THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT96: Snopen Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. New advertisement for Altruisto, a browser extension that automatically connects you to affiliate/referral programs for online shopping and donates the money to effective charities. Endorsed by eg Steven Pinker and Peter Singer.

2. There will be a Slate Star Codex meetup at 3:33 PM on 3/3 at 3 West Circle, Berkeley CA. The numerological conjunction will be used to summon an avatar of Gwern into the material world. More on this as it develops.

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800 Responses to OT96: Snopen Thread

  1. Well... says:

    You’ll be relieved to know Wikipedia has an article on toilet paper orientation. Some of it is humorous if you look closely.

    • Hence says:

      I had seen this one and it’s great. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

    • wearsshoes says:

      While many[weasel words] people consider this topic unimportant[citation needed], some hold strong opinions on the matter.

      lol :p

      • kipling_sapling says:

        We’re probably seeing the unexploded landmines from a lame edit war.

        • Well... says:

          Man, whenever you comment I can’t help but think of the Jeep Renegade’s taillights.

          That link’s amazing BTW.

          • Nick says:

            I found a lot of good stuff at that link, particularly this:

            Gadsby (novel)
            Ernest Vincent Wright wrote this novel as a lipogram, omitting the letter e. Should the article be written in the same way as an homage? Despite the facts that this would make the tone of the article bizarre, and that the author’s name could not be stated due to its containing three e’s, war raged on the talk page, and in the article [73] for an exceedingly lame amount of time, with some warriors on the talk page even posting in lipograms (eliminating e does not a stronger argument make). At one point a few editors made an effort to eliminate the letter from the sections and the markup, leading to the removal of the Table of Contents, edit buttons, and reference tags. The caption to an image of capital and lowercase e’s near the bottom of the talk page sums things up nicely: “This page needs more of these. Please give generously.”

    • Brett says:

      My favorite Wikipedia article segment was the dry humor on the page for “continent”, unfortunately now cut down a bit:

      By convention, “continents are understood to be large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water.”[2] Several of the seven conventionally recognized continents are not discrete landmasses separated completely by water. The criterion “large” leads to arbitrary classification: Greenland, with a surface area of 2,166,086 square kilometres (836,330 sq mi) is considered the world’s largest island, while Australia, at 7,617,930 square kilometres (2,941,300 sq mi) is deemed the smallest continent.

  2. bean says:

    Naval Gazing continues its exploration of battleship propulsion with turbines and oil fuel.

  3. Well... says:

    A few people have said they’d be interested to see some thoughtful, knowledgeable criticism of Jordan Peterson. I think I might have found some:

    A biologist debunks Peterson’s lobster claims. If the biologist is right, and I’m convinced he is, then this could shake Peterson’s credibility on a number of other claims.

    On Joe Rogan’s podcast, Bret Weinstein describes an error Peterson made in his Vice interview. (Close to the 4:30 mark in that clip.) I agree with Weinstein on that one.

    So, there’s two pieces of it anyway.

    • AeXeaz says:

      That’s not just a random biologist, it’s culture warrior extraordinaire PZ Myers, who has a long history of being a disingenuous ****.
      Just last month he called Steven Pinker a “lying right-wing shitweasel” for saying that certain members of the alt-right are literate and intelligent.

      None of this is to say that he’s wrong about lobsters, but I’d say that he *is* being disingenuous in his reading of Peterson.
      (Also, his comment that “I have no interest in ever having a conversation with Jordan Peterson. He’s an ignorant ass.” is just rude!)

      • seladore says:

        PZ Myers is so frustrating. An actual biologist critiquing some of Jordan Peterson’s biology-based arguments would be very interesting, and a valuable addition to the conversation.

        But why does he have to go out of his way to be so abrasive to people he considers his outgroup? It’s like his actual purpose is getting people riled up, rather than being a voice of reason in the conversation.

        Within the first thirty seconds he’s scathingly referring to ‘fanboys’ he ‘pissed off’, and acting shocked that their comments are so ‘unintelligent’ they are not worth replying to. That’s a style of interaction better suited to a random jerk on YouTube, not a Associate Professor of biology.

        It made me feel hostile towards the video, and I’m basically on his side.

        • Nornagest says:

          It’s like his actual purpose is getting people riled up

          I think we have a winner.

          • albatross11 says:

            Don’t ask what PZ Meyers is like as a person, ask what kind of person the process of getting a very popular skeptic blog selects for.

        • Ratte says:

          Meyers is the same person who did this, which I think merits taking absolutely anything he says with a grain of salt.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Also, he circulated a third-party anonymous #metoo accusation against Michael Shermer (4 years before #metoo was even a thing) and attacked Richard Dawkins on the ElevatorGate incident, becoming one of the leading figures of the Atheism+ schismatic movement.

      • Michael Handy says:

        i’ve always been confused with this hatred for Pinker from US moderate progressives. I’m pretty much as far left as they come, and while the Anarcho Syndicalists and Spartacists and the other reprobates I meet have quibbles with his naive interpretation of the Enlightenment, it’s respectful and intellectual, and has none of this venom you see from the “moderate” US social left.

        And this reasoned discussion is from people who set police cars on fire for fun, so it’s not a lack of spirit restraining our leftists.

        Finally, I’d always placed Pinker LEFT of Meyers, somewhere just right of Chomsky. So this confuses me no end.

        • Aapje says:

          Social Justice ideologues seem to generally argue that the core of the problem is the wrong beliefs being taught to people. A decent number of SJ people don’t believe in the ability to successfully counter these wrong beliefs in debate, but in silencing and isolating wrong beliefs, hence solutions such as ‘no platforming’.

          Steven Pinker has a platform, which he uses to say anti-SJ things. Hence, some SJ people see him as being the core of the problem, who must be neutered.

          Revolutionaries who want to gain control over the economy/society tend to put far less weight on gaining control over the idea/debate space and are more focused on ‘practical’ power. So they logically will not get outraged by Pinker, while they do get outraged by cops, managers, etc.

          It’s all about who people see as a threat, which is not the same as the distance in beliefs. Scott has written about this.

          • qwints says:

            I strongly disagree with the idea that Pinker is close to Chomsky – Pinker has said capitalism leads to peace and that large scale socialism is against human nature (He also says anarchism is untenable in the second interview)

          • Michael Handy says:

            @qwints

            That may have been a bit strong, true. Pinker is not an Anarcho-Syndicalist (I assume Chomsky hasn’t made the jump to council communism of democratic confederalism or whatever.) But Meyers doesn’t really engage with economic issues outside of standard Blue-tribe positions. Pinker does, and he takes a position left of what this non-American thinks of as the US political centre (which I will define as Hillary Clinton.)

            Pinker in those statements is by his own admission using rather specific definitions of socialism and anarchism, in the context of highlighting that of all the societies we’ve managed to artificially put together, Capitalism outperforms the state of nature the most. This is somehow contentious in the left, even though every major left figure from Marx to Bookchin has immediately conceded the point

            Additionally, (and I’ll need to look this up.) he’s come out as rather communitarian in other statements, particularly in his approach to international institutions.

            He’s internationalist, has strong support for local community bonds, a strong welfare state, and strong international institutions, and while he’s definitely a capitalist I’d probably say his politics place him in a Western Europe Centre-Left party (that is, somewhere to the left of the Democrats, even those of Bernie.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            He’s internationalist, has strong support for local community bonds,

            I don’t understand how these two go together. “Internationalism” means prioritizing the interests of foreigners over those of your local community.

            It’s easy to say one supports both, but pudding and eating. Pick an issue (free trade, immigration, etc) that pits the interests of foreigners against the interests of “local community” and if you’re always on the side that benefits foreigners then you’re not really prioritizing the local community.

          • rlms says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            The opposite of internationalism is nationalism not “localism”; communities are a lot smaller than countries. One could be a big fan of free trade and the EU, and also e.g. funding local churches.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            He might be some kind of old timey feudal Catholic. Bonds based on personal loyalty to your immediate liege, rather than tribal-national bonds, and preference for kings to be Christian, rather than preference for kings to be of the ethnicity they rule over.

          • Aapje says:

            A lot of internationalists like city-states as well. I think it makes most sense to think of them wanting to build strong local blue communities as well as a large-scale, strong central government run by blues.

            Not that I think that they are aware that they are trying to remove the need to compromise with the red tribe as much as possible, but I do think that’s behind it. Red tribers with the same sensibilities opt for isolationism, but blue tribers are less willing to put up with others doing the wrong things ‘over there.’

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Not that I think that they are aware that they are trying to remove the need to compromise with the red tribe as much as possible

            I disagree. They are very much fully aware. I live in the heart of a Blue wanna-be city-state, and the Blues who like to talk about how “things should be run” absolutely despise that they can’t just utterly subjugate the Reds that live to the north and to the east, instead of just mostly dominate them.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I think there’s a thing on the left (probably amplified by Social Justice) that success by the larger society must never be acknowledged. Any mention of it must include either claims that there’s much more work to be done and/or reminders of historical injustice.

        • Argos says:

          When Larry Summers was involved in the debate over his statements regarding the possible reasons for the relative lack of female faculty in the engineering and math departements at Harvard, Steven Pinker defended and agreed with Summers that biological reasons are at least a part of the story but for some reason Pinker was not hit by the shitstorm.

        • Brett says:

          A few years back, there was kind of a critical back and forth between Myers and Pinker over evolutionary psychology. Maybe it left some bad blood.

      • Deiseach says:

        PZ Myers is the exemplar of the Irish saying “What would you expect from a pig but a grunt?”

        He seems to have gotten even more irascible and narcissistic since the hey-day of desecrating an (allegedly) consecrated Host, something I would not have thought possible. His star seems to have waned with the eclipse of New Atheism, though.

      • Baeraad says:

        PZ Myers enforces politically correct rudeness on his blog. To my mind, that makes him the platonic ideal of just how modern liberalism has gone wrong (political incorrectness is supposed to be bad because it’s rude, and rudeness hurts people, and hurting people is bad. When you decide that hurting people is good as long it’s done in a progressive and enlightened way, you have officially traded the essence of progress and enlightenment for an empty shell of the same).

        This does not, by all means, necessarily mean that he’s wrong on the subject of lobsters.

    • Anonymous says:

      TL;DR on the first video? I couldn’t stand 30 seconds of that concentrated smugness.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        Yes, I’d be interested in getting a summary. It seems Peterson’s point is that humans organize ourselves into hierarchies mainly as a result of inborn biological tendencies. This seems pretty clearly correct to me and I would be pretty surprised if there is solid evidence that he’s wrong.

        Like a lot of people, I noticed that in the famous Jordan Peterson interview the interviewer repeatedly and aggressively twisted his words, misrepresented what he said, etc., all in an effort to make him seem unreasonable as possible. So I would guess (without watching) that this person does more of the same.

        • Anonymous says:

          AFAIK, Peterson’s lobster points are:
          – lobsters are very distantly related to us (obviously true, unless you are a on the lunatic fringe of creationism),
          – lobsters have altercations with one another, just as humans do (also obviously true),
          – lobsters have dominance hierarchies, just like humans (I don’t know anything about lobster society, so I can’t tell – and googling lobster societies just brings up food clubs – but it’s pretty obvious that humans rank-order themselves),
          – lobsters have neural structures similar enough to humans that the same antidepressants work on them in the same way (I’ve found a study on this here).

          • Deiseach says:

            I clicked on that link to find out “who gives lobsters anti-depressants?” but am now even more side-tracked by the following:

            Intraspecific encounters among clawed decapod crustaceans are characterized by a distinct shortage of diplomatic skills.

            “Diplomatic skills” is not something I would ever have associated with lobsters. Now I’ve got the image of the tidal pool version of this stuck in my head 🙂

          • the verbiage ecstatic says:

            I saw the video and wondered if this is an example of, “sophisticated argument gets dumbed down when interviewed on TV” or if that’s really his actual argument.

            As summarized by Anonymous (which matches my recollections if the video), this doesn’t need a sophisticated rebuttal, because it doesn’t stand at face value. It’s basically the Monty Python “witches float” argument.

            To take it even remotely seriously, you’d need:

            -An explanation of the common factor between humans and lobsters that got inherited (I believe he says “serotonin” but serotonin is related to like, a million behaviors, so that seems silly)

            -An explanation of why dominance hierarchies are any different from all the other human behaviors where the biological impulse can be overridden, is culturally mediated, etc. Otherwise nothing follows from his argument.

            I’m not terribly skeptical that humans have some fairly innate drive towards status-negotiating behavior, but going beyond that observation to the claim that it’s either inevitable or good based on lobster anatomy seems like quite a stretch.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            but going beyond that observation to the claim that it’s either inevitable or good based on lobster anatomy seems like quite a stretch.

            I don’t think he’s calling it “good.” “Inevitable,” maybe. Essentially his argument is just that it’s so common across the animal kingdom that pretending hierarchies are some kind of arbitrarily imposed social construct in humans is silly.

            If Peterson were wrong about lobsters, it wouldn’t change the underlying point. One could just drop lobsters and talk about primates and you’d still be talking about millions of years of evolved behavior.

          • Tranquilitypool says:

            I think one of the important texts in this debate is On Aggression by Kondrad Lorenz. He discusses aggression and status heirarchy throughout animalia and if I remember correctly he does talk about reciprocal Cortisol/Testosterone levels in Crayfish at some point. It was a controversial book because it seemed to suggest that aggression and maybe war were inevitable in our species. UNESCO even got involved with a Statement back in the 80s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seville_Statement_on_Violence

          • Forge the Sky says:

            I don’t think he’s calling it “good.” “Inevitable,” maybe. Essentially his argument is just that it’s so common across the animal kingdom that pretending hierarchies are some kind of arbitrarily imposed social construct in humans is silly.

            Precisely. He goes into this in more detail in a recent interview with (of all people) Russel Brand. Brand seemed to have quite leftist intuitions and so was very skeptical of Peterson’s seeming support of hierarchy, inequality, and so on and so drilled down on the topic a bit.

            I’ll try to summarize.

            Peterson asserted that hierarchy was basically inevitable where there was inequality, and that inequality was inevitable because different things are different, and that large inequality seemed quite inevitable as well because we can even see Pareto distributions in reproductive success across the animal kingdom, the size of trees, and even the size of cosmic bodies. He sees it as being a sort of natural law, much like entropy; success breeds more success, even in creating larger gravity wells.

            And, when asked, he regards this as actually being a huge problem that we struggle against but have no ultimate solution to, any more than there is a solution to decay. Brand wondered if there might be a ‘spiritual solution.’ Peterson said that he didn’t know, but that no other sort of solution seemed satisfactory.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And, when asked, he regards this as actually being a huge problem that we struggle against but have no ultimate solution to, any more than there is a solution to decay.

            Yes, and I think that’s all true. In the dominance hierarchies, though, there are feedback mechanisms Peterson talks about. Like the mice that play together, and if the dominant one doesn’t let the weak mouse win ~30% of the time the weak mouse stops playing. Or the apex chimp that must be diplomatic in his treatment of the other chimps or else the weaker chimps gang up on him.

            Brand wondered if there might be a ‘spiritual solution.’ Peterson said that he didn’t know, but that no other sort of solution seemed satisfactory.

            There are spiritual solutions, which is what you get with religions and political ideologies that emphasize the strong protecting and caring for the weak. Where I think the equalist left goes wrong is with their pseudo-gnosticism. The belief that we’re naturally equal, and the inequalities in society are imposed from above via malice when in fact the resultant social or economic inequalities we see are an emergent property of our innate inequality.

          • Aapje says:

            There are spiritual solutions, which is what you get with religions and political ideologies that emphasize the strong protecting and caring for the weak. Where I think the equalist left goes wrong is with their pseudo-gnosticism. The belief that we’re naturally equal, and the inequalities in society are imposed from above via malice when in fact the resultant social or economic inequalities we see are an emergent property of our innate inequality.

            Indeed. I also find this ‘everything is nurture’ belief extremely misanthropic*. There seems to be this belief that we are doomed to be racist/sexist/etc if there are any group-level differences that are not merely trivial preferences.

            As if humans cannot choose to be kind and generous to those with poor luck and as if we have not become kinder and more generous over time.

            * And I’m pretty misanthropic myself, so when I notice it in others that is saying something…

      • qwints says:

        Tl;dr It’s more complicated than Peterson makes it. You can’t make meaningful claims about common traits between two species by just looking at two species. It would be unlikely that humans and lobsters share a trait because of their last common ancestor if other arthropods like butterflies or other mammals like bats don’t have that trait.

        Only specific factual error is that the common ancestor was 700 million years ago not 350 million.

        • Anonymous says:

          Right. That seems very short of a “debunking”.

        • Aapje says:

          It would be unlikely that humans and lobsters share a trait because of their last common ancestor if other arthropods like butterflies or other mammals like bats don’t have that trait.

          I don’t see how this follows. Evolution is not a linear process, so traits can disappear again or be suppressed.

          The environment can play a major role, so it’s quite possible that some species live a life where status hierarchies are very important, while other species do not, but that the latter species do have the same wiring, but it’s just not expressed/visible.

          If the criticism is merely: Peterson argues too much based on 1 specific example, then this seems reasonable criticism of poor evidence, but proof that he is wrong.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            If Peterson is arguing that the behavior of lobsters, standing alone, demonstrates something about human nature, then obviously he is wrong.

            However, it seems he made it pretty clear that he was citing lobsters simply as an example.

            So a better way to make his argument is to say that (1) there are numerous species which organize themselves in social hierarchies, even species which are very dissimilar to humans; (2) the brain chemistries that are observed in connection with an organism’s position in the hierarchy are similar among these species, including in humans; therefore (3) it follows that human self-organization into dominance hierarchies is primarily the result of in-born biological processes.

            (1) seems to be correct; I don’t know if (2) is correct, but if it is, it’s reasonable to conclude (3) from (1) and (2).

          • qwints says:

            The essence of the video is something like – Peterson uses bad evidence and reasoning therefore he’s an idiot, and everyone who thinks he’s persuasive is also an idiot just like christians and muslims. It’s what you’d expect given PZ.

            The environment can play a major role

            Sure, but that’s besides the point. You can’t just say humans and lobsters both have serotonin and a common ancestor, therefore the way serotonin operates in lobsters (where it affects dominance behavior (at 737-738)) is a valid model for how it operates in humans. You could just as easily make claims about the way it operates in locusts (where it affects swarming).

        • Well... says:

          @qwints:

          I think that’s a good summary, though it’s not just that Peterson has simplified the issue; he has incorrectly represented it. It’s not just that it’s “unlikely that humans and lobsters share a trait because of their last common ancestor if other arthropods like butterflies or other mammals like bats don’t have that trait,” it’s that it’s a claim drawn from a totally erroneous understanding of evolution.

          Another key point is that serotonin isn’t just associated with status the way Peterson describes it, but rather is known for its association with tons of other much more basic stuff.

          Peterson might be right that humans have an evolved, deep-seated instinct toward forming and existing in hierarchies, but he’s got the underlying evolutionary arguments for it wrong, and it might not be as deep-seated as he’s making it out to be. And that’s important when Peterson is saying our drive for hierarchy is so fundamental that we need to rethink how we treat it in policy or social mores.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      Myers once wrote a glowing review of Testosterone Rex which proves (among other things) that the idea of women being choosier about their sexual partners as an evolutionary strategy is a sexist myth. One of Myers regular readers did some calculations showing promiscuity would actually be more advantageous to men from a reproductive perspective and asked if Myers could clarify where he was getting the math wrong, to which Myers responded, “your math is fine, it’s your humanity that’s broken.”

      That says everything you need to know about the man honestly.

    • Thyle Dysig says:

      I think Weinstein make a good point.

      PZ Meyers, on the other hand, is tilting at straw men. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but he is seriously misrepresenting what Peterson said. For example, he thinks he is refuting Peterson by pointing out that the specifics of hierarchy institutions are social constructs. But Peterson clearly said that the hierarchy instinct is like chess. It creates the rules of the game, but it is up to us to determine what moves we make. So he refutes Peterson by making a point Peterson made also.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      On Joe Rogan’s podcast, Bret Weinstein describes an error Peterson made in his Vice interview . (Close to the 4:30 mark in that clip.) I agree with Weinstein on that one.

      I would agree with him if he were accurately representing what Peterson said, but I don’t think he did. I did not listen to the entire Peterson interview, but it seems his point was that makeup and high heeled shoes are at one end of a continuum of sexual behavior and that there are not clear rules regarding sexual behavior in the workplace.

      Of course it’s true that in particular cases, wearing high heels and makeup are not intended as sexual behavior, for example if a widow dresses up for her deceased husband’s funeral, chances are she is not doing it in order to meet a new husband at the event. But I think Peterson would respond that’s true about a lot of sexual/non-sexual behavior and that the point is that it’s difficult to draw a clear line between sexual and non-sexual behavior.

      • Well... says:

        I think you’re right that’s how Peterson would respond. But Bret’s right that Peterson didn’t make this argument very well in the interview.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          Well, according to the video you linked to, Peterson accused women of hypocrisy for wearing high heels and makeup to work while at the same time demanding not to be sexually harassed.

          Where in Peterson’s video does he actually make such an accusation? I didn’t listen to the whole thing, but in the part I found, he doesn’t seem to be saying that.

          • Well... says:

            His interviewer, Jay Kang, straight up asked him if he thinks women are being hypocrites when they wear makeup/high heels and expect not to be harassed. Peterson said yes.

            Now, I think this was just Peterson making a misstep: you can tell he was on edge and that his “journalist is trying to frame me as a monster” sensor had gone off (false positive in my opinion, though I don’t have as much context as he did); but he should have been much more clear that when he said that, he meant it as his idea of where to set one aspect of the baseline in what a mature conversation about sexual standards in the workplace would look like, were it to be had.

            Throughout that whole Vice interview, I took his point to be “there are a lot of unknown unknowns in this topic. Here are some of the known unknowns as I see them” but he came off as saying “we don’t know what the rules are but here are what I think they should be.”

          • fortaleza84 says:

            His interviewer, Jay Kang, straight up asked him if he thinks women are being hypocrites when they wear makeup/high heels and expect not to be harassed. Peterson said yes.

            Where in the video is that? TIA

          • Well... says:

            I’m not sure but it might depend on which version of the video you are looking at. The 9-minute one initially released by Vice is tightly edited, but there are other versions out there that are longer. I can’t seem to find the approximately 30-minute one I watched, and I can’t remember exactly where in the video it was, you’ll have to watch it. It’s definitely a ways in, once things get a bit tense.

          • Aapje says:

            The video was cut in a way to make Peterson look bad, by removing the nuance, making it seem like Peterson argued something other than what he did. Here is a video showing the cut and the uncut portions.

            My interpretation of his actual argument based on what he said (although he doesn’t argue it too well) is that:
            – he is unsure whether men and women can work together without excessive harassment
            – he is unsure whether there are rules that enable men and women to work together without excessive harassment
            – he believes that right now there are no clear rules
            – he believes that make up & high heels are sexual signals
            – he wants people to be open to the possibility that the rules may have to be more strict, including banning make up and such, to desexualize the workplace sufficiently to enable men and women to work together without excessive harassment
            – he believes that it is hypocritical for a woman to complain about getting sexual attention, when she is herself sending sexual signals

            Ultimately, isn’t this just a basic complaint about (lacking) workplace norms, where depending on which norms you argue for/against, it can be a conservative, feminist or MRA argument?

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Ultimately, isn’t this just a basic complaint about (lacking) workplace norms

            Not necessarily. Consider statements like “black lives matter” or “all lives matter” or even “it’s okay to be white.” Ultimately all of them are statements that — in isolation — are obviously true and uncontroversial to any reasonable person. And yet the statements are all very controversial; I suppose it’s a matter of tribal identification.

          • Aapje says:

            @fortaleza84

            I would argue that those statements are actually treated as labels that identify worldviews/beliefs, not taken literally.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I would argue that those statements are actually treated as labels that identify worldviews/beliefs, not taken literally.

            Fundamentally, isn’t that why Peterson is so controversial? In the wake of the Weinstein fiasco, if a man publicly states that the rules of sexual harassment are very vague and that’s a problem, it’s basically like saying “men’s rights matter.”

      • Deiseach says:

        Of course it’s true that in particular cases, wearing high heels and makeup are not intended as sexual behavior, for example if a widow dresses up for her deceased husband’s funeral, chances are she is not doing it in order to meet a new husband at the event.

        Unless it’s the case as in the lyrics of this song 🙂

    • LadyJane says:

      Between Peterson and Myers, I can’t decide who I’m more tired of. Peterson is almost entirely wrong about everything whereas Myers is actually right sometimes, but that just makes it all the more frustrating that he chooses to express his views in such a grating way.

      Not only are they both assholes, they’re both functionally the same kind of asshole: the intellectual shock-jock who combines the worst traits of the pretentious ivory tower elitist and the aggressive populist provocateur, the academic who thinks that the best way to explain their theories to the general public is to express them in the most outrageous, offensive, controversial way possible.

      And the really worrying part is, they might be right. The fact that so many people have heard of these two is proof that there might be some merit to their approach, loathsome as it may be.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’d be glad not to have heard of Peterson and I’m doing my best to avoid reading anything about him. I’d be even more glad to have left Myers in cow-college obscurity, but he sorta forced himself on my notice.

      • Ratte says:

        From what I’ve seen (which is far from comprehensive, admittedly), Peterson seems a very far cry from PZ Meyers’ brand of deliberate abrasiveness; certainly nothing quoted here approaches Meyers’ typical tone, or for that matter literally desecrating the holy objects of multiple major religions just to be an edgelord. I do know that among Peterson’s fans a particular infamous interview of him responding calmly to a hostile interviewer is at meme status.

        Not only are they both assholes, they’re both functionally the same kind of asshole

        …which makes this is kind of weird to read.

    • Alkatyn says:

      I’m pretty sure I had never heard of either of them until this week and now they seem to be everywhere. Assuming its not recall bias, why has it happened?

      • Well... says:

        Peterson’s Cathy Newman interview was, I think, at the end of January. That was an explosion, and the shockwaves are reaching you now.

        I can’t speak about why you’ve only heard of Myers this week, because I’d never heard of Myers until a few days ago as well, and the video I linked to is the only thing I’ve seen from him. (Not counting DDGing him to verify that he is actually a biology professor who therefore probably knows what he’s talking about.)

        Up until after I created the OP I pretty much ignored everything about Myers except his specific criticisms of Peterson’s arguments. Now, looking back at the other stuff he said in that video, I agree he is deliberately abrasive, even anti-intellectual to some extent.

        • Nick says:

          You’re correct about Peterson. It’s weird to me that Myers only came on your radar now, though. I mean, not to say you should have heard of him earlier, but I don’t know of anything recent that’s bringing Myers a lot of attention—unless the anti-lobster video has been viewed a lot more times than last I checked….

          From my end, I actually remember Myers from the time of the Eucharist scandal, and I’ve read some stuff from his blog. He’s also come up a few times on SSC, if you google “slatestarcodex pz myers”, with the obvious example being Myers’ Race Car Versus the General Fitness Factor. So maybe you just haven’t been paying attention. 😛

          • Well... says:

            So maybe you just haven’t been paying attention. 😛

            Oh, that is a definite possibility!

            Here’s how I came across Myers, IIRC, which I might not:

            I sometimes putter around by reading a few random Twitter feeds. Sometimes I check out Peterson’s. He had a post with comments on it and one guy was very anti-Peterson but didn’t seem to be a dumb person or making bad-faith arguments, though he was abrasive. I clicked on that guy’s feed and saw the Myers video.

  4. BBA says:

    I just got off a boat. Ask me anything.

    • gbdub says:

      Did he play “Curl”?
      When is he going to start touring again?

    • Aapje says:

      @BBA

      Did you play Dungeons & Dragons or another tabletop game with Wil Wheaton?

      How did you like John Hodgman?

      What was Anita S up to?

    • outis says:

      If I like “Shop Vac” and “Code Monkey” (but not as much as Shop Vac), what is the third Jonathan Coulton song I should listen to?

    • Protagoras says:

      Huh. Costs less than I would have feared. How much interaction with the famous people did you actually get, and to what extent were there extra charges or higher chances for somebody who booked one of the more expensive cruise options to get access to them? How was the time not spent interacting with famous people?

      I’ve attended one Comic-Con, which I didn’t like much; it seemed like primarily an opportunity to admire celebrities from only slightly less distance than usual (unless, perhaps, one got a VIP pass. I didn’t spring for that, so I don’t know how much it would have improved things). I’ve also gone to a bunch of science fiction conventions, from tiny local cons to a couple of Worldcons, which were quite variable but in general had a lot more interaction with notable people I was interested in meeting, as well as a lot more interesting things to do other than gawk at the famous people. I guess I’m sort of imagining the cruise as a longer convention, and wondering if it’s more like a Comic-Con or more like an SF convention or not really like either.

      • BBA says:

        Definitely more like an SF convention – though with less comprehensive programming, so there was time to do regular cruise vacation stuff. The aim was for a “summer camp” experience, with everyone having meals together and running into each other throughout the day. The lack of reliable internet connectivity was certainly more of a plus than a minus, to me anyway.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Did you spec out any of the Pandemic Legacy: Legacy sessions? My wife and I have been consumed by Seasons 1 and 2, and I’m curious whether they were playing one of those or something different that explained the doubling of the word Legacy.

      • BBA says:

        It was season 2. I think the doubled “Legacy” referred to the format, which was that each game would have a different set of players picking up from their predecessors.

        • Randy M says:

          That sounds like less legacy than more… but who am I to stand in the way of clever marketing.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Yeah, first time I heard about “legacy” games I had the same confusion. “Pandemic: Legacy” sounds like “original Pandemic”, but it really means “Pandemic with ongoing consequences”.

  5. saturn says:

    If you’ve tried LessWrong 2.0 but didn’t like the interface, I’ve created an alternative: https://www.greaterwrong.com/

    More details and discussion here.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      My current problem with LW2.0’s interface isn’t the appearance, it’s the comment box.

      The pseudo-WYSIWYG interface, where Markdown is automatically transformed into rich text as you type, is a “worst of both worlds” scenario. It has all the problems of WYSIWYG editors — getting precise formatting right is a pain in the ass, dealing with links is a pain in the ass, the current formatting mode keeps changing unexpectedly as you move the cursor around — and then makes things even worse on top of that by not showing the formatting buttons at all times. That’s just awful! If you want a rich text editor, you need to have the formatting buttons constantly visible. In particular, the part about the current formatting mode changing as you move around is made much worse by this — ordinarily this would be fixed with a single click; as it is, you have to *first* type the thing you want in the wrong formatting, *then* highlight it and change the formatting. Ughhhh.

      But, really, much better than a rich text editor would be straightforward Markdown (with whatever appropriate additions), *not* transformed into rich text as you type. Ideally but not necessarily with concurrent preview. And then optionally with a separate rich text editor for those who really want to use that.

      (Meanwhile, Markdown no longer works in profiles like it used to, so my profile page remains broken at the moment.)

      Seriously, the comment editor is bad and needs to be entirely replaced.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        GreaterWrong.com has a straightforward Markdown editor, exactly like you want. (There are also buttons that insert Markdown markup, for people who don’t like typing it manually or can’t remember it, etc. The buttons are, indeed, shown at all times, and do not move around.)

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Huh, I couldn’t find the comment button at all?

          Edit: Oh, I see, it was because I wasn’t logged in. Silly me. I just mistakenly inferred that GreaterWrong was purely a read-only interface…

      • Jiro says:

        My biggest complaint about LW 2.0 is that the interface is very prone to completely failing depending on browser issues. It gives me serious problems both at work and at home, possibly for different reasons although some of the problems seem similar.

        Actually that greaterwrong looks a lot better, but it really needs a way to shrink the font size. Too large a font has the same problem as big blank spaces–you can’t keep enough material on the screen.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Re: font size and “enough material on the screen”:

          Try some of the alternate themes (the six buttons, labeled A through F, at the upper-left-hand side). The “grey” theme (theme C) might be what you’re looking for.

          Depending on the size of your screen, and how you feel about narrow vs. wide content columns, you might also try one of the two alternate settings for the content width (the width selector is the three buttons on the upper-right-hand side).

          Edit: Uh, actually, here’s a question, sorry if it’s a silly one: is there any reason you can’t just use your browser’s zoom feature to shrink the text…?

          • Jiro says:

            The grey theme only produces a very small change in font size and seems to be doing that only by coincidence.

            is there any reason you can’t just use your browser’s zoom feature to shrink the text…?

            If you use it to shrink the text, it increases the size of the blank spaces so as to prevent your browser setting from showing more text. The interface is being actively user-hostile.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Wow! What browser is this?!

            Edit: By the way, yes, you’re right about the grey theme—I was misremembering. Well, it looks like adding a text size adjuster is now on the to-do list!

            Edit 2: I just tried using the zoom feature in Chrome. Indeed it does not zoom only the text (although zooming does cause more text to fit). However—if you are using Chrome, or a browser with similar behavior—try zooming, and also using a different width setting (such as the “wide” one).

          • Jiro says:

            I have no idea if I have a “wide” setting or where to find one. At any rate I would like to avoid having to change a setting every time I visit a particular web site.

            At least greaterwrong doesn’t cause me browser malfunctions. I’ll have to try it at home on Linux Pale Moon to see if it works.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            As I noted in my earlier comment, the width selector is a GreaterWrong.com feature; look at the upper-right-hand corner of the page. (It looks like this: https://www.dropbox.com/s/w2fo5tam45n04on/Screenshot%202018-02-26%2018.05.28.png?dl=0)

            And you certainly don’t have to change it every time you visit! Whatever setting you pick will be saved by your browser, and retained for all future visits.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Re: the Pale Moon browser:

            Unfortunately, this feature (and basically all other Javascript-based features of GreaterWrong) won’t work in Pale Moon (which seems to be based on a very old fork of the Firefox codebase).

            The good news is that the site’s basic functionality—browsing, reading posts and comments, searching, etc.—doesn’t require Javascript at all. The bad news is that you probably won’t be able to post comments or upvote/downvote, and won’t have width and theme selectors, the theme tweaker, etc.

            If at all possible, I would suggest selecting a different browser—one with better compatibility with at least reasonably recent web standards. If that’s not an option, then I can only apologize for the inconvenience, and hope that you can at least get some value out of using the site as a reader.

    • Markus Ramikin says:

      not “morewrong”?

  6. maintain says:

    Some people have reported that MDMA makes them better at speaking a foreign language. Have any neuroscientists or linguists investigated this?

    • Lambert says:

      I’d imagine it’s the same as moderate alcohol consumption having an effect.
      Speaking a foreign language is the kind of thing where increased confidence and reduced inhibitions improve performance.

      • nameless1 says:

        I cannot confirm the alcohol effect. I get too enthusiastic at talking and screw up my grammar. I find it better to be sober, speak slower and get my grammar at least mostly right. It shows respect to them, and it makes me come across as someone putting effort into learning, not like some random fool who is happily babbling is his own private version of pidgin.

        • AeXeaz says:

          Eh, in my experience it depends on the kind of situation you’re in, who you’re talking to and why.

          While I probably make more grammatical mistakes after some alcohol, it’s easier to keep up with the pace of “normal” conversation, which in turn makes it easier to make friends. In regards to showing “respect”, there’s a trade-off here between respecting people’s time and attention and respecting the…I don’t know, integrity of their language or whatever you want to call it?

          Drinking before a business meeting or other formal occasion in a foreign language, however… might not be the best idea.

      • Lysander says:

        An anecdote: A few years ago I was in Moscow for the New Year visiting my Russian ex-girlfriend’s family, and on New Year’s Eve I was sitting and chatting with her brother-in-law, who speaks almost no English, and my Russian is pretty bad (but was better than his English). My ex-girlfriend said that at first she would get questions pretty frequently about how to say something in Russian, but as time went on and we got more and more drunk the questions became much less frequent, until eventually we weren’t bothering her at all. If you’re both drunk I guess it doesn’t matter much how good your language skills are.

      • maintain says:

        So like, my understanding is:

        MDMA causes your brain to have a higher amount of serotonin.

        Children naturally have a higher amount of serotonin.

        I got curious if maybe the reason children are able to become native language speakers has something to do with serotonin. So I googled if MDMA improves language abilities, and there are indeed a bunch of people on different forums claiming “MDMA made me a native speaker while I was on it!!!”

        If it’s true it could have big implications. Maybe people could take MDMA to become native speakers of a language even into adulthood. Do the results stick around? If you take MDMA enough while practicing a foreign language, do you stay a native speaker?

        Then again maybe it’s not true at all.

        I don’t think you can drink alcohol to become a native speaker of a language, or else science would know this already, since there are plenty of alcoholics out there.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          From what I’ve heard, the ‘children are better at learning languages’ thing is an illusion, created by the fact that they are basically getting lessons in their native language pretty much every waking hour from birth. Apart from the very specific task of developing a perfect native pronunciation, I understand that per unit time being exposed to the language, adults actually learn faster; it’s just that no adult with a normal life has anything like the amount of hours in a day to pick up a foreign language that a young child has to pick up their native language.

          • rlms says:

            I think there must be some real effect, since Chinese children learn Mandarin more quickly than foreigners in China do. My anecdotal impression is also that children often do learn second languages (for instance English) faster than adults, but I don’t have any statistics on that.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve heard a theory that adults underestimate how hard it is for children to learn languages.

            It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of adults give up because they expect themselves to learn faster than they can.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Children are good at learning to hear and speak sounds. For everything else that has been measured, adults learn faster. see here (ungated, but huge)

    • cassander says:

      As a former ESL teacher and spanish speaker, I will argue with complete sincerity that two drinks will improve your ability to speak a foreign language you know at least moderately well, so it certainly seems possible.

  7. stoodfarback says:

    A small followup to the char-rnn thing.

    What if we have two rnns, and let them complete each other’s sentences? Here is rnn!scott x rnn!bible:
    http://www.stoodfarback.com/stuff/rnn_scott_x_rnn_bible.html
    (underlines mark which rnn was doing the completing)

    • Murphy says:

      I take it feeding one the output of the other as seed text?

      Nice.

      I experimented with something similar to try to get interesting sentences out of a version of the HMM bot used for King James Programming but that was more brute force: creating a corpus of terms unique to each text and rejecting sentences that didn’t include at least one word unique to each corpus.

  8. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I recently heard a Marxist say that communist countries worked out badly, but they didn’t follow Marxist ideas.

    Are there Marxist theories about why Communist countries turned out badly? About how Marxism could be applied better?

    • 75th says:

      I’ve been following the online lefty/Chapo crowd for a while, and as you might expect of a bunch of socialists, they have a lot of true and correct criticisms of the status quo and insightful explanations of our problems, and they talk seldom-to-never about the specific details of fixing them — or at least, not about fixing them beyond what the European social democracies do.

      The one concrete idea I hear mentioned every so often is the idea of making all businesses worker cooperatives; that is, mandatorily giving employees voting rights when it comes to the company’s business policy and strategy, not just negotiating working conditions and pay and benefits like strong unions do. I guess this would be “libertarian socialism”, compared to the statist socialism of past attempts.

      I’m pretty stupid and not well-read about anything this stuff, but to cherry-pick one example, I’ve been following the Barnes and Noble death spiral that massively accelerated two weeks ago, I hear about the policies and strategy coming down to the stores from on high, and I fervently believe that the book-lovers working the floor in those stores would do a waaaay better job than their witless executive leadership has done. I imagine that some industries are far more suited to this than others, though.

      • That’s basically how Yugoslavian communism did work. Pretty clearly better than a centrally planned system, but there are some serious problems.

        The workers coop has capital assets–factory, brand reputation, whatever. Existing workers are receiving a share of the income from those assets. Hiring additional workers means diluting the ownership rights of the existing workers–they now have to share in the income stream. So the existing workers have an incentive not to hire more even when doing so would product net benefits.

        The workers’ coop could use additional capital. They can borrow it. But they can’t get it by selling shares, because the existing workers can defraud the non-worker shareholders by using their control to pay out all profits to themselves.

        So not an intolerably bad system, but not a consistently good one. The appropriate solution is the one you get in a capitalist society. Firms can choose to be organized as workers coops, and some are, but are not required to be so organized.

        • baconbits9 says:

          One major issue is the inability of members to sell their shares on an open market, heavy restrictions on sales prevent the best way for a company to change its focus or direction. Co-ops aren’t nimble enough to keep pace with small businesses and don’t have the access to capital that larger, entrenched ones do and end up the worst of both worlds.

        • drunkfish says:

          I don’t follow the dilution argument. In a normal single-owner company, the owner is also disincentivized to hire more people because their salaries come directly out of the owner’s pocket. Shouldn’t these cancel out? If a new employee costs X and profits Y, a normal owner nets Y-X. In an N member coop, each member nets (Y-X)/N, so the sign shouldn’t change.

          The only difference I can see is that the new coop member applies some of their cost to the coop in the form of their ownership in the company, but this will just factor into X. If we assume employees are hired at some equilibrium rate for labor, they should demand the same X whether they’re paid in ownership or dollars, shouldn’t they? I may be missing something here…

          I have the same confusion with your defrauding non-worker shareholders point. Why doesn’t that risk apply identically to normal capitalist-owned companies?

          • I don’t follow the dilution argument. In a normal single-owner company, the owner is also disincentivized to hire more people because their salaries come directly out of the owner’s pocket.

            Their salaries only represent the return from their labor. In a co-op, the members own the company, which means they get the return from its capital as well–they are simultaneously employees and stockholders, each with one Nth of the stock, where N is the number of employees.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Think of a two-person law firm organized as a partnership. Alice and Bob are the two attorneys, and each owns half the firm. They’ve put quite a bit of work into building the firm’s reputation and client base and they’ve retained a fair amount of the firm’s earnings to buy office space and equipment.

            They’re doing quite well, and they have enough work in the pipeline to justify hiring a third attorney (call her Carol). If they make Carol a partner, then that will dilute Alice’s and Bob’s shares to 1/3 of the firm. Now, Carol is just as good an attorney as Alice and Bob, and she’ll contribute just as much to the firm on an ongoing basis, but Alice and Bob might be reluctant to give her a third of their ownership of the firm’s reputation, offices, and equipment (effectively as a signing bonus).

          • Aapje says:

            @Eric Rall

            Why would Carol have to be given partial ownership for free??? I think that you are confusing a capitalist co-op with a communist co-op.

            Alice & Bob can simply demand that Carol pay them a third of what the company is worth (perhaps requiring her to take out a loan).

            For example, the Dutch multinational dairy cooperative FrieslandCampina requires new members (dairy farmers) to pay 15 euro for every 100 kilos* of milk that they are expected to supply yearly. This cooperative has an annual revenue of 11 billion euros and is in the top 5 of the largest dairy producing companies. So it seems to work perfectly well in the dairy market.

            * Remarkably, the dairy business actually measures by weight, rather than volume

          • John Schilling says:

            Alice & Bob can simply demand that Carol pay them a third of what the company is worth (perhaps requiring her to take out a loan).

            General Motors has a market capitalization of ~$58 billion, and about 209,000 employees. That comes to a $277,500 buy-in per new employee-owner.

            When you tell the UAW that the brave new world of employee-owned cooperatives means that they will have to take out a quarter-million dollar loan in order to get a job, for which they will have no meaningful collateral(*) but for which they will still be liable if the company goes bankrupt, they may not be so enthusiastic. Likewise the bit where their income will be directly tied to the business cycle and they may have to go a year or two without pay in exchange for those big bonuses in the good years.

            Capitalism intrinsically involves bigger economic risks than most people really want to take with the bulk of their earnings, and it’s harder than you imagine to do employee ownership while insulating the workers from the bulk of those risks.

            * I’m presuming employee shares will be restricted and can’t be sold on the open market.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            each with one Nth of the stock, where N is the number of employees

            Is it a possible solution to handle ownership of a coop kind of like startups handle employee stock options: A worker owns a share of the company that depends on how early they joined and how long they have been there?

            I guess the former is unworkable if you imagine turning, say, GM coop, but it seems like the latter would mitigate the disincentive to hire new people if they would be useful.

            I guess it would be a disincentive to somebody deciding between taking a job at this sort of coop or an equal-shares coop — unless history showed that coops of the first kind tended to succeed more?

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            Some non co-op companies already reduce the assets they need to have by selling some of their assets and then renting them back. And some never acquire certain assets in the first place, for example, by renting office space. So such a solution might work equally well for co-ops.

            Anyway, I’m not arguing that co-ops are necessarily great for every situation. I attempted to counter an IMO rather weak argument why co-ops can’t work for situations like law firms.

          • John Schilling says:

            Leasing major assets works well for a generic widget factory. Likewise taking out loans to buy major assets, with the payment of the loan balanced against the depreciation of the asset so the net book value stays near zero.

            But in a law firm, the major assets are the client list and the reputation; they have a real value that will remain with the partners of the firm even if they (pretend to) sell them and lease them back, to make them collateral against a loan, even if they actually go bankrupt and have to sell every liquid asset at auction and start over from scratch under a new name. A new partner joining a law firm cannot help but to obtain a share of real value that other people have created.

            To the extent that the necessary capital to run a firm is illiquid, this is an obstacle to employee ownership. Not an insurmountable one, law firms do add new partners, but it’s a much bigger deal than just issuing/selling shares to every new hire.

        • albatross11 says:

          An obvious problem here is that the organization paying your salary is also the one in which a lot of your net worth is invested. The day your coop goes out of business will be a really bad one for you.

          Something like this happens with startups–you’re essentially being paid a salary plus a chance to make a lot of money if the company ever makes it big. When (as usually happens) the company folds up, you’ve both lost your source of salary and had all your lottery tickets turn out to be losers on the same day.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Speaking of lotteries, the difference between the syndicalist revolution making you a worker-owner of 1/30 of a McDonalds franchise and the syndicalist revolution making you worker-owner of 1/1000 of a refinery is kind of like that.

          • Michael Handy says:

            Which is usually why this risk is defrayed in Syndicalist proposals by the workplaces also being part of unions of workplaces. So if one place goes out of business, the workers will be retrained/offered a position at another workplace with need for labour.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            It’s not a matter of risk so much as it is one of inequality. 1/1000 of a refinery is worth vastly more than 1/30 of a McDonalds.

        • drunkfish says:

          Replying to you again because comment depth limit prevents me from replying to your reply (I’m new to commenting here, is there a better approach?)

          > Their salaries only represent the return from their labor.

          Shouldn’t it be their total compensation represents the return from their labor? And if they’re getting part of the company, their salary should be correspondingly lower. It definitely seems like their cost to the company (whether in ownership or dollars) should represent the return from their labor.

          Either way, I put it at the end but I think the stronger complaint is about defrauding non-owner shareholders. Why would that be any different for a worker owned company?

        • Brett says:

          They can get around that by setting by-laws that deliberately tie their hands on when and where the profits can be distributed to member-workers instead of being reinvested back into the firm. Mondragon does that IIRC, limiting when and where members can pull funds out of their share capital in the “financial” side of the cooperative federation.

          The “politics” is a trickier issue. It’s probably not a coincidence that cooperatives tended to either be small (like many partnerships) or something that existed among semi-autonomous producers doing similar work (farmers’ cooperatives).

          • that deliberately tie their hands on when and where the profits can be distributed to member-workers instead of being reinvested back into the firm.

            Why can’t the workers solve that problem by voting to raise their wages, thus converting some of what would have been profits into wages?

      • luispedro says:

        I actually think that most people do not want to work in a worker’s coop as it would mean turning the politics up to 11, but I could be wrong.

        Still, it’s noteworthy that there aren’t that these organizations are perfectly legal in most countries, but still rare. In the early 20th century, this would have been a weak argument: the capital requirements to start a company are too large for a few workers, so they’re stuck working for the capitalists. But nowadays, in many industries, companies don’t have much in terms of physical assets, so you’d think it wouldn’t be that hard for a group of people to come up with the capital.

        • Murphy says:

          Some businesses that I’d have never thought were coops turn out to *technically* be such.

          I think it’s because what tends to happen is that at some point during expansion the existing workers tend to decide to cut future workers out of the deal and then you’re back to the same old deal even if it’s still a coop on paper.

          Unless the state somehow blocks them from changing.

          I suspect coops tend to be an unstable equilibrium.

        • I actually think that most people do not want to work in a worker’s coop as it would mean turning the politics up to 11, but I could be wrong.

          That’s consistent with my experience. We eventually pulled out of a small private school run along unschooling lines because of the effects of the internal politics. And my impression is that academic departments can have problems with internal politics as well.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            My mentor once told me that academic politics were the worst kind because there is so little at stake.

      • I’ve been following the online lefty/Chapo crowd for a while, and as you might expect of a bunch of socialists, they have a lot of true and correct criticisms of the status quo and insightful explanations of our problems, and they talk seldom-to-never about the specific details of fixing them — or at least, not about fixing them beyond what the European social democracies do.

        Western socialists seem like sheep in wolves’ clothing to me…they want what social democrats want, but also want an edgier label.

        • qwints says:

          Ouch. Fair though.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This is a good way of putting it. It’s weird to see people who at most want to go back to state-owned power or railways talking like they’re seize-the-means-of-production insurrectionists.

      • dark orchid says:

        In the UK, Waterstones is a major chain of book shops which was all but dead in 2014 but has turned around and got profitable again since – one of the decisions its boss credits with saving the business was precisely giving local managers back the decision what would work well in their area:Guardian news article.

      • Matt M says:

        What do you do about the fact that most blue-collar employees don’t want to be paid in shares of stock, and would rather have the cash?

        Free market economists regularly point out that owning a company isn’t all peaches and cream. Unlike employees, you only get paid if and when the production cycle is successful. Most employees want a steady and consistent paycheck right away, not “wait two years and you might get a lot of money, or you might get nothing, oh well”

        To the extent that ownership is valuable, making it a required part of employee compensation decreases the other amount of compensation they will receive – and you seem to be suggesting that they need to be forced to take compensation in shares rather than pay, you know, for their own good. Not so sure about that…

        • Aapje says:

          @Matt M

          I think it also depends a lot on the level of risk AND the ability to predict & influence the risks.

          I am wary to join a startup in return for shares because I don’t feel particularly capable of judging the risks, nor whether the risk vs reward ratio is reasonable. What if I’m left holding the bag if the company fails, but don’t actually get a commensurate payout when the risks pay off and the company succeeds?

          Venture capitalists are (or should be) capable of this and why not let them judge/take the risks? This lowers the average payout compared to a extremely well-functioning & transparent labor market, but we don’t necessarily have an extremely well-functioning & transparent labor market.

        • Brett says:

          Good point. I suspect if we ever did somehow end up at a point where worker-owned cooperatives were the only form of legal business organization, there’d be a bunch of them that basically consisted of “temporary” labor suppliers.

    • James Green says:

      I believe the answer to your question is that there are no Marxist policies that could be applied, either good or bad. Marxism is simply opposition to capitalism and has never officially offered a replacement to my knowledge. Authoritarian communism arose out of societies that were already authoritarian.

      • engleberg says:

        St Benedict said work is prayer. Marx said commodities can be fetishized. Obviously they were both right.

      • qwints says:

        The communist manifesto(https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf) offers specific policy proposals – e.g. page 26. Marx specifically rejected describing what the stateless society (communism) would look like after class distinctions had disappeared under socialism, but socialism is well described in Marx.

        • engleberg says:

          Hitler applied every proposal in the Communist Manifesto and made May Day a national holiday; a more effective anticommunist act than invading Russia.

          • qwints says:

            Nazi germany had private ownership of land (I think, suprisingly difficult to find a source on this) and private banks. [406], which are both proposals in the Communist Manifesto.

          • Anonymous says:

            AFAIK, the Nazis got around the issue of private property by legally obligating/ordering private property holders to do what they wanted. Confiscation not required, just obedience. If anyone has any sources on, I’d definitely like to see them, because I forget where I got this impression.

          • qwints says:

            The link I posted is a pretty good overview of viewpoints of the existing (as of 2006) debates on how to characterize the economy.

      • Brett says:

        Marx thought he was just observing the inevitable processes of history, and was deliberately somewhat vague on what might come after (which was probably smart in its way – could the dynastic monarchies of the Middle Ages predicted that their successors would eventually be democratic republics?).

    • a reader says:

      I recently heard a Marxist say that communist countries worked out badly, but they didn’t follow Marxist ideas.

      That makes me remember an article I have read last week:

      “But that wasn’t REAL socialism!”

      Quote from the third part (about Venezuela):

      Eight years ago, Chomsky said:

      “[W]hat’s so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created […] The transformations that Venezuela is making toward the creation of another socio-economic model could have a global impact”.

      Chomsky now says:

      “I never described Chavez’s state capitalist government as ‘socialist’ or even hinted at such an absurdity. It was quite remote from socialism. Private capitalism remained […] Capitalists were free to undermine the economy in all sorts of ways, like massive export of capital.”

      […]

      That’s the deeper meaning behind the old adage that REAL socialism has never been tried. Of course it hasn’t. And it never will. Because every socialist experiment eventually collapses, and every socialist experiments becomes retroactively un-real as soon as it does.

      • apollocarmb says:

        There is nothing contradictory about those statements from Chomsky.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        That’s the deeper meaning behind the old adage that REAL socialism has never been tried. Of course it hasn’t. And it never will. Because every socialist experiment eventually collapses, and every socialist experiments becomes retroactively un-real as soon as it does.

        avoiding that the two quotes don’t quite match up, the big problem with this argument is that it doesn’t prove much from a steelman perspective; from that perspective, a lot of socialists are just dumb or so desperate for victory that they lie to themselves. Which might give you leave to dismiss them individually, but not the underlying philosophy.

      • Brett says:

        I don’t see the contradiction there. Years ago the regime look promising in terms of what appeared to be happening, but now it’s soured and the transformation never really happened. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened.

        • SkyBlu says:

          While there is history of socialist countries failing to either work as states, I think the point is that since none of these countries fully adhered to the principles of socialism, this doesn’t demonstrate that socialism itself is inherently flawed, just that apparently everyone who wants to implement it is really bad at doing so. If we snapped our fingers and a perfectly socialist state appeared in the middle of the Pacific tomorrow, no one would have a good prediction of whether it would be stable or not, since we’ve never seen anything quite like it before.

          • baconbits9 says:

            State’s don’t come into existence by the snapping of fingers, and that is the only reason we wouldn’t have an idea of what it would look like.

            Highly socialist/Communist countries have been tried and were awful, highly capitalist countries have been tried and are pretty good for human societies and arguably the best to date. People who say ‘real/pure socialism hasn’t been tried’ are trying to end run around the obvious that getting even remotely close was awful.

        • pontifex says:

          Would you accept the same argument from someone advocating, say, fascism? If not, why not?

          “We praised it a lot, but then it created a mountain of skulls. Oops! Not our fault. On to the next experiment.”

          • pontifex says:

            OK, maybe my earlier post was a little too much heat, and not enough light.

            But to phrase it in a better way: if you are going to criticize Venezuela for being “not real socialism” you should be specific about what was missing. The earlier posts in this thread did not do this.

            I guess Chomsky has attempted to do this with his argument that capitalists undermined Venezuela by exporting capital. But this argument seems manifestly absurd: the Venezuelan government controls a ton of capital in the form of the state oil company. And furthermore, there are lots of industries that can’t move, like food production.

            Also, hopefully we can all agree that it was intellectually dishonest for Jeremy Corbyn to remove things like this from his
            website.

      • Lillian says:

        Chomsky has the causality arrow backwards. Venezuela isn’t bad because capitalists exported capital, the capitalists started exporting the capital because Venezuela got bad. Before the Chavez administration Venezuelan émigrés were pretty rare, and in fact many people from Colombia and Ecuador would immigrate into Venezuela (often illegally) to look for work. Hell the Chomsky quote were he praises Venezuela was eight years ago, by that point the murder rate had already quintupled in Caracas, and he has the gall to call this a better world being created.

    • Levantine says:

      Are there Marxist theories about why Communist countries turned out badly? About how Marxism could be applied better?

      Nancy, see The Political Economy of Socialism, Horvat (1982). I’ve read its first few pages and browsed through it. That, along with this collection of excerpts from Horvat (1989), which I selected and translated, gave me a pretty good idea of what can be said from a perspective of a Marxist technocrat and an economist.

      Since I’m neither an economist, nor a Marxist, nor a technocrat, and at the same time come from a former communist-led country, it’s insufficient for me to make sense of how history unfolded in Eastern Europe.

      I might add my tentative non-Marxist list of instructions to any Communist out there:

      1. never allow what is opportune in a fight to destroy personal liberties
      2. genuine mass revolution is anthropologically unrealistic. education and personal development should be pretty much aim no. 1
      3. in the fight against fascists & Nazis we lost the wide perspective; for example, the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of our opponents (with an effect of something like inverse Stockholm syndrome).
      related to it,
      4. Leftist revolutionaries had frequent problems understanding nationalism. It looks to me they often underestimated its power, while at the same time overestimating the strength of its ideological underpinning, and stability. Nationalists “really mean it,” but much of what they do is driven by e.g. spite, by intuition, things highly dissimilar to ideology.

      Lastly, I’m irritated by this phrase: “Communist countries” .
      Those countries did NOT call themselves “Communist.”
      It’s just that Communist parties’ managed what they called socialism.
      NO one in my childhood ever called the system, the society or the country we live in, “Communist” …
      If anyone would have ever told us we live in “a paradise” (as in “worker’s paradise”), he would have been seen as a 24-karat nutter.
      A parallel to Westerners calling us “Communist” might be us in the East calling the USA Dreamlandia, and prod you to explain how come you fail to realise your best dreams. You do realise them, you say? Explain why they are so miserable, unimaginative, etc.

      • Michael Handy says:

        So, one thing is that almost all radical leftists in the West follow Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg, or some brand of Anarchism. Ocalan and Bookchin are the heroes of the day, for the obvious reason that the Syrian Kurds are making quite a go of it.

        Tankies and Maoists are Ultra-rare, any you meet are likely reddit edge-lords. Outside of Yugoslavia there’s not much respect for the Eastern Bloc, despite some admirable aspects.

        1. Oh man, This is something that has fucked up every single go left wingers have had. And look, we’re still fucking doing it!

        2. Is mostly what they’re going on about with “Class Consciousness” and “Vanguard of the Workers. One of the larger Trotskyist orgs around me calls itself a “propaganda organisation” rather than a “party” the implication being that if the propaganda works the mass party will form itself.

        3-4. This seems to be mostly a new-left/progressive issue. I got my copy of “Fascism: What it is and how to fight it” and Orwell’s essays (which always show a bit of respect for nationalism from a left perspective.) pretty early.

        Oh, and as for communist countries, we didn’t call them that either. “State Capitalist” is most common, followed by “Bureaucratic Collectivist” or “Degenerated Workers State”

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Thanks. It annoys me to refer to the USSR etc. as socialist even though that’s what they called themselves because then they don’t get disambiguated from the democratic socialist countries, but maybe I should go with democratic vs. authoritarian socialist.

        Your pdf doesn’t work on my computer (Chrome browser)– there are a few phrases in English, but most of it is a smallish number of symbols I don’t recognize.

      • People in both western and non-western countries refer to the U.S. and similar societies as capitalist, despite the fact that something like thirty to fifty percent of income is collected as taxes and spent by the government, and much of the rest is constrained by government in various ways.

    • fion says:

      Some Marxists argue that the main reasons various revolutions “failed” was because of external intervention or pre-revolutionary circumstances.

      So for example, the Russian Revolution “failed” for a range of reasons including the fact that Russia wasn’t an advanced capitalist country with a well defined proletariat, but rather a very large peasantry, whose interests were not quite the same as the interests of the small proletariat. Or because the violent counter-revolution (supported by foreign imperialist armies) successfully prevented the revolution from achieving its aims. The Bolsheviks found themselves in a position of having to choose between losing the civil war and losing all the progress they had made, or sacrificing some of their ideals and adopting an authoritarian “war communism” from which they never really recovered.

      Later, many smaller countries were made very isolated by their rejection of capitalism (sometimes embargoed, sometimes actually invaded) and for safety had to kowtow to the USSR. Rather than having a 20th century of many countries trying various alternative systems and working well with each other to find better ones, we had two dogmatic “empires” (one pro-capitalism and one pro-communism) that were very paranoid about the other gaining international influence and stifling any attempts made by any smaller countries to stray from the dogma.

      I don’t know how well this idea stands up to historical scrutiny, but the arguments made by most of my Marxist acquaintances (mostly Trotskyists) tend to be along these lines.

      (I haven’t said anything about China because I know even less about it. My understanding is that Maoism is different from Marxism in some important and fundamental ways, wheres Marxism-Leninism is a more subtle modification, but I’m not confident on details.)

      • Michael Handy says:

        The details are subtle, but a cheat sheet is this

        Marxist-Leninists think that the workers on their own can be split apart into competing interest groups and atomised by the ruling class. To stop this, a section of the workers must take control of the early stage of the revolution. This “Vanguard Party” will mobilise the masses to revolt, and then play a guiding and educational role as Socialism is stabilised and the work towards communism begins.

        Additionally, many Leninists think that if the society is largely feudal, as Russia was, the Proletariat must force the other classes to bypass capitalist development and politics and go direct to Socialism via mass collectivisation.

        Marx said this couldn’t happen, Capitalism had to be developed and have its crises for the dialectic of revolution to take place (also, he had a…less violent idea of revolution.)

        This obviously had mixed results in the long term, but is what allowed them to grab power by recognizing they could topple the weakened capitalist and Peasant revolutionary government before its institutions could be built.

        Maoists are essentially an offshoot of Leninism, and more-or-less additionally think that in a rural society the Peasantry can become the primary Vanguard group, collectivise and merge with an underdeveloped (Urban) working class and push towards Socialism.

        Marx also said this couldn’t happen due to Peasants not being concentrated enough, and not having the right class interests.

        • Incurian says:

          Thanks, this was a good breakdown.

        • cassander says:

          (also, he had a…less violent idea of revolution.)

          He definitely did not. His concept of revolution was explicitly based on the mass terror of the french revolution.

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, the mass terror of the French Revolution was relatively tame compared to what ended up happening in the Russian and later Chinese Civil Wars. They don’t get a lot of play in the West — partly because out of sight means out of mind but partly also because the Whites and nationalists committed just as many atrocities as the Reds and Maoists and so they didn’t make great anticommunist propaganda — but they were some of the worst wars of the 20th century.

            Then, of course, there’s later events.

          • cassander says:

            the French revolution’s mass terror is much wider, and the body count much higher, than is usually appreciated.

      • cassander says:

        >So for example, the Russian Revolution “failed” for a range of reasons including the fact that Russia wasn’t an advanced capitalist country with a well defined proletariat, but rather a very large peasantry, whose interests were not quite the same as the interests of the small proletariat

        Many marxists have made this argument. Marx made the opposite argument, explicitly saying that russia didn’t need a period of capitalism to develop class consciousness, because of its tradition of communal landowning in the peasantry.

        • fion says:

          That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. I would have guessed such an argument to be made by Lenin, if anything.

          Anyway, most modern Marxists disagree with Marx on a few things. Perhaps this is one of them.

    • Protagoras says:

      A couple of answers touched on this, but I would say that there is a non-trivial group of Marxists who think that the problem is that the Communist countries were not democratic. I think that’s the broader point underlying 75th’s comment on worker cooperatives (actually run by workers, as opposed to the centrally imposed “cooperatives” of the Soviet Union and its clients). Also Levantine’s point 2 about education and personal development vs. mass revolution seems to me connected to this thought. It makes me think of Otto Neurath, one of my favorite Marxists, who was very much of the opinion that if the people aren’t going to elect a socialist government, the response must be to work on better ways of teaching people socialist ideas, rather than using violence to impose them. Of course, pretty much all Marxists think existing democracies are corrupt and easily manipulated, but, again, one significant train of thought for why Soviet-style Communism failed is that what’s needed is better democracy, not an alternative to democracy. And you can certainly find Marx himself advocating for more truly democratic institutions in a number of places.

    • apollocarmb says:

      The imperialists, reactionaries and the revolutionaries themselves (Pol Pot for example) screwed over lots of revolutions.

      Cuba is still going strong though.

    • Brett says:

      The Democratic Socialists, at least on paper, are opposed to authoritarianism whether it occurs in a capitalist or socialist regime.

  9. Hence says:

    Cocoa. Competing countries. Coalitions.

    Communist cows.

    The plot thickens as statistical power struggles escalate.

  10. gbdub says:

    Team USA Wins Curling Gold! Great games from the whole team to knock out Canada (who shockingly goes home without a medal) and then Sweden, capped with a clutch double takeout for a five-ender for Shuster and the “rejects”.

    Wrapping up the series on Broomgate: (Part I) (Part II)

    Broomgate Part III: Ruling and Resolution
    In May 2016, the WCF held a Sweeping Summit and undertook a sweeping study and survey of… sweeping. The purpose of the survey, which included both elite curlers and the public, was to determine the desires and expectations of the curling community. If these brooms really were altering how the game was played, did people care? Did they agree with the Canadian teams that the tech should be limited?

    The survey results showed fairly clearly that curlers and fans had a negative view of new technologies that fundamentally altered sweeping. They wanted sweeping that lengthened and straightened shots only, keeping the skill of the thrower as the most important aspect of a good shot. Sweeping to “back up” or reverse the curl was viewed very negatively, as was sweeping to slow down a stone. However, they were less concerned about novel sweeping technique. At that point it became obvious that the WCF would need to set some regulations on sweeping equipment, but what?

    The sweeping study
    , conducted by the National Research Council of Canada (naturally) determined that the new brooms really did have an outsize effect on sweeping. Traditional foam-and-uncoated-nylon brooms behaved as expected: they made the shot go farther and curl less, but nothing else. With this style of broom, the novel sweeping techniques had minimal if any impact compared to standard two-sweeper styles.

    Ultimately, the WCF decided to set regulations on brooms for sanctioned competition, primarily on the head and pad. In particular, they limited the approved fabric covering to a single style and color from (currently) a single fabric maker. Hair brooms are no longer allowed. Waterproofing is allowed, but only on the inner surface of the fabric. Foam must be pliable and at least ½” thick (but not so squishy that it completely compresses below a minimum thickness during use). Designs must not allow anything other than foam-backed-fabric to touch the ice while sweeping. Minimum and maximum head sizes were instituted.

    Additional regulations were added to how players use brooms – most sweeping styles are allowed (other than intentionally dumping debris on the ice), but players must now declare a single sweeping broom that they (and only they) use for any sweeping during the game (if players prefer a different style of broom to use for balance while sliding, that is allowed, but it must not be used to sweep).

    Perhaps most importantly, all sweeping devices must now have their designs approved by the WCF, and each model is assigned a unique ID that manufacturers must stamp on the pad. Penalties for using unapproved brooms are severe – the first offense in a competition game results in a game forfeit and suspension of the player for the tournament. Multiple infractions can result in a 12-month ban.

    These regulations are currently in effect for all WCF events, and will likely continue for the future. Hopefully they can find a way to allow multiple fabric colors, because the current mustard yellow is boring. But otherwise these seem like good and necessary rules that have defused the sweeping arms race.

    And a bonus video: This clip from NOVA talks about the (still not quite settled) science on why a curling stone curls the way it does.

  11. What’s the official SSC stance on Snopes then? Discuss.

    • Murphy says:

      in what regards?

    • Incurian says:

      I treat it like wikipedia. It’s a good starting point, but you should probably verify the sources if it’s for something important.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s in the blog post: FALSE

    • cassander says:

      In my experience, the only fact checker worth a damn is the Washington Post’s, and their scope is fairly limited.

    • SkyBlu says:

      Snopes seems to be fine for anything that is indisputably a fact. Did Carl Sagan hold up a sign that said “No Billboards in Space“? No. Would he have? Is this sentiment a sentiment Carl Sagan would have? I don’t know; probably? Snopes just isn’t great for those kinds of more nuanced, analysis based fact-checking.

      • pontifex says:

        Yes, exactly. Snopes is good for stuff that is, well, factual. Not so much for analysis.

        I remember some discussion on SSC alleging that Snopes was consistently more generous to Blue Tribe politicans than Red Tribe ones when rating statements “mostly true” or “mostly false.” I don’t remember the thread, though, and I didn’t check into it myself. I guess it’s probably inevitable that political issues will be, well, politicized, to some extent.

  12. onyomi says:

    Suppose the following world:

    Though there is a gradient, all people are born belonging to one of two categories, “natural individualist” and “natural communalist.”

    In all populations (other than those defined as “the population of individualists” and “the population of communalists”) natural communalists greatly outnumber natural individualists.

    When natural individualists dominate a culture, state, territory, etc. the result is technological advancement and increased wealth.

    When natural communalists dominate a culture, state, territory, etc. the result is either isolationism and stagnation or poverty and conflict.

    Living in a culture dominated by an individualist ethos makes communalists unhappy. Living in a culture dominated by a communalist ethos makes individualists unhappy. Communalists are, on average, happier than individualists, controlling for external factors. The number of people who feel truly at home in an individualist dominated culture is a small fraction of any given population.

    Everyone prefers to live somewhere wealthy and with advanced technology.

    In such a world, what is the preferred political strategy or outcome?

    Individualists ban together and live by themselves? But how do they stop the hordes of communalists who want to enjoy their wealth and technology? Plus, they are individualists. They aren’t good at banding together for any reason, including the protection of individualism. Moreover, are they okay with just letting the lest of the world, even many of their own family, live in poverty and/or with a social ethos that makes them unhappy?

    And what is the desired outcome for the communalists? Everyone appoints an individualist king but lives by a communal ethos in daily life? How to establish and maintain such a system? What about the unhappiness caused by lack of political representation among the communalists?

    • blacktrance says:

      Having experienced communalist culture firsthand, I reject the premise that communalists are happier under communalism than individualism. Many of them obviously suffer from their culture if you listen to them talk about their lives, but the alternative seems morally or socially wrong, or simply doesn’t occur to them. It’s common for them to have some strawman view of individualism (e.g. they think “no man is an island” is a refutation), but when they genuinely understand what it is, they tend to agree that it’s better, but is unpatriotic and/or goes against the tenets of their religion, or is “unrealistic” (whatever that means).

      • onyomi says:

        (Staying at the level of hypothetical where I get to just decree facts for the time being)

        Well, a big part of the conflict I’m describing is that the communalists aren’t happy with the material poverty and conflict their preferred ethos tends to bring about, yet also can’t feel psychically comfortable embracing the socio-cultural ethos that produces material prosperity and peace.

      • nameless1 says:

        Strange there is at least two things I constantly see communalist immigrants actually pointing out in Western Europe:

        1) people not helping each other, just expecting the state will, neighbors being cold to each other

        2) the lack of family solidarity, parental authority, looking after your relatives, respecting your parents, marrying whoever your parents want to when they want to and making them grandkids

        Case in point: we considered buying a flat from a Turkish family. They relatives never visited them from home, they never managed to have any human contact with neighbors, they figured life just cannot be going to work then sitting at home and talking only with your family, so they are moving home and accepting a lower standard of living but a real community. This was before the Erdogan autocoup though.

    • alef says:

      I started a reply that tried to take you questions at face value, in the spirit in which they seemed to be asked, but discarded that once I lost track of what you are after.
      It is easy to rewrite your question in which the (now, supposed, fewer in number) communalists achieve great things, by dint of cooperation, solving coordination problems, standing ‘on each others’ back, where the individuals (greater in number – evolution) who can’t even coordinate defense, just fight (or if they don’t actively fight, can’t get leverage from shared action and shared learnings) aren’t wealthy and create no advanced technology. So the same (?) moral questions, just flip the categories.
      Is this rewrite (which seems trivial, and equally plausible to your fantasy) just as good in terms of the question you want us to consider, or is it anathema?

      • onyomi says:

        One difference would be that the collectivists are not faced with the contradiction of banding together to defend collectivism (which in the mirror scenario is the ethos that generates material prosperity), since banding together is what they’re naturally inclined to do.

        Otherwise, I guess the rest of the conflict I’m trying to explore is the same: what to do in the case where most people in the world feel a strong, natural inclination towards an ethos that promotes conflict and poverty and a strong, natural unease about an ethos that promotes material prosperity (an unease that doesn’t go away even when material needs are lavishly provided for)?

    • nameless1 says:

      Why even bother about the preferred outcome? By formulating the question this way you are encouraging utopian thinking. Better to look at the likely, probable outcomes and choose which one you like most.

      So here is something I consider both probable and desirable. Get multiple communalist communities into one confederation, empire, union whatever you prefer to call it. They live segregated, that is, having borders that are not very permeable, and live under their own rules. The confederation has a ruling elite. Naturally all communities are suspicious about the other community become a ruling elite and oppressing them, but they can all put up with the individualists becoming the ruling elite who can believable judge inter-community conflicts fairly. Of course communities are free to set any rules for their own community, individualism is not forced on them. Thus it is Patchwork with an individualistic aristocracy hovering over them.

      As for business and economy. There shall be two kinds of businesses, corporations. One is formed by members of acommunity and operates inside the community. Again this is up to the rules of the local community how they are ran. They are allowed to openly discriminate except they don’t need to as basically no no-community members live in their territory. But if their culture says only bisexual men should be CEOs, OK.

      The other kind of corporation or business is started by individualists and operates by something very much akin to a royal charter. Their offices and factories and other buildings and territory inside a community’s land are determined by careful negotiation with community leaders in order not to offend them. Basically special economic zones are set up, mostly out in the prairie. These businesses must not outwardly offend the community but on their own premises they do what they want to. All locals they hire must accept that. The idea is that they move the economy, they pay well, and more tolerant locals will put up with work there in exchange for the money.

      This is workable because based on historic examples. The US was meant to be a federation of communities, the problem was that they could not find this independent individualistic elite so they the communities fought over the Federal Government from the very begining, 3/5 rule etc. The second, of special companies, are the free zones of Dubai. Maybe stuff like the Western trading factory island in the isolationist era of Japan.

    • skef says:

      In virtue of a governmental structure, both groups make a series of compromises based partly on ideal preferences and partly on practical outcomes. Neither dominates. Members of each group remain suspicious and grumpy about members of the other, but not enough to implode the system.

    • 1soru1 says:

      If you have a society where 60 % of people are one and 40% the other, then structure it so that around 60% of careers work one way and 40% the other, and let people sort themselves into the careers and social environments that suit them.

      For example, imagine you try to organise health care or defence on individualist assumptions, but all the smart individualists are already off being merchant bankers and advertising executives. Or vice versa.

      Either you end up with gulags, or some other measure that involves forcing people to act against their nature, ultimately at gunpoint. Or you have to stick with an inefficient and slow system with reluctant workers who don’t believe in it, don’t understand it, and so have no ability to improve it.

  13. icyflame says:

    I am new here and I was completely taken by the Technological Unemployment post! I went through the reports and the graphs myself (before reading the post) and came to some conclusions which were pretty similar to what the post aimed at.

    Particularly, I had one question for the author and the community. The fact that there is nothing historic happening here wasn’t stressed on that much in the post. Isn’t that the most important consequence here? We don’t need to panic because nothing special is going on; we are trying to feel like we are on the cusp of something huge here, but that’s what we always feel with things. (eg: Industrial Revolution changed the world; telephones changed the world; the Internet changed the world; low cost air travel changed the world; et al)

    A lot of industries (middle-wage, middle-skill level) are going to be automated as time passes on. This has always been the case. The best way to escape being replaced by a bot is to ensure that (a) you either aren’t part of one of these industries or (b) keep trying to hone your skills, so that when the time comes, you can jump ship and move higher in the ladder, instead of having to slide down. If everyone followed this philosophy though, there might be sudden supply side increase in the slightly higher-wage industries than the one that was just automated. What would be the consequences of that?

    Now, the point about the supply of labor doubling: I feel like we are in a really optimistic scenario. When women entered the workforce, the available supply of people doubled (after allowing some time for women to settle in and all the basic stuff to be taken care of, eg: moving the responsibilities that women had before to more gender-neutral settings). Once supply nearly doubled, neither did the wage become half what it was nor did we see a lot of people out of work. I find this to be very encouraging. The system absorbed the new people without causing a lot of trouble to the older ones. (perhaps the reason why even though we are pumping out young engineers every year, older engineers on the shop floor still have their jobs even if they have a lot of problems associated with their employment) So, my question is, Is this encouraging or is there something more sinister going on here that I have failed to acknowledge?

    • Aapje says:

      I think that it is a bit misleading to say that labor doubled. Women in the past more often took unpaid care of their children (and those of others), more often produced their own food instead of getting it from the store, more often made/fixed clothing rather than buy something, etc. Unpaid labor is still labor that contributes to people’s well being.

      I think it’s more accurate to say that mostly, women moved from unpaid (or implicitly paid) labor to paid labor.

      If I don’t cook my own food, but pay another person to cook a meal for me, I haven’t necessarily increased overall well being. If that person is doing the exact same thing as me, standing in a kitchen making one meal at a time, in the same way as me, the same amount of labor is still done. It’s just paid now.

      Of course, capitalism enables certain arrangements/solutions which are good, like specialization creating higher productivity (like cooking meals for multiple people at the same time) and specialization allowing people to do what they enjoy. However, if you go from unpaid to paid labor, those benefits are generally going to be less than the increase in the GDP. So part of the increase in the GDP is an artifact of more labor becoming capitalist and doesn’t accurately reflect the increase in productivity.

      In general, it might be better to think of overall unemployment as a matter of productivity rather than supply and demand. Demand for labor is not fixed, as people who get more money/buying power than in the past tend to not reduce their productivity to sustain their old lifestyle, but instead tend to buy more. So the key factor to not becoming unemployed is to be productive enough so others consider your productivity sufficiently high to ‘outsource’ labor to you, rather than just do it themselves or not have it done.

    • Garrett says:

      One of the concerns about technological unemployment involves the rate of change. Given that training/specializing for a job takes time, and that new employment opportunities might involve moving substantially (eg. you can’t be a coal miner if there aren’t any coal mines nearby), there are additional concerns. What is the social and economic “carrying capacity” for technological unemployment, either on a short-term or long-term basis? And, could the increasing rate in technological unemployment cause us to exceed that? What are those implications? Consider that in most States, the most common occupation is some form of truck driver. If half of taxi/Uber/truck drivers become unemployed in the span of 5 years, what happens?

    • 1soru1 says:

      Taking into account the above points, women entering the workplace was something like a 50% increase in the labour supply over multiple decades.

      Immigration has some pragmatic upper limit that’s not going to be significantly higher than that.

      Whereas if you can manufacture a for-some-purpose-human-equivalent machine, you can make as many as needed to completely saturate the market, at least unless the cost of the machine is greater than a years wages. Each such class of machine could represent an arbitrarily-sized percentage increase in the labour force. So if a lot of such classes of machine come together at the same time, it could be like having immigration in the billions per year, or suddenly discovering and emancipating 10 new sexes.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Isn’t that the most important consequence here? We don’t need to panic because nothing special is going on; we are trying to feel like we are on the cusp of something huge here, but that’s what we always feel with things.

      Yes. We feel we are on the cusp of something new. We are over-reacting.

      Even if everything changes…you know, then everything is going to change, you have no idea what’s going to happen next.

  14. tayfie says:

    Scott said in his “LessWrong Crypto Autopsy” that “Our epistemic rationality has probably gotten way ahead of our instrumental rationality” drawing on how few in the rationalist community made lots of money from cryptocurrency even though practically the whole community agreed it was a good idea to invest. It seems the mild inconvenience of obtaining any Bitcoins was enough to dissuade many individuals from pursuing the matter. There was opportunity, but no action.

    My first question, having only ever been on the fringes of the community in question, is if this is really a general problem. Are there any other examples?

    Assuming it is a problem, what way might there be for converting those ideas into action?

    My idea is this. Imagine an invite-only community exists where members pre-commit money to some goal for community use. Then, members of the community submit ideas for the best use of that money to satisfy said goal. After a discussion period, each community member gets one vote for the best idea. Once votes are tallied, money is distributed to proposals based on the percentage of members that voted for them. Think of it as crowdfunding with a twist. How would you react to such a community, and would you pay to be a part of it?

    • Aapje says:

      If you look at the reasons that people gave to not invest into bitcoin, a lot of it involved transaction costs, where getting into mining or buying the coins or learning enough or coming up with a sensible exit strategy was prohibitively expensive.

      So this suggests a need for specialization: RatioInvest Inc. The investment company that (tries to) achieve better returns on investment than the market. Of course, it will be funded by an ICO.

      Imagine an invite-only community exists where members pre-commit money to some goal for community use. Then, members of the community submit ideas for the best use of that money to satisfy said goal. After a discussion period, each community member gets one vote for the best idea. Once votes are tallied, money is distributed to proposals based on the percentage of members that voted for them. Think of it as crowdfunding with a twist. How would you react to such a community, and would you pay to be a part of it?

      Are those votes weighted by how much people pre-commit?

      Anyway, there are various ways in which that can go wrong/be hijacked that makes me wary to pre-commit. For example, it can be used to almost or more than double the money spent on your favored solution, if you can coordinate to get 51% of the votes. If votes are unweighted by the pre-commit amount, this problem is greater, but even with weighted votes a person/group can take control of all of the money by contributing only 51%.

      And this is when we assume hostile intent, rather than other issues like group-think.

      An example:
      1. Goal is to reduce animal suffering
      2. I pre-commit
      3. ‘Kill all wild animals because they suffer so much’ wins
      4. Guns are bought and animals get killed with my money
      5. I feel very sad

      • tayfie says:

        You misunderstand how I intended funds to be allocated. They are allocated according to the percentage of best-idea votes the idea received.

        That means someone who convinces 51% of the group to vote for their idea only gets 51% of the pot to spend on that idea.

        • Aapje says:

          That produces various issues, such as some ideas being too underfunded to actually implement them. Do people have to follow through on their pre-commitment if the money is insufficient to actually try the idea?

          Your solution seems inferior to a Kickstarter-like setup.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Eh. I noped out on moral grounds. Easy to say, yes, but I have been pretty consistent on this. Bitcoin is a pyramid scheme, which.. well, I could possibly justify that as parting fools from their money and donating some of the personal gain to worthy causes, but it is a very leaky pyramid scheme. Most of the money going into it go out to utilities and chip makers, not to other participants. That is just equivalent to lighting money on fire.

      • Aapje says:

        Things I dislike #12: People claiming that something is a pyramid scheme just because the price of a good doesn’t seem driven by an actual need for the good, but by speculation.

        Bitcoin is not a pyramid scheme!

        • arlie says:

          Nonetheless, whether or not it’s technically a pyramid scheme, I share Thomas Jørgensen’s reason for staying out of it, except for the moral coloring. It’s the same reason I don’t invest in gold – things with no value in themselves, that are currently agreed-upon-stores-of-value, are impossible to predict, because they are always at risk for losing some of their popularity.

          • Aapje says:

            Gold has value in itself. There is almost certainly some in the computer/smartphone you typed this comment on.

            If you really want to avoid buying/investing in anything whose value is not purely determined by production/mining costs, you are going to avoid some useful things like houses, bonds, stocks, etc. Also, any product where the supply and/or demand is not constant may experience loss (or gain) of value. Even paperclips will become worthless when the singularity consumes us.

          • Lillian says:

            The notion that gold doesn’t have any value in and of itself always struck me as weird. It’s shiny, pretty, easy to work with, and doesn’t tarnish, those are valuable traits in the very literal sense that people have valued gold for them since the dawn of time. The fact that gold’s primary historical usage is for adornment doesn’t make it somehow have no inherently value, you might as well argue that clothes dyes are not inherently valuable since their only use is decoration. Hell you could make the same argument about spices, since they have little nutritional value, their only purpose is to decorate our food to be more pleasing to our palates.

            Now we do use gold as an agreed upon store of value, but that’s because the traits that make it useful as adornment also make it useful as a store of value. It’s the same story for silver. However any non-perishable good is inherently a store of value, sure ten tonnes of coal only store some $300, but there is still value there. The thing about gold and silver is that we can count on humans always finding them pretty. Rhodium is both more valuable than gold and has a number of industrial applications, but if society collapses its stored value will be pretty useless because nobody wants to wear rhodium jewellery.

    • Jon says:

      The idea you describe sounds like the definition of a privately-owned company. Take out the “invite-only” part and it becomes a publicly-traded company.

      The “submit ideas” part is what interested investors do in both cases. Those with control of the company get to decide if the ideas are worth pursuing. When interested investors think their ideas are good enough, but are ignored by those in control, you get takeover attempts.

    • Jiro says:

      I would disagree with the premise (and this is a case where I actually agree with Eliezer). Investing in Bitcoin to the point where it produces enormous gains was only a good idea in hindsight. It would be impossible to have an investment policy, designed in advance, which would lead you to buy it low and sell it when it makes you hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are reasonable investment policies which would have led you to buy some Bitcoin and sell it for more than you paid for it, but you wouldn’t have gotten filthy rich off of it.

      Furthermore, Bitcoin is useless as a medium of exchange. It was easy for a knowledgeable person to look at Bitcoin back in the day and correctly figure that out. Deciding to buy bitcoin as an investment would amount to “I anticipate that this will be useless for its intended purpose, but its price will be driven up for other reasons, which I can also anticipate”. That’s not very likely.

      • Aapje says:

        Bitcoin/cryptocurrency is greatly valuable for criminals who need to move money around the world. Even high transaction costs are not that prohibitive, as the transaction costs of a money mule are very high.

        Although if the police figure out how to trace all transactions, which they might do/already have done, then it may not work well for this either.

      • tayfie says:

        Nonsense. Because Bitcoin’s meteoric rise happened and did make some people, admittedly few, filthy rich, there has to be a way for a “reasonable investment policy”, whatever that means, to have predicted it and made lots of money.

        As for Bitcoin being useless as a medium of exchange, that is completely false even for normal people besides the criminals brought up by @Aapje. People HAVE used it as a medium of exchange, with great success. A medium of exchange that works over the internet, allowing trade over arbitrary physical distance without powerful intermediaries, is very valuable indeed. Existing ways to transfer funds over large distances are expensive and insecure. Before Bitcoin ran into scaling problems which drove up miner fees (easily fixed, but there are tradeoffs the maintainers aren’t willing to make), it was a far cheaper way to send money over long distances than any alternative.

        • Iain says:

          The lottery makes “some people, admittedly few, filthy rich”. Nevertheless, there is no reasonable investment policy that involves playing the lottery.

          A reasonable investment policy has to have positive expected value in real-time, not just in retrospect.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This does not seem to me to be different than an investment club, which is an old idea.

      Investment clubs can be very good ideas, but past returns are no guarantee of future results. YMMV.

      Basic problem with this as a “solution” to the “problem” of “invest in Bitcoin” is that, if you can’t be bothered to by Bitcoin, you probably can’t be bothered to join an investment club. On the margin, it probably has some positive effect investment rate among aspiring rationalists, but a very small one.

      • tayfie says:

        Thanks. I did not know the name for what I had in mind. I want investment clubs on the internet. Who is going to fund my startup?

        Your points prove too much. They are reasons against joining an investment club because they are reasons against anyone investing at all.

        I figure, while people may not have the effort or tolerance to pursue individual risky-but-a-good-idea investments, they would find it easier to invest with a community of like-minded individuals helping to decide.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      I found Scott’s piece pretty persuasive, and for LW members who were exposed to the idea at the time BTC was a big opportunity largely missed. On the other hand, a structured effort to find opportunities like this funded by this invite-only community is going to be funneling money to a whole lot of speculative ideas that by and large suck, heavily diluting the returns from the ones that succeed. (This is a venture capital firm’s business model, and it works great if you’re e.g. Andreessen Horowitz and have a reputation of not only funding projects, but providing useful advice that raises the probabilities of such projects succeeding. A bunch of anonymous people on the internet is unlikely to have access to the same space of opportunities.) That being said, I would front a small amount of money for such a scheme orchestrated by SSC/LW/etc types on the off-chance it hits something out of the park (but I probably don’t participate here or elsewhere enough to get an invite anyway).

      I sort of regret not getting in on Bitcoin when it was a wacky idea, but stand by the notion that if I had the outlook necessary to put non-trivial money into this wacky idea which I did not understand, and hang on for the ride long enough to get fuck-you money, I also would probably have the type of outlook to put lots of time and money into similar-sounding but objectively terrible ideas along the way.

  15. CheshireCat says:

    I have an anecdote that I want to turn into data: I’ve always had a really hard time waking up. I inevitabily end up feeling shitty and have a hard time getting myself out of bed if I haven’t gotten more than 9 hours of sleep already.

    However, I’ve observed that when I drink a lot of water before going to sleep, waking up becomes way easier, even if I’m waking up after 8 or even 6-7 hours. I get less of that waking dysphoria and just feel so much better in the mornings. I’ve never heard anyone mention this before. Anyone else have experience with this or are willing to try it? For reference, the amount of water I drink is usually 1.5-2 ordinary water bottles.

    • shakeddown says:

      I’d be interested in trying, but if I drink a lot of water just before bed I need to get up to pee once or twice in the middle of the night. Does this not happen to you?

      • CheshireCat says:

        This was definitely the confounder I had in mind. And no I don’t, I never wake up in the middle of the night to pee, even if I chugged a bunch beforehand.

    • fion says:

      I have the same question as shakeddown. My “natural” time necessary for sleep feels like at least nine hours, but I often wake up after about six hours needing the toilet. I’ve actually been considering trying to avoid drinking water in the late evening so that this doesn’t happen.

      Just in case I do decide to try your method, do you mean that you drink 1.5-2 bottles right before going to sleep, or do you mean over the course of the late evening?

      • CheshireCat says:

        Either or really, but I usually do it less than 30 mins before bedtime. You’re probably good as long as you do it within the hour, but that’s a good point I hadn’t considered.

        Worth noting: I had to wake up after only about 6 hours of sleep this morning in order to study for an early test, and had a relatively easy time of doing it once again! I think I might be onto something, at least in terms of my experience.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      After moving to a much drier climate than my previous homes, I’ve noticed a similar issue and will try drinking 0.75 liters of water between 8pm and when I go to sleep.

    • Forge the Sky says:

      I’ve at least noticed the reverse; if I go to bed dehydrated, I wake up feeling unrested and in an unmotivated mood. Hydrating still leaves me feeling a bit tired for the rest of the day.

      To avoid the problem shakeddown pointed out, it’s probably necessary to be reasonably well-hydrated in general for this to work out. I’d advise increasing water intake generally so your body is more used to more fluids, then also making sure you’re well-hydrated before sleeping.

    • Lillian says:

      Possible explanation: Better hydration means thinner mucus, thinner mucus means less obstructions in your airway. You’re sleeping better because you’re breathing better.

      • CheshireCat says:

        Interesting hypothesis. I was thinking it was related to hydration, in the same way that hangover dysphoria seems to be related to alcohol’s dehydrating properties. I don’t drink a lot, so it seems like the most likely answer.

        Also I took a sleep apnea test as part of a clinical trial a few months ago, and my tests were within normal range. But your idea is worth remembering.

  16. Scott Alexander says:

    After working my first real job for a while, I’ve saved up a decent sum of money and figure I should start investing it, probably in something like index funds with some diversification added in.

    EMH seems to say it shouldn’t matter when I invest it, but common sense says that we’ve been in a boom for a while, there will probably be a recession soon, and maybe I should wait until the depths of the recession before I buy.

    Anyone have any advice?

    • Levantine says:

      Near the end of this interview, journalist Greg Hunter tells CA Fitts how all investment today is gambling (IIRC), while she argues (or tries to argue) it is not. My two cents.

      • onyomi says:

        Haven’t watched this interview and will also try to resist temptation to give investment advice (very not qualified to do so); just wanted to say I have felt frustrated by this sense that all investing is a gamble nowadays, and I think I’m not alone among that small number of my generation who have already paid off their student loans and credit cards.

        Example:
        I listened to Peter Schiff years ago and got worried the US dollar would collapse. This prompted me to buy gold and silver as a “safe” investment. Hasn’t been a good investment.

        Okay, but maybe I shouldn’t have listened to Austrian economists and instead listened to Serious People. Serious People would have told me that cash is a good place to be during a recession. But Serious People would also have told me real estate was a good investment in 2005. Also, my most profitable investment ever by far has been magic internet money I bought at a time when I couldn’t really comprehend how it could ever have value.

        So let’s say we’re right to assume that we’re due for a recession. Leaving aside that recessions seem persistently never to come when everyone is expecting them, that would predict now is a good time to be in cash, assuming the past is the best guide to the future. Cash was a pretty good place to be during the last recession and I’ve certainly learned that my lack of confidence in the US dollar was at least premature. Yet this assumes the next recession will be kind of like the last one. And that doesn’t seem a very safe assumption. After all, the US can’t just keep on printing money forever and expect to avoid high inflation… or can it? Who knows? Seems to have worked so far?

        I perceive among my generation a real sense of being in uncharted financial and cultural waters: I recall polls that solid majorities of millennials don’t expect social security to be meaningfully available by the time they retire, for example. Maybe they are overestimating how fast things change or underestimating the US federal government’s capacity for debt, but the confidence certainly seems lacking, even if maybe things haven’t changed as much as they seem?

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          I am pretty sure what Serious People say is not anything about real estate or cash, but instead “index funds, index funds, I N D E X F U N D S.”

          • J Mann says:

            Vanguard has some great time balanced funds. You tell them when you want the money (by buying the 2035 fund or the 2060 fund or whatever) and they balance index funds in US stocks, international stocks, bonds, real estate, etc., so you can just set up an autodeposit and forget about it for the next year.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I second this. I am not smart enough to predict the markets. I just buy index funds and forget about it. If the economy collapses to the point that index funds are worthless, the only good investments will have been in stockpiled rice and lead.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I intend to add some beans to my rice/lead portfolio.

          • cassander says:

            @J Mann

            The funds you speak of are not terrible ideas, but probably not what scott (or most of the people here) wants. They have dramatically higher fees than straight index funds, which isn’t so bad once you’ve accumulated a big pile, but will really eat into your gains if you’re starting with a small one. If you have no specific need for the money, you’re better off just dumping into some reasonable ratio of debt to equity and leaving it alone, and skip paying a few decades worth of fees. You can always (at least if if your assets are in a retirement account) shift to a target date fund at a later date when you actually have a target.

          • Brad says:

            They have dramatically higher fees than straight index funds

            Huh? Vanguard target funds impose no additional fees. They only pass through the same fees the underlying index funds have. And the total fee is nominal — 2040’s for example is currently 15 bps.

          • J Mann says:

            @cassander – sorry I wasn’t more clear. Vanguard’s Target Funds are literally just mixes of Vanguard index funds, so their fees are effectively the same. For more, see the Vanguard page on target funds, but as an example, the Vanguard 2050 fund currently holds 53.9% Vanguard’s Total Stock Market index fund, 36% Vanguard Total Interantiaonal Stock index fund, 7.2% Vanguard Total Bond Market II index fund, and 2.9% Vanguard Total International Bond index fund, while the Vanguard 2020 fund is lower on stock index funds and higher on bond index funds, as those investors are likely to want their money sooner.

            It’s IMHO a great way for index fund investors to diversify between stock and bond index funds and between US and international index funds without doing a lot of work to decide how to diversify or to balance over time.

          • cassander says:

            @J Mann and Brad

            Fair enough. I’m familiar with my own retirement plan, which has fidelity target date funds, which have a substantially (literally 20x) higher fee than the index fund. I agree that target date funds are a great idea if you can get them with reasonable fees.

    • Orpheus says:

      Gold seems to be relatively cheep these days. Maybe an interesting investing direction (disclaimer: I don’t know much about investment. No one should take what I’m saying on the matter too seriously).

      • Nornagest says:

        Adjusted for inflation, gold is only cheap right now relative to the financial crisis and a brief period in the 1980s. For most of its history it hovered around $500 current dollars an ounce; post-Nixon it’s been much more volatile, but the average still hasn’t been too far off that. Currently we’re about $200 off ATH.

    • outis says:

      I thought the same thing a couple of years ago and I don’t want to know how much I lost by not investing in the meantime.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        If it’s any comfort, probably a lot less than I lost by thinking the same thing in the 1990s.

    • Brad says:

      Fifty percent now, fifty percent held in reserve for the big correction. Optimizing for minimal regret rather then expected value.

    • Anon. says:

      This is a terrible time to invest. Here’s a collection of equity return forecasts from some big names, and almost all of them are saying it’s not gonna be great.

      BUT, just because it’s a bad time to invest doesn’t necessarily mean you will be better off trying to time a recession. Also it’s not like bond yields are high, so the alternative is also pretty bad.

      Overall I’d say maybe keep 20-25% in short-term bonds and use that for timing. Allocate the rest of the portfolio normally.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        It’s either a terrible time to invest, or a terrible time to be making equity return forecasts. We shall see.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      (I am not an investment professional. This is not advice, etc.)

      If you wait for the moment in which you’re sure that you’re at the bottom of the market, you’ll be losing out on all of the time before that moment in which dividends and interest could have been accruing.

      This actually turns out to be a very straighforwards math problem; look at the gains you’ll expect to make based on average returns, then as yourself how much of those more-or-less-guaranteed-compared-to-market-timing returns you’re willing to wager based on a probable incoming recession.

      Then just set yourself a deadline; you’ll definitely buy into the market at either date X, or economic indicator Y. And if you don’t have a lot of confidence in the market doing what you think it will on the micro scale, then you can set X’s range to be fairly small.

      You can also subdivide your money, and invest some immediately, and the rest in intervals when you think you’ve hit relative recessions, as suggested below.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      What are your investment options? Do you have a 403b or a 401k through your work? Any matching percentage, and if so a vesting period? Like your current job and plan on staying there for a few years?

      Also, what’s a “decent sum”? Like 5 months of expenses, 3 months of expenses, 6 months of expense…planning on moving anytime soon or buying a house…?

      Stocks do look semi-pricey right now, but trying to time the market based on P/E is tough. Where on the curve do you think we are right now?

      http://www.multpl.com/

      Also, a recession may happen, or it may not happen. Australia has not had any recession since the early 90s. And looking at the GDP maps, even that was mild. Australia basically hasn’t had a real recession in the entire time FRED has data, which goes back to 1961. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/NAEXKP01AUA657S

      The Leading Index doesn’t look like it’s predicting a recession any time soon either:
      https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USSLIND

      So I’d be careful about timing to enter during a recession. Recessions will probably be with us until the end of time, but you never know when one might hit. Once a recession does happen, though, we will have to talk about your entry plan, too. But we can always cross that bridge when we get to it.

    • greghb says:

      It sounds like you expect to make money throughout a relatively stable career, possibly even more money as your career progresses. If so, your continued earnings provide a hedge against market volatility, so don’t worry about it too much. You’re going to be slowly investing little bits of your total lifetime savings, and this will naturally spread out over a period that includes all sorts of economic environments.

      That all said, everyone feels nervous right now, so it’s probably excusable to keep more money in cash or low-volatility assets (short-term bonds) than usual. You can see this as buying insurance: you are forgoing some small expected-value gains (paying the insurance premium) in order to avoid a lower-likelihood big crash. The hard part, though, is knowing when to stop. For this, as always, do your best to set a plan ahead of time. Getting these conditions to sound reasonable is the hardest part. What do you do if the market goes up like crazy for the next two years? How big a drop do you want before you invest your held-to-the-side money? It’s hard.

    • Jon S says:

      In aggregate, ‘retail’ investors like you stereotypically lose money by trying to time the market, especially making short-term judgments. If you have money that you want to set aside for long term investments, I would recommend just putting it into low-cost index funds now and forgetting about it. Vanguard funds are usually slightly better/cheaper than competing options.

      Using something like PE ratios, stocks are historically on the expensive side now, but probably still have higher expectancy than cash/bonds. E.g. if you think that:
      -the long run real returns to stocks are 5% per year, and
      -stocks are 40% more expensive right now than they will be on average in the future
      then over the next 10 years, even if valuations fully revert to normal, you’d still expect a real return of 1.6% per year over that period.

      If you almost definitely won’t need the money ’til retirement, investing in a tax-advantaged account (HSA, 401k, IRA, etc.) is a great option. HSA’s in particular are supercharged retirement accounts – contrary to popular conception, you usually shouldn’t actually use them to pay for medical expenses while you’re young; unless you actually need to take money out of your retirement accounts, in which case having that option is what makes HSA’s better than those other account types. I can elaborate if anyone’s interested.

      Edit: All that said, I keep way more of my money in low-risk/no-risk assets than most people in my situation. I do think the expected value of owning stock index funds is higher, but only by a little with current valuations, and I don’t mind forgoing that to reduce risk.

      • quaelegit says:

        Can you elaborate on HSA’s and what you think is strategic use of them?

        • Jon S says:

          Most people with an HSA don’t realize that rather than pay for a medical expense directly from their HSA, they can instead reimburse themselves for that expense any time in the future.

          Say you have a well-funded HSA and you have a $4000 medical expense. Most people would pay the expense directly from of the HSA. But if you can pay it out of your savings, you should do that instead and allow the money in your HSA to continue growing tax-free. If you ever need the money in the future, you can just withdraw $4000 from your HSA with no penalties/taxes to reimburse yourself for the previous expense. There’s no time limit – if you have medical expenses when you’re 30, you can reimburse yourself for them when you’re 60 (if you document the expense – you should save images of receipts for large bills).

          Tax-wise, having money in an HSA (almost*) strictly dominates having money in an IRA. Both have tax-free contributions and growth. If you are lucky enough to never have medical expenses for the rest of your life, the HSA winds up functioning just like an IRA (when you withdraw your HSA money during retirement, you’d pay taxes on it just like you would for an IRA). But every dollar of medical expenses that you have for the rest of your life is a dollar that you can withdraw from your HSA tax-free, with big savings relative to an IRA/401k.

          * Two caveats:
          – If you need to withdraw money from an IRA before retirement, you pay a 10% penalty. For an HSA, if you withdraw early and you have no medical expenses, the penalty is 20%.
          – I’m assuming that your HSA has reasonable investment options. If you need to invest in a crappy mutual fund that charges 2% annual fees, that’s going to swamp the tax savings over a long enough period.

          Here are a couple slightly longer write ups:
          https://www.madfientist.com/ultimate-retirement-account/
          https://fjwealthmanagement.com/health-savings-account/

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Another major benefit is that an HSA does not have a mandatory withdrawal age. A typical IRA requires withdrawal as soon as you hit 70.5. A HSA can continue to grow, because you are not required to withdraw it.

          • FLWAB says:

            How do you go about investing money in a HSA? I had an HSA qualifying individual insurance plan last year, and I wanted to reduce my tax liability and save up for some health expenses that I knew were coming so I went to the local bank and opened up an HSA account. As far as I know the money is just sitting there. How would I go about investing it? Do I just use the money to buy an index fund or something?

          • Controls Freak says:

            Only some HSA administrators have investment options. The fees, minimums, and available investments vary quite a bit. Your local bank may not have an investment option.

          • Jon S says:

            Fortunately for me, my employer opened an HSA account for me with good investment options, so I haven’t had to look into finding an HSA administrator that offers investment accounts for individuals. Sorry I can’t help with that aspect.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Jon S — thank you for the detailed explanation! I didn’t realize you could refund yourself… in fact I still find that really confusing, but I’ll check out your links (and also the rules for my HSA).

    • Protagoras says:

      Timing the market is really hard, as other people have said, and probably not worth attempting. But I recall seeing an interesting comparison of the relative returns of contrarian investing vs. momentum investing (buy when the market’s rising vs. buy when the market is dropping), and somewhat surprisingly there was a dramatic difference, with momentum investing having a huge advantage. Apparently there is a strong tendency for trends to at least be longer than a month (and not to last forever, of course, but sadly there is no consistent upper bound to how long they last to use to time when to get out). So since there has been a bit of a dip just recently, there might be an argument for waiting a little while and not investing in equities until they start rising again. That’ll guarantee that you won’t get the benefit of buying at the bottom of a trough, but as others have said your chances of timing that right anyway are too low to bother with.

      Or just conclude that while it might be a bad time to buy, it’s unproductive in general to stress out over that and try to time correctly. So since as I understand your situation the decent income is likely to be a long term thing, just set up to invest on a regular schedule and count on the times when you happen to be buying at the right time to make up for the times when you’re buying at the wrong time.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Why not start by looking at investments that come with a cash flow, such as stocks that pay regular dividends or an REIT? I’m not saying they’re necessarily better than investments where all the value comes from increasing equity, but they are easier to analyze.
      For example, this stock (https://www.streetinsider.com/dividend_history.php?q=BMO) has consistently paid a quarterly dividend that has been at least $0.80 per share for the past couple of years. Its current price is $78.48 per share. Ignoring any changes in the share price (which has gone up in the same timeframe), the ROI is over 4%. I’m not giving it as investment advice, just suggesting investments of this sort as a baseline to compare other opportunities to.

    • baconbits9 says:

      It sounds like you mean that you have a chunk of cash you are going to invest now as basically your first significant investment. This is important as a large chunk invested early will have out sized impact on your long term financial situation. There are two basic choices you can make.

      1. Accept a lot of variance in your retirement income. $50,000 compounded at 8% over 35 years compounded at 5% would be a difference of well over $400,000 in value. If you accept this you go with a solid, diversified portfolio and do your best to forget about it.

      2. Sacrifice some of the long term upside to smooth out your returns. Basically you make a small, leveraged bet against the market a couple of times a year for the next few years to ensure that you didn’t buy in to close to a peak. This is not a fool proof strategy, and requires some active management as well as some time investment to understand the basic strategies and also requires you to pay attention to the markets.

      The basics for option 2 are as follows, you take the majority of your holding and put it into a diversified fund. Then you purchase small, out of the money put options with a decently long dated expiration (12-15 months) every 3 to 6 months. If there is a major market crash your put options will increase by a large amount and cover a lot of your ‘losses’, upon selling your puts in such a scenario you immediately (barring emergency need for cash) put that money right back into the market in a diversified fund. If there is no market crash then your puts wind up with zero value and you just eat those losses, this is what eats away at your upside.

      As I noted above this plan is not fool proof, it is possible to get crummy market returns without a large crash, and put options have to be managed and sold.

    • arlie says:

      Look at the concept of dollar cost averaging. The theory is that market timing is difficult, verging on impossible. So don’t do that. But also don’t invest a big chunk of money all at once, in case the timing happens to be bad.

      Also look at concepts of diversification, and periodic rebalancing of investments. I.e. you have a broad swathe of investments that you hope won’t all tend to have the same cycles, with target % range for each. If one group does well for a while, and another group does badly, you sell some of the successful group and buy the less successful, to get back to the same % (expressed as currency, not e.g. # of shares).

      Note that I am not an economist, or an accountant, or an investment advisor. This is just the theory I’m pursuing, as someone who’ll need to retire eventually, and currently has surplus income, which I’d like to see growing – but who doesn’t find paying lots of attention to investments fun.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Dollar cost averaging isn’t a particularly good solution to Scott’s situation. It is much more appropriate for someone who has been investing for a substantial period of time and then receives a windfall (say an inheritance around 45-50) that they want to invest. Scott’s goal should be to get his money into the market sooner rather than later, 50,000 invested for 35 years at 8% return is worth >$50,000 more than if invested for 34 years.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Well, I don’t know the details of Scott’s situation, but I would guess that what he calls “a decent sum of money” means “enough money that I feel stupid just getting passbook interest for it”. That’s where I was when I started investing. For such an initial investment, investing an equal tenth of it every month is a good way to avoid losing heart if you happen to invest it on January 25, 2018, and it gets it into play almost as fast, relative to his entire investing lifetime, as stuffing it all someplace tomorrow.

          More to the point, he’s past his slave labor days and is presumably going to have a regular income going forward. Investing the same amount every paycheck is dollar-cost averaging, and is a great way to “pay yourself first”, before you’ve become accustomed to spending all of the larger income, and it gives you a structure that will mitigate against the temptation to try to time the market.

          I must add that 8% annual return over 35 years is, um, ambitious. If you’ve been getting that for more than a decade, I’ll retract everything I’ve said because he should obviously listen to you instead. Also I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The concern for putting a large chunk into the market at time X isn’t isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a concern that the market might correct 5-10% during its upward march unless you are likely to panic and sell out immediately if that happened.

            The concern is that you pull a 2005-2007 and put your money in (or worse dollar cost it in) and it takes 12+ years to double that investment when putting it in late 2008-2010 would have increased by 2-3x in 8-10 years or that you miss out on a 1954 where the market (s&P 500 at least) jumps by 52%. DCA does very little to alleviate what ought to be the real concerns.

            Investing the same amount every paycheck is dollar-cost averaging,

            I’ve always hated this, it is not true. Investing the same every paycheck is investing when capital is available to you which is the opposite of dollar cost averaging.

            I must add that 8% annual return over 35 years is, um, ambitious. If you’ve been getting that for more than a decade, I’ll retract everything I’ve said because he should obviously listen to you instead. Also I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

            Whatever positive number you choose the extra year is always (on average) the largest gainer because of the (likely) larger base of capital. DCA’ing is like saying “let me give up the best 6 months of return I could expect so I don’t feel bad about market swings”.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            baconbits9-

            I mostly agree. The advantages of dollar-cost averaging are psychological rather than financial.

            If you’ve got an amount you are ready to invest (and you’ve done due diligence about what cushion you need for expenses and emergencies), dividing it up over a few months is sort of like diversifying it — you don’t know what sector will do best this year, and you don’t know whether it will go up or down in the short run, so spreading it out over several sectors or several dates means you don’t get the best possible results but also don’t get the worst possible. But if you trust yourself not to get indigestion if your very first investment goes down by 10% the next day, by all means don’t wait.

            To your other objection, if your income stream or your essential expenses are choppy, I’d never recommend sitting on investable cash just to wait for your next scheduled investment. Regularly adding to your investments is good because it is regular. But it’s also DCA, and seeing the bargain you got in June and July may make it less painful that things went down right after your deposit in August.

            What I actually did for years (until I retired) was keep a day-by-day forecast of my income and expenses at least a year in advance, mostly by just guessing they would be whatever they were last year modified by anything exceptional I know is coming up — like a checkbook ledger, but extending into the future. Then I wrote a simple script that went through looking for places where cash could be extracted without the future balance ever going below $500. That amount got added to the ledger as “invest this”; when that time came, I wrote a check to Schwab just like I wrote a check to the mortgage.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      If you haven’t come across the blog before I would suggest looking into http://www.mrmoneymustache.com which is a very interesting blog. The idea is that by living a satiating life structured to avoid american consumerism you can be able to save lots, retire early (<40 if you start <25), and live independently doing what you want from there. Its a possibility someone with your earning ability should at least ponder once.

      As for your specific question, this form post has a very good break down with explanation of where to put money if the goal is to maximize your $$$.

      As for being worried about a down turn, they happen, you will lose a lot of value. If you invest consistent amount month after month for the rest of your life, it will not make a big difference even if it hurts sometimes.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        MMM is probably useful as an antidote to the high-maintenance consumerist lifestyle. The most important part about retirement is managing your expenses. You can have a $5 million nest egg and blow throw it in 2 years if you decide to “treat yo’ self”

        My parents are definitely screwing themselves with continual high-dollar purchases. Boats, big expensive SUVs…yep, retirement is never coming for you.

    • Rob K says:

      There’s enough unknowns there – how long until the recession? Will stocks fall to below their current levels? (even if p/e ratios normalize earnings could go up a lot over a couple more years of growth.) How close to the bottom would you be able to time your buy-in for? – that I’d argue that, even taking as given that stocks are currently overpriced, trying to hold back doesn’t necessarily improve your expected returns a bunch.

      I’d invest the money now, with a slightly higher share of bonds or equivalent to stocks than you otherwise would. But that probably implies something like an 80/20 mix instead of 90/10, given your age, so not particularly dramatic. Then you can try to rebalance towards the more aggressive ratio at a well-optimized time.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The story of Bob, the worst market timer ever:

      https://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/27/the-inspiring-story-of-the-worst-market-timer-ever.html

      Short form: Bob invests in four lump sums: right before the crash of 1973, the crash of 1987, the crash of 2000, and the crash of 2007. He changes $184K into $1.1M.

      If you “wait for the market to correct” before investing, you will never invest.

      Decide how much risk you can accept, and invest to that threshold.

      • Anonymous says:

        I recall a fairly conclusive analysis of historical stock data that shows that you should invest your money as soon as you get it. Because unless you’re extremely lucky you will not be able to outsmart the market. On average you will just earn more if you follow the pattern of “get paycheck, invest money”.

    • benwave says:

      Scott, I found myself in Precisely the same situation as you about two months ago. I’ve devoted a decent chunk of my time thinking about this problem as it related to me, and this is what I ended up doing:

      I spent a couple of weeks in my off-time looking at long-period historic data of the Dow, and I tried to come up with some algorithm for taking money out of a theoretical perfect index fund, and putting it in an interest bearing bank account and vice versa based on what had happened in the market. This was useful because I was able to convince myself on an actually visceral believable level that I could not pick timings to outperform the market. Of course, this was something I knew to be true already on a trivial level, but it became properly internalised during that process. I’ve satisfied myself that given as much investment of time as I am willing to do, I can’t do better than the market.

      So, I invested in a couple of exchange traded funds at the end of January. Watched them immediately lose about 5% of their value, but the thing is, I was not unhappy with this result. I didn’t have buyers regret, because I had put in my time and due diligence beforehand. And of course, since then it’s risen back up to close to the buy value.

      I highly recommend you go through the same process, it really worked for me

    • riceowlguy says:

      I’d suggest reading The Elements of Investing. Pretty short, you can read it in the time it takes to fly from Houston, TX to NYC.

      The main thing you’ll learn from it is to keep your costs low, so index funds FTW.

    • sidereal says:

      I’m in the exact same situation. In the end I think I’m siding with the boggleheads. Their basic premise is that timing the market is impossible- or if it is possible, it isn’t for you. You can’t say “oh, I believe in buy-and-hold, except right now surely the market is due for a correction”. That’s timing.

      It’s a random walk biased upwards. So the time to invest is always -right now-. Huge upside being that you can avoid the cognitive labor normally spent on worrying about a random walk.

      Do you have student loans? If you do, paying it off should be your low-risk investment, assuming the rate is above 4% or so.

      • Brad says:

        Do you have student loans? If you do, that should be your first diversification investment, as you’re not going to find a better risk free investment.

        Paying down student debt does reduce optionality. Probably still be a good idea, but that’s worth thinking about.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I’m in the exact same situation. In the end I think I’m siding with the boggleheads. Their basic premise is that timing the market is impossible- or if it is possible, it isn’t for you. You can’t say “oh, I believe in buy-and-hold, except right now surely the market is due for a correction”. That’s timing.

        A ‘better’ return isn’t the same thing as a ‘higher expected’ return.

        • sidereal says:

          In the sense that utility can be nonlinear with dollars? I guess that’s true, but for people like Scott and other readers of this blog, I expect to be fairly risk tolerant in a way that “higher expected return” is more or less synonymous with “better”.

    • cassander says:

      Here’s the S&P On average, you can see, it returns about 10% a year, but over 15+ years,the worst anualized return is about 5%, so even if you buy at the peak of the market, you probably won’t do too badly as long as you just hold. More importantly than that, though is the realization that waiting a year or two, unless your timing is very good, doesn’t help you that much. And the math presented there is not taking into account taxation, which is huge. Your best bet, assuming you won’t be taking it out any time soon, is to throw your money into some sort of tax advantaged index fund. Waiting around for 6 months or a year probably means giving up any gains you would get over that period in favor of hoping that things crash so you can buy low.

      Now, I am assuming that your “decent sum” is closer to 5 figures than 7. If you were trying to preserve a large chunk of money for some specific purpose (like building up a downpayment, or to maintain a certain minimum nest egg) that would be very different. But if you just want to sock it away so it can compound, you probably aren’t going to time the market well enough to beat just buying today and hoping nothing goes sideways for a year or two.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Here’s the S&P On average, you can see, it returns about 10% a year

        Eyeballing that chart, I get the same intuition, but if you actually compute it out, what you see is that the annual return over each possible 15-year span gives you annual returns ranging from just over 4% to just over 9.6%. The median is about 5% and the geometric mean is a bit less than 6%.

        Moreover, I’m pretty sure those returns include increases due to inflation; if you deduct for inflation you get returns ranging from 1.6% to 7.4%, median 2.7% and geometric mean 3.3%.

        None of that argues against your advice, of course. On the contrary, getting started today is what gives you the benefit of compounding (the “invisible foot” on the accelerator); over thirty years even 3% multiplies your money by 2.4.

        • Brad says:

          Out of curiosity is there survivor bias in there? If a company falls out of the S&P 500 and is replaced by another is it always the case that the new company and the old company have the same market cap? What about things like a listed company being bought by a foreign parent company that isn’t eligible for inclusion? Or being taken private?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’ve often wondered that myself. For what it’s worth, I’ve owned shares of Vanguard Total Stock Market Index for decades, and its return seems to track the hypothetical return of SP500 pretty closely. (VTSMX tries to match the whole market rather than just the SP500, and it has some small maintenance fees that the hypothetical “SP500 return” doesn’t, but the apples are pretty close to oranges.)

            I believe I have read that the Dow is a little more problematic in this way, because one company coming or going is a significant fraction of the total. But 10% of SP500 is Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, so I’m not sure the argument holds a lot of water. (That’s also why I’m a big fan of the Guggenheim equal-weight ETF, which owns equal amounts of the 500 companies, as a hedge on my position in VTSMX. If the efficient market hypothesis isn’t true, it’s not my fault.)

          • Steven J says:

            There is no survivor bias from changing index composition.
            Here’s a somewhat simplified example of how stock indices are reweighted when firms are added, removed, or replaced.
            For more details, you can check out the methodology document for the family of indices you are interested in, e.g., https://us.spindices.com/documents/methodologies/methodology-index-math.pdf for S&P’s indices.
            Example:
            MyIndex and is replacing ABC Corp. with XYZ Inc., effective at market close on March 31. At that point in time, the total weight [market cap if MyIndex is market-cap weighted] of the indexed firms (including ABC but not XYZ) is 100, of which ABC account for 5. XYZ’s weight at that time is 10. So the total weight is 100 before the switch and 105 after. The requires re-weighting — every firm’s weight is multiplied by 100/105 to get the new weight.

            So an index fund can track MyIndex through this change by doing the following:
            1. Sell all ABC in the ETF.
            2. Sell 1 – 100/105 of its holdings of all other stocks
            3. Use all of the proceeds from 1 and 2 to buy XYZ.
            If all trade are executed at exactly the closing price on March 31, and if there were no transaction fees, then the index fund would track the index exactly. (These are two of the many reasons why real-world index funds have tracking error, and don’t track the underlying index exactly.)

            Analogous procedures are followed for additions or deletions that do no involve replacements, and for things like new equity issuance that change the market cap of the firms.

            So an index fund or an individual investor can very closely mimic the performance of an index, without having to worry about survivor bias.

          • Brad says:

            Thanks for the explanation.

    • ajar says:

      I made a decision about half a year ago to start investing and chose to use Schwab’s Intelligent Investing Service. It’s similar to an index fund and there are no fees. It has a high yield (by comparison to other index funds) and the advantage that its contents are traded periodically by computer algorithm. Schwab also has excellent customer service and for their checking accounts they give a debit card that can be used at any atm in the world without fees.

      • sidereal says:

        Cursory search suggests that the expense ratio on schwabs intelligent investing service range from .06 to .20%. Very competitive, and totally interesting and worth looking at, but without any evidence I’m not feeling motivated to move my money away from vanguard with .04% index funds..

        > Schwab also has excellent customer service and for their checking accounts they give a debit card that can be used at any atm in the world without fees.

        I wouldn’t count this as an advantage as any smart spender will be using a credit card for 2% returns or better on the majority of their purchases

    • Doctor Mist says:

      If your income allows you to deduct IRA contributions (AGI 63K or less), open one and contribute the maximum.

      Otherwise, if your income allows you to contribute to a Roth IRA (AGI 135K or less), open one and contribute the maximum.

      Otherwise, open an IRA, contribute the maximum, open a Roth, and do a Roth-conversion to move it from the IRA to the Roth (the “backdoor Roth”).

      In any case, read James Lange’s The Roth Revolution. If you already have an IRA to which you have made nondeductible contributions, read Chapter 9. Executing chapter 9 was my big project for 2017, and it was hilarious.

  17. Levantine says:

    One of the rudest and most uninformed commentaries on Jordan B. Peterson I’ve come across. Thing is, it’s viscerally delightful.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Official SSC policy is now that Jordan Peterson is a Class III Ideohazard, black box warning “almost uncontrollable tendency to spawn levels of discussion completely out of proportion to the importance of his ideas”. Commenters are earnestly advised to voluntarily dial back discussion of Jordan Peterson to sustainable levels, though this will not be enforced by specific penalties at this time. Low-quality comments and threads about Jordan Peterson may be deleted without warning.

      Commenters are warned that unprovoked discussion of how Jordan Peterson is overrated or how people should talk about him less are also forms of talking about Jordan Peterson (it’s different when I do it because it’s in red text). Please refer to Ideohazard Containment Procedure 6.14 for further information.

      • Aapje says:

        Is he really discussed that often or are you worried about SSC becoming associated with him* or do you have a not so rational aversion to him**?

        * Which is the most understandable reason, because even my generally reasonably centre-left paper had one of these ‘gotcha’ interviews with him, which they rarely do, so this suggests extreme aversion on the left.
        ** Which is my impression

        • liskantope says:

          For years Scott has made an effort to be cautious about the concentration of ugly culture war discourse that shows up in the comments sections of his blog. As it happens, Jordan Peterson seems to be a lightning rod for several major culture war controversies, so his warning makes some sense to me.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t disagree with that, but I that is not the explanation that Scott gives. An “almost uncontrollable tendency to spawn levels of discussion completely out of proportion to the importance of his ideas” is an argument that JBP is discussed more than his ideas warrants, like one may believe that Bryan Caplan should be discussed less.

            That is a different argument to ‘culture war lightning rod.’

          • toastengineer says:

            I suspect it’s less to do with fear that discussions will become uncivil so much as being sick of the guy coming up every. single. OT.

          • keranih says:

            Jordan Peterson seems to be a lightning rod for several major culture war controversies

            To this quasi-outside observer, JP appears to attract more heat from the left than he does warmth from the right, if that makes any sense. So describing him as a ‘lightning rod’ seems…off.

            But perhaps that’s just my tribal blinders. *Are* there things which left leaning people see as ‘meh to pretty ok’ which get attacked full throttle by (parts of) the right?

            (And again, let’s hear it for diversity, where people come up with notions that I would have never in a hundred years considered.)

          • johnjohn says:

            @aapje

            There’s been a ton of discussion in the last dozen open threads about JP, and almost none (if any? I can’t recall any at least) involved discussion of his ideas, so
            “almost uncontrollable tendency to spawn levels of discussion completely out of proportion to the importance of his ideas”
            Seems almost trivially true

          • Aapje says:

            @johnjohn

            There are quite a few topics that get way more debate, so I don’t see the issue.

            But of course, the appropriate amount of discussion is subjective.

          • Brad says:

            But perhaps that’s just my tribal blinders. *Are* there things which left leaning people see as ‘meh to pretty ok’ which get attacked full throttle by (parts of) the right?

            How about communism and (full on) socialism? I hear about those topics much much more often in the context of full throttle attacks by parts of the right, then I ever do advocacy for them by left of center people. A few online weirdos aside (I think they are called tankies?) the nicest thing I ever hear from left of center people about them is “its a good idea, too bad human nature is compatible with it”.

          • qwints says:

            Things that I, a leftist, perceive as basically reasonable that attract vitriol from the right.

            1) Marxism
            2) Reparations
            3) Indigenous rights
            4) Free Palestine
            5) Animal rights

            These all have various levels of support on the left, but are not considered particularly controversial.

          • OptimalSolver says:

            @Keranih

            Taxes on sugary drinks.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            1) Marxism
            2) Reparations
            3) Indigenous rights
            4) Free Palestine
            5) Animal rights

            Taxes on sugary drinks.Taxes on sugary drinks.

            Almost all of the above are actually things I find common ground on with my upper-middle-class liberal friends. The only exception is “Free Palestine,” which some actually support (with my Jewish friends being…less understanding of the plight of Palestinians).

            We just had the sugary tax drink in Chicago get rolled back. People were pissed. As in “fuck you, I will drive to Lake County and post it on Facebook” pissed. And Chicago is not a conservative stronghold by any imagination.

            Animal rights is an interesting case, because it sort of depends on what you mean. Like, conservatives don’t support dog fighting, and my leftist friends generally think the “anti animal testing” folk are deluded fools up there with the “I only buy non-GMO salt” crowd.

          • qwints says:

            @ A Definite Beta Guy, Optimal Solver’s example is a much better one. By animal rights I mean things like ending factory farming (or even all meat consumption). Think PETA or Sea Shepherd.

          • Fahundo says:

            Taxes on sugary drinks.

            Since most of those drinks use corn syrup, wouldn’t it make more sense to just subsidize corn less?

          • toastengineer says:

            @fahundo
            It does from a god’s-eye-view; not so much from the viewpoint of a politician who has to contend with massive amounts of angry farmer money.

        • a reader says:

          @Aapje:

          or do you have a not so rational aversion to him**?
          [….] ** Which is my impression

          I don’t think that Scott has such an aversion to Jordan Peterson – remember what he wrote in the five years predictions thread:

          The best case scenario for the Right is that Jordan Peterson’s ability to not instantly get ostracized and destroyed signals a new era of basically decent people being able to speak out against social justice; this launches a cascade of people doing so, and the vague group consisting of Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, etc coalesces into a perfectly respectable force no more controversial than the gun lobby or the pro-life movement or something. With social justice no longer able to enforce its own sacredness values against blasphemy, it loses a lot of credibility and ends up no more powerful or religion-like than eg Christianity.

          • Aapje says:

            @a reader

            You can read that in different ways, including one where Jordan Peterson loses much of his heroic appeal if SJ becomes more reasonable. Then the heterodox don’t feel as much need to rally behind him, so he becomes far less prominent. That’s a good outcome if you dislike how prominent he is.

            So hoping for that is not inconsistent with having a (mild) aversion, which Scott himself seems to realize may not be entirely rational:

            Also, maybe this is narcissism of small differences, but I find his anti-SJW stuff really annoying.

            I can see why, because Peterson likes to use labels/archetypes that are fairly sloppy and tribal, while Scott prefers to employ far more charity.

            However, if non-rational thinking is prominent among people (which Scott’s own writings suggests is the case), then a mix of tribalism and reason may be more effective than to maximally appeal to reason. It is not a given that Peterson’s strategy is worse, to weaken SJ so much that the polarization is more manageable and so there is more room for reasonable debate.

            Irrationally overvaluing how susceptible others are to reason and overvaluing how capable others are of becoming more rational is exactly the kind of mistake that one would expect a rationalist to make.

          • liskantope says:

            I won’t speak for Scott, but his reaction to Peterson’s anti-SJ rhetoric doesn’t surprise me considering that (1) Peterson seems quite hostile to some aspects of Scott’s pro-trans perspective; and (2) Peterson’s flavor of anti-SJ seems to be a bit too strong on the “Waah! Stop making yourselves victims, little babies!” scale, which Scott has expressed a distaste for.

        • Vorkon says:

          I can’t remember the last open thread that didn’t have at least one large thread that was, if not devoted specifically to Jordan Peterson, then at least heavily involving him, and I can think of at least one that had no less than three large threads specifically devoted to him, not even counting the one that simply started, “So, how about that Jordan Peterson, huh?” by way of mocking the other threads. I’ve also noticed that, “so you’re saying we should model our society after lobsters?!?” has become shorthand for “you are deliberately misinterpreting what I’m saying.” (I know I’ve done used it that way, myself.) So, yeah, I’d say that he’s discussed often enough that the site becoming associated with him is not an unreasonable concern.

          Or, rather, even if it might be unreasonable TO BE concerned about it, it’s not an unrealistic concern…

          • gbdub says:

            I’m in the same boat. I never much knew or cared about him one way or the other, but now it seems like half of every OT is all Peterson, all the time. A self-imposed time out for the threads might do us some good.

      • Silverlock says:

        Looks like we have “secure” down and “contain” in progress. Not sure about “protect,’ though.

      • Deiseach says:

        I proffer my grateful thanks to the Rightful Caliph for his ruling on this matter because I would have spontaneously combusted with one more comment on this.

      • Urstoff says:

        That missing CDC worker was a grad student of Jordan Peterson’s!

      • J Mann says:

        What’s the virtue of silence in this case? Is it risk of culture war levels of animosity, risk of attracting the “wrong sort” to SSC, or just risk of boring everyone who doesn’t care?

        (And is there any chance we could get a sequel to The Virtue of Silence considering those issues? I haven’t thought about them before, and now I’m curious.)

      • Forge the Sky says:

        The polarization around him is in some ways a shame, because I think his actual research into dividing the ‘big 5’ into aspects and also figuring out how different political affiliations can be predicted by these traits, is quite interesting and the sort of thing often discussed on this blog.

        Maybe it’s been discussed, I don’t read every thread.

        Also, I’d be curious to hear people comment on his ‘Future Authoring’ stuff, which purports to have tremendously increased academic outcomes in underprivileged demographics in a way that seems very improbable to me. Knowing what we do about how ineffective educational interventions tend to be, and in a way Peterson himself sometimes references.

        But that would certainly be discussing Peterson, so maybe that ship has sailed.

    • J Mann says:

      Personally, I don’t like swearing as argument. My feeling is anybody could do it, and the Matt Taibi’s of the world are just capitalizing on the fact that other people don’t.

      I guess I don’t really have a basis – I love Kevin Williamson’s snide poison pen letters to his enemies, and I guess they’re not substantively different. Williamson’s style requires a rarer talent, but if it’s not more likely to be informative, then I guess enjoying him more that Taibi is just hipster snobbery.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What’s up with the URL? Was there an older version of that post that used that title? Was it about Peterson or the album? BOTH??!?

  18. OptimalSolver says:

    Posted this on the Subreddit:

    Is there an upper limit to human physical attractiveness beyond which it only elicits diminishing responses?

    Suppose there’s some neural mechanism in human brains that’s used to appraise physical attractiveness. What I’m wondering is if it’s capable of being completely maxed out, and whether everything over a certain point of hotness would be overkill.

    Say you instructed a strong (and friendly!) AI to design what most humans would agree is the most attractive girl/guy possible. So through a series of optimizations, the AI uses its unfathomable knowledge of human biology and psychology to do just that.

    Would the resulting human trigger a much different response than the people currently considered “the hottest”? Would it be like those Veelas in Harry Potter who make people completely lose their minds? Or would they just appear slightly more good-looking than your run-of-the-mill local beauty due to maxed out neural hotness receptors?

    • ricraz says:

      Very interesting question! My guess would be that optimising physical appearance wouldn’t change responses hugely, but optimising gestures/body language/facial expressions/outfit would have a significantly bigger impact, and optimising speech could create a Veela effect. (assuming this is personalised, since tastes differ so widely). On the other hand, the relevant comparison is the hottest person in the world (by your standards) coming up and flirting with you, which would probably make people lose their minds anyway.

      • riceowlguy says:

        I’d claim that an even modestly attractive member of your preferred gender coming up to you and flirting with you is much more likely to peg your arousal response than just seeing an image of an “optimally attractive” person.

        I also think there’s a whole lot of variability in what different people find attractive, at least based on personal experience of my reaction to various friends’ celebrity crushes.

        • SkyBlu says:

          I mean the question appears to be where attraction falls on an optimizing/satisficing scale. For me at least it’s much closer to satisficing than it is to optimizing but I’m also kind of desperate so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • Shion Arita says:

      From my first person experience of attraction, yes it maxes out, and a fairly significant fraction of prime-reproductive-age members of the opposite sex reach that level for me.

      • Incurian says:

        Agreed. Anything above the 40th percentile is basically a tie to be resolved by personality (after which their subjective physical attractiveness is updated to match).

        I had a friend who used to say that rating attraction on a 1-10 scale was pointless, the real scale is 0-1.

        • Aapje says:

          When you use fractions, there is no meaningful difference 😛

          Seriously though, 0/1 is merely meaningful to the individual, if you want some cross-person comparability, you need more detail (although numbers from 1-10 are not necessarily detail enough to make usable claims).

    • Aapje says:

      @OptimalSolver

      What do you mean by “diminishing responses”? I don’t think that beauty operates on merely one axis.

      Very high attractiveness may cause behavior from others that the person dislikes and/or that harms the person in some ways, like people they deal with not being able to look past their beauty or turning off their brain.

      In general, I would expect that benefits minus costs of increasingly good looks will increase rapidly until some point, where it slows down. Then at one point, the costs may start outweighing the benefits for further increases in beauty.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think part of what’s going on might not just be individual responses to beauty– past a certain point it’s not just “here is the person I’m attracted to”, it’s “here is the person I and a whole lot of people– everyone who’s normal, in fact– is attracted to”.

        • Aapje says:

          Sure and that has advantages (I have high status because Pretty McPrettyFace dates me) and disadvantages (Pretty McPrettyFace is out of my league and may leave me for someone prettier).

          However, I think that the status benefits always increase with increased looks, while the anxiety depends on the gap with the looks of the partner. In general, I have my doubts whether these effects ever make it better to be less pretty on average (I can see how it can sometimes be better for an individual, when the person they are attracted to is less pretty, but I’d expect the opposite case to be more common even at high levels of attractiveness).

      • The Nybbler says:

        I think physiological response to beauty definitely saturates; there’s only so much electrical signal and so many neurotransmitters that can be produced.

    • outis says:

      I’m ambivalent on this. On one hand, considering examples of existing people who are really attractive, there does seem to be an asymptotic limit.

      On the other hand, anime is more attractive than 3DPD, so it’s possible that there is a region of stimulus, unreachable (or just unreached?) by biological humans, which results in greater perceived attractiveness, even though the result is counter-adaptive.

      On the third hand (also known as the Dick), a lot of people have specific tastes or “types”, which may call into question the possibility of “maxing out” attractiveness. Furthermore, these tastes may change during one’s life and be affected by experience. I feel like there is a lot of research to be done here before the original question can be addressed.

      On the fourth hand, if we reduce the experience of beauty to the release of some neural transmitters in some area (boring!), then it seems pretty clear that there has to be a practical upper limit, though the question of an actual human can approach it remains.

    • Michael Handy says:

      I do some acting/singing, and so occasionally meet someone 2-3 standard deviations from the attractiveness mean. I’m no slouch, but the difference between pretty attractive and at the top range of human ability is vast.

      They’re all incredibly nice people, but the immediate response is a kind of terror, a recognition of unearthly power, like the fair folk just appeared in front of you.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        As a counterpoint, I am also involved in musical theater, and also run into stunningly beautiful actresses on the quasi-reg. I would say I have the opposite reaction: while they certainly draw attention and can be somewhat distracting, if anything the experience has somewhat lessened the effect of physical attractiveness. I wouldn’t say it’s normalized the scale–I can still tell they’re very pretty–but I’m much less likely to stop thinking beacuse of their presence. Some variant of the joke “No matter how beautiful she is, someone somewhere is sick and tired of her shit” applies: I have ample historical evidence that they’re basically normal people with normal mindsets.

        That said, it’s still noticeable. I don’t agree with the people that call beauty a positional good, at least not entirely: if everyone in the world was Hollywood-pretty, definitely some fraction would start competing on the exact details of their eyebrows and ombre and who had the *best* liposuction, but I think everyone’s day to day experience would just be more pleasant. Both because it’s pleasant to be surrounded by beauty, and because we would subconsciously default to a more friendly norm.

    • arlie says:

      Note that attractiveness is culturally mediated/learned. A person who is very “hot” to e.g. a 21st century American might be something else entirely to a medieval European peasant. The well known part of that has to do with extreme slenderness, but my guess is that this is just one of many factors. (Or maybe I’ve been taken in by an urban legend on this bit of information. I didn’t research it.)

      If that information is accurate though, then presumably each culture constructs an almost/rarely attainable maximum, and the question is moot.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Human minds and senses are finite, so yes, there is an upper limit. Furthermore, human senses tend to be saturated by stimuli over time, which means that even the maximally attractive person will seem less attractive over time. On top of that, there’s no universal standard for attractiveness; yes, there are certain trends that all humans share, but each person has one’s own preferences on top of that.

    • AG says:

      As with most of our hormonal responses, people would build up tolerance to attractiveness. People who work and live in entertainment industry hubs are often surrounded by the cream of the physical crop, and their sense of attractiveness scale is warped compared to people who live elsewhere. An aspiring actor who is a 10 in Michigan might think themselves a 3 after they move to LA.

      See also the stereotype that all South Korean women look the same because they all get the same optimized plastic surgery face.

      Hypothetical: there is an asymptotic relationship in how many abs one has to their increase in physical attractiveness, compared to the previous number of abs. Otherwise, less people would be grossed out by the bodybuilders.

    • yodelyak says:

      I think this very unusual study with teaching chickens to recognize faces shows there’s something pretty basic about neural networks at play in physical attraction: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26192929.

      In other words, “looks like a face” has to be high, but once it is, then we’re done with physical attractiveness and on to other factors.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I can’t empirically prove this, but my impression from portraits over the past six hundred years or so is that human facial attractiveness has dramatically increased over that period, perhaps thanks to some combination of sexual selection and improved nutrition. Go back a few hundred years, and people regarded as great beauties by their contemporaries look pretty ugly to me. The earliest attractive (to my sensibilities) woman I’m aware of based on portraiture is Emma Hamilton, a little over two hundred years ago, and it may not be a coincidence that she was having an affair with her country’s biggest celebrity.

      Hotness set points?

  19. Aapje says:

    There is an recent interview with the Weinstein brothers which I found very interesting. To decide whether you want to spend the almost 3 hours, you can read this.

    • MaxieJZeus says:

      Same planet, different worlds: I saw “interview with Weinstein brothers” and instantly muttered, “Wait, I thought Bob was preoccupied with selling what’s left of the company, and Harvey was busy trying to stay out of jail!”

  20. johan_larson says:

    The puzzles this time are excerpts from pop songs, with only the first letter of each word shown. Find the titles of the songs.

    You are welcome to post answers, but please ROT13 encode them to avoid spoiling it for others.
    http://www.rot13.com/

    1.
    T W T A P I T C J
    T P B W T A T B T W
    T B W J A T J B T S
    Y S H T K O J S

    2.
    W, Y C T B T W I U M W
    I A W M: N T T T
    M L A W W, I B K A
    S I W B

    3.
    P D P
    I I T D
    P D P
    I B L S
    B I M U M M, I K M B
    O, I G K M B, M

    4.
    C K, B Y T M
    C K, F P B
    C K, I K Y F G
    C K, T W G E

    5.
    I B S B
    T O B D K H T A
    I T I S, W B Y B
    S T A A I P U T S

    • Rachael says:

      #2 is fgnlva nyvir

    • johan_larson says:

      I am going to make the hints and answers available early, because I will be away for the next few days. If you want to give yourself a challenge, only decode the hints you really need.

      First hint: the topic of each song.
      1. Cevfba.
      2. Trggvat ol.
      3. Cneragubbq.
      4. Eriratr.
      5. Frk.

      Second hint: the year of release of each song.
      1. Svsgl-frira.
      2. Friragl-frira.
      3. Rvtugl-fvk.
      4. Avargl-gjb.
      5. Bu fvk.

      Actual answers:
      1. Wnvyubhfr Ebpx
      2. Fgnlvat Nyvir
      3. Cncn Qba’g Cernpu
      4. Pbc Xvyyre
      5. FrklOnpx

    • James says:

      Finally, something within my area of expertise! I got 3 straight away and will continue to meditate upon the rest.

      A nice easy one (maybe) in this vein:

      W I L?
      B, D H M!
      D H M—N M.

  21. liskantope says:

    What do people here think of the proposition that the political culture America has reached an all-time high in terms of polarization specifically along party lines?

    Whenever I hear someone saying “America is more polarized and tribalistic than ever before”, there are several rebuttals (although I think most acknowledge that the situation is more polarized than a lot of Americans, including me, have seen in our lifetimes).

    One is to point out that things were obviously worse at the time of, and just before, the Civil War. This is true, but I think it’s arguable that we shouldn’t view that situation in terms of two-party politics, as the party system was in flux at the time because of the deep divisiveness of the slavery issue. Yes the then-brand-new Republican party was 100% regional and pro-North, but it came into being as a result of already existing regional tribalism while meanwhile there were people on both sides in the Democratic party.

    Another is to point out that the American people were more bitter and polarized in living memory over the Vietnam War. Perhaps that’s also true, but the more I’ve learned about American political history the more it seems to me that this wasn’t an issue divided along party lines; rather, most of the establishment members of both parties were pro-Vietnam and really this was a conflict between the older generations and the younger generation.

    Thoughts?

    • johan_larson says:

      It seems like there is more strife within each party than I can remember. The Republicans had the Trump supporters squaring off against everyone else, of course, and what they were arguing about where not minor differences of policy. But the Democrats also had to deal with a very serious challenge (by a socialist!) against the candidate supported by the party leadership.

      • liskantope says:

        The strife within each party does seem to be at a maximum over my lifetime, but I expect the strife within the Democratic party circa 1968 (over Vietnam, civil rights, etc.) was considerably worse. Nowadays, despite the serious conflicts within each major party, two-party tribalism seems robust enough that most members of each party seem willing to step in line with their party’s leader (or at least that’s my vague impression currently, hard to justify quantitatively).

    • qwints says:

      Off the top of my head – Adams v Jefferson, the end of reconstruction and the New Deal also seem more divided on party lines than today, but I’d want to look at congressional vote totals to say accurately. The Civil Rights era was also more bitterly divided, but that wasn’t along party lines initially.

      • liskantope says:

        Adams versus Jefferson was probably extremely divided on party lines, sure, but my impression is that an extremely low percentage of the American population was emotionally invested in following the political situation during that period (of course most people couldn’t vote anyway).

        The end of Reconstruction, yeah, that does seem like a candidate (although there were plenty of Democrats in the North, I suppose they weren’t the ones promoting and implementing Reconstruction).

        I would say that the New Deal also wasn’t initially divided along party lines in the sense that the two major parties didn’t really have platforms until the Great Depression happened on Republican watch and the subsequent Democratic administration implemented it. In other words, as with the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, a new ideology was becoming prominent and the Democrats wound up aligning themselves with it more closely than the Republicans did, rather than an existing sense of party tribalism determining who defended an emerging ideology (if I’m making any sense).

        • m.alex.matt says:

          The militias in several states were ready to muster out over the election, so I don’t know about that.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Re Vietnam, the young were more pro-war than the old.

    • albatross11 says:

      I suspect there are a lot of systems (social media sites using algorithms to maximize stickiness of their site, outrage farming for clicks, various writers and social media personalities trying to break out of the pack by getting a lot of attention quickly, etc.) that are pushing us toward more bitter polarization. My intuition is that the actual facts on the ground probably don’t have any more tendency to polarize us now than they did 20 years ago, and maybe have less. There’s almost certainly much less overt racism, overt sexism, overt anti-gay bias, mistreatment of trans people[1], etc., now than at any time in living memory in the US, yet there’s more visible outrage over those issues now than there was then.

      [1] Who are still getting kicked around plenty, but almost certainly less now than 20 years ago, and it’s at least a topic of discussion in public that they ought not to get kicked around so much.

    • cassander says:

      I don’t think the party divide matters that much. If the country was divided, but the parties weren’t, I think you’d see that rapidly changing. As you say, the pre-civil war era wasn’t really split along party lines, but it did march rapidly in that direction very quickly, and by the eve of the war, you have a substantially republican north facing off against a substantially democratic south. Ditto in the vietnam era, where vietnam starts out with bi-partisan support and bipartisan (if minority) opposition, things shift rather quickly, aided, admittedly, by Nixon’s victory helping to push the democrats into an anti-war party.

      • liskantope says:

        I see your point, but I guess what I’m driving at is that my perception of the present-day situation is of the American populace dividing itself on issues largely based on already-entrenched party affiliations, rather than the other way around (as we agree was the case pre-Civil-War and during Vietnam, arguably even during the time of the Iraq War).

        Maybe I’m not seeing things in a balanced way though because I’m looking at the current situation up close while looking at past situations zoomed out through a historical lens.

    • LadyJane says:

      Well, obviously the country was more polarized during the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. But this is the most polarized that the country has been since the Reconstruction era.

      It’s not that people are disagreeing with each other more, but rather, they’re increasingly less willing to try to find common ground, or even to discuss their disagreements in a civil manner. The disagreements are also much more sharply drawn along party lines than they used to be, which makes it that much easier to dehumanize the other side; when it was more of a mixed bag, you’d be a lot more likely to agree with someone on a few issues and disagree with them on others, which fostered earnest discussion and good faith discourse. Now, it’s gotten to a point where roughly one-third of Republicans see the Democratic Party as an existential threat to the nation and to civilization as a whole, and vice-versa. This is reflected within the political system as well: politicians are far more likely to vote consistently along party lines, and far less likely to hammer out successful bipartisan compromises, largely because any politician who’s seen as insufficiently conservative/liberal will get voted out in the next primary.

      Political scientists have a lot of theories as to why the U.S. has become so much more polarized: poor economic conditions causing people to view politics as a matter of survival more than preference; modern media allowing people to isolate themselves in political echo chambers and choose their own facts; primary elections being more important than general elections in many districts due to gerrymandering; less people being taught about proper civic engagement in school due to decreasing education standards. Probably it’s a mix of all of the above.

  22. johan_larson says:

    Well, Canada finished third in the Winter Olympics with 29 medals, behind Norway (39) and Germany (31). Yay, us! We’re a winter sports super-power!

    The Winter Olympics have a reputation as a private party for Whitey McWhiteFace, so it was good to see some of the Asian nations stepping up. South Korea got 17 medals, Japan got 13, and China 9.

    But seriously, what really impresses me is Norway’s performance. What an incredible result for such a small nation. Is it too early to suspect a secret eugenics program begun under the Nazi occupation, continued through the Cold War by the CIA, and now run by a shadowy group of California billionaires?

    • gbdub says:

      Cross country skiiing, biathlon, and ski jumping are called the “Nordic” disciplines for a reason 😉

      Norway won 14 of their 39 medals in cross country skiing, 6 in biathlon, and another in Nordic combined. Plus 5 in ski jumping. That’s a huge contributor. No other country takes cross country as seriously as they do.

      What’s really wild is they got their 39 medals with only 109 athletes. USA sent 241.

      • gbdub says:

        The Netherlands might be the champions of specialization though – 20 medals, all in speed skating (16 in long track). Their entire delegation was only 34 athletes.

        • Aapje says:

          We are already doing better. In the past our medals would generally all be long track speed skating and now we are also winning in short track speed skating. #DutchSoDiverse

          We are already making plans for world domination, by building an artificial mountain* so we can ski/snowboard/bobsled/luge/etc down it. Get ready to surrender that 4th place, USA!

          * As soon as we can make it financially feasible, which is a bit of a challenge.

          • Tenacious D says:

            * As soon as we can make it financially feasible, which is a bit of a challenge.

            Well, Scott said he’s looking for investment advice…

          • johan_larson says:

            I would guess that sports like luge, ski jumping, and bobsled are high on the list of optimizable sports for countries looking to turn money into medals into national prestige. The pools of competitors for these sports are really shallow; there just aren’t a lot of people who take the family out ski jumping for a weekend. Get some capable generalist athletes, give them professional coaching and living expenses, and you have a decent shot at some olympic medals.

          • gbdub says:

            @johan_larson

            It seems like China was making a concerted effort to do the sort of “moneyball” you’re talking about by throwing lots of resources at relatively shallow competition pools. But this seems to have led to much more success at the summer vs. winter games (then again I don’t think China has much of an “organic” winter sports culture, so the fact that they are competitive at all is impressive).

          • Aapje says:

            @johan_larson

            I believe that bobsledding and luge are very material-dependent & it’s very hard to break through if you don’t have domestic production expertise. You can buy equipment, but it’s going to be sufficiently worse than what the teams/athletes from the top countries get that you can’t really win with it.

    • Protagoras says:

      Is it too early to suspect a secret eugenics program begun under the Nazi occupation, continued through the Cold War by the CIA, and now run by a shadowy group of California billionaires?

      The answer to this is obvious; it is far too late!

  23. rahien.din says:

    Quick question for those with more knowledge of economics than I* :

    I would like to know more, but don’t have much spare time/energy. I found Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” as a free .pdf, and as an audiobook.

    Is this an okay starting point? If you have better suggestions, I am all ears.

    * This probably means you.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      John Maynard Keynes. Start with Keynes. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Its free, its foundational – all later work either tries to build on him or refute him, and having read the real thing is very important, because it makes it way easier to spot economic tought that is full of shit, because it will more or less invariably involve lying about what Keynes wrote.
      https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/keynes/john_maynard/k44g/complete.html is the easiest on the eyes version on the net.

      http://synagonism.net/book/economy/keynes.1936.general-theory.html With footnotes. But your eyes will cry.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Uhhhh…I wouldn’t endorse much of this, besides this part:

        your eyes will cry.

        “General Theory” isn’t quite “Ulysses,” but it’s damn sure not optimized for easy reading.

      • Quite aside from whether it is right or wrong, The General Theory is not the place to start. I suspect Keynes would have agreed with that. The macro debate to which Keynes made a major contribution is not the basis of economics, not a central part of economics, merely a very important set of ideas coming out of economics.

        I find it irritating that people on both sides of the political spectrum, perhaps more on the right than the left, identify “Keynesian” with left of center economic views in general rather than with a particular approach to the problems associated with involuntary unemployment. I used to have, may still have somewhere, a copy of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom with a glowing endorsement on the back by Keynes.

        • Urstoff says:

          Keynes also thought Marx was nonsensical rubbish, which I imagine would surprise quite a few partisans

      • m.alex.matt says:

        Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT try to start with The General Theory. It pre-supposes a pretty good background in statistics and economics that someone trying to start with ‘Economics in One Lesson’ probably doesn’t have. It’s also not the Ur-text Thomas is trying to make it out to be. While very important to have a familiarity with if you want to be economically literate, Keynes didn’t actually invent macro with it like the pop wisdom pre-supposes.

    • toastengineer says:

      Economics In One Lesson is heavily recommended by libertarians, and from what I’ve read of it it does have a libertarian bent to it. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, but be aware of that.

    • j1000000 says:

      I don’t have much knowledge of economics, but I read Economics in One Lesson during my True Believer libertarian phase. Even then I thought it was very redundant and that you get the point after like 3 chapters. It’s just the one lesson again and again.

    • Urstoff says:

      Aside from just picking up a basic econ text (which you can buy used for dirt cheap), David Friedman’s Hidden Order is pretty good, as still articulates a lot of the basic concepts of price theory that you probably won’t get in other popular texts. I haven’t read Charles Wheelan’s Naked Economics, but his Naked Statistics was pretty good, so it may be a good starting point.

      Timothy Taylor’s econ course from The Great Courses is also really good, and it might be available at your local library (mine has lots of Great Courses DVDs available).

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        Also, the Marginal Revolution guys (libertarian economists from GMU) have done a bunch of videos for Marginal Revolution University which do a nice job of explaining a lot of basic economic ideas, if you find video presentations workable.

      • Hidden Order is a rewrite of my Price Theory designed to convert it from a textbook to a book for the intelligent layman, the equivalent of a price theory course for someone reading about it for fun. It’s better than Price Theory but Price Theory is webbed for free.

      • yodelyak says:

        I liked Naked Economics quite a bit. As a point of bias, I had Wheelan as a professor, and liked him.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I haven’t read this particular book, but I’d definitely second (third?) all the caution about the source. The Von Mises Institute falls somewhere between Ron Paul and Ayn Rand on the economic spectrum.

      The word “recession” does not appear at all. If you’re trying to get a comprehensive economics education, this text probably isn’t it. You are probably better off going to a bargain book store and picking up an old college textbook for a few dollars, which will give a reference point closer to what the median American college graduate experiences. This will also be a helpful jumping off point into reading the various economic blogs, which will probably teach you more in the long-run anyways.

    • g says:

      Maybe worth a look at Economics in Two Lessons, a sort of reply to Hazlitt’s book. This will in due course be an actual book, but for now what there is is a bunch of blogposts containing (in some cases, old versions of) bits of it. A good place to start might be what’s currently the third thing on that page, which links to the introduction of Quiggin’s book.

      I haven’t myself read either Hazlitt’s book or Quiggin’s response, but Quiggin is a smart chap. His political leanings are quite different from Hazlitt’s.

    • yodelyak says:

      I enjoy Yoram Bauman “The Stand-up Economist”. PhD in econ, but actually pretty damn funny.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Pop Econ is really not a great way to learn economics. I don’t think I heard the words “marginal cost” until I actually took a class. If you want to learn more than “incentives matter”, than you need to pick up a textbook and understand those supply and demand graphs. Make sure you start with microecon, that’s more foundational.

    • Orpheus says:

      There is a Teaching Company course on basic economics by Timothy Taylor which is pretty good.

  24. OptimalSolver says:

    Is mental causation the most seductive idea in human history?

    Specifically, the feeling that you can bend reality towards your preferences just by willing it. This has been the hardest thing for me to give up in my journey towards physical realism.

    Even now, I hear its siren call. Perhaps something something something quantum will make it physically possible to have a thing just by wanting it?

    • Urstoff says:

      Seems like you’re conflating mental causation with some libertarian conception of freewill (or something oddly mystical, given your last sentence). We all affect the physical world by making decisions. I don’t know whether that counts as “bending reality towards your preferences”, as that sounds more poetic than precise.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think he means the kind of thing where you had a bad thought and some act of God ended up punishing you for it.

  25. j1000000 says:

    With this recent school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, tons of outlets are saying that it was clear something was going to happen and that the FBI etc. “mishandled” it. But IANAL and I don’t totally understand what could be done without him confessing some sort of plan. (I know he made a vague YouTube comment along these lines, but that seems understandably hard to trace. Maybe I’m just naive.)

    Are there legitimate ways law enforcement could’ve prevented this, other than just saying “this kid’s dangerous” and coming up with dubious charges that led to him being sedated for the rest of his life in a mental hospital?

    • gbdub says:

      It’s a good question. It’s especially good because not only are we apparently terrible at doing something about obvious disasters-in-waiting, we seem to be quite good at massive overreactions like suspending a kid for chewing his Pop-Tart into a gun shape.

      • Murphy says:

        I still remember Voices From The Hellmouth

        After columbine there was certainly a crackdown…. on bullied kids.

        Oddball kids went from being mere outcasts to suddenly being viewed as dangerous with the result that effectively Americas teachers gleefully joined in as additional bullies.

        In the same way that after 9/11 we saw teachers gleefully joining in bullying random Muslim children.

        And then people were surprised there was an uptick in school shootings… after they started torturing outcasts even harder with the blessing of teachers and administrators.

        There were a host of “profiles” circulated to schools for what to watch out for but the vast…. vast…. vast majority of the time they were steaming bullshit.

        it hit the same problem as “how do you describe a knife” “Flat, sharp, metallic, with a handle”. It’s the dry description that’s going to be used to hunt down oddballs.

        • onyomi says:

          I remember later on hearing that the Columbine shooters had actually been popular bullies, in defiance of their initial media characterization as outcast misfits. Don’t know if either characterization ultimately proved accurate?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103287016

            Yes, they were popular bullies.

            Interview with the author of the book about what really happened at Columbine– he reported on it when it happened, and then found out (partly through the killers’ diaries) that most of the early reporting was wrong.

            The interview is from 2009, and includes a recommendation to listen to students about what they think are serious threats, but don’t have a zero-tolerance policy.

          • j1000000 says:

            Judging by Wikipedia and accounts from friends who read that book “Columbine” a few years back (all very scientific, I know), I think the narrative now is that they were bullied, but they weren’t just smart, harmless kids transformed by bullying — Harris was a violent psychopath who was going to be trouble no matter what and he pulled Klebold under his spell.

    • Bobby Shaftoe says:

      In the first days after the shooting, I thought it was a mistake to say that law enforcement mishandled the case. Now, I’m not so sure. It has come out that the tips/complaints about the kid went well beyond the vague youtube comment. As far as what could have been done, my understanding is that the local police department had reasonable grounds to arrest him for domestic violence, that would have resulted in his guns being taken, but they declined to make the arrest. Sorry I don’t have a source on this.

      In general, when people start going on about preventative measures, I start worrying about harmless but weird and introverted kids getting targeted. But it actually sounds to me that Cruz could plausibly have been identified, and that his previous misbehaviors were actionable in a way that would have prevented him from legally owning guns, which would likely have been enough to prevent the shooting.

    • John Schilling says:

      If e.g. this is true, and it is only one of several examples, then local police could certainly have arrested him and a local DA probably could have indicted him on felony charges. That would have ended the immediate threat, and if they got a felony conviction out of it would permanently bar him from legally owning a gun.

      Longer term, it’s unlikely he would spend more than a few years in prison, and if he can’t legally own a gun, then after a few years in prison he almost certainly knows a guy who knows a guy who can get him a gun anyway. But after a few years, the specific grudge that led him to shoot up a school will probably have faded, and he may wind up joining a gang that can channel his further violence in directions that are profitable to them and less terrifying to the rest of society.

      Or maybe we figure out how to reliably rehabilitate convicted felons and find the political will to actually do so, but I’m not holding my breath.

      • j1000000 says:

        The two incidents outlined in that CNN article are him hiding guns, which the cops seemed not to find (and I have no idea if that’s a felony), and him getting in a fight with the family’s son, after which the son refused to prosecute.

        Again IANAL so forgive my incorrect use of these terms, but if the son doesn’t want to pursue charges, isn’t there little the cops can do in cases like these?

        I’m mostly wondering what could’ve been done by law enforcement. That kid who didn’t press charges is a different story — he’ll presumably regret it for the rest of his life, but I can understand why in the moment he thought that prison wasn’t the solution.

        • Bobby Shaftoe says:

          It is a common misconception that a victim needs to press charges in order for a prosecution to happen. The prosecutor makes the decision one way or another. The prosecutor can take the victims desires into account, but is by no means obligated to drop charges at the behest of the victim.

          • j1000000 says:

            My understanding was that they can still press charges, but it becomes far, far more difficult to win the case in that circumstance, so they by and large don’t bother trying. Is that wrong?

          • Bobby Shaftoe says:

            I guess I better mention that IANAL either.

            I think my understanding matches yours, except that sometimes there is plenty of evidence available even without the cooperation of the victim. I don’t know whether the Cruz incident was like that.

        • John Schilling says:

          after which the son refused to prosecute

          I’m certain David Friedman can give us a long list of societies where this would be meaningful, but Florida isn’t one of them. “The People” prosecute, not any specific person. If the government “people” had decided to prosecute Cruz for a crime, there is no requirement that the victim of that crime agree to the process. There is no requirement that there even be a victim.

          The police and/or DA may exercise their discretion not to pursue a case if the victim doesn’t want them to, but if e.g. they have reason to believe there are going to be further crimes, they can arrest and prosecute without the consent or approval of the victim, and they can compel the victim to testify under penalty of perjury. Or just use other witnesses.

          “[Cruz] used a gun against people before … has put the gun to others’ heads in the past”, according to the mother who went out of her way to call the police. If she witnessed any of those incidents, that’s a felony indictment whenever the DA wants it to be. And when they start getting more calls saying Cruz was going to shoot up a school, no shit, this is for real, then maybe they ought to have looked through their files for things that would let them arrest and indict Cruz for a felony.

          But that would have required amazing leadership.

      • John Schilling says:

        Followup: Popehat now gives us the story of a disturbed young man who once scared a lot of people with talk of shooting up schools (among other things) and is now apparently busy writing bad fantasy novels without hurting anyone. In between was an intervention by the FBI built around a felony prosecution for making criminal threats, but with a rehabilitative rather than punitive focus.

        This is how to do it right, and as far as I can see there is nothing in the story of Kenneth Eng that couldn’t have been carried over to Nikolas Cruz.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t read the article the same way as you

          The record reveals six years of everyone involved going to extraordinary lengths to make Eng get treatment, to deal with his relapses and outbursts, and to help him.

          But it was not enough.

          Obviously he didn’t go on a shooting rampage which is good, but the rest of the article is about how even with what look like the best (realistic) interventions he still struggled with behavioral issues for years. I don’t know what the statistics are for people who threaten this type of violence to those who actually commit it but I feel safe in assuming it is well below 1:1. This being a ‘good’ outcome is very scary.

          • John Schilling says:

            This being a ‘good’ outcome is very scary.

            The behavioral issues long preceded the police intervention; they were cause rather than effect.

            And we don’t have the magic pill, or the magic therapy words, that can make the behavioral issues go away. Behavioral issues with treatment and without shooting, is the good outcome. Unless you’ve got something better?

        • Iain says:

          This is how to do it right, and as far as I can see there is nothing in the story of Kenneth Eng that couldn’t have been carried over to Nikolas Cruz.

          Just for starters, the part of Kenneth Eng’s case where his rich parents spent six years hiring a series of lawyers and psychologists to help him might have been difficult to replicate for Nikolas Cruz, who is an orphan. You seem to be missing the point of this piece:

          Everyone did everything they could.

          It was not enough. In wealthiest country in the history of the world, a country with the power of an angry god, with weight of doting affluent parents and lawyers and doctors and an utterly out-of-character criminal justice system, it was not enough. This is, perhaps, the most grim part of the story, grimmer even than our indifference and casual cruelty. If Kenneth Eng can’t be helped successfully, what’s the hope for the millions out there in worse circumstances, some of them potentially violent? Kenneth Eng didn’t slip through the cracks. He got support that, if you described it in a story, I would dismiss as fanciful. What about people without those resources and without that support?

    • Vorkon says:

      I don’t think the full text of the information that was reported to the FBI on January 5th has ever actually been released. All I’ve been able to find is that “someone close to him” provided the FBI with information about “Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”

      From the sound of that, I think whatever was provided to the FBI was more detailed than JUST the YouTube comment about wanting to be a professional school shooter, or anything like that. The YouTube comment, specifically, was from back in September, while the FBI received this tip on January 5th. It sounds to me like somebody put together a detailed description of numerous different incidents involving the killer, rather than reporting any single incident.

      Whatever it was, it was serious enough for the FBI to admit that it was a potential threat to life, and should have been reported to the Miami office, which leads me to believe it was comprehensive enough that he could have been committed under the Baker Act because of it, if they then passed the information to the local police. It’s hard to say whether that would have prevented him from killing later down the road, (to be honest, it probably wouldn’t have) but it might have bought time for him to be arrested for something else, or for put enough time and distance between him and the school that he might have picked a better defended, mostly adult target.

      IANAL, of course, and if somebody can find the full text of that tip then it might very well be BS, and nothing I just said would apply. I haven’t had any luck finding it, though.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      There’s also discussing ongoing over the behavior of the police and the armed resource officer (I think that was the title?) during and immediately after the shooting.

      Lots of screw ups in lots of different ways. It does not make me want to rely on police for protection against criminals.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A previous generation of gun-rights activists coined the bit of doggerel

        Avoid the legal nets
        That entangled Bernie Goetz
        Yell “Help, help police!”
        Like Kitty Genovese.

        Scot Peterson is lucky his name’s not so memorable (and will end up conflated with the other guy anyway)

      • Vorkon says:

        As much as I hate to give that deputy the benefit of any amount of doubt, it’s at least theoretically possible that he just made a bad tactical decision, rather than showing abject cowardice.

        I can sort of understand the mindset; He’s outside the school, it’s a fairly large building, and he knows there’s shots being fired inside the school SOMEWHERE, but he doesn’t know where, so he might have thought the best tactical decision was to take cover and wait for the shooter to come to him, rather than running in willy-nilly, possibly going in entirely the wrong direction, and not doing any good.

        Even if you accept that it was a tactical decision, though, he still would have deserved to be fired if he hadn’t resigned, because it was an incredibly BAD tactical decision, made by a person whose entire job is to make good tactical decisions. If the past couple decades of school shootings and similar incidents have shown us anything, it’s that the best way to end an active shooter incident is with quick, decisive, violent action. Even if you don’t kill the shooter, it changes the nature of the situation, and he’s likely to either flee, hole up somewhere (and not be actively going around killing people), kill himself, or some combination of the three. If he had some reason to believe the killer was coming his way, then yes, I suppose taking cover and waiting for him might have been a sound tactical decision, but why would he think the killer would come back out the front door? And if he did, wouldn’t it already be too late?

        It was also most likely a tactical decision informed, at least subconsciously, by cowardice, even if he tried to convince himself it was a sound decision after the fact. That’s just me trying to be fair, though. Most likely it was just plain old cowardice.

        That said, it highlights the importance of expanding concealed carry in a couple different ways. First, like you said, it highlights the fact that you can’t always count on the police, but we’ve known that ever since Warren v DC. But even more importantly than that, it highlights the importance of having a weapon AT THE SCENE of the shooting, rather than simply nearby. If everyone in the school acted the way that deputy did, but multiple people were armed, (and there are certainly times when it’s not the worst tactical decision; if you honestly have no idea which direction the shots are coming from, or are in a completely different building than the shooter, nobody could fault a civilian for staying put) then a teacher or other faculty member would have been in position to intercept him if he walked into or past their class. At the very least you’re protecting the class in there with you, and that’s a much easier thing to do than actively tracking the killer down.

        • Brad says:

          First, like you said, it highlights the fact that you can’t always count on the police, but we’ve known that ever since Warren v DC.

          If the dead students’ parents could sue and win giant settlements from Broward County’s insurer, how would that mean “we could count on the police”?

          • Vorkon says:

            Huh. I’m not sure what kind of response I was expecting to that post, but it certainly wasn’t that.

            Are you trying to argue that the common understanding of the Warren v. DC decision, that it established that police have no specific duty to protect citizens, is flawed? If so, I’d love an explanation. I’ve honestly never heard that one before.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Like Vorkon said, I don’t think there’s serious disagreement with the fact that the police don’t have specific duty to protect citizens, because then yes the police would get sued every time someone gets hurt.

            So, given that the police don’t have a duty to protect, and in this case it doesn’t appear they even tried, removing one’s option to defend oneself seems like a terrible idea.

            I think everyone here understands the reasons why we can’t just ban guns (politically or practically). Some people are against the idea of allowing teachers to arm themselves should they so choose, and other people think it’ll solve the problem. I think we should give it a try. If after five years it hasn’t made any difference or has made things worse via the Law of Unintended Consequences it’s a pretty easy law to revoke.

          • Brad says:

            @Vorkon
            The problem here, from my perspective, is that you are taking a legal decision written in legalese and ripping it out of context to make a broader point that isn’t quite accurate. “Duty” in that and related cases is a term of art from tort law. It doesn’t mean that there’s no socio-political or even other kind of legal obligations that the police have to protect people. What it means is that you can’t win a tort suit against a police officer or a police department generally for failure to protect (unless your circumstance falls into one of the exceptions, like the special relationship test).

            There’s a larger tendency at play here. Many Americans seem to have a notion that our tort system with its class actions and giant damages awards is the only possible way of regulating society. And that if doesn’t apply in a particular area then whatever-it-is must be a giant free-for-all where anything is allowed. But that’s just not the case. There’s are other areas of law beside tort and there are other parts of government beside courts. Some can even act prospectively.

            Let’s take the case at hand:
            –Suppose on one hand that Warren v. DC had gone the other way. In that universe Broward County would be facing some very big lawsuits. But we have little reason to think that those kids would still be alive.

            –Suppose on the other hand the police department had vigorous internal policies and trainings that required that safety officer to go in and try to confront the killer. Maybe it included a rule that would allow them to strip this guy of his pension. Maybe there would been several other police officers over the years that were summarily fired for having failed to protect civilians.

            In this case there would still be no “duty” within the meaning of tort law, but I’d argue in a more meaningful sense as the word is actually used there would have been a stronger duty.

          • gbdub says:

            Brad, in your final example –

            Do you think police departments are more, or less, likely to have “vigorous internal policies and trainings that required that safety officer to go in and try to confront the killer” if they are operating under the assumption that failing to protect citizens will result in getting sued for a ton of money?

          • Brad says:

            I get what you are saying and I’d like to think that’s how things work. I like thinking economically — in terms of incentives and so on — it’s a clean way of looking at the world.

            But on the other hand there are lawsuits where cities do lose and end up paying out of a ton of money. Excessive force, false arrest, and so on. Qualified immunity and related doctrines make it hard to win cases against the police, but not impossible and the numbers add up. Yet as far as I can tell there’s little being done to reduce civil rights judgments over time. Many police departments have officers still working for them that have caused multiple settlements and judgments against their employing municipalities.

            We can talk about the whys and wherefores, and I certain have strong opinions on that, but the bottom line is that the mechanisms that one would hope would have a regulatory effect seem to broken in the case of police officers. I don’t think “failure to protect” judgments would be any different in that regard than “excessive force” ones.

  26. ThomasStearns says:

    Normally at home, given my immaculate character, I dream extremely rarely (or perhaps rarely remember doing so). When I spend the night somewhere else, especially where I grew up, I notice I dream much more vividly and remember it more consistently. Does anyone else have an experience like this? Any not crazy explanations?

    • g says:

      I think you’re much more likely to remember dreaming if you get woken up while a dream is in progress. Perhaps you sleep more soundly at home in your usual bed?

      (Incidentally — and purely out of idle curiosity — is your username a reference to T S Eliot, or something else?)

    • Dreaming = processing novel information.

      Being away = more novel information.

  27. Elliot says:

    Has anyone done any research into teeth whitening? I’m interested in things I could do myself (i.e. other than get the dentist to bleach them) beyond regular brushing/flossing and cutting down on coffee.

    Some cursory research brought up a bunch of things like oil pulling; brushing with baking soda, hydrogen peroxide or both; swilling vinegar; using weird things like ‘activated charcoal’ or ‘kaolin clay’. My problem is that this is an area rife with bad research and lots and lots of folk/traditional solutions, and each of them seem to be able to find a study or two saying they help so I can’t distinguish between genuinely effective stuff and nonsense.

  28. Freddie deBoer says:

    Can someone explain RationalWiki to me? Some of the articles seem straightforward and some of them seem like bizarre screeds. I don’t really get the whole deal.

    • Umm, well it doesn’t have tight editorial control. “Rational” locally means “the triibe that really hate evolution-denying bible bashers, oh, and new-agers too”.

    • qwints says:

      Basically, the editor base comes from organized skeptic sphere which means that a lot of people try to emulate the styles of James Randi or Penn Jillette – an aggressive, insulting attack on what they perceive as nonsense (if you’ve ever seen the first episode of Bullshit where Penn lambasts psychic mediums you’ll get a sense of what I mean). It feels very familiar to me as someone who was on the JREF forums – people will get really angry about what most people would see as harmless nonsense. It’s also mostly people who were on the Rebecca Watson side of the elevatorgate schism.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yeah. The impression I get is that it’s people who cut their internet-arguing teeth going against stuff that’s just completely loony and objectively wrong – forget about theism, which at least has a tradition of intellectually based arguments and so on; I’m talking about crazy pseudoscience nonsense and the like. Which leads to perhaps more playing-to-your-audience than the norm: someone who sincerely believes that expensive water can cure diseases is probably invested enough you’re not gonna change your mind, so you may as well entertain yourself/your audience, right? Score a few cheap points, talk about how ludicrous and moronic your opponents are, etc.

        Then they apply this to stuff that is a lot less cut-and-dried and stuff that’s a lot more subjective. The tone is not just “people who we disagree with are wrong and bad” but sneering that someone could ever be so dumb and foolish as to hold those opinions.

        • Aapje says:

          Yeah, they seem to assume that everything that is different from the (perceived) consensus of the center-left is nonsense that deserves snark and ridicule.

          When things get difficult they tend to resolve their cognitive dissonance by strawmanning.

    • rlms says:

      The “rational” in RationalWiki isn’t the same as the “rational” in rationalist-adjacent: they’re basically old-school New Atheists.

    • j1000000 says:

      If you’re not actually quitting the internet at least make your L’Hote/Freddie deBoer archives publicly available! I used to read that final L’Hote essay “Getting to Good Enough” frequently before you made L’Hote private.

      Good luck to you.

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      Have you heard the phrase “sneer club” before?

      https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/SneerClub

      • Nornagest says:

        I feel so conflicted when I read something like that. On the one hand Eliezer’s basically right, but on the other hand it’s given such an arrogant, whiny framing that I want to hunt him down and give him a swirlie after gym class.

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s Big Yud for you. He did a similar thing when trolling for diet plans on Facebook.

          • Urstoff says:

            lol, his “how do I lose weight as an extreme endotherm, please don’t suggest diet or exercise” post? That one was peak for meme-ability.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Warning to everyone on this subthread that this is approaching the limits of tolerable discussion here. I’m being restrained so I don’t get accused of being biased in favor of Eliezer, but honestly if you were doing this kind of thing to someone else you probably would have already gotten banned.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s the atheist equivalent to Conservapedia.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      Can someone explain RationalWiki to me? Some of the articles seem straightforward and some of them seem like bizarre screeds. I don’t really get the whole deal.

      When you say social I say justice

      social – justice
      social – justice

      other explanations in this thread seem more complete but this can’t be a nontrivial part of it

    • LadyJane says:

      The Good: Their articles on logical fallacies tend to be high quality, they’re on par with Wikipedia articles and cover a wider range of topics. Their articles on hoaxes and scams can be very good too. They’re not as thorough as Snopes, but they’re more focused on warning people about the general types of cons to watch out for, rather than debunking specific ones.

      The Mediocre: Their articles on actual science are fairly underwhelming, which isn’t surprising given that most of its users aren’t scientists. It’s rare for them to get anything blatantly wrong, they just tend to skip over a lot of details and provide bare-bones explanations. You’d be much better served going to Wikipedia or, better yet, an actual science website.

      The Bad: Their articles on religion are basically standard Dawkins-style New Atheism. Organized religion, new age mysticism, and personal spiritualism are all treated as nonsensical, and anyone who even entertains any kind of belief in a higher power is mocked for being a gullible idiot. They’ve been slowly trying to move away from that sort of obnoxious in-your-face anti-theism, probably because they’ve realized how unpopular it’s become within the Blue Tribe, but they have a long way to go.

      The Very Bad: Their articles on politics and economics are terrible. Anything that deviates from center-left liberalism, from obvious targets like fascists and communists to slightly fringe ideologies like libertarianism and democratic socialism to mainstream positions like center-right establishment conservatism, are all treated as being not just objectively wrong, but obviously so. Anyone who espouses a political or economic viewpoint that isn’t center-left liberalism is considered to be an extremist crackpot. (The wiki is very much torn on the validity of identity politics, with about half the users espousing Social Justice rhetoric, and the other half treating the Social Justice movement as another crazy fringe ideology to be mocked. Pages related to Social Justice topics tend to be battlegrounds, with edit wars being frequent and commonplace.)

      They also really hate the LessWrong Rationalist movement, and while they raise a lot of legitimate concerns about it (including many that I personally agree with, some of which I’ve espoused here), a lot of the disdain seems to be rooted in petty tribalism and personal rivalries. Apparently there was some internet drama between the two groups almost a decade ago, though I’m not really clear on the details.

  29. Murphy says:

    When i try to report a comment as spam why does it pop up a box with the text “Cheating huh?”?

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s a problem I get sometimes, too. Mostly by accident, because Scott doesn’t have time to pore over report logs.

    • Nornagest says:

      Because the report system is buggy. You can temporarily work around it by logging out and back in, but a permanent fix is going to take someone that knows WordPress better than I do.

  30. veeloxtrox says:

    Scott’s comment asking for investment advice makes me wonder, has anyone on SSC been able to FIRE (Financially Independent Retire Early) like what is discussed over in https://www.reddit.com/r/financialindependence/?

    I would be really surprised given the demographics of this blog if there are not at least a couple who have checked out of the rat race. My wife an I are on that path and hoping to hit it sometime in the late 2020s.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Interested in this, too. The most famous FIRE’d person is MMM, but it seems like he benefited some really good career moves that seriously juiced his income, with comparatively little student debt to service.

      I don’t imagine us to retire until our late 50s, but we also intend to have more than 1 child, and want to make sure we can help out with their post-secondary expenses. This is still better than my parents and in-laws who will be retiring when they are physically incapable of working.

      • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

        My take on MMM is that his path and timeline are achievable for only a small subset of people who a) can achieve high earnings very early in their career while b) living in modest-CoL areas or in fields where those earnings are not jeopardized by an ascetic lifestyle, and c) having the good fortune to find a like-minded partner who can resist lifestyle inflation not just in their 20s, when half your friends are broke, but for the long haul. Trying to practice the kind of self-denial MMM does for 12-15 years in your 20s and early 30s, and then reap the rewards of independence and copious free time, seems much easier than doing it for the 20-30+ years you’d need to reach the same place from a position of lower earnings, high student debt, etc.

        None of that is to subtract from the fundamental healthiness of the example he sets, or that moving marginally in the direction of his lifestyle would do most of us a lot of good. His version of FIRE by mid-30s is great, but simply having enough cash cushion and budget wiggle room to make risky career/life moves with confidence that you’ll land on your feet, not on the street or your parents’ basement, does wonders for your mental health.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I found MMM very helpful, but I did not take all of his advice – because a lot of his advice seems geared at people who have a certain skillset – eg, people who are capable of building their own deck, or whatever. But the advice on how to cut down on minor expenses? It’s good. That stuff does add up, but more importantly, it’s about a mindset – that night out at the bar isn’t just hitting you in the liver, but the pocketbook, for example.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            I found MMM very helpful, but I did not take all of his advice

            I very much agree with this statement. I think MMM is a little extreme at times but the whole mindset is something that has expanded my mind of possibilities as an early 20 something making six figures.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think the piece of MMM advice that I have taken the least is when he advises drinking olive oil as a way to save money, because if you actually do the math, straight up drinking oil is cheap calories.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dndnrsn

            Cheap keto! 😉

        • riceowlguy says:

          MMM also has a very specific environmentalist agenda, which has become more clear over the years. He isn’t just (or even primarily) encouraging people to cut their consumption in order to help people achieve their goals of becoming wealthy; he’s “really just trying to get rich people to stop destroying the planet”.

      • mech says:

        My spouse and I did the FIRE thing, although we heard of MMM pretty late in the game and our definition of early may not match yours.
        Context = in Canada, both approaching 60. She = university job 30 yrs, me = various tech precision instrument stuff, 30 yrs.
        No kids, not as a choice but a medical reality.
        Both came late to decent paying jobs. She had to have a couple of post grad tickets to work in her field, me because of years of drifting between low-end jobs until I found what I could excel at and went to trade school to get a diploma in it.
        I think that going through a multi-year period of very financially tough times and observing the questionable life choices made by those around us have served us well. We lived in a really disadvantaged neighbourhood in Toronto, and some people there do the most foolish things with any money they get. Maybe locally sane, but unsustainable.
        Basically, we saved and did not piss it away on crap that one does not need.
        Our experience has been that anyone could retire early on the kind of money that MMM has, and that it can be done with much less. And do not pay too much attention to the scare stories from the retirement planning industry, who are very interested in getting people to keep dumping money into their savings plans.
        Now changes are in order. We have to pick a how long we expect to live and spend down accordingly. Due to our disciplined saving past we will be living on more than we have been for the past 30 years.

      • Nornagest says:

        MMM has some decent ideas, but I stopped taking his stuff at face value when I learned how much money he makes from his blog. Advice from a scary number of financial gurus has “…if you have a major secondary income stream from self-help advice” buried in the fine print somewhere, and he seems to be one of them. Still not as bad as that Four-Hour Workweek guy, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m in the final stages of FIRE.

      Earned considerable lucre abroad, came back home, bought apartments, underway with renting. Probably earning a profit this year, after getting the business off the ground late last year. Most of the rest of the money is in investment funds, tiding me over while my business is getting off the ground. Probably going to continue with some sublets until I’m satisfied with my passive income level (and under the mandatory VAT revenue limit).

      I could just not bother with all this, and put everything in some more passive vehicle, but that would only suffice for me, maybe a similarly ascetic wife… whereas I want to have a large brood. So a little extra effort is needed. Still massively more leisurely than a normal job.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I came across the concept a few years ago and it’s a substantial influence on me, though I don’t agree with everything (e.g.) MMM says. I could retire today if I moved somewhere a bit cheaper or became somewhat more frugal in my current expensive location; I haven’t yet, because, uh, I don’t know. Very good question, given how much I want out of my job. But it has definitely changed how I categorize spending, and increased my savings rate. In a longer term sense, it’s changed the question for me to be “how much longer do I have to do this?”

      A few things I specifically disagree with MMM on (as an exemplar of the tribe)
      – Health care costs. His current advice is a recipe for instant bankrupcy the second you have an unexpected crisis (note that he admits he doesn’t follow his own advice.) Yes, hospitals have cash discounts, because most people to whom they offer them are broke and you can’t squeeze blood from stones. A hospital’s billing department’s primary job is to find out that I’m rich and soak me. If I’m uninsured and thus uncapped in my liability, they will find ways to generate millions in expenses; game over. Other than relying on Obamacare subsidies–which will never repeat never last my lifetime for someone with substantial savings–I see no sustainable way to remain insured against medical disaster.

      – I’d like to get married someday. MMM thinks that I should retire today and move to rural Colorado. That precludes the former from ever reasonably happening. It doesn’t say good things for having a large social group either.

      – Cars are often practical, if you want to get any reasonable volume of things done. Yes, I could spend three hours going to the store and carrying home major purchases by bike. Those are three hours I could do something else in. If we all lived in cities with adequate, 24 hours, rapid, highly available, and well-covered public transit, this wouldn’t be true. We don’t. (This actually plays back to the previous point: if all I wanted to do on Tuesday was stay at home and read a book and do some cooking, I wouldn’t need a car. Since I don’t want to die alone, I also need to find time to go to jiujitsu and from there rapidly to my blues dance, and maybe a vet appointment. Well, MMM thinks dogs are gross and I shouldn’t have one, and he’s probably right, but again, only being that spends significant time around me.)

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: car, you could just rent as needed.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Regular car rentals are ridiculously expensive and take a lot of time to arrange. Unless you’ve got something like Zipcar (not likely in rural Colorado), they’re not reasonable substitutes for owning a car.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, I dunno if the car rental system over there is as shit as the health system. But I would guess that there’s still a way to save money on this, given some usage patterns. Like where the rentals cost less than a car amortization plus insurance.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Back when I rented cars traveling for work I found that car rentals from big name companies at airports were 2-4x as expensive as smaller companies. At the time I rented from Enterprise as they took under 25 drivers, and it often carried with it a 10-20 min shuttle ride from the airport, but a small car was reasonable from 1 – 3 days at a time.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Tons and tons of Ubers can be a reasonable answer here (MMM looks down on this perhaps more than owning a car, though.) There are a number of cases where your own car is superior–mine is a staging area where I keep, among other things, audition clothes, sheet music, several kinds of dance shoes, rock climbing gear, medicine, and dog stuff. (Oh, yeah: I don’t think you can take a dog in an Uber.) Parents say this sort of thing is a nightmare: you can, in some cities, order an uber with a child seat, but not one with your kid’s favorite 5 toys, a diaper bag, change of clothes, etc. (My sister’s car seat also is part of her stroller, so she prefers using that to a rental.)

          After last night’s adventure crossing a mountain pass in the middle of the night through a driving snowstorm, I think I might add “cold weather camping equipment” to my standard wargear. Not like a decent sleeping bag takes up much space.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            MMM’s biking advice that drives me up a wall is this one:
            http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/20/mmm-challenge-try-getting-your-groceries-with-a-bike-trailer/

            I have no idea what he is describing when he complains about traffic to the grocery store. I have multiple stores within driving distance that experience no stop-and-go traffic. They ARE, however, along arterial roads, which biking down is next-level dangerous, as MMM himself explains:

            When I approach Hover Road, I move onto the sidewalk, because I don’t want to mix it up with all those cars. I hit the pedestrian crossing button, and wait for a nice peaceful walk signal for myself. If it’s a long wait, I might even read an email or two on my phone

            Keep in mind that, yes, in the suburbs you can certainly plot a low-traffic route to a grocery store, as long as you don’t mind going out of the way and taking triple the time, and you still have to cross certain arterial roads at some point. And, yes, you’ll be waiting at a traffic light for a walk signal.

            But with the bike trailer, as it turns out, you easily can fit a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. I have packed spectacular quantities into even my small Nashbar trailer – one time I hauled $150 worth of items which I later weighed at 94 pounds – with very little effort.

            Yeah, sure, whatever. The weight isn’t what’s relevant, it’s the cubic footage of your grocery load.

            This has minimal storage compared to even a small sedan (aside from it not even having a roof):
            http://www.bikenashbar.com/cycling/accessories/trailers/nashbar-cargo-trailer-na-ct2-base

            Your cargo capacity is a good 3.5 cubic feet. Your refrigerator probably holds 10 cubic feet of food, and your freezer 4 cubic feet, and we’re not even talking about whatever bulk storage dry goods in your pantry you might need.

            Toyota camry has 15 cubic ft of temperature controlled, enclosed cargo.

            I’ve considered biking to get groceries and I cannot justify it as reasonable.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Your cargo capacity is a good 3.5 cubic feet. Your refrigerator probably holds 10 cubic feet of food, and your freezer 4 cubic feet, and we’re not even talking about whatever bulk storage dry goods in your pantry you might need.

            Unless you have a family of 8+ you don’t really need to land 10 cubic at the store outside of special events.

            MMM is quite nutty though and it isn’t particularly surprising that he has gone further out there in recent years. I don’t keep up as we were doing half his advice by the time we found him and the only thing left that we wanted to do was to switch over to a discount cell phone carrier.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            When I approach Hover Road, I move onto the sidewalk,

            Which is fucking illegal most places! And should be illegal everywhere. (I say as a fairly serious cyclist.) Cyclists on sidewalks are a dangerous menace. I’ve been nearly run down, my dog is in danger *often*, and what’s worse, most of the people you run down then think it’s OK to endanger me on my bike when I’m on the road where I’m supposed to be.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Unless you have a family of 8+ you don’t really need to land 10 cubic at the store outside of special events.

            No, you should buy in enormous bulk whenever you can. Chest freezers are the shit. (MMM even point this out in other articles where he forgets this one.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            I have three freezers and two fridges, but this isn’t true. You should buy in bulk when it makes sense, which includes transport costs. Bulk discounts won’t pay for a car, and frequently won’t pay for trips to bulk distributors once you have bought one or two excessive items you see.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            You don’t need 10 cubic feet, but there’s a damn good chance you’re going to need more than 3 if you have more than 2 people in your household.

            When my Mom was feeding a family of 6, she’d easily stack up an entire grocery cart every week, then go to a second store and do the same thing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Standard Grocery store carts look to e 4-4.5 cu ft in volume, which probably condenses to 3-3.5 for your average shopper. Between a trailer and saddle bags most grocery store visits can be transported with a bicycle.

            There is a large distinction here between pre and post financial independence MMM advice (though he did not always do a good job distinguishing between them when I read him). Some of his time consuming + money saving combinations can work well for people with reasonable amounts of free time, but aren’t going to work at all for double income families with kids.

          • SamChevre says:

            I think biking to get groceries is eminently reasonable; I used to routinely ride to the grocery store with a child in the trailer, and buy a week worth of groceries for a 2-parent, 3-preschooler family.

            I also hate biking on the sidewalk, but I will make an exception for crossing arterial streets with a child. Either ride at walking pace, or just walk–but using a walk light to cross the street is reasonable (and, if you walk, legal everywhere).

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Bulk discounts won’t pay for a car, and frequently won’t pay for trips to bulk distributors once you have bought one or two excessive items you see.

            And that’s why you have a friend with a truck. Ideally, a friend with a truck, and a similar opinion of bulk buying.

            And by “bulk distributors”, are you THAT far away from a Costco, a Cash&Carry, and a Winco?

            And to do “bulk meat”, find a local specialty butcher, walk in, and tell him you want to buy a half of a cow, butchered. He will hook you right up, and you don’t have to drive to the slaughterhouse. That by itself will fill a chest freezer, and will pay for itself compared to buying beef from the local grocery store.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that the feasibility of buying groceries by bike depends heavily on the specific circumstances.

  31. JPNunez says:

    https://www.wired.com/story/labor-board-rules-google-firing-james-damore-was-legal/

    Did we ever talk about this.

    Damore filed a complaint with the NLRB, arguing that Google had violated his right to participate in protected activity, namely addressing problems in his workplace. The NLRB memo disagrees with Damore’s complaint, and recommends dismissing it, were it not withdrawn.

    Damore dropped the NLRB complaint last month to instead focus on a class action lawsuit he and another former Google employee brought against the company accusing it of discriminating against white, male, and conservative employees. The NLRB memo released Friday was written by attorney Jayme Sophir in January—less than ten days after Damore filed his lawsuit.

    Sophir concluded that Damore’s memo contained both protected statements (like criticizing Google) and not protected statements (perpetuating stereotypes about women), and that Google ultimately fired Damore for things he said that were not protected under federal law. Sophir wrote in her memo that workplaces should have the ability to “‘nip in the bud’ the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a ‘hostile workplace.'”

    It’d be good to keep in mind that companies have to keep a nice workplace for their workers, in case anybody here wants to start sending quotes of The Bell Curve as memos on their workplace.

    In America anyway.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Ken White over at Popehat did a bit of analysis of exactly what this means legally. He’s a pretty good law-blogger, you just need to keep in mind that he’s got a “no friends to the right” policy which colors his interpretations.

      The most troubling part is that it seems as though, unlike defamation, truth is not a defense against a discriminatory statement. You can be legally punished by your employer for making factually correct yet discriminatory statements; your employer can be legally punished by the courts for allowing discriminatory statements to be voiced. This use of non-state intermediaries to enforce state censorship of speech is exactly the sort of thing that Ken would normally be vehemently opposed to. His deafening silence here is because he has no friends to the right.

      So yeah, according to the NRLB biology is officially a bourgeois pseudoscience. But it’s all good because dissenters who demand fifty Lysenkos are free to do so.

      • JPNunez says:

        On the other hand, people should not be subjected to discriminatory statements, just because it so happens it is the truth.

        What would happen if you are some kind of minority and your coworkers has the state-protected right to spew all kinds of vitriolic bullshit at you just because there’s a substrate of truth to it?

        Why would any employee have to endure that?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Why would any employee have to endure that?

          Check out Exhibit B of Damore’s lawsuit. What the NLRB advice memo is saying is the employer can allow and encourage all kinds of vitriolic bullshit directed one way, but a polite response the other way is unconscionable and reasonable grounds for firing.

          That is,

          SJW Googlers: White males are terrible, harmful people responsible for driving women out of the tech industry.

          Damore: Maybe there are inherent differences between men and women which result in fewer women in the tech industry.

          Google to Damore: You’re fired

          NLRB: Damore’s statement was unconscionable, it’s OK to fire for that.

          The vitriolic bullshit was coming from the other side.

          • JPNunez says:

            Even if you were accurately representing what happened, I have to point out that both parties are not in equal footing.

            Which is not the point or even a legal standard, but should give you some thinking to do if you are going to defend Damore for his racist and sexist writings. I assume he did not extend on the racist side of the argument due to lack of space on the margin or whatever.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Even if you were accurately representing what happened, I have to point out that both parties are not in equal footing.

            You are correct. The SJW Googlers had Google management on their side. Damore was on his own.

          • JPNunez: Your interpretation of the memo is about as uncharitable as it’s possible to be, even finding racism in it because, although it doesn’t even discuss race, you can infer that he really was thinking racist things even if he didn’t write any.

          • Vorkon says:

            I’m not up to speed on every aspect of the James Damore story, but isn’t part of the problem that he was part of a group tasked with providing feedback on how the diversity training could be improved, and that was where the memo originated? Even if his memo were all that objectionable, it’s not like he just sent it out apropos of nothing.

          • Aapje says:

            @JPNunez

            Which is not the point or even a legal standard, but should give you some thinking to do if you are going to defend Damore for his racist and sexist writings. I assume he did not extend on the racist side of the argument due to lack of space on the margin or whatever.

            Can you give 1 example of a racist statement from the memo?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          First let’s bring things back to the object level for a moment.

          Damore absolutely did not “spew all kinds of vitriolic bullshit” at anyone. You can read his memo if you want. It is, if anything, excessively polite. He says that it will be difficult to increase the percentage of women engineers at Google because of a widespread lack of interest in engineering among women and the fact that fewer women have the exceptional abilities needed to perform at that level. He never denigrates his women co-workers: if anything, he’s implicitly praising them as their abilities and interests are so rare.

          Ok, now back to the meta-level.

          When Google fired Damore, it was at the tail end of a several years long investigation into their pay and hiring practices by the Labor Department and in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit. The higher ups aren’t blameless, but they were also under considerable legal pressure from the federal government. That’s part of why they were so determined to push the diversity policy that Damore critiqued.

          That’s why I said that Google was acting as an intermediary in government censorship. The federal government can’t punish you directly for dissent but it can lean on your employer and make it clear that hiring dissenters is a poor choice. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here.

          You probably agree with the government that their ends are desirable. But you should consider how dangerous the means used to obtain then are. If this is licit, there’s no limit to what sort of speech the government can punish in this way. Do you feel comfortable with President Trump, or a more competent far-right successor, having the power to decide who can be employed and who can’t?

          • JPNunez says:

            Again, being polite does not mean it is not vitriolic bullshit.

            Women do not appreciate being told they are prone to histerics, no matter how well couched in graphs or polite arguments.

            The government is not banning dissenters of whatever SJW policy you can imagine. This was about making the workplace less threatening for a group that historically has had disadvantages in the area.

            Had Damore published this outside of Google, I could believe you. Being it an internal document, well, that’s a different thing.

            Damore absolutely did not “spew all kinds of vitriolic bullshit” at anyone. You can read his memo if you want. It is, if anything, excessively polite. He says that it will be difficult to increase the percentage of women engineers at Google because of a widespread lack of interest in engineering among women and the fact that fewer women have the exceptional abilities needed to perform at that level. He never denigrates his women co-workers: if anything, he’s implicitly praising them as their abilities and interests are so rare.

            Turns out some women disagree it was not denigratory.

          • Incurian says:

            This one writes itself.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yeah, being polite sort of means it is not vitriolic. It’s practically tautological.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Ironic, as demanding someone’s head for saying that you’re hysterical is proof-positive that he was right.

            That said, he didn’t even say that women were hysterical. He said that on average women have higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance. Then he backed it up with scientific studies on personality differences.

            This kind of escalating exaggeration isn’t convincing to anyone who is paying attention. He made a well-sourced and limited statement that you disagree with. You are free to disagree with that statement or ignore it, but when you wildly misrepresent it that just makes you look like an unhinged liar.

          • JPNunez says:

            Ironic, as demanding someone’s head for saying that you’re hysterical is proof-positive that he was right.

            That said, he didn’t even say that women were hysterical. He said that on average women have higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance. Then he backed it up with scientific studies on personality differences.

            Again, the point is not whether he couched his statements as scientific truths; the point is that other employees -and, reading the actual NLRB memo- prospective employees found the statements discriminatory.

            Of course he did not say that women are hysterical. He was smart enough to couch his statements in “averages”, but turns out that was not enough for his bosses to not consider it discriminatory. Sexist, racist and all kinds of -ist peeps have had a lot of time to learn how to pose their arguments to seem reasonable and polite. It’s just that Google and the NLRB employee were smart enough to see through that common practice.

            Damore absolutely did not “spew all kinds of vitriolic bullshit” at anyone. You can read his memo if you want. It is, if anything, excessively polite. He says that it will be difficult to increase the percentage of women engineers at Google because of a widespread lack of interest in engineering among women and the fact that fewer women have the exceptional abilities needed to perform at that level. He never denigrates his women co-workers: if anything, he’s implicitly praising them as their abilities and interests are so rare.

            Turns out some women disagree it was not denigratory.

            Crazy how literary criticism works.

            You have to ask the subjects of the damore memo whether they find it discriminatory. It is not up to Damore to say whether it is or not.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Right, ok so it’s obvious that this isn’t going anywhere.

            Let’s look at this from another angle:

            Sexists, racists, whatever-ists suck right? They’re entrenched in the political and economic elite and they would like nothing more than to put women back in the kitchen and re-segregate the workplace. Right now one of them is in the Oval Office and they have a solid majority in both houses of Congress.

            Do you think that they and their appointees should have the right to decide who is allowed to work and who isn’t? Do you see how giving them that power is unlikely to benefit women and minorities in the long run?

            Strong civil rights are the best defense against oppression. Allowing the government the power to trample our rights when it’s convenient normalizes the practice and leads to even worse abuses down the line. Strong constitutional safeguards against government misbehavior are how you punch up in the American legal system.

          • Incurian says:

            The Copenhagen Interpretation of Harassment.

          • JPNunez says:

            Do you think that they and their appointees should have the right to decide who is allowed to work and who isn’t? Do you see how giving them that power is unlikely to benefit women and minorities in the long run?

            Strong civil rights are the best defense against oppression. Allowing the government the power to trample our rights when it’s convenient normalizes the practice and leads to even worse abuses down the line. Strong constitutional safeguards against government misbehavior are how you punch up in the American legal system.

            People also have the right to work without being harrassed over and over even if the harrassers have the care to couch their harrassment in scientific facts. If someday Trump comes and decides that sexual harrassment in the workplace is no longer a firable offense or whatever he comes up with, well, then that day we will fight that fight. Before that, it seems the NLRB is working right.

            I do not think that “but what if Trump” is a good argument to let Damore keep his job at Google. This is not the level this fight should be fought.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Women do not appreciate being told they are prone to histerics

            Of course he did not say that women are hysterical.

            To be clear, you are explicitly saying that not merely are the facts of biology irrelevant, the facts of what is or is not in the memo are equally irrelevant. There is a right side, and a wrong side, and nothing could change that, even in principle. Just like how ‘team X plays better sportsball’ does not logically imply ‘I support team x’.

            That approach may work for sportsball, but it fails for politics; the teams don’t wear jerseys, they are defined by how they play.

            To take a hypothetical cases, imagine it were to come out in the course of the Muller investigation that the person who took the decision to fire Damore, and the key journalists who did the initial reporting on it, were actually all Russian-sponsored alt-right trolls with the goal of destablising the US. And as it turns out, the massive bonus they got paid as a result shows up in verifiable bank transfer records.

            Would you still not care, and stick to your guns?

            Or if you _would_ accept that hypothetical evidence, why not also the claims of fact in this case? If you can’t trust yourself to evaluate claims of fact, how can you trust yourself to evaluate claims of who is on what side?

          • People also have the right to work without being harrassed

            And your definition of “harassment” includes “having other employees write things which you disagree with”?

          • Don’t harass me with hate facts!

          • Aapje says:

            @JPNunez

            Of course he did not say that women are hysterical. He was smart enough to couch his statements in “averages”, but turns out that was not enough for his bosses to not consider it discriminatory. Sexist, racist and all kinds of -ist peeps have had a lot of time to learn how to pose their arguments to seem reasonable and polite. It’s just that Google and the NLRB employee were smart enough to see through that common practice.

            As others have said, he didn’t even say that women were hysterical on the group level. He used a scientific term that sounds bad to lay people and that doesn’t mean what you think it means and you are unwilling to educate yourself. It’s not even a matter of assuming good faith in the face of a ambiguous statement, because he gave the definition of how he used the term as soon as he introduced it. You are simply telling a falsehood that you can trivially verify is false.

            Furthermore, this idea that people who talk about group-level differences are being disingenuous and actually want to say that every member of the group has that difference, is extremely toxic, because it is strawmanning of your opponents (allowing you to debate against claims they didn’t make) & it effectively makes any discussion of group-level differences impossible. This kind of bad faith just makes you impervious to reasonable debate & science that doesn’t fit your biases.

            Note that Damore explicitly said in his memo that group-level differences are not representative for each individual. He also argued that some programs at Google implicitly assume that there is no overlap in traits that can hold people back (like difficulty negotiating salaries) & that the gendered programs that Google has are discriminatory and should be gender neutral (based on actual need, not gender). In other words, he opposed discrimination by gender. Again, you merely have to read what he actually wrote and not lie (to yourself) about it.

            The only thing that is actually sexist here is the ideology that not only commonly makes extreme negative group-level claims about men, but very often explicitly claims that the group-level differences are representative for each individual; and simultaneously doesn’t allow far more mild and actually scientifically supported claims to be made about group-level differences that some interpret as being negative towards women. Double standards based on gender are sexism. Overzealous application of gender stereotypes (accurate on the group-level or not) to individuals is sexism.

            Damore was opposing sexism, not advocating it, which people who favor sexism against men (aka ‘benevolent’ sexism) get upset about.

            PS. Do you know that Damore is on the spectrum and that he thus is most likely chronically incapable of the kind of duplicity that you allege?

          • rlms says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal

            Strong civil rights are the best defense against oppression. Allowing the government the power to trample our rights when it’s convenient normalizes the practice and leads to even worse abuses down the line. Strong constitutional safeguards against government misbehavior are how you punch up in the American legal system.

            Yes, and a key civil right is freedom of association, which includes the freedom to fire employees who are harming your business.

            The NLRB memo was obviously being silly when it accused him of discrimination etc., but the claim that “those statements were likely to cause serious dissension and disruption in the workplace” is obviously correct. Whether that disruption was “reasonable” is irrelevant.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            As an autistic person, many autistic people are fully capable of being polite when we’re being assholes.

          • JPNunez says:

            And your definition of “harassment” includes “having other employees write things which you disagree with”?

            @DavidFriedman

            No?

            That’s not what happened here.

            Damore wrote about a certain subset of Google employees being inferior and having characteristics that made them less qualified for the job. Couched with “averages” and yadah yadah science.

            The members of said subset felt, correctly imho, that was harrassment.

          • Matt M says:

            Damore wrote about a certain subset of Google employees being inferior and having characteristics that made them less qualified for the job.

            That’s not, at all, what he said.

            He talked about different preferences leading to different rates of interest. This is no commentary at all on the ones who were interested enough to work there.

            He was saying “You won’t have as many female applicants as you’d like because females aren’t as interested in these jobs as you would like them to be.”

            This does not speak to the qualifications of those who do apply (or are hired) in the least.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @JPNunez

            If someday Trump comes and decides that sexual harrassment in the workplace is no longer a firable offense

            This isn’t the relevant hypothetical. In the relevant hypothetical, Trump says that sexual harassment is definitely a fireable offense – and don’t you silly folks know that questioning his preferred studies on the relative amounts of anxiety or stress tolerance between genders is obviously sexual harassment?!

            @rlms

            the claim that “those statements were likely to cause serious dissension and disruption in the workplace” is obviously correct

            On the meta level, are you in favor of the heckler’s veto in general?

          • JPNunez says:

            That’s not, at all, what he said.

            He talked about different preferences leading to different rates of interest. This is no commentary at all on the ones who were interested enough to work there.

            He was saying “You won’t have as many female applicants as you’d like because females aren’t as interested in these jobs as you would like them to be.”

            He calls women more neurotic, thus less able to take on more stressful jobs, and also reporting more anxiety at their jobs, at google, which -I have to spell, seemingly- means women currently working at google.

            I quote Damore

            This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist

            Googlegeist is an internal job self reporting system.

            Which, even if I erased this last couple of paragraphs and you were right that the memo talked about people not at google -you are wrong-, it is still super condescending to go “Women are less able at these high stress jobs! but not you, google girls! you are the good ones”.

            But don’t have to take my word. Women at Google started looking jobs elsewhere, and people applying to jobs at Google retired their application. Which means the people being talked about, felt Google was a discriminatory place, and I find hard to go tell women in tech hey, you were wrong in feeling discriminated by this Damore guy.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I can’t tell if JPNunez is a troll, or is an example of Poe’s Law in action.

            I mean, if I was to try to LARP as the most uncharitable parody of a “death to the cisbrodude” type, that’s the argument and argument style I would use.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            DanTheWebmaster is banned. Everyone else in this thread is urged to consider whether they’re really proud of their contributions here and whether this is the best thing for them to be talking about right now.

          • Yes, and a key civil right is freedom of association, which includes the freedom to fire employees who are harming your business.

            I agree, although it may be qualified by what you told people when you hired them.

            But one can legitimately draw conclusions about whether an organization is acting badly even if the actions are ones it is entitled to take.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Hmm. This whole debate makes me wonder. Perhaps it does make some sense that Damore was essentially harassing just because the other employees weren’t smart enough to understand the subtlety of his comments. Even if Damore himself didn’t realize how his comments would be so interpreted. It is kind of funny to speak of Google employees as too dumb to understand subtlety, but some people are smart in some areas and not others.

            Kind of similar to what rlms said. He was disruptive despite his best efforts.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Everyone else in this thread is urged to consider whether they’re really proud of their contributions here and whether this is the best thing for them to be talking about right now.

            Good advice. Here’s a contribution I’m proud of.

            JP, so far as I can tell, you believe that Damore strongly holds certain beliefs and just has to get them out, perhaps for no good reason. From that lens, it makes a lot of sense to assume that Damore has other discriminatory beliefs, that he has a dislike of women or even a hatred of them, and so forth.

            Here’s a different lens, though: Google has been accused of sexism (i.e., disliking or hating women) because it doesn’t have enough female engineers. Damore’s memo is an attempt to say “actually, Google (and I) aren’t sexist, and here’s why”. In other words, Damore isn’t really interested in denigrating women, so much as combating unfair accusations of female denigration.

            Moreover, let’s say that Damore is wrong in his belief that observed gender differences are mostly genetic in nature, and instead that they’re cultural (mostly or entirely). What’s Google supposed to do about that? Those ideas get absorbed at a young age, and one company – or even a few companies – changing their policies probably won’t do much to change that. Plus, even if they do, they’ll have to hire people who have been socially constructed to be bad at or uninterested in the jobs Google is offering. So at best, Google is supposed to take a big hit in order to change the culture over a long period of time. That’s their prerogative if they want to do it, but are they really “sexist” for saying “no thanks”?

            Let’s say that Google would lose 10% of their income for doing this, as a hypothetical; now, imagine if you had the opportunity to give 10% of your income to charities in Africa who dig wells, give small loans to business owners, et cetera. You don’t have to imagine that part, because you do have that opportunity; it’d be nice if you did, but if you didn’t you wouldn’t be racist or “anti-Africa” either. If someone called you racist for not doing that, I’d stand with you. Of course, if someone called you racist for saying black people are genetically less intelligent, I’d let that slide and then some.

            So to wrap this all up: Damore’s trying to defend himself, not hurt anyone; even if the people who disagree with Damore are right (and they’re probably not), their behavior is still wildly inappropriate and he has a right to try and defend himself from it. With that lens, well…if you don’t like what he did, you should instead push back on the people he’s reacting to, like I did and will continue to do. They’re bullies and should be stopped.

          • Aapje says:

            @JPNunez

            He calls women more neurotic, thus less able to take on more stressful jobs, and also reporting more anxiety at their jobs, at google, which -I have to spell, seemingly- means women currently working at google.

            Your reasoning does not make sense, because you are ignoring the selection effect. Imagine a very simplified analogy where jobs are like shaped holes and workers are like pegs. One type of job is a square hole and another type of job is a round hole. Now imagine that blue pegs are more often square than red pegs, so more blue pegs fit in the square holes, but you can still put some red pegs in the square holes.

            All the red pegs in the square hole are now still square, because that’s what you selected on. Fewer red pegs being square merely results in fewer square holes being filled with red pegs. It’s not actually possible for the red pegs in the square holes to be round, because then they wouldn’t fit.

            Similarly, if men on average have more of the trait or set of traits that we shall call X & you have a job that is a better fit for people with high X, you’d expect the men and women who go into those jobs to have a lot of X. That there are fewer women in that job is then evidence that people with low X are selected out of that job, not that the women who get that job are low in X. That is actually only what you would expect with affirmative action: if you start forcing equal representation that doesn’t fit the actual prevalence of the trait X, you’d need to start accepting women with less X.

            Of course, the same argument can be made about jobs that have low representation of men.

            Note that the above doesn’t require that the difference has to be biological in origin, as a disparity in traits can be caused (or increased) by culture. So from my perspective, denying that men and women can have group-level disparities in traits that results in more (wo)men being suitable for some jobs and less suitable for others, requires the denial that gender roles influence how people act.

            Secondly, a mistake that I see you and many SJ people make is that they make masculinity, or at least what gender roles make masculinity into, the norm. The average level of neuroticism that men have is not necessarily healthy, correct, admirable or otherwise positive. Many men are willing to accept poor working circumstances, which hampers the well-being of workers. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, we see that this is a factor that contributes to workplace deaths being >90% male.

            I don’t see how one can believe that men are socialized into negative behavior by gender norms* and simultaneously believe that any claim that women have more (or less) of a trait than men is disparaging towards women.

            * Note that my stance is that both men and women are socialized into negative behavior by gender norms.

            Women at Google started looking jobs elsewhere, and people applying to jobs at Google retired their application.

            That is unfortunate if it is true. However, what I saw is that the media lied en masse about Damore’s memo and that people then got upset over that misrepresentation. I don’t see why Damore is to blame for that, rather than the media who spread the lies that surely made people far more upset than if they had been told what Damore actually argued for.

            Furthermore, I honestly consider it quite absurd for people to quit or refuse to work for a huge employer like Google upon learning that there is just 1 employee, who is not a manager or otherwise is in a position of power, who has beliefs that they dislike. I don’t see how we can have a liberal society if people are not willing to accept mere disagreement in their vicinity.

            Finally, if people get immensely upset at the truth, which from my perspective logically follows from their own beliefs, then I would argue that they have been ill-educated. I don’t believe that left-wing sexism should be immune from being called out and confronted (with reason and debate), anymore than that right-wing sexism should be.

          • Aapje says:

            @AnonYEmous

            I suspect that Damore’s was in part motivated by feeling discriminated by gendered programs and policies within Google.

          • Brad says:

            @AnonYEmous

            Damore’s trying to defend himself

            Defend himself from what exactly? The person he needed defending from was himself. He sabotaged himself out of a job that’s in the top 1% of jobs in the richest country on the planet. No one was hounding him out of that because he is white or male or cis or conservative or hell even Sailerites There are people that fit all those descriptions still collecting sweet paychecks and equity from Alphabet. No, he’s out of a job because he identifies as someone that believes these things and just has to authentically express himself. Or as you put it:

            that Damore strongly holds certain beliefs and just has to get them out, perhaps for no good reason.

            He should have read Paul Graham’s keep your identity small, or in the very likely case that he did, he should have listened.

          • rlms says:

            @ControlsFreak

            On the meta level, are you in favor of the heckler’s veto in general?

            It doesn’t make sense to support or oppose the heckler’s veto in general. Suppose I’m at a party you are hosting, and I decide to (calmly and dispassionately) explain that the holocaust was a hoax to other guests. This unsurprisingly makes many of them very uncomfortable, and if you want to call your subsequent expulsion of me an occurrence of the heckler’s veto then I’m definitely in favour of it there (both your right to it, and your decision to exercise that right for the sake of the party). The same thing applies if the party is a company.

            If the hecklers are preventing ideas being disseminated in society at large, that’s a different matter; societal freedom of speech has important benefits. But I’m pretty sure Damore’s firing gave his ideas more exposure not less.

          • Deiseach says:

            Women do not appreciate being told they are prone to histerics, no matter how well couched in graphs or polite arguments.

            Then your beef is with the psychologists who developed the Personality Traits assessment/Five Factor Model and used the technical term “neuroticism” which I agree is a dreadful decision because of the way the term “neurotic” is used in common parlance and how easily that term is confused with the separate concept of “neurosis”, but then again they probably never envisaged lay people using and discussing their test.

            You may also wish to shake your fist at the linked study:

            Women reported themselves to be higher in Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Warmth, and Openness to Feelings, whereas men were higher in Assertiveness and Openness to Ideas.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad: [For some reason I said “Matt:” originally.]

            The Paul Graham essay was very much worth reading, though I’m not sure how much relevance it has to Damore’s situation. Maybe Damore found himself compelled to express his opinions because of how he identified himself (thinking of himself as anti-PC or something). But it seems at least as plausible that he felt compelled to express his opinions because he actually believed them. (Or perhaps the identity/tribe he was defending was male Google employees or something.)

            I think a better essay for this whole situation is What You Can’t Say.

            In particular, this bit:
            When you find something you can’t say, what do you do with it? My advice is, don’t say it. Or at least, pick your battles.

            Or

            Every era has its heresies, and if you don’t get imprisoned for them you will at least get in enough trouble that it becomes a complete distraction.

            Graham’s point is that there are always heresies, that they are indeed often pretty silly, but that speaking out in public about them is a good way to find your whole life turned into a fight over that heresy. That appears to be what’s happened with Damore–he was probably doing some other interesting work, and now he’s giving public talks about political correctness while working on his lawsuit against Google.

            My only qualm with your comment is that your use of the word “should” is not talking about what’s morally right, but instead what’s prudent. Damore would have been more prudent to keep his mouth shut, collect his paycheck, and look for another job if the political climate at Google offended him.

            And that also makes me think of the famous Shaw quote:
            The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11

            I think a better essay for this whole situation is What You Can’t Say.

            That works much better, but in my partial defense I think the ideas in it are hinted in the first one.

            My only qualm with your comment is that your use of the word “should” is not talking about what’s morally right, but instead what’s prudent. Damore would have been more prudent to keep his mouth shut, collect his paycheck, and look for another job if the political climate at Google offended him.

            I frankly don’t know what the right answer is to that one. But I have to think that when it comes to fighting injustice magnitude matters. That’s not to pull some kind of whataboutism that leads to only being allowed to ever work towards buying betnets, but what do we think about someone who sacrifices himself on the altar of a trivial moral question? Is it so totally unreasonable for some of us to not even want to get into a big debate about whether or not something he did was moral or immoral, because whatever way that comes out it still leaves the most salient fact that it was trivial? There’s the old Leboski quote “you’re not wrong walter, you’re just an asshole”. And maybe we need assholes that are right for big problems–there are a lot of good quotes along the lines of what Shaw said about such people. But sometimes it is not such a big problem that being right sufficies to excuse being an asshole. When you are the Patton of the local McDonalds, you’re just a meglomanic. Not a meglomanic that helped save Europe.

            Anyway, we can disagree on the moral magnitude of the issue he was involved with, and maybe end up just not being able to reconcile opposing views, but that’s where my push back against AnonYEmous was coming from. He was framing the situation as Damore defending himself; that implies some kind of necessity. Saying that he did something irrational because he believed it was the right thing to do is very different from saying he was defending himself.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            albatross11:

            But it seems at least as plausible that he felt compelled to express his opinions because he actually believed them.

            I don’t know Damore, but I did work at Google for several years, and this assessment strikes me as quite plausible.

            The culture at Google has a number of properties I have seen elsewhere, but never shining quite as brightly as at Google. The people identify strongly with the company, as Googlers. They believe, and are encouraged to believe, that their contribution is critical, not just to the execution of the company’s plans, but to their formulation. There is absolutely no culture of “that’s above my pay grade”. (I’ve already told the story here about the engineer at a company all-hands who asked Eric Schmidt what would be Google’s next billion-dollar business and was answered, “You’re supposed to tell me that!”)

            Imagine a guy who loves working at Google, and who believes some fairly garden-variety things from evolutionary psychology. He sees Google spending a lot of time and effort in pursuit of goals that his reading suggests may not be possible, at least to the extent which that time and effort seem to be aiming for, and could even somewhat degrade Google’s ability to carry out its mission. He may (as I did) have nothing but respect for the females he has worked with — like him, they are Googlers, and they are obviously outliers on a variety of continua. He has participated in working groups that are a big part of the time and effort he suspects might be a pointless waste.

            To shrug and remain silent would be unGoogley. It would be a dereliction of duty and a repudiation of his own identity, not as a man or as a conservative, but as a Googler.

            Does Damore come off as a bit arrogant, and a bit Aspergey? Sure, but he’s far from unusual at Google in that respect. Some of my best friends there were like that. I’m like that.

            But when I read his memo, my almost immediate reaction was, This is a Googler who is trying to educate his colleagues and prevent Google from going into the weeds on an important issue. At Google that’s part of his job. If he had been ten years older, he might even have written a memo that accomplished this.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            No, he’s out of a job because he identifies as someone that believes these things and just has to authentically express himself.

            Or maybe he IS someone who believes these things and just has to authentically express himself. I sympathize deeply with Damore because I am those things, and I don’t believe that it’s just a matter of self-identification, of me bigging myself up by making myself out to be a certain type of person; in fact, I try to avoid doing that because I have noticed that doing this gets me in a lot of trouble. But in Damore’s case, it really shouldn’t have.

            …Oh, and by the way. Anything which causes accusations of sexism to be levelled in force ceases to be trivial, and rebutting these accusations isn’t a trivial matter either. In a larger sense, a blank-slate ideology which is almost entirely wrong and which hereticises anyone who points this out is a big problem, and combating this problem isn’t trivial either. But even beyond all of that, trivial is your own judgment call. Maybe you should have a bit more respect for other people’s utility functions, instead of just assuming that they’re irrational.

        • Deiseach says:

          defend Damore for his racist and sexist writings

          Did you read his memo? I certainly don’t agree with all his points, but he did seem to honestly be trying to offer an answer to “we don’t have 50:50 male to female ratio in engineers, how can we get that?” and part of that is looking at “do women go into STEM in the same numbers as men, if not why not, is it all down purely to sexism or is part of it that over the aggregate population, men in general and on average tend to be at the higher end of maths skills/have more of their population with good skills here than women”?

          Because if after all your encouraging young girls to study maths and all the programmes to get girls to code and minority girls and girls from lower socio-economic backgrounds into STEM, and doing all you can to provide equality of access and opportunity you still end up with 60:40 in favour of men, maybe it’s not all purely caused by racism and sexism? In which case, if you still steam ahead with “we must have 50:50!”, then you are going to be hiring less qualified (when compared with equivalent male candidates) women to make up the numbers, or women who are going to be shuttled onto the management or design or non-coding tracks, and the split is still going to be there.

      • scherzando says:

        you just need to keep in mind that he’s got a “no friends to the right” policy which colors his interpretations.

        At the risk of starting a tangential discussion, I don’t think that’s really an accurate description. Ken is very critical of both law-and-order criminal justice policies (whether espoused by conservatives or liberals) and the far right, but he seems to get along just fine with plenty of right-libertarians (he seems to be friendly on Twitter with Greg Doucette and various Reason columnists) and even some mainstream conservatives (here is him praising David French). And I don’t know what they think of each other personally, but he represented conservative blogger Patterico pro bono in a case with free-speech implications.

        • Iain says:

          Agreed. Ken White is a straight shooter. It’s hard to square “no friends to the right” with pieces like this, or this, or this.

          If you think that he’s taking sides in this piece, you should read it again:

          Some people are outraged and think that the memo means that science is illegal now; some people are triumphant and think its means that James Damore is wrong about everything as a matter of law. I’m not going to move anyone off of any opinion about James Damore and am not interested in trying. However, here’s a small amount of information to help you be outraged, or triumphant, more accurately and precisely.

        • Vorkon says:

          Yeah, Ken has a distinct “conservatives are yucky” bias, which colors some of his work, but “no friends on the right” is a vast overstatement, and he has a pretty good track record of calling a spade a spade, even if he often goes out of his way to make sure that everyone reading knows that he thinks the spade in question is yucky.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          I get the feeling maybe this person is over-interpreting his booting of ClarkHat for edgelording.

      • JPNunez says:

        Tho I have to agree that, after a cursory read of Popehat, it is odd Ken White is on the side of Google here.

        These guys seem p rabid free speechers even in the face of clear threats hiding as free speech.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        But it’s all good because dissenters who demand fifty Lysenkos are free to do so.

        Tim Chevalier just got fired from his job at Google for his anti-Damore statements, among other SJW statements.

        There is someone in Google’s HR department whom I really do not envy right now.

        • JPNunez says:

          Chevalier is a whole another can of worms, but his firing seems quite right?

          Will have to wait for the case too, but it honestly seems like Google needs a few moderators for their internal boards.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Tim Chevalier just got fired from his job at Google for his anti-Damore statements, among other SJW statements.

          Including threats of violence towards his political opponents:

          we are at a point where the dialogue we need to be having with these people is “if you keep talking about this shit, i will hurt you”

          Damore lawsuit exhibit B, page 114, marked ’40’

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Chevalier’s quote appears to be referring to “being a fucking Nazi.” While it’s possible that he was referring to some people who are not generally considered to be Nazis as Nazis– the lawsuit does not seem to offer the context of his post– if you hold the position that people should be fired from their jobs for saying that we should hurt Nazis, you’re going to wind up firing a lot of good ol’ boys every time a Captain America movie comes out.

            According to Chevalier’s lawsuit, he was disciplined and fired for his discriminatory statements against white men, including his generalization that society teaches “white boys” to expect privilege and to feel threatened when they do not receive it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            While the suit doesn’t give context to that one, it’s quite clear he’s referring to real, live people and not historical Nazis nor fictional ones.

          • John Schilling says:

            if you hold the position that people should be fired from their jobs for saying that we should hurt Nazis, you’re going to wind up firing a lot of good ol’ boys every time a Captain America movie comes out.

            Perhaps a more nuanced approach would be to fire the people who say that we should hurt Nazis, and who also call some of their coworkers Nazis. And really, there’s nothing special about the word “Nazis” in that context.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            The Nybbler: Okay, you’re going to be firing quite a lot of good ol’ boys after every terrorist attack who have the opinion that we should hurt members of ISIS.

            John: Can you provide a citation of Chevalier calling his coworkers Nazis? (I haven’t read every piece of information in the Damore lawsuit, it’s quite likely I’ve missed it.)

            Regardless, all of this is a bit of a red herring: according to Chevalier’s lawsuit, he was fired for spending too much time on political activism and making SJW statements that his boss considered discriminatory. Google’s statement agrees that he was fired for “promoting harmful stereotypes based on race or gender”. Google spokespeople have not said anything, as far as I know, about Chevalier being fired for making threats of violence. Is your claim that Google is falsely claiming that he was fired for discriminating against white men when he was actually fired for threatening his coworkers?

          • veeloxtrox says:

            I work at Google, all I am going to say is that when I found out that Tim had been fired for his conduct, I was a little relieved and glad to know that Google cares enough about its code of conduct to let go of people on the left and on the right. I suspect that I felt something very similar to what some of my coworkers felt when they heard that James had been fired.

          • The Nybbler says:

            He was fired because he was becoming a liability to the company; the exact reason, whatever it is, is a rationalization; Google has previously made it quite clear that they find stereotypes against white people and men to be acceptable, so if they fired him for that it’s only because the Damore incident made it look like they’d not be able to keep doing that so blatantly.

            I would be very interested in knowing who Tim was objecting to being asked to “open a dialogue” with. Based on my experience during my time there, I would be extremely surprised if it was anyone who could reasonably be described as a Nazi, and not at all surprised if it was a co-worker or group of co-workers. However, that information does not appear to be in the lawsuit.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Yes, both Damore and Chevalier were fired for being liabilities to the company. Why else would you expect Google to fire people, out of altruism?

            Honestly, I am somewhat skeptical of a person’s deep-seated commitment to free speech on the job if their response to a person they disagree with being fired is “well, they STILL only REALLY censor people I agree with, this doesn’t count because of reasons.”

          • JPNunez says:

            There is no such amount of care that can be given; it is the ideas that are offensive, not the presentation. As we can see by JPNunez giving a more offensive presentation and then attacking the memo based on that presentation.

            It does not matter how I presented the issue. The problem, and what got Damore in trouble, is that people at Google, and also women candidates to work at Google, aka the subject of the Damore memo, found said memo discriminatory.

            I do not know how discriminatory ideas can be presented in a non discriminatory way. I am not interested in such sophisms.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Honestly, I am somewhat skeptical of a person’s deep-seated commitment to free speech on the job if their response to a person they disagree with being fired is “well, they STILL only REALLY censor people I agree with, this doesn’t count because of reasons.”

            I’m less committed to free speech on the job as an absolute than I am to evenhandedness. If Google wants to say “no politics on internal lists”, fine. If Google wants to say “You can say what you want provided you don’t wish death on your co-workers” also fine. But if it’s “You may verbally abuse your co-workers based on them being white, men, white men, or conservatives, but the reverse is punishable” then I object strenuously.

            And that doesn’t change much if after several years of dishing out abuse, one of the most verbally abusive (based on those characteristics) people is fired.

          • LadyJane says:

            @The Nybbler: Questioning whether a specific race or gender is inherently inferior at a specific type of job goes well beyond just talking about politics at work. In terms of what I would consider acceptable workplace behavior, I see no issue with workers debating the merits of the Affordable Care Act or the new Republican tax plan. But I see a huge issue with workers debating the innate value of specific groups of people, especially when some of your co-workers happen to belong to those groups.

            I generally despise the “check your privilege” argument. I think it’s a cheap way of shutting down discussion, and it’s representative of all the worst aspects of the modern Social Justice movement (and I say that as a huge Social Justice advocate myself, at least by the standards of the SSC comments section). But in cases like these, I really get why people use the privilege argument. Yes, it’s been abused to mean “if you’re not part of a disenfranchised minority group, you have no right speaking out about issues relating to them at all, and should always defer to a minority on those subjects,” which is ridiculous. But at the same time, if you can’t understand why disenfranchised minorities aren’t okay with having their fundamental worth as human beings be treated as just another topic for casual debate, or why they’d be extremely hostile toward theories of biological essentialism that strongly resemble the pseudo-scientific ideas used to justify oppressing them for decades, that displays a serious lack of empathy and understanding.

            Also, verbally abusing and harassing and threatening people for their race/sex/gender/orientation is never okay, including when it’s straight cis white men being targeted. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Google feels any differently, and it seems pretty clear from the Chevalier case that they’re opposed to that sort of behavior, and I see no real reason to view that as an exception rather than the rule.

          • Questioning whether a specific race or gender is inherently inferior at a specific type of job goes well beyond just talking about politics at work.

            That sounds as though it means “whether all members of a specific race or gender are inherently inferior at … ” But in context, the question is whether the distribution of the relevant characteristics is different, so that fewer members of one group are good at that job than members of another group, which is a very different and much more plausible claim.

            And that’s highly relevant if a firm is trying to hire people who are very good at that job and ends up with more men than women, or more East Asians than Afro-Americans, or whatever. If the distribution is substantially different then getting equal numbers is likely to require lower standards for the one group than for the other, which raises a variety of problems.

            But at the same time, if you can’t understand why disenfranchised minorities aren’t okay with having their fundamental worth as human beings be treated as just another topic for casual debate,

            If someone offers evidence that short men are on average less intelligent than tall men, that doesn’t have anything to do with my fundamental worth as a human being. Women are, on average, better at some intellectual tasks than men and worse at others. That does not say anything about the fundamental worth of me, you, or Damore as a human being.

            The only minorities I can think of in the U.S. that are currently disenfranchised are minors, convicted felons and resident aliens. I don’t think any of those were the subject of the Damore memo.

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy Frantz

            Can you provide a citation of Chevalier calling his coworkers Nazis?

            See page 44 in Damore’s lawsuit where Chevalier claimed that trying to work “with the Trump regime means trying to work with white supremacists” and that “the Republican party is openly advocating for white nationalism in 2017”.

            Then on page 46 you can see him arguing for violence against those who make statements in favor of white supremacy or participating in white supremacist rallies, which given the above comments, would then logically mean Republicans & Trump supporters.

            So, based on this, I would say that Chevalier believes that coworkers who support the Republican party and/or Trump are white supremacists & that they should be silenced with force if they speak about their beliefs or attend a rally/event that supports the Republican party.

            It is possible, although unlikely, given his propensity to equivocate, that Chevalier distinguishes between white supremacy and Naziism. In any case, the above statements are in my eyes sufficient for Republican/pro-Trump coworkers to fear for their physical safety if Chevalier becomes aware of their views, regardless of whether Chevalier will consider them actual Nazis or ‘mere’ white supremacists.

          • Baeraad says:

            @LadyJane:

            But at the same time, if you can’t understand why disenfranchised minorities aren’t okay with having their fundamental worth as human beings be treated as just another topic for casual debate, or why they’d be extremely hostile toward theories of biological essentialism that strongly resemble the pseudo-scientific ideas used to justify oppressing them for decades, that displays a serious lack of empathy and understanding.

            You know, I actually agree, to a point. I would not want my coworkers to sit around ruminating about the general inferiority of fat retards (which is an uncharitable but not inaccurate description of what I am). This even though I can in fact agree that obesity and mental disability are, all other things being equal, deterimental to one’s performance in just about any field. I may agree it’s at least partly true, but that doesn’t mean, I very strongly feel, that I should have to hear about it all the freaking time. And I would also not be at all comforted by any form of “present company excluded” disclaimers. I do in fact feel that common courtesy requires people to not examine my lack of success in detail and explain to me how it’s all my own fault.

            But.

            I also don’t run around ruminating about the evils of skinny neurotypicals. I don’t blame them for everything that’s wrong with my life. I don’t claim that their bottomless malice is the only reason why rotund people on the spectrum are not adequately represented at the very highest levels of society.

            If I did constantly go on about how everything was the fault of skinny neurotypicals? Then I expect that a lot of them would start making arguments, at varying levels of eloquence, to the effect of, “no, it’s not! Quit blaming us because your life sucks!” And then I would think it was actively strange if they didn’t start examining in detail why my problems are largely due to my own internal limitations, in order to disprove my allegations that it’s all their fault.

            ETA: And yes, I am aware that there is such a thing as a “fat-positive” movement, and I’m entirely too aware that there is such a thing as “autism pride.” I thoroughly despise them both, for exactly this reason – their overreach and guilt-flinging just inspires people who otherwise would have remained civil to me to be assholes to me instead.

            Also, verbally abusing and harassing and threatening people for their race/sex/gender/orientation is never okay, including when it’s straight cis white men being targeted.

            I’m glad you feel that way. Most of our society currently does not.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @LadyJane:

            Questioning whether a specific race or gender is inherently inferior at a specific type of job goes well beyond just talking about politics at work.

            Even if I accept for the sake of argument this characterization of the Damore memo, it still amounts to special pleading. Arguments that women are inherently superior or men are inferior at certain things are common in diversity discussions, including at Google. For instance, the statement “If you put a group of 40-something white men in a room together and tell them to come up with something creative or innovative, they’ll come back and tell you how enjoyable the process was, and how they want to do it again, but they come up with fuck-all as a result!” was ruled to be A-OK by Google HR.

          • Matt M says:

            Questioning whether a specific race or gender is inherently inferior at a specific type of job …
            debating the innate value of specific groups of people

            Holy crap that’s a pretty big and quick bait and switch going on there.

            Discussing observable characteristics based on race/gender that might lead people to be pre-disposed to favor or disfavor certain types of careers is not, in the least, “debating their innate value.”

            Saying “women don’t make good engineers” (which he didn’t say, of course, but whatever) is NOT the same thing as saying “women have no innate value” or “women are less than human” or “women don’t deserve equal rights” or anything of the sort. This rhetoric keeps coming from the left all the time and I’m so sick of it – whenever you make ANY point about ANY characteristic of any supposedly oppressed group – the immediate accusation is “How dare you question my worth as a human being!”

            Someone could observe me playing basketball, notice that I suck, and say “Holy shit – Matt sucks at basketball!” And it would not occur to me that they are questioning my innate value. Basketball is just one part of life, and I do, in fact, suck at it. So what?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Aapje, by “page 44” you mean “page 44 of appendix B” also known as page 118 of the whole document. Maybe I should have figured that out from the context of Nybbler’s comment, but I bet I’m not the only one who was confused.

            DocumentCloud has a text version which can search the text of the message board posts, unlike most of the pdf versions.

            I reject your inference. Your quotes are accurate and I would have rejected it if I had just carefully read your quotes, rather than bothering to track down the context. TC says that some Republicans are white supremacists. He explicitly disclaims that not all Republican congressmen are supremacists, let alone all Trump voters. He says that people who attend supremacist rallies are supremacist. I don’t see any reason to believe that includes his coworkers. He does not say that all Trump rallies are supremacist. Maybe he believes that. Maybe that would even be obvious from the context, but it isn’t from this excerpt. (The person on page 45 is pretty sweeping, though.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Douglas Knight

            I scrolled pretty rapidly through it and when I found the quotes, I gave the numbers that I saw on top of the page. I was not aware that the appendix had a separate page count. Thanks for the correction.

            As for my inference, I disagree that Chevalier is blaming only part of the Trump administration and part of the Republican party.

            Trying to ‘work behind the scenes’ with the Trump regime means trying to work with white supremacists and make compromises with them. Is that what we want Google to do?

            This comment completely rules out any cooperation with the Trump administration, based on the reasoning that doing this is aiding white supremacists. Doesn’t this logically mean that any support for the Trump administration by a co-worker is also aiding white supremacists? Doesn’t that legitimize violence according to Chevalier?

            How much more evidence do you need that the Republican party is openly advocating for white nationalism in 2017? No, not every
            Republican member of Congress is saying this nor are they taking out their trash.

            This second quote implies that the Republicans party members that don’t advocate for white nationalism are still guilty of not kicking out the people who supposedly argue for it. I do agree that the later comment about using violence doesn’t argue that violence against people who refuse to ‘take out the trash’ is warranted.

          • a reader says:

            @Ozy Frantz & Douglas Knight: see here:

            http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2017/11/22/exclusive-google-refuses-to-disavow-political-violence/

            Examples of tweets by Tim Chevalier aka “Punch All the Nazis”:

            ‘I could have said “Republicans”, “conservatives”, “alt-right”, “neo-Nazi”, doesn’t matter. They’re all working together for the same goal.’

            ‘Dear Republicans, alt-right, MRAs and transphobes, wish you were here’ (in the attached photo: ‘HELL’)

            In another series of tweets he approves of a man (an antifa) punching a woman (a reporter who was filming a demonstration).

            It’s Breitbart, not the most reliable source, but I don’t think they Photoshoped the Tim Chevalier screenshots (If they did, Tim Chevalier would have accused them of that.)

            If Damore used as nickname ‘Punch All the Commies’, said that ‘”Democrats”, “liberals”, “Marxists”, “communists”, doesn’t matter. They’re all working together’ and ‘Dear Democrats, Marxists, feminists and transgenders, wish you were in Hell’ and approved a man punching a woman for wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, then he could be accused of spewing vitriolic bullshit and making people at work feel unsafe around him. But he was far, very far from that. The two cases – James Damore and Tim Chevalier – are not similar.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Matt M:

            Someone could observe me playing basketball, notice that I suck, and say “Holy shit – Matt sucks at basketball!” And it would not occur to me that they are questioning my innate value. Basketball is just one part of life, and I do, in fact, suck at it. So what?

            And I wouldn’t care if someone said I sucked at software engineering, especially since I have zero knowledge of software engineering. Even if someone said that I could never be really good at software engineering because I don’t have the requisite degree of mathematical intelligence, I wouldn’t take offense to that, since it’s probably true. (For that matter, I don’t think I could ever be really good at basketball, no matter how much I practiced, because of immutable and semi-immutable physical factors like height and muscle density and reflex speed.) But if someone said I couldn’t be a software engineer just because I was a woman, and then stated that most or all women have innately lower aptitudes for technical and mathematical tasks, I would strongly object to that.

            Imagine that you were really good at basketball, and had all the physical characteristics required to be a great basketball player, and had the skill and experience and knowledge to be a great basketball player, but people kept telling you that you shouldn’t bother because you have blue eyes, and blue eyed people tend to be a lot worse at basketball. Hell, let’s say that maybe there is a correlation there, like blue eyed people tend to be shorter or have less athletic builds or just grow up in countries where basketball isn’t a common sport. And for your whole life, you heard from your family and friends and teammates and coaches that blue eyed people like you don’t belong on the basketball court, to the point where you have to be twice as successful to be acknowledged as a good basketball player. But eventually, through hard work and perseverance, you make it to the NBA. By that point, I think you’d probably be really tired of hearing arguments about how blue eyed people are inherently worse at basketball, even if they added some disclaimer like “it’s not quite 100% true, obviously there are a few exceptions like Matt M.”

            That’s what I imagine being a woman in tech is like. If people have been telling you for your entire life that you can’t do something on the basis of your gender, then you probably aren’t going to take it lightly when one of your co-workers goes on about how that gender is just inherently worse at doing that thing. More likely, that’s going to make you feel extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome, to the point where you might consider leaving the job unless that co-worker left first. (As Baeraad pointed out, this is true regardless of the validity of the actual claim.)

            The one place where I feel like the “check your privilege” argument actually holds water is when it’s a response to someone saying that a minority group is being “too sensitive.” When you’ve never experienced discrimination, it’s easy to say that you wouldn’t get offended by hypothetical discussions about your inherent nature, it’s easy to assume that you’d be able to maintain perfect objectivity. You could even argue that, if a black co-worker started talking about how white people are inherently worse at software engineering, you wouldn’t take offense to it… but that’s not the same thing, because a claim like that would just seem patently ridiculous, it doesn’t have the force and weight of society backing it. If you moved to Beijing and kept hearing the Han Chinese majority talking about how white Americans are inherently less intelligent, and your bosses and co-workers kept holding you to a higher standard of scrutiny because of it, I’d imagine you’d lose your sense of detached objectivity in fairly short order.

          • Nick says:

            But (1)if someone said I couldn’t be a software engineer just because I was a woman, and (2)then stated that most or all women have innately lower aptitudes for technical and mathematical tasks, I would strongly object to that.

            (emphasis and numbering mine)

            Why are you putting these two statements together?! The second one is a completely different thing than the first one. Damore wasn’t saying the first one, and neither is anyone in this thread, and I’m not sure Damore was even saying the second one: saying that women are more people-oriented and men more thing-oriented isn’t a statement about “innate aptitudes,” it’s a statement about interests.

          • lvlln says:

            Imagine that you were really good at basketball, and had all the physical characteristics required to be a great basketball player, and had the skill and experience and knowledge to be a great basketball player, but people kept telling you that you shouldn’t bother because you have blue eyes, and blue eyed people tend to be a lot worse at basketball. Hell, let’s say that maybe there is a correlation there, like blue eyed people tend to be shorter or have less athletic builds or just grow up in countries where basketball isn’t a common sport. And for your whole life, you heard from your family and friends and teammates and coaches that blue eyed people like you don’t belong on the basketball court, to the point where you have to be twice as successful to be acknowledged as a good basketball player. But eventually, through hard work and perseverance, you make it to the NBA. By that point, I think you’d probably be really tired of hearing arguments about how blue eyed people are inherently worse at basketball, even if they added some disclaimer like “it’s not quite 100% true, obviously there are a few exceptions like Matt M.”

            (bolding mine)

            I can believe that enough people make arguments similar to the bolded part such that lots of women in tech experience hearing messages like it. I’ve personally never seen a single piece of actual evidence for it, but I’m not in tech, and I’m OK with believing it on someone’s word.

            But in the case of Damore’s memo, there’s absolutely nothing in his memo or any of his statements since then that could possibly be interpreted as being anywhere close to that bolded statement. The memo was very clear in explaining that the average gender differences in things like interest-in-things vs. interest-in-people could be the cause of the observed gender gap. No part of the memo proposes or suggests the notion that because of these differences, women shouldn’t bother trying to get into Google or tech in general.

            Ironically, the ideology he was pushing back against does discourage women from entering tech. It observes the gender gap in tech employees, concludes that this must be because the tech industry is hostile to women, and tells women that going into the industry will be a challenge that will require them to put in far more work than if they chose some other industry. I’ve had at least 2 women share their apprehension of entering the tech industry because of this exact faulty reasoning.

            On the other hand, Damore’s message is that the gender gap in tech isn’t necessarily because the tech industry is hostile to women (though he doesn’t deny that this may be a factor), but also because average differences cause it such that when a company is selecting for people who are particularly interested in things, it leads to a higher proportion of men being selected. As such, a woman who also has an interest in things and considers herself just as apt as any man in tech can be confident that she can go into the industry without unreasonable fear that she’ll be entering a hostile environment.

            And Damore goes even further, having an entire section dedicated to reducing the gender gap using non-discriminatory means, by taking advantage of our best understanding of the science in sex differences in order to create a work environment and work positions to encourage women to apply and to thrive. That indicates that he, just like the ideology he was pushing back against, believes that it is good and desirable to achieve equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity. He just wanted to take advantage of science to achieve it in an efficient and fair way.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            I understand that people who are a minority may be questioned much more than a majority. I understand how it is unpleasant to be stereotyped (although male programmers are heavily stereotyped as well, so this is hardly limited to female programmers). I understand that this may make female programmers very sensitive to such behavior or behavior that looks like this.

            However, when a fairly large group of people/activists doesn’t merely reject the questioning/stereotyping/etc of female programmers, but starts accusing all male programmers of being the primary cause of there being few female programmers, they no longer just reject discrimination/stereotyping, but they are now perpetrating it.

            At that point, you can make the exact same kind of argument to defend male programmers, because they are getting accused of being abusive to women, not because of their beliefs or such, but merely for being male and based on claims for which there is no solid evidence, but rather, a lot of evidence against.

            I believe that male programmers have just as much right as female programmers to speak out against such slander/stereotyping and tell people the true facts, to counter the falsehoods that are being told about them.

            It’s then very unfortunate if correcting these falsehoods is incorrectly interpreted by female programmers and others as an argument to keep women out of IT, but I don’t see why male programmers are obliged to silently accept abuse to prevent the feelings of female programmers and others from being hurt. Male programmers are people too, with emotions and material needs that deserve just as much consideration.

            Of course, it is best if the male programmers who speak out for themselves do their best to make their arguments in such a way that female programmers and others are least likely to interpret it as a claim that women are incapable of being programmers. However, they are ultimately limited by the scientific evidence. I believe that Damore tried very hard to keep his arguments from being interpreted as a claim that all women are incapable of being programmers and that female programmers at Google are incompetent.

            However, when people take their information from media sources that misrepresent Damore’s arguments, I don’t see how Damore can be blamed for that. Damore is responsible for his own words, not for the words of others.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: That seems like a false dichotomy to me. I don’t see why you’d have to make an argument that generalizes men or generalizes women, and I’d like to think that it’s possible to take a stance that doesn’t make either gender feel uncomfortable. I don’t think the only possible answers are “women are less likely to work in STEM fields because they tend to be less skilled/less interested” and “women are less likely to work in STEM fields because men in those fields tend to be sexist assholes.” A better hypothesis would be “women are less likely to work in STEM fields because the whole of society (including other women) perpetuates negative stereotypes about women being unfit for that sort of work, telling them from a young age that they either can’t do it or won’t enjoy it or both.”

            Of course, it’s a fairly moot point anyway, because regardless of the actual reason for the gender discrepancy, Damore could’ve simply chosen not to weigh in on the topic.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            Your answer is also that women are less interested, you just attribute it to what women are being told, rather than biological differences.

            I agree with you that women being told various stories (including, but not limited to the narrative that male programmers are horrible troglodytes who will make their lives hell) most likely plays a role in causing women to choose other fields.

            However, the scientific evidence also strongly suggests that there are biological differences in interest, at the group level. This evidence fundamentally goes against the common feminist narrative and strongly suggests that their attempts to achieve equal outcomes by spreading progressive beliefs will fail.

            In fact, feminism has already failed so hard that the most feminist countries have less gender equality in choice of profession than far less feminist countries. What we’ve seen so far that the response to this failure is often to discriminate, to force equal outcomes.

            However, if men and women don’t actually have similar interests on the group level, then equal outcomes at the group level can only be achieved by forcing people into jobs that they are less interested in, reducing human happiness. So the stakes are very high. Just like it is/was wrong to forcefully keep women out of professions that they would prefer to do, it is wrong to forcefully keep men and women out of professions that they would prefer to do.

            So in the face of these attempts, I believe that we cannot afford to ignore part of the truth, in favor of a narrative that is emotionally more pleasing, but which leads people to discriminate.

          • Matt M says:

            LadyJane,

            Sorry, but I still think you’re guilty of a bait and switch here. The specific comment you made that I am objecting to is the assertion that Damore and others like him were engaged in

            debating the innate value of specific groups of people

            I’m sorry, but this is not even close to reality, nor is your long following example providing any support for it.

            Engaging in stereotypes, even harmful and incorrect ones, is not the same as “debating the innate value of specific groups of people.”

            If someone tells me I can’t be good at basketball because of my blue eyes – there are two possibilities.

            1. They are right – my blue eyes do put me at a disadvantage. Perhaps I can overcome the disadvantage and still be great (Damore and others acknowledge that many great female engineers and coders exist). Or perhaps I can’t, in which case, I should probably embrace comparative advantage and take pride in the other things I am good at instead (as Damore points out, females are generally better suited than males at many other tasks)

            2. They are wrong – eye color has nothing to do with basketball. In which case, who cares what a bunch of ill-informed idiots think? I suppose you might object that if they keep repeating this lie others may believe it, but that seems unlikely when it’s a lie that is easily tested.

            But in neither case are they “debating my innate value.” They are debating my ability to play basketball. Nobody ever made any claim that someone’s “innate value” is judged specifically and solely based upon their basketball skills. Nor has anyone ever claimed that to be true about mathematical ability.

            I pride myself on almost never providing PC disclaimers or “virtue signaling” at all, but I’m going to make an exception here. Let me be very clear – suggesting that people of particular races, genders, beliefs, etc. have lower innate value solely because of those characteristics is horrifyingly awful behavior and I solely condemn it.

            I also happen to know approximately zero people who do that. Pointing out that men are typically stronger than women is NOT claiming that they have “lower innate value.” Nor is pointing out that women are more empathetic than men. Nor is pointing out that Asians have higher IQs. Nor is pointing out that Africans are better marathon runners. None of those things are even close to that.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje:

            However, if men and women don’t actually have similar interests on the group level, then equal outcomes at the group level can only be achieved by forcing people into jobs that they are less interested in, reducing human happiness. So the stakes are very high. Just like it is/was wrong to forcefully keep women out of professions that they would prefer to do, it is wrong to forcefully keep men and women out of professions that they would prefer to do.

            What do you mean by “forcing” people? I don’t think anyone would seriously propose, for instance, legally mandating that women take STEM jobs. It’s not like the government is going to start telling teenage girls “okay, the software engineering field needs 21% more women, every female who gets above 600 on their Math SAT is going off to tech school whether they like it or not.” I can’t imagine that being feasible for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that it’s not likely to produce very good engineers. Even if the government demands that tech companies implement gender-based hiring quotas, that won’t result in women being forced into tech jobs, it’ll just make it easier for women who already work in tech fields to find employment. (And for what it’s worth, I’m very much against hiring quotas.)

            But if you’re just talking about strongly encouraging girls to go into STEM fields from a young age, just like young boys are strongly encouraged to pursue STEM careers, I have no problem with that. At the very least, we should stop actively discouraging them. Even if you’re right and there are fundamental biological differences that make women less likely to be interested in tech jobs, social and cultural factors are still going to ward off some women who’d otherwise be interested in them. And if you remove all those impediments and tech fields are still male-dominated, but it’s a 75-25 difference instead of a 95-5 difference, then I’d be okay with that. This is why I think the distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome is a pointless one: we don’t actually have equality of opportunity right now, and until we do, it’s a moot point.

            Also, while I can’t imagine this view being popular with either side of this debate, I’m honestly not sure how much importance we should place on happiness within the context of one’s career. Considering that tech jobs tend to pay vastly more than other forms of white collar work, it might be worth it to strongly encourage women to pursue STEM careers regardless. On the individual level, it might result in them having lower rates of career satisfaction, but the significant increase in income may still result in them having higher rates of life satisfaction overall. And on a societal level, we need software engineers a lot more than we need housewives right now. Humans have a lot of natural inclinations that don’t necessarily lend themselves well to success within a highly-competitive globalized capitalist technocracy, but nonetheless, that’s the world we live in, and it’s going to be a lot easier to make people change those inclinations than to change the system.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Matt M: I would agree that in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be inherently dehumanizing just to point out that statistical differences between groups may have underlying biological causes. But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where for centuries, black people were literally enslaved because white people thought they were inherently less intelligent. We live in a world where for centuries, women were denied access to the majority of possible life choices and career paths because people believed that it was in their fundamental nature to be nurturers and caretakers and nothing else. We live in a world where even today, there are blatant racists and misogynists who use the same ideas to justify their bigotry and to literally argue that racial minorities and women are inherently inferior human beings. (If you don’t believe me, go visit Stormfront or Return of Kings.)

            And even among the people who genuinely aren’t bigots, I can’t help but feel that their ideas about biological essentialism are a bit too convenient, and maybe just a little self-serving. When I see people talking about how it’s only natural that certain racial groups tend to be poorer on average, or how women tend to avoid certain fields, it seems like it’s almost wishful thinking, an example of Just World Fallacy at its finest. It’s blaming inequality of outcome on natural causes in order to pretend that we have equality of opportunity, even though we don’t.

            If Theory X has almost exclusively been used to justify oppressing Group Y, then it shouldn’t be surprising that people in Group Y will heavily associate Theory X with oppression. To them, it’s going to seem like anyone espousing Theory X is really just looking for an excuse to persecute them. And honestly, in 90-95% of cases, they’re probably right. For every noble truth-seeker who genuinely thinks there might be something to Theory X, there are going to be a dozen monsters who are still just looking for an excuse to be monstrous.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            a reader: I don’t believe in firing people for things they’ve said on their personal social media accounts, no matter how controversial (except in a small number of cases such as CEOs or actors where being circumspect on social media is clearly part of the job description).

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            What do you mean by “forcing” people?

            By hard and soft quotas. It is true that the call for hard quotas is not that prominent in IT (yet), but it is in other places where a gender disparity is considered a major problem, like company boards, politics and universities (both for the students and staff). In the US the courts have disallowed hard quotas, so people try to achieve the same covertly (like with affirmative action) or by using soft quotas. In Europe it is attempted much more openly, for example, female only professorships have been created in my country recently. In the (far) past, my father also once got his job application rejected (or rather: not even considered) because of his gender (as the rejection letter openly stated).

            Soft quotas can involve making the path to a job/promotion easier for women and/or harder for men (like Google did), convincing men to not seek jobs/promotions because of their gender (I recently read a comment on the SSC Reddit by a regular who said that he had turned down promotions for SJ reasons), creating a hostile work environment for men (which Google also seemed to do), etc.

            It logically follows that if you have a disparity in interests, achieving gender parity has to result in a less optimal match of interest to jobs.

            For example, let’s say that we have a total of 5 men, whose interests in IT are 10, 9, 8, 6 and 3 respectively and 5 women whose interests in IT are 10, 7, 5 and 3 and 1 respectively. Now if we have four IT jobs, we expect to get the three top men and the top woman, for a total interest satisfaction score of 10+10+9+8 = 37. If you force gender equality, you get the top 2 men and the top 2 women, for a total score of 10+10+9+7 = 36. So you have lost job satisfaction here, presumably decreasing human happiness. Of course, this man with an interests in IT of 8 still has to work, but since he was pushed out of IT, he will start competing for his second most desired job, often pushing others out of their most desired job, who in turn…

            So you can get a cascade of people being forced into slightly less pleasant jobs. Because the pain is spread out so much, this is not as evident:

            I can’t imagine that being feasible for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that it’s not likely to produce very good engineers.

            I don’t see how it is necessarily noticeable and attributable if all over the economy, people get 5% or 10% less happy with their jobs. If this causes a productivity decline of 5% or 10% over a longer period of time, that may not even be visible if other advances increase the productivity. People may simply exclaim: “wow, productivity has been stagnating.” Or people may blame cost disease or whatever.

            Similarly, a 5% or 10% happiness decline may simply be attributed to modern workers being spoiled, on the gig economy or whatever.

            Nevertheless, I consider a 5% or 10% decline a serious issue.

            Even if the government demands that tech companies implement gender-based hiring quotas, that won’t result in women being forced into tech jobs, it’ll just make it easier for women who already work in tech fields to find employment.

            Except that the men who are forced out of tech because of the quotas will out of necessity start to compete with women in ‘more female’ jobs, pushing those women out of their jobs. Interest is not the same as ability (although there is a correlation, of course), so some men with less interest will be more capable than the women with more interest.

            But if you’re just talking about strongly encouraging girls to go into STEM fields from a young age, just like young boys are strongly encouraged to pursue STEM careers, I have no problem with that.

            I partially agree, although I’m not convinced that boys are encouraged into STEM specifically that much or even that men get encouraged that much at all (is that not one of the major reasons why so many young men are attracted to Peterson, who does give actual encouragement?). I think that a lot of ‘encouragement’ of men is negative, putting restrictions on them that force them into a limited number of paths (for example, the provider role closes off career options with low pay and closes off the choice to work fewer hours).

            For IT specifically, there seems to be a lot of disapproval of male nerds and many seem to flee into computers and IT not in the least because this results in the least disapproval/abuse/isolation, because it makes them more useful to normal people. I wouldn’t say that female nerds don’t get disapproval, but it is different in nature and probably often better/easier solved in other ways than to go into IT.

            In any case, my stance on support/encouragement programs is that they should be gender (and race, etc) neutral. I am not convinced that a lack of support/encouragement happens strictly along gender lines (for example, black and poor people seem (more) discouraged from getting into IT as well) and I have noticed that gendered programs tend to attract administrators/tutors/etc with discriminatory beliefs. So you get people who call all men privileged and refuse to help them, including black men and men from poor backgrounds.

            I also believe that a well-run neutral program tends to automatically help those with higher needs more anyway, so there is no need to exclude those who are supposed to be privileged.

            This is why I think the distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome is a pointless one: we don’t actually have equality of opportunity right now, and until we do, it’s a moot point.

            If people are willing to destroy equality of opportunity to achieve equality of outcome, the distinction becomes very important. Some people clearly will never be content with any disparity and are willing to risk/cause enormous damage to force equality of outcome.

            Considering that tech jobs tend to pay vastly more than other forms of white collar work, it might be worth it to strongly encourage women to pursue STEM careers regardless. On the individual level, it might result in them having lower rates of career satisfaction, but the significant increase in income may still result in them having higher rates of life satisfaction overall

            Perhaps, although there are enormous wealth transfers from men to women (primarily in relationships, but also through the government), so the actual disparity in quality of life is far less than the disparity in earnings. Furthermore, statistical analysis strongly suggests that most of the earning disparity between men and women is because they on average seek a different balance of career satisfaction to income. So if women flood into STEM, they may tend to behave differently from men (including demanding better work conditions and secondary benefits), at the expense of income. So then you may have lower career satisfaction and still not as much gain in income as you’d expected.

            In general, pretty much every simple solution that is proposed to solve gender issues cannot achieve it very well, because H.L. Mencken was right: “For every complex question, there is a simple answer – and it’s wrong.”

            Humans have a lot of natural inclinations that don’t necessarily lend themselves well to success within a highly-competitive globalized capitalist technocracy, but nonetheless, that’s the world we live in, and it’s going to be a lot easier to make people change those inclinations than to change the system.

            I agree that a level of coercion to get people to sacrifice to achieve a level of capitalist success is (currently) necessary to maximize human well-being, but I don’t believe that maximum human well-being is achieved when we maximize capitalist success. We need to balance it out with other values (like some freedom to pursue individual interests, even if people are more capable at jobs that they dislike). If men and women are intrinsically different, then it is not unlikely that coercion to achieve equality of outcome is going to violate those values to a greater extent than if we allow people to act more to their (individual) nature.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @LadyJane

            I would agree that in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be inherently dehumanizing just to point out that statistical differences between groups may have underlying biological causes. But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where for centuries, black people were literally enslaved because white people thought they were inherently less intelligent. We live in a world where for centuries, women were denied access to the majority of possible life choices and career paths because people believed that it was in their fundamental nature to be nurturers and caretakers and nothing else. We live in a world where even today, there are blatant racists and misogynists who use the same ideas to justify their bigotry and to literally argue that racial minorities and women are inherently inferior human beings. (If you don’t believe me, go visit Stormfront or Return of Kings.)

            This is more a historical point, and doesn’t really affect your central point – that things don’t exist in a vacuum – which I agree with, or with a variant thereof (I’d say that, given our very human tendencies to rationalize our own biases as fact, we should be very careful about saying “this is a fact”).

            However, I think you’re confusing chicken and egg with regard to how doctrines of superiority and inferiority, etc came about: a reasonable historical conclusion (I’m reaching back to stuff I learned in undergrad, so this may be a little muddled) is that it was slavery (or colonialism, etc) that led to theories of inferiority and superiority, rather than the other way around: enslaving people from parts of Africa and shipping them to the Americas to be forced to work in awful conditions meant that the people doing those awful things had to come up with rationalizations to soothe their consciences. They couldn’t say “well, we are doing these awful things to people who are intelligent humans with emotions and feelings just like us, because it is profitable” – very few people actually have that little empathy; it is far more common for people to come up with reasons why they shouldn’t apply the empathy they have. Similarly, there were other justifications: eg, that it was part of a mission of bringing civilization and Christianity to those enslaved (or those colonized, etc).

            The conception of race in which there were a handful of racial groups, and in which some were considered better than others, did not predate colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, etc; rather, that conception of race was created in order to justify those things. Before a certain point a few hundred years ago, “race” was used in a different fashion, in the same way that one might use “nation” or “people” – eg, you’d see contrasts of “the English race” with “the French race”, etc. Before it became profitable to enslave certain groups of people, those who would later do the enslaving don’t appear to have thought those groups were inherently inferior.

            Likewise, people who today maintain that certain groups of people are inferior, are mostly the tail wagging the dog: regardless of the degree to which they maintain their positions are based on science, they came to their views (that they are superior to others, usually) first, then found whatever reasons they could to support those (the old saying is that they’re like drunks, using lampposts for support rather than illumination). If, for some reason, it became especially profitable to (in a rather absurd hypothetical) force women into programming jobs, presumably that would be accompanied by a sudden “discovery” that, in fact, women were suited to programming jobs.

            It very much is (as you later identify) a case of the just world fallacy, excessive convenience, etc. I think this overwhelmingly outnumbers people who start with the belief “[group] is inferior” and go from there to the belief “and therefore it’s OK to do [bad thing] to them“.

            (as an aside, perhaps someone’s supposed commitment to the “but it’s SCIENCE!” view might be tested by checking the extent to which they follow possible indicators that groups they’re a part of are less intelligent, bad at certain important things, etc)

          • Matt M says:

            However, I think you’re confusing chicken and egg with regard to how doctrines of superiority and inferiority, etc came about: a reasonable historical conclusion (I’m reaching back to stuff I learned in undergrad, so this may be a little muddled) is that it was slavery (or colonialism, etc) that led to theories of inferiority and superiority, rather than the other way around

            Absolutely. I feel like a lot of people vastly underestimate the historical ubiquity of slavery. Modern thought seems to be that it was something invented by white Americans in order to oppress black Africans.

            Which isn’t necessarily false, but does miss the larger point. Slavery existed everywhere, for all time, prior to like the 18th century. Africans enslaved other Africans, Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans. It was just a thing you did when you won a war – it didn’t have to be explicitly racial (although that made it easier to justify).

            The notion that differences in inherent ability is needed to justify slavery is just false. All that’s needed to justify slavery is power. People have enslaved others whenever they could – prior to a general sense of “enlightenment” or what have you that said such things were morally repugnant.

          • Incurian says:

            Nobody ever made any claim that someone’s “innate value” is judged specifically and solely based upon their basketball skills. Nor has anyone ever claimed that to be true about mathematical ability.

            Well nobody here.

            Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best, he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear his shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.

            – Robert A. Heinlein
            (from Time Enough for Love/The Notebooks of Lazarus Long)

          • Brad says:

            To be fair to Heinlein a character said that, right? Although author inserts are a hazard of the profession I don’t think we can assume it 100% of the time.

          • Incurian says:

            Brad: Right. His character Lazarus Long said it, but I generally consider Lazarus to be an author mouthpiece (if you want to get complicated, Lazarus actually gave Minerva permission to edit his notebook, so maybe the notebooks are meant to be read as unreliable (probably not)).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            And what’s more, Minerva was editing LL’s ramblings, so it’s not even established that LL had a strong belief in everything he said.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M

            Absolutely. I feel like a lot of people vastly underestimate the historical ubiquity of slavery. Modern thought seems to be that it was something invented by white Americans in order to oppress black Africans.

            Which isn’t necessarily false, but does miss the larger point. Slavery existed everywhere, for all time, prior to like the 18th century. Africans enslaved other Africans, Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans. It was just a thing you did when you won a war – it didn’t have to be explicitly racial (although that made it easier to justify).

            The notion that differences in inherent ability is needed to justify slavery is just false. All that’s needed to justify slavery is power. People have enslaved others whenever they could – prior to a general sense of “enlightenment” or what have you that said such things were morally repugnant.

            I think you’re not acknowledging that while slavery is pretty historically ubiquitous, it has varied significantly. Plantation slavery in the Americas was really on the uglier end of the spectrum – slaves were uniformly taken far away from their places of origin, were mostly employed in particularly unpleasant forms of labour, since it was racially based the resulting justification was likely to involve claims of inherent inferiority – which likely led to the slaves being treated worse than they would otherwise, the generational nature of it, etc.

            The “good” end of the spectrum over time and space was probably being an intellectually-employed slave in the ancient Mediterranean (although how good that was is usually exaggerated, plus agricultural slaves then had it pretty bad, and I believe mine slaves had a very short life expectancy). The worst form of slavery was probably that practiced by Germany in its war machine during WWII, especially later in the war: they were often worked to death, frequently intentionally. Plantation slavery in the Americas wasn’t as bad as that, but it went on for much longer, and “not as bad as the Nazis” is a mighty low bar.

            I also think we can agree that plantation slavery and its legacy are really a black mark and a blight on many American countries, including the US, and it was really only not practiced in places where it wasn’t economically feasible (Canadians like to be smugly proud about not having plantation slavery, but that was more to do with the weather than anything else, but then again being smugly proud of things that are really the result of geography, other immutable factors, or happenstance is kind of the Canadian national hobby). It shouldn’t be minimized.

          • Matt M says:

            I think you’re not acknowledging that while slavery is pretty historically ubiquitous, it has varied significantly. Plantation slavery in the Americas was really on the uglier end of the spectrum – slaves were uniformly taken far away from their places of origin, were mostly employed in particularly unpleasant forms of labour, since it was racially based the resulting justification was likely to involve claims of inherent inferiority – which likely led to the slaves being treated worse than they would otherwise, the generational nature of it, etc.

            Is any of that NOT true of slavery as practiced in Ancient Rome? In the Ottoman Empire? Among the Aztecs? Among rivalrous African tribes?

            This is not a rhetorical question – I honestly don’t know. But I have a very tough time believing that 19th century Southern Americans were uniquely cruel slavemasters as compared to slavemasters in other times and places.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: I don’t disagree with your broader points, just with your assessment of the current situation. I think you’re greatly underestimating the amount of systematic discrimination that minority groups face, and greatly overestimating the amount of systemic discrimination that majority groups face. People aren’t destroying equality of opportunity for the sake of equality of outcome, because we don’t have equality of opportunity in the first place.

            @Matt M: People in ancient times didn’t need any real justifications for slavery because they had a very different mindset. Speaking very broadly, ancient cultures viewed the world as a brutal, merciless, unforgiving place where war, conquest, and slavery were simply undeniable facets of life. “The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.”

            The practice of slavery greatly decreased in medieval times, partially due to economic and logistical factors, but also partially due to Christianity providing people with a humanistic worldview in which the idea of enslaving other human beings became a lot less palatable. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment furthered the development and popularization of humanistic ethical systems. It may have been an effect of slavery rather than the cause, but nonetheless, theories of racial inferiority were necessary to justify the continued existence of chattel slavery well into the 18th and 19th centuries.

            @dndnrsn: I’ve never seen people espouse theories in which their own racial/ethnic group is considered inferior in any meaningful way, and I think that says a lot. I’ve seen people claim that other races might be more physically athletic, or better at a specific narrow set of circumstantially useful skills, but never that another race might be superior overall; they only ever seem to make that claim about their own race. (I don’t doubt that there are a few people like that, but they’re probably a vanishingly small minority.) Again, it all seems awfully convenient to me.

            @Incurian: As ridiculous as that quote seems, I think a lot of people have less extreme but similar beliefs. Obviously they don’t literally think that anyone who’s bad at math is a subhuman troglodyte, but I suspect a lot of people do judge other people’s worth by their overall intelligence, at least in part. Geniuses are seen as inherently more valuable human beings, and conversely, those below a certain intelligence threshold are seen as inherently less valuable as human beings. So I can see how any theory claiming that a specific race/ethnicity/gender/socioeconomic class is innately less intelligent could easily lead to the dehumanization of that group.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is any of that NOT true of slavery as practiced in Ancient Rome? In the Ottoman Empire? Among the Aztecs? Among rivalrous African tribes?

            I have a hard time taking seriously anyone who counts slavery as practiced in the antebellum USA as uniquely horrible in the annals of human bondage, or who talks of slavery in “the Americas” without distinguishing Virgina tobacco plantations from the Caribbean sugar variety. Averaged over all of human history, Virginia in the 19th century may be one of the better places to have been a slave.

            But most places at least had to limit themselves to ascribing tribal rather than racial inferiority to their slaves, and that makes it harder to treat them as literally subhuman. Or even inferior at all after a couple of generations when they’ve learned to speak your language without an accent.

            As a result, the higher classes of slaves in Greece, Rome, and I believe the Ottoman Empire held greater status and a greater chance at manumission than the “house slaves” of the Antebellum US. I doubt this extended down to the field and mine workers, but there’s less information to go on there because they don’t make for as interesting a story.

            And there were some societies where slavery was an explicitly temporary condition, lasting at most one lifetime and often less than that, rather than the hereditary slavery of the United States. Classical Greece and Rome did practice hereditary slavery, I believe the Ottomans disallowed or at least frowned on that but I’m not sure.

          • Matt M says:

            As a result, the higher classes of slaves in Greece, Rome, and I believe the Ottoman Empire held greater status and a greater chance at manumission than the “house slaves” of the Antebellum US.

            Indeed.

            Of course, we tend to think of life for regular peasants in those times as “nasty, brutish, and short.” So I consider it unlikely that their slaves lived in comfortable conditions and had pleasant and enjoyable lives.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Slavery in Rome was more diverse. Some slaves were treated quite well, while others were treated very badly, the latter generally as punishment.

            There was also an evolution, where initially the masters could do everything they wanted, including torture, rape, forcing them into prostitution and executing them. Over time, some legal protections were established though, especially as the Stoics and Christians were egalitarian and they advocated for better treatment of slaves.

            The freeing of slaves was so common in at least one period, that emperor Augustus decreed that slaves could not be freed before age 30.

            It is notable that the Romans were very afraid of slave revolts (not entirely without reason, see Spartacus) and this probably led both to worse treatment of misbehaving slaves and better treatment of those who submitted.

            An interesting parallel between Rome and the Catholic parts of The Netherlands is that they had/have a role reversal or role equalization festival. For Rome, the actual details may have varied over time, but it seems that slaves were allowed to make fun of and criticize their masters. This is similar to how the Dutch Catholic Carnival mixes the social classes and makes a commoner into a prince who rules during the festival.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M/@John Schilling

            You’ll note that nowhere did I say that slavery in the US, or in the Americas, was uniquely bad? My precise words were “on the uglier end of the spectrum”.

            And, John, sure, there were differences between Virginia tobacco plantations and Caribbean sugar plantations; the former were much worse. I’d be interested to see sources regarding Virginia tobacco plantations being among the best places to be a slave throughout time and history. The impression I’ve gotten – which may be out of date, and is a bit fuzzy – is that the slaves who have had it the best in any place/time were those employed for specific skilled trades/educational endeavours, which largely excludes agriculture.

            And, sure, I’m compressing things a lot to say “the Americas”, but one could also accuse me of compressing a lot to talk about German use of slave labour in WWII: a Dutch Gentile rounded up in a razzia would, as far as I know, have a better chance of survival than a Polish Gentile grabbed under similar circumstances, who would in turn probably have a better chance of survival than a Jew sent to one of the work camps. But not breaking down to that level of detail hardly seems worthy of ridicule.

            @LadyJane

            I’ve never seen people espouse theories in which their own racial/ethnic group is considered inferior in any meaningful way, and I think that says a lot. I’ve seen people claim that other races might be more physically athletic, or better at a specific narrow set of circumstantially useful skills, but never that another race might be superior overall; they only ever seem to make that claim about their own race. (I don’t doubt that there are a few people like that, but they’re probably a vanishingly small minority.) Again, it all seems awfully convenient to me.

            Let me give a somewhat related example. Someone who says “[other group] is more criminal, and the cops should be paying them more attention” is probably less likely to be starting from hard facts and moving to opinion than a young man who acknowledges that, all other things being equal, men, young people, and young men especially tend to be significantly more criminal than the average, and so cops should pay those groups more attention. This isn’t so much about superiority as it is about justifying prejudice/discrimination, though.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            Many of the claims of strong systematic discrimination of minorities are debunked by scientific studies, that find no significant or far, far smaller effects than is claimed. However, most SJ advocacy seems to not update itself to be consistent with the best scientific evidence, but instead, prefers to stick with the falsehoods that they need to be true to justify their extreme claims, including the existence of an oppressor hierarchy.

            As such, I consider it far more likely that you are overestimating the amount of systemic discrimination that minority groups face and underestimating the amount of systematic discrimination that majority groups experience, than that I am doing the opposite. Or perhaps more accurately, I think that my bias is smaller than yours. However, at this point we seem to have reached an impasse where we are simply making equal and opposite claims.

            Debating this further can only be done by digging into actual examples, if you are willing to escalate the discussion (and I fully understand if you prefer not to). For example, you can make a claim about a mechanism by which you believe a minority is strongly discriminated against in a way that is greatly holding this minority back, giving me the opportunity to then point out where I think you are wrong if I believe that you exaggerate.

            Alternatively, I can make a claim, like that there is more discrimination in sentencing by the American legal system against men than against black people & far, far more against men than against women, which you can then agree or disagree with, then I present evidence, you can point out flaws or produce counter-evidence, etc.

            But such a debate is more effort than what we have been doing so far, so I understand if you decline.

            People aren’t destroying equality of opportunity for the sake of equality of outcome, because we don’t have equality of opportunity in the first place.

            I agree that we don’t have perfect equality of opportunity, but I think that we have far, far more equality of opportunity than in the past & that we should not accept a regression, where equality of opportunity is reduced, based on scientifically unproven and frequently scientifically debunked claims that doing so will be beneficial.

            Your statement is like saying: ‘we don’t have equality of opportunity between the rich and the poor in the first place, so why should we fight to preserve welfare and progressive taxation, instead of going for communism?’ I strongly disagree with such fatalistic sentiments. Refusing to see the good that we have & trying to replace it with radical solutions for which there is no solid evidence that the outcome will be better & very good reasons to assume they might be worse, is revolutionary Utopianism and very dangerous.

            I’ve never seen people espouse theories in which their own racial/ethnic group is considered inferior in any meaningful way, and I think that says a lot.

            Humane biodiversity/race realism supporters claim that a subgroup of Jews and a subgroup of Asians are smarter than white people on average & this is usually claimed by white gentiles. So this seems to be a counterexample to your claim.

            This is actually a reason why I put more stock in there being a kernel of truth in these claimed ethnic IQ differences, because the theory doesn’t fit very well with what white racists ought to want to be true. I would expect a purely made up narrative to claim that whites are the smartest group.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            I’m not super well-informed here, but I think in general the worst conditions for slaves happened when they were doing some kind of brute force labor that could be monitored by a guy with a whip (cotton and sugar plantations, mines, etc.) and when the price of replacement slaves was relatively low so the owners didn’t have to worry overmuch about working the slaves to death.

            In the Western hemisphere, my impression is that Caribbean sugar plantations were about the worst places on Earth. The slave populations basically had to be constantly replenished with new slaves because the old ones kept dying off in the awful conditions, and the people managing the slaves tended to be overseers who were rewarded for this year’s harvest, not for any kind of long-term performance.

          • bean says:

            And, John, sure, there were differences between Virginia tobacco plantations and Caribbean sugar plantations; the former were much worse.

            You have this backwards. The Caribbean plantations were horrific. I seem to recall one of them running experiments on whether it was cheaper to treat your slaves well, or treat them poorly and import more. Guess which one turned out to be the winner?

          • John Schilling says:

            You’ll note that nowhere did I say that slavery in the US, or in the Americas, was uniquely bad? My precise words were “on the uglier end of the spectrum”.

            Right, but you said that about slavery in “the Americas”, which is about like saying that the treatment of Jews was on the uglier end of the spectrum “in 20th century Europe”. Failing to recognize the differences within the Americas is one of the things I was specifically calling out as inappropriate, and the one you are most specifically guilty of.

            And, John, sure, there were differences between Virginia tobacco plantations and Caribbean sugar plantations; the former were much worse. I’d be interested to see sources regarding Virginia tobacco plantations being among the best places to be a slave throughout time and history. The impression I’ve gotten – which may be out of date, and is a bit fuzzy – is that the slaves who have had it the best in any place/time were those employed for specific skilled trades/educational endeavours, which largely excludes agriculture.

            And what exactly do you think the slaves were doing on the Caribbean sugar plantations?

            About ten times as many slaves were imported to the Caribbean, as ever were to the United States(*). But when it comes to ex-slaves still alive in 1865, the US outnumbered the Caribbean about 2:1. Do the math and take a guess what was happening in between. Slaves in Virginia were valuable property; slaves in Haiti were consumables.

            Your information is not out of date and a bit fuzzy; your information is dead wrong, and you know less than nothing about the relative conditions of slaves in the New World.

            * Including British North America and the CSA.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean, @John Schilling’

            Jeez, I’m sorry, I mixed up “former” and “latter” in that bit there, which I sometimes do – usually I catch myself and remember that “former” doesn’t mean “the bit just after what I wrote” but this time I didn’t. Mea culpa. The sugar plantations were definitely worse than the Virginia tobacco plantations; you’re certainly right about that. My face is actually red right now.

            I think that what slavery in the Americas had in common across space was that it was racially based, that once it was underway it was buttressed by concepts of racial inferiority, and that in places where there isn’t a black majority now, there’s a black underclass, the existence of which can be traced at least in part to past slavery. That’s what I was trying to get at talking about “the Americas.” Additionally, I didn’t want to be accused of ignoring the situation outside of the US.

          • John Schilling says:

            Gosh darn it, how can we have any substantive arguments if all our points of disagreement are just silly typos? And sorry if my response came across as a bit harsh.

            As for race as an aggravating factor in slavery, I’m going to hazard a guess that the slaves in the Athenian silver mines found no benefit to their mostly olive-white skin. Debt or conquest or tribalism are sufficient to treat someone as the lowest sort of property, when it is economically convenient to do so. Race, I think, matters more when people stop being slaves, but are rather blatantly marked as being ex-slaves.

          • dndnrsn says:

            No problem. I was flipping back and forth between my reply and something for an RPG; that’ll teach me to try and multi-task.

            Wirth regard to slaves in the ancient world versus American plantation slavery, I think that one key might be the way that people fulfill the just world fallacy (how the slaveowners justify it to themselves, etc). In cases where it’s the norm to turn all POWs regardless of origin into slaves, people can fulfill the “just world” by saying “ah well, shouldn’t have lost!” – which doesn’t seem to lead to doctrines of inherent inferiority in the same way.

            Race might have started mattering more once the slaves had been freed and there was the dissonance of continuing to keep down people who were technically supposed to be free. But there were justifications based either on notions of inherent biological inferiority, or on notions of it being biblically ordained, or on notions of it being part of some kind of “civilizing mission”, or some combination, prior to that.

            In any case, my initial point was that I think that the arrow doesn’t lead from notions of people being inferior or otherwise deserving bad treatment to enslavement (or conquest or whatever); it’s the other way around – people find it useful to do bad things to other people, then justify it so they can feel OK with what they’re doing/defend it to others. And the lesson to take from that isn’t “we shouldn’t talk about possible differences between people because it leads to inequality“; rather, it’s “we should really be careful that supposed differences between people being presented aren’t just attempts to reinforce/justify existing inequality that’s not due to such differences”.

          • Iain says:

            It seems to me that race is relevant to American slavery in a way that it was not relevant in other contexts because America had set a higher bar for itself:

            We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

            Previous slave-holding societies had never committed themselves to that kind of radical equality, making it much easier to justify slavery. Once you’ve said that all men are equal, you’ve put yourself in a bit of a bind. Cognitive dissonance is unpleasant, so you start coming up with justifications, and then eventually you end up with the Cornerstone speech:

            Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.

            People are most heavily invested in finding justifications when they are concerned that something really needs to be justified.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Iain

            That was written by Jefferson, who was a radical among radicals at the time. He also wrote

            he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

          • Iain says:

            @The Nybbler:

            So what? What do you think that proves?

            The Declaration of Independence is hardly an obscure document. Why does it matter that the guy who wrote it would have gone further? The bit I quoted was still enshrined in one of the two most important documents in the history of the country. Fifty-five other delegates signed on. To the extent that literally any document except the Constitution can be said to express the founding principles of the USA, this is it.

            Does it conflict with slavery? Is it radical? Absolutely. That’s precisely my point. America, unlike previous slave-holding societies, had committed itself (however inconsistently) to a radical equality. The incongruity between that commitment and the ugly reality is why so much effort had to be spent justifying slavery.

            In a less idealistic society, nobody would have bothered.

          • We live in a world where for centuries, women were denied access to the majority of possible life choices and career paths because people believed that it was in their fundamental nature to be nurturers and caretakers and nothing else.

            I think you have the causation wrong. Through most of history, death rates in infancy and childhood were high enough that maintaining the population required most women to have a single career–producing and rearing children–along with other activities consistent with that, such as running a household. The fact that women can produce children and men cannot is indeed a matter of the fundamental nature of both.

            I don’t think your “nothing else” is supported by the historical evidence. There were female legal scholars, a high status profession, in medieval Islam, at least one prominent female local leader in early Iceland, female authors and poets in medieval Europe. In all of those societies most women were primarily wives and mothers–for good reason.

            On the general issue of race and slavery … . One advantage to basing slavery on race, where the latter is observable in physical characteristics, is that it makes enforcement easier.

            On New World slavery, my understanding is that the Spanish Commendata system was worse than either Caribbean of Virginian slavery, because the owners had only temporary ownership of the slaves, hence less incentive to keep them alive for future value.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh, this Chevalier lawsuit is something I am going to sit back and enjoy. Whatever about Damore’s rights or wrongs, I think Gudeman (his co-plaintiff) was much better, from Google’s point of view, as being more defensible for firing him (he does seem to have deliberately asked questions in a way that made him sound like a jerk, to say the least).

          But if it’s legal to be fired for your opinions, then the Chevalier firing is legal. Again, if we believe what Chevalier is claiming (that they were fired for fighting against Badness, rather than their boss asking them to maybe do some of the work the paycheck was actually intended to be for, rather than winning all these bonuses for social activism), it’s going to be so very, very interesting to see if all the same Google managers who came out with statements about how Damore was the kind of no-goodnik that had no place in Google will say anything about their commitment to diversity, or what their personal opinion of Chevalier’s opinions and memos and emails is.

        • Lillian says:

          Since nobody seems to have provided it, here is Tim Chevalier’s complaint. Frankly by his own words it sounds like his firing was entirely justified. It takes something special to make yourself look unsympathetic in your own filing, but Chevalier and his lawyers seem to have managed it. It isn’t just the content of his social activism that was causing problems, but that he was also prioritizing said activism over doing the job he was hired to do.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        dissenters who demand fifty Lysenkos are free to do so.

        They can demand all they want, but I have enough trouble keeping up with the comments as is!

    • J Mann says:

      That’s kind of surprising. My understanding is that workers are free to discuss work conditions and can’t be punished, but it sounds like the NRLB takes the position that you can’t discuss affirmative action if it would make proponents uncomfortable. (Well, more narrowly that your employer may but need not necessarily fire you for arguing that science supports adjusting affirmative action if it would make proponents uncomfortable).

      Note: I don’t personally know enough to have an opinion, so I am not implying that Damore’s position has any scientific basis.

      • JPNunez says:

        It’s not the discussions of working conditions that motivated the memo, but him calling women more prone to histerics. Women may not be fond of such stereotypes and, in the opinion of the NLRB opinion, promoting such was not protected.

        • J Mann says:

          Well, he said “neurotic” rather than “hysteric,” but your point is well taken. 🙂

          Looking at the memo,

          1) If Damore honestly wanted to walk in this mine field, he should have been a lot more careful not to give offence. Not that his memo reads like Moldbug or anything, but it doesn’t read like someone who is being as cautious as they should be to phrase things in a positive way.

          2) I find myself wondering if he’s serious. Damore concludes that on average, women are more comfortable working in groups and have a lower stress threshold than men,* so Google should reorganize their whole programming system to be more collaborative and less stressful? Did he seriously think that Google was going to risk producing fewer of whatever it is they produce? If not, I guess I can see people’s suspicion that the whole thing is just a ruse to say mean things about women after his feelings were hurt at the diversity seminar.**

          * Note: I honestly have no opinion on either point.

          ** I don’t know the guy, so I don’t have an opinion on this either, but I can see the arguments on each side.

          • johan_larson says:

            If Damore honestly wanted to walk in this mine field, he should have been a lot more careful not to give offence.

            I thought he had been careful enough. He cited evidence. He admitted the possibility of error. He adopted a generally civil tone. And that should have been enough, even for a topic that is known to be contentious, in a company that I thought was generally accepting of free discourse and criticism.

            But it wasn’t, and I’m left to wonder whether this severe action against Damore was an isolated action under special circumstances, or a sign that Google’s culture is (or has become) more intolerant than it seemed when I was there.

          • J Mann says:

            I’m left to wonder whether this severe action against Damore was an isolated action under special circumstances, or a sign that Google’s culture is (or has become) more intolerant than it seemed when I was there.

            I have no inside experience, but as a complete outsider, it looks to me like Google internally espoused a value of open communication that completely collapsed when the Damore memo hit the blogosphere. That said, I have a hard time imagining a company in Google’s position just saying “we welcome all civilly expressed viewpoints – deal with it.”

          • albatross11 says:

            JP Nunez / J Mann:

            I’m pretty uncomfortable with a rule that says that you can make whatever sloppy arguments and claims you like on one side of a socially contentious issue without consequences short of threats of violence or actual defamation, but if you take the other side of that issue, your statements had better be precisely correct and worded with both legal precision and diplomatic language, or we can hammer you.

            This seems like a procedural version of an isolated demand for rigor, right? It’s a way to stack the deck in your side’s favor in any discussions of the issue.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If Damore honestly wanted to walk in this mine field, he should have been a lot more careful not to give offence.

            There is no such amount of care that can be given; it is the ideas that are offensive, not the presentation. As we can see by JPNunez giving a more offensive presentation and then attacking the memo based on that presentation.

            I managed to get one high-level Googler to admit that it was indeed the ideas and not the presentation during an industryinfo@ argument while I was there; be interesting to see if it appears in the lawsuit at any point.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Well, he said “neurotic” rather than “hysteric,”

            You DO know that “Neuroticism” is a technical term, right?

            Tt’s one of the “Big Five” standard personality traits, and saying “women on average are higher on the neuroticism scale” is as coldblooded factually true as the statement “men on average are higher on the height and weight scales”.

            In Damore’s memo, he pretty carefully stuck to the technical meaning.

            Flipping back forth between technical and layman meanings of technically defined terms is poor show at best, and intentionally malicious at worst.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not very happy with the name and arguments like this are why. It’s probably less misleading to think of the Big Five term as a negative metric of emotional stability rather than as “neuroticism” as such.

            FWIW, women also score higher on Agreeableness on average. There are no significant gender differences in Conscientiousness, Extraversion, or Openness, although there are differences in some of the subscores of those traits.

          • J Mann says:

            @Mark Atwood

            Well, he said “neurotic” rather than “hysteric,”

            You DO know that “Neuroticism” is a technical term, right?

            Yeah, I do. I’m squishy on this point – I’d love to live in a world where people can have rational discussions, but from Google’s perspective, I can see why they don’t want employees stirring up trouble if they can achieve the same thing with less trouble.

            If you know that a word for parsimonious that begins with the same letters as the “n-word” is going to offend some people who mis-hear it and you work for me, then I’m sorry, it’s not a perfect world but don’t use it. I’m trying to make widgets and I don’t need the hassle.

            So if Damore had said “Our efforts to increase female participation should look at whether the environment is unintentionally and avoidably hostile to many women’s participation. For example, on average women report suffering more stress and having less tolerance for additional stress” that would have caused less trouble than saying women are on average more neurotic. (But yes, probably still plenty of trouble.)

            I agree that it’s bizarre to say that employees can be fired for saying that IQ distributions are different between men and women even if that is both (1) true and (2) relevant to designing a workplace sponsored inclusion policy.*

            * Again, I don’t know if it’s true or relevant, but the NRLB memo clearly believes it’s discriminatory whether or not true and relevant.

          • Garrett says:

            > Did he seriously think that Google was going to risk producing fewer of whatever it is they produce?

            Given the amount of people, time, and effort poured into “diversity” efforts, we’re already well past that line.

            > or a sign that Google’s culture is (or has become) more intolerant than it seemed when I was there.

            It was publicly brought up to executives over a year before the Damore incident that conservatives and those of alternative viewpoints did not feel comfortable at the company and indeed were quitting because of it.

      • rlms says:

        The NRLB memo specifically states that Google’s reasons for firing Damore did not include protected discussion of working conditions.

    • The Nybbler says:

      There was no NLRB ruling because the NLRB case was withdrawn. This is an advice memo, basically administrative law made with no checks and balances at all. Probably made for some political purpose; leftists seem to think it’s the Trump administration signaling that workers have no protection, rightists think it’s the last gasp of Obama deep-state appointees. (Sophir was appointed by an Obama appointee)

      • Brad says:

        It’s not even administrative law. The memo isn’t binding on the regional director and certainly isn’t binding on the GC (who is the memo writer’s boss and a Trump appointee).

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s of the same character as the Department of Education “Dear Colleagues” letter, which is to say it’s administrative law in all but name.

          • Brad says:

            I didn’t realize you were using your own private definition of administrative law. That being the case I bow to your unique expertise on what doesn’t count.

          • J Mann says:

            @Brad – IIUC, Nybbler means it’s legal realist (or de facto) administrative law, which in the case of the Dear Colleague Letter, meant that the letter hadn’t gone through regulatory procedures but was still a statement of what behavior would get a school hit with an enforcement proceeding and what behavior wouldn’t.

            @Nybbler – Assuming i understand correctly, I disagree. This memo doesn’t mean that the next case to come before the NRLB will be decided the same way. It might give some information to the next employee and employer in this situation of how their case might turn out, but not enough for either one to safely rely on it. So it’s a step in that direction, but IMHO only one step.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      It’d be good to keep in mind that companies have to keep a nice workplace for their workers, in case anybody here wants to start sending quotes of The Bell Curve as memos on their workplace.

      I believe in whatever the guy who signs my checks tells me to believe. You know, as long as it doesn’t get me thrown in jail.

      Invitation for criticism is a half-finished yet fully operational Death Star.

      • J Mann says:

        Username checks out. 😉

        But agreed. At the same time that I’m troubled by firing Damore, I also agree that it was probably untenable for Google to keep him after the story broke.

      • Well... says:

        I used to criticize Damore for talking politics at work. I still think it’s a good maxim not to, but knowing more about the context in which he wrote what he wrote, I am more sympathetic than I was.

        On the other hand, I’m grateful for people who do stand up for truth in those instances where that means standing up against the words of their employers. If nobody did that, it would be bad.

      • I believe in whatever the guy who signs my checks tells me to believe.

        As per Mark Twain.

  32. Ozy Frantz says:

    I would like to come to the Berkeley meetup, but I have an infant. He is generally fairly quiet and I would, of course, remove him if he began to cry. Do Scott or other attendees have opinions?

    • Urstoff says:

      Are rationalists or the rationalist-adjacent generally anti-baby?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Sounds good. See you there!

    • baconbits9 says:

      Suggestion from someone with small children, try showing up early. People with small children often show up late (with good reason as often as not) but very small children are often minor celebrities and they often steal the show on entry. Showing up on the early side prevents this from breaking into the more developed conversations.

      • Well... says:

        Another possible advantage of this is that infants sometimes have extreme and unpredictable first reactions to strangers. This can get amplified if the strangers exhibit a big reaction to the infant as well (e.g. spreading the arms, widening the eyes, giving a huge grin, and saying “HIII BAABY!!!” like some people do). People seem less likely to walk up to a baby and do that than they would be if the baby is brought to them.

        Also, having the infant there early gives it a longer chance to acclimate to the other people in the room.

    • I can’t speak for the Berkeley people, but you are more than welcome to bring your baby to the South Bay meetup the week after.

  33. johan_larson says:

    If you’re a fan of history and technology, you may enjoy the BBC’s series “Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.” It’s available on Netflix.

    The seven episodes cover:
    1. The Great Eastern (a steam-ship)
    2. The Brooklyn Bridge
    3. The Bell Rock Lighthouse (off the coast of Scotland)
    4. The US Transcontinental Railway
    5. The London Sewers
    6. The Panama Canal
    7. The Hoover Dam

  34. kipling_sapling says:

    Similar (in principle) to Altruisto, I highly recommend people check out BOINC projects, in particular those of IBM’s World Community Grid, which uses your device’s unused computing power to research diseases.

  35. Matt M says:

    I missed the technological unemployment post, but I did have a thought that I figured I’d share here.

    There was a decent amount of discussion as to what a “post-scarcity” society might look like, with most people seeming to adopt one or two extremes. That either the lack of scarcity would mean that everything would be so cheap, even the poor could easily enjoy comfort and luxury, or that the value of human labor would be so little, that people who didn’t own robots right away would find themselves with nothing to offer society and would be reduced to living in shabby ghettos, experiencing extreme poverty.

    I think both are half-right and half-wrong. The optimists are right in the absolute sense, but wrong in the relative sense. The pessimists are wrong in the absolute sense, but right in the relative sense. Meaning, I think all of human society will be a lot richer and well off and more comfortable than all of society is today. But I also think that “inequality” will become significantly more extreme. The “poor” of the future may be 10x more wealthy than I am, while the rich of the future may be 1000x more wealthy than I am.

    Consider – what would happen today if you increased the wealth of the world’s richest 1% by several orders of magnitude – such that any one of them might plausibly be able to afford, say, a perpetual annuity of $50k/yr to give away as charity to everyone in the world living in poverty without meaningfully hurting their own comfort and standard of living. Would every rich person do that? No. Would at least one? I think yeah, probably.

    Despite the fact that we haven’t implemented true communism (yet), most people today don’t die of literal starvation or preventable illness in all but the poorest countries. A mixture of charity and taxation serves to keep the poorest of the poor alive – even without socialism, even without UBI. It might not be the exact quality of life they might want to have (due to their relative status vis-a-vis those who are better off), but it’s a hell of a lot better than “the poor” enjoyed 100, 200, or 1,000 years ago. Do you really think that if we made the class of people who donate a lot of money to charity and pay a lot of money in taxes 1,000x richer, this wouldn’t have any benefit to the poor? Of course it would! It would just be an absolute benefit, rather than a relative one (which, I suspect, is what’s at the heart of the matter to any objections that don’t involve massive state-led redistribution)

    I think the post-AI economy of the future looks a hell of a lot like the economy of today. Some people are really really rich because of their capital. Some people find a way to trade their labor for additional riches. Some people live off the labor of others via government-mandated re-distribution. Some people live off the labor of others via voluntary charity (I’m thinking less “some big fancy well-known group blindly hands you a lot of money” and more “your loser brother-in-law hasn’t worked in 5 years but has never been homeless because he keeps convincing various friends/family members to take him in or give him money”). Maybe that third group gets bigger. Maybe the middle group vanishes to zero. But if history is any indication, it’s better to be poor in a society surrounded by rich people than to be “rich” in a society that hasn’t yet invented indoor plumbing. I’m in the top 1% (globally) today – but don’t envy me. I envy the poor of the future. After AI, these people are going to have lives filled with comfort and luxuries I can’t even imagine.

    • Anonymous says:

      There was a decent amount of discussion as to what a “post-scarcity” society might look like, with most people seeming to adopt one or two extremes. That either the lack of scarcity would mean that everything would be so cheap, even the poor could easily enjoy comfort and luxury, or that the value of human labor would be so little, that people who didn’t own robots right away would find themselves with nothing to offer society and would be reduced to living in shabby ghettos, experiencing extreme poverty.

      Did anyone point out that post-scarcity is necessarily temporary, and that our times now are an example?

    • Consider – what would happen today if you increased the wealth of the world’s richest 1% by several orders of magnitude

      That assumes that the world’s richest are rich mainly due to income from capital. I’m not sure it is true. They may end up with capital assets, but at least some of them became rich because of very valuable skills.

      Improved A.I. might make those skills more valuable, but also might make them less.

      • Matt M says:

        David – my only point is, it seems to me that if you suddenly made Bill Gates 1000x richer, today, that a whole lot of that money would go to the poor. Making Bill Gates and only Bill Gates richer by a lot would not be a bad outcome for the impoverished of Africa. It would almost certainly be a very good one.

        But fine, maybe Bill Gates is just a poser who is pretending at philanthropy to feel good and wouldn’t follow through. So expand the analogy, and instead of “Bill Gates gets all the money” make it “The top 1% get all the money.” Maybe Zuckerberg would follow through. Maybe Warren Buffet would follow through. Maybe one of the Waltons. You get my point.

        If “the rich” currently give X% of their income to charity, and you suddenly make the rich a hell of a lot richer, then that makes everyone who derives most of their income from either the taxes or charity of the rich a lot better off as well.

        To paint the dystopian picture, one has to assume that not only will all of the new gains go to the rich, but that this will also cause the rich, as a class, to become less charitable than they were before. This does not seem plausible to me.

        • I may have been unclear. My point wasn’t about the result of making the current rich a thousand times richer. It was that the current rich may not be a good proxy for the people who would become much richer if AI became good enough to make capital a good substitute for labor.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, sure, I guess that’s possible.

            But what particular reason is there to assume those who get rich due to the benefits of AI would be less charitable than the current rich?

            Also, it seems to me that the current rich are very likely to be the ones who get rich off of AI. At least to the extent that “rich” means “people who own stocks” and to the extent that we assume AI will be a product of corporations rather than of like, one solitary genius in a sole proprietorship.

            I mean, if we’re open to the idea that AI riches will be assigned based on merit with little regard to current wealth – then there are even fewer problems, right? Those who get rich will have earned it, and those who don’t will have had the opportunity, but not taken it.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Some of that charitableness may result from a feeling of obligation towards the many people who work hard and yet don’t get so much. We see that people tend to be far less charitable to those they perceive to be leeches.

            In a post-scarcity world where many people cannot meaningfully contribute and can do no more than leisure, we might see the elite who do have to work to generate huge value for society get resentful of having to make that effort and only be willing to share the bare minimum.

            If you look at history and still today, we see people rationalizing inequality by arguing that the lower classes are inferior, that welfare just gets spent on drugs/caviar/etc, that everyone could be rich if they just put in the effort, etc. This is a lot easier when there is a truly overt gap between groups & we can expect that this gap will increase when the lower classes develop their own culture that is very dissimilar from the elite, because they never have to work together anymore.

          • Matt M says:

            Some of that charitableness may result from a feeling of obligation towards the many people who work hard and yet don’t get so much. We see that people tend to be far less charitable to those they perceive to be leeches.

            This is a fair/plausible theory. I’m not sure it holds for the elite philanthropists though. Especially those who hold proper blue tribe/SJ affiliated ideas that “people are only poor because of oppression” or whatever.

            Remember, the entire premise of this AI/post-scarcity debate is that the poor are about to get screwed and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. The oppression narrative will continue unabated. I don’t think the future poor will be seen as leeches – they will be seen as unfortunate victims – much as they are today.

            The whole “no charity unless you pass a drug test” thing is popular among middle-class red tribers, but I’ve never really heard it advocated by any 1% philanthropists, EA charities, or anything like that…