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OT22: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Thread

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

1. Some people frustrated with the commenting system here are trying out r/slatestarcodex, a subreddit where they can comment on recent SSC articles with all of the upvoting and downvoting their heart desires.

2. Comments of the week are Edward Scizorhands on why banning discrimination based on college degrees might be easier than you think, Larry Kestenbaum on the surprisingly sane employment policies of the US post office, Jaime Astorga on a metaphor for college maybe even better than my tulips one (old, but I missed it the first time), haishan on why driverless cars aren’t legal yet, Pax Dickinson on purges, and Brandon Berg on Tom Swifties.

3. If you’re into effective charity, there may currently be an unusually high-impact opportunity to donate to Giving What We Can.

4. I finally cleared my backlog of reported comments. Fwhgdsd is now banned indefinitely and RCF for one month; check the Register of Bans for more information. Everyone else gets a general amnesty, on statute-of-limitation-type considerations.

Please steer the open thread away from the five toxic topics that mindkill SSC readers: race, gender, doge, one-tailed t-tests, and cuddling.

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1,245 Responses to OT22: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Thread

  1. Dentists says:

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  2. Zorgon says:

    So, the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding gay marriage has resulted in a surge in the use of Facebook profiles to indicate tribal alignment via the use of a simple app which replaces one’s profile picture with a generated one filtered via the rainbow banner.

    This had led me to several observations. Firstly, from visual evidence it seems I’m even more immersed in the Blue Tribe (Scott’s definition) than I thought.

    Secondly, I’m apparently now sufficiently averse to this kind of signalling that even though I’m bisexual and massively in favour of gay marriage, I still had to fight the urge to snark at people about it.

    Thirdly, and perhaps more interestingly, a large number of the accounts that swapped yesterday evening reverted within a day, while others have picked up the gauntlet today, leading to an ongoing swathe passing through my friend networks rather than a singularity. I find myself wondering what led that first wave to change back. Workplace pressures? Discomfort at being part of a horde? Sheer hipsterish pique at everyone else having done the same thing?

    All these aside, it’s not often you get such a visual depiction of tribal allegiances. I find myself kind of wishing I’d had the presence of mind to create a script to collect data on it while the phenomenon was just beginning.

    • Alraune says:

      Thirdly, and perhaps more interestingly, a large number of the accounts that swapped yesterday evening reverted within a day, while others have picked up the gauntlet today, leading to an ongoing swathe passing through my friend networks rather than a singularity. I find myself wondering what led that first wave to change back. Workplace pressures? Discomfort at being part of a horde? Sheer hipsterish pique at everyone else having done the same thing?

      Oh, that’s easy: 11 hours ago a couple of my extremely unhip midwestern cousins put up those avatars. The fad’s already worn itself out and stopped signalling the proper virtue, which is, of course, trendiness.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Regarding point 2, why?

    • brad says:

      Is the problem tribal bonding rituals per se, or just that it isn’t your tribe? (Anymore?)

      • Zorgon says:

        That’s not a simple question, unfortunately.

        They’re signalling their membership in a Tribe for which I have some beliefs that are… what nydw would call “elthedish” or something along those lines.

        But it’s a tribe with whose general principles I still align.

        And they’re signalling using a symbol that, all tribalism aside, fundamentally belongs to me. Most of them are straight. I am not. I was into marriage equality before it was cool, dammit! I’m the guy with the anecdotes about being inspired ancient gay guys who’ve been together since the 50s.

        So this new wave of tribal signalling just feels like I’m being colonised. By my own side. In a really grotesque and unsubtle way.

        Also I always have had a bit of a contrarian asshole side, which is probably a big part of it. Hanging around the LWsphere community has only sharpened my instinct for annoying cultural signalling games to rebel against.

        So it’s pretty much all of that.

  3. sov says:

    A few years back I did some investigating into speed bumps for a class. A statement, from the Chairman of the London Ambulance Service, Sigurd Reinton, comes to mind: “For every life saved through traffic calming, more are lost because of ambulance delays.” This seems exactly like SSC-in-depth-post material to me, if such a notion tickles one’s investigative fancy.

  4. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Scott would you be willing to comment on a Vitamin D pitch that was made in a very well received LessWrong post? I must admit I’m biased against it since it pattern matches to the “lolz medical professionals are so incompetent, watch me outdo them all with one source” narrative that is annoyingly common.

  5. LHC says:

    LiteralHeadCannon/BayesWatch here; I’m the guy who wrote Ginny Weasley and the Sealed Intelligence. 🙂 Have been following SSC for a while and decided to post this here cuz I was looking for a rationalist general thread.

    I saw Inside Out today and I really liked it; I immediately came up with an idea for a microfic, and wrote it out. Here it is, although I’ll warn you that it only really makes sense if you’ve seen the movie. I just thought it was clever:

    https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11334905/1/Further-Out

    I post it here because it’s semi-rationalist; it deals with futurist stuff (within the scope of a microfic) but it’s much more a character piece. I’m worried it’d get downvoted for irrelevance on /r/rational, but this seems like a nice crowd. 🙂 Tell me what you think, either in this comment thread or in a review.

    (Scott, you’re so cool, by the way! 🙂 Big fan.)

  6. LTP says:

    So, I have a question for you all. I’ve been reading a few links from the so-called “fat acceptance movement”. I agree with not shaming fat people or anything like that, *but* I’m reading claims that being obese (not merely overweight) has no ill effects on health, and that dieting doesn’t work, that the medical industry is just delusional in telling people to lose weight, that fat people actually live longer(!), etc.

    I don’t trust them. My intuition is that there’s cherry-picking and selective readings of studies, or just citing bad studies, going on. Further, while they do cite outside sources, all the source compilations come from within the movement itself. I feel like they are smuggling in bad medical advice with their positive social message.

    But maybe not. Is there any good links to resources that give a fair shake to these claims that are independent of the fat acceptance movement? If not, I’d love to see Scott do a post on that one day.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Scott has written two good posts on dieting. Eliezer Yudkowsky does occasionally harp on the subject, too. These posts, combined with my own experiences, have pretty much convinced me that the traditional “it’s all about calories in minus calories out, man; you just gotta eat less (especially less fat, which is calorie-dense) and exercise more and you are guaranteed to lose weight!” narrative is simply wrong.

      I am much more skeptical of the rest of the claims made by the fat acceptance movement. In particular, their claims that disgustingly obese women (and it is always women) are somehow beautiful are utterly groan-worthy. Hence why I cringe whenever Eliezer uses the term “metabolic privilege” or its derivatives; the last thing people arguing that diets are ineffective need is to get pattern-matched to those tumblrinas.

      • Bugmaster says:

        …have pretty much convinced me that the traditional “it’s all about calories in minus calories out, man; you just gotta eat less and exercise more and you are guaranteed to lose weight!” narrative is simply wrong.

        Wait, strictly speaking, how can this be wrong ? All that weight has to come from somewhere, and if not from calories, then from where ? Ok, I understand that actually eating less calories, for a prolonged period of time, may be difficult or impossible for many people; and I also understand that the calorie reduction may need to be quite dramatic in order to have an appreciable effect, etc. But that’s different from saying, “eating less calories does not produce weight loss”, which is what you seem to be saying.

        In terms of aesthetic preferences, there’s no accounting for taste. I have friends who find supermodel-thin women to be the pinnacle of attractiveness, whereas I personally find them kind of… well, the opposite of that. I don’t think this is necessarily indicative of any kind of deep-seated prejudice on anyone’s part. I mean, I hate the taste of yogurt, too, but I’m not going to go around claiming that it is objectively evil…

        • onyomi says:

          I think maybe a better way to put it is: if you are fatter than you’d like to be, then you should start taking in fewer calories and/or burning more calories. Whether you are fatter than other people who take in and burn the same number of calories is neither here nor there, though it can seem unfair. Certainly different bodies process, burn, and store calories differently, and some people may poop out half the nutrients they take in, while others burn them off with nervous energy, and others seem to store everything. That doesn’t change the fact that if *you* are fatter than you would like to be, then *you* should take in fewer calories than you currently are taking in and/or burn more.

          Different bodies may react differently to different levels of activity and caloric intake, but I don’t know of anyone who will maintain the weight they have now despite exercising more and eating less than they are eating now.

          This is not to say that this is *easy* by any means. Personally, I think the real bugaboo is appetite regulation. I think most people who seem to be naturally thin actually don’t eat as much as they seem to, and it’s because they just don’t have as strong an appetite. Conversely, if your appetite is really strong, it’s super hard to avoid gaining weight, much less lose weight.

          Consider tricyclic antidepressants. They make a certain percentage of people who take them gain weight rapidly. I think it’s even listed as a side effect: “weight gain.” It’s not that those people are eating the same number of calories and gaining weight, though. It’s that the antidepressant is making their appetite much stronger. They definitely *are* eating more, but it’s hard to “blame” them for it, because their body chemistry is demanding it. The side effect is really “increased appetite,” but strongly increased appetite leads so inevitably to weight gain that one might as well call it “weight gain.”

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Wait, strictly speaking, how can this be wrong ? All that weight has to come from somewhere, and if not from calories, then from where ? Ok, I understand that actually eating less calories, for a prolonged period of time, may be difficult or impossible for many people; and I also understand that the calorie reduction may need to be quite dramatic in order to have an appreciable effect, etc. But that’s different from saying, “eating less calories does not produce weight loss”, which is what you seem to be saying.

          There are two obvious mechanism by which eating extra calories does not result in weight gain, even without a corresponding increase in exercise. First, your body can simply let the calories pass through your digestive system unabsorbed. Second, your body can absorb the calories and immediately burn them raising your body temperature (people in polar climates need to eat tremendous amounts of calories to maintain weight, and I personally notice myself sweating whenever I overeat).

          I have friends who find supermodel-thin women to be the pinnacle of attractiveness, whereas I personally find them kind of… well, the opposite of that.

          Well, models who look like 12-year-old boys are not exactly the Platonic ideal of beauty, either. I’ve actually heard a theory that the reason they look like that is because the fashion industry is dominated by homosexual men, and that models are therefore models are selected based on traits homosexual men find attractive (flat chests, angular faces, etc…) rather than the traits regular men find attractive.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Right, what you’re saying now is, “ingesting more calories will not necessarily lead to weight gain”. This is a good point. Conversely, if you are at the point where your body is (e.g.) already converting the extra calories into heat, reducing the amount of calories you eat won’t result in weight loss.

            However, IMO this sounds like a middle ground between your earlier statement (which I took to mean, “eating less will never lead to weight loss”), and the overly broad statement “eating less will always lead to weight loss, eating more will always lead to weight gain (assuming exercise levels are constant)”.

            To be fair though, I did explicitly say, “…and I also understand that the calorie reduction may need to be quite dramatic in order to have an appreciable effect…”, partially for the reasons you mentioned.

          • Deiseach says:

            With regard to haute couture, it’s more that to show off the clothes to best advantage, you need people who look like mannequins: tall, thin, flat as a board. Otherwise you don’t get the same drape and silhouette (and it’s all about the lines and the shape of the garments, not the wearers). What you see on the catwalk is not meant to be worn by actual human beings; it’s the trend of the season, which is then translated into items for non-models to wear in ‘real life’.

            Short(er) people with lumps, bumps, curves and sticky-out bits simply ruin the lovely lines of the garments, doncha know! 🙂

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            your earlier statement (which I took to mean, “eating less will never lead to weight loss”

            Oh, no; that interpretation would be an exaggeration in the opposite direction. There are indeed people and circumstances in which eating less functions more or less like the thermodynamic theory of dieting predicts it should.

            Conversely, if you are at the point where your body is (e.g.) already converting the extra calories into heat, reducing the amount of calories you eat won’t result in weight loss.

            There are more scenarios, I think, where reducing the amount of calories you eat will not result in weight loss. By analogy with the weight gain scenario, the two obvious ones are that your body, if feed less calories while already at its set point, will endeavor to absorb more calories from the food that you do eat, and/or will lower your body temperature in order to conserve energy. In the semi-starvation experiments which Mr. Taubes recounts in Good Calories, Bad Calories, the test subjects persistently complained of being cold and unable to warm themselves even when wrapped in numerous layers of clothing.

            Another possibility is that your body simply reduces bodily functions in an effort to save calories. Even if this does not stop you from exercising at the previous rate, you might find out that the only effects of your increased caloric deficit are that your brain is suddenly performing as if it had an IQ one standard deviation lower than the one you started with, or else that your rate of healing from sickness and injury has slowed down considerably, all while the fat deposits in your body stubbornly refuse to transform themselves into usable energy.

          • Alraune says:

            In conclusion, keep the same diet, but turn the thermostat down to 60 F and engage in self-harm.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            In conclusion, keep the same diet, but turn the thermostat down to 60 F and engage in self-harm.

            Let us hope that this new cold cuts diet proves more effective than the timeless decision theory diet.

  7. theotherguy says:

    The post office bit was disconcerting. It is true that I haven’t experienced other countries postal services, so I won’t speak for them, other than to say I have this vague memory of reading an article about the innovativeness and efficiency of Singapore’s postal system (not a fair comparison perhaps as Singapore is a city state, not really a peer of the US).

    That said, I have had one sorry chapter in my life where I lived in multiple locations in the same city (and I believe in different mail carrying routes) where I witnessed the most astoundingly incompetent behavior of any service I’ve seen, on a routine basis. When I would call about the mailman taking mail out of my box (it’s a long story) his manager would lie and try to tell me there is a dog preventing the delivery of the mail (which is a non sequitor but he would refuse to have an actual conversation). When I watched and had many other issues some times I would ask my apartment manager what the deal was (she said everyone has this guy misdeliver their mail), on one or two other times I would call his manager and again the manager would lie about trivially obvious things.

    The problem as I see it is zero accountability. Both directly — I had no recourse against the incompetent delivery carriers and incompetent & dishonest managers — and indirectly against the Post Office as they have a legal monopoly on delivering my mail and I can’t pay a little extra to have, say, tax documents sent to my mailbox via Fedex — instead the Post Office was only so happy to lose them for me. The increasing availability of digital documents as a substitute for mail has helped in some but not all cases here.

    And for what its worth my bayesian prior is that you’re going to have a very low probability of good service / product, competence, innovation, etc. in any government sanctioned monopoly. You see exceptions, of course, say in elements of the security services — like the SEALS and DARPA– but they are very much exceptions. (In fairness, if you read Harry Markopolos’s account of informing the SEC many times over many years about Madoff, it certainly seems possible that the SEC is more incompetent than the Post Office but that’s a matter for another day.)

    If you take evolution and remove selection pressures, you get very different results. I’d hold that termination pressures are perhaps the most important.

    • Vagrant says:

      You can always sue. That is the citizens main source of legal recourse in America, and speaking from experience, even the threat of a lawsuit causes government employees to get their shit straight real fast.

    • I was avoiding getting into the weeds on this, but absolutely, there are some spots in the U.S. Postal Service that are appalling.

      Chicago is a really big and notorious example, a place where local organizational culture has grown up in a way that has led to despicably bad mail service. First-class letters (the highest priority mail) can take a week or more to be delivered. I once dropped a letter in a mailbox at O’Hare Airport, addressed to a Chicago destination, and missed a submission deadline because it took so long to arrive.

      At one point, the Postmaster General personally came to Chicago to apologize for how bad things were, and promise improvement.

      On the other hand, consider Detroit, a place that would seem every bit as challenging a place to supervise employees and deliver mail as Chicago. But in Detroit, the post office is just marvelously fast and efficient.

      Detroiters are accustomed to quick mail delivery. In my experience, if you drop off a low-priority bulk rate mailing at the Detroit post office in the late afternoon, it will be delivered throughout the metro area the next day.

      I believe Detroit is far more typical of American post offices than Chicago. And mail service is constantly being made faster and more efficient. For example, mail carriers now get mail automatically sorted in route order, so they don’t have to spend a couple hours sorting it out themselves.

      Ever mail anything to or from Canada? My Canadian friends are embarrassed at how slow their mail is.

      Almost every foreign postal service receives a huge ongoing cash subsidy from the government; the USPS does not. Stamps may be cheaper to buy in some countries, but not if you figure in the cost of that subsidy.

      Other countries’ postal services are subject to strikes and other lengthy service interruptions. That doesn’t happen in the U.S.

      In many countries (Russia in particular), it’s taken for granted that any valuable package sent through the mail will be stolen. Theft from the mail is just about a non-problem here.

      In sum, I’d much rather have the USPS than any other country’s postal service.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Not that it’s relevant to your main point…

        First-class letters (the highest priority mail)…low-priority bulk rate mailing

        It used to be that first class meant paying for speed, but that is no longer true. Business love bulk customers, which is why they give them discounts. USPS also gives discounts for making it easy for them, such as sorting by ZIP-9 or printing ZIP-9 as a bar code. Of course such mail will be delivered fast. The best deal is not addressing the junk but just saying: give one to everyone on the route. Another measure of what USPS cares about is the penalties for failure, like losing a vested pension.

        • When the bulk mail you’re sending has tremendous density, you can take advantage of special rates for carrier route sorting and the like, and that definitely speeds up delivery.

          The mailings I was dealing with in Detroit didn’t have that kind of density — more like a dozen or so pieces per zip code. It didn’t qualify for any special treatment. Pretty much all of it had to be individually sorted into carrier routes and such.

          What happens nowadays, since I left Detroit, is that as each address is read (whether by human eye or OCR), a bar code sticker is affixed to the piece. The bar code encapsulates the address information and guides it to the specific mail carrier without human intervention. Bulk mail these days comes already bar-coded.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Larry,

        I do not have this problem using the Chicago mail service, generally. I work for a major company and send the checks through the mail to be deposited at our bank: I see the checks show up in our account and have a pretty exact view of the flow.

        The distribution is bi-modal for sure. 80-90% items are delivered in a day, though 10% of items are not moved for 5-7. Scarcely little falls in between.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Datapoints: My experience over the last 30 years along the West Coast, has been the smaller the town, the better the Post Office and DMV — all the way up to unbelievably excellent.

      • onyomi says:

        Me too.

      • Nornagest says:

        Less awful, at least. The clerks at the DMV in my (small) hometown still seemed bored to surly, and the building itself was uncomfortable, but they didn’t screw up or take too long and there wasn’t a line. Meanwhile, when I lived in Oakland, I’d drive the forty minutes to Concord whenever I needed something done at the DMV, because that one was merely smelly, unpleasant and tedious rather than nightmarishly Kafkaesque.

        The Oakland DMV, when I lived there, had a ticketing system controlling when you were allowed to stand in line. It’s probably gotten worse since then.

  8. stuart says:

    I don’t remember the post(s), but Scott mentions the effect where people have a tendency to judge information outside their area of expertise as reliable, but information specific to their expertise as less reliable (or something like that).

    I don’t remember the name of the tendency and I’m not a good enough Googler to find it. Can someone please point me in the right direction?

  9. onyomi says:

    A sort of poll of public opinion, to the extent it is reflected on SSC:

    Given the following scenario, rate the probability the US federal govmt will employ decisive military force (as in, not just warnings, threats, token shows of force, etc.) to prevent the secession:

    Tomorrow, the Texas state legislature votes by an overwhelming majority (say 70%) to secede from the US, and this is backed up by a popular vote, again showing a very strong majority support from the people of Texas. The US threatens to cut off social security, medicare, and other federal dollars coming in, and to make life difficult for citizens of the new state–revoking their passports, etc., but Texas remains firm. The new state of Texas demands that all US military personnel leave the state, pledge loyalty to the state of Texas, or find other jobs. Texas does not invade or attack any other US state, but pledges to fight any efforts by the US govmt to enforce US federal law within its borders. A number of IRS, FBI, EPA, ATF and other federal agents have already been forcefully detained and expelled from the state.

    I rate it at 10%

    • LHN says:

      It’s really hard to evaluate the result of a sudden, no-warning, motiveless secession. A plausible secession crisis would have some sort of runup, a cause, a dispute that the Federal government couldn’t/wouldn’t ameliorate and that Texas can’t/won’t live with. The specifics would make a huge difference.

      (If it really happened as described, I’d expect Federal troops to be sent in to investigate whether it was mind-control rays or drugs in the water supply that caused Texas to go from not considering secession yesterday to attempting to enact it today, without so much as attempting to negotiate the process.)

      • onyomi says:

        Let’s stipulate it’s the year 2020, and, despite the fact that she received very few votes in Texas, Hillary has just been re-elected after successfully passing a bunch of progressive programs during her first term, most of which the people of Texas strongly object to, and many of which can be plausibly construed as conflicting with the Bill of Rights or Constitution to some degree (and therefore violating the “contract” between the state and the fed govmt).

        The people of Texas claim to be seceding because the fed govmt has not upheld its part of the contract (to abide by the Constitution), and because they do not feel adequately represented when they can virtually all vote against a candidate and her policies and still have her re-elected.

    • FJ says:

      At least 99%, although everything LHN points out is valid. It’s not entirely clear from the description how many hypothetical Texans actually approve of secession (since many Texans either couldn’t or didn’t vote), but even if only 30% of Texans wish to remain Americans, that’s 8 million people or so. How many of them would become refugees? The federal government also owns nearly three million acres of the new breakaway republic. That’s a relatively trivial fraction of Texas, but it’s 200 times the size of Manhattan. Do we get compensation?

      I imagine this as if a large majority of Texans suddenly joined the “sovereign citizen” movement. Our tolerance for those guys ends precisely when they break the law, whereupon we cease to find it amusing and treat them like any other criminal. Texas would be the same: the federal government would look with amusement at the Governor and Legislature declaring themselves independent, but anyone who laid hands on an IRS agent would be wanted by the FBI. Don’t the Enforcement Acts permit the President to order the military to assist domestic law enforcement if state officials refuse to enforce federal law? It’s not clear how much violence would be involved in enforcing federal law in Texas, and perhaps Texan freedom fighters could exhaust the federal government in a multi-year guerrilla war. But if “decisive military force” is something closer to “blowing up the Capitol in Austin,” then I would not put my retirement fund in Texas Treasuries.

      • onyomi says:

        But don’t you think there will be little appetite among the population of the rest of the United States for a war on what is basically our former home territory, fought against people who who are culturally pretty similar to us? Remember many people will have relatives and friends in Texas.

        We don’t even have the appetite for another Vietnam today, and Vietnam was fought against foreigners a world away.

        • LHN says:

          That last cuts the other way: direct assaults on federal personnel, US territorial integrity, and the constitutional system of government (as many Americans will see it) are a much more powerful impetus to military action than a faraway foreign conflict.

          • onyomi says:

            But we’re assuming that the Texans are quite committed to this effort, and so the feds will not be able to put it down without significant loss of American (or former American) life.

            Further, let’s say that no one is attacking or killing IRS agents: they are simply preventing them from doing their jobs and/or kicking out of the state with no harm coming to them.

          • LHN says:

            By what means are they preventing Federal personnel from doing their jobs and forcing them to leave their homes in the state, without the use or threat of violence?

          • FJ says:

            How do you kick an IRS agent out without doing any harm to him? Asking for a friend.

          • onyomi says:

            Federal employees already living in Texas are offered automatic citizenship in the new country of Texas so long as they don’t continue trying to enforce US federal law. After some transitional period, people who attempt to enforce US laws in Texas would simply be treated as we might treat a Canadian government agent trying to enforce Canadian law or collect Canadian taxes on US soil.

          • LHN says:

            That last translates to the threat and use of violence, just adding some time to think about it first, no?

      • Tom Womack says:

        A lot depends on how the secession is managed; if the incoming government says that the people who don’t want to be citizens of an independent Texas have freedom of movement to the rest-of-the-US, are entirely welcome to transfer money to the rest-of-the-US, and generally have the same relationship to the rest-of-the-US as a Dane has to the rest-of-the-EU, it would be no worse than a Scottish or a Catalonian secession, and I don’t imagine people would mind all that much. Texas is about a quarter of the net-contribution to the Federal budget, so Federal taxes would go up 30%, which would be a bit irritating but no more than that. I think it would be about as damaging as a UK secession from the EU, which, whilst it would be the most stupid political act the UK took since 1914, is something our current Government has vowed to hold a referendum on.

        If you start driving people out and confiscating property, it starts to sound a good deal more like an act of war.

        • onyomi says:

          In the scenario I was envisioning, the new government of Texas does nothing to prevent its citizens from traveling to or doing business with the remaining US as before, though the US fed govmt may attempt to make these difficult.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “…pledges to fight any efforts by the US govmt to enforce US federal law within its borders. A number of IRS, FBI, EPA, ATF and other federal agents have already been forcefully detained and expelled from the state.”

      At which point those who carried out those actions would be guilty of federal crimes. The FBI would investigate and attempt to make counter arrests, provoking a crisis where someone is going to resort to force. That leads to a really nasty spiral.

      The military bases would button up and go on a war footing. If the Texas State Guard started interdicting their civilian suppliers, supplies would start being air lifted in. If they started trying to shoot or force those planes down or they started shelling the military bases, there would be swift and decisive action taken against those who did the firing. It would be over quickly but it would not end well for Texas.

      • onyomi says:

        So you rate it as what, 99% also?

        Remember this isn’t about whether the US federal government could defeat Texas militarily, but whether they would, given public appetite for a war so close to home and fought against people who are just trying to peacefully go their own way.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          There is no way that the Federal government could stand by while its officials were molested in pursuit of their official duties. They would start attempting to arrest Texans who engaged in this molestation and those who ordered it. It would get very, very, very tense very fast.

          I rate at 99% that we would be on the precipice of hostilities given the scenario you describe. Texas would either have to use force to attempt to prevent the arrest of the officials who engaged in criminal conduct or back down.

          I don’t know whether hostilities would commence or not, because that would be entirely on the hypothetical Texas that is in your mind, so I can’t speak for them.

          • onyomi says:

            As I said, my hypothetical Texas is not going to give up because of threats of military action. They must be thoroughly militarily defeated, which will involve killing and injuring a not insignificant number of Texans, before they give up.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            As I said, my hypothetical Texas is not going to give up because of threats of military action. They must be thoroughly militarily defeated, which will involve killing and injuring a not insignificant number of Texans, before they give up.

            It’s not enough that they are committed to military resistance. How can your hypothetical Texans credibly signal their commitment to the U.S. Government and the American people? By the time the shooting has started and the Texans’ will to resist has become clear, the war has already begun. At any point before that, Washington can reasonably believe that the Texans will back down when push comes to shove, and escalate accordingly.

          • onyomi says:

            They can say so? If the government doesn’t believe them, I don’t see how that is Texas’s fault. And the real question is: once the fed govmt learns that Texas is fully committed to the secession, be it before or after actual shots have been fired, will they continue to try to prevent it militarily? That is, given a Texas which is willing to fight, if not to the last man, then at least as hard as the Confederacy fought during the Civil War, would the fed govmt and American people have the stomach for it now as they did 150 years ago?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “They must be thoroughly militarily defeated”

            Once Texas starts shooting at the Federal government, the amount of time it takes for the Texas government to fall is very, very short. Like Panama short. They don’t have a military. Do you think the National Guard is going to take orders from the New Texas putsch?

            Unless you are positing that the fluoride in Texans water really is a mind-control device and in the next 5 years the vast bulk of Texas citizenry is going to be willing to come out of their comfortable suburban ranch homes and start shooting at their own troops.

            The FBI would come in and either be re-buffed militarily, inciting the shooting war that Texas loses, or simply arrest the entire government of New Texas. It wouldn’t take long, the head would be cut off the snake quickly.

          • onyomi says:

            “simply arrest the entire government of New Texas”

            How well do you think that would play in the media? In a country which was founded by secession and claims to value liberty and self-determination, no less?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Onyomi:
            After Texas escorts 350,00 (number of federal employees in Texas) people to the border at the barrel of a gun? After Texas starts shackling and/or shooting those who resist? After Texas starts attempting to give orders to the US military?

            I think it will play fine in the “upper 48”.

            Heck, after Texas cuts off Social Security payments inside their own state, the Feds probably wouldn’t need to do anything. The New Texas government would get taken down by an army of cane wielding grannies on hover-rounds.

      • onyomi says:

        To those who rate the probability of decisive military intervention as very high, would you rate it the same if it were California seceding to escape a runaway Jeb Bush presidency and establish a more liberal/progressive polity?

        • To those who rate the probability of decisive military intervention as very high, would you rate it the same if it were California seceding to escape a runaway Jeb Bush presidency and establish a more liberal/progressive polity?

          Absolutely! The first attack on a U.S. military base in the rebel territory would be the equivalent of Pearl Harbor, in terms of galvanizing public opinion.

          As I wrote above, the attackers would be seen as traitors, and blamed for all casualties.

        • FJ says:

          Sure, although you keep suggesting that Texas (or California) would try to break away “peacefully.” I just don’t understand how secession could possibly occur without committing violence against federal agents who attempt to enforce federal law within the state’s borders.

          If California declares independence but no California cop lays a finger on any federal agent, and they are willing to extradite California citizens who commit federal crimes, etc. etc., then in what sense is California actually independent? I agree that the American public likely wouldn’t stand for an invasion of Sacramento to prevent Gov. Brown from making a lot of meaningless speeches that have no practical effect.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          To those who rate the probability of decisive military intervention as very high, would you rate it the same if it were California seceding to escape a runaway Jeb Bush presidency and establish a more liberal/progressive polity?

          It would be an amusing bind. Would the demographic who favored Southern secession, accept a Left Coast secession? Probably not, even if a Bush-n had put the Confederate flag over the White House by then.

          My inner cui bono says in fact the decisions would be quite consistent: don’t let a prosperous region leave your tax base.

          • onyomi says:

            But as Nornagest points out, a Texas secession would actually be great for the Democrats in the remaining US, as would a California secession be great for the Republicans. Without Texas’s electoral votes, the Democrats could dominate the federal government (at least until some new coalition equilibrium developed), just as the Republicans could dominate without California.

            And this is actually a feature of secession, not a bug: everyone gets government more like what they want.

          • Mary says:

            Eh, more people get the government they want. But by the same token, the government has less need to compromise and can be more tyrannical.

            Orwell started to realize the dilemna in this discussing the minorities who lived in Burma. All the collaborators in WWII came from the majority. And the minorities did not want independence because they did not want to be ruled by the Burmese. He noted that there was always a smaller group that wanted out.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, I was going to say “unless you’re a Democrat in Texas or a Republican in California”. There are quite a lot of both.

            Though probably what would actually happen is that both states would split along their own ideological fault lines, which might end up looking quite different from the Dem/Rep divide. I don’t know enough about Texas politics, but in California I think I’d expect to see a multipolar split between the NorCal coastal cities, the SoCal coastal cities, and the agricultural interior. (The mountains upstate are culturally distinct too, but they don’t have enough population to make a meaningful bloc.)

          • onyomi says:

            @Mary

            I do not predict the smaller, more radical governments will actually be more tyrannical, because a major limiting factor on tyranny is governmental competition. It’s easier for vast nation-states like the USSR and PRC to be tyrannical because it’s just physically harder to leave them. Unhappy with your life in Andorra? Move down the street.

            “there was always a smaller group that wanted out.”

            Which is why I’m an anarcho capitalist.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            Without Texas’s electoral votes, the Democrats could dominate the federal government (at least until some new coalition equilibrium developed), just as the Republicans could dominate without California.

            Or until a patch could be put into the current Electoral College rules, which would probably have been quietly done long before need. Which side it would favor, might depend on which was in power at the time it was passed.

          • Nornagest says:

            The Electoral College is pretty hard to patch: its exact form isn’t guaranteed by the Constitution, but the number of votes per state is, and so is the right of the states to choose how electors are appointed. The current system where electors (in most states) are essentially a proxy for a winner-take-all popular vote in their state is a result of the incentives that creates, and you’d need a constitutional amendment to substantially alter it — one that’d be very hard to get through the ratification process.

            Even after losing thirty-eight or fifty-five electoral seats, though, I doubt one party’s dominance would last more than a couple of elections. Granted, your average politician doesn’t think past the next election anyway.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        If the Texas State Guard started interdicting their civilian suppliers, supplies would start being air lifted in.

        Over the objection of the local civilian suppliers — who, early seeing loss of Federal customers as a possibility — would never let this sort of thing develop.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m surprised to see that so many here seem to think the US government a great deal more evil than I do. I can picture a few politicians itching for a fight, angry denunciations from the NY Times, and even attempts to provoke and incident, but I don’t think the country as a whole would have the stomach to actually go to war with Texas, especially assuming a peaceful separation.

      If anything, I think a lot of red states would want to join TX, and Hillary would have her hands full convincing them to stay. I also think that any overt military action against TX would prompt violent insurgencies throughout the rest of the US. At that point, I would not place my money on the armed forces siding with the blues, and I don’t think the president would, either.

      • FJ says:

        To be clear, I don’t think the federal government would be morally wrong to enforce federal law in Texas, even if local residents largely opposed that law (and even though I happen to oppose some federal laws too!). Law enforcement necessarily entails the threat (and often exercise) of lethal violence against the unwilling.

        Cops in any nation routinely use force to enforce the law in areas where most people don’t want them — we call that “the rough part of town.” A secessionary state is just a really, really big “rough part of town.”

        • onyomi says:

          “A secessionary state is just a really, really big ‘rough part of town.'”

          Though I can imagine politicians trying to portray it that way, I have a very hard time believing the average American would see it that way,

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d actually expect a Democratic government to be ambivalent about letting Texas go. It’d be a loss for the federal budget (by about a hundred billion on balance) but a big win for the Democratic Party: removing Texas’s 38 electoral seats wouldn’t quite cripple the GOP’s electoral prospects, but it’d make things a lot harder for them until the party lines realigned. Same for its House seats.

        Hillary strikes me as authoritarian enough that she’d probably want to hold onto Jesusland, though.

        • FJ says:

          I suspect a Democratic Administration (*especially* one headed by the first female President) would worry about the optics of effectively surrendering in the Second American Civil War without firing a shot. Only Nixon could go to China and all that; if there’s anything that would actually destroy one of the major political parties in the U.S., willingly permitting a state to secede might do it for the Democrats. It’d be the equivalent of the Republicans trying to reinstitute slavery.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            After a successful separation, a majority of voters in the ex-states would be happy with her decision, a minority would be angry — but none of them could vote in the US anyway. Many of the remaining US voters would be angry, but I think the Blues could keep the Reds from starting a shooting war.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyx:
            “a minority would be angry — but none of them could vote in the US anyway”

            Wow. Either I am really misreading this or the most charitable interpretation I can put on it is that you are being a parody of what blues think of red-tribe.

            Please tell me this is tongue-in-cheek and not serious.

          • Nornagest says:

            @HBC — I’m almost sure the intended reading is “they can’t vote in the US because they’re no longer US citizens, because the states they’re part of seceded”. Of course, citizenship rights might not be worked out that way — under current law I think they wouldn’t, though this is a situation that wasn’t designed to cover — but it’s not implausible by any means.

            I’m honestly not sure what conclusion you jumped to, but may I suggest adopting slightly stronger assumptions of good faith?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ HeelBearCub

            I’m sorry I was unclear.

            Assuming that each ex-state had held an election on whether to secede, and the “Yes” voters had got the majority of votes, they would be happy; the “No” side, which had got a minority of the votes, might be angry. But if the secession had succeeded none of the ex-state’s people could vote for or against Hillary, because they would no longer be US citizens.

            What was tongue-in-cheek and somewhat making fun of both sides, was my line about (in the remaining US states) the Blues keeping the Reds from starting a war over the outcome.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyx:

            My mistake, I parsed that as “the only people who would be angry are those who couldn’t vote anyway” which sounded like a coded reference.

      • I’m surprised to see that so many here seem to think the US government a great deal more evil than I do.

        I guess you can put me in the “evil” column, then. One fundamental job of the U.S. federal government, as laid out in the Constitution, is to “suppress insurrections”. This discussion has convinced me that use of force in those circumstances is completely appropriate.

        Sure, this use of force can rise to the level of being morally wrong. Putin in Chechnya comes to mind. But not in the USA of 2015, or in any reasonably conceivable USA of 2020.

        One critical heuristic underlying the relative peace of the last 50 years (the most peaceful half-century in all of human history) is that force ought not be used to “fix” problems with international borders.

        The necessary corollary is that force can be used to defend existing borders, crazy and unfair as they may be.

        The threat of force against breakaway regions has surely minimized the number of secessions that are attempted, and hence helped maintain peace.

        With peace, many things become possible: trade and prosperity, reduction of ethnic tensions, negotiated settlement of disputes.

        Yeah, this means places like Tibet and Northern Ireland and Kurdistan and Chechnya continue to be oppressed (and the U.S. declined to aid revolts against Communist regimes in Eastern Europe). But that’s better than constant wars in all those places, which is the only genuine alternative.

        • onyomi says:

          Why is constant war the only genuine alternative? Why couldn’t Tibet simply be allowed to establish an independent state?

          I assume you think some secessions are legitimate–the American colonies’ secession from Great Britain, for example. Assuming you think the colonies had the right to secede and that Great Britain was wrong to oppose that secession by force, what’s different about the case of Texas or Tibet?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Why is constant war the only genuine alternative? ”

            Why is acting unilaterally the only alternative?

          • onyomi says:

            I didn’t say it was. In reality, negotiating the secession would probably be a better, safer alternative. I’m just positing that they shouldn’t *have* to negotiate to assert their right of independence, just as the US didn’t *have* to negotiate with Great Britain to assert its independence.

            Besides, there wouldn’t be much point to the hypothetical if independence weren’t asserted unilaterally. I don’t think anyone is opposed in principle to a negotiated secession on which all sides agree.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, the answer to your question of whether “constant” war is the only alternative to remaining a member of a political entity is that it is not. Negotiation is the other alternative.

            If you want to act unilaterally, and not negotiate, be prepared for war depending on how damaging your actions are.

            And remember, sometimes the damage you are doing is to a Schelling fence.

      • Gbdub says:

        I think the key here is that, in any scenario where the federal government is behaving such that Texas is seriously considering secession, they will probably have significant support from the rest of the U.S. – your average Texan is not THAT far outside the mainstream, certainly not in a way unique to Texas. The military itself would probably have significant loyalty to the Texan cause, disrupting any planned actions against it (much the same as in the original Civil War).

        You’re assuming a Red State secession here, which seems very unlikely to be confined to Texas.

        More interesting, and more plausible to my mind, would be parts of the Southwestern states attempting to break off into a Chicano republic (or 51st state) of some kind. That at least is a more regionally distinct culture I could see wanting independence from the U.S.

        • Alraune says:

          I’m with Gbdub here. Whichever sort of scenario we have in mind, by the time Texas secedes the real question is gonna be “who’s coming with?”

    • Adam says:

      That’s a very, very tricky question. You stipulated they demand all US military personnel leave or pledge loyalty to Texas. It’s not that simple. They can’t just break their oaths to the U.S. They’d be executed for treason and most of them don’t have permanent residences in Texas. They’d need to be relocated to other military bases, along with several trillion dollars worth of equipment, and something would need to be done with all the land they were using that belongs to the U.S. We have a treaty with The Netherlands that allows them to train their elite aviation units at Fort Hood, so you’re canceling at least one treaty with a sovereign nation other than the U.S. San Antonio is the site of all U.S. military medical training and I doubt any place exists that can just absorb those duties. Fort Bliss and Fort Hood are the second and third largest installations in the country, and home to multiple armored divisions. It takes 30 days to mobilize just a single armored brigade and you’re asking to move crap, I don’t even know, 60 of them? That’s gonna take a while. That’s a lot of trains. You’d be disrupting deployment schedules, breaking treaties with Korea and NATO for joint exercises, places where we’re manning hostile borders with North Korea and Russia with U.S. troops. South Korea and Latvia probably aren’t gonna be happy about that. Plenty of the people you’d be asking to leave are property owners in Texas. Killeen, Temple, Wichita Falls, and major parts of San Antonio and El Paso would cease to exist, not just the military but all the local businesses that rely upon them. You’d create ghosttowns the size of New England states overnight and dump hundreds of billions of dollars of worthless property on the market, and presumably the U.S. would want to compensate all the people you’re displacing. DFW is one of three major midwestern hubs for all American airlines. Can they still use it? The Port of Houston is the second busiest port in the U.S., and much of the volume that passes through it is not destined to or from Texas, and it’s the port used to ship all military equipment overseas from midwestern garrisons. You’re talking about re-routeing 212 million tons of equipment per year. Can the Port of Louisiana handle all that? You’d need a hell of a state income tax to be passed to replace all of the federal funding they’d be losing, from the Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid to all of the federal funding for the universities. You’d destroy TI, Dell, AT&T, all of the major tech and defense companies relying upon U.S. federal contracts. Comerica would basically shut down, since a foreign bank can’t operate branches in the U.S. I don’t know if any other major U.S. banks are headquartered in Texas. There’s a U.S. mint in Fort Worth that I guess is the least of everyone’s problems after all the rest of this. There are 16 federal prisons in Texas. I’m guessing there aren’t room for all those people in the rest of the prison system in others states. Does Texas just crash train a bunch of new prison guards to maintain these or release all these people? Execute all of them?

      For what? Because all of the rednecks living out in gerrymandered districts out in the sticks are pissed about the progressive federal social agenda?

      I mean, I guess stranger things have happened, but it’s a logistical nightmare and you’re sticking someone or other with a pretty hefty multi-trillion price tag and overnight ruining millions of people, which are exactly the kinds of things wars are started over, with or without literal shot fired.

      • Jaskologist says:

        There would obviously be a lot of logistics to work out, but those hardly have to jump to DEFCON 1 if the participants don’t want them to. Texas doesn’t need to storm the local army bases; they can negotiate an orderly and peaceful withdrawal of the armed forces from there back to US soil, perhaps even paying for some of the property that is left behind. Free trade agreements can be made to keep goods flowing. Sure, many local players would be disrupted, but those matters can be finessed.

        And again, if we get to the point where Texas is seceding, they will not be alone; other red states are going to want to join them. In addition to those, a lot of states that don’t want to go with Texas will be sympathetic enough/glad enough to see them go that they don’t want to invade Texas to force them back into the Union. The President will have a massive political mess to deal with which would only compound by starting a shooting war. And I think most US Army men would be very, very, very hesitant to fire on fellow Americans, especially in a case like this where there’s no Great Cause like ending slavery to provide motivation.

        How do you envision the President selling “I am now bombing Houston” to the general public?

        • Texas doesn’t need to storm the local army bases; they can negotiate an orderly and peaceful withdrawal of the armed forces from there back to US soil, perhaps even paying for some of the property that is left behind. Free trade agreements can be made to keep goods flowing.

          This violates the terms of the original hypothetical. Of course Texas (or any state) can negotiate all they want. If they can persuade Washington to allow independence peacefully, more power to them. It worked in Czechoslovakia.

          But if Texas decides to establish independence by force, they can expect to be met with force.

        • especially in a case like this where there’s no Great Cause like ending slavery to provide motivation.

          I’m sorry, I’m really, really getting tired of this. “Great Cause”?

          How do you envision the President selling “I am now bombing Houston” to the general public?

          Probably about the same way as President Lincoln sold “I am now burning Atlanta.”

          Hundreds of thousands of dead Union soldiers probably had something to do with it.

          • onyomi says:

            “Probably about the same way as President Lincoln sold “I am now burning Atlanta.”

            Hundreds of thousands of dead Union soldiers probably had something to do with it.”

            My point is that Americans today would get fed up long before it reached this point. I don’t even think you could institute a draft anymore.

            For lack of a better word, I think Western civilization has gotten a lot “wimpier” in a positive, Steven Pinker kind of way. We don’t care so much about “honor,” and don’t see war as glorious.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            This is a response to onyonmi 6/23/2015 @ 4:53

            Your claim that

            Western civilization has gotten a lot “wimpier”

            contradicts your earlier claim that

            They must be thoroughly militarily defeated, which will involve killing and injuring a not insignificant number of Texans, before they give up.”

            In particular, it seems you are unfairly assuming that Texans have not have been affected by this wimpiness. Whereas, more realistically, for the exact same reasons that the modern US would give up before hundreds of thousands of Union dead, so would Texas.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Larry,

            I wasn’t being saarcastic; I genuinely think ending slavery was a great cause, the kind of thing you could rally people around and get them to kill their brothers over. I don’t see anything analogous here. What would the rallying cry be? “Our budget deficit will look a lot worse if we let them leave!”

          • Nornagest says:

            Onyomi didn’t specify a reason for the split, but there’s enough unpleasant stereotypes of the South in general and Texas in particular that whatever the explicit motive was, anyone who wanted to come up with nefarious alleged motives would have little trouble.

            The first one I can think of would be something along the lines of “racist Dallas fat cats want to take their oil money and run”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Larry Kestenbaum
            >>especially in a case like this where there’s no Great Cause like ending slavery to provide motivation.

            >I’m sorry, I’m really, really getting tired of this. “Great Cause”?

            Aside from WWI and WWII, most recruiting efforts in the US have needed a “Great Cause”.

            Working backwards: “Iraqi Freedom”, “War on Terrorism”, Kosovo (which I agreed on), Saving Vietnam, Saving Korea, “The International Communist Conspiracy” — and “Preserving the Union”, “That Democracy Shall Not Perish from the Earth”, and a little later “Ending Slavery”.

          • I wasn’t being saarcastic; I genuinely think ending slavery was a great cause, the kind of thing you could rally people around and get them to kill their brothers over.

            But that is not what happened. The North did not go to war to “end slavery”.

            I keep pointing this out, but I guess the actual complicated history can’t be allowed to get in the way of whatever simplistic political point is being made.

    • Acatalepsy says:

      Mu.

      This isn’t a question that can be answered in anything like a realistic way, because the underlying scenario is so very, very, very improbable (to the point that I’d say “impossible” in casual conversation).

      Even assuming the impossible…I still don’t think it’s something that can be discussed coherently. Even if we assume ‘Texas is seceding’ as a brute fact…it means quite a few underlying assumptions are broken and we need to revisit those. This isn’t quite a ‘my arm is now a blue tentacle’ event (there’s always a reasonably strong possibility that I am deeply biased/wrong/crazy in a political way), but it’s still the kind of thing that means a deep reworking of beliefs about politics (when those beliefs are exactly the things I’d need to generate predictions like ‘will the government use force’).

      I mean…does someone else have a particularly high (ie, greater than a tenth of a percent) estimate of Texas seceding for any reason by 2020?

      • onyomi says:

        I think the question can be answered, because it isn’t about the specifics. It’s about gauging the ratio of commitment to anti-secession attitudes versus anti-waging a war on your own people attitudes.

        My contention is that the average American today is vaguely anti-secession, but not anti-secession enough to stomach a war to prevent it, as they were in the 1860s.

        • FJ says:

          Lots and lots (and lots!) of 1860s Americans had the exact same view, too. They turned out to be wrong. Sam Houston said it best:
          “These men who talk of a united South, know well that it begets a united North. Talk of frightening the North into measures by threats of dissolving the Union! It is child’s play and folly. It is all the Black Republican leaders want. American blood, North nor South, has not yet become so ignoble as to be chilled by threats. Strife begets strife, threat begets threat, and taunt begets taunt, and these disunionists know it. American blood brooks no such restraints as these men would put upon it. I would blush with shame for America, if I could believe that one vast portion of my countrymen had sunk so low that childish threats would intimidate them. Go to the North, and behold the elements of a revolution which its great cities afford. Its thousands of wild and reckless young men, its floating population, ready to enter into any scheme of adventure, are fit material for demagogues to work upon. To such as these, to the great hive of working population, the wily orator comes to speak in overdrawn language of the threats and the words of derision and contempt of Southern men. The angry passions are roused into fury, and regardless of consequences they cling to their sectional leaders. As well might the Abolitionists expect the South to abandon slavery, through fear that the North would go out of the Union and leave it to itself.”
          “Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

  10. ashamed says:

    I think I might be addicted to your blog. In a literally (but mildly) unhealthy way.

    But anyways, thanks for the stuff man. It’s real good. I’ll be back….

    • anonymous says:

      Yup. Join the group. Except I’m addicted to surfing blogs in general. They can’t be too technical, but neither can they be too banal and crass. Sometimes this blog makes the list.

  11. NN says:

    I was going to post this in response to one of the above threads on self-driving cars, but I think it deserves its own thread. I’ve recently done some research that has convinced me that self-driving cars and trucks are not going to legally be allowed to drive unmanned on city streets and maybe even highways any time soon, and that for the foreseeable future “self-driving” technologies are only going to be used to create increasingly advanced driver assistance features, similar to the way that autopilot systems are used in modern aircraft.

    I already knew that the technology to fully automate planes has existed for decades. But then I learned that the first fully automated train was built in 1961. Which means that we’ve had the technology to create conductorless trains for 54 years. Yet most trains still have conductors, even freight trains that don’t carry any passengers. These are vehicles that move on fixed rails, and at every place that these rails intersect with roads there are barriers, flashing lights, and sirens to warn bystanders when they approach. They’re basically the easiest and safest kind of terrestrial vehicle to automate, but very few people have bothered to do so in more than five decades.

    The few trains that are automated suggest the reason why: there are some underground and elevated passenger trains around the world that are fully automated (though they usually have manual override brake buttons that staff can use). That is, these are trains that move on rails that members of the general public aren’t allowed to walk or drive on, meaning that if someone gets hit by one of these trains, it is 100% their fault for ignoring the damn sign.

    I think that’s the key here: not so much whether robot vehicles are actually safer than manned vehicles, but who is to blame when an accident does happen. If a human driver makes a mistake and runs someone over, then that guy can be charged with vehicular manslaughter and the buck stops there. But if a self-driving car runs someone over due to a software glitch, then it is the fault of the company that made the car and programmed the software. Even if the company can survive the resulting lawsuit, the inevitable media circus will ensure that their brand will forever be associated with the tragedy. That’s the sort of thing that companies will spend any amount of money to avoid.

    Unmanned aircraft also seem to follow this general pattern, as civilian drones are too small to do much damage if they crash into anything and military drones are already expected to regularly cause “collateral damage.”

    If people aren’t willing to let a computer drive a train outside of very controlled environments, I don’t see any chance at all of them letting a computer drive a car on roads that it will have to share with drunk human drivers, pedestrians, pedestrians who ignore “Don’t Walk” signs, jaywalkers who don’t even bother with crosswalks, emergency vehicles, construction workers, and kids playing in the street.

    Which isn’t to say that self-driving technologies won’t be useful. They’ll probably do a lot to reduce accidents, and might lower the skill requirements, and by extension the pay and cost, of driving jobs once they are good enough that the job description of a taxi or truck driver becomes “watch the computer and override it to pull over if it screws up and/or something unexpected happens.” But I think a lot of the predictions that have been made about them are overblown.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      That’s depressing. Millions of people will die because saving lives incurs the possibility of lawsuits.

      • Matt M says:

        This already happens (although not in the millions scale) in regards to potential medical research breakthroughs.

      • John Schilling says:

        More likely, millions of lives will be saved, because their deaths would be of the sort that is particularly likely to invoke lawsuits. Sometimes the system works. Or maybe it doesn’t, because part of the cost is that hundreds of millions of old and/or disabled people will be denied mobility that could have been provided at a cost of mere millions of lives and the revealed preference of our society is that this is a cost we are willing to pay for the enhanced mobility of healthy people.

        The scenario NN posits, and it is a very plausible one, is of a society where we have human drivers in control of all cars, with all the best automated assistance our technology can provide. We kind of know what that looks like, because the sky is a simpler operating environment than the roads and we consequently already have a few decades’ head start in the field of aviation.

        And in aviation, human pilots in command with the best available automated assistance have given us the safest form of transportation ever developed. Human pilots without automated assistance are less safe to a statistically significant degree, but still do pretty good. Full automation, crashes and burns roughly once per thousand flights under even the best of circumstances.

        NN posits that we will, possibly for the worst of reasons, settle on the solution that we have seen provides the highest possible levels of safety, and everyone here seems to bemoan the supposedly inevitable megadeaths? Would it be too much to ask, given that this is supposedly a group of rationalists, for the actual evidence that fully autonomous AI is going to be safer than human-directed AI in the automotive environment?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @John Schilling:

          This may be orthogonal to your point, but I like to think how safe ground transportation would be if it followed the same rules that air transport did.

          If you had to file a driving plan in advance, stay well away from other vehicles in your pre-approved lane, someone monitored your movement every time you approached a travel hub, and if the vast majority of people-transport-miles was done by professional drivers using the best automation assist software available in mass-transit vehicles, I think the number of ground-transport deaths would be WAY below air deaths per people-mile.

          So, to the extent that automation techniques can take us towards that type of system, millions of lives will be saved, regardless of whether I get to go to sleep at the wheel or not.

          • John Schilling says:

            Those are the rules only for long-distance air transportation. Most airplane flights in the United States are conducted without flight plans, by non-professional pilots, with minimal or no supervision by air traffic control, etc. By essentially the same process as automobile transportation – the person who wants to go someplace, gets in the machine and points it where they want to go using the sophisticated navigation and collision-avoidance technique known as “looking out the window”.

            My daily commute is by private plane, and if I start early enough I can reach my destination – about three miles from LAX – without talking to anyone in the air or on the ground, because there is no one to talk to. Though as a courtesy I do give blind calls on the appropriate frequencies just in case there are other early birds in the sky.

            So, yes, orthogonal. Day-to-day local transportation beyond the rigid routes of bus and rail service, pretty much has to be self-directed by amateurs in small, private machines, We can talk about how much automation they will use, or whether the machines will be privately owned or rented from a fleet operator, etc, but these don’t fundamentally chance much. Long-distance transportation can be clumped together, professionalized, and more thoroughly automated, whether by bus, train, or airline. There’s probably not much harm in letting people who want, use their private local-transport machinery for occasional long-distance trips, though.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:

            Aren’t people-miles dominated by air traffic controlled flights, though? And that is why the safety stats for flight are so good?

            I think if as many people left their house every day in private planes as do in private cars, you would see some pretty horrendous total death numbers. Maybe I’m wrong in that assumption, but I would want some data to prove me wrong.

            I guess you could simply ask for the same, though.

      • Eli says:

        No no no. Saving lives incurs the possibility of stripping human beings of all agency and meaning in life. We all know that’s what happens when you automate stuff. Didn’t you read the comment-chain above about Ian Banks’ The Culture series being a dystopia? Automated work or AI of any form just are dehumanizing and must be prevented. Always. Because Responsibility and Meaning are both Irreducible Normative Principles and much, much, muuuuch more important than preventing easily-preventable deaths.

        No, really. I’m not being at all sarcastic.

        • Mark says:

          Personally, I find non-automated work pretty dehumanizing.
          Maybe it depends how much you enjoy your work.

    • Alraune says:

      How much of that is voluntarily-pursued liability protection, and how much is regulatory capture by the train conductor’s union?

    • whateverfor says:

      I think you’re missing a big piece of the picture: the financialization of current human accidents. Current US auto insurance revenue is 170 Billion dollars a year, or about 700 dollars per American adult. If self-driving cars are substantially safer, there’s a ridiculous amount of money to be made there. Require a license/insurance combo to use the auto-driving feature, charge a couple hundred a year for it, then use your ridiculously gigantic war chest to handle the accidents.

      This doesn’t happen with trains/planes because there are only cost savings, not real safety gains. If above-ground trains had to let any random passenger drive the train and they couldn’t screen for practically blind old/drunkenness/16 year olds/people who have been awake 10+ hours/random morons I guarantee they’d move to fully automatic.

      • NN says:

        It’s not just a question of money. Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you hear “BP”? How about “Exxon”? “Ford Pinto”? Chances are you thought of, respectively, the largest oil spill in history, a somewhat smaller oil spill, and a car catching on fire after a collision.

        When a company’s product is responsible for bad things, their brand can be irreparably damaged. How much money do you think BP executives would be willing to spend to retroactively undo that oil spill? And the first time a self-driving car kills someone will absolutely be a newsworthy event on the level of any of the above.

        With regards to your second point, a lot of the things that people talk about being fully automated, such as taxis and trucks, do screen drivers. So they are, indeed, in a similar situation to train conductors and airplane pilots, though the standards are somewhat lower.

        And I want to make clear here that I am not contrasting self-driving cars with cars that only have manual controls, I’m contrasting self-driving cars that are allowed to operate unmanned on city streets and self-driving cars that require a driver to be present at all times that the vehicle is in motion on public roads. Think of it like a UAV vs. a manned aircraft with autopilot. The latter provides much of the same safety benefits as the former, but potentially makes things even safer by providing redundancy and most importantly provides someone to blame when things do go wrong. When a software glitch does cause problems, if there is a manual override you can always blame the driver for not using that in time.

        But it does mean that you won’t be able to do crazy things like create giant fleets of unmanned robo-taxis, eliminate the entire truck driver profession, or have one family car drop the parents off at work then drive back to ferry the kids to and from school. Even allowing people to operate self-driving cars while drunk would be a very hard sell.

        The main thing I’m objecting to is the sort of sentiment I see in things like the article that Scott linked a month ago that discussed how Nevada is allowing the testing of a truck that drives itself on the highway but still has a human operator at all times with an option for a manual override, then breathlessly wrote, “The replacement of truckers is inevitable. It is not a matter of ‘if’, it’s only a matter of ‘when.'” I’m arguing that no, the historical examples of trains and airplanes show that it very much is a matter of “if,” and may well be a matter of “never.”

        • whateverfor says:

          Sorry, I thought we disagreed more than we actually did, I do think monitored self-driving is all that’s likely to happen in the near term. How well that technology works is going to be the biggest factor in what happens after that.

          I’m just tired of people harping on the liability issue. In similar situations in other industries, it’s not worth it to take the liability risk because you can’t capture much of the gains in safety yourself, but with the heavily financialized market in automobile liability you actually can. Someone will be willing to be the bad guy for billions of dollars, if real gains in safety can be made.

        • Deiseach says:

          And the first time a self-driving car kills someone will absolutely be a newsworthy event on the level of any of the above.

          But the first fatality killed by a train, the first plane crash, the first car crash, did not mean people went “Yup, knew this was a crazy idea” and everyone went back to horses and carts.

          I can’t drive; I’ve never been able to learn, and only a self-driving car (if one comes along before I’m dead) would entice me to get behind the wheel (and given that I’d be unable to drive the vehicle if necessary to switch from autopilot to manual control, this would need to be a genuinely self-driving machine). I don’t think I’m the only person so handicapped (and it is a handicap not being able to drive in modern life). There’s a market out there for those like me: the incapable, the phobic, those dependent on limited public transport (outside of big cities, your public transport choices are ‘once a week on certain routes or nothing’).

          • TheNybbler says:

            Unfortunately we’ve fetishized the value of life to the point where one death (or some small number of deaths) due to a new technology might well result in its abandonment; the old risks are grandfathered in as familiar.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’ve seen it claimed that if aspirin were newly discovered, the FDA would soundly reject it. There’s good reason to think we were more accepting of risk with new modes of transportation back in the day, too.

            Innovation is at odds with safety and certainty. If you work hard to maximize the latter, you will stifle the former. We currently prefer safe, predictable stagnation.

          • FJ says:

            Isn’t the aspirin point related to the fact that we now have safer and equally effective analgesics, so aspirin’s risk-benefit profile no longer qualifies for FDA approval (at least for OTC)?

            “This old drug that has since been supplanted by better alternatives would never have gotten approval if the better alternatives were available first” doesn’t suggest to me that we have become a society of cowards. Especially because plenty of far more dangerous drugs get approved to treat sufficiently dangerous ailments. See, e.g., dacarbazine, which you should not handle without eye protection and a face mask, and which is injected directly into a cancer patient’s heart.

    • I think there’s a significant problem to consider in using trains for calibration of acceptance times. Trains are huge pieces of equipment whose cost dwarfs the cost of paying the conductor. With cars that’s not the case. The labour spent on driving cars is huge, which means there is massive gains to be had through the automation. Of course, carting 80kg humans around in 800kg vehicles is still pretty high on the scale of stupid, so hopefully there will also be opportunities to move to more efficient alternatives in the future too.

  12. Mark says:

    Does utilitarianism provide us with utility? Are the principles of libertarianism consistent with liberty?
    In both cases, the answer depends on people’s likely attitudes to the systems themselves: if enough people find utilitarianism itself to be repugnant, then the utilitarian system cannot increase utility; if enough people oppose libertarianism, such a system cannot sensibly be said to increase liberty.
    Where we attempt to use systems like libertarianism or utilitarianism as foundational ethical principles, we are at best making a statement that is true in the same sense as “this statement is true” (only if people believe it to be), at worst saying something that is actively false.
    Personally, I feel that a fundamental law of ethics has to do better than that; it must be tautological.
    An example: “Treat others as you wish yourself to be treated.” If you squint, make certain assumptions about consciousness, this is a tautology – We have ethical obligations to those who are conscious, because of the fact of their consciousness. However, we can never have any interaction with a consciousness separate from our own. The consciousness of others only ever exists as a part of us… etc etc. If you truly don’t believe someone (thing) to be conscious (an “other”), you can’t really be said to be acting unethically no matter what you do to it.
    The fundamental law is a tautology that by itself tells us nothing about how to act: the details of application depend upon our individual situation and are essentially a matter of taste.
    There are brute facts of external reality (sense data), facts of consciousness, but also important questions with ethical implications that have no definitive answer. We get to choose. The way we should choose is to create within our mind the vision of the world that appeals to us the most. In my opinion, the more an ethical system relies upon abstract concepts the less appeal it is likely to have. Utilitarianism is to fundamental ethical principles as a painting is to aesthetics. It may be a bad painting.

    “You get to choose the world you live in.” If you could choose, wouldn’t your world include this principle?

    • Ever An Anon says:

      This only works if utility and liberty are empty terms which don’t describe any actual characteristic of the world. That may be the case, but you have to demonstrate it first.

      Utility, at least in the economic sense, is a useful term which describes real behaviors. And people can often be wrong about it: Stumbling On Happiness is a whole book filled with experiments where people failed to predict the utility that they would experience from future events and even to retrodict the utility of past events. A utilitarian theory with rules like “keep a diary specifically for how much you enjoyed / hated things” or “ask people currently doing something you plan to do how they feel about it” would absolutely increase utility even if people hated the idea of measuring the marigolds that way.

      Liberty is harder to define, or at least I don’t know of any good definitions of it, but presumably if it refers to anything then it should operate by similar rules. If people think a (higher / lower) minimum wage will increase the liberty of poor people, only to find them less free due to (unemployment / longer working hours), then you have a case where people’s subjective opinions about liberty differ from objective fact. A libertarian theory which gave good advice on regulation would then easily be able to increase liberty even over people’s objections.

      • Mark says:

        To the extent that “utility” is simply a way of describing preferences, I’m sure it is useful – it is also, to some extent, useful to devise ways to satisfy people’s (local) preferences. If that is what utilitarianism is – people have preferences, there are ways to satisfy them, then I’d say it is fairly uncontroversial.
        The problem is when you want to view humans as utility maximizing monsters, or even worse, consider “morally right” to mean maximizing some abstract concept of universal utility.
        The specific problem I was talking about above is that I personally don’t consider either of those ideas to be particularly attractive pieces of mental furniture – that is, maximizing my own utility requires me to reject utilitarianism. If enough people feel similarly, then shouldn’t a utilitarian also reject utilitarianism?

        • Ever An Anon says:

          Well I won’t argue in favor of utilitarianism, since I’m not a utilitarian myself, but I don’t think you’re giving a strong argument against it either.

          As to whether other people not wanting to maximize a global utility function would make utilitarianism self-defeating, unfortunately no consent doesn’t seem to really be a factor in utilitarian thinking. Look up CEV on LW and Elua here on SSC and you’ll see that the main idea among the Rationalist variety of utilitarians is to bypass ‘coordination problems’ by creating a ‘Friendly’ superhuman AI management system. In other words, fixing market failure through central planning.

          Of course there’s no reason utilitarianism has to go down that road. After all, the only coherent measurable definition of utility is the economic one and the prescriptions of the standard model don’t look anything like a top-down technocratic state. But it’s an appealing idea when you’re a smart guy that if you were in charge things would be better, I think we all felt like that at some point.

          • Mark says:

            I don’t understand why this isn’t a strong argument.

            If a majority of people found utilitarian principles to be repellent, and societies based upon those principles made people miserable, then surely the best way to maximize utility would be to avoid utilitarianism as we know it.
            I suppose it would be possible for utilitarianism to then become some other entirely different ethical system, one which would have a broader appeal, but in that case the term “utilitarianism” tells us nothing except: “I’m looking for the ethical system that makes the widest number of people happy.”

          • Mint says:

            Mark, if the majority of people find X repellant, then it doesn’t mean that X is untrue or unsuccessful. It is certainly a lot harder to make society go in a way that X is successful.

            But utilitarianism is not a binary success vs failure system, so a utilitarian-thinking person in a position of wealth or power can still create huge nudging effects, e.g. on how much pain there is in the industrial system.

          • Mark says:

            Let’s say that society consists of ninety-nine deontologists and one utilitarian.

            The strict utilitarian won’t take any action without considering how his behavior might effect the utility of the others in society. The utilitarian might be prepared to kill one member of the community to save twenty others, but if such an act were in fact considered deeply immoral by the community, and would make them miserable, surely the utilitarian would have to go along with the prescriptions of the community’s ethical system.

            As far as ethics are important to us, utilitarianism actually tells us nothing about how to behave.

            Obviously, there might be cases where a utilitarian will behave in the same way as people with different ethical systems – but when push comes to shove, other ethical systems must take precedence.
            [Unless the utilitarian can somehow keep his actions entirely secret (they don’t exist to others).]

          • Mint says:

            Mark, most people are not moral at all, they give lip service to ethics at best and otherwise do what’s good for them and looks acceptable according to common sense morality, which is inconsistent and shifting with zeitgeist.

            You construct unrealistic scenarios; in the real world, utilitarianism is hard and inefficient, but not totally useless. (Though it may well be that endorsing utilitarianism for superficial people is a bad idea.)

          • Alraune says:

            I think that there’s an important distinction to make between what I’ll call “point-form” and “vector-form” political beliefs here. The point-form of Utilitarianism consists of presenting a sweeping narrative in which we calculate Utility and The Utility Program is then put in charge of everything. The vector-form of Utilitarianism is that we should do at least one concrete thing that reorganizes society to be at least one step more like the society where The Utility Program with its perfect rational calculations is in charge of everything. In other words, Utilitarianism and More-Utilitarianism.

            These are obviously very different beliefs when laid out like that, but we call them by the same name, and we do similar things constantly for pretty much every other belief system. There are probably a lot of reasons for this, but I think two of them dominate:

            First, the point-belief acts as a sufficient though unnecessary condition for the vector-belief. All believers in the Kwizat Haderach are believers in the morality and efficacy of genetic engineering, if you think the right number of government regulations is zero you definitely agree we shouldn’t extend copyright terms, etc.

            Second, even to people who don’t think Shangri-La is real, Shangri-La is a more acceptable destination than Here Be Dragons or “West.” People don’t respect vector-beliefs the way they do point-beliefs, only people trying to countersignal thoughtfulness attest faith in vector-beliefs.

          • Mark says:

            @Mint
            “it may well be that endorsing utilitarianism for superficial people is a bad idea”
            I’m not sure that I agree – it is only if we assume that people are entirely superficial – that what makes them happy can be simply modeled – that utilitarianism can tell us anything about how we should act.
            If people’s internal life and beliefs play a large role in determining their happiness, then the utilitarian project has to become one of finding the set of beliefs that are most consistent with human (alien) happiness. Once we reach that level, I’m not sure that what we have is actually utilitarianism any more.

            Also I’m not sure that the scenario above is all that unrealistic – what percentage of people would define themselves as utilitarians? Granted, most people aren’t thinking about what they are doing most of the time – but when they do, I don’t get the sense that think in a utilitarian fashion.

          • Mark says:

            @Alraune
            “even to people who don’t think Shangri-La is real, Shangri-La is a more acceptable destination than Here Be Dragons or “West.” People don’t respect vector-beliefs the way they do point-beliefs, only people trying to countersignal thoughtfulness attest faith in vector-beliefs”

            Hmmm… really? I’m almost certainly missing something here, but if someone said to me they were going to the west I’d consider that infinitely more sensible than if they said they were headed to Shangri-La. I imagine that most people feel similarly.

            Side note: whatever happened to those people who tried to signal intelligence by being correct?
            Can you counter-signal intelligence by being incorrect?

            This quotation came to mind:

            “The last thing that can be said of a lunatic is that his actions are causeless. If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything.”

          • Alraune says:

            HeelBearCub is coincidentally making a nice demonstration of what I’m describing upthread, griping that libertarians don’t have a sufficiently well-defined utopia and just want less rules than we have now.

            Side note: whatever happened to those people who tried to signal intelligence by being correct?
            Can you counter-signal intelligence by being incorrect?

            Of course you can. What do you think the highly intelligent people who refuse to dismiss alien visitations out of hand are doing? I expect it’s a substantial component of half the fringe views you find on SSC as well. (And remember, signalling behavior isn’t defined in opposition to sincere actions.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Alraune:

            Damnit, now I am going to get dragged (kicking and screaming, I’m sure) into another debate? ;-D

            I agree, broadly, with the point form vs. vector form analysis. But I do think there is some circular logic that frequently occurs.

            Q: Why is vector A appropriate?
            A: Because the vector goes toward point B
            Q: But here are a bunch of bad things about point B.
            A: I’m not saying point B is good in all its aspects, only that vector A is good.

            The argument assume the goodness of point B to justify vector A, and then denies this is what is being done. In the end you are left with no justification for vector A.

            I tend to think that the vector form is the right way, but you need to analyze the vector in terms of many points. The points are in tension with each other, stray to far from any of them and bad things happen.

          • Mint says:

            Mark, I was referring to the memetic hazard posed by naive utiltiarianism when endorsed to superficial people. For example, from a recent LW discussion thread:

            Utilitarianism sometimes supports weird things: killing lone backpackers for their organs, sacrificing all world’s happiness to one utility monster, creating zillions of humans living on near-subsistence level to maximize total utility, or killing all but a bunch of them to maximize average utility.

            This is a cartoon strawman version of utilitarianism that works only in thought experiments with narrow, unrealistic conditions. There are a whole bunch of superficial people who will not cover the inferential distances properly and who perhaps should have simpler moral memes instead.

          • Jiro says:

            The thought experiments are not strawmen.

            — It’s true that they don’t exist in the real world exactly as described, but milder versions of them might–witness Peter Singer’s ideas about charity.
            — If a system produces bad results in some non-real-world cases, I am going to suspect that it produces bad results in real world cases as well–generally, flaws in an ethical system don’t manifest *only* as one isolated weird case.
            — Proving a statement untrue by using extreme cases is how counterexamples work. If utilitarianism produces even *one* bad result, that disproves the statement “utilitarianism is always good”. And few utilitarians claim that utilitarianism is only usually good.

          • Mary says:

            “Can you counter-signal intelligence by being incorrect?”

            Of course. Arguing for wrong things takes a lot more skill and ingenuity than for right things, so it gives you more chances to show off.

            “Truth, Sir, is a cow, which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.” Samuel Johnson

          • Nornagest says:

            Reminds me of Scott’s steelman of Time Cube.

          • Nornagest says:

            If utilitarianism produces even *one* bad result, that disproves the statement “utilitarianism is always good”. And few utilitarians claim that utilitarianism is only usually good.

            The whole point of a philosophy of ethics is to ground “good” and “bad”. We cannot point to a thought experiment, find that its results are bad by consulting some oracle, and declare that that invalidates the philosophy; the only oracle we have is our ethical intuitions, and we already know that those are unreliable.

            (That said, I’m not a utilitarian.)

          • Vamair says:

            All these objections are to the different versions of utilitarianism and at least one of them – the utility monster one – is only bad because of connotations of the word “monster”. If the monster is a galactic supercivilisation, and the other is a nonhuman animal, we’re all too happy to sacrifice all its utility to the monster. Well, even if it’s a human animal, actually.

  13. Peter J. says:

    I don’t know if this is the right place to ask, but I’ve just moved to Paris and don’t know any French. Is there any LW/SSC network here? Anything to point me in the right direction would be really helpful!

    • zz says:

      Can’t help with the network, but in terms of learning language, Duolingo is gorram amazing

    • Emile says:

      Hi Peter, bienvenue a Paris, yes, there are a few SSC readers, I’ve organized most of the LW meetups (including when Scott visited, years ago 🙂 ) and the last ones have been more of LW/SSC meetups, as everybody reads SSC 🙂 )

      You can ping me at flamGIANT RABBITmifer at gmail, but without the GIANT RABBIT.

      I also strongly second the duolinguo recommendation.

  14. Dore says:

    The lateste case of groups/individuals being banned from a certain venue due to political positions. In this case they were going as supporters but aren’t being allowed to go anymore:

    Men’s rights group barred from Toronto’s Pride Parade

    Controversial men’s rights group, the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), has officially been banned from Toronto’s Pride parade, in a decision rendered by Pride Toronto’s Dispute Resolution Process (DRP).

    According to a statement from Pride Toronto, the arbitration process was sparked by numerous complaints regarding the controversial group’s application to march in this year’s parade.

    Pride Toronto faced intense criticism regarding the prospect of CAFE’s participation, critics of the group decrying a misogynist and anti-feminist agenda.

    Though it rejects an anti-feminist label, CAFE has repeatedly been associated with anti-feminist groups, prompting heated protests at its past events.
    And while CAFE continues to claim a commitment to “achieving equality for all Canadians”, including those of the LGTBQ community, many critics insist the group’s values are entirely contrary to that of Pride.

    DRP Arbitrator Paul Bent described a “balancing of interests” in coming to the decision. “I considered CAFE’s response that inclusion, diversity and equality are values the organization shares with Pride versus the numerous complaints filed against CAFE’s participation arguing that CAFE, as an organization and through its affiliation with men’s rights groups, contravenes Pride Toronto’s vision to, “create a safe space to engage communities in the celebration of their sexuality.”

    “I must give the complaints of members of the LGBTTIQQ2SA community precedence when they indicate the participation of CAFE could directly undermine the participation of queer, lesbian and trans women in the Pride Parade,” said Bent.
    The decision bars CAFE’s participation at all future parades and events organized by Pride Toronto.

    After participating in the 2013 parade, CAFE’s 2014 permit to march was revoked days before the event.

    Source
    Related Reddit thread

    • suntzuanime says:

      The quoted article seems to think there’s some contradiction between “achieving equality for all Canadians” and “values entirely contrary to that of Pride”, lol.

      • Anonymous says:

        I bet you think North Korea is a democratic republic of the people, too.

        • Dore says:

          It seems you think CAFE has acted against the interests of an egalitarian society. As far as I know the only things they’ve ever done was promoting the creation of a men’s shelter in Toronto, and speeches and events about male rape and other issues.

          Care to expand on why you think they’ve acted against their ideals?

          • Dore says:

            Welp, I forgot that sex/gender is taboo in the comment sections and can neither edit nor delete my posts. I’ll refrain from further discussing this issue.

        • suntzuanime says:

          You’ve misinterpreted me; I don’t think the US is.

  15. Alex Flint says:

    Scott: You probably have plenty such offers but just to ward off chance of bystander effect, I’m a software engineer and would be happy to help with any technical issues you’re having with this blog. I don’t have any strong views re commenting system etc — this is just an offer to help out with whatever needs doing.

  16. Alex Z says:

    My Facebook feed is repleat with intelligent people resharing low-signal junk that demonstrates their commitment to the cause du jour. Has anyone here successfully convinced others to not do that? I like knowing when those people have interesting things to say (either intellectually or just descriptive of their lives) but I find the endless performance of liberalism annoying. (Performance of other things would also be annoying this just happens to be what I’m facing)

    • Nornagest says:

      You might be able to convince one person to break themselves of the signal boost habit, with a lot of effort, but there’s no way you’re going to do it to an entire Facebook friends list.

      Better to stop it on your end. I’m a fan of the “Hide all from [clickbait site]” option.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        The trouble is, there are so damn many clickbait sites. What FB really needs is a “Hide all external links by [excessively tribalist friend]” option.

        • You can unfollow people on facebook without unfriending them, although this has the downside of missing their updates about personal stuff as well as “12 reasons why you’re evil for enjoying TV shows instead of constantly copmplaining about them”

          • JohannesD says:

            There’s also the “Hide post (see fewer posts like this)” option which sounds like it’s used to teach the news feed algorithm. Whether it’s smart enough to learn the concept of “clickbait sites” I don’t know.

      • Adam says:

        This is what I do. I don’t pretend it’s going to shape anyone’s behavior, because I’m not announcing it, but Facebook is actually pretty good about letting you curate your own feed. After a few weeks of just hiding everything that look remotely like viral clickbait or memo-boosting, you get back mostly to people actually saying things, plus weddings photos and hey my kid just said her first words and what not. Plus, you know the worst offenders and can hide everything that comes from a particular person.

    • Setsize says:

      Half my active interaction with Facebook these days is clicking the “Hide all posts from [clickbait site].” It does feel like whack-a-mole, but eventually it gets my timeline back to updates about people’s actual lives, or things they actually wrote de novo.

  17. Unnecessary but true and kind, I am very very happy

  18. Faradn says:

    I wonder if the subreddit is likely to bring more traffic here, or divert traffic away. I’m thinking probably the former, since there are still a lot of comments here.

  19. Setter says:

    Thinking about the “Answer to Job” post from awhile back, it seems that one method to bring on the End Times is to increase the Evil in the universe until it passes the tipping point for the Creator to allow it to exist.

    A complicating factor is could the Good in another part of universe off-set the Evil in our part?

    • Deiseach says:

      Attempts to immanetize the Eschaton never go well; trying to impose your will over the will of God is magic, not religion. We’ve already been told “No-one knows when it will happen”:

      36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

      Seeing as we’re on religious topics, as predicted I am deriving great amusement from the reaction to the Pope’s encyclical on ecology. I don’t know any of these names (well, I have heard of Fox News) but I think they give a representative flavour (quote collecting not my work, but courtesy of this website):

      ◾Fox News’ Greg Gutfleld — “The most dangerous person on the planet is someone who is seeking strange new respect from their adversaries, and that is what the pope is doing … He wants to be a modern pope. All he needs is dreadlocks and a dog with a bandana and he could be on Occupy Wall Street”
      ◾Breitbart: This is the sort of hackneyed language and extremely dubious science you might expect from a 16-year old trotting out the formulaic bilge and accepted faux-wisdom required these days to pass a fairly typical exam paper in Geography or Environmental Sciences.
      ◾Fox Business’ Stuart Varney: “Will Francis and Barack reshape the world by taxing the rich, taxing fossil fuels, and redistributing the wealth? That’s exactly what they are trying to do.”
      ◾Michael Savage: “I think it is up to the Catholic people to turn their backs on this Pope before it is too late, before they wake up and find out that they are in chains, this man is a Marxist through-and-through,…[Francis was] picked by the New World Order the way Obama was…He is a wolf in pope’s clothing, he is an eco-wolf in pope’s clothing, he’s a stealth Marxist in religious garb…. [Franics] sounds just like the false prophet in Revelation, an ecumenical spiritual figure directing mankind to worship the Antichrist.”
      ◾Alan Keyes: “Yet when I look in the mirror of reason at the reflections Pope Francis offers in his encyclical, what I see looks unlike Jesus Christ (who as of now still comes to save and not harshly to penalize humanity)…But if the climate change allegations against humanity are unproven, the whole push for totalitarian government remediation of the allegedly terrible damage we are inflicting on God’s creation is a slander against the human race, a sin against humanity being committed as a pretext for the rape of human life, human conscience and God-endowed human liberty. This looks awfully like a crime against humanity…”

      Ever heard the expression “More Catholic than the Pope”? I don’t know Alan Keyes or anything about him, but he certainly fits the bill! 🙂

      I am wiping away tears of pride and joy as I read (and I’m a traditional Catholic, not on the progressive wing of the Church by any means). Look, he’s a Jesuit, and a South American Jesuit to boot, what did they expect? 🙂 If anyone cares to know what this latter-day “Communist Manifesto” is all about, it’s the just-released encyclical Laudato Si:

      1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

      2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

      • So there’s this blogger called mundabor I read because I have an unhealthy addiction to Catholic weak men (warning: his method of self-expression gratuitously rude and unpleasant, regardless of what you think of the content of his views.) He referred to Francis as Pope SJW in one of his posts and this is my new favourite thing.

        Pope SJW! Pope SJW! I just find this ENDLESSLY funny.
        https://mundabor.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/laudato-si-meet-pope-social-justice-warrior/

        FWIW I actually feel really uncomfortable with this Pope (over and above my general intense discomfort with the entirety of Catholicism.) I can’t tell what he thinks. Pope Benedict XVI seemed to have a coherent, internally consistent vision of the world, albeit one which I disgree with on multiple fundamental levels. (There is no God; there is no telos; there is no heaven and no hell and telling people there is a hell is montrous.) But like… I feel like I could trust him? Like he was saying the things he said because he thought they were true. He was doing the things he did because he thouht they were right. Whereas Francis… Look, I’m really glad his prioritising the environment because it’s important, climate change is a really serious threat and if he encourages the world’s billion Catholics to get serious about fighting it, yay him. But Francis just seems… off. He seems contradictory and dishonest and, well, Jesuitical. Benedict was a precious cinnamon roll even though he condoned outright fucking evil. Benedict was ingroup. Benedict was a Ravenclaw, dammit! Whereas Francis… sometimes I think he’s a Gryffindor. But most of the time I think he’s a Slytherin pretending to be a Hufflepuff, and not doing a very good job of pretending.

        But this is probaly just hashtag my issues with catholicism let me show you them. And I am feeling a lot more smpathetic to him since conservatives threw their toys out of the pram over Laudato Si. And I should shut my mouth up like a good little consequentialist and just be grateful he’s getting people to care about the planet instead of whining about consistency and my predictions about an imaginary hat’s freaking opinions.

        • Deiseach says:

          Revealing my biases all over the place here 🙂

          Benedict was my pope in the same way that Paul VI was my pope (even though by the time I was aware there was such a thing as “the pope” and who Paul VI was, he died): I understand/understood their minds and ways of thinking and found them congenial or at least understandable and sympathetic.

          John Paul I died too soon for me to have any opinion; John Paul II got the ‘rockstar’ reputation and I am very put off by the adulation a lot of those on the American Right give him for political reasons I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t have shared.

          Francis is hard to get a handle on, and I certainly don’t have the same feeling of “He’s my pope” about him; what I can make out of his thinking is not very congenial to me and I wish he’d stop wearing those awful brown vestments every chance he gets regardless of the liturgical season, but he is the pope so there it is – if he wants to wear 70s era vestments, he can and I have to shut up and put up with it 🙂

          I think (a) he’s a Jesuit (b) he’s South American; more particularly, an Argentinian who was not alone a priest but Provincial of the Jesuit Order in Argentina during the Dirty War. That has to have had a huge effect on his thinking and patterns of behaviour and engaging with those in power.

          I get the impression he’s a lot tougher under the slightly woolly-minded outward persona; possibly presenting himself as harmless if aggravating was a method of navigating between the junta and the various political parties which succeeded them. I don’t know why he keeps shooting his mouth off, so to speak; he should know by now that the media will run with a completely contrary headline to what he actually said, but I do wonder if it’s in reaction to having to be so careful about what he said and how he said it previously. Now he can say what he likes and nobody can tell him otherwise. I think his choice of St Francis as the patron whose name he took for his regnal name is significant. The popular image of St Francis, particularly among the Anglicans (the English like animals better than people, I think) is of the bunny-hugger who loved the little animals and the pretty flowers and was one with Nature – the hippy Francis. Which is not at all the reality of the man who went to Egypt and tried (unsuccessfully) to convert the Sultan during the Fifth Crusade, and who was a stigmatic. I have to wonder does Pope Francis have in mind something of the same contradiction between the popular perception and the theological reality 🙂

          I don’t think he has a plan or a scheme in place for what he wants to do with the papacy/the Church; I think he’s genuinely practicing mindfulness, living in the moment, going with the flow 🙂

          I do get very amused by the fits of the vapours those on the Right (who theoretically should be my tribe) get about how he’s going to destroy the Church and is a Communist and the Anti-Christ and goodness knows what else. I tend to be mildly annoyed by the progressives/the Left wing of the Church who think he’s going to bring in all the Spirit of Vatican II reforms they’ve been awaiting for the past fifty years. He’s not that way inclined, his religiosity is quite traditional – very strong Marian devotion and a huge emphasis on mercy and the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation (Confession).

          I have to admit, for all my personal coolness about the man, it’s an interesting papacy (the first time there has been a living ex-pope and a current pope outside of the Avignon and other rival elections!)

        • vV_Vv says:

          Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was a theology professor and then the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (aka the Inquisition).
          He was accustomed to elaborating a coherent doctrine (as far as a doctrine that includes stuff like the Trinity can be) from first principles and explaining it to his theology students or other bishops.
          Of course, as a Pope whose words reached billion people in the world, including many who have all the incentives to interpret them as uncharitably as possible, this method of communication worked very poorly.
          He said many things that people didn’t want to hear, even if they logically followed from the Catholic doctrine. This made him quite unpopular, especially since the difference with his predecessor Pope John Paul II was striking.

          Pope Francis is in many ways similar to John Paul II: a “rockstar” Pope who will say every time what people want to hear with a big heartening smile on his face.

        • creative username #1138 says:

          I wouldn’t say that conservatives in general hated Laudato Si. Rod Dreher was a big fan.

      • Eli says:

        Magic is religion that has the common decency to bite the bullet of causality and make predictions.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I don’t know who Michael Savage is, but ‘a wolf in pope’s clothing’ is the best mixed metaphor I’ve seen in a long time.

  20. Error says:

    I’m looking for a previous SSC post about the experiences of psychiatric hospital patients. A friend of mine recently spent some time committed and I figure I should (re)educate myself. Does anyone remember which post it was?

  21. Nornagest says:

    Can we get gun politics added to the list of things not to discuss? At this point I think we can say there’s been a lot of heat and almost no light.

    • I don’t mind that people discuss it here, but I certainly agree there wasn’t much constructive discussion on that topic.

    • Alraune says:

      We’ve had reasonably constructive discussions in the past when there wasn’t an extremely recent shooting amping the emotional levels.

      • Nornagest says:

        Fair enough.

        You’d think that would have been a clue, though. We’re not too good at this instrumental rationality thing, are we? At least as regards people being wrong on the Internet.

    • Godzillarissa says:

      If this topic blacklisting continues, it might be more practical to just state what can be discussed. That way we wouldn’t need to add unpleasant memes and various people’s pet peeves to the list all the time.

      • Nornagest says:

        To be fair to Scott, I’m pretty sure the doge ban was a joke. And I’m saying that as someone that dislikes doge almost as much as Scott does.

    • Deiseach says:

      I have to say, I do feel mildly alarmed that the arguments against gun control seem to boil down to “No you can’t compare America to elsewhere because America is a crazily violent society, because Americans are crazily violent and always have been, and everyone needs to be tooled up with shooting irons in case some crazy person with a gun starts shooting in their vicinity, so the good law-abiding citizens can shoot them dead first”.

      And how can we tell the difference between the crazy/criminal person with their legally held gun and the decent law-abiding citizen with their legally held gun? Well, it comes down to if they start shooting up a school or something. I still remember the incredulity I felt when you lot felt incredulity that there had never been an Irish school shooting; that this was regarded as “normal”.

      I didn’t think American Exceptionalism meant America was exceptional in that way.

      • John Schilling says:

        This is not an accurate description of the United States of America, or of American gun owners. And it is not, I think, anything that could come out of a charitable reading of the comments of Americans here.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Deiseach – …My first instinct was rebuttal, but it seems uncouth to continue debating in a thread expressing displeasure over the debate.

        You know how sometimes people talk about Catholics, only they’ve probably never actually met or interacted with a Catholic and have no familiarity with the Church’s practices and history at all, but because they’ve seen a bunch of shows and movies and newspaper articles where Catholics were portrayed as backwards hypocritical superstitious cultist idiots they feel entitled to regurgitate all that crap and pass it off as an informed opinion on the Catholic-adjacent topic of the day? And you hear that, and you know a) exactly which comedian they’re ripping their lines from, b) exactly why that comedian was an asshole for delivering that line in the first place, and c) the complex, nuanced reality behind the whole thing that people are ignoring in favor of a cheap, vulgar laugh?

        And then you swallow the first several responses that come to mind, count to ten, and then start putting together a calm, polite reply to set them straight, but you already know the answer is going to be some variation of “you mad, bro?” Because it doesn’t matter to them, it’s not actually part of their world. They’re just making small-talk, and the way they’re exposing their ignorance and casual malice toward an important part of your life is just one of those unconscious cruelties we all inflict on the rest of the world every day. But you make the comment anyway, because it’s that or stew in your own frustration, right?

        Gun control is a topic that people have been arguing and studying for fifty years now. No one in the entire thread above has actually brought up a single new idea. All the questions asked have a shit-ton of data available to answer them, laws that have been passed and repealed and their effects analyzed, studies carried out and then replicated over and over again. The problem is, people don’t like the answer that keeps coming out of all this research, and so they pretend that the issue is some goddamn impenetrable mystery because doing otherwise would mean killing the only “solution” they’re willing to accept.

        In the off-chance that you are interested in the best answers available to your musings, I’d reiterate that the best concise introduction to the current state of the evidence is here:
        http://www.guncite.com/journals/gun_control_katesreal.html
        …and an analysis of how the early years of the debate is here:
        http://www.guncite.com/journals/tennmed.html#fn*
        If you or anyone else think these are bad research, I’d love to have better.

        …My apologies for my tone. It’s frustrating, you know? Now, having unintentionally recapitulated the arguments of both the Microaggression crowd and the climate change movement, I retreat with neither poise nor dignity.

        • Gbdub says:

          Since FacelessCraven didn’t quite say it outright, in their analogy, I assume Catholics = gun enthusiasts and everyone else = everyone else.

          And as both a (lapsed) Catholic and a gun enthusiast, I couldn’t agree with the analogy more. The degree of ignorance most casual (and even a lot of serious) gun control advocates have regarding guns and the people who own them is remarkable, and remarkably frustrating. To them, banning guns is trivial, because they don’t own guns, don’t really want to, and can’t imagine why anyone else would want to unless they are some kind of nut (sub “superstitious Jesus freak” in the analogy).

          The good news is that taking a mild anti-gunner to the range seems to cure the ignorance, and often infect them with the gun bug, pretty quick. In that sense gun nuts have it better, because, apologies to the Pope, but unloading a mag of .45 is much more viscerally satisfying than a Catholic mass.

      • Tarrou says:

        If those are the “boiled down” arguments you are getting, I must not be writing very well. We tend to answer the arguments made against us, and having easily demolished every other silly false trope, there is a real difference in murder rates between the US and western europe. Here you go, in order:

        1: At the practical level: Gun control isn’t well designed and almost never does what people think it does. This may be because the people who hate guns also don’t know much about them. Think the “assault weapon” ban we had. It would be as if people decided drivers speeding was a major problem, and got together and banned spoilers on cars. Nothing to do with the functionality of the weapons, just cosmetic BS. And since that law sunsetted, we know that it had no effect whatsoever on crime or shootings. And I deeply resent the constant claim that we have “unregulated” firearm ownership when there are over seventy thousand gun laws on the books at the moment. If gun control supporters couldn’t solve the violence problem with the first seventy thousand cracks at it, why should we believe that the next proposal will be the one that works?

        2: At the legal level: The second Amendment is a real thing, it is a basic civil right in this nation. No matter how much people may wish it didn’t say what it says, it is the supreme law of the land. There is a mechanism for changing it, it can be repealed, but I almost never hear calls for that. If gun control supporters want to get to their end-stage goal of no guns, the constitution has to be changed. Simple as that. And I will resist that.

        3: The moral level: I believe in the right of all people to self-defense, and because of this, in the democratization of the means of violence. In the absence of effective, easy to use weapons, violence is the prerogative of those born with the physical capacity for it. Here I argue against my own self-interest, because I am a relatively young, in shape, well trained male. Firearms level the playing field. The old, the female, the sick and the disabled can all pull a trigger. And no one outruns bullets. Without conceding that this is actually the real-world case, I would be willing to trade a certain increase in overall violence to give everyone access to it.

  22. Adam says:

    Supreme Court says states can block Confederate flag license plates

    This is making the rounds on Facebook now, same day as the #takeitdown hashtag. Not sure how I feel, personally. I don’t generally like restricting how people celebrate their history, even when I think it’s a stupid history, but the state itself issues license plates, so there seems no good reason a state can’t restrict its own speech, which is the court’s reasoning. Is this motivated reasoning? I live in Texas, but my family was here way before it was annexed by the U.S. and I’m no fan of the CSA.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s a pretty empty symbolic gesture, but I agree with the court that it’s not meaningfully coercive, and we could use some empty symbolic gestures about now. I’m okay with it.

    • CJB says:

      Not…really?

      I’m a civil libertarian recovering from being a for real libertarian.

      And essentially, the state must PERMIT beliefs but is not required to PROMOTE them (forbidden, in some circumstances.)

      So if I invent the fuckadillyo political party whose flag is an racist caricature of an Indian man saying “Heapum biggum wampumum”- it would be an infringement of my free speech to ban it. It’d be an infringement to keep me from putting their flags up in my house or yard, carrying signs on the street corner, running for political office- in other words, it cannot act AGAINST me.

      But it isn’t required that the state pay for my gasoline to drive around handing out Fuckadillyo pamphlets. Nor that they fly my flag, pass out my pamphlets, or put my symbols on their official license plates.

      • Tarrou says:

        All well and good……..unless the state also flies the flag of every other political party, and pays their gasoline costs (matching funds) and puts GOP and Democrat plates up for sale. Then it is “viewpoint discrimination”.

        The state can avoid all this, but usually they don’t.

    • Jiro says:

      I think it’s clearly motivated reasoning. The rationale is that the state can prohibit such plates because the state is making the speech. Taking that seriously means that the state is making speech preferring one football team or burger restaurant over another, or opposing abortion.

      • Adam says:

        That’s a good point. It very straightforwardly isn’t the state making speech. I guess it feels okay because a license plate is state-issued, state property, same as a license, so they can put whatever the heck they want on it, but as soon as they allow one thing, it does seem they should allow anything. Didn’t this come up in New York City recently about advertising on city buses?

        • Gbdub says:

          That’s the sticky thing – to my mind, once you’ve opened up special license plates to any sufficiently large group of people that want one, creating content based restrictions on the plates becomes problematic.

          If it had always been “these plates are strictly curated and while we may choose to accept any proposal we particularly like, we reserve the right to deny any proposal that the State of Texas does not endorse”, that seems to make it more clearly Government speech. But it would probably require restricting the plates much further than their current number.

    • I’ve not normally been a big fan of Justice Alito, but I think he’s got it right on this one. It’s no more government speech than your post here is Scott’s speech.

      Sorry for the big quote from his dissent, but he really nailed it…

      Here is a test. Suppose you sat by the side of a Texas highway and studied the license plates on the vehicles passing by. You would see, in addition to the standard Texas plates, an impressive array of specialty plates. (There are now more than 350 varieties.) You would likely observe plates that honor numerous colleges and universities.

      You might see plates bearing the name of a high school, a fraternity or sorority, the Masons, the Knights of Columbus, the Daughters of the American Revolution, a realty company, a favorite soft drink, a favorite burger restaurant, and a favorite NASCAR driver.

      As you sat there watching these plates speed by, would you really think that the sentiments reflected in these specialty plates are the views of the State of Texas and not those of the owners of the cars? If a car with a plate that says “Rather Be Golfing” passed by at 8:30 am on a Monday morning, would you think: “This is the official policy of the State—better to golf than to work?” If you did your viewing at the start of the college football season and you saw Texas plates with the names of the University of Texas’s out-of-state competitors in upcoming games— Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, the University of Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State—would you assume that the State of Texas was officially (and perhaps treasonously) rooting for the Longhorns’ opponents? And when a car zipped by with a plate that reads “NASCAR – 24 Jeff Gordon,” would you think that Gordon (born in California, raised in Indiana, resides in North Carolina)1 is the official favorite of the State government?

      The Court says that all of these messages are government speech. It is essential that government be able to express its own viewpoint, the Court reminds us, because otherwise, how would it promote its programs, like recycling and vaccinations? Ante, at 5–6. So when Texas issues a “Rather Be Golfing” plate, but not a “Rather Be Playing Tennis” or “Rather Be Bowling” plate, it is furthering a state policy to promote golf but not tennis or bowling. And when Texas allows motorists to obtain a Notre Dame license plate but not a University of Southern California plate, it is taking sides in that long-time rivalry.

      • Deiseach says:

        They shouldn’t have permitted “vanity plates” or customised plates in the first place, but since they couldn’t resist the lure of making money off people vain enough to want something splashier than a bumper sticker, they really can’t start objecting now.

        The problem is that there always had to be an element of censorship, else you’ll get some tosser with the equivalent of “Ivor Biggun” on his car. So – is the Confederate Flag hate speech or legitimate American history? Discuss.

        (Licence plates are done differently over here; we don’t renew them every year, we pay road tax instead which is signified by a paper tax disc displayed on the inside of the windscreen.)

        • Tarrou says:

          As a northerner whose Irish ancestors died by the dozen in the civil war, and a history major, I despise the confederacy. The “state’s rights” argument wasn’t relevant to them, the only “right” they were interested in was the owning of human slaves. I recommend the book “The Apostles of Disunion”, a collection of speeches made by those favoring secession to the state legislatures to convince them to join the confederacy. It is quite clear by the arguments they used to convince each other, and the fact that these arguments were successful, what the real and only goal was.

          The confederacy was a treasonous plot to split a nation in order to continue enslaving millions of human beings. It has a grand total of zero moral worth and WT Sherman is the greatest American in history.

          And I fully support the legal right of fucktards to self-identify by waving its flag. It lets me know who I don’t need to pay any attention to.

          • Jiro says:

            Do you also believe that Al Qaeda has zero moral worth? Or Hamas? And that anyone who did to Afghanistan or Gaza what Sherman did to the South would be a similar hero? Or is Hamas exempt because they just want all the Jews dead or paying Jizya instead of enslaved?

            It’s okay to say “some people are valueless and doing anything to them is morally right”. Just as long as you understand the implications of that.

          • JE says:

            I’m sure people would be more accepting of actions taken against HAMAS if they thought there was any possibility of them being in a position to do *anything* to all Jews.

          • Tarrou says:

            Jiro, I think you read me slightly uncharitably, and Sherman perhaps moreso. If anyone in modern times treated an enemy populace as civilly as Sherman did he’d be fired for incompetence and suspected of collaboration. His treatment of the south was horrible only by the incredibly gentle notions of mid-19th century warfare.

            But to answer your question, yes. Al Quaeda as an organization has no worth, and those members who have participated in their atrocities have forfeited any claim to my sympathy or forbearance. I would end them. Gaza is a better comparison, and yes, I have long said Israel should have read their Machiavelli in 1948. We could all be properly disapproving about the horrible crime and never know what hundreds of years of bullshit conflict had been avoided thereby. Sometimes the smart thing is not the moral thing.

            As to the moral value of individuals, I maintain that all people have moral worth, modified by their behavior. Some behavior makes you a liability to the human race, and a swift death is the best possible outcome for both that person and the rest of the world.

        • Deiseach says:

          I sympathise with your troubles about the different paperwork, and that’s one of the problems with the libertarian notion of private systems.

          Do away with government, and let every private road-builder build and maintain their stretch of road and charge a toll to the users, and you’ll have a patchwork of systems like the one you describe. I think part of the beef Americans have with government, in a way other countries don’t, is that they’re caught between a system of every two-streets-and-a-horsetrough village being able to raise its own revenue via taxes or things like traffic fines, and the state plus federal government taxes on top of that. Of course it feels like triple or more taxation, it is triple or more taxation!

          E.g. we don’t have sales tax over here, we do have VAT. Now, paying VAT (which was originally supposed to be a supplementary ‘luxury goods’ tax) on things like electricity or what have you is a pain in the arse, but I think I would resent it even more mightily did I live in someplace like New York where, on top of the state government charging me tax on my purchases, I then also had to pay a “sales tax” as well. I think it’s the inconsistency as much as anything that’s aggravating – or at least, so it appears to an outsider 🙂

        • Matt M says:

          You’re describing a terrible government system and claiming that private industry would be the same way. But did it occur to you that automobile registration is complex because the government is running it, and not because it’s inherently complex?

          I’m curious as to whether you can give me an example of a relatively unregulated industry that exhibits these problems you anticipate. Did you notice that Pepsi and Coke both come in 12 oz cans? That you can buy a cell phone and it can work on many different carrier networks, and that you can call people on other carrier networks with no problem? That your Xbox will work with any brand of TV?

          Private industry is HUGELY incentivized to come together on common standards and practices because that’s what customers prefer, and private industry actually has to appease customers.

          Government has no such incentive. They create a byzantine system of competing regulations and jurisdictions and refuse to make it easy for you because they can. You have no choice but to deal with them. Why should they bother making it easy for you?

        • BBA says:

          Instant messaging is almost totally unregulated and each IM network is a walled garden, incapable of sending messages to any other. There have been a few bridges in the past but nothing like telephones.

          Meanwhile, every toll road operator in the Northeast and as far west as Chicago has settled on the EZPass toll-tag standard, despite being mostly government-owned and operated. (The few privately operated toll roads I know of were on EZPass before privatization.) And if anything, state and local governments in the Northeast tend to be even more petty, incompetent, and corrupt than those in the West, so this isn’t a wholehearted defense of governmental action. It’s just overly simplistic to say “government bad, business good” and insist the market will instantly solve any issues that come up.

        • Matt M says:

          I feel like EZpass is actually a good example of my point. It’s a private system with many public customers. But because it’s a private system, the customers can come and go at their leisure. The fact that most government agencies use EZpass is a function of EZpass being a good system that people want to use. But if they were taken over by a bunch of corrupt and/or incompetent people, the product would suffer and the customers could freely move to something else.

          Contrast this to airport security, a public system with private customers, which HAS been taken over by the corrupt and incompetent. As horrendously terrible as the TSA is, the airports are powerless to do anything about it. They’re stuck with this nonsense. And sure, if they had freedom in this regard, you might end up with a situation where JFK and O’Hare have wildly different security procedures, which could be an annoyance for passengers. But that’s still probably a better system than “everyone is stuck with this terrible service because the government says you have to use it”

        • BBA says:

          In what meaningful sense is EZPass a private system? It’s an intergovernmental cooperative owned by the member toll agencies. (Yes, the transponders are made by a private company. The TSA’s metal detectors are too. That doesn’t make the TSA private.)

        • Matt M says:

          I must have misread your post. I’m only vaguely familiar with EZpass as I’ve never really lived anywhere where tolls are common.

          I assumed it was a private company doing the operating. If that’s not true, my point still stands though. If EZpass becomes awful, can the various toll roads get out of it and switch to something else?

          My OVERALL point here isn’t that governments will never embrace a standard – it’s that there is no evidence to suggest that private companies are somehow more likely to refuse to cooperate and come together on a standard than government is.

        • Dore says:

          @Matt M

          >You’re describing a terrible government system and claiming that private industry would be the same way. But did it occur to you that automobile registration is complex because the government is running it, and not because it’s inherently complex?

          You seem to think that just because a certain project is being done by the government then it means that it’ll go bad but that market forces will somehow compel companies to provide quality services/goods.

          If you look at an anedoctal example of a government managed project and sees that it is going bad it means it is into strong evidence and considering it to be so is nothing but confirmation bias. Seeing something your theory claims to predict and claiming it is evidence of your theory whilst ignoring all the other andoctal evidence to the contrary is confirmation bias.

          The phone standards you mention, for example, were pioneered by ITU, an UN agency which counts almost 200 nation-states as voting members (plus private orgs that can’t vote). Even the most recent standards, such as 4G, had their technical definitions set up by ITU (and, just as an example, the current 4G standard as implemented doesn’t meet the requirements to be 4G but is inferior to it. Due to sales needs, however, companies have petitioned to market it as being 4G. Now ITU has defined the “4G as definition” as being “True 4G” and companies will surely sell it as being 5G in a few years time).

          So as you see, the fact that your phone will work on several different carrier networks has nothing to do with phone companies willingly converging to the same format but everything to do with a central organization solving coordination issues by virtue of its members being able to pass laws and regulations. When governments sell the rights-of-use to a certain EM spectrum (say 2.5Ghz, 1.0Ghz) they don’t just sell them to the companies that pay more, they set certain bands for specific technologies and companies are thus obliged to make use of certain bands for certain technologies. This allows everyday AM and FM radio not to obstruct airplane communications, for example, and allows 3G and 4G networks not to obstruct each other.

          Another example: in South Korea there is a single socket standard in use, by virtue of regulation. This means that the public can buy several different phones and they don’t need to come with a charger, reducing costs to the custommer. The custommer can buy chargers from several different companies and they’ll all work on the same sockets. If his phone charger breaks up one can just buy a new one, the cheapest one or the prettiest one or the one with the most features, knowing that it’ll work on his socket back home. Contrast this with some developing nations where there is no set standard, the sockets are multiuse and will allow a variety of different plugs but often there is a need to have two or more different sockets installed in a single room. If one’s charger breaks up he must buy it from a certain company, at overcharged prices, and if the company has stopped producing a certain model and there are no more in stock then the consummer has to either find a used one somewhere or buy an entirelly new equipment to replace the functioning old one that won’t work!

          Another example, Brazil has both private and public universities. The public ones are free of charge, there is no tuition and you don’t get in debt over it (at most an admission fee that costs 50~200 BRL and poor people are exempt to pay). The private ones range quite wildly in both price and status, from ~2,500 BRL/year all the way up to ~110,000 BRL/year, with monthly payments. Despite this you can easily check what the best universities in the country are. The top 6 are 100% government funded. Out of the top 10, only 2 are private. Not only they excell within their country, in Latin American ranks, 3 out of the top 5 are public. 7 out of the top 10 are public, irrespective of country.

          Denying that governments can, yes, provide quality services is denying, for example, Finland which has public, free education from pre-kindergaten all the way up to Masters and PhDs at a budget of just € 11.1 billion. Compare that to the endowement of, say, Harvard University, US$ 35 billion, or the Ivy League, US$ 100 billion. It also excels in universal, quality healthcare with over 88% satisfaction rate at costs usually between € 15~30. The private healthcare sector has a share smaller than 5%.

          I’m not using these facts, however, to “prove” that government works and is great, but if your measure is anedoctal evidence then we can get it for both sides if we’re willing to not ignore the side we don’t like. Sure, private companies have been able to do things that governments haven’t been able to, but the contrary is also true and just because something is being done by the government doesn’t mean it won’t work.

      • grendelkhan says:

        This seems to kind of be missing the point. The state isn’t exactly endorsing golfing, but it’s saying that it has no particular issue with golfing. So it has to stick to inoffensive things; I double Alito would see nothing wrong with a plate with a swastika or a golliwogg on it. (Pro-life plates have been the subject of lawsuits going either way in different regions.) Or, I suppose, to make it more personal, something poignantly anti-Catholic.

    • onyomi says:

      What I wish they had done in SC after the shooting would be not to have taken down the Confederate flag, but to have flown it at half mast, along with the others. If you take it down when you fly other flags at half mast, then that is a tacit admission that the flag is a symbol of anti-black racism. Otherwise, why take that flag down specifically when a tragedy befalls black people? If the flag is a symbol of anti-black racism then it should not be flown at all.

      But we know not flying the flag at all probably isn’t going to “fly” in SC, and, I think, with good reason. There are reasons to be proud of the Confederacy: fighting for self-determination, state’s rights, Southern culture, the founding principles of the US (which Lincoln trampled–no state joining the union thought they’d be attacked militarily if they ever tried to leave), etc. The Confederacy was very wrong on slavery, but they were right about the right of self determination. What would we have thought if Scotland had voted for independence and Great Britain had attacked them?

      And guess what, my family includes Irish immigrants and people who died and fought for the South, and none of them were slave owners. They thought they were fighting for freedom, just like the Revolutionary War fighters. And yes, I find it incredibly offensive to say their sacrifice had “zero moral worth,” or to call a butcher like Sherman “the greatest American in history.”

      Of course there is one very big reason to be ashamed of the confederacy: that many of its leaders, if not its rank and file, were only fighting for the liberty to oppress people further down the totem pole. As a pro-self determination Southerner, I am ashamed of that aspect of the confederacy, but not everything they fought for. Therefore, ideally, I’d like to see that flag “detoxified.” And one way to do that would be to fly it at half mast when a tragedy befalls black people. To do so would be to say “this isn’t a white people flag, it’s a Southern people flag.”

      And what would piss off real racists more? Taking down the flag for a week, or flying it at half mast for black people? I think it’s the latter, because that’s weakening their symbol. If you take it down, even permanently, you won’t take it out of the public consciousness; it will only become more and more toxic and more and more beloved of extreme racists. Conversely, imagine how annoyed the real racists would be if black southerners started sticking it on their cars! And then you could tell apart those who really like the flag as a symbol of heritage, and those who like it as a covert symbol of racism. If seeing black Southerners fly the flag pisses you off, you belong in category 2!

      Or maybe it’s already too toxic to be saved and must be consigned to the realm of the swastika, etc. I don’t think so, but maybe it is. But in that case just take it down for good, not temporarily.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        a butcher like Sherman

        And what does that mean?

        • onyomi says:

          Exactly what it says.

          “We are not only fighting armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect.”

          And Southerners are the “traitors” for trying to leave a nation whose generals considered their civilians “a hostile people”?

          • Montfort says:

            I don’t intend to make light of the extensive property damage Sherman caused (estimated by himself at $100 million in 1865 dollars, or about $1.5 billion today), but traditionally “butcher” is used for someone who kills excessively. Your quote doesn’t really speak to that.

          • onyomi says:

            Uh, it’s not just about property damage, it’s about waging total war on a people who are supposedly part of your own country.

          • Montfort says:

            I am still not clear on the wordchoice with “butcher”. Do we disagree that it implies unnecessary killing of some kind, or have you made that allegation and I just haven’t seen it?

          • onyomi says:

            I think the term is often applied generally to any very brutal military commander. Maybe a bit hyperbolic, as in, not Pol Pot, but so too is it hyperbolic to call him the greatest American in history, even if you like him. In that spirit, I will backtrack and offer Sherman this award:

            https://slatestarcodex.com/blog_images/worst2.jpg

          • Matt M says:

            Maybe not THE literal worst but he’s probably at least in the Top 5, right?

            I mean you don’t raze an entire state without quite a few people dying from it.

            So who would the worst be, then? Truman for dropping the bomb seems like an easy winner, but after that I’m not sure who to go with…

          • Douglas Knight says:

            What do you mean by “brutal”?

            The “butcher” imagery is killing easy targets: civilians, surrendering soldiers, etc. I thought you were interested in language.

            If you think that the war was unjust, condemn all the generals equally. It seems to me that you single out Sherman because of his competence. But it appears to me that that very competence saved maybe 50,000 lives, compared to the alternative.

            Added: wiktionary gives “relentless” as a definition of “brutal.” That certainly applies to Sherman, but I don’t think anyone would use it that way in a military context.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t believe that “following orders” or “doing one’s job” shifts or eliminates moral culpability. When it comes to doing bad things, incompetence is better than competence.

            The idea that he “saved” lives smacks of the argument I always hear in favor of A-bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “well, we *saved* lives, you see, because we didn’t have to invade the Japanese mainland.” I’m sure that’s very reassuring to the Japanese. From their perspective, of course, what America “should” have done is to not attack at all.

            Without commenting on the justice of the specific case of defeating the Japanese empire, I don’t like the style of argumentation which proceeds from an assumption that the initial cause is just. It’s like “given that the Lannisters cannot lose or concede power, killing a bunch of people at a wedding is the nicest thing to do because it saves all these lives which would have been lost in war.” That first assumption effectively forecloses a third option: take a hit to your own power and prestige for the sake of the little guy.

            If you don’t like being in a job which requires you either be incompetent or commit unjust acts, find another job.

          • Jiro says:

            I feel that the people who praise Sherman for being ruthless and effective are engaging in the opposite of isolated demands for rigor. Let’s call it isolated standard for laxity. If, in fact, you approve of the atomic bombings of Japan (plenty of evildoing by World War II Japan, enough that WWII Japan’s evil deeds compare to US slavery), would support Israel razing the Gaza Strip to the ground, and wouldn’t mind seeing Afghanistan become a sheet of radioactive glass, then you can admire Sherman for his effectiveness.

            On the other hand, if you say “wait a minute, the babies killed in the atom bomb blasts had nothing to do with the Nanking Massacre”, then you’ve disqualified yourself from consistently being able to praise Sherman.

            It is my experience that the people who praise Sherman this way are the least likely people to praise these other things.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Onyomi, I strongly disagree. I hold you morally responsible for your falsehoods, regardless of whether you are malicious or stupid.

          • Montfort says:

            Jiro, I think it’s a little disingenuous to claim Sherman’s supporters must, to remain consistent, endorse massive civilian death in the service of any war. This is most specifically because there are no hard figures to attribute an atypical number of civilian deaths to Sherman. What was atypical about Sherman’s march to the sea was the scale of property destruction and confiscation. And this was of course only atypical in the context of the American Civil War. Many wars prior and since outstrip this conduct considerably.

            It is hard to see how, for instance, glassing Afghanistan is comparable in the slightest because it involves killing almost everyone in Afghanistan.

            As for the atomic bombings, many people who disapprove of them do so because they believe they were unnecessary to coerce surrender, not because they were “too effective”.

            I will agree that there are a surprising number of Sherman sympathizers who would normally never think of endorsing a military figure.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Well, I suppose that could be taken to be agreement. But Onyomi is equivocating between deontological evil and consequentialist evil. If competence makes evil worse, he must be talking about consequences. But I find it hard to imagine a definition of evil consequences under which a competent Sherman produces more evil than an incompetent Sherman.

            Jiro, I think you are factually mistaken about Sherman. But leaving aside that example, there is a big difference between the real example you gave and the hypothetical examples. The atom bombs neither razed Japan to the ground, nor turned it to glass.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Oh! I figured it out! I figured out how competent evil is necessarily more evil! Because competent people are praised by future generations.

          • onyomi says:

            “Onyomi, I strongly disagree. I hold you morally responsible for your falsehoods, regardless of whether you are malicious or stupid.”

            I just want to say that I am very disappointed to encounter blatant ad hominem on SSC.

      • Brett says:

        Sherman wasn’t the greatest American in history, but he damn well was the greatest general of the civil war, and one of the people before and during the war who did the most to try and prevent it, by trying to convince the damn fool planters in the South that they had no goddamn chance of winning their fool war, ever. He ended the war, and burning plantations across Georgia is a damn sight better way to do it than murdering three quarters of a million Americans to defend your right to live off the work of slaves.

      • Sylocat says:

        the founding principles of the US (which Lincoln trampled–no state joining the union thought they’d be attacked militarily if they ever tried to leave)

        The south fired the first and second shots of the war.

      • Tarrou says:

        Would you care to substantiate your claims of atrocities against Sherman?

        You can be offended all you like. Your ancestors fought to keep black people slaves. I’d be offended by that too. Doesn’t much change historical facts. Their sacrifice was in the service of a vile and reprehensible cause. Doesn’t mean they weren’t decent folks, but it does mean that their decency cannot sanctify a morally bankrupt endeavor. One may display great intelligence in planning a murder, doesn’t make it morally acceptable.

        The flag has changed symbolism over the years, to where it now is little more than a cultural totem. I know that. Doesn’t change what it meant and still means to those who were on the other side.

      • Matthew says:

        In case people aren’t aware of the history of this, the various state of the former Confederacy have not always had the Confederate flag as an element of their state flags. They started using it in 1954 and subsequent years in response to Brown v. Board. Claims that it is a generic southern “heritage” thing are a motivated appeal to historical amnesia ; the use of the Confederate flag was very much an act of protest against desegregation and in favor of state-sponsored racism.

      • Eli says:

        Well, as a Northerner, we’ll be happy to see you go. We’ve always resented how your nationalist insurgency is supposed to be taken seriously as the controlling force of federal politics.

        Seriously, if the majority party of the federal government wasn’t a Southern nationalist insurgency attempting to cripple the ability of the North to use the federal government as a coordination mechanism, we’d have a lot fewer problems with you guys.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Eli – “Seriously, if the majority party of the federal government wasn’t a Southern nationalist insurgency attempting to cripple the ability of the North to use the federal government as a coordination mechanism, we’d have a lot fewer problems with you guys.”

          Doesn’t it seem pretty easy for one man’s “coordinaton mechanism” to be another man’s “you’re going to do things our way or else”? I mean, yeah, everyone wishes that their political views could carry the field utterly unopposed. But you realize there’s a little more nuance to it than that, right?

          • Eli says:

            Doesn’t it seem pretty easy for one man’s “coordinaton mechanism” to be another man’s “you’re going to do things our way or else”? I mean, yeah, everyone wishes that their political views could carry the field utterly unopposed. But you realize there’s a little more nuance to it than that, right?

            I’m not talking about my views carrying the field unopposed. That wouldn’t happen, even if the South didn’t exist: not enough Northerners are socialists for that.

            But, what I can validly want at a meta-level without your having a right to complain is: I want the majority to get to enact its will on matters that don’t infringe on an agreed-upon code of human rights, and when we do have to consider a somewhat more dubious issue, the normal 2/3 supermajority rule should come into effect. Tyranny of the 2/3 supermajority is strictly superior to tyranny of the 12% minority (the portion of the USA’s population who vote for enough Senators to mount a procedural filibuster and block literally anything).

            Instead we have a system in which the South, and its nationalist insurgency the Republican Party, use every underhanded means at their disposal to ensure that only they are ever allowed to govern at all, whether or not they, the Democrats, the Greens, the Libertarians, or anyone else have majority support. One party government is really bad, including when it’s a de facto one-party government pretending to be a two-party government.

            And that doesn’t even mean I want the Republican Party banned or something nasty like that. I just want a genuinely multi-party majoritarian democratic republic, in which governance is conditional on winning elections and election outcomes are high-entropy random variables that correlate closely with voters’ ideologies and policy preferences.

            That would contrast dramatically with the current system, under which Southern Republicans govern when Republicans win elections, and when Democrats win elections, Southern Republicans govern.

          • One party government is really bad, including when it’s a de facto one-party government pretending to be a two-party government…. I just want a genuinely multi-party majoritarian democratic republic

            @ Eli :

            The two-party system is baked into the U.S. Constitution. Control of the entire federal executive branch hangs on a single high-stakes election, so there’s an irresistible incentive to build a 51% coalition to take the big prize. The only stable configuration is to have exactly two major parties.

            You can’t have a stable multiparty democracy with the single elected president. You would need a parliamentary system.

          • James Picone says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum:
            Preferential systems should get you to two major parties and a balance-of-power third party at the least (that configuration has been pretty stable in Australian politics for a long time, with several parties moving around). And it makes it easier for those swaps to happen, because you can vote for your true preference without endangering the major party that’s closest to your position.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Larry, France has a coalitional parliament and a directly elected president, so there is no conflict between those two. It does have presidential run-offs, though.

        • nydwracu says:

          Were you expecting us to like the idea of giving more and more power to a government run by our traditional enemies? Do you think we want y’all to be able to coordinate strongly against us?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @onyomi:

        Do you deny that the ultimate reason the Civil War was fought was that those in control in the South wanted to continue keeping slaves? Regardless of the justifications individuals used for themselves engaging in the war, would the war have been fought if the South gave up slavery?

        • Matt M says:

          Lincoln (the man who decided to actually start the war in the first place) was VERY clear that the war had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “preserving the union” (i.e. making sure the south still paid their tariffs)

          ” If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. ”

          “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

          • LHN says:

            To a first approximation, it can accurately be said that the South seceded to preserve slavery and the North opposed the secession to preserve the Union. (Which is pretty much borne out by what was being said at the beginning of the war by each side.)

            Since the South’s actions are the ones that began the war (unilaterally seceding, making no attempt to negotiate a withdrawal from the Union, firing the first shots), it’s fair to say that the former is the reason the war was fought.

          • Matt M says:

            The act of secession, unilateral or otherwise, in no way requires a war to be fought. Half the confederacy didn’t secede at all UNTIL it became apparent that Lincoln was going to start a war over it, which was something they could not abide.

            The “first shots” argument is long and complicated. But needless to say, whether or not Fort Sumter legitimately belonged to the north or should have reverted to the control of South Carolina was a point of contention without an obviously correct answer one way or the other.

          • LHN says:

            Points of contention like which of two theories of ownership cover disputed military installations need to be settled somehow. One option might have been to try to establish a right to secede, and state ownership of bases in its territory, by bringing suit in the Supreme Court (since whether the Constitution carried over the “perpetual union” of the Articles of Confederation or not is, ultimately, a legal question). Another might have been to bring up the issue in Congress. Or to call a convention of the states.

            (In principle, calling in an outside country or countries as a broker is also possible, though given the geopolitics of the time it’s hard to see either side going for that.)

            Another, time honored, is of course to fight it out. The seceding states set the terms of the dispute, and were the ones with the initiative (necessarily, since inaction on both sides favored the status quo). They determined on war as a first resort, rather than a last after exhausting other alternatives.

          • Matt M says:

            The north could quite easily have allowed the south to secede and allowed any federal land in the geographic area of the departed states to remain under southern control.

            Had they done this, no war would have ever been fought.

            There were multiple states (including Virginia) and large portions of the Northern populace (including many of Lincoln’s top advisers) who expected this to be the policy and greatly favored this action. The notion that seceding should of necessity lead to armed conflict was hardly a given…

          • LHN says:

            Any dispute between position A and position B could easily be avoided by both sides agreeing to adopt position B. But that’s as much to say that any dispute can be avoided if there isn’t really a dispute.

            If there is a dispute, then the parties are going to have to figure out a way to resolve it. That can be violently (as with the Scotland/UK-18thCen, 13 colonies/UK and the secessionists/US) or not (as with Quebec/Canada, Scotland/UK-21stCen, Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce). But it generally can’t be assumed away by suggesting one side abandon its theory and adopt its opponent’s.

          • Matt M says:

            You are taking it for granted that it was the position of “the north” in some sort of uniform block that the south should not be allowed to secede. My point is that this position was hardly uniform and was very contentious. There were several states, many administration officials, and a large portion of the populace throughout the north, that believed simply allowing the south to leave would be just and proper.

            I would accuse you of making the “if they just did what the other person wanted, everything would be fine” argument in the sense that yes, if the south just stayed in the union, there would have been no war. But it’s also true that if the north just let them leave, there would have been no war.

            The question is, is secession a legitimate right or not? Funny that the residents of New England seemed to think it was when THEY did it from King George, but all of a sudden, when the shoe is on the other foot and they are considered to be the distant oppressor, all of a sudden, they see things a different way…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            The question is not “Did they have the right to secede”, The question is “Why did they secede?”

            Suppose I see you viciously beating someone crying for mercy. I walk onto your property and tell you to stop and that I am calling the cops. You then shoot me because I am threatening your lawful right to beat your slave. I don’t think it much matters that I was on your property.

          • Nornagest says:

            Suppose I see you viciously beating someone crying for mercy. I walk onto your property and tell you to stop and that I am calling the cops. You then shoot me because I am threatening your lawful right to beat your slave. I don’t think it much matters that I was on your property.

            What’s this supposed to be an analogy for?

          • LHN says:

            The colonies made it pretty clear in the Declaration of Independence that they weren’t sanctioning any proposed secession for any possible reason. The whole thrust of the document is that it’s something that should only be done in extremis, after multiple petitions for redress, in the face of extreme tyranny, after issuing a detailed explanation to the world why nothing less will suffice.

            And then they pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, because they knew that by committing to violent rebellion, the only way to establish that their position was the one that would prevail was to actually win the war. Which, after all, is the same condition under which the Confederacy’s position would have been recognized as controlling– if they’d been able to manage it.

            (Alternatively, they might e.g., have left places like Sumter unmolested and tried to wage a campaign in the press and in Congress– possibly including a declaration making their case– for the US to recognize their sovereignty and voluntarily withdraw. Would it have worked? I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine southern Cavalier culture endorsing a strategy so lacking in visible honor. Lincoln might have escalated provocations, or eventually just attacked. Win or lose, it could hardly have come out worse for them than the actual events.)

            But whatever dispute resolution option is chosen– violence if either side insists on it, or political, judicial, or diplomatic determination otherwise– a dispute can only end when both sides can be made to accept the determination.

            (And sometimes they can’t, and you get decades or centuries-long inconclusive, running-sore disputes.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Matt M
            The “first shots” argument is long and complicated. But needless to say, whether or not Fort Sumter legitimately belonged to the north or should have reverted to the control of South Carolina was a point of contention without an obviously correct answer one way or the other.

            I wonder to what extent “fired the first shot” is synecdoche as well as literal fact. I always imagined one of the Southern young hotheads from GONE WITH THE WIND as, perhaps drunk, patrolling the boundary, jumping up and firing the actual first shot all by himself, being joined by a few others — provoking instant reaction from the Yankee soldier patrolling their boundary, who had literally dodged the literal first bullet.

            Or was it a deliberate decision, over weeks of discussion among the brass (and from higher up) that a first strike would be the best tactic. And carried out under orders by a reasonable sized group, with the intent to do serious damage (having already prepared their side for further action).

            If it was the first, a squabble by young hotheads in both camps, then we should be looking at the responsible officers on each side, at least one of whom chose not to stifle it but to escalate it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyx:

            It was a very deliberate and considered bombardment after 5 month siege.

        • onyomi says:

          I don’t think the South would have had a strong enough impetus to secede but for the slavery issue, nor the North a strong enough impetus to try to stop them if not for the desire to keep the new, Western states free (for poor whites to have jobs, not because they were so worried about the plights of slaves), and for Lincoln to maintain his status as president of a burgeoning global superpower, rather than as leader of a balkanized regional industrial power.

          But let’s not oversimplify this as a battle of moral good against moral evil, not only because Lincoln’s primary concern wasn’t to end slavery, but because the reality is that it was a clash of cultures, ways of life, civilizations. The North was a more capitalistic, industrialist, urban, egalitarian, entrepreneurial culture and the South a more agrarian, land-based, aristocratic culture. Slavery was seen (imo, incorrectly) as a necessary part of this latter sort of culture, while it was correctly seen as a threat to the former sort of culture.

          As a very pro-capitalism kind of person, I see all kinds of problems with the old Southern way of life in addition to the glaring evil of slavery, though I think there were some aspects of it worthy of admiration as well. But regardless, let’s see this “civil war” (actually a war to prevent secession, since a “civil war” would imply that the South was fighting to control the North) for what it was: not a battle of moral people fighting immoral people, but a struggle to determine whether or not the South would be allowed to maintain its unique culture, given that they were stuck in a democracy which could unilaterally outvote them on any issue, and which was already abusing that power to levy heavy tariffs which benefited the manufacturing-focused North at the expense of the export-focused South.

          If the North had explicitly said from the start that they were fighting to end slavery, and that the fighting would stop and the South be allowed to secede so long as slavery were ended, then I’d say the North occupied the moral highground. But that’s not what happened. As Matt M points out, Lincoln would have accepted slavery had it prevented secession. What he and his generals realized during the course of the war, however, was that they had to wage a total war, not just against the Southern armies, but against its civilians and its way of life, if they wanted to win. Slavery was seen as a linchpin of that way of life and that’s why they fought to destroy it, not because they cared about the slaves.

          And it’s because it *was* a war to destroy a culture and cow a whole people, not just a war to free slaves, that many Southerners, myself included, still get angry when people make flippant remarks about the evil Confederacy. And if it seems like it’s just the Southerners who are still bitter, then why is my Facebook feed currently full of New Englanders posting pictures of white flags with pee on them, alongside snide remarks about how the Confederacy was all a bunch of cowardly traitors? There is still a very low-burning culture war in the United States, and, though it has shifted more to Red vs Blue (which, let’s face it, is still a rough proxy for Confederacy v Union to this day, despite the swapping places of Democrats and Republicans), there is still a lot of bias against Southerners (I am frequently told “oh, you don’t have an accent!” as if it were a great compliment when people find out I’m from the South).

          So here’s a slightly different hypothetical: what if everything else had been the same, but the Confederacy had declared its intent to free the slaves under their new regime, and that they were only seceding because of the tariff issue? In that case, would Lincoln have let the South secede peacefully? I tend to think not. And in that case, would Lincoln and the North been totally in the wrong? I think so.

          • Matt M says:

            In the movie Gettysburg, one of the confederate generals (probably Longstreet but I can’t remember) makes a comment something to that effect: “We should have freed the slaves, THEN seceded.”

            Of course I have no idea how historically accurate or commonplace that sort of sentiment might have been.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Is their ANY document of secession that does not, in big, bold strokes, name the keeping of slavery and the inherent superiority of white over black as the reason for seceding?

            Your hypothetical asks me to assume that those who controlled the Southern states and positioned them to secede did so for some other reason than their explicitly named intent. I don’t know why I should need assume that. The South would have had no reason to secede if they didn’t want slavery to continue as an institution.

            The South seceded. They fired the first shot. They named slavery as their reason for seceding. Why don’t you take them at their word?

            Yes, they feared that the North and the West would outpace their slave based economy. Which is why they wanted all new states in the west to be slave states. This was unacceptable to the North, the Republican Party, and Lincoln.

            Lincoln was trying to end slavery and ran on that issue. He initially proposed no territorial expansion of slavery and compensated emancipation. To act as if Lincoln had no problem with slavery and did not intend to bring about its end is folderol. What he did not want to do was bring about its end via war, which is why he made those comments.

            @Matt M:
            The Morrill Tariff of 1861 passed AFTER the Southern states started seceding, before Lincoln took office, and would have been blocked from passage if only the Southern states did not secede.

          • Lincoln was trying to end slavery and ran on that issue. He initially proposed no territorial expansion of slavery and compensated emancipation. To act as if Lincoln had no problem with slavery and did not intend to bring about its end is folderol.

            No. Lincoln, and others described at the time as “anti-slavery”, believed that if slavery were confined to the then slave states, it would eventually die. Before the war, he did not have any interest in directly intervening to end slavery.

            Almost no one in any position of authority advocated for immediate abolition of slavery in the South before 1861. That was a radical fringe view.

            What happened in the run-up to the Civil War was growing disapproval of slavery in the North (stoked by Uncle Tom’s Cabin and other books), and corresponding defensiveness on the issue in the South.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            “We should have freed the slaves, THEN seceded.”

            Go read the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

            It makes no sense to think they would have gone to war if they were intending on freeing the slaves.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum:

            Lincoln, and others described at the time as “anti-slavery”

            Lincoln was considered a moderate in his party. There were many who favored emancipation, but they did not control the Republican party. They were minority, but I don’t think they were only a radical fringe.

            believed that if slavery were confined to the then slave states, it would eventually die. Before the war, he did not have any interest in directly intervening to end slavery.

            You are ignoring that he specifically advocated for compensated emancipation. He very much wanted to end slavery, but he wanted to do it without having a constitutional crisis. Slavery was embedded in the original Constitution and Lincoln recognized that explicitly.

          • let’s see this “civil war” (actually a war to prevent secession, since a “civil war” would imply that the South was fighting to control the North)

            No, a civil war is defined as a war among citizens or factions of one country, and does not exclude wars prompted by secession, e.g., the Nigerian civil war.

            given that they were stuck in a democracy which could unilaterally outvote them on any issue, and which was already abusing that power to levy heavy tariffs which benefited the manufacturing-focused North at the expense of the export-focused South.

            No, that “abuse” hadn’t happened yet. Rather, the slave South was facing for the first time the possibility of losing control of the federal government.

            And it’s because it *was* a war to destroy a culture and cow a whole people, not just a war to free slaves

            It was NEVER “a war to free slaves,” except retrospectively.

            The Southern culture was destroyed because that’s what it took to win. Military superiority turned out not to be enough to persuade Confederates to give up their cause. Probably they understood that reunion would mean the end of the Southern way of life, with or without war’s destruction.

          • There were many who favored emancipation, but they did not control the Republican party. They were minority, but I don’t think they were only a radical fringe.

            It is a very common misconception to conflate “anti-slavery” (opposition to the political power of slaveowners) with “abolitionist” (support for immediately ending slavery nationwide).

            Before the Civil War, abolitionism was never more than about 1% or 2% of opinion in the North. (One source for 2%; other histories of abolitionism say it was never more than 1%.)

            Absolutely, many Northerners detested slavery, but there was great respect for property rights — even when humans were the property.

            You are ignoring that he specifically advocated for compensated emancipation.

            If he did, he was being disingenuous. The cost of compensating slaveowners would have been so enormous that it was never taken seriously by Lincoln or any other political leaders.

          • onyomi says:

            @HeelBearCub

            “I don’t know why I should need assume that. The South would have had no reason to secede if they didn’t want slavery to continue as an institution.”

            They did have other reasons to secede, such as the aforementioned unfair tariffs. And even if they didn’t, the purpose of the hypothetical was to tease out the question of the legitimacy of secession from the question of slavery.

            So: hypothetically, if slavery had already been abolished, and the South had been trying to secede for purely economic reasons, but everything else (Fort Sumter, etc.) had been the same, would that secession have been legitimate, and would Lincoln’s use of military force to stop it have been ethical or reasonable?

            My contention is that secession is prima facie legitimate, but that that principle has been poisoned in the US because of secession’s association with slavery. But one can also secede for good reasons. Some Northern abolitionists supported Southern secession on the theory of “no union with slavers.” And I assume you would have supported it had some smaller unit within the Confederacy, like a city or county, seceded from the Confederacy itself for the purposes of abolition and racial equality.

            Had the Southern secession been all about preserving slavery (which it wasn’t, though I concede that was a big part of it), then perhaps we could say that *this particular* secession was morally illegitimate because it was secession for a bad reason.

            But the idea of secession’s legitimacy being contingent on the morality of the reasons for secession seems a very dangerous precedent to accept. Because who gets to decide the morality of the reasons for secession? The majority from which the minority are attempting to secede? The problem with that should be obvious.

            Better instead to assume that secession *at all levels* is prima facie legitimate, and therefore to support both the South’s secession from the North *and also* any subsequent attempt by abolitionists to secede from or undermine the legitimacy of the slave-holding polity. Had all the efforts of Union generals been devoted to underground railroad-type activities then I’d have nothing but praise for them.

            And even if we concede that maybe there are some reasons for secession *so obviously bad* that it may be justified to arrest that secession with military force, that would only mean that there are some extreme cases in which secession is illegitimate. But that is not what most Americans believe today. Most Americans today believe that the case of the Civil War proves that secession is prima facie illegitimate.

          • And I assume you would have supported it had some smaller unit within the Confederacy, like a city or county, had seceded from the Confederacy itself for the purposes of abolition and racial equality.

            There’s a saying that, when Alabama seceded from the Union, Winston County seceded from Alabama.

            Well, it didn’t really happen that way, but this bit of folklore is mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird.

          • Better instead to assume that secession *at all levels* is prima facie legitimate

            Not that it bears on your argument, but very few governments anywhere in the world would concede that.

          • onyomi says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum

            “Not that it bears on your argument, but very few governments anywhere in the world would concede that.”

            I agree, which, I think, is one, perhaps subconscious, reason why the US political elite of both parties like to frame the Civil War in terms of having resolved the question of secession, rather than just the question of slavery, even though all the Civil War proved about secession was that, if you are willing to wage total war against your own people, you can prevent a secession.

            But to admit that a secession at any level is legitimate (which anyone who supports the American Revolution must, on some level, endorse) raises the question: if a group of states can secede from the nation, then why can’t an individual state secede from a group, or a county from a state, or a city from a county, or a neighborhood from a city… In other words, it leads to Nozickian anarchy, which I support, but which most states do not, for obvious reasons.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            If you are willing to go to war to secede, then your cause should be good enough that the innocent blood that is shed is justified.

            The case can be made for The Revolutionary War. Although, I’m perfectly willing to concede that the case for that war certainly looks rosier because the victor writes the history books. Still, representative democracy over rule by aristocracy is a pretty good place to plant ones flag.

            Are you willing to state that the grievances the South stood on were good enough to rise to the level that made the war justifiable? Was there even a decent Schelling fence that was crossed?

            Or the did the South lose their first election and try and take by force what that had lost at the ballot box?

          • onyomi says:

            @HeelBearCub

            “If you are willing to go to war to secede, then your cause should be good enough that the innocent blood that is shed is justified.”

            But that assumes a war must be fought to secede, which is begging the question, because it assumes that secession is prima facie disallowed, and will therefore usually be violently opposed.

            If I escaped from the DPRK with the result that a number of border guards were executed for failing to catch me, would their deaths be my fault?

            More importantly “would you be willing to fight a bloody war to claim this right” seems a pretty poor standard for deciding whether or not something *is* right. I wouldn’t fight a bloody war (assuming I had the resources to do so) to prevent you stealing my car. That doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to steal my car.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Larry:
            Yes, Lincoln did not advocate for the immediate end of slavery.

            But he did support the end of slavery. He thought it a moral wrong that was monstrous. He said the the Declaration of Independence applied to blacks as well as whites. Douglas used this to level the charge of abolitionism at him, which Lincoln rebuffed.

            Lincoln did support compensated emancipation, going so far as to draft legislation that was introduced in Delaware in 1861 after the start of the war, which failed. Similar federal legislation passed for DC.

            If you look at Lincoln’s position in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1868, you also see him being concerned foremost about the spread of slavery out of the South via the ending of the Missouri Compromise and the Dredd Scott decision. As such, he is fighting a defensive battle foremost.

            You seem to be equivocating between support for immediate emancipation and the ending of slavery somewhere down the road. Lincoln clearly did not argue for the former, but I don’t see how one would conclude he did not support the latter.

          • You seem to be equivocating between support for immediate emancipation and the ending of slavery somewhere down the road.

            I’m not equivocating. Rather, in Northern politics leading up to the Civil War, that was a rather huge difference.

            Ending slavery “somewhere down the road,” e.g., by not letting it expand into the territories, was a mainstream position, espoused by national political figures.

            Immediate nationwide emancipation was a radical view, advocated only by a few. Most people, even those who detested slavery, rejected this position, because it disregarded property rights.

          • all the Civil War proved about secession was that, if you are willing to wage total war against your own people, you can prevent a secession.

            Or to put it another way: secessionists who assert independence can expect to be opposed by total war. This is the prevailing reality throughout the world.

          • John Schilling says:

            Did the people of Scotland expect to be opposed by total war, a few months back?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:

            The UK government offered that vote to Scotland as a concession. Nations can dissolve peacefully. See the the dissolution of Czech and Slovakia for one that went swimmingly.

            But those are negotiated, bilateral dissolutions, not unilateral ones.

            @onyomi:
            Unless the founding document of a political entity provides conditions for a pre-arranged dissolution of the entity, then you do not unilaterally have the right to declare the contract between the members of the entity null and void.

            In the US, this aspect of our constitution was decided definitively by the US Supreme Court in Texas v. White, not by the civil war itself (though if the war had gone differently, I’ve no doubt the case would have been different.) The ruling was that this was not a right of the states under the US Constitution, and therefore Texas never left the US during the war.

            If a state wanted to negotiate secession, they would be welcome to try. Some of the protectorates could probably leave this way if they wanted to. But you don’t get to unilaterally break a contract and expect penalties not to follow, including the possibility that the contract will remain in force, and that the force of the state may enforce the contract.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Larry Kestenbaum
            >> And it’s because it *was* a war to destroy a culture and cow a whole people, not just a war to free slaves

            >It was NEVER “a war to free slaves,” except retrospectively.
            >The Southern culture was destroyed because that’s what it took to win.

            The taxes and tariffs were proposed because the South before the war had income that the North wanted. Some military expense might have paid off for the North – but a destroyed South with no income, would be little prize. So why did the North press the war so deeply?

            My cynicism reads both “to preserve the Union” and “to free slaves [into a starving system]” as emotional slogans, which Lincoln and other powerful men could scarcely have accepted themselves. Sfaik, there was no serious danger of the Confederate armies successfully invading the North. So – what was the North’s motive — for, say, overkill — at that point?

            Btw, I’m not interested in digging for object level dates and figures and quotes; I’m interested in the somewhat larger motives of powerful Northern individuals. Cui bono?

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub

            Firstly, I object to being bound by a “contract” signed by a few guys who happened to live in part of the continent I was born in a few hundred years ago, and I think people 150 years ago could have rightly objected as well.

            No nation I can think of has yet had the foresight to include conditions of its own dissolution in its founding documents. I guess it would be like a prenup. But like a prenup, no one wants to admit they need it.

            The Constitution was sold to the state legislatures as a kind of loose federation to facilitate trade and mutual defense. There was never a sense that it would be binding for all eternity.

            Regarding contracts, even assuming the Constitution functioned like a regular, voluntary contract among individuals, it is permissible to break a contract when the other party has egregiously failed to live up to the terms. The degree to which the Federal government has not abided by the Constitution, especially the 10th amendment, is egregious.

            And the reason why is the Supreme Court you mention. How would you feel about a contract with me that lasts forever, applies to your children, grandchildren, and great granchildren, and if you or they ever want to get out of it, or disagree with my interpretation of it, however outlandish, I get my siblings and best friends to adjudicate the disagreement?

            Don’t think it’s analogous? Supreme Court justices are all appointed by presidents. Presidents are the chief executives of the federal government. So in any case of dispute between the states and the federal government, people appointed by the chief executive of the federal government stand in judgment. To be remotely fair, some of the justices would need to be appointed by the states.

            Re. taking by force what was lost at the ballot box, again, the South was not fighting for control of the whole country, just for the right to be left alone. Shouldn’t people have the right not to be forced to participate in a political unity they don’t want to participate in? China claims that Taiwan is part of China because historically, it had been part of the Chinese empire at various times and most of the people there are culturally Chinese. But the Taiwanese just don’t want to be part of China politically. Are they wrong? Would China be right to force them to join militarily (which I admit they only don’t do right now because of the US)?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            Are you willing to extend the right of self-determination you are espousing to everyone?

          • onyomi says:

            Re. Scotland, even if the UK hadn’t “conceded” the right for Scotland to secede, I maintain they would have had it anyway.

            More importantly, I don’t think anyone would have had the stomach for a military intervention to stop them. Which shows that we are more civilized than 150 years ago, and have, at least implicitly, recognized that a war to prevent a secession is wrong.

            Imagine Texas unilaterally seceding today. I’m sure there would be a lot of threats, dire predictions, and handwringing, but I seriously doubt the federal government would actually take any military action to stop it if Texas “stuck to their guns” (metaphorically). People nowadays just wouldn’t have the stomach for it–because it would be wrong.

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub

            “Are you willing to extend the right of self-determination you are espousing to everyone?”

            Yes, as I said, I support Nozick-style anarchy: a state can secede from a country, a city from a state, a neighborhood from a city, and even an individual from a neighborhood.

            This is not to say that I think people have no practical obligations to one another, or don’t need to uphold actual contracts they themselves have entered into, only that no one should be forced to participate in a political union they never signed up for themselves and which they no longer desire.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            Well, how about the slaves? Why aren’t you concerned at all about their right to self-determination?

          • James Picone says:

            @Onyomi:
            Surely under a (moral) libertarian system breach of contract is initiation of force, because otherwise contracts can’t be enforced. You seem to be arguing that there’s a moral right to secede, not that it’s practically better, so I think tying you to moral-libertarian arguments is fair.

            If you want to start limiting what kinds of contracts are fair or insisting on a particular interpretation you’re going to need arbitration or protection agencies. In this case, two protection agencies disagreed rather strongly about what the contract’s provisions were, fought it out until one won, and then after the fact an arbitration agency declared that the winner was in the right. From that point of view, everything seems to be in order. This sort of thing would happen in AnCap world. It did, after all, happen in AnCap world.

          • My cynicism reads both “to preserve the Union” and “to free slaves [into a starving system]” as emotional slogans, which Lincoln and other powerful men could scarcely have accepted themselves. Sfaik, there was no serious danger of the Confederate armies successfully invading the North. So – what was the North’s motive — for, say, overkill — at that point?

            The Union kept fighting because the Confederates were still fighting, and the Confederate government was still a going concern. When the Confederates surrendered, the fighting stopped.

            And again, the idea that the North was “fighting to free the slaves” is retrospective romantic nonsense. I don’t understand why you keep repeating it.

            Re. taking by force what was lost at the ballot box, again, the South was not fighting for control of the whole country, just for the right to be left alone.

            No. The South had been accustomed to a federal government that was controlled by or strongly supportive of slaveowners, and e.g. supported the return of fugitive slaves.

            One of the grievances of the South was the non-return of fugitive slaves from Northern territory. Had the South become permanently independent, they would have needed to fortify the border to keep slaves from escaping.

            Re. Scotland, even if the UK hadn’t “conceded” the right for Scotland to secede, I maintain they would have had it anyway.

            And Glasgow has the right to secede from Scotland? And each neighborhood has the right to secede from Glasgow? Sorry, but that way lies madness.

            More importantly, I don’t think anyone would have had the stomach for a military intervention to stop them. Which shows that we are more civilized than 150 years ago, and have, at least implicitly, recognized that a war to prevent a secession is wrong.

            I don’t believe there is any such consensus. Indeed, I don’t think I believe this myself.

            Imagine Texas unilaterally seceding today. I’m sure there would be a lot of threats, dire predictions, and handwringing, but I seriously doubt the federal government would actually take any military action to stop it if Texas “stuck to their guns” (metaphorically). People nowadays just wouldn’t have the stomach for it–because it would be wrong.

            I think you are wildly mistaken about this. If Texas were to unilaterally secede from the U.S., the federal government would immediately exercise force to stop it.

            The balance of military power between Texas and the U.S. is so skewed that I doubt “independence” would get very far. The more serious the Texans were about breaking away, the more of them would die.

          • It’s such a *useful* concept for would-be hegemon. Just reframe something so it’s not an invasion, it’s just preventing (or undo’ing) a “secession”. Maybe a “cultural” secession.

            Austria. Taiwan. Ukraine. …

            My comment is unrelated to anyone “reframing” anything, or “undoing” previous history. The simple reality is that unilaterally declaring independence from an existing country is likely to be very dangerous.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Larry:
            It was a war that the South started to keep the slaves, even though they were in no immediate danger of losing them, except one by one.

            The North did not fight to free the slaves at beginning, but the political campaign leading up to Lincoln’s election was dominated by the issue of slavery. The Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 for the Illinois US senate seat were, by and large, about the issue of slavery. The first Southern states seceded as soon as Lincoln won the election citing the non-support of the North for slavery.

            If the South had laid down arms in 1861, would slavery have ended in the South at that time? No. But, would the South have seceded if they were not slave states? No. They had no issue other than slavery that motivated their animus towards the North.

            Lincoln started the process of freeing slaves in 1861, essentially at the beginning of his office, through compensated emancipation, as I have already said and you have not acknowledged.

            This was not some picayune concern that became elevated to feud, that then became a war, where the central question of the immediate motivations was non-essential. Slavery was at the heart of it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mark Atwood:

            Talk about re-framing. The Southern states did secede. Even they agree they seceded from an already extant nation. Your argument is a complete non-starter.

          • onyomi says:

            @Larry

            “And Glasgow has the right to secede from Scotland? And each neighborhood has the right to secede from Glasgow? Sorry, but that way lies madness.”

            No, that way lies freedom and anarcho capitalism of the sort described by David Friedman, the Tannehills, Michael Huemer, and others. Far from madness, such descriptions strike me as eminently plausible.

            And even if they don’t seem plausible to you, it doesn’t have to be a slippery slope. Even if there is a minimum level of political organization below which madness ensues, why shouldn’t secession be legitimate up to that point? Since there are already a few successful city states in the world and many throughout history, let’s say it’s the city. Singapore is pretty much the opposite of madness. Why, then, is it madness to think Glasgow could secede from Scotland, even if a neighborhood can’t secede from Glasgow?

            Re. Texas, I think you misread the public sentiment, but I could be wrong. I’ll start a poll below and see if anybody responds.

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub

            “Well, how about the slaves? Why aren’t you concerned at all about their right to self-determination?”

            As stated above, I would have supported any effort by slaves and/or abolitionists to secede from the Confederacy and establish a non-slave, racially egalitarian state within it.

            I would even have supported the right of individual slaves to “secede” from the Union and/or the Confederacy, though practically speaking, the best an individual could hope for would be to escape. Defecting or escaping a polity which doesn’t want to let you go is sort of like an individual secession, only one is immediately subject to the rules of another jurisdiction unless he wants to live in the middle of the ocean.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            You have descended into incoherence.

            The chief complaint of the states who seceded before Ft. Sumter was that the North was not returning their escaped slaves. How then can you uphold their claims against the North?

            Let me link that for you again.

            The greatest violence ever done to the right of self-determination in the history of our United States was the continuation and perpetuation of chattel slavery. If you are concerned about the right of self-determination in the pre-Civil War South, the right of of those states to secede from the Union should be a far, far distant concern, so far away as to be a point on the horizon.

          • It was a war that the South started to keep the slaves, even though they were in no immediate danger of losing them, except one by one.

            No argument with that.

            the political campaign leading up to Lincoln’s election was dominated by the issue of slavery. The Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 for the Illinois US senate seat were, by and large, about the issue of slavery.

            Again, there was a BIG difference at the time between being “anti-slavery” (criticizing slavery and the political power of slaveowners, and opposing the spread of slavery to new areas) and being an “abolitionist”. Lincoln would never have been a viable candidate if he had espoused abolitionism.

            It’s not a perfect analogy, but imagine someone who is a critic of the oil or tobacco companies, opposing them politically, versus someone who advocates that those companies be immediately destroyed outright, root and branch, warehouse and pipeline, without any thought of compensating anyone. The latter would surely be seen as a radical view.

            The first Southern states seceded as soon as Lincoln won the election citing the non-support of the North for slavery.

            I completely agree that slavery was the critical war issue for the South.

            Lincoln started the process of freeing slaves in 1861, essentially at the beginning of his office, through compensated emancipation, as I have already said and you have not acknowledged.

            I did look at the links you provided. That impractical scheme of “compensated emancipation” did not involve government expenditure to buy slaves from their owners (as Thomas Jefferson discussed doing), but the use of the slave’s own labor as “compensation”.

            Of course, status quo ante was that the slaveowner owned ALL of the slave’s labor, and owed the slave nothing in wages. In other words, this proposal “compensated” the slaveowner by depriving him of value, and kept the slave at work for the owner for some specified number of years.

            Unsurprisingly, the idea was a non-starter. The fact that it was proposed (this and the “colonization” of slaves back to Africa) shows how much people wished there was a third way between tolerating slavery and abolition.

            This was not some picayune concern that became elevated to feud, that then became a war, where the central question of the immediate motivations was non-essential. Slavery was at the heart of it.

            The South went to war to keep slavery, and the North went to war to keep the South. During the war, for the North, freeing the slaves became an instrument of winning the war, not an end in itself.

            There was widespread disapproval of slavery in the North, but there was very little appetite for nationwide legal abolition until the South’s defeat made it possible.

          • Re. Texas, I think you misread the public sentiment, but I could be wrong. I’ll start a poll below and see if anybody responds.

            Consider that we’re not speaking of a negotiated divorce like Czechoslovakia’s, but an outright, pugnacious declaration of independence.

            Right away, there would be the Fort Sumter problem: what happens to all the federal facilities in Texas? Organized attacks on U.S. military bases would be repelled by force, and the attackers would immediately be seen as traitors. All casualties would be blamed on the Texans.

            The U.S. Constitution (enacted in the wake of Shay’s Rebellion) specifically provides for the power to “suppress insurrections.” I can’t imagine a President or Congress hesitating to act under these circumstances.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Larry:
            I’m not sure you read the whole link.

            “This law prohibited slavery in the District, forcing its 900-odd slaveholders to free their slaves, with the government paying owners an average of about $300 for each”

            Here is another link, laying out the terms of the Delaware proposal.

            “The bill, if it had been enacted, would have had the U.S. government compensate Delaware, essentially trading federal bonds in installments for the gradual emancipation of the state’s slaves over a five-year period.”

            Lincoln was attempting to end slavery within the loyal border states early in his presidency, before the outcome of the war is in any way apparent.

            Lincoln was trying to triangulate, eliminate as much slavery as possible. When he ran for office he didn’t view general abolition as workable, and definitely not electable. He correctly read that proposals to free all of the slaves would not be accepted. One of his foremost concerns was first preventing the spread of slavery, which was very much in the wind. I don’t think he foresaw ending slavery during his presidency. I do think he intended to move as far away from the expansion of slavery and as far towards the end of slavery as he could without generating backlash that would have been ultimately counter-productive.

            Maybe we are talking past each other, but my reading is that you are saying Lincoln did particularly desire the end of slavery and never had any intention of advancing its ending. I think the reaction of the South to his election is the largest piece of evidence available to show that this reading is incorrect.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Larry Kestenbaum
            And again, the idea that the North was “fighting to free the slaves” is retrospective romantic nonsense.

            That’s my opinion also. I take it even further than “retroactive romantic nonsense.” I’d say it was romantic nonsense at the time.

            (FYI – I wrote the first paragraph you quoted here, but none of the others.)

          • (FYI – I wrote the first paragraph you quoted here, but none of the others.)

            My apologies for my attribution error.

          • Sylocat says:

            @onyomi:

            As stated above, I would have supported any effort by slaves and/or abolitionists to secede from the Confederacy and establish a non-slave, racially egalitarian state within it.

            Yeah, because that was totally a feasible option. The slaveowners would totally have said “welp, you found a loophole and outwitted us, congrats, you win,” and gone along with that.

            No. Just no. There is no definition of “self-determination” that a slaveholding society can honestly claim to fight for.

          • onyomi says:

            @Sylocat

            “Yeah, because that was totally a feasible option. The slaveowners would totally have said “welp, you found a loophole and outwitted us, congrats, you win,” and gone along with that.”

            I specifically stated that escape to a non-slave holding state was the only realistic option for the individual slave.

            I was talking about in a hypothetical successful Confederacy, there might have been enclaves where the population of slaves and/or abolitionists was so high that they could have successfully seceded from the Confederacy itself. In many parts of the South black people outnumbered white people by a significant margin (and still do), so this doesn’t seem so implausible to me.

            And even if it isn’t plausible, I was answering a question about principle: in principle, the slaves have the right not to participate in a political union they don’t want to participate in, just like everybody else. But in a racist 19th century US society which wouldn’t recognize the right of free white people to that level of self-determination, what hope was there for black slaves?

            You might say “but free white people shouldn’t be free to oppress black people.” Fair enough, and, again, if the war were all about freeing slaves and not preventing secession, I would have been in support of it. And regardless, even if this is a case where the reason for secession was so bad as to render it illegitimate, that doesn’t affect the contention that secession and self-determination are prima facie legitimate.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            “But in a racist 19th century US society which wouldn’t recognize the right of free white people to that level of self-determination, what hope was there for black slaves?”

            Please, I beg of you, engage with the fact that the prime complaints the Southern states had was that the North was not returning their escaped slaves, but rather allowing them to live as free men in the North.

            You can’t continue to ignore that fact, not and have a prayer of making anything like a coherent argument.

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub

            “…engage with the fact that the prime complaints the Southern states had was that the North was not returning their escaped slaves, but rather allowing them to live as free men in the North.”

            I don’t think this is really true: the prime complaint was that they were being outvoted by non-slave states and figured it would only get worse as the population expanded west.

            And even if the above were the prime complaint, I don’t really see how it bears upon the validity of my more general argument in favor of the prima facie validity of secession. Even if the true goal of the Confederacy was to get back fugitive slaves or prevent slaves gaining free status when they traveled to western territories, I don’t see how that would reflect on the question of secession. If anything, seceding would seem to make that harder, as the Northern states would have less reason to cooperate in returning fugitive slaves to a separate country.

            I’m certainly not defending fugitive slave laws, and I’ve already conceded that even if the Confederacy’s particular reason for seceding in this particular case was so evil as to somehow invalidate its citizens’ right to self-determination, it would not eliminate the prima facie right of secession in other cases.

            Really, I’m taking the most radical anti-slavery position possible: I don’t want anyone to be enslaved to anyone to any degree: not to one master, and not to a million masters. If you don’t think groups of people, i. e. states can truly enslave people, well, I’d rather be a slave in the antebellum South than a Ukrainian in the 1930s USSR, a Jew in 1940s Germany, or even a member of the undesirable classes in the DPRK today. Unjust and abusive authority come in many flavors and permutations.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            “I don’t think this is really true: the prime complaint was that they were being outvoted by non-slave states”

            Here are South Carolina’s own words from the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

            Please read the whole thing. All of the complaints are about the hostility of the North to the institution of slavery. But if you want, here is their very first complaint (that which appears before this being an attempt to argue for the right of secession).

            “In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

            The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

            This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

            The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.”

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            So, just at the outset, I am not particularly expert in any of the fields I’m about to opine on, so I welcome corrections, but, here’s my understanding of what exactly was understood to be at stake in the Civil War, and why people at the time felt justified in opposing Southern secession, even though the United States was founded by revolution:

            Essentially, one of the key differences is that the United States in 1861 was a democracy, and Britain in 1776 was not. The actual event that sparked the secession crisis was simply the election of a rival party to the presidency. To argue that anytime your opponent wins an election, you can just walk out, is fatal to a democracy–the “correct” approach in such a case is to try and win the next election. My understanding is that Lincoln recognized a natural right to revolution against a tyranny, but no constitutional right to secession precisely because it would fatally undermine any democracy. The argument would go that, since Lincoln’s election could hardly be held to constitute tyranny, and since the South had the real possibility of electing a candidate they preferred, they couldn’t invoke the natural right of revolution, and thus were in a different position from the founders in 1776.

            Just to draw a little more on the idea of secession undermining democracy, it’s also worth paying attention to the context: the Civil War started not so long after Louis Napoleon’s coup, and the autocratic reactions to the other 1848 democratic movements–conservatives and monarchists in Europe had long believed that democracy must either eventually reform into a proper monarchy, or collapse into anarchy. The Second French Empire and the other failed 1848 uprisings were an example of the first failure mode, and many French and English observers gleefully predicted that America 1861 was about to showcase the second failure mode. That such ideas were on Lincoln’s mind can be seen in his speeches:

            The distinct issue, “Immediate dissolution or blood”…embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question of whether a constitutional republic or democracy — a government of the people, by the same people — can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether the discontented individuals — too few in numbers to control the administration, according to organic law, in any case — can always, upon the pretenses made in this case or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up the government and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: “Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?”

            A last fun fact related to all of this is that Canada, which confederated two years after the end of the Civil War, deliberately adopted a more centralized model for our federation, precisely to avoid “states’ rights” issues of our own.

            EDIT
            Two instances of “1789” have been changed to “1776”, due to me being a goofus.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Eugene — Thanks. That sheds some light on the “preservation of the Union” motive, which was clearly of great importance at the time (in the American West, for example, there’s a lot of towns founded in Civil War times and called Unionville or something along those lines) but doesn’t receive much attention in many history books.

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub,

            You’re still entirely missing my point and strawmaning me. I never argued that the continuation of slavery wasn’t a major motivation for the secession. In fact, I conceded that at the outset.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Nornagest:

            No problem 🙂

            Yeah, as a Canadian, I’ve had even less formal exposure to this stuff than y’all (hence my caveat at the beginning, and my screwing up the year of the revolution), but it really does make a lot of things fall into place when you see it from this perspective. For example, I’m pretty sure that these sorts of ideas are behind the famous line from the Gettysburg Address that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”, which probably seems a bit over-dramatic without the context.

            It also explains why patriotic fervour could run so high in a north that, as others have pointed out, was still pretty racist, and hardly abolitionist.

            The New York Times ran a series called Disunion from 2010 to just this past April, covering events of the Civil War 150 years later, and they had some nice examples of this stuff as well; for example, the Republic of San Marino, one of the few functioning republics at the time of the Civil War, wrote an endearingly earnest letter of support to Lincoln.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            I don’t know what your point is, yes. I am missing it.

            That anyone should have the right to secede at anytime from anything without regards to any previous commitments?

            Why you would you try and make this argument with the slave-holding states as your primary example of a wronged party?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Eugene Dawn

            It forces us to ask: “Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?” –Lincoln

            Did any other nations confederating take the opposite approach to danger of wars of secession — ie including a process for allowed secession. I’d see this as similar to our process for amending the US Constitution: several rather demanding procedures spread out over several years and several administrations, thus giving time for settling issues by bargaining.

            Or, the horse may learn to sing. Suppose, while the South was going through all that, Britain and their other customers had succeeded in restricting import of “Slave Cotton”. The British mill owners had an interest in keeping the supply of cotton running smoothly, so they might have come up with a phase-out plan that the South would accept.

          • nydwracu says:

            The war was only about slavery and Al Capone was only imprisoned for tax evasion.

          • Psmith says:

            “And I assume you would have supported it had some smaller unit within the Confederacy, like a city or county, seceded from the Confederacy itself for the purposes of abolition and racial equality.”

            This is pretty much how we got West Virginia, IIRC.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Houseboatonstyx

            (btw, as a new commenter here, is there any better way to respond in those long threads than to search all the way up for the parent again?)

            Like I said, I’m talking out of my league here–I haven’t heard of any such secession mechanism built in to a constitution, but that doesn’t mean much.

            On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on the question of whether Quebec separating would be legal. I’ll summarize Wiki, and remind you again that I’m not by any means an expert:

            Essentially, the Court was asked whether Quebec had a constitutional right to secede; whether it had a right under international law to secede; and if those two conflicted, which should hold?

            The answer was, Quebec had no right to unilateral secession, but if a referendum returned a clear desire of Quebeckers to secede, negotiations between Canada and Quebec should take place.
            International law has no general provisions for members of sovereign states to secede; essentially if you are part of a representative democracy and secession would threaten the territorial integrity of the country of which you’re part, then you should proceed via internal mechanisms.
            They didn’t answer the third question since they saw no conflict between international and Canadian law.

            I presume the recent referendum in Scotland was legal for similar reasons, but someone in the UK should correct me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Eugene:

            I tend to have two tabs open. One at the beginning of the thread, the other so I can see what I am replying to. But everyone recognizes this is not the best comment system that could ever exist at SSC, I can think of the most perfect one in my mind, and, … poof …

            Hey is it just me, or is this comment system better now?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Eugene:

            I also should say that I appreciate the information you are giving here. It seems true, necessary and kind. Beautiful.

            To answer your question about the recent Scottish referendum, it was negotiated with the UK before hand.

            “The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, setting out the arrangements for this referendum, was passed by the Scottish Parliament in November 2013, following an agreement between the Scottish and the United Kingdom governments, and was enacted as the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013.”

            Later in that same article:
            “The two governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which allowed for the temporary transfer of legal authority. In accordance with the Edinburgh Agreement, the UK government drafted an Order in Council granting the Scottish Parliament the necessary powers to hold, on or before 31 December 2014, an independence referendum.”

            I think though that the referendum would not have actually been the thing that divorced Scotland from the UK, or at least that would have been a matter for later dispute.

            Scotland said in 2010 that they were proposing an “advisory referendum on extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament”, whose result would “have no legal effect on the Union”.

            I’m not sure whether the Edinburgh agreement changed that calculus or not.

        • John Schilling says:

          A young man, recently dropped out of high school, is working two minimum-wage jobs in the faint hope that he can provide for his new wife and daughter without her also having to drop out of high school. Do you deny that the ultimate reason for this labor is pure and simple lust? It began in the back seat of a car after a high school football game, just over nine months ago…

          The birth of a nation, like the birth of a child, is an absolutely transformative event. Everything before you pee on the stick, is about satisfying teenage lust. Everything afterwards is about parenthood, and that drive will be satisfied by any means necessary even as opportunities for lust fade into memory.

          The original six states of the CSA, undoubtedly seceded over the cause of slavery. That, I believe, was the last significant act in US history that was motivated primarily by pro- or anti-slavery sentiments. Not the war that began some months later, or the secession of the remainder of the southern states.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:

            Well, once you are fighting, everything else becomes secondary, sure.

            If your buddy throws the first punch at another guy, you are going to square off with the other guys friend so your friend doesn’t get jumped. Sure.

            But, your side started the fight. And your side started the the fight because your buddy is a jerk. And maybe since the fight was about how he beats his wife, who happens to be the other guys sister, you should have stayed out of it. But of course, you think beating your wife is perfectly fine, too.

            You didn’t really want to fight about it, your buddy started it, but you also wouldn’t be fighting at all if you had stopped being his friend because, you know, he beats his wife to a bloody pulp every other night.

            Tennessee may have been inflamed by the fact that the North actually took the attack on Fort Sumter seriously. But they were on the side of The Confederacy because they had no problem with slavery.

            (None of this is meant to imply anything about John Schilling and wife beating, but I am not sure how to phrase the analogy to prevent the need for this sentence.)

      • grendelkhan says:

        Hey, everyone, we’ve got a real live Lost Causer here! Older brother of the “Clean Wehrmacht” and all that.

        And guess what, my family includes Irish immigrants and people who died and fought for the South, and none of them were slave owners. They thought they were fighting for freedom, just like the Revolutionary War fighters. And yes, I find it incredibly offensive to say their sacrifice had “zero moral worth,” or to call a butcher like Sherman “the greatest American in history.”

        I’m sure they thought they were doing the right thing. Most people do. And it’s somewhat likely that they didn’t own slaves; in the South, only a quarter of families did. And no one wants to hear that their honored ancestors fought bravely and died valiantly in defense of the “right of property in man”, that they might have been on the wrong side, no matter how true it may be.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        What I wish they had done in SC after the shooting would be not to have taken down the Confederate flag, but to have flown it at half mast, along with the others.

        Maybe they were worried about people shooting at it, or fire-bombing it, or someone trying to take it down leading to a fight … etc.

    • anonymous says:

      Is this motivated reasoning?

      Supreme Court opinions are ALWAYS motivated reasoning. Their entire job is to make policy decisions and disguise them as the results of some kind of empirical inquiry (as if “what the law means” were some kind of fact in the territory).

  23. TomA says:

    Symptom versus disease. How many of the current social controversies and memes are, in essence, merely symptoms that overlay a root disease.

    A lot of effort is being expended in an attempt at remedy for the never-ending string of symptomatic crises that flood across the internet every day. Symptoms are always easier to fix and consequently they tend to get the most focus.

    However, if you ignore (or are oblivious to) the disease, you misinterpret “feel good” for cure.

  24. triclops says:

    The impish part of me thinks Scott should host a contest for the most mind killing post headline, most cleverly combining the 5 mind killers.
    I think the SSC community could handle it lightheartedly while also expressing some high level creativity.

  25. ryan says:

    Philip Dick said that two of is novels, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said and The Man in the High Castle, were not works of fiction, but actually his memories of American society from his experiences in alternate timelines.

    So, yeah, LSD is a helluva drug. However, I’m wondering if there is any current or past religion which holds similar views?

  26. oligopsony says:

    I used to not experience sexual jealousy; now I do, and both me and my partner find this annoying. But I also find it perplexing. Is this something that’s known to happen?

    • onyomi says:

      Is anything different about your relationship than it was when you didn’t experience the jealousy?

      I can imagine, for example (and don’t take it personally if this is inapplicable), someone growing more jealous if they met a partner whom they felt on some level to be “out of their league,” or, at least, more attractive than previous partners. Might lead to insecurity.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Have you considered the possibility that you have simply fallen in love?

    • Tarrou says:

      Big Warning: Opinions follow!

      Jealousy is insecurity. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it indicates that a part of you thinks that losing your partner is a real possibility. This could be for any number of reasons, self doubt, partner behavior or that you’ve finally landed a partner just slightly out of your league.

      It is also anticipated loss. Some of my more man-whore friends talked about how they never experienced jealousy until they settled down, because there was never a future to lose before.

      So buck up, it may not be that bad! But if it is producing counterproductive behavior or serious distress, I’d examine very closely your relationship and try to find out what exactly is setting it off. Counseling could be in order, even if just a trip to Granddad.

  27. onyomi says:

    Newest theory on why everyone’s fat: vitamin-enriched foods

    http://freetheanimal.com/2015/06/enrichment-theory-everything.html

    Haven’t read this carefully enough to know how crackpot-ish it might be, and I’m sure it’s not the only factor at work, but as someone who has had very bad experiences with artificial vitamin supplements (B12 supplement paradoxcially gave me symptoms of B12 deficiency, magnesium supplement makes my heart feel like it’s going to explode, etc.), it rings true to me.

    In particular, what strikes me as potentially truthy is that I feel like we spent the early part of the 20th century “fixing” our food to prevent 3rd world concerns–beri beri, rickets, failure to thrive, goiter, etc. And it strikes me as understandable back then–when you look at pictures older than 50 years old, everyone looks tiny and sort of undernourished. They look like people who couldn’t get fat even if they tried. They aren’t always amazing physical specimens–sometimes they are kind of flabby or have a bit of a pot belly, but they still just seem very “small.”

    Conversely, we are now all taller and just plain bigger. We don’t just “thrive” we frankly are way overnourished in every way. Some people say we have too many calories, not enough nutrients; I’m proposing maybe we have too much of both, especially artificial nutrients added to flour, vitamin d milk, etc.

    I just still can’t get over the sense that we are somehow fundamentally different in our appetite level and propensity to put on weight than our ancestors of just 100 years ago. I don’t think people used to have more will power, and while many did exercise more than us, not all (far fewer people actually went to a gym to “work out,” for example, though most probably walked more). I think convenience foods, prepackaged foods, etc. have something to do with it, but you also used to have stay-at-home moms baking 5 pies with lard and white sugar every day. It seems plausible to me that somehow our appetites and growth ability are being set into overdrive in childhood, possibly due to messing up our gut flora, affecting our metabolism, etc.

    I think it would probably be a good idea to get rid of all these “enriched” products, at least in the first world. We are nowhere close to being malnourished. We already have a waaay more varied diet than most historical peoples, even those who eat what we could call a very “bad” diet of all processed foods, fast food, etc.

    • James Picone says:

      Iodised salt and folate in bread are probably among the more successful public health interventions of all time, under vaccination and fluoridation. Maybe keep those?

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t know enough to know which are net useful and which aren’t. This particular article seems to blame supplementary iron a lot. I am generally suspicious of the need to add anything to food, so long as one can eat a reasonably varied diet, though in the case of iodine it might be that the seafood-type products high in iodine are too expensive to be generally affordable. And if, indeed, inland people are prone to goiter without supplementary iodine, I wonder if that supports the “aquatic ape” hypothesis?

        Re. folate, I think most people can probably afford to just eat some more greens… I personally don’t want vitamins added to my flour.

        Looking up the history of fluoridation, it does seem like it was a big success, though conspiracy theory types often complain about it, probably without good reason. I have to say, teeth seem to be one part of the body that seem nearly impossible to keep healthy through “natural” means, considering how much work they take even after fluoridation. I guess a lot of that is the diet too (maybe don’t need to floss so much if you’re eating a bunch of fibrous vegetables, tough meat, and no sugar etc.).

    • onyomi says:

      Here’s another interesting correlation, probably related to gut health, again:

      http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/11/maps-antibiotics-prescriptions-obesity-states

  28. Emily says:

    I have 10 weeks to finish a dissertation. I find it helpful to actually schedule times to work and have someone else working in the same room with me. Does anyone else in DC have a project and want a work/writing buddy?

  29. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Here’s a question: What is the most effective intervention against teen pregnancy?

    I’ve got a niece who hits a lot of the big indicators for teen pregnancy: broken home, sexually abused by a step-father, many years living in poverty. (She lives with her single biological dad now, probably the one thing in her favor, since she won’t be looking for a replacement father figure.)

    I figure (perhaps incorrectly) that the most likely way for her to screw up her life is to get pregnant. Me and my wife could probably throw several thousand dollars at an intervention, but I’d like evidence that it actually works. This is a hot-button moral issue so I’m reluctant to trust intuition, my own or other people’s.

    Religious and secular options are both on the table, short of shipping her off to a nunnery to a boarding school.

    • Emily says:

      Long-term birth control. Get her an IUD. If her health insurance covers it, you may not even need to pay anything, just help her through the process.

      • Alraune says:

        ^Bingo.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        While you’re at it, don’t forget the HPV vaccine. Reducing her cancer risk with a simple prick is probably a pretty good add-on intervention.

        It seems to me that teen pregnancy risk is strongly correlated with low knowledge/access to birth control, which is in turn seems strongly correlated with low knowledge/access to other sexual health topics like the HPV vaccine.

        • Jiro says:

          I would wonder if encouraging her to get that vaccine signals “I believe you’re a slut” and the loss of trust involved could hurt more than the vaccine could help. The OP doesn’t state that she actually is having sex with anyone, let alone indiscriminately or without precautions.

          If you had a poor black friend living in the slums, you would not start giving that black friend tips about why robbing people ruins his future on the grounds that being poor, black, and living in the slums is correlated with committing robbery. You would need evidence that he personally is likely to commit a crime, evidence that does not just consist of correlation with his personal circumstances.

          It’s often inappropriate to act as though someone has personal failings based on the fact that those personal failings correlate with external failings.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Well I’m certainly not black and never had very strong criminal tendencies, but my Dad actually did sit me down more than once and explain in great detail why crime generally didn’t pay off very well and that no matter how smart you are the odds will eventually catch up to any career criminal. Also that you should never talk to the police if you can avoid it and be polite when you can’t.

            He had grown up in one of the worst neighborhoods in Manhattan, so even though he raised me to be thoroughly middle-class he still thought it was an important lesson and I agree. I was a bit confused that he thought I needed the advice at the time but now I can’t imagine raising a son without having a similar conversation.

            Everyone should get “insulting” advice when the consequences of not listening to it can be pregnancy imprisonment or rape. Bruised pride heals quickly compared to real injuries.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            In order to be maximally effective, you need to get the vaccine before become sexually active. Vaccines don’t do a lick of good if you have already contracted the disease, and HPV is by far the most prevelent STD. IIRC, estimates of infection rates run into the 90% range. Unfortunately, the vast majority of infections are sub-clinical (i.e., don’t show symptoms… until precancerous lesions develop) so there is a extremely low general awareness.

            But HPV causes over 5% of all cancer worldwide. Just putting it out there.

            I think 14 is actually the age it is recommended at.

            It has nothing to do with being “slutty” or having unprotected sex. It is entirely about “ever plan on having sex with another human being.”

          • Jiro says:

            EAA:

            Everyone should get “insulting” advice when the consequences of not listening to it can be pregnancy imprisonment or rape.

            Then:
            1) You should suggest the vaccine to everyone.
            2) The vaccine isn’t an answer to the question, because the question was about what things should be specifically done for her based on her particular circumstances, not on what should be done for her because she is a human being.

            Furthermore, the consequence of a black person not listening to your advice about not robbing could also be imprisonment. But you wouldn’t tell someone not to rob just because they are black and being black is correlated with robbery.

            Bruised pride heals quickly compared to real injuries.

            If the offer is considered insulting enough, she would be much less receptive to any further advice. That further advice could also have saved her life.

            Don;t act like a stereotypical geek and ignore the fact that human beings will act like human beings.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Then:
            1) You should suggest the vaccine to everyone.
            2) The vaccine isn’t an answer to the question, because the question was about what things should be specifically done for her based on her particular circumstances, not on what should be done for her because she is a human being.

            Jiro, I think you are missing the point. For one, EEA is recommending that everyone receive certain advice even if it might be (mis)construed as insulting.

            The reason I mentioned the vaccine isn’t because she is at increased risk of contracting HPV, per se, but because she is at increased risk of not knowing about (or having access to) it. The same way she is not at increased “risk” of having sex, but that she is at increased risk of not knowing about (or having access to) effective contraceptives. All the same contributing factors apply.

            At the end of the day, poor people are much less likely to receive preventative medicine. Hypothetically, if she has never had a routine doctors appointment (not unheard of under the circumstances described), she certainly hasn’t had her gynecologist recommend that she receive the vaccine. Lord knows the school district can’t be trusted to mention anything even remotely beneficial in sex ed.

            I don’t see that the vaccine has such a wide public awareness around it that she (or her parents) would otherwise know about it or understand the importance of receiving it, without her doctor or school bringing it up.

            It was approved by the FDA less than ten years ago, after all. Her parents wouldn’t have received the vaccine while they were teens.

            The CDC is very clear in their advice that all girls (and preferably boys) receive the vaccine before they become sexually active. Even if they are sexually active before administration, they should still complete it. (I think for girls the earliest possible is 9, and the latest is 26.)

            So yes, she might misconstrue a recommendation that she receive the vaccine (or an IUD, for crying out loud, but nobody is arguing against that advice) as an accusation of being “slutty.” But it is based on an entirely false picture of the situation. It may take a little bit of finesse to deliver the advice, but “this is the standard advice, and I don’t know if you have received it” might be a place to start.

          • Jiro says:

            Whowould: It is true that “I think you are uninformed” is not an accusation of a personal failing. However, if you tell her to take the vaccine, she’ll do a Bayseian inference and think “believing I’m a slut, or believing I’m uninformed, would both lead him to tell me that. There is some probability of each one of these beliefs. Given that he told me that, I will do a Bayseian update that increases my estimate for both of those cases”. She now, rationally, has increased her estimate of the probability of “WW thinks I’m a slut”. (Even if you don’t think that.)

            (Of course, most people not in the LW-sphere won’t explicitly do a Bayseian inference, but that’s what her thought processes will amount to.)

            If you tell your black friend that he should avoid robbing people, on the grounds that not understanding how bad it is to rob is common among black people, I can guarantee it won’t go over well, even though every human being should understand how bad it is to rob.

            EEA is recommending that everyone receive certain advice even if it might be (mis)construed as insulting.

            The question was for something to specifically do about her. If the advice applies to all people, it didn’t answer the question.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            What I find most interesting about this whole conversation is that–in the context of “if you are already going to have the hard conversation about sex and risk necessary to get her an IUD, you may as well throw in the addition needed to make sure she completes her HPV vaccine”–you object to the vaccine on “sluttyness”grounds but not the IUD.

            Does disease prevention carry some sort of super-extra implication of sluttyness above-and-beyond that of long term contraceptive use that I am unaware of?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            OP here.

            I have no knowledge that she’s sexually active, although she claims on Facebook that’s she’s bi. My wife and I roll our eyes at that as a teenage phase for attention, but who knows.

            We got the HPV vaccine for our teenage son (who we are pretty sure isn’t sexually active because it’s hard to socialize with girls while suffering from depression, but again he could have secrets) so we wouldn’t worry about any signaling from that.

            Although I do worry about what signaling an IUD would cause. Which may very well be my own particular sexual hangups, I readily admit.

        • Jiro says:

          Of course the implication that she’s a slut applies to getting an IUD too, for the same reasons.

  30. chaosmage says:

    This may concern Scott and anyone interested in clinical psychiatric practice: Norah Vincent, mentioned on SSC in Links 1/2015 due to her best-selling book “Self-Made Man” (on what living as a man feels like for a woman, and what she learned about gender relations)… then wrote another book about what being a patient at three different psychiatric clinics feels like, and what she learned about psychiatry.

    She’s a phenomenal observer (especially of her fellow patients), painfully honest, and a professional writer who balances out visceral impressions with careful reflection. From her very unusual, deeply subjective perspective, she sees issues many don’t, and is driven by a deeply-felt need to reduce forms of suffering that society commonly does not adress.

    The title is “Voluntary Madness”. Many of her conclusions would have been new to me if hadn’t seen them on SSC before. Others we have not even discussed here.

  31. Grant says:

    Is there any reputable information on drugs like suboxone and outbursts of agression? I’ve seen crazy sites like InfoWars mention this in relation to shooters. Trying to judge whether or not a drug has an influence in shooters is probably impossible to know since the sample size is so small.

  32. John says:

    My mother has health anxiety and I tried telling her bayes theorem to show how if you take any given little ache or groan as a medical ‘test’, the probability of it indicating something like an oncoming blood clot is low. She listened, and promptly pointed out something that I hadn’t taken into account and didn’t know how to answer:

    How can you get prior probabilities to work with, or really even *any* probabilities to worth with for Bayes if you don’t know how often this sort of thing kills people in her demographic anyway?

    I told her you could look at medical papers, but she made the common sense observation that theoretically she could but in practice she can’t because it would be too time consuming and it would fuel her health anxiety even further. Plus I’m not sure medical papers would have the sort of data you need in the first place.

    Is there a good source for medical data you can use to be reasonably sure that your heartburn doesn’t signal an immediate oncoming heart attack?

    • Emily says:

      For nearly all people/nearly all contexts, it’s just not practical to be looking for or at data. What you want to do is find a source that’s already done the data work. For instance, when I was pregnant, I found economist Emily Oster’s book on pregnancy extremely useful. If that kind of thing doesn’t exist – and mostly it doesn’t – my go-to is reading whatever the Mayo Clinic says about a topic. (Also, if you think your heartburn might signal an immediate heart attack, definitely don’t read anything! Get some medical attention!)

  33. AlphaGamma says:

    I’m wondering what the earliest reference is to something we might consider a scientific experiment.

    Herodotus (writing in the mid to late 5th century BCE) mentions a spectacularly unethical experiment carried out by the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus I (reigned 664-610 BCE) in which he had children raised without anyone speaking to them in order to determine which language they spontaneously developed.

    Does anyone know of anything earlier?

    There’s the mythical Chinese emperor Shennong who is supposed to have discovered the properties of medicinal herbs by experimenting on himself, but I don’t know how far back mentions of him go (he is supposed to have lived around 2400 BCE).

    • Ever An Anon says:

      I think the biggest problem here is one of definition more than anything else.

      For example, my own discipline in large part grew out of European alchemy. The European alchemists were themselves building off of Arabic alchemy, which was itself based on Greek chemia, which purportedly originated in ancient Egypt. So at what point in the Hermetic tradition between Zosimos and Boyle did it start being proper science?

      People have been experimenting and building mathematical models of observable phenomena for at least as far back as we have records. It doesn’t make sense to seperate out any one and say that’s the first real scientific experiment.

    • Matt M says:

      In the pharma space, the common founding mythology of the concept of controlled clinical trials dates back to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar wanted all of his soldiers to adopt a strict meat diet, but many vegetarians objected, so he allowed a group of them to eat nothing but vegetables for a period of time, then compared the fitness of the two groups, found that the vegetarians were just fine, and then dropped his policy and said “eat whatever you want.”

      No clue how historically accurate that is but I’ve seen it referenced in a wide variety of mainstream media articles.

      • Alraune says:

        iirc, that’s one of the Bible stories from the Babylonian exile. Though obviously less well-known than the time they got thrown into the furnace.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Daniel 1:5-15, although the implication is that this was due more to God’s favor than any particular superiority of vegetarianism.

        Gideon performs an experiment of sorts much earlier on to make sure it’s God that is talking to him.

        • Susebron says:

          1 Kings 18 22-40 involves Elijah performing an experiment to determine whether Baal or God is real.

          • CJB says:

            Lot conducted several experiments to determine the number of righteous men in Sodom and Gomorrah. The results were >10 with a truly excellent P value.

            Arguably….eve and the apple? Adam served as the control.

    • I have two medieval examples of experiments, but they are later than your Egyptian one.

      1. Ibn Battuta, 14th c. north African world traveler, in a mosque dedicated to Ali. It was supposed to be a miracle of that mosque that if you went into one of the minarets and called out on Ali, the minaret would tremble. After observing the miracle, Ibn Battuta repeated the process, calling out on Abu Bakr. The minaret trembled.

      2. Jomviking saga has an ingenious if somewhat costly experiment to determine whether consciousness is located in the head or the body. The experimental subject holds a small knife, point down. Someone cuts his head off with a sharp sword. If he can, he then turns the knife point up. If he succeeds, his consciousness was in his body, if he fails, in his head. The experiment was suggested by the experimental subject, who was about to be executed anyway and pointed out that this was the perfect opportunity to settle a long standing question.

      Probably written in the 13th or 14th c., but the event, if true, occurred in the 10th century.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Empedocles of the fifth century BC gave the bucket experiment. He hung a bucket by a rope and spun it about the axis of the rope. Centripetal force pushed the water up the walls of the bucket. This strongly suggests that rotation is not a purely relative phenomenon, and thus that it is theoretically possible to distinguish the hypotheses that the Earth is motionless or rotates on its axis. (At least, that’s what Aristotle said. The very question of the motion of the Earth is usually dated a bit later than Empedocles.)

      The Hellenistics (300-150BC) got into serious science and probably did lots of experiments. Philo of Byzantium wrote a whole book of pneumatic experiments which survives, although probably corrupted in translation. For example, he showed that combustion creates a vacuum. He used a thermoscope to demonstrate air expands when heated.

      Lucio Russo claims that Ctesibius built pneumatic machines specifically to contradict Aristotelian claims, such as the impossibility of vacuum. I’m not sure how he justifies this claim, since Ctesibius’s work is lost. Maybe from Hero’s description of it (50AD)? Or Hero makes the argument and Russo assumes he’s copying Ctesibius? He also speculates that Ctesibius’s machines condemned as toys were experimental apparatuses.

      Herophilus vivisected condemned men to differentiate sensory from motor neurons.

      Hipparchus created a star catalog for the express purpose (according to Pliny) of a generational experiment of seeing if they moved and looking for novae. Indeed, almost 2000 years later, Halley observed that several stars were out of place with respect to Ptolemy’s catalog (which is probably just a copy of Hipparchus’s, which we know because if he’d actually measured the stars and participated in the experiment, he would have corrected Hipparchus’s measurement of precession of the equinoxes).

    • Jaskologist says:

      I like to credit Augustine for an early use of twin studies to discredit astrology, but I don’t think it is actually original to him:

      Why, in the life of twins—in their actions, the events that befall them, their professions, arts, honors and other things pertaining to human life, as well as in their very deaths—is there often so great a difference that, as far as these things are concerned, many entire strangers are more like them than they are like each other, though separated at birth by the smallest interval of time but at conception generated by the same act and at the same moment?

  34. jast says:

    Uh, any reference on cuddling as mindkiller? I seem to have missed that one.

  35. Rachael says:

    Can anyone help suggest a cause or cure for my mystery tiredness? (Or point me at somewhere more appropriate for that kind of question?)

    It’s chronic (~10 years) and intermittent (some days I’m fine; other days I want to sleep all day, can’t get basic chores done like cooking and washing up, find it very hard to look after the kids as I’m lying on the sofa with my eyes shut going urgh. Sometimes it changes dramatically within a single day.) I’m a full-time parent of two small children, who are quite tiring, but they’re not the cause, as I’ve been tired since before I had them, and I seem to be more tired than most other parents.
    I’ve had blood tests to rule out obvious things like anaemia, diabetes, thyroid, etc. I sleep quite long (8-10 hours) and the sleep clinic didn’t find any sleep disorders. I don’t have any joint pain so probably not fibromyalgia/ME/CFS. Some doctors have suggested depression, but I don’t feel depressed, just frustrated about not being able to do all the things I want to do. I don’t have any other symptoms apart from excessive thirst and hunger (but they’ve ruled out diabetes several times, and also diabetes insipidus, which has similar symptoms). My BMI is at the bottom end of normal.
    My diet could stand to be improved, but it’s not awful. I eat food cooked from scratch about half the time and processed food the other half; I’d eat more homecooked if I had more energy. I do eat a lot of sweet things, but I don’t think that’s the cause; I tried giving up sugar and sweet things for 6 weeks and that didn’t help.
    I tried modafinil and it didn’t seem to have any effect.
    Exercise-wise, I walk and cycle a bit, and I’m doing beginner-level weight training once a week (would like to do it more often but lack of time).

    • someone says:

      I don’t know if it generalizes but I alleviated my chronic tiredness by eating truly enormous amounts of vegetables and whole carbs, and by consciously maximizing my calorie intake. To help take in more calories (mostly whole carbs) I take a number of steps, such as minimizing protein intake, since there seems to be a rule that the more protein you eat, the less calories you eat at the end of the day. I also cook things in certain ways to help maximize eating. Since you say you are chronically hungry maybe such methods might help you too. If you are interested we can talk about this more.

      The problem is that most dietary advice is designed to reduce your caloric intake, not increase it, and I suspect it might be counterproductive for someone with your problem (hunger and tiredness and lowish BMI – I tend to have the same problems). Some of the things I discovered work for me are polar opposite of the typical caloriephobic dietary advice.

      • Rachael says:

        Thanks, that sounds relevant. There does seem to be a correlation, but not a perfect one, between how much I eat and my energy levels.
        I’m curious about the “truly enormous amounts of vegetables” part – I thought vegetables filled you up with bulk without giving you many calories (and are favoured by low-calorie dieters because of this), so wouldn’t it be difficult to eat enormous amounts of them and still have room for a normal or above-average calorie intake?
        I would be interested to hear more.

        • someone says:

          I’m very happy that you are interested. I have thought about it more and I strongly suspect that your problem is similar to the one I used to have.

          I would write more, including answering your question about vegetables, but it’s difficult for me to be brief about this. I would like to say a lot of things and I need a moment or three of relaxation and idleness to write them, all the more so since English is not my native language and I’m slow to write in it. I promise I’m coming back, maybe later today or tomorrow, when I actually have time to write. Please don’t forget about this thread.

          • Rachael says:

            OK, thank you.
            Or you could email me – my address is rachael dot churchill at cantab dot net.

    • roystgnr says:

      The following is all probably-unhelpful, scraping-barrel-bottom advice, I’m afraid, but it sounds like you’ve already investigated everything sensible.

      Do you have any chronic sinus congestion, history of snoring, or other warning signs (you already ruled out weight…) of sleep apnea? It’s unlikely that a sleep clinic would have missed this, I admit…

      If you’ve tried giving up sugar, is it safe to assume you’ve also avoided caffeine and alcohol?

      Have you tried vitamin supplements, and/or more regular exposure to sunlight? Do you take any medications regularly? Do you have any allergies?

      If you’re typically home all day, have you checked out your building’s air quality?

      • Rachael says:

        Thanks for your suggestions.

        I think my sinuses are normal and I snore only occasionally.

        I don’t drink coffee or tea, so only get caffeine in Coke, about once a week, and so gave that up as part of my 6-week sugar-fast experiment (I think I did have one diet Coke over the period, but I hate the stuff.) I drink alcohol very rarely, a few times a year, I think the most recent was a party in February.

        I’ve tried a generic multivitamin and a B12 supplement. I’m not on any medication apart from the contraceptive pill (and hay fever medication just this month or so). No allergies apart from hay fever and a mild allergy to mushrooms.

        Interesting suggestion about air quality. Fairly unlikely, since I’ve been tired since before I stopped going out to work full-time, and before we moved to this house.

    • Svalbardcaretaker says:

      Since you are asking, here is my shot in the dark, based on personal experience:

      Look into the depression angle. You might have some form of highly atypical bipolar disorder,cyclothymia or whatever from this highly confusing and unprecise field. Wherein your “sleepy” days are depressed, and your normal state is the (hypo)mania.

      Relevant quotes from wiki, Bipolar II Disorder
      > Because the symptoms of hypomania are often mistaken for high functioning or attributed to personality, patients are typically not aware of their hypomanic symptoms.

      >Depressive episodes: symptoms may be subsyndromal.

      >BP-II patients may have a tendency to oversleep and overeat.

      Before I had my first truly manic episode I was just diagnosed with depression; you might as well never swing up to mania/never go down to depression.

      • Rachael says:

        I have read a bit about depression, and atypical depression, and dysthymia.
        I hadn’t considered bipolar II or cyclothymia, so thanks for that.

        I really don’t think I feel depressed, though, just tired. I don’t have suicidal ideation, and I do enjoy things and look forward to things.
        And I don’t recognise the description of hypomania as my good days. I don’t think I’ve ever had only 3 hours sleep in any 24-hour period (even the nights when my kids were born, I only got about an hour’s sleep overnight but slept some more the next day), and I don’t do the risk-taking behaviours. I think I’m a fairly lazy person by temperament, so even on my (relatively) high-energy days I’m probably getting less done than the average person, not running round being super-productive.

        Also, I said I have some days when I’m fine and some when I’m very tired, which is accurate, but may have falsely implied a switch between two binary states; whereas actually it’s more of a spectrum, from OK to a bit tired to very tired.

  36. Motorbike says:

    Re: Jaime Astorga’s comment. It’s a very clever idea, but have we done a fully consequentialist analysis of whether it’d be a good idea to pull the rug out from under the university system? It’s true that it seems locally very suboptimal but let’s not compartmentalize. Here are a few considerations:

    * Lots of research is done by universities. Basic research is a public good–private companies don’t operate on a sufficiently long time horizon to fund blue sky stuff. (At least that’s what I read somewhere.) In a libertarian, university-free society, the only entities left to fund research would be corporations and foundations. Corporate research is likely to have conflicts of interest and be unreliable. On the other hand, if all research was funded by foundations and the foundations had an EA philosophy, that might result in good outcomes like differential technological development.

    * Universities certify smart people as high status. These smart people go on to occupy top positions in government. If we replaced universities with some other credentialing system, that would be fine for employers, but it might not have the necessary cachet to make them look attractive for public office, or give them credibility as public intellectuals. Political candidates advertise themselves as “Harvard Law grads”, not “someone with an IQ of 162”. Both of these are very strong filters and employers might eventually learn that they’re more or less equivalent. But in the view of the general population, the person who tells others their IQ is 162 is someone to be laughed at. Left with no reputable way to certify their intelligence, smart people might be tempted to just say smart stuff… but that takes longer and it might be hard for less intelligent folks to differentiate actually smart stuff from smart sounding stuff.

    * Brian Tomasik thinks it’s valuable for people to study liberal arts in order to have a better chance of shaping positive long-term outcomes. I agree–I think it’s a real shame that the way to signal being smart is to study some obscure, useless pure math thing instead of something higher value like the neuroscience of rationality or whatever. Our university system currently educates many people to a moderate degree in liberal arts, and a smaller number of people (humanities/social science graduate students) spend years thinking about them full time. This is subsidized by all the university stuff anti-university people love to hate–overpriced tuition, extreme endowments, etc.

    * Generalized Chesterton’s Fence considerations. It seems like prestigious universities are a huge asset for the USA for instance, if only because they are the Schelling point for all of the world’s top scholars.

    I think many of these positive effects could be accomplished better by alternative institutions, but I would like to see those alternative institutions come in to existence and seriously prove themselves before we work to dismantle the existing system. (Maybe some of the new institutions will come out of the EA movement.) I’m also not super worried about diminishing the power of universities a moderate amount on the margin, as Jaime suggests… but I think the above points should be considered for this move anyhow.

    • I can’t express how much I wish more high IQ people went into the social sciences. I actually think addressing blights like warfare, crime and poverty, apart from being hugely benefical in its own right, is the best single way to improve the progress of technology. Massive amounts of resources is lost to these things when it could be invested in the future of humanity (research, space exploration etc). It’s also worth considering what would happen if today’s weapons were given to the minds of the 12th century, and then imagining a parallel of what would happen if tomorrow’s weapons were given to us without any social improvement.

      Also, once you start thinking deeply about the mechanisms of human society all sorts of mundane stuff takes on a new fascinating character – it’s hard to describe but its awesome.

      It’s important that STEM people make themselves aware of the fields main ideas before they start projecting STEM concepts onto the functions of society though. To be sure, the social sciences have been quite polluted by quite a lot of wishy washy new age rubbish, but if you ground yourself in the classics of the field with a truth-seeking attitude you can learn to avoid or filter most of the motivated reasoning quite easily.

      • Deiseach says:

        I can’t express how much I wish more high IQ people went into the social sciences. I actually think addressing blights like warfare, crime and poverty, apart from being hugely benefical in its own right, is the best single way to improve the progress of technology.

        I’d love to see this too, but for a different reason; the way theory would come crashing down when a high IQ social theorist had to come face-to-face with one of our social housing clients who insisted that they had rights to X, Y and Z; never co-operated; made unreasonable demands; went running to local councillors, radio stations, citizens’ advice bureaux and the likes to put pressure on us; were cohabiting and having multiple children but lied to us about being in touch with the father(s) and/or partners; constantly demanded their “rights” but had no iota of recognition that they in turn had responsibilities or duties to their own children, their neighbours, and society; and more than that.

        Squaring the circle of dealing with such people in the concrete, rather than grand theories of “Everyone is entitled to – !” would be highly amusing to me and the other faceless bureaucrats who get hammered as government drones entangled in red tape who are too blind to see The One Weird Trick that would solve all the problems 🙂

        It’s also worth considering what would happen if today’s weapons were given to the minds of the 12th century, and then imagining a parallel of what would happen if tomorrow’s weapons were given to us without any social improvement.

        Also, do you really think I can let that temporal chauvinism pass? Considering that “the minds of the 12th century” included Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis patron of architecture and the arts, the translators of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts into Latin thus making wider areas of knowledge available to the West, the founders and faculties of the great universities and a flowering of what was not alone an important predecessor to the later Renaissance but a vital moment in our history on its own merits, I think I’d bet on the benighted mediaevals handling things better than us enlightened moderns.

        Honestly, mildly insult the 12th century in front of me and expect not to get a slap? What were you thinking? 🙂

        • Mary says:

          Frankly, they sound unable to control their own actions and risk to themselves or others.

          That is, legally incompetent and in need of an insane asylum.

          • stillnotking says:

            If we put everyone in an asylum who’s incompetent to manage their affairs, by e.g. displaying extremely irrational levels of future discounting, we’d need an asylum on every corner.

            Worth noting that the US is already trying something very much like this, only using prisons instead of asylums, and with habitual drug use as the main proxy for incompetence.

          • Deiseach says:

            As Scott has told us, you can’t just lock up people for their own good, even if they are crazy 🙂

            Actually, the out-and-out crazy people are often the least trouble. You know when they’re yelling down the phone at you it’s their paranoid schizophrenia off the meds talking, not because they’re rotten malicious little scumbags.

            A lot of people have a sense of entitlement; some of it is due merely to prosperity raising living standards, e.g. the expectation on the part of people applying for social housing that each child will have their own room versus the experience of some of us working in the section, who are old enough to have lived in Poor Backwards Ireland where not only did siblings share a room, they shared beds. Per the regulations, up to the age of 10 siblings may share a room; after 10, same-gender siblings can share. The only way you’ll get a three bedroom house for you and two kids is if one is a boy and one is a girl and one of the kids is over the age of 10.

            A proportion are smart cookies who know all about gaming the system. They know how, by using the language of rights, they can get money and/or support from various state agencies and local government. These are the ones who lob in complaints to the bosses about staff, who get councillors to make representations on their behalf (of course, they never tell the full story, just their side), are the tearful subjects of local radio station reports, and have social workers agitating on their behalf. If all that fails, then the legal option is deployed and we get letters from lawyers about “Why is my client X years on the housing list and when are you going to give them a house?” (There are a couple of lawyers in the town who do very nicely out of free legal aid cases, thank you very much).

            Then there are the minority who are criminals/troublemakers; or have mental problems; or are just perennially dissatisfied. In the words of my supervisor, “They wouldn’t be pleased with Hell, Heaven or New York”.

            That’s why I’d love for the social theorists to have to deal with the awkward squad; so that rather than shove all the blame on inefficient slothful bureaucrats who cling to the system, they have to work with “I don’t want to live there even though it’s the only available house. I want this size of a house fitted out to my specifications in this area and if I don’t like it there I want a transfer in three months time and if I don’t get what I want I’ll be on to the councillors and members of parliament about it and I don’t care if I’m holding up everyone else on the list from getting housed because I am making demands”. And then see that the solution of “Well, give them a four bedroom house in the area they want!” won’t work because we don’t have the money, land, or planning permission to build there; that if we do it for one we’ll have to do it for all; that the residents in the area will and do complain about social housing tenants in private estates; and that the government won’t increase our budget because they’re a business-friendly, light touch regulation, low-tax administration and they’re cutting the budget re: social services because they’re appealing to middle-class voters.

            And no, we don’t have the option of “To hell with them, let them live on the side of the road if they can’t or won’t pay for private rented accommodation” because hello, giant scandal story on local and even national media about “Petty red tape and heartless pen pushers mean mother of four young children, with health issues of her own, and one child is special needs, was callously left homeless when evicted. Crisis in social housing! Mean old public servants not flexible enough to respond to genuine need! Cut government bureaucracy!”

            A couple of weeks on the front line in the public or civil service dealing with the public, the system, and the consequences of socially liberal demands (how dare you tell me to get a contraceptive implant to stop having kids! My body is my own! Nobody except myself has the right to make decisions about my reproductive rights! Or Drugs should be legal! What business is it of yours if I prefer to use recreational substances even if I render myself incapable of looking after my children and my house, or I get so wasted I don’t know who that guy I slept with was now that I’m pregnant, or that I have kids by three different women and no prospect of supporting any of them!), not swanning around as special advisors to government officials with expense accounts and ‘blue sky’ thinking, would be no harm at all.
            🙂

            I know I sound horribly conservative. I probably am horribly conservative. But unless we go back to Victorian values and the workhouse and ‘ruined women’ throwing themselves into the river, somebody gets the end of the stick about dealing with the problem, and it’s not the theorists.

            Sexual liberation is a great idea in theory. In practice? Women getting pregnant. Okay, get the father to pay support. No, I don’t want the father to have contact with the child or I don’t know the father or He’s not living here anymore and I don’t know where he is or He can’t pay more than (say) ten euro a week maintenance because he’s not working.

            Tell people to stop having sex outside of marriage? What kind of crazy fundamentalist religious bigot are you? I suppose you want to bring back witch-burning as well?

            Okay, contraception! That will solve the problems of unwanted pregnancy! (Yeah, I’m old enough to remember the campaigns to legalise contraception in Ireland, and even at 15 I was going “I don’t think so…”) Well, we’ve got contraception and removed the stigma of cohabitation and unwed parenthood and now where do we go? Abortion?

            Unless you are going to introduce mandatory Chinese-style sterilisation* and/or abortion “Okay, you’ve already had two children outside of marriage, the father(s) are not contributing to their support, you have to have your tubes tied and an abortion now you’re pregnant a third time”, what’s the solution? Because, um, isn’t that impinging on the whole “reproductive rights” idea in the first place, that women have bodily autonomy and can’t be forced or coerced by legal or social mores to have/not have children?

            *We’ve had some lawsuits over surgeons performing sterilisations on women without their consent or knowledge because the doctor judged he knew best. Do you want to go there? I’ll listen to arguments, but if it boils down to “I’m nice middle-class college person, I can have sex freely because I’m responsible but those underclass types need to be spayed like feral cats and dogs because they can’t be trusted with sexual freedom”, then I think your progressive credentials are a bit tarnished.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Well, we’ve got contraception and removed the stigma of cohabitation and unwed parenthood and now where do we go? Abortion?

            According to Scott, we go to contraception so effective that you can’t risk-compensate around it. The use of contraception seems to still mitigate against unwanted pregnancy (I did the math somewhere, but can’t find it; using contraception cuts your relative risk of pregnancy by a factor of about seven, and using LARC by a further, much larger factor).

            You’re writing as though we’re all going to hell in a rapidly accelerating handbasket. We’re not, really. Unplanned pregnancy used to be considerably worse than it is, and there’s good reason to believe it’ll be much better with LARC widely available, especially to people who can’t afford the up-front cost.

        • “the way theory would come crashing down when a high IQ social theorist had to come face-to-face with one of our social housing clients who insisted that they had rights to X, Y and Z”

          Arguing whether the people you mention are in the right or wrong is not the job of social science. I think your objections highlight a problem that we desperately need smart people in social sciences to overcome – the core of social science is not to make normative claims about people’s rights, but to factually describe people and society using empirical investigation and careful unbiased reasoning.

          Sadly, the left has abused social science by turning it into a political tool to suit their agenda, the right has used this as a flimsy excuse to discard it and replace it with whatever baseless assertions about human nature suit their cause. Both sides care nothing for the truth and are stifling an important field. In my opinion, if you can’t separate out normative (political) opinion from empirical investigation and careful induction+deduction, you don’t belong in social science. Sadly only a handful of people agree with me.

          “Also, do you really think I can let that temporal chauvinism pass?”

          I won’t deny the 12th century had many great minds to which we owe a debt, as every historical age has, but sadly saints and philosophers do not determine the temper of an age. To equate then to the internally peaceful civilization we in West enjoy now is false imo. Dueling over minor insults, death penalties for aposty, open practice of serfdom – in civilized parts of the world we have thankfully expunged such things.

          “expect not to get a slap”

          I received no slap, is it on its way in the mail? 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Dueling over minor insults, death penalties for aposty, open practice of serfdom

            (a) Duellling over minor insults – disrespect killings

            (b) Death penalties for apostasy – no, perhaps not. But certainly there are social and career penalties for heresy on matters such as gay rights (whether for or against); there are plenty of death and rape threats thrown about in online quarrels, and we can argue about whether capital punishment fits in this broad category.

            (c) Open practice of serfdom – do we want to get into a squabble over minimum wage laws? 🙂

            My broader point is when talking about the 12th versus the 21st century, were you intending the mass of the people as being smarter, more pacific, better able to handle the impact of strange new technology?

            I’m sure an average soldier or citizen in the 12th century might well have thought of 21st century weaponry as some kind of marvellous superweapon that would crush all enemies and enable their realm to be the most powerful, wealthiest, and most peaceful. I’m sure the average person nowadays given 30th century weaponry might think the same. If that’s the comparison you were making, I agree.

            But if you meant “Our rulers and thinkers are so much wiser and smarter than the ignorantly superstitious churchmen and warring power-hungry kings of back then” – not so much 🙂

          • I guess it depends where you go in the world. Probably this would be a long conversation if we pursued it. Probably I’m just saying when you combine poor social structures meet tech, you get Daesh. So try to understand good social structures. Or something.

            “But if you meant “Our rulers and thinkers are so much wiser and smarter than the ignorantly superstitious churchmen and warring power-hungry kings of back then” – not so much”

            I’m basically thinking of aggregate human physical aggression in decision making, which I think has decreased. I’m thinking people are more likely to use non-violent means to get what they want now, and that if we can manage to continue that trend we can minimise the harms of new and more deadly human weapon tech.

            Generally it sounds like we only disagree in very minor ways. Hopefully my original social science plea makes more sense now at least.

      • Mark says:

        I think we need more low IQ people in social sciences:
        Karl Pilkington – Satisfied Fool

        Social science is already too abstract. It needs to be more grounded in the reality of social interactions – best way to achieve that isn’t importing more mathematicians.

        Karl: “intelligent people… they argue alot… and you’re like oh stop arguing, just one of you say you might be right and go home” Do you know what I mean? You see them on newsnight or whatever and none of them are going to back down … and you think ‘what’s been sorted out?'”
        Germaine Greer: “Things are not meant to be sorted out”
        Karl:”Well, whats the point in chatting about it?”

        • I agree maths is not the problem. However, truth-orientated people with high logic/reasoning skills are desperately required. Currently a significant part of the field is occupied by medium IQ people who want to advocate for people rather than study how humans work. I think that’s well intentioned, but I think it’s ruining the field.

          However one misconception about social science, even the politicised version, is that it isn’t empirical. The field does **huge** amounts of social research that most people are totally unaware of and even undergrads are exposed to quite a bit of it. The problem is not a detachment of theory from empirical work, its the fact almost no-one cares about separating normative and descriptive theory.

      • Adam says:

        The major problem I see with that is that studying technology, engineering, and science can lead to being able to build useful things privately. Studying social science doesn’t leave you with the ability to build a better society. That’s up to decision-makers who are selected for the ability to raise money and not get caught in scandals, not to social scientists. Bureaucratic agency managers and what not can be, but their power is necessarily limited in that they don’t make policy. They only implement what elected officials and political appointees tell them to.

        • Yes I think you’re right. Decision makers are less and less inclined to listen to neutral factual experts. Instead they just balance between the views of various lobbyists, interests etc. Hence the most obvious social science job of policy advice and research has become a lot rarer. This hasn’t been helped by the tendancy of the social sciences to become highly politicised. Still social science jobs are still around if you apply yourself and distinguish yourself as competent. You probably won’t be rich, but they’re often more pleasant workplaces with less backstabbing you find in many workplaces.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Lots of research is done by universities.

      Universities can keep doing research if you take away the students. Do you mean that tuition subsidizes research? The budgets of universities are quite opaque, but as far as I can tell, no. Biology research is done by professors paid by NIH who don’t teach.

      And if tuition were subsidizing research, is that fair? Most research universities are public. If the state thinks research is a public good that should be subsidized, why not do it explicitly with a broad-based tax?

      • AFAIK in Australia research is *massively* subsidised by teaching, which is where unis earn the overwhelming majority of their money.

        I agree that research should be independently funded. The professors I’ve talked to in a number of fields express the frustration with talented researchers having to spend so much time on teaching. The difficultly is measuring and funding quality in non-applied areas. The current solutions are a bureaucratic failure and either have trouble dealing with laziness or perversely incentivise quantity and sensationalism over quality.

        • walpolo says:

          This varies from university to university, but in the majority of cases research is subsidized either by teaching or by alumni donations (which among the Ivies are a much bigger windfall than tuition).

  37. Mark says:

    Property can only ever be a means to an ethical end – the fundamental ethical principle is that we should treat others with kindness (or some variation of this) – the ethical way for people to interact with inanimate objects is determined by how people *feel* about those objects – not some fundamental property of the object itself.
    One of the roles of government and law is to find the best possible compromise between these conflicting attitudes/emotions with regard to inanimate objects.

    This is where libertarianism is wrong, and Marx is right. You can’t get rid of government because private property takes precedence over it – you get rid of government when property exists in such abundance as to no longer be relevant to people.

    • “One of the roles of government and law is to find the best possible compromise between these conflicting attitudes/emotions with regard to inanimate objects.”

      Is that a normative or a positive statement? Are you saying that that is how you would like governments to behave or how actual governments do behave? If the latter, what is your evidence?

      “You can’t get rid of government because private property takes precedence over it – you get rid of government when property exists in such abundance as to no longer be relevant to people.”

      I don’t follow that at all. The standard arguments for government don’t depend on property being scarce but on the existence of conflicts of interest among individuals—which would still be the case in a society where property was abundant. Indeed, it still is the case in modern societies where, by the standards of virtually all past societies, property is abundant. How do you think people more than a century or two in the past would regard a society where obesity was regarded as a serious problem not only among the rich but among the poor?

      And the argument against government hinges on the claim that such conflicts are better dealt with by other sorts of institutions.

      • Mark says:

        “Is that a normative or a positive statement?”
        Normative, but I’d like to make a positive statement too:
        Historically, governments have established and maintained rules relating to property in order to decide between competing claims – I imagine that these rules would, of necessity, normally represent a compromise, though a compromise based upon the power of the parties involved.
        In my opinion, an ethical government would have at least some consideration for the feelings of people when establishing its rules, regardless of their power.

        “the argument against government hinges on the claim that such conflicts are better dealt with by other sorts of institutions”
        Assumptions:
        1) The more contentious the rule (law), the more power (violence or potential for violence) needed to establish it.
        2) It isn’t the fact of violence (or threat thereof) that makes an institution a “government”, it is its scale.

        To me, libertarianism seems to be the position that if we were to recognize certain fundamental relationships between people and property (that a person has a right to do as they please with the fruits of their labor), government would become unnecessary or impossible – that government exists as a means of controlling people: through force the individual’s production is put to a use other than that which they desire.
        If everyone were to accept this, then we certainly could do without a government (institutions would need much less power), but the extent to which people disagree is exactly the extent to which we must use power to establish rules. If people don’t agree with libertarianism, at best, we’ll just have a load of renamed institutions.
        In this sense, the Marxist (I believe) position that in order to get rid of powerful institutions you must first achieve widespread agreement, and that abundance means less room for disagreement, is correct. “People need to eat” is an idea with a universality lacking in more abstract conceptions of how people should relate to inanimate objects.
        (Obviously Communists were wrong to think they could do away entirely with private property: the attempts at achieving this required terrible violence. People like private property.)

        “Indeed, it still is the case in modern societies where, by the standards of virtually all past societies, property is abundant.”
        I would say that with respect to food we have a condition of abundance – in the society where I live, I can receive food for free, if I were to take food from a shop I am very unlikely to be punished for it, and if I were, they would still feed me for free in prison. Abundance of food has meant that the rules and institutions related to consumption of food have been weakened.
        I’ll be interested to see what happens as we achieve an ever greater abundance of capital – obviously disagreement won’t completely disappear, but it is certainly possible that it will diminish to such an extent that the institutions required by society are sufficiently weak to no longer be considered to be “governments”.

  38. Gram Stone says:

    Looking for an abnormal psychology textbook recommendation.

  39. I made a visualisation/diagram of one of my social/technology theories. Feedback hugely appreciated. And feedback for how to improve my blog generally. And does anyone have good ideas on how to promote a quasi-intellectual blog like mine?

    Scott, was wondering if you had considered how you’d like discussion to be split between SSC and the subreddit? I want to suggest that a sub policy of not discussing SSC posts on the sub until they are at least two (?) weeks old might protect the discussion from getting split. That way we can easily discuss older stuff that’s effectively dead on SSC, but we don’t have to check multiple places for to see the discussion of the latest stuff.

  40. grendelkhan says:

    The word “pedophile” has (recently?) split off “ephebophile” in an attempt to outrun the dysphemism treadmill. (Maybe I have that backward? Eh, it’s not the point.) This hasn’t helped their cause at all; now people read “ephebophile” as “pretentious pedophile from Reddit”.

    They would do better to take a page from the transgender community, or from quack doctors. It’s not “trans and normal”, it’s “trans and cis”, it’s not “quacks and real doctors”, it’s “naturopaths and allopaths”. The key here would be to back-form something; Wiktionary says the Greek for “adult” is ενήλικας (enílikas), so it would be “enilikaphile”. (Current use of the word seems restricted to a one-off blog post and some silliness on archived 4chan threads.)

    Am I worried about somehow empowering a yecchy community? A little, but if we can’t be clever about awful yet interesting things here, where can we be? Vladimir Nabokov practically invented most of the subculture’s tropes, and he still gets to be an icon of literary history and all that.

    • Deiseach says:

      My understanding was that ephebeophile, etc. was an attempt to genuinely classify various attractions to those under the age of majority/adulthood.

      If “classical*” paedophilia is attraction to children as young as four or six, then I see no benefit in creating a couplet of “paedophile/enilikiphile”, since presumably unless you’re a hard-core “Yes, I think three year olds are sexual beings perfectly capable of initiating sexual contact with thirty year old adults and of giving uncoerced consent” activist campaigner, then it only muddies the water. As it stands, the use of “minor” in sexual abuse/statutory rape cases means that in the popular view, there’s no difference between “had sex with seventeen year old” and “had sex with twelve year old”.

      As for Nabokov, how anyone can read “Lolita” and come away thinking this is a genuine argument that grown men should have sex with young girls, I have no idea. Humbert Humbert reveals himself through his own words and descriptions of his actions to be a nasty, manipulative, controlling, rapist who deliberately undermined Lolita’s attempts as she grew older to get away from him as she tried to develop outside interests and self-confidence, and only let her go when she got too old for his preferences.

      *”classical” as in “understanding up to now in medical/criminal usage”, not “Classical” as in “Greek and Roman paederasty”.

      • grendelkhan says:

        As for Nabokov, how anyone can read “Lolita” and come away thinking this is a genuine argument that grown men should have sex with young girls, I have no idea.

        Some people apparently have trouble with the idea of an unreliable narrator, viz., Robertson Davies (“not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child”).

        • Nornagest says:

          Did these people even read the same book? There’s a scene where Dolores literally cries herself to sleep in Humbert’s hotel room, and it’s implied to have happened regularly.

          • Deiseach says:

            not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child

            When Lolita wants permission to act in a school play, and Humbert who is acting as her guardian blackmails her with “have sex with me and I’ll sign the permission slip”, then reneges on the bargain?

            Humbert is a pig. Lolita isn’t a sweet little snowdrop, sure, but she’s a young girl who has been over-sexualized by society and is playing with fire that she doesn’t understand. A responsible adult would turn her away; Humbert is a predator who takes advantage of her then, like many abusers, twists the blame onto her.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “I’m just like Humbert except that I like to tie ’em up,” Tom said mistrustfully.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Luckily this isn’t a case of self-serving euphemism but actually a technical term.

      Basically, what is colloquially called pedophilia is actually three paraphilias lumped together. Actual pedophilia which targets prepubescent children, hebephilia which targets pubescent children, and ephebephilia which targets postpubescent children.

      Obviously they all share the central characteristic of a repugnant sexual interest in children but they are distinct.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Being attracted to teenagers is now a repugnant sexual interest in children? Lets stop trying to pathologize something that is completely normal. There is nothing mentally wrong with someone who is sexually attracted to a teenager. The idea of “ephebophilia” as a disease is completely ridiculous.

        • Matt M says:

          I used to post on a forum where it was common practice for someone to post a photo of what appeared to be a fully developed adult woman, wait for people to comment on how attractive she was, then say something like “SHE’S ACTUALLY 14 YOU DISGUSTING PEDOPHILES!!!”

          As if pedophilia is entirely about the technical age of the person you are attracted to and not about how they appear to be developed. Always annoyed me.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            It’s about both. Of course, the revealing of the age of someone you are attracted to doesn’t change the morality of it. On the other hand, it is wrong to act in any way on attraction towards a 14 year old, regardless of how physically developed they are.

          • Matt M says:

            ” it is wrong to act in any way on attraction towards a 14 year old, regardless of how physically developed they are.”

            It’s wrong because a 14 year old is quite possibly (although you don’t know for sure as everyone is different) not mentally and emotionally developed enough to give meaningful consent.

            But it isn’t somehow sick or deranged or perverted to be physically attracted to someone who appears to be an adult but technically isn’t.

            Of course, it works both ways too. Actual pedophiles are sometimes capable of suspending disbelief for of-age women who appear to be underage. A fact that has been taken under close consideration by certain pornographers…

        • Ever An Anon says:

          Psychiatrists aren’t quite as stupid or morslistic as you give them credit for.

          My understanding from outside the profession is that this is talking about young postpubescent girls, like 14 or 15 year olds, not someone a month from their 18th birthday.

        • Deiseach says:

          A teenager is anyone between the ages of thirteen and nineteen.

          There’s a big difference between thirteen and nineteen, but I think broadly that while a (say) forty year old person having a sexual relationship with a nineteen year old might be considered cradle snatching/woo, go for it! (depending on attitude), most opinion would be that a forty year old and a thirteen year old is not acceptable, no matter how physically and mentally mature the thirteen year old is or appears to be.

          And I’m including all genders in this; I know there’s a tendency to think older woman/young boy is a porn fantasy come true rather than statutory rape, but it’s just as bad.

          • Mint says:

            I don’t know. Obviously you have social desirability bias firmly on your side, so winning this as a debate should be shooting fish in a barrel for you.

            But looking back personally… I would very much have had sex with real women at 12 or 13, initiated by the woman. I mean, obviously it would have to have been discreet and not lead to pregnacies or AIDS, and perhaps 40 is a bit unattractive. But to try it out with a reasonably attractive 25-30 year old? Sure.

            There is a failure mode in boys like me to wait forever, be shy, romanticize one unattainable girl after another and not really get any experimentation. To me that was way more harmful.

  41. Wrong Species says:

    Lets talk about the recent Charleston shooting and race. Wait…

    Lets talk about the recent Charleston shooting and gun control. I have a pretty libertarian attitude on most things but I’m starting to feel like enough is enough. So fellow libertarians, try to convince me that gun control is a bad idea because all of the arguments against it seem to be either too abstract to be relevant right now(we need guns in case there is a civil war!) or just simply wrong(more guns cause less crime).

    The link between availability of guns and mass killings seems pretty strong. Is there any evidence to suggest otherwise?

    • Alraune says:

      In that case, honest question: how many countries are you willing to burn to the ground to reduce the incidence of mass-murders in America from nearly-zero to zero? The war to reduce the number of terror attacks from nearly-zero to zero has wrecked about five. The war to reduce the number of… I’m honestly not sure what rare tragedy we were originally trying to reduce with the drug war, but it’s destroyed another eight. What makes you think the war on guns would be any more effective or any more bloodless?

      There’s also Scott’s old argument against snap-reactions on these things: http://squid314.livejournal.com/347454.html

      • Wrong Species says:

        This isn’t a snap reaction. I’ve been thinking about this ever since the Virginia tech shootings back in 2007. I was sure not to have a snap reaction during the Fort Hood shooting. And then again during the Connecticut shooting. And then the one in Aurora. But now I have to say enough. Mass shootings should simply be unacceptable. If taking away some freedom in order to prevent that from happening is effective, then I would easily accept that trade off. And I think it would be effective because countries like Japan can reduce the number of gun deaths to eleven in a given year. I’m sure there are other factors involved but the United States has far more gun violence than pretty much every other rich country in the world. It’s not a coincidence that we also have far more guns.

        • Jiro says:

          Do you also believe in taking away some freedom to prevent Islamic terrorism?

          • Wrong Species says:

            It depends. What kinds of freedom are we talking about?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            The freedom to be Muslim seems like it might be analogous.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            FacelessCraven – What? I thought “stupid Americans worship guns” was a ludicrous straw man, but comparing freedom to own a gun, with freedom to worship a certain God seems to suggest it isn’t.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Sweeneyrod – “What? I thought “stupid Americans worship guns” was a ludicrous straw man, but comparing freedom to own a gun, with freedom to worship a certain God seems to suggest it isn’t.”

            Is it your standard policy to conclude that people whose values differ from yours are stupid? I humbly submit that it is not a method likely to result in productive discussion.

            If you were not aware that pro-gun Americans value guns very, very highly, I think it is possible that you do not understand America in general or pro-gun Americans in particular very well. The second amendment is placed directly alongside freedom of speech and religion, and there are quite a few of us who find that entirely appropriate.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @FacelessCraven
            Sorry, I should have worded that better. I didn’t intend offence by saying “stupid Americans”, I was just trying to word it in the fashion someone attacking extreme gun fetishism as a straw man might do.

            However, I still think the analogy between freedom of religion and gun rights is flawed – I suspect most of the ~65% of gunfree households don’t feel as strongly about gun rights as you do, whereas ~100% of Muslims (or indeed religious people in general) would feel very strongly about someone removing their right to worship.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Sweeneyrod – it’s all good, sir.

            “However, I still think the analogy between freedom of religion and gun rights is flawed – I suspect most of the ~65% of gunfree households don’t feel as strongly about gun rights as you do…”

            …Just like whatever percentage of the population isn’t Islamic doesn’t feel strongly about Islam?

            Muslims want freedom to follow their customs and practice their religion in peace. Gun owners want freedom to defend themselves and enjoy their culture in peace. The opinions of non-Muslims and non-gun-owners are not the issue. Why would they be?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @WrongSpecies – “And I think it would be effective because countries like Japan can reduce the number of gun deaths to eleven in a given year.”

          First off, “gun deaths” is bullshit. If you want to talk about deaths, talk about deaths. If you want to talk about violence, talk about violence. If guns make deaths or violence worse, that should show up in the overall death and violence rates. “Gun Deaths” is statistical bad faith, a gerrymandered category designed explicitly to beg the question. It shant be stood for.

          Second, Japan has not “reduced” their violence to eleven gun deaths a year. To my understanding, Japan has been a preternaturally peaceful and orderly nation, from a lawful violence standpoint, for the last several hundred years at least. Japan does not have low murder rates because it lacks guns, it has low murder rates *because it is Japan*. Banning guns will not turn the US into Japan. We do not have their history, their ethnic makeup, their social customs, their traditions, their ethical systems, their government, educational or business systems. Similar issues arise with comparing America to European countries. Do some digging into the criminology research, see what they think about comparing crime rates in different countries.

          America is a violent country. We’ve been that way since the cutting-edge weapons technology was the matchlock. That being said, the murder rate continues to decline precipitously. If the problem is only getting better with time, why is your (presumed) massive and incredibly divisive social change necessary?

          As for spree shootings themselves, they end either 1) when the perp decides he’s done shooting, or 2) when the perp encounters someone who can shoot back. If you think spree killing is the menace of our times, broader support for concealed carry seems like a better solution.

          • If you’re able to separate gun deaths, you are in a position where it is at least possible to establish factually what difference guns make, rather than handwaving about mystical essences of nationhood.

          • Alraune says:

            To my understanding, Japan has been a preternaturally peaceful and orderly nation, from a lawful violence standpoint, for the last several hundred years at least.

            Also worth mentioning that the Japanese justice system is this bizarre eldritch construct that makes their crime statistics pretty well incomparable with those of the rest of the developed world. More comparable for murder than other things –despite their best efforts, the Japanese haven’t managed to construct a fundamentally different method of counting bodies– but even there, it tries its hardest to make criminologists cry.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @TheAncientGreek – “If you’re able to separate gun deaths, you are in a position where it is at least possible to establish factually what difference guns make…”

            If the question is “does the presence of more guns mean the number of people killed by guns goes up”, the answer is unquestionably yes, and that answer is also completely useless.

            The useful question is, “does the presence of more guns mean there are more people killed?” If guns encourage and enable violence, the answer should be yes. Citing “gun deaths” is an attempt to confuse the former with the latter.

            If you can explain why 1,000 people killed with guns is a worse outcome than the same 1,000 people killed with machettes and baseball bats, please do so.

            “…rather than handwaving about mystical essences of nationhood.”

            Might I ask that you take a minute or two, examine my statement again, and try to understand what I am saying? I apologize if I expressed myself poorly, but my point was that the amalgamation we call Society has an influence on the behavior of the individual, and different societies encourage different behaviors. I do not think this is a radical position to take.

            In japan’s case specifically, two points: First, if you think we can get their murder rate by banning guns, what cultural artifact of theirs needs to be banned to get down to our suicide rate? Second, their society has, shall we say, radically different attitudes toward race, ethnicity, and immigration than we do. Should we adopt those policies and attitudes as well, in the name of safety? If not, why not?

          • Jiro says:

            I think most people are aware that Japan has a historical tradition of honorable suicide. It only applied under limited circumstances, of course, but I can easily see how having popular culture permeated with references to it could make suicide marginally less unlikely

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – “I think most people are aware that Japan has a historical tradition of honorable suicide.”

            And we glorify bank robbers, gangsters, and rebellion of every kind. Should it be surprising that a culture that demands conformity and treats suicide as honorable has a low crime rate but lots of suicide, while a culture that glorifies crime and rebellion and treats suicide as a tragedy has more crime and less suicide?

          • Mark says:

            The Japanese homicide rate was significantly higher than that for Western Europe and slightly higher than that of the United States at the beginning of the Twentieth Century – however, it continued to decline throughout the century while the crime rate for the West increased.
            Japan only managed to achieve a lower homicide rate than England in 1990.

          • @FC

            The US won’t disarm unless it wants to disarm, and it won’t want to unless it sees US violence an anomalous and fixable, and the US won’t see its violence as anomalous and fixable without thinking of gun deaths and spree shootings as separate categories.

            Your formula for maintaining the status quo about gun ownership will also maintain the status quo about violence.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @TheAncientGeek – “The US won’t disarm unless it wants to disarm, and it won’t want to unless it sees US violence an anomalous and fixable, and the US won’t see its violence as anomalous and fixable without thinking of gun deaths and spree shootings as separate categories.”

            Indeed. Now all you need to do is demonstrate with solid evidence that US violence is anomalous, and fixable by removing US gun culture.

            You can’t do that by talking about gun deaths, because you need to prove that guns lead to more overall violence, not just more gun violence. The overall violent crime rate is what matters, not the rate employing a specific type of weapon. If guns make violence significantly worse, then a country with both guns and knives should have significantly worse violence than a similar country with just the knives.

            The similar country is the problem. At a minimum, you need a country with a deeply rooted gun culture and similar rates of violent crime. Then you need an intervention that removes that gun culture, and a finding that rates of violence subsequently decline significantly without obvious dramatic confounders.

            You can’t do that with japan because they’ve never had a gun culture or similar rates of violence (though someone in this thread mentioned that they used to be more violent than England.) England DID have a gun culture, but their murder rate was way lower than ours, and after the intervention their crime rates got worse, not better. Switzerland has a similar gun culture, but nothing approaching our crime profile.

            The point is, to point to England or Japan as models for the results of disarming the US is simply dishonest. Combine that with a history of blatant, chronic falsehood on the part of the anti-gun crowd, and our mood becomes uncharitable.

            Handguns were going to kill us all unless we banned them. Everyone knew there was no reason to own one unless you were a criminal or crazy. The public disagreed, people switched to handguns as the primary defensive tool, and the murder rate just kept dropping.

            “Assault weapons” were supposed to make the streets run red. If we don’t stop the assault weapons bans from expiring, our streets will turn into Mogadishu! The ban expired, and there are now more than 1.6 million ar15s in private hands in the US, not to mention the AKs, SKSs, FALs, H&Ks, m14s, and down the alphabet we go. The murder rate continues to drop.

            Concealed carry is horrifyingly irresponsible! It’s an excuse for a bunch of would-be Dirty Harrys to swagger around, escalating every minor social disagreement into a lethal gunfight! Every state in the union now has a concealed carry statute, the majority of them are Shall-Issue, and the murder rate just keeps dropping.

            http://tinyurl.com/nz6tb9u

            There’s the data. The start of that last drop is roughly around the point that the standard civilian longarm changed from a 30-30 deer rifle to a semi-auto “assault weapon” with a 30-round detachable magazine and a bayonet lug, we started letting anyone who could pass a criminal background check conceal high-capacity semi-auto handguns loaded with hollowpoints on their person, and the democratic party more or less abandoned the gun control agenda at the federal level. What you need to do is to point out where, on that graph, we entered a crisis bad enough to consider removing what many consider one of our most important Constitutional Amendments.

            I understand that you probably don’t like guns. You probably consider them objectionable on an instinctual level. Unfortunately, the evidence is not on your side. The “Status Quo about violence” is that it is declining precipitously.

          • @FC

            If you forbid gun deaths as a separate category, they will not figure in the statistics because you have banned them. That isnt rationally proving a point.

            Ye, the anti gun side need to prove their point, and so does the pro side. However you argument against gun deaths as a separate statistical category presupposes, unreasonably, that the pro side has made their case.

            Gun deaths do feature in some of the statistics, eg the UK and Japan, where there are few guns, fewer gun deaths, and fewer homicides overall. You seem to be aware of these statistics, since you have brought in the argument about cultural differences to negate them. Nothing could count as an anti gun statistic to you. That is another way in which, whilst demanding that the anti gun side make their case, you have set things up so that they never could. Excluding all possibility of refutation is not rational argument.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @TheAncientGeek – “If you forbid gun deaths as a separate category, they will not figure in the statistics because you have banned them.”

            I am not banning them. Murders that involve a gun are part of the overall murder statistic, together with those done with knives and fists. Suicides that involve a gun are part of the overall suicide statistics, together with suicides using pills or hanging.

            You appear to hold the position that widespread gun ownership results in a more violent society. That means the overall rates of violence are what you have to show, not simply the rates of firearms violence. Japan has much lower suicide by gun than the US, but much higher suicide overall, which would make it a poor example for arguing that gun prohibition drastically reduces suicide.

            The more I’ve read, the less I think comparing crime rates between countries is a useful thing to do. If we’re going to do it, though, we should at least be comparing overall rates for each category, and we should be doing it per capita. This is all I have been saying from the very first post. Does it still seem unreasonable to you?

            “However you argument against gun deaths as a separate statistical category presupposes, unreasonably, that the pro side has made their case.”

            My case is that the murder rate has been dropping since the early 90s, even though firearms have grown both more numerous, more lethal, and more integrated into daily life continuously over that period. Further, research for the last twenty years has uniformly showed that guns are effective as a means of lawful self defense, that they are used in this manner frequently, and the social good of their lawful use outweighs the danger they pose in misuse and crime. We’ve already picked all the low-hanging fruit from gun control laws, further laws are likely to be ineffective, and prohibition is not a remotely practical option.

            Here are my sources for that overview:
            http://www.guncite.com/journals/gun_control_katesreal.html
            Why research over the last twenty years? Excellent question! Read more here:
            http://www.guncite.com/journals/tennmed.html
            Again, here’s the overall murder rate for the US for the last several decades: http://tinyurl.com/nz6tb9u
            If you prefer to hear it from Wikipedia, I can roll like that:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defensive_gun_use

            If you have contrary evidence, please present it. I would very much like to see it.

            “Excluding all possibility of refutation is not rational argument.”

            I explicitly outlined the steps needed to provide a good national-comparison argument for gun control. You need a country similar to ours, with crime rates similar to ours, and a gun culture similar to ours. You then remove the gun culture, and demonstrate that violence drops significantly after the removal. All of those steps are there for a reason.

            I could argue that instituting mandatory ownership of machine guns would eliminate almost all crime in the US, and prove it by pointing to Switzerland and Israel. But that would be bullshit, because Switzerland and Israel are fundamentally unlike the US in many of the same ways that England and Japan are fundamentally unlike the US. This question isn’t as simple as pointing to countries with convenient stats and ignoring the inconvenient ones.

            I leave you with a parting quote: “…how do those who attribute U.S. gun murders to greater gun availability explain the far higher U.S. rate of stranglings and of victims being kicked to death? Do they think that Americans “have more hands and feet than” Britons? …the analyst attributes grossly higher American violence rates “not to the availability of any particular class of weapon” but to socio-cultural and institutional factors that dictate
            that American criminals are more willing to use extreme violence; [quoting a report of the British Office of Health Economics]: “One reason often given for the high numbers of murders and manslaughters in the United States is the easy availability of firearms … But the strong correlation with racial and linked socio-economic variables suggests that the underlying determinants of the homicide rate relate to particular cultural factors.'”
            /jeffgoldblum.gif

        • suntzuanime says:

          There are a lot of things that should simply be unacceptable. You just have to accept it.

        • Alraune says:

          You didn’t answer my question, Wrong Species. How many destroyed countries are in a “simply unacceptable”?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Probably because it’s a loaded question not relevant to the discussion. I’m not talking about invading other countries. I’m simply talking about a few more restrictive gun laws. So I guess zero if you really wanted an answer.

          • Alraune says:

            I’ll answer it for you then: between three and two hundred countries.

            “A few more restrictive gun laws” will no more move the needle than a few drug dealer arrests did. You are not a wizard.

            Massacres are the application of guns least sensitive to types and numbers of guns. America’s market integration means that even if constitutional issues were resolved voluntary state laws would do nothing to prevent importation from red states. You must confiscate 99% of guns from the entire country, and that is literally requesting Civil War II.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            (Reply to child comment)
            The argument isn’t “we should ban guns right now”, it is “the banning guns would be a good thing to happen, so we should persuade people that it is a good idea”. If guns were to be banned, it wouldn’t cause Civil War II, as the law banning them would have been passed by politicians who wouldn’t have done so if it was political suicide.

          • LHN says:

            Counterpoint: Prohibition was successfully passed as a constitutional amendment, and winding down the War on Drugs has thus far proved politically impossible. (Maybe that’s changing now, but only after decades.)

            So a ban that a politically sustainable coalition believes is a good idea over a long term can also be a ban that engenders a great deal of violence to achieve, at best, partial success.

          • Ano says:

            Other developed nations have managed to create effective gun control regimes, so it’s not that it can’t work. It’s more that there’s no obvious path from “America as it currently is” to “America with vastly reduced gun availability”, and legal fiat (the preferred method) won’t take us there.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Sweeneyrod – “The argument isn’t “we should ban guns right now”, it is “the banning guns would be a good thing to happen, so we should persuade people that it is a good idea”.”

            If you could demonstrate that banning guns WAS a good idea, that might help. But the fact remains that the majority needed to get a ban passed is much smaller than the majority needed to actually attempt confiscation without widespread civil unrest. Most of the people who have guns really, really want to keep them.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Alraune

            Seriously think about what you just said. You honest-to-god don’t see any middle ground between total gun freedom and Civil War 2?

          • Alraune says:

            You honest-to-god don’t see any middle ground between total gun freedom and Civil War 2?

            I honest-to-god don’t see any middle ground between what you would term “total gun freedom” and World War III.

            To maintain Pax Americana, you must have the US Navy.

            To have the US Navy, Texas and New York must mutually pretend they are a unified political entity.

            To have Texas and New York mutually pretend they are a unified political entity, you must maintain the second amendment.

            To stop spree killings, meanwhile? Spree killings are the most technology-, price-, and time-insensitive use of guns imaginable. Nothing short of mass confiscation will stop them, and to do that, you must break the lynchpin of the entire global status quo.

            You are calling for the deaths of millions to stop the deaths of tens. This is scope-insensitivity at its most psychotic.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Wrong Species – “Seriously think about what you just said. You honest-to-god don’t see any middle ground between total gun freedom and Civil War 2?”

            …Do you have any idea how many gun laws there are already? All the common-sense gun control laws were passed forty years ago. The maybe-this-will-work laws were passed thirty years ago. The now-we’re-just-fucking-with-you laws came in during the Nineties, and failed to do a lick of good, exactly as predicted.

            There are no laws left to pass that will not result in complete confiscation. There is nothing left to offer in compromise.

        • One argument for civilian ownership of firearms you may not have considered is that if people are disarmed they depend for protection against crime on the police. They more they do so, the more willing they will be to increase police power and ignore abuses thereof.

          Mass shootings are very dramatic, but they represent a tiny fraction of the murder rate.

          Why, by the way, do you regard the more guns, less crime argument as simply wrong?

          • Adam says:

            Mother Jones maintains a google docs spreadsheet of every mass shooting since 1984. Average is 27 dead per year.

            FBI says 400 a year killed by police.

          • Saint_Fiasco says:

            I think you might have this backwards. When people can have guns, police have to carry guns all the time, and be constantly nervous that the next guy they stop for speeding or something might carry a gun.

            If there were fewer guns, the police might not be forced to be so trigger happy.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I agree with Saint_Fiasco. In the UK, civilians don’t have guns, so the police don’t have guns (and 80% don’t want them).

          • Saint:

            Restrictions on firearms ownership mainly impact law abiding people, who are the ones quite unlikely to shoot police. They have much less effect on people who are already law breakers.

            So far as your broader point, my concern isn’t limited to police shooting people. It includes wire tapping, restrictive laws, lots of things that are justified as done to protect the public—and more likely to be accepted the more the public feels in need of protection.

          • Wrong Species says:

            That seems more like a theoretical problem than an actual one. Do you have an proof of this? I’m sure the UK is a good example but that could just be an acecdote.

            And honestly, the idea that more guns will cause less crime just seems ridiculous. It’s like suggesting that fewer marijuana restrictions will cause less people to smoke it.(Maybe not a fair comparison, but that’s how it feels to me). You mentioned some statistical evidence supporting the idea, I would like to see it.

          • Oliver Cromwell says:

            Four years ago the UK had a series of riots triggered by a black man being shot allegedly unjustly by the police: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_England_riots

            (I say allegedly because it turned out he was a drug dealer with a gun in his car and the shooting was later ruled lawful.)

            In the few parts of the UK that are beginning to resemble US inner cities socially, US paramilitary policing methods are becoming necessary and resulting in the same sort of abuses and “abuses”.

            Moreover the UK is an exception. In almost all other European countries, police routinely carry guns despite the fact that the civilian population is disarmed.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Wrong Species – “You mentioned some statistical evidence supporting the idea, I would like to see it.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defensive_gun_use

            https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/reports/2012-operations-report/image/nics-echeck-june-dec2012.jpg

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concealed_carry_in_the_United_States

            http://tinyurl.com/nz6tb9u

            http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/120731095634-declining-gun-ownership-chart-story-top.jpg

            These two papers are the best I’ve found for illuminating the realities of the gun control debate.

            http://www.guncite.com/journals/tennmed.html
            A detailed overview of the academic gun control movement, and why their research was worthless. This paper in particular helped get the CDC banned from researching gun violence.

            http://www.guncite.com/journals/gun_control_katesreal.html
            An honest look at the actual state of the “conversation” over gun control, written by a blue-tribe author.

          • Matt C says:

            Wrong Species–

            You can look up Kennesaw, GA in the U.S.

            I think it’s decent evidence, though I’m sure people have found reasons to reject the crime rates there as significant, or as caused by the gun laws.

            Fun fact: I first heard about Kennesaw from the song “Right Wing Pigeons From Outer Space” by the Dead Milkmen.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the UK, civilians don’t have guns, so the police don’t have guns

            Except for the police who do have guns and are allowed to engage in planned assassinations of criminals who they think have guns.

            Meanwhile, over in Iceland, a third of the population has guns, about the same as the United States, and the police are unarmed.

            And in Japan, no civilians have guns, but the police are fully armed.

            So this theory that there is a correlation between armed citizens and armed policemen, is not looking so obvious to me.

            More generally, can we please recognize that the UK and Japan, and while we are at it Switzerland, are extreme outliers and almost useless for this sort of comparison? All three have, for essentially ideological reasons deeply rooted in their national culture, made very unusual decisions regarding the role of violence in civil society. They are not generic examples of how “civilized nations” do things, for the the savage United States (or anyone else) to follow; their recipes aren’t likely to work anywhere else. And at least in the case of the UK and Japan, they come with unanticipated, unwanted consequences even when applied on their home territory.

        • A Cat in Ulthar says:

          You are claiming that the rate of mass shootings is unacceptably high. Mass shootings are exceptionally rare compared to most other causes of death.

          What would be the rate of mass shootings which would be low enough that would allow you to feel that the benefits of allowing people to own guns was an acceptable trade off?

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      “or just simply wrong(more guns cause less crime).”

      Why do you think that is obviously wrong?
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/18/11-essential-facts-about-guns-and-mass-shootings-in-the-united-states/

      41% of whites have guns in their home
      19% of blacks have guns in their home

      Blacks have a much higher homicide rate. So yeah, there isn’t a casual link, but there is a correlation between the two.

      “The link between availability of guns and mass killings seems pretty strong. Is there any evidence to suggest otherwise?”

      You want to look at gun control and total murders- that is the correct reference class.

      • grendelkhan says:

        To what extent does that black/white difference reflect an urban/rural divide? That seems like the confounding elephant in the room, here.

      • kernly says:

        41% of whites have guns in their home
        19% of blacks have guns in their home

        Which is the best possible argument that a negative gun-to-crime correlation should be ignored. You need to compare apples to apples – blacks to blacks, whites to whites, poors to poors, rich to rich. Unless you think guns make you rich, or guns make you white.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          Comparing Americans to Americans and Japanese to Japanese might not be a bad idea either.

      • Guns in the home are legal , registered guns.

      • On the general “more guns, less crime” issue (I think the title of a book by John Lott)…

        The part of the argument I’m familiar with involves the effect of state laws that do or do not permit concealed carry. It was set off by a Lott and Mustard article offering statistical evidence that such laws reduced confrontational crime. There has been a long series of articles since, on both sides of the issue. For a while I covered the controversy on my web page, Lott being an ex-student and friend of mine and the underlying argument one I sketched in my Price Theory text. I eventually decided that the statistical arguments had gotten past my level of competence to judge and gave up on it.

        On the other hand, I think it’s pretty clear by casual observation that the predicted downside of such laws—lots of ordinary people getting into arguments, pulling guns, and shooting each other—didn’t happen.

    • Deiseach says:

      Ack. All I know is what I heard in a news report on Irish radio, which went “Shooter given gun for birthday present, later went on to do this.”

      My immediate reaction is that maybe if someone is asking for guns for presents you shouldn’t be buying them for them, but that’s unfair to people who like guns, use them for legitimate purposes, and don’t plan to go out and slaughter people (or talk at tedious length about how bang-bang is bestest and means they is real manly-mans/womanly-womans).

      • FacelessCraven says:

        My gifts policy is lethal weapons only. Knives, bows, guns. My best friend got a pump-action 12-gauge for his birthday, and he and I traded compound bows for Christmas. Chef’s knives are still technically lethal, so that’s what the more liberal foodies among my kin receive. It’s a system that has served me well.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I suppose your friends may be more rational than mine (or live where such superstitions don’t exist) but I have heard people say that you shouldn’t give knives as gifts because it will sever your friendship.

          The common “workaround” if you receive a knife is to give the giver a penny, thus making it a sale rather than a gift.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I find this custom endearing.

          • LHN says:

            The knife block we received for our wedding included a penny embedded in a triangular card sticking out of the block. I infer that the idea is that you give the penny as the gift, and then the recipient hands it back and gets the knives.

            (Since we got the whole thing in a sealed box via UPS, the issue never came up.)

      • Adam says:

        My ex-wife asked me for a handgun for Christmas once, because she only had a revolver and wanted something magazine-loaded, so she could keep one next to the bed and one next to the toilet and never be caught off-guard. Seemed a little paranoid to me, but basically harmless. She’d been in the army 14 years, so knows how to handle them and all.

        Giving one to your teenage son awaiting a felony charge is kind of a little different.

      • sam says:

        I asked for a handgun for my birthday one year and got one. I don’t *think* I should be considered a threat to anyone….

    • Julie K says:

      1) Would a specific proposed gun-control measure have predicted this crime? E.g. Many restrictions concern particular types of guns, but the killer used an ordinary pistol.

      2) Are there already laws on the books that should have prevented it, but didn’t? If the current laws are not being enforced, will it help to pass new ones? E.g. The killer was awaiting trial on a felony charge, which means that it was against the law to give him a gun for a present, yet it happened.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        It’d be nice if we could simply ignore anyone who comes out for more restrictions without offering specifics– maybe we should anyway. Today the papers are full of variations on “We’re not talking about taking anyone’s guns away, but compare the US to [list of countries where everyone’s guns have been taken away].”

    • Tarrou says:

      There are tens of thousands of “gun control” laws on the books. When you say this, what exactly are you talking about? The absolute ban and mass confiscation of all civilian-held firearms in the US? I think the death toll might exceed nine in that case.

      You’re starting to feel like enough is enough because mass shootings? The existence of guns in our country hasn’t changed. There have always been mass shootings, regular though rare. What has changed is a couple things, first being the media coverage of them. Second, related, is the motivations. Mass killings used to be over group conflicts (cattle wars, indian massacres, crime syndicates etc.). We still have these, but people don’t lose their minds when rival gangs shoot each other up, even though these are “mass shootings”. What we have that is new to the past few decades is mass killings with no seeming reason outside the killer’s own mad aggrandizement or psychosis. Here, I’m not sure if they are getting more frequent or if we just hear more about them due to media saturation.

      I can tell you this: China has had a rash of mass stabbings*, the most lethal of which I believe claimed thirty-odd lives. The problem would seem to not be firearms specifically.

      I believe, and I am quite current on the science here, that there is no relationship between the number of legal guns and the violent crime rate except for a small non-significant negative relation. We have a problem, I absolutely agree with you. But you think the problem is an inanimate object, and I think it is a cultural process that is producing anomie and alienation in a small number of mentally disturbed, socially marginalized teen males.

      We have outlawed all minor violence and pushed a few into plotting truly damaging violence.

      But I’m sure having the ATF kick down Grandpa’s door and take his shotgun will solve the problem.

      *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_attacks_in_China_(2010%E2%80%9312)

    • John Schilling says:

      The ten most lethal shooting rampages in history, per wikipedia, took place in:

      Norway, 75 dead
      South Korea, 56 dead
      Tanganyika, 36 dead
      Australia, 45 dead
      Russia, 34 dead
      People’s Republic of China, 32 dead
      United States of America, 32 dead
      Japan, 30 dead
      Israel, 29 dead
      Columbia, 29 dead

      And that’s counting only mass killings where the killer used a gun as his primary weapon. So I’m not seeing much of a link between availability of guns and mass killings with guns, never mind mass killings in general.

      The sort of mass killing you are concerned with, are a tiny insignificant fraction of shootings or murders generally, signal-boosted in your data feeds for various reasons. But if you do still feel motivated to care about shooting rampages specifically, the type of people who commit them are generally intelligent, methodical, and patient. They tend to be middle-class, with substantial financial resources, and they know how to fake sanity well enough to pass for normal in any society that doesn’t go to truly dystopian levels in seeking out and institutionalizing the mentally ill.

      You can’t stop them from getting guns. They’ll spend years establishing themselves as legitimate target shooters, hunters, or collectors. They’ll join military reserve organizations. They’ll travel overseas to buy guns. They’ll download plans for home-made submachine guns from the internet, and practice their metalworking skills until they get it right. Even if they don’t spend years planning their specific massacre, they’ll spend years in the headspace where Shit Is Going Down Soon, I Can Feel It, And I’ll Need A Gun When It Happens.

      If there’s value in gun control, you’ll need to look elsewhere to find it. With these killers, you can maybe look for non-dystopian ways to address nascent mental illness, but mostly you’re going to need ways to stop rampaging gunmen when you see one shooting up your neighborhood. Or a way to stop feeling bad when you see the carnage on TV, but the solution there is obvious.

      • Alraune says:

        They tend to be middle-class, with substantial financial resources, and they know how to fake sanity well enough to pass for normal in any society that doesn’t go to truly dystopian levels in seeking out and institutionalizing the mentally ill.

        In fairness, if you consider our current incarceration rates “truly dystopian” (and I do), we used to have precisely such a system.

        • John Schilling says:

          The contemporary United States is nigh-dystopian in its eagerness to incarcerate disobedient poor people, without regard for whether the reason for their disobedience is mental illness or something else.

          But here, we are dealing mostly with mentally ill middle-class people. Those, we usually don’t incarcerate or institutionalize, or formally classify as “mentally ill” in any legally significant way. In part because a formal record of mental illness tends to permanently disqualify people from any job not involving the phrase “do you want fries with that?”, and that’s something middle-class bureaucrats don’t do to their, er, classmates.

          If you specifically want to stop spree killings, and kamikaze airline pilots and the like, and nothing more, identifying the million least-sane middle-class citizens of the United States and locking them all up might be a very effective solution. If you have some other priority that conflicts with that, well, now you have a very hard problem. Ooh, look, Evil Gunz! Over There!

      • Outlier =/= trend.

      • suntzuanime says:

        There is a reasonable model where disarming the population leads to fewer spree killing deaths overall because there are fewer potential spree killers, but it also increases the deadliness of each individual spree killing, because the killings are harder to stop. So looking only at the deadliest spree killings does not necessarily tell us about overall spree killing deaths.

        I agree that worrying specifically about spree killings, as opposed to killings or even deaths, seems a little weird. One could argue that one should be able to feel safe in one’s workplace, school, or church, but spree killings seem like a very rough proxy for killings in idealized safe spaces.

        • John Schilling says:

          Notwithstanding the US’s reputation as an armed camp, only about 2-3% of civilians routinely carry firearms. This would suggest that there would be relatively few spree killings in the US with more than 30-50 victims, but that smaller shooting sprees would be mostly unaffected – a few would-be mass murderers would be unlucky enough to get shot by e.g. their third victim, but not in statistically significant numbers.

          And indeed this is what we see. But we also see that spree killings generally top out at 30-50 even when the victims are unarmed. And, yes, armed US civilians do on occasion stop spree killings, but it isn’t common. So I think the statistics are not greatly skewed by the additional threat a US spree killer faces from his victims.

          Agreed that it would be better if we could look at overall trends rather than extremes. But the median spree killer blends into the noise of gang violence, domestic murder/suicides, and other common criminal activity, to the point where it is difficult to get a good count of spree killers even across the United States. A US/China/Tanganyika cross-cultural study at that level, is probably not practical.

          To the extent that we have people who care specifically about spree killers, the extremes are all we really have to look at.

          • Anonymous says:

            The relevant number is how many they encounter, not how many they kill. Most spree killers do not kill everyone present. They should expect to encounter 50 people long before they kill 50. This conversation is all prompted by 9 people killed in a church. There were a lot more than 9 people in that church.

      • James Picone says:

        I can’t find a 45-person mass-shooting-murder in Australian history. You may be thinking of the Port Arthur massacre, which killed 35 people and injured 23 more, in 1996… and which resulted in increased gun control in Australia.

    • onyomi says:

      Didn’t they find out his parents gave him his guns?

      • Adam says:

        Yes. He was not legally eligible to purchase a gun. His father gave it to him as a present, which is also illegal, but punishable only if the court can prove his father actually knew he was ineligible.

        • Held In Escrow says:

          NYT is currently reporting that he bought the gun himself using money he received as a gift.

          • Adam says:

            Damn. WaPo reported the opposite yesterday. Probably best to just ignore the news for a few days. They always seem to give conflicting accounts right after something happens.

    • Think about the Drug War and its effects on minorities and poor people. Think about civil asset forfeiture where the cops can take your stuff because the *stuff* maybe possibly might have had some connection with drugs. Think about ever increasing militarization of police who now often talk about themselves as if they are soldiers in an enemy country.

      Now ask yourself what the “Gun War” will look like. Personally, I think it will be one or two orders of magnitude worse than the Drug War. There are about 300 million guns in America. About one-third of American households have guns. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/04/a-minority-of-americans-own-guns-but-just-how-many-is-unclear/)

      People always ask libertarians “How do you get there from here?” I think it’s a very fair question to ask people who want to impose gun prohibition.

    • sourcreamus says:

      War on Drugs analogy. It would be a better world if no one had guns and if no one took drugs, but that does not mean we should ban either.
      The only way to achieve a gunless society would be to take all the guns away from people who currently have them. A few of these people would not stand by and let this happen. They would fight back and the resulting gunfights would kill people. The number of people who would die in these gunfights is likely to be significantly higher than the number of people who die in mass shootings.
      If you did not go after people who did not turn their guns in you could achieve a society with alot fewer guns without the deaths. However, a society with fewer guns means that those who do have guns are those with the highest motivations. People who want to go on killing sprees would be among those with higher motivations. The guy in Norway is an example.
      So the only way to use gun control to prevent mass shootings would likely lead to more gun deaths than they would prevent.

      • Anonymous says:

        Suppose we start treating guns like cigarettes? Smoking rates have declined sharply, but not through forcible confiscation of cigarettes.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Suppose we start treating guns like cigarettes?

          As someone living in the UK, my facetious response is: What, make them illegal to use indoors?

          But my non-facetious response is: what specific proposals do you mean?

          • Anonymous says:

            If we agreed that it would be good to reduce gun ownership, here are some tactics we could adopt from efforts against smoking:

            * PSA’s and school lessons on the dangers of gun ownership.
            * Graphic depictions of the terrible things wrought by guns.
            * Bans on gun advertising.
            * A general effort to make gun ownership seem uncool, idiotic, self-destructive, dangerous, and disgusting.
            * High taxes on guns.

            I don’t know which of these have been most effective in the case of smoking, but I think there *has* been a large shift in perceptions of smoking, which was produced through deliberate effort after a consensus emerged that smoking was harmful.

            Right now there is no consensus that guns are harmful, but if there were then we have options besides sending goons to smash open people’s gun safes.

          • Note that the consensus was that smoking was harmful primarily to smokers. If you persuade someone that something he is doing hurts him, he becomes less likely to do it. If you persuade him that something he is doing might result in his hurting someone else, less so, especially if he thinks the most likely someone else’s are people he would like to hurt, such as burglars who break into his house.

            Persuading him that something other people do might hurt him gives him a reason to support laws against it, but not a reason to stop doing the same thing himself.

            So the smoking analogy doesn’t work very well.

          • James Picone says:

            Second-hand smoke, bans on smoking inside in bars, and general societal disapproval of smoking near kids seem like they could be an okay model?

          • Matt M says:

            @James Picone

            I’m curious as to which specific anti-smoking tactic you think could reduce gun violence that DOESN’T already exist.

            We already ban guns from various locations in which it is determined they might be harmful (schools, government buildings, etc.) by law, and many property owners do by choice (bars, restaurants, etc.)

            We already don’t sell guns to children or to criminals or across state lines without an officially licensed gun shop. The sale of guns is far more restricted and cumbersome than the sale of cigarettes.

            There are huge portions of the public who generally disapprove of guns and frequently let you know about it. There are huge anti-gun public relations campaigns.

            The major difference is the statistics. In the case of smoking, the evidence is clear. In the case of guns, it’s clear in the opposite direction. The public shaming about smoking wouldn’t work if there was widely available evidence strongly suggesting that smoking actually does make you live longer.

          • James Picone says:

            @Matt M:
            I was trying to make the smoking-to-guns metaphor better by suggesting that instead of the initial don’t-smoke-it-kills-you stuff a better focus would be second-hand smoke.

            I don’t know enough about American gun laws to make any coherent suggestions. I don’t even know Australian gun laws well, and I live here!

          • Matt M says:

            Fair enough.

            I would suggest to you that is already happening in America and is a major focus of anti-gun efforts.

            There are plenty of anti-gun messaging campaigns that are essentially limited to “if you own a gun your child will find it and shoot themselves”

          • J. Quinton says:

            In the US military, since the government owns the guns/ammo, we have to rent them like library books. Meaning that the government keeps track of who is firing what. And we can’t just keep the gun/ammo indefinitely.

            A gun without ammunition is a paperweight. If the government owned ammunition, and it was controlled like cigarettes and/or like it currently is in the military, then that would be one way to regulate “guns”.

            People wouldn’t be so quick to fire their guns since ammo is scarce/controlled, and the government is acutely aware of anyone who is stockpiling ammo for any potential mass shooter incidents.

            Granted, this might create a black market for ammunition, but from what I know, this sort of DIY ammunition would be less safe to fire.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @J. Quinton – “Granted, this might create a black market for ammunition, but from what I know, this sort of DIY ammunition would be less safe to fire.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handloading

            [EDIT] – …the bottleneck is of course the powder and primers. These require relatively sophisticated chemical engineering. As we know, federal prohibition is highly effective at eliminating possession of substances that require sophisticated chemical engineering to produce. I humbly retract my objection, and agree that this is a Super Good Idea.

          • Nornagest says:

            As we know, federal prohibition is highly effective at eliminating possession of substances that require sophisticated chemical engineering to produce.

            Ha. I imagine volume would be the bottleneck there — for the kind of weight you’d need to load a useful amount of ammunition, you could get quite a lot of use out of any of those other substances.

            Of course, nitrocellulose-based propellants and the simpler types of primer are somewhat easier to make, too — if more dangerous. Moonshining might be a more apt analogy.

          • CJB says:

            So, I think there’s a lot of issues with the “make ammo really hard to get.”

            1. The most effective way to reduce gun accident deaths and wayward rounds is well trained people. You’ll just increase the number of poorly trained people with a gun they don’t really understand.

            2. Not to be rude but….do you know nothing about human nature? People will drive across state lines to stockpile phosphate clothes detergent, and you’re talking about AMMO?

            Lemme walk you through this:

            Day 1: Rumor spreads that congress is considering the “$5,000 bullet” law.

            Day 1 H+1: every ammunition factory in the world starts running three shifts.

            Day 1 H+2: Every piece of ammunition for sale in the US is gone at obscene prices. Much of it to people who came in, bought a box of bullets, and then started the background check process on a gun. Much more to mass buyers now selling it on the black market.

            At the end of a week, ammo prices and sales and gun prices and sales are higher than ever. Russia is now covertly selling off all their surplus (and even non surplus) ammo because the profits are so large.

            The law is announced, passed (we presume total political approval for funsies) and a date is announced- in two months, all ammo will be government controlled.

            The shit really hits the fan. Every ammo factory in the world is so far backlogged with grandfathered orders before the deadline that crates of ammo will be shipped legally to addresses all over the US well into 2017. Ammo is so hard to find, that many third world rebels are now using swords.

            The law is implemented. All ammunition sold in the US must be bought from a government dealership. Everyone in the United States owns a gun and enough ammo to run World Wars III-V.

            Crime halts because everyone is heavily armed and paranoid, but spree killings are at an all time high because armed paranoics tend to develop mental illness of the shooty type.

            America secedes from the American governments, realizes they have all the ammo, and invade Russia. Millions die. We conquer moscow but are eventually driven out. Militarily crippled, russia is subsumed by china, and Canada takes over the US. Our healthcare improves, but tim hortons causes the diabetes rate to spike even higher.

            So if you care about diabetes- please keep bullets legal.

          • Alraune says:

            Note that CJB’s tongue-in-cheek scenario is only a slight exaggeration of what already happened from 2008 through now. America’s citizens have sufficient ammo stockpiles at this point to render Fallout’s loot system realistic.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @CJB – Missing an analysis of the effects of the dreaded Russian Bear Cavalry on the American offensive, but otherwise thorough and well reasoned. I welcome our Maple Syrup Overlords.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          “We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like we did with cigarettes. Now it [sic] is dirty, deadly and banned.” -Mark Rosenberg, CDC

          …The problem is, of course, that guns are not cigarettes, and making them look like cigarettes seems to involve a fair amount of creative articulation.

        • Adam says:

          The local sheriff came to my school when I was a kid, and they had this machine that consisted of a transparent plastic lung they hooked a cigarette up to. The lung started out brand new, took a few puffs, and was completely blackened and tarry. That was pretty effective at convincing 8 year-old me not to smoke.

          On the other hand, while knowing what a gunshot wound looks like is sufficient to keep me from shooting myself, it has had no impact on my desire to own guns.

          • Anonymous says:

            The gun version of this presentation would involve a number of heart-rending stories of people accidentally shooting their friends dead, toddlers killing themselves, and so on. (I don’t claim that these are things people should actually worry about, but that is how you would optimize for emotional impact).

          • Adam says:

            I’m probably weird, but stories of human suffering don’t affect me much. If people accidentally shot kittens, that would really bother me. One of my friends did shoot himself when I was a kid, but it never occurred to me to blame the gun.

          • switchnode says:

            The gun version of this presentation would involve a number of heart-rending stories of people accidentally shooting their friends dead, toddlers killing themselves, and so on.

            Every year in December, the Dragnet radio show used to do “.22 Rifle for Christmas”, which was almost exactly this. (The response was overwhelmingly negative, but Webb and the network stood by it. No word on any resulting stats.)

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            You’ll shoot your eye out!

        • Anthony says:

          We’d been doing that, starting a long way back (maybe 1963 in the U.S.?), and many gun control laws were passed. (In addition to the existing laws which were primarily for disarming black people.) In the past twenty years, the anti-control side has started to push back, primarily by showing that the pro-control side was lying, a lot. As the disasters predicted by the pro-control side have continually failed to occur when gun controls were relaxed, people are much more willing to listen to, and vote for, the anti-control side.

        • sourcreamus says:

          The best way to get rid of guns is to address the reason people have guns, self defense. If people felt more secure than they would not feel the need for a handgun. If police departments did a better job fighting crime and drugs were decriminalized, crime would drop and fewer people would want guns.

          • Alraune says:

            Main problem there is that people’s perceived security appears to be completely unresponsive to their actual circumstances. I expect it’s a hedonic set point thing.

          • Matt M says:

            The police are ALSO a threat to one’s safety and security. They would be an even bigger one if they were the only armed group in society.

            Anything you do to increase how “effective” the police are would INCREASE, not decrease, my desire to own a gun…

          • Tarrou says:

            You miss the other reasons people own guns, which is that they are awesome, dangerous little machines, and terribly good fun to shoot!

            There is sport, there is hunting, there is pest removal (somewhat more serious for farmers and the like), there is the sheer appreciation of amazing and beautiful (and yes, deadly! Danger always improves the appeal) devices.

            The way some lads are all googly-eyed over cars? That’s how I am with guns. I didn’t want a Lamborghini when I was young, I wanted a Kimber Custom Match.

            I wear a gun for protection. I live in one of the most violent cities in America. But if I felt totally safe? I wouldn’t carry that gun. But I’d still have a dozen of them.

    • Gbdub says:

      As others have already mentioned, the link between “high availability of legal guns” and “mass killings” is actually pretty weak – I think you need to present better evidence than “American mass killings, many of which are perpetrated with guns, are signal boosted to me”.

      There MAY be a link between “gun deaths” and “availability of guns”, but keep in mind that the numbers reported for “gun deaths” include a large number of gun suicides. Which, if your goal is to prevent violent crime, is not a useful number.

      What legal measures do you think would have prevented the Charleston shooter from acquiring the means to kill black people? He was already violating gun laws by having one at all, and he was willing to risk the strong possibility of being executed for the crime of murder – so exactly what additional deterrent would you suggest?

      Timothy McVeigh killed a couple hundred people with fertilizer and a moving van. Al Qaeda killed several thousand with box cutters and airline tickets. Spree-stabbers in China have killed up to 30 or so people at a time. Hell you could probably kill 9 people by driving a car through a crowd. Motivated killers will acquire the means to kill. And in any case even if you make all guns illegal (let alone just apply “a little common sense gun control”), you don’t make guns magically go away. Black market guns seem widely available even in countries with strict laws. And once additive manufacturing takes off, more or less anyone will be able to acquire a gun at will, laws be damned.

      Finally, America is unusually violent – in certain places, and for certain reasons. If you removed all the gang warfare (much of it driven by the Drug War, another ill-conceived Prohibition attempt), America looks a lot less violent.

      • Setsize says:

        One thing I hate about the gun control debate is that any notion of utilitarianism gets thrown out the window. People say “How can we prevent mass killings,” when they should be asking “how can we prevent killings.”

        Some conservationists refer to visible endangered species like blue whales and rhinoceroses as “charismatic megafauna,” point being that “save the whales” is a goal that everyone can sympathize with, but saving individual whales does very little if you aren’t also saving the plankton and the rest of the ecosystem. I’d go even further and say that keeping the blue whales alive for another ten years while the ocean acidifies is strictly inferior to letting the whales die while preserving the overall health of the oceans.

        Mass killings are the charismatic megafauna of the gun control debate. They are highly visible, but insignificant. Mass killings may be highly motivated. They are also a tiny minority of all killings. I suspect most gun deaths aren’t caused by highly motivated agents.

        You talk about the isolated goal of “reducing violent crime,” but that is not a reasonable isolated goal to have. Violent crime is one of any number of ills in society. I would even accept an increase in the rate of violent crime if it were less lethal. I’ll gladly trade one less shooting for two more stabbings or eight more muggings.

        I would, in a heartbeat, support any measure that doubled the rate of mass shootings if it also cut the overall rate of gun deaths by only 10%. I would also gladly trade 10 more murders for 100 fewer suicides.

        I suspect the largest visible effect of making guns harder to obtain would be to reduce the number of suicides. Suicidal people are not highly motivated in the way you imagine mass murderers to be; there is plenty of evidence that making the most reliable methods of suicide (guns and jumping from heights) less available, directly reduces the number of suicides. The “highly motivated killer who can stop at nothing” is another charismatic megafauna, a useful concept only in a debate where people have lost scope.

        • Gbdub says:

          The problem I usually have with the utilitarian arguments for gun control is that the people making them rarely assign (or immediately dismiss) any utility to gun ownership, because they can’t imagine anyone legitimately enjoying guns for reasons other than killing people. Which is weird, because nobody applies a utilitarian analysis to fast cars or swimming pools, which are also usually unnecessary and kill a lot of people.

          If you’re willing to do that, and not assign guns a magical totemic status as death symbols, than a utility argument can be made.

          As far as suicides go, how many people obtain a gun strictly for the purposes of killing themselves? It seems like a lot of gun suicides are committed with guns the owners already have for reasons that would be considered legitimate in anything but a totally “ban all guns” legal system.

          And for cultural reasons, I suspect guns will continue to be more widely distributed in America than elsewhere, even if we make people jump through more hoops to get them.

          The real sticking point for me is that it’s just not clear that anything other than truly draconian anti-gun measures would actually substantially reduce the number of available guns in the US – in particular, substantially reduce their availability to the people who use them nefarious lay most often (usually drug related gang members, who by necessity have strong contraband networks) b

          • Alraune says:

            If you’re willing to do that, and not assign guns a magical totemic status as death symbols, than a utility argument can be made.

            Don’t even need to do that, magical totemic death symbols have a positive utility to billions.

      • Ano says:

        > There MAY be a link between “gun deaths” and “availability of guns”, but keep in mind that the numbers reported for “gun deaths” include a large number of gun suicides. Which, if your goal is to prevent violent crime, is not a useful number.

        I would hope everyone would have preventing suicide as a goal, so I would not dismiss gun suicides. Many people go on to regret their suicide attempts.

        > Motivated killers will acquire the means to kill.

        Some means are better than others, which is precisely why our armed forces don’t use fertilizer bombs or kitchen knives.

        > Spree-stabbers in China have killed up to 30 or so people at a time.

        Well, that was a group of four.

        • Gbdub says:

          “Some means are better than others” Which is why no mass shooting by a lone gunman has come close to the casualties of the Oklahoma City bombing, let alone 9/11.

          The military doesn’t use knives or fertilizer bombs – but they don’t inflict that many casualties with small arms either. Most casualties in warfare are from artillery or air strikes.

          Anyway I’m not saying preventing suicide is a bad goal, but it’s orthogonal to the “conversation about guns” that inevitably pops up whenever there is a particulalrly spectacular gun crime. So including it in the “gun deaths” figure as support for how uniquely violent America is is disingenuous.

          Guns are certainly a highly effective means of suicide, but gun availability and suicide rate don’t correlate much better than gun laws and murder rate – Japn, which has basically zero gun murders, has an etraordinarily high suicide rate.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Gbdub
        Hell you could probably kill 9 people by driving a car through a crowd.

        Quite a few more than 9, with a little planning. Start with the car at the top of a hill, and a crowded area at the bottom. It better be a low-traffic street, so the car can build plenty of momentum before hitting a fat man. With a stolen car and some wire around the steering wheel, you might escape capture if you jump out soon enough. Add a few gasoline cans and something slow burning, and you will have a colorful scene to watch from safety.

        Has anyone with the profile described above, ie not a terrorist, done this, even in Britain? If not, perhaps the people who do recreational mass killings prioritize something other than body count.

      • Funny how “determined killers will find a way” never means that the army can function without guns.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Criminals aren’t a military. Spree Killers aren’t a military. Crime isn’t modern warfare. You are trying to draw a connection that doesn’t exist.

          If you have evidence that can actually stand up to scrutiny, present it. Snide comments are not evidence, or even argument.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Generally it’s easier to slaughter helpless civilians than people who are shooting back. If our army were solely in the business of genocide, they could probably make do with machetes.

        • Alraune says:

          Funny how “determined killers will find a way” never means that the army can function without guns.

          I don’t catch your meaning. Armies made up of determined killers make do just fine with machetes and patience the world over. We try very hard to make our military NOT be those guys.

        • John Schilling says:

          The smallest piece of ordnance that the contemporary United States Army considers to be a “gun” is a 105mm howitzer, which is indeed the sort of thing you really, really want to have if you’re going to be slaughtering people in mass quantities.

          Rifles and pistols, “small arms”, are essential to modern armies primarily as defensive weapons, to protect soldiers in the brief interval between discovering the enemy and calling down a rain of fire and steel upon them from the folks with proper guns (or weapons more fearsome and lethal still). Armies will occasionally use small arms as offensive weapons in special circumstances, e.g. counterinsurgency warfare where it is considered essential to not kill too many enemy or enemy-adjacent persons while accomplishing the mission.

          Armies understand how this works. Small arms are versatile weapons that are very well suited for immediate self-defense against unexpected threats. They can be used for very limited offensive purposes, but they aren’t terribly good at large-scale killing. For that, you want heavy ordnance.

          So in the contemporary United States, everyone has access to the general-purpose defensive weapons with limited offensive potential, but the criminals and crazies who want to go beyond limited offensives and engage in mass slaughter are stuck with the wrong tools for the job. That doesn’t sound like a bad equilibrium to me.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I would hope to convince all rational people that our gun policy should not be optimized for mass shooting prevention, as they represent a tiny fraction of gun deaths.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      As a general point on gun control, here in the UK we have very strict gun laws, and pretty much everyone is happy with the situation. As far as I know, the situation is fairly similar in most other countries that are similar to the US. Therefore if you oppose strict gun laws, you should do so either on the grounds that there are major differences between the situations in the US and elsewhere, or that there is some reason people outside the US can’t think clearly about gun control.

      For example, the argument that guns are necessary to fight a hypothetical oppressive government works equally well for supporting keeping gun laws in the US the same, and weakening those in the UK. So if you want to use it, you need to back up your conclusion that there should be greater gun rights in the UK, or explain why that conclusion doesn’t follow.

      • Nornagest says:

        Most people everywhere don’t think clearly about any policy. Tradition, the influence of historical neighbors, the existence of a moral panic sometime in the distant past, etc. are wholly adequate to explain regional differences. On top of that, one man’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens; your argument applies equally to any differences in mean opinion on policy, over time as well as distance.

      • Max says:

        “Gun control is not about guns its about CONTROL”. On those grounds I oppose it. Less control is better. Less control of drugs, alcohol, guns.

      • Ano says:

        Given the vastly higher rates of death by cop in the US, I don’t think it’s the UK that needs to be worrying about the government.

        • suntzuanime says:

          This doesn’t necessarily follow; the surrender of France to Nazi Germany reduced the rate at which the French were being killed by Nazis, but did not really reduce the amount that the French needed to worry about being dominated by Nazis.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, UK is an outlier. France and Germany have 3x as many guns per capita. Switzerland has another 3x as many, same as US, but it’s an outlier in the other direction.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Sweeneyrod – “As a general point on gun control, here in the UK we have very strict gun laws, and pretty much everyone is happy with the situation.”

        I’ve visited the UK. From my first moment there onward, I was fascinated by your fences in particular. Fences everywhere, most all of them topped by wicked points designed to gouge, gash, rend, pierce or maim. On the old wrought-iron fences they could be confused for archaic decoration, but on the shiny new pedestrian bridges, the flanking of free-rotating pipe sections decorated by six-inch steel spikes seemed to speak of a certain… distrust in the goodwill of your fellow citizens. Likewise the embarrassing profusion of surveillance cameras, and the knife disposal bins. Since, then, I’ve been fascinated to read about the various knife bans, and the attempt to engineer and legislate “stab proof” knives. And despite all that, the UK is also the only place I’ve ever been openly threatened with violence in the street.

        I like America. I do not want to live in the UK. If you feel that the UK has more or less solved the public safety issue, I submit that your fellow citizens have an odd way of showing it. A quick search of google indicates that your violent crimes rates are not the best. In fact, it looks like the gun ban immediately preceded a runaway increase in violent crime, which has only recently receded to pre-ban levels. Whatever you did to stop the runaway, it doesn’t seem to have been the ban. Maybe you could have skipped the ban and done that thing instead, and had even less crime than you have now?

        http://tinyurl.com/oxfyzgk for those who haven’t seen the fencing. Yeah, we have the occasional string of concertina wire in the states, but they seemed to use this spear-point stuff about the way Americans use chain link.

        • Are you comparing new York to London, or Podunk to London?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Dallas, Vancouver, and Philadelphia to London and Cambridge, actually. What they call fencing in the UK would be an invitation to a lawsuit in America. Concertina wire isn’t pretty and could doubtless fuck you up, but some of their fences could literally impale you through the torso like a goddamn pike.

            Do you endorse knife bans too, out of curiosity?

          • What they call fencing in the UK would be an invitation to a lawsuit in America.

            I call bullshit on this. Many American fences have visible sharp points, and I have never heard of such a lawsuit.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum – “I call bullshit on this. Many American fences have visible sharp points, and I have never heard of such a lawsuit.”

            http://i01.i.aliimg.com/img/pb/696/930/232/1262052067991_hz_myalibaba_web4_2987.jpg

            I have never, ever seen a fence like that in the US or Canada. Roughly four feet in height, about the same as a suburban chain link fence, perfectly positioned to catch the face, arms, or neck of a teenager or adult who, say, tripped or was knocked over into it. From close examination, I can tell you that those petals are raw sheared steel and sharp as hell. In the UK, I saw fences like that all over, often flanking high-traffic areas. I was honestly horrified. I would expect that sort of fencing to be considered a public safety hazard in the US, but am open to the idea that I’m wrong.

            http://www.georgeherald.com/img/ghnw20131115-113333-707.jpg

            A lot of the taller fences were like this. I’ve never seen fences like this in America or Canada either. In fairness, while googling these I did come across an example in Seattle, where a fence-jumper had managed to impale himself very badly.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ FacelessCraven:

            No way in hell is that fence only 4ft high; and it would absolutely be illegal if it was. The actual height for that kind of fence is more like 8ft.

          • Anonymous says:

            Here is an article with an identical fence that is 7ft.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Andrew G. – “No way in hell is that fence only 4ft high; and it would absolutely be illegal if it was. The actual height for that kind of fence is more like 8ft.”

            I’m not sure what to say. I have personally viewed palisade fences 4 feet high. I stood next to them and ran my fingers over the spikes, and boggled at how something that dangerous could be allowed in an urban area. If you think I’m lying or mistaken, I don’t really know what to say apart from digging through my files and seeing if I still have photos from the trip. Probably 40% of the pictures I took in England were fences, because I was so fascinated by the horrifyingly fucked-up nature of them.

            [Edit] – For what it’s worth, the lowest height I could find online was 1.5 meters/5 feet.

            http://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/BS-1722-Cheap-wholesale-galvanized-D_2002114013.html

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ FacelessCraven:

            There’s a distinction between “being available for purchase online” and “something you can install next to a highway without the highway authority issuing you an abatement order”.

            And if you install a potentially dangerous fence and someone who isn’t trying to climb over it gets injured, you will indeed be on the hook for damages, whether or not any such order was ever issued. In fact even if someone who is trying to climb over it (and hence is trespassing) is injured, you might still be on the hook for damages under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1984.

        • James Picone says:

          I live in Australia, in Adelaide, a smallish capital city of a state (~1.1 million people). I’ve visited Sydney/Perth/Brisbane/Melbourne, but never really walked around in the suburbs there.

          I don’t recall ever seeing fences like that, and I used to work somewhere rather close to a notably crime-filled suburb and had to drive through it on a regular basis.

          It might be an eastern-states thing. They’re much more densely populated.

          None of the military installations I’ve ever seen have been like that. Hell, half the time at government facilities the guards don’t even have guns.

      • I don’t know if it is true, but one claim made on the pro-gun side is that burglaries of houses where people are present are much more common in Canada than in the U.S., with the implied reason being U.S. burglars being afraid of getting shot. That’s one example of trying to do the comparison between two reasonably similar societies.

        • Matt M says:

          Not sure about Canada, but I know that in the UK, the rate of “hot” robberies is something like 2-3 times that of what it is in the U.S.

          You already brought up John Lott so I won’t belabor the point, but he explains all of this quite clearly in his book. Anyone who actually cares about examining this issue rationally would do well to read it rather than to just say “lol more guns less crime that’s ridiculous!!!”

      • Tarrou says:

        You demonstrate the psychological problem with this thinking. Since the UK effectively banned all guns (your Olympic shooting teams have to go to France to practice), violent crime is up 52%, and gun crime specifically is has more than doubled. Yes, it is still far less than in the US, but banning the guns didn’t reduce what you wanted it to at all! But you did something! A law was passed! And now all those murderers can be charged with two crimes instead of one!

        You compare apples to oranges (Britain to the US) and say: “we banned guns and have a quarter of your murder rate!” and it is true, and was true pre-ban. But when you compare Britain to Britain pre-gun ban, the murder rate is now higher. But I guess you still get to feel superior to us hick colonials.

        Perhaps you’d also like to comment on your industrial-country leading rates of serious assault, rape and sexual assault? If the gun ban is the only thing separating our crime rates, you would have seemed to trade a high murder rate for a truly astronomic rate of serious felonious assaults. Then the utilitarians can argue over how many rapes are equivalent to a murder.

        • Before the UK had a ban, it had tight control, not a situations comparable to the US,

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @TheAncientGreek – “Before the UK had a ban, it had tight control, not a situations comparable to the US.”

            …And its pre-ban crime rate wasn’t similar to ours either. So why is England being touted as an example of how gun bans could reduce violent crime in America?

          • Tarrou says:

            So explain why gun crime doubled AFTER the ban. And explain why violent crime is up massively over a period in time in which violent crime is dropping like a stone in the US, with our 300 million+ guns.

            I am saying the situations aren’t comparable. But every time you bring up gun control, the controllers start talking about how British murder rates are so much lower because of their gun ban. But the gun ban didn’t lower murder rates in Britain! And it didn’t even lower gun murders in Britain, which have doubled! So, if the logic of the gun-ban fanboys is correct, and the US bans all guns, we should see our already high murder rate double, and our gun crime rate double, and our felonious assault and rape rates quintuple.

            Anyone cheering for that?

          • LHN says:

            Here’s the homicide rates for England and Wales (since that seems to be more available than the UK) for about a century and a half:

            1860 means decade starting 1860 i.e. 1860-1869
            1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920
            1.7    1.6   1.5    1.1    0.9   0.8    0.7

            1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990
            0.8    0.8    0.7   0.7    1.0   1.2   1.4

            (My source stops there; Wikipedia gives 2010 at 1.23 and 2011 at 1.00.)

            The first serious UK gun control act was passed in 1920, near the end of a long decline in the homicide rate.

            The rate of decline slowed and then stopped. I’ll leave causation, if any, to others, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be a clear point where “guns restricted=homicides drop” with any of the UK firearms laws.

        • Ano says:

          > gun crime specifically is has more than doubled

          I would expect expanding the definition of gun crime to lead to an increase in gun crime.

          > Since the UK effectively banned all guns (your Olympic shooting teams have to go to France to practice), violent crime is up 52%

          Is it? Because the statistics I’ve seen suggest that homicide rates are roughly the same and that violent crime in general is lower.

        • Andrew G. says:

          Violent crime in the UK rarely (proportionally) involved guns even before the handgun ban (and contrary to the frequent statements of ill-informed Americans, the legal ownership of guns was never a factor in reducing crime). Nobody expected the ban to reduce violent crime generally; it was specifically a response to the Dunblane killings.

          “Violent crime is up 52%” – according to whom? The victimization survey data doesn’t support this claim as far as I can tell, and police recorded crime data is probably not comparable (since there have been methodological and procedural changes). The changes in methodology affect the gun crime statistics too; also it’s worth noting that those gun crime levels are still really small compared to the US.

          Other than homicide, the violent crime that seems to me to be most directly comparable between the UK and US is robbery; overall robbery rates are not too dissimilar between the two countries, but in the USA a robbery victim is several times more likely to be killed, and a far higher proportion of robberies are armed (with anything, not just guns).

          I’ve pretty much given up trying to compare rates of assault and rape between countries; differences in methodology and reporting rates confound everything too much. If you think you have good comparable figures then please do cite them.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Sweeneyrod – “So if you want to use it, you need to back up your conclusion that there should be greater gun rights in the UK…”

        Challenge accepted.

        You do not have a right to protection from the police. That is, you, as an individual, have no right to protection from the police, and no recourse if they fail to protect you, even from grievous bodily harm, and even if that failure to protect you is the result of gross negligence on the part of the officer(s). If a cop sits in his car across the street eating donuts, watching while you get your face kicked in by a bunch of racists, *you have no recourse*. Of course, usually that would never happen. What does happen every day is that police response times are thirty or forty-five minutes, and they arrive on the scene in time to start drawing chalk outlines and taking statements.

        Self defense is an inalienable human right. If you need defending, the only person you know will be there to do it is yourself. Police are fantastic, if they show up and if they don’t goof up. Hard data shows that they cannot be counted on to do either reliably. If crime is a concern for you, you have the right and the responsibility to take the steps necessary to protect yourself. If the government restricts you from doing that, you have a shitty government. If crime isn’t a concern for you, than gun owners, who tend to be much more responsible and law-abiding than the norm, shouldn’t be either.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_v._District_of_Columbia

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I think this might be a cultural difference. I’m not particularly worried about self-defence. I generally trust the police, and I can only think of one incidence of someone I know being violently attacked by a stranger. Maybe the victim would have benefited from having a gun.

          However, as far as I can see, in any violent crime where the intended victim is able to have a gun, the attacker will also have a gun, and the situation is similar to if neither are armed, apart from innocent people are more likely to be shot.

          Also, the argument of self-defence works for other things like learning martial arts, and carrying pepper spray or a knife. Do you advocate that I carry a 3 inch folding knife in case someone unarmed tries to mug me? If you are in a state where concealed carry is forbidden, do you always make sure to carry pepper spray or similar since you can’t have a gun? If not, doesn’t this make your position inconsistent?

          • Matt M says:

            “Maybe the victim would have benefited from having a gun.”

            Statistics indicate that not only would THEY unquestionably benefit, but their act of carrying a gun benefits everyone else around them as well, because the more people who have guns, the less likely criminals are to try and assault someone.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do you advocate that I carry a 3 inch folding knife in case someone unarmed tries to mug me? If you are in a state where concealed carry is forbidden, do you always make sure to carry pepper spray or similar since you can’t have a gun?

            Your choices are your own, obviously. I have carried a 3-inch folding knife (the maximum legal size in my area) since I was a teenager. I do not expect to use or even touch it in violent crime by career criminals in which guns are likely to be used. But I do expect it to make an effective deterrent in the case of, say, a typical attempted sexual assault.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Sweeneyrod – “I think this might be a cultural difference. I’m not particularly worried about self-defence. I generally trust the police, and I can only think of one incidence of someone I know being violently attacked by a stranger.”

            It’s definitely a cultural thing.

            I can’t remember anyone I know being violently attacked by anyone. I don’t carry my handgun or keep it loaded; hell, I usually don’t even lock my front door. I fully expect to die at a ripe old age without getting into so much as a fistfight. None of that changes the fact that violence is part of the real world, and I intend to be prepared if my threat assessments turn out to have been optimistic. At least twice in my lifetime, major American cities have lost rule of law for extended periods of time. Shit happens, and the prepared come out ahead.

            As for the police, that too is cultural. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but here, response times are a real thing, and the police here are *fundamentally dangerous*. Even as an entirely law-abiding citizen, I want as little contact with them as possible.

            “However, as far as I can see, in any violent crime where the intended victim is able to have a gun, the attacker will also have a gun…”

            Wrong. Guns and ammo are much more expensive and hard to acquire than, say, knives. Purchasing or owning them is illegal if you have a felony record, which means criminals must expose themselves to additional legal risk to use them. Laws impose steep mandatory incarceration rates on use of firearms to commit crimes, so the criminal advantage offered by a gun is offset by the threat of an extra seven years or so in prison simply for having a gun on your person, even if you don’t fire a single shot. Many criminals are unable or unwilling to surmount these obstacles, and simply don’t use guns.

            “…and the situation is similar to if neither are armed, apart from innocent people are more likely to be shot.”

            This is incorrect as well, but for tactical reasons. A criminal who finds himself in an armed confrontation with a regular citizen has already lost, and the only question remaining is how badly. Their best option at this point is to retreat, and that is what a great many of them do. For the stupid and suicidal, there’s also the fact that many people who choose to arm themselves are in fact more skilled with their weapons than the actual police (and vastly more skilled than the average criminal), and are often in the position of choosing when to initiate the actual gunfight. Innocents being hit is very rare, because criminals don’t usually initiate violent crime in crowded areas. The actual stats do not support your theories.

            “Also, the argument of self-defence works for other things like learning martial arts, and carrying pepper spray or a knife.”

            And I quote: “The difference is evident in post-1978 National Crime Survey data, which do allow us to distinguish victim injury in cases of gun-armed resistance from victim injury in cases where resistance was with lesser weapons, and from victim injury in cases of nonresistance. Ironically, the results validate the anti-gun critics’ danger-of-injury concerns for every form of resistance except a gun. The gun-armed resister was actually much less likely to be injured than the nonresister who was, in turn, much less likely to be injured than those who resisted without a gun. Only 12 to 17 percent of gun-armed resisters were injured. Those who submitted to the felons’ demands were twice as likely to be injured (gratuitously). Those resisting without guns were three times as likely to be injured as those with guns.[128](p.34)”

            Defensive Gun Ownership As A Response To Crime, Section 7;
            http://www.guncite.com/journals/gun_control_katesreal.html

            I recommend you read the entire paper. It answers a lot of the questions you are raising.

            “If you are in a state where concealed carry is forbidden, do you always make sure to carry pepper spray or similar since you can’t have a gun? If not, doesn’t this make your position inconsistent?”

            There’s a saying in the self-defense community: “the most dangerous weapon is the human mind.” When I was casually threatened with violence by a pair of Chavs in London, my hand was in the pocket of my coat, holding a steel-barrel mechanical pencil in an icepick grip, and
            the plan was that if they tried actual violence I’d stab the first attacker in the neck-shoulder region as many times as possible until he dropped out of the fight. I’m not sure if this was a good plan, and happily I didn’t have to find out. The actual encounter took less than ten seconds; they shoved through my party, turned to shout some fairly unpleasant threats at us for being in their way, and then were gone.

            Whether and how you should arm yourself depends on your assessment of the risks you face. When I lived in a dense urban area (in Canada, so concealed carry was out), I carried the biggest folding knife I thought I could legally get away with. There are places in the US where I’m pretty sure I would keep a loaded gun handy even if it were illegal. I’m not sure what the inconsistency you mention is.

        • ” You do not have a right to protection from the police. That is, you, as an individual, have no right to protection from the police, and no recourse if they fail to protect you, even from grievous bodily harm, and even if that failure to protect you is the result of gross negligence on the part of the officer(s). ”

          You were asked a question about the UK, and none of that applies to the UK police. Why won’t you consider fixing the US police as an option? Why is that an unmoveable monolith?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @TheAncientGreek – “You were asked a question about the UK, and none of that applies to the UK police. Why won’t you consider fixing the US police as an option?”

            Because this isn’t just a US thing.
            http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/1987/12.html
            http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2008/39.html
            …You’ll find the same principle in any country with a modern police force. This is not a glitch, it is a fundamental part of how policing works. Police forces are not designed to provide protection to individual citizens, nor can they; there are just too many people and too few police.

            None of this stops politicians and activists from talking about how ordinary citizens don’t need the means to protect themselves since “that’s what the police are for.” As noted previously, lying is effective.

        • Deiseach says:

          If crime isn’t a concern for you, than gun owners, who tend to be much more responsible and law-abiding than the norm, shouldn’t be either.

          My problem with this is that the responsible, law-abiding gunowners I see talking about their right to own guns online also talk about being willing to start blasting away with their gun(s) at the first hint anyone so much as looks crooked at them. I have read a gun-owner, a responsible type*, indulging in a little fantasy whereby he almost wishes someone would try to rob or mug him when he’s walking down the street in the company of his wife, son and daughter. There was a whole little dialogue between him and his family as he blew the would-be mugger away.

          Now, these are probably not serious, these are exaggerated comic fantasies. But your gun-owners do like their guns and the idea of getting to use them, and frankly I think none of you Americans should be entrusted with a sharpened pencil, you’re that liable to do damage to yourselves or others.

          *This is not sarcasm or snark on my part. I forget how I got there but it was a blog from a conservative type, yes probably Red Tribe but not rural redneck/lower-class urban. It certainly wasn’t a “guns and politics” blog, this little jeu d’esprit was a by-the-way thing, probably in relation to a previous one of these gun-control arguments.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Deiseach – “I have read a gun-owner, a responsible type*, indulging in a little fantasy whereby he almost wishes someone would try to rob or mug him when he’s walking down the street in the company of his wife, son and daughter.”

            I don’t doubt this, there are a lot of stupid people available on the internet. I can remember thinking things like that when I was 14 and a jackass kid; some people don’t grow up. To counter it, here’s a description of actual (possibly unusually good) Concealed-Carry training:
            http://monsterhunternation.com/2010/09/23/role-playing-for-ccw-its-not-just-for-geeks-anymore/
            …Note the legal-moral-tactical triangle in particular, and how trying to play action hero gets you explicitly fucked in most of the scenarios. Self defense is a serious thing, and from my experience, the gun culture does a good job of taking it seriously. I have no idea who the person you read was, or what their malfunction was. I do know that I’ve never encountered that type of attitude before in the broader culture.

            “But your gun-owners do like their guns and the idea of getting to use them…”

            Right here you are extrapolating one jackass’s fantasy as typical of somewhere north of 70 million people. Please don’t do that.

            “…and frankly I think none of you Americans should be entrusted with a sharpened pencil, you’re that liable to do damage to yourselves or others.”

            “You’re that liable to do damage to yourself or others” is an empirical claim. We have the actual data of how much damage gun owners do to themselves and others, and that data shows your claim is false. Firearms accidents have been trending downward as the gun culture and its attendant attitudes toward safety and responsibility gain strength. Murder is likewise trending downward. Both gun accidents and actual gun violence are overwhelmingly committed by extremely aberrant criminals, and the average gun owner is LESS likely to engage in either type of misuse than the average non-criminal, not more.

            Your attitude toward gun owners is the typical result of the sort of propaganda we’ve been tarred with since the 60s. That propaganda was based on a clique of medical researchers who used their journals to push their own views in direct contravention to the actual data available. They invented data, systematically ignored contrary findings, misquoted researchers and generally engaged in a cozy little market of academic fraud. In the process, they spawned the anti-gun memes that we’re still living with decades later. Please stop perpetuating them.
            http://www.guncite.com/journals/tennmed.html#fn*

          • Nornagest says:

            I have read a gun-owner, a responsible type*, indulging in a little fantasy whereby he almost wishes someone would try to rob or mug him when he’s walking down the street in the company of his wife, son and daughter

            I’ve tried to stay out of this conversation so far, but I’m going to step in here and say that that guy’s an idiot if you’re representing him accurately.

            I’m not super serious about guns (though I am broadly supportive of gun rights for responsible people), but I am a pretty serious martial artist, and so I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about scenarios like this. The correct conclusion — and it’s not a hard one to come by — is that by using [guns, knives, martial arts skills, whatever] in self-defense, you’re inherently and nontrivially risking your life and your freedom. This is not something you should want to do, no matter how badass you expect to feel afterwards or how good of a life lesson you think it’ll make for those around you.

            Sure, a lot of us have action hero fantasies, and I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t a lot of people studying self-defense who got there by way of them. But a big part of the responsible study of self-defense is keeping them as fantasies. My sensei have been very clear on that. I’m very clear on that when I’m teaching. So are the firearms instructors I’ve had.

            …frankly I think none of you Americans should be entrusted with a sharpened pencil, you’re that liable to do damage to yourselves or others.

            There are a lot of things I don’t like about this topic, but one of the things I like the least is the Europeans that come out of the woodwork to tell Americans how savage and irresponsible they are, usually based on what seem to the crudest media stereotypes imaginable. You’re Irish, so you probably know all about cultural cringe; can you try not to engage in it?

          • Tarrou says:

            Diseach, this was little more than bigotry-venting. Do me a favor and rethink that whole post.

            Allow me to be your avatar here for gun owners. I like to think I’m responsible. I am a qualified expert with about two dozen of our military’s most common small arms. I have a concealed carry license, a NRA instuctor’s certification. I own around a dozen firearms, and I carry a handgun every single day.

            And unlike most internet blowhards, I’ve had to make those life-and-death decisions with a gun in my hands. And I dearly hope I never have to again. But if I am ever in that situation, I will have the tools to give myself the best possible chance at winning.

            You read a guy one time that you thought was “fantasizing” about a self-defense situation. And based on that, you’ve written off a hundred million people? Come now.

          • And based on that, you’ve written off a hundred million people? Come now.

            Even granting your main point, there surely aren’t a hundred million people as experienced, trained, and responsible as yourself.

            When people tar liberals with a broad brush here and elsewhere, I am sometimes tempted to present myself as some kind of counterexample to awful stereotypes.

            But I doubt it would work any better than your posts have. Readers would either exempt me from the otherwise-thought-valid categorical slam, or roll their eyes and dismiss me as just being one of Them.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “When people tar liberals with a broad brush here and elsewhere, I am sometimes tempted to present myself as some kind of counterexample to awful stereotypes.”

            I think political stereotypes are different from other stereotypes. Political factionalism has a large element of tribalism in it, so stating that a good portion of (liberals, conservatives, right, left) hold stupid policy ideas that fall apart on a little reflection is accurate. However its difficult to measure for obvious reasons.

            By contrast we can measure how many gun owners are responsible by things like how often they accidentally shoot themselves and the like.

    • Oliver Cromwell says:

      “The link between availability of guns and mass killings seems pretty strong. Is there any evidence to suggest otherwise?”

      I don’t have an interest to do the work myself, but I don’t agree that casual consumption of national and world media reports is a good way of gauging the methods used for mass killings. The media reports for shock value, and shock value basically goes: bombs, guns, cat stuck in tree, other methods.

      For instance here is a case in the UK where someone killed six others by arson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allenton_house_fire

      Is this a mass killing? I would say so. Of course, there was no global coverage, partly because the motive wasn’t leftwing narrative-friendly, partly because fire is a boring way to kill people, but there is a wiki page, so it wasn’t totally ignored either. What I do not know, and have no good statistical source for, is how many people are killed each year in mass arson attacks in total, compared to with guns. As arson is psychologically and logistically much easier than shooting and can’t be stopped by any plausible prohibitions, that is an important question.

      Another example: in 1990 an arsonist killed 87 people at a nightclub in NYC – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Land_fire This is more victims in a single incident than any of the incidents on the Mother Jones gun killing database, and ten more than Breivik killed (18 more than he killed using a gun). Who remembers this today?

      And the irony: “Unable to acquire a gun, González returned to the establishment with a plastic container of gasoline.”. If he had been able to acquire a gun, he would almost certainly have killed fewer people.

      • NN says:

        Another incident worth noting is the Columbine Massacre. It’s not widely remembered today, but the killers had planned to blow up their school cafeteria (police estimate that more than 500 people could have been killed by the bombs), then shoot the survivors as they fled and the medical personnel when they showed up. They succeeded in placing many propane bombs in the cafeteria, but fortunately the bombs failed to go off because they were really bad at wiring detonators. So they decided to just walk in and start shooting people.

        If Harris and Klebold hadn’t been able to acquire guns, there’s a good chance that they might have put more effort into making sure that their bombs worked (or, after the bombs failed the first time, taken them home at the end of the day, rewired the timers, then tried again a week or two later) and ended up killing more than 40 times as many people as they actually did.

  42. buckwheatloaf says:

    i love mayeesha tashins answers and blog on quora. (you can add the links to her answers or blog to your feedreader as feeds which is pretty nifty). her writing is just really comforting to me. its exactly what i was longing to find that i didn’t know i was out there until i found it. when i thought i knew of all the types of stuff i would find interesting and like, then i discovered a new type of stuff, which was her.. i still love other peoples styles and posts and blogs, but hers will be a favorite for a long time for me, and the most exciting thing is she plans to write books and biographies when she gets older. the reason her interests might overlap with readers here is she was pretty keen on peter thiel for awhile, and generally fascinated by start ups and the tech industry and all that type of stuff (which was one of the main quora topics until the site diversified, and by diversified im not just referring to the dramatic influx of indians that included mayeesha, shes bangledeshi, but the content just broadened a lot). she also likes cats, anime, and wants to try out politics like by working on a political campaign. you should be feeling some overlap with her by now.

    here’s a recent answer about what inspired her to write:

    (nothing really did, she was just a natural).
    http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-thing-that-inspired-you-to-start-writing/answer/Mayeesha-Tahsin

    and a link to her blog

    http://tahsin_mayeesha.quora.com/

    (one post i really liked that i read recently was about her first teaching experience http://tahsin_mayeesha.quora.com/First-teaching-experience)

  43. Kyle Strand says:

    I know it costs money, but have you ever considered getting a discourse.org/ based comment system? If nothing else, Jeff Atwood’s attempts to find a way to minimize online meanness are actually pretty interesting (see for instance http://try.discourse.org/faq and http://blog.codinghorror.com/please-read-the-comments/) .

    Also (to give a snarky and biased summary), Arthur Chu thinks that because mainstream views and mental illness sometimes mix poorly, the “real problem” is the mainstream views, and assertions to the contrary are a “distraction”. Discuss! (Seriously, though, I imagine he’s correct that many or most people talking about the problems of mental illness aren’t doing so in a productive way.)
    http://www.salon.com/2015/06/18/its_not_about_mental_illness_the_big_lie_that_always_follows_mass_shootings_by_white_males/

    • Alraune says:

      Arthur Chu is a if not the prime example of an author who deserves to be archive-linked instead of given proper clicks.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        I’ve never put much thought into link-altering beyond “maybe links to literal white supremacist forums should be marked nofollow,” and even that realization was due to a discussion on the matter in a comments thread somewhere. What’s wrong with posting the original link?

        • Anonymous says:

          Arthur Chu has been Literally Rationalist Hitler since he admitted to doing the things every other political pundit does.

    • Adam says:

      Did you have to? Here we go again with everyone’s favorite soap boxes. Forget the ridiculously downward trajectory of violence we’re on nationally and let’s talk about white supremacy and toxic masculinity. It seems to me that masculinity might literally be the least toxic it has ever been right now in the entire history of the human species. Is that hyperbole? Maybe we had less violence before we had cities at all 15,000 years ago?

      • I yield to no one in my efforts to spread the news about the decline of violence, and I recommend Steven Pinker’s book on the subject to everyone.

        That being said, I think Chu has a point that (for example) the Charleston perpetrator IS openly racist, and it is really off the point to reflexively blame the attack on “mental illness”.

        In particular, I agree with him that advocacy for tightening the screws on people with ANY kind of mental illness diagnosis is pretty frightening.

        • Nornagest says:

          The US, and largely the world, is a safer, richer, and more intelligent place than it was twenty years ago. It’s also a more authoritarian, more politically divided, and, if you care about that sort of thing, less economically equal.

          Of course, nothing says that the historical mean of any of those must be optimal (and in fact I’ll wager that most of them aren’t). But it does provide some guidance as to which skies are falling and which aren’t.

        • Alraune says:

          the Charleston perpetrator IS openly racist, and it is really off the point to reflexively blame the attack on “mental illness”.

          Confounding factor: people reflexively equate racism and mental illness.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Seconded, on how we treat and talk about mental illness. Also, is there any chance Scott would add “mention of Arthur Chu” to verboten topics of open threads? Sigh.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          He could be mentally ill and racist.

          That being said, Chu is just the latest in a long parade of people who want to control what everyone thinks and says and does in order to eliminate the scourge of ____________. It’s never worth the price. (Except if you write “Gawker” in that blank, of course.)

    • Harald K says:

      Discourse seems like it has no novel ideas, it’s just one more attempt at making a civilized forum by means of some pleading appeals to civic virtues, and permanently empowering the “right” people to strike down at anything that they don’t see as civilized. We know such systems don’t scale well.

      SSC is at the point where its model (single moderator/owner, threaded discussion) starts to creak at the seams. It’s not as bad as unthreaded discussion would be, though.

      What does scale well, as I see it, is actually randomly assigned moderation privileges a la old Slashdot (although Slashdot only wanted to use it for comments, and they never sorted by score, nullifying most of the advantage.) It’s also best to give the mods random comments to evaluate – a la metamod – rather than points to distribute over whatever they see. That stops self-selecting for modding your friends/enemies, or already popular comments, and means comments get a more neutralevaluation on average.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        I’m not so sure; Atwood’s previous discussion-based website, StackOverflow, is an incredible success; I think he has a great deal of insight into how to use tools to improve the nature of online discussion, both in format *and* content. Discourse may not be as different from existing platforms as SO was when it was introduced, but it still seems to me to be far and away the best discussion platform I’ve used, and I wouldn’t immediately discount the idea that it might have a genuine positive impact on the community. (SSC comment threads are pretty high-quality already, so I don’t necessarily think it would make a huge difference in that regard here.)

        And I wasn’t sold on non-threaded discussion at first either, but it’s very readable, and well-implemented enough that following a single logical “thread” in a conversation is actually surprisingly easy and convenient, even though it’s slightly more awkward than simply scrolling down.

        • Harald K says:

          Success isn’t always deserved. I don’t think Stack Overflow has scaled well socially speaking. Often when I look for something, I find it in a closed question. There seems to have arisen a political status hierarchy on SO, not unlike on Wikipedia, where a lot of counterproductive activities are rewarded. I haven’t done much there, this is strictly from the sidelines, but I don’t like the drama I’ve seen.

          But how can you have a social environment in the first place around a site where people drop in for the answer to a quick question, then leave? That has been both Stack Overflow’s strength and its weakness – at first a strength, and now a weakness as it’s become important enough for prestige-seekers to take over.

          • suntzuanime says:

            A political status hierarchy not unlike Wikipedia, another fantastically useful website. Maybe what we’re seeing here is optimizing for creating a valuable resource is not the same as optimizing for creating a fun community.

          • Harald K says:

            Suntzuanime, Wikipedia is more like a sausage factory with very dubious hygiene standards, where everyone is a lot more concerned with not getting the blame for what gets wrong/getting the credit for what gets right/not being ground up into sausage themselves.

            And you’re like the guy who says, “who cares, this sausage factory is clearly terrific at making tasty sausages!”

            Wikipedia is not sustainable. It’s been losing contributors since 2007, and it’s in my opinion actually become worse also since then. Lots of things seem to work well but fail disastrously at the challenges of scaling up socially.

          • Wikipedia is not sustainable. It’s been losing contributors since 2007, and it’s in my opinion actually become worse also since then.

            Really? Pretty much every Wikipedia article that I’m closely familiar with is significantly better now than it was in 2007.

          • Alraune says:

            I don’t see the need to blame “social scaling” for Wikipedia’s problems when there’s the more obvious cause that they’ve by any reasonable measure finished writing their encyclopedia. Yeah, the place would be better if there were 10% as much Playhouse Parliament going on, but the reason they don’t attract many new editors is a lot simpler: all the low-hanging fruit was picked 4,000,000 articles ago. To affect a meaningful contribution to Wikipedia is now no longer a matter of spending ten minutes figuring out the interface and then another ten telling us that Johannesburg exists.

    • Anonymous says:

      Discourse is patronizing, noisy, over-glossed, and unpleasant to use. Many of its design choices are the worst possible compromise between classical, unstructured forum threads and mob-moderated systems like reddit.

      The fact that StackOverflow happens to be the dominant site in its niche is not proof of Atwood’s philosophical superiority. Hell, SO’s not what it used to be. (I used to participate on a forum that was switched over to Discourse; when we reported bugs and requested features (these were the early days), the man himself dropped by to be snide at us. Half the commenters are gone now.)

      • Kyle Strand says:

        Any chance of pointing me to the forum?

        Also, is there any online discussion platform that you do like?

        • Anonymous says:

          The Daily WTF forums. (I see there are multiple Discourse-issue threads on the front page, two years after the switch.)

          phpBB (in mildly modified instances), old Livejournal commenting, Dreamwidth commenting, WordPress commenting, MetaFilter, Hacker News, Reddit, the *chans, Usenet, and (depending on your definition of “discussion platform”) Tumblr have all served me well, for a range of styles of discussion.

  44. Anaxagoras says:

    I recently came across a couple of things claiming rather interesting effects, and thanks to SSC totally spoiling me on trusting studies, I’d appreciate people’s thoughts.

    The first is the Gallup StrengthsFinder 2.0, with technical report here:
    http://strengths.gallup.com/private/Resources/CSFTechnicalReport031005.pdf
    This is some personality test thing that purports to have found 34 clusters of strengths. Having taken the test for something work-adjacent, I can say it’s a reasonably decent one, and I think it got me roughly right, though I know that positive or flattering stuff (which naturally a “strengths” evaluator would focus on) is harder to judge for one’s self. The improvements reported sound insufficiently controlled to me, and likely cofounded by there being any intervention as opposed to no intervention. How well conducted does this seem to be? How legit is this?

    The second is a novel method of treating concussions with prescription eye glasses and connect-the-dots puzzles, discussed in this guy’s book here:
    http://clarkelliott.com/
    He gave a talk at a local lecture hall that I happened into, and made some fairly impressive claims about the treatment’s efficacy. To summarize as well as I remember, the brain recovers from concussions not by repairing the affected area, but rather by routing around it, and most of the symptoms of concussions come from the brain trying to use the damaged portions. Since much of the brain does visual processing, and different parts of the retina map to different parts of the brain, using different patches of the retina could bypass the damaged regions of the brain and avoid visual and spatial processing overloading the system. Dr. Elliott had apparently made a full recovery from a fairly nasty concussion he had endured for eight years, thanks to this therapy. I believe his story — he seemed fine now, and his description of the experience of mTBI is apparently very accurate — but I don’t feel that’s enough to say that this treatment really is a miracle cure for many concussions. For starters, if it hadn’t worked so well for him, he wouldn’t have been there to write his book. To Dr. Elliott’s credit, he mentioned this. I’d appreciate someone more knowledgeable of the relevant science than myself’s thoughts on the matter.

  45. I feel like I use italics too often. When I read writing that uses them at about the same level as I do, it usually just seems overbearing and handhold-y, like the writer doesn’t trust me to read their writing the correct way. I see this most commonly on LW actually, which I suspect is due to us all subconsciously imitating Eliezer (who used a lot of italics, but usually in a way that didn’t annoy me for whatever reason).

    So given that I find excessive italics annoying to read in other people’s works, I should probably cut back on them in my own. But damnit, they just seem so necessary sometimes. Any tips on how to cut back on their use, beyond just “duh, don’t use them”? Like, I suspect skilled writers somehow manage to craft sentences that just don’t require italics in the first place, but I clearly don’t know how to do that right now. I guess an italics moratorium could be a good idea – then I might be forced to learn how to write sentences that couldn’t rely on italics as a crutch. Or if not a moratorium then maybe a limit of [X] per thousand words or whatever.

    Anyway, I guess I was just wondering if anyone else had struggled with this or thought about it already.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I probably also got this from Eliezer. I asked a few people if it bothered them, they said it didn’t. The one use of italics I saw in that comment seemed appropriate.

      I think there are a lot of people who are bad at using italics, but that people who are otherwise good writers are likely to use italics appropriately.

    • notes says:

      Consider the converse course: rather than struggling to eliminate italics from your writing, study those writers whom you feel use them well: imitate, analyze, iterate.

    • buckwheatloaf says:

      italics can be really cute because it makes a person sound expressive. there is a quote by rousseau that emphasis is the soul of speech. he also said that by the custom of saying everything in the same tone came the upperclasses habit of insulting others without them knowing it. if you can add emphasis to typing, why not? just do it where its natural and likeable and you should be okay. if italics is *just* for emphasis, it could get annoying. where it should be saved for is emphasis that also has emotion. you could also experiment with the asterisks i just did. im emphasizing but it seems a bit cuter because i didn’t do actual italics. here’s a place i saw them used really well (14 year old girl that doesn’t like being dismissed for her age, perfect place for emotion with emphasis). but im no expert on them and i avoid them for fear of using them badly (i think i tried in the past, but it just wasn’t working out so i stopped). some people might just not be destined for italicized greatness. eliezer, whose italics i mostly remember from the first few chapters of hpmor i read, i thought was doing good at using them. but he’s generally exceptional where as most of us are generally ordinary. its no surprise he could pull off italics. you could probably ask yourself, “am i the type of person that could just pull off italitcs good?” and if you think the answer is “unlikely” than reduce your usage of them.

      http://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/3acnh4/ot22_flow_my_tears_the_policeman_thread/
      “Right, so this blew up.

      Just a lil something: I’m curious to know why a ton of you think it’s *so* wrong that he maybe could be my friend. Or how it’s *so* innapropriate for a girl my age to deal with something like this. A lot of you have said that I’m completely unable to process this situation based solely on my age. I’m really, honestly, irate at the fact that a bunch of you think I’m just some dumb and or naive OP. Just because I’m 14. I’m being “groomed”, so on so forth. “

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m really, honestly, irate at the fact that a bunch of you think I’m just some dumb and or naive OP. Just because I’m 14. I’m being “groomed”, so on so forth.

        Taking it on face value that you really are a 14 year old girl (you may not be; there are people who like to pretend to be what they are not in order to poke the hornet’s nest for their own private amusement and to feed a sense of superiority), I am going to make a few general remarks that you won’t like. I know that giving advice is a fool’s errand, but I’m a big enough fool to try regardless. Please, whatever else you do, accept my word that I am not intending to criticise and belittle you but rather to try and explain why older people don’t seem to understand younger people. I’m an auntie, I’m accustomed to lecturing the rising generation 🙂

        I’m a long way past 14, but I do remember it. It was a great time, it was a terrible time, and I’m very glad I’m over it.

        You’re young. Yes, I know: that’s what adults always say. But listen: you’re young. You’re still growing and developing, in mind, body and character. Everything you are experiencing, you are experiencing for the first time. Everything you are encountering, you are encountering for the first time.

        For those of us who are older, maybe much older, this is not so. We’ve had a share of experiences and come to know more about ourselves and the world. Which brings me on to the two points I want to make:

        (1) Bad things do happen
        (2) Nobody ever thinks it will happen to them

        We don’t think you’re stupid. We do think you are naïve, because you are naïve; unless you’ve had a particular kind of childhood, it is to be hoped that you’ve never encountered manipulation and exploitation before. And maybe you’re not encountering such now, but it’s hard for you to know. Even if you’re smart, even if you have intellectual knowledge of what dangers are out there, you still don’t know.

        The young (the very young, and forgive me, but 14 is very young) don’t have much introspection. There is so much going on right now in your life and your physical and mental state, you haven’t got the spare capacity. It’s not a question of intelligence, it’s not even a question of maturity, it’s a question of plain, brute lived-life experience that you only get with time and slogging through the years on this planet.

        Older people may be over-cautious. This counterbalances younger people’s tendency to be over-adventurous.

        Someone older (I am presuming this is the case here) paying you attention? Taking your seriously? Treating you like the mature and intelligent young adult you know yourself to be, not the half-childish, half-older being your parents and teachers and other adult authority figures treat you as?

        That’s flattering. Of course it is; we all love it when someone treats us that way, when someone seems to get us, when we’re appreciated. And it’s heady wine, and goes to the head, and that’s why the old grumps are cautioning you to be careful, that all may not be as it appears, because unhappy experience has taught us the same.

        It may indeed be over-caution on our part, fuelled by scares of paedophilia and sexual abuse from media stories that exaggerate for emphasis. But that does not mean that it doesn’t happen.

        There’s a saying “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders” and I certainly don’t want to do that, or fill your head with worries, or make you fearful. This time of your life is for learning and experiencing, both good and bad. Just be a little cautious, is all we’re saying. In two years’ time you will look back at the things you liked and did and said at this time of your life, and be mortified with embarrassment. That’s normal too 🙂

        • buckwheatloaf says:

          i had just read that reddit post recently and i remember how i liked how the italics were used there so i thought its a good example to show them being employed well. im not the 14 year old girl!!

          when i said “here’s a place i saw them used really well (14 year old girl that doesn’t like being dismissed for her age, perfect place for emotion with emphasis)”

          the stuff in the parenthesis was me elaborating on where i saw them used well. i think when i went back and added the last part then it confused it by making the link to the post too far from where i had mentioned it. i wasn’t saying i was the 14 year old girl (im not, im much older and a boy, i mean a guy.). i think this means i cant use parenthesis well either D:

          btw i really liked your comments i was reading on here, *you* are certainly a good writer and it’s fun to read your comments :).

      • Cassander says:

        Like Deiseach, I know that you will probably not listen to this advice and you will not like it. I know that I didn’t when I was your age. Human beings are unique in their ability to learn from the mistakes of others, but remarkable for their disinclination to do so. I wish to add to his remarks

        No matter how smart you are, there are limits to how much you can understand without experience. This is particularly true of self knowledge. That is, knowing things like “I’m a sucker for X tactic”, “I always tend to overlook Y factor”, or “when stressed I forget about Z.” At 14 you simply can’t know the answers to these questions because you haven’t been put in those situations enough times for patterns to emerge. We are vulnerable to certain types of bad decision making, as you get older you can learn which and try to avoid/mitigate/fix those vulnerabilities. At 14, you can’t know your weaknesses because they haven’t been tested.

      • Sophie says:

        I was a mature 14