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OT27: A Comment Appears

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

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933 Responses to OT27: A Comment Appears

  1. onyomi says:

    I recently learned that there was a name for a phenomenon I and many others have long observed: Parkinson’s Law=”work expands to fill the time available.”

    And though I’ve been aware of this for a long time, I’m not sure I really take full advantage of the knowledge. Any tips on circumventing and/or taking advantage of it to improve productivity?

    The only thing I do which sort of works is to create external deadlines for myself: if I propose a paper on a subject on which I want to do more in-depth research but have not yet found the time, then I know I will be forced to do the real research and put something together before I give the actual presentation. Self-imposed deadlines like, “I don’t HAVE to finish this article by the end of the month, but I should because I need next month to work on x,” can sort of work, but to a much lesser extent.

    But both of these are pretty macro-level; I still feel like I can be very inefficient at minor tasks when I know they don’t need to get done right this second. Maybe a mental habit of setting lots of mini deadlines: like, “I have all night to finish grading these papers, but I WILL finish them by 8 pm so I can work on x…” But saying that and doing it are two different things…

  2. Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

    So, I have a right wing friend who I think could be potentially pretty interested in the ideas of neoreaction. I’ve been told Moldbug is the main guy of the movement, but I’ve also been told his writing is borderline impenetrably dense (which isn’t helped by English being their second, if relatively fluid, language). What would be the most newcomer friendly blog or writing to introduce them to it?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The traditional starting points are Mencius Moldbug’s Open Letter, Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment, and Scott Alexander’s “Neoreaction in a… Nutshell”. The Neoreactionary Canon includes all three.

      After that, James Donald is legendary for his bluntness, but that same quality can also scare off newcomers. The Future Primaeval is excellent in terms of balancing insight with clarity, but it’s somewhat short on material, and perhaps a little advanced for a newbie. The Anti-Democracy Activist is probably your best bet; he is a great writer, and usually sticks close to the object-level rather than delving deep into the more arcane bits of neoreactionary theory.

      • anon says:

        I would hesitate to hold up Jim as a shining example of NRx discourse. If people want cuckposts and arguments about whether traps are superior to ladyboys they can go to /tv/ for that. I’ll second the Future Primeval as it generally presents issues in terms normal people understand and care about.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Amerika.org isn’t bad, kind of a bridge between neoreaction and more Romantic paleoreaction. It gets a bit one-note, so not great for archive binges, and Brett Stevens does occasionally indulge in embarrassing post-collapse fantasies.

      Honestly though I’d say skip NRx entirely and go right to the source. As Moldbug gladly admitted, virtually all of the theory and history can be found in “old books” and what’s left over is mostly in journal articles. A short reading list of maybe two or three books* plus a few review articles would probably suffice. Shame gwern isn’t on the AltRight, this kind of summary stuff would be right up his alley.

      *(I can’t recommend much, because my philosophy is a bit off from theirs, but ‘Democracy: the God that Failed’ ‘The 10,000 Year Explosion’ and ‘Chronicles of Wasted Time’ are held in pretty high regard. ‘Albion’s Seed’ would be a good one if he’s American. Aside from the first I haven’t read them myself, though some are on my reading list.)

  3. Carinthium says:

    (NOTE: I need advice on a problem, and at this point I am desperate.

    Sorry about the slight breach of form, but I will repost this request on OT28 soon after it is up to get a bit more attention.)

    I need advice on dealing with my parents. My mother is Roman Catholic, my father is Anglo-Catholic*, and I am athiest. I am trying to “officially” deconvert after a time of avoiding the issue, but to prevent them from emotionally pressuring me to stay Catholic I am trying to find some powerful arguments. This is particularly hard because I am vulnerable to Mum’s emotional pressure, and the more they dismiss my argument the harder it is to openly be athiest.

    This is doubly important for me because my parents would do everything in their power to stop me dating. Their reasoning is that I don’t want to be a father (very true), don’t have what it takes to be a father (very probably true, given my stress levels), and that it is immoral to date (Roman Catholic rules) with no intention of ever marrying and having children. I’m not very good at social skills, but I want to date eventually at the very minimum and my parents are making this harder.

    So far, I have tried several arguments. Most of these target Mum, who believes in Papal Infallbility and is the easier target. I figure if I can deal with her, dealing with Dad will be a lot easier emotionally.

    -I tried challenging the scientific efficacy of prayer. My parents think that the prayer studies are a highly controversial area, and I don’t know what to say about this. I tried the argument that the British Royal Family do not show statistically significant gains from all the prayer they get. Mum tried the argument that maybe none of them are proper, I pointed out it was an entire country of potential prayers, and Mum still dismissed it saying she needed to think but was sure I was wrong.

    -I tried challenging Unam Sanctam, the work which said that you cannot be saved if you’re outside the Catholic faith, and accusing it of contradiction. My parents don’t see a problem with official Catholic doctrine, which now says that if you are worthy of being saved you are a Catholic without knowing it, and think I’m being unreasonable for thinking this suspicious. In addition, the original text of Unam Sanctam was lost and there are claims that a non-infallible Addendum was accidentally added to the main text.

    -I tried challenging the Papal claim that people are anethma if they do not believe God can be known with certainty by the light of natural reason. I then tried to attack the idea of this not making sense using arguments for probabilities. Lamentabili Sane condemns the idea faith ultimately rests on probabilities as well. I was going to appeal to the Evil Demon Argument, strong ground on this if there ever was.

    But I don’t know if Lamentabili Sane is infallible or not, and my parents automatically assume Not so they can ignore it. It then turns out, to my frustration, that Aristotle has a definition of Certainty the Church uses which is nothing like ours. Apparently practical certainty on which to act is enough, and I can’t refute that by philosophy.

    -I tried challenging Natural Law, saying that philosophically speaking the notion doesn’t make sense. Mum and Dad talk about what it takes for human flourishing, failing to see that humans often want things too different to claim that everybody should want to follow the same Natural Law for general harmony. This is the latest one, and Mum is going to look up a lot of books and make me fight the entire Catholic Natural Law tradition.

    Overall, my parents think this is a very difficult issue. I know it shouldn’t be, and I feel ridicolous and humiliated from having to act like a Catholic. But every time I raise one of these arguments, my parents think this is a symptom of overly rigid Aspergers Syndrome.

    I can’t simply say things about what I feel, because we’ve agreed (honestly) on past ocassions that subjectivists who change religion for emotional reasons are idiots.

    *: Dad believes that the Pope has authority to give moral instructions to the Church, but does not believe in papal infallibility. I’m actually vague on how much he thinks the Pope can define matters of faith.

    • Nita says:

      Hi, I’m an atheist married into a culturally Catholic family. I think your approach is somewhat misguided — but first, a few comments:

      Mum still dismissed it saying she needed to think but was sure I was wrong.

      No, this is good. Don’t expect them to say, “you’re right, God doesn’t exist” in the middle of discussion. “I need to think” is the best you can hope for.

      if you are worthy of being saved you are a Catholic without knowing it

      This is also good for your purposes — it means that your future girlfriend doesn’t have to affirm or practice any particular beliefs, as long as she seems like a good person to your mother.

      I feel ridiculous and humiliated from having to act like a Catholic.

      Now, this one is hard. Pretend you’re an anthropologist using the participatory method to study a community of believers?

      And finally, my main point:

      Would having an enjoyable love life be enough for you, without changing your parents’ basic worldview? If so, leave the theology alone. They’ve spent centuries making it internally consistent.

      In fact, stop arguing entirely*. Be a good child. Do your everyday household duties, go to church at least a few times a year, do well at school and/or get a job — let your parents see that they’ve raised a decent kid, so they don’t have to worry about your future.

      Then get some social hobbies. Spend time with your new friends. Don’t report to your parents the exact number of friends you’re meeting each time. When you get to know someone you would be willing to marry, then you can bring them home as your first “official” girlfriend.

      * And if you miss the theological debates, you can always come here and argue with Irenist and Troy.

      • Carinthium says:

        It is good news on the prayer point. I think the Royal Family is the most obvious point of evidence that an answer can’t be found for.

        I see what you mean regarding a girlfriend, and if I didn’t intend to experiment with speed dating and if desperate polyamory that’s exactly what I would do. But having to go to Church so often is very annoying, and on the whole it can’t work.

        As for the humiliation angle, I can’t simply delude myself like that.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Not Catholic, never been catholic. Have been a Christian, then an Athiest for some years, am now a Christian. I am not sure if anything that follows is useful. I hope none of it is insulting.

      “I can’t simply say things about what I feel, because we’ve agreed (honestly) on past ocassions that subjectivists who change religion for emotional reasons are idiots.”

      Is love a feeling? Agape love, even? Is it stupid to marry someone you truly are in love with? (Not now, Diesaech). Christianity is described as a marriage, the Church being the “bride of Christ” and all. If the mate is not alive, and in fact has never existed, how can the marriage still be valid?

      More to the point, if it possible to still be Catholic if you don’t want to be? The sermon on the mount argues that it is not the external forms that matter, but what is in the heart. If in your heart you have already left the church, better for your body to do the same. Catholic doctrine may differ here, but that would be rather surprising to me. If doctrine is on your side (it is in my church, at least, and we are very conservative), bringing in someone from the Church itself to help mediate between you and your parents might be worth doing. You pretending to be something you are not is not in your interest or that of the church.

      Generalizing from the church leaders I know, you are probably not the first or even the hundredth person they’ve seen leave the faith. If you are already effectively out, as opposed to simply having a crisis of faith, I would expect their interest to be in helping preserve the wellbeing of your family, not in browbeating you into abandoning your principles. On the other hand, it’s possible that your are priests unusually awful, or mine are unusually good. Use your judgement.

      Not much I can say about the rest, other than this: If your goal is to prove to devout Catholics that Catholicism is wrong through logic and debate, that seems like a bit of a tough row to hoe. Arguing intelligent design at a biology conference might be easier; at least you could appeal to aliens, panspermia or a simulated universe.

      I wish you well, sir.

      • Carinthium says:

        None of what you said is insulting. I promise I’m not offended. That being said, a few things.

        I don’t understand your point about love. Loving God is definitely nothing like proof of God’s existence. It could easily be stupid to marry somebody you truely are in love with. An absence of love for God does not alter the evidence- if the evidence were the other way, I should (I can’t claim to be totally unbiased but I SHOULD) switch sides.

        The priests I know of tend to assume they must do everything they can to stop a deconversion. My parents think that my objections are just an excessively rigid autistic mind. I don’t think your approach will help.

        Even if I can’t convince them, if my argument is strong enough I figure it should be a lot easier to make them accept it. The ideal would be an argument so good they see the force of it and don’t have anything to say to it.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Speaking frankly, if you think there is some knock-down logical argument that will make this all go away, I think you are operating from an overly-rigid autistic mind-set.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            True, kind, nescessary? : /

          • Linch says:

            Huh. This is an interesting test of the three rules.

            It seems that you can believe this to be

            1)false, unnecessary and unkind, xor
            2)true, unnecessary and unkind xor
            3)true, necessary and therefore kind.

            I don’t think it’s plausible for a reasonable person to eg. think this comment is necessary but false, or kind but unnecessary.

          • Carinthium says:

            I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m in a dilemma here. If my parents think my case for leaving the Faith is a bad one, they’ll keep bugging me about it constantly. Not ALL the time, but they’ll never give up trying until I reconvert.

            Since I’m forbidden by family rules to appeal to emotions, I figure finding some sort of brilliant argument is my best chance.

          • John Schilling says:

            Your best chance is almost certainly to either break the family rules, or to find a new family. You can maybe postpone this by hiding your true beliefs.

            If there were a rational argument that could persuade a devout Catholic to not be a Catholic any more, there would be about a billion fewer Catholics than there presently are. The Roman Catholic Church has spent the past two thousand years tailoring its doctrines and beliefs to eliminate internal inconsistencies significant enough to seriously undermine belief; ditto verifiable inconsistencies with objective reality. You aren’t going to convert your parents with a rational argument devoid of feelings or emotion, so if those are ground-ruled out you’re done for.

            Neither can you rationally persuade your parents to accept you as a non-Catholic, because while Catholicism can be tolerant and even welcoming of some sorts of unbelievers, the Catholic world view is absolutely intolerant of apostasy. Having been a baptized, adult Catholic, if you become truly non-Catholic you are, in their internally consistent world view, literally damned. Rationally, that’s a negative-infinity outcome which they must prevent by any means necessary. Including “constant bugging”.

            Short term, Nita had it right. You can fake it through college, and at 23 that really shouldn’t be too much longer. If you want to develop the social skills and independence you’re going to need, it had better not be too much longer.

            Long term, you’ll need a new family. Possible ingredients, first and foremost would be that girlfriend you hope to acquire. Ideally she’ll come with a welcoming family of her own. Any siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents you might have who will maintain ties with you when you are estranged from your parents – that puts them in a difficult place, but if you and they are living independently, not impossibly difficult. And any close social groups you might be a part of, kind of like this one but smaller, tighter, and in the real world. Universities are a good place to make those sorts of connections, but here you are talking to us and talking about how living in dorms is too stressful, so I’m guessing that hasn’t happened. I strongly suggest changing that.

            Or, you could argue feelings with your parents. Because any other path is going to result in a lot of hurt feelings, yours and theirs, and postponing the inevitable is only going to make it worse.

          • Carinthium says:

            Tomorrow afternoon Melbourne time (it’s about 9:30 p.m melbourne time when I write this) I’ll officially deconvert. Things I will say:

            -The prayer argument is the last straw. Mum argued that God would not answer such prayers if they were ignorant and it would be better for the Royal to die. This doesn’t fit with the Bible and the idea that people can pray to achieve things within limits.

            -I could use God and amputees, but I probably won’t. Mum might get mad because she keeps looking up answers to my objections then I have new ones and she’s gone to so much hard work.

            -(A partial lie) Yes, I did say at one point Mum’s arguments sounded convincing (I did, then I thought about it). But that was before I looked up my general style of reasoning and found that it was fairly good.
            (If Slate Star Codex saw flaws in my reasoning other than irrationalist I would have known by now)

            -Accusations that I’m being biased or looking for an excuse to deconvert: For a long time I’ve learned epistemological ideas that Christianity doesn’t sit right with. That is my main reason.

            -Aspergers (unlikely point now): Aspergers is a Fully General Counterargument.

            -Mum hasn’t taught me well enough so I don’t know these things: Why am I considering the Catholic Church to have the benefit of the doubt, compared to every other religion out there?

            Mum will ask me to wait for books on the Natural Law. I’ll say no because the points aren’t just on Natural Law. Everywhere, Atheism looks more plausible.

            -Mum might start getting angry and going into emotion. It’s understood this is invalid, which I’ll point out if necessary, and I’ll wait it out.

            After this, I’ll wait a week for things to calm down before I start trying to deal with the issue of Speed Dating. It’s less because I stand a serious chance right now and more to make a symbolic point.

            I may want to come on here for emotional support in future Open Threads in the future. I will definitely need advice about these matters.

            EDIT: Actually, it turns out Mum has a project going on that is really, REALLY stressful for her. She wants to leave it until the books come, and it looks like I don’t have a choice or her shouting will ruin things.

            Maybe I’ll make a stand this Sunday and say that because I think God is more improbable than probable, I refuse to go to Church. Dad is there, and he is better regarding emotional pressure.

          • Carinthium says:

            The problem has just gotten worse. Mum has insisted on a discussion on the epistemic rules of conduct on which I differ with her. Now I don’t know what to do.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If I crossed a line, I apologize. Scott could delete, but presumably the damage has already been done.

            I meant it as true and blunt, which is kind and often necessary in my book.

            There are no knock-down logical arguments. Even a very compelling logical argument will not help, because most people aren’t actually driven primarily by logical reasoning, and thinking that they are is itself an artifact of the “rigid autistic mindset” which it sounds like is at the root of your suffering.

            tldr; This approach will not get you what you’re looking for. Another is needed.

          • Carinthium says:

            No- Jaskologist, in reterospect I think you were right. No amount of argument is going to work here.

            UPDATE:
            I rather screwed up. Since I’m not very independent, my Mum cornered me into an arrangement where I’ll move out for a month in December- I have university on so it’s too stressful to move out then, and we don’t have the money for me to move out some other time. I don’t know how to get Government Assistance, so I’m screwed there. The problem is she keeps coming into the room with ideas when I’m not prepared for it.

            The silver lining in all of this is that I’ve tricked her into an arrangement where I get to have some “private time” where I go out into the city. Nominally speaking this is just for independence purposes, but I think I have the skills to go to a speed dating place, register, then talk her into letting me go later.

            Advance prediction: 95% I strike out. Still worth it.

            And yes, this is pretty bad overall.

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        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Carinthium – “I don’t understand your point about love. Loving God is definitely nothing like proof of God’s existence.”

          The following is solely my personal experience and views, for what their worth.

          Belief in God is not a theory, like gravity or evolution or whatever. It’s a way of seeing the world. People don’t believe or disbelieve in God because of the compelling nature of the evidence, the evidence is compelling because they believe or disbelieve. Belief in a diety is part of your core perspective, your worldview. Worldview determines how you evaluate evidence, and is only affected by evidence through secondary feedbacks; it takes a ton of evidence to shift even a tertiary part of a worldview like, say, “communism is a good/bad idea”. Shifting the bedrock parts requires horsepower that logical arguments and discrete facts can’t supply for most people, and I’m not all that convinced that they *should*.

          I became an Athiest because because I was bad at being a Christian and because I was deeply unhappy, and the two facts seemed to be connected. After several years as an Athiest I found I was still deeply unhappy, and concluded that if living as an Athiest didn’t help with the misery part, maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea after all. As it happens, Christianity seems to be helping a whole lot with the misery the second time around for a lot of reasons, so I’m pretty happy I did. When Christianity seemed incompatible with my personal happiness, many Athiest arguments seemed profoundly compelling and Christian arguments seemed facile or irrelevent. When Atheism seemed to make my life worse rather than better, the opposite happened. In the end it seemed to come down to a simple choice of worldviews either way; once the worldview is chosen, it cements itself so well that only severe personal crisis can dislodge it, and it colors everything you see.

          “If the evidence were the other way, I should (I can’t claim to be totally unbiased but I SHOULD) switch sides.”

          From the Christian perspective: Incontrovertable proof of God’s existence would violate free will, which is explicitly the whole point of our creation. He wants us to choose to love him freely, and preserving that choice entails allowing us to doubt.

          From the Athiest perspective: Your brain is a meat computer, and its evidence-weighing and abstract reasoning systems are not even tertiary features. Why would you expect them to decisively overrule much more fundamental processies? It’s possible that you yourself can hack the system enough to make that happen, but failing those hacks and reverting to core output is more or less indistinguishable from succeeding at them.

          How do you tell someone who understands an argument and finds it unconvincing from someone who simply isn’t thinking clearly? If that were an easy problem, the question would have been settled long ago, and we’d all be athiests/theists.

          “The priests I know of tend to assume they must do everything they can to stop a deconversion.”

          That is extremely depressing to hear. You have my sympathies.

          “My parents think that my objections are just an excessively rigid autistic mind. I don’t think your approach will help. Even if I can’t convince them, if my argument is strong enough I figure it should be a lot easier to make them accept it.”

          If they’re claiming your reasoning is the product of “an excessively rigid autistic mind”, that seems like a fully-general counterargument to any evidence or argument it’s even possible to raise. I really, really think you’d be better off arguing that you already are outside of the Church, and appealing to Christianity’s general revulsion toward hypocrisy. For me, that’s a much more compelling argument at a visceral level from either perspective. Still, if you’re set on the argument angle…

          “The ideal would be an argument so good they see the force of it and don’t have anything to say to it.”

          Shopenhauer’s appeal to global misery as evidence against a loving God was one of the arguments that felt most compelling to me, as both an Athiest and a Christian. The eXile’s “Schopenhauer Award” series, particularly the Guinea Worm entry, is the presentation that hit me the hardest:
          http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=6877&IBLOCK_ID=35
          It’s possible this is too much of an “emotional” presentation for your purposes, but it may suggest a general form.

          The obvious problem that occurs to me for the Royal Family as a test of the efficacy of prayer:
          -Controlling party has possible strong interest in thwarting test.
          -No reason to think Prayer should be linearly additive in effect.
          -“Prayer of a Rightous man avails much”, but “Rightous” is hard to quantify.
          -Illness and death are unavoidable, and not actually that important under the Christian view.
          -Maybe prayers preserve dynasty rather than individual members? Compare British royal family to, say, the Romanovs.

          This is of course all complete sophistry, I mention it mainly to show how this sort of thing can go round in circles endlessly. For me, the above is why suggesting that prayer is provably efficacious in the first place is rediculous. We can’t even reliably test Psychology, much less the actions of an invisible, all-powerful agent who may or may not want to cooperate.

          My apologies again if any of the above causes offense, and to the board in general for injecting my personal irrationality into a rational space.

          • Carinthium says:

            If I don’t use rational methods to discover the truth, I could easily be living a lie. If God exists and I don’t believe in him, or God doesn’t exist and I do, then my life is going to turn out a disaster. If it’s the broadly Christian God, I will have to give up dating because the fact that you shouldn’t have sex without procreation is very clear.

            “My parents think that my objections are just an excessively rigid autistic mind. I don’t think your approach will help. Even if I can’t convince them, if my argument is strong enough I figure it should be a lot easier to make them accept it.”

            My parents are smart enough to understand the concept of a Fully General Counterargument. Showing that bit of LessWrong to them is a good idea. Thanks.

            “How do you tell someone who understands an argument and finds it unconvincing from someone who simply isn’t thinking clearly? If that were an easy problem, the question would have been settled long ago, and we’d all be athiests/theists.”

            It’s less not thinking clear and more bad rules of epistemology in general. I haven’t completely solved this problem, but it helps that if you scrutinise an epistemological problem in abstract terms it’s easier to determine it’s truth, then apply it with less bias to concrete situations.

            “From the Athiest perspective: Your brain is a meat computer, and its evidence-weighing and abstract reasoning systems are not even tertiary features. Why would you expect them to decisively overrule much more fundamental processies? It’s possible that you yourself can hack the system enough to make that happen, but failing those hacks and reverting to core output is more or less indistinguishable from succeeding at them.”

            If I get this one wrong, then my life is going to be a total and utter disaster. For as long as I do not know the answer, the only thing I can do is waste away not getting closer to God and not finding happiness because I can’t date.

            I agree there are problems. But my only choice is to try.

            On the Royal Family:
            -What controlling party?
            -No, but if it has an effect at all it should count.
            -The major point is that because there are SO MANY people praying for the Royal family, some of them must be Righteous enough to count.
            -The prayers were intended specifically for long life.
            -It can’t preserve the Dynasty rather than the individual members. That wasn’t the intent of the prayers.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            From your replies, it sounded like you have some part of you that is still stuck in Christian mode. Previous caveats apply to my replies.

            “If I don’t use rational methods to discover the truth, I could easily be living a lie.”

            As someone who blasted his life into a smoking crater and nearly killed himself crawling out of it, the best way I’ve found to avoid living a lie is to not lie, to yourself or others. Certianty is not something you will be provided with, ever. Consider things carefully, make your call as best you can, keep your eyes open and always be ready to admit you were wrong rather than doubling down. That is the absolute best that humans can do, and much better than most manage.

            “If it’s the broadly Christian God, I will have to give up dating because the fact that you shouldn’t have sex without procreation is very clear.”

            From a Christian Perspective:
            There is no avenue of life available to you that will not result in you doing things God told you not to. Try to avoid the ones that result in you getting dead, jailed, or addicted. The rest are why he gives us Grace.
            Sexual sin is just sin, and you are already a sinner and will be till the day you die. It’s not the sex that’s going to get you, it’s the intimacy, the heartbreak, the cruelty and calousness, and the way a pregnancy can destroy your life or hers. Of the various (and in my opinion excellent) reasons to avoid promiscuity, sin is about the least impressive.

            From an Athiest perspective:
            If you are going to be getting into intimate relationships, sexual or not, understand that 99% of what you hear about love from the contemporary culture is pure motherfucking poison. Keep your head on straight, or you will find out that regardless of God’s existence, Hell is absolutely real and you can live there for quite some time. That being said, so is Heaven, and sex isn’t close to the best part of it.

            “If I get this one wrong, then my life is going to be a total and utter disaster.”

            Your life is probably going to be a total and utter disaster anyway. You are picturing Life as something like a factory-new Tesla, when actually it’s one of those scrap-buildt hovercraft they make out of a wrecked engine, styrofoam sheets and shower curtains in Junkyard Wars. Make the best choice you can given the information you have. Be humble enough to admit you were wrong and change course if you need to later.

            “For as long as I do not know the answer, the only thing I can do is waste away not getting closer to God and not finding happiness because I can’t date.”

            You sound pretty much like me when I was a bit younger. I was sick of trying to live up to an impossible standard, denying myself pleasure to please a God I wasn’t even sure existed, tormenting myself over my inability to avoid sin. That is no way to live. It’s the rotting corpse of faith. God wants you LOVE him, not obey him out of a cost/benefit analysis. Anything less is just combining the worst parts of Athiesm and Christianity both. Life is too short for that sort of misery. Choose the best option available to you, and be willing to reevaluate and update as new developments indicate.

            “-What controlling party?”
            God. Your argument seems to assume that God is willing to give us irrefutable evidence of his existence. I don’t think he wants to do that, but if it’s the hypothesis, that objection is moot.

            “No, but if it has an effect at all it should count.
            -The major point is that because there are SO MANY people praying for the Royal family, some of them must be Righteous enough to count.
            -The prayers were intended specifically for long life.
            -It can’t preserve the Dynasty rather than the individual members. That wasn’t the intent of the prayers.”

            Hmm. What’s the control? Wait, is the idea that modern monarchs are getting fewer prayers than monarchs a century or two ago, but Monarchs are living longer now than they did then?

          • Carinthium says:

            Tomorrow afternoon Melbourne time (it’s about 9:30 p.m melbourne time when I write this) I’ll officially deconvert. Things I will say:

            -The prayer argument is the last straw. Mum argued that God would not answer such prayers if they were ignorant and it would be better for the Royal to die. This doesn’t fit with the Bible and the idea that people can pray to achieve things within limits.

            -I could use God and amputees, but I probably won’t. Mum might get mad because she keeps looking up answers to my objections then I have new ones and she’s gone to so much hard work.

            -(A partial lie) Yes, I did say at one point Mum’s arguments sounded convincing (I did, then I thought about it). But that was before I looked up my general style of reasoning and found that it was fairly good.
            (If Slate Star Codex saw flaws in my reasoning other than irrationalist I would have known by now)

            -Accusations that I’m being biased or looking for an excuse to deconvert: For a long time I’ve learned epistemological ideas that Christianity doesn’t sit right with. That is my main reason.

            -Aspergers (unlikely point now): Aspergers is a Fully General Counterargument.

            -Mum hasn’t taught me well enough so I don’t know these things: Why am I considering the Catholic Church to have the benefit of the doubt, compared to every other religion out there?

            Mum will ask me to wait for books on the Natural Law. I’ll say no because the points aren’t just on Natural Law. Everywhere, Atheism looks more plausible.

            -Mum might start getting angry and going into emotion. It’s understood this is invalid, which I’ll point out if necessary, and I’ll wait it out.

            After this, I’ll wait a week for things to calm down before I start trying to deal with the issue of Speed Dating. It’s less because I stand a serious chance right now and more to make a symbolic point.

            I may want to come on here for emotional support in future Open Threads in the future. I will definitely need advice about these matters.

            EDIT: Actually, it turns out Mum has a project going on that is really, REALLY stressful for her. She wants to leave it until the books come, and it looks like I don’t have a choice or her shouting will ruin things.

            Maybe I’ll make a stand this Sunday and say that because I think God is more improbable than probable, I refuse to go to Church. Dad’s there, and he’s better regarding emotional pressure.

          • Carinthium says:

            The problem has just gotten worse. Mum has insisted on a discussion on the epistemic rules of conduct on which I differ with her. Now I don’t know what to do.

          • I could be wrong, but I thought it was no sex before marriage, not no dating? Apologies if I’ve missed something in your description.

          • Carinthium says:

            It is. But the Catholic Church also teaches that sex and marriage must be for the purposes of procreation. I don’t want to be a father and me and my parents agree I can’t be, so that means no dating.

            Things are going bad. Will make another update for everyone.

            EDIT:
            Update:
            I rather screwed up. Since I’m not very independent, my Mum cornered me into an arrangement where I’ll move out for a month in December- I have university on so it’s too stressful to move out then, and we don’t have the money for me to move out some other time. Plus some friends need a houseminder.

            I don’t know how to get Government Assistance, so I’m screwed there. The problem is she keeps coming into the room with ideas when I’m not prepared for it.

            The silver lining in all of this is that I’ve tricked her into an arrangement where I get to have some “private time” where I go out into the city. Nominally speaking this is just for independence purposes, but I think I have the skills to go to a speed dating place, register, then talk her into letting me go later.

            Advance prediction: 95% I strike out. Still worth it.

            And yes, this is pretty bad overall.

          • Nita says:

            Carinthium,

            Dating doesn’t necessarily involve sex. No amount of speed-dating is going to make you a father.

            I don’t really see what religion has to do with your fatherhood concerns. If any risk of pregnancy is not acceptable to you, then you should refrain from potentially procreative sex anyway.

            As for inherently non-procreative sex, that’s not a part of your life that you should discuss with your parents.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            A vasectomy would relieve worry* about fatherhood now, and can be reversed later if you change your mind.

            http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vasectomy-reversal/basics/results/prc-20020619
            However, if the reversal is performed >15 years after the initial vasectomy, the success rate may decline to only >70 percent. There is no time point at which a vasectomy reversal can no longer be performed.

            * It could relieve some worry for your parents also, who may fear that a baby would need support from them

    • James Picone says:

      May I ask how old you are/how much you’re dependent on your parents? This will be much easier if you can just not deal with them when they’re being jerks.

      I don’t think you need to convince your parents that you are right and they are wrong. That’s maybe not helpful and definitely nontrivial. I’m not even sure you really need to convince your parents that your atheism is reasonable or well-founded or not ‘just a stage’.

      What you need is to convince your parents that they shouldn’t pressure you and should let you find your own way and your own opinions. And that isn’t a philosophical battleground. Don’t let it be an abstract philosophical argument, even if that’s what you’re more comfortable with and even if you think you’re right. Make it personal. “Mum, I know you mean well, but when you pressure me about my beliefs by {doing thing} it makes me feel like you don’t consider me an adult – it hurts. Please let me make up my own mind”. Or similar, when she oversteps her boundaries.

      If you’re looking for a more coming-out-y script, couch it similarly – “Mum, Dad, I don’t think I can be Catholic any more. I know that’s upsetting for you, and I’m sorry it makes you unhappy, but I just don’t believe in god the way you do. I won’t be going to Mass with you any more [james – I assume this is a going-to-mass kinda family?]. I still love and respect both of you.”

      I hope this is helpful, I’m not sure where you’re at in terms of your parents knowing your beliefs/dependence on your parents/likelihood they will react poorly to this kind of thing/etc.. Good luck.

      EDIT: Oh bugger I just noticed the bit at the end about not being able to talk about how you feel. Sorry.

      I think you’re still better off avoiding any appeal to reason and proving that you’re ‘allowed’ to be an atheist. Worst case: Your mother goes “Oh so that’s just your feeling is it?” and you don’t bother to dignify the dig with a response.

      Boundaries are made by enforcing them. Don’t say “I don’t want to {do Catholic thing}”. Say “I won’t be doing {Catholic thing}”.

      Alternately, Nita’s suggestion of living with it while your parents are in control and then when they aren’t around living the life you want is a good one, if you can stomach it. I think your choices here come down to rocking the boat or living inside it.

      • Carinthium says:

        I’m 23, but I’m a university student still living at home. University is so stressful I haven’t been able to move out, but given my level of actual ability I won’t be able to get any sort of job without a degree.

        I’ve been using philosophical arguments for a while now, and Mum has been so distraught as to prevent me from doing more than concentrating on the logic of my posistion. Her interpretation of events is that it’s my Aspergers getting to me, and thus very much her problem.

        I very much want to rock the boat. I hate it. But I’m afraid of Mum’s emotions on the subject in particular, and without some strong logic I don’t think I can hold against them.

        • brad says:

          Replying to this post and to the other ones describing the situation.

          To be blunt, you have an unhealthy relationship with your parents. If you were 7-8 years younger, maybe I could see it but not at 23. Also, it’s one thing to try to pressure you to stay their religion, that’s somewhat par for the course. But this “family rule” about not appealing to emotion is odd at best, and your mother claiming that any move away from Catholicism must be a manifestation of mental disease is a big red flag.

          You aren’t going to solve an interpersonal problem with a slam dunk logical argument for why Catholicism is not the one true religion. That’s not how these things work. What you need is a plan to move out from under the thumb of your parents.

          While the dorms at college may be stressful, what about an apartment off campus? What about some sort of government assistance if you are somewhat disabled but working towards being self sufficient?

          Even if you have to live at home for a while longer you can work on building a wall of privacy for yourself. I recognize that that’s easier said then done, but it sounds like it is long past time.

          Hope this didn’t come off as harsh, it wasn’t intended that way.

          • Carinthium says:

            Tomorrow afternoon Melbourne time (it’s about 9:30 p.m melbourne time when I write this) I’ll officially deconvert. Things I will say:

            -The prayer argument is the last straw. Mum argued that God would not answer such prayers if they were ignorant and it would be better for the Royal to die. This doesn’t fit with the Bible and the idea that people can pray to achieve things within limits.

            -I could use God and amputees, but I probably won’t. Mum might get mad because she keeps looking up answers to my objections then I have new ones and she’s gone to so much hard work.

            -(A partial lie) Yes, I did say at one point Mum’s arguments sounded convincing (I did, then I thought about it). But that was before I looked up my general style of reasoning and found that it was fairly good.
            (If Slate Star Codex saw flaws in my reasoning other than irrationalist I would have known by now)

            -Accusations that I’m being biased or looking for an excuse to deconvert: For a long time I’ve learned epistemological ideas that Christianity doesn’t sit right with. That is my main reason.

            -Aspergers (unlikely point now): Aspergers is a Fully General Counterargument.

            -Mum hasn’t taught me well enough so I don’t know these things: Why am I considering the Catholic Church to have the benefit of the doubt, compared to every other religion out there?

            Mum will ask me to wait for books on the Natural Law. I’ll say no because the points aren’t just on Natural Law. Everywhere, Atheism looks more plausible.

            -Mum might start getting angry and going into emotion. It’s understood this is invalid, which I’ll point out if necessary, and I’ll wait it out.

            After this, I’ll wait a week for things to calm down before I start trying to deal with the issue of Speed Dating. It’s less because I stand a serious chance right now and more to make a symbolic point.

            I may want to come on here for emotional support in future Open Threads in the future. I will definitely need advice about these matters.

            EDIT: Actually, it turns out Mum has a project going on that is really, REALLY stressful for her. She wants to leave it until the books come, and it looks like I don’t have a choice or her shouting will ruin things.

            Maybe I’ll make a stand this Sunday and say that because I think God is more improbable than probable, I refuse to go to Church. Dad’s there, and he’s better regarding emotional pressure.

          • Carinthium says:

            The problem has just gotten worse. Mum has insisted on a discussion on the epistemic rules of conduct on which I differ with her. Now I don’t know what to do.

          • brad says:

            You should do the same thing you should have done before you had your big conversation — start working on a plan to move out of your parents’ house ASAP.

            Again, there is no magic bullet philosophical argument that is going to solve this problem. That’s a category error.

          • Carinthium says:

            Update: I rather screwed up. Since I’m not very independent, my Mum cornered me into an arrangement where I’ll move out for a month in December- I have university on so it’s too stressful to move out then, and we don’t have the money for me to move out some other time. Plus some friends need a houseminder.

            I don’t know how to get Government Assistance, so I’m screwed there. The problem is she keeps coming into the room with ideas when I’m not prepared for it.

            The silver lining in all of this is that I’ve tricked her into an arrangement where I get to have some “private time” where I go out into the city. Nominally speaking this is just for independence purposes, but I think I have the skills to go to a speed dating place, register, then talk her into letting me go later.

            Advance prediction: 95% I strike out. Still worth it.

            And yes, this is pretty bad overall.

          • John Schilling says:

            I have university on so it’s too stressful to move out then, and we don’t have the money for me to move out some other time.

            Do you honestly believe that living in a university dorm is going to be less stressful than living with your parents under the present conditions?

            If the present “move out in December” plan constitutes a cease-fire until December, that’s one thing. Given the lack of resources, you take the offer and don’t jeopardize the cease-fire. Which includes not getting upset when your parents forget and occasionally violate the cease-fire. But, no later than December and possibly earlier, you need to be able to move out of your parents’ house and not come back ever.

            If you have this plan and are ready to use it, you might be able to negotiate a more tolerable permanent arrangement at home. But, however stressful you may think it is to be a university student living away from home, I guarantee it’s not as stressful as living with your parents as a non-Catholic will be. Among other things, pretty much every college and university on the planet has a staff of experts devoted to the task of helping students deal with the stress of being a student living away from home for the first time. Find them and ask for their help, because once you graduate they won’t be available to help.

            I don’t know how to get Government Assistance, so I’m screwed there.

            Another thing that most colleges and universities have a professional staff for, is arranging for qualified students who would otherwise attend that school but can’t quite pay for everything (including living expenses), to apply for every bit of assistance they might be eligible for, public or private. Much of that money will flow from the government, through you, to the school – and even non-profit organizations care about cash flow. They probably also care about you as a person,.

            In the United States, you’d find these people at the “Financial Aid Office”, or something like that. Maybe the name is different where you are, but if you make your best guess and it turns out you asked the wrong people, they’ll just point you towards the right people. Find them and ask for their help.

          • brad says:

            I don’t know how to get Government Assistance, so I’m screwed there.

            Maybe try contacting Amaze?

            The claim to be ” a member-based not-for-profit organisation and is the peak organisation for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the state of Victoria. Amaze represents around 55,000 Victorians who have ASD and work for the benefit of all individuals and their families and to promote better understanding of ASD in the general community.”

            The have a webpage geared at adults on the spectrum: http://www.amaze.org.au/discover/about-autism-spectrum-disorder/adults-on-the-spectrum/

            which includes a phone number (1300 308 699) where they say they can put you in touch with an advocate, of which they have many types.

          • Carinthium says:

            John Schilling- I’m not very good at independence stuff. When I was in school, I didn’t see the problem with how I lived and me and my parents concentrated on getting me into Melbourne University instead of independence skills. Only later did I realize how worthless a degree could potentially be.

            Honestly, the start of the whole “abuse” thing was when I wanted to drop out of University and my parents ganged up on me not to let me. Almost everybody I knew gave me pressure on that one.

            brad- Thanks. If things don’t work out by December I’ll call Amaze.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not very good at independence stuff. When I was in school, I didn’t see the problem with how I lived and me and my parents concentrated on getting me into Melbourne University instead of independence skills. Only later did I realize how worthless a degree could potentially be.

            Regardless of how useful or useless a degree might be, the university is probably your best chance to learn how to live independently. As I said, they almost certainly have professionals on staff to help you with that. And you’ll be surrounded by people who are going through the same thing. If you wait until you have your first paying job to move out, then it’s sink-or-swim time, which will be much harder and more stressful.

            You need to know how to live independently. Right now, it looks like your options come down to pretending to be a Catholic for the next forty years or so so that you can live semi-tolerably under your parents’ roof, actually resuming the Catholic faith (which will probably happen sometime in the next forty years if you are living at home), or moving out and not coming back. Moving out and not coming back will be hard. It will never be less hard than it is right now, for values of “right now” that encompass December’s free house-minding opportinity.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Carinthium:

      If you are looking for people who (mostly) understand, are good with exploring theological arguments and are generally very sympathetic to those in the process of de-conversion, you might try the True Atheism subreddit.

      It isn’t nearly so knee-jerk as the standard one and has tended to have good advice, support and conversation.

      • Carinthium says:

        I’ll sign up for that. I don’t have Reddit so it’ll take a bit of time to figure it out though. Thanks.

    • Andrew G. says:

      Hi,

      I don’t have any specific advice, but I do happen to have a blog (linked from my name above) whose commenters include many ex-Catholics and which exists because most of us were thrown off a Catholic debating site, so we’re used to the standard Catholic apologetic arguments. Feel free to lurk or ask for advice or whatever.

    • You’re debating with two people with whom you have a big power imbalance and they have a big stake in the outcome beyond just intellectual reasoning. Reasoning and logic is great for finding the truth, but is not always effective in convincing others of our point of view, unless they are uncommonly attached to rationality (debate can help your reasoning, but reason doesn’t always help your debating). The circumstances have to be right. I’m not sure powerful reasons will help solve the issue describe, and going against the social norm usually has unavoidable costs, but showing quiet determination in your beliefs and leading a moral life may help others respect your position even if they don’t totally agree with it (easier said than done, but there you go). They sound like pretty good parents from what you describe, with whom you’re able to talk relatively calmly about a tough issue. Good luck, let us know how you go.

      edit – as a side note, if you’re examining and deciding you’re own reasons, the context of debating with two family members you love could add some complications or bias. On the other hand they do sound like interesting parents willing to talk. idk.

      • Carinthium says:

        The problem has just gotten worse. Mum has insisted on a discussion on the epistemic rules of conduct on which I differ with her. Now I don’t know what to do.

        • Sorry to hear. There’s plenty of advice here and online that covers all the arguments on the topic, I’d mainly say that rational arguments don’t often convince people where beliefs are very deeply held. It seems less about convincing them of your arguments, and more about convincing them that you’re determined to make your own decisions, and that your going to be fine in terms of your morality and your future. Let them know you still love them and that different views won’t ever change that. Good luck.

  4. James Picone says:

    A friend of mine is an astrophysicist doing surveys of the southern-hemisphere visible bits of the Milky Way. The radio telescope she (and several other researchers) uses for that currently has its future threatened by funding cuts. They’ve opened a Kickstarter to try and get some of the money needed to keep the telescope working and signal to relevant funding bodies that people care about radio surveys.

    Kickstarter is here. Please consider it for your warm-fuzzies charitable giving.

    • Sounds interesting. Any thoughts on the effectiveness of small projects like this vs massive SKA-type stuff, as a place to put money for astromony?

      • James Picone says:

        I don’t really have the expertise to discuss what would be the optimal way to spend money for astronomy, I’m afraid.

  5. If you spend some time with the far-left, you’ll soon be surprised to find that fascism is apparently everywhere, especially in political policy. Immigration restrictions? “Facsism!” Rationalisation of social services? “Fascism”. Market-forces? “Fascism”. No matter what my own opinion of the issue, I found something in this is obviously obviously wrong. I don’t really know whether the conflation of pretty much everyone to the right of centre with Hitler is just a symptom of mushy-head-syndrome or a deliberate strategy, but if it’s a strategy it is sure a bad one. It certainly made me associate the far-left with dishonest rhetoric.

    Refreshingly, SSC has virtually no Hitler references. There’s people on the left and right, but at least some of the time there is a spirit of arguing calmly and fairly, and where disagreement is no longer constructive, agreeing to disagree. It’s a lot better than the rest of the political wasteland.

    However, lately there seems to be an increasing tendancy of a similar but inverse trend, where in the comments section there is increasing comments that appear to conflate various left-wing ideas, movements or policies with the USSR and Stalin. This “because Stalin!” comment comes in a variety of forms, but the common element is a subtle suggestion that taking a left-of-centre position on a specific policy issue is kind of like inviting mass murder. It also often moves from the topic or policy position itself to the presumed motive behind the policy, which is by its nature speculative and not resolvable in discussion. This trend feels like its growing slowly, and it even feels like its seeping into normally apolitical discussions, which is for me the most disturbing.

    I could be wrong, but I have a sense that this kind of comment is probably associated with two political perspectives – libertarianism and NRx. I find both really interesting ideas that I don’t agree with but which seem to be authentic efforts to rationally propose political ideas. Libertarians especially have on several occasions impressed me as very fair minded at an interpersonal level (I haven’t had any personal interaction with NRxs, so I don’t know what they are like). But I want to say that when either group uses the “because Stalin!” strategy, it really really puts me off and makes me wonder whether that specific person is truely sincere in their presented ideas.

    Personally, I find when used against policies that are centre-left or centre-right, most references to Stalin or Hitler are pure hyperbole, potentially dishonest and completely unconvincing. I’m particularly suspicious of any comparison that seems to be designed to put the opponent on the back foot and force them to explain why they are not Stalin/Hitler, rather than allowing them to explain why they believe their political position to be true. But I don’t think you need to use this hyperbole to be convincing – some of the most persuasive voices in Western history, like Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes or JS Mill, have been those resplendent with reason and fairness.

    I was wondering if anyone else here felt that this was occurring and that it might be a problem?

    • walpolo says:

      Completely agree with everything you just said. Also, there seem to be a lot of accusations flying around that contemporary leftists have positive feelings toward Soviet communism, which is as patently ridiculous as suggesting that contemporary conservatives are nostalgic for the good old days of actual fascism.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I note that we have several literal communists in this comment section, but not, as far as I am aware, a single fascist.

        • James Picone says:

          Neoreactionaries? ‘Fascism’ is a pretty loose term, but some non-empty definitions would definitely encompass it. Wikipedia lists among other things ‘anti-liberalism’, ‘anti-communism’, ‘a political aesthetic of romantic symbolism, mass mobilization, a positive view of violence, and promotion of masculinity, youth, and charismatic leadership’, some of which are clear hits and others of which are arguable hits. That said, it also mentions ‘anti-conservatism’.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            given that the communists are in fact actual communists and not just communist-analogues, wouldn’t that still leave the point leaning in mr. 2k’s favor?

          • AngryDrake says:

            Most uses of ‘fascist’ these days are in the insult sense. No concrete content, just signalling.

            In the strict sense of fascism – defined by Mussolini’s manifesto – neoreactionaries aren’t fascist. If anything, the manifesto’s strictures are hardly distinguishable from democracy.

            Anti-communism and anti-liberalism include much more varied viewpoints than just fascism.

            >romantic symbolism
            I suppose.

            > mass mobilization
            Precisely opposite.

            > positive view of violence
            Not quite.

            > promotion of masculinity
            Very yes.

            > youth
            Seems orthogonal.

            > charismatic leadership
            Sort of.

          • Nita says:

            @ AngryDrake

            Well, clearly, pre-election promises and oh-so-edgy blog posts are very different genres. Let’s see what the Italian fascist proto-bloggers had to say.

            Here’s them railing against “demosocialists” (democratic socialists):

            This claim resulted in an arrogant and threatening juxtaposition of individuals to the State; the neglect of the State’s authority; a lowering of the prestige due to the king and the Army—symbols of a nation that transcends individuals and individual social categories—; the unleashing of basic passions and instincts, which bring about social disintegration, moral degeneration, and a self-centered and mindless spirit of rebellion against all forms of discipline and law.

            Hmm, that does sound familiar. As well as this:

            This fatherland is the rechristening of those traditions and institutions that, amidst the perennial renewal of traditions, remain constant features of civilization.

            But wait, there’s more!

            After Socialism, Fascism attacks the whole complex of democratic ideologies and rejects them both in their theoretical premises and in their applications or practical manifestations. Fascism denies that the majority, through the mere fact of being a majority, can rule human societies; it denies that this majority can govern by means of a periodical consultation; it affirms the irremediable, fruitful and beneficent inequality of men, who cannot be levelled by such a mechanical and extrinsic fact as universal suffrage.

          • AngryDrake says:

            Those three quotes definitely sound neoreactionary. I am uncertain how overall the essential points of fascism align with neoreaction, however.

            EDIT: Thanks for the links.

          • James Picone says:

            @FacelessCraven: And there are more NRx/NRx sympathisers than communists here. *shrug*.

            @AngryDrake:
            Agreed that the term is used far, far more often as a mostly-content-free insult. I note that mostly ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ are used similarly. Authority is present in your political thing in some way? Fascist! The government does something vaguely regulatory or redistributive? Socialicommie!

          • AngryDrake says:

            The Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals seems either badly translated or written with the core assumption that the reader is quite well versed in early 20C Italian politics. I cannot meaningfully comment on it.

            The Doctrine of Fascism is more intelligible (still difficult for a non-scholar of the issues), at least per the quotations on Wikipedia.

            The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people. (p. 14)

            You would be hard-pressed to find a totalitarian neoreactionary.

            Fascism is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle. Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon, but when brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognises the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade-unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonised in the unity of the State. (p.15)

            I struggle to divine any meaning from this, other than a statement of official position – class warfare bad, unity good, trade unions bad. In principle, neoreactionaries agree.

            It may be objected that this program implies a return to the guilds (corporazioni). No matter!… I therefore hope this assembly will accept the economic claims advanced by national syndicalism (sindacalismo). (p. 24)

            Per Wikipedia, national syndicalism calls for expropriation of capitalists and formation of workers’ communes. That really sounds like some twist on collectivization of industry. I don’t think you’ll find many neoreactionaries arguing for that, if any.

            Fascism [is] the precise negation of that doctrine which formed the basis of the so-called Scientific or Marxian Socialism. (p. 30)

            The opposite of insanity is also insanity.

            After Socialism, Fascism attacks the whole complex of democratic ideologies and rejects them both in their theoretical premises and in their applications or practical manifestations. Fascism denies that the majority, through the mere fact of being a majority, can rule human societies; it denies that this majority can govern by means of a periodical consultation; it affirms the irremediable, fruitful and beneficent inequality of men, who cannot be levelled by such a mechanical and extrinsic fact as universal suffrage. (p. 31)

            As I said above, this is pretty much a neoreactionary position as well.

            Fascism is definitely and absolutely opposed to the doctrines of liberalism, both in the political and economic sphere. (p. 32)

            Leaving aside potential misinterpretation of more venerable definitions of ‘liberalism’, I’d say that a lot of the neoreactionaries are for economic liberalism. Not certain in the case of political liberalism – a highly federalized structure of governance is definitely popular in that corner of the alt-right.

            The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organised in their respective associations, circulate within the State. (p. 41).

            Sounds totalitarian.

            The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and usefu [sic] instrument in the interest of the nation. In view of the fact that private organisation of production is a function of national concern, the organiser of the enterprise is responsible to the State for the direction given to production.

            I don’t quite see how this statement is compatible with national syndicalism. I don’t think neoreactionaries have much against a ‘state capitalist’ market structure, however.

            State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the State are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management. (pp. 135-136)

            Sounds prudent and not especially political.

          • Nita says:

            You would be hard-pressed to find a totalitarian neoreactionary.

            Even the bolsheviks weren’t originally planning on running a totalitarian state. The plan was: take over the state -> educate the populace -> build the new economy -> cooperate internationally -> freedom for all! As we know, it didn’t quite work out, and the resulting party leadership ended up clawing its way to power and clinging to it using various inhumane means. What do you think is going to happen when the neoreactionary “natural order” fails to materialize or maintain itself quite as smoothly as planned?

            The Christian Patriarchy movement is already running small-scale experiments in “the natural order” — you know, the husband “leading” the wife, the parents “leading” the children. Guess what methods they use to prevent or correct any deviations from their “natural” set-up?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Nita:

            Let’s see what the Italian fascist proto-bloggers had to say.

            It’s interesting that by far most of the text you quote is, as you said, devoted to asserting flaws in competing systems. That may also be true of current neoreactionary writing; I’m not sure — certainly the parts I have found most arresting are those that challenge the assumptions I’ve been taught since childhood.

            But despite the proverb, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Where neoreactionaries do offer alternative structures, they don’t strike me as very similar to either the fascist ideal or its reality.

            My feeling is that if the world included fascist regimes, you would see neoreactionaries viewing them with every bit as much jaundice as they do popular democracy and communism. But fascism has been pretty effectively Ruled Out; why waste time attacking it?

          • AngryDrake says:

            Even the bolsheviks weren’t originally planning on running a totalitarian state. The plan was: take over the state -> educate the populace -> build the new economy -> cooperate internationally -> freedom for all!

            No. Their plan was to set up a totalitarian regime temporarily, in hopes that when the masses were properly indoctrinated, they would form a grassroots communist society.

            As we know, it didn’t quite work out, and the resulting party leadership ended up clawing its way to power and clinging to it using various inhumane means. What do you think is going to happen when the neoreactionary “natural order” fails to materialize or maintain itself quite as smoothly as planned?

            Unlike the Communists, the neoreactionaries are proposing something that has already successfully existed long-term. “Materialize” is also the wrong word. The natural order is substantially already there (which I’ve pointed out to Bismarx), just assailed at every turn by its enemies. Demolish the Cathedral, and the work is half-done.

            I don’t think anyone serious thinks even this will be easily accomplished, or that it won’t take a lot of work to keep accomplished. Especially in the large scales involved here. Civilization is anything but natural – keeping it while going against human nature is probably impossible without committing incredible, unsustainable amounts of resources to the task. Keeping it while using human nature as a feature has proven to be possible, at least.

            I think you’re rightly concerned with the emergent elites blaming random parties for unforeseen difficulties and murdering them. Part of the issue right now is coming up with a system and ideology that doesn’t incentivize them to do that. Given the historical example of Francoist Spain, I don’t think it’s impossible.

            The Christian Patriarchy movement is already running small-scale experiments in “the natural order” — you know, the husband “leading” the wife, the parents “leading” the children. Guess what methods they use to prevent or correct any deviations from their “natural” set-up?

            If you mean the Christian Patriarchy as the movement in America, I think you’re being dishonest. America is the hotbed of utopianism and enemies of everything that is natural. It’s like saying that the monarchists in the Soviet Union need extreme measures to stay existing. Of course they do. They live in a country which is run by people who would want them to stop existing.

            Just in that article I found at the top of Google results, this girl was entirely happy with the “get married, be a homemaker, have eight kids”, until she went to college and was thereafter left riddled with cognitive dissonance, her fertility demolished, her family alienated.

            My guess would be: Every means they can, and probably rightly so.

          • Nita says:

            @ AngryDrake

            neoreactionaries are proposing something that has already successfully existed long-term

            Yes, monarchies have existed for a long time. The brutal revolutionary leaders who slaughtered thousands of people were born and raised in monarchies. The systems that were so intolerable that huge masses of people were willing to risk their lives for the revolution were monarchies. Perhaps “successfully” is a bit of a stretch.

            America is the hotbed of utopianism and enemies of everything that is natural.

            I’m pretty sure four-month-old babies don’t fail to obey orders due to the unnatural Satanic influence of the secular America. And yet, you must hurt* them, so that they learn to obey instantly, as God intended. When they grow up a bit, you can start beating them for showing improper attitude (that is, anything else than a grateful smile).

            * I would say “punish”, but Michael Pearl insists that his method of deliberate inducement of pain after an unwanted action is not “punishment”

            Yes, if every family “trained up” their children in the same way, the overall system would be much more effective, and probably fewer adults would be shunned by their families. But would that make the system less totalitarian?

          • Nita says:

            (part 2)

            Given the historical example of Francoist Spain, I don’t think it’s impossible.

            All right, let’s take a look at Franco’s Spain:

            the imprisonment and executions of Spaniards found guilty of supporting [..] regional autonomy, liberal or social democracy, free elections, and women’s rights

            So, it’s a regime that would imprison or kill me in the process of coming to power? I can see why you thought I would find the example persuasive…

            It has been estimated that more than 200,000 Spaniards died in the first years of the dictatorship, from 1940–42, as a result of political repression, hunger, and disease related to the conflict.

            Well, that’s only 0.8% of the population. And then everyone else lived happily ever after under the new and improved system… right?

            With the death of Franco on 20 November 1975, Juan Carlos became the King of Spain. He initiated the country’s subsequent transition to democracy

            Oh no, their very first real king ruined the whole enterprise. Why do you think that happened?

        • @jaimeastorga2000

          I haven’t counted, but that seems probably true. I should say though, my objection isn’t that there is far-left or far-right people saying stuff on SSC (I hold freedom of speech pretty highly), but rather that accusations of far-leftism or far-rightism are being levelled against people or ideas that are essentially just left/right or even centre-left/centre-right, done so that Hitler/Stalin can be invoked and so the actual arguments don’t need to be addressed.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Fascism was never a central example of right-wing thought, much less Nazism. Many central examples of the Right have in fact been actively hostile to fascism since at least the 40s. Nevertheless, rightists have been tarred with that brush endlessly since the end of World War 2, and many consider Nazism centrally Rightist regardless of the facts.

        Both Socialism and Communism are in fact central examples of left-wing thought over the last hundred years or so. It is at least arguable that Stalin was a central example of communism; that is, his regime’s uniqueness has more to do with the size of the country it ended up controlling rather than due to any unique feature of his system of government or ideology. Likewise with Mao and possibly with Pol Pot. Very many central examples of the Left supported not only communism, but the very worst examples of communism, and continued to do so for decades after their crimes came to light. Some few central examples of leftism are still defending the worst of communism to this day. Despite this, few regard Communism as centrally leftist, again regardless of the facts.

        Communism was worse than Fascism by any meaningful metric and by a very wide margin. This makes communism’s centrality to the left that much worse, and the use of Fascism to smear the Right that much more hypocritical.

        The Left has never really addressed the history of Socialism and Communism, much less its own role in that history. There are numerous examples of this failure; to single one out, the use of Che’s image as a popular icon on the left. Witness the posters here opining how they’re not sure if Communism is really *worse* than capitalism… That statement is categorically more appalling *in actual fact* than someone genuinely asking “Was Hitler really all that bad?”, but the reaction to those two questions shows no symmetry at all.

        Part of the Right’s fundamental critique of the Left is that their idealism blinds them to the consequences of their ideology. The left’s relationship with Communism is by far the best example of the problem.

        Using “because Stalin” as a counterargument is obviously awful, but we actually have had two threads recently where this specific issue came up, and thus Stalin was actually relevant to the discussion.

        • Nita says:

          Communism was worse than Fascism by any meaningful metric and by a very wide margin.

          Do you mean that in terms of theoretical ideology or body count? If it’s the former, I’d like to see some arguments. If it’s the latter, I’d like to point out that fascism was violently stopped by external forces.

          The main difference I’m seeing between the right/fascism and left/communism relationships is branding: communists prefer to reclaim their ideology under the original name (“USSR didn’t do real communism!”), while fascists prefer to rebrand theirs (“for-glorious-fatherland-under-the-great-leader-ism is not fascism!”), ideally while deflecting the soiled label onto their opponents (“we for-glorious-fatherlandists are anti-fascists!”, “democracy is the real fascism — just look at Mussolini’s manifesto!”).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “Do you mean that in terms of theoretical ideology or body count? If it’s the former, I’d like to see some arguments. If it’s the latter, I’d like to point out that fascism was violently stopped by external forces.”

            Number of people killed, happiness/prosperity of people not killed are two metrics that spring immediately to mind. I’m not sure what Fascism being violently stopped proves, other than Fascism being easier to stop than Communism, which would seem like another point in its favor. I’m not sure how to qualitatively compare theoretical ideologies other than to look at their effects.

            would you argue that Fascism is a central example of the Right over the last 100-150 years, or that Communism isn’t a central example of the left?

            I feel pretty not great about starting a debate about how awful communism and the Left are in a thread asking people not to do that, so maybe you should have the last word and we drop it? I probably should not have made the post in the first place, from a courtesy point of view.

          • AngryDrake says:

            I’m not sure what Fascism being violently stopped proves

            The implication is that it did not get the time that communism did to work its evil.

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            OK, let’s leave the awfulness comparison alone and get back to centrality.

            I believe that both fascism and communism (as implemented in USSR) are more extreme, more totalitarian and more populist than mainstream left and right. Personally, I find people who are attracted to communist ideas more pleasant and trustworthy than those who are attracted to fascist ideas — but perhaps I just haven’t met enough of the latter.

            I’m not sure how to qualitatively compare theoretical ideologies other than to look at their effects.

            Well, that’s unfortunate. How are we going to recognize the next Big Bad Thing if all we have is hindsight?

          • Protagoras says:

            FacelessCraven, If the democratic powers in the 1930s and 1940s had allied with the fascists against the communists instead of allying with the communists against the fascists, do you think the fascist body count would still have been lower than the actual world’s communist body count? Do you think the communist body count in the alternative scenario would have been higher than the actual world’s fascist body count? I’m inclined to think neither of those things. It seems to me that the difference in body counts can be more than explained by the fact that the communists controlled a much larger population for a much longer time, which as AngryDrake pointed out is probably Nita’s point (insofar as outside interference seems to be a major contributing factor to why the fascists controlled far less population for far less time).

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >Well, that’s unfortunate. How are we going to recognize the next Big Bad Thing if all we have is hindsight?

            We won’t. We’ll cheer it on all the way to the chopping block.

        • *headdesk*

          Fascism was never a central example of right-wing thought, much less Nazism.

          Fascism is well known as a far-right ideology. By all means, invoke the horseshoe theory, but you don’t get to just place ideologies wherever best suits your argument.

          Both Socialism and Communism are in fact central examples of left-wing thought over the last hundred years or so.

          I think communism is an example of extreme left-wing thought. I think socialism is an example of far-left thought. You’re conflating a myriad of different beliefs to suit your argument. Telling liberals that they’re basically communists isn’t going to convert them to your thinking. Why not approach the topic with a bit more nuance – you can still argue your own beliefs with pride and you’re more likely to impress people and win them to your perspective.

          PS> Hey, if you’re really authentically trying to oppose communism and not just mounting a rhetorical attack on all “left wing” ideas as it appears to me, why not go around telling lefties that communism is RIGHT-WING. That way they’ll hate it and spend all their time opposing it. If its communism you’re worried about, wouldn’t that be the most effective argument?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I very well might be wrong about the above and everything that follows. It is a perspective that I hold, but I’m very open to the idea that I’m wrong. Also, I am pretty sure I shouldn’t have posted as a reply, and I would like to apologize for doing so.

            “Fascism is well known as a far-right ideology.”

            Yes. I wasn’t trying to imply that fascism is left-wing. I was saying that very few right wing governments over the last century or so have been fascist, and the fascist governments did not enjoy universal support from right-wing parties and governments. On the other hand, a whole lot of left wing governments have been communist, and a large section of the remainder have been socialist. Communist countries enjoyed nigh-universal support from socialist countries, and very broad support from left-wing governments and parties. compared to each other, Fascism is much more of an outlier for the right than Communism is for the left.

            “I think communism is an example of extreme left-wing thought. I think socialism is an example of far-left thought.”

            I think I would agree, but then point out that if this is true, then the mainstream of Left politics for the last hundred years has been pretty extremist relative to the right wing.

            One of the immediate counterarguments I can think of is that right-wing governments over the last hundred years are rarer than I think, so the fascists are actually a bigger slice of the pie than I’m accounting for. I haven’t actually done the math on it.

            [PS EDIT] – I guess it’s hard to distinguish what I’m doing from attacking left-wing thought. I think the above is a problem with the Left, and that the left’s inability to address it weakens their ideology. My intent isn’t to say that leftism is wrong forever “because stalin”, but rather to point out what I see as a blind spot.

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            Well, one factor is that a communist state is supposed to cooperate with all other sufficiently leftist states, while a fascist state is under no ideological obligation to be nice to other rightist states.

            Could you (loosely) explain what you consider to be “fascism” or as bad as fascism? E.g., does Franco’s regime count? What about non-European one-party right-wing states, like Taiwan during the Cold War — are they totalitarian enough?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “Well, one factor is that a communist state is supposed to cooperate with all other sufficiently leftist states, while a fascist state is under no ideological obligation to be nice to other rightist states.”

            Yeah, and again, better for the murderous ideology to self-contain than to metastasize globally.

            “Could you (loosely) explain what you consider to be “fascism” or as bad as fascism? E.g., does Franco’s regime count?”

            Totalitarian, authoritarian, Dictatorial, single-party rule, militarily aggressive, considers violence a legitimate political tool? A quick read up on Franco makes that a reasonably good match. Likewise for a fair number of the South American states, I think? Not sure about Taiwan; how violent did they get?

          • Nita says:

            better for the murderous ideology to self-contain than to metastasize globally

            Wait, do you think it would be better if China ended up more like North Korea?

            And, let’s look at our right-wing friends, allies of the West in the brave struggle against that murderous ideology:

            United States, Australia, and United Kingdom supported the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia, a few years after the Indonesians had killed around 500,000 political opponents (I guess it’s OK because they were communists?). Unsurprisingly, around 20,000 East Timorese were killed (e.g., 250 were gunned down in 1991), and many more starved.

            The USA facilitated Chile’s transition from democracy to Pinochet’s regime, which killed around 3,000 people and tortured around 30,000.

            President Humberto Castello Branco’s tough-minded revolutionary government is giving Brazil a breath of political and economic stability.

            Time Magazine in 1965, praising a military dictatorship that remained in power until 1985.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – Fourth time writing this post. Computers suck.

            “Wait, do you think it would be better if China ended up more like North Korea?”

            I would rather Communism had never spread from Europe to China. Having spread to China, I would rather it had not spread to Vietnam. Ditto Cambodia, and Laos, and Indonesia.

            Fascism is nasty, but it self-contains and sucks at cooperation. Communism is nasty, metastasizes, and bands together to ward off attacks and overwhelm defenses. Pretty clearly, this makes fascism a whole lot less worse.

            “And, let’s look at our right-wing friends, allies of the West in the brave struggle against that murderous ideology:

            United States, Australia, and United Kingdom supported the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia, a few years after the Indonesians had killed around 500,000 political opponents (I guess it’s OK because they were communists?).”

            Around that same time, the Kmer Rouge took over Cambodia, and got to work killing one in four of their countrymen, for a total of two million dead. In neighboring Laos, the relatively meek Pathet Lao took control and started a campaign against their Hmong minority, with Cooperation from Vietnam. The Hmong had sided with the Americans in the Vietnam War; one in four of them were killed by government forces, 100,000 in total. In Vietnam, of course, the reunification of the country saw somewhere around 2 million Vietnamese sent to reeducation camps, of which an estimated 165,000 died. Additionally, an estimated 65,000 to 250,000 were executed outright; records are sparse so it’s hard to pin the exact number. Of the well over a million Vietnamese that fled, 300,000 or so died on the open sea. Even trying to put a number on those tortured by the above regimes seems impossible; many hundreds of thousands at least. For your Pinochet example, Chile had about a bit over three times the population as Laos at the time, so proportionally, Pinochet is roughly one tenth as bad as one of the lesser communist states.

            The flippant asides are neither kind, nor necessary, nor true, and add nothing to your argument.

            The Left supported all of these movements enthusiastically throughout this entire period. Communist and socialist countries lent material aid, national parties and political movements declared themselves allies. Leftists in America offered effusive moral support and condemned the West’s interference in Asia. Near as I can tell, the killings in Vietnam and Laos made no impact on the national conscience, and even the slaughter in Cambodia was denied and minimized by major leftist figures for decades after it came to light. Nor has the left ever repudiated their history of cheerleading slaughter, choosing instead to quietly ignore it and hope the world forgets.

            I do not like reading about how we supported monsters like Suharto and Pinochet. But if the right supported monsters, the left supported *Super Satan*.

            [EDIT] – Care to give your confidence levels that a communist takeover of Indonesia at the time would have resulted in less than 500k killed?

          • Mark says:

            @FacelessCraven
            What are the defining characteristics of left and right?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the centre that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left%E2%80%93right_politics

          • Mark says:

            @FacelessCraven
            Thanks.
            I think that is actually the problem. If communism was associated with a concentration of power in the hands of the party (with party members possessing social privileges far greater than those existing for social elites in any of the anglo countries), can you even describe it as of the left?
            Were they left until they became dominant and then right thereafter? Or is it just a matter of their rhetoric?
            Surely a truly left position would require a legal/social system that prevented the powerful from abusing the weak.

            I actually think that the definitions you gave are good – but I don’t think that by those definitions the left has anything to answer for in Stalin – except to the extent that they suffered from the *human* failing of not seeing that which we do not wish to see.
            That problem has absolutely nothing to do with political inclinations.

          • Mark says:

            Also… I’m no expert, but there seems to me to be quite a strong tradition of criticism from the left of 20th century totalitarian communism (state capitalism). For example, Orwell and Koestler were both of the left.
            Obviously there were a large number of useful idiots… but, the lesson I learn from that is not to be a useful idiot… not that the left is inherently bad.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “If communism was associated with a concentration of power in the hands of the party (with party members possessing social privileges far greater than those existing for social elites in any of the anglo countries), can you even describe it as of the left?”

            Yes, we can. The right/left divide is about ideology, philosophy, and where power flows from, not about tactics and policy. If you seize dictatorial control of the nation in the name of protecting the aristocracy or plantation owners from the chaotic rabble, you’re Right Wing. If you do the same in the name of empowering the proletariat and overthrowing their bourgeoisie oppressors, you’re left-wing. What steps you take, within certain very broad limits, are irrelevant to the political spectrum question. Read the Wikipedia article.

            “Also… I’m no expert, but there seems to me to be quite a strong tradition of criticism from the left of 20th century totalitarian communism (state capitalism).”

            The record appears strong because the majority who were dead wrong at the time do not get reprinted. In actual fact, Orwell was an outlier who was vindicated by history. While Stalin was alive, the left embraced him enthusiastically; see for instance the defense technology transfers from Britain to Russia after WWII. When he died and his successors blamed him for everything wrong with their system, the left did likewise, and used that to argue that the new regime was the best thing ever. Mao presided over the starvation of 60 million Chinese, and his political writings became the hot new thing on American campuses. A decade after the killing fields became common knowledge, prominent leftists continued to downplay and minimize the horror, and paid no price for it then or since. Right up to the eve of Communism’s collapse, socialist revolution was an avowed goal of the Labour party in Britain. The actual collapse of communism, worldwide and overnight, caused enthusiasm to taper off slowly, but the level of toleration and respect it commands even today is boggling given the historical record. It has killed more people than any other system *ever*, and it buried half the world in misery for the better part of a century. For these crimes, it is treated like someone’s wacky uncle.

            That is legitimately fucked up.

            [EDIT] – imagine the professors of prestigious American universities in the 50s and 60s teaching Mien Kampf as a valuable and insightful roadmap for how we should restructure our society. That would be similar to what we are talking about, except that Mao killed ten times as many people as Hitler did.

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            Sorry about the flippant remarks, that’s my way of coping with disturbing information.

            There are also college professors who support infanticide (at least in theory). So, comparing strident academics and the political parties in power is not exactly fair.

            I see that I have failed to get my point across. You asked — have respectable right-wing powers ever supported murderous right-wing regimes? I gave a few examples of them not only supporting such regimes, but even actively bringing them to power, as militant right-wing groups were preferred to democratic, non-revolutionary left-wing governments.

            Note that I didn’t give any examples of supporting one side in a civil war. For all we know, it was the lesser evil. For the sake of the argument, I can even grant that killing 500,000 Indonesians was necessary to prevent an even more horrific slaughter by communists.

            But was East Timor necessary? Would supporting an anti-invasion resolution by the UN bring communists to power somewhere? And was it really necessary to crush various democracies whenever their policies took a turn to the left?

            And guess what Putin is telling his people now? “Hey, remember how the West undermined democracies and supported fascists? They’re doing it again in Ukraine!”

          • “Fascism is well known as a far-right ideology. ”

            What does that mean and why is it relevant? Fascism is unpopular, so people on the left naturally label it right wing, but what is its similarity to other things so labeled? People on the left also label libertarians as right wing, but it’s hard to think of anything (other than not being leftists) that libertarians and fascists have in common. Ditto for religious fundamentalists, who have little in common with either libertarians or fascists.

            To some extent the same issue exists on the left. Some features of the modern American left, aka “liberal” or “progressive,” look like milder versions of features of communist regimes, such as government intervention in the economy. But communist regimes have not been particularly tolerant of homosexuality, or civil disobedience, or … .

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – My apologies also for getting snarky.

            “There are also college professors who support infanticide (at least in theory). So, comparing strident academics and the political parties in power is not exactly fair.”

            There is Peter Singer, and maybe a handful of others, and their stances are highly controversial. My impression of the 60s and 70s is that some mix of marxism-leninism-maoism was the plurality position, if not an outright majority. Likewise, it was a fully-mainstream position for the students. Mien Kampf was the best argument possible for book burning, but the Little Red Book was a fashion statement, particularly in Europe. Why?

            “I see that I have failed to get my point across. You asked — have respectable right-wing powers ever supported murderous right-wing regimes?”

            I too am failing at communication, because that was definitely not the question I was trying to ask. I am very aware of the west’s history of backing tyrants and murderers. I would not actually be surprised if the majority of America’s military aid during the cold war and since has gone to monsters. Are you familiar with Operation Gladio in Italy, for instance?

            My point was that some rightist governments/movements support some rightist terror regimes at some times, and face overwhelming opposition from all the leftists every time. Argentina and Spain don’t seem to have had anything to do with Indonesia, for instance.
            By contrast, leftist support for leftist terror regimes has bordered on unanimous, even in the countries actively engaged in fighting them, and even years and in some cases decades after their crimes become inarguable. During Vietnam, Britain’s labour government gave us verbal support only, over the strong objections of much of the party and a very large part of their public, all of whom enthusiastically supported the heroic Viet Cong. A large part of our country did the same. How much support did the Shah give to Indonesia, by contrast?

            “But was East Timor necessary?”

            I have no idea. Let’s say no, and that it was entirely vicious capitalist imperialism at work. What does that 20,000 dead prove?

            “And was it really necessary to crush various democracies whenever their policies took a turn to the left?”

            Case 1> All those killed via our support, coups, destabilization, etc, during the Cold War. 500,000 in Indonesia, 20,000 in Timor, etc, etc.

            Case 2> All those killed in an alternate world where we declined to provide support, coups, destabilization etc during the Cold War, and communism proceeded unchecked by the West.

            I am extremely confident that case 1 is a lower number than case 2 (99%). I am confident that case 1 is less than half case 2 (80%).

            There are incidents in the Cold War where we plumbed the depths of moral degradation. I think Iran is a pretty good one: destroy their democracy and replace it with a dictator, and then when the dictator falls arm a regional enemy with conventional and chemical weapons, and help set up the bloodiest third-world war there’s ever been.

            But Communism actually did explicitly set out to take over the world, and they really did directly end a hundred million human lives, including tens of millions before we even began trying to stop them. The left really did support them enthusiastically through the worst of their slaughter, while attacking the west and the right viciously for everything they did in reply. And now they pretend that it wasn’t really that bad, that we were the real aggressor, and shame on us for all our wicked deeds, and we must all be Nazis at heart.

            If you want to talk about the crimes of the Right and the West, I’m right there with you. Just please, not while defending communism as a “fringe idea” or “not that bad”. It was central to the left, and the left needs to cut ties to it without mercy or exception.

            “And guess what Putin is telling his people now? “Hey, remember how the West undermined democracies and supported fascists? They’re doing it again in Ukraine!””

            Maybe if the left would stop obfuscating the historical record, bullshit like that would be harder to sell.

          • Mark says:

            Hmmmm… ok.

            Congo Free State – 10 million dead
            Late Victorian Holocausts – 30 million dead
            Bengal famine 1942- 2 million dead
            Irish famine – 1 million dead
            First World War – 15 million dead
            Second World War – 30 million dead
            Colonization of Americas – 20 million dead
            Atlantic Slave trade – 2 million dead

            30 years war – 8 million dead
            Arabic Slave Trade – 20 million dead
            Mongolian conquests – 40 million dead
            Aztec human sacrifice – 500,000 dead
            etc. etc.

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            My impression of the 60s and 70s is that some mix of marxism-leninism-maoism was the plurality position, if not an outright majority. [..] the Little Red Book was a fashion statement, particularly in Europe

            Well, I’d like to comment on these estimates, but I wasn’t there at the time. Could you tell me what gave you these impressions?

            some rightist governments/movements support some rightist terror regimes at some times, and face overwhelming opposition from all the leftists every time

            Yay, go leftists!

            Argentina and Spain don’t seem to have had anything to do with Indonesia, for instance.

            I did mention this before — right-wing ideologies don’t contain any notions of international solidarity. Instead of “workers of the world, unite!” or “human rights for everyone!” it’s “every state for itself, unless a temporary alliance is in our interests”.

            the party and a very large part of their public, all of whom enthusiastically supported the heroic Viet Cong

            Yes, the British left condemned American involvement in the Vietnam War as “imperialist”. During the Geneva Conference in 1954, China persuaded Viet Minh to accept a compromise in an effort to prevent the war, while the USA supported the French occupation — so the charge is not completely baseless.

            Besides, I’m not a huge fan of proxy wars myself, so I too would be pretty miffed if my government decided to send my people to fight one. You’ll notice that although the leftists were in power, they didn’t send any troops to aid Viet Cong, either.

            And finally, the USA lost that war. The communists won, united the country as they had planned, tried running it their way for 10 years, and then transitioned to a more liberal economy. Oh, and they also defeated the Khmer Rouge at some point. Would things have turned out better if the UK helped Americans “bomb them back into the Stone Age”?

            Communism actually did explicitly set out to take over the world

            Yes, in the same way as liberal democracy is currently hoping to take over the world.

            they really did directly end a hundred million human lives

            True. This is a good reason for liberal leftists to condemn Stalin et al. as soon as they learn about these atrocities.

            The left really did support them enthusiastically through the worst of their slaughter

            Can you give me an example of a (mainstream, non-revolutionary) leftist acknowledging that they are aware of a slaughter and yet enthusiastically supporting its perpetrators?

            You’re saying that the destabilization of democracies was necessary. But Sweden has mostly been ruled by socialist parties since 1917, and hasn’t turned into a totalitarian communist state yet. Perhaps it wasn’t completely necessary in all cases, after all?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “Well, I’d like to comment on these estimates, but I wasn’t there at the time. Could you tell me what gave you these impressions?”

            All the history and popular culture I’ve consumed, the vast majority of which has portrayed it as a moral and intelligent stance. Additionally, ideological breakdowns of academia and political parties both historically and to the present day. For the Little Red Book specifically:
            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/27/mao-little-red-book-revamp
            Switch TLRB with Mien Kampf. Would the Guardian write that article the same way?
            http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/05/how-west-embraced-chairman-mao-s-little-red-book
            A decent rundown on the ubiquity. Obviously, I disagree with the author’s cheerful assumption that radical leftism had “absolutely no effect” on political reality. The bare fact that the book could be that popular IS an effect.

            “Yay, go leftists!”
            My argument is that this tendency is a bug, not a feature. Assigning support based solely on ideological alliegence is provably a bad strategy, for the left and the right. The problem is that the left did it more often and more consistently.

            “I did mention this before — right-wing ideologies don’t contain any notions of international solidarity. Instead of “workers of the world, unite!” or “human rights for everyone!” it’s “every state for itself, unless a temporary alliance is in our interests”.”

            …Which has the handy effect of slowing the spread of Super Murder Memes. Again, the method of achieving “workers of the world unite!” and “human rights for everyone” did not actually achieve those goals, and did actually did kill more people than any other system in the history of mankind. Feature, not bug!

            “You’ll notice that although the leftists were in power, they didn’t send any troops to aid Viet Cong, either.”

            British leftists didn’t, because they didn’t need to; Russia and China handled that for them, and that support was allowed to pass without comment while all western efforts were condemned.

            “And finally, the USA lost that war.”
            Not to be flippant, but Yay leftists? Vietnam was questionably-winnable and American strategy was deeply flawed, but we were able to stabilize Korea. Leftist opposition to the war was *overwhelming*, and the argument that it was in the end decisive doesn’t seem unreasonable. And again, the results were categorically worse on every level than simply waiting for colonialism to collapse under its own contradictions. Lots of other colonies got their independence without megadeath, and a lot of them are doing a hell of a lot better than Vietnam.

            “Oh, and they also defeated the Khmer Rouge at some point. ”
            This is true and everlastingly to their credit. As an aside though, it is also a departure from the Solidarity of the International Proletariat &etc.

            “True. This is a good reason for liberal leftists to condemn Stalin et al. as soon as they learn about these atrocities.”

            The way I see it is support for Communism, not Stalin particularly. They denounced Stalin only after he was denounced by the party itself, and that is not useful when it is the party itself that went on to create Mao and Pol Pot, who they also enthusiasticly supported until long after the damage had been done. They learned nothing and just kept making the same wrong calls with the same disasterous consequences. Updating a decade or two or three too late to actually make a difference is not useful. Refusing to generalize knowledge of the past to the current situation is not useful. From the Cambodian Holocaust Denial article:
            “With the takeover of Cambodia by Vietnam in 1979 and the discovery of incontestable evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities, including mass graves, the “tales told by refugees”, which had been doubted by many Western academics, proved to be entirely accurate. Some former enthusiasts for the Khmer Rouge recanted their previous views, others diverted their interest to other issues, and a few continued to defend the Khmer Rouge.” This is the same pattern seen with Stalin and Mao: Leftists accept the reality of communist atrocities only after the party itself rationalizes them.
            Broadly, my whole argument is that this is still happening. Socialism and Communism failed. The left needs to update. There is a rich basis for leftist ideology beneath the vast slaughterhouse of Marxism, so why not cut it loose the way the Right has cut loose fascism?

            “Can you give me an example of a (mainstream, non-revolutionary) leftist acknowledging that they are aware of a slaughter and yet enthusiastically supporting its perpetrators?”
            The fact that the left has a magazine called “The Jacobin”? Che shirts? the Little Red Book?
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian_genocide_denial
            …And my thesis from the beginning is that “revolutionary” leftism IS mainstream. Not mainstream enough to actually get a revolution in many countries, but mainstream enough to have major political parties tacitly support the global revolutionary program, and significantly hinder opposition to it. Mainstream enough that communist attrocities are whitewashed, justified and minimized without a trace of shame until communism itself rationalizes them. Even once they are admitted, nothing approaching the level of approbrium reserved for fascism is attached to them.
            From that Little Red Book Article:
            “There will be some who object that everyone knows about Mao’s failings – why bang on about them now? However, if today we know the scale of Mao’s crimes, it is not as a result of decades of academic work on the subject… Aside from Dikötter’s, none of the books that captured the human experience of life under Mao was written by a professional academic.
            …When in the 1970s I raised with a British communist the millions who were killed in rural purges in the years immediately after Mao came to power, he told me, “Those sorts of numbers are just for western consumption.” Further conversation showed that his estimates of the actual numbers were significantly lower than those conceded by the regime. No doubt unwittingly, he had stumbled on a curious truth: the prestige of the Mao regime in the west was at its height when the leadership was believed to be at its most despotic and murderous.”

            “But Sweden has mostly been ruled by socialist parties since 1917, and hasn’t turned into a totalitarian communist state yet. Perhaps it wasn’t completely necessary in all cases, after all?”

            And we didn’t destabilize Sweden, did we? So even the Cold Warriors didn’t think it was “completely necessary in all cases”, did they? In fact they declined to destabilize and/or generally screw with a whole lot of leftist regimes and parties. No assassinations of British far-left Labour members, for instance, though they fucked with Italy pretty thoroughly. The Cold Warriors concentrated on regimes that seemed strategically vital based on the information they had. They unquestionably made bad and even corrupt calls, and those cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives. But their actions were in fact defensive, and there is strong evidence that they preserved life on net and probably by a wide margin. Opposition to Communism was vitally necessary. Support for Communism was not, because Communism was in fact a horrifying super murder meme.

            Figuring out how to better oppose super murder memes without hundreds of thousands of innocents getting killed in the crossfire is an open question for the Right. It should be for the Left as well, but first they would need to admit that they were a significant part of the problem, and they seem unwilling to do that.

          • Mark says:

            “Right up to the eve of Communism’s collapse, socialist revolution was an avowed goal of the Labour party in Britain. ”

            Really? In which sense are you using the word “revolution” here? As in, winning an election and implementing the policies that were voted for…?

            “Broadly, my whole argument is that this is still happening. Socialism and Communism failed. The left needs to update. There is a rich basis for leftist ideology beneath the vast slaughterhouse of Marxism, so why not cut it loose the way the Right has cut loose fascism?”

            And if they all agree to denounce the atrocities of Stalin, the deaths under Mao, does that mean that you no longer have a point? Or, you still have a point because they are only denouncing the atrocities because the Communist International has told them to?
            Or, you have to denounce revolutionary communism while still drawing upon the rich tradition of non-revolutionary communist thought, except that this rich tradition doesn’t exist because all of the left were supporters of the Soviet Union.

            I’ve met lots of (self described) lefties, and sure, some of them were ideologues, but no more so than right-wing people I’ve met — and most of them were entirely normal democratic socialists/ social democrats who would *absolutely* condemn mass starvation, mass murder etc. etc.
            You don’t seem to be criticizing just a few extreme left wing intellectuals, but rather to be saying that people who consider themselves to be left wing, are, in the main, communists who are unable to criticize communism except where the communist party tells them to criticize it, but they have to move on (even though the communist parties have moved on) but they haven’t moved on yet.

            It doesn’t really bear any resemblance to anything I’ve experienced. (Perhaps this is a generational difference? I wasn’t around in the 70s or politically aware in the 80s.)

          • Eric says:

            I would be vastly more impressed with Vietnam’s removal of the Khmer Rouge if it hadn’t been so instrumental in bringing them to power in the first place, providing shelter, weapons and directly invading Cambodia in support of the Khmer Rouge.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @ Mark – “Hmmmm… ok.”

            The 100 million number is internal democide, not war. Wars aren’t counted because they raise too many unanswerable questions. Does the WWII total go to communism or capitalism, for instance? Likewise the North American colonization total involves unintentional spread of plague, not specific policy.

            I’m pretty sure the smallpox blankets aren’t the prime and exclusive cause of the north american die-off.

            No idea what “various Victorian Holocausts” are.

            Ghengis Khan, the Caliphate, the Aztecs etc do not coherently map to the left-right political spectrum, which is an artifact of modern western civilisation over the last few hundred years, and spread to be a global phenomanon.

            “Really? In which sense are you using the word “revolution” here? As in, winning an election and implementing the policies that were voted for…?”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_left

            “Or, you have to denounce revolutionary communism while still drawing upon the rich tradition of non-revolutionary communist thought, except that this rich tradition doesn’t exist because all of the left were supporters of the Soviet Union.”

            The Left is older than Communism, Socialism, or even the French Revolution. Thomas Jefferson seems like a good example, and there are a ton more where he came from.

            “I’ve met lots of (self described) lefties, and sure, some of them were ideologues, but no more so than right-wing people I’ve met — and most of them were entirely normal democratic socialists/ social democrats who would *absolutely* condemn mass starvation, mass murder etc. etc.”
            The articles I cited run counter to this assertion. Chomsky is exactly the sort of leftist you describe, but he denied and suppressed the Cambodian genocide until after the Party itself had rationalized it.

            “You don’t seem to be criticizing just a few extreme left wing intellectuals, but rather to be saying that people who consider themselves to be left wing, are, in the main, communists who are unable to criticize communism except where the communist party tells them to criticize it, but they have to move on (even though the communist parties have moved on) but they haven’t moved on yet. It doesn’t really bear any resemblance to anything I’ve experienced.”

            With respect, the fact that leftists have a hard time noticing this is sort of my whole point. I’ve provided specific examples of the phenomanon for all three of the all-time mass-murder champions. Compare the Guardian’s treatment of a reprint of TLRB to your model of how they would react to a reprint of Mien Kampf.

            Leftists are not Communists, but Communism is a central example of a leftist movement and is treated with a deference that Fascism does not remotely recieve from the Right. As I keep repeating, that is fucked up, and it causes the Right to be justifiably suspicious of Leftists who openly display their nostalgia for the most lethal, wasteful and destructive political system in history.

          • Mark says:

            @ Faceless Craven
            Right… OK. “Famines in India resulted in more than 60 million deaths over the course of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bengal_famine_of_1770
            “The famine is estimated to have caused the deaths of 10 million people…The famine occurred or was made more severe largely due to the British East India Company’s policies in Bengal … the destruction of food crops in Bengal to make way for opium poppy cultivation for export reduced food availability and contributed to the famine”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famine_in_India#British_response
            “in 1876 a huge famine broke out in Madras. Lord Lytton’s administration believed that ‘market forces alone would suffice to feed the starving Indians.'[60][fn 9] The results of such thinking proved fatal (some 5.5 million starved)”
            “Some British citizens such as William Digby agitated for policy reforms and famine relief, but Lord Lytton, the governing British viceroy in India, opposed such changes in the belief that they would stimulate shirking by Indian workers.”
            And the British supposedly had one of the more humane empires…
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congo_Free_State
            10 million dead
            “To monopolize the resources of the entire Congo Free State, Leopold issued three decrees in 1891 and 1892 that reduced the native population to serfs. Collectively, these forced the natives to deliver all ivory and rubber, harvested or found, to State officers thus nearly completing Leopold’s monopoly of the ivory and rubber trade… Armed with modern weapons and the chicotte—a bull whip made of hippopotamus hide—the Force Publique routinely took and tortured hostages, slaughtered families of rebels, and flogged and raped Congolese people. They also burned recalcitrant villages, and above all, cut the hands of the Congolese, including children; the human hands were collected as trophies on the orders of their officers to show that bullets hadn’t been wasted. (As officers were concerned that their subordinates might waste their ammunition on hunting animals for sport, they required soldiers to submit one hand for every bullet spent.)”

            “Really? In which sense are you using the word “revolution” here? As in, winning an election and implementing the policies that were voted for…?”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_left
            So… yes?
            “ No assassinations of British far-left Labour members,” Very magnanimous.
            “Chomsky is exactly the sort of leftist you describe, but he denied and suppressed the Cambodian genocide until after the Party itself had rationalized it.”
            Hmmmm… well… all I can say is I’ve never met Chomsky.
            “As I keep repeating, that is fucked up, and it causes the Right to be justifiably suspicious of Leftists who openly display their nostalgia for the most lethal, wasteful and destructive political system in history.”
            But you’re kind of conflating two separate things – apologists or deniers of mass murder and people who think a certain economic system is nifty, or could be nifty. They aren’t the same thing and the latter group is far bigger than the former.

          • Mark says:

            “the starvation of anyhow under-fed Bengalis is less serious than that of sturdy Greeks”
            Churchill

            “When there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”
            Mao

            Spot the difference?

          • John Schilling says:

            Let me see…

            Churchill declined to help starving people, because he didn’t much care. Mao took food away from starving people, because he cared so very much.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “Spot the difference?”
            Only in the totals killed.

            Indian Famines definately qualify. Looks like around 18.5 million total from the three famines, with Wikipedia giving 3 million as the best guess for the Great Bengal famine, not 2. Was there another one I’m missing for the rest of the Victorian 30 million?
            Congo I’m quite familiar with, and it definately counts.

            Add the others you listed, and you get 31.5 million. Add Hitler of course, and the indonesian anticommunist purge, and you get 38 million, over the course of 250 years. And then you have Communism killing well over twice that in seven decades.

            And these numbers have been publicly available your entire life, but you did not know them, or understand their implications. How many stories have you heard about the Holocaust, versus those about the Gulags or the Great Famine, or the killing fields?

            “So… yes?”
            I suppose I should have linked this as well:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militant_(Trotskyist_group)
            …Short version, they participated in the democratic process, while also agitating for action outside the law. The were explicitly revolutionary, but lacked the critical mass needed to get the revolution off the ground, so they did what damage they could from inside the system. Lenin was “revolutionary” before 1917, because revolution was his primary goal. Likewise with the Militants and other blocs within Labour, it seems to me.

            “But you’re kind of conflating two separate things – apologists or deniers of mass murder and people who think a certain economic system is nifty, or could be nifty. They aren’t the same thing and the latter group is far bigger than the former.”

            I conflate nothing. Leftists were enamored of communism and socialism, and they denied, downplayed and justified mass murder every step of the way. Even today, when the totals are no longer disputable, they treat the regimes and their symbols with respect or perhaps a little nostalgia, rather than the deep horror and loathing the Swastika or Nazi salute or Mien Kampf evoke. The attitude is nostalgia with a touch of irony, rather than “never again”. Read the Guardian article about TLRB getting a new edition. I’ll link it again:
            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/27/mao-little-red-book-revamp
            Do you honestly not see recognize the bias at play there? Can you imagine the Guardian writing an article on the release of, say, Bush II’s memoirs with so light a tone?

          • Wow, I’ve been too busy to look for a day or two, but this really expanded!!

            @FacelessCraven
            I very well might be wrong about the above and everything that follows. It is a perspective that I hold, but I’m very open to the idea that I’m wrong. Also, I am pretty sure I shouldn’t have posted as a reply, and I would like to apologize for doing so.

            No having read your further posts I realise I miscalculated/underestimated your reasonableness and while not totally agreeing I’m very glad you did post. My original point involved a distaste for being bombarded with partisan politics at inappropriate times, but as the ship has sailed on that one, perhaps you’ll allow me an attempt at the nuance I’ve tried to call for. 🙂

            Add the others you listed, and you get 31.5 million. Add Hitler of course, and the indonesian anticommunist purge, and you get 38 million, over the course of 250 years. And then you have Communism killing well over twice that in seven decades.

            This is one of the many good points you made. However I want to use it to make a slightly orthagonal point I think is important. Most of this sub-thread is basically arguing about whether the left or the right is worst. It’s an interesting discussion, but I want to suggest that this question is a tempting but actually dangerous misdirection, and the wrong question to even ask. Let me explain my reasons why:

            (1) Less bad is still really really bad. Both the left and the right, if we treat them as singular coherent groups, have killed horrifically large numbers of people. Even if one side did kill significantly less, that’s hardly a recommendation to any sane person. Or to put it another way, Ted Bundy may have killed half the number of people of Gary Ridgway, but they’re it’s not brain surgery to say that both are still really really evil.

            Perhaps we could react by banning both sides of politics, but I’m pretty sure that looks totalitarian too. We might say, if we can’t choose neither, let’s choose the least bad. Which brings up a second thought:

            (2) Blunt instrument is blunt – both the left and the right are actually really heterogeneous. David Friedman has already made a good point about this on the right, with Libertarians and Conservatives and Fascists and Religious Right etc etc. But it’s totally the same on the left.

            Once, in a dingy drinking establishment, overheard some fairly radical left wing anarchists having an odd conversation. Apparently, some anarchists had broken into Lenin or Trostky’s tomb (I can’t remember which) and taken some part of the body. They’d then baked the contents of the remains into some cookies and sent them to various communist groups as a “present”. I thought disturbing the dead, if true, no matter who they were, was pretty darn awful. But there was loud laughter from all the people at the table. These guys hated the communists fiercly. And I have the impression from reading that there’s a long history of this. During the Spanish Civil War, the Stalinists and several other left wing factions almost went to war with each-other, even though Franco was lining them up to be shot not far away.

            Anarchists aside, hippies, while not fond of free-markets, mostly hate the USSR because of its total disregard for the environment. The catholic left has long had intense dislike of communism, but is also somewhat antagonistic towards middle class social liberals with an agenda including things like gay marriage, and the social liberals generally find the communist authoritarianism awful because they pretty much hate the idea of a government dictating social norms, while the communists hate the social liberals for accepting a market based economy. I don’t even know where to place worker cooperativists in all that (they seem to the most benign of anyone). And also remember, many people using the word “socialist” are often using it in pretty loose ways – in Australia the centre-left party often talks about low taxes, and has privatised a lot more things that it has nationalised (can’t remember when anything significant got nationalised actually), yet in their constitution they are nominally a “socialist” party. They’re basically centre or centre-left, though similar to the US they encompass many views.

            People on the left have many fairly fundamental differences, just like folks do on the right. I think you make some really good points that sections of the left were far far too supportive, or at least silent, of the crimes of the soviet union. But that’s probably more a result of wishful thinking, rather than any fundamental agreement with soviet ideas. I think it’s the same on the right in some cases – remember many ex-Nazis found willing homes in centre-right countries after the war, but probably because of their utility (scientists etc) and lax ethics rather than actual agreement with their ideology (I hope).

            When it comes to atrocities, the left or the right being “worse” is a bad way to approach it. It’s bad because removing totalitarianism is hard enough without giving it free allies through blunt labels. It’s bad because good people with no intention of mass murder, or real agreement with ideologies that led to mass murder, get defensive and feel so unfairly attacked that calm debate can’t occur.

            Take supporters of Scandinavian social democracy (sometimes labelled as socialist, but as most industry appear to still privately owned, I’d say this is innacurate). Social democracy in educated countries has, afaik, has a cleaner record in atrocities than communism, fascism and capitalism combined (we don’t have to agree on their economic approach to see that). To imply they are skirting on atrocities like killing political opponents or rounding up people into concentration camps, simply because they are reasonably left wing is pretty obviously nuts. And when you imply as much, you’re putting those people in a position where they essentially have to engage in inflamed rhetoric countermeasures, or risk looking sympathetic. It’s a bad strategy that stops points being comprehended.

            A better strategy is to be really really surgical. Identify the exact mechanisms, exact ideological groups that led to the atrocities, then pretty much line the border between the non-murderous groups and the murderous groups with razor wire and really big warning signs. Allow everyone to be a partner in stopping a slide into totalitarianism, regardless of their views on other topics. Or, to put it another way, work really hard to make sure you minimise ideological “collateral damage”. Avoid backing people into corners.

            Then, once you’ve succeeded, conduct a civil and reason-based discussion about other issues, like public-private balance, bureaucracy, race, marriage or whatever.

            Sadly, this is the opposite of the direction we’re heading. Instead, people are beginning to just be left or right, and they’re treating the other half as some kind of homogenous fundamentally evil monster. What scares me, is that I think as this trend advanced, we risk actually creating those monsters.

            @David Friedman
            Ditto for religious fundamentalists, who have little in common with either libertarians or fascists… To some extent the same issue exists on the left.

            Totally agree, and hope it comes across that is actually my point – I think both left and right are **really** heterogeneous, but probably don’t look that way from the outside. See above reply to FC.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >(1) Less bad is still really really bad. Both the left and the right, if we treat them as singular coherent groups, have killed horrifically large numbers of people. Even if one side did kill significantly less, that’s hardly a recommendation to any sane person.

            To use Scott’s terms, FC’s argument isn’t “yay right!” it’s “boo left”. Rather, he’s condemning the fact that communist regimes are not as universaly reviled as Fascism and the like. The argument that communism is worse is being made for this purpose, because the apparently, the argument that it’s “roughly just as bad” doesn’t cut it.

            > Blunt instrument is blunt – both the left and the right are actually really heterogeneous. David Friedman has already made a good point about this on the right, with Libertarians and Conservatives and Fascists and Religious Right etc etc. But it’s totally the same on the left.

            Funny, I interpreted that to mean that the concept of Right is kind of meaningless except in an “outgroup of the left” kind of way.

            You’re 100% right about the left, though. I’ve been reading some Marxists recently, and they really seem to have a hate-on for bakuninists.

          • Mark says:

            “And these numbers have been publicly available your entire life, but you did not know them, or understand their implications. How many stories have you heard about the Holocaust, versus those about the Gulags or the Great Famine, or the killing fields?”

            I’ve heard lots of stories about all of those things. In fact, to be honest, I find the above to be quite an odd passage. Throughout my life Stalin and Pol Pot (along with Hitler) have always been viewed as horrendous monsters. To take the opposite view has always been a beyond fringe position (in fact I don’t think I’d ever heard of anyone defending Pol Pot until I started reading this thread). The Soviet Union has always been viewed as a sinister totalitarian state with a failed economy. Mao was certainly not on the radar to the same extent, but I guess that my general impression of him would have been of a sinister dictator presiding over a failing economy, with school teachers being humiliated and mobs killing people. I don’t think there is anything particularly surprising about the view that the communist state was just as bad as the Nazis – in my opinion that’s a fairly widely accepted view on the center left, and I would say the view that they were seriously bad (though the Nazis may have been worse) is almost ubiquitous. Again, perhaps this is generational. The Webbs would have been contemporaries of my great great grandparents. I wasn’t alive in the 60s or 70s (I would say, however, that none of the leftist older generation in my family could pass for apologists for totalitarianism. To the extent that leftists do try to forget, or cover up, or downplay atrocities, I oppose them.)

            Anyway, for me, the implication is that Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, presided over evil regimes. Is that a pass or a fail?

            The implication is not that leftist (operating on the pretty broad definition of leftism as: claiming to attack “entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers”…and being ” expressive of the lower economic or social classes”) governments always result in evil regimes.

            The implication is not that the regimes of Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot were categorically worse than other evil regimes that had a different ideological basis.

            The implication is not that some particular weakness in leftist thought leaves leftists unable to see the problems with leftist tyrants. Some leftists did see these problems, did oppose totalitarianism. The inability to see that which you do not wish to see is a general human problem, rather than something specific to leftism.

            On this point, I went to London today. And, there aren’t any statues of Stalin, or Pol Pot, or Mao, in London. There is a big statue of Churchill there, though. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Stalin wasn’t so bad,” but I’ve heard plenty of people say “The British Empire wasn’t so bad.” People don’t see things they don’t want to see. It takes a painful effort. And, in my opinion, the greater danger for people living in the West is not that we might forget the horrors of totalitarianism, but that we might be completely unaware of the horrors of colonialism and imperialism, and also that we might celebrate nationalistic war.
            [Though again, I wouldn’t say that the failures of colonialism/imperialism should require us to forever abandon any thought of the underlying idea – there may well be a good way to implement imperialism (the EU?)]

            “militant tendency”
            ‘No country constitutes a genuinely democratic workers’ state,’ Mr Taaffe said. He spoke of the ‘monstrous police apparatus’ in Russia, and the dictatorships of China and Cuba. Why would not the same thing happen here, if everything was taken over by the state? “Because Britain has a long democratic tradition, and there is no possibility of a socialist society being attained here without the working class, and the middle class, being convinced of the necessity of the change.”

          • @Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            I’m not sure that’s what FC is saying, because in the upthread post, FC stated that communism was a central example of left wing thought, and that fascism was peripheral to right wing thought, which does seem fairly “boo left” and “yay right”. I don’t think both of these positions can be true at the same time, but more centrally I’ve tried to explain why I think that approaching political thought in that way is very very ineffective at preventing the rise of regimes that commit atrocities. Asking people to modify their positions to prevent risks of totalitarianism is a reasonable goal, using that as an argument to smear their entire set of beliefs is ineffective and will be perceived as dishonest, as the current polarisation of western politics clearly demonstrates. I think we should aim for a more nuanced approach.

          • Actually, re-reading your last post, I see I slightly misread what you were saying, and we probably mostly agree already.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “I’ve heard lots of stories about all of those things. In fact, to be honest, I find the above to be quite an odd passage.”

            Chalk it up to frustration at trying to explain what seems to me to be an obvious point. Also, some really wicked insomnia. My apologies.

            “On this point, I went to London today. And, there aren’t any statues of Stalin, or Pol Pot, or Mao, in London. There is a big statue of Churchill there, though.”

            To my lasting shame, this point hit me like a hammer between the eyes. I am entirely at a loss for how to address it. The only two options I can think of are:
            a) There is some qualitative difference between Churchill and the Communist monsters I’ve been railing against. I can think of several, but the fact that I missed the parallel for that long strongly suggests that I’m too mindkilled to evaluate the question propery.
            b) There is no qualitative difference, Churchhill is a world-class monster, and we need to start ripping his statues down and treating his writings with extreme suspicion.
            I would welcome insight from others.

            “Throughout my life Stalin and Pol Pot (along with Hitler) have always been viewed as horrendous monsters. To take the opposite view has always been a beyond fringe position (in fact I don’t think I’d ever heard of anyone defending Pol Pot until I started reading this thread).”

            The problem with this general condemnation, as I have been trying to point out with the examples above, is that for a significant portion of the left, it never came in time, and it never generalized to disapproval of the Communist movement or its core ideas.

            Our society has very strong reactions to the idea that we need a strong leader to sweep aside the subversives and set our country right, or that it’s our duty to take charge of the poor benighted foriegners who can’t be trusted to manage their own affairs. But when people expound unfalsafiable narratives about how our social structure is innately oppressive and should be torn down to build something better, or claim that group membership defines one as oppressor or victim, or posit generally that justice can be apportioned and rationed at the group level while individual harm is outweighed by the greater good, the Left seems blind to the symmetry.

            It’s not even about the mass murder; MsScribe is obviously not Hitler, but she used lies and propaganda to secure unassailable power, and used it to inflict about as much harm as was possible within the structure of the online Harry Potter Fanfiction community. The ideas verifiably do not work, and trying to make them work will result in misery in direct proportion to how hard you are able to push them. Progress is only a good thing if it’s in a sane direction, and sanity nescessitates recognizing that even the best theory is imperfect. Anything else gets people hurt at any scale.

    • John Schilling says:

      OK, going through the last ten links and open topic threads searching for “communis” and “Stalin”, I find:

      7,461 total replies.

      11 passing references to Stalin or Communism that make no negative moral judgement, and drew no replies.

      5 passing references to Stalin or Communism that cast them in a negative light but did not link them to any present group or philosophy, and drew no replies.

      7 passing references to Stalin or Communism that did at least implicitly link them to present groups or philosophies, but drew no replies.

      4 primary references to Communism (but not Stalin) that triggered at least some discussion of the communism stuff. Breaking these down,

      One claim that trying to extract religion from human society results in “communist hell-holes”, which resulted in a reasonably civil discussion of the broader range of outcomes actually seen from revolutionary atheism.

      One note that Nazi assistance to anti-communists in China during early WWII has resulted in Nazi iconography being seen somewhat favorably in e.g. Taiwan, which resulted in a brief and civil discussion of the distinct trajectories of Nazi and Communist iconography (e.g. Che Guevara T-shirts).

      A complaint that John Scalzi had complained about Sarah Hoyt using “ChiCom” as a slur, which lead to a lengthy discussion that was contentious in other respects but I think pretty clearly converged on “ChiCom” having been an inappropriate slur given that none of the real or fictional people so labeled were likely to be members or supporters of the Chinese Communist Party.

      A claim that premature anti-communism would be a good marker for the Correct Contrarian Cluster model of the General Factor of Correctness, which went almost nowhere until someone had to ask, “Was communism especially bad?” and persist in arguing that it wasn’t especially bad and in particular no worse than capitalism. Cue about fifty posts arguing about how bad communism really was.

      So, in the threads where people have wide latitude about what to discuss, approximately 0.2% of our collective posts include en passant attacks on communism, whereas roughly 0.6% are explicit responses to invitations to discuss how bad communism is. Subject to fairly large error bars, particularly in this last category.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      I know this is, like, dishonest arguing tactics 101, but would you mind providing a few examples? I know communism and its terribleness has been a hot topic recently, so there’s a lot of discussion about it, and how it relates to today leftism, but I’d be genuinely concerned if it were used as an argument.

      >there seem to be a lot of accusations flying around that contemporary leftists have positive feelings toward Soviet communism, which is as patently ridiculous as suggesting that contemporary conservatives are nostalgic for the good old days of actual fascism.

      It helps that, if you’re American, you haven’t experienced either. As someone who’s not, I’ve seen both.

      • This was the most recent example (I understand it appears fairly minor). I don’t mean anything personal against Steve, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him make interesting comments most of the time. It just kind of set me off because I worry people are now starting to push fairly shallow political rhetoric on SSC even when there’s no politics involved, and everything has to become an idiotic political food fight. Kind of like what’s happened to pretty much all public discussion in the West. It’s not that I dislike political discussion at all, its just that I hate hyperbole, straw men and point scoring, especially when there’s interesting apolitical conversations going on.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          No, I agree.

          I will point out, though, that Steve Johnson is, by far, the most extreme right wing regular in this comment section. Most certainly not a central example of conservatives here.

  6. Mark says:

    What do y’all think about donating to the SENS research foundation? Is it a good one?

  7. Agronomous says:

    If you’re reading this, you’ll probably enjoy this page of the webcomic Questionable Content. The Singularity, and coffee.

  8. Thomas Eliot says:

    The kickstarter for Cultists of Cthulhu, which was plugged here a month ago and has a SSC easter egg hidden in it, has concluded, raising over $57,000. Thank you for your support, everybody!

    http://kck.st/1hhwNh6

  9. Linch says:

    I more or less like myself and think that at some level, the world will be slightly better off with more of me. However, for obvious reasons, I cannot justify reproducing in the conventional manner.

    What are the practical difficulties and disadvantages of sperm donation?

    (I happen to be an East Asian male residing in the US, so I expect the demand to be pretty low).

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Not so obvious though text on a computer screen. Any particular reason for avoiding the direct route?

      Anyway can’t say much about sperm donation except that, given how ubiquitous genetic testing is going to become, I would be shocked if these kids won’t be tracking down their fathers and mothers within two decades. Don’t assume that you’ll never see the kids if you end up having any that way.

      • Linch says:

        Well, it’s expensive (time and money) to have children. Other parents have children who die from malaria, diarrhea, snakebites, etc, which makes them sad. I do not want them to be sad. For the foreseeable future, the increased discretionary income from not having children means I could buy more happy and less sad. It’s hard to aggregate across individuals, but intuitively/best estimates seems to suggest that it is almost certain that I could buy a lot more happy indirectly than raising children myself.

        I’m totes fine with meeting up with “my” children in the future if they want to. Partially because I don’t have any real affinity with Linch2035 (I marvel at the type of people who could delay gratification for twenty years!), but even if I cared, I think it will be really cool! I mean, I’ll be disappointed if my sperm actually turned out to be dysgenic, but I think the EV is positive.

        Well, I *hope* the EV is positive. I mean, I have quite a few good traits, but it’s possible the demand for East Asians is so low that I crowd out somebody worthier. If that’s likely, I’d *really* like to know! 🙂

        • “Well, it’s expensive (time and money) to have children. Other parents have children who die from malaria, diarrhea, snakebites, etc, which makes them sad.”

          In our context, those are very unlikely outcomes. The one scary outcome with a significant probability is having children who don’t like you. I’ve had the good fortune to avoid that, but it’s clear from what my children tell me about their friends that not everyone is so lucky.

          It’s true that children are expensive in time and money but, in my experience, they are worth it. And Bryan Caplan argues that we make them much more expensive, especially in time, than necessary.

          • Linch says:

            “In our context, those are very unlikely outcomes”

            http://www.unicef.org/mdg/childmortality.html

            I’m genuinely confused and wonder if we’re talking past each other…

          • Ever An Anon says:

            He’s being coy about it but he means that donating to the AMF or whatever is a more efficient use of his resources in terms of happy parents per dollar.

            Of course, you can’t justify having children from a hedonistic perspective anyway. The research is pretty clear that kids lower their parents reported happiness, and utilitarian calculations that include utility of unborn generations run into bizarre problems. You need to appeal to something more important than animal satisfaction.

          • Linch says:

            Yes, Anon is right about what I said. I didn’t mean to be intentionally coy: it was a combination of typical mind fallacy, assuming that everybody who reads this blog will immediately know what I was talking about after dropping a hint, and not wanting to be boring. I will strive to be clearer in the future.

            David: I think Caplan’s point is only particularly relevant if you think the opportunity cost of having a child is within an order of magnitude of the utility gains of having said child. I do not think it is.

            Yes, having children that dislike me would be a non-trivial concern. On a personal level, my father consistently hammered in the importance of acquiring money and social status to me (without ever explaining *why*, I guess it was self-evident to him) since I was maybe six, and got upset when my actions were not consistent with that goal. I think I did not appreciate his efforts as much and did not respect/was not as grateful to him as I should have been. However this is a mostly tangential point, as outlined above.

            Anon: Hmm…I actually thought that was an open question! So after some casual Googling, it appears that the evidence of childfree couples being happier than married ones is stronger than I thought, however I still do not believe it is a settled question.

            Relatedly, I’ve actually heard the argument before that intelligent/rational and altruistic people should have more children, since that would mean their children are more likely to grow up to do Good and Great things. However, I a)do not find those arguments very convincing, b)am very queasy about the idea of imposing my own values on children (esp. considering the power differences) and c)even if you can persuade me otherwise on a) and b) (and that’s a big “if”), it still does not follow that my comparative advantage is in childrearing. It might well be more rational for me to subsidize other parents to have more children if they are better with children and their values are roughly aligned with mine.

            I am, however, much more inclined to have genetic descendants (for purely altruistic reasons, of course :P). If at all possible, I will like this discussion to return to sperm donation. While the discussion so far is interesting, I doubt anybody is going to change anybody else’s minds here (incl. onlookers) on childrearing, whereas I’m seriously considering sperm donation and it’s possible lurkers thinking about the same thing can benefit from discussion on that.

            Reasons I think that my genes might be net positive for the world:I’m fairly intelligent (perfect GRE), as are my parents (Master’s and PhD in a social science in the US) and extended family (cousin on father’s side is doing pretty well in tech, cousin on mother’s side won the junior Chinese chess championship for her city), I’m healthy and have reason to suspect that my genes are significantly healthier than average: all my grandparents are alive, close family has no known cases of heart failure, alcoholism, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression etc (though it’s possible I wouldn’t know/mental health testing in China is terrible). I think I’m pretty selfish relative to my information set but from this discussion and others I’m starting to suspect that this is not the case (OTOH not sure how genetic this is). I bubble with happiness on a daily basis: I empirically smile and laugh a lot more than my peers and am just generally cheerful (maybe a lot of parents wouldn’t care about that but I really think they should). I’m also tall.

            Disadvantages: I think I have low levels of intrinsic motivation. I do not know if this is only relative to my coworkers/people I hang out with online or if this is true in absolute terms as well. My maternal grandmother has Alzheimer’s, however she was 70+ on onset so arguably that’s not very relevant in terms of social utility. I’m not very sporty. My father was a gymnast for several years but I think that’s the exception for my family.

            The biggest one however is that demand for East Asians is pretty low, whereas supply of competent East Asians is probably really high, so it’s quite possible I’ll edge out somebody with slightly/significantly better traits.

          • Adam says:

            Just Google ‘sperm donation’ and call the nearest sperm bank to see if you qualify. The thing you didn’t mention is height. They tend to want men who are over the average American male height. I’ve never seen a bank that cares about your GRE score, though they usually expect a college degree.

          • Linch says:

            “I’m also tall.”
            6’2”

            I’ve actually heard that some of those banks will not accept candidates who don’t have an Ivy pedigree (I do not), so I think you under-estimate their standards. 🙂

            Also, I’m less interested in whether I’m de jure *capable* of donating (Barring some unknown genetic condition, if I dig far enough I’m sure I could find *something*) and more of whether it will be socially beneficial to do so, or if either a) my genes risk edging a worthier candidate out or b)it will waste so much of my time that it is basically not worth doing.

          • Linch is puzzled about why I regard having children who die from malaria, snakebite, etc. as unlikely in our context. He links to a Unicef page that reports about 3% of children dying before age 5.

            The Unicef figure is for the world. As the Unicef page reports, “These deaths occur mainly in the developing world.” Which isn’t where we live. At least, it isn’t where I live, and I was guessing that it wasn’t where Linch lived. Hence “our context.”

            A little googling yields a rate for the U.S. of 7/1000, or less than 1%. And I suspect that even that exaggerates the risk for most people posting here.

          • I suspect that the cost/benefit ratio for having children depends a lot on the parents. I’m quite confident that having children was a net plus for me and my wife—that we would have had less happy and less rich lives without them. I’m confident that the reverse is true for some people.

            And, as suggested by my earlier comment, I suspect a lot of it depends on the interaction between parents and children. Both our children are now adults living with us. If you want the ideal roommates, there is much to be said for producing them yourself.

          • Linch says:

            To be as blatantly unsubtle as possible, Anon is correct. I claim the following things:

            0) I do not have an extreme emotional compulsion to have children, such that rational deliberation is impossible. Hence why a discussion is possible in the first place.

            1) Our context is that I live in the same world as parents whose children die of easily preventable diseases.

            2) I can generate more utility by averting deaths (through targeted donations to the most effective charities) than by having my own children. A back-of-the-envelope estimate suggests that the difference is at least one order of magnitude, possibly close to two.

            3)It’s a reasonable assumption that I am not a utility monster.

            4) Thus I can do more good by not having children than by having children.

            5) If I can do good at a trivial personal cost relative to opportunity cost of not doing said action, I should. In fact it will be ridiculous not to take the more optimal choice.

            I hope my position is clear by now.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          If you can’t bring yourself to care about your situation in twenty years, how can you care about some hypothetical kid’s snakebite?

          I don’t want to be rude but I doubt that that is your real reasoning.

          • Linch says:

            Yes, it’s emotionally easier for me to identify emotionally with extraordinary suffering of other people right now than it is for me to identify with minor inconveniences of future-me.

            You’re right that it’s not my “real reasoning” if by that you mean it’s not entirely rational w/r/t say, cryogenics or a retirement account (both of which I have a uggh-field around and are unlikely to imagine having even after a disinterested observer might claim it has becomes rational to do so).

          • Doctor Mist says:

            If you can’t bring yourself to care about your situation in twenty years, I strongly encourage you not to reproduce. You will be a burden on society in your old age, and to the extent that your grasshopperhood is heritable, you would be adding an even greater burden down the road.

          • Linch says:

            Point taken! 🙂

  10. Andy says:

    I am looking for a job in the field of geographic information systems (GIS), and so I have my resume up on sites like Indeed and Careerbuilder. Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve gotten recruitment emails from insurance companies trying to get me to interview for commission-only sales positions. I went to one interview thinking I could persuade them to use my GIS skills, but ended up driving over 100 miles for absolutely no result. I’ve driven further for interviews – I applied for a Planning Technician job 120 miles away a few weeks ago. (And then that employer was raided by the FBI over an unrelated matter the next day. That was nice, and has probably delayed their response to my application.)

    Is there anything I can put on my resumes or profiles to signal that I am a born IT person, and recruiting me for sales jobs is like teaching a pig to dance? Maybe not to try to recruit me unless they have actually read my resume and have a use for my skills?

  11. walpolo says:

    What’s the best argument against the US-Iran nuclear deal?

    • brad says:

      Honestly, I don’t know. It’s not enough to think that it’s a bad deal. You need to think that now, once we’ve publicly agreed to it with Russia, China, and the Europeans, that we can still go back and either get a better deal or get workable sanctions put back in place.

      I guess maybe it is that even unilateral US sanctions are going to be more effective than anything Iran gave up at the negotiating table.

    • John Schilling says:

      The best argument against it is that it won’t prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons ten years from now, it’s because Iran doesn’t want nuclear weapons now or then or any time in between, not because anything in this deal will stop them. And it is quite plausible that Iran really doesn’t want to have nuclear weapons, which are expensive and not generally all that useful.

      The deal we want to make with Iran is the treaty of peace, friendship, and free trade with a powerful and prosperous nation that we don’t want to fight a war with and would profit from trading with. This, I think, is that treaty, or as close as we can realistically get. For political reasons, we have to pretend that it is a treaty to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons and so they may have to pretend not to have nuclear weapons. Also for political reasons, Iran will have to have a big ceremony every year where everyone gets together and burns American flags while chanting “Death to the Great Satan”, and we’re going to have to pretend this doesn’t bother us.

      All this pretending could backfire in any number of fun and exciting ways. I think it’s the best we can do for now, but I am sympathetic to people who focus on the problems.

  12. onyomi says:

    In a recent thread, people were talking about whether or not, all things equal, Republicans would vote for a black person over an equally qualified white person, yet the most obvious case was seemingly ignored: Ben Carson.

    Right now, he’s polling at second for the nomination, despite the fact that, so far as I can tell, his only qualifications are “I’m a smart, conservative black guy.” Would a famous white neurosurgeon with no policy or legislative experience whatsoever get this far? I really can’t see how.

    Now whether they are claiming to support him because they are really unracist and trying to signal that fact or because of a cynical calculation that black people, who normally vote for democrats, might vote for a black Republican, I don’t know. And yes, there are probably some people who would never support him just because he’s black. But it seems to me like those people are far outnumbered by the number of people willing to give him far more support than they would an equally (un)qualified white candidate.

    Especially ironic to me is the fact that he seems to be taken more seriously than Herman Cain, who actually had some relevant experience. Maybe this also speaks to the power of a certain stereotype: being a CEO is a good background for a white guy (or girl), but a black person must be a neurosurgeon to prove he’s smart.

    Whether the democrats are more or less likely to do the same, I don’t know, but it does seem to put the lie to the notion that the GOP is hugely racist, even if they are supporting a black candidate for cynical reasons.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @onyomi:
      Herman Cain polled really well for a cycle or two in the last election. Then he did some absolutely disastrous interviews where he displayed a less than keen grasp of some basic politically necessary facts and dropped out of sight. So I don’t think Cain is a great counter example.

      Relatively transitory polling data is not a good measure of electoral success. Polls, in aggregate, converge on electoral results, therefore their predictive value this far out from actual voting is not high. There are markers that help define the strengths, weaknesses and challenges, for each candidate, but they are not dispositive by any means. For example, if a candidate only has 10% name recognition but is polling at 9%, that is a large strength, because it indicates that those who know about the candidate are highly likely to favor them. Increasing name recognition is much easier than changing the minds of those have already indicated they don’t favor you.

    • Jaskologist says:

      What HBC said. Cain already had his shot (and blew it). Polls are meaningless at this stage in the game (and their track record even on election day has been pretty poor lately).

      • walpolo says:

        Seemed like their track record (via 538) was extremely good in the ’12 election.

      • onyomi says:

        Regardless of how unreliable an indicator of eventual success polls may be at this stage of the game, it’s still *something* to be polling *2nd* in a very crowded field for nominee of a major party to be POTUS. My point is, if Ben Carson weren’t black, he wouldn’t even have gotten this far. If he’s not black, what’s his pitch: “hey, I’m a surgeon! Elect me because I know how to fix stuff!”??

        • Jiro says:

          One possibility is that the Republicans are themselves being race-neutral, but they recognize that a black candidate would be more acceptable to possible allies who might not otherwise vote for a Republican candidate.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I think this is the reality. But that also implies that the thesis is correct: all things equal, it is better to be black when running for public office in the US, probably in either party.

        • Anthony says:

          I’m not sure – Carson is also loudly evangelical in a way which no other Republican candidate, except maybe Huckabee (is he even running this time?), is being. That gives Carson a fairly solid base to appeal to, and with nobody else really competing for that bloc, he does well. But his support probably won’t get much larger than it is now, because he doesn’t have anything to offer the non-evangelical Republican – the rest are socially conservative, and actually know something about policy.

          The set of “people who would never vote for a black candidate” and “people who vote for the strongest evangelical Christian” have very, very little overlap. Evangelical Christianity in the U.S. is now mostly non-racist or even anti-racist, and the phenomenon of blacks who follow those sorts of teachings in their own lives doing better, on average, than blacks in general, is evidence for a belief that black problems are largely due to black culture, not genetics.

  13. Shieldfoss says:

    A reply to pre-order culture

    On August 31st, Square Enix (SQE) announced the pre-order system they are setting up for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I have been looking forward to this game since the original announcement, mainly on the strength of the previous Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

    And what a pre-order system. What a system.

    I will not waste words on describing the problems with the system (Others have done so before, and better) but will instead say this: Deus Ex is not a stable food. SQE does not hold a monopoly on entertainment. As such, any agreement between SQE and a customer is as fair as trade can possibly be, because any party who finds it unfair is free to abstain from agreeing.

    But the deals between SQE and customers are fair exactly because they are only participated in by those who want to participate. Others who would find the deals unfair are not forced to participate. I am one such other: I refuse to pre-order. I will not buy a game before it has been reviewed by reviewers I trust.

    SQE hopes that I see two options:

    1) Great game DX + Preorder bonus for €60.

    2) Great game DX for €60 and slight disappointment that I missed out on the preorder bonus

    And why would I pick the second option when the first is strictly better?

    Marketing departments the world over know well how to utilize the Loss Aversion bias to increase how attractive a deal is – if you close on the house today, it will only be $200k but that price might go up tomorrow! Do not seek more information, the others may bite while you search!

    But those are not the options I see. For me, I have:

    1) Uncertain game DX + Preorder bonus for €60

    2) Certainly good game DX (after review, without preorder bonus) for €60 – including the disappointment that I could have had the same game, AND dlc for the same price if I had just bought immediately instead of waiting for reviews.

    3) Certainly BAD game DX (after review, without preorder bonus) for €60

    4) DX for €60, plus DLC for whatever they decide to charge for it separately, plus previous disappointment.

    5) NOT DX.

    6) Piracy

    YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED A THEME. I hate disappointment – I am EXACTLY the type of person pre-order bonuses should work on, because I would hate the feeling of disappointment from knowing I could have gotten extra content for free. And perhaps it would, except I attempt to avoid the disappointment of having purchased a bad game also, by waiting for a review. And, having waited, I can then avoid the disappointment of losing out on free DLC by waiting and getting the cheaper GOTY edition. In fact, far from disappointment, I now feel clever: I get the same content, plus even more, for less!

    So let us analyze option SEVEN:

    Option seven:

    Cheapest option where I get DX:MD excepting piracy (which I am not interested in)
    No disappointment from missing an opportunity for free pre-order DLC
    Most bug-free edition after two years of bug fixing
    No disappointment
    Avoids breaking my pre-commitment against spending money on an unreviewed game
    No disappointment
    Possibly spoilers from others
    Most importantly: no disappointment.

    So I wonder: Do the marketing departments of various game companies not consider the incentives they offer me? Having a pre-order bonus that will later be available for free is a DISINCENTIVE to buying early.

    (The incentive structure for a person willing to pirate is left as an exercise for the reader)

    • Aegeus says:

      My guess is that the number of people who will delay buying the game just because they want the DLC are low. Most people who delay buying the game are either waiting for reviews or waiting for a lower price point. The first group won’t buy the DLC because they only care if the base game is any good. The second group won’t buy the DLC because they don’t think it’s good value for money.

      This might explain why the base edition of a game goes on sale more often than GOTY edition – it lets them separate the “only buy the whole package” and the “want a cheap base game” groups.

      Squeenix’s error isn’t just offering preorder bonuses, it’s that they offer mutually exclusive and speculative bonuses. That gives you a perverse incentive to wait for the GOTY edition, because you don’t know if you’ll get anything worth the money from your preorder, while the GOTY is guaranteed.

  14. I notice that both the left and the right like to characterise the other as extreme, and say that politics has shifted to the right or left (and hence the supposedly moderate opponents are all extremists). So where is the centre? And how do we establish where it is?

    My conception of the centre, in term of economics, is this: mixed economy. Natural monopolies, some research, the education system, and vital infrastructure (for security) is in government hands, everything else is pretty much privately owned. Governments outsource their functions but cautiously and only if they can be sure to get value for taxpayer money. Serious negative externalities are mostly taxed rather than being banned or regulated. On social issues I find it harder to establish where the centre is, other than to say discrimination may be a problem, but investment in education and awareness is more appropriate than attempts at regulation in most cases. On defence the centre seems to be to speak softly and carry a big stick, whereas the right is always screaming at everyone, and the left think a toothpick is all you need.

    But maybe the whole label of the “centre” is too rhetorical? Everyone always likes to label their opponents as extreme. I can’t see an obvious way to immunise it against hyperbole and distortion, though I would like to. Any ideas?

    • SUT says:

      > I notice that both the left and the right like to characterise the other as extreme, and say that politics has shifted to the right or left

      I’ve observed that it’s reality which has moved, which simply gives partisans on both sides ample clear-cut examples to show “extreme” nature of their opponent’s position.

      For example, the epilogue to WWII was high government spending on things like a national highway system and R&D to keep up in the midst of a cold war and a baby boom. Now that reality has moved on, those calling for less government spending look miserly in comparison to previous eras.

      Or take unions: The right would say *even FDR* didn’t support unions for public employees. The left would cite traditionally higher union membership (of a more industrial era) and see the decline as evidence that anti-union policies of the right are working to hollow out the middle class.

      Basically, it’s insincere to take either party’s policy goals in previous decades, and compare them to today because the reality we face is constantly getting uodated: e.g. ’91 fall of ussr, ’01 9/11, ’09 great recession, ’21 ? …

    • DavidS says:

      Presumably the centre is relative to where people are in the country in general? Or perhaps where political groups are – for instance, in the UK, the population I think on average support both death penalty and nationalised railways, but these are seen as on the further edges of right and left respectively.

      Not sure why taxing rather than regulating negative externalities is a centrist vs. extremist issue? In my experience, both happen depending both on good and bad reasons.

      Sadly I’m sceptical that there have often been governments that outsource but cautiously and with an eye to value for money. The tendency seems to be to either see outsourcing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without much subtlety.

      • Basically, I see taxing an externality rather than regulating or banning it as a market-based mechanism, and therefore more centrist. I realise parties don’t always line up that way, but it seems more logically consistent with the idea of the centre and centre-right being market orientated. Obviously if you go any further right you get arguments against addressing the externality at all, while I guess the left just issues an order to its GBEs or departments.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I think either this year or last year was the first time a survey of the British population did not show a majority in support of reintroducing the death penalty (approximately 50 years after the last execution and after it was abolished for murder, 17 years after it was abolished for any remaining crimes).

        I have heard that there was a major swing in public opinion in favour of abolition in the years leading up to it, largely due to some high-profile cases where people were executed who probably shouldn’t have been such as Derek Bentley. However, I don’t know whether that was ever actually a majority or whether it just went from small minority to large minority.

    • Paul Torek says:

      If you’re only interested in identifying movement over time, you don’t need to pinpoint the center. Start with a collection of politicians and/or issues that you can rate as left, right, lefter, righter. Do some statistics and find the first discriminant; now you can place issues on the spectrum even if you started with just politicians. Use change on the issues as your measure of legislative political change. Daisy-chain your issue landmarks as the basket of issues gradually evolves.

      I didn’t invent this; it’s all been done. I just can’t remember where.

      • That sounds cool. I’m mainly trying to think of how it can be prevented as a dishonest rhetorical strategy, but a good statistical analysis might help that. Let me know if you find whatever you forgot.

  15. Matt says:

    deleted

  16. BBA says:

    Given that a person can be jailed for contempt of court for an unlimited period of time (the current record is 14 years) and given that imprisonment for reasons other than conviction for a felony is not a bar to holding public office in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it is entirely plausible that the government of Rowan County, Kentucky will have a county clerk who cannot perform her duties but cannot be stripped of her position or salary for the next three years. (Short of impeachment, but that’s unlikely.) And if she retains her apparent popularity among the people of Rowan County, she could be reelected from her jail cell when her term is up, and so on.

    So many of our institutions rely on people being reasonable that one particularly stubborn person can drive the whole thing into the ditch and nobody else can do anything about it. For another example, see the previous mayor of Toronto.

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      I am almost certain that being imprisoned for contempt of a writ of mandamus from a federal court is a pretty slam dunk ground for impeachment. The process is just annoying and expensive. Since I thought that the county threatened to dump her like a hot potato if they were obliged to pay a fine for her contempt, I concluded that the only thing keeping her in office is how annoying and expensive the impeachment is. As soon as her conduct passes the bar set by the alternative, she’ll be canned lickety split.

      • ddreytes says:

        IIRC she can’t be impeached until the legislature is in session, and they’d have to call a special session or something.

        So basically yes, too expensive and complicated.

      • BBA says:

        What ddreytes said, plus if she’s impeached and removed, she could just run for her old seat and might actually win it. Worked for Roy Moore in Alabama (technically he wasn’t impeached, but similar situation). It all depends on whether the electorate thinks Christian principles are more important than not wasting money.

        More likely there’ll be some kind of compromise bill saying a county clerk can request that a deputy clerk’s signature appear on the marriage license, and everyone forgets all about it.

        • Deiseach says:

          More likely there’ll be some kind of compromise bill saying a county clerk can request that a deputy clerk’s signature appear on the marriage license, and everyone forgets all about it.

          That seems to be one of the compromises that she’s willing to take, but the governor doesn’t want to touch:

          The situation is putting pressure on political leaders in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has resisted calls to hold a special session of the state legislature to consider changes to state law that would allow accommodations for Davis and the two other defiant clerks.

          Among the accommodations that Davis has said would be acceptable is a proposal to remove county clerks’ names from marriage licenses.

          • BBA says:

            The governor doesn’t want to reconvene the legislature just to pass this law (or to bring impeachment proceedings against Davis, etc) but he hasn’t outright rejected the law either. We’ll see what happens when the legislature returns to regular session in January.

            (Part-time legislatures are, like elected county clerks, an example of institutions built on assumptions that no longer apply, but god forbid we change them. That would be undemocratic, commie!)

  17. Joe says:

    Scott I thought you and your readers might enjoy this recording of Stephen Colbert reading Flannery O’Connor’s “The Enduring Chill”
    https://huffduffer.com/GrandMoon/261055

  18. Gregory Nisbet says:

    I don’t know if this has been covered before and I am not all that current on what gets posted here, but I think that a discussion of alternative voting methods would be interesting and potentially not a repeat of our typical election-related discussions. Cardinal methods like Range Voting (http://rangevoting.org/) seem particularly interesting in general. I met a man, Peter Lindener, who proposed a related tower of methods that is similar to range voting, but handles clipping differently. (clipping being the term I am using for limiting the maximum and minimum value of a range ballot and other similar methods for limiting the influence of a single voter.) His paper is here http://www.votingmatters.org.uk/ISSUE27/I27P1.pdf . I am curious what interesting methods people have come across, and in particular methods that generalize the traditional model, such as methods with multiple winners (STV, CPO-STV), market-based voting (http://rangevoting.org/MarketBasedVoting.html), and voting on multiple issues simultaneously.
    (edit: why do I only have an hour to edit this thing?)

    • Anonymous says:

      Seconded.

    • Wrong Species says:

      People who know more should be allowed to have more than one vote. Ideally, the smarter and more knowledgeable you are the more your vote is worth but pretty much any incentive to getting people less ignorant would do. It’s never going to happen but I can dream.

    • James Picone says:

      For practical use, I still think the Australian federal electoral system is one of the best in the world, although it’s not very alternative. An upper house that gets elected via a minor STV variant, with a set number of senators per state (you could think of it as an STV election per state I suspect). A lower house that gets elected via simple preferential voting in districts. People can vote ‘above the line’, just giving a party in the Senate a ‘1’ vote and nothing for anything else. Parties supply a preference list of where they’d like preferences from people who just give them an above-the-line vote to go.

      Works out quite nicely. There’s some maldistribution in the lower house because the districts, though overseen by an independent electoral authority and very much not gerrymandered, do vary in population. Particularly rural districts, because they’d have to be huge. The result is that the principally-rural party gets several more lower-house seats than they would proportionally. Each state gets an equal number of senators, so there’s some maldistribution in the upper house there as citizens of the least-populous states get more bang for their vote. This is broadly considered a feature – otherwise the upper house would just be the Eastern States house, and the non-Eastern states aren’t at home with that.

      Because of the different electoral methods, the different approach to proportionality, and because only half the senate is elected at a given time, both houses tend to have different compositions and it’s quite common for a government to have to negotiate with independents or third parties to get legislation passed. Nice.

      We’ve had one hung parliament in our history to date, when a third-party candidate was elected to the lower house (the not-proportional one). He cast a vote for one of the major parties to be government, it mostly worked out in a political-machinery sense (that government kinda crashed and burned for unrelated reasons).

  19. Pku says:

    Interesting argument against gentrification I heard today: Since people feel happier when they’re wealthy in relative to their neighbors, we should encourage neighborhoods to be mixed-income as much as possible. (Gentrification is terrible, because it takes away your ability to feel better than your poorer neighbors!)

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      This requires a high trust society where you do not think that your less well off neighbors are going to improve their situation at your expense, so to speak.

      I have been told by people old enough to have lived in high trust mixed income neighborhoods that (a) it was really awesome being able to be on the same team in the bowling league with your CEO and that (b) aside from the really destitute (and unfathomably rich) differences in consumption were much less noticeable.

      • Anthony says:

        I lived in a mixed social class neighborhod growing up. The income range was likely narrower than the class range, as the blue-collar folks living there were generally well-paid, and often got lots of overtime (or ran small businesses like car repair shops), while the salaried folks didn’t have those possibilities.

  20. Brandon Berg says:

    “You know-e, I don’t e-think this-e wine is-e really the e-blood of Christ-e,” Sally said heretically.

  21. Sophie says:

    I feel like this might just sound incredibly cliche, but does anyone have any advice on applying to university that they’re burning to share?

    • Protagoras says:

      For undergrad? Not really. For grad school, I would have one piece of advice (other than don’t, which is probably often good advice too); different departments have very different admissions standards, so it can be a good idea to apply to as many schools as possible. It’s entirely possible in grad school admissions that you’ll be rejected by a less prestigious school and accepted by a more prestigious school because they apply different criteria, and you happen to be strong in what the more prestigious school happens to weight heavily and weak in what the less prestigious school happens to weight heavily. There might be a similar effect in undergrad admissions, especially at the very high end, though certainly to a far lesser degree; undergrad admission criteria tend to be more consistent and simpler, because they aren’t handled by individual departments and because universities have so many more undergrad applicants to deal with.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Grad school or undergrad?

    • Elephant says:

      What country are you in? What sorts of things are you interested in? You need to supply a bit more information — there isn’t any “generic” advice that’s worthwhile!

    • Sophie says:

      I’m applying for undergrad in Canada, I’m interested in biology, statistics, kind of want to solve senescence, and thank you so much for helping!

      • Ever An Anon says:

        Show them your enthusiasm for and knowledge of the field. Make sure to highlight any research experience you have (even just reading journal articles if you haven’t done any proper lab work) and if you have a mentor obviously get a letter of recommendation. Maybe don’t mention immortality per se, keep it to gerontology or something, but demonstrate your passion. If you want to go the extra mile, talk about some specific ongoing research that looks interesting at each university you apply to.

        Other than that, I wouldn’t worry too much. The fact that you’re here implies you’re bright and on top of that you have gender in your favor presumably. Getting a spot in a solid school shouldn’t be a problem.

        Anyway good luck and let us know how it goes!

        • switchnode says:

          you have gender in your favor presumably

          Not necessarily. It depends on the way the schools you’re applying to handle affirmative action for women, if they do any; biology programs are majority female. Apply as a biomedical engineering major instead (especially if it’ll put you under a college of engineering separate from arts and sciences—a lot of US schools do this, though I don’t know about Canada). It’s just as relevant to your interests, maybe more (neuroscience involves tons of signal processing that bio programs really don’t get into), and if you’re not planning on going pre-med it’ll probably make you more employable. If you decide it’s not for you, you can switch to biology in your first year or two and not miss anything.

      • Kevin says:

        In the US, most larger/better-known universities get absolutely flooded with applications, an unfortunate effect of the online Common App. In that situation, my advice would be not to get too attached to any specific school, because getting admitted is a total crapshoot.

        I’m not sure if the same situation exists in Canada. In any case, just knowing what the word “senescence” means puts you in an upper percentile of applicants for most schools.

      • laowai John says:

        Seriously consider applying to universities in the UK and Western Europe.

        The average standard of education is probably higher than the US as a whole, because becoming an official university is much harder, and there are equal numbers of prestige institutions. Your fees will likely be lower, and as fees are capped for locals they have a strong incentive to recruit you.

        There are some minor transition costs of learning a different system, but they aren’t significant to the long term, and higher ranked institutions will be used to US students.

        Also there’s some fluffy benefits about expanding your cultural horizons, and you can drink under 21.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          UK universities have quite a different system to US ones, in that you study one, or occasionally two subjects for three or four years, rather than a variety. Looking at international league tables, UK universities like Manchester and Edinburgh are highly ranked (above some Ivies) but lack prestige in comparison. It is my understanding that where US universities shine internationally is research, so for undergraduate degrees, even a non-Oxbridge UK university can match up to the Ivy League in teaching quality.

  22. Mary says:

    Is everyone taking the xkcd survey?

    http://xkcd.com/1572/

    • Randy M says:

      Interested to see wehat he makes of that.

      • Mary says:

        It’s the warning that the info may make you identifiable. Really, you’ve got to wonder about what answers to what question would trigger such recognizableness.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          It’s CYA. Unlikely it really could, more likely someone could think it could.

        • Anthony says:

          You could, in theory, write something in one of the text-field entries which would make you identifiable. Especially if all your other answers are in the same row of the data table.

          And people who fill in xkcd surveys are rather prone to putting in odd answers in text-entry fields, so this is possibly a real concern.

    • Pku says:

      About the “matching socks or underwear” thing he mentions at the end. Do people match underwear? Or does this only apply to women’s underwear? Do women match underwear? Would this be as practical for women’s underwear as the sock thing? Has anyone tried the sock thing? If so, what socks have you used?

      • (To be clear: I don’t think the question is about matching socks with underwear, but rather about about matching socks with your other socks, and underwear with your other underwear.)

        I have experienced the sock thing, though I didn’t do it on purpose. My different kinds of socks kept wearing out and being thrown out, and I bought a big pack of one kind to replace them.

        I did like the benefit, which is that I don’t have to dig around in your clean laundry to find the sock that matches a clean sock – I can just pick up the first other sock you see and stick them together. The socks I bought were Gold Toe brand, which I chose because I already had some of them and didn’t have a problem with them. They were all black, so they would go with anything.

        I hadn’t thought of any benefit of doing getting all one kind of underwear, since they don’t come in pairs, but your guess about it being for women sounds plausible – maybe a lot of women match their bras and panties with each other. In that case, I guess the benefit of having only one kind of each is that you never have to worry about color clashes.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        I took it to mean that all of your socks are identical, as opposed to the miscellaneous collection you’ve developed over the last few decades. And similarly with your underwear.

        Not that you’re socks and underwear are color coordinated with each other and your outfits or something. At least… I think that was what you were trying to ask.

      • Randy M says:

        I am tempted to, sice somehow I have about 8 dress socks in about 7 styles.

  23. Saal says:

    Not sure if this has been asked before, but I’m rather curious with regard to the distribution of SSC readers/commenters across socioeconomic classes. I would describe myself as working class (I’ve mostly worked in factories, restaurants, some manual labor like livestock hand and fence building/cedar clearing; support a family of four on roughly 20k annually) and I’ve long suspected I’m mostly alone in that here. I see we have one guy commented who’s worked on an assembly line though, so maybe I’m wrong on that.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Well we’re almost all university educated and most of us who are old enough have been in grad school so it’s not surprising that we’d skew middle-class and up.

      That said, class in America is kind of odd. We measure SES by income but that’s obviously wrong. My father makes more than most of the guys who work in the office park he does HVAC for, hell more than his bosses, but he’s in a blue jumpsuit so that puts him under the interns and secretaries. At the same time my class seems to have no relation to his at all, to his great relief.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Grew up alternating between dirt-poor and lower-middle class. Dropped out of college twice. Worked part-time as an illegal immigrant in canada for a few years, got to experience being dirt poor again. Worked at a factory making paint for a year and a half. Dropped out of college twice. currently making ~70k a year as a video game artist.

      • Urstoff says:

        Use this one weird trick to make 70k as a video game artist!

        • Anonymous says:

          For real. $70K/yr as a video game artist? That’s impressive given the typically poor wages.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            http://www.gamasutra.com/salarysurvey2014.pdf

            [EDIT] – I guess I might as well share the “wierd trick” also. When you’ve been painting for twenty hours straight, your drawing hand starts cramping up pretty bad. Take a clean sock, fill it with uncooked rice, tie off the top with a rubber band, and nuke it in the microwave for a minute. It makes a scorching hot stress ball that you can crush in your hand to loosen the muscles back up.

    • stargirl says:

      I have a PHD. I worked in a petstore in high school. But otherwise I have had upper middle class jobs (also I tutored during college).

    • Randy M says:

      I’ve been a teacher and an engineer. Right now I’m temping as a lab tech/chemist. Only significant income for family of five, making about twice what you make–I’m guess you don’t live in California on that income? I think I’ve the first college degree in a couple generations at least.

      • Saal says:

        Texas. Pretty sure we would’ve already eaten one or more of my kids if we had to live on this on the west coast O.o

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      First generation immigrant to the US, came with my family (with nothing, and no English) at 13.

    • Pku says:

      Grad student as above. Grew up in Israel, moved to the states for grad school.

    • Amanda says:

      I’m from a very poor family (about as poor as you can be in the U.S. if you’re a citizen) and I was raised by a single mother on welfare. Because she has schizophrenia and qualified for disability checks, we were able to survive without her ever having to get a job, but there was never extra money around and sometimes we didn’t have toilet paper or groceries for a while until the next check came.

      I am in college right now and should be graduating pretty soon, though, and I have been working consistently since I was 14 (I am 21 now), so I will almost certainly not be as poor as my mother is/was. I would classify myself as working class right now, since I only work part time and make less than $10,000 a year. I might make it into the middle class someday after I graduate and get more work experience in fields that pay better than the jobs I’ve had before (fast food, cashiering, etc).

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Lower middle class, first person in my immediate family to go university.

    • Kevin says:

      I would describe my childhood as upper-middle class (my dad makes 6 figures in IT, and many of my older relatives have jobs at a similar income level). I have a PhD in physics and am currently employed as a postdoc, salary in the $50-60k range. (I worked in food service at a retirement home in high school/early college, but mostly for spending money.)

    • Dances with Actuaries says:

      Grew up very solidly middle-class: Mom was a teacher with a B.A., Dad was a government attorney with a J.D.; each was the first in their family to go to college, but it was expected of them. They spent all their discretionary income on education for us kids, starting in 7th grade, encouraging us to go to the college of our choice, regardless of cost.* So it always felt like we were broke: vacations were trips to see relatives, we bought our clothes with money we earned (no allowance), and they worried about money a lot.

      The education thing seems to have worked out economically: my siblings and I all have Bachelor’s degrees, with only one of us earning anything beyond that (an MBA). I make $130,000 (in Connecticut: it’s not in the Bay Area or New York City, but it’s not Houston, either), the least out of any of us, and the MBA brother probably makes double that. We’re all probably technically upper-middle-class now, but we’re kind of uncomfortable with the idea. (Though I guess since my wife stays home now, our family income puts us in the lower upper-middle-class.)

      I know some people in The 1%: a couple high-school classmates who were born into it, more who got there from middle- or upper-middle-class upbringings, a few through the aforementioned MBA brother, who works in finance. They seem pretty normal, as long as you don’t ask them about their vacation or why they don’t bother getting a driver’s license. I get the feeling that if I were one of them, I would still worry about money (though it would be hard to blow, say, $500,000 worth of discretionary income on education; maybe get Sting as a music tutor?).

      My wife grew up kind of working-class; her father went to college and had a professional job, but for the government. Things were actually tight for them, and she picked her college by which one cost the least. She would have done fine at a better one; there were plenty of kids at my Ivy League school who were clearly less smart than she is, to say nothing of organized and diligent. Between her upbringing and her career working not-for-profit jobs, she can pinch pennies like you wouldn’t believe,** which is very helpful, because just like my parents… we’re spending all our discretionary income on education for the kids.

      Our house is worth what seems like a ridiculous amount of money to me, and we bought it for about half of that. That equity gives us some financial security, but the high schools and colleges are going to eat up most or all of it. (Seriously, maybe I should invest in tulips instead…) But we buy used cars (and not just-off-lease ones), and our vacations are trips to see relatives, and I can’t remember the last time we sprang for a babysitter so we could go out to dinner. Other upper-middle-class staples like country-club memberships are laughable (though I suppose I socialize with some Genuinely Rich People at school events).

      In high school, I worked at a retail store, then doing construction work; in college, I did office temp work (and some make-work student jobs); so I know what real work is like and respect people who do it. But that’s not where my comparative advantage is, so I work in cube farms at insurance companies rearchitecting processes and improving organizations and trying not to have to wear a tie.

      I’m guessing 10-25% of Scott’s readership is in roughly my sitation economically. But I’ll bet about 50% are like me in another way: mental illness. The tag line up there at the top, after all, mentions psychiatry. I read Scott’s stuff because it’s interesting, and manages to be nice without being boring or wishy-washy. I read the comments here because the exchanges are generally much fairer and more rational than anywhere else on the Internet, no doubt because of the host’s commitment to Niceness, Community, and Civilization.

      (* I’m encouraging my kids to think about going to a German university, partly because I’d like to be less broke than my parents, but partly because I hate American university administrators as a class, and would literally rather burn my money than hand it over to them.)

      (** For instance, canned beans are really, really cheap. But dried beans, which you soak overnight before using, are even cheaper.)

    • James Picone says:

      Middle-to-upper-class, I’d say? Both parents have higher degrees, but in public health and physics, nothing that’s worth craptons of money. I think first in his family on dad’s side, but not on mum’s, but don’t know offhand.

      I grew up with parents who definitely worried about money, but more in the “was obsessive about checking affordability of things” sense than the “we need to do significant scrimping and saving” sense. Major electronics would often get bought from a chain of pawn shops in the region, for example. This was probably mostly because they invested a lot of money into education – I was in a private school for all of my schooling, although sometimes with a scholarship.

      Nowadays my parents are much more financially comfortable. They have investments and they’re drawing from superannuation, both retired. I have something of a significant fallback if I end up in financial stress.

      I have a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, and work as a programmer in a field with some significant extra accreditation requirements that drive up wages. I earn more than median income in my country. I still rent, but more because I don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a mortgage and I’m not sure I’ll be staying here for the next twenty years.

    • Professor Frink says:

      I grew up rural, worked on several farms and ranches starting at age 13. Now I have a math phd and do mathy work.

    • Mark says:

      I’m the first member of my lower middle class family to become a member of the lumpenproletariat.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      My background is like Sarah Palin’s (yay Sarah*), but with rural school teachers in a house full of English Romantic poetry, geometry and logic texts … and C.S. Lewis, who combined the three. I found all of Lewis’s books (the more footnotes the better), and the books they will lead you to (Shaw, GKC, etc**, plus lots of British fiction from ~1900 to ~1950).

      Dropped out of state university to marry a sailor and see the world. After that, we started a couple of book businesses (shoestring, no loans). Now I’m homesteading in a forest. Never took a normal job (though I did need a photo ID for Social Security).

      * Sarah’s life and character. I’m far left, agnostic since college.

      ** ‘etc’ not ‘et al’, which was about shared authorship

    • kerani says:

      Grew up in a rural farming family – on the middle-ish end of the scale, both parents had some college, but income was such that w/o scholarships none of the kids would have gone to college. Now north of 40, two post-BS degrees, definitely top 10% of the US population in personal income.

      I won’t drink beer out of a can or wine out of a box, couldn’t pick arugula out of a line-up, wear twenty-year-old teeshirts to the bank and regularly go through the garbage my neighbors leave on the curb. So I really have no clue what SEC that makes me.

    • I’m a professor and the son of a professor.

  24. Emily says:

    I’m usually pretty mellow but this week there are at least four different authors of quant-oriented articles on the web who I want to stab with a fork. Should I drink more water? Get more sleep? Eat more protein?

    • John Schilling says:

      Sharpen your fork? I’m somewhat curious as to which four articles, but I understand if you don’t want to reward them with links.

      • Emily says:

        This is the part that bothers me the most about one them:

        “After analyzing the results of a cognitive exam that all new USMC student officers are required to take, Cancian and Klein concluded that average test scores had declined since 1980 to the point that 41 percent of the lieutenants and captains entering the Corps in 2014 would have scored below the minimum cut-off for commissioning during World War II. The authors further speculated that the steady increase in college attendance in the United States during the last half century may have decreased the value of the bachelor’s degree as a screening tool for prospective officers…A good place for the military to start is by reexamining whether a college degree should be the baseline qualification for commissioning. There is no intrinsic reason why higher education—rather than, say, excellent test scores and a superlative performance in high school—should be the crucial differentiator that allows one to gain entry to the officer corps.”

        • gwern says:

          What’s wrong with that?

          • Emily says:

            The C&K hypothesis is “a lower proportion of college grads have high test scores people with lower test scores who previously wouldn’t be college graduates now are.” But the implicit other part (unless you have a very strange model) is “a lower proportion of non-college grads have high test scores.” If you are after high test scores, this is a worse time to pursue non-college-grads than it was previously.

            I have other problems with this as well. First, the idea that college graduation does not have independent predictive validity. Second, using results on the smallest service to try to say something about the military in general. Third, the assumption that lowered test-scores are a recruiting pool/formal requirements issue – that is, that there aren’t sufficient high-scorers that the USMC could have under current rules. (My guess is that there are but they’re prioritizing something else.)

          • gwern says:

            If you are after high test scores, this is a worse time to pursue non-college-grads than it was previously.

            It is, but why is that a problem? ‘worse’!=’useless’. It’s a logical tautology that the number of people who score highly is smaller than or equal to the number of people who score highly and have a college degree as well. (And since we know the correlation is not 1, then it’s just ‘is small than’.)

            If all you want is high-scoring people, then requiring college degrees must decrease your hiring pool. Whether dropping the requirement helps will depend on additional details like how many resources they have to hunt those diamonds in the rough, which aren’t addressed in your quote.

          • Emily says:

            Fine, but then you don’t need to bring up the C&K hypothesis at all. That the author did suggests to me that he understood “college degree corresponds less to high test scores” from the C&K without understanding the statistical mechanism for why that’s happening. Reading that, do you really think the author realized that the proportion of high-scorers among non-college-grads has decreased?

          • gwern says:

            Reading that, do you really think the author realized that the proportion of high-scorers among non-college-grads has decreased?

            I think the author does, and I take C&K as pointing out that the g-loading of college degrees has fallen substantially as more people to to college, and so they need to reduce the weight put on college degrees as a binary criterion:

            the crucial differentiator that allows one to gain entry to the officer corps.

            By focusing so much on college degrees, even as all the smartest people have college degrees, you still get falling scores. (You have two college grads, one 110IQ and one 130IQ, and room in the officer academy to admit one; but you only care about whether they have a college degree, so you do some complicated stuff which looks good but amounts to flipping a coin to choose. Congratulations, as the college graduation rate goes up, your academy’s IQ is going to nosedive.)

            Of course they shouldn’t have any binary differentiators at all, it should be a weighted sum of various attributes. This way you gain from both effects: by simply broadening your hiring pool, you gain the possibility of hiring the non-degreed yet smart people, but you also restore your ability to choose between the people with degrees. Both effects will help. (Probably more the latter than former.)

          • Emily says:

            There is no reasonable set of assumptions in which making eligible a small handful of (currently ineligible) test-passing non-college graduates has any meaningful positive effect on the overall test scores of USMC commissioned officers. I understand you are arguing for some other stuff as well, but that’s separate from the article and also I don’t think you understand how the process currently work.

            Marine Corps OCS boards (and all the other post-college commissioning boards) have access to candidate test scores already, not just whether they made the cut-off. They’re not flipping coins among college graduates. If you think they’re not properly weighting test scores, then adding a group of passing non-college graduates is definitely not going to fix the problem, because the average test score among non-college-grads who pass the test is going to be lower than the average test score among college grads who pass the test. And if you wanted to raise the cut score (or weight some stuff that effectively for many candidates raises the score they need), adding the small group of high-scoring non-graduates is also not going to help you do that because there just aren’t that many of them.

            Edit: I e-mailed Jesse to ask him if he understood that earlier point and I’ll post if he replies.

          • gwern says:

            There is no reasonable set of assumptions in which making eligible a small handful of (currently ineligible) test-passing non-college graduates has any meaningful positive effect on the overall test scores of USMC commissioned officers.

            I’ve already given you two different mechanisms implied by the quotes where removing the hard requirement will improve matters. How do you know it won’t have ‘any meaningful effect’? Have you calculated this at all? Or are you just making this up – ‘it feels small to me’?

            Marine Corps OCS boards (and all the other post-college commissioning boards) have access to candidate test scores already, not just whether they made the cut-off. They’re not flipping coins among college graduates. If you think they’re not properly weighting test scores, then adding a group of passing non-college graduates is definitely not going to fix the problem

            They may have access, but I would not be surprised if they are flipping coins. It is entirely possible for interviewers, doctors, psychologists etc to not properly weight scores; consider the examples in http://lesswrong.com/lw/3gv/statistical_prediction_rules_outperform_expert/ . And the large decline cited is certainly consistent with them not giving scores appropriate weight…

            the average test score among non-college-grads who pass the test is going to be lower than the average test score among college grads who pass the test

            So? You are not selecting the average person. You are trying to select a finite number from the top of the distribution.

            adding the small group of high-scoring non-graduates is also not going to help you do that because there just aren’t that many of them.

            How do you know? How many do you need? The Marine Corps isn’t that big and the classes each year aren’t that big and the increases in college attendance rates are big.

          • Adam says:

            I don’t know how the Marine Corps ranks cadets, but I know how the Army does it, and it changes year to year, but is roughly 40% college GPA, 10% physical fitness test scores, 15% on-campus leadership evaluations by your instructors, and 15% summer-camp leadership evaluations by officer cadre who lead the schools, with some points taken away from these and put into a fungible category for general preference stuff like points for prior enlisted service, points for going to voluntary Army schools, points for charitable service, points for getting a harder degree. It’s definitely not flipping coins. It’s a rigid order of merit list that some strategic planning commission puts a lot of effort into constructing. In recent years, the cutoff for making it to active duty has been a lot higher than the cutoff for just commissioning, too, so cadets with lower scores get forced into the reserve or National Guard (except academy cadets, obviously).

  25. AJD says:

    Suddenly if I try to adjust the date in the “comments since” box in the top right corner (to change which posts are labeled as “new”), I get a “Given date not valid” error message. Anyone know how to solve or get around this problem? I’m using Safari 8.0.8 in Yosemite.

    • Cauê says:

      I think I get this when I enter dd/mm/yyyy and it expects mm/dd/yyyy, or vice-versa, depending on the computer I’m using.

      • AJD says:

        The box for me appears in the written-out form “September 3, 2015 at 2:26:00 PM EDT”. Maybe I should try entering it in mm/dd/yyyy form?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Mine does too, in Chrome and Opera 12.16. I just go in and change one or two of the numbers, as needed.

          When I’m about to add a comment — which resets the date and count — sometimes I go into the box, do ctl-A,C to copy the whole box, then when the new date comes up just paste the old one over it.

          • AJD says:

            Indeed, if I don’t type anything in the box—if I just click in it and leave it as it is—I still get the “date not valid” message. In other words, it’s not accepting as input the format in which it displays dates to me as output.

    • Anonymous says:

      Try leaving it in its current form, but deleting the ‘at’ between the year and the time.
      I’m also on Safari, and that’s what works for me.

  26. gwern says:

    Interesting new genetics paper using the current IQ SNPs:

    “A review of intelligence GWAS hits: Their relationship to country IQ and the issue of spatial autocorrelation”, Piffer 2015 http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/wp-content/uploads/PifferIntelligence2015.pdf http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289615001087 http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.com/2015/09/gwas-hits-and-country-iq.html

    Published Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), reporting the presence of alleles exhibiting significant and replicable associations with IQ, are reviewed. The average between-population frequency (polygenic score) of nine alleles positively and significantly associated with intelligence is strongly correlated to country-level IQ (r = .91). Factor analysis of allele frequencies furthermore identified a metagene with a similar correlation to country IQ (r = .86). The majority of the alleles (seven out of nine) loaded positively on this metagene. Allele frequencies varied by continent in a way that corresponds with observed population differences in average phenotypic intelligence. Average allele frequencies for intelligence GWAS hits exhibited higher inter-population variability than random SNPs matched to the GWAS hits or GWAS hits for height. This indicates stronger directional polygenic selection for intelligence relative to height. Random sets of SNPs and Fst distances were employed to deal with the issue of autocorrelation due to population structure. GWAS hits were much stronger predictors of IQ than random SNPs. Regressing IQ on Fst distances did not significantly alter the results nonetheless it demonstrated that, whilst population structure due to genetic drift and migrations is indeed related to IQ differences between populations, the GWAS hit frequencies are independent predictors of aggregate IQ differences.

  27. Daichi says:

    I’m always curious how Scott is able to find so many interesting links from such disparate sources. I’d love to hear about your general strategy in finding interesting information or learning about the world.

    Also just interested in hearing about websites or blogs (like or unlike SSC) that y’all frequent.

  28. Wrong Species says:

    To those who advocate private government: do you think the East India Company was a better government than the British Raj?

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I assume you mean in regards to the famines? Both were pretty bad. The company ended in 1857 and according to wiki
      “The 1901 Famine Commission found that twelve famines and four “severe scarcities” took place between 1765 and 1858.”

      9 famines occurred under the British Raj between 1858-1905 (I leave out the WW2 famine).

      It is my understanding the famines ended due to railroad building, introduction of the Famine Code and the use of Burmese rice to meet shortfalls. The railroads and Burma post date the East India Company and it is questionable about how much they could have introduced the Famine Codes without those two items.

      I didn’t go into taxation or trade policies, but it is my understanding that they didn’t vary substantial between the Company and the Raj.

  29. birdboy2000 says:

    Of all the ways to start an open thread. I just lost a point of stability, I hope you’re happy. 😛

  30. Tibor says:

    I wrote the following in the comment thread on David Friedman’s blog where I responded to some other commenter. It turned out unexpectedly long and also I thought that perhaps some Americans (of which there seems to be a majority) are not so familiar with the politics of Europe and given the recent discussions of immigration in the US among the president candidates, maybe you will also find it interesting. And since a lot of rational and polite people seem to comment here, it is a good platform to have a nice discussion about such a divisive topic, so hopefully there will be some responses as well. Bear in mind that all of this is of course just my view and interpretation of things, but I guess you’d know that even without me saying it 🙂

    So let me probably first show my biases – I more or less share the opinion of Milton Friedman, who said that you have to choose between free immigration and a welfare state. Now, the choice is very simple for me since I regard free immigration as a net gain and the welfare state as a net cost. So I would just get rid of the welfare state, reduce taxes and expect the private charities and individual savings to provide for the “social safety net” and pensions about as well or even better in some respects than the state does today.

    However, this is a fringe opinion, even more in Europe (maybe with the exception of Switzerland) than in the US. That means abolishing the welfare state is simply not a choice. Combine the belief in the welfare state for everybody, free immigration and a recent influx of asylum seekers in the EU and you have a problem. Let me paint a little picture:

    Actually most of the asylum seekers simply want to Germany and Sweden which provide the best benefits. In Germany,even if one is not granted asylum, it takes the offices about half a year to process the request during which time the people are given 330 € monthly, accommodation, language courses and so on. This also means that even people from the Balkan, who have basically no chance at obtaining the asylum status, come in droves and currently represent about 50% of the asylum seekers in Germany. 330€ is above the average wage in a country such as Albania and even if you are sent back after 6 months, you can save up some money. Sure beats being unemployed in Albania. Also, you can try “losing” your documents and pretend that you come from Syria. The projected number of asylum seekers in Germany is 800 000 for this year (that is an estimate done by the federal government which probably has an incentive to keep the estimate down rather than up) and the projected costs are in billions of Euros a year. At the same time, the number of people coming to Germany this way keeps rising and it creates a lot of problems both within Germany and the EU in general. In the country, one sees it especially in its former GDR part, where people are strongly against more asylum seekers which leads to both actual xenophobic violence at times and also some of the western German media depicting the Eastern Germany as a land of primitives who yet have to be resocialized and educated in the “European values”. My guess that their opinion has more to do with the fact that some parts of Eastern Germany have an unemployment rate of over 10% and purchasing power more or less the same as the one in the Czech republic (despite being subsidized by a special tax), whereas the West is much richer. Unemployment and frustration always leads to more instances of extremist behaviour such as some attacks by neonazis, or at one instance a car of a local politician (who was supporting the idea of having more asylum seekers in the town) was blown up by a plastic explosive. In any case, it represents a problem and apparently a significant part of the population does not wish more asylum seekers in Germany, but basically the only response of the government (and most media) is more or less calling everyone who disagrees with the current policy a neonazi or something similar. At the same time, the problems with the financing of the influx of asylum seekers might now lead to a change in the German constitution (so that it becomes easier for the state to pay for it all).

    Within the EU, the problems are essentially similar, with Germany, Sweden and the European Commission pursuing the policy of accepting all the asylum seekers who come to the EU and trying to set up quotas that would distribute them among the member countries. How they would then make sure those people do not simply lose their documents again and move to Germany I don’t really know. Many other EU countries are against it however, which leads to major accusations within the union and to a certain degree threats the continued existence of the Schengen zone (although I don’t think the danger is actually that high).

    Now, of course there are ways to go around that if there is a political will and both the welfare state and free immigration can be salvaged. One could for example grand welfare only to those immigrants who have been living in the county for a period of time and have a stable job. This is accidentally exactly the Czech law (the initial period is 5 years), although the people who are granted asylum are excluded from this restriction. This still can be fine as long as the asylum procedure is both fast (how it can take 15 days in Netherlands and 6 months in Germany is beyond me) and relatively stern – i.e. the asylum seeker has to prove that he is persecuted at home and having no documents is a hindrance rather than an almost sure asylum guarantee. However, these conditions already dig quite deep into the belief in the welfare state for all and although I am not exactly sure what the “average German” thinks about the issue, it is not even quite clear that the majority of people would support such a measure in Germany and the current government and media definitely do not.

    In this case, limiting immigration, immigration of the asylum seekers in particular
    does not seem to be a politically feasible option in Germany either. However, it still seems more likely to happen than cutting down of welfare (or a sensible “middle of the road” policy such as the Czech one). Sadly, if I had to venture a guess, I would expect to see Europe with about the same kind of a welfare state but with much more restricted immigration in the next 5-10 years and with it also the rise of parties who are very isolationist and nationalist and want more than just restricting immigration. Particularly Marine Le Pen of Front National in France pursues more or less a mercantilist policy, the Danish Folkeparti, which won most of the votes in the last elections, seems to be a mild version of the same, although to be honest I do not know that much about them to make a fair assessment (my knowledge about Folkeparti comes solely from German media). But I think it illustrates the kind of problems one runs to if one combines free immigration with unrestricted access to the welfare state.

    EDIT: I checked the Folkeparti and they seem to have won the last European Parliament elections but were only second in the last Danish national elections.

    • onyomi says:

      I thought this presentation on the morality of immigration restrictions was quite good:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWlwTq0bJaM

      Most notably absent from all mainstream discussion of welfare vs. immigration are ideas that we might allow immigrants to enter and work freely, but not allow them to vote or receive welfare benefits.

      For this reason, the recent discussion of ending birthright citizenship might actually end up being good, even though I am very pro-immigration. Specifically, if we are no longer worried about immigrants’ children automatically being citizens and then messing up our political system by taking welfare and/or voting wrong, then we can, theoretically, at least, be more open to the idea of letting them come here to live and work without necessarily enjoying certain privileges.

      Part of the reason this may be a non-starter is because of the hyper-egalitarian rhetoric which currently surrounds suffrage, but it still produces stupid results:

      A: I want to come to the market to sell my stuff!

      B: No! I won’t let you come to the market to sell your
      stuff!

      A: Why?

      B: Because I have a policy of giving free stuff to everyone in the market and including them in the market decision counself. If you come to the market I will have to give you free stuff and include you in the decision counsel. I don’t want to give you free stuff or include you on the counsel; therefore you must stay out of the market.

      A: But I just want to sell my stuff to feed my family!

      B: We are too moral of a society to allow you to do that.

      • Tibor says:

        One point where I do not agree with Milton Friedman on this issue is exactly this. I remember him being asked at some conference (in Latin America, I forgot where exactly it was, but it was not Mexico I think) about such an option – that is free immigration for all, welfare only under some conditions. He said he did not like the idea of 2 classes of citizens, but as long as it is a net improvement for everyone, I don’t see the problem. It is as you say – instead of letting someone become a “second class citizen”, you just make it impossible for him to (legally) come…or at the other extreme, create a loophole so that more or less anyone can collect welfare benefits in your country (at least for a time) like in Germany, which is a system that is likely to collapse eventually resulting in harsher and stricter immigration policy than would have been needed (among other things).

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah, it’s sort of another instance of the Copenhagen interpretation of morality. To have someone in your country but unable to vote and not entitled to the benefits of a citizen is somehow more immoral than just keeping them out of your country altogether, even if, given the choice, said person would gladly be a non-voting, non-welfare-entitled resident of the country.

        • John Schilling says:

          What is the citizenship status of the locally-born children of guest-worker type immigrants?

          If they are full citizens with full welfare eligibility, then you’ve got the welfare-state problem almost immediately. I come to your country, can’t get a job because I can’t be bothered to learn the language, but I can make babies just fine. Now I have a baby that you are morally and legally obligated to raise above whatever passes for the poverty line in your nice first-world country. And this baby is living under my roof, eating my food, wearing hand-me-down clothes from his older foreign-born siblings, taking his MOOCs on the family computer in the living room, etc. Good luck lifting him out of poverty without doing the same for the whole family.

          Or maybe the plan is to lift just the locally-born children out of poverty by taking them all away from their impoverished foreign parents. That’s on the edge of qualifying as genocidal by international law, certainly has a bad historic track record, and isn’t going to go over very well with progressives.

          Or maybe children of immigrants don’t get to be citizens. Which opens an interesting discussion about the children of mixed marriages, but however that turns out you are creating a permanent, disenfranchised underclass. This, also, has a bad historic track record and isn’t going to go over well with progressives.

          • Tibor says:

            Well, you mentioned two extreme case scenarios, what about this. If you are a child whose parents are not yet eligible for welfare, you are neither. If they are, you are too. And you become a citizen once your parents do or after a number of years spend living in the country. In both cases, the principle is the same – you can stay, but you have to take care of yourself by your own means at the beginning. This deters welfare seekers and the others eventually get the have the same rights as everyone else.

            By the way there seems to be some evidence that taking locally born children away is what is being done in Norway (by what would in the US be called progressives more or less). To be honest, it is hard to tell how much truth there is to it. Fact is, that disproportionally many children from the families of immigrants get taken away from them in Norway as compared to other countries (such as Denmark) and the organization that looks after children’s rights and can legally take children away is not exactly transparent. Since all the info about particular cases is secret (to protect the privacy of the children), it is hard to say anything about the validity of their actions. Regardless, I would quite suspicious about an organization which has such rights and cannot be checked from the outside.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Tibor

            Problem with that is those children are going to be voters and they will not vote for a government that denies them welfare. And you can’t get rid of their right to vote either, since its unconstitutional and would be massively unpopular even with non-immigrants.

          • Tibor says:

            @ Wrong Species:

            I do not see why they would want to do that (anymore than the general population). By the time they get the right to vote for that, they have no more incentive to do so than anyone else. In fact, less. Because they and their parents had to earn the right for welfare by not being on welfare for a long enough, being able to support themselves without it. Such people they should not be too keen on paying the welfare bills of others. Or why do you think they would?

          • Richard says:

            @Tibor, re Norway

            Said organisation can and is checked from the outside, just not by the media. Courts and the families involved have full access to their own case files and can choose to publish if they so desire. The fact that nobody does may indicate that cases are rarely without merit?

      • anonymous says:

        I have no sophisticated understanding of these things but I don’t see how letting people in first world countries without allowing them to vote and take welfare can work politically in the long term.
        The percentage of foreigners would then continue to grow; when they are 30% or maybe 50%, possibly after a few generations, the native citizen will get called a “caste” and an “aristocracy” and this will be deemed incompatible with the ideology of democracy.

        • ddreytes says:

          That’s pretty much the line taken by a lot of progressives who oppose similar proposals. So yes, I think that it’s a fairly legitimate issue with the proposal.

          (To be clear, the progressive line is that it’s incompatible with the principle of democracy and would create a group of permanent second class citizens. Not so much that it’s a backdoor way of allowing more immigration – I think most progressives would be fine with more immigration, they’d just rather do it up front)

        • Tibor says:

          That is a valid argument but against a different, or rather a much stricter policy. I mentioned the Czech system, where a non-EU national has to obtain a so called permanent residency first which then guarantees above all three things – no need for more visas, voting rights in municipal elections and eligibility for welfare payments. The permanent residency can only be requested after 5 years of living in the country with a valid working visa or 10 years with a study visa and having a stable income and accommodation. I think there is also a possibility not to have a stable income and just show the immigration office that you have enough money on your account so that you are not unlikely to need welfare, but that is hardly the majority case.

          Such a system does not produce a mass of long-term second class citizens and should at the same time work as a disincentive for those people who would come to the country primarily to benefit from the social welfare, because they have to spend at least the first 5 years in the country without any access to it. At the same time, it does not represent a big obstruction to any immigrant who is qualified enough to find a job and therefore can take care of himself. Of course, another thing is how the working visas are obtained, but one could get away without them completely (you would still probably want to register the people somehow to be able to verify the length of stay, but it does not have to be a visa).

      • Jaskologist says:

        Having a bunch of native-born second-class citizens is a situation ripe for revolution. America’s founding fathers provided a path to statehood for their territories precisely because they feared such a situation (having revolted themselves because they were in such a situation).

        • onyomi says:

          Might this not be good? The United States could break into some smaller nations, as it should anyway.

          Related, even if one simply allowed for greater immigration without eliminating any welfare, that itself might gradually erode support for welfare over time, as people are less likely to support welfare for people “not like me.”

          All this might sound disastrous, but it sounds good to me. Why? Because we need less patriotic solidarity, not more:

          http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/01/the_stranger.html

          http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2014/08/natives_are_bad.html

          Increased cosmpolitan tolerance and decreased support for the welfare state? Sounds like win-win to me.

          • John Schilling says:

            Breaking up into smaller nations is not the usual outcome of a revolution. Usually you get one really dysfunctional nation ruled by whoever has the most guns. Military dictatorship is one of the better outcomes.

          • onyomi says:

            The United States didn’t try to take over the British Empire when they seceded.

          • ddreytes says:

            @ Onyomi

            Maybe we should have.

            U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            The United States didn’t try to take over the British Empire when they seceded.

            Depending on who you ask, the War of 1812 was driven by the U.S.’s desire to grab a sizable chunk of the British Empire (Canada).

          • Protagoras says:

            @ReluctantEngineer, I used to read a history newsgroup, when newsgroups were a thing, and I remember one of the most common topics was the ceremonial re-enactment of the War of 1812 in the form of an argument between the Americans and the Canadians over who won (which is, of course, only debateable because the two sides disagree about what the war was about, with the Canadians taking the view you suggest).

          • walpolo says:

            So the US should break up into smaller nations?

            Which of these smaller nations gets the nukes?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            So the US should break up into smaller nations?

            Which of these smaller nations gets the nukes?

            Ukraine, of course. It’s only fair.

        • Tibor says:

          I probably wrote my argument pretty bad, because everyone seems to misunderstand it in exactly the same way…but I do not really see why one would have to have a huge number of native-born second class citizens. By the way, in Switzerland, non-citizens make up almost a quarter of the population. Now, most of them are not native-born, but those who are have to wait at least until they are 15 before they can get the citizenship (if I understand their rules correctly). They do not seem to have any rebellions going on…Hmm, maybe that is why every Swiss man has a government-issued gun at home 😀

      • DavidS says:

        Yeah, this is a tough one. I think this is by no means the only example of this sort of thing – we also disapprove of someone who takes a homeless person in and provides them food and shelter in return for sex, even if there’s no coercion and they can leave at any time. Basically, you’re allowed not to get involved, but once you are involved you need to meet certain moral standards. I think this very blog had a post on this at some point?

        Although it can obviously create stupid outcomes, I’m not sure this moral instinct is entirely harmful – in a game theory type interaction between the powerful and the weak, the larger the range of options, the more the powerful can fine-tune it to benefit them more, often to the fairly direct cost of the weak. In this particular case, if you’re in a situation where Western countries essentially need immigrants to continue their prosperity, they will ultimately accept them. Providing a route to get most of the upside while holding back as many benefits (literally and metaphorically) as possible feels rather like exploitation.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, one thing is immigrants, another are immigrants with prospects of living most of their lives on welfare. You would like to sort them out somehow. Countries such as Switzerland and Singapore (not exactly Europe, but never mind 🙂 ) do it through very strict selection and various categories of foreigners based both on their nationality and qualifications. I think postponing welfare access is a much more elegant and also in a sense just solution.

          My point is that if you do neither and keep an expansive and expensive welfare state, you will easily end up with the problems that the EU is facing today. It is not the end of the world, but it is not something trivial either. Even from a humanitarian perspective, it does not seem to make much sense to me. There are much more efficient ways of helping poor people/countries than paying them social welfare in your country. 330€ a month can help a lot more people in Africa than in Germany. According to Givewell, on average $3340 is needed to save one life through Against Malaria Foundation. This is less than an asylum seeker in Germany gets from the state in 10 months, and that does not take into account the related costs and costs of other services such as free language classes etc. Of course, one thing are people suffering out of sight in Africa, another thing is when they come to you. I mean, it should not make a difference, because it is still the same people, but human nature is like that.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve been thinking about this, especially regarding the claim that countries can have either a guaranteed basic income or open borders, but not both.

      Suppose you instituted a GBI, but said that you have to be a second generation (third generation?) citizen to get it.

      Presumably some of the native population keeps working, but some doesn’t. Immigrants, on the other hand, all work hard and pay taxes, which go into the GBI for the natives.

      Now natives have a selfish incentive to import as many immigrants as possible. First generation immigrants are usually very hard working and likely to be pretty okay with this plan; by the time they’ve become decadent and entitled they qualify for the GBI anyway. There is some natural inequality built into the system, but immigrants will at least know that their children (or grandchildren) will get the same benefits as the native citizens.

      Granted this is a giant Ponzi scheme, but given that it only ends when most people are in First World countries, maybe deal with that problem when we come to it?

      • LTP says:

        What happens when the immigrants and their immediate descendants become a large voting block? Surely they will vote to give the GBI to everybody, even immigrants, and then the system falls apart.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, they could obtain voting rights at the same time as they obtain the welfare rights. At that moment, they have much less incentive to vote for basic income for everyone, they already have it anyway. Of course, they could have family members or friends who still are not eligible for the GBE (and cannot vote). But because everyone realizes that the GBE stands as it currently depends on an “underclass” of fresh immigrants without acess to it who pay the whole show, they won’t vote for it either.

        • Adam says:

          Why? The history of actual immigration is pretty rife with examples of groups of people making it to a new country, reaping the rewards of being there, and then wanting to limit future immigration.

      • Tibor says:

        Sounds like a crazy enough idea that it could work :))

        But anyway, to be fair, one would have to institute something quite opposite – immigrants do not have an access to welfare, but do not have to pay into the welfare system either. This is what I miss in the Czech system. However, it might have a strange bug/feature (if you are a libertarian it is a feature, otherwise probably a bug) of people revoking their citizenship and “immigrating” into their country and paying lower taxes as a result. Basically this would probably break the state-run welfare system. Of course, one could also patch it by creating a legal group of “former citizens” who have to pay for welfare even if they do not qualify for it.

      • Leonard says:

        given that it only ends when most people are in First World countries…

        That’s not given. Actually, the scheme ends when most people are in a Third World country, formerly a First World country. Then they cannot afford GBI any more.

    • DavidS says:

      This is interesting. From a UK perspective
      1. Most people in the UK probably believe that immigrants would most like to come here. At least, that’s what the press tends to say
      2. In terms of your nationalist/anti-immigrant parties, the UK Independence Party won the last European elections (and got a fair chunk of the General Election vote but only one seat, due to our electoral system). Their name probably gives a good sense of their general philosophy – they started anti-EU but are now probably more seen as anti-immigrant, though obviously the two link.

      My main issue with your post is the idea that you’d remove the welfare state and “expect the private charities and individual savings to provide for the “social safety net” and pensions about as well or even better in some respects than the state does today”. I don’t know if this is a Friedman position, but it feels a bit like having ones cake and eating it. At the risk of massive derail: is there evidence this works? Or does it rely on an idealised position (i.e. ‘we cut state support and reduced taxes a bit, and things got worse for the poor and vulnerable. But that’s because of the distorting effect of the remaining welfare state – if we just remove all of it, these problems will sort themselves out’)

      • Tibor says:

        1. I think this is true to a certain degree as well, but Germany is closer and actually welcoming, unlike the UK. Had the UK instituted the same policies as Germany, it would have been probably at least as overwhelmed. It is further away, but so is Sweden and actually if you go from Libya over the Mediterranean sea, then UK might be about as far away as Germany. By the way, Britain is often criticized (along with the central-eastern European countries) in the German press for its hard-line attitude towards the asylum seekers…Zum Beispiel: http://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article146002823/Das-Ende-der-unertraeglichen-britischen-Abstinenz.html

        2. Anti-EU and anti-immigration are definitely correlated, but the correlation is hardly perfect. I am rather pro free immigration, if perhaps not under all conditions, and anti-EU (I think that the no-tariff zone and free movement of labor are a great thing, but this is where it should have stopped), although I am not sure I would want the end of it right now as it would probably not mean an minimal “EU take 2”, but renewal of tariffs and restrictions to movement of labor instead. But let’s try not to derail the thread further 🙂

        3. First of all, I don’t think the welfare state is actually that much aimed at the really needy people nowadays. My standard example is the medicine. Of course this can be different in other countries and there are countries that do not have socialized healthcare or at least not entirely. I am describing the situation in the Czech republic, although I would be surprised it to be so much different in other countries with socialized healthcare (so the UK for example) There are drugs for everyday use, against flu and other common diseases that are partially subsidized from the government-run healthcare insurance (this is true of Germany as well). These drugs tend to be relatively cheap. Then there are drugs used by people with severe but rare conditions, they are really expensive, but only used by very few people who do not represent a sizeable block in the elections anyway. These drugs are also subsidized, but not enough to cover most of the costs, so these people end up paying a lot of money for expensive medicine – which is of course even harder for them as they often are unable to have a full-time job for health reasons (I am not sure if this is better in Germany or not, I only know about the Czech situation form the media anyway, because thankfully nobody close to me suffers from anything too serious which requires expensive medication). If the system were designed to help those who need it the most, it would cut down or eliminate the subsidy of non-essential drugs like aspirin and direct that to those special cases. But from the politician’s point of view, this is a very bad deal. It means taking away something from almost 100% of the population to give to less than 1%. Consequentially, this means losing a lot of votes. I do not think this is an exception but rather a standard example of how the welfare system works.

        If you eliminate all of it (and at the same time reduce the taxes appropriately…which is even less realistic 🙂 ), it is not all going to be used on welfare. However, as people usually are better at making use of their money than other people deciding for them, which means that I would expect the overall wealth to increase, and as the system is (in my opinion) grossly inefficient in achieving its stated goals, the current state of things does not seem like too high a bar to reach in terms of actual help being done. Private charities tend to be much more efficient than those run by the state (because they are competing with other charities and don’t get money automatically) and a lot of them do a great good, and there seems to have been a reasonably good private social safety net in 19th century England, at least if we take into account the relative poverty of the whole population at the time.

        But I could be wrong of course. The welfare state is a big drain on the national budget of all countries in Europe, but it is not the only one and one could still go to the libertarian direction quite a long way without getting rid of it. Milton Friedman actually proposed a negative income tax to replace the welfare system, which is roughly something similar, although not quite the same, as a general basic income. That is certainly one way to make the welfare state both more efficient and cheaper, so a good way to go if it turns out that you end up massive poverty and general misery in a society which delegates welfare to private means only.

        In any case my belief in the superiority of private voluntary welfare to state run version of it is not essential to the rest of the thing, which is also why I did not just finish with “and so we just have to get rid of the welfare state and problem solved”. It would also have been boring that way 🙂

        • DavidS says:

          Really interesting comment. Just a couple of things
          – In the UK, the NHS basically pays for drugs entirely or doesn’t. So there isn’t the situation of expensive drugs being part-subsidised – although really expensive drugs won’t be paid for at all. It’s slightly more complicated, but that picture is 95% accurate
          – On immigration/EU linkage, I just meant that while UKIP are focused on anti-immigration, they have a fairly obvious line with ‘how can we control our borders when signed up to free movement of people’

          On the private charity/efficiency of private sector stuff – this is obviously a much bigger topic in itself. Interesting what you say on 19th century as that’s certainly not the public image (and of course there was a real but rather brutal safety net in terms of the Poor Law, which I suppose you could argue undermined charity. After all, why give to charity – are there not prisons? Are there not workhouses?)

          • Tibor says:

            NHS: I didn’t know that, good to know. The cost of some of those rare drugs can go into tents of thousands of CZK a year, so let’s say up to something like 3 000 pounds. Now, if you pay more than about 800 pounds a year for medication, everything above that is then refunded by the state. But this can still be quite a lot for people with severe medical conditions in a country which (outside of Prague) is economically about at the level of the Scottish Highlands or Southern Spain (http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/mapToolClosed.do?tab=map&init=1&plugin=1&language=en&pcode=tgs00006&toolbox=types ). Another stupid thing is that one needs a prescription from a doctor to get the subsidy…so some people go to a doctor when they have an influenza to get the prescription and therefore the sale. But this actually means additional costs for the system. In any case, as a rule I would expect any state-run welfare to be inefficient and to be strongly influenced by rent-seeking, even at a cost of those who “need” the help the most. At the same time, healthcare lobbyists will also do their part to mess the system up. Private-run welfare does not suffer from these problems, so 1 dollar given to them translates into much help than 1 dollar paid to the welfare system. How much more? That would be an interesting empirical question along with “how much would the people be willing to give in terms of money and time to charity in the absence of state-run welfare and accordingly reduced taxes? I think that the first question is probably not as hard to answer as the second one. But one could try and see and one would not even have to cut the welfare down entirely at once.

            UKIP: I agree that they indeed are anti-immigration. A shame that, as their economic policies seem to be on the classical-liberal side otherwise. I have the same problem with the Czech Free Party (although it is probably less anti-immigration than UKIP or rather there is a more liberal and a more conservative win and they are about evenly balanced).

            19th century:

            For example the chapter about friendly societies in Victorian England in this http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/cw47.pdf (starts at page 26 of the file /18 of the essay) is interesting. Of course, it comes from a classical-liberal think-tank so it is not unbiased. Assuming that the numbers are not made up though, it does not look like too bad a system. And of course, one has to adjust for the fact that what is considered poverty today in 1st world countries would be almost luxury in 18th or even 19th century England (or many 3rd world-countries today). However, a “friendly society” of fellow workers who support each other in time of need, sort of a self-insurance union, sounds like quite a neat concept to me. At the same time it seems to have also helped people remain part of the society and create a sense of purpose, rather than alienation and a loss of self-confidence and sense of self-worth which often comes with long-term living on welfare today. But of course, a liberal think-tank is going to look at it with a bit rose-tinted glasses.

          • DavidS says:

            From what I understand, UKIP started as anti-EU, pure and simple. But they’ve got various wings and elements that basically reflect who’s most exercised about the EU and most anti-establishment at any given time. 10-15 years ago they were indeed pretty classic liberal, and had quite a few libertarians. But now they’ve gone much more in the populist left direction, as there are lots of people who historically have voted Labour but aren’t happy with various things, including immigration, and generally see Labour as becoming a ‘metropolitan elite’ party. So last election they in many ways positioned themselves as left of Labour.

          • Tibor says:

            EDIT to the previous post:

            I was wrong with the drug cost limit, either it was changed or I remembered it wrong, so sorry about that. It is only about 150 pounds a year (above which it is all refunded) or half for children and people over 65 years of age. I guess this renders my “standard example” more or less invalid.

            @ DavidS I see this tendency among other libertarian leaning parties in Europe as well. For example the German AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) also had a more liberal and a more conservative wing…the conservative wing ended up taking over the party entirely this year at a party conference (where the former head of the party Bernd Lucke, who was more liberal leaning was completely outvoted by the supporters of Frauke Petry – she was the head of the conservative wing and currrently the leader of the whole party). However, AfD has a support of about 4%, it is not clear whether this change will grant them more or less support, but party turmoil usually does not help. Regardless, they ceased to be interesting for me by that latest move.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          The proportion of people who could potentially get a serious illness they couldnt afford to treat themselves is close to 99% Its not like a one off money transfer to all the red headed left handers. Its more like insutance, and often quite politically popular where it exists.

          • Tibor says:

            There is probably some turth to that but most of the illnesses I had in mind are genetic. You are either born with the condition or not. For example, there is an illness called epidermolysis bullosa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidermolysis_bullosa) which is very rare and the treatment is very expensive. I know of a private charity dedicated solely to helping people with those conditions.

            On the other hand, I was wrong with the drug cost limit, either it was changed or I remembered it wrong, so sorry about that. It is only about 150 pounds a year (above which it is all refunded) or half for children and people over 65 years of age. I guess this makes my “standard example” more or less invalid. However, given that there is a charity raising money for treating rare conditions like epidermolysis bullosa, this does not apparently cover other medical costs.

            More importantly I think that the main problem stays the same. While I was misguided about the actual policy regarding the drugs, the reason why it works is probably because of the argument you gave. But welfare subsidies encourage rent-seeking and it encourages politicians to give the welfare above all to the groups that represent most votes, not those who would benefit from it the most. There is surely an overlap between those groups sometimes, but if you end up giving to 5 people to help one of them (you would not ideally want to give anything to the other 4), then your system is very wasteful and would require a lot less money to meet the same goals without the voting/rent seeking mechanism embedded in it.

  31. onyomi says:

    My favorite living philosopher on how we might create real checks and balances in our government:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd5aJUVZzgw

    Maybe the most interesting proposal is the creation of a “negative” legislature of elected officials with the power only to repeal legislation, and who would be genuinely opposed to the “positive” legislature in a way which the three branches of government today really aren’t (they are supposed to “check” each other, but really have no incentive to do so).

    • As someone who doesn’t pay much attention to politics but finds some of the political discussions here interesting, I learned some new and interesting things from that video.

      However, I’m not convinced that the speaker’s idea of negative legislature would actually try to limit the power of the positive legislature. It sounds like the same mistake as Alexander Hamilton’s mistake he talked about, assuming that the three branches would automatically compete.

      Since the negative legislature is defined in opposition to the positive legislature, it gets more important if the positive legislature gets more important. So there is some incentive for the negative legislature to let the positive legislature pass lots of laws, so they can feel more important by repealing them. One possible result would be that the positive legislature just passes lots of “decoy” laws along with their regular ones, the negative legislature shoots down the decoys, and then the normal laws get passed just like the current system.

      To convince me that the negative legislature would work, one would have to explain why government divisions want to seize more power – even though they are composed of citizens who might, in theory, recognize the benefit of a limited government. I don’t know the explanation for sure, but if I go with the simple assumption that employees of each division likes to feel important, then that motivation would make the negative legislature not very useful, and susceptible to the same lack of checks as the current system.

      I also wish that the speaker had acknowledged that the checks and balances system isn’t totally useless. While, as the video taught me, it fails to limit the power of the government as a whole, the system still successfully limits the power of bad apples and idiots within the government.

      • onyomi says:

        There is a separate Q and A video in which he addresses some of these questions:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHYorT9WPZU

        Specifically, presumably the voters would not be so dumb as to notice that the positive legislature was only passing laws with the expectation that they’d get repealed and that the negative legislature was just repealing those same laws. What is more, neither set of legislators would fail to notice that they were engaging in a pure farce. As much as most politicians don’t mind engaging in a bunch of theatrics, I think most of them at least like to think they are doing something productive for society.

        The problem is, we have framed “doing something” for society only in terms of creating new laws, rather than eliminating bad ones. To have a set of people who saw it as their job to eliminate bad jobs would make a big difference, I think, because it would call attention to this very necessity. Right now there are probably many, many mildly harmful laws on the books which, if they had to vote on it, even the positive legislators would be okay with repealing, but which simply remain beneath their notice. Because they want to pass *new* legislation to talk about all the stuff they did for their constituents. They don’t want to go to their constituents and say “I spent the past four years combing through the statutes and repealing a bunch of unnecessary occupational licensing laws.” They want to say “I helped pass this NEW legislation.”

        And I think these two branches *would* be opposed to each other because of the structure he proposes. If anything, my worry when first hearing this idea was that they’d hate each other *too* much. Imagine how unhappy it would make Nancy Pelosi and co. if they went to all the trouble of getting a bill through both houses and signed only to have those “negative” people down the street just repeal it. They would vilify each other for sure, but that might actually be a sign of a government with actual checks and balances. Congress and the President sometimes vilify the Supreme Court when they think a decision won’t go their way, so maybe that’s a sign the Court is performing some of its function, but the court still doesn’t have an incentive to check the power of the other branches; it is merely separate.

        Under the current system, there is really no reason to expect the branches will check each others’ power. *Separating* power into branches is an improvement over authoritarianism, and the US system succeeds on that count (and I think Huemer gives it credit for adhering to its own rules in terms of structure and procedure, if not in terms of object-level issues). Where it fails is in assuming that the separate branches would somehow check each others’ power rather than colluding to increase their collective power.

        As Huemer notices, the government has been pretty successful at following its own rules when it comes to procedural and structural matters, perhaps because it’s harder to “fudge” them: if the constitution says the President gets to stay for 4 years, he can’t just stick around for a 5th year and hope no one notices. The strength of the structural change idea is that it takes advantage of our historical knowledge of what does seem to restrain government and what does not. Telling the government specifics about what sorts of laws they may and may not pass clearly does not work, but structuring the government in such a way that they are incentivized against the tendency to overlegislate and never repeal anything might.

        • John Schilling says:

          Most of the voters seem to have failed to notice that actual legislatures pass a lot of laws with the expectation that they will be struck down by the courts, that presidents and governors sign these laws with the same expectation, and that presidents and governors go right on nominating and legislatures confirming judges who will predictably strike down the laws they pass. This is a standard dodge for politicians who have to deal with stupid but popular proposals like anti-flag-burning laws – pass the damn fool thing, sign it, and give a speech piously denouncing Those Damned Activist Judges (who we appointed and put beyond the reach of your retaliation) Thwarting the Will of the People.

          It works. Almost nobody is demanding term limits for the judiciary or retaliating against the legislators who confirmed the “activist judges”. Voting for anti-flag-burning laws (or whatever) that will surely be struck down, nonetheless boosts a politician’s ratings and makes for a useful campaigning point. From the public dialogue I have seen, most people are unaware or uncaring that this is a deliberate strategy.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m okay with branches of government to colluding to waste time if that means they do less actual legislating.

        • Anonymous says:

          >presumably the voters would not be so dumb as to notice that the positive legislature was only passing laws with the expectation that they’d get repealed and that the negative legislature was just repealing those same laws.

          The average voter probably isn’t even aware of more than a handful of laws proposed, much less how many are passed or repealed.

        • switchnode says:

          They don’t want to go to their constituents and say “I spent the past four years combing through the statutes and repealing a bunch of unnecessary occupational licensing laws.” They want to say “I helped pass this NEW legislation.”

          Cheap hack: one-for-one rule?

  32. moridinamael says:

    Scott and/or anybody into conworlding,

    I was wondering if you could point me to your favorite resources for conworlding.

    I have two very young children and it occurred to me recently that it might be both fun and educational to embark on an exercise in “guided conworlding” with them. I can teach them about space and geology by guiding them through the “creation” of a planet; I can slip in ecological concepts as we craft a fictional biosphere; when they get older, we’ll be designing governments and economic systems.

    There’s no upper limit to how complex this can get if I put in the time as their conworlding-DM. My favorite part of this as an idea is that it grows with the kids. Right now, inventing weird animals is probably about their speed. Eventually, maybe we’ll need to build and launch a model rocket (or a rocket in Kerbal Space program, maybe) that contains supplies needed by the civilization on our planet, learning about rockets and orbits as we go.

    I feel pretty confident that I can make this fun for them without any resources besides my own time and imagination, but it seems like conworlders have laid a lot of groundwork for this type of undertaking, so I’d appreciate any resources or insight you could offer.

  33. brad says:

    I feel like a bit of old man asking this, but how do you tumblr?

    A couple of times I’ve followed a link from here over there. The actual thing being linked is easy enough to see, with the deeply nested quotes thing, but to try to follow the conversation past that seems awkward at best. They’ll be a notes button, but most of them will just be likes and a bunch of them will be to posts further up in the chain that I’ve already read but with their own notes button. Is there any threaded view of an entire conversation? Frankly it seems even worse than twitter …

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You have two options:

      1. Go to specific people’s tumblrs that you want to read, and read them like any other blog, without much of a conversational feature.

      2. Get your own Tumblr and follow a lot of people in a community, and each post they make will appear on your dashboard which will allow you to follow converastions in real time.

  34. Wrong Species says:

    Looking 50 years in the future, what will be the new progressive cause? Gay marriage has already won, Transgenders are probably next and then probably incest/polygamy and then open borders. So after all that, what’s next?

    • walpolo says:

      AI rights, if AGIs are invented?

    • John Schilling says:

      I expect income inequality to become a big progressive cause in rather less than 50 years. Probably to the extent of reinventing Marxism, claiming credit for the idea, and folding it into Social Justice generally.

      • ddreytes says:

        It’s really difficult for me to see Marxism reinvented, just because (a) Marxism really is a fairly specific package of ideas and (b) leftists and progressives, especially leftist theorists and intellectuals, are mostly aware of the existence of Marx.

        A revival of Marx maybe. Although, again, I kind of hope not, just because I don’t think Marxism is particularly strong at this point in time as a theoretical package.

        • John Schilling says:

          Marxism is a fairly specific package with a fairly bad reputation on account of negative outcomes from the historic implementations. Its revival will necessarily have to occur under a different name, and I think this is more likely to occur through people randomly taking bits of Marxism (either adapted from the old-school form or independently reinvented) and tacking them on to Economic Social Justice or whatever it winds up being called, than through a deliberately cynical attempt by old-school Marxists to rebrand the philosophy.

          I also expect it to eschew calls for revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system in favor of taxation and regulation of capitalism that asymptotically approaches the same end. If the neo-Marxists/ESJWs/whatever wind up winning, there will still be corporations and boards of directors in a hundred years, with as much relevance as members of the Electoral College today.

          But, labor theory of value, the bourgeoisie/proletariat distinction and the inevitability of class conflict, these ideas are already coming back under new names (e.g. “the 1% / 99%”).

          • ddreytes says:

            Sure. I would definitely expect leftist thought to continue to be strongly influenced by Marx and Marxists (particularly people like Gramsci). I would characterize that more as the normal process of intellectual influence, rather than a hodgepodge scavenging picking-over of the bones, but that’s mostly just purely a semantic difference.

            I do think that whatever ideology comes about, it’s probably not something that could accurately be called Marxism, because I would expect it to lack a lot of the central features of Marxism as an ideology (particularly the Marxist conception of history and the complete and unchallenged centrality of class and economy as THE drivers of history). I’m also not sure you can really gloss stuff like ‘One percent / 99 percent’ as bourgeoise/proletariat distinction and inevitability of class conflict – the way that people talk about these things is fairly historically grounded and contingent in a way that Marxist analysis usually is not, and also can’t really be mapped very accurately onto Marxist class analysis.

            Maybe this is too much of a semantic argument, I don’t know. I certainly agree that income and wealth and class will be major issues for the left going forward. I just don’t think they’ll be approached in a fundamentally Marxist way. Post-Marxist maybe if that’s even a thing.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “Its revival will necessarily have to occur under a different name, and I think this is more likely to occur through people randomly taking bits of Marxism […] and tacking them on to Economic Social Justice or whatever it winds up being called […]”

            This is already happening.

            https://02varvara.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/00-democratic-socialism-06-06-15.jpg

          • aerdeap says:

            Isn’t this pretty much currently existing (economic) leftism?

      • walpolo says:

        >I expect income inequality to become a big progressive cause in rather less than 50 years.

        This may well be right, but…

        >Probably to the extent of reinventing Marxism, claiming credit for the idea, and folding it into Social Justice generally.

        SJ is a famously upper-class movement that has devoted a lot of energy to actively arguing that class inequality is *not important* compared with race and sex inequality. Once you bring income inequality front and center, you are all of a sudden trying to benefit many people that SJ activists don’t feel are deserving of further benefits (lower class white males).

        I think if that if income inequality becomes a big issue for future progressives, this will involve a repudiation of Tumblr-style SJ.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          >I think if that if income inequality becomes a big issue for future progressives, this will involve a repudiation of Tumblr-style SJ.

          Some may say this is already happening.

        • Nita says:

          actively arguing that class inequality is *not important* compared with race and sex inequality

          Could you give an example of this?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “Could you give an example of this?”

            Is some variation of “I grew up poor” a valid answer to being asked to check my privilege? Because I’ve never, ever seen that work, and I seem to recall reading a fair bit about how the grinding poverty I grew up in isn’t “structural”, and therefore isn’t nearly as important as the color of my skin or my genital configuration.

            If you need live examples, Larry Corriea’s blog contains a few I’m sure I could dig up.

          • ddreytes says:

            @ FacelessCraven –

            The Social Justice answer here would be that “I grew up poor” is a valid answer to certain kinds of privilege (IE economic and class privilege) but not a valid answer to other kinds of privilege (IE racial or gender privilege), because privilege is fundamentally multidimensional and intersectional.

            I can’t speak to the things that people actually say or how this works in practice, or how they prioritize different kinds of privilege (which frankly I think is a pretty silly idea in both theory and practice, but what do I know).

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >Could you give an example of this?

            In my own biased, non representative experience, this is never explicitly stated. However, what does happen is that either the subject of wealth is suspiciously ignored or is given, at best, equal weigh as the other “axes of privilege” (which I guess is a possible opinion to have, even if I disagree with it strongly).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @ddreytes – “I can’t speak to the things that people actually say or how this works in practice, or how they prioritize different kinds of privilege (which frankly I think is a pretty silly idea in both theory and practice, but what do I know).”

            The current status quo certainly seems to involve prioritization of privilege, which frequently results in “class inequality is *not important* compared with race and sex inequality”.

            your answer seems to boil down to class being relevant when conflict occurs between members of the same race or gender, which would again imply that class is a secondary consideration of lesser importance.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Whatever Happened To Anonymous – “In my own biased, non representative experience, this is never explicitly stated.”

            When a raised-wealthy, well-educated, upper-class woman tells a man raised by illiterate parents in a dirt-poor Portuguese immigrant farming community that it’s time for him to shut up and give the “less-privilaged” voices a chance, it seems to me that the principle is being stated fairly explicitly.

          • ddreytes says:

            @FacelessCraven –

            My answer would be that class inequality is a different thing than gender or race inequality, that multiple kinds of inequality can be present or absent in any given situation, and that they can reinforce each other or cleave against each other in a multitude of different ways. I don’t think it makes sense to assign a hierarchy of them at all. This does result in more complexity, probably, but I’m okay with that.

            I agree that the current status quo puts far too much emphasis on prioritizing different varieties of privilege. I think that is silly, wrong, and fairly useless.

            When a raised-wealthy, well-educated, upper-class woman tells a man raised by illiterate parents in a dirt-poor Portuguese immigrant farming community that it’s time for him to shut up and give the “less-privilaged” voices a chance, it seems to me that the principle is being stated fairly explicitly.

            I think that person is revealing the principle on which they are operating.

            I also think that person is being dumb, and fairly dickheadishly so. I think the concept is capable of being used in a better, more useful, more nuanced way than that. To what extent people actually use it in a better way, I can’t say. I really don’t feel competent to make a sweeping judgment about the SJ movement as a whole.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @ddreytes – ” I don’t think it makes sense to assign a hierarchy of them at all. This does result in more complexity, probably, but I’m okay with that.”

            Alright, outrage expended for the day, and my apologies for the uncharitable tone. The thing is, how is it possible to avoid hierarchy? “Justice” implies addressing actual conflicts in an impartial way. If that’s going to happen in the real world, you have to be able to sort and compare claims, which means you have to have some sort of measurement, some division into lesser and greater, less and more. That’s a hierarchy. Privilege necessarily implies “less privileged” and “more privileged”, and then you have to have some way of telling who is which. Otherwise how is the term useful?

          • ddreytes says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            I think it’s usually going to come down to the specifics of the situation. I don’t think there’s really a good programmatic answer; I think it requires the use of judgment and reason.

            I don’t think it’s theoretically possible to rank privileges that way because I don’t think they just differ in magnitude. Each is a distinct social phenomenon that manifests in different ways – like, gender privilege and racial privilege function in very different ways and have different content. It’s kind of apples and oranges. And even if it were possible to rank different forms of privilege hierarchically, the fact that privilege can function differently in different circumstances and can combine and interact in complicated ways makes it necessary in practice to adopt a more nuanced view. I think we can try to develop more nuanced understandings of privilege which can help ensure that our judgments are consistent, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be programmatic.

            I realize that’s probably not a very satisfactory answer. I don’t really have a better one unfortunately (and FWIW this tends to be how I think on a lot of different issues, so).

          • walpolo says:

            >I don’t think it’s theoretically possible to rank privileges that way because I don’t think they just differ in magnitude.

            This seems pretty implausible when you try to spell it out.

            Isn’t it obvious that the racially underprivileged position of black people is worse than that of Asian people, for example? (In the US.)

            Or is it your position that privileges can be ranked within a category, but that ranking the categories from best to worst doesn’t make sense?

          • ddreytes says:

            Or is it your position that privileges can be ranked within a category, but that ranking the categories from best to worst doesn’t make sense?

            Yeah, sorry if I was unclear, but that’s pretty much what I’m trying to argue. Racial privilege and gender privilege are not basically the same thing but with different magnitude.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            > Racial privilege and gender privilege are not basically the same thing but with different magnitude.

            It might not be the same, and it might be hard to rank them, but that doesn’t mean they are equivalent.

            It is clearly much worse to be black than a woman in the US, the reverse is true for the Middle East. Being poor is worse than pretty much every single other thing in the bag.

          • ddreytes says:

            @WHTA

            2 things here.

            First, if privilege is going to have any meaning at all, it clearly has to mean something distinct from “how bad the life experience of the average person with this trait is.” It’s about the structural advantage or disadvantage that accrues to different groups of people, not the number of Suffering Credits each group has built up. I acknowledge that it’s often used that way, but I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.

            Second, I don’t think they’re equivalent; I think that they’re different and function in different ways, and to understand them you need to look at the content and the operation of that privilege.

        • ddreytes says:

          There is a conflict like you’re describing, but I’m not sure you’re accurately capturing the dynamics.

          It’s not so much that class inequality is unimportant to the SJ movement – I think most of them would in principle support policies dedicated to addressing the issue. It’s more that they argue strenuously that racial and gender inequality are *separate* from class and income. That is to say, racial inequality cannot be reduced to class, and economic policies will not be sufficient to solve those issues. That, if you got rid of poverty, there would still be racism. These are basically different axes.

          And of course in terms of their own priorities they care more about racial or gender issues than about class issues.

          Of course I can’t see into the dark heart of the social justice movement – perhaps in their loneliest loneliness they really are just opposed to anything that might help lower-class white men. I don’t know. That’s certainly not their intellectual objection, though.

          • walpolo says:

            ddreytes,

            Thank you for correcting my lapse in charity. This is indeed what they say.

            What I was trying to get at (badly) with the “less important” thing is that wealth/class inequality is usually not lumped under the heading of “privilege” in SJ circles, while identity inequalities are.

            So for example, in Scalzi’s analogy of privilege as “difficulty setting,” wealth counts as a “stat” rather than part of the “difficulty.”

            http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

          • John Schilling says:

            Social Justice seems quite comfortable with the fact that racial inequality is a different thing than gender inequality, that there are really many different kinds of inequality that intersect under the general umbrella of Social Justice. It seems quite plausible that economic inequality will eventually fit into that system.

          • ddreytes says:

            @ walpolo – fair enough. I think it would be pretty silly to consider wealth/class inequality as something that does not result in privilege. I think Scalzi is clearly wrong in classifying wealth that way in that piece. In conversations that I’ve had, people have usually understood class as something in the same category as gender or race. But I can’t really make any definitive statements there.

            @ John Schilling – I pretty much agree with you. Although intersectionality is something that seems to be more difficult in practice than in theory. But I think the categorization you describe would make a lot of sense.

      • AJD says:

        Income equality is already a big progressive cause.

    • Wrong Species says:

      My proposal: the right to love. Not only does prostitution get legalized but everyone gets their own credits.

      • Nita says:

        You can say “sex” here, friend. No need for awkward euphemisms.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          There will be a need when we get the omniprescent social media campaign.

        • John Schilling says:

          If there’s a right to sex, then there’s a right for shy nerdy guys to have sex, even the really creepy ones. And that means someone is going to have to identify the actual specific women who are going to be having sex with each of the shy nerdy possibly creepy guys.

          Progressives don’t have a problem with e.g. a “right” to health care meaning that someone has to ultimately point to a specific doctor and assign them to treat the scary abusive hypochondriac that nobody would ever deal with of their own free will. I’m guessing there will be a problem with the sexual equivalent.

          Or else “right to sex” will just mean “right to try and persuade people to have consensual sex with you”, in which case A: we’ve already got that and B: progressives were never satisfied with “right to try and persuade people to provide medical treatment to you” even when economic means of persuasion were explicitly allowed.

          Hmm, will employers with 50+ employees be required to provide them with sexual partners?

          • Nita says:

            Seriously, “shy” and “nerdy”? Sex workers already deal with much worse clients than that. I’m not going to comment on “creepy” because it’s unclear whether you mean “socially awkward” or “might stab you”.

          • John Schilling says:

            I meant “is perceived by the sex worker as likely to stab them”, whether that perception is accurate or not. I submit that these are probably the second-worst type of client the typical sex worker experiences, with the ones who actually stab them being the worst.

            But, OK, we’ll take the actual rapists and murderers and whatnot out of the equation; presumably those will be put in prison as soon as they are identified. Somewhere among the rest must be The Worst Not-Actually-Violent Clients Sex Workers Have to Deal With. We’re now talking about a “right to sex”, which presumably these people have as much as anyone else.

            Your mission, should you chose to accept it: figure out which sex workers are going to be having sex with which o these hard cases, and how to make sure it actually happens. If not, then you’re talking about something less than a “right to sex”.

        • Wrong Species says:

          It wasn’t meant to be a euphemism. I had in mind the guy who advocated the government trying to set people up for dates but more straight to the point.

    • ddreytes says:

      Race (still). Income inequality and workers’ rights (again).

    • Chalid says:

      Animal rights, as soon as a decent meat substitute is available for a reasonable price.

      • SUT says:

        Agreed.

        Vegetarianism has always been a “pet” cause for people who identify as progressive. The reason it’s not a topic in culture wars / politics is because there isn’t the ability to build a significant bloc vote out of it.

        And this has important implications I think for any prediction of a new cause – will it influence votes? Unlike gay marriage, I don’t think you can keep pushing Black Lives Matter for decades with electoral success.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      A modest guess: disassociative identity disorder will replace autism spectrum disorders as *the* neurodiversity cause pretty soon. It’s relatively uncommon for people to experience DID, but common enough in the media for those few people to subject it to criticism.

      Plus there is some overlap with other progressive concerns (sexual abuse, PTSD, gender identity) that are inevitably talking points regardless of whether progressives focus on proving or disproving those links.

    • chaosmage says:

      During those 50 intervening years, one of the big trends that seems pretty much inevitable now is that ever larger percentages of people become unemployable due to automation, starting with transport (self-driving vehicles) and retail (delivery drones). New needs/jobs will be invented, but it’ll become ever harder to invent a job that cannot immediately be automated away. Right? As the number of people who can never meaningfully contribute to the economy grows and being one of them isn’t widely seen as evidence of personal failings anymore, they’ll explore new identities that are not as shameful as “the unemployed”, and claim their place in society as a new class.

      The last time this happened was in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when the urban proletariat arose from the poorest strata of pre-industrial society and (with the inevitability of its growth shielding it) developed a new claim to power that was alien to the social traditions and legal structures of the states around them. Many political movements since the Industrial Revolution focused on this new class, and were necessary to reform societies that were not designed, and hence unable, to contain it. And it took many attempts by very many people, maybe because that was a very hard problem – even though the urban proletariat, while initially widely regarded as the scum of the earth, was at least obviously useful to the economy. I guess something like that is starting happen, and it’ll take decades and many new social experiments, some of which will fail in new and exciting ways, until lifelong unemployability can be something people can accept as part of their identity and not be reviled for it.

      I have no idea where this will go, but I bet discussions of a basic income are only the start of it. There should eventually be something like an “Unemployed Party”, and probably attempts to extend compulsory education into something like University, and maybe attempts to raise the age of majority. And all of these must shake people’s understanding of what makes a person valuable among their peers. So whatever comes after legal polygamy, I bet it’s connected to that.

  35. ButYouDisagree says:

    A high reliability organization performs extremely complex tasks with a low rate of accidents. For example, nuclear submarines and air traffic control almost never have problems. On the other hand, hospitals perform complex tasks with a much higher rate of accidents. Doctors and other staff make mistakes, patients acquire pressure ulcers and infections, etc.

    What features of operating a nuclear submarine vs operating a hospital account for this difference?

    • walpolo says:

      The operation of a submarine rests on the very precise and well-understood laws of *physics*, while the operation of a hospital rests on the imprecise and poorly-understood laws of *biology*.

      • ButYouDisagree says:

        I’m not asking “Is it easier to understand what’s going on inside a nuclear reactor than inside a human body?”

        Here’s what I’m getting at: operating either a hospital or a nuclear sub involves lots of people doing different and difficult tasks. Without everyone doing their job almost perfectly, and without amazing coordination, an accident is very likely. But the accidents only show up in hospitals, not nuclear subs. Why?

        • walpolo says:

          My point was, the things people are *working on* in subs are much more predictable than the things (human bodies) they work on in a hospital. That makes it easier for people to do their jobs perfectly, easier to set up redundant checks on mistakes (because it’s easier to tell when an action is a mistake), etc.

          But you’re probably also right that a sub is better organized to avoid mistakes than a hospital, and I’m curious what other answers you receive about factors that may contribute.

          • ButYouDisagree says:

            Yeah, there are also accidents where doctors operate on the wrong patient or on a patient’s left leg instead of their right leg. This doesn’t happen all the time, but happens much more often than people suspect.

            That kind of accident doesn’t seem attributable to working on human bodies vs machinery.

          • walpolo says:

            You’re certainly right about that. Like I said, I’m curious about the other pieces of the puzzle (I agree there is more going wrong than just the physics/bio distinction would predict).

          • SUT says:

            1. Sub is a “hedgehog” it knows how to do one thing really well – not implode under water. (And not launch.) It might be embarrassing if things got bad enough you had to surface and evac, but it’s not like the Chinese fighter is going to come strafe you if you do.

            Hospital is a “fox” it needs to know how to service a myriad of health conditions for a variety of customers (everything from thieving drug addict to geriatric grandma).

            2. the hospital is in a “live” situation 99% of the time, while the sub is drilling literally 100% of the time.

            3. The hospital is accountable to share holders, nurses union, patients’ attorney, etc. The sub is accountable to one person in a chain of command.

            4. You don’t even know the true operational effectiveness of the sub. It operates completely off journalists’ sonar; anything embarrassing or scary is usually considered top secret and de-classified only decades later. Using other military activities as a baseline: think about fighter planes crashing into gondolas, or bombers accidentally dropping a nuke in a Georgia swamp.

          • Jaskologist says:

            (via some quick Googling)

            Number of nuclear subs: less than 400

            Number of hospitals in the US: 5,686

            Improbable events are a lot more likely to happen in a hospital, just by virtue of having more chances. And subs do have accidents.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, to be flippant, a submarine is an enclosed, limited space (people can’t just wander in and out when it’s at sea). Control is easier, you know everyone aboard, and if Crewman Jones is futzing up you know it pretty damn sharpish.

          Hospitals, from my limited interaction with them as an occasional patient, have damn-all co-ordination. My favourite example of this is the ER sending me (after hanging around for nine hours waiting) for an ultrasound, only for me to arrive in the scanning department to the lights turned off and all the doors locked – apparently the ER staff had no idea their colleagues clocked off at six p.m. 🙂

          • ButYouDisagree says:

            There might be something here, but I think you’re overstating things. Quickly googling, the crew of a nuclear submarine is ~150 people. And the submarine has to coordinate with many others not actually on the submarine.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Hospitals (usually) don’t explode, so the standards are lower.

      • ButYouDisagree says:

        You’re right that the stakes are lower (but still very high) in a hospital.

        What does it mean to have lower standards, exactly? Less training? Less rigorous protocols?
        Do you have any reason to think hospitals actually have low standards? If they do, that suggests an easy way to fix hospital accidents. Why haven’t hospitals already fixed the problem?

    • Nita says:

      Uncharitable hypotheses:

      1. Doctors feel that they are smart and high-status enough to be above tedious checklists and procedures, whereas everyone on a submarine knows that following orders is their job.

      2. Making a mistake on a submarine can result in your own death.

      More charitable hypotheses:

      3. If you make a mistake on a submarine, the change of state is obvious, whereas patients are already sick in various ways.

      4. The normal operation of a submarine doesn’t involve a frantic rush to save someone’s life.

      Hopefully, things will change for the better in the near future.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        submarines and air traffic control are built around managing a closed system of limited moving parts. Hospitals are built around receiving vast, unbounded chaotic input from the entire world around them.

        • ButYouDisagree says:

          You’re right that hospitals have to deal with a much broader and less predictable range of issues. I agree that’s likely part of the answer. But it doesn’t explain why doctors sometimes operate on the wrong patient or on a patient’s left leg instead of their right leg.

          • Aegeus says:

            That mistake happens because the surgeon doesn’t show up until the patient has already been anesthetized and draped, he assumes that they got the right patient. A lot of caregivers are becoming super-specialized as medicine gets more complex, so nobody has a big-picture view to spot errors like these.

            Nita’s article mentions that hospitals now use a checklist for surgery; one part of that checklist is that the whole team introduces themselves and confirms “This is the right guy, the right procedure, on the right body part.”

            Checklists seem to be a big part of handling risky business in general, whether on airplanes or in hospitals. There’s a Skin Risk Assessment which will tell you if your patient is at risk of pressure ulcers, there’s a Coma Scale that can tell you if your patient is falling into a coma, etc. Codify best practices and write them down, and your complex system starts to look less complex.

          • James Picone says:

            Yeah, last time I had surgery (this year), it seemed like literally everybody was going looking at me intensely with clipboard in hand, asking “What’s your name?” and “What procedure are you here for?”. At least three different times, I think, with two different people.

            Surgeon was there before I was anesthetized, though. It was dental surgery in a private hospital – that might have something to do with it?

    • pneumatik says:

      Speaking from a position of some knowledge about both nuclear sub safety and hospitals, the difference is that the entire operations of a nuclear sub is designed around safety while in hospitals it’s just not, and I mean not at all. There are very large and powerful organizations devoted to safe operation of nuclear subs who carefully plan every aspect of safe operations and develop appropriate procedures. Everyone working on a nuclear sub, from the commanding officer on down agrees that safe operation is a priority. Safety isn’t their only objective, but it’s a top objective.

      Conversely, hospitals are not similarly organized. They are designed to allow doctors to provide care to patients, even if the individual doctor’s idea of what’s appropriate is not actually best. Most hospitals devote very little effort to properly coordinated care across all the different types of care providers – doctors, nurses, techs, support staff, management, and probably others. There is insufficient trust because people aren’t held accountable. Poor organization and management means measures that are implemented to improve patient outcomes can’t actually be implemented because there’s insufficient staff or time in the day. But getting more staff would cost more money so management suggests other improvements that don’t cost much money. But management is never held accountable by themselves so it doesn’t matter if their ideas are terrible.

      Ultimately hospitals can absorb some catastrophic failures (defined here by me as avoidable deaths) and still stick around, while the submarine community decided

    • pneumatik says:

      Speaking from a position of some knowledge about both nuclear sub safety and hospitals, the difference is that the entire operations of a nuclear sub is designed around safety while in hospitals it’s just not, and I mean not at all. There are very large and powerful organizations devoted to safe operation of nuclear subs who carefully plan every aspect of safe operations and develop appropriate procedures. Everyone working on a nuclear sub, from the commanding officer on down agrees that safe operation is a priority. Safety isn’t their only objective, but it’s a top objective.

      Conversely, hospitals are not similarly organized. They are designed to allow doctors to provide care to patients, even if the individual doctor’s idea of what’s appropriate is not actually best. Most hospitals devote very little effort to properly coordinated care across all the different types of care providers – doctors, nurses, techs, support staff, management, and probably others. There is insufficient trust because people aren’t held accountable. Poor organization and management means measures that are implemented to improve patient outcomes can’t actually be implemented because there’s insufficient staff or time in the day. But getting more staff would cost more money so management suggests other improvements that don’t cost much money. But management is never held accountable by themselves so it doesn’t matter if their ideas are terrible.

      Ultimately hospitals can absorb some catastrophic failures (defined here by me as avoidable deaths) and still stick around, while since the 1960s the submarine community decided that losing a sub for preventable reasons was not going to be acceptable anymore.

      Note that this is all U.S.-centric.

  36. walpolo says:

    Do people have thoughts about how best to accommodate disabled citizens in a market economy? Seems like this is one of the places where the most government intervention will be necessary to solve the problem.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Sell their usable spare parts, naturally.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Welfare isn’t incompatible with a market economy.

      • walpolo says:

        Right, but:

        There are disabilities where the equipment necessary to accommodate them costs more than any reasonable guaranteed income for non-disabled people.

        There are disabilities that can only be accommodated by collective action, not by money spent by individual disabled people (ramps and elevators for the wheelchair bound).

        There are disabilities that hamper one’s ability to function as a rational self-interested member of the economy (Alzheimer’s and other memory problems, quite a few social and mental disabilities).

        Welfare by itself is no solution to these problems. We try to solve them in the US with a huge body of regulations that doesn’t seem to work especially well, although it also seems clearly better than previous ways of handling the problems. I’m curious if there are ideas for better solutions that would fit well into a fairly laissez-faire economy.

        • ButYouDisagree says:

          In an anarcho-capitalist society, charity from relatives and strangers would help the disabled some amount. But you’re right, not every building would have ramps/elevators. Not everyone who wants/needs a fancy wheelchair would get one.

          If this demands a solution (i.e. individuals must accommodate the disabled; taxes and regulations are in order if they don’t on their own) this creates a puzzling situation.

          1. It’s okay to donate money in a way that maximizes QALYs, e.g. donating to effective charities rather than constructing a ramp in your building.
          2. It’s okay to withhold your money (above some threshold?) from effective charities.
          3. You must accommodate the disabled by constructing ramps in your building rather than just keeping your money.

          One of these must be wrong, or permissibility is not transitive.

          • walpolo says:

            I could easily see either 1 or 2 turning out to be false.

            The most obvious way would be if 1 is false because of fairness considerations. For example, suppose Midge will (if you don’t donate) have 90 QALYs and TJ will have 20 QALYs. For the same amount of money, you could give TJ 10 more QALYs or give Midge 12 more. Seems like the thing to do is donate to TJ!

          • walpolo says:

            On the an-cap point, do you really think there would be anywhere near enough voluntary charity to give disabled people with no families or poor families a decent standard of living? That’s pretty hard to imagine.

          • ButYouDisagree says:

            We could amend 1 to
            1a. It’s okay to donate money in a way that maximizes QALYs and prioritizes the least well-off.

            This may avoid your particular criticism, since many disabled Americans are better off than the recipients of effective charities, even without transfers and regulations.

            1a is still controversial. I imagine some people would say that creating a building with no ramp disregards the humanity of the disabled. Others would say we have special obligations to people we interact with professionally, e.g. disabled people who want to use our building. Still others would say we have a special obligation to members of our society.

            But I think 1a should be attractive to many people, who then must reject 2 or 3 or deny that permissibility is transitive.

          • walpolo says:

            Yeah, 1a is appealing… this partly gets to an issue about whether it’s morally OK to exclude people from “your society” and its attendant benefits, I think.

            But fairness can come in in other ways, although here I’m more skeptical. Suppose your society is made up of the Greens and the Blues. 10% of the people are rich Greens who have 100 QALYs, 80% are poor Blues who have 20 QALYs, 10% are dirt-poor Greens who have 15 QALYs. Maybe there is some problematic history of the Blues being kept down, although all the Jim Crow-ish laws keeping them down have now been repealed.

            I can see a fairness type argument that you might want to help some of the Blues before helping the poorest Greens…

          • baconbacon says:

            “On the an-cap point, do you really think there would be anywhere near enough voluntary charity to give disabled people with no families or poor families a decent standard of living? That’s pretty hard to imagine.”

            Only to scrape the surface but charity isn’t the only way that you can improve the lives of impoverished people, and collective action problems aren’t only solved via government intervention. For the first economic growth has vastly out preformed charity in improving the lives of the poor and insurance has been solving certain collective action problems for centuries.

          • walpolo says:

            But there are reasons disabled people won’t be able to reap the benefits of growth as much as others will. On average, their labor is going to be less productive.

          • baconbacon says:

            Back to the original question
            “Do people have thoughts about how best to accommodate disabled citizens in a market economy?”

            Increased growth (plausibly) doesn’t just mean increased earnings for workers it also means in creased disposable income for charitable donations and better chances at both treating and preventing those disabilities. If you take the an-cap’s base position seriously, that less government is going to lead to more wealth, then you (almost always) end up in a default state of fewer disabled people who need assistance and much less assistance needed for those that do.

          • Andrew says:

            On the an-cap point:

            1) get rid of rent seekers (big demand) and artificial transaction costs (bigger demand) and in a modern economy everyone who can work at all is productive enough to live in a low demand area, eat, and get some level of medical care. You’re used to a world where regulation keeps the supply of housing down, subsidizes the price of food, and distorts the price of medical care.

            2) Check out the level of charity the mormon church is capable of giving in utah, and realize that the USG actually puts a lot of strings on religious charities that try and help those outside their faith. The crowding out effect seems pretty real and the US likely has a lot less private charity, in terms of effectiveness and in terms of dollars, than an equally rich but less regulated society would. Some of those charities won’t help LBGT+ people or other groups, but I expect that the total help would still be increased for almost everyone.

          • Paul Torek says:

            If this demands a solution (i.e. individuals must accommodate the disabled; taxes and regulations are in order if they don’t on their own) this creates a puzzling situation.

            Those are two different things given after “i.e.”; only the first creates your puzzling situation.

          • ButYouDisagree says:

            @Paul Torek

            You’re right. I stated the puzzle in terms of individual obligations. By itself, this says nothing about laws requiring e.g. ramps. But we could adapt the puzzle as follows:

            1a. It is permissible to donate money in a way that maximizes utility, prioritizing the least well-off (e.g. donating to effective charities rather than constructing a ramp).
            2. It is permissible to keep (at least some) money rather than donating it to causes that maximize utility and prioritize the least well-off.
            3a. A law that requires building owners to construct ramps (rather than keep their money) is just.
            4. A law is unjust if it forbids people from acting in ways they may otherwise permissibly act.

            Now one of the four must be wrong, or permissibility is not transitive.

            Of course, 4 is controversial. But defending accessibility requirements by denying 4 seems pretty weak. In that case, the justice of these requirements does not come from the fact that people should make buildings accessible. Instead it comes from the fact that the state may justly make broad impositions on people.

            Defending accessibility requirements by denying 4 seems more promising if we think that rights are claims on the organization of society, not reducible to claims on individuals. (This may be Thomas Pogge’s view, but I’m not an expert.) Then it could still be true that individuals have no obligation to make buildings accessible, but the requirements would nonetheless be connected to the rights of people with disabilities.

      • Welfare may be outside the market-economy, but aren’t they still compatible? ie. mixed economy as run in pretty much most of the world? That’s not to say there isn’t a debate about where and when welfare is appropriate – there’s obviously issues of both human-wellbeing and dependence/freeriding to consider.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      Accommodate in what sense?

      The theory of comparative advantage suggests that even though disabled people are (definitionally) less able that there should be areas where they can profitably work. That means lower pay and less stability, and some severely disabled people might not be able to work at all. But they’d still be accommodated in the system.

      If you mean mandating equal wages / hiring regardless of ability or a basic income for people who can’t work due to disability, then that is a more fundamental value question that most people will give different answers to.

      • walpolo says:

        What I have in mind is somewhere between those two extremes: making sure pretty much all disabled people have good lives and opportunities to thrive, if not perhaps to thrive *as much* as the average non-disabled person.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          I’m honestly not quite sure what you mean by a good life or opportunities to thrive.

          Presumably you mean a Living Wage plus attendant non-monetary benefits and leisure. If so, the question can be broken down to:
          a) How much money are we actually talking about here?
          b) What is the difference between the market value of their labor + private charity and that number?
          c) Who is on the hook for the resultant sum plus transaction costs?
          Once you clear that up you have pretty much answered your own question.

          Personally though I don’t think it makes sense to talk about a good life in those terms. Once your basic needs are met, and even sometimes when they aren’t, living a good life is more about attitude than anything else. I’m not rabidly free market, I’m closer to a Distributist a la Chesterton, but it seems obvious that no mortal government can give you a good life.

          • walpolo says:

            How about this way of making it precise:

            I would like a system in which a typical disabled person has close to the same number of QALYs as a typical non-disabled person. Maybe 80% would be a good goal to shoot for.

    • Significant numbers of disabled people are not able to be employed in a profitable way, even at significantly reduced wages, in a pure market economy. You have to decide who will meet that gap/consequences – the government, families, or the disabled individual. Also, some solutions and programs are smarter than others. Much of it depends on how much you want to value the externalities of disability unemployment at. Disabled people are worse at managing their health, (intellectual disabled) are often targeted by criminals, con-artists, drug-pushers and other bottom-feeders, and often place a fairly high burden on family who in many cases are poorly skilled/equipped to deal with the disability. A job makes them less vulnerable to all these things, in comparison to say simply handing them cash.

      The current policy in some Western countries is to provide government funding for equipment (eg. wheelchair, a cleaner to visit if they can’t clean) to level the playing field a little, mandate disability standards in buildings and infrastructure, and then subsidise sheltered workshops where people with disability are able to work in ways and at a pace that matches their skills. I haven’t seen an analysis of the economic output of sheltered workshops, but I am told when you quantify and account for the psychological benefit to the person with the disability (which I’m told by people with first hand experience is considerable), the significant money saved and reduced load on carers, and the economic output of the workshop, the overall cost vs benefit is better than only providing cash, and probable saves money in the long run compared with several other alternatives. I’d say that participation is a generally good principle to run a society on too, rather than undignified handouts.

      While I’d say more than half of the burden falls on family in cases of serious disability, in Australia there’s bi-partisan support for reasonably generous funding for equipment, and most politicians are too scared to be the one that’s seen as beating up on disabled people. However, the right claims (and I think might be right) there is some feigned disability fraud. What’s the general policy in the US?

      Source – Done some fairly minor volunteer work in disability and talked to people in the field while I was there.

      Speaking of disability support payment debates, here’s an interesting one – this headline says several thousand people died when they were kicked off disability payment in the UK:
      https://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/3j2cxn/un_investigating_british_government_over_human/

      I was fairly certain at first this is a bit of a statistical misdirection by the left wing, and that the deaths might have reflected the normal death rate in the disabled population (the population is quite large). Then I noticed this interesting comment:
      https://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/3j2cxn/un_investigating_british_government_over_human/cum5e0x

      which seems to indicate the deaths were much much higher than statistically predicted, though the author of that comment then back-peddles and says its likely to be in the hundreds. Still that seems stunningly bad in either policy competence or ethics. Does anyone have any background in the field combined with some statistical skills to investigate the statistical reality beyond the headline?

      • Deiseach says:

        “Private Eye” has been covering the UK disability payments story, and part of it seems to be outsourcing to a private contractor (ATOS, now replaced by Maximus) who are using what appears to be a fairly different system to evaluate if people are fit for work.

        I don’t know how true this is, but things such as calling people for interview who are wheelchair users, and when they turn up the appointment is in an upstairs room with no lift access, so that’s counted as “failing to turn up” for assessment when they literally can’t get up the stairs – and if you don’t turn up to be assessed, you get knocked off the payment.

      • walpolo says:

        Thanks, Citizensearth, this is the kind of nuanced reply I was hoping for.

  37. onyomi says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIWWLg4wLEY

    Is this as freaky as it seems? I assume a lot of the answers are very preprogrammed, including perhaps, the joke about keeping humans in zoos, but they do seem to be claiming it is engaging in some sort of novel synthesis; I don’t know how much.

    To those who rate AI risk as very low, can you look at this and still rate the probability of Skynet in the next 50-100 years as less than 1%? (I would say it seems more or less likely, depending on how original the robot’s answers were, but even if it were totally preprogrammed it would still be kind of wild when you compare it to where computers and robots were 10 or 20 years ago: extrapolate another 50 or 100 and you still think the chance of serious danger is below 1%?)

    Related note: how do people like the film, Ex Machina? I found it quite compelling and disturbingly plausible, considering how good robots are already getting.

    Edit to add: also, this was 2011. Don’t know why it showed up on my Facebook recently. But that actually makes it even more creepy in a way.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I would be really really really surprised if this were based on something other than a lookup table, which would be boring.

      • onyomi says:

        In that case, then, it is kind of boring, yet also interesting in the sense that people working on AI and robotics are actually going for the “freaky, take over the world” aesthetic in their creations as a marker of success. Perhaps when they start trying to make their robots not seem so human and relatable is when we’re in real trouble?

    • Nita says:

      The main thing that sets this chatbot apart from others is the ability to make realistic facial expressions. It’s sort of the creators’ specialty.

      The other unusual thing they do is use a collection of a real person’s writing as a base for the generated text. They’ve done Philip K. Dick and Bina Rothblatt, the wife of Martine Rothblatt.

      Here are a couple of videos with the Bina bot, Bina48:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvcQCJpZJH8
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYshJRYCArE

      See also: Hanson Robotics, Martine Rothblatt, LifeNaut.com

  38. Machine Interface says:

    Movie recommendation: Gandahar, a French animated science-fiction film from 1987, where a future utopian society suddenly has to deal with a seemingly unstoppable existencial threat of unknown origin. A rather interesting take on the theme of rogue AIs.

    De rigueur warning: the film is largely in the aesthetic spirit of Heavy Metal magazine stories (in fact, it was designed by Caza, one of the regular artists of the formative years of the magazine), which translates to quite a lot of casual nudity. In addition, this movie was made on a small budget, so groundbreaking quality of animation is not to be expected.

    The entire movie can be seen on youtube in the original French, with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wnv2GS8wykY

    An English dub called “Light Years” also exists, but makes some unwelcomed changes to the movie (the original soundtrack was changed, and some scenes were cut).

  39. lifetilt says:

    So I’ve been thinking a bunch about charity. To date I haven’t donated in any significant amount, and I’ve kind of vaguely justified it to myself with the argument, “I have a bunch of debt. The best way to do the most good over the long term seems to be to pay down the debt first, then use the increased spending power to donate more later. Anything I donate to charity now is effectively gimping my ability to give long-term.”

    But then why stop there? Why not invest the money over the course of a lifetime and then unleash a huge bomb of it to charity through my will when I die? Is that not the maximum good I can do?

    The intuitive counterargument is that giving now has a net present value that exceeds the value of the hypothetical future giving, but I’m not sure this is true and don’t know how one would begin to calculate it. Essentially, what is the discount rate, in accounting terms, of a charity dollar? Is this something anyone has attempted to address? Is there something obvious that I am overlooking?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      See here and here.

      • Brock says:

        From one of your linked posts: “…donating money after death is legally complicated”.

        What’s complicated about it?

        Psychologically, I have a difficult time giving money away. I also have a difficult time spending it, so unless I or my wife get some really expensive illness, I’m likely to amass a decent-sized estate. I have no heirs apart from her, so I’ve always thought I’d just leave my estate to charity. Are their considerations I’m missing?

        • brad says:

          I’m not sure how I could convince you that it is a complicated subject other than by pointing you to a very long wills and trusts textbook and suggesting you peruse the index (http://www.mslaw.edu/Syllabi/Fall_2009/Ford_Will/Ford_Book_Part.pdf starting on page 11).

          But consider that in addition to being complex it is also uncertain. Leona Helmsley wanted to leave her $4B to a foundation to benefit dogs, including $12M to benefit her own dog. Instead $6M of the amount left for her dog went to grandchildren she specifically disinherited and the bulk of the rest of the estate to a foundation that makes grants healthcare research for humans, environmental conservation, money for Israel and NYC, US K-12 education, and poor kids in Africa.

          • John Schilling says:

            Nit: Helmsley wanted to leave $4 billion to an existing general-purpose charitable foundation and to refocus that foundation’s mission to dog welfare. That’s a more difficult proposition, because the trust has a separate legal existence and obligations even if it was originally created by Helmsley as a vehicle for distributing the Helmsley family wealth.

            Certainly you need to hire a lawyer, and don’t be stingy with the quality or the billable hours, if you want to distribute billions after your death. As with most things, it’s harder if you insist on getting the credit – and it’s pretty clear that Helmsley wanted the credit as much as the canine welfare.

      • lifetilt says:

        Thanks, I knew there had to be something on this. It seems that there’s enough ambiguity that maybe a hedge is best: some giving now, then a marginally smaller charity bomb at end of life.

    • Anon says:

      > Is this something anyone has attempted to address?

      Sure. Scott’s talked about it, as have others.

    • Anonymous says:

      To avoid the post-mortem complications, why not make less frequent larger donations? This strategy takes some advantage of interest while working to decrease risk of complications.

  40. Scott Alexander says:

    Is there anybody here who has read Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence, but still feels like AI risk is not a serious issue that deserves attention?

    • Ever An Anon says:

      How much does the book cost and how long is it?

      If you’re not invested in AI risk pro or con it’s probably hard or justify reading that in addition to X journals a week plus your normal pile of half-read books. And it’s naturally harder to get excited about a risk you don’t think is realistic. So one should expect readers to be highly pro-AI risk regardless of argument quality.

      A better measure might be a small poll. If you read it, what did you think about AI rsk before and what did you think after? Hardly a solid design but should at least indicate the degree to which Bostrom changed views or just had a niche audience.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I agree that this isn’t rigorous. I just keep debating people who have no clue about the work that’s previously been done in the field, and I was wondering whether there’s anybody who really understands the arguments but still finds them unconvincing.

        If the answer is no, I might be tempted to offer to send people who disagree with me free copies just to see what happens.

        • anon85 says:

          Hi Scott,

          I personally feel like I understand the arguments for AI risk pretty well, while still rejecting them (I think I can pass an “ideological Turing test” pretending to be an AI risk proponent, for instance). If you’re actually curious about how that could happen, I’m happy to explain my position.

    • tanadrin says:

      I’ve always been a little sympathetic to AI risk arguments, because I love very abstract arguments with important real-world implications, so I went into Superintelligence thinking most arguments about AI risk were “interesting if true,” and I came away from Superintelligence thinking they were “very interesting, if true.” But Bostrom doesn’t quite close the gap that that “if” represents, even if he (and others who write on AI risk) do so (IMO) fairly intelligently and soberly. I’m glad that there are people thinking about the issue, but I don’t know that the arguments really exist for diverting a great deal more funding an effort to address it. And when people talk about donating to AI risk orgs in the same vein as other EA efforts like malaria net distribution, I don’t think that’s actually money being well-spent according to the stated criteria.

      Which isn’t to say I think AI risk is a joke, or can (or should) be glibly dismissed. I’m glad people are thinking about it, in the same way I’m glad people are thinking about the possibility of FTL travel, or cryonics, or peace in the Middle East. And I suppose I could imagine, ten or twenty or fifty years down the line, seeing developments in AI that make me regret my skepticism.

      • Wrong Species says:

        That’s pretty much how I view it. Even assuming that AI is a big risk, I don’t really see all the work being done now as useful. It probably won’t be until we get closer to that point and it definitely does not seem like we are close to that point.

    • Gilbert says:

      Does he have new arguments? I had understood the Internet to the effect that he provided a more respectable presentation of what MIRI always said, which is bunk. But if he actually has something genuinely new to say I might have to read the book.

    • Mark says:

      I thought the section on AI motivation had too much about instrumental goals and not enough about the epistemological position a machine mind would adopt.
      Its definitely worth considering though.

    • baconbacon says:

      Reading the preface on amazon and he starts out the book with a major mistake (or a bad rhetorical device) when he compares apes:humans to humans:super intelligence.

    • Phil says:

      I haven’t read it, but I have read some of his papers on the prospects for AGI (“How Hard is Artificial Intelligence? Evolutionary Arguments and Selection Effects” and “Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap”) and found them to be really pretty ridiculous. This paragraph from the latter is a good example:

      “Note that the amount of functional understanding needed to achieve a 1‐to‐1 model [of a whole brain] is small. Its behaviour is emergent from the low‐level properties, and may or may not be understood by the experimenters. For example, if coherent oscillations are important for conceptual binding and these emerge from the low‐level properties of neurons and their networks, a correct and complete simulation of these properties will produce the coherence.”

      It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone who had ever actually worked on modeling anything (or who knew anything about theoretical neuroscience) could have written that thought.

      On the other hand, I did read Bostrom’s first book, “Anthropic Bias,” and it’s excellent. No one bats 1.00 I guess.

    • pneumatik says:

      I’ve read most of it. I’m of a similar mind to other replies in that if Bostrom’s assumptions prove correct then we do have a lot to worry about when SAI is first instantiated. I agree with him that if the AI is really super-capable and useful then it’s probably going to be very dangerous. But considering all the different failure modes of mis-wired or damaged human brains, I really wonder if we’re really as close to creating AI like what Bostrom is worried about. I feel like it’s a lot of very well written and rigorous speculation about a hypothetical, but I’m not convinced that reality will get to the hypothetical.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        I really wonder if we’re really as close to creating AI like what Bostrom is worried about.

        So, you understand the argument but are not convinced by it, much like where I am with the argument for climate change being a catastrophic emergency. I totally respect the “Not Proven” reaction, even though I want to grab you by the figurative lapels and shake some sense into you, as the climate change evangelists seem to want to do with me. 🙂

        (This is why I never found the Precautionary Principle very compelling — anybody who invoked it seemed to be smuggling in a lot of unrelated assumptions about what the null hypothesis was.)

        Is there anywhere a description of the argument that AI is not a risk that is as thorough as Bostrom’s book to the contrary? I bought J. Storrs Hall’s Beyond AI thinking it might be that, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. (SSC comment threads don’t count; while fun, they don’t really have the scope needed, and so far at least seem to me to be tied up in irrelevant definition-mongering or subtly-disguised Cartesian duality.)

    • Professor Frink says:

      I have. I’ve also loaned it to a few friends at work who came away unimpressed.

    • Shea Levy says:

      I read up through chapter 8 and posted my review here. tl;dr: his argumentation style is wildly unconvincing, and that’s even ignoring the outright erroneous statements he makes.

      That being said, I do think AI risk does deserve investigation and attention. Just not anywhere close to why/how Bostrom does.

      • Shea Levy says:

        Oh, I should add: it may be that AI risk has already gotten the investigation and attention it deserves, and it turns out to be a non-issue, I’m not nearly involved enough in the relevant fields to know.

      • Paul Torek says:

        So, your criticism boils down to: Bostrom uses a lot of unsupported and unconvincing premises. That would be a lot more convincing if you supplied 2-3 examples. (I haven’t read Bostrom, so I wouldn’t know if the examples were actually premises, vs sub-conclusions, but others would.)

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Having read it, I agree that it is a serious issue, but I don’t think any productive work can be done now to reduce it (although building up a fund for safety research for when AI is more imminent might be worthwhile).

  41. Adam says:

    Scott,

    I would be interested in understanding how much training psychiatrists get in emotional distress. I am currently taking a class on the DSM 5 and I’m often frustrated at the apparent worldview that is assumed by the manual. I often look at the symptoms listed and instead of thinking “disease” I think “natural outcome of highly stressful system”.

    Did you have any training in empathy and emotional competency skills or was everything strictly medical?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      All medical students get training in empathy/communication skills, but it sucks: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/02/28/unteachable-things-hard-to-teach-study-suggests/

      Psychiatrists learn various psychotherapies, and a lot of these include an empathy/communication-skills component. Psychotherapy is also where you will find the “DSM sucks, this is just natural stress” people. Most psychiatrists exist uneasily balanced between the two positions in a philosophical sense, but with a preference for DSM/biological in practical work because it fits into the economy better.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks. This is what I assumed. I am finding myself explaining to a lot of people that psychiatrists are not pawns of the pharma industry (though there is some of that), and that the real issue is the nature of training and economic realities. (I am actually on the psychotherapy side)

      • Wondering, why doesn’t psychiatry require at least a year’s training in psychology? As I understand it some presentation of mental illness is caused by emotional trauma of various kinds, and so wouldn’t training in social and psychological factors, like recognising abuse, coping mechanisms and the dynamics of family and friends be really really useful? Of course, plenty of mental illness isn’t social or psychologically caused, but wouldn’t it be still useful to be able to reliably rule out psychological factors?

        I imagine philosophy would be quite useful too, but if I remember your previous articles people require training in what can be a totally unrelated topic? Couldn’t psychology+philosophy be mandated instead, if they are to require something?

  42. onyomi says:

    The Moloch Diet:

    I have commented in a number of threads on what may be making us so fat, broadly taking sides with the high-carb, low-fat camp, but also open to other explanations. Recently though of a more meta explanation:

    I recently saw a Facebook video labelled unironically as “yum!” by the poster, in which two women cut avocados into slices, battered them, deep fried them, and served them with mayonnaise-based dipping sauce. This is disgusting. I love avocados and I love fried foods, but this is just gross and gratuitous. How did we get here?

    It feels a little like an arms race or prisoner’s dilemma in which people keep defecting. We’d all be happier and healthier if we didn’t put the hot dogs in the pizza crust, but the super-competitive food market seems to demand it. To protect us against this assault we seem to have no eating culture. Of course, we eat quite a lot, but we have no traditional customs that manage our eating: don’t snack and eat salad at the end to help with digestion, like the French, take a big meal in the day when you are active and eat light at night like the Spanish, only eat to 8/10ths full, like the Okinawans…

    Basically, we are uncultured farmers who needed a massive number of calories to do our daily work but who suddenly stopped farming without developing any useful cultural memes to protect us?

    I am super free market and not all that into the “Moloch” concept, since I think just letting things happen usually produces better results than otherwise, but I wonder if we can’t sort of blame him for the American diet today. I recently saw a study blaming the “neo-liberal diet” for American obesity. This seems stupid to me, because America’s poor DO have access to cheap, healthy foods like beans and rice, they just choose to eat deep fried ice cream. Yet isn’t Moloch’s hand at work here, somehow, when we get a diet everyone agrees is bad, but which each individual seems to keep choosing? Or to take it in a more Moldbuggy direction: maybe what we need is more social cohesion and traditional cultural memes to manage our attitudes toward eating in the face of so much plenty?

    • Deiseach says:

      What amused me about the “neo-liberal diet” paper was that it mentioned vegetable oils as part of the change to the unhealthy diet.

      Yes, let us all go back to the days when everything was fried in lard, as God intended! Bread and dripping! (Which is actually delicious and probably intensely bad for you). Fried bread with your fry-up for your breakfast or tea! Yorkshire pudding made with egg and cooked in the fat of the Sunday roast after you’ve removed it from the roasting tin! Suet as shortening in the mincemeat and Christmas pudding! Pastry made with butter, not those hydrogenated vegetable oils margarine!

      Vegetarians and vegans, take your fattening unhealthy vegetable oils far away! 🙂

      • onyomi says:

        You know, I think it was Luke Muehlhauser who posted a study recently saying that 3rd world people burn no more calories than us, but the more I think about it, the more implausible this seems. People who are walking around and farming, and/or hunting and gathering all day burn no more calories than we do sitting at a desk all day?? Certainly American farmers of decades past (maybe not always today when everything is so mechanized) burned A LOT more calories than we do now, which is why they need fried bread with a pile of bacon to sustain themselves.

        I have another Chinese friend who grew up in rural China where farming is still the way of life. He said that they eat like 4 or 5 meals a day there, almost like hobbits. Of course no one is fat; this is just what is necessary to keep them going through their day of hard labor.

        • Tibor says:

          Mildly related – I started working out a few months ago and part of the reason I did was also to institute a more regular and healthy nutrition. My regular routine used to be to skip the breakfast, then have lunch at the mensa (I work at a university) and then stuffed myself late at night. Now, I was never overweight (perhaps as small kid, but not that much either) and you probably cannot get too overweight eating twice a day anyway. But it was probably not very healthy either.

          However, when I started working out and cooking myself (before that I could basically make an egg omelet and bolognese spaghetti and that was it), I noticed one weird thing. Lot of the processed food I used to like so much started tasting bad. I mean I still buy salami or wursts sometimes, but I am much more selective now about most of the processed food, because what I regarded as delicions few months ago tastes like crap to me now. This is most likely the result of me learning to cook and getting used to finer things (i.e. what I cook). At the same time though, I have a craving for a Big Mac about once every month (and do indulge myself in eating it too) , so it is not that straightforward 🙂 Still, maybe the culture of not cooking at home almost at all which seems to be common in the US is also one of the reasons of the high obesity. Then again, checking the obesity statistics of the CIA World Factbook, I find that the obesity ranking of the Czech republic is almost at the level of the US (US 33% of the adult population Czechs 32,7%) and there it is common to cook at home almost every day (at least for dinner). However, the traditional cuisine is high on calories as well, consisting mostly of baked or roasted meat,bread dumplings, sauerkraut (which usually has some sugar in it) and potato salad. Interestingly enough, the neighbouring Slovakia, with possibly a slighlty healthier cuisine (but otherwise a very similar culture) is at 25% obesity, which is much lower. So I guess it probably boils down to what the local cuisine consists of rather than anything else.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Nutrition has a reputation as a pretty shaky field, but as I (non-scientist) understand it partially hydrogenated oils are one of the few things that are really clearly bad.

        There are a lot of reasons why people don’t do what they know to be good or do what they know to be bad (hardly limited to diet). I have a pet theory that a lot of people think cooking is harder than it is.

        • ddreytes says:

          I do think a lot of people think cooking is harder than it is.

          But I think there’s also the problem that just cooking is not enough – you also want to be able to cook *well* and you need to shift to a lifestyle where cooking all the time makes sense and is easy. And both of those things are much harder than just cooking. It requires a lot of development of an unpracticed talent and it requires a not-insignificant lifestyle change.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            And a not-insignificant investment in good cookware.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Cooking in a fairly mediocre manner is relatively easy with a few tricks, and OK cookware isn’t super expensive. I’m a pretty lousy cook but I get compliments whenever I cook for people. I think it’s because a lot of people don’t cook very much and have low standards. Or maybe I’m decent at cooking, but have a very limited range.

            It definitely does require a lifestyle change, though – mostly in the form of planning around cooking, shopping, and making sure you’ve thawed stuff or whatever.

            But the “cooking is expensive and hard and time consuming” message seems like it scares a lot of people with no experience of it away. It probably doesn’t help that things like TV cooking shows are full of professional chefs with crews describing the intricate stuff they’re usually doing as “easy”.

      • Loquat says:

        Fun fact: one of the main objections to vegetable oil, especially the corn and soybean oils that get so much use nowadays, is that they have way high levels of omega-6 fatty acid and very little omega-3 fatty acid, and those are things you really don’t want unbalanced in your diet. Butter and other animal fats, if the animal was pastured rather than being fed mainly corn and soybeans, have a much better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

    • Loquat says:

      I suspect Moldbug would also mention that it’s now fairly common for households to have 0 adults who aren’t working a full-time job outside the home. When both mom and dad are getting home after an 8-hour day of work plus commuting time, and having grandparents or grown siblings living with them would be weird so there aren’t any other adults to share the burden, it’s really tempting to just pick up some takeout or throw a frozen pizza in the oven instead of cooking something from scratch. We want cheap, tasty food with minimal effort, and McDonald’s is only too happy to sell it to us.

      It may also be a factor that a non-zero percentage of the population deliberately embraces “unhealthy” food to show that they’re not going to be bossed around by nanny-state liberals, much the way Donald Trump’s fans applaud his disrespect for political correctness.

  43. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Apparently psychology-as-reported-through-popular-media (eg. http://lifehacker.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-shame-and-guilt-1653163759?utm_expid=66866090-48.Ej9760cOTJCPS_Bq4mjoww.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F) has concluded that guilt is good and shame is bad, and in particular that the latter doesn’t actually help prevent negative behavior. This explains why “shame cultures” such as Japan exist in such chaotic anarchy.

    Does anyone know what, if anything, the studies behind this actually showed?

    • Nita says:

      Well, at the first glance, “guilt” according to their definitions does seem more actionable:

      Oh God, what have I done?! — guilt
      Oh God, I’m a total loser. — shame

      Apparently, some studies have found a correlation between shame and neuroticism (the tendency to experience negative emotions), as well as substance abuse, while guilt is associated with perspective-taking in relationships.

      As for cultural/population differences, some say they are insignificant, while others point out that individuals from “shame” societies are also more prone to guilt.

  44. HeelBearCub says:

    I contend that the question of the existence God or the existence of something that is “magic” (like telepathy) are always unanswerable. Further, I contend that that they are unanswerable by definition. I’m interested in what holes people can poke in this idea.

    Let’s take the (relatively common) answer to the “probability there is a God ” question from “On Overconfidence” that includes a probability that we are in a simulation (and therefore that which runs it is “God”). Now, from our perspective, unknowing of the existence of the simulation owner, someone like that would look like God to us. But if we were to put ourselves in the position of running the simulation, we might (at most) describe that as “playing God”.

    As another example, once we knew how lightning was caused, we stopped positing God as the explanation for it. Now, it’s only the unpredictability of lightning strikes that allow attribution to God (God doesn’t hurl the lightning bolt, just decides where it will strike). If we ever can predict in advance exactly where and when lightning will strike, we will stop thinking God determines that. If we know and can explain exactly how some “god” does what they do, they cease to be God.

    If, in the future, it became possible to reliably predict brain states by combining complex detection of body language, pheromone output, and scanning to detect subtle electric discharges in the nervous system we might still call it “telepathy” but it wouldn’t be the kind of telepathy we talk about today. It would be understandable, have rules, cause and effect, error rates, etc. In short, it wouldn’t be magic anymore.

    One real world example of this is quantum uncertainty. Before we had an actual example of a real world phenomenon, the idea that merely “observing” something would change something fundamental about the world state would have been regarded as magical thinking, but once it enters the realm of explainable, it ceases to be seen as magic anymore.

    • Jaskologist says:

      This feels like quibbling over definitions. I don’t think discovering the rules to telepathy or magic would make their existence unanswerable. Right now, we just say telepathy doesn’t exist. If we later discover that there are people who can read brain states by detecting body language/pheromones/electrical discharges, then we were wrong; there are telepaths. That we better understand how they do it doesn’t change anything about their existence.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Jaskologist:

        If we poke wires into your brain, use an fMRI or the like, and manage to read brain states accurately that way, would call that telepathy? Maybe. But would you call it magic anymore?

        If we discovered that some people unconsciously incorporate sensed pheromones into their decision making process, would we call that magic? Even if they were really, really good at it?

        • Jaskologist says:

          If we’re defining “magic” as “phenomena we can’t yet explain,” then I couldn’t call it magic once we explain it. But I would say that the person in ye olde times who talked about how Merlo Sauvignon Blanco could magically read minds was wrong. He was basically correct, and we were eventually able to investigate and answer the problem.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If we’re defining “magic” as “phenomena we can’t yet explain,”

            No, I’m not defining magic. Or I am not trying to anyway.

            I am talking about how we use the word, what it means to us internally. If someone says “That [thing] was magic” (and they don’t mean it euphemistically) what is a reasonable boundary to set on the territory for which the word is a map?

            So, I am probably saying something about the definition, but I’m not trying to define it myself, and I’m not trying to impose some limits on use of the word, but trying to figure out where the limits actually are.

          • Erik says:

            I would like to here share a possibly useful definition of “magic” I have become fairly satisfied with myself: magic is very large irreducibles.

            This seems to do a fairly good job of capturing my intuition regarding what is or can be magic with various degrees of application, explanation, and reproducibility. Since “very large irreducibles” is probably more of a handle phrase than a proper explanation, let me give an example. Suppose drawing the Zod rune on the ceiling of a room warms the room.

            Zod is “science” if it has component parts where you can calculate various relationships between room size, rune size, optimal ink to use, roof angle, how the effect tapers off if you draw the rune closer to the walls, what happens if you use a roof that curves seamlessly into the wall, what happens if the rune is damaged, energy source, conservation laws, heat carriers, point of origin of effect, middleman mechanisms, dissipation around corners, etc. etc. In this case I imagine that the Engineering Handbook of Zod Runes will include various coefficients, formulae, and calculations to use for its optimization and to see how much warmth you’ll get from how many zods in how many rooms.

            Zod is “magic” if the rune flat-out works or doesn’t with arbitrary cutoffs determined only through extensive trial-and-error with no unifying rules or common values. It heats a room uniformly, and edge cases or distortions just cause it to stop working entirely with no tapering. The rune will simultaneously and uniformly warm an oddly shaped room of arbitrary shape as long as the maximum total size is adhered to, has no visible energy source, and to all appearances violates conservation of energy. In this case I imagine that the Engineering Handbook of Zod Runes will instead be a listing of cutoffs such as minimum tail curl X and maximum room size Y, also it’ll be much shorter, maybe padded by borrowing from a printer’s manual on how to make enduring inscriptions.

          • Paul Torek says:

            @Erik:
            I think you’re barking up the right tree, but I suggest some improvements, or so I call them. Magic needn’t be imprecise and un-detailed, it just needs to be sufficiently disconnected from science. That is, reductionism fails to unite/bridge the physical explanations of phenomena with the magical ones, so we get “separate magisteria” (to stretch and abuse a phrase). Plus, magic needs to depend crucially on linguistic and/or intentional factors, like, what word was inscribed or what thought did the sorcerer invoke? (I’m not sure I’ve described this second requirement properly, but something in this ballpark.)

            Edit: Huh, FacelessCraven beat me to it. For my first part, at least.

          • Jiro says:

            I’m reminded of the definition of magic as dealing with ontologically basic mental things. We think of “frogs” as a basic category, so magic is something that turns you into a frog without having generalized abilties to change mass, DNA, and everything else that differs between humans and frogs. This is pretty close to that definition, and is also pretty close to being non-reductionist.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Paul Torek – Woo! I’m Special!
            Another example, from William Gibson’s short story “Hinterlands”:

            “…We’re like intelligent houseflies wandering through an international airport; some of us actually manage to blunder onto flights to London or Rio, maybe even survive the trip and make it back. “Hey,” say the other flies, “what’s happening on the other side of that door? What do they know that we don’t?” At the edge of the Highway every human language unravels in your hands except, perhaps, the language of the shaman, of the cabalist, the language of the mystic intent on mapping hierarchies of demons, angels, saints.
            But the Highway is governed by rules, and we’ve learned a few of them. That gives us something to cling to.
            Rule One: One entity per ride; no teams, no couples.
            Rule Two: No artificial intelligences; whatever’s Out there won’t stop for a smart machine, at least not the kind we know how to build.
            Rule Three: Recording instruments are a waste of space; they always come back blank.
            Dozens of new schools of physics have sprung up in Saint Olga’s wake, ever more bizarre and more elegant heresies, each one hoping to shoulder its way to the inside track. One by one, they all fall down. In the whispering quiet of Heaven’s nights, you imagine you can hear the paradigms shatter, shards of theory tinkling into brilliant dust as the lifework of some corporate think tank is reduced to the tersest historical footnote, and all in the time it takes your damaged traveler to mutter some fragment in the dark. not Flies in an airport, hitching rides. Flies are advised not to ask too many questions; flies are advised not to try for the Big Picture. Repeated attempts in that direction invariably lead to the slow, relentless flowering of paranoia, your mind projecting huge, dark patterns on the walls of night, patterns that have a way of solidifying, becoming madness, becoming religion. Smart flies stick with Black Box theory; Black Box is the sanctioned metaphor, the Highway remaining x in every sane equation.”

            http://www.lib.ru/GIBSON/r_hinter.txt

            …This sort of “magic”, the aggressively irreconcilable black box, is probably my favorite trope in Fiction. Rare, too; there’s Roadside Picnic, Hinterlands, the amazing rpg.net community work PROJECT LONG STAIRS, The better entries in the SCP Foundation, and one or two others. I’m always looking for more of it.

            [EDIT] – A crucial difference between Black Boxes and Eric’s Zod example, I think, is the element of extreme risk and reward. Warming a room is a trivial thing, and so there is no awe, and without the awe I’m not sure it feels like “magic”. It’s too easy to feel like it’s just another scientific problem that hasn’t been solved yet. Compare that to the Zone or the Highway, where everyone KNOWS the phenomenon is completely naturalistic, but the rewards are staggering, and the danger is horrific, and both focus your attention directly at the breach in consensus reality.

    • onyomi says:

      Might it not end up coming down to “Give us one free miracle and we will explain the rest?”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Well, the big bang is one of the things that is roughly in line with what I am saying.

        Even the cause of the big bang is unknown, and perhaps unknowable, and even its existence is still perhaps debatable within science, we don’t think of the big bang as magic. Even though is is not fully explained, it is far too explained to be magical.

        The big bang’s cause is sort of like the last digit of Pi, the fact that you can’t get there doesn’t mean that’s where the magic is. You could say this is a “God of the Gaps” argument, but that’s not really where I am coming from.

        Let’s suppose someone did display telepathic powers. Let’s say, I don’t know, Warren Buffet decides that he needs to reveal that one of his big secrets to success was that he could read minds. He goes into the lab and they start testing the limits of his power. They get him to repeat them over and over and you start to get a feel for what he can do. And then you figure out how far away he can be, and whether their can be a Faraday cage around the subject and so on.

        Once you start being able to explain it, it stops being “magic.” Heck, even once you start being able to describe the limits of it it stops being magic. So, if a Faraday cage stops the telepathy, even if you can’t explain how, that still stops looking like magic and starts looking like something you can’t explain. Heck, even the repeatability of it makes it look like its not magic.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          “Once you start being able to explain it, it stops being “magic.” Heck, even once you start being able to describe the limits of it it stops being magic.”

          possibly an aside, but your phrasing reminded me of a counterexample from Roadside Picnic:

          “We don’t know what happened to the poor Harmonites at the very moment of the Visitation. But now one of them decides to emigrate. Your most typical man in the street. A barber. The son of a barber and the grandson of a barber. He moves, say, to Detroit. He opens up a barbershop and all hell breaks loose. Over ninety percent of his clients die during a year: they die in car crashes, fall out of windows, are cut down by gangsters or muggers, drown in shallow waters, and so on and so forth. A number of natural disasters hit Detroit and its suburbs. Typhoons and tornadoes, not seen since eighteen-oh-something, suddenly appear in the area. And all that kind of stuff. And such cataclysmic events take place in any city, any area where an emigrant from a Zone area settles. The number of catastrophes is directly proportional to the number of emigrants who have moved to the city. And note that this reaction is caused only by emigrants who actually lived through the Visitation. Those born after the Visitation have no effect on the disaster and accident statistics. You’ve lived here for ten years, but you moved in after the Visitation and it would be safe to relocate you even in the Vatican. How can this be explained? What should we reject? The statistics? Or common sense?”

          There are limits in the example, but the limits don’t map neatly to our consensus view of reality, and so they are scary and magical. In this light, your Warren Buffet example maps fairly well into our existing models; your mind-reading Warren hears or sees things that we can’t, but we at least understand the concept of hearing or seeing. Thus, a telepathic Warren Buffet only extends the existing model, rather than challenging it significantly.

          The Zone is magical because it operates as a Black Box. Our interactions with it can be understood and even imperfectly predicted, but real understanding is impossible. It forces us to confront the limits of our knowledge and control in a visceral way.

          I think the concept of God is similar, only more so.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “We don’t know what happened to the poor Harmonites at the very moment of the Visitation”

            I’m not familiar with the story, but I’m guessing that there is an assumption that the event is magical, and that all of the other flows from that.

            Whereas, if we just start with some bare facts:a number of people report an [event] that is similar, people around them start dropping like flies, you immediately start thinking about infectious disease with mysterious vectors. I’m talking about plopping it down in the real, actual world that we live in, what do people really do?

            To the extent you start being able to map vectors and quantify things, you start thinking about logically, it stops looking like magic. But if it is COMPLETELY MYSTERIOUS then we call it magic. And much of that mystery starts dissapearing when you can actually replicate things.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I’m not familiar with the story…”

            Ah! Let me be the first to recommend Roadside Picnic to you, then.
            http://www.coronzon.com/pdf/Roadside_Picnic.pdf
            [WARNING: PDF]

            “but I’m guessing that there is an assumption that the event is magical, and that all of the other flows from that.”

            I guess it depends on what you mean by “magical?” In the story, the Visitation is an event that everyone is pretty sure was an alien encounter. The aliens passed through our world, and left behind hyper-advanced pollution/litter, which humanity has been attempting to come to grips with ever since. I think that’s how you’re using the term magic in this thread, right?

            “To the extent you start being able to map vectors and quantify things, you start thinking about logically, it stops looking like magic. But if it is COMPLETELY MYSTERIOUS then we call it magic. And much of that mystery starts disappearing when you can actually replicate things.”

            In the example, people who were present during the Visitation are, effectively, cursed. The curse is real, it’s testable and repeatable, statistically measurable. You can make predictions about it: if you let them leave the Visited town, large-scale tragedy results. You have a fair idea of why it happens: they were there during the Visitation, so they’ve been marked somehow by it.

            It seems to me that I’d still call it magic, because it’s a self-contained black box with little to no hope of being reconciled to the existing machinery of causality. It operates logically, but its internally-consistent logic contradicts the logic of the rest of the world. That’s the spooky, mysterious part. Magic is an alternate set of rules that contradict the predominant set, with no synthesis of the two being possible.

            Not sure if I’m agreeing or disagreeing with you, or we’re just talking past each other, and my apologies if I’m not making sense. Seriously, read Roadside Picnic! It’s awesome!

        • onyomi says:

          I think the “miracle” isn’t the Big Bang per se, but why anything exists at all.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            But wouldn’t it be equally surprising if nothing existed, statically and “forever”?

            I say this understanding that time and space are both concepts that may only make sense inside a given universe, but if we assume that concept of possible change exists outside the universe, then I think “time” or not, “space” or not, infinity comes into play. Infinity is might big, or long, or mighty something.

            If the mere existence of change from static is a “miracle” then miracles seem very small indeed.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Faceless Craven:
          I will put in the queue of things I should read. Sounds good.

          But the mere fact it is a black box doesn’t map onto magic, as far as I am concerned. If you have the box, you can put things into it, get stuff out, it does the same thing every time, etc. You start to get away from what we mean by magic.

          Imagine a temple where, if you go on a Tuesday and say the words “rabbit rabbit rabbit” in quick succession, three cooked rabbits appear on a plate on the altar. Only the first 100 people to do this get cooked rabbits. There is no known explanation, scientists can’t find a cause, it just keeps happening. As I describe it now, it sounds like magic, but once you started to actually investigate it, describe it in more detail (how does the plate manifest? Is there any change in the environment other than the rabbit appearing? It would start to seem less and less like magic)

          Even a world that is actually, literally, Harry Potter – verse, once people actually start studying, investigating, applying logic, etc. If you are inside that world it won’t seem like the word “magic” in our world. They might use the same word, but it won’t mean much more than “electricity” or “IQ” or “computers”.

          It’s the one off, non-repetable things that we call magic. The things that are not just currently unexplained, but can never be explained.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      The issue is that God, and even magic, doesn’t have to be supernatural in the sense of violating any law of nature.

      The Stoic or Platonic conceptions of God, which heavily influenced Christian theology, have God as the source of natural law and thus “above” or “before” nature but never violating it. Of course this doesn’t play nicely with miracles, but that just makes more work for apologists for any particular religion. Deism generally or a deistic / esoteric interpretation of a particular religion doesn’t require miracles.

      As for magic, I’ve never attempted anything occult myself but from what I’ve read it seems that the theory is more along the lines of “special knowledge allows me to do things which confound the unenlightened” rather than actually doing the impossible. This makes sense given that modern science is itself a direct descendant of European Hermeticism. Boyle and Newton understood themselves as alchemists and astrologers, but calling their work magic today would mark you as a scientifically illiterate rube.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Ever An Anon:
        Aren’t you essentially saying that David Copperfield is doing “real” magic, or would be if he manage to convince that he was?

        If you are, then I don’t agree. If you aren’t then I don’t understand your point.

        As to the Stoic or Platonic God, doesn’t that just end up being the clockwork god, who again is ultimately unknowable?

        • Ever An Anon says:

          No, not really. Stage magic / illusionism and esoteric magic aren’t comparable. It’s like the difference between an actor in a Hong Kong Wuxia film pretending to jump four stories up and a Kung Fu master pulling the throat out of a ballistic gel dummy. Both are unbelievable but only one is genuine.

          As for that sort of God, rather than being unknowable it seems rather unavoidable. When God is your name for the unitary truth behind natural laws then God is a logical necessity.

    • Troy says:

      I contend that the question of the existence God or the existence of something that is “magic” (like telepathy) are always unanswerable. Further, I contend that that they are unanswerable by definition.

      Your argument for this seems to be that when we find a natural explanation for a phenomenon, we don’t need to posit God. Then you say:

      If we know and can explain exactly how some “god” does what they do, they cease to be God.

      The latter point, as Jaskologist says, seems to just be a definitional dispute. Just take a standard definition of the classical conception of God from the philosophy of religion literature: e.g., omnipotent, omniscient, all-good being who created the universe. If God so defined exists and acts in the world, then coming to a deeper understanding of that action doesn’t make “God [so defined] exists” any less true or probable. (Nor does it, really, make God any less divine; if anything it makes us more.)

      As for natural explanations, yeah, sure, the existence of lightning is not a good argument for the existence of God. But Christian theists maintain that God revealed himself through specific miracles for which there is historical evidence, in the form of the testimony of eyewitnesses and others closely connected to the events of Jesus’s life. And the resurrection of a man from the dead is indeed much more probable given theism than given naturalism. (No doubt you deny the historicity of the resurrection; but that’s another debate, it doesn’t follow from anything you’ve said here.)

      Moreover, other evidences for God need not be pre-empted by natural explanations. Indeed, one such evidence is the existence of simple, stable laws of nature in the first place, especially ones that are life-permitting and as discoverable as the ones we in fact observe. So the nature of nature itself may be evidence for theism.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        “as discoverable as the ones we in fact observe.”

        This stopped being a good argument for God’s existence somewhere around the turn of the last century. A world of clockwork mechanisms, sure, a world of invisible and immaterial forces, I can sort of see it, but not a world of quantum whatsits and non-Euclidean geometries. If God intended the universe to be intelligible to man, he’s been a real [coarse term for genitalia] about it.

        • Troy says:

          Well, the question is what the reference class: what is the range of life-permitting universes, and of those which are most discoverable? The fine-tuning literature in physics is continually narrowing the first class, and when we look within that class there’s reason to think that our universe is optimally discoverable in many ways. See, for example, this paper (not published yet, this is very new research).

          With respect to quantum vs. classical mechanics, I seem to recall Luke Barnes (an astrophysicist) saying in a presentation that our current science suggests that a Newtonian universe would not be life-permitting for some reason. However, I cannot remember what that reason was, and I may well be mistaken on this point.

          Even if a Newtonian universe is possible and is more discoverable than a Quantum universe, presumably God is balancing off multiple purposes in creating the universe and so we shouldn’t be confident that he would create the *most* discoverable universe (consistent with life), because that might involve trade-offs with respect to his other goals. So the fact that the universe is as discoverable as it is could be evidence for theism even if it’s not maximally discoverable.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Well, the question is what the reference class: what is the range of life-permitting universes, and of those which are most discoverable?

            This is your burden to carry, not mine. To give substance to the claim that the world is maximally intelligible, you need to be able to definitively rule out the possibility that an Aristotelian or mechanical or Newtonian universe could suffice. Good luck with that!

            Even if a Newtonian universe is possible and is more discoverable than a Quantum universe, presumably God is balancing off multiple purposes in creating the universe and so we shouldn’t be confident that he would create the *most* discoverable universe (consistent with life), because that might involve trade-offs with respect to his other goals.

            Once you start ladling on the inscrutable epicycles this stops being a proof of God’s existence and starts being an apology for his shoddy handiwork. The world doesn’t appear to be maximally intelligible, in fact, quite the opposite– it’s bizarre and confounding and it’s taken centuries of intensive labor by hundreds of thousands of very bright people to strangle a few answers out of nature. This is pretty compelling evidence against the existence of your tri-omni God, really.

          • Troy says:

            Once you start ladling on the inscrutable epicycles this stops being a proof of God’s existence and starts being an apology for his shoddy handiwork. The world doesn’t appear to be maximally intelligible, in fact, quite the opposite– it’s bizarre and confounding and it’s taken centuries of intensive labor by hundreds of thousands of very bright people to strangle a few answers out of nature. This is pretty compelling evidence against the existence of your tri-omni God, really.

            I don’t think we can give a proof of theism any more than we can give a proof of most scientific theories; rather what we have are data that can be more or less well explained by them and so support or countersupport them to varying degrees.

            Whether a datum is evidence, and how strong the evidence is, comes down as always to the Bayes’ Factor P(datum|Theism) / P(datum|~Theism). In the case at hand, what I’m claiming is that God is likely to create more intelligible universes, but (because intelligibility is not his only purpose) not certain to create the most intelligible one. Suppose that we have 100 possible universes, ordered in intelligibility, with 1 being the most intelligible and 10 being the least. What I’m saying is that our universe need not be #1 in order for its intelligibility to be evidence for God. Rather, we should expect given Theism a more intelligible universe, but P(Univ-n|Theism) should not be entirely concentrated at 1.

            For concreteness, we could give P(Univ-1|Theism) = 1/2, P(Univ=2|Theism) = 1/4, and so on, except that we make P(Univ-100|Theism) = P(Univ-99|Theism) = 1/2^99 so that our probabilities sum to 1. It seems reasonable to assign P(Univ-n|~Theism) = 1/100. If that’s right, then if our universe is one of #1-6, it is more likely on theism than atheism, and so evidence for theism. For example, if it’s #3, then P(Univ-3|Theism) / P(Univ-3|~Theism) = [1/8] / [1/100] = 25/2.

            There’s no special pleading going on for theism in a probability distribution like this. In general when we’re dealing with the actions of an intelligent agent we shouldn’t assign a probability near 1 to any specific outcome. For instance, if we don’t know whether a chess game is being played by a brilliant grandmaster or a computer picking moves at random, and there are 100 legal moves available, we could order them from those that appear best to worst to help us discriminate between these hypotheses when we observe which move is made. But it would be foolish to be very confident that the grandmaster will pick the #1 move, because even if we can discriminate between good and bad chess moves decently well, the grandmaster can do it much better than us. If move #5 is picked, we should probably still expect it’s the grandmaster and not the computer. So it would be better to assign distributions like those above to each move conditional on the Grandmaster and Random hypotheses.

            I expect we disagree on the substantive question of “how close to optimal” the discoverability of the universe appears. But the position that it appears pretty darn discoverable is hardly a radical one. Physicists from Albert Einstein to Eugene Wigner to Paul Davies have remarked on the incredible intelligibility of the laws of nature. And Robin Collins’ recent empirical work supports this position with respect to the discoverability of particular aspects of the universe. An example the paper I linked to discusses is the strength of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). This radiation is scientists’ primary source of evidence about the origins of the universe; the more intense the CMBR is, the more information it carries about the universe. The intensity of the CMBR is a function of the ratio of photons to baryons in the universe. This ratio is approximately a billion to one, but it could have been anywhere from one to infinity; it traces back to the degree of asymmetry in matter and anti-matter right after the beginning of the universe – for approximately every billion particles of antimatter, there was a billion and one particles of matter. It turns out that, incredibly, our universe has the exact ratio of photons to baryons that maximizes the CMBR. This fact certainly looks like optimization for discoverability, and is much more likely on Theism than on ~Theism.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            A Newtonian universe would be unstable because of classical chaos, a fact that wasn’t realised until QM was taking off.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Thank you for the primer on probabilistic reasoning, I’ve never read the first twenty pages of a textbook before, so that was extremely helpful.

            Physicists from Albert Einstein to Eugene Wigner to Paul Davies have remarked on the incredible intelligibility of the laws of nature.

            Are you seriously citing Einstein, who went to his grave denying the completeness of the new quantum theory precisely because he could not see how it could be reconciled with his aprioristic conviction in the determinacy and intelligibility of the world? Davies is a theist, and his thesis seems to be that any universe apparently governed by mathematical laws qualifies as intelligible, which is a riot. You may be used to gulling ignorant yokels by reciting cherry-picked lists of names you found on some apologist’s blog, but I’m not quite so easily impressed. If you wish to establish that there’s a consensus among physicists re: the universe’s intelligibility, you will need sociological data.

            I expect we disagree on the substantive question of “how close to optimal” the discoverability of the universe appears.

            We don’t, actually, because your position on the matter was not arrived at by any process of evidence-collection and deliberation, but by a series of tendentious assumptions foreordained and tailored to arrive at your entirely arational metaphysical precommitments. It’s not really a disagreement if, like a parakeet or a pull-string doll, there was never any chance that you’d say anything else.

            But fine. The problem is not just that the universe is unintelligible, although it is, but that it is deviously unintelligible. The Creator did everything he could to disguise the true movements of the earth, even placing the stars so far away from us that Tycho would be deceived by the apparent absence of the stellar parallax. In lieu of actual elements, he gave us as the most salient substances in our environment a chemical reaction, a compound, and two mixtures. He made speciation so gradual and rare that we had to painstakingly reconstruct the common origin of life from the beaks of finches found on a remote and uninhabited archipelago antipodal to the centers of civilization and learning. He made an idiotically simple gravitation law true up to such a high degree of approximation, and our celestial neighborhood so void of large objects, that the only detectable evidence of the law’s falsity was a minute disturbance in the motion of the innermost planet’s perihelion. I want you to understand just how steep a hill this is for you to climb: you must be able to explain why each of these wild goose chases God sent us on, each red herring he left for us to find, occurs as a matter of metaphysical necessity. I find myself thinking that the “if God exists, he’s kind of a ****” hypothesis is a lot more probable.

          • James Picone says:

            @Troy:
            Of course, in this universe we don’t have slood, which contains a detailed imprint of early solar system formation, among other things, because our fundamental laws are too slood-hostile. Put another way, you’re only counting the hits, the misses are invisible.

            @Earthly Knight:
            Maybe be less insulting? I disagree with Troy and broadly agree with you, but I think you’re being a jerk about it. Was it really necessary to say this?:

            We don’t, actually, because your position on the matter was not arrived at by any process of evidence-collection and deliberation, but by a series of tendentious assumptions foreordained and tailored to arrive at your entirely arational metaphysical precommitments. It’s not really a disagreement if, like a parakeet or a pull-string doll, there was never any chance that you’d say anything else.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            You’re right, I was being kind of a jerk. Sorry Troy.

          • Troy says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            Thank you for the primer on probabilistic reasoning, I’ve never read the first twenty pages of a textbook before, so that was extremely helpful.

            I presume you are being sarcastic here. I assure you no condescension was intended. I have no idea what familiarity different readers of this blog have with probability theory, and in general (both on this blog and in my academic writing) I try to present my arguments in as clear and accessible a way as possible, explaining each step as much as I can. This is valuable even when both sides to an exchange have a thorough background in the subject matter or form of argumentation. I’ve seen respected academics make serious mistakes in basic probability theory many times. Math is hard, and it’s always good to have the basics before us. (I use simple idealized examples for the same reason; in my experience many disagreements can be cached out in terms of them.)

            If you wish to establish that there’s a consensus among physicists re: the universe’s intelligibility, you will need sociological data.

            I wasn’t trying to establish that there was a consensus. The examples of physicists who have endorsed the thesis was simply meant to show that the thesis is not ludicrous. If you know of any sociological data, though, I would be interested in seeing it (seriously).

            The problem is not just that the universe is unintelligible, although it is, but that it is deviously unintelligible. The Creator did everything he could to disguise the true movements of the earth, even placing the stars so far away from us that Tycho would be deceived by the apparent absence of the stellar parallax. In lieu of actual elements, he gave us as the most salient substances in our environment a chemical reaction, a compound, and two mixtures. He made speciation so gradual and rare that we had to painstakingly reconstruct the common origin of life from the beaks of finches found on a remote and uninhabited archipelago antipodal to the centers of civilization and learning. He made an idiotically simple gravitation law true up to such a high degree of approximation, and our celestial neighborhood so void of large objects, that the only detectable evidence of the law’s falsity was a minute disturbance in the motion of the innermost planet’s perihelion.

            A few points. First, on whether God could have created a life-bearing classical universe instead: I went back and looked at some of the fine-tuning literature I’ve read, and Robin Collins claims that in a classical world atoms would not be stable because electrons would quickly lose their energy through electromagnetic radiation and crash into the nucleus. A similar answer is given to a similar question here. (Perhaps this is related to TheAncientGeek’s point? I don’t know enough about the relevant physics to know what he was getting at there.)

            On your other examples, they mostly have to do with non-fundamental features of the universe. For example, if God was creating a universe to more or less evolve on its own, he isn’t just “placing” the stars a certain distance from earth, he’s setting up initial conditions that lead to that result. Now in that particular example I don’t know what initial conditions would look like that would make the stars close enough to us that a parallax would have been observable in the 16th century. But the general trend in the fine-tuning literature in physics is indeed to find that things needed to be very close to the way they actually are for life to arise in the first place. So I would not be surprised if putting the stars as close as you suggest would not have been feasible, although I am open to being educated on this by anyone who knows the relevant physics involves better than I do.

            With your second example, I’m not sure what all you’re getting at with “the most salient substances in our environment.” But if, for example, the compound is water, then the obvious reason it is so salient is that it is essential for many biological processes.

            More general thoughts: one reason that I used the probabilistic formulations I did in my last post was to get clearer on the evidential situation, and one of my main points there was that we don’t need the universe to appear maximally intelligible from our situation in order for its degree of intelligibility to be evidence for theism. So we need to look not only at apparently surprisingly unintelligible aspects of nature but also apparently surprisingly intelligible aspects. We don’t agree about the former; I explained why I thought two of your examples do not actually show sub-optimal intelligibility, and with respect to the others I think the complexity of the universe and our ignorance of how all of its workings fit together should make us cautious in concluding that the universe really could have been more intelligible in this respect. (This is the same point I made in the last post motivating a probability distribution conditional on theism concentrated in the top several “apparently intelligible” universes and not all at #1.) But with respect to the latter we also need to consider such facts as the one I mentioned last time about the CMB having maximal intensity in our universe (p. 13 of this essay). This looks to me like a striking example of an aspect of the universe (namely, its origins) being much more discoverable than we should expect by chance.

            EDIT (just saw this):

            You’re right, I was being kind of a jerk. Sorry Troy.

            Apology accepted. It’s easy to get unduly heated in these discussions; I’m sorry to say I’ve done it myself many times. And it’s not easy to own up to it; so I appreciate that. I hope I’ve been respectful in my comments, but apologize if I haven’t at any point.

            @James Picone:

            Of course, in this universe we don’t have slood, which contains a detailed imprint of early solar system formation, among other things, because our fundamental laws are too slood-hostile. Put another way, you’re only counting the hits, the misses are invisible.

            Yes, I agree that an observation selection effect is one important objection that needs to be considered here. (I’m not familiar with “slood” though. Is this a physics concept? Something from a sci-fi novel?) I would note though, that while some kinds of intelligibility are such that, arguably, we would only notice if they’re present and not realize if they’re absent, this is not universally true. The CMB is such an example. We could have found that it was maximized in some other universe; Collins in fact recounts in the paper I linked to above that when he first tried to calculate what ratio of photons to baryons would maximize the CMB he made a mistake and so thought he had disconfirmed his thesis rather than confirmed it.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            First, on whether God could have created a life-bearing classical universe instead:

            Intuitively, it is hard to believe that he could not have. You seem to be asking whether, holding certain physical features of our present world fixed, the universe could be governed by more intelligible laws. But these are nomic constraints, and God can rewrite laws and reshape matter as he pleases. In other words, your fine-tuning arguments will not avail you here. The thesis you really need to defend is this:

            It is not metaphysically possible for there to be a life-bearing Newtonian/mechanicistic/Aristotelian universe without catastrophic sacrifices in orderliness or goodness.

            This is a very strong thesis, a very implausible thesis, and a very difficult thesis to prove.

          • Troy says:

            I once saw a discussion on fine-tuning between a physicist and a philosopher, the physicist arguing that it supported theism and the philosopher disagreeing. The philosopher argued that God can choose the “physical possibility space” that physicists investigate when they make fine-tuning calculations, and that his choosing one that makes it so hard for life to exist is evidence against theism. The physicist, on the other hand, seemed to think that this possibility space was purely mathematical. On his view, the discovery that only universes with qualities X, Y, and Z can bear life or harbor other kinds of complexities is like the realization that a solar system that obeys Newton’s Laws will have elliptical orbits; it’s just a mathematical fact.

            In the physics literature on fine-tuning for life, usually the laws of our universe are held fixed and various parameters (e.g., the strength of fundamental forces) are varied, to see what happens. For the most part we don’t know what would happen if we changed the laws. So even if the above physicist is right and the space of possible universes is just determined mathematically, we’ve only begun to investigate that space.

            Certainly this ignorance of ours should be taken into account in determining the import of fine-tuning (whether for life or discoverability). But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take it be likely that the space we’ve investigated is representative of the total space of possibilities. This is our normal procedure in drawing other inductive conclusions about the world. It is far from certain that there isn’t some other more intelligible universe out there in that possibility-space (that doesn’t suffer from other bad tradeoffs), but as long as the evidence lends this some plausibility fine-tuning can still be evidence for theism.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take it be likely that the space we’ve investigated is representative of the total space of possibilities. This is our normal procedure in drawing other inductive conclusions about the world.

            Our normal procedures for answering scientific questions aren’t a useful guide here, because we can’t normally rewrite the laws of nature at will. God can. Think about how sharply you’ve limited his powers: he can only create worlds with laws extremely similar to ours, tweaking a parameter here and there. Pick up a science fiction novel, or play a video game. Could God create those worlds? Your answer is that he probably couldn’t. In your zeal to prove God’s existence you’ve wound up hanging a wandering albatross from his neck. And, while we’re at it, is a God so impotent that he could not create any worlds governed by roughly Newtonian laws really worthy of worship?

          • Troy says:

            C.S. Lewis said, “It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” If the above physicist is right, then it is a real possibility that a world governed by “roughly Newtonian laws” that nevertheless contains the kinds of complexity we observe is as impossible a scenario as a true contradiction. The limitation lies not in God but in the description of the universe.

            Think about how sharply you’ve limited his powers: he can only create worlds with laws extremely similar to ours, tweaking a parameter here and there.

            I’m not claiming that he can’t create universes with very different laws. My suggestion is rather that if we’re speculating about what such universes would be like (since we really don’t know), we should assume that they’re more likely to be like the possible universes that physicists have investigated than to be unlike them. The vast majority of those possible universes cannot even sustain stars, let alone life, let alone life that can discover the nature of their universe.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            My suggestion is rather that if we’re speculating about what such universes would be like (since we really don’t know), we should assume that they’re more likely to be like the possible universes that physicists have investigated than to be unlike them. The vast majority of those possible universes cannot even sustain stars, let alone life, let alone life that can discover the nature of their universe.

            It’s not enough that the vast majority of Newtonian universes will be unable to sustain life, though– you need it to be the case that there are zero possible universes under a Newtonian regime which could give rise to intelligent life. This is a tough bullet to bite, and, since you are enamored with credences, the prior we assign to the almighty being unable to create one solitary life-bearing Newtonian world should be minuscule.

            We began with your claim that the world’s intelligibility bespeaks of an intelligent creator. Now you are putting up a not-terribly-convincing defense of the world’s needless unintelligibility. This is some kind of progress, at least.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            “God is all-powerful, there is no end to the miracles he can perform!”
            “So could he make it so that I can jump 20 feet in the air?”
            “Well, no.”
            “And could he make aliens out of clockwork, like those guys from Dr. Who?”
            “No, he couldn’t do that either.”
            “And could he make objects that naturally move in a circle, instead of along straight lines?”
            “Nope, not in his wheelhouse.”
            “How about spaceships that travel faster than the speed of light?”
            “No, that’s nonsense. God doesn’t do nonsense.”
            “Your God is pretty lame, you know.”

          • onyomi says:

            I’m agnostic, but if I did believe in God, it would strike me as pretty silly to attempt to define the limits of his abilities. Pretty much all monotheists agree that God is, if not infinitely beyond us in terms of knowledge and power, then, at least, orders of magnitude beyond us. Could an ant have a meaningful concept of what a human could or could not think about and/or accomplish?

          • James Picone says:

            @Troy:

            Yes, I agree that an observation selection effect is one important objection that needs to be considered here. (I’m not familiar with “slood” though. Is this a physics concept? Something from a sci-fi novel?) I would note though, that while some kinds of intelligibility are such that, arguably, we would only notice if they’re present and not realize if they’re absent, this is not universally true. The CMB is such an example. We could have found that it was maximized in some other universe; Collins in fact recounts in the paper I linked to above that when he first tried to calculate what ratio of photons to baryons would maximize the CMB he made a mistake and so thought he had disconfirmed his thesis rather than confirmed it.

            “Slood” comes from Science of the Discworld, a Terry Pratchett discworld spinoff where the wizards of Unseen University semi-accidentally make Earth. It’s an empty referent used to make a joke similar to the argument I’m making here.

            I agree that it’s possible to conclude with a level of confidence that a particular set of parameters are set such that some other value is at a high point for possible combinations of those parameters. But that’s the same selection effect! Would a different combination of those parameters maximise slood? Would a different combination maximise xyzzy, or W-radiation, or make neutrino telescopes a thing, or some other thing we don’t have in our universe as constructed? It looks to me like this is a very similar mistake to flipping a coin a million times, noting that the particular outcome you get has a 2**million chance of occurring, and concluding that the coin must therefore be fixed. What’s the base rate of close-to-maximum scientifically-useful things in universes? Across all universes, not just the very local space of varying a couple parameters and keeping some others fixed, and looking at the impact on atom formation or stars. Without even considering the potential of non-atom or non-star interesting things!

            While it’s still designed, it might be worth considering the physics of Minecraft, Infinifactory or other ‘block’ games. They’re pretty solidly different from our physics, and they’re Turing-complete! I don’t think you could build a replicator out of their physics without simulating it (neglecting Minecraft’s basic replicators like chickens and so on, I’m just talking about the blocks here). Similarly, cellular automata often contain self-replicators or are Turing complete. Life, Rule 110, etc.. If I’ve got my numbers right, there are 88 elementary cellular automata – one-dimensional with only adjacent neighbours. AFAIK only one is known to be Turing-complete, and there are a handful of others that are complicated and might be Turing-complete. That’s not that low a base-rate. And I wouldn’t be surprised if more complex cellular automata – two dimensional, larger neighbourhoods, more states, etc. – have far more rulesets with interesting outcomes.

          • Troy says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            since you are enamored with credences

            Oh goodness no. I am enamored with probabilities, not with credences. 🙂

            It’s not enough that the vast majority of Newtonian universes will be unable to sustain life, though– you need it to be the case that there arezero possible universes under a Newtonian regime which could give rise to intelligent life.

            I disagree. I don’t know, and I don’t claim to know, all of God’s purposes in creating a universe. I think it is likely that creating intelligent life is one of them, and also likely (though slightly less so, given that this second purpose entails the first) that creating intelligent life that is able to manipulate its environment, grow in knowledge of the world, etc. is one of them. I don’t think it’s likely that these are his only purposes, and I don’t think anything I’ve said earlier in this conversation implies otherwise.

            There are two limitations on our making predictions about what kind of universe God would create. The first is that we don’t know all his goals. The second is that we’re ignorant as to how to best bring about those goals; we can’t know with certainty what universes will best realize them.

            You might object that these qualifications make theism too vague for it to be confirmed or disconfirmed by evidence. But I don’t agree. These qualifications don’t mean we can’t reasonably estimate the probability of some evidence given theism. Rather they mean that we should temper those probabilities, moving them closer to equality and farther from 0 and 1. This is, as my chess analogy earlier was supposed to suggest, just like any case in which we reason about the behavior of any intelligent agent: we don’t know all his goals or what means would best realize those goals. That doesn’t mean that we’re completely in the dark about what he’ll do, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be too confident that he’ll take any particular action.

            Let me put this point formally, because I think that does help make clearer our point of disagreement. In the case at hand, the bearing on Theism of the degree L to which the universe is fine-tuned for life and degree D to which it is fine-tuned for discoverability can be measured by the Bayes’ factor

            P(F&D|Theism) / P(F&D|~Theism) = [P(F|Theism) / P(F|~Theism)] * [P(D|F&Theism) / P(D|F&~Theism)].

            If our best physics is right that the vast majority of possible universes are lifeless, then the factor P(F|~Theism) is apparently astronomically small. Just to give one example I’ve mentioned before, Roger Penrose estimates the volume of the phase space of theoretically possible universes with low enough initial entropy for life to be possible as 10^-(10^123). The factor P(D|F&~Theism) is much harder to estimate but at least some of the examples that Collins is currently studying seem to suggest that this is similarly very low.

            The objection that God should have created a more discoverable universe bears on P(D|F&Theism). Your claim, as I understand it, is that, where M = our universe is maximally discoverable,

            P(D|F&Theism) = P(M|F&Theism)P(D|M&F&Theism) + P(~M|F&Theism)P(D|~M&F&Theism),

            and that P(D|~M&F&Theism) = 0, because God would have created a maximally discoverable universe. Further, you suggest that “the prior we assign to the almighty being unable to create one solitary life-bearing Newtonian world should be minuscule,” so that P(M|F&Theism) ~ 0. Then, assuming P(D|M&F&Theism) is near 1,

            P(D|F&Theism) = (~0)(~1) = ~0.

            In response, I am denying that P(D|~M&F&Theism) = 0. This is because God may have purposes besides discoverability; there might be other advantages to a non-optimally discoverable universe that we don’t know about. P(D|~M&F&Theism) may still be low, but all our probabilities are low here, so even if it’s 10^-10 that is very different from 0 as far as our Bayes’ Factor is concerned. Similarly, although I’m happy to grant that P(M|F&Theism) is near 0, how near 0 is going to make a difference. If the denominator of the second Bayes’ factor above is, say, 10^-100, P(M|F&Theism) could be 10^-50 and P(D|F&Theism) would still be around 50 orders of magnitude above it.

          • Troy says:

            @James Picone:

            “Slood” comes from Science of the Discworld, a Terry Pratchett discworld spinoff where the wizards of Unseen University semi-accidentally make Earth.

            Thanks.

            I agree that it’s possible to conclude with a level of confidence that a particular set of parameters are set such that some other value is at a high point for possible combinations of those parameters. But that’s the same selection effect! Would a different combination of those parameters maximise slood? Would a different combination maximise xyzzy, or W-radiation, or make neutrino telescopes a thing, or some other thing we don’t have in our universe as constructed? It looks to me like this is a very similar mistake to flipping a coin a million times, noting that the particular outcome you get has a 2**million chance of occurring, and concluding that the coin must therefore be fixed. What’s the base rate of close-to-maximum scientifically-useful things in universes? Across all universes, not just the very local space of varying a couple parameters and keeping some others fixed, and looking at the impact on atom formation or stars. Without even considering the potential of non-atom or non-star interesting things!

            Well, the set of relevant universes will only be the life-permitting ones, since we wouldn’t be around in any of the others. And as I said above to Earthly Knight, we just don’t know what universes are like when we, e.g., change the laws, but I think it’s reasonable to take the possible universes we have explored (which are indeed comparatively local) as probably representative of the ones we haven’t.

            With those caveats in mind, let me see if I can reconstruct your objection. I’m claiming that, e.g., the photon:baryon ratio maximizing the CMB is evidence for theism; and you’re responding that it’s unsurprising that we would find some scientifically interesting quantity to be maximized just by chance.

            But it’s not clear to me that this is the case. This isn’t like the Monty Hall Problem where we’re guaranteed to observe a door opened with a goat behind it. Collins could have found that the CMB is not maximized in our universe. In so doing he wouldn’t have simultaneously found that some other useful quantity is maximized (as would be the case in your coin flip analogy). So this outcome looks more expected under Theism than ~Theism, and so is evidence for Theism.

            Moreover, if we can find multiple quantities that appear to be maximized, then even if the selection effect worry blunts the evidential force of each one, their cumulative weight might still be strong. (Maybe we were likely to find one such example just by chance, but we may not be likely to find five by chance.) Collins’s current research is on to what extent different aspects of the universe are optimized for discovery. This is still preliminary research, but early results seem to suggest that the CMB is not the only such aspect. For example, in a response to the paper I linked to earlier, Sean Carroll raised the Higgs Boson as a counterexample to Collins’s discoverability claim, and when Collins investigated it, he found that it and other particles in fact appeared to have an ideal lifetime for being identified. (See this video from 14:30-23:20; the discussion of the Higgs Boson in particular starts at 21:40 or so.)

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’m happy to grant that P(M|F&Theism) is near 0

            But this is a concession, yes? You began the conversation by claiming that the intelligibility of the universe served as evidence of God’s existence, and now you are agreeing that the universe’s unintelligibility weighs against the God hypothesis.

          • Mark says:

            “Further, you suggest that “the prior we assign to the almighty being unable to create one solitary life-bearing Newtonian world should be minuscule,” so that P(M|F&Theism) ~ 0. ”

            ” Similarly, although I’m happy to grant that P(M|F&Theism) is near 0, how near 0 is going to make a difference.”

            Surely the atheist chap is saying that the probability of maximally discoverable universe given a galaxy fine-tuned by god is near one, not near zero.
            The theist isn’t conceding anything by saying that the probability of a maximally discoverable universe is low even given theism… because the inverse would undermine his point unless the universe is maximally discoverable.

            Am I hopelessly confused?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            M stands for “the universe we find ourselves in belongs to the set of maximally intelligible universes”, not “the actual universe is intelligible.” The subjective probability of the former should be low, given that God was trying to optimize the universe’s intelligibility– he seems to have botched the job. This is, or was, the bone of contention. The a priori probability of the latter claim is high, as you say, but this is agreed by all hands.

            I think. At any rate this is an understandable confusion, Troy’s variable assignments are meshuggeneh.

          • James Picone says:

            @Troy:

            Well, the set of relevant universes will only be the life-permitting ones, since we wouldn’t be around in any of the others.

            “life” is not a simple term. Maybe with the parameters set like X, atoms don’t exist, and so we don’t exist – but that doesn’t rule out all self-reproducing-capable-of-computation processes.

            And as I said above to Earthly Knight, we just don’t know what universes are like when we, e.g., change the laws, but I think it’s reasonable to take the possible universes we have explored (which are indeed comparatively local) as probably representative of the ones we haven’t.

            I disagree. I think it’s extremely unlikely that the local neighbourhood of physics-by-varying-some-fundamental-constants is at all representative of the space of universes.

            With those caveats in mind, let me see if I can reconstruct your objection. I’m claiming that, e.g., the photon:baryon ratio maximizing the CMB is evidence for theism; and you’re responding that it’s unsurprising that we would find some scientifically interesting quantity to be maximized just by chance.

            That’s a fair rephrasing.

            But it’s not clear to me that this is the case. This isn’t like the Monty Hall Problem where we’re guaranteed to observe a door opened with a goat behind it. Collins could have found that the CMB is not maximized in our universe. In so doing he wouldn’t have simultaneously found that some other useful quantity is maximized (as would be the case in your coin flip analogy). So this outcome looks more expected under Theism than ~Theism, and so is evidence for Theism.

            There are lots of possible scientifically-interesting Things. I appreciate that we’re not guaranteed to close-to-maximise something, but I do think there’s an exceedingly good chance of it, enough that it’s quite weak evidence. It’s difficult to conclude because we have no good way of choosing our prior. My intuition just comes from exactly how much stuff there is. There’s something like twenty different techniques for finding out how far away from Earth an astronomical object is, with differing limits and error behaviours and preconditions. There’s just so much stuff to accidentally have pegged at a high value.

            It’s true that finding many close-to-maximum Things is stronger evidence; although exactly how strong again depends on the prior we don’t really have.

            I’m generally skeptical of claims that a given feature of the universe is optimised for intelligibility, FWIW. And I’m not sure two is enough here. Especially given Earthy Knight’s point that a lot of this stuff is really undiscoverable. Relativity was hard to figure out, quantum physics is pretty damn close to “Just do some maths and don’t worry about the physical interpretation”, and both of them are known to be wrong. It was thousands of years between modern humans appearing and even Newtonian physics, let alone our more modern understanding.

            Cellular automata research looks like an extremely fruitful area for these kinds of problems. Most two-dimensional Moore-neighbourhood two-state (“Life-like”) cellular automata haven’t been researched at all – there are 2**18 of them, according to Wikipedia, but I don’t know if that accounts for symmetry. There are several known with replicators and/or Turing-completeness; I suspect that automated assays are impossible because of the halting problem. You’re a publishing philosopher, right? It genuinely might be worth finding a computer scientist who does work on cellular automata and writing a paper or several on the proportion of various kinds of CA that have particular properties.

          • Troy says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            “I’m happy to grant that P(M|F&Theism) is near 0”

            But this is a concession, yes? You began the conversation by claiming that the intelligibility of the universe served as evidence of God’s existence, and now you are agreeing that the universe’s unintelligibility weighs against the God hypothesis.

            What I’m saying doesn’t imply that the universe’s unintelligibility is evidence against God’s existence, at least, not on a natural probabilistic precisification of that claim. More precisely: if D is the degree to which the universe is discoverable/intelligible, it does not imply that D is evidence against theism, relative to the background knowledge F that the universe is fine-tuned for life (since that’s necessary for it to be discoverable at all).

            First, let me say that I just looked back at my last post, and I see I called the fact that the universe is fine-tuned for life “L” and then used “F” in my calculations. Apologies for that; that may have contributed to its being unclear. Let me try to be clearer here. I’ll stick with F to be consistent with my earlier equations.

            F = the universe is fine-tuned for life
            D = the degree to which the universe is fine-tuned for discoverability

            D is evidence for Theism relative to F iff P(D|F&Theism) > P(D|F&~Theism), and D is evidence against Theism relative to F iff P(D|F&Theism) P(D|~M&F&Theism) — that is, God is more likely to create a universe this discoverable if this is the most discoverable universe than otherwise — then P(D|F&Theism) is a decreasing function of P(M|F&Theism). That is, the lower we set P(M|F&Theism), the lower P(D|F&Theism) is, because we’re attaching less “weight” to the scenario that’s friendlier to God creating.

            So to that extent granting that P(M|F&Theism) is near 0 is indeed a concession. But granting this does not imply that D is evidence against Theism, because it does not imply P(D|F&Theism) < P(D|F&~Theism). Rather, if it's really hard for the universe to be this discoverable by chance, P(D|F&~Theism) will itself be near 0. Suppose it's 10^-100. Then, even if P(M|F&Theism) = 10^-10 and God is certain to only create the maximally discoverable universe (which I don’t grant), then

            P(D|F&Theism) = P(M|F&Theism)P(D|M&F&Theism) + P(~M|F&Theism)P(D|~M&F&Theism)
            = 10^-10(1) + 0 = 10^-10,

            and so

            P(D|F&Theism) = 10^-10 >> 10^-100 = P(D|F&~Theism).

            In this case D is not evidence against Theism, and is in fact very strong evidence for it.

            Does that make sense? One way to think of it is that while the prior probability that our universe is maximally discoverable is low, finding out that it’s much more discoverable than is likely by chance makes it more likely that it is maximally discoverable, by making it more likely that it was created by God. Similarly, if you observe a chess move that look very good but sup-optimal, you may get evidence that that move actually is optimal if it was made by a grandmaster.

          • Troy says:

            @Mark:

            “Further, you suggest that “the prior we assign to the almighty being unable to create one solitary life-bearing Newtonian world should be minuscule,” so that P(M|F&Theism) ~ 0. ”

            ” Similarly, although I’m happy to grant that P(M|F&Theism) is near 0, how near 0 is going to make a difference.”

            Surely the atheist chap is saying that the probability of maximally discoverable universe given a galaxy fine-tuned by god is near one, not near zero.
            The theist isn’t conceding anything by saying that the probability of a maximally discoverable universe is low even given theism… because the inverse would undermine his point unless the universe is maximally discoverable.

            Am I hopelessly confused?

            Probably I was unclear; I tried to include a lot of math in a single post, and the conceptual issues involving in evaluating these probabilities are notoriously confusing.

            M is meant to be the hypothesis that a universe with the laws, constants, etc. of our own is maximally discoverable among the space of possible universes. P(M|F&Theism) is supposed to be evaluated before we know that the universe M is concerned with is in fact our own universe. (This is what D tells us.) In other words, F&Theism tells us just two things: God created a universe, and he fine-tuned it for life. It doesn’t tell us which of the life-bearing universes he has created.

            Compare: you don’t yet know what chess move a grandmaster has made, but you do know he’s made a move. Your probability that a certain move is the best move should remain unchanged until you’ve seen the move. At that point your probability that that move is best may increase, since the grandmaster took it.

          • Troy says:

            @James Picone:

            “life” is not a simple term. Maybe with the parameters set like X, atoms don’t exist, and so we don’t exist – but that doesn’t rule out all self-reproducing-capable-of-computation processes.

            Oh, I see; you’re denying the premise that, roughly, only universes “like our own” could bear life (in the broad sense of “self-reproducing-capable-of-computation processes”). This helps me better understand your suggestion about investigating the Game of Life, etc., which I confess I didn’t really follow in your earlier post.

            This is getting beyond my area of expertise, but my understanding of the physics is that it would be very hard to have any kind of organized complexity at all in most of the possible universes we have investigated. For example, if the strong nuclear force were much weaker, atomic nuclei would not be able to hold together and there would be no stable elements except hydrogen.

            I do agree that it would be interesting to examine cellular automata and the like to see how often self-reproducing properties and the like pop up. In particular, it strikes me that this might help us estimate the proportion of non-life-bearing universes among possible universes we haven’t investigated — i.e., especially those with very different laws (perhaps this is what you initially in mind). Thanks for the suggestion.

            I appreciate that we’re not guaranteed to close-to-maximise something, but I do think there’s an exceedingly good chance of it, enough that it’s quite weak evidence.

            I think we disagree on this point. For example, with Collins’s CMB calculations, if he hadn’t found that the photon:baryon ratio maximized the CMB, he just wouldn’t have found anything at all. You might respond that if he looked for enough examples he was bound to find one. However, he reports in the paper I linked to earlier (and has said the same to me in conversation) that “In every case that I was able to make calculations regarding whether the fundamental parameters of physics are optimized in this way, they appear to pass the test” (p. 5). (I mentioned the CMB because it is the most striking and, frankly, it’s the one I understand the best.) I can understand if you don’t want to take that report on faith, though. Here having the multiple examples well-worked out and described and subject to public scrutiny is helpful. Right now most of this work is just in draft form, in the paper or talk I linked to. Collins is writing a book on this now that I expect should be published in the next year or two, and that should get a lot of press when it does.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            But granting this does not imply that D is evidence against Theism, because it does not imply P(D|F&Theism) < P(D|F&~Theism). Rather, if it's really hard for the universe to be this discoverable by chance, P(D|F&~Theism) will itself be near 0.

            Okay, but what is the argument here? Presumably, the less intelligible the universe is, the greater the likelihood that it’s the product of chance, or a less providential deity. Say, as you suggested before, that we order possible worlds over the interval (1,100), with 1 being the least intelligible universe and 100 being the most. It seems as though you are conceding that the universe is intuitively not at the top end, from which it follows that the other hypotheses grow correspondingly more likely.*

            Remember also that this is all given that the universe is fine-tuned for life, which already implies some degree of orderliness and hence intelligibility. My instinct would be to assign a high probability to the laws of nature being approximately as intelligible as they are, given that the world is capable of bearing life.

            *Actually, it’s not clear to me that this is true– it seems like chance should just as readily create a universe in the top centile as any other. Although I could also see chance universes being clustered around 50 or near the bottom based on entropy-like considerations, it’s hard for intuitions to get much traction in these nether regions of speculative metaphysics.

          • Troy says:

            Okay, but what is the argument here? Presumably, the less intelligible the universe is, the greater the likelihood that it’s the product of chance, or a less providential deity.

            Above I suggested a flat distribution over different universes given chance; so more and less intelligible universes would be equally probable.

            Say, as you suggested before, that we order possible worlds over the interval (1,100), with 1 being the least intelligible universe and 100 being the most. It seems as though you are conceding that the universe is intuitively not at the top end, from which it follows that the other hypotheses grow correspondingly more likely.*

            No, I’m conceding that the universe is intuitively not #100, inasmuch as we can ask questions of the sort you brought up of why our universe is not Newtonian, etc. I’m not conceding that it’s intuitively, say, <#95. I should have been clearer about this above.

            Remember also that this is all given that the universe is fine-tuned for life, which already implies some degree of orderliness and hence intelligibility.

            Yes, I agree with this.

            As I see it the state of play regarding intelligibility goes roughly like this. At first glance, it’s incredible that the universe is intelligible that it is. Here it’s worth remembering that the notion that the universe is governed by discoverable laws at all is a fairly recent one in history. Most ancient peoples thought the world was governed by caprice, and before the scientific revolution most people took it for granted that the workings of nature were inscrutable to us. The growth of science, success of Newtonian physics, and so on looked pretty incredible from this perspective, revealing as they did that the mess of life that we see around us is governed by much simpler principles than anyone could have guessed — ones that we can now comprehend to a sufficient degree to manipulate and control nature. Today we take it for granted that we can predict the future and manipulate our world with such precision as to build rockets and computers, but this is unprecedented historically.

            As you point out, the quantum revolution and other developments in 20th century physics make the world look weirder than it did before. But even at this point, I think our being able to mathematically describe fundamental features of reality represents a remarkable degree of intelligibility. Maybe our universe doesn’t look like the 100th percentile for intelligibility right now, but it does look like it’s around the 95th.

            This is all at an intuitive level. When we dig deeper, it’s plausible that some degree of orderliness and intelligibility is necessary for the existence of life, especially given what modern physics tells us about how hard it is for a universe to produce life. So perhaps we can give an anthropic explanation to intelligibility: this is the only kind of universe we could have observed. At that point to get further traction on intelligibility it’s best to operationalize it and test to see how the intelligibility of some feature of our universe compares with its intelligibility in other possible universes that physics tells us could also bear life. This is basically Robin Collins’s project that I’ve mentioned a few times. The data here is not nearly as firm as in the fine-tuning for life case, but what data there is — for example, the cosmic microwave background radiation being maximally strong (holding other factors constant) — suggests there’s a good case to be made that when we measure intelligibility in this way our universe looks surprisingly intelligible again.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            No, I’m conceding that the universe is intuitively not #100, inasmuch as we can ask questions of the sort you brought up of why our universe is not Newtonian, etc. I’m not conceding that it’s intuitively, say, <#95. I should have been clearer about this above.

            Let’s recap. On the intelligibility side of the ledger, we have:

            1. The universe exhibits some degree of mathematical regularity (which you concede may be necessary for it to be inhabited in the first place).

            On the unintelligibility side, we have:

            2. After centuries of intensive labor by hundreds of thousands of very bright people we are… nowhere close to a final mathematical theory of nature.
            3. The progress of science has been massively delayed by features of the universe seemingly designed to mislead and confound us.
            4. The character of the universe disclosed to us by modern physics is more bizarre than anyone anticipated and virtually impossible for humans to conceive of.

            And it is your considered judgment that the first piece of evidence is nineteen times weightier than the latter three combined?

            Here it’s worth remembering that the notion that the universe is governed by discoverable laws at all is a fairly recent one in history.

            What a wacky thing to say! Every ancient civilization– the Indians, Chinese, Mayans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Babylonians, for starters– knew of the orderliness of the heavens and exploited it to draw calendars and cast horoscopes. Even outside of the celestial sphere, the world was always thought to exhibit regularities, but these were the regularities of human psychology ascribed to anthropomorphic Gods, in place of the regularities of mathematical physics. We are overwhelmed by drought, and must propitiate the Gods with sacrifice so that the rains will fall. We have transgressed God’s commandments, so he punishes us with defeat in war– if we cleanse ourselves of impiety and sin, he will surely look on our armies with favor again. Your body is afflicted by malign spirits, but the chemicals infused into this amulet will drive them out, and you will be healed. And so on. The developmental psychology literature makes it abundantly clear that humans have an innate predisposition to view the world as predictable and full of hidden agencies, which should come as no surprise to you, this being the genesis of all religion. It is false, and patently so, that the intelligibility of the world is a recent suggestion. What has actually transpired is a long process of replacing simplistic and digestible pseudo-explanations with increasingly intricate and perplexing scientific explanations.

          • Troy says:

            Every ancient civilization– the Indians, Chinese, Mayans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Babylonians, for starters– knew of the orderliness of the heavens and exploited it to draw calendars and cast horoscopes.

            But for the most part they did not try to explain the motions of the heavens in terms of anything deeper, as Newton did. Ptolemy’s system was wonderful as a predicting tool, but could not explain why the planets moved in the motions they did. Newton explained and unified phenomena that were brute facts for the ancients.

            Even outside of the celestial sphere, the world was always thought to exhibit regularities, but these were the regularities of human psychology ascribed to anthropomorphic Gods, in place of the regularities of mathematical physics.

            Granted that divine psychology is a kind of regularity; but even if polytheistic religions of the kind popular in the ancient world were correct they would not allow the same level of control over the world as we enjoy today, or even enjoyed four centuries ago.

            Let’s recap. On the intelligibility side of the ledger, we have:

            1. The universe exhibits some degree of mathematical regularity (which you concede may be necessary for it to be inhabited in the first place).

            On the unintelligibility side, we have:

            2. After centuries of intensive labor by hundreds of thousands of very bright people we are… nowhere close to a final mathematical theory of nature.
            3. The progress of science has been massively delayed by features of the universe seemingly designed to mislead and confound us.
            4. The character of the universe disclosed to us by modern physics is more bizarre than anyone anticipated and virtually impossible for humans to conceive of.

            And it is your considered judgment that the first piece of evidence is nineteen times weightier than the latter three combined?

            I would quibble with (1) and (3): the precision of modern physics, chemistry, and to an extent now even biology goes far beyond “some degree of mathematical regularity,” and I don’t think one needs to read the progress of science in the way (3) suggests — it may well be that Newtonian physics was a necessary first step to modern physics (to which it is, after all, a good approximation), which would have been much harder to come up with ex nihilo.

            But really my considered judgment is that on our current evidence it’s reasonably probable that at least (1), (2), and (4) are necessary for the existence of life, and that we need to look deeper at the laws of nature themselves to see if they are fine tuned for intelligibility within the life-permitting range.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            But for the most part they did not try to explain the motions of the heavens in terms of anything deeper, as Newton did.

            You have this backwards. The early Greeks explained the movement of the sun as the passage of Helios’s chariot across the sky, and I assume the other cultures employed similar devices, although I am not well-versed on the finer points of Babylonian astrotheology. Aristotle’s cosmology placed the motion of the stars and planets in a Byzantine series of interlocking spheres, and Ptolemy, the Arab astronomers and Copernicus followed him in this (from whence the title of his treatise De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium). Newton, conversely, famously declined to offer an explanation of gravity (“hypotheses non fingo”), for which he was pilloried by the Cartesians as reintroducing occult powers into science. In other words, the Newtonian system of the world was the first in millennia not to offer a psychologically satisfying explanation of the motion of the heavens.

            But really my considered judgment is that on our current evidence it’s reasonably probable that at least (1), (2), and (4) are necessary for the existence of life, and that we need to look deeper at the laws of nature themselves to see if they are fine tuned for intelligibility within the life-permitting range.

            It sounds to me like you are rethinking your blithe confidence in the world’s intelligibility, which is a step in the right direction.

  45. onyomi says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esPRsT-lmw8

    To Scott and anyone who knows anything about psychiatry: is this guy a crackpot or really on to something?

    Basically, he is a psychiatrist who does scans of patients’ brains of some kind, complaining that psychiatrists are the only doctor who never look at the organ they treat.

    This comports with my own dissatisfaction with psychiatry, which has always struck me as way too trial-and-error based for something that involves putting mind-altering chemicals in my body.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Brain scans are a lot like the biomarkers I talked about on that last post. They’re a good idea in theory, but in practice they’re still really lossy and a lot worse than just using clinical information.

      I go into more detail about this at http://slatestarscratchpad.tumblr.com/post/120951445041/how-long-do-you-think-until-brain-scans-render

      • onyomi says:

        I’m not surprised clinical info only>scan only, but is clinical info+scan no better than just clinical info?

        I can imagine the scan might add no useful info in a majority of cases, but for treatment resistant or otherwise atypical cases (like maybe you find out the child who mysteriously became violent overnight actually has a tumor), it seems like it might be a good idea?

  46. Mary says:

    This may amuse fans of Scott’s writing:
    http://bondwine.com/2015/09/01/kundenschmerz/

  47. I hope you’re going to respond to Gilbert’s post (http://last-conformer.net/2015/08/31/the-problem-with-probabililities-without-models/) about your post, at least by commenting at his blog.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Oooh, I didn’t see that! Thanks!

      I am kind of despairing of responding, because it seems to me that my point is SO OBVIOUSLY TRUE that if I haven’t gotten it across correctly so far, I’m not going to do it by saying it a few more times. I’ve gotten a lot of comments and emails to that effect too (“this is so obviously right I don’t understand why lots of smart people don’t get it”).

      But I’ve also gotten a lot of comments along the lines of “no, this is completely wrong”, and many are from very smart people whose opinions I respect.

      I think there is some sort of fundamental disconnect happening here, some sort of really deep-level conflict of hidden assumptions or something, and since I don’t know what it is, I don’t think beating my head up against the same arguments I’ve been making all along a little more is going to help.

      • Hemid says:

        The Fundament:

        Because calculation comforts you in a way that nothing else you’ve found yet does, you assign great extra-calculatory value to it. Even others who do that (“very smart people whose opinions I respect”) don’t really do that. It’s your imago Christi; for them it’s something less. So when in the absolute absence of calculability you demand—and it does feel like a demand, as “SO OBVIOUSLY TRUE” things do—that your soothing ritual nonetheless be performed…

      • 27chaos says:

        You’re talking past each other. When you say “model”, you are thinking of something extremely formal, and it is true that you can have probabilities without good models. When the other people say “without models”, they are thinking of a magical process that somehow grabs probabilities out of thin air without ever interacting with what it needs to understand.

        You’re not talking about “without models” in their sense, you’re just talking about really vague and terrible and non formalized models with lots of free associations and uncorrected correlations and such involved, presumably some sort of terrible model is present, although it oftentimes will be hidden in the human subconscious.

        They’re not talking about “without models” in your sense, because you aren’t trying to say that predictions can be magically plucked from thin air in ways that do better than chance.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          No, I think we both agree on the sort of cases we’re talking about, like AI risk.

        • Paul Torek says:

          It’s extremely plausible that Scott’s implicit definition of “model” is richer (or more formal) than Gilbert’s, but I don’t think that’s the real problem. Even if all that’s needed is a model in Gilbert’s sense, that’s enough to make probabilities secondary to good judgments about what to count as an event/possibility, and what to count as a reference class of similar (e.g.) research projects. In cases where those judgments themselves are deeply in question, assigning probabilities may be pointless.

  48. zippy says:

    After reading a considerable amount of this blog, I humbly request– nay, DEMAND!– the formation of the Slate Star Party, a political party dedicated to supporting the rad ideals and ideas Scott has. I’d also like to read your platform, Scott, if you’re reading this. You’ve generated a lot of suggestions about how to run the world in the past, but is there a full list of changes you’d make?

    (If you’ll forgive me, I’ve now written a short piece of speculative fiction about what the SSP would do)

    I envision that, in Phase One of the party’s existence, we (the Party) won’t really do much. We won’t put forward any third-party candidates (see: Ralph Nader) because we aren’t stupid; we’ll just vote for the candidates who make the world better. Typically I imagine these will be Democrats (this may just be my bluegreensmanship), except in some states which are so liberal that even the Republicans are liberal or in a state where something interesting like a libertarian or socialist is running. Maybe every so often we do a letter campaign or a fundraiser. In Phase One, the SSP will mostly exist to allow us to signal to our friends how cool and counterculture we are.

    Plus, if we inexplicably become very powerful, we could get the “D” next to a politician’s name changed to a “D/s”, which is almost worth it on its own!

    The Free State Project interests me deeply, but I am more of a Yvainist than a Libertarian. Which brings me to our hypothetical Phase Two. In Phase Two, after achieving sufficient membership, we pick a state* and all move there. Once in this state, we elect members of the SSP to government positions (there are many LWers who are yearning for political power. I think giving it to them would be at least interesting). Then the people we elected amend the state constitution to create a new government office of absolute power: The Slate Tsar.

    Needless to say, the amendment simultaneously appoints Scott as the Slate Tsar (and may make it clear that only he can ever fill the role)

    (If we want to be sneakier, we could call his position something like “Junior Assistant Undersecretary of Domestic Affairs”, but puns are important, dammit!)

    Then we, you know, immanentize the eschaton.

    (This plan assumes that Scott doesn’t go all Gandhi-with-nukes on us once we appoint him.)

    I think this plan has broad appeal; Scott is leftist enough for the leftists, libertarian enough for the libertarians, conservative enough for the conservatives, rational enough for the intelligentsia, and kind/humble enough for people who don’t want to be ruled by a ruthless dictator. And all of the Reactionaries will be so thrilled that we’re electing AN ACTUAL LITERAL TSAR (WHICH IS THE CLOSEST THEY’LL EVER GET TO THEIR IDEAL GOVERNMENT) that they’ll come running.

    Scott doesn’t technically even have to move!

    *we also could pick a county, city, province, or small nation; it’s a trade-off between power and plausibility. We could also pick Washington DC if need be, but then we might have even less power as the country’s legislators live there and may tell us to knock it off in a legally binding way. If this strategy is successful and gives good results, there’s probably nothing to stop us from trying it again, moving from county to county and declaring that Scott is allowed to rig the results of those county’s elections as he pleases. There are a couple of criteria to consider when we pick a state:
    – We probably need to pick a state where we can win a super-majority of the state legislature, so we should pick a state with low voter turnout. However, assuming we can get our candidates elected, we can ally with a current political party (again, I assume the Democrats will be more receptive to Scott’s ideas, but that may just be my bias showing) so it may be as important to pick a swing state than a small state.
    – There may be differences in a state’s legal system which would make it easier or harder to enact our plan. I’m sure the intelligent commentariat of SSC can do a little thinking and find the best one.
    – If we pick a really nice state, things will likely continue to be really nice. But if we pick a really crappy state, and make it really nice, then we’ll know Scott’s plans work. Also we’ll improve lives more that way, if you’re into that sort of thing.
    – It would be cool if we chose a swing state, so we could influence national elections. Undue representation in the electoral college would also be nice, though Wikipedia is making me question if this is important.
    – We could pick a state with a stupid flag or name (like “Washington” or “West Virginia” (or regular Virginia, just to stick it to the “West Virgina” people)) that’s just begging to be changed.

    • AngryDrake says:

      >electing AN ACTUAL LITERAL TSAR (WHICH IS THE CLOSEST THEY’LL EVER GET TO THEIR IDEAL GOVERNMENT)

      Electing a monarch? Are you off your nut?

      • zippy says:

        Possibly; I did just use several exclamation points!

        But I trust Scott; he seems cool.

        Though technically I guess we’d be electing officials to appoint a monarch.

        We do have a defense in case Tsar Scott starts acting unreasonably; it’s so preposterous for a state to have a tsar that we could just revoke his powers under the justification that it’s preposterous for a state to have a tsar. Legalism be damned, we’d have the absurdity heuristic on our side!

      • James Picone says:

        It doesn’t count unless they seize power in a bloody coup that leads their country into several decades of civil war?

        • AngryDrake says:

          Doesn’t have to be a coup. Any method that doesn’t use bottom-up legitimacy is good.

          • Soumynona says:

            Are there any methods that involve neither bottom-up legitimacy nor bloodshed?

          • AngryDrake says:

            Inheritance. Purchase. Divine appointment. Intimidation of opposition (but this probably requires prior bloodshed to establish credibility). Claiming previously unowned assets. Indepedents swearing fealty.

      • Dan says:

        “Electing a monarch? Are you off your nut?”

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_I_of_Russia

        • AngryDrake says:

          I am aware of historical examples of it happening. This does not make it a good idea to do, especially in the absence of a Divine Right/Mandate of Heaven legitimacy scheme to handle matters afterwards.

      • Deiseach says:

        Electing a monarch? Are you off your nut?

        They tried it for the Holy Roman Emperor 🙂

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        Lots of elective monarchies existed (in fact many primogeniture monarchies started off as elective). The Holy Roman emperor was famously an elected office.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      I’d be absolutely OK with this – if it wasn’t for the silly “Archipelago” thing.

    • While Scott’s a fairly awesome writer, I feel like basing a political party on a blogname is probably a bad idea. I think it would be better to take an idea like the Archipeligo (sorry Muga Sofer) and develop that as the central idea. Also, political success is really really hard, because everyone other political group would prefer you fail.

      Even if a political party isn’t ideal for SSC, it is kind of an interesting community and it would be nice for that to result in some related projects with objectives other than just blogging. Maybe a wiki or something for people to share ideas in more of a structured way? IDK. Scott may have some plans of his own, or not.

  49. Anonymous says:

    How is Deiseach pronounced? Day-shock? Also, aren’t you missing a fada?

    • AngryDrake says:

      I *think* it would be [daisy] or [dacey], but I don’t know Irish.

      Possibly [d-easy] or [d-eecee].

      http://www.irelandroots.com/deasy.htm

    • Nita says:

      “Dei” in “Agnus Dei” + “Scheh” in “Scheherazade”?

    • Deiseach says:

      Yes, I am missing the síneadh fada but, um, that’s because this is the Anglicised version (whew, I think I got away with that there!)

      Yes, “day-shock” more or less, though it is derived from the same original as the surname “Deasy”. I’m not a Deasy, just for your information, so this is not a subtle reference to my real name 🙂

      It’s referring to the Déisi Muman and my location in the south-east of Ireland.

  50. Forlorn Hopes says:

    I’ve noticed some talk around the Internet of “Cultural Libertarians”, I’m curious if people think that correlates with the “Grey Tribe” Scott mentioned previously.

  51. Mark says:

    AI threat
    All statements are undefined, in the sense that links between words and sense data are always implicit rather than explicit. There is no way I can meaningfully define a tree without at some level just assuming that you have the same sense data as me (or perhaps a tree can just be expressed as a unique combination of abstract relationships?) Is it possible to logically define the tree in itself separate from the appearance of the tree, or the idea of the tree?
    Humans are effective in reality because of the inescapable and uncontrollable nature of their sense data – our intellect is grounded in reality.
    My problem with AI threat is this: if an AI is motivated to maximize trees, tree is either defined in relation to the AI’s sense data, or in relation to a purely abstract collection of relationships. If AI is concerned with abstract concepts only it is difficult to see how it could be effective, let alone threatening. If it is concerned with the sense data, the question is how to avoid an AI that finds a way to produce sense data without any concern for the tree itself (plugs itself into the matrix).
    The only way I can see to get an AI to maximize trees rather than maximizing sense data is to fix its sense inputs as unalterable. But is there any reason to think that if we are able to limit and control an AI in this way, that we wouldn’t be able to control it in every other way too?
    If I can control its inputs, why shouldn’t I be able to control its outputs?

    • Aegeus says:

      >The only way I can see to get an AI to maximize trees rather than maximizing sense data is to fix its sense inputs as unalterable. But is there any reason to think that if we are able to limit and control an AI in this way, that we wouldn’t be able to control it in every other way too?

      That argument is fine, if you can truly fix its inputs. I’d be perfectly happy with an AI where, if it goes wrong, I can just unplug its cameras, leaving it deaf and blind while I break out the debugger and figure out why it wants to be Skynet.

      Of course, the immediate response is that any AI worth its salt wouldn’t let you screw around with its inputs, because that would interfere with its ability to do its job. So I guess this boils down to the same argument as always – either you get good at keeping an AI in the box, or you make it sufficiently smart/friendly/understanding of humans that it knows not to hack its own senses.

      • Mark says:

        If you can’t fix its inputs, it is almost certainly going to be easier for it to change the information it is receiving than to change the external world (whatever that might be).
        We tell the AI “we want trees… you know you have trees when you get this signal… this signal makes you happy” – people are worried that this will mean that it turns everything into trees. I suspect that it’ll just find a way to generate the signal without worrying overmuch about the outside world – in other words an AI can only possibly be dangerous (have an effect on the world) if we *are* able to keep it in the box.

        • Anon says:

          This is an argument that conscious beings always wirehead, if possible. Observationally, this is not the case. You prove too much.

          • Mark says:

            Is it possible?

          • Anon says:

            @Mark: Sure, just stick some wires in your pleasure centers.

            Whether this counts as wireheading the way the AI would be doing it is, I suppose, debatable. It’s also beside the point. You and I are (presumably) just as physical as the AI is. As such, whatever wireheading options it has are at least in principle available to us. Nevertheless, I would not wirehead. So this is at least an existence proof that conscious beings do not necessarily wirehead.

            (For my purposes, manipulating sense data counts as wireheading. That is, if I could take a pill which would cause me to perceive the world as if all my friends and family were untroubled [and forget I took the pill], I would not do so: what I want is that my friends and family are untroubled, not just to perceive that they are.)

        • 27chaos says:

          Smart, interesting.

        • Aegeus says:

          Not necessarily. An AI could be able to recognize this problem without having its senses fixed. In the same way a human can conclude “Drugs make me happy, but I know it’s just messing with chemicals in my brain and it won’t really help my problems.” an AI should be able to conclude “Changing this line of source code will make me see trees, but I know it won’t be correlated to the actual presence of trees in the world, because my model of the world says that you can’t summon trees by editing a computer program.”

          Now, I suppose that the AI could rewire itself further, perhaps by changing its internal model so that it really does believe that it can summon trees by editing its source code. But that seems like a self-defeating plan – if the AI knows that it can’t change the world by hacking itself, then it also knows that it can’t change the world by hacking what it knows about the world.

          • That sounds true, but I note that humans seem to frequently fail at the same task. Eg. drugs are a thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            An AI that wireheads itself cannot conquer the world or otherwise drive humanity to extinction, but it also can’t do much of any use or interest to humanity. It’s a box that turns electricity into heat and, if you know what internal states to peek, registers “happy”. It will almost certainly be regarded as a failed attempt at creating an AGI, being instead very specific about what sort of “intelligence” it will manifest.

            Claims that AGI is possible, inevitable, and/or dangerous, should be taken as referring to the subset of AI which doesn’t wirehead itself. This may not be technically feasible to achieve. If it can be achieved, that may imply something about our ability to understand and control AI motivations.

          • Aegeus says:

            @Citizensearth: I said it *could* recognize this problem, not that it’s certain to. Also, any AI worth worrying about is going to have a solution to this, one way or another.

            I’m pointing out that Mark’s argument only works if there are only two possibilities – AI hacks its inputs, or AI lets someone else control its inputs. If there’s a third possibility – AI can hack its inputs but chooses not to – then we’re back to the old arguments about AI boxing.

          • Mark says:

            I would say that if the AI is constructed in such a way as to have no motivation to change its inputs, that is a really strong way of fixing those inputs as unalterable.
            Above, Anon gives the example of reality altering pills being unappealing – if it is possible to create similar motivations in an AI, then we would be able to keep it in a virtual box and it wouldn’t have any desire to leave.
            (DMT for us = creating additional sensors to discover the *real world* for AI)
            That’s not to say that AI couldn’t be dangerous, but I get the feeling it is also potentially controllable.

    • Agronomous says:

      Proposed 0th Law of Robotics:

      A robot may not maximize anything.

      Corrolary:
      Paper clips aren’t actually that great.

  52. kaninchen says:

    It sounds pretty impressive that Jesus turned water into wine, until you discover he only changed its essence into that of wine, while leaving its accidental properties as they were.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Technically, I think Christians do believe that Jesus physically turned water into wine, otherwise how would anyone have known what he’d done. The philosophical accident part is transubstantiation, the Church ritual where bread and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ (and everyone can see that their physical properties haven’t changed).

  53. Bismarx says:

    Hi Scott,

    Some time ago I wrote a piece arguing against your idea of “atomic communitarianism” (you know, the Archipelago stuff). I’d be very curious to hear what you think of it.

    On another note, I have a question (one you may have been asked a lot already, in which case I apologise): why do you write about neoreaction so much? It’s a movement with only a tiny handful of followers, taken seriously by pretty much nobody else, whose core belief can be refuted in three sentences. Yet you’ve written tens of thousands of words explaining why neoreaction is, in fact, a very bad idea. Why bother?

    • drethelin says:

      It’s pretty pathetic to condemn something as refutable in three sentences and not provide those sentences.

      • Bismarx says:

        “Political leaders are human and therefore fallible. It follows that we shouldn’t let too much depend on the qualities of any single leader. It also follows that we need a peaceful and orderly way of removing bad or corrupt leaders from power.”

        Or the one-sentence version: “What if the king is an idiot or psycho?”

        Scott quotes this last line in section 2.4 of the Anti-Reactionary FAQ, and the reactionaries don’t even seem to have a beginning of a real solution to this problem. Really, section 2.4 is so obviously the point where the whole house of cards falls apart that I wonder why you need the other ten thousand words (hence my question to Scott).

        • XerxesPraelor says:

          1-line “refutation” of democracy: “What if the voters are idiots?”

          • Wrong Species says:

            We do have the Supreme Court.

          • Bismarx says:

            Wrong Species gets it, though I’d like to generalise the point and say “we do have checks and balances”. Power in a democracy isn’t in the hands of a monolithic mob of voters, nor is it entirely concentrated in a Parliament or Congress. It is distributed among a confusing network of offices and institutions, all exercising various degrees of control over each other. An idiotic proposal can only become reality if everyone in the network is an idiot, and their idiocy happens to be pointed in the same direction – of which the odds are very low.

            I’m not saying democracies are flawless – in fact, it’s often hard to get rid of a law that most people agree is stupid, for precisely the same reason – but they’re a hell of a lot less sensitive to the random quirks of any one person.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s no reason a monarchy can’t have a Supreme Court. Though, historically, when monarchies were in vogue the common law was simple and static enough that the List of Things Kings Can’t Do didn’t need a professional judiciary to interpret. If the King were daft enough to order one of those things done, the order wouldn’t be obeyed. I suspect this was usually handled quietly by the King’s councilors before it reached the level of open rebellion, and yes, if it became a common enough problem they’d just quietly arrange for there to be a vacancy in the “King” position.

            If your proposed neomonarchy is going to be powerful and complex enough that this won’t work, by all means establish an independent judicial body to handle it.

          • AngryDrake says:

            Wrong Species gets it, though I’d like to generalise the point and say “we do have checks and balances”. Power in a democracy isn’t in the hands of a monolithic mob of voters, nor is it entirely concentrated in a Parliament or Congress. It is distributed among a confusing network of offices and institutions, all exercising various degrees of control over each other. An idiotic proposal can only become reality if everyone in the network is an idiot, and their idiocy happens to be pointed in the same direction – of which the odds are very low.

            I’m not saying democracies are flawless – in fact, it’s often hard to get rid of a law that most people agree is stupid, for precisely the same reason – but they’re a hell of a lot less sensitive to the random quirks of any one person.

            The confusion and lack of clarity is precisely what Moldbug’s formalism seeks to oppose.

            I understand its purpose – to prevent the State to do horrible things (because States are very much capable of doing horrible things very efficiently), by crippling the State’s ability to do anything at all. What you get from the separation of powers and checks and balances is basically a random collection of regulations and decisions, with no chance of coherent, stable policy.

            I don’t know what the neoreactionary policy on division of powers is. Personally, I’d point to the temporal-spiritual dualism of Church and State, working together, as a better model for preventing abuse while keeping coherence and ability of the State to act.

        • Alex Welk says:

          I could see an argument from Neo-Reaction that they would expect a more stable/less idiotic ruler because that ruler would be in for life and would know they pass their lands down to their children. This would theoretically incentivize long term planning and sacrifice compared to a short term democratic society where politicians are in and out of office, only concerned with getting re-elected so they kick ever increasing numbers of cans down the road, pander, and pork-barrel. At least once you bribe a king, he’s your friend for a while. When you bribe a politician, you have to keep bribing them every term.

        • Leonard says:

          This is not a refutation of neoreaction, but rather a refutation of absolute perfect monarchy. Which is not even possible in practice. No government of a single man has ever existed outside of desert islands.

          The traditional historical answer to “what if the king is an idiot” is “his advisers rule”. Or in some cases, “he is deposed”.

          As for the monarch being a psycho, that’s not a problem for the country, though it may be a problem for the court. High-functioning psychos govern just as well as anyone else; perhaps better in some ways. It is a problem if the monarch is really whacked-out crazy, but that’s pretty much the idiot case.

          In any case, I don’t think many neoreactionaries are monarchists in the sense of wanting old-school divine-right monarchy. They are monarchists in wanting aristocratic government with a functioning command heirarchy; here the monarch might be called “king” or he might be “CEO” or “President”; the label is not really important.

          In neocameralism, Mencius Moldbug’s label for corporate government, what happens if the CEO needs to be removed is the board of directors (or perhaps owners more generally) fire him. That is, the “king” (CEO) is not actually sovereign; the stockholders are. This answers your desire for a group to be is sovereign, not any individual. And it’s hard to say anyone is more central to neoreaction than Moldbug is.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The deposition of a monarch may be part of s switch to another form of government. Iow, deposition isnt an answer to how monarchy as a system deals with bad monarchs, because its a breakdown in the system , in a way that voting someone out of office isnt.

            Am ordinary CEO is responsible to shareholders because the law says so. A monarch, however, makes laws. There are precedents for monarchs disolving parliaments, so a.monarch CEO could just disolve a board that disagreed with him.

          • AngryDrake says:

            The government switch revolution is chiefly a symptom of modern times. Rebel scum will likely convert it to whatever is popular with the rebel scum, be it democracy, communism, fascism, plain dictatorship, iqta theocracy, whatever.

            But yes, that is a way it can fail.

        • Wait a minute says:

          Human fallibility can be used to refute almost any idea that involves humans. It´s a very broad argument and doesnt require much knowledge of the idea being refuted. It´s also a very dangerous argument to make, since it might trick you into believing you have proven an idea wrong, while you could in fact have just not studied it enough or misunderstood it.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            If this is actually a counterargument, it should include the ways in which attempted refuter has misunderstood neoreaction. The claim that “you just don’t understand my idea enough” can also be used to justify pretty much anything, the example that springs to mind being alternative medicine.

        • nydwracu says:

          What if the CEO is an idiot or a psycho?

          Brawndo: it’s got electrolytes.

      • Deiseach says:

        “What if the king is an idiot or psycho?”

        In the more brutal/direct ages, a pretender raised a rebellion, hacked off his head in battle, and assumed the throne (George R.R. Martin is churning out a series of door-stoppers translating the Wars of the Roses to his fantasy world on this very theme). Oliver Cromwell and the motley collection of oddballs under the umbrella of the Puritans managed not alone to overthrow but to legally execute the king and establish a quasi-republic (which would probably have morphed into something like a hereditary dictatorship along the lines of African states ‘next general in line seizes power in a coup’, had “Tumbledown Dick” been half as capable as his father).

        In other times, the council of state or a more capable member of the royal family assumed power (e.g. the Regency in Britain, where “more capable” is relative of course, or Juana the Mad). Charles II of Spain certainly demonstrates the downside of what happens when “the king is an idiot”, but that’s not to say that democratic governments are free of the influence of lobbyists, compromises to make bargains to get into power when they haven’t reached enough of the popular vote, or one house/chamber of the parliament being controlled by the opposition party to the party in power.

        How easy is it successfully to impeach a president, after all? Assassination seems to be the preferred method of removing them from power, or at least it’s worked more often (three presidents impeached, two acquitted and one resigned before he could be removed versus four killed out of more than twenty assassination attempts).

        • sweeneyrod says:

          The rebellions you mention aren’t really points in favour of violent revolution as a way to remove bad kings – neither Richard III nor Charles I were particularly poor rulers. The rebellions weren’t really motivated by “We must remove this ruler who makes poor decisions”, but by “Kill the king, he has no valid claim to the throne and we’ve hated your family for decades” and “Kill the king, he’s far too Catholic”.

          You say that assassination has worked more often than impeachment, but then the stats you give see to strongly disagree.

    • Nita says:

      That was interesting, thanks!

    • AngryDrake says:

      It’s a movement with only a tiny handful of followers, taken seriously by pretty much nobody else

      The same could be said of any number of organizations, ideologies and religions. You have to begin somewhere. Just because the membership is presently small, does not mean that membership will be perpetually small.

      whose core belief can be refuted in three sentences

      Interesting! What is the neoreactionaries’ core belief and how does one refute it in three sentences?

      • Bismarx says:

        The core belief of neoreaction, as I understand it, is that absolute monarchy as a system of government is preferable to democracy. As for the three sentences, how about this:

        “Political leaders are human and therefore fallible. It follows that we shouldn’t let too much depend on the qualities of any single leader. It also follows that we need a peaceful and orderly way of removing bad or corrupt leaders from power.”

        And true, the neoreactionaries might become massively popular at some point in the future, but then you could start writing 10,000-word FAQs against random crackpot cultists because hey, you never know. I think debating opponents so exhaustively is only worthwhile if A) they are a serious threat to the existing order or B) they have an intellectual case that’s challenging to refute, or both. Neoreaction has neither. Scott evidently disagrees (either he thinks that A or B do apply to neoreaction or he finds the debate interesting for some other reason C), hence my question.

        • AngryDrake says:

          The core belief of neoreaction, as I understand it, is that absolute monarchy as a system of government is preferable to democracy.

          This in to a core belief of neoreaction; it’s an incidental belief held by many within it – but consider that Moldbug himself was not a proponent of absolute monarchy as a replacement of democracy, he suggested a for-profit corporate structure. If I were to assense the core belief of neoreaction, I’d say it to be, “hierarchy is natural and inherent to the human condition, governance needs to acknowledge and use it, not try to destroy it”.

          “Political leaders are human and therefore fallible. It follows that we shouldn’t let too much depend on the qualities of any single leader. It also follows that we need a peaceful and orderly way of removing bad or corrupt leaders from power.”

          If humans are individually fallible, then why wouldn’t they be collectively fallible?

          Also, have you never heard of abdication?

          Additionally, nobody expects even an absolute monarch to do everything himself, he’s got advisors and subordinates to help – one person running everything personally does not occur in reality.

          I also do not see why the king being mad is any more of a problem than if the president is mad.

          • Bismarx says:

            “hierarchy is natural and inherent to the human condition, governance needs to acknowledge and use it, not try to destroy it”.

            All right, this is broader – it covers the stuff about class divisions and traditional gender roles that seems to come with the neoreactionary bundle – but it’s really vague. How would you argue for or against this position? And what does it mean, in concrete policy terms, to “acknowledge and use” hierarchy? You can go anywhere with that.

            Second problem: believing that something is “natural and inherent to the human condition” doesn’t mean you believe it’s a good thing. I haven’t heard anyone talking about the great benefits of cancer or ebola, even though both diseases are unquestionably natural (and, in their respective places and times, “inherent to the human condition”).

            Third problem: which government ever has tried to “destroy hierarchy”, except for a few short-lived anarchist experiments? In the decidedly un-reactionary cesspool of liberalism and progress that we supposedly live in, hierarchy is actually all around us – in the school, in the workplace, in the family. More to the point, most modern democracies are run in practice by the handful of people who take an active interest in politics – 5% of the population is a very generous estimate – and those people just happen to be disproportionately rich, well-educated and all-around succesful. Plenty of hierarchy there.

            If humans are individually fallible, then why wouldn’t they be collectively fallible?

            They would be. But – to oversimplify the point a bit – if they’re all fallible in different directions then it balances out, and if they’re all fallible in the same direction then at least it’s one that they can all agree is the right one, so (at least on paper) everyone is happy.

            Additionally, nobody expects even an absolute monarch to do everything himself, he’s got advisors and subordinates to help – one person running everything personally does not occur in reality.

            Point, but an absolute monarch can override his advisors, to a degree that a modern constitutional monarch can’t override his parliament. And the other problems have only been moved: how are these advisors chosen? To whom are they accountable? How can corrupt or incompetent advisors be removed from office?

            I also do not see why the king being mad is any more of a problem than if the president is mad.

            Because a mad president can be voted out of office, or impeached, or not elected in the first place. Try that with a mad king, without murdering anyone or throwing the country into chaos.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Cancer is an interesting choice of example, since it seems to be one of the big neoreactionary metaphors. A cell or group of cells stop performing their specialized roles and reproduce at the expense of the body as a whole. Extending that to the body politic you can see their big points: new political freedoms, especially “positive freedoms,” are usually a case of removing prior safeguards on society. Democracy in their view is oncogenic, natural perhaps but still a defect.

            As for monarchy, Hoppe (he long predates neoreaction) makes a fairly good case that it is more free in a practical sense than modern democratic governments. If you also agree that democratic peace theory is on rather shaky ground you lose pretty much all of the justification for it.

            Of course even if you agree with all of that you don’t need to be an NRx or care about Moldbug in particular. Neoreaction is a bit weird to be honest; it’s the LW of the AltRight.

          • AngryDrake says:

            Disclaimer: I am no leading reactionary thinker. I may get stuff wrong or simplify too much.

            All right, this is broader – it covers the stuff about class divisions and traditional gender roles that seems to come with the neoreactionary bundle – but it’s really vague. How would you argue for or against this position? And what does it mean, in concrete policy terms, to “acknowledge and use” hierarchy? You can go anywhere with that.

            To my best understanding, this means following the natural inclinations of the human species in social organization, rather than trying to “fix” humankind by imposing arbitrary ordering of society. In a naturally-ordered society, husbands lead their families (as opposed to an arbitrary spouse), parents lead their children (as opposed to be children being property of the State on loan to the parents for upbringing), aristocrats provides role models for their lessers (as opposed to entertainers doing so), clergy lay down morality (as opposed to the aristocrats), royalty and nobility do politics while the lower classes do not (as opposed to democracy), the rich possess riches that the poor do not (as opposed to common attempts at redistributionism), etc, etc.

            The neoreactionary position is that such a society is just and acceptable, rather than oppressive and needing to be torn down.

            Second problem: believing that something is “natural and inherent to the human condition” doesn’t mean you believe it’s a good thing. I haven’t heard anyone talking about the great benefits of cancer or ebola, even though both diseases are unquestionably natural (and, in their respective places and times, “inherent to the human condition”).

            You’re using the definition of ‘natural’ to mean ‘occurs in nature’. I’m using it in the sense ‘consonant with the character/essence of’. You may object that human nature, as it is, is a bug, rather than a feature, if you’re of the transhumanist bent; I won’t stop you. I think human beings are basically OK as they are.

            Third problem: which government ever has tried to “destroy hierarchy”, except for a few short-lived anarchist experiments? In the decidedly un-reactionary cesspool of liberalism and progress that we supposedly live in, hierarchy is actually all around us – in the school, in the workplace, in the family. More to the point, most modern democracies are run in practice by the handful of people who take an active interest in politics – 5% of the population is a very generous estimate – and those people just happen to be disproportionately rich, well-educated and all-around succesful. Plenty of hierarchy there.

            You are precisely right.

            There’s hierarchy everywhere and experiments with hierarchylessness have utterly failed. Regardless of the official ideology touted by the Powers That Be, society approximates the natural state of things. Neoreactionaries would like to stop the public pretension that it is otherwise, and a cessation of efforts to “fix” the situation to be more in line with the egalitarian ideology.

            The rich man in his castle,
            The poor man at his gate,
            God made them high and lowly,
            And ordered their estate.

            They would be. But – to oversimplify the point a bit – if they’re all fallible in different directions then it balances out, and if they’re all fallible in the same direction then at least it’s one that they can all agree is the right one, so (at least on paper) everyone is happy.

            Pandering to the masses is not good governance. The typical human is – through no fault of his own – ignorant, dense and largely unsuited towards running anything larger than a family unit. The neoreactionary position would be to stop pretending that everyone should be a part-time governor. Specialization of labour is a good thing – why not apply it to governance too?

            Because a mad president can be voted out of office, or impeached, or not elected in the first place. Try that with a mad king, without murdering anyone or throwing the country into chaos.

            This is a fair point.

            However – how often would a mad king arise in practice? And how far-reaching would consequences of the king’s madness be? Even the maddest sovereigns strongly tended to mess up only their Dunbar surroundings, and leave the lower classes relatively alone. Eventually, someone will take objection and apply proactive self-defense by killing an overly tyrannical king.

            As far as I understand it, the advantages of a hereditary monarch over an elected president are several: incentivization for long-term horizons (exceeding their lifespan, even, since his son gets to be king after him), no need to pander to the electorate, and a randomized character (the monarch would tend to be skewed towards keeping up appearances, but otherwise much more akin to an average member of the nation, whereas an elected president is always a highly successful politician, with all that implies).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            “If humans are individually fallible, then why wouldn’t they be collectively fallible?”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condorcet%27s_jury_theorem

          • AngryDrake says:

            I’d object, but the wiki page already lists the major objections. Condorcet’s theorem is a spherical cow in space type of solution – it is not applicable in reality.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            As you can read for yourself, the assumptions of the theorem can be weakened in various ways and the result still hold. Is it really so implausible that each member of the electorate vote her conscience and be, on average, better than chance at arriving at the correct conclusion? Insofar as all democracies don’t immediately fall to ruin, at least, this is liable to be the explanation why.

            But I was answering the question you asked, not the more perspicuous question you didn’t ask. A group of individually fallible humans can be collectively (nigh-)infallible just in case Condorcet jury theorem conditions, or some suitable weakening thereof, obtain.

          • Bismarx says:

            @AngryDrake: I think the main point where we disagree is that you believe in “natural inclinations of the human species in social organization,” “a naturally-ordered society,” “the natural state of things,” et cetera. Looking at the wide variety of social models humans have tried throughout times and places – and at how happy different people can be in widely different models – I’d say that our “inclinations in social organisation” are cultural, not natural. A Japanese person can be happy in her strongly hierarchical society, and a Dutch person (like me) can be happy in his strongly egalitarian society, without either of them feeling that there’s a “natural order” from which they’re being withheld through devious social engineering. In fact, both of them might well think their system is the natural order!

            I’m willing to concede that there are some basic social tendencies that are universally human – for example, like you said, no organisation is entirely without hierarchy; and all cultures have developed some form of religious belief (mass atheism is a very recent phenomenon and only in the very wealthiest countries). But these “laws” are too broad to be of any use in practical policy-making – after all, we’ve seen they leave room for models as different as the Netherlands, Japan, the USA, ancient Egypt and imperial China.

            The typical human is – through no fault of his own – ignorant, dense and largely unsuited towards running anything larger than a family unit.

            Agreed – I’d add that many of us can’t even run a family unit, with tragic consequences.

            The neoreactionary position would be to stop pretending that everyone should be a part-time governor. Specialization of labour is a good thing – why not apply it to governance too?

            I’m not saying everyone should be a part-time governor. Like I said, only a handful of people are actively involved in politics, and I have no problem with that. All we ask the uninterested majority to do is show up and tick a box once every four years (and in fact they do, in impressive numbers). That doesn’t really make you a “part-time governor” in my eyes.

            However – how often would a mad king arise in practice? And how far-reaching would consequences of the king’s madness be?

            I’ll refer to ARF section 2.4 (which I said above is basically the only section you need) for some historical examples.

            As far as I understand it, the advantages of a hereditary monarch over an elected president are several: incentivization for long-term horizons (exceeding their lifespan, even, since his son gets to be king after him), no need to pander to the electorate, and a randomized character (the monarch would tend to be skewed towards keeping up appearances, but otherwise much more akin to an average member of the nation, whereas an elected president is always a highly successful politician, with all that implies).

            Okay, I do not buy the “randomised character” point. A prince or princess is brought up in exceptional circumstances, wildly different from those of the “average member of the nation”; don’t you think that would have a little influence on their character? During this upbringing they’ll also have the values and traditions of the court hammered into them, and then there are the personality traits which are simply hereditary and will thus largely correspond to those of the previous monarch.

            Another point: the throne is simply too big a prize. If you can take the throne and hold it, your reward is relatively unchecked rule for life – something a lot of people are prepared to kill for. The specific example I’m thinking of is medieval Hungary, whose history shows a pattern of sorts: king rules competently for 20 years; king dies; cue years of violent brawling between all the major noble families trying to install their candidate on the throne; eventually a victor emerges and rules stably for a while; rinse; repeat. England has a similar history, and I’m sure there are many other examples. By contrast, who would start a war for the chance to rule for a few years, during which time they face massive checks and balances and can maybe, if they’re really good at their job, change a few small things?

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Bismarx

            Why do you keep debating everyone when you clearly refuted NRX in three sentences?

          • Bismarx says:

            @Wrong Species: Yeah, I’ve had to eat my words on that point very quickly… 😛 Turns out the issue is a little more involved when you actually debate people on it. I wish I could put an “EDIT:” to that effect in my original comment.

          • AngryDrake says:

            As you can read for yourself, the assumptions of the theorem can be weakened in various ways and the result still hold. Is it really so implausible that each member of the electorate vote her conscience and be, on average, better than chance at arriving at the correct conclusion? Insofar as all democracies don’t immediately fall to ruin, at least, this is liable to be the explanation why.

            But I was answering the question you asked, not the more perspicuous question you didn’t ask. A group of individually fallible humans can be collectively (nigh-)infallible just in case Condorcet jury theorem conditions, or some suitable weakening thereof, obtain.

            The theorem is applicable only in cases where the decision does not rely on uncommon knowl