THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 107.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread – sorry it’s so late. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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505 Responses to Open Thread 107.25

  1. secret_tunnel says:

    Was doing squats in front of some people the other day and found out that I have terrible form due to my poor flexibility (which explains why every time I’ve attempted to start lifting I’ve had to give up due to knee pain after getting above ~115 pounds). My friend’s theory is that I have short hamstrings—I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees, sitting up against a wall with my legs straight out is uncomfortable, doing an “Asian squat” is impossible for me, etc. Does anyone have some stretches/yoga techniques/general advice for how I can improve my flexibility? I’m taking a break from squatting until I’ve fixed this.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      If you can, go see a good sports physical therapist.

      That said, an easy, non ballistic hamstring stretch is to lie on your back in a door frame with one leg through the doorframe and the other leg resting against the frame so that your legs form an L shape. Simply relax and let the position do the stretching. As the position becomes more comfortable, work your leg closer to straight, your hip towards the floor, your buttock toward the door frame to allow more stretching to occur.

      I am not sure how well this works if you can’t come close to 90 degrees/ resting a straight leg on the doorframe. Do not force anything.

    • hls2003 says:

      Try not to do static stretches, or at least not only static stretches. For flexibility, you want to push your range of motion during exercise as much as feasible. That’s one reason yoga is good. In addition, basic static stretching will work better if your muscles are already warmed up from activity, another reason yoga tends to work well. You can also try assisted stretching after a workout (preferably not a hardcore leg workout though – don’t overtax the muscle) – it doesn’t need to be professional, if you have a workout buddy, you can each assist the other to gently push past your limits. For example, one hip flexor/groin/hamstring stretch is where you each sit facing each other, one puts their foot soles around the partner’s knees, join hands, and pull forward gently. Never to the point of pain, that’s too far too fast. There are lots of others where a partner can help push you just past where your musculature will easily go.
      Again, never overpowering you to the point of pain (minor discomfort / stretch feeling OK).

      • engleberg says:

        +1 never overpowering you to the point of pain.

        The best way to get more flexible is to eat less and do very mild stretches, just range of motion stuff. The worst way is applying any kind of force to tendons.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I can’t see your squats from here, so I’m limited in my ability to give you specific advice, but it’s likely that you can mitigate your flexibility issues by improving your form.

      If “Asian squat” is roughly the same thing as an “Ass-to-grass” squat (the bottom position of the squat is the extreme of your anatomical range-of-motion, with your hamstrings resting on your calves and your butt as close to the floor as you can get it without falling over backwards), that’s probably a big part of your problem right there. You’re better off aiming for a powerlifting-style “full squat” (your hip joint is just below your knee joint at the bottom of the squat, so your femur angle is just below parallel to the floor).

      The bottom position of a “full” squat is about the deepest you can go and still have your muscles fully engaged. When you drop significantly below parallel, you start relaxing your muscles so you “fall” into the ass-to-grass position, which doesn’t really help your muscles get stronger, and which puts more strain on your knees that the bottom position of a “full” squat: at the bottom of a “full” squat, your hams and quads are exerting balanced forces on your knee so the knee joint itself has very little load, but at the bottom of an ass-to-grass squat, your hamstring is relaxed and your knee is bearing the full load. A full squat also requires less flexibility than an ass-to-grass squat (good news for you), and you should be able to handle more weight as well.

      Another for change that might help is changing your stance if you’re currently trying to squat with your feet and knees pointed straight forward: your knees should be pointed out a bit at about a 60 degree angle to each other (30 degrees from forward). This has several advantages, but one of them is that it opens up your hip joints so it requires less flexibility to get to full depth than a knees-straight-forward stance.

      • FLWAB says:

        In regards to the nature of the Asian Squat:
        https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/03/can-you-do-the-asian-squat/555716/

        I can’t perform an Asian squat, but I’ve been told that’s normal for people who didn’t grow up doing it. The key thing is that the Asian squat requires you to keep your heels on the ground, lowering yourself until you’re in a resting squat. My ankles don’t bend that far, so if I keep my heels on the ground I topple backwards.

        http://i.yomyomf.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/3978051578_4b73c51ba7-postimg-539v.jpg

        • The Nybbler says:

          I can do it without much trouble, probably from the years of inline speed skating. It does hurt my knees a bit on the way down, probably from the years of inline speed skating.

        • jg29a says:

          Despite not having grown up with it, I could do it fairly quickly after moving to Korea… until I broke both ankles playing volleyball. Now that otherwise barely noticeable decrease in ankle mobility makes it utterly impossible.

        • johan_larson says:

          I can do an “Asian” squat, despite being white. I do have to spread my knees and point my toes out quite a bit though, since I’m considerably overweight. Squatting this way a distinctly uncomfortable position that I would never naturally assume.

        • onyomi says:

          A common misconception about the “heels flat” Asian squat is that the reason most Westerners can’t do it is a lack of ankle strength or flexibility. This seems like the cause because you think “if only my ankles were more flexible I could get my heels on the floor.”

          But that’s not the real problem in most cases. The real problem is a lack of internal hip rotation. This is hard to improve, I think because the muscles preventing it (mostly glutes) are very strong, and by their nature, not very long. The best stretch I’ve figured out is one where you kneel with your feet a bit wider than your knees and then, while holding on to something in front, try to sit backwards so your butt will sit between your feet. But the key point here is not to let your lower back round as you do this. This is the only way to make the stretch focus on your hip rather than your lower back (also be careful to take this one slowly or it can hurt your knees).

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      All the other people have good suggestions, but also consider your sitting form at a desk (if you have such a job/are in school). Poor posture can create a lot of tightness in your lower body.

    • gbdub says:

      I’m not super flexible and I like to do squats. Hip flexibility is important, but perhaps not intuitively, it was really ankle flexibility that was my biggest issue to squat form (do your heels try to come up off the floor when you reach the bottom of your squat?)

      For me the best way to improve flexibility was just to do squats with the bar only, very slowly and being hyper aware of form. When I got to where my heels started to lift, I’d stop and force myself to keep them down, feeling the stretch, and holding it there for a bit, then rise up, squat back slowly, and repeat until it felt like less of a stretch to hold form.

      I do that as a warmup every time, just to make sure I’m limbered up enough to move with good form before lifting with weight.

      • Nornagest says:

        Squat shoes help a lot. My ankle flexibility isn’t great, and that extra inch or so of heel makes a big difference. I use Adipowers.

        They’re expensive, though. And a regular shoe with the same heel height is no substitute — the heels will end up being too squishy, and you won’t have a stable platform to lift from.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      For some people it helps to have something to lift their heels to do better squats (see e.g. the illustration in this facebook post). You could try to put a weight plate in place and put your heels on them, or buy weightlifting shoes that have lifted heels.

    • Anon. says:

      I had some squat-related mobility trouble as well. First of all try playing around with your stance. It could just be that you’re going too narrow and/or pointing your feet too straight ahead. No amount of stretching is going to change your hip structure or femur length, and those constrain how you can squat.

      I don’t think it’s the hamstrings. If it is a mobility issue, ankles are much more probable. Do 3×10 daily wall ankle stretches (hands on wall, heel on the ground, touch knee to wall) and try just sitting in a squat for a few minutes every day. Hang on to something if you’re falling backwards.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      I dont have much to add except that my squats became much less stiff when I started seeking out the firmest surface to do them on, and started doing them in shoes with very little padding. Not only did I engage my calves more, but my feet could dig into the surface much better. As for your form, I can say that its very, very individualistic, as we all have different anatomy and weak points, however I will say that few people benefit trying to do super deep weighted squats. Unweighted, yoga style, can be great for increasing flexibility, but in the Gym, you want to focus on form that keeps your neuromuscular activation high, which is usually not much more than parallel for most people.

      • christianschwalbach says:

        A lot of gyms have rubber floors that have a deceptive level of “give” in them, even if its not readily apparent. Pay attention to this and avoid when possible.

    • Orpheus says:

      There is a variation of the squat where you hold the bar in front of you instead of on your back. Did you try doing those? Supposedly the form is harder to screw up.
      Also, maybe instead of giving up on squats all together, try squatting with just the bar for a few weeks, and really concentrate on correct form.

    • Stevo says:

      A common area people miss is ankle flexibility for squats. The more upright your shins have to be due to poor ankle flexion, the more you have to bend over to keep the bar over your center of gravity. So work increased ankle flexion with both straight legs (like standard calf stretches), and bent legs (like in a lunge, with your front foot flat on the ground, put your weight over your knee. It takes a long time to increase ankle flexibility because tendons and ligaments do not adapt very quickly, but with time it will improve.

    • njbl says:

      I have a similar problem with hamstrings and quads which in turn were making my knees very sore. I have been to physical therapists but I found the best thing was weekly yoga in a small class (2 or 3 people). Over time, with the instructor, I have worked out the most useful stretches and it has made a huge difference. More expensive than large class yoga but much less expensive, and more effective, than seeing a physical therapist.

  2. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Tell me about quinolones. I was just prescribed levoFLOXacin for a GI thing (details if you want) which seems to be resolving on its own.

    I had no idea that reading widely and at random could be part of a survival instinct, but I’d read Bitter Pills: Inside the Hazardous World of Legal Drugs which by a journalist whose wife’s health was seriously damaged by a quinolone which was prescribed for a minor ailment.

    It’s not just her: Have a big list.

    I’ve mentioned not wanting to take quinolones on my facebook, and got back 5 stories of bad effects plus one more from a phone call– 5 are tendon problems, and one I don’t have details for. Mercifully, none of them are snapped tendons. I’m guessing that between one and two hundred people have seen my facebook post, but I obviously don’t have a high quality scientific survey here.

    • rahien.din says:

      What is it that you actually wish to know?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It’s a fair question.

        I suppose I’m curious about how common bad side effects are. And how often quinolones are prescribed for infections that aren’t extremely serious.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      Treat with caution, avoid if possible is my MO on those. I have never taken them, but as someone with a history of gut problems, the last thing I need is my gut biome screwed up even more, esp. with side effects of quinolones. I would ask for an alternative if possible, esp. if the issues seem to be resolving. If this is the case, you might want to consider a reduced course also. I have done that myself with no ill effects.

    • onyomi says:

      Among many experiences that have caused me to err on the side of not medicating/undergoing procedures whenever reasonable: a friend died simply as a result of a rare reaction to the common antibiotic, Bactrim, which I myself have previously taken.

  3. bean says:

    In a unique situation, I can announce two posts for the price of one:
    First, Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 1, an expansion of the Network-Centric Warfare post first made here.
    Second, the third part of the discussion on aviation in our hypothetical modern navy.

  4. Odovacer says:

    Are you good at self-promotion? I’m on the job market and I showed my updated resume to some people as well as did some mock interviews. The most common piece of advice I got was that I did a poor job selling myself, i.e. stressing my accomplishments and how they would help me do the job I was applying for. I’m of two minds of it.

    I understand that hiring committees don’t know me and what I’ve done, so I really need to emphasize that I am capable and have a series of good accomplishments under my belt. I also need to spin/embellish my experience to make me a more attractive candidate. I also understand that other people are doing this, so if I don’t do it, it makes me seem like a lackluster candidate in comparison.

    However, I feel a bit…wrong to embellish and exaggerate my abilities. I don’t want to participate in a superlative arms race like listing “Top 4%”, “Innovative” “superduper genius”, etc.. And frankly, I think I’m just all right. Of course, I think most other people are just all right too.

    What I really want to just say to hiring committees is, “Look, I’m not the top person in the field, but you don’t really need him or her for this job. Yes, I can’t do everything that you list in your job requirements, but I can do most of it, and I can learn the rest. It’s probably not that hard. I can hold down a job, learn, and after I’ve been here for a bit, I might even has some ideas for improvement.”

    The whole thing reminds me of the difference between American and British letters of recommendation. I wish the British style was more widespread in the US.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Just emphasize what you have done and what you are capable of doing. There is no need to list the things you cannot do. You don’t have say “I am not one of the top people in the field” when you can simple emphasize “I am well versed in the skill sets necessary to excel at the job”. Presumably you aren’t applying for jobs where they expect to hire people at the top of the field.

    • SamChevre says:

      I am not good at self-promotion, but I have gotten better at it in the work context over the years.

      Doing it right isn’t embellishment, or exaggeration. It’s making it evident to the person you are talking to that “if you hire me to do this, you will be glad you did, because I will do it well. Here’s why you should believe that.” And if you don’t believe that yourself, it will be hard to sell to others; you should believe that yourself.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      What I really want to just say to hiring committees is, “Look, I’m not the top person in the field, but you don’t really need him or her for this job. Yes, I can’t do everything that you list in your job requirements, but I can do most of it, and I can learn the rest. It’s probably not that hard. I can hold down a job, learn, and after I’ve been here for a bit, I might even has some ideas for improvement.”

      That’s not a good idea because while it’s honest it’s not what’s going to inspire them to hire you.

      I’ve got a friend who’s an internationally famous wedding photographer. When you get up to this level, you’re cranking out absolutely gorgeous images at every event. Each image in the album is better than the best image from the entire portfolios of 95% of other photographers. So this bride was interviewing him to see if she wanted to hire him for her wedding. They got along really well and she seemed to “get it.” She asked him what his goal was at a wedding, and he felt good enough about the rapport they’d built to open up: that his goal was to get “one really good image.” Meaning, one image good enough to replace something else in his portfolio. When you’re shooting 60 weddings a year like this guy and turning out world-class stuff constantly, that is a high bar. Even making amazing stuff every week creating something worthy of the “best of” list is hard. But even so, the rest of the images from her wedding that aren’t the portfolio image are still better than anything else she’s ever going to find.

      Well, he didn’t get the job. A few months later he was chatting with the bride’s wedding planner and he asked “did the bride ever say why she didn’t hire me?” The planner told him “she said she wanted more than one good photo at her wedding.”

      What I think you should probably do instead is listen to what the hiring committee wants and then explain how you can help them accomplish those goals. Don’t lie. If they’re interested in a skill you’ve got, explain how you can use that skill to help them and how you’d approach solving their problems using it, and give examples of other similar problems you’ve solved. If it’s a skill you don’t have, explain how you’d be able to learn it, and describe times in the past you’ve learned a new skill to solve a new problem and how you can put that experience to work for them.

      Basically, instead of approaching it from the point of the view of the immediate goal (“hire me”) approach it with their goals in mind: they have problems they want solved, and here’s how you can help solve them.

      “Sales” is not a four-letter word. Can you think of any time in your life when a salesman has been beneficial to you? They probably didn’t just try to sell you something, anything. If it’s an interaction with a salesperson you remember positively, it’s probably somebody who listened to your problem, and then, knowing his products and services, guided you to the ones that would solve your problem. That’s helpful!

      So, approach the interview from that side: you’re not trying to get them to hire you. You’re helping them solve their problems by hiring you.

    • Deiseach says:

      Useless at self-promotion, but it is basic good advice to “sell yourself” based on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do.

      The business hiring you wants someone who can do the work (for the best qualified/most experienced person they can get as cheaply as possible). So if you have good qualifications but you never previously worked as (say) squeezing blood out of turnips before, and you make a big deal of “I’ve never done this before”, then they will ignore what you have done and you won’t be in consideration.

      So the trick is to look at the job description and look at your qualifications/experience and see what you can match up. Ever taken money in for a job, even if it’s something as trivial as “people paying for night classes handed in the cheques to me which I passed on to the relevant person”? Congratulations, you have cash-handling experience! Do the same for everything else on the “we need a…” list that you can match up with previous jobs, no matter how small.

      If you are Top 4% Super-Duper Genius, that’s great, but most of us are on the level where the other candidates going for the job are likely as good as we are (not everyone, but the bulk of them) so you need to tailor your application to the needs of the job.

      “Don’t know this but willing to learn”? Make a positive out of that – don’t emphasise the “I don’t know this”, make a big deal out of “willing to learn and to prove this, in my last job I was trained on [new system] and ended up being in sole charge of [doing thing with new system]”.

      It’s very hard for people who, like ourselves, were probably raised and educated on the old principle of “don’t be boastful, don’t pretend to know more than you do, don’t promise what you can’t perform” to transition to the new American-style (yes, it’s come in over here as well in modern times) of “I am The Greatest and you need me, I don’t need you!” style of interviewing where you pad out your CV and exaggerate your qualifications and swear blind that from but an embryo onwards it has always been your fondest dream to do nothing in life but work eight days a week for Turnip Manglers plc, but that is the reality nowadays.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      Think of going to a car dealership. You expect the salesman to sell the good things about his car. You would not respect him if he said, “I think my Chevy here will do you a good job, but it comes up short to the new Ford models.” In fact, you would probably want another salesman. It is your job to give all the good points you can. It is the committees job to decide if that is enough.

      Besides, they want someone who can do the job; they are nearly as interested in your honesty as you are. Your honesty does nothing for them.

    • Erusian says:

      I hire people. All interviews basically come down to three questions:
      1.) Can this person do the tasks I need to be done well? (Also can be stated as, ‘will this person make the firm money?’)
      2.) Will they add to the team and not disrupt it?
      3.) If I interact with them five days a week for the next five years, will my life be better or worse?

      If the answer is ‘yes’ to all three and I have the budget, you’ll get hired. If I don’t have the budget, the question is ‘which of these people is the most yes?’ Everything you say in an interview should be truthful and be building a case for one of these three questions.

      “Look, I’m not the top person in the field, but you don’t really need him or her for this job. Yes, I can’t do everything that you list in your job requirements, but I can do most of it, and I can learn the rest. It’s probably not that hard. I can hold down a job, learn, and after I’ve been here for a bit, I might even has some ideas for improvement.”

      Look, I’m going to be blunt. I promise I mean this to help you, but this is going to come across as somewhat harsh. Here is what I would hear if a candidate told me this:
      “Look, I know I’m not very good at what you’re hiring me for but don’t worry, because I don’t think very highly of your company. Also, I have self-esteem issues that will make me sometimes unpleasant to be around. And I’m unambitious. I’m willing to learn, especially because what you do isn’t that hard or complicated. Also, I’m not that excited about or impressed by it. I can do the bare minimum, or at least I think I can because claiming that is inherently suspicious, and I’ll eventually have some ideas on how you can do your job better.”

      Here is what I would say for you,

      “While my skills currently put me at more of a junior level, I’m confident I’ll still be able to contribute to the team. I have strong skills in X, Y, and Z, and I want to learn A, B, and C, since it will round me out as a worker and I’m interested in my career as a BLANK. I’m very interested in joining a team where I can improve myself and make a difference in how the company does things. I think your company is a good fit because of that.”

      And even this is a little robotic, but notice how nothing I said is actually conveying different information? And how it doesn’t involve excessively praising the company or brown nosing?

      And what I hear in this is:
      “I don’t have a ton of skills, though I have some so I’ll be useful on day one, and I want to learn the rest of what you put in the job requirement. I want to grow into a better worker than I am now and the way I want to grow is in line with how you need me to grow to be useful. I like doing what you’re hiring me for and I like the culture and business of the company, at least as far as I’ve experienced it.”

    • pansnarrans says:

      I don’t have advice to offer here, but I have to say it seems really decent of you to feel uncomfortable with lying just to catch up with the fact that all the other candidates are lying. It’s a problem that’s gone through my head whenever I consider online dating.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        it seems really decent of you to feel uncomfortable with lying just to catch up with the fact that all the other candidates are lying. It’s a problem that’s gone through my head whenever I consider online dating.

        So you go on a date and decide to tell the truth, “I am not really interested in you as much I am interested in me and how you can feel about me. Can I cause you to think I am special and important?” See how far the truth gets you.

        • pansnarrans says:

          I didn’t mean that level of honesty. More like: “Yeah, I’m totally a normal person with no mental health issues, also I’m really good about tidying up.”

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Trust me, we know that none of our jobs are rocket science, and we know everyone embellishes their “accomplishments.” But if you cannot articulate your job successes and cannot answer basic follow-up questions, you are less likely to be successful than the person who can.

      Unfortunately, hiring committees do have blind spots relating to past experiences, but terms like “top 4%” or “super-duper genius” aren’t going to help you. It’s more “oh, you haven’t specifically reconciled the account of the 51st largest company in the nation, only the 50th? You are clearly inexperienced!” At least at my level, in my particular field. The stories just hopefully help you overcome some of those blind spots.

    • jg29a says:

      My advisers (linguistics) have almost universally asked me to write the LoR for them to sign. :-/

      My solution was typically some version of the formulation: “jg29a has often discussed your work on XYZ with great enthusiasm, as well as his ideas for developing it further”, naturally with enough details to make my interest credible.

    • onyomi says:

      I found this book helpful when I was on the job market, especially with respect to improving my Powerpoint presentations.

  5. Controls Freak says:

    I have a question for the Marxist-types here (calling Guy in TN!).

    We often hear of “The Problem of Roads” being posed to libertarians. The basic structure is that roads provide a lot of value to society, spread out among lots of different people. It’s difficult to privately marshal resources in order to build roads, because much of the value is captured by others rather than by the folks who invested to build them. Nevertheless, since the value roads create is so large (much bigger than the actual cost of constructing them), one of the things that government can do is step in to help fix the coordination problem.

    I’m not particularly interested in hearing libertarian responses to this (I’ve heard a lot of them before) or even AC responses (sorry, DF!). Instead, I’m interested in what I think I want to call “The Problem of Roads for Marxists“. I read The Roads Must Roll by Heinlein last night, which inspired my question. It made me realize that I would like some clarification about terminology/interests.

    The problem is that roads provide a lot of value overall. While this value is spread out over a lot of people, I think everyone agrees that the value produced by roads is much greater than cost of constructing them (as stated above). My (admittedly poor) understanding of Marxism started flashing red lights reading “Surplus Value” and “Exploitation!” Terminology first – am I right to call this “Surplus Value”? Is it correct to say that the government and/or society are “exploiting road workers”? (If it’s an “or” instead of an “and”, how are we making this determination?) In order to eliminate this exploitation, do we need to approximate how much total value the roads create for society, tax society (according to some distribution function), and pay the workers this entire value? After terminology, normativity. Do we just not care, because the surplus value isn’t going to some particular capitalist, but is distributed (by some other distribution function) over a larger section of society?

    • TDB says:

      Marx’s analysis was restricted to commodities, maybe a clever Marxist would argue that roads do not fit in that category.

      Marx would not solve the problem of surplus value by paying the workers their surplus value. Rather, he would abolish capitalism, which supposedly allows capitalists to expropriate the surplus. Surplus value is only a problem in a capitalist context.

      Remember, his slogan was “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. Though Marx was intentionally vague about what he thought socialism would ultimately look like, it’s pretty clear that all goods and services would be free and no one would want money or wages.

      Money is part of the anarchy of unplanned production, unnecessary in a fully centrally planned society (according to Marx). Marx didn’t give details on what planning would look like, but one of his main criticisms of capitalism is the absence of such a unified plan, and one of his main analyses was the gradual evolution of capitalism toward such a plan, at which point the workers could just take over without much disruption in production.

      Slightly misleading to call roads a coordination problem, that makes me think of coordination games, which have easy solutions. Since you were not specifically referring to a game theory context, I am quibbling, or maybe that is a meta-criticism, that I think you are half using and half not using game theory.

      “Tragedy of the commons” seems more relevant. In that case, Elinor Ostrom is your woman.

      Sorry, I don’t know enough about Marxism to feel confident about this answer. I’ve read more from critics of Marx than supporters.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTM that the central problem with roads is the same as the central problem with everything else in a planned economy–how does the central planner decide whether building a new road here vs there would be a good use of resources? The difference is that the planner has to do that for everything–he has to figure out how many cars to make, how to allocate steel and plastic and aluminum between cars and tanks and aircraft and tractors, etc. Whereas in market societies, those other decisions get made by a market mechanism, but we’re all mostly stuck with central planning for roads.

        This makes me think that a centrally-planned economy will do better with roads (relative to a market economy) than it will with most other stuff. The market society will generally be richer and freer, so things will work better even in the which-roads-should-we-build area, but the advantage of market societies over centrally planned societies will be much smaller for roads than for building cars, buildings, etc.

    • Erusian says:

      Not a Marxist, but I’ve made a lot of good faith attempts to discuss their ideas.

      Marxism does not posit that all value should go to the workers that produced it, simply that all income should. The distinction is mainly important in trade but let’s look at your road example. The road is built by a firm, correct? And the market or government or something else (depending on the type of Marxist) has decided to allocate a certain amount of resources to build that road. Those resources are paid to the firm to produce the road.

      In capitalism, any resources in excess of what the people have to pay in labor and resources go to the owners of the firm and/or those who put capital in. This is Marx’s surplus value. In Marxist analysis, this is unjust because that value was created by the workers and appropriated by owners. And that is what Marxists mean by exploitation. Under Marxism, this should go to the workers. (With the understanding that managers, for example, are a sort of worker.) This is how you get to concepts like auto-exploitation, where the owner of a small business appropriates the value of their own labor to themselves.

      But in both systems, the firm only captures the portion of the value they produce for the end users of the product. In fact, the only way trade can exist in both capitalist and Marxist economics is because people value the products firms make more than the firms themselves do. After all, if the firm and the prospective buyer value the thing equally, why would the buyer ever offer enough that the firm would sell it?

      • Controls Freak says:

        Thanks for the response.

        Insertion of a firm seems very gameable. First off, it’s not strictly necessary. I don’t see any reason why a government couldn’t just hire construction workers directly. (Yes yes, it’s probably more efficient to do it a different way, but there’s no theoretical barrier to them doing so.) In that case, it seems like, “Whatever the government has decided to allocate to the worker is the correct amount.” Nifty business if you can get it, but conceptually strange.

        Secondly, we can posit shell firms. The easiest would be like an “independent contractor”. Just wrap an LLC around an individual worker. Poof! Surplus value problem is eliminated! Or, package them together. My understanding is that Marxists are cool with unions, which are basically a big package of workers bundled together in a “firm”. This is somewhat of a Sorietes paradox, and we probably have to lean on other concepts (bargaining/political power) to do much in the context of interaction with capitalists… but the wonderful part of The Problem of Roads for Marxists is that there is no interaction with capitalists! No matter how big your shell firm is that’s wrapped around the workers, if they’re employed directly by the government, it appears as though they cannot be exploited for surplus value.

        This has me thinking that this terminology simply doesn’t apply to government action, which, I guess is alright. It doesn’t necessarily have to… but it seems quite weird. It seems like governments can behave as employers (and abusive ones at that!) just the same as any capitalist swine.

        Maybe it’s to do with the nature of roads. Suppose one of our libertarian crazies (love you guys!) actually did get a bunch of folks together who voluntarily agreed to build the same type of roads, and they hired the same type of workers to do the job. Since they’re not actually turning around and selling it for income, then, uh, I guess they’re not exploiting the workers, either?

        …but that has me thinking… what if they’re not expecting direct value from the product? Like, folks get auxiliary value from things all the time. Roads help them sell other products better (see lots of tech companies for other indirect revenue models). Maybe just buying nice things are expected to pay off in other ways. Does indirect income count? How do we figure it? …do we have to consider the “indirect income” which comes to politicians because of the roads the government paid for (further gov’t positions, book sales, etc.)? This seems like it’s going to get messy quick.

        • Erusian says:

          Insertion of a firm seems very gameable.

          You’re using a definition of ‘firm’ that doesn’t apply here. Specifically, a legal rather than an economic one. There’s been a lot of ink spilled about exactly what qualifies as a firm, but you can roughly think of it as ‘an organization engaged in economic activity’. So if the government hired the workers it would simply be creating a public firm. Likewise, complex legal arrangements would not create new firms.

          Put another way, the People’s Bureau for Building of Roads to Glorious Socialist Paradise (Non-Metaphorical) is a firm.

          Likewise, while Marxists tend to support unions in capitalist societies since they encourage the transfer of money to workers that would otherwise be profits (thus decreasing exploitation), they don’t in Communist societies. To a doctrinaire Marxist, the idea of unions under Communism is absurd: how can the workers be negotiating with themselves (since they own the means of production) over who gets something that no longer exists (surplus value)?

          This has me thinking that this terminology simply doesn’t apply to government action, which, I guess is alright. It doesn’t necessarily have to… but it seems quite weird. It seems like governments can behave as employers (and abusive ones at that!) just the same as any capitalist swine.

          Maybe it’s to do with the nature of roads. Suppose one of our libertarian crazies (love you guys!) actually did get a bunch of folks together who voluntarily agreed to build the same type of roads, and they hired the same type of workers to do the job. Since they’re not actually turning around and selling it for income, then, uh, I guess they’re not exploiting the workers, either?

          A Marxist would absolutely say workers can be exploited by the government and government firms. You’re also taking ‘income’ to mean ‘cash paid for services’, which is a more restricted definition of it than necessary. In the case you posit, the firm would be owned by the libertarians who are generating surplus value by exploiting the workers they hired to build the road. The fact they do not actually sell the road is irrelevant: they are receiving ownership of the road, or at least the workers do not own the road.

          …but that has me thinking… what if they’re not expecting direct value from the product? Like, folks get auxiliary value from things all the time. Roads help them sell other products better (see lots of tech companies for other indirect revenue models). Maybe just buying nice things are expected to pay off in other ways. Does indirect income count? How do we figure it? …do we have to consider the “indirect income” which comes to politicians because of the roads the government paid for (further gov’t positions, book sales, etc.)? This seems like it’s going to get messy quick.

          If someone doesn’t get more value from the product, whether direct or indirect, than they pay, then it isn’t rational for them to pay for it. And if no one pays, it doesn’t get made.

          You’re again conflating what a firm is paid to do something with the value it produces. Marxism definitely has issues but most of the objections you’re bringing up are because you don’t understand the definition of terms.

          Look, let’s say the going rate for building roads is $100 per mile. Each mile of road, though, produces $1,000,000 of value. In capitalist world, Bob’s Builders take $100, Bob pays $50 in labor and $40 in other costs, then takes $10 in personal profits. In the good old Communist world, these are surplus value and he got them by exploiting workers. Instead, Ivan’s Builders take the $100 and the workers collectively make $60. (Both of these are, of course, vastly simplified.)

          But in both cases, the firm gets $100 to build that much road. They both only get 0.0001% of the value they generate for society. And that number, in both theory and real life, never gets to 100% or usually even gets close.

          • Controls Freak says:

            To a doctrinaire Marxist, the idea of unions under Communism is absurd: how can the workers be negotiating with themselves (since they own the means of production) over who gets something that no longer exists (surplus value)?

            I don’t understand how this works with

            A Marxist would absolutely say workers can be exploited by the government and government firms.

            In the former, are you jumping to a state-less communism? I’m not sure you are, because just before it is:

            the People’s Bureau for Building of Roads to Glorious Socialist Paradise (Non-Metaphorical) is a firm.

            I think I would appreciate a concrete example of how the PBBRGSP can exploit workers (in a communist state?). The example you give is:

            let’s say the going rate for building roads is $100 per mile. Each mile of road, though, produces $1,000,000 of value. In capitalist world, Bob’s Builders take $100, Bob pays $50 in labor and $40 in other costs, then takes $10 in personal profits. In the good old Communist world, these are surplus value and he got them by exploiting workers. Instead, Ivan’s Builders take the $100 and the workers collectively make $60.

            First, the “going rate” doesn’t make sense if the government is the only buyer of roads (which it is if we believe the Problem of Roads for Libertarians). The “going rate” is “whatever the government (specifically, the PBBRGSP) says it’s going to pay its workers to build roads”. Second, I still see no reason why Ivan’s Builders is a thing. Instead, the government simply pays the workers $50 for their labor. They absorb any additional material/management costs.

            Alternatively, the Libertarian Alliance gathers $50 and pays the workers for their labor. They absorb any additional material/management costs. They never contact Bob’s Builders.

            In the case you posit, the firm would be owned by the libertarians who are generating surplus value by exploiting the workers they hired to build the road. The fact they do not actually sell the road is irrelevant: they are receiving ownership of the road, or at least the workers do not own the road.

            What is that ownership worth? How do we actually put a number on that surplus value? Suppose they build the road and then just leave it open to people; they’re philanthropic libertarians; did they exploit the workers? Suppose they charge just enough money to some users in order to recoup their costs and then leave it open; did they exploit the workers? Suppose they recoup their costs and then turn the property over to the PGGRGSP; did they exploit the workers? What if they were just really bad at planning, and the road turned out more like a boat – the “value” or “income” of ownership being a net drain or cost? Do any of these considerations matter?

            most of the objections you’re bringing up are because you don’t understand the definition of terms.

            I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I’m trying to push on these terms… so I can figure them out.

          • jg29a says:

            To a doctrinaire Marxist, the idea of unions under Communism is absurd: how can the workers be negotiating with themselves (since they own the means of production) over who gets something that no longer exists (surplus value)?

            In the real world, unions fight for important things other than the distribution of “surplus value”, most obviously workplace safety. Do many Marxists deny the continued importance of this under Communism?

          • Aftagley says:

            To a doctrinaire Marxist, the idea of unions under Communism is absurd: how can the workers be negotiating with themselves (since they own the means of production) over who gets something that no longer exists (surplus value)?

            I don’t understand how this works with

            A Marxist would absolutely say workers can be exploited by the government and government firms

            .

            Not to put words in Eurasian’s mouth, but my read of his post was that a Marxists would claim that a non-communist government has the ability to exploit workers. Presumably, however, once the state transitioned to communism this would no longer be possible.

            First, the “going rate” doesn’t make sense if the government is the only buyer of roads (which it is if we believe the Problem of Roads for Libertarians). The “going rate” is “whatever the government (specifically, the PBBRGSP) says it’s going to pay its workers to build roads”.

            Right up until the point where the next building team says they’re willing to do it for $95 dollars.

            Second, I still see no reason why Ivan’s Builders is a thing. Instead, the government simply pays the workers $50 for their labor. They absorb any additional material/management costs.

            Ok, so who is the government agency that’s coordinating the workers, aligning management and procuring supplies? You’d need some state official who knows how to get gravel and asphalt, how to identify adequate workers and how to manage a construction crew. Lets call this government official who specializes in road construction Ivar. Ivar’s Builders can be within the auspices of the state and still be worth considering as a unique entity for the purposes of discussion.

            Alternatively, the Libertarian Alliance gathers $50 and pays the workers for their labor. They absorb any additional material/management costs. They never contact Bob’s Builders.

            Wouldn’t they? Again, which person in the LA is going to be the road specialist capable of identifying capable workers, ensuring they’re properly trained, capable of getting all the supplies and overall making the operation happen? Even assuming you have a construction specialist in the LA (let’s call him bob) why wouldn’t he then turn around and demand some kind of compensation for his management?

          • In the real world, unions fight for important things other than the distribution of “surplus value”, most obviously workplace safety. Do many Marxists deny the continued importance of this under Communism?

            Exactly. For this exact reason, the Soviet Union still had trade unions, which had some input into the qualitative aspects of the workplace (safety, on-site amenities, etc.) What the trade unions were not allowed to do was to advance the particular interests of that trade against the interests of the working class as a whole (as determined by the Soviet State—and here one could have some valid criticisms about how the Soviet State could have better advanced the interests of the working class as a whole, especially from the Khrushchev years onwards when the State gradually shifted to advancing the interests of the intelligentsia).

            It is just the same as how the modern State prohibits individual capitalists from advancing their particular interests in ways that conflict with the interests of the capitalist class as a whole (such as, for example, through industrial sabotage, or tax evasion, etc.)

          • Viliam says:

            To a doctrinaire Marxist, the idea of unions under Communism is absurd: how can the workers be negotiating with themselves (since they own the means of production) over who gets something that no longer exists (surplus value)?

            This “themselves” is an equivocation between the individuals and the group composed of those individuals.

            It makes perfect sense for an individual to try negotiate with a group that includes them (i.e. de facto against the rest of the group, or against whoever has the actual power within the group), or for a smaller group to try negotiate with a larger group it is a part of.

            But yes, under Communism this clever argument can — and will be — used to delegitimize the unions, and reduce them into something harmless to the regime (such as an organization that collects membership fees in order to provide lectures to the members about how glorious regime they are lucky to live in; or just gives to the members symbolic birthday gifts in return).

            In the real world, unions fight for important things other than the distribution of “surplus value”, most obviously workplace safety. Do many Marxists deny the continued importance of this under Communism?

            As long as the workplace safety does not cost extra money and does not reduce your productivity, even temporarily, I suppose no one would object. But as soon as it costs something… then you do de facto negotiate about the money. (And the most likely income is that you will get the bullet, and then your coworkers will publicly denounce you and your heretical idea of the “workplace safety”.)

          • Erusian says:

            Not to put words in Eurasian’s mouth, but my read of his post was that a Marxists would claim that a non-communist government has the ability to exploit workers. Presumably, however, once the state transitioned to communism this would no longer be possible.

            This.

            First, the “going rate” doesn’t make sense if the government is the only buyer of roads

            Something has to be setting prices, whether the market or state or a pair of dice. So there is going to be a price involved. It might not be constant, but that’s what I meant by ‘going rate’.

            In the real world, unions fight for important things other than the distribution of “surplus value”, most obviously workplace safety. Do many Marxists deny the continued importance of this under Communism?

            As with much of this thread I’m simplifying. I’m also pretending ‘Marxist thought’ and ‘Capitalist thought’ are a thing, rather than being a description of large and varied schools.

            This is a point of contention. Some Marxists see unions as continuing in a reduced role, representing (say) the interests of miner-workers against manager-workers. Others see them as completely antithetical. Someone brought up the fact unions still existed in the Soviet Union. Some Communists actually pointed to this to point out the Soviet Union was not really Communist.

            It really depends on how utopian the form of Communism is. While all Communism necessarily involves the end of class conflict, some believe that this will end to the end of all conflict ever. Others believe that other conflicts will continue to exist, just not class conflict. Those who tend to believe Communism will not just solve everything tend to see unions as continuing to have legitimacy as advancing interests of groups of workers without working against the entire worker class (so called ‘selfish reactionary unions’).

          • Controls Freak says:

            @Aftagley

            a non-communist government has the ability to exploit workers. Presumably, however, once the state transitioned to communism this would no longer be possible.

            I hate to sound like a five year old, but, uh, why? (And I guess @Erusian for this, too, since he gave it a, “This,” without elaboration.)

            so who is the government agency that’s coordinating the workers, aligning management and procuring supplies? You’d need some state official who knows how to get gravel and asphalt, how to identify adequate workers and how to manage a construction crew. Lets call this government official who specializes in road construction Ivar. Ivar’s Builders can be within the auspices of the state and still be worth considering as a unique entity for the purposes of discussion.

            How about we call it the PGGRGSP? It doesn’t matter what we call it. The manager is just a government worker. I work for the gov’t; I wasn’t hired to be a manager, but I’ve been asked to head up a project. They didn’t say, “And in exchange, we’ll give you a cut of the (non-existent) profits.” It’s just, “Additional duties as assigned.” Why are we splitting this in to a separate “firm”? He’s just a guy who gets a regular salary from the gov’t, just like all the other guys he manages. Or do we start breaking down divisions of governmental organizations as “firms”?

            Even assuming you have a construction specialist in the LA (let’s call him bob) why wouldn’t he then turn around and demand some kind of compensation for his management?

            Like the others, he’s a philanthropic libertarian. Maybe it takes ten guys who each put in $5 to get to $50, Bob would have been the eleventh, and they all just say, “How about you manage it, instead.” We can make other assumptions here (I toyed with various schemes later in my comment), but I think this is a weird distraction when we’re trying to determine how to define surplus value.

            @Erusian

            Something has to be setting prices, whether the market or state or a pair of dice. So there is going to be a price involved. It might not be constant, but that’s what I meant by ‘going rate’.

            Fine, but this is literally the least of my concerns. I almost pulled it out of the comment entirely, because it’s extremely small and I thought it might be distracting. Apparently, it was, because I haven’t really gotten a response to any of the much more important questions. (I still think it will become important, because the weirdness is inherently in how we’re making a valuation, and this is just punting what I think might be an important part.) Could you go back and give a substantive response to anything else that I asked?

          • Erusian says:

            I hate to sound like a five year old, but, uh, why? (And I guess @Erusian for this, too, since he gave it a, “This,” without elaboration.)

            This is a totally fair question. Frankly, it’s a result of simplification. This is something Marxists don’t all agree on. Some Marxists say that government itself is unnecessary in a Communist society. Others say that it’s impossible because the surplus value that goes to the government is used in a dictatorship of the proletariat, which then works in their interests. Still others say it’s because the government will act in a non-exploitative manner because of its Communist goals. And others… well, you get the idea.

            In general, Communists believe they are going to change the fundamental way society acts economically. They believe the mode of production is going to change as fundamentally as the difference between modern capitalism and feudalism. And that change, they believe, will be as good for the workers as liberation was for the serfs and slaves. This leads to some degree of vagueness on the differences but I’ve heard it analogized to how the King of England used to derive significant revenues from serfs working his land. That now only exists in a highly capitalist form. Likewise Communists believe capitalist forms of funding will be transformed. Somehow. They’ll often admit this is vague.

            How about we call it the PGGRGSP? It doesn’t matter what we call it. The manager is just a government worker. I work for the gov’t; I wasn’t hired to be a manager, but I’ve been asked to head up a project. They didn’t say, “And in exchange, we’ll give you a cut of the (non-existent) profits.” It’s just, “Additional duties as assigned.” Why are we splitting this in to a separate “firm”? He’s just a guy who gets a regular salary from the gov’t, just like all the other guys he manages. Or do we start breaking down divisions of governmental organizations as “firms”?

            The mistake your making here is assuming that profits necessarily accumulate to the people who run the firm rather than the people who own the firm. In fact, Marxists (usually) do believe managers and people who run firms deserve higher salaries for it. You said it yourself: you were an employee. You didn’t own the firm you were working for.

            And yes, government organizations can absolutely be firms, as I said before.

            Like the others, he’s a philanthropic libertarian. Maybe it takes ten guys who each put in $5 to get to $50, Bob would have been the eleventh, and they all just say, “How about you manage it, instead.” We can make other assumptions here (I toyed with various schemes later in my comment), but I think this is a weird distraction when we’re trying to determine how to define surplus value.

            Well, yes, if you presume people don’t act in an economically rational manner, then economics breaks down. At that point, though, you’re challenging the philosophical underpinnings of economics in general.

            Fine, but this is literally the least of my concerns. I almost pulled it out of the comment entirely, because it’s extremely small and I thought it might be distracting. Apparently, it was, because I haven’t really gotten a response to any of the much more important questions. (I still think it will become important, because the weirdness is inherently in how we’re making a valuation, and this is just punting what I think might be an important part.) Could you go back and give a substantive response to anything else that I asked?

            I feel I have. If you have any other specific questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. To be frank, you don’t seem to understand economics. Many of your objections are things that have nothing to do with Marxism but are simply the underpinnings and conceptualizations in all economic thought.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I’m not sure how to say this more nicely, but please stop patronizing me.

            if you presume people don’t act in an economically rational manner, then economics breaks down

            This was in context of my pushing on how non-governmental organizations could have some of the same qualities as governmental organizations. You admitted that the analysis can get complicated with conflicting opinions in the case of governmental organizations, so it’s sensible to believe that it might get similarly complicated for non-governmental organizations. You can’t just baldly assert that it’s impossible for non-governmental organizations to have similar features without “breaking economics” unless you’re willing to also accept that it’s impossible for governmental organizations to have those features without “breaking economics”.

            As an alternative, you could instead actually engage with the hypothetical behavior in context of both governmental and non-governmental action in good faith. I would appreciate this.

            How about we call it the PGGRGSP? It doesn’t matter what we call it. The manager is just a government worker. I work for the gov’t; I wasn’t hired to be a manager, but I’ve been asked to head up a project. They didn’t say, “And in exchange, we’ll give you a cut of the (non-existent) profits.” It’s just, “Additional duties as assigned.” Why are we splitting this in to a separate “firm”? He’s just a guy who gets a regular salary from the gov’t, just like all the other guys he manages. Or do we start breaking down divisions of governmental organizations as “firms”?

            The mistake your making here is assuming that profits necessarily accumulate to the people who run the firm rather than the people who own the firm. In fact, Marxists (usually) do believe managers and people who run firms deserve higher salaries for it. You said it yourself: you were an employee. You didn’t own the firm you were working for.

            I think the key portion that you’re missing is, “Why are we splitting this into a separate “firm”? I am not assuming that profits necessarily accumulate to the people who run the firm rather than the people who own the firm. The analysis never got to the point of figuring out who the profits accumulate to! We haven’t even determined whether there are profits to accumulate! We’re still just trying to identify what the relevant scoping units are!

            So, let’s go back to the basics. A government employee gets a regular salary. As part of his regular salary, he’s asked to manage a road construction project. He takes government funds and directly hires workers who build the road. Before, you were claiming that there must be a “firm” (Bob’s/Ivan’s Builders) that is the appropriate scoping unit for the analysis. I’ve set up this hypothetical to question how we make the determination for what the relevant “firm” is. Who is separated into a separate firm? Is it the individual workers that are hired? Is it the group of workers? Does it include the gov’t employee/manager? Does it include some division of the government organization? Or does it simply not make sense to insert a “firm” into this situation? …we have to figure out what an appropriate definition is for the firm before we can even start to answer questions about whether there are profits or who they accumulate to. Which is why when you say:

            And yes, government organizations can absolutely be firms, as I said before.

            I want to scream, “HOW?!” Not in the sense of, “I don’t believe you,” but in the sense of, “What does that look like, exactly?” Is the salaried gov’t employee who directly hires road workers a “firm”? Is some division of the government that includes him the “firm”? I want an actual analysis of how this actually works rather than simply saying, “It’s possible in the abstract.”

          • Erusian says:

            I think the key portion that you’re missing is, “Why are we splitting this into a separate “firm”? I am not assuming that profits necessarily accumulate to the people who run the firm rather than the people who own the firm. The analysis never got to the point of figuring out who the profits accumulate to! We haven’t even determined whether there are profits to accumulate! We’re still just trying to identify what the relevant scoping units are!

            So, let’s go back to the basics. A government employee gets a regular salary. As part of his regular salary, he’s asked to manage a road construction project. He takes government funds and directly hires workers who build the road. Before, you were claiming that there must be a “firm” (Bob’s/Ivan’s Builders) that is the appropriate scoping unit for the analysis. I’ve set up this hypothetical to question how we make the determination for what the relevant “firm” is. Who is separated into a separate firm? Is it the individual workers that are hired? Is it the group of workers? Does it include the gov’t employee/manager? Does it include some division of the government organization? Or does it simply not make sense to insert a “firm” into this situation? …we have to figure out what an appropriate definition is for the firm before we can even start to answer questions about whether there are profits or who they accumulate to. Which is why when you say:

            Alright. I think I see your confusion. Let’s take your example of a government worker. They are presumably working in some division of the government that does something, correct? That is their firm. And when that firm takes up, for example, road building, there is no firm creation. An existing firm is simply performing new activities.

            Now, if the person was set up as a new agency then it probably would be a new firm. Likewise, when Amazon opened up a web services offering, they didn’t create a new firm. If they had spun it off into another company they would have, though.

            I want to scream, “HOW?!” Not in the sense of, “I don’t believe you,” but in the sense of, “What does that look like, exactly?” Is the salaried gov’t employee who directly hires road workers a “firm”? Is some division of the government that includes him the “firm”? I want an actual analysis of how this actually works rather than simply saying, “It’s possible in the abstract.”

            Here are some real life things that economists have defined as firms in the US. The EDA. The USDA. The Department of the Interior. The SBA. Likewise, an independently owned coffee shop is a firm but an individual Starbucks store isn’t. Instead, Starbucks is a firm. Does that help at all?

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Likewise, when Amazon opened up a web services offering, they didn’t create a new firm.

            Well, actually… yes they did.

            AWS is a separate corporate entity.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @Erusian

            Ok, thanks. So, the division of government is the firm. Now, I think we can go all the way back to my comment here, which started with the problem of where to define the firm. We now no longer have Ivan’s Builders or Bob’s Builders. Instead, we have an employee of the state (call the “firm” PBBRGSP if you like) and I’m guessing you’ll call the analogous firm “Libertarian Alliance”. Both are dealing directly with the potential large value of the road and aren’t simply a pass-through for $100 or whatever, skimming some off the top. I had written:

            What is that ownership worth? How do we actually put a number on that surplus value? Suppose they build the road and then just leave it open to people; they’re philanthropic libertarians; did they exploit the workers? Suppose they charge just enough money to some users in order to recoup their costs and then leave it open; did they exploit the workers? Suppose they recoup their costs and then turn the property over to the PBBRGSP; did they exploit the workers? What if they were just really bad at planning, and the road turned out more like a boat – the “value” or “income” of ownership being a net drain or cost? Do any of these considerations matter?

            And I think my questions have gotten a bit more developed in the response to citizencokane, below. Do you agree with his distinction between value and use-value? I can’t quite tell from your description of the scenario where it cost $100 to make a road with a “value” of $1M. If the Libertarian Alliance derives their value indirectly from use-value rather than tolls or selling the road, do you think they exploited the workers? If PBBRGSP derives their value indirectly from use-value rather than tolls or selling the road, do you think they exploited the workers? What if a higher level of government instructed PBBRGSP to build the road, because they thought they would indirectly benefit from the use-value?

      • TDB says:

        In fact, the only way trade can exist in both capitalist and Marxist economics is because people value the products firms make more than the firms themselves do.

        Actually, Marx took an idea from Aristotle that all things that trade for each other are of equal value. This is the basis of his labor theory of value, that the socially necessary labor of traded items would tend to be equal.

        How does Marx arrive at this conclusion? His analysis rests on an observation made many centuries ago by Aristotle. “There can be no exchange,” the Greek philosopher claimed, “without equality, and no equality without commensurability” (quoted in Marx 1990: 151). Every act of exchange, in other words, involves an equality of value; the units of the two commodities being exchanged possess equal exchange value. And, if this is the case, there must be some “common element” of “identical magnitude” that exists in the “two different things” being exchanged that determines this equal exchange value (Marx 1990: 127).

        • Erusian says:

          True. But that doesn’t change the fact Marx views trades as positive value. In other words, let’s say I trade you my beer for your wine. While it’s true Marx says that my wine and your beer have equal value since we are valuing them as equitable, we are both valuing them more highly than the thing we currently possess.

          Put another way, while a firm that sells beer is getting the value of its beer when they sell it, they value getting the money to buy a house, food, etc, over just having a lot, like a ton, of beer.

          • benwave says:

            Marx couches this in terms of use values and exchange values. In trade, two things of equivalent exchange value but different use value are exchanged. Each trader wants the use value of the other more than the exchange value or the use value of what they hold.

      • benwave says:

        Marxist here.

        Actually, as TBD says this is not quite what Max said. In the labour theory of value, labour power is unique among commodities in that it is the only one that is able to produce more value than what it costs to buy it – crucially, the cost to buy it here is seen as a replacement cost, so, food, shelter, clothing, and education, healhcare and the cost of raising up a new generation to replace the old. Surplus value is the gap between what it costs to employ a labour power and the total value that labour power produces. Note that it is almost always the case, even in very exploitative situations, that some of that surplus value is captured by the labourer themselves.

        Exploitation in the Marxist sense – the capture of part of the surplus value by capitalists – is one objection Marx had to capitalism that is quite well known, but not the only one. Another, which I think is more relevant here is the power capital has to command how labour power is put to use and under what conditions. Capital goods are required to put labour powers to work most effectively. Therefore when capital goods are privately owned and there is a greater supply than demand of labour (this is almost always the case, sometimes naturally and sometimes as a result of actions taken by capital), Capital has the casting vote and decides what labour does*.

        These two objections to capitalism form a vicious cycle – the more of the surplus product that is privately appropriated and turned into capital, the more power capital has to control the labour powers the next cycle. The more power capital has to control labour power, the more of the surplus it is likely to be able to appropriate.

        Now finally to the example of roads! In this case, a large part of the surplus value created by the labourers is not captured by the workers (-), the part not captured however is not privately appropriated (+), and the decision on how to use the labour power was not made by capital, sort of(+? depending on how the goverment in question operates). So I guess Marx would consider this a partial win? Marx was famously short on suggestions of how to solve the problems he raised. The only thing he really came up with was central planning and there sure aren’t many people who would want to go back there! My personal preferred next policy steps are capital taxes and UBI.

        *There is nothing stopping labourers from getting together and doing some economic activity without help from capitalists, but they will do so with less capital intensity than capitalist firms, be less productive, and therefore be outcompeted by the capitalist firms producing the same thing.

        • Controls Freak says:

          I appreciate hearing about the paired concern about command. That said, I’m still left wondering how exactly we’re supposed to figure out what counts as surplus value/exploitation. You say:

          Surplus value is the gap between what it costs to employ a labour power and the total value that labour power produces.

          and that in the case of roads,

          a large part of the surplus value created by the labourers is not captured by the workers (-), the part not captured however is not privately appropriated (+)

          Let’s use numbers from the example above by Erusian:

          let’s say the going rate for building roads is $100 per mile. Each mile of road, though, produces $1,000,000 of value

          Am I reading you correctly that, contra Erusian, you think that the surplus value is $999,900/mile? Then, maybe we discount it in our analysis, because it’s not privately appropriated… or maybe we simply define exploitation as “the capture of part of the surplus value by capitalists” in order to define it away?

          So (I’m going to have declarative sentences followed by questions marks to indicate, “Is this right?”), if either the government or the Libertarian Alliance built it and then left it open and free to use, there is no exploitation? If the gov’t added a toll, it’s not exploitation (because something about governments are nice), but if LA added a toll (and collected beyond the value of the inputs), it’s exploitation? I think I’ll leave questions about indirect collection of value for each group unsaid explicitly, but if you’ve read my other comment, I think they’ll pop up here, as well.

    • I think everyone agrees that the value produced by roads is much greater than cost of constructing them (as stated above).

      We don’t need to guess about this. If a road collects more in tolls than it requires to build and maintain it, then the road has produced more value than it required to build it. The road is productive of surplus-value, and the workers involved in its construction and maintenance are being exploited.

      If the road collects just enough tolls to service its costs, then its value is objectively exactly the same as its cost. In this scenario, the road is not productive of surplus-value, and the workers employed in the building and maintaining of the road are unproductive of surplus value. These workers are not being exploited because they are being paid exactly the value that they have added to the raw materials and means of production to make them into a road—the value of the road objectively being equal to the cost of the raw materials/means of production + the cost of the labor-power employed.

      Note that the road also still exists as a use-value in this scenario, but as a use-value it is qualitatively different than the road’s inputs and incommensurate with its inputs. As a use-value, it may be a beautiful piece of scenery, a device for enhancing the productivity of the society’s labor engaged in transportation, a topographical structure useful for military defense, etc. The road may have used as inputs the concrete (not necessarily abstract socially-necessary) labor of architects, ditch-diggers, backhoe operators, etc.

      Let’s imagine that one of the road’s use-values is that it will, over its lifetime, save 10 million hours of truckers’ labor and 10 million hours of civilian drivetime. Let’s also imagine that we know that the road required 1 million hours of architect labor, 4 million hours of ditch-digging labor and 4 million hours of backhoe-operator labor. Whether the road was more useful than its inputs will be a subjective judgement that will vary for each person, depending on how useful they find trucker’s labor to be compared to how useful they find architect or ditch-digging labor to be. They may judge the road a waste if they personally find ditch-diggers’ labor exceptionally useful, whereas they may judge the road a very useful thing if they personally find truckers’ labor exceptionally useful.

      Note that this tells us nothing about the value of the road. The value of the road is a simple objective question: its value is its sale price, or what usually amounts to the same thing, its toll revenues amortized over a time period in question. The value of the inputs are their combined sale prices. Compare the two. In this way, it is possible to objectively determine whether the road has made a profit, but it is not objectively possible to determine whether the road is more useful than its inputs. More useful for whom? For an invading army, the road would be exactly the opposite of useful, by providing easy transportation for its enemies!

      Note that in the scenario above we do NOT necessarily have 20 million hours of labor on the input side and 9 million hours of labor on the output side, unless we want to automatically assume that all of the different, qualitatively incommeasurable concrete types of labor on both the output and input side were equally representative of abstract socially-necessary labor. But some drivers were probably out joyriding and not doing anything that society has chosen through the market to reward as being socially-necessary, some ditch-diggers were probably goofing off and not doing anything that society has chosen through the market to reward as being socially-necessary.

      The amount of socially-unnecessary labor expended on the road will be reflected in its rate of profit. If the road has not made at least an average rate of profit, then some of the concrete labor expended on it was not abstract socially-necessary labor. This is society’s signal to the producer of the road to get their act together, and either devote their hired labor-power to a different sector entirely, or more closely supervise and harness that labor-power within this sector. It is not us Marxists, but capitalism which reduces concrete human labors to a single metric of abstract socially-necessary labor, which then allows calculations of value and surplus-value using a single metric—units of abstract, socially-necessary labor, or the value-form representation of this abstract labor, which is money (the money-commodity gold, to be exact…with paper currencies being more or less fluctuating representatives of the money-commodity gold).

      If the road does not collect any tolls, then the labor-power expended on it was all, from the standpoint of capitalism (i.e. not necessarily from the standpoint of use-values that humans care about) socially-unnecessary. Far from being exploited, in this case the workers employed on the road construction and maintenance were actually paid for more value than they produced—since they not only created no value, but in fact actually turned raw materials that used to have a value on the market into a road that has no value.

      The workers in this case are like courtly servants being paid out of the King’s revenue to bestow a certain use-value to the King that the King will consume and directly enjoy the benefits of, rather than sell on the market for a profit. Except, in the case of road workers, their King is the modern State and the capitalist class in whose collective interest the modern State governs. It is in the capitalist class’s collective interest to have cheap transportation, so they are willing to pool some of their revenue to purchase the use-values that roads offer.

      Edit: Note that whether the workers are exploited or not has no bearing on the psychological displeasure of their work. Kings’ servants probably had to do some horrible things, but they were not being exploited in the scientific, Marxist sense. Marxism’s definition of exploitation is objective and has nothing to do with how unpleasant the work is. Nor does the Marxist conception of “exploitation” need to have any moral connotations. It is, in some historical circumstances (such as in early capitalism) in the interest of workers to be exploited as wage-laborers, as the conditions may not yet be ripe for society to transcend human exploitation, and wage-labor may be a better form of exploitation than slavery or serfdom.

      So, road workers on freeways (that don’t collect tolls) destroy value (in the form of tax money that is not reimbursed from road tolls) but produce use-values that the collective capitalist class (and others, as if that matters) find useful. And it is not a straightforward matter to compare the value that these workers destroy with the use-values that they create because the units are incommeasurable.

      See this post from Critique of Crisis Theory for more on this topic from a Marxist perspective.

      • Controls Freak says:

        Thanks for this. I think it’s the easiest explanation for me to understand. I still have some questions, particularly concerning indirect and hypothetical value.

        The value of the road is a simple objective question: its value is its sale price, or what usually amounts to the same thing, its toll revenues amortized over a time period in question.

        If the road does not collect any tolls, then the labor-power expended on it was all, from the standpoint of capitalism (i.e. not necessarily from the standpoint of use-values that humans care about) socially-unnecessary. Far from being exploited, in this case the workers employed on the road construction and maintenance were actually paid for more value than they produced—since they not only created no value, but in fact actually turned raw materials that used to have a value on the market into a road that has no value.

        The workers in this case are like courtly servants being paid out of the King’s revenue to bestow a certain use-value to the King that the King will consume and directly enjoy the benefits of, rather than sell on the market for a profit.

        The first thing that comes to mind is the question of hypothetical value. It seems like you’re saying that (something like) because the King has pre-committed to not selling the road or collecting tolls on it, the road doesn’t have any actual value, just use-value. Therefore, the King is not exploiting the road workers (in the technical, Marxist sense of the term). That is, the hypothetical value that the King could get by selling the road or collecting tolls on it just doesn’t count. Is this right?

        If so, what’s to stop the Libertarian Alliance from behaving in the same fashion? Suppose they hire workers to create Product X. On the market, Product X will sell for exactly the cost of the input labor. That is, the LA is not exploiting the workers who produce Product X. Next, they decide that they’ll get use-value from a road. In particular, the road will increase their access to markets, allowing them to sell Product X for more money; in fact, they’ll indirectly reap the use-value of the road in the form of increases sales such that they’ll recoup their costs for building the road and collect additional profit. In building the road, they have pre-committed to neither sell the road nor collect tolls on it – the only value they gain is the indirect value provided by the use-value of the road. Thus, it would seem as though they’re not exploiting the road workers either.

        Does this work? Or are they actually exploiting the road workers because of the indirect capture of use-value? …or are they retroactively going back and exploiting the workers who produced Product X, because they acquired use-value that allowed them to sell it for more than the input value?

        Of course, I think this presents similar problems for the King (government). If we allow this indirect collection of use-value, is there a limiting principle that prevents us from doing a similar calculation for the King (government)? Something along the lines of, “While the King (government) has pre-committed to not selling/tolling the road, we expect that they will collect indirect value from the use-value of the road, maybe in the form of increased taxes, increased political power, or lower likelihood of revolt (which can provide direct value elsewhere).” If the King (government) indirectly converts this use-value into actual value, is he then exploiting the road workers? Instead, is there increased exploitation in one of the other chains through which this conversation is being realized?

        BTW, the link, while interesting, raises more questions in my mind than it answers, and I think I’ll put them off for another day.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Thanks for the invitation to discuss, Controls Freak. I’m sorry I’m late for it. I think others have answered it far better than I could, since I’m not as familiar with Marxist thought as many here.

      Regarding roads, one aspect that I haven’t seen mentioned is the distinction between the value provided by capital vs. the value provided by labor. Specifically, there are physical elements to the road (e.g., the space it exists in, the rock that overlays it) that were created by no one, and are doing a lot of the work towards adding to its value. Much of what the labor does in road construction, is to improve upon pre-existing value provided by nature.

      So while its true that, under capitalism, the capital owners are receiving the value provided by labor (minus what the pay in wages) PLUS the value provided by nature, under any system people are going to be receiving the value provided by nature, despite not having created it.

      For example, a person could walk through the woods, turn over a rock, and find a pile a gold worth a million dollars. If you were to calculate the source of this wealth using a system that did not factor in the value provided by nature, you would be forced to conclude that the act of rock-turning created a million dollars worth of wealth. Which would be pretty silly. With this example, its easy to see that nature is providing a lot of the value.

      So how do we determine how much value the workers added via labor? I don’t have an answer. The question doesn’t really concern me, since in a normative sense, I’m not particularly interested in making sure each person receives the value of their labor. To me, these labor-centric arguments are more useful as a rhetorical tool, to show that capitalism can’t be defended on the basis that people receive the product of their labor, rather than as an argument in advocacy of a system where people do.

      • Controls Freak says:

        The biggest concern I have is that you very rapidly switched from “value” to “wealth” when you said:

        If you were to calculate the source of this wealth using a system that did not factor in the value provided by nature, you would be forced to conclude that the act of rock-turning created a million dollars worth of wealth. Which would be pretty silly. With this example, its easy to see that nature is providing a lot of the value.

        There’s a meaningful difference between value and wealth. I don’t think anyone disagrees that natural resources are, in fact, resources which store quite a bit of potential value. The main questions are how to find/access that potential value, transform it into actual value, and distribute it to those who value it. The reverse stream is how wealth flows. People who perform one of those three operations are generally compensated for their actions in the form of wealth. A rock-turner is likely doing the first of the three operations. The typical story of capitalists is that if no wealth flows to the rock-turner, then there is little incentive for folks to go exploring in a potentially dangerous forest, looking for useful objects. You’d instead be reliant on folks who brave the danger just for fun… not that they’d have any reason to bother even telling anyone about the gold they found if they found it, either. (Or at gunpoint, of course.)

        As a related example, I do basic, academic research for a living. We joke that lots of computational problems are “glorified guess and check”. We joke that entire research programs are “grad student guess and check”. In essence, we’re walking into a murky forest of intellectual unknowns and turning over rocks, hoping to find something that can be made useful. Now, we hope that we’re being somewhat smart about our methodology of turning over rocks. Like the gold hunter, we’ve talked to folks about what types of rocks have revealed gold in the past. We’ve made educated correlations and are trying our best to prioritize the most promising rocks. But there is little reason for either us or the rock turner to continue on our endeavors if we don’t trust that there is a mechanism for the potential value we access to be converted into actual value and distributed to those who value it… and that there is a reverse mechanism which rewards us for doing everything we can to find that potential value.

        That reverse process of wealth flow is what ensures that the forward process of value flow continues. Again, I don’t think this basic story is all that controversial. The idea that incentives are key surely isn’t. An identification between wealth flow and incentives might be a point of some contention. In any event, I think this story which distinguishes between what we mean by value and wealth undercuts much of the point of the original story.

        The question doesn’t really concern me, since in a normative since, I’m not particularly interested in making sure each person receives the value of their labor.

        Then, uh, I really don’t know what else to say besides, “…well, then what are you interested in?”

        • Guy in TN says:

          But there is little reason for either us or the rock turner to continue on our endeavors if we don’t trust that there is a mechanism for the potential value we access to be converted into actual value and distributed to those who value it… and that there is a reverse mechanism which rewards us for doing everything we can to find that potential value.

          It’s true that adding a reward in the form of ownership can serve socially useful ends, to incentivize people to find and make-useful natural resources. But this reward doesn’t have to be full ownership of the resource. Anything less than a 100% tax on found natural resources still constitutes an incentive. It’s only those who advocate a full 100% tax who face an incentive problem.

          The question then, is how to balance these two needs: making sure the resource serves the most social utility vs. incentivizing finding resources. Libertarians may say that I am a socialist, since I think there should be any tax at all, to ensure that the resource is put to best use. Orthodox Marxists may say I am a capitalist, since I think we should maintain the concept of legal property as an incentive.

          “…well, then what are you interested in?”

          I’m a utilitarian, first and foremost. The primary reason I am opposed to distributing wealth based on who is creating market-value on the labor market (the neoliberal approach), and opposed to distributing wealth to those who are creating use-value via labor (the Marxist approach), is that there’s a whole lot of people out there who just aren’t capable of creating any sort of value. The handicapped, the elderly, children, those raising children, those in school, the skill-less. I don’t see any utilitarian advantage to designing our distributive institutions in a way that purposefully excludes them.

          • Aapje says:

            … there’s a whole lot of people out there who just aren’t capable of creating any sort of value. The handicapped, the elderly, children, those raising children, those in school, the skill-less. I don’t see any utilitarian advantage to designing our distributive institutions in a way that purposefully excludes them.

            Our current system already exempts these people from having to create value for others to get some of the value that other people are generating. For example, we have social security. So your objection is already (partially) addressed.

            An issue with your solution is that creating value often has a cost, so equalizing value across society actually leaves many of the capable worse off than the less capable. For example, if Bob is made work in the mines, because he is considered capable, while Jack gets to lay on the beach all day; but both get the same income to spend on goods, then Bob is considerably worse off. If we expect Bob to take on a certain amount of suffering for the benefit of others, is it not reasonable to compensate him for this suffering.

            Aside from whether you agree with the moral view, it does strongly incentivize Bob to make himself seem less capable than he is or otherwise try to avoid doing labor or difficult labor for the benefit of others. It also incentivizes people to turn to selling their products on the black market, where they do get compensated for their efforts. So then you need a police state that stomps down on black markets, despite a broadly shared desire for them, that verifies how capable people are and whether they work as hard as is expected, that prevents theft, that forces people to study things that allow them to do things that society need them to do, etc. This is impossibly hard, as we’ve seen in the USSR.

            In practice it seems to work a lot better to accept that capable people get more (but not too much more) and to accept that a limited amount of redistribution is the most that can be achieved without killing the goose with the golden eggs.

          • John Schilling says:

            Anything less than a 100% tax on found natural resources still constitutes an incentive. It’s only those who advocate a full 100% tax who face an incentive problem.

            By that logic, even a full-on communist who allows that the commissar might give an “attaboy!” to the most creative and productive, doesn’t face an incentive problem, because attaboy constitutes an incentive.

            Meanwhile, the people who propose any tax at all, face two problems that creep in with the first 1% of tax. First, that “I built this(*), so it’s mine and not yours” is an obvious Schelling point for not feeling cheated or demotivated, and second that the ability to tax a thing creates another, perverse, set of incentives when it comes to determining how much tax is “fair” and how much credit the creator really deserves.

            Could you perhaps try taxing something other than creativity and productivity?

            * Using materials and labor that I paid for

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Aapje

            Our current system already exempts these people from having to create value for others to get some of the value that other people are generating. For example, we have social security. So your objection is already (partially) addressed.

            Its true that my objection to the neoliberal/libertarian ideal system can be addressed by the social welfare state. Which is why I support it! Some counties still have big holes, however. For example the US doesn’t have paid maternity leave. (And the bigger problem of people who create very little value in the labor market)

            In practice it seems to work a lot better to accept that capable people get more (but not too much more) and to accept that a limited amount of redistribution is the most that can be achieved without killing the goose with the golden eggs.

            Agreed. The debate should be over what we incentivize, how much we incentivize it, and what the trade-offs are. Unfortunately, in the US this is a debate that tends to rarely get off the ground (recall the fiasco of Obama trying to implement a national healthcare system, with the opposition talking about gulags and “why communism fails”) The Nordic countries have been able to push the tax rate to ~50% of the GDP, with seemingly positive results. The US, for comparison, stands at about 26%. Even the farthest-left members of the US legislature aren’t advocating for doubling our tax rate, which tells you how far down the Overton Window we are.

            (Now, the typical next move for libertarians/neoliberals in the debate, is to explain why the US is structurally different from the Nordics, such that they can have universal healthcare and paid maternity leave, but we cannot).

            @John Schilling

            First, that “I built this(*), so it’s mine and not yours” is an obvious Schelling point for not feeling cheated or demotivated

            If it is a found natural resource we are talking about, then the “I created it” argument should have limited appeal. If I find a mountain, does that mean that I should feel obligated to own that mountain? Would I be “demoralized” to learn that other people are using the mountain that I found?

            (Maybe some early US pioneers did feel demoralized and cheated to learn that the mountains, rivers, and forests that they discovered ended up being used by everyone. Okay. But their loss of exclusive access is definitely a trade-off worth making.)

            Things only get worse, for this objector, when we move into world where most natural resource are already found, and people can access them via airplanes, trucks, and such. Once we get to this scenario, claiming property of a natural resource (e.g., “homesteading” it) puts everyone else in a worse-off position than they would be otherwise. (For example, were I could previously go and cut down a tree if I wanted to, your “homesteading” of the tree in the form of cutting it down has deprived me of value I previously had access to.) In this case, not only is there the issue of property being mixed with resources not of your own creation, but your act of claiming them is making people worse off than they would be otherwise, and they could quite reasonably demand compensation.

            second that the ability to tax a thing creates another, perverse, set of incentives when it comes to determining how much tax is “fair” and how much credit the creator really deserves.

            It is true that if I am trying design a distributive institution, there’s always the perverse incentive to conclude that, it is in fact I who am most deserving, and increasing my utility will, in the long run, be the best for everybody. What is the alternative though? The resource-finder who is advocating for complete legal ownership is also advocating for a certain distributive institution, one that will definitely benefit him over others.

  6. Matt M says:

    I recently wrote a blog post on the topic of alleged social media censorship of conservatives. The full text is available here. For the purposes of discussion, I’ll give the “TRDL version” below.

    1. Many critics of libertarianism, as well as libertarians themselves also take the position that, as private companies, social media networks can have whatever content or “censorship” policies they like.

    2. However, top executives of many of these companies have made multiple public statements insisting that their content and moderation policies are not politically biased.

    3. By doing so, they cede the right to have “whatever policy they want.” They are now essentially advertising bias-free networks, therefore, they are now compelled to either provide bias-free networks, or publicly recant these statements and clarify that their networks may, in fact, be biased.

    4. Failure to do so constitutes fraud. They are promising a product with certain characteristics, and delivering a product with different characteristics. Fraud is not considered acceptable behavior even by the most extreme advocates of private property rights. Libertarians have no moral duty to support or condone fraud.

    5. Furthermore, failure to condemn blatant fraud gives ammunition to many of the most common critiques of libertarianism – that individuals and freely associating groups would not have the appropriate amount of power (or inclination) to identify and punish fraud in the absence of the state.

    Am I off-base here?

    Note that I do not intend to debate the issue of “Are their content policies biased or not?” That is beside the point. I am dealing specifically with the criticism of “Libertarians have no standing to condemn such bias, even if does, in fact, exist.” I am objecting not to the alleged bias itself, but to the suggestion that they “have the right” to engage in such bias.

    • johansenindustries says:

      I think you are absolutely correct.

      Edit: Apart from calling fraud an act of aggression.

    • Nornagest says:

      Strikes me as kinda strained, to be honest. Fraud is a crime of intent: to commit it, you need to deliberately misrepresent what you’re selling. If I give you ten dollars for a bag of rice, and unbeknownst to you your supplier gave you a bag of weevils which you passed on to me unopened, then that might be negligence but it’s not fraud (on your part. It might be on your supplier’s). You thought you were selling me rice; if I cut open the bag and the contents all skittered into dark corners you’d be as surprised as anyone.

      Similarly, I think the people putting these content policies in place really, truly think of them as unbiased. They probably don’t think of them as nonpartisan, but only in the sense that they’d believe certain partisan perspectives to objectively fall outside the scope of civilized discourse. If more people from West Nowhere are getting hit by hate speech policies, say, then to them that’s evidence that West Nowherstanis are more hateful on average, not that the policy’s biased against them. And if they’re drawing their lines in a way that’s convenient to their politics, well, I do that, so do you, so does everyone.

      So: maybe a little self-serving, but not fraudulent. And I think you’d find it difficult to establish bias in a way that neutral parties would accept.

      • Matt M says:

        Hmm, an interesting pushback that I haven’t yet heard.

        My response would be that if you sell a bag of rice and weevils are found in it, the proper response is to say. “Yikes! That’s awful! I’m so sorry. Let me immediately refund your money. In addition, I’m going to conduct a thorough investigation into how these weevils got there. Until that investigation is complete, I warn any of my potential customers that I cannot guarantee my rice is weevil-free!”

        That doesn’t seem to be how the social media execs are acting. I think Zuckerberg did something like that once, years ago, but then quickly concluded that nope, everything was fine after all and current policies could totally continue.

        Innocent mistakes will happen from time to time, and every deletion of right-wing content is not necessarily, by itself, evidence of bias. But the “mistakes” seem to keep happening and they seem to keep happening in one direction. And the execs seem content with shrugging their shoulders and saying, “Meh, working as intended.”

        • albatross11 says:

          There is also a “personnel is policy” thing going on here. To the extent that most of the available workforce in the Bay Area is pretty strongly SJW, and that this is where the Twitters and Facebooks and such hire their monitors to decide whom to ban, shadowban, de-emphasize, etc., then their monitors will tend to find the “let’s establish a dictatorship of the proletariat” people as kinda out-there folks bringing in a valuable outside perspective, and the “let’s enforce immigration laws by shooting anyone who comes across the border illegally” folks as scary Nazis who deserve only to be shunned and silenced.

          • Matt M says:

            Content moderation seems like a simple enough job to be easily done remotely. And that wouldn’t require advanced programming skills.

            Why couldn’t they make it a point to hire some sort of “representative sample” of the userbase as moderators? Why couldn’t a soccer mom in Kansas do this sort of thing as a part-time job?

          • albatross11 says:

            I dunno–that seems like a pretty sensible thing to do, to my mind.

            [ETA] But then, the only content moderation I think is useful for such a broad platform is one that is actually tuned for me–ideally chosen by me. I don’t want the soccer mom in KS to be deciding what I get to read anymore than I want to Berkeley Womens’ Studies student deciding.

          • rlms says:

            AFAIK content moderation is mostly done by low paid Filipinos, and involves watching lots of horrible graphic videos.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            Also, I don’t know if they really have all that many people doing the moderating. They have moved all their support roles into their help center of automated forms and they have no call number or help email to speak of.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think the definition of what is biased is indeed the choke-point of the discussion. And this ties directly into the idea of the Overton window.

        For any topic, there is a range of positions I see as within the window of sensible/civilized discussion, and things I see as outside the window of sensible/civilized discussion.

        Most people think of positions within their window as legitimate, and would see suppressing arguments for those positions as being highhanded and biased. But most people don’t think of positions outside their window as legitimate, and instead will often see suppressing those positions as just keeping the crazies from taking over the discussion. It’s optional–some outside-the-window positions are allowed, but they’re there as an act of self-conscious tolerance.

        For example, suppose we’re discussing rising inequality in US society. If I propose we deal with it by setting up an UBI, and David Friedman proposes accepting that inequality is the price of freedom and we should just let it be, and Iain proposes a traditional welfare state plus progressive taxation as a reasonable fix, we’re probably all within the Overton window of SSC and probably of most tech company CEOs.

        But if someone proposes dealing with it by having a Communist revolution, establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat under this nice fellow named Joe Steel who’s agreed to lead us, and maybe liquidating a few million people who can’t get with the program, most of SSC and most tech company CEOs will think we’re outside the Overton window.

        And this leads to endless fights over what should be in the window, and thus to pushing back on things close to the edge of the window. A big outrage fest at Jordan Peterson or Sam Harris is largely about convincing the world to slide that window left a bit, or at least not let it slide right at all.

        • Viliam says:

          But if someone proposes dealing with it by having a Communist revolution, establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat under this nice fellow named Joe Steel who’s agreed to lead us, and maybe liquidating a few million people who can’t get with the program, most of SSC and most tech company CEOs will think we’re outside the Overton window.

          That would really depend on specific words of the proposal.

          The traditional method would be denying that anything bad that ever happened in communism; or perhaps admitting 1% of it in order to create an appearance of credibility which would be used to deny the remaining 99%. — This kind of shit would be perfectly within Overton window of SSC, considering that I keep reading it in the SSC comment recently.

          So the proposal would likely consist of calls to give power to the people “on the right side of history”, without any details about how they would use the power afterwards. And if you object, get ready to be called names.

          (Alternatively, you could speak openly about “killing all X”, and when called out, insist that you obviously meant it ironically and only an evil person could suggest otherwise.)

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        This all sounds pretty agreeable to me.

        I’ll add that my usual way to resolve the question of whether a content policy is biased or the content is oppositely biased, is to permit the content policy to be pluggable – choose whichever filtering you want, including your own. I imagine content providers may even facilitate that with some sort of machine learning algorithm that tries to predict what you’ll like or block later, given what you’ve liked or blocked before.

        And of course, that’s of varying success. Meanwhile, I’m literally worried some social media device is going to stuff me into a bubble, no matter what posts or subfeeds I try to like, block, or follow. It’s come to this; I’m worried about what a program thinks of me.

        (I’m exaggerating. A little.)

        • Matt M says:

          Meanwhile, I’m literally worried some social media device is going to stuff me into a bubble, no matter what posts or subfeeds I try to like, block, or follow.

          Right. This is, IMO the most serious and concerning allegations against these sites. The biggest problem is not “Twitter isn’t forcing other people to see my content,” but rather “Twitter isn’t allowing me to see content that I have specifically elected to see.”

          If I follow a right-wing edgy memes page, it’s because I want to see edgy right-wing memes. Using your algorithms to filter them out to “enhance my user experience” ends up doing the opposite.

      • Jiro says:

        Fraud is a crime of intent: to commit it, you need to deliberately misrepresent what you’re selling.

        I think you can recklessly misrepresent what you’re selling without it technically being deliberate, and that this should come under “fraud”.

        Furthermore, they’re still implying that it’s what their customers and audience think of as unbiased. If they think it’s unbiased by their personal standards, but they know that their customers will interpret their words to mean that it’s unbiased using different standards, they’re still committing fraud in the stronger sense, since they are knowingly deceiving their customers. If I honestly think that “food” means “both things you can eat, and battery acid” and I sell battery acid to people as food, it’s still fraud, because I know what *they* mean by food.

    • rlms says:

      According to Wikipedia the definition of civil fraud in the US requires the following elements to be present:

      1. Somebody misrepresents a material fact in order to obtain action or forbearance by another person;
      2. The other person relies upon the misrepresentation; and
      3. The other person suffers injury as a result of the act or forbearance taken in reliance upon the misrepresentation.

      Firstly, even if we grant 1 and 2 for the sake of argument it’s not obvious that 3 is met. Secondly, I don’t think assuming that Twitter have made unambiguous false claims about their service is sufficient to give 1; they have a ToS that says “We may suspend or terminate your account or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason”.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Ehhhh, at a gut check level, this doesn’t feel like “fraud” to me. If anything, it’s more an exaggeration of the value of the good rather than blatant fraud, and these are services generally offered for free. Plus, even if you did pay, it’d be on a subscription basis, rather than a one-time purchase, right?

      So if you had to pay $500 to join a dating service that promised non-partisanship but then immediately banned all Republicans, I’d say returning the $500 would be the morally correct thing to do.

      • Matt M says:

        There are people paying $500 to Facebook. Some of which are presumably Republican-leaning political pages. Some of which have been deleted on the basis of supposedly being Russian bots.

        Furthermore, even those who don’t directly pay invest time. If Facebook is making fraudulent claims that result in me spending time on their platform I otherwise might not have, that can potentially be a harm, yes?

        • Brad says:

          Advertisers could plausibly have a case, though there’s a contract and judges are reluctant to allow end runs around contract law via torts.

          But as for ordinary users, de minimis non curat lex.

          • CatCube says:

            Awful lot of ink being spilled by people on the left demanding that Facebook do something for something that’s minimal in effect.

  7. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to ensure 80% of students in your country become fluent in a foreign language before they are 20. ILR level 3 will suffice. How will you do this?

    • Matt M says:

      Randomly replace about 1/4 of the most popular syndicated TV shows, or re-watched Netflix TV series, with an episode where the dialogue is in the most widely spoken second language in the country with native language subtitles.

      Also do this with pop music on the radio as well as streaming sites (although the lack of subtitles makes it harder)

      • rahien.din says:

        Oh man. Done and done. No other replies are necessary.

      • TDB says:

        I think more interactivity is needed, not something where you passively absorb.

        I have the impression that people have tried using media and it is disappointing. I think I got this from a prof. of Chinese language several years ago, so not something I’d bet the farm on. But it seems so obvious that it seems plausible it has been tried and failed.

        My experience seems to confirm this. I took one year of Chinese and still practice with an app and some inlaws. I sometimes watch movies with Chinese dialogue and English subtitles. I have to concentrate too much on the subtitles to be able to pick up on any of the Chinese that I know. Maybe if I was nearly fluent this might help a bit, but as I am it seems useless.

        Maybe an app that sort of talks with you? Duolingo?

        • AG says:

          I think it’s more that the media used is not optimal.
          Learning language from narrative media (TV dramas, movies) does not reflect actual conversation usage. Writers deliberately make syntax and diction more interesting to make the story more interesting, and in doing so, move away from the reality of the language.

          As jg29a points out below, you want media that has a good amount of repetition with variation.
          Comedy is another avenue for this. Some cultures’ comedy, in particular, is extra educational because they deliberately beat that dead horse. People have probably learned a good amount of random foreign vocab from memes, and I know I osmosed Japanese best from variety appearances way more than from any drama or anime.

          This is epitomized in the shows that are teaching kids their native language, like Sesame Street. Low-brow comedy and reference comedy with lots of repetition on a single linguistic concept. Characters and skits are easily made into memes.

      • jg29a says:

        You forget video games. Dialogue-driven RPGs with all that good repetition-with-variation.

    • johan_larson says:

      My solution is in two parts.

      First, help kids who already speak a second language speak it better. That means offering fully bilingual instruction to kids whose first language is not English. Kids who grow up in a generally English-language environment but speak another language at home, bolstered by instruction in school geared to native speakers of the second language, should be fully bilingual by the end of high school.

      Second, for the kids who speak English at home, a) start second-language instruction early, and b) force them to use their second language through summer or full-year exchange programs abroad. An English-speaker who has studied Spanish since age 6 and has spent several summers abroad in the better parts of South America should be able to speak Spanish very well by the end of high school.

      • jg29a says:

        Bingo.

        (I’m a longtime expat in Korea and current English teacher.)

        Just got a 13yo student who had spent the past 3.5 years in L.A. (after growing up in Korea). Fluent bilingual, unsurprisingly. After explaining to the mom and the boss that she doesn’t need to be in ordinary EFL classes, the first thing I told her privately is this:

        “You’re bilingual, which is great! But you’re a bilingual kid who we need to make into a bilingual adult. That means that whatever you learn in one language, you should be able to talk and write about in the other. As you learn new things in Korean science or history classes, come and talk to me about them, and we’ll make sure you get it in English, too. The same thing goes for novels and movies that you like.”

        I think she is pretty happy about my prescription to re-read Percy Jackson novels, in Korean this time. 😀

        But I would appreciate anyone with input on the best (particularly science and social studies) middle-school textbooks that can be ordered individually at reasonable prices. I’m from the U.S., but I’d be 100% down for books from other English-speaking countries.

        • SamChevre says:

          For “the best middle-schools textbooks…” part of the question, I would start with the texts typically used by homeschoolers; those are reliably available to the public, and are generally cheap.

          Any particular perspective you would want? The books I immediately think of is the Story of the World series, but those are definitely Europe-centric and are somewhat Protestant in their viewpoint. I’ll ask my wife if she has any suggestions also.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Dual-immersion (English/Spanish for most of the country) schools for everyone, even if it makes the Atlantic cry.

      • albatross11 says:

        If English is the primary language spoken in your home, you get immersion in Spanish in school. If not, you get immersion in English in your school.

        Though I think Matt M’s proposal is the most likely to work–if enjoying pop culture is easier when you learn Spanish, then a lot more people will learn Spanish!

        • xXxanonxXx says:

          Are there any real world examples of this working? Being a weeb in the 90’s before dubbing really took off meant nearly everything I watched for entertainment was in Japanese, yet I never learned more than a few words.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, the reason I mentioned syndication and re-watched programs was the idea that the person already knows the dialogue in question, but is now hearing it in a foreign language.

            If it’s something brand new that won’t work nearly as well, because you’ll be busy actively reading the subtitles and trying to follow the plot.

            But if I watch The Simpsons in Spanish, I learn quite a bit, because I already know what they’re saying, but now I know it in Spanish.

          • rlms says:

            Watching with subtitles in your native language is pretty useless (watching with audio in your native language and foreign subtitles is probably better); watching with foreign (or obviously no) subtitles is useful in my experience.

          • ana53294 says:

            Watching with subtitles in your native language is pretty useless

            I wouldn’t say so; I am passively learning a foreign language just by watching videos in that language with English subtitles. One of my friends also learned Spanish just by watching subtitled TV-series. You just have to really like them and watch them obsessively.

          • rlms says:

            YMMV, it probably depends on your tendency to read subtitles over listening. I watched both seasons of The Good Place en español con subtitulos en ingles but I don’t remember learning anything from it.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I agree with rlms; watching shows in foreign languages with subtitles in your language doesn’t help. At all. There are tons of people in Peru (and, I assume, other Latin American countries) who watch American sitcoms like Married… with Children and the latest Hollywood movies in the original English with Spanish subtitles and they don’t speak an itoa of English. Likewise, I have watched lots of anime in Japanese with English subtitles and my knowledge of Japanese is mostly limited to the handful of common words that middle-school weaboos obnoxiously drop in conversations (kawaii, baka, senpai, etc…)

            Conversely, watching Saturday morning cartoons (remember those?) in English with no subtitles was instrumental to my mastering of the language. When the only way to watch Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! was to watch them in English, you better believe that’s what I did. And I learned.

          • Deiseach says:

            Agreed about simply watching shows with subtitles (or even none). I think I could insult a monkey in Hindi, all due to watching unsubtitled series online, but that’s not really being bilingual 🙂

          • AG says:

            Granted, anime is rather uniquely bad at conveying Japanese to begin with. It sounds nothing like what actual casual conversation is like, both in structure and content.
            (As I posted above, dramas really aren’t that much better.)

      • ana53294 says:

        I did find this article confusing.

        This is straightforward enough: If the only native Spanish (or Mandarin, or French, or Arabic) speaker in a multilingual classroom is the teacher, it makes it much harder for students to avoid relying on English. But if the class is full of native Spanish speakers, that should help all students learn to work—and engage socially—in both English and Spanish.

        […]

        This has sparked the development of “one-way” dual-immersion programs, which also provide students with instruction in two languages but enroll mostly—or entirely—English-dominant children. When a two-way dual-immersion program gentrifies into a one-way program, Mykytyn said, “we’re not talking about integration, we’re talking about what other special programs your white kid can get, your privileged kid can get.”

        They first state that the effectiveness of the dual-language program in teaching both language comes from having 50/50 students whose maternal tongue is one or the other. Then they say that rich parents are pushing the Spanish half out – thus, presumably, making the language opportunities bad for both subset of kids.

        Spanish language kids will then go to an English language only school, and English speakers will go to a 50/50 Spanish English school, with no native speakers. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, where both groups end up loosing.

        They try to solve this problem:

        Neighborhood students get guaranteed slots at kindergarten, and these are now taken almost exclusively by English-speaking children, so the school has taken to overweighting its pre-k enrollment toward native Spanish speakers, reserving 30 of the 36 available pre-k seats for Spanish-dominant kids.

        EDIT: The way I see it, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you convince English speakers, who are the majority, that being bilingual is cool, and remove all the stigma of it being a thing for poor inmigrants, then the English speakers will crowd out poor inmigrants in those schools, because they are the majority. And that does not come from a desire to crowd out poor students. I am sure that the parents who want their kids to have a bilingual education want it to be effective, so they do want the full inmersion program; thus, having Spanish speaking kids is beneficial.

        • johan_larson says:

          I think in this specific case some sort of quota system would be justified. A dual-immersion school works best if it has native speakers of both languages, since the students are supposed to learn the other language largely by picking it up from those who speak it natively. That requires substantial numbers of native speakers of each language, and if this distribution doesn’t happen naturally, it makes sense to enforce it. Perhaps 1/3 native speakers of one language, 1/3 native speakers of the other language, and 1/3 either would make sense.

    • rlms says:

      If my country is small enough for this to be practical, make people go on 6-9 month exchange trips abroad when they’re 13-16.

    • sharper13 says:

      I can’t resist the probably-not-anticipated plan of, convert everyone to Mormonism, then send them on foreign missions ($400/month for 1.5-2 years). They’ll come back fluent in whatever obscure language you send them to learn, which is why the SLC Winter Olympics was the first one with all the translators they needed and one of the two reasons why they’re over-represented at places like the CIA (the other being less law/drug issues).

    • James C says:

      Bring in four times as many kids from foreign countries that already speak a different language as we currently have kids in schools. Classes might be a little overcrowded but we hit the metric.

    • Lambert says:

      Are there any countries or regions where this is (or was) already the case?
      English and French in Africa, or German in parts of pre-war Central Europe.

      Of course, the obvious hacks would be to remove some part of the population of students, or redefine what languages count as ‘foreign’.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’d be a bit surprised. ILR 3 is a pretty high level of proficiency, and 80% is a big number.

        I expect quite a few immigrant kids manage that level in their parents’ language, even without government support. Kids born into linguistic minorities in their countries might also get there, just because there is so much pressure to master the majority language. It’s possible the Quebecois get there in English and the Swedish-Speaking Finns in Finnish.

        Some of the European countries also invest a lot in their students’ English skills, but it’s a really high bar.

    • Viliam says:

      fluent in a foreign language before they are 20

      Would Esperanto satisfy the condition? The easier the language, the faster it can be learned.

      The first step would be kickstarting the language skill during the first week of school (starting at 5th grade?), where the whole week would be spent teaching Esperanto using the direct method (i.e. explain Esperanto in Esperanto, with gestures and pictures, no native language allowed).

      Afterwards, two hours weekly… dunno, perhaps doing a project together with a foreign student (from another country running the same experiment) by Skype.

  8. JPNunez says:

    So what are people’s thoughts on autonomous cars here?

    Discounting the Uber fatality as just Uber being bad at designing the security system, and the Tesla accidents as just not a real autonomous system, are we really gonna see computers fully driving cars in the near future.

    After the Uber accident there seems to have been a sudden change on opinion about this, and dunno where rationalists stand.

    Metaculus currently has 33% of a fully autonomous car this year, which seems optimistic for august. GJOpen only has tangential questions on this.

    • albatross11 says:

      It seems like there are two separate questions:

      a. Is it within the likely engineering abilities/technological ability of the big players in this area (Google, Tesla, Uber, the big auto makers), by time T1, to get autonomous vehicles that function as safely as, say, an average driver who got his license a couple year ago and has driven 500 hours since then?)

      b. Assuming the technology is available at time T1, will it become commercially available by time T2, given financial, company reputation, liability, and regulatory/legal constraints?

      (a) seems like it requires domain-specific expertise in the relevant fields, or at least knowledge of where various bits of the technology are. It’s a technical question about what can be done.

      (b) is a much messier question, involving predicting political processes, legal rulings, and business decisions by a couple dozen major players.

      • JPNunez says:

        I think that T2 won’t be that far from T1 given that municipalities are open to give companies leeway for testing on their cities IF ONLY for the research investments they may get that way.

        Even after the Uber accident, I doubt that part changed much.

        An interesting question is if it would be possible that T1 > T2, if companies manage to scam politicians into thinking they achieved full autonomy.

        Honestly I am more interested in (a). Is it possible to build a fully autonomous car with our current tech, or does this require Strong AI?

        • albatross11 says:

          I don’t see why this task would require anything like strong AI. We already have self-driving cars which do the tasks we require; they just don’t do those tasks *well enough* yet. It seems really strange to think that getting them from 90% of the way to 99.9% of the way to solving those problems requires a fundamentally new thing, rather than, say, more/better sensors, faster classifiers (running on dedicated hardware purpose-designed for running fast classifiers), better software, better maps of roads, etc.

          • John Schilling says:

            What is needed is not faster classifiers, but more reliable classifiers. Classifying “bicyclist moving with traffic” vs “pedestrian moving across traffic” in 0.05 seconds vs 0.5 seconds, doesn’t get you much. Doing so with 99.99% accuracy vs 90% accuracy, is the difference between a useful transportation system and an AI killbot. Or an aggravated traffic obstruction, depending on where you set the trigger level.

            And if you’re going to lump that in with “better software”’, then yeah, “better software” is now defined as something that is really really really damn hard, in ways that make actual rocket scientists glad that they merely need to do things like build robots that can land spaceships on unexplored worlds. Nothing on Europa is going to try and fake us out even half as perversely as the average pedestrian and/or bicyclist.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What is needed is not faster classifiers, but more reliable classifiers. Classifying “bicyclist moving with traffic” vs “pedestrian moving across traffic” in 0.05 seconds vs 0.5 seconds, doesn’t get you much. Doing so with 99.99% accuracy vs 90% accuracy, is the difference between a useful transportation system and an AI killbot.

            These may be fungible; a larger or deeper or more complex neural net may achieve better accuracy, but it’s going to take longer to compute so faster hardware may be necessary to meet your deadlines.

          • JPNunez says:

            Well it isn’t guaranteed that just more ofndeep learning will get us through the last 0.1% of cases. Maybe because you simply cannot use regular training to deal with those cases cause they are extremely rare, so regular training isn’t enough

            Maybe the solution is just stop training in nice american towns, and just take the testing to more nightmarish places. I hear Italy has particularly bad traffic and drivers?

          • John Schilling says:

            These may be fungible; a larger or deeper or more complex neural net may achieve better accuracy, but it’s going to take longer to compute so faster hardware may be necessary to meet your deadlines.

            Almost certainly not. We are well past the age where “well, we could solve this problem, but we don’t have the processing power” is at all common in computer science. For almost all real problems, we either solved the problem while throwing an order of magnitude more processing power at it than we needed because programmers are lazy and computronium is cheap, or we don’t have algorithms that could solve the problem even with nigh-infinite processing power. And no, neural networks don’t automagically solve all problems if only they’ve enough computronium – they just become really good at solving their own training set, and sometimes really perverse at solving things just a little different than their training set.

            And if this were one of those niche problems where more processing speed is all it takes, I’d expect to have read the articles bragging about how Tesla UberGoogle hacked together 256 GPUs like the ones in someone’s favorite gaming console, and it’s still not enough but they are optimistic about the 1028-GPU version to come. I haven’t seen those articles, so I’m pretty sure their best algorithms aren’t safe at any speed.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Almost certainly not. We are well past the age where “well, we could solve this problem, but we don’t have the processing power” is at all common in computer science. For almost all real problems, we either solved the problem while throwing an order of magnitude more processing power at it than we needed because programmers are lazy and computronium is cheap, or we don’t have algorithms that could solve the problem even with nigh-infinite processing power.

            Sorry, but this just isn’t the case, certainly not when talking about neural networks. Larger and more complex neural networks can sometimes improve classification accuracy significantly, but this naturally increases computation time, both for training and for inference. When you have real time constraints, this can be significant. Especially when your inference device has to fit in a car computer rather than a data center.

            This is why there is custom hardware for neural network operations; perhaps this is the article you’re looking for.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            @John Schilling – I was recently offered a job working on deep learning software for autonomous vehicles. Yes, they do obsess about getting more hardware into the cars, and yes, they are excited about bigger, more powerful GPU rigs that fit in the trunk. They just don’t do it in public.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Frankly I’m surprised. Make an autonomous car work, then make if efficient. The only reason I can immediately think of why this approach wouldn’t be used is that making the hardware travel reliable is too much of a hurdle.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Waymo doesn’t have the stones to make a generally useful autonomous car; as far as I can tell their cars can do exactly the same thing they could do 5 years ago. They’ve done the first 80% much better than anyone else, but aren’t interested in tackling the second 80%.

        Tesla and Uber don’t seem to have the engineering know-how.

        The whole field is moving so slowly that by the time anyone has anything technologically good enough, the regulators will have managed to strangle it.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Do you mean this question? That was for the beginning of 2018 and predictions closed in mid 2016, so it’s not like people were celebrating New Year’s Eve with 33% predictions that a car would be released the next day.

      Google is driving hundreds of non-employees around Phoenix. They plan to roll out to the general public in Phoenix this calendar year. GM has the same target date, but is less plausible. But neither of them would sell cars, only rides (because only in dry Phoenix).

    • John Schilling says:

      The timescale for full autonomy on generic city streets is likely a decade or more. In mere years, we’ll see beta-test operations with A: fully autonomous golf cats in sandboxed environments and B: “autonomous” cars that still require human supervision, albeit possibly remote. And we’ll find from these tests that Uber and Tesla aren’t flukes, that achieving a tolerable balance of speed and safety in an urban traffic environment is a much harder problem than enthusiasts expect.

      The reason for the Uber pedestrian fatality wasn’t Uber being “terribly bad at designing the safety system”, it was Uber correctly recognizing that the best safety system their best engineers could design would result in so many unwarranted panic-stops that the vehicle would have been battered into scrap metal by irate motorists with tire irons, and so correctly determined that the only way to get any field testing done was to disconnect the safety system from the brakes and leave that to human oversight. Crap job on the human-factors engineering for the safety driver interface, to be fair. But that’s the state of the art. Dead pedestrians, or ultimate gridlock, take your pick.

      • actinide meta says:

        I agree that the problem of fully autonomous driving is still very hard, and a smart and conservative team could totally have a fatality.

        But the Uber fatality really does seem to be negligent. The Volvo they were using comes stock with an automatic emergency braking feature that doesn’t cause many unwarranted panic stops, that plausibly could have prevented the accident, and which Uber disabled in favor of their own system. Then they disabled their own emergency braking system because it had too many false positives. (And note that they didn’t just reduce its brake authority to a deceleration that wouldn’t cause an accident, or have it alert the safety driver; they disabled any response whatsoever to situations where their own system recommended emergency braking.) Then they gave the single safety driver tasks to do on a touch screen while they were driving.

    • Another Throw says:

      A collection of thoughts about self driving cars, not all responsive to your question.

      I don’t think autonomous cars are even close to ready, and are unlikely to be in the foreseeable future. I don’t follow all the technical details, and I’m willing to be wrong on this, but I have the distinct impression that all of the “look how close we are” sound-bite stats are, like all sound-bite state, seriously fudged.

      Look, Waymo can (still?) claim to have never been involved in an accident where their system was at fault, but they (still?) are involved in way more accidents than a human driver. Assiduously applying the legal rules of the road so that you can never be held legally liable for an accident is the easiest part of driving, and it also happens to be the part of driving that humans are worst at. I mean, shit, we could have automated that part in the 60’s. Avoiding accidents is the real meat and potatoes, and humans knock it the fuck out of the park, despite all of our flaws.

      Following from that, and more importantly, autonomous car enthusiasts are aiming for the wrong target of effectiveness. In order to be commercially viable, they do not need to make a car that beats the average fatalities per vehicle mile traveled, they need to make one that beats MINE.

      Spitballing from memory, around a third of traffic fatalities involve alcohol, a third involve failing to wear a seat belt, a third involve excessive speed, and a third involve distracted driving. I have never seen any discussion about the covariance of these risk factors, but my prior is… high. In this sort of circumstance, the 80/20 rule is as good a place to start your prior as any. Which is to say, a small sub-population is knowingly and intentionally engaging in reckless behavior and consequently have a much higher risk of being killed in a car accident. The 80/20 rule would suggest that maybe 80% of fatalities are the result of 20% of driver. The majority has a much lower risk than the average would suggest.

      Just think about the last time you went for a drive. The majority of the cars on the road are doing more or less the right thing, but you have that one jackass going the speed of traffic +40, weaving through traffic, while texting with one hand and cramming a cheeseburger down his gullet with the other. That’s the jackass that’s gunna die. Or kill someone else, but he’s only endangering any one else for a couple second. He’s endangering himself all the time. (I.e., a Fermi estimate points in the same direction.)

      You’re never going to get your high risk population to use a self driving car because they’re intentionally being reckless. And, assuming you have managed to match the average fatality rate, the rest of the population will never use one because it will (substantially) increase their personal risk of fatality.

      So, at that point, your autonomous car enthusiasts are going to lobby congress to mandate them and be utterly perplexed when automotive fatalities don’t budge an inch. (Or go up. Whoops!) Because the people doing the killing are doing it intentionally!

      On that note, the current land rush on autonomous technology doesn’t really have anything to do with building a commercially viable system, it is about buying as many patent-tickets in the congressional mandate lottery as possible. You’re the trillion dollar megaball winner if your lobbiest get congress to implicitly require all new cars use your patent.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You’re never going to get your high risk population to use a self driving car willingly.

        That’s like saying that people who own cars won’t use Uber to go out drinking. But they do. And when google rolls out a self-driving competitor to Uber in a few months (though just in Phoenix), they’ll use it, too. It will immediately be commercially viable.

        Maybe aggressive commuters don’t realize that they’re dangerous. Maybe they enjoy it as a challenge. But most people hate commuting and I don’t think aggressive drivers are different. Distracted drivers would certainly prefer to play with their phone in a self-driving car. Rideshare won’t take over commuting immediately, but convincing these drivers is a matter of price, not safety. (People who drive aggressively in non-commuting contexts may be more difficult.)

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Waymo’s cars, as I understand it, are overwhelmingly rear-ended at very low speeds. That’s not, like… amazing. But it’s not a safety risk for the passengers.

        To the best of my knowledge, injury accidents involving Waymo cars have been entirely cases where someone else genuinely did something super dangerous and it’s not clear that the accident could be avoided by anyone.

  9. Well... says:

    If johan_larson will forgive me, I too propose a mission, should you choose to accept it:

    Spend US$10billion or less over a period of 10 years in such a way that at least 10% of North Korea’s population is therefore able to escape annually from North Korea, with a >90% probability of success and safety for them and their families. Assume all other countries can each tolerate a maximum annual influx of North Korean escapees equal to 0.005% of their own population sizes.

    Alternatively, you may spend the same amount of money in the same amount of time so it will lead to a revolution and overthrow of Kim Jong Un and his family, with replacement by something significantly less worse.

    Describe how your spending will achieve the goal.

    • hls2003 says:

      I think you might want to clarify the permissible effects on geopolitics. Otherwise, all the most likely solutions would probably involve calculating numbers of bombs per dollar – kill enough of the North Korean leadership and presumably the country would collapse into chaos / revolution. That doesn’t make it a good idea.

      Also, I presume that your escapee number should be limited to 0.5% of neighboring countries (0.005), not 0.005%. 0.005% of the entire world’s population multiplied by ten years would still only equal a little over 10% of North Korea’s population.

    • albatross11 says:

      Could we just flat offer Kim a bribe to let 10% of his people go for $10 billion? This might plausibly work once, at least.

      Maybe put the $100M into a combination of building a dictators’ retirement home and bribing enough major players to credibly guarantee Kim’s safety in a well-deserved retirement on his own tropical island somewhere, and convince him that retiring to that island and letting NK/SK move toward some kind of reunification is his best strategy for a long and pleasant life.

      • johan_larson says:

        I suspect you’d have to credibly offer safe “retirement” for him and his extended family at least, and possibly the top layer of the goverment also.

        The problem with extending such an offer is making it credible. Who might Kim trust so much that he would entrust his own safety and the safety of his family to them when he does not have to do so?

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, it’s an interesting problem. Once Kim is out of power, it’s going to be too appealing to go ahead and ship him to the Hague or hand him over to South Korea or the new North Korean government set up under Chinese advisors and protection.

          That ship has more-or-less sailed, but it would IMO be a better world if we had some way of making such a credible commitment, and someone who had the power to do so, in a time-limited manner to head off some kind of humanitarian disaster or civil war.

          • Matt M says:

            Why wouldn’t giving him up to the Chinese be a reasonable compromise?

            Do they have any particular inclination to hang him on a street corner? They’d presumably let him live out his life in relative comfort, yes?

          • John Schilling says:

            Once he’s out of power, they have no reason not to turn him over to the Hague, and would face a non-trivial PR penalty for shielding him from justice. Since China isn’t generally in the business of harboring Evil Dictators, and there isn’t a generally recognized international norm of honoring deals with Evil Dictators, there is no countervailing reputation all penalty for “doing the right thing”.

            They’ll do the cheap obvious good-PR thing unless there’s something in it for them. What’s in it for them?

          • johansenindustries says:

            Yeah, when it comes to having the power it would need to be the US President. If only the US would elect a President willing to tear up the Obama-era ‘if you fall out of power you will be literally sodomised to death’ foreign policy.

            But honestly even that might not be enough as establishment ‘experts’ and pundits would probably call him crazy and accuse him of ‘cosying up’ to dictators. He would need skin of steel too.

          • John Schilling says:

            @johnasenindustries: I have yet to see Donald Trump advocate safe retirement havens for international criminals as part of his foreign policy, so knock it off. Even if Gaddafi had made it out of Libya in good health, he’d have spent the rest of his life in prison, and that’s just as unacceptable to Kim Jong Un as the violent death. An Idi Amin-style retirement plan might do, but that’s far too broadly unpopular for a blatant populist like Trump. Plus, he’d tweet something that woul scotch any such deal even if he were sincere, p>0.95

          • johansenindustries says:

            I have yet to see Donald Trump advocate safe retirement havens for international criminals as part of his foreign policy, so knock it off.

            I’m not sure your not having seen it yes, is actually proof that it can bever happen. You’re making things too easy for yourself.

            Even if Gaddafi had made it out of Libya in good health, he’d have spent the rest of his life in prison, and that’s just as unacceptable to Kim Jong Un as the violent death.

            Is being sodomised to death as uncceptable to you as life imprisonment, or do you think Un is different?

            An Idi Amin-style retirement plan might do, but that’s far too broadly unpopular for a blatant populist like Trump.

            Is it ‘broadly unpopular’ or is it just the usual suspects?

            Do you think giving him an Idi Amin style retirement in exchange for freedom is North Korea is a bad change, or are your fellow Americans just different?

            I will freely acknowledge that it is a pity that Trump wasn’t president when the new Supreme Leader came to power (before he was definitely liked to his own personal human-right abuses) but I still think he could do it.

          • John Schilling says:

            I will freely acknowledge that it is a pity that Trump wasn’t president when the new Supreme Leader came to power (before he was definitely liked to his own personal human-right abuses) but I still think he could do it.

            Get back to us when he does it. Your man Trump has been in office for almost two years now; it’s long past time to stop bragging about the things he is going to do. Your man Trump has been in office for almost two years now, the North Korean threat is greater than it was when he took office, and you’re bragging about a deal that, informally, limits it to not getting worse still but only on one relevant axis.

          • johansenindustries says:

            In what ways is the North Korean threat bigger than when he took office?

            Is that relly your standard? He has to single-handedly solve the North Korean problem in one and a half years, or else you was your hands of him and just repeat establishment force-memes?

          • John Schilling says:

            More nuclear weapons, ICBMs that work, SLBMs that work, thermonuclear warheads that work, a higher pace of missile testing in Trump’s first year than ever recorded under Obama, Clinton, or either Bush, a solid year of pointlessly inflammatory “rocket man” rhetoric followed by KJU learning how to play POTUS like a fiddle, a weaker US-ROK alliance to stand against North Korea, weaker international sanctions enforcement, and North Korea’s having learned that it can get away with conducting nerve-gas assassinations in foreign countries without anyone doing more than whining. Just off the top of my head.

            And my standard is not that Trump needs to solve the problem in the first half-term, just that he should show some real progress. Or at least not make things worse.

        • Doug says:

          > The problem with extending such an offer is making it credible.

          Somewhat of a complex workaround, but here goes.

          1) The five permanent Security Council members all publicly commit to the following arrangement.

          2) Israel takes Kim Jong Un, his family and top North Korean generals and ministers. Kim is allowed to take a bunch of money, and Israel agrees to guarantee his safety.

          3) As long as Kim Jong Un is alive and safe, Israel gets major internationally recognized concessions in Gaza, West Bank settlements, Syria, and/or Iran.

          4) All of the Security Council countries loudly and publicly commit to recognizing the Israeli concessions in so long as Kim stays protected.

          In effect this deals shifts the credible commitment from Kim, who’s extremely globally unpopular, to Israel, who at the very least is has major supportive factions on the world stage. It’s pretty easy and popular to make a deal with Kim, but then go “it was just a prank, bro! You’re heading to The Hague!” But trying to unwind a deal that favors Israel would raise loud objections, not least from the dominant political party in the most powerful country in the world.

          For their part, Israel is probably the only country in the world outside Russia, China and the US, with the security and intelligence infrastructure to protect Kim. Even against other hostile state actors. Kim, or anyone, would probably trust Mossad to keep him safe. Maybe even more than his own bodyguards.

          Israel’s going to stay fiercely protective of Kim. It’s possible, even likely that the EU and other Israel-hostile countries will renege on the deal. They’ll go back to voting against Israel at the UN. However even if every single country goes back to the status quo, this still gives Israel a hell of a lot of moral high ground.

          The temporary good press they’d gain from handing Kim over to The Hague, would be worth way less than decades of moral high ground and support by international law. Consequently Israel would be highly incentived to remain fiercely protected of their North Korean guests.

          Finally, the issue of Israel/Palestine is very contentious. And depending on your point of view the Palestinians would be getting screwed. But from any viewpoint North Koreans are suffering far more horribly than Palestinians. Plus there’s five times as many of them. From a consequentialist standpoint selling out 5 million Palestinians to rescue 25 million North Koreans from Stalinism is a moral imperative.

          • Deiseach says:

            So you want Israel to act like Argentina taking in post-war Nazi exiles? Yes, I can see how that would not be any problem at all! The nation that went after Eichmann living in safe retirement in another country will safeguard a similar wretch!

          • quanta413 says:

            Israel wouldn’t protect the overthrown dictator of North Korea because there is no benefit to them, but I think we can safely say that moral scruples is not why the Mossad would be unwilling to protect a dictator.

            Israel got Eichmann because he brutally persecuted Jews. But Israel doesn’t care about this sort of thing as a generalized moral principle any more than the U.S. or Russia. If there really is a benefit to Israel to dealing with a dictator or an immoral system they are willing to deal. They kept ties with Apartheid South Africa for longer than anyone else for example. And they have no problem dealing with monarchies in the Middle East. And they have no problem with keeping Palestine cutoff and dysfunctional; even if that’s not 100% their fault, it’s at least 50%.

    • Nornagest says:

      Hmm. North Korea’s total GDP is about 40 billion. The Kim family’s probably siphoning away a good bit of that, but I doubt it’s more than a few percent once you take into account the costs of maintaining the regime.

      That means that simple bribery might be practical. Offer the Kims $10 billion, or that less operational expenses, in cash or whatever commodities they want to open their borders to emigrants. Their first priority right now is (probably) economic development, so this suits their goals. From there it becomes a matter of figuring out who’ll take the people; maybe it’d be possible to work out a deal with the Russians whereby 2.5 million North Korean immigrants start towns in Siberia under Russian law.

    • John Schilling says:

      That’s $4000 per person, which I don’t think is going to cover the cost of resettling them anywhere that would be a real improvement over their current situation – which includes abject poverty, political oppression that falls mainly on a <10% dissident minority, and strong cultural ties and institutions for helping everyone deal with this. Since the latter will almost certainly be severely disrupted by the migration, you’ll need to do a lot more in the way of poverty-alleviation than throwing them on the streets of Seoul with a few months’ stipend and “good luck finding a job”. Currently, I believe Seoul budgets ~$50,000 per defector/refugee, so you’re looking at more than an order of magnitude improvement in resettlement cost-effectiveness or you’re looking at word getting back that people should maybe not take your deal.

      Also, no, Kim Jong U.N. isn’t going to sell his subjects to you/Seoul/the U.N./whomever for $4000 each. At the margin, you can bribe border guards to look the other way for that price, but it’s not clear how this scales when you are trying to move millions.

    • yodelyak says:

      Hm. I went to the same place as John Schilling–just buying North Koreans from Kim Jong Un at the rate of $4,000/head lets you buy 10% of his people from him, I don’t see that working at scale. Bribing him to democratize overall might be more effective.

      Spit-balling some ideas until I think of something that seems remotely likely to work about as well as a straight bribery offer, whether per-head or for liberalization…

      1. Sell sexbots secretly laced with very-slow-acting-steadily-better-and-more-addictive-and-more-painful-to-withdraw-from chemicals to the N. Korean elite for five years. Then restrict supply of same, but negotiate to maintain/expand supply if N. Korea will liberalize, whether allowing emigration or–better–otherwise. Hope they don’t get starving-to-death or suicidal or war-sounds-fun-type unhappy, but are unhappy enough to make concessions. Counterpoint–people generally disapprove of the U.K.’s actions involving opium in China… this could be pretty damn ugly, and not at all a positive for the people of N.K.

      2. Use your $10bn to pay N. Korea to accept and welcome a large number (could you get 100,000–that’s $10k/head) of asylum seekers / refugees from Syria, Lebanon, or etc. Say 1/3 the money is to be paid directly to the asylum seekers over a 10-year period, 1/3 the money used to build low-cost long-term settlements, and 1/3 paid directly to whoever you have to bribe or whoever’s land isn’t going to be theirs anymore. Then… wait, I am not sure how this helps. I mean, maybe the N. Koreans will underestimate the difficulty of integrating these newcomers into their society, and by a process of osmosis, over time… I have no idea, honestly. It’s in the “crazy enough it just might… nah, it’s probably just crazy” category I think.

      3. Use your $10bn to offer dowries of $50,000 U.S.D. to each of up to 200,000 South Korean women who commit to marrying a North Korean and moving to North Korea with their $50k. Get North Korea to go along with this because… IDK. Frankly I don’t think they even have money in NK, although I don’t actually know one way or the other, so I imagine bribing anyone not already at desperate-and-despairing I’m-going-to-die-if-you-send-me-back refugee status to go spend the rest of their life in N. Korea would be *very* expensive. Plus I can’t imagine NK wanting to let outsiders in anytime soon. And we’re still in “so crazy it’s… still just crazy” land.

      4. Create “Middle Korea” by buying $1bn worth of border land from South Korea (and emptying it of any South Koreans who don’t want to live in Middle Korea) and paying/allowing Kim Jong Un to resettle some North Koreans in Middle Korea, where they will live much better than in N. Korea, mainly because the U.S. will pay to build some really cool monuments or something ($1bn), which will power a high-margin tourist industry that doesn’t require much for the N. and S. Koreans who live there to benefit from operating it. Let Kim Jong Un have constitutionally-guaranteed 10% of taxes of Middle Korea for 50 years, but it starts from the get-go with a legislature that is controlled by a new feudal-lord-like class of South Koreans who own the monuments and comprise the first legislature, and who like the idea of owning a big chunk of “Middle Korea” and getting to be legislators there, and who get their own small but extremely well-trained and well-armed army. Oh, and some kind of court system to prevent the legislature from being too awful, and the army should be trained so they are hard to use against civilians. Periodically add territory to Middle Korea by making a bulk purchase of North Korea from Kim Jong Un, and keep spending lots of money nudging Middle Koreans to appreciate the personal risk KJU took by liberalizing, because of course there’s still some chance this whole thing blows up into violent revolution, and nobody forced him to take that risk–he did it because he’s a good person. Is this maybe a win-win-win for the KJU (who is more popular outside NK, has somewhere to put North Koreans he needs out of North Korea, has more money), for North Koreans who stay (less population pressure, more money) for North Koreans who leave (yay tourist economy and independent courts protecting private property), for South Koreans who got a nice price for their borderlands… only loser is the guy who had $10bn who is now broke. If it won’t work to do this at the Korean border, maybe at the Russian or Chinese borders?

      5. Clone Dennis Rodman x100,000, teach them all Korean, and air-drop 100k 10-year-old future Dennis Rodmans into North Korea with white flags, and await instant diplomatic success. j/k

      6. Air-drop over North Korea 100k nigh-indestructible $10,000 titanium boxes that constantly replay patriotic-sounding N. Korea messages 90% of the time, and otherwise play helpful ideas about farming or household economics, with an initially vanishingly small fraction of messages things like “everyone has the same spark of the divine in them” or “haste makes waste” or “on such crooked timber as man, no straight thing was ever made,” or just “today’s music from around the world is [New Orleans Jazz / K-pop / the Beattles / Brahms / etc.]… this sounds expensive and unlikely to work, but the result you are aiming for is that the whole country finds the boxes too helpful, and too hard to break/move, to ever bother with the hard work of destroying them. This basically boils out to Step 1: invent mind-control you can air-lift into a country for less than $10bn. Step 2: do it. I think it’s implied that Step 3 is to wake up and think of something else less totally dependent on God-like powers.

      7. R&D to design and deploy some kind of bio/chemical weapon that subtly (reversibly?) sterilizes the entire country, followed by negotiating with Kim Jong Un? Just go big or go home, basically… odds this ends with multiple mushroom clouds might be pretty high though. Maybe if you start by aggressively communicating some kind of veiled “what we’re doing, we can undo” message diplomatically, then push the “subtle sterilize” button, then wait for them to realize something is wrong and ask for help? Still risks mushroom clouds, not to mention the obvious inhuman nastiness involved.

      8. R&D to design a solar powered, programmable-and-remote-operated drone with a 500-mile range, equipped with decently loud audio equipment, a go-pro-type camera, a removable video-player for the go-pro footage, and a light-weight remote control that the drone can carry… Spend $1bn to get a design that costs anywhere from $1k to $100k? Sooo… Assuming it’s $50k each, $5bn gets you 100k of these neat toys. Announce a new policy that N. Korean airspace outside some core area where KJU may be (and may feel personally threatened if you intrude) now belongs to you, at least insofar as your being a quirky $10-billionaire who is unrestrained by global politics. Park a barge or something in international waters near Korea, fly 100k of these toys in, each playing friendly messages announcing that they are gifts from the South Koreans (Middle Koreans? Russians? Americans? Lizard people? Kim Jong Un himself, with help from the Ecuadorians?), who have had a good crop year. Each plane is programmed to hover playing its audio message for a few hours, and explaining that it is a gift to the village, and then to land and patiently explain how to control it (and the payload will include the drone’s remote control). You’ll need some satellite or other intel I don’t have to deploy them effectively so most N. Koreans see/hear one, but basically try to make sure they can’t be missed, and are clearly not bombs, and have foodstuffs or medicine etc with them that will be appreciated where they are found. Maybe do them in waves, and have the early waves announce the dates and times and locations of some (but not all) of subsequent waves. Spend your remaining $4bn helping N. Korea put these (or some less-stupid type of gifts I haven’t thought of) to whatever use it wants, in exchange for a concession that the gifts not be shot out of the sky and that the populace’s inevitable recognition that there’s a world out there not be met with nasty suppression.

      9. I’ve been assuming that the $10bn is spent by the U.S., but say it’s a quirky billionaire, unrestrained by legality or convention, but unable to leverage existing diplomatic channels or U.S. capabilities, but with the advantage of being credibly a deluded sole actor with a fly up his butt about dictatorship or a real love for Kim Jong Un, or whatever. Potentially you can just commit and take a risk. In that case, get some kind of massive boats with refugee-support capabilities. Put in to Syria/Lebanon/wherever and pretend you’re just getting people to Europe. Once you’re at sea, show your sailors with guns, announce martial control and start explaining to people that they are going to be given to N. Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un as personal presents. Float them to N. Korea, and explain to each of them that they’re to be integrated into N. Korean society–give them a rudimentary training in N. Korean, and have ready a nice big rent payment to rent a big chunk of N. Korea from Kim Jong Un for 99 years and build a refugee camp there (or the equivalent in Russia or China at the border, a la the Middle Korea idea)–a really, really nice one, as these things go, but one run entirely with North Korea-type technology–and make sure Kim Jong Un gets all the credit for saving all those lives, and let him decide, if he wants, to have some of his North Koreans tour the refugee camp and see his generosity first-hand. Leave the refugees offshore, and send a raft up to Korea with your terms, and begin negotiations… This probably ends extremely badly, yes?

      10. Deploy some extremely effective religious missionaries and convert KJU’s translators, the man himself, and family to a messianic faith all in one go.

      11. Buy up some property in Vladivostok, and build a tunnel. The Chunnel cost $5bn, and was 25 miles long, but you can cut lots of corners, say… maybe you can get 50 miles or 100 miles into NK for $5bn? Somehow don’t get caught by Russia or N.K. Spend $100 m on a small band of elite trained infantry who have some fancy drugs that induce a coma to last anywhere from ~1 week to ~1 month. Induce comas at random on large numbers of farmers who will be found and (mostly, one hopes) force-fed or etc. and kept alive until the effects wear off, and find some secret way to encourage a local superstition that it is a contagious sleeping disease. But do find some way to ensure they are found and treated, so no comas are fatal. For a few, induce no coma, but instead steal them out the tunnel and show them Vladivostok or maybe Japan. Then bring them back, on your side, to help you establish a literal underground railroad–and let them be discovered after a few days missing, badly dehydrated, with a coma as their cover story. Use remaining $4 billion to scale rapidly and corrupt/convert institutions in Northern NK to facilitate your goals. Establish covert manufacturing, solar power, other 1st world amenities inside of North Korea, beginning with whatever lowest hanging fruit the N.K. economy doesn’t currently have, and maybe one or two good cash crops to export… selling intelligence to the Americans and Chinese and South Koreans might also be pretty lucrative.

      Who am I kidding, this will never work.

      • yodelyak says:

        Okay, spit-balling is done. Here’s my plan, don’t have time to flesh it out more. I bet it could easily be improved with more thought by basically anyone.

        I’m going forward as an eccentric billionaire with $10bn, not as a government with restraints like lawyers or freedom-of-information-acts. I’m also assuming that people who work for me are highly loyal, and not going to peel off by becoming addicted to drugs or smelling money, which assumption I cannot justify but makes this all possible.

        1. Get 2 – 3 fast submersibles with under-water docking capability that can support crews of 5ish and gear to live behind the lines, as it were, for a month at a time. Get a long-term cover as a fishing or other business with light craft in and out of Vladivostok daily. Build a 4 or 5 mile tunnel from an underwater dock a mile or so off the North Korean coast to somewhere very rural, but from satellite imagery, rough, forested terrain where a tunnel exit (eventually a network of them) can be undetected despite somewhat steady use for months or even years. In addition to the 2-3 fast subs, you’ll eventually need some high-capacity subs (100, 200 people)… Colombian drug cartels have made low-tech submarines the size of double-high, double-length buses out of lumber and fiberglass for the cost of parts and housing 20 illiterate guys and one carpenter in the jungle for a couple months… do better than that for the high-capacity subs, but not that much better. Total costs so far… $100k/year for a 10 person seal team for 10 years… $10m. With gear and food and all arranged in secrecy, better double it… $20m Fast subs: $10m. High-capacity subs: $1m. I actually don’t trust any of these estimates to be close to right, but this stage costs less than $1bn.

        2. Operating from the tunnel, begin 2-year operation to sow local, strongly held belief in week-long/month-long coma disease, and/or in the existence of some kind of local gang that is kidnapping people and releasing them after a month. Something to cover for actual month-long absences as cheaply as possible, so that people who disappear are credibly believed to be victims, not dissidents. Start actually sneaking people to Vladivostok and back–they can’t tell anyone what they’ve seen, so if they don’t like that you’ve done so, what can they do? Start operating a black market though–anyone who has been outside will sometimes maybe want something from outside (especially medicine) enough to trade intel/favors for it. Some of them will be on your side and want to help–put those to work if you can, and give them things to make them more effective. When you have kidnapped your first 100 people all in the same family/area, and who are mostly supporters/collaborators, you can try to induce a blue-eyes-blue moment where, among themselves, they all realize they’ve all been to Vladivostok and they all know that… no idea exactly how to manage that and guarantee that your blue-eyed folks are going to work with you, rather than telling NK and ending your experiment, but you’ve got 5 years to build toward your first blue-eye-blue moment slowly. Total cost of this stage of operation: $1bn.

        3. Arm your blue-eyes-blue crowd (~100 people or so to start, maybe? maybe start with young men without wives or other status, so they’ll be easier to radicalize?) with tricky subversive tools like $1bn worth of small slow-release gas-bombs that they can leave in Pyongyang that’ll release enough of something to give a good fraction of the city a new addiction, and then start supplying a black market selling whatever it is that caters to that addiction. Work to build that black-market criminal network into something that lets you operate–sometimes with force–to protect turf in at least some of Pyongyang. Total cost of operation: up to $1bn.

        4. Start a religion where the coma-like experience is supposed to make people better workers, “blessed by god” or just extremely trustworthy. Wait to get really into teaching the larger society to think anything about coma people except to ignore them until after you have a couple blue-eyes-blue groups functioning inside the country–so at least 5 years–but once you’ve got 2 such groups and are working on more, aim for network effects from having in-group trust. Sow distrust of anyone who *hasn’t* disappeared for a month. Full on missionaries and martyrs style. If Pyongyang isn’t executing some of your charismatic leaders like Rome in 30 AD, you aren’t doing it right. Total cost of operation: $1bn. (I don’t really understand how to do this. Anyway, don’t overlap your religion with your actual blue-eyed people too much–you don’t want any of your blue-eyed people caught and interrogated.)

        5. Open a “tour” company in Vladivostok. Start moving people en masse, in your big submersible(s). If your big transport can make 1 round trip from tunnel to boat outside Vladivostok a day, you can move 100 people a day, or ~36000 people a year, and give them tours of Vladivostok. Nobody is really “escaping” North Korea physically, but they’re all escaping the North Korean mindspace. Total cost of operating your tours: rounding error in the scale of billions… unless you try to buy major control of local Russian politics in Vladivostok, which might cost $1bn? No idea, actually.

        Anyway, no plan survives first contact with the enemy (maybe all you need is to import karaoke machines with the song “New York, New York”, maybe it’ll turn out that tours of Vladivostok makes North Koreans suicidal), and so it makes sense to save the remaining ~$5bn for contingencies. Anyway I don’t have $10bn for this, so I’m done playing for now. Good game though, interesting puzzle.

        Bonus ideas:
        * Kidnap and air-drop 15-year-old American girls (just 50 or 100 of them) into North Korea, just to confuse the hell out of everyone.
        * Write a message on the surface of the moon. Assuming lunar tourism is soon to be a reality, you need a solar powered bot that can texturize the lunar dirt enough to create a contrast pattern visible in the kind of low-tech telescope you could smuggle into North Korea easily. Might save on smuggling people to Vladivostok if you could make low-level converts by pointing to a message written on the moon.
        * What about a really big hot air balloon-type ship that could just accidentally float over N.K. for confusion’s sake? Make it as Chinese-looking as possible, so they don’t immediately shoot it down?

  10. Imriel says:

    For most of my life, I have struggled with Akrasia, and as a result, failed to accomplish many of my goals, even those which should be super easy and achievable. I’ve tried a variety of strategies, mainly focusing on trying to get enough sleep and exercise, as well as writing everything down. The problem is that these strategies are themselves subject to meta-akrasia, and I’ve usually failed to keep them up for any sizeable amount of time. At this point, I’m beginning to think that I will never overcome this problem and wallow in mediocrity and disappointment for the rest of my life. As such, I’m ready to resort to some more desperate measures. Does anyone know of something I can try which will either boost my motivation/conscientiousness in a big way or boost my motivation/conscientiousness in a way which is not subject to meta-akrasia? So far, I’m mainly looking at stimulants, like adderall and modafinil.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      I’m beginning to think that I will…wallow in mediocrity and disappointment for the rest of my life.

      The easiest way to deal with this is to change that which you control. You control your opinions. Currently your opinion is that mediocrity is bad. You can change this opinion to “my mediocrity is neither bad nor good. It is just the way the world is.” At that point you will no longer be disappointed in your life.

      There is nothing wrong with mediocrity nor your life. Neither akrasia nor mediocrity is causing disappointment in your life. The only thing causing disappointment is your opinion about these things. That you can control and change….with no will power.

    • Viliam says:

      The problem is that these strategies are themselves subject to meta-akrasia, and I’ve usually failed to keep them up for any sizeable amount of time.

      This happens a lot. Without this obstacle, self-improvement would be relatively easy… just install one good habit at a time, and in a year you are a superhero.

      There are two strategies I have heard of:

      1) You need to resolve an internal conflict. The part of your brain that wants you to go forward, deploys various techniques that help to make that happen; but the part of your brain that wants to stop you, keeps undermining them. All your subsystems can go meta, so the battle was not won, only moved to another layer. You need to change your approach.

      You could imagine yourself as a kingdom, ruled by a senate. Each senator wants the best for the kingdom, but they have different opinions about what is “best”, and each of them can be very shortsighted. The part of your brain that tries to stop you, also has your best interests in mind, but it somehow concluded that “doing nothing” or “doing whatever you are doing instead of being productive” is actually better for you. You need to find out why it thinks so. It may be a stupid reason, but there is a reason.

      For example, maybe in the past you tried something, failed, and got hurt as a consequence. So now a part of your brain tries to protect you from getting hurt again… by not even trying. Or perhaps you succeeded, by doing so pissed someone off, and got punished. So again, a part of your brain is trying to prevent you from being punished again. Maybe these risks are no longer real, but the part of the brain does not realize it. You have to find out what this is all about. You may use another person’s help for this — does not have to be a professional psychologist; important is to be someone who is able to listen to your attempts to find out, without offering their own ideas instead.

      Or you could try to convince the remaining parts of your brain to follow your project by using internal propaganda — I mean visualization. In your imagination, make a nice virtual reality movie about what it would be like to… be whatever you want to be. Make it a 3D dream, with colors and sounds and smell and touch. This will attract attention of all parts of your brain. And of course, you should use these two methods (searching for the hidden benefit of failure, visualization of the desired outcome) in parallel.

      2) Find a group of people that will support you in your goals. Make peer pressure work in your favor by selecting the right peers.

  11. Nornagest says:

    Go away, John.

  12. albatross11 says:

    I’ve been sort-of half-heartedly watching the latest blowup w.r.t. the NYT’s latest opinion writer, who has said various really nasty things about white men on Twitter in the past. And there are two separate things that this illustrates:

    a. Those social-media-mobbing-driven firings of journalists aren’t ever really about the principles that are stated about them. Instead, there’s a political struggle between different forces within the organization, and then the winners try to piece together some kind of principle to justify whatever was decided. The official explanation of why the Atlantic fired Williamson and the NYT fired Norton has no more to do with the actual reasons[1] for the firings than, say, the explanations of how some previously-important party official had betrayed the revolution were true descriptions of why Stalin had some underling shot.

    b. The media ecosystem rewards people who can get outrage going. This has selected among up-and-coming journalist to find the ones best at saying outrageous offensive things and hurting the other side. And this is leading to a world where the kind of people who get hired are inevitably people who have said lots of edgy, offensive, and outrageous stuff. That’s how they got to the point where they could be considered for jobs with The Atlantic or the NYT.

    Also, there’s a kind-of meta-comment: if you were trying to strengthen the broad movement from which Trump draws his strength, this story and the lovely “it’s okay to hate men” Op-Ed in the Washington Post are exactly the sort of things you’d want. A lot of the conspiratorial side of the right wants to say “see, these leftists believe horrible outrageous things X, Y, and Z.” Giving a platform to leftists who then turn out to say X, Y, and Z out in the open may be a good or bad idea for getting good writing or journalism or (more likely) for driving clicks and Facebook/Twitter links, but it’s an amazingly bad idea if you’d actually like to see Trump and movement get weaker instead of stronger. I mean, every time someone says “You’re delusional–the left doesn’t really hate white people and men,” having the response be a link to some person given a prominent platform at a top media outlet who’s explicitly said they hate men or whites probably isn’t actually making the world a better place. Nor is it doing anything at all to preserve the credibility of those media outlets with people have been, as a group, losing faith in them for decades now.

    [1] The result of an unthinking political/social process in which individual participants may have had principles or ideas or thoughts, but the process as a whole certainly didn’t.

    • qwints says:

      I found this context useful for the present controversy.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        I mean, that is one decent burn on Sullivan, but its not a good argument. Race-IQ discussion is important because people bring up racial disparities in outcomes and present them as evidence of discrimination. If white people went around screaming for beach preferences because of their increased risk of melanoma, then perhaps this would be a useful inquiry.

        That said, most of her stuff didn’t seem to have much context to it and was just the sort of rude “pwning” that would get her fired if she pwned the wrong people.

        • quanta413 says:

          This. She appears to just be an average internet jerk/tough but of the correct political bent for the NYT.

          The context doesn’t really help her case because the context is also stupid.

      • Nick says:

        How does that context explain anything? What is it about Sullivan’s article that merits that response?

    • quanta413 says:

      I went to read some articles by Jeong (instead of her tweets), and all I can say is the standards of the NYT for tech writers or their editorial board or whatever appear to be roughly on par with buzzfeed.

      I think it was Well… (and probably some others here although I may be mistaken on who) who said something along the lines of journalism is best understood as having no particular relationship to truth and just being a form of entertainment. I’d like to pretend that the NYT has been backsliding from high journalistic standards, but I’m guessing that’s just rose-tinted glasses nonsense and if I’d been alive long enough to remember the 60s and 70s I’d hardly be able to tell the difference.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Journalism is to truth-investigation as professional wrestling is to wrestling, or is that unfair to the athletes of scripted athletic entertainment?

        • quanta413 says:

          I wouldn’t go quite as far as Well… but your analogy seems fine. I don’t dislike journalism a lot or love profesional wrestling.

          Some journalists write or record something worthwhile even if opinions sections are almost guaranteed garbage. Even looking through a window darkly where the view was chosen by a biased observer is better than nothing. Similarly, even if you pull your punches, hitting someone with a chair is going to hurt.

          So the rule is the more boring and morally valueless news (like the stock market numbers each day) the more likely it’s truthful. It’s just best to try to ignore all the associated thinkpiece nonsense that takes up 10^6 times the page area as the number describing the stock market change. Unless you need some entertainment.

          If I’m going to be not snarky, there’s some signal in there the same way there is even in some fiction. Like I shouldn’t take Romance of the Three Kingdoms to be a truthful representation of the Three Kingdoms period, but there is something to be learned about both the the Three Kingdoms period and the period when the Romance was written from reading it.

        • The Nybbler says:

          1) Athletes of scripted athletic entertainment are still good athletes, even if they’re not competitors.

          2) Professional wrestlers KNOW they’re fake.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            True and true.

          • Matt M says:

            Although for decades, they’d vehemently deny being fake to anyone outside the industry.

            One of them even punched John Stossel for daring to make such a public suggestion of fakery.

            Perhaps that’s where CNN is right now?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But Matt, that’s just enforcement of the kayfabe. The wrestlers don’t delusionally believe they’re for-real fighting. Everybody knows it’s fake, but it’s fun for the fans to pretend and the kids to believe. My kids are young enough to still believe in Santa, and if John Stossel started saying Santa wasn’t real in front of my kids I’d slap him, too. They’ve got their whole lives to be disillusioned. They don’t need to start now.

            On the other hand, I think there are journalists who delusionally believe they’re truth seekers and not simply propagandists.

          • Matt M says:

            On the other hand, I think there are journalists who delusionally believe they’re truth seekers and not simply propagandists.

            Eh, I think that at the level of “independent blogger looking to launch a career” maybe this is true.

            But once you reach “On-screen anchor at CNN” level I’m pretty sure you’ve already seen behind the curtain. Perhaps a teenager training to be a pro wrestler isn’t yet aware they’re pulling punches, but it’s basically impossible to have a career as a professional wrestler without knowing how the game works.

            I think the same is true with journalism. They know what the deal is. Even those who keep trying themselves to do things that resemble actual truth-seeking (Glen Greenwald and… uh, maybe it’s just him?) know what is expected and they know what everyone else is up to.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think that cognitive biases and ordinary human self-deception make it much easier to fool yourself into thinking that you’re disinterestedly seeking the truth when in fact you’re just looking for things to prop up your worldview, than to fool yourself into thinking that you’re actually having a serious fight whilst deliberately pulling punches.

        • Aftagley says:

          Journalism is to truth-investigation as professional wrestling is to wrestling, or is that unfair to the athletes of scripted athletic entertainment?

          No, it’s just incorrect.

    • Deiseach says:

      Having read one too many explanatory comments on the sub-reddit which boiled down to “it’s not racist if our side does it”, I’m going to go with the cynical notion that the whole thing was a career-building exercise on her part. She may or may not be racist about white people, very probably not, but for a journalist it was “white liberals eat this stuff up with a spoon, I’m just giving the suckers what they want*” and it paid off for her (a seat on the NYT editorial board at the age of thirty?) due to correctly reading the tealeaves – I’m just as sure a large part of the NYT hiring her aboard was for the perceived need for diversity to show off in public, and they went for a young(ish) minority woman.

      The NYT gets to brag about having a bold critic of white privilege working in its hallowed halls helping set the tone and she gets a nice cushy number. Granted, the current outcry is a stumbling block to my theory, but it may be that nobody expected it: the Times readers are all assumed to be part of the bubble of liberal white upper middle class persons who drink out of White Tears mugs (in an ironic, in-joke fashion) who were all clued-in that Sarah was only joking, guys**, and if they were happy why would anyone else care?

      *Somebody mentioned the “hairdye NKVD” in another context and I have to note that the lady does, indeed, have pink hair. I’m going to be fascinated to see if she grows it out and goes back to her natural colour now she’s on the Times Editorial Board.

      **I am, perhaps harshly, quoting a commenter over on the sub-reddit who did so describe the bubble they live in with white friends drinking out of White Tears mugs etc. as a defence of Ms Jeong’s Twitter output.

      • Aftagley says:

        I’m going to go with the cynical notion that the whole thing was a career-building exercise on her part. She may or may not be racist about white people, very probably not, but for a journalist it was “white liberals eat this stuff up with a spoon, I’m just giving the suckers what they want*” and it paid off for her (a seat on the NYT editorial board at the age of thirty?)

        I don’t think it’s cynical to say that it’s pure career building. In today’s media landscape, part of your value as a journalist is as much determined by the quality of your content as it is by your public profile. Being famous online lends you more prestigious jobs (see NYT editorial board at 30(!!?)) But the way you get famous online is by being controversial. It’s this weird incentive structure where half of your success is defined by being a credible purveyor of truth and the other by how well you can own whatever you define as your outgroup on twitter.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Just because her hatred and outrage are performative doesn’t mean they aren’t real. I’ve had rather more than my share of dealings with these types, and suspect she’s exactly the person she appears to be. I expect she will cause a great deal of trouble within the New York Times, and I will greatly relish the schadenfreude if and when this results in a noisy ragequit or firing.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I’m going to go with the cynical notion that the whole thing was a career-building exercise on her part. She may or may not be racist about white people, very probably not, but for a journalist it was “white liberals eat this stuff up with a spoon, I’m just giving the suckers what they want*” and it paid off for her (a seat on the NYT editorial board at the age of thirty?)

        In addition to what The Nybbler said, the apparent fact that anti-white hatred is sufficiently widespread on the left for boasting about how much you hate white people to be a good career move is… worrying, to say the least.

        Not to mention, if a white male had said similar things about blacks, does anybody think that “Oh, he didn’t really mean it, he was just stirring up racial hatred to advance his career” would be considered an acceptable explanation, even for a nanosecond?

        • Matt M says:

          I think it goes beyond that. What worries me is that while all the Dignified and Civilized right-wing enables THINK they’re establishing a norm of “free speech as a terminal value” or “we will no longer get people fired for offensive tweets from years past…”

          That doesn’t seem to be how the left is justifying her. She isn’t apologizing, nor is anybody on the left even asking for an apology. Nobody is condemning these tweets and saying “BUT, awfulness of this aside, she still deserves to be hired based on her merits as it concerns X, Y, and Z.”

          No, the official mainstream defense seems to be a big, huge, stinking “So what?” The official position seems to be Sarah Jeong Did Nothing Wrong. And that’s a pretty horrifying prospect, as far as I’m concerned.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Worrying and baffling. It looks like lots of white people on the left are mildly interested in fanning the flames of a race war against themselves.
          Clearly something different must be going on because humans don’t work that way, but such are the optics.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think that many on the left tend to underestimate just how difficult it is to build and maintain a functioning society, so they think they can constantly encourage people to hate and resent other races without the entire country descending into Yugoslavia-style chaos.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            so they think they can constantly encourage people to hate and resent other races without the entire country descending into Yugoslavia-style chaos.

            Man, now that is some marvelous projection …

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Man, now that is some marvelous projection …

            No, just a statement based on years of observing leftists make openly racist statements about whites and receiving no negative consequences whatsoever from their ideological confreres.

          • Viliam says:

            It looks like lots of white people on the left are mildly interested in fanning the flames of a race war against themselves.
            Clearly something different must be going on because humans don’t work that way

            Humans say a lot of crazy stuff to distinguish themselves from those who are a step below them on the social ladder.

            Words usually have no real consequence beyond signaling status. Saying “I want X” usually does not significantly increase the probability of X, but makes it obvious that I am not one of those who say “I don’t want X”.

            For a moment, let’s imagine how the “race war” in America would look like. Starting a total war is less likely than starting a few local conflicts. Who would be the most likely participants and victims in these conflicts? The poor people in racially mixed areas. The poor blacks, and the poor whites.

            Using the optics of signaling, it’s easy. By being a white and saying stuff that sounds like inviting a race war, you are signaling that you are not one of the poor white people. That you have less reason to fear the possible conflict than they do.

            (It’s ironic how much of what currently passes for left-wing signaling is actually upper-middle-class signaling.)

    • keranih says:

      To me, the reaction has been an interesting example of why ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘whitewashing’ (wrt movies/rebooted franchises) is good and useful. It’s in the same vein as having people of adjacent (instead of opposing) political povs having more luck getting a measure passed – even if the exact same measure is being promoted.

      Humans don’t seem all that good at ‘putting the shoe on the other foot’ or otherwise attempting to judge others as they would themselves. If there is a story about ‘take care of each other’ and it stars wolves, the movie-going sheep audience isn’t going to take to it, by and large. But if the same story is told with sheep as the primary actors, it becomes comprehensible and relateable to the sheep.

      By making the story revolve around a relatable character/actor, a story about less relatable people becomes more accessible. By having a leftist get mobbed and her job endangered…I think more left leaning people will come to see this as a bad thing all around. So long as promoting the idea is the primary importance, I see this as a viable technique.

      I’m not so foolish to think that this would be a cure for all modern ills – some people, as the man says, you just can’t reach. And I don’t support mob viciousness in any form, and it’s grating as all hell that *this* set of nastier-than-most actions might be what tips the balance. In many ways, excusing these statements yields entirely the wrong lesson.

      But in this moment I’m a bit hopeful.

      • mdet says:

        That’s funny because that’s also the exact argument against whitewashing (don’t think it applies as well to appropriation).

        Seems like it might be an empirical question over whether the best way to get the sheep to empathize with the wolves* is to tell them empathy-provoking stories about the wolves, or empathy-provoking stories about other sheep who can be analogized to wolves.

        *might be a wrench in this analogy but I’m not sure the sheep are the ones who most need empathy in this scenario. Then again

    • BBA says:

      Maybe I’m too online, or too self-hating, but speaking as a white guy I didn’t think anything Jeong said was even that bad. Honestly I’m slightly offended that anyone genuinely finds her offensive.

      • Matt M says:

        Eh, some people have thicker skins than others.

        I would file her away as a central example of someone who clearly hates white males. Noteworthy because in the past when I’ve claimed that part of my rightward turn was a reaction against people who absolutely hate me for being a white male, people have expressed doubt, skepticism, and claims of “nobody hate you just for being a white male…”

      • albatross11 says:

        BBA:

        I don’t really care so much that someone on the internet is an asshole–it’s not like there was a shortage.

        But it’s interesting how obviously the stated principles used to justify various outrage-driven firings of people broadly on the right simply are not consistent with a decision to hire this woman. If some moderate Republican were hired by the NYT, and then were found to have made exactly parallel comments about blacks, there is *zero* chance that guy would keep his job. It wouldn’t matter whether it was all in good fun or understandable because of social context or anything, he’d be gone. Sort of like that op-ed about how it’s okay to hate men in the Washington Post would absolutely positively never ever have been printed, if it had been an op-ed written by an MRA talking about how men have perfectly good reasons to hate women, while acknowledging that #notallwomen.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        I approve of the interpretive charity that she’s gotten. I just wish it were more widely available.

      • phil says:

        “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

        Would you care to defend that as being not that bad? What’s the context in which it’s cool to take pleasure in cruelty? What’s the context in which it shouldn’t make me apprehensive that someone who openly takes pleasure in cruelty has been given a position of significant power in our society?

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s a stupid remark, but it’s the fourteen year old edgelord kind of stupid, not really racist kind of stupid (the old white men are the ones holding the pursestrings in her new job and paying her for the pleasure of having a diverse representative on their editorial board, I doubt she is going to be this rude to one of the Sulzbergers in person). I think the trouble is not so much the stupid remarks, it’s the imbalance where she can make a stupid remark but I can’t say “eh, it’s a stupid remark and she’s just being an edgy bitch” because ZOMG you can’t say that about a WOC, that’s racist!

          Let Jeong be free to make stupid remarks and other people be free to point out they’re stupid, and while that might make for Internet slap fights it would cut down on a lot of the drama leaking out into the Real World. Let Jeong be free to make stupid remarks but anyone else is a racist if they reply, you’re asking for trouble.

          • phil says:

            Was she 14 when she made the remarks?

            Is there a reasonable basis for thinking she made the remarks out of ignorance? That she’s wasn’t educated enough to know better? Or didn’t have enough cultural exposure to know better?

            ——–

            That the white men she has the ability to be cruel to aren’t her powerful bosses, is not reassuring.

          • Deiseach says:

            That the white men she has the ability to be cruel to aren’t her powerful bosses, is not reassuring.

            But I do think that’s the whole point: she’s riding the coattails of the movement. She’s not “my parents came over on the boat without a word of English, they’re stuck working as cooks in a cheap ethnic take-out, I was forced into sex work because I couldn’t get an education, we’re on the bottom of the ladder, fuck the American Dream and fuck rich white men”, which would at least be honest and genuine anger and understandable for making “white people are scum” tweets.

            To quote the extremely sparse Wikipedia article:

            She attended the University of California Berkeley and Harvard Law School, where she was editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender.

            Jeong writes on law, technology and internet culture. …In 2016, Jeong published a book, The Internet of Garbage, on online harassment and responses to it by media and online platforms. … In 2017, Forbes named Jeong to its “30 Under 30” media list.

            She’s a success story. She got the good education, is enrolled in the middle class lifestyle, and is on the receiving end of that white privilege extended to her as a representative of diversity. She’s on the pig’s back and she got there by leveraging white liberal guilt via things like those tweets – enough outrage generation to make her stand out, but not saying anything that will offend the rich white guys holding the purse-strings to fund her career – they certainly don’t imagine themselves as being the Bad Whites who get scolded, they’re the woke allies with a social conscience now in the third generation and hiring on Ms Jeong shows their commitment to liberal values.

            Fake outrage is profitable and who cares about the guys she can be cruel to, they have no power and can be safely ignored (up to the point they start wearing Red Caps and voting for Literal Hitler, but then you can always churn out more tweets about Nazis in the streets).

          • Nornagest says:

            I see the state of academic writing on Internet culture hasn’t improved much since the one class I took on that.

        • BBA says:

          Sure. White men are responsible for something like 86% of the problems in the world today and it makes perfect sense to hate us and want to see us suffer. I know I do.

          See what I said about being too self-hating?

          • phil says:

            White men are responsible for some fraction of the world’s problems.

            If you think some problems happen at unique scales, its possible to believe that some tiny fraction of white males are responsible of a disproportionate amount of the world’s problems (I guess we’ll find out what happens when those that have the leverage to cause a disproportionate amount of the worlds problems aren’t as white or male)

            There’s a word for when you have feelings of an entire demographic based on the actions of a tiny fraction of that demo.

            —-

            What sort of feelings are ok to have about Jewish people based on an assessment of what percentage world’s problems one might assign some fraction of that population?

          • Viliam says:

            What sort of feelings are ok to have about Jewish people

            Part of the white race, so it is okay to hate them.

            You may also call them Nazis, and no one will notice anything weird.

    • onyomi says:

      Somewhat of a tangent, but I was thinking lately that yet another negative consequence of IP may be something like the cowardly behavior we saw from Disney wrt to James Gunn.

      The argument for why firing James Gunn as director for the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a good cost-benefit calculation is: even if it hurts the box office gross of that particular film (itself debatable: will the number of people pissed about the firing outnumber the number pissed about the tweets? And in the end, most people aren’t paying attention to the latest Twitter outrage, especially in the global market), if there’s any chance of it cutting into sale of Frozen merchandise it’s not worth it.

      To which my response is “WTF are the same people who make Frozen also making GoTG? And Star Wars, for that matter?” I’ve seen GoTG described as a movie “for children,” but it’s really not. And yes, I know Star Wars was always more about selling the Ewok toys than providing a rich fantasy world for geeks to write fanfiction about, but still, Empire Strikes Back=/=The Lion King.

      Which is not to say a company can’t be diversified, but I can’t help but think it might not be this way if these intellectual properties weren’t these behemoth money-makers giants like Disney can absorb like a telephone company gobbling up local carriers.

      In general, the more gigantic corporations become, the more conservative and, frankly, cowardly these seem likely to act because so much is always at stake.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Star Wars was always more about selling the Ewok toys

        IIRC, Star Wars reinvented that by accident (the toy tie-in market that was really a staple of late radio/serial movies). It wasn’t part of the calculations for the first movie, the second movie wasn’t made with an eye towards it, but by the time of the Ewoks it was definitely part of what they attempted.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The story I remember reading back when I was a kid who cared a ton about Star Wars, and also about the story of the merchandising, because that’s the kind of thing I end up caring about, accords with this. Checking against Wikipedia: they had a toy licensee, but it wasn’t the first outfit they offered it to. The licensee did not expect demand, to the point that they didn’t have enough toys to offer them for sale for Christmas, just a voucher sort of thing.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      A lot of the conspiratorial side of the right wants to say “see, these leftists believe horrible outrageous things X, Y, and Z.”

      You say “conspiratorial”, but isn’t this affair evidence that they’re actually correct? How many writers of anti-white and anti-male tweets need to get appointed to prominent publications before we can conclude, “Yep, the left hates whites and males?” (Or, if you’d prefer, “Hatred of whites and males is a mainstream position for the left”.)

  13. ana53294 says:

    When I read Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel, it seemed like everything clicked to me, and I had a non-racist explanation of why Europeans developed technological superiority over the rest of the world.

    To those who have not read the book, his arguments are the following (at least, this is my recollection):

    1. Europeans are located in Eurasia, where crops and livestock that have been domesticated can be easily adopted, as moving a crop to a different latitude is easier than moving it to a different longitude.

    2. Eurasia also had a lot more plants and animals that could be domesticated. Thus Eurasia had plant crops that were a good source of protein (lentils, peas), and a good source of carbohydrates (wheat, barley). Eurasia also had more animals that, when domesticated, could be used as a substitute for human labour (horses, bulls), whereas the llamas, for example, are much less useful.

    3. The reason Europe won over Asia, when they had the same crops, was the huge amount of of coasts and navigable rivers, which made trade much easier.

    4. Also, geographical barriers across Europe means it is much harder to establish a big, politically unified empire like the Chinese one. Thus, different countries will have to compete with each other and go to war with each other. This means that technologies that increase productivity but are socially harmful (spinning jenny, sewing machine), will be adopted in some country, even if they are rejected by the creators’ country initially. When this technology gives the adopter an advantage, everybody else will adopt this technology.

    5. And then, it all snowballed.

    Since then, I have heard that his book is apparently very controversial among anthropologists, but I haven’t read any good arguments why. This article gives the following arguments:

    What Diamond glosses over is that just because you have guns and steel does not mean you should use them for colonial and imperial purposes. Or promote the idea of handing out smallpox-infested blankets from sick wards. One of the supposed values of Western civilization is to care for the sick, not to deliberately spread disease. “Pizarro had the capacity and resources to behave with remarkable brutality in the New World. But the mere capacity to behave brutally does not absolve him from having done so” (Errington and Gewertz, Excusing the Haves and Blaming the Have-Nots in the Telling of History, 2010:340).

    ?? OK, I get it: European conquerors where not nice people. But neither were the Maya, or the Aztecs. Human sacrifices and slavery were used by them too, you know. Diamond tries to not give an ethical judgement, but explain why and how Pizarro was able to conquer a whole nation. Judging him with modern eyes does not explain what happened.

    Diamond’s account seriously underplays the alliances with native groups that enabled European forces to conquer and rule. After some initial victories, which Diamond lavishly describes, thousands of natives joined the tiny European garrisons. Native armies were indispensable for Hernán Cortés to subdue the Aztec Empire and for Francisco Pizarro to topple the Inka.

    […]
    Diamond overlooks entirely not only the crucial support from non-Incan native allies, but also the overwhelming degree to which any government, Andean or Spanish, depended on a functioning tier of local, regional, and interregional ruling cadres. (Cahill 2010:215,224)

    So, Europeans had superior weapons and better political skills.

    The Jared Diamond of Guns, Germs, and Steel has almost no role for human agency–the ability people have to make decisions and influence outcomes. Europeans become inadvertent, accidental conquerors.

    I think the fact that Diamond tries not to give agency to European domination is because otherwise he would have to say that those countries that lost did it because they chose to, maybe because they made stupid choices (and were thus stupid). He tries his best not to give one of the most tempting and easy answers to European domination, which is racial superiority of Europeans.

    I find it really strange that they criticize him for it. Are they saying that the Europeans won because they are more ruthless, more manipulative, more cruel and more intelligent than other races? That looks like a compliment to me…

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I find it really strange that they criticize him for it. Are they saying that the Europeans won because they are more ruthless, more manipulative, more cruel and more intelligent than other races? That looks like a compliment to me…

      Insert quip that leftists believe white and only white people are guilty of Original Sin from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

      What Diamond does in GG&S is marshal evidence for historical materialism. The fact that Group A has this material culture is sufficient to explain everything, with no necessarily role for ruthlessness, IQ, or other such things. If A has the transportation technology to get to B and B can’t counter their military technology, A takes their stuff.
      How did A get such advanced material culture, though? Their history was a snowball effect of material factors

      With the failure of Marxist economics, anthropology professors and other leftists have become uncomfortable with explaining human outcomes rather than scolding them.

      • ana53294 says:

        So, are you saying that they criticize his material explanation of European technological dominance, while not giving a better explanation than the racist one?

        Saying Europeans are more ruthless and manipulative (even if we don’t say that they are more intelligent), and are thus more effective at conquering, is saying Europeans (or their culture) are better adapted at survival, and are thus superior (although in a way that modern eyes would view negatively).

        But I do think that people of the era of Pizarro would view that as a compliment.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          In Social Justice theory, they can make non-racist the racist theory that different mental attributes of white people explain their global success by “punching up”: saying that the groups they defeated are superior rather than inferior.
          I don’t know what to say about the fact that some people would see “better at winning competitions even with the same IQ” as a compliment.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think I’ve ever heard “punching up” used in that sense. Usually I read it as an argument that activism should aim to inconvenience socially advantaged people or groups (advantaged according to SJ theory, that is; read “cishetwhitemales”) rather than socially disadvantaged ones; or, cynically, as an excuse for being as much of a jerk as you want to those people. In any case, though, it’s a statement about ethics or about tactics, not about nature, and the social advantage it takes for granted doesn’t imply intrinsic superiority.

            I’m not sure SJ has a single coherent theory of why men, white people, etc. are socially advantaged, outside the obvious cases (viz. “slavery” or “overwhelming numerical majority”).

          • ana53294 says:

            saying that the groups they defeated are superior rather than inferior.

            ??? That makes no sense.

            I don’t know what to say about the fact that some people would see “better at winning competitions even with the same IQ” as a compliment.

            If we suppose equal IQ, but some people still consistently win, then that means they have superior EQ, dexterity, strength, drive, grit, stamina or courage.

            And saying somebody is a better warrior than others would have been a compliment.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: Well as @ana53294 is saying, saying a group is advantaged by anything other than historical accident sounds like saying they got that way by being superior in some way. So why does Diamond’s historical determinism piss them off as much as it does?

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, there could be a few things going on. For one thing, it might not make sense to lump together all the vaguely SJ-aligned Diamond critiques we see; like I implied above, there isn’t really a single unified Social Justice Theory that we can compare against. Just in the excerpts above, we’ve got people saying that he doesn’t allow Pizarro et al. enough agency, but also people saying that he doesn’t allow native allies enough agency. Easiest way to make sense of that is to say that there isn’t a single critique here, just people with slightly different agendas (“yay Zapotec”; “boo Cortes”) fitting the facts to them as best they can. Or they might just not care about consistency as much as you do, which is glib, but probably also true in a lot of cases.

            On the other hand, I also think it’s a clue that we’re seeing the word “agency” so much. SJ is not really a very materialistic worldview (this is one reason I’m not too impressed with the people linking it to Marxism, which is). It’s concerned with the experience of oppression but not so much with its context or motivations; from this perspective, pointing out as you or I might that Columbus had such-and-such a material advantage, or that everyone in the 1400s would have done horrifying shit given the opportunity, comes off as making excuses for him. He did do horrifying shit; therefore he’s responsible for it.

          • ana53294 says:

            A logical explanation of European technological superiority is necessary for me, in order to reject racism.

            The rejection of racism comes from the assumption that all groups of people have more or less equal proportion of geniuses and criminals. Only material circumstances shift that, but once the disadvantaged group is given the right tools, they will become equal to the group with the advantage.

            But there needs to be an explanation, a logical explanation, that explains European technological superiority but rejects racism. For me, as a person on the spectrum, I need a logical explanation in order to reject racism.

            Saying, racism is wrong, it creates all kinds of bad outcomes, but it is logically sound and is the explanation of history makes rejecting racism more difficult.

          • keranih says:

            @ana53294 –

            Is it then your default that European racism is the root driver of European success?

            (My apologies if I’ve got that wrong, I’m trying to make sure I understand you.)

          • ana53294 says:

            No, I reject racism, because I have seen what it leads to. But I still need a logical explanation for technological superiority.

            You see, during the 20th Century, Africa didn’t grow much. Now, thankfully, this has changed, and a lot of the African continent is growing now, proving that Africa can grow.

            But before the economic growth in Africa happened, there needed to be an explanation for why people of some races in some continents managed to develop writing and wheels and antibiotics and democracy, and others didn’t. The geographical materialism Diamond uses gives a neat explanation that does not involve racist views – and is thus preferrable to me.

            So my default was to ignore the question of technological superiority, and handwave at it, and reject racist explanations for it because they are mean. But that isn’t a good argument, so GGS gave me a better logical framework to reject racist ideas, not only based on morality, but on logic.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      non-racist explanation of why Europeans

      But the “germs” part sounds vaguely racist. Europeans are adapted to survive herd diseases and Amerindians are not.

      Also, your point 4 describes a practically Darwinian process, just with cultures instead of people. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Europeans were going to develop the guns and steel part, it was the product of certain cultures that outcompeted other cultures. Those cultures then begin outcompeting other cultures globally, because those other global cultures grew differently as a result of different paths and initial endowments. That might not be directly “racist” but it’s about two steps away from “unfortunate implications.”

      • ana53294 says:

        But the “germs” part sounds vaguely racist. Europeans are adapted to survive herd diseases and Amerindians are not.

        Saying Europeans are adapted to herd diseases is much more neutral than saying Europeans are stronger or more intelligent. Most people value intelligence and strength, but nobody will think less of you if you happen to be susceptible to a certain disease.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Hardiness is a valued trait, just perhaps not to the same extent as intelligence or strength. We lionize Teddy for getting shot and still giving a speech, after all.

      • mdet says:

        If I remember CGP Grey’s summary of the book correctly, this can be less-racist-ly reframed as “people from more urban areas are adapted to survive herd diseases”. That Europe was more urbanized than the Americas at the time was a quirk of history no different from the guns and steel.

        • mdet says:

          quanta’s point about African’s resistance to European disease is somewhat of a counterpoint.

          • quanta413 says:

            Yeah, but that resistance could partly be due to enough flow of humans and animals across geographic barriers to carry diseases originating from Eurasia. Sub-Saharan Africa is a lot easier to reach from Eurasia than the Americas. So I don’t know whether or not there’s a relevant counterpoint in there somewhere.

            A significant chunk of diseases from really hot places can’t reliably propagate in all of Europe. Malaria needs a certain environment for mosquitoes for example. Similar for yellow fever. And malaria is a brutal drag on health, mortality, quality of life, economic productivity…. everything really.

            The mode of transmission and resilience of a disease carrier probably makes a big difference in how much a population is screwed if they come into contact with it. Reading Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir, he lost about 1 out of 7 men to disease while taking a unit across Panama. Yellow fever I think. But there wasn’t a big worry about those diseases becoming large epidemics in the U.S. after leaving the area.

        • Nornagest says:

          Europe wasn’t very urbanized in the late 1400s and early 1500s, though. I’m not even sure it was more urbanized than Central America. Tenochtitlan was probably bigger than London when Cortes arrived, although it would’ve been pretty close.

          Eurasia did have a longer history of urbanism, and more domestic animals (probably just as important). I don’t know much about sub-Saharan Africa’s urban history, but it had the livestock.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Eurasia did have a longer history of urbanism, and more domestic animals (probably just as important).

            Roughly speaking, that’s Diamond’s “germs” in GG&S. It’s fairly incontrovertible that the Americas did not send any acute, deadly diseases (plagues) back to Europe, while Europe had plenty to give to the Americas. Diamond is just saying that Europe had longer to develop them and many more domesticated animals, therefore more ways to develop them, therefore it’s unsurprising that the balance of “germ warfare” tilted towards the Europeans.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, I think Diamond emphasized livestock over urbanization. But we later learned that most of the diseases didn’t come from livestock. I think that Europe was denser, even if the New World had a couple of bigger cities.

            The New World sent several diseases to the Old World, including one plague, typhus. (I thought that there was a second plague, but I can’t find it.) Diamond even lists typhus as a plague, although he lists it was coming from the Old World. It first appears c1500 and thus is probably a New World disease. There is a plague Spain in 1489 that is alleged to be typhus, but that is almost certainly misidentification. The first outbreak of syphilis could be categorized as a plague, but it quickly evolved to be less virulent.

            Many of the Old World diseases were African, not Eurasian.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Douglas Knight:
            I know that Diamond mentions syphilis as being of New World origin. I don’t remember him mentioning typhus, but I may be misremembering.

            I think I should not have used the word plague. I think he actually used epidemic, as I seem to recall him putting special emphasis on diseases spread easily by human-to-human contact over a short period of time that caused fairly rapid death and/or disability. Specifically he was contrasting syphilis with things like small pox.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It is true that the New World provided fewer diseases and fewer plagues. It’s just not as dramatic as Diamond makes it out to be.

            Diamond mentions syphilis three times, once to mention that it might be from the New World, once to say that it used to be lethal and ugly, and once in a short list of diseases brought to Hawaii, implying that it should be categorized as a plague.

            I’m confused by your mention of your memory of typhus. Diamond lists it as an important plague from the Old World to the New, just like a bunch of others; why would that be memorable? Maybe you’re reading me backwards. I’m contradicting him.

            Diamond lists typhus as top 4: “The main killers were Old World germs to which the Indians had never been exposed, and against which they therefore had neither immune nor genetic resistance. Smallpox, measles, influenza, and typhus competed for top rank…” He also includes it in the list of “history’s most lethal killers,” which I think means Old World death toll: “smallpox, measles, influenza, plague, tuberculosis, typhus, cholera, malaria…”
            Even if typhus were an Old World disease, and if it only reached Europe c1500, then Europeans didn’t have resistance, either. (One way to reach both places at once is to start in the Caribbean, like chigger fleas, but typhus seemed to start with squirrels, which are continental.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Douglas Knight:
            I understood you were contradicting him (and I was trying to indicate that I was taking it in as new information).

            It’s just not as dramatic as Diamond makes it out to be.

            I think the most relevant metric is “what impact did diseases have on total population numbers, especially total numbers of young, healthy individuals”?

            Wikipedia says “the lowest estimates give a death toll due from disease of 90% by the end of the 17th century”. (Although, I’m not sure where they are getting that percentage from). Assuming that number is correct, it’s quite dramatic, no matter how man diseases went which way.

    • quanta413 says:

      I haven’t read Diamond’s account (or maybe I did over a decade ago but my memory is very fuzzy) but I could believe that he underplayed the role of the native allies of the Spanish. It’s really freaking hard (impossible?) for an invader to control a territory without native buy in. And Cortes had less than a thousand men. Even with his technological advantages and the plague Europeans unwittingly carried, this would be impossible without native allies.

      The germs part of the equation is the really big deal though. You’ll notice a distinct lack of white people penetrating most of Africa because Africans weren’t horrifically vulnerable to European diseases. A lot of the reverse happened even.

      I dunno if the guns or steel part is really a decisive difference to understanding things. Something like 50-90% of Native Americans were wiped out by disease. Cutting people a little more efficiently or having a few guns doesn’t strike me as a huge deal. Why couldn’t the Romans have beaten down the Aztecs? They thrashed a lot of civilizations more technologically advanced than the Aztecs. Or the Mongols? They conquered a nation far ahead of them in most technological senses. Was there a lack of the necessary naval technology earlier? My understanding is that Europe wasn’t technologically ahead of China in 1500 in most senses.

    • yodelyak says:

      I think Le Maistre Chat’s reply is too snarky and culture-war-y and weirdly invokes Marxism and other components of a particular type of lefty/liberal/progressive. No doubt you were asking a sincere question, and you deserve a sincere answer, not one that just says, “because leftists and marxist professors are defective.”

      I think the thrust of your question hits on an age-old thingie about being human, which you can choose to use to excuse hypocrisy or Nihilism, or choose to use to challenge yourself to work for clear thinking and stable ethics and morals. The thingie is this: sometimes we want to find fault (or assign credit!), and so we want to expand the agency involved and say it was a choice. Other times we want to urge reconciliation/forgiveness/there-but-for-the-grace-of-god/etc., and so we want to minimize the agency involved and say it was circumstance. Our tendency to explain our own acts by way of circumstance, but others’ acts as related to their character, has been called the “fundamental attribution error”–but I think it’s just self-serving bias. All sides, and probably every single person, sometimes fall into this, and the sometimes obviousness of this or that occasional hypocrisy doesn’t alleviate the general challenge of figuring out where we’ll use shame/pride as social motivators, and where we won’t.

      Some liberals have recently really gotten focused on directing shame at the behavior of some colonialists. I’ll concede that’s kinda weird (plenty of living people who should be made to feel proud or ashamed of the choices they are *currently* making–why target the dead?) but it sorta makes sense as a way to signal caring about stopping oppression and shaming powerful people who hurt the powerless.

      When you want to sell books to mainstream liberals (in fact, the general public) who do not want to be racist or feel their skin color pre-determines their own outcomes, you could do pretty well to offer a new-seeming, well-researched thesis that circumstance, not genetics, drove differences in outcome between Europe and elsewhere. That’s a thesis to move some copy–witness Diamond’s runaway success with that book. When you want to criticize specific colonial actors for nasty things they did, you need to focus on the choices they made–which unless you are alert to the tendency, may quickly have you downplaying circumstance and acting like you’d never have had as awful a legacy as Leopold II if you and he were switched at age 10, or even at birth. Of course, people’s acts are constrained by circumstances they can’t change (for which there’s not much point shaming them) and people *also* make choices (and shame and pride work!) and we all have to try and figure out where to draw lines.

      Which is to say, again: everyone is vulnerable to self-serving bias, and the sometimes obviousness of any one person’s particular hypocrisy doesn’t alleviate the general challenge of figuring out where we (individually or collectively) will use shame/pride as social motivators.

      • ana53294 says:

        The thing is, if we assign agency to Cortes, and not circumstance (I think that there were a lot of factors that played to Cortes’s advantage), we also have to assign agency to the people he conqured. If Cortes was a uniquely evil guy who managed to manipulate local tribes in his fight against the Aztecs, then where the tribes he convinced stupid or shortsighted? Why did they not predict that Cortes would then also turn and destroy them?

        I think that explaining macro-historic events, while giving a bit of agency to the people explains history better than other explanations. I am convinced that if Cortes had not succeded, there would be another Conquistador. There was too much silver and too many resources for the Spanish to pass up. And if not the Spanish, the Portuguese, Dutch or English.

        • quanta413 says:

          I am not a historian, but I have trouble believing those tribes made an obviously bad choice. Being ruled by the Aztecs sucked. They required a hell of a lot of human sacrifices. Who given what was known at the time would have thought the diseases Europeans brought would be so devastating? Or that they were seeing something like less than one thousandth of the flood of Europeans that would overwhelm them?

          I’m betting those tribes weren’t stupid and just got seriously blindsided because of how many incredibly rare factors came together. Like what would North Korea do if 1000 aliens landed there tomorrow and offered it a way to take South Korea, defeat China, and defeat the U.S.? I’d bet they’d be pretty damn interested. Or pick some small regime not typically associated with evil if that helps the analogy.

        • yodelyak says:

          Cortes was a human being, very likely with agency and circumstance in the same measure as most all of us have–capable of the full range, as it were. So admitting how hard it is to do so, let’s aim to see him in light of both the wide range of agency he had–to ascend to sainthood or give in to any manner of depravity, & etc–and also of circumstance, which in his case were quite different than ours, and quite hard to judge from this distance, without downplaying either. (Or we could ignore him. I’m no Cortes scholar; you brought him up.)

          It’s not wrong to evaluate Cortes by his time. It would be stupid and unfair to direct our scorn at a surgeon of that era for any death caused by the surgeon’s failure to anticipate the germ theory of disease. I’ve seen people try to call Cortes a mass murderer for diseases introduced by him or other explorers, as though he should have known better, or something. That’s stupid.

          At the same time, Cortes made personal choices about what kind of person he wanted to be–and we can judge him for that, if we choose to. He may have been fairly brave, and so far as I know he didn’t decide to live in personal wealth on an island boning enslaved locals, but rather brought the wealth home to Spain, so he probably gets credit as a daring, hard-working, loyal champion of King and Country. He also apparently was significantly less gratuitously awful (e.g. he issued standing orders against rape or pillage) than some others that come to mind (famously, Columbus was a shitty person). Still, not every person in 1400 or 1600 was eager to conquer and enslave for personal wealth, or even for ‘king and country’–there were gentle souls and lovers and engineers and thinkers, and we can, if we want, hold them higher in our esteem than men made careers as soldier-conquerors, even the ones who made standing orders that we agree with.

          It’s possible to imagine Christian missionaries getting to the New World before conquistadors, or concurrently with them. The story of William Duncan is pretty instructive for what a difference is possible when a single person who has decided to live mission-driven life is present at a western-army-meets-indigenous-culture moment. Of course we don’t have to just imagine Cortes choosing a life of faith and service. He could have just decided he didn’t want any blood on his hands, and chickened out. We can also imagine what it would have been like if another culture had arrived, instead of Cortes… whether a Viking, or an English I’m-not-so-much-a-freedom-of-religion-guy-as-a-guy-who-wants-to-be-free-to-persecute-anyone-not-of-my-religion-guy settlers, or a fluke arrival of the Chinese across the pacific (as imagined by the excellent book The Years of Rice and Salt)–the personalities (individual and national) involved matter very much. We can imagine, after defeating the Aztecs, Cortes turned as shitty as Columbus and enslaved as many as possible and set the rest to forced-labor so bad most committed suicide… or we can imagine him loading the ship up with his men, and his full written report, and ordering them to sail back to Spain, while staying himself with a few others and learning the language and teaching the locals in hopes they’d be better protected from the next set of conquistadors who might be a bit more into rape’n-and-murder’n-and-enslave’n. That would have been pretty saintly, and it is not a choice he made.

        • engleberg says:

          Re: I am convinced that if Cortes had not succeeded, there would have been another Conquistador.

          Hmm. The archer’s republic he allied with got him 4000 crossbow bolts in a month. They could have made their own crossbows while they were about it, killed Cortes, driven off the Spanish, and held off the Aztecs. The next wave of Spanish would have been up against crossbows, longbows, and pikes. You’d get a Spanish fort or two on the coast, and raids into the interior, and Aztecs and other city-states racing to learn ironmongery and betray each other or unite. Might work.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I think its easier to break down the claims to show why anthropolgists find his theory at best to lack evidence, and at worst to be intentionally misleading.

      1. Europeans are located in Eurasia, where crops and livestock that have been domesticated can be easily adopted, as moving a crop to a different latitude is easier than moving it to a different longitude.

      Asserted without evidence. Domestication is not independent of the people doing the domesticating.

      2. Eurasia also had a lot more plants and animals that could be domesticated. Thus Eurasia had plant crops that were a good source of protein (lentils, peas), and a good source of carbohydrates (wheat, barley). Eurasia also had more animals that, when domesticated, could be used as a substitute for human labour (horses, bulls), whereas the llamas, for example, are much less useful.

      The idea that domesticating Eurasian animals and crops is easier than American/African animals is also not proven, and probably not provable because there is no such thing as a truly wild horse or pig or cow or wolf anymore because of generations of unintentional inbreeding by escaped domesticated animals.

      See, e.g. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/22/587755920/why-the-last-wild-horses-really-arent

      3. The reason Europe won over Asia, when they had the same crops, was the huge amount of of coasts and navigable rivers, which made trade much easier.

      Doesn’t really make sense as they have a vast amount of these things, and for most of the post-Christ period Asian cultures, weaponry, and tech were ascendant with groups such as the Mongols and Huns devastating Europe.

      4. Also, geographical barriers across Europe means it is much harder to establish a big, politically unified empire like the Chinese one. Thus, different countries will have to compete with each other and go to war with each other. This means that technologies that increase productivity but are socially harmful (spinning jenny, sewing machine), will be adopted in some country, even if they are rejected by the creators’ country initially. When this technology gives the adopter an advantage, everybody else will adopt this technology.

      This may have some explanatory power as to why China stagnated when it turned inward. But it is not strong.

      5. And then, it all snowballed.

      Probably the biggest problem with Diamond’s thesis. History, in fact, shows it did not snowball. And his central argument that Europeans were able to conquer the Americas through “God Germs and Steel” is wrong, so his environmental determinism that gets him there is kinda irrelevant.

      In fact, neither steel nor guns were much of a factor in the conquest of the Americas. The germs the Europeans brought did not primarily come from animals, and they were so destructive not because the Americans were unprepared for them, but because European practices resulted in them moving into the spaces before recovery. The European conquest was neither quick nor decisive; it took nearly 300 years to control the eastern seaboard. Thisis a compendium of all the reasons Diamond’s determinism doesn’t make sense with respect to the Americas.

      TLDR? Diamond looked at how history turned out and built a model “to fit” which is both not very good at forecasting (Singapore vs. Venezuela) and also not very simple or adaptive at historical explanation. It posits everything was “just so” thus it as it is, which is easily broken.

      • ana53294 says:

        So what is the alternative explanation of European conquest? Why did it happen?

        Why did Europeans have so much better tools than Americans?

        I am looking for the alternative explanations, not why GG&S does not make sense. Because as far as I am concerned, with as many holes as the theory may hold, I haven’t seen a better explanation.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          One of the main critiques of Diamond is that he is too generalist and these “wide views” of history actually don’t work. So one explanation is chance. This is different than Diamond’s thesis because under the chance hypothesis if you went to 10000 BC and shuffled people around from tribe to tribe and ran the simulation over again the result might not be the same. I think chance is a strong competitor, not just genetic chance but linguistic and cultural as well. It may be possible, for instance, that at 10000 BC most languages were pretty competitive, but some were more naturally likely to become Alphabetized, or maybe stimulated the brain more in mathematics. Even if Diamond is kinda correct about his animals/crops model, we would expect India and China to be “Europe” many times in 10.

          Another thing I would like to say is that a big portion of the Diamond fanbase is people dedicated to saying, “genetics don’t matter”, when its more likely than not that they do. Are we honestly going to say that if aliens came down to earth and instituted a high jumping requirement for living the hierarchy wouldn’t drastically shift? Everything in life is a high jump of varying degrees. One of the things that may have, Pre-WWII dampened enthusiasm for such an explanation would have been the under performance of some High-IQ countries in Asia. The economic miracles should have removed the scales from the eyes of many people on this point. And maybe some plagues did contribute to something here but who knows. I don’t put all my eggs in this basket, but I think a safe portfolio would have significant holdings.

          Lastly, I think its silly to point to the intra-European conflicts, like Diamond does, without discussing the, IMO much more important, inter civilization conflict of Christianity v. Islam at a crucial technological stage. Moreover this conflict fit perfectly into the Christian and Catholic ethos because the Europeans were defenders/counterattackers in these campaigns. Yes the conflict sharpened their blades, but also sharpened the institutions and thought leaders who then delved into things that ended up producing civilization-wide desires to explore and migrate. The most common modern day narrative of this era is not only factually incorrect, but is also tonally incorrect, because it was a time of religion and technology melding (in the eyes of the people) for successes.

          This is not to say he might not be right about some of his factors (aside from the ones where he is provably wrong, aka everything after 1500 he discusses), but there is no evidence for any of it being all that right except for conjecture and they sound kind of fun (“Pigs were the key to civilization!”). I’m sure if I wanted to I could write an alt-History book about how the America’s dominated the world because Corn is the most calorie dense crop (true), California is the richest climate in the world (likely also true), the Mississippi is the worlds most navigable large river (also true), and glaciers created a unique set of gigantic, navigable, freshwater lakes in the center of the continent. All that would make sense, if the conclusion was true.

          • ana53294 says:

            Another thing I would like to say is that a big portion of the Diamond fanbase is people dedicated to saying, “genetics don’t matter”, when its more likely than not that they do.

            That brings back racist theories about genetic inferiority of the conquered. I think Diamond was extremely careful to avoid them, and yes, he does do all kind of weird contortions to avoid that explanation.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Yes, and that is a really central part of why his theories are flawed. In obsessively avoiding racial and cultural explanations he opens up giant flaws in the theory and ends up having to omit significant parts of history, or even significant parts of the world (the middle east according to his theory should be colonizing Jupiter by now).

          • mdet says:

            Can you clarify the third paragraph about Christianity vs Islam? I’m not following.

            This is not to say he might not be right about some of his factors (aside from the ones where he is provably wrong, aka everything after 1500 he discusses)

            I haven’t read the book, just watched CGP Grey’s videos on it, but I didn’t think he intended to explain much post-1500. I thought the point was “The main reason Europe was in a position to conquer the globe in 1492 is because geography favored Eurasia over other continents, and the contours of Western Europe in particular gave them better experience with sailing (as opposed to China & India)”. One thing I am getting from your Christianity vs Islam paragraph is that Western Europe had a more expansionist culture vs China’s isolationist culture, which probably made the difference regarding which of them set sail first. Everything after 1492 is just details, no one’s disputing that Europe DID expand across the globe.

            Regarding your North America alt-history — The Mississippi might have been navigable, but canoeing up and down a river is pretty different from sailing across an ocean. Seems easier to make a trans-Atlantic journey in a Mediterranean sailboat than a river canoe.* And “The Americas had extra high calorie corn” sounds like a difference in degree, while “Eurasia is the only place in the world with beasts of burden” is a difference in kind, if that makes sense. But maybe I’m being swayed by the just-so-ness of Diamond’s theory.

            *Did Native Americans trade across the Gulf of Mexico? There were people living in the Caribbean, so clearly someone tried, but does anyone know if the what-is-now-Louisiana-Mississippi Natives traded with the Maya and Aztecs? If they could do that, then maybe they could have crossed the Atlantic.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @mdet:

            The Americas had extra high calorie corn

            Yes, the Americas developed corn into a high calorie crop. But the original wild species that become corn were so far from corn as to be nearly unrecognizable. It’s the amount of time it took them to domesticate the wild forerunners into a high calorie food that Diamond is arguing leaves them behind the Eurasians, that and the relative paucity of other domesticatable food sources when compared to Eurasia as a whole.

          • ana53294 says:

            Yes, the amount of breeding done on the teosinte plant in order to get what we recognize today as maize was incredible.

            Wheat is much more similar to wild grasses than maize is to teosinte; there are fewer differences. The most important ones before the green revolution were the loss of rachis brittleness (so seeds don’t fall from the plant during recollection) and the loss of hulls (to make them easier to mill. But a wild wheat is still much more recognizable.

            The Americans had another incredible crop, the potato. In colder regions, it is one of the most productive crops. In terms of calories per ha, potatoes are incredible. But, for some reason, corn did not go to South America, and potatoes did not go to Mesoamerica. And Diamond argues that that was because of the complicated American geography; it would happen eventually, but the Europeans arrived before that.

            I largely agree with Diamond that agriculture was easier to develop in Eurasia than the Americas. The beasts of burden, which he did not stress on, are also very important for the development of agriculture. So that part is quite believable.

        • 10240 says:

          I never thought it needed much of a specific explanation. When cultures were separated for thousands of years, one of them was bound to develop various powerful technologies first. The Americas and Europe were separated for more than ten thousand years; any small random differences could have caused one side of the ocean to develop the ships, weaponry and organization needed to conquer the other a few thousands of years before the other side would have done so if left alone. Within the Old World the various parts weren’t completely isolated, but it still took hundreds of years for various technologies to spread from Europe to Asia or vice versa, etc. The details of why various technologies were first developed at a certain place, but even without knowing the exact details, it’s obvious IMO that various parts of the World were going to have an advantageous position compared to other parts at various times, even if the distribution of innate abilities are the same everywhere.

          Btw I would define racism as hatred of a certain race, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to use such a morally loaded word to describe a factual claim that may be true or false for all we know.

          • Aapje says:

            It’s also about putting the ingredients together. China had decent ships, black powder and good organization, but didn’t put them together as the Europeans did.

          • 10240 says:

            The details of why various technologies were first developed at a certain place are interesting to study,

            I left that out.

        • Robin says:

          I have read in the book Sapiens (“Why Europe?”, starting page 239) that it is not about technology, but about a different “explore-and-conquer” mindset. The Chinese wouldn’t bother to conquer; since their empire is already the middle of everything, why should they?
          And (p. 250) “Had the Aztecs and Incas shown a bit more interest in the world surrounding them – and had they known what the Spaniards had done to their neighbours – they might have resisted the Spanish conquest more keenly and successfully.”

      • mdet says:

        The idea that domesticating Eurasian animals and crops is easier than American/African animals is also not proven, and probably not provable because there is no such thing as a truly wild horse or pig or cow or wolf anymore because of generations of unintentional inbreeding by escaped domesticated animals.

        CGP Grey video with an argument for “Yeah, some animals are much more domesticable than others”. The video is explicitly based on Diamond’s book. Gives the criteria for domestication as “Friendly, Feedable, Fecund, and Family Friendly”. Doesn’t really respond to the “We can’t say because there’s no such thing as a truly wild X today” point though.

    • Deiseach says:

      Are they saying that the Europeans won because they are more ruthless, more manipulative, more cruel and more intelligent than other races? That looks like a compliment to me

      Does sound like the Humans Are The Badasses of the Galaxy meme, right enough 🙂

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I think the clearest statement by an anthropologist is this one.

      • cassander says:

        Don’t take this as a slight against you, but that statement strikes me as pretty incoherent. Explaining WHY europe was able to do what it did in no way absolves them of guilt for the crimes they committed. He’s basically responding to someone saying “Well, large man beat was able to beat up the small man because he was bigger and stronger.” by shrieking “Why are you apologizing for assault!!”

    • cassander says:

      4. Also, geographical barriers across Europe means it is much harder to establish a big, politically unified empire like the Chinese one. Thus, different countries will have to compete with each other and go to war with each other. This means that technologies that increase productivity but are socially harmful (spinning jenny, sewing machine), will be adopted in some country, even if they are rejected by the creators’ country initially. When this technology gives the adopter an advantage, everybody else will adopt this technology.

      This I think is the hard part of the theory to credit. Europe was generally less developed than china for thousands of years, then around 1400-1600 or so, things begin to shift rapidly. If the root cause was really geographic and resource endowments, why wasn’t europe ahead before? Something has to change in europe for it to go from backwater to world conqueror in 200 years, and diamond largely fails to explain that change.

      Since then, I have heard that his book is apparently very controversial among anthropologists, but I haven’t read any good arguments why.

      My understanding is that anthropology as a discipline has been moving away from broad theorizing about the reasons for cultural differences, in favor of cataloging those differences. Diamond represents the extreme opposite approach, and is arguably the most famous anthropologist in the world. That’s going to ruffle some feathers.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I can’t remember if it’s Diamond or someone else but one argument I’ve heard is that Europe developed industrially before China because it’s closer to the Americas and how important that was to economic development. You would still have to explain why they were suddenly able to cross the ocean but there it is.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          The problem with all sorts of such theories is they always have trouble explaining the “previous step”. Thus the appeal of Diamond. He says, the ultimate previous step was “geography” and “native flora/fauna”. This allows a person who is so inclined to handwave away questions like, “Why was the telescope invented in Europe?” Or, “Why did the non-Africans ever leave Africa?” which actually are important questions to answer.

          • mdet says:

            According to Diamond’s theory, Eurasians invented quite a few things because they had beasts of burden which freed up a larger part of their population from working in agriculture. The telescope is no exception. And pretty much every species expands and spreads its range right? Humans leaving Africa doesn’t seem exceptional either.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Eurasians invented quite a few things because they had beasts of burden which freed up a larger part of their population from working in agriculture.

            This isn’t quite what Diamond was arguing. Rather, Diamond first argues that that agriculture itself, by fostering the production of surplus foods and encouraging long term settlement in one place, leads to specialization. Specialization is required to (eventually) invent the telescope.

            The he goes on to argue that Eurasia as a whole had many advantages over the other large land masses in terms of developing and spreading agriculture. It’s the early and wide adoption of a somewhat uniform and highly successful agricultural package that he is crediting with leading to the Guns, Germs and Steel.

          • mdet says:

            Sorry for the multiple places where I got Diamond wrong. I haven’t read the book, I was thinking of a couple CGP Grey videos where he picks out wide longitudes facilitating trade and easy domestication / beasts of burden as major advantages that Eurasia had when it came to agriculture and civilization, and points out the lack of population density in the Americas and (once again) the lack of domesticated animals as an explanation for why they didn’t have many major plagues / epidemics for the Europeans to catch. Which were all points in Diamond’s book it sounds like, but I had got it filtered through someone else’s emphasis.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        IIRC, almost the entirety of GG&S deals with Eurasia as a whole. He has what amounts to a postscript where he says “But this doesn’t answer why Europe had the advantage when it came into conflict with India and China. Here is a theory, but it’s not well worked out.”

        The vast thrust of the book deals with Eurasia as a land mass as compared to the Americas, Africa, Australia, and the various islands of the Pacific.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        This I think is the hard part of the theory to credit. Europe was generally less developed than china for thousands of years, then around 1400-1600 or so, things begin to shift rapidly. If the root cause was really geographic and resource endowments, why wasn’t europe ahead before? Something has to change in europe for it to go from backwater to world conqueror in 200 years, and diamond largely fails to explain that change.

        Also, the geographical boundaries to European unification are way overstated in pop history. Sure the Mediterranean parts are mountainous, but northern Europe’s basically one big plain from the Atlantic to the Urals.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          Northern Europe’s basically one big plain from the Atlantic to the Urals

          I was under the impressing that for a very long time, it was covered with forest that was dangerous to transverse outside the roads, and that the rivers were difficult to ford at most places. This lends itself to all sorts of interesting choke points.

    • entobat says:

      Disclaimer: I haven’t read GGS (though I have read a small amount of Diamond’s other work) and I’m not a historian, but I did study physics in college.

      I’m sure the internet has good arguments against GGS; it’s very hard to find them. The best I found were these two posts. If I had to synthesize all of what I’ve gathered in the last half hour into a strong-sounding argument (I can’t vouch for specific facts in question, naturally), it would look something like this:

      1) Diamond exaggerates the number of animal-to-human diseases the Europeans had. This is not great because it is a central part of his thesis.
      2) Relatedly, the “90% death toll due to disease” number is likely exaggerated; it seems to be extrapolated from Mexico, which was uniquely vulnerable to disease.
      3) Diamond seems to downplay various factors that don’t fit well into his model, like the importance of alliances with other native populations, how long the conquest ended up taking (several centuries), and relying too much on self-reports from conquistadors who were incentivized to ham up their own contributions and not talk about how luck or other people’s actions helped them.
      4) The central part of his thesis is that Europeans lucked out by having lots more domesticable animals, but all we really know is that they succeeded in domesticating way more animals. Maybe the Americas had lots more domesticable animals than Europe and the natives just …didn’t get around to it…or something. (I don’t like this point very much.)
      5) On a meta level, “guy who’s not a historian but has a grand unified theory of history dependent on only one factor” sets off warning bells and maybe there is something generally seductive about these theories that makes them sound more persuasive than they should be.

      Again, I am not vouching for the correctness of any of this, it’s just my attempt to strongman what I’ve read.

      There is a truly unfortunate amount of crap to be waded through to get all of this. Charitably, historians are used to lots of thinly-veiled racism being passed off as analytic and scientific and have developed strong antibodies against it. Uncharitably, these people have an axe to grind.

      Again, I haven’t read GGS: maybe Diamond’s writing is really racist in ways that haven’t leaked into the popular discourse. He seems to get crap from some pretty unreasonable angles, like “saying the Europeans won because of geographical factors absolves them of responsibility for committing rape and genocide, which are bad” or “GGS makes it seem like the natives deserved to die for not inventing cool weapons and technology”. Maybe Diamond secretly believes that raping and genociding is okay as long as you are stronger than the people you’re doing it to, and this noticeably leaks into his writing. I kind of doubt it, and am left puzzled by how loudly it seems he needs to be criticized for these sorts of things.

      My guess is a vague, weak form of the Diamond thesis has a lot going for it: Europe lucked out and had lots of good candidates for domestication; happen to live there. It eventually got to copy Asia’s homework on that front due to the passable land border between them. By virtue of being short and wide instead of tall and skinny, plants, animals, and agricultural stuff could spread across the continent more easily than the Americas, which were tall and skinny. These differences in “fundamentals” probably, all else equal, positioned Europeans to be better at the “conquering distant continents” things than the Americans.

      If Diamond comes down significantly stronger than this, e.g. “the fact that Europe is short and wide while the Americas are tall and skinny made it all but inevitable that the Europeans would have better weapons and come conquer the new world!” then probably that is going too far. There are a lot of ways history could have played out differently, after all.

      Maybe early humans in the Americas spent a long time having trouble getting a foothold on the continent while everyone in Africa was busy inventing sharp rocks, and that would have been reversed if humans had come Out of America instead of Out of Africa. I’m not aware of any great reason why the animals were all distributed the way they were, so maybe if you traded horses, cows, dogs (these ones suck and don’t count), and pigs to America in exchange for alpacas and guppies then the conquest would have gone the other way. Maybe if some guy in Utah had invented gunpowder on accident in 500 AD, like the Chinese did 400 years later, then all of history would have been different.

      Tl;dr: the Diamondian ideas are pretty important, but not the whole story, and even within his theory there are unexplained free variables (why did the animals in America all suck?). I think a lot of the hostility to him is because he is (perceived to be?) insufficiently humble about how much his theory explains, there were a lot of other things that mattered, and historians have developed some strong antibodies to Grand Unified Theories. Everyone who criticizes Diamond is contractually obligated to berate him for trying to explain why the Europeans won, because that is sort of like saying they deserved to win, which is sort of like saying it was okay for them to do all the bad things they did. The bad criticisms seem to be almost entirely this, but we should be virtuous and not spend too much time snarking about them.

      • ana53294 says:

        Diamond seems to downplay various factors that don’t fit well into his model, like the importance of alliances with other native populations, how long the conquest ended up taking (several centuries), and relying too much on self-reports from conquistadors who were incentivized to ham up their own contributions and not talk about how luck or other people’s actions helped them.

        For me, it doesn’t matter whether European Conquistadors won alone or got allies. The fact that they won with allies, who they then backstabbed, means that they had the political skills to make alliances and win over locals.

        Diamond talks over and over about how it was luck, and circumstance, that meant Cortes won. He tries to assign as much as he can to luck and guns and as little as possible to Cortes’ intelligence, ruthlessness, or political acumen or purpose, to avoid racist explanations.

        The central part of his thesis is that Europeans lucked out by having lots more domesticable animals, but all we really know is that they succeeded in domesticating way more animals. Maybe the Americas had lots more domesticable animals than Europe and the natives just …didn’t get around to it…or something. (I don’t like this point very much.)

        I can tell you that geneticists have looked into what it would take to domesticate all wild crops and animals that are even marginally useful. There is no low-hanging fruit left; everything that could be domesticated without modern genetic tools has already been domesticated. In fact, Americans did incredible work domesticating maize; I was really, really surprised when I saw the teosinte.

        If we suppose that by the time the Mayas got to domesticating plants and animals, they had roughly the same wild fauna and flora as today, we can be sure that none of them would have been easy to domesticate.

        why did the animals in America all suck?

        There is a very simple explanation to that: Humans and big fauna co-evolved in Eurasia and Africa, so they learnt to avoid and fear humans. When humans moved to America, they mostly drove almost all big fauna to extinction. By the time humans populated America densely enough to support agriculture, a lot of big animals had dissappeared.

        maybe there is something generally seductive about these theories that makes them sound more persuasive than they should be.

        Yes, I even state what that is. It gives a coherent explanation that explains European dominance without invoking racist explanations, but chance and geographic luck. There is no superiority implied in being the ones who happened to settle Europe; there is in being more intelligent, more capable, or stronger.

      • Wrong Species says:

        One thing about Diamond is that while he set out to write a book that is reportedly not racist, there are definitely some eyebrow raising parts. On why the Native Americans were tricked in to fighting for him, he says something like the fact they weren’t as literate as Europeans means they didn’t have as many stories of betrayal which means they were more susceptible to dishonesty. Things like that make it come across as extremely condescending to those outside Eurasia.

        • Deiseach says:

          Things like that make it come across as extremely condescending to those outside Eurasia.

          I see that, but I also think it’s the kind of clumsy effort to avoid offence and never present the minority mentioned in a negative way that sparked the whole Magical Negro trope – one answer to “why were they fighting for the white guys?” is (a) “they were stupid so it was easy to fool them” (perhaps the traditional attitude, underlying the wording about being more primitive). That’s offensive (and untrue, there’s no reason Native Americans are any more stupid than anyone else).

          So the other answers you are left with are (b) Native Americans were acting out of self-interest and grudges against other tribes and so saw allying with or fighting for the whites as a means of improving their situation relative to that of their enemies, never foreseeing that “if you pay danegeld you never get rid of the Dane” because unbeknownst to them the European arrival was a paradigm shift or (c) the pure innocent noble savage was basely tricked and manipulated by the ruthless, cunning, evil white man.

          (b) is more likely the truth – humans are gonna human, and making a bargain with C to help you poke the eye of D because you’re too weak to do it on your own is human behaviour. This is why Diarmuid Mac Murrough thought he could just hire some Norman mercenaries to help him in his fight with the High King, and if that involved making a fingers-crossed promise to the English king that ‘sure I’m totally your vassal’ then fine, after the battles were done the soldiers would just go back home, right? Didn’t turn out that way.

          However, (c) is the more culturally convenient explanation (at the moment, even as you say it does come off sounding condescending). For a white author writing about such a touchy subject, he has to bend over backwards to avoid giving offence or any hint of thinking or proposing answer (a) – the natives were too dumb – and since the (understandable, it happens in all societies*) promulgation of the view that prior to the evil colonisers invading, all Native Americans lived in a paradise of oneness with the earth and peace with each other, you can’t write anything that smacks of “they weren’t like that, they were just as capable of war, ambushes, treachery, back-stabbing and playing politics as any other human society” or else you’re a racist.

          So I understand why Diamond went for the “noble savage” route. It’s the same as Dickens writing the Good Jew, Mr Riah, in Our Mutual Friend after criticism about the Bad Jew, Fagin, in Oliver Twist. Fagin is a caricature and stereotype, but Riah is almost as bad in the other direction – he is perfectly perfect, is the figurehead forced to be the face of a money lending business operated by a Gentile who traffics on the anti-Semitic notion of the grasping Jew to squeeze and extort the clients and put the blame on Riah; he helps distressed young women; he has no flaws at all.

          If you want to avoid howls of outrage about being racist about Native Americans, you cannot impute any blame to them in their conduct or dealings with the European invaders, even if that ends up depriving them of agency.

          *Same impulse that every smaller/minority/colonised people feel when arguing against the larger/majority/colonial culture; you go back to a Golden Age past when you were independent, and show the superior virtue of the suffering and oppressed people as a reason why they should be permitted self-determination, and as a rebuttal to the image of them painted by the dominant society (e.g. being lazy, or child-like, or incapable of attaining high culture, or good-natured but needing to be directed and controlled by the dominant force etc.) We did it in Ireland with the Celtic Revival, I’m not surprised Native American activism has a strain of the same Golden Age utopianism. It’s a tool of the dispossessed to use against the usurper – we may be beaten by force and trickery, but we own the moral high ground.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            So the other answers you are left with are (b) Native Americans were acting out of self-interest and grudges against other tribes and so saw allying with or fighting for the whites as a means of improving their situation relative to that of their enemies, never foreseeing that “if you pay danegeld you never get rid of the Dane” because unbeknownst to them the European arrival was a paradigm shift or (c) the pure innocent noble savage was basely tricked and manipulated by the ruthless, cunning, evil white man.

            (b) is more likely the truth …

            However, (c) is the more culturally convenient explanation (at the moment, even as you say it does come off sounding condescending).

            This is a problem with “our culture”, by which I mean the leftist state cult. We have to pretend that white and only white people are tainted with ruthless, cunning, evil inclinations outside our individual control, passed down from the White Adam.
            Christianity is superior to this new cult. In with the old, burn the new to the ground!

      • Eric Rall says:

        2) Relatedly, the “90% death toll due to disease” number is likely exaggerated; it seems to be extrapolated from Mexico, which was uniquely vulnerable to disease.

        This is really worth emphasizing: Mexico was much more densely-populated, interconnected, and urbanized than most of the rest of the Americas at the time, which makes it a lot more vulnerable to epidemics. And there was coincidentally a period of extreme drought years in the decades following Cortes, which probably didn’t help, either.

        In addition, the big killer plague in Mexico, Cocoliztli, is still of uncertain origin. There was a plague in 1520 that was definitely smallpox, killing about 20% of the native population of Mexico, but most of the depopulation was due to the two waves of Cocoliztli: one in 1545 that killed about 80% of the remaining population (50-60%% of the pre-1520 population), and another in 1576 that killed about half the remaining population (~10% of the pre-1520 population). We still don’t know for sure what Cocoliztli was: theories for a Columbian Exchange origin are all over the map (typhus, measles, smallpox, mumps, influenza, or paratyphoid), but there’s also a plausible theory that Cocoliztli was caused by an indigenous viral hemorrhagic fever. The timing suggests a Columbian origin, and a recent DNA analysis of a Cocoliztli mass grave found evidence for paratyphoid, but the hemorrhagic fever theory is a much better fit for the recorded symptoms.

        • Fossegrimen says:

          I am not convinced that those figures are too high, reasons:

          1: Lewis and Clark noted many more native cities than the population allowed for and thought the tribes were semi-nomadic and building new and complex cities that they quickly abandoned in order to build a new one. A better explanation is a sudden and large population decrease.

          2: Early settlers in Kentucky thought that they were truly blessed since God had gone before them and tilled the fields in advance. A better explanation is that all the recently deceased natives had done so.

          3: Mexico is better documented so we know more about what happened there.

          • Matt M says:

            I recently read a book on Lewis and Clark that would suggest this is right. They certainly thought that the Chinkook and Clatsop tribes were quite numerous.

            But by the time, a couple decades later, white settlers starting showing up to put down roots in earnest, most of them were already dead from smallpox and other diseases. Their vast empires were essentially wiped out, not from armed conquest, nor from constantly interaction with foreign settlers, but from limited interactions with a few scattered white traders and fur trappers.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            An example Diamond uses in the book is of the Mississippi Mound Builders. My recollection is that he cited estimates of around 1M in population, in fairly dense settlements, who essentially disappeared completely before any Europeans had made actual contact. The local disappearance was so complete that Europeans afterwards didn’t believe the mounds to be the work of natives.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Deutch criticizes Guns, Germs and Steel in his book The Beginnings of Infinity. Basically it was the ideas of the enlightenment, not environmental conditions that resulted in the speedy acquisition of knowledge. Those ideas being that “technological progress is possible” and “new ways of doing things can be good.”

      It’s an excellent book if you get the chance.

      • Deiseach says:

        That just removes it a step back: so how come Enlightenment ideas arose in Europe and not elsewhere?

        • ana53294 says:

          Yes, that is why I love Diamond’s explanation, because he goes all the way back on the whys. So his explanation for it was the geographic diversity of Europe, which meant that technologies that increased productivity would end up somewhere, even if one country rejects it.

          One of the examples he provides was that, before Columbus pitched his idea to the Catholic Monarchs, he tried to obtain financing from other sources. In a hegemonic country like China, once the emperor’s court rejected the idea (he probably wouldn’t even be able to pitch the idea to the emperor; European Monarchs were probably much more approachable), nobody would dare go against the emperor’s court.

          Commenters are pointing out that geographical diversity did not generate the diversity of political systems in Europe. But then, what did?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @ana53294:
            Again, this isn’t a question GG&S is trying to answer. GG&S itself is about Eurasia as a whole. The stuff about Europe is explicitly stated as an idea that would need more research. He states this in what amounts to a postscript.

            You may think it is a good idea. You may even think it self evident; however, it misrepresents Diamond to say he is endorsing it, or that GG&S lays out evidence to believe it to be true.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Deiseach,

          Enlightenment ideas (according to Deutsch) also arose in Florence and Greece earlier, and quite possibly other times in the last 50,000 years, but didn’t last. He explains the intense memetic pressure against enlightenment ideas in favor of static societies in the book, as a resolution to the paradox that humans evolved capacity for creativity yet had virtually no creative innovation for the last 50,000 years.

          Guns Germs and Steel are essentially just-so stories (according to Deutsch)

    • onyomi says:

      Does it count as a non-racist conclusion if Europeans developed higher-than-global-average IQ as a result of evolving in an environment where those traits were more advantageous than e.g. a place where being smart enough to figure out farming and animal husbandry would do you little good?

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, I would say it is incorrect. You would, at least, have to correct it to Eurasians instead of Europeans.

        There is no evidence to say that Asians are more stupid than Europeans (most country-by-country comparisons I have seen have Asians at higher average IQs). And Asians have very developed farming and animal husbandry technologies. Rice paddies are very, very productive and require lots of inputs and skills. An intensively managed and irrigated modern rice paddy can produce 10 tonnes/ha (the average, which includes upland non-irrigated rice that grows on marginal land, is 4 tonnes/ha). The average for wheat is 3 tonnes/ha.

        Most of the disagreements on Diamond comes from the second part, which is why Europe at some point got ahead of Eurasia, when China was much more developed for thousands of years. And that is when points 3 and 4 come, which seem to be the most controversial.

        • onyomi says:

          I didn’t say Europeans have the highest IQs in the world, I said higher than global average, which is apparently about 90. I also didn’t say anything re. Asian civilization (btw, researching premodern East Asia is my job…). I left out East Asia in the question about racism because talking about the glories of East Asian civilization is not likely to get you called “racist,” whereas talking about all the great things white people invented/discovered can now.

          Re. 3 and 4, 3 seems highly debatable given that the Chinese emperors actively chose to shut down trade with foreign powers in the period in question, so it’s probably a political problem, not a geographic one. Re. 4, the possibility that China got the kind of government it did (big, autocratic empire rather than smaller, autonomous kingdoms further weakened by the pope) as a partial result of its geography seems a little more plausible, but, then again, it’s during the Age of Absolutism, after the Reformation when Europe obviously pulls ahead of China, so that’s not 100% clear (but I would still call 1500-1800 Europe more “decentralized” than China of the same period).

          The reason I somewhat rhetorically asked whether it’s racist if white people have the traits they have because of their ancestral environment is to point out that I think there is a false dichotomy here between genetics and environment and it seems today like people want to find environmental explanations for everything because if it’s “just” the environment that caused a particular group to succeed somehow it’s not “racist,” whereas if it’s their genes, somehow it is. But people are genes expressed in an environment and environments affect which types of genes will get selected for. So it’s entirely possible that Eurasians are genotypically smarter and more peaceful than other groups but that is also a result of their ancestral environments.

          What’s more, once you have farming and animal husbandry and trade, you not only get cities and germs, you get states which will execute you if you are bad. This probably had a long-run anti-criminality effect in Eurasia. So if you say “black people are, on average, more genetically predisposed to violence than East Asian people,” but then you tack on “BUT it’s because East Asian people evolved in an environment where generation after generation of the most violent East Asians got executed,” does that make it “not racist”?

          Put another way, if you took a group of Australian aborigines and had them evolve in Europe for tens of thousands of years they’d probably end up genetically similar to white people (even discounting intermarriage) because they were evolving in the same place. But the result wouldn’t be Australian aborigines in frilly collars, it would be another group of Europeans, probably pretty indistinguishable from other white people due to having been subject to the same evolutionary pressures.

          • quanta413 says:

            Put another way, if you took a group of Australian aborigines and had them evolve in Europe for tens of thousands of years they’d probably end up genetically similar to white people (even discounting intermarriage) because they were evolving in the same place. But the result wouldn’t be Australian aborigines in frilly collars, it would be another group of Europeans, probably pretty indistinguishable from other white people due to having been subject to the same evolutionary pressures.

            I think this confuses genotype with phenotype. Repeated evolution experiments (for example, in bacteria) often find phenotypic convergence in evolution, but typically a variety of different genotypes can reach that end. You sometimes get genotype similarity too but not always.

            Humans have smaller population sizes and bigger genomes than most bacteria so I'd expect even more divergence in genotype if you could somehow replicate chunks of human evolution by controlling the environment. How much phenotypic similarity is a harder question.

          • mdet says:

            People want to find environmental explanations for everything because if it’s “just” the environment that caused a particular group to succeed somehow it’s not “racist,” whereas if it’s their genes, somehow it is.

            This sentiment is pretty easily explainable. Environment can be changed within a generation or two. It takes at least a couple hundred years to change genetics (at least, until CRISPR gets going). It’s the difference between saying “We can fix this within a lifetime or two” and “This is (from the perspective of a mortal human) a permanent condition”. People generally don’t like being told that their flaws are permanent.

          • onyomi says:

            @Mdet

            I think you’re right about the motivation in the short run, though I think with white people it’s also about preferring explanations that enable them to signal their moral superiority to their outgroup (less cultured white people).

            And, of course, there’s the issue of “Society is Fixed; Biology is Mutable.”

            But I guess what I was trying to get at with that statement was more like: academics and the culture at large have so thoroughly absorbed the idea “environmental explanations for human outcomes good, genetic explanations for human outcomes bad” (which may make sense in the short run, at least in terms of the types of conclusions we find congenial) that they embrace it even at a timescale within which the two inevitably intertwine, making it more of a false dichotomy.

      • broblawsky says:

        I would love to see your global IQ statistics circa 1500.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I agree with onyomi. Diamond’s thesis relies on the assumption that Man is a magical animal that neither shapes nor is shaped by his environment. You could start with his same assumptions that the environment shaped Eurasian plants and animals into those suitable for civilization and African plants and animals into those not suitable for civilization, then note Man is also an animal shaped by his environment and write an extremely short and racist explanation for the modern world.

  14. Hey says:

    A few years ago, this guy claimed to have injected himself with some bacteria in order to live longer. When injected to mice and fruit flies, that bacteria supposedly increases their lifespans. Then, for some reason, nobody ever talked about it again, with the exception of some conspiracy theorists who believe that governments are hiding the secret of eternal youth and a few articles about this woman, who also injected herself with the bacteria. Even transhumanists don’t seem interested by that story. The scientist in question wrote quite a lot of papers, in English, Russian and Japanese. This paper merely says that understanding how these bacteria manage to survive for so long could be useful for gerontology research, but those three papers claim that injections of the bacteria has various effects on animals. The last paper contains a few (not very convincing) graphs showing how the bacteria affects the lifespans of flies and mice.

    Why hasn’t more research (or more speculation) been done about this bacteria ? Does that scientist sound too much like a crackpot to be taken seriously ? (it’s true that trying to use very old microorganisms to live longer sounds a lot like homeopathy)

  15. ana53294 says:

    Observations on cultural appropriation. When the designers of the Princess Padma of Naboo’s costumes used Russian traditional headgear as inspiration, Russians say: “Russian traditional headgear wins over designers”.

    Or, when people over the world start to use traditional shoes of Spanish poor, Spanish people say: “Spanish shoes conquer fashion industry”

    When Dior, inspired by traditional Romanian costumes, created a couture line, the people of that place used that opportunity to sell their authentic costumes much more cheaply, while locals make money.

    So why do some people view negatively when other people copy aspects of their culture, and others view it as a compliment to their culture?

    And the fact that some of them are more dominant cultures does not seem to be the main explanation, because why would Chinese people get offended by a girl wearing a dress inspired in their traditional costume to prom? They may be a minority in America, but they are not a minority in the world.

    And why is it OK to use fireworks, then? They are certainly a Chinese invention. Does the timing of the appropriation make it OK?

    • John Schilling says:

      Is it a coincidence that your three cited examples are of white European cultures? I hope so, but maybe look for examples that aren’t, because if there’s a double standard at wok that’s an obvious place to look.

      • ana53294 says:

        The reasons why my examples are of European cultures is that I know European languages and thus can gauge their reactions better. I wasn’t trying to be facetious.

        bythepool indicates in the other comment that apparently Chinese people in China also don’t mind the girl wearing the qipao.

      • FXBDM says:

        Double standard at Wok

        Ha! Well played sir!

    • Matt M says:

      To me, the steel man of cultural appropriation is something like: “People not of our culture should not dress up as stereotypes of our culture, as many of these stereotypes are harmful and offensive.”

      Which in and of itself is not necessarily so bad.

      The problem is, that’s clearly not what the girl with the Chinese prom dress was doing, but the line has sufficiently blurred such that any sort of specifically ethic style of dress is treated by many people as if that was, in fact, the intent.

      • toastengineer says:

        You have to remember that SJ is about taking genuinely good, or at least useful, or at least understandable ideas and then participating in decades-long getting offended contests, thus taking them to absurd extremes.

        So; I at least see it as self-evident that stuff like this is a bit rude to people of the ethnicity being portrayed and probably shouldn’t be done anymore. In a similar vein, people who don’t understand a culture can unintentionally and unknowingly say very offensive things to people in that culture because they don’t understand what the symbols they’re using mean.

        There’s also a version of it where it’s more like if, say, a white person owns a taquerita, that’s a sort of “colonialist” exploitation of a culture he doesn’t “own.” In order to correct financial inequalities along racial lines, we need to only allow people who are from a culture to profit off ideas from that culture.

        So, after a wholebuncha iterations of using that principle to pretend to be upset about things in order to look cool to your lefty friends, any instance of a person of an “oppressor” category making any kind of reference to something that’s “owned” by a “victim” category is “cultural appropriation” and is LITERALLY SLAVERY.

        • yodelyak says:

          @Toastengineer
          yours is the comment I wish I’d written.

        • DavidS says:

          Think this is helpful: and agreed that you have the ‘offensive’ version and the ‘you’re taking the profit’ version.

          There’s a sort of whole-group level here of the thing where women often report making a point, a man repeating it, and everyone saying ‘great idea, Bob!’ If a poor group/country has made a certain sort of art/food/clothes/whatever for ages, and then as soon as it becomes popular it gets mass-produced in a less authentic better marketed version by a powerful group/country you can understand the irritation. Rationally a lot should rest on things like whether that mass-production took over after the ‘authentic’ version had done the work to get the concept to market or whether in fact nobody would have heard of it if it wasn’t for the crass commercialised sellout etc. version.

          Related to this is the ‘you need to consult people of that culture’. Worth mentioning because alongside the ‘competitive controversy’ issue this also gets spread for more direct self-interest: self-appointed diversity experts demand that everyone has to consult diversity experts, black authors say it’s very important we have special support for black authors etc. etc. etc.

          This in turn is helped because the subjective nature of art means that if people will agree with you on political principle you can make sweeping claims about how the ‘appropriated’ stuff is actually really bad and stuff. E.g. the most recent ‘take To Kill a Mockingbird off the syllabus because it has the n-word’ motion also threw in a ‘instead look at racism through books by POC… and there are loads of recent ones by people on the cusp of SJ issues which are much better as books‘ (I doubt it). This isn’t a SJ thing just human nature: you get for instance the religious attackers of Life of Brian saying it was a rubbish film anyway (after admitting they only watched a small bit of it!)

          I think Eminem sums the commercial ‘theft’ side quite well

          Eminem puts his finger on the more commercial side

          No, I’m not the first king of controversy
          I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley
          To do black music so selfishly
          And use it to get myself wealthy
          (Hey!) There’s a concept that works
          Twenty million other white rappers emerge
          But no matter how many fish in the sea
          It’ll be so empty without me

          • Matt M says:

            I was actually thinking about this the other day. I would compare and contrast Eminem with say, Vanilla Ice.

            I don’t think Eminem is culturally appropriating at all. He grew up poor, in the Detroit ghetto, listening to hip hop with his (partially black) friends. Hip hop culture was his culture, in every possible way except skin color (which official rhetoric claims is NOT an important consideration).

            He was notably discovered by Dr. Dre, (who made a whole lot of money for himself by doing so) and embraced by virtually all other black rappers. Nobody really thought of accusing him of anything resembling “cultural appropriation” until he essentially accused himself.

            On the other hand, someone like Vanilla Ice almost certainly went the route of seeing something popular and doing his best to imitate it as closely as he could, without really being a part of what it’s all about. That’s why his first run in with legitimate hip-hop culture was Suge Knight threatening to throw him off a balcony, and why he disappeared pretty quickly following that. He simply wasn’t really a part of that culture and everyone (including potential future customers) knew it.

          • Aftagley says:

            On the other hand, someone like Vanilla Ice almost certainly went the route of seeing something popular and doing his best to imitate it as closely as he could, without really being a part of what it’s all about. That’s why his first run in with legitimate hip-hop culture was Suge Knight threatening to throw him off a balcony, and why he disappeared pretty quickly following that. He simply wasn’t really a part of that culture and everyone (including potential future customers) knew it.

            I’ve never gotten this argument. I mean, sure, Vanilla Ice didn’t have quite the ghetto upbringing of Emenim, but he grew up being dragged around texas by his single mom, dropped out of school early to focus on breakdancing with his entirely black crew, taught himself to freestyle at age 15 and was winning open mic contests at local clubs by 16. He got signed after being stabbed 5 times at a local club, and over the course of his early career he opened for and performed with some the greats of early hip-hop.

            I mean, if we accept Drake as Hip-Hop these days, I feel like Vanilla should get acceptance as well.

          • Matt M says:

            I actually didnt know any of that, and its enough to make me retract most of my previous claims.

          • DavidS says:

            I think most people accept that about Eminem, to be honest (including SJW types I’ve seen talking about it). I think it’s just him being provocative as usual (both by saying he’s doing it and suggesting he’s ‘like Elvis’ which annoys a different bunch of people)

          • albatross11 says:

            Is there some proper standard for how ghetto your upbringing needs to be, before you’re allowed to be a rapper?

            On the flipside, is there some proper standard for how upscale your upbringing needs to be, before you’re allowed to be a ballet dancer or classical musician?

            I’ll admit that this discussion is not demonstrating a lot of ways that the concept of cultural appropriation deserves to be taken seriously, to me.

          • DavidS says:

            @albatross: I think a lot of the argument is that yes, ballet dancing and classical music amongst many other things are in fact not particularly accessible to kids from the ghetto.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @albatross11:
            Your upbringing needs to be hood to justify rapping about growing up in the hood (or seeming to be). The more you concoct a piece of art, not from personal experience, but simply as a copy of other art, the less genuine it is. Vanilla’s problem stemmed from growing up in the suburbs, having lots of yearbook pictures with him in collared shirts neatly combed looking like a preppy. He didn’t seem to be genuine.

            The Monkees are completely derivative of the Beatles. Ratt created their own thing rather than straight up copying KISS.

          • Creutzer says:

            On the flipside, is there some proper standard for how upscale your upbringing needs to be, before you’re allowed to be a ballet dancer or classical musician?

            I don’t think there would be stigma attached to being a classical musician with ghetto origins. The reason why that is very rare is practical: you need to start to learn an instrument with good teachers very early, and that’s just not really possible without the right socioeconomic background.

          • Matt M says:

            Your upbringing needs to be hood to justify rapping about growing up in the hood (or seeming to be).

            This.

            At this point, anybody can be a rapper. But your socioeconomic profile kinda sorts you into various subgenres of rap. If you’re upper or middle class and white, you can’t really be a mainstream rapper who raps about the same things in the same style as Jay-Z or whoever.

            But you CAN rap about things like being angry at your ex-girlfriend for dumping you, or about going to college protests to bang feminists, or about how awesome Boba Fett is

          • albatross11 says:

            I understand this position, but it seems really silly to me. My enjoyment of _West Side Story_ isn’t diminished by realizing Leonard Bernstein didn’t really grow up in a Puerto Rican gang.

            To paraphrase Malcolm Reynolds, my days of not taking cultural appropriation seriously are certainly coming to a middle.

    • bythepool says:

      People in China reacted positively to the prom dress thing – the negative reaction was more from the people in the US.

      Seems like it’s a particularly American complaint to make, and maybe particularly current.

      • mdet says:

        A Chinese-American friend of mine (immigrated to US as a child) said that what was upsetting to him about the prom dress was that he actually DID want to wear traditional Chinese outfits to school dances, but had been mocked for his Chinese-ness often enough that he had internalized a “I’ll get laughed at for being That Weird Chinese Kid, if I’m not kicked out for violating dress code first”. With the stipulation that he definitely didn’t go to the same school or have the same social circle as the girl in question, having her wear the dress and get praised for it felt to him like a “Where was this sympathy and support when *I* needed it, as an actual Chinese-American???”.

        Which sounds understandable, but non-specific. It’s not that girl’s fault that he got mocked, and who’s to say that her supporters wouldn’t have supported him as well.

    • yodelyak says:

      Doubtless this is a sincere question, so you deserve a sincere answer.

      I think the primary distinction you need is a 2-dimensional spectrum… x-axis goes from earnest emulation to malicious mockery, and y-axis goes from perceived-as-flattering to perceived-as-offensive. If you look, you can often identify edge-lords surfing whatever edges they can find. Sometimes edge-lords begin as people manufacturing confusion about the whole thing to facilitate edge-lord behavior, and escalate as they find what they can get away with.

      When a victorious band of thugs wants to demoralize the newly defeated, one thing they might do is deface/defile the bodies and parade them dressed in their finery in a cruel parody of their former glory–that’s the extreme case for imitation-as-mockery. (An extreme example of something like this happening is the Battle of Mogadishu, where the headless body of a U.S. soldier was dragged along a street.) When something like that happens by accident (a car accident causes a hearse to spill a body down a hill in full view of a crowd, say) people feel offended even when everyone knows it was an accident and no one intended any offense. Same goes for merely accidentally letting an American flag touch the ground, in some circles. Also, when a proud but vulnerable minority wants to defend itself from harassment, something basic they may be extra keen on is insisting on their right to object if others want to put on callous simplifications or parodies of their most dignified clothes or rituals, even if no offense is intended.

      In the case of Native Americans in the U.S… Edge-lords on the one side include fraternities that deliberately use Native American clothes and rituals they know will deeply offend some Native Americans as a way to showcase their power to give offense without facing sanction. Edge-lords on the other side include concern-trolls who aren’t Native American but who take deep offense when they see white people with Native American art in their homes. There are cartoonish excesses on all sides, of course, but I think full exposition of all possible lines and deliberate or accidental transgressions of those lines is beyond the scope of this comment thread–likely you get the idea.

      Drawing bright lines based on Schelling points in this space is not easy–but it’s easy to design agreeable rules of thumb. When in doubt, err on being especially respectful of people who haven’t got much power–particularly those who you know are the targets of edge-lords, and extra-particularly those who are or have reason to think they are targets of actual abuse by actual state power. Aim for excellence and deeply respect and appreciate any and all whose example you emulate. Mostly listen, and let your actions speak for themselves. If you are really nervous, you could even try asking the people you plan to emulate in advance.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        The only problem I have is with the last point – mostly because it accomplishes nothing except making the person asking feel better. Individuals are going to have very different answers to questions about offensiveness, and just because someone approves doesn’t mean someone else won’t. That just makes the person you ask a shield and frees you from responsibility; questions along the lines of “is there a known historical/cultural significance of [thing]?” (with the caveat that the person you ask could get it wrong) make sense, but those along the lines of “is [thing] offensive?” are awful and stupid to use as guidelines for creating things. If what you’re making touches on Important things, it’s good to have context so that you can better expect how it will be interpreted, but absent that context I think it’s good for people to evaluate what their own work expresses.

        • yodelyak says:

          An easy example of “asking first” is that I was in town to visit my (white) family, one of whom works for a First Nation (a Native American tribe) and would, for that reason, be at a ceremony they have once a year that is apparently kind of a big deal. She knew we’d be interested to learn more about her job and the people she works for, and she’d already been invited, so she just went ahead and asked–“I’ve got company in town, it’d be pretty easy to leave them at home with my husband enjoying pancakes, but I suspect they’d really enjoy to visit… ?” or something like that. They gave us their answer [[please feel welcome to come if you will make sure to be quiet throughout, (it is fine if babies or infants cry tho–theirs will be there and sometimes cry, and that’s fine) and to be there for the whole time–it isn’t something you can leave early, that’d be very rude toward something sacred to us]] and so we made a day of it. (It was a very long thing with lots of informal-seeming walking around breaks, so we’d have been tempted to leave in the middle if we hadn’t asked.) No problems, no offensive given, etc.

          I think asking first will still get you frustrated sighs or even anger if you ask sufficiently stupid questions as though even having to ask questions is a burden. (No, don’t wear blackface–that’s got a very long history of imitation-to-mock, it’s going to be interpreted as mockery or at least idiotic callousness. No, don’t send your kids to school with any Halloween costume that looks like actual weapons. No, don’t take pictures of the recently deceased at a burial.) If you ask your friend Chad, a conveniently available somewhat-lapsed-Catholic, “Hey, is it cool if I go as a Sexy Nun and my friend goes as a Sexy Christ-on-a-Crucifix and we make-out the whole time we’re at your Aunt Sally’s party?” they might be like, huh, yeah whatever. But if you think for a second, you might recognize that your friend Chad may not really be the right person to answer the question.

          • Deiseach says:

            There is still a difference between “ask if you can attend a religious ceremony and don’t treat it like a tourist occasion” (e.g. tourists wandering around historic European churches taking photos while Mass is being said at side altars) and “if you wear a gypsy fortune teller costume for Hallowe’en that is racist cultural appropriation you bigot!”

            Seemingly “gypsy” is now a slur against the Roma/Rroma/Romany/Romani/six other different spellings. I have seriously seen fan discussion of the Pacific Rim movie either blanking out the name of the Jaeger “Gypsy Danger” as “G*psy Danger” or changing it to “Lady Danger” to avoid using slurs, which strikes me as a degree of preciosity too far.

            I’m going to be mean here and say the people online I’ve seen claiming “I have Rroma ancestry and so I take it on myself to be horribly offended by everything!” are not the same as the people living in caravans on the side of the road when I was growing up. It’s the one-sixteenth Cherokee princess principle in action again.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            My point is that asking if something is “ok” isn’t really useful.

            > blackface [has] a very long history of imitation-to-mock, it’s going to be interpreted as mockery or at least idiotic callousness.

            This is useful. Context, history, implication.

            > is it cool if I go as a Sexy Nun and my friend goes as a Sexy Christ-on-a-Crucifix and we make-out the whole time we’re at your Aunt Sally’s party?”

            The only way that which this question is useful is in order to determine what the reaction of the people at this party is likely to be. Chad cannot tell you that this costume is ok. He may also not be equipped to tell you what the image of Christ on the cross signifies for Catholics, but either way it would be a more appropriate question to ask if you wanted to determine if “what you would be saying by wearing this” is in line with what you want to express.

          • yodelyak says:

            @Deiseach, Hoopyfreud

            No disagreements here.

      • DavidS says:

        I’m mostly with this.

        My main gripe in this area (and it doesn’t stop me trying to be respectful as it’s not the fault of the people I’m being respectful to) is that lots of SJ rhetoric looks like ‘be very conscientious/thoughtful’ advice that I instinctively agree with, but that those most strongly advocating it seem to bend over backwards to be not remotely conscientious/thoughtful in how they talk to/about political opponents or indeed in terms of sweeping comments about straight white cis men (or any one of those things on its own).

        As far as I can tell it’s based on giving near-infinite weighting to your points about being EXTRA respectful of those with less power, but I don’t think it’s right or remotely practical to say the standards of respectful discourse are totally different (basically opposite) depending on sex and race. So you see e.g. anti-racists and anti-sexists making sweeping generalisations about a race or a sex, and not just in unguarded moments but sufficently centrally and deliberately to have specialist terminology/memes about white/male tears etc. etc. and lengthy arguments about why objecting to this treatment is ‘tone policing’, oppressive etc.

        A lot of this feels to me like there’s a good case that a 12 year old should be careful being rough with his 10 year old little brother even if the 10 year old is being rough himself and that this has been interpreted as ‘the 12 year old accidentally bumping into the 10 year old is evil, but the 10 year old is acting virtuously by punching the 12 year old every chance he gets’.

        A linked thing: I first came across the concept of ‘check your privilege’ as actually a suggestion (offered in the abstract not a specific argument) about being more self-aware about what might seem easy/obvious/universal to you but was linked to privilege of some form or another. This was useful. Used as a synonym for ‘shut up, white man’, less si

    • dndnrsn says:

      Cultural appropriation as a complaint seems to be like fever as an old-timey diagnosis: gesturing at something real, really, multiple somethings real. There’s legitimate complaints there, but the surface perception (“milord, the king has a fever, ’twas the miasma no doubt”) isn’t getting what’s going on. I think this is due to weirdness that can be understood by squinting real hard at the moral foundations model.

      For example: here in Canada, there was a literary kerfuffle, big by Canadian standards, over whether white authors writing stories with Aboriginal protagonists was cultural appropriation. One CanLit guy said “yes, if that’s cultural appropriation, we should all be trying to do that”, some people objected, some people defended, etc etc.

      The vast bulk of the argument had to do over, was it OK to tell other people’s stories, who could tell whose stories, etc. Fairly abstract stuff, and fairly reliant on the sort of arguments applying certain understandings of group power mechanics to individuals that people here tend not to like. What I find most interesting, though, is that the arguments tend to focus on care/harm – that telling someone else’s story (when you’re in a group deemed more powerful than theirs, at least) harms them.

      There is one way that it does harm them, in a measurable and material sense. That’s monetarily. If you’re a young Aboriginal aspiring writer (slash aspiring creative writing prof – CanLit is this incestuous little circle where a lot of books that nobody reads get written and published; the real daily bread comes from teaching jobs) and you want to tell the story of your tribe, or your grandmother, or your people now, or whatever… and there’s already some old white person (the median CanLit Person is old and white; not sure on gender) writing approximations of those stories, well, how are you going to get paid? To me this seems like a decent argument, but it gets made less than the other ones (at least in my perception). This would also include all the “tiny little group makes fabric/jewellery and big company comes and rips it off” cases.

      The “who can tell whose story” thing seems like a less intense version of what I think of as the archetypal case of cultural appropriation: white girl high on E at a dance music festival wearing a war bonnet. It’s the sort of thing that Stolen Valour type laws are aimed at – taking a cultural symbol that is in some way sacred or worthy of respect in a big way, and using it as an accessory. What’s interesting here is that, looking at moral foundations theory, while this is often categorized by people complaining about it as harm, it is chock full of the sort of thing that conservatives are supposed to be the ones to get offended about: sanctity, respect for tradition, group loyalty, all that. You can also fit in here the stuff like white people dreadlocks that falls into “we get crapped on for this, and now for your it is a style?” territory.

      This shows one of the flaws in the moral foundations theory: it’s very 90s. The “do you think it’s OK to disrespect a group’s symbols?” questions are all very 90s culture war. I think there’s a lot of atavistic “conservative” impulses that will pop up wherever, but when they’re happening in groups that have on an intellectual level gone with the “care/harm is paramount” framing, they get awkwardly turned into care/harm issues. The reason that the white girl on E wearing the war bonnet is insulting is because it’s insulting, because cultures matter, because traditions are worth something, whatever; it gets framed as causing quantifiable individual harm to people perceiving it. More broadly, I think there’s a decent chunk of people who identify as some sort of left-winger or other, but whose impulses are solidly conservative: tradition is valuable, group loyalty is valuable (at least, when it’s their traditions and their group loyalty). There’s a lot of people who intellectually accept “the biggest determinant of whether something is good or bad is whether it helps or hurts people” but deep down don’t accept that, and find ways to twist other impulses to fit.

      How, though, does this explain things branded “cultural appropriation” where money isn’t involved, where there’s nothing sacred or whatever going on, and where there’s nothing that one group gets punished, mocked, etc for that the other now thinks is nifty? I think it’s another effect of care/harm morality “flattening things out” – that it undermines subjective (and sometimes even objective) good/bad judgments. There’s a trend one sees in some parts of the web where a given piece of media can’t just be “well, I don’t like it” or “it is objectively shitty, and if you like it you’re a moron” – there has to be some reason that it is in some way harmful. The cultural-appropriation case I can think of was that much-mocked case involving the alleged banh mi at some small liberal arts college or other: the sandwiches sounded pretty crappy, and even at good schools residence food can be garbage; the feeling I got was that “this is cultural appropriation” was a more potent tool than just complaining, as students always have done, that the food is bad.

      TL;DR cultural appropriation as a complaint seems to me to indicate that a lot of people value relatively conservative values, but due to their own cultural context, interpret the voice in the back of their head saying “this is gross and disrespectful” as a signal that someone is being harmed.

      • Matt M says:

        There is one way that it does harm them, in a measurable and material sense. That’s monetarily.

        This argument strikes me as logically plausible and coherent, but also highly abstract.

        Given that there exists a pretty high market demand for “authentic” products, it seems to me that what is most likely happening here is NOT something like “Some struggling minority writer is being ignored but then some old white guy comes along and writes the same story and enjoys INSTANT SUCCESS because of privilege.”

        But rather “Some old white guy writes a unique story that nobody else is telling that happens to include minority characters and it becomes a hit.”

        Anyone alleging otherwise should be required to point to the specific minority author/chef/clothing designer/whoever who is being ignored or copied or what have you. I suspect that usually they won’t be able to find one.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s not “instant success because of privilege” but rather it’s that some people already have connections, and others don’t. There’s only so much market share for, say, explorations of intergenerational trauma and the residential schools. If we put an unestablished Aboriginal writer up against an established non-Aboriginal writer, is the former actually being Aboriginal going to be a selling point enough to overcome the latter’s connections in the publishing industry, track record, name, etc? Presumably, the former would prefer the latter not provide competition.

          • Matt M says:

            If we put an unestablished Aboriginal writer up against an established non-Aboriginal writer, is the former actually being Aboriginal going to be a selling point enough to overcome the latter’s connections in the publishing industry, track record, name, etc?

            All I ask is that, when making allegations such as this, people be prepared to actually point to the supposed unestablished Aboriginal writer creating similar material.

            One of the things that bothers me most about SJW crusades is that actual, individual, specific victims seem to be few and far between. The offense is always supposedly against some group entity – the existence of specific harmed individuals always simply assumed. I don’t want any assumptions. I want names. This is how it works in a real court. To challenge a law you must have a specific victim who has been harmed. The same should be true in the court of public opinion.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The Bahn Mi controversy was a “weak men are super weapons” kind of thing. The claim of cultural appropriation was exceedingly weak, and the outrage about the claim was also completely unwarranted and had nothing to do with the claim itself.

        I think care/harm is one useful framework for assessing cultural appropriation, but I actually don’t think you will get very much pushback to the idea that culture matters in left circles as long as it is seen as an argument made in good faith. As an example of food and culture, Vivian Howard and her show A Chef’s Life highlight southern, rural food and culture. Or the reputation of Mama Dip’s Kitchen.

        Of course, I also think you will find support for the idea that cultural disrespect is harm. This community sees loss of free speech as a harm, but cultural disrespect of minority communities represents a net loss of speech for those communities, as they lose the ability to be the ones to speak for themselves. How would native communities have possibly accurately built a representation of themselves in the public square in the 40s and 50s? Everyone already knew what “Indians” were and what they did.

        • dndnrsn says:

          But why did they make this weak claim? Presumably, in the context they made it, it was at least plausible enough that they didn’t think “this is gonna look ridiculous” eh? Evidently, they thought that calling it cultural appropriation was more likely to get the sandwich off the menu than saying “cafeteria pulled pork with cafeteria coleslaw on a ciabatta bun is gross” – it’s not like they’re dumb.

          If cultural disrespect is harm, then moral foundations theory is incorrect – because it includes cultural disrespect under categories other than care/harm. The latter is about care for/harm to people. There’s a reason that flag-burning is coded as sanctity or disloyalty or whatever, rather than as harm – even though an American patriot could make an argument that seeing a flag burned harms them, harms Americans, whatever. Claims that something that on the face of it is disrespectful is in fact harmful tend to be less parsimonious than just recognizing that what people are responding to is the disrespect.

          A lot of people who don’t actually operate on care/harm alone have adopted it on an intellectual level. They then explain feelings they have which are best explained using other moral foundations, by filtering them through a care/harm lens. That’s what it looks like to me, at least.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:

            it’s not like they’re dumb.

            Ummm, you seem to be underestimating the ability of your average 19 year old college attendee to do and say dumb shit? This is mostly down to being 19 (not 19 generally, but 19 in an era where 19 year olds mostly aren’t responsible for obtaining their own food and lodging but are fairly autonomous). Young people say stupid things all the time. They oversell, misapply principles, somehow manage to employ every single fallacy in one argument, and generally speaking fuck up. That’s just normal. Plus, again, weak men are super weapons. You can always find people doing stupid shit if you look.

            even though an American patriot could make an argument that seeing a flag burned harms them, harms Americans, whatever.

            First off, I think trying to reduce morality, and moral questions, to some single principle is wrong, in a seductive, facile and ultimately foolish way. Perhaps that is a different argument though.

            With that in mind, I grant that burning the American Flag can be disrespectful, and then objected to on those grounds alone (without resorting to harm). But that is a completely different kind of argument, IMHO (and it’s not cultural appropriation at all).

            If you want to see what “burning American flags” looks like as far as harm goes (and still not appropriation), imagine a person who was born to American parents (especially of non-Arabic ethnicity) but lives in Iran as simply a member of the public . Burning the American flag is then something that they can be harmed by, as this begins to look like a credible threat (regardless of whether the Iranians have started to lynch Americans).

            So, I’m not sure if we are talking past each other, but I don’t see why cultural appropriation can’t be both harmful and simply disrespectful, and therefore immoral (to whatever degree) on both grounds.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Granted on the first point. I was pretty dumb when I was 19.

            I’m not arguing that burning the American flag is cultural appropriation – rather, I’m giving an example of something that is generally held up by Haidt as a good example of something that is bad because it indicates disloyalty, disrespect, etc.

            My argument is that “cultural appropriation” is several different things that have been bundled together because they look similar, and they’re all explained using care/harm because most people on the left are running care/harm on their system two – they’re feeling atavistic impulses that are really quite “conservative” in that they are about offences to group loyalty, to tradition, etc, and they’re interpreting these feelings as care/harm related, because they don’t have other language to explain it. There’s really multiple complaints going on, some of which actually are care/harm, some of which fall more into the “respect” cluster, and some of which are neither. Some things may be both care/harm and other stuff, sure. But there’s some things where less concrete disrespect offending people is the simplest explanation.

            (Also, I’m no anthropologist, but I’m fairly certain Iranians aren’t Arabs and probably get annoyed if you say they are)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:

            Iranians aren’t Arabs

            Noted and thank you for the correction.

            But there’s some things where less concrete disrespect offending people is the simplest explanation.

            Sure, but I think you are stretching to say that people on the left don’t seem to think disrespect is somehow real. Aren’t people “whinging” all the time about people on the left complaining about being disrespected, or others being disrespectful?

            For example, I think it is easy to imagine a liberal complaining about ignorant American tourists doing something in, say, India, Thailand or Japan that is disrespectful where “harm” doesn’t really come into it except at some very rarefied and abstract level because the American is unknowing of local customs and traditions.

            I do think there is a tendency to view harm as more important or more impactful than mere disrespect. It is more important to correct something which harms people, rather than merely disrespects them. (and again, mere disrespect can itself be harmful when someone lacks any power).

            ETA:
            I think the distinction is one thing that makes the Banh Mi example so obviously ridiculous. Perhaps it is disrespectful, in the same way that going somewhere and being served some thing crappy thing they call Pizza “because you are American” might seem disrespectful; however, I think it seems about as harmless as a mote of dust in the eye.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Sure, people say that; I’m not one of them. I’m not saying that disrespect isn’t thought of as real by some people on the left (I mean, I’m on the left, and I think it’s real; you’re on the left, and you think it’s real, right?) but rather that people who intellectually have adopted a care/harm based moral compass understand disrespect as harm.

            Wikipedia summarizes the foundations as:

            Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm
            Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating
            Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal
            Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion
            Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation

            I think a lot of complaints of disrespect would fall into the last 3, but some people interpret disrespect or insult as harm. To think about it another way – if the claim that people’s values are somehow “set” one way or another, are there “natural conservatives”? What I’m describing is maybe what happens when a “natural conservative” is in a context where they end up with left-wing opinions, where intellectually, care/harm is most important.

            EDIT: Or, consider the way some people (very few of them on the right, I imagine) use “unsafe” – they use it where others might use “uncomfortable” or “upset” – isn’t that finding potential harm where maybe there isn’t any?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            I think I may I have lost the thread of what you are arguing?

            people who intellectually have adopted a care/harm based moral compass understand disrespect as harm.

            People who have adopted this as the only thing that matters, sure. But perhaps we are arguing about how many of these people there are?

            or perhaps you may be arguing that many people reduce their moral reasoning to a single compass? But, they don’t actually start with the compass but rather gut feelings and work their moral reasoning backwards? Certainly there are those who do (explicit example: “The Bible tells me everything I need to know.”) but I’m not sure how numerous they actually are.

            Generally speaking, most people are very confused in their arguments. Finding inconsistent or flawed argument is par for the course. I think you probably agree with that, but I’m not sure why (or even if) you are rejecting that as an explanation.

            consider the way some people use “unsafe”

            I think that word is employed in much the way “concerned”, “worried” and “scared” are, although I think you may be right that words like “uncomfortable” might also be used.

            Consider the subject of allowing the wearing of immodest dress in a public school. The parent might say “I am scared that will be a bad influence on my child.” The child might say “She makes me feel uncomfortable.” But at the root is still fear.

          • Matt M says:

            The problem is that until very recently, “safe” always referred to the protection from physical harm. As such, it was always considered an incredibly high value on anyone’s ranking scale, regardless of political affiliation.

            It’s a major PR coup from the left that they’ve managed to figure out how to re-define the word to include any and everything they don’t like – while somehow maintaining the high value attached to it. They know that they can’t just say “I don’t like this guy’s opinions, they make me uncomfortable” because “comfort” isn’t necessarily a terminal value for everyone. But safety definitely is. A university president can easily ignore students claiming discomfort. But he cannot ignore any perceived lack of attention to safety. Which is why administrators so easily cater to any demand, so long as attached to it is a claim of safety – which the general public interprets as “immediate risk of physical harm” even though no such risk is, in fact, present.

            Ironically enough, the other group of people who figured out how to weaponize the concept of “safety” are the police. I’m not sure if it’s literally trained or not – but every officer inherently knows that if you ever happen to shoot an unarmed man, the immediate required response is “I feared for my safety.” Such claims are almost never questioned, and any behavior is deemed appropriate in such a circumstance.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            Not sure you saw my comment before you posted yours, but I think you are simply wrong, and that feelings about safety have been abused essentially forever, by everyone.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub

            or perhaps you may be arguing that many people reduce their moral reasoning to a single compass? But, they don’t actually start with the compass but rather gut feelings and work their moral reasoning backwards? Certainly there are those who do (explicit example: “The Bible tells me everything I need to know.”) but I’m not sure how numerous they actually are.

            Well, that’s Haidt’s theory, right? That those he defines as “liberals” have moral intuitions that are really heavily based around care/harm, while those he defines as “conservatives” have a more balanced profile, one that compared to “liberals” puts a lot more value on respecting tradition, on group loyalty, on respect for authority, on disgust reactions, etc.

            I think there are problems with his theory – it’s very 90s culture war, instead of current culture war, so it fails to explain some things about the current culture war – but overall I think it shows something real.

            I think also that a lot of people on the left have adopted – separate from their moral intuitions – an intellectual framework where care/harm is the most important. Something that doesn’t hurt people is OK – maybe not good, but at least morally neutral – while something that does hurt people is bad.

            I think that there are also a lot of people who are on the left whose moral intuitions look “even” like those of conservatives – they value group loyalty, they see some things as sacred, etc. Whether this is because they are “natural conservatives” or because Haidt’s way of categorizing people is flawed (if you measure group loyalty or sanctity or whatever by asking about burning a US flag, you’ll get different answers from different people than you’d get about burning a Quran, for example) or whatever, I don’t know.

            Consider the example of a war bonnet on an MDMA’d up white girl at an EDM festival – this is clearly inappropriate! It’s disrespectful to tradition, it’s taking something that is, if not sacred, then at least in some way sanctified (I’m struggling for the right word – hallowed? solemnized?) and using it as a decoration. I think a lot of people who ordinarily sneer at “cultural appropriation” complaints would agree if it were framed that way – a lot of conservatives who would be offended at someone wearing military medals they didn’t earn, or at a flag being burned, or whatever, I think can recognize that this is similar.

            To people who have adopted political views where tradition isn’t an argument in and of itself, where thumbing your nose at sanctified things is OK or cool, etc, though (I think in general that it is safe to say left-wing politics are less friendly to “it’s a tradition! it’s sacred!” than right-wing politics) they might refashion their system 1 saying “that’s sacred and shouldn’t be used that way! Bad!” into a system 2-based understanding of it as directly harmful to individual people

            I think a lot of cultural appropriation objections can be ascribed to that – to “conservative” impulses understood through a different framework. Things get lost and changed in translation. There are other things going on that cause different problems (the example of care/harm I think is most direct is where money is involved) and those get bundled into cultural appropriation too. The whole thing is tied up in critical-studies-type understanding of power dynamics.

            I suppose what I’m trying to say is, statements like “seeing xyz get used as a fashion accessory causes harm”, is the words of care/harm set to the music of tradition, sanctity, etc.

            I think that word is employed in much the way “concerned”, “worried” and “scared” are, although I think you may be right that words like “uncomfortable” might also be used.

            Consider the subject of allowing the wearing of immodest dress in a public school. The parent might say “I am scared that will be a bad influence on my child.” The child might say “She makes me feel uncomfortable.” But at the root is still fear.

            Definitely. The gut instinct of “I don’t like this; this scares me; this must be a threat to me” is not a new thing, and it’s something that arguably the right has done more than the left in recent memory. But explicit, intellectual arguments that such-and-such is actually threatening, harmful, etc seem to be a bit more recent, and a bit more left-coded – see also the way that “violence” has had its definition expanded.

            Tied into the above, it’s an understanding of insult as injury. Historically, people on the left have been more against censorship than the right in the 20th century, and have pooh-poohed a lot of right-wing arguments that boiled down to “seeing this makes me upset, so it’s bad; it’s gross and unpleasant and is definitely wrong in some way, and shouldn’t be allowed” – so, attempts at censorship by left-wing people are not going to echo that language. It’s a similar tune, but the words are different.

            EDIT: Or, to put it another way: right-wingers are maybe more cool at just arguing straight from their feelings as though their feelings are facts; left-wingers take a more roundabout route and intellectualize it more? They have different styles of “think about the children!”

          • 10240 says:

            One way sanctity foundation might transform into care/harm is that if a minority/foreign etc. person has sanctity foundation, then someone who desecrates something they care about causes them emotional discomfort, and thus makes another person (e.g. an American white liberal) someone who has care/harm foundation concerned.

            Of course this is hypocritical as the same American white liberal is usually not all that concerned about the emotional discomfort of American white conservatives when something they care about is desecrated. One reason for that (besides pure political tribalism) is that the American white liberal belongs to the same group as the American white conservative (sort of), and the liberal has abandoned caring about the things the conservative cares about, and therefore the liberal feels like the conservative is wrong to place so much importance on it. But the American white liberal doesn’t feel comfortable deciding that a minority person’s or an (especially non-White) foreigner’s sanctity foundation is wrong, so he treats it as a given, and is concerned about its violations.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            I know of Haidt, but I really don’t know his work in any depth, so perhaps that is part of the disconnect.

            The conservatives who agreed that the EDM festival headdress wearing was inappropriate would defend a little boy wearing the same headdress and cos-playing a “bloody savage” for the game of Cowboys and Indians. There wouldn’t be any consistency or principle in their support or rejection of the “disrespect”, rather they would find EDM raves untraditional (for the own culture) and Cowboys and Indians traditional.

            Part of the issue of course is that there are multiple different meanings of the word “conservative” in political discourse, but in this context the conservative I am talking about is one who almost definitionally committed to tradition, as they do not wish society to change from the way they remember it (or the way their parents did). Regarding this kind of conservative as “balanced” seems incorrect to me. Most of the intellectual inconsistencies in their positions will simply be ignored, as in the example above, because they simple prefer things as they are, and don’t care to analyze them for moral consistency.

            As to your contention that “explicit, intellectual arguments that such-and-such is actually threatening, harmful, etc seem to be a bit more recent [and of the left]” I think this is plainly wrong. The conservative traditionalist talks about threats as existential threats to civilized society itself. The conservative tradition is choc-a-bloc full of moral authority making intellectual arguments that some offense, like rock and roll, will cause the downfall of our way of life.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I know of Haidt, but I really don’t know his work in any depth, so perhaps that is part of the disconnect.

            OK, so, I would recommend his book. At a minimum, his explanation for why people’s political views vary is interesting.

            The conservatives who agreed that the EDM festival headdress wearing was inappropriate would defend a little boy wearing the same headdress and cos-playing a “bloody savage” for the game of Cowboys and Indians. There wouldn’t be any consistency or principle in their support or rejection of the “disrespect”, rather they would find EDM raves untraditional (for the own culture) and Cowboys and Indians traditional.

            Part of Haidt’s theory (caveat: I read the book a couple years ago and may be misremembering) is that people aren’t principled or consistent. Their principles and so on are just fig leafs for their instinctive reactions. They come up with a story where they think something is wrong because xyz, but really they have a gut instinct that something is wrong, and then they derive xyz from that.

            Part of the issue of course is that there are multiple different meanings of the word “conservative” in political discourse, but in this context the conservative I am talking about is one who almost definitionally committed to tradition, as they do not wish society to change from the way they remember it (or the way their parents did). Regarding this kind of conservative as “balanced” seems incorrect to me. Most of the intellectual inconsistencies in their positions will simply be ignored, as in the example above, because they simple prefer things as they are, and don’t care to analyze them for moral consistency.

            Haidt claims to have found that people who identify as conservatives, when they take the questionnaire, have a fairly across-the-board even set of values for the 5 values. They’re not single-mindedly devoted to tradition. Their views may be intellectually inconsistent, but Haidt’s goal is to measure their gut intuitions.

            As to your contention that “explicit, intellectual arguments that such-and-such is actually threatening, harmful, etc seem to be a bit more recent [and of the left]” I think this is plainly wrong. The conservative traditionalist talks about threats as existential threats to civilized society itself. The conservative tradition is choc-a-bloc full of moral authority making intellectual arguments that some offense, like rock and roll, will cause the downfall of our way of life.

            So, you’re right, and I had failed to consider that, versus my own perceptions. What, then, is the difference between the two? To me, the fuddy-duddy condemning the rock and/or roll because Elvis’ gyrations will drive the youth of today mad with lust and then they’ll embrace international communism, seems a lot different from the woke person of today condemning something similar as chock full of toxic masculinity (the latter is more correct than the former; a lot of classic rock is pretty alarming – see “Run for your Life”, and then consider that Lennon was an admitted woman-beater). The 80s Christian mom who thinks that D&D makes people worship Satan and commit suicide feels different from my left-wing view on D&D (namely, that categorizing certain groups of intelligent creatures as always or usually evil is a fig leaf to allow imaginary genocidal violence without any moral reflection; “we are locked in an existential struggle with our evil enemies, it’s us or them, and so we must steel ourselves and do terrible things for the greater good” is the argument that history’s greatest monsters have actually used – I don’t think that teaching kids that you gotta kill the orc babies or else they’ll grow up to be avengers necessarily has real-world consequences, but if it does, they can’t be good ones).

            The difference might entirely be in my perceptions, which I must sadly admit are not 100% accurate. If there is a difference, though, what is it? Possibilities:

            -the conservative harks back to an idealized past that is being lost, the left-winger worries that progress will be halted and we won’t claim the idealized future, or that there will be backsliding to an anathematized past.
            -the conservative focuses more on abstract, indirect harm to society, while the left-winger focuses more on concrete, direct harm to individuals.

            EDIT: It is also possible that I just take people on the relatively-mainstream left more seriously than people on the relatively-mainstream right.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It is also possible that I just take people on the relatively-mainstream left more seriously than people on the relatively-mainstream right.

            I think this is likely true.

            I primed you with rock-n-roll, and somehow you stuck there, back in the past. Meanwhile abortion and gay marriage continue to be talked about in quite apocalyptic terms, with fairly mainstream Christian evangelical figures blaming natural disasters on them. People in this comment section have gone on at length about “the death of white culture” in the last week. I could go on.

            The saying “familiarity breeds contempt”, while too trite, does capture a certain valid phenomena.

            I don’t think there is really much difference in the meta-level rational mistakes made by most any large group. You will see differences perhaps in prevalence, but not in kind.

          • albatross11 says:

            HeelBearCub:

            This seems like a weird example, because little kids dress up in costumes and play games all the time, and it takes an unusually humorless scold to take offense. Nobody’s offended if a bunch of kids pretend to be Marines or Navy Seals, either; plenty of people would be offended if someone dressed up that way for a party or something.

            dndnsrn:

            I think your analysis is right–people who are unaccustomed to making arguments in terms of sacred values or tradition find it hard to articulate why the drugged-up girl in the Indian head-dress is offensive, when someone getting mad about a sexy nun halloween costume is almost certainly in the *other tribe*.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t know about it being familiarity breeding contempt – it’s more that the mainstream-right examples specifically about social issues are, even when threatening (depending on the example, to me, or to someone else), often goofy and somewhat pathetic. Gay marriage isn’t going away, and “the hurricane was cause we let the gays marry!” is laughable. I read the Globe and Mail, so it’s not as though I don’t get exposed to mainstream Canadian conservatives (who can be found in some numbers there; of course, Canadian conservatives would all be Democrats in the US).

            My perception of the social conservative wing of the mainstream right is that they are generally losers – a social conservative in 1950 is bemoaning the decline in morality since 1900; a social conservative today might not even want to go back to the 1950s. I know Tories who are socially left-wing by the standards of ten or fifteen years ago who think they are social conservatives! The economic wing of the mainstream right has been far more successful and they don’t create the same reaction in me. Likewise, you bring up abortion – and abortion is one of the places where the social conservatives have been fairly successful, and it is conceivable they’ll get their way in the not-so-distant future; I don’t get the same “what bums!” reaction.

            Concerning this comment section, I don’t think we have very many mainstream right-wingers here. One of the least represented breeds here is the “establishment” American Republican – I think we might have more actual communists.

            I’d also note I don’t think that one “side” or one political tendency is more rational than another – all of us humans are reliably irrational. However, I don’t think I see the same “system 1/system 2 clash” thing going on, at least not to the same degree, with people on the right as with people on the left (and remember that this was specifically about one form of cultural appropriation). Maybe among the libertarians who have become surprisingly enthusiastic about authoritarian right wing stuff – and it turned out they cared more about keeping the commies away than about personal freedom? Some of them seem to argue for authoritarianism, which would hardly appeal to someone whose beliefs are generically about human freedom, on grounds that are (often relatively flimsy) appeals to freedom.

          • albatross11 says:

            A televangelist claiming some hurricane is God’s punishment for legalizing gay marriage is representative of American conservative Christians in about the same way that a Jezabel article titled “Hey, White Women” is representative of American liberals.

          • Matt M says:

            One of the least represented breeds here is the “establishment” American Republican – I think we might have more actual communists.

            What do you think this is, an Ivy league institution?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            A televangelist claiming some hurricane is God’s punishment for legalizing gay marriage is representative of American conservative Christians in about the same way that a Jezabel article titled “Hey, White Women” is representative of American liberals.

            Pat Robertson is one such televangelist; Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on abortionists, feminists and gays. I submit that these people are much more prominent and representative of conservative Christianity than Jezebel authors like Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, Megan Reynolds, Madeleine Davies, or Joanna Rothkopf (some authors of recent Jezebel articles filed under “White Women”), none of whom I have ever heard of.

          • Matt M says:

            They are prominent, but not accepted.

            Every time Robertson makes claims like that, right-wing radio hosts like Glenn Beck mock him and make a great effort to distance themselves from those types of comments.

            I feel like that is not, at all, true with mainstream liberals and the Jezebel lot. Mainstream liberals, if they interact with Jezebel at all, will simply approvingly re-tweet them, not actively denounce them…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Pat Robertson made a credible run for the Republican presidential nomination. Falwell’s endorsement is sought after and appearing at Liberty University is a frequent and touted campaign event. Franklin Graham’s backing is also regularly sought.

            You think they are jokes, but don’t ignore the plain evidence of the significant support they have among the base.

            As to Beck, he is falling further and further out of the mainstream. Does Hannity mock them?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m gonna side with HeelBearCub: While they’re hardly a majority of Republicans, without social conservatives (I don’t know what % of social conservatives believe that homosexuality leads to natural disasters, but a more generic don’t like gays, want abortion banned social conservatism) voting Republican, the Republican chances of getting elected would decline significantly – they’re an important part of the base. (Compare to black voters: they’re a minority of voters, but those voters vote Democrat extremely reliably – without them, the Democrats would do much worse electorally).

            If social conservatives started voting third party reliably, the Republicans would be in trouble; if black people started voting third party reliably, the Democrats would be in trouble. “White women who write articles talking about white women as though they’re an alien entity” is not a significant voter bloc; they’re probably about as necessary to the Democrats as bowtie-libertarians are to the Republicans.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            There’s a general point they teach in political science, that I assume is the same everywhere: the closer your election margin was to 50%, the more important all of your factions become.

            Very rough example: if you’re a Democrat who won by 50.5%, you pretty much have to listen to everyone you believe voted for you, even tiny groups like the local Earth Firsters. If you won with a comfortable 80%, however, you could tell off pretty much everyone but the AARP.

            This is all made more complicated, of course, by things such as polling error, overlapping factions (will this socon leave me because of abortion, or stay on because of gun rights?), and other things.

            So to some extent, it doesn’t matter how significant a voting block socons, blacks, libertarians, Jezebelles, etc. are, since the federal vote margin is so narrow. OTOH, it might matter a lot more at local and state, but that will depend on how big each group is at each respective location. It could easily be the case that socons are the big bloc up for grabs in swing states, or it could be that in the swing states where they’re big, they’re solid red or blue because of other issues their individual members care about more.

            I would expect both Dems and Reps to spend a lot of effort finding out exactly what the true terrain is here. I would also expect them to have as much difficulty as any organization trying to figure out how best to market their product. And I would expect them to keep whatever information they find proprietary.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Quick interjection on scope. Last I looked, the estimate was that as of the 2000s (specifically the Bush elections), the religious/social conservative bloc constituted roughly a quarter of all GOP voters. Not GOP members, mind you, but the active voters.

            So, a minority even among voters, but a 25% bloc that is relatively cohesive and disciplined can have an outsized effect.

            I’m going to try and see if I can pin down a source for that statistic rather than my posterior and edit this post with it.

            EDIT: Feh, all I can find is cutesy infographic crap like this from the NYT (lots of sources cited but no raw data or methodology) and analyses like this. They broadly agree with my estimate, but I’ll certainly understand if someone wants harder data.

  16. hls2003 says:

    I don’t know that much about computers, and I know this is a tech-heavy group. I have a general and possibly silly question about computing power. Like most laymen, I know about Moore’s Law, and experienced the 1990’s-2010’s explosion of processing power in, e.g., home computers. I also heard that the two-year “law” cycle ended recently, but that there are several more generations of doubling on a longer scale before running up against technological and eventually physical limits. I’ve also heard of quantum computers, and have a non-expert understanding of what tasks they would be especially suited to perform, as well as that there are ongoing efforts to scale them up (the relative success of which I don’t know very well, other than that the error-checking process seems like a current challenge). I know there’s a lot of work being done in the software space to improve general computer competence, though most of it is Greek to me.

    So it looks to my non-expert view that the graph of (classical) processor power has ceased looking like an exponential function and has started looking like a logarithmic function. I don’t know exactly what’s likely for quantum computers, either in terms of getting them to work or in what senses they could improve on classical processors. But it looks like there’s an end point somewhere – maybe a decade or two? – where the computers we have will be (approximately) the computers we’re ever going to have. My very unsophisticated question is: what do those computers look like? What kind of capability are we talking about as the asymptote? (Or if I’m totally wrong and there’s not an endpoint in the foreseeable future, what that’s about?)

    Any suggestions of good articles or books would also be appreciated.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s not as straightforward as eyeballing a graph, because changes in performance are to some extent both enabled and constrained by changes in architecture. We’re going to run into fundamental physical limits to performance in a few generations assuming no architectural changes, but there have been several architectural shifts already: the advent of hyperthreading and the switch from single-core to multi-core PCs are well known, for example. Somewhat less well-known is the trend toward shifting certain types of repetitive non-graphics processing tasks to GPUs. We can probably expect to see more of this type of thing in the future.

      I’m tempted to say that future computer performance will be constrained more by software than by hardware: efficient multithreaded code is enormously harder to write than single-threaded, and doing a good job of driving a GPU is harder still.

      • hls2003 says:

        Is generating the complex code necessary something that is currently, and for the foreseeable future is expected to be, performed by humans, or is the process of coding susceptible to automation? (I realize I’m starting to get into bootstrapping AI issues, but I don’t think one needs to postulate FOOM or awareness or even general AI capability to allow progress to continue if computers can efficiently generate the code necessary to allow it).

        • Nornagest says:

          Threading and GPU stuff is mostly hand-coded. On the other hand, a lot of compilers can now do a fairly good job of automatically optimizing code for particular CPUs’ instruction sets and other parameters, which form another set of architectural tradeoffs that I didn’t really get into.

          There’s active research going on into automatic parallelization, but it hasn’t been widely deployed yet and I don’t know how practical it’s going to be.

    • rlms says:

      My understanding from my recent undergraduate course is that the trend of ever smaller/cheaper transistors and hence faster CPUs is coming to a stop (although it may be that the limiting factor is energy efficiency not size — we can build chips with more transistors than we can power on safely). Increasing the number of cores computers have may help, but has diminishing returns (see Amdahl’s law). One plausible avenue for improvement is making chips more heterogenous: rather than using general purpose CPUs for all tasks, use custom designs for some things. GPUs are the main current example of this, but there are many other possibilities. Another (probably more speculative) possibility is approximate computing: using the fact that many tasks don’t require perfectly accurate computation to take shortcuts. If you want to learn more, the relevant chapters of Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach (probably the latest edition) might be useful. In terms of long term speculation (i.e. answering your question) is that it’s very difficult to say, because to a large extent it depends on how computation ends up being done (e.g. on cheap personal computers vs expensive centralised servers) and that depends on a lot of things (like what kind of computation people want to do).

      I don’t know much about quantum computing but my impression is that it’s not going to be available to consumers any time soon.

      • hls2003 says:

        Thanks. I guess, being a consumer, I was kind of looking at it from a personal computer perspective, but I understand that the real brute supercomputers are a different classification. Even there, it seems like if there’s an endpoint to the speedup, then preparation of progressively more powerful central processing units would be more akin to more powerful particle accelerators – you can probably do it by sheer size, but money and resource constraints means you’re not going to get arbitrarily high power.

    • ajakaja says:

      Don’t have any links on hand for you, but some thoughts in this space:

      Moore’s law has been followed primarily due to our ability to fabricate smaller and smaller transistors, which, yes, is near hitting the practical limit. Quantum computing is not the Next Big Thing; it’s parallelization. GPUs (graphical processing units) are hardware particularly suited to parallel processing (basically because they implement pipelines for running math on every pixel on a screen at once), and have (relatively) recently been started being used to do all sorts of other calculations as well (crypto mining, machine learning, etc). Similarly, computers are just receiving more and more cores, to do more simultaneous work, so (I presume) the general computing experience will get faster and faster for some time still, even though the speed of transistors is bottoming out.

      I generally expect that computers will seem to get faster and faster to the average consumer for a while, basically because we will get (a) better at parallelization (b) better at making more-parallel things more cheaply and (c) there are lots of efficiencies in the ‘hardware pipeline’ that haven’t made it to us yet. I’m not an expert; this is just my intuition.

      (If you have a set amount of work to do, you can either do it faster or more concurrently in order to get it done in less overall time. Some work has particular qualities that makes it amenable to this, and sometimes it is possible to transform work that seems like it should be sequential into a parallelizable form. For a simple example: calculating Fibonacci numbers through the recurrence relation F_n = F_n-1 + F_n-2 seems like a bunch of sequential steps, but it turns out you can implement this as matrix exponentiation, which is very amenable to parallelization.)

      Quantum computing will — presumably — get a Moore’s law of its own of some form, but, importantly, it is not going to make regular computation, like rendering frames or (most) math faster. Quantum computing algorithms known to date make _particular_ problems, like integer factorization, asymptotically faster. This is going to make, say, cracking passwords that use non-quantum-resistant encryption algorithms fast enough to ‘change the game’, as it were, but it’s not going to make the experience of “computing things on your laptop” faster any time soon (or, possibly, ever).

      • hls2003 says:

        Thanks, that’s a good explanation of the parallelization concept. I was aware that quantum computers were more useful for factorization or optimization problems than standard computing (and thus encryption-relevant), but I lack the knowledge even to speculate about how or if that would impact the general experience of computer users, so I appreciate that clarification.

      • metacelsus says:

        I’m most excited for the use of quantum computers in computational chemistry (which is close to my field of research). It’s looking to be quite promising.

    • Nornagest says:

      Go away, John.

  17. dndnrsn says:

    Welcome to another installment of my effortpost series on Biblical scholarship. So far we’ve looked at the Genesis creation accounts, the rest of Genesis, the account of slavery and liberation in Exodus, the Priestly Theology, and Deuteronomy. This time, we’re going to look at what scholars call the “Deuteronomistic History” – its themes and the extent to which it represents accurately what we know of history.

    Usual boilerplate: I’ve got a master’s degree (focusing on the New Testament) but am not a real-deal capital-E Expert (so, this is going to be a 100 or 200 level survey; the New Testament stuff can get a bit more inside-baseball if people want). I’m focusing on secular scholarship. I won’t be providing a lot of summary, because Bibles are pretty easy to get hold of and there’s a word limit.

    Put simply, there is a scholarly consensus that Joshua, Judges, Samuel (originally a single book, later split), and Kings (ditto) were bundled together with Deuteronomy (which includes ostensibly-historical elements) by editors whose worldview was strongly influenced by Deuteronomy. They didn’t create the historical stories; rather, the historical stories were older texts (themselves likely based on oral histories, still-older textual sources, etc) that were edited and framed by these editors, who could be considered as a Deuteronomistic school or tradition. The degree of editing and framing, as we will see, varies.

    The Deuteronomistic worldview that scholars think frames the books in this collection can be summarized simply: God’s will has been made known and there are warnings of what to do and what not to do. People are responsible for their actions; significantly, leaders are responsible for their people. People should follow the rules; they are punished when they don’t, but God is not merciless, and the punishments are not permanent – moreover, it is not all stick; there are rewards for following the rules and doing things the right way. There’s a general cycle, seen again and again, of the rules being broken, punishment occurring, God relenting… and then the rules get broken again. Illustrating the link to Deuteronomy, the primary transgressions are failures to follow the worship concerns that characterize Deuteronomy: the centrality of worship of God, and the prohibition of worship of other deities.

    In this worldview, everything happens for a reason – history isn’t just geopolitical facts. I hesitate to talk about it being a “supernatural” or “religious” view of the world, because the “modern” understandings of natural vs supernatural, secular vs religious, etc, are not applicable to every time (or even applicable to everyone today). However, suffice it to say that what happens to God’s chosen people isn’t determined by the interplay of different empires and their conflicts in that particular part of the world. God is active in history, and there’s a clear causality.

    A brief summary will be useful. The book of Joshua concerns the conquest of the land. The book of Judges consists of stories of pre-monarchical heroic figures (generally “deputized”, so to speak, to deal with immediately pressing problems). The book(s) of Samuel cover the transition to monarchy, revolving around the story of Saul’s rule, Saul’s fall, David’s rise, and David’s rule. The book(s) of Kings cover the reign of Solomon, and then the divided history of the northern and southern kingdoms.

    Scholars think that the Deuteronomistic History as a whole probably dates in its earliest edition to the late seventh century, and that the final edition likely dates to the exile, maybe later. However, this is not to say that they just made the historical accounts up! They definitely had sources at their disposal – oral traditions, oral traditions that were written down, or sources that were documents to begin with (for example, in Kings, various references are made to books of royal history – the sources do not survive, but it is more plausible that they existed than that this was merely a pretense). The Deuteronomistic school, or tradition, or whatever you want to call it, was more editorial than authorial.

    The degree of editing also varies from book to book. Judges, for example, has what scholars believe to be heavy editorial commentary in 2:11-3:6, reflecting the Deuteronomistic worldview, but the stories themselves have not been consistently edited to reflect that worldview. Likewise, Kings retains stories that describe Solomon’s non-central sacrifices, marriage to women of other peoples, and worship of their gods. Rather than excise these stories, or make Solomon a uniformly negative figure (his reign is made to sound pretty good and Solomon is described as an exceptionally wealthy and wise man) Solomon’s misdeeds are interpreted as causing God to send enemies against him, and ultimately as leading to the end of the singular monarchy. Scholars interpret this as a sign that the editors were working with older material, which they placed within their own worldview.

    Given that these are historical books, the question of how well they represent history is an important one. Many of the stories are stories that can’t be proven one way or the other – but some can be checked. The most significant question regards Joshua, as it is tied up with the question of how exactly the Israelites came to be. As we have seen before, various archaeological evidence does not support the “institutional history” as written. Joshua is an account of the conquest of the land. Read with a skeptical eye, it appears to show a lesser conquest than what is commonly claimed to have occurred. Even that, however, does not line up with the historical evidence.

    There have been various different theories regarding where the Israelites came from. One thing is clear: the account in Joshua cannot be factually correct. Archaeological evidence doesn’t show any proof that the cities the Israelites are said to have destroyed were destroyed at the relevant times, or even that these cities existed at these times. Further, as has been noted earlier, there are many reasons to conclude that the story of a large number of people fleeing Egypt cannot be correct. The account of a group moving into the region and conquering territory, as found in Joshua, likewise cannot be correct.
    What, then, is there evidence for? This is where things get interesting. There is evidence of small sites in the central highlands (where one would, based on various Biblical material, expect to find evidence of Israelite settlement) emerging around the 13th century to the 11th century (remember that there are various clues pointing to the 13th century as being important). These sites are Canaanite in material culture.

    Many scholars have concluded that the most likely explanation is that, at that period, Canaanites migrated from the city-states of the lowlands – the reason is unclear. Either before or after these movements, these Canaanites developed a separate religious and cultural identity (and, as has been noted, spent a great deal of ink on insisting that they were not Canaanites). The separate religious identity is particularly interesting: there’s no archaeological evidence one way or another to account for the development of the Israelite religion (which was rather exceptional in its monotheism, which would increase over time, as well as in other ways). Scholarly speculation reigns supreme here – for example, it’s possible that a population of escaped slaves integrated into the ex-urban highlanders, bringing with them stories of liberation of slavery (remember that a people having a story of being runaway slaves led by someone with an Egyptian-derived name doesn’t make sense without a kernel of truth) and a God who accomplished this liberation (or perhaps they brought influences that would lead these highlanders to understand a God they already worshipped as being a liberating deity).

    Beyond this, looking at what can be assessed historically, we come to two kings: David and Solomon, bringing the number of examples to a pleasing three. The historicity of David is, in one sense, easy to establish: there was clearly an established royal family considered to descend from him (with, for example, archaeological finds referencing the “house of David”). This doesn’t prove that there was an individual called David, but it doesn’t disprove it, either, and there is no particular reason to doubt that there was a historical figure called David.

    The details of David’s rule, however, are impossible to establish. There is little to no evidence to say what David was like, what he did in his reign, and whether the biographical picture is accurate. Scholars disagree over the date, genre, and purpose of the David story – it might be quite early, its actual content does not seem original to the Deuteronomistic editors, and it does not follow the patterns a propagandistic court history would be expected to follow. Some scholars think that the David story is intended to counter various charges against David – however, the document we have today is hardly an ironclad defence. It might best be understood as a novel of sorts, featuring a main character who is chosen and blessed by God, but who is opportunistic and easily tempted, and not the most ethical guy around.

    Concerning Solomon: by and large, the history (following Solomon’s reign) of the divided monarchy in the second part of Kings seems to accord with what we know from other sources, especially of the fall of the northern kingdom and the ravaging of the southern kingdom by the Assyrians and then (even worse this time) by the Babylonians.

    However, the accounts of Solomon’s glory don’t accord with the archaeological evidence. The borders ascribed to his rule seem to be, at a minimum, exaggerated, and archaeological evidence from Jerusalem likewise makes it seem as though accounts of his riches and lavish building projects are inaccurate. However, evidence here is more limited than one would expect it to be – the Temple Mount is the most likely site for some of his building projects, and for reasons that have to do with the non-scholarly kind of controversy, archaeological excavations there are not feasible. There does appear to be evidence of building projects at the appropriate time in places other than Jerusalem.

    Finally, as noted earlier, the picture of Solomon in Kings doesn’t seem fabricated – if it was fabricated, it would be a more convenient story. It would be more uniformly positive, or more uniformly negative. Overall, it would appear that the account of Solomon’s reign represents exaggeration or positive spin rather than fabrication.

    So, overall, the scholarly consensus is that a school of editors combined older sources, doing some editing and adding a framework, coming up with historical accounts that reinforced their worldview. They were editors, not authors. While the historical accounts of the conquest of the land in Joshua appear to be later fabrication, and many stories can’t be checked one way or the other, the later historical material appears pretty reliable. Next up: we start to get into the prophets.

    Postscript: if I’ve screwed anything up, let me know, ideally within the next 55 minutes so I can edit it.

    • hls2003 says:

      As always, thanks for the write-up. This is one of my favorite ongoing effort post series.

      I don’t know enough to get very far into the archaeological evidence, so I’ll leave aside any comment on, e.g., historicity of Joshua / origin of the Israelites (which in any event got discussed in the Exodus thread). Just to clarify, though, it sounds to me like in general (again leaving aside some of the archaeology questions) this set of books (out of the ones you’ve discussed thus far) might be one of the closest matches between the “scholarly consensus” and the traditional understanding. Is that what you would understand as well? For example, I think it’s clear from the text that they’re compilations (as you note, they reference the “annals of the kings…” and have other editorial comments, e.g. Judges “this was before there was a king in Israel”) and it doesn’t strike me as unusual that they would be edited and sourced. Seems like the only major points of departure would be your assessment of Deuteronomy (traditionally dated to Moses) and Joshua (denying its historicity). The rest is more like quibbling with editorial choices or “spin.” Is that concept of the divergence approximately correct?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yeah, approximately. I would say that as a general rule, as you go through the stuff in the Torah and the Deuteronomistic History that one can describe as “historical”, it goes from clearly mythical, to conflicting heavily with external evidence, to there being a lack of external evidence (eg, we don’t really have much to check Judges against, as far as I know), to according more and more with external evidence. The Biblical account of the Assyrians coming and busting stuff up seems to line up with our external sources pretty well, although you are right that it has spin. The easiest explanation (to me; this isn’t scholarly consensus, just the conclusion I reached) is that, if a big part of the Torah’s “project” is creating a retconned origin story, the further away from the origin story the less reason to alter history.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      First thing that jumped out at me:

      However, suffice it to say that what happens to God’s chosen people isn’t determined by the interplay of different empires and their conflicts in that particular part of the world. God is active in history, and there’s a clear causality.

      Note that by accepting Daniel as canon, the compilers – at a later editorial stage than Kings – accepted that what happens to God’s chosen people has a secondary cause of each nation/empire having a sar (LXX: archon) who engage in psychic conflict. When Daniel is blessed with a visit from the angel Gabriel, Gabriel says that he was delayed by the archon of Persia until the interplay of Michael, “your prince.”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Archaeological evidence doesn’t show any proof that the cities the Israelites are said to have destroyed were destroyed at the relevant times, or even that these cities existed at these times. Further, as has been noted earlier, there are many reasons to conclude that the story of a large number of people fleeing Egypt cannot be correct. The account of a group moving into the region and conquering territory, as found in Joshua, likewise cannot be correct.

      Eh?
      I thought there was plenty of archaeological evidence for cities of the southern Levant being destroyed around the time Ahmose I expelled the Hyksos, and then again at the end of the Bronze Age (reign of Merenptah, etc.) and some new people moving in: including Mycenaean Greeks who became the Philistines by forgetting their gods and then their material culture in favor of local ones.

      • dndnrsn says:

        There’s definitely a lot of destruction of cities, but not the right cities at the right times.

        • Aron Wall says:

          Which cities, and which centuries, are we talking about?

          The Ahmose I/Hyskos theory may have many flaws, but it at least gets the date of Jericho’s destruction right. (Or at least, in agreement with the current majority archaeological opinion.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m short on access to books right now, but take Jericho. By the most likely time that the conquest would have taken place (recall that what indicators there are of period in Exodus point towards the 13th century, and that what passes for scholarly consensus thinks that sites they’ve identified as Israelite were founded in the 13th c onwards; in general, the biblical, extra-biblical, and evidence from excavations we have, suggest the 13th century) it was not a walled city at that point. Only Hazor and Bethel show signs of having been sacked at the appropriate time.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Jericho had stone defenses and got destroyed like 1550 or 1600 depending on who you talk to, which is about the right time for the Hyskos theory of the Exodus.

            The 13th century dating of the Exodus is based on assuming that the Biblical account is fairly inaccurate at best. Once you don’t assume that, the date of the Exodus gets a lot more nonobvious.

            I’m not saying I believe the Hyskos theory, which I think goes back to Josephus who had access to more ancient historical sources than we do and seemed to think there was some substantial evidence there. I am saying that tossing it out because modern scholars date the exodus late because they assume the Bible is wrong is kind of circular. The archeological dating of the Exodus/conquest kind of relies on a model of the conquest which is completely different from the book of Joshua. So you might as well say the Hyskos exodus theory is wrong because it disagrees with the scholarly consensus that the Israelites didn’t really leave Egypt in the first place. That doesn’t say anything about how the evidence for the current scholarly theory stacks up against the Hyskos theory.

            To do that, you’d have to start asking questions about what Israelite stuff you’d expect to see in the archeological record between like 1550 and 1300, given the degree to which Joshua records them as taking some cities intact, destroying others, and completely failing to conquer all kinds of stuff. I’m not an archeology expert, but my understanding is that at the moment we’ve got a mix of serious paucity of evidence, some confusing evidence, and some evidence consistent with Joshua.

            Edit: I should be clearer. Myself, I think the conquest happened more like 1400.

          • dndnrsn says:

            One of the reasons they date it to the 13th century (which a 1400 date would kinda-sorta meet) is that some internal references mesh with some Egyptian evidence – so I don’t think it’s entirely about biblical accuracy.

            The Hyksos theory goes back at least to Manetho, who said Jerusalem was founded by the Hyksos after they were booted out of Egypt, with a leader whose name was Osarseph/Moses. He might have gotten that from an earlier story; there’s no real proof for it. Josephus repeats the story but doesn’t provide more evidence.

            The Hyksos explanation would fit the destruction of Jericho, but not a great deal else. Especially the bit where there’s decent archaeological evidence that the Israelites arose in the land of Canaan, from the Canaanites, or at least most of them did (I’m attached to the theory that they absorbed some people fleeing some kind of forced labour or similar in Egypt, because otherwise the story of the Exodus is just some people making up an account of their ancestors being slaves in Egypt for no reason whatsoever). That the Exodus couldn’t have happened anything like the story as written casts the whole conquest into doubt – I don’t think it’s just assuming the Biblical account is inaccurate when there’s a lot of evidence against its inaccuracy.

            I suppose you could have a hybrid theory, where the Hyksos did their thing fairly late and they’re the ones who came from Egypt and were absorbed, but it still doesn’t explain the liberation-from-slavery motif.

            I’m afraid my ability to provide better comments is limited – I don’t have access to my bookshelf right now.

    • pointenlos says:

      … to the late seventh century …

      Just curious: What does late mean in a context of negative years? Do we stand a year zero, look backwards and late is as usual the higher numbers, eg, the years 699 – 650 BCE? Or is late a temporal sense and we’re speaking here about the years with smaller numbers but further in the progress of time: 650 – 600 BCE?

    • S_J says:

      There is something I remembered when you went through Genesis, but I figured it would be a distraction at the time. It’s a comment about who is praised in the book of Genesis, and what that means about the last editor of that book.

      Basically, the closing of Genesis predicts (or maybe contains a retcon explaining) the dominance of of the tribes of Judah and Ephraim.

      Judah, among the sons of Jacob, was not the first-born. Judah wasn’t the one that they expected to receive the blessing-of-the-firstborn.

      But the elder brothers (Reuben in one episode, Simeon and Levi in another) do something that humiliates or endangers their father Jacob. Those stories are tucked into the sections of Genesis that lead up to the birth of Joseph. All three appear to get away with their mis-deeds, though Jacob warns them that they’ve caused trouble for themselves and for the family.

      At the end of Genesis, Jacob gives a death-bed speech over his sons. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi each get something bad spoken over them. But Judah is praised vociferously. Predictions of kings to come from the lineage of Judah are given.

      In a slightly-earlier sequence, Joseph had presetned his sons (Manasseh the elder, Ephraim the younger) to Jacob, Jacob reverses their positions. He gives Ephraim the blessing typically given to the elder son. This time, there is no apparent reason for the action.

      The rest of the Torah doesn’t seem to recognize this prediction. Neither do the books of Joshua and Judges. However, David, of the tribe of Judah, is a major character in the books of Samuel, and his dynasty remains important through the rest of the books of Kings.

      The tribe of Ephraim provides the leaders of the northern half of the Divided kingdom, also present in the books of the Kings.

      Is this considered a Deuteronomistic edit to Genesis, or something else?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Let me get back to you on this. If I haven’t by the next time I post something, please remind me on that post.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Getting back to you (bug me later if this isn’t satisfying; I have limited access to reference material right now). My guess would be that the different stories are due to one being a northern tradition, and the other a southern tradition. They got put in their final form by southern editors – who would have prioritized Judah.

          From the stuff I’ve got available to me, I can’t say whether the southern editors were Deuteronomistic-related; Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History include northern-derived material, but again are primarily southern in perspective (and take an even dimmer view of the north than the south).

          EDIT: when the same event is recounted more than once in different places, or where similar-but-different events are recounted, the usual explanation is “there were multiple stories that got edited together.”

      • Aron Wall says:

        @S_J

        These are good examples of the thesis I’ve been arguing for, that whether you believe supernatural prophecy is possible, ought to affect your view of the dating of many parts of the Bible. It’s pretty hard to explain this sort of thing without it being either a prophecy or a ret-con.

        As a more minor example of the Torah favoring Judah: Numbers also gives the tribe of Judah first place among the 12 tribes in their marching & camping positions, in Numbers chapter 2.

    • Randy M says:

      No mention of the first king, Saul. Did he not do anything expected to leave an archeaological mark?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Let me get back to you, later today hopefully.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Randy M

          We don’t have any external sources, archaeological evidence, etc for Saul, as far as I know. We can verify the existence of a royal house that drew its lineage to David, but can’t confirm the existence of that individual, or anything about him.

  18. keranih says:

    Taking as a given(*) that the recent papal edict on the illegitimacy of the death penalty is true and correct(**) –

    What is the ‘most correct’ action that The State(***) should take regarding persons convicted of actions traditionally considered ‘capital'(****) crimes?

    Building off this – what is the proper action for a person to take in support of this, as an individual and not as a designated agent of The State?

    Please feel free to specify ones’ political tribe, religious affiliation (past and present) and specific opinion on the legitimacy of the death penalty.

    (*) I DO NOT WANT TO ARGUE ABOUT WHETHER THE POPE SHOULD HAVE MADE THIS PROCLAMATION. That is not a conversation for non-family.

    (**) Basically – we now know that murderers are humans who need lovingkindness treatment, and besides we have really good jails that our forefathers in the bad old days didn’t have. So previous allowances for the death penalty as (rarely) legit justice don’t hold in the present day.

    (***) Holding that the imprisonment of people is violence that should be limited to The State

    (****) Intentional killing of other humans not in self defense nor as an act of war, plus in some cases stranger rape, kidnapping of children, treason, and horse thievery.

    • keranih says:

      Follow-up –

      Specifically – what should have been done with Hitler?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Correct in what regard, moral, or practical? One might conclude that the death penalty is morally acceptable for some things, but that practically getting it right is so hard, it’s better not to use it. Or, I suppose, someone might think that the death penalty is immoral but practically justified (in which case I suppose they think the state is taking upon itself immorality for the cause of the greater good, or whatever).

      Similarly, what crimes you think it should be used for is a practical issue much of the time: making non-murder crimes death penalty increases the incentive to murder witnesses.

      Hitler should have been put on trial and hanged. One can talk about the morality of a life for a life or whatever, but the morality of one life for multiple tens of millions of lives? And it’s not as though a DNA test is going to show they got the wrong guy down the pike – it’s hardly a whodunnit.

      • quanta413 says:

        I think the spirit of the hypothetical rules out the death penalty as a moral option.

        Which means that Catholic doctrine is now definitely against hanging Hitler. Unless they wussed out, and I’m missing something.

        Also, I disagree that making non-murder crimes death penalty necessarily increases the incentives to murder witnesses (at least in a relevant manner). Witnesses only matter before you are convicted. Whether or not to murder witnesses depends strongly on the probability of getting caught murdering witnesses. If the expected payoff of murdering witnesses is lower than the expected payoff of going through a trial, there is no reason to murder witnesses even if the expected payoff of going through a trial has decreased since the penalty changed from life in prison to murder. You may still get off with a trial, but this becomes vanishingly unlikely if you get caught and connected to murdering a witness.

        As long as murdering witnesses is sufficiently hard, it’s not an option. As long as it’s easy enough, it’s an option even when the penalty for the crime you got caught doing isn’t murder. I’d bet the range of cases where murdering witnesses falls one way for life in prison without parole and the other way for death after decades of appeals is vanishingly narrow. People are barely ever sent to death in the U.S. now, but witnesses still get murdered.

        • keranih says:

          @quanta413 has it aright – the death penalty is off the table for *everyone*.

          My question – which was applicable even before the ruling, I just hadn’t asked it – is what, exactly, are we supposed to be doing with people who misbehave?

          To my mind, “lock them up and throw away the key” is only marginally more humane than the death penalty, and the case can easily be made that it is worse. How should these people be treated? Should we treat them as though each of them might actually be innocent, and would be due recompense if this was later shown to be so?

          What does ‘humane’ treatment look like? Beyond that, what sort of outcome do we want from our justice/punishment system and are we getting that outcome?

          • dndnrsn says:

            OK, I misread part of your original post.

            A better justice system would probably feature a lot more non-prison punishments. Incarceration would probably be limited to repeat offenders and those who are absolutely not safe (someone with a bunch of shallow graves in his basement is probably not a candidate for rehabilitation).

            Someone whose conviction was wrongful – maybe not where there were honest screwups, but certainly in cases where the prosecution suppressed evidence or the cops coerced a confession or whatever – should be compensated.

      • Deiseach says:

        but the morality of one life for multiple tens of millions of lives?

        So what about the arguments in other comment threads about guaranteeing dictators and their families a cushy retirement in safety if they give up and go away? There are certainly plenty of despots who may not have killed quite in that range, but have certainly caused deaths directly and indirectly, plundered their countries and reduced them to misery, and squirrelled away fortunes in the hopes of getting out fast when the inevitable reckoning comes to live in comfortable retirement in the West.

        I certainly think they should end up in prison and their stolen gains returned to the countries they pillaged, rather than having a guarantee of protection from the most powerful Western/other nation or collection of such so that their mistreated people can’t even get justice against them, but that doesn’t seem to be the sole opinion on here.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Which dictators are we talking about, though?

          I think people were talking about North Korea, which is basically a monarchy. The top dog has to do nasty things to stay the top dog. In a situation like that, it’s providing an ability to back down. It’s better to let some dictator live in Monaco than have more bloodshed, is the rationale.

          Hitler wasn’t planning to flee to somewhere else; every indication is that he intended to go out the way he did. Very few top Nazis, actually, seem to have intended to get away: mostly they either killed themselves or waited to be captured; some half-assed attempts at escape (like Himmler’s) were made, but mostly, the Nazis who got away or disappeared were not top-ranking guys.

          • Deiseach says:

            The top dog has to do nasty things to stay the top dog.

            And you will tell me the Kim regime over the generations has not killed people? Either we execute or imprison all dictators and tyrants, or we give them cushy retirements out of pragmatism and convenience. So we are definitely not concerned with deterrence here – I’m a potential African or South American despot, I estimate I can pillage and loot my country for ten years or so, then the West will let me escape in safety and settle down in a luxurious retirement financed by the funds I extorted from my people. Why wouldn’t I decide “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” and murder and terrorise my way to power?

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you’re the inheritor of power though, what do you do then? If the latest hereditary dictator of Syldavia turns out to be a really nice guy who doesn’t like the prison camps and so on, what’s he gonna do? This isn’t someone who murdered and terrorized his way to power, but if he doesn’t continue murdering and terrorizing, someone else is probably going to do him in and then they become beloved-leader-for-life. My understanding was that the discussion was about North Korea specifically.

          • Deiseach says:

            This isn’t someone who murdered and terrorized his way to power, but if he doesn’t continue murdering and terrorizing, someone else is probably going to do him in and then they become beloved-leader-for-life.

            You mean like Czar Nicholas II? Who after abdicating, sought to go into exile, but despite being related to the British royal family that government would not accept him?

            I think if nobody was willing to take the Romanovs (whatever about Nicholas, his children should have been saved), then it’s bloody cheek to turn around years later and say well okay, we should for the sake of a peaceful transition we’ll guarantee that a bloody-handed butcher can escape with his stolen blood money and live out the rest of his days in luxury. Oh and if the ‘peacefully transitioned’ government turns out to be just as corrupt and tyrannical, we’ll guarantee their guy a peaceful rich retirement as well, and keep on doing this down the line.

            The blood cries out from the earth in such cases. It’s nothing more than making panderers of Western governments and does nothing to discourage guys who want to be bloody handed butchers.

          • johansenindustries says:

            I don’t think deterrance really does matter here. The probability that your attempt to secure your autocracy fails seems like it would far dwarf concerns of your autocracy succeeding but failing some decades along the line.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Deiseach

            I’m pretty sure nobody here had anything to do with the murder of the Russian royal family.

            Anyway, I wasn’t involved in the original conversation. Is it a good idea, though, to force your enemies to fight to the death?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            This entire line of ideas seems, to me, to be illegitimate. International law is fake. The USA can’t even get the EU to follow such laws and impose sanctions on an irrelevant backwater like Iran.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sun Tzu said to build your enemies a golden bridge on which to retreat.

        • albatross11 says:

          Deiseach:

          I’m not arguing that it’s morally a good outcome for the Gadaffis and Mugabes of the world to end up in a comfortable retirement rather than in a prison cell. I’m arguing that there are probably situations where we could avoid a hell of a lot of deaths and human misery, if it were possible to credibly offer safe passage out + comfortable retirement to various strongmen, dictators, and kleptocrats. If I know that losing power means I and my whole family are either executed by the next regime or die of old age in prison somewhere, I’m probably not going to be interested in going along with a peaceful transfer of power.

      • keranih says:

        And it’s not as though a DNA test is going to show they got the wrong guy down the pike – it’s hardly a whodunnit.

        For the purposes of the question, the death penalty is off the table for everyone. Jeffery Dalmar, Hitler, Stalin, Timothy McVeigh, *everyone*.

        Aside from that – I believe that the anti-DP crowd has already established (at least to their own satisfaction) that *anyone* could have been wrong convicted (even if actually guilty) and so should not be subject to the DP.

        Saying “well, we should have firm principles except for *this one case* where I am *really really sure* is…not actually having principles, I think.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m not really sure what my hypothetical moral principles are on the death penalty. Whenever I sit down and think real hard about it, I always end up coming to the conclusion that the practical side overwhelms the moral side.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      As a practical matter a person who commits murder, or theft, or speeding does so expecting to not be caught. If 100% of the time when you speed you got caught, then a $5 fine would be more than sufficient. No one would speed.

      If 100% of the time that you committed murder you were caught then a 60 day jail sentence would be sufficient to deter murder.

      People commit crimes because they think they can get by with it without being caught. The severity of punishment does not deter crime. The likelihood of being caught does. If we want less crime we stop spending so much money on punishment and spend more can making sure crime is detected. Money should be put into surveillance equipment.

      • Matt M says:

        I don’t think that’s true. I would probably kill some people if the only consequence was 60 days in prison.

        Edit: I’m kidding. (I think)

      • The Nybbler says:

        The severity matters. If speeding costs me $5 for every hour I spend over the speed limit… meh, I’m paying it. If killing a theoretical someone I really, really, hate costs me only 60 days of my life, they’re dead (well, most likely I’m dead first).

        • HowardHolmes says:

          I wonder if you are serious. There is no one I would kill even if I were guaranteed to get by with it. Of course, I do not think we are capable of hate…we only think we hate. I would be surprised if the average person would really kill someone if they could get by with it.

          • keranih says:

            The 2005 murder rate in the US was about 5 people per 100,000 per year. (It’s higher now.)

            Assuming that a person-who-murders is a male between the years of 15 and 55 (which is about 26% of the population) and assuming that each victim is murdered by one person only –

            – this creates what I think is a defendable sterotype, although it leaves out other factors –

            One person in about 5,200 commits murder every year in the USA. Or – over the course of the 40 years in the ‘active murdering zone’ – one in 130 would, over the course of a lifetime.

            So, “I would never kill anyone” is not a terribly high bar. Over 99% of the *men* would qualify, much less the women. On the other hand, I think that all of us consider ourselves pretty unique, and could, with some thought, suss out a category in which we are each individually 1%.

            So I wouldn’t disagree that you are a person who would never murder anyone. But I am pretty damn sure you know at least one person who is not in that category.

            (I didn’t even use an envelope for these figures, tell me I’m wrong.)

          • Deiseach says:

            It depends on your definition of murder, though. If you mean “elaborate plot worked out over a period of time to kill someone and get away with it”, then probably not so many people.

            But a lot of murders aren’t that kind of detective story murder. They’re stupid rows between two drunk guys which ends up with one getting fatally stabbed, or the Australian one punch law (where if you hit someone, they fall and smash their skull on the ground and die, that’s now a more serious crime of “assault causing death”). Domestic rows which turn nasty. Crimes which started out as a robbery or small scale drug deal and end up with someone being shot or stabbed. One particular instance to my knowledge which I’ve mentioned before, which only avoided being murder by luck – a woman gets drunk/high at a house party, gets into a row with another woman, and stabs her in the stomach. If the victim didn’t survive, that’s murder though not intended as such.

            Anger, fear, and the whole cocktail of boiling emotions and adrenaline in a stressful situation can make people do something they would never do (or think they would never do).

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s no one, now, today, I’d kill in exchange for 60 days. There’s at least one person that for a time I would have considered totally worth it.
            Had events gone slightly differently (specifically: getting a felony conviction for mouthing off to a cop), I’d have that much animosity towards him for the rest of my life. You can not believe you’re capable of hate, and maybe you’re not. I think most people are, and I certainly am.

          • bean says:

            @keranih

            I think the biggest problem with your numbers is that you assume each murderer commits only one murder. I suspect this is a bad assumption. I don’t know what percentage of murders are drug/gang related, but I suspect it’s high, and that most of the murderers involved are not doing so for the first time. I’d ballpark to say the typical murderer commits two murders (half of murders are by first-timers, half by repeat offenders, usually from very different populations.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @bean: So the thing to do if the death penalty is off the table on dogmatic or practical grounds is to give all murderers life in prison with possibility of parole only if they experience supernatural reform.
            What if the supernatural doesn’t exist, atheists ask? Then we can just throw away the keys.

      • quanta413 says:

        60 days in prison is definitely not enough deterrent for murder. Have you met humans? They’re nuts. They’ll kill other humans even when they know they’ll be caught and go to prison forever. Can you imagine how much more they’d opt to kill a boss they hate, an annoying relative, or their sweet innocent daughter’s stupid thuggish boyfriend if it’d only cost them two months of time and a felony?

        That’s not even counting the economic advantages accruing to things like offing CEO’s of a rival company. You’d really open up the market for hitmen.

        Also what’s the going rate for speeding charges? Like how long to I have to speed to pay more than 5$?

      • yodelyak says:

        Yeah, actually $5 is definitely not enough to deter speeding, even at 100% detection. In my head my calculus is that a speeding ticket, after the insurance costs, costs me >$500. I think I get caught considerably more often than 1 time in 100, but I still speed, sometimes out of boredom as much as being in a hurry. (Is it $5/minute of speeding, per 5 mph over the speed limit? Maaaaybe that mostly deters speeding… but some people speed when they are in a *hurry*. There’s the story of Steve Jobs getting a ticket for going 20+ over, and telling the officer who pulled him over to hurry up and write his ticket, and then speeding off. How big a fine do you need to make Steve Jobs not speed by 10 mph to get back an hour of travel time on a long drive?)

        Re: murder. No. Anything less than ~10 years in prison isn’t enough. The immediate top suspect for most murders is the deceased’s spouse… if you are 20 years married to a person who got what they wanted from the marriage, but you’re 10 or 15 years into feeling trapped, and looking at a full life trapped, or a sticky divorce where they keep all the things you want (the money, the kids)… and you get left paying alimony. Yep, 5 to 10 years, plus very high success rate at catching those murders, is needed to prevent them. And a 100% detection rate and immediate life-long incarceration somewhere unpleasant would not be enough to deter all murders, frankly–some murderers call and turn themselves in afterward.

        On the plus side, I think even if there were 100% detection and *no* penalty, most people would not immediately know who they wanted to kill. I’d just rather not kill anyone.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          I agree. IMO our current punishment system is the bare minimum to prevent non-spousal murders (which are the ones caught at a high rate). Its very easy to murder someone, in many cases easier than robbing them, even in countries without guns. Imagine if a guy like Timothy McVeigh only got 60 days per death. He would be out in 2022.

    • Deiseach says:

      Please feel free to specify ones’ political tribe, religious affiliation (past and present) and specific opinion on the legitimacy of the death penalty.

      This is a fraught subject. Okay, here goes: conservative/Red Tribe; Catholic; evolved a position over the years that encompasses abortion and euthanasia (opposition to) with the death penalty (opposition to) which, if I were to state it in one line, would be roughly:

      We don’t get to kill people for convenience sake and we don’t get to re-define who counts as people for convenience sake in order to kill them.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      OK, so this is the current holy father changing the catechism… a big deal, but not infallible in the Vatican I sense.
      So since this new teaching holds a glaring place in the ordinary magisterium, I’ll grant that it’s true on the condition that Catholicism is true.
      However, since it’s not Ex Cathedra, there’s no guarantee that the Holy Spirit safeguarded Pope Francis against being a soft-headed ninny. In a hard-headed world where the Catholic Church put in the effort to be hegemonic rather than just one belief system in a marketplace of ideas, I accept that even Adolf Hitler should have been spared the death penalty and preached to in prison with lovingkindness. However, in a liberal world order rather than a Catholic one, you’d just be letting him make new Nazis from prison.

    • adelaybeingreborn says:

      > What is the proper action for a person to take in support of this, as an individual and not as a designated agent of The State?

      If you’re in the U.S., join the political party of your choice, and then join the anti-death-penalty caucus of that party. Contribute small sums of money to the caucus as needed to keep it operational, and volunteer with it when possible in organized political action: e.g. making sure officials and candidates know you exist, endorsing and campaigning for candidates who agree with you, getting publicity for your positions outside elections, hosting events aimed at persuading people who are persuadable, cooperating enough with the overall party so that other factions of the party view you as an ally rather than a liability, etc.

      (And if you’re not the U.S., you probably either don’t have the death penalty or don’t have the vote.)

      • keranih says:

        Fair enough – but I suggest taking it a step further – then what?

        For those who live in nations that do not use the death penalty – what do you do personally concerning those people who commit murder, rape, and horse thieving?

        • albatross11 says:

          Even in the US, most murders don’t lead to the death penalty. Mostly, murder, rape, kidnapping, and similarly serious crimes land you in prison for a few decades, perhaps for life.

          In a very poor frontier sort of society, you might not be able to support a prison system. In that case, you’d have no choice but to use hanging or branding or chopping off hands or something as an alternative. But we’re a very rich society, and we can afford to lock up criminals for the rest of their lives, if need be, rather than executing them. (In fact, due to the way the death penalty is implemented, it generally costs more to execute someone than not to execute them.)

    • Nick says:

      (*) I DO NOT WANT TO ARGUE ABOUT WHETHER THE POPE SHOULD HAVE MADE THIS PROCLAMATION. That is not a conversation for non-family.

      🙁

      What is the ‘most correct’ action that The State(***) should take regarding persons convicted of actions traditionally considered ‘capital'(****) crimes?

      As long as you’re asking us to adhere to Pope Francis’ prudential judgments, life imprisonment is also out of the question. But joking aside, is life in prison just? From what I’ve heard, it’s at least arguably not. So honestly, I have no fracking clue what we’re supposed to do otherwise with folks who have committed capital crimes.

      On the topic of the legitimacy of the death penalty, I don’t personally understand the revulsion many have toward it. I can certainly understand it if they come from, say, China or Iran, but most don’t, and the use of it in the US obviously doesn’t resemble that of China or Iran either. But plenty of folks I’ve known are insistent that it’s intrinsically wrong, that it’s “just not something we do,” that it’s contrary to human dignity, and so on. Now, that’s not to say they don’t also marshal arguments in their defense too, like statistics about whether it’s effective deterrence, or moral arguments about whether intentional killing is ever just, but they seem also to have this fundamental sense that the government can’t ever execute someone and, well, I don’t share it.

      • keranih says:

        So to be honest, I have no fracking clue what we’re supposed to do otherwise with folks who have committed capital crimes.

        I don’t have a great answer. That’s part of what I am trying to talk about here.

        I will point out that we-humans have a variety of punishments that we currently use, in addition to the death penalty, so we apparently aren’t stuck with just the one response.

        • Nick says:

          I will point out that we-humans have a variety of punishments that we currently use, in addition to the death penalty, so we apparently aren’t stuck with just the one response.

          Oh, sure. But life imprisonment is the obvious next choice, and that’s off the table too. Now, I took it for granted there some folks are irreformable, and maybe that’s not true. But supposing it is, do you release someone like that anyway? A life of house arrest, maybe? That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

          ETA: I realize it’s a bit silly of me to turn your own question right around on you. Sorry; I just wanted to frame the question a bit more closely. I welcome others’ input if you’re as out of ideas as I am, keranih.

          • keranih says:

            Under the Catholic concepts of evil, no one is irredeemable – several saints have made their mark trusting unreasonably and loving beyond all sense. (As did the Man himself.) However, it’s not (yet) part of teaching that self defense – physical or emotionally cautionary actions – is at all sinful, just not the highest virtue.

            For the purposes of this discussion, though, I’d rather leave that aside, as I think there is enough secular support for doing away with the DP that this need not be a religious discussion.

            And I don’t mind the question being turned around – it’s one thing to clearly identify something bad, another all together to figure out a better replacement.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t think anyone is irredeemable either. But I do think there are people whose sinful inclinations (say, to kill or rape) aren’t going away no matter how much treatment they get and are such that to let them out into society unmonitored is a bad idea. We accept institutionalization for some cases of mental illness, after all. And even setting aside whether a person is redeemable, there’s a fact of the matter about whether they’ve actually repented and resolved to sin no more, and I expect there are people who haven’t. The pope didn’t say anything about life without parole in the article I linked, but maybe that’s a distinction we want to be making here.

      • Protagoras says:

        Older people are much less likely to commit crimes. I’m not sure why more than a 20 year sentence is ever necessary, insofar as it is sufficient to move someone into a much less dangerous demographic (and we could even do something radical like trying to devote effort to reforming people in prisons, instead of just paying lip service to the notion).

        • HowardHolmes says:

          I agree with you completely. I still think the vast majority of crimes are done without the perpetrator seriously considering the penalty. If a murderer was concerned about the penalty and felt there was a decent chance of being caught I think that the death penalty, 20 years, or even ten years would have the same effect on his decision. No one wants to blow ten years of their life. I also highly endorse your idea to spend the money on rehab and finding alternatives for these people’s lives.

          • mdet says:

            @HowardHolmes
            You got a lot of pushback above so I want to throw in that I agree with this version of your sentiment — that 5-10 years in prison is plenty severe enough in terms of deterrent, anything more than that is only useful for rehabilitation / waiting until they age out.

    • John Schilling says:

      Taking Pope Francis’s statements as valid means taking Catholicism as valid, in which case it’s no problem if we don’t have a way to stop Hitler. Either God has a way to stop Hitler, and maybe we’re supposed to be part of it but only in ways that don’t involve killing people, or He doesn’t mind if Hitler isn’t stopped and we can just piously do all the not-killing-anybody stuff and when Hitler kills us all instead, we all go to Heaven. Which I am assured is way better than anything we can achieve by our own efforts.

      If we don’t believe in Catholicism, then meh, I’m sticking with the death penalty for the hardest cases until someone convinces me of the pragmatic effectiveness of some alternative. Because, “the only known method for stopping Hitler from killing everyone who isn’t a Nazi, has been proven to be immoral villainy”, is a very convincing argument for me to go ahead and be a villain, specifically a living non-Nazi non-loser villain in a world that by this postulate must be populated entirely by villains of one sort or another.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        God has a way to stop Hitler

        I’m a long lapsed Catholic, but I think you are confusing Catholicism with other Protestant faiths. My recollection is that Catholics are pretty big on God not doing much in the way of direct intercession and even that being very personal in nature., and there definitely nowhere near Calvinistic “God’s plan is fore ordained” beliefs. Mankind is responsible for looking to God for guidance, but we have to do the work and make the decisions ourselves.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        Hitler knew that doing what he did would result in the death penalty if caught. Did this deter him?

        The death penalty makes a great theory. Does it deter? If we added flaying and disembowelment, would that help?

        Are we interested in determent or justice?

        It is a fact that if we had taken Hitler alive and incarcerated him for life with no parole, he would not have killed any more.

      • SamChevre says:

        I think you are confusing Catholic theology and Anabaptist theology. I don’t think even Pope Francis would disagree that self-defense against violent attack is morally acceptable. The Mennonite (and I grew up Mennonite) would, but they’re a much smaller group.

        • John Schilling says:

          Self-defense gets complicated if, every time an attacker finds himself at a disadvantage, he can throw up his hands and surrender, then wait for his buddies to arrange a jailbreak or prisoner exchange. Traditionally, we deal with this by assuming civilized society can avoid jailbreaks and hostage exchanges in anything short of outright war, and then turning a blind eye to soldiers gunning down enemies trying to surrender under obviously exploitative circumstances. But I doubt Francis would approve of the latter.

    • Jiro says:

      You can’t just ask me to assume that X is true but I have to ignore any reason why I might disagree with X. I don’t generally agree with X because it’s a premise; I agree with X because it follows from a lot of *other* things which I believe. The falsity of X has implications on those other things–for instance, if you ask me to “assume that homeopathy works”, I would also have to assume that doctors are engaged in a giant conspiracy, the scientific method is worthless, etc. I can’t just assume that homeopathy works but the rest of the world is unchanged. If the death penalty is wrong, then my reasoning which said the opposite is also wrong. Exactly what flaw in my reasoning are you asking me to assume?

      • HowardHolmes says:

        If the death penalty is wrong, then my reasoning which said the opposite is also wrong. Exactly what flaw in my reasoning are you asking me to assume?

        Exactly what reasoning supports your belief that the death penalty is right?

        If your reasoning says the death penalty deters it is flawed. If your reasoning is that the death penalty is just, your reasoning is also flawed. Clearly the universe has no interest in justice.

      • keranih says:

        Exactly what flaw in my reasoning are you asking me to assume?

        “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

        To begin with, I don’t ask you to treat the papal edict as enforceable on you (if my question implied such, I beg your pardon) as an edict but to consider the ruling *correct* – what if we-as-society do agree that the death penalty is not morally acceptable? What follows from that?

        • HowardHolmes says:

          what if we-as-society do agree that the death penalty is not morally acceptable? What follows from that?

          I personally have no interest in the morality of the issue. I have no morals and assume that others do not as well. If the question is “what happens if we do away with the death penalty” the answer is that we will save a ton of money in the criminal justice system, and crime will not increase one bit.

        • Jiro says:

          “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

          That’s not specific enough.

          It’s like asking me to assume that creationism is correct. Am I supposed to assume that creationism is correct but we still have fossils, bacteria with antibiotic resistance, genetic trees that imply evolution, etc.?

          what if we-as-society do agree that the death penalty is not morally acceptable?

          That doesn’t help. If we as a society have agreed that creationism is correct, does this mean that the fossils, etc. no longer exist and that we as a society have adopted creationism because of that change, or am I supposed to assume that fossils still exist but society has chosen to ignore them?

          Or to look at it from a different angle, if society has done this for a reason, the answer depends on the reason, which you haven’t told me in enough detail to answer. If society has done this for no reason (say, whenever someone has a thought favoring the death penalty some alien zaps them with a mind control ray) I would guess that they’d just get as close to the death penalty as possible, but they might rationalize away the mind control ray and avoid other punishments too based on the rationalization. It’s hard to tell.

          • keranih says:

            That’s not specific enough.

            Well, there are a variety of reasons to hold that the death penalty is a valid option. I don’t know what your particular reasons are, so I don’t know what supports would have to be countered. Help a sister out her, k?

            Despite that…I think it’s possible to accept a given for the sake of argument, and that its not unreasonable to ask someone to do so. If you can’t for this, okay, better luck discussing it next time.

          • Jiro says:

            Well, there are a variety of reasons to hold that the death penalty is a valid option.

            Yes, and there are a variety of reasons to oppose it too.

            If society has suddenly decided to oppose the death penalty, what reason did they have?

            Is it just “we do what the Pope says” or is there some other reason?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            You have given reasons for believing in evolution and not believing in homeopathy. You have said you believe in the death penalty and challenged others to show you the flaws in your reasons. However, so far you have given no reasons. How can we discuss your reasons if you present none?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Jiro

            Is it just “we do what the Pope says” or is there some other reason?

            I have no idea why society opposes the death penalty. I oppose it because it is ineffective as a deterrent, it costs 18 times as much as life without parole and it sometimes causes the innocent to die with no way to rectify the mistake.

          • Jiro says:

            Multiple responses:

            I have no idea why society opposes the death penalty.

            Then if the question is about society, I can’t answer the question, and I don’t think anyone else can reasonably answer the question either.

            You have said you believe in the death penalty and challenged others to show you the flaws in your reasons

            No I haven’t. There are ways in which the scenario could take place without having to disprove anything I believe in (such as the aliens with mind control rays). On a more realistic level, I might oppose the death penalty because I get converted to Catholicism and fanatically believe everything the Pope says without caring about what reasoning led him to believe that.

            I think it’s possible to accept a given for the sake of argument, and that its not unreasonable to ask someone to do so.

            I think it’s possible to accept a given on a basic fact about the world (suppose that apples are blue). Accepting a given on a conclusion is a lot harder for the reason I explained–what givens do I need to accept about how I reached the conclusion?

      • HowardHolmes says:

        Jiro

        Exactly what flaw in my reasoning are you asking me to assume?

        Your reasoning would have to change regarding society’s or government’s responsibility to administer justice. Society has no business trying to create justice.

    • Yakimi says:

      If we can’t kill them, then put them in situations where they will want to commit suicide.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I am a libertarian that doesn’t like the death penalty, although I understand its appeal as a con-leaning libertarian.

      The reason I dont like it is because IMO it is less good than simply doing a lifetime sentence with no parole. I’d like to do a kind of Escape from New York style prison with murderers. Indeed, my biggest problem with the current criminal justice system is that because of losers we have made prison too much like a boring hotel instead of a punishment.

      What is the point of current prisons other than to house people? IMO the majority of the punishment only accrues to people who want to rejoin society after prison because they cannot get jobs. This is the major problem. Our current system really only deals with white collar criminals, and domestic assaulters effectively as they can no longer do their thing amd are stigmatized. What does a real criminal lose? Nothing.

  19. Mark V Anderson says:

    Here’s my last Myth. All 11 are here.

    Myth #11: That any weakness in the free market implies that the market should be regulated in that area. It is clear that completely free markets would result in some businesses raising armies or police to force customers and employees to do their bidding if there was no party (such as government) to stop them. Also, some businesses would freely dump pollutants into the commonly used air or water if the business had no constraints. Just because we have a free market doesn’t mean that all the businesses that arise will follow the rules of a free market of not imposing on others. Laws are necessary.

    And even when laws to prevent coercion and pollution exist, there will still be some defects in the market. For example, the market does have a tendency to behave cyclically. Businesses overbuild when times are good, then may over-react and shrink too fast when the economy goes sour. Market players in a multi-year boom may be forced to continue the boom to survive, even when they understand that the fundamentals are out of whack.

    As another example, there is sometimes an information imbalance between the buyer and the seller, with one party knowing much more about the product or service being transacted than the other, giving them a great advantage when negotiating terms. A third example is that in a completely free banking environment, there will be periodic runs on banks, because depositors will be concerned that the bank doesn’t have enough currency available to cover their account. This may cause banks to fail for lack of liquidity, even if they are perfectly solvent when looking at total assets and liabilities.

    But all these defects of the private market do NOT mean that the economy would improve with regulation. Many of the problems with the private markets are because of the defects of people, and people run the government as well as businesses. Governments have at least as much tendency as businesses to avoid planning for the next downturn, and to then panic when the downturn does arrive. Government itself often doesn’t have the information needed to understand transactions, and they often do a very poor job of transmitting the information they do have to the people.

    For government to successfully fix the market it needs to know what is wrong with the market, know how to fix it, and have the incentives to do the fix. If the government is missing the “what,” the “how,” or the incentives, the fix is doomed to failure. And yet the government is missing each of these three possibilities frequently.

    Take the banking industry as an example. The United States has been trying to regulate this industry for at least 100 years. The free market problem is that there will be runs on banks absent regulation. If markets were totally free, then there would be some and probably many fractional-reserve banks, because many depositors would agree to this in return for higher interest rates. In fractional-reserve banking, more money is invested or lent out as loans than is taken in as deposits. This sometimes results in runs on banks, as depositors worry that banks will be run out of business due to a liquidity crisis, that is, not enough currency to cover depositors’ withdrawals. If the bank goes out of business, then the depositors who get to the bank too late may lose all their deposits in the bank. So when depositors lose confidence in a bank, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that the bank will lose its liquidity and go out of business.

    In 1914, the United States set up the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed). One of the intents of this central bank was to provide liquidity in the event of bank panics to avoid runs on banks. Fifteen years after the Fed was set up, the United States had its worst bank panic ever, including a number of bank runs. The Fed did not do the job that it was set up to do. In fact, it is an accepted fact amongst economists that the Fed actually worsened the Great Depression, at least during the first years of the banking panic from 1929 to 1933.

    The government did not disband the Fed because it didn’t work. Instead they decided to add another layer of regulation. They set up the FDIC, which insured every depositor for accounts up to $2500, as well as a new set of regulations, resulting in regular audits of every bank in the country. The amount insured has increased regularly, so now the amount insured is $250,000 per account. The depositor insurance created “moral hazard,” that is the depositors no longer cared if the banks were reckless with their investments because they were covered even if their bank failed. In later years, it became clear that the government would bail out any large bank with liquidity problems because it was “too big to fail.” This then resulted in moral hazard for the owners of the banks, because they also didn’t have to worry about their bank failing. With both the depositors and the owners of the large banks being insured against large losses, the banks were free to make riskier investments than banks normally take on. If the investments succeeded, then the owners and executives of the bank would make fabulous profits, but if they failed, neither the owners nor the depositors would be hurt. It was only the government audits of these large banks that could hold back these irresponsible investments, and audits can only find so much. The Great Recession is an indication of the limitations of government regulation in preventing (or not) risky investments. The moral hazard of the owners and depositors of the large banks was a major factor causing the Great Recession. The government was successful at stopping bank runs with FDIC insurance, but the insurance ended up causing as much trouble as the bank runs themselves.

    Banking regulations didn’t work very well mostly because the government doesn’t know how to fix the problem. An example of where the government doesn’t have the incentives to fix the problems is occupational licensing. The usual rationale for licensing occupations is the asymmetry of information between the seller and the buyer. Thus the government licenses doctors because patients don’t know as much as doctors and so are presumably taken advantage of by many physicians. The medical license is supposed to ensure that all practicing doctors are competent. However, in practice, it is doctors who run the licensing operation for the government. Of course it has to be a doctor in charge; who else has the expertise to understand who is competent to be a physician? It is also doctors who have the most interest in the process, and so will lobby politicians to change the regulations to their liking. In effect, the medical profession runs the licensing of doctors.

    Because of this, medical regulations mostly achieve the objectives of the medical profession, which is to keep fees high and limit competition. This is exactly what has happened in the medical profession. Doctors were not known for making large salaries until they became regulated. And one constantly hears about the shortage of doctors. Medical licensing has had exactly the effects that a private organization of doctors would have, if they have the legal rights to control all medical care. It is questionable whether present day doctors are more competent than in the days before regulations, but it is certain that their fees have risen enormously.

    This effect of state licensing boards being run by the profession they are putatively regulating is even clearer in professions less in the public eye than medicine. How many non-architects have a vested interest in architectural regulations? And this effect isn’t true just of occupational licensing; it is true also for any industrial regulations. Any time regulations apply to just one industry, that industry will inevitably provide the expertise, and that industry will have more interest in the regulations than anyone else. The incentives to protect the consumer just aren’t there. Therefore the incentives of the industry to protect itself will come to the fore.

    Before the government succeeds in writing regulations to fix suspected defects in the private market, it should be determined if the government fix isn’t going to be worse than the original problem. Also it must be determined if government will have the incentives to continually work on the original problem, or will the regulations just end up benefiting the industry it is regulating? Government regulations seldom improve the market, because the legislators rarely consider the possibility that their laws could be counter-productive. They usually feel that any action is better than none. They are almost always incorrect.

    • Wrong Species says:

      This is just a microcosm of the problem with your whole series. Bank regulation is a complex issue. The whole problem can’t be reduced to three paragraphs. Your evidence that government regulation doesn’t work is that after the establishment of the Fed there was a Great Depression and then after some regulation and 70 years have passed, a Great Recession. What’s the counter factual? What was bank stability like before the Fed compared to afterwards? Taking it as a given that the Fed caused the Great Depression, how do we know they didnt improve afterwards? What’s your evidence for the latest recession being caused by the government compared to another theory? How much research did you do before writing all this up? Entire books can be written about these questions and yet you seem to think a few paragraphs is enough to establish your policy preferences as fact. You either need to do far more research in support of your claims or make weaker claims, because this isn’t in the slightest bit convincing to someone who doesn’t already agree with you.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        But I’m not trying to convince you of my opinion on bank regulation. I’m trying to convince you that government regulators trying to fix market failures need show that they know why the market failed, how the government can fix it, and that government will continue to have incentives to fix it.

        My discussion of banking was just to show that government doesn’t know how to fix the problem. I don’t think I need a book to show that is the case. My couple of paragraphs were to show that the government still continues to fail. That does not take a book level treatment.

        It would take book level treatment to explain what is wrong with banking and how to fix it. And in fact I’ve read a few long, dreary books that purport to do so, none of which were convincing to me. But that’s not what I’m talking about in my essay — just that a solution hasn’t been suggested that is accepted by most folks.

        • TDB says:

          government regulators trying to fix market failures need show that they know why the market failed, how the government can fix it, and that government will continue to have incentives to fix it.

          That goalpost is pretty high. The people who advocate more government regulation will probably assume that the alternative is to do nothing at all. Both of these seem problematic. Can we move to a meta-level solution that might interest more people and avoid the usual division into teams to shout it out?

          Is there actually someone trying to analyze economies as massively parallel networked processes full of unreliable nodes?

          Is it possible to separate the financial sector into sub sectors that could compete on terms of transparency and stability? Or would a fragile but short-term profitable alternative win out?

          The enemy that has no name is not a nation, an organization or a religion. It is not a corporation or an industry. It is not an economic system or an ideology. It is a way of living on the earth that evolved, and if we are to change it, we must take evolution from autopilot and into our own hands. We must come together to create the future we wish to inhabit. ~ Bret Weinstein

  20. Ogre says:

    Hey guys, the Atlantic writer David A. Graham is openly arguing in favour of using motte and bailey tactics against Trump! He doesn’t use the term, but he describes the concept just like Scott did a few years ago, and asserts that it is good and useful:
    “The utility of [the word] collusion is its versatility: It encompasses crimes like conspiracy, but it also takes in misconduct that might not fit the definition of any particular statute but has historically been deemed unacceptable for the nation’s political leaders.”

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/07/trump-collusion-not-a-crime/566417/

    • Aftagley says:

      Motte and Baily tactics, from Scott’s post occur when:

      …you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

      I’m not getting this from Graham’s piece. It looks like he’s just saying that people on the left shouldn’t constrain themselves to just nitpicking if Trump’s wrongdoings with respect to Russia were illegal when there’s a whole swath of related maybe-not-illegal-but-still-unacceptable behavior. Advocating the use of a term that covers two, related concepts isn’t a motte-and-baily argument.

      • Ogre says:

        You think? If you say the Trump campaign colluded, most people are going to interpret that as implying that a crime has been committed, but when pressed on this it gives you the wiggle room to walk back and say that you weren’t alleging that any law has been broken, that you just meant collusion in the weaker sense. Seems fairly motte-and-bailey to me.

        • Aftagley says:

          Totally agree that would be an example of motte-and-baily, but that’s not what he’s doing. He’s defending both propositions equally: that some of Trump’s actions were illegal and others might not have been, but are still worth condemning.

      • SamChevre says:

        I know “motte and bailey” is the description of the category that took off, but I still like John Holbo’s two-step of terrific triviality as the name.

        Note that the same phenomenon is at work in the “Russian interference in the election” meme. There’s not a clear distinction between “Russia hacked voting machines” (definitely affects the election results), “Russia hacked the DNC’s email account and released it which made them look sleazy” (illegal, but leaking confidential information to embarrass opponents is a widely-used tactic), and “Russia might have paid a few thousand dollars for Facebook ads”.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        What a woeful piece of propaganda. I read the article and in listing Trump’s malfeasance he starts off with a misstatement:

        During the campaign, Trump called for Russia to hack and release emails from his political adversary, the former secretary of state. (The candidate later tried to pass this off as a joke.)

        This is not true. While talking about the 33,000 deleted emails from Clinton’s home server, he exasperatedly joked the Russians should release them, miserably poor as Clinton’s handling of her emails was. Because surely the Russians already had them, as probably do the Chinese, and the North Koreans, and your mom. He was not calling anyone to hack. The server in question was, to my knowledge, disassembled in an evidence locker in Quantico at that point.

        Next he talks about porn star payments. Nothing to do with Russian collusion.

        Then it’s on to obstruction of justice allusions, which also have nothing to do with whether or not Trump colluded with Russia. People who are being investigated for crimes they didn’t commit generally want those investigations to stop. “Saying ‘I didn’t do it’ is just what someone who did it would say!” is the classic Kafka trap. No one wants that.

        Finally we get into one thing tying together the campaign and Russia: the meeting between Don Jr and the Russian lawyer. Of course he spins this in the way the media almost always does, referring to the offered material as mere “damaging information.” This is another strategic equivalence where they use a general term for the specific thing offered so in readers’ minds they will mistake it for another specific thing which it was not. This is not informing the public. This is intentionally misleading the public for political purposes. i.e., propaganda. From the email sent to Trump Jr, the Russian offered:

        to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia

        This is not mere “dirt” or “negative information.” The media is lying by ommission, hoping readers will read “damaging information” and assume it’s the phished DNC and Podesta emails. But DNC and Podesta emails are not “official documents” (although they might be “other information”), nor do they “incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” Whatever these documents were, the public has never seen them. What crimes did Hillary commit with Russia? Where are the official documents proving it? Can we “lock her up” for them? Whatever was offered to Don Jr at the Trump Tower meeting, it wasn’t the emails, and we’ve never seen it. Either the information didn’t exist or the meeting was unproductive. Either way it didn’t sway the election in any way because no one in the public has ever seen official Russian documents incriminating Hillary for her dealings with Russia. If such documents exist, I would very much like to see them, though.

        (ETA: Also, the Trump Tower meeting took place in July, but according to the Mueller indictment the hackers set up the “DC Leaks” site and accounts on June 8th and Wikileaks announced they had the emails on June 14th. Why were the Russians trying to peddle stuff to Trump Jr that had already started being disseminated the previous month?)

        Is there anything wrong with getting information from a foreign government detailing your opponents’ criminal involvement with that government? If Vladimir Putin calls you up tomorrow and says “I am havink informations proving Trump is traitor for dealings with me also pee-pee tape” you’re going to say “no way Vlad, if I took that from you that would be collusion with Russia and that’s for chumps!” The pee-pee tape accusation itself was the product of Russian agents, sold to Hillary and the DNC. If dealing with agents of a foreign government to get dirt on your political opponents is that bad, what are we to do with Hillary and the DNC? Note, this isn’t whataboutism. I think both of these things are not big deals. I’m not excusing one sin with another, I’m saying both are not sins. If you disagree I’d like to know why, especially if there’s some difference between what Hillary did and what Don Jr probably tried to do.

        Then he goes on to do what I complained about in the URL thread: list the indictments from the Mueller investigation that have nothing to do with Trump as if they somehow implicate Trump. But Manafort’s crimes as well as the indictments of Russians have nothing to do with the Trump campaign. Flynn and Papadopolous are really shaky process crimes. For instance, Papadopolous’ indictment says that his “lie” to the FBI was that he started talking to the Maltese professor who claimed the Russians had “thousands of emails” before he joined the campaign instead of after. Except the first meeting with the professor occurred on or about March 14th, Papadopolous was informed he would be joining the campaign in early March, but didn’t officially start with the campaign until March 21st. I don’t know. Is that a lie? If you get told on Friday, “you’re hired, you start work on Monday” so you go buy a new suit on Saturday, if later someone asks if you bought the suit before or after you started your new job, I think the correct answer is “before.” If you’re going to go all akshually on that, I guess you could, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a deliberate lie worthy of literally making a federal case over.

        Oh, and assuming the professor was legit and not just spouting bull, he was almost certainly talking about the emails from Clinton’s private bathroom server and not the phished DNC/Podesta emails. The Meuller indictment says the phishing attacks didn’t start until March 19th, so if he was telling Papadopolous about them on March 14th he’s got a time machine. Even if those dates are off by a few days, it doesn’t matter much. The DNC/Podesta emails weren’t public knowledge until months later, and the hackers had access to the email accounts until late May. That’s some incredibly sloppy operational security if while you’re still in the process of collecting the hacked email accounts you’re on the phone giving a blow-to-blow to some random Maltese professor about the exploits. And that professor is then casually telling this to some American in a bar.

        There’s a reason Trump supporters are exasperated with the media. Here’s the Atlantic spitting out lies or lies of omission in order to weave a narrative of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories even though under scrutiny no piece of this actually supports the narrative. And then excuses all the motte-and-bailey/strategic equivalence because it’s…politically useful? This is not journalism. This is propaganda.

        • Dan L says:

          I won’t have time this week to engage in a proper Fisking, but I feel this comment deserves a little push back at least in broad strokes.

          In the mentioned previous thread, I called out what I perceived to be a double standard in evaluating evidence, esp. Trump v. Clinton campaigns.

          The third paragraph of the Atlantic article:

          Yet despite its facial weaknesses, the Trump team’s lawyerly parsing is part of a broader and highly successful effort to launder a long catalog of political and personal misconduct into a dry legal dispute. Instead of defending a series of plainly outrageous acts, Trump’s aides would rather force critics to prove specific statutory violations beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that Giuliani and Trump have been able to draw their critics into a debate about whether collusion is a crime demonstrates how well the strategy is working.

          I posit that (in advance of any legal charges being formulated) your comment lists several things that are individually significant Bayesian evidence of wrongdoing. Do you deny this?

          Is there anything wrong with getting information from a foreign government detailing your opponents’ criminal involvement with that government? If Vladimir Putin calls you up tomorrow and says “I am havink informations proving Trump is traitor for dealings with me also pee-pee tape” you’re going to say “no way Vlad, if I took that from you that would be collusion with Russia and that’s for chumps!”

          I believe the most likely statues to be cited focus of conduct with respect to a campaign, not just “your opponents”. And yes, I would deem using that information to be a significant failing – the correct course of action would be to inform the FBI that such an outreach was made and turn over any materials given, as multiple campaigns have done in the past. If you know you’re being used, don’t play along.

          • hls2003 says:

            There’s an old saying among lawyers: If the facts are on your side, pound the facts; if the law is on your side, pound the law; if neither are on your side, pound the table.

            Based on the section of the Atlantic article you quoted, it sounds like an admission that the anti-Trump faction believe they don’t have the law on their side, so they want to pound the facts (“a series of plainly outrageous acts” – “plainly” doing a lot of lifting). Conversely, it appears the pro-Trump faction thinks the facts may not be on their side (although Conrad appears to be claiming that he does not believe the facts are unsavory or outrageous), so the Trumpists want to pound the law. Both sides are pounding the table.

            If both sides are correct (the anti-Trumpists about the facts, the pro-Trumpists about the law) then there’s no obvious answer, since presumably the question is whether impeachment is warranted. Impeachment is a political remedy, so it’s true that no statutory violation is required to invoke it. But conversely, public opinion (see Clinton and Nixon) has historically seemed to regard underlying criminality as an important element to supporting removal for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

            So you’re left that neither side’s arguments (facts vs law) are entirely wrong; they are simply more or less persuasive depending on how they strike the public. It is simply engaging in additional rhetoric for one side to say the other’s argument style is out of bounds. Anti-Trumpists try to pre-emptively render legal arguments illegitimate; pro-Trumpists try to pre-emptively render illegitimate any sanctions without an underlying crime.

          • Matt M says:

            This whole charade has never been about impeachment. It has been about damaging Trump’s brand for 2020. Whether it works or not will be seen in election results, and nothing else.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I posit that (in advance of any legal charges being formulated) your comment lists several things that are individually significant Bayesian evidence of wrongdoing. Do you deny this?

            Yes, I deny this. Cherry-picked and then sensationalized actions done by others are not Bayesian evidence for wrongdoing on Trump’s part.

            I saw “Bayesian evidence” compiled by anti-Semites to prove that Trump is a puppet of the Jews. His married kids married Jews, he has lots of ties with Jewish businessmen, he speaks glowingly of Israel, he’s friends with Bibi Netanyahu, he’s got awards from prominent Jewish groups, he led an “Israel Day” parade in NYC, he’s taken several actions in his administration that favor Israel, like moving the embassy and withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Commission.

            Does all this “Bayesian evidence” lead you to believe Trump is a puppet of the Jews? There’s more evidence of that than there is that he is a Russian colluder/puppet. Is he a puppet of both the Russians and the Jews? If so, how do they decide who’s going to puppet him on which days? Do they take turns, or roshambo for it? When do the Illuminati get their turn?

            So, I’ve gone through the trees, now let’s look at the forest of the Russian conspiracy theory. It doesn’t make any sense.

            When did Trump start colluding with the Russians? It couldn’t have been during the primaries or before the campaign started, because nobody, not even Vladimir Putin, thought Trump had a shot in hell of winning the election. There are no allegations of any aid offered in support of the Trump campaign during the primaries nor any actions taken against his primary opponents. Winning the field of 17 candidates to become the Republican nominee was probably harder than beating Hillary. Why no help for Trump there? What good would it have done for Putin to have made his deals with Trump during the primaries if he didn’t win the nomination?

            The only real aid, then, would have been the email hack and release, provided opportunistically during the general election.

            There is no evidence of any communication between Trump and Russians with regards to the phished emails. The two attempted communications between Russia and the Trump campaign were about things that do not sound like or could not be the phished emails (wrong timing for Papadopolous, completely different description and wrong timing for Trump Tower meeting).

            Assume the charges in the indictment and more are true: Putin personally ordered the hack and release of the phished emails. Why would he need any cooperation from Trump in order to do this? Why would he need any motivation from Trump in order to do this? Putin has lots of reasons to not like Hillary. As SoS she meddled in Putin’s last presidential election. Her State Department funded the moderate beheaders in Syria against Putin’s ally Assad. Western intelligence agencies and NGOs were certainly backing the Euromaidan protests that ignited the coup against the pro-Russian Ukrainian government. Her Foundation donors the KSA and Qatar back the Qatar-KSA-Iraq-Syria-Turkey pipeline opposed by the Putin-backed Iran-Iraq-Syria-Med pipeline. She’s threatened no-fly zones over Syria, meaning she’s potentially threatening war with Russia. Trump and his supporters have none of those interests. Of course Putin doesn’t want Hillary in power. Would he not meddle in the exact same way if, say, Rand Paul, another non-interventionist were the Republican nominee? Doesn’t it make a little more sense to look at Putin’s meddling in the light of “hurt Hillary” than in the light of “help Trump?”

            If he was trying to help Trump, I can’t imagine what he got out of it. Trump has put new sanctions on Russia, fired rockets at Assad, killed hundreds of Russian mercenaries in Syria, authorized the sale of lethal weapons to Ukrainians fighting the Russians, bullied NATO to spend billions of dollars more on weapons to ward off or fight Russia, and, worst of all for Vlad, got Poland off Russian natural gas and buying American and is working on doing the same for Germany. Was Putin’s deal with Trump, “Da, Comrade Trump, vhen you are taking of office I am wanting yous to fuck with my money?” This does not make sense.

            And Trump is so, incredibly, ridiculously short-sighted that he’s going to make himself beholden to Putin in exchange for some crummy emails? That only showed us what everyone already knew: the Dems rigged the primary against Bernie (duh), CNN gives Hillary the debate questions in advance (duh), and the media is a propaganda arm of the DNC (duh). No Illuminati, no lizard people, nothing. This is worth the impeachable offense of bribery and perhaps the hanging offense of treason? And the nuclear trigger for this is handed willingly to Putin, who can at any time ruin Trump and turn our government into an even bigger shambles than it already is by just saying “haha, is true, Trump is my puppet I owns him!” This is like Homer Simpson selling his soul to the Devil for a doughnut. It is not plausible that anyone would make such a deal.

            There’s an old saying among lawyers: If the facts are on your side, pound the facts; if the law is on your side, pound the law; if neither are on your side, pound the table.

            I’m pounding on all three, but mostly the facts. I do not believe the facts in any way support a narrative of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia and certainly not Trump in some way being compromised by Russia. There’s no need to pound on the law, as I think everyone already agrees that “collusion” is not a crime. And I’m pounding on the table because this is all ridiculous. The news media has dedicated hours and hours of coverage every day to a conspiracy theory that 1) doesn’t make any sense 2) doesn’t have any evidence and 3) has driven large swaths of the country insane.

            At least the conspiracy theories peddled by Alex Jones are sort of plausible? Sometimes? I mean, if you squint one can at least tell a story about why it might make sense for somebody to do the stuff he says? But none of this Russia stuff makes any sense at all. There’s no reason to conspire to do these things, there’s no motivation to conspire, and there’s no evidence of conspiracy. Conspiracy theories with no facts supporting them and that, even if true, require all the participants to be both retarded and evil aren’t even fun. CNN is worse than Infowars because at least Infowars is entertaining.

        • Iain says:

          (ETA: Also, the Trump Tower meeting took place in July, but according to the Mueller indictment the hackers set up the “DC Leaks” site and accounts on June 8th and Wikileaks announced they had the emails on June 14th. Why were the Russians trying to peddle stuff to Trump Jr that had already started being disseminated the previous month?)

          This would be more compelling if it were true. The meeting was on June 9th.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Huh. Okay I acknowledge this makes the timing complaint less relevant, as this date was before the Wikileaks announcement. I’m not sure where I got July from.

            Regardless, this doesn’t change the fact it occurred after the DC Leaks site was set up on June 8th and that the things offered, official documents proving Hillary’s illegal activities with the Russian government, are distinct from the phished DNC/Podesta emails which do not plausibly sound like official documents proving Hillary’s illegal activities with the Russian government.

            Do you agree that whatever the Trump Tower meeting was about, it wasn’t the phished DNC/Podesta emails?

          • Iain says:

            Pretend you are Russian intelligence. You have hacked into one political campaign, and you are about to try bargaining with the other campaign.

            Do you:
            a) Send an email out of the blue, detailing what you have and how you got it. Cross your fingers that the Trump campaign doesn’t immediately turn your email over to the FBI.
            b) Send an email (through intermediaries) that baits the hook without giving anything important away, and then wait to see if the fish bites.

            It turns out that the fish bit. Nobody on the Trump campaign showed any concern about information coming from the “crown prosecutor of Russia”. Phone calls were exchanged. A meeting was arranged.

            What was discussed at the meeting? I don’t know for sure, and neither do you. Our only source of information is the account of the participants. It’s not like Junior’s going to say “Yeah, she told us about hacking the DNC and we said ‘cool, thanks!'”.

            The evidence is mostly circumstantial. You can choose not to find it compelling if you like. I’m just glad not to be stuck defending, e.g., Trump’s obvious fiction about not knowing about the meeting in advance.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure, if “official documents proving Hillary’s illegal activities with Russia” is really a euphemism for “Podesta’s emails” then yes, the Russian lawyer was peddling Podesta’s emails to Trump Jr. Similarly, if “pizza” is a euphemism for “children to have sex with” then Podesta and pals were running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor.

            Conspiracy theories are really easy to prove when you get to pretend everyone is speaking in code that means whatever it is that supports your conspiracy theory instead of the far less exciting plain meaning of the words.

          • Iain says:

            No, you’re not listening.

            I don’t think “official documents” is a euphemism, and — to the extent that “code” implies a pre-arranged hidden meaning — I don’t think it’s code.

            You’re ignoring the important half of the email:

            The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

            This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.

            This was a Russian overture to the Trump campaign. The purpose of this email was not to inform Trump about the Podesta hack. It was to feel out the campaign, and see how they reacted to a moderately sketchy offer. “Hey,” says the Russian government. “How do you feel about working together?”

            A meeting with the campaign chair and multiple members of the Trump family is not exactly a hard no. If you’re Russia, you probably feel comfortable going ahead with the next step.

            Again: we don’t have any concrete information about what that next step might have been, or how the Trump campaign responded. But the participants in this meeting are certainly acting like they have something to hide.

            Or I could be wrong. One of us is being blinded by partisanship here; only time will tell which one. My only request is that you pick a standard and stick to it. The Trump campaign used to say that they never talked to any Russians; now they say that, sure, they talked to Russians who were promising dirt on Clinton, but the dirt never came through. If and when the story changes to “sure, we talked with Russia about the DNC hack, but defeating Hillary was the most important thing and everybody does it”, all I ask is that you notice what’s happening.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It was to feel out the campaign, and see how they reacted to a moderately sketchy offer. “Hey,” says the Russian government. “How do you feel about working together?”

            And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with meeting with foreign governments during a campaign. Trump also flew down to Mexico and had a meeting and public press conference with their President during the campaign. UK representative in the EU parliament Nigel Farage spoke at a Trump campaign rally. The Russians claim their ambassador Kislyak met with the Clinton campaign, and emails published by WikiLeaks show the Chinese ambassador wanted to meet with Clinton as well. I don’t think Clinton has confirmed or denied whether these meetings took place.

            I think this is all mostly a good thing. If you know the next President of the US is going to be either Candidate A or Candidate B, it’s probably a good idea if representatives of other governments have some talks with the candidates so as they’re forming their foreign policies on the campaign trail they can be informed as to the dispositions of other nations, much like the candidates start getting intelligence briefings as the election approaches. It should probably be done more transparently, and it might be a good tradition to start. How a president deals with foreign powers is relevant to both voters and the rest of the world, so maybe a campaign event or two where candidates speak with other world leaders and hold a joint press conference afterwards would be nice, if other world leaders would be willing to do that. I could also believe they’d see it as insulting to talk to mere candidates, but whatever. I think it would be good.

            That the Kremlin prefers Trump in power to Hillary is not disputed by anyone. Should one only be able to meet with other countries if those countries want you to lose?

            The meeting’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t make sense that it had anything to do with collusion over the hacked emails, which would be the real problem. I would be bothered if Trump Jr. knew the Russians hacked the DNC and said nothing. But the email message setting up the meeting doesn’t mention the hacked emails and everyone there says it was about the adoption thing, which is entirely plausible. And it wouldn’t make sense for there to be collusion over the emails anyway since the hackers already had them and were already in the process of distributing them, and given that the Kremlin would prefer Trump to Hillary, would release them anyway even if for some reason Trump knew about them and begged them not to.

            As far as the story changing…eh? I googled around for “Trump deny meetings with russians” and found an article that lists various Trump denials, and the vast majority are about denying “collusion” or denying “having anything to do with Russia” or denying “having any deals with Russia” not denying ever meeting anyone who was Russian. The only one that looks like a changed story is this:

            March

            In an interview with the New York Times, Trump Jr denies meeting with Russian nationals in connection to the presidential campaign.

            “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

            Asked if he has ever discussed government policies related to Russia, he replies, “100% no.”

            This meeting was “set up” and he was representing the campaign. I can also believe he could easily forget the brief meeting from a year before during the very hectic campaign.

            The rest of this looks like the same sort of strategic equivocation. Trump denies over and over again collusion or deals with “Russia” (i.e., the Russian government), but there was one meeting with a Russian national which resulted in no deals or collusion, so therefore Trump is lying. No. A forgettable meeting with a Russian national about adoption policy from which nothing emerged is nothing like collusion or conspiracy with the government of Russia to meddle in the election. Intentionally conflating the two is the sort of propaganda like the article at the start of this thread that has me fed up with the media.

          • Dan L says:

            And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with meeting with foreign governments during a campaign.

            Meetings are fine, even normal business activity is ok. Political endorsements are a gray area. Donations or material contributions are a crime. Soliciting or accepting the same is also a crime. The FEC probably won’t do more than fine you, but if the prosecution comes from a DoJ probe I’m honestly not sure what the sentencing would be. Iain, any thought there?

            the adoption thing

            That’s the Magnitsky Act. Forget “unfortunate”, you don’t find it alarming that policy is coming up in the discussion of what Russian agents have to offer?

            Blunt question: would you be fine with a campaign setting up covert meetings with a foreign power in which they offer sanction relief when they get into power in exchange for dirt on their domestic political opponents? If we’re going to end up at the end of the Narcissist’s Prayer anyway, I’d like to skip a few steps.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Blunt question: would you be fine with a campaign setting up covert meetings with a foreign power in which they offer sanction relief when they get into power in exchange for dirt on their domestic political opponents?

            No, I would not be okay with that, and that’s not what happened here. Don Jr did not set up the meeting to exchange Magnitsky act relief for dirt, he agreed to attend a meeting to be given incriminating evidence against their political opponent, with no mention of expected compensation. When it turned out the meeting was set up under false pretenses, they left.

            Blunt question: would you feel fine with a campaign funneling money to pay agents of a foreign power in exchange for dirt on their domestic political opponents?

          • John Schilling says:

            he agreed to attend a meeting to be given incriminating evidence against their political opponent, with no mention of expected compensation.

            So, Trump Jr believed the Russian intelligence community is run by altruists and/or Republicans?

          • Dan L says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            No, I would not be okay with that, and that’s not what happened here.

            I’m glad you’re willing to draw a line somewhere, but even then…

            he agreed to attend a meeting to be given incriminating evidence against their political opponent, with no mention of expected compensation.

            …you’ve still described unlawful behavior. Or what exactly do you think Trump Jr. was prepared to offer? I don’t think public information is enough to secure a criminal conviction, but I’m having a hard time seeing an innocent scenario.

            Blunt question: would you feel fine with a campaign funneling money to pay agents of a foreign power in exchange for dirt on their domestic political opponents?

            Depending on the nature of the payments and agents, I could see this being perfectly unobjectionable both legally and ethically. But don’t be coy, make your case! And seeing as you were content to take implicated parties at their word in the case above, consider this an opportunity to demonstrate epistemic even-handedness!

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Without taking a position on the rest of the discussion, it’s entirely possible that the person offering you dirt on the other candidate simply wants that other candidate not to win.

            I had a friend running for a state-level office and he got random anons mailing him all sorts of shit about his opponent.

          • Iain says:

            As far as the story changing…eh?

            See here. Trump personally dictated Don Jr.’s first statement — “it was just about adoption” — which had to be amended almost immediately to admit that actually he’d been promised dirt on Clinton. (Here are the two statements.) The Trump camp denied at the time that he’d been involved in the statement, but has since admitted it.

            The claim that Trump knew about the meeting in advance is more speculative, but the circumstantial evidence is good. It would be weird for Manafort, Kushner, and Junior to all attend a meeting without ever mentioning it to Trump himself. Junior’s phone records show several calls to a blocked number at the logical times; presumably Mueller has long since issued a subpoena to determine whether those went to Trump. Trump’s promise of a “major speech” in which “we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons” makes a lot more sense if he knew about the meeting that had just been set up. There are reports that Cohen is willing to testify that Trump knew in advance, although we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.

            And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with meeting with foreign governments during a campaign.

            As Dan L says above, this obviously depends on the details of the meeting. “Our ambassador had a publicly acknowledged meeting with your campaign”? Sure. “We reached out through a pop star to arrange a secret meeting with your son”? That’s a little less obvious.

            And it wouldn’t make sense for there to be collusion over the emails anyway since the hackers already had them and were already in the process of distributing them, and given that the Kremlin would prefer Trump to Hillary, would release them anyway even if for some reason Trump knew about them and begged them not to.

            There are at least three reasons that the Russians might still be interested in colluding, even after acquiring the emails.

            First, while the Kremlin obviously prefers Trump to Hillary, they also prefer grateful Trump to clueless Trump. It’s easier to convince Trump to, say, turn a blind eye to Crimea if he knows where this help is coming from. Indeed, it seems to me that “after you’ve acquired the emails” is the obvious time to talk to the Trump campaign, because it means you’ve got something of value to offer.

            Second, if the Russians want to maximize the effect of their leaks, it’s useful to coordinate with people who understand how the campaign is going. If I handed you a bunch of incriminating information about Justin Trudeau, would you know when the best time would be to deploy it to sway the next Canadian election? If you really want Trump to win, it makes sense to give his campaign some control over the timing of your interventions.

            The DNC emails were dumped just before the Democratic convention. Podesta’s emails were dumped hours after the Access Hollywood tape. To be clear: I am not claiming that this is anything close to being proof. But it’s a plausible reason that Russia might have been interested in talking to Trump’s campaign even after acquiring the emails.

            Third, there’s a huge, obvious benefit to the Russians of being able to blackmail the president of the United States with proof that he colluded with you during his election campaign. Obviously, blackmail only works if he agrees to go along with it — but you never know until you try! What do the Russians have to lose?

          • Matt M says:

            I had a friend running for a state-level office and he got random anons mailing him all sorts of shit about his opponent.

            I listened to a Planet Money episode on gerrymandering that discussed how well-disguised PACs got involved in a really small-time state-level election somewhere, themselves paying for negative attack ads against an opponent without the candidate’s knowledge.

            The district was considered so wholesome and was so annoyed at the negative campaigning that, despite attempting to distance himself from the negative ads, the candidate on whose behalf they were run ended up losing a race he was projected to win.

            The individuals involved with this PAC weren’t expecting any sort of quid-pro-quo. They just wanted Republicans to win and Democrats to lose, and used their own resources accordingly (although it ended up backfiring on them).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Trump personally dictated Don Jr.’s first statement — “it was just about adoption” — which had to be amended almost immediately to admit that actually he’d been promised dirt on Clinton.

            I don’t see how this indicates collusion with the Russians. It sounds like Trump was confused about the purpose of the meeting. This fits in with the far more plausible “it was a brief and pointless meeting during a hectic time that everyone easily forgot about” explanation.

            The claim that Trump knew about the meeting in advance is more speculative, but the circumstantial evidence is good. It would be weird for Manafort, Kushner, and Junior to all attend a meeting without ever mentioning it to Trump himself.

            It would also be very weird for them to attend that meeting, and, being lawyers, businessmen, cutthroat politicos like Manafort, then willfully engage in a conspiracy with criminals who would then have enormous leverage over them for the very minor gain of determining when to release the emails.

            This is another mark of a conspiracy theory: in order for it to make sense, your enemies have to be both evil and stupid, and worse, stupid at the thing they’re almost certainly good at. I know people will claim Trump is stupid, but is Paul Manafort? Isn’t he an expert at dealing with dictators and such?

            “We reached out through a pop star to arrange a secret meeting with your son”? That’s a little less obvious.

            If this is how the collusion came to take place, then we can eliminate all the other speculation about other Trump associates’ contact with Russia then, right? If Manafort was on the Kremlin’s payroll, why the need for the email and the lawyer? Would he not have a direct line? What about Papadopolous? What about “knowing agent of a foreign power” Carter Page? What about Kushner trying to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition? Why would this be necessary if if they were all already thick as thieves?

            This is another sign you’re dealing with a conspiracy theory: insistence that there’s a mountain of evidence even though the evidence is mutually contradictory.

            First, while the Kremlin obviously prefers Trump to Hillary, they also prefer grateful Trump to clueless Trump. It’s easier to convince Trump to, say, turn a blind eye to Crimea if he knows where this help is coming from.

            Does the fact Trump has done things like authorize the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine, weaned Poland off Russian energy, worked on getting Germany to do the same, and (apparently successfully) pressured NATO to increase their armaments cast doubt on this supposition? It seems really, really, really unlikely that Putin would allow Trump to screw with his money.

            Or is this another one of the things where evidence counter to the conspiracy theory’s claims, like the contents of the email setting up the Trump Tower meeting, really indicate the conspiracy is deeper and darker than you think rather than evidence the conspiracy theory is wrong?

            Third, there’s a huge, obvious benefit to the Russians of being able to blackmail the president of the United States with proof that he colluded with you during his election campaign. Obviously, blackmail only works if he agrees to go along with it — but you never know until you try! What do the Russians have to lose?

            And this would never have occurred to Trump, to Don Jr, to Kushner, to the Devil Himself Paul Manafort? Wouldn’t they need to get something way, way, way better than…control over timing of rather lackluster email releases? Again, the conspiracy theory requires the participants to be evil, and stupid. And for several people who should definitely know better to all be monstrously stupid about the same thing at the same time.

            There is a much more simple explanation, though: the Democrats and the media are really, really mad about losing the election and are grasping at straws, so they’ve fallen victim to wishful conspiracy thinking. Until I see some evidence Trump colluded with the Russians I’m going to stick with that explanation as it seems like the most plausible.

  21. cassander says:

    I need a new Android phone, and for the first time in, well, pretty much ever, I’m going to have to pay full cost for it. I use my phone mostly for reading work emails, browsing the internet, playing low intensity games, and listening to audio books, so I’m not particularly concerned about performance, but I do want a very long battery life and generally like them on the bigger side. I know nothing about phones, which one should I get?

    • quanta413 says:

      I’ve got a Moto E4 I’ve been happy with. Battery life is really good. Screen is pretty big. I only have to charge it every other day, and I do a lot of browsing on it. If I don’t keep using the internet connection, I think it might be able to go longer.

      I don’t play many games on it, and as I understand, it’s performance is low compared to a pricey phone. I haven’t tried listening to audiobooks on it, but the audio sounds ok to me on the phone and for videos.

    • Ogre says:

      For battery life Huawei is your only man. At least if you buy one of their more expensive ones (P series, or Mate). I don’t know about the budget models.

    • sharper13 says:

      Depending on your exact price range, a Moto G5 plus is only a couple of hundred dollars. You can also get the E4 mentioned for less than $100, but you’ll sacrifice quality in ways (specifically, the case) which may result in another purchase sooner rather than later. Either way, get a decent protective case for $10-$15.

    • AG says:

      https://www.tomsguide.com/us/smartphones-best-battery-life,review-2857.html

      I ended up going with the Zenfone 3. It’s worked for me so far, but I deliberately don’t use it much. Browsing and emails have been fine.
      It comes with a case, so you don’t need to buy another one.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I recently bought a Moto E4 plus, specifically because I wanted “decent performance but huge battery life”. I’ve been very satisfied with it- it can easily go a couple of days without a recharge, which was ridiculously out-of-reach for my last phone.

  22. justmyfault says:

    Hello, I’ve been reading this blog for a long time, but I never posted any comment, but now I’d like to start a discussion about Micahel Pollan’s new book.
    I’ve finished the book and I liked it and I was wondering if Scott is planning to review it anytime soon.

    I remember reading something on this blog about side effects of LSD, in particular permanent visual artifacts, which are not mentioned in the book.
    Since it is such a high profile book and will likely lead many people to try (or at least to want to try) psychedelics, I think it is a timely discussion.

    I could not find any “MUCH MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO KNOW” about LSD, psilocybin or psychedelics in general, but I would really like to read something of the sort by someone like Scott who is both a pillar of “rationality community” and a psychiatrist. I think it would make a nice and more rational companion to Pollan’s book.

  23. meh says:

    new harvard study,

    Trigger warning: Empirical evidence ahead
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005791618301137

    • Aftagley says:

      from that science direct summary:

      Limitations
      The sample included only non-traumatized participants; the observed effects may differ for a traumatized population.

      So, the study of a topic specifically aimed at assisting a traumatized population included only non-traumatized people? Cool.

      • meh says:

        If a city put anti depressants in drinking water, would it not be reasonable to study its effects on non depressed people?

        • Aftagley says:

          Presumably at that point they’d all be non-depressed people.

          Point taken, my initial response was somewhat overly snarky, my apologies. I’m still skeptical of the study for including no one from the population that this practice is designed to assist.

          Including no traumatized people and choosing to push results as weak as

          Participants receiving warnings reported greater anxiety in response to reading potentially distressing passages, but only if they believed that words can cause harm

          makes me suspicious this was a study that went fishing to find negative effects of trigger warnings.

          • johansenindustries says:

            Surely, if we want to see the results of this mass-policy on non-traumatised people then we want a sample of non-traumatised people?

            While the results on traumatised people are work for a different paper.

            (I’m not seeing anything weak in that result, non-traumatised words-are-powerful people get anxious by trigger warnings. That’s a bad thing.)

          • TDB says:

            Antidepressants barely work better than placebo, so there will still be some depressed people. And lots of side-effects.

  24. johan_larson says:

    It’s a long weekend here in Canada, so in honour of the deeply rooted celebration that is Civic Holiday, here’s an extra Your Mission.

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to build a fully functional Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat. You may construct one from scratch or recover and restore one of the known wrecks. How much will it cost to resurrect this icon of a vanished age?

    • johan_larson says:

      According to this page, the price per aircraft was $620,000 in 1936, which is about $11 million in 2018 dollars. Perhaps a custom-built aircraft with a production run of 1 could be built for 10 times that, or $110 million. Some stuff, such as engines and instruments, could probably be salvaged from other contemporary aircraft that used the same gear. The FAA would probably insist on some upgrades in the instrumentation anyway, particularly if you intended to carry passengers.

      • bean says:

        You make me wonder who holds the type certificate (legal ownership of the design) for that, or if it’s just been retired (most likely). I know Boeing has them going back at least to the DC-6, but those are still in service. (Well, the had them as of ~2 years ago, but that may have changed for various reasons.)

        But if the type certificate is gone, you’d have to recertify, and that’s going to be just impossible with the original design. It would be cool, though. The 314 is a really neat aircraft.

        • johan_larson says:

          The FAA has a self-service portal for type certificates:

          http://www.airweb.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgMakeModel.nsf/MainFrame?OpenFrameSet

          Entering “314” into the search box produces documents that seem to correspond to the flying boat in question, and I don’t see any markings for TC 704 that indicate the type certificate is inactive. So it looks like Boeing still holds the type certificate.

        • John Schilling says:

          You’re almost certainly going to need to do enough substitutions due to parts and materials obsolescence to require a truckload of STCs. Depending on the intended application, it may be easier to register it as an experimental aircraft. That would do for a rich man’s toy, or air show displays, but not revenue service.

          The advantage of going experimental is that the certification process basically reduces to appealing to an FAA inspector’s engineering judgement that, yeah, this thing will fly. And here, you have the advantage that A: this thing is the best replica you can manage of something well understood to have flown very nicely and, B: this thing is wicked cool and anyone who ever applied for a job at the FAA will want to see it fly.

  25. NightOfStars says:

    Is natural selection a true scientific hypothesis in the the terms of Karl Popper assertion that it must be falsifiable?
    In what ways could it be falsified?
    There is possible disproof in the existence or lack of a certain feature in any species that could disprove it for one could always find some advantage or disadvantage therein.
    Any lack of fossil evidence can always just be brushed away for they would have already been lost in the far reaches of the past.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The current theory could be falsified by finding large-brained crinoids in older strata than primitive crinoids, I think.

    • adelaybeingreborn says:

      Natural selection can be expressed in a nearly tautological way: the organisms that are better adapted to their environment will tend to produce more viable offspring, where “better adapted” means that they have traits that lead to them producing more viable offspring. It’s not perfectly tautological, though, because of the dependence on the selection involving actual traits. That means that entirely random selection wouldn’t count as natural selection. And of course, it’s also conceivable that there will be no selection, with organisms in a population producing all about the same amount of viable offspring. Consequently, we can do observational studies on reproduction rates to see whether natural selection, random selection, or no selection is a better model.

      For example, we can observe a population of seasonal wildflowers in an area undergoing slow desertification, sampling its genetics every season. If we observe a statistically significant change in allele frequency (evolution) involving genes known to be functionally related to water hardiness, then that tends to confirm natural selection occurred there. If we observe only changes in allele frequency that are statistically insignificant, or that are only significantly correlated with genes that appear irrelevant to desertification, then that tends to confirm natural selection did not occur there. Repeat this type of test in many regions undergoing known changes in conditions. Across these many tests, if we consistently reject the occurrence of natural selection, then indeed natural selection as a scientific concept would be falsified.

    • actinide meta says:

      By “natural selection”, I assume that you are gesturing at something like the following claims:

      1. Living organisms today are all descendants of one (or a few) primitive primordial replicators
      2. The Linnaean taxonomy roughly reflects the common descent of organisms
      3. The nontrivial optimizations evident in living organisms are the result of selection effects during this reproductive history (as opposed to some other optimization process, such as intelligent design)

      The conjunction of these clearly makes many very strong predictions and so could easily be falsified. To give a personal anecdote, many years ago at a zoo I saw a plaque describing a poisonous bird, probably this one, claiming that the bird possessed the same toxin as a poison dart frog. Although I wasn’t at all knowledgeable about either the bird or the frog or even biology in general, my reaction was that that sounded impossible: obviously the common ancestor of a bird and a frog can’t have been poisonous, there’s to my knowledge no likely mechanism for gene transfer between birds and frogs, and the chances of two animals evolving exactly the same toxic protein (out of the enormous possible space of such) would be astronomically small. Arguably, if this bird and frog actually had genes for the exact same poison, the whole theory of evolution would have to be thrown out! Later I learned the answer to the mystery – established in 2004 – was that neither the bird nor the frog produce the poison; they both get it by eating the same poisonous beetle and concentrating the toxin. I thought that this was a good example both of how a powerful theory “pays rent” as the cool rationalist kids like to say, and of how susceptible it consequently is to disproof.

      Maybe your question is, if we live in a world where 1 and 2 were true, but 3 was false, how could we know? Well, if the behavior of the true optimization process was similar enough to the expected behavior of natural selection, then it might be tough. (This is sort of an issue with all theories of mechanism: were Shakespeare’s plays written by Shakespeare, or another English playwright of the same name? We might never know.) If the optimization process was intelligent design, I think we would expect to see lots and lots of violations of the sort of prediction I made at the zoo above – a genetic engineer has no particular reason to constrain their reuse of proteins to a tree structure! If it was something else, well, I’d have to hear a proposal to guess.