"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

OT27: A Comment Appears

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

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

933 Responses to OT27: A Comment Appears

  1. Scott Alexander says:

    I’d like people’s opinions on this study, purporting to demonstrate that intergenerational transmission of anxiety is shared learned and not genetic.

    We discussed this in my hospital journal club today, and I noted the following points:

    1. Confidence intervals include nearly everything

    2. The study finds most of the variance in non-shared environment and nearly none in shared environment, but I would expect shared environment to be more like “learned from parents to children”

    3. Given the extreme confidence intervals and poor reliability, the E2 term might be mostly error, and they may not have had the power to detect genetic effects even if they were there.

    I was then told to write a letter to the journal about it, which is scary. Does anyone agree or disagree that my complaints are valid or not?

    If you’re a professional and you want to put a little extra work into this, email me at scott[at]shireroth[dot]org and I can see about including you on any team my hospital puts together to publish something about this.

    • AngryDrake says:

      >intergenerational transmission of anxiety

      Sounds like a job for surname analysis! (You have read Clark’s other book, right?)

    • JK says:

      There is no shared environmental (C) component in the child part of the model because none of the children were raised in the same family. So, while the phenotypic scores are decomposed into A, C, and E in the parent part of the model, in the child part they are decomposed only into A and E. Environmental transmission is estimated from the phenotypic correlation between parent and child phenotypes. They report that dropping the genetic transmission path does not worsen the fit of the model while retaining only the genetic path does, so they prefer the environmental-transmission-only model. The genetic effects on children, calculated from cousin correlations, are so imprecisely estimated that this conclusion is very suspect. There may be both genetic and environmental transmission across generations, but they didn’t have the power to get precise estimates.

      Also, I don’t quite understand their models. In Figures 2 and 3, the models appear to be fully standardized but the variances of the offspring phenotypes are greater 1 (the parameter estimates in the figures appear to be variances rather than regression weights, which is confusing).

    • Deiseach says:

      That study is confusing; they throw in at the end that adult and adolescent anxiety are different things, so the anxious twin parents (who have adult anxiety) probably have a genetic basis but the children-of-twins have adolescent anxiety which may be caused by completely different set of genes.

      So… what are they measuring? If adolescent anxiety is triggered by Set of Genes AA and adult anxiety is triggered by Set of Genes AD, then what is the genetic element they are measuring? Possibly if they can match up cousins with the same genes and anxiety, that might show something, but I don’t know what.

      It seems to boil down to “We wanted to test the hypothesis: anxious parents produce, by their parenting style, anxious children who, when they are parents themselves, are anxious and perpetuate the cycle”. I’m not sure if they showed that (if you go by the abstract that seems to be their conclusion but the ending muddies that), if they don’t know if they showed that or not, or what; I can’t say if they think the anxious children are anxious because they’ve got genetically-triggered adolescent anxiety or are just mirroring their parents.

      The children-of-cousins study (when I got it through my head why they were doing it that way) sounds like a good field of study; if it is down to parenting style, then producing a set of cousins who all exhibit anxiety is a stronger effect than the diluted genetic influence.

      But did they show that or not?

      • JK says:

        They had the item data for the questionnaires they used, so they could have build latent variable models and tested for the equivalence of their measurement properties across children and parents. But they didn’t do that, so they are not necessarily measuring the same traits in children and parents and it’s not clear what is being transmitted across generations.

        The study design is not “children of cousins” but “children of twins.” The children are cousins to each other but when their mothers or fathers are MZ twins, they are genetically twice as similar as normal cousins (such as children of DZ twins). It it a powerful design in principle, but in practice the sample sizes needed for stable estimates are larger than in most other behavioral genetic designs.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ah, you’re right about the stupid error, that’s what happens when you engage your typing fingers before your brain 🙂

          I meant “children-of-twins” which does sound like it would be a good area to investigate. I have a curiosity here because is the neuroticism in my paternal line due to genes or parenting or both? Definitely anxious, twitchy parents who worry over every little thing do induce anxiety in the children who notice what’s going on, pick up that there’s something to worry about, but don’t have the knowledge or ability to step back and evaluate that Mom or Dad is making a mountain out of a molehill, but how much is that environment and how much is that genes?

          • Anonymous says:

            Another option for transferring the environment independently of genetics is that people who have not had much chance to prove themselves and gain experience in the world will of course be more anxious, and anxious parents worry about their children, making them more likely to be helicopter-parent or simply turn them away of doing things.

            This could also say that children of depressed parents will be more likely to end up anxious, because they will not have their parents encouraging them to go out and do things, and will have less parental support to go out and do things on their own, but they will not be actively discouraged. If nothing else, the parents will not care one way or another, which might cause children to develop greater self-sufficiency than usual.

            My father was diagnosed with depression, my mother is undiagnosed but obviously has anxiety (and admits it), and were divorced when I was young. My father did not care one way or another what I did, as long as it does not require more than a few minutes of effort from him. My mother discouraged me do anything … except what she specifically picked out and said that I would do. (I think one of the things she was worried about was that I would drop contact with her, because, within her life, every family member ended up dying or cutting off contact with everyone else in her family.) I spent my whole life until I graduated from college afraid to do anything not expressly authorized by anyone else, for fear of garnering a general disapproval. I think it is because she does not approve of me doing anything on my own initiative, that is, everything I’d take an interest in independently of her. After college I left and never spoke to her again. The self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • Shenpen says:

      This meshes perfectly with common sense – it is all about stressed out parents stressing out their kids by having low patience and being snappy.

  2. Nathan says:

    Are you intending to respond to Bryan Caplan’s critique of your piece on labor economics? IMO he overstates his case a bit but is probably more right than wrong.

    • Chris Thomas says:

      I second this question. Battle of the century!

        • vV_Vv says:

          “firms are a worker’s best friend”

          checks list of Economy professors working for whose position is funded by the Koch brothers: Bryan Caplan, Tyler Cowan, Alex Tabarrok, …

          Color me surpised.

          • Cauê says:

            Oh, come on. Context:

            When firms are thinking about wages what they are thinking about is the threat from other firms. When a firm is hiring it knows it must pay the worker at least as much as other firms are willing to pay.

            The other-firm threat is very real. In fact, more often that not when a worker-firm match breaks up, it’s the worker who leaves, usually for another firm (the hot, young startup?), rather than the firm who leaves the worker with a layoff. The figure below shows data on quits divided by layoffs. Most of the time quits exceed layoffs (even during some recessions) with only brief windows during severe recessions when quits are fewer than layoffs.

            [figure]

            Using the firms versus firms frame it becomes clear that rather than a battle between firms and workers, firms are a worker’s best friend. To be sure, it’s the firms that the workers don’t work for who are their best friend not necessarily the firm they do work for!

      • SUT says:

        Pre-civil-war America was 90% farmers. Today about 1% of the population is needed for farming, mainly as a result of industrialization and its cousin economies of scale.

        All the advantages that we get from industrialization (e.g. Walmart-like efficiency, and thus “every day low prices”) also combine to create increasing barriers to entry for entrepreneurship in the basic-needs sector – sure you’re great at stocking the shelves of your Mom ‘n Pop but do you have a global supply chain?

        This creates the asymmetry in labor negotiating where the laborer in these sector has no alternative than to join a firm, while a firm in these sectors has no need to employ every person. Thus firms do have an alternative in every hiring decision, where workers do not. And walk-away alternatives are key to negotiating power which is why the funny asymmetries exists in interviews and employment.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          This argument seems to assume that almost all people work in factories.

          • Anthony says:

            No, SUT’s argument assumes that almost all people have only enough skills to work in monopolistic sectors. Workers *do* have alternatives – if a firm’s offer is inadequate, they can seek an offer from another firm.

          • SUT says:

            > Workers *do* have alternatives – if a firm’s offer is inadequate, they can seek an offer from another firm.

            I’m saying ~1% of population works in agriculture, and I’m saying these firms have large efficiency gains available in economies of scale, meaning most firm will have 1000’s or workers. Then that’s five orders of magnitude (.01 * .001) difference between the alternatives of “who to hire” vs. “where to work”.

      • 27chaos says:

        Here’s a reasonable way to formalize the concept of fairness: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shapley_value

        I like how in the comments of the first post there are people saying Scott’s attacking a strawman, and they’ve never heard it argued by libertarians that workers and employers have equal footing. But then in the second post, Caplan argues that workers and employers have equal footing.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      If you do respond, please also take note of the comment I left there regarding bathroom breaks. To wit: allowing assembly-line workers to freely take bathroom breaks was probably horrifically expensive to such a degree that it was a cost-prohibitive policy in 1910. A policy that workers can’t take bathroom breaks mid-shift is not AT ALL something that “provides so little benefit to bosses” or to workers. Rather, it might make the difference between having a profitable or an unprofitable business. Or the difference between being able to pay high salaries or being able to pay workers less than half as much. (We can go over the math if anyone cares. The core problem is that everybody in a functioning assembly line IS NECESSARY to the continued operation of the line – any single worker’s absence means the line has to stop which means that part of the factory isn’t generating any revenue until they get back.)

      (this was the factory line I worked at in China: http://petdl.com/impel/pictures/factory.jpg )

      • Autonomous Rex says:

        Void Where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time.

        http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2224285

      • LtWigglesworth says:

        Isn’t that more a symptom of a poorly designed manufacturing line? From what I have been taught a completely “balanced” line is very sensitive to disturbances (due to bathroom breaks,or breakdowns, or slowdowns), and designing buffers into the flow decreases costs and increases performance.

        • Andrew says:

          Was the theory that you were taught around in 1910?

        • Glen Raphael says:

          Isn’t that more a symptom of a poorly designed manufacturing line?

          Or just a very cheap and flexible one. Yes, there is SOME buffering, but most of it is at discrete stopping points, not at every single workspace along the line.

          Suppose it takes 30 assembly operations to get the product from state A (plus a bunch of raw input materials) to state B (both A and B are convenient stopping points – good states in which to safely store/test/verify the product) and each operation takes about a minute. With NO per-station buffering it takes 30 minutes to fill the channel before ANY “B” shows up, then you can produce 60 units per hour of “B” for a while then at the end of the shift you need another 30 minutes to empty the channel of all the partially-finished stuff. So the workers are all fully-employed through the MIDDLE of the shift in between 30 minutes of ramp-up and 30 minutes of ramp-down during which only some of the workers are working.

          Now let’s add some per-station buffering. At every desk, people are encouraged to let a bunch of input items stack up at their station before they pass anything down to the next station. Once everybody has a 5 minute buffer, the person in front of them can leave for 5 minutes without interfering with the operation of the line. Sounds great, right?

          Two problems here. The smaller problem is that 5 products take up a lot of SPACE (stacking trays, desk area) you might not have; the bigger problem is that 5 products takes up a lot of TIME you might not have. If EVERYBODY accumulates a 5-unit buffer it’ll now take 2.5 hours of ramp-up before any state “B” product shows up at the end of the line, and another 2.5 hours to empty the channel at the end of the day – a 15 minute buffer would be worse still. Seems pretty costly, especially if quick turnaround flexibility is important.

          (I’m not saying the problem is unsolvable. I’m just saying the obvious solutions are likely to be expensive. which would make the product expensive, which would reduce the salary employers can afford to pay, compared to a more minimalist solution.)

          • LtWigglesworth says:

            I had some introduction to Theory of Constraints at university, so I was taught that paradigm.

            So in that example, the production rates would be set according to a couple of constraining processes, with the aim of keeping them working at full efficiency.

            Buffers are built up before these processes to enable them to continue operating in the event of an upstream delay, and to prevent the delay from propagating downstream and increasing as would happen in a factory where all processes were equally matched in capacity.

          • Deiseach says:

            Is capitalism made for man or man made for capitalism?

            If we’re really talking about “oh, but it would be so expensive” to sort out some system whereby adults didn’t have to make the choice between pissing themselves like a toddler that hasn’t been potty-trained or throwing off the assembly line, please let’s not talk about how capitalism is the greatest thing ever that has made people wealthier and better-off and happier and elevated more of them out of misery than anything else ever.

            A Russian serf in the fields may have been flogged by his owner, but at least he could stop and piss behind a ditch when he needed to go; nobody was chaining him to the plough so that he dared not stop even to urinate.

          • Leonard says:

            Deiseach, yes capitalism “has made people wealthier and better-off and happier and elevated more of them out of misery than anything else ever” and it wants you to piss yourself if necessary for profit. What you don’t seem to get is that these things are causally connected. The latter — the greedy and selfish battle for profit — is the mechanism by which the former — enrichment — happens. Your piss-humiliation is transmuted into low prices across the world.

            On the particular item that seems to alarm you, I think most people can control their bladder well enough to piss on a clock. (I would guess you did too, back in school. I did.) So I think your choice is largely a false one.

            Beyond that, though, people for centuries have revealed their preference for soulless presumably piss-controlled factory work above being soulful and piss-free serfs, and what that entails in hard times. So even if they are suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous self-pissing, at least they prefer it to their less fortunate alternatives.

          • eccdogg says:

            But is the real comparison “take a piss break whenever you want” vs “piss yourself”? Isn’t the more likely rule. “Piss before you start work, at break and lunch time and at the end of the day and manage what you drink so that you don’t have to piss more than that.

            Second isn’t the trade off also get paid wage X and piss only at break times vs get paid wage Y<X and piss whenever you want.

            Lastly I don't think this is only a productivity story. I think it is also a principal agent story. When I worked in a factory the best way to sneak in some extra break time was to go to the bath room and I was not the only one pulling that trick. Then again the factory had solved this problem for most workers as most of the workers were paid by piece work. (it was a factory that knitted fabric so the workers were paid partially by roll of fabric, I however worked the loading dock with no such deal). The piece work folks seldom left the floor other than for mandatory breaks.

          • wysinwyg says:

            On the particular item that seems to alarm you, I think most people can control their bladder well enough to piss on a clock. (I would guess you did too, back in school. I did.) So I think your choice is largely a false one.

            Assuming there is no such thing as disease or quirks of biology, that might be true.

            In the real world, it’s probably not. Sure, 90% or more days I’m sure most people could piss on demand. The last few percent, though…

            Beyond that, though, people for centuries have revealed their preference for soulless presumably piss-controlled factory work above being soulful and piss-free serfs, and what that entails in hard times.

            Did they? I’m not sure it’s self-evident. I think there may have been factors other than preference that caused the shift from agricultural to industrial labor.

          • tomkob says:

            But why worry about ramp up/down? At the end of the day, everyone stops where they are, with buffers in place, to pick up there again tomorrow not having to build up the buffers again.

          • multiheaded says:

            Leonard, go read The Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson. And change your underwear while you’re at it, I suppose.

            Deiseach: thank you for being the lone beacon of, well, basic personal dignity on here.

          • Steve says:

            45 seconds of thinking about it yielded the idea of one or two standby workers, sorta-decently trained in all of the stations, and rotates around as needed? If you have 20 workers, hiring one standby decreases everyone’s salary by up to 5%, not over 50%.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            LtWiggleswort wrote

            Buffers are built up before these processes to enable them to continue operating in the event of an upstream delay, and to prevent the delay from propagating downstream and increasing as would happen in a factory where all processes were equally matched in capacity.

            Right, in my example of a line converting the product from state A to state B you’d have a decent buffer of A before you start and a decent buffer of B once the line gets going. I’m just talking about the productivity of this little group doing the A->B conversion process. If the group is 40 people, they can be phenomenally productive together if they all work together at once as a structured team (having coordinated the pee-scheduling situation to allow this). Any one member taking an unplanned break might not stop the whole factory from being productive – there are other teams – but they would stop their own little group. One person suddenly leaving means 40 people have to twiddle their thumbs waiting for them to get back. A 15-minute unplanned break mid-shift means that particular 40-person team can produce 15 fewer units of B this hour – 25% less product. If this happens often, the group as a whole becomes unprofitable. Hence a “no unplanned bathroom breaks” policy makes sense and the workers themselves would want that policy so the factory can stay in business and keep paying them a decent salary.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Multiheaded

            No one is going to read that book just so we can get the point you are trying to make. You have to actually make the point yourself. And while it would be convenient for your politics if people didn’t make these choices voluntarily, you can see this process all around the world where people have a choice between agriculture and industry and they almost always choose industry. Pointing out a few laws in England that pushed people away from agriculture doesn’t prove that they were all forced in to it.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Tomkob:
            At my factory the reasons to worry about ramp up/down time included:

            (1) the same factory contracts to do multiple tasks for multiple firms and/or stages of production – ending each day “clean” makes for maximal flexibility in re-purposing the line to do something else the following day

            (2) Given multiple lines running nearby at different times and lots of people with access to the space, any in-progress stuff left out might get stolen or damaged while it’s unattended.

            (3) holding all that extra inventory would be a waste of capital. If you’re holding 15x or 30x as much in-progress product, much more is lost in case of a mistake and you have to wait much longer to incorporate revisions/improvements.

            (4) having an extra per-station buffer doesn’t really help all that much anyway since you would still have to “pay back” the time lost if somebody steps out.

            Steve:
            The main problem with the “standby worker” idea is that even losing 5% of your productivity is still A LOT in this context. (it might be more than the per-unit profit margin for the factory, and also more than the non-peeing workers are willing to give up)

            Also, what makes an assembly line so ridiculously efficient and reliable is that individual workers can specialize on their one task and get REALLY GOOD at that one specific task. There’s a learning curve for the group – and you probably want to scrap the first few dozen things they make – but once they get into their groove they stop being entirely interchangeable cogs. That guy who is, say, soldering a chip onto a board gets really good at doing so without wasting solder or destroying a neighboring trace. That guy who is painting a fender stops accidentally smudging the finish. The ramp-up time to get /good/ at one of these jobs when you haven’t been doing it for hours might be longer than the length of a bathroom break.

            And yes, having extra skilled people around who might fill in in an emergency is an important part of running a factory. But assuming most workers are capable of learning to schedule their bathroom breaks, somebody needing to pee is not really the kind of emergency you need those people for. (And having enough of them around to allow anybody in a 40-person team to pee whenever they want isn’t practical anyway.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Reality check: toilet training is not something that was invented by Evil Greedy Capitalists during the industrial revolution. This almost certainly goes all the way back to the paleolithic, where chasing down a gazelle would have you and your family eating like kings for a week with only a few hours of work, but if you stop for a potty break, the gazelle is over the next ridge and everything you’ve done is wasted effort. Back to digging for roots and nuts, everyone, and curse the invention of hunting as an Affront to Human Dignity? Or, consider live musical performances – is a symphony undiminished when the lead violin walks off stage to take a dump?

            And whatever nation you live in, it’s a pretty safe bet that it wouldn’t exist except for that time a bunch of soldiers marched in lockstep with spear or musket and held the line when it mattered, even though some of them really, really had to go and a few probably did wet themselves.

            There is a broad range of human activities that actually do require that one commit up front to doing a specific thing for hours at a time without interruption. Your life will be diminished if you can’t do any of these things. Your life will be immeasurably diminished if you can’t even benefit from anyone else doing these things. So the outrage when someone offers, “here, I’ll pay you more money than you’ll ever see anywhere else if you’ll just do this one thing for four hours without going to the bathroom”, doesn’t really impress me as an impassioned and principled defense of human dignity.

          • Randy M says:

            Ironically, another situation in which bathroom breaks are usually prohibited, without nearly as much justification as the assmebly line, is a school classroom. Yes, the instructor doesn’t want to repeat himself 30 times, but there it is not a process that intrinsically requires every person doing their job at once to proceed.

            This gives credence to the theory that the structures of school are to train habits for industrial work.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            @ Randy M

            Ironically, another situation in which bathroom breaks are usually prohibited, without nearly as much justification as the assmebly line, is a school classroom. Yes, the instructor doesn’t want to repeat himself 30 times, but there it is not a process that intrinsically requires every person doing their job at once to proceed.

            I actually had fairly frequent continence problems in school. It was actually pretty of traumatic because there was no reason why I couldn’t go to the latrine other than the teacher being a fucking asshole. If I was working an assembly line where there is actually a reason to not leave, it wouldn’t have bothered me.

          • Joyously says:

            “A Russian serf in the fields may have been flogged by his owner, but at least he could stop and piss behind a ditch when he needed to go”

            Um, I would rather run the chance of possibly peeing myself (in order to not screw over the other people on an assembly line) than be flogged. Being flogged seems like more of an affront to my dignity.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m reluctant to do that, because I don’t think we have meaty interesting disagreements, so much as me just not finding his responses to my points to be really substantial, so I think an argument would get bogged down in annoying nitpicking. But since you asked:

      1. He dismisses a lot of things as etiquette, and I agree. But for some reason, all of these traditions are loaded in favor of the employer. I think there’s a reason all of this etiquette evolved that way, and that’s because it’s hard-coding various employer advantages.

      2. “Everyone talks as if bosses have the better end” – but why is this? Surely the burden of proof is on somebody who says that universally held opinion doesn’t reflect reality at all. Caplan’s argument that if bosses have it so good more workers would quit and become entrepreneurs seems way too spherical-cow to me. There are high transaction costs in founding a business, there’s very high risk, and many people don’t have the necessary skills. Even in cases where we know some group has an unfair advantage (like subsidized industries) we don’t see everyone quitting their jobs to join that group.

      3. “True. The boss has different negative emotions, especially fear of hiring a bad worker.” This is ignoring my point, which is that the negative emotions of the interviewee seem much higher than the negative emotions of the interviewer. Except maybe in a very small company, I doubt that the interviewer spends the night before the interview tossing and turning in bed, wondering what if maybe they flub up and hire a bad worker. Comparing the relative level of fear is my whole point.

      4. I’m not sure what percent of new hires bargain over salary, but I bet that outside the highest echelons of professional work it’s pretty low. In fact, it seems very relevant that we’ve got this norm where the company sets the salary, and if the employee is feeling really brave they can try to bargain it, rather than vice versa. Note how, for example, there’s a lot of talk about female employees being underpaid because they’re not taught to bargain tough and without a lot of tough bargaining it defaults to whatever the employer wants. I never hear about, eg, lots of people being overpaid because female bosses aren’t trained to bargain them down.

      5. “This is true on some jobs. But workers frequently respond to such requests with complaining or excuses.” I think Caplan’s misunderstanding my point. I was asked earlier this year to work two hours later every Tuesday. Wait, not asked. Told. I could probably have gotten away with “I’m sick” once or twice, but not every single Tuesday of the year. The fact is, my boss can ask that and got away with it. If I were to tell my boss “I’m going to be leaving two hours early every Friday” and stick to my guns on that point, something bad would happen to me. I think this is generally true and not just specific to my job.

      6. “Simple explanation: If a worker messes up, the employer doesn’t get what he paid for. If a boss messes up, the employee still gets paid.” Employees often have to work much longer or harder to deal with a boss’ mistake.

      7. “This argument proves too much. It also implies that store owners will feel free to berate their customers.” I think this might be true. Like, store *clerks* aren’t free to berate their customers, because the store owner doesn’t care if the clerk is upset and does care about the customer’s money. But when a store is family-owned? I certainly think that if a customer behaved abusively or even annoyingly, the store owner would tell them to GTFO. The only people who can get away with behaving abusively/annoyingly are bosses and customers at stores where the victims of the abuse don’t get to make the decision about whether or not to respond.

      8. “Why don’t employees give their workers bathroom breaks in exchange for lower pay?” I don’t know. Part of the point of my essay was that I don’t understand these things. You see all of these stories about terrible workplaces, and some of them actually pay pretty well, and you get the feeling a lot of the people involved would be willing to accept lower pay for less terribleness, and yet this doesn’t happen. I understand it’s easy to say “I guess they really like the pay and complaining about the conditions is just signaling”, and I can’t disprove that, but it doesn’t really click for me. Something that clicks more for me is the idea that unemployed people are desperate to get a job, they interview until they find a place that pays okay, then they join that one, then the transaction costs are too high for them to quit.

      I don’t think Caplan addresses the main theoretical thrust of my criticism, which is that workers outnumber bosses many times, and so bosses have an easier time firing one worker than workers do quitting one boss.

      I think Caplan’s theory about wages being too high leading to durably high unemployment might be correct (or something else like it might be), but I don’t think that’s contrary to the fundamental dynamic I point out.

      • Protagoras says:

        One thing I’m surprised you don’t emphasize more is that the smaller number of bosses than workers means that it is easier for bosses to coordinate than it is for workers to coordinate. Adam Smith thought employers conspiring to suppress wages were a major factor in setting wage levels, and it does seem like a number of blatant conspiracies of that sort have been observed historically, with who knows how much additional subtle, informal activity going on that’s harder to observe.

      • multiheaded says:

        Endorsed. Another thing that explains where part of the leverage comes from: the disparity in relative planning horizons!

        (oh, you’re right about store owners berating customers: my parents do, in case the customer is just too much/a waste of time and patience/etc)

        • eccdogg says:

          Scott, what do you think of the argument that workes can and often do search for another job while holding a job and thus are often not in a desparate need of being hired?

          Also how would you respond to Tabarok’s data on quit rates vs fire rates. It seems that the more prominent reason for an employee employer relationship to end is the employee quitting.

          I have never been anywhere (including low wage jobs) where firing was a huge threat. To get fired you either had to really F up or there had to be general layoffs. And even in the factory jobs I worked the employers were really interested in retaining good employees (“good” usually meant showed up on time and worked reasonably hard without any drama).

          Whoops meant as reply to Scott not Multiheaded

          • Deiseach says:

            I have never been anywhere (including low wage jobs) where firing was a huge threat.

            eccdog, I’m glad you had those experiences. Until we hit the Celtic Tiger period, in Ireland it was a case of “be damn glad you have even a shitty job and if you don’t like it, there’s always the emigrant boat”.

            I’ve been turned down for jobs on the basis of “You’re overqualified; if we go to the trouble of training you, you’ll probably leave us for somewhere else that makes you a better offer” which would have made sense had this not been in the middle of the 80s recession. Employers definitely used the surplus of labour to pick and choose and set conditions.

            Generally people who are interviewing for other jobs while working are (a) following the principle “it’s easier to get a job when you already have a job than when you’re unemployed” (b) unhappy/in a crappy job and only staying because they need the money to pay the bills, so they’re looking for something, anything other but they need the money to pay the bills while they’re looking.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Scott, what do you think of the argument that workes can and often do search for another job while holding a job and thus are often not in a desparate need of being hired?

            Not Scott here but, the argument is bears no relevance to unexpected firings. Even in the unrealistic scenario that a worker always has a standing backup job offer ready to take them at a moment’s notice, switching jobs would be still expensive, generally more expensive than it is for their former employer to find a replacement.

            Also how would you respond to Tabarok’s data on quit rates vs fire rates. It seems that the more prominent reason for an employee employer relationship to end is the employee quitting.

            In places run by criminal gangs most people don’t die murdered by the gangsters, but most people will submit to the gangsters just because they know that the gangsters can kill them.

            A well-advertised credible threat rarely needs to be carried out.

          • Cauê says:

            In places run by criminal gangs most people don’t die murdered by the gangsters, but most people will submit to the gangsters just because they know that the gangsters can kill them.

            A well-advertised credible threat rarely needs to be carried out.

            In this analogy, people would be killing themselves before the gangsters get to carry out the threat to kill them?

          • eccdogg says:

            See that is the thing, I have not even seen much of a threat being made. The only times I have seen people fired was for pretty big deal reasons (getting thrown in jail, coming to work drunk) or economic reasons like the company was losing money and had to shed workers. This has crossed the spectrum from working at two textile mills, washing dishes at a restaurant, and pizza delivery to economic consulting, lobbying firm, and a trading floor. I never felt a tangible threat of do this or your fired. Unless “do this” was show up to work, don’t make a complete ass of yourself, do a passably mediocre job, and in the case of the trading floor make money. And I have seen a lot of folks with bad behavior get tolerated for a long time.

            On the flip side I have seen lots of people leave jobs during my career and when I myself have chosen to leave there is usually a “what can we do to get you to stay conversation” and that has not just been at the professional jobs. I am not the only one who I have seen get offered things to stay. And it is not like I am some super star employee. Heck I spent a good part of the day today reading this thread. We have an IT guy that openly plays video games a good part of the day for all to see.

            I think the relationship between employer and employee is a lot like the relationship between renter and land lord. On the face of it it looks like the landlord might have a lot of power but in practice that is generally not the case. If you rent houses and get a decent (not great) tenant you want to do everything you can to keep him/her. Because there are lots of expenses in finding a new tenant (advertising, having the house vacant, upgrades/repairs to put it on market) and there are also lots of risk that you get a truly bad one that you can’t get rid of.

            For employers once you have someone who is not terrible you really want to keep them. First off firing anyone disrupts the workplace. Second almost any job has some human capital that is built up by the employee and it takes time to get someone up to speed and it also takes a while to find someone new. And once you find that someone, they could be way worse than the person you got rid of. Also there are emotional cost to firing folks. Almost no one likes to do it just like it is really hard to evict someone emotionally.

            Maybe my experiences are unique, but it does not look like that much of a power difference to me.

          • 27chaos says:

            Companies can search for newer or better employees even if positions are already filled, so it seems symmetrical.

          • Also there are emotional cost to firing folks. Almost no one likes to do it just like it is really hard to evict someone emotionally.

            Years ago, a friend of mine told me: “The first time I had to fire someone, it was horrible. The second time, it was a breeze.”

            People get used to doing what it is their job to do, even if their job is to be the boss.

      • notfbi says:

        I think Brian’s post missed the most obvious and important force, one that Tabarrok alludes to: the employment contract is (mostly and in most cases) set, anchored, or dominated by larger economic forces, with then some wiggle room for negotiation between boss/applicant. Yes, the Boss sensing distress might be able to get a lower price (5% – 20% seems a reasonable real-world range) than what otherwise would be offered, but the majority of the price is already set by the supply/demand forces which are a factor of labour/manager/capital power on a whole market level. Looking at the emotional states of employee vs. manager (manager usually just being an agent of the company with a minimal stake in the outcome) and negotiation-room power-plays/etiquette is then about the 5-20%, and less relevant for the overall power structure between labour/capital.

        • Urstoff says:

          I think this is largely correct, which makes me wonder what the argument is about in the first place. Is it about who captures that 5-10% of market price wiggle room? And, of course, that wiggle room is going to get smaller and smaller as things like Glassdoor become more popular and gather more data.

          • Buckyballas says:

            Isn’t the market price of unskilled labor often below living wage with people getting caught up in meat grinders, or being chronically exposed to harmful chemicals, or having to pee on yourself (not sure why this particular issue is getting so much focus), or working in otherwise harmful or dangerous conditions? For unskilled, uneducated laborers who are unable to relocate, Glassdoor is not particularly useful. Labor organization and/or political/societal pressure is needed to push wages/benefits above this market price, right?

          • John Schilling says:

            If the market price for unskilled labor were really below the living wage, the problem would correct itself as the current supply of unskilled labor ceased living and thus shifted the supply/demand balance in favor of higher wages. Or, for more enlightened unskilled laborers, ceased working and devoted their remaining lifespan to more enjoyable pursuits and/or high-risk high-reward ventures – either of which may include rioting.

          • Buckyballas says:

            Possibilities for alleviating the deadly working conditions for migrant workers in e.g. UAE:

            A) If some of them die, they will be replaced until enough of them die that conditions will have to be improved to get enough workers

            B) Workers riot – which ideally would result in improved conditions, but might also result in violent reprisals.

            C) Workers are allowed to organize and receive improved conditions, skewing the laws of supply and demand, and reducing the efficiency of the hiring businesses

            D) Government laws are passed to improve conditions, skewing the laws of supply and demand, and reducing the efficiency of the hiring businesses

            Perhaps you would state these alternatives a different way? As I’ve stated them, D > C >> B >> A, but I’d like to hear your response.

          • Urstoff says:

            If you push wages above marginal productivity (which is likely the case for unskilled labor making a “living wage”), no employer is going to hire the workers. Glassdoor isn’t helpful for unskilled labor because the labor of unskilled workers just isn’t worth that much.

      • Mary says:

        “Caplan’s argument that if bosses have it so good more workers would quit and become entrepreneurs seems way too spherical-cow to me. There are high transaction costs in founding a business, there’s very high risk, and many people don’t have the necessary skills. ”

        Circular logic. If bosses have it so good, why are there so many downsides to becoming one? Surely evaluating a boss’s position has to average the hardships of starting a business with any later benefits.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Becoming a boss is like winning the lottery: If you try you will probably fail, to the point the net expected value of trying is usually negative, but if you succeed then you will have it good.

          • Mary says:

            But the just comparison is to all the bosses, not just those who hit the lottery.

          • 27chaos says:

            What makes you think that is the just comparison? I think bosses who fail to succeed are irrelevant to the dynamics of employer-employee bargaining power.

          • Mary says:

            Not the point in question. The question is whether bosses have it so good.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Most workers don’t work for startups. Most workers work for established companies with rich owners, therefore they are right in their assessment that their bosses have it better than them.

            Startups are atypical employers with low bargaining power. In fact, it’s not unusual for startups to partially pay their first employees in equity, making them partial owners.

          • Mary says:

            “Most workers work for established companies with rich owners,”

            Established companies I may grant you. Rich owners? You got a cite?

          • Chalid says:

            Management != owners, people. Corporations exist and are actually rather important.

            Any publicly traded corporation has rich owners and I’ve never heard of one without rich management at the higher levels.

            Anyway the relevant question is, are most managers richer *than their employees*? I’d guess that’s true of almost every established business that’s not a tiny struggling mom-and-pop kind of place.

          • Mary says:

            Every publicly traded company also has poor owners.

            ” I’d guess that’s true of almost every established business that’s not a tiny struggling mom-and-pop kind of place.”

            Then it shouldn’t be difficult to find a cite.

          • Mary says:

            Besides, notoriously money isn’t everything. It’s not sufficient to say, “He has more money,” to say that he’s better off.

          • vV_Vv says:

            From the point of view of a typical employee, the company owners generally act as a single agent which has a much higher bargaining power than any of its employees.

          • Mary says:

            Ignoratio elenchi

            The question is whether bosses have it so good, not whether they have bargaining power.

          • vV_Vv says:

            You are being captious.

            Even if a company was owned by a million poor people, which doesn’t happen in practice but let’s assume it for the sake of the argument, they wouldn’t be individually the boss of any employee. All the share owners bargain collectively against the employees.

      • Jiro says:

        “Why don’t employees give their workers bathroom breaks in exchange for lower pay?” I don’t know. Part of the point of my essay was that I don’t understand these things

        If your theory leads you to expect something, and you don’t get what your theory tells you to expect, that is evidence against your theory. You can’t just shrug off the evidence by saying “I don’t know why that happens” and act as if your theory is unaffected by it.

        • Evan Daniel says:

          Sometimes you can do exactly that.

          Simply put, not all theories need to be complex enough to explain the entire world. It’s entirely reasonable to have areas where your theory doesn’t apply, and areas where it does apply but gets the wrong results, provided you recognize the limitations. Models that are sometimes wrong are still very useful.

          • Jiro says:

            His theory doesn’t try to explain the entire world, but it *does* try to explain the specific case in question–the explanation just doesn’t match reality.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Any worker has a minimum wage, which is either the legally mandated minimum wage or the wage below which the worker doesn’t consider working at that job worth the effort.

          Therefore a worker can’t always negotiate better working conditions in exchange for a lower wage.

          • “Any worker has a minimum wage, which is either the legally mandated minimum wage or the wage below which the worker doesn’t consider working at that job worth the effort.”

            Correct for the legal minimum wage, which is one thing wrong with it–it prevents workers from trading income for non-pecuniary benefits.

            Wrong for the wage below which … . What that wage is depends on working conditions. If If the lowest wage for which I would work at current conditions is $15/hour and I value better conditions at $2/hour, then the lowest wage for which I would work with the better conditions is not $15/hour but $13/hour.

          • Desertopa says:

            “Wrong for the wage below which…”

            This assumes that the worker doesn’t have a particular minimum level of income they must meet in order to afford unavoidable expenses, such as housing, existing loan payments, food, etc.

            In theory, the floor might hit zero given that some people demonstrably live with no monetary income (i.e. vagrants,) but in practice most people are going to have a certain non-zero level below which they will start having to trade off basic quality of life values which they strongly prefer not to compromise on, and above which those basic expectations are met and they’re much more willing to make allowances.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The boss doesn’t toss and turn the night before the interview worrying about hiring a bad apple because he isn’t going to get immediate feedback. If he hires a bad apple, he won’t know for months.

        (Similarly, the employee doesn’t stress out the night before the interview worrying that the workplace will be awful, because that will also take months to discover. But the boss does not stress about convincing the employee to take the job, possibly for the reasons you give, or for the related reason of practice.)

      • baconbacon says:

        2. The point that it is hard to start and run a business agrees with Caplan’s broader point. A boss has many things to worry about while a worker with a job has fewer concerns. The fact that they might have one big concern doesn’t make it asymmetrical in favor of the boss.

        3. The negative emotions argument I think is a non factor. Going on interviews gets easier the more you go (until the point that you start to feel you will never get a job at least). Bosses are generally have far more experience at the process and you would expect them to be less stressed per interview.

        4. Lower echelon pay is almost always advertised. While it seems that the firm is setting the pay, in reality the market is setting the rate. When an applicant shows up for a job advertised at $X an hour they have already gone through the first steps of negotiation. Additionally almost all the jobs have a sliding scale based on previous experience, the applicants with the most experience and likely the best bargaining position are going to start out at a higher wage- again a lot of the bargaining has been done ahead of time. I think the stronger point would be if employees felt that they had to bargain at the table would show asymmetry. Bosses have way, way, way more experience than any individual applicant has and should be far more competent. That bosses aren’t doing something that they almost certainly have an advantage at is a sign of fairness, not unfairness.

        5. I have had the opposite experience, as an hourly worker in a bakery. I was “told” that they would be starting production an hour earlier (I was first in) and I said I didn’t want that (I didn’t even threaten to quit, I literally just said I didn’t want that) and they backed off the request immediately. This job required far less training than being a doctor (by about 10 years), and the next job after that I had a boss that yelled at me (and everyone else) and when I gave my notice he apologized, promised to change and offered me a raise. Each job is unique and extropolating your experience in a very specific field (that dramatically influenced by regulation) doesn’t translate well to other sectors, nor should my experiences be taken as a type case.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        2. Likeliest reason why everyone talks as though bosses have the better end: many more people are familiar with the problems of being employees than with the problems of being bosses.

      • ButYouDisagree says:

        You see all of these stories about terrible workplaces, and some of them actually pay pretty well, and you get the feeling a lot of the people involved would be willing to accept lower pay for less terribleness, and yet this doesn’t happen.

        Since wages are taxed but many benefits are not, for many workers, monetary compensation may be too low, and benefits too high. (This might be less true at the bottom end of the labor market.)

        Tyler Cowen has a really interesting take on labor market dynamics of this sort here.

      • Error says:

        7. “This argument proves too much. It also implies that store owners will feel free to berate their customers.” I think this might be true.

        Anecdote: True at my first IT job, a small computer repair shop where the owner worked the front desk. He felt quite free to be quite nasty to customers who deserved it. Observing this was one of the more entertaining parts of that job; a nontrivial fraction of customers are giant dicks and used to getting away with it.

        But I think there are relatively few businesses where the owners have direct contact with customers.

      • Matt says:

        Surely the burden of proof is on somebody who says that universally held opinion doesn’t reflect reality at all.

        Would you be willing to apply this standard elsewhere? How about religion? Perhaps you would be willing to put your money where your mouth is on the stock market? Surely the proof is on you, to, you know, actually construct your proof 😛

        At any rate, I strongly disagree with point 2.

        Caplan’s argument that if bosses have it so good more workers would quit and become entrepreneurs seems way too spherical-cow to me. There are high transaction costs in founding a business, there’s very high risk, and many people don’t have the necessary skills.

        You just glossed over years of statistically likely, very real, soul crushing suffering known as entrepreneurship. 95%ish of businesses fail within a couple of years. Nearly everyone has to either borrow money from a bank, their family and friends, or take money from VCs. The failure modes are: 1. lose your house (collateral); 2. your friends/family lose their house; 3. you lose control and upside at typically very bad terms. Even the super-rich end up spinning the roulette wheel (elon dumped literally all of his personal money into his companies in ultra long shot plays/bluffs). Profitability typically takes years if ever. In the mean time, you aren’t making real money, investors are breathing down your neck, and you are literally responsible for the welfare of your employees. Many have spouses – many have children. If you can’t make it work, their stock options are worthless and you also have to fire someone (everyone). All of these very real responsibilities really suck and will be experienced by at least 95% of the people who start new businesses.

        Better negotiating power for businesses (bosses) necessarily reflect the stress, personal risk, and the unlikelihood of creating successful businesses. They also reflect other various market factors (job security, signalling, and host of other things) and other non-market factors too. Price fixing away economic reality often results in unintended consequences. You may argue that not all bosses are entrepreneurs and that other social institutions could fill in the gaps.

        I will point out that small businesses create a disproportionate number of jobs – they deserve extra care (lets not nuke the economy to save our workers). For that matter, the countries with strong social welfare systems have comparatively weak entrepreneurship (probably more closely related to the strong worker protectionism that typically goes hand in hand).

        It could be the case that businesses have a disproportionate amount of power (given that they should have more) – lets leave that to the economists.

      • Chalid says:

        Why is everyone so focused on entrepreneurship? Lots of bosses are employees of large corporations, and the way you become a boss is by doing a good job on a lower rung of the corporate ladder. Entrepreneurship is not a route for an office drone to become a middle manager.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        There are high transaction costs in founding a business, there’s very high risk, and many people don’t have the necessary skills.

        But… this is Caplan’s argument!

      • onyomi says:

        Right now, the legislative regime we have in place in the US, and in any democracy I can think of, is biased in favor of workers over employers. It would be very strange if it were otherwise in a democracy because there are so many more workers than employers.

        The other objective fact which supports this view is the persistence of non-negligible unemployment. Unemployment implies a disconnect between the number of people who want to work for someone else and the number of people who want to employ someone else (and/or the number of people employers want to employ). If the disconnect is such that there are perpetually more people wanting to be employed than there are wanting to employ, then that means that the position of employer is *less* desirable than it should be.

        Of course, it doesn’t seem that way to the employee, but that is not only because one always tends to overestimate one’s own difficulties relative to those of people on the other side of a bargaining table, but also because the most successful employers are the most noticeable. Wal mart, McDonald’s etc. seem to have tremendous power relative to the average worker, and they do. But they are also among the most successful employers in the world. What about the thousands of mom and pop restaurants which go under every year, taking their owner’s life savings with them in many cases? Their employees still get paid. If you want to compare the bargaining power of the most successful employers in the world to that of workers, you need to compare their power to that of the most successful employees:

        Who has more bargaining power? Tom Cruise or Warner Bros.? Warner Bros. is a huge company with tremendous resources at their disposal. Yet if Tom Cruise says he will only work on their movie if he gets hourly breaks with a foot rub and peeled grapes fed to him by a geisha, guess what Warner Bros. is going to say?

        • Autonomous Rex says:

          “It would be very strange if it were otherwise in a democracy because there are so many more workers than employers.”

          http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Portal:Wage_Crushers

          • onyomi says:

            What am I supposed to be looking at here? The fact that there are some forces out there looking to repeal some of the laws which currently make it more desirable to be an employee than an employer? How does this speak to the question of how, in a democracy where employers greatly outnumber employees, we would get more pro-employer legislation than pro-employee legislation. Nor does it address the question of why we have persistent unemployment if being an employer is so desirable.

          • Autonomous Rex says:

            Your “headcount theory” of political power seemed a little weak. I thought i’d introduce a second variable. Money?

            “Right now, the legislative regime we have in place in the US, and in any democracy I can think of, is biased in favor of workers over employers. It would be very strange if it were otherwise in a democracy because there are so many more workers than employers.”

            Dreadful.

          • onyomi says:

            Okay, since money is so, so powerful that it somehow trumps 90% of people voting in their own financial and group identified interests, where is all this pro-employer legislation? All I see here on “Wage Crushers” is instances of “not enough pro-employee legislation” or “nefarious forces use money to reduce the power of pro-employee legislation.”

            Legislation which reduces the minimum wage from say, $10/hour to $9/hour is not pro-employer. It’s less pro-employee. Having a minimum wage at all is pro-employee (though harmful to the unemployed, who, imo, are really more deserving of our sympathy than those employed at crummy jobs). A rule change which only gives me a 9-yard head-start instead of a 10-yard head-start does not change the state of affairs to “anti-me,” it just makes it less “anti-you.”

            If we imagine that, without the influence of corporate money, the minimum wage would be $15/hour, but with the influence of corporate money it’s only $10/hour, then that still means the interests of a voting majority of employees trumped the interests of corporate money 200%, since the interest of employers is not to have the minimum wage at all.

            One might argue that employees always start out disadvantaged relative to employers, but that is a different question. The question I’m talking about here is, in a democracy, do voters, on net, pass legislation biased in favor of employees or biased in favor of employers (regardless of whether or not legislation biased in favor of employees is necessary to “level the playing field”)?

            “Pro-employer” legislation would be something like “no employee is allowed to quit any job without 2 weeks notice, and if they do, they have to pay the employer a fee to compensate.” Can you point to any such piece of legislation? Again, I’m not talking about “law which reduces the rights and privileges workers already enjoy under the current legal regime,” I’m talking about laws which, relative to a state in which all voluntary transactions and contracts are permissible, tilts the scale in favor of the employer rather than the employee.

      • mobile says:

        So you were told to work for two extra hours every Tuesday. But you weren’t told to work for three extra hours, or to work extra every Thursday. Why not? You’d probably still grudgingly do it if they asked you to.

        Because management has some specific problem, and telling you to put in two extra hours on Tuesday is the lowest cost solution that they could come up with. And if they are halfway competent managers, they are accounting for estimates of your additional resentment at the margin and your increased likelihood of quitting, so that if they asked you to stay for only one hour, the problem wouldn’t be solved as well, or if they asked you to stay for three hours, your additional contribution to the problem wouldn’t be worth those additional costs.

        There may be better mechanisms for you, your employer, and all other entities that could contribute solutions to be more transparent about, say, how they should trade off your value of your leisure time against their value of your time working on their problems, and a more mutually satisfactory solution may exist. A one-size-fits-all labor policy set by the democratic process or in a union’s collective bargaining agreement is not likely to be one of those mechanisms.

      • Jacob says:

        8. I’m pretty sure many people *do* quit under those circumstances. But any workplace survey will tend to catch the ones who haven’t (yet). My understanding is that shitty working conditions / abusive behavior tend to correlate with *low* wages, not high ones, suggesting it’s more about employers doing what they can get away with. In particular many people live paycheck-to-paycheck, and even a small period of unemployment would be devastating.

        This is likely the case for something like retail; for something like consulting where people make a lot of money and work constantly…well the whole industry is that way so they can’t exactly quit and go somewhere else; there’s nowhere else to go. If people want better hours they need to switch industries, which is a much bigger deal.

    • Shenpen says:

      I love this exchange. Let me propose a bit of a methodology to both parties. Let’s start from a utilitarian position, and a position of subjective utility, but instead of using terms like “value more” or “disvalue more”, which paints a bit too rosy and optimistic picture of the world, use terms like “get stressed out more”.

      I.e. let’s assume one of the significant goals of utilitarianism is to minimize the sum of people’s excess stress levels, excess stress being defined as stress beyond that level that is healthy, because a certain low level of stress is good for motivation and excitement.

      Good economic policy would minimize the total sum of excess stress. Deal?

      Using this, one can make an even stronger case than Scott does: the boss is still less stressed out when all workers quit than a worker who just get fired. The worker will face problems with bills to pay and food to shop in a very short run, while the boss probably has more discretionary income and hence more chance to save up for a bad period. The boss is also more employable.

      Caplans argument, namely that wages during recessions are too high… well, a recession means a fall in consumer demand. If wages don’t fall, it means workers are saving up for unemployment. Which is probably what every sane person does the very second he hears about a recession: decides to keep that older iPhone for a while, postpone buying the new one and puts the money into a savings account. And saving up makes unemployment financially more bearable, but it is still soul-destroying. So it sounds like a coordination problem – buy that phone, don’t save up for umemployment, and if and only if everybody does it, you won’t get fired.

      Nevertheless, there is an idea there. If the issue is really people hating nominal wage cuts, then it could be just a real wage cut i.e. higher taxes, which the government could pay out to subsidize employers or to create demand. However this would be a classic central planning problem, riddled with chaos, moral hazard and corruption. One must find a really reliable mechanism for this. For example, raising payroll taxes and simulataneously lowering capital gains taxes, funding one from the other? Subsidizing something directly that every firm uses, like elecricity?

  3. Ever An Anon says:

    Just finished watching the Chinese military parade with my girlfriend. A bit too tired and much too non-military to give any substantive comments but a few immediate thoughts:

    1. Goose-stepping is awesome and we should do it more often. If the Chinese can goose-step at an anti-Facist parade than we should be good by now.
    2. If the point of this was to be impressive as a military power it kind of falls flat. Maybe it’s just my American chauvinism speaking but the PLA equipment on display looked outdated and honestly a bit shoddy. Also there were far too few planes.
    3.President Xi looked bored out of his mind. The crowd was pretty subdued as well now that I think of it.
    4. Serbia > Mexico >>> Fiji. Seriously, Fiji, come on. Five guys?
    5. I’m not sure whether being told that I look like Putin is a compliment or not but I’ll take it anyway.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I liked Daniel Lin’s comment, which was something like “Everyone sing the Anti-Fascism Song. Participation is mandatory.”

    • LtWigglesworth says:

      How did it compare with the Russian Victory Day parade?

      • Ever An Anon says:

        No idea, I haven’t seen it. I wouldn’t have seen this one either but she was very excited about it, since in China these kinds of marches are very rare (usually once a decade on the PRC’s anniversary).

    • ivvenalis says:

      I skimmed through it.

      You’re not the target audience for the parade. Which basically consists of proles, and nerds. Proles feel a rush of patriotism and pride at seeing the might and progressive ideals on display. Nerds are looking at whether the the shape of the doohickeys on the tanks look different than they did last year. Some of the nerds work for intelligence agencies, and dutifully report to their superiors (who are the sorts of people who would stand there looking bored) whether the Chinese have officially fielded the Mark 4A missile or the Type 100 tank or whatever. The parade hosts are aware of this, and not a single insignificant gizmo displayed in the parade is there by accident. (Civilized countries typically prefer to unveil their new doodads at various corporate expos and junkets.)

      Regarding the planes, the US has an absurd number of planes (and boats), which has probably ruined your sense of perspective on this.

      Mercenary wages (state-sponsored and otherwise) apparently constitute a nontrivial portion of Fiji’s economy. Maybe China only cared to cough up enough cash for five soldiers.

      • Ever An Anon says:

        You’re definitely right about the reaction of normal Chinese folks, at least from my sample of one. Although it’s probably even simpler: she was just as thrilled when we went to Fleet Week here, so the progressive ideals and even national pride probably come a distant second to cool uniforms and hardware.

        And yeah I’m not really the right one to judge whether this actually accomplished it’s goals. The Chinese Communist Party is pretty savvy, quite a bit moreso than me anyway, so I’m willing to trust that what looks goofy to me is really clever maneuvering. I certainly enjoyed it anyway.

    • Mike says:

      To me it all just seemed so “twentieth century.

    • laowai John says:

      > If the Chinese can goose-step at an anti-Facist parade than we should be good by now.

      Part of it is that the Chinese narrative isn’t freedom vs. fascism its weak divided China vs. agressive imperialist Japan. So showing off their military power in response makes perfect sense, there’s still this quite deep cultural memory of being unable to defend themselves

    • Shenpen says:

      I think it is _so_ 20th century… even 18-19th. Goose-stepping is all about showing off what a good redcoats style line infantry these guys would make with muskets. Yawn. Today it should be a demonstration of technological capability and combined arms and special forces and and…

      I am all for traditionalism, but it is still _weird_ how entirely outdated military tech and methods never die, just get repurposed, the most hilarious example being javelin throwing as an athletic sport at the Olympics.

      • That symbol of America, the planked eagle, with his head in the clouds and his feet full of obsolete military equipment.

        (Mark Twain, I think, from memory so not verbatim)

  4. Joe says:

    Scott – are you a Chuck fan?

    • Kyle Strand says:

      If the answer is “I don’t know, I haven’t watched it,” you should definitely give it a try.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not even sure which Chuck we’re talking about. Norris? Testa? That guy who blogs at Occidentalist?

      • Data and Philosophy says:

        It’s a TV show, named after the main character. I wasn’t a fan, personally, and wouldn’t expect you to be either.

      • rminnema says:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_%28TV_series%29

        Great show. I love the emphasis on family and relationships. And they ended it at a good time. You could tell they were starting to run out of ideas, but they carried it through to a smashing good finish.

        Plus, Adam Baldwin playing Adam Baldwin.

      • joe says:

        The TV show, Scott. I asked because the song to which you linked (“A Comet Appears” by the Shins, and yes, I got the pun) was featured in the show’s first season (in the pilot episode, I believe).

        Great song. Great show.

  5. FrogOfWar says:

    I assigned your “The Control Group is Out of Control” as an optional reading in my intro level philosophy of science course. They’ve been reading some classic work on the demarcation problem, and I gave them a bunch of articles on specific sciences/pseudosciences to choose from to read and think about in light of the earlier stuff.

    Sadly, based on the reading responses it’s possible only one student read yours, and they found it too abstract to follow (SSC officially more abstract than philosophy). But I’ll see if I can get a discussion out of it anyway.

    • Anonymous says:

      >they found it too abstract to follow

      I sincerely hope that’s just the one student, and not how the other students would feel if they read it. 🙁

      • FrogOfWar says:

        At class, it turned out that two had read it and neither had come away with the more substantive/meta claims that Scott made. One liked the study where only the believer in ESP got positive results though.

        Most of the class did seem to basically get it when I explained it, and they thought the idea of parapsychology being a control group for science was cool.

        • Troy says:

          How many students usually read optional readings? (I don’t assign optional readings, but two sounds like about how many I would expect to read them if I did.)

          • FrogOfWar says:

            All the readings were individually optional for that meeting, but they were required to read at least one of them. I also wouldn’t expect much of response to purely optional readings.

  6. Andy says:

    (the following is a joke.)

    This is a callout post on Randy M, for making it more difficult to find my own comments in threads by Ctrl-F’ing my name. Obviously, the easiest solution would be to ban Randy M and delete all comments forever.
    (No, it wouldn’t. But I’ve been looking through lot of my old comments on Reaction while I’ve been writing a SF piece combining Reactionary and Progressive ideas – a militant mono-identity aristocracy under a powerful aristocracy combined with liberal gender roles, checks and balances, and limited democracy. And Randy M has, on some of these posts and Open Threads, twice my comments, so it’s been slightly tedious sorting through.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      ^fdy s

    • Bashar says:

      Try typing “Andy says:” instead of “Andy” into your search bar. Should do the trick, unless someone is commenting as *Andy.

    • drethelin says:

      just ctrl f for ” andy “

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Did you try that? What web browser do you use? In every one of mine, the initial space fails.

        • drethelin says:

          That’s a good point! I was using a trick I use for searching through a lot of text but it doesn’t work for nicknames in this interface. Sorry.

        • Anthony says:

          The initial space is not present in the name header to comments. In Opera 12.17 on Linux, the only hit searching on ” andy” (without quotes) is drethelin’s comment.

    • AngryDrake says:

      Just tick the case-sensitive checkbox.

    • lmm says:

      Such annoyances are why I prefer to discuss on https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex

    • Randy M says:

      Man, here I am happy to be noticed, and then you had to point out I’m tedious. I feel kind of odd suggesting this, but I’m sure someone could write a script that deletes me. More seriously, I think I have a distinctive enough avatar to scroll past without reading. But as I use this name on several sites, and real life as well, I’m not too amenable to changing it.

      • Andy says:

        Oops, I was imprecise. I meant clicking through your otherwise interesting-but-irrelevant-to-my-purposes comments was tedious. Sorry!
        But someone upthread suggested searching for “Andy says” and that’s speeded things up enormously.

        • Randy M says:

          You were perfectly clear. I was taking the on-the-surface about me comment as an excuse to make a self-deprecating joke and lampshading my surprise at being mentioned by another commenter.

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          I chose my name poorly and get a high false positive rate for reasonable substrings. I’ve resigned myself to searching for “who wouldn” and dealing with any residue.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Where by “reasonable” you mean “starting at the beginning”? “be anon” works great.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Okay, sure, it’s true I didn’t give any thought whatsoever to optimizing. It went something like “This format is annoying, how do I find my… oh yeah… damn I’ve had to type a bunch of characters… close enough.” Since I haven’t actually closed this tab since then, I’ve never been obliged to think about it again, and I overstated the false positives for dramatic effect. The next time my browser insists on updating itself I guess I can apply this upgrade as well.

  7. Seth says:

    I’ve recently been digging a bit into Civil War history, in terms of the details of the origins of the war vis-a-vis slavery. Since the victors write history, I’ve been curious as to what the *Confederates* said *at the time*, about what they were doing, and why. I was fascinated to read through the whole “Corner Stone” speech by the Confederate vice president. There’s an amazing section in it that reads, well, like a kind of blog post by NRx types. It’s a very cautionary tale about starting from wrong but politically appealing premises, and then “logically” reasoning oneself into atrocity. Well worth pondering.

    http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/cornerstone-speech/

    “Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. …”

    There’s an astonishing passage where he basically says all the *old* type of slavery were wrong, but the slavery the Confederates do *now* is right:

    “Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. …”

    It makes me wonder about just how much present-day political rhetoric is going to be regarded as similarly outrageous, a century and a half from now.

    • To follow this up – what was the popular reason for supporting the war among Union citizens? Did they see themselves as being on an anti-slavery crusade? Were they just trying to hold the country together? Particular types of people like to claim that the Civil War was at least partly about states’ rights, but did the northerners share this sentiment?

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Much of the reason people supported was, ironically, the ‘they took our jobs’ kind of rhetoric we would now associate with lower-class right wing aligned politics. To put things relatively simply: with the US not yet having been completely divided into states, the American practice of balance politics dictated that every other state would become either a pro-slave or an anti-slave state. When you consider that states without slavery tended to have large amounts of land that people could request under the homestead acts, it becomes clear just how easy it is to compare slaves to the job-taking evil foreigners we have today.

        • Luke Somers says:

          Or alternately, the slave-owners who claimed those swaths of land?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Not really. Illegal immigrants get more hate than McDonalds does for employing them, Similarly, slaves are these savage black people who are violent and take decent folk’s jobs away, whereas slaveowners are the reason you don’t pay exorbitant prices for socks and shirts.

          • Andy says:

            Um, there were ringing denunciations of slaveowners as “the slave power,” and its corrupting influence on the economy and liberties. The South’s arrogance in trampling all over Northern states’ rights with the Fugitive Slave Law and the fighting over Kansas did a great deal to radicalize the Northern population.
            During the war, the majority of racist propaganda that I know of was anti-war, spread by the Copperhead Democrats on the narrative of “Republicans will draft you to fight to free the slaves, and then force your daughters to marry black men!” This wasn’t helped by northern capitalists using poor black workers as strikebreakers, a tactic that was only defeated when the unions started bringing in black members and opposing segregation.

          • Luke Somers says:

            > Illegal immigrants get more hate than McDonalds does for employing them

            The big difference is that the illegal immigrants chose to come on their own. It’s not like the slaves would drag their owners to this new land, and if they could get out of the arrangement they would!

            If you’re going to maintain that this rather tenuous, nay, idiotic line of reasoning was actually followed by people at the time, I’m going to need some direct evidence.

      • Mary says:

        Some certainly were, as witness the one who wrote to Lincoln suggesting they give up the anti-slavery stuff to save the Union — and Lincoln’s response: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/conkling.htm

      • Mary says:

        For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James M. McPherson might interest you.

        • Seth says:

          Thanks. I found part of it here:

          http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/mcpherson-comrades.html

          I’m trying more to get a grasp about just a bit earlier, why the Confederates were finally saying “We’re doing unto you what you did unto England”. By this time, the US had managed to stay as one country for several decades, even with the slave/free divide. Before the war started, there seem to have been a bunch of people saying that the divide had been made bearable before, it could be – or at least they’d like to do so – again.

          • brad says:

            Lets say you had this country, we’ll call it Belgium, and they had two groups of people living in two parts of the country — the Dutch and the French. For over a 100 years they haven’t gotten along with each other, but they manage to muddle through crisis after crisis. A big part of the reason is that over that period they always had two main political parties each of which was made up of some French and some Dutch. But recently a new party formed that was explicitly for Dutch. Their party platform explicitly included a plank calling for speaking French to be banned in public. Then with only 40% of the vote, this new party’s firebrand candidate wins the Presidential election.

            That’s going to be a tenuous moment at best for the unity of that nation.

          • Mary says:

            California.

            After the Missouri Compromise, for a long time, states were admitted lock-step: one slave, one free. Though they had lost the House, the slave states could make the question of what the feds could do about slavery moot by blocking it in the Senate.

            Then California was ready, and there was no remotely plausible slave state candidate. With the bribe of the Fugitive Slave Act, it entered as free, and the free states controlled the Senate and the House.

            As soon as an anti-slavery president was elected, things could get rolling, and the slave states were SOL.

          • Seth says:

            Of course it was going to be a very tense time. But the question is more a very specific one. Again, not all slave states seceded from the Union. It seems sort of premature to start a war before any actual abolitionist policies had been enacted. Lincoln’s first inaugural is very conciliatory to slave-owners. He basically seems to be saying “Come back, don’t take my campaign as meaning I’ll outlaw slavery,”:

            http://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/firstinaugural.htm

            “Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have inclination to do so.” Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them.”

          • Andy says:

            Lets say you had this country, we’ll call it Belgium, and they had two groups of people living in two parts of the country — the Dutch and the French.

            No, I don’t think this is at all an accurate analogy. The South had been threatening to secede if they didn’t get their way for twenty years before the Civil War. They repeatedly pushed the envelope, and pushed the envelope, and pushed the envelope, infriging on Northern states until the Northern states were sick of being dictated to by a bunch of aristocrats who couldn’t shut up about how much better they were than everybody else. (See Fitzhugh, the southern ‘sociologist’ who claimed that most of the poor white population would be better off in slavery.)

            For your analogy to be accurate, the French would have had to be in effective near-total control of the country’s politics for almost all of Belgium’s history, and only broke off when it became clear that they’d never have political control again. Take a look at the kinds of demands the South was making to come back to the Union (Every new state a slave state, slavery allowed in all the territories, starting (and paying for!) wars to conquer Cuba, the Carribean, and parts of Mexico and Central America to fill with slave states, never protect your own citizens from Southern slave-catchers, and never again criticize slavery). You think 40% vote for the President is bad? The South wanted Lincoln and Congress to immediately adopt and pass the agenda of the most extreme pro-Southern candidate, who got 18% of the vote! Lincoln got the most votes, and a plurality of the Electoral College, so he won… and the South wanted him to act like the guy who got the least, just to pander to their precious delusions of superiority.

            This wasn’t an ethnic or language division – this was a powerful elite seeing their power slipping away and throwing a temper tantrum! It’s just a damn shame that their snit got so many people killed.

      • multiheaded says:

        From what I know:

        1) A certain degree of widespread moral support for abolitionism, to be sure; like, how else would John Brown’s Body have become a popular song?
        2) Wage workers and industrialists alike worried about slave labour undercutting costs; the competition between two economic regimes temporarily taking center stage to class struggle within Northern capitalism.
        3) Linked to this, the anxiety over the direction of Western territories; see eg the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis, where the slavers were really aggressive and used violence freely in trying to secure their claim when legislative efforts proved insufficient.

        (Please see this excellent interview with Eric Foner!)

        • And here’s a Foner quote which strongly suppports the point I made the last time we discussed this!

          The abolitionists show you that a very small group of people can accomplish a lot by changing the discourse of the country. After the Civil War, everybody claimed to have been an abolitionist. But they weren’t!

          There weren’t a whole lot of abolitionists before the war. There were a few beleaguered individuals scattered about, in upstate New York, for example. There were only a couple dozen abolitionists in New York City!

          “Abolitionist” and “anti-slavery” were two distinct things. The latter disapproved of slavery, and opposed any expansion, but they were concerned above all about the power of slavery industry in national politics. Eradicating slavery in the South by government action was not on their agenda.

      • FJ says:

        It’s worth remembering that an awful lot of Union citizens (I mean, everyone was a Union citizen, but people who lived in Union-controlled areas) *didn’t* support the war: even before the Draft Riots, a substantial portion of Northerners said “good riddance” to the South and/or thought Lincoln was in the wrong in trying to maintain the Union by force. The Copperheads were the most prominent such group, but there were others, as well. Anti-war Northerners often used states’ rights and anti-abolitionist arguments. A substantial number of them were charged with treason, sedition, and other offenses, and the writ of habeas corpus was suspended for political prisoners.*

        Anyway, to answer the question, I believe a substantial fraction of what public support there was for the war was predicated on bloody-mindedness: relatively few Northerners were abolitionists, and they probably didn’t have terribly strong views on states’ rights. But they would be damned if they would let the South win secession by violent means. Pro-war sentiment on both sides escalated dramatically after Fort Sumter.

        *I think it’s hard to understand contemporary American anti-war movements without a good understanding of the Civil War period. Memories of that time strongly influenced public and government reactions to anti-war sentiment in the First World War, and that set the stage for public debate in later conflicts, as well.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I heartily recommend Lincoln The Man by Edgar Lee Masters, written by a man who didn’t think much of Lincoln, partly as a response to Sandburg’s hagiography. I found it a heady mixture of really sound points and jaw-droppingly obnoxious points. The sound points include the embarrassing contradiction between Lincoln’s arguments in favor of Texas’s right to secede from Mexico and his arguments against the South’s right to secede from the Union. The obnoxious points do not quite include assertions that slavery isn’t really so bad, but come far closer than I would have dreamed; they do flesh out the rhetoric I read about in school comparing conventional slavery in the South with the “wage-slavery” in the North.

          Perhaps the most unsettling thing for me was the discussion of the horrible consequences of the unconstitutional things Lincoln did to preserve the Union, resulting in a Federal government much larger and more intrusive and less principled than the founders would have ever tolerated — written in 1931, before the New Deal was even a gleam in FDR’s eye!

          • Douglas Knight says:

            What did Lincoln say about Texas? Do you mean this speech? I think that is reading a lot into few words.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            From the speech you reference:

            “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better– This is a most valuable, — a most sacred right — a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.”

            In googling for that passage I see that it is sometimes shrugged off, since the speech was mainly about something else. But as Masters puts it:

            “In other words, the secession of Texas from Mexico was accomplished by the assertion of a ‘most valuable, a most sacred right’; protest as Mexico might against the step; and though at the time of the secession Texas had less than 200,000 people…. The question then arises what happened between 1848 and 1860 to make it wrong for 11,000,000 people, with an organized national government in every particular, to go their own way as the Confederate States of America…”

            Now, I think we’re all better off that the Union was preserved and slavery abolished. Nonetheless, when I read those words, out of Lincoln’s own mouth, I can’t help seeing the same hypocrisy Masters did.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            You just quoted more words of Masters than you did of Lincoln.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            You just quoted more words of Masters than you did of Lincoln.

            Yes. So? My original comment was about finding Masters’s book interesting.

            If you prefer, read my comment without the quotation from Masters. He said it better than I could. Would you have liked it better had I paraphrased him?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Obviously I did read Lincoln’s quote without Masters’s commentary, because I cited it. But I also read the context. Here is a better version.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Doctor Mist, I think you’re confusing two concepts that Lincoln and his contemporaries found distinct: the “revolutionary right of secession” when natural rights are violated, founded on those same natural rights; and the “constitutional right of secession” as a power reserved to the states under the United States constitution. Lincoln upheld the revolutionary right even in his first inaugural address:

            “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended… “

            However, Lincoln maintained, the South had no just cause for the revolutionary right of secession:

            “If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might in a moral point of view justify revolution; certainly would if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case.”

          • Ever An Anon says:

            @Evan,

            The thing is, that’s basically exactly what the British said when they received the Declaration of Independence. It’s unsurprising that the government being rebelled against doesn’t view the rebels grievances as particularly serious.

            (To be fair to the British Empire and the Union, neither the American Colonies nor the CSA provided very compelling arguments that they had been treated tyrannically. In either case a better solution probably could have been reached although then again that’s hindsight for you.)

            A right to revolution unless the government doesn’t think your revolution is justified is a rather useless right. Of course an unlimited right to revolution would be chaos but then again maybe that’s why rights to rebel are a bit absurd in the first place.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Ever an Anon, sure, it isn’t legally enforceable because there’s no well-defined authority to judge whether natural rights have been violated. The Founding Fathers recognized this; after their repeated petitions to Crown and Parliament were “answered only by repeated injury,” they submitted the Declaration of Independence “to a candid world,” while in the end “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world.”

            But that’s not a flaw in the concept. That makes it a revolutionary right, and not a civil right; to be used after civil rights have failed.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Evan-

            That’s an interesting distinction, but I’m not sure I quite perceive when each applies or does not. You quote Lincoln:

            Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.

            “Shall grow weary” seems like a pretty light requirement, and the next passage you quote is a pretty clear denial that the South had met it. On what grounds?

            (As before, I’m not asking whether the South had a right to secede, but rather how did Lincoln come to the conclusion that it did not, especially in light of his remarks about Texas.)

        • brad says:

          After much study this is the conclusion I’ve come to as well. Much of the support among the people in the North was similar to support in Germany or France for WWI. It was a matter of pride and patriotism, and anyway the war was going to be over in six weeks because one of our guys is worth ten of theirs. Once it become just how bloody it was going to be it was too late.

          I find that much more persuasive than the marxist take about free labor verses the plantation owners or revisionism about the level of abolitionist fervor.

          • 27chaos says:

            My understanding is that the North had every conceivable advantage except Robert E. Lee. Expecting the North to win quickly seems very reasonable, although hindsight lets us know better.

          • Protagoras says:

            The Confederacy had geographic advantages; a more compact territory made supplies and moving armies where they were needed easier. But it is true that on paper the Union advantages in population, industry, food production, and ships look a lot more impressive than the few edges the Confederacy had. Still, geography has often historically been enough to turn a short war into a long war.

          • John Schilling says:

            My understanding is that the North had every conceivable advantage except Robert E. Lee

            And Thomas J. Jackson, and James Longstreet and John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest and J.E.B. Stuart, and the perhaps equally significant advantage that George McClellan, John Freemont, Henry Halleck, and Ambrose Burnside were fighting for the other side while Ulysses S. Grant had been forcibly retired as unfit for military command.

            The South had reason to believe, both for general cultural reasons and specific Mexican War performance, that they would have an advantage in the skill and dedication of their fighting men from the senior leadership down to the rank and file, and for the first year of the war they were pretty much right. They had all the geographic advantages Protagoras notes. And fighting on the strategic defensive gave them the advantage of being able to fight most of their battles on the tactical defensive if they chose; in the age of rifles that makes a big difference.

            The North had all of the conceivable advantages if you count only advantages that can be turned into numbers in a ledger. By the same standard, the French had all the advantages over Germany in 1940.

          • Evan Þ says:

            “By the same standard, the French had all the advantages over Germany in 1940.”

            Nitpick: Not really. Germany had roughly equal industrial capacity – even if it was hamstrung by a lack of foreign exchange – and a much larger population of young men. France’s government had been terrified about the population difference for at least the last ten years.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        Also worth noting; the first outbreak of fighting was confederate soldiers attacking union soldiers who were in a fort that the confederates thought ought to be theirs.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          a fort that the confederates thought ought to be theirs

          …which South Carolina had offered to buy when they seceded.

          • Mary says:

            Which signifies what? They offered, they weren’t accepted, they attacked is no different, morally, than just attacking. In both cases you are taking by force.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Which signifies what?

            Well, I don’t know, exactly. But if you accept, for the sake of argument, that South Carolina did have a right to secede, it strikes me as a sign of good faith. You know, we’re leaving the Union, and it doesn’t make sense for the Union to have a military base in our territory, so how about if we buy it and depart peacefully?

            They offered, they weren’t accepted, they attacked is no different, morally, than just attacking. In both cases you are taking by force.

            I’d be more inclined to accept that argument if it were a factory or a park. A military base, populated with soldiers and artillery six days after the secession, seems like a somewhat different thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            In both cases you are taking by force.

            Taking property by force is something governments are traditionally allowed to do within their territory, and offering to pay fair market value is traditionally a sign of good government.

            That said, it’s pretty clear that the Confederate chose to demand and then fire on Ft. Sumter because they felt that a quick, victorious little war was necessary to the long-term survival of the CSA, and that the Union chose to keep the fort and then go to war over the attack because they felt that a quick, victorious little war was necessary to the long-term survival of the USA. They were both wrong about the “quick” and “little” parts, obviously.

          • Mary says:

            “Taking property by force is something governments are traditionally allowed to do within their territory,”

            From private citizens

            Which is pretty much by definition. If it is in their territory, they don’t have to take it from another government.

          • John Schilling says:

            From private citizens, from corporations including multinationals chartered abroad, from churches and universities, and yes even from foreign governments if they happen to own property in another nation.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            This brings up a fairly interesting question: Was Ft Sumter federal territory/reservation (or whatever they were called at the time) subject directly to Congress, or was it on state land that happened to be owned by the government?

            I think that is an important question that drives directly at how justified SC was in their belief that the fort should be theirs.

          • Mary says:

            ” yes even from foreign governments if they happen to own property in another nation.”

            You assume the very point in dispute.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Was Ft Sumter federal territory/reservation (or whatever they were called at the time) subject directly to Congress, or was it on state land that happened to be owned by the government?

            It was ceded to the Federal government in 1836. That was the standard; the Federal government normally wouldn’t even accept a cession that had conditions attached, and never just bought land that remained under the sovereignty of the state.

            The situation is a little odd, because it was an artificial island that did not even exist until construction of the fort began. On the other hand, I can’t find any evidence that the Federal government paid South Carolina anything for the cession. In the 1820s and 1830s, when the project was begun, the idea was defense against foreign powers like England; both sides were pretty much on the same team.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            You assume the very point in dispute.

            Does he? I thought the thread was about the reasons each side was fighting. Were we actually trying to decide who was right? I missed that.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      >It makes me wonder about just how much present-day political rhetoric is going to be regarded as similarly outrageous, a century and a half from now.

      Honestly, most of it strikes me as outrageous now. It’s hard to be sure how typical I am, but … there are a lot of websites and stuff that seem to be basically “here is some political rhetoric, isn’t that stupid?”

      • Seth says:

        Yeah, but this is beyond “stupid”, in terms of some sort of combination of power and utter-crank-to-us rationalization. This isn’t some ranter on a soapbox, or an essay for the equivalent of clickbait of the time. That’s always existed. This was their vice-president, laying out very bluntly the analytic basis of the Confederacy. What I found so interesting is that it’s not “rhetoric” so much as he gives, in fact in a rather “rationalistic” fashion, what he views as the proof behind slavery. He’s even got a they-laughed-at-Galileo section:

        “As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. ”

        It’s something along the lines of if Vice-President Dick Cheney gave a speech saying “They laughed at Galileo, they laughed at the Wright Brothers, they laughed at Einstein. But history will prove us right in issuing the government order to destroy all computers so as to make sure that the killer AI’s never develop!” (:-)).

        • Nita says:

          I also liked the part where he says, (paraphrased) “God made them unequal to us, so treating them as equal would be disobeying God”:

          It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them.

          And the rousing finale of that paragraph:

          I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I find the “was the Civil War about slavery, or states’ rights?” question really silly. It seems obvious to me that it was about states’ right to have slavery. You can defend a meta-level and an object-level principle at the same time.

      Part of me nevertheless wants to say slavery was more fundamental as a cause, because my experience is that practically no one ever cares about a meta-level principle except insofar as it’s a good way to defend their preferred object-level principle (see eg that graph about how pro-gay people supported deciding gay marriage on a state rather than federal level when the feds were anti-gay, then switched around once the feds were pro-gay, and vice versa for the anti-gay people).

      On the other hand, this guy.

      • Andy says:

        my experience is that practically no one ever cares about a meta-level principle except insofar as it’s a good way to defend their preferred object-level principle

        See also Northern states passing laws mandating jury trials before remanding slaves to Southerners who claimed to be their owners, or prosecuting slave-catchers for kidnapping, and the South passing federal laws to trample all over the Northern states’ rights to protect their citizens. Northern states rights didn’t matter at all, because even the best northerners weren’t considered fit to associate with a Southern gentelman’s body servant.
        I’m not exaggerating there:

        All the Northern States and especially the New England States are devoid of society fitted for well bred gentlemen The prevailing class one meets with is that of mechanics struggling to be genteel and small farmers who do their own drudgery and yet who are hardly fit for association with a gentleman’s body servant. This is your free society.

        Source: Google Books

      • Seth says:

        I’m trying to better understand the aspects such as there were slave states in the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation was late in the war not the start, etc.
        I found a great bit of contemporary snark:

        http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=11&psid=3810

        “The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.”

        The Confederates do talk very seriously about other issues than slavery. It’s not “meta-level”, so much as “states rights” seems to be the label they give to a collection of specific “object-level” disputes over tariffs, public works, AND slavery. They seem deeply resentful about paying taxes to support public works done elsewhere in the nation. The reverse seems to be what “Union” means at the object-level.

        Slavery seems to be both a moral divide, and tied into a much broader economic dispute (which is harder to understand than owning-people-is-wrong). As best I’m coming to analogize it, it’s sort of like current Middle East politics, where there’s the economics of oil, and the various versions of Islam, which are in fact connected in some ways. If you asked a Northerner in 1860 what they thought about slavery in the South, it’s a bit like asking someone in the US now what they think about women’s treatment in Saudi Arabia – barbaric, backwards, immoral by civilized standards. But do they want to go to war over it? (as opposed to, say, a threat to Middle East oil?)

        • Mary says:

          Contraband is contraband. You might as well complain that they would seize munitions belonging to those disloyal.

        • Andy says:

          Thus why the North had to pass the 13th Amendment, to ensure that the war wouldn’t be fought again, and to make sure all the contrabands who had been freed by the war would stay free. The slaveowners were never more than a tiny minority of Union supporters – most were on the fence, and on the side of whatever army was riding through town that week.

        • Patrick Spens says:

          I’m trying to better understand the aspects such as there were slave states in the Union,

          Numbers. In order for states to leave the union they had to decide to leave the union, and there just weren’t enough slave owners in the border states to push that through state congress.

          If you look at this handy chart you’ll see that the border states (Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland) have proportions of slave owning families ranging from 3% (Delaware) to 23 (Kentucky). And low and behold, the Union had more trouble with unrest and rebellion in Kentucky than any other state!

          In contrast, if you look at the Confederacy, their proportion of slave owning families runs from 20% Arkansas to 49%! (Mississippi). And unsurprisingly Arkansas provided the Union with the most soldiers (per capita) of any confederate state.

          the Emancipation Proclamation was late in the war not the start,

          Politics. While slavery was not popular in the North, the prospect of fighting and dying to free slaves was less so. The Proclamation had to wait until public opinion was firmly behind the war, and Union victory was obvious, or it would have damaged the war effort.

          etc.

          There’s two ways to think about the phrase, “The civil war was about slavery” The wrong was is “the union fought primarily to end slavery” the right was is “the south seceded primarily for slavery.”

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s two ways to think about the phrase, “The civil war was about slavery” … the right [one] is “the south seceded primarily for slavery.”

            You are equating “The civil war was about…”, and “The south seceded for…”

            This is one of several, N>2, wrong ways to think about this. Civil war and secession are not the same thing, and you need to explicitly assert and justify the linkage here.

            In particular, why the delay? If in your mind secession = civil war, if the seceding states intended or expected to wage total war against the United States of America, why did they give the large and powerful enemy with no standing army and half its arsenals and magazines in their territory, two months’ warning of the inevitable conflict? And why piecemeal secession, in the face of a united foe? Or was South Carolina expecting to fight alone, if the Union wasn’t so polite as to give them a head start?

          • Patrick Spens says:

            This is one of several, N>2, wrong ways to think about this. Civil war and secession are not the same thing, and you need to explicitly assert and justify the linkage here.

            Unilateral secessions lead to war unless the previous government has absolutely no ability to stop it. That’s why, when we talk about the causes of say, the American Revolution, or the Red River Rebellion, or the Whiskey Rebellion, we don’t feel the need to talk very much about to motives of whoevers being rebelled against.

            In particular, why the delay? If in your mind secession = civil war, if the seceding states intended or expected to wage total war against the United States of America, why did they give the large and powerful enemy with no standing army and half its arsenals and magazines in their territory, two months’ warning of the inevitable conflict?

            They did not expect total war, they expected a short war, during which brave southerners would trounce the lily-livered yankees and then go one to live like nobility. They expected this because they were romantically-minded morons who did understand what they were dealing with.

            And why piecemeal secession, in the face of a united foe? Or was South Carolina expecting to fight alone, if the Union wasn’t so polite as to give them a head start?

            South Carolina was plenty familiar with the Federal Government slapping down their attempts at independence. They were expecting help.

        • Evan Þ says:

          “The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.”

          The principle was that no human can justly own another. The practice was limited to what the abolitionists – who were still a minority, and had to keep the allegiance of the border states – could force through Congress. A lot of modern legislation – take Obamacare, for example – suffers from similar compromises, and has been criticized just as much as not clearly spelling out any principle.

          • Seth says:

            Something like “In principle, a human being cannot justly own another, but in practice, unless he is loyal to the United States.” would still be pretty good snark. From our modern sensibility, where abolitionism was absolutely right, and anyone who would compromise in the slightest on it is a craven moral degenerate, it can be difficult to not project that perspective into the past. That the Union accepts slavery in the loyal border slave states is jarring, especially when thinking about the Civil War as over slavery. When the South secedes, the Union does not immediately say “Everybody still here want to end that horror of people being treated like cattle, say Aye … (large number of free states) YES (small number of remaining slave states) no … motion passes, no more slavery in the *Union*, at least.”. It seems that at least for much of the war, someone can be both pro-Union and believe in slavery as a institution, disputing only that the South is wrong in not wanting to keep justifying it as a political matter (i.e. the idea being slavery is fine, but saying the extent is a matter for Congress as democratic debate, and the wrongness is in seceding over it when things aren’t going perfectly for the Southern slave slates).

      • Wrong Species says:

        Everyone conflates secession with war. Yes, the south probably seceded for slavery but the north declared war because of that secession. So while the Civil War decided the fate of slavery it seems more fundamentally that it was about making sure that no state ever be allowed to leave the union.

      • Mike says:

        Right. I oppose state’s rights with respect to segregation, but favor it in connection with legalizing marijuana.

      • Patrick Spens says:

        The Constitution of the confederate States banned “bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves”. And the Fugitive Slave Acts forced citizens and officials of Free states to enforce the rights of slave owners over slaves. And Oh yeah, Dread Scott was a thing. While the Confederates were less centralized than the union, they did not go to war over states rights, they went to war over slavery.

      • Anonymous says:

        OK, but why is slavery the object-level question instead of the meta-level question?

        • Saal says:

          “OK, but why is slavery the object-level question instead of the meta-level question?”

          -State’s Rights
          –State’s right to enforce property rights in slaves

          A little nesting for you 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            It sort of begs the question [edited to add:] since, in a representative democracy, what rights states enforce is determined by (some subset of) free people (indirectly).

          • Saal says:

            “It sort of begs the question.”

            Which is why we don’t let states decide if they wanna be slave states anymore.

      • Outis says:

        Would it be incorrect to say that the cause of the Civil War was the secession of the South, and the cause of secession was slavery?
        It seems to me that the Union would have fought to keep its territories even if the South had seceded for any other reason. OTOH, the South only decided to secede because they wanted to keep slavery.

        In other words, and somewhat ironically, it seems to me that it was the South that cared about slavery far more than the North did.

        • AngryDrake says:

          Slavery was the casus belli. Issues of centralization and location of power within the federation were the cause of the war.

    • Shenpen says:

      This really demonstrates to me something I was worried about. Lots of Rationalists are saying people act instinctively, then rationalize later, because social status and prestige depends on rationalizations, on coming accross as a rational person. I never really believed it is really true for all societies. Maybe just in intellectual subcultures?

      Well it seems more likely now that it is at least American society really tends to assign status to sounding rational. I mean the Confederate guys always came accross as the less intellectual, more romantic bunch and still look how hard they tried.

      But you guys should learn this is not a human universal. Assigning status to sounding rational I mean. Look at the conflict in East Ukraine, part civil war, part covert Russian invasion. Both sides don’t really care about sounding smart. They are just like “it is our place, fuck off from here”.

  8. Has anyone with expertise in psychiatry or psychology watched Mr. Robot? I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’m curious about the plausibility of Elliot’s mental state as of episode 9.

  9. noodles says:

    I remember seeing a paper about a woman (still alive) with basically absent frontal lobe, yet only slight mental retardation and no serious problems, a month or two ago, but can’t find it now. Does anybody have a link?

    (repost from the previous thread, sorry)

  10. Richard Metzler says:

    Okay, Scott, here are two random, speculative and half-baked thoughts, connecting a few topics that came up in recent posts:

    In the Muggeridge review, you wrote “I sometimes have patients with very severe depression who tell me that everything they look at is infested by maggots. They won’t eat, because the food is infested with maggots.”
    From what I read, many religions and occult traditions are very much concerned with ritual purity, and have appropriate rituals to get rid of “metaphysical maggots”. Has anyone tried to treat depressed patients with these rituals?

    In Mysticism and Pattern-Matching, you strike a connection between paranoia, and kabbalah and related systems of magic, which involve brainwashing the practitioner into a highly associative state of mind that is similar to paranoid schizophrenia. Presumably, being in this state of mind 24/7 is not useful – do the occult traditions also have “antidotes”, i.e., rituals and tricks to get the practitioner back into an analytic, rational mindset? If they exist, could these methods be applied to psychiatric patients?

    • Buddhist traditions claim that one of the fruits of their practices is that ‘superstitious’ beliefs and actions drop away.

      I can vouch for this from personal experience: in the aftermath of a (very intensely experienced) meditation retreat, I simply didn’t feel the compulsions that were behind many of my obsessive behaviours, and they stated away for some time as well. Additionally, I also became aware of how many behaviours that we’d consider ‘normal’ are often ‘superstitious’ or conditioned – acted out due to the force of pure habit – and have little to no relevance to the actual situation as it exists.

      I surmise those meditations that increase meta-cognitive awareness, awareness, detachment, and sensitivity (in the sense of sharpened perception, and not susceptibility) are likely to lead to ‘superstitions’ falling away naturally.

      I also suspect that this ‘dropping away of superstitions’ is a natural step (or side effect) in the paths of many such traditions, and not just the Buddhist ones. Then again, most of these traditions are focused on removing the conditioning/brainwashing that has been done to you, both by others and by yourself, so I’m not too surprised by this result. Most of these traditions seems to do the opposite of what Scott talked about in his post on mysticism – they attempt to strip reality of the meanings attached to it, or to bring conditioned perception in line with reality, often as a precursor to not needing an interpretive layer at all, which it itself part of a path that leads to the cessation of the suffering that such layers cause (they being constructs – useful constructs, often, but constructs (maps) nonetheless).

      Related and relevant, and partially also because I really want to say this:
      I’ve recently been reading “Tantra Illuminated”, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant, partially for personal reasons, but partially also because I think it simply is. It mentions a number of practices.

      (The ‘tantra’ spoken of there isn’t the ‘enhance your sex life’ neo-Tantra that was made up pretty much whole-cloth ~100 years ago, starting in San Francisco; it’s the original Tantra, which carried on the Yoga and meditative traditions and added a huge number of techniques to them.)

      One example I particularly like, because of it’s similarity to EMDR: Trataka Kriya. I have a suspicion that in terms of efficacy, Trataka and EMDR will come in close to equal, and that if done as part of the classical Tantrik Yogic path (basic asanas -> more advanced asanas -> pranayama -> kriya, is one sequence), it’ll come out as clearly more efficacious. (The traditional manuals warn that during Trataka, ‘subconscious impressions’ rise to the surface; and that if they become too intense, the practitioner should stop and ground himself; which is why it’s a practice intended for after an established asana and pranayama practice, and as a precursor to serious mental/meditative practice, presumably because you want to be free of these traumas/samskaras when commencing meditative work.)

      There are hundreds of other practices like this, mostly sitting in unpublished/untranslated Sanskrit texts, most of which are manuals of practice. Mindfulness meditation has already proven its worth; trataka and EMDR are suspiciously similar; I don’t know what else there is that’s potentially useful, but I strongly suspect there’s a lot.

      I’m somewhat put off by the ‘appropriation’ of individual practices as therapeutic tools, though, specially because those who use them are at pains to mask their origins (not by hiding them, but by stripping all context – presumably because that’s ‘religious’, even though that category (almost always) doesn’t apply to the traditions these practices are taken from). I expect there to be consequences for this – most of these practices are intended as parts of some path with defined stages, and though they may be efficacious in a limited way on their own, there’s usually a good reason they they’re presented in a particular sequence (usually, I suspect, the experience of with what happens you don’t follow the sequence).

      What are you going to do when these practices cause/trigger what would be described as a shaktipat? Are you going to tell the fundamentalist Christian mother of two in Alabama who undergoes this that her options are to get initiated into an esoteric Shaiva tradition, because they’re the only ones who actually know how to deal with it, or bust? What happens when you do something as risky as trying to ‘awaken your kundalini’, not just without any of the previous grounding practices, but actually doing a bunch of destabilising stuff in the immediately preceding months, and get completely and utterly burned out as a result – which is what happened to Janet Hardy, author of “The Ethical Slut” (she still hasn’t recovered, by the way, even though what she was doing wasn’t even part of an authentic tradition, but of neo-Tantra, perhaps with some practices borrowed (I don’t know the details))? Do not call forth that which you cannot put down – and modern psychiatry/psychology is an infant calling on older traditions the effects of whose practices are (I strongly suspect) much more calibrated and powerful than those available (or even comprehended) now. This will, almost certainly, change with time, as more and more is understood – in the interim, I’d recommend caution.

      • Richard Metzler says:

        Thanks for your detailed and knowledgeable response. For some reason I didn’t have Buddhism and the other Indian traditions on the radar when I asked the question, but when I read your response, I thought, duh, yes, I knew that Buddhists have a lot of useful stuff in their repertoire.

        I understand why you dislike the appropriation for therapeutic purposes, as you put it… but I figure that for someone in immediate need of relief from psychiatric problems, embarking on a year-long path of systematic practice is neither always required, nor always possible. The hard part is probably to isolate the pieces of the system that help the most in a given specific situation, and that can be used in isolation without horrible side effects.

        I also see your point that these techniques are powerful but risky, but wouldn’t one way of managing these risks be to systematically study the techniques and their side effects and publish the results, rather than rely on some guru somewhere in India?

      • Deiseach says:

        The fundamentalist Christian mother in Alabama might have a handle on it, depending on her spiritual tradition; Pentecostalism and other Charismatic expressions/churches have a very robust idea of continuing gifts and being “slain in the Spirit” 🙂

        I agree, though, that the cherry-picking of things that work and stripping away the context in which they developed, in order to dump all the “religious baggage” and “superstition” and uncover some assumed core of ‘really scientific deep down’ routines is dangerous. People who object to yoga and such as being based on non-Christian religions often get mocked, and I wouldn’t exactly be too convinced by their cries of Dreadful! Spiritual! Danger! (especially when it’s the kind of ‘exercise to get fit’ yoga classes they’re objecting to), but the people who mock them often do it from a viewpoint that boils down to “Oh don’t be silly, these aren’t religious practices at all!” and that is offensive to the religions where these are devotional acts (similar to performing prostrations in Orthodoxy) not keep-fit classes.

        I also do think that messing around with “awakening inner powers” is dangerous when you’re doing it on a mix’n’match basis, but I’m a peasant, you see 🙂

  11. Outis says:

    What is the progressive rationale for having marriage? We heard a lot of progressive arguments in favor of gay marriage, but ultimately they were all arguments against restricting marriage to straight couples. In fact, many of those arguments ended up demolishing, or at least rejecting, all of the traditional reasons for having marriage. So what is left?

    Put another way: we must have gay marriage because we have marriage. But if we didn’t have marriage, would the progressives have any arguments for introducing it? And do they have any arguments against abolishing it now?

    • AJD says:

      It seems to me the progressive rationale for marriage reduces to the institution of family: marriage is the act of adding someone not related to you by blood into your family as a peer. (Adoption is the act of doing so as a guardian.) In a progressive society, people have the right to choose who they share a family with; by default you start out with your blood relations, but there is no reason to require your family to be restricted to only those.

    • Richard Metzler says:

      Marriage is a time-honored way of formalizing the commitment of two people to each other, for the sake of supporting each other, and usually raising children together. So there are two points here that you could attack: forming couples, and making a formal commitment.
      Attacking the first is silly, from a psychological and practical point of view. Most people experience romantic love, the strong desire to be with one specific person. If two people are in love and want to live together, what rationale would there be for stopping that? Also, life isn’t always easy, raising children isn’t easy, and having someone to support you and to share the burdens is extremely helpful.
      Now you say, yes, good, but why do we need a legal and social institution to formalize this?
      First off, marriage a good default arrangement for many bureaucratic problems that arise with couples and families – shared legal responsibility for the children, shared taxes, shared ownership of real estate, mutual responsibilities in the case of illness and death, all this becomes more complicated if you have to handle it on a case-by-case basis for each informal couple.
      It also increases the obstacles – psychologically and bureaucratically – for splitting up, encouraging people to work through the inevitable arguments and crises, for the sake of providing a stable environment for the children; and it’s a good signal that someone is no longer in the market for a romantic partner, which in itself increases the stability of the relationship (at least I’d suspect it does).

    • Tracy W says:

      We have marriages because a lot of people suck at negotiating rules for the end of a relationship, be that by divorce or death. Particularly a relationship that can last decades and is generally entered into during a stage of heightened emotional intensity and a strong desire to indicate one’s lasting commitment. Managing to frame a contract with rules for death and divorce as a powerful signal of romantic commitment is one of Western societies’ more successful life-hacks.

      Also, a standard set of rules is a lot cheaper to sign up to than hiring lawyers to thrash things out individually and, quite frankly, probably about as likely to be apt in the end as an individually tailored lot of rules given that whole lasting-decades thing. There’s a lot of existing case law related to the standard marriage contract.

    • Deiseach says:

      Gay marriage was not about marriage, it was about normalising and codifying into social and legal norms non-heteronormative sexuality as an identity, especially one to be legally recognised and protected.

      Why bother suing bakers and florists and photographers for not catering your wedding, otherwise?

      Compromises such as civil partnerships etc. were rejected, even when they addressed matters alleged as concerns such as lack of visitation rights, tax benefits and the like. Marriage or nothing!

      Personally, I don’t care tuppence about who loves whom, or indeed about people getting access to tax breaks and hospital visits. I do care about being sold the line that “It’s all about lurrrrrve” and heart-string tugging about “How can you be so mean as to deny two people the right to love????” when nobody was being flung into prison for being in a sexual relationship without benefit of clergy. It was a political campaign and you won (in my country as elsewhere). Congratulations and good luck. But please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it was all about Jack and Bob or Sally and June being in love.

      I fully expect the polyamorists to be next in line for redefining what marriage is (if genders and orientations don’t matter a straw, why on earth should numbers?) and I’ll be grimly amused to see if the same people arguing for the recognition of love step up to the plate when it’s three men, three women, two men and one woman, or two women and one man, simply want the same right as everyone else to have their loving, committed relationship recognised and not deemed shameful.

      If the poly people do win, good luck to them; I think modern civil marriage is in such a state that it really won’t make a huge big difference should we have three, six or twenty-nine spouses at once rather than two marching up the aisle (though I imagine the lawyers will be licking their chops over the prospect of the court cases to establish the law about inheritance, tax, legal parentage, child custody, etc etc etc). Will we see the gay rights is the new civil rights people supporting the poly rights is the new new civil rights campaigns? I really, really do hope so – otherwise it would be hypocrisy, than which there is no greater sin, right?

      • Richard Metzler says:

        I fully expect the polyamorists to be next in line for redefining what marriage is (if genders and orientations don’t matter a straw, why on earth should numbers?)

        I’m not a lawyer, but I’d expect the legal ramifications of multi-person marriage to be hell on earth, in terms of complexity and possible points of conflict.

        • AngryDrake says:

          Just copy company/corporate law. I mean, if an arbitrary amount of arbitrary persons can enter into a ‘marriage’, how is that really different from a corporation?

          • Evan Daniel says:

            Pretty much.

            If you want good results in complex situations in existing marriage-related legal proceedings, you generally need a prenup. This would remain true in polygamous setups.

          • Tracy W says:

            Why don’t polyamorists set up companies together now? (I presume some do.)

            Polyamarous relationships are diverse, for a start if there’s 3 people involved they can be connected like a ‘v’ – through one person with the other two having little or nothing to do with each other, or by a triangle, everyone connected to everyone else. It seems entirely plausible that the form of contract that works well for when a ‘v’ relationship ends (via divorce or death) wouldn’t work so well when a triangle relationship ends.
            Let alone once you start adding in more people and the possibilities open up even more.

        • Randy M says:

          If you were a lawyer, you’d see that as s feature not a bug.

      • AngryDrake says:

        I think modern civil marriage is in such a state that it really won’t make a huge big difference should we have three, six or twenty-nine spouses at once rather than two marching up the aisle

        Indeed. Everything after no-fault divorce is just repeatedly applying kinetic force to a decaying equine.

        • Deiseach says:

          Richard, the lawyers will love it. Somebody (or rather, somebodies) are going to go to court about striking down bigamy laws, the same way adultery and sodomy laws were struck down (what adults choose to do in the privacy of their bedrooms is no business of the government).

          If we’ve legalised multiple divorce and re-marriage, why balk at letting Joe marry Tammy while he’s still married to Nicole? There have been egregious examples of god-damned idiots just separated from their wives, not even divorced yet, parading around their fiancées (complete with engagement ring) and not getting why people think this is a bit de trop.

          Frankly, for civil marriage in a pluralist, secular society, why should the Judaeo-Christian model of monogamy still hold? Plenty of other cultures practiced polygyny, some practiced polyandry, and there is no reason A, B and C cannot enter into a contract every bit as well as A and B, or B and C.

          • Nita says:

            There have been egregious examples of god-damned idiots just separated from their wives, not even divorced yet, parading around their fiancées

            Interestingly, D’Souza is a (very politically and polemically active) Christian conservative.

          • Deiseach says:

            James, I am very fucking cynical about Love and Romance. I particularly am very fucking cynical about people trying to jerk tears out of my eyes and get my brain to ooze out of my ears in a puddle of goo because it’s been melted thanks to the force of “Awww, ain’t they so cute????”

            “Right to love” my arse. Nothing was stopping Alex and Brian from going on dates, holding hands, being disgustingly gooily affectionate in public, shacking up together, and screwing one another’s brains out. Social disapproval? Do you really think brandishing a wedding ring is going to make someone who disapproves magically go “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were single when you were sucking the faces off each other in the queue at the bank and I objected to your conduct. Now I know you’re married, carry on!”

            People should be legally protected from discrimination, from harassment, from assault.

            But please – am I seriously to believe that every single gay and lesbian person in America and Ireland was sitting lonesome by the window, sighing that they were not free to love their hunny-bunny, and until they had the right to marry they couldn’t even kiss their snuggle-pumpkin but had to restrain themselves to longing glances?

            I don’t believe in any “right to love” and I certainly don’t believe marriage guarantees love; otherwise, we wouldn’t have divorce, if marriage was some magic.

            I’ll turn this around and ask you, James: would gay rights activists be happy with marriage if it didn’t come with all the legal and tax rights? If Minnie and Bella could have a legally recognised ceremony, wear rings, set up house together, be Ms and Ms Smith-Morris, refer to each other as “my wife” and hold hands and smooch and all the rest of it in public – but no joint tax assessment, no pension rights, none of that legal stuff, simply “the right to love”?

            I was neutral to apathetically “yeah, go on” about civil same-sex marriage in my country. What turned me right against it was the Yes campaign and the utter stupidity of some of the crap we were asked to swallow, including (and this is not a lie or an exaggeration) a male comic whose most famous role has been as a female impersonator “Mrs Brown” and “her” family doing a radio ad in support of the Yes vote, in character, talking about how “she” only hoped “her” fictitious gay son could one day be as happy with a fictitious partner as “she” had been in “her” fictitious marriage.

            Should I be swayed by “Cinderella says vote Yes! Goldilocks supports marriage equality! Little Red Riding Hood is pro-love!”? Because that was the same level of reality being evoked.

            I was supposed to be convinced because an invented character talking about an invented family member wanted them to have an invented marriage. Nobody was real. There was no real suffering or real emotion. This was, however, to be on a par with the ‘real-life’ stories being trotted out in order to appeal to my emotions and over-ride any rational consideration I might want to apply to the matter in order to make a decision.

            So I applaud a very successful, slick, political campaign and I don’t see any reason why it should be rolled back, or any prospect of it. It’s all to do with civil marriage, and the State can (at the will of the people) decide it’s open to two, six or unlimited number of people of every gender and sexual orientation. Society has made such rags of marriage by now that letting same-sex couples have a slice of the pie is not going to make much difference.

            But it was not about love simpliciter and I’m not going to wave my rainbow flag in a happy daze of “Awwww, so cute, so romantic” about that. And no, I don’t think there’s a “conspiracy” or a “gay agenda”, but I do think there was sophisticated political campaigning, including throwing a lot of the more “queer” elements under the bus, so that “happy monogamous committed white attractive middle-class couples (adopting cute orphans optional) just like you and me” could be sold as the face of the campaign and make it more palatable to straights.

            I wish I had bookmarked that Tumblr post about “Talking about same-sex marriage with my queer friends versus straight people”; it involved a gif of Stanley Tucci dressed as the Devil wielding a chain saw 🙂

          • James Picone says:

            @Deiseach:
            Well that’s lovely and all, but I didn’t say “right to love” once, or, as far as I can tell, anything reducible to it. And I’m not sure transferring anger at some aspects of a campaign for gay marriage in one country to the entire position is sensible.

            I’ll turn this around and ask you, James: would gay rights activists be happy with marriage if it didn’t come with all the legal and tax rights?

            Several of my friends, who are quite left, have suggested exactly that proposition. I, in conversations, have suggested that solution. I’ve seen people talking about that solution. I think it’s outside the Overton window, but only because “Hey what if marriage wasn’t a thing?” sounds more extreme to people than “Hey, what if gay marriage?”. So yeah, I think it would be broadly progressive-acceptable.

            Most of my gay friends are pretty blase about gay marriage in Australia, explicitly because Australian gay civil unions are marriage-equivalent.

            This:

            Gay marriage was not about marriage, it was about normalising and codifying into social and legal norms non-heteronormative sexuality as an identity, especially one to be legally recognised and protected.

            reads very “Let me tell you what you think” to me. That’s what I was reacting to when I used the word “conspiracy”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Interestingly, D’Souza is a (very politically and polemically active) Christian conservative.

            Which is exactly why he’s a thundering idiot. He’s ex-Catholic too, which is even more disgraceful, though I suppose it illustrates to you my ranting about the woeful state of catechesis over the past forty years.

            Honestly, this was one of those instances where I felt that, had his former wife any male relatives, the good old-fashioned “going round to beat the crap out of him” method was more than applicable (then again, I had a very old-fashioned, rough country upbringing).

            Hypocrisy, ignorance and self-centredness all wrapped up in one nauseating package: what more could any Christian ask? Bah!

          • Tracy W says:

            If we’ve legalised multiple divorce and re-marriage, why balk at letting Joe marry Tammy while he’s still married to Nicole?

            This affects Nicole, who might well have made investments or given up job and income on the assumption of a monogamous commitment by Joe, and thus not be in a good negotiating position to say “no” when Jo wants to change the rules.

            Yes, divorce affected existing marriages too, but in those cases the situation of someone desperate to escape an abusive alcoholic who keeps spending the marital earnings on booze while the kids go hungry is rather more sympathetic than Joe wanting to add in another main squeeze despite having made monogamous commitment to Nicole.

      • James Picone says:

        So when should I expect the Conspiracy to contact me with marching orders?

        This is one of the things I really hate about the conservative rhetoric here. So much of it is about the sinister ulterior motives of the left. If you’d prefer conversation at that level I could accuse you of wanting a Catholic theocracy that burns heretics and bans heathens and locks up gay people, but I’m not sure it’d really lead to a meaningful discussion.

        Some of us genuinely do look at the world and think it’s a better place with gay marriage.

        Compromises such as civil partnerships etc. were rejected, even when they addressed matters alleged as concerns such as lack of visitation rights, tax benefits and the like. Marriage or nothing!

        Writing stuff like this makes me think you have precisely zero interest in being even remotely charitable. You know why, Deiseach. For starters, very few places have equivalent-to-marriage civil unions. Most US states didn’t prior to the recent kerfuffle, for example. In places that do – say, Australia – matters are a bit more reserved.

        Not only that, but, y’know, ‘separate but equal’ doesn’t have a great history.

        • AngryDrake says:

          Writing stuff like this makes me think you have precisely zero interest in being even remotely charitable. You know why, Deiseach. For starters, very few places have equivalent-to-marriage civil unions. Most US states didn’t prior to the recent kerfuffle, for example. In places that do – say, Australia – matters are a bit more reserved.

          A better solution, IMO, would have been to loosen up the arbitrary restrictions on hospital visitations and so forth. Nothing breaks, AFAIK, if you allow anybody who asks the nurse about John Doe to visit John Doe, without checking whether the asker is a relative or not.

          • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

            Judging from accounts from family working in an urban hospital, there’s a significant concern that John Doe might break in a permanent way if, say, a rival gang member is allowed to visit. “Family or not” is a much easier line to police than wading into the messy judgment calls of whether a given non-relative might want to do harm to someone in the trauma ward.

            (I basically agree that loosening up visitation restrictions makes sense in most cases, but to my understanding there is a substantive patient safety/liability concern behind the rules.)

          • AngryDrake says:

            That’s a problem with America’s crime rate. In a country that isn’t filled with gangsters, you can walk in to visit anyone without even informing the hospital staff, and nobody cares. I think instead of involving marriage, it would have been simply prudent to improve security by way of guards, cameras and metal detectors.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          “Not only that, but, y’know, ‘separate but equal’ doesn’t have a great history.”

          Part of the problem here might be that “separate but equal” doesn’t resonate with non-Americans in the same way. If you didn’t have Plessy and Brown drummed into you every year in secondary school, this particular failure mode won’t jump out at you the way it does for us.

        • aerdeap says:

          >”Not only that, but, y’know, ‘separate but equal’ doesn’t have a great history.”
          Only because people who axiomatic oppose the idea wrote the history. Living standards for American blacks/black South Africans haven’t exactly improved after Civil Rights/the end of Apartheid.

      • DavidS says:

        I think you’re both right and wrong. It’s about recognition/equality, but part of that is precisely about ‘lurrve’. In that restricting marriage to straight couples is signalling that society thinks that gay love is in some sense less meaningful/worthy.

        In terms of polyamory: maybe, although there are more old-fashioned polygamists out there than polyamorists, so any campaign would be seen through the lens of that. I think there are basically two lines of argument people who supported might take against
        – the practical one: all the stuff on inheritance, tax etc. becomes radically difficult and exploitable in a way that gay marriage doesn’t create
        – the principled one: some people will bite the bullet and say marriage really is about the exclusive love of two people and that you can’t have the same sort of multi-partner commitment.

        People opposing gay marriage had a much weaker practical argument, if any at all, and most weren’t willing to actually argue actively that gay relationships were inherently inferior.

        I agree that no fault divorce (and possibly the removal of the marriage-children link through reduction/removal of the taboo on illegitimate children, combined with everyone being relaxed about contraception) are much more significant for marriage’s long-term stability as an institution than gay marriage. It remains to be seen how robust marriage is in the long term, but I don’t think gay marriage will have an appreciable effect on that either way.

        • AngryDrake says:

          restricting marriage to straight couples

          More precisely: Restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Being homosexually inclined is, in itself, no impediment to marriage.

          • DavidS says:

            Technically more precise, although for me ‘straight couple’ maps onto ‘a couple who are a man and a woman’ rather than ‘a couple both of whose members are straight’.

            But in general, I think the argument that gay people can get married, just not to people of the same sex is a bit of a red herring whenever I’ve seen it actually used in debates in this area. Feels like logic-chopping rather than facing the issue directly.

          • AngryDrake says:

            I think the distinction is important, because it highlights the natural purpose of marriage – reproduction. Nobody* stopped or stops the homosexually inclined from entering into monogamous reproductive unions.

            * Nobody statistically significant. I damn well know that there are kooks advocating every fractal position given sufficiently large numbers.

          • Deiseach says:

            David S, that’s bisexual erasure 🙂

            More seriously, a “couple who are a man and a woman” could be one or both bisexual/pansexual. Gender presentation says nothing about sexual orientation.

          • AngryDrake says:

            A couple who are a man and a woman could both be homosexual, too.

          • Chris Conner says:

            DavidS says:

            But in general, I think the argument that gay people can get married, just not to people of the same sex is a bit of a red herring whenever I’ve seen it actually used in debates in this area.

            It’s parallel to “You have the right to express political opinions, just not the political opinions you happen to hold. Therefore you have freedom of speech already, so quit complaining.” And that doesn’t wash.

          • Nita says:

            Both reproductive and non-reproductive opposite-sex unions are allowed, though.

          • DavidS says:

            @Angry Drake: not sure what you mean by the ‘natural’ purpose of marriage, as marriage clearly isn’t required for reproduction. But yes, it seems likely that the rearing of children (not just their production) was one of, probably the primary, purpose of marriage when it originated.

            That’s not really an argument against gay marriage though as
            – We don’t require other marraiges to be fertile, aimed at fertility, or open to fertility
            – Raising of children also applies in the case of adoption, surrogates etc.

            If straight marriage was still regarded as ‘for reproduction’ and we didn’t let gay couples adopt or have IVF, then banning gay marriage makes far more sense.

            Re: the fairly pointless lingustistic argument that I’m as much responsible for as anyone – my point is not that a married man and a woman must both be straight, but that to me the term ‘straight couple’ is trying to use ‘straight’ to refer to the couple not the two component members, and so means a male-female couple. Very roughly like ‘unhappy couple’ does not mean two depressed people who are together. This isn’t a political position, it was a side issue on how words seem to me to be naturally interpreted!

          • Anonymous says:

            We don’t require other marraiges to be fertile, aimed at fertility, or open to fertility

            It’s really hard to test this on a wide scale… and possibly an unconstitutional invasion of privacy… so it’s a little strange to use this as the requirement for whether a State may shape the institution in response to realities concerning procreation.

            For example, consider the case of close relatives. Many States think that procreation between close relatives would be irresponsible, but they can’t simply criminalize sexual relations (see Lawrence). Nevertheless, they shape the institution of marriage to their understanding of the reality of procreation – they don’t let close relatives get married.

            But wait! Some States think that they can do better. They know that some close relatives will have sexual relationships. While not offering them marriage may discourage it (and thus discourage the irresponsible procreation that may result), they think they can directly discourage the irresponsible procreation by shaping marriage policy again – they offer marriage to sterile close relatives. Some will take the carrot of marriage and choose to be sterilized, thus reducing the irresponsible procreation that the State wants to fight.

            So, no. States don’t require marriages to procreate. Their desires concerning procreation are complicated, but their behavior in cases like close relatives supports the idea that they do care about these issues in ways that are far more nuanced than most people give them credit.

          • DavidS says:

            I agree that procreation is involved in our concept. Just increasingly less so.

            Also, in the UK, incest itself is illegal, and my wiki-reading suggests the same is true in some US states. Do you mean cousins or something? Seems weird that you can make some things illegal in this area but its anti-constitutional to do it elsewhere.

            I think what you’re talking about suggests that States are trying to ‘nudge’ people – they’re basically saying you can have the benefits of marriage or you can have fertile sex but you can’t have both. Which is sort of clever and nuanced, though again, I’m slightly surprised that there are degrees of relatedness where it’s unconstitutional to ban sex but it’s permissible to do use that degree of relatedness to force people to get sterilised if they want to get married. In terms of slippery slopes, sounds more dangerous* than just banning sex between those people outright, as it establishes a different sort of state intervention, and one that I guess would lend itself to eugenics and possibly even things like trying to limit children of welfare claimants.

            *dangerous as in slippery. I imagine various people on this site would prefer us to be at the bottom of the slope; I’m assuming the states in question don’t.

          • Anonymous says:

            The constitutionality of laws that criminalize consensual sexual relations was determined in Lawrence. States might have laws on the books, but they’re not enforceable.

            Now, there’s a vast gulf between what a State may criminalize and what they must sanction. You can write The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs, and the First Amendment protects you from criminal prosecution. If the government creates a program where they pay authors to write first-grade children’s books (because they think that more first-grade children’s books will benefit society) and you submit a proposal to write Scrotie McBoogerballs III, they can tell you to Go Fund Yourself. They can say, “This is the type of thing we want… that’s not the type of thing we want.”

            So, where in this vast gulf does marriage lie? We’d need to take a detour through levels of scrutiny before we could try to make sense of Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell (because from a legal precedent standpoint, it’s rather incomprehensible). Suffice to say, Kennedy declared that marriage is the type of thing for which almost no reason is good enough for the State to say you can’t have one (strict scrutiny was not uttered, but it’s the consequence of his bit on fundamental rights, and it would have been really messed up if he intended a lower level of scrutiny but didn’t actually test it). So, it’s not that procreation is a bad reason specifically (as you argued above), it’s that pretty much no reason will be constitutional. (The result is pretty clear that State policy concerning relatives will fall, along with laws against bigamy and such.)

          • AngryDrake says:

            Both reproductive and non-reproductive opposite-sex unions are allowed, though.

            In secular law, yes, but the specific details of marriage vary by country. In light of this variation, and fickle nature of lawmaking, I’m treating the Catholic rules as the gold standard for marriage (helps that pretty much every Western state inherits the Catholic legacy).

            Short version of the CC rules is that non-reproductive unions are not allowed. Since this is not actually testable with certainty, proxies are used – the would-be spouses must be able to perform a full act of penis-in-vagina intercourse, etc. In cases of uncertainty (like a post-menopausal woman), benefit of doubt is granted.

            If straight marriage was still regarded as ‘for reproduction’ and we didn’t let gay couples adopt or have IVF, then banning gay marriage makes far more sense.

            Indeed.

            Re: the fairly pointless lingustistic argument that I’m as much responsible for as anyone – my point is not that a married man and a woman must both be straight, but that to me the term ‘straight couple’ is trying to use ‘straight’ to refer to the couple not the two component members, and so means a male-female couple. Very roughly like ‘unhappy couple’ does not mean two depressed people who are together. This isn’t a political position, it was a side issue on how words seem to me to be naturally interpreted!

            I’ll agree to a mutual understanding that we know what each other meant, while using different phrasings. 🙂

            I agree that procreation is involved in our concept. Just increasingly less so.

            Indeed. If same-sex legal pair-bonds are equated with opposite-sex ones, procreation ceases to be the central point of the legal institution.

          • DavidS says:

            @Angry Drake: if when discussing changes to a secular marriage law in a secular state in a secular state and you are actually talking about the Catholic marriage law, probably best to flag up-front. We are a million miles from that already. So it’s not ‘if we allow same-sex marriage we stop the institution being about procreation’, it’s ‘the institution hasn’t been about procreation for ages’.

            Arguing against same-sex marriage based on a completely different model of marriage to the one we have doesn’t make any sense. Imagine we discover some town which has in some way been written out of counting as part of the country it’s in due to some ancient statute and so people in it don’t qualify for welfare, medicare, the vote, anything. Saying ‘well, actually my model of the State is one that doesn’t provide welfare or medicare so we shouldn’t give it to them’ just doesn’t work.

            So I can accept that opposition to gay marriage in principle makes much more sense within a Catholic model, but even if that’s your model, I don’t think that justifies supporting a clearly-not-Catholic-but-actively-discriminatory current model.

          • AngryDrake says:

            So I can accept that opposition to gay marriage in principle makes much more sense within a Catholic model, but even if that’s your model, I don’t think that justifies supporting a clearly-not-Catholic-but-actively-discriminatory current model.

            I do not.

      • Vivarium says:

        Compromises such as civil partnerships etc. were rejected, even when they addressed matters alleged as concerns such as lack of visitation rights, tax benefits and the like. Marriage or nothing!

        Actually, in the USA, many state constitutions explicitly denied the establishment of anything resembling marriage to same sex couples, including civil unions. From the Alabama Constitution: “A union replicating marriage of or between persons of the same sex in the State of Alabama or in any other jurisdiction shall be considered and treated in all respects as having no legal force or effect in this state and shall not be recognized by this state as a marriage or other union replicating marriage.”

        Liberals had offered this compromise of civil unions back in the early 2000s, but conservative states flat out rejected it. Conservatives only started talking about civil unions once it was becoming clear that marriage equality was gaining huge amounts of momentum and looking more and more inevitable.

        Following a tit-for-tat strategy, it was right for liberals to reject civil unions in the 2010’s after conservatives had already rejected them in the 2000s.

      • DensityDuck says:

        As I’ve said elsewhere, though, I’ve got this idea that in the Brave New World Of Tomorrow, part of employment will be signing a marriage contract with your boss so that you can legally be covered by her health insurance.

      • Anonymous says:

        Gay marriage was about gender equality (at least, it was for me and I’m sure I’m not unique).

        • Saal says:

          ….wut?

          Gay marriage seems like a pretty clear case of “right to sexual orientation” intersecting neatly with “right to favorable economic category”. I don’t really see how it has anything to do with gender.

          • Anonymous says:

            It seems that a lot of people who comment here don’t see it, either. If you don’t see it, you don’t see it. I’m not sure I can convince you.

          • Saal says:

            Or maybe you’re using a non-standard definition of gender equality. But whatever, it’s probably easier and more satisfying to assume we’re all just denser than you than to properly define your non-standard terms, to be sure 😉

          • Anonymous says:

            See, this is about how fruitful I predicted that discussion would be.

          • JE says:

            I’m guessing most people define gender equality as gender symmetry (a male gay couple can’t marry but a lesbian couple can’t either, so there’s gender equality), while Anonymous defines it as gender invariance (a man can marry a woman but not another man, so there’s gender inequality)

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          What do you mean by this?

          • Anonymous says:

            Gender equality? That couples be treated equally under the law, regardless of the genders of their members.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            While I (think I) understand how that can be construed to mean gender equality, it’s a pretty non-standard definition of the concept.

            Wouldn’t it just be easier to call it plain equality?

          • Anonymous says:

            Wouldn’t it just be easier to call it plain equality?

            It would be less specific, but not incorrect.

            Also, I don’t think I’m using a non-standard definition so much as framing the issue in a way that is less familiar to the people who tend to read these comments.

      • 27chaos says:

        Do you get this pissed off at all political rhetoric? Because yes, it’s exaggerated and such, but so is everything.

        • Anonymous says:

          From my experience in the comments section, yes, Deiseach really does get this pissed off about a wide variety of things, including political rhetoric. Guess it might be depending on her mood whether she blows up or not.

      • Richard says:

        Whenever the topic of poly marriage comes up, I relate the first thing that popped into my head on hearing it the first time:

        I would marry 10 Saudi women who would in turn marry 10 Saudi women each and so on until we had achieved a de facto political asylum for all women in muslim countries willing to join up.

        Not sure whether getting acceptance for poly marriage or acceptance for the fact that women in muslim countries are persecuted is easier, but if that is the very first exploit that comes to mind, poly marriage is possibly trickier than it seems.

    • James Picone says:

      I’d say my ideal setup is no marriage, but something like it where there’s a convenient one-stop way of designating people Kin for state/legal purposes (hospital visitation, property rights and inheritance, kids and related stuff, etc.). The designation would be flexible enough to say things like “This person gets medical decisions and can visit me in hospital, this one gets my stuff if I die, this person gets my vote as adoptive replacement parent if I die and leave my kids orphaned”.

      Basically generalised marriage. There’s good reasons for the state to regulate certain legal rights; marriage is the easy version of the current mechanism.

      • DavidS says:

        If you allow mutliple people it allows more difficult and exploitable for inheritance/tax etc though. If you strip out all the stuff where you get benefits relative to unmarrieds, I think this would be a sensible approach. Though you’d probably still need a primary ‘next of kin’ who could overrule the others.

        • Mary says:

          And for filthy lucre you are prepared to deny their love?

          • DavidS says:

            Eh? I don’t get any filthy lucre here.

            Options are
            – Tolerate massive exploitation of inheritance/tax advantages (implausible)
            – Remove said advantages (possible, but really unfortunate side effects)
            – Limit said advantages so less exploitable (does sort of discriminate against the polygamous/polyandrous/polyamorous)
            – Keep marriage as 1:1 (short term perhaps better, not fair and deeper level and probably not sustainable)

      • Tracy W says:

        Isn’t there this already? You can write wills and power of attorneys and what-not?

        The advantage of marriage is that you get all this in a one-stop shop, which Western societies have managed to portray as a lovely romantic gesture attractive to people who are currently love-drunk. (And you can get married and also customise a lot of it anyway.)

        • James Picone says:

          Yeah, as I said, marriage is our current culture’s easy version of getting several different documents filed with different people. I’m unsure of the exact legal situation, having never needed to give someone power of *.

          I’m saying that the reason I see for marriage as a governmentally-recognised thing is as that legal one-stop shop, and if it were generalised to be a more general kin-selection thing rather than a romantic-love thing, that’d be neat (and it can have a different name and churches can have ceremonies and call people married if they want. You could think of it as dropping governmental support for marriage and adding a new general kin-selection thing if you want).

          • Tracy W says:

            The advantage of marriage being a romantic-love thing is that it gets people who are head-over-heels in romantic-love to sign up publicly to a legal state which can then be used (being a matter of public record) years or decades later when romantic love has died (possibly because one of the participants has literally died but not always).

            In other words, the tie between marriage and romantic love is not a bug but a feature.

    • brad says:

      At some point in the popularity curve it stops being about a rationale from first principles and starts being more about too much of the population likes X so we have to deal with X. Deisearch makes fun of the “luuuv” rationale but the conservative alternatives (“god wants governments to put his version of marriage into their laws” or “our new god, teleological evolution, wants governments to put his version of marriage into their laws”) are just as thin if not thinner.

      The best argument for civil marriage is exactly that it is popular. If the government is going to have to deal with all of these people who see themselves as part of a single economic unit it makes sense to have formalized ways of dealing with them. That doesn’t justify the various ways we subsidize marriage, that just boils down to people voting themselves money, but it does justify recognition to begin with. With that as the rationale, it in turn becomes easy enough to figure out gay marriage — are there lots of people out there that are the same sex and see themselves as part of a single economic unit? Yes? Well then what are you waiting for, register them as married couples.

      FWIW if there are now, or in the future, non-trivial numbers of stable-ish polygamous relationship groups that act as a single economic unit, I’d be inclined to say we should figure something out for them as well. Though as a JD holder, I’m well aware of the difficulties inherent in figuring out what that something would be.

      • Deiseach says:

        brad, had the arguments been made on the “economic unit” basis, I’d have been a lot more sympathetic.

        I’m resistant to any social/legal/political changes of any institution based on appeals to love, because love does not last. The very same people demanding the right to marry for love are the very same people demanding the right to divorce because now they’re not in love with that person anymore.

        Me, I think: “You break it, you bought it”. You want to turn the world upside-down so you can have the flowers and the cake and the walk down the aisle? Then after all the confetti has been swept up, you bloody well stay in the bed you made, not turn around and waltz out the door now the tingly fizz in the brain has gone as flat as the champagne.

        Sweet Christ, the amount of crap I see in my work where people act because they’re “in love” – and then they have kid(s), and then they break up, and neither of them are working, so they’re not able to maintain the kids, and they come to us for social housing – marriages breaking up, partnerships breaking up, the whole damn merry-go-round because “love”, oh love rules all, love means I couldn’t keep my trousers zipped/my knickers pulled up; love means I don’t love you anymore, I love them so we run off together leaving two broken families; love means I nagged and complained and badgered until I got permission to put you on the tenancy and for you to move in, and now I don’t love you anymore so I’m nagging and complaining and badgering to have you taken off the tenancy and kicked out of the house.

        Love is a very shaky foundation. It’s fickle, it’s changeable, and people should get a damn good kick up the arse and be quizzed “And what are you going to do with your six kids by the same partner whom you maintain you are not with, when he’s looking for a house big enough for him to host those kids when they come to visit him and you’re looking for a house big enough for you and the six kids and both of you want us to magically pull five bedroom social housing out of thin air for the pair of you, never mind the storm of protest giving a single man a five bedroom house will unleash from families waiting to be housed?” In cases like that, I would force people to marry because they’re gaming the system and being liars. If they’re together with years and have six kids together, they can damn well drop the pretence and move in together and civilly register as a single economic unit and they can take up responsibility for raising their children and not expect the state to do everything.

        “Love”, my arse. The word and the concept should be banned. Why the devil should I or anyone else be forced to recognise your passing fancy? Argue with me about contracts and economics and natural justice, but don’t use “love” to be the magic word before which all else must bow down and transmute.

        • Mary says:

          Entirely true. If marriage were the really nice Hallmark card it’s being used as, it would never have existed.

          I remember a credit counselor who really loved Anglosaxon wedding customs, where the morning after, the bridegroom would sign the documents — thus indicating the marriage had been consummated and making over the bride the agreed morning gift (which would support her in event of widowhood). What he loved about it was the way it put money and sex front and center, because that’s what marriage is about.

        • Tracy W says:

          That’s why we have marriage: because relationships end.
          Look at it for people with property, who drive a lot of laws because they tend to be the ones with money to sue.
          Say A and B have kids, they agree A will quit her job to look after them while B earns the money. B promises to look after A. Then 15 years later B walks out.

          Or A owns a flat and takes in a flatmate, B. Eventually their relationship falls short of the Platonic ideal. A dumps B and B sues for a share of the flat, on the basis of his contribution to the relationship.

          Or A is an elderly widower who hires a live-in housekeeper. Eventually A dies of natural causes upon which the housekeeper sues for a share of A’s estate on the basis they were committed to each other, while A’s children protest she was just an employee.

          A contract, signed when things were good, with witnesses, is a useful indication of what people’s intentions likely were when they were getting along together and also both parties were still breathing.

          Quite frankly, I think that no one should ever give up a job to look after the kids, or for any other relationship reason, unless they’re married or have some other written lawyer-checked contract about what happens if the relationship breaks down. And checked by a lawyer hired by the weaker party too.

          • Mary says:

            “That’s why we have marriage: because relationships end.”

            You conflate marriage and contracts here. There has never been a culture that could not tell the difference.

          • Tracy W says:

            In most cultures that come to my mind the contractual aspects are even more obvious.

            After all, if the groom pays a bride price, or the bride’s family a dowry, it’s hard to say it’s not about money and property.

          • nope says:

            Yes, marriage was begun as a contract, the point of which was about property and inheritance. It was never about love until the 19th century. Can you explain exactly what the distinction between marriage and a contract was that was so obvious to every culture in history?

          • Tracy W says:

            @nope: actually marriage in North-Western Europe marriage was about love, at least amongst the non-nobility far earlier than the 19th century. Think of all Shakespeare’s comedies ending in marriages for example.

            It’s thought this was because of the habit of sending teenage children away to work (as maids or apprentices) plus late marriages in mid-to-late twenties: it’s hard to control the matrimonial decisions of a 25-year old milkmaid who left home age 12.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think pretty much everyone always expected that the end state of marriage would be two people who love each other engaged in an economic alliance to maintain at least a household. What differs from time to time and place to place are:

            Is it necessary for love to predate marriage, or can we marry off two people who don’t love (or even know) each other and expect that love will follow? If the latter, how do we pick the right two people?

            If love does predate marriage, is there any other path besides getting married or “knock it off you two, that’s never going to lead to a successful marriage”? If not, how long and how far can premarital love go before you have to fish or cut bait?

            What third parties, if any, have a legitimate economic interest in this marriage, and how do we ensure that they get (or pay) their fair share?

            I don’t know of any society where the discovery that two young people who would be seen as an economically viable couple (accounting for third-party interests) had already fallen in love, would result in any outcome other than encouraging them to marry.

    • blacktrance says:

      Not a progressive (but even less of a conservative), and my ideal policy would be privatization of marriage, but marriage is an expression of commitment within a romantic relationship, including a commitment to be a family, which is a desire that many people have – marriage is good because (and when) people want to be married.

  12. Zakharov says:

    I’ve been thinking about a political argument which ought to have a good counter-argument, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

    Should we criticize the voluntarily unemployed who are on welfare?

    Assume the individual in question is unskilled, and there are more unskilled people looking for work than jobs available for unskilled people. If this person were employed, whoever would otherwise have had their job would be unemployed, which isn’t any improvement to society. Furthermore, a lot of pressure on the unemployed means a lot of competition for the limited supply of jobs, reducing wages and worsening conditions.

    Of course, it’s a common economic fallacy to suppose the quantity of jobs is fixed. However, from the perspective of the unemployed individual who isn’t likely to create any jobs themselves, it is.

    The person we should instead blame for unemployment is the one who could start a company, but instead takes a job working for someone else.

    As a matter of policy, this would suggest avoiding restrictions on welfare and making it easy to start companies.

    • AngryDrake says:

      Should we criticize the voluntarily unemployed who are on welfare?

      Voluntary unemployment in itself is not wrong, unless you want to criticize the rentier and the housewife for their supposed idleness. (Don’t.)

      Whether it’s okay to take welfare while doing so is another matter. If it is the kind of welfare that is earned, an entitlement, such as it is in the case of unemployment subsidies that are based on prior earnings and are not indefinite in length, I see nothing objectionable. The State found it appropriate to levy more taxes in order to provide a de-facto salary to those not otherwise employed, for a fixed time. This is fine. (Whether it is fine for the State to make such a compact is another matter entirely.)

      If it’s the kind of welfare that is indefinite and/or unearned, that would be objectionable. Such a person could be legitimately called lazy and indolent.

      As a matter of policy, this would suggest avoiding restrictions on welfare and making it easy to start companies.

      Making companies easy to start is a very good idea, and I struggle to think of any general objections to that.

      I don’t see, however, why you think avoiding restrictions on welfare is sound?

      • Zakharov says:

        I’m thinking especially of indefinite and unearned welfare, what is here called a “dole bludger”. The person may well be lazy and indolent, but are they doing anything wrong?

        Restrictions on welfare make the life of the person on welfare worse. For example, if welfare is linked to passing a drug test, the person who is unemployed, broke, and fails their drug test is more or less forced to resort to begging or theft to survive.

        • AngryDrake says:

          I’m thinking especially of indefinite and unearned welfare, what is here called a “dole bludger”. The person may well be lazy and indolent, but are they doing anything wrong?

          Slothfulness is a crime against oneself (where it is defined as not doing the things you need to do). This in itself would be the problem of the individual, and that individual only, not interesting to us. What is wrong is that a) that person is supported materially by others, b) those others may not choose to stop supporting that person materially.

          If it were the situation where the ‘welfare’ is provided by the person’s family, that’s fine. They have their limits for how much laziness they tolerate while still feeding and housing their relative, and may cease if their tolerances are exceeded.

          With indefinite dole, it is the taxpayers, through coercion of the State, that are supposed to support this person, who they have little to no interest in supporting. Why should they want to pay extra to reward the laziness of a stranger? Since the State compels them, they can’t cease to do so.

          Restrictions on welfare make the life of the person on welfare worse. For example, if welfare is linked to passing a drug test, the person who is unemployed, broke, and fails their drug test is more or less forced to resort to begging or theft to survive.

          I don’t think encouraging dependence and idleness is a good social policy, since we’re very far from a lack of scarcity situation.

          I also don’t think “begging or theft” are that person’s only options. Where is their family? Where is their church?

          • Zakharov says:

            My point is that if there are more people seeking unskilled jobs than available unskilled jobs, some people will be unemployed and on welfare. The problem can’t be fixed by the job seekers, only the job creators.

          • Mark says:

            It isn’t work itself that makes us wealthy but the social institutions, knowledge and capital that exist in our society. Since this is pre-existing and no individual has done very much to create it (lots of the important ideas aren’t really excludable anyway) it makes sense to view it as a shared inheritance: the guy who pushes the button that starts the factory shouldn’t have the right to all of the output to that factory just because he happens to be the best button pusher.

          • AngryDrake says:

            My point is that if there are more people seeking unskilled jobs than available unskilled jobs, some people will be unemployed and on welfare. The problem can’t be fixed by the job seekers, only the job creators.

            That sounds like an additional reason to not reward idleness. Steer people – even unskilled ones – into creating value somehow, whether by employment, job creation, or some other means. Don’t reward them for doing nothing.

          • Zakharov says:

            I’d guess the intersection between “people who are unemployed and on welfare” and “people capable of being successful entrepreneurs” is pretty small.

          • AngryDrake says:

            I’d guess the intersection between “people who are unemployed and on welfare” and “people capable of being successful entrepreneurs” is pretty small.

            Not sure about this, unless you exclude from ‘successful entrepreneurship’ activities such as scavenging scrap for sale, buying pastries from stores and selling them to random tourists on the street at a markup, mowing people’s lawns, and a myriad other activities that even unskilled can get up to to make ends meet. In the absence of welfare, this is what the poor do – in addition to mooching off their relatives – to make ends meet.

            Providing them welfare turns them into people who do scant more than sit at home, watch TV and indulge in their favorite addiction (be it legal or illegal).

          • Tracy W says:

            @Mark: in a wealthy economy most of the value you create goes to other people anyway. Eg: how much do people value food? Judging by behaviour in famines, most people will spend everything they have to buy food. What do people in the West spend on food? About 10% of average incomes. So of the value that the agricultural and food manufacturing industries create, about 90% at a minimum goes to general society, not the food producers.

            And that’s just food. My life was saved when I was 11 by about $50 worth of antibiotics. How much do you think my parents would have spent if they had to?

            And on more minor issues. I’ve washed clothes by hand. The value I get from an automatic washing machine far outweighs the cost.

          • Mark says:

            @Tracy –
            Yeah – I suppose that is an artifact of specialization and trade – but I would say that you are not really comparing like-with-like if you compare the *payment* received by the producer with the *satisfaction* derived by the consumer.
            The right to consume that the ten dollars gives the producer will enable him to receive more than ten dollars worth of satisfaction.

          • Zakharov says:

            @Drake:

            Even including those things I think it holds. The category I’m referring to is unskilled people currently on welfare, which tends to be the least-capable fraction of the unskilled as a whole. Even doing those kind of odd jobs is often not enough by itself to make ends meet. Besides, the person who digs cans out of bins is still shamed and stigmatized by society for being unemployed.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            @Tracy

            That’s just how an healthy market works. Any individual farm is not worth much – if it stops producing food, various agents across the supply chain will work to waste less of it, or maybe switch to an alternative product.

            If they have to, people would trade most of their wealth for some amount of food, life-saving medicine, a roof over their head, and many other things. Our civilization is rich enough to produce all of these simultaneously.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Mark: sure, the button presser is a part of society and thus benefits above and beyond her direct contributions, like we all do.

            I agree with you that I’m not comparing like with like in comparing the value we get as consumers to the amount we are paid as producers, that was why I mentioned that in the case of food “everything we have” was a lower bound on the value.

            @Ariel: that’s how a wealthy society works, it’s just that markets are the only way we know of to produce the wealthy society. And yes farmers in a wealthy society do benefit from not starving when their harvest fails.

          • Mary says:

            “My point is that if there are more people seeking unskilled jobs than available unskilled jobs, some people will be unemployed and on welfare. The problem can’t be fixed by the job seekers, only the job creators.”

            Only if said job seekers are both lacking in skills (instead of seeking those jobs because they prefer them) AND incapable of acquiring skills, which needs substantiation.

          • AngryDrake says:

            Even including those things I think it holds. The category I’m referring to is unskilled people currently on welfare, which tends to be the least-capable fraction of the unskilled as a whole. Even doing those kind of odd jobs is often not enough by itself to make ends meet. Besides, the person who digs cans out of bins is still shamed and stigmatized by society for being unemployed.

            The underclass will always exist. My position is to incentivize people to leave the underclass by any means possible. Provision of comfort is a secondary issue.

    • Tracy W says:

      People who are employed generally are employed doing something useful. Including useful things for other low-income people. If wages are higher then it costs more to hire nursing aides, or janitors or supermarket shelf stockers or etc. And those costs are not just confined to unskilled workers but also affect those too sick to work, or too young or the like.

      • Zakharov says:

        I read this as “the person seeking a job pushes down the cost of hiring people, prompting employers to create new jobs.” That is a good counter-argument, though I still believe that more jobs for worse conditions is a bad trade-off.

        For the marginal unskilled job, market forces would dictate wages lower than the minimum wage – wages can’t legally be pushed down any further. What can be pushed down is conditions; giving workers less flexibility or worse facilities to save money.

        I suspect, but can’t prove, that the majority of problems in the labor market arise from the discrepancy between the market wage and the minimum wage. Of course, simply removing the minimum wage without compensating in other ways would create a new set of problems relating to poverty.

        The market price for unskilled labor can be changed by reducing supply, or by increasing demand. Most people prefer the latter, but I prefer the former. Increasing demand for labor by creating a healthy and growing economy is great, of course, but if we knew how to do that we’d have done it already. Government make-work programs can work, but can also be corrupt boondoggles which cost more for less value than simply cutting the unemployed a check. From a (consequentialist) ethical point of view, if we can solve the problem by letting those who would prefer not to work not work, that’d be great.

        I think this ends up turning into the basic income debate.

        • Tracy W says:

          Of course, simply removing the minimum wage without compensating in other ways would create a new set of problems relating to poverty.

          I’ve read these sorts of arguments before. And I always wonder – a binding minimum wage makes some people unemployed. Isn’t earning $0 an hour likely to cause some very major poverty problems?

          • Zakharov says:

            That’s what welfare is for, though no minimum wage + basic incomes solves the problem better by avoiding poverty traps.

    • DavidS says:

      Interesting. I guess part of the problem here is that you would have to be pretty certain that those people couldn’t be self-employed or entrepeneurial (including in the informal ways Angry Drake sets out) and that their absence wasn’t actually a problem for the jobs market. If you made this sort of thing available, it may well attract people who would otherwise work (artists etc. who are happy to live on small amounts to get the freedom to spend their time)

      When/where labour is much less flexible, I can see the case for this. E.g. if a particular crop failed for one harvest, you can see the case for subsidising those who worked on those farms for a year as both humane and practical (them moving off elsewhere scatters a specialised labour force). Obviously that would ideally be done by the industry itself, but govt might get involved. In fact, I was listening yesterday to a radio show about the Lancashire Cotton Famine (when Confederates stopped selling cotton to the mills in England in a confused diplomatic manouever), and apparently the mill owners did various things to try to retain labour through the hard period. And government took a role in giving support when it was claer it would last longer than expected. But here society as a whole feels less outraged/exploited because those being helped are very clearly not being indolent by choice.

    • Jiro says:

      I’d think that voluntarily becoming unemployed and taking welfare is subject to free rider considerations. It looks like it isn’t because the job market can’t absorb more people, but it really still is because the job market only has other people to absorb because they don’t think like him. If *everyone* thought like him, the job market would be in a shambles.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        I think you fail to appreciate that everyone *does* think like him in some fashion. They just have different preferences. But more importantly, as the labor supply dries up, wages rise until they coax people to take jobs again.

    • blacktrance says:

      Should we criticize the voluntarily unemployed who are on welfare?

      No more than we criticize recipients of charity. The objectionable part of welfare is how it’s funded, not that some people choose to access the funds.

      • Mary says:

        In one case there is fraud, and the other not necessarily.

      • I think the use is very important. I have no problems paying tax to fund someone getting a good education (as long as they study hard) or doing useful volunteer work (this is tricky to measure though), or just as a temporary safety net, though I think policies to make more jobs available could remove the need in many cases.

        I have a major problem with paying taxes for someone to sit around and smoke drugs.

    • I think you have some good points but might be conflating distinct issues.

      Unemployment due to lack of jobs doesn’t seem to be voluntary. Obviously policy that results in job availability is the answer.

      Voluntary unemployment on welfare does seem to be morally wrong if no effort is made to either look for work, engage in training or education, or do volunteer work. The reality is some people don’t have any desire to work at all, and you’re going to have to stop them free-riding, but try to do so without really bad collatoral damage. I think drug testing would go a long way to solving this, although I mistrust anti-welfare politicians to administer such a program in a way that doesn’t stomp all over welfare receptients’ privacy and other rights.

      I agree, making small businesses as easy as possible to start is vital, and having business policies that are friendly to small players is a no-brainer.

      In Australia we did have a program that allowed welfare-receptients to do a business plan and start a business instead of look for work, though I think it may now have been removed and I don’t know if it’s success rate was good or not. Small business success requires very specific skills. I suspect unemployment doesn’t put people in a psychologically good place for starting a business, even putting skills aside. I do like the general idea though.

      • Zakharov says:

        Assuming that there are more unemployed people looking for jobs than there are available jobs, reducing the number of people looking for jobs by 1 has no effect on employment.

        I also believe (with less confidence) that reducing the labor supply, and hence giving workers a stronger bargaining position against employers, would have beneficial social effects which offset the cost of supporting freeloaders – particularly if freeloaders are going to freeload in any case and you’re just making them suffer otherwise.

        Although I do support making businesses easy to start, reducing regulations trades off with increased fraud and negative externalities.

        • I basically agree, apart from the fact I think freeloading is mostly opportunistic and can be solved with a bit of a shove, provided there are dignified and fairly paid jobs available. The problem is that most advocates of this “push” seem to not care in the slightest about the collatoral damage, or using it to achieve other political goals, which needlessly makes the policies more contentious.

  13. jeff says:

    Has anyone made an effort to differentiate introversion from (social, other) anxiety? Is there a diagnostic somewhere that asks whether you’d, I don’t know, be more enthusiastic at the party if you knew for sure everyone liked you today? Is there research on this subject?

    I’m fairly sure that many introverts or semi-introverts I know are actually suffering from anxiety, and while they may still be mildly introverted if they didn’t have it, I don’t think I could predict the outcome. I suspect many of them would actually be social butterflies.

    • Richard Metzler says:

      I can just offer my personal perspective as an introvert. When I’m around people I don’t know well, social anxiety can definitely be part of the picture. But as I understand it, introversion is a limited capacity for the company of other people and the need to be alone every once in a while, and that doesn’t go away just because I’m with people I know and like, and I have no reason to be anxious. It’s not unusual for my wife to say “Can I do anything for you?” and I’ll say, “no, I’m fine, just let me read a book/ play guitar/ stare at the wall for an hour”. To me, that’s the core of introversion.

      “I suspect many of them would actually be social butterflies.”
      Possibly, in the right setting, for an hour or two 🙂

    • rsaarelm says:

      How common is it to be both quite introverted and have zero anxiety about speaking in public?

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Greater than zero. 😉

      • James Picone says:

        Me three.

        (Although I did a lot of public speaking/debating in school which likely was relevant here)

      • Bill G says:

        Yeah, from personal experience I wouldn’t say my anxiety is zero…but it’s approaching it. And I can be quite introverted.

      • James D. Miller says:

        I’m an introverted college professor who loves speaking to large groups in public.

      • Peter says:

        Introverted, got an anxiety disorder (GAD, but I think there might be some social aspects there too), Aspie, and I do public speaking no problem at all. Well, OK, there might be angststressdoom when preparing the Powerpoint, but once it’s all prepared, rehearsed and ready it’s fine.

        In fact at an academic conference, it sort of divides into two halves – the half before I gave my presentation where people don’t know me, don’t initiate conversations with me, I don’t initiate with them, and it’s all socially unsatisfying, and the second half where I’ve given my talk and suddenly socialising is much easier.

      • Amanda says:

        This applies to me as well. Public speaking, as long as it is not impromptu and unscripted, doesn’t cause nearly as much anxiety for me as talking to a smaller number of people without a prepared speech. In fact, talking to any number of people is much less stressful if I have a prepared plan for what exactly I’m going to say (I think this is why a lot of people with social anxiety rehearse conversations in their heads before having them).

        Unscripted public speaking is awful though.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I would definitely consider myself an introvert. I enjoy social interaction, but my capacity for it is not infinite. Being at a party and not being into it, or back when I used to let friends drag me to clubs, etc – these things don’t feel the same as anxiety, though, instead it’s just a bored/annoyed feeling of “I could be doing something else”. If I feel any social anxiety, it tends to be when I’m not socializing: that’s when the “oh no what if nobody likes me” might come out.

      Whereas I know someone who would probably merit a diagnosis of social anxiety, and is clearly incredibly uncomfortable in any social situation they don’t feel at home in, deals with it with alcohol, etc. I find that alcohol makes the anxiety worse, because the “oh no what if nobody likes me” feeling is easier to get when you can’t 100% remember everything from last night and worry you might have said/done something foolish.

      Personal experience, of course, but I would say there’s a difference between “I can’t do this but I want to” and “I can do this but I don’t want to/don’t want to right now/don’t want to anymore”.

      • Bill G says:

        Exactly. Friends comment that I tend to seem comfortable in almost all social situations– and, the truth is that I do. But I also feel tired by it quickly in an emotional way. I can work all day and then go home and read a technical or philosophical text without feeling fatigued, but often if asked to go out socially it will make me feel exhausted.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s less that it makes me feel exhausted, and more that I have a very low tolerance for some social environments. Hanging out with another person or a small group, talking, etc: I can do that pretty much forever. On the other hand, going out to a loud club where you can’t make conversation and the drinks are expensive and it’s crowded and people are trying to make me dance? Horrible.

    • Psmith says:

      “there’s also the case of the pop-psychological buzzword of ‘introversion’, which is believed to be an innate and unchanging property of an individual personality but may involve relatively high cognitive effort and perceived risk in interaction with others, which are clearly related to the loss of social scripts and roles, the rise of atomization, and the fracturing, driven in the last few decades primarily by far-left political movements, of homogeneous national populations into interest groups with little culturally in common and extensive sets of taboos unpredictable to outsiders. ” –tumblr user severnayazemlya

    • nope says:

      There is some interesting data that suggests that extroversion may be largely reward sensitivity. The core of introversion, from my own experience, is almost entirely anhedonia in social situations. I imagine that a lot of people’s introversion is a combination of a) a degree of anxiety, and b) insufficient enjoyment of people to counteract the force of a. But b has to be present. You might be surprised at the amount of extroverts with social anxiety problems.

    • US says:

      Yes, there is research on these sorts of topics. Both topics (introversion/extroversion and anxiety) are covered to some extent in the Handbook of Individual differences in Social Behaviour, by Leary & Hoyle. The book has a total of 39 chapters, and there is both a chapter on extroversion (but not one about introversion, though of course the latter is discussed as well in that chapter) and a chapter on ‘social anxiousness, shyness, and embarrassability’. The former chapter is in the ‘interpersonal dispositions’ part of the book, whereas the latter is in the ’emotional dispositions’ part of the book – i.e. according to the editors, implicitly, the two do not even belong in the same broad category of phenomena (though of course how they categorize specific topics seems sometimes a bit arbitrary).

      Below are a few quotes from the text which seem relevant to your questions:

      “The core feature of extraversion in the FFM [five factor model] is thought to be the disposition to engage in social behavior. […] In [Tellegen’s] taxonomy, positive emotionality constitutes the core of extraversion. […] extraverts experience more positive affect than introverts; this finding has been one of the most robust in all of personality psychology”.

      “social anxiety is fretful disquiet that stems from the prospect of evaluations from others in the absence of any predicament. It occurs when we believe ourselves to be subject to real, implied, or imagined social evaluation, and it takes the form of nervous concern for what others may be thinking, even when nothing has gone wrong […]. Unlike embarrassment, social anxiety often occurs over long periods of time, gradually waxing and waning. It depends on contemplation of social settings that portrays them as daunting and intimidating, so it is usually gradual, prolonged, and mindful (rather than automatic; Miller, 2001a). Physically, social anxiety resembles other fears; it involves activation of the “fight or flight” responses of the sympathetic nervous system”.

      “Shyness occurs when social anxiety is paired with reticent, cautious, and guarded social behavior (Leary, 2001a). Shy behavior may range from mild inhibition, involving bashful timidity or wary watchfulness, to stronger distancing behavior that can include total withdrawal from social settings. That is a broad range, and no one pattern of behavior reliably distinguishes shyness from cooler, calmer states (such as those associated with introversion) that lead one to be quiet and reserved in the absence of any anxiety”.

  14. Froolow says:

    I’d like to write a paper which says that transhuman advances in healthcare and socialised medicine are currently incompatible. The gist is roughly that as soon as it becomes more cost-effective to upgrade baseline humans with transhuman advances (bionic limbs, say) than to treat sick humans with conventional medicine (chemotherapy, say), then any system based on maximising ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ will exhaust its budget upgrading baseline humans rather than treating the sick because baseline (non-sick) humans are essentially an unlimited ‘sink’ for money. This may or may not be a good thing, but it is certainly not what the founders of the NHS had in mind and someone needs to sit down and have a proper think about the problem well before the first bionic limb becomes more cost-effective than the least cost-effective chemotherapy.

    My problem is, this seems like a really, really trivial insight that lots of other people must have had and not bothered to publish (or were rejected for publication because the insight is trivial). To what extent can I use the outside view for determining whether I should write the paper? To what extent does the insight seem unpublishably trivial?

    • Nita says:

      upgrade baseline humans with transhuman advances

      This is outside the realm of “healthcare” or “medicine” as most people currently understand it, so NHS won’t be paying for it, unless the meaning of these concepts shifts considerably in the meantime.

      • Froolow says:

        It isn’t clear to me that the NHS won’t end up paying for it – if I invent a bionic limb that is so effective that it is more cost-effective than chemotherapy in a sick patient, it would be madness not to give it to patients who were are currently giving crappy artificial limbs. But if it is *that* much more effective, there’s a perverse incentive for healthy people to hack off their own limbs to get it (maybe that’s an extreme example, but imagine a Modafinil-on-steroids drug which treats narcolepsy and also makes you a Feynmann-level genius. I find it very unlikely a lot of healthy people won’t suddenly discover they have “Excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep attacks and cataplexy”)

        More generally, we redefine the word ‘healthcare’ in response to changing technological circumstances. The NHS was never envisaged to provide services like IVF, gender reassignment surgery or providing the female contraception pill. Perhaps one day we will consider having nanotech in your bloodstream as much of a human right as we now consider access to contraception, and if that day comes I think it is important the NHS has a systematised response.

        • Nita says:

          there’s a perverse incentive for healthy people to hack off their own limbs

          Unlikely. Most people are, ahem, attached to their limbs in more than one way.

          IVF, gender reassignment surgery or providing the female contraception pill

          All of that still fits under the umbrella of “alleviating suffering”, rather than “increasing awesomeness”.

          imagine a Modafinil-on-steroids drug

          Some people believe that amphetamines can increase the productivity of healthy individuals, at least in some situations. Society seems to have responded by treating all ADD patients, and the condition itself, with suspicion, rather than calculating the cost-effectiveness of using Ritalin for performance enhancement.

          • Froolow says:

            You’re correct that we redefine what constitutes (medically relevant) suffering such that the NHS only ever treats those who are suffering, but if you’d asked someone in the 1950’s (when the NHS was being set up) whether, ‘drugs that means you can have all the sex you want without getting pregnant, surgery that lets you pick what gender you want to be, drugs that make you happy if you are sad and a kind of surgery/drugs hybrid that makes you pregnant if you are infertile’ were suffering-alleviating or awesomeness-enhancing they would almost certainly have said the second (maybe not about IVF, but I’m pretty certain about the rest). Or if not, they would have regarded the ‘suffering’ of being unable to have all the sex you wanted the same way I regard the ‘suffering’ of being unable to jump over tall buildings with my awesome bionic limbs – something which would be great in principle if you can afford it but not something humans really deserve as a right provided for by the state.

            I think we’re getting unnecessarily hung up on the particular examples though (my fault, sorry). The clearest explication of the problem is an imaginary one-off procedure which adds one year to your life expectancy (via nanotech or something). This clearly ‘alleviates suffering’ rather than ‘enhances awesomeness’. But at a certain price point (and correcting for diminishing marginal utility), we’d rather give the pill to a healthy person than extend a sick person’s life expectancy further with chemotherapy on pure utilitarian grounds, which is (mostly) what the NHS uses at the moment.

            At the point we’d rather treat a healthy person with the life-expectancy pill than a sick person with chemo, we will sink the rest of the NHS budget on healthy-person life-extension which – again – is not really what the NHS was set up to do.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            IVF and contraception seem closer to enhancements to me. It is unnaturally awesome to be able to bear children past 40, or to have all the sex you want without using a condom or risking pregnancy. It’s true that some suffering is relieved in the process, but the suffering of menopause and unwanted pregnancy (or being forced to use a prophylactic!) was universally part of the human condition until recently.

            The boundaries between enhancements and medically-necessary procedures are antecedently blurry and change with time and mores, of course.

          • Nita says:

            Uh, guys, marital rape was still legal (that is, not considered rape) when the pill was invented. So no, not everyone could prevent unwanted pregnancy by refraining from sex.

            Depression isn’t sadness, and anti-depressants don’t make you happy.

            I think transhuman enhancements are more likely to follow the path of plastic surgery — the rich getting it if they feel like it, the poor saving up for it if they feel they need it.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Nanomachines that regenerate damaged tissue in a heartbeat would be extremely useful if I were ever stabbed, in the same way that a pill which prevents pregnancy is extremely useful in case I am ever raped. They’re still straightforwardly an enhancement. The questions of whether a medical intervention has the potential to thwart the knock-on consequences of a crime (or, a should-be-a-crime-if-not-for-our-backwardness) and whether it qualifies as an enhancement are really orthogonal.

          • DavidS says:

            On the arguably awesome-enhancing arguably suffering-alleviating things – I would also note that they’re often more complicated than that. In particular, I would be willing to bet that none of them were added onto NHS funding books just through automated application of the utilitarian QALY principle
            – the Pill I don’t know the full history I think there was probably a very conscious decision that providing access to contraception was a Good Thing.
            – IVF you have limited ‘cycles’ and I think you have to do a lot to show commitment before you get it
            – Gender re-assignment again you have an incredibly demanding process to get it agreed

      • Anonymous says:

        This is outside the realm of “healthcare” or “medicine” as most people currently understand it

        Everything Not Obligatory Is Forbidden. The key question, as I understand it, is, “Can we make a principled distinction between vaccines (putting them in the “healthcare/medicine” bundle) and transhuman ‘upgrades’?”

        • Tracy W says:

          This is a democracy, principled decisions are not obligatory. (On the whole I think this is a positive for democracy, albeit in the Churchillian way: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others which have been tried from time to time.)

    • Johannes says:

      It is a fairly trivial point that shows the huge possibilities for inhumanity of so-called transhumanism and has been probably already explored in SciFi or criticism of some brands of consequentialism. For non-consequentialists it’s simply another coffin-nail for that highly problematic ethical theory that is at best incomplete (you need too much content provided from other sources as input for utilitarian calculus), at worst really horrible and anti-human.

      As I said elsewhere: If you really believe there will be 10^50 super-happy descendants populating some nebula in half a million years or so, there is hardly any atrocity that could not be justified by such an amount of “happiness” it would help to bring about. Of course, the premiss is utter nonsense (or more mildly, just some huge number a smart person pulled out of their backside, as someone pointed out in another thread, a similar futuristic guesstimate from the mid-90s in Leslie’s doomsday book differed by about 10^40, so those numbers really are bosh), but the parallels to utopian totalitarians in the 20th century or religious sects in earlier times are just too obvious to ignore.

      Of course, already the ancient hedonists usually thought differently: freedom of pain/suffering was more important than acquiring “surplus happiness”. Therefore not everything is simply commensurable, but it follows from fairly minimal assumptions about the human condition, or from thinking about marginal utility: The gain from living a normal pain free live vs. a constant rheumatic pain or so is higher than the gain from sporting a robotically improved limb vs. normally fit body.
      So I guess Epicurus would not have had a problem to decide that first the sick must be cured before some people can get surplus utility by extra robotic limbs or rocket suits or whatever.

      • Froolow says:

        > it follows from fairly minimal assumptions about the human condition, or from thinking about marginal utility

        Of course I’m not suggesting that a super-cool-future bionic limb has the same value to me as a crappy-but-serviceable artificial limb has to someone today, but it isn’t out of the question that *even accounting* for diminishing marginal utility there are interventions which so improve my life that they improve my life more than marginal treatments for things we currently regard as illnesses.

        If QALYs aren’t your bag, you could demonstrate this with brute life expectancy – would you rather pay £20,000 for a 1% chance to extend a late-stage cancer-sufferer’s life by two months, or £20,000 for a 100% chance to extend a (healthy) life by X years, where X is whatever value it needs to be to overcome the bias towards treating the healthy rather than the sick.

        It might be that some things in healthcare genuinely are incommensurable, but from the point of view of the healthcare system we have to act like they aren’t – *some* decision is going to be made, and it would be better it is a sensible decision than a foolish one.

        • Aegeus says:

          Is there a reason you can’t pay 20k to extend the cancer-sufferer’s life by X years? I get the feeling you’re establishing something that’s only true for the Least Convenient Possible World, where cutting-edge treatments are somehow cheaper than normal medicine, more beneficial, and incapable of being given to sick patients.

          As for more clearly incommensurable tradeoffs like bionic limbs vs curing cancer, we have a precedent for that. Things like plastic surgery are normally something you pay out of pocket for rather than being covered by health insurance. This is a pretty typical model – the state provides a “floor” on what every citizen should have (not dying of cancer) while anything beyond that (nose jobs, cool bionic limbs) gets handled by the usual market forces.

          • Froolow says:

            In my least-convenient-possible-world example then sure – maybe the procedure doesn’t work if you’re on radiation therapy, or it works by boosting the DNA-transcription-repair-error mechanism to prevent cancer, but in those with cancer it is already too late. There are equivalents in ‘real’ medicine, but they rest on specific details of the illness and the intervention which aren’t really what I’m getting at here.

            We could complicate this model slightly without losing the intuition by saying that both the healthy and unhealthy people get the life extension, but the cancer patient has a lower quality of life during those years because they weren’t treated because the NHS ran out of money (plus the cancer patient still has a lower life expectancy than the healthy patient because there’s no money left to fix them). The idea is just that there is a tension between ‘treat the sick’ and ‘maximise healthy life-years’ under some transhuman assumptions – not that these interventions necessarily need to be harder/better/faster/stronger than any conceivable alternative (I only stipulate they are to drive the intuition)

            Upthread I discuss that the precedent you describe is actually very woolly – the state pays for a lot of things now that previously would have been seen as ‘enhancements’ rather than ‘medicine’ – things like the female pill meaning you can have all the sex you want without getting pregnant, for example. I wouldn’t be against the conclusion that the state should never pay for any treatment which takes people’s quality of life above 2015 human baseline, but that doesn’t seem a very satisfying resolution to the problem in my opinion. Yet it is certainly better than the NHS just falling over as soon as better-than-perfect health techniques come on the market and special interests groups fight over what counts as a ‘right’ and what doesn’t.

      • Ever An Anon says:

        Thanks for the shout-out, didn’t think anyone saw my math before.

        As for Epicureanism, I’ve only read Lucretius but it seems even less similar to Utilitarianism than your description implies. Despite conflicts with the Stoics, the two have a very similar view of happiness and suffering. The gist I took away was that you need to relax and accept that pain and death are inevitable and that you can’t achieve every wild fantasy so that you can be contented with a comfortable simple life. That kind of philosophy is very useful in the modern world, it’s helped me with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, plus it doesn’t justify any atrocities or con games.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This post is me thinking about a similar problem – if the costs of being non-transhuman are socialized, then there will be a lot of pressure to make it illegal not to be transhuman.

      • Bugmaster says:

        It is already almost illegal not to be transhuman. For example, you can’t have a driver’s license without corrective lenses, which are necessary for 20/20 vision in many humans. A cellphone (and, increasingly, internet access) is practically required in order to get most of the decent jobs. I’m not sure, but I think I recall hearing somewhere that tampering with one’s pacemaker is, if not illegal, then at least highly discouraged.

        Personally, I’m ok with most of that, especially in the case of glasses and driver licenses. Your bodily autonomy should not actively endanger my life.

    • Evan Daniel says:

      There are lots of more-cost-effective health-related things the NHS could be doing. For example, getting everyone to eat more nuts would probably be cheap and worthwhile, and just paying for those nuts might well be more cost-effective than a lot of medical treatments today are.

      We seem to solve this problem by saying “that’s not what hospitals / NHS do or pay for”, and I suspect the resolution to bionic limbs will take a similar form. The boundaries are similarly fuzzy: doctors give nutrition advice all the time to people who are unhealthy, but you don’t see doctors trying to improve the health of the already-healthy all that much.

      • anon says:

        Beans (considered in their dry form) are much cheaper than nuts, equally nutritious, and have been shown to be very beneficial.

        I’m in favor of a Roman Empire style food distribution of healthy food in powdered, precooked form. Beans, grains, vegetables. In their raw form these are all very cheap relative to the nutrition they contain and judging from certain products I can see on the shelves where I live as well as online, the powdering and pre-cooking process (via air-drying) must be extremely cheap. The transportation is also cheap wih food in their dried form, and they are non-perishables. So it should logically be easy to accomplish.

    • Tracy W says:

      NHS isn’t based on the “greatest good for the greatest number”, it’s based on votes.
      And sickness is something we’re all at risk of, especially the elderly who vote disproportionately. If the NHS faces a choice between upgrading to trans humanism or treating sickness this is a point where I’m willing to trust the democratic process as people make their own tradeoffs between the advantages of transhumanism versus the risk of not getting treated when sick.
      This is one of the reasons I think democracy would better than any other governing method humanity has discovered, people don’t have to justify to a bunch of judges or philosophers why they vote the way they do, they can just vote.

      • Max says:

        How about a novel idea – there is no NHS and no votes. Everyone makes his own decisions for himself. If someone wants to upgrade – he can. If someone wants to spend resources treating sick – he can do it on his own.

    • What are you using for your measurement of cost-effectiveness and greatest good for greatest number? This seems important, and there is probably a bias risk of matching your measurement method to your hypothesis. One option would be to estimate QALY. I imagine not having cancer or not being in unbearable pain for month before you die is a bigger increase in QALY than having much much stronger arms, which for the person is probably about the same as having an xbox. However, there is obviously positive externalitities or increased earning capacity associated with bionic limbs (eg. maybe you can be a really good fire-fighter that saves QALY), so then you have the incredibly complex argument of whether you invest in future utility or take your utility now, so discount rates etc.

      I think your core idea is probably correct though. The big one is really preventing ageing – if it becomes cheaper to extend healthy old people’s life indefinitely rather than heal the sick, and if you extend that to the logical conclusion, you’ve got a serious utility monster on your hands (geriocracy? lol).

  15. 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 knowledge. It will not work where specialist knowledge is required. In these cases, it’s likely to arrive at the wrong answer.

            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!

            These models are not as different as you think. Culture and the genetic make-up of the various populations make them differ on the details, just as you say, and given free reign, they would arrive at different specifics. This is part of the neoreactionary stance on not forcing One True System on everyone.

            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.

            It does leave room for that. Indeed, sovereign countries should be free to decide what their internal structure looks like, rather than being pressured by some fanatics in Washington, that the American-model democracy is universally correct for every culture, every ethnicity, every size, every time period.

            Agreed – I’d add that many of us can’t even run a family unit, with tragic consequences.

            Those people are fringe. If they were not, a relatively civilized society would be impossible.

            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.

            So you’re not actually for democracy in any meaningful sense, but for obscurantist oligarchy that pretends to take the lead from the people? I don’t see a problem with that. Singapore certainly seems to make it work.

            I’ll refer to ARF section 2.4 (which I said above is basically the only section you need) for some historical examples.

            This doesn’t quite answer my question of frequency. All these examples, compared to the sheer number of monarchs, seem rare and isolated.

            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.

            My ballpark estimate would be 50% like his dad. You can disagree that this is randomized enough. The new king will represent the nobility primarily, rather than the sum total of the population, no objection there, but that’s not actually bad, per Clark’s research on social mobility.

            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?

            That’s ridiculous. If someone launched a coup for the office of President of the USA, ignoring the existing process, going to war, why would they want to keep to the other rules? A successful coup would lead to a dictatorship, with new rules as dictated.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            To your last point:

            In a monarchy, someone trying to seize the throne can expect that everyone will let them rule if they succeed, because absolute power for life is the way that society is run. Although I agree that someone staging a coup in a democracy is unlikely to step down after 5 years, they will still face more resistance than in a monarchy, as they are trying to change both the ruler and the system of government, not just the ruler.

          • Agronomous says:

            AngryDrake wrote:

            My ballpark estimate would be 50% like his dad.

            Here’s a semi-relevant but surprising fact: for hundreds of years, the mothers of the Sultans of Turkey were not Turkish. Many were Georgian or Circassian, one may have been French.

            So, genetically, the ruler of the Turks was practically completely non-Turkish. (Of course, he ruled a lot of other, non-Turkish subjects, too, including all the Circassians and Georgians.)

          • Shenpen says:

            @AngryDrake

            I think you are missing the most important argument. The important thing is that nobody seriously expects the masses be able to elect leaders. In reality it is always an elite class of intellectuals and journalists telling them who to vote for – at least, what values to look for in a leader.

            So forget actual democracy, forget the people, forget the voters. Democracy is a rule of intellectuals through the people.

            In fact, a rule of intellectuals might not be such a bad thing, even when I dislike their liberal values.

            The primary, core issue is that it is indirect. Lots of influence but zero responsibility.

        • AngryDrake says:

          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.

          Scott should probably field this one himself, but if I were to guess – it’s because neoreactionaries are overrepresented on LessWrong. LessWrong is Scott’s group, so he needs to deal with these people somehow, rather than just disregarding them like any outgroup.

          A conundrum: LessWrongers are smart, but (relatively) many LessWrongers are neoreactionary infidel scum fielding Obviously Wrong(TM) ideological positions associated with the untouchable, low-class, dumb outgroups. How could this be?

          • James Picone says:

            @AngryDrake:
            People part of a group that encourages you to examine all of your beliefs, even the ones that don’t seem like beliefs, sometimes end up changing some of those beliefs and ending up with weird positions. News at 11.

            (Put another way, LW people and smart people in general are better at the skill of actually changing their mind than the skill of assessing evidence for a position; the mismatch results in contrarianism)

          • Bismarx says:

            @James Picone: I can’t speak for AngryDrake, but I think he meant that last paragraph as a hypothesis for why Scott or other LW’ers might take an interest in neoreaction.

          • AngryDrake says:

            I did.

          • James Picone says:

            I’m providing an alternative hypothesis.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            The “relatively” there is very important, judging by the 2013 survey data there are only 2.4% reactionaries (versus 8.5% socialists, and I’ve not seen too many arguments against that).

            It’s also possible to reject the assumption that LessWrongers are smart. Looking at the educational attainment data, Less Wrong is slightly higher than the American average, and quite a lot higher at higher educational levels (masters and PHD). On the other hand, lots of LessWrongers come from non-American countries, where education is free, and they are mostly white and male, groups which achieve higher at higher educational levels. If you adjusted for these factors, I doubt there would be much of a difference between LessWrong and the general population.

            You might well argue that educational attainment isn’t a good representative of how smart you are. In that case, you need to provide some sort of evidence as to why LessWrongers are smart.

          • Shenpen says:

            Well, given that Yudkowsky’s program is largely about building an artificial god-king… with Superintelligence, friendly or otherwise, democracy is outcompeted anyway. It is simply irrelevant. And LW attracted people who either don’t find this idea repulsive or basically given up resisting: they may have preferred democracy, but they came to accept that Superintelligence is unavoidable, and it is also unavoidable that it will become an omnipotent ruler, and the only choice humans have is how friendly it will be.

            From this on, the road to NRx is not really that long.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Nroreaction might fet a single, very wealthy supporter.

        • Shenpen says:

          Answer:

          “The problem is with the ‘we’ who is doing the removal of bad leaders. If ‘we’ means the completely unaided mind of masses with their hysterical attitudes and moral panics, it is constant insanity. But usually ‘we’ means the minds of masses being aided, ‘informed’ and ‘enlightened’ by a similarly unelected cadre of progressive-minded intellectuals and journos. And they make especially bad leaders, largely because they have no responsibility at all, they don’t take any official leadership roles, they are all backseat drivers.”

    • In the Dutch case, these kinds of hostilities remained relatively tame – likely because the pillars weren’t geographically or economically isolated, and thus still ran into each other every now and then – but if left unchecked, they can quickly turn ugly. It’s not that hard to imagine how communities can go from ‘not talking to each other’ to ‘not trusting each other on anything’ to ‘bashing each other’s skulls in.’

      One of the big points of “I Can Tolerate Anything but the Outgroup” is that people tend to form negative stereotypes about groups in close proximity, rather than ones that are further away. Not sure how this affects the overall argument.

      Atomic communitarianism doesn’t encourage people to debate their opponents and learn from each other, it encourages them to sort themselves into isolated circlejerks. It doesn’t create a marketplace of ideas, it creates local monopolies, enforced by protectionist measures like the aforementioned optional broadcasting ban.

      Sounds like you need to move to a community with a strong marketplace of ideas 😛

      • Bismarx says:

        I was under the impression that I’m in one right here.

      • Shenpen says:

        Yes, I too think it is the other way around. Isolation, separation, like the relationship between the Soviets or NK and the West, can be stable. While if you look at Jerusalem… it is all about people hating their neighbors they know all too well.

        _Effective_ isolation, when I am fairly sure the vast majority of the outgroup never gets to poke their nose in my hood, is stable enough as it dampens fear and hysteria.

        Perhaps if a truly ideal kind of mixing people happens, maybe that works well, intermarriage and all that.

        The firebomb is where people are not isolated from you, they are your neighbors, and still an outgroup i.e. you would not let your daughter marry one. That is what creates St. Bartholomew Day types of events. When they are Other, and yet all too uncomfortably mixing. In-between.

        It seems one extreme, that of perfect hippie hugging, works. It seems the other extreme, effective isolation, is also working. Northern Ireland is relatively peaceful these days and the isolative effect of “Peace lines” probably contributes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_lines

    • moridinamael says:

      Unfortunately, the neoreactionary critique of modernity is genuinely interesting, while the neoreactionary solution to the problems modernity is a non sequitur (in my opinion). It seems like Scott feels the same way about this. Maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, I think NRx is seductive to think about because it intelligently analyses and deconstructs a lot of sacred cows, even if it doesn’t represent a coherent edifice of thought.

    • stargirl says:

      Even if you think the core thesis of the neo-reactiionaries is wrong you may still think the neo-reactionaries are (sometimes) producing useful insightful commentary. The idea that we cannot learn from those who are wrong (According to us) is very alien to me. Scott is not a monarchist to any extent. But Scott does think the neo-reactionaries have written useful analysis.

  16. 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).

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. Mary says:

    This may amuse fans of Scott’s writing:
    http://bondwine.com/2015/09/01/kundenschmerz/

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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: http://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?

  28. 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).

  29. 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.

  30. 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).

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  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 donR