THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 109.75

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

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

704 Responses to Open Thread 109.75

  1. bean says:

    Last call for the Naval Gazing meetup in LA, which will take place on the 8th. We’ll be touring the USS Iowa. Details are here. Regular SSC readers are welcome, and I’ll do my best to make the tour enjoyable for all interest levels.

    Coincidentally, the latest post is the review/report from the last Naval Gazing meetup, at the USS Salem.

  2. Anaxagoras says:

    So, I guess the big news item today would be the New York Times running an op-ed from an anonymous “senior official” within the Trump administration about how the author and other members of the administration work to foil Trump’s impulsivity, ignorance, and incompetence.

    I personally think The Unit of Caring said it well here:

    I get why you would stage a secret, quiet coup to keep Trump from blowing up the world. I respect that, honestly.

    I do not get why you’d write an op-ed in the New York Times confessing to it.

    What do people think of this?

    • cassander says:

      I think that most people think they’re in a heroic struggle to do a good job despite the best efforts of, if not their boss, certainly their boss’s boss.

      And you write about it in the New York times for the same reason anyone writes anything there, because you want attention, and because deep down you know that Trump isn’t going to destroy the world, but your ego won’t stroke itself.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I’m reminded of a bit in Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers, about how the militant Serbian nationalist movement organized as a “secret” society which regularly held semi-public meetings in coffeehouses:

      But the spectacular secrecy of the Black Hand presumably also filled an emotional need, for what was the point of belonging to a secret organization if nobody knew that you did? To be seen wining and dining with other conspirators at the regular table conferred a sense of importance; it also created a thrilling sense of collusion among those who were formally outside the network, but in the know – and this was important for a movement that claimed to represent the silent majority of the Serbian nation

      [emphasis added]

    • The Nybbler says:

      If we consider possibilities like

      1) Actual senior official, as in a close advisor, doing this and telling the NYT they did this

      2) Relatively junior “senior official” telling the NYT they did this for an ego boost. (apparently there’s several hundred people who could be called “senior official”)

      3) Same as 2, but the official actually does it.

      4) The NYT getting played by someone within the Trump administration

      5) The NYT making it up

      I think 1 is probably the least likely, with 2 and 3 the most likely.

      There’s no reason for anyone actually doing this and believing it is important to go to the New York Times until Trump is safely gone.

      • cassander says:

        I’d say that 5 is considerably less likely than 1.

      • marshwiggle says:

        I’d like to add #6: Some officials do something a little like the NYT says, but not nearly as serious, with informal collusion but no outright conspiracy. One or more members of the collusion are seriously against Trump ideologically, personally, morally, and so on and wish to push the collusion to do something the rest of them don’t want to do, punish them for not having done so, or something like that. Plus they want to harm Trump. So they leak this sort of stuff.

        I’m not sure this is the most likely option, but it seems plausible enough.

        That said, I agree with the spirit of the analysis that went into your 1 through 5.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        My guess is that it’s a bit like the Duke Lacrosse Hoax — which, as I recall, the New York Times fell for. i.e. the article is the wild exaggeration of a low-level staffer; something that would never be taken seriously let alone published except that the New York Times is extremely hungry for news which is consistent with their anti-Trump worldview.

        • mdet says:

          Haven’t many of the recurring themes of Trump’s presidency been things like “The GOP establishment doesn’t like him and wants to downplay / undermine him”, Trump says the “deep state” is actively sabotaging him, Trump makes an official-sounding order or statement only to have other administration members ignore or contradict it (I think Nikki Haley does this frequently?), Trump announcing his disappointment that some of his people haven’t been doing what he appointed them to do (Sessions, Fed Chair Jerome Powell)?

          How implausible is it really that there are multiple senior members of Trump’s administration who are deliberately acting against Pres. Trump, whether by… “redirecting” his statements and actions away from whatever it is he says he wants to do, or just by ignoring him and doing things their own way? I’d believe that this op-ed is a partially embellished account from a low-level source, but “Seems like Trump and his admin don’t always get along” was a theme long before Wednesday. “Hoax” and “wild exaggeration” seem unlikely.

          • Matt M says:

            How implausible is it really that there are multiple senior members of Trump’s administration who are deliberately acting against Pres. Trump, whether by… “redirecting” his statements and actions away from whatever it is he says he wants to do, or just by ignoring him and doing things their own way?

            Especially plausible given that there is a real cost to Trump to just firing these people. It makes him look bad. Each additional firing adds fuel to the “ADMINISTRATION IN CHAOS” media fire. So he has some motivation not to fire people unless they really really piss him off.

          • John Schilling says:

            There was a real cost to firing those people. Now, firing anyone who might plausibly be part of Anonymous OpEd’s cabal, looks like legitimate housecleaning.

            The cost of firing your own staff is, as you note, that it feeds the “Administration in Chaos” narrative, makes you look like you don’t know how to run a tight ship and were inexcusably sloppy when you hired those people in the first place. That’s real, and it’s significant, and it’s right for Trump to want to not pay it. And, yes, that plausibly gives room for a cabal of “grownups” in the White House to quietly keep Trump’s tantrums in check while he seethes but doesn’t do anything.

            He’s just been forced to pay that cost, in full and up front, for his entire administration. If you’ve even partially concealed the internal chaos of your administration, a firing calls public attention to what had been a secret(ish) failure. But once the full chaos has been revealed, and between Anonymous and Woodward that’s a done deal, it’s not firing the apparently treacherous subordinates that makes you look like a weakling that can’t run a tight ship.

            If Trump can’t properly identify Anonymous and his cohorts, he’s going to have to find some scapegoats to fire anyway.

      • Deiseach says:

        apparently there’s several hundred people who could be called “senior official”

        So something like stories about “senior official in the Vatican makes shock revelations” where it turns out to be “our stringer in Rome had an agreeable gossipy luncheon with a guy dressed as a priest who told him all kinds of fascinating scandalous things but we only have his bare word for it that they’re true and that he’s even working in any capacity at all in the Vatican”? Except when it really does turn out, the one time in ten, to be a real senior official making shock revelations!

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Possibility #7 – It’s part of the “palace intrigue” game where one person is attempting to lower the status of others. I suppose that could be a variant of #4.
        Possibility #8 – You genuinely believe that impeachment or article 25 should be seriously pursued, and you are trying to lay the groundwork for public acceptance of such an outcome.

        Otherwise, I’m generally mystified why, if you believed the things in the op-ed, you would say what you are doing publicly.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          If you are trying to lay the groundwork for impeachment, this seems like the worst way to do it.

          https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/this-is-a-constitutional-crisis/569443/

          If you really think it is important, publicly testify. As is, telling Trump “there are traitors in your ranks” will just encourage a round of firings and quittings until Trump is surrounded by only lackeys. Trump’s been ranting about a deep state conspiracy for years and the New York Times just confirmed it for him.

          This will almost assuredly make things worse, not better, unless 1. You think Trump is going to lose his so much so that he becomes obviously impeachable, in which case I want to see how you predicted that was going to happen, or 2. You live in a bubble where merely opposing Trump is a good thing, and it doesn’t matter if you set things back. I know most people aren’t consequentialists but when you start the hand-wringing about this being for the greater good you have locked yourself into consequentialism.

    • BBA says:

      It’s an attempt to distract us from the Kavanaugh hearings. (Which are, themselves, an attempt to distract us from Benghazi.)

    • Good and Broken says:

      I believe it was a senior official who wanted to assure the populace that Trump is not going to blow up the world and thus we can all rest easy. And not oppose this administration so vociferously.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It seems like it should be totally overshadowed by the Woodward excerpt that ran the day before that identifies specific actions by specific people. The NYT article is only informative if you trust the Times more than you trust Woodward.

      Is it a response to the Woodward book? Is it a factual endorsement, for people who trust the Times to do such verification? Perhaps it is a reframing of the Woodward book, a pep talk for the staff, but it just doesn’t seem different enough to me to be worth bothering with.

      • MrApophenia says:

        This is, I think, the answer to the “Why talk about your secret coup?” question. Thanks to Woodward’s book it isn’t secret anymore.

        Apparently Woodward’s book goes into great detail on the degree to which Trump’s staff are actively trying to thwart his orders. So keeping mum about it isn’t really an option – the cat is now out of the bag.

        So now the question is just, “Once Trump fires me, how do I still make myself look good?” Or possibly, “When all of this is remembered as a debacle of historic proportions, how do I make myself look good?”

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Personally I trust the Times more than Woodward, even though I trust neither to be particularly thorough. Woodward is basically famous for being taken advantage of by the Deputy Director of the FBI to push his personal agenda, which happened to net a big story.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Well, I guess there is a difference, in that this claims to be a current official, whereas Woodward’s examples of sabotage are done by his sources, who are talking to him because they are gone. Except Mattis. He’s still there and it’s not clear who alleged to Woodward what Mattis did.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      In most organizations a gasbag like this would stick out like a sore thumb. The most alarming revelation here is that this administration has enough Sir Humphreys in it to allow this particular one to strut and preen without fear of discovery.

    • Yakimi says:

      Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

      In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

      We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

      These aren’t patriots. They’re mercenary agents of Capital and Empire who are trying to rehabilitate Bush-era Republican orthodoxy by making common cause with the liberal opposition to Trump. These cretins are more frightened by industrial tariffs than they were the Iraq War. If these are their principles, I am happy to see Trump demolish them.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It’s certainly interesting.

      I would really like to see Trump drain the swamp but I don’t, and didn’t, expect him to seriously attempt it much less succeed. But given how desperately the swamp critters are fighting him that might have been defeatism on my part. If they’re still this afraid of the President then that’s a sign for hope.

      Either way, whether he’s a real threat to their power or his continued presence just insults them, this latest barrage of bad press isn’t going to do anything that the last several years of continuous bad press failed to do before. The more the media hammers on this, the more credibility they lose.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        What I’ve never managed to wrap my head around is this: if you’re looking for someone to “drain the swamp”, why, of all the 300 million people in the US, would you choose a real estate businessman from New York, with known ties to organized crime, with literally no experience in politics except for bribing politicians?

        • Mark Atwood says:

          with literally no experience in politics except for bribing politicians?

          “Of course I know politicians are crooked!
          I kept the receipts!”

          • James C says:

            The sad thing is, I have no idea whether that’s actually a Trump quote or not.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It’s pretty close.

            Without missing a beat, the real estate tycoon continued: “I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.” He added, “And that’s a broken system.”

            Repeatedly asked what he got in return for his donations, Trump said: “With Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good.”

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I mean Donald Trump is and was a terrible choice for that role, he just happened to be the only choice.

          You can only vote for the people who actually run for office, not hypothetical ideal candidates.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          He was the only one who wanted the job.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          Politicians are corrupt because, in theory, they need campaign funds and the approval of the elite within the media to get the necessary air-time and positive coverage.

          If you’re so arranged that you don’t need either of these things, then you’re (in theory) free to govern as you please.

          • mdet says:

            I’d also add that the US government is set up to make enacting sweeping changes very very difficult. If you’re a president or congressperson, your choices are “Obey the limits on my authority, meaning I can only tinker around the edges of the system” or “Force the sweeping changes I want by bending/breaking the rules”. Also, voters say they want bipartisanship but will punish compromise in practice, incentivizing politicians to defect instead of cooperate.

      • hyperboloid says:

        @Nabil ad Dajjal

        The more the media hammers on this, the more credibility

        Only among Trump cultists. l’eminence orange is objectively the least popular president since the second world war. I suspect that administration’s endless parade of public dysfunction has something to do with that.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          538’s measure of Trump’s disapproval does not prove that media’s credibility is a problem only for Trump cultists. I suspect Goodhart’s Law has something to do with that.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      A few thoughts:
      – the point may be to make the fact that there is internal resistance common knowledge, i.e., let others who work on subverting Trump (or would do it if they could be sure they’re not alone) know that they are in fact not alone.
      – also, if your goal is to make Trump seem weak and incompetent, exposing that he doesn’t even have control of his immediate subordinates is not a bad move.
      – by making all this public, you’re going to cause another week or so in which Trump will be busy chasing moles and is distracted from pursuing his other bad ideas. (Seeing how it only takes him a tweet or two to cause massive damage, this may not be very effective, though.)

      • Orpheus says:

        it only takes him a tweet or two to cause massive damage

        What “massive damage” did his tweets cause? Seriously, I wish you people would stop with the hyperbole.

        • Fluffy Buffalo says:

          We’ll have to see how this thing unfolds over the next years, but his statements implying that NATO is obsolete, and that protection of NATO members from attack may not be unconditional, but depend on how much they pay, are the sort of thing that could lead to a destabilization of Europe.

          To put it bluntly: the point of pacts like NATO is to draw a clear line and raise the stakes for any potential attacker who is tempted to swallow a small, weak member of the pact, figuring “they won’t go to all-out war over a puny country like that.” By stating clearly that yes, you are willing to go to all-out war, you prevent that same war. Any waffling on commitments like that amounts to saying, “yeah, whatever, our threats have no credibility even to ourselves, go ahead and do what you please.”

          • Orpheus says:

            are the sort of thing that could lead to a destabilization of Europe.

            Right, so even accepting that nations decide whether or not to go to war based on tweets (which they don’t, and stop pretending that they do) he didn’t “cause massive damage”, he did something that maybe might possibly cause damage sometime in the future.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, the result of Trump slapping NATO around has been increased NATO spending (or pledges to increase NATO spending), and weakening European dependence on Russian energy.

            If the result of Trump’s tweets it’s a stronger, more heavily armed, more independent NATO, isn’t that the exact opposite of “massive damage?” I’m more interested in actions than words.

          • Iain says:

            Also, the result of Trump slapping NATO around has been increased NATO spending (or pledges to increase NATO spending), and weakening European dependence on Russian energy.

            I’m pretty sure we’ve been over this before.

            In 2014, well before Trump was elected, NATO members pledged to increase their spending to 2% of GDP by 2024. Since that point, they have been steadily ramping up spending. Looking at the graph at the bottom of page 4 here, the case for Trump “slapping NATO around” as a cause of increased spending is very weak.

            Trump walked out of the NATO summit making outlandish claims about how he’d convinced everybody to start spending more. None of the countries that he’d purportedly convinced agreed with these claims:

            But in the wake of the hours of urgent, Trump-created chaos, it was unclear whether leaders had agreed to anything new. The leaders of France and Italy disputed Trump’s assertions, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is loath to contradict the mercurial U.S. president, repeatedly dodged questions seeking precision.

          • cassander says:

            @Iain

            I grow tried of this particular two step, the seamless transition from “trump is destroying everything” to “things are getting better but trump has nothing to do with it.”

            You can argue trump is wrecking this, or you can argue that he’s not accomplishing much, but you can’t argue both at the same time.

          • DavidS says:

            @cassander – what two step?

            Fluffy buffalo says trump is undermining the credibility of NATO and a United response. Conrad honcho says that the same act led to a different thing which is good for NATO. Iain argues that it didn’t.

            The original claim wasn’t that trump had led.to lower spending from other NATO countries.

          • cassander says:

            @DavidS

            You are correct, I was conflating fluffy buffalo & Ian’s comments, I missed that they were different names.

    • False says:

      Releasing the op-ed has more of a chance to backfire than any other potential outcome. Now, when Trump inevitably fails to follow-through on any of his campaign claims, he and his supporters can fall back on “there are people in his administration literally preventing him from doing what needs to be done. The People need to support Trump more than ever against the tides of this actual and real deep state obstructionism.”

      Colossally stupid and completely at odds with any sort of positive effect that could have been intended.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Trump has already followed through on many of campaign claims. He killed TPP, has renegotiated NAFTA, nixed the Paris climate accords, has slapped tariffs on China, has bullied NATO into pulling their own weight, has bombed the sh*t out of ISIS, passed huge tax reforms, has slashed the federal register by a third (!!!!), has reshaped the federal judiciary, and I could go on. No one who voted for Trump thinks Trump has let them down, but you’re right that blame for Trump not doing even more falls on the obstructors and not on Trump.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I don’t know who this is targeted it. The author starts with:

      There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

      Okay, so we’ve got peace and prosperity. That’s pretty good.

      Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

      Oh no. What good is peace and prosperity for the nation if your meetings aren’t comfy? Is the madman serving tea without crumpets or whatever? This is horrible. Impeach now.

      I don’t know who this is supposed to convince or what the point of this is supposed to be, but the only thing it makes me want to see Trump do is clean house. Do you want purges? Because this is how you get purges.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Do you want purges? Because this is how you get purges.

        Loyalty oaths for all!

        • Matt M says:

          Wasn’t there once a mini-outrage over Trump asking staffers to make some pledge that sounded kinda like a pledge of personal loyalty?

          Gee, I wonder why he might have wanted that!

          • mdet says:

            It was over the fact that most of the Trump White House had apparently signed non-disclosure agreements with non-disparagement clauses suggesting that Trump (or maybe the government itself?) banning them from “demeaning or disparaging” the Trump business or any member of the Trump family, effective “during the term of your service and at all times thereafter”.

            “I will sue you if you ever criticize me or my family” is quite a bit stronger than “sounded kinda like a pledge of personal loyalty”

    • Matt M says:

      I think this is actually pretty smart strategy by the left, leading up to midterm elections (and setting the stage for 2020). Note that my baseline assumption is that the media is always lying and that the actual contents of this letter are entirely fictional propaganda.

      That said, by most accounts, things are going pretty darn well through two years of Trump. Even the left doesn’t have much to complain about, except what a jerk he is. The economy is doing better than anyone expected. He hasn’t started World War III. While he hasn’t unwound any of our major wars, he’s probably done less to escalate them than any of his alternatives would have. The concentration camps for Muslims and blacks and gays continue to not exist, etc.

      Meanwhile, the left-wing narrative continues to constantly be what a deranged madman he is. How the white house is a state of utter chaos and confusion. But most people will intuitively understand that something is wrong with this narrative. If he’s so bad, how can things be going so well? If his administration is in such chaos and disorder, what does that say about the orderly administrations that previously achieved worse results?

      Now the libertarian answer here is “It doesn’t actually matter very much to your day to day life who is sitting in the white house” but the state-worshippers in the media would never concede such a thought. I’ve written a blog post before to the effect of “I care more about having a good drive-thru worker at McDonalds than I do about having a good President.” But they could never entertain such a thought.

      So how can they possibly explain these results? Well, they might have stumbled upon the best of a lot of bad answers. Trump is that stupid, awful, arrogant, and bad. Left to his own devices, he totally would have completely destroyed the country and done all those awful things and gotten all those awful results everyone promised would happen back in October 2016. The only reason that hasn’t happened is because of the heroic resistance, who ensures that whatever Trump orders, the opposite is actually done. We aren’t succeeding because of Trump, we are succeeding only because of anti-Trump people carrying out the day to day tasks of government.

      The great part about this is that it’s somewhat plausible, even to people not suffering from TDS. We know it’s true that a huge percentage of the people carrying out the day to day tasks of government absolutely loathe and despite Trump. We know that many of his higher level appointees who literally owe their jobs to him continue to hate and despise him.

      This may be the most credible anti-Trump narrative the media has come up with since he decided to run.

      • Plumber says:

        @Matt M,
        The things that I notice getting worse under Trump (more and more people sleeping on the streets, the smell of marijuana) are the same things that I noticed were getting worse under the last four years of Obama.

        The same with the stuff that’s been getting better (easier to find a job).

        Not much change in trends actually.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Why are you so confident that newspapers are “always lying”? The NYT, for one thing, tends to get the facts right. There’s spin in how it presents things, and its opinion-piece bias is almost always centre-left, but the NYT has pretty good professional ethics. The price for a reporter who knowingly fabricates is probably higher than for an administration official, no?

        The centre-left narrative is currently that he’s, if not a deranged madman, then someone with character flaws, inexperience, and possible senility such that him being president is bad. Previous narratives were about how he was about to go full [somewhere from generic authoritarian dictator to full fascism] and you can find stuff from late 2016 about how he was about to coordinate the civil service with the Republican Party/his personal clique and end democracy. Some people still interpret things as an evil-coded version of the “master persuader” explanation.

        I don’t know that things are going so well, or that people perceive them as such.

        • Matt M says:

          The NYT, for one thing, tends to get the facts right.

          Getting the facts right is one of the least important aspects of their job – which is shaping and molding public opinion. Did someone somewhere send them a letter like this? Maybe. Does it matter? Not really. Who knows how many positive portrayals of Trump people have also offered to make that they weren’t interested in?

          I don’t know that things are going so well, or that people perceive them as such.

          What, specifically, isn’t going well? GDP is up, farther than anyone expected. Unemployment is down. The foreign war situation isn’t great, but it isn’t getting any worse. All important civil liberties remain intact, and don’t seem to be under any greater threat than they always have been.

          I think things are going well by any reasonable standard, but they’re going especially well given the standard of the daily insistence by the media that the white house is in complete and utter chaos and disarray and that all top psychologists have determined Trump is obviously mentally ill.

          Given that we’ve seen massive recessions and horrible foreign policy decisions by the very professional and respectable Bush and Obama, this begs the question – if this is the outcome we get from electing a crazy insane idiot as President, why should we ever go back to voting for the sane, intelligent, professional ones?

          • quanta413 says:

            Yeah, but the answer is what you said about who the President is not actually mattering that much. A lot of the time at least. Especially if you’re looking for positive contributions.

            As long as the executive had all the President’s underlings, they could probably flip coins to decide disputes between them rendering the President unnecessary. Except for public relations.

            We should just have a head of lettuce replace the President for executive duties (let the cabinet flip coins or fight it out), and elect a famous actor to be head of state to handle the ceremonial duties. Could be the Rock, Oprah, Morgan Freeman… I bet voter turnout would go up.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, but the answer is what you said about who the President is not actually mattering that much.

            Right. But if true, what particularly good reason is there to prefer Obama to Trump? Why should the media spend 24/7 trying to convince us that Trump is a deranged madman if it doesn’t really matter whether you have a deranged madman or not?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s assumed that the NYT did not just randomly get this op-ed in their inbox, but actually confirmed the name and position of the leaker, as well as confirming that he actually wrote it and stands by it.

            We’ll know within ten years.

          • WashedOut says:

            What, specifically, isn’t going well? GDP is up, farther than anyone expected. Unemployment is down. The foreign war situation isn’t great, but it isn’t getting any worse. All important civil liberties remain intact, and don’t seem to be under any greater threat than they always have been.

            I think things are going well by any reasonable standard…

            What about the less-tangible and harder to report metrics? One could reasonably argue that the baseline level of respect for the USA held by the rest of the world is liable to decrease with Trump at the wheel, which can cash out in terms of diminishing of diplomatic sway, terms of trade disputes, fewer desirable migrants, growing public distrust of the media and institutions, etc. Living in a high-trust society is important regardless of political stripe.

            Your contention may be correct that a country’s success is less dependent on who the President is than we were previously to believe. In this case, the President ought to be less of a wrecking-ball and more of a passive caretaker.

          • Matt M says:

            One could reasonably argue that the baseline level of respect for the USA held by the rest of the world is liable to decrease with Trump at the wheel, which can cash out in terms of diminishing of diplomatic sway, terms of trade disputes, fewer desirable migrants, growing public distrust of the media and institutions, etc. Living in a high-trust society is important regardless of political stripe.

            Perhaps this question could be best resolved by putting Trump aside and going back to 2008, when we were assured that the entire world hated America because of George W Bush, and that electing Obama would restore this, because world leaders loved him so much. And to be clear, the fact that most other nations think very poorly of Republicans (especially Bush) and very highly of Democrats (especially Obama) seems to be true and factual.

            Practically speaking, what did this newfound esteem and respect get us. Was Obama able to negotiate more successful trade deals? If so, this didn’t seem to help GDP or unemployment very much. Was he more competently able to navigate foreign policy crises thanks to the support of our allies? If so, how the hell did Libya happen? Why are we still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

            Your overall point seems plausible, but there seems to be approximately zero evidence of it actually happening. As far as I can tell, electing a President that the rest of the world really respects and gets along with is neutral at best, and may actually be a net negative. Trump’s narrative to his base is certainly one of “These other world leaders pushed Obama around because he was weak – so of course they liked him. I am strong and will be the one pushing them around, so of course they’ll hate me – because I’m working in America’s interest and not theirs.” You can disagree with that reasoning, but it also seems somewhat plausible.

            Your contention may be correct that a country’s success is less dependent on who the President is than we were previously to believe. In this case, the President ought to be less of a wrecking-ball and more of a passive caretaker.

            But what if you prefer a wrecking ball? If it doesn’t actually matter who is President, why not vote for the person who gives the most entertaining press conferences? Who speaks in a way that delights you and annoys your political opponents?

            For as rational as this place claims to be, when it comes to politics, all I ever hear is theory. I’d love a well-argued claim that Trump’s actual results have been poor or led to significant damage to US interests.

          • One could reasonably argue that the baseline level of respect for the USA held by the rest of the world is liable to decrease with Trump at the wheel

            The problem with this argument is that the elites of the other developed countries are well to the left of the mean views and current policies of the U.S. The BBC has publicly told its people that they are not supposed to balance programs on climate change by including people who disagree with the orthodoxy. The briefing note starts by talking about people who deny that climate change is happening but ends with:

            “common misconceptions” used to deny manmade warming, including that “not all scientists think manmade climate change is real” and “climate change has happened before”.

            Both “misconceptions” are true, the latter especially. Through most of the geological past, there were no ice caps, and within the past few million years sea level has repeatedly gone up and down by something like a hundred meters due to glaciations.

            For someone whose views fit those of the European elite, it makes sense to try to do things they will approve of in order to move the U.S. in what he sees as the right direction–as somebody quipped, Obama isn’t a Kenyan, he’s a Swede. For those of us who think that’s precisely the wrong direction to move, it doesn’t make sense.

          • J Mann says:

            What about the less-tangible and harder to report metrics? One could reasonably argue that the baseline level of respect for the USA held by the rest of the world is liable to decrease with Trump at the wheel, which can cash out in terms of diminishing of diplomatic sway, terms of trade disputes, fewer desirable migrants, growing public distrust of the media and institutions, etc. Living in a high-trust society is important regardless of political stripe.

            If those are the core values, doesn’t that make it even more important for the NYT to report good news in order to increase trust? I mean, if Trump is sort of racist and sort of not racist (arguendo), then doesn’t reporting the sort of not racist help you with those intangibles?

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, if it’s really harmful to the USA to be thought of poorly by other countries, than globalist media outlets who trash the USA to other countries are essentially guilty of treason.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            This raises a question I’d like to ask the non-American commenters here: is it usual for politicians in your country to be judged, to any significant extent, on how they affect Americans’ opinion of it? (Non-rhetorical question; neither answer would surprise me greatly.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s very common for both parties to criticize the other party’s President for failing to protect America’s image abroad. Praising their own people for doing good work in that area is not unheard of, but not nearly as common unless done as part of an “unlike that other guy” attack. And criticizing your own party’s people in this regard is also uncommon. So it doesn’t seem to be a thing most Americans care very strongly about in its own right.

            To the extent that they do care, Democrats mostly want to see America respected/admired by its allies and by neutral possible-future-allies, whereas Republicans mostly want to see America respected/feared by its enemies and by neutral probably-really-enemies.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          For me – speaking as a former Republican who abstained from voting in 2016 – the Times doesn’t lie via making up facts, but you can do a lot of lying via narrative. Which facts do you emphasize? Which do you fail to mention completely? Which get spun and twisted what way? I hesitate to give examples, since I know that will tend to get lost in the weeds of the object level debate and everyone who disagrees with me will ache to rebut any possible example I give, but I do think this is better illustrated to show how I, at least, see things.

          Easy example. A year ago, in Charlottesville, Trump specifically condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists. He said “they should be condemned totally.” The narrative that I still run into all over the place is that Trump is totally a racist who called white supremacists “very good people,” because in the same interview he said that there were “very good people on both sides.” Now, why didn’t the Times emphasize the condemnation? Why did it take one quote out of context and spin it to say basically the opposite of what the President said?

          But it’s not just the Times. It only adds a couple bricks to the wall of the narrative -the Washington Post, CNN, liberal websites that maintain respectability like the Huffington Post, NPR, they all play into the same thing. They either twist a few things to present something totally false, or then report on the controversy their earlier claims provoked without bothering to fact check the controversy at all (not that I trust the media’s “fact checks”, for reasons I trust are clear).

          Another example. Take Parkland. I’m a middle school teacher, and I have students terrified that they will be murdered in a school shooting. They’re convinced that it’s an epidemic and that our school-shooter drills are more likely than not to one day save their life. The fact that school schootings are vanishingly rare and that my kids are more likely to get hit by the bus and die on the sidewalk as they walk to school than they are to be shot by a lunatic classmate is nowhere reported on. The media doesn’t bother to include base rates or statistics in their reporting – that’s boring and gets in the way of the lurid details of tearful parents or heroic survivors facing down the villains in government who refuse to “do something” about guns.

          Or take the reporting on, say, police violence. Again, the media uses true facts to present a false narrative. Why emphasize black men killed by the police and not, say, young women killed by illegal immigrants? The right tried to do the same with that Iowa girl murdered a few weeks ago, but the media for once dug in their heels and refused to cooperate. But that’s not out of professional ethics, that’s because the right was pushing something not their preferred narrative.

          Or take Gell-Mann Amnesia. I’ve experienced it, both when the media reports on fields that I’m familiar with and on specific stories, like the Red Cross troubles a few months or years ago or the details of the murder of a friend of mine. Every time I’m remotely familiar with the topic, what appears in the newspaper has virtually no resemblance to the reality.

          The list goes on. In most controversies, it’s not that the Times reports false facts, it’s that it selectively reports on facts that confirm its preferred narrative and ignores or outright suppresses facts that run counter to that. I don’t know what they’re being totally straight about and what they’re misrepresenting – but because I know they do it some of the time I can’t trust anything that they report. And this goes for just about every major media organ, not just the NYT.

          (this is probably my longest comment ever on SSC, but I just wanted to say that you don’t have to be a MAGA-wearing Trumpkin not to trust to the media even as far as you can throw ’em).

          • MrApophenia says:

            Now, why didn’t the Times emphasize the condemnation? Why did it take one quote out of context and spin it to say basically the opposite of what the President said?

            Because they watched the whole event and not just the one line you, yourself are trying to take out of context?

            Trump spent the first event where he spoke about Charlottesville actively and pugnaciously refusing to condemn the white supremacists, in response to many questions from reporters.

            His own staff were disgusted by it – in the case of John Kelly, actively visibly disgusted in the room as it happened.

            Then, there was so much backlash to that first event – including within the White House – that he held a second event where he condemned white supremacists. Unlike the first event where he was clearly fired up and arguing with reporters, this was an unenthusiastic read from a script. Nobody bought it except people who desperately wanted to.

            Meanwhile, we now know from Woodward’s book that at least one cabinet member handed Trump a letter of resignation after the first event (Cohn), and that after the second one, Trump was furious at being forced to condemn white supremacists.

            Trump was sharply criticized for initially saying that “both sides” were to blame. At the urging of advisers, he then condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis but almost immediately told aides, “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given,” according to Woodward’s account.

            This is why I find it really hard to take this type of media criticism seriously. “If I cherry pick facts to get to exactly the spurious claim I want to make, then I can say the press is dishonest for not reporting that!”

          • Nick says:

            This is why I find it really hard to take this type of media criticism seriously. “If I cherry pick facts to get to exactly the spurious claim I want to make, then I can say the press is dishonest for not reporting that!”

            Granting that your account of the Charlottesville thing is accurate, have you never actually experienced Gell-Mann amnesia yourself?? Even allowing that sometimes people are very wrong about media inaccuracy, this response seems too strong.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            1) Trump was right about “both sides being to blame.” The commies (adjacent) showed up to start a fight with the nazis (adjacent). If they had just done what everyone else does when a handful of nutjobs show up for a march and just stayed home and ignored it, nobody would have been hurt. Spencer’s NPI group was started in 2005. For 12 years they were having meetings, and not once did they pour out into the street and start beating up minorities. And no one cared, until Trump won, the media needed to find some nazis to blame and started hyping Spencer. Now the commies show up to fight the nazis and there’s a fight. What changed here? Was it the behavior of the nazis, or the behavior of the commies?

            2) Trump was probably wrong about there being good people on both sides. Here’s the photo from the aftermath of the car crash/attack. You’ll notice these people are not waving American flags. They are not just regular joes like you and me, angry at nazis. They’ve got red flags, which are socialists, and black flags, which are anarchists, and half red/half black flags which are anarcho-syndicalists. These are basically all “commies” in the same way white nationalists, KKK, and neo-nazis are all “nazis.” Which is what you had on the other side. None of these are good people.

            Correction: if you look at that photo, in the bottom right, there is a poor schmuck in a Johnson/Weld 2016 t-shirt looking like he has no earthly idea what the hell he’s doing here. That’s probably a pretty good guy. He’s just an idiot and should have noticed all the people around him want to enslave his libertarian ass to the state and left. I suppose it’s possible there was someone on the other side who didn’t like all the nazi-adjacent people but just didn’t want the historical statues coming down, and maybe that was a “good person” too. So there might have been “good person on both sides.”

            3) Trump was definitely right that making the one-sided condemnation was a bad choice. It didn’t do him a lick of good because he doesn’t get any credit for it (e.g., this comment chain). It’s like disavowing the KKK. He disavowed the KKK over and over again. Doesn’t stop the media from slipping assertions he refused to disavow the KKK into the long list of his crimes and asking him to do it again and again and again. How many times do you have to express your hatred and disgust for completely irrelevant people? The media never seems to ask Democrats to disavow antifa, or ask them over and over again why they “refuse” to disavow antifa, and if they do disavow antifa, ruminate endlessly on why it took them so long to do so.

            4) Everyone quoted in Woodward’s book denies they said the things he claims. An awful lot of the “quotes” do not sound like anything the people to whom the quotes are attributed would even say. Over and over again we get the inside scoop from anonymous sources that never seem to survive confirmation or predict anything. Despite anonymous sources being entirely untrustworthy, the things they state (or are alleged to state) are repeated again and again…and eventually people forget they came from unreliable anonymous sources.

            This is why there is distrust for the media. The media picks their version of the truth first, then hypes any “fact” that fits their narrative and suppresses anything that contradicts it. It is not “reporting.” It is propaganda.

            ETA: Oh, and my favorite media trope: “sources familiar with the thinking of.” What the hell does that even mean?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t trust the media to give me the straight story, but I do trust mainstream journalistic entities to not tell lies of commission. It is possible to fact-check the narrative against the facts presented in the article. This is as true of any right-leaning mainstream news entity. This often leads to amusing cases of this or that newspaper insisting that X is or isn’t a threat, while the numbers they prove this with say the opposite.

            With most people – with Trump, certainly, and with “senior administration officials” or whoever – there isn’t even that ethical level. I have a higher level of trust for statements of purported fact made by the NYT than I do of most people. I trust myself to be able to pick apart media sources, because they generally don’t tell lies of commission.

            Sure, a lot of people don’t look past the narrative being pushed by their choice of news media. But in the sorts of examples you give – focusing on violent crime – those people probably didn’t need much of a push to fear strangers of whatever variety more than intimate partners/family members/drinking buddies.

            My claim is not that the mainstream, professional media is honest, but that it is not uniformly dishonest, and that it generally does not tell knowing lies of commission.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Saying you think Trump was right not to want to condemn white supremacists is different from the post I was arguing against, which was to say the media is dishonest for reporting that’s what he did.

          • Matt M says:

            I think you can be “uniformly dishonest” without telling lies of commission on basic facts.

            The cynic in me would suggest that these journalistic enterprises are deliberately very careful about getting basic facts right for the sole purpose of enhancing their general credibility – thus allowing them to be more effective outlets for misleading propaganda in general.

            And I would advance to you that places like Fox News and even Breitbart quite rarely tell blatant lies of commission regarding easily-checked basic facts.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Fox News is pretty much a mainstream professional journalistic organization. They’re a bit less “genteel” than the NYT or the WSJ. I don’t know about Breitbart; they’re probably less honest than Fox and they lead with opinion a lot.

            I don’t think the news media is especially honest, but by general standards of honesty prevailing in society, I’d say they’re considerably more honest than average.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I wish to note for the record that I would dispute Mr.Apophenia’s version of events, based on the transcript of the press conference wherein the President said both sides were to blame and that there were “very fine people” on both sides, but that’s getting into object-level weeds.

            My metapoint is this: the media doesn’t need to make up facts to lie. All that they need to do is decide which facts are newsworthy and get reported, which are not and are suppressed. What context is included around a statement? What is not? And no, they don’t do this all the time – they’re not uniformly dishonest. But the fact that they are not uniformly honest means that I can’t trust them at all, because how do I know that whatever particular story I’m reading isn’t one of those dishonest moments? I wouldn’t go so far as the original claim that the newspaper is “always lying,” I agree with you there. But not trusting them even a little bit I think is an entirely defensible stance.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s usually pretty easy to tell when a dishonest moment is happening. It isn’t hard to see when suddenly there’s missing numbers, or a chart starts in a completely random year, or whatever.

            Let’s take an example: the refugee/asylum seeker/migrant/whatever-you-want-to-call-it crisis in Europe. A left-wing source might seek to argue there never was a crisis, and do this by showing statistics from 2008 to 2014, and 2017 to present. Conversely, a right-wing source (of the sort that doesn’t like immigration much; the Economist or whatever might have a different view) might focus entirely on the years 2015 and 2016. Looking at the statistics 2008-18 (I pick 2008 because 10-year periods are nice and even) doesn’t really appeal because it doesn’t fit either narrative. It’s equally obvious that neither is considering the full span of years.

            This is inescapable; it’s never going to be otherwise. Things that are escapable are the sketchier methods: it’s a red flag when the front-page coverage of a thing is “this is how you should feel about thing” rather than “this is what happened.”

          • Matt M says:

            And if the source cloaks itself in the mantle of “this is what happened” but in actuality is solely designed to tell you what you should feel about a thing?

            That is my perception of the overwhelming majority of media. They work very hard to establish a veneer of neutral objectivity, but if you dig deep even a little bit, you discover that it’s entirely propaganda.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Which would you trust more:

            An article on a thing, by the NYT, or a Facebook post about that thing, by someone you know with similar politics to the NYT? Flip to WSJ for the right-wing version.

          • Matt M says:

            I would trust the NYT to be more accurate about basic facts, but all in all, I have to say it would depend on who was making the Facebook post. If it was someone I knew and/or found generally credible, I’d trust them more. Otherwise it would be about even.

            To me, the NYT is the equivalent of that crazy uncle that you know is full of shit 90% of the time. Even if he bothers to look up a bunch of numbers and “facts” that are accurate to justify his rants – that doesn’t make him any less full of shit.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If someone’s crazy opinions and rants are justified by facts – and those facts aren’t utterly cherry-picked – then maybe their crazy opinions aren’t that crazy, no?

            My experience is that people of my acquaintance are considerably more likely to just straight up lie than equivalent-ideology mainstream media. They’re also much more likely to turn confusion or equivocation into outright statement.

          • Matt M says:

            The NYT’s facts are utterly cherry-picked, though, that’s my point.

            I don’t know that it’s possible for any individual to have lower credibility with me than the media does. Maybe they could get as low, but not any lower.

            There are virtually no media outlets I trust. But there are some individuals I trust. And some of them are even on the political left.

          • dick says:

            Is that before or after adjusting for the fact that, to someone avowedly on the right, a hypothetical perfectly-neutral news source would appear to be biased to the left?

          • Which would you trust more:

            Depends on the person. I can think of at least one person on FB whose views are well to the left of mine—how far I don’t know—who I would trust considerably more than I would trust the NYT. Also lots who I would trust less.

          • Deiseach says:

            Trump spent the first event where he spoke about Charlottesville actively and pugnaciously refusing to condemn the white supremacists, in response to many questions from reporters.

            Which is not unreasonable if you suspect it’s a “gotcha” question designed so they can have headlines the next morning about “Trump denies links with white supremacism”. Like this 2012 article from Mother Jones (hey, it was what came up when I Googled the vaguely remembered quote):

            As the old saying goes, If you’re explaining, you’re losing. Or, more pungently, there’s the (possibly true!) story about LBJ spreading a rumor that his opponent was a pig-fucker. Aide: “Lyndon, you know he doesn’t do that!” Johnson: “I know. I just want to make him deny it.” If you’re denying, you’re losing.

            Also, it’s Trump. If a crowd of people are trying to make him say or do X, he’s going to say or do Y out of perversity, even if X is a better thing. He doesn’t like being told what to do or be forced into doing something, so a room full of reporters demanding “Denounce the Nazis!” is going to get his back up and he’ll refuse to do any such thing.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @dick

            Is that before or after adjusting for the fact that, to someone avowedly on the right, a hypothetical perfectly-neutral news source would appear to be biased to the left?

            The difference is the right-wing media is not attempting to hide the fact they’re right-wing. Breitbart is not pretending to be “the paper of record.”

            I’m fine with MSNBC and Fox News. I’m fine with Breitbart and Mother Jones. They all wear their bias on their sleeve. I deeply distrust CNN and WaPo and the NYT who claim objectivity when they are anything but.

            And largely they “lie” in the way Chevalier Mal Fet suggests. They don’t make up facts. But when a black guy is killed by police it dominates the news cycle. When an American is killed by an illegal immigrant it’s buried or ignored. When someone asks them why they don’t cover the murder by the illegal immigrant they’ll give that person airtime just so they can chide them with the facts, the statistics showing these sorts of murders are rare and therefore the critics only care because racism. Someone who points out the same sorts of statistics do not support a narrative of racist cops executing black people on the regular is not given air time.

            Facts aren’t really important. You can use facts to prove all kinds of things. What matters is which kinds of things you want to prove with the facts.

          • Matt M says:

            He doesn’t like being told what to do or be forced into doing something, so a room full of reporters demanding “Denounce the Nazis!” is going to get his back up and he’ll refuse to do any such thing.

            The strategy of “Do the exact opposite of what the media says” is what won him the election. No sense changing strategy now!

          • Deiseach says:

            Matt M, there’s an Irish saying “I’ll be led but I won’t be drove” and I can identify with Trump on this, even though it’s a bad habit: you can show me something that is good/better/beneficial to do, and I might agree with it, but you try and make me do it, and I’ll dig in my heels and baulk like a mule. Persuade me, sure. Try and arm-twist me and by God I’ll say “no” till my tongue falls off, even if it cuts off my nose to spite my face.

            So stick me in front of a roomful of journalists trying sixteen ways to force me to say something even so anodyne as “slavery is bad” and I’ll keep my mouth shut and glare at them.

          • mdet says:

            Remember that on topics unrelated to Culture Wars (or reporting new and really technical scientific studies), NYT and the like are considered extremely reliable.

            Seems likely to me that they maintain that rigor but are simply ideologically blinded when it comes to CW topics.

          • Remember that on topics unrelated to Culture Wars (or reporting new and really technical scientific studies), NYT and the like are considered extremely reliable.

            Has the NYT ever had a story on something you happened to know a lot about? That’s the best test of whether they actually are reliable.

            I can’t think of any examples involving the Times, but my general impression is that when that happens the result is not to increase my trust in the media.

          • beleester says:

            @Matt M and Deiseach: I can’t really sympathize, because I remember Obama catching an absurd amount of flak for not using the words “radical Islamic terror” in response to a terrorist attack. Not for failing to condemn it, simply failing to condemn it with the precise words that Republicans prefer.

            Maybe there’s some hypothetical world where we all agree Presidents shouldn’t have to take strong positions on obvious topics like “terrorism is bad” and “Neo-Nazis are bad,” and we can cheer Trump for not putting up with stupid formalities, but this isn’t that world. To me, this looks like the Republicans spending eight years picking motes out of Obama’s eye, and then ignoring the plank in their President’s.

          • albatross11 says:

            mdet:

            I’ve mostly stopped consuming mainstream media science coverage since blogs and podcasts done by actual scientists in the relevant fields became available. I’ve read a fair bit of respectable media coverage about my own field, and they often get even very basic facts wrong. Even when they manage to get the basic facts right, they always misunderstand the implications. This is generally in places where there is no culture war/politics motive to misunderstand things.

            Now, to be fair, the job of a journalist in reporting science is really hard–he’s supposed to understand a new result and its implications despite probably having no background in the relevant science. (At best, he’s got some background in some other scientific field. But a chemistry degree doesn’t mean you understand virology or climate modeling or computer security.)

            This makes me reluctant to trust media sources in other areas where understanding the facts is hard. After I watch some mainstream source utterly screw up (say) an explanation of the speculative execution side-channel attacks that have come out lately, and then omit major key facts even I know about when reporting an education story[1], I’m pretty skeptical that they’ve got the facts straight when they start reporting about the Syrian civil war.

            [1] Maybe for culture-war reasons, but more likely from honest lack of knowledge.

    • rahien.din says:

      Possibilities for base reality :
      1. Trump is truly unhinged, and the op-ed is true.
      2. Trump maintains an unhinged persona in a Nixonian sense, and while the op-ed’s author believes the op-ed is true, it is only because they have been manipulated
      3. Trump maintains an unhinged persona in a Nixonian sense and the op-ed’s true purpose is either to reinforce that persona or to distract from some other event, and the op-ed’s author and Trump are working together

      In 1 and 2, the author’s goals are to achieve notoriety and to reassure the body politic (in some combination). In 3, the author’s goal is to manipulate.

      • quanta413 says:

        Despite the breathless reports on Trumps antics, they don’t strike me as more unhinged than Nixon or LBJ. Trump’s just more into performative public bullshit and exists in a media situation that encourages that. Whereas when earlier crazy Presidents acted like nutjobs to their staff or behaved questionably in their personal dealings, the media was more content to let that go.

        Presidents behaving in a personally bizarre and uncouth manner seems almost 50/50 to me. Kennedy, LBJ, and Nixon were out of control in one way or another. Then there’s a string of Presidents who don’t seem personally out of control (Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I). Followed by Clinton who was out of control. Then two more personally well behaved Presidents (Bush II, Obama). Now we’re back to crazy.

        We just didn’t know how fucking crazy Nixon and LBJ were at the time.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          We just didn’t know how fucking crazy Nixon and LBJ were at the time.

          And how about contemporary critiques of, say, Lincoln?

          ‘Idiot,’ ‘Yahoo,’ ‘Original Gorilla’: How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.

          No matter what Lincoln did, it was never enough for one political faction, and too much for another. Yes, his sure-footed leadership during this country’s most-difficult days was accompanied by a fair amount of praise, but also by a steady stream of abuse—in editorials, speeches, journals, and private letters—from those on his own side, those dedicated to the very causes he so ably championed. George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him “an unshapely man.” Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.

          • Nornagest says:

            Scythian, huh? Political insults have gotten a lot less creative since 1860.

            “Unshapely man”, on the other hand, is the simple truth. Lincoln looked kind of like an Inca mummy on stilts*; it’s just that that Inca mummy also happened to be a really good writer and orator.

            (*) He was six-four, in an era where the average man was five-six. Imagine being across the debate stage from an out-of-shape Shaquille O’Neill wearing a top hat and chinstrap beard.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean Lincoln literally threw reporters in jail for criticizing his war, so I’d hope that a few of them had some unkind things to say about him.

          • Nick says:

            Scythian, huh? Political insults have gotten a lot less creative since 1860.

            Hah. I had a class on race and ethnicity in the ancient world, and the sourcebook had long, long descriptions of the Scythians, and they were not kind descriptions.

          • engleberg says:

            The guy who pushed Lincoln through the 1860 convention wanted the Governor of New York. Convention wouldn’t wear it, in part because Illinois hicks disliked a well-dressed man who cleaned up good. ‘They wouldn’t take the Governor, so I made them take this gorilla’ he said later.

    • JonathanD says:

      I think this is someone reasonably prominent who wants to get a job in the next Republican administration. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to get a job because you worked in the Trump White House, being able to point at this op-ed and have the NYT come out and announce that it really was John Kelly* (or whoever) who submitted it might protect your career. Or at least, you might convince yourself that it will.

      *It’s not John Kelly.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I don’t know how much evidence there is to assign probabilities to all the different possibilities.

      At first, it seems really weird to write an op-ed, but there’s various explanations. It could honestly just be someone trying to stroke their own ego and plead for sympathy. Other posts have given other plausible reasons.

      On the other hand, there’s any number of people who might have a reason for it to run that they might have lied to the NYT about who they were. I think it’s extremely unlikely that if this is a hoax it comes from within the NYT. They have higher professional standards than that.

    • John Schilling says:

      “A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.”
      – Ronald Reagan (probably not original)

      If this “senior official” is being truthful about what he has done and why, then his desire for even anonymous credit has undone all his good works and more. And I’m guessing he only ever planned to be anonymous for the remainder of Trump’s tenure, claiming credit as soon as it’s time to start looking for a post-Trump job.

      Quietly working within the system to alleviate its worst excesses can be a reasonable and even righteous course of action, but it has to be done quietly. Because the System, especially if it is headed by Donald J. Trump, will not turn a blind eye to open subversion. If there is, as the writer claims, an actual quasi-resistance at work within the White House, then he has put all their work at risk and he has put all of them at risk in the mole hunt to come. He has ensured that the next two years of Trump will have the paranoia(*) dialed up to eleven and a staff of frightened yes-men between Trump and the levers of power.

      So, I get the theories that this is an inside job by the Trumpists to knock the “RINOs” down a notch, but Hanlon’s Razor applies. It’s probably a not-terribly-senior staffer whose frustrated ego let him think he could have the best of both worlds, White House Insider and Hero of the Resistance.

      Then there’s the question of why the New York Times would deviate from their normal standards in the service of such an ignoble and damaging cause, and again there’s the obvious theory that they did it because they specifically want to damage the Trump Administration. But again, it’s probably just a bunch of journalists going for the clicks and the ego-boo, handed to them on a silver platter. I do trust that they will have verified the author’s status as a not-bottom-tier White House staffer, but no more than that.

      * Well, except for the part where they actually are out to get him, and publish op-eds in the New York Times just to make sure everybody knows that.

    • Deiseach says:

      Yes, for a “shhhh, we’re keeping the President in the dark for the sake of the nation”, blurting it all out in a large national paper doesn’t seem very clever. Are we supposed to think Trump will never get to hear about this?

      This may be so stupid it’s genius. Somebody might be getting trolled, I genuinely have no idea who. The only way it makes sense at all is if the expectation is that Trump really will be impeached any day now, so the rats are lining up their lifebuoys and lifeboats to get off the sinking ship by getting out sympathetic “don’t put me up against the wall, I was one of you all along!” stories. But then again, is that what we are supposed to think is going on?

      • Matt M says:

        If that were true, why wouldn’t they just come out in public and sign their name to it?

        If Trump goes down in flames, won’t this end up being an “I am Spartacus!” situation wherein every Trump official is going to claim they totally wrote this and it was totally them and they also led the resistance from the inside!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          NYT claims they verified the author, so they’ll know.

        • Deiseach says:

          If that were true, why wouldn’t they just come out in public and sign their name to it?

          I have no idea. As I said, it seems very stupid to flat-out publish a big “yeah we are totally treating the president as a puppet” article because that surely defeats the secrecy needed to operate like this. Signing your name to it is asking to be hauled up and sacked in the morning by an incandescent President Trump, but on the other hand this anonymity only encourages paranoia and a hunt for the disloyal (which, as all good spy novels tell us, only sows more discord and causes more damage to the host organisation trying to find out who the mole is).

          Anonymity has the virtue of allowing a lot of guessing to go on, so people who may or may not be the author of this drop nod-and-a-wink hints that it was them, which serves to protect the real author (until they feel the time is right to come out of the shadows). But by the same token, it causes suspicion and dissension and all kinds of accusations of “is this you? it is, isn’t it, you traitor!”.

          So it’s either a brilliant tactical move by a real mole who wants to cause the administration to destroy itself from within, or it’s a brilliant 4th dimensional chess move by a partisan to lead the opponents of the administration down the garden path, or it’s a very stupid move whether it’s a mole or not. I can’t tell which if any of these is likely.

        • John Schilling says:

          If that were true, why wouldn’t they just come out in public and sign their name to it?

          Because Trump isn’t going to be impeached tomorrow, and if you’ve spent six months exiled to the Outer Darkness waiting, the insiders might forget to invite you back. The great objective is to have Hero of the Resistance cred while also keeping your Washington-Insider network current.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Occam’s Razor is that this is typical behavior in any organization, but dialed up to 11 because Trump is exceptionally bad as a chief executive. Letter-writer probably thinks “wow, this guy is a horrible boss” and has been toying with the idea of submitting an Op-Ed for some time, and finally went ahead and did it because it was a particularly bad day recently. It’s a bash against Trump and venting.

      Also to let people know that, no, not everyone is just blindly following what Trump says, including people on the GOP side.

      I really hope there is a serious GOP primary challenger in 2020, but I’m not holding my breath.

      • Plumber says:

        My own (dim) hope is for a four party system:

        1) Economic and social libertarian.

        2) Economic populist with “traditional” cultural values (basically a political home for most church going African Americans, hispanics, and many blue collar whites, minus the one race versus another thing).

        3) Economic libertarian with “traditional” cultural values (what the Republicans mostly are now).

        4) Economic populist/socialist with “liberal” social values (what the Democrats basically are now).

        But I won’t hold my breath waiting.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          I was saying all through 2016 that the best possible outcome would have been a Hillary vs Trump vs Rubio vs Bernie free-for-all cluster in the General Election. Comes close to your four, though Hillary in the 1) group is a little bit of a stretch.

          • Matt M says:

            A little bit of a stretch? By my read, she’s the literal opposite of that.

            She virtue-signals with the left on some particular social issues, but as far as I know, she was never a major proponent of say, marijuana legalization.

          • Plumber says:

            My impression of Trump is that he ran as a #2 (the infrastructure promises), but he’s governed mostly as a #3, with the big exception of immigration, as much to my surprise, he actually has seemed to crack down on immigration more than typical Republicans do when in office (and not just campaigning). As loathsome as he seems to me, I’m actually impressed by Trump trying to fulfill a campaign promise to his base.

            Bernie does seem a #4 (more so than actual Democrats like Clinton), and Rubio is a straight up #3.

            The closest to a #1 that I can think of, with some national prominence, is Rand Paul, but you’d probably actually have to go to actual Libertarian party members for a true example. 

            Our geography based elections prevents a four party system from lasting long as anything but a thought exercise, and I don’t know if other nations have any like it.

        • engleberg says:

          The two-party system is American law; outside parties get what the R and D parties let them have. And the R party isn’t ‘economic libertarian with trad culture’, it’s a civil war between Donor R party fighting to lower wages by immigration and Votor R party fighting for higher wages and less immigration.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s not law. At all.

            It is a natural consequence of a presidential system (with direct election of an individual for chief-executive)with first-past-the-post outcomes.

          • Plumber says:

            @engleberg,

            What binds them together?

          • engleberg says:

            HeelBearCub- I don’t think something being a natural consequence prevents it from being law.

            Plumber- I think inertia, pork, and the hatred of the D party are holding the R party together at this point. And Donor party R don’t hate the D party back.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I would say the most unifying thing about the Republican party today is court appointments. Everyone from Jonah Goldberg to Ann Coulter want textualist judges.

          • cassander says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            That and tax cuts. But it’s a lot easier to deliver on judges than moderate tax cuts, which is why taxes are still where they’ve been since the korean war.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            Honcho: I agree that court appointments is unifying, but I think the textualist characterization is incorrect. Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg want Republican judges (the reverse is true for the Democrats, though against symmetry, I’d say that Merrick Garland was pretty centrist). Because it’s considered inappropriate for judges to identify as explicitly partisan, terms like “textualist” serve to indicate a partisan identity instead.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Anaxagoras:

            No, I can believe the Democrats see the courts as a naked power struggle. A results-oriented approach. They want legal abortion. The legal reasoning behind that is irrelevant. The Republicans have a process-oriented approach. They want judges who read the Constitution and read the law and apply it as best they can and not go sniffing for emanations from the penumbra. The kind of judge Republicans want would not ban abortions. They might overturn Roe[1] but this would not ban abortions, it would kick it back to the states, and then each state would decide for themselves how they want to handle the issue. Utah would ban them, and in California it would be the default. Like you’d show up at the hospital pregnant and you’d have to sign a paper to opt-out of your abortion. Most states would be somewhere in between.

            Democrats, however, do not believe this, and think Republicans want objected-oriented judges and are lying about wanting process-oriented judges.

            For evidence I’d point you to Scalia. Every Republican loved Scalia. But in Obergefell Scalia’s dissent was not “no gay marriage” (the object conservatives want) it was “the court has no authority to define marriage, leave it to states” where gay marriage would be decided by the political process.

            The obvious counterpoint would be Gonzales v. Raich when Scalia should have overturned Wickard and didn’t, but oh well. Nobody’s perfect. That’s what Thomas is for.

            [1] Yeah yeah I know Roe’s been superseded but that’s how everyone talks about abortion.

          • taxes are still where they’ve been since the korean war.

            The pattern of federal tax rates has changed quite a lot, but federal receipts as a fraction of GDP have been pretty stable. State and local receipts as a fraction of GDP, on the other hand, have almost doubled since the Korean War.

          • engleberg says:

            Judgeships are pretty sweet pork. For any lawyer not a judge, ‘my good friend the judge’ is pretty sweet pork.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The Republicans have a process-oriented approach. They want judges who read the Constitution and read the law and apply it as best they can and not go sniffing for emanations from the penumbra. The kind of judge Republicans want would not ban abortions.

            I suspect this isn’t quite true. If a judge came up for a hearing that looked likely to ban abortions and to make it past confirmation, there exist sufficiently many Republicans who would support him that it would confirm Democrats’ concerns at such.

            To make it more interesting: if the judge were somehow able to make a true dog whistle about being both pro-life and loose constructionist, such that only Republicans heard it and Democrats somehow didn’t, then it would not be the case that Republicans would suddenly pipe up and publicly say “hey, umm, Democrats? You sure you want this guy?”.

            Rather, I think Republicans recognize textualists as the closest they’ll get to a candidate that their constituents will accept, that Democrats would also accept, if each side knew everything the other side did. (I think Republicans also think Democrats reject textualists because Democrats suspect any textualist is a closet pro-lifer. And Reps think this is irrational, and therefore affirms their belief that they hold the moral high ground wrt confirmations. And I think Democrats would regard this as critically inaccurate framing, and that they’ve had genuine cause for concern in enough cases that they’re justified in being suspicious of any candidate simply because the Republicans support them.)

          • Fossegrimen says:

            If a judge came up for a hearing that looked likely to ban abortions and to make it past confirmation

            Not sure such a beast can exist.
            My estimate of the senate:
            – Democrats will always vote against the abortion-banning judge
            – More than 50% of republican senators would vote against a judge willing to sacrifice the law for a short-term win on abortion.
            – Therefore, even with a 100% republican senate, such a judge would not be likely to make it past confirmation.

          • Nornagest says:

            More than 50% of republican senators would vote against a judge willing to sacrifice the law for a short-term win on abortion.

            50% might make some kind of token protest. I don’t think 50% are unpersuadable. You’d have laziness, cowardice, and party discipline all on your side. (That’s enough negative affect, though, that I should probably say this isn’t a partisan thing — I’d say the same about Democrats if we were talking about their judges.)

            Still, filibuster-proof majorities are rare and narrow enough that it doesn’t much matter whether the figure is 50% or 25% or usually even 5%.

          • John Schilling says:

            – More than 50% of republican senators would vote against a judge willing to sacrifice the law for a short-term win on abortion.

            It is entirely possible that a judge could promise a short-term win on abortion without sacrificing the law. That’s one of the many problems that comes from Blackmun’s ass-pull of an opinion on RvW.

            A long-term “abortion shall henceforth be banned throughout the United States” win would be a different (and much less likely) matter, but even partial wins like throwing the issue back to the states would be severely chaos-inducing even if legally sound.

    • BBA says:

      A less flippant answer: this is someone in the Republican establishment saying they’ve gotten everything they wanted and could reasonably get from Trump – a big corporate tax cut, a fifth seat on the Supreme Court – and now all he’s going to do is lose them the midterms and fuck shit up internationally. Also, he’s a rageaholic bully (which, mind you, is not grounds for impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment) and nobody can stand him personally. In other words, nothing we didn’t already know.

      This is not “the left” unless everyone who isn’t 100% Trumpist is the left. (Jeff Sessions is 99% Trumpist and look how much shit he gets for the other 1%…)

      It’s probably an assistant undersecretary for something or other. Somebody in the Plum Book, who had to be confirmed by the Senate, but completely unknown outside their own department.

      • Matt M says:

        his is not “the left” unless everyone who isn’t 100% Trumpist is the left.

        The NYT is a propaganda outlet of the left who is gleefully signal-boosting this message. If you want me to treat this criticism as something coming from the political right – then it should have been published on FOX News, or maybe at least the WSJ or something.

        • Michael Handy says:

          I’m going to hope this doesn’t decline into name calling, but calling the NYT “The Left” is approximately as annoying to actual leftists as calling CNN “Right Wing” is to those on the Right. It’s important to acknowledge that a large fraction of the left political sphere is not even remotely represented by The New York times, and it isn’t just the dudes waving the Red Flag.

          More properly, there’s a real hate-filled divide between the centre-left establishment and the Progressives, and a smaller gap between the Bernie Social Democrats and DemSoc/LibSoc points left like the journalist Mark Ames and his crew.

          • albatross11 says:

            Left and right, to the extent they’re meaningful at all, are *relative* to some assumed center point. The assumed center point in rural Illinois is quite different from the assumed center point in suburban Maryland. From the rural Illinois perspective, the NYT and CNN both seem pretty left/liberal. From the suburban Maryland perspective, they seem more like neutral news sources. From Berkeley, they’re both part of the right-wing establishment.

            One place where we can maybe say something useful here: US politics are Democrats vs Republicans. Most of the journalists and other staff of the big media sources in the US are Democrats; few are Republicans.

            There are also culture-war issues that split kind-of along urban/liberal vs rural and suburban/conservative lines. Journalists and other staff of big US media sources are overwhelmingly on the urban/liberal side of that divide.

            Both of these almost guarantee bias on issues that split across the parties and cultures.

          • Plumber says:

            .“….From the rural Illinois perspective, the NYT and CNN both seem pretty left/liberal. From the suburban Maryland perspective, they seem more like neutral news sources. From Berkeley, they’re both part of the right-wing establishment…”

            @albatross11,

            I’m witness to my father, a self-described “Enemy of the State”, back in the 1970’s and ’80’s, while living in Berkeley and Oakland, California, calling “Time” magazine “right-wing propaganda”.

      • Deiseach says:

        now all he’s going to do is lose them the midterms

        But wasn’t that the idea all along? There was going to be this giant blue wave which would sweep out all the Republicans and sweep in the Democrats, because now La Résistance was galvanised by the election and everyone was going to seize the chance to prevent the Fifth Reich from coming true?

        I could be convinced by someone on the Republican side going “yeah,that’s hogwash, we’ll hold on to our seats and maybe win more” or going “yeah, right from the start this was in the cards because of the sheer outrage generated”, but I’m not so convinced by “well it was looking like we would win all around us even despite Trump being president but suddenly right now he’s going to lose it for us”.

        • beleester says:

          I think the view is more along the lines of “Look, I know Trump was crazy, but he signs our bills and we figured he’d settle down and stop being crazy once he got out of campaign mode. Now it’s 2018 and he still hasn’t stopped being crazy so I think we need to admit we have a problem.”

          I think it’s pretty plausible that Republicans might have known at the back of their mind that there was trouble coming, but didn’t want to be too hasty about the doomsday predictions until the polls started to come in and confirmed that there was a good chance of doom in the midterms.

    • dick says:

      Why does this need any explanation at all? The claims in this article (that Trump is impetuous and ill-informed and yells a lot) have been made by prominent people who know him personally on both sides of the aisle like once a week since he announced his candidacy.

      The only surprising thing about this article is that the NYT printed it without attribution. Without a name this seems like “Hey, you know how a lot of people who work with Trump think he’s a dummy? Well, one more person does too.”

      • John Schilling says:

        The important thing about this article is not that one more Washington insider thinks that Trump is an impetuous, ill-informed dummy. The important thing is that a Washington insider is asserting with some credibility that there is a cabal of senior Executive Branch officials who are actively conspiring to prevent the President of the United States from exercising the legitimate powers of the Presidency in the (impetuous, ill-informed, dumb) manner he sees fit.

        That’s a big deal, a much bigger deal than just Trump being dumb. Particularly since Trump was elected with something of a mandate to clear out the corrupt insiders who think that they should decide how things are done no matter what the voters think.

      • CatCube says:

        As John said, the story here is that the President is being undercut. If you’re a White House staffer who doesn’t like what the President is doing, you have a moral obligation to resign, not undercut the decisions of elected leaders. I don’t care how much you think you know better than the President, he’s the guy that stands for election, not Mr. SES.

        As an example, I’ve railed several times here about how dumb an idea I think the border wall is (for cost and effectiveness, not moral reasons). However, if I got tasked to design it? I either A) submit my resignation or B) design the best Goddamn border wall I can. I’d go with B, since I’ve worked on other projects that were equally money-wasting, and it’d be refreshing to work on a right-wing waste of money for a change.

        Quietly screwing up the design and contracting process to hold the project up is outright immoral–if the President has proposed it, Congress has appropriated the funds, and the President signed the appropriations into law, the people with the Constitutional duty to decide what the US Government does have spoken. At that point, you do your damn job or get out. There are limits where subversion would be appropriate, but those are well away from the issues under discussion.

        • dick says:

          I think you guys are using excessively gaudy language to describe a pretty mundane state of affairs. If your boss asks you to design a border wall and you design a shitty one that will fall down, sure, that’s immoral, but I don’t think that’s what’s being described here. A better analogy would be, your boss asks you to design a border wall, and you believe it’s a good idea, and you work on it in good faith, and then one afternoon he sticks his head in your office door and says, “Also, I think trees are too tall! My nephew fell out of one, and broke his arm. Someone oughtta do something about these trees! Get on it, okay? Top priority!” and you sigh and say, “Sure thing, boss” because you know he’s kind of a dipshit and will forget about it soon, and get back to the border wall designs.

          Obviously that’s not ideal – it’d be better to have the sort of boss who’s open to feedback when he has a bad idea – but it’s not illegal or immoral and doesn’t warrant language like “cabal of senior Executive Branch officials who are actively conspiring to prevent the President of the United States from exercising the legitimate powers of the Presidency”.

          • MrApophenia says:

            If you take the claims in Woodward’s book seriously, there are more active examples than that. The one that has gotten the most press is Trump ordering a formal letter to be written up to withdraw from a trade agreement with South Korea.

            Gary Cohn snuck into the Oval Office and stole the letter before Trump could sign it, trusting that Trump would then forget he gave the order, which he did.

            (Cohn apparently also stated he planned to do something similar with a withdrawal letter Trump ordered for NAFTA; it’s unclear if he did, but we never withdrew from NAFTA.)

            This is disturbing in a variety of ways – like Trump being so senile his orders can be defeated by just blocking them and waiting until he forgets he gave them – but one of the worries is definitely the type of thing John and CatCube are talking about.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think you guys are using excessively gaudy language to describe a pretty mundane state of affairs.

            Eh, I think you’re going too far in the opposite direction. If the author of the article is to believed*, the White House Resistance is effecting policy.

            * I do not think the author of the article is to be believed.

          • SamChevre says:

            This.

            And I’ve worked in organizations with impulsive bosses, people who yelled at random passerby about their latest frustrations, and other characters. Working enough at this morning’s urgent top priority to keep the boss reasonably calm, while staying focused on actually accomplishing your actual job, is entirely typical. I would argue that it’s appropriate.

          • John Schilling says:

            …while staying focused on actually accomplishing your actual job, is entirely typical [and appropriate]

            “Your actual job” being, what, exactly? And who decides?

            Because normally, your boss decides what your job is. Now, if your immediate boss is an incompetent mid-level manager and your company’s senior management has provided clear guidance, sure, you ignore the middle manager until he calms down.

            If you took a job as a senior staff member in the White House, your job is to do what the President of the United States tells you to, so long as it isn’t actually illegal or unconstitutional. The American people elected him, not you, to run the Executive Branch.

            And then there’s Trump’s actual job. Which is, among other things, to drain the swamp that is DC. That is a legitimate thing for American voters to want, even if other voters and DC insiders see a vibrant wetland ecosystem and even if the ones who see a swamp were busy reading social media posts by paid Russian trolls. If a plurality of American voters elect a president with a mandate to “drain the swamp”, then that’s the job he and his staff need to be getting on with.

            Because if, instead, we are treated to senior deep state, er, “steady state” insiders proudly bragging about how they have POTUS boxed in and neutralized, that’s strong evidence there really is a swamp in need of draining and leaves the voters in question with one legitimate path forward.

          • SamChevre says:

            @John Schilling

            In my case, the core goals for my job will have been discussed with many people, over months, and will be something like “get system X working by year-end so we can use it for reporting.” And my old boss (who the “trees” comment was very like) would never have gotten anything done if his staff hadn’t ignored the “clearly not thought through” half of what he said and kept working on what he’d told us, in a fairly thought through fashion, was what he wanted done.

            In other words, I suspect that there is a deliberate effort to keep Trump from accomplishing his actual goals, and it’s wildly inappropriate for his staff to participate in that effort. I also think there’s an effort by some of his staff to make sure that his actual goals get accomplished, which may require things like working through the rule-making process rather than “just ban X”; I consider that “being a good employee”, not sabotage.

            I suspect that the author is exaggerating, in a counter-productive fashion.

          • onyomi says:

            (Quoting John Schilling)

            And then there’s Trump’s actual job. Which is, among other things, to drain the swamp that is DC. That is a legitimate thing for American voters to want… If a plurality of American voters elect a president with a mandate to “drain the swamp”, then that’s the job he and his staff need to be getting on with.

            Because if, instead, we are treated to senior deep state, er, “steady state” insiders proudly bragging about how they have POTUS boxed in and neutralized, that’s strong evidence there really is a swamp in need of draining and leaves the voters in question with one legitimate path forward.

            And with each additional attempt by the Acela set to expel Trump for reasons that are, at bottom, about him not being one of them and not being on board, in particular, with the foreign policy status quo (which almost no Americans like, yet which enjoys bipartisan support in DC), one grows more sure that he is, in fact, the guy we wanted.

            Put more simply, there are obviously good reasons to oppose Trump, but the resistance to him in the media and political world seems, from my outsider perspective, so bizarrely out of proportion to those reasons that one can’t help but feel satisfied that he’s simply “over the target,” so to speak. I think this has been and will continue to backfire for the likes of the NYT.

    • Reasoner says:

      If Trump doesn’t cause catastrophic damage, people on the right can be like “that wasn’t so bad was it?” But if the only reason he doesn’t cause catastrophic damage is because of people like this, that is a reason to not re-elect him.

  3. Plumber says:

    @Matt M commented in a previous thread

    “That doesn’t do much to explain why southern california has so many tent cities, and Texas has so few….”

    and that question has really seized my imagination, as I pass by a lot of tents in my daily commute, and there’s been more every month for years now. 

    If true, why does Texas have less tent cities than California? 

    The obvious answer is “Texas has a lower cost of living”, but shouldn’t higher wages in California offset that, at least by a “trickle down” effect? 

    That they don’t has made me question my knee-jerk assumption that anything else on a ballot is less important than raising the minimum wage, and that Dixieland must be worse in every way (except barbeque and music).

    So SSC, please tell me, why doesTexas has less tent cities than here?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Tent cities aren’t mainly useful as a living space. They’re an activist pressure tactic. More of the right kind of activists in California.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Can you say more about this? Tent cities seem useful as a living space if you’re homeless, and it’s hard to imagine activists living there if they have other options.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The activists don’t live in them, they organize them. They get a tent city set up in some (preferably prominent) location, then they get their friends in the press to film it to “highlight the plight of the homeless”. If the city eventually takes it down, they use that footage as well.

          • dick says:

            Do you have a citation for this? There are certainly activists involved here, doing things like asking the city to set aside land, but in my limited experience the tents are very much occupied by genuine homeless people (who tend to be much more right-wing than you might expect, on every issue other than “policies directly affecting homeless people”).

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t think this is accurate. There are tent cities built for various activist pressure plays in California, but there are a lot more tent cities being used as living space for the homeless. You can tell which is which because the former are in obtrusive areas and the latter are in unobtrusive ones, or in areas which are attractive as living space for other reasons (e.g. under overpasses, where it doesn’t rain). The incentives involved should be obvious.

        • b_jonas says:

          Agreed. We have some activists here in Budapest that protest against the construction works changing the City Park to worse than it used to be. The goal itself is nice, but they protest by leaving tents and banners in highly visible places in the City Park for months, and they don’t even bother sleeping in them most of the nights, even in pleasant weather. There are also a few tents inhabited by homeless in the Park, but they’re in more hidden places.

          RANT WARNING, skip the rest of the post. I’ve seen homeless tents in various other places of the city too. They are always in unobtrusive places. They’re often surrounded by extra objects that the people living their use, such as large pieces of cardboard to protect more against the weather than the old tent, or clothes drying in the sun. During the few months when a lot of fresh migrants were camping in the large Baross tér underpass in tents (the underpass is only partly covered from above), the underpass was cleaner than ever. The migrants cleaned the garbage from the underpass (everyone’s, not only theirs), and all other distracting people moved away, such as the beggars that wouldn’t leave you, the loudly singing group of religious activists, and the attractive girls who try to convince people to donate to Unicef to help the starving children in Africa by filling a bank transaction form with all your personal data right there in the underpass, rather than doing the same from your home through your internet bank access (they admitted they get a commission fee). The underpass was more pleasant as ever during those month, if you don’t count the fact that it was the only time I saw policemen with automatic weapons in person. I wish the Nyugati tér underpass would get such inhabitants.

        • John Schilling says:

          Also agreed. I’ve biked past or flown over quite a few tent cities in Los Angeles, all of which appear to have been set up for inconspicuous functionality.

        • SamChevre says:

          Right. The difference between genuine homeless encampments (which have existed approximately forever, see “hobo jungle”) and Occupy camps is pretty obvious.

          And the genuine encampments provided some amount of discipline, because they were obvious high-value targets if the residents caused trouble for local residents.

        • johan_larson says:

          Are there big cities with no homeless sleeping in the streets or tolerated encampments? We have some here in caring sharing Toronto the Good.

          • b_jonas says:

            No, but not for the lack of trying. Some district governments in Budapest have strong reactions against homeless on the streets for NIMBY reasons. They tried not only the usual positive measures (i.e. encouraging the homeless to live in the terrible homeless shelters), but also negative ones. Most notably they attached an armrest to the middle of outdoor benches so that people can only sit on them, not lie down. They also tried to have the police enforce local laws that forbid sleeping in public places, but that never sticks, because there’s no way to collect fines from the homeless, and no way to coerce them to leave permanently.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Most notably they attached an armrest to the middle of outdoor benches so that people can only sit on them, not lie down.

            New York has this sort of thing all over the place. All the benches in the subway are divided. Standpipes have spiked ironwork on top.

          • Brad says:

            NYC has gotten significantly worse in the past few years. No tents but you do see people sleeping on the streets, in subway stations, and on the subway every day.

            Before our current, terrible mayor it was much much less common. (Three mayors ago it was far more common than it is even today, but that was decades ago.)

            Notably NYC is legally required to provide shelter spots for everyone that needs one. The people on the street want to be there. I don’t think we should let them.

            My annoyance at the current situation notwithstanding from what I’m reading here it is nowhere near as bad as in California.

      • Plumber says:

        @The Nybbler,

        My gut instinct is “No one just chooses to live in a tent if they have other options”, but I can’t be sure, simply because, while they were a very few tents (that were barely visible) near the creek by the dump before 2011, it was after the “Occupy” protests at Justin Herman Plaza were cleared out in 2011 that tent encampments really started showing up in great numbers

        • Matt M says:

          Living in a tent is presumably better than living on the street without a tent.

          As dick mentions below, it seems that in the past, if you tried to pitch a tent and camp on public property, the police would clear you out by force. But now, a lot of prominent cities (mostly on the west coast) have made it clear that they won’t clear you out by force. Hence, more tents.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Texas has a much nastier climate– hot summers, mostly. Real winters in some parts of the state. The occasional hurricanes are probably less relevant.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Google brings up multiple results for tent cities/encampments in Fresno California which had 30 straight days of triple digit temperatures this year. I don’t know how to compare numbers of tent cities in the inhospitable areas of CA to TX but I wouldn’t drop to the climate default.

        • Incurian says:

          You may not be giving humidity enough credit. I’d rather be in triple digits on the coast with 20% humidity than 85 degree weather with 80% humidity. Also, the winters in Texas are a little more extreme as well.

        • Matt M says:

          True. But the most relevant comparison here is probably something like “Why are there so many homeless people in SF/LA but not in Dallas/Houston” and in general, stating that the two California climates are much nicer and more hospitable than the two Texas climates is entirely accurate.

          • Randy M says:

            San Diego has a fantastic climate as well; it would be interesting to compare it to LA or San Fran.
            I think San Diego tends to be a bit more conservative and a bit more Tourist-focused, so I’d assume they try to keep the homeless out of sight.

          • gbdub says:

            They uh, do not. I live in Phoenix, we have a few homeless people, a few people begging on corners, but San Diego is basically overrun. The whole downtown smells like piss. They recently had a hepatitis outbreak from all the feces around.

            I was just there for Comic Con, and it was clear police had made an effort to clear the worst of it out of the core of the convention area, but go a few blocks and it was open homeless encampments. Saw a homeless woman drop trou and piss in the middle of the street (not even an alley) at 3 in the afternoon. Saw a couple guys smoking crack in the same area, again middle of the day in the open. This was less than a mile from the convention center.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that there is a lot of variability in the willingness of the local police to run off vagrants and beggars. And if you don’t run them off, you tend to lose common spaces–the formerly-nice park with a playground in it that turns into a homeless camp stops being a place where you take your small children to play.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Texas municipalities generally have far more permissive zoning, planning, and building permit regimes than California municipalities, so housing stocks in Texas should be much better able to keep pace with demand as it’s far easier both to build out and to build up.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Median household income in California in 2015 was $64500. In Texas, it was $55653.

      Median house cost in California is about $520,000. In Texas, $177,000.

      Based on this, I’d say higher wages make barely a dent in the difference.

      (I couldn’t find the numbers for southern CA specifically.)

      • SamChevre says:

        I think this is 80% of the explanation.

        Another bit is that I expect Texas standards for minimal housing are more minimal. The alternative to tent cities isn’t nice studio apartments; it’s flops–two beds per room in a dirty house with holes in the floor. (There was still one flop left in my old neighborhood in RVA; according to the locals, it was super-expensive–a bed was $100 a week when it used to be only $5 a night.) I suspect California’s rules are both stricter and more strictly enforced, so there’s less really low-end housing available.

    • semioldguy says:

      I believe that southern California has better/milder year-round weather than most parts of Texas, which makes a better destination for vagabonds. And while I’m not personally interested enough to check myself, California may offer better or easier to obtain financial and social assistance than Texas.

      It’s also possible that these poeples’ typical encounters are on average better with Californians than they are with Texans (or maybe they just think they are or will be due to state stereotypes).

    • johan_larson says:

      If I had to guess, there are two factors at work. First, California is well known for dramatic opportunities, and therefore attracts a lot of immigrants from other states and other countries. Far from their support networks, when these people fail, they disproportionately often end up on the street rather than in their relatives’ basements. Second, California government at several levels is particularly dysfunctional which causes, among other things, a severe imbalance between the demand for and supply of housing, particularly in the Bay Area where you live. This means a disproportionate number of people are precariously housed, and when things fall apart, they end up on the street.

      • A news story today demonstrates one reason for the Bay Area housing situation. Someone is selling an 800 acre plot in Milpitas, originally a family farm, for about fifteen million dollars. That’s about $19,000/acre, or under five thousand for a quarter acre lot, which is a big lot for a house in this area. Checking Zillow, houses in Milpitas typically go for about a million dollars, generally on lots smaller than that.

        But:

        The land is zoned for agriculture, preventing its development into new tracts of housing.

    • rahien.din says:

      Alternate angles :

      As I have been told by Texans, you are not a real Texan until you have either fallen into a cactus or been attacked by fire ants. The fire ants alone would be enough to break up any tent city.

      Texas is also terribly desolate on any scale. The cities are flung out among vast areas, and even within municipalities, there is a ton of open space between sources of food and shelter. It would seem that a tent city would need to have good proximity to sustaining resources, and what I have seen of Texas does not offer that.

      There is also the political climate, which is very conservative and extraordinarily gun-totin’.

      So, building a tent city in Texas would be like living on the surface of the moon with fire ants, surrounded by armed people who hate your guts.

      • AG says:

        “living on the surface of the moon with fire ants, surrounded by armed people who hate your guts” sounds like an amazing pulp novel. Or a surrealist film.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Fire ants are predatory, and kill other insects, of particular interest ticks.

        So they aren’t all bad. I missed them, living in areas where I actually had to check for ticks after every nature outing.

    • Matt says:

      It doesn’t seem plausible that homelessness could be caused by high housing costs, even though that seems to be conventional wisdom here.

      Does California have a different class of homeless than I see locally in Alabama, that could hold down a job that would enable them to afford to pay for more reasonably-priced housing? My impression of most homeless is that most could not afford (nor take care of) housing at any cost.

      I get that low-cost housing would help people on the margins, but most ‘on the street’ homeless are well back from the margins, aren’t they? Most would need free housing, and probably medical care and careful vetting so that the free housing isn’t destroyed by the insane and drug-addicted.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        From what I understand, official homelessness numbers often include a lot of people who we wouldn’t normally consider homeless. Someone who’s crashing with a relative while looking for a job is officially homeless according to some agency’s definitions:

        An individual may be considered to be homeless if that person is “doubled up,” a term that refers to a situation where individuals are unable to maintain their housing situation and are forced to stay with a series of friends and/or extended family members.

        More affordable housing would, ad arguendo, help some of these definitionally homeless people even if it wouldn’t help the street homeless that much.

        • Matt says:

          I get that low-cost housing would help people on the margins, but most ‘on the street’ homeless are well back from the margins, aren’t they?

          I guess I wasn’t explicit enough. I was trying to get at the idea that low-cost housing would assist people who have no better choice than a makeshift tent, which are the folks Plumber brought up originally.

        • Matt M says:

          Right. I always distinguish between “temporary” homeless and the “homeless as a lifestyle” folks, and tent cities will be comprised almost exclusively of the latter.

          The temporary folks generally aren’t quite as noticeable. They tend to be embarrassed about their condition and stay out of the way generally, flopping on friends couches, living out of their cars, or complying with the discipline of various shelters, halfway houses, turnaround programs, etc.

          The people we see and interact with on a day to day basis are mainly lifestyle homeless – who have been homeless for some time, and have no particular plan to ever stop being so.

      • Plumber says:

        @Matt,
        A few who live in RV’s (like those near the city limits of Palo Alto) do have jobs, but once they get to the tents they’re pretty destitute.

        We did have a young guy working as a custodian for a month at my work who had a strong body odor and I was told he was homeless, but I never learned the exact circumstances.

      • SamChevre says:

        I get that low-cost housing would help people on the margins, but most ‘on the street’ homeless are well back from the margins, aren’t they?

        That wasn’t my observation in Richmond a couple decades ago. There were people who were “homeless”, and well back from marginally able to afford an apartment, who could get the $5 together to pay for a bed in a flophouse most days.

        Two hours of pushing broom,
        buys an eight by twelve, four-bed room..

        • Matt M says:

          But flophouses (along with their even less expensive counterpart, homeless shelters) have rules. There are lights out hours. You can’t bring drugs or alcohol. If you’re loud or violent or otherwise a problem, you will be removed, etc.

          A lot of the people on the street are unable or unwilling to comply with those rules. My dad reports that my hometown keeps building more and more homeless shelters, which mostly remain largely empty. People see folks living in tent cities and say “We should build shelters for them” but never consider that any decent/respectable shelter will have to enforce some minimum standards of behavior that most of the tent city people are wholly uninterested in complying with.

          • SamChevre says:

            My impression (and remember that this is based on very unreliable oral histories, and the one flophouse that was still in my neighborhood) is that flophouses tended to have rules that were much less demanding than the homeless shelters. The rules tended to be in the “don’t make it impossible to rent the other beds” category, not the “appear reasonably functional” category.

            Which fits what I’d expect: the profit motive is an awesome thing for inducing adaptation.

          • George Orwell, in Down and Out in Paris and London, describes two sorts of very low cost housing in London. One was run by the Salvation Army or some similar organization, the other was private. The former offered better conditions, I think at a lower cost, but a lot people preferred the latter because they were left alone.

          • Matt M says:

            Those are fair points.

            But I suspect that in modern California, even the cheapest flophouses still have some rules. Or at least, they are legally required to. Perhaps there are some that operate illegally and don’t bother following the volumes of regulations they are undoubtedly subject to.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Some would argue that there is a step up issue caused by housing, going from a tent to high priced housing is harder than moving up to crummy, but better housing. That basic level of housing allows you a place to shower and a mailing address making it easier to get a better job and store goods without them being constantly stolen reducing your cost of living. One (of many) issue with being homeless is that you have to hide or carry with you any level of wealth you might acquire.

    • John Schilling says:

      Texas is, pragmatically, a good place to go looking for a basic job. It is also e.g. the place Phillip Sheridan said he’d rent out so he could live someplace more comfortable like Hell, and if that’s not a pragmatically accurate description of the climate, neither is it one Texas goes out of its way to rebut.

      California, while it may not be a terribly good place to find a basic job or to find a home one can afford with only the salary from a basic job, has been selling hopes and dreams of a brighter future since 1848. And they do have a propaganda department for that.

      So, at a guess, the kind of people who move to Texas looking for a better future, are economic pragmatists who are likely to actually build themselves a better future and not need to live in a tent city. California, gets the clueless dreamers who aren’t going to make it anywhere. It may also matter that Texas has traditionally treated drug use as a crime and mental illness as a moral failing, whereas California almost seems to make both into civic virtues. Again, that pushes future tent city residents towards the Land of Fruits and Nuts.

      • Matt M says:

        This seems fair.

        For further context, the quote Plumber attributes to me was made in response to his suggestion that it makes sense for the place where economic opportunity is to attract a lot of out-of-towners in search of said opportunity, some of which will inevitably fail to find said opportunity, and become homeless.

        Given such, it seems that we can entertain the possibility that “Where the economic opportunity actually is” and “Where people think the economic opportunity is” may be different places. And that the smarter and more capable people are more likely to find out where the real opportunity is and go there, while the wild-eyed dreamers fall for the propaganda and go to California.

        Generally speaking, my belief is that California attracts homeless people because of favorable weather and a local political climate that is favorable to the homeless class in general. That the existence of prominent homelessness in California is not mainly attributable to people moving there in search of work and becoming homeless, but rather, people who are already, or know they will soon be homeless, going to the place where it’s easiest to be homeless.

    • dick says:

      I see a lot of indirect causes being listed here, like permissive zoning laws and cost of living, but I can say that Portland went from “almost no tents” to “a fucking lot of tents” very quickly, and the reason was obvious: the city adopted a policy of not tearing down tents.

      So, is it the case that putting a tent up on a piece of government-owned property next to an overpass will get you hassled by the cops in TX but not CA? If so, it doesn’t seem like much explanation beyond that is needed.

      • There was a homeless encampment at an overpass a mile or so from our house in San Jose, California–I never noticed it but saw discussions of it. It got removed by the relevant authorities. So some level of hassling does occur in California.

  4. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to summarize a famous written work in 100 words or less.

    Here is The Hobbit in 99 words:

    Bilbo the hobbit joins thirteen dwarves going to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and its treasure from the dragon Smaug. On the way, Bilbo frees the dwarves from their elvish captors and wins a magic ring from the creature Gollum in a riddle-contest. The travelers reach Lake-town, a human settlement near the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo scouts Smaug’s lair but Smaug finds him. Enraged, Smaug tries to destroy the town but Bard the bowman kills it. When a goblin army approaches, dwarves, elves, and humans make peace and together defeat the goblins. Bilbo returns home with a share of the treasure.

    Anyone want to take a stab at the Bible? Or Mein Kampf?

    • WashedOut says:

      I’ll have a go at Crime and Punishment.

      Rodya Raskolnikov is a young intellectual student of the law who lives out a squalid, brooding existence in an attic. In the grip of a dissociative fugue, he carries out a gruesome double-murder. Rodya’s prior motives and post-hoc rationalizations for the murders swirl around him, at once resulting from and competing with his ego. During the police investigation, an innocent bystander confesses to Rodya’s crime, but the lead investigator continues to subtly pursue and psychologically examine Rodya. After a tormented confession of guilt to his deeply religious lover Sonia, Rodya seeks absolution and turns himself in.

      Jeez, talk about selling a book short.

    • beleester says:

      I’ll take a shot at the Torah, but you’d probably need a completely different approach to cover the entire Tanakh (or worse, the entire Christian Bible).

      God creates the world. God promises Abraham, the first Jew, that his children will inherit the land of Canaan. His grandson, Jacob, goes to Egypt because of a famine. The Egyptians enslave his descendants. God strikes the Egyptians with plagues until they let the Israelites go. Moses leads the Israelites across the Red Sea and through the desert to Mount Sinai, where God gives them a code of laws. The Israelites constantly complain and lose faith, so God gets angry and forces them to wander for 40 years. Finally the Israelites reach Canaan, but Moses doesn’t live to enter it.

      Notable things I had to cut for space: Isaac, Joseph, Aaron, the Golden Calf, pretty much the entire book of Leviticus, and why Moses didn’t live to enter it.

    • Unsaintly says:

      Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time. Had to leave out a lot of characters and events. Comes in at 99 words. Could probably trim it a bit to drop mentions of Egwene, Nynaeve, Lan and Thom.

      Farmboys Rand, Mat and Perrin must leave their village after it is attacked by monsters They are guided by a magic woman named Moiraine, who insists that the Dark One is after the boys. While fleeing, they discover that the Dark One plans to use a dangerous artifact known as the Eye of the World. With the help of a new guide, Loial, they go north to beat the Dark One to the Eye. At the confrontation there, Rand discovers he has magic power that marks him as the reborn chosen one, destined to save and ruin the world.

      • johan_larson says:

        That summary makes me wonder what happened to Moiraine.

      • Zorgon says:

        2/10, needs more references to smoothing skirts and folding arms under bosoms.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        I think this can be trimmed a lot.

        For example: After a Trolloc attack farmboys Rand, Mat and Perrin flee their village. Guided by the sorceress Moiraine, they race the Dark One’s minions to the artifact “The Eye of the World”. Rand is revealed as the reborn chosen one and uses new-found magical power to slay the evil minions.

        But I would rather add backstory than side characters. Though I’m not sure how much of the backstory is revealed in the very first book.

    • cassander says:

      I can summarize a bunch of movies. Favorites include:

      LOLITA: Man encourages step-daughter to take chances.

      RED DAWN: Despite shock-and-awe tactics, a superior occupying force is no match for a tenacious sect of terrorist insurgents.

      SLEEPY HOLLOW: Veteran harassed by neighbors.

      TAXI DRIVER: Modern dating proves challenging for working class man.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        SLEEPY HOLLOW: Veteran harassed by neighbors.

        BEOWULF: Neighbor escalates noise complaint.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          THE ODYSSEY: Man is too arrogant and sexy to get home to his wife at a reasonable time.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            STAR WARS: A young farmer teams up with a smuggler, an exiled royal, and a religious militant to blow up a military base.

            FINDING NEMO: PTSD sufferer teams up with mentally disabled woman after his only son is kidnapped.

            THE HUNGER GAMES: Group of teenagers chosen to compete in prestigious televised competition, fabulous prizes to be won.

      • no one special says:

        Reminds me of this classic (TV Guide):

        THE WIZARD OF OZ: Transported to a magical world, a young girl kills the first person she meets, then teams up with three strangers to kill again.

      • Deiseach says:

        Taking a crack at The Hobbit again:

        THE HOBBIT: Ne’er do well vagrant cons respectable citizen into life of crime as part of gang pursuing vendetta, predictable carnage ensues 🙂

  5. theredsheep says:

    History question: why didn’t Native Americans develop any kind of metalworking? I’ve read what Jared Diamond and VD Hanson have to say on the matter, but I don’t really buy either. The Incas, Mayans, Aztecs etc. developed fairly sophisticated societies in a variety of ways–they all had very large building projects, the Mayans were excellent astronomers, they all had specialized artisans–but they were using things like wooden-paddle “swords” with embedded obsidian flakes on the eve of the Spanish conquests. The Americas are not poor in metals. And metalworking in the old world goes back a loooooong way; there’s a transitional period known as the “chalcolithic” where people started making copper copies of stone tools, and it predates written history.

    Even more oddly, I just read in a military history that bows and arrows didn’t appear in Central America until c. 1000 AD. I don’t think you can blame all this on their not having large livestock.

    • CatCube says:

      I’m not sure if you’re talking about metalworking to a more significant extent, but there’s native copper in Michigan (i.e., free metal not requiring smelting). There’s evidence of mining going back several thousand years, as well as tools and trading in the metal.

      IIRC, it waxed and waned for reasons I don’t know (and I don’t know if anyone knows), but there was at least some metalworking prior to European contact.

    • engleberg says:

      Even in late Rome the mob cut up Hypatia with sharpened seashells, because that’s what they had for cheap pocketknives. And the Americas only had what Eurasian tech was useful for arctic hunter-gatherers on the move.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        That seashells thing is probably a myth caused by a mistranslation. Ostraca in Greek could mean either seashells or roof-tiles, and it’s more likely that the crowd took tiles from the nearby buildings and pelted her to death with them.

        EDIT: Didn’t see that Robert Jones had already made the exact same point.

        • engleberg says:

          Wiki tells me ostraca were broken shards from seashells or roof tiles, as convenient. Used for small notes, okay, maybe nowadays students atrocity teachers with broken chunks of smartphones. My point is that these little scrapers were the poor man’s pocketknife even in fairly advanced Iron Age cities.

    • Robert Jones says:

      I’m not sure this requires explanation. Humans existed for countless millennia without developing metalworking.

      Engleberg may have been using synecdoche, but in case anyone is confused, Hypatia was murdered in Alexandria in 415. This article suggests that “oyster shells” is a mistranslation, and she was in fact murdered with roof tiles.

    • b_jonas says:

      https://history.stackexchange.com/a/40383/24029 and https://history.stackexchange.com/a/2208/24029 threads from History SE tries to give some other explanations. Quoting the part of RI Swamp Yankee’s answer about metalworking:

      > the lack of easily exploited tin deposits in the Americas means that a bronze age never took off. There was a copper-working culture surrounding the Great Lakes, and it pre-dated the chalcolithic in the old world by a few thousand years, but this lasted only as long as the accessible copper ore did.

      • theredsheep says:

        I could buy a lack of tin in one region, but I find it hard to believe that it’s rare across Mexico, Central America, and Peru, where civilization really took off otherwise. Diamond’s explanation that the material conditions didn’t allow the easy formation of large agricultural societies, but Mesoamerica had a bunch of large agricultural societies, at least as sophisticated as Sumer in most respects, going back something like two millennia before Columbus. We’re talking about societies with a very large number of people, more than sufficient to support specialists. The Olmecs wound up compensating for their lack of metal by making elaborately quilted armor out of cotton (to say nothing of the giant sculptures, etc). And the Olmecs were the first big Mesoamerican civ, roughly contemporary with Rome.

        Speaking of Sumer, it also had no metal. Or stone. Or even wood. They still managed to trade for all of them with places some distance away. If it comes to that, tin wasn’t exactly common in the Old World either; it was by far the limiting factor in the development of bronze working.

        EDIT: Hanson specifically says in a book (can’t recall which, I read it some time ago) that Mexico had readily available ore deposits. But his alternative explanation, as ever, was “culture,” which is kind of like invoking dark matter.

      • John Schilling says:

        The lack of easily exploited tin deposits in the Americas means that a bronze age never took off. There was a copper-working culture surrounding the Great Lakes, and it pre-dated the chalcolithic in the old world by a few thousand years, but this lasted only as long as the accessible copper ore did.

        I agree that hammering native copper, silver, and gold shouldn’t really count in this context.

        But you know where else there weren’t any tin deposits? Egypt. Mesopotamia. Sumer. Akkad. Babylonia. Assyria. Persia. Greece. Anatolia, except maybe some remote mountains. Pretty much the entire Fertile Crescent, the so-called “cradle of civilizations”.

        Bronze isn’t the cause of Bronze-age civilization, it’s the result. If you have a large stable civilization with a strong central government and a good deal of surplus wealth and the ability to maintain trade networks across thousands of kilometers, then you have the logistical ability to manufacture bronze and it’s probably only a matter of time before some clever coppersmith with time on his hands discovers the merely technical recipe. Without the civilization in place, there’s nobody to whom you could give the recipe that could make any significant use of it.

        The Mayans, Aztecs, etc, never operated at that level. Only the Incan Empire could equal the Old World civilizations in terms of e.g. the scope of their trade networks. And the Inca did work bronze, using tin from Bolivia.

        • theredsheep says:

          Ah. I didn’t know about Inca bronze. Thank you. Do you happen to know why they persisted in using atlatls rather than bows for so long? Maybe compound bows wouldn’t have worked without access to horn, but one man can carry a lot more arrows than atlatl darts.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The Phoenix and the Mirror by Avram Davidson is about Vergil (the medieval version who was a magician as well as a poet) being coerced into making a mirror out of materials which had never been used before. This wasn’t easy, since bronze was generally recycled.

    • DragonMilk says:

      My impression is that metal-working is a non-trivial technological leap and driven more by warfare, which Native Americans had on a lower scale due to being in a much more fertile area by tech as well as geography. That is, smelting is not obviously useful if you already have tools to build pyramids and architecture that is arguably superior to that of Europe.

      Almost all metal exists naturally in ore form and smelting requires quite a bit of heat. As others mentioned, while bronze beats stone (and probably obsidian), it requires tin, which there were few deposits of. It’s also not obvious that the bluish copper deposits can be made into a metal, and copper itself is not really great for war. And yet the incas did smelt copper and silver for prettiness purposes.

      Can you think of pre-industrial uses of metal that were not for warfare, decoration, or tools? To me there was just no need for these metals and therefore no technological advancements made to pursue them.

    • broblawsky says:

      Bronze was used in South America (since there actually are useful ores there). It took long enough to spread to Mesoamerica that the Spanish showed up before widespread adoption. Stone was still extensively used because bronze was hideously expensive – we underestimate how rare bronze actually was in the bronze age, even in Eurasia. Most pre-Assyrian armies still extensively used stone weapons, for example; bronze weapons and armor were for the elite.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Yea I think its basically this. People seem to misunderstand the “ages”. You enter the copper age/bronze age/iron age not because you invent that metal, you invent it and mass produce it because you got to that level of development.

        Now, say there was no tin in all of the Americas, could the lack of bronze prevented development of iron? Possibly. But we don’t have such a situation, because bronze was developed in the Americas, just later than in Eurasia and it also did seem to proliferate more slowly.

        • James says:

          You enter the copper age/bronze age/iron age not because you invent that metal, you invent it and mass produce it because you got to that level of development.

          That’s not what Sid Meier taught me.

      • SamChevre says:

        And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
        And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass.
        And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders.
        And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron:

        It’s easy for moderns to miss the picture, but this is a super-warrior, and the description of his arms and armor is intended to make it clear: this is the early Iron Age version of a B-1 bomber.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yes, good catch.
          In more modern terms, David got a free crit that bypassed the super-warrior’s armor because he prayed for one. 😛

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I never quite really understood why that the outcome of that champion conflict was supposed to be a supernatural miracle.

            Killing game with a sling at range is tech that is tens of thousands of years older than hammered bronze. Probably a fairly significant percentage of all the young men on the planet who were around David’s age could have made that shot, as long as they don’t get distracted by mistakenly thinking a roaring warrior wearing a nation’s ransom in bronze is really any different from a bird sitting in in a tree, for the purpose of the weapon that David had in his hand, that he has likely been practicing with since he could walk.

          • Matt M says:

            I always thought the narrative was that David was at fairly close range, but Goliath, in his arrogance, allowed him to take the shot with the sling, rather than crushing him immediately.

            The type of game you kill with a sling is generally small and unarmored, yes? All the other warriors were frightened by Goliath and therefore assumed he couldn’t be defeated by such simple means – but David’s faith in God allowed him to attempt what others considered foolhardy.

            Is this not a reasonable interpretation?

          • Randy M says:

            If the warrior is worth his armor, he is aware that the slinger aims to peg him and is either attacking, dodging, or blocking. It’s only to modern ears unaccustomed to the sling being a weapon that it sounds literally miraculous, but I’d still have put money on the giant.

            The text seems somewhat ambiguous as to whether Goliath fell to divine stone guidance or hubris, though David gives credit to God. I don’t think it’s by any means proof of a God, but back then any military victory was seen as evidence of being divinely favored.

          • dodrian says:

            As I understand the passage the point is not that it’s a miracle the point is that you have an entire army and their divinely anointed king, promised success by God, sniveling and cowering at the sight of their enemies. A young man, bringing his brothers there lunch, walks across the battlefield and says hang on do we believe in God or not?

            As David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

          • baconbits9 says:

            One loose interpretation is that there is a large difference between armies battling and one on one combat. A massive human being, say the size of Andre the Giant (without the back problems) would have been an advantage in the former but virtually unbeatable in close combat in the latter. His size and strength combination would have given him the ability to have greater reach with heavier weapons and greater armor in terms of coverage and thickness. The Philistines would have been happy to turn any battle into one on one combat, and opposing generals after seeing Goliath may have frequently sent out not their best fighter to be slaughtered but one of far lesser value. Goliath then would have been accustomed to at least occasionally acting as a de facto executioner and would not have been surprised, nor expecting real resistance from an unarmed teenager who was stuck out there with him.

          • A massive human being, say the size of Andre the Giant (without the back problems) would have been an advantage in the former but virtually unbeatable in close combat in the latter. His size and strength combination would have given him the ability to have greater reach with heavier weapons and greater armor in terms of coverage and thickness.

            I’m not sure that’s true. The larger man needs to cover a larger area with armor. If you keep body proportions and the thickness of the armor fixed weight will go up with the square of height, as will muscle strength, since it depends on cross sectional area of the muscle. So no reason to think his armor will be thicker. Shield weight goes up as the square (thickness held constant), so does strength, so acceleration stays the same, but the larger man has to move his shield farther to cover himself.

            As organisms increase in size there are both benefits and costs, the latter due most obviously to mass increasing as the cube and strength as the square. The giant is going to have a harder time moving his own body than a smaller man would.

            The only combat form I know a lot about is SCA combat. I think there is some correlation between size and success, but not a very strong correlation.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Mark Atwood:

            I never quite really understood why that the outcome of that champion conflict was supposed to be a supernatural miracle.

            It wasn’t supernatural; it was an improbable first shot that David credited God for. He had to hit Goliath in the face due to his helmet and mail (or scale) coat. With a different man-sized target like a Syrian brown bear, a good slinger might have been able to kill with a bullet anywhere in the head or torso.
            If you don’t believe the Bible is inspired, it could still be factually true; just ignore the interpretation of the improbable first shot. (As to Goliath’s height, some manuscripts have “four cubits and a span”, approximately 6’4″.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ David Friedman

            My (admittedly thin) understanding of armor is that the important considerations are the force of the weapon it has to deflect and the vulnerability of the area it covers. From a force perspective a giant would already have an advantage in that armor that would turn a slice or a thrust of an average weapon in the hands of an average strength warrior would be insufficient vs a strong enough man.

            Your description of thickness of armor vs surface area vs strength sounds correct if we assume that the giant has to be armored in the same way and percentage of his body as his opponent. An optimally armored giant, particularly the only known giant, would not have to be as concerned about all angles though. The armor of an average sized man would have be able to protect against blows that came from men shorter, the same height and taller, while a giant would only have to be concerned with blows coming from those shorter. His armor then should be thicker in optimal places.

          • baconbits9 says:

            As a final piece of evidence I present the fact that all modern forms of competitive combat, wrestling (ie not the Andre the Giant type), boxing and MMA have weight divisions based on the assumption that the smaller competitors would be generally trounced by larger ones of similar skill levels.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a big difference between armed and unarmed combat w.r.t. size and weight. I’ve studied Olympic fencing and kenjutsu, and in both, reach is an advantage but overall size isn’t so much — fencing doesn’t have weight classes, and while top women are at a disadvantage compared to top men, I’d estimate it’s less than an SD’s worth (the best woman in a tournament of a hundred people is usually somewhere in the top 10 competitors overall). World champions are usually tallish but not as tall as basketball players, and kinda wiry. Contrast the grappling arts, which I’ve also studied, and where a competitor twenty pounds heavier will win a match against an opponent of equal skill and fitness nine times out of ten.

            These sorts of matches are necessarily kinda artificial, but the results are consistent with what we see in tameshigiri: it doesn’t take that much effort to make a cut, and putting too much muscle behind a stroke tends to diminish rather than increase its cutting ability after a certain point for complicated biomechanical reasons.

            On the other hand these are unarmored disciplines, and armor probably complicates the picture somewhat, but I’d expect endurance rather than size or strength to be the biggest limiting factor.

          • Jaskologist says:

            A massive human being, say the size of Andre the Giant (without the back problems) would have been an advantage in the former but virtually unbeatable in close combat in the latter.

            On the contrary, too much practice fighting a bunch of people would cause him to learn different moves than he would need to use to only fight one.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There’s a big difference between armed and unarmed combat w.r.t. size and weight. I’ve studied Olympic fencing and kenjutsu, and in both, reach is an advantage but overall size isn’t so much

            The first statement I agree with, but I question the value of using fencing (I know nothing about kenjutsu) to illuminate the situation. Fencing has ritualized away many advantages of strength* with strict limits on not only weapon types, but weapon weights and scoring is generally binary with no added benefit for the power of the hit. In combat a single blow can be decisive, but to allow for such a victory with weapons would generate much higher risk to the participants, and significant injury and death would be common. I might even go so far as to say that the rules of fencing highlight how important strength is to armed combat in that you need an extremely tight set of rules to remove it’s impact from competition.

            *This is not meant as a disparagement of fencers or fencing, simply an observation on the rules.

          • baconbits9 says:

            On the contrary, too much practice fighting a bunch of people would cause him to learn different moves than he would need to use to only fight one.

            Touche.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I have the general impression that in boxing, it’s considerably more likely for someone to go up in weight class than it is in MMA and grappling. In the latter, weight class changes are almost always someone going down in weight, because they’ve decided they’re not big enough and sucking up the increased weight cut is worth it.

            On the other hand, there’s more weight classes in boxing. That might be a counterexample, or it might not be, depending on why there’s more weight classes.

            From personal experience, I don’t know anything about striking, but on the ground, weight really makes a difference.

          • Protagoras says:

            Since I know at least that kenjutsu uses very different weapons than western fencing, does anybody know if it has evolved in the direction of reducing the importance of strength to the same degree?

          • Nornagest says:

            Like I said, it doesn’t take much strength to cut a guy. You should be letting the weapon do most of the work; putting muscle behind a cut tends to move the point of greatest extension forward in its arc, which reduces the shearing motion that’s actually responsible for the cut. It can also turn the blade and cause it to stall, though proper grip can mitigate this to some extent. Strength and size are mainly helpful in that they allow you to wield larger and heavier weapons, which have better reach and are harder to parry. They don’t do significantly more damage.

            Note that kenjutsu isn’t the same thing as kendo; the two bear about the same relationship to each other as classical fencing does to Olympic.

        • Interesting to convert those figures to more familiar units. A shekel is variously estimated at eight to sixteen grams. If we take the lowest figure, his armor weighed 40 kg, his spear head weighed about five kg. Not impossible for a very large and strong man, but the spear head is definitely pushing it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m too lazy to go and flip through my Hebrew books, but maybe “spear” is an approximate translation, and it was some other sort of pole arm? On the other hand, quick googling suggests that halberd heads were smaller than that.

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe the Israelites were reporting Philestine propaganda.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Or maybe that was a ceremonial spear head used to intimidate the enemy, and he’d actually fight with a smaller one?

          • SamChevre says:

            Well, given that he’s reported as 9 feet 9 inches tall (with the most common cubit conversion of 18 inches)… His armor weighs a bit more than medieval mail and breastplate.

            I do wonder what sort of fighting style this is, since he has a heavy iron-headed spear as well as a javelin, a sword, and a shield

          • I happened to have in the closet a Japanese spear, I assume a form of Yari, which always struck me as having a very much too heavy head. So I weighed the head–about 3 1/2 lbs. It feels clumsy to me but I could fight with it, assuming I had the relevant training, and I’ve known men considerably larger and stronger than I am.

            So I can believe that a very large and strong man could fight with a spear that had a 5 kg head, although I doubt I could.

            On the other hand, I don’t believe in a man 9′ 9″ tall, so am inclined to read all the figures as exaggerated for effect.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The only combat form I know a lot about is SCA combat. I think there is some correlation between size and success, but not a very strong correlation.

          This is what would be generally expected for small height differences, for a large height difference even a weak linear relationship between height (and the argument for Andre would be his combined height and strength, he was 7’4 520 lbs and immensely strong, not just 7’4 and 300 lbs) and success would be significant and if it scaled exponentially it would be nearly insurmountable.

          As organisms increase in size there are both benefits and costs,

          This is true in evolutionary terms where there are no rules, but combat like this would typically be rules based and would preclude some strategies (such as exploiting the likely lesser endurance a giant would have).

          • This is what would be generally expected for small height differences,

            I was 5′ 3 1/2″ and didn’t find that a significant disadvantage against opponents who were over six feet. That’s close to the difference between a six foot individual and Andre.

            Of course, it might have been different if our rules had permitted grappling.

        • b_jonas says:

          I broke out in maniacal laughter during reading the David & Goliath discussion thread. It wasn’t any one particularly funny bit, but the cumulative effect of so many people with different sets of expertise, including in modern martial arts and ancient weaponry, analyzing the story so seriously. I’m still waiting for an expert of biblical hebrew to speak up though.

          • b_jonas says:

            PS. the laughter came before I read “I happened to have in the closet a Japanese spear … I weighed the head–about 3 1/2 lbs”

          • dndnrsn says:

            Not an expert – just looking up the word and then looking in a lexicon. The word is translated as “spear” but some of the uses have the connotation of some kind of royal sign of office. So maybe it is a special big spear for intimidating people, then you put it away and use your normal spear. Who knows.

          • toastengineer says:

            SSC is basically Reddit except without all the people whose comments you don’t want to read anyway.

    • INH5 says:

      Even more oddly, I just read in a military history that bows and arrows didn’t appear in Central America until c. 1000 AD. I don’t think you can blame all this on their not having large livestock.

      The impression that I have is that the bow and arrow was invented approximately once in human history, most likely somewhere in Eurasia around 10,000 years ago. This meant that Native Americans didn’t get the bow until it managed to spread through cultural diffusion all the way through Siberia, across the Bering Straight, and South from the Arctic, not even reaching the American Midwest until the middle of the first millennium AD. Geographical barriers like the Southwestern deserts and the jungles of Central America slowed its spread even further beyond that, to the point that the Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations had only been using bows and arrows for a few centuries when the Conquistadors showed up.

      So it seems that the bow and arrow was actually a very difficult invention to come up with, and the Native Americans just happened to be separated from whoever did think of it by oceans and a vast expanse of frozen wasteland.

      • b_jonas says:

        That the bow was invented only once is surprising, but at least it’s believable that we found out about it. I’ve been in lots of museums showing prehistoric artifacts, and there’s a lot of arrowheads out there. I’ve just been to a very lousy museum (the Savaria Museum in Szombathely), which, despite sitting over the ruins of a city that was pretty important in ancient roman colonial times, had exactly one interesting object exhibited in the whole building (a 19th century marine chronometer). Even this museum had a decent collection of metalic arrowheads from prehistoric times. (If you visit Szombathely and want to see artifacts from ancient roman times, visit the Iseum instead.) Apparently the spreading of bows and arrows is very easy to track, because arrowheads are among the most plentiful prehistoric artifacts archaelogy finds.

        • Machine Interface says:

          It’s also theorized that this is why nobody in America had native musical string instruments before the arrival of the Europeans — the first string instruments to develop would have been musical bows, which then slowly evolved into harps, and eventually into lutes and zithers — a series of invention and innovation that were late enough that they never had time to reach the Americas through Asia.

          All the native instruments in Americas are flutes, percussions, and the occasional horn/conch.

          Native Australians, having separated from the “core” of Eurasia even earlier, had an even more primitive assortment of native instruments, lacking flutes and even drums, having only clapsticks and didgeridoos (the latter being in the categories of horns, but archeological evidence is that they have had those for less than a thousand years).

  6. Baeraad says:

    I have a question that’s weighing on my mind.

    Why am I the only autistic man who’s upset that feminists (and thus all Good And Decent People) consider autistic men’s participation in polite society to be an unacceptable hardship for women?

    I mean, it can’t be because autists are particularly stoical and don’t like to complain, because a quick google search shows that they aren’t and they do. You can find any number of autistic people wailing about how hard it is to be autistic and how little those damn dirty neurotypicals understand or care, and how unfairly slanted society is against autistic people. There’s endless complaints about how autism is seen as a disability instead of as a wonderful, beautiful blessing. But feminists declaring that the sort of things autists will inevitably do (stand a little too close, talk a little too much, not pick up on subtle go-away-the-sight-of-you-makes-me-sick signals, etc, etc) are proof of misogyny? That, apparently, is something that only bothers me.

    The only explanation I can think of is that autists are so bad at knowing how they come across to others that they don’t realise that they’re being hated. I mean, autism is totally not a disability, right? So when feminists describe any number of behaviours as “creepy” (and therefore completely unacceptable and in need of being eradicated), they can’t possibly be referring to anything autistic people do, because that would mean that autism had some kind of downsides and it absolutely doesn’t. I am almost cynical enough to believe that explanation, but… what about all the accounts by autists about how much they struggle to act neurotypical? Doesn’t that imply that they know which parts of their behaviour isn’t “normal”? Shouldn’t at least one or two of them read a list of feminist complaints and shoot back with, “hey, fuck you, lady! I’ve worked my ass off to come across as 99% neurotypical – what the hell gives you the right to shame me because I can’t help being 1% autistic?”

    Why doesn’t that happen? Why doesn’t that happen even ONCE? Instead, when I try to find anything resembling that sentiment, the closest I found was this guy, who does recognise that there’s a problem between autist rights and feminism – that is, he considers it to be a huge problem that autistic men cause so much unbearable pain to women, HE’S SO SORRY HE’LL DO BETTER OH PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE FORGIVE HIM!!!

    I swear it’s driving me crazy. Really, any ideas that might make the whole situation at least make a bit of sense would be very useful to me right now.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      You’re not entirely alone. This article in Quillette goes in pretty much the same direction as your complaint, with more focus on campus speech codes and less on personal interactions, but you may still find it helpful:

      Speech codes assume a false model of human nature – that everyone has the same kind of brain that yields a narrow, ‘normal’ set of personality traits, cognitive and verbal abilities, moral temperaments, communication styles, and capacities for self-inhibition.
      […]
      Lacking good Theory of Mind, how could a person with Asperger’s anticipate which speech acts would be ‘unwelcome’ to a stranger, or might be considered ‘sexist’ or ‘sexually suggestive’? Lacking a good understanding of social norms, how could they anticipate what counts as a ‘hate act that violates our sense of community’, or what counts as an ‘objectionable object’?

    • brmic says:

      For a honest inquriy your post has way too much hyperbole and snark from my perspective. So, could you please rephrase that as charitably as possible, without trying to get in any digs at anyone?

    • Well... says:

      I haven’t studied this or anything, but from casual observation I would say awareness of — and thus, compassion for those with — the subtler flavors of autism (in adults, anyway) is far less common than you seem to think. Being autistic, you’re probably more immersed in the “autism is a disorder, and we’re dealing with it the best we can so please, take it easy on us” talk than the average person, including the average woman.

    • toastengineer says:

      Why am I the only autistic man who’s upset that feminists (and thus all Good And Decent People) consider autistic men’s participation in polite society to be an unacceptable hardship for women?

      I’m pretty sure that’s been the subconcious reason so many of us are so suspicious of it. But you can’t go around saying “I’m one of those weird people everyone dislikes, and I think the way I’m being treated is unacceptable!” and expect anyone who wasn’t already 85% on your side to listen. Your only chance is to go a little more meta with it, finding all the other valid reasons to be opposed to it and be loud about those – which doesn’t make those criticisms any less valid, nor does it mean they woudn’t be valid justifications on their own, just that we’re human beings and we’re built to play these games.

    • Plumber says:

      I know little about autism (or 21st century feminism for the matter) but I thought that having a hard time perceiving social cues and thus “participation in polite society” being extremely difficult was the definition of autism.

      What am I missing?

      • Randy M says:

        That (at least some) feminists take insufficient concern for females social needs by men (ie, manspreading, mansplaining, male gaze, creeping, not taking (possibly implied) no for an answer, etc.) a reason to write scathing indictments of men on-line, and apparently some people take such things seriously to heart.
        For context, search the SSC archives for the “Things which I will regret writing” tag

    • lvlln says:

      You are not the only one. I have an autistic male cousin who’s in college right now, and he’s taken notice of the same thing you have and has grown concerned, though probably not to the same level as you, at least based on your writing. And as someone who’s not autistic myself, I’ve taken notice of it as well and have also grown concerned.

      I think the reason you perceive that you’re the only one might have more to do with how modern feminism operates in general, rather than with autistic people or autism in particular. That is, much of modern feminism is involved in shutting down debate by harming people who present some opposition to their rhetoric and metaphorically holding up the scalps of such people as examples of what could happen to others. So even if there are a lot of people opposed to their rhetoric, such people end up not speaking out and thus creating the illusion of a lack of opposition. I.e. it’s a common knowledge problem.

      That said, my perception of autistic people is that they tend to be less social, so it also may be harder for them to coordinate an opposition than non-autistic people, which exacerbates the common knowledge problem.

    • DeWitt says:

      Why am I the only autistic man who’s upset that feminists (and thus all Good And Decent People) consider autistic men’s participation in polite society to be an unacceptable hardship for women?

      Some combination of the following:

      – Autists aren’t the most outspoken and loud of people, so you’re not going to hear very much in the first place.

      – Autists grow up to become very, very well-aware what happens to people with unpopular opinions, and learn to know to keep those to themselves as well.

      – Autists aren’t very sympathetic victims; most of us are male and not particularly cute and telling people they’re hurting you when you’re not angel-faced is a fool’s errand.

      – Autists don’t exactly have note swapping gatherings, so you’re even less likely to hear about this.

      – I have no data on this, but plenty autists are going to be sympathetic or ambivalent about feminism that they spend their time about different things entirely.

  7. Brad says:

    I think it was Krugman had another one of those “our society is terrible because if you get sick you’ll go bankrupt” columns the other day.

    I have what I think is an unusual take on this and similar issues (e.g. disaster relief). I don’t have any interest whatsoever in non-means tested social spending. My reaction to hearing about some tragedy that befalls a rich (or “upper middle class”) family that took them down to lower middle class is “That sucks. But you had money, you needed money, the system worked—why are you bothering the rest of us?”

    Real insurance (i.e. spreading unknown risks) is a good social technology and should be allowed/encouraged, but where it isn’t applicable or available I don’t see why society ought to have as a priority keeping comfortable people comfortable when there are lots of people that were never comfortable to begin with that need help a lot more.

    I’m willing to discuss this take if anyone wants to, but what I’m really curious about is where you’d situate it in terms of schools of though—left, right, socialist, libertarian or what. It doesn’t quite seem to fit.

    • Well... says:

      It seems similar to the kind of response to stuff like crime and disease where you say “Well, that sucks. But did you know we live in the wealthiest, healthiest, safest time ever? And if you think about it, the poorest, most violent/dangerous parts of the country are actually still fairly well above the human historical norm in terms of standard of living!”

      I think I see this from libertarians/”classical liberals” more than anyone else, but I think that’s probably more for personality reasons than ideological ones.

      I can critique it a little off the cuff, but as a caveat let me first say I think it’s actually probably a helpful way to think — about your own experiences, at least. It’s not so helpful to others, since this project of civilization/society/whatever you want to call it has an often-unstated component of deliberate ratcheting upward: there’s a not-terribly-unreasonable expectation that if you fare better now than you did in the past, you will fare better in the future than you are faring now. Saying “Well, you spent all your money to make that problem go away. You have no money, but your problem’s gone. Sounds like a fair deal” violates that expectation and comes off as very tone-deaf.

      • Brad says:

        Re: tone deaf

        I can certainly make sympathetic noises if need be. I might even be willing to throw a few dollars at a go fund me if it happens to be a neighbor or co-worker. But the public policy question isn’t whether or not I’m an asshole, it’s whether our tax funded welfare programs should be in the form of a safety net or climbing harness.

        • Well... says:

          The issue, I think, is that the idea of a climbing harness where some people are really taking advantage of it and living phenomenal lives is unacceptable (to most people) if it means a lot of other people are left floundering on the ground, even if you can pin it on their own laziness or whatever.

          I guess you might say, in the West we kind of believe that no matter how lazy and incompetent you are, you deserve better than to starve/be homeless/etc. (as long as you’re not actively a criminal threat to others).

          So, we like our climbing harnesses with safety nets under them. I think that’s a somewhat universal, non-controversial view.

          • Brad says:

            I’m a little confused by this response because it reads to me like you think I favor the climbing harness model when the exact opposite is the case. You don’t need to convince me of the value of a safety net. On the contrary I think we should take all the money from the climbing harness programs and put it towards raising the safety net.

          • Well... says:

            I’m tired, so I probably misread or lost track of where this was going.

            Anyway, I don’t think letting those who are comfortable become uncomfortable is palatable to most people. Maybe because most people recognize that whatever their discomforts, there’s still a long way to fall, and the climb back up is difficult and for some might even seem impossible to repeat.

      • baconbits9 says:

        It seems similar to the kind of response to stuff like crime and disease where you say “Well, that sucks. But did you know we live in the wealthiest, healthiest, safest time ever? And if you think about it, the poorest, most violent/dangerous parts of the country are actually still fairly well above the human historical norm in terms of standard of living!”

        This is a common libertarian position, however I would say it originated mostly as a response to people claiming that capitalism/globalism had failed because look at all the starving, broke and murdered people in America.

    • rahien.din says:

      I don’t think the societal problem is “rich person exhausts savings and must downgrade lifestyle.” The societal problem is “productive person exhausts savings and must downgrade productivity” – that’s the more correct version of the specific case.

      The general case is “through no fault of their own, a member of society is laid low by the vicissitudes of fortune.”

      Both the general case and the correct version of the specific case are IMHO housed very firmly on the left, because the left sees society’s job as collectively caring for citizens, whether they are rich or poor.

      • Matt M says:

        Right. The assumption is that the “rich person” was rich because they worked hard and that they deserved to be rich and that random chance knocking them down from rich to middle class is crappy and unfair, just the same as it’s crappy and unfair for random chance to knock a middle class person down to lower class, or a lower class person down to poverty.

        And there’s enough upper/middle class people out there, and they have enough influence, that any government program pitched as “This will help out people who fall victim to the misfortunes of random chance – but only if they started out poor” won’t get much support.

        Brad seems to think the purpose of the spending is to alleviate poverty, but I’d say perhaps that is wrong. Perhaps the purpose is to “make whole” people who have been victimized by random chance, regardless of their previous status.

        • Brad says:

          And there’s enough upper/middle class people out there, and they have enough influence, that any government program pitched as “This will help out people who fall victim to the misfortunes of random chance – but only if they started out poor” won’t get much support.

          Sure, but realpolitik explanations are generally not especially interesting.

          • Incurian says:

            Sure, but realpolitik explanations are generally not especially interesting.

            Why not?

          • Brad says:

            If there’s a question about some or other question of principle and your response is: “people don’t have principles they just do whatever is in their interest and justify it post hoc with principle language”.

            A) I wonder if that’s always your response or there’s something particular about this question that makes you want to raise this point now.

            And

            B) What more is there to talk about?

            It’s a little like raising the epistemological nihilism point in some random social science discussion. It’s not wrong exactly it’s just boring and besides the point.

      • Brad says:

        I don’t think the societal problem is “rich person exhausts savings and must downgrade lifestyle.” The societal problem is “productive person exhausts savings and must downgrade productivity” – that’s the more correct version of the specific case.

        I don’t see why they’d need to downgrade productivity. If anything the marginal value of a dollar just shot up and you’d expect the equilibrium to shift towards work and away from leisure.

        Both the general case and the correct version of the specific case are IMHO housed very firmly on the left, because the left sees society’s job as collectively caring for citizens, whether they are rich or poor.

        In which case, if I disagree with the “whether rich or poor” part it’s not-left and therefore right? That doesn’t feel quite correct. Maybe there’s a separate communitarian / non-communitarian axis.

        • rahien.din says:

          I don’t see why they’d need to downgrade productivity.

          The most important things people buy with money are time and certainty. For instance, I could carry a bucket to the river for water to boil whenever my family needed it, but it’s more effective to buy time in the form of a water utility. I could grow my own cotton, weave my own fabrics, and sew all my own clothes, but it’s more effective to buy time at a clothing store.

          If you pay into a savings account, you are just buying raw certainty. You would like to cash out that certainty as time for my future self, but, it is also nearer-term certainty that you will survive some Bad Event. If some Bad Event wipes out your stores of certainty, that affects your near-future self (what if another Bad Event happens sometime soon?) and your distant-future self (it takes a lot of money to buy the amount of certainty that corresponds to self-sustaining time). So you need to buy more certainty, which means you can buy less time now.

          If it just means your day is a little more stressful for a while, that sucks but it’s not a societally-damaging outcome. (This is your less-comfortable rich person.)

          If it means that maintenance tasks (leisure time, home repair, automotive care, medical care) are sacrificed or self-undertaken or downgraded, that has palpable effects on one’s day-to-day productivity. If it means that significant psychosocial time supports (childcare for instance) can no longer be afforded, that may have immediate and lasting effects on your career and earning potential. If it means that the ante for normal gambles effectively constitutes another Bad Event, and your overall risk tolerance must decrease, that may have effects on your career and earning potential may suffer. If it means that one’s children lose training and growth opportunities (maybe even epigenetically? that’s probably controversial), those effects can propagate into other generations. These are all outcomes that may damage society.

          In which case, if I disagree with the “whether rich or poor” part it’s not-left and therefore right?

          It is (as you go on to say) that there are separate axes.

    • Plumber says:

      Other than the column being titled: “Get Sick, Go Bankrupt and Die“, I didn’t actually take away the impression that Krugman was talking about the problem of “keeping comfortable people comfortable”, but if he was: my general take on economic/political/social policy is a very subjective one, basically every household that has more money per person than mine should have that money mostly taxed away, and that every household with less money than mine should get more support, unless their income came from an easy money gravy job, in which case they should have a bit less money than mine (it would be completely right and proper for my white collar job having brother to have less wealth than me), but opportunities should exist (and it should be commonly known how to get those opportunities) to do real work and make the extra money, with one major caveat, my household should have had the wealth it has now twenty years earlier, plus I should have had more time in my life to luxuriate in classrooms and libraries. 

      I have a very Plumber-centric view of these matters. 

    • Chalid says:

      Seems straightforwardly left. The emphasis on helping the objectively badly off is obviously left. The part about refusing to help the well-off who were harmed by misfortune implies that you deemphasize what people “deserve” in deciding outcomes, and desert is generally something rightists emphasize more than leftists.

      • Guy in TN says:

        I’m going to second this. “The government should primarily help the poor, and not be too concerned with determining desert” is a decidedly left position. Its significantly farther left than the meritocratic liberal-capitalist wing that dominates the U.S. Democratic Party, at least.

        There is disagreement on means testing even within the left, however. The counterarguments are that non-means tested benefits have reduced administrative costs (which could result in more money going to the poor in general), and that non-means tested benefits are more difficult to manipulate to reduce benefits. For example, public school, being 100% free at point of use, is all-or-nothing. It is a benefit that can’t be whittled away, unlike like food stamps.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Real insurance (i.e. spreading unknown risks) is a good social technology and should be allowed/encouraged, but where it isn’t applicable or available I don’t see why society ought to have as a priority keeping comfortable people comfortable when there are lots of people that were never comfortable to begin with that need help a lot more.

      This position is a straight up libertarian (even ancap) position, it only becomes weird and positionless if you tack on “there are lots of people that need help a lot more, and therefore the government ought to be setting up programs to help these people.”

      The issue with the ‘compassionate-libertarian’ view is that it sounds suspiciously like trickle-down economics to the left, that government intervention is heavily involved in creating (I believe unintentionally but also predictably) the very situations that then it is being told to fix.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m pretty libertarian, but nothing you say strikes me as obviously wrong, with the slight exception of:

      I don’t have any interest whatsoever in non-means tested social spending.

      I would say it’s wrong to tax people (like, in general), but it’s especially wrong to tax people claiming the reason they’re being taxed is so that they themselves will receive some sort of benefit (i.e. insurance) but then deny them that benefit because they didn’t really need it.

      I’m a pretty strong believer that most people over-insure, and that most moderately wealthy people would be statistically better off self-insuring against minor risks (this is, after all, why insurance companies are profitable enterprises, because they collect more in premiums than they pay in settlements).

      That said, upper or middle class people cannot really “self-insure” against old age or disability or unemployment unless there is an option for them to actually opt-out of the government insurance. Self-insuring your iphone against breaking the screen is probably a bad financial decision for most people. But if AT&T forced you to pay for that insurance anyway, you’re probably entitled to file a claim when the screen breaks.

    • onyomi says:

      This sounds to me like a very middle-of-the-road, for lack of a better word, “American” (as opposed to “Canadian” or “Scandinavian”) take on government assistance.

      As I perceive it, the moderate consensus position in the US is that the government should offer assistance to those in relatively dire need, but otherwise not interfere with market forces, private charity, bootstraps, etc. For some reason, we seem to kind of make an exception for the elderly, leading those US politicians (decidedly on the left side of our Overton window), like Bernie and Ocasio-Cortez, who advocate something like “Scandinavian socialism” to use phrases like “Medicare for all” (sounds more non-threatening because we’re already used to the idea of Medicare, i.e. a non-means-tested entitlement).

      But I also feel recently that people like Krugman, Bernie, and Ocasio-Cortez have been pulling their party leftward relative to this consensus to the point where someone espousing the idea that government should provide a “safety net” for the most needy but not a demotivational “hammock” (as Paul Ryan was fond of putting it) intended to keep everyone at a certain comfortable-ish standard regardless of misfortune or lack of effort might be more successful running as a moderate Republican than a Democrat, and probably outside the mainstream in Canada or Western Europe (?).

      • Brad says:

        I think it’s common in American rhetoric but not necessarily in American actions. Disaster relief comes especially to mind.

        • quanta413 says:

          I think a not insignificant chunk of disaster relief in rich areas might be due to the Robin Hanson explanation. Sending aid after a disaster signals that we care in a particularly conspicuous manner.

          I mean, who’s the last President who did something like veto disaster relief? Grover Cleveland is the only example I’m aware of.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      This sort of thinking falls into all sorts of schools, so it is not married to any single school. It just depends on how much social spending you want and what your end goals are. Your typical conservative would absolutely agree with means-testing because we should only be spending money on the truly needy, but what they describe as “needy” is going to be less than what a progressive describes as “needy,” and they won’t agree with specific targets for income inequality reduction.

      Riffing off that, conservative wonks who want to eliminate market failures or otherwise paternalistically nudged people but don’t want social redistribution are not going to agree with you. Like, for example, somene who thinks people don’t save enough for retirement, and therefore mandates savings accounts for everyone. That’s a paternalistic nudge. You don’t need to add a redistribution program to it.

      Part of the conservative wonk objection to ACA is that it is an income redistribution scheme masquearding as a market failure correction scheme.

      FWIW, I still have employer-based health insurance so Krugman’s article is falling on deaf ears here.

      • Matt M says:

        That’s a paternalistic nudge. You don’t need to add a redistribution program to it.

        Part of the conservative wonk objection to ACA is that it is an income redistribution scheme masquearding as a market failure correction scheme.

        I think this sort of thing is a cornerstone of the American system. A lot of our programs try to exist simultaneously as paternalistic nudging and income redistribution, probably for political purposes (they can market themselves effectively to both the left and the right, by emphasizing one side or the other)

    • Randy M says:

      Libertarian; John Stossel makes it a cause of his to oppose things like federal flood insurance for people who choose to buy expensive beach side homes.

      I’m assuming both you and he exclude things like “Once in a century river flooding that wipes out a small rural town”.

      • Brad says:

        If you are really in a hundred year flood plain (as opposed to a we don’t believe in global warming hundred year flood plain) then flood insurance should be cheap, no?

        • Randy M says:

          Ah. So, definitely libertarian. Why’d you bother to bring rich and poor into it then?
          I take you would have agreed with Grover Cleveland

          I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.

          This is, obviously, not a Republican or Democrat position of late. I’d tend to agree too, but I don’t get too bothered personally by helping Americans hit by disaster in an age of fiat currency, even if it invites corruption and foisting risk onto others in the marginal cases.

          • Brad says:

            Why’d you bother to bring rich and poor into it then?

            Is “small rural village” supposed to be synonymous with “everyone is desperately poor”? That’s not my understanding of the facts.

          • Randy M says:

            edit: I admit to unwittingly sacrificing clarity for evoking a particular image that I don’t find moored to a specific event. Sorry.

            Is “small rural village” supposed to be synonymous with “everyone is desperately poor”?

            Everyone? No, but the modal beneficiary of disaster aid in a rural town (does America have any villages?) seems like it should imply something other than the upper middle class you were focusing on.

            That’s not my understanding of the facts.

            Well, I’m surprised.
            If you mentally superimpose this map over this one, it does seem like wealth prefers salty oceans to fresh rivers.

          • Brad says:

            Modal sure. But means testing captures that. I don’t think we need a proxy when we can test the thing we are interested in directly. I think having separate non-means tested rural programs are in place not for efficiency but rather as a means of ensuring that only the right people and none of the wrong people benefit.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t know that there are such programs; I was trying to juxtapose “poor people suffering from unexpected tragedy” and “rich people experiencing entirely predictable negative consequences”, not trying to slyly support aid specifically to any demographic.

            In any case, my original point was, John Stossel has written in the past to expose the poor cost-effectiveness and incentives of, for example, federal flood insurance that benefits wealthy people’s beach homes. He, at least, is libertarian, and might not agree on expanded means-tested aid but is definitely on your side for cutting the blanket relief.

          • Brad says:

            I guess we posted past each other. Sorry for misunderstanding what you were trying to say.

          • Matt M says:

            Right.

            Stossel’s point is that, generally speaking, flood insurance is pitched to the public as a program that is necessary to help struggling people recover from rare and unforeseeable disasters.

            But in actuality, it mostly pays out to well off rich people to replace their fancy beach houses in areas where disaster is completely and entirely foreseeable, and occurs on a regular basis.

          • Randy M says:

            @Brad–No problem, it’s useful to be reminded that I don’t communicate quite as well as I think I do. And I got a chance to show off that Cleveland quote, after reading it on a waitbutwhy binge last week.

          • quanta413 says:

            You brought up Cleveland before me. Truly a convergence of minds.

        • CatCube says:

          A 100-year flood is something of a misnomer. It’s the flood event that has a 1/100 chance of exceedance in any given year. So while it’s expected to occur on average every 100 years, the chances of it occurring in a 50-year project life are 29.4%. In other words, it’s somewhat likely that a building will be inundated at some point.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Regarding your question – it seems to be mainstream American sorta-centre-left. The US seems generally to have a much better tolerance for “social safety net” stuff than for cradle-to-grave universal social services.

      I’m also going to push back. Non-means-tested social spending is great.

      First, it ties that rich, upper-middle-class, whatever, family to everyone else. The “Canadian” model – across the board public insurance, with private insurance picking up stuff the public insurance doesn’t – means that even people who are quite wealthy are going to use the same system as poor people. There’s an incentive for them to support the system.

      Second, it avoids the problems you get with means-tested services when people just above the cutoff feel ripped off. In practice, this usually means the lower-middle-class, and lower-middle-class resentment is a really dangerous thing politically speaking.

      Third, it requires less bureaucracy to administer.

      • Brad says:

        I think what you describe is the absolute best case for non-means tested welfare programs. I’m not sure I buy even that but it isn’t usually on offer.

        I can’t speak to Canada, but in the US only Medicare sort-of fits this model (I say sort-of because access to care does vary by income for a variety of reasons.) No other program is one program for everyone, schools for example are quite segregated, and many of them are outright regressive (i.e. spend more, often much more on the rich than the poor)—subsidized flood insurance was mentioned above.

        If you think about it, a climbing harness is naturally going to have this latter property. Rebuilding a mansion after an earthquake is going to cost more than rebuilding a bungalow. Paying for six months of maternity leave for Cheryl Sandberg is going to cost more than six months of maternity leave for someone that washes dishes. And so on.

        • Randy M says:

          I think if we had a flat relief program (all residents of x zip code get 10,000$ to rebuild with) it would be pretty progressive, for the same reason a flat tax is regressive. A much larger percentage of that person’s living expenses would be going to the poor.

          Doesn’t answer the part about bad incentives, though.

        • quanta413 says:

          No other program is one program for everyone, schools for example are quite segregated, and many of them are outright regressive

          Are you talking about public or private schools? Because even though there are a lot of outliers due to local school control, public spending on schools is very close to flat with respect to funding compared to student family income (very slightly progressive, but I highly doubt that it matters).

          https://randomcriticalanalysis.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/no-us-school-funding-is-actually-somewhat-progressive/

          Yes, you can cherry pick examples where the relationship goes one way or the other, but it’s hiding the fact that spending is typically even and that in the U.S. range that spending doesn’t actually have much correlation with student outcomes. Where students go barely matters most of the time. Parents’ beliefs to the contrary.

          U.S. public schools aren’t amazing overall, but neither are they terrible overall.

          • Brad says:

            You cut the quote off too soon. That sentence says

            1) Almost all social programs are in some way segregated—the rich and the poor aren’t going to the same schools.

            2) Many non-means tested programs spend more on the rich than the poor. The example here was flood insurance.

            I didn’t intend to imply, and don’t think I did, that schools fell into #2.

          • quanta413 says:

            I thought you were implying that schools were in the same category of regressiveness as flood insurance. The antecedent of “many of them” was ambiguous and could have been “schools” or “program”.

            But in that case, I don’t see why you shouldn’t count schools as an example of a successful not-means-tested program. People don’t usually travel farther than they have to to get medical care when on Medicare either.

            What I view as bad news first. Since spending equalized, segregation probably hasn’t had much effect on student outcomes. Nothing anyone has tried so far to adjust student outcomes has scaled past a pilot project. Typically even the pilot project results are highly questionable or null. Test scores have been basically flat since the 80s. Before that, African American scores improved some from the 50 or 60s to 80s. Adding evidence that schools before civil rights acts passed really were much worse for African Americans.

            The good news is pretty much everyone in the U.S. can read and write. Most can do basic arithmetic. And most schools have sports teams, band, etc. to give kids something organized and supervised to do. And it keeps kids off the streets while parents go to work. Roughly $10,000 a year (the typical order of spending, sometimes double that) for these services isn’t bad. Even if you look at school as just babysitting and ignore the benefits of literacy, that’s something like $10 or $20 per hour for babysitting which is pretty cheap.

            In case it’s not clear to those who think schools should prepare all students for a future as an engineer or businessman, I’m really not trying to damn with faint praise here. I think if we were willing to experiment with a much more diverse range of pedagogy (and maybe adjust punishment too) we could probably raise everyone’s reading and arithmetic skills a bit although whether gaps would narrow or widen I don’t know. But I don’t expect any significant changes in real learning outcomes for the next few decades.

            Many upper middle class and higher Americans are satisfied with their public schools and don’t bother with private schools. And those public schools don’t actually spend more on average than public schools where poor people go. A significant number of white people will even flee areas that have too many rich successful Asian people, so it’s not like white people are trying to put their kids in the “best” public schools. They’re mostly being sort of ethnocentric/tribal in the sort of low grade way that almost all humans are.

            That schools don’t solve the problem of rich people not liking poor people or people clustering with people of a similar ethnic group… I dunno? Seems unlikely to be a workable solution to me.

            In the U.S. right now, it’s not currently adaptive or rational behavior to try to live in an approximate ethnic enclave, but it’s not really that harmful to other people either in and of itself. Minority areas sometimes fight gentrifiers which is a similar behavior in reverse.

          • Brad says:

            The point I was trying to make is that contra dndnrsn ideal take on non-means tested social spending schools, at least in the US, are not a “we are all in this together” situation.

            I don’t think prime facia the government ought to give away $10,000*14 worth of services to, for example the child of a programmer and lawyer. I acknowledge that there are some indirect benefits to society of doing so, I’m not not convinced as to magnitude.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s an interesting question. I think Brad is literally correct that the very rich are not sending their children to the literal same schools that the very poor are.

            That said, if the comparison is to state-run clinics in Europe, I’d have to imagine a similar affect is true there. As has been mentioned, people generally report to the closest clinic to their residence. So as long as the rich and poor remain segregated in where they live, they’ll go to different clinics as well.

            The only way to force the rich and poor to associate together is to have some sort of mandatory government location that is so uncommon that it is the closest available such location for rich and poor alike. The DMV comes to mind. And that’s not exactly an institution most people take pride in. Maybe the post office as well, although there are UPS and Fedex and private “postal annex” type locations that are nicer/more expensive that the rich can choose to patronize.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t think prime facia the government ought to give away $10,000*14 worth of services to, for example the child of a programmer and lawyer. I acknowledge that there are some indirect benefits to society of doing so, I’m not not convinced as to magnitude.

            This is a bad way of putting it, local taxes directly pay for most public schooling so the government isn’t ‘giving away’ those services, they are about as close to being directly paid for as it gets in the US. There are also a lot of situations where the upper classes are effectively subsidizing classes lower than they are by commuting into or shopping in lower income areas.

          • Brad says:

            @Baconbits9
            I don’t think that’s an accurate way of describing the situation. Public schools parents are not one in the same as taxpayers and even within that category their are families with different numbers of children. Given the amounts of money involved these are not small points.

          • quanta413 says:

            Frankly, given how social security works (not to mention that the continued existence of a nation relies upon having people and the people of the richest nations have a bizarre habit of not reproducing), people without kids need to subsidize other people having children to some extent.

            A doctor and a lawyer pay so much more proportionally in taxes that I don’t see any issue with their children receiving the same public schooling as a poor person.

            Of course, I can imagine a simple solution where we tax rich people less and rich people pay for schools of their choice (I’m pretty sure the overall tax system will still be progressive). But that’s kind of like school choice or vouchers but even less restrained.

            The point I was trying to make is that contra dndnrsn ideal take on non-means tested social spending schools, at least in the US, are not a “we are all in this together” situation.

            Segregation is significant in a lot of areas but in a lot of areas it really is true that the children of doctors and lawyers go to the same schools as the children of gardeners or plumbers or unemployed. You’re letting an imagined perfect be the enemy of the good.

            Well, perfect or good for you. My best but extremely uncertain guess is that even a drastic change along these lines wouldn’t make much difference except in a symbolic way. The downstream consequences of the symbolic change might be significant though.

            I don’t think prime facia the government ought to give away $10,000*14 worth of services to, for example the child of a programmer and lawyer. I acknowledge that there are some indirect benefits to society of doing so, I’m not not convinced as to magnitude.

            What is your proposed solution? Programmers and lawyers already pay much more proportional to their income in taxes than most people. Force them to pay directly for schooling and they’ll send their kids to private schools, and they’ll find some other way to get their tax bill reduced.

          • Brad says:

            @Quanta413
            Frankly this last post just seems like throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I have no interest in going off on a tangent about fertility in the West, the desirability or having progressive taxation, or whether or not the rich will get what they want “some other way”.

            I think you understand the point I was making to dndnrsn about how American non-means tested social programs don’t work the way he described. If you don’t find that to be meaningful in the larger picture, so be it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t think that’s an accurate way of describing the situation. Public schools parents are not one in the same as taxpayers and even within that category their are families with different numbers of children. Given the amounts of money involved these are not small points.

            They aren’t one and the same, but within the same school district/tax base they are within a similar economic class, and when they aren’t it tends to be the poorer end that has more kids per tax dollar paid than the other way around. Further many and perhaps most of the local tax base without kids currently in the school system either did or will have kids go through it.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            What is your proposed solution? Programmers and lawyers already pay much more proportional to their income in taxes than most people. Force them to pay directly for schooling and they’ll send their kids to private schools, and they’ll find some other way to get their tax bill reduced.

            Moreover, there isn’t really evidence that paying more for public schools for poor children provides any additional benefit. Its basically a pass-through model where the end product is almost entirely based on the inputs (children and their parents), and the system really can’t do anything to change that.

            This is a big problem with US social policy that focuses so much on “education”. I suspect this is the case because its an already existing system and its easier to advocate for “fixing” a system than creating a whole new system (which would, essentially, be a massive intrusion into the home life of anyone with children). But its just tinkering at the edges. Universal Pre-K is a bust, charter schools and vouchers are successful in that they demonstrate that you can get the same results for much cheaper (often around 50-60% cost), and maybe squeak out 5% of a Standard Deviation’s improvement, but nothing monumental. Kids of Doctors and Lawyers are going to outperform kids of fry boys and cashiers because intelligence is mostly determined by genetics and the environment before you are even 3.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad

            I think you understand the point I was making to dndnrsn about how American non-means tested social programs don’t work the way he described.

            I thought we were talking about health care primarily – you led with health care, at least; in Canada, health care does work that way. There are non-means-tested programs in Canada that work like their American equivalents, but we have universal health insurance.

            There’s probably a reason that you couldn’t do a similar thing with schools – harder to centralize, for one thing. But for social services where you can do it non-means-tested, I think it’s superior, for the reasons I gave.

          • Brad says:

            Even in healthcare I think you only get the effect you are talking about with government provisioned healthcare. That’s what, Canada and the UK only?

            Even Bernie Sanders is calling for Medicare for all, not VA for all. So like I said your description is only the absolute strongest case for non-means tested social spending, not a description of how most actually work.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Government provisioned insurance, not healthcare, in Canada, technically. My doctor is a private operator, but gets reimbursed for services by the government.

            What social services, or public services in general, would be made better by adding means-testing?

          • Brad says:

            It seems like framing the question that way ignores opportunity cost.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Could you explain what you mean?

          • Matt M says:

            I assume Brad’s point is that means-testing would free up resources previously spent on the rich to now be spent on the poor.

            So, if we stopped distributing social security checks to the richest 50% of recipients (but still taxed everyone for it), the bottom 50% could receive twice as much in terms of benefits.

          • Brad says:

            Looking only at Medicare, is it a better program if it’s means tested? Maybe not. But now you have >$100B to do something else with.

          • dndnrsn says:

            My position is that public health insurance for everybody would make the system better – because the rich would be stuck with the same system as the poor. In Canada, you have to be quite wealthy before it make sense to leave the country rather than rely on the public system; the disadvantages of our system are less in the quality of the care than in the waiting times for nonemergency stuff that come of triage and in the generally poor customer-service side of things. The actual quality of the medical care is good. I get the same system as someone with a bunch more money than me and someone with a bunch less. The rich guy has a reason to buy into the system I get, and I have a reason to buy into the system someone with extremely limited resources gets – it’s all the same system.

            A system that focuses on the poor has the problem that it becomes a system for poor people – stigmatized and first on the chopping block. That it’s stigmatized can be seen in the use of the slogan “Medicare for all” rather than “Medicaid for all” – as I understand it, they’re similar, but Medicare is for old people and Medicaid is for poor people. Keeping it off the chopping block requires everyone having an interest in it – the poor might need the money more than me, and I might need the money more than the rich person, but everyone having skin in the game is more important than the best possible allocation of resources.

            It’s also worth it to avoid lower-middle-class resentment, which is a dangerous political force. There’s also the related issue of moral hazard, which you may or may not think is a factor in means-tested programs. Having a cutoff seems to be a factor in both of these.

          • Matt M says:

            My position is that public health insurance for everybody would make the system better – because the rich would be stuck with the same system as the poor.

            As far as I can tell, you and Brad are misaligned on what this actually requires though. Does same system mean same general system with same general policies, etc. Or does it require actual shared physical spaces/resources/etc.?

            The US Public Schools, as an example, are a “shared system” for the rich and poor alike. But Brad’s point is that typically, due to geographic constraints, the actual physical schools that the rich attend are different than the actual physical schools attended by the poor, so that they aren’t really “the same” at all.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Looking only at Medicare, is it a better program if it’s means tested? Maybe not. But now you have >$100B to do something else with.

            But taxation isn’t just a pot of money that exists and then is distributed.

          • Brad says:

            They aren’t one and the same, but within the same school district/tax base they are within a similar economic class, and when they aren’t it tends to be the poorer end that has more kids per tax dollar paid than the other way around. Further many and perhaps most of the local tax base without kids currently in the school system either did or will have kids go through it.

            This isn’t an especially compelling response IMO. Property taxes aren’t tuition. They aren’t even an especially close substitute.

            But taxation isn’t just a pot of money that exists and then is distributed.

            How not?

          • Brad says:

            The US Public Schools, as an example, are a “shared system” for the rich and poor alike. But Brad’s point is that typically, due to geographic constraints, the actual physical schools that the rich attend are different than the actual physical schools attended by the poor, so that they aren’t really “the same” at all.

            Yes. With the further observation(?) axiom(?) that physically separate inherently leads to other differences.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This isn’t an especially compelling response IMO. Property taxes aren’t tuition. They aren’t even an especially close substitute.

            Your statement was

            I don’t think prime facia the government ought to give away $10,000*14 worth of services to, for example the child of a programmer and lawyer.

            In the US this is not how it works, the school districts spending on individual students is primarily at the state and local level, the federal government does relatively little in terms of funding. Someone cannot be said to be on the receiving end of a ‘giveaway’ if they are, or will, pay for it.

            How not?

            In almost every way possible. First taxes are paid at multiple levels, and there is no one tax authority that has the legal ability to spend all of those dollars. Secondly there are some programs that are legally entitled to funding and some of that funding is tied to specific tax revenues. So from a legal perspective it is not true.

            From a practical perspective the people who pay taxes have some ability to restrict their tax liability, be it through voting or tax avoidance. Shifts in where tax dollars go may very well shift how many tax dollars are collected, so in a practical sense the pot of money is not distinct from how it is spent.

            From a theoretically perspective tax earnings are partially based on the tax structure itself, changing tax rates and payouts will shift real GDP meaning even the same % of GDP as tax will not be expected to be the same purchasing power, so again the taxes available are not distinct from how they are collected and spent.

          • Brad says:

            Someone cannot be said to be on the receiving end of a ‘giveaway’ if they are, or will, pay for it.

            But that’s not an accurate description of reality as I’ve already pointed out. There’s no one to one relationship between property taxes and waived tuition. There isn’t even an 80% relationship. There’s some hand waving about how “most” people “probably” used the local schools at “some point”.

            That fact of the matter is, professional class cognitive dissonance notwithstanding, taxes are an unconditional obligation and paying them doesn’t in any way convert a welfare program into somehow not a welfare program.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Whatever constraints prevent schools from being an “all-in-it-together” system, or makes that harder, it doesn’t seem to exist for public health insurance. If you go to a major Canadian city, it’s not as though there’s one hospital for the poor people and one for the rich people or whatever.

            EDIT: Maybe I’m hanging too much on Brad’s opening with health care and comment about a rich family going to less-rich.

            But my reaction to that is, well, if the system cushions the rich family the same as everyone else, that keeps them on side. Everyone else gets the same cushion as they do, they want a nice cushion, so they push for a nicer cushion for everyone. And that’s just one benefit.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Frankly this last post just seems like throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I have no interest in going off on a tangent about fertility in the West, the desirability or having progressive taxation, or whether or not the rich will get what they want “some other way”.

            I think you understand the point I was making to dndnrsn about how American non-means tested social programs don’t work the way he described. If you don’t find that to be meaningful in the larger picture, so be it.

            I was trying to see what sticks because I wanted to pin down more precisely what your reason is for why schools don’t fulfill dndnrsn’s criteria as being a successful shared public program other than that it could perhaps be slightly better. I think schools fulfill his criteria reasonably well given the constraints. And I don’t mean far out constraints.

            Are you unhappy that people without children subsidize people with children? Are you unhappy that more school money doesn’t flow to the poor? Are you unhappy that people self-segregate? These are all different problems that you mentioned with different possible solutions. Improving things with respect to one criteria might hurt things with respect to another. I’m doubt any solution public or private can maximize all three simultaneously without tanking some other important criteria.

            Almost 90% of children go to public school. By sheer mathematical necessity that includes a lot of upper middle class to even upper class children. NYC might be super heavily segregated but a lot of the U.S. is not like NYC. Even then, public schools can’t solve the fact that ethnicities are nowhere near evenly distributed throughout the U.S. Any measure of segregation across states or across the country would remain high even if local areas like cities were well mixed. People still wouldn’t really be sharing the same physical resources at school.

            Not only are our schools not actually that badly mixed (worse than the country as a whole, but mostly reflecting segregation for other reasons), but large studies keep finding that the variance in educational outcomes within the U.S. for the past few decades due to school choice or pedagogy is small compared to variance in educational outcomes due to other reasons.

            U.S. policy has largely succeeded by a reasonable standard. We’ve obliterated most of the variance in education outcomes due to school itself and have mostly well functioning schools. They work about as well as Europe’s or Japan’s or South Korea’s. I’d like to reduce some of the issues with really bad outlier schools by allowing for school choice, but I don’t expect much aggregate difference in results if this happened. Local measures of segregation would probably drop slightly and aggregate learning might slightly improve, but that’s all I’d expect.

            Schools can improve but so can my computer. My computer still works reasonably well.

            @idontknow131647093
            I largely agree, but even though outcomes are less than what people would hope for I doubt the U.S. literacy rate would be as high as it is without sending all children to school.

            I think people tend to forget that having everyone be able to read (even at a third grade level to pick a low bar) is not a foregone conclusion.

            I think the bottom results in math could also be improved by just slowing the curriculum down for many students and drilling students who have trouble more rather than demanding they master geometry proofs. The idea that everyone needs to understand proofs in Euclidean geometry or conic sections or that teaching these to everyone is a worthwhile use of time is batty.

          • Brad says:

            Are you unhappy that people without children subsidize people with children? Are you unhappy that more school money doesn’t flow to the poor? Are you unhappy that people self-segregate?

            I’m unhappy that we are gifting public moneys to people that don’t need it.

            Specifically with respect to why this isn’t dndnrsn’s best case scenario it’s because the schools are segregated by class. It doesn’t meet the criteria of “we are all in this together”.

            Someone from Scarsdale might care about the quality of the schools in Yonkers just because he happens to care, but because there’s a direct link with how good the schools are in Scarsdale. That phenomenon which dndnrsn claimed as a benefit of non-means tested social spending doesn’t apply to US schools. At least not to all or nearly all of them.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Can busing programs be seen as an attempt to force that?

          • Brad says:

            It was put in place originally to deal with racial segregation, but it certainly had and could have salutary benefits as to economic segregation as well. I’m all for busing, I argued a few weeks back in an open thread that among other benefits it could rein in the real estate cost spiral.

          • quanta413 says:

            Specifically with respect to why this isn’t dndnrsn’s best case scenario it’s because the schools are segregated by class. It doesn’t meet the criteria of “we are all in this together”.

            Someone from Scarsdale might care about the quality of the schools in Yonkers just because he happens to care, but because there’s a direct link with how good the schools are in Scarsdale. That phenomenon which dndnrsn claimed as a benefit of non-means tested social spending doesn’t apply to US schools. At least not to all or nearly all of them.

            But most people really are in it together somewhat even if not perfectly. The U.S. is not perfectly segregated by class. Maybe it is where you are, but not where I grew up by a long shot. And how much is it more segregated than any service which is geographically localized?

            And because the federal funding formulas generally force equalization of funding per student (to the point of total funding being slightly progressive), a lot of people who would otherwise pay directly for their kids school really are in it together with the poor to some extent. If they had no investment in the public school system, funding would be more unequal.

            But there is no real evidence that even if economic mixing was ideal gas level perfect we would see a significant shift in school outcomes. The schools really aren’t much better or worse in different parts of the U.S. most of the time. They were in 1950 but not anymore. I don’t think that equalization could have taken place if schools weren’t public and could thus be forced to be fairly uniform (in funding and amenities I mean). Outcomes are basically the same across the first world despite variance in school systems. Most of the variance is in the students or some other part of the environment.

            I do agree with you though that real estate prices could be lowered somewhat by unlinking school from geography. I think busing assigning students to specific schools further away is an unnecessarily extreme step though. Even selling school choice between public schools is hard; busing is pretty much dead in the water due to opposition by parents. I doubt ending geographic requirements would make a huge relative difference in prices though, but 1% of 2 million is still 20 thousand. Multiply by some significant number of houses and it’s not a trivial drop.

          • Brad says:

            but because there’s a direct link with how good

            but not because there’s a direct link with how good

          • Brad says:

            And how much is it more segregated than any service which is geographically localized?

            I’m puzzled as to why you are bringing this up. I never claimed that schools were egregiously bad. Rather that they aren’t an example of the best case for non-means tested social spending. And in any event I never conceded that I would support even such a best case scenario.

            And because the federal funding formulas generally force equalization of funding per student (to the point of total funding being slightly progressive), a lot of people who would otherwise pay directly for their kids school really are in it together with the poor to some extent. If they had no investment in the public school system, funding would be more unequal.

            First, I don’t think this is actually true. If you look at the highest and lowest spending per pupil districts in the country they are quite far apart. Even if you look at the state level rather than the district level, the differences are still significant.

            But that said, even if it were true, I don’t think your conclusion follows. If the federal government were to give an equalization dollar to a school district in Arkansas for every dollar that a school district in suburban NYC spent out of local property taxes, in what sense are those two districts “in it together”? What concrete incentive does the suburban NYC parent have to care about the quality of education being provided in the rural Arkansas district.

            Now I agree that a lot of voters in suburban NYC do care. But this doesn’t go to your overall point. In fact, it goes directly opposite to it. Given that they care despite their being no linkage with their own school quality is evidence that the parade of horribles where public schools become terrible after they are means tested because the rich no longer care, is not especially likely to happen.

        • dndnrsn says:

          So, what kind of social service are we talking about? Education in Canada is more similar to education in the US than health care is. There’s private schools, some public schools are clearly better than others, and some districts have two school boards (due to a weird compromise where there’s a public Catholic system for some reason).

          However, health care in Canada does work as a “we’re all in this together” thing. It’s one of the more popular things in this country; a government that tried to replace the provincial system with something like what the US has would go down in flames most likely.

          Imagine, though, if the US started to go means-tested for public schools: free public schooling only for those below a certain cutoff; above that you have to pay or go elsewhere. The middle classes would be livid, especially the lower middle classes.

          • Brad says:

            There’s no reason that there needs to be a hard cutoff. We’ve learned to do means testing better over the years. There could be an means-adjusted tuition charge.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The people who used to get something “for free” (presumably some of their tax dollars went to it) who now have to pay are going to be pissed, regardless of how much they have to pay. For those able to afford private school, it’s going to look like a better deal compared to public school – and the more they leave the public system, the more they don’t have a reason to want funding to the public system (whether it’s overall or in their district). Those who can’t afford private school are going to be really pissed – even if they’re just paying a little, it’s more than they used to, and the system is going to degrade as the incentive to get out is stronger for those who can.

            And you’ve still got the bureaucracy necessary to do the means-testing, and how the means-adjusting works is going to be a political football.

          • Matt M says:

            I think the lower classes would be pissed too.

            You already have people like Brad arguing that the problem with public schools is that the rich are allowed to opt-out, which generally lowers the quality.

            Imagine how much worse that sort of problem gets if the rich are required to opt out.

            One might look to the VA as a comparison. The military is opt-in and mainly sources its recruits from the lower class. While eligible for care, most people who leave military service and enter middle or upper class jobs never go to VA clinics, because of their poor reputation for quality (I myself am eligible, but have never gone to one, and have no intention of ever doing so). Would we expect the quality of care to rise if instead of “veterans in middle/upper class don’t have to go and can opt-out for their own private care if they want” we went to a model of “veterans in middle/upper class are absolutely forbidden from going?”

            This would probably make things worse not just for the upper/middle class veterans who might have gone, but for the remaining lower class veterans who have no other options as well.

          • Brad says:

            You already have people like Brad arguing that the problem with public schools is that the rich are allowed to opt-out,

            No, that’s not my position. I have no problem with the rich opting out. I have a problem with the rich opting out and still have the public pay for their de facto private schools.

          • johan_larson says:

            …two school boards (due to a weird compromise where there’s a public Catholic system for some reason).

            It gets better. In some places, there are four: French-Catholic, French-secular, English-Catholic, English-secular.

          • Brad says:

            The people who used to get something “for free” (presumably some of their tax dollars went to it) who now have to pay are going to be pissed, regardless of how much they have to pay.

            This is an additional reason to oppose such programs. Once you go down the road of middle and upper class welfare the recipients get very entitled over their giveaways.

          • quanta413 says:

            Schools are rather unlike welfare or healthcare in that ideally they are a government investment in the long run. More analogous to infrastructure. When the wealthy drive on a public road through their neighborhoods are they receiving a form of welfare?

            Utilization of public resources is never actually equally distributed across class.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think public roads are a good analogy. Schooling services are both rivalrous and excludable. Further looking specifically at the rich and “upper middle” class there is no market failure. It isn’t as though something with positive externalities would be underproduced without that spending. Those parents would pay for education if it were provided free. The government is merely displacing private spending—that is engaging in a giveaway.

          • quanta413 says:

            I don’t think public roads are a good analogy. Schooling services are both rivalrous and excludable.

            In theory roads aren’t excludable or rivalrous. In practice, building a road that rich people will use and poor people won’t brings up much of the same issues. I’m not talking about major interstate highways, but public roads towards a rich suburb or within it.

            Excludability is harder, but people manage that too. Hard to do by economic class, but not so hard to do by race. My uncle just had the cops tail him for miles on backroads in a predominantly rich white area. It’s not as strong as an exclusion as the way schooling works, but I think the difference is of degree. And my uncle is an upper class respectable looking man. If he was poor or hadn’t had his family with him, it might not have stopped at tailing.

            The government is merely displacing private spending—that is engaging in a giveaway.

            I agree there is some displacement. School quality is fairly uniform though so I don’t expect that to change if the system does. But without public schooling, segregation would definitely increase. Types of schools would probably diversify. Which might be good or bad. And since schooling would suddenly become a huge visible and adjustable line item on people’s budgets, I would expect a massive shift in pretty much every category of taxation and spending as the effects of an enormous tax increase of ten to twenty thousand dollars start whacking people making six figures and the whole system slowly comes to a new equilibrium. I’d rather not even advocate for that experiment when we haven’t even tried letting people pick any public school for their kids in ten miles.

            It’s possible it would have really good results. Maybe much less money would be spent on net on schools but results would remain the same (because we already know the effects of spending in the ranges Americans do is basically nil; you’ve got to step outside that range to get an effect although we don’t know how far). That’d be a pretty good result. Or maybe the middle class would be hollowed out over a couple generations as things fall apart.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Welcome to the revolution, comrade.

      Seriously though, yes. And this is entirely leftist/socialist, the problem is that leftism/socialism has been largely subverted by the bourgeoisie. All the instruments of power we think of as “leftist” are being run by the top few percent. “Leftism” in the US is now buying middle class votes with half-assed handouts while pretending it is based on egalitarian or communitarian principles, and keeping people distracted from class issues by continually shifting between class and identity classes and pretending they are the same, then “treating” the identity issues while ignoring the class issues, and pretending they are fixing the problems.

      Seriously, this is what leftism is. Or at least what it was. What we call leftism anymore is just opportunistic political positioning and an elaborate pretense that all the members of the faction have some kind of set of principles in common

      • Brad says:

        There’s something to what you’re saying, but does it imply that Scandinavian style everything is provided by the state to everyone is not-left? That doesn’t sound quite right.

        • Thegnskald says:

          That is mostly because “leftism” and “liberal” melted together.

          It is a communitarian authoritarianism. Historically, we would have called it right-wing socialism, I think. But that entire section of the political map was cut off and burned by fascism, so we mostly just pretend anything that would fit into it belongs somewhere else.

          ETA:

          Which is not to imply US attempts at replicating Scandinavian systems are communitarian in nature. They are setting out to solve different problems; the Scandinavian system is solving the allocation of resources, whereas the US system already allocates resources, and the problem being solved (medical costs for middle classes, in this example) is that people are unhappy allocating their own resources. By and large, the people pushing for Scandinavian style healthcare would balk at Scandinavian style taxes to pay for it, and expect all the costs to be born by somebody else (“rich people”, where “rich” is defined as “Anyone with more money than me”).

          • Plumber says:

            “….and expect all the costs to be born by somebody else (“rich people”, where “rich” is defined as “Anyone with more money than me”).”

             That’s true in my case @Thegnskald, as while they’re some I think just deserve more wealth than me, it’s a short list.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Plumber –

            Yup. Pretty much everyone operates this way; it is a natural outcome of a consumption-oriented culture, particularly one which, like our own, conflates happiness and wealth. People tend to attribute their negative affects to their troubles, and since people adjust consumption to match income, money is a nearly universal trouble.

            Shows like Arrested Development and Bojack Horseman make an invaluable contribution to our culture, in showing that money doesn’t fix misery.

            ETA:

            Forgot a link in the logic: Because people assume their misery is because they don’t have enough money, they assume any less money would lead to even more misery.

      • Plumber says:

        @Thegnskald,

        If I’m parsing your jargon correctly, you’re saying don’t confuse what’s currently called “the left” with the historic left that fought and even gave their lives for laboring people.

        As far as I can tell, when most speak of “the left” today the mean either conservatives or reactionaries in congress who try to either slow down or reverse post Reagan changes who are in opposition to the conservatives or reactionaries in congress who want to slow down or reverse post Roosevelt changes, or the “campus left” which grew out of the “new left” of the 1960’s which enforces largely Pacific coast and north eastern secular collegiate class social mores in opposition to Dixieland and mountain west social mores.

        As far as I know the historic “left” that organized the C.I.O. and supported Henry Wallace’s 1948 Progressive Party Presidential campaign is mostly dead, and the closest equivalent of people still alive that I’ve encountered are those who worked for the U.F.W. in the 1970’s, but they’re not many of them, and they’re pretty old now as well.

        The Sanders movement apes the historic left in rhetoric, but once his supporters are free of their student loan debts I suspect that movement will disappear as well.

        The movement to raise the minimum wage in some cities is the closest thing to the historic “left” left.

        Mostly what people seem to mean by “left” and “right” now are the same cultural folkway divisions detailed in “Albion’s Seed”.

        • Randy M says:

          I call foul. You didn’t know what SJW and twitter mob meant, but you’ve read Albion’s seed? Pshaw.

          (Just poking fun, we had a lengthy conversation about that book here about a year ago.)

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M ,

            Sadly, it’s true.

            My current co-workers are similarly amused that my knowledge of 20th century minutia is combined with my ignorance of things that are relatively common knowledge in the 21st century (long story short: I was an avid reader and “nerd” in my youth, but for most of 1999 to 2012 I worked longed long hours as a new construction plumber, and had a very long commute, so I’m “out of it” and I’m trying to catch up), but in this case, while I’d love to claim that I was hip enough to read “Albion’s Seed” back when it was published in 1989, I actually read it after it was referenced in two books that I had mixed feelings about: “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”, and “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures”, which both mentioned “Albion’s Seed”, which I then read around 2012 (and later noticed is in a lot of other books bibliographies).

            That Scott Alexander reviewed it is one of the reasons that I’m posting here!

        • Thegnskald says:

          Leftism is still alive, it just got… convoluted.

          It is hard to define well, because the specific meaning has shifted so much over time, but the core of it seems to be an ideological opposition to hierarchical power structures. I think this is a fair and useful concept, and salvages the discrepancies between the French revolutionaries and communists.

          Capitalism involves lots of hierarchical power structures. But capitalism is also a cyclical graph, as we have increasingly discovered. Likewise, modern political structures look increasingly like cyclic graphs; power doesn’t flow in a single direction. And it is difficult to say what needs to be changed, when you oppose hierarchies, but the hierarchies you see are part of a larger ecosystem that is chaotic and recursive. I think we are still around, it is just that… well, what do you do about it?

          Some of us go some flavor of anarchist. I think that is the most common flavor of pure leftist left; since the hierarchies are now recursive, just knock all of them down. I regard this as a temporary solution that will likely just reset the complexity of our social structures, where I think the complexity is the only thing making the hierarchies bearable right now.

          We used to go communist, but I think the knowledge gained since the fall of the Soviet Union has informed us that, contrary to dismantling capitalist hierarchies, they just repurposed them as political hierarchies. So communism doesn’t seem very popular anymore, at least among my leftism.

          It is a tough problem. I do wonder how many of us have just gone silent, not pushing any solution until we figure out something that will work.

          • We used to go communist, but I think the knowledge gained since the fall of the Soviet Union has informed us that, contrary to dismantling capitalist hierarchies, they just repurposed them as political hierarchies.

            I’m curious. Is the conclusion “communism was as bad as capitalism” or “communism was even worse than capitalism”?

            To me the latter is obviously true, but your view of the world is enough different from mine to make me wonder whether you agree.

            Also, if you view capitalism as a hierarchical system, where does the customer go in the hierarchy–top, bottom, or somewhere else?

          • Plumber says:

            @Thegnskald,

            My gut feelings about anarchism echoes Bertrand Russell, who in “Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism” wrote on Anarchism:“….The result of this would be that everyone would have to learn how to fight, for fear a well-drilled minority should seize power and establish an old-fashioned oligarchic State….”

            Essentially my guess is that Feudalism is what likely follows anarchy, and as much as we may wish otherwise, for maximum human happiness in the modern world our choices are either Denmark, rural Costa Rica, or Singapore, and you can’t be Amish without the security of living in the United States. 

            That said, of “actually existing socialism” all the reports of North Korea are that it is a hellscape, but those I’ve known who’ve been to Cuba said “It’s not that bad” (but they didn’t move there), and I have had a bunch of co-workers who grew up in the Soviet Union, and the one who left in 1979 said it was “Horrible!”, but the one’s who stayed until it fell in 1991 mostly say “It was better than what came after”.

            AFAICT, Anarchists point to hunter- gatherer cultures as non-hierarchical societies, and Libertarians point to pre 1997 Hong Kong, but the thing about those peoples and places is that the can’t defend themselves against conquest. 

            If Britain had become like William Morris’ “Notes from Nowhere” before the Second World War I’ve little doubt that it would have been conquered. 

            Do I think things can be better than they are?

            I do, and I point to the United States in 1973, or Canada today as examples, but I’m doubtful utopias can defend themselves for long. 

          • Plumber says:

            ” ..I’m curious. Is the conclusion “communism was as bad as capitalism” or “communism was even worse than capitalism”?…”

            @DavidFriedman,

            You didn’t ask me, but I’m going to chime in anyway, and I’m going to resist going to go with a flippant “What’s the difference between starving in a slum, or starving in a gulag?” answer. 

            Unless you’re going with a “bushman of the Kalahari desert” definition of “communism”, they’re few matches for the scale of human misery that happened under Marxist-Leninist regimes, and I’m coming from a perspective that thinks that Marx had some valid points as did the CPUSA in it’s heyday, but honesty demands that I acknowledge that there’s just more blood on the hands of Marxists.

            The only way I can see of evening the scales is to place the crimes of Hitler and King Leopold as belonging to the side of “capitalism” (which I don’t), and even then I’m not sure.

            To cite just two examples, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” led to one of the worst famines in human history, and few equal the Khmer Rouge for savagery in modern times. 

            That said, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.

            The “Welfare State” of mid 20th century North America, and mid 20th century to early 21st century Northern and Western Europe shows that there’s a better way than both unfettered capitalism and Leninist communism.

          • @Plumber:

            It isn’t clear that the welfare state you describe is a stable system in the long term—and it seems to be showing some cracks in Europe already. Arguably, the Scandinavian system works for a while because of the carryover of norms developed before it existed that make going on welfare a shameful failure. As it becomes increasingly clear that one option is a high leisure life with a somewhat but not drastically reduced consumption level, those norms erode, and maintaining the system becomes increasingly costly.

            Also note that one consequence of the welfare state is strong pressure to limit immigration, at least of poor people. The U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century was taking about a million immigrants a year into a population of about a hundred million. Currently we are taking about the same number into a population three times as large–and it is provoking a lot of opposition. Similarly what is happening in Europe.

          • Plumber says:

            “It isn’t clear that the welfare state you describe is a stable system in the long term….”

            @DavidFriedman,

            I fear that you may well be right

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Thegnskald

            but the core of it seems to be an ideological opposition to hierarchical power structures.[…] It is a tough problem. I do wonder how many of us have just gone silent, not pushing any solution until we figure out something that will work.

            You shouldn’t write off non-anarchist and non-libertarian socialists so quickly. I was once an anarchist myself, and came to much of the same conclusions you have reached. I decided that leftism could still be reconciled, not all hope was lost.

            Hierarchy tends to coincide with bad outcomes so often, that for many years I had made the mistake of treating opposition to hierarchy as if it was a core principle of mine. I’ve decided it is not.

            For example, I can say that a parent having authority over a child is good, but a slave owner having authority over a slave is bad. This is because hierarchy is not actually my central axis for determining whether a policy is a net positive for society. If hierarchy can produce good outcomes, through solving coordination problems, utilization of experts, ect, then I’m fine with it. After all, isn’t the will of the democratic majority, imposed upon the minority, just another hierarchy? Even anarcho-communists haven’t found a way to get around that one.

            Upon realization that hierarchy is everywhere and inevitable, my solution was to simply make peace with it. This doesn’t mean that a particular hierarchical structure is necessarily good. In fact, they are often bad. Its just they they are often bad for reasons other than having a hierarchical structure.

            So, upon this resignation, then the questions become: who is going to be in charge? And what sort of policies should they implement? The non-anarchist left has answers.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If hierarchy can produce good outcomes, through solving coordination problems, utilization of experts, ect, then I’m fine with it. After all, isn’t the will of the democratic majority, imposed upon the minority, just another hierarchy?

            Can you name hierarchical structures, other than parent-child or master-slave, where the lower rank is not permitted to leave when they wish, that you consider good in some sense? How do you categorize majority-minority?

            [W]ho is going to be in charge? And what sort of policies should they implement? The non-anarchist left has answers.

            So does the ancap right, incidentally. Part of their contention is that their answers beat the non-anarchists’. And they even have an explanation for why.

            Likewise for the anarcho-communists, I assume. (I’m not quite convinced that they have no way around majority-minority, but I would need to find someone to ask. I might know someone, but it would take a little while, and to be fair, I’m not sure how well thought out his view is.)

          • Guy in TN says:

            Can you name hierarchical structures, other than parent-child or master-slave, where the lower rank is not permitted to leave when they wish, that you consider good in some sense? How do you categorize majority-minority?

            “Not permitted to leave” is a confusing clause to add, since it is a non-essential feature of a hierarchical relationship. Even slaves were often permitted to buy their own freedom, for a steep price. And you can always emigrate from whatever state you live under, unless you live in a place like North Korea. So I’m having trouble thinking of where such a situation exists, where one is not permitted to leave. I suppose prison is a good example. I support the concept of prison, for certain dangerous people.

            Other hierarchical situations that I think are good, include legal property rights, and democratic government.

            How do you categorize majority-minority?

            Do you mean, how do I feel about the minority being democratically ruled by the majority? Its a hierarchy, and its better than the alternative. The option of “no one rules over anyone else” is not possible in a world of scarce resources.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “Not permitted to leave” is a confusing clause to add, since it is a non-essential feature of a hierarchical relationship.

            That’s one of the disagreements you have with libertarians, then, and probably ancoms as well. Permission to leave a long term relationship is absolutely essential. If you can’t, then you’re not free, by definition.

            Moreover, given the way you framed it, there’s now an additional point of weakness: did the individuals enter that hierarchy of their own free will? That entrance is understandable in the case of a child, but much less so in the case of a slave. Maybe this is why one is good to you, and the other bad? Hence my question: whether you think of other hierarchies the same way.

            But even so, this still leaves us with leader-follower relationships where the follower is obligated to obey the leader, even against their will, and their only avenue of exit from that status is (per your description) paying for it, or selling off or leaving behind any non-movable possessions. This is something libertarians and ancoms oppose as unjust. You seem to acknolwedge this, but suggest such relationships will arise anyway. You then suggest they can be made a little less unjust by permitting exit, but for a price. Libertarians and ancoms (probably) think that price is just moving the injustice around. Meanwhile, they each propose other alternatives, such as permitting exit for free, and / or limiting the follower’s obligation in the mean time.

          • Guy in TN says:

            That’s one of the disagreements you have with libertarians, then, and probably ancoms as well. Permission to leave a long term relationship is absolutely essential.

            Wait, I’m using the word “essential” in a different way than you here. What I mean is you have:
            I. The broad category of hierarchies
            a. Hierarchies where you are permitted to leave
            b. Hierarchies where you are not permitted to leave

            So when I was saying that ability to leave is a “non-essential feature of hierarchies”, I meant that you can have hierarchies where you are permitted to leave. In fact, in most hierarchies you are permitted to leave. The state being the classic example.

            Did the individuals enter that hierarchy of their own free will? […] Maybe this is why one is good to you, and the other bad?

            I don’t think its possible for someone to “freely” do anything in the absolute sense, given the natural constraints of life (humans competing for limited resources, need for food and shelter, ect). We enter hierarchies because there’s no physical alternative. I view this as an unavoidable fact of reality, no more unjust than fall turning into winter.

            Meanwhile, they each propose other alternatives, such as permitting exit for free,

            Haven’t we already implemented a system of free-exit, almost entirely? I don’t know anyone who advocates for restricting emigration from their country. Or outlawing being able to quit your job. So except for the cost of passports, and for people in prison, aren’t we already there?

            The catch of course, is that without free-entry, free-exit is a rather meaningless feature. And even then, “free exit/entry” looks a whole lot like just shuffling the hierarchy around. (Would you say that ancaps would be content with the state, so long as it had open borders? I doubt it.)

            You seem to acknolwedge this, but suggest such relationships will arise anyway. You then suggest they can be made a little less unjust by permitting exit, but for a price.

            I didn’t mean to imply that I thought these relationships were necessarily unjust, or that they can be made more just by permitting exit.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Okay then, “essential” in the sense of a thing is only a thing if it has the other thing. In that case, we agree that there exist leader-follower relationships of both types. (I was using “essential” more in the sense of the matter of permissive exit being essential to the question of whether a given hierarchy was just.)

            I agree that every decision is constrained by nature. And if you include people in nature, then nature is the only constraint. But if you define it that way, then it just means that people will classify some decisions as constrained at least partially by people and the rest as constrained by no people at all. So we may as well not talk about nature as all of reality and instead talk about people and other-than-people.

            And in the context of hierarchies, there’s always at least one other person in the equation. And most people – including you – care about the conditions on which some person places another person into follower status. I think you can’t just claim all of those are unavoidable. If you could, then I could handwave any claims you care to make about how those ought to be arranged as similarly unavoidable. (“Stalin happens, man.”)

            Haven’t we already implemented a system of free-exit, almost entirely? I don’t know anyone who advocates for restricting emigration from their country.

            Not according to most libertarians and ancoms. Free emigration isn’t actually free, because you’re not allowed to take all of your property with you, such as your land. Not only that, but while you’re here, the state is authorized to make all sorts of decisions involving your property, including taking it away from you without your consent. I think you’re correct that ancaps would not be content with a state with open borders, and it’s for precisely the reasons I’m talking about here.

            Again, you can exit this – for the price of some or all of your possessions. Libs and ancoms will claim this is unjust on moral grounds, or perhaps just unnecessary on consequentialist grounds.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Guy in TN –

            You “reconciled” it by just deciding hierarchies are okay.

            That is fine, but it stops being “leftism” in the sense I refer to. It is just accepting the ways things are and picking different priorities to focus on. And these priorities might be important in their own right, but they definitely aren’t “Eliminate hierarchical power structures”.

            DavidFriedman –

            Customers are part of what make capitalism a recursive hierarchy and messy. At a system level, the flows of power are effectively inscrutable. I still oppose the bits that are recognizably hierarchical, but I don’t even see an alternative to those – it looks like the alternative to the hierarchical organization might be an eternal Twitter mob.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I think you can’t just claim all of those are unavoidable. If you could, then I could handwave any claims you care to make about how those ought to be arranged as similarly unavoidable.

            How do you plan on avoiding creation of a hierarchy? How do two people, in competition without each other and with irreconcilable interests (i.e., not willing to make a deal), decide who gets to use a scarce resource?

            In the end, someone gets to use it, and someone else doesn’t (a “hierarchy” is created). This part is unavoidable. The part we can debate, the part we have control over, are what the particular structures of this hierarchy will be. Will the resource distribution be determined democratically? (with the majority having authority over the minority?) Or through the authority of the state? Or through the authority of property ownership? The particular mechanism is certainly not set in stone.

            Free emigration isn’t actually free, because you’re not allowed to take all of your property with you, such as your land.

            Then you are defining “free exit” as being able to take something that is not legally yours to take. The state never gave you the legal right to dispose of your property as you wish, to the extent that you could secede from the sovereignty of the state. In common law its fee simple, not allodial title. What you are advocating for is beyond being merely “free”, but “free + makes someone else worse off”, by demanding the state surrender its higher property rights (its sovereignty).

            Again, you can exit this – for the price of some or all of your possessions.

            What? The only thing you can’t take is “your” land, and that’s because you never owned the legal right to do that to begin with. You would be opposed someone who is renting a house “exiting” the relationship with their landlord, and then demanding that they still get to live in the house, right?

            So you can still sell your property title and take the monetary equivalent. All of your actual possessions, your clothes, your money, your car, I’m pretty sure you can move overseas with that. Granted, shipping cars and furniture overseas is expensive, but we can’t really blame the state for that.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Also, if you view capitalism as a hierarchical system, where does the customer go in the hierarchy–top, bottom, or somewhere else?

            In our system, the state is the entity that actually solves disputes over resources, so its the head of the hierarchy. In anarcho-capitalism, property owners are at the top of the hierarchy. You can tell this is the case, because they have exclusionary power over the people who are non-owners of a given property.

            So when they trade, its like two kings from separate nations coming together to make a deal. They are both the heads of their respective hierarchies. How they settle irreconcilable disputes (i.e., where neither of them agree to arbitration) tells you which one is actually on the top.

          • In the end, someone gets to use it, and someone else doesn’t (a “hierarchy” is created).

            That’s an odd definition of hierarchy.

            Consider a simple market society, as libertarians imagine it–whether you believe in the existence of such a society is irrelevant. Everyone owns some stuff, most notably himself. Who gets to use something is determined by who offers the highest bid. That isn’t what I would call a hierarchy, since A outbids B for one thing, B outbids A for another.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Then you are defining “free exit” as being able to take something that is not legally yours to take.

            Only because you are defining “legal” in a way that suits your characterization of my definition of “free exit”. You’re presupposing that the state gets to be the primary arbiter of who owns what land. Or to put it another way, you seem to be asserting that fee simple is the only way to handle land rights.

            But if so, then that’s another way in which you disagree with libertarians and (again, presumably) ancoms. And it’s not a given that you’re making the state worse off by choosing to do something with your land that two other people in the state object to.

            You would be opposed someone who is renting a house “exiting” the relationship with their landlord, and then demanding that they still get to live in the house, right?

            Of course. Because that’s a completely different relationship.

            You seem to be claiming that all land (in the US, say) is held under fee simple. I agree that that would appear to be the case. Libs and ancoms are claiming that it need not remain that way. And again, as long as it is, it isn’t really just, because it didn’t start out as fee simple; rather, the state came in and claimed fee simple without consent.

            (I suppose you could say it had consent by way of constitutional ratification, or strongman intimidation, or any other means by which any government forms, but even if you claim that there exist such establishments which are consensual, any libertarian or ancom is likely to counter that that consent doesn’t extend to people who come of age within it.)

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Who gets to use something is determined by who offers the highest bid.

            This is true only if the current owner agrees to sell it. When people are in mutual cooperation, you can’t see where the hierarchy is, since both people are getting what they want (this applies to both capitalism and the state). Its only when people can’t come to an agreement (e.g., the owner thinks my offering price is too low, or doesn’t want to sell for other reasons) that you can see the hierarchy.

            That’s an odd definition of hierarchy.

            Ownership is one person having authority over another, for a given resource. That is, the owner can control the terms in which other people can use the resource. In contrast, the non-owner cannot control the terms in which the owner can use the resource.

            “One person having control over another” seems like a pretty straightforward definition of hierarchy, no?

            That isn’t what I would call a hierarchy, since A outbids B for one thing, B outbids A for another.

            Would you also say that since states can sell land to each other, that states are not hierarchies? Sometimes France owns the Louisiana Territory, sometimes the U.S. does. And this exchange even takes place on a market! So are states really hierarchies?

          • “One person having control over another” seems like a pretty straightforward definition of hierarchy, no?

            A having control over whether some transactions with B happen and B having control over whether some transactions with A happens isn’t equivalent to A having control over B.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            And again, as long as it is, it isn’t really just, because it didn’t start out as fee simple; rather, the state came in and claimed fee simple without consent.

            Its true that the initial allocation of property was accomplished without the consent of the people who would be excluded from it. They now, without being asked, have to abide by the authority of the state, who unilaterally decided to claim this particular piece of ground as their own.

            The catch, is this isn’t just how state property works: Its how all property works. My ancestors never agreed that a particular pioneer should own a block of land. They were just walking through the wilderness one day, and ran across guys with fences and guns claiming that pieces of land were “theirs”. There was no consultation, no vote, no consent. Ownership has always, ultimately, been enforced at the point of a gun for those who act in non-compliance.

            even if you claim that there exist such establishments which are consensual, any libertarian or ancom is likely to counter that that consent doesn’t extend to people who come of age within it.

            Well, yeah, total agreement with you here. Even if my ancestors did agree to a certain private property arrangement, that doesn’t mean I did. I don’t care that in the 1920s we agreed that X Corporation should own an entire mountain: I think its bad, I’m against it, and I do not consent.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            A having control over whether some transactions with B happen and B having control over whether some transactions with A happens isn’t equivalent to A having control over B.

            Why not? If Person A sets the terms in which Person B can use a given resource, then Person A is attempting to control Person B. How is that not as plain a hierarchy as a king saying “you can only eat if you do my bidding”? What even is a hierarchy, if not the position to control the terms in which other people can interact with pieces of the world?

            Its true that B can always just leave, and try to find some other place to get what he wants. But you can leave your state too. So unless you want to define all states who don’t have North Korean emigration policies as non-hierarchical, “being able to leave” can’t be the distinction.

          • And person B can set the terms on which person A gets to control a different resource. If this is a hierarchy, who is above whom?

            You seem to be simply ignoring this. First you put it in terms of one person controlling another, then you considered only the resource which belonged to A and not the resource that belonged to B.

            Are you saying that A controls B and B controls A? That’s an odd meaning of “control” and equally odd as a description of hierarchy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The question you seem to be interested in, is what about among the property owners? Where is the hierarchy there? Like I said earlier, as long as there is mutual cooperation between the groups, then the hierarchy is invisible. If all parties are getting along and in agreement, then hierarchy is unnecessary. Its what happens when there are irreconcilable disputes (i.e., no one agrees to arbitration) that the hierarchy manifests itself.

            (This applies to states too. If everyone is willing to follow the law anyway, regardless of state enforcement, then the enforcement arm of the state appears invisible. This appearance is deceiving.)

            Your same line of questioning can be applied to states. Is there really a hierarchy between the US, Korea, Yemen, ect? As long as they are in cooperation, they superficially look like equal players in a field. Its when they stop cooperating, which manifests itself in war, then one party “attempts to control another” quite explicitly, in this hierarchy dispute.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Are you saying that A controls B and B controls A? That’s an odd meaning of “control” and equally odd as a description of hierarchy.

            For a disputed resource, A attempts to control B, and B attempts to control A, and the winner (the person who actually controls the other successfully) becomes the top of the hierarchy.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Most often, we’re talking about a potential trade of money for goods/services. Could also be a barter of goods/services for goods/services. Suppose A has an apple and B has a dollar. A would like B’s dollar and B would like A’s apple. If they can come to an agreement, they trade. If A won’t give up the apple for less than $0.75, but B won’t give up more than $0.70 for the apple, then they don’t trade. The apple and the dollar are both disputed resources. Each of A and B is able to “control” the other, in that they can prevent the other from acquiring their property in the absence of a mutually-agreed trade.

            Who “actually controls” the other in the case that they trade? Who “actually controls” the other in the case that they don’t trade?

          • Guy in TN says:

            The apple and the dollar are both disputed resources. Each of A and B is able to “control” the other, in that they can prevent the other from acquiring their property in the absence of a mutually-agreed trade.

            Yes, they would each be the head of their hierarchy in their respective property domain, assuming its a stateless system.

            If having multiple hierarchies seems like a weird/silly way of framing it, consider this: Its also how states work. The members of the US government are at the top of the hierarchy within the United States, and the members of the Mexican government are at the top of the hierarchy within Mexico. If a congressman from the US crosses the Mexico border, he will find that he is no longer at the top of the hierarchy. Having multiple hierarchies spread across different geographic areas is the normal way hierarchies work.

            Who “actually controls” the other in the case that they trade? Who “actually controls” the other in the case that they don’t trade?

            Agreeing not to trade is still cooperation. As long as people are in mutual agreement, then the hierarchy isn’t visible. It’s like agreeing to follow the law of a state: no police are needed.

            My take, is that due to scarce resources and conflicting personal goals, complete mutual agreement isn’t possible with a handful of humans in a room, let alone with all of humanity. Until we have enough resources for everyone to fulfill all of their possible desires, irreconcilable conflicts (and therefore, a resulting hierarchy) is inevitable.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Multiple hierarchies seems like a silly way to frame it, not because it seems impossible to have multiple hierarchies, but because it’s far less sensible to try to impose weird one-off ‘hierarchies’ when we have a perfectly good concept that already describes it – rights.

            Even the lowliest of the low, possessing property rights in their two mites, are considered to be atop the hierarchy of the whole world ‘in the domain respective to those two mites’. But it doesn’t stop here. It extends to all other personal rights. The lowliest of the low has a right to a jury trial? You’re atop the entire state in a hierarchy ‘in the domain respective to the method by which a criminal conviction may be obtained’. The most oppressed of the oppressed has a right to not be discriminated against in the public market? You’re atop all businesses in a hierarchy…

            Rather than having these extremely abstruse hierarchies, which seem entirely disconnected from any reason why anyone talks about hierarchies in the first place, it’s vastly more simple and sensible to use the standard verbiage of rights.

            irreconcilable conflicts (and therefore, a resulting hierarchy) is inevitable

            Here also, it seems vastly more simple to say that irreconcilable conflicts result in winners and losers in particular conflicts. That doesn’t really imply a ‘hierarchy’ in any meaningful sense of the world (which I would at least ascribe some persistence to). It just implies conflict and result.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Rather than having these extremely abstruse hierarchies, which seem entirely disconnected from any reason why anyone talks about hierarchies in the first place, it’s vastly more simple and sensible to use the standard verbiage of rights.

            It’s a good observation. I’m okay with there not being any real difference between a “hierarchy” and a “right”. The “hierarchy” is often just the “right” being manifested. (A king professing the “right to rule” for instance).

            The analysis of hierarchies, and rights, only gets strange when we have to think about ancap-world. In our world, where states are at the top of basically every hierarchy and have the legal right to make the law of the land, the setup is pretty clear. My hope is that ancaps will understand that by taking away the state, you don’t make the idea of the “highest sovereign” go away, you just change who that person is. The rights, and the resulting hierarchy just becomes decentralized.

            That doesn’t really imply a ‘hierarchy’ in any meaningful sense of the world (which I would at least ascribe some persistence to). It just implies conflict and result.

            Although I can’t speak for them, I would say the left-anarchist objection to the hierarchy (or, as you might say, the forceful resolution of human conflict) is the relationship of one human exerting dominance over the other. Whether this relationship is a one-off thing, or persistent, doesn’t make that much of a difference to them (I can imagine the argument, “it’s wrong to kidnap people, even just once, and even if they could kidnap you back at a later date”).

            Since property ownership has a good level of persistence, would you agree it qualifies as a hierarchy?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            In our world, where states are at the top of basically every hierarchy

            I was beginning to wonder whether you believed there existed “omni-sovereigns”, when you began to suggest large numbers of hierarchies each with their own top…

            My hope is that ancaps will understand that by taking away the state, you don’t make the idea of the “highest sovereign” go away, you just change who that person is. The rights, and the resulting hierarchy just becomes decentralized.

            Well… there you go. I think you’ve suggested one of the ancaps’ ways out of that problem, possibly without realizing it. The ancaps agree that, for any domain, there will exist at least one hierarchy in your sense of the term, and there would exist some entity at its top. The key is that there would likely be more than one, because no one entity will get to strongarm all of the rest. There will likely be no “highest sovereign”. You say “the resulting hierarchy just becomes decentralized”; ancaps say “yes; that’s why we’ll be better off”.

            The ancoms probably say that, too. (They might further insist that there would be no hierarchies, but I don’t know.)

            I would say the left-anarchist objection to hierarchy is the relationship of one human exerting forceful dominance over the other. Whether this relationship is a one-off thing, or persistent, doesn’t make that much of a difference (I can imagine the argument, “it’s wrong to kidnap people, even just once, and even if you could kidnap them back at a later date”).

            Whereas there are ancaps who would say “it’s wrong to kidnap people, even if they could be freed later, because their individual agency has been limited by force for that interval” but “in some sense, ‘wrong’ has little to do with it, since we recognize that it might happen anyway, and so we can expect rights enforcement agencies to appear in order to address this possibility”.

            Side note: when you say “forceful dominance”, do you mean just threat of physical violence, or are you also including, say, a supplier threatening to embargo whatever they’re supplying (particularly high-value things like food or lifesaving drugs)?

            Since property ownership has a good level of persistence, would you agree it qualifies as a hierarchy?

            I suppose you could look at it that way. Although, again, it would be a very dispersed one. Everyone owns some property. In the limit, they own their bodies and brains, which turn out to be among the most valuable things in the observable universe.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I have hazy versus clear-and-complete thoughts concerning what all I think is buried in the term ‘hierarchy’. I think some sense of persistence is necessary, but not sufficient, and I don’t think property rights have the extra stuff that gets you to sufficiency. Traditional examples of hierarchy are things like the king/subjects, boss/employee, parent/child, teacher/student, commander/soldier. These are persistent relationships that have more content than just a negative power. Property rights, like a right to a jury trial are more like a negative power. “You can’t just take my property.” “You can’t just convict me of a crime without the verdict of a jury of my peers.” It’s a one-off that is attached to a specific thing that primarily affects the person who possesses the right. The canonical examples are all vastly more plenary and allow positive commands. The boss tells the employee, “You’re going to work on X.” The commander tells the soldier, “You’re going to rush this hill.” The parent tells the child, “You’re going to brush your teeth.” There’s a breadth of control to instruct those below to take positive actions that go beyond one particular relation between the two individuals, not simply, “You’re not allowed to do this one particular thing to me.”

            In any event, even if I don’t have a clear-and-complete definition, I think most people would agree with the canonical examples and would also agree that things like “property rights” and “right to a jury trial”, if describable at all as a ‘hierarchy’, are extremely non-central examples. Far enough non-central that my intuition is that we shouldn’t use the word for them at all (for all the reasons Scott has given before about the problems with non-central labeling; it just smuggles in too much baggage).

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            You say “the resulting hierarchy just becomes decentralized”; ancaps say “yes; that’s why we’ll be better off”.

            While anarcho-capitalism reduces the geographic scope of the hierarchy to the private property level (which admittedly, are usually smaller than states, although not always), one can imagine an even more dispersed hierarchy than anarcho-capitalism. Below the property level is the personal level, which gives you hierarchical control over only you+things that you are holding.

            So for ancap, you can initiate violence over:
            you+ things you are physically holding + things you own

            And below that, its:
            you+ things you are physically holding

            This is the smallest level, the most dispersed. With ancap, the hierarchy could span over an area at least the size of small states, but with the tier below, the hierarchy couldn’t spread past someone’s literal arm’s-length.

            Side note: when you say “forceful dominance”, do you mean just threat of physical violence, or are you also including, say, a supplier threatening to embargo whatever they’re supplying (particularly high-value things like food or lifesaving drugs)?

            Threat of physical violence. It’s unavoidable, and no system can overcome it. Property absolutely requires it, if it is to have any meaning at all.

            A side note of my own: I don’t think there’s much difference between directly killing someone, and indirectly killing someone by preventing them from accessing things they need to survive. Stabbing someone, destroying a diabetic’s insulin pump, and preventing someone from accessing life-saving medicine, differ only in the number of steps in the process.

            In the limit, they own their bodies and brains, which turn out to be among the most valuable things in the observable universe.

            If owning only your body is the most dispersed, then how does this imply support for capitalism, which allows ownership of a lot more? It seems like you are willing to sacrifice maximum-dispersal for some other cause?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Controls Freak

            I think most people would agree with the canonical examples and would also agree that things like “property rights” and “right to a jury trial”, if describable at all as a ‘hierarchy’, are extremely non-central examples.

            This is probably because in our system, “property” is just an allocation granted by the state, with the state being the actual source of hierarchical power. Since the authority of property that most people experience has been tempered by state and democratic control, people haven’t developed hierarchical associations with it.

            But when we are talking about unimplemented hypothetical systems such as anarcho-capitalism, we can’t rely too heavy on popular connotations of words, since the meaning of “property” for anarcho-capitalists is rather different than its meaning in the U.S. legal system. Ancap “property” is itself non-central to “property” as most people understand it.

            My usage of the word “hierarchy” directed towards ancaps is: If that’s what you, in a non-central way, are going to call “property”, then it is hierarchical, in the central-way that people understand a king’s sovereignty to be”

  8. DragonMilk says:

    *Culture War hype* What are the top three things that irk you about:
    A) Religion in general
    B) Christianity
    C) Islam

    Trying to see how much of opposition is due to hypocrisy of practitioners, what the fundamental teachings are, or disagreement with its function, etc.

    *Note: I’m a Christian

    • onyomi says:

      Religion mostly doesn’t irk me, but I’m also kind of socially conservative. I remember religion irked me more when I was more socially liberal, and I think it was ultimately just because religion in general, as mentioned in the comment thread to the Islam collaboration, seems to act as a conservative force. If you want to put the brakes on social change, religion tends to be your intentional or unintentional ally, whereas if you want to hit the gas, it tends to get in one’s way.

      To the extent religion continues to irk me it is largely anywhere it seems to stand in the way of technology or science, or when it acts as a talisman against critical thinking (though it’s hardly the only thought system that can do so, and I’d rather people be brainwashed by e.g. Christianity than e.g. Marxism).

      Put another way, I think most opposition to religion (like most opposition to things in general?) isn’t actually about disagreement with the principles or believers’ failure to live up to them; it’s about the perceived social effects of belief in those principles.

      • DragonMilk says:

        How much of the view that

        To the extent religion continues to irk me it is largely anywhere it seems to stand in the way of technology or science, or when it acts as a talisman against critical thinking

        is a reference to the current US manifestation of “fundamentalists” who push literal creationism?

        To me, there’s nothing in the religion that explicitly is anti-tech/science, and examples through history are largely products of self-interest and religion being used to serve self-interest. (All the following are personal impressions) For instance, it was monks who preserved classic texts in the dark ages. Columbus was told he was underestimating the distance to India the other way, not that the world was flat, as the church knew since Ptolemy that the world was round. Galileo was an asshole in general that irked the church so they were looking for a reason to bring him low.

        Understandable that long-standing religions are almost tautologically conservative socially – if there is a belief that certain practices are encouraged by God, and God doesn’t change His mind, then deviation will be opposed. But then that gets to the heart of whether individual desire and self-interest is a more reliable way to live a fulfilling life than following God will, which requires a set of beliefs in God first, and His will second.

        • onyomi says:

          Re. monks preserving classic texts: I think there used to be a lot more overlap between what we’d now call “academia” and “the church” (and not only with Christianity). That is, if you were a smart person who liked reading all day to try to understand how the world works you used to become a monk but now you go to grad school (and I’d probably have some of the same problems with e.g. the Catholic church if I lived in medieval Europe as I do now with academia).

          This makes perfect sense if, as some early anthropologists suggested, religion is a kind of proto-science. Thus, religion’s social function today may not be analogous to its function in times past.

      • Deiseach says:

        To the extent religion continues to irk me it is largely anywhere it seems to stand in the way of technology or science

        I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing if there are some barriers in the way of technology/science, and if religion is not there, what will replace it? Because pure unfettered “I’m just going where the research takes me, science is neither moral nor immoral, poison gas doesn’t kill people, people do” doctrinairism is just as bad as any other unchecked force running in society, and I think we do need something to go “so hang on a minute, yeah you’ve got some lovely new poison gas there, great bit of chemical research, but who’s going to use it? or decide if it gets used? and used on whom?”

      • ana53294 says:

        To the extent religion continues to irk me it is largely anywhere it seems to stand in the way of technology or science

        Except for Young Earth Creationists (denying Geology and the Big Bang Theory) and Evolution denial, most of the other science denials I can think of are by groups that are not religious. And religious groups seem to limit themselves to trying to modify the school curriculum.

        Anti-vaxxers, anti-GMO, AGW deniers, and most of the other anti-science activities, are organized by non-religious groups. And they don’t limit themselves to trying to change school curriculum, but they do try to change policies based on their views.

        • Thegnskald says:

          It helps if you stop seeing people as “anti-science”. They aren’t against science, they are against specific things specific people say are based in science, but which they (the people disagreeing) lack the ability to verify or refute.

          Science-as-religion, in the “Take the word of your elders” sense, isn’t exactly an improvement over religion-as-religion. And those who question knowledge are a necessary precondition of creating new knowledge.

          May they always trouble us. Because if they ever cease to, science has died.

          • I agree.

            Everyone gets his opinions on most subjects at second hand, from sources of information he trusts. The fact that someone gets his information from an authority that claims the mantle of science doesn’t make him pro-science or those who disagree anti-science.

            Quite often, those who claim the mantle of science are providing false information. I linked above to a story on a BBC briefing note sent to its staff which includes in “common misconceptions” the claim that climate change has happened before, a claim that is quite obviously true.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Yep I agree also on science. It seems the common trope about science is that it is a bunch of facts. If you questions these facts, you are anti-science.

            In my view, science is almost opposite that. Science is a way of thinking about the world. Reality is about what the evidence says it is. This evidence is always changing, so one’s view of reality should also be changing. Of course it does make sense that this view will change slowly, since science has built up an edifice of theories over centuries now, so major revisions should be rare. But we should honoring anyone looking for new revisions, if also skeptical of course.

    • theredsheep says:

      I’m guessing this is addressed primarily to atheists/agnostics/skeptics, then. AKA Not Me. But for fun:

      A. It’s ill-defined as a category, I guess?
      B. It’s become fragmented, and a lot of the people who identify as it are Christian only in a cultural sense or aren’t familiar with doctrine beyond the most superficial level.
      C. It did most of the work of extirpating Orthodoxy across most of its historic heartland, and continues to do so today. Or rather some Muslims did/do. I have theological objections as well, which is why I’m not a Muslim, but the violence bit is obviously more pressing.

    • Plumber says:

      “Culture War hype* What are the top three things that irk you about:
      A) Religion in general”
       

      @DragonMilk,

      I’ve grown up pretty secular, and most of my interactions with religious people have been positive, I think my main problem with religion is that the creeds don’t click with me emotionally and intellectually.

      “B) Christianity

      Most of the religious people I’ve known have been Christian, and for the most part I have a positive impression of them, a bit more with those that emphasize “Good works” than “Personal salvation”, but generally good either way, the “Prosperity gospel” types repel me though. 

      “C) Islam”

      I’ve only worked closely with two Muslims, one (from Trinidad) was a jerk, the other (from Iran) is a great guy, so I have too small of a sample size.

      “Trying to see how much of opposition is due to hypocrisy of practitioners, what the fundamental teachings are, or disagreement with its function, etc.

      *Note: I’m a Christian”

      You didn’t mention them (and since they’re not many worldwide I’m not suprised), but I have had more interactions with practicing Jews than with Muslims, which have been mostly positive as well, the same with Buddhists, the few Neo-pagans I’ve known, however, mostly annoyed me but that’s only about six people.

      I suspect that my sense of most of my interactions with religious people being positive is simply do to my having positive enough interactions with them is what led me to know them well enough to find out that they were religious in the first place, throwing my sample off, but I don’t know for sure, and as I have no plans of asking jerks if they’re religious I’m unlikely to find out.

      As far as the idea of religion on it’s own, while the creeds don’t make sense to me, community and tradition have a lot of appeal, and if my wife wanted to I could easily see myself going to the nearby Catholic or Episcopalian services, but going further or with only a few other worshippers doesn’t have much appeal.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Realized maybe it’d be helpful to answer A, B, C myself:

      A) Sanctimony – to me religion in general is about laying out principles to lead a better life, but this easily turns into looking down on those who do not adhere to the principles you’re following. Eventually, ritual and tradition are done so much that the spirit of why certain things are practiced are forgotten. Finally, religion can be used as a flag to rally around to persecute out-tribes.

      B) In the US, I think it’s regrettable that a lot of ministers and ‘leaders’ have aligned themselves with the Republican Party and its positions, like foreign policy hawkishness (along with bloated national defense budget), disdain and lack of engagement on environmental issues (like climate change), and anti-immigration stances (misinformation is spread on refugee policy, though I am sympathetic to enforcing existing laws). Christianity has been so dominant since its inception that in developed nations it has lost its roots, which is growth among the poor and persecuted due to its central message and been turned to a cultural rather than personal alignment. The divisions within the church have had regrettable sects emerge from prosperity preachers to Westboro screamers.

      C) In speaking with Muslim friends, I have the impression that Muslims on the one hand find it blasphemous to even consider a personal relationship with God, but on the other want to transcend their human impulses in a sense. For instance, in the book of Job, it is noted that he did not sin against God by cursing him even though he was in great suffering and a lot of the “bad things happen to good people” text is him wishing he were never born and complaining and the like. On the other hand, my Muslim friend says Islam teaches that Job is an example of someone who never complained in suffering, which seems like brainwashing and denial of circumstance. The Christian stance would be that if people were plants, those with deep roots may be subject to seasons but in hardship draw on their roots rather than react the same to a drought as a monsoon. Finally, the penalty for apostasy is death within Islam.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Religion in general: I actually don’t think about it at all. It’s hard for me to picture “religion in general” because there are so many different religions and religious cultures.

      Christianity: Two parts. One is that American Christianity seems like Cafeteria Christianity. And IMO you don’t have much of a religious belief system if it’s just a cafeteria religion. But that doesn’t bother me that much. What bothers me are when the Cafeteria Christians (read in-laws) try to shame me or others for not participating in the trappings of their religion when they have no grasp of the doctrine of their religion, don’t follow it, or pick and choose what they want to follow. For instance, my Catholic Mother-in-Law who is supremely religiously conservative, was married at 21, and mysteriously had no kids until she was 30, both she and her husband were finished with their graduate educations, and suddenly had 5 kids. I don’t need to be lectured about the Catholic Faith: Pretty sure you have a sin or two there.

      Islam: You don’t drink and you don’t eat bacon. And you have to eat zabiha. That’s all cool. But when our workplace makes a work event and you complain about the food? Sorry, we’re giving you SOME accomodation, but we can’t just rework the entire thing to fit your needs. (Note, most Muslim co-workers don’t complain, just a few more vociferous ones).

      Also, the community is insular. So my friends from high school and college vanished into Muslim-only communities once they graduated.

    • Randy M says:

      What are the top three things that irk you about:
      A) Religion in general
      1. Conceptually, it is an ill-defined category with very fuzzy boundaries where it shades into ideology or just worldview.
      2. It is a very broad term making the category somewhat incoherent, as when discussing religious effects we are conflating Islam, Christianity, Budhism, Hinduism, Scientology, and sometimes those three people who hang out at the Farmer’s market and trade crystals, and these have very very little in common other than believing in some things that aren’t covered in (and perhaps contradict what is in) a couple hard science textbooks and having a loose organizational structure.
      3. When it is used to stifle independent thought. I don’t think the grand truths of the universe will necessarily be always comprehensible to the average (or even exceptional) human mind, but “stop asking questions” is a terrible attitude.

      B) Christianity
      1. Having to choose between an obviously fallible hierarchy who claim absolute and eternally reaching authority without scriptural support on the one hand and a multitude of unaccountable off-shoots, many of whom also claim to be sole truth bearer on the other.
      2. When people elevate aesthetic or cultural preferences, especially to the point of schism.
      3. Sprinklers. When people come to the scripture to validate preconceptions rather than be informed by truth.
      There’s obviously lots of other problems, often more serious, among the church, but these are either not necessarily related to Christianity or even religion, or else understandable failings of trying to balance competing goals, that make these less applicable or less irksome.

      C) Islam
      1.It’s expansion by conquest, which is probably a result of
      2. Elevating a flawed man to exemplar.
      3. Tie between the people who say “You can’t understand the Koran unless you speak Arabic” (Possibly true in fine details, nonsense in broad strokes) and, probably consequently of this, the people who memorize large portions of the Koran in Arabic–without speaking Arabic.

    • ana53294 says:

      B) Christianity

      I cannot think of anything in particular that I find annoying about Christianity in general, and most of my interactions with Christianity happen to be with Catholics or with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      Jehovah’s Witnesses are really annoying because of their proselytizing activity. If you ever see a guy in a suit walking in a really rural area in the middle of Spanish summer (and they are wearing the jacket and the tie), you can guess with 95 % accuracy they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They go and knock around on everybody’s doors, and try to talk to you about Jesus for hours. It is really hard to kick them out if you so much as look at them.

      My major grudge against the Catholic Church is their support for Franco’s regime, and the fact that they haven’t acknowledged, to this day, that it was wrong. Also, they try to meddle into politics a bit too much, and the Spanish bishops are some of the most conservative in the church (Rouco Varela is a prominent member of the conservative faction).

      C) Islam

      I find practicing Muslims annoying in the same way I find vegans annoying, and I avoid social interactions with them, because social interactions usually involve food and drinks, and the kind of limitations that places on you are burdensome.

      The other thing I find bothersome is when they pray in public places. One girl in my office would pray in the office, lay down a rug, and pray publicly. Everybody who was working or chatting felt weird about it, and it felt really uncomfortable.

    • dophile says:

      A) It’s generally, anti-factual, poisonous, and very us-vs-them that serves as one more thing to divide all of us. It prevents progress when religious people feel that science is encroaching on their domain. I put a lot of stock in the saying that “For good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
      B) A), plus the grip it has on US politics.
      C) A), plus the jihad stuff.

    • Well... says:

      I’m not sure how to answer (A). Religion doesn’t really irk me. I am irked when non-religious things get treated like religions, though. For instance: sports fandom. How is that not idol worship?

      B1) Replacement theology.
      B2) God as therapist, which irks me even more than God as wish-granting genie.
      B3) Mickey Mouse Bible study classes that ask you to reflect on how a (poorly translated) verse makes you feel rather than delving into what the verse really means.
      Bonus: B4) Contemporary Christian music.
      Double bonus: B5) Idol worship and pagan compromises.

      C1) They’re doing ancient Near East religion better (more faithfully) than we Judeo-Christians are. I guess that’s not a point against Islam, though.
      C2) Dubious claims of Ibrahimism, and about worshiping the same God as Judeo-Christians.
      C3) Too many Muslim guys named Mohammed (or some variation).

      *Note: I’m a Karaite Jew. And not a very good one.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      As I discussed in a previous thread, the worst thing about religion is the belief that faith is a good thing. I think that faith is a necessary evil. No one can take the time and effort to verify the truth of every aspect of their lives, but it is a good thing to do such verification to the extent one can. Those religions that treat faith as a positive good cater to the irrational in all of us.

      • Well... says:

        I used to see it that way but now see it differently. Faith is something humans are kind of prone to do, and religion serves as a handy channel for faith, one that is social and practical and enriching.

        The verification process can still be applied to faith in the context of religion, by the way, and there it can either be introspective (which is good because a lot of people might not otherwise have a structure around which to introspect, and thus flounder at it) or else it can lead people on a kind of scholarly journey into the meaning of very difficult-to-understand texts, which if done right can help develop the mind.

    • WashedOut says:

      Religion in General
      1. Unwillingness to admit that one’s belief system is largely a result of the time and place of one’s birth, making each religion’s claim to truth seem purely incidental.
      2. Easily used to justify conflict, but not commensurately easy to talk someone down from their position if they believe they are doing God’s work
      3. Encroachment into the state

      Christianity
      1. Attitudes toward sexuality and the tendency for its repression to result in worse outcomes than if it were freely explored
      2. Christian Rock music
      3. ‘Papal Infallibility’

      Islam
      1. Martyrdom and Jihad
      2. Attitudes toward women and women’s rights (where the fuck has feminism been on this?)
      3. Endless justifications for barbaric intolerance of outsiders

      • Deiseach says:

        3. ‘Papal Infallibility’

        Oi Martin Luther, shouldn’t you be nailing some papers to a church door somewhere? 😀

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Bishop Sawyer tricked me into nailing each thesis up individually! Now he has a free fence!”

          • Deiseach says:

            I can sympathise with the Christian Rock thing, as I think I’m one of the few Catholics who is “meh” about John Michael Talbot (my sister loves his stuff, I’m more “gimme real monks, real Latin or other liturgical language from sister traditions, and real thousand year old chant or nothing, and by ‘nothing’ I mean ‘deeply suspicious of this new-fangled polyphony fad’*”).

            *Okay, you got me, I will make exceptions for things like Allegri’s Miserere and Tallis’ Spem in Alium and Pärt’s pretty much anything 🙂

            EDIT: Okay, while I’m throwing in musical recommendations, Pur ti miro from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppaea (exquisite vocal production, have no idea why they decided to give Nero makeup to make him look like one of the Addams Family unless they really thought we don’t know Nero is the Crazy Nutcase Hoo Boy This Guy You Wouldn’t Believe What He’s Done Emperor).

            EDIT EDIT: In case you’re going “But Deiseach, isn’t that Caligula?” no, Caligula was the “Wow, You Thought Nero Was Bad? Wait Till You Get A Load Of This! Emperor”. And of course both of them are the “Making Creepy Uncle Tiberius Look Good By Comparison” Emperors.

          • Plumber says:

            “Bishop Sawyer”.

            That cracked me up, thanks @Le Maistre Chat!

      • Nick says:

        2. Christian Rock music

        Point. But if you think Christian rock is bad, try listening to southern gospel.

        • dodrian says:

          Point. But if you think Christian rock is bad, try listening to southern gospel.

          When I saw Dragonmilk’s post yesterday I didn’t expect comments insulting my musical tastes to be the most triggering responses for me!

          • Nick says:

            Haha. Please understand that at my current workplace I get an at-least-weekly dose of both Christian rock and southern gospel quartets, so it’s a kind of social allergy for me.

          • Randy M says:

            I want to know if I have bad taste (probably, but it’s mine, confound it!); please list a couple bad Christian Rock groups and a couple good/least bad ones.

          • dodrian says:

            My tastes are admittedly a bit old, but I figure “I listed to it as a teenager and am still willing to listen to it unironically” is a good enough test for evaluating music, I’d recommend David Crowder Band, Third Day and Jars of Clay. The first has since dropped the band and pivoted into “Folktronica” (still good though), the latter two have sadly recently disbanded.
            If I can cheat and include crossover bands, Needtobreathe is current and excellent, and I think Switchfoot are still together.

            I won’t dive into YouTube to find anyone bad, but MercyMe gets an honorable mention for being simultaneously good, bad, and so unbelievably bad it’s embarrassingly catchy.

            I do sympathise with Nick’s being forced to listen music (I’m guessing it’s the radio?), there is plenty of bad stuff out there.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay then, at least I have company. Third Day is my favorite group to sing along to, and I used to like Jars of Clay, too.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Where has feminism been? Feminism has been blooming throughout the female Muslim world, leading women to resist and protest across any number of regimes and cultures and sects? Trivial to Google dozens of such instances. The recent last few decades when feminism started spreading to the region and inspiring direct action have been by far the most empowering for female voices and preferences in the history of Islamic governance, even if they do not meet Western standards. It’s been a huge net positive

        • WashedOut says:

          I was referring to the reluctance on the part of western feminists to criticize Islam due to “Islamophobia”. I agree there seems to have been an increase in critical voices from within the Muslim world.

      • dodrian says:

        2. Christian Rock music

        There are many things I have against your other points but you can pry my David Crowder Band CDs from my cold, dead hands!!!

    • engleberg says:

      OT on a personal note- are you named after Dragon Milk beer? Good stuff.

    • fion says:

      A) i) That they’ve not all agreed
      ii) Inherent conservatism
      iii) Tendency to give rise to conflict when encountering other religions

      B) i) The large amount of influence it has in otherwise forward-thinking countries
      ii) Correlation with right-wing-ness and lack of poor-helping-ness and neighbour-loving
      iii) An apparent fear of young people having and learning about sexual relationships

      C) i) Treatment of women
      ii) Intolerance of homosexuality
      iii) The relative absence of a moderate tradition

      To expand on A) i), I am an atheist, but I’m trying reasonably hard to find God. I pray regularly, even although it feels like I’m talking to myself. If God exists, then having a relationship with Him is the most important thing imaginable, but it really seems like He doesn’t. And it doesn’t help that all the religions give conflicting advice about how to find, serve and interact with God, sometimes even giving self-contradictory advice. This makes it look even more like these religions are all just a bunch of humans and their traditions and superstitions and that there’s nothing really there. Which, if God exists, is incredibly tragic, because people like me are being driven from Him by the squabbling of His followers.

      To expand on A) ii), I don’t mean “conservative” in the sense it’s usually used, in terms of the political spectrum. I’m talking about resisting change. Modern religions feel like social institutions designed to operate in a different time to the present. To be fair, they do slowly change to meet new circumstances (for example, they tend to accept scientific progress these days, even when it contradicts their doctrines about the way the world is physically), but they never seem to drive that change. They always seem to lag behind. I know there are good arguments in favour of conservatism in this sense as a moderating force stopping us from going off too wildly, so maybe religion dragging its feet on social progress is a feature rather than a bug, but it still irks me, especially when I think of all the religious gay teenagers whose communities haven’t really kept up with broader societal progression.

      To expand on C) iii), I’m not sure if I’m right about this, but from talking to Muslims and ex-Muslims who live in the UK, I get the impression that Christianity has much more of a “Believe in God and be kind to each other, but it doesn’t really matter if you go to church every week or have sex before marriage or lie from time to time” tradition than Islam, and that Islam is much more “all or nothing”. This is a problem because it means as the world gets more liberal, technological and democratic, Islam tends to give rise to conflict with that progression, and you get strong reactionary elements which are sometimes either violent or violently suppressed. Whereas Christianity seems to just gradually forfeit its old dogmas as they become incompatible with modern society. This means that Christianity can coexist with an increasingly liberal world without violent repercussions. (Not quite sure if I’ve got the chicken and the egg the right way around here…)

      I could expand on the others, but I think they’re more self-explanatory.

      • DragonMilk says:

        On A) i), I think of religion as related to philosophy – each makes a set of claims of how the world really is and what it takes to live a fulfilling life, how to deal with suffering and injustice, and how to treat friends and enemies.

        Just as philosophies have conflicting views, there’s no reason to assume that religions would come to an agreement, in fact your mention of having a (personal, I assume) relationship with God is from the Christian tradition – Jews and Muslims believe that the relationship is more akin to a serf to a king, while Christians believe that king is also a friend and brother. Of course, all this is meaningless and rather delusional if it’s not actually true.

        Regarding finding God, how have you been approaching it beyond prayer? Have you been reading “about” religion or have you listened to sermons from the practitioners? If the former, I’d recommend the latter, as it’s quite easy to hear straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak via YouTube in the digital age. That way there’s no extra layer of interpretation when you hear directly what’s being preached to followers.

        Regarding change, I am not of the view that change is inherently good (and you may say, ha! conservatism). I think it’s more a matter of what sorts of changes allow humans to flourish and achieve the most fulfillment in their lives. And if one is religious, and has a view that God knows best, then that person may defer to what they interpret God’s will to be. Now that in itself is fraught with issues and prone to abuse – in positions of power, people may decree what they deem God’s will to be. But if God actually exists and he does have a will, then those who earnestly seek it are not resisting change to be difficult or fulfill a personal agenda, they veer toward that moderating force stopping people from going off too wildly.

        Anyway, ultimately it seems to me if you’re praying, you should also try exploring and assessing what you find to be true by listening to sermons. The link I posted is from my church which was started by a guy who moved to New York City in the late 80s and retired from preaching last year, but has hundreds of his sermons posted online. I imagine this goes for other religions as well.

        Hope this helps

        • fion says:

          Thanks for your reply.

          The difference between religions and philosophies is that religions are about an actual being. If that being exists, then it is the way it is and we should worship it the right way. So religions do teach us different ways of living a fulfilling life and interacting with our fellow humans, but these teachings are dictated by God. Surely that means there are right ones and wrong ones, and not just “different philosophies work for different people”?

          Regarding the relationship with God, I tried to remain vague on that point and I did use the word “serve” at one point. If it is true that God is a king and I am a serf, then my relationship with Him will be me throwing myself at His feet and serving Him as best as I can. If it is true that God is a friend and brother, then my relationship with Him will be different. The point still stands that the most important thing in my life should be that relationship, and getting it right. But I’ve got some Wise Old Men and Old Books telling me that God is my king and other Wise Old Men and Old Books telling me God is my friend. And I can’t navigate that. What tools would I use? Faith? I haven’t learned it yet and so right now it’s symmetrical. Rationality? My best attempt at that leads me to believe God is a fiction.

          Your advice about listening to preachers is probably a good one. I have had discussions with religious friends, but I know that’s not quite the same thing. And I attended church every week for a couple of years because I sang in the choir. But that was before I started taking God particularly seriously, so perhaps I was less receptive to it.

          However, if I am to take your advice, that still leaves me with a problem: which sermons do I listen to? I can’t realistically go through all major religious denominations and find a representative sample of the sermons to listen to. Even if I did, what basis would I use to “choose” which one was right?

          I’d also be worried that I’ll be biased in favour of religions whose teachings are similar to accepted wisdom of the society I’ve been brought up in. Probably something like Anglicanism. But the fact that I happened to be born in the same country in which, hundreds of years previously, Henry VIII invented a new religion for political reasons does not make it more likely that Anglicans interpret God correctly!

          I will listen to the sermon you linked to, and if I like it perhaps I’ll listen to more, but I don’t see a good solution to the problems I described above.

          Oh, and I’m not of the opinion that all change is inherently good either. But I think religion resists change whether the change is good or bad.

          • Randy M says:

            I’d also be worried that I’ll be biased in favour of religions whose teachings are similar to accepted wisdom of the society I’ve been brought up in.

            Is this still the case for England?

            Anyhow, if you want a systematic way of approaching it, perhaps you could take a look at different holidays and find a corresponding service nearby. These services, ime, are more likely to be geared toward prospective or new members, although they’ll be busy, I’d wager most will have speakers able to answer questions after.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I go with Neitzsche – the proper relationship with a god, if there is one, is that of a mentor and a student.

          • DragonMilk says:

            If God exists and He has preferences, then there are certainly right and wrong ways to live out your life. I am only to speak to my own beliefs, however, and those come from a Christian perspective.

            If God is active and personal and omnipotent – then the burden may not really be on you to find Him, so long as you are open, He will keep trying to reach out. And so it’s good to explore the different faith traditions and evaluate which you find to be the most true. My best advice would be to be honest to yourself in your search and not go with what’s merely attractive, but only what you believe to be true.

            The personally had (the benefit of?) a traumatic religious experience in high school that led me to ponder existential issues that led me to Christianity, and I find it to be the most consistent with living a fulfilling life, fostering a welcoming community, and otherwise treating everyone with dignity and respect. My own post outlines issues I see with the American manifestation of cultural Christianity, but how a religion is portrayed or how certain factions utilize a religion is separate from its central message (which is why I recommended listening to sermons).

            You rightly point out that many churches are not living up to poor-helping and love neighborliness, but I’d argue that such humanist values are in fact hold-overs from Christianity itself, as Nietsche pointed out. Nature itself is actually quite vicious (watch Planet Earth) for instance, and I don’t see how it lends itself to such values, which extend to opposition to honor-killing, and should extend to being good stewards of the environment and providing relief to refugees.

          • SamChevre says:

            I think of religion a bit differently from DragonMilk (not surprisingly–I’m Catholic and they’re Protestant).

            Protestant Christianity tends to emphasize thinking and understanding. My background, the Anabaptist world, tends to emphasize doing. Catholicism tends to emphasize ritual/worship.

            One way I find helpful to think of the question is that religion is a map to interacting beneficially with a real but incomprehensible reality that is a particular entity (a “Person”, but an incomprehensibly complex person; it’s like the difference between a four-function calculator and a Cray). For some people, thinking is the right approach; for others, emotion and experience are. It’s like asking “should I use a mouse or keyboard commands”–there’s not a right answer, but there may be one that works for you.

            One book I frequently recommend is N T Wright’s Simply Christian. It approaches Christian faith from numerous directions, and one of those explanations may work for you.

            I would say that if you are willing to try several traditions within Christianity, you are likely to find one that just seems to work better for you. I of course recommend Catholicism, but preferably in an Ordinariate, Oratian, or Latin Mass church (basically, someone where people kneel to receive Communion); the average parish does a poor job of showing what’s awesome about Catholicism.

            The other thing I’d say from experience is that Christianity in one of it’s more demanding forms can be worth it even if it’s just “going through the motions” for awhile. It’s sort of like magic; you can see that it changed you looking back, but at the time it didn’t make sense.

          • fion says:

            @Randy M

            Is this still the case for England?

            Is what still the case? The teachings of Anglicanism (and Christianity more broadly) are much more similar to the accepted wisdom of English society than are the teachings of Hinduism or Islam. Sure, the country is pretty secular now, but there is a lot about its culture that is inherited from the religion that used to (and to an extent still does) dominate.

            Your idea about holiday services is a good one. It hadn’t occurred to me that some services would be predictably more accessible than others.

            @DragonMilk

            My best advice would be to be honest to yourself in your search and not go with what’s merely attractive, but only what you believe to be true.

            Easier said than done, but I’ll certainly try.

            …separate from its central message (which is why I recommended listening to sermons).

            Hmm… I’m not sure this really solves the problem. People don’t even seem to agree on what the central message is, and even when they do, they don’t agree on the best way to communicate and understand that message. The sermons you suggested will be different to sermons from a different church; sometimes radically different.

            …poor-helping and love neighborliness, but I’d argue that such humanist values are in fact hold-overs from Christianity itself

            Exactly. That’s my point. I guess I’m criticising hypocrisy in that point.

            @SamChevre

            Thanks for your input; it’s good to hear as many perspectives as possible.

            It’s like asking “should I use a mouse or keyboard commands”–there’s not a right answer, but there may be one that works for you.

            Woah, there! It’s *obviously* keyboard commands! 😛

            Actually, I have a more serious point I want to make about this. A few times you talk about finding an approach that “works for me”. This seems a little strange to me. Why does it matter what works for me? God is the way He is; not what I want Him to be nor what would suit me to worship.

            Second, how would I know if I’d found something that works for me? What does “the right approach for me” feel like? Right now, every religion seems factually wrong, and every religion seems to involve rituals that make me want to roll my eyes and be sarcastic. Now, I’m sure this is because I’ve been brought up in a secular way, but it’s hard for me to imagine trying a particular ritual and thinking “yes, this is the one for me” and even harder for me to imagine trying a particular ritual and thinking “yes, this is what the Incomprehensible Reality wants me to do.”

            Also on this note:

            I would say that if you are willing to try several traditions within Christianity

            I wasn’t planning to limit myself to Christianity. Islam, for example, is based on revelations that came after Christ. Maybe at one time Christianity was our best bet for worshiping God, but He has since clarified and surely we should be receptive to that.

            Like I said earlier, I have an irrational bias against Islam that I think comes from me being raised in a (secularised) Christian country. But the nature of God doesn’t depend on what country I was born in.

    • Thegnskald says:

      A.)
      Eternalism; the belief that rules that made sense when they were created (or handed to humanity) continue to apply forever. A possibly apocryphal example of this is the prohibition on pork, which might have gone bad really quickly in the regions where Judaism and Islam began, making that a really good rule.

      Perpetual adolescence; the belief that any god(s) will keep intervening on our behalf, and letting us know when the rules, for example, need to be updated. At some point, I figure, even given a religion is true, humanity has to learn to be an “adult” group, and determine what is right and wrong for itself. Pork used to be a bad thing to eat; now that we have germ theory, and understand why that rule was important, maybe we are in a place to judge for ourselves whether it is still relevant.

      Anti-isometry. Mathematical isometry is when two things that look different are, at a more fundamental level, different approaches to the same concepts. (Loosely translated.). Religions tend to treat themselves as unique and distinct; if any of them are true, however, they all should be, understanding that they are all metaphors for a more transcendental thing. (Why would a god only give advice to one group of people? Why is religious advice tailored to the specific needs of specific people?)

      My complaints about Christianity and Islam amount to specific versions of the above complaints. Homosexuality and sodomy, for example, can effectively be substitute goods for contraception; indeed, contraception looks like a specifically despised practice in any form, including “pulling out”. Why? I can think of good reasons to discourage contraception, both for 2000 years ago (your tribe’s survival depends on numbers) and today (what does contraception select against?). Maybe the rule is still valid, maybe it isn’t – but it doesn’t look particularly to me like humanity has actually stepped up and been adult about the problem.

      (And I think this is because religion has shaped our culture to make it difficult to have adult conversations about these things. But it may be that religion just played on a human weakness there, instead of creating it. I will drown you in treasure, indeed.)

      • At some point, I figure, even given a religion is true, humanity has to learn to be an “adult” group, and determine what is right and wrong for itself.

        You might be interested in the Talmudic story of the Furnace of Akhnai, in which the sages refuse to accept the arguments of a religious scholar even though it is supported by a series of miracles, culminating in a voice from heaven. The response:

        “It is not in heaven.”

        Translation: God has given us the job of interpreting the law, so he should butt out.

        I like to say that by the standards of the Rabbis, every supreme court justice in history was a strict constructionist.

        For Islam, part of the Mutazilite doctrine was that good and evil are perceptible by reason, as opposed to the idea that we only know them because God tells us. Unfortunately they lost.

    • A) Religion in general:

      Nothing occurs to me.

      B) Christianity:

      The fact that so many modern Christians pretty clearly don’t really believe in the religion, base their views instead on the surrounding secular ideology. I think people who really believe in Christianity are living in a fantasy, but at least they really believe in what they say they believe in.

      Rather like my attitude to economists who decide what they believe in on a non-economic basis then, if pressed, construct some sort of argument as to why it isn’t impossible that the belief is true.

      C) Islam:

      That the Mutazilites lost out to the Ashurites.

    • SamChevre says:

      A) Religion in general.

      So many good ideas, such terrible implementations. Humans. I tell you, there’s NOTHING they can’t make a mess of.

      B) Christianity.

      Here comes everybody. Really, couldn’t some of you all go find a different side to be on? Because you are nuts; nuts; and I’d like to believe I’m on the side of sanity here. And yes, I know Sam’s rule of crazy is that every crazy person knows someone who makes them look sane by comparison; you all are still NUTS. Also, you’ve apparently forgotten that this isn’t a new question, and that answer doesn’t work–that was conclusively demonstrated in 523 AD. Maybe try getting familiar with your own history?

      C) Islam

      Heretics. It’s like you took Christianity and left out all the good parts.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      When I search my brain for “religion irks me because”, it autocompletes to “religious arguments resolve as arguments from authority”, and the authorities are specific to the religion. In other words, they’re a form of begging the question.

      For Christianity, the authority is God; for Islam, it’s Allah. The above applies in both cases.

      It’s worth considering whether I have a less irksome substitute. My brain autocompletes that as “direct observation plus logic”. I consider that an authority, but it ought to be acceptable to anyone, so to me, it avoids the problem.

      It’s also worth considering cases where religious people make arguments from direct observation plus logic; I find such arguments agreeable [confirmation bias check needed]. Also, I’m irked by arguments from authority from atheists, and this includes arguments for conclusions I agree with for other reasons [eu. ca.].

      (Conclusions from observational / logical arguments that I disagree with irk me because I feel like I overlooked something. And all arguments irk me at least slightly, to the extent I believe they cannot get completely away from axiomata.)

  9. AG says:

    Shitpost proposal: sports winners aren’t declared until P-value requirements are met, reps increase until statistical significance emerges

    None of this "oh the gold medal just so happened to win by 0.0001 s today but it could change on the next run!" nonsense.

    (This mostly applies to “competitors are independently racing each other” type sports. Vs.-type sports should use more robust forms of sorting than single-elimination brackets)

    • Matt M says:

      I wish I could find it, but I recently read a piece from some stats geek website comparing the four major American sports leagues playoff systems in terms of how much results reflected actual superiority versus random chance.

      The major verdict was that the NFL, NHL, and MLB playoffs were highly on the random chance side, but the NBA playoffs were mainly towards what he was calling the “Pre-determined” side, meaning that the team that is “supposed to win” statistically, nearly always does.

      In practice, his suggestion was to reduce NBA playoff series from best of 7 to best of 5, because those extra games are largely unnecessary and don’t add any value.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Nooo, this would not only threaten baseball’s single-game wildcard, which I love, but even the 7 game World Series!

      I don’t think that winners are about which team is objectively “best” in some abstruse statistical system, but about which team executes on the field better, in that moment. That’s what keeps the uncertainty. That’s where you get classics like 1960’s Game 7, or 2011’s Game 6, or 2014’s wild card. Single elimination brackets are fun, they’re not meant to be statistically valid!

      • Matt M says:

        I don’t think that winners are about which team is objectively “best” in some abstruse statistical system, but about which team executes on the field better, in that moment.

        But the problem is that many people seem to treat “championship winner” as synonymous with “best team” without entertaining any nuance in the discussion.

        Baseball is probably the most egregious example. They play what, 160+ games? Having the best record after that is a very impressive feat… that nobody cares about. Instead, all the value and prestige is attached to having the best record in 10 or so games in one particular month where if you run into a hot pitcher you can be quickly eliminated due mainly to bad luck.

        I prefer the European Soccer model, where sustained superior performance in the season is highly valued, and one particular tournament is also highly valued but for different reasons.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          >But the problem is that many people seem to treat “championship winner” as synonymous with “best team” without entertaining any nuance in the discussion.

          Well, yeah, fans are gonna be fanatical about their team, and will seize on any opportunity to brag. This is part of the fun. On the other extreme you’ll see people who dismiss championships entirely and focus on regular season performance. Often these people are fans of the Oakland A’s or the Los Angeles Dodgers.

          >Baseball is probably the most egregious example. They play what, 160+ games? Having the best record after that is a very impressive feat… that nobody cares about. Instead, all the value and prestige is attached to having the best record in 10 or so games in one particular month where if you run into a hot pitcher you can be quickly eliminated due mainly to bad luck.

          This is why I love the baseball playoffs most of all. The NBA playoffs – hell, the entire NBA season – is boring. It is known before the season even begins who the likely final teams will be, and upsets are vanishingly rare. Hockey is a bit better, football better still, but best of all is baseball.

          Remember, one hot pitcher can’t sink your World Series chances outside an elimination game – and that is entirely in your control. Win your division, and you’re guaranteed at least 3 playoff games. Come up second and you still get a shot via the wild card, where yes, a hot pitcher can indeed shut you down (just ask the Pittsburgh Pirates). Otherwise, though, in baseball you need an entire team to carry you through to victory. Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch every game, the Mets lost the World Series despite having a rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard, and Madison Bumgarner is a legend because he was once able to put an entire team on his back and carry them to victory, against all odds.

          Making things more statistically predictable would be better if championships were purely about which team is “better”, but that’s not at all why I enjoy sports. I like the competition, and I love nothing more than a good wild card game or Game 7 (I can’t believe we’ve had 3 Game 7s in 4 years in baseball, how lucky are we?). Doing away with those things and just going with regular season record or something would rob the world of a treasure.

          • Matt M says:

            As a Washington Capitals fan, my heart goes out to the Dodger fans. Is it reasonable to conclude that the Astros are glorious champions and the Dodgers just another pile of failures all because Yu Darvish had a horrible three innings (and may have been tipping his pitches)?

            I don’t disagree that sports is about more than identifying the best team, but I still think that people who do care about identifying the best teams should put more stock in long-term rather than short-term success.

            As an example, I vehemently oppose the attempts to create and expand a playoff system for college football. The value of college football is completely and totally divorced from the pursuit of identifying the best team, and the attempts to do so are making the sport less, not more, enjoyable. If I had my way, I’d go back to the pre-BCS bowl system, up to and including different polls declaring different teams the champion at the end of the year.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Sure, I agree with you – championships aren’t the sole criteria of determining the “best team,” otherwise we’d all be Yankees or Cardinals fans, God help us.

            But to me, the “best team” debate is separate from the fun of championships. Championships are the top of the mountain, that’s what your team always aims for, the goal you organize everything around. Otherwise everything just becomes a complicated sort of exhibition match (which it basically is anyway, but you know what I mean).

            “Best team” debates, on the other hand, are mostly fodder for barstool arguments, because there’s so many criteria to draw from. You can bring in overall records (and then argue about strength of schedule, the opposition, etc), number of championships, success relative to budget (a favorite of A’s fans), any number of things. That’s what makes for a fun beer argument.

            But only declaring victors after a suitable number of trials would mean we never have another Game 7, which I think every thinking being would agree is a tragedy.

          • Matt M says:

            What’s so special about a Game 7?

            Why not make it a Game 1 like the Super Bowl?

            Eliminating the post-season basically just gives us a big best-of-160 round-robin style tournament. What’s so bad about that?

            Snark aside, my issue with this is that you say “Every team aims for the championship” which is true, but also meaningless, because despite the occasional jock pundit insisting otherwise, there is no meaningful difference in how you attempt to build a great regular season team and how you attempt to build a get playoff team.

            The difference between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Seattle Mariners is simply bad luck. That’s all. The Cardinals didn’t do anything particularly special to build a “championship” team that the Mariners didn’t do in the 90s.

            The problem with the baseball seven game series is that it’s almost too much of a compromise. If baseball did go to a single game deciding things, then I might buy your argument of “aiming for a championship” somehow being a distinct effort from aiming for “best team after 160 games.” Then teams would be invested to go all-in for a single great starting pitcher, etc.

      • AG says:

        My stance is that more reps are better at establishing confidence, so it’s more like either series would get longer, or the fractal structures of baseball itself should have more reps (more allowed outs/strikes/balls, etc.)

        And it is more complicated for team-vs-team sports. I wouldn’t count series-games as single-elimination in the first place, anyways. Multiple matches between the same opponents is increasing reps to establish confidence, and the use of season play (hopefully with multiple matches for each combo) to determine entry into the tournament is also what I prefer, compared to say, entry into the championship tournament depends on doing well in qualifying single-elimination tournaments, a la the Koushien system.

  10. Conrad Honcho says:

    Reposting from the end of the last culture war thread because I thought it was timely given the plug for Mastodon in the URL thread:

    On the URL thread we talked about Mastodon. I was skeptical that Mastodon would be any more effective at controlling witches than Twitter or Reddit, but some including Mark Atwood insisted that was irrelevant, since the design of Mastodon enables witch containment while making witch hunts impossible.

    Wil Wheaton was banned from Mastodon and then quit social media. Is this evidence Mastodon is not immune to witch hunts, or is this Mastodon working as intended, protecting women and transfolk who don’t feel safe around Wil’s toxic masculinity?

    Also, h/t Plumber, Wil’s take on the events.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Is “banned from Mastodon” even a coherent thing? I haven’t actually used it but I thought the whole point of federation was that you couldn’t be banned from the whole thing (unless every admin coordinates to do so, anyway). If one instance tells you to take a hike you can just bounce to a different one. Won’t be connected to (all) the same people but still

      • dodrian says:

        It appears that he was banned from an instance (because the admin didn’t want to deal with the drama of hosting him) and he took that as a sign that it wasn’t any better platform than Twitter since angry mobs could still get their way. I think he could still join another instance, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t want to after this experience.

        • Matt M says:

          But in terms of product quality, is “people were driven away because the experience made them miserable” really so much better than “people were banned?”

          If I quit my job because I absolutely hate my boss and can’t stand going to work one more day, is that really so much different from being fired? Maybe a little as far as my ego is concerned, but from the boss’ perspective, probably not.

          • Nick says:

            I think the point dodrian and Gobbobobble are making is that quitting because your boss makes you miserable without trying to transfer to a different boss first doesn’t really work as an indictment against the company. If you find the second boss is just as bad as the first, and even the third, well yeah, maybe the company is crap at management and you are right to leave. Even so, this is a qualitatively different situation than at your old workplace, where everyone’s boss was just the CEO and he fired people whose politics he didn’t like.

          • dodrian says:

            I’m not strictly trying to make a point either way.

            I think that Mastodon has a better opportunity of being not completely awful — though a lot of Reddit is pretty toxic, there are a number of well moderated and respectful communities. It looks like Mastodon can emulate that, and take it in even better ways (note: I haven’t had any first-hand experience with Mastodon myself).

            It’s definitely not a panacea, and Wheaton’s experience shows that it can fail in the same way as Twitter, even if he does technically have the option of trying again with a different host. If I were in his position I probably wouldn’t try either.

          • Well... says:

            @Matt M:

            But in terms of product quality, is “people were driven away because the experience made them miserable” really so much better than “people were banned?”

            Yes. Being driven away because the experience made you miserable means you made a choice not to use their product, for the sake of improving your own quality of life over the long-term. It’s the same reason the Amish reject various technologies, and it’s a really damn good reason.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think a high profile person like Wil Wheaton is maybe not a good test of Mastodon; it would seem that whatever “instance” he would sign up for (if he’s banned off this one, why not join another one instead?) would be subject to the same mobbing of anti-Wheaton/Wesley Crusher people, so that can’t really be a test of “can Joe Random be harassed off Mastodon completely?”

      Though I’m not surprised the admins decided to give his account the chop, this is exactly what I imagined as worst-case scenario: mods/admins getting overwhelmed because of the amount of traffic and not able to keep the walled garden weeded and the gates locked. Once you hit high enough numbers, it doesn’t much matter if it’s only one area of the loosely federated grouping that is affected, that one goes down and the survivor(s) who flee elsewhere may be followed by pursuers willing to take down the next place of refuge.

      • John Schilling says:

        Very much this. Back in the Usenet Days(*), I was one of the moderators of the Babylon 5 newsgroup, noteworthy for having J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5’s executive producer) as a regular participant. The level of drama associated with maintaining civil discussion involving A: a Genuine Hollywood Celebrity and B: any internet user who wants to show up, is extraordinary. The newsgroup for All Written Science Fiction Not By Robert Jordan (**), needed zero moderators. Keeping gun control politics out of the recreational shooting newsgroup, one moderator. We had nine.

        I’m not sure how Twitter manages, other than the obvious “poorly”. But I’m not at all surprised that the solution designed by and for a bunch of congenial nerds and geeks, failed when extended to a Celebrity Geek.

        * Dinosaurs roaming the earth, cars with proper tailfins, and no whippersnappers on my lawn, you know the drill.

        ** Yes, literally

        • Mark Atwood says:

          he newsgroup for All Written Science Fiction Not By Robert Jordan (**), needed zero moderators.

          TNH disagreed. She was firmly of the mind that it needed a moderator. Her. And her and her fans and ilk constantly seething that not enough people agreed with her on that point was a constant background grind there.

          She kinda got her way, after the end.

          That whole dynamic and aftermath was literally prophetic of entirely too much of the next two decades.

    • J Mann says:

      There doesn’t seem to be a good way to make what Wheaton wants, which seems to be a site (1) which deplatforms Alex Jones and Trump for being bad, but (2) doesn’t allow people to decide Wheaton is bad and harass him, and (3) still has enough people Wheaton wants to talk to in order for him to enjoy it.

      • Nornagest says:

        Sure there is. You just need it to be run by a petty Internet tyrant who’s sympathetic to Wheaton and unsympathetic to Jones and Trump.

        Arguably, a site like that already exists, and it’s called wilwheaton.net.

        • J Mann says:

          That’s why I included condition (3), but maybe WilWheaton.net qualifies. 🙂

        • Matt M says:

          Arguably, multiple such sites already exist, and they’re called Facebook, Twitter, etc.

          Fixed. (at least for Alex Jones, Trump gets a major exception ONLY because he’s President – if he had lost, and kept tweeting the way he has, I’d be willing to bet at least one social media platform would have suspended him by now)

          • Nornagest says:

            Twitter didn’t deplatform Jones; that’s why Wheaton left it for Mastodon. Facebook, etc. did, but they aren’t sympathetic enough to Wheaton.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean Jones and Wheaton are very specific examples, but if you’re looking for major social media platforms run by petty tyrants that are generally unsympathetic to icky right-wing people but generally very sympathetic to SJW-aligned minor celebrities and still have lots of people to talk to… that describes, well, basically all of the major social media websites on the Internet.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, when I say “sympathetic” there I’m pointing to some pretty strong sympathies. Wheaton only gets half of what he wants if his platform of choice pads every press release with mushy social-justice platitudes and throws its right-wingers to the wolves at every whiff of outrage; he also wants to be shielded from people on his side in the culture war who’re calling him e.g. a transphobe to score points with their more radical peers. That’s not a mess that Facebook wants to stick its fingers in, but the mods of wilwheaton.net or a Wil Wheaton subreddit would probably be willing to.

            If your Overton window’s so small that you can’t handle non-balkanized social media, then you need to balkanize your social media experience. But, y’know, we do know how to do that.

          • dick says:

            I think Wil’s goal is to find a place where people don’t get run off by angry mobs, not to find a place where only other people get run off by angry mobs.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think Wil’s goal is to find a place where people don’t get run off by angry mobs, not to find a place where only other people get run off by angry mobs.

            …but also where Alex Jones gets run off by people who are absolutely not angry mobs.

          • dick says:

            You don’t need an angry mob to run off Alex Jones, just mods with standards. No, what Wil wants is the advantages of a big site like Twitter (lots of content, lots of admirers and people to admire, most people use it) and the advantages of a small site (no mobs, effective moderation, doesn’t consume your life to participate in it) in one package.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Twitter has now banned Alex Jones.

            ETA:

            You don’t need an angry mob to run off Alex Jones, just mods with standards.

            The standards of twitter are entirely partisan, though. People have done experiments. If you post that you hate black people, you get banned. If you post that you hate white people, even when reported, you are not banned *.

            If their standard was “free speech” they would allow both. If their standard was “no hate speech” they would disallow both. That they allow one and not the other is simple partisanship. Which is essentially the same thing as being sympathetic to Wil while running off Alex.

            * For the record, I would ban neither but find both statements extremely distasteful and believe they should both not be posted.

          • dick says:

            This is the third time a right-wing commenter has implied that hating black people is a right-wing trait. If a left-winger said that you’d call bullshit, wouldn’t you?

            Ditto for Alex Jones being used as an example of a right-winger. I guess he’s more right than left, but surely we can all agree his bans have more to do with him being a crazypants shill for nutritional supplements who makes up stuff than him favoring low taxes, right? I mean, I assume he’d be banned here too. Steve Sailer is banned right now, and Alex Jones makes him look like Oakeshott.

            I’m open to the idea that Twitter’s policies are biased against conservatives, but a) it’s not clear that they are, unless you concede that anti-Semitism is a conservative trait, and b) if they are, it’s not clear why I’m supposed to care, as Twitter is not some sort of national infrastructure, and “this website keeps banning people I like but not people I don’t like” is not a policy issue.

          • Matt M says:

            but surely we can all agree his bans have more to do with him being a crazypants shill for nutritional supplements who makes up stuff than him favoring low taxes, right?

            I don’t agree with that at all.

            There are tons of crazypants shills for nutritional supplements who are highly respected. I think it was on SSC that I first saw the link to how all the same nutritional supplements hawked by Alex Jones are also being hawked by Glyneth Paltrow on Goop, but with very different marketing labels…

            Similarly, tons of people make stuff up and offer weird conspiracy theories with no evidence. They rarely get banned.

            We can also point to other right wing personalities who don’t hawk nutritional supplements and who don’t really go for conspiracy theories that much who have also been banned, to further cast doubt on this claim.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is the third time a right-wing commenter has implied that hating black people is a right-wing trait. If a left-winger said that you’d call bullshit, wouldn’t you?

            “Hating black people is a right-wing trait” is ambiguous. If it means that it’s common for right-wingers to hate black people, it’s false. If it just means that P(Hates black people | right wing) >> P(Hates black people | left wing), it’s true.

            I guess he’s more right than left, but surely we can all agree his bans have more to do with him being a crazypants shill for nutritional supplements who makes up stuff than him favoring low taxes, right?

            No. He’s banned because he’s a tribal enemy. Certainly it has nothing to do with his position on nutritional supplements.

          • dick says:

            We can also point to other right wing personalities who don’t hawk nutritional supplements and who don’t really go for conspiracy theories that much who have also been banned…

            Well, feel free! Preferably, ones that didn’t just happen to be violating the TOS in some unrelated way right before they were persecuted for the crime of being right-wing.

          • Matt M says:

            Prager U has famously been hassled by Youtube and Facebook (although not Twitter as far as I know) and Dennis Prager and his friends are about as plain, vanilla, milquetoast as social conservatives can possibly be…

          • dick says:

            The first article I clicked on about him said that some of his youtube videos were deleted, and when he complained, youtube said it was an accident and re-enabled them and apologized. And Twitter appears to be perfectly happy with him. Is there more to it than this?

          • dick says:

            I looked up the Prager-Facebook thing as well and it seems similar to the Youtube thing (some videos got briefly removed and then re-added), except that this time the cause was user flagging.

            Gotta say, this is not blowing my skirt up. YT and FB are notorious for deleting things for no apparent reason and then not doing anything when people complain. You’ve cited two instances of the opposite – where people complained and they promptly fixed the problem. So far you’ve convinced me that social media is more convivial to and supportive of right-wing views than I would’ve supposed.

          • toastengineer says:

            Well, feel free! Preferably, ones that didn’t just happen to be violating the TOS in some unrelated way right before they were persecuted for the crime of being right-wing.

            The claim was never that you can get banned just for being right-wing, the claim is that you can get away with a hell of a lot more if you’re on the same side as the people whose job it is to enforce the rules. I’m pretty sure that’s a universal truth.

            Most of the people who get banned DID just do something naughty. But way more people on the other side do the same thing and no-one pays any attention. I don’t think it even requires accusing Twitter of maliciously doing this on purpose – it’s just plain ol-fashioned bias.

            And yeah, considering social justice types also complain that YouTube is targeting them too, I think it’s just Google turning the gain absurdly high on their neural network-driven demonetizing machine out of some mix of justified concern about advertisers, paranoia, and overconfidence in their technology.

            Everyone interprets this via their priors that favor “someone didn’t like what you had to say and tried to stop you” over “Google has never made any money off this thing and really is that disinterested in your engagement with the site.”

          • dick says:

            Most of the people who get banned DID just do something naughty. But way more people on the other side do the same thing and no-one pays any attention.

            Fair enough, and that may be true, but it’s also a subtle and subjective claim with naught but anecdotal evidence. The whole reason I’m here at SSC, as opposed to some other forum, is the notion that this is the sort of place where people would follow a claim like this with, “…but of course that’s what I’d expect someone like me to think even if Twitter weren’t biased, so let me tell you why I’m convinced that this is more than just my own bias.” So far everything I’ve seen is consistent with Twitter being perfectly neutral (or even mildly biased against the left).

      • John Schilling says:

        Mastodon’s model seems to be well suited for that. Set up an instance or federated space or whatever they want to call it, whose target group is “left-leaning but not Hard SJW nerds and geeks who want polite conversation”, and that should add up to plenty of people who Wheaton will want to talk with and vice versa but no Jones, Trump, or harassers.

        Implementation will have the problem that any such space will actively attract geek-adjacent hard SJWs who want to harass their less valiant and committed colleagues, and once Wil joins, a collection of specific Wheaton-harassers as well. It sounds like it was the latter that broke the current moderation team, but if they couldn’t handle that I’m not confident of their long-term viability against the generic SJW griefers. Good moderation is hard to sustain.

        • 10240 says:

          As far as I understand, the problem of the moderators was that they got too many reports of Wheaton. A simple solution to that for a moderator is to automatically ignore any reports against Wheaton (or anyone who is getting mobbed at the moment).

          • Deiseach says:

            Automatic ignoring runs into the problem of “600 reports against Joe Schmoe who is legitimately terrible” and then you have the problem of “Brazen Nazi baby-eater allowed run wild on site” and everyone condemning the mods and accusing them of being crypto-Nazi baby-eaters themselves.

            Or you have a mod or mods who go “I like Joe, so I’ll ignore the reports about him but I don’t like Bill, so I’ll ban him in response” even if there are 600 reports about Joe and 2 about Bill.

            No good solution that will please everyone and work 100% of the time with little cost or effort, really.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Automatic ignoring runs into the problem of “600 reports against Joe Schmoe who is legitimately terrible”

            Aye, agreed.

            How about a moderation system that guarantees checking for “legit terrible” after N reports (N could even be 1), and if false, further reports against Schmoe are auto-ignored for K days? (Or they’re stuffed in a log which can be checked at the mod’s discretion?)

            To foil this, Schmoe would have to post something that gets N reports, then get on the auto-ignore free-ride train, and only then let lose with the dankery while their K-day window is open. This seems like too much trouble for a true troll to go through. Especially with a simple check to see if Schmoe’s post count and auto-ignored reports both go conspicuously up during that window.

            Additionally, N and K are known only to the moderator, and are subject to change at any time.

          • 10240 says:

            @Deiseach I meant automatically ignoring reports against someone who is getting mobbed for no good reason. That is, if there are a lot of reports against someone, check the first few, and if they are without merit, auto-ignore the rest. It’s relatively unlikely that someone who has been mostly decent up to this point will suddenly turn terrible. Especially if he is not told that reports against him are now ignored.

          • Deiseach says:

            10240, that’s a good control if the mods are able and willing to check N reports to see if they’re legit before deciding to ignore or ban. But they may not always be able and/or willing, especially if there’s a flood of reports coming in.

            Over on the SSC sub-reddit, there seems at the moment to be an increasing reliance on automoderation and there’s a bit of a tussle going on where the mods are saying that they’re not doing this professionally, they have lives and problems of their own, they don’t have time to go through every individual thread with a fine tooth comb particularly as comments regularly get up into the thousands, etc.

          • 10240 says:

            Well, I presume moderators generally do look at reports and at reported comments, so looking at the first few reports against someone is nothing unusual. I don’t think N has to be more than, like, 5, and mass reportings are rare.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Good moderation is hard to sustain, but it is plausible. Identifying and booting harassers is the way to go a lot of the time.

    • Randy M says:

      How much of this is Wil Wheaton taking a stand against Alex Jones and how much of it is Wil Wheaton not liking Social media dynamics otherwise and using it as an excuse to remove himself?
      I think “virtue signalling” is over-used, but it was pretty much invented for this sort of statement, where someone makes a show of an otherwise cost-less and ineffective action ostensibly for some cause–and just happens to get themselves widely (relatively) discussed for it.

      • Brad says:

        I think “virtue signalling” is over-used, but it was pretty much invented for this sort of statement, where someone makes a show of an otherwise cost-less and ineffective action ostensibly for some cause–and just happens to get themselves widely (relatively) discussed for it.

        I thought it was doing something expensive and without direct benefit in order to send a hard to fake message of dedication to some set of values. So for example a woman shaving her head and donating the hair to makes wigs for people with cancer would be virtue signaling. If it is cheap, much less cost-less, then it doesn’t make for much of a signal.

        • quanta413 says:

          I’m pretty sure when people say “virtue signalling” they mean something like “public endorsements of some tribal value”.

          So a person who constantly spouts stuff like “I stand for family values.” or “I believe in the sanctity of the earth.” It’s not a totally costless signal in the sense that it lowers your valuation in some people’s eyes (enemy tribe) while boosting it in others (your tribe).

          With the shaving your hair example, it’d only be virtue signalling if the person brought it up all the damn time even when it had no relation to a conversation and no one asked.

          One could claim that a woman shaving her head instead of just cutting it short is inviting questions about their hair so they can elaborate on their virtue or something, but without knowing more about the hypothetical I’m more inclined to blame people asking for being nosy.

          • Brad says:

            I’m pretty sure when people say “virtue signalling” they mean something like “public endorsements of some tribal value”.

            That’s nearly exactly opposite of what it meant when it was coined in the context of behavioral economics (as offshoot of signaling in evolutionary theory). And we aren’t talking about centuries ago either. Nor is that usage filling any kind of glaring hole in the English language. It’s just another low density pejorative.

            I may be a descriptivist, but that’s just a bad usage.

          • quanta413 says:

            That’s nearly exactly opposite of what it meant when it was coined in the context of behavioral economics (as offshoot of signaling in evolutionary theory). And we aren’t talking about centuries ago either. Nor is that usage filling any kind of glaring hole in the English language. It’s just another low density pejorative.

            Sure, but who reads behavioral economics? It’s like asking normal people what “sexual selection” means and expecting them to say what a biologist means. A term which coincidentally involves very similar costly signalling issues.

            I may be a descriptivist, but that’s just a bad usage.

            Join the prescriptivists. Jooooooooooiiiiiiiiiin uuuuuuusssssssss

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nor is that usage filling any kind of glaring hole in the English language. It’s just another low density pejorative.

            I think it is filling a hole in the language because it’s not exactly hypocrisy. The virtue signaler may actually hold the virtue they’re signaling. It’s just that they’re expecting a large return (recognition as a fighter against racism) for a small investment (sharing a FaceBook post about how racists are bad). It’s more like slacktivism maybe.

          • Brad says:

            Sure, but who reads behavioral economics? It’s like asking normal people what “sexual selection” means and expecting them to say what a biologist means.

            Sure, but I also don’t expect to find behavioral economics jargon being used out in the world as a non sequitur insult.

            If I get killed in Call of Duty, I don’t expect the 14 year old that just beat me to say: “Boom! You just got sexually selected, bitch.”

          • quanta413 says:

            Eh, just give it time and you’ll hear it.

            But more seriously, if you ignore the technical idea “virtue signalling” still easily parses. The rough idea is clear just from the meaning of the two words, and whether or not the term is being used pejoratively or more neutrally will be clear from tone.

            “Sexual selection” on the other hand, just sounds kind of weird. Maybe someone would use it if they were visiting a brothel?

            I think Conrad’s idea that “virtue signalling” is used to mean something like “slacktivism” is pretty accurate. “Slacktivisim” is often a better description though. Also more pithy.

          • Plumber says:

            “Virtue signalling” is a relatively new term for me as well (I think that I first noticed it about one-and-a-half years ago), but unlike “SJW”, I understood the intended meaning as something like “moral peacock” right away.

            It’s actually pretty clever.

        • Matt M says:

          imho, if it’s expensive it’s not a signal, it’s a genuine indicator

          I think of virtue signaling as cheap because the whole point is that the person is being somewhat inauthentic. It’s not shaving off your hair for cancer victims, it’s wearing a little pink ribbon one day a year. It’s loudly demanding that others donate to cancer-related causes while you yourself do very little.

          • Brad says:

            But you recognize that signaling in the sense of male peacock tails is the exact opposite, right?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes. But is a peacock tail called a “virtue signal?”

            A peacock tail is a true signal: only a healthy, dominant male can waste the calories on otherwise useless plumage.

            A little pink ribbon one day a year is a false signal: absolutely anyone can signal that they’re against breast cancer while not doing anything costly to help cancer victims, like shave their hair for wigs or donate significant time or money. I also think it’s different than hypocrisy because the ribbon-wearer is probably not doing anything to cause breast cancer while voicing opposition to it.

            Unless I’m mistaken, “virtue signalling” is not the same thing as general signaling in behavioral economics or evolutionary theory because the econ/evolutionary signals are true signals while “virtue signalling” is at best dubious.

          • Matt M says:

            I also think it’s different than hypocrisy because the ribbon-wearer is probably not doing anything to cause breast cancer while voicing opposition to it.

            To go further, I’d also suggest the person wearing the ribbon generally does oppose cancer, and would absolutely prefer a world without it. They just aren’t willing to do much, personally, to bring that world about – but they would like to be seen as if they were such a person.

          • Brad says:

            Unless I’m mistaken, “virtue signalling” is not the same thing as general signaling in behavioral economics or evolutionary theory because the econ/evolutionary signals are true signals while “virtue signalling” is at best dubious.

            My understanding is that the meaning of “signal” is the same in both cases.

            The basic idea was to explain deviation from the naive homo economus behavior by e.g. religious people in taking expensive actions without obvious benefits to themselves. The behavioral economists explained this as “virtue signaling”—that is the expense is undertaken to demonstrate to their community in a hard to fake way that they believe in the values of that community.

            So you can see the definition being used here is pretty far from the origin. In fact almost opposite.

          • quanta413 says:

            But that’s because the ordinary usage of the term signal usually refers to things like stoplights or talking. Things which are cheap and meant to communicate clearly.

            Sexual selection, etc. are interesting phenomena to explain precisely because they are rather counter-intuitive. It’s not obvious from the outside scientific view what signal is being sent or that a signal is being sent at all.

        • Randy M says:

          If it is cheap, much less cost-less, then it doesn’t make for much of a signal.

          One would think. Yet here we are.

          I agree with your evolutionary point, so I may not actually be right about the “why the term was invented”–dramatic license for “this is the kind of situation that merits such derision”.

    • J Mann says:

      That Amber Enderton piece is challenging. Apparently, she feels that trans women need particular consideration ( and so, for example, a transwoman shouldn’t be reported to Mastodon for “bofa-ing” a demi-celebrity), but IIUC, it’s also wrong to try to track which women are also trans-women. (I guess you could research whether someone is publicly trans before taking offense at internet pranks – maybe that’s what Enderton expects of trans allies).

      It’s ironic that other than being friends with Chris Hardwick, the major reason it’s apparently unsafe to talk about World of Warcraft with Wheaton is that he seems to have tried his best to be an opponent to the advocates of ethics in online recreation journalism. As a result, he apparently endorsed Randi Harper’s blocklist and Brianna Wu’s candidacy without realizing that they were apparently blacklisted for crimes against SJ.*

      * Note: I don’t know what Harper and Wu did, and don’t mean to imply that they’re either fine or awful.

      • BBA says:

        At some point political disputes become little more than proxies for personal feuds. I think that’s what’s going on here.

        • quanta413 says:

          Or do they start that way but occasionally somehow wind up more high minded?

        • dndnrsn says:

          Anecdotally, the people I know who did SJ-left-type activist stuff really made it sound like this happened. Personal beefs and institutional power struggles usually escalated to claims of being problematic or whatever. It’s a larger manifestation of a human tendency, probably – to want to justify dislike or antagonism as being somehow ethical or moral.

          However, is this something that would happen in a case like Wheaton’s? He doesn’t personally know these people; they aren’t competing for anything.

          • Randy M says:

            I have a hard time either taking seriously the idea that someone has a grudge against Wheaton for using a ban list that unbeknownst to him contained some particular trans activists. Maybe that’s their real objection, but it seems wildly disproportionate to even let such an inconsequential thing occupy a few neurons, let alone your emotions or actions.
            It seems more likely they are trying to piggy back on his fame to promote their cause.

          • Matt M says:

            However, is this something that would happen in a case like Wheaton’s? He doesn’t personally know these people; they aren’t competing for anything.

            He doesn’t know them, but they know him.

            Celebrity (even minor celebrity such as Wheaton’s) tends to attract crazies who easily persuade themselves that they are, in fact, involved in a personal feud or grudge with the celebrity. I have no doubt that there are numerous individuals out there in the Internet who believe that Wil Wheaton has personally wronged them in some major way, and who dedicate a non-trivial amount of their time to trying to bring him down in order to extract revenge.

            And I don’t mean to imply this is specific to Wheaton because of his status in any particular activist community. I think this will end up being true of any marginally famous person who has ever made any statements that could in any way be interpreted as controversial.

            Edit: Hell, there are multiple episodes of the Big Bang Theory showing this happen to literal actual Wil Wheaton. Sheldon holds a decades-long grudge against Wil for a perceived slight he experienced as a child, and treats Wheaton as his “sworn enemy” while Wheaton, meanwhile, doesn’t really care or realize or think much about Sheldon one way or another.

          • lvlln says:

            Celebrity (even minor celebrity such as Wheaton’s) tends to attract crazies who easily persuade themselves that they are, in fact, involved in a personal feud or grudge with the celebrity. I have no doubt that there are numerous individuals out there in the Internet who believe that Wil Wheaton has personally wronged them in some major way, and who dedicate a non-trivial amount of their time to trying to bring him down in order to extract revenge.

            I know nothing about the Wheaton affair, but I wonder if there’s an expansion of what constitutes being “personally wronged in some major way” going on in this too. In my Twitter circles, I’ve seen some trans people claiming that a journalist named Jesse Singal was “literally putting their lives at risk” by publishing articles about trans desistance. The reasoning being that publishing such articles could spread the belief that trans folk are just faking it, leading to more prejudice against them, leading to more violence against them, and as such it was no less removed from anti-trans violence than publishing “go beat up some trans folk for being trans.”

            In general, I’ve noticed that the way “the personal is political” plays out in practice is things like this, where any claim of fact or statement of opinion that has potential political implications that may possibly – but not necessarily – affect someone’s life is taken as a direct personal attack on that person.

          • no one special says:

            I have a hard time either taking seriously the idea that someone has a grudge against Wheaton for using a ban list that unbeknownst to him contained some particular trans activists.

            Note that it’s not just using it, but promoting it. As I understand it, Wil’s promotion of this list led to its heavy use in certain circles, thus cutting off the ability of those on it to network.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, that makes a little more sense. And if I put myself in the mindset of someone who thinks such lists do a good job of preventing trauma–very much not convincing to me, but for the sake of argument–I can make the leap that being put on such a list is–somehow–a serious harm meriting retaliation.

          • Matt M says:

            I can make the leap that being put on such a list is–somehow–a serious harm meriting retaliation.

            Particularly if WW was promoting the block list as “Here’s the block list to use if you want to avoid those awful right-wingers” when, in reality, it included people who were potentially more SJW than he was.

            To those sorts of people, being lumped in the same group as evil rightists is the worst possible of all insults.

          • BBA says:

            “He doesn’t personally know these people” – but on Twitter/Mastodon, we’re all just 280 characters. A celebrity, an email pen-pal, a personal acquaintance all look the same in your feed, blue checkmarks aside.

            And among ultra-hard-line SJ people, intent isn’t magic, intent is meaningless, if you caused harm it’s on you regardless of what you meant to do. Some people take issue with this on its own. I don’t – with structural power comes structural responsibility. (The first “B” in “BBA” stands for Ben and I just became an uncle. That Spider-Man quote is in my head a lot lately. I hope I don’t die in the next scene.) But what they’re also doing is equating potential harm with real harm, and that can only lead to an endless spiral of misery and recriminations, especially when you discount intent. This is where I get off the social justice train.

          • quanta413 says:

            And among ultra-hard-line SJ people, intent isn’t magic, intent is meaningless, if you caused harm it’s on you regardless of what you meant to do.

            I think this is a reasonable rule of thumb in a lot of cases since intentions tend to be invisible. But I think it only works really well when the rule also takes into account all the good someone does. Anyone in power will indirectly be related to a significant amount of harm. Even if their intentions are perfect and actions flawless, the constraints of other people will force them to make tradeoffs. It’s whether in the long run their choices do more good than harm. Or at least better than a hypothetical alternative person in power.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Wait, Wu is blacklisted?

        I knew Harper was because TERF, and I think this is where Wil is getting devoured by his own mob. It’s unfair, as Wil didn’t know the Ants-banner also banned some trans activists, and he made efforts to correct that. But the mob is not fair, and will always eventually turn on each other and on you. This is why mobs are bad, and one should not join or lead them. I would hope that’s the lesson Wil might learn from this, but who knows.

        • J Mann says:

          According to Enderton, it’s reasonable to feel unsafe around Wheaton in part because Wheaton endorsed Wu’s candidacy, and Wu herself is out because she contributed money to the North Carolina GOP. (Again, I don’t have the background to opine on the underlying facts.)

        • Deiseach says:

          I would hope that’s the lesson Wil might learn from this, but who knows.

          Given that he’s publicly crying over “I made an honest mistake in using a block list I didn’t know had trans people on it, all you people accusing me of thoughtcrime and jumping on me are being hideously unfair” but also wants block and ban lists with people deemed undesirables on it as long as they’re of the right, he seems not to contemplate the notion that some of those on a right-wing to be blocked/banned list might also be innocent parties or wrongly included, so he’s happy with them being accused of thoughtcrime and jumped on by the same mob.

          So looks like not learning any lessons at all.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Wait, Wu is blacklisted?

          Part of me wonders if this is an argument for a national SJ background check database.

    • Zorgon says:

      I’m genuinely intrigued to see how far the purity spiral can get before the social capital of the victims becomes sufficient to counter it. I would have guessed it would sputter out waaaaaay before Wheaton.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Wil Wheaton is crying because social media sites don’t simultaneously ban rightists and stop people from denouncing him as insufficiently leftist.
      These may be the first male tears I find delicious.

    • toastengineer says:

      Is Will Wheaton not the very definition of the kind of person a properly functioning moderation system is supposed to exclude? He’s a Grade-A cunt to everyone, left and right. He’s pretty much the archetypal example of the kind of witch you need to keep out of no-witch-hunts-ville.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Is he a cunt to leftists? I genuinely don’t know. My impression was that he was your basic male feminist ally SJW nazi-puncher who accidentally offended those who don’t like TERFs by not understanding what a TERF was.

        • J Mann says:

          FWIW, Harper denies she is a TERF. (I don’t have the tools to judge the dispute.)

          This search for crypto-enemies is an odd thing. I’m reminded of this case, which started when a woman became concerned that a fellow volunteer was actually an MRA and started trying to exclude him from the SJ community.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          He seems like a total male feminist, yeah, to the extent of raising his wife’s two children while she wouldn’t bear him any.
          So AFAIK, it only took one mistake for him to be cast out of leftism by the internet.

          • toastengineer says:

            I don’t remember the details, but I definitely remember there being two or three previous “Will Wheaton pretends to be on our side but he’s actually just an asshole who beats on anyone lower-status than him” incidences.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            That doesn’t strike me as extreme male feminism. He might actually like her and/or her children.

          • albatross11 says:

            Maybe I’m missing something, but marrying a woman who already has kids and then helping raise them doesn’t sound feminist, just like the sort of thing a decent guy does once he’s decided to marry a woman who already has kids.

      • John Schilling says:

        He’s a Grade-A cunt to everyone, left and right.

        Citation very much needed. And also a major rephrasing, because “Grade-A cunt” makes me wonder about the character and congeniality of exactly one person and it isn’t Wil Wheaton.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Wil gave up too fast too soon.

      He could have started his own instance, or asked a tech inclined fan to start one for him.

      There may be a market opportunity here: a hardened instance for famous people.

  11. helloo says:

    This story came from an old (internet age) Chinese meme that came from a reality TV series where kids from a rich urban family in a city are exchanged with kids from a poor rural living in a village.
    The meme itself is just from the overreaction from one of the boys, but what was more interesting was some controversy the show was facing.

    There was some fairly typical reality TV controversy where some people complained that some of the interactions were either induced by the film crew or directors, and that they purposely edited the month long feed in a way to only showcase the narrative they wanted to tell.
    Another was not so typical – as part of the direction, it was meant that this exchange reveal to the kids some greater truth and cause both sides to come to a better understanding of each other. However, what tended to happen was that the rich kids did not really change much such as being more grateful or humble or something. The poor kids though, often had some serious “withdraw” symptoms as they got used to the luxury they had during the exchange and did not cope well to reverting back to their poorer lifestyle. After some cases where they found previous participants having ran away from their home and begging in the city refusing to go back, the show was canceled (I think it was only temporarily).

  12. proyas says:

    Could high-speed, autonomous taxis replace short-distance passenger planes?

    I define a “high-speed, autonomous taxi” as a passenger vehicle with space for 2 – 6 humans and optimized for 100 mph speed, and I define “short-distance” routes as being 100-300 miles long.

    Assume that in the future, only autonomous vehicles will be allowed to drive on major highways. The machines would be capable of superhuman levels of coordination, making it possible for them to do things like drive nearly bumper-to-bumper at high speeds without risk of crashing, thus sharply increasing roadway capacity. Superior reaction times would also allow them to drive safely at speeds few humans can, like 100 mph. This makes me wonder if autonomous taxis, specialized for plying 100-300 mile routes at high speeds, could replace passenger planes by beating them on a combination of factors including fare price, travel times, and convenience.

    Let me use the example of a San Francisco to Bakersfield journey, which is 283 miles by road, to address the last two of those factors. According to a travel website, a flight between the two cities would take 1 hour and 19 minutes, but that doesn’t include the time spent getting to and from each airport, or getting THROUGH each airport (the TSA checkpoint is the biggest time waster). Adding two hours for this would probably reflect the actual “travel time” if one made the journey by air, upping it to 3 hours and 19 minutes.

    The “100 mph autonomous car” would cover the 283 miles in the same amount of time once you factor in the early and late portions of the route spent driving slowly on non-highway roads: The car would pick you up in front of your San Francisco house and drive slowly until it exited your neighborhood and reached the highway, and at the end of the trip it would also spend time driving slowly as it wove its way through downtown traffic to your Bakersfield hotel.

    Second, the autonomous taxi’s daily schedule would be far more flexible than the plane’s: Instead of there being only one or two flights per day on the San Francisco-Bakersfield route–possibly at inconvenient times–autonomous taxis might be available to make the run every two hours. There would also be far fewer other passengers in the car than on the plane for you to deal with. You might even have the vehicle to yourself.

    Even if a ticket on an autonomous taxi were more expensive than a seat on a plane, it would be worth it for many reasons.

    High-speed, autonomous taxis sound so obviously superior, and the buzz about their potential is so strangely absent, that I fear there might be some serious flaw in my reasoning, which is why I’d like other people here to give me their thoughts. Underdeveloped counterarguments I’ve already come up with are:

    1) Even if the highways only had autonomous cars on them, most of those vehicles would be performing non-urgent or minimally-time-sensitive runs, like delivering a load of merchandise to Wal-Mart, so they would drive at lower speeds to conserve fuel. This would physically prevent the taxis from reaching 100 mph. Alternatively, one lane on each highway could be reserved for 100 mph vehicles, but depending on how high the volume of said traffic was, the costs of road maintenance might not justify the benefits.

    2) It might be that a car’s road noise increases exponentially as the car’s speed increases linearly (I know that wind resistance has this relationship). If so, then people living near highways might successfully petition the government to block 100 mph lanes. Could someone help me quantify this? Assume that the autonomous taxis have electric engines.

    3) The faster you travel in a car, the more turbulent it is when the wheels go over potholes, road debris like small rocks, or dips in the surface of the road itself. Maybe at 100 mph, the ride gets unbearable for the average human. Again, I’ve never driven this fast, so I wouldn’t know.

    I’d really appreciate feedback to develop this idea. Thanks.

    • Randy M says:

      You make a good case, assuming that a) wait times at airports do not improve, and b) there are no substantial legal or technological impediments to autonomous … automobiles. Autonomobiles?

      Anyway, you can also discount the slow city time of the auto taxi from your comparison, since I expect it is more common to live close to a highway than to an airport, so that’s basically a wash, or worse, from the air travel perspective.

      Maybe at 100 mph, the ride gets unbearable for the average human. Again, I’ve never driven this fast, so I wouldn’t know.

      Uh, no. Unless you are traveling on really poor roads or in a really poor car, but I’ve done 90+ in Wyoming (an old native word meaning “nothing here).

      It might be that a car’s road noise increases exponentially as the car’s speed increases linearly (I know that wind resistance has this relationship). If so, then people living near highways might successfully petition the government to block 100 mph lanes. Could someone help me quantify this? Assume that the autonomous taxis have electric engines.

      People don’t like living next to airports, either, although there are more highways than airports. I think some thick walls around the highway (common in urban areas) would mitigate sound adequately, and it comes out better in the comparison to being in a flight path.

      I think the real problem would be those little towns that force traffic to slow down to 45 as the highway passes through in order to make money off of speeding tickets and big gulps (I’ve also done 90+ in California).

      Even if the highways only had autonomous cars on them, most of those vehicles would be performing non-urgent or minimally-time-sensitive runs, like delivering a load of merchandise to Wal-Mart, so they would drive at lower speeds to conserve fuel.

      I’m not sure this is true. Maybe for some shipped goods, but I think there would be economic factors incentivizing fast transport if it were possible to do so safely. On a lot of California highways, trucks are required to drive slower and keep to the right most lanes already.

      I don’t see any of those objections being anything like the novelty and perceived unsafety of self-driven autos as factors to overcome.

      Even if a ticket on an autonomous taxi were more expensive than a seat on a plane, it would be worth it for many reasons.

      That depends on what the numbers actually are, of course, but I assume it wouldn’t be much more than driving oneself is, which comes out favorably when carpooling a family, at least.

      • dodrian says:

        >Even if a ticket on an autonomous taxi were more expensive than a seat on a plane, it would be worth it for many reasons.

        That depends on what the numbers actually are, of course, but I assume it wouldn’t be much more than driving oneself is, which comes out favorably when carpooling a family, at least.

        On the other hand, if I own a car then I’ve already payed the big costs of buying and insuring it. Marginal fuel and maintenance can be pretty cheap.

        Rental companies keep their fleets new – one or two years old at most – presumably because people don’t want to use older cars. If everyone is relying on renting autonomous cars they won’t have as long lives or resale value. The cost of the car will have to be priced into a trip in a much bigger way than someone using their family car to take an extra trip.

        • Randy M says:

          That’s true about rental cars and we took advantage of that to pick up a recent but not quite new car off of an Enterprise resale cheaply.
          I’m not sure that’s the case with Taxis or Ubers, so I think the market could adjust.
          However, in the short term they would by necessity be new cars, unless ai could be retrofit, which seems unlikely.

    • CatCube says:

      I’m not sure that the distances you’re talking about pencil out with the non-autonomous vehicles of today. Are there a lot of people who are taking the Bakersfield-SF flight because they’re in Bakersfield and want to get to something in SF? Or are they in Bakersfield and want to go across the country, so they’re connecting to a long-haul flight in SF?

      I’m sure there are some of the former, but I suspect that most of the money for that flight is coming from the latter.

    • A1987dM says:

      In most of the developed world outside the US, there already is a way to travel between two cities ~300 miles apart in ~3 hours door-to-door, about a dozen times a day, for about the same price as a flight or cheaper: the train.

      • John Schilling says:

        One problem with passenger trains is that making them work well means optimizing your rail network in ways that make it very much less than optimal for freight. Freight isn’t sexy; visiting tourists aren’t going to see your nation’s boxcars and come away thinking you are the Future that Works, politicians can’t pose beside them for glossy photo ops, etc. But there’s an awful lot of it that has to be moved, and it is more tolerant of the constraints of rail travel, and the US system of using the rails for freight and the roads and sky for people is probably the way to go.

        Which brings us to the second problem with passenger rail – while you talk about travel “between two cities”, what you really mean is travel between two railroad stations. The railroad station is usually in a city, but it’s usually not the part of the city that anyone actually wants to go to. Freight doesn’t mind sitting around for half a day waiting for you to arrange local delivery; passengers very much do. And since the quickest and most versatile way of delivering passengers to wherever they do want to go is an automobile operating on city streets, a transportation architecture where arriving intercity travelers happen to be in automobiles already is going to be favored in that regard.

        • dodrian says:

          In most of European big cities the passenger stations are in places where people want to be, and when they aren’t there is a good public transportation network to get you the rest of the way. Freight is often sent overnight, same network but different endpoints. But yes, without those public transport networks this isn’t a model that most of the US could follow.

          That said, on slow news days in the UK there are <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/30/student-flies-london-via-spain-cheaper-train/frequent filler stories about people finding flights via a European city to be cheaper than taking the train direct between two UK cities.

        • A1987dM says:

          Which brings us to the second problem with passenger rail – while you talk about travel “between two cities”, what you really mean is travel between two railroad stations. The railroad station is usually in a city, but it’s usually not the part of the city that anyone actually wants to go to.

          I did say door-to-door, i.e. including the time to walk from your origin to the bus/metro station, take the bus/metro to the railroad station, …, and walk from the bus/metro station to your destination.

          (E.g. going from the Antwerp city hall to the Paris city hall by train vs by car, according to Google Maps)

          • John Schilling says:

            (E.g. going from the Antwerp city hall to the Paris city hall by train vs by car, according to Google Maps)

            That’s great for politicians who want face time with other politicians, but for everyone else the relevant example will include a residential district on at least one end of the trip.

            Of course, it’s not “everyone else” who lays out public-transit infrastructure.

          • A1987dM says:

            I’m not a politician or anything like that (just a physics post-doc), and I live a 12-minute metro ride (incl. the time to walk to the metro station) from one of the train stations the train from the link in my previous post stops at.

            Granted, since I don’t have a car I gave more weight to how connected a place was to the public transport system when deciding where to live than the average person does, but still, I asked Google Maps the same question from the address of various colleagues and friends (none of which a politician) to whose places I’ve been to, and the answers were 7 min, 12 min, 19 min, 22 min, 26 min, and 44 min. And that’s in a city not particularly famous for the efficiency of its public transport system, and that’s not counting the bike sharing system which is often faster than buses and metros.

            (I once was offered a car ride to a conference about 60 km away; I declined when I realized that I would have had to leave my home earlier than if I had gone by train.)

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      This proposal suffers from the same major difficulty (imo) that proposals for high speed rail etc does with regards to “improving” on planes: Terrorism.

      The main hassle and time waster in airplanes is the checkpoints. Without those you could simply walk onto the plane as you do a train. But we have terror checkpoints for planes because 9/11 and other highjackings pre 9/11. Guess what are actually super easy targets? High speed rail and a proposed high speed highway. The highway is extremely vulnerable. A few boulders that an adult male could toss onto a highway would cause a 300+ car pile up if they are indeed traveling bumper to bumper. This is just another 9/11 on a roadway, and every roadway is vulnerable. High speed rail has the same problem, but only 1 train will get derailed, but also has the issue of not being convenient.

      Thus, somewhat counter-intuitively, for faster travel you always are going to want to be in the air, otherwise a rando can result in massive death with stone age weaponry.

      • Deiseach says:

        This proposal suffers from the same major difficulty (imo) that proposals for high speed rail etc does with regards to “improving” on planes: Terrorism.

        By coincidence, I was reading a local story about “developing new systems to combat vehicle-based terrorism”, and it seems to me that the vulnerability there is the danger of malign parties being able to hack into the systems – if they can get a signal out, surely someone can get a signal in?

        It also includes vehicle movement monitoring for dangerous goods, with a critical area alarm and integration into the European-wide emergency eCall system.

        But it also sounds as if the development of autonomous trucks (and the resulting lack of need for human drivers) is definitely on the way a lot sooner than might have been expected:

        They intend to use advanced vehicle movement and navigation systems, pre-crash detection of “vulnerable objects”, and automatic manoeuvring and emergency braking systems to prevent both new and retrofitted trucks being used as weapons.

        If you’re getting into that level of computerised control, then some kind of limited AI that will replace a driver altogether doesn’t sound that far off.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          @Deiseach , @tandagore, @mattm, @ana53294

          I think that, traditionally, the biggest security difference between planes and trains and cars is that planes are the only one that faces a significant risk posed by passengers. Whence, passengers face scrutiny (even though, IMO, current levels greatly outweigh their benefits). While attacking a train with an explosive or chemical attack can kill quite a few people, those attacks are quite difficult to pull off and you are often easily caught.

          This is why the rise of car attacks has opened my eyes to the future of “train derailers” and “congestion creators”. While the terrorist who wants glory would surely still want to drive a semi into a crowded market, then shoot off as many rounds as he can carry before detonating a suicide vest, a few terrorists who prefer to stay alive and take credit with internet videos could wreak havoc in the countryside where the potential amount of road/track you would need to police is simply too massive. I am no train expert, but I am fairly sure there is a pretty big risk if a small amount of track was cut out on a bend. A tight formation of cars would face a similar risk. Put one of those spike strips on a bend and chaos ensues. This risk obviously increases when hazardous materials are targeted (as with the trucking example).

          And I’m not saying you can’t do all this now (we seem to be relying on terrorist idiocy as a main component of our security), just that increased speed creates increased damage & fatalities, which is a goal of terrorists. The other thing is, that nowadays, it seems to me the arguments in favor of non-airplane travel are just arguments against the current level of airport scrutiny.

      • Tandagore says:

        But is this not already an option? Maybe not in the US with their dismal infrastructure, but a lot of Europe already has trains that go at 150-200 mph and terrorism has so far not been a problem in this area, even though Europe has seen quite a few terrorist attacks lately.

      • Matt M says:

        There’s a luxury bus network in Texas that has virtually no security at all.

        Now you’re probably right that this will change as soon as someone commits an act of terrorism on or using a luxury bus. But for now, you show up, show your ID, and walk right on.

        ETA: I also remember traveling Europe mainly by train, and seeing remarkably little security around in most train stations. Particularly if you started in a rural station. Maybe it’s changed in the last few years?

        • ana53294 says:

          I also remember traveling Europe mainly by train, and seeing remarkably little security around in most train stations. Particularly if you started in a rural station. Maybe it’s changed in the last few years?

          Although security was increased at important train stations for a brief period after the Madrid train terror attack, train security has not changed much. There are more CCTV cameras in big stations, they check ID on the train, and make sure there are no abandoned bags. They also have an obsession with trash cans, and in big cities they frequently block the trash cans.

          And there has been no major terror attack on trains, which to me shows how pointless airport security is. There are lots of targets that contain lots of packed bodies that have lax security; the only way in which a plane is worse than a train is the hijacking part. And surely, there are better ways to avoid hijacking than making everybody stand through hours of pointless controls?

        • toastengineer says:

          Wait… busses have security? Every inter-state bus I’ve been on, you buy a ticket with cash or credit, weigh or get a ticket for your bag, wait for the bus, throw it in, flash your ticket, and you’re golden. No ID checks, no bag checks, no nothin’.

      • proyas says:

        The highway is extremely vulnerable. A few boulders that an adult male could toss onto a highway would cause a 300+ car pile up if they are indeed traveling bumper to bumper.
        That sounds like too high an estimate. Keep in mind the autonomous cars would be networked, so if a big rock fell into the roadway, every car in that whole lane, going back for an arbitrary distance, would brake instantly. Given that cars are designed to crumple a bit during accidents, there shouldn’t be a simple “chain reaction” of fender-benders between 300 cars.

        Also, my use of “bumper-to-bumper” is almost in the figurative sense. What I really meant was that autonomous cars would be able to drive safely with much less distance between them than slow-reacting human drivers need. Of course, since the cars can’t stop instantly and the braking distance increases with speed, the networked autonomous cars would continuously adjust their distances from each other depending on several variables. At lower speeds and/or on stretches of highway where there is no risk of a large object suddenly appearing in the way, the autonomous cars would indeed drive nearly “bumper-to-bumper.”

        High speed rail has the same problem, but only 1 train will get derailed, but also has the issue of not being convenient.
        Even in my future scenario where cars routinely drive at 100 mph, I think trains would be a more tempting target for terrorists out of the two. One train could easily have hundreds of people in it.

        Thus, somewhat counter-intuitively, for faster travel you always are going to want to be in the air, otherwise a rando can result in massive death with stone age weaponry.
        What happens when randos can use freely available downloadable instructions to built quadcopter drones on their 3D printers that are programmed to do kamikaze attacks into the turbofans of slow-moving passenger planes that are taking off or landing at airports? Commercial flight may lose its safety advantage over 100 mph autonomous taxis.

        • toastengineer says:

          Well if we’re going there, if you’re a terrorist organization with an Al Quieda scale budget, why not load grenade-sized charges in to a couple truckfulls of drones and have them zip around and dive-bomb any clusters of people they see?

          Or just fill the truck with explosives.

          Fact of the matter is, terrorism is really easy. The main reason people don’t push each-other in to traffic at crowded intersections or drive on the sidewalk or shoot each-other all the time is because very few people want to. There’s not a whole lot you can do to stop the people who do want to.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            There’s not a whole lot you can do to stop the people who do want to.

            Don’t invite them into your country. Then the state has the smaller job of only removing domestic terrorists from circulation without jailing or killing an innocent suspect in the process.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The US has literally allowed in tens of millions of immigrants and how many have actually attempted, let alone pulled off, a terrorist attack? Attempting to prevent immigration would probably increase the terrorist threat as the sheer amount of resources needed would end up drawing money away from pursuing likely terrorists.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @baconbits: The US has allowed in tens of millions of immigrants who don’t want to kill us, and also a smaller number of Muslims who are responsible for about half of all terrorism despite Muslims being ~1% of the US population.
            This is a general problem for all Western states that receive immigrants. Christian immigrants don’t hurl fuel-laden aircraft or trucks at us. Hindu immigrants mostly mind their own business and make software. East Asian infidels are fine regardless of faith too.

          • Don’t invite them into your country.

            The terrorist doesn’t have to be an immigrant. The U.S. hosts about seventy million foreign tourists (“non-immigrant admissions”) a year.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @DavidFriedman: And in extremis, we’d have to deny those admissions to all Muslims. Fortunately that seems unnecessary as things stand: visitors from even from state sponsors of them rarely turn into terrorists, and while such a policy deserved to be slapped on Saudi Arabia, that gov’t is changing.

          • And in extremis, we’d have to deny those admissions to all Muslims.

            If a terrorist organization wants to get half a dozen people into the U.S., I expect they can do it with stolen passports that don’t signal “muslim.”

            Or they can get them into Canada and then walk across a not very well guarded border.

            Or … .

          • Matt M says:

            The terrorist doesn’t have to be an immigrant. The U.S. hosts about seventy million foreign tourists (“non-immigrant admissions”) a year.

            Do tourists commit terrorism ever? I feel like I’ve never really heard of that being a thing?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            14 of the 9/11 hijackers came to the US on tourist visas. FiveFour were on business visas and one on a student visa.

          • John Schilling says:

            I expect they can do it with stolen passports that don’t signal “muslim.”

            Perhaps, but in the first world stolen passports very reliably signal “criminal traveling on a stolen passport”. This isn’t the 20th century, when checking every passport at every port of entry against every nation’s passport database would take more than a few seconds.

            Again, this is a problem that Mossad has serious problems with these days.

      • David Speyer says:

        “for faster travel you always are going to want to be in the air”

        I don’t think that’s right. If a terrorist can take out a plane traveling over a major metropolitan area, he kills not only everyone on the plane but 100’s of people on the ground below it. Throwing boulders on a roadway only kills the travelers.

        Also, a plane falling out of the sky is basically unsurvivable, whereas a seatbelted driver has a decent chance of surviving a massive pile up, especially if they aren’t one of the first cars.

    • WashedOut says:

      A couple of quick thoughts:

      Personal safety
      -People generally dislike travelling with strangers in close proximity, but plane travel works because a) there are flight attendants and b) it has been around long enough to have an established etiquette. I suppose the relative lack of personal safety associated with sharing a 300 mile car ride with 3 other strangers is priced-in to the fare?

      I think some degree of control/vetting by each passenger over who their companions will be a good start. If i’m committed to being a terrible travel companion, I should have to pay more or wait longer in order to have the cab to myself or be accepted by less fussy people.

      Luggage
      -When people travel by plane they often take substantial luggage. Such an autonomous taxi system would probably have to have a partner service that transported luggage separately.