OT17: Their Hand Is At Your Threads, Yet Ye See Them Not


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

1. I’ll be pretty busy at work for the next few months, so expect a lower volume of blogging.

2. Comments of the week expand on the discussion of what is a “religion” vs. a “culture”, and bring up the importance of narrative and whether you can base a country on it.

I don’t know if Ozy’s still posting open threads on their blog. If they do, I’ll link it.

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843 Responses to OT17: Their Hand Is At Your Threads, Yet Ye See Them Not

  1. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Scott, on Tumblr, you wondered about whether you might either be a sociopath or a pathological altruist, and that you wish you could tell which. Well, can’t you be both? That’s my read on the Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres character, anyways. He has little to no empathy, and he doesn’t care about people in the sense most people do, but he has this abstract notion that he should be a utilitarian, so he goes along with that. Which, of course, results in very different behavior from what people following their natural feelings for other people usually do, and might well be described as dysfunctional. He is more like friendly AI than a normal human being.

    • Nornagest says:

      I think it’s vastly more likely that the people calling HJPEV a sociopath have watched too much Sherlock than that he, or Scott, is a good match to the condition.

      Here in the real world, sociopathy — psychopathy, ASPD, whatever you want to call it — isn’t just about a lack of empathy. Sociopaths can be good at playing social games in the short term, but they generally don’t read as mastermind types. They have trouble with impulse control; they aren’t good planners; they don’t cultivate long-term relationships or pursue realistic long-term goals. Think the spooky kid in the back of the class in school, the one that blew off half his classes and set fire to cats for fun, not the one that spent her lunch breaks working up elaborate plans for fame and fortune, even if they both didn’t seem to care much for other people.

      • Irrelevant says:

        Sociopathy’s got the same problem as narcissism, people try to redefine it to make it both grander and eviler than it is.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I am aware that the empirical cluster of behaviors psychiatrists call “sociopathy” is very different from the common usage of the word; I’ve read The Mask of Sanity, and those case studies sure looked more like Dean Moriarty than Professor Quirrell. I was using the term in its colloquial sense in the grandparent, and I assume the reviews calling Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres a sociopath were doing the same thing.

  2. Noah Siegel says:

    An interesting article about why people adopt irrational beliefs by the well-known “David Wong” of 6 Harsh Truths fame.
    Item #2 cites Scott’s Ethnic Tension and Meaningless Arguments post, and overall the Wong piece reads like the author has been reading some SSC.

    • Jaskologist says:

      “Here’s the guy from Duck Dynasty talking about how he’s a Christian purely because atheists want to rape and mutilate children.”

      Relates back to SSC in more than one way!

  3. J. Quinton says:

    Anyone know why Scott’s old blog is listed as “pornography” on WebPulse Site Review?

  4. onyomi says:

    So about this law in Indiana, which, if I understand, basically just allows you not to make a wedding cake for gay people if you don’t want to: I always get extra-infuriated when debates on this topic arise, as the correct view to me seems incredibly obvious, and yet hardly anyone seems to share it with me.

    It seems obvious to me that anyone should be able to not sell stuff to anyone for any reason, just as one is allowed to not patronize any particular business for any reason.

    All this talk about “religious objections” and “religious exemptions” seems to me to totally miss the point. We shouldn’t need a special objection or exemption to discriminate in whom we chose to sell to anymore than we need a special exception to determine whom we buy from (or marry, or hire, or work for, or invite to our club…)

    And anyway, wouldn’t you rather know who the bigots are? If a company has a stated policy of not hiring or serving (gays, blacks, whites, jews, people with tattoos…) then I don’t want to give them my business. I also don’t want to patronize the store of a secret homophobe or racist, but I’m less likely to know the person’s views if stating them upfront is illegal.

    I have heard an argument to the effect of “well, lots of businesses in the South were actually relieved when anti-discrimination laws were passed because that took the pressure off them.” That is, they secretly wanted to serve blacks, but were afraid to do so due to social pressure. This to me is pathetic, because, if you actually want to serve black people because you’re not racist, then you’ll serve black people and not the racists who would disapprove. Conversely, if they pass a law that says you have to serve black people, then you can still pretend to be a racist if that’s what makes your white friends like you: you can say, “gee guys, I really don’t want to serve these black people, it’s just this darn law, you see.” You get to take black peoples’ money without actually announcing that you approve of having them as customers. This use of coercive law as a means to avoid having to do the right thing yourself frankly disgusts me.

    Sorry that this got sort of ranty, but I just really, honestly don’t understand where the opposition (almost everyone) is coming from on this issue. All the justifications I have heard (people get to your business on the public roads, so you have to serve everyone, etc.) seem extremely lame, and, if applied consistently, to imply that there is no behavior whatsoever the government cannot permissibly regulate.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I mostly agree with you, but my understanding is that the law doesn’t even go so far as to allow Christian bakers to opt out of wedding-cake-baking for gays.

      As I understand it, the law basically just allows individuals and businesses to plead religious exception defenses to ANY generally applied law.

      Once that happens, the case moves into court, which applies a 4-step test.

      (1)Is the religious person claiming exception sincere in their beliefs? Sometimes people fail on this test alone, cf. the Quaintances (http://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/09/09-2013.pdf), who claimed their God was marijuana and they needed to smoke to worship Him properly. The court noted that one of their dealers had been hastily inducted into the church the night before he was to pick up his first load of ganja for them. They gave him a certificate designating him an authorized church courier but never had him read the pledge of membership or even asked him if he shared their beliefs. For his part, the courier didn’t share their beliefs and testified that he’d signed up just so he could “do the load” of marijuana he’d been asked to transport.

      (2)Is the law a substantial burden on the religious belief? I don’t know of any court cases that have ruled on this, usually one of the other factors is decisive.

      (3)Is the government pursuing a compelling interest? Here’s where most of the “but it would allow discrimination!” protests fetch up – every court decision using RFRAs in other contexts has found in favor of the government when discrimination is involved. The photographer in New Mexico, the florist in Washington, bakeries – even in states with RFRAs the court has decided that preventing discrimination is a compelling government interest and so no exception is granted. Therefore, I believe that even under Indiana’s law the bakers would come up short. It’s possible that the bakers and Christian leaders enthusiastically supporting the law are misinformed on this point.

      Finally, the last test, (4) is there another, less-intrusive, means of pursuing the government’s interest? This is the test the contraception mandate failed on in the decision last summer – the Court noted that the government had set up a free alternative accommodation for religious institutions, which was clearly less intrusive than requiring Hobby Lobby to compromise its beliefs by purchasing directly.

      So, basically, I agree with you (in a general sense, not sure I’m with you on all the particulars) that bakers ought to be able to bake for who they want, but I don’t think this law allows even that.

      In other words it’s even less consequential than its proponents and its opponents are insisting.

      (Also the boycotts of Indiana over this are totally stupid. <_< That is all).

      • Peter says:

        As far as I can tell, we don’t know what this law actually does, and won’t until the test cases start rolling into court.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Nonsense. We have 19 other similar laws in other states, plus a federal version, with plenty of established jurisprudence. Why should Indiana’s be any different?

          Similarly, discrimination against gays in Indiana technically wasn’t even illegal before this law was passed, so this law can hardly have altered the situation. Yet, somehow, Indiana was not a weird dystopia of homosexual Jim Crow. What good reason is there to expect this to change?

          (I’ve seen the argument advanced that the Indiana law is somehow different because it notes that the law applies to private corporations and individuals in lawsuits to which the government is not a party, which leads me to believe that some people hold the absurd position that citizens ought to give up their civil rights when they decide to incorporate. I’ve yet to see a convincing argument for why THOSE 19 other RFRAs are okay but THIS one is uniquely horrible).

          • not_all_environmentalsts says:

            some people hold the absurd position that citizens ought to give up their civil rights when they decide to incorporate

            Well, when you gain the right to not be personally sued for what your company does (Limited Liability Company), or personally jailed for manslaughter, or a few other things, maybe you-as-company should lose a few ‘personal’ rights.

        • Jaskologist says:

          There are indeed many large, complex laws with many moving parts which are hard to predict. This is not one of those. It is literally 4 pages long. (You can all read it here. There’s not even much legalese.)

          In addition, there’s plenty of history on how these bills play out. Bill Clinton signed the original in 1993, which was near-unanimously passed by a Democratic congress. 19 other states followed suit not longer after, several more have equivalent judicial interpretation regimes. Barack Obama himself voted for one in Illinois. There are minor differences between the many bills, but all of the supposedly unique features people have pointed to in Indiana’s already exist elsewhere. This is a very known quantity.

          • Peter says:

            I’ll take your point on the second of these.

            The first one – I wasn’t thinking complex so much as vague. But as the second point puts forward, maybe what I read as vague phrases have mountains of precedent behind them. Many parts, in practise, but not moving much, due to being established.

            Then again I seem to commonly get frustrated at laws being vague, so maybe this is just me.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Segregation was not merely a matter of social pressure, it was very often mandated by law. Plus, it could be backed up by Klan violence. Technically, this was outside the law, but they tended to have friends in high office. Recall that Robert Byrd formed his own local KKK chapter-and served in the US Senate until his death five years ago.


      • onyomi says:

        Yes, all the more reason laws against segregation were probably not necessary. All that was necessary was to remove the laws enforcing segregation, which were themselves a lame way for racist business owners to protect themselves from competition from non-racist business owners.

        Almost every law ever is, at root, the result of someone whining that they will lose profitability if people are allowed to transact (or not transact) voluntarily.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      There’s yet another dimension I’m detecting as far as Indiana: the law in question apparently did a lot of other stuff, and just happened to legalize discrimination as well, and everyone laser-focused on that bit and ignored the rest (based on the impression I’m getting from the governor’s responses).

      I think I know where you’re coming from. I have a Facebook feed full of people who think anti-discrimination laws are so obviously correct that only the bigoted or hopelessly naive could possibly believe otherwise, and will cheerfully mock anyone who even suggests so. I asked one guy whether he thought it would be okay for someone to walk into a custom bakery and ask the Muslim baker there to make a cake with a picture of Mohammed on it, and whether the baker could refuse. He called that the “sort of bullshit question libertarians would come up with”, implying it would never actually happen, called the entire discussion “sophomoric”, and left after getting said two cents in.

      The argument that certain businesses wanted the law to step in to provide cover does hold some water with me. Consider that the Civil Rights Act came at a time when lynchings were in very recent memory. It would not surprise me if businesses were afraid of vandals if they advertised they would serve anyone, and that the law would look the other way. It really would be tempting to just not rock the boat.

      That said, I really don’t like bullying, wherever it comes from. I don’t like businesses turning away homosexuals and mocking them as they head out the door; and I don’t like SJWs mocking religious conservatives who genuinely feel like they can’t even get their arguments understood.

      I think people who oppose discrimination need a way to get that message across on its merits, without hiding behind, or being forced to rely on the law to do it for them. It might be an adequate measure if, while discrimination were legalized, officials also called on law enforcement to pay extra close attention to any property damage or violent crime directed at either homosexuals or businesses advertising openness to them. Much as I don’t like the law playing favorites, this would get the message across while still having laws enforced that everyone recognizes as just.

      • Nita says:

        I think people who oppose discrimination need a way to get that message across on its merits

        Here’s my idea of how that might go. Tell me where I’m wrong:

        A: Hey, don’t bully gay people! That’s mean.

        B: Sure, bullying is not nice, but eternal torture is immeasurably worse. If there’s even a tiny chance that bullying will deter someone from homosexual behaviour, we should bully all gay people as hard as we can.

        A: Well, can we agree not to help people against their will? Their own souls are their own business.

        B: How callous of you! But even if I accepted that, the normalization of sin endangers the souls of my children. Have you heard about that poor boy who got confused by LGBT propaganda and committed suicide? Or about that girl who got seduced by a lesbian? We must fight this menace to fulfill our parental duty.

        A: But discrimination is irrational! You’ll get outcompeted by other businesses.

        B: Faith is more important than money. And, thank God, almost everyone in our blessed town are good Christians. With the Lord’s help, we will stay strong in the face of temptation of doing business with greedy atheists. And if any of us grows weak, we will do whatever it takes to help them return to the path of righteousness.

        • Deiseach says:

          While putting pressure on businesses to fire or otherwise discriminate against those who do not hold to the prevailing orthodoxy of the day is not, of course, bullying or something to be held up to ridicule or can go wrong in any way.

          No, it’s being Right Minded Folks who show they won’t tolerate the likes of that behaviour in this day and age.

          I think same-sex marriage should be legal on the grounds of natural justice, viz. that civil marriage has been so diluted and otherwise turned into a heap of crap by us straight people, there’s no pressing reason it should be denied to LGBT people because they really can’t make it much worse.

          That does not mean I approve; it means I accept that this is how society is going.

          If you are going to remove conscience clauses/religious liberty protections on the grounds that really, the kinds of people who hold such opinions are too silly for words, then wait a minute and think about who else can be affected. If ‘business is business, you can’t refuse any custom on any grounds’ and ‘keep your private beliefs out of the public sphere’, there is no room to refuse accommodation to anything. We praise those whose consciences did not allow them to go along with laws they considered wrong or unjust, but those we praise are those whose actions we personally favour (who is going to argue that people who broke racial discrimination laws on conscience grounds should have been forced to accommodate what was legal at the time? Who is going to say that if John Smith the printer refused to print a poster advertising a KKK meeting because he disagreed with them on religious grounds, he should be brought to court and forced to do so?)

          If people want to put themselves out of business, why interfere with them? Suppose I am a horrible homophobic bigot and I don’t want to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. I can always find an excuse not to do so, even if you take away any protection of law on conscience grounds.

          Will bigots use the protection of law to enforce their bigotry? Yes. But that’s the risk we run with all laws: people for all kinds of reasons game the system.

          • Nita says:

            My point was not that Christians are bad and SJ activists are good, or even that this law is useful.

            I’m just saying that Paul’s wish (that we should simply convince everyone who might discriminate that discrimination is bad) cannot be fulfilled even if discrimination IS bad, by every earthly measure imaginable.

            Because as soon as you drop “eternal torment” (or “infinite disutility”) on one side of the scales, no finite amount of harm or injustice can outweigh it. You would have to persuade these people that their religious beliefs are wrong before you can make any progress on any moral disagreement. Good luck with that.

            And I’m very glad to hear of your position on same-sex marriage, but some of the folks I have in mind would deny that you’re a True Christian at all.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “I’m just saying that Paul’s wish (that we should simply convince everyone who might discriminate that discrimination is bad) cannot be fulfilled even if discrimination IS bad, by every earthly measure imaginable.”

            I think the wish, as you stated it, and as I proposed, is quite fulfillable – we can certainly try to get the message across. I never meant to claim it would be 100% guaranteed effective.

            That is: I’m not trying to eliminate all discrimination I don’t like. I’m instead trying to set up a framework within which it can thrive or die on its own merits, the alternatives can thrive or die on theirs alike, and all the while also not categorically denying one group of the ability to function here on earth.

            For me, then, the question is whether this would achieve what I want, or if there’s some problem with it that I’m overlooking.

            Another question, of course, is whether we want all deontological claims to be able to live or die on their own merits. The only real alternative I’m seeing offered here is that we get a bunch of big guys with sticks to subsidize one claim over another. I don’t mean this depiction as a final condemnation of the latter method, but I do hope you understand how I find it somewhat lacking.

          • Nita says:

            I think being unpersuadable due to supernatural axioms is a kind of cheating in the ever-ongoing negotiation about what we, as a society, should do. If you want other people to respect your beliefs, you have to be willing to join them on the common ground of accessible evidence.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I prefer to insist on accessible evidence as well. The trouble I see with that is that a great deal of evidence in any issue is inaccessible. One side thinks certain behavior is wrong; the other thinks avoiding said behavior is wrong; the only way to properly find out is to conduct experiments that would be ethically problematic or temporally impractical. So both sides end up speculating.

            The only way I can see law working in such a case, in a way that could be acceptable to both sides, is for it to fall back on shared accepted law, state that it will enforce that much, and past that, you’re each on your own. The alternative ends up with one side rejecting the authority of law, and I don’t think that helps either side in the end.

          • Nita says:

            So both sides end up speculating.

            Both sides end up not yet persuaded. And if you don’t have enough evidence that the people you dislike are actually inflicting harm, not being an asshole to them seems to be the ethically prudent choice.

            The only way I can see law working in such a case, in a way that could be acceptable to both sides, is for it to fall back on shared accepted law

            What is sufficient for you to consider a law “accepted”? Does every single person in the country have to accept it?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Both sides end up not yet persuaded. And if you don’t have enough evidence that the people you dislike are actually inflicting harm, not being an asshole to them seems to be the ethically prudent choice.

            I agree – but how is that relevant? Which people are you referring to as doing the disliking? If it’s people who want to refuse service, since when is refusing defined as “being an asshole”, and since when has it been illegal to even be one? And if it’s people who dislike the people who want to refuse service, how is that not underlining my point?

            What is sufficient for you to consider a law “accepted”? Does every single person in the country have to accept it?

            Good question – descriptively (as opposed to normatively) speaking, I mean any law that enough of the governed are willing, on principle, to commit to enforcing over the rest of the governed. Which in this case, I believe includes laws against theft, vandalism, and physical assault.

            (It’s possible that this ends up including laws against discrimination, too – that is, that any resistance here is but a vocal minority – but given the principled arguments against such laws, which do not require belief in inaccessible evidence, I believe that isn’t quite the case.)

          • Nita says:

            @ Paul Brinkley

            I mean any law that enough of the governed are willing, on principle, to commit to enforcing over the rest of the governed.

            Eh, that seems to lead to a sort of might-makes-right outcome, where arbitrary cruelty to some people is OK if either there are few enough of them or their enemies are powerful enough.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I think that’s precisely correct – it’s might-makes-right. It also happens to be what I think we have right now. Laws are obeyed either because we already liked them as principles, or because big people with sticks will threaten us. A group that thinks it should be okay to commit arbitrary cruelty on a different group, doesn’t, because they know an even bigger group will commit cruelty upon them in turn.

            No, I don’t like it, but I still think it’s real enough to need to work with it. Even if working with it means getting an even bigger group of people with bigger sticks – or by employing reason sufficiently convincing to turn the current group of big people to your side.

            Do you believe there’s a more accurate way to characterize the current state of affairs?

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, I’m making the distinction between civil and religious marriage. The State can mandate in the morning that people who want to enter into a marriage with their bicycle can do so; that’s up to the legislators and any people who love inanimate objects who can get a referendum passed. I might think it’s a damn fool notion, but if it’s legal to go down to the city hall or the courthouse or the registry office and get a piece of paper declaring you cyclist and cycle, it’s no skin off my nose.

            Where I will dig my heels in is trying to enforce changes in religious ceremonies or definitions of marriage by using civil law. There’s a very murky grey area where clergy have been recognised as registrars of marriage for civil purposes, apart from the religious ceremony they performed, and that’s where the fights will come (I forecast).

            Businesses- I don’t know. My own personal opinion is that I don’t think baking a cake, or taking photos, or doing flower arrangements, is necessarily participating in or expressing support for the event.

            On the other hand, I can imagine people setting up a boycott of a photographer who did the photos for the Official KKK Celebration of the Last Lynching We Performed, and not being very convinced by “It was only business, I can’t discriminate on what I personally find offensive, I was not registering support or sympathy with their views by providing the service”.

            I think the same people who say “You have to bake the cake, you can’t let your personal feelings or beliefs interfere to cause you to discriminate against customers” would take the opposite view if, say, a gay photographer refused to do a job for an organisation they considered homophobic. In that instance, they’d be supporting the rights of conscience and personal beliefs trumping the law.

            I don’t think you can have it both ways. If you’re going to use law to enforce what society (currently) finds acceptable, then you have to put up with the danger that things you personally agree with may be on the “unacceptable” list. If you are going to say that freedom of expression or religion or assembly is to be protected, you have to put up with people you don’t agree with having the right to express themselves.

            Religion in the public square is acceptable when clergy and laity are protesting over, for example, immigrants’ rights complete with quotation of Bible verses. Religion in the public square is unacceptable when it comes to bakers refusing to make wedding cakes. If you’re going to tell people “you have the right to hold whatever weird beliefs you like but only in private, not in public” then it cuts both ways: you can’t let the bits of religion you personally like or find convenient for your pet cause be expressed in the public forum and used as reasons to break the law, while you use the law against bits you don’t like.

            I’m also a little sceptical about people and law and what constitutes a majority; as I’ve seen in the divorce referenda in my own country, the pro-divorce lobby kept fighting after defeats where they were beaten by a large majority, and said they’d keep going until the law was changed because they didn’t accept that it was right; as soon as they got the law changed, by a very small majority, suddenly it was iron-clad and no more protesting (by the anti-divorce side) could possibly be countenanced.

            I think the marriage equality fight is going the same road: those who want it will pronounce that, for conscience grounds, they’ll break the law because it’s unjust and unfair, but as soon as it becomes law in their favour everyone must abide by it, lawbreakers on the other side must be punished, and conscience is a private matter that you can’t use to discriminate.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Where I will dig my heels in is trying to enforce changes in religious ceremonies or definitions of marriage by using civil law. ”

            That’s pretty easy to answer. Did the law force clergy to perform interracial marriages?

            “I don’t think you can have it both ways. If you’re going to use law to enforce what society (currently) finds acceptable, then you have to put up with the danger that things you personally agree with may be on the “unacceptable” list.”

            Or plan B- declare moral standards are objective and castigate your enemies from being on the wrong side of history.

            “I think the marriage equality fight is going the same road: those who want it will pronounce that, for conscience grounds, they’ll break the law because it’s unjust and unfair, but as soon as it becomes law in their favour everyone must abide by it, lawbreakers on the other side must be punished, and conscience is a private matter that you can’t use to discriminate.”

            Like how abolitionists, egalitarians, first wave feminists and civil rights activists followed that model?

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Not sure I can tell you where you’re wrong, or even *if* you are wrong, without thinking a lot more about it, but I can at least start by telling you where I start getting my personal intuitions twigged by the voices in the conversation you describe.

          At first, I got off the track from B’s first – I thought it was “yeah, I’m bullying them, but at least I’m not torturing them”. I think I then later realized what you’re getting at – B believes homosexuality is a mortal sin, and is therefore saving homosexuals from a greater peril. (It’s not a mode of thinking I’m used to.)

          At that point, I have two separate lines I now have to consider. One are the Bs who really are bullying, are IMO misjudging how one goes about saving someone from damnation. If someone is drowning and you throw them a life preserver (death postponer?), you don’t then say “grab this or you’re an idiot!”; rather, you tend to assume they’ll want to grab it, and all times call out to them like you’re on their side. To me, that’s not bullying; bullying has to involve othering.

          The other line involves Bs who really aren’t bullying in that sense. They really think of homosexuality as something uncomfortable for them, and they want to be as far away from it as possible, and that means not participating in commerce with them. These are the ones I’m most inclined to protect, after people being directly assaulted or vandalized.

          Now, maybe they’re only playing the victim, and they’re concealing a perception of having true power in the community, and that once the undesirables are run out, they’ll be standing proud and sneering. But then, so might the other side. I don’t think the law can efficiently tackle sneering cases. I think it can efficiently tackle assault and vandalism, however – hence, my proposed alternative.

          Another thing: I think A’s last claim ought to be invalid according to A’s premises. Or rather, it’s valid on its face, and it’s valid as long as A *isn’t* using that as a reason to enforce A’s claim with law. This is one of those general things where I distinguish between things that are right to do, but wrong to enforce.

        • Irrelevant says:

          A: But discrimination is irrational! You’ll get outcompeted by other businesses.

          A’s transition from prescription to description at this line is the hinge of the argument. A is simultaneously asserting that discrimination on sexual orientation is unsustainable in fact AND that nobody is allowed to try it, which is a have/eat.

          You cannot claim both that your views are empirically validated and that nobody is allowed to test them.

          • Nita says:

            A’s argument (really, a last ditch effort after moral persuasion has failed) is based on the free market model of economics. B’s rebuttal is that 1) they are both willing and able to distort the market locally, 2) they will not be stopped even if their business fails.

            Also, I think it’s mostly wishful thinking on A’s part. A small minority like gay couples will not have enough impact on their own, and most people just want to live their lives in peace, not take a stand for justice. (Not to mention that people who object to anti-discrimination laws often consider boycotts coercive as well.)

          • Irrelevant says:

            I understand A’s argument, I’m saying it’s duplicitous. If A in fact believes his first argument, he should not marshal his second, and vice versa, because they are mutually overriding visions. He is, as you put it above, “cheating” in the same sense as the guy who proposes invisible karmic variables that outweigh the calculable ones.

          • Nita says:

            I’m still confused. Are you reading with the assumption that A is defending some anti-discrimination law? They aren’t. They’re just trying to persuade B not to be mean to gay people.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I’m assuming he’s trying to make an internally valid and convincing argument. Navigating at will between a kindness-based ethical argument and a kindness-obviating efficiency argument accomplishes neither.

          • Nita says:

            Their kindness-based arguments had already been rejected by B, so they tried to appeal to B’s rational self-interest instead.

            Oh, I think I get it now — do you think that A wouldn’t even bother arguing for kindness if they trusted the market? Well, for one thing, perhaps they don’t trust the market as much as they trust people who have been persuaded to be kind. And secondly, they would prefer to reduce the amount of meanness ASAP, not just eventually.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Oh, I think I get it now — do you think that A wouldn’t even bother arguing for kindness if they trusted the market? Well, for one thing, perhaps they don’t trust the market as much as they trust people who have been persuaded to be kind. And secondly, they would prefer to reduce the amount of meanness ASAP, not just eventually.

            Yeah, as I said, the two stances are mutually overriding. When you combine them like that, you get that argument we keep hearing about ISIS/ISIL/Levantia: “This urgent evil we must bomb out of existence will collapse on its own because it’s so stupid.”

            Which is less an argument and more a collection of disapproving mouth-noises.

          • Nornagest says:

            “This urgent evil we must bomb out of existence will collapse on its own because it’s so stupid.”

            I honestly don’t know enough about ISIL to say whether this argument applies in this case, but it’s quite easy to reconcile these statements. If you’re looking at a rapidly growing but unstable polity, you may expect it to collapse on its own at some point, but you may prefer to weaken or contain it, so as to minimize the amount of territory it destabilizes when it finally collapses. Bombing the hell out of it is one way of weakening it.

            There’s plenty of historical precedent for this line of thinking, sometimes successful, sometimes not.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          “Here’s my idea of how that might go. Tell me where I’m wrong:”

          None of that seems wrong; there are certainly people who would argue pretty much exactly that scenario.

          The part I’m stuck on is that, if I’m understanding the larger issue correctly, B is saying people should be allowed to deny service or organize boycotts against people like A, and A is saying that people like B should have their behavior banned by law.

          The two proposals do not seem equivilent, and if I have to choose between them I’m definitely going to side with B. Bullying via social power seems way less dangerous than bullying via the law, no matter who it’s aimed at.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Nita – The following is not supposed to be a straw man, but it’s possible my lack of understanding has made it one. It’s not meant as a description of all Social Justice advocates or anything like that. I wanted to see if the arguments remained coherent if you reversed the parties, and I tried to use arguments that at least felt attractive to me.

          B: Hey, don’t bully bigoted people! That’s mean.

          B: Sure, bullying is not nice, but structural oppression is immeasurably worse. If there’s even a tiny chance that bullying will shake an oppressor loose from the pervasively toxic cultural structures that have plagued humanity throughout recorded history, we should bully all the oppressors we can.

          A: Well, can we agree not to demand that others think the same way we do? Their opinions are their own business.

          B: The personal is political; nothing you do or say to others is “your own business”. Even the most secret or even unconscious of beliefs reveal themselves in actions. Besides, this false dichotomy of public and private spheres normalizes oppression, harming far more people than it helps. Why do you care about the well-being of the oppressors, and ignore that of their victims? Don’t you know about the suicide rates among gay teenagers, or the awful consequences of racism in america? What kind of people would we be if we didn’t fight to protect those most vulnerable from the attacks of bigots and hatemongers?

          A: But you’re saying that people should be punished because they say things you don’t like! Doesn’t that refute the whole idea of a harmonious, pluralistic, diverse society?

          B: Justice is more important than harmony. Diversity is valuable as a method of achieving a just, fair society, not as a terminal value in and of itself; if everyone is decent, we don’t need to bring in some bigots just to have diversity of opinion. Besides, everyone in my in-group is pretty much on-board with Social Justice. There may be setbacks and the occasional infighting along the way, but if we stick to our principles, I believe we really can bring down a lot of the structural oppression that plagues humanity, and bring about a brighter, more harmonious future for all. Isn’t that worth some conflict here and now?

          …I suppose one could argue that one example is appealing to a metaphysical structure that must be accepted on faith, while the other is accurately describing the facts of the world we live in. I submit that getting agreement on which is which will depend heavily on what population you ask.

        • Deiseach says:

          Have you heard about that poor boy who got confused by LGBT propaganda and committed suicide? Or about that girl who got seduced by a lesbian?

          So were you on Tumblr telling all the people spitting hate and wishing pain and damnation to Leah Alcorn’s parents to back off and not try to bully people for their own good?

          You can construct a strawman Fundamentalist Christian “Will nobody think of the children?” argument.

          You can equally construct a strawman Pro-LGBT Youth “Will nobody think of the children?” argument about “Didn’t you hear about that poor boy who committed suicide because of homophobic attitudes?” as to why people should be helped against their will – let’s stamp out parental homophobia, and make sure these kinds of attitudes are not permitted expression!

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Deiseach – I don’t think Nita was claiming that all Christians are that bigoted, merely that if the goal is to stop people who ARE that bigoted (and they certainly exist), nothing short of the law can secure their compliance.

            I conclude from this that since using the law in this way is far more damaging/dangerous than the bigotry in question, we’re going to have to accept some level of bigotry as a necessary evil.

    • Godzillarissa says:

      Can we at least agree that this is sending a bad message?

      I mean, sure you can turn away an individual and not state the reason. But I fear after this law is passed people will just proudly stand behind their discriminating people and everyone’s okay with it, because they can. It relieves them of social pressure to be decent people and takes away the bad-guys-stigma.

      Of course you’ll know who the bad guys actually are, then, and you can boycot them. But I fear that most people just won’t care and accept it as The New Normal to ban all X*.

      *I’m aware you can’t ban all X, but if someone proudly states “I don’t serve gay people” on the TV that’s what people will take away from it.

      • onyomi says:

        I can see where you’re coming from: the idea (which I think is common) is that the law helps reshape the morality, rather than changed morality inspiring the law. In reality, I think it can work both ways, though in a democracy, obviously, a certain large percentage must first change their attitude before a new law can be passed.

        But I am against the way of thinking which allows mechanism two to work, which says, basically, “that which is illegal is immoral, and that which is immoral should be illegal.” This is so wrong on both counts, and I don’t like any trend that further encourages this sort of thinking.

        • Godzillarissa says:

          Okay, I think I finally (after reading your post ~10 times) got what you said and I agree with it on an intellectual basis.

          Although my emotions are still warring with that insight, so I’m not sure where that leaves me.

          Edit: I just realized I’m throwing reason and ideals under the bus as soon as fighting homophobia is involved. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go and be troubled by that over there.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Experience tells me that if you feel that strongly about something, *and* you care about reason enough to say it this way, then it’s possible that there’s a rational underpinning for it that you simply haven’t recognized yet. Can’t support an argument that way, but you can certainly begin searching in earnest there.

            If your aversion to homophobia is anything like mine, it springs from my aforesaid aversion to bullying. It’s a special form of aggression+discrimination. The aggression – going out of one’s way – is key for me; it’s what makes the difference between one guy not wanting to do business with a certain group (I don’t like it, but I would abide) and one guy trying to force everyone else not to do business with that group (I would neither like nor abide).

          • Cauê says:

            I would advise against giving much weight to Paul Brinkley’s comment. I’m not even saying it’s wrong, only that it’s already way too easy, and way too tempting, to find excuses.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Not sure what you mean. Too much weight on which point? I thought I qualified it adequately…

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Paul Brinkley – “The aggression – going out of one’s way – is key for me; it’s what makes the difference between one guy not wanting to do business with a certain group (I don’t like it, but I would abide) and one guy trying to force everyone else not to do business with that group (I would neither like nor abide).”

            person A -“I don’t want to bake a wedding cake for a gay marriage.”

            person B – “I don’t want to bake wedding cakes for supporters of gay marriage.”

            person C – “I don’t want to do any sort of business with anyone that supports gay marriage, including purchasing flour and sugar or renting my retail space, or with anyone else who does business even in those ways.”

            …Is there a functional difference between the three, other than the broadness of the “people I don’t want to do business with” category? I don’t see any way to distinguish between “not wanting to do business” and “forcing others not to do business”; it seems if you think one is force, the others seem to be force as well.

            Doesn’t this pretty much undercut the entire concept of boycotts?

          • InferentialDistance says:

            I don’t see any way to distinguish between “not wanting to do business” and “forcing others not to do business”;

            Person D – “People that sell wedding cakes to gay people should be put in jail.”

            You’re failing to consider the effect as third parties. Person A, by “not wanting to do business”, is not restricting some other person from selling cake to gay people (and vice versa; said other person is not forcing person A to sell cakes to gay people). However, Person D is clearly restricting other people by coercive force.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I don’t see any way to distinguish between “not wanting to do business” and “forcing others not to do business”

            Did you misspeak? Because that seems patently ridiculous. For the trivial case, if I’m the mayor and John the hardware store owner sleeps with my wife, and I decide to drive an extra two miles to the town’s other hardware store from now on, that’s highly distinguishable from using my influence over the city’s bureaucracy to drive John out of town by changing all the city’s supply contracts to his competitor and selectively enforcing every petty municipal regulation I can find on him and sending the police to his house.

            Doesn’t this pretty much undercut the entire concept of boycotts?

            Nope. However, discussions of boycotts are highly prone to an ideologically consistent but slightly rhetorically unfair bait-and-switch: A wants to shut down X on some moral or ideological grounds. B argues that this is [censorship/fascism/etc.] and A should arrange a boycott of X instead. A concedes the point. B then argues that A shouldn’t arrange a boycott either because it would be [censorish/fascistic/etc.].

            And, as I said, nothing ideologically inconsistent about doing that. But it inverts the normal compromise structure and is therefore a bit of a dick move.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Inferential Distance & Irrelevent – Perhaps I misunderstood Paul. I took him to be saying that declining to sell a cake to gays was ugly but shouldn’t be banned, while community-wide social action on the level of a boycott of anyone who DOES sell cakes to gays was “aggressive”, and therefore both ugly and bannable. He seemed to be drawing a distinction between two different forms of “homophobia”, one passive and the other aggressive. Unless I missed something, neither seems to involve invoking the law to enforce its views. My point is that until you start using law to force people to do what you want, there doesn’t seem to be a meaningful difference.

            [EDIT] – “And, as I said, nothing ideologically inconsistent about doing that. But it inverts the normal compromise structure and is therefore a bit of a dick move.”

            My take on it is that boycotts and other forms of social pressure against speech you don’t like are de facto censorship to the exact extent that they are successful, and the rules for them run something like the rules of nuclear warfare:

            Rule 1: No one is allowed to use nukes.
            Rule 2: the only exception to rule 1 is in retaliation for someone using nukes.

            …Any other system seems to round to censorship of minority opinion sooner or later.

          • Irrelevant says:

            community-wide social action on the level of a boycott of anyone who DOES sell cakes to gays was “aggressive”, and therefore both ugly and bannable.

            As best as I can tell, his reductio is “but what if the disagreement runs so deep that the community splits into two parallel economies?”, which you might recognize as that voluntarist micronation idea that a lot of people around here consider not just unobjectionable but actively desirable.

            Edit replying to edit:

            My take on it is that boycotts and other forms of social pressure against speech you don’t like are de facto censorship to the exact extent that they are successful.

            Essentially. And there’s a divide in there between people who view freedom of speech as a means and people who view it as an end. To get Godwinny, when the town discovers who the anonymous Nazi pamphleteer is and he gets fired and everyone spits on him in the street and screams death threats until he moves somewhere else, do I jot that down as a victory or am I now morally obligated to start reprinting his pamphlets?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I made a weaker and less precise argument than I should have wrt aggressive vs. passive. When I say I would abide X, I mean I would not call for blocking X with coercive force. (Hopefully that part was clear.) But when I said “going out of one’s way”, I really should have said “going out of one’s way and using coercive force”.

            Consequently, I think a boycott should be permissible, for either side – which is to say, neither should be blocked by coercive force. So: if you want to turn away certain people from your private business, the law should let you. If others want to boycott you in response, the law should let them. If you get together with other business owners and boycott all of them, the law should let you. Et cetera.

            On the personal level, I would dislike both boycotts, while recognizing the sentiments behind them. I might side with the anti-discrimination side, grudgingly; I would call for talks (I agree that they constitute a form of censorship, though I would oppose forcing either side to listen to the other); I would oppose state enforcement of either boycott.

            Eventually I expect that state of affairs to run its course either when one side or the other decides it’s losing too much business that way, or both sides find they’re getting by, and you have two (or more) self-sufficient spheres of commerce.

            This would effectively be segregation. I actually think this may be okay, given the way I’ve laid it out in this hypothetical – both sides wanted it. (Race-based segregation in the 1950s was a different beast in several critical ways, AIUI.)

            I hope that clears up the confusion I caused.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I think I can sharpen your aversion to “legal(P) if and only if immoral(P)”. Law shapes morality to the extent that the law-abiding accept the law as a source of moral authority. The risk comes from certain moral principles which override even law; if law tries to usurp them, the holders of those principles become that less willing to accept the moral authority of law. That in turn leads them to question the moral authority of *other* laws, many of which you might want to hold even more.

          I think a lot of people fall into the trap of believing law can be exploited as a moral authority tool without risk.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Have you considered the badness of the message “we literally oppose religious freedom”? Now couple that with the fact that many in the religious community have been warning for years that the primary goal of “gay rights” is to use it as a bludgeon against Christians.

        Then extrapolate from the message: “We on the left will, without warning, declare anathema on positions we unanimously held just a short time ago.”

        • Godzillarissa says:

          Indeed, that is a bad message to send, too.
          Although it’s the most uncharitable, dumbed down interpretation* of what those “on the left” apparently said, that’s surely the way many many people will understand it.

          Oh, I’ve also conceded the point that I’m the worst person to talk about this issue ever in the meantime, so I’ll refrain from further participating in this discussion.

          *I assume that was your goal.

      • Irrelevant says:

        Can we at least agree that this is sending a bad message?

        In that it attempts to separate out “religious freedom of association” as a category distinct from “freedom of association.” Otherwise, no.

    • Cauê says:

      A bit of “high powered ethics”:

      Suppose someone says “I will photograph gay weddings because the law forces me to, but this goes against my beliefs, and is painful and distressing to me. So, please don’t make me.” I’m not an expert at US law, but someone who is told me they wouldn’t expect this to be accepted by the courts.

      Does this version shakes anyone’s intuitions?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Can you clarify a bit? What do you mean by not accepted by the courts? It seems to me that there’s no court case here – the photographer registers their objection, but they don’t refuse to participate. It’s the refusal to participate that usually throws these things into the court – at least that was my belief.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Chevalier Mal Fet – Just spitballing here, but:

          “your honor, we declined to pay the photographer because they failed to hold up their end of the contract by delivering photos of even remotely acceptable quality. Given that they declared that they wished to discriminate against us but were prohibited from doing so by law, we conclude that they instead provided us with “service” in name only. Now they claim we should pay them for their insult.”

          Something along these lines seems like a viable bullying method for bigots on both sides. Take the job and terminally botch it, or hire the person and use any mistakes they make to claim discrimination and refuse payment, and now the courts have to figure out what constitutes “acceptable” performance in the service industry. Assuming the law doesn’t have an easy solution to this sort of thing (I can’t imagine how it would, but I could be wrong), wouldn’t this be strictly worse than the current situation?

          • Irrelevant says:

            Washington state has a statute with that sort of failure mode: were its liability standards to be enforced impartially, it would require the initiation and continuation of contracts neither party desired, e.g. “gay people must selectively buy from and hire known homophobes or risk religious discrimination lawsuits.”

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This had occurred to me, too, and I’d never gotten around to bringing it up.

            If you were a gay rights supporter and went to a restaurant where the staff didn’t want you, would you even want to eat there?

            (I can hardly imagine a fellow of color having a satisfactory lunch at a formerly segregated cafe in 1960, unless the staff were already sympathetic toward him.)

          • Hadlowe says:

            @Irrelevant: “Washington state has a statute with that sort of failure mode: were its liability standards to be enforced impartially, it would require the initiation and continuation of contracts neither party desired, e.g. “gay people must selectively buy from and hire known homophobes or risk religious discrimination lawsuits.”

            That seems the worst of all possible outcomes – a legal situation where the Black Panthers are compelled to hire skinhead bikers to work security for their meetings precisely because neither group cares much for the other.

        • Deiseach says:

          And you don’t think in that instance the offended couple wouldn’t go to court about the emotional pain and suffering they experienced from such a hateful statement, especially when the photographer would not say it to a different couple?

          People who want to be offended – on both sides of this question – are going to find ways to say “You are being completely unreasonable and only punitive damages in the court can make it up to me!”

    • Mary says:

      “I have heard an argument to the effect of “well, lots of businesses in the South were actually relieved when anti-discrimination laws were passed because that took the pressure off them.” That is, they secretly wanted to serve blacks, but were afraid to do so due to social pressure. This to me is pathetic,”

      It’s also wrong.

      Take the bus company that was the butt of the Montgomery bus boycott. It didn’t discriminate because of social pressure. It didn’t even discriminate when it was the law. It only started to enforce the law when the police took to stopping buses at random and arresting the driver if he hadn’t. (The boycott was stupid — targeting those who were not responsible and couldn’t stop it.)

      Similarly, whites hired constructions firms in South Africa that were legally required to be all-white, and as a consequence had a white guy to talk to the government.

      Social pressure, it turns out, is pretty weak, because prejudice is free, but discrimination costs.

      • Deiseach says:

        I await with interest the doubtless soon to be forthcoming announcement from Apple that it is no longer selling its products in Saudi Arabia, given the range of punishments for homosexuality there, and given their CEO’s recent opinion piece in the Washington Post:

        America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business. At Apple, we are in business to empower and enrich our customers’ lives. We strive to do business in a way that is just and fair. That’s why, on behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation — wherever it emerges.

        I’m sure that they will be willing to put their money where their mouths are, and not wink with one eye at selling their expensive toys to a rich foreign nation while being righteously outraged about small businesses at home. What was that saying about motes and beams, again?

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Would you have mocked Wilberforce because the UK still traded with the US?

          • Anthony says:

            Not equivalent. Had Wilberforce owned a share of a Southern plantation, he’d definitely be mockable, though.

          • Deiseach says:

            Tried replying to this earlier, but the system ate it, or crashed, or both.

            Had Wilberforce made anti-slavery comments while owning a business that sold, for example, slave-grown and harvested sugar, not alone would I mock him, I’d call him a hypocrite.

            Interestingly, Wilberforce converted to Evangelical Christianity and permitted his political activities and involvement in public life to be influenced by this – just like those terriblebadawful people in Indiana.

            60-65% of Apple’s revenue comes from outside the United States. Back in 2011 the CEO, Tim Cook, stated they wanted to expand into the Middle East and obviously, Saudi Arabia is a great base for them to do that.

            It’s also pretty much a theocracy that funds the expansion of Wahhabism and has strict laws which go back before 2015, which Mr Cook and his ilk knew about. It’s one thing to write a finger-wagging article for the Washington Post critiquing Indiana – that’s probably a drop in the bucket, as far as domestic sales are concerned.

            When it comes to ticking off a wealthy and influential market, will we see Mr Cook writing a rebuking article to the House of Saud about how “Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow… we will never tolerate discrimination.”

            This is what makes me laugh about the notion of deciding public policy by the will of the market – yes, the market has decided: where there’s profit, you swallow your principles.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Not equivalent”

            Apple is being lambasted for selling to a country that is horribly reactionary. How is “selling stuff to another country that is horribly reactionary” not equivalent?

            “Interestingly, Wilberforce converted to Evangelical Christianity and permitted his political activities and involvement in public life to be influenced by this – just like those terriblebadawful people in Indiana.”

            Yes, and Hitler was a vegetarian. What is your point?

            “Back in 2011 the CEO, Tim Cook, stated they wanted to expand into the Middle East and obviously, Saudi Arabia is a great base for them to do that.”

            How does it offer them a base to do that? It borders Yemen, Jordon and Iraq- not exactly great markets. You want to go to the Gulf states, go to them directly.

            “It’s one thing to write a finger-wagging article for the Washington Post critiquing Indiana – that’s probably a drop in the bucket, as far as domestic sales are concerned.”

            Unless of course people outside Indiana care about it and are on the opposite side of him. You know, like the current situation.

            “When it comes to ticking off a wealthy and influential market, will we see Mr Cook writing a rebuking article to the House of Saud about how”

            Why? They aren’t a democracy. It isn’t like writing a letter to them will have any effect.

            “This is what makes me laugh about the notion of deciding public policy by the will of the market – yes, the market has decided: where there’s profit, you swallow your principles.”

            This would be relevant if Apple’s CEO had threatened to leave Indiana. The fact of the matter is that Apple is selling products in places where people do things the CEO doesn’t approve of- the only difference is he happens to be complaining about people actions in the place where he lives and newspapers will print what he says.

        • Deiseach says:

          Why? They aren’t a democracy. It isn’t like writing a letter to them will have any effect.

          Oh, I see: bold brave action standing up against the forces of repression only counts when, well, there aren’t profits to be lost!

          And this is my point: Apple and their CEO are risking nothing in the domestic market by saying “We support everyone everywhere* no matter what their personal choices are, we are all for liberty and self-determination (*warranties void where we stand actual chance of losing sales share)”. It’s ritual purity signalling: no Brendan Eichs here! It’s jumping on a bandwagon with no cost.

          Where it would cost them (because as you point out, Saudi Arabia is not a democracy; they’ve had to work hard to get permission to directly sell their products there) – well, that’s a different matter. No open letters or opinion columns in the newspapers. No boycott threats from other firms. No “I’ll burn my Mac, dump my iPhone, and not even consider the iWatch until Apple disengage from Saudi Arabia” on the parts of those calling for pizza parlours to be burned down.

          Oh, but that was only humorous exaggeration or a rhetorical device, not meant to be taken seriously, right? Not like if some ignorant bigot had tweeted about burning down a marriage-equality activism centre – no, that would be a serious threat and evidence of hate speech.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Oh, I see: bold brave action standing up against the forces of repression only counts when, well, there aren’t profits to be lost!

            And this is my point: Apple and their CEO are risking nothing in the domestic market by saying “We support everyone everywhere* no matter what their personal choices are, we are all for liberty and self-determination (*warranties void where we stand actual chance of losing sales share)”. ”

            Because his action won’t cause him to lose profits in the US? You do realize Chick-fil-A profits increased after being ousted as funding antigay groups?

            But please, tell me more about your extensive knowledge of the American market and how homophobes certainly won’t have their purchasing decisions affected.

            “Where it would cost them (because as you point out, Saudi Arabia is not a democracy; they’ve had to work hard to get permission to directly sell their products there) – well, that’s a different matter. No open letters or opinion columns in the newspapers. No boycott threats from other firms. No “I’ll burn my Mac, dump my iPhone, and not even consider the iWatch until Apple disengage from Saudi Arabia” on the parts of those calling for pizza parlours to be burned down.”

            Do you think people who complain about the US torturing people should shut up if they buy products from China? That Americans couldn’t complain about the Nazis and Soviets because of how we treated blacks?

            Do you honestly think people should not make political statements unless they ritually burn money and flagellate themselves to show that their motives are pure?

            “Oh, but that was only humorous exaggeration or a rhetorical device, not meant to be taken seriously, right? Not like if some ignorant bigot had tweeted about burning down a marriage-equality activism centre – no, that would be a serious threat and evidence of hate speech.”

            … that literally has nothing to do with what we are talking about. Or are you complaining that a person making threats is investigated by the police is proof that in another instance… a person making threats would be investigated by the police?

  5. Anonymous says:

    What happened to @MemberOfSpecies?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      He does this occasionally. (Along with @VesselOfSpirit and @UnitOfSelection, who I assume are the same person as him.) He’ll probably be back eventually just as he has the other times.

      (…but if anyone actually knows anything, that might be helpful too…)

  6. Nisan says:

    Language Log linked to an intriguing paper recently: Flavia Montaggio, Patricia Montaggio, & Imp Kerr, “DNA-based prediction of Nitzsche’s voice”:

    This paper presents a protocol for the accurate prediction of an individual’s voice based on genotype data, specifically from single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We collected trace amounts of cellular material (Touch DNA) from books that belonged to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). DNA was extracted and amplified using DOP-PCR technique. Five different genomic DNAs were generated. Nietzsche’s genotype was singled out after comparison to genotype data from one living relative of the Nietzsche family. Nietzsche’s genotype data was analyzed using a DNA-based phenotyping assay, termed VoiceRator, that incorporates the 24 most informative voice SNPs based on their association with genes related to the phenotypic expression of the vocal tract and larynx structure and function. An SNP-based voice profile of Nietzsche was inferred. The profile data was converted into bio-measures that were used to 3D-print a vocal tract and larynx through which phonation was organically generated. A composite of seven Text-to-Speech simulations was made using a sound morphing software. The result is presented in audio format and illustrates the first attempt at simulating the voice of a deceased person. (pdf)

    Unfortunately it looks like it’s not real.

  7. Anonymous Coward says:

    Pro-SJ people: I have a question. What’s the deal with cultural appropriation? I can empathize with most aspects of social justice (to varying extents) on the general principle of “discriminating against people who haven’t done anything to deserve it is bad and that’s a thing that happens a lot” but I’m totally lost with this one. I get how it’s offensive to dress as a stereotype or use a sacred part of someone’s culture as a fashion item, but it seems to go unquestioned in SJ communities that it’s racist for a white person to do anything that comes from a nonwhite culture, like wearing a kimono. I haven’t been able to find a half-decent argument for this. Can anyone help me get this or is it complete nonsense?

    • Irrelevant says:

      As best I can tell from reading a couple of George Lipsitz’s books, it started as a criticism of the habits of multinational media corporations. His concern wasn’t that some LA middle-classer might appreciate Indian fashion inauthentically, it was that the multinats would swoop in, gobble up superficial elements of Indian culture, and regurgitate them back into the Indian market at such volume that Indian culture would be drowned by the poppified, funhouse mirror of Indian culture that transnational marketing executives would distill from it. Similar concerns apply with respect to the US’s internal racial dynamics.

      Which, well, was probably a legitimate fear. I’m guessing the damage is largely done by now though. (Also the guy is way Marxist and conflates his fear of cultural destruction with his distaste that someone somewhere is making money and his worry that this will slow down the coming of the global communist revolution.)

      I haven’t searched out any other authors influential on the topic, but from his views, it appears that the way cultural appropriation gets used now is a case of people learning their side’s talking points in the form of partially-understood applause lines rather than comprehending the arguments behind them. Freddy blogged about that phenomenon recently as “critique drift.”

      • Cauê says:

        it was that the multinats would swoop in, gobble up superficial elements of Indian culture, and regurgitate them back into the Indian market at such volume that Indian culture would be drowned by the poppified

        By… offering them on the market, so that those who want it can buy it? Working under the incentive to match what’s offered to what people want to buy? Why, the nerve!

        • Nita says:

          There are externalities. A big global fad can completely eclipse a small culture: e.g., after winning a shooting competition, an athlete from Kazakhstan got to enjoy the Borat version of her national anthem.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Yeah, I don’t think I need to belabor the flaws in his worldview. Compared to the common usage, however, he had the key strengths of putting forth a theory of harm (“converting people to the commercial monoculture is evil”) and of describing a coherent class of action (“doing that”).

        • Tom Womack says:

          This seems like the argument against exporting used textiles to West Africa, which is that it makes adequate textiles available more cheaply than locally-manufactured ones, and so causes the local manufacturers to go out of business.

          About which I believe everything except the ‘so’; the reasons people don’t dress themselves entirely from Oxfam in England would seem to read through to Ghana. Local manufacturers will have to produce things which people find sufficiently more awesome than T-shirts commemorating the Fourteenth International Conference on Diseases of the Spleen or the San Francisco 49ers’ victory in the 2013 Superbowl to be willing to pay for; I’m sure they’ll be able to.

          • There’s a more fundamental problem with the argument, which ultimately hinges on 18th century economics.

            Unless the used textiles are being given away for free, importing them requires exporting something in exchange, so jobs are lost in the local textile industry, gained in whatever activity is producing the additional exports. If the country has nothing to export, the exchange rate will become so unfavorable that they can’t import anything.

        • not_all_environmentalsts says:

          Some people want to buy

          1. something they have heard of
          2. which carries a brand name with a good reputation.

          Compare a naive market being flooded with fake Rolex watches being sold under the Rolex brand trademark.

          • Cauê says:

            People know the Rolex watches are fake (and the Gucci purses, Lacoste shirts and Nike shoes…). The vendors don’t try to hide it, and frankly it would be ridiculous if they tried. This happens routinely, in markets that haven’t been “naive” for several decades. It’s an interesting phenomenon, actually…

          • not_all_environmentalsts says:

            @ Caue

            You’re right, my Rolex example was awful. I’ll try again. In US undergraduateademe, ‘Rationalist’ and ‘Yudkowsaki’ are names more respected than understood. Suppose some giant commercial publisher floods the market with a book of the worst kind of popular woo, emotionalistic pop psch ‘exercises’ etc – but sticks some of your terms on them and titles the book _Yudkowski Rationalism_. (And they can afford better lawyers than yours; don’t fight the hypothetical.)

            That’s the kind of ‘appropriation’ that apparently George Lipsitz’s books were talking about. Except that the names and appearances the giant marketers are stealing, stand for real things that have been important in a third world culture for centuries.

            As for selling what people want, if some people want pop psyc, fine; but don’t market it under false name and terms — using someone else’s name and terms for something that is actually quite different.

      • not_all_environmentalsts says:

        As best I can tell from reading a couple of George Lipsitz’s books, it started as a criticism of the habits of multinational media corporations. His concern wasn’t that some LA middle-classer might appreciate Indian fashion inauthentically, it was that the multinats would swoop in, gobble up superficial elements of Indian culture, and regurgitate them back into the Indian market at such volume that Indian culture would be drowned by the poppified, funhouse mirror of Indian culture that transnational marketing executives would distill from it.

        Now that makes sense. It’s bad enough when a US “yoga industry” develops, taking names of Indian yoga practices and putting them on US exercise practices, which seems to be overwriting USians’ knowledge of traditional yoga. But if that is being marketed in India with the same effect — that would be evil. Yes, evil. Very.

        [stops pounding her yoga mat and attempts peaceful irony] So now the SJers have appropriated Lipsitz’s serious and important term, and overwritten it with … well, we know what.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Doubly ironic because he was favorable towards artists swiping stuff from other cultures at the individual level, at least when they fit into his romanticized aesthetic of proper artists.

    • Nita says:

      1. I used to be very skeptical about cultural appropriation. And then I was on the receiving end of it once, and the experience was pretty persuasive. I think the combination of borrowing and disrespect is the central factor.

      2. Dividing things into “sacred” and “ordinary” is not so simple, especially in old cultures. Practically everything essential, precious, beautiful or symbolic is often treated with some reverence. And for modern people who have already lost large parts of their ancestors’ culture, even mundane items and activities can feel like family heirlooms.

      3. Dominant ethnic/cultural groups tend to treat everything minority-related with habitual disrespect, so most cultural borrowing that actually happens is also disrespectful.

      All that said, I don’t think many people object to kimono-inspired robes or whatever. The trouble is, there’s a very smooth gradient from wearing a kimono to wearing a kimono while going “ching-chang-chong, lol!” — where do you suggest drawing the line?

      • Emile says:

        Would you mind elaborating a bit on being on the receiving end of cultural appropriation? I’m curious…

        • Nita says:

          I’ll try. Sorry if it comes out confusing.


          There are two main ethnic groups in the region. Due to historical reasons, there is some tension between them. Let’s call them Locals and Russians. I have close relatives on both sides, my friend is pretty much a True Local. Some Locals, including my friend’s family, have a bit of an ethno-nationalist bent.


          I’m at a nice gathering of friends and family at my friend’s countryside home. A co-worker has told her about Maslenitsa, a Russian celebration of the end of winter. Fascinated by this exotic tradition, my friend decides to make some pancakes and burn an effigy, too. So far, so good. I love pancakes!

          Then, in a slight departure from the original tradition, she gives the effigy, a straw doll, a name. Some ordinary Russian woman’s name — to signify A Generic Russian Lady Doll, I suppose. Now, English people here may be desensitized to that kind of thing, with their Guy Fawkes Day and such. But here, we don’t really do that. So, to my mind, you burn a doll of someone only if you are personally convinced that they are (figuratively) literally Satan.

          My friend explains the ritual and invites everyone to watch the burning.

          The two little boys at the party run around, gleefully chanting, “Burn the Russian! Burn the Russian!”

          The adults chuckle.

          I sit there, caught off guard by my own reaction.

          I’ve never even cared about Maslenitsa! (Apart from the pancakes.) Culturally, I’m more Local than Russian.

          I know the effigy symbolizes winter and misfortunes, I know you don’t give it a person’s name, I know it has its own names. But I’ve never cared enough to research it, so I’m not completely sure what they are, so I can’t correct my friend. And I feel like something is so wrong, but I have no idea how to explain it, and I don’t want to ruin the party. They’re just having fun, after all.

          • Cauê says:

            So, to my mind, you burn a doll of someone only if you are personally convinced that they are (figuratively) literally Satan.
            (…) The two little boys at the party run around, gleefully chanting, “Burn the Russian! Burn the Russian!”

            Sounds like what bothered you wasn’t really the cultural appropriation, but the (perhaps nonexistent) implied hostility of the scene, and that it pattern-matched to some… unpleasant situations.

          • Nita says:

            That did play a part, no doubt. However, I’ve lived in this country for a while. I know how to handle hostility, either actual or potential, outside the context of friendly culture-sharing.

            It all just went downhill so fast, you know? She didn’t mean to mishandle it, it was just an accident. And kids are kids. But the whole thing made me realize how easy it is for friendly borrowing to turn sour, especially when there’s already tension between the two cultures.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Let’s see, where would I draw the line?
        1. No misrepresentation. Don’t call your kimono-inspired robe a “Japanese kimono”.
        2. No caricaturing. Don’t borrow from another culture as a form of self-mockery.

        These are still fuzzy categories, but I think replacing accusations of appropriation with one of the above would clarify a lot.

      • Let me offer a particularly outrageous example of cultural misappropriation.

        I’m a libertarian, an intellectual descendant of the classical liberals of the 19th century. Their activities, such as their opposition to slavery (which is what got economics labeled “the dismal science”—it had nothing to do with Malthus) helped give “liberal” highly positive connotations.

        So their ideological enemies appropriated the label, called themselves liberals while supporting the expansion of state power at the expense of individual liberty that the liberals had fought against.

        Now there’s cultural appropriation for you.

        “I’m still a liberal. It’s those people who aren’t liberals.” GKC

        • Anonymous says:

          How would the classical liberals of the nineteenth century have abolished slavery in the U.S.?

          • The classical liberals of the 19th century did not abolish slavery in the U.S., although I expect their arguments fed into the abolitionist movement. They, along with the Quakers and some others, opposed slavery in the U.K. The label “the dismal science” was originated by Carlyle, who was arguing for the reintroduction of slavery in the West Indies.

          • Anonymous says:

            @David, perhaps a better phrasing of my question would have been, How would the principles of classical liberalism have led to the abolishment of slavery in the nineteenth century U.S.? IIRC, abolition was seen as an infringement of individual liberty and the right to property.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          No, your history is all wrong. The liberals laid out their program four hundred years ago. If you want to get off the train a few stops ago, you can’t keep the name.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Here’s a thing Ozy wrote about it (reposted from their old blog), in which they try to categorize what what sorts of things actually get people complaining about cultural appropriation. It seems to include not too much more than what you listed.

      • Anonymous Coward says:

        I’ve read that, actually! I might have subconsciously ripped off my examples from that.

        (Though their understanding of rock history is pretty off-base. No one was under the impression that white people invented rock and roll. Rock and roll (and previous black genres like R&B and jazz) were stigmatized precisely because of their association with black people! I’d argue that the history of American music is one big argument for cultural appropriation.)

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        I worry about the examples there being too broad.
        > “For instance, do not do Tantra because it is spiritual and exotic and ancient and totally sexy. It is a common Orientalizing stereotype that Asian people are exotic, spiritual, and the heirs to ancient wisdom.”
        Does the same apply to yoga and traditional martial arts? Can you do then as long as you enjoy it in a purely pragmatic physical way and don’t consider it cool that there a well-established tradition? At what point does that risk erasing the cultural history of those forms?

        My sense is that rather than denying that yoga is spiritual we should resist assuming that Indian people and Indian culture have all the properties of yoga.

    • John Schilling says:

      If Cultural Appropriation is really A Thing, do I as a nerdy white guy get to tell pretty much the entire SJ movement to get the hell out of my internet?

      • Nita says:

        Maybe if you’re a computer scientist sponsored by the US Government? Work for hire a bit different from culture, though.

        • John Schilling says:

          Ah, so Mozart, Shakespeare, and Star Trek aren’t a part of anyone’s culture. Got it. Thanks.

          • Anonymous Coward says:

            The internet is a piece of technology created for mass use. Non-nerds using the internet is no more appropriative than, say, white people going to a Chinese restaurant.

          • Nita says:

            I’m pretty sure Mozart, Shakespeare and the entire team of Star Trek would argue that their works were created by them, not by Austrians, English people or the sci-fi community in general, even if they were heavily influenced by their respective cultures.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Nita: Given your claim above that someone “doing it wrong” with regard to your culture was relevantly harmful, you seem to be arguing both ends against the middle here.

          • Nita says:

            @ Irrelevant

            Huh? I don’t see the connection, unless your model is that cultural artifacts and practices “belong” to whoever first appreciated them, rather than whoever created them.

          • Irrelevant says:

            My own stance is that the common usage is hopelessly confused and groups fundamentally disparate things, and got that way because the rhetorical temptation to people of being able to lasso others that they found distastefully tacky or eyerollingly inauthentic into a category with racists was too much to resist.

            But yes, since the term being discussed is cultural appropriation, not intellectual property theft, the sense of ownership that’s being violated has to be tribe-level, not individual.

          • Nita says:

            Well, hipsters or taste-police are not within the scope of my defense of cultural appropriation as a concept.

            I think the central case is the use objects and traditions that are meaningful to some people because they have been created by the community of their ancestors (rather than predecessors in general), coupled with a contemptuous, hostile or dismissive attitude.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m pretty sure Mozart, Shakespeare and the entire team of Star Trek would argue that their works were created by them, and not [their culture]

            Is there any cultural artifact for which that is not true? I mean, sure, we don’t know the name of the first Native American who figured out how to make a really cool headband with eagle feathers, but he did exist and I’m going to hazard a guess that his motive was six parts personal status, three parts getting laid, and maybe one part making his tribe cooler than the tribes next door.

            Only difference with e.g. Star Trek is that we know Gene Roddenberry’s name. But culture is bits of stuff that were each created for the private benefit of the creators while being shared with the broader culture. There is perhaps a distinction to be made between literate cultures, where we have specific records of all this stuff, and nonliterate cultures where all we have are legends, but I’m uncomfortable with a standard where being literate means you get to be an involuntary culture donor to folk who won’t return the favor.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I think the central case is the use objects and traditions that are meaningful to some people because they have been created by the community of their ancestors (rather than predecessors in general), coupled with a contemptuous, hostile or dismissive attitude.

            “Ancestralness” is not supportable as a necessary condition. Hip-hop is undeniably a central usage case, and hip-hop is younger than Star Trek.

          • Nita says:

            @ John Schilling

            Traditional artifacts and practices develop and change over time, both through innovation (by multiple people in different times) and through use (in a participatory sense — production of artifacts, practice of traditions, not aesthetic appreciation alone). Moreover, their use is constrained by the history and needs of the community, and a wish for some connection with ancestors is one of the forces that keep the traditions alive.

            All that is very different from the modern model of artist / inventor and audience / the grateful masses.

            Now, there are some modern community traditions that function in the old way, but they must be more participatory than “listening to Mozart”.

            @ Irrelevant

            I must confess, the history of hip-hop is not my specialty. But I did a little research on the apparently controversial Iggy Azalea just now, and everyone seemed to be OK with her until she did a cover of some black dude’s song, replacing the line

            “When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave”


            “When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave-master
            Shittin’ on the past”

            Uh, I do see why some people might be a teensy bit upset. Luckily, she promptly apologized — go ahead and read the whole thing. Even I cringed, and I’m 0% black and not afflicted with scrupulosity.

            I also listened to a bit of her music. It does sound like she’s playing some Generic Black Girl Rapper character — the only departure from the canon is her race. So, when she gets huge contracts and awards, some people might draw rather sad conclusions about the audience and decision-makers.

            Hey, Eminem even wrote a song about this phenomenon.

            So, it’s not a case of “you’re not allowed to rap if you’re white” — there are a few additional factors involved.

          • John Schilling says:

            You were under the impression that “Star Trek” has remained fixed and unchanging since 1969? I think J.J. Abrams and about ten thousand fanfiction writers may have something to say about that.

            Now, about that non-participatory internet culture with no sense for the needs of the community, created by An Inventor for his Cheering Audience.

            This bit where your culture is Sacred and mine is a common good for you to use, it needs a more coherent explanation than you are managing to find. You’re just pointing at cultural differences that mostly don’t exist and asserting without justification that “because [difference], my preferred cultures can be elevated above yours”.

          • Nita says:

            @ John Schilling

            You’re right, fanfiction communities are quite participatory. And they do have strong feelings about the Right and Wrong ways to do it. I wonder how most Harry Potter fanfic writers feel when they read the dozens of reviews saying, “I never read fanfic — that’s way beneath me, but HPMOR is the best HP fanfic ever written!!!”

            And I definitely don’t mean to deny your lived experience. If you do feel a sense of emotional attachment to the Internet and the right ways of using it, a sense of shared history with the original Internet-building community, a sense that belonging to this community is a part of your personal identity, then I’m willing to defend your right to teach us how to appreciate your culture respectfully.

            On the other hand, if Barack Obama claimed that hip-hop is his culture just because he’s a city-dwelling black American male, I would not agree.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think J.J. Abrams and about ten thousand fanfiction writers may have something to say about that.

            Abrams is not of the body 🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            The HPMOR example is almost perfect, and I wish I had thought of it. Thanks.

            To expand: I enjoyed most of the Harry Potter books and movies, though not to the extent of actively participating in fandom. So HP, maybe on the periphery of my geek culture. Rationality, much more central to my culture. Yet my response to HPMOR was basically to note that these imposters were not Harry Potter and company, that I was being asked to chose between continuing to enjoy an entertaining little magical fantasy and wrapping my head around a bunch of mutant versions of the characters inhabiting a wholly incompatible universe, for the sake of illustrating a series of lessons that did not need such a framing device. And I said “No, Thanks”.

            Being generally disinclined to raise the cry of Cultural Appropriation!, I have to admit that EY is within the bounds of fair use at least as generally recognized by the fanfiction community, and I find his choice no more than distasteful. But I can at least see where that might be stretched to a claim of wrongful cultural appropriation.

            Were I inclined to raise such claims, I think I’d be with Deiseach in my denunciation of the Abrams reboot of Trek. Something once uniquely wonderful, turned into just another sci-fi blockbuster for the international market. But there are enough geeks, nerds, and even Trekkies who approve of the Abrams version, that it’s not worth the bother. Sigh.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            @ John Schilling, re HPMOR vs HP
            Were I inclined to raise such claims, I think I’d be with Deiseach in my denunciation of the Abrams reboot of Trek. Something once uniquely wonderful, turned into just another sci-fi blockbuster for the international market. But there are enough geeks, nerds, and even Trekkies who approve of the Abrams version, that it’s not worth the bother.

            Yours may be better examples of real* cultural appropriation than my “Hot Yoga” vs traditional yoga. The Abrams version may be the only Star Trek that some young fans know, displacing OST. The NG and later versions displaced OST for Jay Lake, who in the last year or so wrote that (being raised far away) he had never seen OST till lately, and complained that it was not as intellectual as the later ones, because every week OST had a whole new story with no tightly-continuing arc. (Which arc I’d call a soap opera among the regulars instead of a fresh SF story on each new planet.)

            * ‘real’ as in *throws up hands and says “Oh, you know what I mean” *

          • John Schilling says:

            TNG was I think an honest successor to the original, and “soap opera” bits notwithstanding was about as episodic. Even as late as ‘Enterprise’, Paramount was trying to keep the spirit of the original.

            “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

            That was Roddenberry’s cultural contribution. Well, him and Heinlein and Asimov and plenty of others, but ST:TOS brought to Hollywood a positive alternative to the usual “Space: where live the Evil Aliens that will kill us all. Only worthwhile thing to be accomplished there is killing them first.”

            To the extent that Shatner’s original opening narration for the original series applies, it counts as Star Trek in my eyes. Now, how many strange new worlds has Abrams’ crew explored? Any new life or new civilizations that aren’t just Evil Aliens to be destroyed?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Now, how many strange new worlds has Abrams’ crew explored? Any new life or new civilizations that aren’t just Evil Aliens to be destroyed?”

            Well, looking at the previous movies
            1- exploration
            2- shooting
            3- shooting
            4- comedy
            5- SHATNER
            6- problem resolved through diplomacy
            7- shooting
            8- shooting
            9- exploration AND shooting
            10- shooting

          • John Schilling says:

            #3 had the newest possible world to explore, and #4 arguably the strangest.

            And all the movies combined make up about 3.2% of pre-Abrams “Star Trek”, counting by hours of screen time (18.9 out of 583.3). Probably less than 1% if you count even just the licensed written material at a one minute per page equivalence. Probably not the best place to get a sense of what Star Trek is about.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            The movies diverge so much from the show it is worth considering them their own category.

    • Held In Escrow says:

      There generally seem to be two proposed arguments of cultural appropriation and one unspoken one that I’ve seen. The first is the one you see the music industry generally being brought up in, that the mainstream culture takes the ideas from the subculture, refashions them to its own needs,and floods the market, pushing out the subculture. The thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this actually happen. Generally there’s a rising tide lifting all boats effect where artists that would previously languish in obscurity now have a path to success thanks to the gateway from the mainstream culture’s watered down version.

      The other stated argument is about stereotypes and offending people. Taking over someone’s sacred issues and doing your own watered down version without the surrounding culture is considered to be offensive. Therefore you shouldn’t do it.

      The unstated argument that tends to underline cultural appropriation arguments tends to be about status and authenticity. People who have invested heavily in a culture hate it when outsiders come in and try to claim the same status without an equal level of investment. Their blood and sweat is devalued and/or the status they’ve build for themselves is devalued. Thus they rail against the interloper. If everyone went around calling themselves Doctor they’d be a lot of people who spend 7 years on a PhD or MD feeling quite put out after all. I tend to call this the Marxist Holden Caulfield stance; forever worried about phonies coming in and simplifying your subculture for massive consumption.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Regarding your first argument, I can see psychologically how seeing the pop version of your authentic art be orders of magnitude more successful might make you resent it, even if you wouldn’t actually be better off without it.

      • Susebron says:

        I’ve seen the second portion of the second argument explicitly stated before. The specific examples that I can remember are the traditional Native American feathered headdress and the Medal of Honor.

      • The Marxist Holden Caulfield stance feels remarkably accurate to me. It reminds me of Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas about social capital being as important in many ways as financial capital. Heavily invested members of fringe cultures seeing a massive influx of new social capital should emotionally have the same response as someone heavily invested in any single nation’s currency to that currency’s inflation.

    • Mary says:

      ” it’s racist for a white person to do anything that comes from a nonwhite culture”

      Worse than that. It’s racist if they stereotype it as nonwhite. I have with my own eyes state that whites must never ever wear a savage or barbarian costume — as if the first recorded Noble Savages were not the Germans.

    • Lesser Bull says:

      I rarely see SJWs complaining about the Book of Mormon Musical as an act of cultural appropriation.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      (I’m not quite an SJ person. Or a neoreactionary.)

      I’m gonna say that the actual reasons for cultural appropriation being bad are different from the usually given ones. (This argument is not original to me.)

      I think a lot of the time, *in mixed or globalized cultures*, it creates confusion around identity for marginalized people who are insecure w/r/t identity.

      Let’s say we have a goofy example country with a mostly Western European culture, and a certain amount of globalization. And let’s say it has maybe 7 percent Japanese immigrants, who have assimilated a certain amount, but definitely still maintain some cultural distinctiveness and want to be able to recognize each other, and be recognized on their terms.

      In a starkly deliminated state, anybody wearing a kimono is recognizable as Japanese by both Japanese and Europeans. This may make them subject to anti-Japanese hostility and racism.

      Later on, with more integration and globalization, it’s not impossible that Europeans might occasionally wear a kimono, and Japanese probably will more commonly wear mainstream European clothes than anything recognizably foreign.

      But wearing a kimono is still probably normally a signal of being connected to the Japanese immigrant community and most kimonos are made by and for Japanese.

      Suppose that the Europeans start culturally appropriating kimonos and other Japanese distinctive clothing. Several things will happen all at once:

      1. There’s probably still some anti-Japanese bias, especially bias against Japanese people who don’t assimilate and wear their weird foreign clothes that look like women’s clothes for both genders. Except now, Europeans who never had much contact with Japanese immigrants, who may or may not actually know anyone Japanese, let alone anyone who is in the traditional immigrant community, are wearing kimonos and getting treated as fashionable and up-to-date, while Japanese who wear them are treated as uncooperative, wierd foreigners or Exotic Others.

      2. Since there are a lot more Europeans, and they likely have more money and more cultural control overall, then even if only a few Europeans are appropriating, their appropriation can rapidly rival or overshadow the actual Japanese people, in a variety of ways. Suddenly, most kimonos may be made for and by the appropriators and people who always wanted to wear them have to erect gatekeeping or else have their culture — and their clothes — made for them by foreigners. In capitalist states, this is *difficult*.

      3. For the same reason, wearing a kimono is no longer a reliable or costly signal of Japaneseness. This is bad for people whose Japanese identity is insecure, in particular.

      • I’m not sure I follow your example. You write:

        “while Japanese who wear them are treated as uncooperative, wierd foreigners or Exotic Others. ”

        That assumes that Japanese wearing kimonos can be readily distinguished from Europeans wearing kimonos, presumably by facial features and the like. And get discriminated against more than Japanese not wearing kimonos, who are presumed to be assimilated (“cooperative”).

        But you also write:

        “For the same reason, wearing a kimono is no longer a reliable or costly signal of Japaneseness. ”

        Wearing a kimono and having Japanese features is a reliable and costly signal of Japaneseness for the reason I have just quoted you giving.

        • Nita says:

          “Being connected to the Japanese immigrant community” is a different thing from “being Japanese”. The former is social, so a social signal is appropriate.

          Interpreting “having certain features” as a social signal is why Americans adopted from China get used as unwilling and bewildered foreign language practice targets by random white strangers.

  8. youzicha says:

    Huh, apparently Gwern Branwen was targeted by a DHS subpoena: Feds Demand Reddit Identify Users of a Dark-Web Drug Forum.

    (Actual announcement here.)

  9. Sniffnoy says:

    Regarding religion:

    Let me just start out with some relevant Razib Khan links: Against the seriousness of theology, Gods made in the image of man, God is an effect, not the first cause. (I should probably just read the books he cites already, but that’s so much less convenient!)

    OK. What do we conclude from / how do we summarize all this?

    1. Most people have some intuition for the supernatural “spirits, gods, and unseen forces”. If we need a definition of “supernatural” I think Carrier’s is good (“ontologically basic mental entities”) — at the least, a proliferation of mental entities is a key thing here.
    2. These intuitions are broadly similar and lead to some similar practices (e.g. sacrifices, prayers).
    3. These intuitions get organized and systematized into “religions”, which then shape how people who grew up with them think about the supernatural. The “higher religions” have taken this and greatly elaborated on it.
    4. But for most people, whose religion comes mostly from their intuition of the supernatural, the amount their idea of the supernatural is influenced by their religion is limited. They may give the doctrine answers when asked direct questions, but their basic mental model of the supernatural remains mostly unchanged. They perform the rituals of their religion, but their reaons (if they have any other than it just being the appropriate ritual) will not be some logical derivation of those rituals from the doctrine.
    5. Meanwhile, there is a small group of people — the theologians, the “nerds” — who actually “takes seriously” the doctrine of the religion, working out the consequences. This form of religion tends to be the most visible and salient to us, but it’s a minority; and it’s what’s built on top, it’s not the foundation. Intuition for the supernatural is the foundation. These “higher religions” can look very different from the “same” religion as actually mostly practiced.

    So, then, on the one hand, we have “folk religion”, and we have “higher religion”, and these are related but pretty different.

    The former is a more coherent category, though of course it bleeds heavily into culture in general; it’s not so meaningful to ask “Is this part of the religion or part of the culture?” But, if you take a culture or community, and ask “Does it include a folk-religious aspect?”, I think this is a question that can be answered yes-or-no.

    “Higher religion” is a much weirder beast; these vary a lot, and can lose a surprisingly large amount of the folk-religious content. If you look at these alone, and try to characterize them, it’s hard to get one that fits the extension well, without falling into either “only these particular religions I’m familiar with are religions” or “everything is a religion”. And I think that’s because, while there is a sensible category here, it’s not defined by current or intrinsic attributes. Rather, what these “higher religions” have in common is simply that they are the “higher religion” of some “folk religion” which shares their rituals or (explicit) doctrine; and folk religion can be identified. Note that this means that this is frequently just not a useful category!

    This gives rise to the following thought experiment:

    Suppose there were an environmentalist religion; call it Terranism. An actual folk-religion of nature worship, of substantial popularity, that existed and had existed for some time in Europe. And suppose that it had a “higher religion” that had been built around it. And that over time this “higher religion” became more focused on things that, well, “help the environment”, as currently understood. The people less invested in the higher religion adopted some of the new rituals, but eventually, among the theologians of this religion, the supernatural content got bleached away — so that, one the one hand, you have a large group of people worshipping Terra and doing their part to help the environment via the rituals; and on the other hand, you have people saying, “No, see, properly understood, Terranism doesn’t necessarily involve rituals or worship of Terra at all; in fact, properly understood, Terra isn’t a supernatural being, but simply the complex system that is the biosphere, considered as a unit, and the appropriate ‘rituals’ are simply whatever is good for Earth life”.

    And so imagine that the “higher religion” of Terranism is identical to existing environmentalism (together with a lot of putting things in religious language, and frequent disavowals that this religious language actually refers to anything supernatural). I feel like in that case I’d feel pretty comfortable calling Terranism a “religion”… which I think demonstrates just why the category is frequently not useful, because you can have a religion and a non-religion with mostly identical practices.

    (Except actually they’re not totally identical, because “higher Terranism” will also serve the purpose of converting people to “folk Terranism”. And many raised as “higher Terranists” will ultimately become “folk Terranists”. Etc. Grouping two things together does make it easier to move between one and the other. You can expect folk-Terranists trying to argue for their beliefs to employ a lot of equivocation.)

    Edit: On that last point, see also Scott’s old Parable on Obsolete Ideologies, and be glad we have environmentalism rather than Terranism… 😛

    • John Schilling says:

      So the high priesthood knows many of the rituals and practices offer no supernatural benefit, but endorses and publicly performs those rituals because encouraging the folk to perform the rituals furthers the secular goals of the priesthood.

      How does this make Terranism any different than all the other religions? Any useful definition of “religion” has to include “…and is a useful tool for cynical high priests with secular goals, of which there will be many”

    • Paul Torek says:

      Your post knocks it out of the park. Well done.

    • not_all_environmentalsts says:

      As long as this subject is still going, I’ve finally got sort of an approach, at least to finding the Central Meaning of the word ‘religion’. In the best Lewisian (ie inductive) order, I’ll start with some examples of non-central meanngs in (his and my and some others’) usage:

      A) When someone says, “Y is my religion” — Y is not a religion.*
      B) When someone says, “My religion is Y” — Y may be a religion.**
      C) When someone says, “I am a Y-ian — Y is a religion.***

      * That means, Y(A) does not refer to a religion such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Stregha, etc.

      ** That means, Y(B) may refer to a religion such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Stregha, Voodon, etc. Or it may describe the speaker’s attitude toward zis own cause or pastime (positive) or the speaker’s attitude toward a third party (negative).

      *** That means, Y(C) does refer to a religion such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Stregha, Voodon, etc

      After sorting some often-seen referents of ‘religion’ into four piles (A, B1, B2, and C), we can start looking for common factors within each pile. Then looking for factors that occur often in C but seldom in A. (Of course some factors will occur in all piles, such as “serious emotional regard”.)

  10. Shmi Nux says:


    Writing 5mL rather than 1 teaspoon is safer? Really?

    • Deiseach says:

      I suppose it depends on the size of the teaspoon? And some people probably confuse tablespoon or soupspoon with teaspoon?

    • Nornagest says:

      I’d be astonished if measuring in mL was safer than measuring in fluid ounces (or even drams), assuming similar granularity of measurement, but it’s not implausible to me that tsp/tbsp confusion could be causing some problems here.

      Other Americans here have had the childhood experience of baking something inedible after confusing a teaspoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of baking soda, right?

  11. Shmi Nux says:

    Duplicate deleted.

  12. grort says:

    I have a rant about Newcomb’s Paradox.

    Superficially, this game looks like it’s a question about game theory: there are boxes and payoffs and utility functions and all that stuff. But the actual question it’s asking can’t be answered with game theory. Here is a rephrasing of the question:

    “Something called the Predictor claims that it can predict what decision you will make. This claim directly implies that you should model the one-box/two-box decision as one in which the Predictor acts second, even though in reality it acts first. This claim is very hard to believe, but you are supplied with evidence E which supports the claim. Do you believe the Predictor’s claim?”

    If you do believe the claim (if you assign a greater than 0.1% probability to the claim) then you choose one box. Otherwise you choose two boxes.

    So this isn’t actually a game theory question; it’s a question about philosophy, or psychology, or reality-simulating computronium, or whatever was involved in evidence E.

    By the way, I think humans’ actions can be predicted with greater than 0.1% accuracy compared to random, so if E is at all compelling then I choose one box.

    • The classic debate in decision theory between Causal Decision Theory and Evidential Decision Theory requires that we be able to formalize a notion of what counts as a ’cause,’ and when a cause is decision-relevant. Newcomb’s Problem shows that CDT is either wrong about what counts as a ’cause,’ or is wrong to appeal to ’causes’ to remedy the problems with EDT. So to the extent decision theorists are interested in CDT, they’ll be interested in Newcomb’s Problem.

    • Unique Identifier says:

      I have always maintained that Newcomb’s problem is a non-problem. All the confusion stems from assuming a Predictor, which we don’t really know whether -can- exist, and whose properties people will interpret differently.

      You can construct a well-defined Newcomb’s problem by requiring the agents to be scripts, i.e. machine code. The Predictor can then actually make the predictions the problem requires, either by inspecting the source code or running simulations of the agent.

      At this point, there is very little interesting about the problem. Scripts that one-box will be rewarded, scripts that two-box will be penalized. Talking about what the agents -should- choose is nonsense, because a script doesn’t really choose, any more than an apple chooses whether to fall.

      The paradox at the heart of Newcomb’s problem is to pretend that a Predictor can co-exist with agents that choose in a meaningful sense.

      • Jiro says:

        The Predictor can then actually make the predictions the problem requires, either by inspecting the source code or running simulations of the agent.

        No, it can’t, because doing so is equivalent to trying to solve the halting problem, unless you restrict what programs the agent can be running or how it can run them.

        • Any scenario in which an agent has access to decision-relevant evidence about another agent’s future decisions is Newcomblike. The same core problem arises even if Omega only correctly predicts your decision 51% of the time, rather than 100% of the time. It certainly doesn’t require that Omega have know everything about every mathematically possible agent.

          • Jiro says:

            Omega being able to predict you at a 51% rate is still subject to halting problem considerations. Consider if Omega tries to ask the question “does this have at least a 51% chance of halting”.

          • Jiro says:

            Also, if Omega doesn’t know about every mathematically possible agent, then even just saying “assume you are one of the types of agents that Omega is able to predict” might constrain your behavior in a way that prevents you from making the otherwise optimal choice.

        • Jesse M. says:

          That’s true, but note that the halting problem would only be relevant if the agents are giving an infinite time to procrastinate in their choice…if they are told “you must choose whether to open one or both boxes within the next 24 hours, failure to do so this will count as a decision to open both boxes”, which seems like a reasonable restriction, then there’ll be an upper limit on how much computation the predictor needs to do. Incidentally, Scott Aaronson discusses the “what if the agents are mind uploads” analysis of Newcomb’s paradox on p. 18 of his paper The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine which has a lot of interesting ideas about analyzing philosophical issues like free will using math and science.

          • Jiro says:

            Something that seems like a reasonable restriction may not necessarily be. “24 hours” seems like a reasonable restriction because it is enough time for humans to make decisions using typical human algorithms. However, if you want to ask whether a perfect reasoner should choose one or two boxes, a 24 hour restriction actually might not be reasonable. For instance, the perfect reasoner could try to simulate Omega.

            (And you can’t just fix this by saying ‘the agent may not simulate Omega’, because figuring out if something is a simulation of Omega is also equivalent to the halting problem.)

          • Jesse M. says:

            Well, the Newcomb paradox as traditionally stated doesn’t mention anything about a “perfect reasoner”–if you want to introduce this idea, I think you need to make precise exactly what the criteria are for “perfection” (fuzzy definitions of perfection often lead to confused arguments, like Anselm’s ontological proof of the existence of a ‘perfect being’). A reasoner who tries to decide by simulating Omega simulating the reasoner is inevitably going to be unable to ever reach a decision and thus will gain 0 dollars, so this reasoner is actually worse by the criteria of maximizing money made than a reasoner who just picks one or both of the boxes after a finite computation of some kind.

      • Any scenario in which you can predict others’ behavior at a rate greater than chance, and in which your prediction is relevant to your choices, is Newcomblike. There’s no requirement that anyone have perfect, infallible knowledge of anyone else’s future behavior; we just need there to be some evidence that pertains to the question.

        That aside, “Newcomb’s problem is a non-problem” is definitely the wrong thing to say if you don’t have an algorithm that solves it. Decision theory isn’t just a field of philosophy; it’s a field of mathematics, and demands that we be able to give the right answer precisely, not just in intuitive-sounding English-language sentences. You might as well say “Computer vision is a non-problem”.

    • Andrew says:

      At the time that you are choosing whether to take both boxes, it doesn’t matter what you believe anymore. Two boxes can’t ever contain less money than one of the same two boxes.

      The whole problem is: how do you convince someone you’re going to leave $1000 on a table for no good reason? Because if they’re convinced you will, they’ll leave $1M in a box.

      The premise that the only way to convince someone of this at time T-x is to actually do it at time T, is the “paradox,” which as you say, is no paradox at all. It’s just a nonsensical premise.

      The real question is: how much nonsense are you willing to tolerate in hypothetical scenarios?

      • If medical science discovers a way to use a brain-imaging test to reliably predict a future behavior, will you immediately and in all possible cases conclude that the scientists’ claim is “nonsensical” and the test must be a fraud? Is there any evidence that could convince you it’s not a fraud?

        • Salem says:

          You are missing the point.

          Suppose scientists scan my brain to reliably (to whatever degree of accuracy) predict my behaviour in a Newcomb-like situation. Based on that information, then at time (T -x) they put $1k in the box. Then at time (T) I come to make my decision. It now doesn’t matter if I one-box or two-box – I am not getting the $1m. If I now one-box, that will not retrospectively convince the scientists that I am the kind of person who one-boxes, and so cause me to win the $1m.

          You can’t have it both ways. Either I have a choice at time (T), in which case there’s no backwards causation, or I don’t, in which case it’s meaningless to talk about what I “should” do.

          • Peter says:

            I – and my colleagues – have no compunction against saying what my computer programs should do.

            I once heard about the Underhanded C Contest, and thought “maybe you should write a program that looks from the source like it will one-box but which actually two-boxes”.

          • Salem says:

            But when we talk about what a computer program “should” do we are speaking metaphorically. We do not mean that the program has an obligation or preference of any kind, we just mean that it would be fulfilling our preferences/obligations.

          • youzicha says:

            Yeah, the paradox definitely has something to do with free choice.

            Basically, if you analyse things at the microscopic level, nobody ever has “a choice at time (T)” in your sense: what they do is a function of their brain, which is a function of their brain state at time (T-1). But ordinary decision theory and game theory fails to take this into account: when defining an equilibrium in a game you quantify over “any strategy of the opponent”, i.e. the strategy of the opponent is kept abstract. The framework builds in an assumption that there is absolutely no way to know in advance what your opponent will do.

            You can simplify the Navier-Stokes equations by omitting the viscosity term, and the resulting solutions will be approximately valid for fluids where the viscosity is sufficiently small. Similarly, you can view classical game theory as an approximation when brain-scanners are sufficiently poor. Real-life brain scanners are pretty poor, so usually this is fine, but it gives suboptimal solutions a couple of high-profile cases: it will one-box in Newcomb’s paradox, and it will defect in the prisoner’s dilemma.

            The various new decision theories that LW-people are working on could be seen as a different approximation for the situation when brain-scanners are pretty good. In the future this will presumably become more important. First, actual brain scanners will gradually improve. More importantly, many of the agents that we play against will be computer programs, and they can be designed to be very predictable. But even today many ordinary everyday situations may perhaps be better analysed in this framework—for example see Hofstadter’s “superrationality” essay.

          • Jesse M. says:

            “Either I have a choice at time (T), in which case there’s no backwards causation, or I don’t, in which case it’s meaningless to talk about what I “should” do.”

            Compatibilists who believe our actions are completely deterministic still have meaningful ways of defining the word “choice” in a manner that can make sense of the ways most people ordinarily use the word in practice (most real-world discussions of people’s ‘choices’ don’t hinge on whether their decisions were predetermined by the state of the universal wavefunction at the beginning of time).

          • Paul Torek says:

            I don’t see why there’s no backwards causation.

            The laws of physics are thought to be CPT-symmetric. Even if they’re not, the conditions at one time, plus the laws, may imply specific conditions at earlier times as well as at later times. In the sense of “backwards causation” most relevant to Newcomb’s Problem – how agents’ strategies interact to produce payoffs – I think this qualifies as backwards causation.

            Jesse M.’s link on compatibilism may help here, too.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      Agents cannot meaningfully “decide what to choose.” Free will does not really exist. Even though “choice” and “free will” are useful ideas they break down in edge cases like the Newcomb paradox.

  13. Kaura says:

    1. Peter Singer is on Reddit AMA on April 14 from 4 – 6pm, in case you folks are interested.

    2. On a whim, I recently wrote an essay on how I would begin to define the concept of morality and why I currently believe in something like moral naturalism. Since I really enjoy the debates occasionally seen here between proponents of very different ethical and metaethical views, I thought I might as well ask you for some feedback in case someone finds my writings interesting (or *interesting*).

    It’s nothing really rigorous and I haven’t been doing ethics seriously for very long, so I know I’m still totally confused about a lot of things, but I guess that’s exactly when you need all the feedback you can get!

    Anyway, here it is.

    (Oh, and English is not my first language, so if it looks like I have written something really awkward by accident, please tell me that too so I can fix it in time to maybe avoid the eternal shame etc.)

    • stillnotking says:

      First of all, your command of English is really impressive. You’re a far better writer than most people could hope to be in a second language. Hell, you’re better than most native speakers!

      The position you stake out is not moral realism. Moral realism means that morality is objectively real and independent of the preferences of agents. Even if the morality we observe in humans is rational and purposeful, even if we’d expect any sufficiently intelligent social species to display something similar, Hume’s guillotine still applies — the question “Is X good?” is necessarily translated “Does Y think X is good?”, therefore moral realism is false. People can be brainwashed into murder, but we cannot be brainwashed into violating the second law of thermodynamics.

      I would point out that your arguments could just as easily be applied to many other social features of the human race, such as economic pricing. I assume that any species with an economy would arrive at (or pass through) the concepts of currency and markets; they make sense for the same reasons you laid out for morality. Yet no one is going to argue for “price realism”. (There is an economic concept called “price realism”, but it doesn’t literally mean that.) We all understand that the price of a cheeseburger is not set by anything other than the collective preferences of agents who might want one. Why is morality singled out for realist advocacy? My guess is that our intuitions strongly influence us to want to believe that murder is absolutely wrong, but are silent on whether $4.99 is absolutely too much to pay for a cheeseburger. This is a form of bias and must be resisted.

      • Nita says:

        I think Kaura’s main idea is this:

        Given a group (or even an entire species) of agents with known biological and psychological properties, it may be possible to mathematically derive an optimal set of rules for their interaction (using game theory). We can call it “morality”.

        In some sense, this morality would be as real as the solution to a mathematical problem — that is, determined by the input data, not by any individual’s whims. Brains, bodies and their habitats are things in the world, after all 🙂

        Moral philosophers make distinctions between moral theories using odd questions like “Are moral utterances truth-apt?”, which makes terminology somewhat confusing.

        I like Kaura’s bio-mathematical approach, although I might be biased.

        • stillnotking says:

          That elides the basic problem, which is the criterion of optimality — is it the greatest happiness for the greatest number? The least suffering? Maximum production of paperclips? Or just the perfect happiness of John Q. Sociopath, as presumably John himself would prefer? None of these possibilities are objectively better than any other. At best, they represent a consensus opinion that will not be acceptable to everyone; that is a valuable thing, of course, and sums up a great deal of human effort, but it is an invention rather than a discovery.

        • Kaura says:

          Thanks for the comments, both of you!

          Stillnotking, you might be right about this not being exactly realism once you investigate it further, but I’m not entirely sure. I do think morality fundamentally rests on propositions with truth value, even if the propositions are about feelings, consciously held values and other mental states (which certainly always depend on the group of agents, and are usually categorised in the realm of the subjective, but are still inherently physical/biological in nature if we accept physicalism) and about mathematics, just like Nita said.

          You’re definitely right about this not being able to answer the criterion of optimality, except with approximations like the consensus approach, but what I currently sort of believe is that the criterion *could be* something we would in principle be able to figure out with sufficient knowledge about the world, and the more we know, the closer we get, which is a basis for our perceived moral progress. Due to the nature of mental states, if persons A and B have the exact same knowledge of states 1 and 2 (which means that they experience the states 1 and 2 identically) they will agree on how to evaluate the states. This is not to say that such identical qualia are possible in practice, just that our evaluations aren’t arbitrary and more empathy will lead to better understanding of values and how to coordinate them.
          But yeah, this is just a hunch I have and the way I’m currently looking at things instead of something I can actually defend, and I don’t know how meaningful it is in the end. I’m sure this question regarding optimality is something that philosophers of utilitarianism have thought of for a long time, and it’s the weakest link in my ideas, so I’ll read more about that next. Thanks for the food for thought.

  14. onyomi says:


    Have you said anything yet about the German airline pilot who apparently passed psychological evaluations but then went suicidal? Do you think the evaluation he passed was lacking, or is it more that no such evaluation is perfect?

    I would also be interested to hear your opinion more generally on the possibility of ever actually predicting or catching in advance potential killers, without, you know, also jailing or forcefully committing millions of harmless but weird teenagers.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I’m reminded of Dr Strangelove- “You can’t fault the program just because there was one mistake!”. More seriously there probably is a trade off- the more scrutiny you place on pilots and the more false positives, the less pilots think the system works and are willing to report individuals.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Suicide risk assessment is really hard even for psychiatrists if the person involved isn’t willing to admit to being suicidal.

      All current psychological profiling tools don’t work. You’d do better just imprisoning people who have past convictions or a track record of bad behavior.

  15. Nodge says:

    Time to talk about Race and Gender! Yeah!

    I’ll asks a question that’s been bothering me for a while, that is, what’s the best race? People seem to disagree heavily on this, to say the least, is there an Approved Rationalist Answer?

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ll cast a vote for Formula 1.

    • Highly Effective People says:

      Personally I have a fondness for the 100m dash. Marathons are just too long to hold my interest and I’m not southern enough to enjoy stock car racing.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Please keep all discussion of this question in one place.

    • Aleph says:

      My favorites are Jews and East Asians.

      • Highly Effective People says:

        What, no love for the Parsi? In terms of insular high-IQ mercantile monotheists they’re more interesting than Ashkenazim in my opinion anyway.

        Actually forward-caste Indians and Persians in general get rather short shrift in race-IQ discussions. Everybody loves to talk about northern Europeans East Asians and Jews but central Asia disappears. I don’t have any good psychometric data on hand but just taking a headcount at my lab they seem pretty bright.

        • anon says:

          What the hell? This is the sort of thing that passes for “discussion” here now?

          I’ll only say this once, there is no scientific evidence that caste has anything to do with intelligence. It’s a purely socially constructed category.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            No genetic evidence. I’m pretty sure there is a good correlation between caste and intelligence with environmental factor alone.

          • “there is no scientific evidence that caste has anything to do with intelligence. It’s a purely socially constructed category.”

            I don’t see that the first follows from the second, although it might be true. Whether or not caste was constructed on grounds of innate intelligence, after enough generations in which high caste individuals had different mating opportunities (and perhaps preferences) than low caste and a social environment in which different characteristics increased reproductive success, it could be expected to affect the distribution of heritable traits, possibly including intelligence.

            Causation can run in either direction.

    • Dude Man says:

      I’ve always enjoyed the 150m Butterfly.

    • DrBeat says:

      Go half-orc or go home.

      • James Picone says:

        Pfft, if we’re optimising, kobold

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          That relies on a rather tortured reading of the rules. You are better of aiming for The Wish and The Word. Or chain binding. They have they added benefit that you can do them with any class and species.

          • James Picone says:

            I’m curious – which bits do you find tortured? The divine-rank bit is definitely quite screwy (and relies on a spell that’s only been released in a WotC article, AFAIK), and they’re not clear enough on how they get arbitrary hit die, but the statboosting seems pretty RAW to me.

            Casting Blasphemy/Holy Word at >100 CL is pretty hilarious, though.

          • Irrelevant says:

            They solved the “Alter Form” problem the next time around by making it so that monsters and PCs had non-overlapping ability sets. And there was great rejoicing among DMs everywhere.

          • James Picone says:

            I see two separate problems there. The first one is that polymorph is essentially impossible to balance, because every sourcebook with monsters adds more things you can turn into, and even if you don’t get Su/Sp stuff you can be pretty effective if you just turn into something scary from $OBSCURE_SPLATBOOK. 4e fixes that problem by not having polymorph – they just have buffs with polymorph flavour – “You can turn into a bear, gaining +x to bearing and +y to honey-locating” rather than “You get all the values bears have”.

            The second problem is that 3e is modular, so you can construct PCs or NPCs built on monsters with stupidly powerful abilities that were only thought of in isolation, or are broken through an interaction with a class in a splatbook that came out later, or something. 4e solves that one by making monsters special separate entities from PCs/NPCs. 3e solves that one by nobody letting you in a campaign if you do something stupid, and/or by the DM forbidding you from playing a $INTERESTING_MONSTER_RACE.

          • Irrelevant says:

            There was certainly more they could have done with shapeshifting in 4e, but going by the numbers, the loss of “true polymorph” hurt approximately only munchkins. There was almost no demand for Druid content vs. core classes and popular newbies like the Avenger and Warlord, so Druids didn’t get much content.

            There was a similar demographic collapse in Cleric players. Turns out both those classes had player-bases massively inflated up by their broken-beyond-belief status (and in Cleric’s case, the perception that you “had to” bring one), with far less interest in actually roleplaying the concepts they represented.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I’m curious – which bits do you find tortured”

            The usage of manipulate form. It says “grant the target an extraordinary, supernatural or spell like ability” and goes on to give examples like wings, eyes on stalks, legs, etc.

            Basically it requires houserules in order to set limits. Otherwise you can simply claim it gives you infinite wishes as a spell like ability and win that way.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Amusingly, Wish is actually far more limited than Manipulate Form.

      • Irrelevant says:

        Genasi for melee, Elf for ranged, Tiefling for caster.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Why, the Running of the Leaves, of course!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Given your interest in philosophy and micronations, Scott, I’d like to recommend Kino’s Journey. It’s short episodic show about a girl and her talking motorcycle who travel from country to country and have high-concept allegorical (sometimes scifi) adventures. The first few episodes could be better but episodes 3, 4, and 8 are pretty great.

  17. Deiseach says:

    We’ll be going back to all the old cures our grannies recommended, if this keeps up 🙂

    • HeelBearCub says:

      That is very cool.

      I have this wild-hare idea on leaches that has to do with crush injuries. Leaches are now used to treat various different forms of repair/transplant where (IIRC) vascular transport is compromised as a means to remove old blood and improve local circulation.

      But I have no sources for whether leaches were ever used in this manner historically. And I’m not sure by what vector that would be translated to “leaches generally good”.

      Does anyone know if the anti-coagulant in leaches actually enters the bloodstream of the victim? If so, that would actually be helpful in people who are in danger of, or having a heart attack.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Interesting, but I’d caution that all of their tests so far have been in vitro or on excised pieces of tissue (as far as I can tell). There are a lot of things that will kill bacteria in a Petri dish that don’t work in living tissue.

  18. Sigivald says:

    I am disappointed at the lack of Lovecraft displayed in this thread.

    A lead-in like that, and nothing?

    • Jordan D. says:

      The Lovecraft replies are in this thread, yet ye see them not!

    • John Schilling says:

      We’ve got Social Justice, Utility Monsters, and Omelas in this discussion already. Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and Azathoth are just sitting back and laughing.

      • Nornagest says:

        I know what Cthulhu and Azathoth are, but what’s Nyarlathotep in this analogy — other than the Black Pharaoh, the Haunter of the Dark, he of a thousand masks, and so forth? Our Lovecraftian demon gods are proliferating so fast, I can’t keep track of them.

        • Susebron says:

          Nyarlathotep is (IMO) a better name for Moloch. The Soul and Messenger of Azathoth, the Crawling Chaos (crawling can totally be interpreted as optimization), who likes to torture humanity.

          Also, then you can replace Elua with Nodens, who doesn’t have specific aesthetic connotations.

          • Jordan D. says:


            Nyarlathotep, as I understand it, is perhaps the most motivated of the traditional pantheon of Things which appear throughout the Mythos. It *does* things.

            Moloch, on the other hand, is a uniquely sedantary monster. It’s the big bull statue which sits there, promising you advantage if you’ll just sacrifice your children upon its altar- and once you’ve done it, everyone has to do it and everything is lessened.

            It seems to me that the second image better communicates the fact that the runaway process is not an agent, nor something seperate from the intentionalities of humanity.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Yeah… Nyarlathotep conquers countries, possibly is the one who sunk Cthulhu, and generally acts like a comprehensible agent. He’s just a big not-so-friendly alien dude.

            I think Moloch was just selected for being the most stereotypically evil of the false gods rather than for any specific characteristics of his mythology. If you want symbolically dense entities to play with, try Hastur and Leviathan.

          • Sigivald says:

            I dunno, I stick with pure Lovecraft, where Nyarlathotep is still pretty vague in motivation and action.

            (IIRC more of the “human-like” characteristics were added by Derleth, but it’s been a while since I read Derleth, who I enjoy far less than Lovecraft.)

          • Susebron says:

            Going by pure Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep is only really described in two places*: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and a few of the sonnets**. In the first, Nyarlathotep doesn’t actually do much directly. Quite a bit of manipulating others, and then eventually lying to Randolph Carter, but conquering countries personally does not seem much like Its style, and the only apparent motive is sadism.
            In the sonnets, it’s still pretty vague. Depending on how unified of a story you think they present, and how much you care about similar phrasings between them, Nyarlathotep either appears throughout them or appears only in two. In the sonnet of the same name, Nyarlathotep is presented as a sort of dark herald – the Messenger part of Soul and Messenger – whose appearance signals the end of the world. There’s no real motive or comprehensibility.

            Moloch was selected for the promise: sacrifice your kids and I’ll give you power. This does fit, and perhaps it fits better than Nyarlathotep, but the problem with anthropomorphic personifications is that they get vague as to what they personify. Moloch, by the name, refers only to a part of the concept that it generally gets used to represent. Moloch doesn’t have a canonical nemesis like Nyarlathotep does, which can be viewed either as a positive or a negative. On the one hand, it’s good to point out that there is no natural nemesis. On the other hand, people nevertheless use the concept of Elua, which has a specific aesthetic and values attached to it.

            Jordan D.’s objection is of course valid, and it’s a matter of tradeoffs here as ever. I personally think Nyarlathotep better personifies the concept, but one of the main problems with personifications is that they tend to come out too agent-like.

  19. Vamair says:

    I’ve got a question about utilitarianism. If modern people can have preferences about future after their death, and their preferences matter, wouldn’t modern utility calculations be ovewhelmed by preferences of people already dead? What about future people that have preferences about the past? Should we devote resources to finding out these preferences? How much?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I don’t have anything to say about this, but I do have some relevant links!

      Robin Hanson: Ancestor Worship is Efficient
      Gwern: The Narrowing Circle

      • Vamair says:

        Thank you for the links.
        My problem is that it seems that preference utilitarianism either:
        a) is wrong;
        b) is dynamically inconsistent as the utility of the same act depends on who’s alive at the time of calculation even in the state of perfect knowledge;
        c) only cares about the brain states, and not about reality;
        d) requires us to care about the preferences of dead people and future people.

        I’d bite the last point, but that may change the way I think about moral dillemas. Maybe a lot. While needs of future people are somehow intuitive, the idea that we should care a lot about the preferences of the dead intuitively sounds more like ancestor-worship and less like normal utilitarianism. Is it a controversial view, a common one I’ve missed or a one that was disproved long ago?

        • mayleaf says:

          Choice (b) is the generally accepted utilitarian view. So, for example, the immorality of chopping down a particular tree depends on the number of currently living people who value the tree’s continued existence.

          Why would utilitarianism care about the preferences of dead people? They’re not alive/conscious/able to derive utility from having their preferences fulfilled, so fulfilling their preferences wouldn’t increase net utility.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Why would utilitarianism care about the preferences of dead people?

            Well, it is one way to stop smothering the poor in their sleep being an acceptable means of suffering reduction.

          • Irrelevant offers one way of getting utilitarianism to be opposed to smothering the poor in their sleep.

            If “the poor” really have a negative utility flow, then they would presumably be happy to take some painless lethal pill. If they don’t, then smothering them may raise average utility but it reduces total utility.

            This is essentially the argument Mead offered long ago for why average utility makes no sense as a moral criterion. His version was a world with two cities, A and B, both filled with happy people. People A were a little happier than in B, and the cities had no interaction. Would you really say that a catastrophe that painlessly wiped out the population of B was a good thing?

            That gets one into the (hard) problem of how to compare futures with different numbers of people in them. I have an old article on the subject, but unfortunately it is not, so far as I know, webbed anywhere. although I did find an abstract at: http://www.popline.org/node/394240.

            “What Does Optimum Population Mean?” Research in Population Economics, Vol. III (1981), Eds. Simon and Lindert.

          • blacktrance says:

            Would you really say that a catastrophe that painlessly wiped out the population of B was a good thing?

            One way out of this that seems reasonable to me is to treat death as massively negative-utility event (even if it’s painless) rather than as just the disappearance of the population of B as if they had never existed. In this view, creating a person whose utility is at all points equal to the world’s average utility and then killing them painlessly is worse than not creating them in the first place, but the other desirable aspects of average utilitarianism wrt population ethics are preserved.

          • not_all_environmentalsts says:

            two cities, A and B, both filled with happy people. People A were a little happier than in B, and the cities had no interaction. Would you really say that a catastrophe that painlessly wiped out the population of B was a good thing?

            I feel like I’m writing some sort of D&D rules here, but I’d set a threshold floor on “happy people”. If all the people in a group really feel happy, say 75% of the time, then they qualify as “happy people”. With City A at 80% and City B at 75%, you add those people together and add up their total happy moments — don’t average. If City C is at 70% (I’m being draconian here) they are below threshold, so ignore them. Don’t kill them or be mean to them, but put your resources into improving A and B (or starting a B1 in hopes of it doing well as B does. Etc etc.).

          • Irrelevant says:

            Blacktrance: That appears to be equivalent to the system where you incorporate the hypothetical preferences of the unliving, except in edge cases, and in the edge cases seems less desirable. You’re giving massive point deductions in situations like assisted suicide (which you should expect to be a continuing issue in any society which has yet to cure aging and dementia) and deaths from basejumping (where, while death was undesired, a remarkably high risk of it was) and, since your death=bad equation isn’t preference-based, you need to special-case abortion. Since we appear to be speaking in the morality-for-AI sense, preference utilitarianism modified by hypothetical preference extrapolation seems much better than preference utilitarianism modified by some ad hoc large penalty for deaths. Doubly so because accurate hypothetical preference extrapolation is already a necessary part of the system for working with people who are actually alive.

          • Vamair says:

            I’ve seen more people arguing for choice c) than b). Dynamic inconstistence feels like a damning flaw, as the same action in y. 2020 may be moral if we count utility in 2000, immoral if we count it in 2010 and moral again if we count it in 2020, even if we know everything about actual reality. If we want to do what’s ethical, should we get ready for this action in 2000, than thoroughly undermine our own plans in 2010, than do it anyway in 2020? Even when we know we’re going through the whole routine? I’d be more comfortable even with the idea that people aren’t allowed to have preferences about the time after their death, or about anything other than the state of their minds, but that’s patently wrong. A lot of people sacrificed their lifes exactly because they had preferences for what happens after their deaths.

            As far as I understand, the personal utility is a function of (mind, timespace Universe state), that returns a real number – and these numbers are aggregated somehow for all the minds who ever exist. In that case fulfilling the preferences of the dead actually increases net utility. Preferences shouldn’t nessesarily have any component to limit the utility to the period when the mind is alive, even though most people care more about that period – as they care more about things they actually interact with. Actually the time-independent utility is well-supported by acausual trade between moral agents, when the people in the past care about the preferences of the people in the future, and the people in the future care about the preferences of the people in the past, so they can both escape some of the Prisoner-Dilemma-like situations.

            A fictional idea I’d like someone to use – a common ability to put a powerful curse of bad luck on any action. Like “the one who cuts this tree down will be cursed”, when the curse is only powered up when the person who has put it there dies. A person has only some energy for the curse, but may distribute it however they want (for N smaller curses, for example) and redistribute it anytime while alive. Each curse works just once (you may put N smaller curses on the same action if you want it to work more than once).

          • blacktrance says:

            By “death” I meant “unwanted death”, so it’s still preference-based. Thus, euthanasia is fine, as are the deaths of people who are suffering so much that they prefer to die. As for abortion, I don’t think it needs to be special-cased because it happens before the person is brought into the world, so it’s not like creating someone and then killing them.

          • Irrelevant says:

            By “death” I meant “unwanted death”, so it’s still preference-based.

            Then how is your view different from incorporating the hypothetical preferences of the unliving?

          • blacktrance says:

            Because their preferences matter in determining whether they should die, but once they’re dead, their preferences regarding anything else cease to matter.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Alright. That seems contradictory. Tell me if I’m missing something:

            You’ve rejected giving weight to the general preferences of the dead because those preferences are fictional.

            You’ve rejected preference-agnostic condemnation of death as wrong because preferences regarding death are not singularly distinguishable from other categories of preference.

            You’ve endorsed giving weight to the preferences of the dead regarding their deaths because ???

            This appears to be a “choose two” situation.

          • blacktrance says:

            I’m not giving weight to the preferences of the dead regarding their deaths, I’m giving weight to the preferences of the living, who prefer not to die. The living generally prefer not to die, so death is considered a highly negative-utility event even if it’s painless. But once they’re dead, their preferences no longer matter.

  20. pkinsky says:

    RE: environmentalism as religion.

    I spent this weekend camping in the redwood forests north of the Bay Area, and I think I now understand, at some instinctual level, the impulse to worship nature. This is all very crunchy-granola, hippy, etc, but a millennia-old grove of redwoods is more impressive than any cathedral I have ever seen. Continuing with this metaphor, the monks of environmentalism are not pro-AGW media figures, but camp wardens who volunteer to spend seasons or years tending to the park, spreading the gospel of leave-no-trace, pack-out-your-trash, and put-out-your-fires. The saints are people like Jadav Payeng and Colonel Armstrong, not Al Gore.

    This is a bit rambling, so let me close with this: before you sneeringly dismiss environmentalism as a suburban religion, spend time in one of its cathedrals. Hike a redwood forest. Dive the Great Barrier Reef. The impulse to biosphere-worship is easy to understand, in such a setting.

    • I don’t think you need distant cathedrals to make the argument.

      I have, by Bay Area standards, a large yard. After about nineteen years of residence it is mostly filled with fruit trees I have planted. There would be more of them were it not for the existence of a very large live oak shading one corner of the yard. If I woke one morning to find that the tree had mysteriously vanished I would be happy, since it would open up space for a few more trees I would like to plant, as well as permitting more sunshine for some of the ones already there.

      I could, at a tolerable cost, hire someone to cut the tree down and take it away, but I haven’t. The reason is that it is a large living thing, and destroying it because its existence is mildly inconvenient feels wrong to me.

      • Anon says:

        Also it’s often illegal to kill old-growth oaks in the Bay without good reason, I understand.

        • Nornagest says:

          Depends on the city and the species, but most cities in the Bay Area require permits to cut native trees above a certain trunk diameter, and almost all have an interest in one species of live oak. Berkeley, unusually, seems to be one of the less restrictive towns — it protects only Q. agrifolia and only above a trunk diameter of eighteen inches (which is uncommon — they’re slow-growing trees).

    • Anon says:

      Relatedly, it has the property of being an automatic community, like religions. It’s amazing how readily backpackers can start chatting with each other, and it’s my impression that a lot of the reason that they respect “leave no trace” so much is that they consider it to be something they are doing for their community, rather than because it is required of them.

      • not_all_environmentalists says:

        it’s my impression that a lot of the reason that [backcampers] respect “leave no trace” so much is that they consider it to be something they are doing for their community, rather than because it is required of them.

        Yes. And it can be a community fetish, if ‘no trace’ is taken literally. The 80% result of no actual harm done to the local ecosystem (no plastic, buried or not, no plants removed, etc) is pretty easy and obvious. But when taken to actually no tiniest clue that someone was there — it takes a lot of attention away from activism (or even looking up at the trees).

        So there’s purity and ritual too. Hm, trouble is, arguing for my own (extreme enviro) side is more complicated.

    • not_all_environmentalists says:

      This is all very crunchy-granola, hippy, etc, but a millennia-old grove of redwoods is more impressive than any cathedral I have ever seen. Continuing with this metaphor, the monks of environmentalism are not pro-AGW media figures, but camp wardens who volunteer to spend seasons or years tending to the park, spreading the gospel of leave-no-trace, pack-out-your-trash, and put-out-your-fires. The saints are people like Jadav Payeng and Colonel Armstrong, not Al Gore.

      Al Gore is John the Baptist, martyred for being a voice crying for the wilderness.

  21. Wulfrickson says:

    The Egyptian military government has recently announced a plan to move the national capital from Cairo to a new planned city in the desert. That link is from Alon Levy, who is (in my estimation) the best English-language writer on urban planning, and he argues that this decision is principally motivated by the government’s fear of popular revolt and would only be possible in authoritarian regimes. In a democratic system, Levy claims, the funds that Egypt is spending on a planned capital for the government elite (about a year’s GDP) would instead be spent on badly needed improvements to the current capital at vastly greater public benefit.

    In Levy’s telling, this seems like a clear example of the superiority of democratic to authoritarian systems, pace the neoreactionaries, which is why I offer it up for discussion here.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Authoritarian regimes spending to increase their own grip on power instead of the good of the country occurs frequently enough. Good authoritarian regimes require the assurance that they won’t be suddenly disposed and killed to mitigate against that.

      Democratic regimes are less vulnerable to this (because the losers of elections are generally not executed), but it can occur, especially in countries that are unstable and have weak democracy.

    • Didn’t Brazil do something similar (building a new national capital far from major population centers) while it was a democracy?

      It was done in a tremendous hurry, too, because of the fear that the next elected president would abandon the project.

      • Samuel Skinner says:


        However it was apparently a campaign promise (moving the capital to a new, more central location was apparently a constitutional provision). (warning- source wiki)

      • John Schilling says:

        Do you really need to look as far as Brazil to find a democratic government voting to establish a national capital in a purpose-built city on a greenfield site? Really?

      • Cauê says:

        (…) he argues that this decision is principally motivated by the government’s fear of popular revolt and would only be possible in authoritarian regimes.

        It’s conventional wisdom in Brazil that this was an important motive for building Brasília. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but I do think it works.

        • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

          Given how awful traffic is in Rio, without it being the capital, I’m glad they changed it, for whatever motives they might’ve had.

    • Deiseach says:

      This wouldn’t be the first time in Egyptian history such a plan was implemented. I get the impression that Cairo is very much over-developed in that it keeps expanding in a haphazard, unplanned, and chaotic way, and that it’s very much over-populated.

      The idea of a planned city for moving out at least some of the administrative/business infrastructure, and encouraging people to follow the work there, does not necessarily have to be an authoritarian scheme for preventing or quashing popular revolt. In practice, it may of course turn out like that, but it’s easy for a capital city to unbalance the rest of the country (we suffer from that in Ireland, where Dublin is the largest population centre and everything as a result is tilted towards a small section of the east coast).

    • Wulfrickson says:

      Whoops, link is broken. Should be here.

    • darxan says:

      Maybe it’s an Egyptian thing? Every thousand or so years someone founds a city and makes it the new capital (Alexandria 332 BC ,Cairo 969 AD ).

      • Tom Womack says:

        The proposed new capital is located just outside the Second Greater Cairo Ring-Road; this feels more like a bigger version of the Stratford regeneration prompted by the Olympic Games, or the way somewhere like Istanbul has a big pile of skyscrapers well to the east of the ancient centre on the Golden Horn, than like Brasilia or Canberra.

        Maybe the right comparison is Malaysia, who built a new administrative capital Putrajaya located 25km south of the original capital because the middle of Kuala Lumpur was hopelessly congested.

        I visited Putrajaya in 2006, and it felt like the failure mode in Sim City where you’d used an infinite-money cheat, built lots and lots of landmark buildings, and not actually managed to arrange things such that citizens turn up among your landmark buildings; there were three consecutive showpiece bridges.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Wait, if you built a bunch of skycrapers EAST of Constantinople’s old city center wouldn’t you be building ’em in the middle of the Bosporus, or in Asia?

          • Tom Womack says:

            Yes, the bunch of skyscrapers is in Asia: Istanbul is a bicontinental city, it extends for thirty kilometres along the coast east of the Bosphorus.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Well, huh, TIL.

            For some reason my mental model of Istanbul always spread the city along the European coastline and never really into Asia, even though with today’s bridges crossing the straits is really quite trivial.

            In my defense, I know very little about the history of the City after May 29, 1453.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      My inner reactionary responds as follows:

      Governments’ first incentive is to stay in power. In a dictatorship, you stay in power by doing things like moving your capital somewhere far from rebellious citizens. In a democracy, you stay in power by doing things like starting programs that make people want to vote for you.

      If we say that ideally a government should be focusing all its energy on improving the country, then both of these activities are potential wastes. Both incur side benefits – the new capital might be a national morale boost and relieve housing congestion, and the programs that convince people to vote for you might be useful programs – but they both incur opportunity costs relative to the optimal program you’d choose if your hands weren’t tied.

      Egypt’s new capital will cost something like $50 billion. In the US, corn ethanol subsidies alone cost $5 billion per year, because candidates want to win in Iowa. Give the corn subsidies a decade, and they’re worse than the Egyptian capital. And at least the Egyptians get some pretty buildings out of it. And only have to do it once.

      (on the one hand, the comparison is unfair because the US is way bigger than Egypt; on the other, it is unfair the opposite direction because the US also funds programs other than those subsidizing corn)

      • AFC says:

        I’m extremely skeptical of the premise that farm subsidies are simply wasted money.

        For one thing, they directly lower the price of food (and ethanol, in the case of corn). For another, they promote international food independence, which is a strategic benefit. And for yet another, they provide a buffer of overproduction, so that if there is a bad year agriculturally, it’s less likely to result in human disaster. (Pure market forces run a risk of creating dangerously-high levels of efficiency, wherein there is no redundancy, and everything lies on the verge of collapse.)

        Crops are still subject to price competition, so farm owners can’t just pocket the subsidies; they have to use them to lower prices. We should expect the overall effect of farm subsidies to be that the economy is “distorted” in such a way that slightly more crops are produced and there is slightly more investment in agriculture; meanwhile slightly less of other things are produced, and there is slightly less investment elsewhere.

        That’s nothing like the same thing as destroying the equivalent value of the amount of the subsidies.

        • Matthew says:

          And for yet another, they provide a buffer of overproduction, so that if there is a bad year agriculturally, it’s less likely to result in human disaster.

          That’s not an accurate description of how farm subsidies work. Subsidies are also paid to get farmers to not produce crops in quantities that would drive the price down too far.

          • AFC says:

            It’s an accurate general description of the majority of farm subsidy spending, historically in aggregate, and currently. The type of program you’re talking about is not.

            USA farm subsidies have changed form quite a bit in the last 100 years. I know a little bit about it, and even what I know, is too much to get into here.

            But the bottom line is that:

            1. USA farm subsidies lower crop prices to below global market rates. They don’t raise them above the global market rate.

            2. The bulk of historical farm subsidy spending is in the form of price support programs of one form or another.

            3. The type of spending you’re talking about was abolished (entirely?) in 2014.

            4. 1996-2014 was strange.

            5. Something something crop insurance subsidies too.

            Here’s an article that (in part) describes how USA farm subsidies worked before 1996:


            Note it also links here:


            (Also note that the source is critical of these supports.)

    • Secretariat says:

      Ohio moved its capital several times. It moved from Chillicothe to Zansville and back. Then they finally moved to the greenfield site of Columbus. The Columbus site is more centrally located than the previous capitals. There are many criticisms of Ohio but it’s usually not considered authoritarian.

      • Michigan also moved its state capital to a greenfield site in 1847. Part of the rationale was that Detroit, being right across the river from Canada, was vulnerable to foreign attackers.

  22. For an entirely different topic … .

    I think Scott should produce a book, possibly a self-published POD, containing a book’s worth of his best posts. Do others here agree? Anyone want to offer to do the work of selecting posts and converting them to POD (and, probably, eBook) format, subject to Scott’s approval?

    Why should all of this entertaining and enlightening writing be limited to people who read blogs, when the cost of making it available to the rest of the world is tiny?

    • Aleph says:

      Strongly agree.

      (Hey, if you’re not gonna implement comment voting, then you’re gonna get low-content comments like this.)

    • Anthony says:

      First – there’s two books: a psychiatry book and a more general book. (Maybe three, if he wants to do an anti-SJW book.)

      Second – a lot of the value of the blog posts is in the comments, and while just picking out the best three to five comments on each post would make for a pretty good book, now you’re looking at tracking down permissions. And it’s not the same three to five commenters making the best comments on each post.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I was going to say the same thing: much of the value is in the comments as well as the original posts.

        In fact, much of the value I see here is in *being able to comment on posts, and get feedback*. I can’t converse with a book.

        OTOH, I do acknowledge the value of an SSC book, say, for drawing more awareness to the blog.

      • not_all_environmentalsts says:

        Second – a lot of the value of the blog posts is in the comments, and while just picking out the best three to five comments on each post would make for a pretty good book, now you’re looking at tracking down permissions.

        I think a good number of permissions could be got relatively easily, by making a new top level blog entry something like: “May I put your comments in my book? //// Sign up here” and making it apply to any and all comments the poster has ever made.

        (Not that I’m recommending the book project itself.)

    • caryatis says:

      How big is the audience of people who read e-books but refuse to read blogs?

    • Liskantope says:

      I have a feeling this would never pan out. Apart from anything else, the majority of readers might not agree with Scott on which posts have been his best posts, or which ones he should want to be most visibly associated with.

      This reminds me that I’m curious as to which SSC posts got the most votes in the recent survey of SSC readers.

      • Dude Man says:

        FWIW, Scott wrote something up highlighting certain posts as his “top posts”. I assume these posts are the ones he wants to be associated with the most, but it appears that the most recent post mentioned is from August 2014.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Putting together some epubs or the like seems low-effort enough that someone who was particularly interested could do it, but for wider dissemination, collections of essays aren’t really popular in the wider world, are they? There’s sites like The Atlantic or whatever, but is there really a place other than threads on Reddit and occasional links from higher-profile bloggers to disseminate this stuff?

  23. shemtealeaf says:

    Does anyone here have any experience with or opinions on the efficacy of calibration training?

    I’ve tried some of the calibration games that are available online, and they didn’t seem like they were training me to do anything with real-world applicability. I got a little bit better at numerically representing my confidence level on multiple-choice trivia questions, but that doesn’t seem like a particularly useful skill.

    Scott has suggested that calibration training is easy and useful, so I’m wondering if I’m missing something about how it’s supposed to work. Perhaps I’m just not finding the best resources for it?

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I found calibration games of type “give your 50% and 95% confidence intervals for the number of landlocked countries in the world” to be moderately useful, since they helped me notice that my intuitive feeling of certainty for “well the number MUST be within the 95% range now” was often wrong. That transferred to the more general rule of “well once I have this particular feeling of being really certain, if I double the range then getting it right might actually be as probable as I naively feel”, which in turned transferred to the more general rule of “my intuitive feelings of certainty are pretty unreliable”.

      OTOH I can’t recall any specific real-life situation in which this would have been helpful, and I’m not sure I’m remembering the “double the range” heuristic right (it could have been some other number) since it’s been a while that I did calibration games. So take that with a grain of salt.

    • kz says:

      This comes up on LW semi-regularly, for example see here. A bunch of people seem to agree that it probably doesn’t generalize well and isn’t generally useful anyway. At best it could confront people with their overconfidence and help them internalize things like “some of my beliefs are probably wrong, I should be more humble/careful.”

      But there are some domains where it might be more directly useful, like time tracking / project management (mentioned in the comments at that link) or maybe standardized testing (if you’re in that phase of your life — although “guess no matter what” is usually already the right strategy).

      Also you can make money on some prediction markets with little more than good calibration in the question domains, although training that up might not be the most practical way to do so, if training is even possible.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve seen studies saying they have good internal success (ie you’ll learn to play calibration games better).

      I wouldn’t expect them to cause greater external success (ie make you rich) directly, unless you’re a professional investor or something, and I assume professional investors already have domain-specific good calibration.

      But I would expect that, if you train yourself to think about questions in terms of probabilities (like: “I think there’s only a 0.005% that alien abduction story was real”) then you’ll know where you stand more in terms of belief, and it will be easier for you to communicate with and share opinions with other people who work that way.

      I could also imagine that it could help you make decisions, like “What is the chance that my new business idea works out?”, but I’m not sure.

  24. onyomi says:

    So can we do social justice stuff here in the meantime?

    • Dude Man says:

      Everyone else seems to be doing it, so go ahead.

      • JRM says:

        I considered after posting if the Hong Yen Chang story was too race-y for this. I note that there is no stated rule against R&G this time.

        But I sense that if we end up in SJW v. MRA, it will all go away. So maybe let’s try not to urinate on the floor of our kindly host’s place?

        • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

          >SJW v. MRA

          But MRAs are SJW.

          • Sigivald says:

            That’s what’s so awesome about Social Justice!

            It can mean any preferred outcome.

          • Nornagest says:

            Some, maybe even most, strains of MRAs adopt a broad selection of the norms and language of SJ, either inverted with regard to gender or with more of an emphasis on egalitarianism. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable with MRA as a movement, since I think those modes of analysis are deeply flawed and counterproductive no matter who they’re pointed at.

            But they’re definitely not a central example of SJ: it’s pretty hard, for example, to find an MRA for whom privilege dynamics are central to their politics as opposed to an occasional one-off gotcha.

      • onyomi says:

        Recently I got an e-mail from my school about the “abominable” events at Oklahoma U. I am certainly against racist chants, but don’t you think “abominable” is a bit of a strong word for it? Like, if teenagers chanting racial slurs is “abominable,” what word do we have left for genocide?

        I also have an ex-military friend who is very bothered by the recent use of the word “trigger warning” to mean, basically, “anything that makes some people feel uncomfortable,” since, to him, it means, “things that could send a PTSD sufferer into a psychotic, potentially dangerous state.”

        On the one hand, I think it’s good we’re becoming a more sensitive society, and that the bar for being kind and accepting is, in some sense, constantly being raised. I also like being warned while browsing on the internet that I may be about to encounter something I don’t want to see (though for me, it’s generally just extreme gore and/or scatological stuff I really don’t want to see), but when we use words like “trigger warning” and “abominable” for stuff like this, do we not risk belittling more serious suffering, and/or drawing unjustifiable equivalency?

        I see it as part of the “more-tolerant-than-thou” arms race, I guess.

        • blacktrance says:

          Part of the problem is rewarding offense – if someone “wins” by claiming to be triggered or offended and gets to silence their opponents, that gets weaponized very quickly. But if we go too far in the other direction, some people get hurt. The challenge is to separate warning from winning. One suggestion I’ve seen for this is to warn for a seemingly absurd number of things (including social justice) so that no one would be able to get away with saying “It’s triggering, so get rid of it”.

          • onyomi says:

            I do like Scott’s argument that saying “we warned you” is a good way to shut down demands that something be censored altogether, though I think I’d rather a different term be used than one which implies PTSD.

            Speaking of which, I’ve noticed some people on Facebook complaining about their PTSD who I’m pretty sure just mean they’ve had to deal with emotionally abusive parents, etc. I don’t think this is appropriate.

          • blacktrance says:

            I would expect that some people get PTSD from purely emotional abuse, especially when there’s a power imbalance such as the one between parents and children.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I do like Scott’s argument that saying “we warned you” is a good way to shut down demands that something be censored altogether.

            I think Scott’s precisely backwards on that: saying “we warned you” is just a good way of rendering yourself defenseless to attack as a filthy bad person who writes mean things no good person will listen to because they require warnings. That’s a far more dangerous situation than having people demand you be literally censored. We have excellent, legally and culturally enshrined (though still not properly internalized by a remarkable number of people) tools for fighting against demands that things be censored altogether, but far less effective ones for fighting against smear tactics.

        • AFC says:

          On the one hand, I think it’s good we’re becoming a more sensitive society, and that the bar for being kind and accepting is, in some sense, constantly being raised.

          I laughed a bit when I read that. Because it seems so opposite of the truth.

          That is, it seems to me that “trigger warnings” don’t indicate people becoming more kind and sensitive. They indicate people becoming more demanding and quicker to condemnation. Because the function of the trigger warning and similar, in practice, is to provide a reason to heap hateful derision on those who refuse to conform to these demands. To call people fascists and wish death on them, to label them as less than human, as people lacking the common human experience of suffering, as people categorically not worthy of taking up space in a conversation or being heard.

          This I have seen countless times with my own eyes: the very same sensitive souls who put themselves forward as the enlightened perceivers of microaggressions, explicitly telling others to kill themselves.

          I don’t see how any bar is being raised anywhere. Maybe it is. But not where I’ve seen.

        • 123 says:

          Related to social justice and PTSD, I have a little inconsistency to point out that pops up in a lot of *criticism* of social justice. Some self-criticism as a break from patting ourselves on the back for noticing how awful those awful sjw’s are.

          Tick the statements that you agree with:
          [ ] “The social justice movement is running a terrible internet hate machine that ruins its targets’ lives and often causes lasting mental damage.”
          [ ] “Saying that you got PTSD from an argument over the internet is ridiculous, manipulative oversensitivity”

          You can’t tick both. But I get the impression that your average sj-critical person would tick both. Maybe not if they were presented one after the other, but you know what I mean. What’s up with that? Personally, I don’t tick the second one.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            If the only fallout from internet activism was mental damage, we would have been better off. As it is, people keep getting fired for wrongthink completely irrelevant to their work.

            Until the hate machine ceases escalating argument to destroying people’s careers, checking both boxes is indeed very much permissible.

          • Irrelevant says:

            You can’t tick both.

            Sure I could. I can gloss over the “mental” in box 1 as a trivial inconsistency vs. what I actually think and imply a “nearly always” into box 2 and check them both via slight subconscious mental editing. And if I’m gotcha’d on my oversight, I can additionally bright-line between “the internet caused me mental distress” and “the internet gave me a medically-recognized mental disease.”

            Check-boxes like that test willingness to endorse a person or platform supporting X, not literal word-for-word understanding and endorsement of the statement.

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            I would definitely tick 2, as for 1, I might tick it with a few modifications:
            -The SJ movement, for better or for worse, isn’t running anything, it’s just a variety of groups of people some of which sometimes coordinate to do some awful stuff, and most of the time are just kind of annoying.
            -It really isn’t an issue until it seeps into RL: I don’t mind the classic SJ circlejerks like ShitRedditSays, We Hunted the Mammoth, etc. But stuff like “Getting Racists Fired” is probably over the line.

          • John Schilling says:

            I can very easily tick both boxes, and the third:

            [ ] “Redefining ‘PTSD’ so broadly as to encompass virtually all forms of persistent or recurring mental distress is a disservice to actual PTSD sufferers and to mental health professionals who have to deal with a broad range of mental distress in their patients, and does not promote healthy public discourse.

          • Peter says:

            What John Schilling said. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, I can see how all these would interact interestingly with the internet hate machine in a variety of ways[1], even if no PTSD _as such_ is involved. In the case of GAD, I’ve got some experience of this from the inside, although there’s lots of other stuff going on too, so apportioning blame, and working out what’s what is difficult.

            [1] In one direction, the internet could plausibly cause, prolong, intensify and/or exacerbate the symptoms of these conditions, in the other direction… I’m less sure of the details but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some interesting feedback loops.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Are you asserting that all lasting mental damage is PTSD, and that the social justice movement only causes lasting mental damage from arguments over the internet? Because I disagree with both of those, and I don’t see how there’s a contradiction without them…

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I agree with John Schilling and Inferential Distance. Not all mental trauma or distress is PTSD. I, for one, was fairly seriously bullied as a child, and have previously been diagnosed with: OCD, depression, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and bipolar ii disorder.

            No mental health professional has ever diagnosed me with PTSD, nor do I believe I have ever suffered from PTSD.

          • Rauwyn says:

            So I think that (at least some) social justice people acknowledge that PTSD isn’t the only harmful thing, and a “trigger” can be related to eating disorders, anxiety, depression… if seeing a trigger will make you suicidal or unable to be productive for the next hour or relapse into self-harm or, well, hopefully you get the idea, then that’s a trigger too. This also ties into an idea that people can be triggered by all kinds of things, even food being a common one (for people with especially bad eating disorders), and so triggering material is obviously *not* evil. Unfortunately that last part seems to be somewhat controversial.

          • AFC says:

            I’d tick them both, but not in the sense that you imagine (at least for the first one).

            For the first one, in my view, the major lasting mental damage that SJWs do is to make other people SJWs — to impose cultish conformity on others — to make them incapable of simple moral distinctions and incapable of seeing evidence for what it is, to cause people to interpret events through a received ideology on their own terms, to cause people to divide the world and their views of people into good/evil (often extremely poorly, so that certain people are allowed to get away with some very bad behavior that hurts a demonized other) and to make people incapable of understanding the true nature of social power. (None of that has to do with PTSD.)

            As far as the damage that SJWs do to non-SJWs on a personal level, I don’t think that is (usually) as significant, nor do I think it is primarily “mental.” The SJWs sow conflict and break apart or strain relationships; they do damage to other people’s social standing and reputation; etc.. Perhaps, through these indirect means, PTSD could result, but I’m fairly skeptical; it certainly couldn’t be common. Yet, the social/reputation/material damage is a real thing all the same.

            The most severe kind of damage though is political. At least to the extent that SJW analysis displaces more realistic political analysis, it hurts everyone by generating bad policy.

  25. Troy says:

    (In best TV episode trailer voice)
    Last time on Arguments Against Consequentialism

    Consequentialist moral theories hold that we ought to maximize the good. In our first episode, I defended the “infinitarian challenge” to aggregative consequentialism. For a recap, see this post. In our second episode, I advanced an Argument from Counterexamples. Both proponents and opponents of consequentialism agree that consequentialism is subject to numerous apparent counterexamples. Upthread people are discussing The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas as an alleged counterexample to some forms of consequentialism. (I haven’t read the story, and so can’t comment on it.) Here is a counterexample I mentioned in my post last time:

    An anthropologist is studying a tribe that does not want to be photographed. A member of that tribe agrees to assist him in his work on the condition that the anthropologist never photograph him; the anthropologist promises that he will not. One day, the anthropologist’s assistant is asleep. A photograph of him would significantly contribute to anthropological knowledge, and the assistant need never know. Nevertheless, [it seems that] the anthropologist ought not photograph his assistant.

    This counterexample takes a familiar form. It presents us a case C in which consequentialism says we ought perform action A. If the case is well-designed, it intuitively seems to most of us that we ought not perform A. So, we have a case where consequentialism renders a verdict that seems false.

    As I said up-front, counterexamples are not necessarily fatal to a philosophical theory. There is often good reason to either reject our intuition or to reject the claim that consequentialism really tells us to perform A in a case. For instance, perhaps bad long-term consequences will result from A that are being overlooked in the presentation of the example. Or, perhaps our intuitions about this case are being illegitimately influenced by morally irrelevant factors.

    I argued, however, that the counterexamples to consequentialism are so numerous and varied that these strategies are unlikely to succeed in all cases. In addition to the above Anthropologist case, I presented four other (well-known) counterexamples that describe very different cases and very different actions. I contended that because the cases are very different, it is unlikely that an explanation for why one of them fails will work for the other ones. Inasmuch as consequentialism has to offer a different error theory for each counterexample, it looks like a degenerating research program that increasingly has to rely on ad hoc modifications or explanations. Compare: we get a bunch of experimental results apparently inconsistent with our best theory of physics. One or two inconsistent results we can plausibly blame on bad experimental set-up or the falsehood of some auxiliary assumption used to derive the predictions. Five inconsistent results done in very different settings with very different equipment is much harder to explain away.

    Some of the subsequent discussion focused on the realism of one of the counterexamples (the Organ Harvesting case). I noted there that I did try to pick realistic counterexamples (with the honorable exception of the Utility Monster), because with respect to outlandish ones it’s more plausible to claim that we’re overlooking some consequences or that our moral intuitions are unreliable. The Anthropologist case above is very realistic, inasmuch as it’s an actual historical example taken from an anthropologist’s journal. (He did not photograph his assistant, for those curious.)

    By far the most popular response, though, was a wholesale skepticism about the evidential value of moral intuitions: roughly that what it intuitively seems to us we ought to do in a scenario is not a reliable guide to what we actually ought to do. Several people backed up this response by appeal to the claim that evolution would be unlikely to select for reliable moral intuitions.

    Of course I agree that moral intuitions are not infallible; I was explicit about that in setting up my argument. The counterexamples still have some bite provided that moral intuition is not completely worthless.

    Some respondents last thread argued that moral intuition is indeed completely worthless. This seems a problematic line to me for a number of reasons, some of which came out in discussion. Here are two:

    (1) This response is dangerous for the consequentialist to give, because the consequentialist is also committed to the truth of positive moral claims, e.g., one ought to maximize the good. These claims, or premises from which they are derived, will also be based on intuition – e.g., the intuition that I ought not count one person’s happiness as worth more than another’s. So if moral intuition is completely worthless, then our reasons for believing consequentialism are also undermined.*

    (2) More generally, evolutionary debunking arguments seem just as effective (if they are effective at all) against intuitions in domains outside of morality. For example, why would evolution select for reliable intuitions about what we ought prudentially to do, or when E is a good explanation of H? These questions seem no less mysterious than why evolution would select us to have true moral intuitions. But most skeptics about moral intuitions do not seem to be equally skeptical about, say, the possibility of scientific explanation or whether we ought to take the necessary means to our ends.

    *Several respondents seemed to endorse some flavor of moral anti-realism, and thought that if there are no moral facts, consequentialism somehow followed. This view is common, but it baffles me. Inasmuch as consequentialism is a theory about what one ought to do (or what is morally right), it’s inconsistent with a view that says that there is nothing one ought to do (or that nothing is morally right).

    (Proponents of this view will no doubt feel that this reconstruction of it is not charitable. They are welcome to explain to me what is wrong with my reasoning here.)

    • Peter says:

      One thing that came up somewhere in between: I mentioned rule consequentialism and in particular acceptance-based rule consequentialism – see sections 6.2 and 6.3 of the link above. Basically: you follow those rules which, if generally accepted, will maximise utility. Arguably (Parfit argues for this at great length in On What Matters) you end up with an interesting form of Kantianism.

      I think this allows us to dispose of many counterexamples. Things that involve breaches of trust are the most obvious case. The “general acceptance” thing means you have to assume people know about the rules and react accordingly, so if you have an organ-stealing-is-OK rule then you get fewer people in hospitals – in extremis, you get no-one to steal organs from. I’d also argue that this allows us to dispose of strange hypotheticals (like the utility monster) – they never come up in the real world, so we never pay for the consequences of following the rules, but we still pay or benefit for having them. I think we can dispose of the get-yourself-the-death-penalty one too – if people know that some people will be getting themselves caught in that manner, then people would figure out that executions were of do-gooders getting themselves caught for show and that would destroy the deterrent effect.

      If-I-don’t-do-it-someone-else-will – hmm, I’m not sure how to handle those, although I think that I’m looking in the right area.

      There’s a general problem with act consequentialism in that it sort-of assumes that at some moment some person is free to choose between alternatives, but that once that decision has been taken everything proceeds deterministically or stochastically. If one believes in strongly libertarian free will then consequentialism seems ill-defined – I take an action, other people could react to it in a variety of ways, there’s no well-defined probability distribution for their reactions, so no well-defined expected utility. If one believes in hard determinism, then the best action someone can take is also the worst action someone can take due to being the only action someone can take – there are no dilemmas due to there being no “di”. We don’t need to be so extreme though – one can meaningfully talk about a chess computer considering multiple possible courses of action and picking one with the best expected results, even if the computer is deterministic, and thus there being only one move it could possibly make. Anyway, this is now getting messed up with the free will debate and this comment box is too small.

      As I noted a few threads back, one disadvantage of these acceptance-based consequentialisms is that you can’t use my nifty trick with limits to evade the problem of infinite utility in an infinite universe. Not without some clever modification, at any rate.

      • Troy says:

        Thanks Peter. I think you’re right that rule consequentialism can avoid a lot of counterexamples. My main worry about rule consequentialism is that it’s unclear how to formulate the relevant rules (a similar problem to the one that arises in Kantian ethics for how to formulate maxims). For example, what’s the reference class for “general acceptance” of the rules maximizing utility? Once we’ve fixed a reference class, how do we fill out the thought experiment of their accepting the rules? Keep all their other beliefs and desires the same? Give them ones more consonant with their new acceptance?

        That said, well, ethics is hard, and my own preferred ethical views may well end up facing similar objections.

        • Peter says:

          Rule formulation: I think there might be something interesting to do with induction, learning etc. and the possibility of taking any sort of action in a world of unknowns. Say I take some course of action, and there are some consequences, good or bad. How can I learn from those consequences? I can never take exactly the same action twice, so how do I generalise? How do I decide which other actions count as the same sort of action, so that I can do them again or not?

          I’m degenerating into vague noodling so I may as well go the whole hog. Hindsight utilitarianism: take those actions which in the past have maximised utility. By “take actions” I include “use various decision procedures, including those that employ various heuristics for foresight”. So if I needed to win at chess, I could use a chess computer program that had done well in the past, this avoids any need for “true foresight”, even though the computer “looks ahead”. I don’t know of anyone pursuing this line of thought as such but I’d be surprised if I was alone here.

      • Jiro says:

        I’ve seen utility monsters come up in actual situations when discussing whether you should avoid doing things that make people offended. Since the person offended gains more utility from you stopping than from you doing whatever it is that offended them, you have to stop, and the more things offend them, the greater your obligation.

        • Peter says:

          They’re not very monstrous, not eating-people levels of monstrosity. Furthermore, with hypothetical utility monsters you can stipulate that utility monsters are immutably so. With the real world, there’s at least the possibility that people can be persuaded out of monstrous ways, or persuaded not to get into them in the first place.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Obvious countermeasure to that: find the annoyance of utility monsters highly pleasurable.

      • Paul Torek says:

        This being the internet, I’m going to take your brilliant and well argued post, and pick the one nit I see in it.

        There’s a general problem with act consequentialism in that it sort-of assumes that at some moment some person is free to choose between alternatives, but that once that decision has been taken everything proceeds deterministically or stochastically.

        I don’t see a problem there. Cause I’m a compatibilist. Everything proceeds stochastically or deterministically all the time; choices are just a special case within that, involving agents, beliefs, desires, and modeled actions.

  26. Troy says:

    Installment III of ? in Arguments Against Consequentialism: What is Good?

    For a recap of Part II of this series, see the post below. Today I’m going to continue with a third argument against consequentialism.

    Consequentialist moral theories hold that we ought to maximize the good. Particular versions of consequentialism, such as utilitarianism, supplement consequentialism with a theory of the good. For example, hedonistic utilitarianism holds that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, so that what we ought to do is maximize pleasure.

    One problem for consequentialists is thus to identify what is good. Is there only one intrinsic good – e.g., pleasure? Or are there many? A more serious problem, however, is pushed by such critics of consequentialism as Peter Geach and Judith Jarvis Thomson. As these critics observe, to say that something is ‘a good K’ is not to attribute to it a property (like being pleasurable) separable from the kind K. In this sense ‘good’ is unlike predicates such as ‘male.’ “Sam is a male golfer” says two things about Sam: that he is male, and that he is a golfer. As such, “Sam is a male golfer” entails that “Sam is male.” But “Sam is a good golfer” cannot be similarly broken down into “Sam is a golfer” and “Sam is good.” To see this, note that it does not follow from “Sam is a good golfer” and “Sam is a person” that “Sam is a good person.” But if ‘good’ denoted some simple property of Sam, this would follow.

    In this sense ‘good’ appears to function more like adjectives such as ‘fake,’ in that the property they attribute to a thing depends on the noun they modify. (A fake dollar bill may be a real piece of paper.) Plausibly, then, to call something ‘a good K’ is to say that it is in some way a good member of its kind. A good golfer is someone who tends to be successful at the aims of golfing, for example. So whether or not some thing is a good K depends on the nature of the kind K.

    Now return to consequentialism. Consequentialism tells us to bring about as much good as we can. But what does this mean? We saw above that to say “X is good” is at least in some paradigm cases to say that X is a good member of a kind. Could goodness-of-a-kind be what the consequentialist has in mind? If so, perhaps he can say that we should bring about the best consequences, or best states of affairs, or best world. These seem, however, like somewhat mysterious notions. A good umbrella is one which protects you from rain. A good chess player is one who is able to checkmate his opponent’s king. We know these things because we know the function of umbrellas and the aims of chess. How does what kind of thing a consequence (say) is tell us what counts as a good consequence? It does not seem that ‘consequence’ is a “goodness-fixing-kind,” to use Thomson’s terminology. Similar remarks go for the other proposed kinds above.

    The consequentialist could also say that his sense of ‘good’ is a different one from that in ‘a good K.’ Call what the consequentialist is trying to pick out “absolute goodness.” Now, it must be admitted that goodness-of-a-kind is not the only thing picked out by our word ‘good.’ We also speak of “goodness for,” for example; we say that that salad would be good for me and that certain economic plans are good for the economy. But we can plausibly tell a story here about how goodness-of-a-kind and goodness-for are related: to say that X is good for Y qua kind K is to say that X contributes to making Y a good K, for example. (Insert further chisholming as needed.) If the consequentialist also wants to posit some further kind of goodness – absolute goodness – he owes us a story about how it is related to goodness-of-a-kind. It is very implausible that we would use the same word, ‘good,’ to refer to these two different properties unless there were some relationship between them (and that, e.g., Greek-speakers would do the same with ‘agathon’). ‘Good’ is not like ‘bat’ in being univocal between referring to a wooden stick and a nocturnal winged creature.

    Inasmuch as it is implausible that some such story can be told, we have reason to doubt that absolute goodness exists. An alternative worth investigating is that what actions we ought to perform is in some way based on what goodness is for actions, or that what we ought to do is what a good person would do, and then to look at the nature of actions and of persons to determine this. This, however, is a further task.

    To sum up:

    (1) Consequentialism says that we ought to maximize goodness. Either this command refers to “absolute goodness” or to a relative kind of goodness (goodness of a kind, goodness for).
    (2) It does not refer to a relative kind of goodness.
    (3) ‘Good’ is not univocal between a relative and absolute kind of goodness. So, if “absolute goodness” exists, it is in some way reducible to relative goodness, relative goodness is in some reducible to it, or there is some other similar relationship between them.
    (4) Absolute and relative goodness are not related in one of these ways.
    (5) Absolute goodness does not exist. [from (3), (4)]
    (6) There is no meaningful sense in which we ought to maximize goodness. So, consequentialism is false. [from (1), (2), (5)]

    • Jordan D. says:

      (Fair disclosure – I am not a student of philosophy and could easily be missing simple responses to my objections. I apologize in advance for anything of the sort.)

      I was under the impression that consequentialism is a class of ethical theories rather than a testible theory in and of itself. At the start of your disproof you mention things like hedonistic utilitiarianism, which are the theories that supply the concrete aim; I’m not sure how valid arguing against the [your theory’s concrete aim] tag by calling it [good] is.

      Certainly it can be- has been- argued that pleasure is not always good, or that preference-respecting is not always good. But if a majority of people prefer a world with maximized preference-respecting to a world without, why does it matter that we cannot logically prove that world’s goodness?

      But I would take a stronger stance. There is no ‘absolute good’ and we don’t mean ‘x is an unusually well-adapted referent of its kind’ when we say ‘good’, but we don’t mean *nothing.* If I tell people that I think Steve is a good man, I am referring to an only-partially-realized mish-mash of positive qualities, positive biases and half-remembered incidents.

      As you say, I can’t create a heuristic to maximize for ‘things which would, later, make me think that things are more good.’ Even if I did, it might turn out that my preferences and referents aren’t aknowledged as ‘good’ by everyone else! So it seems to me that the project of consequentialist theories has been to pick out what the theorist thought was a common and powerful aspect of ‘good’ and maximize for that. Thus, for example, hedonistic utilitiarians advocate that we maximize pleasure because the state of the world which corresponds to what a large number of people label as ‘good’ also produces pleasure.

      (I’m pretty sure that’s where the wireheading disconnect comes in. Wireheading, or drugs, or hypnosis disconnect pleasure as a variable from whatever aesthetic sensibilities people usually use to determine ‘good’ and people don’t like that because what they wanted out of utilitarianism wasn’t *really* maximized pleasure.)

      So, since ‘good’ isn’t an absolute thing, we’re forced into one of two positions:

      1) Accept that none of the consequentialist referants will ever perfectly capture the world of our aesthetic sensibilities but go along with whichever one we think is best because a world in which more people try to maximize that variable still seems better than not.
      2) Declare that since we can’t define ‘good’ universally we shouldn’t care about it.

      You seem to be taking option 2, here. Why? What are the superior alternatives? Deontology? Virtue ethics? Those also fail to produce the nonexistant ‘absolute good’! Is it because another system would be more logically coherent? It seems to me that any consequentialist system which has a referent tag in place of [good] is fully coherent, even if you don’t like it. Hell, Clippy’s papercliptarianism is a coherent and self-consistant ethical system which just so happens to produce a world that no human desires!

      In short, I suppose my confusion comes at step (7). Consequentialism is false? What does that mean? How is a system of behavior false, and what course of action does that suggest?

      • Troy says:

        As I understand it, you’re advancing the following challenge to my argument (feel free to correct me if I’m incorrect): say we’ve got some version of what’s usually called consequentialism that we like — e.g., hedonistic utilitarianism. Our theory tells us what we should maximize — in this case, pleasure. If we’ve got this specific theory that tells us what we should maximize, then we don’t need any theories about ‘the good.’ Our theory doesn’t have to tell us to maximize the good, just to maximize pleasure.

        I agree with you that such an ethical theory is coherent. The difficulty with it is that it appears to be ill-motivated. A utilitarian who says that pleasure is good can apparently explain why we ought to maximize pleasure: because it’s (the only) good. One who doesn’t think that pleasure is good — because he thinks that nothing is “good” in the absolute sense — needs some other argument for why we should maximize pleasure.

        So, in order to endorse your line, consequentialists of various stripes would then need to give some other kind of argument for their stripe. Some might be able to do this. For instance, a preference utilitarian might try to justify his view with some kind of contractualist argument. I don’t think I’d find such an argument persuasive, but such is philosophy.

        On what I think should replace consequentialism: well, big question, and my positive views aren’t as well-developed as my negative views here. But I’m inclined to think, along the lines I gestured at in the post, that some kind of virtue ethics based on what it is to be a good person is the answer. That requires a lot of filling out, though, in terms of more concrete normative upshots.

        • Jordan D. says:

          That’s essentially my challenge- but rather than saying ‘pleasure is the only good’, I would say ‘pleasure is most regularly coextant with the state of the world which most people percieve as good’. (I’m not necessarily a hedonistic utilitiarian, that’s just what I’d say if I were.)

          Now, you raise the reasonable question: “If I don’t think there is an absolute good to strive for, why should I maximize X?”

          …but there isn’t an objective answer to a question like that. We’ve reached the is/ought divide. The state of our knowledge about the universe can’t tell us what principles we should live by unless we already have principles for interperting the data.

          So it seems to me that most utilitiarians say ‘I want a state of the world that is good. I know good when I see it, but I don’t know a good-generalizing heuristic. Therefore, I shall use the most pleasing proxy I can find.’

          (Where do we get the idea of ‘good’ from? Acculturation, genetics, environment- all those things. Why should we strive to please those instincts instead of anything else? Because that’s The Gift We Give To Tomorrow – http://lesswrong.com/lw/sa/the_gift_we_give_to_tomorrow/ – the end state of any ethical system will be arbitrary, so it might as well be enjoyable.)

          So I agree that there’s no objective ‘good’, but nevertheless feel that most people are striving for a subjective ‘good’ – and I don’t agree that the nonexistance of good qua good means that it isn’t worth seeking. If I make someone laugh, I think that’s good for a lot of reasons which I could never ground in logical postulations, but my preference for a world full of laughter remains.

      • Paul Torek says:

        You may not be a student of philosophy, but you’re doing well here. As a non-utilitarian myself, I think this objection doesn’t really fly. But also, it’s pretty obvious what kind of goodness most consequentialists are after: good lives. (Not all consequentialists, because some would say e.g. that a beautiful uninhabited universe is better than a boring uninhabited universe – which I can’t grok at all.)

        I haven’t read many replies in this thread yet – so if I’m repeating someone else’s point, oh well.

    • Peter says:

      If you like old books and tracing ideas to the source, then person to read on non-utilitarian consequentialism is Moore, and the Principia Ethica. Note that he called his thing “ideal utilitarianism” – the “consequentialism” was invented by Anscombe in order to criticise consequentialist theories, and somewhere along the line “utilitarianism” got narrowed to mean hedonistic utilitarinism – then broadened a little to bring in preference utilitarianism, but not to bring in any other form of consequentialism.

      Anyway, Moore has this idea that intuition says which states of affairs are good or not, but that there are no intuitions about which actions to take. He’s using a definition of intuition which… is a _lot_ narrower than my common usage (very roughly: anything that comes out of System 1, appearing in consciousness fully-formed without showing its working).

      Not that I properly read Moore – Mill’s Utilitarianism, Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics, yes, but I never felt inspired to do the same for Moore.

      • Troy says:

        I haven’t read most of the Principia, although I’m familiar with several of Moore’s strands of argument. I either had not heard or had forgotten the claim that we have intuitions about what is good but not about what to do. This claim seems odd to me, even on narrower uses of intuition.

    • blacktrance says:

      (2) It does not refer to a relative kind of goodness.

      Agent-neutral consequentialism (e.g. utilitarianism) doesn’t, but agent-relative consequentialism (e.g. egoism) does.

      • Troy says:

        Yes, I agree. I actually think there are better philosophical arguments for egoism than (impartial) consequentialism, even though I reject both.

    • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

      A good chess move is good for (helps) the purpose of winning at chess. An (unqualified-)good act is good for the “terminal purpose”, typically called “value” (the formal definition of is much *much* more complicated than winning at chess).

      • Troy says:

        By calling it the “terminal purpose,” do you mean to imply that all other ends to which goodness-of-a-kinds contribute are subordinate to it?

  27. Daniel Speyer says:

    I was considering trying to start a community for rationalist-inspired discussion of medical issues. Would anyone else be interested in something like that? Any preferences for mechanism?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      JenRM tried something like this once. The problem is “start a community” almost always ends with somebody setting up a forum or blog and saying “Okay, people who want to talk about rationalism and medicine, come discuss it here!” and nobody does. Sort of a Schelling point thing, plus the fact that you need a high volume of discussion to sustain it.

  28. no one special says:

    So, this seems like the best place to toss out this question that I’ve been pondering:

    Some traditionalists (/NRx?) claim that changing social mores are a net negative; That people were more happy when roles were more fixed. (Especially gender roles.)

    Progressive-types claim that the old roles made a lot of people unhappy, and that now we have more freedom, so people can do what makes them happy.

    It seems to me that there’s a trade-off here, where some people who would have done well under traditional roles are less happy, and some people who would have done poorly under traditional roles are more happy. The winners and losers shift.

    Has anyone done the utilitarian calculus (even with made up numbers) to determine which set of roles actually provides more net happiness? This seems like each side should be doing it, but both sides seem to want to pretend that their preferred set of roles have no losers at all.

    Does anyone here, traditional or progressive, dare step up and use math to justify their position?

    • Arguably, a vote is such a calculation.

      • Most social changes which occurred in the past 100 years were never put up for a vote; rather they succeed through a combination of propaganda war and judicial fiat. When such things are put to a popular vote, they tend to be unpopular.

        • Anonymous says:

          “Most social changes which occurred in the past 100 years were never put up for a vote; rather they succeed through a combination of propaganda war and judicial fiat.”

          I have to wonder if this isn’t just what it looks like to someone who disagrees with the changes. If you agreed with them, would it look more like free expression, legal changes that reflect popular sentiment, etc., etc.?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Some states never had laws against interracial marriage, there is an uptick in removals between 48-67 and then the court strikes it down for the entire country. A lot of the changes were like that.

            The only exception I can think of is compulsory sterilization which seems to have followed trends in the medical profession more than anything else.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            There are some numbers we could look at. Iirc, there were two elections on some gay right in a NE state. The first one voted it down, the second one passed it. First I’d look at timing and turnout; conservatives tend to win special elections while liberals stay home. Especially if the issue was publicized through conservative churches, as there are more such churches than organizations of gay supporters.

    • Troy says:

      I won’t try to use math here, but it seems to me that a moderate view which agrees with the traditionalists as far as cultural norms goes and the progressives as far as coercion goes* can get the best of both worlds. In other words, we hold up traditional practices as ideal, but don’t force people to conform to them. A socially conservative libertarian view, if you will. Then those who would be happier under the traditional roles (the majority, if traditionalist arguments about human nature and most changes being for the worse are to be believed) will stick with those roles, and those who would be especially unhappy under them are free to get out of them. They may face social disapproval, but they will not face legal barriers.

      This position can further be fine-tuned for optimality, e.g., with respect to how much social disapproval non-conformers should face. I’m inclined to think that we should focus more on playing up the positives of traditional lifestyles than emphasizing the negatives of non-traditional lifestyles.

      * I am being generous here, because many progressives want to use state coercion to enforce their own norms. But set that aside.

      • keranih says:

        How are you defining “coercion”? Is a society where everyone says, “It’s okay if you marry someone of the same gender – no one goes to jail, no fines, etc – but it’s really the best choice to marry someone of the opposite gender” – is that a coercive environment?

        (I’m thinking along the lines of social approval/disapproval of religious observance – being evangelical Christian, observant Orthodox, or atheist are all legal, but come with high social costs, depending on the outside environment.)

        • Troy says:

          I’m thinking of legal coercion as the paradigm case: for instance, facing legal punishment for your religious choices. However, I’m willing to grant that certain kinds of social sanctions can at least approach being coercive, and then hold that we should prefer less coercive social sanctions.

          • Nita says:

            we should prefer less coercive social sanctions

            How are you going to enforce that? Ambitious parents will not tolerate their children making an okay choice when they could be making the best choice instead. And in traditionalist societies, parents have a lot of power even when their children are adults.

          • Troy says:

            How are you going to enforce that?

            I’m not: that would be coercive. 🙂

            How would I non-coercively bring about adherence to my ideals? I suppose most realistically through a religious ethos that emphasizes the importance of traditional social values but also places a strong emphasis on love and forgiveness: i.e., traditional Christianity when it’s at its best.

          • keranih says:

            If you can come up with a way for one method to be preferred, and for that preference to be communicated to other people, without the existence of that preference being read as coercive by some portion of the other people…well, *I* would be impressed.

          • Troy says:

            without the existence of that preference being read as coercive by some portion of the other people

            Oh, I never promised anything so fanciful as that! My ideal was non-coercion, not non-[anything that can be read as coercion].

      • stillnotking says:

        The “traditional roles” were actually conceived as obligations, which means allowing people to opt out creates a massive free-rider problem, as well as subtler effects — role-adoption is rarely genuine when it’s seen as a deliberate means to an end. (Neal Stephenson’s great novel The Diamond Age covered this ground.)

        • von Kalifornen says:

          Yeah, the Diamond Age’s system of fomalized sub-state cultures is fairly cool.

          On the other hand, WHERE THE FUCK IS THE ARMY?

    • darxan says:

      Transferring status from men to women is a net negative, because men seem to get more utils out of their status than women,a possible explanation being that status was and is more highly correlated with reproductive success in men

      • Nita says:

        Transferring status from men to women is a net negative, because men seem to get more utils out of their status than women

        This principle is vulnerable to status-utility-monsters. “See, Frank here would really enjoy being higher status than you. He would really, really enjoy it. He would enjoy it so much that anything you might feel pales in comparison. Please kneel and kiss Frank’s boots, for the greater good.”

        • no one special says:

          Doesn’t daraxan’s claim round off to “men _are_ status-utility-monsters”? Literally that men should have higher status because they get more utility from it than women.

          daraxan: Is there some way we could approximate a measure to this? “Survey shows that women CEOs are less fulfilled than men CEOs,” or something like that?

          • darxan says:

            @no one special
            1.You ask people to perform utilitarian calculations and when they do you complain about stronger preferences mattering more.If you lie down with Utilitarianism, you get up with utility monsters.
            2.If we take money as a proxy for status we have this:

            One of the most striking differences revealed in the GSS—a survey sponsored by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago—was the differences in opinion between men and women. In short, money made men significantly happier, but had no effect on women’s happiness. While two out of every five males (38 percent) in the higher income category reported that they were very happy, only one out of four males (24 percent) in the lower income category reported that they were very happy. Contrarily, there was no statistical significant difference in the reported happiness among lower paid women (27.3 percent) and higher paid women (27.7 percent).

          • no one special says:


            1: I am suffering from a failure of tone because I don’t know a word for “utility monster” that doesn’t carry negative connotations. It does go with the territory, and I do not consider the appearance of a monster an axiomatic weakness, especially a bounded monster like this one.

            2: That… is actually a pretty strong indicator that your theory has merit.

            Thank you, you’ve done a strong job at mathifying this part of the question, and from a different direction than I had assumed it would go. I appreciate it.

            The above paragraph is serious, not sarcastic. I add this disclaimer because internet.

          • Nita says:

            Money is a poor proxy for status in this case because of the ongoing influence of the traditional gender roles. Men can directly derive status from money — the more you earn, the better you’re achieving what’s expected of you. For women, it’s complicated.

          • Harald K says:

            Literally that men should have higher status because they get more utility from it than women.

            That is not nearly enough to be a utility monster. To be a utility monster, you need to get increasing utility on whatever you get, or at least, not the diminishing utility everyone else gets in the real world.

            As sane non-neoreactionaries who assign men and women (and everyone else) equal moral value, we should not say that some people matter more in an absolute sense.

            But it’s no problem to say that, for instance, men get more happiness from X than women, and therefore we should be fine with them having a larger share of it, as long as the end result is equally happy men and women.

            The real problem with that, though, is that we judge a class of people instead of individuals. Some women may like X just as much, or more, than men, and we should not be allowed to discriminate against those based on class membership.

            That is for exactly the same reason we should not be allowed to preemptively put Roma in jail, no matter what the crime statistics say about their group.

            (Again, there’s an argument about gender and risk here that I have to skip in the name of the OT rules.)

          • no one special says:

            Nita: That’s interesting; We can’t measure status or utils, so we’re using money and happiness as proxies. Are there better proxies that we could use? It sounds like we’ve been trying to look at the status->utils conversion rate, but accidentally discovered the money->status conversion rate. How can we tease those apart?

            Harald K: You are correct that I have been misusing the term utility monster. I shall endeavor to be more careful.

            I think you’re right that part of this ties in to treating people as instances of class, rather than as individuals. I think stillnotking’s observation on the other thread that traditional gender roles were obligations is also germane. If we consider that, under traditionalism, men can derive utility from status while women derive utility from relationships (a gross simplification) Than we can compare, under progressivism that women can now derive utility from status, but at a lower exchange rate then men. You would expect that this would mean that women would be getting more utils overall, now having two sources, but, as Tarrou points out on the other thread, women have seen their happiness decrease, while men’s has increased.

            I notice that I am confused.

            I do not seem to be able to make a workable model here. I would hope that in the progressive world, people would be able to derive utility from whatever source is best for them personally, bypassing the instance of class problem. That doesn’t seem to be happening, and I cannot find a good explanation.

          • Nita says:

            @ no one special

            To be honest, I would like to know darxan’s definition of status before we go looking for better proxies of it.

            I think I understand what traditional gender roles are and how they have been changing. The transfer of status from men to women that darxan brought up (as equivalent to relaxing gender norms?) is still a mystery to me.

            IME, traditionalists usually claim that women are not low-status in their culture. E.g.: ‘Saudi women are driven around by their husbands, their sons, and their brothers. Everybody is at their service. They are like queens.

          • no one special says:

            @Nita: A fair point. Pert of the problem is that our concepts of status are themselves gendered. In a traditional model, men form a hierarchy, while women do not. When you say that “women have no status” under such a model, what you really mean is not “women have status 0,” but “status is not an attribute that can be measured on women.”

            As traditionalism dissolves, and women take more of their self-image from work, we find that now they do compete with men in the status hierarchy. Thus the “transfer” of status from men to women under progressivism is the same as the transfer of farmland from humans to cars under ethanol. A resource that once had value only to a smaller group of people now has value to a much larger group of people, with corresponding fights over the scarce resource.

            I’m not sure I buy into that model, actually. It seems to leave a lot of things unexplored. There’s no explanation, under that model, of where women got their utils under traditionalism.

            (I feel like I should make a comparison to Panda Bears here; They get so little energy from the bamboo that they eat.)

        • Jaskologist says:

          On the other hand, the principle seems to hold when we apply it to more easily verified instances. Instead of “status,” try “food.” Men need more food than women; a society which tries to distribute the same amount of food to men and women is seriously misallocating resources.

          • Nita says:

            1. Well, the argument was that men “get more utils” out of status, not that they need it more.

            So, we should envision a society that distributes more food to people who really love eating — and we’re talking about traditionalism, not capitalism, so it’s not about money. Eating more than others is just their traditional role, and they like it a lot, so it’s good.

            2. Eating definitely has a natural limit, which prevents any serious utility-monstrosity. I’m not so sure about basking in higher status.

            3. Status is relative.

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            >Well, the argument was that men “get more utils” out of status, not that they need it more.

            Not that I disagree with you, but I don’t think you want to be going into the path of “needs vs. wants” here.

          • stillnotking says:

            I think the main difference between food and status is that impartial assignment of status is impossible by definition. Status and partiality are, if not exactly the same thing, at least inextricable.

          • Jesse M. says:

            I think many people who oppose sexism would be OK with the idea that even in a basically non-sexist society, it might be still be true that average preferences would differ, so that on average somewhat more men than women pursue work that society assigns a high status, and somewhat more women than men would pursue certain types of work that are perceived to have lower status. The idea is just that being a woman should not be an obstacle to those who choose to pursue the higher-status work (and are capable), in the same way that there is no obstacle to a larger woman eating more food than an average man if that reflects her desires and/or caloric needs, even if on average women do eat less.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Main practical problem there is how you stop theoretically 65/35-split fields from instead polarizing themselves to 95/5.

          • James says:

            Irrelevant, can you expand on what you mean by ‘polarizing’ and/or how you might expect it to happen?

            (EDIT: and why it would be a bad thing if it did? Though this might follow trivially from the first point.)

          • Irrelevant says:

            People do not inherently know their own preferences and must discover them. The number of potential career preferences is too large to be searched exhaustively so we must pick a relatively small subset of all possible careers and choose between those. One of the primary ways we discover our career preferences is by discovering similar people and attempting to copy what they do. Human brains consider sex a major similarity trait. Human brains are sloppy at fractions. As a result, people will deem a career or hobby sex-specific at relatively small diversions from 50/50 and fail to investigate it, and therefore never discover if they would have preferred it over whatever they end up doing instead.

            Therefore, it’s entirely possible that the ideal sex ratio in many careers is unstable, and even if achieved by some magical thought experiment mechanism would collapse the next generation because the minority sex would fail to come in at replacement rate.

          • Harald K says:

            Irrelevant: “Therefore, it’s entirely possible that the ideal sex ratio in many careers is unstable”

            I don’t know about careers, but I know that for many practices, they are definitively unstable, because they have switched dramatically from one to the other. Knitting used to be men’s work in Norway, now it’s almost as exclusively women’s work. So it’s plausible.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Harald K.:
            The key to understanding this transition, is that knitting is now a hobby of very limited practical value. The same thing happened with horseback riding, for the exact same reason – men moved on to car and bicycles.

          • Nita says:

            @ Unique Identifier

            What’s the general principle you’re applying there? Women have hobbies, men do useful things?

          • Unique Identifier says:

            No, not at all. Men certainly have hobbies, too, many of them perfectly useless. After all, a large part of car culture is about styling. By and large, men seem much more partial to and obsessive about useless hobbies than women, such as playing computer games and collecting stamps.

            The principle here is that an activity can have both utilitarian and recreational value, and these need not appeal equally to both sexes. When the relative importance of these two changes, we should expect male to female ratio to change as well.

            For a different example, see how computer science and engineering is much more popular with women in less prosperous countries. One possible explanation, is that they are more willing to pursue well-paying jobs, regardless of the aesthetics – i.e. the utilitarian value trumps the recreational, when poverty seems like a more imminent risk.

          • Harald K says:

            Unique identifier: I don’t see any clear cut line between useful and leisure value of various practices and gender. Example: weaving and cobbling were both extremely necessary activities two-three hundred years ago in Norway, but the former was women’s work, and the latter men’s.

            So I don’t see why knitting first was popular with men, nor do I see why the diminishing relative utility of it changed that. True, we got mass produced cotton fabric and eventually clothes with the rest of the world, but knitting was never all that critical – most clothes were still woven.

            It could be that since knitting was first used for socks, mittens and unglamorous workwear, it became associated with men, whereas the finer woven stuff (including fine linen sunday garments) was women’s domain. The old utility vs. inherent value divide. Knitted clothing did become highly fashionable, though, so maybe that’s why it changed.

          • Nita says:

            @ Harald K

            Wow, did men really knit socks and mittens in Norway? It was considered women’s work in both of my cultures.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            For a different example, see how computer science and engineering is much more popular with women in less prosperous countries.

            Does your source distinguish between “popular with” and “open to”?

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Harald K.:
            The point is that there is no such clear line. My suggestion is that knitting as a recreational activity might appeal more to women than men. In the past, when knitting was primarily productive labor rather than leisure, men were more inclined to knit, because it’s okay to do stuff you don’t really enjoy as long as it’s useful.

            The thesis is not, however, that men choose useful activities and women don’t. I suspect that for example fishing was useful and thus more egalitarian in the past, and is now almost exclusively male and recreational.

            [There are also plenty of examples of things people did in the past because they had to, but neither men nor women do for recreational purposes, such as carrying water or washing clothes by hand.]

            The point of this sort of model, is that it doesn’t require instability to explain the decline of male knitters. It can instead be explained by knitting-as-work transforming into knitting-for-leisure. I prefer this theory, because I think it generalizes well to some other cases I have mentioned.

            Cobbling and weaving would probably require us to delve into the effects of wife- and motherhood on career prospects.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            In my opinion, ‘open to’ does not explain the data at all.

            As far as I remember, countries like China and India (‘patriarchal’), Pakistan and Iran (Muslim) and Russia, Poland (former Soviet) have much higher female representation in STEM, than Scandinavia, France, the US (egalitarian, ‘western’).

            Again as far as I can remember, more traditionalist, prosperous countries such as Japan aligned with the west; apparently by prosperity, and not by women’s liberation.

            It seems patently absurd that countries such as Iran and China, should have STEM institutions that are more open to women than for instance Norway, a country which practices all sorts of dubious, affirmative action in order to attract women to STEM fields.

            But this is just my interpretation of data I studied in moderate detail some five years ago. If it sounds interesting at all, ignore everything I have said and make sure you can get a look at the data yourself.

          • Nornagest says:

            It seems patently absurd that countries such as Iran and China, should have STEM institutions that are more open to women than for instance Norway, a country which practices all sorts of dubious, affirmative action in order to attract women to STEM fields.

            There’s a hidden assumption there, and that’s that STEM is male-coded across cultures. You can’t tell that just from looking at the employment data (well, you can use representation as a proxy, but not if you’re trying to explain representation); you have to actually go out and ask about gender roles.

            Has anyone done that?

          • Irrelevant says:

            There’s a hidden assumption there, and that’s that STEM is male-coded across cultures.

            I believe the neglected variable is actually caste orientation. The Middle East and South Asia maintain a bright line between the Noble and the Technician, Western Europe and America blur them into the Technocrat. The ideal Noble woman need not work, the ideal Technician woman has a career that looks at the bottom line, and the way the blur has shaken out is that the ideal Technocrat woman pursues a career, but in a “soft” field which signals that she’s working for the intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Ergo, stronger career segregation in the more progressive society.

            Amusingly, this theory explains both the real and imaginary components of the wage gap: Technocrat women are status-motivated both to pursue lower-paying careers AND to loudly proclaim that they are lower-paying.

          • not_all_environmentalists says:

            There’s a hidden assumption there, and that’s that STEM is male-coded across cultures.

            A Real Brahmin in New Delhi told me that fields or professions that have existed a long time or developed gradually (as in prosperous countries) are already gender-coded or caste-coded or whatever; but when a new field opens suddenly (as in less prosperous countries), it’s more free-for-all.

            Isaac Asimov in the 1960s said that we can’t afford to waste the brains of half the human race [thus STEM should be more open to women]. Perhaps the less prosperous countries are more anxious to use all genders’ brains in the new fields.

          • Nornagest says:

            A Real Brahmin in New Delhi told me that fields or professions that have existed a long time or developed gradually (as in prosperous countries) are already gender-coded or caste-coded or whatever; but when a new field opens suddenly (as in less prosperous countries), it’s more free-for-all.

            That would have been my guess, yes. “Less prosperous” is doing less work than “recently developed”, but the two would coincide in most places.

        • AFC says:

          Well, the utility monster is someone who wants something more just so they can get it. But here we’re talking about some underlying biological fact. Like how a type-whatever diabetic wants a carby snack RIGHT NOW more than non-diabetics, say. It’s not a strategy to hoard the snack food.

          But, another interesting fact is that women seem to derive more utility from men’s status than men from women’s (much in the same way that men derive more utility from women’s being physically beautiful than the converse).

          Another way to put it is like this: men want to occupy the high-status positions.[*] Women want to marry the men in the high-status positions. So, allowing women to compete along with men for the same number of positions is going to be a loss for both men and women on average.

          [*] So that they can have their choice of woman.

          Perhaps a superior analogy to the diabetic one earlier is available in other species: male birds want the beautiful feathers, the long tails, etc., more than female birds. Allowing peahens to compete along with peacocks for the top spot at the lek isn’t going to help either gender of birds. It’s just going to reduce the rate of breeding.

          • Nita says:

            But here we’re talking about some underlying biological fact.

            Are we?

            also: Someone mentioned non-ambitious men elsewhere in this thread. They might not care so much about status. And many women (e.g., most feminists) claim to suffer some disutility from being socially doomed to low status due to their biology.

            On average, men have significantly larger feet than women. But a rule that men are only allowed to wear shoes of size >8, and women only <8, would still be silly.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s not that male peacocks “want” the beautiful feathers more than the female peahens; the point of the beautiful display is that it is for the benefit of the female birds, who (allegedly if we believe the evolutionary just-so* story) judge the reproductive worth of the males on their beauty as a signifier of health, good genes, etc.

            The male birds do not want to be beautiful for the sake of beauty, they want to attract mates. Peahens and other females of species which have very different sex-determined plumages are drab for different evolutionary reasons; camouflage from predators while brooding eggs in the nest, putting physical resources into egg-laying not display and so forth.

            So the analogy with status breaks down if it’s “male birds want to be beautiful/male humans want status for the sake of beauty or status qua beauty or status”. Both are mate-seeking strategies. Where high-status positions were reserved solely to males, the advantage in women seeking status through males, not through themselves was obvious; a woman could reach a certain level of status but to go higher, she was dependent on a man.

            Look at Salic Law monarchies; a woman could pass on high status to male offspring that she could not enjoy herself (giving them inheritance rights or claims to rule). Nowadays, when high-status positions like monarchs are figureheads with little to no actual power, there is no reason women should not be reigning monarchs (e.g. Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom) and indeed, given the cultural mythos of the fairytale princess, it may be more desirable or advantageous for a country to have its representative figurehead be a woman (there’s a reason the book and movie was “The Princess Diaries” and not “The Prince Diaries”).

            *I say “just-so” because it seems to be “Why does this thing happen? Well, it must have some evolutionary advantage!” as an explanation in some cases. I have no doubt if it were the other way round – female peahens were the flashy ones – we’d get the same rationale.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Heh, that’s an amusing observation. You’re probably correct that powerless Queen Elizabeth is more popular than powerless King Elisha would be, but that… doesn’t exactly smack of progress.

          • Peter says:

            Monarchies: one of the odd things I keep noticing is just how often women throughout history act as regents – often by being married to the king, or by being a boy king’s (or often emperor’s) mother. Examples: Henry VIII was happy leaving the defense of the realm against the Scots to Catherine of Aragon while out making war in France, and the Byzantine Empresses Irene and Theodora (apparently they played a key role in making sure Orthodox Christianity kept its icons) got their positions as regents for their sons.

            Which is all slightly odd. On the one hand you have status being formally attatched to men, on the other, you have actual power being wielded by women, which seems the opposite of the situations you describe. But somehow… all these things seem thematically compatible, if only we could just formulate it right.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Simple- since they were women and couldn’t become the monarch, they were trustworthy enough to give the powers of the monarch to.

          • AFC says:


            Are we? Yes. At least that’s the nature of the claim as I understand it (and the interpretation under which I wrote my previous post).

            As far as rules, that’s _not_ the issue. Nobody even proposed a rule.

            (I certainly hope you didn’t take _me_ to be proposing to exclude women from competing in male status hierarchies. I didn’t say that! I said that including them may negatively affect men more than it benefits women, which is not at all the same thing as proposing anything.)

            The question is of fact. Do men care more about (their own) status? Pure question of fact, exactly analogous to the question of whether women care more about (their own) chest size than men. (And, to my mind, almost as obviously true.)

          • AFC says:


            First of all, there’s no “evolutionary just-so story” in play here. The behavior of peacocks and peahens doesn’t require anything like that. You don’t even need to believe in evolution to follow my point. That particular behavior is a matter of simple observation, and that observation has been done. Regardless of any theory of adaptation, the lek exists and operates as I described.

            (I would imagine that peafowl behavior must have been observed and written about well before Darwin wrote; but if not, surely some other similar-enough bird.)

            Second, you wrote:

            So the analogy with status breaks down if it’s “male birds want to be beautiful/male humans want status for the sake of beauty or status qua beauty or status”.

            Maybe, but that’s not what it is. As I said: men want high status more (or benefit more from high status) exactly because it is more useful for their mating strategy. Other than mating strategy, I don’t claim any difference between the sexes on that score. (There may be one, but it isn’t necessary to claim.) And of course women certainly benefit just as much from being able to eat well, take airplane trips, and whatnot. But they can’t convert cash into mate choice as easily as men.

            Where high-status positions were reserved solely to males, the advantage in women seeking status through males, not through themselves was obvious; a woman could reach a certain level of status but to go higher, she was dependent on a man.

            That’s an interesting theory, but it won’t jive with all the facts. Women prefer high status males even in cases where they can’t possibly raise their own status; for example, they prefer the fictional characters of their sexual fantasies to be high in status. Yet surely no woman ever increased her own social status by reading 50 Shades of Grey. There is also good evidence to show that this extends to actual sexual behavior (women don’t prefer higher-status males just in case they can raise their own status through relationships with them, but actually something almost opposite to that).

            (At this point, I could cite some evolutionary principles, but given your use of “just-so story” earlier, I’m thinking that might not be fertile ground. Instead I will just claim that I could cite several similar facts, that your theory can’t take into account.)

          • Nita says:

            @ AFC

            May I ask why you think that men care more about status? (I assume that’s what you meant, although men with a lot of chest fat probably do worry about it.)

            The most traditionalist Western woman I’ve heard of, Debi Pearl, seems to care about status quite a bit — from her writing, I’m getting the impression that she’s accepted her role as a submissive wife only in exchange for the role of a moral authority and judge of all other women. Obviously, a traditionalist society won’t be able to placate all status-hungry women that way.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Men don’t care more about status. The trick is that modern feminist society only regards the male status track as “real” status. In a bizarre twist, most female forms of status have been devalued by feminism. In the past, a woman could claim status from raising 5 quality children; now being a stay-at-home mom is seen as a waste of potential. Likewise for the status conferred simply by being married to a high-status man.

            So men care more about male status tracks. And to the extent that society as a whole only values the male status tracks, we can say that men care more about status. But we’d be better off bringing the other status tracks back and learning to appreciate them.

          • Nita says:

            @ Jaskologist

            In the past, a woman could claim status from raising 5 quality children

            In the past, childbirth was a dangerous occupation, and people believed that upbringing matters a great deal.

            Thanks to advances in medicine, childbirth today still might make you incontinent or unable to have painless sex, but it’s very unlikely to kill you. And it turns out that genes and environment are far more important than parenting, so the best thing a mother can do for her children is choose a fit mate and amass enough resources to afford a nice place to live.

            You can’t turn back time. The world has changed, and women have tried to adapt to it.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Nita, not to disagree with your main point, but one thing you said seems to me completely backwards. It seems to me that people today care about upbringing far more than in the past. You may have heard of Judith Rich Harris, but very few people have, let alone believed her. She certainly claims to be railing against a prevailing Nurture Assumption.

          • Nita says:

            @ Douglas Knight

            You’re right, my argument is a little forward-looking, since we’re discussing implementing traditionalist or neoreactionary policies in the future.

            As for the past and present — even in a society where different-but-equally-respected gender roles are a reality, rather than a pleasant fiction a la Saudi Arabia, this equal respect is rooted in the actual importance of those roles. When the delicate balance of importance is upset, people can observe the consequences. A stay-at-home mother of teenage or adult children is completely dependent on her husband’s good fortune and goodwill. Without exhausting chores to do, or a houseful of servants to manage, she may seem irritatingly idle to her husband. Who would want to end up in that position?

            Also — the single-earner lifestyle has never been economically viable for all families. For centuries, most women had to work. So they did. Farm and factory workers raised children in addition to their day-to-day work, not instead of it. It wasn’t feminism or divorce that made women’s labour necessary.

          • Irrelevant says:

            this equal respect is rooted in the actual importance of those roles.

            This is true, and points to one of the commonly neglected variables: in the Traditionalist model, social capital matters much more than in the Modern. Within the “Noble” caste arrangement I mentioned a couple seconds back, a “profession” like General’s Wife is in fact a relevant and productive occupation which accumulates real and necessary social resources.

      • lilred says:

        Are you sure men don’t get utils out of their status relative to other men? Then, transfer of power between genders wouldn’t change a thing.

        • Andrew says:

          No, that doesn’t follow. Men can get utils solely out of status relative to other men, yet the shape of the distribution still be shifted in a way harmful to men (on aggregate) by introducing women into the status hierarchy.

          For example, consider a simple society where everyone is exactly equal to everyone else, except for the King, and the Baron. Replacing the King with a Queen cuts in half the number of men who receive any benefit from having a high status relative to other men.

      • I agree with the suggestion that men value status more than women because it is more closely related to reproductive success. But that ought to be status relative to other men, since men are (primarily) competing for mates with other men. So in principle, transferring status from women to men is irrelevant.

        Of course, you might argue that our genes didn’t bother to distinguish between “status relative to other humans” and “status relative to other men,” in which case transferring status from women to men might increase utility, due to our utility functions being imperfectly optimized for reproductive success.

        Carrying the argument one step further, if men value status because it makes them more attractive to women, then one man’s gain in status is a loss to other men, who now find it harder to compete for mates. Here again, if we separate utility from the objective that it was “as if designed” to achieve, the result might not follow due to the imperfections of our utility functions.

        I have long suspected that the reason people care about relative income, to the irritation of economists who think they ought to care only about absolute income, is that men are competing for a nearly fixed resource, namely women.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Haven’t you met the Pick-Up Artists yet? Women are hypergamous; they want to marry up. Therefore, it’s just important that a man be higher status than the other men; he needs to be higher status than the woman, too. Distributing status from men to women is like distributing breast fat from women to men.

          • Nita says:

            You’re confusing PUA with redpill. According to PUA, all you have to do is DHV, no actual status necessary.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Good point, although I’m not sure they’re really that different. PUA is oriented towards faking the signals, but the underlying theories are basically same as redpill.

          • Nita says:

            Hypergamy can be divided into two parts: sexual preference and rational risk-management.

            The sexual preference can be satisfied with consensual status play in mating-related contexts — be it PUA posturing, D/s, MAP or whatever. So, it shouldn’t affect status in the workplace or in politics.

            The rational risk-management is a little more challenging.

            If pregnancy complications, a difficult childbirth or illness (your own or your child’s) destroy your earning potential, who’s going to take care of your kids? More generally, what’s the best choice you can make for your kids in a world where money seems to buy health, education and career prospects? If that’s your main consideration, marrying a (potentially) rich or high-earning man is an excellent choice.

            And yet, it would be silly to pay men higher salaries or promote them more aggressively just to make them more attractive husbands. Right?

          • loki says:

            ‘women are hypergamous’: cite please

            (also, while I am generally in favour of made-up words, I think made-up words can be intellectually dishonest when they refer to concepts that have not been proved to exist and that is not signalled with every use of the made-up word.)

            I actually think that in general people have a preference for high-status but this is not true of every individual. I think this fact is harder to see because society constructs status differently for men and women. PUAs are one of the most hypergamous groups out there, under a worldview where female status is highly affected by her conventional attractiveness.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Loki, hypergamy is not a recent coinage, but a well-established word in sociology.

            Your last sentence is completely wrong. Hypergamy does not mean caring about status. If female status were identical with attractiveness, PUAs caring a lot about it would not make them hypergamous.

          • Harald K says:

            About hypergamy. Since that word has become popular in PUA/redpill circles, I think it’s useful to point out that it’s not an “all women are like that” thing.

            But consider this: status, wealth, power is typically something you accumulate with age. Men stay fertile far longer than women. Women have an option of having kids with older, more powerful people. Men, for practical purposes, don’t.

            Actually, I think that over the generations, the longer fertility window of men may explain a great deal of that “twenty times as many stone age women have descendants today as stone age men” that was in the blogs lately. It certainly sounds more plausible than stone age men either having huge harems or being virgins, which was what a lot of people thought the study said. Even if everyone was strictly monogamous and each woman had exactly three kids, you’d expect higher variance for men since some older widowers would remarry younger women.

    • Highly Effective People says:

      Well the problem with these kinds of comparisons is that it’s too easy to say “that’s not really a problem!” to any point someone brings up.

      For example, it’s incontrovertible that the rate of marriage has fallen and that of divorce has increased in the last century. Most (>80%) of the divorces are in low-conflict marriages which do not have any abuse infidelity addictions or disease. And, putting aside eudaimonic benefits, even from a hendonic standpoint married folks tend to be happier after controlling for kids.

      And yet every time I’ve brought this up online people very quickly shift to “actually that’s a good thing! People aren’t getting stuck in relationships they don’t like! You’re just afraid your wife will run out on you with a black guy if you don’t legally own her!” Rather than arguing that the losses are justified by other gains they simply deny any losses occured.

      SSC folks are pretty reasonable mostly but it’s still very tempting to dodge the conclusion on these kinds of issues.

      • no one special says:

        Yeah, everybody wants to dodge the conclusion. My meta-conclusion is that most people’s arguments are plausible-but-unconfirmed rationalizations for what they already believed.

        I really want to hear someone say, “Ambitious women are helped by progressive policies, but nonambitious men are harmed by them. This is okay, because 25% or women are ambitious, while only 5% of men are nonambitious, so we get a net in utils by adopting progressive policies.”

        Example of a pro-tradition argument is left as an exercise for the reader.

        • Dude Man says:

          Part of the reason you don’t see these types of calculations is because they are very difficult to do, especially once you factor in the effects each decision would have on society. For example, if the reason a non-traditional society harms non-ambitious men is because it forces them to be ambitious if they want attention from the opposite gender (which I’m not sure I believe, but let’s go with it), then one could argue that this negative utility is a feature and not a bug in a society that wants more ambitious people.

        • loki says:

          The important question though is are the unambitious men harmed relative to their previous, advantageous position?

          Generally I find that ‘fairness is usually utility-maximizing’ is a good general principle.

          This is where utilitarianism runs up against a drive to equality – there isn’t really a factor in utilitarianism that distinguishes between someone’s relative loss from losing an unfair advantage, and their loss from becoming disadvantaged.

          • no one special says:

            I suspect this comes down to something like total utilitarianism vs average utilitarianism. In theory, it shouldn’t matter if it’s relative to an advantaged position; The utilitarian either cares about utility only, and fairness doesn’t enter into it, or they have a term for fairness in their utility calculation.

            (I agree with your general fairness principle, but if we try to apply it, we just end up punting the argument onto “what’s fair?”)

      • I get mind-boggled when people try to seriously argue that the rate of divorce in our society is not an ongoing catastrophe. Some people make this argument because they are survivors of seriously terrible marriages (their own or their parents) in which divorce was an escape hatch. Those people I understand. But they’re a minority of the people making the argument; the remainder are just mindkilled.

        • blacktrance says:

          What’s the alternative? If I could wave a magic wand and prevent divorces by making those marriages happy, I’d do that. But since that’s not a possibility, the only alternative is that they’d stay in those unhappy marriages and try to make them work – and that’s not a recipe for success.

          • Sigivald says:

            May it be so that the ease of divorce encourages more marriages that are fragile to be made in the first place?

            (I don’t think this can explain all or even most of it, of course, but it’s axiomatic that when you change the rules, you change the choices people make, in response.

            And while it’s understandable – intuitively – to prefer divorces to trying to make unhappy marriages work … do we actually know the latter produces worse outcomes?)

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            Presumably, the idea is that, if they didn’t divorce and worked on the issues, they’d be happier than if they went through with the divorce… There’s the obvious case of abusive marriages for which this is clearly not true for at least one of the individuals (non-intuitively, one might even argue that abused people are going to find more abusive partners anyway, so its better to have them be in a marriage where the other part has some degree of interest in their well being, but that’s probably false and perhaps a bit too neoractionary for me), but it might be for the much more common low conflict marriages that still end up in divorce many (most?) times.

          • Divorce should be stigmatized strongly enough that the only people who get divorced are those whose marriages are truly awful. The boring-but-functional marriages which today constitute the bulk of divorces should stay together, for the good of the kids, society, and themselves.

            Legally you can accomplish most of this by making divorce require evidence of infidelity, criminality, abuse, or neglect. But if the culture expects easy divorce then people will just perjure themselves about infidelity (as I hear was fairly common in the last few years before no-fault divorce was legalized), so you need the culture and the law to work together.

          • Highly Effective People says:

            Thing is, most (>80%) divorces aren’t actually from unhappy marriages: low conflict marriages are the baseline, the sort of friction every marriage goes through at some point.

            “Till death do you part” is strong enough to weather most ordinary problems, and not infrequently serious ones as well. But “as long as you both feel like it” isn’t and never will be.

          • blacktrance says:

            The boring-but-functional marriages which today constitute the bulk of divorces should stay together, for the good of the kids, society, and themselves.

            My true rejection is that if the marriage isn’t serving the interests of the people in it, then it should be dissolved. Any society that can’t handle that deserves to be destroyed.

          • Highly Effective People says:

            Believe it or not blacktrance, but sometimes you really do have to eat your Brussel Sprouts before you can have any ice cream.

            This whole Land of Do-As-You-Please thing in our culture is really bizarre. There is no freedom from consequence, the very idea is absurd. I am trying to be charitable but how is this any different than a 5 year old’s temper tantrum?

          • bartlebyshop says:

            Legally you can accomplish most of this by making divorce require evidence of infidelity, criminality, abuse, or neglect.

            By the time any of this could have been proved in court, my parents would already have been at the stage they were in real life when they divorced anyway, leaving 2 kids with massive psychological problems. They should have gotten divorced far earlier or never married at all. Getting divorced is like amputating the leg of someone with diabetes: by the time the gross, obvious signs of dysfunction are there years of unfixable damage have built up.

          • Dude Man says:


            While it is possible that divorce encourages unhappy marriages to form, the overall decrease in marriage rates suggests that it probably does not (or at least is counteracted by other forces that are causing the drop in marriage rates). It also wouldn’t explain why the divorce rates were highest about a decade after divorce laws were liberalized before dropping.

          • blacktrance says:

            This whole Land of Do-As-You-Please thing in our culture is really bizarre. There is no freedom from consequence, the very idea is absurd.

            Compared to what it could be, our culture is quite conservative and far from the ideal of individual liberation. No one said anything about freedom from consequence: the couple involved experiences the consequences of divorce, and no one is suggesting otherwise.

            The basic principles I’m advocating are simple:
            1. Other people are not your property.
            2. Within the constraint of 1, make yourself as happy as possible.
            A romantic relationship exists for the mutual benefit of the people involved in it. If it stops serving that end, then it should be dissolved, just like any other relationship, such as an employment contract.

          • @blacktrance, if your calculus of “people in the marriage” doesn’t include at least the children, then you’re not counting right.

          • Harald K says:

            As a divorced man, I think it was stigmatizing enough, thank you very much. One thing everyone seems to forget here is that it just takes one person to initiate a divorce. I was worried sick that people would assume I’d done something bad to deserve it.

            The first part of what they jokingly tell divorced men on reddit (“quit facebook, get a lawyer, hit the gym”) has a point to it. A few facebook acquaintances contacted me out of the blue to show sympathy (and, tellingly, share some of the taboo things they had been though), but for the most part they just exist there as a long list of people who might judge you, might side with your ex, and you don’t know and don’t dare ask. Better to just drop Facebook entirely.

          • Cauê says:

            When I hear something that sounds like “you can’t be free to choose about your own life, because generalizing that freedom would lead to a society that is worse in the aggregate”, I don’t even feel like I have to assess that empirical claim. Even if true, it wouldn’t matter. My response is “Fuck you”.

            This response is apparently not universal, and might account for most of my disagreements with all flavors of would-be social engineers.

          • Held In Escrow says:


            Seeing as most people, at least in the West, are okay with things like “rule of law” and “democracy” I think you’re in a very tiny minority here. We give up all sorts of freedoms to live in civilization.

            Granted, I think the whole “you must have strict traditional gender roles for some kind of marginal benefit!” is taking it too far, as from a soft Rawlsian view the aggregate level of utility doesn’t matter so much as providing a basic level of human choices and rights, but the idea that it’s all freedom or nothing is a bit extreme.

          • Cauê says:

            I thought it wouldn’t be necessary to explicitly say that I’m talking about personal choices that don’t affect (unwilling) others.

          • Held In Escrow says:


            I’m fairly certain the discussion here is about how setting societal norms affects others. There’s almost always knock on effects. The argument being put forth (which I’m going to steelman, as I don’t agree with it) is that when you make it societally acceptable for people to divorce at first trouble, people end up acting in ways that harms their kids and has a net negative effect on others. It’s like property values; you might not want to mow your lawn or take the truck off the cinderblocks, but as it ends up making my house less valuable I have a right to complain.

            That said, the proof that there is actually a knock on effect, that the knock on effect outweighs the benefits, and that having a net negative is inherently bad without regards to distribution or other factors have not actually been advanced. These all need to be actually discussed if people want to talk about the issue. Just shutting it out with “my freedom” is somewhat antithetical to this discussion.

            It’s a damn useful heuristic which I apply to most everything (the “do not bugger thy neighbor” principle), but we should look deeper at why it is useful and analyze counterarguments to it.

          • blacktrance says:

            It’s like property values; you might not want to mow your lawn or take the truck off the cinderblocks, but as it ends up making my house less valuable I have a right to complain.

            I’m inclined to bite that bullet too. You aren’t entitled to high property values, and I’m not obligated to not do something that decreases them. Just like in divorce, you may not like that I’m doing something, but that doesn’t entitle you to stop me.

          • Held In Escrow says:


            Which is a perfectly fine argument, that my right to do X outweighs your right not to have X effect you. The important part I wanted to illustrate was that knock on effects are real. Were I to spin out your line on entitlement into a grander theory (which I shall now proceed to do) the only question is what we’re actually entitled to. Which makes this into value judgments and fails to actually go against the original argument unless you can find some way to say that you are entitled to easy divorces.

            We’ve eliminated a lack of an effect on others as a reason for that entitlement, so from whence does it come? We’re accepting, for the sake of argument, that easy divorces are worse for society as a whole as much as it pains us. So why should you have the right to hurt everyone else for lesser gains?

          • Jaskologist says:

            People aren’t forced to marry. There’s nothing preventing a couple from holding their own “I’ll love you until inconvenient” ceremony.

            Scott likes to talk about credibly pre-committing. Marriage, properly enforced, allows people to credibly commit to each other. With that in hand, they are enabled to make a lot of very long-term investments which also happen to be pretty important for society at large.

            Divorce destroys the ability of people to credibly commit to each other, and forces even good spouses to regard each other with a certain amount of suspicion.

          • blacktrance says:

            Held in Escrow:
            Justifying it in terms of “why should I have right X” smuggles in that I don’t have a right unless I can justify it to others, which is backwards – it’s not being able to do something that must be justified to me. In the lawless state of nature, I can do anything I want, and the only restrictions I’ll accept in leaving that state are those that are in my self-interest. I don’t agree to be bound to not be able to divorce, so I’m entitled to easy divorces.

            The concern is that people who have gotten married in the past few decades or are intending to get married at some point in the future expect it to be a dissoluble arrangement. I agree that people should be able to waive their rights, but they don’t consider marriage to be that waiving of rights, and they’re worried that they’ll unintentionally find themselves in (or be socially pressured into) an indissoluble union.

          • Cauê says:

            @HIE – This example isn’t even about knock on effects, it’s just the sum of outcomes of individual choices.

            To the extent that it goes beyond that, the argument for effects on others isn’t that my choice will affect other people no matter what they do, it’s that it will affect other people by making them more likely to freely choose as I did. To which, well, fuck off.

            @Jaskologist – I wouldn’t object to enforceable contracts regarding marriage, as long as that just means something like compensations, and as long as there isn’t as strong a cultural expectation to sign them as there used to be about getting married.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I don’t agree to be bound to not be able to divorce.

            Historically, that lack of agreement was referred to as “not getting married.”

          • Cauê says:

            Well, it was part of “not getting married”.

          • @Jaskologist

            “Divorce destroys the ability of people to credibly commit to each other, and forces even good spouses to regard each other with a certain amount of suspicion.”
            That would be better phra as easy divorce impacts pre commitment in propertiesion to how easy it is.

        • caryatis says:

          No one so far has mentioned exactly why they think divorce is bad. What’s the argument there?

          The evidence for its effect on kids is mixed. It’s true that married people say they are happier on average than unmarried ones, but that’s irrelevant because we don’t know that people in unhappy marriages are happier than those who end unhappy marriages.

          Divorce is stigmatized, difficult and unpleasant–maybe not as much as some would want, but enough to make me doubt the thesis that people turn to divorce anytime they get bored.

          • keranih says:

            The evidence for its effect on kids is mixed.

            Not really. Boy kids who grow up without their fathers turn out to be criminals more frequently (two parent married >widowed>divorced>never married) and kids of any gender are more likely to be abused if they are not in a household with their biological father.

          • caryatis says:

            “Kids of any gender are more likely to be abused if they are not in a household with their biological father.”

            Is this true as you stated it? I thought the risk of abuse was related to being in a household with unrelated men.

          • AFC says:


            There’s a big correlation/causation issue with that, though. Just to give one example that suffices to invalidate the naive use of those stats: within black communities, a frighteningly-large portion of men are imprisoned. The families with absent fathers are going to correlate with the families with imprisoned fathers, and one can imagine several causal pathways from criminal father -> criminal child, which do not have anything to do with the fact of the father’s absence. There’s more on top of that: entire communities where crime is normalized are going to correlate with absent fathers, etc..

            I mean, I do agree with you on the conclusion. I’m just saying that the statistical correlation isn’t enough to prove it.

          • keranih says:

            @ caryatis

            Your statement is worded more accurately than mine. So there would be three options: child in household with biological father, child in household with no males, child in household with unrelated males. Of course, the second option requires the mother to not get in any (male) relationships.

            (The data I saw said that stepfathers who married the mother were more likely to abuse the child than biological dads, but that the greatest risk was from unmarried “boyfriends”.)


            I’m not finding the study with the greatest number of confounding variables, so I can’t say to what degree criminality was accounted for. I”ve also seen a study that held that the primary factor was the number of intact households in the neighborhood – that the children of divorced parents in a neighborhood with largely intact marriages tended to do better than the children of intact households where the neighborhood had a large number of divorces and never marrieds.

            As an aside – the figures for African American families was 10% of men incarcerated (outside upper limit) and 90% of the families without a mother and father married to each other (in the same neighborhoods.) Given that I would expect the incarcerated men would represent the lower edge of desirable husbands, I really can’t put most of the single motherhood on the imprisonment of ment.

            (Someone tell me my reasoning is wack.)

        • Held In Escrow says:


          State of nature is that the guy with the army and the big guns can make you do whatever he wants or else you get killed. That’s not a particularly strong argument for human rights. It’s really an argument that we can just coerce people into doing whatever we want because they have no rights. I don’t agree to be bound to “not running through the streets naked, urinating on all those who cross my path” and therefore I’m entitled to do so?


          The objective here was to look at this like a social engineer; society is not a thinking organism, but rather one that responds to inputs with certain outputs. We’ve already accepted the value of deterrence, that it is okay to punish someone beyond the exact value of their crime because it stops others from making that choice of their free will.

          And yes, there will be direct effects of an easy divorce in Divorceisbadistan. Kids for instance, are affected in a negative manner. Friendships get broken and divvied up. The value of marriage as an indicator of trust goes down, properties have to be split, and there’s a general air of malaise around the participants. In addition, as marriage is a governmental affair, there’s fees and paperwork! Hell, as a contract between you and the government there’s an implicit agreement here that you’re going to use the marriage to make society better off (thus the benefits given to married couples).

          So, in effect, why should society allow you to hurt it by making this choice? To pull this back to the beginning, the state is the guy with the army and guns. Why should he let you get better off while making him worse off? You’re basically trying to get everyone to choose defect, can you not see why it is in civilization’s best interests to stop you?

          (Playing Devil’s Advocate as the authoritarian is fun! I’d totally kick authoritarian me in the balls if I met him in the street though, so apologies for that)

          • blacktrance says:

            Held in Escrow:
            As Hobbes wrote, a state of nature is a state of war of all against all. It’s not a warlord forcing you to do something, it’s people hiding in their houses, protecting themselves from robbers (or engaging in robbery themselves). It’s not difficult to derive human rights from this state – we’d both be better off if we agreed not to kill or rob each other. Of course, the issue is more nuanced than actual agreement – what really matters is hypothetical agreement, that X is a right means that it would be in people’s self-interest to agree to establish X as a right, regardless of whether they actually do so. But this is an individual principle – if I benefit more from being able to do something than from everyone else not doing it, then there’s no agreement to forbid it. This is where easy divorce comes in – the benefits of making divorce difficult or impossible would have to be so great that even the would-be divorced couple would be better off in a world in which divorce is difficult/impossible compared to the alternative. This is a much higher standard than the utilitarian or the Rawlsian one, and it’s implausible that difficult divorce would be able to satisfy it.

          • Cauê says:


            …honestly? Apparently this topic gets me mindkilled. I have counterarguments to the Divorceisbadstan externalities, but I don’t like the paths my brain is taking to get there. I’ll try to think it over later.

            But anthropomorphizing “society” as an individualized agent doesn’t work here. Costs and benefits will always fall on individual people, and the state doesn’t exist as an entity external to individuals.

          • Held In Escrow says:


            I think you’re jumping forward a few steps of logic when you say that the would be divorced couple would be better off in a world with hard divorce in order to make having hard divorce the correct decision. You’re purely looking at this from a personal point of view, while the exercise is to look at this from a societal viewpoint.

            If we take your logic at face value, we should all be allowed to rob each other for property. Because from the individual perspective, someone with no property would gain from robbing someone for their property. Therefore we can not ban robbing people for the sake of the robbers. Basing society wide effects on the least convince individual simply does not work, as we would not actually have a society.

            As for the state of nature, again, if there’s a guy with a gun and you don’t have one, you’re best off giving him all your property so he doesn’t kill you. That’s not exactly where human rights come in. It’s rather when there’s a bunch of you and you all agree to cooperate and to punish anyone who betrays you and makes you all worse off.
            In this case the easy divorcees are slamming on the betray button and making everyone else worse off, so the cooperators have an incentive to ban that behavior.


            That’s not really your fault; I’m trying to channel the most dickish “society first, individual last” mindset I can here because it’s the only way I can really get into the character and question my own priors, and I apologize for that. I’m looking at the societal benefit at the net and society as a machine. You put in X and you get back Y, distributed in Z manner. It doesn’t really matter from whom you take X nor how Z falls so long as Y > X. As a soft Rawlsian (which sounds like a nouget bar) I think that’s rubbish, that Z really matters and can accept X > Y so long Z is correct, but I think that comes more from a responsibility to your fellow man than anything else.

          • Blacktrance writes:

            “As Hobbes wrote, a state of nature is a state of war of all against all.”

            I can resist anything but temptation. The following is the introduction to part V of the third edition of my first book (discussed by Scott recently–each part starts with a poem).

            “In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”
            [THOMAS HOBBES, Leviathan]

            Hobbes had a vision, certain, crystal clear,
            Through logic’s lens alone he clearly saw
            The state of nature, red in tooth and claw
            And sword and axe, where each man lives in fear,
            A nightmare world unless a king appear
            Equipped with force enough to overawe
            All powers else and bend them to his law,
            A monarch absolute, without a peer.

            One question yet remains: In many lands
            Men lived and fathered children, planted grain,
            Slept soundly through the night, worked with their hands,
            Together or apart, for love or gain.
            How is it that the human race survived
            Through the long years before the king arrived?
            A doctor synthesized the perfect cure
            For a disease that he was certain sure
            Mankind without his aid could not endure.
            His flawless logic with no doubt implied
            That the disease existed, so he tried,
            To offer up the cure on every side.
            And many patients took the cure
            And died.

            “In total, during the first eighty-eight years of this century, almost 170,000,000 men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners.”
            R.J. Rummel, Death by Government.

          • blacktrance says:

            Held in Escrow:
            Of course I’m looking at it from a personal perspective – society is made up of people, and, to use Rawls’s phrase, is a venture for mutual advantage. This is inherently an individualist principle because mutual advantage means both of us benefit – not you benefiting at my expense by restricting me. Putting society first assumes that what benefits it in some aggregate is justified, and that assumes too much of the conclusion.

            As for not having property rights because of robbers, that underestimates the benefits property rights have even to would-be robbers. It’s better to be a non-robber in a state with property rights than a robber in a state without them. So while basing rules on the least convinced individual produces fewer rules than we have now (which I think is a feature, not a bug), it still produces property rights.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            If the robber has the tools to rob you, why should he want property rights that would grant you your property back? He has no incentive now, nor does he have reason to rob you again.

            I’m actually going to apply a Rawlsian reasoning here to try and demonstrate this point. Nobody knows if they’ll want an easy divorce. They can see two societies; one where there are easy divorces, and one where there aren’t. The first society is, on average, worse off; the only people in it that are better off than those in the second society are those who get easy divorces. But seeing as we’ve established our average as being higher, a rational person will want to live in the second society, as there’s a much better chance of being better off.

            But back to the robber. I had intentionally structured this as a guy with a gun mugging you (to demonstrate inherent advantages and disadvantages), but let’s use it as an example of cooperation. Everyone works together and respects each other’s property; there’s no need for law and government, which are costly, because everyone is hitting cooperate. But then one guy decides to rob another guy. Now the townsfolk have to set up a law and government because one asshole decided to hit betray because it was more useful for him. Everyone pays and is worse off for it.

            (You can imagine the guy who got robbed as the kids in a divorce if it pleases you, otherwise just consider it the general negative externality)

            The whole point here is that we’re stuck in a constant Prisoner’s Dilemma, where there’s always an incentive to defect. Enough of us decided that, judging by how much it costs us from defections, it would be cheaper to just hire a guy with a gun to shoot anyone who defected. Thus we give up a little freedom (what we’re paying our sharpshooter) in exchange for a greater benefit (not taking the loss from the defectors running off with our communal stuff).

          • blacktrance says:

            David Friedman:
            To the extent that it’s possible to arrange cooperation through love and trade, government is even less necessary. My argument is that cooperation can be established even among people who don’t care about each other and are sometimes looking to rip each other off – but that involves government. If it can be solved without it (protection agencies), that would be even better, but I doubt it’d work (mainly because of the warlords problem).

            (The Machinery of Freedom is one of my favorite books, even though I don’t agree with all of its conclusions.)

            Held in Escrow:
            I agree that the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the correct tool of analysis, but it doesn’t justify as restrictive of a standard as the one you’re arguing for. In a PD, both players are better off if they both cooperate than if they both defect. If one player finds (D, D) to have a higher payoff than (C, C), it’s not a PD anymore. Hence the individualist principle – we cooperate if we’re each made better off by cooperation, but not if one is made better off and other is made worse off. That’s why your townsfolk example works – because we’re all made better off by hiring the sharpshooter.

            The problem with your Rawlsian “easy divorce” example is the assumption of a veil of ignorance – while no one knows if they’ll want an easy divorce, people can and do know whether they want to have the opportunity to have an easy divorce, even though they don’t know if they’ll use it. And having that opportunity is of high value.

            As for the robber, he enjoys a great amount of benefits from the existence of property rights. Suppose he wants to steal my TV and take it to his apartment, so he dissolves property rights. Soon he’s left not only with no TV, but no apartment, no supermarkets in which to buy food, no medicine, etc. Not worth the TV. Also, if there were no property rights to begin with, there wouldn’t be a TV for him to steal.

          • Blacktrance:

            The decentralized mechanism for maintaining social order and some protection of rights doesn’t hinge on love and trade but on a system of commitment strategies maintained by a mutually perceived network of Schelling points. That’s the subject of part of that section of the new edition.

            And what I was hinting at in the poem. Stateless societies may be better or worse than societies with states, but they don’t look at all like Hobbes’ state of nature.

          • If a stateless society is typified by a nomadic hunter gatherer band, they actually don’t have a lot of the things Hobes says they don’t have, even if they are not at each others throats.

    • I’m guessing this doesn’t work for the traditionalists, e.g., Ross Douthat in the New York Times.

      His/their analysis (I have seen others) is that when upscale highly educated folks adopt nontraditional gender roles or nonreligious sexual mores, it’s fine for them, but it sets a bad example for working class folks. And when the nontraditional “bad example” is replicated down through the status hierarchy, chaos and ruined lives result, compared to what they see as the good old days of stable religious nuclear families among the poor and working class.

      I don’t agree with this reasoning, of course, but Douthat and his allies argue that legalization of same-sex marriage and other nontraditional forms is a mistake. even if it would benefit some, because some other people “can’t handle” this kind of freedom.

      In other words, to allow people to freely choose nontraditional gender roles could be bad for them. Therefore, Douthat’s ideal society would highly discourage or prohibit that kind of thing.

      • no one special says:

        I’ve seen that argument before. I’d really like to see it done with numbers, even fake ones, as that will tease out assumptions that are currently hidden.

        If your model assumes that gay marriage will cause working class folks to get married 5% less, it’s a whole lot easier to sell than a model that predicts working class folks will get married 50% less.

        I’d love to see a worked example, with numbers showing either what portion of people will make bad choices if available, or what portion of people have to make bad choices before there are serious societal side effects*.

        Realish numbers would be better, but even fake numbers would tease out differences in the underlying models.

        * (My favorite example of this is that in polygamous societies, only 5%** of men have to take a second wife before there are gangs of unmarriageable men causing problems.)

        ** I am quoting from memory here, but it was low.

        • If your model assumes that gay marriage will cause working class folks to…

          Please, it’s not “my” model. I’m an advocate of marriage equality.

          I was responding to the original posting for this subthread, which proposed as follows:

          It seems to me that there’s a trade-off here, where some people who would have done well under traditional roles are less happy, and some people who would have done poorly under traditional roles are more happy.

          My point was just that traditionalist advocates like Douthat aren’t too interested in whether people are more or less “happy”, but whether they are behaving in objectively (?) self-destructive ways.

          • no one special says:

            Sorry, “the model under consideration”. But I see that’s off-point anyway.

            Form a utilitarian perspective, is there a difference between “happy/unhappy” and “sustainable/self-destructive”? Shouldn’t it all round off to utils in the end?

            Or do you think the traditionalist argument hinges on the distinction between those to classes, while utilitarianism throws them away? I’m not sure what that would mean, honestly.

            Can I get a traditionalist in here to tell me if utilitarianism is incompatible with traditionalism?

          • BD Sixsmith says:

            Can I get a traditionalist in here to tell me if utilitarianism is incompatible with traditionalism?

            If you’re a religious conservative it defies the will of God. If you’re a secular conservative it defies the will of nature.

          • no one special says:

            BD: Summing utils defies the will of God? Or eliminating the difference between happiness and sustainability?

            I mean, please expand, I don’t get it.

          • BD Sixsmith says:

            Sorry. Concision at the expense of comprehension. Placing utils above Biblical (or Judaic, or Islamic) law, which gives no primacy to worldly satisfaction, would be the problem. (It strikes me that one could make a utilitarian argument for religious law as a means of avoiding the Hellfires but I suspect that that would be to miss the point.) As for sec’ cons: even if they have no other objections, of which there could be many, they would be sceptical of our ability to maximise utils without endangering those which we have acquired, and would lean on the virtues of traditional wisdom.

          • no one special says:

            BD: Thank you, that makes sense. It smells a lot like Deontology vs Utilitarianism to me, so I could see where that becomes an issue. If traditionalism requires a deontological underpinning, then my original request is just so much gibberish for the traditionalist.

      • Harald K says:

        His/their analysis (I have seen others) is that when upscale highly educated folks adopt nontraditional gender roles or nonreligious sexual mores, it’s fine for them, but it sets a bad example for working class folks.

        Well, this is a questionable type of argument. It’s dangerous because it assumes some people (working class folks) don’t know their own good, and keep making decisions that aren’t reasonable in their circumstances. It can happen I’m sure, but the default assumption should be that people do know their own good, and are just as capable of making choices that make sense in their context as anyone else.

        Douthat has the burden of evidence here, he hasn’t carried it well if you ask me. On the other hand it’s easy to find reasons for little marriage/high divorce/”nontraditional arrangements” that have nothing to do with imitating the upper classes.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Yeah, default assumption should be that culture doesn’t move on its own, but rather chases material circumstance. (More accurately, culture randomly perturbates on its own, with successful trends more likely to be the ones that constitute an advantageous adjustment to material circumstance.)

        • not_all_environmentalists says:

          Well, this is a questionable type of argument. It’s dangerous because it assumes some people (working class folks) don’t know their own good, and keep making decisions that aren’t reasonable in their circumstances.

          I suspect the “idle hands” argument might be linked with this.

        • the default assumption should be that people do know their own good, and are just as capable of making choices that make sense in their context as anyone else.

          Strongly agreed!

        • FJ says:

          Well, this is a questionable type of argument. It’s dangerous because it assumes some people (working class folks) don’t know their own good, and keep making decisions that aren’t reasonable in their circumstances.

          This is certainly a good principle to bear in mind generally, but how pertinent is it to Douthat? His point, it seems, isn’t that working-class people are too dumb to realize that getting married has a lot of benefits for themselves and their kids. Rather, Douthat pretty consistently argues that the circumstances (including popular culture) are such that working-class people don’t think it makes sense to get married.

          You could certainly say, “The reason the divorce rate is so high is because people really enjoy getting married and then getting divorced, and the reason so many children are born out of wedlock is because women really like having kids without a dependable male partner.” In the sense of revealed preferences, it’s clear that people act as if those were their preferences. But I’m not sure the people who actually go through those life events would later describe them as part of a deliberate and well-chosen plan.

          • Nita says:

            It’s unclear why he accords so much weight to pop culture instead of material circumstances:

            Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry — even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expenses, and even if they have a child — is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.


            They aren’t making a choice between having kids with a dependable male partner and having kids without one. The actual choice is supporting yourself and your kids vs supporting yourself, your kids, and a miserable* adult man. And banning divorce would simply make the latter option even worse.

            * bonus: depression can manifest as rage instead of sadness, especially in men

    • Not an answer, but I think a relevant story:

      A very long time ago, I was in an airport in Bombay waiting for a flight to Sydney, and got into conversation with an Indian woman waiting for the same flight. We ended up spending a good deal of time during the flight talking.

      She was from southern India and was flying out to join her husband, a physician in Sydney. It had been an arranged marriage. The couple got to meet before they got married and either could have vetoed the arrangement, but the basic search and selection were by their parents.

      She was as interested in the weird marriage customs of my society as I was in the weird marriage customs of hers. I could not offer any convincing arguments for the superiority of our system, and the (small sample) evidence was on her side, since my first marriage had at that point broken up and she was still happily married. She was an intelligent, educated woman from a different world, and showing the superiority of the “modern” system of mate choice was considerably more difficult than when arguing with dead people not there to rebut.

      • Nita says:

        Sure, the best case of arranged marriage is great — and so is the best case of romantic marriage, and even the best case of government-mandated marriage.

        • Jaskologist says:

          In terms of marital stability, the numbers for arranged marriage beat our method handily. You hardly need to look at the best case.

          I’m not sure if there are numbers available for overall happiness, but it’s much harder to decide how to measure that anyway.

          • Dude Man says:

            I seem to recall (but can’t find off-hand) evidence suggesting that marriage satisfaction rates are higher for romantic marriages at first, but higher for arranged marriages after five years. However, marriage satisfaction rates are not necessarily a measure of happiness and the cultural differences between those who have arranged marriages and those who have romantic marriages is a likely cofounder.

          • keranih says:

            I would like to see some sort of stats, but that ‘traditional’ ‘arranged’ marriages work better (on the population average) than the ‘love match’ marriages of Western society sounds very plausible.

            Arranged matches come together under the influence of paid professionals, are guided by mature, relatively detached adults who are invested in a good outcome, and who will give strong re-enforcing support to a marriage made under those conditions.

            On the other hand, love matches are an amateur affair start to finish, generally conducted by young people under the influence of powerful emotions. And there is much less motivation for the parents/extended family to support the match, as the whole mess was hardly their fault, but that of the idiot kids.

            Arrangements, of course, have downsides, but not the *same* downsides as love matches.

            I would interested in any examination of the courtships of the American uber wealthy as arranged marriages, with the families putting young people of the right sort together and hoping for sparks.

          • Nita says:

            I don’t see what’s so good about marital stability in itself, especially when we know how it’s achieved — that’s like praising the Soviet Union for its political stability: “Hey, the Party has been in power for decades! They must be doing something right.”

          • Anthony says:


            love matches are an amateur affair start to finish, generally conducted by young people under the influence of powerful emotions. And there is much less motivation for the parents/extended family to support the match, as the whole mess was hardly their fault, but that of the idiot kids.

            This is probably why U.S. upper-middle-class marriage works so much better than working-class (or welfare-class) marriage. The parties involved *aren’t young*, they’ve seen (and maybe made) plenty of relationship mistakes, they’re more capable of self-support, and they’ve realized that their elders really are wise.

      • Cauê says:

        The couple got to meet before they got married and either could have vetoed the arrangement

        Assuming this is accurate, and that non-arranged marriages are also allowed, and that divorce is possible, this situation looks strictly better than ours. They lose nothing, and gain a convenient way around many social hurdles that get in the way of starting romantic relationships.

        • This situation looks exactly the same as ours, because arranged marriage plus veto is legal anyway…..it just amounts to the parents making a suggestion.

          • Cauê says:

            …a socially acceptable suggestion that will be taken seriously and has real a chance of working.

            You kinda need some favorable cultural background to pull it off.

        • I didn’t have the impression from talking with her that non-arranged marriages were a practical option in her context. I’m guessing they were legal, but contrary to social custom.

    • Tarrou says:

      Odd bit is, general happiness surveys run the other way.

      In sex, for instance, the women’s liberation movement and the far greater legal and economic equality for women has corresponded with a significant decrease in happiness…………for women. Men have seen their supposed patriarchy diminished, but are far happier than their grandfathers were.

      If I wanted to argue the point, I’d say that perhaps the traditional gender roles were more oppressive to men than to women, and the entire edifice of female empowerment was entirely inverted.

      • Matthew says:

        An alternative explanation is that women’s share of work performed outside the home has increased more than men’s share of work inside the home.

        • Tarrou says:

          The very uncharitable alternative explanation is divorce and the rise of easy porn and gay culture. Men without (the need for) women are just happier! 😛

      • Nicholas says:

        A second alternative explanation, as discussed here under a review of The Road, is that the post ww2 feminist movement was largely reacting to the breakdown of an earlier order’s ability to provide promised benefits by replacing the system. This new system has either not found a local maximum, or has found a lower local maximum, depending on who you ask.

      • no one special says:

        I will find it massively hilarious if someone wants to argue that progressivism is better because it makes more men happier, despite making some women less happy, for overall increased utils.

    • Blogospheroid says:

      It’s very much possible to overdo fixed roles. The indian traditional caste system had 4 divisions. Soon, they realised that they needed classifications for highly skilled people like doctors, engineers and accountants, people whom if you classified as “labour” would surely rebel. End result is, indian society has hundreds of subcastes of all kinds and the association with occupations are at the least 50% gone.

    • no one special says:

      Thanks everyone; There’s a lot of good discussion here on a wider variety of topics.

      I’m surprised that no one has tried to justify their preferred arrangement by making a (people improved x utils gained) > (people hurt x utils lost) argument. So, to go meta-er, am I misunderstanding something? I thought this kind of calculation was the bread-and-butter of utilitarianism. Am I confused on the underlying philosophy here?

      • Irrelevant says:

        I think you’re confused about the degree of difficulty in doing that sort of calculation with actual utils rather than proxies like lifespan or material wealth.

        • no one special says:

          I’m fine with proxies, approximations, and even made-up numbers. Utils are an abstraction of an abstraction after all; We can’t define then, and we can’t count them.

          It seems like it ought to be a really easy argument to say something like “corn subsidies help 5000 farmers keep their livelihood, valued at roughly $1M each. Corn subsidies cost 100M consumers $.01 in raised prices per year. $5B > $1B therefore corn subsidies are worth it.”

          (Trying to find a non race-and-gender example here.)

          It doesn’t have to be a perfect utilitarian calculation! I’ll take swag percentages! Then we can argue about the numbers in the model instead of taking tribal sides and arguing that the other tribe is evil.


          • I don’t know if you realize it, but what you describe is the conventional economic efficiency approach. For example, it can be shown that except under special circumstances tariffs lower economic efficiency, meaning that the gain to the gainers, measured in dollar equivalents, is less than the loss to the losers. Similarly for various other policies.

            Alfred Marshall, who was a utilitarian, justified that approach on the grounds that for most issues differences in the marginal utility of income average out, since most policies affect a large and diverse group on each side.

  29. Will_BC says:

    So for me, the litmus test for whether a belief system was a religion or not was based on its inclusion of supernatural beliefs. This was in my college atheism club days, when I was still very keen on arguing definitions for rhetorical effect.

    • How did you define “supernatural?” If a religion is true, does that make its miracles natural?

      • Anonymous says:

        Eliezer agrees with Richard Carrier’s definition (Here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/tv/excluding_the_supernatural/) defining supernatural as “ontologically basic mental things, mental entities that cannot be reduced to nonmental entities”.

        This doesn’t define EVENTS as supernatural (like miracles), but rather THINGS, like ghosts or God.

        • Deiseach says:

          So kindness is supernatural? Because I don’t know about you, but I can’t pour out a glass of kindness (whatever about Robbie Burns).

          I can act kindly, I can do a kind act, I can behave kindly, people might describe me as kind – but kindness as a non-mental entity?

          • Nita says:

            Kindness is neither a thing (strictly speaking), nor “ontologically basic”, unless it’s a big lump of Kindness sitting in Plato’s World of Ideals.

            edit: So, if you’re acting kindly because your brain activity flows in a particular way, that’s not supernatural. If you’re acting kindly because you are, for example, literally possessed by the Spirit of Kindness, who is made of kindness, that’s supernatural.

          • Peter says:

            There’s the “ontologically basic” qualifier there. So if kindness exists in minds and minds exist in matter, then ultimately kindness exists in matter, although you can’t get it pure enough to bottle. Like information – I can have information in a book or on a CD or a USB flash drive or whatever, but I can’t have just the information without the thing the information is on.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It seems to me that under this definition, Karma would not be supernatural, especially in the Jainist tradition.

        • Jesse M. says:

          What does “reduced to nonmental entities” mean here? There are some “naturalistic panpsychists” like David Chalmers and David Pearce who postulate the behavior of everything in the universe is described by mathematical laws of the type described by physicists, but who think that on an ontological level, instead of imagining that these laws are describing the behavior of something called “matter” which may lack experience, the basic “stuff” whose behavior the laws predict is essentially mind-like (so for example all patterns of causally interconnected events might be understood to ‘really’ be descriptions of the objective structure of different subjective experiences or “qualia”). To deal with this, perhaps we should say that a modern definition of “supernatural” is something whose outward behavior is not ultimately the product of some mathematical laws (deterministic or stochastic), a mind-like entity that has some sort of libertarian “free will” which is different than just randomness.

          • Paul Torek says:

            I like how careful you’re being. Your answer seems plausible, but maybe there’s a better one: ontologically basic minds count as supernatural only if there’s an appropriate contrast class. Panpsychists would then be ruled out.

  30. Ian James says:

    I’m still on a mission to let people know I changed my mind about MealSquares. After I publicly shamed them, they sent me an improved version of their product and I’m into it now.

  31. chaosmage says:

    Scott, your Loopy theory of a year ago is better than you think. You count as a point against it that LSD (increasing loopiness) and SSRIs (decreasing it) “both increase serotonin”. But: Serotonergic neurons have autoreceptors for serotonin that make them actually decrease firing rate when a lot of serotonin is already present.

    So in someone who’s been taking SSRIs for a couple of weeks, where loopiness (or OCD or depression or other cyclic thought pattern) is reduced, serotonergic firing is also reduced. LSD, of course, temporarily increases serotonergic firing – I don’t know if it also activates the autoreceptors, but even if it does they appear to involve a time delay anyway.

  32. busboy says:

    Can someone walk me through the thought/real-world developmental process by which Scott Alexander wound up going to medical school in Ireland? It’s not exactly standard track for an American-born doctor.

    • not_all_environmentalists says:

      It was related as it happened in his blog (old one or this one).

    • Geirr says:

      Scott wasn’t a pre-med. He studied Philosophy and Psychology, which rather militates against getting into North American medical schools.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Quite the opposite. Med schools are swimming in biology majors and hate them. Philosophy is definitely preferable.

        • Thomas says:


        • Scott Alexander says:

          You’re both right. Med schools like people who are “well-rounded” ie studied something other than biology, but they also have a bunch of required prerequisites in biology, chemistry, and the hard sciences. I hadn’t taken those, so off to Ireland I went.

          • Deiseach says:

            I like the impression this gives that in my country, the attitude is “Don’t know your patella from your clavicle? Yerra, no reason you can’t be a doctor!” 🙂

            On the other hand, the notion that all our medical men and women are philosophers and gentlemen and ladies of letters is very flattering.

            Scott should do a memoir in the sub-genre of “Americans who visited/lived in Ireland for a while”, which seems to be quietly popular and profitable enough that people keep producing them. His account of “My Time Studying Medicine In The People’s Republic of Cork” would certainly be interesting!

          • Nita says:

            “Don’t know your patella from your clavicle? Yerra, no reason you can’t be a doctor!”

            Eh, I think the difference is that European medical education can start straight after secondary school, instead of requiring some sort of medical-but-not-really tertiary pre-education.

  33. robonobone says:

    Anyone have advice about male performance anxiety with regard to sexual intercourse? I’m pretty sure it’s anxiety related given a clean bill of health other than GAD and the fact that I’ve been unmedicated for over a year. (Ironically one of the reasons I wanted off SSRIs is that they were killing my boners.)

    • zz says:

      The standard advice is to make her* cum before you so much as think about penetration, reducing pressure to perform.

      Last OT, I asked about musical performance anxiety. You may get something out of the responses.

      According to the internet, Kegel exercises just kind of make everything better. Googling something to the effect of reddit kegels should return a bunch of reddit posts.

      Porn is the devil. Even if it doesn’t directly contribute to anxiety (which is entirely possible), being so horny that you don’t have the attention to be anxious should prove beneficial. And, seriously, porn is the devil. (And, no, this isn’t a purity sex-is-sacred thing; I score 0.0/5.0 on yourmorals.org. This is a sex is fun and porn makes sex less fun and is therefore the devil, along with the religious right and some feminists.)

      *As I understand it, “sexual intercourse” refers to PIV sex.

      • robonobone says:

        PIV was my goal, but but the performance issues manifested way before vaginal penetration was viable. I did give her oral and it didn’t help my erection. No porn seems to risk the other failure mode (finishing too soon).

        Ultimately I think I had a core concern that I was insufficiently into her. But I feel like I should be able to enjoy some sex for the fun of it without being super into her.

        Kegels seem like they should help with both failure conditions.

      • About the porn thing. I feel like the anti-porn crowd tends to ignore reason why a lowered sex drive might be beneficial. Wanting to bone my classmates, for example, is not conducive to a learning environment, so it makes sense to rub one out beforehand. There also also be instances (like my current situation) where it would be inconvenient to become romantically or sexually involved with someone, so porn becomes a good option.

        Addressing the more specific claims about addiction, my main objection is that this contains elements The Worst Argument in the World. I am aware of the phenomena the anti-porn crowd describes, but I’m not sure how they differ from other common activities. Getting more and more involved in something and finding “lower doses” less gratifying occurs in everything from video games to disc golf. Porn can certainly cause problems in relationships, but I don’t see any justification in called it a special kind of relationship-destroying difficulty, assuming that both partners communicate and negotiate honestly.

        • Afeared of public opinion says:

          There seems to be confusion between porn and masturbation here; you can do one without the other, vivid memories of the last person you were in bed with are at least as effective as videos of implausibly liberated South Californians doing only such things as look good on camera.

          But “I prefer masturbating to waiting to see you” is how most porn-related interactions come across to a partner, and seems often a really great way to make your partner miserable.

          • Creutzer says:

            vivid memories of the last person you were in bed with are at least as effective as videos of implausibly liberated South Californians doing only such things as look good on camera.

            I would contest the generality of this. There may be all sorts of emotional baggage attached to memories of the last person one was in bed with.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or there may be no such memories, either none at all, none of memorably good sex, or none recent enough to remain vivid. Note that memories are analog, not digital, and are known to degrade with each playback.

            If you’re having so much good, baggage-free sex that you can afford to use those memories for purely masturbatory purposes, good for you, but that’s not necessarily the basis for good advice to the less romantically fortunate.

        • My main objection to porn is that most of it isn’t very good—repetitive descriptions (or videos) of a series of sex acts between good looking but otherwise uninteresting people. On the whole, I find erotic passages in real books more arousing as well as more interesting.

          My favorite example is Casanova’s Memoirs, which isn’t mainly about his love life and provides the best first hand picture of 18th century Europe I know of. He is making love to real women in real situations—and, contrary to the popular impression of him, some remained friends and correspondents for decades thereafter.

          The other thing that strikes me about some of this discussion is the apparent change since my youth. There seems to be a background assumption that the alternative to porn is sex with a partner. In the world I grew up in (I was born in 1945), most unmarried men, so far as I could tell, had the opportunity for sex with a partner occasionally (“getting lucky”) if at all, which was one reason to get married. The alternative to masturbating with porn was masturbating without porn.

      • Eli Sennesh says:

        (And, no, this isn’t a purity sex-is-sacred thing; I score 0.0/5.0 on yourmorals.org. This is a sex is fun and porn makes sex less fun and is therefore the devil, along with the religious right and some feminists.)

        Wait. Are you saying fun isn’t sacred?

    • busboy says:

      Buspirone? It’s a low cost generic, non-benzo.

    • Highly Effective People says:

      I was in a similar situation myself (GAD, performance issues) a while back so hopefully this will help.

      Firstly it helps to remember that women generally don’t ascribe anywhere near as much importance on being “ready to perform” as we do. If you finish foreplay and find you aren’t hard enough to keep going you can just take a break and make out for a while. She won’t care, she already came, and it let’s you de-stress. It will come if you give it time and after you’ve gotten over the hump so to speak you’ll find it becoming less of an issue later.

      The second thing is to remember that you don’t need to be 100% hard to get into a girl. If you can start with a semi then it will quickly get up to full steam once you’re inside. That’s mainly been useful for having seconds but there’s no reason you can’t start that way as well.

      Thirdly don’t forget about your own needs. Sometimes you have to be selfish: if you like it rough you have to take her roughly, if you like her to talk dirty or dress up then do that. Don’t try to be the good guy.

      Finally if she’s clean and on the pill ditch the condoms. They are really not helpful if you want to get and stay hard. Safety equipment is supposed to improve the activity not prevent it after all.

      • Nita says:

        If you finish foreplay and find you aren’t hard enough to keep going you can just take a break and make out for a while. She won’t care, she already came

        If she came, it was more than “foreplay”. Just sayin’.

        Thirdly don’t forget about your own needs.

        Excellent advice, 100% compatible with being an actual good guy.

        • Highly Effective People says:

          Well that’s really a question of semantics. Personally I go with the colloquial “foreplay = fingers/tongues/toys, sex = penetration” because it helps make my meaning clear. The Savage-esque “everything is sex” definition is not terribly useful for normal speech.

          And I absolutely advocate being a good man, just that that doesn’t require playing the boyscout either. You can very easily be respectful without being overly gentle.

          • Nita says:

            Well that’s really a question of semantics.

            Indeed it is. I think we can do better than the colloquial use — for instance, “fingers and toys vs penetration” is ambiguous, as fingers and toys can also be used for penetration. So, either we end up with lesbians never having sex, or we must make the fine distinction between insertable and non-insertable toys (and inserted and non-inserted fingers), which seems arbitrary.

            I propose a different approach — let’s reserve the term “foreplay” for acts that increase sexual desire but don’t satisfy it. So, oral as warm-up would be “foreplay”, while oral to orgasm would be “sex”.

          • Highly Effective People says:

            Defining terms by their exceptions leads to useless definitions imo. I’m ok with covering just 95% of sexual activity if it keeps the meaning clear.

            Penetration is another good example: there is a fairly clear difference between intercourse and fingering, and while calling the latter penetration is technically correct it weakens the word.

          • Nita says:

            Eh, “fingering” is an unhelpful word because people use it for two very different activities.

    • sour says:

      When I was in psych school a long time ago, the preferred treatment I read about was to build up to intercourse over a period of weeks. First week would be naked massages, next week heavy petting, third week putting it in her (soft) with no thrusting, and the fourth week attempt at intercourse.
      The idea is to do things that don’t need an erection so there is no anxiety about having one.
      Obviously this would only work with someone in a relationship.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s anxiety related given a clean bill of health other than GAD and the fact that I’ve been unmedicated for over a year. (Ironically one of the reasons I wanted off SSRIs is that they were killing my boners.)

      If you were doing well before you started SSRIs, and now you’re not, you might be one of the lucky few with post-SSRI sexual dysfunction.

      Rumor is that it goes away after a couple of years, though there’s no good data.

      • robonobone says:

        Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction sounds awful but I’m pretty sure it’s not what I have. When iI was on SSRIs, my sex drive and ability to get an erection was down across the board. In my current situation I’m only having trouble with a partner. By myself I’m as horny as ever. (Well for a few days after failing to perform with a partner my drive falls, but in a few days it’s back to normal.)

    • loki says:

      I’ve dealt with this problem from the side of the female partner – in my experience in the absence of an underlying physical cause, this method works:

      First, it’s difficult to fix this in a casual sex context. It’s probably better to have a long-ish term partner, but that doesn’t have to mean a romantic partner. It’s just that a new person will always compound the anxiety.

      As for how it’s done, the best thing to do IMHO is have a broader view of sex where ‘sex’ is a period of time in which you do stuff that is fun, and basically you don’t assume or hope or build toward PIV. You’re just having fun together. This takes the pressure off, everyone relaxes, and after a while of doing this you become more comfortable with the activity and with the person, and suddenly realise that hey, somebody down there is paying attention, we have another possible activity we can add in here.

      Obviously anecdata disclaimer applies.

  34. DanPeverley says:

    I’m trying to get into (ancient) Chinese history. Anyone got any suggestions for good texts on the Warring States period?

    • Zakharov says:

      It’s not a history, but I’ve found the Book of Lord Shang fascinating.

      • Emile says:

        I haven’t read it yet, but I heard the same from other sources; along with the Discourses On Salt And Iron, which seems surprisingly modern.

        I’m a bit surprised at the amount of interest in ancient China in this thread…

    • Brock says:

      If your interest is mostly on the philosophical side, I highly recommend the edX course “Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science”, taught by Edward Slingerland of the University of British Columbia.


      It doesn’t have any scheduled future sessions, so all you can do is watch the videos and do the readings, but it’s very well-done. By far the best humanities MOOC I’ve taken.

      • DanPeverley says:

        Thanks, this seems like good material. I’ll be tucking into this on my down days between classes.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I actually dove into Chinese history last month. I’ve got a huge reading list to sort through, but when I’m home from work tonight I’ll have a few suggestions from what I’ve gotten so far.

      Right now, though, I’ve discovered that detailed sources on China’s ancient history are thin on the ground. There are texts like the Spring and Autumn Annals or Records of the Grand Historian, Confucian texts like the Analects, but no real detailed contemporaneous military accounts as far as I know. You don’t see the same tradition as in the West of soldier’s memoirs – China has no Xenophon or Thucydides, and certainly no Caesar.

      Thus, most of the histories of the time are compiled from the later sources, and focus more on social and political developments, that kinna thing. Like I said, I’m only barely dipping my toes into the period, and I’m reading about all Chinese history, so my sources are going to be understandably more general. I’ll try to have more detail for you this evening.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Okay, here goes (and I have more, but this will do as a start):

        (Okay, one more disclaimer: I am a rank amateur in this field, so some of this stuff may be outdated/just plain wrong)

        The Origins of Chinese Civilization, David Keightley, 1983 – one of the best introductions to ancient China.

        Ancient Sichuan and the Unification of China, Steven Sage, 1992, explores, well, exactly what it says on the tin.

        Chinese Civilization in the Making, 1766 – 221 BC, Li Jun, 1996 seems to get right at the heart of the era you’re interested in.

        Western Chou Civilization (Cho-Yun Hsu, Katheryn Linduff) might be a bit early for you, same with Mark Edward Lewis’s Sanctioned Violence in Early China, but hey, they’re there if you’re interested.

        The Multi-State System of Ancient China, Richard Walker, 1953 – dated, but a brief read and scholarly, it covers the wars and intrigues before the Han period.

        China’s First Unifier: A Study of the Ch’in Dynasty as Seen in the Life of Li Ssu, Dirke Bodde, 1938. Also seriously dated, but it’s apparently a great book on the period.

        Everyday Life in Early Imperial China during the Han Period, 202 BC – 220 AD, Michael Loewe, 1973, is a classic, and I think still relevant even if it is beyond the period you were interested in.

        Last one, Ssu-ma Ch’ien, Grand Historian of China, Burton Watson, 1958. Another older work, this is a biography that also illuminates China’s great tradition of history writing, and will probably serve as a window to the period.

        I hope this helps! I have more that I can scrounge up in other corners, including some more modern stuff. <_<

    • Not a text, but a couple of points worth mentioning, having to do with new information contradicting old:

      1. The standard story about the legalists and the Qin, the first unified Chinese empire, seems to be at least partly Confucianist propaganda from the second (Han) empire. At some point in recent decades they excavated some documents from the Qin and they showed a much less extreme system than had supposedly existed.

      2. The view of the Imperial legal system that was orthodox a few decades back, and shows up in Bodde and Morris, which was my original source on the subject, turns out to be seriously misleading. It correctly represents its (Confucian Imperial elite) sources, but they badly misrepresent their own legal system. That became clear when low level court documents became available after China opened up. What purported to be a pure criminal system turns out to have spent about half its time on “minor matters” (property, inheritance, marriage and debt), where it was functioning as something close to a civil system in substance, criminal in form.

      You can find more on this, and sources, in a draft chapter for a book I’m working on, webbed at:


      It’s not really “ancient” since it’s mostly about the final dynasty, but there’s a lot of continuity in Chinese legal history, so it’s probably relevant.

    • The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine— it’s probably of general interest here because it’s about how what people believe shapes what they notice, but it’s also worth finding out that Taoism isn’t just one thing, it evolved over time.

  35. Anaxagoras says:

    I asked some social justice-y friends of mine about this, but didn’t get a very useful answer: Could smokers fit the social justice model of oppression and privilege and the like?

    There seem to be a number of parallels with classically oppressed groups and other places that make it seem a natural fit:
    * Smokers are subject to people telling them that they’re damaging their own health through their choices, similar to what obese folks have to deal with.
    * The government levies onerous taxes on top of the already expensive price of the habit, and also mandates advertising telling them that they’re killing themselves. In other countries, this advertising can get quite distressing.
    * Though it may have originally been a choice to start smoking, for nearly all smokers, it no longer is. Most social interventions are more effective at making smokers miserable rather than making them quit.
    * Nonsmokers don’t have to worry about finding accessible places to stave off the effects of being without tobacco, or have to suffer additional effects of long plane flights and the like.
    * It’s considered socially acceptable for people to avoid smokers just because they are smokers, whether or not they have smoked recently or not.

    There are certainly legitimate health reasons for some of this, but the burdens fall primarily on those who are already the main victims. These public health concerns don’t justify the social and economic oppression, any more than the prevalence of HIV among the gay population justified the homophobia of the 80s. As I said, it’s not even like they really have a choice in the matter any more, so it becomes really unjustifiable to say that they deserved it.

    I’m not a smoker, and I’m not involved in the social justice movement, so it’s quite possible I’ve made some significant error. How does this look to other people here? Have I made a reasonable argument? What am I missing?

    • Nita says:

      Well, cigarette smokers are like high-functioning alcoholics, stoners or amphetamine users, only smellier and more likely to produce noxious smoke in public areas.

      There’s no social justice consensus about drug users in general.

      Your parallel with fat people is interesting, but flawed — a fat person is fat 24/7, while a smoker is only identifiable while they’re smoking. Also, there’s r/fatpeoplehate, but no r/smokershate.

      It’s considered socially acceptable for people to avoid smokers just because they are smokers, whether or not they have smoked recently or not.

      Really? That’s news to me. I pretty much have to ignore the smell that clings to habitual smokers, even if I find it unpleasant.

      • Nonnamous says:

        cigarette smokers are like high-functioning alcoholics, stoners or amphetamine users

        Not even close. Smoking doesn’t mess with your brain.

        • Anonymous says:

          They did say “high-functioning” alcoholic, and amphetamine use doesn’t have much of a negative effect unless you use large doses or don’t sleep/eat/drink often.

      • bartlebyshop says:

        Also, there’s r/fatpeoplehate, but no r/smokershate.

        Well, actually…

        • Nita says:

          Thanks, I did enjoy the drama. The most upvoted post (by a huge margin) of r/SmokerHate is still mocking fat people, though.

          • bartlebyshop says:

            It’s certain that there’s far more anti-fat people sentiment on reddit than anti-smoker sentiment. There’s r/fatlogic, r/fatpeoplehate, and r/fatpeoplestories just off the top of my head. There’s also r/fatpeoplehategonewild (where FPH-ers post pictures of their slender selves). It’s possible to find the occasional r/AskReddit thread that turns into a smoker hatefest, though, which is mostly a function of AskReddit’s massive and horrible userbase.

          • Vegemeister says:

            Er, as far as I can tell, /r/fatpeoplehategonewild doesn’t exist. /r/FPHgonewild does, but it’s private.

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      Smoking is something quittable, even if quitting is difficult. If we look at SJ causes (gender, race, body type/weight, physical ability, age, mental status), it seems that most of them are:

      1. Things that people can’t help being/not-being
      2. Things that are apparent upon meeting someone for the first time
      3. Things which have stereotypes about them
      4. Things which are likely to make strangers treat you differently/worse

      That’s not exhaustive, obviously, but those aren’t random criteria: Social justice seems to be ideally about treating everyone equally all the time. 1-3 mean you’re more likely to get 4, either because you’re blamed for your condition, its more noticeable, or people just expect the wrong thing. You could make an argument for 4 alone, but I don’t think smoking passes 1 (quitting is certainly possible, and nicotine patches mean you can stop smoking without withdrawing if you want to) or 2 (unless you reek of smoke). I don’t know any smoker stereotypes, but I suppose that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. But regardless of whether smoking is something that ought to be a SJ cause, being a smoker doesn’t seem to be a central member of the category [privilege structures as understood by social justice]. So it’s probably not something you’re likely to convince the subculture as a whole to carry the banner for.

      That said, it doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched. I once had an SJ friend who wrote a long, serious post about how video games that include story content only unlockable on Hard mode or by 100% completion were unfairly discriminatory. I think you’d have a far easier time selling [smokers] as an oppressed class than [people who are bad at video games].

      • Tom Womack says:

        I am inclined to agree about the video games, but I’d go there from both a customer-satisfaction and a developer-satisfaction viewpoint – I do slightly feel ripped off when I buy a game and find that two hours in there’s a boss that I get frustrated before ever defeating, and from the other side, what’s the point in designing an awesome last-third-of-game which many customers will never see?

        Better hints mechanisms and incremental difficulty reduction are probably the way to go; or make it clear in advertising that the game has blockers of this sort so I can get round to not buying it.

        • Peter says:

          This has been a permanent bone of contention with World of Warcraft. I only managed to go raiding (i.e. endgame content) three expansions in, but even when I was starting, the old raiders were kvetching how Blizzard had make the game too casual. One thing that often happened was that a raid would be opened, and a few months later they would reduce the difficulty. And when the next expansion rolled around you could do ridiculously easy “nostalgia raiding” because with each expansion you got to go up another 5-10 levels and get ridiculously good gear.

          Later on there was the “raid finder” which let you get together with 24 randoms to go raiding – with the bosses being a lot easier and generally missing the trickier mechanics (having voice chat and people you know makes co-ordinating things soooooo much easier). The loot was not as good as real raiding but it was still worth going for, in fact people who did real raiding often resented “grinding” for the raid finder loot but felt they needed it anyway.

        • James Picone says:

          Speaking as someone who has bitched about games being too easy before, this feels like there’s a wide range of videogame skill in the market, and if there’s a mismatch between player skill and game difficult, no matter which way the mismatch goes, people are going to be frustrated.

          If you’re good at videogames, then games that are aimed much lower difficulty-wise feel like You Have to Burn the Rope, but without the artistic merit. I played Kirby’s Epic Yarn a while ago (I have a soft spot for Kirby), and while the game looked really good, it was so easy as to be trivial. As a result, it was boring. No challenge.

          I think a lot of the kvetching about games being casual is people who are worried that the videogame market will shift in the direction of Kirby’s Epic Yarn and there will be far fewer games that have appropriate levels of challenge for them. Or, I guess, want to look like they’re hardarses who finish I Wanna Be The Guy before breakfast. Or feel that things that they’d previously performed when it was ‘hard’ are being devalued by making it ‘easy’.

          Some of it might be a variant of typical-mind, too. Say you’re a hardarse who finishes I Wanna Be The Guy before breakfast. You probably don’t even remember the last time you were genuinely stuck in a videogame. And you’re obviously the average case here, so the people complaining that $THING is too hard are just terrible casuals and shouldn’t expect games to cater to them, they should cater to the average, you. etc. etc.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            I think the issue generally comes from when a game or series is originally targeted at one group on the difficultly curve and then gets changed to appeal to another. I’m generally one of the guys who goes for the harder games (although I generally avoid rote memorization games like IWBTG), but I also love my Kirby games. Sure, they’re easy (with the exception of Canvas Curse, bless its heart), but I know they’re going to be easy. So I set personal goals and achievements I want to make and work towards them within the game’s existing framework.

            If you have a game that’s relatively hardcore and make it easier for the playerbase to achieve the same status as the oldguard with less work, people are going to be pissed. If you make a Mario game and have mandatory pixel perfect jumps to beat it, people are going to be pissed. Most anger comes from betrayed expectations; if the developer is upfront about what you’re getting and isn’t going against what the franchise is known for, people will naturally weed themselves out of the playerbase if it isn’t for them.

      • grendelkhan says:

        It seems like fat is quittable, and ridiculously difficult to quit as well. Like, if you weigh yourself daily, count calories all the time, and spend a lot of your time exercising, then you can indeed stop being fat, but that’s a lot to ask of people, and it’s way, way more tenable to simply maintain the position that fatness is as permanent as skin color.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          In this sense, I suspect that many forms of criminal behavior are also as permanent as skin color. We nonetheless hold criminals responsible for their crimes.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Is “holding responsible” here referring to more than one thing? Punishing criminals by isolating them from society at large seems like a good idea whatever the reason for their behavior is. Being mean to fat people is a good idea if and only if fatness is a choice, because then you’re helping people. (And helping people by being cruel to them is delicious!)

          • Irrelevant says:

            Being mean to X people is a good idea if and only if X is a choice.

            Hello, remarkably non-trivial claim. As far as I can tell you can make this true only by defining meanness in such a fashion that it beggars the question.

            Natural use of “mean” is not a bright-line category. Things are able to be, if not definitely both mean and just or mean and necessary, in an illegible border-state possessing high attributes of just-like and/or necessity-like simultaneously with meanness-like.

          • grendelkhan says:

            That’s both irrelevant and mostly illegible!

            What you’re picking at isn’t the point. The idea behind fat-shaming is that it doesn’t matter if it hurts the target, because it helps them. If fat-shaming is as pointless as height-shaming (no matter how much you shout at people, it’s not going to be easier for them to get taller), then it’s a worse thing to do.

    • Anonymous says:

      You will find that people who, “Just want to destabilize norms, man,” are more than willing to adopt the norms that they like. I pushed this type of question a few times in my queer theory class, and I’ve never seen more cognitive dissonance in my life.

    • Zakharov says:

      Once pot is legalized, social justice types will probably have reason to make common cause with tobacco smokers.

    • Anonymous says:

      IDK. It might be because of anti-drug propaganda, or just that fighting for rights of “scum” like drug users isn’t very marketable, but the lack of social justice support for drug users, and for the end of the drug war, astounds me.

      On tobacco specifically: smoking is gross and not a hip cause to support. Same reason no one campaigns to save jenky-looking animals, and why the African children on the TV commercials always look sad and dirty but never ugly. But smokers do suffer from what seems to be “systemic oppression”. I think pushing that point might cause backlash against the movement in general though. It sounds almost like a reductio ad absurdum of SJ principles.

    • I don’t see a full SJ model working for smokers, but I do think the people who started smoking before the restrictions on indoor smoking got started were skunked, and I’ve seem a smoker with arthritis complain about the difficulties of going outdoors to smoke. There’s certainly some intersectionality in play.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It’s hard to take the side of smokers without also taking the side of tobacco companies, who, lets face it, have been, and continue to be fairly grossly unethical. If smoking heirloom pipe tobacco grown on small organic farms became “a thing” you might see the SJ types ease off on condemning all smoking.

      Smoking is also not a side affect (like “excess” weight) of some necessary activity. If we could magically eliminate tobacco, people would hate it for a while, and then things would pretty much carry on. But, you can’t eliminate the need for people to eat. Overweight, female, black, etc. are all things you are. Smoking is something you do. So, I don’t think the analogy really works.

    • Matthew says:

      I remain puzzled why my own position isn’t more common — tobacco and nicotine should be legal and generally free from social opprobrium, but smoking as the delivery method should not. The current regulatory system in the US is bonkers — favoring smoking over snus, etc. even though the alternatives don’t involve secondhand health risks, unpleasant odors, etc.

    • 123 says:

      In a way this is a rhethorical question – not so much asking why smokers aren’t classified as an oppressed group, but offering up a perceived inconsistency as a gotcha to social justice supporters. But if I had to give as concrete an answer as possible to why, I’d say this. SJ supporters are discouraged from questioning SJ norms, with consequences ranging from weird looks to extreme public shaming. So most of them, I think, don’t really have any coherent justification for those norms. They endorse them because they get rewarded for doing so and punished for doing otherwise. I’d say it’s maybe 1 in 20 supporters that are confident enough in their social justice credentials to actually think for themselves about social justice theory, and honestly grapple with questions like this, enough that you could say that they “have a reason” for believing whatever it is that they believe. Their voice is relatively small, so “reasons” are a relatively small part of why the consensus is the way it is.

      Of course the same could be said of all ideologies that have large followings.

      This is just a bunch of interesting thoughts, not something I’m confident about.

  36. Conspirator says:

    “A better slur-word for the unscientific type of religion might be idolatory, which can be defined as association of abstract values with personal rituals.”

    I’m not sure I approve of us having a slur word for this. By this definition, stoicism would also be idolatrous, due to its association between abstract value and personal rituals such as a daily review and negative visualization. The key question about personal rituals is whether they are actually effective for helping you achieve abstract value. If your personal ritual is donating 10% of your paycheck to EA charities every month, that seems like a pretty good way to achieve the abstract value of doing good for the world. Indeed, I’m more optimistic that someone with this ritual will actually do good for the world than someone who merely has the abstract value of doing good for the world. Personal rituals are a pretty good way to think about editing your own behaviors; see for example Scott Adams’ discussion of systems vs goals in his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” (excellent self-help book btw).

    The real problem is when these rituals continue firing even when they are no longer effective (or were never effective in the first place). This is probably more likely to happen if you don’t hold empiricism as a key value or your rituals include shunning people when they deviate from rituals.

  37. Alex says:

    I was thinking the other day that public opinion places a kind of upper bound on the size of the future. It’s possible that there will be some disaster that folks don’t want but results from poor coordination or Moloch. That seems at least potentially avoidable. But if folks just don’t care about future centuries, then seemingly, they will take risks (e.g., nuclear war) that eventually blow up. And on reflection I admit that, like most folks, I value potential future people less than current people.

    • anon says:

      It could be that I’m just the sort of person who identifies less with Manfred Macx (we can create a future filled with positive sum outcomes) and more with his first wife (the best we can hope for is to mitigate damage to our Tribe), but I wonder if willingness to sacrifice for the deep future is affected by optimism or pessimism about what the future will be like.

      Anecdotally I can say that when I read about the possibility of being slurped up by Seed AIs or outcompeted by thinking machines with vaguely humanoid characteristics I get less excited about the prospect of making the world a better place for future generations. Why bother if they’re already doomed? If this is actually how a lot of human beings think, it has interesting implications for how people should be talking about things like AI Risk or Climate Change, specifically the sort of apocalypticism that characterizes the narratives put forth by some of the more extreme proponents

      • von Kalifornen says:

        Personally, when thinking about The Future I don’t separate current and potential people.

        More that I put infinite value in “the future” meaning some generalities of survival plus not-totally-screwed-over for *someone*.

      • Eli Sennesh says:

        Anecdotally I can say that when I read about the possibility of being slurped up by Seed AIs or outcompeted by thinking machines with vaguely humanoid characteristics I get less excited about the prospect of making the world a better place for future generations. Why bother if they’re already doomed? If this is actually how a lot of human beings think, it has interesting implications for how people should be talking about things like AI Risk or Climate Change, specifically the sort of apocalypticism that characterizes the narratives put forth by some of the more extreme proponents

        Second data point here: can confirm. As you increase the Expected Existential Despair to infinity, my impulse to just stop giving a crap and live as nicely as I can in the immediate present goes up.

        You can figure out why pretty easily if you consider that my mind is probably just modeling the possible timelines/histories up to some fixed time T. The more you fill those timelines with despair starting at T and working backwards, the more I would “have to” obtain high awesomeness nowish in order to “make up for it” and maximize awesomeness of the whole timeline.

        Mind, I tend to hold that one should kick despair to the curb and go beyond the impossible, but it is still actually quite nice to occasionally listen to someone talk about not being totally fucked.

    • Eli Sennesh says:

      Counterargument (Troll Hat is very much on, and none of the following is my true opinion):

      So far, having present-day people Care About X has mostly been the key to making huge amounts of pointless political arguing happen about X, tending to ruin X, or at least to overdetermine the present and future state of X, leading to conserving exactly the broken state of X everyone wanted fixed in the first place. Thus, the more opinions the public expresses about the future, the more they lock it down into being exactly the same as today.

      Thus, if you really care about the future, you will shut up about it in public.

      • Alex says:

        By the way, forget my example of nuclear war. If folks are more concerned with the short term, they ought to try hard to avoid huge wars. The real threat would be slow decay via things like global warming, or humans being gradually replaced by other life forms.

        To actually respond…I think debates about future technologies are more likely to waste our time than hurt the future–relative to humanity’s majority values.

        On the other hand, your values may be weird. Maybe they even align more with the Vast Formless Things than with humanity. If you really value potential future people the same as current people, your best hope might be that humans can’t trade off the far future for the present because they’re too dumb and selfish to invent the necessary technologies or institutions!

  38. zz says:

    Update: last open thread, I asked for tips on dealing with performance anxiety for playing cello at a local church. Onyomi suggested a mental hack whereby you assume that the outcome is fixed upon walking on stage and determined by your level of preparation.

    For the past few days, I spent 10–15 minutes applying Richard Aaron‘s technique of designing mini-etudes for every technical issue in the piece I was playing. Earlier today, I performed the best solo performance of my life.

    Thanks so much to Deiseach, Airgap, Scott, and, of course, Onyomi, for their suggestions!

  39. my comment linking to an aeon article went to spam. can you fish it out

  40. what do you think of this http://aeon.co/magazine/science/why-has-human-progress-ground-to-a-halt/

    lol I didn’t know teenagers were an invention. Did people between the ages 13-19 simply not exist until we devised a label for them?

  41. nydwracu says:

    Has anyone linked these re: religion yet?

    The conclusion is, as far as I’ve seen, the generally accepted one in the study of religion: the word ‘religion’ doesn’t cut reality at anything resembling its joints, and should be thrown out.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Yeah, our concept of what “religion” is was formed back in the days when “religion” basically meant various forms of Christianity. These forms agreed on 99% of the things people must agree on in order to live together in society. The things they differed on were generally matters of individual practice, and so it was easy for Westerners to designate that stuff “religion,” cordon it off from the other stuff, and declare detente on it. This has become untenable as the belief-set has become more diverse.

      The other problem was that various “skeptic” types made the error of identifying all the things they didn’t like (irrationality, out-group hatred, mental failure modes, whatever) with “religion,” and “religion” with a specific class of supernatural beliefs. Through a flawed application of the transitive property, they concluded that since they did not have that class of supernatural beliefs, they did not have religion, and therefore did not have the mental failure modes either.

      Which is why folks enjoy needling progressives/sjws/environmentalists/etc about how religious they are.

    • Shenpen says:

      I think I have an opinion about this, but I find it really hard to put it into words.

      I guess part of the story would be that you cannot tell religion from non-religion in a supernaturalist (in which irreducibly mental phenomena exist) worldview. We cannot really draw a line that belief in poltergeist are a folklore and belief in Jesus is a religion. But probably we can draw a line between supernaturalist and non-supernaturalist worldviews.

      And another part is I guess basically other people not being philosopher-scientists with a helping of Asperger. People like me, you, Scott or Eliezer may be interested in the “naked truth” (i.e. whether there is a god) because we are kind of a bit outside social structures and perhaps are a bit on the spectrum. It is a neutral viewpoint coming from not much participation in society. But I think the view must be very different for people for whom social life is all, especially in the past, as they don’t have much private mental life. I think they don’t simply believe in god, I think they don’t even understand fully what it means to believe something _privately_. I think they are more like we, this tribe, repeat these words, such as that Jesus has resurrected, publicly, and in our minds too, and repeating those words is the closest thing they have to what we may call private belief. They have not belief as such, a private y/n answer, but they _profess_ their religion, and that basically means repeating it outward and inward. This is not the same experience as we having private beliefs.

      I don’t know if I am making any sense here. This stuff is hard to put into words. Can you glean some meaning from them?

      • not_all_environmentalists says:

        @ shenpen
        They have not belief as such, a private y/n answer, but they _profess_ their religion, and that basically means repeating it outward and inward.

        See _Busman’s Honeymoon_, Peter agreeing to read the X in church and Harriet thinking “I have married England.”

        ‘Believing in God, Country, and King is something a Gentleman does.’ — My attempt at stating it (not that I do it myself).

        ‘The God that my father and brother believe in, is not the same God I disbelieve in.’ — Garbled quote from a letter in C.S. Lewis’s young atheist period.

        We might look at different meanings of ‘believe in’.
        A) really being sure it is true
        B) approving it, agreeing with its effects
        C) keeping it in imagination/feeling/loyalty, acting according to it — though if pressed admitting it is a metaphor, or a lion on a flag. (Now, New Agers do a lot of this.)

        I think, at least in CSL’s time, there was a lot of unadmitted B) applied to C). ‘I believe in believing*’. And a gentleman did not pry into A).

        *With some relation to “cultivating sentiments” as in “Your sentiments do you credit”.

    • Paul Torek says:

      The categories were made for man, not man for the categories. Religion is a useful category, even if its membership function is complex and quite fuzzy.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Does anybody have any thoughts on the methodology of this study, which suggests that those who are extremely anti-Israel (answering against Israel to the 4 statements below) have a 56 % chance of being anti-Semitic as well (and 35 % for 3/4), compared to those who answered against Israel to none of the four statements below, who have a 9 % chance of being anti-Semitic as well?

    Anti-Semitism was measured using the same standards as the ADL Study. (Is this study a reliable measure of anti-Semitism in your opinion?)

    The four statements for those unable toa access the study:

    1. The Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is similar to South Africa’s treatment of blacks during apartheid.
    2. Who do you think is more responsible for the past three years of violence in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israelis, or the Palestinians?
    3. In your opinion, during military activities inside the West Bank
    and Gaza Strip, do the Israeli Defense Forces intentionally target Palestinian civilians, or are civilian casualties an accidental outcome of Israel’s military response?
    4. In your opinion, is there any justification for Palestinian suicide bombers that target Israeli civilians?

    FYI this study was done in 2005-2006

    • idk, it’s almost impossible to have an honest discussion about this issue because it’s so heated . You get completely conflicting stories by both sides. That’s the problem with the social sciences . Anyone who is determined enough can dig up eviedene to show the other side is wrong. Re-sampling over and over until you get the data you want.

      • Paul Torek says:

        This. Also makes the issue almost un-actionable by anyone adhering to Effective Altruism or for that matter Effective Anything. Anything one does is a blip of noise in a hurricane-on-top-of-F5-tornado.

    • danfiction says:

      Based only on your description of it it feels a little… self-evident, I guess? I am a basically orthodox Catholic. Here are four statements about American pseudo-state-Christianity I would answer boo-Christianity to that would probably be a really good predictor of atheism, not that there’s anything wrong with that:

      1. Young Earth Creationists are attempting, through largely insincere arguments about free speech and science, to legislate religion into public school textbooks.
      2. Who do you think is more responsible for the past 30 years of culture war theatrics, Christians or non-Christians?
      3. In your opinion, are Christian sexual mores often intentionally used to target marginalized groups, or are marginalized-group casualties more frequently an accidental outcome of Christian social teaching?
      4. In your opinion, is there any justification for culture war protests that target Christians specifically?

      OK I couldn’t find a good analog for the fourth one, and these statements might also catch a ton of Episcopalians, but no study’s perfect.

      1) You can be anti-Israel without being antisemitic, but if you’re antisemitic being anti-Israel is kind of a free bonus you get from your belief that Jews run everything and do it to torment non-Jews, even though your anti-Israelism might flow from very different concerns and values than the rest of your cohort.

      2) I get the impression there are more antisemites out there than there are anti-Israel activists, in the same way there are probably more atheists than there are when you tally up the groups of strongly self-identified and engaged Christians with (different) major reservations about the way Christianity has been used and a specific willingness to cut out the only major political party that’s interested in pretending to tolerate you.

      3) If I were an atheist, I would readily accept all four premises. If I were me, I would readily accept all four premises, though I would worry a little that I was being led blindfolded into a Bill Maher documentary. If I were the majority of Christians or vague deists who don’t think much about this stuff, or don’t think about it except as it relates to their party affiliations, I would not know what to do, and probably end up in 2/4 or 3/4. At that point 4/4 is just a count of atheists who don’t like Ted Cruz vs. fussy Walker Percy readers who don’t like Ted Cruz, which is something a polling firm could probably figure out by itself.

      • Nornagest says:

        Who do you think is more responsible for the past 30 years of culture war theatrics, Christians or non-Christians?

        We’re talking about the US? Then Christians, obviously, but only because they’re a large religious majority in the US; unless we’re talking activism for atheism or non-Christian religions or close proxies for it, activists for anything are going to be at least 51% Christian.

        But you’re probably going for a question more along the lines of “is more of the last thirty years of culture war theatrics overtly Christian in framing, or secular?” And to that I’d say: Christian from 1994 to 2008, secular thereafter, and I don’t remember the culture war debates of 1985-1993 well enough to make the call.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Activists are not representative of the general population. Dramatically not.

          • Nornagest says:

            No, but I don’t have any particular reason to think that e.g. Iraq War protestors would not be Christian at fairly similar rates to the demographics from which they’re drawn. Opponents of e.g. creationism in science textbooks could plausibly not be, but that’s a relatively small part of the culture war.

            Given that something like 80% of the US population identifies as Christian now, and more like 90% in the Nineties, the differences would have to be very dramatic indeed for my thinking here to be wrong.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Have you met Iraq War protestors?

          • Nornagest says:

            I went to college in California. Does that answer your question?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Were the Iraq War protestors you knew college students? Did they reflect the demographics of college students? Of whom only a minority identify as Christian.

            Of the three people I knew who identified as Iraq War protestors, one had a Catholic wedding, one a Jewish wedding, and the third a Communist wedding.

          • Nornagest says:

            The ones I knew personally? Yeah, and most of them fell into “vaguely spiritual but not Christian”, but I don’t need to be posting on a rationalist forum to expect people to understand the selection bias issues there. When I looked at the larger Iraq protests off campus, they seemed to be — at a very rough estimate — maybe 1/3 college students, with the remainder drawn from the usual spectrum of liberal Americans and not a few protesting because of religious objections. I’d expect fewer self-identified Christians in that crowd than the general population, but still over the 51% mark.

            Do you have any actual data saying otherwise? Because we could trade anecdotes all day.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It depends on your definition of “activist,” but it is easy to systematically study leaders by pulling names from wikipedia articles. Easiest to restrict to those who have their own articles.

      • loki says:

        Wouldn’t the analogy to the suicide bombers be people with purported Christian motives who bomb/threaten to bomb abortion clinics or harm doctors who perform abortions?

    • Kiya says:

      Don’t feel like subscribing to the Journal of Conflict Resolution to read the study, but I’m not shocked. Giving yes-or-no answers to all four questions is a sign of having very strong confident views on the Israel-Palestine conflict—personally I’d start off with “I don’t know” and move on to “it’s probably more nuanced than either binary position captures, and I guess I can round to the nearest if forced to but your questions are bad and you should feel bad”. People who don’t walk out on this questionnaire in confusion either have studied the issue in depth and actually know how their nuanced positions should round, or have a strong preference for one side and won’t hear anything against them. Giving yes-or-no answers that favor the same side in all four cases is something I’d expect of the extremists more than the experts.

      • PC says:

        The fourth question attempts to select for a point of view that is arguably extremist, but doesn’t have much at all to do with expertise. One can be an expert on the Israel-Palesting conflict OR know next to nothing about it AND feel that suicide bombing is justified, just as one can be an expert on the Second World War OR know next to nothing about it AND feel strongly that the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasake was justified.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I haven’t read the study, but it seems weird that people who gave pro-Israel answers to all four questions got a 9% anti-Semitism rate. I would have put the base rate of anti-Semitism in the population as lower than 9%, but they’re saying you get those numbers in maximally pro-Israel people. That makes me worry their standards for “anti-Semitism” are kind of low.

      • caryatis says:

        I had the same reaction, but the population being measured is European.

      • James Picone says:

        Couldn’t it just be reptilian muslim climatologists?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Theoretically, an ethno-nationalist could simultaneously dislike the Jews, but be okay with them having their own state way over there. I doubt a significant number of such people exist, though.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t see a lot discussion about ethnic nationalism anywhere, sadly.

        • PC says:

          Wouldn’t the ethno-nationalist have some strong feelings about Israel’s reluctance to let the Palestinians have their own state way over there, and wouldn’t that make her at least somewhat unsympathetic to Israel’s point of view WRT question #2?

          • John Schilling says:

            What’s the proper reference point for “way over there”? An ethno-nationalist might well feel the Israelis were wrong if they refused to allow the Palestinians to form their own nation someplace far, far away from Israel, and maybe also want that place to be far, far away from the ethno-nationalist, but entirely sympathize with Israel’s not wanting the Palestinians to have their own state right next door to Israel even if that does happen to be far, far away from the ethno-nationalist.

          • PC says:

            I hadn’t thought about it like that, mostly because I don’t really know that much about ethno-nationalism as a developed principle. Would it not hold that ethnicities should be able to, when practicable, have their nation-states either where they are or where they (as a recognizable ethnicity) came from?

          • Irrelevant says:

            And for a… fifth? hypothetical EthNat opinion, they might not consider Palestinians ethnically distinct from Jordanians or whatever, in which case the thing could presumably be resolved by Israel cutting a resettlement check to the relevant country.

            have their nation-states either where they are or where they (as a recognizable ethnicity) came from?

            Depends. Are they the sort who think the world belongs to the living or that land rights properly reside in jealous ghosts?

          • John Schilling says:

            To the extent that “Israeli” and “Palestinian” are recognizable ethnicities, they both came from the same place, they’ve both been living in that place for a couple of generations now, and it demonstrably isn’t big enough for the both of them. So right now at least, by any theory of who ought to live where, it doesn’t seem practicable for them both to have their nation-states “where they are or where they came from”.

            Unless we take the Irrelevant suggestion that maybe “where they came from” can be expanded to include Jordan and maybe some of the Sinai, which gives us room for both populations and a buffer zone wider than the reach of light artillery. Of course, the Hashemite Kingdom made their opinion on that quite clear in September 1970…

      • Gbdub says:

        A 9% base rate in Europe actually seems pretty plausible, if not low.

        And the obvious thought – what if the pro-Israel anti-Semites are just general purpose racists who hate Arabs even more than they hate Jews?

  43. Mark says:

    I feel there’s some phenomenon, perhaps related to that toxoplasmosis of rage post, where political debates naturally polarize around the most “interesting” views in idea-space, and all less interesting views end up more or less uninhabited. For instance, take multiculturalism: I constantly hear from one side that it’s a near unalloyed good that helps the economy and combats the insidious forces of oppression; I constantly hear from the other side that it’s a hideous, failed disaster, perhaps even going so far as to say that it’s catalyzing the collapse of Western civilization as we know it. Rarely, if ever, do I hear people suggest that multiculturalism induces a bunch of tradeoffs that will make things approximately 15% worse or something. That’s too pessimistic to be talking-points apologia, but not pessimistic enough to be attention-seizing alarmism.

    • Ornery Ostrich says:

      The honorable sport of high school policy debate has already figured this out. If preventing illegal immigration makes life 15% worse but providing amnesty for illegal immigrants leads to terrorism and eventually nuclear war, we should obviously prevent illegal immigration. In order to stay competitive, the teams arguing for amnesty need to show that not providing amnesty will lead to more terrorism / a higher chance of nuclear war. This leads to a strange equilibria where, if everyone is to be believed, every possible course of action we could or could not take will lead to global extinction.

    • Stezinech says:

      I think that is perfectly consistent with the toxoplasma idea Mark. Both sides of the debate use the toxoplasma tactic to their “advantage” by taking an extreme position. It garners them unjustified positive attention by exploiting the cognitive quirk that humans pay closer attention to radical and exciting ideas than realistic ones.

      If we were perfectly rational robots, of course, this tactic wouldn’t work. It probably works less well on rationists, but I would predict that even they are vulnerable to some extent just by being human.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        It probably works less well on rationists, but I would predict that even they are vulnerable to some extent just by being human.

        I think rationalists have our own “shiny ideas” that we gravitate towards. For example, I think various different organizational ideas that could be described in Utopian terms.

        I confess I am mystified by the high amount of support for Libertarian ideas in the rationalist space.

        BTW, rationists would, I think, be more of a subset of rationalists 😉

        • Held In Escrow says:

          Oh, that’s a simple enough explanation; rationalists have a tendency to assume people act in rational manners. Except they only do so in aggregate, and even then only with a post-hoc rationalization that’s really more descriptive than prescriptive and often tautological (they did this because it was rational, and we know it was rational because they did it).

          Libertarian ideals are actually really attractive if you haven’t dealt with serious poverty as well. The recent push towards a BGI from libertarians I fully grant to the Great Recession which gave a lot of people a nice big brush with being poor.

          I also suspect part of it is that libertarians occupy the same sort of e-space that rationalists do; willing to debate with anyone and everyone on equal footing. Red tribe tends to stay within their own space while Blue tends to only occupy similar areas to Red in that they make echo chambers to mock Reds, but otherwise stick together. Grays are willing to put down crop circles anywhere.

          I suspect part of this is because Grays are a minor tribe and thus have to convert; they can’t just talk within themselves or they’ll die out. Blues and Reds can make large scale varied forums for discussion and simply control the discourse through weight of numbers and reputation, pulling people who came for an unrelated aspect into the tribe. Hell, one of the forums I visit for fanfiction had a pretty stark red/blue split last year where the blues took their ball and made their own forum.

          But in summation, rationalists and Grays tend to argue in the same manner because they both need to expand and thus must be open minded. Blues and Reds don’t need to and thus don’t. Therefore Grays fit into the rationalist circle better and there’s a lot of crossbreeding

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s a good explanation for why Libertarians would tend to stick around in rationalist spaces.

            But I’m not sure why someone (like, say, Scott) would quasi-endorse the Libertarian perspective. Although, I guess I don’t understand the “ineffective altruism must be eliminated” concept either. And it seems they could map down to the same root idea (we should strive to do the most rational thing at all times).

            Maybe people aren’t thinking very much about how opportunity cost plays into it. Although that seems to simplistic an explanation.

          • Held In Escrow says:

            Because our inner child is often a libertarian. I generally see two types of hard core libertarians; those who come at it out of some honest naivety, who think that if we didn’t have governmental coercion we’d all be better off; that people and markets will honestly work together for a greater good. In practice this falls apart 11 out of 10 times, but it’s something we wish was true. The other side are those people who are honestly just assholes and see how libertarianism would benefit them. They’re the users and the oligarchs who everyone likes to complain about. They’re far more rare on a per capita basis, but they have enough money to throw around that they’re not just a boogeyman. Generally when I speak of libertarians I try and stick to the first definition, as bitching about the latter doesn’t have any positive outcomes and ends up just smearing a lot of honest folk.

            Personally I’m a big fan of cracking down in the market sectors with well thought out regulation and removing that regulation when it shows to be harmful. For example I’m a utilities economist, so I think that energy regulation is so very, very needed, but that we should have some sort of taxi medallion buyback.

            At the same time I think that social regulation is horrible. We need stuff like the Civil Rights Act for businesses, but my authoritarian alarm goes off and my buttocks clench tight when I hear fellow blue tribe members going off about banning private schools or racial quotas in television programming.

            This can make it hard for me to sometimes hang out in blue spaces because I view issues from a class rather than race perspective and find the best way to address this is through market intervention; expanded EITC, possibly a higher minimum wage, general stimulus, that sort of thing. Which means I end up spending time in more libertarian land because they’re willing to discuss these issues even if they disagree with them, because they have to in order to grow.

            That said, I think the whole Randian “charity is bad” approach is dying out somewhat; it’s generally found in the second subset of libertarians, and the Great Recession really gave them a massive kicking in recruitment, as seen by the support for a BIG being, well, big in modern libertarian circles.

            In the end, even if I disagree with it, I think libertarianism is worth discussing. You aren’t going to find that on a blue forum, and most red forums aren’t going to like people being willing to attack it’s tenants, so I’m glad I have a general sphere to talk about it in.

          • Whatever happened to Anonymous says:

            > who think that if we didn’t have governmental coercion we’d all be better off

            I think there would be a pretty large step between “less governement coercion than we currently have” and “no governenment coercion”. Particularly since “what we currently have” is different for lots of people.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Held In Escrow: I understand that there definitely can be a naive impulse to think “this produces results that are clearly sub-optimal and probably will never produce optimal results. We should go to a system that could produce optimal results”, but it seems like a pretty ironic failure mode for rationalists to fall into.

            I guess I haven’t seen much in the way of libertarian discussion of BIG, but my first impulse in to ascribe that the set of libertarians tends to have a lot of overlap with the set of populists. Not sure whether that impulse is supported though.

          • James Picone says:

            Alternate explanation: The rationalist community is contrarian, and is full of the young/educated/intelligent cohort that skews libertarian.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @James: Are you contending that actual rationalists are contrarian?

            Or, are you saying that contrarians are drawn to the rationalist community whether or not they are actually able interested in engaging in rationalism?

            The first seems like it should be incorrect. But, I’ll admit that I can see how contradicting the common knowledge for rational reasons and then being proven correct is satisfying, and much of common knowledge is incorrect, so perhaps there is some truth there.

          • James Picone says:

            I am contending that contrarianism is a failure mode common amongst people attempting to be rational.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @James: That makes sense. Anecdotally, contrarian is certainly one of my failure modes.

          • Cauê says:

            Alternate explanation: libertarian ideas are actually good, and this particular comment thread isn’t doing them justice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Caue: My contention would be that Libertarians are good at identifying the failure modes of representative democracy. But they are not good at identifying the failure modes of Libertarian ideals and also not good at estimating how often these failure modes would occur.

          • Nornagest says:

            That could be rephrased as “libertarians are people”.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            There’s at le