mature people in that group to police the more crap version are practically invisible. To quote: “I would engage you on this, but I have no interest in hearing how you think blacks possess any privilege when they clearly don’t.” (From one of fandom’s founding SJW’s, just about ten years ago.)

7. Eric Raymond recently recommended some sf novels by Karl Gallagher, a new author. They are quite good–I read all three of them in the course of the past week, which was spent visiting Iceland, and had finished the third before we got on the plane to return.

They are also relevant to SSC concerns. The setting is a future in which Earth and a bunch of other planets have been taken over by rogue AI, with no living humans left. The next bunch of planets over (a gate system of transport), the Fusion, are all heavily networked, understandably paranoid about AI (just researching it will get you either lynched or convicted and hanged), basic income societies with a very inegalitarian social and political structure and a sizable population of “stipend kids.” Beyond them is the “disconnect,” a bunch of planets that are much more libertarian/laissez-faire/culturally diverse, still concerned about AI dangers but much less paranoid.

The series explores AI related issues, problems with the Fusion setup, and much else. Eric described them as very much like Heinlein, which I think is fair. His one complaint was too much sex, which is to some degree true–but a lot of it is plot relevant.

The titles are Torchship, Torchship Pilot, Torchship Captain.

• RDNinja says:

I read the first one some time ago, and while the setting was interesting, the plot was poorly constructed. IIRC, it felt like it was adapted from a series of short stories, so there was no single plot thread that connected the series of happenings.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

I liked the first two quite a bit, but not so much for the third.

I might reread the series because it seemed to me that the third book didn’t remind me well enough of the premises from the first two.

8. C_B says:

Matt Sharp is almost as sad about not being Elon Musk as the rationalist community is:

https://www.wired.com/2017/10/elon-musk-rentals-song/

9. AutisticThinker says:

Truth vs Unity

Truth and unity are sometimes incompatible values. For a tribe to do something together it’s usually beneficial that they agree. Sometimes it is better for a tribe to collectively believe in slightly wrong ideas compared to some among the tribe believing in correct ideas while others don’t. However if conformists make mistakes it is much harder for them to correct their mistakes compared to non-conformists.

I personally value truth but not unity. However I do respect that others believe that unity is sometimes valuable. Well it is indeed sometimes valuable but it should not affect epistemology. Unity is usually used as an excuse to believe in and defend factually incorrect views and persecute those who have factually correct ones that aren’t that common. Hence we should oppose it at least in epistemology.

It is indeed true that without any unity there can be no functional societies. Hence maybe we can somehow have some form of unity in actions but not ideas? We don’t have to believe in some woo or questionable beliefs in order to cooperate or not harm each other, right? I think rationality is the way out.

• dodrian says:

Claiming ‘rationality is the way out’ is cheating. You’re smuggling in a values system, and saying that if everyone followed this value system there wouldn’t be any conflicts of value systems.

I could just as easily make the claim that if everyone does what the Pope says we could have unity, and it wouldn’t matter if they believed different things.

• AutisticThinker says:

Rationality is merely a set of epistemological tools instead of values. If anything it helps you do whatever you want to do better.

• Aapje says:

The way the world works is that people have values and then use tools to turn those values into actions. If the values differ and the tools are the same, the actions will still be different.

Social pressure enforces similarity of values and similarity of actions. Having a shared set of epistemological tools doesn’t do this unless you think that humans are fundamentally the same and the only reason why they arrive at different conclusions & actions is because they reason differently. The Big 5 science proves this wrong.

You especially should know that it is wrong, since I know that you are aware of having highly different desires compared to the average person. Or do you think that rationality will make everyone conclude that, say, their biological drive to have sex should be ignored? If you think that, you are wrong.

• AutisticThinker says:

I don’t think people should have similarity of values at all. In fact I believe any attempt to homogenize the thought space is harmful.

Sharing the same epistemological tools ensure that human behaviors will be largely reasonable. This is one of my goals in the proposal.

I do have some values I want to promote as well. One of the most important ones is selfism. If everyone can be selfish in the sense of promoting their own individual interests and capable the world will probably be a better place. From a selfist point of view it is indeed unreasonable to reproduce or maybe have sex with a non-robot at all.

• Nick says:

Unity is usually used as an excuse to believe in and defend factually incorrect views and persecute those who have factually correct ones that aren’t that common.

Do you have any basis for this claim? For one thing, most instances of persecution are about things that you would consider values, or else would consider both sides wrong. For another, persecuted individuals can be wrong too, vastly more wrong than the group; practices that (I take it) you call persecution, like censuring people, locking them up, or killing them, are more about protecting the group from individuals who have gone too far than about protecting the group from individuals per se. Finally, I don’t know of very many instances of people appealing directly to unity, and even if they did, I doubt they’re doing it in order to defend views they know to be wrong; remember, everyone thinks they’re defending the correct views, even though not everyone can be right about that.

• AutisticThinker says:

I have seen appeals to unity to suppress epistemological issues before. The point here is that anyone who does not talk about facts as is but instead appeal to morality or other irrelevant issues to settle epistemological differences are de facto conceding that they got it wrong.

I don’t think any disagreement in values or even actions should result in any punishment. However harmful actions should.

• rahien.din says:

You may be referring, implicitly, to Aumann’s agreement theorem. Very basically stated, if two people apply rigor to a set of common priors/axioms, they must agree. If they don’t agree, one of them is incorrect. That drills everything down to the level of formal math.

But, people’s priors aren’t necessarily common. Thus it isn’t always possible to resort to Aumann’s. A subsequent paper attempted to define the distance between priors. I can’t claim to really understand the math therein, but, for a certain inter-priors distance ε, the degree of allowable disagreement is bounded from above by ε. IE, if your priors are very different from your opponent’s, then you are permitted to disagree with them by a larger degree. When ε = 0, we have Aumann’s. When ε > 0, we don’t.

People’s priors are all so terribly different. This can limit our ability to operationalize rationality in the spirit of Aumann’s.

Unity is usually used as an excuse to believe in and defend factually incorrect views and persecute those who have factually correct ones that aren’t that common.

I think you’re overstating this.

We have to start with the goal of “good enough.” Society will function if its actions, whether deliberately coordinated or examined collectively, are “good enough.” For certain questions, the range of “good enough” answers is very narrow, and the necessary degree of agreement rises to the level of absolute, ε = 0 truth. EG should we dump our sewage into the river upstream or downstream of our town? For certain questions, the range of “good enough” answers is very broad, and the necessary degree of agreement permits ε to be greater than 0. EG which is better, cherry pie, blueberry pie, or apple pie?

What happens if ε is nearly 0, but the resultant range of answers does not include any that are “good enough”? Enter the gadfly. This is a member of a society who speaks stridently and dissidently in order to cause societal change. Importantly, the gadfly can only perform their function if they are speaking from within the society they seek to change. They must have a low ε with the culture’s other members on most other questions in order to maintain credibility.

So what you describe as unity is actually essential to operationalizing rationality within groups. It presents a mechanism for setting and resetting ε in order to produce “good enough” answers to important questions.

• AutisticThinker says:

Importantly, the gadfly can only perform their function if they are speaking from within the society they seek to change. They must have a low ε with the culture’s other members on most other questions in order to maintain credibility.

Interesting. That’s why I can not actually cause any social change. LOL my values are completely alien to most humans. Pretending to agree with other people can be painful, you know.

• AutisticThinker says:

@.
LOL I can’t talk about concrete social issues because of the warning you know.

My disagreement with every tribe alike is actually on the meta level. For example I reduce morality to care/harm and freedom/oppression. At the same time I don’t value fairness, loyalty or purity at all. Most of the value-related differences between most people and me can be reduced to several key differences, some of which might be biological (i.e. oxytocin-related differences etc).

• actinide meta says:

The Aumann theorem assumes not just common priors but common knowledge of posteriors. This is an incredibly strong assumption. On Planet Earth, people lie. Actual human epistemic behavior might be better understood as layered defenses against an adversarial environment of hostile agents and memes.

• Aapje says:

I would say that it human behavior is set up to deal with an environment where most people are bounded altruists and decent minority are non-altruists or psychopathic. Furthermore, that environment features different levels of intelligence/rationality.

• AutisticThinker says:

Interesting.

My default hypothesis is that most people are psychopathic while a minority is sadistic in addition to being psychopathic.

• CatCube says:

@AutisticThinker

My default hypothesis is that most people are psychopathic while a minority is sadistic in addition to being psychopathic.

What is more interesting is hearing the definition of “psychopathic” you’re using to make this statement remotely plausible.

• AutisticThinker says:

@CatCube “Psychopath” literally means what it means in psychology.

There is no way for me to distinguish sincere stuff and polite bullshit. Hence my idea is at least a useful heuristic. There is only one person who I know is almost certainly not psychopathic, namely myself because I actually did a psychopathy test and scored pretty low. (I also did a sociopath test in which I scored even lower.)

At the very minimum I know that humans don’t care about me which is almost certainly a correct statement.

• Nick says:

You’re accusing most people but not yourself of “persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits”???

• actinide meta says:

@Aapje : I think we agree. I’m just saying that hostile agents exist. And they might not be the most dangerous part of the memetic environment.

If you keep an open mind, something dangerous might get in.

• Aapje says:

@AutisticThinker

Most polite bullshit is social, not anti-social. For example, kids/people are often taught to say sorry even when they think they are not in the wrong. This is useful because different people often have different, usually self-centered perspectives on things. When both people apologize, the self-centered perception usually favors the apology by the other person more strongly than the loss of face caused by their own fake apology, so negative emotions are reduced on the whole, making both people happier. It allows them to move on and cooperate later on, creating potential for positive utility in the future, that couldn’t happen if they held a permanent grudge.

You are presumably not equipped to translate such experiences/teachings in intuitive responses (especially since there are vague limits to these things), which makes it really hard to act as other people expect and need, for their coping mechanisms to work.

Where you are wrong is that you see this as other people trying to harm you. They offer the same courtesies to you as to others. Like you are not equipped to handle what they see as the best way to interact, they are not equipped to handle what you see as the best way to interact. And you being part of a small minority, they are not going to give up what works for them, to benefit you.

This is no more unfair than it is unfair for Japanese people not to all learn Dutch if I move to their country. They are not trying to harm me by not making that huge effort, they simply prioritize things that result in high utility over this very costly thing that provides low utility.

• AutisticThinker says:

@Nick
Because it is clear from empirical evidence that humanity couldn’t care less about me?

Whether they are psychopaths or not it is reasonable to de facto consider most humans psychopaths due to my situation. I consider most humans to be indifferent or hostile agents unless they can prove themselves to be benevolent (i.e. petting a cat/dog/rabbit etc, being vegetarian for non-religious reasons or helping someone certainly makes me believe in this null hypothesis about you less. On the other hand torturing a bug or insulting people for the sake of it is going to make me believe that you are likely a very hostile agent).

For example between Nornagest and Hans Frank I certainly consider the former to be likely benevolent or at least not malevolent while the latter was a very hostile agent.

• AutisticThinker says:

@Aapje I do not see most people as inherently malevolent, just inherently indifferent. Psychopaths don’t harm people when they can’t get anything including pleasure out of it. On the other hand sadists do that. Both groups are predictable anyway.

• Aapje says:

@AutisticThinker

Whether they are psychopaths or not it is reasonable to de facto consider most humans psychopaths due to my situation.

Psychopath refers to behavior that is harmful to society in general. If you use it for behavior that is merely harmful to you specifically, then you are abusing the term in a way that causes miscommunication between you and others.

I suggest using more clear language.

• i.e. petting a cat/dog/rabbit etc, being vegetarian for non-religious reasons or helping someone certainly makes me believe in this null hypothesis about you less.

My casual impression is that most people sometimes pet a dog or a cat, which suggests that your null hypothesis may be poorly chosen.

10. anondoty says:

Has anyone else here ever experienced a sudden and massive change in their subjective experience of the passage of time? I know people’s subjective experiences of the passage of time tend to increase gradually as they get older, which is why time passes like molasses when you’re a child but entire years go by in the blink of an eye when you’re elderly, but to my knowledge this change is supposed to happen slowly, just a little bit at a time.

A year ago, right after I graduated college, I moved back home for a while until I could find a job. The day I moved my stuff in, I went to bed, and when I woke up, the entire next day passed very quickly. I thought it was just because of the excitement of being done with college and the general stress of moving, but time continued to move fast the day after, and the day after that, and now, a year later, I’m still experiencing time moving incredibly fast every single day. Minutes turn into hours, and hours into days, and I can’t stop it.

Even when I’m doing unpleasant activities, it only slows the passage of time a little bit. An 8 hour shift at work used to feel unbearable. I’d check the clock, feeling that a couple of hours must have passed, and it would turn out to only have been four minutes since the last time I checked the clock. Now, when I check the clock at work, an entire hour has passed when it feels like only 20 minutes ought to have.

It’s great that work is passing by so quickly, but the speeding-up of time has also been affecting enjoyable activities. I sit down to read a book for an hour and I look at the clock and four hours have passed. I get off work and suddenly it’s time for me to go back even though I just finished my previous shift (and my shifts are a normal length of time apart, so this is a subjective experience problem and not an objective fact about my shift schedule).

Did something happen to me? I didn’t start or stop any prescription drugs (or any other kind of drugs) near the time that the change happened. I didn’t get into any accidents that could have caused any form of brain damage. Does this happen to a lot of people and no one ever talks about it because it’s normal? I knew time would move like this for me eventually, but I thought it would happen when I was 60 or 70. I’m only 23, and the change occurred in literally a single day.

• onyomi says:

Is your life now more predictable than it was in the past?

• cassander says:

Everyone I know seems to feel this way, I think this is called aging. When you’re a kid, summers seem to last forever, and why shouldn’t they? When you’re 10, a year is 1/10th of a lifetime. When you’re 50, it’s 1/50th. And if you go by total quantity of memories and experiences rather than just pure time, the curve is even sharper.

• losethedebate says:

I don’t think it was a one-day transformation for me, but I think something similar has happened to me recently. It’s not so much on the hour or day level though as the week level.

• toastengineer says:

I’ve experienced that too, specifically in college, but I chocked it up to my life actually turning into a featureless blur of general unpleasantness; remembering nothing because absolutely nothing pleasant or surprising actually happened.

I also started actually completely losing time (look at the clock, it’s 10 AM, look back to Word, struggle to think of something to write, look at the clock, it’s 7 PM) during that time but that’s probably unrelated.

• . says:

Maybe you’ve gotten better at achieving flow? [Insert Peter Watts reference]

I find this happening to me when I am carrying out long complicate procedures. Something about needing to think in terms of long blocks of time, planning ahead, sometimes forgetting where I am in the sequence…

• Randy M says:

Has anyone else here ever experienced a sudden and massive change in their subjective experience of the passage of time?

Isn’t this pretty common? Like sitting in the dentist chair versus sitting at your desk playing Civilization is orders of magnitude different. Or sitting in class waiting for the bell to end class versus sitting in class cramming before the bell to start the session.

My sense of time has also radically changed very gradually since being young. Seasons pass like weeks used to.

• Thegnskald says:

Heh.

I have had months disappear on me even as every single day dragged by slowly.

11. keranih says:

For all those in the Terry Pratchet thread a couple of OTs back – thank you. I bought and read Going Postal and while it was not quite as solid imo as Night Watch, it was a good read that I enjoyed a lot.

(Brief thoughts, then even briefer ROT13 spoiler discussions.)

Part of the reason I hesitated to pick random Pratchet books was because I had heard he had a tendency to be anvilish in a progressive manner. (He didn’t, really, in this book, or, probably more accurately, he did so in asides that were both….em…small, and acknowledged by the text as being deliberate signalling. At any rate, I didn’t mind.) He *does* embody progressive ideas, but at the same time makes me think of the horseshoe theory of politics, in that there is much in the worshipful way that monarchs, gentry, despots, and other absolute rulers are treated by the story that I think an far right sort would appreciate. The status of nobility, +/- “special destinies” are the bits about fantasy that bother me on a fundamental level. (Not, you know “I can’t stand to read this because of the way the women/non Caucasian races are portrayed” way, but in a “omg, you know, I really can see that GRRM never saw a horse before he started writing GoT” way.)

Guvf jnf whfg nobhg rknpgyl jung V arrqrq. Bhe ureb vf hajbegul, ohg vf ghearq gb gur cngu bs evtugrbhfarff naq tvira n pnyyvat, ortvaf nybar naq svaqf pbzenqrf, fgnegf n pbjneq ohg snprf punyyratrf, fynlf n qrzba, naq jvaf gur snve znvqra. Ur nyfb erfrgf gur sbegharf bs n bapr terng ubfg onpx gbjneqf vgf sbezre tybevrf, fgehttyrf ohg pbagvahrf gb crefvfg, naq ng gur raq jvaf orpnhfr bs gur fxvyyf ur oevatf sebz uvf onq obl qnlf. Nyfb gurer vf QRNGU, jub vf rire terng, naq n jubyr ubfg bs fgryyne frpbaqnel punenpgref.

V nz abg fher jung gb guvax bs gur grpu natyr – naq gur rivy onaxre/ohfvarffzna vf gur bar cebterffvir ovg gung obgurerq zr – va cneg orpnhfr V obhtug vagb gung fb rnfvyl.

The whole “past glories” and tyrants thing still bothers me, though.

Again, seriously, thanks for the rec.

• Nornagest says:

The Discworld books are very ambivalent on the subject of kings, in a way that feels very British to me — most Americans would cast the king as an autocratic villain or a saintly monarch or a flawed ruler as befits that king’s character, without giving much thought to how monarchy as an institution works (even GRRM does this), or they wouldn’t cast a king at all and that would be that. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an American work that explores the legacies of monarchy, and the ways it appeals to people, in the way that Pratchett and especially middle-period Pratchett does. Helps that this tension is absolutely central to Sam Vimes’ character, of course: he is not comfortable at all with the mantles he ends up wearing.

• toastengineer says:

Part of the reason I hesitated to pick random Pratchet books was because I had heard he had a tendency to be anvilish in a progressive manner.

I never noticed any of that and I’m pretty sensitized to that sort of thing. Well, other than in Equal Rites, but, you know, it’s what it says on the label. Even that was just “women are indeed full-fledged human beings.” If he ever went further left than that I never noticed. I mean, there’s a lot of mention about how cosmopolitan Ankh-Morpork is and how that’s really a pretty nice thing, but again, nothing further than what you’d expect from your average /r/MURICA poster.

I don’t think Prattchett is so much pro-autarch as much as he is pro-heroic leadership. There’s an abundance of “hereditary nobles really suck” stuff along with the “this is a king and he sure is a good dude.” I mean, the message of Carpe Jugulum is “authority that treats people like human beings is really great, authority that treats people any other way must be destroyed with force”, being a story about a good king taking back his kingdom after being displaced by vampires.

• dndnrsn says:

Going Postal was written before Pratchett started to go deteriorate and his books suffered. I don’t think he was especially anvilicious – he was still decent at showing instead of telling, and you could read things different ways. The politics he got through in most of his books was a decent, goodhearted progressivism – Golden Rule type stuff. Hardly what the world would be worse for for more of.

• Robert Liguori says:

Going Postal is one of my favorite Discworld stories, if just for Mr. Pump, and if not just for Mr. Pump, then Mr. Pump’s Specific Conversation with Moist.

Any thoughts on the SC gerrymandering case being heard this week?

If I’m reading wikipedia correctly, it seems the previous 2004 SC decision was based less on gerrymandering’s actual constitutionality and more on the lack of a good metric for determining gerrymandering. Have there been any advancements in metrics since then?

• Have there been any advancements in metrics since then?

Plaintiffs say yes. The Wisconsin case used the fairly simple metric of the “efficiency gap”, that is, comparing the number of “wasted votes” for each party’s candidates.

As I understand it, there are some other proposed standards, and (per Justices Sotomayor and Kagan in comments from the bench) the Wisconsin Assembly plan at issue goes “over the line” on all of them.

• keranih says:

that is, comparing the number of “wasted votes” for each party’s candidates.

ehhhh. I’m not sure that I buy this entirely. What is the point where the efficiency gap is insufficient to be concerned about? (No, seriously, how do we tell that even if one side wins, it was a fair election and any challenge is obviously a delaying tactic instead of a reasonable doubt of the outcome?)

From a practical standpoint, I think that gerrymandering (that is, the effect of drawing irregular complex boundaries unfixed to a geographic feature and not linked to the lower government divisions) is a bipartisan vice, and not likely to get better. I think the best pick is to have representatives at large, and I think its odd that the party that wants to do away with the electoral college isn’t floating that.

Part of the reason that gerrymandering is a hard problem is that it seems hard to make a distinction between “weird geographic lumping of humans arising organically from human social activity” and “weird lumping of humans that was imposed from the outside” in a consistent, objective, reproducible way. The State is trying to look at the human landscape, and in the act of seeing it, distorts it.

I’m not really impressed with the comments from the bench in this case, either, esp in the wake of other cases, where the idea of “one man, one vote” wasn’t given nearly as much weight.

• Thegnskald says:

Doing away with regional representation would severely reduce minority representation; that isn’t as substantive an issue with electing a president, since you have the same general issues there anyways.

On the contrary it would tend to enhance it.

If we had at large elections of 535 legislators using a party list, there would be something like 11 libertarian legislators. Under the current system they get none, because they are a minority everywhere. Supposing there was one or more parties aimed at African-Americans we would expect them to collectively get around 66 seats (- adjustments for differential turnout and felony disenfranchisement). That’s compared to 50 today. This theory largely plays out in practice in Israel which has a distinct Arab party and party list proportional representation.

• . says:

Yeah, the correct criticism is that you wind up with too much weirdo representation, like in Isreal. Can’t wait to see the Neoconservative party courting the Black Panther party and the Tankies to shore up their center-authoritarian coalition.

• Thegnskald says:

That assumes moving to a proportional representation system; I assumed, say, statewide elections for every state position, rather than this-precinct-votes-for-this-state-representative. (So still regional, I guess, for a given value of regional.)

I guess the problem comes down to the atomicity of voting; everybody votes for the governor, so the majority wins.

There are two senator seats; if everybody voted for one candidate for each of the two seats, you’d still get majority-wins. If, on the other hand, everybody voted for one senator, and the two most popular won, you’d get closer to representation.

• Unsaintly says:

I would like to see a move to statewide proportional representation combined with a drastic increase in the number of congresspeople. I think the latter is an important (although admittedly politically improbable) component.

1) More seats to split up means more granularity. If there are 5 seats in your state, a party needs 20% of the vote to get one. If there are 10 seats, you only need 10%
2) Twice as many congresspeople should be about twice as expensive to buy off, if conventional wisdom about how much influence lobbyists have is correct

• Gobbobobble says:

On the other hand, more congresscritters means more public money being spent on the care and feeding of congresscritters. And it would slow government down even more by exponentially increasing the number of network connections – giving a bunch of power to parties with effective whips and deep pockets.

It solves the wrong problem. We divided Congress because the founders thought it would be the most dangerous branch. And maybe it would be if they hadn’t. But as things stand now the executive branch is the most dangerous branch. Any move which further weakens Congress makes it a less effective check against that most dangerous branch. And increasingly the number of Congressman makes Congress weaker by increasing the difficulty of coordination.

• Matt M says:

Any move which further weakens Congress makes it a less effective check against that most dangerous branch.

Where is the evidence that Congress even wants to be a check against the executive branch? IIRC, most gains in executive power over the last couple decades have been Congress voluntarily giving power away, rather than some sort of scheming power-grabs by the executive.

I think that’s a symptom of their weakness. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Congressmen can’t win. Congress as a whole theoretically might be able to, but no Congressman can solve the coordination problem to wield that power. Since they can’t win, the next best move is to keeps their heads down.

• Matt M says:

A plausible theory.

I would say that they aren’t just “keeping their heads down”, they are actively performing a “Take my power, please!” bit.

It’s the difference between giving the bully your lunch money when he threatens to beat you up, and giving your money away to the first big guy you see so that he doesn’t even have to threaten you.

• Randy M says:

Of course, lunch money here means “ability to impose their will on others across the country” and not any material deprivation, status, or other privileges.

• John Schilling says:

Where is the evidence that Congress even wants to be a check against the executive branch?

If the eight years of every GOP congressman trying to block everything the Obama administration ever tried to do isn’t enough, then we’re now nine months into every Democratic congressman trying to do the same w/re the Trump administration. And through all of this, congressmen of both parties agreed that the rules of congress should implicitly require supermajorities for most controversial legislative acts.

• Gobbobobble says:

The theory I like best is that at some point Congress got it into their heads that actual governance is unpopular with voters. (And they might be right.) So just make the schmuck who has term limits anyway, and everyone in the country already knows by name, do the hard stuff. If people are too busy watching the prez to look closely at what you’re doing, all* you need to do is loudly agree with the most popular opinion of the prez to get re-elected.

• Jordan D. says:

The answer to that question is, indeed, what the parties are arguing about (although Wisconsin is also arguing the position suggested by the Court’s farther-right members, that there is no workable test and it’s a political question best kept out of the courts). You can find some good articles on all sides, as well as the argument transcript and any of the filed documents, on SCOTUSblog.

I tend to be sympathetic to the plaintiffs. I am not a great fan of line-drawing to distort votes and stack decks as opposed to actually winning hearts and minds, but I have no idea whether the models they’re proposing are good ones. The Chief Justice brings up a good point, in that cases like these will inherently be seen as the sort of pure-politics you-win decision-making as Bush v. Gore was… but I’m not sure that refusal to address gerrymanders will stop people from coming to see votes as undemocratic.

I think the chief’s concern could be mitigated in part by eliminating the special procedures for districting challenges. Viz. three judge District Court panels and then mandatory review by the Supreme Court.

The development of case law in the appellate courts would move the focus in the Supreme Court from individual yes/no decisions to more bloodless reviewing and tweeking multipart tests. News media would still report winners and losers but I think that would be leavened by at least attempts to talk about the decisional rules.

With the current procedure there’s basically no development of case law because each case ends up before the court not bound by precedent.

• Jordan D. says:

That’s not a bad answer, honestly. The more I think about it, redistricting cases don’t really “explode” when they’re not being decided by the Supreme Court. I’m not sure if that’s because people perceive the high court as a more political court or simply because a court deciding the Wisconsin case is otherwise only deciding the case in Wisconsin, but I have a sneaking suspicion that keeping cases out of the Supreme Court would largely keep them beneath the notice of the electorate.

13. Sniffnoy says:

Social question: Every now and then someone says something about how you shouldn’t pet unattended dogs, and I’m a little confused as to how I should be interpreting this and as such how seriously I should be taking it.

That is to say — obviously you don’t just reach out and pet a dog, right? You extend your hand so it can sniff you, see how it reacts, see if it seems like it wants you to pet it, etc. And I have a hard time imagining that there would be some danger in petting a dog that is clearly acting friendly towards you. So I’m wondering if these admonitions are in fact meant to be directed towards people who don’t consider it obvious that you don’t just reach out your hand and pet a dog without first seeing if it wants you to, and not towards people like me who know better. Because I’ve had people tell me this, warn me against doing this, even when putting out my hand so an unattended dog that was clearly acting friendly could sniff me. Which doesn’t seem right.

But the other possibility of course is that maybe some dogs are more aggressive than I might realize, and might be signalling it in a way I don’t know about (I’m not exactly some dog expert and I haven’t had to deal with aggressive dogs) so that even just sticking out your hand so they can sniff you might be dangerous. (I have a hard time believing this to apply to the case I mentioned where the dog was clearly acting friendly, but maybe when that’s not the case it could apply.)

My suspicion is that the first one is true, that this is just some misdirected advice whose originators looked at it through a common sense filter instead of checking it for other interpretations and which was then passed on with unchanged wording by those who did interpret it otherwise (much like… well, you all know 😛 ), but I’m wondering if there really is some reason I should refrain from doing this with dogs that seem friendly!

• The Nybbler says:

I think that advice is mostly directed towards children, who might have no idea that just going to pet a strange dog could get an aggressive response. But there are dogs that will act friendly and then turn aggressive with no apparent warning, too; I’ve been told abused dogs sometimes act like that.

• At a dog (or cat) show, you are expected to keep your hands to yourself, and not pet any dogs (or cats) unless invited to by the owner. That’s because of the possibility that you’re (unintentionally) spreading disease. Judges that touch the animals use hand sanitizer after each one.

• Charles F says:

I thought it was because you’re supposed to ask a human companion for permission before approaching a dog, and if their human is gone you can’t get permission so there’s no polite way to approach the dog. I didn’t think it was a safety thing.

• Well... says:

Unattended dogs are, to my mind, likely stray dogs, which (i imagine) are somewhat more likely than average to have weird behavior problems, such as seemingly-random violent behavior triggered by fears or aversions to things we wouldn’t necessarily recognize as fear- or aversion-inducing.

When I was a kid I was bitten by a German Shepherd –not a stray, but the pet of a family friend!– because although he was used to shaking hands with people, I tried to shake hands with him and got some aspect of the ritual wrong, which spooked him in a way that triggered his “give that kid’s hand a hard warning bite” reflex. The bite broke skin, gave me two neat little hole-shaped cuts in my hand for a few weeks. Scared the bejesus outta me at the time, too.

• keranih says:

I agree that the advice isn’t so much *wrong* as it is not accurate enough. However, 1) we-as-humans use general rules/stereotypes when making a bad call on the margins has pretty serious consequences 2) even *other dogs* miss read each other’s intent and communication (plus most dogs tend to nip where we humans would yell) and 3) kids are idiots around dogs. I lived in a neighborhood where, when walking the dog, kids would bail out of the yard, yelling can I pet your dog please can I pet your dog and be out in the street with their hands on my brown dog mutt before they got to please.

• Randy M says:

You would like my five year old; she runs up to passers-by and asks “Excuse me ma’am, may I pet your doggy?”

• Andrew Hunter says:

I do love five year olds like that.

• Andrew Hunter says:

I’m a dog owner. My personal position is that I always ask a human companion before touching someone else’s dog, and I want people to do the same before touching mine (I always say yes.)

I pretty freely pet dogs tied up outside the store, however. My rationale is: any vaguely responsible dog owner won’t leave a human-aggressive dog unattended. (I do so carefully, of course–presenting a hand back first for them to sniff without getting in their face, etc.)

Other owners may have other positions.

• Matt M says:

My rationale is: any vaguely responsible dog owner won’t leave a human-aggressive dog unattended.

As a non-owner, my perception is that EVERY dog owner thinks their dog is sweet and kind and would never ever harm anyone… right up until they do.

• JonathanD says:

In my experience, not so much. I also have small kids who ask permission, and every one-in-ten-or-so dog owners explain to my kids that no, their dog doesn’t like strangers or is too excitable or some other polite excuse.

• JayT says:

I don’t let strangers pet my dog. She was a rescue mutt, and as such she has some strange behavior towards strangers. She will act fine at first, and then bark her head off if they do something that spooks her. She’s never bitten anyone, but I suspect that’s largely because I don’t let many people touch her. It’s a shame too, because to people she knows, she is the most loving, friendly dog I’ve ever been around.

• quanta413 says:

As a child of veterinarians, what Matt said is close enough to true that it’s not a bad idea to treat it as true.

• Aapje says:

I think that most claims that a dog is ‘sweet and kind and would never ever harm anyone’ are a faulty perception that behavior by the dog to someone higher in the social hierarchy is the only way that the dog can behave.

Dogs can become confused about the social hierarchy, resolving it by fighting. Or they can decide that someone (usually a small child) is lower in the hierarchy and try get the person to take orders. Then if the person doesn’t respond to small corrections, the dog may bite to get the person in line. If the person then attacks the dog, the person can be mauled.

• Tarpitz says:

I think my minor superpower is that dogs never get the impression I might be below them in the status hierarchy. I have quite a lot of experience of dogs causing other people a ton of trouble, in the form of aggression or disobedience, and me none at all.

• I have never owned a dog and cannot understand dog body language. I wouldn’t pet an unattended dog, because I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was being friendly or not. Like, I remember instances from my childhood where dogs acted towards me in a manner that I interpreted as a terrifying attack, and I was told the dog was just trying to be friendly—so I don’t think any intuitions I might have about friendliness and unfriendliness are likely to be reliable. So I think the advice makes sense for people like me, who have never owned dogs. It may not make sense if you have owned a dog and are capable of telling whether a dog is friendly or not. Then again, the advice could be sensible if different breeds use different body language (I don’t know if that’s the case).

• Nornagest says:

I’ve never owned a dog either, but I’ve always found them pretty easy to read. If the eyes are wide, ears up, posture erect, mouth open with tongue out and slack lips, then it wants to be friendly. Ears back, eyes tight, posture crouched but weight forward, tongue in and lips pulled back means it’s being aggressive. Really quite similar to human body language, if humans had tails and more mobile ears.

Cats are harder to read — that takes experience, and some of their cues are counterintuitive, e.g. body still (with optional twitching haunches) and face looking comically surprised means that something’s triggered their prey response and is about to get pounced.

• willachandler says:

Celebrated Peter Sellers sketch: “Does your dog bite?

14. onyomi says:

So I think we’re past the “don’t politicize tragedies” window on Nevada, though it seems the motive is still quite unclear. But a few meta-thoughts I think may hold true even if the motive turns out to be very different than expected:

We were recently talking about “different worlds,” which, to me, really emphasized just how important the “narrative weavers” are in society. Different people may unconsciously chose to watch different “movies,” to use Scott Adams’ term, but the “movie makers” are also super important because they provide the options.

It seems to me lately that the “movies” on tap are increasingly… enraging, for lack of a better word. In the US, for example, the two mainstream “movies” are:

a. a narcissistic, racist, sexist, billionaire with poor impulse control just got elected to the highest office because a bunch of idiots and white supremacists hate foreigners and experts and may well start a nuclear war. or

b. all the elite institutions of government, academia, and the media are staffed by crypto-Marxist globalists intent on betraying Joe Sixpack’s interests in favor of destroying the traditional culture in hopes of achieving an impossible utopian ideal.

Of course, there are other, less bleak (and more bleak) narratives one can find if looking hard for them, from the economists “we’re richer and living longer than at any other time in history” to the techy’s “AI Jesus will save us,” but none of these are mainstream.

The shooter’s brother noted that the shooter could be a very “confrontational” guy. For example, people smoking near him so enraged him that he would carry around a cigar for the purpose of blowing smoke in their faces.

At any given time a certain percentage of the population consists of eccentric, angry, confrontational people. Yet in some societies there are mass murders and in some there are not (no, it can’t just be the presence or absence of guns, though it’s arguable that effects the extent and nature of the carnage; someone intent on killing people and himself could plow a car into a crowd, set up a bomb, etc.). It sounds like the shooter was an angry, confrontational guy. There is probably no version of reality in which someone with his genetics+environment did not grow up to be an angry, confrontational guy. Question is, is there a version of reality in which he doesn’t become a mass shooter.

We recently had a very similar, if less competent attack on congresspeople playing baseball. That shooter’s motivation was explicitly political. We don’t yet know if Paddock’s motivation was political. But what I am wondering is whether we aren’t setting ourselves up for this sort of thing, essentially, by purveying only “toxic” narratives.

I mean, even I find politics today incredibly enraging and I am a pretty meek guy. There is no possible narrative that will turn me into a mass shooter because I’m probably just genetically not a confrontational, risk-taking person (a coincidence he was a professional gambler?). In a personality with no “sparks” you can pour any amount of gasoline on it and it won’t explode. But at any given time there are always a few people in society with “sparks”: question is, do they stop at blowing smoke in peoples’ faces or something much, much worse?

• jlister says:

A 30 day cooling off period should be instituted, after which it becomes mandatory to politicise a mass tragedy. Perhaps a citizens council of a few hundred people randomly drawn from across the nation with a few also from the victims families could debate the way forward with testimony from academic experts and pro and anti lobbies. Legal expertise would be provided to draw up laws for each position and point out their wider implications, then the laws are changed (nor not) from the council’s majority vote.

Something to consider:
Should a mentally ill person be allowed to own a gun?
What is the lifetime chance of mental illness?

• Evan Þ says:

Should a mentally ill person be allowed to own a gun?

Yes, someone with an eating disorder, or high-functioning autism, or any number of other things that fall under the fuzzy category of “mental illness,” should be allowed to own a gun. So should everyone else, until it’s proven otherwise by due process of law. We need some more specific criterion before you go stripping people of the right to self-defense, or anything else that falls under the category of Constitutional rights.

• BBA says:

Who defines “mentally ill”?
Can opposition to the ruling regime be deemed mentally ill?

And why does it fall on me, the Democratic straight-ticket voter Manhattanite who thinks this city’s ultra-strict gun laws work just fine, thank you very much, to point out this hole?

• The Nybbler says:

In many parts of the Internet, proposals to restrict guns from the mentally ill are always accompanied by someone suggesting that wanting to own a gun is proof that you’re mentally ill.

• Are you Ok with mentally ill people flying planes, then? The problem you are complaining about is a special case of one that has to be solved in many other cases.

• Matt M says:

Their own planes? Yes, absolutely.

I wouldn’t want them flying a commercial airliner, but I don’t need the state for that – I’m reasonably confident that American Airlines isn’t going to hire a raving psychopath as a pilot.

• John Schilling says:

Germanwings, on the other hand…

But as has been pointed out elsewhere, the actual effect of “we shouldn’t let mentally ill people do [X]” is really only that you lose the ability to diagnose mentally ill people in any vaguely X-adjacent space except after the fact.

• Matt M says:

Lubitz kept this information from his employer and instead reported for duty.

Seems to confirm my point below, that laws banning the “mentally ill” from doing X will only serve to discourage people from seeking mental health.

• bean says:

I’m reasonably confident that American Airlines isn’t going to hire a raving psychopath as a pilot.

You’re right. They’d hire him as an executive instead.

• @Matt

Do you believe that someone flying their own plane cannot harm anyone else, or that the right to property overrides the right to life?

• Matt M says:

Do you believe that someone flying their own plane cannot harm anyone else, or that the right to property overrides the right to life?

Of course they can. And people can also harm others with cars, or pressure cookers, or fertilizer bombs. And yet, we don’t forbid the “mentally ill” (one of the vaguest common terms we use in society) from driving, cooking, or planting a garden.

The right to life and the right to property are one and the same, BTW.

• Evan Þ says:

The right to life and the right to property are one and the same, BTW.

So I take it you approve of debt slavery?

I believe there’s a distinction between the two precisely because I don’t approve of that and a category of similar things.

• Seems to confirm my point below, that laws banning the “mentally ill” from doing X will only serve to discourage people from seeking mental health.

People with a mental health record can end up being restricted in certain ways, and the sky hasn’t fallen in.

• Matt M says:

So I take it you approve of debt slavery?

Yes, I do.

People with a mental health record can end up being restricted in certain ways, and the sky hasn’t fallen in.

I didn’t say the sky would fall in. I said that people would be marginally less likely to seek treatment for mental health concerns. Given that death from suicide is a couple orders of magnitude more common than death from mass shootings with semi-automatic rifles, this seems like a fairly important consideration. I’d also throw out that conventional wisdom seems to be that even under present circumstances, the biggest thing we can do to prevent suicide deaths is to encourage people to seek help – and that social pressure to not appear mentally ill is the primary reason they do not do so.

• Might taking the guns way from your unstable veterans lower their suicide risk?

• Matt M says:

Might taking the guns way from your unstable veterans lower their suicide risk?

It might, but I doubt it. There are other countries where gun ownership is virtually zero (I’m thinking Japan here) that still have high suicide rates.

But this is a debate worth having. Is suicide largely a product of easy access to guns, or is it largely a product of untreated mental illness, and to what extent will taking rights away from those who are diagnosed with mental illness discourage people from seeking treatment?

I don’t have the magic answer to any of this, but these are important questions that need to be discussed, not just dismissed with loud shouting about the rate of mass shootings in England or whatever.

• John Schilling says:

Might taking the guns way from your unstable veterans lower their suicide risk?

The act of saying, “we should take guns away from unstable veterans”, increases the difficulty of identifying unstable veterans in the first place. Since unstable veterans are subject to (and sometimes the cause of) many harms beyond just suicide by firearm, this is unlikely to be a net win.

• Take it to the point where someone is holding a gun to their head. You would still do nothing?

• Matt M says:

Take it to the point where someone is holding a gun to their head. You would still do nothing?

I would, but I admit to having some rather non-mainstream opinions about freedom and autonomy.

• JayT says:

How exactly will the people doing the background checks know that someone is mentally ill? Will HIPPA privacy laws not count for mental illness, but any time you are diagnosed, that information is sent off to the government?
Can you stop being mentally ill, or if you have a single nervous breakdown in college do you lose that right forever?

• AnonYEmous says:

I don’t like this argument. To put it simply, “mentally ill” is something which is already administrated by many experts and taught in colleges and so forth; it seems like there’s already a lot of ambient defenses against simply declaring someone with certain political movations “mentally ill”. I guess I could see it happening to, say, Trump supporters, but I think there’s enough cultural agreement on the issue as to make this a bit different from similar issues.

• The Nybbler says:

it seems like there’s already a lot of ambient defenses against simply declaring someone with certain political movations “mentally ill”. I guess I could see it happening to, say, Trump supporters,

OK, we can stop right there, as you’ve just said that over 40% of the country might fall under such an abuse.

In fact, while there is (fairly recent) strong protection against long-term commitment, there is almost no protection from being declared mentally ill. Laws like Pennsylvania’s Section 302 and California’s Section 5150 allow anyone to be committed for 72 hours based on the word of a mental health professional or a police officer. Holds under these laws can be and are used to permanently revoke firearms rights. Gun rights advocates are well aware of this, and suspicious of any expansion.

• it seems like there’s already a lot of ambient defenses against simply declaring someone with certain political movations “mentally ill”.

Back during the 1964 campaign, quite a lot of psychiatrists polled by Fact magazine diagnosed Barry Goldwater, whom they had never met, with various forms of mental illness, including “paranoid,” “schizophrenic,” “obsessive,” “psychotic,” and “narcissistic.”

• Matt M says:

No shortage of Washington Post columns claiming the same about Trump on a daily basis.

• Lillian says:

And this is why we have the Goldwater Rule! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldwater_rule

• onyomi says:

People are, of course, free to talk about whatever they want, but I was kind of really hoping this wouldn’t turn into another “gun control” and/or “is legislating in the wake of a tragedy appropriate” thread.

What I’m personally interested in here is the question of whether or not our current going narratives in the US (and arguably in the West?) are so toxic compared to the past as to increase the likelihood of the most marginally stable members of society going off the deep end.

are so toxic … as to increase the likelihood of the most marginally stable members of society going off the deep end.

Yes. But,

compared to the past

I don’t know. The Vietnam War era also had very, very toxic narratives. “The US government is drafting young men to go murder innocent Vietnamese people” and “Commies are trying to subvert and corrupt our country and take over the world.” Both were serious problems, and also both close to truth.

Today I would say the situation is not nearly as bad, but the narratives do not much resemble reality.

• Nornagest says:

If you’re using mass tragedies as your cue for new laws, you’re gonna end up with a bunch of really crappy laws. Mass tragedies are rare and dramatic; good law needs to be mainly concerned with the common and mundane, because that’s where all the potential disutility is.

Exceptions might apply for civilizational or existential-level risks, like asteroid impacts or nuclear war. But this ain’t one.

And that’s all I’m gonna say on the subject, because three days isn’t long enough and I already hate all the new memes like poison.

• Paul Brinkley says:

If you’re using mass tragedies as your cue for new laws, you’re gonna end up with a bunch of really crappy laws. Mass tragedies are rare and dramatic; good law needs to be mainly concerned with the common and mundane, because that’s where all the potential disutility is.

I posted this a few years ago, I think. I forget where. Facebook maybe.

I did some back of the envelope math with that list of shootings (it may have been a list of all shootings) a few months ago. I counted the number of people who committed the shootings in the 20th century, and made my best guess on how many people lived during that time. Erring on the side of common, I came up with around 1 in 20 million – that’s how many people in America would, for whatever reason (insanity, accident, revenge, etc.), pick up a gun or other weapon and go on a murder spree.

Imagine you had a test for telling in advance who would do such a thing at some point in their 70-year average lifespan, that was so good that it reported the right result 999,999 times out of a million. So you run it on everyone in the country. There’s about 320 million in the nation today, so about 16 people are inclined to do this, statistically speaking. The chance that you’ll find them all with this test is really good, provided you run it on everyone. However, it’ll also test positive for just over 300 people who are innocent.

What do you do about them? You can’t tell them from the 16; you don’t know which are really the 16. Running the test again won’t help; it’ll report the same thing every time. You can’t just put them on a “do not sell” list and otherwise leave them alone; recent events prove this won’t keep them from getting one. Do you lock them up? Twenty people put away for the rest of their lives for every one that would do actual harm? How many people get taken out of a normal life by shooters today, on average? Is it even twenty? And this is all assuming the test is so good that it has a one in a million failure rate. How good would such a test really be?

The truth is depressing, but held up by math: we *can’t* do anything to prevent this without making life worse for everyone on average, because it’s so incredibly rare. Every case is special. There’s no universal pattern. Affluence, race, mental profile; nothing fits except perhaps gender, and everything that kinda fits, fits so many other people that we’d stigmatize many more people who don’t deserve it. About the only thing I see about it that we can control is how we put it on the news. As much as I favor free speech, I also think we’re doing too much damage by bouncing news like this back and forth over the network with breathless alarm, and I really wish that at least professional journalists would take even more pause than they currently are about reporting such events.

• If you’re using mass tragedies as your cue for new laws, you’re gonna end up with a bunch of really crappy laws.

If you act hastily , you will get crappy laws, if you do nothing, you will get more tragedies, and acting carefully is actually an option. The UK had good gun law before Dunblane, and better afterwards.

• The truth is depressing, but held up by math: we *can’t* do anything to prevent this without making life worse for everyone on average, because it’s so incredibly rare

So how have other nations managed to do this impossible thing?

• You can’t just put them on a “do not sell” list and otherwise leave them alone; recent events prove this won’t keep them from getting one

In what percentage of cases.

• hyperboloid says:

@TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

So how have other nations managed to do this impossible thing?

One might as well ask how other nations manage to provide their citizens with better health care at a lower cost then we do. What do you hate freedom, or something?

• Gobbobobble says:

So how have other nations managed to do this impossible thing?

Being smaller and more homogeneous -> more relevant and efficient governance -> populace that is generally more deferential and trusting of authorities?

There’s also got to be some cultural impact from hegemonial vs post-imperial/post-dominion thinking. Though that’s probably just another source of individual vs collective attitudes.

• So how have other nations managed to do this impossible thing?

They haven’t. Mass shooting happen in other countries as well. Some of the data is summarized in a Politifact account.

Of the countries covered by the research they cite, deaths from mass shootings per capita are lower than in the U.S. in seven countries, higher in three.

At 0.15 mass shooting fatalities per 100,000 people, the U.S. had a lower rate than Norway (1.3 per 100,000), Finland (0.34 per 100,000) and Switzerland (1.7 per 100,000).

That’s only counting mass shootings–presumably there is some substitution to other forms of mass killing, such as stabbings in China, in places where guns are harder to get.

• johnjohn says:

@DavidFriedman

Based on that chart, the US is significantly worse off per capita if we compare the US as a whole and Europe as a whole. (About twice as bad)

(And if you compared by US state, and EU country, I’d imagine the difference between the worst US states and the worst EU countries would be even bigger
But that’s just a guess, I don’t know how mass shootings are distributed in the states)

and even further, if you compared Europe as a whole to individual US States it probably wouldn’t even rank in the top ten

• Matt M says:

johnjohn,

The claim David was responding to was not “Other countries do a marginally better job at preventing mass shootings,” but rather that other countries have “eliminated” mass shootings.

• johnjohn says:

@matt m

I really really don’t get the point of your comment.
No one talked about eliminating mass shootings entirely.

And if you want to be completely anal about what the debate is about (which you, for some reason, seem to want be)
Then the linked data actually strongly supports TheAncientGeekAKA1Z point. Because they’re only talking about frequency and not severity. In which case the US looks extremely bad per capita

• Matt M says:

The original comment from Paul was “we can’t do anything to prevent this”

AncientGreek then said “other nations have prevented it”

Which is not true. Other nations have made it slightly less of a problem, but they haven’t prevented it.

• rlms says:

@Matt M
I think e.g. Liechtenstein has prevented mass shootings.

• Matt M says:

By drawing a small enough border, sure.

I’m sure there are specific counties in the US that have never experienced a mass shooting, either.

• Randy M says:

In fact, probably 90% of them.

• JayT says:

The UK had good gun law before Dunblane, and better afterwards.

Those laws didn’t stop the Cumbria shootings. The fact is, these types of things were exceedingly rare both before and after those laws. The murder rate in the UK hasn’t fallen any faster than the murder rate in the US since they passed those laws.

So how have other nations managed to do this impossible thing?

The UK hasn’t. France hasn’t. Brazil certainly hasn’t. Norway hasn’t. Why didn’t their gun control stop mass shootings?

• All law is about mitigation, not elimination.

• johnjohn says:

@Matt m

Ok, if the point literally was to show that at least one mass shooting had happened in at least one other country, then I guess you’re right. The data is completely clear

But do you honestly think, that TheAncientGeekAKA17s point was that NOT A SINGLE ONE had happened outside the states? Is that really, how you chose to read his post?

• johnjohn says:

Just noticed I’m wrong about my interpretation of the data, they only looked at a limited amount of European countries.
So my criticism of the way the data is interpreted is probably wrong.

I would love to see a more complete data set. Especially one that separates mass shootings by US states

• Those laws didn’t stop the Cumbria shootings. The fact is, these types of things were exceedingly rare both before and after those laws

As I said,
the UK had good gun law before Dunblane, and better afterwards.

The post-Dunblane legislation was not the beginning of gun control.

• But do you honestly think, that TheAncientGeekAKA17s point was that NOT A SINGLE ONE had happened outside the states?

I interpreted his implied claim as that there were countries whose institutions made mass shootings essentially impossible. That could be true, but the fact that the U.S. is not strikingly worse in this regard than other developed countries for which the data were available is sufficient to show that it isn’t obviously true, which was what he was implying.

• Jiro says:

Gun control in respons to a mass shooting is the equivalent to terrorism control in response to 9/11.

• Anti terrorism is a thing. What point are you making?

• Jiro says:

The measures taken after 9/11 were poorly suited to actually stop terrorism and restricted civil liberties with a very thin justification. I expect anti-gun measures after a shooting to do likewise. Specifically going after Bin Laden did work, but that’s the equivalent of catching a specific shooter, not enacting an anti-terrorism law.

• Where “after” means “soon after”?

• Rick Hull says:

Anti terrorism policies have benefits, though they are very hard to measure. They also have huge costs. Like the bottom line for DHS or TSA, or all the collective hours spent in security lines, having photos taken of their genitals (by Rapiscanners — you think I’m making this up), removing their shoes, throwing away water bottles and toiletries, etc.

It would appear that the vast bulk of the damage from 9/11 was inflicted by the U.S. government on hundreds of millions of innocent people across the globe.

• Matt M says:

I read a study once (sorry, this was a bit ago, so no link handy) suggesting that on net, even under very generous assumptions about the value of human life, the TSA and post 9/11 airport security is a huge net loser in terms of economic benefit. That’s not even considering the costs of the global war on terror.

• Wrong Species says:

Is there any evidence that focusing more on mental illness will actually lower the chance of a mass shooting?

• Matt M says:

As far as I can tell, no. Most mass shooters do not have a history of mental illness unless you count something like “was once on antidepressants” which captures so much of the country that banning all of those people from firearm ownership would essentially be a de facto repeal of the second amendment.

• JayT says:

And then you’d also have to ban their family from owning as well, because it would be a meaningless law if they could live in a house with guns.

• would essentially be a de facto repeal of the second amendment.

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

And then you’d also have to ban their family from owning as well,

Noted, good point.

• Anatoly says:

And then you’d also have to ban their family from owning as well, because it would be a meaningless law if they could live in a house with guns.

Why isn’t the law that bans felons from owning guns a meaningless law now?

• The Nybbler says:

@Anatoly; it is pretty useless. G. Gordon Liddy used to brag that his wife owned a gun which she kept on his side of the bed.

• CatCube says:

would essentially be a de facto repeal of the second amendment.
You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Oh, good, then Congress can just pass a law making flag burning illegal again; after all, that’s just a de facto repeal of the First Amendment.

• Matt M says:

Why isn’t the law that bans felons from owning guns a meaningless law now?

It is.

Does anyone seriously believe that a sufficiently motivated felon cannot obtain weapons due to the existence of such a law?

• Charles F says:

Does anyone seriously believe that a sufficiently motivated felon cannot obtain weapons due to the existence of such a law?

The law might be theater, but this isn’t the right question. Like somebody else said earlier, it’s about mitigation, not elimination. You have to ask whether the extra inconvenience means fewer felons end up with access to guns, and then what effect that has on rates of violence.

• Matt M says:

That’s totally fair.

I suppose in the felon example, the risk of stripping the rights of an innocent person is considered minimal, due to the beyond a reasonable doubt standard of conviction in the criminal justice system. (As well as the fact that if you’ve been falsely convicted of a crime, losing the right to buy guns is fairly far down the list of wrongs that have been done to you).

If “mental illness” had to be proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of your peers, I’d be much more comfortable with the idea of gun bans for the mentally ill. Not fully comfortable, but more comfortable to be sure.

• Are laws generally expected to bring about less of something. or eliminate it entirely?

• I suppose in the felon example, the risk of stripping the rights of an innocent person is considered minimal, due to the beyond a reasonable doubt standard of conviction in the criminal justice system.

That might be the case if most felony convictions were the result of jury trials, but they aren’t–something over ninety percent of criminal convictions are the result of plea bargaining. The fact that someone is willing to accept a minimal punishment in order to avoid the risk of a much larger punishment if he goes to trial is weak evidence that he is guilty of anything.

• Matt M says:

David,

That’s certainly true, but I don’t think that most people are aware of that or see it that way. Common conception is that if you take a plea bargain, it’s because you were guilty.

• Paul Brinkley says:

I think laws should be expected to make society better off. Laws which try to do that by reducing something bad should not reduce good things by equal or greater amount.

If a law that reduces violent acts by repealing the Second Amendment ends up increasing violent acts by removing the ability for otherwise non-violent individuals to deter violent individuals who don’t need a gun to be violent, then that is a law which isn’t accomplishing its goal.

If a law that reduces violent acts by banning certain firearms accessories ends up increasing violent acts by impairing the ability for otherwise non-violent individuals to deter violent individuals who don’t need that accessory, then the same principle applies.

If the net affect of any such law is unknown, then one is forced to resort to heuristics such as expert advice or observing what else its advocates or detractors appear to want, and hope that it’s reasonably accurate. If the law’s advocates say they want a de facto repeal of 2A…

• Yes, someone with an eating disorder, or high-functioning autism, or any number of other things that fall under the fuzzy category of “mental illness,” should be allowed to own a gun. So should everyone else, until it’s proven otherwise by due process of law. We need some more specific criterion before you go stripping people of the right to self-defense, or anything else that falls under the category of Constitutional rights

Is that actually a good thing aside from the constitution? Invert the idea of gun ownership being a right into the idea of gun ownership being a privilege, so that only well-trained people with completely clean records can own guns. Would that lead to worse outcomes?

Is there any evidence that focusing more on mental illness will actually lower the chance of a mass shooting?

There have been cases
(Dunblane, Virginia, Aurora) where at least informal concerns were raised but not acted on. These would have been prevented by a system with a strong presumption against ownership.

• Jiro says:

If we only allowed well-educated people with clean records to have free speech, I doubt the outcome would be worse. Unless you count deprivation of free speech as a harm in itself.

• dodrian says:

Wouldn’t that create an incentive for people in power (be they politicians, sheriffs, judges etc…) to have those who speak out against them arrested?

• Unless you count deprivation of free speech as a harm in itself.

Obviously it is, since those with no say with steadilly lose out in zero sum games.

• Incurian says:

/me waits for the dots to be connected…

• @JohnSchilling

The arrangement to avoid glamorising ISIS was put into place without branding it as an anti free speech measure. Did I mention that no one is a free speech absolutist? People will accept obvious common sense exceptions to free speech readily, so long as the c word is not used.

• John Schilling says:

@TheAncientGeek: I just responded to this elsewhere.
Is there a reason you are saying exactly the same thing in two places, other than liking to hear yourself talk?

• Yes.

• Matt M says:

Would that lead to worse outcomes?

If getting assistance for mental health issues puts you in a category of “the government can now restrict your rights”, people are going to be very reluctant to seek help.

The exact use-case I’m thinking of here is military veterans (macho gun lovers who are ALREADY reluctant to seek help). Tell them that if a doctor diagnoses them with PTSD they can never legally own a gun again, and watch as suddenly the answer to every question to every doctor becomes “Thanks doc, I feel fine!” regardless of what is actually going on inside.

• JayT says:

This is a very important point for all people that think barring “mentally ill” people from owning guns is a good idea. If being diagnosed with something restricts your rights, the main effect that will have is to stop people from seeking help, and it would probably be more likely to lead to more problems, not fewer.

• Being barred from something they really need, like a job or a place to live, might well motivate someone to dissimulate about their mental health. But a gun in not the staff life.

• Matt M says:

Being barred from something they really need, like a job or a place to live, might well motivate someone to dissimulate about their mental health.

What about driving a car? We’re seeing plenty of terrorist car attacks (mostly in Europe, which I’m sure is a huge coincidence). Not being trusted to use physical force eliminates entire categories of jobs from consideration (police, military, security). And if your mental illness makes you prone to violence, why shouldn’t we be able to control where you live (like we happily do for certain sex offenders)

Owning a gun might seem like some minor luxury to you but to many it is not. It’s something they greatly value and enjoy. And is among the very few rights explicitly guaranteed by the constitution. If they can take that away, they can take whatever else they want away, too.

• onyomi says:

The thing about this particular killer is that for almost any law you can think of, I don’t see how it would have prevented him killing a lot of people, unless it were a law that somehow encouraged greater community cohesion, or, perhaps, something like stricter obligation to report and involuntarily commit, those suffering from mental illness.

He apparently spent years accumulating weapons secretly

He was extremely concerned with privacy, paid cash for his house, put up some big fences and hedges his neighbors complained about

Obviously smart, put a lot of thought into the attack; if guns had been really hard to get he would have figured out a different way to kill people with a bomb, a car, whatever; trivial, even significant inconvenience would not have stopped this guy

Seems like there was some record of mental illness; supposedly he filled a huge valium Rx at some point soon before the shooting, but as others have pointed out, if you take away the rights and threaten to involuntarily commit anyone who might be helped by valium you’re basically going to sentence a lot of people to either buying black market valium, or suffering unnecessarily with untreated mental illness.

The main point that sticks out to me, as with many of these killers, is the “lone wolf” nature of the person; usually the person is described as “keeping to himself,” the brother said this was a neighborhood were people mostly kept to themselves, etc.

I can’t help but think this results, in part, from our new “bowling alone” society, though, again, that may be my own priors.

• Matt M says:

The thing about this particular killer is that for almost any law you can think of, I don’t see how it would have prevented him killing a lot of people

I think what annoys me the most about the calls for gun control in the wake of a mass shooting is that the vast majority of the time, this is overwhelmingly true for the vast majority of “common sense reforms” being proposed. In most high-profile shootings, most of the restrictions people immediately demand would have made little to no difference in preventing that particular shooting. (In this particular case, Hillary Clinton managed to tweet something about silencers, which were not used in this attack, before I even heard about the attack itself… it may also be worth noting that she seemed to get her understanding of how silencers work from hollywood action films rather than from reality)

Which to me is the exact definition of “politicizing a tragedy” in one of the most despicable ways, because it is clearly relying on emotion to drag people to a conclusion the facts do not support (this would be the left-wing equivalent of the neocons using 9/11 to start a war with Iraq).

Like somewhere in a drawer in every left-wing thinktank is a big long list of gun control regulations they want, and whenever there’s a shooting, they open the drawer and dust off the list and demand all these things without even taking 30 seconds to actually look and see if the things on the list have any relation at all to the shooting that happened.

I find this offensive, not so much as a conservative or as a gun owner or anything else – but as a rationalist-adjacent person. It’s so blatantly illogical and dishonest and relying on emotional manipulation, and I wish more people would speak out against it.

• AnonYEmous says:

But a gun in not the staff life.

perhaps in an objective sense, but looking at the immense backlash against any attempt at gun control, it sure seems like there are a whole lot of people who don’t agree with you. What will you do if they refuse to seek out mental health treatment and get hurt as a result?

• onyomi says:

In most high-profile shootings, most of the restrictions people immediately demand would have made little to no difference in preventing that particular shooting…

Like somewhere in a drawer in every left-wing thinktank is a big long list of gun control regulations they want, and whenever there’s a shooting, they open the drawer and dust off the list and demand all these things without even taking 30 seconds to actually look and see if the things on the list have any relation at all to the shooting that happened.

What I’d say to the “we need to take swift, decisive action in the wake of a tragedy” people is, fulfill this requirement and I’ll at least take you seriously, if not necessarily support you:

Explain to me how your proposed measure would have plausibly prevented the particular tragedy in question. If you can’t do that then I’ll assume that you are, yes, just dusting off something you already wanted before for other reasons because the timing seems good. THAT’s what I, at least, object to about “politicizing” tragedy: not that “doing something” in the wake of a tragedy is per se always bad, but that using a tragedy to cynically advance your pet policy that wouldn’t have prevented it anyway is shitty.

• moonfirestorm says:

@MattM:

(In this particular case, Hillary Clinton managed to tweet something about silencers, which were not used in this attack, before I even heard about the attack itself… it may also be worth noting that she seemed to get her understanding of how silencers work from hollywood action films rather than from reality)

Can you expand on this, specifically what silencers do in reality?

I saw a friend comment approvingly on that post, and thought to myself “wait don’t silencers have a whole host of drawbacks?”, then spent some time on Wikipedia trying to learn what suppressors do, but I wasn’t able to confirm it was actually wrong

• AnonYEmous says:

Can you expand on this, specifically what silencers do in reality? I saw a friend comment approvingly on that post, and thought to myself “wait don’t silencers have a whole host of drawbacks?”, then spent some time on Wikipedia trying to learn what suppressors do, but I wasn’t able to confirm it was actually wrong

On the sound scale, a gun with a silencer firing a bullet puts out the same decibels as a jackhammer. That’s the main issue really – a silencer might make it slightly easier to commit crimes, but it’s a pretty slight increase.

• Explain to me how your proposed measure would have plausibly prevented the particular tragedy in question. If you can’t do that then I’ll assume that you are, yes, just dusting off something you already wanted before for other reasons because the timing seems good.

You say that as though it’s a bad thing. If a law would save lives it’s justified. It’s not a strong counterargument to say that it wouldn’t work in some particular case, because no law works in every case.

A cynic is an idealist’s name for a pragmatist.

At least someone is trying to do something. Is complacency so great?

• Thegnskald says:

TheAncientGeek –

Yes, burning social trust is a bad thing. I feel like this shouldn’t need to be said.

ETA: Also, keep in mind other people don’t want the something done, that is being done. I don’t understand what isn’t painfully obvious about this; suppose, say, a bunch of right-wing states “do something” in response to an abortion doctor doing unethical shit, which just happens to both fail to prevent that unethical shit, and also just happens to make it harder for women to get abortions – is this okay, because they are “doing something”?

Have some theory of mind, man.

• What about driving a car?

Cars are dangerous and driving is restricted in various ways and for good reasons.

We’re seeing plenty of terrorist car attacks (mostly in Europe, which I’m sure is a huge coincidence). Not being trusted to use physical force eliminates entire categories of jobs from consideration (police, military, security).

There are certainly types of mentally ill person I wouldn’t want to gove a badge and gun too. Do you disagree?

And if your mental illness makes you prone to violence, why shouldn’t we be able to control where you live (like we happily do for certain sex offenders)

You just refuted your own point. It does make sense to restrict certain categories of
disturbed individual.

I find your reasoning generally quite strange. It is as if you are arguing that the baseline is one where anyone is allowed to do anything, but it clearly is not.

Owning a gun might seem like some minor luxury to you but to many it is not. It’s something they greatly value and enjoy.

A gun is not a necessity, so it is anomolous to treat it as a right,

And is among the very few rights explicitly guaranteed by the constitution. If they can take that away, they can take whatever else they want away, too.

The slippery slope argument is so bad , it is often called a fallacy.

Constitutions that are too easy to change are a bad idea; constitutions that are too difficult to change are also a bad idea. if a rule has bad consequences, why keep it?

• Yes, burning social trust is a bad thing.

What you are referring to? People piggy-back their wish list onto the events of the day all the time. When there is an ISIS attack, the right dust of their list of immigration restrictions, for instance. It’s not like the anti gun people are the first to defect…that individual is lost in the mists of time.

Also, keep in mind other people don’t want the something done, that is being done.

Abortion is controversial, the murder of adults is not.

• Thegnskald says:

I hate to bust in on the ignorance parade, but…

Cars aren’t restricted. Anybody can own a car, anybody can drive a car. You can drive 200mph without a seatbelt, license, or insurance perfectly legally.

What is restricted is the use of government-owned roads, and certain kinds of privately owned public easements, such as parking lots.

• Thegnskald says:

TheAncientGeek –

“They do it too!” is always a shitty excuse for shitty behavior.

• Maybe, but you can’t burn trust that’s been burnt. And complacency isn’t great.

• Nick says:

Abortion is controversial, the murder of adults is not.

How is this a response to the point being made? Abortion is perfectly legal in America; so is the owning and use of guns. “Unethical shit” is not necessarily perfectly legal in America, and neither is murdering people. Abortion restrictions is controversial, and so are gun restrictions. So, clearly, if an abortion doctor is doing things that are monstrously evil and an abuse of his responsibility, people may raise ways to restrict abortions so as to prevent such things. It sounds like the analogy is correct in all the relevant ways; is there any relevant respect in which it’s disanalogous?

I also point out that someone has put forward a principled defense of complacency.

“They do it too!” is always a shitty excuse for shitty behavior.

Perhaps that’s true. But when you see something like:

I find this offensive, not so much as a conservative or as a gun owner or anything else – but as a rationalist-adjacent person. It’s so blatantly illogical and dishonest and relying on emotional manipulation, and I wish more people would speak out against it.

and you are aware “they do it too”, it makes you wonder if the lady doth protest too much.

Kind of like when you see someone claim that they hold a deep, principled, unshakable commitment to free speech norms but some how every single thing they get outraged about is people on the left violating these purported norms and every time someone on the right violates those purported norms, it’s either silence or “that’s different!”

• Cars aren’t restricted. Anybody can own a car, anybody can drive a car. You can drive 200mph without a seatbelt, license, or insurance perfectly legally.

What is restricted is the use of government-owned roads, and certain kinds of privately owned public easements, such as parking lots.

And a UK citizen can evade the guns laws by flying to the states, which also means nothing relevant.

• Aapje says:

@moonfirestorm

When shooting a gun, sound comes from three sources:
1. Muzzle blast: the sound of the gasses violently escaping from the barrel
2. Sonic boom: the shock waves created when the bullet goes through the air faster than the speed of sound
3. Moving parts of the firearm

The muzzle blast is the thing that most shooters care about and why many want suppressors*, since that is what causes hearing damage to shooters themselves unless they wear hearing aids. A suppressor doesn’t eliminate the entire muzzle blast, but reduces the decibels and duration of the muzzle blast. It also changes the sound of the muzzle blast which can make it harder to recognize the sound, but also makes it much harder to hear where the sound is from.

Even if you eliminate most of the muzzle blast, the sonic boom is still very loud. Subsonic munition can bring it down a bit, at the expense of range and effectiveness, but that works best for small, short range munition. Long range munition like subsonic .308 rounds still produce between 121 and 137 dB. That is still very loud. It’s louder than an ambulance siren.

When targeting people, silenced weapons are most effective for snipers or for commandos who want to kill sentries, as single shots are far easier to mistake for something else than repeated shooting. Furthermore, the difficulty to locate the shooter is much, much higher if he only shoots rarely. When many shots are fired, the flames coming from the muzzle are relatively easy to spot.

So the idea that a person could shoot hundreds of people without them hearing that they are being shot at or without the police figuring out where the shooter is, is not very realistic. It’s based on a huge exaggeration of the effectiveness of suppressors.

* This is a better name than silencer, since it doesn’t actually silence fully

• bean says:

Long range munition like subsonic .308 rounds still produce between 121 and 137 dB. That is still very loud. It’s louder than an ambulance siren.

A couple of problems here. First, subsonic .308? Are you talking about .308 rounds that have gone far enough to go subsonic (which is beyond normal engagement range, although I can’t say how far offhand), or is that a typo for supersonic? (I suspect the second, as a subsonic round isn’t that loud.)
Second, I think the dB comparison is off. Those may be the dB values based on maximum peak pressure, but that’s a very short peak, where an ambulance is a lot more consistent. I agree that supersonic bullets are definitely not silent (they make a distinct ‘crack’), but I don’t think the metaphor is a good one.

• actinide meta says:

“[X] is not a necessity, so it is anomolous to treat it as a right,”

I really, really, hope you don’t mean this.

• hlynkacg says:

@ moonfirestorm

Can you expand on this, specifically what silencers do in reality?

The main thing is that for those down range (getting shot at) the sound of the bullet breaking the sound barrier and smacking into things at high velocity is going to be much louder than the sound of gun itself and silencers do nothing to reduce that. Thier main benefit is hearing protection for the shooter. Even then, the retort of a conventional firearm with a detachable silencer/suppressor is still going to be something on the order of 100 – 120 decibels at the muzzle which isn’t exactly subtle. Making a gun “Hollywood quiet” requires extensive modifications to the action itself and restricting yourself to low-power/subsonic ammunition.

In short, silencers don’t really silence.

• Matt M says:

and you are aware “they do it too”, it makes you wonder if the lady doth protest too much.

Come on, Brad. I preemptively volunteered the example of the Iraq was as one of when the right engaged in this behavior in a shameful way which I reject as immoral and blameworthy.

Terror attacks and immigration restrictions are another common example, yes (although terror attacks by people with refugee status are becoming increasingly common).

To act like I’m somehow pretending this is one-sided is incredibly dishonest on your part.

• Matt M says:

In short, silencers don’t really silence.

And just for context for those who haven’t seen it, here is Hillary’s tweet.

Her logic is premised on the notion that people only ran away because they heard gunshots, and that if the shooter had access to silencers, they would not have heard any gunshots.

Both of which are quite clearly false.

And once again, this is what she chose to talk about hours after the shooting. A hypothetical law about a piece of equipment the NRA wants to be easier to obtain (but currently isn’t), that wasn’t used in the shooting at all.

This is about as low as it gets, people.

• lvlln says:

@TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

You say that as though it’s a bad thing. If a law would save lives it’s justified. It’s not a strong counterargument to say that it wouldn’t work in some particular case, because no law works in every case.

I disagree with this entirely. Saving lives is not a sufficient condition for a law being justified. Especially since the same law might both save and take lives. Even if a law saves lives on net, one has to consider the exact details of whose lives are saved and whose lives are taken and how that affects incentives and therefore behavior in society.

To say that a particular law wouldn’t work for a particular case is a very poor argument for the position that that particular law is not justified, because the law may be justified by its general effect on most things, not on any specific case. However, it IS a very good argument for the position that this specific case shouldn’t push us into passing that law. If that law is justified, then it is justified regardless of the specific case which it wouldn’t have prevented, and so arguing that this recent specific case which the law wouldn’t have prevented should compel us to pass that law is dishonest.

A cynic is an idealist’s name for a pragmatist.

I mean, if you believe you’re an ubermensch who truly knows what’s best for others and you’re justified in using dishonest means to manipulate people into passing policy that you just KNOW is good regardless of the assessments of others who would also be subject to the policy, I guess that’s fine, but I think that’s likely to lead to bad outcomes, especially since that promotes the norm of your opponents also considering themselves ubermensch who are also justified in using dishonest means to manipulate people into passing their favored policy.

It might also be the case that we’re already well along this path, but it’s also not clear to me that continuing to escalate is likely to lead to better outcomes compared to finding ways to deescalate by discussing policy in an honest manner.

At least someone is trying to do something. Is complacency so great?

“We have to do something. This is something. Therefore, we have to do this.” I don’t find that line of argument convincing. The status quo might suck (IMHO it definitely does wrt guns in the USA), but it’s extremely easy to make things much much worse and extremely hard to make things better, even conditioned upon everyone having the best intentions.

My personal object-level opinion on this is that we need a strong, continuous 2nd Amendment repeal movement in the USA, one that honestly makes the case that freedom to own guns shouldn’t be an inherent right. One that isn’t reactionary to mass shootings, but incorporates them along with actual statistics on violence involving guns and science on what sorts of concrete societal changes are likely to follow if it is repealed. My naive speculation is that if we did this, we might have a glimmer of a hope of actually repealing it around the time my great-grandchildren retire.

• Vorkon says:

“[X] is not a necessity, so it is anomolous to treat it as a right,”

More importantly, the question at hand was not “is it correct to treat [X] as a right,” the question was, “will millions of people be significantly more reluctant to seek help for mental issues if they are afraid [X] will be taken away,” the answer to which is, unequivocally, yes.

• @Nick,

Well, if complacency is great, maybe you could go around saying explicitly that the correct response to Vegas is nothing.

• Randy M says:

@lvlln
I am in favor of keeping the second amendment. However, your post is entirely excellent (again) and makes me glad I didn’t jump in earlier and say the same things worse.

• My personal object-level opinion on this is that we need a strong, continuous 2nd Amendment repeal movement in the USA, one that honestly makes the case that freedom to own guns shouldn’t be an inherent right. One that isn’t reactionary to mass shootings, but incorporates them along with actual statistics on violence involving guns and science on what sorts of concrete societal changes are likely to follow if it is repealed.

If you object to short-termism in favour of long-termism , that is fine, but everyone else has just objected to short termism, and offered nothing else, which adds up to nothing.

• Matt M says:

I’ll say it.

The correct response to the Vegas shooting is nothing. I have yet to see anyone make a proposal as to how it might have been prevented without also introducing a large number of potential problems and side-effects that might very well lead to even more deaths on net.

To act like I’m somehow pretending this is one-sided is incredibly dishonest on your part.

Where can I find your post attacking calls for immigration restrictions in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting by someone born and raised in the United States because you are “a rationalist-adjacent person” that hates arguments that are “blatantly illogical and dishonest and rely[] on emotional manipulation”?

and all I found from you was pushback against gun control. You didn’t respond at all in thread where Le Maistre Chat suggested the real problem was allowing Muslim immigration.

If you expect others to go against their object level positions to call out arguments with meta-level problems, perhaps you should lead by example.

• Nick says:

Well, if complacency is great, maybe you could go around saying explicitly that the correct response to Vegas is nothing.

The correct response to Vegas is nothing.

• I have yet to see anyone make a proposal as to how it might have been prevented without also introducing a large number of potential problems and side-effects that might very well lead to even more deaths on net.

Well, of course the milquetoast, NRA-friendly measures don’t work. But I don’t think you have considered the really radical measures.

• John Schilling says:

If a law would save lives it’s justified.

A law prohibiting media coverage of mass murders, or allowing coverage only under strict restrictions as to form and content enforced via prior restraint, would save lives. There is no doubt about this. A significant fraction of mass murderers are either copycats or attention-seekers or both, and terrorism only works to the extent that it draws attention. Cutting off the supply of attention will probably save more lives than trying to cut off the supply of guns.

And if there’s any social benefit to having pictures of the massacre on page one of every newspaper in the country, rather than a text description on page three, I’m not seeing it.

So, Geek, are you in favor of such laws? Are you going to argue for such laws with the enthusiasm you show for gun control? And if not, why not?

• Matt M says:

Well, of course the milquetoast, NRA-friendly measures don’t work. But I don’t think you have considered the really radical measures.

Sure I have. But as someone who generally believes that guns are an effective deterrent to state violence (a far greater threat in the grand scheme of things than individual crime), I lump those into “things that would probably do more harm on net”

• Gobbobobble says:

Well, if complacency is great, maybe you could go around saying explicitly that the correct response to Vegas is nothing.

The correct [legislative] response to Vegas is nothing.

(Curses. Ninja’d again.)

• Well, I’m not a free speech absolutist,and things like ISIS videos are already censored.

• But as someone who generally believes that guns are an effective deterrent to state violence

Never bring a gun to a nuke fight.

• Matt M says:

Never bring a gun to a nuke fight.

Tell that to North Korea, North Vietnam, ISIS, etc.

• bean says:

Never bring a gun to a nuke fight.

SAC did have plans to nuke American cities, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t as part of the first-line plan for dealing with internal unrest. Or the second-line plan, or for anything except maybe dealing with bioweapon attacks (and training, obviously).

• moonfirestorm says:

@AnonYEMous, Aapje:

Thank you for your explanations of suppressors/silencers. I agree that they wouldn’t seem to have any relevance to the attack.

• John Schilling says:

Well, I’m not a free speech absolutist,and things like ISIS videos are already censored.

OK, but Stephen Paddock probably wasn’t a member of ISIS, and he seems to have been a bigger threat to ordinary Americans than all of ISIS combined, so what speech restrictions are you proposing in response to this shooting?

I’m serious. If you’re not just blowing smoke with “I’m not a free speech absolutist” and “If it saves one life…”, you should be out waving banners for the cause of censorship. What are your proposals, and where can I see you arguing for them?

• Vorkon says:

OK, but Stephen Paddock probably wasn’t a member of ISIS, and he seems to have been a bigger threat to ordinary Americans than all of ISIS combined

This is kind of a nitpick, but I’m pretty sure that if you add up the death tolls of the Orlando and San Bernardino shootings, they still come out higher than the Las Vegas shooting, albeit not by all that much.

Also, I’m not so sure if I would say “probably” about him not being at least inspired by ISIS. Claiming unrelated attacks, while it has happened a few times recently, is not exactly common for them, and the way that they’re doubling down on this one is unheard of. Admittedly, they’re in a pretty desperate situation, so it being a false claim is far from beyond the realm of possibility, but I wouldn’t give more than 50/50 odds against it, at best.

• Matt M says:

Am I the only one who feels a little bit of tension between the “people do this so they can get famous” assumption and the fact that many mass shooters (seemingly including this one) do NOT leave a detailed manifesto describing their life, their struggles, and their exact motivations for mass-murder?

Why would anyone focused on fame and being remembered not promote themselves to the maximum extent possible? If he did it for ISIS, why wouldn’t he say so? If he did it because he hated Trump-supporting country music fans, why wouldn’t he say so? If he did it to spite his ex-wife, why wouldn’t he say so?

• Iain says:

My personal object-level opinion on this is that we need a strong, continuous 2nd Amendment repeal movement in the USA, one that honestly makes the case that freedom to own guns shouldn’t be an inherent right. One that isn’t reactionary to mass shootings, but incorporates them along with actual statistics on violence involving guns and science on what sorts of concrete societal changes are likely to follow if it is repealed. My naive speculation is that if we did this, we might have a glimmer of a hope of actually repealing it around the time my great-grandchildren retire.

I agree with lvlln here.

As an external observer of America, it seems pretty clear to me that “an armed society is a safer society” was a plausible theory, and I suppose it’s good that somebody tested it, but it’s empirically false. A society where easy access to guns is legal, and carrying guns for self-defense is normalized, turns out to involve a lot of people getting shot. (Mass shootings are only a tiny component of this; stuff like suicide fatality rates, trivial gun access for criminals, police having to be constantly ready to shoot first, and the fatal escalation of confrontations when guns are close to hand all seem more important to me.)

I don’t know how the US gets out of its current hole. I agree with lvlln that it doesn’t happen quickly. It’s not just a legal change; it’s a cultural one.

• Vorkon says:

Why would anyone focused on fame and being remembered not promote themselves to the maximum extent possible?

I don’t know if I’d say it’s about “fame” exactly, at least not as we generally use the term. It’s more about people who feel powerless wanting to leave their mark on the world. It’s like an artist who doesn’t sign their work and refuses to give interviews, or an author who uses a pen name. They might not want people to know about THEM, per se, but they want people to remember what they DID.

And regardless of whether they leave a manifesto or any other explanation of why they did what they did, knowing that the news media is going to be talking about you 24/7 certainly fulfills that requirement.

• And if your mental illness makes you prone to violence, why shouldn’t we be able to control where you live (like we happily do for certain sex offenders)

You just refuted your own point. It does make sense to restrict certain categories of disturbed individual.

Is your implicit assumption “whatever is, is justified”? If not, I don’t see how you can get from the fact that people convicted of sex offenders are restricted to the conclusion that the restriction makes sense, which you need for your argument.

If that is your assumption, why doesn’t it also imply that the present lack of the gun control legislation you presumably support makes sense? Either the fact that the legal system has a rule is evidence that it’s a good rule or it isn’t–you can’t have it both ways.

A gun is not a necessity, so it is anomolous to treat it as a right,

Being free to express your views in print is also not a necessity–billions of humans have survived without it. Neither is being free to follow the religion of your choice.

So your argument applies equally to the rights–by your account not rights–guaranteed by the First Amendment.

• Aapje says:

@bean

That is not a typo. Here are decibel measurements. For supersonic .308, suppressed decibels are between 138.6 and 149.7. For subsonic .308, suppressed decibels are between 121.3 and 137.1.

Note that a lot of hunters are very unhappy with subsonic ammunition, due to its inaccuracy and lack of killing power on larger game such as deer or hogs, because the bullets don’t expand when they go so slow. So body shots and even neck shots are far less lethal as a result. If it has trouble killing deer or hogs, it has trouble killing humans.

Bonus video: super slowmotion video of transparent suppressors being fired. You can see the hot gases collecting in the suppressor and dying out there, rather than exiting through the muzzle.

• Nornagest says:

Never bring a gun to a nuke fight.

Out of all the obnoxious arguments I’ve seen in this space, this is one of the most obnoxious, if only because thirty seconds of honest thought about it should have shown that it was stupid.

Empirically, rebellions and insurgencies usually fail. It turns out that the bigger, better armed, better funded force usually wins; who knew? But when we hear about a truck bound for Mayadin full of DShKs, we don’t go “eh, we have Hellfires, it’s probably fine”. We shoot one of those Hellfires at it and blow it up. Because those weapons are a force multiplier; because in ISIS’s possession they mean a longer and more expensive fight for us and our allies, despite the fact that they couldn’t possibly match our firepower no matter how lax we feel like being.

If I had to bet on the outcome of a hypothetical American insurgency, I wouldn’t be betting on the insurgents. But the fact remains that suppressing an insurgency would be more expensive in money, resources and lives than suppressing e.g. Occupy was; and suppressing an insurgency armed with AR-15s would be more expensive than suppressing one armed with shotguns and air rifles. Governments are quite aware of this. Arms therefore act as an deterrent toward things that could spark one — without anyone firing a shot.

• Well, of course the milquetoast, NRA-friendly measures don’t work. But I don’t think you have considered the really radical measures.

Now I’m curious. I am assuming, perhaps mistakenly, that the context is mass shootings, not suicides, gun accidents, or other lethal outcomes associated with firearms.

What radical measures would prevent someone who wanted to kill a lot of random people and was willing to die in the process from doing so?

• As an external observer of America, it seems pretty clear to me that “an armed society is a safer society” was a plausible theory, and I suppose it’s good that somebody tested it, but it’s empirically false.

That might be true, but I don’t think we know it. There are a lot of variables that could affect the rate of violence in a society. We don’t have an example of a society just like the U.S. except with much stricter restrictions on gun ownership.

Consider the much simpler question: Does making it legal for ordinary citizens to carry firearms increase or decrease violence? The first serious attempt to answer that question, by Lott and Mustard, produced support for legalizing concealed carry. It set off a long academic controversy which, so far as I can tell, is still unresolved. I think it’s clear that the predictions of the opponents of the change–large increases in violence as ordinary people lost their tempers and pulled out guns–have been contradicted by the data. But we still don’t know whether allowing concealed carry makes violence somewhat more common or somewhat less.

• bean says:

Note that a lot of hunters are very unhappy with subsonic ammunition, due to its inaccuracy and lack of killing power on larger game such as deer or hogs, because the bullets don’t expand when they go so slow. So body shots and even neck shots are far less lethal as a result. If it has trouble killing deer or hogs, it has trouble killing humans.

A typical .308 comes out of the gun doing Mach 2+, and they’re surprised when something doing less than half that is fairly ineffective? Hmm…. Methinks the ammo isn’t the only problem.
I’d be very interested to see the noise source breakdown from a subsonic .308. I suspect it’s still mostly noise from the firing. There just isn’t that much noise that can come from a small, subsonic chunk of metal. The quietest guns bear this out. The De Lisle Carbine was measured at 85.5 dB, as opposed to 117-140 dB for modern suppressed pistols.

• John Schilling says:

Am I the only one who feels a little bit of tension between the “people do this so they can get famous” assumption and the fact that many mass shooters (seemingly including this one) do NOT leave a detailed manifesto describing their life, their struggles, and their exact motivations for mass-murder?

Sometimes the medium is the message, as a kind of famous guy once said.

And a whole lot of famous people rather self-evidently don’t care what they get famous for, why people remember their name, so long as they do. If your model of fame is “a tool that increases the number of people who listen to my political arguments”, you’re missing an awful lot of human behavior. The Vegas Shooter is famous. He may remain famous longer as an unsolved mystery than as a man with a known but petty motive.

Or maybe he had some more specific message that we haven’t yet seen. Maybe he really was radicalized by ISIS months ago, kept his own trail squeaky clean so nobody could pre-empt his attack in the planning stage and trusted ISIS to get the word out after the fact. Maybe there was a manifesto that Vegas PD is sitting on because they don’t think this sort of thing should be publicized. I’m betting on “just wanted the attention, didn’t care what for or how he got it”, but it’s still early.

• Matt M says:

And a whole lot of famous people rather self-evidently don’t care what they get famous for, why people remember their name, so long as they do. If your model of fame is “a tool that increases the number of people who listen to my political arguments”, you’re missing an awful lot of human behavior. The Vegas Shooter is famous. He may remain famous longer as an unsolved mystery than as a man with a known but petty motive.

Even if all this were true though, couldn’t he have easily done more? Wouldn’t a crazy, wacky, manifesto increase his fame?

Take the Batman guy for instance. At least he went all out. Picked a very theatrical venue. Showed up to court with a giant red afro. Deliberately talks as if he’s cosplaying as The Joker. This is man who is doing it for the effect, and is trying to maximize his own fame and importance.

Most of these other guys… I dunno, I just don’t see it.

• Paul Brinkley says:

My personal object-level opinion on this is that we need a strong, continuous 2nd Amendment repeal movement in the USA, one that honestly makes the case that freedom to own guns shouldn’t be an inherent right.

As a strong supporter of 2A, I’ll come right out and say that I think this would be an extraordinarily welcome method of going about it. It would be honest, rational, and above-board.

I also happen to think it would run out of steam quickly, because I believe that the honest, rational, and above-board argument for gun rights is much stronger*. But even if it petered out, it would still be educational. (And on the off chance that it won the day, it would likewise still be educational.)

*The value of a reasonable equalizer in personal defense is based on the natural inequality of personal defense, and the empirical evidence that there exist people willing to exploit such inequalities to get things in ways we would all consider illegitimate. So far, that reasonable equalizer is a personal firearm; no other innovation beats it in equalization and effectiveness**.

**That it is lethal is also valuable in indirect but very real fashion. Namely, permitting anyone access to guns by default sends the message that, by default, everyone is being entrusted with lethal force, and the responsibility for applying it. Many Americans take this cultural value seriously; it’s evident every time I attend a shooting event, or even an informal get-together. It’s everyone’s personal piece of power, apparent whenever one points it downrange and puts a real hole in a real target. A vote or a stump speech is nowhere near as palpable.

As a strong supporter of 2A, I’ll come right out and say that I think this would be an extraordinarily welcome method of going about it. It would be honest, rational, and above-board.

So how come when the second amendment was interpreted such that it didn’t protect an individual right the reaction wasn’t “Well I disagree but the amendment was drafted in 1790 and is kind of outdated, so let’s get a movement together to put a new amendment in with very clear updated language”?

Because it seems to me what you are calling “honest, rational, and above-board” is playing the game to lose and since you want them to lose, that works for you.

Are there any policy issues that you support where you think it would be possible to win at least partially victories at the statutory or case law level, but out of principle you forswear those options in favor of only working towards a constitutional amendment?

• Gobbobobble says:

When you have two parties stuck in a defect-defect loop, and one suggests “maybe we should stop defecting”, it’s not a convincing argument for the other to say “if you *really* believed that you wouldn’t be defecting!”

• Thegnskald says:

I think most 2A supporters regard the 2A as very clear, albeit awkwardly worded.

The fact that all the precedent modern gun control relies upon was rooted in highly-motivated rulings supporting disarming black people in the South, and that gun rights we’re otherwise never touched, suggests maybe they have a point.

But at any rate, do you think it would be impossible to amend the Constitution to remove gun rights? Why?

• Garrett says:

As someone with a bit of experience with suppressors, I wanted to add a bit more information.

Using suppressors also comes with downsides. Standard firearms are balanced to be as comfortable as possible for expected uses [citation needed]. Suppressors weigh a lot more in real life than they do in video games. Looking at several models for 5.56mm suppressors find that they all weigh nearly a pound. Suppressors screw onto the end of the barrel of a gun, which means that it’s located to as to create the greatest moment of torque. This makes the gun much less comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

Next, suppressors have to handle a large amount of force. This means that either they need to be really heavy, or they can’t handle a large amount of fire. There are suppressors rated for full-auto fire, but see again, heavy. Someone who uses a light-weight model with a high rate of fire is much more likely to see failure combined with something exploding in their face.

Finally (my favorite). Banning suppressors for about-to-be-murderers is just dumb. The standard threading for suppressors is the exact same threading used on standard automotive oil filters. What this means is that the difference between someone who changes their own oil and someone who’s committed a Federal felony subject to a 10 year prison term is making a hole through the bottom of an oil filter. No special tools needed! If you’re lazy, just use a hammer and piece of rebar. So if the shooting in Vegas wanted to use a suppressor and didn’t want to buy a real one legally (a pain, but not actually hard), or buy one illegally, they could have made one on the spot trivially.

• Thegnskald says:

As another gun person:

A suppressor is, properly considered, a piece of safety equipment for shooting ranges. They fuck with the bullet a bit, making them suboptimal to use otherwise – which is why they aren’t generally used by the military, though they do have a few niche uses you can research if you are interested. (Seriously, if they made snipers deadlier, don’t you think we’d be putting them on our snipers’ rifles?)

A suppressor won’t protect your hearing alone. Standard ear muffs won’t protect your hearing alone, although they do make the volume level comfortable, like listening to music at too high a volume lev. In both cases the gun is still loud enough to harm you. (You can also mix ear muffs and ear plugs.)

Together, they bring the noise to a safe level.

People talking about silencers have watched too much TV.

@Thegnskald

But at any rate, do you think it would be impossible to amend the Constitution to remove gun rights? Why?

I object to the wording but leaving that aside I think it is impossible because we not only have a supermajority requirement but we have a supermajority requirement as against highly non-representative bodies.

States representing about 5% of the population can block a constitutional amendment, and within those states either the governor or a majority of either House of the legislature can exercise the state’s veto (except for Nebraska which only has one House). So potentially as few as 2.5% of the population before counting turnout and gerrymandering can block a constitutional amendment.

I think a majority and even super-majority could be built up over time. But not near unanimity.

• Thegnskald says:

States are one of two ways to pass amendments, the other being the legislature.

So what is to prevent it from happening there?

No, that’s not true. There are two ways to propose amendments: 2/3rds of each house of congress or a convention called by 2/3rds of the states.

Either way a proposal doesn’t become an amendment unless it is ratified by 3/4ths of the states.

• Thegnskald says:

Ah, my mistake.

So which 12 states do you expect to be controlled by the 2.5% of voters determined not to pass an obviously good amendment?

ETA:

This probably comes off as trolling, but I think you are being very disingenuous by claiming the issue is that a tiny special interest group would sabotage the amendment. The problem isn’t the tiny special interest group, and you know it. The problem is that most US citizens, including those who support restrictions, would oppose such an amendment.

This isn’t a case of minority opposition preventing social change. This is a case of a minority wanting social change the majority strongly disagrees with.

So which 12 states do you expect to be controlled by the 2.5% of voters determined not to pass an obviously good amendment?

Again, I object to your language. I didn’t suggest that my preferences are “obviously good”. That’s your own trolling, to use your term.

What I suggested is that over time my preferences could be a majority (they might even be now) or even a reasonable sized super-majority of the *population* but are unlikely to anytime in the foreseeable future be the near universal required for a constitutional amendment.

Aside from Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Delaware I would expect the other 14 smallest states (Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, West Virginia, and Nebraska) to be comparative laggards were there to be increasing support for repealing the second amendment across the nation. The next one, New Mexico, might not be, but the three after–Kansas, Nevada, and Arkansas–likely would.

• lvlln says:

Does it really need to be nigh-universal, though? We need the legislature of 3/4 of the states to ratify the amendment, which means we need legislatures of 38 states to ratify it, which means we need 50+ε% of the legislature of 38 states, which means we need about 50% of the population of 38 states to support ratifying it (obviously there’s a lot of room for freedom in translating from the desires of the populace to desires of the legislature, but I think for any given position, approximating the proportion of the legislature with the proportion of the population isn’t too bad. At the least, I think huge swings where, say, 95% of the population is needed to achieve a 50+ε% advantage among the state legislature would be very rare outliers).

This seems like a very high bar to cross, especially in this political environment, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s nigh-universal. It’s certainly true that just 2.5% or even less of the population can hold up an amendment by being in the right places, but I think it’s also true that overcoming them doesn’t require us to win over the other 97.5% – just a proportion of them in the right places to overcome the 2.5% in those areas where the 2.5% have that outsized leverage.

• Iain says:

@David Friedman:

My understanding is that this is the most comprehensive meta-analysis. A few highlights, although I invite you to peruse it yourself:

The simultaneous implementation of laws targeting multiple elements of firearms regulations reduced firearm-related deaths in certain countries.

Most studies show that relaxing firearm restrictions, as in the case of ‘stand your ground’ laws or the repealing of existing permit laws, may increase the rate of firearm homicides.

Laws restricting the sales of certain firearms are not associated with variations in all or firearm homicides.

Moreover, while we don’t have an example of a society exactly like the US but with no guns, we have a number of other developed nations that restrict guns and are reasonably similar. Canada is one example. The UK is another. Both of them have much lower rates of gun homicide. I think you have to be willfully blind to look at the unusually high firearm homicide rate in the US (given that it is a wealthy, developed country), the uniquely high rate of gun ownership, and (especially) the cultural attachment to guns as everyday implements of self-defense, and not detect a pattern.

On concealed carry specifically: concealed carry permits belong disproportionately to conscientious, law-abiding gun owners — precisely the people you would expect to be responsible with their gun usage. If we could rely on everybody to be conscientious and obey the law, a lot of problems would be easier. I am reminded of a conversation a few threads ago, about the difference in safety between driving and flying. Driving allows you to take personal responsibility for your own safety, while flying leaves you reliant on another. Nevertheless, flying is a lot safer than driving, in large part because you don’t have to worry about all the ways in which other drivers are making a hash of their personal responsibility. In an analogous way, the downside of widespread gun ownership — even to a responsible gun owner — is that you don’t just have to worry about your own gun.

• Randy M says:

Both of them have much lower rates of gun homicide. I think you have to be willfully blind to

… compare rates of gun homicide, and not homicide.

• Iain says:

@Randy M:

Be my guest. Sort that list by (per-capita) rate. The US is #94. Tell me which countries above the US on that list you see as reasonable comparisons. Based on my quick scan, it looks to me like the next most homicidal developed nation might be Belgium, down at #149, with less than half of the US homicide rate. Canada’s at #158, with just over a third of the US homicide rate. Australia’s at #179. The UK is at #183: the US has 5.3 times more homicides per capita.

• Randy M says:

Thanks, that’s one step towards making an honest comparison.

• Thanks for the link. I find it less convincing than you do. Some comments:

concealed carry permits belong disproportionately to conscientious, law-abiding gun owners

Currently, forty-one states either permit concealed carry without a permit (ten states) or are “shall issue” states, meaning that the issuing authority must show a reason to refuse to issue a permit. Only a small minority of states are “may issue,” meaning that the issuer has discretion on whether to issue. So while someone with a criminal record might not be able to get a permit, I don’t think there is any restriction to the conscientious.

If you look at the article’s summary of the concealed carry controversy, which I followed in its early stages, you see a back and forth debate, at least in part between people who want to get one answer to the question and people who want to get a different answer. The same pattern, and some of the same players, seem to show up in other parts of the controversy.

Part of the problem is suggested by bits such as

No associations between the Brady Act and firearm homicides among adults (aged 21 years or older and 55 years or older) were observed. However, in states that included changes in waiting periods, the law was associated with fewer firearm suicides only among those aged 55 years or older.

or

found that purchasing restrictions for mental health issues and domestic violence convictions were associated with lower rates of male suicides in some age groups.

If you look for enough different things, you will get significant results for some of them whether or not there is anything really there–I don’t remember Scott’s term for that problem.

we have a number of other developed nations that restrict guns and are reasonably similar. Canada is one example. The UK is another. Both of them have much lower rates of gun homicide.

How did the rates compare before restrictive laws went into effect in the U.K.? I’m remembering that when GKC got married, he went into a shop and bought a revolver to protect his bride with.

Switzerland is the usual counterexample. Because of their military system, possession of firearms, including fully automatic firearms, is widespread, but the murder rate is considerably lower than in either the U.K. or Canada.

And none of the three is all that much like the U.S.

• Vorkon says:

So how come when the second amendment was interpreted such that it didn’t protect an individual right the reaction wasn’t “Well I disagree but the amendment was drafted in 1790 and is kind of outdated, so let’s get a movement together to put a new amendment in with very clear updated language”?

It might be pointless for me to respond to this, since Gobbobobble’s reply summed up the main problem with this line of thinking and anything else would just be pedantry on my part, but there are a lot of other problems with this line of argument that I wanted to address.

First, there has never been any time in US history where the second amendment was interpreted such that it didn’t protect an individual right. The Supreme Court has held, explicitly, that the second amendment protects an individual right as far back as Presser v. Illinois in 1886, and no decision, not even Miller as some anti-gun advocates would have you believe, ever overturned that decision. There have also been state Supreme Court decisions that call it an individual right as far back as the early 1800s.

Even the Miller decision never said anything about it not being an individual right. It only said that it applied only to the sort of weapons an average militia member might reasonably be expected to use as their primary service weapon. Owning those weapons was still an individual right, though. There has never been any confusion over what a right being reserved for “the people” means.

(And, as others have pointed out, that decision was used mostly as an excuse to ban the guns most likely to be used by/affordable to black people, but that is neither here nor there.)

Heller never overturned anything in the Miller decision, either. It didn’t need to, because the Miller decision never said anything about whether or not the second amendment was an individual right, in the first place.

It’s true that there have been times where the second amendment was interpreted less broadly than it is today, and there have also been times when the courts turned a blind eye to it and ignored violations of it that would have been quickly stamped out today, but there has never been a time where it was not considered an individual right.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there ever was a point in history where it was not considered an individual right. Even in this case, there would be no need for pro-gun advocates to make the argument you’re suggesting.

Even if it were not an individual right, there is no amendment banning personal ownership of firearms; all they would need to lobby for is regular legislation allowing it. On the other hand, a blanket ban on and confiscation of guns would clearly violate the second amendment, so the only way to honestly lobby for such a thing would be to lobby for the amendment to be changed. That argument might make sense if there were an amendment banning the private ownership of guns, and if that were the case, then yes, the appropriate action for the gun lobby to take would be to lobby to have that amendment changed, (just like when we banned alcohol via amendment and that didn’t work out the way we hoped) and trying to work around it and pretend that the amendment just doesn’t say what it clearly says, because they don’t like it, would absolutely be dishonest, and far from above-board.

(As far as it being “rational” goes, I believe that was in reference to the idea that almost every other gun control proposal short of a blanket ban and confiscation would be ineffective, and thus irrational. But such a ban would clearly be unconstitutional, so the only honest, above-board, AND rational approach is to lobby to get rid of the second amendment.)

• Paul Brinkley says:

Are there any policy issues that you support where you think it would be possible to win at least partially victories at the statutory or case law level, but out of principle you forswear those options in favor of only working towards a constitutional amendment?

It’s hard for me to think of one. The sorts of things I would support the federal government doing, such as national defense or negotiation of treaties, are already authorized by the Constitution, so I don’t have to insist on an amendment.

Vorkon, meanwhile, gave an even better argument than I could have on why 2A was never interpreted as not being an individual right. I can only add that to do so would be to somehow assign different meanings to “the people” in the Second than it has in the First, Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, and Seventeenth Amendments, among perhaps other places.

• John Schilling says:

it looks to me like the next most homicidal developed nation might be Belgium, down at #149, with less than half of the US homicide rate. Canada’s at #158, with just over a third of the US homicide rate. Australia’s at #179.

And the US states with roughly similar ethnic makeup as Canada, Belgium, and Australia, have similarly low homicide rates.

But those nations don’t have as many rednecks as the US as a whole does, among other things. Not as many Borderers and Cavaliers and other cultural groups with vaguely associated backgrounds. When Scott looked into this, that was by far the biggest factor. Gun ownership was a minor perturbation by comparison.

So show me the modern nation where half the population comes from honor cultures, half comes from dignity cultures (or now victimization cultures), some damn fool tries to force them all to live under the same laws, and they don’t end up with homicide rates comparable to the United States. If all you’ve got is countries with the same number of factories per capita, or whatever “developed” means in this context, you’re going to need to explain why I should consider that at all relevant.

@Paul Brinkley

It’s hard for me to think of one. The sorts of things I would support the federal government doing, such as national defense or negotiation of treaties, are already authorized by the Constitution, so I don’t have to insist on an amendment.

It’s fair enough to not to have anything that qualifies, but from my perspective it makes your praise of lvlln ring a little hollow.

You think it is admirable that he is trying to go about accomplishing his (and my) goal in the most difficult way possible, but him not accomplishing it is exactly what you want. And championing the principle costs you nothing because there’s nothing you want that the principle says you have to do the hard way.

Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with that exactly, but when Gobbobobble said you were proposing “why don’t we stop defecting”, that wasn’t quite right was it? It sounds like you don’t think you were defecting to begin with. So really it was more like “why don’t you stop defecting” or more accurately but also verbosely “it’s great that you are one the good ones that isn’t defecting unlike those other gun control advocates”.

• Nornagest says:

The set of issues over the last hundred years where:

– a right or prohibition exists in the Constitution

– which could be limited legislatively or on the state or local level in some legal environment

– but for which an amendment was contemporarily at least vaguely plausible

…is pretty much empty aside from gun rights. Abortion might count depending on how seriously you take Roe’s implicit right to privacy, but it’s more common for its opponents to deny that right, and honestly that’s probably a stronger legal position (I’m saying that as someone who’s generally pro-choice). Narrow attacks on First Amendment rights are common, but the right in its broad sense is so sacred that repeal isn’t going to happen short of a cartoonish dystopia.

Disputes over the Fourth Amendment all boil down to quibbling over wording, and the rest of the Bill of Rights is either totally uncontroversial or basically a dead letter. The Equal Rights Amendment was a case of pushing for amendment over local action, but didn’t infringe substantially on the existing text. Extensions to the franchise, like lowering the voting age in the Sixties or adding women early in the 20th century, couldn’t really be done except with an amendment.

Repeal of Prohibition, maybe? That’s all I can think of.

The eighth amendment and its sharp restrictions on the use of the death penalty might be a good candidate.

• BBA says:

So which 12 states do you expect to be controlled by the 2.5% of voters determined not to pass an obviously good amendment?

It’s a cheap shot, but I’d respond to this by listing the states that didn’t ratify the ERA.

• toastengineer says:

I’m sorry if I’ve missed anything in this super-mega-thread, but a few things I didn’t see anyone mention:

– I’m told suppressors make it impossible for bullets to be linked to specific guns through forensic ballistic analysis. That may be outdated but that’s the explanation I was given for why they’re banned.

– To the people who say “guns aren’t a necessity” – you do realize a large proportion of Americans live in places where animal attacks are a real concern, right? You can argue for city-wide bans of firearms, but a nation-wide firearms ban would be straight-up murder.

– This has been brought up but I didn’t see it really addressed; why is “gun violence” special? I don’t really understand how banning firearms is supposed to reduce homicide in general, especially mass murder; everyone has a car and explosives are pretty easy to make.

Don’t give me the “people can’t make bombs” thing; the recipe for ANFO is on Wikipedia – heck, it’s in the name – and you’re not gonna stop people buying diesel and stealing fertilizer.

– How is a gun ban supposed to work anyway? Any machine shop can make a rifle. Sure there’s gonna be way less market for firearms than drugs but I doubt anyone who really intends to murder someone would have trouble getting their hands on one.

Didn’t some journalist look in to how long it takes to get a gun in the U.K. and manage to get a hold of one by the end of the day?

• Paul Brinkley says:

It sounds like you don’t think you were defecting to begin with.

It’s true that I don’t think the gun rights side is defecting. Quite the opposite; I can think of no occasion on which it got its way by making an end run around the amendment process.

I want lvlln to fail at one level, but at another level, if he’s going to succeed, I want it to be a pure success, and that means a new amendment. Otherwise it’s an end run.

…I can think of one thing now that I’d like to see change, and that’s the “first past the post” system of electing Presidents and Congress. I’d like both to switch to some form of IRV or Condorcet – I realize anything could be gamed, but I suspect these would be harder, and more importantly, would give voters more viable choices. But that would probably require an amendment; if so, then anything less would strike me as illegitimate.

This isn’t borne of me simply wanting guns around. It’s borne of me wanting respect for the law upheld. If anything can be made law by abusing the legislative process, no matter how righteous one may consider it, I expect it to look like a sham. The more such shams are pressed onto the public, the more I expect the public to lose respect for all laws, legitimate or not. I think it’s unfair to hold my respect for constitutional process against me.

• Machina ex Deus says:

In the wake of our national tragedy in Las Vegas, it is far past time to enact a commonsense policy with broad support among the American people: corporate tax cuts.

If you disagree, you have blood on your hands.

• Aapje says:

@toastengineer

I’m told suppressors make it impossible for bullets to be linked to specific guns through forensic ballistic analysis. That may be outdated but that’s the explanation I was given for why they’re banned.

Striations on the bullet are created by the rifling of the barrel (there are grooves in the barrel to make the bullet rotate, which greatly improves accuracy). Suppressors don’t have rifling and high quality suppressors don’t touch the bullet. Low quality suppressors may cause a burr or slightly mess up the striations, but it’s doubtful whether that makes a comparison impossible.

It also only matters if the police finds the gun, but not the suppressor. I wonder how many people throw away their expensive suppressors? Not many, I think.

If they do throw their suppressor away, it’s more likely to be a homemade one. They are not that hard to make, nor do they require special equipment and obviously people can’t be stopped from doing that.

Also, suppressors aren’t banned in the US, they require a background check + a \$200 tax stamp. So the person who explained you why they are banned was clearly ill informed.

• @JohnSchilling

The arrangement to avoid glamorising ISIS was put into place without branding it as an anti free speech measure. Did I mention that no one is a free speech absolutist? People will accept obvious common sense exceptions to free speech readily, so long as the c word is not used

• This has been brought up but I didn’t see it really addressed; why is “gun violence” special? I

The US has much more of than other places.

There are known techniques for
reducing it.

The US, uniquely, has a lobby dedicated to blocking such measures.

How is a gun ban supposed to work anyway

Any chemistry lab can make meth. How is a drug ban supposed to work?

• Incurian says:

Poorly, and with a great deal of collateral damage.

• John Schilling says:

The arrangement to avoid glamorising ISIS was put into place without branding it as an anti free speech measure.

Which arrangement is this? Because I don’t see any shortage of high-profile media coverage of the carnage when ISIS attacks Orlando, Nice, etc.

Did I mention that no one is a free speech absolutist? People will accept obvious common sense exceptions to free speech readily

Then why don’t I see you arguing for such restrictions w/re mass murderers generally? They would do far more good, and if you are correct they would be “readily accepted” whereas proposals for gun control never seem to go anywhere in part because they do incite the opposition of absolutists.

Why are you arguing for the impossible strategy that won’t do any good, instead of the allegedly easy one that would?

• John Schilling says:

The US has much more [“gun violence”] than other places.

There are known techniques for reducing it.

Much the same can be said of “knife violence” in the UK. Is this the sort of thing we have to look forward to, when the Coalition of Ancient Geeks have managed to ban guns in the United States,

Any chemistry lab can make meth. How is a drug ban supposed to work?

And any high school shop class, makerspace, or even decent home workshop can make submachine guns. How is a gun ban supposed to work, again?

• rlms says:

@John Schilling
“Much the same can be said of “knife violence” in the UK.”
Can it? How does the UK’s knife crime rate compare with the US’s?

“And any high school shop class, makerspace, or even decent home workshop can make submachine guns. How is a gun ban supposed to work, again?”
TheAncientGeek’s point is that although illegal meth labs are possible, banning meth nevertheless has some effect.

• hlynkacg says:

@rlms

Granted, but I am under the impression that AncientGeek believes the impact of the War on Drugs has been largely negative. As such “what makes you think the War on Guns will turn out differently” seems like a reasonable rebuttal.

• Controls Freak says:

A lot of people do prohibitions wrong. The people who really really want something, get it (economists call this “high-value uses”. It reduces more casual (low-value) use. There are also supply-side effects (e.g., you can make alcohol out of a ton of different foodstuffs, basically by just leaving it in a cabinet for too long). Elasticities matter on both sides, and there are always salient differences that people elide over far too quickly. It drives me nuts whenever someone says, “Banning Drug X can’t work because alcohol prohibition didn’t work,” or, “Banning guns works as poorly as banning Drug Y.” How come no one ever invokes banning drywall with asbestos?!

For example, prohibition of alcohol. It probably cut down a lot of casual use (and reduced the negative effects of this casual use). But difficulty in truly reducing supply (what are you going to do, ban fruit?!) meant it would always be an uphill battle.

Moving to another example, prohibition of other drugs likely reduces consumption (regardless of what you see in the Rorschach test of Portugal). Different drugs have different supply-side issues (yes, we can probably do a lot to eliminate poppies without having to ban all fruit; meth can be made with cough drops; most of these drugs take up less volumetric space than alcohol, which is relevant for some enforcement efforts).

Guns are, yet again, their own thing. Probably the most relevant issue for this discussion is that prohibition cuts hardest at casual use, while “high-value” uses are mostly still achieved (even if some are made more difficult). That is, if you’re a sport target shooter or someone who likes to hunt a couple weekends a year, you’re probably not going to own a gun post-prohibition; if you’re fearing for your life in the face of a rival gang or planning some brazen murderin’ to get in the papers…

• Is your implicit assumption “whatever is, is justified”?

No. Individual cases of restricting the rights of the mentally ill have individual justifications, which are generally too obvious to be worth stating. On the other hand, the principle that anyone should be allowed to do anything irrespective of the risks to others is extraordinary, and requires much more support than it has so far been given, ie. nothing.

Being free to express your views in print is also not a necessity

It is not a physical necessity. It is a necessity for maintaining a society with certain freedoms.

• Being free to express your views in print is also not a necessity

It is not a physical necessity. It is a necessity for maintaining a society with certain freedoms.

Now your argument is circular. The right to bear arms is a necessity for maintaining a society with certain freedoms–the freedom to bear arms.

• Nick says:

Now your argument is circular. The right to bear arms is a necessity for maintaining a society with certain freedoms–the freedom to bear arms.

Was the remark meant to be ironic or something? The very wording of the second amendment is its “being necessary to the security of a free State.”

• Was the remark meant to be ironic or something? The very wording of the second amendment is its “being necessary to the security of a free State.”

I don’t assume that the person I am arguing with agrees with that–the fact that something is in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is true. My point was that he started with the idea that rights were only relevant to necessities, writing:

A gun is not a necessity, so it is anomolous to treat it as a right,

Then, when I pointed out other rights he presumably believed in that were not for necessities, he tried to revise his claim in a way that made it entirely empty:

It is not a physical necessity. It is a necessity for maintaining a society with certain freedoms.

He wasn’t willing to admit that he didn’t believe what he said the first time, although he obviously didn’t.

• The value of a reasonable equalizer in personal defense is based on the natural inequality of personal defense, and the empirical evidence that there exist people willing to exploit such inequalities to get things in ways we would all consider illegitimate. So far, that reasonable equalizer is a personal firearm; no other innovation beats it in equalization and effectiveness

If that argument is so compelling, why aren’t there strong pro-gun-right movements in every country that doesn’t have gun rights?

You are assuming that people need guns to protect themselves from other people with guns. That’s a Molochian equilibrium. The actual anti-gun argument is a special case of Eluan equilibria being better.

@DavidFriedman

I never said physical necessity. so I am not reneging on anything. Rather, it is my opponents who are strawmanning me.

What radical measures would prevent someone who wanted to kill a lot of random people and was willing to die in the process from doing so?

You can prevent mentally ill people from owning legal guns, and you can prevent legal arsenals, to name two pieces of low hanging fruit.

@ControlsFreak

if you’re [..] planning some brazen murderin’ to get in the papers…

..you are not going to put together a personal arsenal of 39 legal weapons any place that has strict gun laws.

@JohnSchilling

Much the same can be said of “knife violence” in the UK

yes, there was a rise in knife violence, and measures were taken. Nobody said “do nothing”. What is your point?

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

The amusing part here is the way “Gun Control Works, Just Look At the UK and Australia” ignores the actual data coming out of those countries…

UK Homicide rate 1967-2015 (scroll to figure 2.1, handgun ban was January of 1997)

Meanwhile countries with more permissive gun ownership laws and even reasonably strong gun cultures also in Europe are quietly ignored, even the ones that actually have lower rates of homicide than the “Look at these awesome confiscation countries” like the UK and Australia. It’s surprising, but there are still a few countries in Europe with a national Shall-Issue CCW (something that the US does NOT have). This is all without going into the elevated levels of other violent crime such as robbery, assault, home invasion, etc.

A cursory review of the evidence over a decent timescale, rather than deliberately cherrypicking in order to get the results you want to see, will show you that the homicide rates were far lower even before their extreme gun control policies, that while you can find downward inflection points in the trends they do NOT correlate at all with gun control measures (this is similarly true of US gun control policies at both the national and state level).

There are certainly regulations that are useful. However, most of the ones that are useful have already been enacted (along with many that are NOT useful), and the remaining low-hanging fruit have been thoroughly poisoned by those who see the only acceptable long term goal as total confiscation.

• Standing in the Shadows says:

banning meth nevertheless has some effect

It has the effect of the stuff being cheap, plentiful, and highly available, and yet full of toxins. It has the effect of providing cash employment to jittery young men who have unnaturally heavy oddly shaped metal weights in the pockets of their jackets, to bring the topic back to origin.

Two such young men I passed on the sidewalk on my walk to work today, not in a blasted out slum, but in the downtown heart of thriving growing city. We nodded to each other as we passed.

I’ve never felt need or desire to purchase from them what they have for sale. However, I am confident that if I do, they will be faster, prompter, and less inclined to demand copies of my IDs and paperwork and filing reports to the multiple busybody Federal and State level agencies than my experience would be if I walked into any of pharmicies I passed on the same walk, and then attempted to get the attention of the dead-eyed apathetic wage slaves attending the pharmacy desk and attempt to purchase a bottle of cold medicine that actually works.

So, yeah, in short, the meth ban doesn’t work. At all.

• The Home Office Homicide Index showed there were 518 homicides (murder, manslaughter and infanticide) in the year ending March 2015 in England and Wales. This represents a decrease of 5 offences (1%) from the 523 recorded for the previous year.
Over recent years, the number of currently recorded homicides has shown a general downward trend and the number for the year ending March 2015 (518) was the lowest since 1983 (482).

….

Among some of the other statistics contained in Crime in the United States, 2015:

The estimated number of murders in the nation was 15,696.[…] Firearms were used in 71.5 percent of the nation’s murders, 40.8 percent of robberies, and 24.2 percent of aggravated assaults.

• John Schilling says:

If that argument is so compelling, why aren’t there strong pro-gun-right movements in every country that doesn’t have gun rights?

For the same reason that there wasn’t a Better Business Bureau in Soviet Russia, and isn’t a Recreational Opioid User’s movement in the United States today.

Pro-X-right movements are for things that are on the edge of the local Overton window, or more probably the local government’s limit of tolerance. Things that are legal but in danger of being banned, and things that are illegal but widely practiced and without effective enforcement. If a thing is seriously we-will-actually-put-you-in-jail-for-this prohibited, everybody who actually cares enough to do it will by definition be a criminal dealing with the black market, and will be highly disinclined to call attention to that by joining the associated pro-X-right movement. Everybody else, except for maybe a handful of extremely naive and/or selfless idealists, won’t care enough to do anything.

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

@AncientGeek

So, I post graphs from the official government sources showing that trends in homicide rates are completely untethered from the respective major gun control legislation in the two countries you’re using as your primary example, and your idea of a convincing rebuttal is to quote raw numbers for the last year.

I believe the operative phrase is “That’s not even an argument”.

It looks like the Australian link didn’t paste correctly, so I’ll include it below:

http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide.html

I believe I have links for statistics prior to 1989 if anyone is interested, and David Friedman has more data in the next OT, but that link should be sufficient to establish that, again, the homicide rates were quite low before the legislation, that the trendline starts prior to the National Firearms Agreement (a modest downward trend this time predating the legislation by nearly a decade, rather than the upward one of the UK ), and that there is no correlation between passage of the NFA and an inflection point of that trendline.

• I never said physical necessity. so I am not reneging on anything. Rather, it is my opponents who are strawmanning me.

“Necessary to achieve some goal” is an empty criterion. “Necessary to achieve a particular goal that I am in favor of” makes “necessity” sound like an objective standard when it’s just shorthand for “what I think is needed for results I want.”

What radical measures would prevent someone who wanted to kill a lot of random people and was willing to die in the process from doing so?

You can prevent mentally ill people from owning legal guns, and you can prevent legal arsenals, to name two pieces of low hanging fruit.

Unfortunately, not all potential mass killers are as lacking in ingenuity as you are. There are lots of ways of killing lots of people that don’t require even one gun, let alone an arsenal.

• Controls Freak says:

if you’re [..] planning some brazen murderin’ to get in the papers…

..you are not going to put together a personal arsenal of 39 legal weapons any place that has strict gun laws.

This is exactly the type of blithe statement that led me to make my original comment. It comes with no analysis for why it’s right; it’s just a bald assertion. It’s like if someone talked about banning meth, and responded to, “If you were planning on spending a week droppin’ chemicals in a hell of an extended bender…” with, “…you are not going to put together a week’s worth of meth any place that has strict meth laws.”

Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not. Either way, you clearly haven’t argued for your conclusion.

• @CF

It’s based on how things work in the UK. If you apply for a second gun license, the authorities will want to know why one is not enough. The logic of “if it is almost impossible to get one gun, you are not going to get 39” is not that mysterious.

@DavidFriedman

Unfortunately, not all potential mass killers are as lacking in ingenuity as you are. There are lots of ways of killing lots of people that don’t require even one gun, let alone an arsenal.

No shit. Although that is trotted out multiple times each time we have this debate, I had completely forgotten.

Well, I had better make my usual rebuttal: is it still completely pointless to save just one life?

So, I post graphs from the official government sources showing that trends in homicide rates are completely untethered from the respective major gun control legislation in the two countries you’re using as your primary example, and your idea of a convincing rebuttal is to quote raw numbers for the last year.

It is still the case that I can show and have shown how specific legislation would have stopped specific incidents.

• Paul Brinkley says:

Well, I had better make my usual rebuttal: is it still completely pointless to save just one life?

To which the usual counter is “it is, if it costs lives somewhere else”.

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

It is still the case that I can show and have shown how specific legislation would have stopped specific incidents.

No, you have not. I just reviewed every post in this thread and at no point have you made specific policy arguments about specific incidents.

The closest you come is to say “The UK had good laws before Dunblane and better ones after”, and the claim that stronger gun control laws will prevent “arsenals”, which is A) an unsupported assertion that is trivially disproven by a number of so-called “arsenals” found in high gun control countries, and B) irrelevant to the discussion.

If you had bothered to educate yourself on this issue, you would know that while many active shooters amass large numbers of weapons, the actual killing is done with one or two, making the “arsenal” argument a red herring.

• Quoting myself:

You can prevent mentally ill people from owning legal guns, and you can prevent legal arsenals, to name two pieces of low hanging fruit.

Quoting PB

To which the usual counter is “it is, if it costs lives somewhere else”.

To which the usual rebuttal is: if not having guns costs more lives than having guns, where are all those dead bodies with bullet holes in them coming from?

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

I can show and have shown how specific legislation would
have stopped specific incidents.

Still waiting for the specific real-world legislation that would have prevented specific incidents. So far, you’ve offered

“stop mentally ill people from owning guns”, which A) does not address mentally ill people obtaining someone else’s guns or illegal guns, and B) does not address people not previously adjudged mentally ill (as in Vegas and in fact Dunblane).

and

“stop people from putting together ‘arsenals'” which I already pointed out is a specious point as active shooters do not actually need or in fact use ‘arsenals’.

So, again, which SPECIFIC legislation would stop which SPECIFIC incidents, which was your claim?

• Controls Freak says:

@1Z

I think I see your claim more clearly, with:

you can prevent legal arsenals

That’s probably as true as saying, “You can prevent legal meth stockpiles,” so I think we’ve found a point of agreement.

• stop mentally ill people from owning guns”, which A) does not address mentally ill people obtaining someone else’s guns or illegal guns, and B) does not address people not previously adjudged mentally ill (as in Vegas and in fact Dunblane

Yet another appeal to to “only perfection is any good at all”. You need to think in terms of the marginal life saved.

Dunblane separately.

That’s probably as true as saying, “You can prevent legal meth stockpiles,” so I think we’ve found a point of agreement

.

Now you need to argue for a 100%, substitution principle.

What radical measures would prevent someone who wanted to kill a lot of random people and was willing to die in the process from doing so?

You can prevent mentally ill people from owning legal guns, and you can prevent legal arsenals, to name two pieces of low hanging fruit.

I pointed out that there were ways to kill lots of people that didn’t involve guns. He replied:

Well, I had better make my usual rebuttal: is it still completely pointless to save just one life?

Saving one life is not pointless but neither is it equivalent to preventing someone who wanted to kill a lot of people from doing so, which is what I asked about. And while not pointless, it’s less worthwhile than saving hundreds or thousands of lives.

• Controls Freak says:

Now you need to argue for a 100%, substitution principle.

No. Not even a little bit. Like, this is really really dumb, and it’s why I originally commented about elasticities.

• Standing in the Shadows says:

a personal arsenal of 39 legal weapons

39 isn’t even that large. I know lots of people who own more than that, and guns aren’t even their primary hobby.

They just kinda… accumulate, just like power and hand tools do for people who do woodcrafts, kitchen appliances and pantry items do for foodies, or boxes of knitting and sewing tools and notions do for people who are into textile crafts.

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

It is still the case that I can show and have shown how specific legislation would have stopped specific incidents.

Not “Marginally mitigated” (which you still have not presented evidence for, I might add), not “Made somewhat less likely to occur”. Stopped.

You have set the terms for your claim. I am simply holding you accountable to your own statements in this thread. If you would like to formally state that your claim that you have demonstrated how specific policies would have stopped specific incidents was false, we can talk about questions of mitigation.

Regarding Dunblane, you have made two statements:

1)

The UK had good gun law before Dunblane, and better afterwards.

Which is an opinion that doesn’t even rise to the level of argument by assertion. Ok, so, you like the UK laws. This proves…what, exactly?

And you also claimed that Dunblane

2)

would have been prevented by a system with a strong presumption against ownership.

This is what is called an assertion, for which you did not and have not provided even rhetorical, much less empirical support. The only specific policies you have suggested is banning the ownership of firearms by the mentally ill and preventing the creation of ‘arsenals’. We have a great deal of empirical evidence showing that arsenals are not a contributing factor to mass shootings and that in fact mass shooters generally use only one or two weapons. We also have many cases, to include Dunblane and Vegas, where the shooters did not have a diagnosis from a mental health professional adjudging them mentally ill, and thus would not have been restricted.

So, again, want to perhaps reconsider your claims?

• @CF

Now you need to argue for a 100%, substitution principle.

No. Not even a little bit.

If you have a valid argument based on explicit and defensible premises, by all means display it.

• 39 isn’t even that large. I know lots of people who own more than that, and guns aren’t even their primary hobby.

Is there a point to that? You are surely not arguing that large arsenals pose no problem?

• Vorkon says:

I’m pretty sure that’s precisely what he’s arguing, and if he’s not, I’m going to do so now:

The Las Vegas shooter did not need so many weapons to cause the damage he did. Simply swapping magazines more often, and swapping back and forth between a small handful of rifles as the others overheated, would have worked just fine. No, I have no idea why he brought so many either, but I assume it has something to do with whatever power fantasy, sense of helplessness, paranoia, or whatever else drove him to do what he did. It’s just one of the many, many things that’s been making it so hard for people to understand his motive and reasoning.

Unless you have an army to equip, or poor enough security as to make them easy to steal, (or four arms, I suppose) 200 guns are no more dangerous than 2.

• who wanted to kill a lot of people from doing so, which is what I asked about. And while not pointless, it’s less worthwhile than saving hundreds or thousands of lives.

So who is supposed to have the solution to save hundreds or thousands up their sleeve..me or you?

It’s easy to suggest to measures that could be implemented quickly with minor effects. Call those type (a) solutions.

It’s very difficult to come up with measures that
could be implemented quickly and make a major difference. As everyone knows, immediate mass disarmament means honest citizens are disarmed and criminals aren’t. Call those type (b) solutions.

It’s also possible to come up with long term solutions that could make a major difference. Call those type (c) solutions.

But I’m not choosing type c) solutions over type a) soluitions: approaching a radically different end-point gradually means doing it incrementally, you are turning through 180degrees 1 degree at a time.

• Controls Freak says:

If you have a valid argument based on explicit and defensible premises, by all means display it.

Now is the moment when I suggest re-reading my previous comments and then quit wasting my time on you. You have to at least try if you want other people to engage.

• S_J says:

Should a mentally ill person be allowed to own a gun?

You should check the relevant law in the United States. It is often referred to as the Gun Control Act of 1968. In the phrasing of that law, a person who has been adjudicated as “mentally defective” cannot legally purchase a firearm.

However, your question reminded me of something.

Under many circumstances, the political-advocacy arm of the NRA is opposed to such measures.

But under some circumstances, that political-advocacy arm works to encourage better cooperation between State-level handling of mental health problems and the Federal-level handling of background checks for firearm purposes.

For example, this story from 2007 is about the NRA’s political advocacy arm collaborating to help the various States report mental illness to Federal agencies.

If that reporting had been in place before that point in 2007, it’s possible that the gun store (and the Federal background check process) would have denied the gun purchase to the shooter at Virginia Tech.

• Wrong Species says:

You’re hypothesis is that political polarization causes more indiscriminate mass shootings? I don’t see the connection. Other than the Scalise shooting, I can’t see how that would work. The killer in the movie theater shooting in Aurora said “Terrorism isn’t the message. The message is, there is no message.” How did political polarization lead to that shooting?

• onyomi says:

Not necessarily polarization per se, maybe more like “sensationalism” or excessive use of the “fear and rage sells” tactic among prominent narrative weavers? I imagine these latter will correlate with and maybe help cause polarization, but not quite the same thing.

Or maybe it’s more of a general societal breakdown thing.

Or perhaps it’s only an illusion that these things are happening more often now than in the past; I’ve read stats to that effect as well.

But it certainly seems like there are times and places where this happens more than others. I guess I’m really trying to get at the question of what causes that, if we assume a stable base rate of mental illness (though I’m not ruling out the possibility that some populations are just more prone to the type of mental illness that leads to this; certainly men seem to be more so than women, for example). I personally don’t buy it’s availability of guns; or even if it is, not just availability of guns, since Switzerland doesn’t have more mass shootings than Norway.

Toxic media narratives? Breakdown of social cohesion? Too many prescription drugs in the water…?

*Edit to add: I will admit, as I further survey all the speculation about the shooting, that, even in attempting to go meta and reflective here, I may still be participating in a general, problematic trend: to try to interpret every tragedy as “yet another example of the particular thing I think is ruining society.” I am personally quite concerned about this toxic political culture, societal breakdown etc. so maybe this is just me trying to fit something senseless into that box.

• All I Do Is Win says:

Or perhaps it’s only an illusion that these things are happening more often now than in the past; I’ve read stats to that effect as well.

Unfortunately, due to the way fragility works, you can have the absolute numbers getting better (showing extra stability) and all that is happening is the pressure is building up.

This typically happens in financial systems (and governments) which are artificially dampened, but is also true of wars. Many small skirmishes tend to produce less overall deaths than mega-states keeping the peace artificially leading to less-frequent mega-wars (like we saw last century, with tens of millions of actual war deaths, and many more government-caused deaths).

For example, in the US, crime is dropping and has been for decades. In exchange, we’ve imprisoned a huge proportion of the population. So…are things better? Objectively, yes—if you ignore the criminals themselves. But maybe things are worse than say, the mid-20th century in terms of overall criminality.

• Nornagest says:

Many small skirmishes tend to produce less overall deaths than mega-states keeping the peace artificially leading to less-frequent mega-wars (like we saw last century, with tens of millions of actual war deaths, and many more government-caused deaths).

I don’t think we have the data to say that. WWI is usually attributed to a breakdown of alliances in a highly multipolar system, but artificially keeping the peace was not involved — if anything, many of the powers were looking for a war, albeit a smaller, more conclusive, and much less bloody war than the one they got. WWII followed from the mishandling of WWI’s armistice terms, and from a set of historical circumstances that made aggressive dictatorial government uniquely attractive.

“Mega-states keeping the peace artificially” is a fair description of the Cold War period, but that really was relatively peaceful compared to the first half of the century, even taking into account the nasty brushfire wars that popped up every now and then.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

It occurs to me that crimes prisoners commit against other criminals aren’t counted as part of the crime rate. Should they be counted?

• John Schilling says:

I would say yes, and specifically that they should be counted as criminal negligence by prison officials.

Which is not to say that the specific assaults, etc, should not also be counted as the responsibility of specific perpetrators, but if you’re looking to measure the problem in hope of guiding efforts at solution, you need to focus on the people with the real power in the relevant environment.

• Wrong Species says:

You said something about the “Bowling Alone” thesis in another comment. I can see the relation there. These mass murderers generally are loners. If they were surrounded by a community of people that would have two effects. One is that they would probably be less motivated to actually commit these acts. And even if they wanted to, their lack of privacy means it would be harder to build up a weapons in order to prepare for an attack. Maybe there would also be some kind of release valve for them too.

• The Nybbler says:

If they were surrounded by a community of people that would have two effects. One is that they would probably be less motivated to actually commit these acts. And even if they wanted to, their lack of privacy means it would be harder to build up a weapons in order to prepare for an attack. Maybe there would also be some kind of release valve for them too.

So the solution to mass murder is… to force everyone to be socially involved? Not what I’d call a good tradeoff. It’d be like high school… forever.

• hyperboloid says:

@The Nybbler

So the solution to mass murder is… to force everyone to be socially involved?

No, but passing a law that requires gun owners to be members in good standing of an organized gun club might be a good idea. If nothing else it would serve to screen out some of the more obvious psychotics.

• Evan Þ says:

@hyperboloid, how do you define “organized gun club”? Do they need to be licensed and have a defined list of activities, and if so, who chooses that list and administers the licenses? Or if you don’t say that, how do you stop someone who hates the law from just signing up anyone who wants to as members of the Do-Nothing Nominal Gun Club?

I see what you’re getting at, but like with many good things, I don’t see how the government could enforce it enough to do net good.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

Mass murderers are generally loners, but there are exceptions– notably Manson, but also the Beltway shooters and the Columbine guys. And, of course, bin Laden.

There are plenty of harmless loners, too.

Let’s do some blue sky speculation. If we wanted a society where people liked people enough to not be murderers (not necessarily enough to socialize), how would we do it?

• The Nybbler says:

No, but passing a law that requires gun owners to be members in good standing of an organized gun club might be a good idea. If nothing else it would serve to screen out some of the more obvious psychotics.

So, wouldn’t have helped with this latest; he could have simply joined a club (unless you play games which make organization of such clubs very difficult to impossible, which is the usual trick with such laws). And it means only extraverts get to exercise their rights. IMO they’ve got enough advantages as it is.

• Wrong Species says:

@nybbler

It doesn’t sound very pleasant to me either. But I think it’s the historical norm. Maybe we aren’t very well adapted to a world with a lot of privacy. And maybe if we were raised in that world, it wouldn’t bother us as much.

• Vorkon says:

It’d be like high school… forever.

My God. That is simultaneously more terrifying than the 1984 “boot stamping on a human face” quote, and also a significantly more accurate representation of what that sort of society would look like.

• The Nybbler says:

The historical norm is grinding poverty and rule by tyrants, so I’m not really all that impressed by appeals to it. Anyway, most of us DID grow up in a society like that; that’s what I was getting at with my “high school” remark.

• Wrong Species says:

@nybbler

Hunter gatherers weren’t ruled by tyrants. That’s what I was trying to get at. I don’t think they had much in the way of privacy but from what I’ve read, they seemed reasonably happy. Maybe that’s our natural environment and taking us out of it has caused all manner of psychological problems. Call it “The Original Utilitarian Society”.

Evan thorn

@hyperboloid, how do you define “organized gun club”? Do they need to be licensed and have a defined list of activities, and if so, who chooses that list and administers the licenses? Or if you don’t say that, how do you stop someone who hates the law from just signing up anyone who wants to as members of the Do-Nothing Nominal Gun Club?

Doesn’t the UK have a rule like this? How do they do it?

• Nornagest says:

If you told me to write a law like that, I’d do it by imposing nontrivial training requirements and implementing them through civilian-run gun clubs. Require that buying a gun or getting a CCW permit requires passing a marksmanship test or getting X hours of training through an accredited club; come up with some reasonable accreditation scheme (you could probably even do this peer-to-peer); put some defensive rules in place so that San Francisco can’t just deny accreditation to everyone; and put the club’s name on the purchase form along with the customer’s. That keeps guns out of the hands of the clueless, implies at least minimal social contact, gives sellers somewhere to call if they suspect a straw purchase, and still doesn’t give law enforcement or the Feds broad or intrusive powers that they didn’t have before.

I’d actually be in favor of this, at least for handguns (long guns are way less dangerous from the perspective of everyday criminality despite being more useful for mass shooting, and IMO there’s a stronger argument for them on 2A grounds), if I thought there wasn’t a good chance of slippery-slope issues leading on from it. But I do, so I’m not.

• Aapje says:

The Netherlands has a law like that and a person has to have been a member of a club for a year before the gun club may sign a form to allow the person to get a single shot firearm in .22LR caliber. In that year, the person has to have shot during at least 18 sessions. Of course there is also a background check. Then after having been a member for two years in total, the person can get all weapons that are used for sports shooting, including semi-automatic guns.

Note that the club has discretion whether to sign the form(s). They can choose not to, even if the person has passed the legal requirements.

• Randy M says:

The killer in the movie theater shooting in Aurora said “Terrorism isn’t the message. The message is, there is no message.” How did political polarization lead to that shooting?

That sounds like a potential response to someone buying into a somewhat paranoid narrative of powerful, unaccountable people growing increasingly hostile to his interests–a sort of nihilism, indiscriminate lashing out in fear and anger born partly because the media culture buys clicks with fear and anger.

But it could just be the 1-in-a-million crazyness. The population is increasing, and growing in isolation and diversity.

• The Nybbler says:

In context — the theater was showing The Dark Knight Rises — it just sounds like someone LARPing the Joker.

• Randy M says:

Possibly, though in this case that formulation is doing a disservice to LARPers.

But it isn’t incompatible with Ony’s idea, was my point.

• Nick says:

That connection was made explicitly in the wake of the shooting. I recall, perhaps faultily, that one of the people who knew Holmes said he “always preferred the bad guys” in films or something.

• ou’re hypothesis is that political polarization causes more indiscriminate mass shootings? I don’t see the connection.

I am pretty sure that the increased media scrutiny of mass murders have increased mass murders. Not all mass murders are political, but I think they are all about seeking attention. They are seeking attention about their political cause or just as a claim to fame in society. I think everyone knows that killing a bunch of people will make them famous for at least a few days, and maybe their name will be spoken for years to come. I think this is the most common cause for mass murders.

It is kind of ironic that it is the media’s intense scrutiny of these events that is the biggest cause for future such events, when the scrutiny itself purportedly is about ending such murders. These intense discussions about “What to do?” immediately after large murders not only never achieve anything, but cause more in the future. I am not suggesting we stifle discussion about ways to stop mass murder (although simple everyday individual murder is a much bigger problem), but doing so as a response to such an event is not only fruitless but self defeating.

• Nornagest says:

You’re not wrong, but attempts to suppress this sort of dynamic have been failing since before mass media was a thing. The phrase “Herostratic fame” comes from the Greek arsonist Herostratus, who burned down the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus because he wanted to be remembered; the Ephesians responded by killing him and subjecting his name to an early form of damnatio memoriae.

You can judge how well it worked from the fact that I’m sitting here, talking about him, by name, 2400 years later.

• Vorkon says:

Attempts to suppress a specific story, or prevent people from saying the name of the killer, or something along those lines are doomed to backfire, but we can still always attempt to make the media less sensationalistic in general, not as a response to any one particular incident.

Admittedly, attempts to do THAT have also historically been failures, and you’ve got Moloch fighting you all the way, but it still seems less doomed to failure than suppressing a specific story.

And I really think that it’s our best bet for preventing incidents like this. One thing that often seems to get overlooked when talking about the differences between the US and other countries in regard to mass shootings, (aside from the usual stuff, like looser gun laws, a less homogenous population, greater poverty, population density, and gang activity in the areas most effected, and a generally more violent culture) is just how sensationalistic our mass media is. Mass shooters not only know that they’re going to get their 15 minutes of fame, but that we’re going to be arguing about them, nonstop, for weeks or months.

Not that I have any idea what to do about it, other than generally complaining about the media and avoiding sensationalistic stories, but I don’t think the issue can be overlooked when discussing the causes of these things. (In short, Onyomi’s original post on this subject is spot-on.)

• @Vorkon. yes. I am very much against LAWS being passed to avoid such sensationalism. Government regulating the media is a solution is much worse than the problem (and unconstitutional in the US anyway).

But I’d be very happy if someone could do a study showing that sensationalizing mass murders makes them more likely, and then somehow getting this ingrained in the consciousness of the public (this last is the most difficult). I want the media itself to feel guilty about all the publicity, and the public to give them the stink eye for doing it. If that happened, then maybe most news sources would provide minimal coverage, and only the tabloids would focus on it. There is no particular reason that the killings in Vegas are more newsworthy than than the terrifying uptick in murders in Chicago in the last few years.

15. Atlas says:

Does anyone have thoughts on what impact increased deployment of US ground troops to Cambodia and Laos to interdict shipments of supplies to communist guerrillas in South Vietnam relatively early in the war might have had?

And, actually, if anyone has thoughts on the Vietnam War in general and/or the recent Ken Burns documentary, please feel free to share.

• Sfoil says:

If the US sent large troop formations into those countries early in the war to interdict supplies, they would/should have gone whole hog and established (actually, extended) the DMZ along the 17th Parallel across the entire peninsula. That would likely have been decisive; subsequent events showed that the guerrillas in South Vietnam weren’t enough to topple the government there. However that represented a much larger political, diplomatic, and military effort than the US was willing to exert at the time (possibly ever).

As for the hypothetical effect of reactively attacking supply lines and depots across the western border, the effect probably would have been the same as later on: a decrease in enemy activity in South Vietnam until those efforts ended, followed by a resumption after a few months of recovery.

• hyperboloid says:

First, It almost certainly would have radicalized the populations of Laos and Cambodia, strengthening the Pathet Lao, and Khmer rouge. Second, even if you succeeded in somehow completely closing the Ho Chi Min trail through either country, all it would have accomplished is to drive the Vietcong supply lines into eastern Thailand.

If the US sent large troop formations into those countries early in the war to interdict supplies, they would/should have gone whole hog and established (actually, extended) the DMZ along the 17th Parallel across the entire peninsula.

And then what? I suppose, extend the demilitarized zone all the way to Rangoon.

• Sfoil says:

The proposed DMZ would have indeed extended all the way to Burma. The idea would be to put the Southern Vietnamese guerrillas in the same position as the South Korean guerrillas, who you’ll notice didn’t accomplish much. You joke about Rangoon but Burma and Thailand were both pretty easy sells, Laos and Cambodia were the sticking points.

It almost certainly would have radicalized the populations of Laos and Cambodia

Compared to what? The Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge both eventually overthrew the incumbent government. How much worse could they have gotten? That indicates to me that the Laotian and Cambodian governments ought to have abandoned neutrality in favor of a US-backed alliance. Ultimately their neutrality didn’t keep them out of the conflict.

• hyperboloid says:

The Khmer rouge only took power in Cambodia after we first helped to overthrow the government, and then invaded the country in search of Vietcong supply lines. Up until that point the Sihanouk government had been very effective in maintaining a careful policy of neutrality with regards to the conflict next door. Similarly, the Pathet Lao owed much if its strength to the resentment that rural Laotians felt against the American bombing and intervention in their country.

The northeastern provenances of Thailand were the base of the Thai communist party, that was waging a low grade insurgency against the government in Bangkok. Try to extend the McNamara line, gravel mines, napalm, marine fire bases ext., all the way across Laos and over the Mekong, and all you’ve done is traded a war in Vietnam for a war in Thailand. In one sense the domino theory was very true, and every American bomb knocked a dozen a dominoes.

The idea would be to put the Southern Vietnamese guerrillas in the same position as the South Korean guerrillas

This notion rests on the basic fallacy that led to so much misguided American policy in southeast Asia, the idea that Vietnam was another Korea. In reality the situation was almost exactly reversed. In Vietnam, you had a southern regime that was dominated by colonial era collaborators, and held little in the way of legitimacy in the minds of it’s citizens, in the north you had a nationalist government dominated by the people who had led the fight against the French and Japanese. In Korea, it was the northern Communist regime that was imposed by foreigners, and the south that had the genuine nationalist credentials. To put the Vietcong in the same position as the Communists of south Korea would have required completely transforming the political realties of Vietnam. And short of occupying the country for decades, or committing genocide, it’s not clear how that would be possible.

• dndnrsn says:

The second paragraph hits on one of the important points – the Southern government didn’t really have the confidence of its people, not to the extent it needed to fight off the North.

• cassander says:

@hyperboloid

>This notion rests on the basic fallacy that led to so much misguided American policy in southeast Asia, the idea that Vietnam was another Korea. In reality the situation was almost exactly reversed. In Vietnam, you had a southern regime that was dominated by colonial era collaborators, and held little in the way of legitimacy in the minds of it’s citizens,

The north Vietnamese government was, in absolutely no sense, a popular or legitimate government. Millions fled from the north to the south when the communists took over, and millions more fled the south when the north conquered it. there were many flaws in the South Vietnamese government, but its opponents were a totalitarian nightmare, and the Vietnamese repeatedly demonstrated, at great personal risk, that they did not desire communist government.

@dndnrsn

The second paragraph hits on one of the important points – the Southern government didn’t really have the confidence of its people, not to the extent it needed to fight off the North.

They fought off the north, for more than a decade, and could have continued to do so had congress not made it illegal to give them the ammunition and spare parts their lavishly equipped army required to function.

• dndnrsn says:

And air support. The South Vietnamese military relied on US logistical and organizational support, far beyond just giving them stuff. They suffered from huge desertion problems and significant corruption. The civilian government was no better. They probably could have held off the North indefinitely as long as the US propped them up, but they were never going to be self-sustainable. It was a major mistake on the US’ part not to push harder for reform early on.

• Sfoil says:

If Sihanouk’s neutrality policy was so effective, why were the NVA running forward operating bases in his country? Anyway, establishing an Indochina DMZ in the early 60s would have meant no need to invade or bomb either country. The whole point is that it would have been a better policy than what actually happened (the US takes one step at a time into the muck).

Full disclosure, I believe the only real difference between Korea and Vietnam were a) geography and b) the North deciding wage a guerrilla/propaganda campaign before launching the invasion. I also believe the latter factor to have been the result of lessons learned from the Korean War on the part of the NVA.

Whether the North Korean government was “imposed” by foreigners is a matter of semantics but Kim Il Sung and crew absolutely were heroes of the resistance against the Japanese. The Southern government on the other hand contained large numbers of Chalabi-style expats and outright collaborators. I’ll also note that South Korea in fact was occupied for decades and rooting out the guerrillas involved actions which, while perhaps not “genocide”, did involve killing a lot of people.

16. Evan Þ says:

Why We Never Talk about Black-On-Black Crime: A friend on Facebook (okay, you can stop snickering now) linked me this article earlier this week, which – referencing its sources against the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI every step of the way – argues that:

* Both white and black violent criminals normally victimize people of the same race.

* Both white and black poor people have roughly the same violent crime rate.

* Therefore, they conclude, “black-on-black crime” is not a serious problem. The problem is poverty, and that stems from white supremacy, and the solution is more social programs.

Thoughts? The only hole I can see in their argument is the last step where (together with throwing in a non sequitur on white supremacy, when the statistics actually point more toward class warfare if any progressive cause) they say we need more social programs to help poverty instead of programs to help poor people become more law-abiding. However, I’m definitely not the most conversant with crime statistics, so I very well might have overlooked something.

Regardless, they do seem to have shown that we should at least rephrase the problem as “poor people crime” instead of “black people crime.”

• Atlas says:

* Both white and black violent criminals normally victimize people of the same race.

Obviously, but the rates are vastly different: African-Americans commit homicide at about 8 times the rate of whites. (538 source.)

Both white and black poor people have roughly the same violent crime rate.

I don’t think that this is true; see RCA’s post on racial differences in homicide rates being poorly explained by economics.

Consider also that Hispanics, in terms of metrics of economic success like household income and unemployment rate, are very similar to African-Americans, but commit homicides at around 1/4th the rate. (There may be various mitigating factors, but not enough to explain the massive difference from what you would predict on a monocausal theory of poverty—>crime.)

Consider also that economic downturns and upswings don’t lead to the kind of changes in the violent crime rate one would predict on this theory—e.g. neither the Great Depression of the 1930s or Great Recession of the late 2000s lead to a corresponding spike in violent crime. Inversely, the economy was doing pretty well on a number of metrics during the 1960s, which saw a huge increase in the rates of major violent crimes.

Therefore, they conclude, “black-on-black crime” is not a serious problem. The problem is poverty, and that stems from white supremacy, and the solution is more social programs.

This is a non-sequitur—it’s like saying smoking isn’t a problem, cancer is a problem, and the solution to the so-called problem of smoking to implement policies that will decrease smoking.

This argument is flawed in two ways—one, because by any standard under which black-on-black crime, which results in ~5,000 fatalities per year (at least 75% of which are “excess” relative to the “normal” rate of other ethnic groups), is not a serious problem, the death of ~350 African-Americans per year (as per e.g. the Guardian and WaPo) in police shootings is not a serious problem.

Secondly, because the high rate of violent crime among African-Americans is not just some random human tragedy that bears no relation to police shootings like the Syrian Civil War or something, it’s the obvious primary cause of the disproportionate rate at which blacks are killed in police shootings. (Just like the fact that men commit violent crimes much more often than women is why they’re disproportionately killed by police.)

If you’re interested in reading a different perspective, replete with statistics, on these issues, than the one you’ll find in such articles you might want to check out Barry Latzer’s book “the Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America” and Heather MacDonald’s book “the War on Cops.” (Note that, despite the latter’s garbage tier inflammatory title, it’s actually a rationally argued, data-filled polemic.) Also, MacDonald debated these issues for Intelligence Squared.

• Evan Þ says:

Obviously, but the rates are vastly different: African-Americans commit homicide at about 8 times the rate of whites. (538 source.)

Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

I don’t think that this is true; see RCA’s post in racial differences on homicide rates being poorly explained by economics.

Interesting, especially when put together with the BJS report. If you take both at face value, they don’t seem to make sense; one or the other probably has some statistical error? Either that or the effect’s far more complicated than I thought.

Consider also that economic downturns and upswings don’t lead to the kind of changes in the violent crime rate one would predict on this theory

A very cogent point. Perhaps the issue is more generational poverty rather than temporary poverty stemming from economic downturns? That’d make sense, since it seems to me it’d work through intermediates such as ingrained bad habits and subcultural norms.

the high rate of violent crime among African-Americans is not just some random human tragedy

Indeed; what I’m arguing is that if these statistics are true, we should attack it from the right direction and get at its actual cause.

• Aapje says:

Interesting, especially when put together with the BJS report. If you take both at face value, they don’t seem to make sense; one or the other probably has some statistical error? Either that or the effect’s far more complicated than I thought.

A possible explanation for the apparent paradox is that poverty can have a strong impact on the culture of a community, but not so much on the individual. In other words, the rich person in the poor community is a more criminal than the rich person in the rich community.

• keranih says:

Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

I’m not sure their conclusion is supported by the data, and I’m pretty sure the conclusion isn’t what you’re stating here.

From the BJS summary:

Poor urban blacks (51.3 per 1,000) had rates of violence similar to poor urban whites (56.4 per 1,000).

As you say, re-bining people by poverty level appears to change the ratios of violence. However:

The overall pattern of poor persons having the highest rates of violent victimization was consistent for both whites and blacks. However, the rate of violent victimization for Hispanics did not vary across poverty levels.

Additional confounder: to what degree are WNH and Hispanic Whites well divided? If those categories aren’t being clearly reported, then the whole set might be…well, not useless, but certainly suspect.

• John Schilling says:

Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that [blacks committing homicide at 8x the rate of whites] seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

How does a study of nonfatal violent victimization explain anything about who is committing homicides?

The BJS study you cite, suggests that there is a modest and non-racial tendency for poor urban residents to beat up their wives/husbands/neighbors, and to point guns at each other, more often than rich urban residents do such things. Rural residents, maybe the same but they are less likely to call the police about it. This seems fairly common-sense obvious to me; there’s a whole cluster of behaviors that involves A: beating people up for no good reason and B: kind of not being good at making money.

But you don’t figure out who is killing people, and why, by looking at who is getting beaten up and why. Killing is very different than beating, and perpetrators are often different from victims.

• Evan Þ says:

But you don’t figure out who is killing people, and why, by looking at who is getting beaten up and why. Killing is very different than beating, and perpetrators are often different from victims.

Your argument makes facial sense, but AFAIK sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates. Cf. Scott’s monumental “Anti-Rxionary FAQ” where he looks at the homicide rate for the last century and a half to show that Progressivism doesn’t increase violent crime.

Now that I write that out, I see that judging changes in violent crime across time is different from judging them across ethnicity – is that what you’re getting at here?

• Randy M says:

The one characteristic every victim shares with his or her killer is having lived in the same moment.

• The Nybbler says:

Your argument makes facial sense, but AFAIK sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates.

The BJS study is doing the opposite, measuring violent crime excluding homicides (and also measuring victims as opposed to perpetrators). It’s exactly the wrong way around.

• dndnrsn says:

@Evan Þ

…sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates. Cf. Scott’s monumental “Anti-Rxionary FAQ” where he looks at the homicide rate for the last century and a half to show that Progressivism doesn’t increase violent crime.

Murder rate has the advantage that it’s the violent crime most likely to come to light, but the disadvantage that better health care turns murder into attempted murder or aggravated assault. Hundred years ago, if you got shot in the gut, your chances of living are much worse than today. If you look at the FBI crime stats, reported violent crime in total is something like 2-3x as high as it was when they started counting (1960, as I recall).

• Nornagest says:

If you look at the FBI crime stats, reported violent crime in total is something like 2-3x as high as it was when they started counting (1960, as I recall).

Trauma medicine’s a lot better now and that’s probably made a mark on the murder stats, but “reported violent crime” has some pretty serious issues too, because the culture around low-level violence is changing. I’d bet at fairly long odds that if I punched an acquaintance in the face today over some minor quarrel, they’d be much more likely to report it as an assault than if my grandpa had punched an acquaintance in the face in 1960.

The reverse might be true of someone in a culture where trust in the police has been declining over that period, but that just underscores the problems with using reporting statistics to make intercultural comparisons. For all the problems with murder as a basis, it’s at least pretty hard to hide a dead body.

• John Schilling says:

AFAIK sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates.

Sociologists spend a lot of time looking for their lost keys under streetlights. I understand that it may be difficult getting statistically sound data out of the genuine darkness that is so much of human social interaction, but that doesn’t make the streetlights a valid sample.

• dndnrsn says:

@Nornagest

I did note that’s the advantage of looking at homicide rate. Still, saying “well, the homicide rate is lower than it was in 19xx” can miss a lot.

• cassander says:

Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

It definitely does not, according to the FBI stats. Those state that whites and blacks commit roughly similar numbers of crimes. There are ~9 million blacks living below the poverty line compared to ~25 million whites, meaning even if you attribute all crime to those below the poverty level, blacks are still committing crimes at 3x the rate of whites.

https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-17.pdf

• rlms says:

You also have to control for population density. Someone here presented fairly convincing evidence that poor black urban people still commit more crime than poor white urban people, but I haven’t looked into that study too closely (I would highly appreciate a critical analysis of it).

• Gobbobobble says:

Consider also that Hispanics, in terms of metrics of economic success like household income and unemployment rate, are very similar to African-Americans, but commit homicides at around 1/4th the rate. (There may be various mitigating factors, but not enough to explain the massive difference from what you would predict on a monocausal theory of poverty—>crime.)

I’ve read that one unfortunate side effect of integration was the decline of black-owned small businesses. If that’s sufficiently true and relevant, perhaps the language barrier provides some shielding from that effect for Hispanics. Yadda yadda yadda, more stability, less hopelessness, etc?

Not to say this is the only factor, of course. Just thought it was an interesting hypothesis.

• Douglas Knight says:

* Both white and black poor people have roughly the same violent crime rate.

Neither The Root nor BJS says this.

• S_J says:

Many years ago I read a book about crime and the use of guns in the United States.

In the first chapter, almost as an aside, there was data indicating that Blacks in the rural areas of the United States have lower rates of violence/homicide than Whites in rural areas of the United States…while the reverse was true in urban areas.

It’s possible I’m mis-remembering. I can’t find the data right now. Maybe the ratio of urban/rural homicide rates was incredibly different for Black than it was for White.

Which leaves me with questions:

1. How many researchers have compared urban-vs-rural rates when they compare homicide rates in the United States?

2. Do those comparisons complicate the Black-vs-White comparisons?

3. Do those comparisons complicate the poor-vs-non-poor comparisons?

• cassander says:

I imagine that the results of such a study would depend almost entirely on how one decided what counted as urban vs. rural. Not in a cherry picking to find the desired result sort of way, just that any such distinction is going to end up fairly arbitrary, with lots of reasonable sounding ways to cut off, any one of which would produce dramatically different results.

17. Andrew Hunter says:

This is a question that, to ape the subreddit, is very much discussing, not waging the culture war. Please attempt to do so as much as possible in replies.

What’s a group that I should feel acceptable about using as a central example of low status? I was having a conversation where I wanted to utter the sentence “I mean, obviously I wouldn’t want to be associated with Xes, that’d make me look terrible!” but realized I didn’t know what a value of X I should feel good about using would be. The obvious answer that enters my head is “furries” or “bronies” but both of these I don’t feel good about because they’d be punching down; it’s true that furries are generally low status and I’d rather not people paint me as one, but I don’t like emphasizing them as losers–I’m sure many are nice people who don’t deserve sneers.

“Nazis” or “the KKK” is another possibility, but both feel too likely to raise political tensions/issues where I don’t necessarily want them. (Also, recent events make it clear that they have a bit of a motte/bailey thing going on; I’m happy to say I oppose lynching, but when Seattle politicans brand cleaning sidewalks as white supremacist….)

Is there some group which is clearly identifiable, not likely to raise political passions or have a motte/bailey thing going, which the majority of interlocuters will recognize as low status, and that I shouldn’t feel bad as reinforcing in that status?

• Charles F says:

Best practice is probably to use a group that was low-status but is now pretty much gone. Maybe gypsies? The Cagots are probably *almost* perfect except that they’re not very well-known. Second best option I think is carnies. Yeah it’s punching down, but you probably aren’t going to meet many and most of them are probably just there temporarily, it’s not part of their identity, it’s just a particularly bad part time job.

• Nornagest says:

Gypsies still exist as an ethnic group, although prejudice against them is not really a going concern in the United States. Is in the UK and parts of Europe, though.

I do like “carnies”.

• onyomi says:

Luddites seem to be a common example.

• Matt M says:

Juggalos

(I originally intended that as a joke but it may well be the best serious answer as well)

• Evan Þ says:

So you want a universally-low-status group that deserves their status and wouldn’t raise political tensions?

I’d say “Stalinists,” except that probably isn’t as universal as you want. Maybe something like “pedophiles,” except people might think of you as weird for bringing them up out of nowhere, plus there’s some overkill going on there too (with, say, fourteen-year-olds being arrested for having sex with each other.)

Really, the best idea would probably be to name something mildly humorous, totally out of left field, and nonexistent, like “The Coalition to Torture Cute Kittens.”

Really, the best idea would probably be to name something mildly humorous, totally out of left field, and nonexistent, like “The Coalition to Torture Cute Kittens.”

Agreed. Or just completely lampshade it by saying, “look, I would never want to be included with ‘insert low-status group you don’t like here’, but…”

Back in the Before Time, in the Long, Long Ago (so like 2006 before social media shaming and the Culture War were a thing), I had a joke I used occasionally that “hey man, I am the least racist person you will ever meet…except against Eskimos. Blubber chewing bastards…” As a southerner, saying that in the south, it’s a little funny because…how could anybody possibly hate Eskimos? Neither I nor anyone around me has ever met an Eskimo. It’s absurd. Would get a chuckle.

Well one day I was in Oregon with a group of people and I made the joke, and an Asian girl looked at me completely deadpan and said “I’m an Eskimo.” I blanched and started apologizing profusely and she said “nah, just fucking with ya, I’m Japanese.” Got me so good.

I don’t tell that joke anymore.

• All I Do Is Win says:

SSC commenters?

• Nornagest says:

If you want a group that both Red Tribe and Blue Tribe recognize as low-status and yet feel no sympathy for or tribal valance toward, the answer is “tweekers”. Or maybe “NAMBLA”.

• Wrong Species says:

I don’t see how you can use a group as an example of low status without punching down. The very act of distinguishing yourself from them is you saying they are losers.

• Andrew Hunter says:

In principle there are low status groups that I am, or should be, ok punching down to. Bronies aren’t one, just because they’rem ostly nice/fine people who just have a particularly dweeby hobby.

• keranih says:

I mostly agree. If the question is “what group do we all despise” then the “most correct” (or “most Christian”) response is “we should not despise anyone, and certainly not whole groups of people by default.” But I think the question isn’t quite right…

When Andrew Hunter (OP) says

What’s a group that I should feel acceptable about using as a central example of low status?

The context seems to be “what is a group whose name I can use in illustrative examples of “bad-despised people” where ‘everyone’ agrees with me that this group embodies that status and won’t be upset with me for saying so”.

To which I say, “good luck” – this is asking for permission to do impermissible things. Our multicultural society has multiple outgroups and an over arching ideal that *no one* be an outgroup. (No wonder we’re jacked up.)

Some examples that might get you further than others – either “felon” (or “violent felon”) or “slumlord”.

• yodelyak says:

If you put the sentence “I worked hard for years before becoming a medical doctor” into a low-grade translation algorithm, and then translate it back into English, it might come back: “I worked hard for years, but then I became a drug dealer.”

I think it is broadly relatable that a person would resent a translation error that caused them to be introduced at a professional conference, by virtue of a translation mistake, as a lazy drug dealer instead of a hard-working doctor. It’s not likely to offend any group you don’t mind offending. It’s still probably not universal.

• . says:

Any example of low status will raise political passions, because the more utopian leftists think the whole status system is counterproductive. You can probably get away with using ‘cockroaches,’ since all us inferior, less well-adapted organisms resent their perfection, but even that might not fly in hard utilitarian circles.

• keranih says:

The utopian leftists are not alone – there’s a bit of conventional Christian thinking that looks at the dismissal of class and status as an ideal as well.

• hyperboloid says:

It should be noted that utopian leftists and Christians are not mutually exclusive categories.

• johan_larson says:

My go-to ok-to-ridicule group is NAMBLA, a group working to make pedophilia more socially acceptable. Way, way outside the Overton Window.

• Civilis says:

As recent events have shown, the Juggalos almost seem to revel in their low-status position.

The Amish are unlikely to complain if you use them as low status.

A Weeaboo or Weeb is essentially a low-status anime/manga/Japanese culture fan. It’s unlikely to offend too many people because the rest of us anime fans are convinced we’re not the Weeaboos.

• Andrew Hunter says:

Actually, Juggalo seems like a pretty good choice.

• . says:

Juggalos are good though. You might as well choose some other good-but-powerless group like nuns.

• Matt M says:

Chaotic good, maybe

• Amish are unlikely to complain–they are in favor of humility. Stricter Amish affiliations are referred to as “lower.”

But I don’t think they are generally viewed as particularly low status.

• Winter Shaker says:

Stricter Amish affiliations are referred to as “lower.”

Sounds like a real-world analogue of Terry Pratchet’s dwarves who hold it far more noble to live one’s life in the depths of the mines than to spend too much time interacting with the world above ground, such that the title of Low King signals great honour.

• Witness says:

Sneetches.

• SamChevre says:

In an office-work context, secretaries and people who work in the call center.

Which highlights how stupid status can be: good secretaries exemplify the old joke about “do you want to talk to the person in charge, or the one who knows what’s going on”.

But it is true: early in my career, it became obvious that groups that had a lot of secretaries and call center employees were lower-status. (For example, the Toastmasters group at a former employer; no professionals joined it, because most of the people involved worked in the call center.)

• Randy M says:

In an office-work context, secretaries and people who work in the call center.

This is pointing in the right direction. Try this:
Telemarketers.
If feeling generous, prefix with “rude” or “persistent.”

• Civilis says:

If you’re going to go profession wise, there are a lot that are disreputable as a group. Charles F said ‘carnies’, above. As an IT person, spammers. Classically, used car salesmen.

• Deiseach says:

In an office-work context, secretaries and people who work in the call center.

As you say, stupid, because do you really think secretaries and reception staff don’t know who does and who does not have the “ugh, the little people” attitude? And that they aren’t more willing to do favours, extra work, etc. for the ones who don’t have that attitude, whereas for the others it’s “The phone is ringing in Mr X’s office? Well fuck him, it’s technically five minutes past my quitting time and I’m not going to lift a finger outside of the hours I’m paid to work for him. See how he feels about the work the ‘little people’ do then!”

• Charles F says:

In your situation, why not just say “I wouldn’t want to be associated with those people.” Is there some reason you’d need a specific group to point at?

• beleester says:

If you’re just looking for something you can use as an example and not actually trying to look down on someone, you could pick something humorous: “If people spread rumors that I’m into high-stakes Morris dancing, I’d be ruined!”

That’s too absurd for people to think that you really do hate Morris dancers.

• SamChevre says:

Reading the question and the responses, it seems to me that there are at least three kinds of “I wouldn’t want to be associated with X’s.” Deciding which category you are looking for might make choosing easier.

Category #1: “Those people pursue bad goals and/or by inappropriate means”–everyone agrees that they are a BAD group. This cluster gets Black Bloc, KKK, various kinds of predatory criminals, and so on.

Category #2: “Those people pursue really weird goals and/or in really weird ways”–everyone thinks they are nuts. Here you get bronies, Juggalos, high-stakes Morris dancers, and so on.

Category #3: “These people are low-status, but what they do is important and valuable” –everyone wants them around, but… Here you get secretaries and shelf-stockers at Wal-mart, janitors and call center workers, and so on.

• Iain says:

Lawyers? Politicians?

Is there a reason that they have to be actually low-status, instead of “high status but people like to hate them”?

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

• soreff says:

>What’s a group that I should feel acceptable about using as a central example of low status?

Well, it doesn’t have to be an ethnic or occupational group…
On second thought, to pick a somewhat lower status group,

18. yodelyak says:

Quote of the day at ColoradoPols.com’s open thread (a widely read Colorado politics blog): “All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.” — Scott Alexander

Neat.

ETA: actually only “All good is hard. All evil is easy.” is quoted, which leaves off the main point about “stay away from easy.” As is, it could as easily be read as an exhortation to evil. Sigh.

• Wrong Species says:

I completely disagree with that quote. On Star Trek:Deep Space 9, the main character says “it’s easy to be a saint in paradise”. It really just depends on your incentives.

• Nornagest says:

It might be the sadist in me, but I love watching the ongoing process of Scott getting dragged kicking and screaming into being a Major Political Thinker.

• yodelyak says:

@nornagest
I’m not even sure what the right form of apology to offer for the accidental sadism involved in trying to give our host Scott credit for the words of a different Scott Alexander. I guess I can just hope our host finds it funny, a la “Major Major Major Major” from Catch-22.

• Winter Shaker says:

Pretty sure you’ve got the wrong Scott Alexander there.

• Douglas Knight says:

quotes.net is wrong to attribute it to the screenwriter; it is the motivational speaker

• Winter Shaker says:

Well dang. Yodelyak got the wrong Scott Alexander, and I got the wrong wrong Scott Alexander.

• Aapje says:

This just proves that two wrongs don’t make a right.

• Evan Þ says:

They do, however, make a left – Leftists just double down on their errors!

/s

19. Any followers of Sidrea’s blog have a list of top posts they recommend? Julia Galef tweeted this post today, I really liked it and realized this is the blog Scott links to in his Staying Classy piece.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

I’ve been waiting for the CW OT to post some recent siderea.

Medications dangerous to the elderly. Did you know a person can be taking a medication safely and usefully for years, but then they get older and their body can’t handle it as well? I didn’t know this, but there’s even a handy list. I’m not linking to the list because there’s a lot of sensible stuff in the post.

Liberty-Loving Female Physicians. Surprisingly, this isn’t about abortion. It’s about EHR and HIPAA.

Doctors, Aging, and the Great Advice You Cannot Take This is about the extent to which old people have specific medical needs, and it’s good to have a specialist. However, in the US there aren’t nearly enough specialists, at least partly because Medicare doesn’t compensate them adequately.

Culture war:
“(Personally, I think that Medicare doesn’t demonstrate that single payer is the answer to the problems of the American healthcare system; Medicare demonstrates that the problem with the American healthcare system is that it is run by Americans. Single payer may be a great idea, but an American single payer system will continue to manifest the problems of systems run by Americans; I’m pretty sure Americans would figure out a way to implement single payer which is horribly bureaucratic, ridiculously costly, provides terrible care except to rich people, and somehow isn’t actually single-payer any more. It’s our gift.)”

Massless Ropes, Frictionless Pulleys: Coordinative Communication— Here’s an important older post. Communication takes time, effort, and sometimes money, but the costs of communication tend to be neglected.

Speaking of people getting paid– I’m underlining that siderea has a Patreon. This is a hint. She writes good stuff.

Doctors, Aging, and the Great Advice You Cannot Take This is about the extent to which old people have specific medical needs, and it’s good to have a specialist. However, in the US there aren’t nearly enough specialists, at least partly because Medicare doesn’t compensate them adequately.

Eh. Not entirely convinced. The argument seems to rely on calling a geriatrician a specialist. But in the sense that the word is used in American medicine they aren’t specialists. They are first line doctors like pediatricians and primary care physicians. In the pay part she compares them to dermatologists but doesn’t mention the average compensation of peditricians which is the closest analogy. It turns out pediatrics is right down there with family medicine (without OB) and internal medicine.

Then on the question of adequate compensation, if the basis of comparison is the wildly overpaid American specialist doctors like radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology and dermatology you get one answer, but if you compare to physicians around the world (yes, even after accounting for medical school costs and malpractice insurance) you get a very different answer.

Perhaps the upshot should be reducing the compensation of orthopedidic surgeons and not increasing that of geriatrician. That will reduce the gap and make geriatrics a relatively more appealing option.

• keranih says:

Nancy –

Thank you! I particularly liked that one about transaction costs (but I do wish Siderea could take the next step and realize the implications for regulation.) That one means that there are at least a couple Siderea posts that I find valuable in depth.

Please feel free to post the CW one on the OT.

20. Aevylmar says:

I have a low pain tolerance, and I’d like to have a higher pain tolerance. Preferably without, you know, suffering lots of pain in order to do it, but it’s getting in the way of things I want to do, like give blood. Any suggestions? (I ask here because SSC tends to have dozens of experts on all sorts of bizarre fields, even ones as strange as this.)

Thanks.

• All I Do Is Win says:

Lift weights to failure.

You can start small and work progressively up. This one activity will totally reset your attitude towards “difficulty”, and not just in physical areas.

• onyomi says:

That is quite an interesting idea. I feel similarly about extended periods of water-only fasting. It sort of lowers your hedonic threshold or something.

I am also curious whether others have other ideas about achieving similar effects. Cold water baths come to mind.

• Orpheus says:

How extended are we talking?

• onyomi says:

Personally I’ve gone as long as 9 days, though that’s actually not that long by the standards of some. Done 5 days several times and 1-2 days countless times. The effect gets more profound in various ways the longer you go (that is, not eating for 24 hrs on five separate occasions is in no way equivalent to not eating for 5 days, though it may be calorically), but even 24 hours has some effect, I think.

• Orpheus says:

@onyomi
Cool, might give this a try.

• onyomi says:

@Orpheus, if you haven’t done it before, I have a lot of thoughts and experiences I can share in more detail at some point if you’re interested, but the number one recommendations are: drink lots of water, don’t try to be too active (it can actually be tempting because it can make you feel more energetic but results are better if you rest as much as possible), get up slowly from lying down (you’re likely to experience orthostatic hypotension after the first day or two), and begin eating again gradually, ideally with something light and high in water, like fresh fruit.

All that being for fasts of more than 36 hours or so. If you’re just doing say, 24 hours, it’s more like “intermittent fasting” and you can pretty much do whatever you’d normally do (if anything you may find you have more energy than usual sometimes).

Of course, it is absolutely contraindicated in cases of anorexia, malnutrition, and type 1 diabetes (I’m assuming you don’t have any of those, but just in case).

• Orpheus says:

@onyomi I will keep that in mind, thanks!

• Aevylmar says:

Hmm. Thanks for the recommendation. Any particular recommendations for sites explaining how to learn to do that by myself? I hear there’s some danger of hurting yourself if you do it wrong, and I’d prefer something I can do at home to some to something where I’d need to go to a gym to do it first.

• onyomi says:

Two suggestions: go to failure on a machine (or with body weight exercises), not using free weights, at least not without experience and a spotter. You’re in much bigger trouble if your muscles give out with a heavy bar sitting on your shoulders or above your chest than sitting on a leg press machine or doing pushups.

Second, use slow movements, especially on the negative. This will not only increase the intensity of working with lower weights (and using lower weights itself reduces the chances of injury), it eliminates momentum, which is a common cause of joint injury.

• Winter Shaker says:

You could get a half cage squat rack with spotter bars for not too wildly much money. I’ve got a Bodymax CF415, which splits into two sections that you can store in the corner of a room, so it doesn’t even take up that much space. That has adjustable height spotter bars so that it’s basically impossible to get yourself trapped under a heavy bar unless you’re really going out of your way to be an idiot.

[edited to add: a lot of people on the internet recommend either Starting Strength or Strong Lifts 5×5 as good sites to teach you proper technique. I try to follow the latter programme and he isn’t really into the whole lift-to-failure ethos for the purposes of building strength – he considers adding a bit of weight each time to be far more important – but perhaps lifting to failure is more important if it’s not strength but pain resistance that you’re specifically trying to increase]

• lvlln says:

I used both Starting Strength and Strong Lifts 5×5 as guides when I started lifting about 8 years ago. I think they were helpful, though obviously I don’t have a parallel world to check against where I started lifting using some other program as guides or just looking at YouTube videos (of which there are a heck of a lot more today than there were back then). At the least, I haven’t ever hurt myself lifting, and I’ve had good success building both mass and strength in response to the lifting.

I think the good thing about those is that they offer simple easy-to-follow programs of a handful of lifts that cover a huge portion of your muscles.

• Is there any reason why, for the stated purpose, weight lifting is better than just doing pushups or situps, which require no equipment and not much instruction?

• Nornagest says:

After a certain point, doing more reps at a given weight (including bodyweight stuff) is basically just doing cardio. Doing cardio to failure is certainly unpleasant, but it’s a different type of unpleasant than lifting heavy, and I don’t think it scales in the same way.

Situps in particular are also a lot harder on your back than most of the weighted alternatives. Pushups can give you RSI problems in your elbows too, but that can be mitigated with correct form.

• onyomi says:

Just as a sort of… anti-testimonial data point:

A few years ago I stopped my usual routine of mostly machines and body weight exercises+a few free weight exercises to try strong lifts 5×5 and starting strength almost exclusively for a year or two… and got weaker.

Perhaps it was due to a previous back injury from deadlifting, but I spent so much time and effort trying to avoid injuring myself with the squats and deadlifts by maintaining perfect form, etc. that the actual intensity of the exercises went way down. I just won’t dare go to failure or even close to failure on something like a heavyish squat or deadlift. The result was my muscles were ultimately not working as hard as I could safely, comfortably work them on the machines.

Also, some of my smaller muscle groups got weaker: people claim a good squat, deadlift, overhead press, or bench press will still work your abs… yeah, maybe a little, but not to the extent actually doing situps will.

@lvlln

No offense meant as it is certainly possible it was the best choice for you or you did the program better than I did, but one thing to take into account: if you had little previous weightlifting experience, any program of resistance training you had started would have resulted in significant gains because that’s what happens when you first start weight lifting, be it with machines or free weights.

• onyomi says:

Do you like spicy food? Do you think you could grow to like spicy food?

• Aevylmar says:

I don’t like spicy food, but that’s an interesting idea for an experiment. Thanks.

• Anonymous says:

http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/577601/Needles-frightened-hold-breath-study-Spain

• Aevylmar says:

That looks like magic, but it might work. A lot of strange body-magic turns out to work. Thanks!

• hlynkacg says:

I’ll echo Win’s exercise suggestion but recommend body-weight exercises, at least to start, to minimize chance of injury. Get to the point where basic push-ups, pull-ups, squats, etc… start feeling trivial then start adding weight.

Cold showers also help.

• Aevylmar says:

Hmm. If you think it’ll work… thanks.

• lvlln says:

I started taking cold showers this summer as a way to cool my body after I decided to take on an arbitrary challenge of not installing my window AC unit at all and relying purely on a fan (so far, so good!). From my experience, I think they might indeed be useful for increasing pain tolerance.

I prefer my showers stinging hot, and I found cold showers quite painful at first. I’d usually stand it for about a minute at most, feeling pretty miserable the whole time. I began to practice mindful meditation during these sessions, and I found that this helped me tolerate the pain better, and that tolerance became better as I practiced meditation more. Paradoxically, I could feel the shocking coldness of the water more viscerally and more palpably than ever before, but I felt the accompanying pain and unpleasantness much less than before. It felt to me more like I was noticing the cold and experiencing it for what it was, instead of causing that cold to make me feel pain. I wonder how much the rational knowledge that I could step out of the shower at any moment and thus the shocking cold presented no actual danger to me played a part in making the more palpable sense of cold translate to a less palpable one of pain.

So my pet theory is that cold showers can help pain tolerance to the extent that it’s a way of practicing mindful meditation under conditions that normally cause pain. I think mindful meditation in general and also under similar conditions might be worth a shot for raising pain tolerance.

I should also note that this didn’t suddenly make cold showers completely pain-free or pleasant for me. Well, I do enjoy it occasionally, but on cold days particularly, the additional cold is just too much and I do need to get out of the shower after like a minute. But I also think that my ability to handle those are marginally better when meditating and due to practice meditating.

• Thegnskald says:

Uh. Is there a reason you want a high pain tolerance?

Personally, it means I often bleed all over the place before I notice I have been hurt, and have frequent unexplained bruises. (“How did you do that?” “No idea, probably ran into something”)

Also, since I often don’t notice pain, when I get, for example, joint injuries, I frequently re-injure myself because I don’t notice when I am doing something that hurts.

Pain is kind of useful. We have it for a reason.

• Charles F says:

I think there’s a bit of a distinction between a high pain threshold and a high pain tolerance. If I’m not expecting it, I can react embarrassingly strongly to pretty mild hurts, and I’ll pretty much never have an unexplained injury from normal daily life. But if I know to expect it, and I don’t psyche myself out too much, I can do a pretty good impression of being a tough guy. I think the second part is what @Aevylmar is looking for, and I’d second cold showers and difficult exercise, but the exercise has to be something you enjoy. Making yourself do something you hate because it hurts is not going to have any good results.

• Aevylmar says:

It’s not that I want a pain tolerance of 100/100, or even 90/100. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories along the lines you’re giving, and I don’t want to be all the way in that direction. I just feel that I have a pain tolerance closer to 20/100, and I’d like to get up to 50 or 60 or maybe even 70, if that makes sense.

• Matt M says:

I feel like there are probably studies out there proving me wrong, but I’ve always felt like there’s no such thing as a general “pain tolerance” and that you have a different tolerance for different kinds of pain, depending on your history, exposure, physiology, etc.

In general I think I have a very low tolerance for most things (especially heat/burning, I always burn my tongue on coffee that others can drink). But I also have a skin condition that occasionally results in quite painful boils that have to be dealt with medically, and during these painful procedures, the doctors often comment that I have a high pain tolerance compared to most people they see for those things.

21. johan_larson says:

The US Supreme Court has nine justices. Three are Jewish (Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer); five are Catholic (Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor); one was raised Catholic but may now be an Episcopalian (Gorsuch).

I understand the Jewish over-representation. But why so many Catholics? Catholicism is popularly associated with many things, but elite work of the mind isn’t one of them.

• Are you trying to make Deiseach literally explode, or something?

• Deiseach says:

TheAncientGeek, thank you for your concern for the state of my continued bodily integrity 🙂

johan_larson, a previous link post of Scott’s explained it all. It’s all the fault of the Jesuits and their evil plotting for world domination (naturally).

Good to see the Secret Global Domination Plan is proceeding successfully! 😉

• Nick says:

Shhh! We don’t want them on to us! Or so advises my Jesuit confessor.

• Deiseach says:

No, no, Nick, it’s okay! This is the Internet, nobody will ever see it, pick it up, and broadcast it to all and sundry! 😀

• Nick says:

Because Catholics are awesome, that’s why.

• hyperboloid says:

Mostly because Catholic social, and political thinkers have been the intellectual core of the anti abortion movement; and appointing “pro life” judges has been a major conservative political priority ever since roe v. wade.

Catholicism is popularly associated with many things, but elite work of the mind isn’t one of them

Given the shift in the center of gravity of American protestantism from WASPy northern Methodists and Episcopalians, to southern evangelicals; I suspect that non Hispanic Catholics, as a highly urban northern population, have above average educational achievement compared to other Christian groups.

• What’ average achievement got to do with anything? The average 13th century catholic was an illiterate peasant, but Aquinas was still Aquinas.

• Rick Hull says:

Mostly because Catholic social, and political thinkers have been the intellectual core of the anti abortion movement; and appointing “pro life” judges has been a major conservative political priority ever since roe v. wade.

This has intuitive appeal. But does it match Sotomayor? What is the actual record for Republican / conservative appointees since Roe v. Wade?

• SamChevre says:

Catholicism isn’t popularly associated with “elite work of the mind”, but that’s because it’s huge and theologians and canon lawyers are a small subset. But it has a very deeply rooted legal and philosophical tradition–much more so than any Protestant group (because it’s older and larger, among other things).

The Catholic theological tradition has a lot of similarities with legal scholarship: multiple authorities, most of whom were wrong about at least some things, and very few of whom are self-evidently applicable to the question at hand, spread over a lot of times and places. (Just for an example–St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, almost certainly the most important systematizer of theology, argued strenuously against the Immaculate Conception which was stated as official doctrine 600 years later.) And Jesuits in particular are famous for “casuistry”–the application of general principles to specific cases–but it’s a key piece of the Catholic toolbox generally.

So the intellectual training of Catholics and Jews aligns well to the kind of scholarship needed for lawyers–how do you make sense of the disparate authorities, and apply them to the specific case at hand?

There is also a political reason: Catholics are perceived on the Right as less likely to “evolve” toward whatever is currently fashionable than others. While this isn’t true all the time (see Kennedy, Anthony) it is probably an accurate perceptions.

• Deiseach says:

There seems to have been some comment back at the start of September over a nominee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (I don’t know if the woman in question has been appointed or not). Background – she’s a Catholic mother of seven who is a law professor at Notre Dame and has written on Catholic Judges and Capital Cases. She may be anti-death penalty but that doesn’t mean she’s one of the good Catholics, like Justice Sotomayor:

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said.

‘Cos you know, she might be sorta anti-abortion in her personal views and plainly can’t keep that out of her legal decisions. Unlike all the pro-choice judges who are perfectly capable of not letting their decisions about abortion law cases be affected by their personal views and beliefs that abortion is a woman’s right. I’m using abortion as an example because that seems to be what Senator Feinstein is really worried about:

“Professor Barrett has argued that a judge’s faith should affect how they approach certain cases. Based on this, Senator Feinstein questioned her about whether she could separate her personal views from the law, particularly regarding women’s reproductive rights.”

Yes, I’m snarking, because by her views in the linked paper, she’s not one of the ‘hanging and flogging’ crowd, but that’s just not good enough for Senators Feinstein and Durbin. Imagine if a senator had asked Judge Kagan about her Jewishness and was she an “orthodox” Jew (or one of the nice, liberal Reform kind instead EDIT: seemingly she was raised in an Orthodox tradition but now identifies with Conservative Judaism)?

Abstract

The Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty places Catholic judges in a moral and legal bind. While these judges are obliged by oath, professional commitment, and the demands of citizenship to enforce the death penalty, they are also obliged to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters. Although the legal system has a solution for this dilemma by allowing the recusal of judges whose convictions keep them from doing their job, Catholic judges will want to sit whenever possible without acting immorally. However, litigants and the general public are entitled to impartial justice, which may be something a judge who is heedful of ecclesiastical pronouncements cannot dispense. Therefore, the authors argue, we need to know whether judges are legally disqualified from hearing cases that their consciences would let them decide. While mere identification of a judge as Catholic is not sufficient reason for recusal under federal law, the authors suggest that the moral impossibility of enforcing capital punishment in such cases as sentencing, enforcing jury recommendations, and affirming are in fact reasons for not participating.

I mean, if recusing yourself because you don’t think you can give an impartial judgement is not good enough, what do they want? “No I’ll never recuse myself, I’ll make a judgement based on what I personally think the law should mean”? Or is that only okay for judges helping the moral arc of the universe to bend towards the right side of history via emanations of penumbras?

• Nick says:

What you’ve said re the ridiculous Senate proceedings is right, Deiseach, but I have to point out that that abstract is misleading; the Catholic Church does not oppose the death penalty in the way it opposes, say, abortion or euthanasia, and Catholics are free to disagree and believe that capital punishment is licit. See the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later bishop of an obscure province:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

• Deiseach says:

Well, I am glad to see that Senators Durbin and Cruz are in accord: you don’t like abortion, you don’t like the death penalty, what good as a judge are you gonna be if you don’t like killin’?

Durbin’s communications director also pointed to Texas senator Ted Cruz’s line of questioning yesterday, in which Cruz asked Barrett, “I’ve read some of what you’ve written on Catholic judges and in capital cases and, in particular, as I understand it, you argued that Catholic judges are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty . . . please explain your views on that because that obviously is of relevance to the job for which you have been nominated.”

I mean, it’s not like there’s been any work done by the Church on a consistent approach to these matters, like the Seamless Garment or nothing. The temerity of a judge having principles by which they approach how they live in a consistent manner, including their philosophy of their work! Thank goodness for all the judges on the progressive side who said, with tears in their eyes and a crack in their voices, “I really really believe in this issue but I’m so sorry, the law won’t let me decide in favour of you getting an abortion/same-sex married/voting while being black. I personally hold these as my principles, but the stern voice of duty holds me back from filtering my judicial decisions through the lens of personal ethics”.

Such a pity nobody can get gay married in the USA because the Supreme Court judges all agreed to set aside their ideological positions and only rule on the law as the law! Oh, wait…

I suppose I’m mostly annoyed over this because of the whole tussling over the appointment of judges in America due to “we need to get one of Our Guys on the bench because they have the Right Beliefs and they’ll progress our cause”. The Democrats do this every bit as much as the Republicans, so it’s a bit disingenuous of Senator Feinstein to be all “Judge with strong personal beliefs? That they don’t compartmentalise from their everyday life? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!” She’s made it pretty clear that she’d love a judge who had elsewhere written or stated in a speech that “I am really strongly convinced that abortion is indeed a right, and I’m going to push hard in my judgements to further the cause of reproductive justice”, so it’s not ideology qua ideology (or even religious belief) she objects to, it’s “your beliefs are the wrong kind because they don’t chime with what I believe is right, true and proper”.

Like, I’d respect Feinstein’s position if it were “I don’t think judges of any stripe – liberal or conservative – should make decisions outside of strict interpretation of the law and law alone”, but it’s not: it’s “you’re not on my side so I’m afraid you’ll make decisions our side won’t like, and never mind what the law will or won’t support when it comes to that”.

• Nick says:

It’s funny you bring this up, Deiseach, because I had the same inkling reading this New Yorker article this morning (don’t ask me how I arrived at a seven year old article). Sorry, enormous quote coming:

Breyer is clearest on what his approach is not. The most striking part of his book is his denunciation of originalism, the interpretative technique embraced by Scalia and Thomas (whose names do not appear in the text). Originalists assert that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed at the time of its ratification, and that the understanding of the framers should bind judges for all time. In practice, originalism often proves fatal to claims that the Constitution offers broad protections of civil liberties—say, the right to choose abortion. As championed by Scalia and Thomas, originalism complements and reinforces conservative politics.
Originalism now holds powerful sway in the broader Republican Party. As Senator John Cornyn, of Texas, framed the issue at the Kagan hearings, constitutional law amounted to a contest between “traditionalists” who feel bound “to a written Constitution and written laws and precedent” and judges who believe in “empathy, as the President has talked about it, or a living Constitution, which has no fixed meaning.” Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, said that any view of the Constitution except “original intent is going to give a lot of people in this country heartburn, because what it says is our intellectual capabilities are better than what our original founding documents were, and so we’re so much smarter as we’ve matured that they couldn’t have been right. And that’s dangerous territory for confidence in the Court.”
Even Souter, the reclusive former Justice, joined the fray. In the commencement address at Harvard this year, Souter rejected the idea that “the Court is making up the law, that the Court is announcing constitutional rules that cannot be found in the Constitution, and that the Court is engaging in activism to extend civil liberties.” Souter said that the originalist premise “devalues our aspirations, and attacks our confidence, and diminishes us.” The only true way to interpret the Constitution, Souter said, is “by relying on reason, by respecting all the words the framers wrote, by facing facts, and by seeking to understand their meaning for living people.”
With less eloquence but more specificity, Breyer builds a similar case in “Making Our Democracy Work.” He gives a comprehensive denunciation of a purely originalist approach, noting first the difficulty of divining what the framers might regard as the legal status of “the automobile, television, the computer, or the Internet.” And he argues that the framers themselves wanted the application of the Constitution to change with the times. They gave Congress a great deal of flexibility in regulating interstate commerce, and “intended the scope of that word to expand, covering more and more items, as commerce itself expands, as technology advances, and as commercial activities in one state affect those in another.”
If not originalism, then what? Here Breyer is less compelling. “I belong to a tradition of judges who approach the law with prudence and pragmatism,” he told me. “And that is a tradition that has existed throughout American legal history. That’s the tradition of judges whom I admire—Cardozo, Brandeis, Holmes, Learned Hand. That tradition is not subjective, and that tradition is not politics. It is a tradition that tries to understand the values and purposes underlying the Constitution and the laws. It’s a tradition that says there’s a need to maintain stability in the law, without freezing the law in a way that would prevent Brown v. Board of Education”—which overturned the case of Plessy v. Ferguson and its notorious doctrine of separate but equal.

At the same time, conservatives regard Breyer’s talk of pragmatism as little more than a smoke screen to cover his embrace of such liberal-agenda items as abortion rights and affirmative action. “It’s only been a handful of occasions when he’s deviated from the liberal line,” Edward Whelan said. “His so-called pragmatic approach just leaves him wherever he wants to go.”

• Nick says:

Oh, and lest my feelings on that long quote be mistaken, let me say I have literally no idea what “relying on reason, by respecting all the words the framers wrote, by facing facts, and by seeking to understand their meaning for living people” means, or what “want[ing] the application of the Constitution to change with the times” entails, or what “understand[ing] the values and purposes underlying the Constitution and the laws” means. As far as I can tell, these are about one million times more subjective than relying strictly on the text of the document, read according to the meanings which the words held at the writing of said document. The New Yorker will tell me that’s a very convenient philosophy for someone whose worldview is conservative, but as far as I can tell, that’s just the pot calling the kettle black.

• Incurian says:

I don’t know what could be more liberal than an originalist reading of the 9th and 10th amendments.

• Gobbobobble says:

TBF, prior to 2016, Senator Feinstein was Capitol Hill’s Most Likely To Be An Agent of Satan, followed closely by Lamar Smith.

• Nornagest says:

That abstract sounds an awful lot like a better-written version of some of the anti-Catholic pamphlets from the Twenties that I’ve come across.

• BBA says:

The explanation I prefer for the dearth of Protestants on the High Court is that judges need a proper understanding of guilt.

• Urstoff says:

When will we get our first antinomian justice?

• . says:

We’d need to know where in the pipeline the disproportion shows up. What is the Catholic proportion of
1) lawyers
2) prosecutors
3) judges
4) graduates of the big four law schools
5) prosecutors from the big four law schools
6) judges from the big four law schools

• Deiseach says:

It seems the Supreme Court used to be majority Protestant (the Episcopalians, who are a tiny denomination but over-represented historically in positions of status, power and influence) with a lone Catholic here or there, until Antonin Scalia’s appointment in 1986 which seems to have been the start of a flurry of Catholic nominees, resulting in the situation today.

I wonder if during the days of the Moral Majority etc., Catholics were seen as compromise choices? They ticked off some of the boxes on the Republican list and some on the Democrat list, so if nobody was willing to give in on appointing A over B, well how about C?

Re: the queries in the comment above, I have no idea what the big four law schools are, but according to Wikipedia:

John Roberts College: Harvard Law school: Harvard
Anthony Kennedy College: Stanford Law school: Harvard
Clarence Thomas College: Holy Cross Law school: Harvard
Ruth Bader Ginsburg College: Cornell Law school: Columbia
Stephen Breyer College: Stanford Law school: Harvard
Samuel Alito College: Princeton Law school: Yale
Sonia Sotomayor College: Princeton Law school: Yale
Elena Kagan College: Princeton Law school: Harvard
Neil Gorsuch College: Columbia Law school: Harvard

• Nick says:

Huh? Justice Thomas’s law school was Yale, not Harvard. I recall this because he really hates Yale now. He thinks they admitted him on race and not merit.

• Gobbobobble says:

Aren’t Episcopalians pretty much the closest you can get to being Catholic without actually being Catholic?

• Nornagest says:

They’re basically the American branch of High Church Anglicanism, so yes. I was surprised to find there’s only a million and a half of them; it’s been one of the larger churches in most of the places I’ve lived.

• Nick says:

Not after Episcopalianism’s liberalization, at least as far as Catholics are concerned. Those who don’t care about doctrine may find the church architecture fairly similar, though.

• JonathanD says:

No.

Source: am Episcopalian.

• Andrew Hunter says:

Depends on what aspect of Catholicism you want. Church services focused around communion [1]? We got that. Smells and bells and classic hymns? Not universal but easily found. Pomp, circumstance, cathedrals, rituals for days? Ditto. Properly recited creeds? Sure!

What do we actually believe? Fucked if I know. Seriously, I was raised Episcopal and all I know of what we are supposed to believe is “Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.” I really couldn’t say what church doctrine is on deep theological issues, or if we have any. I think far fewer episcopals care.

The one doctrinal difference that is important to me: Catholic mass is a closed sacrament for members of the church in good standing (don’t ask me the details.) Episcopal churches, by in large, openly and explicitly offer the blood and body to whomsoever wants it. Since communion is, to me, the heart of the ritual, I find episcopal service much more welcoming (though it’s been a long, long time since I saw a catholic mass.)

(I am told the reason Catholics restrict communion is that the sacrament is sacred, powerful, and could do theological damage to those who aren’t properly prepared for it. I am not sure why, see above, Episcopals disagree; if I had to guess, I would say that we decided Christianity is about spreading the good news and the salvation.)

[1] I was, like, 22, before I realized that Communion wasn’t the defining aspect of a church service for some Christian denominations.

• Nick says:

(I am told the reason Catholics restrict communion is that the sacrament is sacred, powerful, and could do theological damage to those who aren’t properly prepared for it. I am not sure why, see above, Episcopals disagree; if I had to guess, I would say that we decided Christianity is about spreading the good news and the salvation.)

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11,

Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.

Much can turn on the meaning of the word “unworthily,” of course; if the Episcopalians have some theological explanation for all people being worthy, then power to them.

Regarding the Catholic practice, a nondenominational Protestant friend once made the argument to me that, since the Eucharist is a source of grace, why shouldn’t that grace be available to everyone? Well, by Paul’s admission, it shouldn’t be available to everyone, which he agreed with, but he disagreed that anyone who believes himself worthy should be denied. Yet for Catholics there are further restrictions in the case of obstinate, manifest grave sin: that is, someone who persists in their sin despite warnings, and whose act is objectively sinful (there are some acts, obvious ones being murder, rape, etc., which are always wrong, even if someone, say, has no culpability for them whatsoever), and whose sin is grave in matter (some sins are more serious than others). I think the justification for this more or less speaks for itself: being “manifest,” i.e. being objectively sinful rather than something that simply happened in their minds or something, it is therefore clear to everyone involved that the person is sinning (again, even if they have no culpability whatsoever; we are not judging the state of their souls, just the sinfulness of the acts themselves), so it is imperative that the priest protect the person from harming themselves further the way Paul suggests they would.