OT11: Openezer Scrooge

This is the semimonthly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. I’m heading to New York for the Winter Solstice celebration and surrounding rationalist community megameetup. If you’re attending, I’ll see you there. If you’re not attending and you want to, here’s the information. Solstice concert requires tickets, everything else is free. I may or may not be around Saturday afternoon, but I’ll definitely make it for the concert and Sunday activities.

2. It was remiss of me to suggest people donate more without mentioning GiveWell’s list of most effective charities. And if you’re still not up to speed on this whole “effective altruism” thing, here’s an essay I wrote on it a while back.

3. Hey look Deiseach, they wrote an article about you!

4. Blatant plug: in case some of you are doing very last minute holiday shopping, this might be another good time to note that this blog is sort of kind of in a spiritual sense supported by your Amazon affiliate clicks, and if you buy your stuff through my affiliate link I get 5-10% at no extra cost to you. You can also just switch your Amazon bookmark to my affiliate link and that way I get 5-10% of everything.

5. Comments of the week are Citizensearth on sociology, Cassander on the direction of the space program, Glen Raphael on the trouble with minimum wage research and on the case of the Mariana Islands (but counterpoint!). I don’t know if it’s kosher to use a comment on Ozy’s blog as a comment of the week, but anyway, here’s JRM’s political quiz.

As usual, no race and gender on the Open Thread. Ozy will probably open up a race and gender open thread at their place once they see this, and you can take it there.

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574 Responses to OT11: Openezer Scrooge

  1. zz says:

    I suspect I may be one of the people who would benefit from reading Ayn Rand. I also have limited time. Which book should I read?

    Also, I find this to be the best introduction to Effective Altruism. As a bonus, even if it doesn’t convince you to get onto the EA bandwagon, it’s loaded with generally useful ideas.

    Also, take some Christmas music that’s not overplayed. (edited: link baroque.)

    • Eresaeth says:

      I would say The Fountainhead.

      The Fountainhead is essentially a portrait of the ideal Randian individual, while Atlas Shrugged expands on that into addressing the role of such an individual in society, as well as describing Objectivism in much more rigor and detail. So it’s helpful to have The Fountainhead first before reading Atlas Shrugged anyway, plus it’s much more enjoyable as a novel,. Atlas Shrugged is interesting (or enraging, depending on your point of view) philosophically, but something of a chore to read. Read it after The Fountainhead if you want more. There’s also We The Living and Anthem, but I’ve heard that they’re pretty superfluous and you really only need the Big Two (TM).

      Personally, I do highly recommend reading both eventually. I was super into Rand for about a year after I read them, and though I’m much less so now, I still think they’re relevant and worthwhile. You have to sift through a lot of batshit crazy, but there are some very interesting and useful ideas to be found underneath it all. Plus you can join in on the Rand hate trains and know that you’re doing so for the right reasons.

      • J says:

        I’ve only read Anthem, but it’s 80 pages, vs 800 for Fountainhead, and I suspect it at least got me into the ballpark. Might be a reasonable place to start for those with limited time (and looks like it’s free online from a variety of sources)

        • Nornagest says:

          Anthem is absolutely bog-standard dystopian novella, with the only thing to distinguish it being the specific flavor of dystopia. If you lived through secondary school you’re likely to have already read more of that than you can stomach.

          Rand’s full-length novels can be kind of a chore, but they’re at least not mired in cliche.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            I am a leftist and was generally unbothered by reading Anthem in high school* because the dystopia was so extreme and generic it didn’t look like a straw-man of something I supported or was sympathetic too anymore.

            *I was probably less radical at the time but still pretty left-leaning. I remember supporting basic income at the time.

          • eggo says:

            Really, II? What about “Smash The Family”?
            The collectivization and elimination of the family was an openly stated goal of leftists in the 60s-80s.
            Juliet Mitchell, Kate Millett, David Cooper, Lynne Segal… Marietta Higgs.

            If you don’t recognize it, it may be because the people who taught you have been trying to bury a lot of that radical stuff.

            When the politicians of Rand’s homeland were claiming that “The worker-mother must learn not to differentiate between yours and mine; she must remember that there are only our children”, it doesn’t seem like a strawman at all.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            I don’t remember it all that well but I think it might be because when I read about the breeding program thing I was horrified by the forced pregnancy, and never thought about “destruction of the family”.

          • eggo says:

            Well, one’s a natural progression from the other, isn’t it? “It’s _everyone’s_ responsibility to take care of _our_ children, so your uterus has been collectivised For The People.”

    • Eric Rall says:

      Skip the fiction and go for one of the essay collections. The Virtue of Selfishness if you’re more interested in the moral philosophy, or Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal if you’re more interested in the public policy arguments.

      The essay collections are much more concise (both of them together are much shorter than just The Fountainhead, which in turn is much shorter than Atlas Shrugged), make the claims and supporting arguments more explicitly, and are collaborative works with Nathaniel Branden and Alan Greenspan, who are IMO better writers than Rand.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Starting with the essays would be good. Atlas is great, and Fountainhead is … an interesting period (1930s) piece. But they’re long and sort of ponderous and easy to bog down in, without a sort of map to get you through.

        The Atlas movie might be a good introduction, very true to the book but shorter and neater. After it, the book would add a lot of detail and richness and humor. I liked Part I and Part II, but haven’t seen Part III yet.

    • My favorite Christmas album by a mile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x22hVaoqsuI

      (This is probably the least explictly Christmas-y track on it, but truly excellent musically.)

    • Noah Siegel says:

      If you would benefit in your personal life, I think you should read Atlas Shrugged. The personal dynamics play a huge role. You would probably relate quite a lot to the dysfunctional Rearden family dynamic.
      I would not recommend Anthem. The lack of personal pronoun throughout most of the book gave me a headache, and it is not very good.

    • blacktrance says:

      I don’t recommend her non-fiction unless you already like her fiction – it’s not bad, but it misses certain important parts of Objectivism that are better shown in her fiction. So that leaves Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. If you have very limited time, read Anthem, but it’s too much of a generic dystopia and doesn’t go into enough detail. The Fountainhead has the most reasonable length, and is less political, but there are a couple of controversial parts that sometimes turn people off Objectivism altogether, even though they have little to do with the philosophy – that said, in my experience it’s the best-liked of her works. Atlas Shrugged is my favorite of the three, but it’s long, so you may get tired of it before you finish it.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      Do NOT read any of the essays. Ayn Rand’s essays contain some really crazy claims*. I seriously doubt you will find Ayn Rand’s essays compelling unless you already agree with her. “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” on the other hand are full of great ideas. And honestly present a much more nuanced and interesting ethical perceptive. I am not sure why her ideas are so much fuller in novel form vs essay form. But they really are imo.

      *She explicitly argues you can derive morality from 2 simple propositions (“A=A,” “Existence exists” and “Consciousness perceives existence.”). She argues that the interests of rational agents NEVER conflict.

      • Those are three propositions. I can’t decide if this is a mistake or a clever swipe at Randian philosophy.

      • gattsuru says:

        I actually found On Philosophy useful even though the portions on Objectivism itself were garbage : it’s one of the very few books that provides non-philosophers a strong argument for interest in philosophy-qua-philosophy, where most textbooks tend to make me want to throw the entire field on a pyre.

        That said, it’s not very helpful as a reason to think in Objectivist ways if you’re not already doing so. I’d probably recommend Atlas Shrugged to self-destructive altruists. While Fountainhead has some very clever moments, it’s much more of an artist ranting against society, where Atlas Shrugged has more moments where it aligns with the modern grey and blue tribes. It’s not a Good Objectivist Book, but since no such thing exists and it’s probably the best available.

        That said, any time a character monologues for most than a page, skip it. You’ll miss nothing. Both books also have some very outdated ideas on sexuality that are rejected even by most Objectivists, so it’s also worth keeping in mind that they were written by someone from the same time period as “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

        Anthem isn’t the worst dystopian novel, but it’s not very good as an argument against altruism.

    • Alsadius says:

      I will say, if you read Atlas Shrugged, skip the speech. There’s a 3 hour radio address printed in full near the end of the book, 70+ pages long. It’s probably the best single short summary of her beliefs, but it’s so incredibly boring(and, frankly, redundant if you’ve read the rest of the book) that the book is greatly improved by its absence.

      Conversely, if you read Fountainhead, ignore the rape scene. Rand made a lot of good points in many fields, but her opinions on sexuality are pants-on-head retarded.

      • Hanfeizi says:

        Huh. I thought the 70-page rant and the rape scenes were the best parts. Different strokes?

        • Alsadius says:

          I’m wondering now whether to ask about your politics or to run away screaming.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nora Ephron is another example of someone whose favorite part was the rape scene. Maybe you can take her politics as a proxy?

          • Alsadius says:

            “Like most of my contemporaries, I first read The Fountainhead when I was 18 years old. I loved it. I too missed the point. I thought it was a book about a strong-willed architect…and his love life…. I deliberately skipped over all the passages about egoism and altruism. And I spent the next year hoping I would meet a gaunt, orange-haired architect who would rape me. Or failing that, an architect who would rape me. Or failing that, an architect. I am certain that The Fountainhead did a great deal more for architects than Architectural Forum ever dreamed.”

            Good to know Ayn’s not the only girl who’s into that, I guess?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            More available than sheiks, anyway.

    • Jadagul says:

      Honestly, if you’re curious about Rand you might want to start with the Charles Murray article about her, which I just read and is really good. I’d vote for Fountainhead over Atlas Shrugged out of the big books.

    • Abel Molina says:

      Watching the Fountainhead movie might be enough, it’s the least disappointing movie adaptation I remember seeing.

    • David Hart says:

      Since we’re sharing Christmas music that isn’t on the standard playlist, I must put in a good word for Xmas Song by Californian psychedelic nomad Anton Barbeau. Not up there with his best stuff, but still more fun than many of the ones we’re sick of.

  2. S says:

    A psychology / sociology-of-medicine question for Scott: Given that Munchausen’s syndromy by proxy turns out not to make much sense and was discovered by a doctor who makes basic statistical errors that may have led to serious miscarriages of justice, why is it that — despite considerable controversy, this disease was added to the DSM-V in 2013 under the name “factitious disorder imposed upon another”?

    • Hainish says:

      I don’t know if MSP has evidence for it independent of what may actually be SIDS, but that second link? SO MUCH HORRIBLE ON ONE LITTLE PAGE.

    • satanistgoblin says:

      Could you explain your position? Do you think people harming others for attention never happens?

      • s says:

        I don’t know if I have a “position”. I learned about this from physicist R.F. Streater (whose pages I linked); he gives a more thorough dicussion in his book “Lost Causes in and Beyond Physics”. The wikipedia page does not suggest to me a “clean” scientific theory (it points out that both the naming and the definition of this disorder have been very confused). That’s why I’m curious what psychologists think about this diagnosis.

        • Grumpus says:

          This is a problem with an untold number of psychiatric diagnoses–they completely lack specificity. It’s not that people don’t ever harm others for attention, it’s that no one’s come up with a non-horrible test for it that doesn’t implicate literally anyone who happens to rub a doctor the wrong way, which makes it look suspiciously like an attempt to smuggle evil pseudo-scientific Kafka traps into legitimacy by piggybacking on real science.

          • s says:

            So that seems like, you know, bad. Other sciences have loud, public debates when their sociology comes into question. (“Are mathematics departments sexist in their hiring?” “Has theoretical physics lost its way by embracing anthropics?” Etc.) It seems like psychologists in the UK and Australia have tackled this issue (at least as it pertains to MSbP), and so I found it slightly surprising that there seems to have been little controversy in the news when the DSM added this disease. Of course, maybe there is a vibrant debate taking place in trade publications that is invisible to the general population.

          • eggo says:

            @S, there were quite a few fights over the DSM-V that spilled into blogs and popular science psy articles. But yeah, mostly it seems to be confined to a few incestuous cliques of sparring academics.

      • Deiseach says:

        I can’t say anything about the Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy matter, but it is true that when someone in a position of authority gets a bee in their bonnet about a perceived evil, particularly when it is to do with children, an awful lot of harm can be done out of good intentions and conviction of righteousness.

        See particularly the Cleveland case in the UK – driven in large part by a hospital paediatrician, Dr Marietta Higgs, who with her colleague began diagnosing child abuse at such a volume that eventually 121 children were taken into care over a six month period.

        The eventual enquiry into the whole matter cast doubt on the diagnostic procedure used and the reliability of the evidence; Dr Higgs still maintains she was correct in every case, and there are many who hold strong, entrenched positions on both sides (“meddling hysteria accused innocent families!”/”establishment cover-up let abusers off scot-free!”)

      • Mary says:

        A fair number of mass shooters do it for attention.

        That doesn’t mean they’re crazy, because they could be sane and evil.

    • Alsadius says:

      Not actually relevant, but a hilarious story about MSBP: http://drunkrex.blogspot.ca/2004/08/msbp.html

    • RCF says:

      I don’t see how you think that link shows that MSP “doesn’t make sense”. Whether MSP has been involved in a moral panic and whether it is a valid diagnosis are different issues. Both witchcraft and child abuse have been subjects of moral panics; the fictitious nature of the former doesn’t mean the latter doesn’t exist. The issue is moral panic, not the subject of a moral panic. The main issue is that the proof should go from crime to diagnosis rather than the other way around; it is valid to take proof of harming another and use it as evidence for MSP, while using a diagnosis of MSP as evidence of harming another is where the problem arises.

      As to the reflex anal dilation issue, this is one of the disturbingly common cases where a tragedy could have been averted if someone has simply had the sense to ask “What do you believe, and why do you believe it?” We need to demand an actual chain of evidence from empirical facts to a conclusion. Instead, saying “X is an expert, and X says Y is true” is taken as a valid argument, despite the fact that it is logically incoherent. Every fact that a person knows, they must have acquired somehow. “Being an expert” is simply a broad description of the phenomenon of acquiring a lot of facts in a particular area; it does not to explain how a person acquired a particular fact.

      • S says:

        I think both the moral panic AND the validity the diagnosis are interesting questions. I also think that if psychologists are overconfident in the theory that there is such a thing as MSP, then they bear nonzero responsibility for moral panics surrounding it.

  3. Vulture says:

    So what’s the deal with this comment moderation thing? Will you only be doing it on controversial posts, what’s the general policy for what you admit, is it worth reporting things if you already approved them, etc.

    (I think it’s a great idea, BTW, but I’m curious to hear about the inner workings and it might be useful to give a statement we can point to when people start ranting about their comments being nefariously disallowed.)

  4. JRM says:

    While we’re talking political quizzes (thanks for the kind nod on that, Scott; I was regretful that it didn’t seem to follow the rules here, but glad to have Ozy’s site available) this recent case from the California appellate courts is one I found fascinating. (Scott is going to recommend once again that I get my own blog after this, just to avoid polluting the comments with holy-crap-long technical legal stuff.)


    Here’s the deal: A few years back, California rejiggered the Three Strikes law to have the option of a life sentence only for people who committed a new serious or violent felony after being previously convicted of two separate serious or violent felonies. People who had already been convicted of either a crime that required sex registration or “superstrikes” were also still eligible for life sentences. (This included murder, rape, assault on peace officer with firearm and child sex crimes as superstrikes, and misdemeanor public genital exposure as a sex registration offense. It does not include armed robbery, assault on schoolchildren with a machine gun, or voluntary manslaughter.)

    For those who had already been sentenced to life who wouldn’t be now, they could petition for resentencing. If they petitioned, the prosecution had to show they posed an “unreasonable risk to public safety,” or they’d get resentenced (and, mostly, released.)

    Appellate courts ruled that a court could take a broad view of this, and that the definition was not unconstitutionally vague. Some people who were eligible got resentenced. Some people… did not. Some inmates demonstrated during their time in prison that they still posed an unreasonable risk to public safety.

    Chapter Two in our story is Prop 47, passed in November. Prop 47 made misdemeanors of simple drug possession, thefts that were formerly felonies (including thefts of guns worth less than $950), and many types of forgery as long as the defendant didn’t have a superstrike or sex registration offense. It also allowed people who were doing time for these felonies to petition for resentencing if they didn’t have a superstrike or sex registration offense and once again the standard was “unreasonable risk to public safety.”

    Except that Prop 47 redefined the term to mean, “unreasonable risk for committing a superstrike” throughout the penal code. So, if a guy is up for resentencing, and he tells the court, “I plan to rob people for drugs, get high, which makes me angry, and then beat the crap out of my girlfriend and her kids,” none of that is defined as an unreasonable risk to public safety. If he credibly promises that the people he kills will be the product of voluntary manslaughters rather than murders, that’s not an unreasonable risk to public safety.

    You might not be surprised to learn that the prosecution is getting shelled on these, even with some pretty criminally-inclined people. (Judge: Well, I think he does pose a substantial risk to commit more crimes. But not a substantial risk to commit a superstrike.)

    “Hang on,” you say. “I saw what you did there. They redefined that term throughout the whole code, so now the Three Strikes resentencee applicants get the benefit of that.” Well, that’s what I said, too.

    The appellate court ruled:

    1. The English meaning of the words used means it applies to Three Strikes resentencee applicants.

    2. According to the newspaper, the author of Prop 47 wanted it to apply to them.

    3. The rule is that we assume people know what they are doing, be it the legislature or the voters.

    4. Y’all are ignorant and we’re pretty sure the voters didn’t know this was an effect of the law. We’re leaving the old rule for Three Strikes resentencee applicants.

    Now, I’m a little torn – I’m a textualist at heart, so I like it when words mean things. OTOH, this ruling probably saves lives. On the third hand, when we let courts play “Let’s be legislators!” that’s not really proper functioning and is a slippery slope which we’ve already sped down some.

    It is rare for a court to impute so much clarity into a law and then reject it as beyond the legislative intent. Courts more often find that the words used were unintended or lead to a fully broken result, and they try to fix those. But this isn’t that. This is a fully legal result the court rejected as stupid. (I have little doubt that the court is right that there were some extremely small number of people who saw what this meant.)

    In the end, I am reminded of the discussion by two famous literary characters about how courts should interpret hazardous laws:

    Butthead: Words mean stuff.
    Beavis: Words suck.

    I remain on Butthead’s side of the argument. (Dear California Supreme Court: When you take up this issue, B&B really should end up in a footnote.)

    • Irenist says:


      That’s a fun case; thanks for bringing it up. And, indeed, there’s always a tension between textualism and the absurdity doctrine. You might enjoy this review, in which Akhil Reed Amar complains that Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner have let their originalism obscure their view of the traditional absurdity doctrine:


    • cassander says:

      example 34522 that california’s initiative system is insanely idiotic and needs to be taken out back and shot.

      • Auroch says:

        The other states on the Left Coast use basically the same system, AFAIK (and I live in Oregon). Why is it California that’s particularly broken? Pure size?

        • cassander says:

          lots of california initiatives are constitutional amendments, not just laws, and even the ones that aren’t can’t be amended by the legislature without a second vote. combine that with the weakness of a legislature that has incredibly short term limits and the sheer size of the state and you give all organized interests massive incentives to run things through initiatives rather than the legislature.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            And, if anyone doesn’t know already, getting an initiative on the ballot can mean paying signature collectors who lie about what the fine print means. And often a decoy initiative or two would be put up, to nullify a sincere one.

        • Tarrou says:

          One party state. No competition, they just make up whatever they like.

    • LRS says:

      I would read your blog.

    • RCF says:

      I don’t see how a literal reading is “absurd”. It’s not like they’re being let off scot-free. They still have to serve the full length of what their sentences would be without the three strikes enhancement. Keeping someone in prison for life because they will likely commit a crime in the future is what’s absurd.

      Something that’s also somewhat absurd: I googled “proposition 47 full text”, and none of the top ten results were actually the text of proposition 47, and as far as I could tell, only two of them gave a link to the text. Getting the actual text of a proposition is kind of a pain in the ass.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Did you mean to reply to Irenist? JRM didn’t use the word “absurd”, and I’d agree that the absurdity doctrine shouldn’t apply here.

        I haven’t found or read the full text yet, but the summary doesn’t say anything about redefining “unreasonable risk to public safety” or affecting the resentencing of three-strikes offenders. My question, then, is whether the summary has any legal binding power. How about the edge case where the summary says the law reclassifies felonies as misdemeanors and the full text bans same-sex marriage?

  5. jaimeastorga2000 says:



    I was browsing FIMFiction the other day, when all of a sudden I came across a story in which Luna points out that Spike is basically Twilight’s sla–I mean, bondservant. Nothing new here, right? Lots of fanfic authors have had the same idea. Well, not quite. See, this is a reactionary Luna, and she spends half the fic arguing that there is nothing wrong with Twilight’s and Spike’s relationship, or with the general institution of which this particular bond is but an instance.

    This was not on the list of fanfics I was ever expecting to see. But I’m glad that I did. It’s really, really good.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m neither a reactionary nor a brony, but I gather from osmosis that Luna-as-hidebound-reactionary is a fairly common take on the character.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Err… not quite. I mean, it’s fairly common in the fandom for Luna to have “outdated” values, as befitting her thousand-year imprisonment, but most of the time those views are either played for comedy, or else as a character flaw, and never in a way that passes the ideological Turing test. This is the first time I have seen a serious, sympathetic take on her traditional morality, with actual reactionary arguments rather than weak arguments that a progressive imagines a reactionary might make.

      • Vaniver says:

        I’m neither a reactionary nor a brony, but I gather from osmosis that Luna-as-hidebound-reactionary is a fairly common take on the character.

        Yes and no. The most common take on Luna is that her ‘faction’ is called the “Lunar Republic,” and Gamer Luna is the most popular one. So basically bronies like to picture Luna as a super-modern democratic opponent to Tyrant Celestia.

        But in the actual show, it’s super obvious that Celestia is the benevolent ruler who jokes around with her subjects, and Luna is the harsh elitist whose social norms were set a thousand years ago (well, about as much of a harsh elitist as you can be in MLP).

        • Luke Somers says:

          The Lunar Republic is a notable attractor in fanon-space, but it is in no way at all the most common treatment of Luna. Most treat her pretty much as the show does.

    • eggo says:

      That link was the last thing I was expecting to see in this thread. Thank you for the recommendation!

    • Eli says:

      Goddamnit, these people can manage to ruin everything, can’t they? She’s supposed to be old fashioned, not “reactionary” in any way, shape, or form.

      No, really, there’s a logical reason for this, think about it: one of the two royals of a multi-millenial diarchy can’t be reactionary because neither democracy nor the French Revolution ever happened. You can’t have reactionaries without revolution in the first place. A monarch with old-fashioned habits who has never undergone a revolution is basically just another old fogey with a high social rank.

      Luna can be reactionary after the Mane 6 chop Celestia’s head off, and not until then.

    • DanielLC says:

      She’s not reactionary per se. An unbuilt trope is to a deconstruction as Luna’s position is to reactionaryism. Although since the author hasn’t spent the last thousand years on the moon, you could argue that the position is reactionary.

  6. chaosmage says:

    tl/dr: Let’s compile a list of what each cognitive bias feels like from the inside.

    I’m really curious about this “X is what Y feels like from the inside” idea that I’ve so far only seen here and on LW. This seems like a really, really powerful tool to potentially get across the divide between the inside and outside perspectives that is such a hindrance to rational thought. I could also see it easily used to compile a kind of list of experiences and states that are reliably connected in this way.

    The one Scott used recently (“that’s been totally debunked” is what shutting out all contradicting evidence feels like from the inside) is useful both for someone who doesn’t realize that’s what they’re doing, but it is also useful for people who want to model the experience of people who are doing it. I want both abilities – understanding my own behavior and ability to model others – and I believe a kind of inventory of what certain biases feel like from the inside would help with that immensely. (Of course it doesn’t have to be just biases, but it might make sense to narrow down the possible topics to a manageable and interesting field, at least for the phase where we’re looking if that has any value.) So, who’d like to contribute to that? Or does this exist already?

    • Paul says:

      I’ve started to wonder if my feelings about furries are what homophobia feels like from the inside.

      • AR+ says:

        If true would that be taken as a point against hating furries or a point in favor of homophobia?

        • Paul says:

          Against hating furries. I mean, I’m gay and the realization was somewhat uncomfortable. It’s not that I have anything against furries. (please let me know if there’s a more appropriate term, by the way)

          On an intellectual level I feel sort of sorry for them because the technology to safely become a cat person doesn’t really exist yet. They just seem sort of icky at an instinctual level, which as I type it I realize is kind of an awful thing to say about someone’s sexual identity.

          • Toggle says:

            On the apologist front, I’d expect that squicky feeling whenever you encounter a sexual identity or kink that meets the two conditions of a)not being yours and b)being novel/unfamiliar. The latter creates a “don’t think of elephants” effect, and the former makes it a kind of sex you don’t want to have- a combination I would expect to be unpleasant. If that is the case, then a protracted friendship with furries might change your ‘instinctual’ reaction by taking away the novelty.

          • gattsuru says:

            Some complications :

            The sexual identity boundary is complicated. While most furries have looked at sexualized furry artwork, a sizable portion don’t, or don’t primarily identify as furry because of it. I’m generally not terribly impressed by most of the pornographic artwork except from a psychological standpoint, for example. There’s not much evidence for how many furries can only get off within act contexualized by furry stuff, but a small survey of the folk most into the fandom suggest that it’s under 1/5. This may be somewhat comforting, or may be evidence on the side of “kink” rather than “identity” if you make such a distinction.

            A small majority of furries aren’t really interested in becoming less human, and those that are interesting in becoming less human may have different definitions than the typical. This (pdf warning) found that 38% of furries in the survey sample identified as and wanted to be human, with only 15% identifying themselves as human but wanting to become 0% human, and most of the remainder couch the difference in spiritual terms. Furries are more likely to be therianthropes (people with a spiritual or mental ‘link’ to common animals), otherkin (people with a spiritual or mental link to fictional beings, such as dragons or griffons), or following other shamanistic practices than the general populace, but permanent full-body physical modification isn’t a universal desire for any of the people in this group.

            As the ickyness… it’s kinda understandable, and probably better-rooted than a lot of homophobia. The majority of furry artwork and the overwhelming majority of sexualized furry artwork revolves around characters with nonhuman facial features. If you don’t look as much to facial features, or if those nonhuman facial features still code as “person” to you, that’s fine. Even a bonus, for some: there’s a documented behavior of furry bisexuality for (typically male) folk who don’t like a gender’s face but are fine with a variety of sexual characteristics closer to the belt. If you’re into facial features — as most people are — that’s gonna hit some bounds that you probably want to keep well-defined and far away from. This is especially augmented as many furries draw less anthromorphized characters. Even though nearly all “feral” art overwhelmingly features characters with human-like intelligence, that isn’t obvious at first glance. Other artwork is so cartoonish or feature cartoonish characters that make it disconcerting, especially if the artstyle resembles that usually focused in ‘clean’ media — I get grossed out by Tijuana Bibles for this reason, myself.

            On the other hand, a lot of the rejection flows from some less complete places. There’s a sizable fetish community in the furry fandom, but it’s vastly overstated by folk outside of the fandom, and disgust rooted in that concept isn’t as well-rooted in fact. Some of this is a small thing — relatively few furries are fursuiters, few fursuiters are into sexualized play, and the fursuits on parade are as a rule not designed for sexualized play — but it can get ridiculous. I’ve seen folk react to a fursuiter as if he were a one-fox Folsom Street Fair instead of a guy pretending to be Disney’s Robin Hood, or a chat community define artwork as not-furry because the characters weren’t obviously intersexed. There is some really out-there stuff, but tarring the entire community with the behavior of a small portion is seldom accurate. If you don’t have problems with artdecade’s work (warning: some NSFW gay stuff), then there probably is some degree of this branding behavior.

            On the gripping hand, the furry fandom has a lot of specific issues. While furries were ahead of the game on accepting transfolk at a theoretical level, casual transmisogyny and transmisandry is baked into a number of structural components. Many community nexus have handled matters like the barriers between adult and non-adult media, or against facilitating speech about illegal conduct, and the community as a whole hasn’t really behaved well about that matter. Some of the tolerated factions within the community are frankly terrible. Some homophobes reached for these sort of explanations, especially in bathhouse eras the late ’60s and early ’70s, but never with much honesty nor as a true objection, while I have seen that happen among folk that dislike furries.

          • I think revulsion comes from identifying with someone who’s doing something you really don’t want to do.

            I don’t know where the identification comes from (I don’t think it’s all a matter of subconscious desire), but if seeing something (or someone who’s possibly into that something) activates the “I imagine myself doing something I’d hate”, revulsion is a natural result.

          • Eli says:

            The thing about squick is that, on the one hand, it’s ultra-common, and on the other hand, it’s basically never grounded in anything rational. You should never treat it as part of your moral or social reasoning beyond the level of the “ugh field”.

            Now I’m just happy they stick with dogs and cats and squirrels and haven’t come up with the idea of being fly-people. Then I would simply have to exterminate every last one.

            Ick. Hate insects. So much.

      • Vulture says:

        I think even homophobes would be more outraged about chemical terrorism against a gay convention.

        • AR+ says:

          Oh yeah, that. That surprised me. Is there actually such pervasive anti-furry sentiment that all journalists who heard of it, who must already have been messing their undergarments w/ sexual fluids upon hearing, “chemical attack…” just lost all interest in turning it into a massively overblown media circus after hearing “…at a furry convention?”

        • Paul says:

          Agreed, it was really weird seeing the media downplay an ‘intentional’ incident involving poisonous gas.

        • Why would you believe that? Not all prejudiced people support murder (quite a few have limits on how abusive they’re willing to be), but there’s a long historical record of prejudiced people committing and supporting murder, sometimes by very painful methods.

          • Tarrou says:

            Would you care to distinguish “prejudiced people” from “people” here?

            Are prejudiced people uniquely violent? Are non-prejudiced people nonviolent? What qualifies as a prejudice?

          • I don’t think prejudice is the only cause of violence, but I do think it makes violence more likely.

        • MugaSofer says:

          >I think even homophobes would be more outraged about chemical terrorism against a gay convention.

          Wait, what? I didn’t hear about that happening.


        • Toggle says:

          This analogy is very bad in some ways, but there’s a fairly well known record of high-level officials in the Reagan administration joking about/laughing about the AIDS crisis, which had a very large body count.

          Outgroup-targeted violence doesn’t create much of a fear response in the ingroup, so it’s filtered the same way as terrorist attacks or disease outbreaks in foreign countries- furries aren’t “my fellow Americans”, connotatively speaking. It’s no longer personal, and therefore unlikely to generate Red Tribe outrage.

          • veronica d says:

            I was going to bring up AIDS, but I wonder how much history I would have to explain to get people here to understand the level of callous disregard AIDS got because is was a “gay disease,” and the level of lost opportunity from the absence of effective federal leadership.

            The people who died in the early 80’s were doomed, insofar as they caught the virus before the CDC has figured out what was happening. (Which the CDC knew the score as early as 82-83. They were shut down by political process.)

            Most of the people infected from 83-on were probably preventable. Not all. Not everyone was willing to change their behavior. But keep in mind their bad decisions were made in the face of half-assed efforts by political leaders and the media. The information was out there. But it was drowned out by misinformation and no leadership from the top.

            And every person not infected in the mid-80’s is a person who *does not infect others* moving into the late 80’s and 90’s. This is exponential growth. The outcome of fewer cases early compounds to many, many later. This is a big deal. Tens of thousands of lives. Maybe more.

            Add to that the degree we starved research and science early on. The Reagan administration blatantly lied about how much money the scientists were asking for. They hid memos from congress. Brave officials in the CDC leaked documents, risking their own careers.

            (Note this is a US-centric conversation. Africa is a different story. Although, even then, better research here would have helped there, just not as much.)

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s a good idea. You should repost this comment to LessWrong itself, to achieve greater visibility.

      • Noah Siegel says:

        But please link to it here if you do so. I’m trying to think of some, and it seems like a useful exercise. Will report back.

    • Hainish says:

      While I tend to think that people on the U.S. right are generally terrible, I also think that all of my in-groups are pretty terrible, too. I don’t know if anyone else feels the same.

      (IOW, tribalism: am I doing it wrong?)

      • fubarobfusco says:

        Is there any external difference between “everyone is generally terrible” and “everyone is generally okay”?

        Or is the difference the observer’s happiness set-point?

        • SUT says:

          It depends on the if the main narrative you see in life is victimization or self-resilience.

          In the victimization narrative, suffering results from the group oppressing the individual (thus “most people are generally terrible”) in the resilience narrative, grace is the ability to co-exist with people often very different from you (most people are okay, when you figure out how to deal with them).

          I’ve noticed 1st generation immigrants, both from 3rd world to nyc and ex-pats abroad in the 3rd world, both display interesting mixtures of these sentiments.

        • Hainish says:

          To clarify, I can’t actually be _really pleased_ about any of my in-groups because I do notice that they’re flawed and sometimes do bad things. This is in contrast to what I perceive as others feeling much more positive about their respective in-groups.

          I’m not sure how to evaluate the _external_ difference between those positions.

          I have dysthymia, which I thinks makes it hard to delude myself into thinking that things are better than they are.

        • Eli says:

          The difference is how you’re looking at it. In actuality, almost all people are just acting like people. Their minds don’t contain some attractor-point of evil, nor an attractor-point of definite good. Any attempt to read real people as having definite moral alignment by dint of anything other than deliberate, conscious choice is necessary inaccurate.

          • Hainish says:

            @Eli, I never said that I think people are evil. I said they’re horrible. I choose to describe them as “horrible” over “evil” because I implicitly agree with you.

            (We can argue about what banalities evil consists of and where to find it, but that’s a whole other conversation.)

          • Mary says:

            Nonsense. Human beings who can exercise deliberate, conscious choice and don’t can definitely thereby be good or evil, because failure to choose is a choice. Even down to the level of willful ignorance.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      This sounds like a really good idea and I am willing to help.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Protecting public decency” and “Requiring others to be decent human beings” is how moral and political censorship feels from inside.

    • Duncan says:

      The Boing Boing podcast “You Are Not So Smart” has a couple of good examples of what the false certainty created by heuristic reasoning/Halo Effect feels like. I haven’t listened to the podcast, but the text blurb is pretty good.

      How the Halo Effect turns uncertainty into false certainty

    • This is a great idea. I hope you develop this further.

      Just to play the critical role for a moment, one challenge might be that in many cases, they don’t feel like anything? Cognitive biases are in some cases built in very close to our raw perception and might only be detectable by double-checking with external evidence? I’m fairly certain I read somewhere that knowing about cognitive bias has an initial rational effect, but then people’s bias creeps up again as their bias somehow compensates. If I remember nobody knows exactly how that works.

      That said, I’m sure that’s not always the case and I still think its a great idea with huge benefits. Please let everybody on SSC know how your investigation goes!

  7. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I sometimes wonder what it must be like to live in Dr. Alexander’s high IQ bubble. In “The Lottery of Fascinations,” he describes himself as “bad at math” because his mathematical abilities aren’t up to the standard of his math PhD friends, and because his non-mathematical abilities are much better, but admits that he is not “terrible” at math since he managed to scrape an A in Calculus II by memorizing algorithms.

    By these standards, I’m bad at everything. Getting an A in a notorious undergraduate weeding class is pretty much near the top of my abilities. And my abilities are obviously above average; by these standards, normal, everyday people with 100 IQs who couldn’t master the algorithms necessary to get an A in Algebra, nevermind Calculus, are terrible at everything. The less said about below average people with 85 IQs, the better, and God forbid you encounter an actually mentally retarded person with an IQ below 70.

    Likewise, in “Debunked and Well-Refuted,” Dr. Alexander claims that “in many cases it’s easy to understand why a study is wrong” and that he doesn’t think this is “beyond the intellectual capacities of most people.” Taken literally, this statement is absurd; there is simply no way that 50%+ of the people on God’s green earth can possibly read, understand, and refute the kinds of papers Dr. Alexander is talking about. The only way this statement makes sense is if by “most people” he is actually talking about something like his social circle, or perhaps the set of people who comment on SSC.

    Interestingly, Dr. Alexander once did a stint in Haiti, where people apparently cannot understand the concept of alphanumeric sorting. He is also a psychiatrist, so I can only imagine that the comes into contact with patients on the other side of the bell curve at least semi-regularly. But none of this seems to make any difference to his linguistic intuitions, which appear to be firmly calibrated for his immediate peer group.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Yes, I told him as much. It’s DK effect, I think. Or maybe academic humility norms manifesting.

      Scott is way way way past the minimum threshold for serious math, the rest is morale and time.

      • “Scott is way way way past the minimum threshold for serious math, the rest is morale and time.”

        By his self-report, there’s something about math that makes it very hard for him to remember what he’s trying to do. It’s conceivable that there’s some way to make that easier for him, but it’s not *just* morale and time. There’s a very specific aptitude missing. I wouldn’t have thought memory for math was that different from other sorts of memory, but I think we have some evidence here.

        • Vaniver says:

          By his self-report, there’s something about math that makes it very hard for him to remember what he’s trying to do. It’s conceivable that there’s some way to make that easier for him, but it’s not *just* morale and time. There’s a very specific aptitude missing.

          I’m pretty sure that’s what a major type of ‘morale failure’ looks like from the inside, actually.

          • Hainish says:

            That’s what limitations on working memory look like from the inside, too.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think Scott ever denied that he has enough brainpower that he could learn serious math if he invested time and effort. He just doesn’t feel the urge to do it. The post is called “Lottery of Fascinations” not “Lottery of Smarts”.

    • Anonymous` says:

      normal, everyday people with 100 IQs who couldn’t master the algorithms necessary to get an A in Algebra, nevermind Calculus, are terrible at everything

      Yes, well, uh, yes. We don’t talk about this, but it’s true.

      I don’t know my IQ, but I got effortless As (and a few A-s, mostly in labs) in every math/science weedout course and seem to have enough capability for any non-near-impossible personal project. This doesn’t mean I’m good at things. I’m nowhere near good enough–I can easily see all sorts of areas where I could be better in relevant ways, ways that would let me accomplish my goals (“near” impossible). My mutational load is just not as god-awful as most humans’.

      I get that I’m talking around your post, which was more about how rare Scott’s situation is, but I think it’s pretty crucial in general to remember that the metric of mental quality one should use isn’t comparing to other humans.

      (Psst–nostalgebraist and su3su2u1: I’m being, like, hilariously nerdy and arrogant in this post! You can quote me for laughs or whatever.)

      • Nita says:

        “people with 100 IQs who couldn’t master the algorithms necessary to get an A in Algebra, nevermind Calculus, are terrible at everything”

        Yes, well, uh, yes. We don’t talk about this, but it’s true.

        Do you actually believe that? Presumably you typed up that comment while inside a building. Either you think it’s been constructed entirely by smarter-than-average individuals, or you are not taking your safety seriously.

        • Daniel Speyer says:

          The system of architecture reviews and construction inspections has a high emergent intelligence for problems of a very limited domain.

          • Nita says:

            Well, no. If all people involved were “terrible” at doing their jobs (no matter how simple and/or codified), no intelligence would emerge in the end. You can’t build a working system out of shit.

          • lmm says:

            @Nita what else would you build one out of? Anyone who works in e.g. high-availability computing does exactly that, all the time.

          • Nita says:


            We must be using extremely different definitions of “terrible”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nita: lmm was referring to the reliability of individual machines (“shit”) as opposed to the reliability of a highly-available service built of them (“a working system”).

          • Nita says:


            Well, I don’t know much about the particular machines you’re talking about, but each person who is actually terrible would be bringing the total productivity down, not up.

        • Have any of your ever actually worked in construction? I have, and while construction workers aren’t idiots, they aren’t performing algebra on the job, either. Many construction and architecture problems are algebraic or trigonometric in the general case, but they tend to be solved on the job by following simple heuristics like “Put the studs 12in apart”, most of which are specified in the building code.

          • Nita says:

            Right, all of that makes sense. However, we’re not talking about algebra here. We’re talking about being “terrible at everything“.

          • I assumed that the OP was using the word “terrible” hyperbolically, in the same way that Scott is “terrible” at math. The point is that it’s possible to be terrible at construction in this sense and still put up a fine building.

          • haishan says:

            This sounds a lot like my job. I’m a programmer in my secret identity, and I work on a fairly large codebase. I have a real familiarity with only about 2% of the code, but thanks to comments, Skype, and Stack Overflow, I can quickly familiarize myself with any other section of the code well enough to work on it. I’m not an expert or a supergenius; the key is that the cognitive tools I need aren’t confined to my cranium.

        • kernly says:

          Nita – obviously the architect is way more intelligent than average, obviously the people who came up with the concepts and standards the architect uses is way more intelligent than average. And being “terrible” at “everything” in the context of the parent comment is clearly about intellectual pursuits, not laying brickwork or whatever.

          Also, you’re blowing off the “emergent intelligence” concept without giving it nearly enough credit. A system that has to deal with morons doing important jobs will eventually figure out how to make that work, even if it requires initial failures. People can be stupid and terrible and still produce excellent products if the system is good enough.

          • Nita says:

            And being “terrible” at “everything” in the context of the parent comment is clearly about intellectual pursuits, not laying brickwork or whatever.

            Since Anonymous-backtick upthread mentioned “projects” and “goals”, I assumed we’re talking about any pursuits with important, desirable outcomes. But if the actual claim is that below-average-IQ people are worse at “intellectual” stuff, then I withdraw my objections.

            Also, if we can create such wonderful systems that work fine with “terrible” participants, why are we not employing more schizophrenics, alcoholics and depressed people?

          • Just to add to this point, Herny Ford/Fordism actually preferred stupid workers in many cases because they would be less likely to question, self-optimise or complain about the task that had been carefully planned as part of a large-scale master-plan. I think this approach has been discredited somewhat now (top-down has major faults dealing with complexity) but it’s probably still a thing in some places.

          • Mary says:

            Slightly stupid also meant that you were less likely to grow so bored you would quit.

            Jerry Pournelle described his work in a machine shop in World War II. For most jobs, they wanted someone with an IQ of 120. For tightening bolts, they wanted someone functionally mentally retarded, because the increased time to train was amply repaid by their willingness to go on tightening bolts for the duration.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Not long ago, a court ruled that a certain police department was within its rights to reject any applicant with an IQ over X, because they would find the job boring and quit.

    • Deiseach says:

      people with 100 IQs who couldn’t master the algorithms necessary to get an A in Algebra, nevermind Calculus, are terrible at everything

      Well, that’s me. I’m the Token Idiot who manages to get away with commenting on here, presumably thanks to the Principle of Charity, because I am completely mathematically illiterate (I’m self-diagnosed as dyscalculic; thank you, The Dyscalculia Centre which I haven’t done the paid-for test yet, but am strongly considering doing).

      So yes, when the conversation spirals off into the world of mathematics, I do feel like the Farside cartoon about Ginger 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        mathematically illiterate

        Very few SSC posts contain any mathematics, therefore it shouldn’t be a problem to comment here.

        Of course, understanding mathematics helps to improve your thinking in general, but I am sure you can get away without it on this blog. Most post don’t contain mathematics, a few posts contain statistics, but it is almost never beyond high school level.

      • Brian says:

        It makes me sad when I see you disparage yourself like that, even if it is mostly an ego-preserving joke. =]

        Your comments are consistently some of the most insightful and funny posts on here. I would be extremely surprised if you weren’t highly intelligent.

        I’m pretty terrible at petty calculation too, but I figure that’s what we have computers for. I’m much better with the very abstract structural-conceptual stuff like category theory and foundations, which is actually pretty neat.

        • BD Sixsmith says:

          Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Wilde probably sucked at maths as well.

          (The big dummies.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Thank you for the kind comment 🙂

          I’m glad you find what I say insightful and funny. But that’s what I was talking about, with my family’s ability to play with language: it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re smart, it just means we have some freaky gene cluster that makes us able to manipulate these symbol groups. A slightly different twist and we’d be equally facile as used car salespersons, cold call marketers, of the financial types that persuaded you to sign up for life to a high-interest mortgage that you really really needed and was the best offer you could get (no, you didn’t and no, it wasn’t).

          That’s part of what I find less convincing about IQ tests: you get a raw score and that means – what? It’s indicative of a measure of intelligence, and it certainly means you’re good at specific types of tests, and we make a lot of assumptions that high IQ translates out into all sorts of potential achievement and qualities, some of which may be or are correct.

          But not necessarily – and though I don’t much like that “there are eight types of intelligence, you may be kinaesthetically intelligent” notion, there is something to it. Someone may be good at fastening bolts, to take the example used above, not because they are “functionally mentally retarded” but because they are mechanically gifted, have patience and self-discipline, and can make themselves concentrate on a task either because (a) this is vital war time work or (b) it’s crappy and boring but it pays great.

          I’d be bored senseless tightening bolts all day, but someone else would be just as bored senseless at a play by Shakespeare where I was relishing the language.

          • Brian says:

            See, I definitely disgree with your characterization that being strong verbally but not mathematically means one is not smart.

            There are certainly different modules in the brain, each with a different (though probably corellated) intelligence. A good psychologist giving an IQ test will take account of this.

            When I took one, my working memory score was average, my processing speed and mathematical intelligence were relatively far above average, and my verbal intelligence was near the sealing of what could be mesured.

            The psychologist giving me the test said he couldn’t give me a single number as my “IQ”, because one way or the other it would be wildly unrepresentative.

            Based on your self-reports, I presume you’d have a similarly skewed distribution. But if even one of your modules is near the sealing, I think pretty much all people would call you smart. Like, not-smart people don’t read Shakespeare for pleasure.

            The reason I object so strongly when you insist that you’re not smart is because it’s such a self-limiting belief, and it isn’t useful.

            I’ve been down that path before. I have a hard time interpreting unfamiliar symbols and learning languages. This has affected everything from my ability to calculate in math to my ability to read music to my ability to program to my ability to learn Latin.

            As a result of this hardship, I always thought of myself as “terrible at math”, and disliked math as a result.

            But eventually I decided to take a few courses on machine learning and statistics. While the math was hard to learn, I also saw the beauty in it and decided to pursue it further.

            I’m still not the strongest in math, but I no longer think of myself as “terrible at math”. As a result, when I want to sit down and learn something, I no lomger flinch away emotionally. And I’ve found that’s a big part of the battle.

            And to be fair, your math ability is probably above average for the general population, but only subjectively feels so low because you compare it to your prodigious verbal abilities. This is particularly probable if you’ve never had a professional diagnosis.

            Besides, if you had a different weird gene signature, you’d be one of those people who can calculate like crazy but can’t appreciate Shakespeare. And that would, I think, be worse.

          • Deiseach says:

            And to be fair, your math ability is probably above average for the general population, but only subjectively feels so low because you compare it to your prodigious verbal abilities.

            Flattering as this is (and I’m purring like a cat rolling around in a heap of catnip), I have to hold you back there: I am genuinely terrible at maths, which is why The Dyscalculia Centre was a boon to me: “Hey, I’m not stupid or lazy, this really is a thing!”

            I mean, quite literally the other day at work when I had to make a phone call and couldn’t work out why the damn call wouldn’t connect, I re-checked the number and yes, once again – transposed the figures. It’s the equivalent tic to the way you see people spelling “rogue” as “rouge” WHICH DRIVES MY INNER GRAMMAR SARUMAN UP THE WALL MY ORCS SHALL SWEEP DOWN UPON THEM AND OBLITERATE THEM AND I WILL CONSTRUCT PALINGS OUT OF THEIR BONES AND WHIPS OUT OF THEIR SINEWS AND FLOG THOSE WHO SPELL PER SE AS “PER SAY” TO DEATH WITH THEM!!!!

            Ahem. But apart from that, thank you for the very kind words 🙂

          • haishan says:

            Please don’t take this as an insult; it’s not.

            my verbal intelligence was near the sealing of what could be mesured.

            I assume you mean “ceiling” there, and elsewhere. Are you a native English speaker? If not, no sweat, it’s “ceiling.” If so, it seems like usage/spelling is not highly g-loaded, or at least not as g-loaded as I thought, or else you’re an outlier.

          • Hainish says:

            @Haishan, the multiple errors in a sentence referring to high verbal IQ, coupled with the lack of anything similar in the rest of Brian’s comment, make me think that it was tongue-in-cheek.

          • Vegemeister says:

            my verbal intelligence was near the sealing of what could be mesured

            God is great.

    • Alsadius says:

      I think people who live in a smart-people bubble tend to underestimate how much intelligence it takes to do certain things, but that a lot of tasks ordinary people can’t do they do have the innate capability for, if they ever trained themselves for it. I see no particular reason that the average person couldn’t do (say) algebra if they really wanted to, even if they generally don’t learn it properly.

    • lmm says:

      Things you’re good at feel easy. Being intelligent mostly feels like being baffled that other people can’t do easy things.

      • Deiseach says:

        Also, I think measuring intelligence is a very odd beast. My paternal family line is brilliant, if you measure “ability to read, write and have extensive vocabulary”. We all routinely learn to read much earlier than the average, read at levels far in advance of our class mates, and have no problems crushing the opposition when it comes to spelling, grammar and other forms of tests, not to mention essay writing – to the point where it’s actually a problem, as you can get accused of cheating: “no way you wrote that essay on your own, you must have copied it out of a book” (these were the days Before The Internet, in my case). If you went purely by test scores, we have intelligence by the bushel full.

        There’s also a strong correlation with being good at maths and being musically talented (many of my first cousins, first cousins once removed, and second cousins make a living through music, and one of them is a bona fide rock/pop star – her Wikipedia page says she works in the genres of “art rock, progressive rock, baroque pop, alternative rock, experimental rock”). I missed out on the maths and music genes, though 🙂

        So why aren’t we ruling the country? Mainly because there is also a strong correlation with Autism Spectrum/Asperger’s Syndrome, anxiety and depression, various neuroses and all kinds of social anxiety and social phobias and generally ending up on medication and not being able to function very well as ‘normal’ outside of our comfort zones.

        Which means in reality we’re the most cultured navvies on the building site.

        So being intelligent isn’t enough on its own; you need to be able to use that intelligence fruitfully and not be crippled by other things.

    • RCF says:

      “Taken literally, this statement is absurd; there is simply no way that 50%+ of the people on God’s green earth can possibly read, understand, and refute the kinds of papers Dr. Alexander is talking about.”

      What are the kinds of papers that he is talking about?

    • Eli says:

      Very fair point. I thought myself far behind in math, too, until I looked at my old undergrad institution’s website listing the requirements for a math minor and realized that – between my undergrad in CS, my almost-doubled grad program in CS, and my own studying – I am one or two textbooks away from having a BSc Comp Sci, MSc Comp Sci, and a de facto math minor. After I finish the rest of the math textbooks I want to actually get through, I’ll be a de facto math double-major.

      And still won’t consider myself qualified to apply for the PhD programs I want.

      Always good to go back and check these things.

    • Multiheaded says:

      By these standards, I’m bad at everything. Getting an A in a notorious undergraduate weeding class is pretty much near the top of my abilities. And my abilities are obviously above average; by these standards, normal, everyday people with 100 IQs who couldn’t master the algorithms necessary to get an A in Algebra, nevermind Calculus, are terrible at everything. The less said about below average people with 85 IQs, the better, and God forbid you encounter an actually mentally retarded person with an IQ below 70.

      Scott, would you please ban me again. Because AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHH!


      • BD Sixsmith says:

        Is your problem with the concept of IQ itself or the assertion that average and below average testees are “terrible at everything”? If it is the latter, I think we have to make use of our sarcasm detectors.

        • coffeespoons says:

          I didn’t detect sarcasm there either.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think it was quite sarcasm, but it wasn’t entirely serious. I believe the point was “I’m above average, but I’m not as good at math as Scott is. Therefore, if Scott is bad at math, I’m terrible at everything.”

            by these standards, normal, everyday people with 100 IQs who couldn’t master the algorithms necessary to get an A in Algebra, nevermind Calculus, are terrible at everything. The less said about below average people with 85 IQs, the better, and God forbid you encounter an actually mentally retarded person with an IQ below 70.

            The key phrase here is by those standards.

      • coffeespoons says:

        I also found the jaimeastorga2000 super unpleasant – I really dislike the contempt for average/below average IQ people that is often found in the comments here.

        • Matthew says:

          I’m happy to empirically dispute the factual claim, too. I used to have a part-time security job. One of the things we had to do was supervise outside contractors who would come in to steam the carpets or repaint the walls, etc.

          I supervised a pair of a painters for most of a shift once. From listening to their nonstop banter the whole time, I can tell you that:

          a) I would be shocked if either of their IQs was above 85.

          b) They were extraordinarily efficient office painters, a task which required getting the furniture out of the way as quickly as possible, applying painter’s tape, and painting evenly and without making a mess. Not only could they not be described as terrible at it, they were undeniably excellent at it, and faster than I could likely be even if I had practice.

          (On the other hand… wow. Unlike the doctors and social workers, I don’t normally have much exposure to people with sub-90 IQs. Culture shock in an intellectually stratified society is a thing. I think they would have been quite happy for me to join in their banter, but the gap in both norms and knowledge made it impossible for me to do this in a way that wouldn’t be really awkward for somebody, so I didn’t.)

      • Scott Alexander says:

        If you confirm you mean this seriously, I will do it.

  8. So LessWrong is dying. Most former regulars rarely visit anymore. Even Eliezer has been posting his recent essays not on the website he himself created, but instead using an awkward kludge of Facebook and Tumblr. Now the rationalist community (which essentially means people who have read the Sequences or HPMoR and all talk in sort of the same way) is scattered.

    This website seems to have gathered a substantial community of its own, as evidenced by the increasing frequency of these open threads and the creation of a #slatestarcodex IRC channel. Almost everything Scott posts immediately receives hundreds of comments, which spiral off into sub threads of sub threads of sub threads discussing anything and everything even the least bit related to the OP. It feels to me like this is an imperfect awkward solution to the lack of a central forum. Like, the comment section of some doctor’s personal blog is not the place to form this community that desperately wants to exist.

    I think the main reason that LessWrong died is because LessWrong is a forum dedicated to discussing rationality. But people don’t want to discuss rationality – at some point it becomes uninteresting and there are diminishing returns from doing so. People want to discuss interesting things with rationalists. This is one of the few places where you can reliably do that.

    I think it would provide a great deal of utility if some sort of central discussion forum for the no-politics epistemic virtue tribe could be recreated. The obvious solution is to say “guys, let’s just change the rules and standards of LessWrong a bit and tell everyone to come back!” but that doesn’t seem like something that would work in the real world. Someone should create a new website for this. I would do it myself, but I am just some dude and I don’t think I have a compelling reason to say “guys everyone come to this website I made, I promise it will be the next big thing”.

    So I’m not sure what the next step is. I do think that if anyone who is an influential figure in the community is reading this, they should consider if this idea is a good one, and if it’s worth taking steps to make it happen.

    • Vulture says:

      Why not have the Grand High Council admins or whatever set up another subforum on LW, similar to discussion but for even more off-topic discussion? As I understand it, this would be pretty easy, since LW code was forked from reddit, including the subbreddits system (which is what is used for /r/discussion and the Classified and Unnamable obscure/back-end-y /r/meetups).

      As an aside, about the SSC community, in my experience it seems to have significant differences from the set of people who comment(ed) on LessWrong: most obviously, most people around here probably wouldn’t think of themselves as post- or a-political.

      • most people around here probably wouldn’t think of themselves as post- or a-political.

        You might be right, given that there are a fair amount of openly admitted leftists and reactionaries in the comment section. But I still feel like the general atmosphere around here is post- or a-political, given that Scott seems to be pretty clearly post- or a-political and has mentioned a few times the idea of a no-politics tribe. The main difference, I think, is that we discuss politics here. On LessWrong, political discussion is banned.

        To me it feels like the biggest difference between SSC and LessWrong is that in LessWrong discussion can be very precise, technical and formal and topics which can be discussed that way come up more frequently. People here seem to not be as mathematically minded.

      • Nornagest says:

        Pushing feature requests through on LW is about as easy as driving a herd of lemmings across a river of cold molasses. You might get it done eventually, but it’ll be ugly and frustrating and only happen on the backs of many failed attempts.

        • Alsadius says:

          Lemmings? It seems far easier to drive lemmings into unwise situations than most animals. A herd of cats, maybe.

          • Mary says:

            Cats do not come in herds, any more than lions do. The equivalent term to “pride” is “clutter”.

            So you drive a clutter of cats, you lucky soul.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s not that people don’t want to discuss rationality. It’s that most of the people with interesting ideas about rationality have stopped posting them there for reasons other than “wanting to discuss”, so top-level content is populated mainly by recurring threads and ideas that aren’t interesting.

      I don’t venture motives for all the people in question. But I’ve gotten less enthusiastic about posting — or, rather, about posting original content as opposed to commentary — mainly because doing so is a fast way to get dragged into interminable circular debates where all parties are more interested in signaling intelligence and/or irreverence and/or flogging their various dead horses than in actually getting to the bottom of anything, with the predictable result that any pickable nits get picked bloody. I could give my posts the level of polish they’d need to avoid that, but it’s not a good use of my time. So instead I just don’t post.

      Plus everybody seems convinced that everyone else is ignorant or mindkilled, but that their own wild-assed theories and/or crank politics are pure gold.

    • Error says:

      People want to discuss interesting things with rationalists.

      Seems to me that could be (partially) solved by additional sub-boards on LW itself, rather than the need for a new board.

      There’s conflicting needs here. Running a blog is attractive because it carries with it a sense of…I want to use the word “regency”, but I’m pretty sure I’m using it wrong. Blog-as-personal-demesne is what I’m getting at, I think.

      A blog is a good way to talk about whatever you want without being restricted by what the community you’re posting in is used to; it’s *your* community. But blog comments are a terrible format for decentralized discussion among a community of equals.

      There’s a sort of general problem here in that sometimes you want to talk about a topic regardless of who’s listening, sometimes you want to talk to a given community, sometimes you want to join a specific conversation, and sometimes you’re just interested in the thoughts of a single individual. I don’t think any current software suits all four of those.

      [ETA: That last bit is relevant for cases where a site built for one purpose wants to transmogrify into something else, as seems to be happening here on SSC. As I understand the history, Less Wrong itself began in a very similar way. Elders correct me if I’m wrong.]

      • Nornagest says:

        Running a blog is attractive because it carries with it a sense of…I want to use the word “regency”, but I’m pretty sure I’m using it wrong. Blog-as-personal-demesne is what I’m getting at, I think.

        I think the word you’re looking for is “sovereignty”?

        • Irenist says:

          Sovereignty, eh?

          So the garden of niceness and civility here at SSC is just Scott’s latest micronation? That’s a pleasant thought.

          • Vulture says:

            Methinks it is a metaphor for a psychological feeling and loose kind of structure, rather than a declaration of this blog as any kind of political entity 😛

          • Anonymous says:

            well he did kick out most of the Nrx by saying that he was “optimizing his domain” or something

          • Fazathra says:

            well he did kick out most of the Nrx by saying that he was “optimizing his domain” or something

            And, ironically, they can’t complain because this blog is basically a microcosm of neoreactionary principles: it’s a small “state” ruled over by a benevolent dictator with free rights of exit which is in a competition for comments/insight etc with the rest of the rationalist blogosphere. And the result is a nice and orderly walled garden with only the occasional purging of undesirables. It’s practically the Singapore of blogs

          • And, ironically, they can’t complain because this blog is basically a microcosm of neoreactionary principles

            Indeed it is! And that’s a big part of why it’s nice. Every pleasant and useful internet community that I’ve ever been a part of was also a monarchy, usually with relatively strict rules of conduct, and I’ve frequently heard some variation of “You have no freedom of speech in my comment section.”

            The similarity is not coincidental.

          • Andy says:

            Indeed it is! And that’s a big part of why it’s nice. Every pleasant and useful internet community that I’ve ever been a part of was also a monarchy, usually with relatively strict rules of conduct, and I’ve frequently heard some variation of “You have no freedom of speech in my comment section.”

            The similarity is not coincidental.

            Governing principles for comment sections don’t always translate to meatspace, however. For example, exiting a meatspace nation is not as easy as switching to another blog. This is especially true when there’s nobody around willing to take in the exit-ers (or in contemporary parlance, [i]refugees[/i].) This is partly why the Palestine/Israel conflict has gone on so long – nobody’s willing to take the Palestinians in [i]en masse[/i] and make them citizens. People get out in ones and twos and families, but there’s no place that wants the entire Palestinian population. All of those non-white immigrants that Western reactionaries complain about? They’re people who have exercised their exit rights! They’re exiteers!
            The exercise of ‘exit rights’ in meatspace isn’t a simple as removing a bookmark, it’s the Caminata Nocturna. Be honest with me, Reactionaries: how often, when thinking of ‘exit rights,’ have you put yourself in the place of the refugees leaving everything you’ve ever known for someplace new – possibly someplace unknown with a completely different culture – with next to nothing, or are ‘exit rights’ other people get to exercise so you don’t have to compromise?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Every pleasant and useful internet community that I’ve ever been a part of was also a monarchy, usually with relatively strict rules of conduct

            Almost all. And in real life, if you substitute ‘most effective’ for ‘pleasant’, it applies more or less to theatre, ships, doctor+nurses, ashrams, etc. But these are trades where a leader’s charisma pervades and sets the standard for almost everything. And here, people who don’t like the leader can in practice leave, instead of staying and struggling for power within the group.

            An internet exception, alt.books.cs-lewis in the mid-90s, had Lewis’s works as the standard of charity and discourse, and long, accurate quotes settled most differences. A virtual monarch.

        • Artemium says:

          There is nothing controversial about that. You can argue (like Peter Thiel does) that the private companies are more-or-less monarchies, and that their success is often positively correlated with the level of authoritarianism of the ‘ruler’ (Steve Jobs comes to mind).

          It is only a questions of finding the ideal model for every organisation depending on its characteristics.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            This may show at its best where the monarch has invented the product, designed the business structure, and chosen all the employees.

    • JRM says:

      Very interesting post.

      First, I think LW’s problems are partly the fact that there’s a focus on rationality overview, but partly other problems. When LW goes to specific issues, there’s an official right answer (Many Worlds, Cryonics is good) which is occasionally vastly overconfident.

      Eliezer, for all his hubris, is a great writer, and his writing is a draw. The number two writer at the site (with some clearance between Eliezer/other dude and the rest of the pack) has defected and formed his own personal blog.

      I completely disagree that “a doctor’s personal blog” is a bad place for us to hang and talk. I don’t care what the dude who writes this blog does for a living; I care whether the content is good. Sure, doctors are terrible people who take money from sick people – held only in check by society’s greatest asset, the lawyer. But let’s focus on the content.

      And I really, really disagree that the rationalist community is LW with the LW terms. Nuts to that. Sure, the LW community is strong. Yes, the sequences are partly superb, mostly excellent, with a small smattering of rubbish. I have nothing to say about HPMoR, because I’ve read about 400 words of it.

      I think you can be a rationalist without reading any of this stuff. (And I think you can be a cognitive bias disaster having read all of it.) LW just isn’t the only way to go for Rationalism 101.

      And in the end, I think SSC is a better way to get into rationalism, or at least a more sustainable way. I predict SSC has *far* less annual turnover than LW as long as Scott is active.

      • Anonymous says:

        as long as Scott is active

        That’s the bleeping point. Any political system works if people are good. Any topic is interesting if a great writer writes about it. Any blog or website is good as long as people like Scott or Eliezer are active. If Scott would be no longer active on SSC, nobody would visit the site except to read old posts.

        • Nornagest says:

          To a first approximation, the forum that generates original discussions, keeps people non-awful, and holds signal-to-noise ratio high without depending on interesting seed content has not been invented.

          (You can pick one, two if you have a good mod staff.)

      • I completely disagree that “a doctor’s personal blog” is a bad place for us to hang and talk. I don’t care what the dude who writes this blog does for a living; I care whether the content is good. Sure, doctors are terrible people who take money from sick people – held only in check by society’s greatest asset, the lawyer. But let’s focus on the content.

        I don’t have anything against doctors (lol), that wasn’t my point. I had originally written “some dude’s personal blog”, but that seemed kind of offensive. My point is that Scott is essentially doing this as a hobby, unlike Eliezer, who saw his writings as part of his job, a priority, and massively important. What’s more is that Scott is not pushing any sort of agenda or movement, he has no explicit goals. He is just writing about whatever interests him.

        This community existing in the comments section of a personal blog means that the discussions and insights the community is having are necessarily tied to what this one guy felt like writing about on any given day. This seems not ideal.

        Also, just on a practical level, the structure of WordPress comments were absolutely not meant to cater to a community of this size.

        And I really, really disagree that the rationalist community is LW with the LW terms. Nuts to that. Sure, the LW community is strong. Yes, the sequences are partly superb, mostly excellent, with a small smattering of rubbish. I have nothing to say about HPMoR, because I’ve read about 400 words of it.

        I think you can be a rationalist without reading any of this stuff. (And I think you can be a cognitive bias disaster having read all of it.) LW just isn’t the only way to go for Rationalism 101.

        I definitely agree that many people are rational without having read Yudkowsky and many people are irrational having read Yudkowsky. This is why I don’t like that “rationalists” is the name of this Tribe, I wish there was a better term. “LWers” is awkward, and “Yudkowskians” is cult-like. “Bayesians” is better, but personally I don’t really understand what Bayes’ rule has to do with any of this and I’m doing alright. But what I am saying is that the point isn’t just if someone is rational. The point is if they’re the type of person I want to talk to, intellectually.

        To me, these are the defining traits of the “rationalist” community:

        – probabalistic reasoning
        – consequentialism
        – materialism
        – self-doubt, questioning your own beliefs
        – tendency to question everything about society
        – tendency to try to break down phenomena to gain insight
        – disinclination to accept authority
        – futurism
        – polyamory

        The first three are important for people I am talking to because without them the conversation could devolve into fundamental philosophical disagreements we are unlikely to resolve. The fourth is important to avoid crazy ideologues who will never change their mind. The fifth, sixth, and seventh are important because this is the type of thinking I enjoy and revel in, and there are few spaces in which you can do so. The last two are unimportant to me.

        Without the common trait of “we’ve all read Yudkowsky”, it seems unlikely that you would get all of these things in one package.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          Regarding community names. One reason I chose my username: rationalists remind me of phenomenological homunculi in the sense that we care deeply about maintaining accurate/useful beliefs, and therefore frequently engage in meta-cognition. I don’t expect the phrase “The Homunculi (Community)” to gain any traction, but I can’t help but put it out there.

          If anyone cares, the primary reason was because when I first read how Eliezer was writing a fanfic, I imagined Evidence (aka Truth) posing a Newcombs Problem to Edward. The only way to win requires Edward to relinquish his Rationality, which is meta-rationality à la the Way of the Void.

        • A says:

          That was a great point about “rationalist” not being an ideal term.

          I think the same can be said about effective altruism.

          EA means cosmopolitanism and that excludes e.g. “neoreactionaries” and probably other more common types of conservatives. But who says they can’t be altruistic and effective?

    • Anonymous says:

      LW is not dead, but it does lack the leaders, but without leaders forums tend to lose focus, unless they are based on outside thing that drives them forward.

      If somebody started to post more original content that is both high quality *and* easy to read (there a lot of good content on LW that is poorly written), in a way that people would recognize a name and flock to read his or her material, then LW would be the same it was before.

    • cassander says:

      honestly, a private reddit has all the tools you want to do it right.

    • I’ve been devouring The Cartoon History of the Universe, and of the Modern World, after trying the first volume on Scott’s recommendation. And it contained this little nugget: that the precursor to the Royal Society, the ‘invisible college’, started out somewhat like this. (Gonick (the author) claims that the invisible college banned all discussion of religion and politics.)

      • Mary says:

        Eh, don’t trust the Cartoon History too far. I’ve caught it in — well, he summarized St. Augustine’s Confessions in four panels and got five things completely wrong.

    • SSC is a pretty good crowd and the range of topics is very interesting. I also prefer Scott’s writing to Eliezer’s, but I guess that’s personal preference. All up it makes SSC a great hub for this sort of thing. My only reservation is the restrictive nature of the comments system. It’s just a bit of a pain to use. Does anyone else feel this way?

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        How so? This is the most efficient forum software I’ve posted under lately. No registration necessary, has nesting, posts go up immediately, no long loading time.

      • Alsadius says:

        I would love a upvote/downvote system being added, and deeper nesting of comments(and abandonment of narrow fixed-width formatting if the latter is to happen – one blog I read had comments that could get so deep they’d show up one word per line, which was awful).

        • This. Also as the audience gets larger it would be nice to have some categorisation so the content in previous can be navigated easily. I feel its quite hard to have larger ongoing conversations on a topic with multiple parties. An actual forum might work, though I guess it could fragment things too if its done before the number of people is large enough.

        • Mary says:

          One word? That’s nice. I’ve seen ’em get down to one letter a line which is — silly.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Instead of narrowing the width, a number could indicate the level, and hovering over it could indicate whom the author is replying to. There’s probably a better way than that, too, but the narrowing’s gotta go.

      • lmm says:

        The lack of notification about replies is infuriating.

    • Viliam Búr says:

      people don’t want to discuss rationality – at some point it becomes uninteresting and there are diminishing returns from doing so. People want to discuss interesting things with rationalists

      This may be a more difficult problem than it seems. The most straightforward solution would be to create two subreddits: rationalists talking about rationality, and rationalists talking about things unrelated to rationality.

      The problem is: how can we make sure that people who come to debate in the latter subreddit actually are rationalists? Let’s suppose that a) in the general population, rationalists are a tiny minority, and b) the debates among rationalists — when they are not talking about rationality, but about some topic X — are also interesting to read for many non-rationalists who care about topic X.

      Now the “rationalists talking not about rationality” subreddit would attract many people, and most of them would not be rationalists. Most of them would participate in this subreddit and ignore the other one. Would that be a desirable outcome? Or would it lead to a gradual decline in the quality of the debate?

      In other words, if “people filtered by topic X” are awesome, but “topic X” is boring, what exactly would be the consequences of removing the topic X from the debate?

      On the other hand, the success of SSC could be an evidence that I am wrong here. But maybe that’s not a fair comparison, because on SSC most articles are posted by Scott, so he gives the tone of the debate, and keeps filtering people by “liking to read articles written by Scott”. (It could be very different if new members could post their own articles, which could be upvoted by other new members, so people could get more exposure on SSC e.g. by attacking Scott.)

      So, ignoring SSC model, a solution could be: create two subreddits, as suggested above, with the following rules: anyone can join the “rationalists debating rationality” subreddit, but only the people who gain over 9000 karma (thus proving themselves to understand rationality) could join the other subreddit “rationalists with tenure, debating interesting stuff”.

      Following the SSC model (anyone can participare in the debate, but articles have to be written by Scott), we have to solve a problem: “how to find more people like Scott”. Then, we could allow only those people to post articles, but anyone could post comments.

      Individual blogs like SSC pointing to each other are like a decentralized version of this. What exactly would be an advantage of having a centralized version? Maybe solving technical difficulties with starting and maintaining the website. But there are already solutions for this, too. So… maybe the problem simply is that there are not enough writers sufficiently frequently writing consistently rational articles? Or is there some other problem I have missed here?

      • Susebron says:

        If the problem is that rationality is boring, then forcing people to talk about rationality before they can talk about interesting things seems unlikely to attract people to LW.

        • Anonymous says:

          rationality is boring

          Quite often things that are exciting are exciting for wrong reasons.

          • Susebron says:

            Well, sure. But the point is to attract people to LW because LW is dying. If you try to attract people with exciting things, but force them to do boring things first, then they will go somewhere else where they can discuss exciting things without having to discuss boring things.

          • Anonymous says:

            You don’t have to attract that many people to have interesting discussions. Personally I think that even on SSC quality of the discussions is lower than it used to be in the beginning. Of course, now there are more comments, there are more good comments as well, but it seems to me that the number of crappy comments grew faster than the number of good comments, it is no longer feasible to read all discussion and actually find those gems in a reasonable amount of time.
            I must admit that most my comments are also crappy, very few are good.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            it is no longer feasible to read all discussion and actually find those gems in a reasonable amount of time

            Working within the existing software here, you could request your friends to put a flag in each post that they think you might enjoy. Establishing various flags for various content notes could be useful to everyone.

      • Anonymous says:

        I like your idea, except

        but only the people who gain over 9000 karma (thus proving themselves to understand rationality)

        Instead of requiring high overall karma, which can be easily achieved by posting a lot of comments that are sufficiently good to be upvoted to 3-10 points. You can achieve that by having a high volume and average (by LW standards) understanding of rationality.

        I think it would be better either to have upvotes of different values, maybe something like page-rank.

        In my opinion, some of the best LW commenters have (relatively) low karma, but the things they post are of consistently high quality. And they make very few posts, but they are often highly upvoted. Therefore something like H-index could make sense, i.e. if a poster has H posts that each have at least H upvotes, then this poster has H-rank of H (of course, Rationality quotes, Humour threads and Survey threads should be excluded). We could sort posters by this rank instead of sorting them by total karma.

        Yet another possible (without paying any attention whether it is possible to code) solution is to have system of invites. Elite users could invite new users from the first subreddit to the second subreddit. E.g. there could be an “invite” button in user’s page. If three or more elite users choose to press that button and invite a user, the second subreddit would become unlocked to them.

        Individual blogs like SSC pointing to each other are like a decentralized version of this. What exactly would be an advantage of having a centralized version?

        I think that what is lacking is debate and exchange of opinions between the writers on each blog. I mean, if we had a centralized system, we could encourage writers to post their opinions about each other’s writing as top level posts instead of having them buried in the comments and more people would be aware what others are writing. Besides, many rationality blogs have very few readers and even fewer commenters. SSC is an exception, not the rule.

      • In other words, if “people filtered by topic X” are awesome, but “topic X” is boring, what exactly would be the consequences of removing the topic X from the debate?

        This is definitely a good post overall and something I didn’t think of. I just want to say that my point isn’t that rationality is inherently boring, moreso that upon reaching a certain level of rationality there are diminishing returns from discussing it, so people tend to become uninterested, which I think may have happened on a community-wide scale. So newcomers will hopefully still be interested in rationality.

        Also it seems like empirically, people tend to find LessWrong off-putting until they start reading a bit of Yudkowsky and realize “hey, everything this guy says makes a lot of sense”. So I am not sure if the problem of “untrained” people coming in and taking over the community is a realistic one.

      • Alsadius says:

        Why would folks who don’t care about rationalism wind up at LW in the first place? It’s a big internet out there.

        • Limi says:

          Heck, I am very interested in rationality and I had never heard of SSC or LW until a week ago. Since then I have spent the last week reading back through SSC and the sequences non-stop and to my own detriment, but I never would have heard of either if it weren’t for a complicated chain of events, even though I have desperately searched for something demonstrating that you can question leftist and rightist dogma without being either a lunatic or an asshole for over a year.

    • Eli says:

      I think the main reason that LessWrong died is because LessWrong is a forum dedicated to discussing rationality. But people don’t want to discuss rationality – at some point it becomes uninteresting and there are diminishing returns from doing so.

      Alternative hypothesis: LessWrong is dying because it has become dry and unpleasant. Just yesterday I actually saw someone write, “The value of immortality to me seems not infinite, but merely very large.”

      Excuse me, Princess Stargirl (the actual username in question), but the value of immortality to you in a universe with 10^80 atoms and 100 trillion years of starlight left is far, far larger than your puny ape-brain can consciously apprehend in any way whatsoever. As far as you current mental structures are concerned, that long to live is infinite.

      For God’s sakes, you are talking about IMMORTALITY. TRY, TRY, TRY to at least PRETEND you find the prospect a pleasant one, instead of doing your best to talk like Quirrelmort’s own peer-reviewer! For a website where we explicitly preach that Spockitude and Academic Dryness are NOT traits of the True Rationality, the damned place is overflowing with people who believe themselves rational because they pretend to think, speak, and act like fucking Vulcans!


      (It’s really not often enough that I get to say “puny ape-brain”. Eeeeheheheheee!)

      • Mary says:

        Technically if the heat-death of the universe/Big Crunch/Big Rip kills you, you are not immortal, merely very long-lived.

      • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

        …in a universe with 10^80 atoms and 100 trillion years of starlight left…

        Well, these numbers are impressive but the utility gets sliced thin quickly:

        – interstellar colonization is very improbable
        – intergalactic colonization is ridiculously improbable
        – any individual person’s technological immortality is very improbable
        – even assuming all those work out, the person can still be deleted or destroyed
        – even assuming they aren’t they can still get tortured and the process will certainly cause suffering to others as well

        This is why I found the whole “do cryonics or else you are irrational” attitude silly, as well as your big numbers and all caps for emphasis. You just don’t have the excellent point you seem to think you have.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I kinda look at the current rise of SSC and say “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Only issue is that I think the volume of discussion is too high for the format of this comment section. Maybe I or another can just write an extension or something to reformat it.

    • Vivificient says:

      We do have r/LessWrongLounge, which is supposed to be a subreddit for LW people to talk about things other than rationality. But people don’t use it much. The discussion on the open threads here is much more interesting, even though it is far harder to read.

      Maybe we need r/SlateStarCodex?

      Really though, I think the problem is that this site is the Schelling Point. We could go have these conversations somewhere else and they would be better formatted, but everybody else wouldn’t be there, so it wouldn’t work. If there were an official Slate Star Codex forum, and Scott told everyone to go there, then it might work.

  9. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    If you accept that working for a living is necessary for a most people to function, still leaves question of how much work. Nobody designed the 40-hour workweek and 2 weeks of vacation for eudamonia, therefore unlikely to be optimal. Teachers regularly take 2 month vacations. Competence aside, most teachers are decent, functional people. Hence, lower middle class and above can handle 2 months off per year.

    Wanted to perform similar lower bound calculation with students, but difficult to measure study/homework time. Also, difficult to tell if students are functional.

    • Well says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by “functioning”. Can you please help me understand?

      It seems to me that retirees “function” just fine.

      • Misha says:

        They don’t though: retired people are far more likely to experience social isolation, and die younger than people that choose to keep working long after retirement age.

        • Tom Womack says:

          I’m pretty certain the causality works the other way round there: that people who find their work satisfying enough and their health good enough to continue working after retirement age, are likely to live longer.

          I live alone; it would be rational for me to at least acquire a lodger as I hit age fifty, so that I’m not usually alone in the house and the expected time from cardiac event or breaking a bone and falling down the stairs to ambulance is a few minutes rather than a few days.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      Probably optimal is about 12 weeks of vacation per years.

    • Deiseach says:

      The two month summer holidays are a relic of the time when school had to close down for the harvest, as the farmers’ children would all be home labouring in the fields. Teachers often do work of some kind during those holidays (there are always state exams to supervise and papers to mark afterwards, and lots of teachers do grinds on the side). Meanwhile we poor clerical and other staff are still there in the schools working (you wouldn’t believe the amount of time people would come to the school and express surprise to find me there – yes, the reason I’m not getting two months’ holidays is because I’m not a teacher).

      More free time no matter what the job, on the other hand, would be nice also.

      • Everyone always says that summer vacation is due to agricultural systems and the harvest. Did none of these people ever notice that the harvest is not in the summer? If accommodating harvest season were the motive, then vacation would be August – October rather June – August.

        This seems like the sort of thing that would be documented at the time that public schools were first developed, but I’ve never seen anyone produce the actual reason given at the time for structuring the school year this way.

        • AngryDrake says:

          Harvest varies by crop, climate and location. Polish harvest of most of the grains happens smack in the middle of the local summer vacation (July and August). Potatoes come later. I don’t know how it is in America.

          Brief googling reveals that the actual time something is harvested can be extremely variable.

        • Hainish says:

          It’s a pretty common misconception that summer vacation was a result of children being needed during the harvest. Googling “real history of summer vacation” turns up some interesting results, including this one.

        • Deiseach says:

          Did none of these people ever notice that the harvest is not in the summer?

          Summer holidays in Irish schools – roughly from first week of June to return in first week of September.

          Depending on whether it’s spring wheat or winter wheat, yes, generally harvesting in August – but it can be a month or so earlier. And besides, you also have to plough, harrow, sow, weed, fertilise, etc. before harvesting, all of which are labour intensive also.

          July when the weather is (generally) good, and it’s time to bring in the hay? In my childhood I’ve seen people piking hay from sunrise to the moon being high in the sky because you have to get it in before the rain comes.

          In fact, I’m old enough that in my childhood, I saw the neighbours cutting hay with a scythe and making cocks of hay as in this video (the field was so small, the hassle of getting a tractor in was too much trouble). Hay-making by hand is verylabour intensive.

          More modern times, every fourteen year old* learned to drive on a tractor hauling silage in May-August.

          Summer time in Ireland is when you have to be more careful than even usual on the boreens because you’re going to turn a corner and come slap bang up against tractors, trailers and harvesters.

          *Slight exaggeration, but when I was doing my secretarial course – and we didn’t get the three months summer holidays – there were still girls skipping classes because they were needed to haul silage.

          • Mary says:

            ” In my childhood I’ve seen people piking hay from sunrise to the moon being high in the sky because you have to get it in before the rain comes.”

            Whittacker Chambers’s example of the wonders of modern technology was getting in the hay by truck headlight.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m telling you, my example of the wonders of SCIENCE!!!! (or at least modern technology) is running water piped into your home.

            Because having spent the first nine years of my life helping my parents haul every drop of water we used home in buckets/a churn from a pump in a neighbour’s field, I tell you: you turn on a tap and as much clean water as you want comes out? Magic!!!

            Extra double special magic? You can get hot water as well out of a tap!!!!!!! Yes, no more boiling kettles full/saucepans full on the cooker/on the open fire, simply avail of the magical mystical wonders of modern plumbing and electricity and the various forms of central heating!

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      All the examples you give seem to fall into two categories (I apologize if I missed something)

      1: People not given direction adopting lifestyles that reactionaries disprove of but non-reactionaries might not (watching TV, playing WOW, etc.)

      2: Unemployed people being unable to care for their own well-being, with no indication that the causation is not the other way around (people unable to care for their own well being are often unemployed)

      The first part is obviously a value dispute (whats so bad about super-stimuli in a world were working is unnecessary to live?). The second part is not really about not working at all.

      The final point about people terminally valuing “being productive” is a cultural thing. And its really not something we want to encourage anyways if you don’t want mass mental breakdowns when technology renders common human labor obsolete.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        People not given direction adopting lifestyles that reactionaries disprove of but non-reactionaries might not (watching TV, playing WOW, etc.)

        Watching TV and playing WOW are examples of self-destructive tendencies, and while they do bother me, they are not my biggest concern. My biggest concern is people without direction adopting lifestyles that are destructive to others (fighting, single motherhood, etc.)

        The first part is obviously a value dispute (whats so bad about super-stimuli in a world were working is unnecessary to live?).

        Just because something is addictive does not mean it is enjoyable does not mean it is in accordance with our values; Dr. Alexander once developed a taxonomy in which behaviors could be independently wanted or unwanted, liked or disliked, and approved or disapproved. Also, recall that humans suffer from hyperbolic discounting. Quoth Gwern: “The connection to other aspects of modern life and akrasia is apparent: there’s a Gresham’s Law whereby cheap yet unsatisfying works will push out more satisfying but more demanding entertainment… we may know that in the long run, Mistborn will be forgotten when Long Sun is remembered, and that once we get started, we will enjoy it more – yet when the moment comes to choose, we prefer the choice of immediate pleasure.”

        The final point about people terminally valuing “being productive” is a cultural thing.

        Why do you think you know that? I think it very possible that a terminal value for “being productive” is hardwired into a non-trivial fraction of human brains.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          Why do you think you know that? I think it very possible that a terminal value for “being productive” is hardwired into a non-trivial fraction of human brains.

          Actually you might be correct about that and I was wrong to just dismiss the idea that there could be some biological basis, though there does seem to be large differences in “work ethic” between cultures . I think such an instinct would probably take the form of a general impulse to be useful to others though, and could be tricked by team activities and games. It seems unlikely that a direct “be productive to society” instinct could evolve directly.

      • Illuminati Initiate says:

        (yes, I am responding to my own comment)

        “Unemployed people being unable to care for their own well-being, with no indication that the causation is not the other way around (people unable to care for their own well being are often unemployed)

        It occurs to me that I phrased this badly and that this actually could give a very wrong impression about my views in general. Also I had been planning on posting a comment like this anyways. I think that there are many people who are incapable of successfully “caring for themselves” in capitalist society. I am possibly one of those people. But I don’t view this as a fault of said people, I view this as a fault of capitalism. This is one of the reasons I am a leftist.

        I remember a comment somewhere on this blog (I don’t remember who said it or where, sorry) along the lines of “rugged individualism is great for rugged people, but what about individualism for everyone else? They deserve their individualism as well”. And I really liked this comment. Some people actually require support, guidance and order to be free.

        These people fall into two categories generally, people with low IQ, and people with low what I call “social competence” (this is different from just “social skills”), though obviously there is sometimes overlap. Both these groups need structure and order to “flourish”*. This does not mean slavery though, more like forms of guidance and support. I’m honestly having difficulty thinking of how to put what exactly I’m talking abut into words. Basic income is a good start. I also imagine a bureaucracy that provides people with general guidance, and also help for those who want to go into more intellectual “jobs”, ie. doctors, engineers, scientists. Almost something like a high school councilor or college adviser. Which sounds silly but it could be very helpful to people with higher IQ but low social competence (like myself, though I may be towards the “can sort of function” category).

        I have other reasons for being a socialist as well of course (capitalism is often not very fun even for those who can do OK in it on their own).

        *by that I mean according to their own standards. Unlike the reactionaries, if someone wants to play WOW all day then I think that would be flourishing for them.

        • Weirdly, I agree with about 95% of what you write here, but I identify with the exact opposite end of the spectrum. You know what did a pretty good job of supplying support, guidance, and order? Traditional, pre-modern society. You know who ruined it? Liberals and progressives. And everyone now has been taught to despise and fear the old order, all the while wondering why they’re so confused and miserable, and believing the eschatological myth that the only reason they don’t live in utopia is because the old order hasn’t been obliterated thoroughly enough yet.

          • Tom Womack says:

            Where was the support and guidance in asserting that serfs were made for the fields and clerks for the counting-house, and that the primary qualification for guild membership was that your father worked in that guild? Cast-iron order I see by the multitude, but the likelihood that the people happiest as blacksmiths were precisely the sons of current blacksmiths, not so much.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Traditional society was hardly supportive of the self-determined flourishing of individuals. The range of lifestyle choices was very, very narrow. And the conditions for the poor were even worse back then than now.

            (I think there may be some confusion here over the words order and guidance. I don’t want to dictate people’s lifestyles, but provide them with the ability to pursue the lifestyle of their choice. But not just the negative ability to do so, but the positive as well. (In the sense of positive and negative freedom))

          • Eli says:

            No, that’s just silly. We don’t live in utopia because we don’t fully understand ourselves well enough to build a utopia we won’t run screaming from.

          • Actually, shouldn’t a little biodeterminism tell us that the son of a good blacksmith is exactly who we would most expect to be a good blacksmith?

            Aside from that, one of the things that many people lack is any sense of what they want to do with themselves. Having a tradition of inherited occupations would be a benefit for those people. Our popular narratives constantly harp on the case where the blacksmith’s son actually wants to be a painter, but experience and common sense suggest that this scenario is much rarer than the opposite scenario where the inherited profession works out pretty well for everyone.

          • Jaskologist says:

            While I suspect it was rarely that rigid a rule, how is there not guidance in assigning people a job from the start? Even today, we call the people who are supposed to help us pick a profession “guidance counselors.” And it’s not like there was a huge catalog of ever-changing careers to pick from back in the day.

            Now add in that they not only know what they would be when they grew up, they receive on-the-job training from a young age by their parents. In addition, a general life script of getting and staying married and producing a bunch of children is provided, along with family that will help make that happen. That’s guidance and support out the wazoo.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:


            No, that’s not “guidance and support”, that’s slavery and oppression. Many people don’t want to live like that.

          • Deiseach says:

            So when Scott decided he might want to go into medicine, and since his father was a doctor, he should instead have been steered into being a blacksmith?

            We do have the modern equivalents of guild memberships and closed shops, and very often these are in the professions: medicine, law, business. You may not want to be an accountant so you run away to join the circus, but it’s equally likely there are people running away from the circus to be accountants.

            And now I’m reminded of Monty Python’s Prodigal Son sketch.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            So when Scott decided he might want to go into medicine, and since his father was a doctor, he should instead have been steered into being a blacksmith?

            No one suggested anything of the sort

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          Yeah some of this was phrased rather badly also.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          Actually now I think I was confused/wrong/misspeaking about some things here.

          “Some people actually require support, guidance and order to be free.”

          The “support” part is always true (and “order” is actually really vague), but the “guidance” thing would only matters in society in which it is possible to “screw up”. In my hypothetical utopias it is not so important because (depending on the tech level), either work is not something done or needed by most people, or work is an easily accessed structured system that all are required* to put some input into and everyone’s needs are generally met by entitlements, in either case the problems in question are gone. SO its not so much that some people need guidance as some people without guidance do worse at capitalism, but I’m proposing going beyond capitalism anyways so its a moot point.

          (The guidance system I mused about was not intended to be the main point, that was mostly a random idea that occurred to me because there are probably many neuro-atypical people (mostly autistic) who would like to do those things and have the intelligence, but would require a structure and “context” that allowed them to do so because they would have difficulty just going out and trying to do such things on their own.)

          *This is no worse than the current situation. Work in capitalism is just as mandatory, its just that the threats are slightly different.

          • Mary says:

            “This is no worse than the current situation. Work in capitalism is just as mandatory, its just that the threats are slightly different.”

            It could easily be much worse because the people in your system who are in charge of getting people to work have incentive problems. Capitalism at least has profit to help steer them.

    • gattsuru says:

      At least from observation of the unemployed, much of the effect seems to be related to the lack of schedule and vastly screwed up social structure more than degree or duration of effort. Requirements also change dramatically from person to person. Two months off from work may be too much for many people that do not handle it well, while it’d probably be a great time for others to write a novella.

      Counterintuitively, non-productive but gamified ‘work’ may be useful here. MMOs have routinely optimized for the level of effort a normal user can readily achieve on a daily basis with social interactions tied to them. Most focus on four hours at five days a week to two hours seven days a week.

      “The post-scarcity dystopia of people paying for the appearance of meaningful ‘work’ was a lot funnier before seeing games like EVE Online.”

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        At least from observation of the unemployed, much of the effect seems to be related to the lack of schedule and vastly screwed up social structure more than degree or duration of effort.

        This. Students seem to generally have more free time available than working people do, but they tend to be happy to fill their non-studying time with all kinds of social activities that the college environments provides. Society hasn’t yet organized itself in such a way to provide social environments and meaningful-seeming things to do for people who have lots of free time but who aren’t students or children: but if this started changing, you can bet that people would also start organizing such things.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Even taking ‘society’ and/or ‘provided’ in very wide senses, I’m a little puzzled at the idea that meaningful things to do, much less meaningful-seeming things to do, need to be provided, rather than noticed or invented by the person zimself.

          • gattsuru says:

            Part of this reflects a constraint in that many of the current lowest-cost or highest-reward “meaningful-seeming” things to do have long-term negative effects, are unstructured, or can even be illegal. The later is especially true in the United States due to the marginal tax rate on means-tested welfare, but it’s far from unique to it. Drug abuse is the go-to example, but the tendency of the long-term unemployed to gain weight and develop irregular sleep cycles is better-documented and more meaningful. There are dramatic physical differences between families with multigenerational unemployment and conventional ones.

            At a deeper level, though, while most humans are very nearly inbred clones, the variety in types of minds is pretty staggering. There are a lot of people for whom the phrase “I’m bored” is not limited to situations where they have been trapped in a room completely devoid of features. People get bored when attached to the internet!

            My guess is that there’s some correlation between this effect and depression (and, conversely, with novelty-searching), but that’s just a guess.

          • lmm says:

            That is such an implausible position that I actually suspect your comment was signalling rather than actual puzzlement.

          • gattsuru:
            “There are a lot of people for whom the phrase “I’m bored” is not limited to situations where they have been trapped in a room completely devoid of features. People get bored when attached to the internet!”

            Indeed, being bored is a state of mind that does not really seem to have much to do with available things of interest to do. When I’m bored (which is far more common than it used to be, for me), it’s that “interestingness” has been turned way down for everything, even though I know I’d otherwise be fascinated by some of them.

            I have often experienced being bored while sitting in front of a wide connection to the internet, and with a very long list of projects and project ideas on the machine in front of me.

          • Mary says:

            This realization comes considerably later to most of my intelligent patients, however, who complain in their thirties of a vague, persistent, and severe dissatisfaction with their present existence. The excitements of their youth are over: in the culture of the slums, men and women are past their prime by the age of 25. Their personal lives are in disarray, to put it kindly: the men have fathered children with whom they have little or no contact; the women, preoccupied with meeting the increasingly imperious demands of these same children, drudge at ill-paid, boring, and impermanent jobs. (The illegitimacy rate in Britain has recently passed the 40 percent mark, and while most births are still registered in the names of two parents, relations between the sexes grow ever more unstable.) The entertainments that once seemed so compelling to both men and women—indeed, the whole purpose of life—seem so no longer. These patients are listless, irritable, and disgruntled. They indulge in self-destructive, anti-social, or irrational behavior: they drink too much, involve themselves in meaningless quarrels, quit their jobs when they can’t afford to, run up debts on trifles, pursue obviously disastrous relationships, and move house as if the problem were in the walls that surround them.

            The diagnosis is boredom, a much underestimated factor in the explanation of undesirable human conduct. As soon as the word is mentioned, they pounce upon it, almost with relief: recognition of the problem is instant, though they had not thought of it before. Yes, they are bored—bored to the very depths of their being.

            But why are they bored, they ask me? The answer, of course, is that they have never applied their intelligence either to their work, their personal lives, or their leisure, and intelligence is a distinct disadvantage when it is not used: it bites back. Reviewing their life stories, they see for the first time that at every point they have chosen the line of least resistance, the least strenuous path. They never received any guidance, because all agreed that one path was as good as another. They never awoke to the fact that a life is a biography, not a series of disconnected moments, more or less pleasurable but increasingly tedious and unsatisfying unless one imposes a purposive pattern upon them.

            Their education was an enforced and seemingly interminable irrelevance: nothing their parents or their teachers told them, nothing they absorbed from the culture around them, led them to suppose that their early efforts at school, or lack of them, would have any effect upon their subsequent lives. The jobs they took as soon as they were able were purely to fund their pleasures of the moment. They formed relationships with the opposite sex whimsically, without thought of the future. Their children were born as instruments, either to repair troubled relations or to fill an emotional and spiritual void, and were soon found wanting in either capacity. Their friends—for the first time perceived as of lesser intelligence—now bore them. And, for the first time wishing to escape the artificial, self-stimulated crises that amuse them no longer, they suffer the undisguised taedium vitae of the slums.

            Full thing here:

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Briefly, I do rather agree with the Anonymous who spoke of other things zie would rather do than work in a timeclock/administrated structure and even if it was work zie enjoyed, would rather do it as a hobby. In our current world, many necessary products have to be made in, say, a factory with a timeclock, so there’s quite an overlap between that kind of work and productivity and meaningfulness. But in a material utopia where robots did that work, humans would be free to do other productive things on their own — or non-productive things they find meaningful by their own standard. Of course some individuals would enjoy organizing teams for large projects, and that would involve some time structure for the members to get together, and develop into business-style companies. It’s the idea that ‘society’ (government) would have to ‘provide’ timeclock-style activities (invent them and to some extent impose them), that boggles me. And the idea that “timeclock = meaningfulness or meaningful-seeming”, even without the intervening steps of “products require factories which require timeclocks”.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Maybe I just end up in shitty jobs, but I’ve never groked this. Why would anyone want to be employed other than just to get the money?

      If your job is so fascinating then do the hobby-ised version of it, which is all the same stuff with less admin.

      • Auroch says:

        Sufficiently interesting jobs provide a steady stream of novel problems. And come with a built-in group of people who are engaged in tackling the same problems and, critically, localized into one area where camaraderie develops.

      • gattsuru says:

        People don’t like work (there’s a reason they pay you to do it) but they like long-term unemployment even less. Some of this is related to reduced income, but even societies with very broad social welfare schema for the unemployed — such as Germany before the Hartz IV welfare changes — have massive and long-term impacts on happiness, mental health, and physical health. It’s even present through comparisons of families on disability to similarly-income families with conventional employment.

        Interestingly it’s one of the few long-term impacts of this sort. Short of lopping off a limb, developing a chronic disease, or a small set of other disasters, humans return to base happiness from most negative impact. That doesn’t seem to be the case for unemployment.

        It’s possible that this is a socially-developed trait, a network effect, or some deeper but only tangentially related trait, but that’s not the most likely or Least Convenient possibility.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Maybe I just end up in shitty jobs, but I’ve never groked this. Why would anyone want to be employed other than just to get the money?

        If your job is so fascinating then do the hobby-ised version of it, which is all the same stuff with less admin.

        Believe me, I know that feel. But… it is also the case that people on welfare are often broken in a way their ancestors who worked for a living weren’t. I don’t know if you have read The Sequences, but rest assured that humans are not perfectly rational, nor do we have infinite willpower; additional options can easily harm us.

      • Anonymous says:

        >If your job is so fascinating then do the hobby-ised version of it, which is all the same stuff with less admin.

        Seriously. Some people start frothing at the mouth when I tell them I want to retire before I’m 30. I don’t want to sound pretentious but I’m amazed at how many people can’t fathom what one can do aside from work. I have so many personal projects I would like to do, but either don’t have the time for, or am neglecting out of anxiety (e.g., “Why should I spend effort on this? I have to work tomorrow/Monday, it would be much easier to just vegetate and surf Slatestarcodex.”)

        I will never get used to how confused people are by not wanting to work. They even ask how I wouldn’t get BORED — as though work were the most exciting thing they do! (Maybe for some, but I refuse to believe the majority of people have jobs they enjoy.) How do people not get that not working means you can do OTHER things? Things you WANT to do? Even if that’s just browsing the internet or playing games!

        • John Schilling says:

          OK, but either you’re turning down money that other people would be willing to pay you to do that stuff, or nobody is willing to pay you to do that stuff.

          In the former case, yes, there’s some legal and administrative overhead involved in taking the money, but then the money can be massively useful. Even if only for buying better tools/toys for doing the stuff you want to do. And for coordinating large groups of people who want to do the same thing cooperatively. You really want to turn that down, even for the big things you are going to devote a significant fraction of your life to?

          In the latter case, it’s a pretty strong signal that nobody but you gives a damn. If you can’t understand that lots of people want their works and deeds to be valued by other people, trust me: we do.

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            In the former case, yes, there’s some legal and administrative overhead involved in taking the money, but then the money can be massively useful.

            The legal and administrative overhead can be very, very high, as they include not just some kind of explicit admin work but also frequently require restructuring the entire work product into something you can charge money for.

            See the diverse array of attempted business models for software development.

          • John Schilling says:

            The legal overhead for simply accepting and distributing money is rarely overwhelming, though there are exceptions if e.g. rent-seekers have achieved regulatory capture in the arena where you’d like to do something useful.

            Turning your hobby into something other people actually value, yes, that can be hard. Which is why we call it “work”. Not taking money doesn’t make it any easier, except insofar as the lack of feedback can make you feel like you’ve accomplished something when you really left the job half-done.

            Software business models? Yes, I’m familiar with quite a few. Maybe you can point me to the one that produces software that isn’t bug-ridden, poorly documented, insecure crap, no matter how shiny the dev team thinks it is.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Amusingly, this comment got Multi to rage at me. I feel like I’ve just gained 50 Right Side points.

      • Anonymous says:

        I like Multi, but I did sort of object to you trying to dictate other people’s lifestyles before they (what pronoun do they use now? I know they are trans) posted that.

        “1: People not given direction adopting lifestyles that reactionaries disprove of but non-reactionaries might not (watching TV, playing WOW, etc.)”

        Though I guess I didn’t say it particularly loudly or clearly, so it might not have been very noticeable. (also my later comment was apparently easily misinterpreted as being pro-doing that).

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          This is me.

          Also to be clear I’m not mad. I just wanted to point out that some people here (Kaj Sotala, gattsuru and others also) did object to things jaimeastorga2000 said.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            You know what this still sounds hostile. Just pretend I never said this.

            Also I misread gatsuru’s post.

  10. hawkice says:

    It breaks my heart that having a tape delay on news means I’m a bad person according to that quiz. I would be angry or argue against it, but honestly, I’m used to the disapproval of others at this point. “News” is a description of recency, which is different than a description of importance, which is different from a description of urgency. If you want to say I need to do better because my schedule is backed up… you probably aren’t nice at parties.

    • Vulture says:

      I doubt it was meant to be taken that seriously; I think that quiz was meant to be just a more elaborate/funny way of condemning the irresponsible conflation of certain recent news events, rather than an attempt to actually be accurate as a judge of character 🙂

      • JRM says:

        Yes. Also, I said that if you answered both (d) that you could go on doing productive things and skip the score chart; I was clear (I hoped) that not knowing enough was not a bad thing.

        Don’t feel bad if you haven’t been following these. (And, an aside, I did the quiz before the Rolling Stone thing completely fell to pieces; this was just not a surprise.)

  11. A Rash Anion says:

    My cousin suffers from stage IV Glioblastoma. He’s about 35 and was in otherwise decent health. When he had a seizure, the doctors estimated he had about 9 months to live. 6 months in and he’s basically bedridden, on painkillers, sometimes not lucid. For the most part, he and his wife decided he’d go with weird remedies like homeopathic eyedrops and dietary changes.

    Soon, he will cease to function entirely. There’s little of him left. He can recognize us. He can have brief conversations. I’m not directly involved with the treatment or his day-to-day life, though I visit him from time to time.

    I want to bring up the possibility of cryonic preservation, but I know little about this topic. Would it be worth trying on someone with brain damage? Can it be afforded, or done, without insurance? What if it needs to be done in a rush?

    Assuming it’s worth doing and affordable, I’m worried about his wife’s reaction when I bring it up, as well. He might be into it. He was into this kind of thinking. I don’t know if he’s qualified to make this determination. I’m tempted to just not say anything and let him die because of the potential backlash and awkwardness of suggesting this.

    Any advice?

    • Irenist says:

      My condolences on your cousin’s illness.

      I just checked the Alcor website, and their least expensive procedure (i.e., neuropreservation, which is “freezing just the head”) costs $80,000. AFAIK, most people finance that with life insurance. However, your cousin is obviously not going to find anyone willing to sell him more life insurance than he already has. So either he’d have to finance it out of pocket, or you’d have to finance it somehow, or he’d have to divert some of the payout from a pre-existing life insurance policy. If financed from his pre-existing life insurance or from his savings, his wife would be entering widowhood with $80,000 less than otherwise. Suggesting that might indeed provoke some backlash.

      I hope everything goes as well for you, your cousin, and his wife as it possibly can. All the best to you.

      • Jiro says:

        If financed from his pre-existing life insurance or from his savings, his wife would be entering widowhood with $80,000 less than otherwise.

        This is also true for those cases where it is paid by new insurance. It’s just that paying for it by new insurance encourages the buyer to mentally account for the $80000 from the new insurance separately from the old insurance, even though the new insurance’s payoff could have gone to the widow just as much as the old insurance.

        Insurance is used to cover for unexpec ted losses. If you’re going to pay for cryonics, and you think you have a chance of dying before you save up $80000 yourself, you can buy insurance which will pay $80000 if you die early at the cost of costing more than $80000 if you die late. But you still pay, on the average; and I get the impression many of these cryonics arguments tout insurance as a way to pay for cryonics when you otherwise couldn’t afford it. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.

        Also, wives realize this.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Most people finance cryonics through life insurance, but it can certainly be paid for by simply having enough cash.

      Alcor does whole-body for $200,000 and head-only for $80,000. The Cryonics Institute will preserve your body for $28,000, but my understanding is that their quality of preservation is notoriously lower than Alcor’s. KrioRus does brain-only for $12,000, and I have no idea what quality of service they offer. You should ask Mike Darwin; that guy knows what he’s talking about.

      It’s worth pointing out that ordinary funerals are usually on the order of $10,000, so the actual cost is more like the difference between the price of a cryopreservation and the cost of a funeral. Assuming you are not planning on doing a funeral as well, of course.

      The Society for Venturism runs fundraisers for terminally ill people who cannot afford cryonics. Several people have been cryopreserved thanks to their efforts, most notably Kim Souzzi.

      I think it likely that a tumor-damaged brain still contains vast quantities of information which is recoverable in principle. I tend to think of personal identity as a continuum, anyway; saving part of your cousin is better than saving none of him, specially since whatever brain information remains can be supplemented by other sources of information.

      Finally, be warned that the outside view predicts you will not be able to convince your cousin. People absolutely hate cryonics. The fact that he’s married only makes thing worse (cf. the hostile-wife phenomenon).

      • A Rash Anion says:

        Insurance obviously isn’t an option at this case, then. I’m not super familiar with my cousin’s finances other than that he had a trust fund and was able to live a middle class lifestyle without working. It’s possible he had life insurance from which the money could be drawn, or maybe he had set up his will in such a way that the trust fund would care for his family after his death.

        It seems like the way to go with this would be Alcor, and funded from his existing life insurance. I’m not sure his trust allows him to just withdraw large amounts of money for something like this, but it might be possible?

        I’ve decided to try casually mentioning it in conversation with his wife, but not press the issue. She and I are not close, and she’s also kind of a wreck right now (understandably, since she’s caring for a kid and for the dying husband). I’m afraid she will be angered by the suggestion, but if I don’t push it I won’t ruin things, and in the event she was looking to hear about something like this, it might be good to offer her advice.

        Thank you all for the advice and links.

    • Tom Womack says:

      Forget completely about cryonic preservation. The brain’s already damaged, and trying to convince someone to find $80,000 to pay for a false hope of eternal life is a job for televangelists not rationalists.

  12. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Has anybody else played/read “The Tower” by Max Peabody? I saw it on Ozy’s tumblr and I thought it was interesting… though probably not for the reasons its author intended. Spoilers for the story below.

    V guvax vg bssref fbzr cerggl tbbq vafvtugf vagb gur qryhqrq jbeyqivrj bs gur fbpvnyvfg zvaq. Yrg’f erivrj:

    Abobql _perngrf_ jrnygu. Abobql znxrf gur sbbq be gur qevaxf be gur zrqvpvar be gur obbxf be nal bs gur bgure tbbqf gung fhfgnva naq vzcebir yvsr va gur gbjre. Jrnygu vf perngrq rk avuvyb, naq crbcyr whfg gnxr vg vs naq jura gurl unir gur punapr. Gurersber, gurer vf ab arrq gb vapragvivmr crbcyr gb ohvyq jrnygu.

    Abobql rire trgf nurnq ol urycvat bgure crbcyr. Gurl trg nurnq ol fgrccvat ba bgure crbcyr, be, ng orfg, ol vtabevat gurz. Yvsr vf n mreb fhz tnzr. Gurersber, abobql qrfreirf gb or ng gur gbc, naq gubfr jub ner ner whfg gur barf yhpxl be fgebat be ehguyrff rabhtu gb trg nurnq bs nyy gur bguref.

    Abobql unf nal ernyvfgvp pbapreaf nobhg ynpx bs oernguvat ebbz, qrcyrgvba bs erfbheprf, be nal bgure jryy-xabja ceboyrzf va vzzvtengvba naq cbchyngvba rguvpf. Lbhe dhnyvgl bs yvsr vf cheryl n shapgvba bs ubj uvtu va gur gbjre lbh ner, abg n shapgvba bs crbcyr cre ynaqvat. Gurersber, gur zbeny guvat gb qb vf gb trg nf znal crbcyr nf uvtu hc vagb gur gbjre nf cbffvoyr, naq nal pbapreaf nobhg guvf fvzcyl oevatvat gur gbc ynaqvatf vagb rdhvyvoevhz jvgu gur obggbz ynaqvatf ner qryhfvbany.

    Fvapr nyy bs gur nobir nffhzcgvbaf ner gehr, gurer vf ab yrtvgvzngr ernfba sbe cerfreivat gur fgnghf dhb. Gurersber, pbafreingvirf ner rivy zhgnagf jub ershfr gb uryc gubfr yrff sbeghangr guna gurzfryirf bhg bs n oryvrs gung gurl qrfreir gb fhssre sbe abg orvat noyr gb ernpu gur gbc yvxr gurl unir, naq va snpg _jvyy tb bhg bs gurve jnl gb bofgehpg naq qrfgebl_ lbhe nggrzcgf gb uryc crbcyr va gur ybjre yriryf pyvzo uvture.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      While it’s certainly ridiculous, I think you missed the endings where [rot13]lbh guebj lbhefrys va sebag bs gur sng crefba naq raq hc snyyvat gb gur obggbz naq frrvat gur gbjre sebz gur bhgfvqr[/rot13]. So there is an answer given to the question of [rot13]jurer gur jrnygu pbzrf sebz[/rot13], it just doesn’t make any sense.

  13. Frog Doe says:

    First thought on reading that quiz was that it was bog-standard “find a way to crap on the outgroup”. But I suppose the temptation to label someone “a terrible person” is just too much to resist.

    Yes, I know it’s just a joke. The fun insight is when you realize how little that matters.

  14. anonymousCoward says:

    Oh man, I’ve been saving this one up all week. Okay.

    I’ve read a buncha comments about how veganism is far more ethical than eating meat. I’ve seen several people say that the case against eating meat is pretty clear-cut, and that it’s kinda surprising to them that veganism doesn’t make more ground. Animal cruelty, factory farms, people tossing baby chicks into grinders, etc.

    So if we were to wirehead the animals we were raising for food, would that solve the cruelty problem?

    • Nornagest says:

      Yes, presuming that you buy the ethical argument in the first place (I don’t) and that you’re basing your veganism on some version of hedonic utilitarianism (which I think is one of the weaker utilitarianisms, and I’m not sure I’m even utilitarian in the first place). But even once you get past those hurdles, it’s going to be incredibly expensive — far moreso than just raising them free-range and killing them painlessly through one of any number of methods.

    • Irenist says:

      As Nornagest says, that looks like it might work if one’s veganism were driven by hedonic utilitarianism. Maybe.

      But on a broader consequentialism, the waste of resources necessary to wirehead all those animals (instead of just not factory farming them in the first place) might make it a non-starter, if the wasted resources would’ve gone to a better cause instead. (A big “if” of course).

      I think a vegan motivated by virtue ethics probably wouldn’t embrace your proposal. Factory farming would probably still be pretty dehumanizing work for human farmers even with wire-heading. Further, a virtue ethicist vegan might worry that wire-heading deformed the animals’ own flourishing in ways that ought to be taken into account ethically.

    • Jared says:

      When it comes animal rights, I think there are two main thoughts:

      Reducing animal suffering
      Reducing animal exploitation

      I’m assuming that most people in the latter group believe that killing animals in itself is generally wrong (just like killing humans is generally wrong) while the former group might be more divided. Personally, I think the idea of treating animals equally to humans is pretty ridiculous but at the same time, I feel like animals should have some form of autonomy.

      Of course, we don’t wirehead the animals that we eat so it’s not an issue for now. It’s pretty clear to me that if you give any moral consideration to animals, their pain is worse than your tasty food is good. Hopefully, in the near future, we will have synthetic meat that tastes just like regular meat, so that would be the best technology to solve this problem.

      • Wireheadwannabe says:

        As a hedonist, anyone objecting to meat on the grounds of “exploitation” has to take up the burden of explaining what the hell that even means.

        • Nornagest says:

          [sketchy evopsych] Overextending intuitions about early human tribal politics to agents which are neither early, human, tribal, nor part of the body politic? [/sketchy evopsych]

        • Jared says:

          I am not of fan of the word exploitation. It has the implication that the “exploiter” is making your life worse off but with plenty of wiggle room to say otherwise. It’s like textbook Motte and Bailey argument.

    • Panflutist says:

      Wireheads are probably not happy, but more generally yes — from my hedonistic utilitarian perspective that would (all else being equal, etc.) solve the problem, perhaps even make it a net good. Any other reasons for veg*nism are based in aesthetics (the kind of thing that makes murder infinitely bad but does not condemn death from “natural causes”).

      • Wirehead Wannabe says:

        How did you manage to get such a definitive answer from that post? He leaves the question open-ended.

        • Panflutist says:

          “Go too far toward the liking direction, and you risk something different from wireheading only in that the probe is stuck in a different part of the brain.”

          Recall that what is meant by “wireheading” here is the very literal take, with the aesthetically displeasing example of rats lever-pressing themselves to death.

          When you call yourself Wirehead Wannabe, I take “wirehead” to mean something more like the experience machine, which, if it were only for my own sake, I would step into in a heartbeat.

          • Wirehead Wannabe says:

            You’re correct that I would want the probe in the liking rather than the wanting areas of my brain if I went the pure wirehead route. More likely I would go with something like David Pearce’s conception of abolitionism. I still want to contribute to society etc., I just want to do so while experiencing positive net pleasure. Quite honestly there are a lot of scenarios I’d be happy with, even “small” victories like curing depression.

            Didn’t mean for this to turn into a mini-manifesto, but the point is that I agree with the OP that wireheading farm animals removes all moral issues we may have with meat, and arguments to the contrary seem based on projections of our feelings of shock and disgust upon imagining such a scenario.

    • Deiseach says:

      People tossing baby chicks into grinders? Not on the commercial poultry farm I know, but practices elsewhere may be different. Source, please?

      • Nita says:

        They are probably talking about the “maceration” method of chick culling (e.g., getting rid of male chicks of egg-laying breeds), which seems to be an actual accepted practice, not something made up by PETA.

        According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “death by maceration in poultry up to 72
        hours old occurs immediately with minimal pain and

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Equipment for this is mass produced, and is available in US and Canada.

          • Deiseach says:


            Department of Agriculture regulations here in Ireland:

            53. Is the killing of embryos, cull and surplus chicks carried out in accordance with Regulation (EC) No. 1069/2009?

            1. All necessary care must taken to ensure that birds are spared avoidable pain, distress or suffering during killing.
            2. Killing must be by a method listed Annex I of Regulation (EC) No. 1069/2009.

            Haven’t had the patience to trawl through the relevant EU legislation, but précis of article on other websites seem to indicate that the slaughter methods most recommended/used/popular are hypoxia or anoxia, though apparently in Germany (at least) and the UK maceration is/was also used.

        • Macbi says:

          This seems more humane than most methods that are used to execute people.

    • Anonymous says:

      As a veg*n (speaking for all veg*ns of course) if wireheading actually reduced suffering instead of simply incapacitating the animals, I would be happy with that solution. But obviously non-conscious meat would be better.

  15. Vulture says:

    I’ve been waiting with bated breath for Yvain’s traditional survey-analysis post — I have no intention of rushing you at all, but I would appreciate a rough ETA just so I spend less time nervously checking for it 🙂

  16. Error says:

    The affiliate link in the post doesn’t go where you want it to, I think. The one on the sidebar appears to work fine.

    My search bar has an Amazon search option. Does anyone know a way to configure it to search using Scott’s affiliate link?

    • Vulture says:

      There was some inconclusive discussion of this a few open threads ago.

      • Error says:

        I ended up putting it on the bookmarks toolbar just under the search bar. That should ensure I notice it when I go to search for products and remind me to actually use the bookmark.

        It’s not perfect, but may be good enough.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Explain? The link seems to work fine for me.

      • Error says:

        The one in the post goes to smile.amazon.com and wants me to sign up for charity or something. The one in the sidebar goes to amazon’s frontpage, which behaves normally. You can see from hovering on the links that the URLs are different.

        If you’re already signed up for the charity option, it’s possible that the Smile link works transparently for you and not for others. Try following it when logged out of Amazon.

        • Anonymous says:

          That link also fails for me. When Scott gives Smile links to individual items, they just get redirected to www, but this one is for the main page of Smile.

  17. Gunlord says:

    Aw, damn, I already bought some stuff off amazon.com for Christmas before I read this entry. Next time I buy something I’ll definitely use your affiliate link 😀

  18. J says:

    Experimental anecdote: Most politics is flag-waving, and polarization is such a huge issue that I think we need to fix it more urgently than most of the non-meta policy issues. So for a while now I’ve tried to avoid exposing my opinions on political things. Rather, I try to listen in a friendly way and try to gently nudge away from polarization and toward having good reasons for political stances, regardless of what those stances are. That seems to work pretty well.

    So of course I had to shake it up, and have been toying with arguments like Scott’s conservative argument about global warming, which signal membership in the group while opposing one of the group’s standard positions. Today I tried one of them out on a coworker going on about a Living Wage: I said I found the idea offensive and culturally imperialistic, since it adds up the cost of living a particular culturally acceptable lifestyle (typically a spouse and two kids living in a home) and declaring that the standard, to the detriment of cultures that tend to live more or less cheaply than that.

    It did Not Go Well. I suspect it’s because “traitor to the cause” is actually lower on the social hierarchy than “enemy combatant”. I think the idea might still have merit as a tool to prod people to examine their beliefs, but beware of getting labeled a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    • AR+ says:

      Are you sure you were able to keep a straight face while making the argument? If not, it would have come across as mocking sarcasm. Actually, even with a perfectly straight face it might have just come across as well-executed mocking sarcasm. Not much better to the perceived target of the mocking. To me, at least, this argument specially sounds more like a reduco-ad-absurdum of anti-cultural imperialism than anything about the living wage.

      Similar ideas I’ve mentally toyed with: arguing that the West can’t culturally appropriate from Japan, in the prerogative sense, because the Japanese have long-since re-taken their place among the greater civilized peoples of the world, and so are our equals in cultural exchange. Not like all the lesser people of the world, like Africans, against whom cultural appropriation would obviously be a crime on the part of privileged Westerners or Japanese.

      Casually dismissing calls to international charity on the grounds of, “I’ve never really been into the whole White Man’s Burden, tbh.”

      Mentioned here before: arguing in favor of much tighter environmental controls on plastics and hormone use in growing food animals on the grounds that it is making more gays and transsexuals.

      Not me: Marching a bunch of armed white people thru a black neighborhood in the middle of the Ferguson kerfuffle in the name of anti-racism.

      • J says:

        That’s so beautifully evil. You should become the Onion’s political pundit.

      • Limi says:

        Casually dismissing calls to international charity on the grounds of, “I’ve never really been into the whole White Man’s Burden, tbh.”

        Well I know what I’ll be saying at various Christmas lunches over the next week.

        • AR+ says:

          Please let us know how that works out in the field.

          • Limi says:

            Field report, from my Christmas eve dinner last night with my blue tribe media colleagues – phenomenal success. You could almost see their thoughts flip out as the six people I was sitting with attempted to decide which was the more grievous sin. The next few minutes we ate in silence, with the exception of my partner choking and rushing to the bathroom.

      • Susebron says:

        A belief in climate change is the most NRx thing that isn’t endorsed by most NRx. It’s messing with a complex system that we don’t understand – the main difference between the climate and politics is that the climate has potentially worse consequences if we mess it up. Maybe the predictions haven’t all come true in the ways they were expected to, but on the other hand the US is totally going to collapse, any day now. Scaling back emissions is difficult, but so is restoring an entire set of past norms.

        • I think most NRx tacitly accept the thesis of climate change, but see the possibility of fixing/augmenting our climate system as minuscule, risky, and most likely just pissing in the wind. The climate has a *very* long cycle, in the sense that it is probably easier to structure society around changing climate than the other way around.

          • +1 to Bryce’s perspective from another NRx.

          • Susebron says:

            Surely it makes sense to simply stop messing up the climate, rather than actively trying to fix it? That position works well against, say, geoengineering, but not simply stopping/lowering emissions.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            In a just world, even if it were agreed that GW is unfixable, there would also be the issue of how much if any is AGW, who caused it, and who should pay for the restructuring of society to adjust to it (aka liability).

    • Hainish says:

      I said I found the idea offensive and culturally imperialistic, since it adds up the cost of living a particular culturally acceptable lifestyle (typically a spouse and two kids living in a home) and declaring that the standard, to the detriment of cultures that tend to live more or less cheaply than that.

      You . . . could have simply shared some *good* reasons for opposing the Living Wage.

      It just seems like a lot of people here have really latched on to the idea of tribalism and think that it’ll be like, “Look! I’m part of YOUR TRIBE! Also, [ridiculous argument]. But . . . We’re supposed to be TRIBE-MATES!!” I don’t think it works like magic.

      (I’m sorry it didn’t go well with your friend.)

      • J says:

        Well, yeah, presenting good arguments for things and then finding an optimal balance through friendly conversation is how the world would ideally work. But that’s not exactly what we observe in the wild.

        You seem to be right that superficially friendly flag-waving didn’t get me very far. But I tried it because viewing social interactions and politics through a lens of tribalism and signaling seems to have more predictive power than the way I looked at things before. But you’re probably right that it’s at least more sophisticated and abuse-resistant than it might seem at first.

        • cassander says:

          I think it was more you just went too far. the guy you were talking to was tribe blue, you signaled tried super ultramarine.

    • cassander says:

      traitor to the cause is definitely lower on the hierarchy than enemy combatant. enemy combatants don’t hang, those guilty of treason do. I’ve tried this sort of thing, the only way I’ve found to make it work (and it doesn’t work often) is to A, signal that you want to achieve the same goal as them, B, that your method is better than theirs, and C, that your solution precludes theirs.

      • Hainish says:

        A, signal that you want to achieve the same goal as them, B, that your method is better than theirs, and C, that your solution precludes theirs.

        OK, but you’ve got a whole lot of non-tribe-related stuff doing the heavy work. (IOW, if your model of how people work is correct, is this the result we would expect to see? Or would another model be more predictive?)

        • cassander says:

          Part A is the tribal bit, you signal tribal allegiance by fervently agreeing with your targets goal. if he says we need to minimum wage to help poor people, you say something like “of course we do, absolutely, but the minimum wage is a terrible way to do it. instead we should do X” I also tend to try to sneak something like “plus this method eliminates that problem X that those knuckle dragging out groupers are always going about.” to reinforce the tribal thing and to give the target a weapon he can use against his tribal enemies.

          Of course, it doesn’t always work, I tried it once in a conversation about paying unemployment benefits as a lump sum to which the target said, literally, “anyone who says UI has employment disincentives is racist.” but like I said, it’s the best I got.

          • Hainish says:

            Part A is the tribal bit, you signal tribal allegiance by fervently agreeing with your targets goal.

            OK, but is it an _honest_ signal? And if it isn’t, and there are actually no mutual goals, then might that explain why this strategy doesn’t work? (Because B and C do need to follow from A.)

          • cassander says:

            the signal doesn’t have to be sincere, but it tends to be. most people don’t have objectionably bad motives, just bad ideas about how to achieve them politically.

            as to why it works, A tells them you’re on the same side, which makes them more willing to listen to B and C. B serves them up what you want them to think. C convinces them to drop their support of the original idea. it takes all three, but A is the most essential. I don’t think I have ever succeeded with just B and C.

    • I have had similar results with using leftist arguments for allowing female circumcision (“stop trying to oppress other cultures you imperialist pig”).

      But I don’t think this is very mysterious. People do pay attention to the object level. Arguing for the other team’s position with your team’s lingo will make you sound like a traitor or an enemy agent, unless you’ve already established yourself very well as belonging to one side. And even then, you’ll likely just be ignored.

      • Well says:

        I have seen it work very well to use the other’s side lingo and assumptions in a debate, but whitout “pretending” to be part of their group.

        One minor politician in my country has this as her reason of being. She is a former left winger who at a certain point in her life had right wing intuitions take over her heart, but not the rationalization circuits in her brains. Now she is ostensibly a right-winger but tends to use left wing rationalizations for her right-wing talking points. She is quite effective in public debates because it’s difficult to shoehorn her as a stereotypical “bigot” or “hater”.

      • Illuminati Initiate says:

        Self identified leftists, progressives and liberals actually do make arguments like that, though I’ve never seen one defend female genital mutilation directly.

        This is one of the reasons I really, really dislike blue tribe politics.

        • Hainish says:

          OTOH, I’ve seen arguments that FGM is indeed terrible, but that change needs to come from within the culture. Considering the track record of externally-imposed cultural change, this seems like a reasonable position.

          (Do you see blue tribe politics as too soft on FGM?)

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Yes, but it’s not just FGM, its non-western culture in general that blue tribe politics gives a pass on.

            That is far from my only issue with blue tribe politics though.

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      Is polarization really a bad thing in of itself? I mean, I dislike both directions America is being polarized in right now (one more than the other), but my beliefs are not so much a compromise between both directions as a compromise between one direction and up, so increasing compromise would not make things better. I think it would be great if society could be polarized with one of the directions heading up-left.

      • Hainish says:

        Is polarization really a bad thing in of itself?

        No . . . but if the U.S. could move toward a multi-party system, I think we’d get a lot more interesting combinations of positions (however polarized each might be on its own).

        • Ano says:

          A multi-party system might be more interesting but I don’t know if it would necessarily lead to better governance.

          • Hainish says:

            No, not necessarily. Would probably lead to better parties, though.

          • This seems like a case where, instead of arguing about what color the sky is, we could just go outside and check. Do countries with multi-party systems in fact have better governance, or more interesting combinations of positions?

          • A check of the evidence already in my brain suggests that multi-party systems don’t have better governance. They do tend to have lots of fringe parties, which may satisfy the “more interesting” criterion, but what actually gets implemented by parliament tends to be pretty similar to what gets implemented here.

          • Hainish says:

            @Taymon, Your comment makes me wish I knew a whole lot more about non-U.S. politics 🙂

      • J says:

        Polarization is bad because it turns practical problems like “this bridge needs repair” into hate-filled shouting matches between “ALL BRIDGE REPAIR IS THEFT” and “BRIDGES ARE A TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY”

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      If you agree with the ends, disagreeing with a proposed means in hostile language would make you a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

  19. Lambert says:


    Should we get drunk before or shortly after suffering injury (but after making any judgements that mitigate the injury)?

  20. Noah Siegel says:

    I just finished reading the archives, and it occurred to me that Growing Children for Bostrom’s Disneyland” is an underrated post. Scott himself pre-apologizes for it as “crackpottery,” but I think it anticipates the general theme of multi-polar traps eventually articulated in “Moloch.”

    Which led me to think that it might be useful to put the posts that deal with the concept of multi-polar traps into a sequence of sorts. Other ones that fit are “In Favor of Niceness” , “We are all MsScribe” , , “The Right to Waive Your Rights”, “Five Case Studies on Politicization”, “The Toxoplasma of Rage” , and “Nobody is Perfect” .

    This is more or less off the top of my head, and I’m planning on adding to the list. Can anyone think of any that I’m missing?

    • Wireheadwannabe says:

      Hard to link on mobile, but “Poor Folks Do Smile… for Now” is in a similar vein.

      • Noah Siegel says:

        Thanks. I also think “…Not With Flesh and Bone but Against Powers and Principalities” is part of it.

  21. Joe says:

    Did Scott ever write a post presenting the details from the SSC survey?

    Also I will be getting some Christmas money and was wondering if anyone has read this book and thinks I should buy it.


    • Scott Alexander says:

      Not yet. Nor the LW survey. I’ve really dropped the ball on those due to some other commitments, but I’ll try to have the LW one done soon and SSC soon after that.

  22. XerxesPraelor says:

    You should write a book about how to have effective political dialogue and what we can do about the situation that politics is stuck in. I’d definitely buy it and recommend it to all my friends.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      Seconded. Kahneman + Haidt + puns. Such a project would be more time consuming than posts, of course, but there would be more than a few people willing to offer free proofreading and editorial services.

      (Admin note: This is BenSix changing names, not sockpuppeting.)

    • Noah Siegel says:

      I certainly predict a book in Scott’s future eventually, but I think that the political dialogue would be only a part.

    • Noah Siegel says:

      Also, wrt the general idea of a Scott book: shutupandtakemymoney.jpg

    • Alejandro says:

      Joining the chorus wishing for a Scott book here. But there is one potential problem to consider; publishing a book would probably require breaking pseudonimity, and Scott might not feel comfortable about having controversial views expressed openly under his name, at least while keeping psychiatry as his main career.

      • Anonymous says:

        Books are published under pseudonyms all the time.

        • Elsig Hahn says:

          It would be pretty traceable. I hope it happens eventually, but I wouldn’t expect or recommend it until 1) he finishes his residency and 2) he can’t be fired for his views.

      • I’m guessing the problem for him might also be to do with monetizing his views and creating motviated reasoning. I’m tempted to say donate it to charity (or the SSC readers lol) instead, but on the hand I sorta feel like Scott deserves a big wad of cash for his high quality article writing.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I doubt that. Writing is a terrible path to riches; his current career is a much surer thing with a very good payoff. I don’t think any book income is going to be significant enough to warrant selling out.

    • Vulture says:

      I would buy *at least* a couple copies… but I’m not holding my breath :/. Let’s keep clicking those affiliate links!

      (By the way, nice to see you around here 🙂 )

  23. anonymous says:

    Some things are tough or impossible to get back, like extinct cultures, collapsed ecosystems, and decayed brains. If we value the far future most, might it make sense to preserve these? Far future folks might be able to do almost anything–except see the past clearly.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Agreed. Consider that we have an excellent historical example in the form of the Reconquista in Spain and the fall of Byzantium. Learning a bit of lost knowledge from the past gave us the High Middle Ages, learning a little bit more gave us the Renaissance.

      • Anonymous says:

        What lost knowledge lead to the High Middle Ages?

        • Limi says:

          At a guess, I’d say Casey was referring to the idea that the cultural exchange between the middle east and Europe led to the recovery of many lost works of Greek philosophers and scientists.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ve never heard that idea before for the High Middle Ages. It seems odd to refer to an obscure idea like that, especially while simultaneously elaborating on the well-known idea (the fall of Byzantium and Reconquista being at the beginning of the Renaissance).

          • Limi says:

            It’s not that obscure is it? Maybe I have mistaken what Casey means by the high middle ages, but to my (granted, now fading and possibly confused) knowledge, the high middle ages saw the rediscovery of Aristotle and the works of Aquinas and Ockham. Obviously the exchange was nothing like the scale of the Renaissance, but it was an important foundation.

            Edit: formatting drama, writing on my phone.

          • Anonymous says:

            The fact of rediscovery is not that obscure, but I’ve never heard such a claim of its importance, in contrast to the Renaissance, where the claim is in the very name.

          • Limi says:

            Oh yeah, outside of medieval history circles it’s probably not considered a big deal, but it’s generally considered one of the contributing factors to what made the high middle ages so… high. :S

          • Deiseach says:

            Well the Renaissance has been very much hyped as the be-all and end-all; before then, Europe languished in the darkest of Dark Ages until one bright morning some men in Italy and/or France threw off the shackles of mediaeval superstition and re-discovered the cool, clear reason of the Classical eras.

            This was very popular with the likes of 18th century beginning historians/historiographers like Gibbons (and Voltaire) and was taken up enthusiastically in the 19th century; the reason the Pre-Raphaelites in art, for example, caused such a stir was because they were seen as going backwards to an era of lesser technical achievement, lack of individual genius, and the fettering of Human Reason by Clerical Mummery.

            Acknowledging that the actual Dark Ages only ran post-final final collapse of the remnants of the Western Empire (somewhere around the 5th century) up to about the 10th, and that the 11th-14th centuries were not a pit of despair, ignorance and suffering (despite such things as indeed The Black Death, which was not a fun time for anyone) was not looked upon with much interest or favour. The idea that backwards fuddy-duddies like the Scholastic theologians might not have been engaged in dusty useless debates like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” but were translating re-discovered principles into current cultural terms, and that the Renaissance had (contrary to the popular accepted narrative) not been the first and sole discoverer of these treasures left mouldering in the dust by the other-worldly minded preceding centuries, got even less welcome.

    • These are interesting topics! The extinct culture one is quite prominent amongst anthropologists as you can imagine. Sadly its pretty hard to “preserve” a culture because you really need a large group of people to exist in the same social structure, natural environment and technological context that generates that culture. But of course we can preserve small parts of a culture, artifacts of a culture, and languages of a culture. Language is really interesting, because it recordable and often contains quirks of a culture (like a grammatical rule that includes “tenses” requires the category of the source of a fact be acknowledged when stating that fact). Anthropology is what your looking for though – a big part of it is about documenting all the different aspects of a culture (there is sometimes politics mixed in, though a little less so than in sociology I think).

      Ecosystems I’m a little less optimistic about peserving anything outside their natural context. The main one that I’m thinking of here is this notion that we’ll soon be able to “bring a species back”. I’m not a biologist, but this is of great interest to me due to my philosophical position. Sadly it looks like this will not be possible in the forseable future even with cloning technologies, despite how the popular media likes to portray it. The reasons are: a breeding size population needs to be sampled (rarely the case) and if you don’t the next generation is massively diluted; cell nucleus genes can be cloned but the secondary DNA/RNA in a cell isn’t replicated in the process because you implant into a surviving relatives cell (eg. mammoth dna into an elephant cell); and its difficult to recreate the formative conditions (including womb, and child-rearing for mammals) the organism. Even after this, an ecosystem is another matter because all the behaviours and relationship webs are probably near impossible to establish from scratch. And even all this assumes we get cloning that works smoothly and that we have undamaged DNA samples of every species we want to bring back, and that we can find viable surrogates for the clones (like elephant for mammoth). So I think we’re going to have to rely on traditional conservation efforts – which very sadly are having fairly mixed/poor success.

      Human brain preservation I have no clue about I’ll leave to someone else 🙂

  24. Z.Frank says:

    Here’s a question I have for people who have been in medical school.

    How respectfully treated are the bodies donated for education and research, really? Do medical students ever snicker at the cadavers or crack jokes when they are doing their anatomical studies? How frequently are students disgusted or disturbed by the bodies, and do they vocalize their feelings? Do students speculate about the lives of the previous owners of the bodies they are working with?

    All the medical school websites say the bodies are treated with the utmost of respect, but I don’t fully trust these “official” statements because the schools are trying to encourage donation and because no school has an incentive to admit to a lapse of respect unless there was an immanent danger of the public hearing about it. So I don’t want any links to “official” or “promotional” statements.

    I am asking because I’m considering signing up to have my body donated for research and education. I’m unusually-shaped and have been ridiculed for my shape for much of my life. I know that after I’m dead I can’t be harmed by anything anyone says about me – I know my concerns are irrational – but still, if it turns out that medical students are judgmental or disrespectful that could influence my decision to donate.

    • cassander says:

      twentysomething men being what they are, I can’t imagine that the bodies don’t get fucked with from time to time.

    • Auroch says:

      I am not one of the people you’re asking, but I’d predict a significant amount of gallows humor, but very possibly less for someone anatomically unusual, since there will be more interesting things to do than mock you posthumously.

      I curious why you would care, seeing as you won’t be around to hear it. It seems like pure sentiment.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      Story is 100% hearsay and based on my high school experiences:
      One of my teachers told of a class he was in, in which partway through the class, someone managed to sneak a note into the cadaver’s rib cage after it was opened up, which said “My god, haven’t you people done enough to me?”, and which created considerable chaos when it was discovered.

      So, you may not be treated with perfect respect, but it seems far more likely that you’d be used as the ultimate straight man then the target of the jokes.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      There is a lot of discussion beforehand about how you Must Treat The Cadavers Respectably, and actually doing anything disrespectful is beyond the pale, but there can be at least a little gallows humor. I don’t think a 100% guarantee that people will be totally respectful is possible, but I will say that medical students have seen a lot of overweight people and they’re not going to obsess over it.

      (I think every medical school has a legend about how thirty or fifty years ago, somebody “borrowed” their cadaver and took it out for a night on the town. Mine certainly did. But I don’t know if any of them are true. And maybe this is just an Irish thing.)

      • hawkice says:

        I don’t want to leap into conspiracy memetics too quickly, but that sounds like the kind of story that has always been and will always be something that happened 30-40 years ago.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you read Dorothy Sayers’ “Whose Body?”, you get an outsider’s notion of what medical students get up to (or did, in the 1920s).

      Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a doctor, also intimated that medical students were not averse to a few hijinks with donated cadavers in the Holmes story “The Cardboard Box”, where a landlady is posted (mailed, in American) two human ears in a parcel and the immediate assumption by the police is that this is down to ex-lodgers of hers, medical students, playing a gruesome trick on her because she kicked them out:

      Some years ago, however, when she resided at Penge, she let apartments in her house to three young medical students, whom she was obliged to get rid of on account of their noisy and irregular habits. The police are of opinion that this outrage may have been perpetrated upon Miss Cushing by these youths, who owed her a grudge and who hoped to frighten her by sending her these relics of the dissecting-rooms.

    • Z.Frank says:

      Warm thanks for the replies so far. They’ve been helpful.

  25. “I’m usually disgusted by cannibalism, but I make an exception with people who are in favor of pyramid schemes,” said Tom considerately.

    “I’ve recently learnt how to construct lists in Lisp,” said Tom considerately.

  26. Jared says:

    Can someone try to convince me on the merits of moral realism? I feel like the idea of objective morality is incredibly ridiculous but I may not be hearing the best arguments for it.

    • blacktrance says:

      First, it would be useful to know what you mean by “moral realism” and “objective morality”.

      Carinthium asked a closely related question in a previous open thread. My response.

      The SEP page on moral constructivism may also be of interest to you.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      People have been talking about “good” for millennia without a rigorous definition. It seems pretty clear that it’s a value system which, for reasons that are independent of any existing beings opinions, is something like correct. That “something like correct” part has been the sticking point.

      One answer is to say “It’s just confusion: projectivism. The map has no territory.” The alternative is to say “There is a territory; our intuitions have pointed roughly at it; now we’re waiting for somebody to finish up the definition.”

      Does the latter sound like wishful thinking to you? If so, you’re not alone. But our intuitions have a pretty good track record.

      Consider that we’ve been talking about numbers for about as long as we’ve been talking about goodness, but we only came up with a rigorous axiomization of them in 1889. A lot of the other fundamental objects in math have similar histories.

      On a smaller scale, I’d given up on “causality” distinct from time and on “magic” as meaningless words until I saw them defined.

      An intuitive tendency to talk about something is pretty good evidence that the something has meaning. Not perfect, but pretty good. And a long chain of failures to define that something is not good evidence that the something doesn’t have meaning. Often it just means it’s hard.

      • Jared says:

        That’s not convincing to me. Our intuitions could easily be wrong. People intuitively believe in a “higher power” but that doesn’t make the existence of God any more likely.

        • Grumpus says:

          Some people would argue that it does. The Wikipedia page on sensus divinitatis is crap, but one of the actual Christians on here can probably provide a decent source.

        • Brian says:

          Lately I’ve been entertaining the belief that the ideas of God and Objective Good are pointing to the same thing, namely the universal optimization function–i.e., maximizing the production and dissipation of entropy.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Some traditional moral principles fit pretty well with a just-so story where the unit of survival is the tribe. Don’t cause weeping. Feed and clothe the people, closest relatives first; care for all children, elderly, and sick; be fair in bargains, and dependable; defend the weak. And to keep this set of memes intact, prefer death to dishonor.

        • Anonymous says:

          Right, but in principle, couldn’t the environment change in such a way that it’s more adaptive to dispel the memes from one’s own noetic structure, resulting in a situation where the memes die out altogether?

          I mean, I think there are atheists out there who would categorize religion as an outdated meme which was at one point adaptive, but which should now be disregarded. Why can’t an ethical egoist make the exact same claim about moral principles? (I realize this is the point in the debate where many people would say “well, we’ll just beat the ethical egoist up if pulls that nonsense”, which I’d like to point out isn’t the most compelling argument against EE; it merely indicates that the EE should practice his ethical system while keeping them secret.)

          I mean, the issue is this: we might consider this outcome undesirable, but there’s no real reason in a naturalistic framework (…I’m an Christian, probably should mention that) for us to value positive memes, (i.e. truth, justice, and the American way, etc.) by *themselves*, particularly if the thing that “gave” them that value – adaptive survivability – goes away. Yet, there have surely been times and places in history – more often than not, actually – where it was definitely more adaptive to be a ruthless miserly jerk than a trustworthy charitable person, yet I’d still view this behavior as, well (for lack of a non-ethical term) …wrong. (It strikes me, as I try to edit this post, that is just really really hard (for me, at least) to try to talk about moral claims like they *aren’t* objective.) But now I’m begging the question that morality is objective.

          • Anonymous says:

            ‘This is the behavior that will preserve society does not bring an ‘ought’. Why should I care about society, my family, my own survival, or whatever?’

            ‘Is’ doesn’t make ‘ought’. But this set conveniently describes a system of millenias-old precepts, and has a good just-so for remembering them. So if there is an objective morality or whatever, this has a pretty good chance of coinciding with it.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Woops, the Anonymous talking about just-so is me.

    • peterdjones says:

      Do you mean ethical objevtivism, the idea that moral claims have mind independent truth values, or moral realism, the idea that moral claims have mind independent truth values as a result of correspondence to some entity?

      Lesswrongian rationalists tend to put forward rejection of MR as equivalent to rejection of EO, ie they tend to assume that the correspondence theory of truth must apply. But the CToT can be quite an embarrassment to rationalists , as it means you need non physical objects for numbers to correspond to.

      Candidates for ways moral claims can be true without passively reflecting facts include analytical truth, and decision theory.

      • Jared says:

        I’m not sure that the definitions you’re using are standard philosophical terms. Going off your definitions, I’m talking about the former.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you have access to a JSTOR account, check out Peter Railton’s appropriately named article Moral Realism.

    • Anonymous says:

      Would you prefer morality to be universal? I.e. would you prefer that the whole world would behave according to the same morality?

    • I tried phrasing a moral realist version of my own view on /r/philosophy , though I got hated-on pretty hard. My view is roughly that morality refers to an objective evolutionary phenomenon (follow the biology link in the above link for details), and that personal morality is what that phenomenon feels like from the inside (giving it relevence in moral decisions). This probably isn’t conventional moral realism, but then perhaps that’s what you’re looking for.

      • Jared says:

        The reason people gave you a hard time is that you’re avoiding the is-ought problem but that’s the problem we’re trying to find the answer to. I feel sufficiently motivated to be a moral person based off my own moral instinct but that doesn’t explain whether there is even such a thing as objective good, which is what moral realists assert.

        • Thanks for reply, though you’re about the 100th person to tell me (obviously this is elementary to moral philosophy), and each time I try to point out that “ought”‘s definition relies on the word morality, and they therefore need to substitute in the definition of morality that I’ve used to avoid equivocation. So far 99 people ignored this suggestion 🙁 It’s a disagreement of definitions, not logic, though I feel it was in some cases deployed to avoid discussing what my actual reasoning. I think its a shame to not consider moving at all from the 18th century definition. I prefer mine, because I derive it from an object that empirical science suggests exists 🙂

          • Jared says:

            You can use whatever definitions you want but you aren’t answering the fundamental question. The problem is that you can’t derive morality from strictly empirical premises and I don’t see any reason to believe otherwise from what you’ve written.

    • Paul Torek says:

      I’m going to wildly guess that you are a metaethical internalist by instinct. Get over it (this SEP article might help) and then reconsider what ethical objectivism does and doesn’t imply. This won’t convince you of objectivism, but should reduce the apparent ridiculousness.

      • Jared says:

        The problem to me is that a majority of philosophers believe in moral realism based on what seems to be terrible reasoning so I feel like maybe I’m missing something.

        • Protagoras says:

          It is not remotely trivial to give a definition of realism which adequately captures all of the things that most people are realist about. Morality shares a number of the features of things people think are objective matters (people make assertions about what’s right or wrong; they think their claims have various truth-functional relationships to one another; they give arguments for their claims, citing reasons and evidence; people sometimes change their minds in response to discovering such reasons, etc.) Moral realists evidently think morality has enough such features to support a presumption of realism about morality, absent compelling reasons to the contrary (and, of course, they think there are no such compelling reasons). Given how murky “realism” is, they may be wrong about morality having enough of the correct features, and of course they could be wrong about the absence of compelling reasons to the contrary, but they hardly seem to be making trivial, obvious mistakes.

          • Jared says:

            It sure seems like a trivial, obvious mistake to believe something is objectively real based on intuition. Having some correlations with facts doesn’t make it any more true and I don’t have to disprove their assertion. They’re the ones making the claim, it’s up to them to prove it.

          • Protagoras says:

            Do you believe that there are objective facts in mathematics, Jared? If not, then at least you are consistent, but do you also think the vast hordes who disagree with you about that are making a trivial, obvious mistake? On the other hand, if you do think there are objective facts in mathematics, I’m curious as to what your theory of mathematics is on which mathematics is nothing like believing things to be objectively true based on intuition.

          • Jared says:

            I honestly don’t know. But even if I did assert the objective existence of math that doesn’t mean that morality is real just like the existence of objective morality would not confirm the existence of god(a widely held intuition).

            But lets just bite the bullet. Math isn’t real. It’s something useful people made up. Now how can you convince me that morality is objectively real?

          • Protagoras says:

            No. I’m pretty sure that if “something useful that people made up” isn’t real, and math is not real because it is an example of that, then morality isn’t real. Though I’m not sure about the step from “something useful that people made up” to “not real.” As I’ve said all along, I think the whole concept of “real” is pretty murky.

          • Anonymous says:

            You didn’t answer my main question. Just answer me why, after rejecting mathematical realism, I should have any reason to believe in objective morality.

  27. jjj says:

    What’s the best way to keep track of all my passwords?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:
    • Auroch says:

      I prefer LastPass, and it gets better reviews from security professionals AFAIK. (The only group I know this for sure is /r/netsec on reddit, but it’s small enough and goes over my head enough that I consider it a reliable indicator of expert consensus. Though I suppose I should also check if Bruce Schneier has expressed an opinion…)

      • You could look at this recent post by Schneier for some context.

        I am a crypto engineer, but haven’t bothered looking at this stuff to any level of detail. I just use GnuPG, myself. Do note that GnuPG (1.x?)’s password handling is unusually weak, so tack a few extra characters onto your master password.

        As a practical matter, you usually don’t harm security very much by keeping all your passwords in your e-mail account – having access to your e-mail gets you access to almost anything via “reset password” links – and good search + copy/paste makes keeping passwords in e-mail almost as convenient as using a password manager.

        If you just need to remember website passwords, using a master password in Firefox/Chrome is a pretty nice solution, too.

        Basically, the difference between “use the same crappy password everywhere” and any reasonable scheme is so vast, that you should just use whatever reasonable scheme you can convince yourself to actually use.

    • Ryan says:

      A third option to consider is 1Password. A comprehensive review.

    • Anonymous says:

      Paper and Pen.

  28. Doug Muir says:

    NO NO WRONG NO on the Marianas Islands and the minimum wage. No disrespect to Glen Raphael, but s/he is repeating a conservative urban legend with very little basis in fact.

    (Full disclosure: I lived for seven years on Saipan, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. And I worked for the government there, which spent a lot of time grappling with this issue.)

    The crash in employment in the CNMI was caused by the implosion of the island’s garment industry. Do you remember, 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, seeing tags on your clothes saying “Made in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands”? Well, the islands used to have a respectable middleweight garment industry, about 25 large factories employing ~30,000 workers. A pretty big deal, in an island commonwealth that only had about 50,000 people.

    Where did these workers come from? Mostly from the Philippines. Up until 2009, the CNMI controlled its own immigration laws — it wasn’t under DHS. It used the control to import tens of thousands of workers, mostly for the garment industry. And since the islands controlled their own minimum wage, too, the workers could be paid very little… in the 1990s the minimum wage was $2.75/ hour. In 1996 got it raised to $3.05 per hour, which caused a huge amount of kicking and screaming from the garment industry but had exactly zero effect on employment.

    Unfortunately this system — sweatshop factories using imported labor paid less than half the US minimum wage — produced a lot of labor abuse and other problems. As you’d expect, right? From the middle 1990s onwards the islands came under increasing pressure to either reform the system or to have it shut down altogether. This was partly because it /was/ a bad and ugly system, with workers laboring in Dickensian conditions, and partly because the US garment industry (yes, it still exists) resented the unfair competition — because although the CNMI set its own wages, and could import cheap workers from Asia, it was (and still is) inside the US Customs system, and so could export its goods to the US duty-free.

    Up until 2008 the CNMI was able to get away with their imported-worker system, largely by allying themselves with Republicans in the US Congress. (If you’re interested in the details, try googling “CNMI Jack Abramoff”). But when the Obama administration came to power in 2009, it moved pretty quickly. The US federal government took over immigration and imposed dramatic restrictions on the number of workers that could be brought in.

    It was this that killed the garment industry. The restrictions were put in place in the autumn of 2009; they cut the number of worker visas to about 12,000, enough to support the island’s tourism and construction sectors. (By way of comparison, in 2008 the number of visas granted had been about 45,000.) The garment industry imploded immediately, with 80% of the factories closing within the next 12 months. And yes, this was deliberate — the garment industry in the CNMI had become something of a nasty little scandal, and it had no defenders on Capitol Hill once the Republicans were out of power.

    The GAO report doesn’t mention the garment industry by name, because by the time the report was written in 2013 it had long since disappeared. However, that 45% decrease in “all sectors, 2006-2012”? That’s the CNMI garment industry going up in smoke, phsssht. And it does specifically mention the impact of reduced permits on the hotel industry: “Hotels also attributed their actions to other increased costs and changes to U.S. immigration law, which reduce the number of available permits for foreign workers in the CNMI.” http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-381

    — Incidentally, the actual increase in the minimum wage? Was a whopping 50 cents every two years, or 25 cents a year. See here: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/cnmi.pdf. You’ll notice that even today it’s still well below the US federal minimum wage.

    Doug M.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, have added to the top-level post.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I’m not sure we disagree as much as you think.

      When the minimum wage was originally instituted in the US and increased several times thereafter, it was pretty much the exact same thing as what you’re describing happening in the Mariana islands. Unionized workers in the northern US states didn’t like losing factory work to poor black southern workers willing to work for less so laws such as the minimum wage were *explicitly* passed with the intent to drive those poor workers who were willing to work for less out of business. I’m not surprised that allegations of “labor abuse and other problems” were used to justify a policy that caused factories to shut down and impoverished thousands of people but I doubt these “labor abuse and other problems” were *as* harmful to workers as the wage and immigration restrictions that then rendered them unable to earn a living.

      In the 1950s, advocates were more blunt than today. As NY senator Jacob Javits put it in 1957 when arguing for the minimum wage:

      I point out to Senators from industrial states like my own that a minimum wage increase would also give industry in our states some measure of protection, as we have too long suffered from the unfair competition based on substandard wages and other labor conditions in effect in certain areas of the country – primarily in the South.

      Samoa’s woes were similarly concentrated in one industry. It had two big canneries – Chicken of the Sea closed down and Starkist cut back. (source).

      As for the claim “In 1996 got it raised to $3.05 per hour, which caused a huge amount of kicking and screaming from the garment industry but had exactly zero effect on employment“, do you have a source on that last bit? Or can you point me to a time series showing rates of (a) unemployment, (b) youth unemployment, with at least annual data points through the 1990s? (I tried to track this info down but my google-fu is failing me)

      It seems to me the immigration restrictions you point to are doing the exact same thing as the minimum wage law – deliberately preventing poor, desperate workers from coming to work where they want to work for a wage they are willing to take. Which is unfortunate and sad; economic freedom would be a better policy.

      Regarding this bit: “Up until 2008 the CNMI was able to get away with their imported-worker system, largely by allying themselves with Republicans in the US Congress.”, you make it sound like you think it’s BAD that until 2008 the Republicans prevented Democrats from instituting policies that we both agree completely cratered the economies of these island nations.

      Regarding the size of the increases: When you’re starting at $2.75 and have lots of jobs down near that level, even 50 cents-per-two-years is a pretty big percentage jump. And even you have to admit the islands don’t want it to *keep* going up to match the national rate. Right?

      • Doug Muir says:

        The CNMI had a two-tier economy: it looked more like Dubai than like part of the US. The local Chamorros kept all the “good”, high-paying jobs for themselves, including all the government jobs. Necessary professional specialists, doctors and lawyers and such — i.e., me — were imported from the US mainland.

        Everything else — all the dirty, dangerous, extremely tedious or otherwise unpleasant and low-status jobs — was done by imported workers, mostly Filipinos. These were the people making the $2.75 minimum wage. They were all temporary workers, brought in on “work visas” and subject to being sent home pretty much at the employer’s will.

        In places like Dubai, this system has led to de facto slavery and horrific human rights abuses. The CNMI wasn’t nearly as bad as that, but there were still a lot of problems. The guest workers formed a subordinate caste with limited legal rights and limited access to the judicial system. — Why limited access? Because a worker’s residence status depended on employment. If you complained about abuses or brought a lawsuit unpaid wages, your employer could simply fire you… and then, boom, you’d promptly be deported. So labor abuses were pretty pervasive. The typical CNMI garment factory was, frankly, a sweatshop. Extreme cases — involving things like rape, physical abuse, stolen wages, truly horrific working conditions, and the like — were rare, but still too common for comfort.

        The CNMI government had limited capacity to regulate and control the garment industry. (Honestly, the CNMI government had limited capacity to do anything. A snide slogan among expats was “diligent, competent, honest — pick *at most* two.”)

        We did try asking the US federal government for help, but that was not a magic bullet. For one thing, the Clinton administration was divided between people who wanted to help and people who simply wanted the garment industry wiped out. So their policy wasn’t really coherent; half the time they’d be offering technical assistance, then they’d turn around and tell us we were a bunch of slavers and slumlords who needed sharp correction. For another, federal employees sent to the Marianas Islands tended not to be the best and brightest. In fact, it was a bureaucratic Siberia. We got shipped a federal prosecutor with a gambling problem, a labor inspector who spent much of his time getting hammered in buy-me-drinkee bars, an FBI agent who was a loud racist… you get the idea.

        Googling, it turns out that my memory failed me — we raised the minimum wage twice in the 1990s, from $2.15 per hour to $2.45 and then again to $2.75. This was during the governorship of Froilan C. Tenorio, my boss. Froilan was basically a moderate reformer; he recognized that the system was broken, but hoped to gradually fix it over time. Raising the minimum wage was part of a package of reforms that included, among other things, giving workers a grace period during which they could continue to stay in the islands while waiting for a labor complaint or lawsuit against an employer to be resolved. (Oh, man, the employers hated that one. They fought that much harder than the minimum wage change.) Unfortunately, after Froilan left office (1998) nobody else cared to try.

        This apathy was largely because of the successful alliance between the CNMI government and Congressional Republicans. This was mostly ideological — Republicans are generally hostile to minimum wages and worker’s rights — but a bunch of expenses-paid junkets for GOP lobbyists and Congressional staff didn’t hurt; again, googling “CNMI Jack Abramoff” will give you a bunch of informative hits. (Or googling “CNMI David Lapin” if you want to get weird.)

        The alliance worked great in the short term. In the long run, however, it was a disaster for the CNMI. Because after 2000 or so, the island government stopped trying to fix the system. The GOP had their back, right? So the pressure was off. After Governor Froilan left office, his successors ranged from “problem? What problem? If we all ignore the problem it will surely go away” to “I’m in the pay of the garment industry, and so am actively hostile to any effort to improve things for the workers”. The result was that by the time the Democrats took over, the CNMI had completely lost all credibility.

        It’s a story that doesn’t reflect well on either side. Congressional Republicans refused to see any problems, and so deliberately enabled a flawed and abusive system; Congressional Democrats decided that the only way to fix the system was to destroy it.

        Anyway. As to the 1990s increases from $2.15 to $2.75, they had zero effect on the garment industry. Not a single factory shut down or reduced its number of workers. Why not? Two reasons.

        One, the CNMI garment industry was crazy profitable. It was the only place in the world that combined low low wages and a very lax regulatory environment with the ability to import duty-free into the US. So, owning a CNMI garment factory was a license to print money.

        Two, because the major limiting factor on the industry was not wages, but the limited number of garment factory licenses. This number got capped in the early 1990s at 24; it was later raised to 30, after long and acrimonious political wrangling. (Basically, a bribe-fight between people who wanted to build new factories — licenses to print money, right? — and the people who owned the existing factories.) Why only a limited number of licenses? Because although the CNMI has a dozen or so islands, there’s only one island — Saipan — that’s big enough and has enough population and infrastructure to support garment factories. And even Saipan is just not that large an island. Big garment factories have a pretty significant footprint, yes? So Saipan’s environment and infrastructure could only support so many. In purely economic terms, we could probably have built five times as many garment factories without running out of market share… but at that point the whole island would have been paved over.

        Presumably there would have been some point where a minimum wage increase would have started to affect the garment industry. But raising it from $2.15 to $2.75 did not bring us anywhere near that point.

        Doug M.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          Initially you said there was one increase in the 1990s (from $2.75 to 3.05, in 1996) which had “exactly zero effect” on overall employment. Now you are saying there were two increases in the 1990s (from 2.15 to 2.75, in two steps) which you again think had “exactly zero effect” now specifically on *garment industry* employment rather than the economy at large.

          So again I ask: can you cite a /source/ from which you’re getting this claim of “exactly zero effect”? I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying I’d like to see the specific study or specific numbers that were used to reach that conclusion. (And I’m mostly interested in the economy as a whole, NOT merely the garment industry. But whatever you’ve got, I’ll take a look at.)

          • Doug Muir says:

            As I said, the first time I was working from ~18 year old memory; the second time, I went back and used google to check.

            “The economy as a whole” — yes, that’s why I began that second post by stating that the CNMI had a two-tier economy.

            Local Chamorros were never, ever paid minimum wage, and neither were mainland Americans. So, raising the minimum wage would not have any effect on them. Don’t take my word for it; look at Table 5.15. In 1995, the mean hourly wage for ethnic Chamorros was $10.55. For ethnic Filipinos it was $3.61. For ethnic Chinese it was $1.71. (Yes, that’s below even the low $2.45 minimum wage. There were a bunch of loopholes for things like agricultural work and piecework.)

            Only guest workers were paid minimum wage. And about half of the guest workers worked for the garment industry. The rest were divided between construction, the hotel/tourism sector and domestic help — but the garment industry was by far the biggest.

            Here’s the CNMI’s Statistical Yearbook for 2002. Go to page 71, Chapter 4. Take a minute to read those first couple of pages — it should give you some idea just how weird the CNMI was. (One change from my description: by 2002, the garment industry was dominated by Chinese workers rather than Filipinos.)

            Now scroll down and look at the tables. Did the labor force shrink between 1990 and 2000? No, not at all. Total employment grew by almost 60% — from 28,581 to 44,481.

            What about the garment industry in particular? Scroll down to table 4.15. Look at the line for “manufacturing”. That’s the garment industry. In 1990, it employed 5,688 people. In 1995, 7,770. By 2000, five years later, that figure had more than doubled, to 17,398. That reflected a combination of more licenses for garment factories, and the existing licensees dramatically expanding their operations — see “license to print money”, above.

            So, did our minimum wage increases have “zero effect” on either the overall economy or the garment industry? Based on the available data, no! In fact, the effect was to increase overall employment by around 60%, and to more than triple the number of workers in the industry that was most directly affected.

            — Okay, that’s snark. But seriously: you will search in vain for evidence that the 1990s increases had any negative effect on employment, or indeed on the economy at all. The only people affected were the guest workers, and demand for their services was so high that the wage increases were shrugged off.


            Doug M.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Does ANNUAL employment data simply not exist for this region? The data points in the table you refer me to are for only these years: 1973 1980 1990 1995 2000. Which is…terrible. Not nearly enough data points to expect to find nice bumps – much less trend direction changes – that correspond to input factor changes.

            Nevertheless I’ll try. If we focus specifically on the unemployment rate what I can see from this is that the economy was TERRIBLE in 1973 (12.6% unemployment) but got much better by 1980 (2.4), had no change in 1990 (2.3), the unemployment rate then more than TRIPLED in 1995 (7.3), then somewhat recovered by 2000 though was still substantially worse than it had been earlier (3.9).

            To sum up, in this data we see: HUGE unemployment jump in 1995, mild recovery in 2000. Which certainly seems consistent with the story “minimum wage increases in the 1990s caused unemployment to rise”, though it would depend on the timing of the increases (at least one took effect before 1995, right?) and how much they were anticipated.

            Your point that there were large percentage changes in the overall employment NUMBERS over this time is well-taken. If we had higher-resolution data we might be able to separate those two factors but if we really can’t find data with annual (or monthly!) resolution the proper conclusion might be “it is difficult to establish the magnitude of the effect empirically given how poor our data is.” The correct conclusion is NOT to confidently assert “the change had exactly zero effect”.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            …and after a bit more googling, it looks like 1995 was the year the legislature first passed (and the governor signed, though parts of implementation were later delayed) a law trying to henceforth equalize the islands with the US minimum wage. And the unemployment rate has gotten much worse since 2000; it has never returned to anywhere near the lower levels we saw back in 1980-1990 when the wage rate was a mere $2.15.

            Now, you can certainly choose to believe that the fact that unemployment rates happened to get much worse ever since minimum wage was forced to start “catching up” with the states and has remained high ever since is a mere coincidence and that the real problem is immigration restrictions or immigration levels or something else, but you probably need to make a case for that claim. Especially since the people on “your side” of this issue seem to think the factories were all just foreign labor and losing them and their shipped-in workers ought to *help* native employment. Right?

            When I look at this data, I don’t seem to be seeing what you’re seeing. I see the start of a series of minimum wage hikes followed immediately by permanently higher (percentage) unemployment levels. You apparently see a minimum wage hike followed by a larger absolute number of jobs, but by that metric pretty much NOTHING can negatively impact a country with a growing population – it seems like the wrong metric to focus on.

            (If you still don’t get that point, consider: the total number of people with jobs had been increasing in earlier periods when the minimum wage was FLAT; so the same logic applied to those periods would tell us that NOT raising minimum wage creates jobs. Right?)

        • Doug Muir says:

          BTW, the source of the conservative urban legend here is the Washington Times. And that’s partly my fault. Back in the 1990s, I ghost-wrote a bunch of op-ed pieces for them about how awesome the CNMI was — a low-wage, low-regulation “laboratory of liberty”. I’m not going to embarass anyone, but if you google that you’ll have no trouble finding some of them. (Yes, I’m the one who came up with that phrase. Go me.)

          That was many years ago, but the Times stayed interested in the CNMI. And after 2009, they published several pieces about how increasing the minimum wage had Ruined Everything there — cratered the economy, caused employment to implode, and so forth.

          It’s unclear to me whether this was willful stupidity and laziness on their part, or deliberate obfuscation. To be fair to the Times, the backstory was moderately complex (as we’ve seen here). And the people I’d worked with in 1994-8 were all gone by 2009.

          That said, the Times was and is a junk paper owned by the Moonies. And their reporting on the CNMI and its wage issues is still nonsense on stilts.

          Doug M.

        • Levi Ramsey says:

          Presumably there would have been some point where a minimum wage increase would have started to affect the garment industry. But raising it from $2.15 to $2.75 did not bring us anywhere near that point.

          My suspicion is that the very existence of the minimum wage results in minimum wage workers having a greater difference between their marginal productivity and their wages, because the existence of a set minimum wage allows employers to not try to gauge marginal productivity but simply say, “it’s a minimum wage job”.

          I think it’s unlikely that anyone remains employed for long if their perceived (consciously or not) marginal productivity is exceeded by their marginal wage. A vanishingly small proportion of minimum wage workers have a marginal productivity less than the minimum wage. But I would further suggest that nearly all minimum wage workers have a marginal productivity which is further above the minimum wage that would result even in the most aggressive serious plans to increase it: any decrease in employment from the small number of people losing their jobs because their marginal productivity is between the old and new minimum wages is tiny and probably outweighed by the also tiny increase in aggregate consumer demand.

          So in that sense, a small increase in minimum wage from the sorts of levels which have generally held in recent history has little negative effect beyond the negative effects from the existence of the minimum wage.

          We don’t tend to see serious (or even nonserious) proposals backed by employers of minimum-wage and near-minimum-wage workers that minimum wages be abolished, or even cut.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            We don’t tend to see serious (or even nonserious) proposals backed by employers of minimum-wage and near-minimum-wage workers that minimum wages be abolished, or even cut.

            Would you expect them to? Large employers of minimum-wage workers have optimized their operations to work well with people earning approximately the current minimum wage. If the minimum wage were abolished, they might be exposed to fierce competition from below by brand new firms based on higher-labor business models. There’s no percentage in it.

            I would further suggest that nearly all minimum wage workers have a marginal productivity which is further above the minimum wage that would result even in the most aggressive serious plans to increase it

            Some recent union-funded “protests” advocated doubling the minimum wage to $15/hour. Do you regard that as a “serious plan”? If so, you should try doing the math. McDonalds does not make nearly enough income to pay that wage with its current operational structure.

            If minwage workers had a marginal product that was substantially higher than minimum wage, it would be worthwhile for employers both individually and collectively to give them a raise and they would stop being minwage workers. Suppose McDonalds is paying people $8 but you know their labor is worth much more than $12. You could split the difference, start a new burger chain that pays $10, take all their workers and keep the extra $2 for yourself. Some smart businessman would DO that, then McDonalds would be forced to give a raise in response.

  29. Anonymous` says:

    Fjrrg, V tbg n +15 ba gur dhvm. Nafjrerq q gb obgu naq tbg gur obahf (ohg jvgu ab rkcyrgvirf, fnqyl) ba gur frpbaq.

    (Google rot13 if you are confused)

    • Lrnu, V’z n yvggyr pbashfrq ol uvf “ernq Qehqtr gb fpber ybjre”, fvapr gur fpberf frrz beqrerq yvoreny/ybj gb pbafreingvir/uvtu. V zrna, vs Ovyy B’Ervyyl[1] vf lbhe fgnaqneq bs uvtu (naq vg frrzf gb or sbe ng yrnfg gur Oebja/Tneare dhrfgvba), znlor “uvtu” whfg zrnaf “pbafreingvir” sbe lbh?

      [1] uggc://bofreire.pbz/2014/12/ovyy-bervyyl-ernpgf-gb-gur-tenaq-whel-npdhvggny/

    • Artemium says:

      LOL, and I thought that this is some kind of Eldricht language generator. *feels stupid* 🙁

  30. Do you have a amazon.co.uk affiliate link?

  31. Ryan says:

    Any suggestions on how to get started on Tumblr in terms of having a feed worth reading? Rationalism and other topics common to this blog would be a fine place to start.

  32. Deiseach says:

    In return for that kind mention, Scott, may I say how impressed I am that you are travelling all the way to New York to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent and the Feast of St Peter Canisius, S.J., Priest and Doctor of the Church, which this year both fall on the same date!

    Doubtless your reference to the Secular Solstice is a reminder to us of when 21st December (the shortest day of the year) was previously the Feast of St Thomas, Apostle – Doubting Thomas – and hence both a jocular allusion to sceptics and in recognition of his patronage of converts from atheism 😉

    Also, that is not an Advent wreath in the photo with that article. Despite the invocation of the Use of Sarum, blue is not a liturgical colour; the colour of Advent, as of Lent, is the violet or purple of penitence (save for the dark rose of Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday of the respective seasons) 🙂

    (Well, I must uphold my reputation as a curmudgeon, must I not?)

  33. Deiseach says:

    Looking at the programme for the Solstice, I’m not sure if you’re going to be there for the (what puts me in mind of a) version of Tenebrae, but if you want a poem to go with the candles being quenched and the mood getting sombre – poem we all did in school as Gaeilge, translation taken from here:

    In Ireland, the Feast of the Epiphany is also known as “Little Christmas”, or “Women’s Christmas” – in the Irish language “Nollaig Na mBan”.
    Oíche Nollaig Na mBan
    Seán Ó Riordáin

    Bhí fuinneamh sa stoirm a éalaigh aréir.
    Aréir oíche Nollaig na mBan,
    As gealt-teach iargúlta ‘tá laistiar den ré
    Is do scréach tríd an spéir chughainn ‘na gealt
    Gur ghíosc geataí comharsan mar ghogallach gé,
    Gur bhúir abhainn slaghdánach mar tharbh,
    Gur mhúchadh mo choinneal mar bhuille ar mo bhéal
    A las ‘na splanc obann an fhearg

    Ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an stoirm sin féin
    An oíche go mbeadsa go lag
    Ag filleadh abhaile ó rince an tsaoil
    Is solas an pheaca ag dul as,
    Go líonfaí gach neomat le liúirigh ón spéir,
    Go ndéanfaí den domhan scuaine scread,
    Is ná cloisfinn an ciúnas ag gluaiseacht fám dhéin,
    Ná inneall an ghluaisteáin ag stad.

    (translation by Antóin Ó Cléirigh):

    The Eve of Little Christmas

    There was vigour in the storm that escaped last night
    Last night, the eve of Little Christmas
    From a remote madhouse behind the moon
    And screamed through the sky to us like a maniac
    So that the neighbour’s gate creaked like the gaggling of geese,
    So that the snuffling river bellowed like bull,
    ‘Til my candle was extinguished like a smack in the mouth
    That ignited my anger in a sudden spark

    I would like that that self-same storm would come
    The night when I will be weak
    Returning home from the dance of life
    With the light of sin declining,
    That every minute would be filled with cries from the sky,
    That the world become a procession of screams,
    And that I wouldn’t hear the silence sneak up on me.
    Or the engine of the car stopping.

  34. Pingback: Open Thread #5: Neither a Borrower Nor A Gender Be | Thing of Things

  35. Izaak Weiss says:

    Maybe I missed it, but have the results of this years Less Wrong or SSC survey come out yet?

  36. AngryDrake says:

    Hey, Scott, why do you apparently consider opposing condoms a horrendous thing? I’m curious.

    • Anonymous says:

      Opposing condoms is unhelpful for stopping diseases like AIDS

      • AngryDrake says:

        Are you guessing, providing your own opinion, or referring to Scott’s stated opinion on this matter? Because that’s what I want to know here.

      • Mary says:

        Touting condoms left right and center hasn’t stopped diseases like AIDS. May even have helped them spread since it neglects risk compensation and looks like doing something.

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      Opposing condoms leads to increased STDs (including, as anonymous said, HIV) and makes it harder to have penis-vagina sex without causing pregnancy (and realistically people will have penis-vagina sex anyways).

      • AngryDrake says:

        Source on the first claim?

        (Also, as I’ve told Anon above, I’m primarily interested in Scott’s opinion.)

      • Deiseach says:

        Except that really the reason for thinking “opposing condoms is horrible” is “making me go without sex is horrible”.

        (I will now sit back and await the tide of vituperation to roll over me).

        • Protagoras says:

          Well, making me go without sex is pretty horrible. I don’t know what point you were trying to make by stating that obvious fact.

          • Deiseach says:

            Because it’s the motte and bailey argument once again? “Opposing condoms is horrible and evil because you are murdering Africans via AIDS” is the bailey, because who wants to be on the side of horrible racist murderers?

            Whereas the motte is “Opposing condoms means I might not be able to have the same amount/kind of sex I want”, which is less obviously selfless and upright and disinterested. You don’t care about those hypothetical dying Africans, you do care if you don’t get to dip your wick.

          • Protagoras says:

            It’s impossible to care about both?

          • Grumpus says:

            You can care about both, but you can’t pretend that one of them isn’t a lot less obviously bad than the other. Most people aren’t willing to say, “I really want sex and what do you mean you won’t approve of it except with strings attached and anyway I want this so bad that even if you make a rule saying I can’t I will do it anyway because I can’t help it I want it so bad.” Like, for some a lot of people, “makes it harder to have penis-vagina sex without causing pregnancy” is a feature, not a bug.

          • Protagoras says:

            Grumpus, I think you may have it backwards which is more controversial (or at least where the controversy matters). There’s no danger of anybody taking my condoms away, but anti-condom efforts do seem to do some harm in efforts to improve sexual health in poor countries. Now, I do think in general that more sex is a good thing (since I care about human happiness and it seems to contribute) and so I think little of the people you mention. I also admit to thinking in particular that me having more sex is a good thing. But when I complain about anti-condom efforts I am much more concerned with things like reducing the spread of HIV.

          • Grumpus says:

            I mean, I don’t think anti-condom efforts are a good thing. Or not necessarily, anyway–I haven’t devoted much more than zero thought to the question. My beef is with the idea that restricting access to consequence-free sex is bad because (1) actual bad consequences (e.g. AIDS in Africa) and (2) people don’t get to have consequence-free sex. The former is a substantive contribution, the latter is not.

          • Limi says:

            Re deiseach – I don’t think it’s motte and bailey, I believe that the argument goes: people will have sex, regardless of whether they get AIDS, know that God hates it, know that it will lead to unwanted pregnancy, etc. Therefore opposing condom use is worse than useless, it is actively detrimental to the wellbeing of millions of people, particularly in countries where sex education is limited to that given by missionaries and relief workers.

          • people will have sex, regardless of whether they get AIDS, know that God hates it, know that it will lead to unwanted pregnancy, etc.

            Grumpus made a great point in a different sub-thread that this just ain’t true. There are lots of places historically and and in the present day where social norms have successfully kept dangerous forms of sex to a minimum.

          • Limi says:

            Did I do something wrong, or did my phone just kindly decide not to post my reply? I’m sure I read through it after it posted. Anyway, in short, sex outside of marriage was less frequent, but not non-existent and so condemning condoms while attempting to bring that social value to a country that largely doesn’t care for it means that even if you manage to do so you are damning many to suffer.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Limi: Did your reply have links? Sometimes the spam filter eats comments if they have too many links, or if they have links to particular websites.

          • Deiseach says:

            sex education is limited to that given by missionaries and relief workers

            Because your granny or your mother can’t tell you “If you let him put his thing there, you’ll get a baby”? Or other cultures never developed their own methods of avoiding pregnancy? That’s rather a White Man’s Burden attitude to the People Out There what don’t know science good like us do.

          • Anonymous says:

            Lol deiseach, I was referring more to the std side of sex education. As a person who has spent several years in the fringe or squatter’s class, and most of the rest in the lower class, I don’t think I am speaking out of turn when I say that nobody needs help with the other side of sex education.

            Edit: this is from me, limi, but I am an idiot, so I didn’t check to make sure my details were filled out. Sorry all :/

          • Grumpus says:

            This American Life did a great show on the actual anthropology of STD transmission in I think Malawi. The short version is that people know full well how HIV is transmitted and rely on information networks to minimize their chances of having sex with someone who has it. They also know about condoms, but having sex with a condom on, the joke goes, is like eating a piece of candy with the wrapper on. Then they all slap their knees the same way and laugh like they came up with it themselves.

            Edit: The show is 444: “Gossip”.

          • Limi says:

            Cheers grumpus, I’ll give it a listen when I get home this evening. Although I don’t think existing stigma about condoms makes additional stigma any more palatable.

            Also it occurs to me that deiseach’s focus on pregnancy re condom use instead of stds, which is what I think most people who oppose the church’s stance on condoms are concerned with seems flawed.

            On the other hand, it seems from the other comments that perhaps the grey tribe does consider pregnancy the bigger deal, and while I have been reading comments on previous articles to the point where I feel like I know a lot of you already, I am new here so I don’t want to come across as accusatory.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          Well, yeah. Thats part of the reason those things are bad, though the other part is that, like I said, some people will just have sex anyways and have bad things happen.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Except that really the reason for thinking “opposing condoms is horrible” is “making me go without sex is horrible”.

          It’s not even that. It’s more like “making me go without sex unless I am willing to marry and have children is horrible”.

          • Deiseach says:

            As you may have gathered from various comments I’ve made re: my work in local authority social housing, I am getting to the stage where I don’t think ANYBODY should be allowed have sex AT ALL except under VERY STRICT CONDITIONS 🙂

          • Tom Womack says:

            But Deiseach concerns about local authority social housing are precisely to do with progenitive sex; people can engage in oral-genital interaction until the cows come home without causing trouble of that kind.

            There does seem to be a degree of opposition in most places to sticking up giant billboards on the themes “blow-jobs are great” and “cunnilingus: because the tongue has four independently-controllable muscles and the penis has none”.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:


            Well, as I’ve said before I think a much better solution is that NO ONE is allowed to have any children AT ALL except under VERY STRICT CONDITIONS. You can have sex as much as you want.

          • Grumpus says:

            This assumes perfect contraception, which we don’t have, also the ability to coerce people into using it. Having strong norms w/r/t sex is much more practical (and less blatantly intrusive) than trying to enforce a contraception mandate.

            Also, some people think that having children is a good thing, and that people ought to be encouraged to do that. The idea is that near-mandatory childbearing will force people to live responsibly because they have (or will soon have) actual responsibilities. So the solution to “dysfunctional people having babies” isn’t “dysfunctional people not having babies” but “dysfunctional people being provided with a structured, socially-enforced framework for getting their needs met and their lives in order”.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:


            And even if that was not an option, we could go with vasectomies and storing people’s sperm in sperm banks.

            Having strong norms against sex is just as intrusive as laws against contraception. Sex is itself harmless, while having children can cause harm to the children. So if either can be restricted, I’d much rather restrict the child-having.

            “Also, some people think that having children is a good thing, and that people ought to be encouraged to do that. The idea is that near-mandatory childbearing will force people to live responsibly because they have (or will soon have) actual responsibilities.”

            Yeah it’s pretty clear we have very different worldviews and values.

            For one thing, I think we should try and minimize any amount of “responsibility” (as in the situation, not the behavior) people have. And I doubt making people have children would make them more “responsible” (behavior), considering that “dysfunctional” people seem to have more children than usual. And mandatory childbearing as a response to “dysfunction” sounds like a cure so much worse than the disease that it looks like cutting off someone’s arm to remove a wart.

            And I certainly don’t consider having children good. I’m actually a borderline anti-natalist. The reasons I don’t want to just end humanity out of not replacing ourselves now is that A) this would screw over living people and B) some stuff related to secular eschatology.

          • Grumpus says:

            First off, I should clarify that I don’t necessarily hold these views (though I’m sympathetic to them). I appear to have become the resident sexual conservative on SSC because I only comment to say something that I don’t think anyone else will, which is usually to defend a view that I think is underrepresented relative to its merit. And Grays (and all but the most radical Blues) are particularly unimaginative when it comes to sexual morality. I’m actually a fairly milquetoast cultural/object-level Blue, but liberal boneheadedness about soft coercion and/or group-level violence (i.e. norms and their enforcement, respectively) is generally enough to make me see Red.

            Anyway, moving on.

            Having strong norms against sex is just as intrusive as laws against contraception.

            First reaction: Seriously? You think opening up a dude’s balls and chopping off a bit of tissue is just as intrusive as telling people not to have sex except under certain (widely attainable) conditions?

            More reasonably: That’s really not the case. People who live in societies with strong norms against (certain kinds of!) sex don’t experience those norms as coercive, because (1) regulating behavior is different from controlling bodies (people are squicked out by persuasion- or Ego-bypassing measures), and (2) they believe it too! You don’t get a functioning norm without a large majority of people enforcing it. I don’t think you can physically intrude into people’s bodies (remember the vaginal probe furor?) and make them jump through hoops before they can make babies without triggering a sense of coercion. I for one would do everything in my power to preserve my ability to have reproductive sex, which mandatory vasectomies would take away. Plus, the failure modes of behavioral regulation via norms (provided the most violent enforcement mechanisms are not used) are generally more palatable than those of technocratic coercion. Eugenics comes to mind.

            And I doubt making people have children would make them more “responsible” (behavior), considering that “dysfunctional” people seem to have more children than usual.

            This is an unimaginative response. The idea is that the dysfunction would not exist if we had better norms. I don’t feel like double-checking this right now, but it seems fairly uncontroversial that e.g. out-of-wedlock births have risen dramatically in certain demographics over the past few decades, which implies that earlier norms were successful in suppressing them, absent evidence that it’s somehow gotten easier for people to get pregnant.

            And I certainly don’t consider having children good. I’m actually a borderline anti-natalist.

            Okay. You haven’t given me any reasons so I can’t evaluate the quality of your position, but to each his own. I’ve certainly held my fair share of over-the-top misanthropic beliefs. My nickname was fully earned.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            I’m actually not a misanthrope, that has to do with a general “bringing people into existence to die is bad” thing. It’s a pure value thing though, not an empirical argument. Though like I said I think the species needs to continue reproducing for now for instrumental reasons. (its actually irrelevant to this argument, pretend I didn’t bring it up.)

            As to the norms about sex thing, there was probably some confusion about what exactly you meant with norms. However… I think that any norms would become laws, you can’t just have a society that says you can have sex without punishment but it will make us mad at you, at least not stably. I mean, that’s sort of what we have now but its not at equilibrium. As to the actual procedure… yeah, I think having to get RISUGs/vasectomies is a lot less “intrusive” than trying to control how much sex someone has. How important to the person is the short time and discomfort from doing so? (some people value having children, but I though that people having children in bad situations was something that was agreed here to be bad anyways). I am well aware that most people wouldn’t see it that way though.

            (I realized I miss-typed originally about what I was referring to, you seem to have known what I meant)

          • Deiseach says:

            Having strong norms against sex is just as intrusive as laws against contraception.

            Well, you tell me what the hell to do about a woman with seven kids by three different fathers, four of those kids in care, the eldest child just turned eighteen and now with her second baby, everyone living with their parents/relatives and looking for social housing in two countries, and ex-partners continuing to have more kids with new partners.
            We’re dropped all the nasty old condemnatory attitudes to sex in modern Ireland, we’ve got contraception and family planning easily available, on socialised medicine no less, and we’ve still got the situation where we’re heading the second generation of fucked up and easily forecastable third generation.

            Which is why I’m saying “opposition to condoms is horrendous” is less about public health and more about “I want to get my end away, how dare you interfere with that?”

            Except we then get a layer on top of “Sexual Liberty for all” of “Oh, but it’s okay to interfere with the dysfunctional people’s right to sex. I’m different!”

            That may explain my scepticism about the benefits of free love and sexual liberation which I’ve had preached at me by progressives in Irish society all my life (and they’re still at it nowadays). I don’t believe in one law for the (sexual) rich and one for the poor.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Deiseach, that one line was misspoken (I meant to say that it is just as intrusive mandatory reversible sterilization as I was advocating), but I’m fairly certain you know what my position is by now. I’ve told you what I want to do to solve that situation.

            And I never said anything about wanting to regulate the sex-having of “dysfunctional” people. The people who did (like you and Grumpus) wanted to do so for everyone, not just “dysfunctional” people. So I have no idea where you got that one from.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Sex is itself harmless

            This is not true. Sex can kill you. There are a lot of diseases it can give you, some of which are very serious and have no cure. None of them will be hindered by contraception.

            That is ignoring all the other very real but hard to measure psychological impacts. We’ll put those to side, since you’re still refusing to acknowledge the many millions dead each year from AIDS alone.

            I think when people say “sex is safe/contraception eliminates pregnancy worries” they really mean “I can imagine a hypothetical technology and world in which sex is safe, so let’s pretend the real world is like that.” But the real world is not like that. Contraception has been widely and cheaply available for generations now, but our illegitimacy rate has, if anything, worsened. Condoms have been around even longer, but STDs continue to run rampant. Sex ain’t safe, and pretending won’t make it so.

        • gattsuru says:

          I’m fine going without sex for long periods of time and the condom argument doesn’t really apply to me specifically, and while Mr. Alexander may find secondary benefits to contraceptives should Ozzy use them, I believe he’s fairly asexual. That said, this does not seem to be a viable option for a large portion of society. We are notoriously incapable of preventing people in general from having sex, even in environments where we literally put often-straight-identifying sex-segregated folk in constantly monitored cages. Pregnancy could be theoretically reduced through mandatory implants/IUDs, but a sizable portion of the populace doesn’t tolerate them well and there’s no equivalent option for STD avoidance. If you have to completely re-engineer sizable portions of the human condition, I’m not sure sex or reproductive drives are even a good place to start.

          There’s a more reasonable argument where the reduced availability of contraceptives funges with frequency or type of sex — it’s /very/ easy to come away from a sex ed class and fully expect the average student to believe pregnancy can be prevented by the application of a condom to a nearby fruit — but the scientific evidence doesn’t really support that for condoms and is incredibly complicated for other contraceptives.

          • Grumpus says:

            That said, this does not seem to be a viable option for a large portion of society. We are notoriously incapable of preventing people in general from having sex, even in environments where we literally put often-straight-identifying sex-segregated folk in constantly monitored cages.

            It boggles my mind that people say this so easily. There are parts of the world where good boys and girls just don’t have pre- or extra-marital sex, and people do in fact have way, way less sex there. The fact that people sometimes break rules is not an argument against having them.

          • Lambert says:

            Yes. They tend to be the parts of the world where said rules are enforced by social ostracism at best and execution at worst.

          • Grumpus says:

            All rules are enforced by social ostracism at best and execution at worst.

          • gattsuru says:

            If you believe that changing cultural about premarital sex are a necessary or important aspect of preventing STD transmission or single motherhood, you should really hope that it’s possible to do so independently of the availability of condoms. They’re not exactly rocket science to create.

            At a deeper level, a low enough rate of compliance with a rule is a good argument against implementing it, even were the rule absolutely cost-free to implement itself. Not only does it encourage noncompliance with other rules, it invites due process abuses (for legal rules) or abuse by power-mongering sociopaths (for social rules).

          • Grumpus says:

            gattsuru, I agree with you! I was only challenging the idea that enforcing that particular rule was somehow unrealistic when it’s clearly been done before.

          • Hanfeizi says:

            “Yes. They tend to be the parts of the world where said rules are enforced by social ostracism at best and execution at worst.”

            I don’t know- upper middle class women in China are notoriously prudish (note that lower class women are anything but), yet there’s little danger of full-fledged social ostracism for them. The gentle disapproval of not being able to marry a man of your same social class because you lost your virginity early seems to be satisfactory. My own wife was 28 before she lost her virginity- with her future husband. She was deeply embarrassed by the fact that she was a virgin, as she was convinced that western men wanted women who had a great deal of sexual experience!

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I feel like as an asexual I have some credibility when I say that’s not my motive.

        • Limi says:

          Good gravy, I’m sorry everyone, I’m an idiot – the previous anonymous comment was from me.

        • MugaSofer says:

          Limi: you’re … you’re Scott?!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      About the reasons Deiseach keeps giving for why horrible people shouldn’t keep having children they don’t want and can’t parent competently, but without Deiseach’s Catholicism limiting the proposed solution space.

      The not getting STDs is a side bonus.

      • AngryDrake says:

        But… that doesn’t sound like it merits ‘horrendous’. Reading your previous article, the impression I got was that you should have argued that the choice of opposing condoms as a tribal marker was chosen because it was distinctive, as opposed to the common ground that Protestants and Catholics have, which would be useless as a distinguishing feature.

      • Deiseach says:

        But it’s not working, Scott, which is my point. I don’t care a straw about the economic arguments you see re: welfare queens nd dole spongers and the rest of it; I care about people fucking up children which is what I’m seeing.

        And the “horrible people” have access to condoms, the pill, UDS, etc., don’t have any moral objections or religious qualms, and are not being respoinsbile. And the social attitudes are all about sexual liberty and are we not past the mean old repressive Church with its ridiculous and outdated rules and fear of sex and misogyny?

        So maybe you genuinely do care about the people in Africa who will die of AIDS if the pope doesn’t say condoms are okay. But I think most people who trot out the ‘AIDS in Africa’ line are motte-and-baileying, because they want to avoid accidental pregnancy and the possibility of disease (and I’m less than convinced about that, because we’ve had the discussion on here about ‘is drunk sex really rape, really? In all cases? Because if so that means I’m a rapist/I’ve been raped and I don’t think so’ and if you’re drunk and having sex, how likely are you to be super-careful about safer sex and using condoms?)

        So then we get the proponents of sexual liberty discussing how to stop the horrible people having kids which involves more or less treating them less as full humans and more like the ‘spay and neuter’ feral cat and dog populations campaigns.

        Which is why I’m not adverse to bringing back a little social disapproval and shame – and don’t tell me that shame is not involved in the reasons ‘better educated’ women tend not to be single mothers; the unspoken attitude that you have to be careful, you shouldn’t be rushing into sex at a young age because you’ll ruin your life, you need an education and a career. The idea of disappointing your parents if you have a baby when you turn 22, so that puts a crimp in going on to higher education past your basic degree.

        To be frank, I don’t see much difference between social attitudes to sex in our Brave New liberated world and the Bad Old Religious past, not when it comes to the ‘inferior’ sorts; they can’t be trusted to have sex, they need their betters to take charge if they won’t do so themselves, and we’ll use the carrot of financial incentives but we’re quite prepared to contemplate compulsory methods if needs be (need to get implants if you’re in receipt of social welfare? Two kids, no partner, no job – sterilisation?)

        My view is I want that social disapproval for everyone, not the ‘better sort’ looking down on the ‘lower sort’.

        • Deiseach says:

          And if we’re talking about asexuaity, I’m aromantic and asexual and I don’t understand any of you lot and your inability not to be overwhelmed by your hormones.

          If the lower sort, the irresponsible ones, the horrible people who insist on having careless sex without worrying about the consequences are to be monitored and implanted and coaxed and bullied via social controls like financial incentives and penalties, because they can’t be trusted to delay gratification due to the rush of hormones, then as far as I’m concerned this applies to all of you.
          But you’re responsible and careful? You don’t need Big Brother or Big Sister taking the choice out of your hands?
          Now, now: that’s just biological imperatives and your addiction to pleasure talking! If the notion of not being able to have sex at any time, with any partner, whenever you so desire is so horrendous (re: opposition to condoms), then plainly you are no more able to exercise your will to overcome your immediate appetites than your ‘lower class’ counterparts, and it’s luck rather than judgement that means you haven’t fathered children or become pregnant.
          I know what’s best for you. Let me take charge of these decisions.

          • Nita says:

            From the tone of your comment, I take it that you expect all of us to be outraged at the prospect of mandatory contraception applied to us. Well, I’m not outraged at all. I have been reckless, and I have been lucky. Bring on the mandatory implants!

          • AngryDrake says:

            To paraphrase an unknown person: “If the Neuter Police comes for you, kill them.”

          • coffeespoons says:

            I haven’t become pregnant because I”ve used condoms literally every time I’ve had sex! It’s not luck!

          • Illuminati Initiate says:


            Who exactly are you even talking about? We are talking about solutions to the problem of people having children in bad situations. There seem to be three positions advocated here.

            1: The mainstream liberal position of contraceptives/education/poverty relief (Note: I consider all these things good but not adequate). This seems to be Scott’s position, and is probably the majority position here (assuming SSC demographics are at least no more reactionary than LW).

            2: The reactionary position, which is traditional marriage and no sex outside of it. This seems to be your position, and the position of most neos. Note that this only solves this problem when the parents are unmarried, and at great cost. It does nothing to prevent abusive traditionally married monogamous parents from having children.

            3: The mad social engineer position that me and a few others advocate, which is to sterilize everyone or at least all men (men are easier to do this on) and require licences for reversing the procedure/having children (which would presumably also apply to adoption, actually). The main potential issue here would be that if we were too stringent with the licenses it could cause demographic issues (too many old people vs young, though technology could end up rendering that moot (robots work better than humans young or old)). I support this position because it solves the problem for much less of a cost (as in utils, not $) (and it also solves a larger set of problems).

            From this, I honestly have no idea what you are even talking about. Your position is the only one that wants to punish people for having “irresponsible” sex. My position advocates sterilizing everyone/ all men, including myself. Are you confusing reproductive choice with sexual freedom?

            Your position is deciding choices for other people to a much greater extent than mine is! I only want to restrict reproduction, you want to restrict sex and relationships as well. So how can you use “anti-authoritarian” language against it? We both want to control other people’s reproductive decisions. I just want to do it in a way that preserves their sexual and relationship freedom, while you want to ignore that.

          • John Schilling says:

            You understand that there is another failure mode for Option 3, right? The one where we have plenty of young people, and 90+% of them are Red Tribe because Red Tribe took charge of the parental licensing bureau in the first generation?

            Or possibly this is to be another of those utopias where everything will turn out fine because Incorruptible Good Guys ™ will forever hold the key offices on which the whole thing depends.

            In the real world, if you tell most people they are not allowed to A: reproduce and B; raise and educate their children the way they see fit, those people will be your mortal enemies, period. And for at least the next century, pretty much everyone else on the planet will be comparing you to the Nazis. Reversible sterilization may be a moot point if you have to exterminate your enemies in a genocidal civil war to establish the system.

          • Deiseach says:

            coffeespoons: From the CDC page on contraceptive methods –

            Male condom—Worn by the man, a male condom keeps sperm from getting into a woman’s body. Latex condoms, the most common type, help prevent pregnancy, and HIV and other STDs, as do the newer synthetic condoms. “Natural” or “lambskin” condoms also help prevent pregnancy, but may not provide protection against STDs, including HIV. Typical use failure rate: 18%

            Yes, if your condoms have always worked perfectly up till now, there has been a measure of “luck” – anyone want to do the calculations on chances of “If I have sex once a week for 52 weeks a year for twenty years and I only use condoms and the failure rate is 18% what are my chances of getting pregnant/unintentionally becoming a father?”

          • Protagoras says:

            “Typical use” means not every time. For that matter, “perfect use” doesn’t even mean every time; nobody’s watching people in their bedrooms, so determining whether a “condom failure” was actually a failure of the condom or just a failure to use it depends on asking people, and people are not entirely reliable in their self-reports.

          • Jaskologist says:

            “Typical use” means “what actually happens out in the real world.” You don’t get to say “teaching abstinence doesn’t work in the real world” and then claim that condoms do.

            I remember being horrified when I finally read the little paper in the condom box with that figure on it. I even did the calculation that Deiseach mentioned.

            Keep in mind that 18% means “18% of couples got pregnant in a given year.”

            Let us also assume for the sake of simplicity that you swear off sex after the first pregnancy, so we only need to calculate odds for a single pregnancy.

            Year 1 parenthood odds: 18%
            Year 2 parenthood odds: 18% + (100% – 18%) * 18% = 32.76%
            Year 3 parenthood odds: 18% + (100% – 18%) * 18% + (100% – 18%)^2 * 18% = 44.8%

            So it only takes 3 years until your odds are basically that of a coin flip (year 4 hits 54.8%). I have no idea what the STD numbers would be. Obviously, stuff is getting past the goalie more than once yearly for an actual pregnancy to result, but there are many many other risk factors involved, too.

            (Somebody check my math. I didn’t actually do very well in my Probability class.)

          • coffeespoons says:

            Argh! Typical use means sometimes not using a condom:


            I shall repeat myself: I have used a condom every single time. My condom use (due in part to dating responsible guys) has been much closer to perfect, giving me a 2% (ish)chance of getting pregnant per year.

            I’ve had 2 incidents where the condom slipped off and I took the morning after pill as soon as I could, so I suppose I do have backup contraception, and am not solely relying on condoms. So it’s not down to luck, it’s down to condoms and the morning after pill.

            ETA: I have also never had an STI.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Illuminati Initiate

            If we’re staking positions. I agree with the “reversibly sterilize everyone” part of the “mad social engineer” position but not with the “require licenses to reverse it” part. Making it a trivial inconvenience would be sufficient to eliminate a large proportion of the problem without abandoning basic liberalism.

        • Nita says:

          So, are you saying that the old solution was more humane? More just? Better for the children?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Xenosystems recently had a post about the law of conservation vis-a-vis the unpleasant matters governments sometimes attend to. Their example was torture being done by the CIA rather than the Military, but you could similarly look at the tacit progressive approval of incinerating suspected terrorists and whoever is nearby without trial rather than locking them up in the more visible Guantanamo.

            I feel like that’s going on here. We haven’t eliminated Magdalene laundries, we’ve just shunted them into segregated ghettos where we don’t have to see them. The Gosnells of the world produce more than enough for mass graves, but we send the bodies off to incinerators instead.

            For those children who make it to birth, more than ever before are raised without the benefits of both parents, which harms them in just about every way we know how measure, and probably most of the one we don’t.

            The new way is not more humane. It’s just easier to avert our eyes from.

          • Roman says:

            @Jaskologist: I don’t think the arguement was that less died, just that they suffered less. Which I think is pretty reasonable.

        • Anonymous says:

          Because if so that means I’m a rapist/I’ve been raped and I don’t think so’ and if you’re drunk and having sex, how likely are you to be super-careful about safer sex and using condoms?)

          If you’re me, very very likely. I’ve had lots of sex after lots of alcohol, and I have literally never had sex without a condom. I am super scared of getting pregnant/getting an STI.

          • Deiseach says:

            I am super scared of getting pregnant/getting an STI

            And that’s where social disapproval has worked for you; the message has been hammered home that if you get pregnant, your life will be ruined.

            So social shaming does work. The question, therefore, is how do we want to use shaming when it comes to sex and pregnancy? And that’s why I’m saying the whole “Condom opposition is horrendous” “Why?” “Because AIDS in Africa!” is disingenuous when it’s a crowd of we Westerners here in Europe and North America (including Canada!) talking; what is meant is often “Because I want sex but I don’t want the risk of children because I have been taught that this would be shameful and a disgrace to me and my parents and my school and everyone who taught me to be careful and hard-working and get an education and career and not to Ruin My Life”.

          • coffeespoons says:

            And that’s where social disapproval has worked for you; the message has been hammered home that if you get pregnant, your life will be ruined.

            I don’t think it’s because of social disapproval. I’m 30, and my family would probably be pleased if I accidentally got pregnant, because they’re scared I won’t reproduce! My employers and friends are all very liberal and would be super supportive. It’s mostly because being a single parent looks like terrifyingly hard work. I’m not sure that co-parenting with someone looks like much fun either, but it’s definitely better than being a single parent.

          • blacktrance says:

            And that’s where social disapproval has worked for you; the message has been hammered home that if you get pregnant, your life will be ruined.

            There is an element of social shaming in that, but it would still be a bad idea to have children early in life even without that. You’re in a worse financial situation, don’t have as well-established of a relationship with your partner, the opportunity costs of taking time off work are higher, etc. “Your life will be ruined if you get pregnant” isn’t any more shaming than “Your life will be ruined if you bang your head against the wall hard enough” is. Shaming creates (or increases) negative consequences for a decision, but this mostly just emphasizes negative consequences that are independent of shame.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I agree it’s not working in the sense of “hasn’t completely solved the problem”, but in that sense religion also isn’t working and, in fact, nothing is working. I think the marginal condom makes the problem marginally better, there are studies showing that giving condoms to people who can’t afford them decreases their reproduction rate, and condoms themselves are a stopgap measure until we can spread better contraceptives like IUD and RISUG.

          I’m not sure why you think this is directed at the poor or why you think it’s mandatory. Most of the proposals I have seen involve giving the poor better access to contraceptives because they are the group who are likely not to have good enough access to contraceptives because they cost money. You seem to be the one talking about what should or shouldn’t be mandatory and result in social shunning. If we had something like RISUG I’d be in favor of giving it to everybody as an opt-out rather than an opt-in, but that certainly includes the wealthy.

          See also: Literally Inconceivable: Contraception And Abortion Rates. Presumably abortion can stand in for various forms of unwanted pregnancy here.

        • mayleaf says:

          >Which is why I’m not adverse to bringing back a little social disapproval and shame – and don’t tell me that shame is not involved in the reasons ‘better educated’ women tend not to be single mothers…

          But this *isn’t* due to us shaming sex – as far as I can tell, educated people are much less likely to live in subcultures that shame non-procreative sex. (Educated subcultures tend to skew Blue Tribe, so if anything, the attitude of “saving myself for marriage” is considered low-status, because it pattern-matches to Red Tribe.) What *is* shamed, as you said, is single motherhood.

          At my college, sex was normalized, but getting pregnant and having a baby was just generally… not considered an option. And sure enough, sexual activity was extremely common, while getting pregnant and having a baby was extremely rare.

          My boyfriend grew up in a rural Christian area where premarital sex was shamed heavily. I don’t know what rates of sexual activity were like, but several of his classmates got pregnant and had children while they were still in high school.

          Your claim is that educated people have lower rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy because of social shaming. If that’s true, what you want to be shaming is out-of-wedlock pregnancy, not premarital sex in general.

    • AngryDrake says:

      Just FYI, I am horrified by some of the ideas floated around in this sub-thread. Such as the forced universal sterilization. I do not quite understand how anyone could think that’s a good idea.

  37. Anonymous Coward says:

    Hey Scott, do you think you’re ever going to fix up the Anti-Reactionary FAQ?

  38. grendelkhan says:

    Have you considered doing one of those great big researchy posts on diet, exercise, weight loss and obesity? The field seems to be tremendously important, with profound public health implications, but at the same time rife with broscience, the lady equivalent of broscience you see in supermarket checkout lines, and pointless moralizing. (Even though there are journals and scientists supposedly doing good research! Though apparently that can be difficult.) There seems to be a lot of “the laws of thermodynamics compel you!” versus “diet and exercise empirically do not work!“. The least offputting thing I’ve found is the sticky from /fit/.

    All I want for Christmas is for Scott to apply the sword of reason to (a very particular) something that people are really bad at applying the sword of reason to. And besides, after doing race-and-crime, writing a post that will inevitably ruffle both fat-positive and angry-at-fat-people feathers should be a piece of cake, right?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      You may be interested in Dr. Alexander’s review of Good Calories, Bad Calories. You may also be interested in Mr. Yudkowsky’s posts on the Shangri-La Diet, The Four-Hour Body, and the Conservation of Mass Diet.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      I’d like to see that too. Generally I find that advice/information on weight loss and exercise ignores the psychological component, and is therefor ineffective. Eating less and exercising more is generally a good strategy for losing weight, but advocating it seems about as effective at reducing obesity as telling people to follow the law is at reducing crime.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah – I mean, that linked post was sensible, except it went on about “you need to do strength training and none of that girly light weights either” and there is no way under heaven I am going to lift barbells or dumb bells.

        All the enticement in the world about “you can lose weight and be healthy and not die ten years early and as a bonus at long last wear pretty, fashionable clothes” is not going to make me lift any fucking weights of any description, mister. Die at sixty or barbells? I’m ordering my coffin now.

        • Nita says:

          no way under heaven I am going to lift barbells or dumb bells

          How about a nice, round kettlebell, then? Everybody loves kettlebells!

          All joking aside, in my experience, various liftable equipment actually makes exercise sessions more fun (and shorter!). There is a feeling of achievement with a barbell that no amount of sit-ups can give you.

        • Anonymous says:

          Why did you react that way?

          • Deiseach says:

            Possibly because (a) I’ve done hard physical work in my life from childhood up to teenagerdom, and it was not ‘fun’ and (b) I’ve never got this endorphin rush thing from exercise so it’s been “I’m hot, I’m sweating, I’m uncomfortable and I know tomorrow my muscles will be killing me and I will be stiff and sore, and I’m not enjoying this.”

            Also, to be honest, I’m lazy and bone-idle and only exert effort when I have to do so.

    • zz says:

      Are you familiar with Romeo Stevens’s posts Lifestyle Interventions to Improve Longevity and Optimal Exercise?

    • Anonymous says:

      Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training is very good.

      Generally I find that advice/information on weight loss and exercise ignores the psychological component, and is therefor ineffective.

      Stephen Guyenet is your man. IIRC, Lyle Macdonald and Alan Aragon are also pretty good about this, although it’s been a while since I’ve looked at their stuff.

    • MicaiahC says:

      While we’re all here singing Kumbayah, allow me to contribute this series of blog posts on cholesterol and impact on cardiovascular health, where I’m slightly suspicious I’ve seen Scott post somewhere before.

      Oh well.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Nutrition is too hard to do that correctly without a crazy amount of work. My current barely-informed opinion is that Stephen Guyenet seems right about most things. Also there is poor evidence of large gains to be had for most people in optimizing beyond a low-sugar, appropriate-number-of-calories diet – except maybe in the area of having a good amount of omega-3 from fish. Different people can succeed in eating low calorie diets in different ways.

  39. suntzuanime says:

    This came up in the comments at one point: study suggests that some of the negative effects of violent videogames people find are actually a response to difficulty, not violence per se. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214007079

  40. Psy-Kosh says:

    Hey, I was out of town during the last meetup, but previously there’d been a bit of discussion about the possibility of doing some solstice thingie here too.

    Is that still being planned, etc etc? (Not really sure where else to ask this)

    Just wondering in case there was some announcement/decision/conclusion re that that I missed due to having missed the last meetup.

  41. DrBeat says:

    So here is what I don’t get about this Malthusan dystopia that Scott and others seem to think is so inevitable: why do we always seem to presuppose that the people involved in this Malthusan dystopia don’t produce resources, can’t protect their resources, and don’t kill anyone?

    We’re supposed to think that the group that consumes more resources to reproduce more quickly will outcompete the group that consumes less, and squeeze them out. This makes sense for mice, who do not coordinate and do not produce resources in a significant manner. But we do both of those things. We don’t hand out resources totally freely; markets allocate resources based on something other than “ability to reproduce and consume as fast as possible”, which means the teeming Malthusan horde is really bad at getting resources to reproduce with.

    It also assumes that the faster-reproducing agents are the only ones who are going to prosper; is there any reason to believe this is true? If we have a Malthusan mouse colony, where all the mice consume resources as fast as possible to reproduce as fast as possible, and a few of the mice figure out “hey, instead of using these resources to make a hoojillion offspring that will compete with me for further resources, I can use these resources to kill the mice competing with me, then create and defend a stockpile that will allow me to be way healthier and more capable than the teeming hordes on perpetual brink of starvation”, I’d hazard a guess that those mice are going to do pretty well.

    I mean, like, of course your model is going to end in a massive amount of agents overwhelming everything, if your model doesn’t include the ability to remove agents.

    Since the teeming horde is frail, unhealthy (each has barely enough to keep itself alive and that’s what makes it Malthusan), and equally in competition with each other, the agents that decide “hey let’s protect our resources and use them sparingly, so each of us can be healthier and fitter and produce more” is going to completely noscope the teeming horde whenever they come into conflict. The protectors develop means to punish members who defect from the deal to defend each other and not piss away resources, and since being in the group is better than not being in it, there is an incentive to not defect. The teeming horde has no way to incentivize cooperation without becoming a protector group because it can’t deny its members anything for defecting, so they defect all the time. Like, imagine a zombie movie, where you have a horde of zombies, and then human outposts with walls and guns and food etc… only the zombies eat each other as much as they eat humans. The humans are not going to get overrun in that scenario. So the horde uses up all the resources it has access to, it can’t get at the resources the non-hordes are protecting, and it either starves to death or becomes a total non-threat. The outposts where the resources were stockpiled are where the real action is. Members of those outposts would interact with other outposts more than the teeming horde, develop norms regulating that…

    It seems to me that the Malthusan catastrophe isn’t where civilization ends, it’s where civilization starts.

    • Artemium says:

      I’m not sure that Scott’s future prediction include typical Malthusian dystopia . As I understand from the Moloch post there are two bad long-term outcomes:

      -AGI optimizing for something stupid and killing humanity in the process (classic ‘Paperclip maximiser’ scenario or something similar)

      -‘EM’ emulations competing like crazy and and sacrificing every aspect of humanity, including the consciousness itself (Robin Hansen idea, but Bostrom’s “Disneyland without children” variation)

      • DrBeat says:

        Worrying about emulations kind of seems like fretting about if your World of Warcraft character is happy. I’ve never seen any evidence that human consciousness will actually be transferred into some computer program, or that it would ever be a good idea to do so; without that, you have a bunch of programs who have no consciousness competing with each other, which fails to make me feel very concerned.

        And if somehow human consciousness is transferred to these emulations — which, again, I have never ever ever seen the tiniest sliver of evidence to support and has some giant gaping holes in it — we go back to the same issue as before, where you assume the Malthusan catastrophe only if they can’t kill each other. If they are purely digital there is no need to compete because they can just simulate more resources; if they are in the physical world they are gonna kill each other.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Worrying about emulations kind of seems like fretting about if your World of Warcraft character is happy. I’ve never seen any evidence that human consciousness will actually be transferred into some computer program,

          Have you read The Sequences? If not, you should. If yes, how do you respond to Yudkowsky’s Generalized Anti-Zombie Principle?

          or that it would ever be a good idea to do so

          The problem is not that people would known how to make conscious and unconscious uploads and choose the former. The problem is if the upload process is conscious by default, and nobody knows how to create an upload without it being conscious.

          If they are purely digital there is no need to compete because they can just simulate more resources

          The computing hardware needed to do simulations is a scarce resource, which will be competed for. Repeated exponentiation will eat through any safety margin you can imagine.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t see what the anti-zombie principle has to do with anything here given that “the emulations will sacrifice consciousness itself” was one of the premises I was given. You cannot turn that back around on me and say I’m wrong for not worrying about non-conscious programs because “non-conscious” was what I was replying to.

            Also, if the scarce resource we are talking about is computing power from WITHIN a system, then all the Malthusan hibbertyjibbery is still off base, because you cannot compare that to physical resources, because existing in a span of time does not take up a resource. Also, there’s no reason that environment would select for things that reproduce; to the contrary, you would want as little competitors as possible. Running two programs takes slightly more processing cycles than running once because there’s startup and ending commands. Organic creatures reproduce because they eventually die, and organisms who reproduce ensure their genes live on. Something that is immortal would not reproduce because its offspring are direct competitors for everything it wants, and if the immortal thing is a computer program its offspring provide no benefit at all. So no teeming horde there either. In an environment where nobody dies, reproducing is an incredibly bad idea.

            And if the resource is hardware and the competitors are outside the computing system, again, they kill each other.

          • Paul Torek says:

            The anti-zombie principle applies to atom-for-atom physical duplicates of known-conscious systems. If we try to extrapolate that to systems that merely have a rough high-level functional similarity to human thought and action, we get the Overgeneralized anti-(not-exactly-a)-zombie principle.

    • Quantity can still win over quality – Scott has discussed this as “settlers vs. Comanches” before. (Sorry – I’m on my phone)

  42. jjj says:

    Is it possible to wirehead yourself with today’s technology? Drugs can temporarily do this, but lose effectiveness as your tolerance builds. Are there other ways to wirehead?

    • gattsuru says:

      Yes, but it’s not a good idea.

      There have been some electrical wirehead setups dating back to the early 1970s, and the procedure has only been refined since. It requires invasive surgery and has a number of long-term health risks, and most of the literature revolves around addiction with serious complications. That said, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious tolerance phase, although this may reflect the medical environment in which the studies occur. There probably is a long-term risk of neuron damage at the implantation site, and obviously addiction is a concern.

      Transcranial magnetic stimulation may eventually remove or reduce the necessity of invasive surgery, but the devices are bulky and extremely expensive at this time. On the other hand, they’ve been used to wirehead in a variety of ways other than pleasure-reinforcement, most notoriously in emulating an autism-like state.

      • DrBeat says:

        As someone who has undergone transcranial magnetic stimulation, and for whom it didn’t do shit fuckall, all I can do is laugh bitterly whenever someone makes proclamations about how it’s going to revolutionize this or that or make changing thoughts and emotions super fucking easy, or whatever panacea/boogeyman people want to ascribe to it today.

        • Deiseach says:

          That’s probably a good thing; do we really want a technology where the government can ensure no more messy citizen protests just by sending round the Scanner Vans to TMS the neighbourhood and make sure everyone engages in Right Thinking, Right Feeling by “mak(ing) changing thoughts and emotions super fucking easy”?

          • DrBeat says:

            No, we don’t. That would be why it was a boogeyman.

            Also, every time someone points to medical science for some new means the government is going to keep people happy and keep them from protesting, I do the same bitter laugh. You know what I’m talking about — “Prozac is just a way to keep people complacent so they won’t rise up and rebel in accordance with my exact brand of communism!” kind of shit.

            Nobody’s ever come up with a better means of making people forget their problems than getting trashed on grain alcohol, and that’s literally as old as human civilization. Even if we suppose for a moment that TMS could do all these evil rebellion-suppressing things — do you have any idea how much money that would cost, how many man-hours and resources they’d have to dump in it, how totally exposed to blowback and sabotage they would be? If you have enough oppressive military/police presence to actually pull off this coercive TMS scheme, you have enough power you don’t give a fuck what people think about you anyway.

  43. Historias says:

    Hey Scott, would you agree that your current views are “liberal” per Nydwracu’s / Wes’s estimation over at LW?

      • Artemium says:

        That’s pretty good answer. Today’s liberals are tomorrow’s mensheviks.

        • Eggo says:

          Yes, the Arthur Chu mindset of “self-criticism about whether your values are in fact right or wrong guarantees that you will lose… anyway” appears to be winning.

          Horrifying, but utterly answerable. How do you appeal to reason in a man who has deliberately forsaken it?

          • veronica d says:

            I think Chu is shooting himself in the foot. Which is, I half agree with him. I am certainly as cynical as him. But I think he disarms himself.

            It is this: the first aim of a rational person is to build an accurate map of the territory. So in politics, we must know how politics actually works.

            Chu is correct that, in politics, rational debate is something of a side show. The real game is played through propaganda, emotional association, appeals to fear, appeals to disgust, these kinds of things. In short, politics is won by the mindkilled.

            But this is not quite right. To be fully mindkilled is to be blind to the truth. It is to be unwilling to edit your map. It might work by chance, but not in a sustained way.

            But doing politics fully mindkilled seems to be what Chu is suggesting. Good luck with that.

            I think instead we should conclude that politics goes to those willing to exploit mind-killing, those who will pretend to be mindkilled while secretly able to step back and re-evaluate. Also, it is won by those who can speak truth in strategic talk among fellow leaders and use propaganda-talk to communicate more broadly, to dog-whistle, to dissemble, to read between the lines when listening to public speech.

            This is terribly cynical, but those who win at politics will be those who follow this formula.

            I expect many of you find this gross. But politics will happen. We have to do it, which is to say, whatever else happens we live according to what the winners decide.

            I want to be a winner. I can play the mindkill game. But when I do, it is measured and deliberate.

          • Nita says:

            I can play the mindkill game. But when I do, it is measured and deliberate.

            Wait, so when you’re harsh to someone is your comments, it’s actually an intentional enemy-crushing tactic a la maymay?

            And I naively thought it was wrong to judge your choice of words — after all, people tend to lash out when they’re hurt…

          • veronica d says:

            @Nita — I think it’s pretty outrageous to compare me to Maymay, who seems like one of the more needlessly abusive people I’ve come across. Do you have any links to comments where you think I’ve behaved like Maymay?

          • Nita says:

            @ veronica d

            I’m certainly not suggesting that your behaviour is morally equivalent to Maymay’s (sorry if I gave that impression), only that your motives seem to be similar. From Maymay’s (peculiar) perspective, the abuse is not needless, but strategically necessary. This makes them different from people who rage unstrategically, out of pure emotion.

          • veronica d says:

            @nita — Comparing someone to Maymay without any evidence that they do the specific sorts of things that Maymay does is a low blow, cuz Maymay’s name is something like a dirty word. They are an abuser with a persecution complex. I am literally nothing like that. Which means that, well, you need to look in the mirror as you make this accusation.

            My models of social activism follow Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Front and Rivera’s STAR, along with Act Up. The point is, playing nice does not work. The Mattachine Society was useless. To actually move social issues, you play a long game that manipulates how people feel about issues and people. You get your message out, even if you must disrupt things to do it. You control the big story.

            And yes, part of that is to make your opponents seem really uncool.

            But the clumsy, persecution-driven garbage we get from Maymay, nope.

          • Paul Torek says:

            veronica d, I always appreciate your comments, but here I think you’ve gone a little too cynical. Sure, dark arts work. Unilateral disarmament is not a good idea, and bilateral or multilateral disarmament is not reachable – if that’s all you’re saying, we’re agreed. But take a page from Freud: the voice of reason is small, but very persistent. Sometimes rational debate works too.

          • Vegemeister says:

            Who the hell is Maymay?

          • Matthew says:

            I’d never heard of Maymay either until Ozy started blogging again, but if you take a look at the posts Ozy puts up whenever Maymay does something bad, you can get the general idea.

          • nydwracu says:

            Yeah, Arthur Chu’s strategy will ensure that politics is full of vile, brainless goatfuckers who optimize for amount of meat beneath their jackboots and nothing else.

            Which it pretty much already is.

            In theory, the way to deal with the Arthur Chu types is to get everyone who believes that there is such a thing as truth together and get them to coordinate and play Absolutist against the goatfuckers. In practice, the way to deal with them is to wait until they burn out or lose their audience.

            The problem isn’t the people who are too stupid to know not to admit what they’re up to. The problem is the people who are able to rationalize away picking up the wrong side and hammering away for it as much as possible without even realizing it’s the wrong side — and who are actually competent, enough so to be able to avoid the spotlight and all its risks. Arthur Chu isn’t dangerous; Benjamin Crump is.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure how best to describe my political views anymore.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m not sure how best to describe my political views anymore.

        Feck the whole shagging lot of ye, perhaps? Which is where I am now, more or less. Even very strong tribal allegiance can’t get me to support the party I was raised to adhere to, so I have no idea who I’ll vote for in our next general election in 2016 (if the current shower manage to stagger on till that date).

        Possibly Sinn Féin, which is not unproblematic and which is probably going to be more of a protest vote cum ‘lesser of two/three/how many bloody parties do we have in this country, anyway? evils’ than anything. At this stage, nearly every party in the country has had a chance at government, including the Greens, which nearly destroyed them as a party and they are still only just about coming back from their time ‘in power’ as part of a coalition government.

        • J says:

          “Undecided” is the most powerful position to take as a voter, since it signals openness to voting for a candidate if and only if they live up to your standards. As soon as you commit to voting for someone, they have no further incentive to offer you things you care about.

      • Jared says:

        I like to think of myself as a “neoliberal”, meaning that I value both capitalism and the welfare state. I know many socialists used it as a pejorative for “market extremists” but I would like to reclaim the word.

      • Coscott says:

        Is “anymore” meant to imply that your political views have recently changed drastically?

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Using rightwing tools to achieve leftwing goals?

  44. A Definite Beta Guy says:


    Do you have any posts on the state of Western Capitalism, specifically through review of specific companies and industries?
    Punditry re: Big Banks/Big Oil/big Finance come cheap. I am more interested in seeing a Rationalist review of, say, the Sovaldi pricing dispute, or Keystone.

    • gattsuru says:

      Sovaldi is complicated. There’s a lotta different ways to look at it, and you can get a bunch of different results.

      The first is to look at other competing medications, as Gilead did. Telaprevir or Interferon+Ribavirin, the previous generation treatments, cost significantly more, even though they had more side effects and were less effective (generally marketed as treatment where Sovaldi effectively cures the majority of cases). The only big difference is that Sovaldi’s treatment plan is shorter, and thus the costs are more compressed.

      The other side is the cost of research, development, risk, and production. This is hard to measure, but it’s what the folk criticizing Gilead point to, so it’s *probably* much lower.

      There’s also the question of whether it’s a good idea to buy the drug instead of the company. An assets + market capitalization + equity value for Gilead is somewhere around 40 billion USD. There are more than 130 million people with HepC, and ~3 million in the United States. If you must get rid of HepC Right Now, that looks like a very cost-effective option.

      On the other hand, patents have a limited lifespan. Sovaldi will very likely become generic within twenty years. A sizable portion of people with HepC will only show minor symptoms in that time frame. Complicates things.

      Keystone XL isn’t as complicated. The common arguments against are pretty weak, saying that we shouldn’t pump oil sands because it’s energy-intensive to do so, which isn’t very relevant when Keystone has only minimal impact on whether the sands are pumped. The best arguments involve the risk of Keystone XL having a spill, or the consumed oil turning into loose carbon dioxide — and these are present and nontrivial risks. But oil is about as mobile a good as it gets, so if it’s not being pumped from Canada to the United States, it’s going to be sent by trucks or rail, or shipped from Canada to China or India. While oil spillage from tanker shipments has dropped precipitously over the years and tanker shipments are safer per-mile traveled (pdf warning for both links), travel between Alberta and China involves several times the distance as travel between Alberta and Texas and the whole difference disappears into rounder errors. According to the US State Department, rail or truck transport has a higher energy cost and risk of significant spill than pipeline. ((This is necessarily a Fermi estimate: true risks of environmental damage involve the locations a transport passes.)) CO2 production is *higher* in China, with fewer capture techniques and less efficient generators, transport, and vehicles.

      There are also a number of sacred values involved, since the conservatives see this sort of thing appeals to psuedo-science to limit disfavoured industry, while many progress see it as an environmental agency struggling to retain power against corporate targeting.

      It’s *probably* a moot point for until oil prices go up again, whatever time frame that involves.

      • blacktrance says:

        Another argument against Keystone XL is that building it involves the use of eminent domain.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Thanks for the insight, gatt. My opinion has mostly lined up with Gilelad in the past: if other, less effective medications for this condition have been approved, then Sovaldi certainly should be included on drug formularies.
        At a premium.
        However, as I learn more, ESI’s negotiation seems more reasonable. My Best Friend (FP+A at a different PBM) says that the drug utulization rates for this, combined with the price, can crowd out a hell of a lot of other health spending.
        Plus competition is out there….
        Ran across this article a few minutes ago. No choice but price war for Gilelad. A lot of other PBMs already signed up and are paying the higher prices. Tough luck for them.

  45. Tom Womack says:

    A number of the charities that I support manage from time to time, usually at the end of the year, to secure matching funding (IE donating £N causes the charity to receive £2N): Christian Aid has it at the moment (through the UK government), Practical Action (through UKG) and GiveDirectly (through Good Ventures) had it last year.

    Knowing that this reasonably often exists as an option causes me not to consider giving lump-sum gifts except when it does, though it doesn’t affect the monthly-donation I make to Practical Action. It causes me to make larger lump-sum gifts when I know that they’re mobilising someone else’s money.

  46. Eric Rall says:

    I hereby proclaim myself Pope of the English Language.

    This office is necessary because any normative claims about language use in English are met by the descriptivist argument that because the language is socially constructed, there can be no basis other than usage to differentiate between correct and incorrect English. But there is a need for a source of authority, to preserve clarity and some semblance of consistency. I present myself as that source of authority.

    By what right do I claim that authority? By the oldest and most fundamental principle of authority: I Called It First. I just now did a web search for “Pope of the English Language” (in quotes) and found no relevant prior hits.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Dude, Spanish speakers have a Spanish Pope (well, a Royal Spanish Academy), and let me tell you, it doesn’t help.

      • Vulture says:

        How does the most famous example manage? I’m curious about whether their actions make French in general more clear, precise in formal contexts, etc.

        • Matthew says:

          This post by game designer Bruno Faidutti, in which he notes that he writes his blog in French first and then translates into English, but writes game rules in English first and then translates them into French, is interesting.

          I write most of my game rules in English mostly for practical reasons, because the English language is lighter, more precise, more direct, more efficient for technical and informative texts like game rules. This is true even for a French designer like me, whose English is quite rough. Last year at the Essen fair, I remember a discussion between game designers from all the western world, whose conclusion was that writing rules is very easy in English, relatively easy in German, difficult in French and almost impossible in Italian. Writing rules directly in English is also better for business. It’s much easier to submit a game in English to international publishers, and even to some French ones. That’s not the main reason, or at least not the only reason, for me to work directly in English.

          If I write my other texts in French, it’s because I have much better mastery of it, and therefore can be more subtle and accurate in my judgement and opinions. Often, and that’s indeed the case now, I have some difficulties translating these opinions in English. I can express my opinions more precisely in French, and my game rules more precisely in English, because they require different kinds of precision. The few games I still design entirely in French are party games such as Speed Dating or Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner. They require lots of cultural references which I master only in french and about France.

  47. Is there any way to view Scott’s old OKCupid profile (the one he created for this post)?

  48. A wanderer says:

    Hey guys, have been meaning to ask this for a long time — anyone familiar with Aubrey de Grey/Maria Konovalenko/other life extension people? Is Aubrey a fraud? There was that whole Technology Review debate with Aubrey, but having no science background I can’t tell anything apart.

    Appreciate your help.

    • Roman says:

      He’s definitely controversial, and not mainstream at all, but he admits to that. What specific claim do you want us to look at?

      It seems pretty obvious that the whole “Watch this graph goes up! It’ll go up forever.” thing is pretty crap, but some of his experiments and prizes could be valuable. It’s been a while since I looked into the guy, though.

      You should know that SSC and the “community” around it has a large overlalp with lesswrong, which was founded by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Grey has talked with Eliezer before, is a regular guest of Singularity Summit, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Grey post on Less Wrong. You might want to look over there for smart people evaluating his stuff.

      I’d rather read an in depth analysis by Scott, though.

      Please? It was just Christmas.

      • A wanderer says:

        Yeah I’ve seen him get good press on LW and idk what to make of it. I think at one point of Technology Review debate he was literally accused of reading a chart as “showing mice age slower” when it was showing something COMPLETELY unrelated — i.e., lying. As mentioned, I have no scientific background, so I’d really like a SSC analysis of the debate and his claims/credibility in general. I’ve looked around at LW comments and haven’t seen much critical evaluation of his words.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      You may be interested in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s comment about donating to SENS vs SIAI, or in his diavlog with Aubrey de Grey.

  49. Since this is an open thread, I will use it to comment on an old post of yours where comments appear to be closed—”I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.” You started it by summarizing a Father Brown story, “The Secret of Father Brown.” And you got it wrong.

    The critical fact is not that it was the good for nothing duelist who survived and took the loser’s identity—for one thing, neither of them was a good for nothing. It was that what appeared to be a death in a duel was actually a cold blooded and cowardly murder.

    The two men (cousins not brothers) were close friends who fell out over a woman and agreed to a duel. As one of them fired, the other dropped to the ground. The one who had fired, struck with remorse, ran over to what he assumed to be his dying friend–who shot him through the body. Which was why the winner then let everyone assume that he was the loser.

    Also, the story is “The Chief Mourner of Marne” not “The Secret of Father Brown.” That is the title of the book the story is in, and of a different story in it.

  50. A second and unrelated comment on “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.” You are confident that you don’t know any creationists. You probably shouldn’t be.

    I say that because I know at least one—and only know that he is a creationist by chance. He is a West Indian immigrant and professional chef who is a member of my wife’s church and who I have sometime helped with producing meals for the church (of which I am not a member—like you I am part of the grey tribe). The question of evolution happened to come up in a chance conversation, and he made it clear that he thought it was of course a bogus idea.

    Along related lines, I was a Harvard undergraduate in 1964 and a Goldwater supporter. The Crimson published the result of a poll which turned out to show about 20% of the students supporting Goldwater. I was astonished. I would have said there were only about twenty, and I knew all of them.

    The fact that nobody you know expresses a view that is highly unfashionable in the circles in which you move is only weak evidence that none of them hold that view.

  51. Math Teacher says:

    This threads lesson has been retroactively cancelled… for uh… the holiday season

  52. Histocrat says:

    Requests to this site from some IPs seem to be hitting a stale database replica. When I visit the site (including dynamically created pages like https://slatestarcodex.com/?s=auld) from IP address, I get a snapshot as of December 22nd. When I visit from, I get more recent content. This has been going on at least a day (if I had to guess, I’d say it’s been going on since December 22nd).

    • Anonymous says:

      All pages are dynamically generated. I have encountered something similar. It only happens under high load (not today!) and never for more than a day. I find that adding arguments to pages makes a difference. From this I see activity that makes me think others are not affected (eg, they reply to comments I cannot easily see). Could you compare this normal page to this abnormal link? (the only difference is a question mark)

      • Histocrat says:

        Yeah, I’d tried that (and various other client-side cache-busting things). This seems like a different and rarer phenomenon.

  53. MugaSofer says:

    An interesting example of inferental distance:


    These used to be semi-valid, if uncharitable, arguments. Now they’re barely-intelligible.