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OT28: Where In The World Is Comment Sandiego?

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

1. After reading one of my past posts, probably The Right To Waive Your Rights, someone mentioned that they’re no longer willing to see a psychiatrist for their suicidal thoughts because they interpreted me as saying psychiatrists always (usually?) involuntarily commit people with suicidal thoughts. So just to clear this up for anyone else with the same misapprehension: THAT IS NOT WHAT I SAID. I said that it sometimes works that way in hospital emergency rooms, where there are special incentives to be risk-averse and where the patients are usually very ill. This is NOT THE CASE if you just make an appointment in your average outpatient psychiatrist’s office. Most outpatient psychiatrists are comfortable with people who have occasional suicidal thoughts as long as they say they don’t immediately plan to act on them. Please do not let fear of being involuntarily committed prevent you from talking about your problems with an outpatient psychiatrist.

2. Comment of the week is Gwern’s reanaylsis of the cost-benefit ratio of some of the low-specificity suicide biomarkers I talked about last month. But also, Steve Sailer talks about who supported Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

3. Some corrections from the last links post: the Japanese may not be moving quite as fast to cut down on humanities education as previously reported; Vox may be prematurely hasty in dismissing police shootings/subsequent riots as related to recent urban crime upticks.

4. There’s been some discussion of x-risk charity recently, and a lot of people have mentioned that preventing pandemics is a pretty important underserved area. I agree. Are there any good organizations working on the problem that accept donations?

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1,162 Responses to OT28: Where In The World Is Comment Sandiego?

  1. Redtube says:

    Does your browser automatically delete local storage data when you close it? Because that’s where, I think, the script stores the date of your last visit.

  2. Zanzard says:

    I Just want to comment that I really, really liked the title and the image in this post, referencing Carmen Sandiego! 😀

  3. Paul Brinkley says:

    [One of the threads got a whole of lot subthreads slammed up against the indent limit, so I’m gonna see if I can turn one of them into a new tree.]

    Me: “In what sense do you say libertarians believe everyone’s interests are aligned?”

    Mark: “I mean that libertarians believe that the interests of both workers and capitalists are aligned in *having* a capitalist market system. If they don’t believe this I am puzzled as to how they think they could operate the system without organized force (government).”

    Ahh, okay. …Well, I believe they should be aligned as far as what economic system is used, and that it ought to be capitalist… but I believe a lot of people seem to have different ideas of what capitalism is. To wit, Mark’s next:

    “I think it is clear that historically (within mixed economies) there has been a great deal of democratic demand for welfare systems that refuse to allow capitalists exclusive use of the machinery and productive capital they “own”, instead putting this to general social use.
    Now, I don’t think there is any knock-down evidence that this has been disastrous – if anything the opposite – so it is unlikely that workers will abandon their desire for this kind of welfare.”

    It doesn’t look disastrous because the disaster isn’t a decrease in quality of life, but rather a failure of quality of life to increase, which doesn’t look like anything to people who expect nothing better.

    Suppose a group of tailors has been producing garments by hand, when along comes an entrepreneur with a room full of sewing machines capable of producing garments at many times the speed of the tailors. Those tailors are forced to either take an employment contract with the entrepreneur, continue selling handmade garments to whomever’s left (possibly competing on quality), or finding another trade.

    This looks unfair at first glance, but only because we assumed the entrepreneur and his capital (the roomful of sewing machines) appeared out of thin air. Most free market advocates believe that’s the wrong way to look at it. That capital had to be acquired, ultimately by saving money on the part of one or more people. One of the main reasons to save, in fact, is to someday spend accumulated money on capital that will yield a dividend.

    If the tailors are able to insist on a rule that all profit from those sewing machines is to be shared among them, than it utterly negates all incentive to save for those machines. The result is those tailors continuing to handmake garments, and garments being priced much higher than they would have been if they had been automatically produced. If *all* laborers are able to insist upon sharing capital gains this way, then there will be little or no capital, and all goods and services will remain at their non-automated prices. In other words, workers who see capitalism as exploitative aren’t taking the lower prices into account.

    Mark: “So how likely is it that workers will accept the pure capitalist system? It is only likely to the extent that very similar institutions can be established voluntarily – the final argument for libertarianism is that capitalists will voluntarily institute socialism. And what if they don’t?”

    Admittedly, some of those tailors would lose their previous labor, and they therefore have an incentive to insist on shared capital anyway. But then consider that all of them are presumably turning a small profit as tailors; if their profits are held in a bank which can then gather enough of those savings to fund an entrepreneur, then the bank is providing all depositors interest; even tailors who lose their jobs are benefiting from the entrepreneur’s profit. Even if their savings are not funding the sewing machinist, they are presumably funding other ventures improving their lives in various ways, and providing them a return.

    Furthermore, those tailors can presumably find other work, since labor is virtually always scarce; they suffer a setback from retraining costs, including the prospect of doing less skilled labor for consequently lower wages.

    Finally, any one of those tailors may have an idea to improve productivity, acquire capital to implement it, and benefit personally from the returns. That entrepreneur may have been one of them. Workers can be capital owners; indeed, the libertarian wants as many of them to become capital owners as there are ideas that require capital. There is no worker class and capitalist class; the libertarian rejects these as mere temporary adjectives.

    Interest on savings, scarcity of labor, and economic mobility, even so, do not obligate people currently performing physical labor to consent to incoming capital owned by someone else. But neither do their concerns obligate the entire population to consign itself to perpetually high consumer prices.

    Obviously, throughout all of this is the recognized fact that individual interests do not align. But to the libertarian, this is only in the sense that different people want different things from their exchanges; each wants the most, and to give up the least in return. Free market capitalism reminds people that exchanges must be voluntary, and that they have an interest in respecting the institution of private property. Meanwhile, at worst, objections to this system stem from a physical laborer incorrectly seeing himself as being in a class that will contain him forever, as someone who will never own capital.

    • Mark says:

      “There is no worker class and capitalist class; the libertarian rejects these as mere temporary adjectives.”
      I just can’t shake the feeling that if each worker can access capital, and to the extent that their ideas are good can become a capitalist, then we have essentially achieved communism. Not in the sense of everyone being equal, but in the sense that the means of production would have to exist in such abundance that capital would almost become an irrelevance, and people would be able to work however they wished.
      In which case the “capitalist” as you say, isn’t so much a class, but a role.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Hmm. Well, strictly speaking, it wouldn’t be communism – J. Random Laborer still wouldn’t be able to walk up to any ol’ lathe and make steel gears with it and assert a right to a share of the profits, without an arrangement with the lathe’s owner. Your sense sounds like JRL wouldn’t care – he’d save up, get a loan if he must, and buy his own lathe.

        But capital still wouldn’t be necessarily cheap. In fact, if worker demand for capital increased due to a renaissance of innovative ideas, the price of capital would rise, and so would interest. This would mean JRL’s profit margins would decrease unless he was able to save all the money himself. But at the same time, JRL’s savings would also be earning higher interest from all the other workers improving production. (That, or the bank is making a killing, and you can expect new bankers real soon.)

        Which is to say, it wouldn’t exactly be a worker’s paradise, but I’d expect life would be getting better and better in various ways, until the number of workers having to retrain is high enough to slow down the innovation surge again.

        Also, I would expect life to be more tumultuous than average for any worker who isn’t able to come up with the bright ideas, unfortunately.

    • David Byron says:

      There was a lot of false statements there but my favourite was, “since labor is virtually always scarce”. Of course in a Communist society that is actually true, but in a capitalist society a large number of unemployed people are kept unemployed to force the other workers to work for cheap or starve. Of course this is all part of the wonderful paradise of capitalism that works for everyone who is rich. Now why can’t the workers appreciate a system where a tiny minority rule and steal the bulk of the wealth created by others? Let’s simply pretend the workers love this system. And now we’ve pretended that, we can pretend that violence is not required to force this situation on the poor.

      > Those tailors are forced to either take an employment contract with the entrepreneur, continue selling handmade garments to whomever’s left (possibly competing on quality), or finding another trade.

      You forgot the option of telling the so-called “entrepreneur” that it is immoral to demand that you personally own the means of production and therefore to demand money from others why you are idle. In much the same way that if someone declared themselves a king people would have more options than to either accept it or move to another country. They can remind that “king” that they do not get to force others to do their will.

      Now in your mind of course the king would be entitled to demand service from his subjects because any of his peasants are perfectly free to set up their own kingdoms or move to another place. All they have to do is come by a lot of money and gather men of violence to enforce the rules, the same as the “entrepreneur”. How fair.

      > If the tailors are able to insist on a rule that all profit from those sewing machines is to be shared among them, than it utterly negates all incentive to save for those machines

      Like having a democracy fails to incentivize tyrants to save money to gather an army? That’s clearly a good thing. Perhaps you meant to say that under Communism there’s no incentive to invent? But that’s trivial to refute since the Soviets beat the USA in the space race (and the USA’s response was a command economy on space — not incentivizing private individuals or companies through capitalism).

      What is so hard to understand about this? Capitalism depends on the elite taking money from everyone else which is a situation only the rich like. Therefore it is a system that must be maintained through violence, and is maintained through violence. If you ask workers if they think the CEO should be paid 500 times more than them or maybe it should be more fair — and people have asked — the answer is obvious.

  4. Paul Brinkley says:

    David Friedman laments lack of diversity of perspective in academia above, and amusingly, I run across this on the very next day:

    http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/heterodox-academy

    More directly, I would like to hear people’s honest opinions on how diverse this list of contributors is:

    http://heterodoxacademy.org/about-us/

    To set the stage: I recognize three of those names by the drums I hear them beat, and I think they fit the theme. The danger I see here is actually over-emphasis on iconoclastic perspectives. Obviously, having a preponderance of establishment views would defeat the point, but I think an utter absence of them would also defeat it.

    What do people think? How round is this table?

  5. David Byron says:

    I’ve noticed there’s a lot of die hard anti-Communists here. So I’d like to repeat a question I saw asked elsewhere buried in a comment thread, namely, what is the probability that you’re wrong about Communism?

    • onyomi says:

      I’m about as sure I’m right about communism as I am that… evolution is broadly correct? That stealing is wrong? I feel like I need more than one comparison because communism is wrong on both practical and ethical grounds. And if it only has to be wrong on one or the other count for me to be against it, then I rate the probability of me being mistaken about both as incredibly low indeed… maybe as likely as the sun not rising tomorrow?

      Of course, if you define down what counts as communism, that could get me to improve my appraisal: maybe a very small town could function in a communist-ish way without doing any injustice to anyone or resulting in economic disaster. Doubtful, but certainly possible. But when most people denounce communism we are denouncing attempts to implement it at the level of a nation-state, as with the USSR, China, etc. That is very, very different.

      The probability of that being ethical is approximately equivalent to having everyone, without exception vote for the same presidential candidate in a US election (because only if everyone individually, unanimously agreed to the pooling of all resources would it not be stealing), and the probability of it being a practical success is about as likely as an old woman slipping on the ice and accidentally performing a perfect triple axel.

      The only thing that would make me adjust my appraisal would be if the communism could be administered by some sort of superhuman intelligence, like a super AI or alien. I would still have grave misgivings, but it’s conceivable that maybe a super intelligence could run the economy in a fair, just and super productive way without also creating some grave injustice (basically mass robbery at the very least), as all previous attempts at communism have necessitated. But once you introduce super intelligence to any hypothetical, I think pretty much all bets are off.

      • walpolo says:

        You really think “stealing is wrong” is a basic, no-exceptions ethical fact?

        What about the famous example where stealing is the only way to feed one’s hungry family?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Sometimes the only options available are bad ones.

        • onyomi says:

          I noted that the type of stealing involved in implementing communism at a large scale is not the ambiguous type of stealing. It’s a very intentional, devastating, imo hard to justify kind of stealing. Like I said, I’d rather have my car stolen than my factory nationalized.

          But okay, maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe there is a 2% chance that nationalizing all private property is ethically justifiable. There’s still the fact that nationalizing all private property in theory will produce an economic disaster, and that history has proven the theory correct. So, even if there’s a 2% chance that x might be justified on purely ethical grounds, when you factor in that “x, in theory will create tremendous human suffering,” and “x in practice, always has created tremendous human suffering,” suddenly the ethical hurdle becomes a lot higher, too.

          So now the hurdle is not “can we ethically justify nationalizing all private property,” it’s “can we ethically justify nationalizing all private property, given the knowledge that economic theory and history both make it extremely likely that doing so will result in massive suffering?” That I’d rate far below 2%.

          This is also why I get annoyed at people asking “what’s so bad about communism” in 2015: arguing for communism in 1880 does not strike me as crazy or irresponsible, at least not more than 98% irresponsible, because there were differing opinions on the ethics and economic theory and no practical history. There was say, a 2% chance in 1880 that it was the right thing.

          But in 2015 the hurdle is so high that I don’t think it’s any longer reasonable to “keep an open mind” about the virtues of communism, at least not as traditionally conceived.

          • David Byron says:

            > I don’t think it’s any longer reasonable to “keep an open mind”

            I agree that the so-called rational community simply isn’t capable of being rational on this topic. Obviously the question is designed to force that contradiction in rationalist thinking into the light.

            Your justifications clearly don’t even come close to your conclusions and I think you recognize this (others do not).

      • David Byron says:

        I’m looking for a percentage, like 20% chance you are wrong.

        • onyomi says:

          99.99999% chance I am not wrong on all counts (ethical, theoretical, historical).

          • David Byron says:

            So several hundred thousand times less likely than god exists for example (if that is taken as 5% as someone else suggested)? It seem like if god exists they could easily make Communism work so that doesn’t seem right. I think you might be vastly over estimating. Is there any basis for your number? Do you feel you could come up with 10 million comparable statements that were about as likely?

          • Nornagest says:

            The estimates I’ve seen around here for the probability of God’s existence differ by something like ten orders of magnitude. No exaggeration. It is not a very good idea to assume that one person’s opinion on that is representative of another’s.

          • onyomi says:

            I have no reasonable way of estimating the probability of God’s existence, and even if I could, it would be irrelevant.

            Assume, for example, that we know with 100% probability that God does exist and he can do anything. Then, axiomatically, God, if he wants to, can make communism work, 100%. But that still doesn’t tell us anything about the probability of it working minus divine intervention.

            And as I said at the beginning, my estimates were all predicated on the assumption that we don’t have a radically altered human race, a super AI, or some other “all bets are off” factor, such as, for example, an omnipotent god who intervenes in human political organization.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          we just had a post about people’s probabilities being too high, but… 99.9%? If a thousand countries embraced the ideals and theories of communism, I’d be surprised if more than one of them did well, relative to a thousand other identical countries that stayed with capitalism. Various claims that stalin, pol pot and mao don’t count as “communist” don’t hold any water; one of the obvious problems with communism is that its failure modes are both more likely and way worse than capitalism’s, including the failure mode of giving absolute, irrevocable power to monsters.

          [Edit] – Apologies for the slippery numbers, but it seems to me that communism has actually been tried in enough countries that the 5% estimate of it working is too high.

          • Nornagest says:

            An obstacle here is that most of the communist governments we’ve had have not been independent phenomena; most patterned themselves initially on the Russian or Chinese models, and diverged only later if at all. It’s not implausible that some of the common failure modes we observe were specific to those models.

            My estimate for it working in some permutation given present-day capabilities would still be pretty low, though.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nornagest – “An obstacle here is that most of the communist governments we’ve had have not been independent phenomena; most patterned themselves initially on the Russian or Chinese models, and diverged only later if at all.”

            Were they patterned after the Russian and Chinese models, or are those models the only way anyone’s ever figured out to even attempt it? Communism is actually pretty good at repeatably triggering revolutions; infiltration, fomenting discontent, terrorism, sabotage and so on, and it seems to me that sort of revolution reliably creates unacountable dictators and strongmen in the Russian and Chinese mold. Marx wasn’t shy about his advocacy of revolutionary terror, so I don’t understand how he’s somehow off the hook for the obvious results when his ideas are implemented.

            [EDIT] – Marx claimed creation of a system that would overthrow the old order and put a new, better order in its place. What he actually created was a system to overthrow the old order. He fundamentally misunderstood both people and society, so his plans for what would come after the revolution were not even wrong.

          • John Schilling says:

            I count Russian communism, Chinese communism, Bolivaran (or perhaps Guevaran) communism, and American socialist utopianism as independent communist movements which had the opportunity to create multiple independent communist polities and failed across the board. Yugoslavia, Albania, Cuba, and North Korea all either broke from or outlived their patrons for at least a generation of independent communist existence and all failed or are failing (Cuba is maybe debatable). Single-state failures I count as half-tests because it is inherently ambiguous whether the failure is due to communism as a system or unique local conditions. So, effectively six out of six system-level failures.

            Add in a 50% probability that communism is fundamentally flawed on purely theoretical grounds; I and all of the other theorists who clearly understand why it can’t work are a priori at least as likely to be right as Marx and all the theorists who believed it would. And a 50% prior for Chesterton’s Fence being there for a reason, and a bit of Bayesian math gets me roughly 98.5% confidence that the next specific implementation of communism will fail, 97% that the next class of related communist implementations will fail across the board, and 94% that communism will generally fail unless enabled by novel circumstance outside the historic or present theoretical framework.

          • David Byron says:

            > we just had a post about people’s probabilities being too high, but

            Yeah that’s what makes this fun. Intellectually you know you can’t support such large numbers. In fact a rational answer might be closer to 50%. But you have a need to say “this is impossible”.

            OK so given that plenty of things that were about 1% or 0.1% likely ended up working after some trial and error (example flight, rocketry, space) doesn’t your figure suggest it would be a good idea to keep trying Communism?

          • Lupis42 says:

            Yeah that’s what makes this fun. Intellectually you know you can’t support such large numbers. In fact a rational answer might be closer to 50%. But you have a need to say “this is impossible”.

            That’s… insanely optimistic. Given the number of places communism has been tried, you’d need several examples of successes for that to be even remotely plausible.

            OK so given that plenty of things that were about 1% or 0.1% likely ended up working after some trial and error (example flight, rocketry, space) doesn’t your figure suggest it would be a good idea to keep trying Communism?
            No. Communism, like Heroin, offers a low probability of a radical improvement, with an incredibly high cost of failure. Not a good candidate for “just try it” experimentation.
            Taking the examples of flight and rocketry seriously, attempts at communism are like Franz Reichelt‘s attempt at parachuting. There’s been no successful tests yet, and you want to get on-board and give it a go?

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      “So it does seem unfair for the newspapers to flash ‘Borgia Confesses!’ and ‘Borgia Burns!’ whenever a feminine mass poisoner has told all or has paid the penalty for her crimes. And they don’t mean Rodrigo and Cesare. They mean Lucrezia. But just try to convince any acquaintance chosen at random that Lucrezia was all right. He’ll only inquire, ‘Then what about all those funerals?’ There must be an answer to that if one could think of it.” — Will Cuppy, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody

    • John Schilling says:

      Specifically, approximately 95% confident that any attempt to implement classic state-owns-all-means-of-production communism using present or near-future technology with a population of >10,000 random unmodified Homo Sapiens of any vaguely Western cultural heritage will end badly enough to negate any benefits of the attempt. Not necessarily “mountains of skulls” bad, but even soft economic collapses aren’t pretty from the inside and if that’s your best end state then what’s the point?

      This based on a sound theory, understanding of the relevant incentives, and the observed behavior of numerous communist experiments large and small. And if reason says that the best possible end state is a bad one, the morality of the thing hasn’t a leg to stand on.

      Relax the terms, and there’s a broader range of plausible outcomes. In particular, I am more open than I used to be to the possibility of communism working well in future engineered societies, though I think the requisite social engineering is well past the current state of the art and will be dangerous to experiment with.

      It will no doubt vex David Friedman that I came to this openness via one of his comments, and I’ll elaborate on that in a future open thread 🙂

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, put another way, it is the interlocking nature of the ethical, theoretical, and historical problems with communism that make me so sure it’s wrong:

        Theoretically, one can, and some did, predict why communism would fail. Not just that it would fail–that’s easy–but why and how it would fail.

        Historically, one can see that all serious attempts to implement communism have failed–and not just failed–but failed in a way that makes perfect sense given existing theories of economics, incentives, knowledge, and human behavior. When theory predicts x, and repeated practical trials result in x, one can be more certain of x than the sum of certainties theory and history would alone provide.

        Ethically, it is prima facia wrong because it involves stealing. And not just the arguably “non-central” taxation is theft kind of stealing we discussed above. It’s really just totally stealing: I’d much rather have my car stolen than my factory nationalized. But let’s say I’m somehow wrong about the ethics of stealing or the categorization of nationalization of assets. Or let’s say that utilitarianism and/or consequentialism (which I don’t subscribe to) is the correct moral view. It’s still wrong because of the high probability of increasing suffering both theory and history predict.

        And sure, if you are dealing with a genetically enhanced race of cyborgs ruled by a super AI then maybe communism could work, but so too, might anything under such circumstances.

      • David Byron says:

        Well a lot of Communists would agree with you from the way you defined it because of course the imperialist-fascist capitalists would seek (as they always do) to exterminate the civilians in any Communist state. The question isn’t “would capitalists murder enough people to make Communism stop working”, or something similar. Or are you saying that you think Communism would end badly under it’s own merits even if fascists didn’t attack with 95% likelihood? Despite their being no example of that?

        Also are you saying that if there’s a chance that Communism might work then people still shouldn’t try because it might fail a few times? That doesn’t make sense to me. If someone had said that building a rocket to space was going to fail 19 out of 20 (which is probably about right) would it have been a good idea to never try? Surely instead you try 20 times and then when you get it right you build on those advances.

        • John Schilling says:

          Or are you saying that you think Communism would end badly under it’s own merits even if fascists didn’t attack with 95% likelihood? Despite their being no example of that?

          Yes.

          First, there are plenty of examples of communism not being attacked by fascists, unless you are using the mindkilled “anyone to the left of Karl Marx” definition of “fascist”, in which case we’re done here.

          Second, the Soviet Union didn’t collapse when it was under attack by (actual for real) fascists. The zenith of Soviet Communism (and the crisis of confidence of Western Capitalism) was the immediate aftermath of that attack. Maoism didn’t collapse under Japanese or KMT attack, Cuba didn’t collapse after the Bay of Pigs, etc, etc, etc. One of the few things communism actually does well is withstand outside attack. Then, a generation or two after the attackers back off and settle for containment and harsh language, communism collapses into ruin.

          And third, you can’t create a new nation or radically transform the social order of an existing one without someone, “fascist” or otherwise, trying to see if a whiff of grapeshot might restore the status quo ante. If the best you can say of communism is that it would work just fine except for inevitably collapsing into ruin under even Bay-of-Pigs-level attack, it’s still an abject failure. I can say even better things of communism, and have, and still count it a failure.

          Also are you saying that if there’s a chance that Communism might work then people still shouldn’t try because it might fail a few times?

          You’re paying an awful lot for those failures, and you don’t seem to have learned anything from them. At least when I build a rocket, I don’t put anyone more than a test pilot or two on it, if that, and I give them ejection seats.

          And, as noted cross-thread, that 95% (well, refined to 94%) is the probability that communism will always fail, except perhaps under freakishly unprecedented conditions.

          Knock it off, already. Or at very least, if you insist on trying it again, explain what you think is going to make it different this time, and do it with a group of 100% informed volunteers.

          • onyomi says:

            What continually surprises me is not just that some people still think communism might work, but that there is this continual draw to the idea if only there is any tiny chance it might work.

            Like even if I estimated there were a 10-20% chance it would work I wouldn’t want to try it since I don’t see equality for equality’s sake as intrinsically desirable. Whereas most communist sympathizers seem to take it as almost a given that we would want to keep trying if there is any reasonable chance it might work.

            And what’s weird is, while communist sympathizers tend to point to inequality as the injustice they’re attempting to redress, they are seemingly not in favor of massive wealth redistribution from the 1st world to the 3rd world, which is where the real disparity exists. Instead, it’s *intragroup* inequality which really bothers them, which strikes me as either pure envy, or else a weird, frankly kind of child-like impulse to live in some kind of John Lennon-eque giant family.

          • Mark says:

            I think that equality for its own sake is actually somewhat tangential to communism: the real goal of communism is a social structure in which individuals can be free.

          • onyomi says:

            Free of what? By my reckoning I’m pretty darn free living in the US right now–certainly a heck of a lot freer than almost anyone living in any historically communist country. And to the extent I’m not free, it’s mostly because of regulations emanating from the US federal govmt.

            And this points to one of the other bizarre things about most communists and so-called left wing anarchists like Chomsky: there is a notion that the pathway to not needing any government at all is one which somehow involves a huge increase in the role of government in everyone’s life.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            I am going to make an assumption here, that on various measures of competence (you are a university professor, right? Might be confusing you with someone else) you are a couple of standard deviations above normal. Your freedom isn’t really at issue. Forbidding of rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges and all that.

            One might say that in a very, very broad idealistic sense communism cares far more about those two standard deviations below the normal than it does about those 2 SD above normal. Capitalism is roughly the opposite.

          • onyomi says:

            So it IS about equality, after all?

            The poor in more capitalistic countries are always better off than the poor in communist countries. The only count on which say, Cuba, one of the more relatively innocuous communist countries by communist standards, is better, is arguably that of equality, not absolute living standards. Seems a good time to link this great Margaret Thatcher spiel:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdR7WW3XR9c

            So again, I say, it can’t be about absolute freedom from the exigencies of life (the need to procure food, shelter, medical care, etc.), since capitalism wins every time on that count, and even for the poorest members of society on absolute terms (being in the bottom 10% of income in the US is a much more comfortable life than being in the bottom 10% in Bangladesh), but about freedom from feeling envious of your neighbor.

            Unless Mark means some other sort of freedom, like “freedom to follow your passion,” but again, there are at lot more artists in the capitalistic nations than the communist nations because capitalism is better at producing the material stuff which forms the base of the hierarchy of needs and frees people up to think about things other than where their next meal will come from.

          • Mark says:

            @onyomi
            Let’s say that someone is sick. We want to treat them. Does it make sense to say that medicine is all about equality?

            “The poor in more capitalistic countries are always better off than the poor in communist countries. ”
            What happened to the poor in Russia after the implementation of free market reforms and capitalism?
            Might it not be the fact that the capitalist countries have extensive welfare programs that makes the poor better off, rather than some feature of the free market?

            Anyway, re: freedom – it’s about understanding the extent to which social relationships/ social structure determine what we must do to live – how can an individual exist when he depends upon the community. The true individual can only emerge and form real relationships (not of necessity) with the community when productive capacity is sufficiently advanced.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            I’m not arguing in favor of communism. I don’t think it is workable in anything resembling a populous nation, state, or even a moderately sized town. Communism seems like the default mode for small communities of isolated, mostly self-sufficient hunter gatherers, and that’s about it.

            Just pointing out that the way you were using “freedom” is full of inherent contradictions.

          • Cauê says:

            Mark and HBC, care to define this word you’re using, “free”?

          • Mark says:

            freedom: I think we all have our own conception of what human nature fundamentally *is*, and we can then imagine societies in which that nature is subverted by social pressures. In order to be free we must live in a society that supports this true human nature.

          • onyomi says:

            A communist who wants the individual to be free not to have to depend on other people?

            And again, if this is about the material resources necessary to liberate people from material exigency, capitalism’s track record at doing it is far, far superior to any other historical system.

            And if it is the welfare systems in capitalistic countries which makes their poor better off (I don’t think it is just that, but if), than so be it. Capitalism is still better at producing the wealth necessary to fund social welfare programs.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            “if it is the welfare systems in capitalistic countries which makes their poor better off (I don’t think it is just that, but if), than so be it.”

            Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it?

            Is the social welfare state part of capitalism? Or antithetical to it? Or something else entirely?

            There are those who will claim that existence of a “social welfare state” means we are socialist and therefore headed down the slippery slope to communism. I think that is absurd, but it is certainly promulgated by those who identify as “pro-capitalist”, especially those who are libertarian.

            It seems a little disingenuous to simultaneously be willing to claim the benefits of a social welfare state as accruing to capitalism and also decry it as a threat to greater good.

          • Cauê says:

            HBC, I don’t think onyomi is crediting the welfare state for the better situation of poor people under capitalist than communist societies.

            Mark, this reads to me like an attempt to give unearned support to your concept by using a word that earned its status with a different meaning.

          • David Byron says:

            I got to laugh at this pseudo-math. Let’s look at some real math. If you have a hypothesis that a Communist state is less than 50% likely to work and wanted to test that vs a null hypothesis of 50% you still couldn’t show that. That’s 50% not 1 in ten million or whatever some people have suggested. To get a significant result at 50% you’d need 5 to 7 cases and all failing. You don’t have that. I’m not sure most people could even name 7 attempts at Communism regardless of results. They really seem to base their intuition that “Communism always fails” one precisely one case.

            And if you point out that quite a few Communist states are doing just fine it gets a lot worse. China for example is the largest economy in the world. So if that’s a “failure” I have to question the definition of failure. Cuba is doing fine too. Just two successes mean you’d have to have a much larger number of failures than just five, six or seven to get a significant case against the null hypothesis. The data just isn’t there.

            And that’s without taking account of any reasons for failure due to externals. In other words even if we accept the ridiculous anti-Communist fetish concept of Communism the data still isn’t there. The data to prove Communism is less than 50% isn’t there. Not 1% or 0.1% or 0.00001% It’s not there to show < 50%.

          • onyomi says:

            China is communist in name only right now, and has been for 30 years. The only time they even attempted actually implement communism (the Great Leap Forward), it created one of the largest (the largest?) famines in human history.

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub,

            Having a monopoly government at all (which I personally think is a bad idea, and not morally justifiable) is, in some sense, socialism, because it means people are being forced to pool at least some portion of their property in some way to fund something perceived as being for the common good.

            I do think once you have any government at all, there is a pernicious tendency for it to grow and grow to extract as many resources from the population and arrogate as many powers to itself as it reasonably can. That said, some slopes are a lot slipperier than others, and I don’t think it’s a straight line from Scandinavian-style welfare programs to communism.

            I’m not sure whether the most important difference is the practical question of to what extent private property is allowed (I lean towards this one) and to what extent the ruling ideology is individual focused as opposed to group focused (on this latter count, fascism has more in common with communism than it does with capitalism, and communism more in common with fascism than it has with Scandinavian-style socialism). But either way, this slope does not seem to be very slippery: most of the places which have tried “government owns the means of production”-style communism have been relatively undeveloped and with large rural, agricultural populations, whereas I can’t think of any examples of 1st world democracies gradually sliding from “lots of welfare programs” into “government owns the means of production.” I am no fan of the former, but I think the latter is much worse.

            And I don’t think there’s anything inherently contradictory in a view which says “pure, unfettered, free market capitalism is the greatest generator of wealth and innovation, but has an unfortunate tendency to let some people fall through the cracks, and/or to create socially corrosive wealth inequalities over time; therefore, the best system is capitalism but with taxation of the wealthy to pay for a social safety net and/or other programs designed to reduce inequality.”

            In fact, I think that is the mainstream position in most of the US and Europe today, though I think a better case can be made for the “fall through the cracks” part than the “free markets tend to create ever growing inequality” part (basically Piketty’s claim).

            I am an anarchist and don’t think we need government at all; however, I’d much, much rather have a free market system with some kind of ideally minimally disruptive sort of tax (I think a consumption tax is better than an income tax on this count, as it discourages consumption rather than saving and investment) in place to provide some minimum income for the poorest members of such a society than to just say “screw it, capitalism is evil; we’re confiscating all the means of productions and running things according to ‘science’ or ‘each according to his need…'” etc. The former is arguably better than what we have now, while the latter has been proven disastrous time and again.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Byron – “To get a significant result at 50% you’d need 5 to 7 cases and all failing. You don’t have that. I’m not sure most people could even name 7 attempts at Communism regardless of results.”

            Russia tried communism, killed a ton of people, tried a weaker version and just made them poor and miserable and terrorized. FAIL.

            China tried communism, killed more people than can be easily imagined, tried a weaker version and made them poor and miserable, then abandoned communism in all but name and became wildly successful. FAIL.

            Laos tried communism, managed not to kill many of its people other than some troublesome ethnic minorities, and its people stayed poor and miserable. FAIL.

            Cambodia tried communism, killed one in four of its population, and eventually became so disfunctional that its government had to be deposed by force via a neighboring communist country. FAIL.

            Vietnam tried communism. It helped them win a brutal war for independence, but then led to the killing of an awful lot of people, and the death of a whole lot more as they tried to flee the disaster by boat. The rest poor and miserable until the leaders abandoned it. FAIL.

            Hungary tried communism, it made its people poor, miserable, and terrorized. Uprisings had to be put down with tanks. FAIL.

            East Germany tried Communism. That close to the west, they didn’t want any unsightly political violence out in public, so instead they built an indescribably orwellian survielance state and used Zersetzung to secretly poison the lives of anyone who resisted. Their people were kept poor, miserable and paranoid, and what was East Germany is still poorer and generally worse off to West germany, even decades after reunification. FAIL.

            North Korea tried communism. I think we can all see how well that went. FAIL.

            Romania tried communism, and made its people so poor and miserable that they spontaniously rebelled, murdering their supreme leader and overthrowing his government. FAIL.

            Ethiopia tried Communism, and a bunch of its people died in unspeakable famines and civil war. FAIL.

            There’s lots more countries in the ComBloc to go. Should I list more?

            “China for example is the largest economy in the world.”

            And it got that way by abandoning its communist principles. Under Mao’s tender guidence, it had the worst artificial famine in human history. Fail.

            “Cuba is doing fine too.”

            Cuba is a place people flee on home-made boats to escape. That is an odd definition of “doing fine”. If you’d prefer living there, though, you’re more than welcome to emigrate.

            You are clearly playing definition games about what counts as “communism” and “failure”. Name a communist country and a decade where you’d rather live than in the West.

          • Mark says:

            “Mark, this reads to me like an attempt to give unearned support to your concept by using a word that earned its status with a different meaning.”

            Which word would you recommend I use?

          • David Byron says:

            @onyomi If you think communism is almost impossible to work and you prefer capitalism to communism then I’m sorry to inform you that you are not an anarchist. Words have meanings. “Anarchist” means you believe that a Communist society can and should be created immediately, through violent revolution in all likelihood, without the need for a Socialist government and vanguard party to prepare the way and get society ready for the anarchist society. So Communism is strictly more likely than Anarchism, since it’s more or less a subset that believes no transition government is necessary.

          • David Byron says:

            @FacelessCraven

            Wow this comment system sucks doesn’t it? You know I started something about this over on the Reddit site for this place.

            Yeah you got a good start. What was that maybe a dozen states you named. I wont bother pointing out your errors here at the moment I’m trying to demonstrate that you’re wrong even if you accept all the facts you believe.

            So you actually had the most sensible estimate of I think only a 95% failure for communism as opposed to the others who had 99.9% to 99.99999% failure. But even at 5% you need a lot more cases to make the math work. As i said elsewhere it’s ln(.05)/ln(p) where p= .95 in your case so that works out to 59 cases you need and all failures. So yes please you need about another thirty or forty examples of failed communist states. fifty nine altogether. Go for it.

          • onyomi says:

            @David Byron

            Yes, words have meanings, and I am familiar with the history of the term anarchist.

            The fact is, many libertarians including Murray Rothbard and our own David Friedman have, imo correctly, described themselves as “anarchists” since the days of the molotov cocktail tossing left-wing anarchists.

            Based on the etymology, “anarchist” just means someone in favor of no rulers. Despite the earlier history of the term, no violent left-wing revolution is necessarily implied. Anarcho-capitalists are perfectly justified in their use of the term, since they are, in fact, advocating abolishing the government, either quickly or gradually (yes, it is also possible to be a conservative anarchist).

          • David Byron says:

            @onyomi

            Anarcho-capitalism isn’t a form of anarchism. By definition of the word “capitalism”, capitalism requires one class to rule over the majority in order to exploit their surplus labor value. Therefore as a form of communism, an anarchist cannot be a capitalist.

          • onyomi says:

            By your Marxist definition which not everyone shares.

          • Cauê says:

            Everybody please take some time to read Eliezer’s sequence on words. This discussion in a rationalist site is making me sad.

            Mark, use whatever words you want, just try to speak in a way that the thing people understand is the thing you meant.

          • Mark says:

            @Caue
            “Mark, use whatever words you want, just try to speak in a way that the thing people understand is the thing you meant”

            I think I actually gave a fairly broad and good definition of political freedom! Unfortunately, I think the word refers to concepts that are complex enough that we will probably never know exactly what we are talking about when we use it.
            Anyway, I shall redouble my efforts to be clear and concise.

            (freedom: I think we all have our own conception of what human nature fundamentally *is*, and we can then imagine societies in which that nature is subverted by social pressures. In order to be free we must live in a society that supports this true human nature.)

          • onyomi says:

            Eliezer won’t be able to fix this, Caue,

            Vague, slippery, confusing use of language is pretty much fundamental to Marxism, as a reading of nearly any Marxist cultural critic (except maybe Bourdieu–he’s pretty cool) reveals. If this makes you sad, try Adorno…

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “Vague, slippery, confusing use of language is pretty much fundamental to Marxism…”

            For this thread, I say “meh” to that. It’ll mean we’ll have a hard / amusing time interpreting Marx, I suppose, but Mark by contrast seems to have an interest in keeping terms consistent, so progress is possible here.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @David Byron – “Well a lot of Communists would agree with you from the way you defined it because of course the imperialist-fascist capitalists would seek (as they always do) to exterminate the civilians in any Communist state.”

        It is not possible to arrive at that conclusion from an honest reading of history. I’m sorry, but at some point facts are facts.

        “Or are you saying that you think Communism would end badly under it’s own merits even if fascists didn’t attack with 95% likelihood? Despite their being no example of that?”

        Please list the countries with established communist governments that were subsequently invaded by non-communists. Vietnam doesn’t count, because we fought them before they went communist, and afterward left them alone. China doesn’t count either. Russia does for WWII, but capitalist countries helped save it rather than siding with the fascists. Maybe by “attack” you mean retricting diplomacy and trade? But why should that matter? Communism restricted diplomaticy and trade to the capitalist powers as well, and those capitalist powers ended up better on every axis we can measure. Sabotage doesn’t count, because Communism tried that in non-communist countries as well, and it didn’t work. The best you can get out of this argument is that Communism is too fragile to survive organized opposition, which seems like a pretty bad quality in a political system.

        “Also are you saying that if there’s a chance that Communism might work then people still shouldn’t try because it might fail a few times?”

        And by a few times, you mean every time it’s been tried, on every continent and across every culture extant?

        “That doesn’t make sense to me. If someone had said that building a rocket to space was going to fail 19 out of 20 (which is probably about right) would it have been a good idea to never try? Surely instead you try 20 times and then when you get it right you build on those advances.”

        We build rockets because the potential upside of getting to space is big enough to compensate for any number of rockets. You are arguing not that Communism might be a workable political system, but that it has a practical chance of introducing Utopia.

        We’ve tried communism. There is no evidence that it can ever, under any circumstances distinguishable from magic (superadvanced aliens, FAI) produce even semi-Utopian outcomes. Humans spent a hundred years on several continents trying to do that, and they all failed, over and over and at an unprecedented cost in human lives, misery and wealth.

        • Mark says:

          Fromm:
          “There is no greater misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Marx than that which is to be found, implicitly or explicitly, in the thought of the Soviet Communists…The truth is that for Marx the situation of a worker in a Russian “socialist” factory, a British state-owned factory, or an American factory such as General Motors, would appear essentially the same.”

          Anyway, lets just accept for the moment that the Soviet Union *was* communism. Where are the historical “capitalist”countries? (As opposed to various shades of democratic socialism and corporate government.)
          As far as I’m concerned the *real* lesson of the 20th century was that one variant of government organised production with social welfare programs was better than another variant of government organised production with social welfare programs.

          And the successful variant was more likely to give the powerful explicit numbers?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “Anyway, lets just accept for the moment that the Soviet Union *was* communism. Where are the historical “capitalist”countries?”

            If you’d prefer we didn’t call 19th-21st Century America and Western Europe “Capitalist”, that’s no skin off my nose. I’d put forward at that point that I have no real idea what your position is.

            Collectivism, central planning, revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the vanguard of the revolution, the iron laws of history, and on and on, those are ideas we have tested. A whole lot of people spent a whole lot of time reading Marx and trying to implement his teachings. Their outcomes were catagorically worse. I don’t particularly care if that’s because Marxism is too complicated to be practical or if it’s just uncompatible with human nature. Marx’s ideas are harmful, not helpful.

            Meanwhile, whatever you call the American/European system has generated stupid levels of wealth even for the poorest citizens, and is on track to give us robot cars, VR, replicators and possibly space colonies sooner or later. And this is supposed to be a contest?

          • Cauê says:

            As far as I’m concerned the *real* lesson of the 20th century was that one variant of government organised production with social welfare programs was better than another variant of government organised production with social welfare programs.

            The difference between a market economy and a command economy is vast enough that I find it hard to see this category meaning anything.

          • Mark says:

            I don’t think anyone really wants to own the command economy these days, just like “capitalists” would rather draw a veil over the slavery and land grabbing that existed in the most capitalistic historical states. Personally, I’m fully on board with having less than total central planning – I just don’t think that is necessarily an anti-communist position. After all, you can obviously participate in markets without personally owning the means of production – that is what the vast majority of people do. So why not communism with a market mechanism to determine what should be produced?

            Anyway, I really feel that all of this “99% sure that communism will kill everyone” stuff is terribly overwrought. The real objection to collective ownership of the means of production is that people like private ownership of the means of production. Its fun to see your numbers on the screen and offers a relatively harmless mechanism for people to prove themselves better than their compatriots.
            The arguments regarding the efficiency of privately owned capital become less convincing as the scale of the operation increases – why should administrators working for private owners (with no individual power) be any more efficient that administrators working under public ownership? Ask Royal Bank of Scotland about that one.

            **In the interests of fairness to the command economy I’ll say this – 1) it is a good thing if you want to organize society in some specific direction that you believe is more important than immediate individual concerns (Soviet Union getting its war economy going) 2) that some degree of planning is necessary for any project 3) and that even in the capitalist nations planning is always done by the government (it isn’t normally possible to separate government from business in the capitalist nations.)

          • onyomi says:

            What I wish were a sticky in all discussions of “capitalism vs communism” is “define your terms.” I don’t think communism really needs much explaining, yet I still specified what I meant by it.

            But critics of capitalism say things like “well, we don’t want the slavery that went on in the most capitalistic countries either” as if that were self-explanatory? By my reckoning slavery is quite anti-capitalist, since strong property rights begins with strong property rights in one’s own person. Yet maybe you’re working with a different definition.

            Unfortunately the term “capitalism” is used in an almost uniquely murky way: I don’t think anyone can take for granted that people know what they mean when they say it.

            And I can never link this clip from Roderick Long enough:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QsbvE_0Kpc

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “Personally, I’m fully on board with having less than total central planning – I just don’t think that is necessarily an anti-communist position.”

            If your definition of Communism doesn’t involve central planning, I put forward that it may not match the standard definition.

            “Anyway, I really feel that all of this “99% sure that communism will kill everyone” stuff is terribly overwrought.”

            What is your confidence level that Fascist government can’t be made to work? Because as near as I can tell, Fascism has actually been tested far less, and arguably failed less badly. You are correct, communism doesn’t always kill people. Sometimes it just uses Zersetzung to secretly ruin the lives of anyone who resists it. Sometimes it just makes everyone really, really poor for the next century or so.

            At any point at all, feel free to start listing the countries where the Proletariat threw off their bonds, slaughtered the capitalists, siezed the means of production and founded durable, humane societies of peace and plenty. Name even a single decade in any communist country where you’d rather live there than in Britian, France or America. I will wait here for your reply, in my air conditioned office, seated in my comfortable chair, connected to my global information network via my luxerious three-foot-wide moniter, enjoying my delicious dinner, all the products of a system that David Byron describes as monstrous and exploitative toward people like me.

            “…and that even in the capitalist nations planning is always done by the government (it isn’t normally possible to separate government from business in the capitalist nations.)”

            I hope someday soon to make my own video games and sell them on steam. Please explain to me what part of that goal involves Government planning.

          • Mark says:

            @onyomi
            “By my reckoning slavery is quite anti-capitalist, since strong property rights begins with strong property rights in one’s own person.”

            Well yes, that’s exactly my point. I’m not going to ask that advocates for some form of theoretical capitalism answer for slavery if they don’t want to – they are more than welcome to denounce it.

            “Unfortunately the term “capitalism” is used in an almost uniquely murky way: I don’t think anyone can take for granted that people know what they mean when they say it.”

            This is why I asked: “where are the capitalist countries?” By capitalism do you mean: 1) a load of fairly horrible 19th century countries 2) fairly nice social democratic countries with mixed economies 3) some kind of theoretical capitalism that hasn’t been tried.
            If it is the third, wouldn’t you say its a bit of a double standard to advocate for a theoretical capitalism without the nasty bits while denying anybody the right to do the same for communism?

          • Mark says:

            @FacelessCraven –

            “If your definition of Communism doesn’t involve central planning, I put forward that it may not match the standard definition.”

            I don’t think Marx really said very much about planning or how the economy should be managed, and there have been attempts at socialism with varying degrees of markets. Must communism=1930’s Stalinism?

            “What is your confidence level that Fascist government can’t be made to work?”
            Not high. I object to Fascism on grounds of taste rather than functionality.

            “Sometimes it just makes everyone really, really poor for the next century or so.”
            OK… though living standards increased in socialist countries.

            “Name even a single decade in any communist country where you’d rather live there than in Britian, France or America. ”

            I would certainly rather live in the West, but I’m not sure if that is due to who owns the means of production, or because the West has always been at a higher level of economic and social development.

            “I will wait here for your reply, in my air conditioned office, seated in my comfortable chair, connected to my global information network via my luxerious three-foot-wide moniter, enjoying my delicious dinner, all the products of a system that David Byron describes as monstrous and exploitative toward people like me.”
            Yep, we are materially wealthy – I agree – but I also think that people are alienated by the economic system, and the extent to which they are not is the extent to which there are social welfare programs and safety nets for them. Perhaps we are currently living in some kind of half way stage between capitalism and communism? I believe that Marx was open to the possibility that in countries such as Britain or America communist revolution could occur peacefully because of the high level of capitalist development and liberal traditions. Perhaps that is what we are seeing?

            “I hope someday soon to make my own video games and sell them on steam. Please explain to me what part of that goal involves Government planning.”
            Government can’t be separated from business – that doesn’t mean that the opposite isn’t possible – some small scale business might not be involved in government.
            (Leaving aside all the “you didn’t build that” stuff)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “Must communism=1930’s Stalinism?”

            No indeed. But what DOES it equal? Communism without revolution, without rule by the proletariat, without central planning starts to sound suspiciously like not-communism. Point to a specific country that exemplifies the system you’re in favor of.

            “Not high. I object to Fascism on grounds of taste rather than functionality.”

            I humbly submit that political systems should prioritize function over form.

            “OK… though living standards increased in socialist countries.”

            Increasing slower than your non-communist neighbors isn’t good enough. Also, most of the countries I’ve looked at in detail increased their standard of living immediately after abandoning core marxist/communist economic theories.

            “I would certainly rather live in the West, but I’m not sure if that is due to who owns the means of production, or because the West has always been at a higher level of economic and social development.”

            Lots of places were at a lower level of economic and political development than the west a hundred years ago. All the ones that went communist stagnated, while a bunch of the ones that went capitalist boomed. Some of the ones that went communist abandoned communism, and boomed to a greater or lesser extent afterward.

            “Yep, we are materially wealthy – I agree – but I also think that people are alienated by the economic system, and the extent to which they are not is the extent to which there are social welfare programs and safety nets for them.”

            Not to be rude, but have you personally experienced poverty, or is this all theoretical to you? I was raised in poverty, and I’ve actually lived a few years as an illegal immigrant, dirt poor and working under the table. The worst part is not being in control of your own life, and welfare programs and safety nets make that worse in my experience, not better. Being dependent, having no connection between your effort and your outcomes, these things are poison to the soul. Encouraging people to live that way long-term is extremely harmful.

            “Perhaps that is what we are seeing?”

            Well, if capitalism is by all the bad things in the world, and communism is by definition all the good things, and we’re moving toward a world of good things, maybe so. In which case Marx and everyone who followed him clearly were capitalists, while the people he claimed should be murdered were the true Marxists all along. Irony!

          • Mark says:

            @FacelessCraven
            Um… I think that in order for it to be communism, the productive capacity of society must be used for society at large to ensure a humane economic/social system for all, with coerced labor reduced to an absolute minimum (or eliminated), all based upon democratic principles.
            Sounds good to me… I suppose the closest thing is Denmark?

            “I humbly submit that political systems should prioritize function over form.”
            Surely highly efficient and effective evil is worst of all?

            “Increasing slower than your non-communist neighbors isn’t good enough. Also, most of the countries I’ve looked at in detail increased their standard of living immediately after abandoning core marxist/communist economic theories.”

            OK… that isn’t my understanding of what happened in Eastern Europe/Russia, but my major question is… why? Is it markets? Is it private ownership of capital? Is it even counter to Marxist theory for pre-capitalist nations to have to go through a capitalist stage of development before they can become socialist?

            “Not to be rude, but have you personally experienced poverty, or is this all theoretical to you?”
            I’m basically a normal working class person. I’ve certainly never experienced poverty, but I have extensive experience of being a put upon worker.

            “The worst part is not being in control of your own life… Being dependent, having no connection between your effort and your outcomes, these things are poison to the soul. Encouraging people to live that way long-term is extremely harmful.”
            What you have described there is work in the capitalist system… In my opinion it isn’t really enough to have done bad work. You only really get it when you realize you’re going to have to do it until you die…

            “In which case Marx and everyone who followed him clearly were capitalists, while the people he claimed should be murdered were the true Marxists all along. Irony!”

            Exactly! (though replace “Marx” with “Stalin”)

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Mark:

            Sounds good to me… I suppose the closest thing is Denmark?

            Wait, whut? Your example of a working Communist country is Denmark?

            Well, now I understand why this argument has gone on so long. Somebody is confused.

          • Mark says:

            @Doctor Mist
            I don’t think Denmark is a communist country, I think it is the closest thing to a nice communist country that we have.
            If Denmark maintained its democratic institutions but replaced private ownership of large business with some kind of public ownership, would everyone die?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Mark – “Exactly! (though replace “Marx” with “Stalin”)”

            Yeah, let’s address that.

            “…the very cannibalism of the counterrevolution will convince the nations that there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terrorism.”

            “Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can only be attained by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions (e.g. bourgeois democracy).”

            “The Communists support everywhere every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order (e.g. including in established democracies).”

            “[The working class] must act in such a manner that the revolutionary excitement does not collapse immediately after the victory. On the contrary, they must maintain it as long as possible. Far from opposing so-called excesses, such as sacrificing to popular revenge of hated individuals or public buildings to which hateful memories are attached, such deeds must not only be tolerated, but their direction must be taken in hand, for examples’ sake.”

            “In reality the state is nothing more than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and this holds for a democratic republic no less than for a monarchy.”

            Please square these quotes with your positive description of Marxism and Communism.

            Marx was not a nice person. He was not interested in peace and negotiation. He wanted the violent destruction of what he claimed was an oppressive system, and the death of those administering it. He was not interested in democracy or compromise, except as a means to an end, and that end involved everyone he didn’t approve of getting murdered. Lenin carried out what Marx taught him, and that system created Stalin.

            “Um… I think that in order for it to be communism, the productive capacity of society must be used for society at large to ensure a humane economic/social system for all, with coerced labor reduced to an absolute minimum (or eliminated), all based upon democratic principles.”

            You are directly contradicting the founder of Communism. Democracy was only to be tolerated until it got in the way. Communism was not a humane social system for all, because the bourgeoisie, the lumpenproles, the capitalists and the counterrevolutionaries were all going to be killed. There’s lots of creepy sections where Marx and Engels talk about how entire ethnic groups are counterrevolutionary, and will need to be destroyed to secure the glorious future of the proletariat.

            Marx thought humans were a blank slate, and could be reshaped to any desired form. He wanted to destroy the world and the people we know, and make a new, perfect world with perfect people. He was dead wrong, and millions of people died. He lied to himself and others, he encouraged the worst in all of us, and he left the world a legacy of torment and decay. The respect with which he and his disciples are treated by the Left speaks very poorly about their judgement.

            “OK… that isn’t my understanding of what happened in Eastern Europe/Russia…”

            Feel free to lay out your understanding, then.

            “but my major question is… why? Is it markets? Is it private ownership of capital? Is it even counter to Marxist theory for pre-capitalist nations to have to go through a capitalist stage of development before they can become socialist?”

            Russia and the rest of the european communist states industrialized well past the level of 1800s europe easily enough, so it can’t be that they were missing the industry or worker base. You can’t claim it was the civil institutions, since those are the institutions Marx explicitly set out to destroy. It’s just another case of Marx being wrong.

            “What you have described there is work in the capitalist system…”

            No, it isn’t. Being dependent and having no control over my life destroyed my mental health. Working a legit job in a factory was miserable, backbreaking work, but it helped me put myself back together again.

            “In my opinion it isn’t really enough to have done bad work. You only really get it when you realize you’re going to have to do it until you die…”

            When I reached that point at the factory, I trained myself for a new career instead. It worked, and now I won’t be working in a factory till I die. Maybe that’s not something everyone can do. Maybe the HBD people are right, and some people are just genetically too stupid. I don’t believe that, though. My shifts for much of that time were twelve hours long. I trained when I woke up and on my breaks, I got good, and I got out.

            “Surely highly efficient and effective evil is worst of all?”

            I’m assuming “not being evil” is part of what it means for a political system to work. What’s your probability that Fascism can create a stable, just, humane society of peace and plenty? I think it’s more likely that fascism could do that than Communism; fascism is closer to older forms of government that were reasonably stable, it’s been tried fewer times and in fewer contexts, and its failures were less worse than Communism’s. Should we start expirimenting with Fascism again?

          • Mark says:

            @Faceless Craven
            Marx:
            “… we have not asserted that the ways to achieve that goal are everywhere the same. You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries — such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland — where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must some day appeal in order to erect the rule of labor.”

            Marx argued for violent revolution where he deemed it to be a practical necessity for change. What is your view of the revolutions of 1848? Isn’t there a case to be made that if institutions allowing for peaceful change don’t exist then the only way remaining is to fight?

            I also think you have been a little disingenuous with the quotations you have provided in that the additional information provided in parentheses has been included within the quotation marks, but it has been added in and is not actually a quotation of Marx. In fact, if viewed in the context in which they were used, these quotations actually somewhat undermine your point.

            Communist Manefesto:
            In Germany, they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie…But they never cease, for a single instant, to instill into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat… In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things… they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries … The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

            “In reality the state is nothing more than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and this holds for a democratic republic no less than for a monarchy.”
            Not an unreasonable idea.
            Engels:
            “In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the [Paris] Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap
            So its actually a anarchist-like call to be rid of government.

            Engels, Principles of Communism:
            “Will it be possible to bring about the abolition of private property by peaceful means? It is to be desired that this could happen, and the Communists certainly would be the last to resist it…But they likewise perceive that the development of the proletariat is in nearly every civilised country forcibly suppressed, and that thereby the opponents of the Communists are tending in every way to promote revolution. Should the oppressed proletariat in the end be goaded into a revolution, we Communists will then defend the cause of the proletarians by deed as well as we do now by word.”

            “You are directly contradicting the founder of Communism. Democracy was only to be tolerated until it got in the way.”

            OK… I think it would be better to say that democracy was to be tolerated until it was no longer needed: his ultimate goal was a stateless society.
            Dictatorship of the proletariat:
            “Marx did not use this concept to refer to the extra-legal and generally violent rule of one man or a small group of men. Before Hitler and Mussolini, the meaning of “dictatorship” was strongly influenced by its use in ancient Rome, where the constitution provided for the election of a dictator to carry out certain specified tasks for a limited period, generally in times of crisis…by it he meant the democratic rule of the entire working class (including farm laborers), which made up the large majority of the population in all advanced countries.”

            Marx:
            “We are not among those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic workhouse. There certainly are some communists who, with an easy conscience, refuse to countenance personal liberty and would like to shuffle it out of the world because they consider that it is a hindrance to complete harmony. But we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. We are convinced that in no social order will freedom be assured as in a society based upon communal ownership.”

            “Communism was not a humane social system for all, because the bourgeoisie, the lumpenproles, the capitalists and the counterrevolutionaries were all going to be killed. “

            Really? Seems like a grotesque and unnecessary addition to his program?

            “Marx thought humans were a blank slate, and could be reshaped to any desired form. He wanted to destroy the world and the people we know, and make a new, perfect world with perfect people.”
            I don’t think that is true: Marx thought that it was in the nature of humans to create their own environment, to desire to create their own environment. He believed that many problems were caused by social constriction of individual freedom – so I suppose he would have viewed the nature of man as to be free.

            “Feel free to lay out your understanding, then.”

            That living standards declined dramatically after the introduction of market reforms and private capital.

            “No, it isn’t. Being dependent and having no control over my life destroyed my mental health. Working a legit job in a factory was miserable, backbreaking work, but it helped me put myself back together again.”
            I suppose it all depends on the story you tell yourself, doesn’t it. When I had to go to work every day I felt as if I had no control over my life. Now that I live on welfare, I can go and play tennis, swim, read, drink wine etc. etc.
            I feel far more in control.

            “Should we start expirimenting with Fascism again?” I think that fascism is a collective political system antithetical to individualism/freedom in a way that communism (fundamentally) isn’t… should we try it? I don’t know… it doesn’t really appeal to me… perhaps we’ve passed the stage at which it can be useful? Which particular aspect are we proposing to introduce and for what purpose?I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand and without any consideration of the circumstances.

          • onyomi says:

            How is fascism antithetical to individual freedom in a way which communism isn’t? They are both, fundamentally, collectivist ideologies.

            And I think all this talk of what does or doesn’t appeal on aesthetic grounds is very revelatory. People who are still sympathetic to communism nowadays usually have some element of the starry-eyed dreamer. And I honestly think that was why a lot of the intellectual classes once supported it: oh, those fascists are just so… ick. Our revolution of the people is just so much more… romantic!

            But as Faceless Craven says, politics should privilege function over form and aesthetics. Hey, I think the Nazi uniforms designed by Hugo Boss were pretty awesome, and I kind of like Norse mythology, but that doesn’t mean I think we should try fascism again (and yes, we did try fascism lite in the US; his name was FDR).

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If I steelman the intuitive appeal of any collectivist economic system, the best I come up with is the feeling of camaraderie, combined with the obvious advantages of cooperation over individual action. This is consistent with nearly all of the sentiments I hear from the blue tribe.

            I find it sympathetic as well; if I didn’t recognize the existence of individuals who simply disagree too much on how something should be done to be able to cooperate, I think I would be a collectivist, too.

            I see less awareness of this form of disagreement in the blue tribe. At best, they appear to accord it less importance. I’ve seen them opine or imply that people should put such disagreements aside in favor of a deeper agreement to let voting or expertise resolve such disputes. (Consider how they, or anyone, discusses voter fraud, or expert consensus.) In general, all decisions are better made as a group, they will argue.

            I can think of only one general exception to this right now (feminism’s tendency to “let the woman decide”); there might be others.

          • Mark says:

            @onyomi
            “How is fascism antithetical to individual freedom in a way which communism isn’t? They are both, fundamentally, collectivist ideologies.”

            The terminal state for fascism is a strong state used to limit the ability of various classes in society to pursue their own interests for the sake of some arbitrarily defined racial, cultural or national whole.

            Marxists view the state as an instrument of oppression that can only be eliminated once there are no classes and everyone essentially has the same interests. They believe that until you reach the point where everyone’s interests are aligned, the state will be a necessary evil.

            Libertarians believe that the state is an instrument of oppression but that everyone’s interests *are* aligned and that if we get rid of the state everyone will get along.
            Libertarians = lazy Marxists.
            Perhaps freedom isn’t possible, but at least the Marxists are making some effort to think about the conditions under which it might be achieved.

            “And I think all this talk of what does or doesn’t appeal on aesthetic grounds is very revelatory. ”
            I don’t really understand this – surely you have to have some idea about what you want before you attempt to achieve it? Fascists believe that some abstract group achievement is more important than individual actualization – I’m not sure there is anything you can say to that except I don’t share the same aims. (There might be some situations where you have to look out for the group before the individual (like when other fascist groups are intent on killing you))

          • onyomi says:

            “Libertarians believe that the state is an instrument of oppression but that everyone’s interests *are* aligned and that if we get rid of the state everyone will get along.
            Libertarians = lazy Marxists.
            Perhaps freedom isn’t possible, but at least the Marxists are making some effort to think about the conditions under which it might be achieved.”

            Libertarians are putting a ton of effort into thinking how freedom might be achieved. That’s pretty much what they do. The only difference is they don’t think the path to freedom is less freedom. How on earth would society develop the institutions and habits necessary to function well without a state by making the state bigger? People adapt to circumstances. Making the state role in human life bigger only increases the distance from the point at which people can live without the state.

            Citizens of East Germany, for example, though they don’t usually want to go back to the way things were, are generally more statist in their views than West Germans, because those are the habits of thinking they have developed. If you look to the state to solve every problem leading up to utopia, why are you going to forget it once you get there? A (purely theoretical) utopia achieved by state action is going to need a state to keep running.

            Whereas if we eliminated or drastically scaled back the state, it might cause some upheaval, but non-state institutions and practices would grow to fill the vacuum. Even if one argues that the end state of such a society would still be inferior to a society with a monopoly government, it seems pretty uncontroversial that a society without a state will get better at functioning without a state.

            That Marxists, in fact, are the lazy libertarians, because they think they can develop the institutions which will support a free society sitting in an office or debating in a committee. Such institutions can, and only ever have arisen, however, through the free interactions of millions of people.

            Though they claim to want a world in which everyone does their fair share, in their desire to achieve that world through top-down action, rather than letting free people actually go to work at developing those institutions, the Marxist platform ultimately boils down to:

            https://artfulanxiety.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/pdvd_056.jpg

            (and works about as well as it did then).

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Mark: “Libertarians believe that the state is an instrument of oppression but that everyone’s interests *are* aligned…”

            True on the first point, but… extremely false on the second. Not only do libertarians believe interests are *not* aligned, they put virtually all their effort into figuring out how to accommodate this.

            I’m thinking you had another sense in mind. How did you figure that libertarians think everyone’s interests are aligned?

          • Lupis42 says:

            Libertarians believe that the state is an instrument of oppression but that everyone’s interests *are* aligned and that if we get rid of the state everyone will get along

            Very much not true – I would say rather that everyone’s interests are not, and will never be, aligned. The state is simply an instrument that is used, by those who control it, to advance their own interests, at the expense of other peoples interests.

            Put more succinctly:
            Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.
            ― Terry Pratchett, The Truth

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I’m guessing that Mark got the “everyone’s interests are aligned” stuff from Rand, who did in fact make that unlikely claim. Not many “rrright-ving hippiess” have made the mistake of following her in that.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Mark:

            I don’t think Denmark is a communist country, I think it is the closest thing to a nice communist country that we have.

            And that doesn’t tell you something?

            If Denmark maintained its democratic institutions but replaced private ownership of large business with some kind of public ownership, would everyone die?

            That’s the figure of merit we’re going for? Good to know.

          • Mark says:

            I mean that libertarians believe that the interests of both workers and capitalists are aligned in *having* a capitalist market system.
            If they don’t believe this I am puzzled as to how they think they could operate the system without organized force (government).

            I think it is clear that historically (within mixed economies) there has been a great deal of democratic demand for welfare systems that refuse to allow capitalists exclusive use of the machinery and productive capital they “own”, instead putting this to general social use.
            Now, I don’t think there is any knock-down evidence that this has been disastrous – if anything the opposite – so it is unlikely that workers will abandon their desire for this kind of welfare.
            So how likely is it that workers will accept the pure capitalist system? It is only likely to the extent that very similar institutions can be established voluntarily – the final argument for libertarianism is that capitalists will voluntarily institute socialism.
            And what if they don’t?

          • Mark says:

            @onyomi
            “How on earth would society develop the institutions and habits necessary to function well without a state by making the state bigger?”

            Is this necessarily an anti-Marxist position?

            “In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the [Paris] Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap”

            You might be able to get away with a gradually shrinking state – but until such time as the social structure doesn’t contain competing interest groups, you can’t be without it.

          • Mark says:

            @Doctor Mist

            “And that doesn’t tell you something?”
            Socialism works?

            would everyone die?

            “That’s the figure of merit we’re going for? Good to know.”

            This is actually a point of contention.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Blah. get too busy to check in here, and the conversation runs away without me.

            @Mark – “I also think you have been a little disingenuous with the quotations you have provided in that the additional information provided in parentheses has been included within the quotation marks, but it has been added in and is not actually a quotation of Marx.”

            My apologies, I should have checked my sources better. Your quote from Marx about peaceful revolution being perhaps possible in America is a solid counterargument. Thank you for providing it.

            “Not an unreasonable idea.”

            I would disagree. He seems to be saying that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat cannot coexist, and that the bourgeoisie must be “forcibly overthrown”, and warns that they should “tremble” at the fate awaiting them. But his model of Bourgeoisie inevitably oppressing Proletariat seems completely falacious to me, and the conflict he describes seems unnescessary. That makes the violence he encourages (and yes, it seems pretty clear to me that he is calling for violence) unnescessary and evil. Even the passages you’re quoting that state that a peaceful transfer might be possible seem to presume that the Bourgeoisie somehow step out of the picture; maybe they are converted to Proletariat peacefully? But the real world does not seem to work that way. The Bourgeoisie seem to perform a nescessary role by taking on the risk of organizing and bankrolling labor in a profitable direction. Removing this function, which Marx seems to ignore in his theory of exploitation, seems to me to be where Communism gets the central planning from. Without the Bourgeoisie to organize labor profitably, the State must do the job.

            “So its actually a anarchist-like call to be rid of government.”

            Unlike the Anarchists, Engels is calling for a single, rigidly defined system. Democracy is treated as an enemy for the obvious reason that it suggests diverging viewpoints, and he accepts only one viewpoint: that of the Proletariat. Read that quote, and ask yourself, “What about the people who don’t want to be Communist?” Engels and Marx seem to view the class struggle as an actual fight, and they want to see their side win. What happens to the people not on their side? I’ve already given the quotes where Marx rejects the idea of mercy for beaten opponents, and argues that restraining violence only prolongs the misery. Combine that merciless quality with a penchent for assigning guilt by social group rather than behavior, and I find the quotes you gave less than reassuring.

            Again, the central point: what happens to those who disagree?

            “Engels, Principles of Communism:”

            Engels notes that the proletariat is repressed. Might that have something to do with Socialism organizing the proletariat with a stated goal of rebellion against the existing social order? Near as I can tell, Socialism was intensely hostile to Capitalist society from the start, and in some cases with good reason. But again, his vision seems to me to make compromise impossible and violent confrontation inevitable. Meanwhile, conditions have only improved, to the point that organized labor is now dying off.

            “Marx argued for violent revolution where he deemed it to be a practical necessity for change. What is your view of the revolutions of 1848? Isn’t there a case to be made that if institutions allowing for peaceful change don’t exist then the only way remaining is to fight?”

            The other way to secure shange is, of course, to wait. Everything changes in time. Some changes we should push, of course, but doing so is always dangerous, and the bigger the change the greater the danger. Once in a very long while, the change is worth it. I don’t think Marxism was one of those times.

            as for the revolutions, they failed. Speaking specifically to the French one, the revolutionaries seem to have been idealists, quick to blame other groups for the failings of society but with no real solutions of their own. Once in power, they failed to restore order, and they failed to improve much on their predecessors, and so were swept aside. More generally, the idea that “you have nothing to lose but your chains” is a dangerously foolish one. People were not in actual chains, and they had their lives, so that’s two things to lose. There seems to be a presumption that fixing the world would be easy, if only the evil people would get out of the way. That is never, ever a sign of a healthy political philosophy.

            Were the horrors of the pre-revolutionary countries really bad enough to justify getting a whole mess of people shot? Were those sacrifices worth the results they obtained? I lean toward no. Democracy was already on its way, and I see no solid evidence that the revolution did much to hasten its arrival.

            “OK… I think it would be better to say that democracy was to be tolerated until it was no longer needed: his ultimate goal was a stateless society.”

            …Of the Proletariat. Everyone else?

            “Dictatorship of the proletariat:”
            Yes, I agree that pre-Fascism, Dictatorship didn’t have the ugly connotations that we attach to it now. The ancient roman implications are why Mussolini and Hitler chose the terms “Fascism” and “Dictator” in the first place. What I don’t see is any indication that Marx saw the terms any differently than the Fascists in Italy and Germany. Why would Marx’s dictatorship end up any different? And in fact, near as can be seen, it didn’t end up different at all.

            “By it he meant the democratic rule of the entire working class (including farm laborers), which made up the large majority of the population in all advanced countries.”

            Inserting “Democratic” there seems a bit dishonest of your source. Marx sees the Proletariat as essentially united in purpose, so of course they’ll all agree on the correct course of action. And of course they’ll outnumber any opposition. But our concept of democracy is supposed to be more than two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Marx’s concept of a stateless polity suggests no system for conflict resolution because he sees no ground for conflict at all. And again, here are the seeds for all the horrors of the Russian experience: if Marxist theory says the dictatorship of the proletariat should be a stateless, conflict-free utopia, than any conflict must mean the revolution is still in progress. If the revolution is still in progress, then the tool Marx recommends is force, and without mercy.

            “We are not among those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic workhouse. There certainly are some communists who, with an easy conscience, refuse to countenance personal liberty and would like to shuffle it out of the world because they consider that it is a hindrance to complete harmony. But we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. We are convinced that in no social order will freedom be assured as in a society based upon communal ownership.”

            What freedom? What liberty? This sounds good, but where are the specifics? What is allowed, what is forbidden? What are the strictures of this society? This quote seems to me to say very little, and what it implies is directly contradicted by the specific points above.

            “Really? Seems like a grotesque and unnecessary addition to his program?”

            I agree that the quote you provided about peaceful revolution being maybe possible offers a way out here, but we both agree that Marx and Engels saw violent revolution as necessary in much of Europe. And on that point, they were certianly wrong. The revolution in russia was not nescessary, nor good. The takeover of much of eastern europe by “communism” caused vast harm. You argue that when economic systems were loosened, the countries got much more prosperous, and that is true. But why was the tightening nescessary in the first place? Why could they not have rolled into the modern era the same as the non-communist countries?

            “I don’t think that is true: Marx thought that it was in the nature of humans to create their own environment, to desire to create their own environment. He believed that many problems were caused by social constriction of individual freedom – so I suppose he would have viewed the nature of man as to be free.”

            Define “free”. He viewed all social classes but one as corrupt or obsolete and to be eradicated. He didn’t seem very interested in people being free to chose their beliefs via religion. Free to travel? What use is that when everyone is the same everywhere you go? Free to speak? What is there to say, when the only acceptable idea has already been declared?

            “That living standards declined dramatically after the introduction of market reforms and private capital.”

            Aren’t Market reforms and private capital Bourgeoisie? How can the reintroduction of the Bourgeoisie be consistant with Marxism?

            “I suppose it all depends on the story you tell yourself, doesn’t it.”

            Perhaps so. But at some level, you recognize that everyone can’t be on welfare, yes? Some people actually have to produce, yes?

            “I think that fascism is a collective political system antithetical to individualism/freedom in a way that communism (fundamentally) isn’t…”

            I see it pretty much as the opposite. Fascism seems essentially about apportioning power, and there is at least theoretically room at the table for all classes. Power may not be shared equally or even at all, but at least the purpose of the different social classes is recognized, rather than collapsing all of humanity into an ideologically rigid monoculture.

            In case I miss the next exchange, I’d like to thank you for your gracious and thoughtful replies. You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to lay your thoughts out.

          • Lupis42 says:

            @Mark
            I mean that libertarians believe that the interests of both workers and capitalists are aligned in *having* a capitalist market system.
            If they don’t believe this I am puzzled as to how they think they could operate the system without organized force (government).

            I don’t believe that ‘workers’ and ‘capitalists’ are distinct groups with homogenous interests. I believe that class, like race, is ultimately only useful for understanding D&D, not for understanding actual people.

            Is the person who runs the checkout counter at Whole Foods, and pays into a 401k in the hope of living off the returns in retirement, a capitalist?

            Is the dentist, who works long hours to pay off debt incurred in schooling, and derives income from labor alone, a worker?

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            our concept of democracy is supposed to be more than two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner

            Note that back when Marx was writing the Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867), “democracy” didn’t mean what it does now. Germany implemented full male suffrage in 1871, the USA in 1870, the UK in 1918.

            The first parliamentary elections in Russia were held in 1906, and the first two parliaments were dissolved by the Emperor after 85 and 103 days, respectively. After that, the electoral law was modified to give more voting power to owners of land and real estate.

            So no, it wasn’t two wolves and a sheep — it was two wolves and ten sheep, but the sheep don’t get a vote.

          • Mark says:

            “I’d like to thank you for your gracious and thoughtful replies.”
            Thanks for the discussion!

        • David Byron says:

          Again I think your arguments here are best seen as an example of how badly you desire to twist the facts to find any sort of justification for a prejudice. You just claimed that in trying to establish if a system of government is good or bad, externalities ought to be ignored. So let’s test that. Let’s say the USA is invaded by aliens who either occupy in part or split up and then isolate parts of the US territory so they cannot trade with the rest of the world or each other. The aliens also put a great deal of military or other stress on the remaining governments. And let’s say as a result the US government/s fail.

          In your view were this to happen this would show capitalism is a failure as a system.

          Somehow i think that I’m going to hear a whole lot of special pleading now. Oh gee when externalities cause capitalism to fail that doesn’t reflect on capitalism. It’s only when externalities cause Communism to fail that it reflects on Communism.

          This is the sort of mental gymnastics you have to leap through to get the results you want. Rationalism gets thrown out the window.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Byron – “Let’s say the USA is invaded by aliens who either occupy in part or split up and then isolate parts of the US territory so they cannot trade with the rest of the world or each other.”

            Capitalist countries aren’t aliens. They had no innate, overwhelming advantage over the Communist countries, other than the fact that they were wealthier and more orderly than their opponents. They got richer and more orderly by *inventing capitalism*, and two world wars evened things out about as much as possible. Russian grain was equivilent to American grain, while russian tanks were arguably better for much of the period, and certianly more numerous. They got all the developments of industrial civilization handed to them, and they had uncontested control of a massive, contiguous chunk of the planet. They had natural resources out the wazoo, and loads of population. Russia was not “isolated” from China or Albania or Romania or Laos or Vietnam or Cambodia. We didn’t build the iron curtian, they did. We didn’t have to build walls around our countries to keep the people in, they did. “Externalities” didn’t cause the slaughter in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge closed their borders and refused all foriegn aid while they slaughtered and starved their population.

            History does not remotely resemble your description.

          • David Byron says:

            @FacelessCraven you appear to be refusing to answer my question / scenario. Would it be fair to say that is because you realise your mistake? That you see that it doesn’t reflect on the system of government when a country is overwhelmed by superior military force?

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Seconding Schilling’s estimate. Anything larger than a small town seems pretty inevitably doomed, and the larger the country is, the worse the outcome is likely to be. Convincing evidence to the contrary, at this point, would be on the order of a communist bloc outperforming the rest of the world by a very large and highly visible margin for a century or so.

      Show me an actual communist Utopia, and I’ll happily update.

      • David Byron says:

        As I asked him, if you think there’s a 5% chance of success then logically you’d just do it again and again until you get it right. So are you saying there’s a 100% chance Communism will work after a little trail and error?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          “As I asked him, if you think there’s a 5% chance of success then logically you’d just do it again and again until you get it right. So are you saying there’s a 100% chance Communism will work after a little trail and error?”

          It isn’t a 5% chance “communism will work”. It’s a 95% chance that communism will be worse than capitalism,, and possibly a LOT worse, and a 5% chance it will be the same or better. Communism recieved “a little trial and error” for much of the last century, and killed more people faster than any other system the world has ever seen. If you want to balance out that overwhelming downside, you need not just “Communism Works” but “Communism introduces heaven on earth”. The probabilities of that, I think are a lot worse than 5%.

          What’s your probability that Fascism can’t produce a workable society? Empirically speaking, Fascism failed less badly than communism, and has been tried far fewer times and in a far smaller range of sociopolitical conditions. Should we expiriment with Fascism more?

          • David Byron says:

            So a 5% chance Communism better. Back to the question I asked please.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Byron – “So a 5% chance Communism better.”

            No, a 5% chance that it’s not worse. I actually explained in some detail how the two concepts differ. Of that 5%, some percentage is that it does roughly the same, and some percentage is better. Neither are high enough to outweigh the far more likely damage.

            Do you play Russian Roullette? If not, why not?

            “Back to the question I asked please.”

            I answered your question. Twice now, in fact. Now you answer mine: what’s your probability that Fascism can succeed as a form of government?

          • onyomi says:

            Let’s say there really is a 5% chance communism will work and we just haven’t tried it enough times yet. Does 1 utopia justify 19 genocide/famines?

          • David Byron says:

            @onyomi

            Just to clarify the level of your “facts” here, are you saying that famine and genocide only happen under Communism and never otherwise? Or are you saying they always happen under Communism with no exception? Or are you saying you’ve calculated the odds of them happening under Communism and believe they are more likely? And would you like to give me a rough probability that you are wrong about those “facts”?

            It’s the sort of ill considered statement born from prejudice that I was trying to highlight with this question.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      The certainty I have about Communism – a system that requires ownership of means of production by everyone, in presumably equal share – being inferior to a free market is contingent on the incentives I observe wherever materials and privileges are owned privately, and shared publicly.

      Children seem to learn ownership and sharing at roughly the same time. “This is mine” means “I can do what I want with it”. “This is shared” means “I can do what I want with 1/Nth of it, or with all of it for 1/Nth the time”. A little later, they learn the catch: “this is mine” means “if I lose it or break it, no one will help me replace or fix it”; “this is shared” means “if I lose it or break it, (N-1) people will help me replace or fix it”. They also learn about entropy in various ways: things break or get lost on their own, even through normal “correct” use.

      Children, and people in general, appear to not quite grasp the incentives that obtain here. The catch to “this is mine” forces the owner to be very guarded around their property, for fear they’ll have to replace it. And because of entropy, they’ll expend extra effort to maintain that property. The catch to “this is shared” makes shared resources less of a worry; the part-owner needn’t try but about 1/Nth as hard to guard shared property against their own mistakes, or wear and tear, because they internalize the sense that it will be mostly covered ((N-1)/N) by other people. This makes the shared property approach instantly more appealing at first glance, because people aren’t innately disposed to thinking about how those N-1 other people will also be relaxing their guard around that shared property.

      So that’s part 1: communism is outrun by private property regimes due to the incentives that necessarily derive.

      In fact, those incentives inexorably lead to even more undesirable incentives. People noticing this “tragedy of the commons” naturally seek to offset them; some wish to continue to reap the benefits of shared property. The most conscientious (IMO) try to find people who believe in the benefit of shared production so unshakably that they will maintain it even without compensation. The less conscientious find people whose faith in sharing is less pristine, and bridge the gap with something else – carrot or stick. The unshakables are necessarily fewer in number, and they’re empirically not enough. Consequently, a communal system eventually turns into one where people are compensated unequally for maintaining the society’s production, whether it’s through perks, force, or a combination.

      So again, my conclusion that communism is less preferable than a free market is contingent on the following observations:

      1. production must be either privately owned or publicly – no third option exists
      2. ownership means rights to use, and also responsibility to maintain
      3. people are not innately disposed to consider other people’s incentives – they have to learn that
      4. people willing to maintain production are too few to actually do it
      5. the remaining maintenance ends up done only through unequal compensation from some part of that production, or through threat of force.

      Now, there’s always

      0. the following conditions are sound and complete

      but I’ve thought about this for so long (literally on and off for decades, including comparing it to scores of real-life scenarios) that I doubt I’ll see any significant flaws on my own; the burden of proof at this point must necessarily fall to others. Especially since I haven’t even gotten into issues of allocating product to people who have unequal abilities to convert products into more production.

      I note that, to me, the weakest apparent approach involves #4. What if enough people are convinced of the value of shared production that there’s always enough of them to maintain it? Information doesn’t seem to follow the same scarcity rules as material goods, after all; maybe we could duplicate it faster than people come online. (I see this as essentially the hypotheticals FC and others above refer to – enclaves where communism appears to do just fine, often by dint of small size.)

      That doesn’t bother me, for a reason that puts one of the final QEDs in the proof tree for me: the incentive for people to see sufficient value in shared production to both maintain it and to signal that value to others would exist in both a communal and a free market system, since a free market system permits cooperation as well as competition. Which is another way of saying that any system that provided objectively preferred results for all participants by sharing resources as opposed to owning them privately, would emerge in a private ownership system anyway.

      • David Byron says:

        > contingent on the incentives I observe

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

        https://hbr.org/2013/04/does-money-really-affect-motiv

        http://www.forbes.com/2010/04/06/money-motivation-pay-leadership-managing-employees.html

        > So that’s part 1: communism is outrun by private property regimes due to the incentives that necessarily derive.

        And yet they won the Space Race, which is the only real test of which system had better innovation. At any rate I’m not interested in debunking your fetishes about Communism here. You didn’t use reason to get those opinions and reason won’t get you out.

        What I asked for is a probability you’re wrong. Would you say it’s zero?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @David Byron – “[various links on motivations]”

          Well, the first one doesn’t seem to support your point at all, near as I can tell. maybe you could spell it out more explicitly? To be specific, money doesn’t let you purchase innovation directly, but people observably do innovate in order to get more money, and the most innovation-rich places on earth are awash with money. All the nice crowdsource examples he lists come from capitalist countries, not communist ones.

          “And yet they won the Space Race, which is the only real test of which system had better innovation.”

          …Remind me again who made it to the moon? And we did it while generating vast, unbelievable prosperity and freedom for our population, while theirs suffered poverty and terror.

          “At any rate I’m not interested in debunking your fetishes about Communism here. You didn’t use reason to get those opinions and reason won’t get you out.”

          true, kind or nescessary?

          • David Byron says:

            I’m not going to get into a debate here about why you’re wrong. I’m fine with that but it’s a big topic and bound to be very frustrating so I’m looking at a smaller thing here.

            I’m really more interested in seeing how blatantly dogmatic you all are, and how quickly you throw the principles of rationalism out the window when it comes to a topic you obviously have a fixed view on.

            So I really should have resisted the temptation to reply to that guy since his answer was basically “zero”. At least it sounded like he was saying zero. I guess I should have just asked him if he meant that, and not said anything else.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            What I posted was a diagram of the propositions on which my belief about the success rate of communism was contingent. The work was shown. It even came with suggestions of weak points from which to search for counterexamples.

            There is an implied probability there; it’s the probability that at least one of those five propositions is false, or that there is at least a sixth proposition that would be needed, that was false. The probability of all of the first five being true, or at least sufficiently close to true, in my opinion, is roughly close to onyomi’s: 99.9999%. The probability of a sixth (ignoring the relative informality of the argument) is quite low, but only by my estimate. I explained how I had trod this ground so many times before; that implies that I wouldn’t be able to supply an objective probability for the existence of a #6.

            “how blatantly dogmatic you all are”

            Neither true, necessary, nor kind. I would consider this strike two.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Byron – “So I really should have resisted the temptation to reply to that guy since his answer was basically “zero”. At least it sounded like he was saying zero. I guess I should have just asked him if he meant that, and not said anything else.”

            Based on observed evidence, 99.999% confidence is too high. But we don’t just have observed evidence, we have that evidence, plus pretty solid mathematical theories, plus what we know about human nature from a wide variety of interactions, plus other things.

            You are claiming his percentage is based solely on direct observation. It isn’t, and you fail to address the difference.

            You asked for our assessments. We’re giving them, and showing our reasons for them. You are ignoring the reasons you don’t like, misinterpreting the ones you think vulnerable, refusing to answer contrary evidence, and declaring victory. If you aren’t interested in a debate, maybe don’t stake out a super-controversial position and declare that everyone who disagrees is an idiot.

          • David Byron says:

            @facelesscraven

            > But we don’t just have observed evidence, we have that evidence, plus pretty solid mathematical theories, plus what we know about human nature from a wide variety of interactions, plus other things

            Well I just demonstrated you do NOT have the observed evidence, but whatever. What on earth do you mean by, “pretty solid mathematical theories”?

        • Cauê says:

          And yet they won the Space Race, which is the only real test of which system had better innovation.

          That’s not so much innovation as “achieving a specific goal”. Innovation is more like the millions of things capitalist societies created that people didn’t expect to exist before they were invented, while communist societies were struggling to catch up in the production of things people already knew of.

    • Linch says:

      I actually think (~80% confidence) that Communism is viable if we had cornucopia machines, so in that sense Marx isn’t totally wrong. (Think Iain M.Banks)

      Was Communism a disaster historically? 99.999% probability.

      If we have the political will to do so, will it be a good idea to enact Communism now? 99.5% no, and most of the remaining uncertainty comes from the specific parameters that will make people want to enact Communism now suggesting that my model of reality is different from the majority (and thus somewhat more likely to be wrong).

      Assuming growth trends continue but we do not invent superintelligent AI and cornucopia machines, do I think Communism will be better than modern democratic capitalism with socialistic characteristics? I’m 90% confident that Communism will continue to be a worse governmental system than what we have right now in the next 100 or so years without a near-total scarcity in scarcity. That said, I’m in favor of increased redistribution, esp. as the world gets richer and richer, and it’s quite possible that in 100 years we’ll see substantial changes in our politics, mostly for the better.

      • onyomi says:

        I’m assuming a “cornucopia machine” is basically a machine which produces anything you want in unlimited quantities with no inputs?

        In that case, sure communism can work with the cornucopia machines because communism is a way of organizing an economy and the cornucopia machine denecessitates the economy.

        It’s like saying, “flapping my arms is not a very successful mode of flight, but I think it could work if I had a helicopter.”

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Or to paraphrase: if we had a cornucopia machine, any economic system would be highly likely to succeed.

          • David Byron says:

            Oh you’re trying to get me banned? I didn’t understand what you were saying. I tend to assume that calls for censorship like yours are the equivalent of admitting an inability to articulate a response.

            It’s a rather obvious black mark against you, not that I would ever call for you to be censored.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Byron – “Oh you’re trying to get me banned?”

            No, he’s pointing out that you’re acting like a jerk. If you continue to do so, people will stop trying to talk to you.

          • Cauê says:

            This is just the kind of situation that makes me wish SSC had downvotes.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Caue – Just responding calmly and honestly is better in the long run.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I don’t know how that “get me banned” comment even applies to my comment about cornucopias.

            That said, I’m having little trouble sympathizing with a call for downvotes. For now, I prefer the calm, honest response approach even so; I think it’s good practice for us.

        • Nita says:

          So, if someone invented a cornucopia machine, would you endorse nationalizing it, or would you be OK with the owner, say, demanding a large piece of land for every dose of life-saving medicine?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            If it’s a real Cornucopia machine, nationalizing it or leaving a single-owner in control are irrelevent, because scarcity is over. What you are describing is a limited cornucopia machine that can give one person whatever they want, within the bounds of time and effort. We already have that machine. It’s called “being a billionaire”, and evidence suggests that it’s better to let that version of the machine stay privitized and hope it reproduces naturally.

          • Nita says:

            No, it’s a machine of cornucopia-on-demand: the owner can choose to end scarcity, selectively lessen the scarcity of some things, or to keep scarcity intact for his own amusement.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – in that case, sure, nationalize it. The owner has no reason to care, other than sadism or villiany. If on the other hand the machine has an output rate, or orders have to be keyed in one at a time, or any other limit on the immediate gratification of all material desire, we’re back to the billionaire version.

        • Linch says:

          cornucopia machines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_assembler

          The general case will be any technology, or series of technologies, that makes scarcity conceptions of economics less applicable to civil society. We already are starting to have something similar in the information sector.

      • David Byron says:

        > 99.999% probability

        OK let’s do the math. If you wanted to prove a hypothesis of p = .00001 at 5% significant you just need to solve .99999 to the power of n smaller than .05, right? So that’s what? n = ln(.05)/ln(.99999) or n = 299572.

        So that means you are claiming you have watched 299572 attempts at Communism and every single one has failed. So no country like China for example. About three hundred thousand revolutions, and not a single success. That’s the math.

        Please name three hundred thousand failed revolutions.

        Honestly you really need a far higher significance level for a claim like that, which would raise n into the millions, but let’s go with 5% for demonstration purposes.

        • onyomi says:

          Linch didn’t say “does communism fail?” 99.999% probability. (At risk of putting words in his mouth, but I don’t think I am) he said, “are we correctly evaluating the history of communism up to this point as a failure?” 99.999% probability.

          That is, he was evaluating the probability we are gravely mistaken about the history of such nations as the USSR, PRC, DPRK, et al, not the probability that future attempts would meet with similar results.

          • Linch says:

            Correct. Note that my other probability bounds were lower.

          • David Byron says:

            Honestly that interpretation sound even worse. At that point you are basically saying “I have a controversial opinion on a largely subjective topic where many very smart people disagree and I claim the chance of me being wrong is 10 in a million.”

            Or to put it another way if you made one such opinion every day for 300 years you’d expect to be wrong only once.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Good lord David Byron, we’ve seen Communism tried over and over and it just results in massive amounts of human suffering. If someone said “I have a 95% prediction that Hitler was a bad person” would you be challenging them over that?

            Like, this isn’t a controversial opinion in this day and age unless you want to say that vaccinating your kids is a controversial opinion; there are holdouts, but society has larger moved on.

          • Linch says:

            Held: That’s not a very fair analogy to David Byron. A 1-in-20 chance of being wrong is quantitatively VERY different from a 1-in-100000 chance of being wrong.

            My probability bounds DO seem overly high, coming to think about it. I have no idea how to incorporate model uncertainty in this or in general.

            Also, I don’t know how high a likelihood I should assign for “any individual American should vaccinate their children”, but it’s probably significantly smaller than 99.999% (free-rider benefits, etc)

            OTOH, calling my opinion (other than the probability bounds)”controversial” does seem a little bizarre.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Other comments echo what I would say in response to China. China is succeeding to the extent that it’s moving away from communism.

          I’ll cheerfully admit that if we choose to view capitalism / communism as a spectrum, and evaluate societies according to the degree to which property is privately / publicly owned, then no nation AFAIK has ever been all the way on either end of that spectrum, and that there might exist nations that would plot on the communist half of that spectrum that appeared to last a long time. However, I’m also compelled to remind everyone of the microeconomic forces at work – namely the incentives I mentioned earlier – and how they’ll make any coerced collective approach less likely to meet typical metrics of success. That is, any nations on the communist half of a spectrum are succeeding despite forced collective ownership, not because of it.

  6. Looking at the source, it appears that each page has a comment RSS feed accesible by appending /feed, e.g. https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/18/ot28-where-in-the-world-is-comment-sandiego/feed/

    I’ve tried out subscribing to a digest for certain posts using a service like https://blogtrottr.com/, hopefully it polls often enough that comments don’t slip through the cracks.

  7. (Been lurking here for a while but only decided to post now…)

    Have you ever considered writing a book, Scott?

    I feel like the posts you have on coordination problems are some of the most interesting political analyses that I’ve ever read. You might be able to combine them into one book and try to publish it without having to do too much work.

    You basically could have the first chapter be “Meditations on Moloch”, the second/third/fourth chapters be about different ways coordination problems apply in our real lives (toxoplasma of rage, why science/the education system is bad, probably some other examples I couldn’t think of).

    Then you could do a complete 180 and talk about Elua – i.e basically Niceness, Community, and Civilization, and how somehow “liberalism and civilization” still seem to win a good percentage of the time.

    After that, maybe some policy prescriptions? I’m really curious as to what you think a civilization that overcomes Moloch would need to do (without the deus ex machina of a FAI).

    If you ever have some spare time on your hands, could you look into this? I would love to have a hard copy book about this subject that I could just give to my friends.

  8. Anon says:

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/business/a-huge-overnight-increase-in-a-drugs-price-raises-protests.html

    So, what the hell is up with Daraprim and Turing Pharmaceuticals? Normally this sort of thing seems like sensationalist bullshit, but even the news runs into genuinely outrageous things every once in a while. What should we be setting our ‘angry Internet mob’ levels at?

  9. Wrong Species says:

    Is Donald Trump doing Marco Rubio a favor? In the summer, Bush, Rubio and Walker were considered the front runners. Walker just dropped out, Bush has been pummeled and Rubio has shot up in the polls. And it does seem like Trump has attacked Rubio far less than everyone else…

  10. Shmi Nux says:

    From https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/09/21/what-a-massive-sexual-assault-survey-showed-about-27-top-u-s-universities/

    Full report can be downloaded from http://www.aau.edu/Climate-Survey.aspx?id=16525

    > Twenty-X percent rate of undergraduate women said they were victims of non-consensual sexual contact through force or in situations when they were incapacitated and unable to consent. (X varies somewhat between universities)

    > The survey response rate was around 25% (varying between 13% and 53%)

    > between 8 and 13 percent of undergraduate women said they suffered incidents involving non-consensual sexual penetration.

    I wonder how much of this is representative of of all students’ experiences, and how much is the selection effect (more/less likely to respond if something did or did not happen to them)?

    There are likely other issues with the survey, but that’s the one that jumps to mind.

    • Cauê says:

      Also,

      Twenty-X percent rate of undergraduate women said they were victims of non-consensual sexual contact through force or in situations when they were incapacitated and unable to consent.

      The presentation of these two things as a single number is what usually jumps at me, especially given the large variations about what is considered “incapacitation” when alcohol is involved.

      All in all, I find it best to ignore the numbers shown in media articles until I can get a proper look at the criteria they used.

      • gbdub says:

        Not sure this is allowed in OT, being a gender issue, so I’ll try to keep focused on the survey itself.

        There’s usually a lot of ground covered in “unwanted sexual contact” – everything from PIV to a passing ass-grab. Common failure mode is for reporting outlets to reduce this to “rape”.

        The most famous / original “20%” survey also had the problem of, as you mentioned, defining “non-consensual” in a broad way, to the point that ~half the assaults it counted were not considered such by their victims. Not sure this has been corrected.

        I do think selection bias is probably an issue, since victims are going to be much more motivated to respond to such a survey. Also, I suspect the number of respondents motivated to lie/stretch the truth on such a survey are almost exclusively on the “yes I was assaulted” side. I don’t know how you design around such issues in a survey like this.

        • AJD says:

          I suspect the number of respondents motivated to lie/stretch the truth on such a survey are almost exclusively on the “yes I was assaulted” side.

          Why?

          • Zorgon says:

            Why would you respond to a survey to lie that something didn’t happen, when you could simply not respond?

            Lying that something happened is a significantly more active form of lying than lying that something didn’t happen. You can’t really fabricate by omission.

          • John Schilling says:

            We know that about 5% of the population will answer “yes” to any damn fool question you put on a survey. Beyond that, any question that can be interpreted as “Do you agree with the Red Tribe framing of this high-profile issue, or the Blue Tribe framing”, will be so interpreted by probably a majority of respondents without regard to the specific framing. Usually not to the extent of outright lying, but certainly to the extent of misremembering, exaggerating, telescoping, etc.

            For comparison, there have been multiple studies conducted with far greater rigor than Carey et al, which grossly suggest that gun-owning Americans repel anywhere from two to five million violent assaults every year. Yet the FBI records only about one million aggravated assaults, robberies, rapes, and attempted murders per year.

            Perhaps we have found the answer to the question of what caused the enormous drop in American crime rates over the past few decades. The American people collectively developed a keen understanding of who would and would not be targeted by criminals, most of the future targets bought guns to drive off their attackers and considered this not worth mentioning, and everybody else is oblivious to this. Seems unlikely.

            Perhaps almost all of the survey respondents are also coordinated liars, following orders handed down from the National Rifle Association’s super secret Department of Messing With Survey Results. Also seems unlikely.

            Or perhaps the respondents are misremembering, exaggerating, telescoping, etc. And indeed, if you do things like ask one group “have you in the past five years…” and another “have you in the past year…”, you find that the responses do not come in a 5:1 ratio. If you call some of the respondents for detailed follow-up questions, you evoke a story inconsistent with their earlier quick response, or at least with that early response having been based on carefully listening to the details of the question.

            And serious researchers who give a damn have tried to do these things to correct the gross response rate and estimate the actual rate with which Americans use firearms to defend themselves against real and serious violent assaults – which looks to be a few hundred thousand times per year, not the few million in the raw data.

            I suspect that if someone were to do the same w/re college rape statistics, a similar reduction would be observed. But I still haven’t seen anyone make the effort.

          • gbdub says:

            I’m not saying there were necessarily a large number of people who lied on the survey – all I’m saying is that, to the extent there are any non-truthful, exaggerrated, or “telescoped” answers, they are probably biased towards “yes I was assaulted”.

            However, there are clearly a lot of on-campus activists with an agenda that includes advocating the position that sexual assaults are a real, common, serious problem on campuses. They’d be motivated to fill out the survey, and having filled it out, are likely to fill it out in a way that maximizes the “yes I was assaulted” answers. Or, if they would normally fill out the survey but have nothing to report and don’t want to lie about it, they’d intentionally ignore it. Either way the organized groups would probably go out of their way to encourage victims to fill out the survey.

            Meanwhile, what possible motivation is there for someone who was assaulted to lie and say they weren’t? Certainly there may be some who don’t want to talk about it at all and ignore the survey. To the extent that there is a such thing as anti-anti-assault advocacy, I don’t think it’s nearly as well organized, and even if it is, to skew the results they’d need to make a massive push to get non-victims to fill out the survey, which seems unlikely without evidence.

            Finally, assault victims are a 1/4 or 1/5 minority even with the highest estimated numbers. So if both victims and non-victims are equally truthful, there would still be many more people lying to say “yes” than lying to say “no”.

            I have no idea how to quantify this, and it may well be a small effect. But I’m fairly confident in which way the bias would point.

    • Pku says:

      The report summary was “victims of sexual assault or misconduct” (lumped into one), and went on to mention that the main reason people tended not to report was that they didn’t consider the case serious enough.

  11. Derelict says:

    I’m wondering about people’s opinion on this: http://betagoogle.com/

    • Saal says:

      Edit2: Oh dear. It appears that both I and my antimalware have been a bit overzealous. Inspecting the page element didn’t turn up anything blatantly suspicious, so I guess I owe everybody a *sheepishgrin*

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Wat. More details please? I clicked the link, loaded the page, then closed it without interacting further.

        Also, hasn’t Derelict been around here a while?

        [EDIT] – “Oh dear. It appears that both I and my antimalware have been a bit overzealous. Inspecting the page element didn’t turn up anything blatantly suspicious, so I guess I owe everybody a *sheepishgrin*”

        That sounds just like what a virus would have you say. I bet you’d LIKE me to click that link again, wouldn’t you.

        • Derelict says:

          Basically it’s a clickbait-and-switch website, with a Google search page that tells you it can tell you your future, then replaces your search term with stuff that a refugee from Syria might ask about theirs.

          It then admonishes you for being so interested in your future without caring at all about the futures of those refugees. Of course, when you share the page, it reveals nothing of the trick because it wants to be clickbait.

      • Derelict says:

        I’m terribly sorry, I completely forgot that Chrome had that site marked as potential malware.

        I promise you there’s nothing harmless on that page; it was just a bait-and-switch clickbait campaign that Google reacted to in that way because it was an impersonation.

  12. Zorgon says:

    I feel it would be remiss of me not to introduce the recent allegations that UK Prime Minister put his penis in a dead pig’s mouth into the open thread.

    (At least partially because I want to post that absolutely everywhere across the entire Internet forever.)

    What’s really interesting about it is the difference between this and the endless media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn in the past week. The whole media has been lapping up every single last thing anyone said about the new Labour leader – true or not. Meanwhile the BBC are only now starting to very vaguely allude to the allegations against Cameron, and most of the (less salaciously-oriented) media are studiously ignoring it.

    Of course, social media has gone COMPLETELY HATSTAND over this, as it inevitably was always going to.

    Also, it appears Charlie Brooker needs to be told about prediction markets.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      I don’t have much contact with the british media, but most criticism I heard of Corbyn was directly related to his political stances and was plausible sounding, neither of which applies to Cameron’s alleged reenactment of Vase De Noces.

      I mean, everything about Corbyn could be false while simultaneously this Cameron thing could be true and I still wouldn’t fault the news media, and I love faulting the news media.

      • Zorgon says:

        It says something that non-Brits respond to “PM put his cock in a dead pig” with disbelief. Most British people just assumed it must be true. Toffs do that sort of thing…

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, Zorgon, it was only oral necrophiliac bestiality, what’s everyone getting so worked up about? 🙂

      • Zorgon says:

        Also, I should probably note that criticism of Corbyn has included, amongst other things, having a shirt button undone and riding a “Mao-style” bike.

    • Adam says:

      Well, if it was already dead, no harm, no foul.

    • Deiseach says:

      I feel it would be remiss of me not to introduce the recent allegations that UK Prime Minister put his penis in a dead pig’s mouth into the open thread.

      I’m not entirely sure I believe it; it sounds more like one of the American fraternities’ initiation rituals. Then again, “Call Me Dave” was a member of the Bullingdon Club, a bunch of gussied-up Hooray Henrys who made Wodehouse’s Drones Club sound like Wittgenstein setting in for a serious bout of hard study, so who knows?

      • gattsuru says:

        It seems slightly too convenient that this both the first time we hear that Cameron was associated with the Piers Gaveston Society, and the first time that we hear the Piers Gaveston Society practiced necrobestiality (as opposed to long-present lurid tales of drug abuse and public humping), and the first time that we hear about Cameron humping anything that was in another man’s lap.

        It seems /far too/ convenient for this to come from a man who, among other bones he had to pick with his opponent, opposed the push for legalization of gay marriage.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, memoirs (particularly the political kind) are the vehicle for score-setting and axe-grinding of all kinds.

          If Lord Ashcroft is inventing or lying or misrepresenting, doubtless Mr Cameron will be instructing m’learned friends (I believe Carter-Ruck are the terriers of choice for these cases).

          It will be enormous fun to watch the development of this: whatever move Cameron makes (either keeping schtum or threatening legal action) is going to keep the story alive and embarrassing 🙂

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            What about Cameron’s friends muddying the water by a barrage of stories not mentioning Cameron but attaching the porcinephilia to his rival? “Cameron? Naw, that was Jones.”

    • Linch says:

      Yeah Charles Brooker seems ridiculously prescient (see also Waldo/Trump).

      • Deiseach says:

        What is even more delicious (if one is inclined to gloat at the discomfiture of a Tory PM, and why not? Though I’m not at all sure he is discomfited; he may well have the brazen cheek to think that what he did in uni is nobody’s business but his and his chums), is that this was all apparently part of an initiation ritual for the Piers Gaveston Society, a club for enabling even more debauchery amongst the gilded youth than the Bullingdon, and named in honour of the alleged lover and definite favourite of Edward II.

        It doesn’t have to be true, because it is so in the spirit of the 80s and “Loadsamoney” Toryism and the posh element of the Conservative Party that it seems feasible. Truthiness, if you will 🙂

        • FacelessCraven says:

          clicking through the links, I find a previous member named “Darius Guppy”. Consider my day improved.

          • Deiseach says:

            Fascinating fact: when using Wikipedia to refresh my memory of the scandal Darius was involved in (back in the 90s) it turns out he is a descendant of Robert John Lechmere Guppy, after whom the fish is named.

            Instead of taking to natural philosophy and discovering new species of fish like his forebear, Darius made a fraudulent insurance claim from Lloyds after a fake jewel robbery. As revenge because of his father’s ruin in the Lloyd’s crash:

            James Curtis, for the prosecution, described how, in March 1990, Guppy and Marsh paid a security expert, Peter Risdon, £10,000 to pretend to be a gunman in a fake robbery of emeralds, sapphires and rubies insured for £1.8 million. In room 1208 of the Halloran House Hotel in New York, the pair drank champagne before Risdon tied them up and fired a bullet into a mattress.

            Earlier the pair had called on Fifth Avenue gem dealers, including Tiffany’s, deliberately asking far too much money for the precious stones. ‘They wanted to be able to tell their insurers they had tried to sell them,’ the court was told.

            Oh, and he did some gold smuggling on the side, but that was for “adventurousness”, not money:

            Gems dealer Darius Guppy and business associate Benedict Marsh admitted spinning a ”web of deceit” to claim falsely nearly £200,000 VAT on a large consignment of gold bullion that was later smuggled to India, a court heard yesterday.

            When he was questioned by investigators, 28-year-old Old Etonian Guppy — best friend of the Princess of Wales’s brother Earl Spencer — told them that money had not been the motive.

            ”The main incentive was adventurousness. It was stupid,” he admitted.

            Guppy, watched by his pregnant wife, Patricia, whom he had not seen since being convicted of a separate £1.8 million gems insurance swindle 20 days ago, pleaded guilty at Snaresbrook Crown Court to three charges relating to the illegal VAT claims between October 1989 and July 1990. Marsh admitted one of the offences.

            The best part is that all these types hung around with, in Darius’ and Dave’s time at uni, people like Count Gottfried von Bismarck (yes, that Bismarck) and in George Osborne’s case Count Lupus von Maltzahn, no. 4 in this photograph, who actually does look like someone who would be called “Lupus von Maltzahn”.

            And you thought J.K. Rowling was exaggerating the names of the pureblood families in Harry Potter.

            Honestly, the British TV political drama series are not making things up, even when they’re ostensibly “this is adapted from a novel/I dreamt this up on my own, I swear”.

          • The VAT scam isn’t that impressive.

            As part of research for an article I read a book on corruption in modern China. One of my favorite bits involved an area with a very corrupt officialdom. China had a VAT; if you exported goods you got a refund on the VAT you paid.

            The officials created the paperwork documenting the creation, VAT payment, and export of imaginary goods, then collected the refund of the VAT they hadn’t paid.

            They also eventually got caught.

  13. onyomi says:

    Any opinions on the Yi-fen Chou thing?

    Basically, a white, male poet attached a Chinese female’s name to a poem which had been rejected several times and suddenly it wins an award at a prestigious literary magazine or something. My academic friends are all up in arms over this, and I’ve seen it justified saying that “when there are far too many qualified works, diversity becomes a desirable additional factor to consider.”

    But can we just admit that the flipside of promoting diversity is discriminating against white men? I mean, I’m sure many people are genuinely okay with that, but I don’t think many have even really considered it. If it does, it tends to be in a “oh, cry me a river, mr. privilege,” sort of way, but for a poet, this could make the difference between being able to make a living doing what you love and not. Not insignificant.

    • Ever An Anon says:

      I’m curious as to whether the poem was billed as a “translation” of Chinese poetry or an original English work by a Chinese poet.

      If the latter then it’s probably standard Progressive Stack nonsense. But if it’s the former I would bet that the judges cut the flaws which led to the original being rejected slack. Translation glitches or unusual foreign styles are less aesthetically offensive than ordinary ineptitude.

      • Adam says:

        The poem isn’t a translation and isn’t political and doesn’t have anything to do with being Chinese. It’s just a dude ranting about how he’s disappointed himself since graduating college.

        I don’t think it’s any kind of explicit affirmative action, either, just the unconscious biases of the editors. Chinese dude goes on OkCupid, chicks ignore him. White dude tries to get poetry published, editors ignore him. Both win. Both lose.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Adam
          It’s just a dude ranting about how he’s disappointed himself since graduating college.

          Even what you just said, would improve the poem to me. Obviously the speaker is disappointed — but who is zie, and in what? You just provided something to tether it to — a handle on the poem.

          In an older English tradition, there were lots of poems with titles like “The something Lover to his something Mistress”. They gave a tether — but without bringing in the whole real life of the real author, which was probably quite different.

          Such titles are out of fashion, and the title used gave nothing like that. But the addition of a by-line that sounded like a Chinese person, would provide it (for me, anyway). It fits with the hints of ESL. The disappointment would be the contrast between what the speaker had hoped from a position in the West, and what the position actually amounted to. That fits with a traditional theme of old Chinese poems: someone has left home, traveled far away, to an official position that he is stuck in long-term, and is pining for his distant past hope.

          That’s my association. Different versions of the Chinese connection might be, still literally at home in China but stuck in a study that reminds him of the tour-guide job he had in the summer.

      • Deiseach says:

        I Googled the damn thing. Take a gander at the title: “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam, and Eve”.

        To which my reaction is “Holy Mother of God”.

        Did the anthologist(s) not suspect this thing had to be a leg-pull by the title alone? Is it a serious genuine poem? Is Michael Derrick Hudson actually running a double bluff, where not alone does he prove that ethnic/minority status gets you ahead (as long as you are assuming that status to game the system of liberal guilt but are in actuality in possession of white privilege), but that any old guff will get published as “modern poetry”?

        Here is the thing in its entirety, and may the Muses atop Helicon forgive me this trespass against the art:

        The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve

        Huh! That bumblebee looks ridiculous staggering its way

        across those blue flowers, the ones I can never
        remember the name of. Do you know the old engineer’s

        joke: that, theoretically, bees can’t fly? But they look so

        perfect together, like Absolute Purpose incarnate: one bee
        plus one blue flower equals about a billion

        years of symbiosis. Which leads me to wonder what it is

        I’m doing here, peering through a lens at the thigh-pouches
        stuffed with pollen and the baffling intricacies

        of stamen and pistil. Am I supposed to say something, add
        a soundtrack and voiceover? My life’s spent

        running an inept tour for my own sad swindle of a vacation

        until every goddamned thing’s reduced to botched captions
        and dabs of misinformation in fractured,

        not-quite-right English: Here sir, that’s the very place Jesus

        wept. The Colosseum sprouts and blooms with leftover seeds
        pooped by ancient tigers. Poseidon diddled

        Philomel in the warm slap of this ankle-deep surf to the dying
        stings of a thousand jellyfish. There, probably,

        atop yonder scraggly hillock, Adam should’ve said no to Eve.

        I’m fairly sure Poseidon never fucked Philomel. Deliberate error (“dabs of misinformation”) or genuine mistake?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          @Deiseach:

          “Holy Mother of God”

          Holy. Mother. of God.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Hey, I kind of liked that! Once I got the Zoom far enough out to hopefully get rid of the unintended line breaks. Doesn’t sound very modern though, except in the sense of Modern American Poets c. 1920, which I adore.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          To which my reaction is “Holy Mother of God”.

          Actually, I’m not sure that calling it ” “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam, Eve and the Holy Mother of God” would have been an improvement 🙂

          Also, as a serious obscure musical instruments geek (and not deeply immersed in Classical mythology), the idea of muses atop a helicon generates an amusingly silly image in my mind.

      • vV_Vv says:

        The magazine editor who approved the poem commented that he believed that it was sent by a Chinese American, and he let that consideration influence his decision to publish it.

        He said that it was “racial nepotism”, but it’s ok because everybody in poetry circles is doing some nepotism of some sort.
        It seems to me that “racial nepotism” is an euphemism for “racism”, but hey, who am I to teach English to the editor of “The Best American Poetry”?

    • nil says:

      I support affirmative action, but I’ve definitely considered the fact that it constitutes discrimination. My conclusion is that diversity is not a good enough reason to discriminate against whites, or Asians for that matter. But the only reason we talk so much about diversity is, in my opinion, an accident of legal history. Originally, the intellectual underpinnings of affirmative action were mostly about correcting for past discrimination; under that basis, I think it’s entirely justified and will continue to be for at least another 1-2 generations. Diversity was also an interest in the people promoting it, but it was very much a secondary one.

      However, when affirmative action was challenged in the courts, a combination of the particulars of how SCOTUS concurrences are interpreted and the particular biases of the judicial community (in short, American courts are myopically fixated on individuals’ rights and interests at the expense of multi-generational communities but are also very credulous towards the valuations of formal institutions acting in non-legal fields) caused the obvious and practical “remediation of past wrongs” justification to be rejected, while the nebulous interest in diversity was upheld. Any institution that wanted to preserve an affirmative action program had to then mime SCOTUS’s reasoning if they wanted to stay on firm legal ground. I wasn’t around at the time, but my money says that while this was originally just a performative recital, and that most of the people involved still subjectively considered it to mostly be repairative, after some time passed everyone started to believe the words that were coming out of their mouths: that diversity actually WAS that important.

      Usually, the legal world’s effect on the wider culture is more of a tinkering with the edges, but Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, I think, did a lot of the work in introducing “diversity” as a new core value in our culture–and it did so haphazardly and for barely rational reasons.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Just thinking about it briefly, isn’t diversity easier to measure, so to speak, than historical wrongs?

        That is, it’s simpler to just look at a boardroom or a classroom or whatever and say “well, the percentages here don’t look like a pie chart of society by whatever demographics we’re considering”, than to quantify how much a given person or a group has suffered due to past wrongs, which presumably one would want to do in order to determine the degree of affirmative action warranted.

        • nil says:

          Definitely easier. From a legal perspective, though, courts are mostly happy to delegate the particulars in achieving diversity to academia; there’s no reason they couldn’t do the same for a reparative system.

          Also worth noting is that there’s a huge constituency for the current system–recent immigrants and, for the most part, minorities who aren’t Native or African-American.*

          * While I know there was certainly de jure discrimination against Hispanics and Asians in our history, it wasn’t really at the same order of magnitude as what was done to black and native people–especially if you exclude the Japanese internment, which you probably should since the victims of that already received direct reparations as individuals.

          • gbdub says:

            Far from a “constituency for the current system”, Asians are actually discriminated against in most affirmative action systems, often more severely than whites. And witness how often West Coast tech firms are criticized for being lily-white, when they are chock-full of East Asians and Indians.

            Honestly I find the idea of “affirmative action to correct historical discrimination” horrifying in a way that’s typical of a lot of progressive policies that I don’t like: in theory, it operates on large social/racial groups and seems to be just in a certain way. But in practice, at the cutting edge, it has massive impacts on individuals, in ways that are massively unfair.

            We have a long legal history of not visiting upon people the crimes of their fathers. And I think that’s a good thing. Even if you make damn sure you only offer AA slots to descendants of slaves, and only take slots from descendants of slave owners (and that’s basically impossible – very little but a sense of decency prevents most white kids from checking the “African” or “Native” boxes (*cough* Liz Warren *cough*)), you’re still going to end up with some cases of favoring private schooled lawyers’ kids getting in ahead of poor Mississippi farm boys. “Historical Injustice” looks compelling on a macro population wide level, but there’s just too much individual variation to make any system that doles out major benefits (and prestigious college admission certainly is one) anywhere close to fair.

            Honestly I think 99% of any actual benefits of AA could be just as easily implemented with an economic based AA system. And “favoring poor kids from crappy schools” is a lot more palatable to the vast majority of Americans than “favoring kids with a certain melanin level”. The fact that more progressives don’t support such a thing makes me think that, like you, they really believe in “correcting historical injustice” but are willing to argue “diversity” to get racial preferences throught the back door.

          • Cauê says:

            Honestly I find the idea of “affirmative action to correct historical discrimination” horrifying in a way that’s typical of a lot of progressive policies that I don’t like: in theory, it operates on large social/racial groups and seems to be just in a certain way. But in practice, at the cutting edge, it has massive impacts on individuals, in ways that are massively unfair.

            I have a strong, visceral reaction to these as well. What I identify as the common thread among them is treating people as pieces of groups rather than individuals.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Cauê – “What I identify as the common thread among them is treating people as pieces of groups rather than individuals.”

            This. Justice is necessarily individual.

          • nil says:

            @gbdub Yeah, I’m aware of how “diversity” works against Asians. It’s fucked up, and progressives need an answer for it. This is mine, FWIW–at least it would put Asian kids on an equal footing with whites rather than giving administrators an explicit ground to tinker with all racial ratios.

            Otherwise, your point is well taken, and there was a time when I would have entirely agreed with it. I’ve changed for a couple reasons:
            – I’ve learned that white supremacy was a lot more than slavery and drinking fountains, and that the benefits accrued to the white working class no less than everyone else. This is even more true when it comes to NAs–poor whites benefited enormously from Native land dispossession.
            – My experiences in post-secondary schools that use diversity as an admissions metric makes me disagree that the harm to whites is terribly significant. Even with AA, there’s just not that many of these folks, which means they’re only pushing out a small number of whites who were at the very bottom of the admission window. IMO, the harm is therefore less “excluded from school” and more “being treated as if their SAT were about three-four points lower than it actually is.” This is something of a semantic point, granted, but I can’t help rolling my eyes at anyone who was that close to the dividing line acting like they were entitled to a slot–what they had for breakfast the morning they took the ACT/SAT probably made more of a difference to their college admission than AA did.
            – Finally, I just think it more accurately describes merit. One of my grandfathers owned a car dealership, while another was a bank president. Even though my parents weren’t wealthy (or even close to it) that legacy both material and non-material did a lot of good in my life. Most of the whites I went to school with came from an even more privileged background than I. If your grandparents were sharecroppers and you match my grades and standardized test scores, I don’t really think we should be considered equivalent applicants–we achieved the same thing, but you did it with a handicap. Certainly, there are exceptions (there was a black professional class under Jim Crow) but at a certain point the transactional costs of inquiring into individual social histories outweigh the benefits.

            The above reasons, among other less rational ones, are why I am not a full-throated supporter of economic-AA. That said, it does seem to be a reasonable compromise–but only if we were in agreement that AA was about reparation rather than diversity as an end-in-itself.

          • Cauê says:

            Point 2 is… well, if not getting in isn’t a big deal, then it isn’t a big deal to the ones benefitting from AA either.

            As you formulate it, point 3 (and 1 insofar as its relevance comes from the effect on 3) seems to be screened off by wealth. A wealthy black student wouldn’t have been affected by it, and a poor white one would.

          • nil says:

            @Cauê Only to the degree that wealth captures the legacy. I think it’s a big, important part, but not the whole story.

            I’ll have to think more about your rebuttal to #2. My initial thought is that AA beneficiaries probably gain more than a couple points, but something seems off about that.

          • Not Robin Hanson says:

            I’ll have to think more about your rebuttal to #2. My initial thought is that AA beneficiaries probably gain more than a couple points, but something seems off about that.

            By this reasoning, the logical conclusion is to admit people with the lowest SAT scores, in order to maximize the number of points gained. Say Super Elite U has a SAT cutoff of 2390. Two students apply, one with a 2400 and one with a 600. By admitting the 600 student instead of the 2400 student, the 600 student gains 1790 points, and the 2400 student loses 10 points, for a net gain of 1780 points!

          • Earthly Knight says:

            IMO, the harm is therefore less “excluded from school” and more “being treated as if their SAT were about three-four points lower than it actually is.”

            Note that your estimate is off by two orders of magnitude: affirmative action for blacks is equivalent to an SAT score boost of 300 or so points versus whites, and 400 or so versus Asians.

            (This is on the old 1600-point scale, presumably it is larger now).

            I have mixed feelings about affirmative action, but it’s fairly nauseating to think that a black guy exactly as smart and as educated as I am could have walked into the test center, spent most of the allotted time drawing pictures of unicorns, and waltzed out with a scholarship to Harvard.

            I should add that your conclusion that the rhetoric of diversity surrounding affirmative action can largely be traced back to Powell’s opinion in Bakke comports with my understanding of the history.

          • Linch says:

            @Earthly: I’m pretty sure 3-4 points is too low an estimation as well, but all else being equal, the benefit to African Americans from AA should be significantly greater than the loss to whites/Asians from AA, just because of the percentages involved.

            If I were to guess, 50 is probably closer.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            I’ll look for the study tomorrow (if I remember), but the California system basically had AA be a transfer from Asians to Black/Hispanic students; whites were pretty close to a wash (very small loss)

          • brad says:

            I have mixed feelings about AA in higher education too, but I’m actually much more open to the diversity rationale than any of the others.

            I think in some of the answers, part of the visceral dislike comes from the idea that college admissions is a rank and select game rather than a matching game. But if you talk to college administrators, and leave aside race altogether, they will tell you that they don’t want a class with the maximum possible SAT average (or some fixed linear combination of SAT and HS GPA). Given that college isn’t just a MOOC that happens to have physical classroom space, I think it makes a lot of sense to have more complicated preferences than that.

            For example, you can go read plenty of stories about the distorted social life of an insular community that has a heterosexual gender ratio that isn’t close to 50:50. Now you might think a college shouldn’t care about distorted gender ratio, but why shouldn’t they? It impacts the happiness of their students and how they will look back on the experience (which impacts donations). Likewise they want some people who are going to found or lead ultimate frisbee teams, play the violin in the orchestra, bring a rural southern viewpoint to classrooms filled mostly with suburban northerners, children of alumni who were born cheering for the school football team, and so forth and so on.

            When you see it more like dating where there is no strict ranking, but rather compatibility is an all important factor* it seems far less unfair that a school would have a preference for a little racial diversity along with the other class design goals they have.

            Finally, re: pluarity decisions, I couldn’t agree more. What a pain in the neck. Whenever I see one, I blame the CJ. It is his institutional role to do his outmost to prevent things like that. The best CJs managed to get unanimous decisions on important cases. Ah well, at least we don’t have seriatim opinions anymore.

            *When I was going through and re-reading this comment, I realized that given the discussion below re: “game” this is probably controversial in this crowd. But just go with it for the sake of argument.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >I have mixed feelings about AA in higher education too, but I’m actually much more open to the diversity rationale than any of the others.

            Critics of AA often have no issue with wanting more diversity, the problem they see (rightly or wrongly) is that AA (promoting racial diversity) isn’t particularly conductive to promoting the type of diversity you describe in your post.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Linch

            the benefit to African Americans from AA should be significantly greater than the loss to whites/Asians from AA, just because of the percentages involved.

            Are you sure there is a benefit to African Americans from AA in college admissions?

            Colleges use the SAT in the admission process because SAT scores predict academic success. Arbitrarily giving some group a BIG boost – adding a few hundred or more SAT points – qualifies group members to get into tougher colleges and majors than they are prepared for where they face tougher competition from the other students which makes them far more likely to fail and drop out than had they been redirected to more forgiving academic environments.

            (aka the “mismatch problem“)

          • Linch says:

            @Raphael: Yes, I was using benefit/harm in the same sense as the OP, and not in terms of an explicit utility calculation, especially since the impact of an elite education on your career prospects is *way* lower than is generally assumed.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @Earthly: I’m pretty sure 3-4 points is too low an estimation as well, but all else being equal, the benefit to African Americans from AA should be significantly greater than the loss to whites/Asians from AA, just because of the percentages involved.

            This depends on what counterfactual we’re evaluating, which is underspecified. The average cost of affirmative action to Asians is going to be at least the penalty they have relative to whites, or 150+ points. You’re right that the cost to whites may be significantly smaller, both because of their larger numbers and because they take some spots from Asians.

      • Cauê says:

        Oh, I always wondered about the focus on “diversity” in the US when discussing affirmative action. Makes more sense now.

        Also, I’m adding the concept of a “rationalization treadmill” to the list of things to think about.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Thinking that everyone secretly agrees with you is a dangerous road to go down. How sure are you? How can you tell?

        Maybe school administrators have their hands tied by legal precedent and have to lie and pretend to care about arguments that will hold up in court, but they are only a small portion of the people who talk about affirmative action. What about the rest? Why don’t they talk about their real reasons?

        • Cauê says:

          What about the rest? Why don’t they talk about their real reasons?

          Seeing people give a succession of different justifications for the same position is a flag for me (especially when a justification is given in support of something that only makes sense given a different one). I take it as a clue that their “real reason” is more of a System 1 thing, and that (honestly!) talking about it often turns out to be an exercise in rationalization.

          (the process of shifting justifications reminds me of Haidt’s comments about moral dumbfounding)

        • nil says:

          Well, that’s my broader point. I think that two generations of important institutions professing diversity rather than reparations for legal reasons led to a very genuine embrace of diversity throughout society. I doubt it took that long, either.

          As for why I think that diversity was initially secondary, I look to the lower court opinion and the concurrences. If I were writing for a law review, I’d also dig up the briefs and the amicus briefs and try to analyze them in some sort of quasi-quantifiable way. Of course, I’d be very, very surprised if this hadn’t already been addressed in legal scholarship, which is drawn to controversial Supreme Court cases for obvious reasons and due to the nature of law journals is much more comprehensive than it probably needs to be.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yeah, I guess I misread you pretty badly. I think this theory is also 90% wrong.

            FWIW, google ngrams shows the popularity of “diversity” increasing about 50% very quickly 1985-1995. But it also increased that much from 1960 to Bakke.

          • What most upsets me about “diversity” in the academic context is that it’s a lie. The form of diversity that matters to the academy is diversity of ideas, not of skin color. But schools that are strong on “diversity,” at least at the higher levels, are pretty close to ideological monocultures. My evidence for that is from visiting schools and talking with students when our kids were looking for schools, and the reports later of the kids.

            My standard gedankenexperiment:

            A department is considering two candidates for employment who appear about equally well qualified. They discover that one of them is an articulate defender of South African Apartheid. Does the chance of hiring him go up or down?

            If intellectual diversity is considered desirable, it goes up—few of us have ever been exposed to that point of view, but it was sufficiently defensible so that quite a lot of intelligent people held it. In fact, at any elite school, it goes down, probably to zero.

      • stillnotking says:

        American courts are myopically fixated on individuals’ rights and interests at the expense of multi-generational communities

        You talk like that’s a bug, when it’s obviously a feature. No remotely honest reading of the Constitution could understand it as privileging the interests of “multi-generational communities”, a term that doesn’t appear even in paraphrase, over individual persons.

        • gbdub says:

          And given that thinking in terms of “multi-generational communities” is pretty much the core feature of all history’s very worst nasty, genocidal, discriminatory societies, I’m glad the US generally has a built-in aversion to it, even when the intentions are good.

        • nil says:

          I view it as a flaw, because I think it gets human nature wrong. I think it led to a result I certainly consider to be at least a little absurd in this case. But, yes, it’s also an intentional flaw, not only stemming from the US Constitution, but from notions of rights and civil procedure that substantially predate it and from a broader ~classical liberal ideology which is deeply embedded in, at the least, Anglo-American law.

          Also, FWIW, the end result of cases where you have a series of concurrences (with a plurality agreeing on one thing but only able to reach a majority by signing onto an opinion that only one or two centrist judges actually believe in) is widely regarded within the legal community as being clunky and weird. That’s secondary to my main critique, though, plus no one can think of a much better idea.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The Constitution has almost nothing to do with individual rights and interests. That’s the Bill of Rights. The Constitution is all about the rights and interests of multi-generational communities: the states.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        @nil:

        …did a lot of the work in introducing “diversity” as a new core value in our culture

        About the biggest laugh I ever got at the all-hands for a large unnamed Silicon Valley company was when the head of HR was talking about his need to deal fairly with everybody’s individual situation: maybe you’re an engineer, or you’re a secretary, or you’re diverse.

        He was not making a joke.

      • From the standpoint of your justification for affirmative action, is the relevant unit the individual or the group? If, as I suspect is the case, affirmative action by Stanford Law School or the equivalent benefits the smart kids of black lawyers and physicians, people who are already well above the median in terms of advantages, does it still count as correcting for past discrimination?

        And if it’s the individual, don’t you think there are better proxies for disadvantaged than race?

        • nil says:

          The group, and yes. I believe America is a multinational state that has always housed, among others, a Black nation. Especially after Reconstruction but to some degree from the very start, that nation has had an internal class structure including professionals. That class structure means that some black professionals were typically better off than white working class people–but the Black nation continued to be oppressed as a whole to further the interests of the White nation (I know who usually talks about that nation, but whatever disagreements I have with them I don’t think they’re wrong in identifying its existence). I therefore think it is just to compensate the Black nation (as well as the various Indian nations, although that is to some degree already being done through various benefits, exceptions, and an entire body of specialized law) at all levels of its society.

          • Cauê says:

            This is collective guilt and collective entitlement, where what one person owes and another is owed is completely independent of what they do, choose, or experience. This is using Alice’s money to pay Bob for what Charles once did to Daniel. “I’m innocent” isn’t a defense because “Charles was white too”, and it doesn’t matter that Bob and Daniel have absolutely nothing to do with each other, they’re both black, what more relation do you need?

            This is what interventions on groups look like when you see how they actually work (they work on individuals, there’s no escaping that). Maybe you wouldn’t use this framing, but is this accurate? If so, I find it repugnant.

          • nil says:

            @Cauê It’s accurate enough, although I would omit the experience part–I think my ongoing experiences as a person benefiting from America’s history of white supremacy are a critical part of the picture, as are the related experiences of a black person suffering from the same. If it weren’t for those experiences–if I didn’t see that legacy getting passed down through the generations (via wealth, skills, stress, housing and possibly epigenetics) then I wouldn’t support any reparation regardless of how awful anyone’s ancestors had it. It’s not about punishment, but rather an equitable adjustment: while I, personally, didn’t do anything wrong, I received substantial benefits from my nationality and race for reasons that have nothing to do with anything I chose or accomplished. It is only fair and just that I therefore incur some appropriate liabilities in the same way.

            A question: would you be as repulsed if we were talking about full-on states? War reparations owed to a state that was attacked, occupied, and exploited by another? Debts owed by a state to the IMF? What about tithes given by Catholic parishioners going to sex abuse victims?

          • onyomi says:

            I am actually very disturbed by how much the blue tribe especially and most people in general really subscribe to the notion of collective guilt: I once heard a very nice, empathy-driven, liberal professor put forth the argument that Germany had some nerve refusing to continue to bail out Greece, considering all they had done in WWII. Hearty nods from all the other professors in attendance.

          • nil says:

            @onyomi The left is, pretty much by definition, an ideology that views a society as a discrete and persistent entity.

            Can’t say I’m disgusted or disturbed by the inverse, but it does seem very naive to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            You seem to be confusing “collective guilt” with “ancestral guilt” or the like. The collective guilt is of the nation and involves harms that continue to perpetuate. You personally didn’t do anything wrong. Tha nation did, and the nation is liable.

            If a corporation sold something with a 100 year warranty, even though none of the original people are still employees of the corporation, the warranty should still be in effect. (Yes, I understand that a warranty and liability are different, but I would hope you would grant that their shouldn’t be any principle against 100 year old liability).

            In fact all of the stock-holders may have turned over as well, and they are surely “harmed” by these 100 year old warranty claims. “I wasn’t even born when this warranty was issued.” isn’t a cogent reason for the stockholder to view their losses as unfair, though.

          • Cauê says:

            Nil, I question some of your factual premises but to be honest I don’t feel like going there. I’d only ask you to reassess how much of the problem as it exists today is screened off by wealth, and whether that wouldn’t be a more productive criterion – if the goal really is to get people back to a level playing field, that is.

            A question: would you be as repulsed if we were talking about full-on states? War reparations owed to a state that was attacked, occupied, and exploited by another? Debts owed by a state to the IMF? What about tithes given by Catholic parishioners going to sex abuse victims?

            Sorry, my answers won’t be of much use. I don’t want to talk about states, my answer would be too large and only marginally relevant (“is it right for this government to take my stuff to pay for something that a previous government took my stuff to do?”)
            Also, I’m not religious and I don’t know the nature of the obligation Catholics believe they have in paying tithes.

            HBC, when you buy stocks you are voluntarily accepting preexisting liabilities. It’s a completely different situation.

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub,

            First of all, in the terms of surrender for WWII, I’m pretty sure no mention was made of bailing out the rest of Europe for all eternity.

            Secondly, whatever government made that deal no longer exists. I’m pretty sure Angela Merkel and those who voted for her don’t see her as holding the same position in the same organization Hitler once held. Unless just by virtue of being A government in the geographic territory called Germany one is on the hook for any and all crimes ever committed by any government occupying the same space.

            And therein lies the problem with comparing the government to voluntary organizations like companies and homeowners’ associations: governments are not something most people buy into (unless they are among the very small minority who apply for a new citizenship as an adult): instead, they are just the lawmaking monopolists of a geographic territory. Most people never sign up to be part of them, nor explicitly agree to hold any share of any financial burdens the government may theoretically incur on their behalf.

            So by this logic maybe the Greek people aren’t responsible for the debts incurred by their own government? Maybe not. I’d have no problem with them repudiating those debts and leaving the Euro. Other than maybe voting poorly, the average Greek didn’t really choose to take on the debts his government took on on his behalf; but by the same token the average German has no responsibility pay the average Greek for responsibilities his govmt took on (and that would be assuming the German govmt agreed to keep bailing out Greece, which they did not: the question here is really a moral one: are the current citizens of Germany, almost none of whom were adults when the Nazis came to power, morally indebted for all eternity to the rest of Europe because of crimes their ancestors committed under the aegis of a different govmt?)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            I find it interesting that you switched to Europe, rather than sticking with whether US governments (local, state and federal) have incurred liabilities for actions taken in the past that continue to harm black people today.

            Sticking in the US (and intra- rather than inter- nation), I presume that if the federal government seized your land illegally 40 years ago, you would not consider that the fact that the Ford administration was long gone to change one whit whether a USOC finding in your favor should be binding.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not sure how I “switched” to anything? The example I began with was someone saying that citizens of today’s Germany should feel morally obligated to help out the rest of Europe because of what their ancestors did during WWII.

            This is a more extreme example than supporting affirmative action today in the US would be, given that many people alive during Jim Crow are still around, and some level of discrimination arguably continues, but that’s why I picked it. I’m saying, even when everyone responsible for a bad thing is dead (and while one may argue that discrimination continued long after Jim Crow, there’s no arguing that WWII continued (in Europe) long after 1945), many, many people still ascribe a collective responsibility to their ancestors to keep paying back.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Sorry, I was a little unclear (both in my statement and in my reading of your comments.)

            First, broadly this is a conversation about affirmative action within a field.

            Second, I think inter-nation and intra-nation issues are different (for a variety of reasons, but the biggest being that a national government has no intrinsic ongoing contract with the citizens of any other nation to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty”. I don’t think an international example really applies to AA within a field.

            Third, as far as your specific example, war reparations really are a thing, and to the extent that they are never addressed, they are outstanding, internationally. But I agree that the specific example you give sounds a lot more like (in my framing) ancestral guilt than collective guilt. However, if Greek economic problems could be traced to problems caused by German actions in WWII, that were never addressed, then Germany would bear a measure of responsibility.

    • NZ says:

      White guy name: “Thanks for submitting, but try again next year.”
      Asian name: “We’ll publish you right away!”

      And Asian writers are angry because somehow this is evidence of…white privilege!

      • Brian Donohue says:

        The NPR contortions reporting on this were breathtaking.

      • Derelict says:

        It could be because the white person is painted as seeing no shame in adopting a Chinese name for his convenience, while a Chinese person adopting a white name is painted as being forced to adopt it just to have a chance at success elsewhere.

        • Urstoff says:

          But that ignores the context of poetry vs. other areas of success. Having a Chinese name seems to be a boon in poetry, and having a plain white male name is a hindrance. The white males are in the same place as the Chinese workers in other areas in the past (present?). The source of the bias is just different. Why would it be immoral for a white person to adopt a Chinese name in submitting poetry, especially in this case when the poem clearly has nothing to do with being ethnically Chinese or anything of that sort, versus a Chinese person adopting a white name in some other area?

          • Derelict says:

            Ostensibly because the advantage of having a Chinese name is “relegated” to something “economically unpopular” like poetry, while the white name has more opportunity elsewhere by default.

            Note, I don’t actually think any of that myself; I’m just relaying what I’d be saying if I were thinking like one of them.

          • NZ says:

            @Derelict:

            Right, and if I were arguing against “one of them” I would offer that the white name does not have more opportunity most other places. Exceptions stand out because this is true.

        • NZ says:

          If the white guy in question is a poet by trade, then getting published is not a convenience, it is a career essential. As I understand it, rejection is common and getting published is rare. So each instance of publication is hugely important for success.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            He isn’t a professional poet. There are two things you might mean by that phrase, and he isn’t either. One is someone who gets paid for published poems. There are virtually no such people these days. Magazines pay virtually nothing. He didn’t publish that poem to make money. In theory he could build up the pseudonym to be one of very few superstars who sells books direct to consumer (or at least to poetry classes), but if he was going to try that, he’d publish more poems under the name and certainly not reveal the hoax as soon as he won a prize! (I suppose he could try to ride the hoax to notoriety and fortune, but that’s very different than caring about each publication.)

            The other thing you might mean by a “professional poet,” the thing that is common, is an English professor who is hired on the basis of publishing poems. This guy does not seem to be such a person. Such people do care about the rare acceptance letters. But they care about them to impress the hiring committee, from whom they cannot hide their identity, so this is a really lousy strategy.

          • NZ says:

            My understanding is that the guy considers his trade poetry. I have no idea whether he knows that is not viable or whether he actually has some other job just to support poetry.

            I suppose my point is that (again, as far as I know) the guy writes a lot of poems and submits them to publications, thus he takes poetry seriously and it’s something he cares about. Getting published isn’t just a convenience. It’s not like getting a few thumbs up on your Facebook page.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        >honest

        I know I should do better than to try to guess someone’s motives when not explicitly stated, but that reads like the biggest, most blatant attempt at saving face that I’ve ever seen.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Do you believe that he knew of the deception before the work was published and in time to pull the poem from the anthology?

          Because, if that is true, it is a huge piece of evidence that argues against your viewpoint. If it isn’t, when then he has dug himself an even bigger hole.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I believe he could’ve known, I don’t believe his statement that he’d be able to keep it under wraps (and therefore, his allowing it to go through was a big gesture of him).

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Update: Rereading through the post, the way it is written suggests to me that this guy is either super genuine or ultra cynical, so I’ll admit that there’s probably a pretty good chance that he’s being honest.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            HBC, to answer your question: Alexie knew the truth before publishing. He published the truth. The anthology contains authors notes, which is where the hoax was revealed.

        • Urstoff says:

          Given how many people are angry with him for not removing it from the anthology altogether, it doesn’t seem much like saving face. It just seems like a straightforward explanation to me. The poem probably made the cut because of the Chinese name, but he likes the poem so he’s leaving it in there; he’s unsure what this means vis-a-vis race, privilege, etc.

      • Comments on Alexie’s post are closed. What I wanted to ask him was whether, given his explicit policies, the title of the anthology is a lie, and if so whether that bothers him.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The numbers here are important and belie the word “suddenly.” It was rejected 40 times under the real name and 9 times under the fake name. I imagine that magazines are biased, but that doesn’t sound like a statistically significant sample. There is a huge amount of randomness in the system, or at least inconsistency between judges. If the judges were consistent in their judgement of poem+author, it would not take 10 tries for the “best poetry” of the year to be published.

      But also, the very fact of the huge amount of noise makes it easy to hide bias.

      PS – not very relevant, but I have to mention Sonnets from the Portuguese.

    • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

      I am actually confused why this is such a big deal. Damn near every author or artist, it seems, uses a nom de plume. From Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Seuss; from Steven King to Emily Bronte; from Lewis Carroll to Robert Jordan; and from Hokusai to Banksy.

      • onyomi says:

        Because you’re not supposed to use your nom-de-plume to try to claim sweet, sweet diversity points that don’t belong to someone of your background.

        Although I do think it’s kind of funny that, in the same world where, experiments supposedly show, people with “black-sounding” names on their resume are less-likely to get a call-back or interview, having an “Asian-sounding” (and, I’d bet, “black-sounding”) name increases your chances of getting published in an obscure literary magazine.

        It’s almost like the heterosexual, white patriarchal elite loves you if you’re applying for the job of “sing to us eloquently the sad song of your people so that we may wallow in how awful we are (or how much better we are than others like us),” but not if you want to do their taxes or fix their computer.

        • I suspect the answer is that literary magazines are largely under the control of blue tribe people.

          • onyomi says:

            Oh, definitely. I’m just pointing out that it’s interesting how our society has worked out this way: either blue tribe people gravitate toward academia and the arts and/or being in academia and the arts makes you blue: the result is, the people who want to bend over backwards to give opportunities to minorities are mostly in a position to give them platforms to continually air their grievances, but not necessarily the economic opportunities to put their grievances in the past.

            Of course, there are many blue tribe businessmen, but the not unjustified stereotype is that the businessworld is relatively red, and the academic and artistic worlds blue.

            I’m also suggesting that maybe keeping historically aggrieved parties feeling aggrieved, and, further, giving them platforms to express those grievances may be in the political/cultural interests of the blues.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        One of these things is not like the others.

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          I assume you mean Emily Bronte.

          The list is just examples I thought of offhand to covers a variety of motives. But the point is that all of them provide some advantage to the artist: from the plausible deniability to viciously slandering your friend and mentor in every newspaper in the country, to getting your works published at all, to anonymity for its own sake. If I wanted to research the subject, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a more broadly representative list.

          [Edit] Eh, I don’t feel like getting into a discussion.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The example of Emily Bronte is unique on your list in being similar to the example at hand. Yes, there is a difference between choosing a pseudonym for the sake of anonymity and taking advantage of the opportunity to optimize an unconstrained name, but I think the two naturally group together against falsifying a particular aspect of one’s identity. The latter is about caring about a lot about a small amount of information, while the former are about caring about a large amount of information.

    • Deiseach says:

      I know I’m drawing down the lightning on my head with this, but that is rather the point the Sad Puppies were making: diversity is so desirable a value (or so big a signalling device) that flawed work gets promoted as long as it can be pointed to as being diverse.

      I haven’t seen any of the poetry, so I don’t know if it’s unusually bad or just what passes for poetry nowadays, but it seems to be: white male can’t get his stuff printed because it’s not up to snuff. White male re-submits with ethnic minority and female (two for the price of one) name attached, gets snapped up for anthology.

      It looks awfully like tokenism. It’s on the same grounds as I was criticising The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere – why did this win a Hugo for Best Short Story in 2014? Strip away the magic water – which is very easily done, since it is only a McGuffin – and what you have is a standard coming-out-to-the-parents story, one of a dime a dozen such slight literary confections you could read anywhere, and the only thing that makes it stand out is that the protagonist is Chinese and worried about his traditional parents. What’s the SF/Fantasy element there? The magic water, which has little or nothing to do with the story as such. If the protagonist had been White Biotech Engineer Guy with his white personal trainer boyfriend instead of Chinese Biotech Engineer Guy with his white personal trainer boyfriend, would it have won on its merits?

      It’s not a badly written story (it could use some editing and some development) but what’s SF/Fantasy about it? I really think it only won on the “Ticks the diversity boxes: gay AND ethnic” basis. I’d like the story better if (a) the character of the sister got some development (b) the parents were allowed to speak for themselves rather than Sonny doing all the talking (c) we got some gorram discussion of this magic water – what is the ongoing research? theories? is it the basis of a new religion? have old religions adopted it? are physicists tearing their hair out because New Agers are in their faces about magic, man, look the cosmos is full of it? (d) perfect boyfriend was a shade less perfect, he’s too good to be true (e) needs some pruning – heck’s sake, fanfic writers get hauled over the coals by their betas for using phrases like “hard blue eyes”, you’re supposed to be a professional!

      Having ignited the blue touch paper, I now retire 🙂

      • Urstoff says:

        It’s not tokenism, but it is bias. Even the publishers and editors admit that (and embrace it). What’s interesting is that the debate among the (presumably incredibly tiny) poetry sphere is whether the author did something wrong in using a Chinese name and whether it should have been rescinded from the anthology, not whether favoring people with ethnic names is a questionable practice.

        And yeah, this is sort of like the sad puppies, except even smaller. Whereas the nature Hugo’s are important for a few thousand people, the nature of contemporary poetry is important for a few hundred English professors (who are pretty much the only authors and consumers of modern poetry).

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The author in question is a librarian. Why did he bother to submit the same poem 50 times? Is he hoping to transition to professor at age 50?

          • Urstoff says:

            Hence “pretty much”. Alexie states that 99% of the authors are professors. It’s probably somewhat less in regular publications, but that still seems to be the major producers and consumers of modern poetry.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Uh…yeah, sure whatever. But why did he bother submitting it 50 times, rather than, say, putting it on his blog?

        • Deiseach says:

          If the poem was so bad it couldn’t get accepted for publication, then publishing it under a fake name is incredibly patronising: “Yeah, it’s a crap poem but maybe English isn’t her first language? Anyway, she’s Chinese and female, that over-rides her bad writing!”

          Talk about being patted on the head for your attempt to walk on your hind legs!

          I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach. Johnson: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

      • Curmudgeonlypoet says:

        This is a slight derail, but does anyone know why modern poetry is so bad, and when it became so?

        I went and read the poem in question and some of the others from the anthology, and to me they are just… boring.
        All bland and pointless,
        with no decent rhyme, rhyme or meter
        like prose but ju-
        st cut up randomly with line
        breaks, for no apparent reason
        and unbalanced lines which look ugly and arbitrary but which might serve
        as an artistic statement
        for less of a philistine than
        me
        why did it become like this anyway?
        Is it a signalling spiral of rebellion
        against the constraints of
        form, gone wrong;
        Or
        perhaps, something else entirely?
        And does anyone write oldschool rhyming poetry
        anymore, which is actually good?
        because I liked that.

        – “Kimitake Yamashita”

        I eagerly await my place in the next best American poetry anthology.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          In my (uneducated) opinion, this happened to poetry and visual arts when they started prioritizing substance over style a bit too much.

        • Urstoff says:

          I think poetry is very heavily informed by the history of the form. Most poets are academics, and academics know lots and lots of past poetry. They don’t want to write something that’s basically 21st century Tennyson. If you want that, just go read Tennyson. So they want to do something new, which means it’s going to be fairly inaccessible for the lay reader. Much like visual art. The popular form of poetry is just songwriting.

          • Nornagest says:

            Mmm. That’s certainly the charitable way of putting it, but in an art form with a 2500-year history by the narrowest definitions, I find it implausible that we’d have reached the point where original stuff has to be inaccessible to laymen only ~60 years ago.

          • Linch says:

            “The largest employer for poets is Hallmark”

          • John Schilling says:

            I can’t read Tennyson’s poetic take on recent events the way his contemporary audience could read his take on Balaclava. I’d actually like to, but he died about a hundred years too early for that and several generations of academics have been working to convince anyone who might take up his torch that this would be beneath them and they should instead focus on twaddle that only a handful of academics will ever care about. That, and whine about how society doesn’t support the arts the way it used to.

          • Curmudgeonlypoet says:

            I suppose my point is why can’t “literary” and “lay” poetry coexist like they do in many other art forms. Take fiction more broadly – there you have people writing both literary and genre fiction. It’s not like no novels are published except highly experimental literary fiction and then when nobody reads modern fiction and people wonder “where did all the genre stories go like science fiction or murder mystery or whatever”, they get answers like “most writers don’t want to write something that is basically 21st century Heinlein or Agatha Christie. If you want science fiction with aliens and spaceships, or a tightly plotted and relatively formulaic murder mystery, then go and read Heinlein or Agatha Christie.”, which is what the world of poetry seems to be today.

            I’m also not convinced the popular form of poetry is songwriting. To me, “popular” poetry means something like The Lays of Ancient Rome or Kipling’s poems which, while not necessarily pinnacles of literary excellence or daring experimentation, are fun, memorable, and actually became quite popular.

          • Linch says:

            FWIW, Brian Patten, Shel Silverstein and Billy Collins are very readable. So was Maya Angelou and Robert Frost.

            So while the quality of popular poetry may have decreased, I think the lack of popular interest in poetry is quite complicated and it will be inaccurate to blame just the academy’s inaccessibility.

            Also, slam started off in blue collar parts of Chicago. It’s very progressive at points and SJy, but I think it’s pretty far from academic poetry.

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          Any theory, I think, would have to explain why all the arts started sucking at the same time. Not just poetry and fine art. Orchestra? I’ve heard it described as a “fire in the pet store.” Opera? There is a reason the Met is losing money. Ballet. Same. Fashion. Same. And so on, and so on. Even architecture. The only quote I know from the Prince of Whales is something to the effect that “are least when the Luftwaffe knocked down our buildings they only replaced then with rubble.” I would posit that the purpose of insane zoning rules and getting every building you can designated as historic is so modern architects can’t inflict there horrid designs on people, not because the current ones are actually worth keeping.

          You can get good folk art and vernacular or whatever. But the second it gets noticed by an academic, the form is pretty much fucked.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s funny: I teach Asian literature and poetry, and one of the fallacies we enlightened Western critics routinely shake our heads at is the traditional East Asian inability to dissociate the work from the poet: traditional literary criticism tends to read the poem as a key to understanding the poet’s life and vice-versa, whereas we, who understand art-for-art’s-sake, know better.

            Yet the latest trend in art is that it’s ALL about who you are.

          • onyomi says:

            Re. everything getting bad at once, I think maybe we can blame a kind of overbearing self-consciousness that typifies postmodernism. Creating art that is merely “good” is seen as facile, naive, commercial, etc. Worrying about this last part has a long history in Asia, however (denigration of the commercially viable as not “real” art). What’s funny, though, is that the commercially viable art of the 16th century, say, often ends up being the art 21st century critics agree is the best art of the period, whereas the art 16th century people thought was tasteful is revealed to be super boring and pedantic by the standards of any other age.

            I don’t know if music critics 500 years from now will think Lady Gaga was a good songwriter, but I do know that critics of today cannot say so, since her work is currently far too accessible to signal elite status by its appreciation.

        • I write old fashioned rhyming poetry, almost entirely in the context of the SCA where poetry is still valued as entertainment. Other people in the organization do too.

          Most of my SCA poetry, with the exception of a few recent pieces, is at:

          http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Misc_Poetry_Contents.html

      • BD Sixsmith says:

        It’s also a bad poem.

    • rmtodd says:

      My first thought when seeing this was noting the “Chinese female” bit and wondering how many editors are likely to know what Chinese names are traditionally female and which ones are traditionally male. Not sure how you can discriminate in favor of Chinese females if you don’t know which names are female and which are male.

      Which in turn led me to a couple of thoughts, both curiously enough related to one of my favorite written science fiction series, the long running German SF series Perry Rhodan.

      1) In the early days of writing PR, one of the authors (either Scheer or Ernsting, not sure which) had to come up with names for several Japanese characters, and (so the story goes) went about this by getting ahold of a Tokyo phone book and randomly picking names out of it. Reportedly, for those who know enough about Japanese to know which names are traditionally female and which are traditionally male, the results are rather amusing, since of course Scheer/Ernsting didn’t know which was which.

      2) It occurs to me that Walter Ernsting got his start in SF writing doing much the same stunt as the guy mentioned above. Back in the 1950s, Ernsting was an SF fan who wanted to get into writing, but he faced a problem: the German SF publishers at the time believed there weren’t any good German SF authors, good SF authors only come from the US or Britain. Ernsting could (and did) get work doing translations of foreign SF, but not writing it himself. So he resorted to the trick of inventing a fictional new British author “Clark Darlton” and claiming to be just offering German translations of this fine author’s work to be published. (Fortunately, Ernsting was lucky enough to have done this decades before Google or Wikipedia would have made the hoax obvious.) Eventually the publishers found out, but Ernsting/”Darlton”‘s work was selling well enough to make them accept him as an author anyway.

      • onyomi says:

        I think the “Asian-ness” of the name was more important than the female-ness in this case, though googling the name “Yi-fen,” minus “white man,” “white poet,” “white guy,” etc. largely produces pictures of Asian females.

        To Chinese speakers the name codes more specifically as an oddly-spelled Taiwanese name, as someone with the same name in China today would probably spell it Yifen Zhou (but someone using the older, Wade-Giles Romanization, as the Taiwanese are wont to do, would spell the first name “I-fen”). But it’s also not wrong enough to see extremely strange to me, a Chinese-speaking American, as Asian Americans spell their names all kinds of ways.

      • Deiseach says:

        Not sure how you can discriminate in favor of Chinese females if you don’t know which names are female and which are male.

        Presumably Mr Hudson provided a fake potted bio to go along with his offering.

    • vV_Vv says:

      SJWs are mad because a white man posing as a minority woman breaks their narrative that women and minorities are discriminated against by the Great White Phallus conspiracy.

  14. Mike Johnson says:

    Was at a party last night where someone was sneezing up a storm, now I’m sneezing up a storm. This inspired the following thought:

    If you’re an Effective Altruist, one of the most straightforward, high-leverage things you can do is not get other people sick.

    In particular, the amount of negative utility produced by going to a crowded party of other EAs and sneezing for hours is substantial!

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I seem to have been getting colds much less often than I used to since I started using nasal defence spray (I assume there are equivalent products on the USA market). Of course, I am a sample of one, adn this may be actualy just statistical error, but assuming it does work like it seems to (and note that it’s a preventative, not a cure), maybe you should try it out, and if you reduce the infection rate in the community, you can hail it as an Elixir of Effective Altruism 🙂

      • Pythagoras says:

        Increasing the sample size: among endurance athletes in the UK nasal defence spray has a reputation for effectiveness, as prophylaxis against catching a cold just before your target race.

    • Matthew says:

      Substitute “workplace,” particularly where the workplace is involved in food preparation, for “party,” and you’ve just discovered one of the big reasons liberals advocate for mandatory paid sick leave.

  15. Decius says:

    Consider a person who has depression but is functional enough to get by. They have heard stories or known somebody who was incorrectly involuntarily hospitalized, or they might have been themselves.

    They might know intellectually that a therapist will not overreact, but in order to talk to a therapist they must go through the work of deciding what is safe to say to whom, while dealing with a new person, with the very real and justified fear that if they say the right thing to the wrong person they will be imprisoned for a subjective eternity. They already might have low bandwidth to handle stress in general, so handling high-stakes decisions where the correct choices are not even retrospectively apparent might be very difficult for them.

    In other words, police, ER, and social workers (et al) who take actions that result in an involuntary commitment contribute to an environment in which more people are unable to seek treatment because of the fear of negative repercussions- regardless of whether or not the people they commit need it or benefit from it.

    Open communication might help… but I feel like no therapist would have a session that could have notes notes like “pt asked if dr-pt conf. would protect desire, planning, and preparation but not intention to kill supervisor and frame coworker; advised pt that confidentiality did not cover actions taken in preparation to harm others; pt said ‘never mind’ and canceled remainder of appt.” and maintain confidentiality. Generally speaking, it’s impossible to ask about a sufficiently edge case and get an answer without causing belief that you are that edge case.

  16. BBA says:

    As a child I auditioned for “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” but didn’t make it on the show. I passed the knowledge test with flying colors, but failed the interview and improv games that screened for telegenic, outgoing kids. Just as well – it wasn’t nearly as good as “Where in the World?”

    On that topic, a fan of “World” has managed to get references to a supposed unaired episode he appeared in placed in a few reputable internet sources, despite being quite obviously made up. There are few enough people who care about 20-year-old children’s game shows that it hasn’t been brought to anyone’s attention.

    • Urstoff says:

      I didn’t get on College Jeopardy for the same reasons. Passed the knowledge tests with flying colors; I just wasn’t a good person to put on TV, I guess.

      Addendum: I consider this the greatest failing of my life.

  17. Outis says:

    I think Gwern’s re-analysis has a serious flaw in its estimation of the costs of possible actions.

    Giving a monetary value to a human life, whether it’s $10M or another value, only makes sense in utilitarian ethics. In utilitarian terms, the value of a human life includes contributions from such factors as the enjoyment the person itself derives from being alive, the enjoyment people around them derive, and of course their economic output. All of these factors clearly depend on the length of time the person stays alive. It is useful to assign a specific value to a generic human life, but it should be clear that this is an average across all individuals. Therefore, it can be as-is only for situations that apply to a sufficiently representative sample of the population – not just in terms of the utility that can be expected from their lives overall, but, crucially, how long they have left to live.

    Suicidal patients are representative enough for the former criterion, but clearly not from the latter. This makes a big difference. If you save the life of an average 30-year-old, you have saved ~45 years of life. But if you have a suicidal 30-year-old, with a 7% chance of committing suicide each year, and you keep them from killing themselves for a year, you have not saved 45 years of life, you have saved less than 13, because they still have a 7% chance of killing themselves each year once they get out.

    • gwern says:

      not just in terms of the utility that can be expected from their lives overall, but, crucially, how long they have left to live.

      Sure. QALYs are a useful refinement. But this doesn’t undermine the basic point about VoI: you can calculate the value of a clinical suicide-prediction scale by comparing the expected loss when you use it with the expected loss when you don’t use it. (Imagine the least convenient possible world: it would be entirely possible for a particular set of patients to be young enough and the value of a QALY to be set right to emit exactly the same number as I used as the expected loss. Is the analysis still wrong? No, of course not. So you’re just arguing over the value of a particular parameter – what is the expected loss per patient if not $10m – and you are in violent agreement about all the rest.)

      What one shouldn’t do is eyeball a number or apply an arbitrary threshold like p=0.05. That’s not optimal except under the most narrow & unlikely of circumstances.

      But if you have a suicidal 30-year-old, with a 7% chance of committing suicide each year

      My understanding is that many suicides does not work that way, and are not like cancer or heart attacks, but are rare acute things which tend to pass. If you tackle someone about to jump off a bridge, they aren’t going to just come back the next day and jump once no one’s looking.

  18. Marc says:

    Why don’t you use the Reddit/LessWrong comment system with up and down voting?

    • stargirl says:

      In theory people are supposed to upvote/downvote comments for “quality” In practice a huge part of why people up/down vote a comment is whether they agree with the comment. Implementing voting in practice discourages people from posting comments that go against the prevailing views of the community. Many people have mentioned that on lesswrong their controversial posts got relatively low karma regardless of how much effort they put in to them.

      This topic has come up alot and the community consensus seems to oppose up/down votes.

      • Urstoff says:

        Upvoting only seems to serve a useful purpose for root posts on content aggregator sites like Reddit. For comments themselves it always seems to be universally terrible, just amplifying echo chambers.

      • Marc says:

        Thank you for the thoughtful comment

  19. WJR says:

    Looks like the National Review has embraced (Deebo’d?) Scott’s Thrive/Survive Theory of the Political Spectrum. From their magazine: Why Zombie World Is Conservative (https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/423487/why-zombie-world-conservative).

    It’s behind a paywall, but some of the more colorful quotes include:

    “To be fair, zombie fiction would be boring indeed if the first undead outbreak were promptly squashed by a squad of bureaucrats from the Centers for Disease Control. Yet even relatively government-friendly fiction, such as the bestselling book World War Z, features a series of catastrophic mistakes before the ship of state finally rights itself. In brief, in zombie world, the man who relies on the government for his safety will be zombie chow in short order.”

    “So who lives? Well, it’s not Pajama Boy. In zombieland, there are three kinds of people: those who know how to use guns, those who learn how to use guns, and zombies.”

    “Oh, and the zombie universe has no use for idealism. Indeed, TWD has made a cottage industry of finding and destroying tiny post-apocalyptic utopias.”

    “Where are the think pieces demanding to know why the government failed so miserably? Where’s the 8,000-word essay describing how Cambridge, Mass., would ride out the storm with technocratic efficiency while Mississippi crackers would aimlessly wander around the Delta, munching on each other?”

    “Perhaps it’s time for a bit of self-reflection from liberal zombie fans. Why is it so darn believable that the government would go belly-up so quickly? . . . When liberals watch the government collapse, they’re watching with their last trip to the DMV in mind, or their frustrating encounters with public schools, or — heaven forbid — any form of contact with the Department of Veterans Affairs. When they watch the utopias burn, they’re seeing the will to power in their own colleagues, the way that even like-minded people will so quickly turn on all but their closest friends (and sometimes even their closest friends) when they sense the possibility of personal advantage.”

    “It is said that the facts of life are conservative. And so are the facts of fiction — especially zombie fiction. So, if you can handle the gore, watch The Walking Dead unreservedly. You’ll find that its diverse cast is governed by an unseen code: Live by conservatism, die by liberalism, and the only way you give up your Smith & Wesson is if someone pries it from your rotting, zombified hand.”

    • Deiseach says:

      Is anyone else completely bored with zombies? I really don’t get the current craze for them (or even back in the day).

      Vampires were always my monster, until they got overdone to the point of parody (“Twilight” was just the final stake through the heart here). Werewolves I can take or leave. Zombies – sure, the classic version, as in “I Walked With A Zombie” (or even “White Zombie”) but not the modern ones.

      I can’t wait for the new monster, whatever it may be, to come along because I am really fed up to the back teeth with zombies, no matter how well done or what incisive social commentary is hidden under the metaphor or how much gore you can get away with on TV nowadays.

      • Linch says:

        Probably old news, but Scott’s pretty bored with zombies too:

        https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/07/a-story-with-zombies/

      • Alraune says:

        Is anyone else completely bored with zombies?

        Zombies are like Zelda games: one every five years is fine, binging a bunch in a row will spoil your appetite.

        If you’re after recommendations though, I Am A Hero manages to make them interesting again. It takes a whole book to even show you a zombie, however.

        • Deiseach says:

          I can tolerate the older zombies because (a) original folk lore origin (b) there’s a supernatural mythos going with them (I know the modern zombies have their own mythos but I react differently to horror stories that have natural versus supernatural causes, the latter give me pleasurable shivers while the former may be disgusting and gross and evoke raw physical fear but, eh, mundane basically) (c) restraint – they were not brain eaters and because it was the Bad Old Days you couldn’t show guts’n’gore anyway.

          Modern zombies bore me because there’s no explanation for them – they’re the walking dead because, um, a virus or something (and no attempt at an explanation as to how, exactly, a virus makes a rotting corpse ambulant?). Going back a bit, the modern wave of zombie movies did try to give some kind of colourable reason (military science experiments gone wrong etc.) but pretty much zombies nowadays are just a guilty pleasure: they’re a threat so they need to be dealt with, you can’t reason or bargain with them so they have to be straight-forwardly exterminated, there isn’t any religious/ethnic/racial profiling (anyone can be a zombie and it’s not tied to ‘zombie armies for voudoun takeover of the world’ for example), they’re not conscious (we may assume) so you have the guilt-free pleasure of being able to blow human-shaped enemies away with shotguns, swords, anything and everything to your murderous little heart’s content.

          I know the interest, when it’s not “how high a body count can I rack up?”, is in the society of the survivors and how humans react under extreme stresses and the politics of post-apocalyptic rebuilding, but that isn’t very intriguing to me either beyond a certain point.

          I’m very shallow: I like horror fiction and movies for entertainment so keep the philosophy down to a minimum level 🙂

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Thanks to this comment, I now have this scene in my head of old zombies sitting around reminiscing* about how zombies used to shamble around with class, dammit, not loping along like wolves. “We used to be a force of nature!” one would rant. “We didn’t have to chase you down; we just wore you down, slowly. We were a metaphor for entropy, by jove!”

            Then another one – wearing a hat, this one is – nods and adds, “and what’s with all these survivalists, racking up body counts with shotguns and axes and whatall else… as if it matters a damn. As if they won’t run out of bullets and food some day, and our generation won’t just suck ’em dry like we’re meant to. Always looking for their happy ending. Silly reactionaries, all of ’em.”

            Then the rest of them just sorta nod in sympathy and quietly slurp the guts beside them on the rotted veranda.

            *Subtitled of course.

          • Deiseach says:

            They don’t make zombie movies like this anymore 🙂

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Deiseach:

            They don’t make zombie movies like this anymore

            That was great.

            Damn, now I have to see a zombie movie.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I have been pleasantly surprised more than once by audiences who you would expect to MST3K it responding favourably/getting spooked by the original Night of the Living Dead – which is usually considered the first “zombie movie” although I’m pretty sure nobody ever says the word “zombie” in it.

          My personal theory is that on the one hand the really simple nature of it makes it harder to pick holes (why are the dead returning to life? I dunno, something something maybe RAYS FROM SPACE), and on the other the low-res black and white has aged well because it’s harder to see when the effects are crappy: I remember a classroom getting grossed out by a shot of the zombies eating “human flesh”, and someone I was dating jumped when a zombie’s fingers were smashed off with an axe – even though it was just a mannequin hand and some chocolate syrup or something.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, the original “Night of the Living Dead” is a decent movie, and there’s just enough spookiness in it mixed with a very odd matter-of-factness (the sheriff? deputy? on the TV news report advising people what to do while he’s at the head of a posse of zombie hunters) to make it uncertain just what is happening. Supernatural/paranormal? Government experiment gone wrong? Alien virus infesting Earth? You never get a reason pinned down as to why the dead are walking and attacking the living.

            It’s definitely the first of the new zombie movies in that it doesn’t bother trying to explain why this is happening; zombies are out there, now go get ’em. It also has the microcosm of human society under stress in the besieged group holed up in the farmhouse trying to make it out and how they turn on one another despite themselves.

            Later movies just got made in colour, bigger and gorier 🙂

      • NZ says:

        I had a theory about why zombies are having this big resurgence (and I mean really big–it’s been going on since the early 2000s with “28 Days Later”, “Resident Evil”, and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake). It wasn’t an Occam’s Razor explanation and it wasn’t meant that seriously, but it had to do with the rise of secularism.

        Basically, zombies represent a (mostly unarticulated in the polite society residing inside the Overton window anyway) anxiety about human society minus God and religion.

        • DrBeat says:

          That’s way, way, way more complicated than you need to get to explain it.

          Zombies are popular because they allow characters to engage in heroic and/or exciting action in a familiar environment, without requiring any outside knowledge beyond what the layperson knows (as with a modern military kind of thing) and without introducing a bunch of new rules (as with an alien invasion or “secret world hidden within ours” kind of thing). If you live in the modern world, you know everything you need to know to make zombies exciting.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Zombies have also generally been portrayed as “lower power” than, say, werewolves or vampires. They make better mooks: the heroes can shotgun and machete their way through hordes of zombies.

            Despite the fact that these are fictional creatures, I think most people would not find the same being done to hordes of vampires or werewolves or whatever believable.

          • NZ says:

            The problem with that explanation is that it’s always been true, yet zombies have not always been popular. Something about society or people must have changed that made zombies popular again.

            If you look at the timing of zombie crazes (the late 60s-early 80s, then again in the early 2000s-now) they follow the boomers’ disenchantment with “the establishment”, then the boomers’ kids’ (Gen Y’s) entry into adulthood.

          • vV_Vv says:

            There are other issues at play:

            Zombies are the only things left that it is politically correct to shoot at: you can’t anymore have heroic characters mass killing foreigners, members of any particular religion/ethnicity/ideology, animals, or even aliens, robots, vampires or other sentient monsters, without presenting at least some some case for the enemies.
            Zombies, on the other hand, are mindless and don’t have any natural ecological niche, they can’t be reasoned with or coexisted with. Therefore, you can kill them with no regrets.

            Then there is the collapse of civilization theme common to all modern zombie fiction. It’s a survivalist fantasy: Every man for himself, scavenging resources while fending off zombies and marauders.
            Probably fits with the modern generalized alienation and dissatisfaction with government and society.

          • NZ says:

            @vV_Vv:

            OK, but then why did the zombie craze show up in the late 60s, and why did it go away in the 80s and 90s and then reemerge in the 2000s?

            BTW, James Bond mindlessly kills legions of foreigners all the time and nobody seems to complain. Though I do think that your theory helps explain why the bad guys in the new Mad Max movie were all painted white with shaved heads and black eye shadow: to make them look more like zombies (they literally used Max as a blood bag) so we’d be more at ease with Mad Max & friends killing them by the dozens.

          • vV_Vv says:

            James Bond movies are a genre on their own and follow their own conventions.

            In the new Mad Max movie the enemy minions are humanized to some extent, since we get the PoV of one of them who later switches sides. They are portrayed more as victims of a cruel society rather than complete monsters.

            You get a similar treatment of enemies in war movies. In older movies, the Germans/Japanese/Vietnamese/etc. were just things to shoot at before they shot at you, in more recent movies you will always have a scene with the enemy soldier dying before he could send a letter to his family or something like that. You can’t portray them as “orcs” anymore.

            As for the timing, the late 60s – early 70s were a time of social unrest in most Western countries, with student protests against the government and against “the establishment” in general: “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, “Make love, not war”, etc.

            In the 80s and 90s Westerns were mostly content with their governments and general social structure, movies of that era mostly revolve around fears of foreign invasion (e.g. Independence Day), natural catastrophes (e.g. Deep Impact/Armageddon) or man-made catastrophes (e.g. The Terminator, The Matrix).

          • Cauê says:

            You can’t portray them as “orcs” anymore.

            You can’t portray orcs as “orcs” anymore.

            This is about racism in Shadow of Mordor: http://archive.is/nnV7k

            The concept of this game is shocking when you think about what’s actually happening. As an ultra-powerful white dude, you use fear and extreme acts of violence to manipulate an enemy’s behavior, destroy its militaristic structure, and ultimately gain control of it in the form of living bondage despite being outnumbered by the thousands. Really, chew on this: This is a video game about a spurned man terrorizing an entire foreign culture, literally killing, branding, torturing and enslaving hundreds of living beings. And really they’re only tangentially connected to the man’s real enemy: another ultra-powerful white dude.

          • DrBeat says:

            People do still get sick of things and regard them as played-out.

            In this case, I think that applies to the producers and directors just as much as the viewers.

            And the reason for the resurgence of zombies in the 2000s is really simple: zombies make the PERFECT enemy for video games, video games advanced to the point to really use them effectively, they came back to the public cultural consciousness.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think your complaint is a few years out of date. Zombies aren’t really as big right now as they were 5 years ago.

      • NZ says:

        I have just developed an alternate theory:

        The first zombie craze (from approximately the late 60s to the early 80s) was inspired by the fall of traditional American hierarchies (see my other theory) and anxiety about what hoardes of Godless people would mean, but then it fizzled out when the 80s rolled in and people saw “A lot of us have ditched God, moved to cities, and lost our survival skills, but we have lots of money now and everything seems fine.”

        Meanwhile, video games became popular in the 80s but the graphics couldn’t handle visual themes that weren’t highly abstracted (Pong and Tetris being extreme examples). By the late 90s, however, video games had become visually complex enough to make first-person shooters and third-person strategy games with believable humanoid characters. After the Fall of the Wall, shooting armies of commies didn’t make that much sense, and shooting swarms of alien-beasts was kinda nerdy. Video game manufacturers needed something to appeal to the new demographic of non-nerds who were into video games. Zombies was cheap genre real estate.

        Then, after a few years of zombie video games, people wanted zombie movies, then TV shows, then internet memes and zombie-themed food trucks and zombie-themed 5Ks.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Dieseach – “I can’t wait for the new monster, whatever it may be, to come along because I am really fed up to the back teeth with zombies”

        I prefer Lovecraftian Elder Gods. Kaiju are acceptable as well; I guess the main difference between then is the dificulty level and whether or not you get a huge robot suit to fight them in.

    • Adam says:

      This is a strange take. Frankly, the quick collapse of the government and easy defeat of the military is not actually believable. We accept it because it’s necessary to introduce the post-apocalypse, which is interesting to watch. Watching the Joint Chiefs planning conference is not interesting.

      Also, the post-collapse scene favors country boys over city boys and the tough over the weak, but there’s nothing inherently conservative about being a tough country boy or liberal about being a weak city dweller. Racists and religious have suffered mightily in TWD, and the people who have made it have made it by sharing resources, cooperating with each other, while tolerating and overcoming group differences in culture and temperament. Those who have tried to hoard resources and monopolize power in a community ended up destroying the community and dying for it.

      If anything, the takeaway is the value of adaptive, agile leadership lacking any sort of political ideology at all. If what you’re doing works, keep doing it. If it isn’t working, try something else, regardless of what your theorizing and interpretation of history tells you is the optimal way to live and govern. The characters still alive are nothing like what they were when they started.

    • stillnotking says:

      I’ve often said that fiction is far too willing to posit near-future collapses of civilization — Mad Max is probably a worse offender than TWD, which at least gives its characters the excuse of being embroiled in a literal fight for survival against an inhuman horde, but in neither case do I think it plausible that the norms of civilized society would simply vanish overnight. Adult 21st-century Westerners are no more likely to regress to complete savagery than to spontaneously recapitulate the society of ancient Rome, Fallout-style. Once we adapted to a lower standard of living, which people generally do pretty quickly, we’d be establishing town councils and community ordinances, not lining up to follow some crazed warlord.

      • Urstoff says:

        That’s one of the reason’s that I liked Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station 11”. The end of the world looks more like the early 19th century than it does the stone age.

      • Nornagest says:

        Well, warlordism really is a recurring feature of societies in the wake of major collapses, and some real warlords were crazy enough to give Immortan Joe a run for his money. I don’t think there’s anything magic about Western civilization that makes us immune to that. The bigger obstacle to believability, for me, is that post-collapse media often treats patchworks of small-scale bandits and warlords as a stable state lasting sometimes hundreds of years, whereas most of the real-life parallels I can think of progressed into semi-functional states within years or decades. Oftentimes those states go on to feud with each other for a century or two, but that’s still not exactly shiny and/or chrome.

        It’s pretty forgivable, though. At the risk of repeating the obvious, it’s more fun to watch a post-collapse story about Lord Humongous than it is to watch one about Billy-Bob the corn farmer.

      • John Schilling says:

        When you say “Mad Max”, do you mean “Road Warrior, and I vaguely remember there was a sequel with Tina Turner”?

        Because the movie actually called “Mad Max”, was I think the opposite of what you are criticizing. It took place in an Australia which had cities and hospitals and a police force and all that this implies, an Australia in which taking a relaxing vacation in the country was still a reasonable proposition. But an Australia whose economy had seen better days and wasn’t likely to see them again, for vaguely-specified external reasons that may have involved Australia’s former trading partners being slightly radioactive. An Australia where the police were no longer as effective as they used to be at breaking up criminal gangs, and so an essentially neo-Comanche culture was forming on the fringes of civilization.

        The second movie, perhaps a decade later, has the Outback wholly abandoned to the savages but hints that things may be better on the Northern coast, and the third shows large-scale civilization absent everywhere but people starting to rebuild. Not spontaneous, and not overnight, and IMO as reasonable and plausible a depiction as you are likely to get in mainstream entertainment.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Adult 21st-century Westerners are no more likely to regress to complete savagery than to spontaneously recapitulate the society of ancient Rome, Fallout-style. Once we adapted to a lower standard of living, which people generally do pretty quickly, we’d be establishing town councils and community ordinances, not lining up to follow some crazed warlord.

        There are people who are lining up to follow crazed warlords right now, including some second generation immigrants who were born and raised in Western countries. As for mainstream Westerners, as recently as 1939, the Weimar Republic, one of the most culturally advanced countries of its time, ended up following en masse a crazed warlord after a financial collapse.

        Ancient Rome didn’t spring into existence after a major collapse, it was slowly built the over centuries, and it eventually collapsed into a crazed warlords scenario with Christianity being for centuries the only glue that held Western culture together.

        It seems to me that peaceful and well-organized civilizations aren’t necessarily that stable.

        • stillnotking says:

          The Weimar Republic and Taisho Japan are textbook examples of societies that didn’t have deep democratic roots. I don’t think the potential Hitler-affinities of Weimar Republicans and 21st-century Americans are even close to comparable.

          • vV_Vv says:

            If I understand correctly, Germany had a parliament elected by universal male suffrage since 1871, and since the establishment of the Weimar Republic in 1918-1919, it was elected by universal suffrage. By the time the Nazi took over, Germany had had many decades of substantial democracy. A similar observation can be made for Fascism in Italy.

            I don’t know if present-day Americans with centuries of democratic history have been immunized against autocracy, but given the sort of authoritarian stuff that the highly educated, upper-middle class SJWs spew in a still very prosperous society, I’m inclined to think otherwise.
            If some major crisis that put people day-to-day subsistence in jeopardy occurred, and some self-appointed savior offered a quick solution (possibly involving killing lots of people and grabbing their land and stuff) I doubt that many would bother about democracy, the Constitution or human rights. These are luxuries you can afford when your belly is full.

  20. vV_Vv says:

    What is the most likely cause for the murder rate increase in cities where there has been a police shooting and subsequent riot?

    I can think of two hypotheses:

    – After a riot, the police in that area becomes more lenient, which causes criminal activities increase. This would explain the crime rate increase in St. Luis after Mike Brown’s shooting, but not the crime rate increase in Baltimore before Fred Gray’s death. Unless the Ferguson riot had nation-wide effects on the police, but this should have caused a nation-wide increase in crime rates, which, if I understand correctly, didn’t happen.

    – Crime rates, specifically the activity of black gangs, increased in St. Luis and Baltimore due to some other causes. Black (and non-black) people happen to be killed by the police all the time, and in most cases nobody cares, but when there is increasing competition between the back gangs, they have an incentive to play the holier-than-thou signaling game, so they generate a lots of disorders in the form of ostensibly spontaneous demonstrations which degenerate into riots. The media parasitically amplifies the effect.

    • Pku says:

      Third theory: the media focus on crime causes crime to happen. There’s a documented phenomenon of reports about suicide causing an increase in suicide, for example. Even more specifically, I think they showed that a big boxing match between a white boxer and a black boxer increased white-on-black violence if the white guy won, and black-on-white violence if the black guy won. Could be a contributing factor here.

  21. CB says:

    Well, whatever else his qualities may be, Richard Dawkins is pretty good at getting people to continue having opinions about Richard Dawkins:

    http://gawker.com/priorities-confused-1731919698

  22. merzbot says:

    So I’m writing a “media analysis” paper for some silly class I have to take for my CS major and the issue my group chose is AI risk. We have to choose a nonfiction film or book to analyze. Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom is the obvious choice here, right? I can’t think of any films or any other books on the subject.

  23. Elliot Woods says:

    I am a person who wants to commit suicide but has chosen to live because reasons. Not being able to trust psychiatric help has kept me away from them; if I am open and honest about what I’m feeling it puts me at huge risk, and if I hide that then there’s no trust and what’s the point

    I wish there was a better solution than going to close friends when I need counseling, but I can’t find it

    • merzbot says:

      >if I am open and honest about what I’m feeling it puts me at huge risk, and if I hide that then there’s no trust and what’s the point

      That’s black-and-white reasoning. If your suicidal thoughts are caused by depression, for example, they can still treat your depression even if they don’t know you’re suicidal. It’s sub-optimal, but sub-optimal help is better than no help.

      (Data point: I’ve mentioned my suicidal thoughts to various psychiatrists and psychologists and none of them even mentioned institutionalization. Like Scott said, you’re not going to be institutionalized unless you go to them and say, “I’m going to kill myself.”)

      • Limi says:

        To add to what’s been said, remember that they will only institutionalise you if you are at immediate risk – ie planning on doing it soon. You can tell them you don’t want to do it because reasons and you will probably be fine.

        To add another data point I was institutionalised when I was younger, but it was because while I went in for depression and talked at great length about my suicidal thoughts, even explaining how I would do it, on the third visit I told my psych about the voices I heard and I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. And for the benefit of anyone who is terrified of being a ward of the state, while the first twelve hours were absolute hell, after that I think it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It’s not as bad as you might think is what I’m trying to say.

        • Jiro says:

          What does “when I was younger” mean? Is it young enough that you didn’t have a job to be fired from, or obligations that you couldn’t meet because you were stuck in the hospital?

          • Adam says:

            Of course, if you really do commit suicide or even just have a psychotic break, you’re not going to keep your job or meet those obligations anyway.

    • Autonomous Rex says:

      That’s how a depression-occluded mind reasons.
      It might help to personify “the disease” as an agentic parasite intent on keeping you from finding any solution that promises do away with it.

  24. Deiseach says:

    Apparently the potato is in danger of falling out of fashion in Ireland!

    Yes, matters are at such a pitch of urgency that the government (well, the state body responsible for promoting the sales of Irish produce domestically and internationally) has decided to launch a campaign to promote it as tasty, healthy and just as trendy as your fancy foreign “rice” and “pasta”.

    The dreadful news is that “shoppers under 45 (account) for just 33pc of potato sales” and as this is the rising generation of Future Mammies of Ireland (the daddies of Ireland don’t seem to get a look-in as apparently they neither shop nor cook; this campaign is aimed at women aged 22-44), that means that in a few short years potato sales will plummet to near-nothing – a worrisome idea for the horticulturalists and market gardeners of Ireland (fair enough, if the crop loses value, this will lead to job losses, I’m not arguing that point).

    Indeed, we have already reduced our consumption over the years – seemingly we are down to:

    In 2015, the average consumption of potatoes by adults is 85kg/capita, compared to the 1970s when Irish people consumed 140kg/capita

    Now, unless I’m getting this badly wrong (and you all know maths is not my strong point), this seems to mean that the average Irish adult eats something like 13 stone* of spuds a year or – and I have no idea what Scott’s actual weight is, but his photo looks like he’s a fine tall healthy man – the equivalent of an entire Scott Alexander (or more!) per year.

    And this is reduced from our parents and grandparents in the 70s. Truly, we are not the men our fathers were 🙂

    *Then again, that breaks down to 1 stone of potatoes per lunar month, and if that contains various forms of potato – including not alone the traditional boiled spuds for the dinner, but crisps and chips – then yes, that seems perfectly doable. That would be around 6.5 kg per 4 weeks, or roughly two-thirds of this bag per person per week, more or less.

    • Montfort says:

      For reference, the 140kg/year figure comes out to slightly more than one “large” russet potato (~13 oz uncooked) per day – and that’s for each man, woman and child on the island.

      What’s more, Slate makes the seemingly outlandish and definitely unsourced claim that in 1844 Irish potato consumption was up to 9 pounds/day per capita – or 1490 kg/year! T.C. Foster, writing in 1846, gives an estimate for ’44 at 5 pounds/day per capita (~830 kg/year) which seems more reasonable but is still about 10 times the current figure. Today’s Irish just can’t compete.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I remember reading somewhere that potatoes are one of the few foods you can live on exclusively for long periods, but that to get enough trace minerals and vitamins, you need to eat a hell of a lot of them. Presumably as globalisation increases your access to other foods, fewer people needed to eat large amounts of potatoes to stay healthy? But I don’t know much about Ireland’s agricultural history – the stereotype we have is that back then they were basically growing little else but potatoes, but I have no idea if that’s remotely accurate.

        • Murphy says:

          Yep, add a little milk and you’ve got a surprisingly good meal in a potato.

          Prior to the famine Ireland had a remarkably low infant mortality rate vs the rest of europe and where other countries had regular small famines Ireland had none for decades right up until the potato crop failed.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I always feel the potato is underrated. Potatoes are very versatile and can be used as a base in many dishes. I think there’s a niche in the US Fast Food industry for a potato-restaurant, like Noodles and Company.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        I can actually name one such restaurant in the city I live in, though I’ve never went there. Maybe I should do so and return for a report.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yes, please do! I would love some feedback on this idea!

          Not so much for implementation, but more curiosity…

          Thanks in advance!

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            False alarm, they just sell fries from local potatoes and put a lot of care into preparing them. I got fooled by their windows being lined with stacks of potatoes.

            Still, they were some really good fries.

          • I don’t know about restaurants specializing in potatoes, but I’m pretty sure I can remember one or more restaurants that offered a range of “baked potato with something interesting over it” dishes. I can easily imagine versions with chili, curry, meat sauce, … .

            Rather like doing the same things with rice.

          • nil says:

            There are a number of resteraunts in Canada that are dedicated to poutine, which pretty much qualifies them as potato-restaurants. I went to http://labanquise.com/en/, it was glorious and very, very busy.

      • roystgnr says:

        The “Potato Club” in my local mall doesn’t appear to be a major chain, but a few others are:
        https://potatopia.com/
        http://www.spudulike.com/

    • John Schilling says:

      I have it on good authority that the Martians will take up the slack from Ireland on the potato-eating front, as soon as we get around to settling Mars. Possibly this calls for an Irish-American space program.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      >> Yes, matters are at such a pitch of urgency that the government (well, the state body responsible for promoting the sales of Irish produce domestically and internationally) has decided to launch a campaign to promote it as tasty, healthy and just as trendy as your fancy foreign “rice” and “pasta”.

      Haha, if I didn’t have personal experience I would have said you were joking. But I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Mallow one time, and I made some pasta for dinner, and I asked my hosts (~60 year old Irish couple) if they wanted any, and they looked at it suspiciously and told me that they weren’t into all the exotic foreign foods.

      Also, giving weight in stone when you’re talking to Americans is a classic mistake.

      • Deiseach says:

        In my childhood, garlic was a foreign herb or vegetable of the devil and good plain Irish cooking should have nothing to do with it.

        Vegetables were peas, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, cabbage and potatoes, with Brussels sprouts for Christmas and maybe you’d have cauliflower instead of cabbage for a change some weeks.

        Spring/summer you had the salad vegetables – lettuce, tomatoes, scallions. The first time I ever had cucumber was when I swapped sandwiches for lunch with a girl from school (her family were vaguely posh/English, which was more or less the same thing).

        Honestly, the change in the past twenty-thirty years in attitude and diet and all the rest of it has been amazing. A comedy routine about pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland that is all too true: the worst sin you could commit was leaving the door open so the heat got out, the second worst was leaving the immersion on.

        • onyomi says:

          Food culture can change more rapidly and with less fanfare than almost any other culture I can think of: my grandfather considered tacos and chips and salsa to be exotic, and I still remember a time when sushi was quite exotic.

      • Deiseach says:

        If American mass media from novels to television expects me to understand what (pulling examples off the top of my head) “Keds”, “three strike rule”, “batting a thousand”, what are the values of nickels and dimes, etc. are without translation or footnotes for the bewildered foreigner, then they can darn well look up how many pounds in a stone on the Internet 🙂

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          To be fair, I have no idea what keds are, either. And I still haven’t figured out if literally batting a thousand is supposed to be good or bad so, because AFAICT the phrase is used figuratively for both, I have no idea which is supposed to be heavily laden with sarcasm.

          But I do keep a ballpark conversion rate [see what I did there?] for a few currencies in my head, including the euro and GBP (and could even figure out what the hell was going on with the shillings and pence pre-decimilization). You’ve got no excuse there!

          In my experience, though, when trying to understand prices in literature &c, inflation is more important than exchange rates. Nothing worth reading is modern, after all. You could do worse than assume that prices double every 20-30 years, and go from there.

          • Aegeus says:

            For the record, “Batting a thousand” means perfect accuracy (a batting average of 1.000). Your batting average is hits/times at bat, so it ranges from 0.000 to 1.000.

            I haven’t heard “keds” either. Google only turns up a brand of shoes.

          • Urstoff says:

            Keds are shoes; not as famous as they used to be, but they were basically universally worn by American pre-teens/middle schoolers in the 80’s/90’s. I can’t think of any other reference for that name.

            They were famous enough that you might encounter some saying that they “put on their Keds” or something like that. I imagine that’s the situation in which Deiseach saw the usage.

          • Deiseach says:

            A Stephen King novel, from the days back before the Internet was everywhere, so I had to figure it out from context instead of being able to look it up 🙂

            The annoying thing is that Brit novels etc. get changed for American consumption, because oooh that foreign exotic slang how is anyone supposed to know how much that is in real money? The most egregious example would be “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone”, which by its American title completely wrecks the reference she is making to the legendary talisman. But American novels don’t get changed in translation the same way when they cross the Atlantic (realistically, I suppose because for a print run of however many hundred thousand you’re doing for the US market, it’s easier to run off a few extra thousands of copies for the Irish/British market than do a complete new edition).

          • Deiseach says:

            But I do keep a ballpark conversion rate [see what I did there?] for a few currencies in my head

            In my defence, having been raised on Old Old Money before the New Old Money (that is, pre-decimal coinage and then the punt before the euro), American coinage was too logical for me to wrap my head around.

            “So… you’re telling me a dime is called a “dime” because it derives from Latin via French for “ten” and a dime is worth ten cents? Okay, that sounds fake but okay” *internally* Oh come on, everyone knows real money is measured in how many farthings to the thruppenny bit!

            🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            If it helps, there’s always “bits”, 12.5 cents. Those are pretty much vestigial these days, but they tie traditional US, Mexican, Spanish, and Piratical currencies together in an etymologically interesting way.

            Specifically, proto-dollars derived from a silver coin minted at the mines of Joachimsthal were a common continental European coin for many centuries, with regional variations. By the later Age of Exploration, Spain had determined the standard Thaler/Dollar was too large to be the base unit of currency, but for back-compatibility made their new “Real” (from “royal”), exactly one-eighth of a standard thaler and minted a lot of eight-thaler coins. Designed so you could easily snip out wedge-shaped bits of one (or two or three..) Real each. In Spanish lands where the Real was the unit of currency, nobody much cared about Thalers and the big coins were “Pieces of Eight (Reals)”.

            Arrr.

            The early British colonies in America used an awful lot of these coins, often crowding out proper English currency. Spain was minting them right next door, and there was plenty of local trade, whereas Pounds and Shillings (misspelled, damn it!) and Pence had to be imported from London. But American usage followed continental Europe, where the big silver coin was the Thaler/Dollar or in its New World incarnation the “Spanish Dollar”. And the wedge-shaped bits, nominally one Real but nobody in the English-speaking world cared about Reals, was informally just the bit. Eight bits to the Spanish Dollar.

            Which was adopted outright as the U.S. Dollar, for lack of available minting capacity at the start. And while the US currency was decimalized right off the bat, 25-cent coins were colloquially “two bits” for about two centuries. There were even occasional 12.5-cent “one bit” coins, IIRC, in places where there was a lot of trade with the Spanish colonies.

            Mexico, and several other Spanish colonies, mangled “Piece(s) of Eight” into Peso, decimalized it, and as far as I know forgot all about bits and Reals.

            So, it’s all logical a few layers down, but should be sufficiently quaint and esoteric for someone accustomed to pre-decimalization British coinage.

          • Nornagest says:

            And that’s why one of Terry Pratchett’s parrots squawks “Twelve and a half percent!”

          • AJD says:

            mangled “Piece(s) of Eight” into Peso

            Peso is Spanish for ‘weight’. It’s like calling a unit of currency “pound” or “lira” or “shekel”. It is not derived from English piece of eight.

  25. Pku says:

    I’ve been playing around with the idea of designing a great chess game by getting the world’s grandmasters in on a betting market (Let’s pretend we can’t just use a computer). At first I thought it was impossible – we can bid on what the next move will be, but there’s no way to tell if it’s actually a good move until the game’s over.
    But the stock market seems to make bets several steps in advance all the time, by betting on futures and such. Can anyone think of a way to make this work?

    • Anonymous says:

      How about a two way market of bets of the form “White to win/lose/draw if they play move X” for all values of X each turn?

      Then play the move with the best odds, with all other move bets for that turn called off.

      • Pku says:

        Unless I’m missing something, that still doesn’t solve the verification problem that you can’t actually tell which move was better until the end of the game – you can pay out the last move, but how would you decide who was right about white’s second move, sort of actually playing out a betting market for each possible move (at which point we might as well just iterate through all the moves in the old-fashioned style).
        You could partially solve it by getting a pair of grandmasters to play a game based on each move at each stage and paying the money out by who won at each move – but that still reduces you to relying on the skills of the players you got (and their possible biases – one of them might be unusually bad at a certain type of opening, for instance). Ideally, a betting market should be able to outperform any individual in a bias-free way.

        • Aegeus says:

          The bets don’t pay out until the end, but you can still use their information before that. You lock in the bet once the move is made, and pay out at the end of the game once you have the verification.

          Now, it’s not going to give you perfect information. Even if pawn->E4 is an optimal opening move, you still need a dozen other moves to make it a win. So most opening moves will have a probability of 50%. However, this makes sense – there are many viable openings in chess and your odds of winning against a good player are about 50-50 at the start. The market would still be able to winnow out stupid moves – nobody will bet on moving the rook-file pawn for your opening.

          You could also bet on sequences of moves, like “White to win if he follows the Sicilian Opening,” which might give you more clarity on the opening moves.

          And I think that market forces do apply to this the way they apply to a prediction exchange. If there’s an unconventional move that would eventually lead to a win, you’ll get good odds, you can bet on that, and when that move gets chosen you’ll turn a profit.

          The real trouble is that there’s no way you could get enough liquidity in the market to drive all these weird if-else-maybe bets. If you see an unlikely but viable move and nobody else does, odds are your bet won’t pay out either way because the move won’t get executed. You’d need to invest a tremendous amount of money to actually shift the odds enough that your chosen moves get executed. As the saying goes, the market can remain irrational a lot longer than you can remain solvent.

          • Anonymous says:

            So put all your money on the tricky move while you can get a good price, then publish your analysis of why it wins, after which everyone else will pile on.

      • roystgnr says:

        This sounds like roughly the way that Robin Hanson’s “futarchy” markets are supposed to work. It sounds like a great idea to try them out with chess games before governments…

  26. Will S. says:

    Scott, have you heard of Max von Pettenkofer and his ground water theory of cholera? He was a 19th century scientist who worked to prove an incorrect theory about the spread of cholera. He went so far as to drink a vial of cholera bacteria to prove they didn’t cause the disease, and his studies were very rigorous and it looked for a while like his theory explained everything. He was, of course, entirely wrong.

    I thought it was interesting how someone could, in good faith, devote himself to proving something so wrong, and to do it so scrupulously. There’s a Yale lecture about it on Youtube.

  27. ialdabaoth says:

    Thing I’ve been pondering that I would like futurist input on:

    Fun Theorists seem to converge on an idea that the future should be full of people whose goals and values tend to align with their behaviors.

    Cryonics advocates seem to agree that people currently alive should continue living into the far future.

    Once you implement a properly Fun universe, what do you do with all the minds that developed in a pre-Fun environment?

  28. Pure-awesome says:

    Something I’ve wondered about recently: Has there ever been a study done testing the effectiveness of effervescent placebos vs pill-based placebos?

    I’m more curious than anything, but this could potentially have ramifications if e.g. a drug company does a test for an effervescent medicine, but uses a pill-based placebo (and decides not to mention this fact), though I expect that a) any study worth its salt should be controlling for a variable like that regardless of whether they know if it has an effect and b) this is probably the least of our worries as far as drug trials are concerned (in terms of confounders).

    P.S. My prediction is that effervescent placebos would do very marginally better – they seem more ‘active’ to me

    P.P.S. Why is it only medicine that’s in effervescent form? Do you get e.g. effervescent drink flavouring? Might be a viable marketing idea if only simply for the novelty.

    • Seth says:

      With respect to “effervescent drink flavouring”, I was just reading the following bizarre story:

      “Wine bar fined after woman’s stomach removed following liquid nitrogen shot”

      http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/17/oscars-wine-bar-lancaster-gaby-scanlon-stomach-liquid-nitrogen

      “… she described feeling agonising pain and was forced to loosen her clothing as smoke billowed from her mouth and nose.

      Preston crown court heard on Thursday that she was left close to death after experiencing “an explosion” in her stomach four seconds after the cocktail was poured for her.”

      There’s something almost SF or fantasy-novel-like about a substance that makes a drink toxic in a spectacularly painful and gruesome way, yet becomes harmless after a brief time, and is being used for entertainment. Would anyone believe a scene where a character said “Yeah, add some N to your cocktail, it looks really cool – but careful, drink it too fast, your innards explode in a smoking wreck and you probably die slowly and painfully – no lie, real deal.”

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        What did I just read??

      • bluto says:

        It’s a neat way to make a smoking drink, and flash chill the drink, but you need to wait until the smoke stops as the Serbian bartenders would soberly inform you as they handed customers each drink.

        • Seth says:

          Yeah, but what happens if you don’t wait until the smoke stops? It’s very easy to see that happening, for multiple reasons. Suppose the bartender is very busy, and forgets to warn? Or your prankster supposed “friends” say the bartender is wrong, and drinking it while it’s still smoking is the best part? Or maybe you’re distracted and don’t register the warning. Perhahs you’ve already had a few drinks, so you don’t take the warning seriously. Or someone makes an understandable but wrong generalization from hot coffee, and decides to take a sip anyway.

          I found another case:
          http://www.medicaldaily.com/toxic-cocktail-made-liquid-nitrogen-sends-florida-woman-emergency-room-282514

          Kaufman went on to order one at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, where a bartender handed her the beverage without saying a word. “One would assume if you are handed a drink, or handed something to eat or whatever it is, that you could at that time drink it,” Kaufman told WPLG. After a sip of the “toxic drink” Kaufman collapsed on the floor unconscious. “From what I was told, smoke was coming out of my nose and my mouth,” Kaufman explained.

          I keep thinking some sort of urban-fantasy: “We add a bit of captured frost elemental into the cocktail. The exposed elemental can’t maintain itself long on the solid plane, so quickly disappears. But while it’s present, it converts anything it touches into frost. Careful now, drink your cocktail too soon, and your guts will be spectacularly shredded by the elemental’s passage. It’s excruciating and basically fatal if you’re not immediately treated with Major Healing. But wow, look at that cocktail smoke and freeze at the same time. Isn’t modern magic wonderful?”

        • youzicha says:

          Wow. I’d imagine lab safety rules would say something about not handling hazardous substances while drunk.

    • roystgnr says:

      Carbonated water is “effervescent drink flavoring” minus the flavoring. You’re right that this “soda” stuff might be a viable marketing idea; someone should look into that. 😉

  29. ernesto anastasio says:

    If the prostate orgasm is regarded as one of the peak physical experiences a male can have (better than a penile orgasm), why are they so unpopular? Do you foresee a scenario in the near future where they gain widespread acceptance? Furthermore, what is keeping us from actually becoming open to the idea of prostate orgasms?

    • Ever An Anon says:

      You mean aside from the obvious reason? You have to put something up your ass, that’s not exactly a trivial hurdle.

      Beyond that, pursuing greater and greater highs is not the type of behavior that characterizes a healthy person. That is the trajectory of an addict. If you are so in thrall to sexual stimulation that you’ll do that, then r/nofap is probably going to be much more helpful.

      • ernesto anastasio says:

        Your response really baffles me.

        First, whether or not pursuing pleasure is healthy is completely irrelevant to this discussion.
        Second, what you said is incorrect. Pursuing pleasure is definitely within the boundaries of a healthy person… and not indicative of any sort of addiction.
        Third, using the theory that utility must be greater than weirdness for innovation to take place, the reported pleasure > weirdness of sticking something up your butt.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          I’d say it has a great deal of relevance actually: if we assume that most guys, while fairly unhealthy on the porn front, are still somewhat in control of themselves then it would follow that they wouldn’t feel compelled to seek out new more extreme forms of masturbation. Generally you don’t see people chasing more intense experiences unless they’re burnt out already, which you have to admit is a bad sign even if you endorse hedonism in theory.

          Your third point seems to refute itself. Straight guys have not “innovated” with regards to prostate stimulation / recieving anal sex despite knowing about the supposedly more intense orgasms. That is in itself strong evidence that we don’t actually think that the utility is greater than the disutility.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      “If the prostate orgasm is regarded as one of the peak physical experiences a male can have (better than a penile orgasm), why are they so unpopular? ”

      Lack of the internet until relatively recently.

      “Furthermore, what is keeping us from actually becoming open to the idea of prostate orgasms?”

      More time with the internet as a thing.

    • Acedia says:

      I don’t think porn has popularized anal play to quite the degree commonly believed. A lot of people are still grossed out by butt stuff, or only enjoy it in fantasies and not reality.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think it’s been popularised from porn to real life for women. Most straight guys, I imagine, still think it’s too gay to put anything up their bottom but I saw an article in “Cosmopolitian” quite a few years back now about girls, how to get ready for when you’re letting your guy in the back door, and see this from Heartiste’s horrifically amusing* quiz dating market value test for women:

        31. Do you do anal?

        Yes, and it makes me come to know how much it pleases my man: +1 point
        Only when I get really drunk: 0 points
        Never. It’s an exit only: -1 point

        So I think it’s another in the list of things that have gone from “you wouldn’t even ask a whore to perform this**” to “expected that women will routinely perform in a sexual relationship” acts. I’d have no objection if there were reciprocity, but I think asking men would they be willing to let their girlfriends peg them in return would meet with rejection and horror.

        *I can’t take this as seriously meant; it’s some kind of deliberately being as enraging and outrageous as possible to make women’s heads explode trolling, right***? Because if I thought this was half-way genuine, I’d be invoking the Morrigan to behead him or something. Things like this make me very glad to be aromantic and that romantic/sexual relationships are something I know about only in theory and by second-hand accounts.

        **e.g. one of the ways the Marquis de Sade got in trouble, if I remember from a biography I read ages ago, was forcing prostitutes to perform anal sex; the women were neither prepared nor willing to provide such a service, but once he’d got them tied up or unconscious (seemingly he liked drugging women) he’d do it against their wishes. And certainly part of Byron’s very messy divorce, along with accusations of incest with his half-sister, was his wife accusing him of forcing her to give him anal sex.

        ***I mean, look at this question:

        11. Where is there hair on your body?

        My head and pubic area only: +1 point
        I have to shave my legs daily and wax my bushy eyebrows: 0 points
        I have dark forearm hair and a mustache: -1 point
        Nipples, asscrack, and that giant mole on my back: -2 points

        Now, the idea seems to be that a ‘real’ woman only has hair on her head and mons, but if you’ve got pubic hair, you’re past puberty, and if you’re past puberty, you also have underarm hair, leg hair and hair on your forearms (to mention only those areas).

        So for a woman to only have head and pubic hair, she must be shaving. But a woman who has to shave is a hairy goat, apparently, who has to shave her legs daily (there is nothing in the first answer about ‘I shave once a week or less frequently’).

        So the ‘real’ or ‘most sexy’ or ‘ideal’ woman is, quite literally, unnatural, she cannot physically exist (okay, if we’re talking European ancestry; I don’t know anything about African or Asian ancestry in re: body hair, so if Asian women don’t have hair except on their head and pubes, that’s what he’s looking for, but again there’s nothing about ethnicity here). The way this question is phrased makes it sound like a ‘natural’ genuine real sexy feminine woman doesn’t have to shave her legs or underarms, she only has hair on her head and mons Veneris. Nothing about “Unless you’re European or Turkish (they like women with strong eyebrows)”.

        That’s why this has to be a fake joke outrage-generation machine, not meant seriously.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          I’m not sure that’s true. You can generally get women to do things they’re not otherwise interested in (presumably including anal sex but I’m

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Important lesson: don’t comment while your cellphone is charging. Can’t even edit the damn thing.

            not interested in testing that one) particularly in the early phase of a relationship before you’re offical. I don’t think that’s particular to anal sex though.

            The girls I’ve met who were most enthusiastic about it were nominal virgins, typically protestants but one coptic girl. They tend to treat it as a way to compete in the dating market without technically having sex.

            As for hair, Asian women are generally pretty hairless. A white or Indian woman who shaves is often hairer than an unshaved Asian girl. One reason some guys like me prefer them.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Roissy is deliberate outrage, but he doesn’t make his views up. This is an exaggeration of his general point.

          Men prefer women with minimal body hair, generally speaking. This is an agreed-upon preference among most men I speak to, and has been since puberty.

          Men prefer hairless bodies in the same way that they prefer “natural looks.” Men do not understand what they ask for, but they have an impression of what they like, and women who can mimic that impression have an advantage in initially attracting a man.

          HOWEVER!
          There is a distinction between issues that arise in the long-term and create long-term happiness and what attracts partners in the short-term.

          None of male friends have ever expressed concern specifically about hair care, and have never demanded daily visual perfection in their long-term mates.
          What I do hear, consistently, from every man, in every relationship, and yes this is my own narrow sample:
          1. My wife/gf doesn’t dress up for special nights. My Best Man says if he is dressing up and putting on cologne, his girlfriend should NOT be comfortable in jeans or sweat pants.
          2. My wife/gf dresses better for Girl’s Night Out than she ever dresses for me. This is extremely offensive to a husband or boyfriend.

          These are the primary concerns my male friends express in long-term relationships.

          HOWEVER: This is a narrow sample. I travel in a high-class, yuppie group of men that takes fashion and looks semi-seriously. If you listen to Mother Dearest and my Aunt, who have husbands from a blue collar background, the complaints are exactly reversed. They can’t take their husbands anywhere! They would wear blue jeans to a wedding if they could!

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Are we really going to use Chateau Heartiste’s female test as some kind of gauge to see how mainstream anal sex is? Really?

        • Adam says:

          I’m going to go a bit against what Ever An Anon just said because my experience has been drastically different, but granted, I’ve only ever had sex with one virgin and only one religious person (not the same woman). Although it hasn’t been a huge number (maybe 30%), the women who have consistently performed anal sex may have initially done it because they were enraptured and I was nice about asking, but they kept doing it because they actually enjoyed it. At least two, a longtime girlfriend from many years ago as well as my actual wife, were disappointed their previous boyfriends wouldn’t do it and were excited that I would. I’ve had women express surprise that they used to think all porn stars were just faking enjoyment, and no doubt, some of them are (particularly the ones who quit), but not all of them are. It is a pretty damn nerve-rich area, part of the rectum is separated by nearly nothing from the interior vaginal wall, and the rectum itself can fit a penis easily. Anal-only orgasms even for women are a real thing. It tends to take some practice runs and you need to go slowly at first to get the outer sphincter to relax, but once it does and the pain of that resistance is gone, there is no further pain and you can just enjoy yourself. If you already get off on the psychological enjoyment of being dominated in the first place, and many, many women do, then all the better.

          Which is just to say, I’m big on the idea of ‘pleasing your man’ and I think the best way to get what you want from a woman is to find a woman who wants the same things in the first place, avoiding the hassle of coercion games.

          • Saal says:

            SSC has become surprisingly titillating O.o

          • Adam says:

            I fucked that up, too, and now can’t edit. I meant to say I’m not big on the notion of ‘pleasing your man.’ Not to say partners shouldn’t please each other, but a partner shouldn’t do something they dislike because their partner likes it. People should instead find partners who like the same things.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            I think the optimal scenario is of course to find someone with the same sort of kinks as you, but that’s only a small part of a relationship. The thing is, most people in solid relationships are happy making their partner happy, so even if X isn’t fun for me, the fact that it is fun for you makes the whole endeavor enjoyable.

            Plus it’s fucking Cosmo and Cosmo styled shit we’re talking about. Low bar here for self esteem.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m okay with reciprocation, as I said (e.g. Joe wants Sally to try X out, Sally gets Joe to try Y out) but I do wonder how much is the assumption that “everyone else is having fantastic sex” and, seriously, how much is influenced by porn (after all, missionary/vanilla sex is considered boring even for ordinary couples, as witness the interminable articles that regularly pop up in women’s weeklies about ‘spice things up in the bedroom’, never mind lad’s mags).

            How many straight guys who want their partners to try anal sex are willing to give quid pro quo when it comes to their own persons?

            I would definitely second Adam, though: if you’re going to try anything, don’t go at it like a bull at a gate* 🙂

            *Not speaking from any personal experience here other than the experience I mentioned before of a gynaecological exam where the doctor went at it like he was footing turf. Delicacy and patience, gentlemen! That is the key to success!

    • LTP says:

      So, there seems to be a minority of guys who get really really awesome prostate orgasm from prostate play and they’re pretty vocal online. However, I think many if not most men cannot achieve prostate orgasms even if they tried. I’ve personally devoted time and money (in the form of a toy) to trying to achieve prostate orgasms, and while prostate stimulation was nice, penile stimulation still has it beat and I never had one of the fabled prostate orgasms.

      I suspect this is a case where the people with positive experiences are really motivated to speak up and those with mildly positive to neutral experiences aren’t motivated.

  30. Shmi Nux says:

    Scott, have you read Brandon Sanderson’s humorous “Alcatraz and…” YA series? It reminded me a lot of your sense of humor (including the puns).

  31. Wrong Species says:

    Is there ever a good reason to tell your therapist that you’re feeling suicidal? They already know you’re depressed so it’s not like they will change the therapy. While I’m sure there is a low chance of them commiting you to a mental hospital, i wouldn’t want to take the chance.

    • Saal says:

      Let me begin by qualifying that, based on my discussions with other people, I seem to have seen an above-average number of over-zealous, trigger-finger mental health professionals.

      With that out of the way, no. I’ve been to a lot of psychiatrists/psychologists, and haven’t noticed any significant difference in the treatment prescribed upon them receiving a complaint of:

      A) “I’m super depressed.’
      or
      B) “I’m having thoughts of suicide.”

      …other than the aforementioned involuntary hospitalization. Now, obviously, if you’re feeling suicidal to the extent that you may actually act on it, and you suspect that this may not be in line with your notDepressed!preferences, you may wish to go ahead and use the inpatient option; in fact, I suspect a lot of involuntary hospitalization is a result of precisely this going on subconsciously, leading people to be very explicit in their confessing to suicidal ideation.

    • anon1 says:

      It could make sense early on if you’re having trouble getting them to believe you’re actually depressed, which I hear happens sometimes.

      • Protagoras says:

        I wouldn’t say it’s especially difficult, but more often than not therapists don’t want to hear the word “depressed,” they want me to say something more detailed and less clinical about how I’m feeling. And in general talking about how I’m feeling is hard for me, and of course when I’m depressed things that are generally hard for me become harder, so I have found it to be a bit of an annoyance when I’m seeing a new therapist. Still, I’ve never had a therapist just be stubbornly unconvinced, I’ve just had it occasionally be a somewhat unpleasant process convincing them.

  32. Linch says:

    What were people’s thoughts on the latest Republican debate? I don’t normally keep up with news/politics for garden variety rationalist reasons (plus I can’t legally vote in the US), but I watched the latest debate while procrastinating. Here are my thoughts:

    1) I was object-level very impressed with Rand Paul. He acted cool, collected, and intelligent. He actually seemed relatively sane about international interventions and a genuine libertarian about the War on Drugs, etc. He also told Jeb Bush to check his privilege, which is an interesting ploy since I somehow doubt that there are a lot of SJ people voting in the Republican primaries.

    2) I was meta-level very very impressed with Trump. He managed to make the “all surface and no substance” strategy work very well for him, and set the tone of the debate so that, for example, Bush sunk to the level of calling Trump out on whether could set a casino in Florida. 😀 The most beautiful thing to happen in the debate though was when Trump was asked a tough question and he immediately turned it into a non sequitor about Rand Paul being on the debate. See, the debate was set up in a way that if a candidate mentions any other candidate by name, the other candidate gets a chance to respond. In other words, the debate was structured in a way that whoever gets called out gets more air time. So to avoid actually answering difficult questions, game theorist Trump turned the spotlight on candidate #11 (who, remember from the outside view will have the least probability of dethroning Trump). This was so beautifully done and yet so transparent that only Trump could have pulled it off. Of course, the tactic might backfire on him, see point 1). ^.^

    3) The biggest gaffe to me was when Chris Christie argued against recreational marijuana *because it robbed employers of productive labor.* While I could sorta see his point economically, this *seemed* like a ridiculous thing to say in the current political climate and I’m surprised that the media circus aren’t having a field day with it.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The Fiorina media circus saddens me. She had a moderate level of research, but her answer “I just won’t talk to Putin” is childish, despite sounding strong. As Rand Paul noted, Reagan talked to the USSR throughout the 80s, which is how we achieved a number of breakthroughs.

      Chris Christie stood out to me as a possible candidate, but I doubt he has much poll movement.

      Rubio looks like the most likely candidate, and not because Republicans want to appeal to the Latino community. He has a vision, speaks well, and comes across as a strong supporter of traditional conservative values, who isn’t crazy.

      • nydwracu says:

        Rubio? He looks gay, and so does his campaign logo. He even sounds gay. In this sort of popularity contest, that’s a major setback.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I am not sure “gay” is what I am looking for. He definitely looks young and not stereotypically manly. I call him “Church Boy” to my Wife.

      • Gbdub says:

        Well, Fiorina is posturing relative to the Obama philosophy of “talk to the Russians and give them a bunch of concessions” (e.g. Abandoning the Polish missile defense sites, mostly ignoring invasions of Georgia, Crimea, and Ukraine proper) and getting nothing of value in return.

        Reagan talking in the 80s made sense – the USSR was moving towards collapse, and towards the west. Reagan also backed it with strong rhetoric and strong investments in military supremacy to back it up. He message was, “we’d prefer to negotiate, but if you push us, we’ll make sure you regret it”.

        Putin wants to move in the opposite direction, and it’s not clear that negotiating with him will give us anything better than the status quo. Obama has done absolutely nothing to indicate we’ll do anything but bluster if Russia keeps doing aggressive stuff. Not to Godwin it, but Putin seems more like Hitler in the 30’s – he’ll happily come to the table, accept our concessions, and then go on doing whatever it was he wanted to do, until someone makes him stop. Obama certainly lacks the will, and quite possibly the ability, to make him stop. If you have no leverage, and the guy across from you isn’t negotiating in good faith, there’s no point going to the table.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I think if I had a foreign policy, it would be “try to keep everyone from killing each other while our enemies collapse on their own”. Russia is demographically doomed right now, plus economically doomed as long as the price of oil stays low. They are Wile E. Coyote who has just walked off a cliff but hasn’t looked down yet. China is not as bad, but they have their own demographic and economic catastrophes looming, plus I think if they get their act together they could be a mostly positive force for world peace. In a situation like this, I think keeping everything quiet and not giving your enemies a chance to lash out before they fall apart is probably what’s called for, and Obama’s pursuing the policy well.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Wait for everyone else to die from natural causes is a consolation prize- it isn’t a plan.

          • Barry says:

            I think that make sense from a Wargaming perspective but is not an actual viable strategy in the real world for a bunch of reasons.

            1) It’s not very moral. Putin’s Russia is causing pain and suffering right now to millions of people and seems set to keep doing so for the forseeable future.

            2) You can’t sell it as a policy. Most Americans believe that the US has both the ability and a certain level of responsibility to protect innocent people around the world from mass-murdering dictators and terrorist groups, and telling them that it’s better to just wait it out will not go over well.

            3) Other strategies have been proven effective. For example, the USSR probably would have held on for another 40-50 years if not for sustained US pressure.

          • Gbdub says:

            But if “wait around for them to self-immolate” is your policy, why give them concessions at all? Sure, if it results in them calming down, but instead it seems to have emboldened Putin to be even more aggressive. As for keeping everyone from killing each other – Russia straight up Anschlussed chunks of two sovereign nations and is engaging in an ongoing bloody war with one of them.

            Meanwhile, we bombed the hell of Libya and it went from an unpleasant but contained dictatorship to an unstable hellhole. We rushed out of Iraq to score domestic political points and now it’s back to being an unstable hellhole. We set and then ignored a “red line” in Syria, and it’s the least stable nastiest hellhole of all, unleashing a massive refugee crisis.

            We cut a toothless “peace in our time” deal with Iran, the geopolitical advantage of which for the US I still can’t work out, even in theory. The only people it seems to benefit are the Iranian government and Obama, who can now claim he fulfilled a campaign promise (again, sacrificing geopolitical capital to score some domestic policy points).

            If this is what pursuing the policy well looks like, I’d hate to see the poor version!

            And of course the cherry on this crap sundae is that the Dems are probably going to nominate the architect (or at least executor) of this stunningly successful strategy for the presidency.

          • Nicholas says:

            So far as I can tell, the primary advantage is that mean and Iraq are currently allies pretty much only because of Iran’s unhappy relationship with the US. So, the thinking goes, if we can throw a jog in putins “I am the enemy of your enemy” plan, Russia won’t be able to move as freely in the Middle East, without actually having to commit to stopping him. In this view, aggressive Russian moves are actually a mistake, an overcommitment the Russians can’t back up.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Scott,
            Compare the demographics of Russia to its near neighbors, not to the world as a whole.
            Russia: 1.59
            Poland: 1.3
            Estonia: 1.55
            Latvia: 1.44
            Lithuania: 1.6
            Romania: 1.53

            Russia has a higher birth-rate than all of its neighbors, except Lithuania. Russia also has higher base population.

            When you factor in immigration, the situation is even worse. Russia has net immigration, all of its neighbors have net outward migration, as Schengen essentially depopulates Eastern European states and moves their populations to wealthier Western states.

            Why do I mention only the Eastern European states? Because that’s all that matters. The Untied States is not mobilizing left and right to reassure allies because Poland is convinced, THIS TIME, that Britain and France are finally going to protect them.

            The US has changed its entire European posture in order to convince Eastern Europe we won’t abandon it. But we will. Alliances like NATO don’t last forever.

            This is also why Sweden is entering a mutual defense agreement with its Scandinavian neighbors and Poland, and not NATO. Because NATO is a historical oddity, and Sweden wants to ally with nations that are actually in the region and have a permanent interest in the region.

            Russia isn’t screwed, it’s less screwed than all the other nations there.

            Also, keep in mind, Russia is NOT isolated. China laughed at Crimea and gave Putin a pat on the back. Japan put in place trivial sanctions because Japan doesn’t want Russia to ally firmly with China. Even Israel regularly meets with Russia, in fact Israel is helping Russia with its nuclear reactors!

            Russia today has many more allies than the old Soviet Union, which practically every industrialized nation hated. Also, factor in the reaction to the Iran deal, and the general trend is most nations gradually losing faith in the US and gradually liking Russia more.

          • Randy M says:

            “try to keep everyone from killing each other”
            This seems to be the part where your tactics and strategy needs more clarification. Does that mean threaten force? Offer incentives? Form alliances? Encourage migration? Support strong borders?

          • John Schilling says:

            try to keep everyone from killing each other while our enemies collapse on their own

            My particular area of foreign-policy expertise is Korea, and I’ve been hearing for over thirty years now how North Korea was economically, demographically, socially, and politically doomed, and was going to be collapsing Real Soon Now. Yep, probably next year.

            Always probably next year.

            Our enemies have policies and plans of their own, and those plans don’t involve collapsing. They almost certainly don’t involve collapsing politely, dismantling all the nuclear weapons and establishing a stable caretaker government. And their plans do not involve simply sitting around and waiting.

            So, whatever it takes for Russia or China or whatnot to avoid collapse, assume that they are planning to get hold of it by fair means or foul. More people, more money, higher oil prices, whatever – all these things can be arranged. If your counterplan is to sit around and wait for them to collapse for lack of whatever, I think I’m going to bet on them managing to hang around for at least as long as the Kim Dynasty has managed. And on e.g. oil prices being higher than you might have expected.

            And then there’s all the new enemies that we will manage to acquire, who are also not effectively countered by the “wait until our enemies collapse” plan.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            So this might be a rediculous question, but… Why exactly is it super unacceptable to cooperate with Putin? He doesn’t seem like a madman, and he has a hell of a lot more leverage over and investment in that part of the world than we do. Why can’t we figure out terms that involve him getting more or less de facto control over eastern europe the way we have significant control over western europe, and then we go from there? Does this just inevitably lead back into the cold war and bitter animosity and swimming pools full of blood? If so, why?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Why can’t we figure out terms that involve him getting more or less de facto control over eastern europe the way we have significant control over western europe, and then we go from there? Does this just inevitably lead back into the cold war and bitter animosity and swimming pools full of blood? If so, why?

            Your proposal doesn’t lead to Cold War, it will lead to Hot War. Russia enforces its will via force, if necessary. If Lithuania defies Russia and Lithuania is “de facto” in the Russian orbit, Russia will invade Lithuania.

            Lithuania is a NATO member and this will result in many, many glow-bombs sent towards Moscow.

            The only other option is kicking Lithuania and the like out of NATO, which essentially pisses on the entire European Project and everything the US has tried to accomplish since 1945.

            So it’s a non-starter. It’s an ideological surrender and admission of defeat. That’s a big, big blow to prestige worldwide, not just American prestige, but just the idea of pluralistic capitalism as a viable form of government.

          • Pku says:

            Lithuania and other NATO members have big red lines around them, though, for this reason.

          • John Schilling says:

            Lithuania and other NATO members have big red lines around them, though, for this reason

            Would that be like the big red line between Bashar al-Assad’s stockpile of nerve gas and the civilian population of Ghouta?

            Because, A: Vladimir Putin seems to be pretty good at manipulating that sort of red line to his advantage and, B: all of the red lines based on “nobody would ever do that because doing that would risk nuclear war with the USA and/or NATO” are more of a rapidly fading pink as it becomes clear that neither the USA nor NATO is going to show up to play their part in that little farce.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @John

            No doubt Obama messed up in Syria but I think Russia takes our commitment to Nato more seriously. Hopefully, Putin won’t push the line too far to find out.

          • John Schilling says:

            “I think…” followed by “hopefully…”, is very nearly the definition of wishful thinking. I, too, wish that all we had to do to preserve the security of Europe is promise to nuke anyone who attacks Europe even if they have nukes of their own, but I haven’t seen any evidence to support such a belief.

          • PGD says:

            Wow…a lot of mindless war mongering in this subthread.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @A Definate Beta Guy – “If Lithuania defies Russia and Lithuania is “de facto” in the Russian orbit, Russia will invade Lithuania.”

            Lithuania’s decision to defy Russia seems heavily influenced by their thinking we’ll step in if Russia responds. Why is getting them to believe that useful? Mexico and Canada don’t get to defy us, so they don’t try to, and things are generally pretty okay between us. Why should the situation be different for Lithuania and Russia?

            Like, I understand that the current situation has us locked in conflict with Russia. What I don’t understand what it is that Russia wants that’s so utterly beyond the pale that we have no choice but to oppose them.

            From the Russian perspective, we’ve been persuing a policy of encirclement since at least Clinton. Accepting that would be the death of Russia’s power and influence on the world stage, which is obviously not an acceptable outcome to Russia. I think the general idea was that they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it before we choked them out, but Putin seems to be showing that was wrong.

          • Jiro says:

            Mexico and Canada don’t get to defy us, so they don’t try to, and things are generally pretty okay between us. Why should the situation be different for Lithuania and Russia?

            Because the kind of things that Mexico and Canada don’t get to defy the US on are not the same as the kind of things that Lithuania won’t get to defy Russia on. Could you imagine the US claiming that Canada is run by fascists who are mistreating the Canadians of American descent, so the US will send in troops to enable them to secede from Canada and form the Autonomous Republic of 100 Miles from the US Border? That’s basically what Russia did to Ukraine, and what they will probably do to Lithuania if permitted.

          • Nita says:

            If you guys are planning to give Putin “more or less de facto control” over someone’s homeland as a gesture of goodwill, I suggest starting with FC’s home state. It can’t be that bad, right?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – “Could you imagine the US claiming that Canada is run by fascists who are mistreating the Canadians of American descent, so the US will send in troops to enable them to secede from Canada and form the Autonomous Republic of 100 Miles from the US Border?”

            I sort of can, actually. We had a neighboring country that got super-friendly with people we didn’t like once upon a time, and we sponsored a sketchy revolution to try to overthrow their government, and seriously considered actual invasion. We didn’t actually follow through because our goals were secured by other means, not because invasion would be somehow unthinkable. If Canada and Mexico were hostile to us and friendly to Iran or even China, I think we’d decide there were serious national security problems that demanded a response.

            It’s not a cosmic accident that we live on good terms with Canada and Mexico. They don’t want to fight us diplomaticly, economically, or militarily, so they constrain their policies to the general bounds of our preferences. Over many decades, that shapes their society into one that has low conflict with us and we get along to the extent that we do.

            “That’s basically what Russia did to Ukraine, and what they will probably do to Lithuania if permitted.”

            I am aware of this. I’m also aware of the decades we’ve spent since the collapse of the USSR trying to make Russia’s neighbors our satelites rather than theirs. That’s not good for Russia diplomaticly, economically, or militarily. They’ve tried diplomatic and economic remedies, with limited success. Now they’re doing it militarily and it seems to be working pretty well. We’ve been expanding NATO into their immediate sphere of influence, but that strongly appears to have been a bluff. Europe isn’t going to fight Russia for Lithuania or the Ukraine, and neither is America. Putin’s called the bluff. Now what?

            And again, I understand that Putin is a machiavellian autocrat with no respect for the democratic process, but he’s not our creation and he seems to be a more or less rational actor. We took political action hostile to Russia, he’s taking political action to counter that. If he wins and we lose, what’s the damage?

            @Nita – “If you guys are planning to give Putin “more or less de facto control” over someone’s homeland as a gesture of goodwill, I suggest starting with FC’s home state. It can’t be that bad, right?”

            Can you name a Russian political leader from the last 50 years or so who’d be better? How confident are you that they wouldn’t be doing much the same thing?

            [EDIT] – Let’s say on the next Inaguration Day, Putin activates his nefarious Mind Transferance Beam, switching his own consciousness with that of our next president (the President’s mind, now in Putin’s body, is of course immediately imprisoned by the hunchbacked Medvedev.) Other than the evil cackle following the swearing-in, how would we even know?

          • Jiro says:

            We had a neighboring country that got super-friendly with people we didn’t like once upon a time, and we sponsored a sketchy revolution to try to overthrow their government, and seriously considered actual invasion.

            It’s true that the Russians are saying similar things when invading Ukraine to the things that the US said to justify the Contras or the Bay of Pigs, but the actual facts on the ground are not similar. Ukraine is a naked land grab with a thin veneer of “security threat”. The Contras or Bay of Pigs were in situations that were genuinely thought to be security threats.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – “It’s true that the Russians are saying similar things when invading Ukraine to the things that the US said to justify the Contras or the Bay of Pigs, but the actual facts on the ground are not similar.”

            Cuba and South America are not actually part of the US, but we regard them as our turf, and we react strongly when hostile foriegn powers meddle with them. Similarly, eastern europe is Russia’s turf, and we have been financing “color revolutions” and brokering military treaties since the 90s. As it happens, we are a free-market democratic power rather than a communist revolutionary one. Beyond that, what’s the difference?

            We wanted governments in our turf to be friendly to us, Russia wants governments in their turf to be friendly to them.

            “Ukraine is a naked land grab with a thin veneer of “security threat”. The Contras or Bay of Pigs were in situations that were genuinely thought to be security threats.”

            If the encirclement strategy we’ve been pursuing for decades now is successful, we’d be in a position to break Russia as a power for the forseeable future. How is that not a security threat?

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            How confident are you that they wouldn’t be doing much the same thing?

            I don’t understand what you’re saying here.

            Also, I’ve heard “they’re doing it too” as an excuse, but “we’re doing it too” is something new. How about both of you stop doing it?

            Alternatively, why not sign a little treaty to really cement friendly relations between the only two nations that matter? You might have to roll back some unfortunate earlier announcements that you care about “democratic freedom and self-determination”, but hey, at least you’d be honest this time.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “I don’t understand what you’re saying here.”

            I’m saying that there’s a difference between what we want and what we can get. From where I sit, it looks like Putin is responding rationally to the situation he’s in. Putin is more aggressive and ballsier than most, but it seems to me that the situation is being driven by actual strategic concerns, not one man’s mad ambition. We foiled his attempts to use diplomacy and economics to get what he wanted, so now he’s using force. His aims and methods in the current conflict seem pretty similar to our aims in previous conflicts, so accusing him of being the next Hitler seems a little hypocritical.

            “Also, I’ve heard “they’re doing it too” as an excuse, but “we’re doing it too” is something new. How about both of you stop doing it?”

            We don’t shoot up or invade Canada or Mexico any more. That’s because diplomacy and economics have alligned our interests sufficiently that our differences aren’t worth starting a war over. Russia is invading its neighbors because diplomacy and economics haven’t aligned their interests, and that hasn’t happened because we’ve expended a ton of our own diplomacy and economics with the explicit goal of keeping it from happening. I don’t think we should have done that. Having done it, I don’t think we should make the situation worse by sending troops.

            We used to oppose Russia because they were the head of the Communist octopus. Communism is dead now. We cooperate with Europe, we cooperate with China. Why can’t we cooperate with Russia?

            “You might have to roll back some unfortunate earlier announcements that you care about “democratic freedom and self-determination”, but hey, at least you’d be honest this time.”

            Democratic freedom? like how the political movements we finance and support crowd out other parties? Like how we influence other nations internal political processes with false promises about how it’s fine to snub their huge, heavily-armed neighbor, because he’s not actually so tough and we’ll totally protect them? The political situation in eastern europe didn’t spring fully-formed from the forehead of zeus five minutes ago. We expended a lot of effort to help foment this conflict. That was a terrible thing to do. Now that people are actually getting shot, the best way to make it worse would be to actually join the war ourselves, which is probably the only chance Russia’s neighbors have of being on the winning side. The next-worst thing we could do is help make the war longer, bloodier, and more expensive for all involved. Let’s not do that!

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            It’s one thing to say “I’m afraid our meddling would make things worse, so let’s stay out of it”. It’s a completely different thing to say “hey guys, let’s officially give Eastern Europe to Putin — after all, small countries should understand that their policies should be decided by their most powerful neighbour, not by their people”, which is what you are saying.

            Russia is invading its neighbors because diplomacy and economics haven’t aligned their interests, and that hasn’t happened because we’ve expended a ton of our own diplomacy and economics with the explicit goal of keeping it from happening.

            Has it occurred to you that these countries are inhabited by actual people, and that many of these people would like to live in a place that is a) more similar to Germany than Russia, and b) NOT anyone’s satellite state?

            Also, the West financed NGOs, so killing people is fair game?

            That’s like “well, he lost the argument, and he felt bad about it, so punching you in the face was a reasonable response”.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “It’s one thing to say “I’m afraid our meddling would make things worse, so let’s stay out of it”. It’s a completely different thing to say “hey guys, let’s officially give Eastern Europe to Putin — after all, small countries should understand that their policies should be decided by their most powerful neighbour, not by their people”, which is what you are saying.”

            I don’t think those are actually two different things. They might be if I were the God-Emporer of humanity and my whim could shift nations, but I’m not, and neither is Obama. Peace is a balance between what people want and the power they have to enforce their desires. If America traded it’s economic, diplomatic, and military power with Mexico’s, north america would look very different. You can call that evil if it makes you feel better, but I don’t really see how that helps. It is the world we live in, and there doesn’t seem to be any better system on offer.

            “Has it occurred to you that these countries are inhabited by actual people, and that many of these people would like to live in a place that is a) more similar to Germany than Russia, and b) NOT anyone’s satellite state?”

            I believe that easily. I also believe that Russia’s leaders and people don’t want to be Cuba. The part where they have the actual power to get what they want doesn’t make those preferences illegitimate. Underdog status does not magically convey virtue. Defending the Lithuanians’ preferences is not worth a hot war with Russia, and ending the global influence game seems likely to increase war, not decrease it.

            “Also, the West financed NGOs, so killing people is fair game?”

            We engaged in a decades-long policital and economic campaign with the goal of turning Russia into Cuba. People harmed by economic and political decisions are just as harmed, they will often fight however they can.

            You compared what I’m saying to the nazis in WWII, but I think a better comparison is to the Great Powers prior to WWI. Germany invaded Belgium, because that was the only practical way to prosecute their war with france. Britian sided with France, and we ended up with WWI, which then resulted in fascism taking over much of europe, the communist takeover of half the world, and WWII. And that was before everyone had nukes. Was Belgium’s neutrality worth it?

          • Nita says:

            @ FacelessCraven

            I don’t think those are actually two different things. They might be if I were the God-Emporer of humanity and my whim could shift nations, but I’m not, and neither is Obama.

            Right, you’re not the God-Emperor of anything. So don’t talk like you are. Stop thinking where to cut Europe in half for its own good.

            And “turning Russia into Cuba” is another American delusion. European countries have major trade relationships with Russia, and Russia is huge — no one here wants it destabilized. We do want it to grow economically, rather than via land-grabs.

        • My conclusion from the debate was that Fiorina will probably be on the ticket, although not necessarily at the top, for two reasons:

          1. She came across as the most rhetorically competent, the one I would want on my debate team.

          2. She’s a woman. If Hilary is the Democratic nominee, which still seems likely although not certain, having a woman on the team would be an asset.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, a lot of people say she’s running for VP, though she still (of course) denies that strongly at this point. I think she and Rubio are everyone’s top picks for running mate at this point. Fiorina because she’s female, a sharp debater, and has the supposed “business person/political outsider” cred desirable for all but Trump, and Rubio because he’s also articulate and can help deliver Florida and the Hispanic vote.

            My personal preference would be a Rand-Rubio ticket, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely. I’m very disappointed at how shallow the libertarian rhetoric of most GOP voters really is. It seemed Paul was in a good position to really expand on what his father did, but along come Trump and Carson and everyone jumps ship, even though they’re obviously not libertarian at all. It seems like all these people who were once supporting Rand really just wanted anyone “anti-establishment,” and Rand can’t compete with Trump for sheer pissing off the establishment quality.

            Personally, I wish he’d just go for broke: in such a crowded field, you’re not going to excite anyone by saying “I want to lower taxes to 14.5%” Say, “abolish the federal income tax and replace it with a consumption tax” (actually what Huckabee is saying), for example.

            Though this article summed up the sad reality pretty well:

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-mullen/the-real-reason-rand-paul_b_8141032.html

            Unfortunately, I think we libertarians are still in a really bad place, coalition-wise: all the libertarianish things Rand could and did say to try to distinguish himself (drugs, war, etc.) do not push the GOP primary voters’ happy buttons. And even the most anti-war Democrat is unlikely to vote for Ron or Rand Paul for tribal reasons, if nothing else.

          • Gbdub says:

            I’d say she’d make a strong partner for Walker, who’d bring the political experience to the ticket. But he seems to have faded into obscurity as GOPers have flirted with Trump and Carson.

          • I don’t think Rand Paul is as able a demagogue as competitors such as Trump or Fiorina. That may be to his credit, morally speaking, but it’s a handicap in his present project.

            On the other hand, Ben Carson is an even less able demagogue, and doing pretty well so far.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      I went in to this debate with Walker and Fiorina as my top-picks and they still are. That said, Rubio and Trump both gained a lot of standing in my mind.

      As Beta Guy said, Rubio was eloquent and came across as a strong supporter of traditional conservative values. He’s a bit young and unseasoned at the moment but I suspect that he will be a serious contender in the years to come.

      Like you I was impressed by Trump’s performance, and have to admit that the prospect of him as president is becoming a lot less ridiculous in my mind. I still don’t think he’s a particularly good pick, but I am no longer convinced that he would be a bad one either.

      In regards to the other candidates, Carson had the same problem he did in the last debate, a lot of good ideas, but lacking energy. If it were up to me I’d pick him for VP or a high level cabinet position.

      I really like Paul but I’d almost rather have him on the debate floor than in the Oval Office. If I could, I would make him Speaker of the House.

    • onyomi says:

      Best responses that didn’t happen:

      Jeb Bush: One thing I know about my brother: he kept us safe!
      Anybody Else: Except for that whole 9-11 thing…

      Female on the currency?
      Ayn Rand. Hands down. I mean, who is a greater example of a female US citizen fleeing oppression and being a huge success in a very American way? And who loved the dollar more than her? http://progressivechristianity.ca/prc/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/ayn-rand-stare1.jpg

      Even if you don’t like her, it seems like a kind of poetic justice. People like Bernie Sanders could raise a $10 bill overhead and say “our democracy is being ruined by the power of THIS!”

      And it would also have been a great opportunity to point out how important her thinking was to the Reagan revolution, there in the Reagan library where everyone is falling over themselves to prove how much like Reagan they are while conveniently forgetting how relatively libertarian for the time he was.

      Of course, it would have been perfect for Rand to say this, though also would have made more sense than Bush’s Margaret Thatcher (I am floored by the number of people who apparently can’t think of one, prominent American woman), but he is playing it safe: probably playing it safe right into oblivion.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Oh God, putting Ayn Rand on the dollar bill would be so great. I don’t even like her that much, I just think it would make her deliriously happy to learn that she had been turned into a unit of currency after her death. Like an Objectivist apotheosis.

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah, I just really want to live in the world where we have enough of a sense of humor and/or poetic justice about things to put Ayn Rand on the currency, whether because we love her, are subtly making fun of her, or some combination thereof. And yeah, I don’t think anyone’s atheist ghost would appreciate the honor more.

          • Deiseach says:

            Having looked up some images of Ayn Rand for a suggestion of what mght go on the currency, I imagine most people would assume she is some politician, if they didn’t think she was an early birth-control advocate or the like for Women’s Rights, and would generally go “Ayn who?”

            I don’t know if that would flatter her or not; on the one hand, she’s important enough to be pictured on the currency, on the other, her fame has not percolated through to the mass of mutton-heads so that she is instantly recognisable as the Greatest Philosophical Mind of the 20th century! 🙂

          • onyomi says:

            Ayn Rand’s face is probably not super recognizable to the average American, but her name is. Of course, that name tends to be somewhat unfairly associated with an ethic of unbridled greed, but that’s part of the fun of the idea.

            Depending on which Ayn Rand you pick, you could make her look like anything from hopeful young suffragette to brooding old dominatrix, but probably my favorite is this one:
            http://www.nndb.com/people/097/000030007/ayn-rand-wtl_big.jpg

            I feel like it would fit well on a bill and also has the interesting added feature of having her fist under her chin in a pose that suggests thought. Most ironically, she is almost everything a feminist could want in a candidate for such an honor: a woman known for her intellectual accomplishments who defied conventional feminine roles and wrote a book about an indomitable businesswoman. Oh, except, like Margaret Thatcher, she’s very deeply on the wrong side of the tribal fence from nearly all feminists and is therefore evil.

          • Science says:

            Ideologically opposite maybe, but she was that era’s equivalent of blue tribe culturally. She lived in LA and NYC. She went to dinner parties, not church. She appreciated architecture not monster truck rallies (or whatever the equivalent was — boxing?)

          • J says:

            Huh, looks like they’ve already done a stamp: http://uspsstamps.com/stories/how-they-collected-ayn-rand

        • BBA says:

          Rand wouldn’t like being on a bill – she was opposed to paper money and thought gold coinage was the only proper form of currency. Then again, we put the radically anti-bank Andrew Jackson on the $20, so…

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        As someone who thinks every inconsequential decision should be based on maximizing the expected amount of impotent rage, I approve of this suggestion wholeheartedly.

  33. dndnrsn says:

    I am most of the way through “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and one thing I am thinking about is the bias towards being willing – irrationally – to accept a less-good deal in exchange for certainty in some situations. ie, most people will take a guaranteed 90 grand over a 95% chance at 100 grand, less than the gamble’s expected value of 95 grand.

    When I sit down and try to be rational, though, I find myself thinking that taking the 5 grand hit in exchange for a sure thing makes sense, given what I know about my thought patterns: if I was given that choice, went for the gamble, and lost, my reaction emotionally would be really negative, enough that to me it seems rational to take the sure thing to avoid the possibility of negative emotions, even if those negative emotions are themselves not consistent with rationality?

    That is, is it rational or irrational to basically budget for one’s own irrational but predictable and probably immutable emotional reactions?

    • Gbdub says:

      Why is it irrational to assign value to certainty? That to me is the problem with the construction of the hypothetical. The expected value of taking $90k is $90k + certainty. Maybe certainty is worth >$5k to you.

      Also, not every dollar is equal. $90k means a lot to me – it would be a substantial increase in my net worth and a huge increase in my liquid assets. It would be a substantial change in my immediate quality of life. Does an extra $10k on top of that mean so much? If I was already a multimillionaire, my calculus would probably be different – in that case I’d be more comfortable taking the “rational” gamble.

      What if I offered you a 10% chance of $500 million, at a cost of all your current financial/property assets? I’m guessing that results in an expected value substantially higher than your current net worth. If you’re broke, it’s a sweet deal, but if you own an average house, have a decent nest egg, a car, and a family, you’d probably at least hesitate and probably turn it down.

      Why? Well, the loss in quality of life if you lose everything is probably higher than the gain in quality of life if you suddenly get rich. Money does buy happiness, but there are dismissing returns. Security has value.

      Of course, the simplest answer is that if security had no value, no one would ever buy insurance.

      • Adam says:

        I think Gbdub is right here. Expected value is an ensemble average across many repeated trials. If you’re offered a 95% chance at $100,000 or a 100% chance at $90,000, over and over again, you should absolutely take it.

        Partly, that’s the problem with the set up. It’s not realistic to think you’re ever going to get that kind of a contrived offer more than once, and there’s nothing irrational about going for the sure thing. The thing that is irrational is this kind of bias toward certainty infects us even when we actually get many repeated trials. People are terrible long-term investors, for instance. Bonds make sense when you’re close to retirement, but there’s almost no reason to hold anything but small-cap value or even penny stocks when you’re 22, for instance.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I believe Kahneman does make some comments that could be seen as taking a dim view of insurance, or at least of some insurance.

        I’m not taking Kahneman’s side, necessarily. As I understand it his point is that it’s intuition that says “take the sure thing” instead of a favourable gamble and not rational thought.

        • Gbdub says:

          And I’m arguing that a calculus that ignores the value of certainty and downside risk is itself irrational. It’s literally assuming that raw quantity of cash (not even that – expected value of cash) is the only rational measure of utility for human wellbeing, which is simply not true.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I guess we’re on the same page there. The emphasis on money is understandable given that it’s economics.

            Even if money was the only measure of utility I would still be willing to pay for certainty, because I know my own emotions would mess with me more if I got nothing than the loss of five grand or whatever would.

    • rttf says:

      Money does not equal utility. Most people would have a logarithmic utility function in this situation. Using that, we observe:

      log(90 000) ~ 11.4

      0.95*log(100 000) ~ 10.9

      Hence, the “rational” choice is taking the 90 grand.

    • Deiseach says:

      Has any rationalist ever made such a gamble? And how do/would they react, if the spin of the wheel or the throw of the dice or the opening of the box came up with “Oh, I’m sorry – you get nothing”?

      Do they protest that it can’t be right, they worked the figures out perfectly and they have a 95 grand expected value? Or do they calmly accept the result because the risk, though small, was always there?

      • Richard says:

        People do these kinds of gambles all the time. The most obvious example is insurance, where you explicitly pay for someone else to take the risk. Since insurance companies are not going bankrupt, the expected utility of not having insurance is larger than having it.

        One reason to have insurance is when the consequences are beyond your means, even if the expected outcome is worse; I have third party damage insurance on my car because I can not afford to pay millions in damages if I run someone over. I do not have the car itself insured because if I wreck it I can afford to get it fixed or a new one and I expect the cost over time to be lower than the insurance premium.

        • Linch says:

          “Since insurance companies are not going bankrupt, the expected utility of not having insurance is larger than having it.”

          Correction: The expected monetary value of not having insurance is greater than having it.

          The expected utility of getting insurance is clearly higher than the expected utility of not having it. I submit as evidence the fact that people do indeed get insurance even when they’re not legally forced to.

    • Linch says:

      It’s been a while since I read his book, but if I recall correctly, one of Kahneman’s central theses was that humans were not so much risk-averse as loss-averse. Eg, most people would rather “take a guaranteed 90 grand over a 95% chance at 100 grand, less than the gamble’s expected value of 95 grand.” There are two classical explanations:

      1)Utility had a log relationship with money. The utility gained from 90K to 100K was much lower than the utility gained from 0K to 90K.
      2)Humans are naturally risk-averse and will pay a premium for certainty.

      However, many people with 105K in their bank account would, when faced with a certain loss of 45K vs. a 50% chance of losing 100K, take the latter. Neither the “log utility” nor the “certainty seeking” hypothesis will predict this outcome. Hence the contradiction.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Maybe this reflects a difference in the sort of person that ends up with 105 grand in their bank account. People who have a certain amount of money sitting around probably have that amount of money sitting around because that’s the amount of money they want to have sitting around – they’d rather take a 50% chance of not having the right amount of money than a 100% chance. Assuming they actually asked people for whom it was true, instead of asking people to imagine themselves in a situation.

        Honestly if they didn’t actually rob those people of their forty-five thousand dollars, I’m not sure I can believe it as science rather than make-believe.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @linch:
        I think you have it backwards on this example.

        Real world example of the described phenomena is a stock market plunge. Plenty of people have 100K (and much more) in their fund.

        The impulse when the market is falling is to sell before the market falls further. (That’s locking in the 45K loss.) the rational thing to do is wait for the market to recover (50% chance you don’t lose anything).

        Even with much higher values than 50% on recovery and a much higher ceiling than zero on the bottom of the market, there are still way too many people who sell at the bottom.

      • Deiseach says:

        But that’s the difference between losing what you already have and gaining what you don’t have.

        In the “100k versus 95k” gamble, you don’t have the 90k to start with, so the chance of certainty is in your favour. Certainly if you go for the 95% bet, even if you don’t end up winning, you haven’t lost anything, but the chance of the extra 10k isn’t appealing enough to turn down the 90k.

        In the “100k versus 45k” gamble, you already possess 105k. This time, the certainty is against you; you will lose 45k and end up with 60k. Whereas the 50% chance is enough to risk losing 100k. Now, if the chances were “95% you will lose 100k”, I imagine people would take the 45k hit rather than run the risk of losing the 100k, but the two cases are just enough different: 50% chance of losing what you definitely have versus 100% chance of getting 90k when you have nothing isn’t enough to sway people’s intuitions.

        If you look at it the other way round: you start out with 0. You have 95% chance of gaining 100k. Most people would probably risk it if it were put in those terms: 0 versus 100k, even if you lose, you’re still where you started so you’re no worse off, take the chance.

        But when you change it from you start out with 0, you definitely 100% will get 90k, you may get 100k or you may get nothing, then the calculation is “90k versus 100k” and that looks less appealing. Then it looks like you start out with nothing, you take a gamble and you may lose 90k, you are worse off than when you started, take the sure thing.

        The same applies with the 105k: you will definitely be worse off if you take the 45k certain loss, while you have a reasonable chance (50% would strike most people as reasonable) of not losing anything by taking the gamble.

      • John Schilling says:

        Eg, most people would rather “take a guaranteed 90 grand over a 95% chance at 100 grand, less than the gamble’s expected value of 95 grand.” There are two classical explanations:

        And the third boringly practical explanation: Humans naturally assume that anyone offering them huge sums of money for playing a silly game are probably con artists, and if you let them get away with a mere 95% chance of payment they will almost certainly rig the dice/roulette wheel/whatever. An absolute promise is harder to weasel out of and easier to prove fraudulent if things get ugly.

        Humans also, aside from an insignificant number of logic-puzzle geeks, find little value in solving hypothetical logic-puzzle problems and if you get them to sit still long enough to cough up some answers they’ll just use the same well-tested heuristics they use when dealing with potential con artists. Even if you explicitly ask them not to do that, it’s just not worth the bother for them to do things the hard way.

  34. J says:

    How related are depression and bipolar? In my experience, professionals think of them as completely separate things. I don’t get anything like classic mania, but I find that opposite the peaks of my 6-12 month depressive cycle I get kind of jittery and overloaded with things I want to do.

    I ask because it sounds like moderating the manic phase is important for treating bipolar, and it makes me wonder if smoothing out highs would also help manage recurring monopolar depression. If so, what are effective ways to do that?

  35. onyomi says:

    I want to argue that “the worst argument ever” isn’t always bad: namely that arguments about definitions aren’t always pointless semantics and/or disingenuous attempts at emotional manipulation.

    I say “abortion is murder!” or “taxation is theft!” You say “well, technically, yes, but…” and then maybe we have to have a debate over definitions: is a fetus a person? Is the “taking without permission” part key to our moral revulsion against theft, or is it the disorderly, often violent part?

    This to me seems wholly reasonable. If I am a person who sees the distinction most people make between taxation and theft as being immaterial, then it is fair for me to say “taxation is theft” in the absence of a good argument for why it isn’t. So far as I’m concerned, it fits all the relevant definitions of theft and *most importantly* it has most or all of the aspects of theft that I think create our ethical intuition that theft is wrong, therefore, I feel justified in using it *with the intent of getting my interlocutor to apply his intuitions about theft to taxation and see if they fit.* If my interlocutor can think of a good reason why his intuitions about other instances of theft should not apply to taxation, then he should make that argument, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong to point it out.

    Arguments about definitions can take at least two forms: arguments in favor of more specificity, AND arguments in favor of more generality (that a distinction which is currently made is immaterial, deceptive, etc.). People tend to view the former sort as more valid, because knowledge seems to be a push towards ever increasing specificity. But I think breaking down misleading distinctions can be nearly, if not equally important. We used to think of humans as somehow fundamentally different from animals, for example, but thanks to Darwin, we eventually realized that humans are just really smart animals. So is the statement “humans are animals” misleading and pernicious or enlightening? Depends on your perspective, but there seems to be, at the very least, a very strong case for making it, even though people 200 years ago would have likely balked at that breakdown of distinction.

    Imagine a society in which there is a tradition of ritual rape. Every year a young virgin is selected by lot and forced to have sex with all the high priests in the temple. Some are glad to do this, but others are not very happy to be selected. Either way, however, sex with the priests is non-optional, as failure to do so could bring down plague and famine, they believe. But in this society they do not call this “rape.” They call it “the holy congress.”

    Now suppose an agitator in this society starts loudly proclaiming “the holy congress is rape!!” Is he or she wrong? Certainly people in this society could give you all kinds of reasons why it was not rape: it happens in an orderly fashion, it is vitally important to the survival of society, it is done in a respectful way, it is a civic duty and an honor, etc. But agitator would also be justified in saying: “what is the problem with rape? Is it the disorderliness or is it that it is forcing someone to have sex who doesn’t want to?” If the latter, then the holy congress certainly meets the definition, and the agitator seems totally justified to try to get people to extend their intuitions about rape to the holy congress. His interlocutors might say “yes, it’s rape, but that’s okay, because x,” or “no, it’s not rape, because we define rape as ‘violent, non-socially-sanctioned forced sexual intercourse'” etc., but that’s an argument they need to make.

    And the reason I especially don’t like the argument against “the worst argument in the world” is that it seems to me to be a way to justify utilitarianism by circumventing our ethical intuitions. People are comfortable saying taxation is good and theft is bad, but they are a lot less comfortable saying robbery is the bad kind of theft, taxation is the good kind of theft, or knifing someone in a dark alley is the bad kind of murder and abortion is the good kind of murder. This tends to create an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, but it is something I think utilitarians have to live with if they want to say some kinds of theft are good. I don’t think we non-utilitarians are wrong to point out places where we think common distinctions are NOT morally relevant.

    As for the whole “Martin Luther King Jr. was a criminal!” thing, Scott points it out like that is an example of the evil “sounds good in a sound bite and can’t be easily refuted in 1 minute on tv” phenomenon, but I really don’t think it is. If you said “MLK was a criminal!” on TV, I think everyone would see the problem with that immediately, and if they didn’t, I think a debate opponent could easily handle that in 30 secs. Therefore, I also think it is not as pernicious in its potential as Scott thinks. If I say “abortion is murder!” and you are pro-choice then you have to be comfortable with saying “but fetuses aren’t people!” (which only takes a few seconds to say) or “yes, but certain kinds of murder are okay–like capital punishment!” if, indeed, you want to deny the claim that abortion is murder, or else make the case that our usual intuitions about murder should not apply.

    The default stance, it seems to me, should be “if x meets the definition of y, and we have a strong moral intuition about y, then our moral intuition about y should apply to x in the absence of a good reason why it should not.”

    • Pku says:

      This. I’ve always felt particularly bad about the argument that “soldiers are murderers” is a definitional trick – soldiers kill people, so I definitely think there is a burden of proof on the people who say they have good reasons for killing those people.

      • Jiro says:

        It’s easy to play reference class games to be able to describe two things in the same way. I could equally claim that murderers kill, and meat-eaters and plant-eaters both kill, and therefore not only “meat is murder” but also “plant-eating is murder” are not definitional tricks.

        It’s true that soldiers kill people, but your choice to generalize the “kill people” part rather than the “kill” part is arbitrary, and so can’t create a burden of proof.

        • onyomi says:

          But getting more specific about what, exactly, it is about a generally-viewed-as-immoral thing that we actually view as immoral seems a very useful exercise. Most definitions of murder include such specifics as “premeditated,” “killing of humans,” “malicious,” “intentional,” etc., and I think most people would also include “non-voluntary” (i. e. euthanasia=assisted suicide, not “assisted self-murder”).

          So we look into this question: is it just the killing part we react badly to? No, because our bodies kill viruses and bacteria all the time and that doesn’t seem evil. Is it the killing a human part? Probably not as we don’t call it murder when someone kills himself, etc. etc. until we get at what, exactly it is we find immoral. As it so happens, I think the commonly understood definition of “murder” already does this for us nicely, dividing the evil kinds of killing from the non-evil.

          If we then find that what soldiers are doing meets the definition of “murder” and not just the definition of “killing,” then it seems justifiable to try to get people to extend their moral intuitions about murder to what soldiers do.

        • Adam says:

          Soldiers are playing a game that they mostly all agreed to. Nobody calls it murder when a boxer happens to die in the ring, either. That isn’t broken moral intuition. It’s just a recognition that killing people who signed up to die and are also trying to kill you isn’t as bad as just going around killing people.

          • Pku says:

            First of all, there’s the obvious caveat that soldiers have a tendency to kill quite a lot of civilians, and not always in an easily avoidable way either: If you’re sneaking through enemy territory and an old farmer and his kid spot you, you have to either shoot them or hope they won’t notify their military and get your whole squad killed.
            There’s also quite a lot of question on what counts as consent here. If your country has conscription, if your country is being invaded by forces that are going to assume you’re with the enemy whether you want to join them or not; even if you’re just in a country with massive pro-military social and/or economic pressure, it’s hard to say if you fully consented to being in the military in the same way a boxer did. And if, say, you join the US military when invading Vietnam, you’re forcing quite a lot of vietnamese to make difficult choices with no easy outs, even if they’d rather settle with either the communists or their opposition over having to go to war against you.

            And tying back to the original discussion, I feel like this developed into a reasonably productive and meaningful discussion over whether the murder definition is correct, which brings us back to the original point that definitional arguments aren’t necessarily all bad.

          • Adam says:

            All of that is why I said ‘mostly.’ A soldier certainly can murder, but the very act of soldiering and killing people in the process is not murder. It really would be nice if we could figure out a way at some point to accomplish what we accomplish with war without having to kill anyone, but well, it’s been a long time, longer than there have been humans, and we haven’t figured it out yet.

            I feel a strange tension here because I’m fairly against war. I disagree with a crap-ton of our foreign actions and think the military should be drastically smaller than it is, and yet, I don’t think it should be nothing. I think even the hardcorest of hardcore libertarians would say a country should still have an Army. Maybe a private army, but still an army. So I volunteered because well, what the fuck? If I don’t do it, I’m just pawning it off on someone else and all those people overseas are just as dead either way.

          • Pku says:

            First I’ll mention that I grew up in Israel, and most of my best friends (including all of my immediate family) have been soldiers at one point. So I support the “soldiers are murderers” line, but in a very benevolent way (at worst, like the way catholics are theoretically supposed to talk about sinners, except that I find it hard to use a word as strong as “sinner” to describe my frontline-infantry vet uncle, who’s one of the most all-around decent people I’ve ever met).

            I think the issue here is that pacifism is pretty dependent on what agency you’re thinking as. If you’re thinking at the state level, that’s a good point (Iceland manages pretty well without a military, but they’re hardly a typical example). If you think at the individual level, pacifism is a lot more defensible (at that level, the generalization is “no one serves in a military and we have no wars” instead of “no one in my country serves in a military and we all get killed”).

            About the “soldiers are murderers” line, I like it because there’s two sides to that coin; it reminds us that we should be very careful about declaring war, because if we do it had better be worth all those murders (it’s easy to neglect them in calculations if you don’t think of them that way, to apply scope insensitivity to deaths when you look at war deaths as an entirely different category). And on the other hand, it reminds us that anyone who kills someone has reasons that seem good enough at the time, which are more complicated than just “they’re an evil murderer who is evil”.

            I’ll mention that my choice in this situation was to avoid conscription to the Israeli military (due to having medical issues at the time, I had the choice to either avoid it or volunteer). I chose not to go, on the basis that one person less in the conflict would make it one person smaller, which would probably be a net gain. Most of my friends who decided to go for reasons similar to yours (except in Israel it’s even tougher, since most people go and draft dodgers are seen as social leeches). I also had a couple of friends, who I have an immense amount of respect for, who decided to go serve in frontline units on the basis that those units need decent people in them, to avoid them being dominated by arab-hating far-righters who would take any excuse to humiliate or kill arabs. I also know people whose approach was that arab lives just aren’t worth as much as Israeli lives, and people who joined because they wanted a chance to beat up arabs.
            I don’t know if I made the right choice (though I’m pretty sure I’m better than the last group). I do know that in last year’s Gaza invasion, when I had a couple of friends who were in the operation, it kept me up at night wondering. Since not choosing is also a choice, I did the choice that seemed best. And if I’m not entirely sure it was the right one, I definitely think it should be seriously considered as a realistic choice for anyone, instead of automatically laughed off as hopelessly naive.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Doing things which go against the common moral intuition but are probably for the best anyway is kind of what utilitarianism is all about. Arguing that not using the worst argument in the world does that is true, if only because it’s true of more than just one utilitarianist position to take.

      Furthermore.. One very strong reason why such arguments are truly the worst is because the person making it tends not to want to actually foster a good discussion. This site has people willing to read and consider positions enough that I may be comfortable with saying that I’m alright with some amount of murder and theft for such-and-such reasons, but in mainstream media, going on a tangent how ‘murder is kinda okay in cases X and Y because of reasons Z’ is equivalent to social suicide.

      • onyomi says:

        “Doing things which go against the common moral intuition but are probably for the best anyway is kind of what utilitarianism is all about.”

        And this is one (maybe ironically utilitarian) reason why I am (generally) against utilitarianism: I don’t think following common moral intuitions about everything will produce the best possible results, but I’m much more comfortable with the implications of people adhering too strictly to common moral intuitions, or applying them too broadly, than I am with people being their own judge of when it is and isn’t a good idea to do something which goes against that intuition.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          That implies you’re against practical utilitarianism, not against philosophical utilitarianism. Practical utilitarianism may end up in someone cheating on their spouse because they figured it’d make them happy and their SO wouldn’t ever find out, anyway; philosophical utilitarianism is anything out there which would increase net happiness in some way. Humans are flawed enough that you can make a strong case against practical utilitarianism and be right much of the time, but to discredit utilitarianism as a whole, I think you’ll need a stronger case.

          • onyomi says:

            I have had more detailed debates about philosophical utilitarianism ad nauseum in earlier threads, and am not interested in turning this into another “utilitarianism: yay or nay?” thread. I’m just pointing out one reason why I think people who incline toward utilitarianism are especially perturbed by this type of argument.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Oh. Well, fair enough.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Where is the line between philosophical and practical utilitarianism though? It’s not like we can trust people to make impartial judgements. If we can’t trust people to practically use utilitarianism then what’s the point?

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Comvincing people that tax is theft is only half the job.
      Utilitarians can and should approve of robin hood style thefts that add to total utity.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Forget about the “holy congress” hypothetical, raping your wife was not considered a kind of rape at all until recently, and still isn’t in many countries. This is probably the strongest case for the importance of semantic arguments.

      • Sastan says:

        Absolutely, and for one good reason. Marriage was viewed as consent! So you see, it wasn’t that everyone was very cool with the idea of rape, so long as you got married, it was that they defined marriage as consent to have sex with someone. A sort of life-long consent. And that rules out rape, which we define as sex without consent. Definitions always matter.

      • mca says:

        I think that can just as easily show the opposite. What if we argued about the definition of rape 50 years ago and concluded that indeed the word just didn’t apply to married couples? The act is exactly as bad either way, for reasons that in no way turn on the definitions of any words.

    • Sastan says:

      The rationalization of morality exists mostly to occupy people with too much time on their hands, or is motivated by the desire to convince someone (usually oneself) that something they know is wrong is actually right, and therefore ok to do. Or vice versa.

      One quickly notices this pattern, all the materialism, paternalism, conservatism and utilitarianism in the world is really “everyone should be vegetarian” and “I ought to be able to cheat on my SO without guilt”.

      Moral intuition is the whole of actual, practical morality. There is no logic to it, only feels. Systemization is always easily broken. Definitional games are useful in most arguments, but not so much in morality, because the only arbiter of morality is human emotion, in aggregate. If seven million Aztecs decide it’s moral to chop open a human ribcage and extract a beating heart every single day…….there’s probably no sure way of convincing them otherwise*.

      *Other than the way we used, of course. Which had its own moral problems.

      • Linch says:

        I don’t actually understand your point. Can you clarify?

        Are you arguing a)that people instinctively *know* right from wrong, and that the best clever rationalizations will just persuade people to make the wrong choices instead of the right ones, or are you saying that b) *in practice* rationality is whored out for rationalization rather than rationally changing your mind?

        Because if a) is correct, then it seems like people should stop arguing (or even thinking) about right and wrong and just go with their instincts. This seems (ironically enough) counter-intuitive to me.

        • Sastan says:

          I’m arguing that everyone *thinks* they know right from wrong. What we call morality is in reality (surprise!) an interaction between biology, chance and socialization.

          People don’t “know” right from wrong, they have emotional reactions to situations which they then attempt to fit into their moral worldview. This is why there is no consistent real-world morality. Moral inconsistency is the price of living.

          Abraham Lincoln said something to the effect of “When I do good, I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad”. Lincoln then went on to send half a million men to their deaths. We know he didn’t feel great about that. Did he think it was wrong? Obviously not.

          Moral frameworks are always broken. There are sometimes principles or heuristics that work very often, and these serve us well (think “golden rule”), but these are incomplete and inconsistent too*! Human morality is and will always be mushy, shaded and arguable. It will change over time. And we will always mock the barbarity of yesteryear, and think of ourselves as the pinnacle of moral progress, but that is a delusion as well.

          *Think on how the Golden Rule works for Sado-Masochists!

          • Linch says:

            Hmm…I think I understand your clarification, but am now lost at the relevancy of your clarification as it applies to your original comment.

          • Sastan says:

            If, as I assert, all moral systems are incomplete and inconsistent in the real world, then arguing over which is the more consistent in the fantasy world of internet utilitarianism (or whatever) is even less productive. It’s a futile exercise. It might as well be called “Morals and Dragons”.

            Morality is pretty much whatever we can convince ourselves to live with and convince other people to agree with. Therefore, anytime people want to argue morality, it boils down to one of three things:

            1: I should be able to do this thing I want to do, but everyone will think I’m a bad person! Here’s why I should be considered a good person for doing what I want!

            2: Other people should stop doing that thing they like to do and everyone thinks is ok, but I don’t, because reasons!

            3: Behold the magnificence of my intellect as I grapple with these tough problems! First we assume a spherical chicken………

          • Linch says:

            I’m trying to see how your argument is useful w/r/t say, donating money to the local homeless man vs. Deworming the World, or choosing an ethical career that I enjoy vs. an ethically neutral career that I really enjoy.

            Also, restating your 2) a little makes it sound a lot more reasonable.

            “Even though this belief is commonly held, I think it’s a misconception because of these reasons. Further, I try not to be a hypocrite.”

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Sastan
            If, as I assert, all moral systems are incomplete and inconsistent in the real world, then arguing over which is the more consistent in the fantasy world of internet utilitarianism (or whatever) is even less productive. It’s a futile exercise. It might as well be called “Morals and Dragons”.

            Or, “Tunnels and Trolleys”.

            If preaching egoiosm is practicing altruism, what may be the outcome of preaching utilitarianism?

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think I agree, because this seems to imply that moral reasoning is always a fruitless justification for what one already feels. I don’t think this is true. I think there is such a thing as “moral progress,” even if morality is, at root, based in intuitions. Progress can be made by being more consistent and probing more deeply into why our intuitions are the way they are. For example, most early societies were okay with slavery. It isn’t that they thought about it very carefully and decided to be okay with it; rather, it seems to be a kind of default position. Gradually people started looking at the slaves and saying “are these people really fundamentally different from the owners? Is there a good justification for why we can buy and sell them, but not each other?” People tried to come up with justifications for the status quo: slaves come from an inferior race, etc. but these ultimately all fell flat and moral progress was made by extending the intuition that people shouldn’t be bought and sold to include all people, and not just people of your tribe, race, or social class.

        • Sastan says:

          Sometimes it is a fruitless justification against what one feels!

          One can think of it as a battle between Freud’s id and superego. Or, as we call them now, biology and socialization. Sometimes one wins, and sometimes the other wins. And the result we call morality.

        • Sastan says:

          As a complete aside, I have a theory on slavery, which is that the humanistic impulses of the early Enlightenment made slavery much worse than it had historically been, before it finally removed it in the end of the iteration.

          By expanding people’s concept of who they owed a duty to as human beings, rather than tribesmen, family or countrymen, enlightenment principles led to an expansion of humanism. Unfortunately, in the early days, the economic pressures created by this expansion in learning and science at the same time lead to a new form of slavery, chattel. Most slavery in history was of POWs and for debt, and wasn’t hereditary. Expanding the scope of “humanity” for a time excluded certain backwards groups, and justified their “subhumanness” in the thought of the day. This applied not only to africans, but to aboriginal peoples as well.

          Over time, the contradictions in this manifested themselves, and the whole institution was done away with. One might call this “worse before it gets better”.

          • Nita says:

            Most slavery in history [..] wasn’t hereditary.

            I don’t think that’s true.

            Expanding the scope of “humanity” for a time excluded certain backwards groups, and justified their “subhumanness” in the thought of the day.

            Tribal societies justified chattel slavery of people from other tribes centuries before this expansion:

            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+25%3A44-46&version=NIV

          • Nornagest says:

            Most slavery in history was of POWs and for debt, and wasn’t hereditary.

            There have been a lot of slaveholding societies, and I can’t speak for all of them; but slavery in ancient Greece and Rome was hereditary, and it was also hereditary under some circumstances in the Islamic world. According to Wikipedia, the children of classical Islamic slaves were also slaves by default, but it at some point became customary for freemen to manumit their own children.

            As far as I know, though, the bit about most historical slaves acquiring that status as prisoners or war or for debt or criminality is accurate. It’s also historically common for slaves (or, at least, those with valuable skills) to have the opportunity to work towards their own freedom.

    • Fallacies are generally weak evidence, but are not water tight arguments. Fallacies aren’t dangerous because they are imprecise, they are dangerous because they are easy for motivated people to come up with . The worst argument in the world follows this trend. Saying X is a criminal and generally criminals are bad means X is more likely to be bad. The issue is that, as Scott has pointed out, it is very easy to label someone or something you disagree with as a bad thing. Now you just have to argue they are and don’t actually have to argue at a base level.

      The issue is that when groups and toxoplasma get involved it gets hard to get past the initial worst argument in the world to the actual issues. The issue with “MLK was a criminal” or is that the word criminal acts as a semantic stopsign; you need to taboo criminal in the discussion.

      • onyomi says:

        But Scott has also written that “extremism in thought experiments is no vice”:

        https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/26/high-energy-ethics/

        In other words, using intentionally emotionally charged examples are a way to prime our ethical intuitions to figure out what we really feel about something.

        Sure, one can use inflammatory language to trigger a negative emotional reaction to something that isn’t bad, but equally can one use obfuscatory language to mute or entirely circumvent an appropriate emotional reaction to something that is bad. This is the purpose of legalese: “give us some of your money so we can use it on things we think are a good idea or we’ll take it and/or put you in jail” sounds bad; “failure to remit sufficient funds to support public services may result in wage garnishment and/or incarceration,” doesn’t sound quite so bad. But which is closer to colloquial English? And is it a coincidence the government is especially adept at this type of language? Don’t worry, Shireen Baratheon, we’re just going to excite your molecules to a higher-than-average rate of vibration.

    • blacktrance says:

      From the original post:

      I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: “X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member.”

      Use of the non-central fallacy isn’t the start of an investigation (“Is it the bad kind of theft?”) but a conclusion (“It’s theft, so it’s bad”). There’s no problem with noticing that X belongs to Class Y, but there is a problem with the assumption that membership of Class Y automatically overrides other considerations. “Taxation is theft” is fine as a premise, but it’s not a whole argument, and that’s what “the worst argument in the world” is about.

      • onyomi says:

        It can be a whole argument in that the implication of saying “taxation is theft” is that even though most people don’t think of it as theft, the distinction between it and theft is immaterial.

        Or, put another way, though taxation is now viewed as a non-central member of category “theft,” that conventional wisdom is wrong because all the things that make us have a certain emotional reaction to more “traditional” theft also apply to taxation (not necessarily saying this is true in this specific case, but, for example).

        In the case of spousal rape, for example, people traditionally viewed it as either not rape at all, or else a “non-central” member of category rape. To say “spousal rape is still rape” is to point out that the distinction between this “non-central” type of rape and the more traditionally “central” types of rape is immaterial, and that our intuition about the latter should apply to the former. I don’t see why this is an inherently bad or incomplete argument.

        Sure, it would be a better argument if the speaker then went on to explain why the difference is immaterial, or why an adjustment in our definitions is warranted, but it is still an argument without that, and I think the burden is on distinction-makers, not non-distinction-makers.

        To take an extreme example, imagine there were two pieces of paper which appear for all the world to be the same color, but your friend insisted that one piece of paper is colored “red,” but the other is “aka,” which is a different color from “red.” They both look red to you and you even measure them using some tool and find out they produce the same wavelength of light, but he insists there is still some difference. Once you’ve said, “well, these both meet all the usual definitions of red,” there is no further argument you can make if your friend continues to insist that “red” and “aka” are different. At that point the burden is rightly on him to show how “aka” is different, or else accept your contention that “aka” in fact, is just another word for red.

        If I say “humans are animals.” And you say “no, they’re not,” or “technically, yes, but to say that is very misleading,” then I think you need to explain what makes them different from animals, or else explain why my saying they are animals is misleading. Implicit in my statement “humans are animals” is already the argument: “humans are animals (because they share most or all of the relevant characteristics of “animalness,” superficial appearances aside).”

        Of course, I may be missing something about what makes something an animal, or my intentions may be pernicious and misleading, but that doesn’t automatically make it a terrible argument, nor an incomplete argument.

        Put another way, saying “taxation is theft” is implicitly a demand that the interlocutor provide provide reasons why our intuitions about theft should not also apply to taxation, given all the similarities. In cases where this strategy is obviously disingenuous, such as “MLK was a criminal,” these reasons are easy to come up with and explain. If, on the other hand, most people cannot come up with any good reasons, then that tends to imply that maybe our reasons for making such a big distinction between x and y are not as strong as we thought.

        And this is also why I think this type of argument can be quite valuable: most people who are not political science or philosophy majors or SSC readers are not, in fact, aware of the things taxation and theft have in common, except in a very vague, unexamined sort of way. It’s not that they’ve thought about it and decided “yes, taxation has some things in common with theft, but not the bad things,” or “yes, taxation is a type of theft, but the good it does justifies the bad”; most people just haven’t really given it much thought at all. If they had, “taxation is theft” wouldn’t be such a shocking statement to most people.

        For most people, taxation and theft are different words; therefore, they’re different things. Our parents and teachers taught us theft was bad, but they never said anything about taxes. People are morally outraged by theft and and view taxation as an inconvenience or even proud duty; therefore, those are the appropriate reactions. That is the level at which most people are operating. Therefore, to ask those people to examine whether they may not be having arbitrarily different reactions to two different cases which actually have much in common seems entirely appropriate.

        • blacktrance says:

          It can be a whole argument in that the implication of saying “taxation is theft” is that even though most people don’t think of it as theft, the distinction between it and theft is immaterial.

          There can be such an argument, but just saying “taxation is theft” isn’t it. For example, if “theft” is interpreted as “taking someone’s money/stuff against their will and is necessarily morally wrong”, they may respond that taxation isn’t theft because it’s not necessarily morally wrong. For various reasons, people already don’t think that taxation is necessarily wrong, so they’ll either dispute that it’s theft or agree but say it’s a non-central and good instance of it.

          I agree that it’s interesting to talk about whether taxation is theft and what implications that has, and that it’s not something most people think about. But I don’t think you’re arguing against Scott’s point, which is that pointing out that something is in a morally/emotionally charged class doesn’t imply that the moral/emotional weight should transfer to the particular instance, because it may not be like the archetypal member of the class. As in the “genetic engineering is eugenics” example, it induces us to see eliminating diseases as morally similar to the Holocaust, which is fallacious. It’s epistemic Dark Arts.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      The default stance, it seems to me, should be “if x meets the definition of y, and we have a strong moral intuition about y, then our moral intuition about y should apply to x in the absence of a good reason why it should not.”

      Of course. If the negative valence of category Y is uncontested by the valence of instance X, then Y’s negative valence should transfer to X. I think the issue here is that “MLK” carries a positive valence greater than or equal to the negative valence of “criminal”. The reason non-central instances are non-central is precisely because the instances carry non-representative valences.

      The non-central fallacy is basically a criticism of shamelessly cherry-picking outliers. You seem to be arguing “but most things aren’t outliers” and then ignoring that the outliers carry connotations with a certain gravitas which the majority of data points lack. If I didn’t know who MLK was and you told me he was a criminal, I suppose I would justifiably believe he was evil. But I think it’s safe to assume everybody was familiar with the topics presented in the original non-central fallacy article.

      (for the curious and uninitiated: the non-central fallacy)

      I think there’s also a toxoplasmosis element. “Criminal MLK” seems oxymoronic. So his valence is (ostensibly) ambiguous and therefore contested, which we all know are the kinds of things that generate partisan link-bait.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Fwiw, a non-central fallacy that worked differently is “A kid got in trouble for bringing an alarm clock to school”. Technically, any device constructed to sound an alarm at a certain time can be called an ‘alarm clock’. But the central meaning or most common referent of ‘alarm clock’ is ‘a small object everyone has on their bedside shelf to wake them gently: common, small and neat, usually mass-produced and easily recognizable.’ The valence is positive: harmless, cosy.

        A jury-rigged, unfinished device in a too-large, suitcase shaped container is a far ‘outlier’ as an ‘alarm clock’. Even when finished, it would not be very practical to use for that function; so seeing the device without the verbal label, you wouldn’t predict its intended function as ‘alarm clock’ or ‘future alarm clock’. But when finished by adding a few parts and loading with explosives,* it could become a practical small suitcase bomb. So better to classify it as ‘purpose unknown, possibly malicious’ with a valence of ‘suspicious’ and a reasonable response of ‘call the police’.

        * After using its wall plug to recharge an internal battery, then closing the cord inside the container.

    • Aegeus says:

      The trouble is, if you’re making that argument to someone, it’s clear that they do think they have a good reason to ignore their moral intuitions on that front. Nobody in the world has ever said “I think that taxes are theft, and I hate theft, and I don’t see any reason to break my moral intuitions here, but I’m still going to support paying taxes.” The mere fact that you’re making this argument should tell you that it’s not going to stick.

      Also, it yanks on all the wrong emotional levers to have a useful debate. People take it personally when you imply that they’re thieves or murderers. “Taxes are theft!” will not be heard as “I want you to re-evaluate your moral code and see if you might have made a wrong turn,” it will be heard as “I want to make emotional cheap shots and personal attacks instead of debating the issue.”

      So if you really want to make this argument instead of stacking negative affect on someone, you should probably spell it out explicitly. “You seem to think taxes are justified on utilitarian grounds, but you still shouldn’t support them because…”

      • onyomi says:

        “it yanks on all the wrong emotional levers to have a useful debate…”

        I’m all in favor of niceness and civility, but aren’t there cases when strong language is called for?

        I mean, if you’re protesting Jim Crow, for example, it seems you have every right to use strongly worded slogans, at the very least:

        http://atlantablackstar.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/1948-RobesonWhitehouseAntiJimCrow-crop.jpg

        I mean, maybe you can sit down with these guys and try to offer them a nuanced ethical or practical argument why they should change their minds, but I somehow doubt you’ll get very far:

        http://www.altoarizona.com/images/little-rock-stop-the-race-mixing.jpg

        I feel like a lot of what people are objecting to about “taxation is theft” is not really the specific form of the argument, but that it’s short and pithy and therefore has the potential for abuse. Sure, all things equal, a long, nuanced, non-confrontational, rational discussion is better than a sign or a soundbite, but that doesn’t mean all poster slogans and soundbites are bad.

        • Cauê says:

          I mean, maybe you can sit down with these guys and try to offer them a nuanced ethical or practical argument why they should change their minds, but I somehow doubt you’ll get very far:

          Well, I’m immediately reminded of this:

          http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/the-audacity-of-talking-about-race-with-the-klu-klux-klan/388733/

          I had one guy from an NAACP branch chew me up one side and down the other, saying, you know, we’ve worked hard to get ten steps forward. Here you are sitting down with the enemy having dinner, you’re putting us twenty steps back.”

          I pull out my robes and hoods and say, “look, this is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism. I’ve got robes and hoods hanging in my closet by people who’ve given up that belief because of my conversations sitting down to dinner. They gave it up. How many robes and hoods have you collected?” And then they shut up.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m certainly not arguing that there is anyone so bad we shouldn’t sit down and talk with them if they are willing to talk. I’m just saying there’s a place for strong ethical statements. If you genuinely think a fetus is a full-fledged person, then abortion is murder, plain and simple. What good is it mincing words? I’m not saying that “abortion is murder” stands in lieu of a conversation, but that there is still a place for short, pithy slogans, and that they are not always dishonest or counterproductive.

            I am reminded of:
            http://i.imgur.com/E05yb2L.jpg

          • Aegeus says:

            What good is it mincing words? What good is not mincing words? Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

            If you want a quick and easy emotional appeal, if you want to rile people up, if you want to rally support to your cause or shock people into paying attention, if you just want a slogan that fits on a placard, then by all means, use the noncentral fallacy. Heck, use any fallacy that you want! “Obama is a Muslim” fits on a placard just as well as “Meat is murder.”

            But most of the time, we’re not waving placards at each other, and we shouldn’t be. We’re on the internet, we’re always metaphorically sitting down and talking. There’s no excuse to play the “Taxes are theft” card in an argument on Reddit.

            So I can accept the general thrust of your argument – “There exist situations where the noncentral fallacy can be a short and effective way of expressing what you believe,” – but I’d still say that 99 out of 100 times that it’s used, it shouldn’t be.

          • onyomi says:

            I think there are times when shocking people out of complacency is very important and justified, especially if you’re not deceiving people to do it. There is a time to mince words and there is a time not to mince words. People here seem to be implying that nothing should ever be said if it can’t be extremely subtle and nuanced. But short and pithy=/=wrong.

            And yes, it’s not just about trying to get people to change their mind on an issue, but about getting them to feel the urgency of an issue. There are many issues of which I’m broadly supportive, but to which I am not currently donating my time or money to actively promote. But maybe pointing out how much taxation has in common with the more usual type of theft is exactly what I need to start donating to your anti-tax foundation, for example. Or having the stark reality of abortion shoved in my face is what I need to have happen for me to become a pro-life activist (I myself have views on abortion not easily classified as either pro-life or pro-choice, but I do think the videos coming out attacking planned parenthood have been legit forms of activism).

            And sure, when you call it “the non-central fallacy” it sounds like it must usually be wrong. After all, it’s a “fallacy.” But what should or should not be “central” to a concept is very debatable and constantly undergoing revision. I don’t see why 99% of attempts to effect such revision are necessarily done in bad faith, or constitute logical fallacies.

          • Aegeus says:

            Short and pithy =/= wrong, but it’s also =/= right. It’s entirely irrelevant to the question.

            As I said, there are lots of arguments that are short and pithy, but still unjustified. “Obama is a Muslim” fits on a placard. “All Muslims are terrorists” fits on a placard. And in the right crowd, they might be exactly the argument you need to get people on your side.

            This implies that we should have more standards for acceptable discourse than simply “is capable of convincing people.”

            As for your last point, if you want to argue that something is or isn’t a central example of the category, then make that argument. Saying “Taxes are theft” isn’t an argument, it’s an assertion.

  36. Pku says:

    It recently occurred to me that Eragon, as it is, doesn’t really make sense. They’re constantly fighting against a king who’s actually not too bad of a guy (their main complaint seems to be that he taxes them and fights terrorists, which is, well,what kings do), especially for a medieval ruler.
    But! It would make fantastic libertarian utopia book: They could present the age of the dragon riders as the time where the only law was that no one should use force, anyone would only be bound by any contract they had voluntarily entered into, and the dragon riders existed only to provide the minimal supervision required. Hell, they wouldn’t even need to tax, since they’re immortal superpowered people anyways. Galbatorix, on the other hand, would be the tyrant of statism, instituting public services, run by the Razac which both metaphorically and literally prey on honest citizens.

    • Barry says:

      So, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Eragon mentioned anywhere on the internet, which always surprised me given how popular it was for a time. It even had a horrifically bad movie that you would expect would show up on a “10 Worst fantasy movies of all time” list on Io9 or Cracked.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      Fwiw, I felt absolutely certain that the series was going to end the way EY’s Sword of Good ended. Eragon’s actual ending felt disappointing and anticlimactic.

      The ending also felt rushed. This leads me to believe that Paoloni originally had a larger narrative in mind, but didn’t want to extend the series to a fifth(!) book since it was originally supposed to be a trilogy.

    • Pku says:

      Yeah, I suddenly remembered it because I asked my Calculus class about their favourite books and a surprising amount mentioned Eragon (I think it was the second-most mentioned after HP). I was kinda tempted to take fifteen minutes off the next class to point out all the inconsistencies is Eragon (I liked it, but then again, this… http://impishidea.com/criticism/everything-wrong-with-eragon ).

  37. Alexey Romanov says:

    Problems with confidence intervals as an alternative to p-values (and in general): The Fallacy of Placing Confidence in Confidence Intervals

  38. walpolo says:

    Is the evidence that MSG is harmful any good? I keep hearing that it’s just a widely accepted myth and in fact there’s nothing unhealthy about it.

    • stubydoo says:

      The problem with MSG is the tendency of restaurants to combine it with other ingredients that are bad. It funges against general quality of ingredient selection, in the restaurant marketplace as it currently exists in many places.

  39. Wrong Species says:

    I just read The Game by Neil Strauss. I’m surprised more rationalists don’t talk about pick up. If you read the book, all the characters are similar to us in being nerdy white guys who try to break things down to their most basic level and use that to get girls. Has anyone here tried pick up?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This has been talked about to death in other places and is not a great topic to have here. I will allow this one thread, after which I would prefer no further object-level discussion of PUA.

      • Wrong Species says:

        First there was that huge argument over gun control, now this. I seem to be unintentionally good at finding topics that end up getting banned.

    • LTP says:

      The funny thing is The Game is apparently anti-PUA in many ways, but a lot of people don’t read it that way. Strauss talks about how messed up many of the guys in it are, and how PUA and getting laid doesn’t help them overcome their mental health issues and for some of them it even worsens their mental health issues.

      (Disclaimer: I haven’t read The Game, but I’ve talked to people who have)

      • Wrong Species says:

        The people in the book are dedicating their entire lives to being PUA and like you said, had some really bad mental problems. I bet the average guy who successfully learns the techniques is probably better off.

      • Emily says:

        I’ve read it. That was definitely the impression I got. Or rather, I wasn’t sure if Strauss intended it to be read that way, but they certainly seemed troubled, sad, and unappealing to me.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Suppose one person were to say yes, what would you want to know? I’m not very sure what purpose you’d have for making this post other than maybe curiosity.

    • Pku says:

      Only in the sense that I’ve tried actively forcing myself to approach random people (mainly girls) to get over social anxiety (and hopefully get better with girls). I’ve had some friends who were into it and got me to read some Neil Strauss, who (for the reasons LTP mentioned) seems pretty sympathetic and reasonable.
      I also know a couple of PUAs who are absolutely the stereotypical douchebags a hypothetical feminist would describe them as. The depressing part is, they seemed to get along great (and sleep with) a lot of the most extremely radical feminists I know. (My conclusion from this was less “they’re actually right about women!” and more “here’s another piece of evidence that radical feminists are hypocritical”.)
      (dammit, googling “radical feminists on skateboards” gives me nothing. They’re really underusing the “radical” label here.)

      • Emily says:

        Why would you describe that as “hypocritical”?
        I would say that feminists are particularly vulnerable to PUAs relative to women with a more traditional theory of gender roles. They’re more likely to feel like they’re supposed to be cool with casual sex. They’re less likely to even have a concept like “men using women for casual sex,” because they deny that men are any more interested in casual sex than women.

        • Pku says:

          Sorry, I wan’t quite clear up there. The hypocritical part wasn’t quite about the feminists who slept with PUAs; it was about the ones who really like hanging out with them as people and have no trouble looking the other way, or laughing along, when they do incredibly douchey/sexist things.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I also know a couple of PUAs who are absolutely the stereotypical douchebags a hypothetical feminist would describe them as

        At one point, my Wife, a friend and I were walking home from dinner, and my Wife remarked she could never date a douchebag frat boy, and my friend and I had to remind my Wife that I am universally regarded as a douchebag frat boy that probably has undiagnosed narcissism.

        Sort of like how I like politicians who are smart and so I like Jeb! but my hind-brain REALLY likes Trump, a LOT, because he pisses off a LOT of people I hate.

        • Pku says:

          I think you’re implying that being douchey can be an effective way to get (certain types of) of girls? If so, I agree (though I still think it’s a poor long-term strategy).
          If you’re putting yourself in the same group as the guys I’m describing, two of the three pieces of evidence I have about you seem to disagree – for one thing, they would never in a million years refer to themselves as “beta guys”, and for another, you mention you actually married the girl you tried that stuff on, while the douchey guys I know have a tendency to get pretty harshly dumped by every girl they date within two months.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            What people say they want is not always what they want. People generally like to be around the life of the party, and that can often be the douchey-frat guys.

            This isn’t unique to women. I am here commenting about PUA and Russian politics at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning, when my Wife really just wants to go to Church and watch Girl Meets World. Back in high school, I cranked out 1,000 hours on Civ and she went to every Homecoming and Turnabout.

            There’s probably a few nerdy girls looking at me and what I said I wanted, and thinking “WTF? Stupid liar.”

          • Pku says:

            I agree that what people say they want isn’t necessarily what they want, and light-side PUA is probably a fairly good idea to get people interested (dark-side PUA might also work, but it still seems like a terrible idea).

            That aside though, douchey-frat guys spans a huge range of people; some of them are boring one-dimensional caricatures with no interesting properties, and I suspect those guys can get girls to go out with them but have a hard time maintaining a long-term relationship (this is backed by my admittedly small sample of two data points, and the evidence that scoring high on dark triad traits correlates with more sexual partners and less ability to maintain long-term relationships). I also know douchey-frat guys who are interesting people; all things considered you seem more like the second. (Either that or your wife is really bad at dealing with sunken cost fallacy).

            Also, regarding the life of the party: can be douchey frat guys, can be other types. Whoever it is, if they’re a boring or sucky person, they might be great at getting the party to happen, but it’s less likely to be enjoyable (the difference between addictive responses and enjoying things seems relevant here).
            (I’ll admit to biasing that last part on knowing a couple of frat boyish guys who threw a lot of parties and such, which were incredibly boring and led to a severe drought of interesting social events around me.)

        • stubydoo says:

          “my hind-brain REALLY likes Trump, a LOT, because he pisses off a LOT of people I hate”

          Sounds like Trump has found a way to hack your attractiveness function.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            That was his goal, I believe!

            Fortunately, my hind-brain still likes Jeb! and Rubio better. Background functions say Trump is great if SHTF and great to have on the team, but Rubio and Jeb! can probably move society in a better direction if they win.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            “Rubio and Jeb! can probably move society in a better direction if they win.”

            [Citation needed].When have “conservatives” moved society in a better direction — or, for that matter, produced any movement of society other than just slowing the leftward movement — since the Glorious Revolution?

          • Adam says:

            I strongly doubt any president at all has much steer in the direction of society. Maybe they can push a law or two against the prevailing grain, but larger shifts in norms are a lot bigger than the government, more reflected by it than created by it.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      If you read the book and your first instinct was to post here, you have the wrong mindset.

      If you want to test it out, test it out yourself in the field.

      I can say that Red Pill philosophy in general improved my life, but I used pick-up quite sparingly, due to a large number of mental blocks. Gotta have the right mindset to dabble in the Venusian Arts.

      I can also say that I had a bad time, decided “okay, let’s try this pickup stuff on the first girl I see,” which happened to be my current Wife. I can also say that any PUA would scream “one-it is” and probably call me an idiot.

    • zz says:

      An idea I’ve had kicking around in the back of my mind: light-side pickup is, in principle, aligned with feminism.

      I can’t find it, but Mark Manson (ex-PUA, endorsed by Ozy) has brought up what we might think of as the pickup paradox: shouldn’t women be in favor of a thing that makes men more attractive? (I guess lesbians might not like it, insofar as it might reduce their dating pool by causing bisexual women to tend to have more heterosexual sex/relationships, but the typical case should hold).

      For example, I’m given to understand that feminists have an issue with being constantly approached by men they’re not interested in. And then we have this guy who spends the better part of an hour-long presentation talking about how to only approach women who have signaled interest. A match made in heaven! It’s like how the right and left should be able to get together on criminal justice reform, since the left wants less prison time and the right wants to spend less on imprisoning people.

      And yet, most feminists don’t seem to be so much on board with pickup. Something’s up.

      First explanation that comes to mind is that most of pickup isn’t light side. I’m pretty sure the guy in the video linked above said a few sketchy things, and I recall him definitely saying some deeply sketchy things. And this compounds based on your background. If you’re me, raised in a society so liberal we don’t need feminism because equality of men and women is so well-accepted there’s no point to advocating for it, then you just kind of filter out the sexist crap for the obvious-in-retrospect insight you never learned as a kid because you hated everyone in your graduating class and thus never learned to pick up on a bunch of social cues that most people get so now you have to learn them explicitly. On the other hand, if you’re raised on the idea of rape culture, then you really notice the rapey stuff I ignore.

      Second explanation is that each woman has an attraction function, a fair bit of which is common to most women, and much of this overlap is super-hackable, but there’s something displeasing about this (I find myself unable to pinpoint what exactly), so a label of “manipulative” is put on any such hacking, because words have hidden inferences and calling something “manipulative” implies “if you do this, you are evil.”

      Related is what I assume red pill would say: women seek the highest-quality partners, hacking their attraction function causes them to prefer lower quality hackers to higher quality nonhackers, contrary to their goals, and thus, they oppose hacking.

      Explanations 4 through infinity are things I haven’t thought of yet.

      And, in case anyone was wondering, I’m not very confident in anything I wrote in this comment (please, do criticize) and I don’t pay attention to pickup itself anymore, because I don’t believe it provides me any insights I can’t get between Mark Manson and rationalist community with much better epistemic virtue and wheat:chaff ratio.

      • bartlebyshop says:

        “For example, I’m given to understand that feminists have an issue with being constantly approached by men they’re not interested in. And then we have this guy who spends the better part of an hour-long presentation talking about how to only approach women who have signaled interest. A match made in heaven!”

        Since this guy is selling seminars to men, it’s possible he tells them that the signals of interest are things men would like to believe are signals of interest, rather than things that actually are signals of interest.

        “Second explanation is that each woman has an attraction function, a fair bit of which is common to most women, and much of this overlap is super-hackable, but there’s something displeasing about this (I find myself unable to pinpoint what exactly), so a label of “manipulative” is put on any such hacking, because words have hidden inferences and calling something “manipulative” implies “if you do this, you are evil.””

        Undoubtedly by now you’ve heard the joke “I inserted friendship coins, why didn’t the sex come out” – people don’t like being treated like vending machines.

        There’s some population of women (feminist or not) who are attracted to men but find actually interacting with them romantically/sexually exhausting and not worth the effort. Maybe there are more of them who are feminists than in the general population of women?

      • Saal says:

        Is there pickup that doesn’t hold as an underlying assumption that the whole need for pickup is a result of feminism breaking the sexual/romantic market in severe and undesirable ways? I assume this is what you refer to as “light-side”. If not, then I suspect the feminist opposition to pickup is roughly similar to a given conservative religious community’s opposition to another conservative religion, even though they might have similar goals/ideas on what society should look like from a structural and moral standpoint. It’s hard to agree with the person saying “Well, I think you’re going to suffer eternal damnation/you broke everything and your ideology sucks, but we can still work productively toward goal X we have in common.”

        • Wrong Species says:

          That’s a common thought in the community(from what I can tell) but I don’t think it was originally meant that way by the guys who started it.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Is there pickup that doesn’t hold as an underlying assumption that the whole need for pickup is a result of feminism breaking the sexual/romantic market in severe and undesirable ways

          What’s wrong with this assumption? Phrase differently, it’s used all the time by practically everyone. “Women’s empowerment has changed the way the genders interact, and now men need to clean up their act and up their game to form good relationships with women. ”

          That’s so banal as to be non-trivial. I find this argument in economics articles discussing the decline of male wages, for instance. It’s The Truth.

          What’s the matter is when people take The Truth and spin it in ways that Our Society sucks. If I tell you that women’s empowerment, particularly in a world returning to Forager norms, involves more women going online and in bars than Churches, and that this is a comparative disadvantage for the normal guy, and will result in delayed marriage, fewer marriages, and less happy people….

          Well, damn, when did you become such a misogynist, ADBG? I feel the above is not a True statement, but neither is “printing more money causes more inflation” (if you assume there’s a 1:1 relationship over the short-run) or “raising the minimum wage helps the poor”.

        • LTP says:

          It depends on what you mean by pick-up.

          You have ex-PUAs like Mark Manson and Dr. Nerdlove, where the former is feminist-friendly and the latter is explicitly feminist (perhaps too much, at times, when he goes on social justice rants at times). There is some pretty good dating advice from both. However, both are mixed bags, though, for various reasons, though still totally superior to the anti-feminist PUA IMO.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I find Nerdlove distasteful. It was not hard to see why from his most recent blog post.

            EDIT: That posted too fast. Editing…

            Full Edit.
            This was the recent blog post:
            http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2015/09/ask-dr-nerdlove-am-i-too-vanilla/

            The only thing I would be careful about is how she treats your inexperience. You say that she teases you about being a “square”. As long as this is affectionate teasing, all is well; if she’s being mean about it or implying you’re a bad person for not being into the same things she’s into? That’s not cool and a pretty reliable sign that you should find someone who’s not an asshole about sex.

            I do find value in that this was mentioned, but this was after several paragraphs of “this is all in your head and you need to get out of your own way.”
            Which is also accurate, but my first instinct to someone teasing a partner’s sexual inexperience is “RED FLAG!”

            In most of his posts Nerdlove seems…ahhh…eager to signal loyalty to SJW in-group, and heap on plenty of criticism to relatively unfortunate folk. “Punch down,” I believe the lingo is.

            I don’t think his information is necessarily off-base, so I might need to correct hind-brain thinking here, but the young man’s story left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth and raised alarms in my mind. And my intuition tells me though should be immediately addressed.

          • LTP says:

            I don’t disagree with your general point nor with your point about the specific article. I can totally understand why some find him to be distasteful, as I myself have felt that way about him at times. I think Nerdlove is a lot harder on male letterwriters as opposed to female ones, and over the past few years he seems to be, as you say, getting increasingly concerned with signalling he’s in the SJ camp even to the detriment of his advice (it’s pretty obvious to me, as somebody who is a regular reader of his, that probably half his audience is feminist women who are there as much or more for the SJ stuff as the dating advice). He sometimes falls into giving vacuous “feel-good” (for feminists) advice that probably isn’t actually helpful or an accurate description of how dating works. I also think he’s sometimes overly and unnecessarily mean to the very kinds of inexperienced, fearful, low self-esteem, nerdy young men who are supposed to be his target audience. He’d probably say it’s something like “tough love”, but I think it goes beyond that to just making uncharitable assumptions.

            All that said, I still think his best stuff is some of the best dating advice for young men on the internet (not a high standard, but still). His recent book on online dating is a pretty good guide if you’re new to online dating and entirely eschews SJ stuff and the “tough love”. Also, a lot of his earlier articles (circa 2011-mid 2013) are pretty good.

        • Ever An Anon says:

          I have a translaton of a math textbook from the Soviet Union on my bookshelf. If you read it it spills a lot of ink talking about how and why only the materialist (i.e. Communist) interpretation of mathematics is correct, even to the point of snubbing Pythagoras. But the proofs are clear and instructive with helpful commentary so that even an innumerate biochemist can follow along.

          Pickup isn’t a science by any stretch, but I don’t think it’s inherently any more ideological than mathematics. Throwing away useful instructions on a procedure because of the ideology of its author doesn’t make sense. Why should a feminist ally throw away the advice in, say, Roosh V’s Bang because of his anti-feminism?

      • LTP says:

        I think a lot of people of both genders just find explicit discussions of social skills to be off-putting because it is something they view as “natural” and so talking about social skills explicitly, which doesn’t normally happen, can feel unsettling or even manipulative when it shouldn’t. This affect is probably doubly true for specifically dating advice because of the all the emotions and gender stuff built into it that isn’t in normal social skills advice.

        I also think your first reason has a lot of truth to it as well. A lot of PUAs advocate morally gray tactics at best, even if they’re mixed in with good stuff.

        • onyomi says:

          I think there is much to this. And somehow I think we can still usually detect when social skills and charisma are being “faked,” rather than coming naturally to a person (though I guess if someone faked it really well, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them and a “natural”).

          Maybe it upsets our evolutionary sensors in the same way plastic surgery sometimes can: a man in China actually sued his wife, I believe, because his wife had what he considered to be an ugly child; only after this did he realize she had had extensive plastic surgery before meeting him. Of course, her genes didn’t change with her face, so he felt cheated.

          I think many PUAs, by attempting to “game the system,” end up falling into a kind of “charisma uncanny valley,” we might find unsettling.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        A man hacking their social skills to appear attractive is the equivalent of a woman wearing cosmetics: discuss.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          There’s no parallel. They serve different functions. “Increase attractiveness” means different things to women and men. Women also have a different social utility function than men.

          If a man practices PUA it means he can’t get laid. Which is probably true, because the vast majority of men can generate ~0 organic interest in the vast majority of women and rely entirely on luck.

          If a woman wears make-up it means she is conforming to social expectations, and also means she is trying to land a really hawwwwwwtttt guy. She’s not wearing make-up for you and me, bro. She’s wearing make-up for Ryan Gosling and so she convince all the other women that’s she part of the in-group and not a defector and they should really respect her and not try to steal Ryan Gosling away.

          If you and I practice PUA it means you can’t get laid. What are you, a loser? Hahaha, let’s all laugh at the losers! Hahahahahaha!

          • James says:

            She’s wearing make-up […] so she convince all the other women that’s she part of the in-group and not a defector and they should really respect her and not try to steal Ryan Gosling away.

            Wait, what? Can you explain this part?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Women are generally pressured to follow certain social norms. A lot of people suggest men enforce these norms, but women themselves are primary pushers of these norms.
            Make-up is just part of the whole suite of norms.
            Signaling defiance of the overall in-group invites mate-poaching.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Women are generally pressured to follow certain social norms.”

            Women and men are both expected to follow societal norms for their gender. Many norms for women and men are primarily enforced within gender. I’m sure you can easily think of male gender norms that women love to see a guy defect from.

          • Anonymous says:

            As a non-make-up-wearing woman, I have never experienced any kind of pressure or punishment from other women.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Women and men are both expected to follow societal norms for their gender.

            True, but different norms with different functions. The commenter asked specifically about make-up vs. pick-up. The two are not analogous.

            Man does not practice pick-up to signal alliance to the in-group. Man not practicing pick-up is not defiance of the in-group.

            Woman not wearing make-up signals many things.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            As a non-make-up-wearing woman, I have never experienced any kind of pressure or punishment from other women.

            Perhaps you are in the minority, or perhaps you are mistaken. Neither my Wife nor my other close female friends have experienced direct sanction for not wearing make-up since high school, either, but they are still soaked in a culture where make-up=requirement.

            In the various women’s circles upon which I occasionally eavesdrop, “can you believe she wore that,” and “I can’t believe she didn’t wear makeup” are still common phrases, even though DIRECT chastisement does NOT happen.

        • Wrong Species says:

          It’s pretty much the same. The difference is that girls claim to like wearing make up outside of attracting guys and gaining status.

        • onyomi says:

          As I say above, it may in some ways be like plastic surgery.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        This doesn’t fit the narrative of “men oppress, women oppressed.”
        Anything that breaks narrative gets challenged aggressively and almost always pitched with the evening trash, especially since PUA is almost exclusively practiced by skeevy, low-status men, and not by upstanding men like Ryan Gosling.

        That’s not unusual at all for PUA, go try to tell the American people that America has the most regressive tax system in the world and needs more regressive taxes, and they’ll throw an epic shit-fit. Even if I point out that Saint Reagan raised regressive Social Security Taxes.

        Also, alliance with PUAs accomplishes nothing for feminists. What possibly could PUAs add to the feminist movement? This is way different than an alliance between Red Tribe and Blue Tribe, which have roughly equal power.

      • TheNybbler says:

        “For example, I’m given to understand that feminists have an issue with being constantly approached by men they’re not interested in.”

        Well, my first explanation is simple enough: They’re not telling the truth. This certainly applies to feminists who claim to be constantly approached by _nerdy_ guys.

        My second explanation goes with the “hacking” explanation. There are certain guys they want to be attracted to, and they detect these guys by visible characteristics which are correlated with the real, unchangable (or at least hard to change), but not immediately obvious characteristics they are interested in. Ape the visible characteristics (as PUA advocates), and you fool them into being attracted to you when they’d rather not be, and that pisses them off.

        • Pku says:

          Another explanation is that PUA openly advocates approaching a lot of women awkwardly until you either develop skills or find a girl who likes your style; even if this causes more fun sexual tension overall, it lowers the overall percentage of high-chemistry interactions; for women who’s complaint is getting approached too much rather than not enough, this is a downside.
          (The less sympathetic way to describe it is that women would rather awkward guys just stay in the basement and never try talking to them at all, so they can more easily select the hot guys).

      • Nita says:

        light-side pickup is, in principle, aligned with feminism

        In principle, yes. In practice, you would have to call it something else to escape the negative connotations of classic PUA.

        (I imagine most feminists dislike classic PUA because it divides all women in the man’s chosen age bracket into “HBs” and “warpigs”, and encourages you to think of anyone who seems to like you with the amount of respect you would give a dog, to give just a couple of examples. Not to mention that one guy who bragged about choking random people…)

        shouldn’t women be in favor of a thing that makes men more attractive?

        Yeah, a thing like that would be nice. Alas, most of PUA is not that thing — the main effects seem to be making men more persistent and more contemptuous of women (well, that’s one way to increase confidence…).

        only approach women who have signaled interest

        That is not a typical example of PUA advice.

        each woman has an attraction function, a fair bit of which is common to most women, and much of this overlap is super-hackable, but there’s something displeasing about this

        Many people, including a lot of women, believe that attraction functions, if allowed to work without interference, will bring together compatible partners for a mutually satisfying relationship (see: “chemistry”). Therefore, “hacking” someone’s attraction function is tantamount to tricking them into wasting their time on a relationship they won’t enjoy (see also: the “used car salesman” archetype).

        After reading some PUAs’ reports of their one-night-stands and relationships, I’m afraid this is at least partially true. And the saddest thing is — even when everything is going well, these guys are unable to relax and enjoy the experience, because they have been taught to be hypervigilant about staying in control 24/7.

    • Alphaceph says:

      Rationalists don’t talk about pick up because the SJW/Feminist segments of the community have successfully blackmailed the community into decreeing that talking about pick-up is a thoughtcrime. See Scott’s post:

      “I will allow this one thread, after which I would prefer no further object-level discussion of PUA.”

      The blackmail runs along the lines of “if you talk about pick up, we will cause such a stink/headache for the admins that they’ll regret allowing the conversation to happen”

      This is how a lot of epistemology now works in the rationalist community: something is false when one particularly vocal, politically adept part of the community decress that anyone who says it’s true is evil and any further discussion of the subject will be punished.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Alternatively, Scott is someone who hates seeing things that upset him to the point where even speaking of the great horror that is doge will send him into a catatonic state, and not creating massive threads on pickup is the polite thing to do.

        • Alphaceph says:

          Isn’t that just another way of restating/sugar coating what I just said?

          “This topic will upset/offend someone so you can’t talk about it” = “this topic is thoughtcrime and you will be banned if you talk about it”

          BTW I have no problem with the idea of caving in to the feminist thought police; especially when the host is known by his true name.

          I just object to the sugar-coating because I see it as dark-side epistemology.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            There’s plenty things being discussed here that’ll make people feel bad. This thread alone has people argue points that many SJW-aligned folks would gleefully interpret as racist, islamophobic, or vaguely classist. Our host does not object to these discussions, and nobody is telling anyone out there to be quiet because ohmygosh they might feel bad… But because there’s one particular subject that he’d rather not see too much discussion about, suddenly the reasoning behind it must be because the feminist thought police is breathing down everyone’s necks and we’re all deathly afraid of offending them?

          • Alphaceph says:

            I thought “race” was also banned in the open thread; there are 500+ comments here, if you think there’s a frank race/islam discussion going on do point me to it.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Just ctrl+f islam and go to town reading the discussion started by JakeR. There’s no need to tar this whole blog as ‘afraid of all feminists and enforcing thoughtcrime’ when there’s some social justice heresy going on just fine.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            So talk about this on rationalist tumblr? Certain topics tend to quickly drag a comment section to shit so Scott’s fully within his rights to ban them, especially if there’s an easily accessible adjunct community for discussing them.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I have to agree with Stefan that I don’t think this is social justice thing but I also have to agree with Alphaceph that the reasoning seems suspicious. There are quite a few subjects that we have talked about to death on SSC(even outside of race and gender) and Scott doesn’t seem to have a problem with those.

          • Pku says:

            I’d say Scott has probably pretty much given up on stopping race/religion discussions, but still hopes to contain PUA.

          • Alphaceph says:

            > talk about this on rationalist tumblr

            It’s better than nothing I suppose!

          • SUT says:

            Banning discussions on PUA is legitimate in the same way as banning consumption of cocaine in your libertarian bar.

            Sure a line or two is not going to kill anybody, but if you read “The Game” or online forums, you see that for certain people, this becomes the singular pursuit of their lives. And why not, sex, and the ego boost of getting laid is like a drug to men. And like snapped out people trying to be rational, PUA’s seem to have a harder time being intellectually rigorous in the tradition of this site.

            In summary, without dismissing the object-level claims of PUA, there’s good reason to not make it a welcome topic.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          >Scott is someone who hates seeing things that upset him to the point where even speaking of the great horror that is doge

          Scott has already embraced the truth of the gode, there’s no going back now.

  40. Saal says:

    I sent this to your tumblr, Scott, but I’ll just go ahead and stick it here as well:
    https://github.com/moridinamael/raikoth

    If guy-who-is-making-this sees this, I’d be interested in seeing where you plan on going with it and potentially getting involved.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure how to interpret this. I see the description, but is there an existing program yet? If so, where do I find it?

      • Saal says:

        No, it’s basically empty at the moment. It looks like he’s planning on building it on the Ethereum blockchain though, which is an interesting little system that I recommend looking into if you’re not aware of it.

      • moridinamael says:

        Okay, so, I was reading about Ethereum at the same time I happened to be perusing your Raikoth materials and my brain did that “these things are somehow related” thing.

        I spent quite a bit of time playing with Ethereum and started coding some contracts which would be analagous to citizenship/”ownership” contracts, but at this point haven’t moved beyond that. Ethereum is really new and there’s a paucity of tools and frameworks for making things within it. I figured it would be a more efficient use of my time to wait for some tools to be created before moving forward with it. A lot of the tools I thought about leveraging such as Augur (an Ethereum-based prediction market that looks very promising, which I would be in a sense coupling with the Angel of Evidence) haven’t even launched yet and so I obviously can’t incorporate them.

        tldr: there’s a little code written but I don’t think the framework is ready to handle even a cartoon implementation quite yet.

    • moridinamael says:

      As I mention in my reply to Scott, it’s sort of stalled due to the fact that Augur isn’t launched yet and also I feel like I should just wait for a library of good contracts to be written that I can borrow from rather than trying to hack something this complex on a platform that I barely understand.

      If you want to get involved, I just made this Google Group, peek in there and maybe we can get a discussion going: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/raikoth-ethereum

  41. Earthly Knight says:

    Bayesians!

    I have a puzzle for you. Call it Caie’s paradox of anti-expertise.

    Suppose that I am taking a shot in pool, but am encumbered by a strange form of stage fright. Specifically, if my confidence that I will make the shot is .5 or higher, I will tighten up and almost certainly miss, while if my confidence that I will make the shot is below .5, I will feel like the pressure’s off and almost certainly sink the ball.

    Now consider the following two propositions:

    (P): I will make the shot
    (~P): It is not the case that I will make the shot

    Here’s the puzzle: what pair of credences should I assign to the propositions (P) and (~P) in order to maximize the accuracy of my belief states?

    (Assume that the chance that I sink the ball is independent of my confidence in (~P)– my subconscious doesn’t understand negation.)

    • Kiya says:

      .4999, 0 or .5, 1 seem pretty good.
      By the setup of your problem you’re going to be wrong about P, so keep close to center on it. Because of the sharp cutoff at 0.5, you can predict ~P pretty exactly, so may as well.

      I think most people’s subconscious do understand negations though.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        .4999, 0 or .5, 1 seem pretty good.

        These are the right answers. Is either an answer a Bayesian can give?

    • Alejandro says:

      If I am fully aware of my stage fright and can reason through all its consequences for my beliefs, then it seems that the only stable probability assignment is 0.5 to both P and ~P. You did not specify what happens with my shot in that case but it is a reasonable assumption (continuity) that if my confidence is exactly 0.5 then my chances of making the shot successfully are also 0.5.

      You can sharpen the paradox (at the cost of making it even more more psychologically unrealistic) by ruling out continuity. Say, for confidence greater or equal to 0.5 I will fail the shot for sure, but when it is lower I will make it for sure. Then I am in a situation where my beliefs include:

      A) P(X) < 0.5 X

      (I have replaced your notation P by X, to reseve P to mean “probability assigned to”). This is paradoxical because if I assign any number smaller than 0.5, by (A) I should infer X and update to 1, whence again by invoking (A) I update again to 0, and so on.

      This paradox is discussed in the MIRI article “Definability of Truth in Probabilistic Logic” (pdf). The conclusion there, if I understand it correctly, is that the paradox is caused by assuming an agent can have fully precise knowledge about their own probability assignments. Relaxing only slightly this assumption (disallowing fully precise knowledge, but allowing knowledge with any given error no matter how small) solves the paradox and leads to a consistent probability assignment of 0.5. If I do in fact assign P(X) = 0.5 exactly, but can’t know that I did it exactly (I can only know that my probability is on a tiny interval s centered around 0.5), then I cannot infer ~X and fall into paradox. My subjective assignment of P(X) = 0.5 is consistent and the best guess I can do; by assumption I end up failing the shot, but I can’t know that in advance.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        You did not specify what happens with my shot in that case but it is a reasonable assumption (continuity) that if my confidence is exactly 0.5 then my chances of making the shot successfully are also 0.5.

        Yes, I did. If my confidence is .5 or higher, almost-certain failure. If my confidence is below .5, almost-certain success. A disjunction, no continuity.

        This paradox is discussed in the MIRI article “Definability of Truth in Probabilistic Logic” (pdf).

        The problem addressed there is a different one. I believe that the present paradox will hold even if we alter the formulation to “if my confidence that I will make the shot is [in an arbitrarily small interval around] .5 or higher, I will tighten up and almost certainly miss, while if my confidence that I will make the shot is below [an arbitrarily small interval around] .5, I will feel like the pressure’s off and almost certainly sink the ball.”

        Actually, I think the opacity-of-credal-states response will only work if we allow that my credal states can be maximally opaque, that is, if I have no idea where on the closed interval [0,1] they fall. But this defies credulity.

    • That’s an example of a problem that shows we don’t necessarily have a completely independent choice. Presumably you would “choose” .5 confidence. Might also see:

      http://mindingourway.com/newcomblike-problems-are-the-norm/

    • Adam says:

      I believe most athletic endeavors are such that your assessment at a subconscious level of whether you can hit a target is usually more reliable than trying to explicitly reason about it. The part of your brain devoted to maintaining muscle memory and not devoted to worry and explanation is a better Bayesian than the part that talks.

    • grort says:

      Why are you trying to maximize the accuracy of your belief states? As a rationalist, your goal is to win. Assign (0, 1) every time, and be happy to be wrong.

      (This is a weird result, but I suspect that’s because it’s a weird question. It’s very unusual for humans to have this sort of stage fright, and for those that do, it’s even more unusual for them to be able to arbitrarily assign numbers to their confidence of success. I think the closest real-life situation would be someone who tries very hard to convince themself that they’re going to fail, but only sometimes succeeds at that process.)

      • grort says:

        A better phrasing: Normally we think of confidence numbers as these sort of abstract values which exist only in mindspace, and which can only affect the world by improving our predictions. Under those circumstances, of course we want to have good confidence numbers.

        In this case, we’ve discovered a confidence number which affects the world directly, which is very weird, but let’s exploit the heck out of it as long as it makes us win.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      The last of the Ted Chiang stories linked by Linch a couple of threads above might be relevant…

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Alright! 36 hours have passed, so here are some answers. Kiya’s probability assignments above are, as I said, correct– the best you can do is to assign a credence of .5 to (P) and a credence of 1 to (~P). Why is this a paradox? Well, it’s a paradox because this is an incoherent set of probability assignments– it violates the Kolmogorov axioms.*

      This should be cause for alarm for Bayesians. The main selling point for Bayesianism was that probabilistic coherence was guaranteed to maximize accuracy– in other words, for every incoherent assignment of credences, there would always be some coherent set of credences which would be more accurate. This turns out not to be the case, as the present example demonstrates. And if Bayesianism sometimes gets in the way of having accurate beliefs, well, why would anyone care to be a Bayesian?

      If anyone’s interest is piqued, here’s an abridged version of Caie’s original paper. Be forewarned, if you thought my exposition was in any way unclear or too technical, you’re in for a rough ride.

      *The proof of this is simple:

      1. (P) and (~P) are mutually exclusive (by Non-Contradiction).
      2. Cr(P or ~P) must be the sum of Cr(P) and Cr(~P) (by 1, Additivity).
      3. Cr(P or ~P) is 1.5 (by 2, arithmetic).
      4. (P or ~P) is a tautology, and so must be assigned a credence of 1 (by Normalization).
      5. But 1=/=1.5

      • Adam says:

        Why is the Bayesian answer not take 10,000 shots and update your confidence based on how many you actually sink? I know that sounds inherently frequentist, but the point of Bayesianism isn’t to ignore evidence or never seek it. It’s just to not ignore priors while evaluating evidence.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          The short answer is that when you have prior knowledge of the objective chances you don’t need to concern yourself with frequencies. If you know that a die is fair, roll it 100 times and get 30 sixes, your credence that the die will come up a six next time should remain at .18. And here it is built into the scenario that I know the objective chance of my making a shot is approximately 1 when my credence is below .5 and approximately 0 when my credence is .5 or higher.

          The long answer is that, if I do as you suggest, I’m going to make almost exactly half the shots and wind up very near (.5,.5), which is still inaccurate. Given reasonable priors, each shot where I’m at .5 or above I will miss and update slightly downwards, while each shot where I start out below .5 I will sink the ball and bump my credence slightly upwards. In fact there is no observed frequency which will translate into the most accurate assignment (.5,1), because this would require me to miss 100% of the shots and sink a further 50%.

          • Montfort says:

            I can’t help but notice that in your long answer, the determined probability (0.5 +/- epsilon) becomes vanishingly close to the observed probability (0.5 +/- epsilon). I also notice that this answer sounds much more intuitively pleasing than “time to break the axioms of probability(!) in such a way that I can never observe results that agree with my assigned probability.”

            (quotes are, of course, a mildly comical paraphrase, not a literal quotation)

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If the concern is that I could never acquire observational evidence that I have the relevant type of anti-expertise, it is misplaced. Surely I can notice that my having a confident feeling when I shoot the ball is perfectly correlated with my missing.

            And there is nothing more “intuitively pleasing” than being right!

          • Adam says:

            Makes more sense that way. You got me with prior knowledge of the objective chances. That isn’t possible with actual pool shots, so isn’t the way any pool players form assessments of their own ability. I’m too wedded to reality for some of these paradoxes.

    • James Picone says:

      The gap between (P) and reality is essentially (1 – n) for n = 0.5 (because you will miss).

      So the best you can do is P=0.5, ~P=0.5, and the gap between P and reality is 0.5. Also, you won’t sink the ball. 0.49999[a finite number of additional 9s] would be almost as close and you’d actually sink the ball, so that might be preferable.

      That seems intuitively obvious to me, so I’ve almost certainly fucked something up massively and completely missed the point.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Thank you for giving the (incorrect) orthodox answer! This is really what I was fishing for. It would not even occur to a true Bayesian to have incoherent probability assignments, but you can in fact increase your accuracy in this unusual case by augmenting your credence in ~P to 1.

  42. Can someone please explain the comb jelly joke to me?

    I’ve been thinking about it for way too long and at this point I don’t even know how to pronounce the answer. (Ten dollars four cents? Ten oh four?)

  43. John says:

    Steve Sailer, of all people, missed the race angle in Vietnam. The French speaking collaborators included many, many ethnic Chinese that are part of the cantonese speaking diaspora. These people tend to be businessmen and traders, moneylenders etc. Think about the Jews of se asia. They are a market dominent minority and in 1975 they were mostly ejected from Vietnam. Their property was seized.

    Something similar happened in Indonesia and East Timor in the 60s and 70s.

    China is resented in Vietnam, and they even fought a mini war in 1979. But the Japanese are hated.

  44. James says:

    A book recommendation and an acknowledgement of a book recommendation:

    To whomever was talking in the last open thread about how much they love ‘black box’ fiction (FacelessCraven?): you should read Solaris. Actually, it’s such a central example of ‘that sort of thing’ that there’s a good chance you already have, but the fact that you didn’t mention it makes me think maybe you haven’t. It’s brilliant, one of my favourite novels, and centred around a deeply creepy central mystery which I think you would probably enjoy. (The two movies versions of it are both fairly good and each fairly unfaithful to it in their own way; neither is a good substitute for the novel itself.)

    To whomever has been recommending Ted Chiang around these parts (actually, this might describe more than one person): I’ve been reading what stories of his I can get my hands on online. The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate is wonderful. (I thought the playful thousand-and-one-nights stylisation and the tales-within-a-tale were very Borges). The other stories I’ve read of his are also good (though not quite as great).

    • Paul Torek says:

      Seconded on Solaris, but then, Lem is just a god.

      I’ll look for Ted Chiang.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Lem is really good.

      Strugatsky Bros. are really good, too.

    • James says:

      Replying to self to try and catch the other people who like Lem: can you who like Lem recommend anything else of his? I’m at a loss to find anything else of his that’s as good. I find the Cyberiad stories that I’ve read fun, so far as they go, but gratingly whimsical. I found his collection of reviews of made-up books (I forget the title) boring when I tried it (though admittedly I didn’t try very hard), even though I feel like in some respects it’s just the sort of thing I should theoretically like. Is there anything else?

      • Anatoly says:

        Novels that are like “Solaris” in that they deal with the vast difficulty, bordering on impossibility, to understand and communicate with truly alien minds: “Eden” and “His Master’s Voice”.

        “The Investigation” and “The Chain of Chance” are present-time scientifically-minded detective stories with deep and unsettling philosophical implications.

        “The Futurological Congress” is a very powerful exploration of virtual-reality escapism on a massive scale, written before virtual reality was a thing (so Lem based it on psychotropic drugs rather than on computer simulation).

        “Tales of Pirx the Pilot” and the follow-up collection are superb conventional-SF astronaut stories that are somehow sneakily memorable.

        I tried to select for you works that dated little if at all, and that aren’t whimsical. My personal favorite among all these is “Eden”.

      • youzicha says:

        My favorite Lem book is Fiasco: a spaceship from Earth sets out to make first contact with a different planet, which turns out to be a lot harder than you’d think. The style is kindof dry, basically continuous info-dumping, but it has a high density of cool ideas.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I’ve been reading my way through Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others. “Tower of Babylon” was amazing; definitely worthy of its Nebula award. “Seventy-Two Letters” was really good, too. “Understand” reads like a slower, less action-packed version of Vernor Vinge’s “True Names”. “Division by Zero” and “Story of Your Life” are examples of a format I’ve noticed in modern science fiction short stories in which you take a hard science fiction plot thread and a humanistic, character-focused plot thread and alternate scenes from them until you join them together at the climax. I’m not a huge fan of this format, because the human interest scenes tend to be boring as hell, and these stories are not the exception; I was much more interested in the aliens and the mathematical contradiction than the protagonists’ domestic difficulties. “The Evolution of Human Science” was okay, I guess, but not specially noteworthy. I haven’t yet read “Hell Is the Absence of God” or “Liking What You See: A Documentary”.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I have never read Solaris, nor have I seen the movies; I don’t even think I saw trailers for the george clooney one. I’ll definately check it out!

      [EDIT] – Warren Ellis, of Transmetropolitan fame, has a new comic series in progress called Trees that seems at least Black-Box-Adjacent. The writing displays a healthy dose of Ellis’ faults and a heap of Social Justice messaging, but it looks pretty promising all the same.

    • Linch says:

      I think I was {one of/the one?} waxing poetic about Ted Chiang in these parts. Here are some of his stories that were not in the Stories of Your Life and Others anthology (which is also where I first heard of Chiang):

      Exhalation: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/exhalation/
      A wonderfully philosophical tale about a scientist exploring the curious question of why all the clocks in the world seem to be running faster than usual. I’m deliberately being vague on the details because the slow reveal is a huge part of the story.

      The Lifecycle of Software Objects: https://subterraneanpress.com/magazine/fall_2010/fiction_the_lifecycle_of_software_objects_by_ted_chiang

      A near-future novella about artificial intelligence, written in an incredibly personal way that’s unlike any other fictional treatment of AI that I have read before. I don’t like speaking in vagaries, but “human” is the best way I know of to describe it. No conventional Singularity or paperclipping or seed AI, just the experiences of raising, and learning from, a new intelligence through the booms and busts of a business cycle. Another commentator mentioned how he relatively disliked the “human interest” aspect of Chiang’s stories, so this may not be up his alley. For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed it.

      The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling: https://subterraneanpress.com/magazine/fall_2013/the_truth_of_fact_the_truth_of_feeling_by_ted_chiang
      A story about how technology changes the way we remember. Two stories are woven together. The first is about how people in the future have “lifelogs” that store their entire past. This by itself doesn’t change how people act dramatically. However, this hip new technology called Remem lets you easily and perfectly search past “memories”-albeit uncorrupted by nostalgia. I just watched the Black Mirror episode “The Entire History of You,” which has a very similar motif, but extremely different conclusions (Also Chiang is subtler). The second is about the introduction of writing to a native tribe during the Scramble for Africa. Ted Chiang shows that here, too, the technology of writing alters not just the way we communicate, but also the nature of truth and memory.

      The Great Silence:
      http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/authors/ted-chiang/

      Story (present tense) about the Hawaii telescope, the search for extraterrestrial life and sentientism. Too artsy for me and probably most of the other people on this blog, but it’s cool and made me think.

      What’s expected of us:
      http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v436/n7047/full/436150a.html

      A very short story about free will.

      • DrBeat says:

        This is interesting stuff! Thanks for linking it.

      • James says:

        I found The Lifecycle Of Software Objects too unfocused for me to really like it. It felt like an exploration of a bunch of only-partly-related ideas, in series (i.e. without very much structure). I might have liked it better if it were shorter, or contained fewer ideas, or if the ideas cohered together with more structure.

        I didn’t mind the human elements of Division By Zero, per se, but I didn’t love it as a story, either.

        Exhalation is good. I know I called The Merchant And The Alchemist Borges-y above, so I’m probably starting to sound like I’ve got Borges on the brain (which is admittedly true), but I’m quite sure its opening line is a deliberate reference to the opening line of Borges’ Library of Babel. I agree that the slow reveal is an important part of the story, and works very well. I can’t think of too many other short stories that work quite like this. (Perhaps The Library of Babel is a candidate.)

      • Kevin says:

        I hadn’t seen The Great Silence, thanks for the link!

        This reddit thread has a bunch of links to Chiang stories: https://www.reddit.com/r/rational/comments/1y5x3k/everything_by_ted_chiang/

      • Deiseach says:

        I found “The Great Silence” too sentimental, but then again I have very little tolerance for the Magical Negro genre of lecturing where modern industrialised Western man is ticked off for not being One With Nature by a member of a mystically linked in to Mother Nature if more technologically ‘primitive’ culture. (I think modern etc. can well stand a bit of ticking-off for our faults but not by ‘if you only gave up everything and went back to living in mud huts you would be so much better off because of the primal mystical colours-of-the-wind wisdom’ type finger-wagging; I very much doubt Mr Chiang wants to go live like an Amazonian tribesman even if that would save the parrots).

        The Noble Savage myth did no favours to the people it was holding up as exemplars; “Avatar” made me cheer on the Evil General and the Evil Human Corporation Army smushing the blue puddy-tats when its intent was quite the other, and Chiang’s story makes me want to go pull feathers out of parrots’ tails 🙂

        • Linch says: