The Influenza Of Evil


A recent Cracked piece: Five Everyday Groups Society Says It’s Okay To Mock. It begins:

There’s a rule in comedy that says you shouldn’t punch down. It’s okay to make fun of someone rich and famous, because they’re too busy molesting groupies with 100-dollar bills to notice, but if you make a joke at the expense of a homeless person, you’re just an asshole. That said, we as a society have somehow decided on a few arbitrary exceptions to this rule.

“Somehow decided on a few arbitrary exceptions” isn’t very technical. Let’s see if we can do better.

Earlier this week, I wrote about things that are anti-inductive. Something is anti-inductive if it fights back against your attempts to understand it. The classic example is the stock market. If someone learns that the stock market is always low on Tuesdays, then they’ll buy lots of stocks on Tuesdays to profit from the anomaly. But this raises the demand for stocks on Tuesdays, and therefore stocks won’t be low on Tuesdays anymore. To detect a pattern is to destroy the pattern.

The less classic example is job interviews where every candidate is trying to distinguish themselves from every other candidate. If someone learns that interviewers are impressed if you talk about your experience in tropical medicine, then as more and more people catch on they’ll all get experience in tropical medicine, it will become cliche, and people won’t be impressed by it anymore.

Evil, too, is anti-inductive.

The Nazis were very successful evildoers, at least for a while. Part of their success was convincing people – at least the German people, but sometimes also foreigners – that they were the good guys. And they were able to convince a lot of people, because people can be pretty dumb, a lot of them kind of just operate by pattern-matching, and the Nazis didn’t match enough patterns to set off people’s alarms.

Neo-Nazis cannot be called “successful” in any sense of the word. Their PR problem isn’t just that they’re horrible – a lot of groups are horrible and do much better than neo-Nazis. Their PR problem is that they’re horrible in exactly the way that our culture formed memetic antibodies against. Our pattern-matching faculties have been trained on Nazis being evil. The alarm bells that connect everything about Nazis to evil are hypersensitive, so much so that even contingent features of the Nazis remain universally acknowledged evil-signals.

It would be premature to say that we will never have to worry about fascism again. But for now, we are probably pretty safe from fascism that starts its sales pitch with “Hi, I’m fascism! Want a swastika armband?”

Huey Long supposedly predicted that “Fascism in America will attempt to advance under the banner of anti-fascism.” I’m not sure I like the saying as it stands – it seems too susceptible to Hitler Jr. telling Churchill Jr. that he’s marching under the banner of anti-fascism which proves he’s the real fascist. Then again, in a world where capitalism marches under the banner of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, who knows? I would prefer to say that fascism will, at the very least, advance in a way which carefully takes our opposition to fascism into account .

Sure enough, people who had learned to be wary of fascism were still highly susceptible to communism, which wore its anti-fascism proudly on its sleeve as a symbol of how great it was. It convinced a lot of very smart people in the free world that it was the best thing since sliced bread, all while murdering tens of millions of people. Meanwhile, our memetic immune systems were sitting watchfully at their posts, thinking “Well, this doesn’t look at all like Nazism. They’re saying all the right stuff about equality, which is like the opposite of what the Nazis said. I’m giving them a pass.”

In fact, I’ll make the analogy more explicit. Every winter, there’s a flu epidemic. Every spring and summer, people’s bodies put in a lot of effort making antibodies to last year’s flu. The next winter, the flu mutates a little, a new virus with new antigens starts a new epidemic, and the immune system doesn’t have a clue: “This virus doesn’t have the very very specific characteristic I’ve learned to associate with the flu. Maybe it wants to be my friend!” This is why we need the WHO to predict what the up-and-coming flu virus will be and give us vaccines against it; it’s also why their job is so hard; they don’t know what’s coming, except that it will look different from however it’s looked before.

Nowadays most people’s memetic immune systems have some antibodies to communism, and people talking with Russian accents about how we need to eliminate the bourgeoisie and institute a dictatorship of the proletariat sends shiver up the spines of a lot of people. Nowadays an openly Communist party faces the same uphill battle as an openly Nazi party.

But that just means that if there’s some other evil on the horizon, it probably won’t resemble either fascism or communism. It will be movement about which everyone’s saying “These new guys are so great! They don’t pattern-match to any of the kinds of evil we know about at all!” By Long’s formulation, it may very well be marching under the banners of anti-fascism and anti-Communism.

(I’m not vagueblogging, by the way. I honestly don’t have anyone in mind here. The whole point is that it’s probably someone I’m not expecting. And if you say “I KNOW EXACTLY WHICH GROUP IT WILL BE, BASED ON THOSE CRITERIA IT’S CLEARLY X!” consider the possibility that you’re missing the point.)


But getting back to the Cracked article.

We as a society have mostly figured out that shouting “GET A JOB, LOSER!” at the homeless is mean. We have mostly figured out that shouting “YOU’RE GOING TO HELL” at people of different religions is bad. We’re even, slowly but surely, starting to wonder whether there’s something problematic about shouting “FAGGOTS!” at the local gay couple.

Stupid bullies will continue to do those things, just as stupid investors will continue to read “How To Beat The Stock Market” books published in 1985, and stupid socialites will continue to wear the fashion that was cool six months ago.

But smart bullies are driven by their desire to have their bullying make them more popular, to get the rest of the world pointing and laughing with them. In a Blue Tribe bubble, shouting “FAGGOT” at gay people is no longer a good way to do that. The smart bullies in these circles have long since stopped shouting at gays – not because they’ve become any nicer, but because that’s no longer the best way to keep their audience laughing along with them.

Cracked starts off by naming mentally ill celebrities as a group society considers it okay to mock. This doesn’t seem surprising. Nowadays people talk a lot about punching-up versus punching-down. But that just means bullies who want to successfully punch down will come up with a way to make it look like they’re punching up. Take a group that’s high-status and wealthy, but find a subset who are actually in serious trouble and mock them, all the while shouting “I’M PUNCHING UP, I’M PUNCHING UP!”. Thus mentally ill celebrities.

The other examples are harder to figure out. I would argue that they’re ones that are easy to victim-blame (ie obesity), ones that punch down on axes orthogonal to the rich-poor axis we usually think about and so don’t look like punching down (ie virginity), or ones that are covertly associated with an outgroup. In every case, I would expect the bullies involved, when they’re called upon, it to loudly protest “But that’s not real bullying! It’s not like [much more classic example of bullying, like mocking the homeless]!” And they will be right. It’s just different enough to be the hot new bullying frontier that most people haven’t caught onto yet.

I think the Cracked article is doing good work. It’s work that I also try to do (see for example number 6 here, which corresponds to Cracked’s number 5). It’s the work of pointing these things out, saying “Actually, no, that’s bullying”, until eventually it sinks into the culture, the bullies realize they’ll be called out if they keep it up, and they move on to some new target.

All of this ties way into the dynamic I talked about in Untitled. I mean, look at the people on Cracked’s list of whom society says it’s okay to mock. Virgins. The obese. People who live in their parents’ basements. Generalize “mentally ill celebrities” just a little bit to get “people who are financially well-off but non-neurotypical” and there you go.

I apologize for irresponsibly claiming to have found a pattern in an anti-inductive domain. You may now all adjust your behavior to make me wrong.

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624 Responses to The Influenza Of Evil

  1. peter says:

    What if such memes are very inductive sometimes? What if it’s just random fluctuation what becomes seen as evil? Take a model where the ideas are approx. equally good but idea A wins in a positive feedback loop style starting from just a small fluctuation and then gets to define what’s evil (well of course the opposite idea B). Now you look back and say Idea B is obviously evil (since idea A’s win planted this thought in your mind), “how come I didn’t see it as evil before”? And you say, well because these things are anti-inductive. You say the evilness is lurking there, it’s just really hard to find because it “jumps around” based on where you look. Why is that theory better than saying that what’s evil will be defined only by hindsight, based on the winning idea?

    Now this comment was somewhat of a caricature, and I don’t say that I see every idea as equally good, but how could I even tell if it’s just because I set my preferences based on who won and who is the current ideology-setter (or if I like to be contrarian, maybe I try to sympathize with the underdog – but that may actually be part of a bigger picture: obeying a winner/powerful entity by believing to like underdogs).

  2. chris says:

    You want a group that it’s still considered ok for society to mock?


    And less so Blondes.

  3. Dain says:

    There’s a small subset of punch-down targets comedians avoid because they’re in fact so UP they’re terrifying. Namely Islamic extremists. This comes to mind given the recent Hebdo affair and this article on Sarah Silverman’s avoiding pissing off Muslims for fear of being blown up: ( Penn Jillette has said the same thing apparently.

    It makes me wonder how many other groups are avoided by culture slingers not out of fear of picking on the weak, but out of fear of being picked on.

  4. social justice warlock says:

    All of this ties way into the dynamic I talked about in Untitled. I mean, look at the people on Cracked’s list of whom society says it’s okay to mock. Virgins. The obese. People who live in their parents’ basements. Generalize “mentally ill celebrities” just a little bit to get “people who are financially well-off but non-neurotypical” and there you go.

    I apologize for irresponsibly claiming to have found a pattern in an anti-inductive domain. You may now all adjust your behavior to make me wrong.

    You, and Cracked, notice and are bothered by nerds being made fun of because you are nerds. But most of the groups that nerds can be defined against are made fun of a lot as well. The world has big differentials in actual power/autonomy/etc., but basically everyone is publicly mocked and criticized.

    • Tarrou says:

      And some of us can both take it and dish it out! But only my virtuous tribe, of course, all the rest are thin-skinned bitches who bully everyone and whine when they get called on it.

  5. herra jumala says:

    Get a job, loser!

  6. anonymous says:

    I am not convinced by your assertion “a lot of groups are horrible and still do better than neo-nazis”.

    I’m tempted to request examples, but I’m worried that the resulting comment quality would be low: “[people who disagree with my politics] are way worse than neonazis, but for some reason their PR isn’t nearly as bad!!! Lol!!”

    • RCF says:

      You can get away with a lot more shittiness if you cloak it in religion. Liberty University is unpopular among liberals, but it’s nowhere near the level of universal revilement as neo-Nazis.

      The Buy American movement is openly discriminatory, and yet it has wide support.

      People don’t blink an eye at the pledge of allegiance, and even Democrats such as Jerry Brown and Hillary Clinton have made horribly bigoted arguments in favor of it.

      • Jiro says:

        Utilitarians think that friends and family, and by generalization countrymen, should be treated the same as other people.

        Everyone else finds this extremely weird. Nobody is going to give all their income beyond survival needs to help people in third world countries. And doing so is the logical endpoint of rejecting “buy American” on the grounds that it discriminates. Of course it discriminates. Every time you give a family member a birthday gift instead of using the money to buy malaria nets in Africa, solely because that’s your family member, you are discriminating.

        • RCF says:

          “Utilitarians think that friends and family, and by generalization countrymen, should be treated the same as other people.

          Everyone else finds this extremely weird. ”

          If you reject the idea that bigotry is wrong, then on what basis do you condemn the Neo-Nazis?

          “Nobody is going to give all their income beyond survival needs to help people in third world countries. And doing so is the logical endpoint of rejecting “buy American” on the grounds that it discriminates.”

          Nonsense. Is the logic endpoint of not discriminating against black people that you give all your disposable income to black people? If someone were to say “I don’t hire black people, because I don’t want to start down the slippery slope towards having to give all my money to black people”, would you accept that as a valid argument?

          • Jiro says:

            If you reject the idea that bigotry is wrong, then on what basis do you condemn the Neo-Nazis?

            I make judgments on which types of “bigotry” are wrong, and which are not, rather than making a blanket rule that applies to all “bigotry”.

            Of course, I would not consider “bigotry” to be useful terminology for that.

            Is the logic endpoint of not discriminating against black people that you give all your disposable income to black people?

            It depends on the rationale for not discriminating. Some rationales would lead to that and some would not (and some would lead to giving all my disposable income to people with a range of colors.)

          • RCF says:

            “I make judgments on which types of “bigotry” are wrong, and which are not, rather than making a blanket rule that applies to all “bigotry”.”

            So, your answer to the question “On what basis other than bigotry do you condemn the neo-Nazis?” is “On some basis other than whether it’s bigotry”?

            Also, your original comment engage in an argumentum ad populum. It’s a bit odd to now be asserting that you have your own peculiar ethics system.

            “Some rationales would lead to that and some would not”

            Then your claim that not discriminating would lead to it is false. Do you not have the integrity to admit when you are wrong?

          • Jiro says:

            So, your answer to the question “On what basis other than bigotry do you condemn the neo-Nazis?” is “On some basis other than whether it’s bigotry”?

            No, the answer is “I don’t consider that to be bigotry”.

            Then your claim that not discriminating would lead to it is false. Do you not have the integrity to admit when you are wrong?

            That seems to violate true, necessary, and kind. Scott?

            (“X leads to Y” is not false when it leads to Y in the case you’re talking about, but may not lead to Y in general.)

          • RCF says:

            “That seems to violate true, necessary, and kind. Scott?”

            It’s true and necessary. People admitting when they are wrong is CRITICAL to rationality. You’re going to go whining to Scott any time someone points out the fallacy of one of your posts?

          • RCF says:

            “(“X leads to Y” is not false when it leads to Y in the case you’re talking about, but may not lead to Y in general.)”

            It does not lead to Y in the case we are talking about, and if Y exists in some cases where X exists, and not in others, then it’s not X that is leading to Y, it’s X pus some extra factor (or just some other factor).

        • blacktrance says:

          When you buy a gift for a family member instead of buying malaria nets in Africa, you are favoring people you know and personally care about over strangers. But when you favor Americans over foreigners, you favor one group of strangers over another.

      • Tarrou says:

        The pledge of allegiance is more shitty than Nazism? And Liberty U is too? Holy hell batman.

        • RCF says:

          When did I say the pledge of allegiance is worse than Nazism? I’m reporting your comment, as it asserts by implicature a false statement, and dishonestly misrepresenting other people’s comments is neither kind nor necessary.

          • Tarrou says:

            BAHAHAH! Classic. You responded to Anonymous, who was looking for examples of groups who might fit Scott’s assertion of things that are “horrible, but do better than Nazism”. You came up with the Pledge and Liberty U. Report me mate. I won’t report you. I stand on the merits.

          • Anonymous says:

            “You responded to Anonymous, who was looking for examples of groups who might fit Scott’s assertion of things that are “horrible, but do better than Nazism”.”

            Neo-nazism, actually.

            “You came up with the Pledge and Liberty U.”

            Both of which fit. You have presented no counterargument, just repeated my claim and mocked it. In addition, you claimed that I said that these were worse than Nazism, which I did not say. Which makes you a lying shithead. And yes, calling you a lying shithead is both true and necessary.

  7. tl;dr: How about we have (1) a low minimum moral standard, like respecting basic rights, and as a Schelling fence we don’t say anything mean about people above that standard, and (2) high ideals, including many virtues, and encourage people to meet that higher standard but never condemn them for not meeting it, and (3) only people who fall short of the minimum are considered acceptable to condemn?

    A trans friend was telling me yesterday about the things she has been called by social justice warriors, and it left me with facial spasms in trying to control the rage. More than anything else, I think it’s that which has precipitated my attitude that the SJ movement is a bad thing that I now oppose.

    I’ve been trying to think through that matter, and the Scott Aaronson matter, and the Arthur “means justify the ends” Chu matter, and also the matter in which SJWers responded to the Charlie Hebdo massacre by saying we should condemn the magazine as racist. All of these could be described as crude applications of consequentialism, because they successfully redirect people’s attention to the issues that the SJWers care more about. I fully endorse consequentialist moral reasoning, but only when the chosen end is the full panoply of humane values (i.e. a form of utilitarianism). A version of consequentialism that aims to achieve only some subset of the good is virtually guaranteed to grow corrupt.

    If our “memetic immune systems” get conditioned to handle the problems that came earlier rather than the ones we face now, then the existence of the SJW movement makes complete sense to me based on my childhood education in the 90s which wallowed in triumphalism about how we’d overcome so much racism and sexism. Our memetic immune systems were programmed to be very sensitive to prejudice, but not to raise a peep about things like social order, polite society, factional infighting, and so on.

    My current provisional thought about what my memetic immune system ought to learn from these present SJW matters is that condemnation inexorably escalates to intolerance, and that therefore I will refuse to condemn anything which ought to be tolerated. That gives a threefold division of attitudes toward other people’s free speech and behavior: (1) support, endorsement, and active approval, (2) tolerance and neutrality, and (3) condemnation and intolerance. SJW collapses the middle ground to nothing. I want to expand it to encompass the great majority of society. I won’t condemn Charlie Hebdo or any other peaceful blasphemer. I won’t condemn peaceful racists, xenophobes, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, etc.

    A liberal Catholic friend linked the above to his understanding of “not resisting evil” and “overcoming evil with good”.

    A secular friend said that the SJW perspective is that tolerance for people with bad ideas is equivalent to passive support of those ideas. If that’s what they think… they’re right. The likely consequences of being nice to bad people, versus shaming them, is a society with more of that badness. But also more niceness and less shaming.

    Let me go even further. I’m concerned that this provisional memetic defense be grounded in my best understanding of utilitarianism, rather than being an ad-hockery that would itself be likely to grow corrupt. Act utilitarianism is of course too difficult to apply in ordinary circumstances, so we typically simplify it into ethical heuristics (rules, virtues, rights, etc.) designed to capture important moral features. The threefold division I’m proposing here can be viewed as using both rights and virtues as Schelling fences with very different social functions. Rights (in this context) are ethical heuristics specifying the minimum necessary to be considered moral. Virtues are ethical heuristics describing how to maximize some moral feature. So I would only be willing to condemn someone insofar as they violate a right, and praise someone insofar as they exemplify a virtue. And in the broad middle ground between those extremes, I just want people to be tolerant, polite, and nice to each other. I’d call that middle ground “civilization”.

    • I’d love to say that what you’re saying is common sense, but evidence that it is seems regrettably sorely lacking.

      Nonetheless, to nitpick: “and as a Schelling fence we don’t say anything mean about people above that standard,

      I’m not sure ‘don’t say anything mean’ is quite as straightforward as it sounds – and unfortunately, I think it’s the difficulty in determining it which lets us tolerate people being mean, since we (fortunately!) don’t really have antibodies for it unless it hits a certain threshold. Mocking and making fun of people can, on one end of the scale, just be a way to express frustration. The damage tends to happen, I think, chiefly because of the audience that one may or may not have – how many people are listening and nodding their heads because they can?

      But I’m digressing a bit. What I mean to say is that ‘expressing frustration’ is something that I expect most would agree falls under free speech to some degree and we differ to what degree, and ‘being mean’ shares a lot of traits with it. On one end, that can result in cloaking ‘being mean’ as ‘expressing frustration’; on the other, ‘expressing frustration’ might come across as ‘being mean’.

      But I agree with your proposal, nonetheless, since it doesn’t hinge on that detail at all (hence also my declaration of the above as a nitpick).

    • Anonymous says:

      A secular friend said that the SJW perspective is that tolerance for people with bad ideas is equivalent to passive support of those ideas. If that’s what they think… they’re right. The likely consequences of being nice to bad people, versus shaming them, is a society with more of that badness. But also more niceness and less shaming.

      In other words, they fight people and not badness itself, which is misguided. Hating the sinner is still hate and, moreover, it creates counter-hate.

  8. Christopher says:

    What I find extremely fascinating is that Communism and Naziism did have something fairly obvious in common with each other:

    They both invented massive, sprawling bureaucracies dedicated to murdering as many members of certain groups as they could get their hands on.

    This was clear fairly early on in the 20th century.

    Now, call me a radical, but I’m against building enormous sprawling machines of murder and incarceration (He typed from a country that has more prisoners than any other country on earth), but apparently many people back in the day didn’t see that as an alarming characteristic for a regime to have.

    I’m legitimately still unclear on why that is, honestly.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Nazis didn’t build machines for killing a maximum number of a certain group publicly, and the Soviets didn’t even do so literally. On the other hand basically every successful state must build bureaucratic machinery for killing lots of people. I think it’s more likely that when you lose your crimes get more publicized.

      • Anonymous says:

        I recommend The Black Book of Communism to clear up some equivocations you are indulging in here.

      • Christopher says:

        On the other hand basically every successful state must build bureaucratic machinery for killing lots of people.

        This is exactly the kind of statement that has made me more and more sympathetic to anarchy.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          This is exactly the kind of statement that has made me more and more sympathetic to anarchy.

          Sovereignty is conserved; anarchy is impossible. Somebody is going to control your city block, whether it be a gang or a country. Even if everyone would be better off if no one ruled over others, Moloch will not stand for it. Some group will defect.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      In those days, massive, sprawling bureaucracies were all the rage with the intellectuals. This is also the period in which America went from having a rather limited federal government to having one of those massive, sprawling bureaucracies.

      As for murdering people on a large scale, the National Socialists didn’t do that in the early years, instead preferring boycotts, mob violence, and legal discrimination against Jews and other despised minorities. The Holocaust proper only began in 1941, when the war had already gone on for almost two years. At which time everyone was already more or less maximally alarmed.

      In the Societ case, many Western intellectuals were socialists or at least sympathetic to socialism, so there was heavy bias in elite opinion in favour of the Soviet Union. Hence things like the Holodomor or the Great Purge didn’t provoke the kind of outrage and condemnation they deserved.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The Nazis are reviled because they lost, NOT because they were evil (which they were).

    Through history, all over the world, the ideological side that loses gets demonized and vilified.

    If the Nazis had won, everyone would consider it completely obvious that Churchill and Roosevelt and Truman were twisted, evil people, they killed millions, look at Dresden, look at Hiroshima, look at the Morgenthau plan, thank goodness there was Hitler or else in Europe “we’d be all speaking English”, and so on. People would constantly be telling their opponents “you’re just like Churchill, you don’t care about human lives” and the other side would answer “that’s a reductio ad churchillum”!
    The mainstream historical interpretation for the Holocaust would be David Irving’s, and it would be considered obvious that the Allies shoulder the bulk of responsibilities for the war, and if someone suggested that maybe Hitler did something wrong, they’d be answered with “well it was very smart of him to see it in advance that with the western powers so obviously evil and so keen on destroying Germany there was no other way” just like today people say similar things to excuse Roosevelt’s provocation of Japan.

    And people would say, oh thanks goodness we developed the proper antibodies against democracy and plutocracy and Jews and yada yada yada! Thanks goodness we can’t have that any longer, thanks goodness evil is anti-inductive.

    Note that I don’t sympathize with the Nazis, I’m just making a point and I could have made the same point with the Soviets, North Korea, Islamic theocracies, and so on.

    When the ancient Roman monarchy became a republic, the concept of a “king” because so deeply reviled that in order to effectively revive it, they had to call it an “Emperor”. But, does that mean that kings and emperors were more evil than the rule of the senatorial class? Not necessarily! Many leftists of today would say that the rule of some emperors was better for the people and more “progressive”.

    And when evil actually WINS… it entrenches itself pretty well and remains that way. North Korea and so on. I would make many more example but they could be controversial.

    Evil is not anti-inductive, losing is.

    • Carinthium says:

      Good point, but I disagree with some of the details. Honestly a Nazi victory is pretty ridiculous, but as you’re postulating it to prove a point I’ll imagine it and play along.

      My objection is the Nazis actually respected the British Empire quite a bit. Given this, they’d never revile Churchill so badly. A more likely target would be the Jews. Even Stalin doesn’t quite fit, as he is the leader of an inferior race. So none of them could develop a Hitler level bad rep.

      • Mary says:

        You should read up on some of the anti-British propaganda they put out — especially after they realized that Great Britain would not agree to a peace once France was conquered. Considering what they did say, I would make no predictions about what they would not.

    • Jiro says:

      look at Hiroshima

      People constantly say that nowadays, despite the Axis having lost. In fact, the Japanese at Hiroshima is probably the most prominent example of “the winners write the history books” not being true.

      I don’t see many history books unfavorable to the Indians vis-a-vis the American colonists, either.

      • Same anonymous as before says:

        Regarding Hiroshima, this links shows that the majority of Americans still support it:

        For something that is so obviously wrong and villainous and indefensible as Hiroshima and the other terror bombing attacks, it’s amazing how America believed it was alright, at the time overwhelmingly believed it, and continued to think that way for decades, and only in time (it’s been 70 years!) people begin to look at these thing with a bit of sanity, and even today public opinion is still supportive of such obvious atrocities. If it weren’t true that winners get to determine how history is viewed, Allied mass murders would have been condemned quickly.

        As for the Indians, think of those old west movies in which Indians are still the baddies.
        The colonists and Indians thing went on for centuries and the colonists wrote themselves as heroes in their books. Only very recently on the scale of history perception changed.

        Winners get to write history, but not necessarily forever; obviously history gets rewritten and rewritten.

        • John Schilling says:

          Killing a quarter of a million dubiously innocent civilians in a week, to promptly end a war that is killing a quarter of a million absolutely innocent civilians every month or so and is otherwise expected to last for at least another year, is not “obviously wrong and villainous and indefensible”. Particularly if you are a consequentialist, I should think. Certainly many otherwise smart and non-villainous people find it to be obviously right and do defend it, and you know this but do not engage it.

          As for “all those western movies”: Which ones, specifically, are you thinking about? Indians as generically bad orc-equivalents is actually a fairly rare trope in Western movies, most of which deal with white-on-white conflict and occasionally with Indians as nuanced and respected adversaries. Yes, even the old ones, at least as far back as I have looked – can’t say much about the silent film era.

          • Cauê says:

            I’ve always accepted this argument in principle, and still think it’s basically correct.

            What I was never quite convinced of, though, was the necessity of throwing the bombs in densely populated areas. Wouldn’t it have worked just as well to throw them just about anywhere the Japanese could see?

          • John Schilling says:

            On 6 December 1941, that would have been exactly the right move. Maybe even two days later. Maybe.

            But once the shooting has unambiguously started, you don’t do warning shots. To do so demonstrates mostly that you are reluctant to actually kill the enemy (or to kill the civilians he is hiding amongst, to the same effect). This tends to embolden him, insofar as his calculus previously assumed you were going to do your utmost to kill him.

            The power of the weapons with which you are willing to blow holes in the empty desert is irrelevant. Only the power of the weapons you are willing to use against the cities your enemy is hiding in, matters, and this is what you must demonstrate.

            Note, e.g., that the United States had conspicuously set off half a dozen nuclear devices in isolated areas prior to 25 October 1950, which did not stop the Chinese from choosing to send their army to do battle against the United States. An additional three dozen such tests/demonstrations, including the first hydrogen bomb, did not result in the Chinese deciding to withdraw. And in the years since, how many dictators, tyrants, and/or liberators have embarked on wars which would predictably subject them to nearly unopposed bombardment by the United States Air Force, defended only by our own reluctance to just kill everyone?

          • Anonymous says:

            John: You’re simplifying. They aren’t defended “only by our reluctance to kill everyone.” They’re defended by the fact that whenever we use our weapons and extend out and maintain our lines of supply and engage our propaganda machine to make war on someone, we become significantly more vulnerable. Both in military and political terms.

            And the fact is that as much as we like to think of ourselves as completely peerless, we aren’t. MiG alley wasn’t a fun place for US planes to be. The Soviets had tested their own bomb at that point, too. Nuking China, if it went as wrong as it could go, would have been extremely costly to the US. It wasn’t a matter of the US selflessly not wanting to spill too much blood.

            The same goes for future US-opposed actions that went un-nuked. There was a great Vietnam study that dissected this notion that nukes would be an “I win” button. The fact is that we’re exceedingly vulnerable to nukes ourselves, and it wouldn’t be fun at all to have to worry about nukes being fielded against our forces in turn, whether through proxies or directly.

            The ‘kill everyone’ approach to diplomacy would be quite deftly countered by nuclear proliferation, and if we continued on that path post-proliferation we’d quickly lose strategically relevant amounts of equipment and personnel.

          • Cauê says:

            These are good points. I’m going to poke a little, for curiosity’s sake:

            – Nuclear weapons have proved to be perceived (deservedly or not) as something qualitatively different, not only quantitatively more powerful than conventional weapons. Even at that time there was good enough reason to expect a reasonable chance that *this* warning shot would get a different response. If not, you could always actually bomb some city the following week.

            – This was at the end of the war. It doesn’t look very reasonable to bet on anyone’s unwillingness to attack civilians at that point. It was few months after Dresden, for instance.

            – The “proving willingness” argument can work for Hiroshima, but why add Nagasaki?

          • Mary says:

            Having proven willingness, we had to show it wasn’t a fluke.

          • Same anonymous as before says:

            Most people are not consequentialist. Most people hold an old fashioned, thou-shalt-not-kill-housewives-and-children view of morality. The fact that this old-fashioned view was put aside by a whole nation so easily when it came to justifying the victory of their own government, is shocking to me.

            The accepted ethical standard in Western civilization is that you target soldiers for killing, you don’t target civilians for killing. If you abandon that standard, you create a dangerous precedent. Yet they got away with brazenly, openly giving it up.

            The alternative between nuking (or merely terror-bombing) civilians and continuing the war is a false one. The fact that the issue is ordinarily put in such terms is bizarre and confirms the mind-numbing power of victory. Not only it isn’t true (Japan actually surrendered because of Russian intervention, and anyhow given the previous terror bombings in Germany and Japan there was no way of being sure that Japan would have surrendered) the central point is that Japan was already defeated in practice, the US would have been perfectly able to give up the war and satisfy itself with a limited victory.

            There are times of desperation in which a nation is put shoulders-to-the-wall and is forced to abandon elementary principles of civilizations. 1945 was not one such moment. America was not desperate to survive. It had won already. It could have been less greedy. If you can’t achieve a goal without giving up your ethics, you reconsider that goal. This should be obvious.

            (Besides, and this is an aside, to blackmail the Japanese with “either you surrender or we keep mass-killing your civilians”, (which had started well before the nukes), implies that you are willing to drop any amount of nukes. So what if Japan had not surrendered, just like the terror bombing so far had not made them surrender, nor by itself it had made Germany surrender. We all know that the US would have continued genociding Japan with an unlimited number of nukes and would have gotten away with it in the eyes of the people. It was NOT a bluff. Then you have to weight the hypothethical number of military casualties in an invasion with… with how many nuked Japanese civilians? Millions?)

            Imagine if the Nazis had developed nukes first and they had used them, justifying themselves with “oh but we HAD to nuke London, this ended the war early and saved millions of German and British lives” would the rest of the world have given them a pass for this? No… the non-fascist world would not have given them the benefit of consequentialist logic; everone in the world would have correctly thought that they were crazy evil. And if there are rules of decency in war, they have to apply equally to all side.

          • First anonynmous says:

            By the way, I just realized that there are different “anonymous” commenting here. I was the one who initially brought up Hiroshima, and later signed “same anonymous as before”. Another person commented as Anonymous; it isn’t me.

          • First anonymous says:

            Regarding western movies – The one I was thinking about is “Stagecoach”. The Apache in it are quite orc-like.
            Look at the way a white man contemplates heroically shooting his woman rather than let the scary Indians capture and rape her – just before a heroic cavalry charge arrives to drive back the natives:

            But that’s beside the point. The point is that as far as I can tell, the idea that the white man committed terrible wrongs against the Indians is fairly recent, compared to the era in which those wrongs occurred.

            While winners get to write history within their own society (and I don’t mean strictly military winners, I just mean: whoever manages to have the most influence and therefore affect the public opinion, the dominant values and the perspective through which history is viewed), history is bound to be changed and reinterpreted and rewritten in time. Winners make history, just not forever.

          • First anonymous says:

            I’m not sure that I made the most important point clearly. Sometimes my writing isn’t that clear. So I’ll state it again, as clearly as possible:

            Even if it were true that the only two ways to completely defeat Japan were to either nuke or invade them, there was still the option to ABSTAIN FROM COMPLETELY DEFEATING JAPAN.

            To make peace, go home and call it a victory. That, by the way, is the way most wars in history have been fought; only the biggest warmongers insist in utterly smashing enemy states at all costs.

            If the only means to achieve a goal are immoral, then the goal itself is immoral and should not be pursued.

            This is the way most people see morality… except, it seems, when they have to justify the war sins of their victorious nation, and that’s striking.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “Even if it were true that the only two ways to completely defeat Japan were to either nuke or invade them, there was still the option to ABSTAIN FROM COMPLETELY DEFEATING JAPAN.”

            Would it have been acceptable to abstain from completely defeating Germany as well? If not, why not? For that matter, why were we even fighting in the first place?

            My view is that given the Axis’ behavior during the war, and given that the Axis chose war in the first place, they bear the greater part of the responsibility for the consequences that befell them. Surrender was available to them at every stage along the way. Given that even the nukes and the firebombing are still significantly less monstrous than tactics the Japanese employed themselves, I find the complaint difficult to understand.

          • John Schilling says:

            Regarding western movies – The one I was thinking about is “Stagecoach”. The Apache in it are quite orc-like.

            Yes, I thought it might be. But you talked about “old west movies”, plural, and in a way that suggested Indians=orcs was the historic norm until quite recently. So I don’t think it is unfair of me to ask you to come up with a few more examples to establish the trend.

            Because “Stagecoach” was really quite unique in many ways. At very least you must recognize that the critical acclaim in which it was held, while the rest of the genere was critically reviled as vulgar entertainment, argues against using it as a representative for the genre as a whole. John Ford and his writers had in hand an extremely powerful story that required orcs as supporting players, and Tolkien hadn’t gotten around to inventing orcs yet (nor was Ford interested in fantasy). So, Indians as orcs for one exceptionally good movie.

            This was not normal. Not for western movies from roughly the 1930s on, at least. Ford’s next Western, “Fort Apache”, had the titular Apaches as essentially Noble Savage archetypes, victimized by corrupt and idiot whites in a fictionalized version of Custer’s Last Stand with a happy ending tacked on (John Wayne’s cavalry lieutenant negotiates an honorable peace with the Apaches).

            And really, Indians = Noble Savages has been I think the norm for the genre since “West” meant the Mohawk valley and James Fenimore Cooper was spinning tales of Natty Bumpo et al. I think the version you are referring to, is mostly limited to the dime-store pulp novels of the actual Western era, along with maybe silent-movie Westerns and very early talkies. American culture outgrew that nonsense fairly quickly once we stopped actually waging war against the Indians.

          • John Schilling says:

            there was still the option to ABSTAIN FROM COMPLETELY DEFEATING JAPAN.
            To make peace, go home and call it a victory.

            Could you be a bit more specific? For example, are you suggesting by “go home” that the United States should have pulled out of the Phillipines and Duch East Indies, then still partially occupied by the Japanese? Do you expect that the British would have “gone home” from Burma, and the Russians from Manchuria?

            And then there’s the Chinese. They already were home, and they were dying to the tune of maybe ten thousand a day – just as they had been every day since mid-1937. That was, as you may recall, the whole reason for the war in the first place. And it wasn’t going to stop without completely defeating Japan; we’d tried everything else, and they were still fanatically pursuing the bloody conquest of China. Succeeding, too, even in 1945.

            So, “go home” means one of two things. One, the Japanese are left to finish their conquest of China (and the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere generally, less a few American-held islands). Probably killing at least another twenty million people in the process, mostly innocent Chinese civilians, then ruling the whole place the way King Leopold had ruled the Congo, knocking the communists and fascists down to second and third place in the Bloodiest Ideology in History contest.

            Or second, the British, Russians, and Chinese are left to defeat Japan on their own. They might have been able to pull it off; the Royal Navy outnumbered what was left of the Japanese in 1945, maybe they could have maintained a sort of blockade long enough to bring the Russian Army solidly into the fight. But that has the war dragging on to 1947 at least, and at least ten million more dead.

            But, hey, there’d have been no blood on our hands, and that’s what matters, right?

          • First Anonymous says:

            John Schilling:

            You ask what “go home” means. I said “make peace, go home”, meaning that before you go home you write down a PEACE TREATY meaning that you NEGOTIATE – you literally or metaphorically sit around a nice table with the Japanese and make offers and counter-offers. The big big big problem was that the Allies were fanatical about not settling for anything less than “unconditional surrender”, which in practice meant to hang the Japanese top people. What a surprise that the Japanese government, was resisting to that! If the Allies had been reasonable and open to negotiation instead, which is the civilized way to end a war, they would certainly have found ways to dissuade the Japanese from imperializing Asia.
            Because, afaik, by 1945, the Allies reigned supreme in the Pacific. They controlled the sea, they controlled the sky, they controlled the oil. Japan was collapsing on all fronts, it was desperate. At least that was my impression; you say that Japan was still winning in China; that’s news to me, and Wikipedia does not seem to agree with you.
            Not to mention the Soviet cakewalk through Manchuria.
            Therefore, with the Allies so overwhelmingly dominant, I’m quite sure that if they had offered to end the war and let Japan survive with its present government in exchange for a retreat from all of its imperial conquests, the Japanese would have been very happy with it – no need to either destroy cities or invade the home islands. But they didn’t make such an offer, nor any reasonable diplomatic offer really.

            Furthermore, if the issue was really China, there was another option – to turn the overwhelming might of the American war machine to the Asian mainland, along with the Russians to liberate China – surely a much easier nut to crack – and let the home islands be. As you can see, I just gave you not one, but two options alternative to either nuking or invading Japan.

          • First anonymous says:

            To FacelessCraven:

            “Would it have been acceptable to abstain from completely defeating Germany as well?” Yes. “For that matter, why were we even fighting in the first place?” Ostensibly to liberate the countries Germany had occupied.

            “Surrender was available to them at every stage along the way.” You should replace that statement with, “Negotiating was never available to them at any stage along the way.” Even in the early stages of the war Britain made its unwillingness to negotiate clear. Later the Allies became adamant about not settling for anything less than “unconditional surrender”. Which is NOT a peace proposal. It just means “your only options are to either continue to fight or commit suicide as a government and let us hang you for war crimes”. Of course no sane interlocutor will agree to this.

            Given the position of power of the Allies late in the war, it’s likely that the Nazis would have consented to a lot of things, IF they had been given the chance to negotiate (without getting hanged). It might have been a good idea FOR EXAMPLE to offer an end to the war and the survival of Hitler’s regime as long as the Nazis agree to retreat from most of the occupied countries and reduce their armaments. It would have been nice to also demand that they abstain from exterminating certain groups and that instead they hand the people they didn’t want to the West. Such would have been an acceptable outcome to the war.

            Same applies to Japan.

            “Given that even the nukes and the firebombing are still significantly less monstrous than tactics the Japanese employed themselves, I find the complaint difficult to understand.” If you want to retain the moral authority to be able to condemn atrocities committed by others, better not commit atrocities yourself.
            And let’s face it – the Allies would have behaved exacly the same if Japan’s war policies had been squeaky clean. I don’t recall the nuking and firebombing of Japan being framed as a retaliation for Japanese war crimes.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Hiroshima looks absolutely unconscionable right up until you look at the alternatives, namely an invasion of the home islands by the US, or even worse the USSR. Everything I’ve seen on those alternatives indicates that Hiroshima was a vastly better alternative for all peoples involved.

          • Protagoras says:

            Were those really the alternatives? The evidence I’ve encountered suggests that the Japanese decision to surrender was motivated by the Soviet Union entering the war against them, not by the atomic bombs. So the bombs caused vast death and destruction for no benefit.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Japanese government was quite clear about who it was surrendering to and why. There is no evidence that they were lying.

            Prior to Hiroshima, a politically irrelevant minority faction of the Japanese government was trying to negotiate with the Russians to broker a cease-fire, not a surrender, and one which would probably not have included the Chinese front (where they were conducting a bloody and successful offensive).

            From this, people who really dislike A: Hiroshima and B: intellectual rigor, have constructed arguments that the Japanese were really just about to surrender to the Russians anyway so the whole thing was pointless. This argument is based far more on speculation and wishful thinking than on evidence.

          • Protagoras says:

            Who said anything about the Japanese surrendering to the Russians? I said that the Japanese surrendered because the Soviets entered the war, which matches the timing perfectly (as the bombs do not). I didn’t say anything about them surrendering to the Soviets; they surrendered because while they had some unrealistic hopes about how well they could resist an allied invasion from the south, they had stripped their northern defenses to prepare for that, and were not remotely prepared to defend against attacks from both the north and the south.

          • Same anonymous as before says:

            The alternative was to make peace with Japan and go home.

          • John Schilling says:

            I may have misunderstood you; I took you to be referring to the usual arguments as to why Japan was clearly about to surrender in August 1945 and the atomic bombs were purely gratuitous. Those arguments do generally hinge on gross misrepresentations of Japanese diplomatic moves towards Russia. If you have something different in mind, I’d be interested to hear it.

            But I’m not clear on how the Soviet invasion “matches the timing perfectly”, whereas the bombs “do not”. The Nagasaki bomb fell on 9 August 1945. The Russian invasion of Manchuria occurred on 9 August 1945. Japan’s surrender occurred exactly six days after both of these events. It is not at all clear how timing can distinguish between the American bombs and the Russian invasion as cause or motive for the surrender.

            And I am also curious as to what you mean by Japan having “no defense” against a northern invasion. The Japanese had a better defense against Russian invasion than the British ever did against the Germans. The Nemuro strait alone is about as wide as the English Channel, and while the Germans has a weak navy the USSR’s Pacific fleet had only a baker’s dozen oceangoing warships, none of them larger than a light cruiser, and no amphibious assault capability worth mentioning.

            There was no credible prospect of a Russian invasion of the Japanese home islands in 1945. The Russians planned to conquer/liberate various territories in Manchuria and Korea that the Japanese had themselves conquered a decade or so earlier, along with the mostly uninhabited and undefended Kuril islands. I am certain that this was viewed with great disfavor in Tokyo. But if the theory is that Japan was willing to endure the nuclear annihilation of its major cities, then surrender unconditionally over the prospective loss of some conquered puppet states, I’m going to need some persuading.

          • Protagoras says:

            As I understand it, the emergency meeting at which the Japanese government seems to have decided to pursue the surrender option happened on August 9th, after news of the Soviet withdrawal from the non-aggression pact had arrived, but before the bomb hit Nagasaki. Apparently, Hiroshima, three days before, hadn’t been sufficient to prompt an emergency meeting.

          • John Schilling says:

            OK, I see where you are coming from. There were of course emergency meetings after all three events – no government anywhere is going to actually ignore something of that magnitude. But the post-Hiroshima meeting was limited to military commanders and staff (an air raid being a purely military event), and led to the in hindsight inconsequential decision to investigate what had really happened at Hiroshima.

            The August 9 meeting, informed by both the results of the Hiroshima investigation (military) and the news of the Soviet declaration of war (political), involved the full cabinet. And was interrupted in progress by the news of Nagasaki.

            Despite knowing of all three events, the vote was tied at 3-3, peace vs. war. The peace vote was to seek negotiations, not to surrender. And as the Japanese military was by this point not really big on taking orders from the civilian government, the vote that mattered was arguably 3-0 for war. So it is a bit of a stretch to argue that the Japanese government going into that meeting was prepared to surrender on the basis of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.

            It was the post-Nagasaki meeting with the Emperor that resulted in a decision to surrender.

        • John Schilling says:

          Anonymous: You are missing the point. Of course the United States had good reasons to want to resolve all but one of its historic conflicts without consigning the righteous and wicked alike to nuclear fire, Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. Even to the extent of accepting a humiliating defeat in Vietnam. It is a Good Thing, known and accepted by all, that we basically Never Ever Actually Do This.

          Because we have well-known good reasons for wanting to do anything but this, the US nuclear arsenal has been utterly useless in either deterring or winning any of the wars the United States has fought since 1945. In order to prevent, stop, or win a war by means of nuclear weapons, it is necessary that the enemy be persuaded that this is one of the exceptional situations where you both can and will annihilate cities at will.

          This is difficult to accomplish while conspicuously doing the opposite. The United States had all of three atomic bombs available in August 1945, to be expended against Japanese cities or deserted islands. And Japan was highly motivated to find reason to believe that it had choices other than surrender or annihilation.

          • First anonynmous says:

            By the way, I just ralized that there are different “anonymous” commenting here. I was the one who initially brought up Hiroshima, and later signed itself “same anonymous as before”. Another person commented as Anonymous; it isn’t me.

          • First anonymous says:

            In reply to your points: like I said elsewere, the argument “it was necessary to completely win the war” does not work. If you can’t achieve your goal morally, you reconsider your goals. If you can’t take over Japan morally, you don’t take it over.

            Moral behavior is supposed to be costly.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            maybe we should back up a step. Do you recognize a moral justification for US involvement in WWII at all?

          • Mary says:

            Letting the Japanese rampage all over Asia is also not a moral position.

            Are you prepared to defend that there was a way we could have stopped them without winning the war?

          • First anonymous says:

            Mary: you use “winning the war” as an euphemism for “obtain unconditional surrender” which is an euphemism for “hang their leaders”.


            Throughout history, to “win a war” never implied that. Like I said elsewhere, only the lowest warmongers insist in erasing enemy states at all costs, instead of coming to terms at some point. Given that no way out was offered to the Japanese government, it’s understandable that they were willing to resist at all costs.

            I’m sure that there were a plethora of other option for the Allies, such as to negotiate with Japan that they retreat from all of their overseas territories in exchange for an end to the war and the survival of the japanese government. The Allies controlled the seas at this point, therefore they had already neutralized Japan; they could have starved them of all materials; they could have satisfied themselves with driving them away from China and Indonesia, just like they had driven them away from the Philippines. A “victory” for the Allies needed not include the catastrophic downfall of the Japanese home islands and the execution of their leaders.

            Furthermore, I don’t consider it obvious at all that Japanese control of Asia would have been oh so intolerable. Do you like Mao Zedong better?

          • First anonymous says:

            Please scratch that sentence about Mao, it’s terrible.

            – the war was not being waged over atrocities committed by Japan. It was about Japan’s expansionism and direct attack on the US.
            – in general it’s a questionable policy to make war over atrocities within other countries. If that was done there would be costant wars.
            – if the US had cared about the atrocities committed by Japan, and it did NOT, then it should have made THAT a central point of negotiation, both before WW2 in the lead-up phase, and during hypothetical peace negotiation late in WW2. How about “We will cease our oil embargo if you accept inspectors that make sure you stop killing non-combatants” (this would have been the policy I advocate).
            – Japan attacked the US (and the Dutch and British colonies) chiefly because the US blockaded Japan without leaving them ways out they could have accepted. If that hadn’t been done, Japan may not have been a threat to the US.
            – Regarding Japanese expansionism in mainland East Asia, if we ignore the atrocity angle (since that wasn’t the reason for US involvement), it wasn’t any more worrisome than the civil wars going on within China, and it didn’t require Western intervention.

            For the reasons above I have doubts about the wisdom of US involvement in the Pacific war. Certainly, however, once Japan attacked, it was necessary for the US to fight. And even if it was necessary to expel Japan from all of its conquered territories (I’m not sure), like I outlined before it’s absurd to assume that it was absolutely necessary to obtain an unconditional surrender. A victory needs not be annihilation.

          • First anonymous says:

            The meaning of the Mao sentence was that Japanese control of China would have been alternative to Mao’s control. However it’s a bad point, because at the time there was no way to foresee Mao’s victory and atrocities.

          • First anonymous says:

            Just to make it clear, when I criticize “hanging their leaders”, I don’t mean that I particularly care about those guys, I mean that to be politically determined to obtain this is is very very bad because it makes it impossible to NEGOTIATE.
            It’s all about NEGOTIATING as opposed to the “unconditional surrender” madness. Of course if you only offer them unconditional surrender your enemies will resist fanatically and this will seem to require the most extreme military measures such as invading the home island or nuking and firebombing their people to the stone age. How about offering them a deal instead.

          • First anonymous says:

            And that – negotiating – is what I mean with sentences like “make peace and go home”. That’s what “make peace” mean – to sit around a table and offer them a defeat they can accept.

    • The Spartans won the Peloponnesian War. They are not normally considered the good guys in this society. History is sometimes written by the losers.

      • pliny says:

        At least the weaker statement that winners more often define good and evil seems right.

        What may be missing from Scott’s post is a changing definition of evil. It seems like he’s talking about shining a light on this relatively fixed thing.

      • Anonymous says:

        That was too much time ago to count.

      • Anonymous who first brought up this issue says:

        I’m pretty sure that if you had asked an ancient Roman which way of life was more honorable, the Spartan or the Athenian, they would have said: the Spartan. Today, however, there are different winners. Democracy. And therefore we view the past, in the light of the winning democratic values.

        Like I said, history get written and rewritten and rewritten. The statements that winners get to write history is true… but afterwards other winners will come (not only in the military sense, but also merely in the political and cultural sense) and rewrite history again and again.

    • pliny says:

      I feel like “evil” reflects dysfunction, which in the very long run has decreased.

      The two ideas are that first, evil is anti-inductive, and second, that losing is anti-inductive. This seems to correspond roughly to the ideas that, first, technology and culture wins, and second, military power wins.

      Where we distinguish between these is when force wins even with weaker technology and fewer ideas. This seems uncommon. But it has happened, like maybe with:

      1) Mongols invading China
      2) Manchu conquest of China
      3) Fall of Rome
      4) Byzantines conquered by Muslims
      5) Sassanids whooped by Muslims
      6) More Muslim conquests
      7) Rome conquering Greece
      8) Israel conquering Canaanites and Philistines
      9) Folks with horses conquering folks without them
      10) The Peloponnesian war (per Joseph H)

      (I have no knowledge of some of these and copied them from Quora)

      The first idea should always be true in the long run given that progress keeps increasing. The second idea should be true in the short run.

  10. John Henry says:

    The good news is that anti-evil is also anti-inductive. Good and evil have to play a constantly evolving game of cat-and-mouse with one another.

  11. John Henry says:

    The process of identifying a pattern of evil is part of the larger process of sending it back into hiding until it puts on another mask. It’s not that you can’t identify an anti inductive pattern; just that the act of identifying it is part of the process by which it learns to avoid being identified in that particular way.

    The goal, then, should be to get meta on evil. Figure out its defining principles – those things without which it isn’t actually evil – and use *those* to identify it in the future. Much more effective than pattern matching against past forms of evil.

    • RCF says:

      This gets to a problem that I have with anti-discrimination laws: why are we listing out which categories people are not allowed to discriminate based on? If there is some overarching principle in play here, maybe we should be thinking about how to articulate it, rather than trying to decide piecemeal where the principle applies and where it doesn’t. We might not be able to put it in a form that would work legally, but we should be at least thinking about the question.

  12. noman says:

    Have you ever noticed that every “Less Wrong”/Rationalist article could be summarized as: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” ?

    • Vaniver says:

      Have you ever noticed that every “Less Wrong”/Rationalist article could be summarized as: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” ?

      I think we’re reading different Less Wrongs. In the one I see, there are lots of articles about “here is a dumb thing that humans do; as a human, you can probably remember doing this thing. Maybe we can get around it by doing X, like putting a label on it so we can quickly catch ourselves when we do it.”

      • noman says:

        Which is exactly the same thing EVERY OTHER philosophy does:

        The Preacher says “You may have noticed that men are sinful; as a man you yourself may have sinned in this way. Here is how we can avoid this sin.”

        The Imam says “This thing is haram and brings ruin; as a man you have no doubt done this. Here is how you may become clean.”

        The Buddha says “By avoiding these ten unwholesome actions we will avoid their consequences.”

        et cetera ad nauseum

        And just like EVERY OTHER philosophy the adherents, the true believers, gather ’round and congratulate themselves on having found the way, the truth, and the light. “Oh, how wise we are for having seen the truth!” they cheer. “How unlike those blind outsiders we are!” They then create a jargon, a pecking order, a secret handshake, the whole package, whatever.

        Just look at this post’s topic: ‘anti-inductive’. Oh, how wise! How subtle! I propose another example of an ‘anti-inductive’ scenario:
        [Proposition 1] The family likes to eat stir fry.
        [Proposition 2] I want to make things the family likes to eat.
        [Conclusion] I’ll cook stir fry every night!
        But wait! If I cook the same thing every night the family will get sick of stir fry and Proposition 1 will become invalid! ANTI INDUCTION!

        You guys just slapped a new coat of paint on a concept every Tom, Dick, and Harry is familiar with so you could claim ownership. You should be proud. Now when you’re playing intellectual parlour games with your friends you have a fancy $20 term to pull out of your back pocket. Since it’s made up there’s no way they will have heard it before giving you the perfect opportunity to lecture them and seem profound.

        God, I don’t even *disagree* with you guys that much and you fucking piss me off.

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s nice.

          • Nornagest says:

            More “this ain’t the place for bizarre rants about jargon”. If you were right about there being prior art* here, which you aren’t, a much politer and more productive way of bringing that up would be something along the lines of “hey, field X knows this as Y”. If you were feeling especially generous, you might even append “…and there’s a literature on it** which you can find in location Z”.

            But no, you saw an opportunity to give the greater LW community shit, and so a rant it must be. Why not segue into accusations of cultishness, or a discussion of Eliezer’s polyamory? That’s usually how essays in this genre*** work.

            *Patent law jargon!

            **Academic jargon!

            ***Critical jargon!

          • noman says:

            You’re just proving my point: “Hey! We have a nice club where we do things this way. The right way. Conform!”

            Just like every other group of people.

            Although I will cop to being a jerk. Got me there.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yes, please do conform. It’ll probably make both of our lives easier.

            Have you perhaps considered that there might be a reason groups of people evolve local standards of behavior, or were you too busy getting your high horse in rein?

          • noman says:

            If you want to be all about the meta analysis of social dynamics then maybe you shouldn’t be transparently identical to every other group.

            Kind of like Christians who preach love and then act… otherwise.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nornagest if I were to add to the criticism I’d first go for EY as a cult-leader, noting his posting style of “here’s a very difficult problem from philosophy/psychology/sociology and here’s my obvious one-liner answer, and here’s my sources…” where all links are links to other EY posts, and no other literature need be referenced, and no other thinker engaged.

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:


            I don’t think that politeness or phrasing your arguments in a way that will get people to listen to you is a particularly unreasonable request.

            Of course if your desire is _not_ for people to listen to you, and just to blow off steam, then very well.

            Anyways, there were two takeaways that I got from you.

            If you want to be all about the meta analysis of social dynamics then maybe you shouldn’t be transparently identical to every other group.

            Erm why? I’m not interested in being unique, I’m interested in being _correct_. Sometimes different philosophies get different things right, and sometimes even get the same things right! One would expect that a sensible philosophy is going to overlap with previous pihlosophies.

            My point is that rationalists are insufferable because you take basic concepts, beat them to death with words … and then act like you’ve accomplished something profound

            So the sort of article that pushes your buttons is the one that starts of by listing a bunch of strange seemingly unrelated patterns, then ties them together with a concept and gives it a new shiny name. A very typical example would be fnords although nydrwracu came up with the idea first.

            So do you have an issue with this SSC post?

            I was actually trying to find other examples of a “giving a concept a new name” posts and it took a while. Most of Scott’s writing does not follow this format.

            I’m curious, if he followed the same format and he just used standard terminology would you be as annoyed?

        • Susebron says:

          Was there an existing term you had in mind?

          • noman says:

            Really hung up on the vocabulary, hunh? My point is that the concept of CONSEQUENCES is pretty well understood but, hey, when in Rome right? Right off the top of my head:

            2nd and 3rd (and higher) Order Effects

            Michael G. Miller, Thinking About Second & Third Order Effects: A Sample (And Simple) Methodology, 2006




            (2 minutes of google there)

            Turns out that the military (for example) has heard of causality before. I’ve even seen this concept used as a plot element in a pulp novel:
            John Barnes, The Duke of Uranium, 2002
            All the super spy organizations have little badges with a number showing how many links in the causal chain they think people should be morally concerned with. (It’s been a long time but a remember it being a fairly fun read, FWIW. Sort of reminiscent of the Heinlein juveniles.)


            Want more examples?

            Sometimes trying to avoid something will cause that thing to occur?! (stories)
            Sleeping Beauty
            Romulus and Remus

            Preparing to fight the last war/enemy proves a disaster?! (military history)
            The Southern Song ally with the Mongols against their hated enemies the Jin
            The French prepare awesomely powerful static defenses on the Maginot Line to deter German aggression
            Imperial Spain, thinking about the Mediterranean, builds large numbers of galleys and galleass’
            Remembering how only massed fire from muskets was effective generals order their riflemen to stand in rows

            “Televison production is a bunch of people in a field. All of them are running to the last place lightning struck.” (I really wish I could remember where I heard this quote. Deserves attribution)


            But do you really want to argue semantics? I don’t disagree that the freaking concept of CAUSE AND EFFECT exists. My point is that rationalists are insufferable because you take basic concepts, beat them to death with words (yeah, yeah, pot, kettle), and then act like you’ve accomplished something profound.

            I suppose you could take this as feedback on how to prosthelytize for your little club. Or you could blow me off. Whatever…

            ::looks at you square in the eyes with almost desperate earnestness::

            I am kinda just trolling people I find annoying you know.

          • Susebron says:

            So what is your problem with people coming up with terms for things, again? I don’t quite understand.

        • Anonymous says:

          The Preacher says “You may have noticed that men are sinful; as a man you yourself may have sinned in this way. Here is how we can avoid this sin.”

          The Imam says “This thing is haram and brings ruin; as a man you have no doubt done this. Here is how you may become clean.”

          The Buddha says “By avoiding these ten unwholesome actions we will avoid their consequences.”

          Almost every group is based on identifying the problem and trying to propose solutions. Sorry, but this pattern is very general and your argument proves way too much.

          You guys just slapped a new coat of paint on a concept every Tom, Dick, and Harry is familiar with so you could claim ownership.

          Do you know the difference between special case and identifying general pattern? Do you know the difference between implicitly understanding something and explicitly articulating it?

          Do you know that human short term memory is limited? Identifying the patterns compresses the ideas and allows you to play with more ideas at the same time, thus making it easier to reason about the world (of course, after that you must still empirically test your conclusions, but those conclusions must still be reached somehow)?

        • Roman says:

          Jargon is super important, and every one who is serious about their work has some. The military, philosophers, draftsman, poets, pilots, mechanics. All of us.

          I do wish that less wrong, as a primarily philosophical movement/ exercise/ resource was more engaged with mainstream philosophy and didn’t end up reinventing a lot of the same terminology, though. It would be nice if learning the sequences was enough to not only think about problems in the light of a certain set of intuitions (that I mostly find wise and virtuous), but also enough to contribute meaningfully.

          The whole thing was originally built to think about the problem of AI, but there’s a LOOONG road to hoe between reading the sequences and making a meaningful contribution to computer science, let alone the kind of AI Yudkowsky’s worried about.

        • thepenforests says:

          So which is it? First you said that LWers claim to be “not like other men”. And then when it was pointed out that no, they kind of don’t do that at all, you immediately switched to saying that *of course* they go out of their way to emphasize their fallibility, everyone does that.

    • Carinthium says:

      To be perfectly fair, Slate Star Codex doesn’t go over the ground Elizier’s Less Wrong does and thus is far less original. It’s there I can see grounds to criticise. But it’s clearly unfair to tar the whole movement and here’s why.

      -Most ordinary people believe in Free Will. LessWrongians generally don’t.

      -Part of LessWrong’s teachings (though to be fair not universially adapted) is to think on probabilities. The idea of trying to estimate a mathematical probability and move forward based on it is far from normal.

      This is precisely why Cryonics is a good idea. The LessWrongians who adopt it don’t do so because they think it will probably work- they think it probably won’t. But they know that for the very cheap price it’s worth the potential benefit.

      -Genetic determinism is something I learned from LessWrong. This is important because it’s something that can be taken for granted.

      -The existence of myriad human biases is something LessWrong has that others don’t.

      -Nominalism is a truth that all of us would understand but most ordinary people wouldn’t. That’s why the dumbass argument about Jonah and the whale (when the creature obviously couldn’t be genetically a whale) exists at all.

      • Jiro says:

        This is precisely why Cryonics is a good idea. The LessWrongians who adopt it don’t do so because they think it will probably work- they think it probably won’t. But they know that for the very cheap price it’s worth the potential benefit.

        Cryonics isn’t cheap. It’s just that LWers appeal to human biases to make it sound cheap. “Only $X per month in insurance!”

      • Roman says:

        Freewill: I thought most of us were compatiblists?

        In fact, I like less wrong, but I think there are lots of serious misapprehensions you have about it.

  13. J. Quinton says:

    This sort of deliberate pattern-matching-to-evil has a long history. It’s why we still consider beings with horns to be evil.

    Ancient pagan gods sometimes had horns. Ancient Christians saw pagans as worshiping evil gods, therefore anything anthropomorphic with horns is evil.

  14. You already know this, I’m sure (I mean, it’s about half of your point, really, just exaggerated to one extreme), but I see the opposite of inoculation to naziism here in Germany. Basically, Germans are collectively so focussed on the iconography of naziism and super-saturated with that one historical incarnation of naziism in particular that they’re basically completely blind to the actual political messages that they should be filtering for. The only political message Germans are hypersensitive to in that regard is xenophobia, and that’s so toxically applied to political discourse that it drives the people that are slightly xenophobic toward more radical forms of it, simply because (as you’ve mentioned in previous blog posts) the more radical xenophobes will not shred them for their opinions.

    (To clarify: I am not in favour of even the mildest xenophobia that I’m aware of, but I also don’t like demonising people just because I disagree with them, or potentially outright hate their attitude. I’d like to educate them should I get a chance to, but shouting is not my style. I think Germany has some serious censorship issues.)

    As a German, I’m not convinced we’re inoculated against anything useful; I have a sneaking suspicion other nations would be better guarded against naziism than we are, simply because we’re all so very convinced it could never ever realistically rear its ugly head here again, because ‘we’re far too educated for that’. Of course, that’s one thing I’d love to be wrong about.

    • Corwin says:

      I’ve observed that as well! I think it’s quite obvious why Germans aren’t taught what Nazism said, but only what it looked like, by fear that they might simply decide that it was a good idea after all and they should try again.

      There are reasons why it’s not exactly as stupid as it seems.

      First, there’s the reason that historically, humans inhabiting that zone have already run the nazi progam once already. That is a bad reason, I know.

      Second, it’s a memetically efficient ideology. Its content exploits known vulnerabilities in the human mind, taking into account how human minds work out in- and out-group policies, it’s highly contagious among existing groups, and makes groups running its program more attractive to join. This has been demonstrated empirically. That is a better reason, but there is a better way…

      … which is raising the sanity waterline : Teach exactly why our dysfunctional brains (and the barely-sustainable groups resulting from their interactions) find some meme is attractive, then carefully explain how it got exploited by Nazism, and how to not get manipulated by those techniques…

      … but doing that effectively, would likely destroy all the authoritarian institution everywhere that training would be applied. Also, it would be really hard to train, and even harder to test, so it’s not going to happen, nor, even if it does, be implemented on any significant scale.

      • … but doing that effectively, would likely destroy all the authoritarian institution everywhere that training would be applied.

        That’s a benefit in my eyes. 😉

        But you’re right that it would be extremely difficult. I have to admit I’d prefer if education systems would focus a bit more on psychology and less on facts that can just be looked up if they’re needed… but then, I’m hardly the first person to dream of a better education system, and I’m probably just as terrible a candidate for designing one as anyone else who ever said so. 🙂

        The saddest thing about this meta-discussion for me, by the way, is that I cannot in the least claim to know myself immune to these memes. Granted, I suspect my almost religious adherence to anarchic principles would get in the way, but the choice of wording ‘almost religious’ probably tells you a bit about my weaknesses. I suspect that if people just worded it right, I’d fall into the same traps. It’s troubling, really.

      • Anonymous says:

        ” Teach exactly why our dysfunctional brains (and the barely-sustainable groups resulting from their interactions) find some meme is attractive, then carefully explain how it got exploited by Nazism, and how to not get manipulated by those techniques…”

        The Wave does most of those things (sans the last part), and it’s required viewing in a ton of schools… is it working?

        • Mary says:

          If by “working” you mean it eradicated the problem — no.

          Then, how many fixes do?

          If not — hmm — how would we judge what it would have been without it?

          • Corwin says:

            the part that trains against techniques that exploit conformity and compliance with authority, which aren’t included in the teaching about the Third Wave thing that does get done, to begin with.

            Which is what would be hard to train, even harder to test, and would, likely, subsequently destroy all authoritarian institutions everywhere it’s taught correctly. (Hopefully)

  15. Anthony says:

    The whole “junk bond” crisis of the 80s was another example of this – someone did a thesis showing that “non-investment grade” bonds had a higher-enough rate of return to make up for the increased risk of any one defaulting, so by holding a widely-diversified basket of these higher-risk bonds, you’d get a better return than by holding a basket of better-rated bonds.

    So of course, everyone piled in; smaller and less-stable corporations started issuing lots of bonds instead of stocks (the tax code helped encourage this, but that incentive remained mostly constant across the period), and people encouraged investment into junk bonds, until the the over-reaction meant that the risk outweighed the higher return, and a small downturn in the economy wiped out a whole lot of investors, and some corporations who would have survived their stock price crashing, but got liquidated because they defaulted on their bonds.

    The real mystery, of course, is why did it take so *long* for the arbitrage opportunity to get noticed, and to get corrected once noticed.

    • RCF says:

      Why would defaulting on bonds cause a corporation to be liquidated? Defaulting on bonds just means that the bond holders become shareholders. Buying bonds is in some sense equivalent to buying a stock and then selling a call option on it. The corporation paying the face value of the bond is then equivalent to the call option being exercised. If the company defaults, then that’s equivalent to the call option not being exercised, and the investor in either case is left with the stock. The smaller the spread between the market price of the stock and the strike price of the call option, the higher investment grade.

  16. Pasha says:

    Although i really like the analogy memes = viruses, the analogy is imperfect in that any memetic antibodies that are common and cultural are ALSO viruses, although likely less dangerous. Anti-bodies you produce yourself are likely still good, but anti-fascism memes you acquire become Cached Thoughts and memetic viruses.

    This is in some ways a point of Neoreaction. I am not the biggest fan of it, but i understand where they are coming from. Fascism is REALLY bad meme, we get anti-bodies to it in terms of “diversity,” diversity becomes a not-great meme, neoreaction counter-memes it. In each iteration there is an over-correction from optimality, but the differences become smaller. We (hopefully) gradient assent to a nice spot, unless someone really pushes their favorite idea (justice, equality, democracy) into UFAI and then doom.

    • Mary says:

      Martin Luther justly compared humanity to a drunk man riding a horse. First he falls off on the left. Then he gets up, gets back on, and falls off on the right.

  17. Simplicio says:

    Great post. Similar point was made by Ross Douthat here.

    The point is that as a society changes, as what’s held sacred and who’s empowered shifts, so do the paths through which evil enters in, the prejudices and blind spots it exploits.

    So don’t expect tomorrow’s predators to look like yesterday’s. Don’t expect them to look like the figures your ideology or philosophy or faith would lead you to associate with exploitation.

    Expect them, instead, to look like the people whom you yourself would be most likely to respect, most afraid to challenge publicly, or least eager to vilify and hate.

    Because your assumptions and pieties are evil’s best opportunity, and your conventional wisdom is what’s most likely to condemn victims to their fate.

  18. Tom Scharf says:

    Asians are OK to mock and to stereotype.

    Go into any thread about how Asians are allegedly discriminated against by the Ivy League, and you will find people saying they aren’t accepted because they are nerdy, anti-social, piano players who wouldn’t know leadership if it kicked them in the butt.

    These same people would be aghast if someone made similar comments about politically sensitive groups, and would be running down to the local rally or ACLU when such a statistical disparity in test scores proved racism prima facie.

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s because Asians are not a reliable voting block.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      I think this is somewhat of an example of “punching up” since Asians (or North-East-Asians anyway) are one of the few minority groups in America who actually do better than whites. (Just for clarification, this is not an endorsement for singling out Asians for mockery; I think the whole “punching up” vs “punching down” thing is pretty stupid.)

      In a way this is very similar to anti-semitism, which is also dislike or hatred of a an outgroup with weird customs and traditions, which somehow still manages to outperform “normal” people. It would be emotionally difficult to admit that this outgroup is in some ways superior and that one might stand to learn a thing or two from them. Much easier to mock them, dislike them, or even to actively discriminate against them.

    • Null Hypothesis says:

      Asians have been successful such that in placed like academic success, STEM majors, and overall class distribution, they get lumped in with Whites.

      If that doesn’t tell someone the game is on, nothing will.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        It’s actually worse than that. Because of the academic success of Asians, they are actually discriminated against through affirmative action, as compared to whites. For for example an Asian university applicant would have to have higher scores to be accepted than a white applicant, ceteris paribus.

  19. Raemon says:

    I’ll post this again in the next Open Thread, but I keep meaning to and forgetting so I’m putting it here:

    Can somebody make it so that every-other-post on your blogs main page has a slightly different background? (i.e. alternating white and light grey, or tinted blue / tinted red, or something)

    I ask because the posts are very long, so when I’m scrolling down to find a particular post, I have to either scroll down very slowly, or I keep swooshing past the the post that I care about. If there were alternating backgrounds instead of a giant white wall of black text, it’d be easier to see the dilineations.

  20. A possibly-relevant quote from G. K. Chesterton (him again):

    This is the essential mark of tyranny: that it is always new. Tyranny always enters by the unguarded gate. The tyrant is always shy and unobtrusive. The tyrant is always a traitor. He has always come there on the pretence that he was protecting something which people really wanted protected–religion, or public justice, or patriotic glory. Men staring at the Armada; did not watch the King; so they strengthened the King. Later when they watched the King they unconsciously strengthened the aristocracy. Again, when they attacked the aristocracy, they did not watch the big merchants who were attacking it– and who wanted watching. All tyrannies are new tyrannies. There are no such things really as old tyrannies; there are hardly any such things as old superstitions.

  21. ryan says:

    Ran Prieur had what I think was a great antibody. He said evil means “wanting to destroy evil.” It tends to capture most of the very recent examples of evil, eg Hitler wanted to destroy Bolshevism.

    Of course this has it’s flaws. For Tamerlane evil meant “wanting to see what it would look like if you killed everyone in Damascus and put their skulls in a giant pile.”

    And well Scott, fuck your canoe, I KNOW EXACTLY WHICH GROUP IT WILL BE! Environmentalists. My guess anyway. Because they really want to destroy evil.

    • Corwin says:

      Interesting! Specifically because I happen to have a plan to *replace* an evil with something else. The destruction of the unnecessary evil will happen simply as it’s being replaced by the thing I’m devising, which can not be coordinated even in principle.

      Maybe it’ll end up just as evil, but in a different way. I don’t know. I’m calling up something that cannot be put down, to take the place of what nobody wants but everyone follows. We’ll see.

  22. Jaskologist says:

    You’re all familiar with the story of smallpox. Back when it was ravaging villages, people noticed that milk maids seemed noticeably exempt. And once they tracked that back to cowpox, they were able to vaccinate the population and eradicate the disease. The approaches we’ve taken wrt Nazism and Communism are like trying to beat smallpox by finding an ointment which works really well against boils. The actual solution was to find people who had already demonstrated an immunity, and then get what they had.

    There were people who were not swayed by the Communists or Nazis. Our recently discussed friend Chesterton would be one, and that’s even with his antisemitism. Bonhoeffer literally wrote the book on Ethics, then tried to kill Hitler.

    By contrast, many of Chesterton’s debate partners (Shaw, for example) supported Stalin, even as he was murdering millions. Simone De Beauvoir worked for the Vichy, and Sartre’s self-described resistance involved a lot of ret-conning.

    Find the intellectual descendants of those who resisted the previous mass-murders, and the intellectual descendants of those who helped them. Throw in your lot with the former.

    (My list above is, of course, terribly slanted. I encourage others to expand and correct it. We can call it the Cowpox of Evil.)

    • This is the best comment in this thread so far. The trick is that we have to look for people who were right about Nazism and Communism. There were lots of people who were right about one or the other, but many fewer who were right about both.

      Tolkien probably belongs on the list. So does Orwell. (Orwell was a socialist, but he caught on to the evil of Stalin long before most of his socialist contemporaries, so I feel like he deserves credit.)

      • Peter says:

        Bertand Russell – there’s an essay, “Scylla and Charybdis; or, communism and fascism” in “In Praise of Idleness” which does exactly that. Some of the other essays in there are good too. There’s “The Ancestry of Fascism” which, as well as being good for its intended purpose, is also… therapeutic… to read if you’ve recently had an encounter with postmodernism.

        Russell wasn’t always anti-communist though – apparently in 1920 he went to Russia, got to talk philosophy with Lenin for an hour, and that really set him thinking. I did a bit of googling and found a quote: “I went to Russia a Communist; but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts, not as to Communism in itself, but as to the wisdom of holding a creed so firmly that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.”

      • Robot Subterrene says:

        ‘The trick is that we have to look for people who were right about Nazism and Communism.’
        That does not quite cover all bases. Russell, for instance despised Bolsheviism & Naziism, but:

        ‘While he believed most wars are unnecessary, Russell was no pacifist. He strongly favored defeating the Axis powers in World War II. After the Allied victory, he briefly advocated war against the Soviet Union to preclude the dominance of communism, and as a prophylaxis against the further spread of nuclear weapons.’

        Von Neumann had the same opinion of pre-emptive war while the West held the nuclear monopoly.

        • BD Sixsmith says:

          BR also illuminated the fact that being right involves more than not being malicious. He was full of well-intentioned yet misguided theories and inflicted them on those around him to their detriment. Ray Monk’s biography is intriguing if extremely sad.

          Albert Camus was another consistent anti-totalitarian. The trouble is that I suspect that the destructive movements of our time will have been fashioned so as to avoid appearing obviously dangerous to people who have read Hannah Arendt. Past greats can give us lessons but perhaps not a step-by-step guide.

          (Having said that, Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind could be of great use in preventing oneself from being had.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            According to your link there, Russel supported Che Guevera, which trashes his Good Alignment. We could potentially chalk that up to dementia given his age; I don’t know enough about the man to say.

            Camus apparently had the courage to resist the Nazis and wisdom to oppose the Communists. He does deserve to be taken more seriously, which is kind of annoying because I haven’t up until now.

          • Tarrou says:

            Camus is masterful on the psychology of a communist ideologue. Try the allegory “The Fall”.

        • Null Hypothesis says:

          Not that we should’ve carpet bombed the Soviet Union… but as an example, the Korean War could’ve ended if we deployed a dozen or so tactical nuclear missiles on military targets. Could’ve pushed them back.

          We wouldn’t have the glorious Republic of Best Korea today… and Vietnam was basically fighting the war we didn’t finish there as well.

          We certainly lost a certain willingness for total victory. In hindsight I’d say the world is worse off for that. But without foresight, it’s still not easy to advocate for an increase in willingness now.

          • cassander says:

            This was the basic plan Patton advocated, declare a line behind which we wanted to force the soviets to pull back to, then push them to it if they didn’t go willingly, with nuclear firepower if needed.

          • Nornagest says:

            MacArthur, not Patton; Patton died in 1945. And he got fired for it.

          • cassander says:

            Mac probably would have felt similarly, but Patton was rather vocally anti-communist in the brief period he had after the war in europe, to the point of advocating the re-armament of germany to help in the effort. Of course, probably part of it was his general depression, marshall’s refusal to transfer him to the pacific, and knowing he wasn’t cut out for peacetime life.

      • Wrong Species says:


        • Jaskologist says:

          Only in theory. I’m interested in people who saw the truth when the debate was still raging, especially if it cost them.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            How about Ludwig von Mises? He was one of the most outspoken critics of socialism since the early 1920s, at a time when socialism was quite popular among the European intelligentsia. He was also a vocal opponent of fascism, even back when the Italian model was hailed by many as the wave of the future. He also strongly opposed National Socialism, which, coupled with his being Jewish, forced him to leave his native Austria to emigrate first to Switzerland, then to the United States.

          • blacktrance says:

            There were libertarians around at the time, e.g. Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Yeah, Mises should definitely get in. He even had a theory which (correctly) predicted why communism wouldn’t work.

            I can’t see any principled reason to exclude Rand, even if she is unpopular.

      • cassander says:

        Orwell gets to much credit. he was anti-stalin, but very much pro-lenin. had there been a revolution in england, he’d have been enthusiastically putting people up against a wall just like the rest of them, at least until he got put up against the wall himself for being the grandson of an earl.

        HL Mencken, of course, detested both communism and fascism.

        • Peter says:

          I think part of the thing is that Orwell’s views seem to have changed – and matured – over time, the early maturation due to the Spanish Civil War, and the later maturation coming from trying to get his Spanish Civil War stuff published. The works most people are familiar with – 1984 and Animal Farm – are his late work. During the war he wrote an essay that said among other things how glorious English Socialism was going to be – in 1948 he made a story where English Socialism was the villain. Possibly there’s an amount of “oh God what might I have done” there, although maybe that’s me being too quick to defend.

          On the subject of Orwell going “Oh God what have I done?” there’s a passage in his essay “Politics and the English Language” where he talks about “some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases”… I can imagine him rolling in his grave when he hears tired old hacks going on about Newspeak and the Thought Police.

          • Anonymous says:

            I can imagine him rolling in his grave when he hears tired old hacks going on about Newspeak and the Thought Police.

            And when he hears people he would consider good guys, calling bad things ‘Orwellian’?

          • RCF says:

            Are we sure that Orwell intended The Party in 1984 to be socialist? Yes, it’s called socialist, but the Nazi Party also had the word “socialist” in its name.

          • Peter says:

            “IngSoc” as being like “Nazi”: I had that theory too, I did some googling and didn’t find a lot of support for it.

            Incidentally – am I the only one to notice how “NSDAP” is kind of saying the same thing twice? In context, given the vagueness of political party names, “National” and “German” are both pointing in similar directions, likewise “Socialist” and “Workers” are both of a theme.

      • Anonymous says:

        Won’t that list basically consist of centrists and moderates ?who didn’t like extremism? But what makes people moderates? What makes people resistant to extremist ideas?

        • Jaskologist says:

          No. The moderate/centrist German was a Nazi, the moderate Frenchman a Vichy. Bonheoffer tried to kill Hitler. That was extreme.

          I wouldn’t consider Chesterton a moderate either, though he would no doubt retort that it is only in grabbing hold of both extremes simultaneously that true moderation is found.

          • Nornagest says:

            At the Nazi Party’s peak in 1945, it contained 8 million people out of a German population of 66 million — and it’s hard to say how many of those bought into Nazi ideology given that it was a one-party state where party membership was a requirement for many forms of advancement. We could of course define “moderate” in many ways, but the median German throughout the war was not a Nazi.

            (You could, however, argue that they were complicit in Nazi ideology by inaction.)

          • Anonymous says:


            the nazis got a good 43% of the vote in 1933. And if you don’t want to count that election on account of the vote suppression, they still got 33% in the previous election, compared to 21% for the socialists, 15% for the communists, and 12% percent for the catholics.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I am thinking from a standpoint of complicity. The average German provided the economic and military might which Hitler needed, and stood by as he rounded up the Jews. In a time that called for resistance, they kept their heads down.

            Not that I think we’re different. If you dance to our Cathedral’s tune now, you would have done the same when the Nazi Cathedral was singing.

      • Landru says:

        The trick is that we have to look for people who were right about Nazism _and_ Communism.

        Be careful what you ask for. One person arguably on this short list would be Ayn Rand, and I’m not sure if you want to be inoculated with whatever she had. Now, I’m not sure if this counts as having been “right” by your lights, particularly, but in The Fountainhead, IIRC, one of the main characters speaks frankly about the Nazis and the Bolsheviks as being on similar moral planes, ie ruthless and sinister totalitarians, with the difference between them being mainly one of style. According to Wikipedia the book was written during 1936-1943, which puts her ahead of at least some folks (assuming she didn’t crib this in at the last minute). Maybe being a Russian emigre makes it easier/natural to be critical of both Communists and Germans?

        (Edit: I see blacktrance also mentioned Rand above.)

        • RCF says:

          It does seem like an easy failure mode would be that if you’re looking for ideologies that rejected other ideologies, that optimizes not for recognizing bad ideologies, but simply for rejecting other ideologies. When your entire training set consists of negatives, you’re going to train for declaring everything a negative. If you have a bunch of narrow-minded ideologies, each of them is going to reject all the others, regardless of merit. Scientology, for instance, is going to reject Communism, Nazism, and Objectivism.

        • Tarrou says:

          So you’re saying Rand was bang on the money about the two biggest political innovations in the past two hundred years, but she’s unpopular. Not an argument I expect to see at SSC, but there you go I guess. Scott really is hitting the big time! 😛

          • Nornagest says:

            Rand was trying to invent a different totalizing ideology. Of course she didn’t have anything nice to say about the Nazis or the Soviets.

    • drunkenrabbit says:

      Dorothy Thompson’s “Who Goes Nazi?” from 1941 is an interesting addition to the subject. It’s thoroughly old-fashioned, but a classic.

    • grendelkhan says:

      This seems like a long way of asking, “who were the traditionalists?”. If you don’t care about who was right about questions of ‘how should we change things?’ (for whatever definition of ‘right’ you want there), you can get a perfect record if you take every movement away from tradition and consider it to be dangerous and vile.

      In other words, Chesterton was right about Nazism and Communism, but he was also against social democracy, universal suffrage and so on. If you think social democracy and universal suffrage go in the same bin as Nazism and Communism, then this won’t make much of a difference to you, but it’s not that convincing for people who disagree with you there.

      • Jaskologist says:

        If the choice is between “change things and murder millions” and “don’t change things” then the latter was absolutely the right choice. I wouldn’t discount traditionalism out of hand; Burkeanism is a perfectly defensible philosophy.

        Nazism and Communism were the great big atrocity-generators of the previous century. Merely avoiding them may seem like a low bar, but it’s a low bar that most of intellectual class still failed to clear.

    • Null Hypothesis says:

      I’ll take two injections of Churchill, please. Need to build up my middle-finger’s resistance to Nazism.

      • John Schilling says:

        Churchill I think preferred a two-fingered response to Nazi-ism, but otherwise yes, this, exactly.

        Churchill and Chesterton and, hmm, we need another alliterative exemplar.

        • Null Hypothesis says:

          Homeopathy would suggest we need a few drops of Chamberlin. The fewer the better – and I’d tend to agree.

          • Peter says:

            I’d heard a Churchill quote, going roughly along the lines of “History won’t be kind to poor old Neville – I know, I’m going to write that history” but I’m having trouble googling it.

  23. onyomi says:

    The Cracked list seems to skip the most obvious examples, perhaps because the authors themselves subconsciously don’t want to admit they should stop mocking or looking down on them?

    I am thinking, of course, of poor, uncultured white people, especially southern Christians of the sort who inhabit West Virginia. They are, by most measures, worse off than your average urban black, yet it is totally okay to mock them in our culture, because they represent white-christian-conservative hegemony in the popular imagination, even though nothing about these people, including their not uncommon racism, reflects anything approaching hegemony or a dominant national culture anymore.

    • ryan says:

      Remember what Gul Dukat said in DS9: A true victory is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. To force them to acknowledge your greatness.

    • RCF says:

      Christian conservatism consists on punching other people. I don’t see anything wrong with punching them, and not worrying too much as to which “direction” the punching is.

      • onyomi says:

        Other than gays, whom does Christian conservatism habitually punch?

        Also, not all poor, rural whites are serious Christians, though that is overwhelmingly their culture.

        • RCF says:

          Atheists, women, the poor, the disabled, non-Christians, liberal Christians, minorities, trans people.

          • John Schilling says:

            The disabled? Seriously? Where are you seeing that?

            And, at least in the United States, most Christians are women and most women are Christians. They seem to me to be treating each other, and women generally, with sincere respect grounded in the Golden Rule. That some women do not want to have done unto them what most Christian women want, is a source of conflict but it is not what I think we want to broadly categorize as “punching down”.

          • RCF says:

            Surely you won’t disagree that concern with the disabled falls onto the blue tribe side of the spectrum. There are many different strains of conservative Christianity, but the Just World Hypothesis is a strong meme in quite a lot of them. Look at Job’s neighbors’ response to his misfortunes: “You are covered in boils? You must have done something wrong to deserve it!”

            “And, at least in the United States, most Christians are women”

            That’s not much of an argument. Prior to the Great Migration, most black people were Southerners. Did Southerners not treat black people poorly?

            “They seem to me to be treating each other, and women generally, with sincere respect grounded in the Golden Rule.”

            Seriously? Conservative Episcopalians broke away from the main church because they couldn’t stand the idea of female pastors. Conservative Christians treat women as inferior and their sexuality as shameful.

            “That some women do not want to have done unto them what most Christian women want, is a source of conflict but it is not what I think we want to broadly categorize as “punching down”.”

            This sort of pathological interpretation of the Golden Rule is not something I consider to be a valid defense to a claim of punching. Just because someone would want you to punch them, does not mean that they are not punching you.

          • John Schilling says:

            Surely you won’t disagree that concern with the disabled falls onto the blue tribe side of the spectrum.

            I might actually disagree with that. I will certainly disagree with the notion that insufficient concern constitutes “punching”, up or down. If you don’t acknowledge any difference between apathy and active hostility, then you’ve got nothing to offer anyone who isn’t prepared to agree with you about everything.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Off the top of my head, I can think of three different groups for the mentally disabled in my local area alone, all of which are Christian. From what I’ve seen of abortion rates, most non-Christians place such people firmly into the “life unworthy of life” category, and make sure they never see the light of day.

      • Tarrou says:

        I do love me some self-identified bigots.

        • RCF says:

          Your post strongly implies that you are calling me a bigot, and yet you do not have the decency to outright say it, let along actually defend your claim with an actual argument. I have resisted responding to your comments with profanity, but I believe that you have exhausted all the patience that is due you.

          • Tarrou says:

            And you have not the decency to even grant a fig leaf to your statements. As ever, swap some names and check for bigotry.

            “Being black consists of punching people”

            “Being a Democrat consists of punching people”

            But it’s cool if it’s christians? Mate, I’m an atheist and that sort of bile makes us all look bad. You are the sort christians triumphantly point to as the avatar of responsible anti-theism. Just as I am sure you have discrete instances you base your bigotry on. As Hitchens says, the one thing a bigot cannot do is discriminate.

          • Nita says:

            Uhh, perhaps we could all agree that:

            – there’s more to “Christian conservatism” than punching people (there’s also some praying, for instance)

            – calling people names is not very nice and often counterproductive


          • RCF says:


            “As ever, swap some names and check for bigotry.”

            So, things that are completely different from what I said are bigotry, therefore what I did say is bigotry? Are you really this stupid, or do you just pretend to be this stupid to annoy people?

            “But it’s cool if it’s christians?”

            Conservative Christians, yes. Do you seriously think that repeating other people’s positions and putting a question mark after them constitutes a valid argument?

            “Mate, I’m an atheist and that sort of bile makes us all look bad.”

            So I should just be silent about bigotry, because you don’t want to be associated with uppity atheists?

            Fuck you.

          • RCF says:


            “– there’s more to “Christian conservatism” than punching people (there’s also some praying, for instance)”

            And the Nazis did things other than kill Jews. Your observation doesn’t really mean much. One of the main distinguishing features of conservative Christianity is punching people.

          • Tarrou says:

            You laid blanket blame on a group, condemning every member of it as violent, and declared yourself morally justified in targeting them for “punching”, which I assume is either allegorical for something more or less mild, one of the two. Most people who get this incensed on the internet won’t actually punch anyone.

            But yes, fuck me. How dare I point out your glaring hypocrisy? Your patience has been tried with my opinions, and you shouldn’t have to take this sort of thing on the internet of all places. You should probably swear some more and then talk about how much you hate christians, then project your bigotry onto others. Freud would be proud.

          • RCF says:

            “You laid blanket blame on a group, condemning every member of it as violent”

            First, I said “Christian conservatism”, so I was directing my criticism to the ideology, not the people. Second, anyone who has actually been following this discussion and has the barest modicum of intelligence understands that the word “punching” has been clearly established, in this context, as being metaphorical and not referring to actual violence. I’m sorry for assuming you were not an idiot and were capable of basic reading comprehension. Clearly, that was a severe error.

            “and declared yourself morally justified in targeting them for “punching”, which I assume is either allegorical”

            It’s metaphorical, not allegorical. And it clearly means to criticize. You are calling me a “bigot” because I think that Christian conservatism is critical of other groups, and it is therefore acceptable to criticize Christian conservatism. That’s bat-shit crazy.

            “for something more or less mild, one of the two.”

            I have no idea what you’re saying here.

            “How dare I point out your glaring hypocrisy?”

            You have pointed out no hypocrisy.

            “Your patience has been tried with my opinions”

            No, my patience has been tried with your dishonesty, stupidity, and general lack of basic civility.

            “and you shouldn’t have to take this sort of thing on the internet of all places.”

            I have asserted that your comments violate the comment policy of this specific blog, not that I expect the entire internet to be free of this sort of behavior. So this is yet another example of you being a lying shithead.

            “You should probably swear some more and then talk about how much you hate christians,”

            When did I say I hate Christians?

            “then project your bigotry onto others.”

            Opposing bigotry is not bigotry. Why are you so determined to defend bigots?

          • Anonymous says:

            And it clearly means to criticize.

            No, it’s ok to criticize both up and down. Punching is meanspirited mocking or some other kind of verbal attacks, it is not very clear exactly what.

          • RCF says:

            “No, it’s ok to criticize both up and down. Punching is meanspirited mocking or some other kind of verbal attacks, it is not very clear exactly what.”

            I agree that it’s not entirely clear what it means, but the people who say “Comedy should punch up, not down” clearly think that it is legitimate behavior when directed against the more powerful.

            And basic charity requires that if one is unclear about what a term means, one does not take the worst possible interpretation. For Tarrou to call me a bigot simply because he has some tortured reading of my comments shows him to be extremely uncivil.

  24. Noah Motion says:

    Every spring and summer, people’s bodies put in a lot of effort making antibodies to last year’s flu.

    I have a pretty limited understanding of how the immune system responds to things, but don’t people’s bodies make antibodies when (and if) they get the flu, and don’t people typically get the flu in the winter? That is, antibodies are made to whatever the current flu virus is, and usually well before spring and summer.

    • Amelie says:

      You make antibodies against this year’s flu while you have the flu. Then you continue to make antibodies against the same virus for a long time, which is how you are immune.

    • Null Hypothesis says:

      Don’t let scientific fact get in the way of poetical metaphor.

      Technically yes, you only create the antibodies if you contract the flu, and then you store a bunch of memory cells that sit tight and essentially get no action and just get slowly refreshed… until that virus comes along again and sticks to them and awakens their wrath.

      Hmm… on the other hand, adhering to scientific accuracy permits for a great “Sleeping Giants” or “Hidden Army” metaphor. Going to have to write that down for later…

  25. Our ingrained intolerance to ‘punching down’ is why Communism is still so appealing or at least more palatable than fascism, the former which is presented as a uneven struggle between meek labor and mighty capitalism; never mind that Communism has a higher death toll and every communist regime has resulted in the murder of thousands and millions of anti-revolutionaries.

  26. Peter says:

    Two disconnected thoughts:

    1) Another classic anti-inductive thing – generals being well-prepared for the last big war, and ill-prepared for the war they’re actually fighting.

    2) “Don’t punch down, punch up” if universalised more-or-less implies “Hit people if and only if they’re not allowed to hit back”, and hitting people who aren’t allowed to hit back feels a lot more like punching down than up to me. I’m not sure if this attempt at reasoning actually works, but I think it’s worth pursing further, and the SSC commentariat seem like good people to be pursing this.

    • arthur somethingorother says:

      The useful generalization of “punch up” means “punch people who spend a lot of their time punching other people”

      That of course would be hard, because you have to

      1. correctly identify the individuals who do the punching
      2. punch them
      3. not get punched yourself

      What’s much easier is applying the standard mix of collectivization of guilt followed by scapegoating. So you start by looking at “people with lots of political power who use it to hurt people” . You notice most of those people are men. So you spread guilt out among all men via something you call “the patriarchy”. Now that you have your excuse for blaming all men, you can focus on blaming the ones you want to blame – quiet nerdy men with no political power who are sort of generically nice. What’s even better is if you can get people to start using “nerd” and “generically nice” as if they were synonymous with “political power” and “hurting people”.

      Or let’s say you look at “people who commit rape”. You notice that these people are 1. rapists, making them scary to confront, and 2. connected or well-off or otherwise in a position where punching them would be difficult. So then you notice that lots of them are 3. men, so again, you work out some words like “rape culture” to say that rape is the fault of every man. Now that you have your generalized rationalization, you’re free to zero in on the subset you’re biased against, regardless of whether that subset actually commits rape. Which – hey look at that – turns out to be quiet nerdy men with no social power who are sort of generically nice.

      But yeah properly used, “punch up” would mean using comedy well-off politically connected rapists, specifically in ways designed to hurt their feelings and not actually subtly compliment them. Which people don’t do much because politically connected rapists tend to be vengeful and in any case we don’t really want to hate them, we want to admire them for being politicaly connected and successful and courageous enough to commit a bunch of rapes. Whereas this nerd over here is dorky and has committed zero rapes, so lets scream “rapist” at him until he literally kills himself.

      • Deiseach says:

        Wow, why do we evil women want to crush “quiet nerdy men with no social power who are sort of generically nice”, to the point that we invent such concepts as “the patriarchy” and “rape culture” which obviously have no relationship whatsoever to anything in the real world?

        I don’t know, we must just be naturally evil, I suppose. 🙁

        • Anonymous says:

          we invent such concepts as “the patriarchy” and “rape culture” which obviously have no relationship whatsoever to anything in the real world?

          In academia, the main purpose to invent new concepts is to get as many citations as possible.
          All other purposes, such as correspondence to the truth or promoting a viewpoint are only incidental. 🙁

        • Peter says:

          Some people like power, and the exercise of power, and women are people. People do all sorts of stuff for all sorts of reasons, there’s a long long list of movements with (at least ostensibly) high ideals and tarnished records. Furthermore there are plenty of women who don’t do such things – a recent poll of the UK suggests most women don’t identify as feminist (especially if you don’t include the “don’t knows”) and there are plenty of people I know who do identify as feminist who don’t go on about “the patriarchy” etc. in that manner. Furthermore not all of the feminists who do go on about patriarchy etc. are women – indeed the example that leaps most readily to my mind is male.

          Besides, the comment you were replying to didn’t say “no relationship whatsoever to anything in the real world” and in fact did point out a relationship to the real world. Indeed, I’d say, on general principles, “the truth hurts, lies hurt even more, but to _really_ get under someone’s skin you need a half-truth”.

          • Anonymous says:

            …and then I reflect on this comment and feel a bit guilty about it; some of it I’d like to stand by but some of it might be unfair to Deisach – I think my comment was imputing motives which on reflection I shouldn’t impute, and for that, I apologise.

          • Peter says:

            (Sorry, the Anonymous talking about feeling guilty and attempting to apologise was me)

          • Deiseach says:

            First off, I probably reacted in too heated a manner, and not solely to the comment itself. It’s probably because I’m seeing a slew of stuff all over the place more or less along the lines that “feminism is all about victimising innocent men because women are all bullies” or something.

            What I should have done is asked for clarification: the general “you” in “you identify people who use political power” etc. Who is this general “you”? Certain strands of thought within feminism? All feminists? All women?

            And how is it that the victim class in both instances is quiet nerdy nice guys with little or no social clout? Why these particular victims?

            I mean, if the point is “it’s easier to pick on the weak than the strong ones who really are the ones doing the bad things”, are there no other victims? Are there no other men who can be chastised? Are quiet nerds the only ones at the bottom of the pile?

            I don’t like the use of the term “the patriarchy” and I’ve done some harrumphing myself when (generally very young women, in the usual first flush of enthusiasm that is very doctrinaire and certain of who are the villains and who are the good persons and very assured of the purity of the movement) use it.

            But I also, as you may have gathered, very much object to the idea that “Oh, women [ALL WOMEN] think all men are rapists because that’s a useful tool to wield power over them and it’s used to justify being mean to their chosen victims!”

            That “rape culture” is a pure invention pulled out of thin air and has no other function than to be a figleaf for (a) attributing blame, and hence guilt, to [ALL MEN] (b) singling out the men these women then have pre-selected as their chosen victims (c) the poor, helpless nerdy nice guys who are too socially unskilled to be able to defend themselves.

            I don’t like the term “rape culture” and I don’t like how it can be used in a broad-brush manner. But that something in the cultural and social Zeitgeist exists, that notions such as Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker can still, in however attenuated a form and as a joke, persist, that we’re having to argue about “well, what really constitutes consent, anyway?” and “so you’re saying that time my girlfriend and I were a bit drunk after the night out with our pals and we had sex, that was mutual rape?” and all the rest of it.

            Commenter got the full charge of buckshot from me being fed-up of seeing women portrayed as some kind of status-seeking robots who deliberately and cold-bloodedly run a cruel humiliation programme on non-Alpha men who have the effrontery to approach them, and that somehow it always ends up that these horrible harpies want to destroy and crush nice nerdy guys.

            I don’t particularly want to destroy any nice nerdy guy out there – or at least, not until now, I didn’t.

          • cassander says:


            I want to specifically talk about this rape culture idea. do you think we have a “murder culture” in the same way? If you think we don’t, then do you think the show Dexter would have been more or less controversial if, instead of murdering his victims, Dexter used his knowledge of criminology to violently rape them without getting caught in order to teach them a lesson? Because I can’t imagine that show ever getting made. The idea that there is some cultural zeitgeist that does anything other than condemn rape in the strongest possible way is absurd to me.

          • Nita says:


            I think our society has some weird ideas about rape, some of which are very unhelpful in reducing it.

            For instance, “rape is something horrible, therefore only horrible people do it, therefore nothing I or anyone I like has ever done can qualify as rape”. Or “rape is horrible, therefore only things that horrify me personally can qualify as rape”. Or “women hate sex anyway, so it’s OK to push them into it – after all, that’s what everyone does”. Or “if a woman loves sex or has sex for a living, she’s a filthy slut and can’t be raped”. Or “all men always want sex with women, so a woman can’t rape a man”.

            The result of this is multiple seemingly decent people defending Roman Polanski, the Steubenville kids, female teachers “too pretty” for jail, or their local team of rapists.

          • Nita says:

            Oh, and last but not least — the idea of rape as punishment. Someone criticizing your favourite video game? Men convicted of crimes? Some rape would surely set them straight.

          • Deiseach says:

            cassander, I’m so glad you mentioned “Dexter”. There’s also “Hannibal” (based on the Hannibal Lecter novels/movies, which is a slightly different kettle of fish).

            Do we have a ‘murder culture’ the same way we have a ‘rape culture’? You know, I think we do – or we’re developing one. These violent revenge fantasies have been seeping into the mainstream over years and I think we don’t realise the effect they’re having.

            I hate the show “Dexter”. I’ve avoided watching it, but my brother does and so I’ve had some exposure to it, as well as online fandom discussion. Ditto with “Hannibal” (which again is – where I’m seeing the Fannibals talk about it – somewhat different in that the deliberate weirdness and off-kilter sense of it is what is the draw, rather than the murdering qua murdering).

            But let’s take these, plus throw in the amazing (to me; I don’t understand it) popularity (at least before they flogged the dead horse) of the show 24.

            Who are the – well, we can’t quite call them ‘heroes’, can we? But we’re equally meant to find something that we can sympathise with, or find a handhold to let us find some element where we prefer the eponymous character to those he attacks – the protagonists of the shows? (Again, with “Hannibal”, the protagonist is meant to be Will Graham but he seems to be changing to be more like Lecter in certain ways).

            Dexter and Hannibal (and Jack from 24) are not nice persons at all. They kill, and they torture, and they have no qualms about it. For various reasons, they do it because they want to do it (never mind backstories about dead mommies, those are to give us that handhold of sympathy for the character). They’d do it to us as well as to anyone.

            But we are safe. We’re not the target. Dexter kills other serial killers. Hannibal is about “eat the rude”. Jack is about the “mad bomber planting a bomb under the kindergarten that will go off in six hours and unless we torture him he won’t talk”.

            The persons they victimise are safe targets for us to hate, despise, or deny humanity towards. We don’t have to feel guilty or uneasy about enjoying a show about torture-murder, even if it’s for the cleverness of the plot and the ingenuity of the killing and the admittedly quite artistic visual effects.

            Dexter’s victims are serial killers, so we can excuse their murders as poetic justice. That Dexter would kill any of us (innocent bystanders) with the same detachment and relish is dodged; the evil of his victims, their crimes, makes them acceptable targets and serves to ameliorate what he does. You could even push that he’s a type of vigilante. Hannibal is exceedingly clever and intelligent, he’s set up as cultured, urbane, an artist in his way. By complicity in being the admiring audience of his killings (almost performances), and by making those he kills lacking in any sympathy, again we are excused any guilt or discomfort we might feel from enjoying the catharsis of indulging our desires for revenge, retribution, or to demonstrate our moral superiority.

            We’re coaxed to a flattering self-identification with the sophisticated, superior Hannibal and so to complicity in what he does.

            But what makes the victims of Dexter and Hannibal so objectionable, so deserving of their fate? That they torture and kill and victimise those who have in no way deserved it? So would Dexter and Hannibal. In fact, the sole reason Dexter confines himself to serial killers is not out of a frustrated sense of justice, it’s a code laid upon him by his step-father, who forecast his violent and murderous impulses and set these limits to at least afford Dexter some protection from the law: if he only kills the guilty, at least his moral lack will serve a purpose.

            “But I don’t think these guys are heroes! I don’t admire them! I simply enjoy a good cop/crime show and these stand out above the rest of their ilk because of good plots/writing! I’m not a murderer or likely to become a murderer!”

            And yet we, the audience, watch these shows and accept gruesome torture murders, no matter how passively or non-approvingly, as part of the title characters’ personalities and lives. Were Dexter pitted in a struggle against a potential victim, another serial killer, we would be set up to hope he would come out victorious. Dexter has been threatened with exposure and has ruthlessly taken out the police or others who threaten him, and instead of being angry that he has escaped justice, we are to cheer him on and admire his cleverness and resolve.

            Even if the tension is only “how long can Dexter or Hannibal continue to evade the law?”, we still are set up to want the chase to continue, to want them to get away with it this week and tune in next week to see what happens next. An episode where the law finally catches up to them and they are brought to court would be an anti-climax; indeed, Hannibal in the movies/novels was permitted to escape for precisely this reason: it was just so fascinating and entertaining to have him out in the world – as long as we can assure ourselves we are not the ones likely to suffer at his hands.

            So yes, I do think there has been a coarsening of the psychic fibre re: ‘murder culture’ or ‘revenge porn’ or what you will; it goes back even before “Dexter” and the Lecter movies. I first noticed this in a discussion a few years (not that many) back on a fansite discussing a British 70s cop(kind of) show called “The Professionals”. In one episode, the Good Guys very much disapprove that the Bad Guys are using dum-dum bullets. I understood why the otherwise pragmatic and shown himself to be ruthless boss had this attitude, though it’s hard to put it into words beyond ‘not the done thing’; the much younger fans couldn’t, because why not use fragmentation ammo? Whole point is to stop the bad guys, and you do whatever works; blowing a huge hole through them or taking a leg off with a wounding shot does it, what’s the problem? You want a stop shot and the more damage that’s done, the better, if you can’t be sure of a kill.

            The mindset between ‘what’s acceptable normal practice’ and the older view that I and Da Boss shared was too much of a gulf to overcome, so I didn’t try; I’d have been reduced to muttering things like “honour”, which would have been completely unintelligible (you are the good guy, they’re the bad guy; if you’re shooting at someone who’s been shooting at you, you shoot to kill, otherwise deal as much damage as possible; fragmentation rounds will put them down and keep them down; this is normal).

            It’s the old “Why doesn’t Batman just get over his squeamishness and kill the Joker, that would have saved so many victims?” problem 🙂

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            But that something in the cultural and social Zeitgeist exists, that notions such as Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker can still, in however attenuated a form and as a joke, persist [….]

            I was thinking that was Dorothy Parker, probably in The New Yorker. But a reasonable looking site says:

            Reflections on Ice-Breaking
            by Ogden Nash
            Is Dandy
            But liquor
            Is quicker.

            Nash iirc was mostly Saturday Evening Post. If candy was dandy for whatever purpose, either the recipients had odd metabolism, or our zeitgeist is becoming odd.

          • Cauê says:

            In principle, rape as punishment should make as much sense as violence or incarceration as punishment (or, for that matter, property seizure, or denial of permits, or any bad thing). That rape is supposed to be an entirely separate class of “Bad Thing”, that cannot be considered as punishment, even in a clearly hypothetical way, is a symptom of the sacredness feelings around rape (and sex) which muddle much of our thoughts about it.

            (and refusing to kill the joker was probably the second most immoral thing Batman did, after deciding to become Batman instead of using that much money in a more productive way)

          • Deiseach says:

            Great gosh a’mighty, nobody recognised or knew that it was Ogden Nash? Sic transit gloria mundi 🙂

            Also, I don’t believe I have to explain this, but settle down, kiddies, and let Agéd Auntie Deiseach explain what life was like back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth. (If you are perfectly well aware but only making a joke with the “what kind of metabolism gets orgasmic on candy?”, then watch Auntie make a fool of herself for your amusement).

            The wittiness (or not) of the “candy is dandy” verse depends on dating and sexual rituals of yore. You may have heard the modern version of it as “at least buy me dinner first”?

            A man wanting sex from a woman couldn’t simply expect to get sex on a first, second or subsequent date. Not without making some effort first. (A man wanting sex from a woman without dating would probably be hanging round bars – see the genre of ‘honky tonk angel’ country songs, which actually ties in here to the wider point).

            Courting rituals meant that men were expected, in the early stages at least, to provide gifts such as flowers and chocolates. Hence the “candy is dandy” – you win the woman’s good will and thus agreement to sex by providing gifts women are presumed to like, such as (expensive) boxes of chocolate, though this was not guaranteed. However, if all you want is sex, or you don’t want to wait too long before getting your leg over, then getting her drunk is quicker and probably surer – hence “liquor is quicker”. Also, the hanging round bars to pick up lonely and/or older women who would be amenable to one-night stands, and probably come pre-drunk for your convenience.

            You see?

          • Brad says:


            I would argue that the entire notion of what we’re deeming “murder culture” goes even further than shows that are explicitly centered on murder or “torture-as-interrogation”; Consider the Sopranos, which is an older show and predates mot of the discussion here. The entire conceit of the show is that Tony is a bad, bad man who we end up rooting for (and if we’re *weren’t* supposed to root for him, that sure didn’t stop my parents and his friends who watched the show.) I personally thought Tony was absolutely despicable and eagerly wanted to see an episode where he suffered just deserts for his evil acts; the closest we ever get to this is a episode in one of the later seasons where he narrowly evades arrest by the FBI by trudging home through snowy woods and a shallow river, ruining his nice shoes. We were rooting for evil then, too, and it was perhaps even less ambiguous; there was no doubt Tony was a bad man; now the shows are actively trying to *justify* the badness circumstantially, with Dexter only killing killers; Breaking Bad’s protagonist having cancer, and so on.

            Here’s the point: We increasingly give mere lip service, as a culture, to classical values & virtues. I don’t think this something novel about human nature, although it is something, in the short term, which is novel in modern America. My father told me, that when he was a kid, every tv and radio show would end – always! – with the criminals getting caught or being otherwise karmically punished. When this changed, it was something like a marker of what was to come.

            I think the tendency towards this kind of television is a manifestation of the current zeitgeist, which took off in the 60’s and 70’s: a spirit of rebellion against all forms of authority as illegitimate in the eyes of all beholders. I am not persuaded that this is a good thing.

            I ask rhetorically (and to no one in particular), if you were the equivalent of Tony Soprano and you *could* have someone who was rude to you beaten up in public by hired thugs with impunity, why not? The classical answer, I suspect, is that there is a sense of justice that transcends human circumstances, codified in Godliness or even just the state or some other institution – chivalry or gentlemanliness or what-have-you; the modern answer is more an appeal to the goodness of the listener, who replies with something like “well, I don’t *really* want to do that”. I think this is a incredibly weak and even dangerous reply, because history has proven, repeatedly that A: people don’t know themselves as well as they think, and B: people are very often, when the circumstances line up right, willing to initiate awful things against other people.

            In other words, if we increasing like these villain protagonists, it might be because we secretly wish to have the same impunity to do what they want with no consequences – a kind of vicarious law-breaking thrill.

          • anonymousCoward says:

            @Deiseach – “Great gosh a’mighty, nobody recognised or knew that it was Ogden Nash?”

            I associate the rhyme mainly with willy wonka. Ogden’s a personal favorite, though.

            The ant has made himself illustrious/
            Through constant industry Industreous/
            Why not! Would you be calm and placid/
            if you were full of formic acid?

            More to the point, claiming that “liquor is quicker” is tied to “rape culture” seems off to me. Like, reading your description of it, what is the actual objection? Isn’t lowering inhibitions the entire point of alcohol? Aren’t both parties drinking it willingly with this very purpose in mind? If alcohol as a “social lubricant” is problematic, shouldn’t the correct response be to ban alcohol, or at try to destroy social drinking culture as much as possible?

          • Nita says:


            In principle, various combinations of violence, torture and humiliation used to be considered perfectly fine forms of punishment. In practice, we don’t use them any more, and that’s a good thing.

          • Cauê says:

            Oh, I’m not advocating it.

            Look at what I was responding to:

            “Oh, and last but not least — the idea of rape as punishment. Someone criticizing your favourite video game? Men convicted of crimes? Some rape would surely set them straight.”

            In the convicts case, perhaps you’d object just as strongly to someone wishing they get beat up in prison, I’m not sure. If so, it would be an argument against the idea of violent punishments, not rape as punishment in particular.

            But the video game case wouldn’t even be wishing, it would be meaningless trash talking, so the objection is to people speaking of rape in entirely hypothetical ways.

            One can say “GOD, Nickelback fans should be killed” or “I’m going to murder whoever touches my lunch”, but using rape in those contexts is beyond the pale, even when it’s as obvious that nobody’s getting raped as it is that nobody’s getting murdered.

          • So far as rape as punishment is concerned, prisoners getting raped by other prisoners didn’t used to be part of the public conversation, with a good bit of the public being in favor of it.

          • Cauê says:

            See, I would say it as “prisoners getting *violently attacked* by other prisoners didn’t used to be part of the public conversation, with a good bit of the public being in favor of it”. I don’t see how this tells me anything about rape, specifically.

            In fact, I would bet that the part of the public that’s ok with prisoners being raped has always been smaller than the part that’s ok with them suffering other kinds of violence.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Deiseach

            In haste….

            Different timeframes maybe. Yes, candy goes along with roses etc. My take: within the same evening, getting to relaxed inhibitions would take an unlealthy amount of candy, and wine with dinner gets us there a couple of hours sooner. Your take apparently is within a month or so, one liquor date is worth several candy dates.

            Iirc, ‘ice-breaking’ was something the host does at a party to get everyone talking sooner, so it saves at most half an hour or so, and is appropriate for SEP. Never heard it applied to a one on one date.

            Mixed signals. If it was Parker in TNY, maybe the title would have been different. Split the difference -> two dates, 1 candy 1 liquor? Or in Parker’s culture, first date candy and roses, second date liquor and diamonds*?

            * Square cut or pear shaped.

            No time now for zietgeists.

          • Nita says:


            I consider rape at least on par with the “soft” torture techniques recently used by certain government agencies. And maybe we hang out in different places, but rape threats and rape gloating seem commonplace and not “beyond the pale” at all, while torture fantasies get proudly paraded in public only when discussing especially “evil” criminals.

        • ryan says:

          My intuition says that for whatever reason nerds are internet rad feminism’s outgroup.

          • Null Hypothesis says:

            As Scott made the point in one of his articles sometime in the past month, it’s often viewed as a zero-sum gain. We can’t all have different kinds of pain we all help each other out with. Your group has to be “the most in pain” and everybody has to suck it up and pay attention and aid you in your plight.

            Nerds are fairly low down on the totem pole, so feminists are shooting straight for the bottom, so to speak.

            But also, (speaking in great generalities here) Nerds are recognized as being kind of the punching bag. So when people see feminists going after nerds (who are also young and savvy enough to muster a defense) they discover often they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Sympathy and the moral high-ground isn’t with them the same way as it is when they’re attacking the sexist capitalist patriarchy. They’re picking on Nerds.

            So they double-down. Wars are short and clean when it’s one-sided, and when (as others have noted above) you’re punching at people who aren’t allowed to punch back. Feminists made the mistake of finally picking a fight with an enemy with some fight of their own in them.

          • Peter says:

            “Feminists made the mistake of finally picking a fight with an enemy with some fight of their own in them.” – go re-read Scott’s post, this is hardly the first time this sort of thing has happened.

        • arthur somethingorother says:

          What makes you assume I’m talking about women as a group.

          Why are you asserting that the behaviors identified in my comment are universal to women.

      • Nita says:

        this nerd over here is dorky and has committed zero rapes, so lets scream “rapist” at him

        How about a few examples?

        In return, I’ll give you a few examples of feminists writing mean things about connected and well-off rapists.

      • 1. Feminists hate “jocks” or “bros” far more than they do nerds. (That one recent article that said jocks are less misogynist than nerds is the exception that proves the rule – they were writing something edgy no one agrees with for clickbait.)

        2. The semi-valid reason for feminists hating nerds is because their opponents in the Great War of Gender Internet Arguments are nerds. Look at GamerGate, for example.

        • DrBeat says:

          I don’t think most feminists can tell the difference between “jocks” or “bros” and nerds. Feminists have an even bigger-than-usual problem with outgroup homogenization.

          • Nita says:

            Nah, the differece is obvious as soon as you criticize them 🙂

            A jock goes: “lol. calm down, jeez”

            A nerd goes: “What, you’re saying I did something wrong? Are you implying I’m as bad as those evil jocks?! How dare you? That’s it! From now on, I’ll be a misogynist, and it’s all your fault!!”

          • Anonymous says:

            Nita is that really how you read into Scott Aaronson’s post? Truly?

          • Nita says:


            Wow, poor Aaronson has become the avatar of all nerds everywhere. Perhaps he started it by describing his problems as “shy male nerd” problems, but that doesn’t make it right.

            As far as I know, Dr Aaronson hasn’t even rejected feminism, let alone become less kind to women, so I’m not sure why you’re bringing him up.

            But, if you insist, here’s something my Criticized Nerd caricature and Aaronson’s comments have in common —
            conflating nerdiness and shyness with good behaviour:

            it seems impossible to believe that male physicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists (many of whom are extremely shy and nerdy…) are committing sexual harassment and assault at an order-of-magnitude higher rate than doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, and other professionals

            As a shy and nerdy person, I can attest that I can still be self-centered and even cruel. The anger I accumulated during high school certainly didn’t make me nicer than the “normal” kids.

            Amy, the commenter Aaronson was talking to, explained this and more… and he responded with the now famous comment #171 (where the “Neanderthals” are, of course, jocks and bros).

            How does his personal experience of being terrified and never hurting anyone contradict Amy’s experience of being hurt by other nerds? It doesn’t. But with that comment, the conversation moved from sexual harassment to young Aaronson’s suffering. And I think that’s a worthwhile topic, but I don’t see how it’s relevant to the original discussion… unless we assume that all nerds are nice, like Aaronson.

          • Cauê says:


            I don’t disagree with your post, but the part quoted is simply defending against the (perhaps imagined? I didn’t really follow the discussion) charge that nerds are *more* likely to commit sexual assault. It’s not saying nerds can’t or even that they don’t. At most it implies they may be *less* likely to do it.

        • RCF says:

          Jocks don’t give a shit what feminists think of them. Since the main weapon of feminists is inducing emotional distress in others, it’s natural that they’ll gravitate towards those who experience emotional distress at being accused of sexism.

        • arthur somethingorother says:

          Feminists hate “jocks” or “bros” far more than they do nerds.


          They hate nerds, and attack those nerds by calling them “jocks” and “bros”.

          They write apologetics for jocks, where they freely reverse their own standards.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “They write apologetics for jocks, where they freely reverse their own standards.”

            …I’m not sure I’ve actually ever seen such a thing. Could you provide an example?

          • Anonymous says:

            @FacelessCraven Jocks are good (or at least better than nerds) seems to be the conclusion of Amanda Marcotte’s “Harry Potter is a badass”

          • Nornagest says:

            Marcotte seems to be thinking in terms of terms of cultural tropes that don’t work in the British boarding school context that Harry Potter is based on. Harry becomes the star of his intramural athletic team, but he’s not a jock in the American sense, because being a jock in the American sense requires a whole quasi-independent athletic ecosystem that can reflect status back onto schools that’re successful within it. The aside about how it’s apparently some sort of feminist triumph that Ginny’s not a cheerleader runs into similar problems.

            He’s not a nerd either, though. Aside from the destiny thing and a talent for broomstick riding, he’s a rather average kid — which is sort of the point of the books.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            …Okay, I read that article. And I gotta say, the anon’s assessment seems to be accurate. Marcotte does seem to be arguing that Harry Potter’s character is jock-centric, not nerd-centric, and that this is at least sort of a good thing. I’m not sure I’d call it an “apologetic for jocks”, as a fair number of her statements about Ron, Harry and James seem pretty deprecatory, but it’s definitely a lot more in that direction than I’d have expected. Is there more along this angle? Is this a trend I’d just entirely missed?

          • Nita says:

            Did we read the same (ignorant and sloppy) article?

            Marcotte seems to be saying “these kids are not real misfits*, and that’s why the books are so popular among the non-misfit, jock-loving masses”.

            * hmm, that reminds me of something

            She’s right that Harry Potter is not studious enough and too good at sports** to qualify as a “nerd”. But that just shows how useless the American nerd/jock dichotomy is, especially when applied outside the stereotypical US high school.

            ** well, a sport, which involves a lot of flying and zero contact

            Also: Dear Amanda, no one cares about cheerleading or cheerleaders in Europe.

          • RCF says:

            Has Amanda even read the HP books? “Harry is ostracized” is a major trope in the books.

            1. Saving Norbert puts Hogwarts at the back of the pack for House Cup.
            2. Everyone thinks Harry is the Heir of Slytherin because he’s a Passelmouth.
            3. The entire school has to deal with dementors because of Harry.
            4. Everyone thinks Harry put his name into the Goblet of Fire.
            5. The Ministry of Magic orchestrates a smear campaign against Harry.
            7. Harry spends the entire book on the run.

            The whole being good at Quidditch thing is just a way for Harry to yet another thing constantly taken away from him. Book 1 he’s injured and doesn’t play in the final game, Book 2 Quidditch is cancelled because of the whole “Students keep being petrified” thing, Book 5 he’s kicked off the team by a vindictive Umbridge.

            Also, Ginny isn’t Harry’s girlfriend through most of the series.

          • Nita says:


            Even if her reading was correct, her conclusions would be ridiculous. It’s like saying that Cinderella isn’t a True Misfit because she gets a dress, a carriage and a prince.

          • RCF says:


            Yeah, she says something like “His trajectory is from outcast to hero”, which allows her to sweep any contradictory evidence under the rug of “well, he ends up a hero”. Nevermind that Pottermania took off before this “trajectory” was complete.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, you could describe the character arc of the entire series in those terms, but that glosses over a lot. The arc of each individual book usually goes something like this:

            – Harry starts out at Privet Drive, where something hilariously abusive happens to him.

            – Harry goes to Hogwarts, where he is a celebrity (this is true even in the very first book). He earns enough successes on his own to prove his virtue, but then…

            – Plot happens. A mountain of shit lands on Harry through no fault of his own; specifics, and the size of the mountain, vary between books. He’s ostracized by his peers, with the exceptions of his best friends.

            – Harry tries to climb out of the hole he’s stuck in for the remainder of the book, but succeeds only in getting himself into increasingly dangerous situations until a combination of pluck, dumb good fortune, and intervention from on high conspire to resolve everything.

            – He’s redeemed in the eyes of his peers, but it doesn’t last: he might get a couple weeks to bask in his success, but usually the school term ends about this time. Back to Privet Drive with him!

            The second half of the series shakes this up, but it holds true for at least four books. It wouldn’t be too far off to say that the series formula’s all about combining the changeling plot native to fairytale and heroic fantasy with the persecution plots of more recent YA lit.

      • ryan says:

        Off topic? My favorite response to the astronomer who wore the tacky shirt at the press conference was “teach comets not to rape.”

  27. chaosmage says:

    You never cease to amaze me. There I’m reading this article, thinking I’d be more surprised and impressed if this came from anybody else (except Eliezer) but you’ve just spoiled me, and then boom you drop a punchline that just blows my mind. Thanks, man.

  28. Dermot Harnett says:

    I keep getting the feeling that as the Social Justice Movement progresses through various marginalised groups, proving that it is in fact *not* okay to be a dickhead to this or that group, we will eventually just get the point where it’s “Just be compassionate”.

    As much wooh as is associated with it, when I read stuff on kindness by buddhists (I probably christians too) I get the feeling they’ve already been through this. Just be nice to people. They may be less fortunate than you. You don’t know. So just be nice.

    • stillnotking says:

      Nope, the social justice movement will never get there, because it’s actively working for the opposite. A movement that is obsessed with dividing humanity into groups based on superficial characteristics and then ranking them by perceived villainy will never arrive at compassion. That is literally the opposite of compassion.

      • Randy M says:

        Yes, it’s not heading towards “be compassionate” it’s heading towards “crucify the non-believers.”

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          It also reminds us that people don’t always punch down just because it’s safer; it’s also an effective way to remind yourself that you’re up.

      • I’ve wondered why there’s so little physical violence associated with the Social Justice movement, considering that there’s so much psychological cruelty.

        The movement is mostly women? The academic background, which is non-violent?

        • Jaskologist says:

          Is there, relative to most American movements, or is it just under-reported? OWS, which I would say links in pretty well with the SJs, was home to plenty of crime, and at least one riot that I can recall. Should we count the FRC shooter against them as well?

          • I think there are enough complaints about SJWs, from both inside and outside the movement, that if there were much violence, we’d hear about it.

          • The Dancing Judge says:

            There was that vandalism of the frat house after the rolling stones debacle. Still no interpersonal violence.

            I suspect its the composition of the members. If there was a group that produced as much anger and bitterness and self-justifying logic as SJW but filled with men, that would be scary.

        • drunkenrabbit says:

          That, and the people with the testosterone and body mass required for physical violence usually prefer sports to internet witchhunting.

        • Not Robin Hanson says:

          1. Perhaps physical violence is judged to be ineffective under their current circumstances.

          2. When it comes to physical violence, it is usually more effective to manipulate someone else into committing it on your behalf rather than committing it yourself. They take the risks (“…die by the sword”) and the blame, you get the benefits and the ability to call yourself “peaceful”.

        • stillnotking says:

          I’d hazard a guess that it’s because the social justice movement is composed primarily of middle-class young people in affluent countries, who have very strong social incentives not to engage in violence.

          That doesn’t stop them from approving of violence, when it’s committed by a group whose motives can be interpreted as consonant with social-justice ideals, such as the Ferguson rioters.

        • Mary says:

          I’ve wondered why there’s so little physical violence associated with the Social Justice movement, considering that there’s so much psychological cruelty.

          Punch someone, and he may punch you back? In other words, cowardice?

        • Anonymous says:

          In my impression that’s because they are mostly sheltered young suburban Americans, who have never been in an actual fight in their whole lives. And when you have never been in a fight before, it is quite scary to actually get involve in an actual physical fight. Thus you have to fight verbally, try to be passive-aggressive or try fight only when you have large group on your side (e.g. during the protests), because otherwise you can’t summon up enough courage.

          Things like these mostly depend on demographics and not on the ideas themselves. Middle class people do not have experience in fighting.

        • drethelin says:

          Most social justice is concentrated on college campuses and the internet, which makes most potential SJ Actual Warriors extremely outnumbered.

        • John Schilling says:

          The SJWs have defined as the least-virtuous outgroup, the lowest of the low who in most other such hierarchies would be the ones subject to punitive or cathartic physical violence…

          …pretty much everyone in the United States of America with a gun?

          Violence isn’t usually funny, but I won’t say it never is. SJWs of America trying to visit actual violence on their most hated victims, that would be on the border between horrific and hilarious.

        • Corwin says:

          because people posting insults on the internet almost never results in meatspace violence?

          The process to post outrage, insults, or any negativity on the internet, is so cheap (including time and opportunity costs) and efficient (in audience numbers) compared to that in real life, that it would takes billions of insults to resolve in the slightest slap! And that hyperbole is probably not far off by all that many orders of magnitude.

    • RCF says:

      “They may be less fortunate than you. You don’t know. So just be nice.”

      Quit being such a tone troll!

    • Tarrou says:

      If the SJWs ever get there, you will know they have lost. The only people who get there are the people too weak to have a tribe. Bullying, ingroup bias, outgroup hatred, this is how you know you have a movement. Individuals can be virtuous to the goals of an ideology, humans as a group cannot, the tribe is all that matters, and our greatest joy as a species is scapegoating and punishing the deviant.

  29. Landstander says:

    For the various reasons mentioned here, I dislike the “punching up” vs “punching down” dichotomy. Who is doing the defining? In the case of Cracked it’s the same kind of people who misunderstand French satire.

    Also, while I think you may be onto something with the changing nature of evil, the pure theoretical of fascism is odd when the actual far-right is on the rise in Europe. I guess they are sort of dressing it up a bit…

    • Anonymous says:

      For the various reasons mentioned here, I dislike the “punching up” vs “punching down” dichotomy. Who is doing the defining?

      People who want to sneakily promote the idea that society is one-dimensional thing.

      • Landstander says:

        Agreed. Also reading Twitter discussions amongst journalist types today about acceptable satire and can’t help but notice a certain kind of classism: “the rubes won’t understand the context! The horror! Where could this lead?” It’s condescending and stupid and leads to stupid things like hate speech laws.

        “Punching down” seems like the same kind of thing.

    • nydwracu says:

      I don’t see how you (and everyone else in the political mainstream) get from “immigration should be reduced” to fascism. How is that different from calling Obama a Stalinist?

    • RCF says:

      I keep hearing that various European parties are virtually fascist. I also keep hearing that the US is wildly right-wing and all of the European parties are to the left of our Democratic Party. It’s rather confusing.

      • Anonymous says:

        Most major European center-right parties are to the left of the US’ Democratic Party, but Europe’s furthest right parties that are meaningfully able to win elections are often classifiable as fascist. There’s no contradiction here, since Europe divides parties more finely as well as probably more substantive ideological diversity as well.

      • Cauê says:

        I think people are using different unidimensional scales in each case, but using the same words.

        Which is my main problem with left/right distinctions. Some are coherent, some aren’t, but they’re not all the same thing.

      • Anonymous says:

        European and American political parties are interested in different things.

        Americans are unusually pro-immigration compared to most Europeans, parties such as Front National would be much less successful in the States, it would be considered as too right wing. In the US, even right wing people are usually only against illegal immigration, whereas in Europe even most left wing people are rarely enthusiastic about it. However, on the economic issues, Front National is not right wing even in France, which is a country with very strong left wing traditions.

        When people say that Front National is right wing, they mean that they are nationalist. US doesn’t have serious nationalism that would be based on ethnicity.
        When people say that that most US parties are to the right of most Western European parties, what they have in mind is their economic policy and differences how much government intervention is considered normal.

        As you can see, this example illustrates the meaninglessness of left-right axis when you try to compare different countries.

    • RCF says:

      [posted as reply to wrong post]

  30. Shenpen says:

    Scott, the issue here is lacking a commonly agreed definition of evil. You are an ultra-nice guy, so you probably find things evil that I find entirely normal: e.g. wars without any other reason than the desire to conquer some provinces.

    Now, for me, a war of conquest is not anti-inductive, it is just the good old tribal testosterone trip: to increase the status of your group at the expense of some other group, it is the same root as a football match and precisely this is why I don’t consider it evil. The bad part is that it kills some folks, the good part is that it keeps a culture masculine and that for me is an OK tradeoff even if it means 1% chance I die.

    Generally speaking, what attracts some folks neo-nazis is not the ethnic hate, that is simply part of the brand, but that they have the symbolism and feelings of this kind of testosterone trip in a very intense, condensed form. Everything about them is about the simulation of a tribal masculine ethos in a highly intense way.

    The only thing that stands out is that they are at the essence a collectivistic movement. That is not very tribla and not very primal. This is why Jack Donovan branded his kind of ultra-masculine attitude “anarcho-fascism” – it is the same warrior cult, but without the socialist aspect, but more of a small-group, “gang” level. Donovan claims this is the essence of primal, tribal, instinctive, biological masculinity and I am tempted to agree.

    TL;DR get a T shot like Andrew Sullivan did ( and you will find you understand these kinds of things better. Not the wholesale slaughter of civilians, that obviously not, but that kind of highly intense warrior cult folks like skinheads have.

    • You are an ultra-nice guy, so you probably find things evil that I find entirely normal

      I think a better way to put this would be “I am a creepy ideologue with a bizarre value system, so I find things entirely normal that the vast majority of people agree are obviously evil.”

      • Zorgon says:

        Nah, the beliefs he’s espousing are fairly normal ones from about 80-100 years ago or even more recently. The idea of bloody-war-for-territory being Bad, Mmm’kay? is a pretty recent thing.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Not evil1, but still evil2.

          We really need to distinguish between evil1

          “Unprecedented in the annals of human history”

          And evil2

          “Used to be fairly normal, but not something we woulde remotely want to bring back”

        • Randy M says:

          Seems to be ignoring the fact that the West has debated the justifiability of war for centuries, and generally come down on aggression being bad, hence (often flimsy) justifications that rarely amounted to anything so base as “our boys need a bit of a romp.”

          “Come have an adventure” can be used to motivate men to join the army, but usually with the understanding that the men in charge have a good reason for the adventure.

          • cassander says:

            Nathan Bedford Forrest recruited hundreds with the slogan “Come on boys, let’s have some fun and kill some yankees.” I would not underestimate the appeal of “our boys need a bit of a romp.”

        • RCF says:

          Given that this was Lincoln’s motive for invading the Confederacy, and he is still revered, we still haven’t rejected this idea.

        • alexp says:

          A lot of Romantic oriented intellectuals would have agreed with him in 1913. Hell there would have been bunch who agreed with him in 1940.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m grateful to the world for obvious sociopathy, it’s the only halfway decent inoculant we have against competent sociopathy

        • Shenpen says:

          Historical normalcy = sociopathy?

          Besides, sociopathy is usually defined as disregard for the feelings of others. I am pretty sure I don’t have that. I don’t think being okay with violence means an automatic disregard: I see it as a mutually, tacitly agreed rules of the game: I try to conquer your clay, you try mine, we both have good manly excitement.

          At least that is how it historically worked: ideas like Laws of War and Geneva Treaty clearly showed a non-sociopathic tendency in it.

          • Nita says:

            sociopathy is usually defined as disregard for the feelings of others. I am pretty sure I don’t have that.

            I see it as a mutually, tacitly agreed rules of the game: I try to conquer your clay, you try mine, we both have good manly excitement.

            Well, I guess that makes sense, as long as you don’t count the civilians injured, raped, killed or made to starve in the process as “others”.

          • subforum says:

            Well, I guess that makes sense, as long as you don’t count the civilians injured, raped, killed or made to starve in the process as “others”.

            The historical point, though, is that a “war for territory” means different things at different times. In many times and places, “war” is a relatively formalized activity which endangers the immediate participants but doesn’t radically disrupt daily life. Some young men will die, your nominal sovereign might change, but for the population who aren’t males of fighting age, life pretty much goes on as normal. This was the case during the Kabinettskriege period in Europe, and AFAIK it’s not uncommon for foraging societies to display the same pattern on a much smaller scale.

            The oscillation between “limited war” and “total war” seems to be a fairly regular pattern in human history: a culture has a formalized “law of war,” which lasts until one participant defects and begins to practice total war, which leads to an escalating spiral of total war, which is so horrific that all civilized people agree to formalize a “law of war,” which lasts until one participant defects…

            Where I suspect I disagree with Shenpen is that the existence of weapons which pose an existential threat to the entire species makes a return to the days of “healthy” limited war too risky. Limited war has its virtues, but a total war with modern technology would be so catastrophic that it’s better to have no war at all than risk a phase change to a total war fought with nukes, bioweapons and AI.

          • Anonymous says:

            Subforum, yes, the Kabinettskriege period seems to be a kind of cooperation which ended in defection, but most swings in kinds of war do not appear to me to be about defection or coordination to avoid the horrors of war. In particular, in your example of foragers, they have not seen total war and they are not coordinating to avoid it.

            Also, there are a lot more failure modes than “total war.” The American Civil War and WWI obeyed the laws of war and largely kept the damage to professional soldiers. But they were very large and very bloody.

          • subforum says:

            Subforum, yes, the Kabinettskriege period seems to be a kind of cooperation which ended in defection, but most swings in kinds of war do not appear to me to be about defection or coordination to avoid the horrors of war. In particular, in your example of foragers, they have not seen total war and they are not coordinating to avoid it.

            Hmm, thinking more systematically about counterexamples, I realize I’d been overestimating the frequency of overt, negotiated coordination on the Westphalian model as a solution to the problem of total war. The usual outcome is peace under a single hegemonic victor, which is a “coordination” of a sort but not what I’d originally been arguing.

            Societies which practice a formalized system of limited warfare are well-attested enough in history and anthropology that we have to account for them somehow, though. (And, re: the broader discussion, to take them into account to avoid the Typical Mind Fallacy.)

          • RCF says:

            War norms require enough cohesion to have norms but not enough to prevent war, and can destabilized by encountering other societies and new technologies.

            And I wrote a longer post on this, but it got eaten with a message saying I was posting too quickly.

      • Shenpen says:

        I don’t have any ideology beyond “what is historically okay is still okay because our age is not as special as progressives make it to be”.

        Historically, the vast majority did not find it evil.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          If OK means OK for our age, what is Ok for our age is OK.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          The ,majority were never surveyed. How often did women get a sayy, for instane?

          And OK can mean “it sucks, but what can you do”

      • Anonymous says:

        I wouldn’t be so upset about this comment if you hadn’t left out the part you actually objected to out of the quote. As it is, it seems you’re saying “Not agreeing with Scott Alexander’s moral tenets is equivalent to being a creepy ideologue”, and while I agree we could all stand to be a bit more like SA, it’s quite an “outgroup boo!” thing to say.

        Also, I don’t think there’s such an agreed consensus on war as you might think there is.

        I am also very uneasy about the word “evil” being thrown around so liberally, but that’s an issue more general to comments of this post.

        Hope you enjoyed the blog, rate and suscribe.

        • “Not agreeing with Scott Alexander’s moral tenets is equivalent to being a creepy ideologue”

          You got me there. The only reason I think pointless killing is bad is because I cling slavishly to Scott’s opinions. Before I found this blog, I was utterly torn on the issue.

          I wouldn’t be so upset about this comment if you hadn’t left out the part you actually objected to out of the quote.

          The problem with actually engaging the sort of person who comes to this blog exclusively to trumpet their edgy opinions is that many of them probably have motives that lean more towards trollishness than intellectual curiosity. Dozens of people earnestly doing their best to debate the trolls is a waste of time that just results in giving them what they want and subsequently derailing the discussion. I’d rather try to find a way to say “nobody wants you here” that doesn’t violate the politeness rules of this blog too much.

          That being said, in this particular instance, Shenpen seems to be behaving politely, so maybe I was out of line.

          Shenpen is basically making the most compelling argument for radical feminism I’ve heard in a while. (Which is not saying much.) He praises this guy Jack Donovan and his theory of “anarcho-fascism”. I googled this, and apparently the argument is that in order for society to be truly “masculine”, we need to destroy civilization and replace it with a bunch of wandering “warrior-gangs” who battle one another. Personally I enjoy living in a house and stuff and getting to spend my time doing things I enjoy instead of fighting for my life, but I don’t know, I might be the weird one here.

          The value system Shenpen and Jack Donovan are suggesting appears to be that this abstract idea of “masculinity” is the only terminal value, to the point where the murder of innocents and the complete destruction of Western civilization are encouraged as long as they serve to Unlock True Manliness or whatever. This is a terrible value system. What’s more, they are arguing that these horrible outcomes are not only excusable in the service of their goals, they are necessary. If the choice is between Forgetting Our True Masculinity or society utterly collapsing into violence, then fine. My testicles will be first on the chopping block.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sorry, I think I phrased that poorly (I certainly made a few grammar errors that my anon status doesn’t let me change). What I meant was that, given that the fragment you chose to quote was
            “You are an ultra-nice guy, so you probably find things evil that I find entirely normal”
            rather than
            “You are an ultra-nice guy, so you probably find things evil that I find entirely normal: e.g. wars without any other reason than the desire to conquer some provinces.”
            made it seem like you were objecting more to the notion of disagreement regarding what is evil, rather than the specific disagreement presented.

            In retrospect, it was probably just a bit of pedantry on my part, probably fueled by my uneasiness with the use of the word evil in itself.

          • subforum says:

            Personally I enjoy living in a house and stuff and getting to spend my time doing things I enjoy instead of fighting for my life, but I don’t know, I might be the weird one here.

            So do I, but it’s worth at least considering the possibility that we might be the WEIRD ones. Even within modern societies, I suspect that men for whom Donovan’s vision of the good life doesn’t hold any appeal are a fairly small and self-selected group.

            Jonathan Chait’s thoughtful article about his experiences as a high school football player is relevant to this discussion:

            As for me, my own post-high-school life is not a story of collapsed dreams, either.

            And yet … Football is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. Absurd as it may sound to say this about a career as a second-stringer for an average team, nothing I’ve done in my life felt as important at the time I was doing it.

            This is not because my life is a failure, and it is not because football stole my youth. Football’s enemies have an accurate sociological observation, but their conclusion is backward. Nothing else pumped so much adrenaline through me that I couldn’t feel my feet underneath me as I ran and could barely remember my name, or made me weep or scream uncontrollably. It is the adventure of your life, a chance to prove yourself as a man before other boy-men who, even if you never see them again, you will always regard as brothers-in-arms.

            This is an increasingly antiquated conception of male socialization. George Orwell, the old socialist, was well ahead of his time when he scribbled out an angry rant against the sporting ethic, which, he wrote, “is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” That is all more or less true. But shooting is precisely the problem with war. War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.

          • subforum says:

            Whoops, forgot the link.

          • subforum: I agree with everything you and the quote said. (Although personally there’s little I enjoy less than playing sports.)

            Anonymous: Oh, okay, I see the misunderstanding. Sorry.

          • Deiseach says:

            What pre-industrial societies did to bleed off all that young male jousting for status aggressive testosterone violence was to have fairly codified rites of passage; they went out in a gang raiding on the borders between you and the neighbouring tribe and drove off horses or cattle in a skirmish, where there was some minor wounding but deaths or serious maiming were not expected, and then returned home in triumph (and next week the neighbours’ young males would do the same to you, so a balance was maintained).

            This generally didn’t cause major trouble, until the one or two times it did – see The Cattle Raid of Cooley 🙂

            But we are not living in such a world now, and Manly Men Adventures in the Army is a serious business.

          • stillnotking says:

            Raiding was not fun and games! The “fun and games” aspect of primitive warfare was the actual battles, where young men would line up, taunt each other, shoot a few arrows at maximum range, then call it a day when everyone’s manhood had been demonstrated to their satisfaction. These mostly-sham “battles” fooled anthropologists for a long time into thinking that hunter-gatherer societies were more peaceful than they are (were) in reality.

            Raiding was a much more serious enterprise, designed to kill or kidnap as many members of the enemy tribe as possible using ambush tactics, and sometimes resulted in wholesale massacre.

          • Nornagest says:

            A lot of stuff falls under the general heading of “raiding” in the context of early warfare, and the only real unifying feature is that raiders would try to avoid pitched battles.

            In a lot of pastoral societies, for example — cattle cultures in northwest Europe prior to about 700 AD are the first ones to come to mind, but there were others — it was customary to raid your less friendly neighbors for livestock every spring or thereabouts. This would involve sneaking over the border, rounding up as many animals as you thought you could get away with, and, hopefully, escaping without rousing their defenders. Fun, lucrative, bloodless if everything went according to plan, and pretty dangerous but not unreasonably so.

            On the other hand, if you were really hacked off at your neighbors — for example if they’d stolen too many of your cattle recently — you might engage in other tactics, ranging from ambushing their travelers and hunting parties to trying to sneak into their village and kill them in their beds. These would, for obvious reasons, be much more serious and probably much less fun — but they’d still fall under “raiding” in an anthropology textbook.

          • RCF says:

            “a fairly small and self-selected group.”

            What does “self-selected” mean in this context?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            If small groups of men want to get their follies fighting each other, they can do so without bothering the rest of us….its called drunken brawling.

    • Doug S. says:

      In the Old Days, when you won a war, you got to steal the wealth of the people you defeated. These days, though, there’s no money in conquest; even the winners of modern wars end up poorer.

      Better to play football instead.

      • John Schilling says:

        Hmm. The last successful war of conquest was I think North Vietnam vs. South Vietnam, 1975. Hanoi I believe profited from that one in the end. The last serious attempt was Iraq v. Kuwait, 1991, and I am fairly certain that Hussein would have profited had he won. Lots of oil in the 19th province.

        Since then, the United States has impoverished itself enforcing the “No wars of conquest, Or Else!” rule. I do not believe this is a stable situation in the long run, and it isn’t clear that absent Pax Americana, wars of territorial conquest will remain unprofitable. Mostly depends on whether the losers will resort to scorched earth.

        Civil wars, coups, and revolutions, are generally profitable for the actual instigators. True, you only win the shambled wreckage of a country, but before the war you were either a cabal of mid-level military officers or a bunch of dispossessed radicals. Maybe profitable for the broader demographic group on whose behalf the rebellion is instigated, that’s less clear.

        • RCF says:

          Do Russia’s involvements with its neighbors not count as wars of conquest?

          • Nornagest says:

            I thought of those, but after thinking for a bit I decided that the answer, so far, has been “no”. Crimea involved boots on the ground and conquest of territory, but very little shooting. Georgia involved plenty of shooting but didn’t involve conquest of territory: South Ossetia and Abkhazia are nominally independent (and de-facto have been for a while, at least in the latter case), if dependent on Russia.

            If East Ukraine ends up in Russian hands once the shooting stops, I think that’d count as a fairly unambiguous war of conquest. But that hasn’t happened yet.

          • Anonymous says:

            By a war of conquest being successful, John means profitable. Russia’s annexations have not been profitable. But Crimea may have military value, rather than economic value.

          • John Schilling says:

            RCF: Very marginally so. The Russians are careful to maintain a fig leaf of plausible deniability in that they are just keeping the peace in places where ethnic Russians have revolted against Ukrainian oppression, and Stalin really did graft bits of historic and ethnic Russia onto the Ukrainian SSR[*] specifically to cause trouble if Ukraine ever went independent, so if you squint and tilt your head just right this is more border rectification than conquest.

            And in spite of every Russian attempt to keep that fig leaf in place, to the extent of letting Ukraine keep the most valuable yet defenseless parts of Ukraine, it’s still triggering everyone’s alarm bells of “Holy crap! A war of conquest! I thought we were done with those things!”

            Will be interesting to see how it turns out.

            Anonymous: I count a war of conquest as successful if conquest actually occurs, regardless of profit or loss to the conqueror. I submit that such victories can still be profitable in the modern era, but are not guaranteed to be. The jury is still out w/re Ukraine, on both counts.

            [*] And all the other non-Russian SSRs, and bits of each onto each other – the whole assembly carefully designed to be ungovernable except from Moscow.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Wars kill, therefore evil.
      Football doesn’t kill, therefore not evil.
      Natural not synonym for good. For proof by reductio ad absurdum, see above.

    • David Hart says:

      The bad part is that it kills some folks, the good part is that it keeps a culture masculine and that for me is an OK tradeoff even if it means 1% chance I die.

      This seems quite a surprising thing to be okay about. Can you define ‘keeping a culture masculine’ in a way that would make it clear why it’s important enough to be worth killing people over?

      And can you then explain why it isn’t feasible to figure out alternative methods of keeping a culture masculine that don’t require the sacrifice of people’s lives? You already mentioned the comparison to a football match – if the tribal testosterone trip is so important, and if it can be satisfied by football, why would you be okay with also satisfying some of it through war? War strikes me as a lot more evil than football in some fairly obvious ways.

      • Shenpen says:

        I don’t think the threshold is very high for important enough to kill. Look at what a big killer cancer is, look at what a big part of it is smoking, and look at how ridiculous it is, it is nothing but some profits and some calming effect for the user which does not even get him high like pot or booze does. Life seems to be fairly cheap from this angle.

        But it can be defined the following ways:

        1) a willingness and even enjoyment of deadly danger
        2) a mind to rule, oppression not being seen as a bad but as something to strive for, the whole “Rule Britannia” type of stuff or its Roman counterpart as examples
        3) a mind to glory i.e. high communal status
        4) endurance, having a thick skin, not caring much about hardship, not being a complainer

        From this come excitement, power trips and camaraderie, all three being powerful ways to banish boredom and small-mindedness and fill life with excitement, purpose and meaning.

        You are right that football works. Orwell noticed sports are a lot like war without the shooting. It is true.

        However the stakes and prizes are generally lower, that is really the only issue.

        But don’t misunderstand me, I am merely okay with it, not advocating it. I can find enough to do in peacetime too. I just understand when people decide to put the stakes higher. I simply don’t see the lives are lost hence evil logic.

        _How_ are lives lost tends to be the historical definition of evil. A battlefield and a massacre are entirely different things…

      • The Dancing Judge says:

        “The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.”

  31. Null Hypothesis says:

    Spanish Inquisition.

    • Deiseach says:

      Please mean that as a humourous reference. Do not make me have to write something defending the Spanish Inquisition.

      I really, really don’t want to do that. I’m already at home sick with what I suspect is a dose of the norovirus that’s making its annual winter rounds here so I’m emitting noxious fluids from both ends, I don’t want to have to tackle something that’s a minefield (anti-Semitism ahoy!) on top of that.

      But my inner history nerd will make me do so, if forced. Don’t force me! 🙂

      • Null Hypothesis says:

        Well, at the very least you must list their thre– er… four chief weapons.

      • Anonymous says:

        Indeed; the Spanish Inquisition was actually a fairly humane law enforcement organization by the standards of the era. They were indeed awful, and today we believe the laws they were famous for enforcing were evil, but other countries generally managed to be even worse.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          The “pro” .SI argument includes the information that although the SI used torture, so did the civil courts, and the SI used it rather less.

          However, I would rather make the point that we really need to distinguish between evil1

          “Unprecedented in the annals of human history”

          And evil2

          “Used to be fairly normal, but not something we woulde remotely want to bring back”

      • Dermot Harnett says:

        I’ll bite! Tell me about the Spanish Inquisition!

        I’ve heard they were a group of cartoonishly evil zealots who summarily burnt women at the stake for witchcraft, possibly at Salem, geographic difficulties notwithstanding. No doubt all of this was purely attributable to the evil effects of catholicism yes?

        I’ll walk around telling everyone I know the above until someone corrects me.

        • Deiseach says:

          Don’t encourage me 🙂

          What I’d like, though, is to see what people do put up as “What I know about the Spanish Inquisition” without using Google, etc.

          Just off the top of your head replies, to get a consensus on “what everyone knows”.

          • Kiya says:

            I’ll bite. They were presumably Spanish, they were around 1300 or 1400, they were trying to find and stop heretics (defined with respect to Catholicism, state religion of Spain at the time).

            Also, they wear red, and their chief weapons include surprise and devotion to the Pope.

          • Randy M says:

            Killed about 2,000 people over a few hundred years in pursuit of identifying heretics. Had no authority over non Christians. Mostly relied on fear rather than actual torture.

          • Null Hypothesis says:

            Welp, I wasn’t expecting all this to come from a joke.

            Well played, Real Spanish Inquisition.

          • Susebron says:

            Part of the wider Inquisition, which was tasked with eradicating heresy. They worked in Spain around the 1200s. They tortured and killed a bunch of people, and became rather infamous for that.

            (This is just off of the top of my head, and I’m ignoring the other comments.)

          • ryan says:

            Many Spanish Jews converted to Catholicism in the late 14th and early 15th century. But they continued in nasty Jewish habits like being economically successful. In the late 15th century it became common for their economic and political rivals to accuse them of being false Catholics still secretly practicing Judaism. As had been the practice for centuries, such charges were heard by inquisitions.

            Due to the rising power of monarchs and the falling power of the church, what used to be an entirely religious affair, where local priests and bishops conducted the inquisition, the new inquisitions were conducted by state officials with advice from local church authorities. The process quickly degraded into which hunts and show trials, where the real aim was confiscation of converso wealth.

            This really pissed off the Catholic Church. The Pope sent a letter to the Bishops of Spain telling them they needed to try and put a stop to all of it. That really pissed off King Ferdinand who wrote a letter to the Pope saying “Excuse me, what was that, bitch?” He then fired all the church advisers and made the inquisitions entirely an affair of state.

            10 years of antisemitic nastiness ensued until 1492 when Ferdinand expelled all the Jews who wouldn’t convert from Spain.

            It was all a pretty huge embarrassment. On the up side it resulted in adding layers of rules to inquisitions aimed at protecting the innocent. By the end of the first few decades of the 16th century, the inquisition process had evolved into something of a proto-trial and was actually pretty fair.

          • ilzolende says:

            Tortured people, were founded to deal with “false converts” (lots of Jews?), were some kind of church/state combination, had perverse incentives in that payment came from confiscated property of victims, created perverse incentives in that they kept trying to get lists of names from victims via torture, had prohibitions on drawing blood that they worked around, burnt people at the stake, generally bad.

        • Mary says:

          The Spanish Inquisition was the reason why Spain had so few witchhunts. Inquisitors were nasty souls who would say nasty things, “So you fell sick, did you? How do you know you were bewitched? People do get sick, you know.” “So it was obviously supernatural? How do you know it was this woman and not someone else? Or a devil acting on its own initiative?” “So you claim that this woman was at the sabbat, and it was only an illusion of her at home in bed? How do you know that it was not an illusion at the sabbat when she really was at home in bed?”

          Not perfectly. The Basque witch trials managed to suborn some Inquisitors — for which they were punished, but not until after they allowed a witch craze.

      • ryan says:

        Um, huh? The freaking Pope wrote this in a letter to Spanish bishops in 1482:

        “In Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca, and Catalonia the Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and the salvation of souls but by lust for wealth. Many true and faithful Christians, on the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves, and other lower and even less proper persons, have without any legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons, tortured and condemned as relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and property and handed over to the secular arm to be executed, to the peril of souls, setting a pernicious example, and causing disgust to many.”

        And that was well before things started to get really bad.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Scott: are you embracing the philosophy of “punching up” in general?

  33. John Schilling says:

    With respect to the appeal of neo-Nazis, it is important I think to acknowledge that the original Nazis were not just the shiny new 1930s brand of generic Evil, same as the old Evil. They were extraordinarily good at what they did. Their iconography, the language and forms of their propaganda, the ceremonies, uniforms, even their architecture – when George Lucas rips off a Nazi propaganda reel for La Resistance celebrating a victory against the Evil Empire, it is clear that these are not just the signs of a particular brand of fascism, but broadly powerful tools of social engineering. Which are now generically part of the culture of Western civilization.

    So anyone attempting to do anything vaguely similar to the Nazis, which includes not just invoking the evil manifestations of nationalism but the positive ones as well, is likely going to wind up using imagery that is similar to the Nazis without being so close as to trigger the immune system. Possibly by deliberate imitation, or not, but since people’s immune systems are differently calibrated, they will respond to borderline cases very differently. What some will see as a deliberate imitation of everything Nazi and thus vile, others will sincerely believe to be their independent efforts at uniting a nation in a good cause.

    Also, among the usual evils the Nazis pursued with unusual efficiency, was the one truly extraordinary evil – the Holocaust. The deliberate, systematic genocide of the Jews (and some other people who are now only historical footnotes). Being extraordinary in kind as well as scale, the Holocaust tends to take an exaggerated role as the one true cause and nature of Nazi evil.

    Which means even people who are deliberately copying Nazi methods for essentially Nazi goals tend to get a pass from people who don’t already have a gripe with them, so long as they avoid antisemitism or calls for genocide. Usually not to difficult, as we’ve got different outgroups to hate now, and most of them are recent immigrants so we can imagine sending them happily back where they came from without having to kill them all.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Without being close as to trigger an immune response”

      Godwin would like a word with you. Being accused of being a Nazi (or a fascist in general) for having an ounce of pride or preference in your nation is commonplace today.

      I think you make a lot of sense, both in how simply “nationalism” and “good messaging/imagery techniques” can get you associated with fascism, while true fascist groups tend to get a bye because they aren’t currently murdering Jews by the millions.

      It’s a really weird dichotomy where it’s the benign and the ineffective that get reactions based on being associated with [20th century evil ideology] while those we might actually do well to keep an eye on, we don’t.

      • Randy M says:

        Allergies, that’s the analogy. The west is allergic to nationalism.

        • Corwin says:

          I think that it’s for the very, very good reason that nationalism is an easily pattern-matched form of known-evil tribalism.

        • Tarrou says:

          Which only works as long as there is no existential threat. Trust me on this, the “allergy” to nationalism will die the day the west no longer has a big enough monopoly on violence to act with impunity.

          • Corwin says:

            That will not make nationalism less tribalistic, or tribalism less evil. It will just mean that many (most?) Dark Matter People will suddenly begin to vociferously support it.

    • Nornagest says:

      It might just be that I don’t know that culture very well, but I’ve rarely heard of neo-Nazis — at least here in the States — adopting many of the more powerful cultural engineering tools that vanilla Nazism used. And when they do, it’s Thirties-era shit directly ported over without any real understanding of how it worked in context. They don’t even do a very good job of the iconography; compare this abomination to the Nazi flag.

      • Protagoras says:

        That one looks like it was inspired by Pink Floyd.

      • Tarrou says:

        Nazism now, because of the aforementioned “antibodies”, is not merely a subculture, it is a counterculture. It’s like being a satanist. You do it precisely to put yourself beyond the pale of polite company. You do it to set yourself in opposition to everyone else.

        Back in the day, it was just the latest and greatest political system (and so successful economically that every country in Europe and most of the rest of the world copied it to this day). Social democracy is the fascist economic system minus the extreme nationalism.

        • John Schilling says:

          I think it is worth distinguishing between movements that self-identify as Nazi by name or absolutely distinctive iconography, and those which outsiders tend to recognize as having the Nazi-nature but do not themselves claim such affinity. The former may be countercultural without actually wanting to conquer Europe or kill Jews or any such. The latter, and I’m thinking here of e.g. anti-immigrant nationalist groups like Greece’s Golden Dawn, will probably chose a different target this time around but do bear watching as potentially serious fascists.

    • Anonymous says:

      this was brilliant until the end. the faintest whiff of fascism=nullified argument. also, the gypsies are far from historical footnotes.

      • Anonymous says:

        Gays, paedophiles, and Jehova’s Witnesses don’t seem to exist just as footnotes, either.

        • Hanfeizi says:

          I think the idea here is that their mass murder was reduced to a historical footnote in the face of the constant drumbeat of zionist shoah-remembrance, not that these groups in particular have been reduced to historical footnotes.

      • John Schilling says:

        My parenthetical seems to have been excessively vague; sorry.

        Gypsies/Romani who were killed in the Holocaust are historical footnotes. In most summaries of the Holocaust or Nazi evil generally, they get barely a mention in passing. Detailed histories give their suffering some detail, but buried far enough in the text that most people don’t read that far. Similarly, brief summaries of the Gypsy/Romany people barely mention that a whole lot of them were killed by the Nazis, and the detailed histories bury it beyond casual reading depth.

        The practical result being, a European nationalist movement can get away with a fair bit of gypsy-bashing before people start to object that hey, isn’t that kind of Nazi-esque? Whereas picking on Jews (if you are a white European, at least) almost immediately triggers the Nazi response.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          “Whereas picking on Jews (if you are a white European, at least) almost immediately triggers the Nazi response.”

          Unless the “Jew” part can be laundered, of course — talk about “Zionists” or international bankers instead, and you’re apparently good to go.

          • Tarrou says:

            Only because you can paint yourself as on the tribal side of the even-more-disadvantaged Palestinians/Muslim world. This is exactly what Scott was talking about, the shift from punching down (white person slagging Jews) to punching up (white person slagging Jews on behalf of Palestinians). By allying farther down the perceived “privilege tree”, SJWs grant themselves the moral right to engage in open hatreds too toxic for common conversation.

    • DrBeat says:

      we’ve got different outgroups to hate now, and most of them are recent immigrants so we can imagine sending them happily back where they came from without having to kill them all.

      This reminds me that one of the proposed ‘Final Solutions’ to the ‘Jewish Problem’ was to ship them all to Madagascar. That always raises a bunch of questions for me.

      Did that mean that when they all came together to ‘discuss’ this, they really weren’t just planning to go ahead with what they wanted to do all along, kill a bunch of Jews, and their mutual hatred and fear amplified and echoed off of each other until genocide was the only answer? Was it pageantry so they could all tell themselves they considered all the options before arriving at the one they were always going to pick? Was everyone else in on the unspoken agreement that they were going to end up with genocide and Madagascar Dude just unable to read the ‘room’?

      If they had shipped all the ‘undesirables’ off to Madagascar, what would we think of them today? Would Stalin be the number-one shorthand for irredeemable evil, or would we still be motivated to gloss over his crimes because he was our ally against Germany before we found out what all evils they were up to? Would we still hate them just as much for their forced relocation and ghettoization, because we didn’t HAVE a Holocaust to set as the maximum on our Evilometer?

      How long before a Chinese/Japanese/Korean developer uses this as justification to make a WWII-themed MMO where the Axis and the Allies are equivalent player factions like the Alliance and Horde?

      • Susebron says:

        Hearts of Iron seems like it would come relatively close, although it’s grand strategy instead of an an MMO, and it was made by a Swedish company.

        • Anonymous says:

          And if you go on the forum, a plurality favor playing Germany. I get it, you get to try to invade the Soviet Union in the largest land invasion in history and some of the best gameplay challenges in the game. But some of the After Action Reports (long reports of game progress, there are some striking parallels with the fan-fiction communities to draw) are disturbing to say the least.

          • Susebron says:

            Roleplaying evil characters is not entirely a new thing. Go to pretty much anywhere where there is roleplay of any sort, and some people will be villains. This does not necessarily reflect on them in real life. I don’t frequent the Hearts of Iron forums, so I don’t know if they’re roleplaying as “Nazi Germany is perfectly normal” or as “Nazi Germany is bad.” If it’s the latter, then there’s nothing wrong; if it’s the former, then there might be a problem.

          • Corwin says:

            Of course they would roleplay “Nazi Germany is perfectly fine”, while in character

          • Susebron says:

            I was referring to their out-of-character attitudes.

        • Protagoras says:

          Nah, Hearts of Iron is in the long historical wargame tradition of not morally evaluating the factions. I presume Dr. Beat is thinking of a more role-play oriented game where players are really identifying with their faction rather than engaging in war nerdery.

          • thirqual says:

            (previous anonymous comment also by me)

            As said above, they are people seriously producing long reports of their game where they roleplay their Hearts of Iron (and other Paradox Games) as the leader of the country.

            There have been a few community games where a bunch of players had the different roles in the cabinet and had control over the different parts of the game, with roleplaying through forum posts.

            This is a small minority and reading the plucky Polish or Allied Romania AARs shows that this goes in all direction.

        • Not Robin Hanson says:

          To expand on this:

          1) It is the developer’s policy that war crimes and crimes against humanity (including but not limited to the Holocaust) are not to be discussed on the Hearts of Iron forums nor to be represented in the game. Discussions of military casualty statistics are also banned, though with somewhat less prejudice.
          2) The developer makes other historical grand strategy games such as the Europa Universalis series (1444-1821) and the Victoria series (1836-1936). Both of these games have mechanics which would clearly qualify as genocide, but Hearts of Iron does not.
          3) I think most people on the forums are in the wargame tradition as Protagoras described. Though the forums do seem to be more right-wing both on the average and on the extreme than most gaming communities I’ve looked at.

          • Susebron says:

            It also releases Crusader Kings (769/867/1066-1453), which is a very fun game and is basically Game of Thrones set in medieval Europe. Less graphic than Game of Thrones, though.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            It’s my impression that wargaming skews quite a bit more right wing that gaming in general, for the same reason that a lot of military history buffs tend to be rightish.

            My nightly tanking buddy plays these games constantly, HoI is one of his all-time favorite games. From listening to (endless, incessant) accounts of his sessions, he plays axis quite a bit mainly because that’s where the challenge is. Bringing down the Reich isn’t all that special, since the game models the well-known historical reasons that assisted an allied win. Playing as the Japanese Empire, on the other hand, counter-invading Russia, and dragging the war out into 1949 via cunning logistics and strategy while keeping the American pacific fleet at bay, that’s a challenge.

      • Nornagest says:

        Did that mean that when they all came together to ‘discuss’ this, they really weren’t just planning to go ahead with what they wanted to do all along, kill a bunch of Jews, and their mutual hatred and fear amplified and echoed off of each other until genocide was the only answer?

        Short answer: it depends who you ask.

        All agree that the Nazis were horribly, virulently anti-Semitic pretty much from day one; but the ideological leadup to the Holocaust, and in particular the question of whether genocide had always been on the table, still sees a lot of debate.

      • nydwracu says:

        “The Nazis were bad because…” didn’t end in “…the Holocaust” until a few decades after the end of WW2.

        It rarely comes up that Stalin did a lot of ethnic cleansing other than intentional mass murder. It never comes up that USG did the same thing — one of the single largest ethnic cleansings in recorded European history!

        We would still think Hitler was evil even if we had no reason. What does the narrative say about why Mussolini was evil? As far as I can tell, it’s because he was on the other side.

        (Was he evil because he was on the same side as Hitler? If so, why are the States, Britain, and France not evil for being on the same side as Stalin?)

        The name of his movement is literally equivalent to evil nowadays, there’s no reason in the narrative for that, and everyone buys it anyway. So it wouldn’t matter what the Nazis did; they were evil because they were on the other side.

        The same thing is probably true of the USSR.

        • Anonymous says:

          Your USG link is not about USG.

          • Anonymous says:

            Thanks for backpedaling.

            I’ve heard the second claim before, but regardless of whether it is true, the article does not claim it. Don’t waste my time with false citations. In the future, I’m not going to read your citations; I’m just going to call you a liar.

          • nydwracu says:

            The third phase was a more organized expulsion following the Allied leaders’ Potsdam Agreement

            In case you’re too historically illiterate to realize that the United States was one of the Allied leaders, here’s the first clause of the first sentence of the Potsdam Agreement article:

            The Potsdam Agreement was the agreement between three of the Allies of World War II, United Kingdom, United States, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

            And here are two more quotes from the first article I linked:

            Allied leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, and Joseph Stalin of the USSR, had agreed in general before the end of the war that the border of Poland’s territory would be shifted west (though how far was not specified) and that the remaining ethnic German population were subject to expulsion.

            Britain and the U.S. protested the actions of the French military government but had no means to force France to bear the consequences of the expulsion policy agreed upon by American, British and Soviet leaders in Potsdam.

          • Anonymous says:

            If the quote from the second source is your standard for “approval,” then the Supreme Court approved the Trail of Tears.

            The first source is closer to the second claim, but that does not justify the second source.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Whatever bad things the great monsters of history have done, it is axiomatic that someone who’s actually in my outgroup has done something at least as bad. If they haven’t, that would imply that I’ve picked the wrong outgroup, and I don’t make mistakes like that.

        • Peter says:

          Counterexample: Finland.

          Except Finland is complicated, because early on in WWII there were British newsreels praising “plucky little Finland” for standing up to the Big Bad USSR, and late on in WWII, the Finns had a war with Germany. I’m not sure what your average Brit things about Finland in WWII – I suspect “what? they were in the war?” although I might be being unfair.

          Apparently it’s a complicated question as to how allied Finland and Germany were – apparently the Finns liked to present themselves as “co-belligerents” fighting a “parallel war” and the Germans liked to present the Finns as proper allies like any (other) axis power… AFAICT it seems to have been somewhere in between.

          • Anonymous says:

            What is Finland a counterexample to?

          • Peter says:

            Finland as counterexample:

            “What does the narrative say about why Mussolini was evil? As far as I can tell, it’s because he was on the other side.” But Finland was on the other side and doesn’t get such a reputation. Also, I have no idea who was in charge of Finland back then.

          • nydwracu says:

            How many people know Finland was Axis? I didn’t know they weren’t neutral until I heard of the Winter War, and I thought it was a separate war until recently. We get taught that the Axis was Germany, Italy, and Japan.

            Wikipedia lists Finland as a co-belligerent, along with Iraq. It also lists affiliate states; I didn’t know Bulgaria and Thailand were affiliated until now.

            (Evidence in favor is Franco and Salazar: sure, they were bad, but they were about as bad as any other dictator. Who was worse: Salazar or Idi Amin? Now try that question with Hitler or Stalin. I’d expect the first question to be met with either “who?” or “dunno”, and I’d expect the second question to be answered with Hitler or Stalin.)

          • Anonymous says:

            There are lots of examples similar to Finland. There were lots of junior partners of the Axis that didn’t invade anyone themselves. But most of the junior partners lost, while Finland more or less won.

            We talk about Italy because it was important. It was big and it was in a good location. That is the same reason that it was an early member of the Axis. The Western Allies spent years invading it. Also, Hitler copied Mussolini.

          • John Schilling says:

            Plucky little Finland fought against the Big Bad USSR back when the Big Bad USSR was effectively part of the Axis. When the Big Double-Cross took place, Finland was still kind of sort of fighting the USSR, and as the USSR was now on Our Side, the Finns were necessarily on The Other Side.

            And being desperate pragmatists who knew that they weren’t getting one more scrap of aid from the Allies, they took what assistance they could get from the Nazis while the Nazis were in a position to offer any. When it became clear that even the Nazis weren’t in any position to help and that status in post-war Europe was going to be contingent on having fought against the Nazis, they did what little Nazi-fighting they could. It really sucked to be Finland during WWII; there was no winning move, only degrees of losing.

            If, like many geeks, you learned much of your history from wargaming, you learned that Finland was just another junior member of the Axis. There’s no other way to model it for players with the meta-knowledge that the USSR is going to join the Allies in a few years; the Allies will logically throw Plucky Little Finland under a Russian bus, whereas the Germans will be motivated to seek a Finnish victory or at least draw in approximately the historic fashion.

          • Anonymous says:

            John, USSR was never part of the Axis. Finland was always allied with Germany. Alliances are not transitive. Non-aggression pacts are more clearly not transitive.

        • A while ago, I read Star of the Unborn by Franz Werfel, a rather odd person-from-the-present-tours-the-far-future novel, and one of the oddest things about it was that the person from the present hated Hitler but didn’t seem to have heard of the Holocaust.

          It was published in 1945/46, so it was written before all the information about genocide had come out, and I believe it took some years before the concept of the Holocaust had coalesced.

          In any case, I tried to figure out what Werfel/the main character might have been thinking, and it occurred to me that Hitler was responsible for the Western half of WWII, and that was a very good reason for hating him.

          I believe that people get cut too much slack when they try to build empires. Why don’t we think of Alexander, Napoleon, and Chaka Zulu as mass murderers?

          • Anonymous says:

            Alexander is from an earlier period in history when people had different tastes.

            There is a fight over Napoleon. The most famous novel in history is about how he is evil.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Dan Carlin’s excellent Hardcore History podcast did a four-part series called “Wrath of the Khans” that explores this idea in detail. I highly recommend it.

            …and even after listening to it, your question points to a very, very interesting issue. I consider myself a reasonably culturally-sensitive individual. I pass pretty well for a progressive liberal in most contexts. I’ve heard quite a bit about the Mongol empire, and I just can’t summon up the sort of visceral hostility toward Ghengis that I can for, say, Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot. I read about Sabutai, and the lasting emotion is admiration, not revulsion. I’t s an odd thing.

   , if you’ve got some time for an excellent historical account.

        • DrBeat says:

          Do we really remember Mussolini as being pure evil? In the circles I run in, he seems more remembered as a pure fuckup.

          • Anonymous says:

            I remember people freaking out in 1992 when Alessandra was elected. Those people certainly seem to think Benito was pure evil, unto the third generation.

          • John Schilling says:

            In some corners of geek/rationalist culture, Mussolini was the guy who made it out of Hell in Niven & Pournelle’s “Inferno”, thus redeemably evil. Not clear whether the point was that all evil is redeemable or just all sub-Hitlerian evil; the story required a character who would go unrecognized by the narrator and audience without actually lying. But certainly the authors expected everyone would recognize Benito as deservedly once-damned when he revealed his surname.

      • Protagoras says:

        It seems likely that deportation was not chosen as the Nazi option because it was impractical given the wartime conditions, not because they were determined to kill all the Jews regardless. Though looking at similar cases where deportation was chosen as an option, it probably would still have involved a horrific death toll, and probably still would have been called a genocide (see, for example, the Armenian genocide). But it probably wouldn’t have been a death toll of 6 million, and perhaps the difference would have been enough for somebody else to be chosen as the maximum point on our evilometers.

      • John Schilling says:

        W/re Nazi antisemitism, I am pretty sure that Plan A was always, “Just how much harder do we have to push before all these swine pack up and move to Brooklyn where they all belong[*]? Didn’t they get the message in 1938?”

        The Evian conference and a year later the British blockade put a spanner in the works of that plan, obviously. Madagascar was almost literally the last place the Nazis possibly could make all the Jews go away to; being Vichy territory it could presumably be reached by French-flagged passenger ships out of Casablanca or the like. But whether sincere, desperate, or just plain posturing, that wasn’t a realistic option, leaving the Nazis with a bunch of Jews who could not leave nor be expelled.

        As for what happens to the Nazi’s reputation without the Holocaust: Prior to WWII, the usual stand-in for Iconic Pure Evil in Western thought was the Pharaoh. It really seems to take deliberate, planned genocide to trigger that response; merely killing a few million people in a war of conquest is at worst a lesser, forgettable and non-iconic evil. Stalin did a fair job of concealing the worst of his crimes while they were still fresh, so maybe absent the Holocaust we don’t get a real personification of Evil in the West. Not sure if that would make things better or worse.

        [*] …leaving all their material wealth in Germany, where it belonged, so a bit of a mixed message there. But I think it accurately reflects the wishes and wishful thinking of the pre-WWII Nazis.

        • cassander says:

          It’s worth pointing out that there weren’t actually that many jews in pre-war, even pre-ww1, germany, something on the order of a few hundred thousand. the vast majority of the jews killed were killed in occupied parts of eastern europe when the germans realized that the lebensraum they just conquered was the heartland of european jewish populations. Not that that excuses them, of course, but it helps make sense of pre-war nazi attitudes.

          As for stalin’s crimes, they weren’t concealed. It was very possible to know about them, but Stalin and Lenin were clever enough to build a massive global organization of communists and fellow travelers to lie about those crimes, something hitler never was really able to do. Ironically, much of the initial opposition to hitler came from that network, who began propaganda like this almost as soon as he came to power. that cartoon was published in the nation in 1933, a time when hitler was the legitimately elected leader of germany, before the night of the long knives, and while that magazine was actively denying the existence of famine in the ukraine.

      • Mary says:

        “Did that mean that when they all came together to ‘discuss’ this, they really weren’t just planning to go ahead with what they wanted to do all along, kill a bunch of Jews, and their mutual hatred and fear amplified and echoed off of each other until genocide was the only answer?”

        The answer is that the question of to what extent the Holocaust was planned and organized is a topic of great debate to this day.

  34. somnicule says:

    1. Find a label that refers to multiple distinct groups, where you fall into one of those groups.

    2. Bully members of a group that shares your label, but isn’t actually your ingroup.

    I’m a [math] geek, of course I’m allowed to harshly criticize [gaming] geeks!

    I’m a [consequentialist] libertarian, but [natural law] libertarians have some really problematic views.

    [Radical] Feminists have some horrible views, and that’s coming from a [liberal] feminist.

    Because you get to put on a face of being self-effacing and humble and critical, you get points for pointing out the flaws in “your own” side, obviously you can’t just be bullying members of an outgroup.

    • Randy M says:

      Are those later two really examples of bullying? I get it’s beside the point you are making about cloaking yourself in the mantle of an insider when one doesn’t actually identify with the group, but as an attack “has problematic views” is pretty tame.
      Or are we supposed to read between the lines and silently understand that that’s a euphemism for “thus should be hounded out of all polite society.”?

      • James F says:

        Yes, “has problematic views” very often means “this person is a member of the Hated Outgroup and it’s okay to bully them” (and not just to the people who like to say “problematic”).

        “If you don’t hate who the rest of us hate then how do we know we can trust you, comrade?”

      • somnicule says:

        “Problematic views” is the rationalization for a decent chunk of doxxing and the like.

    • Drew says:

      Additionally: Get sloppy with your claims about group averages. Apply them universally to individuals.

      “Men are taller than women, so OF COURSE Bob is taller than Gina” -> “Men are more listened to. So OF COURSE Tina’s punching up when she attacks Bob.”

    • Drew says:

      (whoops, nothing to see here)

  35. Anonymous says:

    Where did the whole “it’s never been okay to punch down” idea originate anyways? It’s something I’ve only begun to hear recently, as something of a forced meme; people believe that if they say it long enough, it will become true. Comedy has always been about making fun of anything and everything. Yelling at a homeless person to get a job isn’t funny because there’s nothing unexpected or over the top about it. Watching Tyrone Bigguns flush himself down a toilet to escape is hilarious.

    I can understand that it’s important to understand that some people are worse off than us, but the idea that this makes them sacred cows, untouchable by wit has always seemed like something used to shut down discourse.

    • Nita says:

      It’s backlash against the previous tradition of prioritizing the weak as a target — not out of principle, but simply because most people would avoid pissing off anyone who could retaliate with violence.

      These days, in most “civilized” places, retaliating with violence to mockery is not accepted. But:
      1) it’s still tempting to make nice with someone who could pull some strings for you, and
      2) it’s also tempting to blame the unfortunate for their misery, since it makes the world feel like a (mostly) just and comfortable place.
      These effects result in a bias that some people try to counteract.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      I think it is one of those things that can be true but should not be elevated into an absolute principle. Bad things can come from below. Take the Westboro Baptist Church: a universally reviled organisation who cannot leave their home without being reminded of the scorn that they are held in. Yet liberals keep raining down blows upon them: in large part to signal righteousness, of course, but also as despite their lack of social standing, all they need is a few signs and transport to a funeral to cause grief.

      In rarer cases, punching down can be a means of preventing evildoers from coming up. If you opposed almost any of the infamous tyrants of recent times you were probably opposing an absurd and failure-prone misfit.

    • Anonymous says:

      Some people try to build political alliances. They need to give a certain group (let’s call it A) something if they want them to accept the offer. Therefore they try to find something. Making it unpopular to make fun of the group A is a part of their offer. However, it is hard to sell the idea “Stop making fun of the group A” without any justification. So they need to come up with an excuse that would fit. Media wing of the party then tries to promote this position.

      Sometimes the only reason why the group B is often mocked is that they are not a unified voting block, therefore no none can court them to their political alliance, thus no one offers them anything in exchange for support.

    • Mary says:

      Where did the whole “it’s never been okay to punch down” idea originate anyways?

      The desire to silence, of course — with the added advantage of doing so selectively.

    • grendelkhan says:

      The first place I’d seen it was a Molly Ivins piece from 1991, but I’m sure the idea goes back further.

      There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.

  36. Dan Simon says:

    The underlying assumption here seems to be that people adhere to “Nazism”, “Communism”, “blue/red tribalism”, and so on based on certain ideas, beliefs or principles, and can therefore be inoculated against the evils they perpetrate by being reminded of terrible things done in the name of those ideas, beliefs and principles. In fact, these “ideologies” are all just forms of tribalism, and people adhere to them as a matter of identity, not belief or principle. Nazi Germany may have succeeded in inoculating millions of people against Nazism specifically–primarily, I suspect, by being soundly defeated, rather than by being horrifically evil–but as we’ve seen, it did little to inoculate people against, say, the desire to murder Jews, or the desire to conquer and subjugate the world. That’s because if your tribe doesn’t happen to be the Nazis, you don’t feel any of the particular stigma associated with Nazism, even if you happen to hold the same beliefs as them about Jews, and the same conquering ambitions. (Likewise, of course, for the millions of Communists who swear up and down that their brand of Marxism/Leninism/Stalinism isn’t Soviet Communism, and must never, ever be accused of the same horrible crimes, even if it has committed exactly analogous ones.)

    The solution, then, is to target the behavior, not the beliefs–stigmatize genocide, for example, not Nazism. This is much, much harder, of course, because defining a moral code that can be accepted and applied more or less objectively across hostile or even warring tribes requires a great deal more global moral consensus than exists today. But trying to pick off wrongs tribe by tribe–“isn’t going after fat people just like going after Jews?” “Well, yes and no…”–is even more hopeless.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Offtopic, but, why do hospitals ask that kind of interview questions? If they asked instead something like, “The patient complains aby X, Y and Z, what are the possible diagnoses?” that would be not anti-inductive, and maybe even slightly predictive of the job performance?

    • The hospital is running a different algorithm. The hospital is trying to figure out “given symptoms X1, X2, …, is the patient sick? If so, what disease?”

      In contrast, google is solving the problem “given symptoms X1, X2, …, what is the most likely document to match these symptoms.”

      tl;dr; Google is required to return a disease, and tries to return the best one. The hospital is allowed to say “no disease, you are a hypochondriac, go away”.

    • Anonymous says:

      There is a standardized test for doctors that they have to pass to practice. If the jobs wanted people who answered such questions well, they would look at scores on that test.

      • grendelkhan says:

        It’s legendarily difficult to evaluate how good people are at jobs that involve this sort of thing. If standardized tests were as effective as you propose, the tech sector, at least, would be hiring people based on test scores rather than burning engineer time doing interviews and paying sourcers to dig through resumes and the like.

        • Anonymous says:

          Has anyone actually tried and failed in the tech sector?

          In the academic literature, the value of interviews is famously low, not in legend, but in fact. Maybe tech interviewers are exceptional, but their mere existence is not evidence, since so many people do fool themselves on exactly the same subject. (That they ask people to solve problems is definitely an improvement on the typical interview, but the judgement beyond whether they got it correct, the part that is hard to standardize, should be subject to suspicion.)

          • grendelkhan says:

            Has anyone actually tried and failed in the tech sector?

            You can see how strong the evidence on their resume is in terms of how well they’ll do on the interview, and how that correlates with their in-job performance. (Tech companies like metrics!) I’m faintly aware that professional certifications (which are generally acquired via standardized testing) are a slight negative signal, as is self-evaluation.

          • Anonymous says:

            By the quoted question, I meant: has anyone tried to make standardized tests of programming. I have heard a few in the past couple of years and I don’t think it’s yet time to evaluate them.

            Professional certifications look to me like a success story. Tech companies hire elite programmers, while most (80%?) programmers are employed in other industries, which are so bad at hiring programmers and have such low standards that they do find the certifications valuable. (Though they look to me more like schooling than testing.) The balance is even stronger for IT, which is why certifications are more popular there.

          • grendelkhan says:

            This seems to be what you’re thinking of. The demo seems pretty good. I have no idea how actually-useful it is, but it seems like a reasonable idea.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          As anon points out, interviews tend to be worse at predicting job performance than standardised tests. I suspect the reason for employers continuing to use interviews is partly ignorance of the literature on this, coupled with overconfidence, and partly legal restrictions. Many countries have strict anti-discrimination laws, which may make standardised testing problematic. For example if you’re in the US and you hire based on a standardised test on which blacks do substantially worse than whites, you might get into serious legal trouble.

          • grendelkhan says:

            As anon points out, interviews tend to be worse at predicting job performance than standardised tests.

            Are you sure? Maybe it’s just the tech-sector “do some small piece of your job in front of me on this whiteboard” interviews, but I’m pretty sure that standardized testing (i.e., professional certs) aren’t useful at all for weeding candidates past a very basic level.

            Many countries have strict anti-discrimination laws, which may make standardised testing problematic. For example if you’re in the US and you hire based on a standardised test on which blacks do substantially worse than whites, you might get into serious legal trouble.

            This probably isn’t a lawyer talking, but it looks like you can test for whatever you want, so long as it actually relates to the job. Like, you can use math tests for accountants or programming tests for coders, but if you test your accountants on their long-jump ability or your short-order cooks on their command of Latin, you’d probably end up in trouble.

            (Anecdote: for at least one job, I got an IQ test. It was very obviously an IQ test, but the employer insisted to me that it was an aptitude test. As far as I know, they never got any flak for it. They also filtered candidates by sending them skeleton code and having them implement an API, which so far as I could tell, was a much better filter.)

          • cassander says:

            >Are you sure? Maybe it’s just the tech-sector “do some small piece of your job in front of me on this whiteboard” interviews

            Giving everyone the same (or a similar) problem is pretty much the definition of a standardized test. the tech sector just disguises its tests as iterviews

          • Anonymous says:

            Grendel, you’re linking to advertising copy. No one has ever sued the test-writer, but they have sued fire departments for “professionally developed” tests of knowledge of fire-fighting equipment. On the other hand, the same law very clearly puts diplomas in the same category, and no one has ever sued a white-collar company for filtering by high school or college degrees. There are definitely lawyers out there advising companies not to give written tests, but it’s hard to tell if there is a consensus, let alone if this is good legal advice.

          • RCF says:

            “Grendel, you’re linking to advertising copy.”

            While you’ve linked to … nothing.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Giving everyone the same (or a similar) problem is pretty much the definition of a standardized test. the tech sector just disguises its tests as iterviews

            It’s much harder to scale an in-person interview than it is to scale a written exam; you need each one to be “proctored” by a skilled worker of the type you’re recruiting. I think the ‘disguise’ here pretty much captures the important difference.

        • RCF says:

          “If standardized tests were as effective as you propose”

          Reading comprehension. Seriously.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s like any job, they’re trying to find out if you have an idea what the work is really like, or just some vague notion.

      “I want to help people” is a nice aspiration, but you don’t need to be a doctor to do that. And you can burn out fast when the messy reality hits. Whereas, someone who answers with “I’ve done charity work” or “My family are doctors” means “I know what it’s like, I don’t have a romantic view garnered from television and movies about magic cures, I realise there will be a lot of long hours, hard work, bureaucratic and legalese box ticking, and bitching and moaning involved”.

      That means it’s less of a risk for a hospital to hire newly-minted Dr “I’ve mopped up vomit when the patient spewed his last three days worth of stomach contents all over me” rather than Dr “Starry Eyed Idealist”, because Dr “Worked Abroad” is less likely to quit the job when the real world hits.

      Not unlikely, merely less likely 🙂

  38. It seems likely to me that who’s okay to mock depends heavily on which segment of society you’re in. And that members of a particular segment often aren’t aware that there are a bunch of other segments out there that have totally different axes of status (cf. the “dark matter universe”).

  39. Wrong Species says:

    One common thing I notice throughout all these examples is that the person is usually somewhat responsible for their own problems. The fat person can eat less, the virgin could try to ask out more girls, Amanda Bynes could have not done drugs in the first place. On the other hand, it’s usually much more complicated than that. The fat person may have a harder time losing weight, the nerd is painfully shy(and possibly ugly) and Amanda Bynes is an addict. It’s difficult to figure out how much blame should be assigned to a person in these instances.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I thought of that, but that doesn’t explain for example why it’s not okay to mock eg homeless people. It doesn’t seem immediately obvious that there’s a difference in the extent to which homeless people and fat people are responsible for their situations; you can shout “GET A JOB” just as easily as “GO TO THE GYM”

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        If it’s becoming unacceptable to mock the homeless, that would mean more people are becoming progressive, because there is a lot punching sideways…using bullying humour to signal group membership.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Progressives Have Won explains Jimmy Carr too, since it means progressivism is no longer edgy.

          • Tarrou says:

            Progressivism always wins, because the alternative is status quo, which is always changing. The liberals of yesterday are the conservatives of today.

            Witness the hair-tearing of the Republicans in the ’90s over DADT “IT WILL RUIN THE MILITARY!!!!”.

            A few years later, libs are claiming DADT is a Republican conspiracy against gay people, and they’re claiming it’s the only thing saving the military……….

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think being homeless is far worse than the other situations so most people probably believe that it isn’t as simple as “Get a job” or they would have gotten one. I can live a comfortable life as a fat guy, but probably not as a homeless man. And I also think you underestimate the number of people who think the homeless are to blame for their situation.

    • Deiseach says:

      the person is usually somewhat responsible for their own problems

      First, nice to know you don’t have that problem of virginity, Wrong Species; beating them off with a stick, eh?

      Second, why do you class virginity as a problem? That’s the point the “Cracked” article was making: if someone is a virgin and doesn’t want to be, okay, that’s a problem for them and advice is helpful.

      Virginity in itself is not a problem. Being a virgin is not something that needs to be fixed, solved, or cured.

      Asking out more girls/boys/rhinoceri* is not the solution when you’re happy not having sex but you really wish people would stop telling you “But you can’t be happy! You should be having sex! What’s the matter – were you abused or raped? No? Then what’s wrong with you – are you gasps of horror SEX-NEGATIVE? STOP JUDGING ME FOR HAVING SEX YOU PRUDE STOP TRYING TO SLUT-SHAME ME!!!!”

      (*Because not all virgins are straight males or – giving you the benefit of the doubt – lesbian females, so not everyone wants to ask out a girl to help them solve their little problem. Let’s also mention why it’s apparently horribly shameful to be a male virgin but female virgins are not even on your radar? I think that’s part of the problem here, to be frank).

      I am now going to throw a chunk of Chesterton at you, because you’ve annoyed me on this (why yes, I am a virgin, however did you guess?). From the essay “A Piece of Chalk”:

      Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.

      Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours; but he never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. In a sense our age has realized this fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it were really true that white was a blank and colourless thing, negative and non-committal, then white would be used instead of black and grey for the funereal dress of this pessimistic period. Which is not the case.

      • Anonymous says:

        If there’s one thing I wish we could all get over, it’s shooting from zero to shoutrage over someone glancingly offending us while making a different point with sympathetic intentions.

        Sense of proportion: Develop it.

        • Anonymous says:

          To add to the preceding, I’ve started to realize that part of what motivates the zero-to-shoutrage people is their anger that someone else is getting sympathy and not themselves, and what you people generally want is a more hateful world.

          The fact is if your virginity isn’t a problem for you, then you have a problem that is less important, more trivial, and less deserving of recognition thatn someone who is a virgin and who does consider it a problem, and you have no special right to talk over people offering sympathy for that group of people to demand their sympathy for yourself.

          • Mary says:

            “The fact”?

            Why are you certain that not getting laid must be a worse problem than seeing people going around wearing buttons that read “Unicorns aren’t mythical, virgins are?”

            How have you evaluated their relative suffering to be sure that one is more sympathetic than the other?

          • Anonymous says:


            The one who wants to get laid but can’t also sees the unicorn buttons… They have sexual and romantic frustration on top of that.

            Although there doesn’t seem to be any use at all in counting points here.

          • Mary says:

            You didn’t say that the problems were cumulative, you said that the problem was “less important, more trivial, and less deserving of recognition.”

            I repeat, Why are you certain that not getting laid must be a worse problem than seeing people going around wearing buttons that read “Unicorns aren’t mythical, virgins are?”

          • Cauê says:

            Oh, I’m sorry.

            I was the 2:00 pm Anonymous, but not the first one.

          • Anonymous says:

            You know you’re wrong, Mary. Stop lying.

          • Mary says:

            Well, there’s a real knock-down argument. Haven’t you got ANYTHING to say in defense of your claim? I note that it was made with any defense in the first place, which rather argues that you know it’s indefensible.

      • Wrong Species says:

        First off, I’m a virgin. This isn’t me “punching down”.

        Second, I’m talking about involuntary virgins. More broadly, I mean people who desire sex and rarely, if ever, get it. Looking again at the cracked article, I can see that were referring more to voluntary virgins, but I think Scott was talking more about involuntary ones.

    • Nitpick, but I think Amanda Bynes’ problems were caused by schizophrenia, not drugs.

  40. Illuminati Initiate says:

    Err, Scott? You seem to be conflating “evil” with “things society opposes”.

    We both agree that the Soviet Union/ Nazi Germany/ Maoist China were all terrible (though you are conflating certain versions of Communism with Communism in general, which I suppose is fitting because that’s how the immune response works). But the reason society has developed immune responses to those things is because they opposed society, not us. There is no iron rule that the next big future thing society comes to demonize is not something either of us agree with. I do think there are reasons to suppose it probably won’t be (because Cthulhu), but this seems like a pretty big oversight.

    • Anonymous says:

      this doesn’t make logical sense. could you try again w a syllogism?

      • Illuminati Initiate says:

        I’m not really sure what doesn’t make sense here.

        Scott talks about “evil” movements and society developing immune responses to them.

        But “evilness” is a subjective property. Society does not have an “evil”-detector that causes it to only react this way to “evil” ideologies.

        Scott then assumes in this post that whatever ideology gets the Nazi treatment next is going to be something he agrees is bad. Which, you could argue is likely to be the case, because of the trajectory of society (Cthulhu was a reference to something the Neos say about politics and history: “Cthulhu always swims left”). But not considering this in the post seems like a pretty big oversight.

        And I would not want to be complacent in just assuming Cthulhu will continue to swim in a direction Scott or myself want (our wants seem to be similar enough to be at least vaguely in the same direction)- Cthulhu seems to have been driven by changes in technology and economics, further radical shifts in those could disrupt the pattern. The cultural and political momentum could, maybe even probably will, be enough to overcome that of course, but I wouldn’t want to just complacently let things run.

        (Is the problem that we have different meta-ethical philosophies? I assumed non-realism in my post.)

        • DrBeat says:

          Right, “evil’ is subjective, so if you wanted to be totally pure (and totally useless) in your terms you would say it is meaningless and imparts no information.

          Scott is using it to mean “the things society in general has reached supermajority consensus are ‘evil'” which is as good and useful a definition as they come.

          • Jaskologist says:

            That is not only a terrible definition, it is useless for the current discussion, which is “how do we get society to avoid evil?” If “evil” is just “whatever society disagrees with,” then there is nothing to worry about. By definition, society cannot do evil.

  41. Ilya Shpitser says:

    “Fascism in America will attempt to advance under the banner of anti-fascism.”

  42. Simplicity says:

    I was nodding along with you. There’s a lot in what you say. I think of our bullying campus fascists, who often pretend to be defenders of free speech and the oppressed, even as they squelch all disagreement and privilege only select oppressed categories as a means to oppress others.

    But, to honest observers, their abuse of power and innate fascism is evident. It’s not all that different from the past. Even In the 1930s, the fascists were pretending to be good guys, wanting to cure inflation and make trains run on time; the communists still pretend to want equality.

    Envy, greed and hate always present themselves as fairness, caring and love…except towards those bad people in the way of the good, so their violence is actually heroic. Jews,capitalists, Evangelicals, Tea Party, nerds – the target shifts – are fair game because they are labeled as evil in some way, justifying attacks by the self-appointed good people. You’re good, caring, fair aren’t you? So hate THEM! If you don’ t hate the right people, you don’ t get to be in the good tribe.

    The Islamic monsters of today see themselves as heroes and their real life snuff videos are recruiting tools – they attract idealistic young men and women who have been filled with lies about how the mean nasty West is against them and destroying their greatness. They don’t need to hide their murderous, fascist ways – cutting off people’s heads or smashing a jewish baby against the wall looks like virtue and heroism and is appealing to their target audience.

    The viciously bullying feminists that you write about don’ t pretend to be kind to attract followers. They show their fangs. They see themselves as heroines. So did the nazis, fighting the all powerful jewish foe.

    The pretense of goodness is always there, and the mantle of kindness-to the right groups, only.

    • Tarrou says:

      Indeed. The first sign of a malignant sub-culture is an ideology of self-victimization.

      Once you believe the entire world is a conspiracy against you (your muslim faith, your pure Aryan blood, your gender, what have you), it gets a lot easier to jump directly to the stupid violent stage.

  43. Jon Miller says:

    Scott: regarding your earlier “Untitled” post that partially inspired this one, Harris O’Malley (alias “Dr. Nerdlove”) has written two posts critical of your comments about nerd privilege, feminism, etc. I was wondering if you were going to write a response to the good doctor.

    It’s hard to follow all of the twists and turns of the dialectic here, but to my eye it looks like O’Malley is confused. On the one hand, he openly acknowledges in his “Nerds and Male Privilege” post that privilege is not monotonic, that there are multiple axes of privilege–which seems to be one of the main points you were making in the “Untitled” post. On the other hand, O’Malley seems to be interpreting you as saying that nerds can’t be on the wrong end of any privilege axis because they have male privilege. So it’s as if his criticism of you ignores the concession about multiple axes of privilege which he himself makes. My head hurts. In any event, do you have a reply?

    (By the way, congrats on a great blog.)

    • FingersInEars says:

      I would be skeptical of anybody who feels a need to repeat the arguments or even just things other people are saying in a mocking tone of voice before responding. Anyone who feels a need to turn something like “I try to be feminist but they make me feel bad” into something like “waaaah I’m a big blubbery baby and feminists make me cry loud baby tears =((((((” is not someone you need to engage with.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I would prefer not to be informed of this sort of thing in the future. I’ve read and replied to a couple criticisms of that post and I know people will keep criticizing it till Kingdom come but I’ve expended all the emotional energy I have for that particular topic and now I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

    • CzerniLabut says:

      The problem with Nerdlove, Marcotte, and others, is that they are incapable of using a different lens for analyzing and deconstructing adolescent and young adult societies, and instead apply privilege models of adult interaction onto children. In their respective articles, they talk about nerd entitlement, but fail to realize that both Scotts are articulating their experiences from their teens and early twenties.

      Sexo-Grammaticus talked a bit about this on his blog 2 and 1/2 years ago ( But basically he looks at how the subjects of the film ‘Bully’ were portrayed, and notices how the filmmakers strained to basically show the white male adolescent subjects of the film as disabled or that ‘toxic masculinity’ on the part of his father was responsible for the child’s bullying.

      However, as is later explained in the post, it doesn’t make sense to use the privilege axis of adults to explain how prejudices against children occur: school districts, whether public or private, will generally have more homogeneous class background, and more homogeneous race background. While sex/gender can still be a sticking point, it has less of an impact in adolescence since a) Things like the pay-gap are minimal to non-relevant to students, and b) Most bullying is done intra-gender. Sexual orientation could account for 4% of total students being bullied, but then that leaves 20-25% unaccounted for ( Given these factors, it would then make more sense if things like body shape, aneurotypical personalities, and gender performance account for bullying.

      If we look at nerdiness as alternative-masculine gender performance, as embracing less athletic body types, embracing and/or celebrating productive aneurotypical behavior, and caring less about personal aesthetics, then social ostracization based on those attributes would make nerds less privileged, at least as adolescents.

      However, if your main lens for identifying privilege is inter-gender and race relations, and you write articles celebrating jocks (read: pro athletes who get away with as much shit as Congress) over nerds, then it should be no surprise why you can’t read what nerds have been saying for the last 65 years.

      • I hadn’t heard any analysis along these lines before, but wow, this makes a lot of sense and is deserving of further investigation. Nominating this for comment of the month.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          I liked it too. But I could quibble with “incapable”. Its instrumentality rational to collapse multiple axes into single axes, and further collapse a single continuous axis into two buckets, in this case privileged and not privileged, because then you can argue that you have all the grievance or victimhood. And that’s important in political lobbying, because the eventual outcome is always a compromise; if you present a demand that is already compromised, as “wet liberals” do, that ensures that it will be watered down further.(“What do we want! Our fair share and no more! When do we want it! On a reasonable timescale!”)

          The convolutedly Molochian thing is that instrumental rationalists can’t admit that they are exaggerating to get leverage, because that weakens their bargaining position.
          Which prevents the situation being resolved by the epistemic rationalists, these who want to understand the world, and the instrumental rationalists, those who want to change it, to agree to differ.

          Disclaimers: I am not saying only feminists do this. I do not identify as anti feminist.

          • CzerniLabut says:

            I chose ‘Incapable’ over ‘Flagrantly Disregard’ because I’d rather assume ignorance on their part rather than active malice, or at least extending to them some degree of humanity they fail to see in men.

          • Anonymous says:

            Again: they’re not in tthe truth seeking business. Instrumental rationalists arent broken epistemic rationalists.

      • Anonymous says:

        Good post. There is no such thing as one-dimensional society.

      • RCF says:

        I did notice that Marcotte repeatedly quoted Scott saying something in the past tense, and insisted on replying to it as if it were in the present tense. Saying “these are the sort of messages I grew up internalizing” is NOT the same as saying “this is what I currently believe”, and it shows Marcotte’s lack of intellectual rigor, if not outright dishonesty, that she failed to distinguish between the two.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          If a campaigner is too dishonest, that is failure, and if they’re too honest……nuancesd, uncertain of themselves….that’s a failure too.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Jesus Fucking Christ. Put an ableism / general cruelty content warning on that fucking “nice guys” link. Holy shit, what a fucking scumbag.

      • Anonymous says:

        where was your “about to curse like a sailor” warning bro?

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          “Masculine is unmarked, not a gender. Therefore “scumbag” and “bro” are not gendered slurs.”

          Ah, I see! You were just doing a clever demonstration of that whole “when I do it it’s punching up, so it’s okay” thing everyone’s been talking about. Sneaky!

          • Nita says:

            I think Anonymous was being sarcastic. Also, could someone explain which part of “scumbag” is related to masculinity?

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s pretty hopeless to explain gendering of insults, since it is arbitrary. The insult that started all this is highly gendered only in America (not that Deiseach is American). Scumbag originally meant “condom.” Sexual terms are more likely to become gendered insults, but I don’t understand why “scumbag” and “douchebag” are masculine.

    • Anonymous says:

      On the one hand, he openly acknowledges in his “Nerds and Male Privilege” post that privilege is not monotonic, that there are multiple axes of privilege–which seems to be one of the main points you were making in the “Untitled” post. On the other hand, O’Malley seems to be interpreting you as saying that nerds can’t be on the wrong end of any privilege axis because they have male privilege. So it’s as if his criticism of you ignores the concession about multiple axes of privilege which he himself makes. My head hurts.

      He does exactly that. His whole gimmick here is superficially acknowledging the criticism of what he’s about to say, and then doing it anyway. It’s the same gimmick a lot of the people responding to Scott have used. It’s the same as when someone ‘can’t help’ talking over you – deliberate rudeness under a thin veil of apparent obtuseness. It relies on you crediting the author with a presumption of good faith which isn’t warranted. It’s an approach that infects groups who think they have presumptive moral authority, like feminism and most/all religions, and feel this frees them to eschew morality and decency (by which I mean treating others decently, not the ‘dress a certain way or whatever’ definition which is usually put forward by groups like this).

      • Karmakin says:

        Everybody knows, I think that unidirectional power dynamics are wrong, from a factual point of view. It’s simply not indicative of the reality we live in.

        However, the problem is that there’s a lot of unidirectional power dynamics “baked” into that sort of worldview, and the work isn’t being done to separate the two. It also may be the case that the fact that it IS such a obviously wrong thing makes it that much more effective at dividing the in-group from the out-group.

    • grendelkhan says:

      I know, I know, it’s low-hanging fruit, but…

      being bullied in high-school or reading mean quotes about social misfits on Tumblr and Jezebel doesn’t equate with hundreds of years of systematic oppression […] trying to play the Oppression Olympics doesn’t make it any better

      I also like the part where The Doctor interprets “Vogon spy in a skin suit” as a slur against Marcotte’s appearance, and comments saying, hey, that kinda looks more like he’s saying she’s ugly on the inside, are responded to with “why bother defending this insult at all, just because there are ways to take it other than calling someone ugly”?

      Oh! Or how about the part where he gets all sniffy about how ridiculously STEM it is for Aaronson to have wanted some advice on what he could do to not be creepy around women… despite having done writing on that very topic!

      I can kinda see why Scott doesn’t want to participate in this sort of thing any more, especially after seeing how absolutely none of his critics (counterexamples? anyone?) bothered to respond to his desperate attempt at bullet points. Maybe he should have put them up at the top of the article, in large, Comic Sans letters.

      • NonsignificantName says:

        What, “alien in a skin suit” is a perfectly acceptable way to express “doesn’t understand how people work.” Look at this quote I was able to dredge up from somewhere on the internet“There is no appeals process, you don’t get to plead your case before a jury of her peers and, quite frankly, sticking around to argue the point makes you look like you’re an alien in a human suit trying to conduct breeding experiments with the locals.”

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          The Vogon thing struck me as an invitation to misrepresentation as soon as I read it.

        • Aaron Brown says:

          “[…] an alien in a human suit […]”

          Ooh, that is rich! Excellent find.

        • Anonymous says:

          Vogons were rather defined by their exterior ugliness, and none of them wore skin suits in HHGTTG. Meanwhile, stories featuring aliens in skin suits almost always build to a visually repulsive scene of the skin coming off. While it’s possible to closely parse as you did, I would excuse most readers for just pulling the imagery related to “vogon” or “skin suit” out of their cache.

          • Nornagest says:

            When I think “Vogon”, I think “petty, unpleasant, viciously bureaucratic, bad poets”. The ugliness is there, but it’s an expression of their whole “malicious disdain for aesthetics” schtick rather than basal to it — that’s the whole point of the Vogon poetry sequence. The Guide books would have worked nearly as well if they were something totally unaesthetic, like robots shaped like refrigerators.

          • John Schilling says:

            Vogons were created for radio theatre; not only does the audience not get to see them, the medium inherently deprecates the sort of narration that would describe their appearance. They are defined by their interior ugliness, petty officious bureaucrats spouting bad poetry, even if they acquire the exterior sort as the adaptations became more visual. Which makes them pretty much ideal for this sort of metaphor.

          • RCF says:

            When it’s the critics of SJ complaining about their words being misrepresented, “intent isn’t magic”. But when someone says that something a SJW said is highly favorable to a negative interpretation, that’s “tone trolling”.

            I don’t think anyone should be excused for making accusations based on “caches” rather than actual honest attempts to understand the other person’s intent.

          • Nita says:

            Well, since Vogons are known for bureaucracy and bad poetry, not for insensitive interpretations of personal stories, it seems that Scott’s intent was to associate Marcotte with bad, easy-to-hate aliens.

  44. Anonymous says:

    “Punching up vs punching down” is a dichotomy that has only come into use very recently.

    Every single person who uses it is trying to justify why it’s okay for them to be a bully, but other people should never be allowed to do anything that upsets them.

    • drunkenrabbit says:

      Exactly, it’s an asinine standard. Everyone who applies it has a special explanation for why they are “down” and people they disapprove of are “up”.

      • Mary says:

        No, they don’t. They use fancy words to mean “I can dish it out without taking it” but it’s not special, since everyone uses it.

    • Zorgon says:

      It’s been relatively common in comedy discussion for a decade at least. But that makes sense, really – comedians are very often a kind of socially approved bully figure, so their “acceptable targets” are going to be under more scrutiny, especially by the kind of people who frequent comedy forums.

      I agree that most of the douchenozzles using it on Twitter are just covering their asses, though. The purpose of the term in comedy circles was to explain why it made people uncomfortable to see rich fuckwits like Jimmy Carr (who was a rich public schoolboy even before becoming a celebrity comic) doing routines about “chavs” and other lower-class undesirables. It wasn’t to explain why you get to send someone shit via Twitter but they don’t get to do it to you.

      • Karmakin says:

        The modern usage of the term, I think was largely popularized by Jon Stewart. (Which is fitting enough), however there’s a massive caveat that they’re missing.

        It’s not just about actual power dynamics, it’s also about perceived or desired power dynamics. Mocking people who see themselves as being above you or want to be above you is also considered to be “Punching Up”.

        Which is how The Daily Show justifies all those mocking interviews with random people who think that what they’re saying is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

        • arthur somethingorother says:

          As an Old Man of the Blogosphere, allow me to blow your mind by mentioning that one of the big proponents of “punch up and not down” back in the day was

          Are you ready? You’ll never guess.

          Amanda Marcotte!

          I swear to god, the Vogon herself.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh thank God, someone else who can’t stand Jimmy Carr! I have always wanted to punch him in his smug smarmy face, yet he is inexplicably (to me) popular! 🙂

        • BD Sixsmith says:

          My idea of Hell is being trapped in an unending episode of The Big Fat Quiz of the Year with Jimmy sodding Carr, Russell sodding Brand, Noel sodding Fielding and Jack sodding Whitehall.

          • Cauê says:


            Carr is easily my favorite comedian. Curious to see how widespread this sentiment is here (and if there’s some pattern).

            (Fielding is ok, and I don’t actively want to murder Whitehall, but oh god, Brand…)

          • Aqua says:

            Genuinely curious why you dislike them. They are definitely funny to me. And Brand has some good ideas (I’m assuming you dislike his political stuff), and no one is perfect.

          • BD Sixsmith says:

            I dislike the political stuff but disliked him before, both as I found him unfunny and as I found him smug. That goes for the rest of them, among others. I think our comedians tend to be too full of themselves, but, then, my favourites have seemed depressed (Peter Cook) or mad (Emo Philips). Different strokes for different folks, though.

            The one time I actually met a famous comedian was in a public library as a schoolkid. I was with a group of friends and heard one of them say “Russell Howard”. Only after I had launched into an absurdly hyperbolic outburst of disdain for the poor man did I realise that they had said “Look, it’s Russell Howard”. He slunk off towards the quiet reading section and I felt like enough of a git that I should stop being mean to comedians in case they are lurking.

          • Tarrou says:

            Brand I’ve never found funny in the least, he just seems sad and mentally disturbed. He seems like the sort of guy who might be mildly humorous if I did acid and ecstasy at the same time.

            Carr is hilarious.

    • Davide says:

      I don’t think it’s that recent.

      I mean, the actual ‘punching up or down’ idiom, sure, that’s not really old.

      But the basic idea that the weak (which are the ‘down’), are in some sense, morally superior or should at least be criticized less harshly seems to me like it has been part of our culture for a relatively long time;
      Look at Christianity, for example; Jesus as defender of the weak or even has a symbol of ‘weakness’ (…despite, they say, being the God and Creator of the Universe. I didn’t say people were coherent about this).

      Now, while I understand why it might make sense to give the ‘weak’ special consideration or not make them a priority when it comes to criticism, I think far too often this degenerates into a ‘Power is evil, the strong are evil, the weak are good’. Which ties to anti-authoritianism for its own sake.

      It is also interesting how people claim that power is evil and/or corrupts, but also claim they want to enact reforms or social changes…which, of course, require power. Doing anything takes some form of ‘power’, really.
      Granted, some groups seem somewhat self-aware about this when they acknowledge the potential for ‘corruption’ within their ranks.

      • Randy M says:

        “Look at Christianity, for example; Jesus as defender of the weak or even has a symbol of ‘weakness’ (…despite, they say, being the God and Creator of the Universe. I didn’t say people were coherent about this).”

        It’s hardly incoherent. The rationale given by Paul is that Jesus voluntarily took on the weak human form and let himself be put to death in a painful, humiliating way, hence voluntarily and at some cost associating himself with weakness.

        • Davide says:

          To me ‘true human weakness’ would be to live (with no miracolous powers!), suffer and die with no real hope of resurrection and/or knowledge of a positive Afterlife. The whole incarnation thing was temporary, after all.

          I consider it more similar to a strategy: after all, the strong often have an interest in portraying themselves as not-so-strong, sometimes to gain sympathy (or not attract unwanted attention), sometimes to deceive rivals who are also strong.

          (And I think other religions also offer examples of ‘powerful’ incarnating in supposedly weak forms…yet, in they end, they stay powerful, or become so again at the end. Hence why I consider it inconsistent.
          Granted, I am sure there are cases where the divine becomes TRULY weak and limited, but I don’t feel these are relevant to Western culture at large)

          My point is that people seem fairly aware that being perceived as weak IS advantageous or a ‘means to an end’ in quite a lot of situations.

          Similarly with portraying your own foes as stronger than they really are:
          if they defeat you, well, that is understandable, you can still be the moral victor, while if you defeat them, your victory is more glorious and heroic and so on.

          I am sure Scott must have written about something like this; it seems a very basic psychological mechanism in politics. The ‘other side’ is generally portrayed as some vast, powerful entity which has extraordinary influence even when that is not quite true.

          I suspect it’s also fairly prominent in a lot of historical writing – for one, it would explain why the armies described in some texts seem so huge, sometimes even by modern standards.

      • Lambert says:

        Is ‘blessed be the meek’ an idea that began with Jesus, in contrast with the prevailing jewish thought?

        • Davide says:

          Not sure whetever it began with him or not; but people definetely seem to like associating it to him.
          Granted, I have mostly seen Christians do this, even if secular/cultural ones.

          Generally this seems to be used to reinforce a claim that (I simplify, sorry) “Jesus was the best human being ever”, and then lead to either”…so he must be God” or “…so, it does not really matter if he was God or not.”

          Anyway, I can’t help but notice that the idea here is that meek are going to be rewarded for their behavior by God.

          While believers often disagree on God’s qualities, I think most would agree the term ‘weak’ would not apply!

          So the ‘weak’ have the most powerful being possible on their side – are they truly weak, with such powerful ‘allies’?
          (I don’t think Judaism is generally that big on salvation/Afterlife rewards though, so this is mostly for Christianity)

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          Slave Morality (vs Master Morality):

          “…the Jews achieved that miracle of inversion of values thanks to which life on earth has for a couple millennia acquired a new and dangerous fascination–their prophets fused ‘rich’, ‘godless’, ‘evil’, ‘violent’, ‘sensual’ into one and were the first to coin the word ‘world’ as a term of infamy. It is this inversion of values (with which is involved the employment of the word for ‘poor’ as a synonym for ‘holy’ and ‘friend’) that the significance of the Jewish people resides: with them there begins the slave revolt in morals.”

          tl;dr Nietsche appeared to have believed the Jews invented Virtue Ethics in response to being oppressed. This contravened the prevailing Consequentialism of the time. I don’t know anything beyond the wikipedia page. Judea was conquered by Rome in 63 BCE which precedes Jesus, though not by much. So, maybe plausible?

          Anyhow, it seemed interesting and relevant enough to punching/bravery/outgroups to share. Is anyone here familiar with Nietsche, and does his position bear any resemblance to reality?

          • Protagoras says:

            Nietzsche’s idea of master morality vs. slave morality certainly has some plausibility. It isn’t entirely a matter of Judaism/Christianity vs. what came before; he probably got the idea from Plato, and usually presents Socrates and Plato as advocates of their own version of slave morality. Plato’s criticisms of Homer certainly seem to involve interpreting Homer as an advocate of pretty much master morality as described by Nietzsche, and of course Homer is used as one of the clearest examples of master morality by Nietzsche.

            Mill actually also proposes that something like the master morality was formerly dominant and has been slowly overcome, though he doesn’t talk much about why the change happened (he certainly doesn’t credit Judaism and Christianity).

  45. Sniffnoy says:

    Waiting for Nydwracu to show up and start talking about Whitecloaks and Crocodiles. 🙂

    • cae_jones says:

      If this is unmarked spoilers for The Towers of Midnight or A Memory of Light, I might have to eat someone. AKA, become the crocodile. The Crocodile Reborn.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I know nothing of such. I was referring to these two comments of his.

      • Anonymous says:

        [Minor The Great Hunt spoiler]

        I’ve read the series three times and I think the only reptiles ever mentioned are non-specific “lizards”, dragons (never seen — unless those were what caused the trails in the sky when Rand, Loial, and Hurin are in the Portal Stone world!!!!), and the Eelfinn (but they don’t count).

        Just kidding, it’s actually revealed the world is a flat surface resting on the back of a crocodile on the back of a larger crocodile on… (it’s crocodiles most of the way down, the Creator the rest).

  46. thirqual says:

    A few hours ago:

    “It’s quite a privilege to get to decide who is punching up and who is punching down.”

    David Auerbach

    • Anonymous says:

      Something something privilege plus power.

      • thirqual says:

        Something something ∀ a ∈ ℝ*, a+0≠0 something something a*0=0 though something something math is hard.

        I’m supposed to avoid snark… I’m going to add that as a negative in HabitRPG.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah, instead of one poorly defined concept, lets combine two poorly defined concepts. That way we can reach any conclusion we want!

      • Anonymous says:

        The quote you’re looking for is if not the following then a logical extension of it:

        It’s not terrorism when WE do it!
        – Uncle Sam

    • freensauce says:

      I think to some degree although the social-justice types are the ones who most blatantly state their intentions, basically everyone does this.

      In the case here, just snark about how they are the real privileged ones. Regardless of whether or not this is actually true, it’s still the same shitty, unproductive argument, merely rotated. It doesn’t make you (or your rhetoric) any better for you, personally, to believe that you are the Justified Underdog and they are the Big Bads. Everyone thinks that. It’s really nothing special.

      • thirqual says:

        No, some people think categories are useful for society-scale decisions and interactions but often useless when dealing with individual-to-individual interactions, and follow the logical ramifications. Starting with rejecting the “I’m in category A, you are in category B, so I can/cannot be a dick and expect praise from the other members of category A and allies”.

  47. Nornagest says:

    Minor historical point: Communism predates fascism by a good seventy years or more, and while it was a fringe philosophy popular mostly among coffeeshop radicals for most of that time, state communism still precedes it by twenty or so. Hitler billed himself largely as an anticommunist, although it’s hard to say whether anticommunism or anti-Semitism was more prominent in Nazi minds since Nazi ideology conflated the two with each other almost totally, and in ways that don’t really make much sense if you haven’t been drinking from a firehose of fascist propaganda for a few years.

    Even in an American context, the first Red Scare happened immediately after WWI, and it was in many ways more extreme than the Second Red Scare that we’re now more familiar with.

    • social justice warlock says:

      It’s safe to say, though, that most support for Nazi rule (by voters, institutional allies, &c.) was anticommunist rather than antisemitic. Whatever the subjective standpoint of Nazi ideologues (who probably would have said the antisemitism was first insofar as they believed communism was an expression of Jewish tyranny,) “objectively” Nazism was essentially communist and only accidentally antisemitic; there was a niche for radical anticommunism unconstrained by liberalism and a group of antisemites just happened to be have the best public speaker by far. The original fascists make this clear enough – they were only adopted antisemitism late, and mildly.

      (Not disagreeing with your main point, I think.)

      • drunkenrabbit says:

        Just out of curiosity, what do you think the driving force behind antisemitism has been? The best answer I’ve been able to come up with is “sublimated class resentment”.

        • Anonymous says:

          I would think that it is just part of a general resentment of the majority against a conspicuously more successful minority. See also resentment of Chinese minorities in malaysia, thailand etc.

          • roystgnr says:

            The middleman minority theory popularized by Thomas Sowell seems like a good guess. It’s not just that those Others are more rich than you, it’s that they got rich doing weird abstract things that only create wealth in unintuitive ways.

          • Jiro says:

            royst: That sounds like it also explains the left’s attitude towards corporations.

        • Nita says:

          Also, plain old xenophobia / ethnic tension / out-group bias. Note that Roma (“gypsies”) were also unpopular in Europe and targeted by the Nazis, despite not being notably “successful”.

          • Harald K says:

            I think xenophobia is a slightly different thing, in general. What made the nazis’ antisemitism so unusual was that they targeted an extremely well-integrated and damn near invisible group. Eastern European Jews could be distinguished by speech, dress and other obvious cultural markers. German/Western Jews usually could not.

            The world learned that even if you kept your head down, blended in and didn’t cause trouble, in the modern world people could decide to systematically murder you over invisible differences you might scarcely be aware of yourself (e.g. a Jewish grandparent).

            By comparison, murder of foreigners and visible minorities was old news. “Everyone” did that, and moreover those groups often hated their murderers back.

            The hatred of communists and gays was more similar to nazi antisemitism, since it was quite common to be those things invisibly. However, there a conflict-avoiding middle class person had strategies he could try if he was suspected of being one. Suspected of being communist? Join the hunt for communists yourself. Suspected of being effeminate/gay? Well, marry, or join the SA. (Seems the nazis were pretty brilliantly machiavellian about creating potential worries for people that could be alleviated by joining them, when you think about it). But people targeted strictly for their heritage had no such outs.

            That understandably scared the large apolitical segment of society who didn’t want to get involved in anything controversial. Who knew what invisible, unchangeable characteristics might be targeted next? So society said “never again”, in a way it hadn’t rejected garden variety xenophobia.

          • Mary says:

            Actually a good number of people in Germany went to have themselves reclassified — from Jews to Mischlings, from Mischlings to Germans — by declaring their mothers or grandmothers had committed adultery.

            Often with the collaboration of the mother/grandmother and, if he were still alive, the alleged father/grandfather.

            Rather more rigorous than joining the anti-Communist hunt to be sure.

          • R. says:

            >>gypsies were also unpopular in Europe and targeted by the Nazis, <<

            They are still wildly unpopular everywhere they live in larger numbers, and if you talk to lower-class people in private they often say a genocide or carting them off somewhere would do them right.

          • Nita says:


            I think xenophobia is a slightly different thing, in general. What made the nazis’ antisemitism so unusual was that they targeted an extremely well-integrated and damn near invisible group.

            Hey, “They Look Like Us Now” is a solid horror trope for a reason.

          • Nita says:


            Wow, apparently either our Roma population is too small or I’m too upper-class, because I’ve never had any genocidal feelings about them. Every one of them I’ve talked to, stood next to on the bus etc. seemed pretty normal.

          • Mary says:

            Note that Roma (“gypsies”) were also unpopular in Europe and targeted by the Nazis, despite not being notably “successful”.

            Indeed, they succeeded in killing a large proportion of them than they did of the Jews.

        • From Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, there’s also a pattern of a distinctive group allying itself with the central government because local people tend to be prejudiced.

          As a result, when people want to be relatively safe attacking the central government, they attack the distinctive group. Anti-Semitism goes back to pre-Christian Egypt.

          Other than that, I think a lot of anti-Semitism, like other prejudices, runs on habit– not wanting to admit having made a mistake and concern about being mistreated by other members of one’s group.

          Also, I think a remarkable amount artistic imagination went into anti-Semitism. It’s got a lot of memetic hooks.

        • John Schilling says:

          I will add to the list of plausible candidates, that the Jews of the Disaspora were the original conspicuous cosmopolitans.

          To people whose lives are geographically bound, which until quite recently was 90+% of humanity, cosmopolitans are inherently suspect. They live in your village, your town, your nation, they share in its blessings and its protection, and maybe yes they pay their taxes, but their true loyalty is elsewhere and they can’t be counted on in a crunch. They trust a bunch of guys in some distant city more than they trust their own neighbors, so why not return the favor. Heck, that foreign army that you need to raise all hands to repel? Likely as not financed by cosmopolitan bankers and merchants and the like, who are literal or spiritual kin to your local cosmopolitans, and has anyone seen those guys since the fighting started?

          This correlates strongly with the middleman / successful minority theory, and the Chinese in Malaysia, etc. When there isn’t a foreign army at the gates, it’s your local cosmopolitan bankers and merchants whose ties to their counterparts in every city in the region facilitate the trade that makes everyone richer but the cosmopolitans conspicuously richer. So you get griping about how unfair it all is, and totally all their fault, but everybody is happy enough to just pocket the golden eggs and not kill the goose. Then the economy goes straight to hell, and all bets are off.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Antisemitism has promoted for centuries by the church, or maybe you think that needs explaining itself.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ah, that explains the riots in Alexandria! Yep, the Alexandrians were all Christians to a man at the time, and Aulus Avilius Flaccus was a bishop, of course! And the Emperor Claudius was Pope at the time?

          As for the question , which party was responsible for the riots and feud (or rather, if the truth be told, the war) with the Jews, although in confrontation with their opponents your ambassadors, and particularly Dionysios the son of Theon, contended with great zeal, nevertheless I was unwilling to make a strict inquiry, though guarding within me a store of immutable indignation against whichever party renews the conflict. And I tell you once and for all that unless you put a stop to this ruinous and obstinate enmity against each other, I shall be driven to show what a benevolent Prince can be when turned to righteous indignation. Wherefore, once again I conjure you that, on the one hand, the Alexandrians show themselves forebearing and kindly towards the Jews who for many years have dwelt in the same city, and dishonor none of the rites observed by them in the worship of their god, but allow them to observe their customs as in the time of the Deified Augustus, which customs I also, after hearing both sides, have sanctioned; and on the other hand, I explicitly order the Jews not to agitate for more privileges than they formerly possessed, and not in the future to send out a separate embassy as though they lived in a separate city (a thing unprecedented), and not to force their way into gymnasiarchic or cosmetic games, while enjoying their own privileges and sharing a great abundance of advantages in a city not their own, and not to bring in or admit Jews who come down the river from Egypt or from Syria, a proceeding which will compel me to conceive serious suspicions. Otherwise I will by all means take vengeance on them as fomenters of which is a general plague infecting the whole world.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            You have written a very competent rebuttal of the claim that the (Catholic) church invented anti semitism. However, I made no such claim. Read my words… promotion does not mean origination. My claim was more that the Nazi’s did not invent it. You like a quote, so here is Hans Kung.

            “Nazi anti-Judaism was the work of godless, anti-Christian criminals. But it would not have been possible without the almost two thousand years’ pre-history of ‘Christian’ anti-Judaism…” 

            Yes, I know that anti semitism has been repudiated by the current church.(Promoted, not promotes) No I am not accusing you personally of anything. Please try to read less into brief comments.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do not read relevance into the comments?

        • Jaskologist says:

          Antisemitism seems to exist quite independently of Church influence. As Deiseach points out, it predates Christian influence by quite a bit. In the present, Europe has held onto it even as they have let go of Christianity, while the more religious America has been notably and uniquely philosemitic.

          Plus, if you really want to see a Judenrein country, you need to look to Islam. No Church influence there.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Contemporary Europe is not uniformly anti semitic (see current events in France). I have never met an anti semitic Christian in Europe….but the church itself acknowledges the historical issue….the one I was talking about.

      • Mary says:

        The original Nazi party was bitterly and hard-core anti-Semitic. Hence the putsch — they weren’t succeeding. Even at the trial, Hitler dropped it to plead his deep love of Germany.

        Thereafter, the overt face of the party was pro-Germanic. Many people thought Hitler had gotten over his anti-Semitism.

        And when they got into power, they kept trying the subtle side. Neues Volk for instance spent the first six issues on ethnic pride, not bringing up the Jewish menace at all until the seventh issue.

        I recommend Claudia Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience

      • Mary says:

        One notes that while Nazis portrayed Communism as evil, only Jewish or Slav Communists were intrinsically so. A German Communist was a potential Nazi. indeed, one account of an attack on a Nazi meeting ended with one Communist tearing up his card and joining the Nazis he had attacked.

  48. Jacob Schmidt says:

    We as a society have mostly figured out that shouting “GET A JOB, LOSER!” at the homeless is mean.

    Have we? That sentiment seems pretty common. I feel like you’re shoe horning an example where there isn’t one.

    • Susebron says:

      Yeah, a lot of the nastier sort of right-libertarianism seems to basically be that. The phrase “welfare queens” springs to mind.

      • The Dancing Judge says:

        I’m confused. What about the phrase welfare queen is nasty? Its a very real phenomena that should be frowned upon. see:

        Shaming someone for being on welfare qua welfare seems unfair. Shaming someone for being on welfare for being lazy or a fraud does not.

        • drunkenrabbit says:

          Reagan used the phrase “welfare queen” as part of his attack on “Great Society” style welfare. Democrats alleged that the style of welfare fraud he was describing was negligible or non-existent. People on the left see it as a slander against deserving beneficiaries.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          The article is about an unusual professional criminal. The public impression of multiple ‘welfare queen’ frauds was inaccurate.

        • Deiseach says:

          There are definitely people who game the system; I see that in my job. On the other hand, there are people you’d legitimately love to help, but the system isn’t flexible enough to meet their particular needs.

          Governments like to trot out these scare headlines before elections; our own little cherubs did the same with a big splashy announcement about cutting down on welfare fraud by assigning a special complement of 20 police officers to the social welfare department to investigate fraud. Wow, those lazy work-shy scroungers must be costing the hard-pressed taxpayer untold millions, right? It must be 10% or 20% or even more of dole claimants who are falsely claiming, if they had to get the cops involved!

          Except you look up official figures for fraud, and they run at about 2%, and part of that figure is genuine clerical error (people put on the wrong rate of payment, or overpaid, or change of circumstances not applied in time). In other words, 98% of claims are absolutely genuine and people are getting no more than they are entitled to. Those are not the levels that get big splashy headlines in the news media.

          On the other hand, we do have the (former) rich who are making use of your country’s lenient (by contrast with ours) bankruptcy laws to try and defraud their Irish creditors. They set up residence in the U.S.A. then declare bankruptcy under American law, meaning that the hundreds of millions they owe Irish banks and Irish agencies go “poof!” up in smoke.

          Or we have former billionaires who ran up billions of euro in debt gambling on share prices, causing the crash of a particular bank, and triggering the domino-like collapse of Irish banking system, necessitating government borrowing to bail them out and binding the entire country to years of austerity budgets to pay back loans.

          You tell me who is doing more to hurt the taxpayer?

          • The Dancing Judge says:

            I’m not sure what the USG’s prosecution of an Irish dude who lied in court and some other Irish dude making a deal with the Irish gov’t to pay less of the money he owed has to do with the idea that “welfare queens” should not be encouraged. I would suggest if these people in Ireland are behaving as you describe, something should be done. OTOH, just judging from your tone, i doubt these things are occurring in quite this manner without some serious “interpretation.”

            Also fraud is not the only way one can be a “welfare queen.” There are more “you really shouldnt be living off the state considering your abilities” people than the 2% fraud numbers.

          • Deiseach says:

            No, what the point is that welfare fraud is presented (a) as a huge proportion of welfare payments, when it is not (b) that many, most or even a majority of claimants are fraudsters and spongers (c) that there are people out there gaming the system and (d) if we crack down on fake poor people, then the taxpayers’ burden will be lifted.

            My point was that (a) it’s not a huge massive percentage, which is carefully never given a figure – you’ll see news reports put out by governments that “100,000 welfare claims are to be investigated!” with the implication being “most of these are fraudulent”; you won’t see the follow-up story, which is that after investigation, 2000 were fraudulent and 98,000 were legit; you will see people arguing that “the government says there were 100,000 cases of fraud in the system this year alone!” and that is the narrative – ‘all your money is going to cheats’ – which the parties in power want to put out in the public discourse.

            Meanwhile, the people who cost the economy quite literally billions due to their greed and attempts to manipulate investments are not the women with six kids or the guys working and claiming the dole; they’re the formerly lionised ‘cream of the crop’ businessmen and bankers whose dealings have dragged Ireland into making commitments to re-pay billions in loans and have tied the taxpayers for decades to austerity measures.

          • cassander says:


            the admitted fraudulent payment rates of a number of welfare programs are actually shockingly high, and that’s just the rate of the stuff the government has found and admitted to be fraudulant. the true rates can only be higher.

        • Eli says:

          The question is not, “Are there undeserving beneficiaries?”. There always are. The question is, how many are there, in terms of percentage of total beneficiaries? What do the mean, median, and modal welfare recipients look like?

          And the answer is: not a scamming criminal.

          • Anonymous says:

            Just because you can’t actually be prosecuted for it doesn’t mean that an able-bodied adult who could live of earnings instead lives off benefits is not evil.

            And we know there were A LOT of those because the mere passage of welfare reform shrank the rolls as people hurried to get those earnings.

      • freensauce says:

        If you actually examine the term “welfare queen,” though, it particularly describes a person who is receiving benefits in excess of what they deserve (according to the speaker’s political viewpoint). The archetypal welfare queen was described as having a six-figure income, skipping taxes, etc.

        Certainly, it requires a lot of mental gymnastics to pretend that poor people on welfare are actually really well off (which is why, arguably, many libertarians go for the much easier justification of poor people deserving their shitty lot in life), but that doesn’t mean that people don’t try.

        • cassander says:

          >Certainly, it requires a lot of mental gymnastics to pretend that poor people on welfare are actually really well off (which is why, arguably, many libertarians go for the much easier justification of poor people deserving their shitty lot in life

          massive ideological turing test failure. By global standards, or even OECD standards, american poor are very well off by any objective measurement. but even if you reject the notion that their standard of living is sufficient, it is a long way from that assertion to “they deserve shit”

          • thirqual says:

            Bit of a red herring here. It is true that poor in the US are well off if you define poverty in absolute terms (amount of money to spend per day), less so if you compare to the cost of living.

            Figure B here is also not consistent with your statement about the OECD standards.

          • Anonymous says:

            Also, some libertarians plainly say poor people deserve their fates.

            “My full view is that the First World poor have a long list of problems. Some – like low IQ – aren’t really their fault. Others – like irresponsible behavior – are entirely their fault. Doesn’t this mean that their poverty is only partially their fault? Not really. If they acted responsibly, they probably wouldn’t be poor despite their other disadvantages. That is sufficient for a person to deserve his fate.”
            Bryan Caplan

            Of course, the more we chip at free will, the weaker his argument becomes. One can also draw interesting parallels with position 4 on weight loss in the previous article on this blog.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Of course, the more we chip at free will, the weaker his argument becomes.

            His position is certainly inconsistent. It’s ridiculous to claim that a man is not to blame for his low IQ, but that he somehow is responsible for e.g. his high time preference, or his homicidal tendencies. Personally, I lean towards treating all of these as blameworthy, but I know there is a lot of people on the rationalist community who bite the other bullet and decide that nobody ever deserves any punishment or pain no matter what they do (of course, even these people usually make concessions to the necessity of maintaining positive incentives, especially given our lack of infinite resources).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Of course, the more we chip at free will, the weaker his argument becomes.

            It does not become weaker, it becomes mu. If you’re going to chip at free will, then don’t skip over the branch you’re sitting on. Don’t declare that the underclass lacks free will, but assume that we special people float above all that, able to decide and be persuaded by evidence. If the poor person has no choice in how they act, neither do we have a choice in how we respond to their failures. Caplan cannot help but blame the poor.

          • Anonymous says:

            Caplan might cease (on the incompatibilist premises embraced so far) being responsible for such an argument, but the argument itself would still be correct or incorrect, just as high time preferences would be conducive or not to productivity or whatever.

        • Tarrou says:

          Care to link just one internet-approved self-straw for this horrendous weakman?

    • Christopher says:

      Well, who is “we”? Humans? Americans? Blue-tribe Americans? Blue-tribe American intelligentsia?

    • Anonymous says:

      Being common doesn’t mean that people don’t consider it mean.

      “Yeah, a lot of the nastier sort of right-libertarianism seems to basically be that.”

      The very fact that liberals are trying to establish that as central to the category “libertarian” shows that there is social stigma against such behavior that they are trying to tap into.

  49. social justice warlock says:

    I think “evil” here is drastically underspecified in a way that destroys the whole argument. What do you mean by it, exactly (in this context?)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Maybe it could be better specified as “things in categories that people tend to disapprove of”.

      Like if the key unifying feature of fascism and Stalinism is an attempt to seize power and kill a bunch of people, if they come out and say that, then people will disapprove. So they have to distance themselves from every other member of that category and remove all of the usual signs that they want to seize power and kill people.

      • Jiro says:

        Wanting to seize power and kill people in country X is always going to be something that governments within X specifically oppose. Because of the power of governments, that means that it will always look superficially like the “culture” opposes seizing power and killing people, even when it doesn’t.

        Europe doesn’t have cultural antibodies against fascism, they have 1) real cultural antibodies against an extremely narrow set of ideas that includes exactly the Nazis and not much else, and 2) fake cultural antibodies against fascism that appear to belong to society but come from the top down and from the rivals to the fascist groups, not from society in general.

      • Anonymous says:

        Seize power and kill a bunch of people only very recently became things society in general disapproves of.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Like if the key unifying feature of fascism and Stalinism is an attempt to seize power and kill a bunch of people, if they come out and say that, then people will disapprove.

        Hitler used to say exactly that at his rallies, and the actions of the SA and the SS proved that he wasn’t speaking metaphorically. And people voted for him.

        Hell, even Obama speaks of killing the “terrorists” in countries on the other side of the planet.

  50. BD Sixsmith says:

    And they were able to convince a lot of people, because people can be pretty dumb…

    Are we the baddies?”

    I’m not sure if “dumb” is meant to mean “ignorant” or “gullible, suspicious, self-pitying and vindictive”. Both are true but sometimes people only seem to spot the former, and assume that bad ideas and attitudes can be addressed with information alone. Terry Teachout wrote in his biography of Mencken, for example, that HLM saw Hitler as “Babbitt run amok, and thought it inconceivable that such a buffoon could long pull the wool over the eyes of the most civilized people on earth“.

    • Deiseach says:

      We know the Nazis are Evil, because look! concentration camps!

      But at the time, at least part of the disbelief about such rumours was because of Allied propaganda during the First World War about the Huns crucifying priests and murdering babies; the fantasy writer Arthur Machen (whose short story “The Bowmen” ballooned into what would become the belief in the Angels of Mons) wrote several of these – from a story called “The Monstrance”, dated 1915:

      One can guess what the priest of St Lambart carried in his hands when he and the little children went out into the hot sunlight to implore mercy, while the great resounding bell of St Lambart boomed over the plain. Karl Heinz knew what happened then; they said that it was he who killed the old priest and helped to crucify the little child against the church door. The baby was only three years old. He died calling piteously for ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy.’

      So, at least in early days, whispers about atrocities were treated as “yeah, more Allied propaganda, we’ve heard all about the baby-killing Boche last time round”.

  51. Josh says:

    I don’t buy this theory at all in the general sense. I believe societies sometimes dislike things they fought because they fought against them, for example we dislike both nazis and communist for this reason, but that’s a much weaker claim. The hypothesis that people dislike things that look like nazis seems contradicted fairly heavily by, say the popularity of Jobbik in Hungary. Do you have a reason why your principal might apply here, but doesn’t apply in Hungary? I could be convinced that there is a limitation of domain to which it might apply, but even there I’m skeptical. Basically I really feel like the neo-fascist/nazi resurgence in Europe forms a very strong counterexample to the general claim but I might be missing something.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      Different nations are different. Hungary was a member of the Axis Powers and was swallowed up by the Soviet Union. Unlike America and Western Europe it has been liberal – in a broad sense – for a short amount of time and its culture is up for grabs by ideologues.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “The hypothesis that people dislike things that look like nazis seems contradicted fairly heavily by, say the popularity of Jobbik in Hungary. Do you have a reason why your principal might apply here, but doesn’t apply in Hungary?”

      Okay, but notice how we’re talking about one small party in one small country. There don’t have to be exactly zero examples of successful fascists to notice a strong anti-fascist trend.

      (but as for a reason it doesn’t apply in Hungary – Hungary was on the German side in World War II, then got invaded by the Soviets. Seems to me like a pretty good setup for “the Germans were the good guys, protecting us from the evil Soviet threat”. I would expect Hungary to have stronger anti-communism antibodies – although when I check to see if I’m right it’s kind of confusing, as they seem to have a strong Socialist Party, but one that supports capitalistic free market reforms. Whatever.)

      (I also wonder whether Jobbik’s pan-Turanism – ie Turko-Mongolian supremacy – is sufficiently different from Nazism’s Aryan/white supremacy that they don’t produce cross-tolerance)

      • Josh says:

        I mean, the David Duke 1991 gubernatorial election and Golden Dawn in Greece are a few more examples. I agree fascism is not common, but I don’t think our memetic anti-bodies are actually very strong against in as a general population. Also Avigdor lieberman in Israel. I agree fascism is not especially hip any more, I’m not convinced that these memetic anti-bodies, especially conceptual ones, are actually very strong on a cultural level though.

        I’ll need to think more on the cultural explanation for jobbik, I’m initially skeptical because it doesn’t explain why the resurgence would be now if they were initially sympathetic thought that might be demanding too much. I don’t buy the different though, basically most people who are neo-nazis use there own ethnic group as the superior one, it’s an incredibly weak anti-body which doesn’t see “hitler was right, except it was a very slightly different race” as basically nazism. Jobbik isn’t very subtle.

        To be clear, I do agree with your conclusion with respect to punching down towards different groups to some extent, I just think you either phrase it or believe it to apply to widely. I’m thoroughly unconvinced punching down is nearly as universally understood as bad as you seem to imply it is. Tosh is still common and even fairly liberal Comics, like Stewart and Colbert have more than their fair share of jokes which punch down towards trans people.

      • drunkenrabbit says:

        It’s similar to the ideology of Alexander Dugin, Eurasianism, which views Orthodox and Turkic civilization as part of a common whole, which is opposed to the “Atlantacist” powers of western Europe. It makes sense in several ways. Primarily and most cynically, because Jobbik receives funding from Putin, but more importantly because both Russians and Hungarians have long histories of existing on decent terms with Turkic Muslims. (As a side note, people of Turkic ancestry, Ottoman, central Asian, and other, have a long history of following a very relaxed version of Islam.)

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        Everyone on the Eastern side of the Atlantic has memes with strong distinctions between socialism and communism, in part because it was mostly socialist governments in Western Europe at the start of the Cold War against the USSR (Britain, France, Denmark, Norway certainly).

        • Dain says:

          Right, which is why the libertarians’ insistence that they’re both really socialist, only different flavors, falls on deaf ears. Even in America, apart from individual middle-aged dad bloggers and Tea Party people.

          “Statism” is too broad to rally folks against it. It’s the flavor of statism that matters to most – Chimpanzee or Gorilla – not the statism as libertarians (holding it down for the Bonobo) would have it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not weird, Nazis are socialist?

        • Anonymous says:

          Economically speaking, of course. They weren’t socialist in the lefty, pro-underdog sense.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            When the Nazis actually got in power, they started a massive privatization program and in general their policies benefited the capitalists mightily. Not very socialist, no?



          • Anonymous says:

            That’s good to know (that the Nazi’s were capitalist in practice) if true, but probably irrelevant from the ideological standpoint of which countries and which attitudes mesh well with the meme “socialist”. If the Nazi rhetoric was socialist (I admit I don’t know if it was but it’s in the name at least) then it sets ideological president for staunchly nationalist countries who aren’t allergic/immune to Nazi concepts to have active socialist parties.

          • Anonymous says:

            “They weren’t socialist in the lefty, pro-underdog sense.”

            Of course they were, they were out against the tyrannical Communists trying to increase their reach from Moscow (the inverse of what Stalin said about them) and the rule of a financially prosperous small group.

            At most you can say they disagreed with other lefties about who the underdogs were.

          • From what I heard, the Nazis allied themselves with specific large businesses– they were pro-business in a limited sense, but not pro-market.

            Anyone know whether this is correct?

          • Protagoras says:

            That’s correct, Nancy, but that’s pretty much what pro-capitalism factions nearly always do in practice.

          • Cauê says:

            I can’t look it up now, but I’ve seen a couple of pretty nasty anti-classical liberalism nazi propaganda films (they feel “anti-capitalism” to me, but that would be fighting definitions). I don’t know how important this was to their general message, though.

            Speaking from South America, the level and kind of state control they wanted over the economy reminds me both of our former military dictatorships (considered rightist) and of our current governments (considered leftist). “Capitalist” can fit, but not of the free-market or “neoliberal” kind.

    • Deiseach says:

      Possibly because “you’re a fascist! that’s fascism!” became a term of abuse to be thrown about willy-nilly, so that people who knew what real fascism was went “No, that’s not what fascism is” and people who didn’t, or didn’t care, became inured to it and shrugged it off: “Yeah, yeah, I’m a fascist, and that’s what you called the guy in the park who made you pick up your litter”.

      So that when fascism rose up again in other forms, it’s easy to brush off criticism of “this is neo-fascism” with “yes, but that’s what your side say about everything they don’t agree with”. Also, ‘fascism’ has become linked in the popular mind with “Nazi”, so that makes it easy to say “Oh no, only those nasty evil Germans were Nazis, and we’re not Germans, we’re not Nazis, so we can’t be fascists”.

      People forget, or never knew, or choose to ignore, that Italy was Fascist. There were attempts, with varying degress of success, to form Fascist parties in the United Kingdom and in Ireland; for instance, the majority party in our current government would be highly offended if you called them ‘fascists’, but their roots go back to that incipient movement (look up Blueshirts“).

      • This is an important process. It seems to me that the same thing is going on right now with “racist”: as the term becomes applied more and more broadly, its effectiveness goes down because bystanders are likely to just roll their eyes and say, “Yes, that’s what you say about everything.”

        • Anonymous says:

          Everything’s racists except believing blacks are too stupid to get into college on their own merits.

          (The first blacks to graduate from the Ivy League did so in the 19th century, but don’t let that disturb you.)

        • Deiseach says:

          I really do fear that’s what is happening; I have one person I follow on Tumblr (and again, they’re about eighteen or nineteen, in the first flush of being out as trans, queer, nonbinary, neurodivergent and everything else, and very much this is the law and the prophets when it comes to how everyone else should be absolutely accurate and aware of all their various issues; in other words, typical young person who has just become Aware Of Thing and believe they’re the first person in existence to have invented the wheel), and they’re also Jewish, and are arguing that being Jewish means they’re not white (I think, in the context, what that means is “not White”).

          I may be perceived to have white-passing privilege but I’m not white and so I don’t have that privilege is more or less how it goes, and that’d be fine, except their ancestry is wholesale Eastern European, they have the same complexion and skintone as I do (and I’m milk-bottle white Irish), and any ancestral Near to Middle Eastern genes in appearance have been diluted over the centuries.

          So they’re white (never mind that, being of Semitic people, they’re Caucasian – white is Caucasian but Caucasian is not white; I consider Moroccans, for example, to be every bit as Caucasian as I am, but that’s not to say they’re white – or White, rather). I think the argument they are trying to make is that they’re not White, that is, they are not the dominant Christian Western European/North American social and political ruling class etc., which I do not argue or disagree with.

          But racially? They’re white, and any “that’s racist!” about it is not going to wash. Which is why I do think that such equivalences are going to induce the eye-rolling “that’s what you say about everything” response.

          • Audrey says:

            Discrimination against people for being Irish or Eastern European is racial discrimination.

            Discrimination against Jewish people for being Jewish is, depending upon the nature of the discrimination is either religious or racial discrimination or both.

            It isn’t an extension of what is or is not racist. The Holocaust is one of the main (if not the main) event that international law on racial and religious discrimation is based on.

          • Deiseach says:

            My (badly-made) point was that saying “It is racist to say I am (W)hite, or that I have (W)hite privilege, because I am Jewish and Jews are not (W)hite” will not change the fact that if your ancestor for four or more centuries is solid Eastern European and you’re as white (in terms of melanin content in skin, eye colour, bone shape etc. etc. etc.) as an admitted-to-be-white person like me, then it is neither anti-Semitism nor racism to say that you are, in fact, white.

            Arguing over White as meaning WASP (or some equivalent thereof) is a different matter; saying that being Jewish means you are part of what is an ethnic and religious minority which has been and is being discriminated against, oppressed, and treated as outsiders and excluded is not what anyone is trying to deny.

            Saying “I look white but I’m not white and if you say I’m white, you are being racist” is one of those cases where using something that everyone agrees is bad (racism = bad thing) in a case where it does not apply may lead to genuine accusations of racism being dismissed as “yeah, but your side says everything is racist, even when it self-evidently is not”.

            It’s the “boy crying wolf”, in other words.

          • Audrey says:

            Yes, I agree with that. The same seems to have happened with SJ people arguing that no Hispanic person can be called white, and the SJ argument that Frozen was racist, in part by arguing that Sami people are not white.

          • Nornagest says:

            The Frozen thing was… weird. As far as I could tell, half of Tumblr thought it was racist because it didn’t have anyone in it that wasn’t white (despite being set in Northern Europe in a vague but roughly early modern timeframe) and the other half thought it wasn’t racist because it had someone in it that looked Sami, which they interpreted as “PoC”. Despite both real Sami people and the character in question looking roughly as colorful as the driven snow and having absolutely nothing to do with the American race dynamics that the PoC term was invented to cover, and despite the character being raised by trolls.

            The moral of the story is that Tumblr is terrible.

          • RCF says:

            White trolls, or trolls of color?

          • I’ve also seen an argument that it was racist or at least doing cultural appropriation because it misrepresented Sami.

          • Nornagest says:

            @RCF: Uh… American accents? Skin looked kind of granodiorite?

            @Nancy: That’s at least an argument that makes sense, although I think it’s wrong.

    • peter says:

      Hungarian here. You will have a hard time understanding this because you think in very different terms, have a very different culture surrounding you, and you get a very specifically framed window into Hungarian politics by the media.

      Jobbik is most popular in areas where a high percentage of the population are Gypsies. As a rich – compared to Hungary – intellectual who probably lives in a safe neighborhood, you won’t be able to understand people who live in such places. Their problems are dismissed and they are told they are racists for talking about their problems. It’s very easy to just label them Nazis and say they are simply evil in their hearts and don’t tolerate different cultures. So they turn to the only party that’s actually talking about their issues. And their issues are very real, and aren’t simply hate for the sake of hate, as some rich intellectuals imagine.

      It’s very hard even to talk about these issues for me right now because I’ll run the risk of getting labeled a racist myself. And that’s exactly how it works. You can’t talk about it, not even about how you can’t talk about it and then it builds up and explodes and you get real extremism.

      Another issue that Jobbik surfs on is hate for the banking system and credits (especially credits in foreign currencies, mainly CHF). People who really *need* credits in Hungary often don’t know much about economics and finance. I mean people who just want to buy a small flat and start their lives. They may make something like 4500 USD/year (yes year, no not toilet cleaners but school teachers), they have no other chance. And banks sometimes really abuse clients’ ignorance with the small prints and lying in speech about what’s written and what it means, other times they are just indifferent. And then these people just see that despite paying back a lot it’s barely enough to cover the interest. Being illiterate in economics they don’t understand how the numbers aren’t decreasing. Then the CHF/HUF exchange rate explodes. It was around 140 HUF/CHF some years ago, now it’s around 320 HUF/CHF. Many people lose their flats etc. You may say they made a bet in the casino and lost, but these are not casino-like losses but black swan losses. And when capitalism destroys your life, you have a very different view on the whole liberal/capitalist ideology.

      Paradoxically, it’s a very similar set of people who vote for the socialists and who vote for Jobbik. Voters flow between them very easily (you can confirm this from the detailed election stats). They feel miserable and left alone. Some will turn to nostalgia about the socialist times when things were more stable and everyone had a job and could build a small house or buy a flat. Life was much more modest but more understandable, dependable, more familiar, small-scale, human-level; the opposite of capitalism.

      The (microscopic) Communist Party of Hungary is actually very similar to Jobbik in many regards. Also, left and right mean totally different things in Hungary than in the West. The Prime Minister is called conservative right-wing, but has policies that look like left-wing socialists in other countries. The socialists in Hungary are similar to liberals elsewhere. Labeling Jobbik as Nazi may feel comfortable as you don’t have to think with the heads of their voters, you can simply dismiss them as crazy evil stupid Nazis.

      These things are very complex and you can probably only understand this if you learn Hungarian, move to a random Hungarian town for a decade, read Hungarian news, learn the history, the literature, and generally talk to people about how they think. There is no royal road, I fear…

      • Nita says:

        Look, at first you say that some people in Hungary are miserable and feel unsafe. I understand that. I’m sympathetic.

        But then it turns out that, according to you, the risk of being called “racist” by someone on the internet is also a huge hardship, which makes me doubt that we’re on the same page. After all, people who express anti-racist or pro-LGBT sentiments are also called names on the internet.

        Then, you claim that Hungarian teachers are too economically illiterate to understand interest rates, and too literally illiterate to read contracts? That seems hard to believe. Also, we also had a huge real estate / mortgage / credit crisis around here. Hungary is not at all unique in that respect.

        And finally,

        Paradoxically, it’s a very similar set of people who vote for the socialists and who vote for Jobbik.

        doesn’t seem all that paradoxical, or new:

        While fascism denounced the mainstream internationalist and Marxist socialisms, it claimed to economically represent a type of nationalist productivist socialism that while condemning parasitical capitalism, was willing to accommodate productivist capitalism within it.

        • peter says:

          Internet name-calling is not a huge hardship, let’s forget about that. I meant that talking about this is usually dismissed in Hungarian forums of intellectuals. They want to think of themselves as a humanist and they pattern match this to racism, stopping any further discussion.

          I don’t know stats on economic literacy of teachers specifically, so I can’t comment on that. That was rather to show that people earn very little in general. And no, prices are not proportionally low. Prices are about the same as in Western Europe (e.g. Germany).

          And also in general, even some commentators who speak on Hungarian tv don’t understand economics, the biggest misconception being that 10% interest means you pay back 10% more. Many “ordinary people” believe that.

          The general public has no idea of these ivory tower political concepts like fascism or socialism. They just vote by feelings. Miserable people try to vote against the system that they blame for keeping them miserable, or for those that promise to punish this system. So they may vote for the Socialists, believing (totally falsely) that they have something (other than the privatized wealth) to do with pre-1989 socialism.

          Or they may vote for Jobbik, as they were (in their beginning years) the only ones who addressed the Gypsy issue. Everyone else simply dismissed it, liberals still do. When you live every day of your life seeing how the Gypsies in your village or town live but you’re told it’s just a different culture and you should embrace it, no doubt they’ll turn extremist.

          Again, don’t misunderstand me: extremism is not the answer and Jobbik has some horrible ideas, they are affiliated with crazy groups and fringe theorists etc. I’m not defending them. I’m trying to explain why anyone would vote for them. And I’m not sure I wouldn’t do the same if I were teleported into their shoes.

          • Nita says:

            I don’t think anyone here believes that your Jobbik-voting compatriots are gleeful comic book villains. But Italians and Germans before WW2 were perfectly normal people with legitimate hardships and fears, as well. Does that absolve them from responsibility for the results of their choices?

            I still don’t understand what you think should be done about “the Gypsy issue”, or what the issue is, exactly. But Jobbik’s rhetoric is the first step on a very dark path, and that should be obvious to any European.

  52. Pingback: The Influenza Of Evil | Neoreactive

  53. CzerniLabut says:

    Should we personify anti-inductive evil as Eris, say to differentiate from coordination problem evil as Moloch?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Probably better not. People are weirding me out with the anthropomorphization enough already.

      • social justice warlock says:

        Agreed; improper anthromorphization is a big problem. Let’s call it “Andy.”

      • Bugmaster says:

        FWIW, I’m not a big fan of the whole Moloch meme for this very reason. Moloch is not some sort of an external entity; it is not some ancient demon-god whom we can defeat in the conventional sense (say, with guns, or with propaganda, or whatever).

        Instead, the tendency to pursue positive-feedback optimization loops to the exclusion of everything else is a core part of human nature. The only way to get rid of it for good is to become something other than human, which is another word that means “to die”. And maybe that’s the right move for us to make, but it’s important to understand the tradeoffs, as well as the challenges involved — and picturing the problem as an epic battle against some horned eldritch abomination is not conducive to this task.

        • Corwin says:

          Instead, the tendency to pursue positive-feedback optimization loops to the exclusion of everything else is a core part of human nature. The only way to get rid of it for good is to become something other than human, which is another word that means “to die”.

          Transhumanism would like a word with that

          • Bugmaster says:

            It depends on what you mean by “transhumanism”. If you mean something like, “upgrading your physical body”, or “uploading your mind into a digital environment without making any significant changes to said mind”, then this kind of transhumanism has little to do with defeating feedback spirals (other than speeding them up, I suppose). But if you mean something like, “recursively self-improving until all of your thought processes become nothing like what we would recognize as ‘thoughts’ today”, then yeah, IMO it’s pretty close to dying… which, again, is not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to recognize it as such. Plus, it’s kind of an optimization spiral, right there.

          • Corwin says:

            If I upload and begin tinkering with my emulating code (on additional copies of course), each instance of Em!c0rw1n exists within the c0rw1n continuity of self. As an example, if I fork a copy to do boring shit and strip out its capacity to feel bored, both are still “me”, but that the category boundary of “me” encloses a bigger cloud of possibilities (than in meatspace). Which one copy is me? I am both copies at once, each copy is a fraction of me. “I am all that is ‘me’ “.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            “recursively self-improving until all of your thought processes become nothing like what we would recognize as ‘thoughts’ today”

            We don’t have to be the ones who do that though. That’s what AI is for.

            (which I suppose is technically outside the domain of transhumanism, but whatever).

        • stubydoo says:

          We have all of these ways that so called human intelligence is fundamentally broken – meanwhile a few posts ago we were talking about when/how the Artificial Intelligence “singularity” will occur. Well here’s a bold prediction for you – it happens after we find a way to “fix” our existing brains. That may sound hard for umpteen reasons that have been described in this blog, but I still say it’s at least somewhat easier than building a functioning intelligence from scratch out of rocks that you mined out of the ground.

          • Nornagest says:

            Speaking as someone who’s spent way too much of his life working on a codebase from 1993, I might mention that building something new in a cave from a box of scraps can in many cases end up being a lot easier than fixing a sufficiently broken architecture cluttered with a sufficiently long history of patches.

            Our minds are running on an architecture whose v1 came out about 550 million years ago. Draw your own conclusions.

          • Bugmaster says:

            That was kind of my point, though. Human intelligence is indeed “fundamentally broken”, which means that, in order to fix it, we would have to cease being human.

            You know all those movies where a plucky band of rebels band together to fight against the evil overlord ? And you know how, in the end, they defeat him through the combination of wits, gumption, and the indomitable human spirit ? Well, in this case, that “indomitable human spirit” is exactly what you are fighting against. That’s why I don’t like the Moloch metaphor. It doesn’t quite fit.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          This is, ironically, exactly why I like that analogy. Saying something’s “human nature” makes it too hard to fight and too easy to accept; call it a demon king and wage metaphorical war against it, and you might start making some progress.

          • B says:

            >Saying something’s “human nature” makes it too hard to fight and too easy to accept

            I disagree, mainly because this, in a sense, just what Christian theology does; it labels the intrinsic sinfulness of humanity as “the flesh” (or “the old man”) and this sinfulness is so identified with unrepentant humanity that sinfulness basically *is* human nature, (which, btw, human beings are powerless to change) standing unrepentantly before God. (That being said, Christian theology *also* attributes evil to the effects of demonic forces which hold sway over the world: c.f. 1 john 5:19, Ephesians 2:2, Luke 4:6, Ephesians 6:12, etc.)

            (It’s also important to note that this nature manifests both as obviously selfish, evil behaviors, and as covertly evil, pious, religious behaviors – but it’s the same underlying quality in both cases. There seems to be a sort of orthogonal quality in discussions comparing biblical sinfulness to what we might call “conventional” or “overt” evil. )

            This brings to mind a pair of related sermons from Oswald Chamber’s devotional book “My Utmost for His Highest”. (links here if anyone wants to read it: “”, “”. Note the specific language in usage here: “heredity” and “nature” are used foremost here:

            >”The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin, but that the nature of sin, namely, my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race through one man.”…”If Jesus Christ is going to regenerate me, what is the problem He faces? It is simply this— I have a heredity in which I had no say or decision; I am not holy, nor am I likely to be; and if all Jesus Christ can do is tell me that I must be holy, His teaching only causes me to despair. But if Jesus Christ is truly a regenerator, someone who can put His own heredity of holiness into me, then I can begin to see what He means when He says that I have to be holy. Redemption means that Jesus Christ can put into anyone the hereditary nature that was in Himself, and all the standards He gives us are based on that nature— His teaching is meant to be applied to the life which He puts within us. The proper action on my part is simply to agree with God’s verdict on sin as judged on the Cross of Christ.”

            I mean, I would obviously say that what is usually attributed to Moloch on this blog are largely (overt) manifestations of sin; and sin itself is manifested, at least in part, in ways of thinking that are themselves malignant and selfish. but more importantly, these patters of thinking are part of *human nature*, in the sense of fallen human beings (that is, you and me.) If we see this, isn’t the problem to *change* human nature, rather than trying to jury rig a shortcut around it? (and of course, how can you change your own nature, barring divine intervention? I might go on, but I think I am, in the word of another commentator here, selling my encyclopedias to a group of vigorous Wikipedia users.)

        • To even call it “human nature” is to understate its pervasiveness. Any optimization process with a complex utility function has to deal with Moloch.

        • Nestor says:

          I disagree, personalizing stuff like that appeals to my psyche, and doing things to spite someone is a great human motivator.

          Disrupting abstract incentive loops is hard enough for human brains to grasp, pissing off some Carthaginian deity is easy.

        • Leonhart says:

          No, there’s a perfectly good boundary between death and personal development; it’s the difference between surgically adding values to your value set, and removing contradictions in the set you started with.

        • Ghatanathoah says:


          Instead, the tendency to pursue positive-feedback optimization loops to the exclusion of everything else is a core part of human nature. The only way to get rid of it for good is to become something other than human, which is another word that means “to die”.

          On the contrary, many of what are considered the “noblest” parts of human nature are the parts that help us oppose our drive to get involved in positive feedback loops and fail at coordination problems.

          -Our sense of Honor, which (very imperfectly) prevents us from defecting in Prisoner’s Dilemma scenarios.
          -Our sense of Sympathy, which prevents us from defecting in Prisoner’s Dilemma scenarios by forcing us to feel the pain of our potential victims vicariously.
          -Our sense of Loyalty, which again prevents us from defecting against people.
          -Our sense of Fair Play, which makes us feel bad for engaging in feedback loops that disadvantage others.
          -Our sense of Prudence, which lets us forsee the dangers of these feedback loops and try to avoid them.

          All of these properties are regarded as among humanity’s noblest. A person who had these abilities enhanced, so they stopped sacrificing to Moloch at all, would be considered an exemplary human, not an inhuman creature.

          We should not make Weakness a defining part of humanity. Our humanity should be defined by our values, not by our ability to achieve them. If your ability to achieve your values is increased* that does not somehow make you less human.

          *Of course, it’s possible that some transhumanist project designed to increase people’s ability to achieve their values might screw up and change their values instead. But that is a practical objection, not an in-principle objection.

      • Dude, anthropomorphizing Moloch was the best thing you ever did. You made a myth, which is one of the best things you can possibly hope to do for the future.

      • Blake Riley says:

        If “Moloch” weren’t so embedded already, I’d suggest we coordinate on “GNASH” as the demon of prisoners’ dilemmas, tragedies of the commons, and bad incentive gradients. We’d lose the Ginsberg reference, but the game theoretic roots would be more salient.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m also, weirded out by it!

      • Anonymous says:

        Did someone draw Moloch as a cute anime girl already?

      • Yxoque says:

        Thank goodness, I thought I was the only one.

      • Anonymous says:

        Metaphors are essential for truly understanding abstract concepts. Anthropomorphize everything!

    • Anonymous says:

      On the one hand, that’s completely and utterly wrong, simply inaccurate to who Eris actually is.

      On the other hand, Eris is technically a semi-trickster mischief goddess, so… misattributing roles to her in ways that confuse everyone but you is probably one of the most Discordian things you can possibly do!

      Hail Eris, anthropomorphic personification of anti-inductive stuff!