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

OT29: Popen Thread

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

1. Some argument around the vegetarianism article. Some people say we can’t be sure cows aren’t an order of magnitude or two more “intelligent” or “conscious” than chickens. Other people point out that cows emit methane which increases global warming. At first I figured a tiny increase in global warming was far less an evil than the amount of animal suffering that chicken farming produces, but when I calculated it out the amount of money it takes to reverse one cow worth of global warming via carbon offsets is more than the amount it takes to reverse forty chickens’ worth of suffering via animal charities. I’m not sure how to deal with that morally except to say that I am much more confident that charitable offsets are an important moral good than I am that eating cows instead of chickens is.

2. My post on Daraprim got linked on Overlawyered, which corrected my underestimates on how hard it is to get a new generic approved – according to him (with Wall Street Journal as source) it can take as much as $20 million and four years. And Alex Tabarrok suggests an elegant partial solution – have pharmaceutical reciprocity with trusted European countries, so that anything that’s okay there is automatically okay here.

3. Steve Johnson is banned for reasons of total personal caprice. Let it be known that he has not broken any rules and the ban is not his fault. Also, this is the beginning of a Reign of Terror. Govern yourselves accordingly.

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1,625 Responses to OT29: Popen Thread

  1. Totient says:

    > I am experimenting with a Reign of Terror. So – Steve Johnson is banned for reasons of total personal caprice.

    This sounds less like a Reign of Terror and more like a light sprinkle.

    Also… really??

    • Carinthium says:

      As somebody who knows nothing about this issue, could somebody please give me some context? Is this really as capricious as it sounds or is there something I don’t know about Steve Johnson?

      • Toggle says:

        I think he had a history of warping comment topics towards NRx-adjacent directions while remaining within the letter of the law; this is a correction for tone. Assuming I have the right guy, it is more-likely-than-baseline than Steve Johnson would agree with the governing philosophy that led to his ouster, even though he’s probably not too happy with the ban on the object level.

        • SpaghettiLee says:

          “Democracy is a failure! Rule by a strong autocratic leader is the only way for society to thrive! Sure, peoples’ feelings will get hurt but that’s just the way it has to be.”

          “…What do you mean you’re banning me just because you feel like it?!”

          Logicians: Does this qualify as a self-refuting argument?

          • Toggle says:

            An opposing and perhaps equally valid interpretation is that in banning Steve, Scott demonstrated that Steve’s ideas are applicable and even helpful within the domain of blog curation. But either way, the situation is probably very ironic.

          • Daniel Speyer says:

            Ages ago, Scott posted

            I want to cull the bottom 50%-90% of neoreactionaries. … I realize this is unfair, in that it’s not neoreactionaries’ fault that everyone else refuses to go to places where they are allowed to talk. Luckily, their whole ideology is that rulers have the right to optimize their territories for maximum productivity without regard for fairness to individuals, so I am sure they won’t object.

            And, as near as I could tell at the time, they didn’t.

            That entire community won a bit of respect from me for that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ah, I don’t think it particularly has anything to do with reaction or neo-reaction or liberalism or libertarianism or anything of that nature. My own personal notion is that a person’s blog is their own domain and they make the rules.

            If they want to allow everyone on to say anything at all, even things banned elsewhere, that’s their right. If they want to say certain topics will not be entertained (as Scott says “no race or gender in the open threads”) that’s their right. If they say “I have the right of life and death over comments and I’ll ban who I like why I like, e.g. it’s a month ending in “er”, once again, that’s their right.

            I forget where I saw it but someone made the analogy that a personal blog is like someone’s living room. So for me, you’re being invited into the house and you’re a guest. You behave accordingly, and the host is perfectly entitled to toss you out the door if you kick the dog, put your feet up on the table, slap their spouse/partner on the behind and demand “Make me a sandwich and get me a beer, okay?” And it’s no excuse to say “That’s how I behave at home!” or “You asked them to get you a beer!” This is not your house, so have manners.

            (I’m the grumpy cranky slightly crazy spinster aunt that turns up at family events because, okay?)

            If someone is setting up a public forum for discussion of particular matters (whether backed by an organisation or not, e.g. media or politically-affiliated social media outlets) it’s a different matter, but a private effort – it’s their blog, their rules.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Why is it that whenever we want to build a functional community, we always find ourselves using the neo’s system instead of the one we claim to believe in?

          • Maybe we are using a compromise between autocratic rule and absolute egalitarianism.

          • Nita says:

            @ Jaskologist

            It’s almost like being prevented from posting comments on a blog and being prevented from living are substantially different things.

          • Jaskologist: Dictatorship works great when combined with painless exit. It’s when exit starts getting costly or hard that it becomes a serious problem. Exit not only limits harm but also gives dictators incentives to act better. Sort of like the free market, really.

          • Jiro says:

            Luckily, their whole ideology is that rulers have the right to optimize their territories for maximum productivity without regard for fairness to individuals, so I am sure they won’t object.

            I don’t find this argument very good. Generally, if an opponent of some idea characterizes the idea as supporting X, and proponents don’t actually claim that it supports X, it probably doesn’t. Of course, ideally, anyone should be able to understand even their opponents, but this is an area where as humans it’s easy to fall into biases where we interpret out opponent’s ideas in a way convenient for ourselves.

            Just consider that this could be done for any opinion whatsoever. If you didn’t like socialists on your blog you could say “well, socialists believe in government control, and I’m the government here, so socialists have no reason to complain about my banning them”. If you wanted to ban conservatives you could say “conservatives believe in private property and this is my private property, so conservatives have no reason to complain about my banning them”. If you want to ban people who oppose immigration you could claim that by their standards they are immigrants to your blog and it’s okay to keep them out; if you wanted to ban people who support immigration you could say that they don’t mind being displaced by immigrants and so they should have no complaint being displaced by friendlier posters.

            An argument that proves anything proves nothing.

            This is not to say that Scott can’t ban what he wants, but the argument “see, by your own standards you should be okay with being banned” sounds like a rationalization, not a fair analysis of the opinions he is banning.

          • Nita says:

            @ Jiro

            Uh, I think that last part was a joke.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nita

            Are you sure the neoreactionaries know that?

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Deiseach:
            Everything you said is true, yet…

            I have this one relative in real life who is really invested into keeping her living room pristine. Every chair and cushion cover must be placed just so; every flat surface must be polished; you may touch only these specific things and not others. If you violate any of these rules… Well, just don’t violate the rules.

            I stopped visiting that person a long time ago.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Bugmaster

            Maybe that’s their passive-aggressive way of saying they don’t want visitors?

          • Mark Z. says:

            “Why is it that whenever we want to build a functional community, we always find ourselves using the neo’s system instead of the one we claim to believe in?”

            Answer: because in an environment where everyone’s free to leave, defending your borders is cheap and easy, and there are no harmful externalities spilling out onto your neighbors, neo-feudalism works great. The blogosphere is such an environment. The physical world, not so much.

            “All things have the advantages of their disadvantages, and vice versa.”
            — Larry Wall

          • Andrew: My version of your point is to say that the ideal form of government is competitive dictatorship–the way we govern restaurants and hotels. I have no vote on what’s on the menu, an absolute vote on whether I patronize that restaurant.

            Deiseach: I think you may be missing the point, which isn’t about what people have a right to do but about what ways of organizing human interactions work. If Scott runs his blog in a way that makes it work badly, for instance by banning all comments that disagree with his views, he isn’t violating anyone’s rights—but after a while there will be a lot fewer people reading it and it will do a lot less good for the world.

            The implicit argument some people are making is that if you believe dictatorship works well for a blog, that is at least some reason to think it would work well on a larger scale, which seems to support the neoreactionary view. A possible response is that their view is correct, but only in a world where there are lots of nations and the costs of moving from one to another are very low—like the case of restaurants at present.

          • vjl says:

            D. Friedman:

            “My version of your point is to say that the ideal form of government is competitive dictatorship–the way we govern restaurants and hotels. I have no vote on what’s on the menu, an absolute vote on whether I patronize that restaurant.”

            Have you read the ex-Geogist Spencer Heath’s book? This sounds exactly like his concept of proprietary communities.

          • vV_Vv says:

            @Jaskologist

            I think that autocratic rule is the simplest and therefore more common form of government. Democratic governments were usually established by people wielding guns.

            If SSC was hacked every week by people who didn’t like how it was moderated, and if Scott has a sufficient incentive not to shut it down, then it might become a democracy.

            There are exceptions, both in real life and on the Internet (e.g. Wikipedia), but the general rule seems to hold.

            @David Friedman

            My version of your point is to say that the ideal form of government is competitive dictatorship–the way we govern restaurants and hotels. I have no vote on what’s on the menu, an absolute vote on whether I patronize that restaurant.

            The restaurants aren’t completely free to serve you what they want, they have to comply with lots of regulation on which you have an (indirect) vote through your government.

            Also, there are a limited number of restaurants, grocery shops and hotels in any given area, hence your freedom not to patronize them is also limited, unless you want to starve and sleep outdoors.

          • Deiseach says:

            I have no vote on what’s on the menu, an absolute vote on whether I patronize that restaurant.

            And that’s fine; you want a meal of lamb chops, you don’t go to the vegan restaurant.

            But if you do go to the vegan restaurant, order a plate of chops and get told they don’t serve that, you have no right to demand “But this is a restaurant, you’re supposed to sell food to the public, I want my chops and I demand you cook them for me, and if you don’t do that, I’m going to get my friends to burn your premises down!”

          • Chalid says:

            I have no vote on what’s on the menu, an absolute vote on whether I patronize that restaurant.

            Seems like there’s a lot of tension between this idea and the performance of local governments, at least in the US. Local governments have easy exit and relatively little democratic accountability, and yet they’re really really badly run compared to the federal government.

            I’m no sure how well that generalizes internationally.

          • thedufer says:

            @Chalid Easy exit from local government? Maybe in a world in which everyone rents; the worst local governments seem to be in mid-value suburbs where everyone has most of their net worth tied up in property.

            HOAs, anyone?

          • Chalid says:

            Houses can be sold for something resembling fair value – this is not an insurmountable obstacle. And, more relevantly, it is an obstacle that would be faced in the hypothetical world of competing dictatorships with free exit, so the analogy holds.

            Indeed the fact that people take actions that make it more difficult to move, such as buying instead of renting, shows that they attach little value to the right to exit.

          • You can move from your local government, but you can’t take your house and land with you. You can sell them, but if the local government makes this a bad place to live, the price you can sell them at will reflect that. The Thibout model only prevents local government from exploitive taxation that is more than the total rental value of all immobile resources in their territory.

          • Chalid says:

            Well if your house has no value due to bad government policy, how would it tie you down? You can walk away from something with no value.

          • Actually no: it is consistent and logical to say that corporate capitalism under strong autocratic CEOs is the best economic system on the whole and yet still be unhappy with one particular CEO.

            Furthermore, and this is the most important part, there is no logical connection between “this makes me feel bad” and “therefore it is actually wrong and someone should do something about it”. Not understanding this difference is one of the plights of our age.

            So if Steve Jones proposes to a hot woman and gets rejected by her, he can simulatenously think “ouch, this rejection feels bad” and “she was perfectly right to do this if she is not attracted to me”.

            Actually, if you assume that if something makes someone feel bad then he also thinks it is actually wrong, you need to read right-wing bloggers more: this is one of the first things the Reactor tends to reject (“realz before feelz”, as the more puerile PUAs tend to put it).

            Although, of course, there is the slight issue that it is not clearly exactly what kind of productivity of the territory Scott is optimizing for? As it is generally good governance to tell subjects the exact utility function so that they can decide to adapt to it or exit. Sort of blindly guessing what is the owner optimizing for does not sound very efficient. Imagine going to an auction but instead of the highest bid wins it is more like “the most likeable of the top 3 bidders win”. Okay…

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @Jiro, I thinkt here’s a huge difference in that A) the positions you’re describing range from ‘misrepresentation’ to ‘outright lies’ about the ideologies. Whereas I think Scott is correct about NRx (NRx’s feel free to correct me) and B) that Scott has no intention to ban all neoreactionaries, just to ban the shitty ones, which actually strengthens their ability to argue here, this is not really an intolerable position for any ideology (and ass backwards from the usual internet dictatorship of exiling the strongest opponents).

        • ddreytes says:

          It’s not just that he moved discussions in NRX-adjacent directions. I think both his specific interpretation of those views, and also his general method of discussion, lessened the quality of discussions, to the point where it’s hard to believe he was arguing in completely good faith.

          I didn’t agree with his politics, but there are people I disagree with as much as I agreed with Steve Johnson who I very much respect. But I think he had a pretty poisonous effect on discussion, and I am glad that he is banned.

          • Careless says:

            Ok, can someone tell me what “NRX” is?

          • Devilbunny says:

            Careless, it’s neoreaction, otherwise known as the dark enlightenment, and available under the blogroll as “those who belong to the emperor”. Scott’s posted on it quite a few times, and has so far been quite willing to tolerate those who espouse its ideas.

            After all, no matter how you feel about it, it’s completely fascinating to see a full-throated defense of monarchy in the 21st century.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            It’s the new fascists. “New,” not “neo.”

          • Ilya:

            I don’t think Neoreactionary is fascist. Do they propose a corporatist model of the economy, where firms are privately owned but the whole economy is coordinated by the central government?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            They disagree, but some propose corporatist models (I don’t pay an enormous amount of attention anymore).

            But I more meant “fascism” as a concept placeholder (not sure what a good name is) for the nasty type of memeplex independent from contingencies of the 1930s (like the kinds of economies and tech levels countries had), but still nasty somehow. As in, if these people get anywhere near actual power that will be enormously bad news for everyone. Also a memeplex stripped from the kinds of things we have antibodies to (or perhaps “reborn”). Illinois nazis from the Blues Brothers are a joke because of our antibodies to that manifestation of the nastiness.

          • Echo says:

            Pretty sure he means “it’s the new meaningless slur everyone uses against anyone to the right of them.”
            I’m sure we’ll see neo-crypto-reactionary thrown around soon.

          • nydwracu says:

            As in, if these people get anywhere near actual power that will be enormously bad news for everyone.

            In other words, “anyone I don’t like, but with the implication that everyone I don’t like is to the right of me”.

          • Nathan Cook says:

            @Ilya: the word ‘fascist’ is the prototypical snarl word. A snarl word may or may not have a denotationally specific meaning, but is often or usually used to induce the ‘ugh’ response – “still nasty somehow” is a pretty good description, actually.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Interestingly, I don’t discuss my politics at all online. Being “to the left of the nRx” narrows down the space very little.

            The kind of attractors in operation here lead our good friend Nyan Sandwich to literally use a bundle of spears as a logo for a group aimed to “cultivate masculine virtue.” It’s uncanny. “New fascism” isn’t something that came to my mind for no reason.

          • vV_Vv says:

            @David Friedman

            If I understand correctly Neoreaction is a loose far-right movement supporting some combination of fascism, feudalism and absolute monarchy.

            I’m not sure that we can describe feudalism and absolute monarchy as corporatist, but they certainly entail private businesses while allowing the government unlimited power to meddle with the economy, so if they are not the same thing in terms of economics they are at least adjacent.

            @Ilya Shpitser

            The kind of attractors in operation here lead our good friend Nyan Sandwich to literally use a bundle of spears as a logo for a group aimed to “cultivate masculine virtue.” It’s uncanny.

            It’s a group of men who like “masculine virtue” and “spears” the same way Greek hoplites did. The logo looks like three spear heads somehow inserted into each other. “Uncanny” isn’t the right word do describe it… 🙂

          • Almost everybody is wrong here about what NRx is. Feudalism or monarchism or even fascism, or lon the left socialism or communism are a political goals goals. Currenty NRx is less interested in goals. Currently NRx is more interested in studying and understanding the ills of modern society than simply declaring “this X will solve all problems”. There are people toying with goals, like neocameralism, but it is secondary. So it is a critical movement more than one with a political goal. The first and foremost aim is to learn and understand.

            Human biology. Evolutionary psychology. Human mating. Un-falsifiying history. Religious psychology. Group dynamics, the most important aspect perhaps – how identity groups, thedes shapes politics.

            I am actually really weirded out by the idea that being interested in politics means you have to have a goal like socialism or feudalism and work for that.

            I think the part when you study, learn, think, analyze, is far more important.

            Not just NRx, but basically the whole of the alt-right is mostly a study group. GRECE etc.

            As a parallel, you could compare feudalism or fascism to Revolutionary Marxism, while NRX is mostly similar to Critical Marxism.

            It is far too obvious to me that Critical Anything is far better than Revolutionary Anything. Critics try to study why are things wrong, Revolutionaries think they already know and want to change them.

            I can also promise you will not do anything naughty – we cannot, we haven’t the power. There is no putsch or counter-revolution in the works and that is a big difference from fascists. It is just study and analysis and waiting for the Collapse. It is after the Collapse where we can actually do something, and that something will be obviously constructive, rebuilding, not aggressive. Of course, yes, it could be a feudalistic or authoritarian type rebuilding, but compared to the violent chaos of the Collapse you will consider that, in comparison, civilized and liveable. I mean even if you want liberalism once again (like the man who got divorced and then married again: didn’t learn the lesson the first time), you probably don’t expect you can go from the “zombie” apocalypse to right there, you are expcting some authoritarian first create a working order, right? I mean I hope liberals understand at least that much – basically liberalism is hoping a true Collapse never happens, but if it does and it is back to tribes fighting each other, you do understand the next stage in civilization is Charlemagne, not the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, right?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “Currently NRx is more interested in studying and understanding the ills of modern society”

            This is a misrepresentation of NRx. NRx aren’t into empiricism at all, so they aren’t “studying” anything. Is Moldbug an empirist? He just writes super long diatribes, he doesn’t run studies, or even suggest a research program. At best, he’s a well-read, prolific blogger.

            NRx have a particular (fairly toxic) ideology. They are not scientists, they already made up their mind about classical liberalism.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Thanks. You misspelled my name.

            “Fascism” is an idea attractor for certain kinds of people. I don’t think you are The Other (if I did, I wouldn’t be talking to you, I would be getting my pitchfork), I think you are real people playing with toxic ideas.

            If you say “fascism” does not exist you basically lost everyone, including a ton of historians who study it.

            Everyone says they want to save/rebuild civilization, what else would everyone say?

      • DrBeat says:

        In a shellnut: Steve Johnson just kept posting horrible, bigoted things while not technically breaking any rules; instead of defending any of his points, he would, at most, posture about how he was too smart for people to dare to understand.

        It is one thing to think that certain races have lower IQ; I don’t think it is a correct or good thing but it’s a factual proposition that can be debated. It’s another to just drive-by with “Certain races have lower IQ! Women want to be raped by powerful men! That sure does upset you liberals who are too scared to accept how smart I am, doesn’t it?” all the time. He wasn’t debating unpopular ideas in a space safe for all forms of intellectual inquiry, he was smugly threadshitting.

        • Cliff says:

          Is there evidence on the other side of the Race/IQ question? I am genuinely unaware of any other than one small study about people of African descent in the Netherlands or something like that.

          • Juanson says:

            There is – it’s extensive, convoluted, and mediocre.

            I’m assuming you mean “Is there evidence for the proposition that different races have substantively different IQs?”, but my statement is pretty true in either direction.

            There are a stack of studies that attempt to control for culture, history, and economic status and still turn up racial differences. There are another stack of studies which don’t, and finally a *third* stack of studies demonstrating how *both* of the first two groups were biased and flawed in study-ruining ways.

            The evidence seems to suggest a small-but-significant gap which can’t be explained away with any of the usual hand-waves like nutrition or wealth. However, there doesn’t seem to be any proof that this is actually down to race, as opposed to systematic flaws in the studies or uncontrolled confounders.

            Wikipedia has lots on this, but obviously it’s a pretty ideological article. As usual with IQ, the data is confusing and you can make it say whatever you want if you try hard enough.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            Juanson, you are conflating the question of whether racial differences in IQ exist and the follow-up question of whether and to what extent these differences are caused by biological differences. As far as I can tell, the answer to the first question is a clear yes (modulo some quibbling over definitions), while the second question is unresolved and extremely controversial.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            The general Liberal/Leftist/”Seriously guys, we need to properly define whatever this means” response is that it’s a dumb issue altogether because race is a social construct: more specifically, “race” as it is commonly defined, is an arbitrary distinction and intra-racial variance is higher than inter-racial or something like that (the more technical it gets, the less I can accurately describe the position).

            I have honestly no idea what evidence there is for or against this.

          • Addict says:

            Re: women ‘enjoying’ being assaulted, I remember he got accused of mixing up the fitness-maximizer/adaptation-executer divide. If you go back and very carefully read his post, you are only assuming that he makes this mistake. His belief is simply that women won’t resist rape, not that they will “enjoy” the rape. This is accomplished just as well by having the women kind of go into shock during the act, and after a while suffering from stockholm syndrome. He never implied that this strategizing on the part of the female was *conscious*, just that evolution nonetheless found a way to make it happen.

            Was he shitposting? Yes. But I am less than happy that nobody thought he was saying the above, when I thought his message was obvious.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I thought it was obvious too, but who wants to stick up for unpopular people when you can smell the Reign of Terror coming?

          • Nita says:

            Are we going to rehash the entire debate now? OK then.

            No one claimed that Steve said that women “enjoy” rape. He did say that women benefit (in terms of fitness) from rape, because the genes of successful rapists are obviously (to Steve, I guess) superior. Therefore, to be raped and not judged for it is “the best of both worlds”, according to Steve.

            Here’s a quote:

            Everyone knows – consciously or not – that women have a dual mating strategy (especially women who freak out when mention of a dual mating strategy is made). When a woman claims to have been raped there will always rightly be a base level of suspicion that she’s trying to get out of the costs of a dual mating strategy. This is unchangeable. Of course women will lie about rape – there’s a lot at stake. The social technology to solve this problem and minimize rapes is mostly condemned by all right thinking people.

            Questions (rhetorical, but answers welcome):

            – what is this “dual mating strategy”, and how does it work on an adaptation-executer level?

            – what is the “social technology” the demise of which Steve laments?

          • suntzuanime says:

            You must not read Deiseach’s posts. I mean, I don’t blame you.

          • Anonymous says:

            >>– what is the “social technology” the demise of which Steve laments?

            Probably restrictions on female autonomy in general and shaming of bastardy.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            The ban didn’t have much to do with that particular thread and I was considering it even beforehand.

          • Randy M says:

            To be fair, mediocre evidence seems like an enviable position compared to most other social science of late.

          • Cauê says:

            No one claimed that Steve said that women “enjoy” rape.

            Nita, you did enter that one with:

            Well, Jim has graduated to snuff stories, so now someone else has to regularly remind us how much women love rape.

            While Deiseach went with this as a Reason Why People are Creationists:

            When you’re pushing evolutionary psychology too goddamn far by postulating “People* want to be raped so they can have better babies!”

            Also:

            even in those days were not wanting Steve Johnsons to say of raped women who did not commit suicide “Well, that’s because she enjoyed it! She wanted it!”

            I don’t think I’d have bothered with the discussion otherwise.

          • Nita says:

            @ Cauê

            I have to admit, “love” was a flippant way to put it, but I promise that I did not mean “experience pleasure during the entire process”.

            Within Steve’s paradigm, rape is one of the best things that can happen to a woman — she doesn’t have to go looking for those alpha genes (which is something she wants to do — remember that dual strategy), they come to her instead. In this paradigm, rape is a good thing from a woman’s perspective. Good men like Steve and Jim hate rape (because it free-rides on their hard work), but bad men and all women love it. That’s what I meant.

            E.g., when Jim writes that “all girls yearn for the gentle but firm touch of ownership”, he means that they want it and, in a way, love it, but not necessarily that they enjoy it.

          • Mary says:

            Ockham’s Razor, of course, says it’s more likely that certain men tell lies about women than all women lie about themselves — because the first group is smaller, and therefore you are hypothesizing fewer entities.

          • Cauê says:

            Nita, I’m quite confident that you’re still failing your theory of mind/empathy checks here, but going further would be poking our benevolent dictator with a shorter stick than I’d be comfortable with.

          • lvlln says:

            @Nita

            That still seems to place far more content to Steve Johnson’s comments than was actually in the text. He doesn’t seem to imply at all that women “love” being raped or enjoy it or desire it or have ANY positive thoughts, emotions, or feelings, conscious or unconscious, whatsoever, wrt being raped.

            What he seems to have said is that being raped is beneficial for the propagation of that woman’s genes, and therefore women have evolutionary adaptations that cause them to behave in such a way as to increase likelihood of being raped (versus being killed). Again, I don’t see how this implies any sort of desire or preference for it in the part of the woman, conscious or unconscious.

            I find his arguments entirely unconvincing and highly inappropriate given the original conversation thread, and I find his tone to be unnecessarily abrasive, but summarizing his arguments as being anywhere in the vicinity of women-love-being-raped isn’t just uncharitable – it’s putting words in his mouth.

          • Nita says:

            @ lvlln

            I did interpret Steve’s comment in context of his previously expressed views, so that might be why it seemed to me that he had finally decided to take up Jim’s mantle, so to speak.

            How do you think women’s “dual mating strategy” works on an individual level? Does it also manage to bypass all thoughts, emotions and feelings? Do any of those even matter, if in the absence of certain “social technology” all women will constantly sneak away to mate with alphas and then pretend that they were raped?

          • lvlln says:

            @ Nita

            It very well may be true that you are accurately describing Steve Johnson’s opinions (my belief based on his other posts is that you are accurate). It’s still not sensible or accurate to tack on extra baggage to a given argument he makes. That’s not interpreting the argument within a context, that’s putting words in his mouth.

            I don’t feel comfortable discussing Steve Johnson’s beliefs about sex strategies at the object-level for a couple reasons. #1 being that I interpret Scott Alexander’s rules on open threads as prohibiting it, and #2 being that I don’t feel like I have a full enough grasp of his beliefs, as I only looked at it closely enough to judge it as just another just-so evo-psych story with no meaningful evidence.

            I will, however, reiterate that describing Steve Johnson’s posts about women’s sex strategies as implying anything about women’s conscious or unconscious thoughts seems entirely inaccurate. It is my opinion that he does believe that (some? many? most?) individual women hold conscious or unconscious thoughts relating to what he said about the “dual mating strategy” and whatnot, but his statements are also just as consistent with the belief that such strategies entirely “bypass” any sort of conscious or unconscious thoughts individual actors hold.

          • stillnotking says:

            The assertion that rapists’ genes are “superior” strikes me as extremely implausible. Everything we know about rape points to it being a mating strategy of last resort, perhaps an adaptation to the spread of polygynous cultures after large-scale agriculture and urbanization ~7k YA. (If 10% of the men are claiming 50% of the women, there will be a lot of desperate men.) This fits with the observation that rape, while not completely unknown, is very uncommon among our primate cousins. So a woman would only “want” (in an evolutionary sense) to have a rapist’s babies if there were a high likelihood that her male offspring would need to rape in order to reproduce, which probably wouldn’t be the case if she were married to one of the top-10% status men. Modern rapists are disproportionately skewed toward the lower socioeconomic classes and are much less likely to be married than non-rapists; there is no reason to think the situation would have been any different in the ancient world.

            But even that is overthinking it. Women nearly universally feel a strong aversion to being raped. Evolutionary psychology is in the business of trying to explain our emotions, not to explain them away. If women did, in fact, gain some kind of reproductive advantage from being raped, that would be strong evidence against the basic premises of evo psych itself.

          • Nita says:

            @ lvlln

            I still think your position is too vulnerable to some hostile strategies.

            Explaining that women and men, on average, have different upper body strength etc. seems like a sad waste of time, and yet ignoring these comments strewn around the place like Chick tracts also seems untidy.

            Of course, my chosen solution didn’t quite work as intended, either — I guess I’ll try something else next time.

          • WHTO’s “intra-racial subgroup differences are bigger” are a very good point. This is where a sane discussion of HBD begins: races are too broad categories for study. Those old fashioned racial prejudices were part superstition and when not they were like bare eye astronomy, pre-Galilei: they could vaguely see some things are stars and some are planets. HBD is like proper modern astronomy. Trying to be far more detailed.

            The social side of the problem is that racial tensions are never about whole races. American blacks aren’t simply blacks, they are Sub-Saharan West Africans AND not a random sample from there either because why would slavers take random samples? Slavery itself can be understood as a sub-racial subgroup maker, the same way how nationalism and suchlike, or island isolation (Brits) are subgroup makers. American whites are disproportionately NW Europeans, not just random whites. Not many Circassians or Georgians there, right? E.g. for Romania, the question is not what all South Asians are like, but their current Roma (gypsy) population, which is a very small set and moved out from India many hundreds of years ago and had all kinds of different selective pressures on them. Everybody understands the gypsy underclass in Bucuresti and the Indian programmers in the Silicon Valley are not even remotely similar subgroups.

            They just look alike. But focusing how people look is unscientific. That is why HBD, which is scientific, not racist, as racism is looks oriented.

            Anyhow, one good way to interpret HBD’s social side is that it is not about being racist but about being anti-anti-racist. For example, let’s just suppose there would be a 10% subgroup of American blacks who are problematic and you could prove that it is so because the slavers took them from the Yoruba people and those folks were genetically problematic. It would be idiotic to get racist against the rest of the 90% of blacks just because of these hypothetical ex-Yoruba, right? But it would make you anti-anti-racist in the sense that you would say the reason that ex-Yoruba subgroup is underrepresented in professors and overrepresented in prisons is not oppression and prejudice, right? And on the aggregate statistics, what would that ex-Yoruba group do with the stats of blacks?

        • dndnrsn says:

          If the case was that he was posting stuff then posturing about how people were afraid to accept his positions instead of defending those positions, as DrBeat says…

          Wouldn’t “content-free arguing” and the like (“you sheeple are too sheep-like and sheeply to accept my harsh truths” or conversely “you are an bad x-ist and no good person would believe your x-ist opinions, because they are not the opinions a good person would have” trip the true/necessary/kind filter?

          It’s not kind, and defending a position via “you’re just scared/dumb/bad” doesn’t seem especially true or necessary. No personal caprice required.

        • Nero tol Scaeva says:

          “threadshitting”

          I hope I see more of this delicious neologism spreading throughout the internet in the near future.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:
        • The_Dancing_Judge says:

          hmm that “context” makes me much more squirmy about the banning than i did before. I mean, heck everyone knows Steve Johnson is an asshole, even nrx-sympathizers like me. If Scott’s annoyed with that, more power too him. But he is an interesting one and the fact that this thread suggests he got banned for the interesting part of his character rather than the assholeness…well. I hope scott’s reign of terror doesnt go ideological. Remember 9 thermidor i guess?

          (esp considering how “dr. beat” describes the situation as one where “Steve Johnson just kept posting horrible, bigoted things”…. hm)

          (i prolly should edit this and say that Scott should feel free to ban anyone for any purpose, lets just hope he’s optimizing in the right direction. as gnon wills…)

          • SpaghettiLee says:

            My politics are pretty much the opposite of SJ’s*, so I’m trying to self-diagnose whether I support his ban just because of that or whether it really was his behavior that was a bannable offense. In my defense; there are a number of far-right NRx-type people who I don’t have a similar problem with, and the idea that someone’s bad behavior, independent of their politics, can get them kicked out the Garden of Niceness isn’t a new idea; in fact, without it, the concept of a Garden of Niceness doesn’t amount to much.

            I don’t think anyone particularly likes the situation where a handful of aggressive people start hijacking comment threads, and I don’t think that’s “the price we have to pay” for intellectual open-mindedness. Maybe he didn’t technically break the rules, but couldn’t that just mean that the rules were poorly formulated? Perhaps there should be a rule where you’re penalized (within reasonable limits) for not responding to criticism of your post if there’s enough of that criticism and it doesn’t break the rules itself, in order to prevent the sort of hit-and-run posting people complained about?

            *-Just noticed this. What…ironic initials.

          • anon says:

            The beauty of the three-rule system is that it’s simple. Being simple means it doesn’t necessarily cover all cases, and thus sometimes requires Scott’s intervention. Scott intervening when the rules haven’t been broken erodes trust in the assumption that we can have candid discourse.

            The answer isn’t to make the rules complex enough to cover all cases; even the justice system hasn’t figured that one out. In my opinion as a channer it is up to everyone else to learn their lesson and just ignore his posts if they don’t like his way of discourse; not to ban him. But arbitrarily banning one guy to preserve the comfort of one commenter subgroup isn’t an unforgivable sin (or maybe I’m just making excuses since I really like SSC).

          • LCL says:

            FWIW, as a regular reader but only occasional commenter, I had mostly stopped reading comment sections. In part because I got tired of the general “how does this post relate to NRx pet topics #7 and #12” thrust of commentary, when the answer was usually “tangentially at best but let’s go on about them anyway.”

            Not saying I quit reading comments in protest or anything like that. Just that it stopped being worth the time, and the above was one of the reasons. I would support a reign of terror and a relevance-police gestapo far harsher than anything I actually believe Scott temperamentally capable of implementing.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I guess I probably have to explain my decision beyond just “reign of terror”.

            There is a tendency for everything here to end up talking about neoreaction, social justice, or (for some reason) rape. This is bad for a lot of reasons. First, it crowds out topics where there’s better chance of productive discussion. Second, it gives people who want to attack this blog as a crimethink space and get it shouted out of the pale of acceptable discussion too much ammunition. Third, it drives away commenters who are grossed out by that kind of thing; whether or not you agree with this preference, there are a lot of people who have it, and a lot of them are the sort of people who would be good additions to this community.

            While all of these topics are potentially interesting, I feel like there are some basic rules for when you can and can’t bring them up and how you should do so that a lot of people are violating. I can’t verbalize these rules explicitly very well, and probably there are a lot of disagreements at the margin, but I think there is probably some consensus at the extremes. If you’ve got to have those discussions, have them on IRC where there’s no permanent record.

            I hope that I can give an extensional definition of the kind of behavior I don’t want to see by banning Steve. If that doesn’t work, I will ban more people until they get the message. Everyone who participated in this subthread is…second against the wall when the Revolution comes? Is that even a thing?

          • DrBeat says:

            Did you read the rest of my post, dancing judge?

            I don’t think “He’s a bigot! Git ‘im!” is a good thing to do to people even if they express ideas that I find wrong, or dangerous, or repulsive.

            But he wasn’t even expressing ideas any more, he was threadshitting. The only reason he got away with it for as long as he did was because he was expressing extremely unpopular political opinions, and so had the protection of “if I ban this guy, that’s censorship, because it has to be due to his politics”.

          • The_Dancing_Judge says:

            I think relating all things to politics, social justice, and neoreaction is lazy and unnecessary and certainly do not defend it.

            I think being rude like Steve Johnson is, well, rude.

            I think that SSC is uniquely wonderful in that people can talk about nearly anything, behave civilly while doing so, and the worst someone will say is “well i disagree with you for x,y,z.” You have cultivated the best comment section of any forum outside of good lesswrong threads ive ever come across.

            i think you are shortchanging SSC’s taboo on taboo topics. I suspect its the part of the mix that makes things so interesting. Hopefully its unnecessary to have a purge based on being willing to discuss taboo topics unemotionally.

            Nevertheless, you are a killer writer with an extremely quality blog that i read all the time and should totally pay you something in exchange for.

            @ drbeat – i agree he was rude and intentionally provocative in his bad-think-swagger, but i think that those things would be deserving of banning if done by a communist. I just dislike the implication that its those things+his nrx ideas that made it bannable. Ofc his shitposting attributes made him obnoxious and why i didnt, at first, think anything of him getting the axe.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            I think this is a good reason to look for a better comments nesting system. Have collapsible trees so that if someone does want to give the NRx view on a subject matter you can just hit the little + so it becomes a – and not deal with it.

            I just scroll past the commies and the NRx people, ignore the topics trying to use evopsych for whatever crazy theory they want to justify today. It’s really not difficult, but I can fully understand your urge to cleanse. The whole crimethink issue is a real one, but I don’t know, the bit of rebel in me just wants to tell them to fuck off.

            That said, from a pure consequential point of view the banning of Steve Johnson is probably a good thing. By his own views he should be totally okay with it so there shouldn’t be much of a reason to worry about you going ham. But might it be simpler in the future to just say “No NRx or Rape discussion please?” Since that seems to make up 90% of the shit, the rest tending to be racism.

          • Montfort says:

            Held In Escrow: They do collapse, but no one ever realizes it. Try clicking “hide” at the bottom of a post.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Huh, I thought that was just a single post, not everything following it. Shows what I know. This seems like a much more adult solution if you dislike certain posters or topics. Perhaps add on a way to tag your comment chain with a topic so that if someone wants to ignore the NRx postings they can easily do so, or they can not have to read Social Justice stuff or drug questions or what have you.

            That said however, I do think that Steve massively crossed the line anyways when it came to kind/true/necessary many a time so phrasing this as a reign of terror doesn’t quite seem right.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ The_Dancing_Judge

            I think relating all things to politics, social justice, and neoreaction is lazy and unnecessary and certainly do not defend it.

            For the sake of symmetry, notice that the SJW posts ceased long ago.

          • Anonymous says:

            >They do collapse, but no one ever realizes it. Try clicking “hide” at the bottom of a post.

            holy fuck

          • Toggle says:

            While all of these topics are potentially interesting, I feel like there are some basic rules for when you can and can’t bring them up and how you should do so that a lot of people are violating. I can’t verbalize these rules explicitly very well, and probably there are a lot of disagreements at the margin, but I think there is probably some consensus at the extremes.

            If you’re having an easier time pointing at it than defining it, then it might also be fruitful to explore a bit in short fiction, as you sometimes do. That might make the unspeakable rules more vivid, even for people that are unfamiliar with the victims of your reign of terror.

          • DrBeat says:

            Dancing judge: But it wasn’t rudeness and NRx that got him banned. It was the rudeness, which he used NRx to express. Had someone else acted like he had, only about some other subject, they would have been banned even faster because there would be less worry about “Am I only banning this guy for an unpopular political opinion”?

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            I guess I probably have to explain my decision beyond just “reign of terror”.

            When I first came across the distinction between Civil Law and Common Law, I thought Civil Law was obviously the superior implementation. I reasoned that the spirit of the law ought to be kept separate from the messy legalese of implementation.

            But then I read the rationale behind Civil Law (I didn’t understand Chesterton’s Fence back then). The rationale was that law-by-precedent bestowed economic stability since legal entities were able to more accurately predict how their future actions would be judged in court.

            I think the key here is “predictability”. So long as the bans retain some semblance of predictability, the community stays terror free. Otherwise, the average SSC commenter can’t be sure if their innocuous comment might be banned “capriciously”.

            My suggestion is warnings. E.g. “Steve, please stop hijacking every thread into NRx. If this continues, I’ll bring down the ban hammer.” Then if Steve continues, no one is surprised when he’s actually banned.

          • @FullMeta_Rationalist

            True, although on the other hand warnings make it easier for trolly types to play brinksman.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Second, it gives people who want to attack this blog as a crimethink space and get it shouted out of the pale of acceptable discussion too much ammunition.

            I can see the other reasons, but this justification really, really bothers me. You’re paying the danegeld.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Paying the danegeld isn’t the only possible historical analogy. What about “paying a token tribute to the Emperor of China back in the days where if you paid a token tribute they would leave you alone and give you all the benefits of Chinese civilization, but if you didn’t then two million Chinese people would show up on your border and murder you”?

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >I can see the other reasons, but this justification really, really bothers me. You’re paying the danegeld.

            Well, uncomfortable as it may be, the fact is that a lot of criticism that this blog takes is explicitly “Look at what SJ wrote, why is he allowed to post here?”. And for better or worse, Scott likes a whole bunch of SJ people and takes their criticism to heart.

            For whatever it’s worth, he has also, repeatedly, claimed to want to ban Steve Johnson for the longest time (I’ve found claims several months old, at the very least), so it really might just be a case of just not liking him.

          • Anonymous says:

            Paying the danegeld isn’t the only possible historical analogy. What about “paying a token tribute to the Emperor of China back in the days where if you paid a token tribute they would leave you alone and give you all the benefits of Chinese civilization, but if you didn’t then two million Chinese people would show up on your border and murder you”?

            What if the “Emperor” is just some fish-faced pretender who will extort you for increasing amounts of money, while being utterly incompetent at doing you lasting harm unless you let him?

          • Cet3 says:

            Paying the danegeld isn’t the only possible historical analogy. What about “paying a token tribute to the Emperor of China back in the days where if you paid a token tribute they would leave you alone and give you all the benefits of Chinese civilization, but if you didn’t then two million Chinese people would show up on your border and murder you”?

            When did that ever happen? Anyway, the whole thing is pointless, because there really isn’t anyone you can appease to make yourself safe from an internet mob. You did not make yourself any safer from sjws by banning Steve Johnson.

          • Nornagest says:

            My suggestion is warnings. E.g. “Steve, please stop hijacking every thread into NRx. If this continues, I’ll bring down the ban hammer.” Then if Steve continues, no one is surprised when he’s actually banned.

            Warnings don’t work. When you warn people that they’ll be banned if they e.g. stop making every thread about strawberries, you get a larger volume of discussion that’s recognizably about strawberries but has a veneer of plausible deniability. If you go after that, another thin layer of obfuscation gets added, and the volume goes up again because they have to be more talky to get their point across.

            Since you as a mod generally don’t care about strawberries as such, but rather about the tone of discussion they tend to come with, this is counterproductive. And people on the Internet are pretty good at talking around things, so it can generally continue until you get frustrated enough to give up or try the tyrant approach instead.

            (Well, occasionally you get someone that goes “fuck you, you’re not the boss of me” and whom you can ban without criticism or remorse, but that’s not as common. And people like that are a different kind of mod headache because they’re usually pretty good at ban evasion.)

          • stillnotking says:

            The problem with allowing frank discussion of taboo topics is that the vast majority of people who want frank discussion of taboo topics are assholes. For every thoughtful, view-from-nowhere-taking rationalist who is genuinely interested in probing the off-limits parts of human nature, there are ten people who just want an opportunity to use racial slurs or phrases like “cruising for a dicking”.

            SSC’s origins have, I think, betrayed it in this respect.

          • Anthony says:

            I think that banning Steve Johnson actually does fall under the three rules, though probably no single post of his actually fails hard enough to warrant a ban on its own. Even granting the possible truth of his statements, he (deliberately?) makes them in ways which are bound to be misinterpreted, and they’re often off-topic. So not-kind, and not-necessary, and with their truth-value more obscure than needed.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Yes, I suppose it does depend on whether you believe the SJ crowd has a set goal which they will be content with once achieved, or whether they will keep escalating their demands for more more more. I know which way I’m betting.

          • Frank says:

            I agree with Steve’s banning for the sake of improving discussion quality, but I doubt banning folks like Steve will do anything to appease the SJ crowd. Was there ever a time they forgave anyone? Once you’re evil you’re evil.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            @Nornagest

            Warnings don’t work. When you warn people that they’ll be banned if they e.g. stop making every thread about strawberries, you get a larger volume of discussion that’s recognizably about strawberries but has a veneer of plausible deniability.

            Perhaps you misunderstand. The warnings aren’t meant to incentivize Steve Johnson types to cease and desist. The warnings are meant to assuage the average commenter that Scott will never ban them unexpectedly. It’s not about B.F. Skinner-ing the stubborn shitposters. It’s about Scott promising the pure and earnest that he’ll rattle before he bites.

            This is how it works in my model. Steve stirs shit. Scott publicly warns Steve. Steve continues shit-stirring, but under the cover of plausible deniability. Scott bans him anyway. (This diverges from your model, where Scott wants to ban him but cannot since Scott feels he must first isolate and explicate exactly where Steve broke the rules.)

            The commentariat knows that Steve continued shit-stirring. Scott knows that Steve continued shit-stirring. Steve knows that Steve continued shit-stirring. Given Steve’s repeated behavior, the ban will happen — plausible deniability or not. The issue I want to mitigate is rather the chilling effects in the aftermath of the ban.

            If Scott just bans people out of the blue, the earnest commentators will get nervous. “What if I’m next? Better play it safe.” And then the “safe-space for weird ideas” becomes a “space without weird ideas”. And that’s why Scott needs to set some type of precedent regarding the mitigation of surprise.

            ———-

            N.B. I don’t know the extent to which Steve Johnson shitposted. I’m one of those rare few who uses the ‘hide’ button. I’ll just assume for the sake of the argument that he deserved the ban.

          • DES3264 says:

            “Was there ever a time [the sj crowd] forgave anyone?” It seems to me the answer to this is overwhelmingly yes. It seems in bad taste to drag up things from people’s past, but here are a few people whom I think would be okay with it:

            Ferret Stienmitz (theferret) was attacked for his role in the Open Source Boob project and is now a prominent left-wing pro-polyamory blogger.

            The Nielsen Haydens were on the non-SJ side of Racefail but were accepted as leaders of the anti-Puppy forces.

            Hugo Schwyzer was forgiven numerous times before finally failing catastrophically.

            I don’t want to list details for Barry Deutsch (Ampersand) because I think he would be hurt by people bringing them up again, but there was definitely a period where the main topic on the feminist internet was whether or not to associate with him.

            What bothers me is that all of the examples I’m thinking about are from 2005-2010, and it is not because it took five years for these people to be forgiven back then. I spent a lot more time on the political internet back then, so it could just be my ignorance, but I am worried that people are getting genuinely meaner.

          • Sylocat says:

            @Toggle:

            If you’re having an easier time pointing at it than defining it, then it might also be fruitful to explore a bit in short fiction, as you sometimes do. That might make the unspeakable rules more vivid, even for people that are unfamiliar with the victims of your reign of terror.

            Heck, writing short fiction analogizing the nature of Steve Johnson’s infractions is easy: Just picture a kid who, after being admonished to stop poking his sibling on a car ride, holds his fingers an inch from his sibling’s face and waves them around, while saying, “I’m not touching you, see?”

          • Frank says:

            @DES3264: Thanks for those examples. Something I’ve noticed is that the only men who stick around on feminist blogs are the ones who are the meanest and most virulent feminists, more mean & virulent than feminist women even (similar to the PC Principal from South Park if you saw that episode). My hypothesis is that being an ultra mean feminist is the only way to effectively atone for the crime of being a man. I noticed something similar going on with your examples of “forgiveness”… it seems like the only way someone can be “forgiven” is by leading SJ moral crusades themselves. There’s never a reflective “hey guys maybe we made a mistake here moment” on the left, akin to say Germany after World War II.

            I think in functioning moral systems, things work more like this: you get punished for infractions. The punishment fits the crime: the bigger your infraction the bigger the punishment. Once you’ve been punished for your crime, you’re considered to have “paid your debt to society” and there aren’t further punishments unless there are further crimes.

            This stuff isn’t that hard… it’s how kindergarten teachers run their classrooms. My general impression of the left is that they are much more concerned with outcompeting each other through virtue signaling than they are with creating incentives that work well… which means ultimately leftism doesn’t work well and it’s better described as a wave wreaking havoc on a functional system than a system in and of itself. (Every so often the wave peaks and subsides: Stalin, Robespierre, 90s political correctness, etc. I suspect it’s nearing a peak right now; someone in my opinion accurately described the modern left as having perfected the “circular firing squad”.)

          • Frank says:

            I take back the Germans analogy, I acknowledge it was hyperbolic.

          • multiheaded says:

            @Frank: I think you are right. So much “social justice” “discourse” is, at the core, yet more patriarchal male bullshit and male-on-male violence.

            If I may be so problematic – I don’t know, maybe I’m transphobic against myself, idk – I think that trans women SJWs also tend have those fucking aggressive violent habits because of male socialization; you don’t see other oppressed groups being quite so nasty. (Trans men SJWs tend to be way way less awful.)

        • Zippy says:

          There’s one asshole “Steve Johnson” who somehow gets first post in like every single thread… and a massive subtree emerges.

          His spirit haunts us even now, I see.

        • eh says:

          Going off on a tangent, the sexbot fantasy isn’t solely gleeful handrubbing about how feminists will be sad. For a lot of people, primarily but not wholly men, it’s a distant hope for contact and warmth from someone who feels utterly unlovable.

          When I was in school, the really unpopular kids used to go read in the library, which was staffed and quiet and thus safe from most kinds of bullying. The social contact that they got from this probably wasn’t as good as that experienced by the somewhat unpopular kids, who played board games, or the popular kids, who played sports, but it was better than nothing. This is one way to see sexbots: a low-status replacement of what high-status people achieve with ease and take for granted. As another example, mocking sexbots seems similar to mocking the culinary taste of a struggling family that goes to McDonalds for a treat.

          People who are desperately lonely and needy are being laughed at and denied what could be their greatest hope for living a happier life. Granted, lonely people are often not always nice, sexbots fall right in the uncanny valley, some number of sexbots are going to be treated in a way that we wouldn’t treat ethically meaningful beings, and the redpill/MRA circles tend to regurgitate material about sexbots, but those are excuses rather than justifications.

          • Desertopa says:

            I think that perhaps a lot of the unpopular kids reading in the library were unpopular because they spent free time reading in the library, rather than spending free time reading in the library because they were unpopular. Being deeply introverted generally does not offer strong routes to popularity. I actually was quite popular for a period during my time in school, but because I was so introverted, I didn’t enjoy it, and tried to avoid spending too much of my time socializing with other people.

          • Nita says:

            Although it’s not evident in the linked thread, as far as I know, Veronica is not against sex bots as such — only against the gleeful handrubbing.

          • suntzuanime says:

            lol. “ok, you can have your sex robots, but you have to promise to still be miserable”

          • Nita says:

            @ suntzuanime

            “Gleeful handrubbing” here means not “yay, sexbots!”, but “when cunts realize than they have become worthless, they will come crawling and begging, and we’ll finally get to treat them the way they really deserve”.

          • eh says:

            @Desertopia

            This is a small sample size, but a number seemed to be mentally ill. Three were very clearly autistic, and many of the others seemed a little “off”, although “off” probably won’t be making it into the DSM any time soon.

            Going back to sexbots, I’m not sure that the two situations are fully parallel when it comes to outcomes. If someone is deprived of a library, they might conceivably become more popular through immersion, but they probably wouldn’t be able to take friendship by force. The same is not true for sex, and there are multiple examples of the availability of various sexual products reducing rape rates, so the consequences of denying access to sexbots might be a bit more dire than the consequences of denying access to school libraries.

          • Addict says:

            Re: cuddling, Primatology hobbyist here. I spend days watching the Gombe livestream, zoos, etc.

            All other primates spend an *inordinate* amount of time with large areas of skin in physical contact with another, whether play-wrestling or cuddling or copulating.

            In captivity, where Chimps have basically nothing to do all day but socialization, this tendency becomes even greater.

            I can’t help but imagine that, back in the pre-agriculture days, humans were the same.

            For those of you who have yet to read the essential ‘Chimpanzee Politics’: physical contact is a self-reassurance mechanism. In a typical incidence wherein an Alpha’s position is threatened by an up-and-comer, the Alpha first approaches his strongest supporter and reaches out to him in a begging gesture, asking for a show of solidarity. The supporter demonstrates his loyalty by mounting the Alpha from behind, as if they were about to copulate, with full chest-back contact. The up-and-comer sees the two faces, one right behind the other, both arrayed against him. Only once the leader has received this reassurance will he start displaying at the interloper. Sometimes he still feels insecure, though, and must rally and be reassured by additional allies before he is confident enough to display.

            To us, this seems like submissive behavior. The alpha, allowing himself to be mounted in what is obviously derivative of the copulation position, and refusing to fight until more of his own allies have done so than his opponents?

            Look here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc__L9Vo4g0#t=21m45s

            Dunno if timestamp worked, but a conflict between Nikkie, the alpha, and Dandy, the up-and-comer, starts around 21:40. Rather than attacking Dandy, Nikkie immediately goes to Mama, the leader of the female coalition, and is mounted by her. Dandy tries to give Mama a slap, punishing her for her allying with Nikkie, but while he’s doing that, Nikkie goes and embraces the Beta male, Jerome. When Dandy sees that Nikkie has been embraced by two strong allies, he flees. There is no actual physical confrontation; it is all down to what alliances each party can demonstrate.

            This is, of course, not so different from how we manage our affairs. When we get into a fight on the internet, we message our friends and tell them to join us.

            But we are certainly lacking the physical contact aspect of these alliances. We are reassured by our allies, but we don’t get the same warmth from them.

            I think this is the worst thing that could have happened.

            To be honest, I did not understand so-called ‘cuddle cultute’ in the bay area, until I started watching primates obsessively, and then it became obvious and I felt bad for being cynical before. When you watch fully grown rival male chimps nonetheless get what is obviously an immense amount of reassurance and satisfaction from physical contact…

            It almost makes me glad I’m a heroin addict and that there will always be girls attracted to bad boys, because my lack of social grace will never be able to keep me from finding that reassurance. It sucks that human culture has sexualized physical contact to the point that any enjoyment of it must be sexual in nature, but that’s where we’re at.

            I applaud the efforts of people in the Bay area in restarting cuddle culture. I fear that once you sexualize skin-on-skin contact your species can’t go back to regular cuddling, and that this effort won’t work.

            :[

          • Wrong Species says:

            This runs in to the same problems as welfare though. Yes, you are probably helping the lowest of nerds who would probably be alone for their whole life anyways. But what kind of incentives are you creating for the rest of society? Obviously the high status guys will find sex dolls beneath them so that leaves a huge portion of guys in the middle. If these guys decide to use a sex doll because trying to find a real relationship is difficult then that would be a problem.

          • Mark Z. says:

            Addict: so the chimp won’t start posturing until another chimp literally has their back. That’s fascinating! Thank you.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @Wrong Species,

            You say it will be a problem, but how exactly?

          • Deiseach says:

            I typed and then deleted a long comment on the sexbot thing, but now I’ve reconsidered.

            The whole damn topic of sex and gender is toxic, pretty much, so can we please talk about something, anything else? Even something silly?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Well, sexbots give us an excellent opportunity to test that proposition. Surely we should welcome the chance to prove these horrible misogynists wrong?

          • Alexp says:

            What’s the point of a sexbot? Couldn’t you get the same gratification from porn?

          • NN says:

            What’s the point of a sexbot? Couldn’t you get the same gratification from porn?

            Forget porn. Something like this would surely cost at least tens of thousands of dollars. Inanimate Real Dolls already cost more than $6000, and you also have to factor in power and maintenance costs. Anyone with enough money to afford one would already have enough money to pay for escorts, or a sugar baby, or a mail order bride, or whatever. So I don’t see sexbots becoming anything more than a novelty any time in the forseeable future.

            And if it’s cuddling that you’re after, then there are already a number of “professional cuddlers” who offer the chance to cuddle a real human being for $60 per hour with no legal risk at all. It’s going to be a long, long time before cuddlebots can compete with that.

          • Nita says:

            @ suntzuanime

            I don’t even know what you’re trying to say anymore. We should donate to sexbot R&D because the post-sexbot world might make some misogynists change their opinions? To be honest, I think there are more efficient ways to use one’s money.

            @ Addict

            Thanks, that was fascinating!

            @ Deiseach

            Apparently we can’t 😀

          • Addict says:

            @Alexp

            The point of my post was that the warmth from physical content is likely to be important to happiness in primates. Porn doesn’t supply that. A woman (or man, in a less sexualized society [bay area cuddle culture?!]) can. A sexbot just might be able to.

            So for us gammas who fear the day when feminism/polyamory/whathaveyou has given alphas a monopoly on women (or, for me, when heroin addiction stops seeming ‘cool’ and starts seeming ‘massively unattractive’, around age 22ish), it sure would be nice to smoothly migrate to sexbots. Not because women are ‘unnecessary’ but because they’re ‘unavailable’.

            Edit: rereading, I realize my last post kind of seemed like a non sequitur. My point was: physical contact appears to be just as important, to chimps, as food (as determined by their observed preference ordering). I think the debate about sex bots should be reframed with this in mind.

            When a man can’t get sex, any complaints on his part are treated with scorn. But I think most of the ‘hurt’ suffered by isolated men is not the lack of sex (as you say, porn serves pretty well here), but rather the lack of warm, physical contact. In chimp society, males who would never be allowed to mate still spend just as much time cuddling/wrestling with other chimps. Not so, in human society.

            How does your opinion change if we call them “pillowtalk bots” instead? For that would surely be their *real* purpose.

          • NN says:

            Edit: rereading, I realize my last post kind of seemed like a non sequitur. My point was: physical contact appears to be just as important, to chimps, as food (as determined by their observed preference ordering). I think the debate about sex bots should be reframed with this in mind.

            When a man can’t get sex, any complaints on his part are treated with scorn. But I think most of the ‘hurt’ suffered by isolated men is not the lack of sex (as you say, porn serves pretty well here), but rather the lack of warm, physical contact. In chimp society, males who would never be allowed to mate still spend just as much time cuddling/wrestling with other chimps. Not so, in human society.

            How does your opinion change if we call them “pillowtalk bots” instead? For that would surely be their *real* purpose.

            If you want warmth, physical contact, and pillowtalk, then you can already get all of those things for about $20-40 per “session” at a strip club, even if there aren’t any of the aforementioned professional cuddlers in your city. If you want just pillowtalk, you can get that for even cheaper over the phone. So I still don’t see the point of sexbots.

            Obviously if someone wants “real” love and affection none of the commercial options that I’ve mentioned will suffice, but a sexbot won’t help with that either.

        • Ineptech says:

          One lurker’s unsolicited opinion:

          a) every internet forum above a certain size has posters who bring up some topic repeatedly because they never tire of it: “This article about kittens/NASCAR/trilobytes is just more evidence for what I’ve been saying all along about feminism/race and IQ/9-11…”;

          b) Such posters aren’t bad a priori, if you like a boisterous community full of fierce debate and sometimes-wacky topics – where would you hear the “rape is great for women evolutionarily” idea if not from a troll? But they are bad in excess, and banning them periodically is necessary and healthy, like pruning a rosebush;

          c) from what I’ve seen, Scott’s calibration for “excess” is, if anything, too lenient: “I’m going to assume the last seven times you kicked me in the balls were on accident, but I will have to ask you to leave if you do it three or four more times.”

          • Luke Somers says:

            /me visualizes : “This article about feminism/race and IQ/9-11 is just more evidence for what I’ve been saying all along about kittens/NASCAR/trilobytes…”

          • dndnrsn says:

            The nesting comment structure might make derailing worse? I personally can’t understand how generally sequentially-presented forum interfaces have become seemingly less popular than the comment-section format.

            Also, trilobye fux/kitten bux.

          • Nornagest says:

            I personally can’t understand how generally sequentially-presented forum interfaces have become seemingly less popular than the comment-section format.

            It’s partly because of click efficiency (i.e. the school of web design that says you should never be more than three clicks from anything) and partly because forums tend to run away and become their own, often horrible, culture separate from the parent site (but which you as site owner are still paying for). Tying comments tightly to top-level content doesn’t prevent shitposting, but it at least cuts down on completely content-free threads about e.g. whether Ewoks or Klingons would win in a fight, or about roleplaying as your forum avatar or talking in bad harem anime cliches.

            That doesn’t excuse terrible threading, though.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Tying comments tightly to top-level content doesn’t prevent shitposting, but it at least cuts down on completely content-free threads about e.g. whether Ewoks or Klingons would win in a fight, or about roleplaying as your forum avatar or talking in bad harem anime cliches.

            …okay, yeah, in retrospect, the TV Tropes Forum was pretty bad.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s what came to mind, but I’ve seen stuff just as bad elsewhere.

    • Deiseach says:

      I rather like Reigns of Terror. They (a) appeal to my Inner Saruman (“I am going to make you be good whether you like it or not!”) and (b) chime in with my cynicism about human nature and the nature of progress (“yeah, it starts out all ‘Let’s wear light floaty rational clothing instead of heavy, deforming corsetry and ends up with the guillotine and the noyades’).

    • ryan says:

      If you run a successful blog with a popular comments section how could you not at least occasionally ban someone you kinda just don’t like? That would be like slaughtering a cow for meat but *not* sending the corpse to a rendering plant so the fat could be turned into base chemicals and eventually crayons. Not very ethically altruistic if you ask me.

  2. Ross Levatter, MD says:

    Regarding Tabarrok’s excellent point, I have made that argument for decades, suggesting any drug licensed in Europe be allowed here with no more than 1 year delay, referring to it as the “Europe As Guinea Pig” proposal.

    • Kichumen says:

      Historical data shows you would need at least 3 years to safely use Europe as a Guinea Pig , see Contergan : used from October 1957 to November 1961 ( first dicovery of problems December 1960 )
      And for safety reasons i suggest the opposite , anything forbidden in one country is automatically forbidden in the other too .

      • Steve B says:

        I’m kind of curious, would you institute a three-year delay in the case of bans as well? It seems like there are enough political issues involved in substance bans to warrant a little caution.

      • Ross Levatter, MD says:

        Are you sure that 50 years ago the testing times were not significantly shorter?

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Speaking as somebody who is opposed to the FDA entirely, and would rather anything be legal for anyone:

      No.

      That creates perverse incentives for Europe to continue to allow dangerous drugs to be sold there for a set period of time, for no other reason than to allow their companies to then be able to market and sell those drugs in the US going forward.

  3. The thing I’ve been wondering about after the Muggeridge/Conquest discussion is whether there are huge things (possibly atrocities, possibly who knows what) which haven’t made it onto our radar. I don’t *think* it would be possible to murder millions of people without the world noticing it these days, but I might be missing something.

    • Look into how many people have died of malaria as a result of DDT being banned. You will be shocked.

      • Protagoras says:

        In countries subject to malaria, DDT is only banned for agricultural use. Agricultural use of DDT hastens the development of resistance in mosquitoes, so banning agricultural use of DDT makes it more effective against malaria.

        • Ydirbut says:

          In practice though, you can’t guarantee that the DDT is being used according to regulations, especially as most malaria endemic countries are not known for having effective governments or regulation regimes. I used to live in Ghana and DDT is sometimes used to fish there.

          https://www.modernghana.com/news/475765/1/killer-ddt-dynamite-still-used-in-fishing.html

          On a totally unrelated note, how do you insert hyperlinks into comments?

          • Dude Man says:

            On a totally unrelated note, how do you insert hyperlinks into comments?

            You would type [a href=”slatestarcodex.com”]example text[/a], except you would replace the square brackets (these: [) with pointy brackets (these: <). For example, the above code produces this as output:

            example text

            Scott used to have a few HTML pointers on top of the reply form, but I don’t know what happened to them.

      • John Sidles says:

        Look into how easy and cheap it still is to buy DDT … you will be shocked … and you will be shocked too at the persistence and environmental ubiquity of organochloride pesticides like DDT.

      • James Picone says:

        People who were claiming that left-wing-aligned lying doesn’t get spread about, here is an excellent example of a lie that is widely believed in right and libertarian circles.

        (As Protagoras points out, DDT hasn’t been banned for antimalarial use).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          This also feels like “the digression prevents discussion” type of posts.

          The question was are we missing something that is “the murder of millions of people”. Favorite anti-regulation talking point is inserted as the first Sub-comment. Sub thread becomes arguing over claim.

          But, perhaps the commenter really believs banning DDT is due to wanting people to die, or at the very least callous disregard for people’s lives. But it doesn’t seem like it was posted as an example that really responded to OP.

          Edit: and it’s not as if malaria itself is an unknown and uncombatted killer. There are massive anti-malarial effort ongoing, pretty much anywhere that the country is stable enough.

          And yes, I realize I am semi-guilty of the same thing in this comment.

          • TheWorst says:

            Good point. This seems like exactly the kind of thing a Reign of Terror should discourage–a random NRx shitpost shutting down a topic.

            I reported it and your post (not because I think there’s something wrong with yours, just in hopes that Scott might notice the two of them). I don’t know if that was the appropriate thing to do, but I’m new here.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Fair enough. I wouldn’t have reported either as I think Scott’s shot-across-the-bow is more a call for self-policing than anything else, but I can’t fault the thought process.

            I feel like there now needs to be a “LiterallyTheWorst” competing username.

          • Gbdub says:

            OTOH, this is an “open thread” and probably ought to be the place most permissive of digressions.

          • TheWorst says:

            @Gdub,
            I got the impression that HBC wasn’t referring to the digression itself, but the way these digressions are used strategically to shut a topic down whenever someone’s not talking about the latest NRx/libertarian pet peeve but left an opening by which the dark arts can force them to.

            One of the tell-tales for this tends to be that the content of the original shitpost is not actually true. Steve Johnson was guilty of this pretty regularly.

          • Gbdub says:

            TheWorst – I was mostly engaging in a bit of snark. At worst, I was implying that HBC didn’t need to be reported. But otherwise your point is well taken and I agree.

            Digressing a bit is one thing, but intentionally derailing conversations to your pet topic is of course rude.

          • nydwracu says:

            This seems like exactly the kind of thing a Reign of Terror should discourage–a random NRx shitpost shutting down a topic.

            Gee, I sure am glad that the standard of discourse here is so high that nobody would even think to take a specific label and bleach its semantics until it means “anything and everything I don’t like”!

          • TheWorst says:

            If an anti-vaxxer starts shutting down every discussion that isn’t about how vaccines cause autism (whenever anti-vaxxer thought it was an opportunity to talk about anti-vaxx, which is all the time) that would be the same problem, and mentioning this activity would in no way be “bleaching semantics.”

            Or are you saying Steve Johnson wasn’t NRx? I’d certainly accept correction on that front, though I’d appreciate more detail.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheWorst:
            I think nydwracu was objecting to you categorizing the Van Horn post as NRx. There is nothing particularly NRx about the content of that post, so describing it as NRx is either an earnest mistake or what he describes, the turning of the category NRx into merely anything you don’t like.

          • TheWorst says:

            @HBC: Thanks, and while it’s a fair criticism–I can’t always tell the difference between “Irrelevant Libertarian Shitpost” and “Irrelevant NRx Shitpost”–I didn’t mean to be referring to the object-level.

            The habit of irrelevant shitposting, to my mind, matters more than which particular agenda the shitposter thinks he’s serving.

    • E. Harding says:

      Maybe in North Korea? Do the effects of the collapse of the USSR (largely related to the collapse of law and order and public health), especially in Russia, count?

      Congo War? The entire nation of Eritrea?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Kevin’s example is only one of many where people claim that billions have been killed without people noticing. I think that the total is 100 billion over the course of the 20th century.

      • E. Harding says:

        Not possible; 100 thousand killed per year*100=10 million killed during 20th century. Fewer than either WW II or 1959-61 famine.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        I think 100 billion is the total number of people who have ever died. Maybe somebody was making a claim that there is no such thing as noticing?

        As an aside, 7 billion is the number of people who have not died (yet! growth mindset?). The evidence base for “man is mortal” is looking somewhat weak.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Jeez, you guys. Douglas’s claim is of the form: “Kevin says that his church has a piece of the true cross, and I believe it– after all, there are enough fragment of the true cross floating around Europe to build a man-o’-war.”

        Not possible; 100 thousand killed per year*100=10 million killed during 20th century. “

        This is one of the more plausible formulations of the argument I’ve heard– you only have the DDT backlash killing people 62 years before Silent Spring, and a mere 39 years before the chemical was first used as an insecticide.

        • Deiseach says:

          “Kevin says that his church has a piece of the true cross, and I believe it– after all, there are enough fragment of the true cross floating around Europe to build a man-o’-war.”

          I’m going to address that, because it’s something often seen floating around, even if the person using it has no idea it’s a fragment of the rhetoric of the Reformation.

          First, not every relic claiming to be a relic of the True Cross is acknowledged by the Church to be such. Yes, you will be shocked to learn relic-faking was a thriving trade back in the Middle Ages and probably even earlier! 🙂

          Secondly, this “enough to build a man o’war” probably comes ultimately from Calvin’s ” In brief, if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load.” However, Calvin was writing polemic, not scientific or historical research. Exaggeration in the aid of mockery of pernicious superstition was not something he rejected.

          Thirdly, we have the work of a guy finicky and obsessive enough to go “Well, all right then, Calvin and Erasmus, let’s count up how many and what size!”

          Charles Rohault de Fleury and his “Les instruments de la passion” of 1870:

          Conflicting with this is the finding of Charles Rohault de Fleury, who, in his Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion 1870 made a study of the relics in reference to the criticisms of Calvin and Erasmus. He drew up a catalogue of all known relics of the True Cross showing that, in spite of what various authors have claimed, the fragments of the Cross brought together again would not reach one-third that of a cross which has been supposed to have been three or four metres in height, with transverse branch of two metres wide, proportions not at all abnormal. He calculated: supposing the Cross to have been of pine-wood (based on his microscopic analysis of the fragments) and giving it a weight of about seventy-five kilogrammes, we find the original volume of the cross to be 0.178 cubic metres (6.286 cubic feet). The total known volume of known relics of the True Cross, according to his catalogue, amounts to approximately 0.004 cubic metres (0.141 cubic feet) (more specifically 3,942,000 cubic millimetres), leaving a volume of 0.174 m3 (6.145 cu ft) lost, destroyed, or otherwise unaccounted for.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Does it really matter that we notice if we still do nothing?

    • John Sidles says:

      Nancy Lebovitz wonders “Are huge things (possibly atrocities, possibly who knows what) which haven’t made it onto our radar.”

      The mortality associated to schizophrenia is “huge” by any reasonable definition:

      Schizophrenia: A Concise Overview
      of Incidence, Prevalence, and Mortality

      The median lifetime morbid risk for schizophrenia was 7.2/1,000 persons. On the basis of the standardized mortality ratio, people with schizophrenia have a two- to three-fold increased risk of dying (median standardized mortality ratio = 2.6 for all-cause mortality), and this differential gap in mortality has increased over recent decades.

      Note that the risk “7.2/1,000 persons” translates to fifty million afflicted people globally.

      Are the dire mortality rates associated to schizophrenia (and other severe mental disorders) as low as reasonably practicable? This question excites spirited debate.

      Conclusion  The early deaths of the world’s severely mentally ill people are among the easiest deaths to ignore … somehow we feel (to our shame and disgrace) “they had it coming.”

      • suntzuanime says:

        I mean, I’ve lost a friend to schizophrenia (and fuck you for saying I feel he had it coming), but it’s not clear to me that deaths due to schizophrenia are morally culpable by anyone the way a genocide might be. It’s not clear that we’re not earnestly trying to treat schizophrenia, and even if we weren’t, it seems unlikely that we’re deliberately causing it. John Oliver is not a reliable source of earnest truthseeking.

      • Desertopa says:

        I don’t think it follows at all that we feel that the severely mentally ill “had it coming” in some way. We (well, the general populace, not necessarily the people in this community) are far more prone to ignore the tremendous prevalence of deaths related to old age. I don’t think we’d say that people who die of aging-related causes “had it coming,” it’s just that we see their deaths as part of the natural order and outside of our power to correct. I think that most people would consider curing all severe mental illness to be a social good, but absent such cures, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that it’s more difficult to keep people who’re severely mentally ill within our social safety nets than people who’re not.

    • Deiseach says:

      whether there are huge things (possibly atrocities, possibly who knows what) which haven’t made it onto our radar

      The cynical part of my nature says do it quietly enough internally, spread it out over decades, and make sure you’re on the right side of American governments of whatever party (“our gallant ally in Latin America/Middle East/Central, Western, Eastern, Southern or other parts of Africa/Far East in the fight against totalitarian Communism”) and you’ll be fine.

      The media won’t be interested and sure, some hippy-dippy organisations like Amnesty might run a few campaigns, but as long as the populace of the West gets the newest shiny toys each year and we aren’t harrowed with ‘drowned toddlers washed up on beaches’ imagery, things can tick along nicely (until the Yanks decide your rival would play ball more nicely with them and let you fall or take you out themselves).

      • Nathan says:

        I only learned about the anti communist purges in the 60s in Indonesia recently. About a million people were murdered in living memory in a country that neighbours mine and I had no idea.

    • Murphy says:

      Ethnic germans

      I remember seeing a quite interesting but lonely documentary on the systematic murder of very large numbers of ethnic germans after WW2.

      I don’t know how large the real death toll was, the documentary was quite upfront that records from the time are poor because it was quite popular with the victors of the war, didn’t get much news or academic attention and happened while the truth of what had happened in the concentration camps was going public meaning that there was a widespread belief that the ethnic germans deserved whatever happened to them.

      The show included a lot of interviews with elderly ethnic germans people who were children at the time recounting stories of their families being rounded up and shot etc.

      Eugenics

      2nd possibility, warning, I am not an expert on this subject and this is based on a few evenings searching google scholar for figures and some conjecture, nothing more:

      I remember a few years ago trying to hunt down figures on the gender balance of people subjected to forcible sterilization as part of eugenics programs over the centuries. I wasn’t too surprised to get the impression that as fashions changed it appeared to swap from targeting more women to more men and back again but the amount of data available through google scholar varied massively by gender.

      In decades where the focus was on sterilizing criminals men seemed to be targeted more but I’d find 1 maybe 2 sets of figures for perhaps a 20 or 30 year stretch then the focus would shift to sterilizing disabled people and it would target women more. Imagine a sine wave shifting back and forth between male and females with data points along the wave whenever I could find numbers for a year.

      In a 20(or more) year stretch where mostly women were targeted I might find 5 to 10 data-points, papers mentioning how many men and women were sterilized with the line looping up then back towards the 50%:50% line.

      In a 20(or more) year stretch between times when women were targeted I might find 1 or 2 datapoints, papers mentioning how many men and women were sterilized or sometimes no papers at all.

      I suspect that academic funding may influence how much is researched and published about the treatment of different groups in this case.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Right, no one has heard of the the single largest ethnic cleansing in the history of the world, on par with the partition of India. However, it was the least deadly ethnic cleansing in the history of the world, so I reject the charge of “systematic murder.”

        • Murphy says:

          “Nonetheless, the official positions of the German government and the German Red Cross are that the death toll resulting from expulsions ranged from 2 to 2.5 million civilians.[7][8] The German Federal Agency for Civic Education puts the figure at 2 million.[9]”

          Fair enough, when I heard about it however it genuinely wasn’t on my radar which surprised me given how much I’d heard over the years, that something on a similar scale to the Rwandan genocide was just not mentioned in the many documentaries about the war that I’d seen.

      • Murphy says:

        Correction: “between times when **men** were targeted I might find 1 or 2 datapoints”

        • Paul Goodman says:

          It’s a little hard to parse but it does actually make sense as written. There are the 20 year stretches during which women are targeted, and then the 20 year stretches between those times.

    • How many people know about the deliberate famine during the Biafran war? I don’t think anyone has an accurate body count, but my impression is that it was on the order of a million people, killed by an internationally recognized and to a considerable degree supported government.

      If you count excess mortality due to drug regulation, one can argue that when the FDC finally approved a beta blocker it also confessed to killing about a hundred thousand people by the delay in doing so.

      • Re: competitive dictatorship: you are very right about that, but your wording in MoF was misunderstandable and was misunderstood. I wrote a long post explaining it, it looks like arguing with you (because I misunderstood you too) but now I think it is fairer to say I am arguing with how you are misunderstood. Whatever. TL;DR “Power does not diminish by dividing it, it diminishes by dividing the domain of power, and actually even in that case it does not diminish over the total sum of the domain, merely makes humans exempt from the domain – and yet that is the key to human freedom, perhaps the only one.”

        https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/the-gravest-error-misunderstanding-the-division-of-power/

    • The Muslim conquest of India. The shortest way to describe it would be “ISIS conquers Genroku-age Japan multiple times“.

      The destruction of indigenous culture was so phenomenally thorough that very little remains today. (What is now called ‘Hinduism’, for instance, actually consists of what were, back in their day, multiple mutually incompatible and separate religions with their own conversion ceremonies. For comparison, imagine a catastrophe covering the modern world so dire that five hundred years in the future, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam get lumped together under a single name.)

      Nothing in Indian history makes sense unless this massive discontinuity is acknowledged and accounted for. Sadly, for political reasons, the official stance of the government is denying that anything like this ever happened. This denial is also repeated and reinforced in school and university curricula. Worse, anyone trying to study this topic in any detail is treated like an outcaste, and has their books literally banned.

      • Echo says:

        After that horrible story, I really shouldn’t have laughed at “outcaste”.

        • You’re right. Substitute the word ‘racist’ for ‘outcaste’ to get the right connotations (for modern liberal American society). (And I mean the old-fashioned and violent kinds of racists, not those merely tarred with the word as a smear.)

          The way the denial works isn’t by denying any of the facts of what happened; it’s done by glossing over them, and then creatively re-interpreting the period of Islamic rule.

          An analogy: imagine ISIS becomes a stable Middle Eastern state in a hundred years (after losing and gaining territory ten or fifteen times in the process). Two hundres years later, ISIS v2 conquers the same area again. As does ISIS v3, another hundred years later.

          700 years later, history books treat ISIS as merely another state, glossing over completely how barbaric it was, specially during its conquest phase. Also glossing over the barbarism of the v2 and v3 variants, as well. The same history books showcase the ‘achievements’ of ISIS rule. And to top it off,

          And then you realise that the history book is being used in a democratic country with a 20% Salafi population that’s politically powerful (and with a vocal minority within it that isn’t unwilling to get its hands dirty being violent if they think they’re under attack/being insulted), with state control of education, and everything suddenly makes horrible sense.

          Addendum (remembered when I read the ISIS re-introduced slavery): the words ‘Hindu Kush’ mean ‘Killer of Hindus’ in Persian. They’re also the name of a mountain range in Afghanistan. It came to have this name because it was on the route which Muslim slave traders, carrying slaves from India to the slave markets of the Islamic Middle East, had to traverse – and where Indian slaves died in huge numbers due to ‘violent cold and quantity of snow’.

          Imagine a situation where so many slaves dies in the Atlantic crossing that the Atlantic came to be known as the Black-killer Ocean. (An ocean is not a mountain range, but the parallel is striking nonetheless.)

          Indian history books mention none of this; not the slaving, and certainly not the origin of the name. Currently, the majority population lives in complete ignorance of what the Islamic conquest was like, and what it did to their ancestors, and how it contributes to their current condition. And any ‘waking up’ to history is going to be immensely painful for all involved.

          A parallel: Imagine there existed a Jewish country the size of India. Now imagine that Nazis captured and ruled it for ~500 years, and found it more profitable to not murder everyone, but live instead as a dominant and ruthless ruling minority (while, naturally, completely destroying/dismantling/defunding every Jewish institution, and tearing down every big synagogue they could lay their hands on, and forcing the Jews to live as second or third-class citizens). Now imagine that the country becomes independent, but the majority of Jews today is completely unaware of this history, and the government is scared shitless of their grand (but ultimately false) narrative of historic peaceful co-existence being overturned, purely for reasons of political expediency and maintaining the peace today. That’s India’s current situation in a nutshell.

      • John Schilling says:

        Nothing in Indian history makes sense unless this massive discontinuity is acknowledged and accounted for.

        Not sure I agree with this. Seems there are several historically plausible paths that could have lead to roughly the present state of India, e.g. the Brahmins conquering the nation from within, subjugating other religions and cultures and forcing them to accept low-caste status within their religion, enslaving excess low-caste individuals and selling them abroad, making friends with high-status Muslims from neighboring states, etc. This may not be true, but a thing doesn’t have to be true to make sense. And a sensible untruth, long established, makes for a perfectly functional and stable history.

        The United States still celebrates Columbus Day, even though every educated American knows that Leif Eriksson beat him by half a millennium.

        And any ‘waking up’ to history is going to be immensely painful for all involved.

        Therefore, nobody is going to want to wake up, and as it turns out nobody has to wake up. Certainly not in an abrupt and traumatic manner.

        • Nornagest says:

          It might be worth mentioning that what we normally think of as caste is a very coarse-grained classification (much like the similar classification of society in the Icelandic Eddas, if you’re familiar with those); it does come out of the Vedas, but at the time of the Mughal conquests the practical understanding of caste in India was far more complicated. We’re talking hundreds of communities — called jāti — that have no close analogs in English, but can be thought of as some linear combination of tribe and religion and hereditary trade guild, and which didn’t map particularly cleanly into the Vedic four-color system. Although they would, of course, have been aware of it.

          There’s some debate over how the modern understanding evolved, but social realignments during the post-Mughal collapse and subsequent British administration seem to have been important.

        • Any such plausible path has to account for known historical facts – which the current narrative doesn’t. In fact, given the literary and archaeological evidence available today, the disconnect between ‘popular’ history and what what the evidence points to is as vast as the popular egalitarian/left-wing perception of IQ (it isn’t real, isn’t of a single type, and doesn’t matter anyway) versus the what is common knowledge among psychometricians. (Readers: please don’t take the thread down the direction of debating the example; I’m merely using it to point out that huge disconnect exists, and that this disconnect is qualitatively similar to the one in the example. It’s a split within the academy as well.)

      • I suspected something like this, due to the overuse of the word “Vedic”. That is similar to “loosely Old Testament based, at one point”. Really a brooooad circle of things.

        BTW what really weirds me out about India is that it seems they never say a clear no to anything. Rather coopt everything. I mean the West has a spirit of confronting whatever you don’t like head-on, while India seems to have a spirit of “oh, my opponent is totally saying the same thing as me just with different words”. For example, they don’t want to become Christians, so instead of telling the West in the honest blunt way we are used to to fuck off with all this Jesus thing, so instead of saying a clear NO, they just turned Jesus into a Hindu empowered avatar (of some god of healing) and then there is this endless obfuscation about how Christianity, Hinduism, and basically everything and the kitchen sink are being totally the same thing just in different words.

        This is really weirding me out, I intend to study more about Indian culture but this total utter lack of confronting or even openly disagreeing with anything just makes it hard to decide what can I actually take seriously vs. what is just an nicey-nice obfuscation / placation attempt to avoid tensions.

        And I guess the problem of teaching history is of the same kind – it is the same never antagonize anyone approach.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        The reaction is extreme, I would expect professional historians to be able to talk about this even if it’s downplayed in the schools. Your description of the Mughals as ‘basically ISIS’ isn’t. (Is there attempts to co-opt this stuff by somebody perhaps? The closest thing I’ve seen is the reaction to details to European on European slavery which gets co-opted by elements who try to use it to justify rather extreme racism, ‘see the Irish are ok despite the slavery so its black people’s fault’ and as a result legitimate scholarship that isn’t trying to pretend the affairs are the same gets ugly knee jerk reactions).

        For a comparison, the Roman conquest of Gaul killed or enslaved somewhere between a fifth and half of the population in the first 5 years (Caesar claimed a million total and real historians tell me this actually probably wasn’t exaggerated but the population figures of the time are very fuzzy). And the guy running that was considered to be exceptionally merciful by the Romans! Even the repeat gain/loss territory is only really notable because it’s the same entity, instead of the same spot getting conquered 2-6 times by different people each time.

        • I believe that professional historians do not, of course, deny any of the facts of the case. It’s how the dominant academic narrative (Marxist (yes, classic old-school Marxist; India was socialist until around ~1991, at which point a reforms process started that is far from over, but the country’s ‘intelligentsia’, for whatever it’s worth, has for a long time been solidly Marxist, and changes much more slowly than the economy)) interprets these facts that causes trouble. For an idea of what I’m talking about, I suggest Arun Shourie’s “Eminent Historians”. It has its own bias, so correct for that, but the point he makes isn’t really disputable.

          Thanks to the extremely violent recent history of Hindu-Muslim relations in the country, there’s a massive reluctance among academics to acknowledge anything that would cause disturbances of the peace, or to interpret many acts of historic destruction as religiously motivated (even if they clearly were). In addition, there are political and religious extremist movements within the country that the liberal, Westenised, and fundamentally colonial-descended administration fears both ideologically and politically. To these people, evidence of Muslim barbarism in the past is politically useful. There is a great fear of a repeat of Nazi history if the majority starts to subscribe to anti-Muslim ideologies.

          The problem is that the dominant narrative is simply wrong, and the ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘bigoted’ narrative closer to the truth. Not because the fundamentalists have any great insight into history – far from it (their own distortions are as bad, if allowed free rein) – but by sheer historical accident.

          And so history became a political game (and a very dangerous one), with the dominant group – Marxists – pushing their narrative through the state. If history had not been politicised, and the naked truth left out there, there would have been nothing for the fundamentalists to build a narrative around. Persecution and ‘othering’ thrives when the ‘other’ actually tries to pull such crap. A honest appraisal of the damage would have been painful, true, but it would have prevented the very thing – the dominance of fundamentalist or nationalist interpretations – that may now come to pass.

          I do not believe that I err when I describe the Mughals as ‘basically ISIS’. An examination of their policies shall reveal that in their treatment of conquered territories and their laws, they were nearly identical, specially during the ‘conquest’ phase (which is the phase at which ISIS is now). ISIS appears barbaric to us in the modern world because of it’s aberrant nature in our view of history as a linear progression. ISIS would, however, be considered completely normal (if commendably more zealous than expected) among the Islamic empires of the time of the Mughals, and certainly so among the Islamic empires that preceded them.

          Further, the characterisation applies not merely to the Mughals – who were merely the last Islamic wave – but also all those that preceded them. They merely followed what was standard practice at the time. ISIS is aberrant because the standard Islamic practice of that time is not the standard Islamic practice of this time – or, at least, isn’t supposed to be.

          The reason I, personally, am so impassioned by this topic is because I grew up libertarian in India, within a closed and stifling intellectual culture, of which this is merely one manifestation. As classical Indian civilisation simply died during the Muslim conquest (every institution was destroyed; what remains today are the remnants that could stick around in the absence of support and through multiple rounds of destruction and persecution), it is not one that I can claim as a personal loss – you cannot lose or miss what you never had.

          And any attempt to talk sanely about this is met with the same kinds of desperate emotional shrieking and panicking, followed by personal insults and attacks, that greets serious and sober talk about race or gender in the US. The truth is nobody’s friend. Everything you say is a political statement. So my stance on this has gotten me tarred and personally attacked as a ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘Hindu nationalist’ repeatedly, though I think the state should stay the hell out of religion (and almost everything, really). I don’t like to contribute to (much less bring up) this topic in ‘polite’ society, for fear that merely knowing what happened is sufficient grounds for getting lumped in with crazy people from both sides. This is not a dilemma I expect anything other than an epistemic safe space to solve. SSC is the closest I’ve seen to something like this, which is why I posted this here. As such, I haven’t gone near this topic in years, for these reasons.

          This is part of a larger problem – the politicisation of almost everything in Indian intellectual life (controlled as it is by state institutions), and complete dominance of Marxist thought in particular and left-wing ideology in general. Imagine the institutional capture of the humanities/social sciences by the left current that has happened in the USA and Europe without the network of right-wing think-tanks and other institutions that co-exist with then; India is such a place. Growing up there with libertarian views was like being a stranger in a strange and hostile land.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            You say that, in the interests of preserving interfaith harmony and promoting Marxist ideology, Indian history texts gloss over the horrors visited by the Mughal conquerors on India, and I see no reason to doubt you. But what do they say about the many atrocities inflicted by Hindus on their fellow Indians in the centuries before and after the Muslim conquest? Do they speak frankly about the venerable custom of immolating widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres, the vast swaths of society who were treated as subhuman garbage for the grievous sin of having been born into the wrong family, or the fact that the central Vaishnava religious text is one long glorification of violence and bloodshed?

          • A lot (so far as I can tell), hell yes (numerically disproportionate amounts of textual space are devoted to widow-immolation; I suggest you take a look at the numbers here; it appears that the practice is either an emergent or indigenous one, which every elite – Brahminical/Hindu, Muslim, British, and finally the modern Indian state – have been trying to eliminate whenever they could: see here), hell yes again, and to the last – textbooks most wisely stay out of the business of critiquing religious doctrines. One major reason I get so upset it precisely because of this unbalanced treatment. It’d be fine if they took a hard line on human rights and blasted everything that was barbaric proportionate to its barbarism. But that is not happening.

            How does that cause you to update your beliefs?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            It’s all too human to see the outgroup as a monolithic mob who bear collective guilt for any crime any outgroup-member commits, while viewing members of the ingroup as distinct individuals who are of course only responsible for their own actions. A prime example of this is xenophobes who fixate on sensationalist tales of crimes committed by immigrants, without even thinking to ask whether the rate is higher or lower than among native-born citizens.

            I mostly wanted to make sure you weren’t doing that.

          • Ah, I see.

            My critique of Islam is fundamentally a libertarian/liberal one, not a sectarian or partisan one. I’m well aware – perhaps more than most, having actually looked into it – into how fragmented the larger Islamic world is into sects and cults. Most are aware of the major divisions, such as Shia and Sunni, but India has a bunch of local traditions that, though often classifiable into the larger groups, often fall outside it as well, such as the Ahmediyas, or Bohras, or the indigenous variants of the Sufi cults. In addition, the Muslim population of India is not, if taken as a group, as mindkilled as that in the Middle East (though now I suspect it may be bifurcating into revanchist and modernised forms, as some part of the group succumbs to the siren-song of modernity, and the other falls prey to the organised international movements that have been attempting – with a large measure of success – to make Islamic practice uniform across the world (which I guess is another feature of modernity)).

            I use the word ‘mindkilled’ advisedly, as Islam as conceived of by Mohammed was not just a religious revelation, but an ideology, a polity, and an in-group all in one. Insofar as it makes truth-claims about the world, it is subject to factual investigation; to the extent that it makes political or normative claims, it is open to the same kind of critique as any ideology. (I use a singular ‘it’ for rhetorical convenience; I am well aware that doctrinal differences exist within what is at this point an umbrella term.)

            This, by the way, is exactly the problem I’ve faced before: that of people suspecting my motives. The idea that I may be outraged with Islamic ideology, and the behaviour of its believers in the past, for liberal/libertarian reasons is not taken seriously, even though it is the case.

            Some of my earliest experiences with this double standard were that of consistent libertarian outrage at the excesses of history, no matter where they came from. So, for instance, I find widow-immolation (to the extent it was forced or due to misguided beliefs) horrifying. (And even if completely sanely and voluntarily chosen, I still find the suffering involved horrifying.) And that’s treated as completely normal. But being equally outraged by Islamic atrocities in the historical record has been met with hysterical accusations of partisan bias, personal attacks, and a questioning of my motives, even though the sack of a single small city by, say, the Mughals (the Ghurids, Ghaznavids, and assorted others were worse than the Mughals, I believe), would involve much more killing and suffering than a century’s worth of widow-immolation (in sheer numbers).

            FWIW, I have no animus against those still living for the crimes of their far-distant ancestors, who are now all dead. (In case it’s not clear yet, my stance is a libertarian one.) Constantly being treated as if I secretly wanted to ‘Kill all the Muslims!’, in spite of my repeated assertions to the contrary, and in spite of my consistent libertarianism, was jarring, tiring, and enormously invalidating, and again one reason why I gave up talking about this before. It’s nice to have a place where, having established that I am not in fact a cartoon villain, I can finally talk sanely and sensibly; or at least, so I hope.

            Do you understand where I am coming from now?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Rather than answer your question I’m going to answer a different one instead. What triggers manipulative-nationalist-propaganda alarms for me is hearing a [star-bellied sneetch] recite a litany of horrors committed by the [sneetches without stars on their bellies] and complain how none are accurately recorded in the history books, without even alluding to the many nasty things which I know her fellow [star-bellied sneetches] have done. Clearly it is the comparative claim– that textbooks do justice to the latter but not the former– which matters. So the best way to persuade me, and perhaps others like me, would be to acknowledge up front several ways that [star-bellied sneetches] have been bad actors before launching into how the history of the [sneetches without stars on their bellies] is whitewashed.

            Keep in mind that I have no way of verifying what Indian history textbooks actually look like or what topics are tabooed among Indian intellectuals, so if I’m going to trust what you have to say you’re going to have to work a little to establish your even-handedness and commitment to liberal values. This has nothing to do with your particular cause, and I’m not trying to invalidate your experiences or whatever. It’s just that a Hindu nationalist masquerading as a liberal to foment anti-muslim sentiment and a sincere liberal trying to set straight a biased historiography look uncannily similar in silhouette.

  4. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Scott, have you ever thought about reposing some of your old articles here, like your FAQs, your LessWrong posts, or your LiveJournal posts? You have accumulated quite the collection of thoughtful and eloquent commenters here, and it would be fascinating to see what they have to say about those pieces.

    Related: The Library of Scott Alexandria. Don’t miss out on the ebook version!

    • Echo says:

      I suspect that the overton window has moved far enough that much of his old content is now unacceptably toxic and problematic.
      Republishing it would probably give “people who want to attack this blog as a crimethink space and get it shouted out of the pale of acceptable discussion too much ammunition.”

      • The_Dancing_Judge says:

        the funny thing is i think the overton window has moved right within sane circles the last few years. That stuff was more impressively out there back then than now.

      • Technically Not Anonymous says:

        I don’t think the Overton Window has shifted to the left in the past couple of years. The current Republican frontrunner became a serious contender by saying that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug smugglers and later doubling down when challenged on those remarks. I think the Overton Window has expanded both leftward and rightward.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      I’ve had similar thoughts, but tended toward different categorizations. I had two main “sequences” in my head:

      Finding Truth is Hard:
      * The Cowpox of Doubt
      * Two Dark Side Statistics Papers
      * The Control Group Is Out Of Control
      * Utopian Science
      * Beware Isolated Demands For Rigor
      * Beware The Man Of One Study
      * Debunked And Well-Refuted
      * Trouble Walking Down The Hallway
      * Why I Am Not Rene Descartes [part V]
      * Contra Hallquist On Scientific Rationality [part III]
      * I Myself Am A Scientismist
      * On first looking into Chapman’s “Pop Bayesianism”
      * Streetlight Psychology
      * Holocaust Good For You, Research Finds, But Frequent Taunting Causes Cancer In Rats
      * That Chocolate Study
      * Contrarians, Crackpots, and Consensus
      * If You Can’t Make Predictions, You’re Still In A Crisis

      Almost No One is Evil; Almost Everything is Broken:
      * We Wrestle Not With Flesh And Blood, But Against Powers And Principalities
      * Meditations On Moloch
      * Misperceptions On Moloch
      * The Toxoplasma Of Rage
      * The Influenza Of Evil
      * The Anti-Libertarian FAQ
      * The Invisible Nation – Reconciling Utilitarianism And Contractualism
      [Jai’s Foes Without Faces and Ozy’s Privilege vs. Forces can go here too, if we sort of handwave them as Scott-inspired]

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        No “In favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization”?

        • Daniel Speyer says:

          I don’t think it really fits in either sequence. It seems more interested in condemning than debugging meanness and uncivilizedness.

          Or did you mean there’s a sequence on that theme? Possibly. I’m not sure very much would go in it: that essay, Live By The Sword, maybe Goddess of Everything Else.

    • lmm says:

      You can sort-of do that yourself by posting them to /r/slatestarcodex

      (arrgh, I’ve done it again, I’ve posted here when I said I was only going to do so on reddit. Replies will not be read, because there are no reply notifications here; if you want my attention flag up /u/m50d in the /r/slatestarcodex thread)

    • Sam Rosen says:

      I think that would be a fantastic idea. LiveJournal and LessWrong posts have an aura of unseriousness. I often want to send people to Scott’s pre-SSC writings, but find myself annoyed by their low-prestige vibe. Scott doesn’t even need to post them here. Someone should make Astral Codex Ten (a name for Slate Star Codex that Scott was considering) and elegantly present his pre-SSC writings there.

  5. Pku says:

    Regarding pharmaceutical reciprocity: I understood that while different countries have different safety standards for drugs, it was set up so that if you’ve passed the FDA tests you can present those same experiments as proof to anyone with similar (or weaker) requirements on drug safety proof, and that the reason this was problematic in america was simply that the american FDA is unusually strict, so we already pretty have one-way reciprocity (which I guess is not, technically speaking, reciprocity).

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Yes, the same studies can be used for most countries. The main exception is Japan, which requires a certain number of Japanese people in the studies, which is why they didn’t have the pill until 1999. Moreover, the standards in rich countries are all pretty similar. The written standards are so vague that they are meaningless. FDA and EMA have pretty much identical standards in practice today. There have been times where one was stricter, but no consistent pattern in which one: they have repeatedly leapfrogged each other.

      As for the Turing case, I think that generics are available in Europe not because the standards are different between places, but because they have changed over time. The drugs were approved 50 years ago, when they could easily have been approved in America, but they weren’t. That 50 years of experience ought to count for something.

    • brad says:

      There’s two (well more probably) issues–
      1) Should molecule x be authorized for sale in the US?
      2) Should company y be allowed to sell it’s formulation of molecule x in the US?

      You can do reciprocity on #2 without necessarily having to do reciprocity on #1.

  6. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I’ve heard it said that American football is simulated warfare, but I didn’t realize how blatant it was until I actually looked at the formations. They might as well call the line a phalanx, the receivers cavalry, and the quarterbacks generals. They even wear armor and fight on a plain and everything! I think I’m gonna be a lot more interested in football from now on.

    Also, golf is simulated hunting. Then again, so is World of Warcraft. Turns out men like hunting and fighting; who knew?

    • CatCube says:

      Football is also turn-based combat.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Indeed.

        Football has two Commanders (coaches), each of whom have available about 50 Players on their Team. The objective is to score more Victory Points than the other Team. Victory Points are scored by carrying the Bomb (the football) to the opposing Team’s Base (end zone) on the other side of the Map (field). In between the Bases are 100 Capture Points (yards) – advancing the Bomb is done by gaining and holding Capture Points.

        On each Turn, or “down,” there is an Activation and an Attack/Defend round. In the Activation Round, Commanders select and deploy 11 Players and give them commands. In the Attack/Defend Round, the Players will execute these orders. How well each Player executes their commands depends on their character sheet (ability scores, stamina, morale, and experience levels) and, obviously, player skill. Positive and negative buffs can affect these statistics (Fatigued, Injured, Motivated, Berserk [Rivalry Game], Berserk [Roid Rage], Bad Turf, etc).

        Only the Team currently in possession of the Bomb may initiate an attack. The Attacking Team has 4 Turns before their Possession expires. The Turn can be extended by gaining 10 Capture Points, in which case, their Turn total is reset to 4. When their Possession expires, the Bomb reverses to the other Team, who are then on Attack.

        The game is Turn-Based strategy for the Coaches, but Real-Time Tactical for the Players, who, in each Turn, must either capture territory (on Attack) or kill the Bomb-carrier (on Defense). There are multiple player classes, and Football’s innovative character creation system allows for a wide variety of custom hybrid classes, but they generally break down into “Runner, Receiver, Ranged, and Tank” on Attack and “Heavy, Raider, and Interceptor” on Defense.

        To Capture a Point, a Player must carry the Bomb through enemies until they are brought down. Runners carry the Bomb, Tanks protect the Bomb-carrier and try to keep them alive for as long as possible. If a Bomb-carrier’s knee or elbow touches the ground, they are dead, and a new Turn begins. Alternatively, a Ranged Player (who can also carry the Bomb) attempts to fire the Bomb through the air; Receivers are spies who infiltrate enemy territory to paint a target for the Bomb to hit. If the Bomb safely reaches the Receiver, all the territory in-between the two Points is gained.

        Once the Bomb has reached the opponents’ Base, Victory Points are awarded. There are two ways to accomplish this. One is to Launch (kick) the Bomb at the opponent’s Base. This can only be done by a special Ranged player-class known as the Kicker, which has low statistics, defenses, and health. The Kicker is the only class with the Launch ability, which takes 2-4 seconds to cast, during which time the Kicker must be protected by the Team. If the Launch is long enough and accurate enough, 3 Victory Points are awarded.

        The other scoring option is to carry the Bomb all the way to the Base by capturing every Capture Point. This awards 6 Victory Points. The Attacking Team will then have one Bonus Turn (extra point) to score bonus points, either by launching or carrying the Bomb.

        Alternative, if the Attacking Team doubts their ability to extend their Possession or successfully fire the Bomb at the Base, they can choose to execute a Punt – a strategic option to give up Possession in exchange for territory.

        On Defense, the objective is to kill the Bomb-carrier and stop the opposing Commander from gaining territory. Heavies are slow, but strong – generally intended to attack Tanks. Interceptors are speedy, but weak – generally intended to hunt down Receivers. Raiders are in-between and are generally tasked as the “Bomb-killers” – the ones who target the Bomb-carriers. Defense can either stymie the Attackers until Possession runs out or they can attempt to steal the Bomb for themselves. If a Carrier drops the Bomb before dying or if a launch is seized by an Interceptor, the Defense can then immediately advance the Bomb, in real-time, in the other direction, gaining territory or even breaching the opponent Base themselves, gaining 6 Victory Points in the process. If the Defender carrying the ball is killed before reaching the Base, their Team immediately is given Possession at the site of the kill.

        After the Victory Points are awarded, the Map resets. The Game is divided into 4 Quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. Teams can use Time-outs to temporarily pause the time limit, for strategic purposes – either to gain more time to think about their next move, to rest and heal Fatigued or Injured Players, or to allow more time for the Activation Round. After all 4 quarters are finished, the cumulative total of Victory Points determines the winner.

        • DrBeat says:

          I am very disappointed that this wasn’t a link to Blood Bowl.

        • That was the most amazing summary of the rules of Football that I have ever read, and I’m now extremely interested in watching a game.

          • Deiseach says:

            It must be an accurate summary because my eyes glazed over about three lines in.

            I apologise, dear Americans, but I simply do not have the spare processing capacity to comprehend anything more complicated than “kick the ball into the goal/hit the sliothár over the bar” when it comes to games and rules 🙂

        • Andrew M. Farrell says:

          I wish it were permissible to rebroadcast 10-year-old football games with the commercials and other milling about removed so it could be cut down to 20 minutes or so, since there are only 11 minutes of gameplay in the average game.

          • eccdogg says:

            Its not as fun to watch that way as you would think. My father was the head coach of our HS and that is what the scout film was like. I watched it with him often. Also the local TV station replays some of the college games in that format.

            Doing without comercials is great, but without the rest, the rhythm is unatural. Also you miss the replays which can help you see how plays work.

            It might be better if you get everything from when they break the huddle to when the play is blown dead. Like baseball a good bit of the strategy of football is in the alignment and what happens before the snap/pitch.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @eccdogg:
            I think ESPN3 rebroadcasts, after some amount of time, eliminate most of the commercial breaks.

          • CatCube says:

            I was being flip when I compared football to an RTS, but I wasn’t being untruthful. If you think of “gameplay” as only when the ball has been snapped to when it is dead, you miss the most important parts of the game–the play on the field really is resolving decisions made between downs like in an RTS.

            For example, the previous Super Bowl’s final play was somebody making an interception, but if you stripped the game to only snap-to-dead, that final play would seem like a limp couple of seconds, instead of the baffling decision to pass on 2nd and goal and great work by Butler in reading the play to make the interception that it was. You also miss the clock management that forms an important part of the final minutes in close games.

            If you don’t like the game, that’s cool–soccer bores me, a sentiment that is very much in the minority, worldwide. But football won’t be more exciting by stripping it down to only when the ball is in motion; you’ll be even more bored, then.

    • deep and spiritual says:

      It’s a bit saddening that the stereotype of nerds who hate football unless you explain it in nerdy terms is an inhabited one. It was always a good game, though like most games it’s more fun to play than watch, and more fun to watch if you play it.

      • Nicholas Carter says:

        This may be weak naturalistic evidence for priming: Football’s normal explanation is couched in terms that remind nerds that, as a demographic, they are bad at the activity, which primes them to be biased against the game.

      • Error says:

        Hey, some of us nerds actually have played it. 😛 Violence is fun and it’s one of the few ways to get away with beating the fuck out of someone.

        (on the other hand, practice is physically grueling and mostly no fun at all.)

    • Peter says:

      Come on, World of Warcraft isn’t all simulated hunting. Some of it is simulated gathering.

    • Anthony says:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blitz_(gridiron_football)

      I can’t find a good reference, but it was consciously copied from World War 2 tank warfare.

  7. DanielLC says:

    > I’m not sure how to deal with that morally except to say that I am much more confident that charitable offsets are an important moral good than I am that eating cows instead of chickens is.

    It means that if you’re eating cows and buying carbon offsets, you’re doing it wrong.

    • Deiseach says:

      You should eat carbon offsets and buy cows instead? 😉

      • keranih says:

        I find your views intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

        Also because you might find this amusing – my first gut reaction to “buying carbon offsets” was “my God, we have a solution to the need for fossil fuels! Luther has to be spinning in his grave so fast we could power the whole *planet*!”

        Alas, my response to offsets hasn’t evolved much since.

        • CatCube says:

          I had the same thought. So what’s the difference between offsets and indulgences?

          • drethelin says:

            When you pay for an indulgence, you give money to a priest to do something mysterious that helps you in the afterlife. When you buy an offset, you give money specifically to mitigate a certain harm, Right now in the world.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            Before asking what the difference is, mind explaining what the similarity is?

            With an ethical offset, you donate money which you believe will rectify a specific harm you caused. With an indulgence you perform some work considered meritorious by the Catholic Church in order to reduce the temporal punishment for a sin you have committed and have since confessed and been forgiven for. This is particularly relevant since according to Catholic teaching, people who die in a state of grace but haven’t undergone sufficient temporal punishment for their sins will spend time in purgatory before going on to heaven.

            As far as I can tell, the only resemblence between the two is that first you do something considered bad, then you do something considered good.

          • kerani says:

            what’s the difference between offsets and indulgences?

            Well, there is the short and snarky answer (ie, “None”) which is IMO True, but is also Not Factual.

            As the local custom of SSC is to hold rational and factual answers in better esteem than snark, I’ll give it a shot. (Please to forgive for tediousness.)

            I think it helps to understand what the intent and original purpose of both indulgences and offsets is/are, and also what the eventual practical use and abuse of the instruments became. Because sure, if you compare the ideal of one to the actual effect of another, you get wide differences. NSM if you compare them at relative stages.

            Briefly then: indulgences are sacrifices made in atonement for spiritual faults and damage. Tell lies about your sister because you were mad that she got asked out and you didn’t? Fine, you can atone for it by patiently babysitting your little brother even when it is not your turn. (You hate kids, and your brother likes to yell and stomp and throw things and take your books and color in them.) Or maybe you don’t have a little brother to babysit, so you babysit the neighbor kid instead. Or maybe you can’t babysit the neighbor kid, because you have other commitments, so you use your icecream money to pay for another sitter. (You see how the practice can creep?)

            This has a long tradition in both religious (across many faiths) and in civil society (think werguild). It acknowledges that a harm/offense was done which can not be undone – forgiveness does not mean it didn’t happen – but that balance, justice, and growing past the…errr…past is helped by specific positive actions.

            Wergild, penance, and indulgences were/are formalized in order to a) identify bad actions b) identify positive actions and c) meet social expectations that B could only balance an A of equal weight. In addition, there was an expectation (generally overt, but not always) that bad action A was *regretted* and not intended to be repeated, and so positive action B would be an extra-ordinary action, and not everyday activity. (It should be noted that part of the reconciliation/forgiveness ritual of Christianity includes a statement on the part of the offender that they regret their error (against God, or against God and fellow human) and will strive to not screw up again.)

            So a not-unusual method of handling errors and offenses, that became very problematic, when people (priests and community alike) lost commitment to a) reforming and not repeating bad actions and b) matching beneficial action weight to that of the bad action. Plus, money/property became the preferred medium of recompense, rather than direct action. This allowed inflationary creep to wipe out the impact of severe sacrifices over the course of a century or three, and gave the impression (often correct) that rich people were just buying their way out of trouble with God. The Church, on the other hand, got used to being a clearing house for money, instead of a mortal arbitrator of moral behavior.

            It’s important, IMO, to remember that this is what split Western Christianity. The schism came close to destroying the formal social order (and wrecking property ownership, and trade, and all that) and eventually gave rise to the Western tradition of a separation of Church and State. So when people compare something to buying indulgences, it’s not a complement.

            Carbon offsets: Like indulgences, I get the impression that they have an admirable foundation. Everything has a downside, and many things that cause pollution (which I am using as a short hand for various environmental sins) have long term benefits or would cause a great deal of disruption to avoid. (If you live thirty miles from your job, and the bus would take you two hours one way, driving a car to work is the choice most people would make.) Plus, it is assumed that carbon emissions – like evil in the world – act as group forces, so that reducing *overall* emissions from a person’s actions would be like, oh, lying to the abusive spouse who came to your door looking for their spouse, who is currently hiding in your spare room. Yes, driving a car is bad, but if you use it to earn lots more money, and spend the money on carbon offsets, then you are helping the world. A small evil is done in order to prevent a larger evil.

            (In medicine, the phrase is “cut to cure” – ie, you have to take a knife to people and make them bleed in order to make them better. See also: radiation chemo, exercise that makes you sweat, etc.)

            IMO, the problem with carbon offset purchases is that they are used – like the bad old indulgences – to “make up” for things which were wrong/bad/harmful and should not have been done in the first place – but the person acting justifies their actions by pretending the offsets/indulgences will “wipe away” the bad action. If it was true that all the effects of ones sin/carbon emissions were countered by the payment, then this ‘tit-for-tat’ could make sense. But this has never been the case in indulgences, and imo is not the case in carbon offsets.

            Part of the problem with offsets is (as we pointed out in other places in this thread) because of inaccurate information on emissions, and faulty equations for trading offsets. Another is use of offsets to justify things like recreational international air travel – a better use of the money, imo, would to not fly. I myself find the second type – the use of offsets to justify wasteful/harmful actions – morally offensive and most repugnant, but in actuality, the failure to do proper accounting and balancing of offsets is probably the larger offender.

            Of course, we’re not going to be able to fix *that* without a lot more data on just what we’re trying to prevent by buying offsets, but raise that question in some quarters and you’re a climate denier.

            My apologies for the huge long comment and I hope it is helpful to someone.

          • Paul Goodman says:

            @kerani: I feel like there’s a very important difference in that unlike the harm done by sins that can never be undone regardless of indulgences, carbon emissions are fully fungible. If you offset your carbon you really can wipe away all the damage done by your emissions, assuming of course that your offsets are legit and the numbers add up. You could make a case that in practice that standard isn’t consistently met but I don’t see the problem with the idea in general.

          • keranih says:

            @ Paul Goodman

            unlike the harm done by sins that can never be undone regardless of indulgences, carbon emissions are fully fungible

            Eh. Firstly, we have the temporal issue, in which CE damage exists for [set time] until the offset actually occurs. Could be minor, but given the shaky nature of climate change maths, I’m not willing to write that off entirely.

            Secondly, and more importantly – carbon-equivalent molecules aren’t the only pollutant out there. Always there is something else also produced, and I have no faith in the ability of carbon offsets to recapture all that.

            One of the most disturbing things about carbon offsets to me is the way they resemble wergild fines, with the implication that paying enough money for a murder makes the family whole again. (Wergild stops wars, which is greatness. But it does not undo death.

            Oh, and thirdly – the math sucks. Or the regulators can’t do math. One of those. Either way, the idealism of offset theory is not translatable to offset practice.

  8. Anon. says:

    Why are there so many utilitarians in the “rationalist community”? The way I see it, utilitarianism goes against pretty much everything rationalists believe in. I doubt this is a case of mass hypocrisy, so it’s probably an issue of unexamined assumptions and not taking the practical problems seriously enough. I have six main avenues of attack, three of them on the meta-ethical level and three against practical implementation issues, which will show that a) you need to give up significant rationalist values to be a utilitarian and b) even if you do, it’s still so messy as to be useless.

    1. Moral Realism: Even if the pre-conditions for practical utilitarianism are fulfilled, you still can’t get to normative propositions without moral realism.[1] Moral realism isn’t a free lunch: unless you have a really, really, really good explanation for why moral facts are impenetrable to the scientific method (why haven’t physicists detected any moral facts yet? Where is the moral fact-sensing organ?), you are forced to fall back to dualism!

    2. Origin: Let’s say moral facts exist, where did they come from? Did they pop out along with everything else at the big bang? Were they generated by some sort of natural process? If so, what was the mechanism, and is that process still going on? Could we co-opt it to create our own? How did you acquire knowledge about this? Neither explanation seems even remotely plausible… The only alternative is that some supernatural intelligent entity created them.

    3. Parthood: Let’s say moral facts exist, are they composed of parts? They seem far too complex to be simples; e.g. they need to contain references to the world to be useful. If yes, what sort of mereological system do you believe in? I don’t see how a mereological theory can support both moral facts made up of parts, and reductionism.[2]

    So regardless of the practical considerations, to get to utilitarianism you have sacrificed physicalism, reductionism, naturalism, empiricism, monism! I believe these are core values of the “rationalist community”. What gives?

    On to the practical issues:

    4. Measurement: Let’s say that you accept moral realism, there’s still the problem of measurement. No, your “educated guesses” (or even worse, intuitions) are obviously not good enough, as you can easily observe in practice: intelligent utilitarians not only disagree with each other, but some factions tell us that we must do the exact opposite of what other factions say. I don’t see any good way of choosing between them. Many of the common assumptions behind such educated guesses (especially those neo-Christian in nature, e.g. equal capacities/”everybody to count for one”/equal weighting of preferences) strike me as obviously wrong unless you assume some sort of god-given soul. This problem is even more pronounced with preference utilitarianism, where the weighing of (degrees of) preferences and grasping to generate meaningful interpersonal comparisons reaches complete absurdity.[3]

    The fact that you can’t measure it also creates problems with utilitarianism’s consequentialist basis. You never actually have access to the consequences, you just have a new set of guesses. The standard reply is that it’s irrelevant and you should do what you believe is going to maximize utility, but what reason do you have to believe that you are a good judge of that? You never compared your forecast to actual values of utility, you can’t know. How would you go about convincing a Nazi utilitarian that he’s wrong?[4] Both of you have nothing but your intuitions to rely on…

    5. The Future: Let’s say you manage to measure it, how are you going to account for future utility? Is a util a year from now worth as much as a util right now? Why? If not, what is the discount rate, and how did you calculate it? What about uncertainty in your forecasts? Is the utility of utility linear, i.e. should we prefer a 50% chance of +100 utility, or 100% chance of +49 utility? You need good answers to these questions and I have no idea where you’re going to get them…

    6. Aggregation: Finally, there is no way to meaningfully aggregate utility.

    First, there’s the apples and oranges issue: there are no discrete “pleasure” and “pain” counters in the human mind; the utilitarian folds in an extremely wide range of states into each side. Mill went on about combining the “quality” and “quantity” of a “pleasure” to arrive at utility, but how could you possibly do this in practice? How many orgasms is solving a puzzle worth? And surely this calculus is different for different people, and you don’t have access to it.

    Even if we were talking purely about pleasure and pain, these are personal, subjective experiences; to speak of a “sum” or “mean” or “median” is literally meaningless. If there are two people in a room looking at a ball, it is obvious that there is no way to sum their experiences: there is no sense in which the abstract grouping of these people is watching a ball in aggregate. This is because subjective experiences are simply not additive, not fungible. Utility behaves in exactly the same way. Personal experience is just that, and aggregates experience nothing. Just because you quantify it doesn’t mean you can treat it as any other number. There is no sum of utility to maximize. You might object that mental states are nothing but their neural correlates and we can add those up, but that is not a real way out: different types of pleasure have different neural correlates, not to mention the enormous difference between pleasure and pain.[5] The only reason we can talk of these things as a coherent group in the first place is because we abstracted away from the neural correlates! The only way I can see to avoid the aggregation issue is qualia realism with a lot of arbitrary assumptions about the comparability and fungibility of said qualia, which is a very shaky position and again requires you to forgo monism, physicalism, etc.

    George Bernard Shaw delivered this coup de grâce in 1937 and to my knowledge there hasn’t even been an attempt at a serious reply. In his own words, from “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism”:

    “What you yourself can suffer is the utmost that can be suffered on earth. If you starve to death you experience all the starvation that ever has been or ever can be. If ten thousand other women starve to death with you, their suffering is not increased by a single pang: their share in your fate does not make you ten thousand times as hungry, nor prolong your suffering ten thousand times. Therefore do not be oppressed by the ‘frightful sum of human sufferings’: there is no sum […] Poverty and pain are not cumulative: you must not let your spirit be crushed by the fancy that it is.”

    And for the cherry on top, a bit of Nietzsche. BGE 225: “Whether it be hedonism or pessimism or utilitarianism or eudaemonism: all these modes of thought which assess the value of things according to pleasure and pain, that is to say according to attendant and secondary phenomena, are foreground modes of thought and naïveties which anyone conscious of creative powers and an artist’s conscience will look down on with derision, though not without pity. […] You want if possible – and there is no madder ‘if possible’ – to abolish suffering; and we? – it really does seem that we would rather increase it and make it worse than it has ever been! Wellbeing as you understand it – that is no goal, that seems to us an end! A state which soon renders man ludicrous and contemptible – which makes it desirable that he should perish! The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that it is this discipline alone which has created every elevation of mankind hitherto? That tension of the soul in misfortune which cultivates its strength, its terror at the sight of great destruction, its inventiveness and bravery in undergoing, enduring, interpreting, exploiting misfortune, and whatever of depth, mystery, mask, spirit, cunning and greatness has been bestowed upon it – has it not been bestowed through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering? In man, creature and creator are united: in man there is matter, fragment, excess, clay, mud, madness, chaos; but in man there is also creator, sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divine spectator and the seventh day – do you understand this antithesis? And that your pity is for the ‘creature in man’, for that which has to be formed, broken, forged, torn, burned, annealed, refined – that which has to suffer and should suffer? And our pity – do you not grasp whom our opposite pity is for when it defends itself against your pity as the worst of all pampering and weakening? – Pity against pity, then! – But, to repeat, there are higher problems than the problems of pleasure and pain and pity; and every philosophy that treats only of them is a piece of naïvety.”

    And on the interplay between evolution and utilitarianism, GS 4: “Nowadays there is a profoundly erroneous moral doctrine that is celebrated especially in England: this holds that judgments of “good” and “evil” sum up experiences of what is “expedient” and “inexpedient.” One holds that what is called good preserves the species, while what is called evil harms the species. In truth, however, the evil instincts are expedient, species-preserving, and indispensable to as high a degree as the good ones; their function is merely different.”[6]

    ——-
    [1]: Technically you can, e.g. with error theory, but not in a manner useful to the utilitarian.
    [2]: That is: the moral realist needs either moral facts to be indivisible, or moral facts to be more than the sum of their parts. The former isn’t workable, while the latter requires you to sacrifice reductionism (i.e. magic woo woo happens at some scale). You can’t argue that moral facts are an emergent phenomenon, because then what exists is their parts and not the moral facts themselves.
    [3]: Another enormous problem for the preference utilitarian (in addition to stuff like misinformed preferences, etc.) is the treatment of unfulfilled preferences. Does utility decrease when a preference goes is frustrated? If yes, everyone’s always stuck at infinite negative utility. If no, even a single fulfilled preference in an entire life has a positive effect on total utility, making vegetarianism (not to mention abortion) super immoral.
    [4]: I actually didn’t think I’d be able to find any Nazi utilitarians, but here you go: http://www.nazism.net/about/nazi_ideology/ “Strength, passion, lack of hypocrisy, utilitarianism, traditional family values, and devotion to community were valued by the Nazis”
    [5]: The NCC approach does allow for solid intraspecies interpersonal comparisons though, which is a fairly big deal.
    [6]: See also: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/08/17/the-goddess-of-everything-else-2/ -> http://www.xenosystems.net/war-in-heaven-ii/

    • Wrong Species says:

      Regarding point one, we don’t know that the world around us is real or a simulation but the scientific method is still useful regardless. With morality, we can say that we have no idea whether morality is objectively true or not but if we all start from premises that we agree with than we can still come up with something useful.

      • Anon. says:

        What premises did you have in mind, exactly?

        • Wrong Species says:

          First off, I’m not a moral realist, I was just playing devils advocate. With that in mind, what about something like “pain is bad” and “happiness is good”. Now obviously not everyone agrees that we should do everything in our power to promote wireheading and/or committing genocide to eliminate pain but people usually agree with the general idea.

          • discursive2 says:

            If you follow that line of thinking, you end up at some flavor of contractualism, rather than utilitarianism…. If the fundamental impulse is “let’s find some norms we can agree on”, it’s easier to get agreement around narrow injunctions, whereas utilitarianism is a totalizing system that doesn’t leave much room for compromise if you take it seriously.

          • Aegeus says:

            How do you decide which norms to agree on, except by examining the consequences they lead to?

    • Alejandro says:

      The first three problems you raise are based on a conflation of ethics and metaethics. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory, moral realism and nonrealism are metaethical theories. Many rationalists think the problems with moral realism can be solved in some way, but also many (perhaps more) are metaethically nonrealists, and still utilitarians at the object level. That is, they say something like “I think everyone should act for the greatest good or the greatest number [or whatever formulation of utilitarianism they prefer]; this doesn’t reflect a fact about hte universe, it is just what I feel, but I do feel this way and am willing to act on this and urge others to do as well”.

      • Anon. says:

        >many (perhaps more) are metaethically nonrealists, and still utilitarians at the object level

        Sure, but a) prominent utilitarians (e.g. Singer) are realists and b) that’s really silly. If you’re going to consciously pick some arbitrary system to follow, knowing that it’s nonsense, why in the name of the lord would anyone pick utilitarianism? It’s not just broken when it comes to practical application, it’s also boring. If I were to pick a moral system for shits & giggles I’d probably go for Catholicism, they literally get to drink the blood of God every Sunday!

        • Alejandro says:

          If the ice cream I like best is chocolate, then I cannot voluntarily choose to prefer another flavor, even if I think it would be more amusing (or healthier or whatever). “The utility function is not up for grabs”. In the same way, if what I would prefer the most is for everyone’s happiness to be the greatest possible, then I cannot voluntarily choose to prefer everyone to be unhappy and Catholic.

          • discursive2 says:

            I believe you can taste the difference between chocolate and vanilla, and that you have an instinctive pre-rational preference for one over the other (though I’m guessing your flavor preference is more malleable than you might think, this is definitely a real phenomenon: https://xkcd.com/185/)

            I’m more skeptical that you can taste the difference between a world where one person you’ve never met is happy vs a world where that person is sad. Unless you have the ability to sense and empathize with millions of people simultaneously?

        • Deiseach says:

          they literally get to drink the blood of God every Sunday!

          Only if you attend a church where receiving under both species is the norm. Otherwise you will only get the Host, so sorry, you’ll have to stick to the ritual cannibalism instead of vampirism 🙂

        • nil says:

          re: b.) Speaking for myself, I think we’re really talking about something that is basically a political position, and personally I prefer (for a vast variety of reasons that largely boil down to “because that’s how my mama raised me”) to caucus with the utilitarians rather that the deontologists.

          • Anon. says:

            You can always break the chains and side with neither! Join the non-cognitivists, we have cookies.

          • nil says:

            Oh, I’m definitely a non-cognitivist. It’s a source of constant surprise to me that anyone isn’t. I’m just one that, for the most part, supports the utilitarian party.

      • blacktrance says:

        Ethics and metaethics are inseparable in the sense that if no moral statements are true, normative ethics is grounded on a falsehood. Attempts to combine non-realist metaethics with normative ethics like the one you suggest fail to be interpersonally binding. If “everyone should act for the greatest good of the greatest number” is “just what I feel”, then that doesn’t give others sufficient reason to act for the greatest good for the greatest number if they feel differently, and it’s also internally inconsistent, because if you admit that it’s just what you feel, then you don’t actually believe that it’s what people should do, only that it’s what you want them to do, and then it’s no different from statements like “I want everyone to give me ice cream”.

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          Sure. But I like being happy; that’s a terminal value and I don’t see how that could not be real, because I can tell it is real. It looks to me like the best method for ensuring that I’m happy is to endorse utilitarianism.

          • blacktrance says:

            It looks to me like the best method for ensuring that I’m happy is to endorse utilitarianism.

            If you look at what utilitarianism requires you to do (donate as much to charity as you can, abstain from using animal products, save strangers rather than loved ones when there are more strangers, etc), then this is highly dubious. You’d be better off embracing egoism.

          • Jiro says:

            Wanting to be happy leads to wireheading. Also to the blissful ignorance problem.

        • nil says:

          Ethics is a social construct, but so is a tank formation.

          • discursive2 says:

            I agree with you that ethics is a social construct, but if you take that position, I don’t think you end up worrying whether it’s better to eat cows or chickens, because you know there’s not a “right” answer… it’s more of a question of what everyone else around you can mutually agree to and find palatable (no pun intended). So I think utilitarianism as a fuzzy “let’s value other people we haven’t met, and try to make the world a better place!” is a reasonable thing to caucus around (I’m stealing that turn of phrase from your upstream comment, it’s great), but as soon as the math starts getting complicated and the conclusions start getting unintuitive, I think most of its value starts draining away.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      That was exceptionally long for a comment. I’ll take it in parts unless, by the time I post, I like others’ comments better. 🙂

      1. Moral Realism

      Utilitarianism: a theory in normative ethics that the best moral action is the one that maximizes utility (whatever that is).

      Moral realism: the position that ethical sentences express propositions that refer to objective features of the world.

      So a utilitarian moral realist would (probably) define utility as referring to objective features of the world, and also hold that these features exist.

      A utilitarian moral non-realist might (A) define utility the same way, and hold that the objective features don’t exist, or (B) define utility in some other way than with propositions referring to objective features of the world, such as identifying utility with positive emotional reactions, or defining utility based on relationships or abstractions that aren’t objectively features of the world, or relativizing utility to whatever social process of inculcating values in the young happens to get used in a society, or positing that utility exists in some dualist way, or any of the bajillions of other subtle distinctions that philosophers love.

      In short, utilitarianism and moral realism are orthogonal concepts philosophically, so you can combine them any which way, even if some combinations are more common statistically.

      • Anon. says:

        >So a utilitarian moral realist would (probably) define utility as referring to objective features of the world, and also hold that these features exist.

        It doesn’t end there. The utilitarian moral realist says that the command to maximize utility is an objective feature of the world (that is the moral fact — not the utility). The simple existence of utility isn’t enough, you still need to get “you should maximize the sum” from somewhere.

        • Ryan Beren says:

          > The utilitarian moral realist says that the command to maximize utility is an objective feature of the world

          Some utilitarian moral realists might say that (although I’ve never encountered such a claim), but nothing requires them all to say that. More common is the position that “more utility is better”.

          • blacktrance says:

            More common is the position that “more utility is better”.

            That’s not enough to get you all the way to utilitarianism, because if it’s only this, then more utility can potentially be overridden by other considerations, which utilitarianism wouldn’t allow. But even “more utility is better” can be subjected to the same critique – is more utility being better an objective feature of the world?

          • Ryan Beren says:

            blacktrance,

            > That’s not enough to get you all the way to utilitarianism

            Correct. It was only a common position among utilitarians, not a definition of utilitarianism.

            > utility can potentially be overridden by other considerations

            One could adopt a hybrid theory with both utility and other considerations. It might be fun to think about.

            > subjected to the same critique – is more utility being better an objective feature of the world?

            It earns the same reply: both the Yes and No positions are compatible with utilitarianism.

          • Anon. says:

            >It earns the same reply: both the Yes and No positions are compatible with utilitarianism.

            How is “no” compatible with utilitarianism? If “no”, then the sentence “more utility is better” is not a proposition. At worst it’s meaningless, at best it’s an expression of a subjective sentiment — that is something completely different from the realist (i.e. the standard utilitarian) position.

      • szopeno says:

        But how to calculate the utility? IMO you cannot without perfect knowledge of the world and the future. The consequences of your actions go indefinetely into the future, meaning that you have to make subjective decisions which consequences to take into the account.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Rationalists like utilitarianism because it promises that you can solve ethical problems with math. Math is what science uses, and science is great, so it must be good for everything else, too. (I’m speaking in jest, but truthfully.)

      They’re moral realists because to a first approximation, everybody believes morals are real. Yes, it is inconsistent for atheists to hold onto moral realism, but humans know morals are real at about the same level they know that 1+1 must eternally equal 2. It is very hard for people to truly accept anything else.

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        Rationalists like utilitarianism because it promises that you can solve ethical problems with math.

        Can confirm. I find utilitarianism appealing because of the maths. Any moral system without math comes across to me as “do it because I said so”, which feels either a) patronizing or b) sketchy. Although lately I’ve begun to think of Virtue Ethics in terms of economics, and therefore find it increasingly appealing.

        • discursive2 says:

          If you’re interested in escaping from people who want to tell you what to do because they said so, consider nihilism / existentialism. It’s hard to object to “you are totally free! Do whatever you want!” Although perhaps a little stressful, since you can’t defer responsibility for your actions via intellectual justifications.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            I’ve been down the road of Nietzsche/Sartre before. I was into it for a while. But in terms of insights, it seemed like a dead end. And also a little frightening.

            When I think of Existentialism, I think of Jim Carrey in Yes Man. “Do you want me to throw the brick through that window?” “YES.”

            It’s trivial that the laws of physics permit people to do what they want. But even if philosophers eventually decide that objective morality isn’t a thing after all, there’s still the question of “why do people (excluding psychopaths) feel like morality is a thing?” Similar to how even if one goes atheist, there’s still the question of “why do people feel like theism is a thing?”

            (My paragraphs are logically unrelated. They compose sort of an impressionist attitude towards Existentialism.)

          • discursive2 says:

            Yeah, I get that. Existentialism as a life philosophy by itself isn’t very useful, and does tend to lead to crazy Jim Carrey.

            I do think it makes a great starting point, though. When you start from the position that none of this moral stuff is actually real and there are no right answers, you get to discard a lot of really pointless questions (see cow vs chicken above), and get out of interminable debates, and skip to the productive questions:

            -What do I actually care about re: the people around me’s behavior? How do they need to behave for me to trust them / respect them?

            -How do I need to behave so that I can trust / respect myself?

            -What value system would I want my government to have?

            …etc. None of which have one right answer the way math does, but all of which have better and worse answers the way engineering does.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            I think we hold similar (if not identical) opinions. Preachin’ to the choir, basically. The difference amounts to little more than a matter of framing. Cf “Newtonian physics is a great starting point!” vs “Newtonian Physics… didn’t we move past that decades ago?”

        • szopeno says:

          Then you are just fooling yourself because any morality is in fact based on “because I say so”. Morality is not and cannot be objective. That’s why I once said that utilitarianism is just for people like to delude themselves.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            “fooling”? “delude”? Sounds like someone has an axe to grind. In any case, this comment represents just the type of intellectual dead-end that I complained of in my comment towards Existentialism. “Morality isn’t objective!” Okay… and then what? Do you feel like you’ve learned something about the world? “Of course, we’ve learned that morality isn’t objective.”

            PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: We did it Reddit! We’ve solved morality! It isn’t objective after all!

            szopeno, do you know what else is based on “because I say so”? Fiat money. Oops, looks like we just proved economics is subjective.

            PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Supply & Demand has been Debunked. Comparative Advantage is a Sham. Banks are a Ponzi Scheme and the wages you earn mean nothing.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Wait, why is it inconsistent for atheists to hold onto moral realism?
        Sure, they can’t hold onto any version of moral realism that posits that morality derives from a god somehow (either divine command style, or ‘the god just is the embodyment of morality).

        But if you broaden your scope to include the claim ‘there are things to be known about what behaviours and policies will tend to increase the wellbeing of sentient entities, and / or reduce their suffering’ … then that’s perfectly compatible with atheism. Sure, it’s presupposing consequentialism, but I don’t understand how any system of ethics worth its salt could fail to have a consequentialist bedrock, even if it requires a deontologist or virtue-ethicist structure built on top of it.

        • Anon. says:

          That’s not even presupposing consequentialism, it’s presupposing utilitarianism. It’s perfectly possible for a consequentialist to think the moral course of action is one that decreases wellbeing.

          Moral realism is incompatible with atheism because the moral realist needs to explain where moral facts come from, and any answer other than “God” is very silly. Go ahead, try to fill in the sentence: “Invisible, undetectable moral facts (that somehow interact with the brain anyway) exist because ___________ and they came into being by _____________”.

          • suntzuanime says:

            any answer other than God is very silly, but any answer that is God is also very silly, so I’m not sure that’s a mark against atheism

          • James Picone says:

            I think you are using ‘moral facts’ in a way different to how utilitarians would.

            If I have a given utility function, then “Action X best satisfies that utility function” is a fact. If you have a utility function, then “Action Y best satisfies my utility function” is a fact. It may well be possible to determine that the action that maximises some combination of the two functions is action Z, in which case that would be a fact.

            Utilitarianism is the claim that 1) if you want to maximise your utility function, the best course of action is to act to maximise some combination of everybody’s utility function, because mumble mumble iterated prisoner’s dilemmas mumble universability and 2) this can be determined by listing the consequences of every action you could take and taking the one that maximises some combination of those functions.

            None of that seems to rely on, as you put it, ‘invisible, undetectable moral facts’. The facts it relies on are testable claims.

            “Oh but that doesn’t have moral force” maybe that’s not what utilitarians are claiming? Maybe when they say “You should X” they are implicitly assuming that you want to maximise your utility function?

    • Anon says:

      “I doubt this is a case of mass hypocrisy, so it’s probably an issue of unexamined assumptions and not taking the practical problems seriously enough.”

      Much more likely is that you are mistaken, really. Which does seem to be the case here.

      On meta-points: Others have pointed out that utilitarianism does not require moral realism. I want to take a different tack: everything you say applies equally well to the claim “1+1 = 2 under Peano arithmetic”. It seems false to claim that accepting 1+1=2 requires giving up rationalist precepts. So, the first three points prove far, far too much.

      On object-points: These apply equally to empiricism in general: you can’t know things for certain, so what’s the point of trying? Well, the usual response goes, you can’t be perfect, but at least you can do better. Indeed, rationalists have pointed out in a hundred places that performing utility calculations is impossible in principle, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless in practice.

      • Anon. says:

        >Others have pointed out that utilitarianism does not require moral realism

        I’m not sure you and the others completely understand what you’re giving up along with realism. Without it, any sentence with “x is wrong” or “x is right” etc. is either devoid of semantic value or degrades to some version of “boo x”. Neither angle strikes me as particularly rationalistic.

        >On object-points: These apply equally to empiricism in general: you can’t know things for certain, so what’s the point of trying?

        It’s not the same thing. Empiricism, even if it doesn’t lead to “certainty”, leads to predictions that can be compared against future observations. But you have no observations of utility.

        • Jeff H says:

          On the meta-issues, I take the point to be that, even if they’re a problem, they’re not a problem for utilitarians *in particular*. What you say is equally true for deontologists, contract theorists, natural law theorists, and even ethical egoists. You seem to think it’s a criticism of utilitarianism specifically, rather than of normative ethics in general. That just isn’t the case.

          • Anon. says:

            Of course. The reason I’m going after utilitarianism specifically is that utilitarianism is exceedingly popular around here and the EA stuff has been getting more visibility lately. You could probably count the deontologists in this comment section on one hand.

        • JBeshir says:

          As a moral non-realist, I tend to read and use “X is wrong” the same way I’d read and use “X is beautiful”. That is, as an assertion that “X is wrong according to consensus morality, my morality, and your morality.”, similar to “X is beautiful according to societal standards of beauty, mine, and yours.”.

          Statements that are made relative to a specific set of standards are complicated when the set of standards isn’t explicitly named, but seem to essentially be part of how human communication tends to rely on making reference to an assumed common base of attitudes, values, and knowledge.

          I’d agree that it’s generally a good idea to avoid simply stating things like “X is wrong” much of the time, if only because they assert too many things too subtly and are difficult to break down, but I don’t think such statements entirely simplify to “boo X”.

    • I’m a hedonistic utilitarian, so my belief is that the “stuff” of morality is really just qualia. With that in mind, nearly every critique on this list can be applied to belief in the existence of qualia.

      unless you have a really, really, really good explanation for why moral facts qualia are impenetrable to the scientific method (why haven’t physicists detected any moral facts qualia yet? Where is the moral fact-sensing organ?), you are forced to fall back to dualism!

      Feel free to do this with the other items in your post. Many of them will follow the same pattern.

      • discursive2 says:

        Yes, well as we all know, qualia doesn’t really exist. Carry on, my p-zombie friends!

        • Nicole Express says:

          …honestly, I do generally fail to see why we need to accept the existence of qualia beyond a physicalist view; if you accept it as solely an outcome of the physical brain wiring then it’s quite hard to attach morality to it.

          • Daniel Kendrick says:

            We need to accept the existence of qualia beyond a physicalist view because we have direct evidence of such qualia, and the physicalist view doesn’t do much to explain them.

            I feel coldness. Now, if you want to tell me my sensation of coldness is produced by neurons in the brain, I have no objection.

            But if you want to say it is is the firing of neurons in the brain, I just don’t know what you mean. The firing of neurons is not a thing that happens for anyone. It is an agent-independent, objective occurrence. But when I feel cold, the coldness only exists for me. It is a subjective state of consciousness.

            Again, if you want to say that the objective occurrence of neurons firing causes the subjective state of coldness, or that there is a third thing that causes both, I have no objection. But if you want to say that the subjective state and the objective occurrence are really exactly the same thing, you seem to me to be talking the same kind of nonsense as those who say that the Father is the Son is the Holy Spirit.

            But Christians who believe in the Trinity at least seem to be aware that they are engaged in mysterianism.

          • Protagoras says:

            My take on this is that the breeze from the open window causes my feeling of coldness, and my feeling of coldness causes me to get up and close the window. And it turns out that the breeze from the window causes certain neurons to fire, and the firing of certain neurons causes me to get up and close the window. So it seems to me that the feeling of coldness and the firing of certain neurons just have to be the same thing. I recognize that there are theories on which the feeling of coldness is causally inefficacious, but I find epiphenomenalism at least as bizarre as you seem to find physicalism. And if qualia are causally efficacious, and it is the neurons that do causal work, qualia must be something about the neurons.

          • Daniel Kendrick says:

            @Protagoras:

            Your feeling of coldness causes you to get up and close the window? What possible sense does that make under physicalism?

            Your feeling of coldness, under physicalism, just reduces to the firing of neurons in the brain. It is (somehow) an interpretation—but not by a mind distinct from the neurons—of the firing of neurons.

            Under physicalism, it seems to be much more correct to say that the same underlying biological processes that produce the feeling of coldness also cause you to get up and close the window. The causation “flows” at the bottom level, the basic level to which things reduce. It doesn’t flow at the top level! (What would that even mean?)

            So the qualia, under physicalism, are certainly not causally efficacious. At least if you give causal efficacy any real meaning. If you have the Humean view of causality that causation is simply regular conjunction, sure, they can be causally efficacious—but now the term has lost its explanatory force.

            I am certainly not an epiphenomenalist. I believe that qualia are causally efficacious. I, who in my capacity as a conscious agent am a mental being, experience a mental quale of coldness. This motivates me to get up and close the window. There is some kind of mind-body interaction in there.

            But epiphenomenalists are not, at least, talking nonsense. They are talking ridiculous implausibilities, but their position is intelligible.

            With most philosophical positions, you refute them by arguing that they logically lead to an absurdity. The problem with physicalism is that it already is absurd on its face.

            Look, you either have a sense of internal subjective experience or you don’t. There’s no way for me to prove that you have subjective experience. I just think you do by inference from my own case, combined with the fact that we seem to be put together in a similar way.

          • Protagoras says:

            I am quite confused. You had it right earlier, when you said that on physicalism the feeling of coldness is the firing of neurons in the brain. And so, as the firing of neurons in the brain makes me get up and close the window, it is equally correct (under physicalism) to say that the feeling of coldness makes me get up and close the window. Just as the fact that Cicero denounced Cataline makes it correct to say that Tully denounced Cataline, since Tully is Cicero. It is only if you say that the feeling of coldness is not the firing of neurons that there is a problem with saying the feeling of coldness made me get up and close the window. Since it is certainly the firing of neurons that made me get up and close the window, if the feeling of coldness is something else other than the firing of the neurons, it seems not to have been involved in the getting up and closing of the window (hence the epiphenomenalist view among some of those who insist that there is some distinction there).

          • Mark says:

            “Firing of neurons” is an observation.
            But the experience I have when your neurons fire is very different to the experience when my own fire.
            So how can it make sense to regard these two things as equivalent.
            Calling qualia “the firing of neurons” doesn’t make sense.

      • ButYouDisagree says:

        my belief is that the “stuff” of morality is really just qualia

        I don’t think that quite works. If hedonistic utilitarianism is correct, then what we have most reason to do (morally) is whatever will maximize the number of hedons. But reasons for action themselves are not qualia. They’re reasons!

        I think you’re right that both qualia and reasons (moral, epistemic) cast grave doubt on physicalism.

    • blacktrance says:

      You’re assuming that moral facts are non-natural and “metaphysically queer”, but moral naturalism and constructivism are forms of realism too, and they don’t posit that moral facts are difficult for physicalists and reductionists to accept. For example, Railton (a naturalist) formulates it as “x is morally right if and only if x would be approved of by an ideally instrumentally rational and fully informed agent considering the question ‘How best to maximize the amount of non-moral goodness?’ from a social point of view in which the interests of all potentially affected individuals were counted equally”[1], constructivism simply that they’re “determined by an idealized process of rational deliberation, choice, or agreement”[2], etc. This provides a relatively clear picture of where moral facts could come from that doesn’t necessarily conflict with metaphysical naturalism. The investigation of moral facts is a combination of rational deliberation and empirical investigation of natural facts. There’s no need for a “moral-sensing organ” because the moral is reducible to the non-moral, nor are moral facts a matter for physics any more than game-theoretic facts are.

      As for measuring and aggregating utility, your argument proves too much – if it were true, we’d have no knowledge of which gifts to give to which friends. Should I give a strawberry cake to strawberry-loving Xerxes or to strawberry-ambivalent Ygnacio, assuming I care about both of them relatively equally? Should I give food to a beggar or to Bill Gates? If it’s impossible to have expected utility, then there goes gambling – or any kind of decision-making under uncertainty (i.e. all of it). If it were really impossible to measure or aggregate utility, then these kinds of comparisons would be impossible too, and it’s obvious to me that they aren’t. Preferences or pleasures counting equally regardless of their source is part of utilitarianism, so if someone claims that they don’t count equally, they’re not a utilitarian. Of course, there are disagreements between utilitarians about the specifics of utility maximization, but equal weighing of utility is a core premise. As for how to sum different people’s pleasures and pains, see Scott’s contractualist take here. I’m not a utilitarian myself, but it seems obvious to me that world utility can be maximized, the question is whether it should be.

      [1] http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=15253
      [2] Constructivism in Metaethics

      • discursive2 says:

        The fact that we give presents to friends and that we gamble proves a point about the mind, not about the world. Specifically, it proves that humans predict and imagine future outcomes and have emotional responses to said imaginations. It does not prove that our predictions are accurate, that our imagination is complete, or that our emotional reactions are consistent either wih ourselves over time or between other people. Utilitarianism is taking the mental process of judging things good or bad and reifying it into facts about the world, when really it says more about the values, biases and worldviews of the judger.

        • blacktrance says:

          Humans predict future outcomes and assign values to them – and other people’s well-being is relevant to some of those outcomes. All of the flaws you mention are present, but they’re still no reason to throw away expected utility. Otherwise, all actions would be equally good (or bad), which is an absurd result. Maybe I can’t tell with 100% accuracy whether a particular person likes a specific thing, but in the relevant situations I can tell much better than chance. I need not always be right, I just need to be right often enough, and that’s a standard that most people can meet.

          • discursive2 says:

            I’m saying that expected utility is a heuristic for making decisions, it’s not a fact about the world, and there’s no reason to think that different people would or should converge on agreements on what the expected utility of a decision is. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth having in your cognitive tool belt, or that you shouldn’t make your best judgments and go with them.

            I don’t think “all actions are equally good” is an absurd result at all. From the vantage point that there is no right and wrong (the moral null hypothesis), that’s the logical conclusion, not an absurdity. You may like or dislike some actions more than others, and relative to that preference you might say that some are better or worse, but again, that seems to be a fact about you, not about the world.

          • blacktrance says:

            If the expected utility is the utility of the world (whether preference-satisfaction or pleasure), that can be maximized regardless of what opinions people have, though people should ultimately in principle converge on how to maximize that, like they should on any factual matter.

            And your reasoning doesn’t merely dismiss actions being equally good in just a moral sense, but in any sense. While all actions being equally good is the null hypothesis, it holds up as poorly as the null hypothesis of gravity not existing – at least some actions are better for me, and that gives me reasons for action, can ground normative facts, and so on – and I’m part of the world.

          • discursive2 says:

            “though people should ultimately in principle converge on how to maximize that, like they should on any factual matter.”

            Well, that’s exactly what I’m arguing: that utility isn’t factual! Our sense that some world-state is better than another is a transient emotional reaction to a destructively-compressed model of reality, and says more about us than it does about reality. I’m saying it is intellectually confused to have that emotional reaction and mistake it for some fact about reality.

            I’m not saying it is wrong take action on the basis of that emotion — as you point out, the business of living requires you to temporarily believe that one course of action is better than another. However, I think you’re trying to make a stronger claim, which is that one course of action really is better than another, which leads down the intellectual rabbit hole of trying to figure out what the best possible course of action is, which leads to being very concerned about whether it is better for the world to eat cows or chickens (if you’re a conscientious person) or demonizing other people who don’t agree with you about what’s best for the world (if you’re an unreflective and aggressive person), both of which I think are unhelpful mental patterns.

          • blacktrance says:

            People are capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, and have preferences. That means that utility is factual – you can say that it’s in their heads, but their heads are part of the world. Certain actions cause better outcomes in net than other actions, so there’s something we can do to increase good outcomes and decrease negative ones. That still leaves open the question of what specifically should be maximized, and in what context, but if you take as a premise (as utilitarianism does) that all people’s utility counts equally, the rest follows without too much trouble.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      3. Parthood: Let’s say moral facts exist, are they composed of parts? They seem far too complex to be simples; e.g. they need to contain references to the world to be useful. If yes, what sort of mereological system do you believe in? I don’t see how a mereological theory can support both moral facts made up of parts, and reductionism.[2]

      This objection is bizarre. First, mereology, the aprioristic metaphysics of parts, wholes, and the composition relation, is about a thousand times more mysterious and disreputable than the weak, naturalistic form of moral realism needed to get utilitarianism off the ground. You are attacking the spooky by means of the spookier. Second, there is no reason in general to think that facts are susceptible to mereological analysis in the way that objects are, e.g., the fact that I currently want to eat a burrito does not seem to be a good candidate for decomposition into parts. The natural route for the utilitarian to take is to say that moral facts supervene on various biological, physical, physiological, and psychological states, in much the same way that facts about my burrito-desires supervene on neurological and physiological states in my body and brain. We may find ourselves dissatisfied with this answer, but this is not because it commits us to an untenable mereology.

    • Faradn says:

      Utilitarianism is not objective, but it’s rational. It’s rationally applied subjectivity. We each know about pleasure and suffering from our own experience. From a subjective standpoint, pleasure is necessarily good and suffering is necessarily bad. Other people are enough like us in behavior that it’s reasonable to assume they’re also a lot like us in their subjective experience. An egoist ignores this last part; a utilitarian does not.

      • blacktrance says:

        Other people are enough like us in behavior that it’s reasonable to assume they’re also a lot like us in their subjective experience. An egoist ignores this last part; a utilitarian does not.

        I’m an egoist, and I don’t ignore that part, nor do I know any egoists who do. Other people’s subjective experiences are likely to be relatively similar to mine, but that doesn’t by itself give me a reason to improve them – my subjective experiences are fundamentally different not by any mind-independent metric but by the relational virtue of being my subjective experiences. That’s not to say that I don’t care about others, but only as a component of caring about myself.

        • Mark says:

          “That’s not to say that I don’t care about others, but only as a component of caring about myself.”

          If “others” are our own experiences imagined to exist elsewhere, surely this is the case for everyone?
          The only question is how far you choose to imagine them.

          • Daniel Kendrick says:

            If “others” are our own experiences imagined to exist elsewhere, surely this is the case for everyone?
            The only question is how far you choose to imagine them.

            I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say here.

            I am also an egoist. I don’t deny that other people exist, or that they have experiences which are just as vivid as my own.

            I just deny that there is any kind of categorical imperative for me to maximize their utility. Nor, when I imagine myself in their shoes, do I think there is any categorical imperative for them to maximize my utility.

            It seems to me that any person can only directly experience his own happiness; his own pleasure and pain. Now, I agree with utilitarians in taking happiness/pleasure/utility/whatever to be the basic good which all my other actions ought to maximize as far as possible.

            But why in the world should any one agent want to maximize aggregate happiness? I can’t think of any reason whatever that this ought to be so. It seems to me that each agent, who experiences an individual happiness which is separate and distinct from that of the aggregation of all agents, ought to maximize his own happiness. For the precise reason cited by utilitarians: that happiness is more intrinsically valuable and worthy of being chosen than anything else.

            That doesn’t mean that I think everyone ought to maximize my happiness. I mean, this would be desirable from my point of view, but I recognize that there is no reason for them to do so. And normative ethics would tell me whether the best way to get other agents to contribute to my happiness is: a) to forcibly enslave and compel them, b) to set up some kind of Sophistical religion that makes them falsely think they have a duty to support me, or c) to trade for their help by giving them something they want (this is not an exhaustive list).

            To reiterate, this is the part of utilitarianism that doesn’t make any goddamn sense: why should anyone want to maximize aggregate utility instead of just his own?

            Now, it has sometimes been argued that maximizing aggregate utility is the best way to maximize your own. But this a) is utterly implausible and b) doesn’t contradict egoism in the least.

            Scott and other utilitarians talk all the time about maximizing (aggregate) utility vs maximizing “fuzzies” (personal feelings of happiness from doing good). To truly believe that maximizing aggregate utility is the best way to maximize your own, is to believe that there is no divergence between “fuzzies” and utility.

            However, like Scott, I believe that there is a divergence. But unlike him, I think you should obviously go with the “fuzzies”.

            There seems to be a lot of doublespeak (and likely doublethink) on this point, which I have encountered repeatedly here. The “bailey” seems to be “utilitarianism is objectively true, and I have a duty to minimize the suffering of the world”. Then someone challenges that and asks why. The utilitarians then retreat to the “motte” and say: “well, utilitarianism is just my subjective preference for how to live; I would be unhappy if I lived in anything but a utilitarian way.” But if that’s your real opinion, you’re an egoist! Just a strange variety of egoist who thinks the best way to maximize his happiness is to give money to random Africans and/or chickens—empirically, I doubt that this is so.

            Egoism, metaethically, is simply the belief that no one has any “duty” or “categorical imperative” to do anything but to live his own life the way he chooses. And this is combined with the basic empirical finding that happiness seems to be the most satisfying of all things to have: as Aristotle said, if you really have it, you’re not lacking in anything else.

            Therefore, while you don’t strictly have to do anything, if you choose to live and make choices, your happiness seems more worthy of being chosen than anything else.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Daniel Kendrick

            It’s nice to see that other people here share my frustrations on this topic. I’m not sure if I am an egoist, but it certainly seems to me that ‘utility as measure of what is important’ and ‘aggregate utility as what everyone ought to care about’ are needlessly intertwined. I had not thought of it as a motte and bailey, but you’re right that it is: arguments for utilitarianism that are aimed to convince non-utilitarians generally seem to consist of justifications for utility as correct metric, with the part about caring about everyone’s utility just as much as your own going unsaid.

            I’m not sure why you don’t seem to see deontologists argue that one ought to act in a way that minimizes the aggregate number of rights infringements – much less argue that the obligation to do so falls obviously out of an understanding that natural rights are what matters.

          • Faradn says:

            Utility is utility. If other people’s utility is no less real than yours, then it makes sense to increase everyone’s.

            I agree that maximizing other people’s utility is not necessarily the best way to maximize one’s own. Actually to a degree I believe the reverse. You need to help yourself before you help others, otherwise you’ll be bad at helping others. If you’re destitute and give 10% of your income, not only is that a small amount but you won’t be able to sustain it for long.

            Edited to add: The comparison with the categorical imperative is incorrect. The reason to increase total utility is not to solve a logical contradiction, but because it is an end in itself.

            I should also add: the reason utilitarians focus on universal utility is efficiency. There’s only so much you can do for yourself, and there will be diminishing returns. A lot of utilitarians would say that an entity with infinite and linear (or exponential) capacity for happiness would do well to be selfish.

          • Daniel Kendrick says:

            @Faradn

            Utility is utility. If other people’s utility is no less real than yours, then it makes sense to increase everyone’s.

            No, there is utility-for-me and utility-for-you. Utility/pleasure/happiness has no meaning apart from there being a person whose utility it is. There is utility that I will directly experience and there is utility that I will not directly experience. There is no reason why anyone ought to be impartial between the two.

            No one experiences aggregate utility. Everyone only experiences his own utility. I am arguing that each individual ought to maximize his own utility because that’s the utility which is relevant to him.

            You are arguing that—despite the fact that everyone only experiences his own utility—he ought nevertheless to maximize aggregate utility, even if it comes at great cost to his own. I do not understand why anyone would think this “makes sense”. My utility is not your utility! Why should you maximize my utility? You should only contribute to my utility insofar as it will maximize your utility!

            I agree that maximizing other people’s utility is not necessarily the best way to maximize one’s own. Actually to a degree I believe the reverse. You need to help yourself before you help others, otherwise you’ll be bad at helping others. If you’re destitute and give 10% of your income, not only is that a small amount but you won’t be able to sustain it for long.

            This is a confusion of the issue. If you are helping yourself as a means of helping others, that is altruism/utilitarianism. If you are helping others as a means of helping yourself, that is egoism. Yudkowsky made this point several times.

            It is possible to believe that the best way to maximize aggregate utility is to be a businessman concerned only with maximizing his own profits. You could even believe that it maximized aggregate utility to spend lavishly on luxuries yourself, since you know best what you want—and envy of your riches might inspire the lower classes to greater productivity. This is a very silly belief, but you could believe it. If you then followed this course of action because you wanted to maximize aggregate utility, you would be the most perfectly altruistic kind of utilitarian.

            It is also possible to believe that the best way to be happy is to live an ascetic lifestyle and give all your money to the poor. If you do this because you want to be happy, then you are the most perfect kind of egoist.

            The distinction between altruism (taken to include utilitarianism) and egoism is not whether the actions you take are superficially self-directed or superficially other-directed. It’s whether, in taking them, you aim to maximize the happiness of everyone or just of yourself. (Or, theoretically, of both at the same time, but I think we have granted that this is not possible in the real world.)

            Edited to add: The comparison with the categorical imperative is incorrect. The reason to increase total utility is not to solve a logical contradiction, but because it is an end in itself.

            When I say “categorical imperative”, I am not referring merely to Kant’s first formulation of it. I mean any kind of moral “rule” or “duty” that tells you that you must do something, independently of whether you want to do it.

            It is contrasted with a “hypothetical imperative”, which is a statement of the form: I want X, Y will get me X; therefore, I ought to do Y.

            Utilitarianism presents itself as a categorical imperative: moral action just is promoting aggregate utility, whether you want to or not.

            I should also add: the reason utilitarians focus on universal utility is efficiency. There’s only so much you can do for yourself, and there will be diminishing returns. A lot of utilitarians would say that an entity with infinite and linear (or exponential) capacity for happiness would do well to be selfish.

            So what if there are diminishing returns? There is only one intrinsically valuable thing: your own happiness.

            Certainly, actions in support of your happiness will have a diminishing return. However, diminishing returns are only significant when they apply to a good which you can trade off vs. something else. For example, income and leisure are both valued because they contribute to your happiness, but since they both face diminishing returns, you are better off going with a compromise between the two for maximum happiness.

            Happiness faces diminishing returns—but it doesn’t trade off against anything. It is the thing which things are traded off to maximize.

            (Now, there is a trivial sense in which your point is right, but it is one that doesn’t contradict egoism. If you had a hundred trillion dollars, there is only so much you could benefit by spending directly on yourself. But the rest you could spend to achieve politicial and social goals that you value, thus indirectly benefitting yourself.)

          • Mark says:

            “I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say here.

            I am also an egoist. I don’t deny that other people exist, or that they have experiences which are just as vivid as my own.”

            We obviously don’t have access to other people’s experience. The best we can do is project our own experience onto other people. For most people projecting is enjoyable.
            (Or perhaps they can’t help themselves)

            I actually think that the golden rule can be a tautology – treat others as you would wish to be treated – “others” means “other people with an experience similar to my own”, but these entities can only ever exist when we choose to project our own experiences onto them. The extent to which they feel things (from my perspective (the only perspective)) is the extent to which I feel it.
            I think this is perhaps the real difference between deontologists and utilitarians. Deontologists actually project onto other individuals, whereas utilitarians abstract out from the kernel of their own experience.
            As to why they should do this… I think it appeals to them. While they aren’t imagining each individual’s “happy”, I would guess that they sort of have a glow of generalized “happy” in mind when they are imagining their maximizing activities?

            Anyway, I think I agree with you in that I believe we’re all just on different sub-branches of egoism.

            (The right thing must on some level appeal to us)

          • Faradn says:

            @Daniel
            Egoism as you describe it sounds like solipsism. If an external reality exists, it’s relevant to everyone. If other people have experiences, which you acknowledge, they are relevant even though you can’t experience them directly. Happiness and suffering still exist when you sleep. Happiness and suffering will still exist when you die.

            “This is a confusion of the issue. If you are helping yourself as a means of helping others, that is altruism/utilitarianism. If you are helping others as a means of helping yourself, that is egoism. Yudkowsky made this point several times.”

            That’s pretty obvious. I’m not sure how I gave the impression I thought otherwise. I was just giving a counterexample (me) against the idea that utilitarians are all just confused egoists who help others just because it makes them feel good.

            @Mark
            “We obviously don’t have access to other people’s experience. The best we can do is project our own experience onto other people. For most people projecting is enjoyable.”

            It’s more than a projection. It’s an educated guess based on people’s common characteristics, and what you’ve learned about specific individuals. I’m pretty sure one doesn’t even need mirror neurons to do this, just the ability to reason.

        • Faradn says:

          Fair enough. My point was mostly about how I (and I assume other utilitarians) derive utilitarianism.

    • Linch says:

      “I doubt this is a case of mass hypocrisy, so it’s probably an issue of unexamined assumptions and not taking the practical problems seriously enough.”

      Hmm…consider entertaining other hypotheses?

    • pku says:

      There’s a major problem here where you seem to start with “assuming morality is a thing, what does it look like?” While utilitarianism comes more naturally from assuming nothing (or at most, that some situations are preferable to some other situations), and figuring out a decision method from that (since it ends up looking pretty much like what we call morality, we can call it that, although this is degrading into semantics).

      • Anon. says:

        How do you get ethical sentences to be propositions “assuming nothing”?

        Consider: why have utilitarians from Bentham to Singer been moral realists (which is one heck of an assumption)?

        • PDV says:

          Well, you want things. And you know with imperfect but high confidence that so does everyone else. If everyone agreed to work to satisfy everyone’s desires, this would, you can say with high confidence, eventually lead to a stable state of you and everyone else being very satisfied. You can label this state of universal high satisfaction ‘a good outcome’ and attempt to work out how best to reach it, and which parts are more important to reach first. One philosophy that presents itself as a thorough attempt at answering this last question is utilitarianism.

          Or Eliezer’s position; ‘morality is a fact about human minds, but it’s still a fact’.

          • Anon. says:

            >eventually lead to a stable state of you and everyone else being very satisfied.

            Given that virtually every utilitarian out there is saying I should donate everything I make to make others better off, I highly doubt this.

            Instead of labeling it “a good outcome”, I’ll label it “human paperclip maximization” and try to avoid it. Now what?

            Facts about human minds don’t lead to ethical propositions.

          • Pku says:

            First of all, that doesn’t necessarily follow. But even if it does: You’re just using blindness bias to make it look bad, by counting the loss for you as real loss, but the gain to other people as “just money”. You could just as well describe it as “non-utilitarian morality systems mean that it’s okay to leave a kid to die of malaria to save some wealthy first-worlder twenty bucks”. which suddenly seems less easily refuted.

    • Utilitarianism is reductive. It is true for some utility function. It describes what seems most obvious to be the reductive moral solution. It gets rid of all of the hacks and heuristics we have in related areas of disease prevention, epistemology, negotiation, cooperation that are smuggled into the default human morality and forces us to understand why they are needed.

    • Steven says:

      I think the “core” rationalist position can be defined equally as well as:

      “Moral realism is true; the objective features that moral propositions reflect is the evolved neural structure of the human animal. Every time someone says right or wrong, it means it is in accordance with an unchosen code of ethics imprinted on the human animal by the billions of years of normal actions of physical laws from the Big Bang to today.”

      or

      “Ethical subjectivism is true, but the real opinions involved are not mere changeable fashions, but the deep opinions we are evolved to have. Non-human minds do not have to have the same opinions, but this is irrelevant because when we say ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, we mean and can only mean according to our evolved opinions as humans, which bind us because we are humans. If we try to ‘transcend’ our humanness by holding our evolved moral code as no better or worse than any other, we will transgress against the human moral code, and transgressing against our human moral code is, automatically, the same thing as ‘wrong’.”

      This is based on the known-to-be-unproven assumption that evolutionary-encoded human values can be coherently extrapolated, even though we have not successfully done so yet. It is then generally believed that under a known fully coherently extrapolated moral code, consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics each can be reformulated as restatements of each other.

      The problem we have is we do not know what this code is now (and even if we did, since we would never have omniscient understanding of the world, we would lack the ability to perfectly apply it anyway). Under this lack of knowledge, rationalist utilitarianism is not “The Answer” — it’s a heuristic for moral judgment under inevitable uncertainty.

      Existing deontological rules are (generally) acknowledged to have similar value as heuristics. It’s just that deontological rules are most useful in “familiar” situations, the sort of situations that crop up frequently in human society and so led to their development, while under known-novel situations they tend to break. So while deontological rules are quite useful in daily life (where de novo reasoning is more likely to lead to error than tested-and-proven rules), they’re of limited use as heuristics for novel circumstances (where one is basically obligated to do de novo reasoning).

      (Note that none of the above is universally accepted by all the members of the community, even the ones that identify as rationalists, and I may well have accidentally conflated my own personal interpretations with what I think is the “core” views.)

      • Anon. says:

        The first option is trivial to attack because utilitarianism is not an ESS. Additionally, there is extreme disagreement between different people about moral facts, and these disagreements have changed significantly in a very short timespan. Therefore there is no one evolved code of behavior imprinted on everyone.

        The second doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, but are utilitarians content with subjectivism?

        • PDV says:

          I’m reasonably certain your whole first paragraph is false, but you’d need to provide a specific example for me to explain why the extreme disagreement is not an issue. The Moral Foundations assessment is strong evidence in favor of this position; the set of moral foundations are common, with shifting emphasis but common principles. Also, utilitarianism being an evolutionarily unstable strategy is a total non sequitur; the evolutionary instincts are not utilitarianism, but those instincts make up are the terms of the utility function.

          And the two options are object-level indistinguishable. Which one you claim is pure semantics; they both say that there is a shared unchanging but internal basis for morality.

          • Anon. says:

            The moral foundations stuff is like horoscopes. It casts the net so wide that it captures everything, rendering it meaningless. Just because two ethical views concern the same issue doesn’t make them equivalent.

            The idea that the ethics of sex from the Victorian era to the summer of love, or the ethics of race and murder from Nazi Germany to 2015 Germany are simply a matter of “shifting emphasis” is absurd. Is there anything that an emphasis shift can’t accommodate? How do we empirically differentiate between different morality and different emphasis?

            And it doesn’t even touch metaethics: does your “shifting emphasis” account for both deontologists and consequentialists? Please…

            >the evolutionary instincts are not utilitarianism, but those instincts make up are the terms of the utility function.

            Clarify, please.

      • discursive2 says:

        I find a defense of utilitarianism from an evolutionary standpoint a little weird. With the standard disclaimer that evo-psych justifications are just-so stories and probably completely wrong, I’d say:

        -Most likely evolutionary explanation for moral feelings is game theory / being able to win iterated prisoner’s dilemmas with your fellow tribespeople… pure rationality is game-theoretically sub-optimal, so we evolved irrational emotional reactions.

        -Therefore moral emotions are primarily about costly signaling about your intent…

        -And have nothing to do with the actual consequences, and everything to do with whether your fellow tribespeople think you are sincere.

        -Which is also why people are happy to kill others they don’t see in their tribe.

        Not sure if that’s exactly right, but a consequentialist morality that values every living being equally is emphatically not what I would predict evolution to lead to.

        And in fact, when people go out and do studies to find out if people’s innate morality is consequentialist (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem), the answer is no: people’s gut reaction is that inaction and action are morally different, and you have to argue really hard and use a lot of rhetorical tricks like Peter Singer does to get them to feel otherwise.

      • Leonhart says:

        Responding to Steven above: According to my own understanding of it, your second quoted paragraph is a very nice summary of Eliezer’s position in the original Metaethics sequence. Thank goodness someone else understood it. The LW community’s original response to it was the single greatest reading comprehension failure I’ve ever seen.

    • lliamander says:

      I would also add that consequentialist reasoning in general is troublesome in that it becomes easy to justify “lesser” evils in the present if we can convince ourselves that they serve a promised “greater” good to come. Humans as a whole are generally pretty bad about judging such trade-offs beyond a very small scale, and we are very good at justifying evils that suit our egos. Trying to live by a set of moral injunctions, especially if they seem to be pretty universal (e.g. the “golden rule”) strikes me as less prone to such egoism.

      Also, ethical offsets (as opposed to ethical *trade-offs*) concerns me. If I beat up a guy because he is terrorizing and stealing from a bunch of little old ladies living on fixed income, it may not be the ideal outcome, but we would generally consider it to be a necessary and justified trade-off. If instead I convince this guy to be nice to these little old ladies, and then beat him up for the fun of it (and what the heck, I have utilons to spare, because I just stopped this guy from terrorizing and stealing) then that is probably grounds for pressing assault charges. My ethical instincts tell me these situations are quite different, but I don’t see how utilitarianism can account for the differences.

      • Nate says:

        1) As a practical matter, beating the guy up will make him less likely to follow through on his promise to be nice.

        2) By extracting said promise, you improve the state of the world–things are better at t+1 than at t. But now you have to judge the utility of your actions relative to t+1, not t. Following up with a beatdown, even if the promise still holds, makes the world worse at t+2 than at t+1, with no future improvement to set it off.

        • lliamander says:

          (1) Fair point. I don’t think he would continue to be mean to the little old ladies (LOLs), but he might just move out of town (after all, some crazy guy just beat him up for apparently no reason) and not deal with the LOLs at all. It really depends upon the specific personality of the individual at hand, but I think it is plausible that this guy might still stick around and start being nice to the LOLs.

          (2) My understanding of utilitarianism is that only aggregate utility matters. So long as utility is improved between time t+0 and t+2, it doesn’t matter the utility at t+1. Otherwise, I don’t think ethical offsets would work.

          Consider that I want to offset my meat consumption via ethical offsets. I know I am about to go out with family to a big steak dinner, so I decide to donate some extra money before going out (to offset my family’s consumption as well as my own). If I understand your argument correctly, it doesn’t matter how much I donate – simply because I donated before going out, rather than afterwards.

          • Luke Somers says:

            > So long as utility is improved between time t+0 and t+2, it doesn’t matter the utility at t+1.

            Aim higher than ‘not absolutely worse than we started’. You had an opportunity to do even better than you were doing at t+1, not worse.

          • nydwracu says:

            My understanding of utilitarianism is that only aggregate utility matters. So long as utility is improved between time t+0 and t+2, it doesn’t matter the utility at t+1.

            This leads to some very entertaining results.

          • Daniel Kendrick says:

            @Luke Somers

            But this rules out ethical offsets altogether. Which makes sense, because they are absolutely incompatible with utilitarianism.

            Utilitarianism says that you ought to maximize aggregate utility in all your actions. You can’t (justifiably) do something suboptimal and then “make up for it” with an offset. You should have just not done the suboptimal thing and paid the offset anyway.

            And you should only give to the offset if it is the single most efficient charity. Even if you perform suboptimal actions, this doesn’t give you the moral right to give to suboptimal charities. If you murder three people, you shouldn’t give money to the victims’ families. You should still spend it on bed nets or whatever.

            Of course, this is under utilitarianism—which is nonsense.

          • Luke Somers says:

            If you’re a pure even utilitarian, then yes, it does rule out ethical offsets because you only want to do the ethical thing.

            People are not pure utilitarians, and they really want to do things for themselves, and they assign everyone else some degree of consideration (coefficient negative if malicious).

            If you’re indulging in some vice, then you can fall back on settling for not making things worse, sure. But you don’t get to call that utilitarian.

      • Luke Somers says:

        > it becomes easy to justify “lesser” evils in the present if we can convince ourselves that they serve a promised “greater” good to come.

        Can you give any examples? Note, the suggestion of giving all charity money to AI work would be a misrepresentation.

        I see it more as aiming us at solving problems rather than judging.

        • lliamander says:

          > Can you give any examples?

          Hm… the best example I can think of is from the following piece of fiction:
          http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/09/a-lost-chapter-descendants-and-emulations/. It’s kind of long, but the relevant philosophical point comes out towards the end of section 4.

          Eco-terrorism might be another one.

          > I see it more as aiming us at solving problems rather than judging.

          I like that perspective. I think that is an essential aspect of developing moral character.

          But I think there is also a need to recognize that we run the risk of letting our egos run away with us and presuming to solve problems we do not truly understand. Eliezer Yudkowsky addresses that here (http://lesswrong.com/lw/uv/ends_dont_justify_means_among_humans/).

          It seems therefore, that we need to strike some kind of balance, to achieve some kind of mean, between the extremes: between being judgmental and being presumptuous; trying to focus on solving problems while maintaining our humility.

          • Luke Somers says:

            Okay, so, a fictional example. Not too scary just on that basis. ETA: and… okay, this story is a bit of a mess, but it seems like this guy is trying to prevent humanity from being wiped out, and is using this insanely silly strategy of basically not participating 99.9% of the time, and for SOME reason, they blame his stupid strategy on a straw man of consequentialism (it’s not ‘OK to commit evil if some good may come of it’ – acts are to be judged by the expected ensemble of their consequences. Doing things normally considered ‘evil’ remains a very bad thing, but you need to look at everything else)

            I can see ecological direct action agendas being utilitarian positive, but terrorism seems like poisoning your well. If you focus on problem solving rather than blaming, it doesn’t rank well.

            And yes, if you’re being utilitarian, you need a generous dose of humility before you begin violating those deontological rules because it is so easy to mess up. Heck, the more general ‘Beware of Other-Optimizing’ is enough, no need to even pull out the ‘I am running on corrupted hardware’ card. But!

            I don’t see declining to other-optimize or seize power, and thereby predictably avoiding things that will tend to decrease overall utility, as failing to be utilitarian. It’s just being wise about how you go about it.

            And yes, the disadvantage of utilitarianism is that it has a higher wisdom requirement than JUST FOLLOW THESE RULES.

        • nimim. k.m. says:

          …isn’t this how most very famous moral failings involving various forms of violence and pain have been justified to those who have qualms about instigating or continuing with it?

          (Not counting the peculiar sort of crazy that already considered violence as an innately right and good thing.)

          I mean, sometimes temporary hardship leads to a payoff. But doesn’t the whole of the political history of 19th and 20th centuries reek of payoffs that never did come, like the ones promised by the various forms of totalitarianism across the globe?

          Or even in the Western world, where especially the form where the hardships were to be survived by others for “their own good” was quite popular. See, for example, even us the “right side of moral history” Nordic countries: Sweden and their now infamous eugenics program, or how we all used to treat our local language or other minorities.

          • Luke Somers says:

            Was it? <- serious question.

            As far as I know, that might apply to the Soviet Union, maybe – but to a greater extent they justified it as 'those people are against the revolution. therefore, they don't matter.' And of course that's even more true of the Nazis.

            Telling the people who are working for you, "Hey, go do this thing that we allow is bad, because it will accomplish something even better later"… just doesn't seem like it's nearly as effective as giving a moral justification for doing the bad thing itself. It seems to invite questions later about where that good thing ended up in a way that hurting the bad thinkers doesn't.

            I'm sure that some appeal to consequences was made somewhere in the process, as it's a very universalizable argument – much more so than 'kill the bourgeoisie!' – but I'm not at all sure how central it was.

    • Nathan says:

      …it should be puzzles solved per orgasm not orgasms per puzzles solved, surely?

    • Nita says:

      intelligent utilitarians not only disagree with each other, but some factions tell us that we must do the exact opposite of what other factions say

      Yes, this is an unresolved issue for Eliezer Yudkowsky’s brand of utilitarianism (I don’t know if you’ve heard of this guy, but he’s basically the founder of “Less Wrong rationalism”, so many rationalists’ opinions are derived from his). Eliezer’s view seems to be that we’re simply not smart enough to resolve our disagreements in a satisfactory way, but a solution probably exists, and that’s why we should build a Friendly AI to figure it out.

      George Bernard Shaw delivered this coup de grâce [..]:

      “What you yourself can suffer is the utmost that can be suffered on earth. If you starve to death you experience all the starvation that ever has been or ever can be. If ten thousand other women starve to death with you, their suffering is not increased by a single pang: their share in your fate does not make you ten thousand times as hungry, nor prolong your suffering ten thousand times. Therefore do not be oppressed by the ‘frightful sum of human sufferings’: there is no sum […] Poverty and pain are not cumulative: you must not let your spirit be crushed by the fancy that it is.”

      Do you really consider that an effective argument?

      It seems to say:
      (i) you can only experience your own suffering, so the suffering of others shouldn’t bother you;
      (ii) you shouldn’t think of suffering as cumulative because it might “crush your spirit”.
      Neither claim is justified by anything in the text.

      Of course, the most common ways of aggregating utility (whatever we mean by it) all have their issues, but so does Shaw’s idea that X + X = X.

      A bit further along, Shaw says:

      A thousand healthy, happy, or honorable women are not each a thousand times as healthy, happy, or honorable as one; but they can co-operate to increase the health, happiness, and honor possible for each of them.

      I think all of your criticisms of aggregate utilitarianism would also apply to Shaw’s opinion that it is our moral duty to implement socialism to increase “the health, happiness, and honor possible for each”.

      “In man, creature and creator are united: in man there is matter, fragment, excess, clay, mud, madness, chaos; but in man there is also creator, sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divine spectator and the seventh day – do you understand this antithesis?”

      That’s poetry, not a rational argument. Perhaps you could rephrase what you consider to be the central idea in more down-to-earth terms?

      “Strength, passion, lack of hypocrisy, utilitarianism, traditional family values, and devotion to community were valued by the Nazis”

      Eh, that’s not the kind of “utilitarianism” we’re talking about here. It’s probably about their quasi-Spartan aesthetic, not the greatest happiness/fun/whatever of the greatest number.

      • Anon. says:

        I think you have the GBS argument a bit wrong. He’s not saying the suffering of others shouldn’t bother you. He’s saying the sum of suffering shouldn’t bother you, because it doesn’t exist. He’s not saying X + X = X, he’s saying X + X = undefined. If anything, his argument is for some sort of “cooperative egoism”.

        What Nietzsche is saying is that focusing simply on pleasure and pain is a bit myopic, and that both of these things have ulterior uses to humanity. That suffering has spurred great artists, philosophers, etc. That the goal of utilitarianism is basically to create a universe filled with Last Men: content, but lacking in creative impulse, dreams, individuality, etc.. “that is no goal, that seems to us an end!”

        • Nita says:

          OK, we have to make decisions somehow, right? And if I’m indifferent between the options “make 1 person suffer” and “make 1000 people suffer” (following Shaw’s advice), I might make some morally repugnant decisions. Do you agree?

          focusing simply on pleasure and pain is a bit myopic

          Possibly. But:
          – not all utilitarians focus on pleasure and pain
          – although e.g., pain is a useful signal, chronic pain or pain before death usually brings no benefit to anyone
          – why would it be moral to subject someone to suffering for the sake of art (or whatever else Nietzsche happens to like)?

        • Chris Conner says:

          Shaw’s argument is still inane. “If your brick weighs five pounds, that is the utmost a five-pound brick can weigh. If ten thousand bricks also weigh five pounds alongside your brick, their weight is not increased by a single grain; their equality in weight does not make your brick ten thousand times as weighty. Therefore do not be oppressed by the ‘frightful sum of masonry’; there is no sum … weight is not cumulative; you must not let your body be crushed by the fancy that it is.”

          Although everything before “therefore” is true, nothing that comes after follows from it.

          Shaw appears to be arguing that we have no reason to prefer one person starving to ten thousand people starving. For this nonsense, he is condemned in the afterlife to eternally push a trolley up a hill, only to have a fat man push it back down and crush him.

    • Murphy says:

      Everything you just said is irrelevant.

      It’s slightly less relevant than someone complaining that physicists haven’t detected any particles of maleness yet in a debate about trans people.

      Did you just copy paste your whole argument from a 1st year phil course book?

      If you hang around on less wrong you’ll notice that when the subject comes up there’s very little in the way of claims that the other side is Objectively Wrong etc, merely attempts to convert people to their personal utility function.

      Your personal utility function is personal, if you can convince some other people to adopt it as well have fun with that but you won’t find many rationalists claiming that their utility function is the one true utility function.

      There’s no need for Moral Realism, the Origin doesn’t need to be any kind of divinity, Parthood is irrelevant.

      Measurement,The Future and Aggregation are all 100% issues to be dealt with by each individuals utility function, some have clear and easy answers for each of those even if some lead to unintuitive answers.

      • Anon. says:

        How do you get ethical sentences to be propositions without realism?

        • suntzuanime says:

          How do you function if all your sentences don’t meet the rigid formal-logic definition of a “proposition”? oh wait, really easily

          • Anon. says:

            I function because in everyday speech pretty much every sentence is a proposition. The vast majority of everyday sentences that don’t appear to be propositions actually boil down to propositions. e.g. non-ethical normative sentences are typically just statements of fact regarding the speaker’s beliefs or the state of the world.

            A: I want to get swole.
            B: You should go to the gym.

            B’s statement boils down to something like “I think the best way for you to get swole is to go to the gym”, which is a proposition.

            Sometimes things get fuzzy, but we understand each other by simplifying, filling in the blanks, or guessing the speaker’s intentions and creating a proposition that way.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Are you the same “Anon.” because it seems to me that if you want to focus on “propositions” that’s a pretty good way to try to make it work without needing to invoke moral realism

          • Murphy says:

            So where’s your problem?

            A: I want to prevent as many children under 5 as possible from dying from preventable diseases.
            B: You should invest in charities which hand out xyz tablets or malaria nets.

          • Anon. says:

            @Murphy: I have no problem with that, but that’s not utilitarianism. There is no moral imperative involved there.

          • Murphy says:

            How can your A “want to get swole” without realism? He must have some goals, some king of function in his head that says that being swole is better than not being so.

            A Utilitiarian has no more trouble with translating their utility function (which may say that the world would be better if there was more happy people or which may attempt to maximize for preference fulfillment or which may call to optimize for minimal suffering or may just optimize for paperclip production) into “I want to prevent as many children under 5 as possible from dying from preventable diseases.”

            The utilitarian doesn’t have to first prove experimentally that there can be no other reasonably utility function. They are free to personally view someone who tries to create a world which goes hard against their personal utility function negatively.

            There’s no requirement that they do something stupid like claim that the fabric of reality shows their utility function to be the one true utility function.

          • Anon. says:

            >He must have some goals, some king of function in his head that says that being swole is better than not being so.

            Not in the moral sense. It’s perfectly possible to have goals that are not ethically motivated.

            Utilitarians don’t say “well, maximize utility by whatever function you have in your brain”, they say “there is a moral imperative to maximize total utility” (and this is the bit that requires realism). Disagreements between utilitarians don’t arise because of different utility functions, they arise because of difficulties in measuring the one sum of utility they are all trying to maximize (see: cows and chickens).

          • Murphy says:

            Utilitarians don’t say “well, maximize utility by whatever function you have in your brain”, they say “there is a moral imperative to maximize total utility” (and this is the bit that requires realism). Disagreements between utilitarians don’t arise because of different utility functions, they arise because of difficulties in measuring the one sum of utility they are all trying to maximize (see: cows and chickens).

            You remember that thing you mentioned where people fill in the blanks themselves? Well it sounds like you’ve been filling in all the blanks with your own faulty preconceptions.

            If you don’t believe in realism, if you believe that all the other ethical systems which claims a “moral imperative” are based on nothing more than the feelings of the people designing them (perhaps with some silly unfalsifiable claims to authority tacked on) then “moral imperative” means no more than that.

            You genuinely believe Disagreements between utilitarians don’t arise because of different utility functions? Really? Have you been paying attention? Hedonic Utilitarians can consider a universe tiled with heroin-blissed out brains optimal while lots of other utilitarians with different utility functions disagree with them.

            A utilitarian could even have quite a quite absurd utility function which to anyone who doesn’t share it is clearly bad, like the afore-mentioned utilitarian who considers maximizing paperclips to be good.

            Many utilitarians simply don’t consider animals to have any value in their utility function. Others give them a weighted value.

          • Anon. says:

            >ethical systems which claims a “moral imperative” are based on nothing more than the feelings of the people designing them then “moral imperative” means no more than that.

            Sure, now if only the utilitarians would admit this and we can all go home. But they don’t, because that’s not how they think of moral imperatives. I’ll bring up Singer again because he’s the most prominent utilitarian: he actually believes moral facts exist. Why?

            As for the disagreements between different types of utilitarians, I still only see it as a measurement issue. The hedonist says utility is pleasure, the preference utilitarian says utility is fulfilled preferences. If we could measure utility we could trivially tell who got it right, and the other one would immediately change their opinion. The intermediate schemes of deciding what goes into utility, how much to weigh different types of pleasures, etc. are only an artifact of our inability to measure.

          • Murphy says:

            Sure, now if only the utilitarians would admit this and we can all go home.

            Which ones? Everyday rationalists who happen to lean towards utilitarianism or navel gazing philosophers? I have no problem with the idea that there’s no magical source of “rightness” in the universe.

            The hedonist says utility is pleasure, the preference utilitarian says utility is fulfilled preferences. If we could measure utility we could trivially tell who got it right

            I don’t think you’re getting the idea.

            Lets imagine 3 utilitarians 2 with very odd utility functions to make it easier to think about.

            The first, A, has a utility function which awards 1 point for each statue of the virgin Mary in the universe.

            The second, B, has a utility function which awards 1 point per copy of the Koran in the universe.

            The third, C, has a utility function which awards 1 point per 24 hour period for each human child who goes to bed healthy, fairly happy and fed and subtracts 1 point for each child who goes to bed hungry, sick or terribly unhappy.

            The 3 utilitarians aren’t trying to discover some magical [unit of real utility].

            All three are trying to maximise some personal idea of what they consider “good” or utility. Their goals are not aligned, there is no shared magical unit of utility that they’re going to discover. There is no “got it right” though most humans would probably prefer C over A and B since they’d prefer their kids going to bed happy than to see their kids biomass converted into statues.

          • discursive2 says:

            If there is no “got it right” (which I agree with), then what is the value of expressing your preferences as a consequentialist function, as opposed to other formulations? Scott seems worried that he might “get it wrong” re: his personal utility function if he eats the wrong animal. But this worry only exists because he’s conceptualized this function that, at least in theory, has an actual scoring system. Wouldn’t it make life simpler to express your preferences in a way that point you in a general direction, but aren’t actually computable mathematically?

          • Murphy says:

            @discursive2

            I assumed that scot’s utility function had some if’s in it.

            ie “if X is conscious” “if X has a subjective experience” which we might, in theory be able to falsify at some point in the future if we work out how to upload minds or understand the brain better.

        • “How do you get ethical sentences to be propositions without realism?”

          Propositions, or true propositions? Direct realism (one-to-one-to-one correspondence with a moral fact) or indirect realism (correspondence with a complex set of preferences, tendencies and agreements)?

    • Anonymous says:

      Evaporative cooling.

    • You make some fairly strong points about utilitarianism, some of which I agree with. The subjective nature of its terminal goals is a particular weakness in my opinion. Your point about the future discount rates is also very powerful. A couple of points that I strongly disagree with, however:

      “You never actually have access to the consequences, you just have a new set of guesses. The standard reply is that it’s irrelevant and you should do what you believe is going to maximize utility, but what reason do you have to believe that you are a good judge of that?”

      Why don’t we have access to consequences? I don’t think anyone is suggesting perfect access, just access. Also, I may be a bad judge, but there is no-one else to judge it, given that deferring moral judgement to others is also a moral judgement for which I must be responsible.

      “Finally, there is no way to meaningfully aggregate utility.”

      It seems reasonable that one might use judgement to imperfectly aggregate different forms on utility. After all, if we are to choose between two virtues, or a choice of actions that must run afoul of one of two conflicting moral rules, the same challenge applies. Mathematical precision is likely impossible, but I don’t see why some basic quantification couldn’t help improve our judgements proportionality, especially in areas where we know our intuitions fail us (eg. scope insensitivity).

      I find the Shaw passage you quote extremely unconvincing and nothing like a coup de grace, though perhaps I have it out of context. Why would kicking a thousand people in the stomach be morally the same as kicking one?

      I find the Nietzsche quote, though I admit a lack of familiarity with his work, and though I personally agree there are higher concerns than pain and pleasure, less convincing still. It seems to justify suffering on aesthetic grounds, valuing the toils and trials of other humans because it makes those humans seem majestic to us. Sure, I get that feeling, but to place it in the core of our moral philosophy seems like an autistic morality (as opposed to the morality of an autistic person, which I have no problem with) that sees other people as objects whose moral worth is in what they provide us.

      “however, the evil instincts are expedient, species-preserving, and indispensable to as high a degree as the good ones; their function is merely different.”

      I strongly disagree. Murder and genocide are not tendencies that improve the ultimate survival of our species. Self-defence is admittedly expedient, but not evil. Perhaps human predation of other species might be arguably evil, but its not clear why vegetarianism, while perhaps unpleasant for many, would harm our species survival (probably the opposite). Though I’m sure there would be exceptions, I don’t see any evil instincts that strongly tend towards assisting the human species.

      I think the species-consequentialism argument that is dismissed a little flippantly at the end here, if a thoughtfully developed version of it (disclaimer – my blog, lengthy reading) is considered openly and fairly, is the solution to most the problems of subjective consequences in utilitarianism. It’s also passes the intuition test if that’s what’s important to you, because common human decencies flow from its logic imo. Suffering is still undesirable because its a good proxy for badness, but you don’t end up with arguments like destroying all life or putting everyone in permanent stasis to eliminate suffering.

      I also think it solves the moral realism issue. If an objectively demonstrable biological process of cooperation occurring, and human moral behaviours (neural activity) are correlated with that, moral propositions are true or false based on their similarity to the broader biological process.

      In my experience arguing around this its not a bullet that many want to bite, but I do think it’s the correct and moral answer.

      Thanks for posting btw. Actually it sounds like you could use a blog. 🙂

      • discursive2 says:

        Perhaps a way to unpack the Nietzsche thing is to draw a distinction between spirituality and ethics. When you’re looking from a first-person perspective at your own progress through life, Nietzsche’s point I think makes a lot of sense. There’s a strong case to be made for seeking meaning instead of seeking pleasure. However, when you’re looking from a third-person perspective at designing systems for other people, then yes, what Nietzsche is saying does come across as “autistic”: I shall make you suffer for your own good! — yuck.

        So, what to make of this discrepancy between the third person and first person perspective? My takeaway is that ethics shouldn’t be totalizing; the principles around living a good life for yourself are different and incommensurable with the principles for designing a just social system. This is why I think the Nietzsche quote is in fact a good rejoinder to utilitarianism, because utilitarianism is a totalizing system: it’s an attempt to answer with a single formula both the spiritual questions (what should I seek out in life?) and the ethical questions (how should I treat my fellow human beings).

        In other words, utilitarianism over-reaches; there’s a whole, very important domain of human experience (the artistic / spiritual) that utilitarianism tries to annex into the realm of ethics, when in fact it doesn’t belong there.

        • Interesting thoughts. The meaning over pleasure is definitely powerful to my ears. A couple of potential difficulties occur to me:

          -The subthread OP was writing in a context of monism/physicalism which may rule out a dualistic 1st/3rd dichotomy of the type you point to.
          -The distinction you make seems to suggest possible conflict could occur in cases where the two need to unite. For example, I may design a good life for myself in one way, but find that it harms others horribly. By integrating the two from the start perhaps we avoid a rift forming that we can no longer cross?

          • Josh says:

            So I think that resolving that kind of conflict is what civil society is all about. Not sure where you’re from, but the American Declaration of Independence enshrined the “right to pursue happiness”, which is basically saying, seek your own fulfillment however you want as long as you do it in a way that doesn’t get in the way of others pursuing theirs.

            As the American frontier disappeared and topics like global warming, global poverty, structural inequalities, etc came to the fore, there’s been increasing criticism of this social contract, on the grounds that everyone pursuing their happiness in their own way does not lead to a world where everyone is free to do so. So maybe the line between the personal and the social is intrinsically unstable. That said I think having a line to some degree is worthwhile… Autonomy of the self seems like, for all its faults, one of the better innovations of human civilization.

          • I’m an aussie, so we basically have the same deal culturally except its less formalised constitutionally. Our politics seems to be a little less polarised than you guys too, but we’re doing our best to catch up 🙁

            Without wanting to move too much away from philosophy into politics, I see very significant value in the sort of autonomy you’re talking about though I’m not a hard individualist and tend to see policy discussion through several other lenses than the traditional individual/collectivist conflict. I definitely agree harmonising social and individual needs does seem to be the artform required for a good civilization.

            I was mostly arguing for ethics and altruism rather than individualism or collectivism in the above post I think.

      • Anon. says:

        >Why don’t we have access to consequences?

        Because you can’t measure it. I admit this is probably one of the weaker angles, but still: group A says that to maximize utility you should stop breeding and stop eating animals. Group B says to maximize utility you should save as many African kids as possible. Only one of these can be true, and the proponents of each view have some sort of indirect access to the consequences. But neither of them is about to change their mind, are they? If they truly knew exactly what the consequences of each route were, the groups would converge.

        >that sees other people as objects whose moral worth is in what they provide us

        I think N saw it the exact opposite way: their worth stems from what they provided to themselves. Keep in mind he was highly individualistic. I think what he’s going for there isn’t “suffering led to great art, which is good because it edifies us”; instead: “suffering is a necessary ingredient in creating great men”… bad for the creature in us, but useful to the creator. This overcoming is valueable in itself. Obviously Nietzsche did not think this was possible for anyone of course, only a select few can embrace suffering and use it. In GS 338 he argues that to know true happiness you must also accept suffering, that the comfortable man has no capacity for great joy.

        Also, GS 19:

        Evil. — Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask
        yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense
        with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some
        kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence
        do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth
        even of virtue is scarcely possible. The poison of which weaker natures perish
        strengthens the strong—nor do they call it poison.

        BGE 262: “A species comes to be, a type becomes fixed and strong, through the long
        fight with essentially constant unfavorable conditions”

        >Murder and genocide are not tendencies that improve the ultimate survival of our species.

        Consider two herds of mountain goats. The evil herd does things the traditional way: males fight each other for dominance. The loser often dies; if he lives, he leaves the herd. The strongest, ablest goat gets to mate with all the females. The good herd has dispensed with fighting and instead practices monogamy: everyone is happy! In the long term, which herd will prevail? Do you see why Nietzsche considers the “good herd morality” to be fundamentally opposed to life itself? The point isn’t simply about procreation though — take a more abstract form of this line of thinking and apply it to us.

        You could perhaps make an argument that due to civilization and technology we are beyond this. What is certain however is that you and I are here because our ancestors were not utilitarians.

        >Why would kicking a thousand people in the stomach be morally the same as kicking one?

        That’s not what he’s saying exactly. He’s saying that while there might be a thousand instances, each person receiving a kick can only ever experience their own experiences. All you have is a thousand separate instances — not a sum.

        • Because you can’t measure it.
          Hmm, well made point. But I wonder if we have that sort of infallable direct access to virtue or moral rules either? It seems that almost everyone imagines themselves to be virtuous, to have good intentions, to be rationally moral, or to be following their religion’s rules correctly. Yet the result is a myriad of very different behaviours – perhaps more so than within consequentialism. Though I’m also worried this is an unfair criticism for any approach – a lack of measurability could potenutally be just a symptom of us being to morally or epistemologically deficient to measure it.

          I think N saw it the exact opposite way: their worth stems from what they provided to themselves.

          I don’t necessarily disagree with that. However, I feel the phrasing was particularly aesthetic sounding – rather than thinking what greatness *is* we select an image of a person that seems to us inspirational, like a majestic landscape, and decide we’d like to live in a landscape of great people. It’s too aesthetic and seems a little morally superficial at first glance (uninformed glance). My phrasing of this objection is far from majestic lol, but I hope you get the idea.

          In the long term, which herd will prevail?

          I think here we imagine the evil herd mounting an all out ambush attack in which the good herd are wiped out. But for species, long-term ongoing contact/conflict would result in the good herd coordinating its much greater resources to continually improve their defence, and ultimately prevail, while the evil herd continue to betray even within their in-group.

          I’m very hesitant to closely align fitness with strength with aggression with evil (in the case of fitness, take rabbits or the sloth. Or plankton. Defenseless, passive, and alive while the saber-tooth tiger is not). And we must consider what we mean by evil. We rarely class a lion or a spider or a shark, or an angry goat, as evil. It is the human who kills with no need for self-defence or food that we consider evil. Murder and genocide, more typical to our conception of evil, do not make humanity stronger against other species. Strength against attack is very different from needless killing – which is both evil and generally a harmful malfunction in nature. Being good doesn’t equate to weakness.

          There may be individual instances where evil and species-survival have some overlap, but they are rare and contrary to the general trend – goodness and the survival of a species seem to be aligned.

          All you have is a thousand separate instances — not a sum.

          Yet I can’t help but wonder, are these instances really so incredibly different that imagining their sum isn’t useful or valid? By refusing to do that sum are we in some way refusing to acknowledge many of these instances, beyond our intuition of scale, happened at all? Isn’t that a much greater inaccuracy?

        • Mary says:

          “Consider two herds of mountain goats. The evil herd does things the traditional way: males fight each other for dominance. The loser often dies; if he lives, he leaves the herd. The strongest, ablest goat gets to mate with all the females. The good herd has dispensed with fighting and instead practices monogamy: everyone is happy! In the long term, which herd will prevail?”

          The good one, of course. It is more robust because it contains more genetic diversity. Also, it has a lot more adult males than the other and could easily overwhelm it.

    • Chris Conner says:

      So, to paraphrase Nietzsche, valuing things according to the amount of pleasure or pain they entail leads to sub-optimal outcomes, because pain is necessary for the elevation of mankind. If you abolish pain, you abolish inventiveness and bravery in undergoing, enduring, interpreting, and exploiting misfortune. Elevation, bravery, and inventiveness are more important than avoidance of pain, so we should seek to increase suffering rather than avoid it. That’s what people would choose if they were not so naïve.

      Friedrich Nietzsche, preference utilitarian.

    • Ruben says:

      So, I was once like you, non-cognitivist (or whatever I then thought it was called).

      So I went to an academy with two moral realist professors to call them out. Granted, I’m not a philosophy student, so I was a bit frustrated with their approach (telling stories). Also granted: since my self-education on the topic may have been lacking I may not have been a decent foil to two professors and a PhD student who were all moral realists (but different flavours so some properly credentialled people did debate).
      There was one thing that I couldn’t really deal with. The thing is, I like my whole believing-in-reality. They pointed out that I was inconsistently privileging my reality-perceiving organ (my brain) over my moral-perceiving organ (again, my brain). On top of that, I also thought that they were privileging their moral-perceiving organs over their aesthetics-perceiving organs (again, their brains).

      Now, I pouted a little and defended epistemological skepticism for a bit. Which is just a bit boring really. As I said, I like believing in reality. So I made that assumption. And I actually like having goals in life, so I made that assumption as well.

      How do you decide what you will do each day?

      I have to admit, though, while I now no longer feel that bad about believing in my moral perceptions about as much as in my reality perceptions (i.e. not all that much and I try to check them for inconsistencies), I am a lot more worried about the pessimistic induction for morals than for facts. So what, if I believed the wrong facts all my life.
      But will future generations see my meat-eating as partaking in the big Animal Holocaust of pre-2100? And will they be right?
      Will they hate me because I decided to increase knowledge about the world when it has now been decided that we had enough knowledge to make money and improve the world?
      Personally, I have the feeling that I know so few is-es, that getting to the ought-s is presumptuous. Will they call me a coward?

      Btw I tend to think that we’re getting to a point where even if you’re a psychopath or whatever the equivalent of colourblindness for morality is (i.e. you grok some aspects, but not all) and perceive something completely different, it’s now often easier to play along than to cheat the system in a major way (i.e. murder is difficult).

      • Anon. says:

        >They pointed out that I was inconsistently privileging my reality-perceiving organ (my brain) over my moral-perceiving organ (again, my brain).

        I don’t think this is a reasonable objection.

        First of all, to the realist morals are part of reality so what privileging are we talking about?

        Second, we understand the organs that perceive the world quite well: vision works by photons hitting photosensitive cells, and similarly for taste, touch, hearing and so on. If we can perceive morals, where is the organ? The burden of proof is on the realist to show where it is located and how it functions.

        Third, there is widespread agreement on our perception of light, sound, etc. Agreement that is corroborated by devices that perceive the world far better than our crude biological systems can. To the extent that our perceptions of reality are faulty, we can augment them with superior observations through this equipment. Not so for moral facts. There is extremely widespread disagreement about moral facts. How is this explained if we are all perceiving the same thing?

        >How do you decide what you will do each day?

        Without any need of ethics, it’s fairly simple really.

        >But will future generations see my meat-eating as partaking in the big Animal Holocaust of pre-2100? And will they be right?

        Who cares? There are billions of people alive today who think you’re living immorally, you don’t even need to look to the future for condemnation.

        • Ruben says:

          Reasonable objection or not: It is entirely possible, that I’m less adept at raising the objection than those two professors could in the course of a whole week of intense discussion. My argument is partially that I had the same position to begin with and the same arsenal of arguments, but was still convinced. May not be particularly convincing.

          1. I used reality casually here. My fact/is-perceiving organ vs my morals/ought-perceiving organ should be clearer. I do think that in this conception is and ought are and can be separate domains of reality.

          2. We understand eyes well, but your eyes are not how you perceive facts, your brain does that (with non-negligible input from your eyes). We don’t actually understand brains all that well, but we know it’s possible to feed brains artificial information (e.g. bionic eye) and they make sense of it. There’s no way around brain in a vat except making an assumption. Moral intuition in the brain can be researched (and that sort of research happens), but I don’t think it’s pertinent to the argument we’re having. The leading analogy isn’t sight, apparently, but math (but other commenters have pointed this out, so I won’t repeat it).

          3. That is also my main hangup. Seeing you make this point makes it easier to point out the possible error of reasoning than when I think about it on my own, so thanks. I think what you’re drawing up here is a false equivalency between basic facts and complex moral inferences.

          People don’t agree widely on anthropogenic global warming, the existence of a God, the age of the earth, whether politician x or y is more competent, who caused a traffic accident.
          They tend to agree on whether a bus is red or green (but some blind and colourblind people will have to abstain, but we posit that the bus is still the colour it is even though they cannot agree with us) and usually agree that a house is bigger than a mouse (but hey some people are crazy).

          Similarly, people tend to agree that killing your mother for fun is bad, that having sex with your brother is bad, that eating faeces is bad. Probably fairness and loyalty are also pretty agreed-upon. I’m guessing your background isn’t psychology, but there is some okay research on moral universals, i.e. cross-culturally widely accepted moral truths. Similar research also demonstrate quite universal agreement on some aesthetic things (pretty ladies, sounds, sights, tastes). And again, if there’s some morally blind or colourblind people, that does not mean everybody else is wrong. Google e.g. moral foundations by Haidt (not that I particularly endorse that).

          So, different reasoning capabilities (if killing humans feels bad, why is that? Because they feel pain? Hey, slugs feel pain. Don’t kill slugs vs. Because they will be missed. Hey, slugs don’t care about each other. You can kill slugs.), different knowledge about the facts of the world (i.e. you thought your brother was a stranger) can lead to disagreement about non-basic moral truths. And yes, which truths are “basic” may be a question of empirical research.

          > billions of people alive today who think you’re living immorally

          I have access to way more information and slightly more reasoning capability than billions of people and worry about their opinion as much as I worry about being wrong about facts (i.e. more when they are smart and know stuff).
          I’m talking about people in the future who have access to way more information and more reasoning capability than me. I am for example fairly sure that people who treated slaves badly but non-slaves well made an error of reasoning somewhere, but people as smart as Aristotle believed in natural slavery.

          > Without any need of ethics, it’s fairly simple really.
          That’s not really an answer to my question, I think. How do you decide what to do?

    • Eli says:

      Regarding (1), there’s an entire thing called “moral naturalism”, which says that moral properties are scientifically examinable natural properties. And as to the rest, well, I’m not a utilitarian.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      1. This completely fails to understand what moral facts are. Moral facts are abstract concepts. I believe someone else pointed out that they are analogous to 1+1+2 in Peano Arithmetic. Saying physicists can’t detect moral facts is as absurd as saying they can’t detect pluses, equals, and minuses. Our moral fact sensing organ is the abstract reasoning portions of our brain.

      2. Again, same place other abstract concepts come from. The abstract reasoning portions of our brain. Abstract concepts have the interesting property of being objective, but also only existing in the minds that conceive of them.

      3. I suppose they are, in the sense that 1+1=2 is composed of 1, +, =, and 2. Similarly, the moral concept of “fairness” is composed of components like “Proportionality,” “equal,” “between,” and “people.”

      4. People seem to do okay with our fuzzy, imprecise approximations of VNM utility functions.

      5. Same way you do it with a normal VNM utility function. Utility*probability.

      6. Interpersonal utility comparisons are ridiculously easy. You just use a special human ability called “empathy.” Our empathy seems to contain a built in normalizing assumption for different utility functions so they can be compared.

      I’ve never understood why anyone finds interpersonal utility comparison problems to be a valid argument against utilitarianism. To fix that bug you just need to replace “maximize aggregate utility” with “make a normalizing assumption consistent with the normalizing assumptions normal human empathy makes, then maximize aggregate utility.”

      Also, I should mention I am a motivational externalist. A lot of your arguments seem to presuppose motivation internalism. Please avoid doing that if you reply to this.

      • Anon. says:

        >Moral facts are abstract concepts.

        Obviously not to the moral realist, that’s the whole point of realism. The realist business collapses if moral facts are not mind-independent. The idea is you say moral facts *actually* exist, and in return you are allowed to say “x is good” and have that be a proposition.

        Your conception of morality as simply abstract ideas in our heads is anti-realist and non-cognitivist (or perhaps realist subjectivism but let’s not go there) and definitely doesn’t support utilitarianism: if we’re purely talking about ideas in our heads, then “x is good” means something like “I like x”, standard expressivism.

        A simple proof by contradiction: Right now I am simultaneously holding the abstract ideas “killing babies is good” and “killing babies is evil” in my mind. Given your conception of moral facts as simply abstract ideas in minds, they must both be real and true.

        >Saying physicists can’t detect moral facts is as absurd as saying they can’t detect pluses, equals, and minuses.

        Yup. That’s why I’m a mathematical anti-realist.

        >People seem to do okay

        How would you know?

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          Your conception of morality as simply abstract ideas in our heads is anti-realist and non-cognitivist

          It’s definitely cognitivist. It’s possible to be right or wrong about moral facts the same way it’s possible to be wrong about what 1+1 equals, or about what the probability of something is.

          It actually fits quite well with conventional notions of morality that moral facts are not physical objects. If they were at that would imply that you could make torture okay by finding the moral facts, breaking them apart, and reassembling them into a new configuration. And that’s obviously absurd. We’ve known that that’s absurd since Plato.

          I’m not sure this is anti-realist either. The idea that moral facts are not physical objects has been around since the Ancient Greeks, and they weren’t anti-realists.

          The realist business collapses if moral facts are not mind-independent.

          Moral facts are mind independent. 1+1=2 is true no matter what mind is thinking about Peano arithmetic. It’s true regardless of whether I do it, Matt Damon does it, Genghis Khan, or Glarzag the Rigellian does it.

          if we’re purely talking about ideas in our heads, then “x is good” means something like “I like x”, standard expressivism.

          No it doesn’t. You’re confusing the fact that abstract concepts only exist in the minds that compute them with the idea that preferences are subjective. It’s possible for something to be objective, and also only exist in the minds that compute it.

          To help illustrate this look at the following statement: “The psychopath knew that killing people was wrong, but he didn’t care. He liked doing the wrong thing, not the right thing.”

          There’s nothing inherently contradictory with that statement, it describes reality. In real life some psychopaths have made statements like “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t care.” But it doesn’t make sense under a subjectivist, expressivist account of morality. To an expressivist, that would be like saying “The psychopath liked what he was doing, but didn’t like what he was doing.”

          My cognitivist account of objective morality makes accurate predictions about reality that expressivism and other non-cognitivist accounts do not. Under my theory, it is perfectly possible for people to know something is wrong, but not care (which, again, is something that has been repeatedly documented as happening in real life). Under expressivism, it isn’t. Expressivism has been falsified by the evidence. In order to believe in it I would have to reject empiricism.

          A simple proof by contradiction: Right now I am simultaneously holding the abstract ideas “killing babies is good” and “killing babies is evil” in my mind. Given your conception of moral facts as simply abstract ideas in minds, they must both be real and true.

          No it just means that you simultaneously have a true idea and a false idea in your head. I simultaneously am holding the ideas “1+1=2” and “1+1=9,545” in my head. Both ideas aren’t true. One of them is true, the other is false.

          How would you know?

          Because people make decisions all the time, and are satisfied with the results more often than not. I am more frequently satisfied with the results of my decisions since I tried to be more VNM-like in my thinking. Other people have been as well.

          • Anon. says:

            >No it just means that you simultaneously have a true idea and a false idea in your head. I simultaneously am holding the ideas “1+1=2” and “1+1=9,545” in my head. Both ideas aren’t true. One of them is true, the other is false.

            And how do you determine which one is true and which is false?

            1+1=2 is true by definition, are you saying the same is true of morality? That utilitarianism is somehow true by definition?

            In that case, isn’t “maximizing utility is good” just a tautology? What would you say to someone who thinks “following the teachings of Jesus is good”? You can hardly tell them their definition of good is mistaken…

            >If they were at that would imply that you could make torture okay by finding the moral facts, breaking them apart, and reassembling them into a new configuration. And that’s obviously absurd.

            I completely agree, hence my parthood attack angle.

            >Because people make decisions all the time, and are satisfied with the results more often than not.

            That’s just repeating the same thing, it still makes no sense. The utilitarian doesn’t aim for personal satisfaction, she aims for maximum utility. Utilitarian A tries to maximize utility by saving cows, utilitarian B tries to maximize utility by saving African kids. But at least one of them must be wrong, at least one of them did NOT do the utility-maximizing thing and perhaps should actually feel super bad (we are in a consequentialist mode of thought, yes? your intentions don’t matter one bit). The only thing that saves their conscience is the inability to measure.

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            1+1=2 is true by definition, are you saying the same is true of morality? That utilitarianism is somehow true by definition?

            It’s not that it’s true by definition. Morality isn’t just about how we define words. It’s that morality is a concept, or set of concepts, about which actions and states of affairs are good. I’m talking about concepts like fairness, welfare of others, etc. The word itself doesn’t matter, if you used the word “gazornenplatz” to refer to the concept instead of “good” it would still be the same concept.

            It easier to make sense of it if you use a specific moral concept like “fairness,” rather than the more nebulous “good.” Fairness is a moral concept involving equity, proportionality, etc. So if someone says that it is fair that they should get all the food while everyone else starves, they are simply wrong. Them getting all the food isn’t equitable or proportionate. Either they’re mistaken about what the concept of “fairness” entails, or they are using the word to refer to a totally different concept.

            Utilitarianism is the belief system derived from understanding and following basic moral concepts like “fairness” correctly, the same way you can derive complex mathematical systems from fairly simple axiomatic concepts.

            Also, morality is not the same as “your preferences, values, and/or desires.” This is evidenced again, by the fact that there are people who know what they are doing is wrong, but don’t care. These people understand what the abstract concepts like “good” represent, but are not motivated to increase goodness. When we refer to our “moral values” we mean that we value morality. It is possible for someone to not value morality, but still understand the concept.

            What would you say to someone who thinks “following the teachings of Jesus is good”? You can hardly tell them their definition of good is mistaken…

            I’d tell them they made a mistake similar to a multiplication error, or a more complex mistake that involves incorrectly extrapolating from the basic concepts of morality the same way one can incorrectly extrapolate mathematical concepts.

            They don’t actually have a different definition of good than I do. They just made some mistakes when they were extrapolating what was good. We’re both reaching for the same concept. If this wasn’t the case it wouldn’t be possible to persuade people through moral reasoning.

            Although, let’s be honest, it isn’t that big a mistake. A lot of the teachings of Jesus, like “love thy neighbor as thyself,” are derived from the same foundations of equity and welfare as utilitarianism.

            This is another piece of empirical evidence in favor of my theory. People make the same predictable mistakes when engaging in moral reasoning, and draw similar conclusions. They can often be argued out of those mistakes in predictable ways. This suggests that they are all reaching for the same concept, or family of concepts. If my theory was false people would make random moral judgements with no relation to each other.

            That’s just repeating the same thing, it still makes no sense. The utilitarian doesn’t aim for personal satisfaction, she aims for maximum utility.

            I don’t mean “satisfaction” as in “the feeling one gets when one’s emotional needs are being met.” I mean satisfaction as in “the belief that one’s goals are being met more effectively than they were before.”

            I can see you making an argument against moral realism and cognitivism. But arguing that, regardless of whether that is true or not, we shouldn’t represent our values as Von Neumann-Morgenstern utility functions seems bizarre to me. There are lots of arguments for VNM utility-maximization. The Money Pump/Dutch Book Argument is probably the most famous, you should look it up.

            Utilitarian A tries to maximize utility by saving cows, utilitarian B tries to maximize utility by saving African kids. But at least one of them must be wrong, at least one of them did NOT do the utility-maximizing thing and perhaps should actually feel super bad

            Yes, one of them is wrong. But I don’t think one of them should feel bad. If you make an honest mistake about what the utility maximizing thing is, and instead do something that increases utility slightly less, that doesn’t seem worth feeling guilty over. It might be worthwhile to feel guilty if you make such a huge mistake that you decrease utility instead of increasing it. But it doesn’t see warranted to feel guilty for increasing utility slightly less than was possible, especially if it’s an honest mistake.

            Remember that from a utilitarian perspective, guilt is only good to feel if it motivates you to do better in the future. If you did the best you could except for one honest, understandable mistake, feeling guilty is just inflicting pointless suffering on yourself for no reason, because you’ll probably do just as well in the future as you would without it.

            I’d rather have my conscience be saved by admitting I did my best, and I will continue trying to do my best in the future, than by measurement errors.

          • Anon. says:

            Alright, so:

            * Morality is not true by definition.
            * Moral facts exist, and they do so independently of minds.
            * Moral facts are not physical.
            * The “abstract reasoning portion of our brain” senses moral facts.

            Is this some sort of dualism then? Are you trying to say that moral facts exist on a different “plane”, and the brain has access to this? Like Plato’s forms? Can a machine with abstract reasoning abilities sense moral facts?

          • Daniel Kendrick says:

            @Anon.

            You seem to be thinking in a very bizarre, concrete-bound way.

            I am not a utilitarian at all. But all they are alleging is that utilitarianism is real in the exact same way any abstract idea is real.

            Hamlet is a real play. True, it only exists insofar as conscious beings interpret certain motions of human bodies as being performances of Hamlet. Yet it is obviously real (a real play, not a real historical event). I didn’t just make up a play that does not exist, such as Hamlet II: Electric Boogaloo.

            Now, if you were the most concrete-bound person imaginable (or David Hume), you might wander around saying, “All right, I see this moment of the performance and that moment, but where is the Hamlet? I don’t see any Hamlet particles. I can’t find them with a microscope. Hamlet must be a myth.”

            The Hamlet-ness does not derive from any kind of special particles floating around; it is an abstraction. Namely, it specifies what all the scenes of the performance have in common: that they are scenes of a play called Hamlet. If you think that the scenes are from Othello, you are objectively wrong. There is a fact of the matter, and the fact is that they are from Hamlet. (The logical relation here does not change if we swap the names of the plays.)

            You seem to be acting as like if something is not a basic ontological category, it is not “really real”. That is a mistake.

            I am, in fact, a dualist, but this is only dualistic to the extent that any abstract thought whatsoever requires dualism. (It does, but that’s not the point at issue.)

            Moreover, the brain does not “sense” moral facts any more than it “senses” whether a scene is from Hamlet or Othello. The brain senses facts and classifies them morally using the faculty of abstract thought, in exactly the same way as it senses motions of actors and classifies them as scenes in one play or another.

            Finally, the problem I have with Ghatanathoah’s defense of utilitarianism is that he seems to think we can take lay concepts like “fairness”,”goodness”, or whatever; and extrapolate them out to a coherent theory of ethics—let alone that this is utilitarianism.

            In my view, this is like taking scenes from Othello, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing; and asking what one play they are from. They are not from any one play. End of story.

          • Anon. says:

            >I am not a utilitarian at all. But all they are alleging is that utilitarianism is real in the exact same way any abstract idea is real.

            Clearly this is not the case, he’s also saying that some ideas are “true” while others are “false” and that utilitarianism is “true”. The abstract idea of Hamlet is not truth-apt at all.

            Abstract ideas are mind-bound. Ghatanathoah said “Moral facts are mind independent.”

            Statements about a performance of Hamlet can be judged to be true or false based on examination of physical reality. If someone says “this is a scene from Hamlet”, you check your copy of the play and find the scene in there and conclude that is true. What is the equivalent of that for “the best moral action is the one that maximizes utility”? How can I check whether that is a true or false statement?

          • blacktrance says:

            there are people who know what they are doing is wrong, but don’t care. These people understand what the abstract concepts like “good” represent, but are not motivated to increase goodness.

            They know that they’re doing “wrong” as described by many people’s moral intuitions or ethical theories, but they don’t believe that it’s actually wrong, because believing that entails believing that one ought not to perform the particular act, which would lead them to not do it. Saying something like “X is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway” only makes sense if “wrong” is used as an anthropological judgment (e.g. “other people would describe this as ‘wrong'”, “according to commonly accepted principles this is ‘wrong'”), not as a moral judgment.

          • onyomi says:

            @Blacktrance

            “…but they don’t believe that it’s actually wrong, because believing that entails believing that one ought not to perform the particular act, which would lead them to not do it.”

            What about failures of will power? I might think it is morally wrong to cheat on my wife yet still do it and feel bad about it.

          • blacktrance says:

            That’s a fair counterexample. It’d be more accurate to say that believing an act is wrong entails believing that one ought not to perform that act, so one won’t will to perform it. “I know it’s wrong, but I’ll do it anyway” is willing to perform it, so it’s incompatible with a belief in the wrongness of the act.

    • Exa says:

      I wish to note a typo: you wrote an objection to moral realism, and then accidentally used the word ‘utilitarianism’ (well, for points 1-4, at least. 5 and 6 are reasonably relevant to utilitarianism, too)

      • Anon. says:

        Realism is a necessary prerequisite for utilitarianism, so any attack on realism is an attack on utilitarianism. Obviously it’s an attack on other things as well but this place is crawling with utilitarians so that’s what I’m focusing on.

        • Protagoras says:

          Was Hume a moral realist?

          • Anon. says:

            Nope.

            “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, […] Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No.”

            “All this is metaphysics, you cry. That is enough; there needs nothing more to give a strong presumption of falsehood. Yes, reply I, here are metaphysics surely; but they are all on your side, who advance an abstruse hypothesis, which can never be made intelligible, nor quadrate with any particular instance or illustration. The hypothesis which we embrace is plain. It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary.”

            Straight-forward anti-realist non-cognitivism.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Follow-up question: was the author of these words a utilitarian?

            It appears to be matter of fact, that the circumstance of UTILITY, in all subjects, is a source of praise and approbation: That it is constantly appealed to in all moral decisions concerning the merit and demerit of actions: That it is the SOLE source of that high regard paid to justice, fidelity, honour, allegiance, and chastity: That it is inseparable from all the other social virtues, humanity, generosity, charity, affability, lenity, mercy, and moderation: And, in a word, that it is a foundation of the chief part of morals, which has a reference to mankind and our fellow-creatures.

          • Anon. says:

            No. While Hume does use the word “utility”, it is not meant in the sense of “numerical value of pleasure – numerical value of pain”, but in the sense of “usefulness” or expediency. i.e. morality not as a goal in itself, but a means to achieve societal goals. Also, Hume is not justifying morality by virtue of its usefulness, simply explaining how it arises.

            Hume’s very close to Nietzsche here.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Your definition is too restrictive– it leaves out utilitarians who take preference-satisfaction or human flourishing as the summum bonum, including, at least at some points in their careers, both Mill and Singer. The second point has more merit. We can draw a distinction between (N)ormative-Utilitarianism, the thesis (roughly) that we ought to act so as to maximize utility, and (D)escriptive-Utilitarianism, the thesis that moral judgments are chiefly motivated by or reduce to judgments of utility. Hume will come out a D-Utilitarian but not an N-Utilitarian on this classification.

          • Anon. says:

            >Hume will come out a D-Utilitarian

            Perhaps, in a limited sense…he doesn’t give a crap about non-human utility, for example. One passage that could support such a view is:

            “Utility is only a tendency to a certain end; and were the end totally indifferent to us, we should feel the same indifference towards the means. It is requisite a sentiment should here display itself, in order to give a preference to the useful above the pernicious tendencies. This sentiment can be no other than a feeling for the happiness of mankind, and a resentment of their misery; since these are the different ends which virtue and vice have a tendency to promote.”

            But again this is purely descriptive/explanatory…he’s just saying that happiness is something that virtue promotes, and virtue is:

            “The hypothesis which we embrace is plain. It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary.”

            In plain words: it feels good to improve happiness in others, because this is societally useful, and therefore we have constructed moral systems that promote this. When we follow this system, we gain the pleasure of approval from others, a sort of incentive mechanism. If he were born later he would formulate this in terms of evolutionary psychology (and it would not be right, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamiltonian_spite for one counter-example).

            BUT! Crucially: we’re already there. He’s not saying we need to fundamentally change how we live and donate everything we earn, he’s providing a description of things as they already are. This is radically different from anything that is recognizable as “utilitarianism” in the contemporary sense.

            As for being an anti-realist and still taking utility maximization as the summum bonum, see the discussion above with Alejandro.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Anon, OK, so we’re agreed that Hume is an anti-realist. I see that Earthly Knight has already asked the obvious follow up question, and I have to say I’m not impressed by your responses. Hume was certainly a utilitarian. Your evidence to the contrary seems to consist of a dubious interpretation of Hume’s use of the word “utility,” plus the fact that Hume failed to advocate what you seem to take to be core utilitarian principles (“donate everything you earn,” etc.), never mind that neither Bentham nor Mill advocated those alleged core principles either (or are they perhaps also not utilitarians?)

          • Anon. says:

            There’s nothing dubious about my reading, it’s plain English. The Enquiry Concerning Principles of Morals even has a section called “Why Utility Pleases”. Utility in the utilitarian sense IS pleasure, it doesn’t CAUSE pleasure — obviously he’s talking about something completely different. It’s crystal clear that the argument he is presenting is this: being societally useful (utility!) leads to pleasure by way of approbation.

            “It seems so natural a thought to ascribe to their utility the praise, which we bestow on the social virtues”

            i.e.: social virtues should be praised because they are useful. Nothing to do with pleasure – pain.

            I don’t know about Mill, but Bentham was extremely similar to today’s utilitarians. He made practical plans for charity on a mass scale, at least within his own country, see Tracts On Poor Laws And Pauper Management. Similarly on animals: “The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny.” The tiny differences that remain are simply a matter of opinion and his 18th century culture.

            —-
            And a bit more on the Hume-Nietzsche relationship:

            “Heroism, or military glory, is much admired by the generality of mankind. They consider it as the most sublime kind of merit. Men of cool reflection are not so sanguine in their praises of it. The infinite confusions and disorder, which it has caused in the world, diminish much of its merit in their eyes. When they would oppose the popular notions on this head, they always paint out the evils, which this supposed virtue has produced in human society; the subversion of empires, the devastation of provinces, the sack of cities. As long as these are present to us, we are more inclined to hate than admire the ambition of heroes. But when we fix our view on the person himself, who is the author of all this mischief, there is something so dazzling in his character, the mere contemplation of it so elevates the mind, that we cannot refuse it our admiration. The pain, which we receive from its tendency to the prejudice of society, is over-powered by a stronger and more immediate sympathy.”

            “The characters of Caesar and Cato, as drawn by Sallust, are both of them virtuous, in the strictest sense of the word; but in a different way: Nor are the sentiments entirely the same, which arise from them. The one produces love; the other esteem: The one is amiable; the other awful: We could wish to meet with the one character in a friend; the other character we would be ambitious of in ourselves.”

            What kind of Benthamite is this, filled with admiration for the heroic and praising the “awful” Cato? Ha! Hume is but an ahistorical Nietzsche.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Anon, You cite the section on “Why Utility Pleases” as if it in some way supported your point. If you believe that it does, then you have misread it so completely that I cannot possibly imagine how to express its points in a way you would understand. I mean, it’s all about the relationship between different kinds of pleasure, and particularly why for various reasons (both self-interested and those involving the faculty of sympathy) people are concerned about pleasure of others as well as their own, but Hume is quite clear about all that and yet you seem to somehow read it as making something other than pleasure (I have no idea what) fundamental.

    • Urstoff says:

      Utilitarianism (or consequentialism in general) is a useful moral heuristic for certain situations, just like duty-based ethics, right-based ethics, and virtue ethics. What’s odd to me is when people take any one of these as the only possible moral heuristic without arguing for it at both the ethical and meta-ethical level. Hedonic utilitarianism (and it’s bizarro form in anti-natalism) are both cases of the utilitarian heuristic applied inappropriately. What is the appropriate application of a moral heuristic? It’s when we can come to some sort of compromise between our moral intuitions (which obviously vary across individuals and cultures) and our factual commitments. Everyone in their everyday lives uses lots of various moral considerations that come from each moral tradition. This seems to me as it should be. Maybe ethical contextualism is a thing, and if so, I’ll vote in favor of it.

  9. AnonymousCoward says:

    And here I thought the title was a Unix pun. I was thinking “popen is for starting processes, not threads, sheesh”.

    • J says:

      Yeah, race conditions are a real concern with a thread popen().

      To test that, you could write a threading test called T_test, something like this:

      import threading
      import subprocess
      import sys

      class T_test(threading.Thread):
        def __init__(self):
          self.stdout = None
          self.stderr = None
          threading.Thread.__init__(self)

        def run(self):
          p = subprocess.Popen(‘echo Doge’.split(),
            shell=False,
            stdout=subprocess.PIPE,
            stderr=subprocess.PIPE)

          self.stdout, self.stderr = p.communicate()

      while True:
        threads = []
        for i in xrange(10):
          t = T_test()
          threads.append(t)
          t.start()

        for i in xrange(10):
          threads[i].join()
          if threads[i].stdout == ‘Doge\n’:
            print “OK”
          else:
            print “Failed!”
          sys.exit(1)

      It may take a while to produce an error, so while cuddling with a person of the appropriate gender, one tails T_test and waits for vindication.

    • Quinn says:

      Same.

    • anin says:

      heh, yeah me too.

  10. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    In response to the reproducibility crisis, the Anti-Democracy Activist suggests replacing social science with social engineering. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. He’s basically arguing that social change should be approached very slowly and conservatively, with extensive safety and stress testing, rather than pushing whatever the latest fad in academia is.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      In practice we do this already. Obamacare is probably the biggest change of the decade, but if you plot health care policies in some abstract possibility-space, or even in a space bounded by the health care policies of all the different countries of the world, Obamacare was a tiny tiny barely visible step through that space. A better suggestion might be to implement things on smaller levels (eg single states or cities) and run controlled experiments before universalizing them. But sometimes that’s really hard.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Scott Alexander:
        “A better suggestion might be to implement things on smaller levels (eg single states or cities) and run controlled experiments before universalizing them.”

        Note that this is exactly why Obamacare is constructed as it is. Massachuesetts implemented what was essentially the same plan. It worked. Obama proposed replicating it it nationwide.

        • Obamacare involved a lot of moving pieces besides what we had in the Massachusetts law.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Andrew Clough:
            I think you need some sort of citation to back that up.

            I have seen many credible sources (here is one of them) describe them as essentially the same.

            Now, can you just take the Romneycare bill and substitute “US” everywhere “Massachusetts” is used? No. But I don’t think that is the level the bar is at.

            The effect of Obamacare is to roll Romneycare out to all 50 states, individually. Each state might do it slightly differently, and there is freedom in the law to allow that kind of tailoring or experimentation, but the system enacted, and its effects are essentially the same.

            And they are certainly similar enough to believe the claims that Obamacare was modeled on the successfully implemented Romneycare, which is the system that Scott was proposing.

            In fact, I wonder if Scott was trying to be subtle here and I ruined it for him.

          • They’re certainly related, but even the source you cited listed a number of differences. Basically all the cost control stuff in Obamacare, for instance, wasn’t there in Massachusetts. But of course as a Massachusetts resident part of the reason I voted for Obama rather than Hillary is that I liked Obama’s healthcare plan better than Hillary’s. It’s a shame it ended up being her plan that he embraced.

          • stubydoo says:

            Romneycare vs. Obamacare –

            So there are some differences. One or more of these differences has to be a thing which turned a supposedly good law (Romneycare) into a supposedly bad law (Obamacare). Sure there’s always going to a bunch of technical minutiae going on in any such law, but if it were any other context folks would all (rightly) ignore such details and worry about the actually impactful stuff.

            Unfortunately, your typical rank-and-file Obamacare hater is not careful about separating the effects of the differences versus effects that were already present in Romneycare.

            However, do not despair, thankfully there is someone on hand to provide clarity, someone who is firmly aware of the differences between Romneycare and Obamacare. HIs name is Mitt Romney.

            Way back in 2009-2010 or so he provided the answer (by the 2012 campaign however the emerging political necessities had forced him to switch to a combination of vagueness and just plain abandoning his own law).

            Romney’s original (and perfectly accurate) answer: Medicare cuts.
            (there might have also been stuff about other cost-cutting measures, I can’t remember).

            So, the original “Romneycare good, Obamacare bad” position basically reduces to “the problem with Obamacare is that it just plain doesn’t burn enough taxpayer dollars”.

            (OK perhaps there are some technically legitimate differences between those two positions, but in the absurdly unlikely event that such differences actually played a role in your decision making process, you of course recognize how lonely your position is and find all the anti-Obamacare discourse every bit as disgusting as I do).

            The Republican party rode a wave of outrage at Obama being excessively fiscally conservative all the way to a congressional majority in the 2010 election, and they are still today riding the momentum from that even though they have since shifted though approximately a dozen other mutually-contradictive consensuses about the reason why Obamacare is bad.

          • Mary says:

            Whoops, misplaced.

        • Mary says:

          Romneycare was 70 pages

          Obamacare was 2,074 pages

          Claiming they are the same does not pass the laugh test.

          Furthermore you need more details when claiming it “worked.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mary:
            I will try to engage, but based on the way this comment is written, and past history, I don’t have high hopes.

            “Romneycare was 70 pages

            Obamacare was 2,074 pages”

            Someone help me. This is a logical fallacy, and I assume it fits into some well known fallacy. It’s seems like an implied appeal to the stone. Just because something needs more pages to implement legislatively doesn’t mean that the two programs are not substantially the same.

            I can describe hammering in a nail using one sentence or several paragraphs. That does not mean the two descriptions don’t describe the same action.

            “Furthermore you need more details when claiming it “worked.””

            Are you saying that Romneycare did not work? Or are you confused and believe that my post claimed that Obamacare worked?

          • Mary says:

            Ockham’s Razor says that if one thing is THIRTY TIMES as long as another, the burden of proof is entirely on those who claim they are really the same. Yes, if you write thirty sentences about hammering in a nail, I think it would be substantially different than one (assuming the same length.)

            “Are you saying that Romneycare did not work? ”

            You asserted that it did. Burden of proof is on you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mary:
            “You asserted that it did. Burden of proof is on you.”

            I don’t dispute this, but I did want to be sure I understood the actual objection.

            I won’t offer a general assessment at this time, but merely point out that whether RomneyCare worked or not is not a typical point of contention. Romney certainly though that it worked.

            Regardless, whether RomneyCare is/was actually working is not even the correct objection. Scott suggested a model of try something and see if it works, then increase the usage. Because RomneyCare was perceived to be working, it pattern matches.

            Unless you are claiming that Democrats wanted to try a model that they perceived to have been tried and not to be working.

            As to the bill length contention, and the nail example, consider:

            “Hammer in the nail”

            and

            “Hammer in the nail, by holding it between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and striking it with the head of the hammer held in your right hand. If your dominant hand is your left hand, substitute left for right in the previous sentence. Apply an initial blow to set the nail. Use enough force to set the nail, but not so much force as to risk missing the nail head or disturbing the angle of the nail. Attempt to strike so the surface of the head of the hammer is parallel to the surface of the head of the nail. After the initial blow, assess whether the setting process has driven the nail deeply enough to remove the applied thumb and forefinger. If not, repeat the motion until the nail has been driven at least half way to the point where the surface of the nail head will be flush with the wood. Once the setting process is complete, remove the thumb and forefinger and apply the hammer head to the nail head until the nail head is flush with the wood surface. An experienced carpenter should be able to complete this process with two blows. Those with less experience will require more blows.

            If at any point in the hammering process the nail becomes unaligned with the intended direction of the connection, usually, but not always at a 90 degree angle to the wood surface, assess whether this can be rectified by tapping on the side of the nail using either the side or head of the hammer. Rectify the nail angle or remove the nail. (See Nail Removal)”

            Do those describe different activities?

          • Mary says:

            Romney has a conflict of interest. Also, a lot of people said it was NOT working. And there’s an obvious reason to roll it out even if it’s not working, since it put more power in the hands of the Leviathan.

            Also, yes, those are different things. One is actual directions, the other is directions for idiots. Are you saying that the federal government consists of absolute idiots? It’s not like there could not be a lot of other things swept into the bill. Especially when we were TOLD it had to be passed to find out what was in it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mary:
            I did not ask if the instructions were different.

            I asked if they described two different things, or whether they describe the same thing.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Those extra sentences may matter dearly. If you accidentally include a sentence about holding my thumb on top of the nail in certain states and forget to tell me to pull that thumb out, why, I might have quite a sore thumb unless the Supreme Court edits your instructions for you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @A Beta Guy:
            That would just mean the instructions were in error. A mistake in instructions is quite different than attempting to describe a reality that is different. I believe the phrase “the map is not the territory” is a standard invocation at this point.

            And note that this is not a problem with the specific example I gave.

          • Lupis42 says:

            HBC:

            One obvious difference is that this tells me to put both the head of the hammer and the nail into my left hand:

            “Hammer in the nail, by holding it between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and striking it with the head of the hammer held in your right hand. If your dominant hand is your left hand, substitute left for right in the previous sentence.”

            That’s very different from what I would have done if you hadn’t spelled it out.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @lupis42:
            Either I don’t understand what you are saying, or you are misreading what I wrote.

            Nail in left hand
            Hammer in right hand
            (unless left-handed, in which case switch)

            And again, any mistake in the instructions does not mean a difference in activity.

            Slight differences in execution due to more explicit instruction (for instance, making sure the nail stays straight as you nail it) are frequently the reason for more explicit instructions, so that actual intention will be carried out, rather than assumed to be done correctly.

            Obviously the nail and hammer example is simplified and pedantic. The purpose is to establish the principle that more explicit instructions or descriptions do not equal different activities.

          • The Smoke says:

            @Mary:
            You NEED TO STOP abusing Okham’s Razor for concrete arguments where it just makes you sound clever but where applying it doesn’t make any sense at all.

          • Lupis42 says:

            @HeelBearCub – I’m not disputing that you intend to describe the same activity, but it doesn’t create the same impression in my mind.
            In particular, what I noticed is: you specified hold the nail in the left hand, then specified hold the hammer in the right hand unless left handed, in which case use the left instead. That means that, if left handed, I need to hold the hammer in my left hand, and I still need to hold the nail in my left hand.
            You also stated the instructions in a way that implied that the head of the hammer should be held in the hand.
            It also precludes my use of a two-handed sledgehammer, robotic hammer, and nailgun, requires that I hold the nail in my left hand, rather than with pliers or some other holding device, and generally suggests that you’re much more concerned with the details of the process than you are with the result.

            The point I’m trying to get at here is that the extra instructions have an effect – and that effect can dramatically change with the degree of specificity even if the nominal goal is held fixed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @lupis42:
            On left vs. right, the implied “and vice-versa” isn’t clearly specified. So, a literal reading can misinterpret what I was saying.

            Which sort of goes to my point, doesn’t it?

            If you think those who are reading the instructions to hammer in the nail might attempt to do so with a sledgehammer, you would be well advised to more clearly specify what type of hammer you actually intend.

            Nonetheless, the mere fact that one description is longer than another, even much longer, is in no way a proof that the two things described are different things.

            Remember, Mary’s original point was that the mere page count of the legislation indicated that the system’s implemented were different.

          • Lupis42 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Which sort of goes to my point, doesn’t it?

            It depends on whether you mean that activities you intend are the same, or the activities I will perform are the same.

            If you think those who are reading the instructions to hammer in the nail might attempt to do so with a sledgehammer, you would be well advised to more clearly specify what type of hammer you actually intend.

            That depends on whether you trust their judgement – if my carpenter was nailing something up in my house and decided to use a sledgehammer. More on this in a moment.

            Nonetheless, the mere fact that one description is longer than another, even much longer, is in no way a proof that the two things described are different things.

            I agree that the same intent can lead to two very different descriptions. I submit that the two descriptions will yield substantially different effects, because the more convoluted description is much more likely to be interpreted literally (why spell it out otherwise) and much more likely to hide impactful details.

            Remember, Mary’s original point was that the mere page count of the legislation indicated that the system’s implemented were different.
            I’d put a fairly high probability (>85%) that the implementations will turn out differently as a consequence of all that extra text, even if we assume that the intent was the same.
            I also think that assuming the intent was the same is a stretch. From the perspective of people who don’t trust the drafters, the existence of all that extra specificity makes it much more plausible that important things are buried in there as if they were irrelevant details.
            From the perspective of the drafters, a lot of that extra specificity is there because they don’t trust the intent or judgement of the implementing red states.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @lupis42:
            Suppose I instruct someone to “hammer in the nail” and they take a sledgehammer, swing full force and crack the lumber in half as well as drive in the nail.

            Your contention appears to be that they have followed my instructions.

            The other way to read your contention is that it is impossible to specify what I mean by “hammer in the nail”. Instructions are like quantum particles, wherein only certain properties can be known at once.

            Regardless of your wanting to refuse to concede that hammering in a nail can be specified in more detail without changing the activity in significant ways, I will continue to contend that it is possible.

            Finally, the difference in expected/likely behavior when presented with the two instruction sets is essentially trivial. The contention that length of legislation is somehow proof that Obamacare is not the implementation of a RomneyCare system nationwide is without merit.

          • Mary says:

            “You NEED TO STOP abusing Okham’s Razor for concrete arguments where it just makes you sound clever but where applying it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

            What a stunning non-sequitor. Are you seriously trying to claim that when “this is much larger than that”, the explanation that does not multiply entities beyond necessity is NOT “this contains stuff that doesn’t”?

          • Mary says:

            “Remember, Mary’s original point was that the mere page count of the legislation indicated that the system’s implemented were different.”

            Mary’s original point was that the vast difference in page count makes it stunningly implausible that they were the same.

            I confess, I did assume that you would realize you would need to back it up with substantive evidence in order to claim it’s still true.

          • Mary says:

            “Regardless of your wanting to refuse to concede that hammering in a nail can be specified in more detail without changing the activity in significant ways, I will continue to contend that it is possible.”

            But the original assertion was that two other description with equal difference in length WERE the same. Not were possibly the same.

            If you asserted that it was possible that Obamacare and Romneycare were the same, that would be a different matter.

            Are the same? That requires stronger evidence that an example that was obviously contrived for the situation.

          • Lupis42 says:

            @HeelBearCub:
            Suppose I instruct someone to “hammer in the nail” and they take a sledgehammer, swing full force and crack the lumber in half as well as drive in the nail.

            Your contention appears to be that they have followed my instructions.

            Yes – they didn’t do what you wanted, but they did what you said. Someone who used a nailgun would have done what you wanted, but not what you said.
            What you wanted is never exactly what you said. What you said didn’t perfectly describe what was done. The map is not the territory.

            The other way to read your contention is that it is impossible to specify what I mean by “hammer in the nail”. Instructions are like quantum particles, wherein only certain properties can be known at once.

            Regardless of your wanting to refuse to concede that hammering in a nail can be specified in more detail without changing the activity in significant ways, I will continue to contend that it is possible.

            It is impossible to specify what you mean in language. No matter how detailed you try to make the map, it will not become the territory. Someone reading your instructions will fill in the gaps with assumptions that may not match yours, and interpret your words in ways that don’t perfectly reflect your intentions.

            The contention that length of legislation is somehow proof that Obamacare is not the implementation of a RomneyCare system nationwide is without merit.

            The length of the legislation reduces the liklihood that the two systems are equivalent substantially. Or do you think that a tax code with 2074 pages is substantially identical to one with 70 pages, because they both implement “a progressive tax system with a top MTR of 35%”?

            There are additional details specified in one that are not specified in the other. They have an effect, that may or may not be what the people who drafted them intended.
            If you’re claiming that the drafters intended to create “RomneyCare, but nationwide”, that’s certainly possible. But (as someone who lived in MA through the whole thing), they didn’t do that. There are differences, and whether or not they are consequential requires evidence. Claiming that they don’t exist is not evidence.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mary:
            I did offer evidence that they are the same (look up thread, under my OP). You have never offered any evidence that the page count means that they are not substantively the same. You make no assertions for how they are different. You simply assert “page count different, therefore the systems are different”.

            @lupis42:
            “It is impossible to specify what you mean in language.”

            I suspected as much. Your contention is that even if a second state were to implement the EXACT SAME language, that one could not even then say that they were implementing the same system.

            This is very different than the “map is not the territory” claim you want to make.

            I believe the logical conclusion on my part should be that ANY conversation with you is pointless.

          • Mary says:

            Nah, you produced people who said it was. People with a conflict of interest. For instance,

            “Unless you are claiming that Democrats wanted to try a model that they perceived to have been tried and not to be working.”

            Why not? It would put more power in their hands regardless of how it worked. Conflict of interest.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mary:
            If your view of the almost 100 year long quest that liberals have been on for universal healthcare in America is that they do this only to put more power in the hand of that state and do not care whether the plan works, I will simply say that you are extremely uncharitable to your ideological opponents. Your position is akin to me taking the position that you are opposed to universal healthcare because you like it when poor people die.

            And I offered a link to Politifact. I’m not sue whether you did not see this, or are accusing them of being a liberal mouthpiece.

          • The Smoke says:

            Ok I will consider your original statement:
            “Ockham’s Razor says that if one thing is THIRTY TIMES as long as another, the burden of proof is entirely on those who claim they are really the same.”
            1. If you put it like this, if something is longer than something else, then it is not the the exact same thing, I agree. This does not require Ockham’s Razor at all.
            2. Obviously, it wasn’t implied that the text in both legislations was exactly the same, but that they largely agree in content. So let us look at this claim.
            3. Now when the one is much much longer than the other one, you might consider this some evidence against them containing the same content.
            4. Using Ockhams Razor, the easiest explanation why one is longer than the other is “it uses more words”. Wow, that helped a lot for determining its content.
            5. Instead, your actual reasoning for deciding they are likely different is based on your experiences and evaluations of different things you read or heard.
            6. So we are in a situation where the quality of the argument or a reliable source is important. If you don’t believe something someone writes on a comment without giving a reference, that is ok, but again it depends on your very complex subconscious assessment of that persons credibility.
            7. Since you didn’t identify all relevant observables and specified the underlying theories you are assessing, Ockham’s razor is not applicable, also this is never the case in any argument that is not about science or metaphysics or something of this sort.

      • Murphy says:

        And off the coast of Texas here we see “Beta Island” where new laws and policies are beta tested.

      • cassander says:

        our system doesn’t experiment, it ratchets. “experiment” implies some ability to stop doing things that don’t work and start doing others that do, we don’t do that. there’s a lot of gum in the gears, but they only turn one way.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Even positing that Romneycare “worked”, it still seems a big step to me.

        If I build one bridge and it seems to work, do I instantly decree that all bridges must be built in exactly the same way?

        If Romneycare was such a win, might not one or two other states have adopted it of their own free will? If it seemed to work well in ten different states, then think about going nationwide — or better still, figure that the other forty will come to see the truth in their own good time.

    • Wrong Species says:

      The problem with taking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” model is that it’s not that simple. Some cultures work better for different people. How should we measure the goodness of one civilization versus another? This isn’t just a problem with bad outcomes, there’s also a problem with different values. Good engineering isn’t going to fix that.

    • Alex says:

      Social (and technological) change is coming from a globally integrated system and our standard of living would be (much?) lower if it wasn’t integrated, so maybe it’s kind of hard to separate out components individually to stress test them?

    • Anonymous says:

      http://studiahumana.com/pliki/wydania/In%20Praise%20of%20Passivity.pdf

      Linking this is normally St. Rev’s job, but I don’t know the last time he was here.

    • I’m not advocating this, but as technology is a really powerful driver of social change, arguably more powerful than many political groups, wouldn’t this require a relatively luddite position to technology, economics and so forth? It always seems like this caution is applied very selectively, especially when capitalism as much as liberalism races ahead with basically uncontrolled cultural experimentation.

      I personally lean towards agreeing with Scott – try/encourage change on smaller scales, study the **** out of the results of the experiments, and then be decisive but also extremely discerning, strategic and surgical about what you import to the mainstream.

      • Nornagest says:

        All else equal, technology is about offering people new stuff that we think they might want (though sometimes stuff that can be used to kill people and break things) and policy is about restricting their options (though sometimes in the service of reallocating resources where we think they’ll do more good). Makes sense to me that we might want to be more conservative about the latter than the former.

        • I don’t strongly agree or disagree, but I still think social conservativism and pro-technology are totally at odds. My own sense is a judge-each-case-by-merit might be superior, rather than being for or against either technology or social change as some kind of blanket rule.

      • There is a human society that treats technology that way—the Amish. Each Amish congregation has a set of rules, their Ordnung. Those rules control, among other things, what technologies the members of that congregation are permitted to use. As best I can tell, the purpose is to avoid those technologies that would subvert their social system.

        For example … . It’s a society based on close social interaction in a relatively small group living close together. Routine use of telephones or automobiles would subvert that system by encouraging a wider network of relationships. Old Order Amish congregations generally forbid their members to own and drive automobiles, although they are permitted to ride in automobiles driven by non-Amish. They generally forbid a telephone in the house, although they may permit a phone in a place of business or one shared by several households and not located in any of their homes.

        The Amish are a pretty successful society–they seem to lose only ten to twenty percent of each generation by exit.

        • Good example, thanks. Sounds like a rational pursuit of exclusively socially conservative goals, even if I’d probably not choose a life like that myself.

    • Mary says:

      And rescinding what doesn’t work?

  11. Max says:

    It’s not just about the cost of offsetting the cost of global warming, but it’s also about the suffering of animals that lose their habitats due to climate change, which makes that calculation much more difficult.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If you offset your carbon, doesn’t that reduce the effects of the extra global warming on animal habitats to zero?

      • Deiseach says:

        If you offset your carbon, doesn’t that reduce the effects of the extra global warming on animal habitats to zero?

        I’m strongly inclined to say “no” because I think carbon offsets, or rather the purchasing of carbon credits, are a massive con job, at least as presently implemented:

        A credible carbon management programme should always include internal reductions, such as reducing energy use, business travel and waste. However, for many businesses there is a point at which the emission reductions that can be achieved through internal reductions are cost-prohibitive or will have a negative impact on performance. It is at this point that a carbon offset programme can deliver greater returns in terms of the emission reductions generated, enabling a business to meet a stretching reduction target immediately and compensate for its environmental impact.

        By purchasing carbon credits to offset their emissions, businesses contribute essential finance to renewable energy, forest protection and reforestation projects around the world that would not otherwise be financially viable. These projects play an important role in the mitigation of climate change.

        solar panels
        Carbon offsetting works by purchasing carbon credits which are sold in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tonnes CO 2e). Projects which sell carbon credits include wind farms which displace fossil fuel, household device projects which reduce fuel requirements for cookstoves and boiling water in low-income households, forest protection from illegal logging, methane capture from landfill gas and agriculture, reforestation for small-hold farmers and run-of-river hydro power and geothermal energy. These projects have to demonstrate that they require carbon finance from the sale of carbon credits in order to be financially viable and achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions.

        Which sounds lovely but in practice means Country A is poor but still has native forests. Country B has massive pollutant-belching smokestacks. Country B can buy carbon offsets by paying Country A to plant more trees and/or not log its native forests for money instead.

        Country B can continue to run its big smokestacks for its industrial economy and keep prices of goods cheaper than its competitors because abra-cadabra, it magically is offsetting the carbon it produces by the trees it is not growing, and Country A can make some money by planting new saplings which – when they come to maturity – will make things all better somehow. You can merrily continue to carbon produce today and get the benefits of carbon reduction tomorrow (if tomorrow ever comes).

        I am too stupid to understand economics and extremely cynical about human nature so probably this is why I was suspicious about how enthusiastic industrial nations were about adopting carbon offsets, i.e. “if it really made a difference to their carbon footprints it would hurt, so they wouldn’t be happy – see the part about ‘negative impact on performance’ – but they’re happy, so it mustn’t really be making a difference”.

        I know it’s a carrot-and-stick approach, but I think there’s too much carrot, not enough stick, and no real means of making countries accountable if they decide “Up yours, we’re not signing up to this crap”.

        Or suppose Country A is getting in money by other countries purchasing carbon credits by paying for reforestation? So it’s in Country A’s economic interests to plant as many carbon credit acres of saplings as possible. If this means the habitat of the endangered Lesser Spotted Boll Weevil gets turned into forestry plantations and the Weevil gets wiped out, too bad for the Weevil because what money for the economy is it producing? Screw you, Boll Weevil, we need to feed our people and that means jobs planting new trees which will probably die because the marshy habitat isn’t suitable for them but who cares, the certificates have been issued, the projects have been signed off on, and the money has been transferred to our exchequer!

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, I’d read about the Russians but I didn’t mention it because maybe Putin reads this blog and do I really want him nuking Scott because Russia’s good name has been impugned and as a manly man national leader Putin must act in a decisive fashion to protect Mother Russia’s honour? 🙂

            “We didn’t expect the problem to be this bad”.

            Seriously, global monitoring and policy advisory committees: give me a job. I will read proposals then roll my eyes, emit snorts of disbelief, and utter a range of phrases such as “You must think I came down in the last shower.”

            Simply pay me enough to clear (after paying my legitimate taxes and PRSI etc. deductions) €300 a week and I will save you all a fortune on the dodgy schemes you are not now going to go ahead with.

            I won’t claim this will save the planet, but it’s not going to fuck it up any worse than it already is, which is already a huge improvement over what you’ve done so far!

            YOU NEED MORE CYNICS, BAH-HUMBUG, AND BELIEVERS IN ORIGINAL SIN IN GOVERANCE!

          • pneumatik says:

            The difficulty is not in finding sufficient cynics in government. Those cynics are there (at least in the subset of government I’ve worked in). The problem is creating a system that incentivizes senior leaders to create subordinates who should listen to the cynics.

      • Max says:

        Couldn’t you get even better outcomes by not eating either AND purchasing carbon offsets (assuming they’re actually an effective means of carbon reduction).

        In other words, even assuming that I will only purchase offsets in exchange for eating meat, I still don’t know whether I should be eating cows or chickens. It just changes my choices to carbon neutral and 1 suffering cow and carbon reduction with 40 suffering chickens. I still don’t know how to calculate the suffering of the species affected by that difference in carbon reduction.

      • Albipenne says:

        A lot of the carbon from raising beef is actually from deforestation to make more farm land. Since trees are both a carbon sink, and pull co2 out of the air, that’s what creates a ton of the net emission change. On top of the climate change it causes, that you’d be offsetting, there’s still the raw loss of forest habitat to deal with if you value animal happiness / suffering.

    • Sastan says:

      What about if we hit ourselves with whips? Will that be enough to offset?

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        To offset something you have to do good, or prevent bad. Doing something bad to yourself would actually make things worse.

    • Anonymous says:

      If some animals lose their habitats while others take their place, is that a bad thing? I suppose the transition might be painful. But then I don’t see why – seems to me it would be more like one species is more successful for a while, one species is less successful for a while, until equilibrium is reached with more of the first species, fewer of the second, and both maintaining their new population size. Unless you expect the effect of global warming to be to make all land less habitable for animals rather than just change how much land is good for which species?

      I think the strongest argument to be made is on the effect not on individual animals, but on number of different species. If you consider species diversity a good thing, then global warming reducing it, which it seems it probably will, is a bad thing. But I don’t think valuing species diversity can be justified on utilitarian grounds, at least not on the behalf of the animals, considering that a species is not a being.

      I think you could justify species diversity on utilitarian grounds on the part of humans – argue that having lots of different kinds of animals exist provides a benefit to people, that it makes them happy to know that there are penguins and tigers, even if they never see them.

      • Max says:

        Well the habitat loss often results in extinction, which itself causes suffering of the animals who are going extinct. That they might be replaced in a few million years doesn’t seem like enough to counteract the pain of extinction.

        • Anonymous says:

          Does an animal that is dying and also its species is going extinct experience more suffering than an animal that is dying but its species isn’t going extinct?

          I suppose I assumed that the replacement would be immediate – grey squirrels outcompeting red squirrels, for example – but of course it might well not be.

          • kerani says:

            the replacement would be immediate

            In the sense that nature abhors a vacuum, yes, something(s) will fill the niche left by the extinct species. The space is likely to be imperfectly filled, however, and there are ripple effects. (See: dodo birds and tambalacoque trees). Nutrients are in short supply in this sad old world of ours, and life will find a way. Many have also suggested that chaos/edges/disruption is the mechanism for new adaptive lifeforms and behaviors.

            It is intuitive, however, that the disruption of extinction of one or more species would be more harmful to the overall life on the planet than the resulting new adaptations are beneficial. I do not know of anything in the literature which supports this.

            Does an animal that is dying and also its species is going extinct experience more suffering than an animal that is dying but its species isn’t going extinct?

            Animals don’t just “die” – they -like humans – contract illness, fail to find enough to eat, and are attacked by things which want to eat them. Things die ill, starving, and chewed up by other things. A declining species has more things dying than are healthy, growing, and reproducing. In the very last stages, many individuals would suffer from loss of reproduction opportunities and lack of same-species companionship. So the *net* misery of a declining species is more than that of a stable or expanding species.

            How that balances out for multiple species (some expanding, some declining) over the long term, and if it matters to the dodo or Dusky Seaside Sparrow in question, I don’t know.

  12. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Abo Elementary School was an underground school built during the Cold War designed to double as a fallout shelter. I find the idea strangely appealing; so long as you are building a public school, might as well make it useful.

    Related: “This place is not a place of honor.” How do we ensure that our nuclear waste remains undisturbed for 10,000 years? I would have thought security through obscurity, but this is just so much cooler. “We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.”

    • NZ says:

      I just got back from a conference where the keynote speaker referenced this exact nuclear waste project. Basically his point was that protecting far-future generations from nuclear waste hazards was a “wicked problem”–i.e. one with no good solution. Any message or construct we come up with now could be misinterpreted by people later.

      It’s an interesting topic because I’m concerned with how the technology we’re designing now (not just AI, but trivial stuff that we don’t expect to have dramatic ramifications but could) will impact us and our society in the future. It’s a very tough puzzle.

      • Murphy says:

        I always took the view that we should assume that future generations aren’t morons.

        Surround the site with normal garbage dumps(they’ll understand the idea of a garbage dump if they’re still remotely human and have 3-digit IQ’s), the further in and deeper you go the more obviously toxic/hazardous the waste with nasty industrial waste and toxic chemicals and gunk.

        Place lots of Rosetta stones explaining clearly in 100+ languages the purpose of the site. Include primers on the Rosetta stones.

        If you’ve just dug through hundreds of meters of increasingly toxic sludge you’re probably going to be a bit paranoid about the next layer, or dead, especially when it turns out to be boring looking barrels with low-level radioactive waste in them in barrels carved with most of the symbols from the earlier layers and then some.

        • NZ says:

          People don’t need to be stupid for our warning efforts to fail.

          For example, you suggest we surround the site with garbage, but societies 10,000 years in the future might value our fossilized garbage as an energy source.

          Literacy could go away (even in advanced societies, due to, say, cyborg technology that allows people to transmit thoughts directly from brain to brain, or the adoption of a single universal language that causes the study of other languages to be a lost art), making Rosetta stones potentially useless.

        • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

          heaps of Rosetta stones and miles of landfill seems like too much of an investment. how many lives per dollar can we reasonably expect to save heee?

          I mean, worst case scenario a bunch of post-post-apocalypse people with no clue what the stuff is break in and play hacky sack with it and maybe a couple dozen of them get sick before they realize that this tomb really is cursed and leave off?

          how many (tens of) millions is it worth sinking into preventing that?

          • NZ says:

            Is that a worst case scenario? Wouldn’t it be worse if these clueless post-post-apocalypsians also had a bunch of powerful tools that allowed them to, say, grind up the mysterious warm metal they found into shavings and distribute it into the drinking water of their whole civilization?

          • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

            if all the people who actually touch the stuff getting sick and dying doesn’t clue them in that that’s a bad idea I don’t think some spooky tablets will either.

          • John Schilling says:

            If it’s noticeably warm and macroscopic in quantity, you’re going to be dying of radiation sickness within hours of drinking that first cup of magic-warm coffee. I don’t see a plausible path to sharing that clever plan with the rest of civilization, or really anything more than one modest social gathering.

          • NZ says:

            The post-post-apocalypsians aren’t digging up the nuclear waste in a vacuum. They’re going in with their own beliefs about cause and effect in the universe. Maybe they feel that digging up things is a bad idea unless you say the big complicated magic words that only those of truest blood can utter properly. The first few who utter the words and open the lid to the nuclear waste get sick and die. The rest are convinced that those first few must not have been of truest blood, and so they send in the next batch of people to do the job right this time…

            They could go through a lot of good people, perhaps even make it a competitive thing on a national scale, before deciding that maybe the nuclear waste is the source of the problem.

          • Murphy says:

            @NZ

            If they’re that foolish then they’re going to get themselves killed chasing cheese ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOyQBSMeIhM ) anyway so the radiation just slightly speeds things up.

            Maybe their society will mandate suicide by radiation at age 70 thus leading to billions of deaths related to the nuclear waste but again, there’s only so much moral culpability you can take for the choices made by other intelligent humans who should have their eyes open.

      • Deiseach says:

        Grave robbers were stealing from the pharaohs as fast as they were buried because never mind the ritual and physically real threat of doom and endangerment, there was money to be made there.

        If people for whatever reason are going to dig up nuclear waste dumps, it will be because they think they can use whatever is there for profit. And money trumps everything.

        One of the reasons ISIS is blowing up ancient monuments such as Palmyra is because they can then loot and sell antiquities. Western markets (whether museums or private collectors) may tut-tut about the disgraceful behaviour, but they’ll snap up “prime exhibit fell off the back of a lorry guv” as fast, and for as much money under the table, as any buyer of goods from a grave robber back in Pharaonic times. Look, people ground up and used actual mummies for everything from medicine to pigments even as late as the 19th century and in as allegedly modern a civilisation as Great Britain (“A London colourman informs me that one Egyptian mummy furnishes sufficient material to satisfy the demands of his customers for twenty years”), and if they didn’t even respect the corpses of the dead and weren’t put off from using them, what do you expect from our descendants two to five hundred years from now?

        • Murphy says:

          If people are willing to dig up industrial waste to use for something at great risk to themselves then I’m happy with simply making a significant effort to let them know what they’re dealing with. I’m sure at some point in future generations some number of people will die somehow digging into normal garbage dumps, if I don’t feel a great need to weep for those people I don’t feel any more need to weep for someone who does the same with nuclear waste.

          • NZ says:

            I think this gets at a deeper point, which is that we often think about how far our loyalty should extend horizontally over human groups, species, etc. But there’s also the matter of how far it should extend forwards and backwards into time.

            I feel a strong desire for my great grandkids (who will probably be born about 60 years in the future) to enjoy a nice life, and I even think of them theoretically sometimes as I’m making decisions or forming opinions right now. It’d be nice if my descendants 600 years in the future were doing well, but I can’t say I lose sleep thinking about it. 6,000 years in the future? It’s fun to think about but pointless to worry about. And so on.

          • Murphy says:

            I’m not totally discounting the value of future lives but beyond a certain point I have to trust other humans to not pass their time by rubbing their genitals on/in bear traps.

            I don’t want to leave landmines for future children to step on but if future-miners and future chemists want to dig up the dangerous materials of the past the best I can do is make a good faith effort to let them know what they might be in for.

            [Some Troll’s Legitimate Discussion Alt] above made a good point.
            “how many lives per dollar can we reasonably expect to save”

            If we spend 1 billion on extra safety steps it would have to save about a million lives because we could make that many lives longer and happier right now with the same money.

          • NZ says:

            Yes, morally speaking I think that’s right: you make a good faith effort. A government the size of ours spending $2,000 on such an effort is not what I’d call “good faith” though that is probably more than enough for an individual of average income. It happens that our government spent millions on the effort, and I think that’s probably fine.

    • NN says:

      To me it seems like the obvious solution is to leave the burial site completely unmarked, then bury the waste so deep that only a civilization advanced enough to know about radioactivity will be able to retrieve it, or even detect that anything is there in the first place. If this future civilization is investigating deep underground bunkers of “those who came before us” without checking for all kinds of danger signs, then they’re bound to stumble onto some kind of dangerous stuff no matter what we do.

      Any warning signs would only draw attention. Natural nuclear reactors seem like a pretty good proof of concept of leaving a nuclear waste burial site unmarked.

      • NZ says:

        I can envision a plausible scenario where an advanced future society creates easy ways to access the deep nuclear waste sites (but are smart enough not to actually access them) but then something happens and society regresses dramatically, so that now they can still easily access the sites but aren’t smart enough to know not to.

        • John Schilling says:

          I’m not seeing it. Future advanced civilization digs shafts to the waste sites, and doesn’t put up warning signs in their own language? Or immediate post-apocalyptic societies can’t read warning signs put up by the most recent advanced civilization?

          Neither of those seem plausible. As I have noted, post-apocalyptic or otherwise “dramatically regressed” societies have a powerful motive for retaining the ability to read the records of prior advanced civilizations.

          • NZ says:

            Imagine that somehow, most humans die except for the population of Brazil. Then, something causes people in the settled parts of Brazil to die too, leaving only the tribal people out in the sticks of the Amazon. Over time they venture out and find the ruins of a civilization they cannot comprehend. To them, bright colors and sharp black shapes could mean extravagance and poise, and so they end up specifically gravitating toward and collecting objects that carry these kinds of symbols. Of course, bright colors and sharp black shapes are exactly the characteristics of warning signs–including those for nuclear waste–in the most recent modern societies.

            Even our most basic symbols carry huge assumptions.

          • Murphy says:

            @NZ You’re sort of treating the humans in this example like magpies. Yes there will be lots of silly people but whenever you have a large group of people together you have at least some who are level-headed and logical who are going to look at the world with more than the the thought “OOOOH! Pretty colors!”

            These people will find the garbage dumps, the shops stocked with guns and ammo, the school chemistry labs and the people who do best are likely to be the ones who make an effort to understand things, who try to learn or the minority who already learned to read from some missionaries.

        • Paul Goodman says:

          I mean if we’re going to worry about intermediate societies being that irresponsible we might as well just worry about them leaving their own easily accessible nuclear waste sites.

      • Does anyone in these conversations consider that in order to produce those nuclear wastes we had to mine uranium and that if we had left the uranium where it was the same contorted imaginary future scenarios being discussed could have our descendants digging up uranium ore and putting it in their water supply?

        Or in other words, I think worrying about nuclear wastes ten thousand years from now, in a society whose nature we cannot know anything much about–not even whether our species will still be around–is nutty. If you want to help people that far into the future, I suggest designing an information store that would help very premodern people develop to our level of scientific knowledge, making lots of copies, and putting them in geologically safe places. It probably won’t do any good, but the odds are better than spending the same effort making sure that our nuclear wastes won’t be a possible hazard ten thousand years from now.

        • Murphy says:

          To be fair: fission fragments are a lot more dangerous than the uranium ore the fuel came from.

          Personally though I’d bet on the worlds current landmines having a larger body count hundreds or thousands of years from now than the nuclear waste sites.

    • DrBeat says:

      See, that part about “This is not a place of honor. No great deed is commemorated here. Nothing valued is here.” doesn’t dissuade me, because anyone who has played D&D knows that is the kind of inscription you put on the tomb of an evil sorceror-king, and he’s probably a lich by now, so you HAVE to go in there and kill him before he starts liching everything up.

      I think the choice of wording and word order is weird (why would they consider “something made by humans is here” to be more important than “something dangerous is here”?) but I honestly think the more interesting problem is how to build the information centers such that nobody will ever cannibalize them for resources. That’s the real tricky one.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      I think they’re making much ado about nothing. If future civilizations are more advanced than us, they will be able to decipher simple warning signs and messages and understand the dangers of radioactivity. If they are more primitive than us, they won’t be able to dig that deep, making the point moot.

      • James Picone says:

        How seriously do we take warnings on burial chambers of ancient civilisations noting that the curses of the gods will totally strike you down if you disturb this resting place?

        Hopefully future civilisations would have more respect for our understanding of reality, and would recognise that if we say “This thing is dangerous” we might actually be correct, but the fear is that a more advanced civilisation – or a similarly-advanced civilisation built on our post-apocalyptic graves – might interpret that warning as curses-of-the-gods and not as ‘no, trust us, we know what we’re doing, this stuff is quite poisonous’.

        • suntzuanime says:

          If a similarly advanced civilization knows about radiation, they’ll be like “oh, it’s radioactive”. If they don’t, well, here’s an opportunity to learn.

          I think I agree with the part of the report that says “the best warning sign would be a few folks dying of radiation sickness”. Rather than spend the money on trying to keep a few folks from getting poisoned after the apocalypse, let’s spend it trying to keep civilization running so it’s not necessary. Still fun as a thought-experiment though.

          • Deiseach says:

            If people dying horribly of a lingering illness was an effective method of dissuasion, then nobody would get venereal diseases – when syphilis began ravaging Western Europe, people could see sufferers with their noses literally rotted off their faces, they knew it was transmitted by sexual contact with the infected, and yet they still gambled “Sex tonight and the risk of a horrible death, or do without and be sure of living extra years? I’ll risk that I’ll be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t get the pox!”

            So there will be those who, out of gambling on their luck, poverty, desperation, criminals forced by the state to dig into these cursed tombs etc. will still risk death even though they have the evidence of their eyes of people dying horribly.

            Because hey, maybe they’ll be lucky! And maybe there’s something really valuable here, actually there must be incredible riches, why else would the ancients have used such extreme methods to keep people away?

        • Murphy says:

          There seems to be an implicit idea that we only get to leave a single sentence.

          Don’t leave “This thing is dangerous”. Leave a thousand laser etched rosetta stones in every known language with language primers scattered around along with the wikipedia(ok not really wikipedia) pages on radiation, nuclear waste, radiation sickness and fission then bury it all in garbage to make it clear that it’s waste.

          • NZ says:

            It takes a lot of expertise and training for archeologists today to dig up an ancient site and determine what’s garbage and what isn’t. How confident are you that there will be such expertise and training 10K years from now?

          • Murphy says:

            If they’re still what I’d consider human then I’m willing to trust in their ability to think.

            If you have to dig deep for something then you’re talking about adults who can dig a mine. At some point you have to trust in other adults.

            It would be very surprising for there to be no understanding of what waste is.

          • NZ says:

            Humans have been able to dig deep holes for a long time. But even today, we have trouble figuring out what various archeological findings are. Our garbage looks very different from the garbage of people 1,000 years ago, let alone 10,000 years ago. What would a man from Biblical times think of a discarded plastic ziplock bag?

          • Murphy says:

            oh I’m sure he’d be deeply surprised by the first one he found but by the time he and his community have dug through a few hundred meters of it they’ll have come up with some quite reasonable guesses. Old cabbage can last for decades, possibly hundreds of years in oxygen the-free environments under landfills.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          We don’t take warnings about divine curses seriously because we don’t believe any such curses exist (or at least not from the gods of previous civilizations). A civilization advanced enough to dig thousands of metres into the earth will believe in radiation.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Then again, as far as we know, a future civilization capable of digging thousands of meters deep may have an understanding of radiation that renders it a non-serious threat to them in turn.

    • John Schilling says:

      How do we ensure that our nuclear waste remains undisturbed for 10,000 years?

      Put up signs, or if you’re a traditionalist carve into the surrounding stone, “Nuclear Waste – Do Not Open Before 12,000 A.D. Unless You Know Exactly What You Are Doing, Or You Will Die”. In English.

      There, done. This isn’t ancient Crete, where every scrap of text ever written would fit in one decent library and one volcanic eruption will leave ‘Linear A’ as a mystery for the ages. Scholars will be able to translate English in 10,000 years. If for no other reason than that most of the books that explain how to build machine guns are written in English and that will be extremely valuable knowledge for the rulers of any post-apocalyptic or otherwise degraded civilization.

      If you really want to screw with our descendants, or share a joke with their scholars, do a Rosetta-stone type deal with English, Classical Latin, Archaic Sumerian, and Klingon.

      And if you really really want to make sure nobody digs the stuff up, have submarines drop it into the abyssal depths in sealed barrels and destroy all records of where. Because if you label it or mark it on maps, people will dig it up. Techno-archaeologists, to see what they can deduce about our nuclear programs from the isotope distribution of our wastes. Thieves, because some of those isotopes will be valuable. And some of those books that tell how to build machine guns will also include chapters on atom bombs, which require a stuff called ‘plutonium’ that doesn’t exist in nature but could be isolated from spent reactor fuel…

      • NZ says:

        Why are you so confident there will be scholars in 10K years? Scholars are probably low-priority in a post-apocalyptic society where being able to build machine guns is the driver of learning English.

        Dumping spent reactor fuel in sealed barrels at the bottom of deep ocean trenches does obviate the “warn future societies” problem, but seems like it creates huge environmental risks.

        • John Schilling says:

          The guy who builds machine guns by finding the instructions in old books in otherwise-dead languages is a scholar, no matter what you call him and what motivates his patron.

    • This film is quite an enjoyable but interesting exploration of the topic, leaning a little against the industry but in a sympathetic way, and exploring some ideas that are kind of cool regardless of your position.

    • Man.

      If I’m a post-apocalyptic archaeologist 9000 years from now and I see a warning saying “This place is not a place of honor…no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.

      What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.”

      There is absolutely no chance I’m not digging.

      • Aegeus says:

        That’s not the literal text they proposed. That’s a statement of goals. They wanted to write something that would make anyone who read it think “This is dangerous, we shouldn’t dig here.”

        They note that you don’t even have to put that message in writing. For instance, the mere presence of bigass earth mounds indicates “Sending this message was important to us.”

        • Jiro says:

          What the message should amount to is telling people to use Chesterton’s fence. It’s dangerous, and if they don’t understand why it’s dangerous, they should keep away. If they understand why it’s dangerous, they may consider trying to go there.

  13. walpolo says:

    As it stands right now, I’m strongly in favor of a guaranteed basic income. The one thing that gives me pause about a GBI is the widespread sentiment (which I believe is supported by studies?) that people are much happier if they’re earning their money through gainful employment than if they’re on the dole.

    My hope is that this effect, insofar as it really exists, is due to present-day cultural prejudice against those who don’t support themselves. If so, the prejudice could be done away with and people could be just as happy living off a GBI as they are living off a low-paying job. Hopefully happier, since they’ll have so much more time for personal pursuits.

    But suppose that the effect isn’t the result of prejudice, or else that the prejudice proves too hard to eradicate. Then it’s possible that a GBI won’t do much to improve people’s well-being or increase net utility.

    If that turns out to be the case, what poverty-relief policies might work better? Is there some possible mass-job-creation scheme that would not be too much of a drag on the economy? Or would we just have to do what we can with Keynesian stimulus, plus a safety net to prevent starvation and the like?

    • PDV says:

      My instinct would be to have a broad-based artistic thing, or something. A qualifier on the GBI that says “What have you made, this year?”. Probably with a very low bar, but making it explicitly be about creating something; no need for it to have been valued by anyone (not even you), and it could be a mural, a performance, a programming repository, a community scheduling system for a small house, anything, but there must have been something they made.

      • John Schilling says:

        The value of the GBI is that it doesn’t have exceptions and can’t be politically gamed. The BI is G, full stop. The only stable number of exceptions to the guarantee is zero; one will rapidly become many and then you’ll be right back where we are now with a dead forests’ worth of statutes, regulations, and case law about who gets how much and who gets nothing and who pays.

        I am theoretically in favor of the GBI if it can be implemented with zero exceptions: Any citizen gets the same sum of money as any other citizen with zero exceptions, and with rigorous safeguards against even one tiny exception. I think the odds of this ever being implemented are extremely small, of course, but it’s fun to talk about and not completely hopeless.

        • J says:

          The thing I can’t figure out is what happens when little Timmy’s alcoholic dad blows the check at the strip club on the first weekend of the month? Timmy’s completely innocent, and he and his dad are both going to need to eat for the rest of the month.

          • keranih says:

            Even if Timmy’s dad is guilty as hell, he is still a human who will need to eat. That doesn’t change if he’s a good person or a bad one.

            If the question is “what is the moral requirement for the rest of the community in this situation?” One response might be that people who blow their money on strippers instead of feeding their children should not have the responsibility of taking care of those children. Another response might be that the community has a vested interest in making sure that this behavior is not repeated. A third response might be the community has little need for people with that significant a lack of impulse control, and that there are many good and useful competing uses for the funds (and emotional energy) it would take to feed Timmy and Timmy’s Dad.

            How rational do you want the community to be about this?

          • Jeff H says:

            The same thing that happens when he does that now.

            This isn’t a problem specific to a society with a GBI, and I don’t see how having one would change how we deal with it (or don’t, depending on the social services available in your area). GBI would replace welfare, employment insurance, permanent disability payments, etc, but presumably not other things, like child and family services.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I think you’re linking two separate issues. A parent blowing his monthly garbage-hauling paycheck happens already. A GBI guarantees a monthly check whether the parent is working or not; it doesn’t have to make sure everyone in the family gets fed.

            It could have such an effect, though. Without the nasty job, Mr. Parent would not need to drink so much and Mrs. Parent would not need a nasty job of her own, so they’d both have less stress and more time to do more home cooking and find cheaper ways to amuse themselves.

          • Vladimir Slepnev says:

            My answer: distribute some necessities directly. Create a basic food guarantee, basic housing guarantee, basic healthcare guarantee, basic education guarantee, and a basic spending-money guarantee on top of that.

            That also solves the other big problem with basic income: businesses raising prices for necessities because their poorest customers suddenly got more money. (Look at how college loans have bid up the price of education, and tell me that basic income won’t have the same effect!)

            IMO direct distribution is the obvious upgrade to the basic income idea and I’m not sure why more people aren’t pushing that.

          • Interesting how quickly you’ve moved from UBI, which can at least claim to be not-communism, into actual full-blown communism.

            Your name makes me think that you might actually remember this, but anyway: what you’ve described is very close to the implementation of state Communism as it existed in the ’70s and ’80s. You had a job (you were required to have a job unless there was a waiver, usually for medical reasons), your job entitled you to ration books for housing, food, etc., and anything left over you could spend freely. It worked… well, hopefully we know how well it worked.

          • Zakharov says:

            What do current welfare systems do about this? Paying daily seems like a reasonable solution, though I understand that banking amongst the poor is complicated.

          • Vladimir Slepnev says:

            Mai La Dreapta, though communism in Russia ended when I was a child, I remember it well. It had good and bad sides. The mass terror is bad. But free higher education for everyone (which I got because post-Soviet Russia never bothered dismantling it) is pretty good.

            What I’m proposing is not communism. The state doesn’t own the means of production and doesn’t require everyone to work. Rather, it’s an expansion of the social safety net which many Western countries already have. (I’m living in Switzerland nowadays, you should visit sometime and try to find homeless people in the streets. It’s an interesting contrast with San Francisco.) Some folks even say that libertarians should welcome a stronger safety net because it lowers the risk of entrepreneurship.

          • Gbdub says:

            @Vladimir – the problem is that in order to distribute that much stuff, the state has to own, or at least control, so much of the OUTPUT of production that the ownership of the means is basically moot.

            I think a GBI is inevitable and a good idea, but only in a truly post-scarcity society where the means of production are essentially free.

            I’m envisioning a state-managed army of fusion powered not-quite-intelligent self assembling robots handling all the day-to-day, with a capitalist crust on top dabbling in scholarship and hand-made goods for enrichment and nostalgia. Basically like the noble leisure class’ relation to serfs, but in this case the serfs are robots we don’t need to feel bad about exploiting.

          • brad says:

            what happens when little Timmy’s alcoholic dad blows the check at the strip club on the first weekend of the month

            Prosecution for child neglect? I think it’s probably an under-prosecuted crime today because we don’t want to punish people for being poor. But when being poor is always a result of voluntary decisions, that’s far less a concern.

          • Vladimir Slepnev says:

            Gbdub, not sure I see your point. If we can afford basic income that would cover food and housing for everyone, that means we can afford free food and housing for everyone. If one of those things can be done without government control of the economy, then the other can too.

          • Gbdub says:

            Vladimir, my point is that if ” state guaranteed free food and housing for everyone” requires say 80% of a country’s total economic output to produce, that means the state has to de facto control 80% of the economy and you’ve got communism in all but name (doesn’t make it bad, but it’s basically communism).

            In a truly “post scarcity” world where basic food and housing require say <10% of economic output to produce, then sure, you could still call that a private capitalist economy with a bit off the top for the GBI.

          • Zakharov says:

            Rough estimate: The US GDP is $18 trillion. Providing everyone with $20000 per year comes to around $6 trillion. It ought to be possible to do that using taxes that don’t distort the economy too badly, particularly given that a large part of the basic income will be spent on the taxes used to provide it.

          • Deiseach says:

            If little Timmy is living with an alcoholic dad who blows the food money on strippers, that is neglect and physical abuse and Timmy should be taken into care and fostered.

            Ideal world, of course, because the social workers systems in Britain, Ireland and the USA all seem to be fucked up and fucked up spectacularly.

          • Zubon says:

            Zakharov: no, you need either to assume a huge new source of productivity (robots?) or to bite the bullet of massive deadweight losses to institute taxation on that scale. Estimates of the deadweight loss for a tax range from 10% to 50%, usually on the high side of that. A $20,000 GBI costs one-third of the entire US economy, and another 10-15% of the entire economy is probably lost in the process of taxing that much. And that assumes away any administrative costs. And that ignores anything else governments might do, such as national defense, police, courts, roads, regulation, education, parks, or going beyond GBI (say providing additional care for people with disabilities).

            There would not be a national debt if it were possible to raise $6,000,000,000,000 losslessly. Given the current economy, you would need to assume effective tax rates above 50% to institute a meaningful GBI while still having government do much else. And that still feels optimistic.

        • Anonymous says:

          I am theoretically in favor of the GBI if it can be implemented with zero exceptions: Any citizen gets the same sum of money as any other citizen with zero exceptions, and with rigorous safeguards against even one tiny exception. I think the odds of this ever being implemented are extremely small, of course, but it’s fun to talk about and not completely hopeless.

          Non-citizen residents?

          Newborn babies?

          Grandma on life-support that costs less than her BI?

          • Murphy says:

            Non-citizen’s wouldn’t be covered under “Any citizen” and the other 2 don’t seem to be problems.

          • Anonymous says:

            OP indicated ideally being no exceptions. Why are non-citizen residents excluded?

            The other two are mostly abuse and regency concerns. Who gets to spend (or not spend) their money, which they obviously cannot use themselves?

          • John Schilling says:

            Non-citizen residents are excluded because we would ideally like to try this on a scale less than “all of humanity”, in case it doesn’t work as well as we’d like. We therefore need to define members of the group that gets (also pays for) GBI, and “citizen” is the appropriate term for formally recognized member of a governed society.

            If, before implementing GBI, you’d like to set the standards of citizenship to include all local residents, that’s negotiable. I can see some practical problems, though.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “No exceptions” generally means “no exceptions except for a few I’ll specifically state right now and a few I’m forgetting to mention but will indignantly claim should have been obvious if you point them out and I’ll wiggle all the definitions legalistically to try to achieve my preferred result”.

            That said, it can still be a useful stance to take. “No exceptions” isn’t immune to hypocrisy creating exceptions, but it still makes exceptions more expensive, which can be what you want.

        • PDV says:

          Don’t fight the hypothetical. This is assuming that people unavoidably “are much happier if they’re earning their money through gainful employment than if they’re on the dole”. It’s a broad enough category to restrict very little while still providing a purpose.

      • Deiseach says:

        That’s no good for me, because I am completely inartistic and have no talent at all (I did a one-year arts and crafts course to explore that and yep, not one fragment of an atom of ability at all).

        I might rise to the dizzy heights of whitewashing a fence, but “What have you made this year?” would be “This horrible mess”.

        And have you seen the examples of public art inflicted on the ordinary citizen in civic spaces? Compulsory “work for your benefit” systems of artistic production would be even worse, in that eyesores would be inescapable everywhere (more murals! the GBI this year has a quota to fill!) and the public weal would suffer. I would certainly be much more miserable if I knew that the moment I walked out my door, the public ‘art’ produced by every hog, dog and divil getting the GBI would be assailing my visual (and doubtless auditory – oh God, the prospect of sound art! Or public music performances!) cortex.

        • PDV says:

          You have no ability to program, machine things, anything? I’m envisioning a broad enough definition that hobbyist mathematics ought to qualify, so I’d think it’s pretty unlikely that you don’t have any skills that could make something worthwhile.

          >public art inflicted on the ordinary citizen in civic spaces

          It’s usually pretty decent.

          • Deiseach says:

            I honestly genuinely can’t. I’m mathematically useless so programming etc. is out of the question. I can’t sew, bake, sculpt, paint, draw, make things involving welding or metalwork or woodwork. I don’t even know how to put on eyeshadow and I’m *mumblemumble* years old!

            I have no hand-eye co-ordination and I have balance problems so sports etc. are right out.

            Basic clerical skills is about it. You want someone who can type long boring documents into Word for you? Can do. I also, for some reason, seem to get stuck with filing no matter what job I go into (even though it bores me rigid, I must be good at it?)

            You want somebody who can draw even stick figure cartoons to amuse a child? Out of luck there, pal.

          • John Schilling says:

            You have, I think, demonstrated the ability to write an entertaining and informative pamphlet on How To Deal With The Irish Bureaucracy While Going Only Slightly Insane, And Occasionally Getting Something Useful Out Of The Process. There’s got to be a market for that, albeit maybe not enough to make an independent living out of. I’d certainly pay a few bucks for the American version.

            The only down side, in the present hypothetical, is that if we somehow get Ireland to implement GBI, a fair chunk of the insanity-inducing bureaucracy goes away.

          • Deiseach:

            You routinely demonstrate here writing ability well above the average. How you could best convert that into income I don’t know–possibly your own blog with a Patreon account?

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I am completely inartistic and have no talent at all

          I’m sure that ‘writing interesting stuff on the internet’ ought to count…
          But more generally, I think I agree with you – making the BIG conditional on producing stuff, with no requirement that anyone else value it, sounds like a recipe for a lot of people wasting a lot of time doing things that bring no benefit to anyone.

        • John Steveson says:

          I’m sure you, like 80% of women in history, can make a baby if you try.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m sure you, like 80% of women in history, can make a baby if you try.

            (a) There’s this thing called the end of fertility, or, the menopause. Gone through it.

            (b) Secondly, given my paternal family mental health issues and my own raft of social problems, reproducing with my genes is irresponsible and would cause any offspring more misery than is worth it

            (c) How kind of you to offer, John; do you care to try fathering my putative children? I’ve always wondered how much effort it takes to rip out someone’s throat with only your teeth, and as the novel of “Silence of the Lambs” tells us, close enough to fuck is close enough to fight

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            If this is what flirting on SSC looks like all the time, I’m ditching my girlfriend in favor of some other lady up in this place.

        • LHN says:

          “Or public music performances!”

          Considering the terrible public music performances engendered around here by unsubsidized voluntary contributions, I can only shudder.

          I’ve been to cities where the baseline for street buskers, at least in places where tourists congregate, is good to excellent. I have no idea why Chicago’s theme music is “saxophone playing Take Five, the Simpsons’ theme, or the Flintstones’ theme, all out of tune”, “loud drumming”, and my favorite, “high volume bad hip-hop karaoke before captive subway station audience”.

          (When I run into actual talent, I drop in a fiver pour encourager les autres. This costs me less than five dollars a year on average.)

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’ve had this idea that we can create little communities of people who have less technology and lower standards of living than we do, but it’s still decent. So lets say we buy a farm, get a bunch of homeless people living there and have them work the farm using minimal modern technology. So maybe they have essentials(food, water, shelter and clothing) while working the land and doing something that may not be important to the economy, but is something tangible they can work on and be proud of while also having a community they can rely on. Basically what I’m saying is that they could be secular Amish people. If it works, then it could be a cheap way for the government to give the homeless a decent life while not giving regular people incentives to take advantage of the system. Of course, that wouldn’t solve problems like single working class moms trying to raise their kids but it could be a safety net for the lowest in society.

      • Ryan Beren says:

        A related idea was a form of quasi-socialism proposed by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc in which the government would in some way ensure that every individual or family had access to sufficient means of production to maintain a basic standard of living, if they make use of it, without having to sell their labor, lose their independence, or forego the virtues of skilled labor. The means of production could be farm equipment, like you mention, or craftsman’s tools, or maybe a timeshare at a machine shop, etc. But it would all stay very much private property, despite the wider distribution. The catchphrase was that “too much capitalism means too few capitalists”. The proposal, “distributism”, is mostly talked about by Catholics and anarchists, but I don’t see any reason why the meat of it couldn’t be adopted more broadly.

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          And… the disabled? the elderly? children? I mean, you can say “their families and friends and community can help take care of them”, but then all you’ve done is reinvented classic socialism on a smaller scale.

          • Arguably, the problem with classic socialism is precisely one of scale, so I’m not sure why this is a counterargument. After all, my reactionary household is communistic on a small scale, with each person contributing according to their ability (working a job, keeping house, doing chores), and the results of this labor being distributed as needed to each person.

          • lliamander says:

            Yes, on a smaller scale (http://irl.cs.ucla.edu/papers/right-size.html) and without the class-warfare rhetoric.

            But calling it quasi-socialism or merely classic socialism isn’t really an accurate picture of Distributism. Chesterton once quipped that the problem with Capitalism wasn’t that there were too many capitalists, but that there were too few.

        • Nathan says:

          As an actual modern day Distributist, I would point out that while it’s true that Chesterton had a disproportionate fondness for the idea of each family being its own sole-trader business, the more important idea is for larger businesses to function as worker-owned co-operatives. That is, a business would be something you join and leave, not something you buy and sell. Workers would be paid with profits rather than wages, and capitalists would earn interest rather than profits.

      • Kevin P says:

        You appear to have reinvented the workhouse.

      • Deiseach says:

        Human zoos? Because if they’re not producing anything beneficial to the economy, then basically what you are suggesting is the equivalent of those TV programmes about “the Victorian kitchen”, only with less didactic content and there for people to gawp at (“Look, Susie, see the people in badly-made homespun? Those are the Interactive Living Museum Project people!” “Oh, you mean the bums and tramps?” “Yes, aren’t they funny, using a horse-drawn plough on this quarter of an acre!”)

        I suppose, if really desperate enough, people might be willing to put on the ‘look at the poor people’ version of chimpanzees’ tea parties. It might be more palatable if these were out-and-out “model historical recreational communities”, which at least – by pretending to an educational and tourism purpose – would enable the participants to maintain some human dignity, rather than “everyone else gets the latest smartphone but since you’re a loser, you can have a three room shack where you draw water from a pump instead” reservations for the homeless.

        Sorry if that sounds aggressively mean about your idea, but I was born into one of those “three room cottage and you walk to the pump three fields away with your bucket for water” deals and I get twitchy about the idea that “of course, this is only for the homeless, not regular people” attitudes.

        Choice is of course the main defining element here, and if people are being steered to “work on the farm with manual labour” by whatever kind of compulsion (social, political, economic, the “dole spongers and benefits cheats” mentality fostered if people born and reared in an urban context don’t want to live on a farm out in the arse-end of nowhere having to hand-milk cows and tackle up horses to carts when they’ve never even seen any animal bigger than a dog in their lives), then I have to disagree with it.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, to try and show I’m not completely a heartless grumbling nay-sayer, there was a 70s British sit-com called The Good Life about down-sizing, cutting back consumption, being self-sufficient, and running a farm in a suburb.

        • Wrong Species says:

          You’re objection seems to boil down to “It’s undignified!”. We’re comparing my proposal to the lives that homeless people live now. I think they would prefer being a farmer than scavenging dumpsters and begging for handouts. This is a compromise between helping the lowest in society without screwing up incentives or costing too much money.

          • Kevin C. says:

            “I think they would prefer being a farmer than scavenging dumpsters and begging for handouts.”

            And on what do you base this? What is your experience with the homeless?

          • Wrong Species says:

            If the majority of homeless people would prefer their current living standards to that of a simple farmer, then I will drop my proposal and suggest letting them continue sleeping on cardboard and drinking all day.

          • kerani says:

            If the majority of homeless people would prefer their current living standards to that of a simple farmer, then I will drop my proposal and suggest letting them continue sleeping on cardboard and drinking all day.

            The majority of homeless people in the USA have health issues – mostly mental and addiction – which prevent them from performing the daily life actions of a simple farmer. They will(*) not get up on time, choose the appropriate task for the day, perform basic hygiene for themselves, their living quarters and their animals, and cooperate with other members of the household in order to accomplish the tasks for the day.

            With adequate (**) supervision and treatment, many of them could function as part of a closely knit society which made use of their labor. Not all of them.

            The idea that the homeless would choose something is the wrong answer, because they can not choose otherwise.(***)

            (*) A statement of prediction, based on past behavior, not a judgement of capability or will power.

            (**) At a minimum, supervised taking of medications, restrictions on use of personal time, screening of contact with outsiders, embargos on substances of addiction, and frequent searches of personal property for items of addition. Most of us would not stand for this.

            (***) I am not sure how to fix this, partly because I am not sure of the trade-offs.

          • brad says:

            You have to be careful when you use the term homeless. Colloquially it conjures up the image of a guy living on the street and begging for a living, but in when used in government statistics it includes people living in “overcrowded conditions” (as part of the adequate portion of “fixed, regular, and adequate”).

          • Deiseach says:

            No, not that it’s undignified but if you want to keep “regular folks” from deciding they’d like to give up the apartment in the city and move to the country to make artisanal soap from goats’ milk and their own honey bees, then it’s already slapping a stigma on it: FOR THE USELESS AND THE LOSERS ONLY.

            Poor people also have pride, it’s often the only thing they have. If their work is of no economic benefit overall, and is only make-work and something that day trippers from the towns (the regular folks) can come and gawp at on public holidays, then it is humiliating and painful. And maybe someone who comes, as I said, from a town background knows nothing about cows and oats, and doesn’t want to know anything about them.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Deisach

            The stigma is a feature, not a bug. The whole point is to find a way to help the lowest people in society in a way that won’t create bad incentives. But you seem to suggest that not only is this low status, it’s downright humiliating. Do you really think it is that humiliating to do some honest to god work, even if it’s not necessarily the most efficient way to go about it? It’s not like they are making mud pies. They are growing something that they can enjoy for their own consumption(or maybe someone would even be willing to buy it) And if pointing and laughing at these guys becomes that big of a problem then there is a very simple solution. Ban unwanted visitors. Boom. Problem solved.

            Also, I again want to point out that people who go around begging on the streets probably don’t have much pride. Between my proposal and living on the streets, which do you think is more humiliating?

    • SpaghettiLee says:

      Can any historians weigh in on whether modern American attitudes towards work are different from those throughout most of human history? As with most things, I’m not an expert, but I imagine more tribal or communalist societies would be confused at the dictum that being independently solvent is so intrinsic to one’s worth as a person. It’s certainly a weird co-dependent sort of relationship. I know plenty of people who fiercely and openly hate their jobs but whose personal honor would never let them go on welfare (and they’d definitely see GBI as welfare). You could call it honor or you could call it self-abasement demanded by the strictures of a soon-to-be-obsolete societal model, I guess.

      The political obstacles to GBI are usually phrased as people seeing taking ‘handouts’ as a sign of weakness and moral degeneracy, but I think it goes deeper than that; that hatred of handouts, I think, stems from the belief that anything is possible/if you can dream it, you can do it. And most people would not take “Actually, that’s not true anymore, your skillset is totally obsolete and your dreams of being a surgeon have been crushed by technology that’s ten times better at it than you ever could be. But, um, here’s 15 grand, and you can still, like, paint and stuff.”

      • I don’t think rich people used to be troubled by living off interest.

        • LHN says:

          My impression (admittedly as much literary as historical) is that they often saw themselves as having the job of local patron/administrator/organizer/etc., aided by a social hierarchy that treated their property as a source of authority. And that the ones who didn’t do so (which wasn’t uncommon) had a tendency to many of the same sorts of pathologies associated with high-unemployment communities (substance abuse, problem gambling, child neglect, in some milieus violent interpersonal conflict via dueling), just with a different veneer. How much of that is stereotype rather than social observation, I’m not sure.

      • stillnotking says:

        Modern attitudes toward work are definitely very different from most of human history. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were conceptually and temperamentally incapable of sitting in an office for 40 hours a week to pay the mortgage. Market pricing is an entirely modern phenomenon that would have been as mysterious to them as a computer. (Hell, it’s mysterious to most modern people, but we grew up with it.)

        As for honor, well, they had that in spades — much more so than moderns, especially in its more violent manifestations — as well as the cheater-detecting intuitions that underlie moderns’ objections to welfare and GBI.

      • The flip side of your point is that if people do not feel that being self-supporting is important to their feelings of status, a welfare system results in a lot of people who could be productive choosing leisure instead, at the expense of those who still work. Arguably that’s the problem the European welfare states are now encountering. Their system worked tolerably well as long as the old attitudes were strong enough so that almost nobody went on welfare if he had any other reasonably tolerable alternative. But those attitudes gradually eroded.

    • bluto says:

      The trick would be to tie the basic income to a make work program that doesn’t feel or seem like a make work program (like a massively multiplayer online game or something similar).

      • science says:

        The U.S. military and associated industries is the obvious model for that.

      • Deiseach says:

        The trick would be to tie the basic income to a make work program that doesn’t feel or seem like a make work program

        Community Employment Schemes – do you have something similar in the States?

        Many people get part-time jobs on these schemes, like them, would like to continue working there, but since the scheme is time-limited and the organisations can’t employ them in a real job (not having the funding, relying on volunteers and labour schemes like these) then there isn’t a chance for them to remain employed there.

        GBI that did not have the stigma of “welfare” and wasn’t time-limited would help there; if people want to volunteer for free for someplace that caters to their interests, then traditional volunteering for charity work could go on; but if you’re required to work for your GBI, then part-time work paid for by the GBI in charities and community groups would benefit both parties.

        The main thing would be (a) take away stigma, so a GBI job is just as much a real job as getting a job anywhere else (b) no compulsion (c) the problem then is would this do away with volunteerism if adopted on a large scale?

        As it is, all the jobs looking for unpaid interns and promising Access! Foot in the door! Get an introduction to the industry! would also fit for GBI, since you have to live on something while you’re getting “valuable work experience” and at the moment that seems to limit it to people who have parents able to support them into their 20s even when working in an unpaid job.

    • cypher says:

      I ended up wondering about just making everyone go to school forever in response to that. I still don’t know if that’s a good idea.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        From the comments of “On Walmart, And Who Bears Responsibility For the Poor”:

        John sits resentfully in a class with a disinterested teacher, both fully aware they are wasting their time…

        You could solve this by making the free money conditional on passing exams, but that would be unfair on those who failed.

    • Echo says:

      “or else that the prejudice proves too hard to eradicate”
      Or else that there was a very good reason for the prejudice in the first place, and it was simply pre-judged for us in the same way as “lava is hot: do not jump in it”.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      One of the main reasons the costs of current welfare programmes are bearable is precisely because employment is a sign of status and people living on the dole are stigmatised. Remove these social sanctions and more and more low income people will stop working, making the tax-base smaller and smaller.

    • Viliam says:

      There are multiple objections against GBI, and each should be evaluated separately.

      Things like “unemployed people have low status” would probably fix themselves when enough people get unemployed. I mean, a person really cares only about opinions of their neighbors, not some abstract national average, and when those neighbors become unemployed too, it stops being a thing. There is a risk of creating bubbles, e.g. in one town everyone is unemployed and there is no social penalty for it, while in other town most people work, and the unemployed ones have low status. Maybe people would separate themselves into working communities and non-working communities, so that everyone feels comfortable with their neighbors. Is that a problem? Possibly, because even the people from the non-working cities would need some services which no one from their city would be willing to provide. So they would be completely supervised by strangers. Not sure what would happen then.

      Maybe there is a risk that with GBI too many people would drop their jobs too soon. I mean, some people have a problem to find a job today, but some people are in high demand. But after seeing all their friends having fun and games 24/7, even the people in high demand might decide they want to join the fun, and they don’t mind having less money. This would probably need an experiment.

      How many people would work if the work would be completely voluntary, and would no provide significant benefits above not working? Again, an experiment is needed here, and probably a longitudinal one. Just because people who grew up and gained their working habits in the “old system” would mostly continue to work, does not guarantee their children will inherit the attitudes if they know from the childhood that work is completely optional.

      School system: If e.g. half of the population will choose not not work, does it make sense to educate them? It seems like wasted money. I mean, if someone wants to learn, that’s great. But what about those 15 years olds who will insist that they don’t want to learn anything, and that they have already decided to stay unemployed for their whole lives? If they are allowed to stay unemployed, what exactly is the reason to make them study something they don’t want to (because they would rather spend the time playing videogames)?

      Maybe people need some structure in their lives to maintain sanity. Some people can find their own structure, but some probably can’t. Imagine a person who wakes up at noon, and then keeps browsing Reddit till the early hours, every day, week after week, year after year. I can’t speak with certainty even for myself that, given the option, I would not become that person. Once I was voluntarily unemployed for three months — at first I imagined how many plans could I accomplish during that time, but the three months passed quickly and I realized I did nothing; I have completely wasted the time. On average I have higher productivity in the afternoons after my regular job. This was really sad to admit.

      • Mark says:

        If playing video games and surfing the internet is a terrible waste of time, then surely making these things is equally (more?) of a waste of time ?

        I always feel like the time I spend looking at the sky is time well spent, the time I spend talking bullshit, time wasted.

      • Nathan says:

        Arguments against GBI need to start by recognising that in many countries we *already* have one, with the condition that you *have* to not work in order to get it. A basic income would realistically be just that – basic. Most people can find lots of non-basic things they would like to spend money on, and most are quite willing to work to be able to afford them, even if they know their basic living requirements would be met anyhow.

        Expanding it to cover everyone rather than just the unemployed has a couple of effects. One is that it reduces the incentive to be unemployed. Another is that it costs more, which implies higher taxes, which implies a reduced incentive to work (unless you go the Scott route and pay for it by eliminating education subsidies or something). How these effects net out is unclear, but I for one would love to find out.

        • Gbdub says:

          I mean, isn’t the biggest problem that, at the current level of technology, we still need a fairly high percentage of people working to provide the basic necessities? Much fewer than in the past, certainly, but even in the most advanced countries we need a lot of people just to keep the food growing, the lights on, and the sewers flowing. GBI is a long way from stable if many more people than are currently unemployed take advantage of it.

        • SUT says:

          SF, NY, BOS people: when you want to do some computer work or read you go to the library, right? I mean there’s all these resources there, free internet, free movies, research materials, etc. Why isn’t the library the center of civic life like an intellectual version of the Roman gymnasium?

          It’s harsh to point it out but it should be acknowledged: the “guaranteed right” of anyone to use the library makes it kind of suck. And kind of sticky. I think mixing GBI with the competition/scarcity inherent to desirable cities will fail. But there is a version of ‘red-state living’ that could work with GBI.

        • Nornagest says:

          unless you go the Scott route and pay for it by eliminating education subsidies or something

          A basic income of $15000 a year for every American would cost somewhere around 4.8 trillion dollars (plus program overhead), which is about one and a half times the total federal tax revenue of the United States in 2014.

          You’re not going to get there by reducing spending on entitlement programs. You’re not going to get there by gutting the DoD or replacing Social Security, either. Now, GBI would have complicated and not necessarily one-sided feedback effects on the economy, so these numbers aren’t necessarily the end of the story — but we really are talking a pretty enormous gamble here, at best.

          • brad says:

            That cost doesn’t take into account the amount that comes back in taxes. I don’t see any reason you wouldn’t tax the basic income.* Also I don’t see any reason to give it to unemancipated minors given that they can’t legally keep it away from their parents, nor the institutionalized population whose government provided care costs more than that to begin with.

            The last time I did a back of the envelope calculation, I ended up with a cost net of taxes of around $2T for a BI of $11,700 (FPL) for each adult, non-institutionalized, citizen. Though admittedly the income tax part is remarkably difficult to figure out given that you’d expect employment and income patterns to change fairly dramatically.

            * It would make sense to set the standard deduction / exemption / etc. such that someone only receiving the basic income wouldn’t generally owe taxes, but that’s different from exempting it from taxes altogether.

          • Nornagest says:

            That cost doesn’t take into account the amount that comes back in taxes…

            No, it doesn’t, but that only gets you out of twenty or thirty percent of the total under the most optimistic assumptions. Unemancipated minors are maybe another twenty percent, but I think you’ll have a tough political time not giving it to them or their parents. The institutionalized population is somewhere around one percent of the total if you exclude nursing homes.

            But that’s not important. The point is more that we’re talking such a giant pile of money that no reasonable, and not many unreasonable, adjustments to federal spending are adequate to fund it. A few dozen percent here or there isn’t going to change that.

          • John Schilling says:

            Another requirement for GBI is that we accept that basic income will be well below poverty level, probably more like $5000/year. Since we are replacing essentially all the other entitlement programs with GBI, we can at least imagine affording that. Since we aren’t means-testing GBI, you aren’t condemned to live on just $5K/year.

            GBI plus twenty hours a week at $10/hr, gets you back to $15K a year. Or GBI plus the interest on the ~$2000/year you put into your retirement savings back when you had a job. If you insist on your GBI-given right to lay about playing video games all day, and you never held a job from which to save money and if you haven’t made or kept any friends or family willing to lend a hand, then you get to live on $5K/year.

            If you aren’t willing to have anyone suffer that fate, then GBI won’t work, because whatever we set the absolute floor at, we’ll soon enough redefine “abject poverty” at twice that level and get right back on the escalator.

          • brad says:

            @Nornagest
            $4.8T seems completely implausible to me (at current GDP), while $2T seems plausible, if tough. So the first order details do seem to make a difference.

          • Mark says:

            If everyone in society is fed, sheltered, etc. etc. then surely the basic income is affordable, because in real terms, it is already being paid. I would say this is the case in many European countries.
            There are people who don’t work, get old, kill people, etc. and they receive it. Anyone who wants to receive it, receives it.
            The only way the introduction of an explicit guarantee could make any difference *at all* is if people hadn’t actually realized that the implicit guarantee existed.

          • FJ says:

            @brad: wait, we’re going to tax the basic income? AND only give it to adults? So a single mother with two kids (my own family unit growing up) would get roughly $11,700 to pay for all necessities of life at market rates?

            That’s barely half the federal poverty line. And much as we can sneer at the voluntarily unemployed, the single mom in this scenario would have to earn enough at her day job (which is of course taxed starting at Dollar One, she already used up the personal exemption) to cover the costs of child care. On the very plausible assumption that many single parents have below-average productivity (because somebody has to), it may not make economic sense for them to outsource child care.

            Once we start bandying about more plausibly affordable numbers like $5,000, it starts getting very harsh indeed. Three meals a day for three people for one year is 3,285, so good luck feeding yourself and two kids on $1.52 per meal, and no, kids do not have kid-size appetites. The hypothesis underlining GBI is that it is supposedly valuable for people to not feel like they need to work to survive, but the math tends to assume that anyone who doesn’t participate in the labor market is a shiftless layabout who can suffer for all we care. We can talk about the escalator of living standards, but simply keeping three people alive in a place with cold winters is not that easy on $5,000/year. Subsistence farmers at least have a modicum of capital in the form of arable land and a shelter already; if they don’t, even subsistence farmers starve or die of exposure.

            @Mark: you’re absolutely correct that there is effectively an implicit guarantee of basic living standards already, so in principle it is possible to make the guarantee explicit without creating genuinely abject poverty. But GBI involves reapportioning implicit government guarantees from the poor and to other segments of society. The poor are (thankfully) a relatively tiny fraction of the population already, so you need a way bigger pie for them to get a smaller slice and not be seriously harmed.

          • brad says:

            @FJ
            People who can’t afford to have children ought not to have children. If they do anyway and then proceed to neglect them, that’s the crime of child abuse and should be treated as such.

            A welfare system designed so that a parent’s standard of living goes up with the marginal child is a disaster. We’ve known that since at least since the Moynihan Report in 1965.

            Two parents each receiving the FPL for a single person will have have 97% of the FPL for a family of four. If your self actualization requirements include having kids it is possible under GBI, but you’ll need at least one partner.

          • Nita says:

            People who can’t afford to have children ought not to have children. If they do anyway and then proceed to neglect them, that’s the crime of child abuse and should be treated as such.

            1. What you can and cannot afford may change rather rapidly — e.g., if your partner dies, you lose your job, or your child is diagnosed with an expensive illness.

            2. Children get quite attached to their parents — how will Bobby feel about your welfare reform after you’ve put his mom in jail for being poor?

          • FJ says:

            @brad: No, conceiving a child is not a crime in most Western democracies, even if the parent is extremely poor. Crimes such as child abuse (or more pertinently, neglect or endangering the welfare of a child) require an actus reus, and neither “having sex” nor “being poor” qualifies. You could potentially combine a GBI with a new criminal statute prohibiting certain forms of sexual activity, but I suspect that that would be even more controversial than the GBI alone. And, in the U.S., pretty clearly illegal under Griswold v. Connecticut and Lawrence v. Texas.

          • John Schilling says:

            Conceiving a child and then proceeding to neglect them is a crime. As is neglecting a child that one has become the guardian of through other means, though for the truly indigent most of those other means are going to be difficult to arrange whereas natural conception works for rich and poor alike.

          • brad says:

            @FJ
            I never suggested that any form of sexual activity ought to be banned. Nor that conceiving a child be a crime. Nor being poor simpliciter.

            Not providing any food to a child of which you have physical custody on the other hand is child neglect. A failure to act where there is a duty to do so is sufficient for actus reus purposes.

            Regardless of the current state of law, would you consider it immoral to reproduce endlessly without any realistic plan for preventing your offspring from starving to death?

            @Nita
            Re: #1
            Life insurance is the way to insure against death of a partner. Perhaps it ought to be mandatory for parents — I’d have to think about it more. As mentioned above with a basic income and partner, loss of a job doesn’t put a family of four much below the poverty line. As for expensive illnesses, I support UHC as well (which based on evidence from around the would would save money).

            Re: #2
            Presumably Bobby would prefer to be in foster care than to starve to death. Unfortunately he’s a victim of his parents either way, but we can’t prevent all crimes.

          • Sylocat says:

            Heck, there’s loads of people who would be considerably less of a burden on the taxpayers than they are now if they were given these handouts.

          • FJ says:

            @brad: An actus reus is not merely failure to act on a duty: it’s *voluntary* failure to act on a duty. A parent who does not feed her kids because she has no money is no more guilty of a crime than a parent who does not feed her kids because she is in a coma. This is not a scenario that actually comes up much because we have a variety of means by which parents without money can nevertheless acquire food for their children. But, when it does happen (e.g., natural disasters or shipwrecks), no crime is committed.

            Separate from the law, I am not really sure what moral obligations one has to children as-yet-unconceived. I know for a certainty that any child I conceive will suffer and, eventually, die. In some circumstances, that death may be awfully swift. But I’m not certain that even an stillbirth had negative utility over the course of her gestation, much less that I owe some moral obligation to prevent that entity from coming into existence. As a practical matter, I’m not sure this is a great slogan for GBI: “With GBI, it will be immoral for poor people to conceive!”

          • John Schilling says:

            We are explicitly talking about a GBI scenario here, so there’s no such thing as a parent who doesn’t feed their kids because they have no money. And for that matter, the point of comparison is a society with a kludge of patchwork welfare-ish programs that generally does offer money and/or actual food to anyone who needs it to feed their kids.

            The neglectful parents here, real or hypothetical, are the ones who choose to take the money that could buy food for their kids and instead buy booze for themselves. Or, perhaps, refuse to accept the money because it comes with the humiliation and degradation of being on the dole. That is and ought to be a crime.

            We ought to do something to reduce the humiliation, the degradation, and whatever is causing the desire for alcohol, but regardless of how diligent or successful we are on that front, if there’s money you could use to buy food for your kids and your kids instead starve, you’re going to jail.

          • FJ says:

            @John Schilling: I agree that a parent who squanders an adequate GBI and lets her kids starve is a criminal. But now we’re back to where we started: how big is the GBI? You claimed previously that a practical number is something like $5000/year. That is simply not enough to purchase food for three people, even before you start squandering money on frivolities like clean water, shelter, and heat. brad seemed to suggest that that was an acceptable conclusion: the GBI will be large enough to keep a single adult alive, and if she has the temerity to reproduce while living on GBI, she should be prosecuted for child neglect for “reproduc[ing] endlessly without any realistic plan for preventing [her] offspring from starving to death”. You seem to think that $5000/year is plenty to provide enough sustenance for three people, so long as Mom doesn’t squander it. Where the heck do you shop? The USDA claims that a mother with two kids under the age of 3 can theoretically feed them for $4,581.36, assuming the toddlers eat everything put in front of them, there’s no food waste, and they live naked on the Serengeti. I respectfully submit that a $5000/year GBI is literally not enough to live on for a small family, at least in the middle latitudes.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even $1500/year is enough to feed three people if you’re willing to cook (we’re talking completely unemployed here, so time is not a problem) and disciplined about cooking cheap but nutritious food with very occasional treats. But that would I admit be an unrealistic presumption for many of the wholly-unemployable people who would wind up on GBI but make otherwise tolerable parents.

            But no matter; the GBI is for everyone, every citizen of the implementing state, no exceptions. That’s the point. So the mother and two children get collectively $15,000 per year for food, clothing, shelter, etc, not $5,000. That I think offers a comfortable margin over not-starvation.

            It does offer perverse incentives to parents who don’t much care for children but think they can raise them to state-accepted standards for $2000/year, but that’s a different problem – and one we already have to deal with in other contexts.

          • brad says:

            @FJ
            FWIW, I didn’t take a position on the feasibility of supporting three people on $11,700/year. My inclination is to think it is possible given that $11700/3*365 = $10.68/day/person which is well above the international moderate poverty line. My position was that if you can’t manage to feed your child, that’s child abuse.

            I’m also curious as to what the current typical welfare amounts to for a non-working parent with two children (ex healthcare given that I think that should continue or be expended under GBI). TANF is limited to sixty months, WIC is only until the youngest child is five, and section 8 is unavailable in many areas. If the median transfer would go up under a $11.7k GBI, then what are we even arguing about?

            Finally, I’m not sure why you keep mentioning conception being the critical thing. You still have nine months to abort after that. Though they are under shameless political attack as we speak, I hope and expect Planned Parenthood to be around for a long time to come.

            @John Schilling
            It is a farce to claim that the basic income is “going” to an unemancipated minor when he has no real legal personality and thus no ability to control how it is spent. At that point we have two programs, one is a basic income for all full citizens, and a program that pays people for being parents.

        • “A basic income would realistically be just that – basic.”

          As I think I have pointed out here before, if you try to create an objective standard of basic, something like the lowest amount which someone can live on without having his life expectancy sharply reduced by poverty, you end up with a level that no supporter of a basic income would accept. It may be relevant that per capita income in the developed world at present averages twenty to thirty times what it was through most of history.

          Few of us appreciate just how rich we are.

          • walpolo says:

            So why not have a subjective standard of basic, and provide the GBI recipients with some things that medieval serfs would have thought of as luxuries but which we now think of as essentials?

          • Anonymous says:

            @walpolo

            Presumably because kids starving to death is easy to understand as a really bad thing. Everyone would agree that starving to death is bad no matter what. Beyond that, your argument becomes more like “this is bad because it’s unequal, and inequality is inherently bad” which I expect fewer people will find convincing.

          • walpolo says:

            Inequality does seem to make people unhappy. But I was thinking of the argument (which came up in a recent thread) that the increased utility of making more money falls off so sharply once you reach about $70 or $80K. As a result, transferring money from people who make that much or more to those who make much less will have the effect of increasing net utility, potentially by a large amount.

          • Anonymous says:

            @walpolo

            Does it not depend on who people compare themselves to? Does inequality make people unhappy if it’s the vague knowledge that there are people in the world better off than them? Are you made unhappy by the thought that the 0.01% has more wealth than you can possibly imagine? Are there really no ways of organizing ourselves such that it is possible to not care about some people who are better off than us?

            I’m also not sure how to square this with the observation that people so often seem to want to move to nicer neighborhoods, higher social circles, wealthier countries, rather than the other way round.

            “But I was thinking of the argument (which came up in a recent thread) that the increased utility of making more money falls off so sharply once you reach about $70 or $80K.”

            I think I remember that thread. I concur with those who were highly suspicious of the idea that today’s middle-class income is exactly the right amount of wealth. It seems you’re suspicious of this idea too, since you suggested just acquiescing to the subjective standard of ‘basic’. One reason not to do this is that fewer people probably care about inequality than do about absolute poverty, so you will have a harder time getting this subjective standard popular.

          • walpolo says:

            I can understand being suspicious, but the evidence we have does seem to support the hypothesis that 70 to 80K is the most happiness-promoting number, in our present culture and level of technology at least.

            The more important point, perhaps, is that the returns (in utility) of wealth diminish as you get wealthier, so that to a certain extent, robbing the rich and giving to the poor increases net utility.

          • Walpolo asks about a subjective standard of basic. Two answers:

            Most rhetoric on the subject is either mistaken or dishonest, since it almost always is put as “what people need” not “what I would like everyone to have.” The usual implication is that less than that means starvation, death from exposure, or the like.

            It’s tempting to believe that if only we get substantially richer, we can give everyone a basic income without creating serious incentive problems. With a fixed standard of basic, that’s doable. But by a fixed standard, we’ve already done it in the developed world—by the standards of a few hundred years ago in the U.K., or much of the world less than fifty years ago—a dollar a day used to be the standard cutoff for world poverty—there are essentially no poor people in the developed world. Providing a basic income at that level would not be a burden–existing welfare systems cost much more than that.

            But once you redefine basic to mean “the level of income at which I would feel poor but not be lacking anything important,” now it rises as incomes rise, so providing it to everyone remains costly however rich the society becomes.

          • Why doesn’t Walpolo’s argument imply that we ought to be transferring from everyone in the U.S. (and other developed countries), rich and poor alike, to people in really poor countries? The number of people below the old line of a dollar a day is much smaller than it was forty years ago, but still in the hundreds of millions.

            Is it relevant that the enormous reduction in world poverty over the past century or two has owed almost nothing to redistribution, almost everything to economic growth?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            But by a fixed standard, we’ve already done it in the developed world—by the standards of a few hundred years ago in the U.K., or much of the world less than fifty years ago—a dollar a day used to be the standard cutoff for world poverty—there are essentially no poor people in the developed world.

            Insert the standard argument about different costs of living here.

            Why doesn’t Walpolo’s argument imply that we ought to be transferring from everyone in the U.S. (and other developed countries), rich and poor alike, to people in really poor countries?

            Because non-utilitarians care more about people inside their circles of concern than people outside of them (actually, utilitarians do too, they just think that they shouldn’t).

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            Insert the standard argument about different costs of living here.

            Not applicable here, since the dollar a day (or $1.25 per day according to the more recent definition) is already adjusted for inflation and purchasing power.

          • “Insert the standard argument about different costs of living here.”

            That’s why statements about income changes over time or over space are put in terms of real income. It isn’t that the same things are consistently more expensive here, it’s that we take it for granted that we “need” more expensive things.

            A small apartment, for instance, is quite a lot more expensive than a bed in a room shared by four people.

          • walpolo says:

            “Why doesn’t Walpolo’s argument imply that we ought to be transferring from everyone in the U.S. (and other developed countries), rich and poor alike, to people in really poor countries? ”

            It does!

      • Cadie says:

        Basic income doesn’t take away rewards for working. The basic income is just enough that if you subsist on it and have no other money coming in, you’ll have your essential needs met – you never have to worry about not having enough money for food, shelter, clean water, and that kind of thing. BI isn’t enough to pay for luxuries. BI alone means you’re poor, but not desperately poor. So if having a house instead of a small apartment, having lots of clothes, going to concerts with your friends, traveling, etc. are important to you, you have to work to earn the money. If you’re content with a tiny living space and just enough money to be dressed and fed and clean, then you’ll be OK without a paycheck job.

        • Cadie writes:

          “The basic income is just enough that if you subsist on it and have no other money coming in, you’ll have your essential needs met – … So if having a house instead of a small apartment …”

          This struck me as a nice example of my point about not appreciating how rich we are. Minimal housing doesn’t mean having a small apartment all to yourself, or even shared with wife and children. Take a look at Orwell’s description of how tramps were housed in London in _Down and Out in Paris and London_. Or the description in _The Russians_ of how people lived in Moscow in the mid-20th century.

          Minimal housing means as many beds per room as the room will hold with room to get out of them.

          • JBeshir says:

            It’s worth noting that this assumes that zoning/planning permission laws were revoked at the same time the BI was enacted, since at present such minimal housing is probably not legal to build anywhere usefully close to places people without a car could buy food and other basics.

            If a basic income was to be created to replace welfare, but no other changes to laws were made, it would need to provide enough income to cover housing/shelter as currently legal. I think this would probably be the part with the least give in it, in terms of reducing costs relative to how people currently live.

            You’d also have large numbers of people made homeless in the short term, because even if such minimal housing became legal it’d take time, possibly a lot of time, for supply to catch up, and large amounts of relocation for people to get to where it existed. This could be smoothed over by more money spent around the transition, or similar.

            How it handles housing is I think one of the strongest arguments against having a single welfare payment rather than a separate payment for housing set based on the local housing market and a smaller payment for other needs. You strongly motivate people to move to where housing is cheap, which is good, except for the part where the places housing is cheap are the places with no jobs available, which means people can get stuck on welfare. Even if you don’t make job hunting compulsory, that’s probably a bad thing.

          • TheWorst says:

            “You strongly motivate people to move to where housing is cheap, which is good, except for the part where the places housing is cheap are the places with no jobs available, which means people can get stuck on welfare.

            One quibble: Where there are many people, and all of them have incomes, is an excellent place to start a business. And GBI doesn’t go away if you get a job–it’s guaranteed–so it seems likely that you’d see a very large number of small-scale entrepreneurs.

    • Excuse my resorting to ev psych style explanations, but historically people who have productive roles in a group are far less likely to be killed or exiled or otherwise harmed, and so it seems to make sense that psychologically we might strongly favour productive activity that gives a sense of helping or being desired by others in comparison to hedonistic activity. I don’t discount your points though – that sort of stigma can be very powerful.

      • walpolo says:

        Yes, it’s possible that the cultural prejudice is just a front for a deep fact about human psychology. I hope that’s not true, but I don’t have any evidence against it.

      • Zippy says:

        historically people who have productive roles in a group are far less likely to be killed or exiled or otherwise harmed

        No? This strikes me as only true as a sampling bias (killed or exiled or otherwise harmed people cannot be productive) and I can provide the equal and opposite just-so story: historically, people who have productive roles in a group expend lots of energy and get killed by woolly mammoths (mammi?).

        I hope humans “might strongly favour productive activity that gives a sense of helping or being desired by others”, though. No shortage of that to go around.

    • Gbdub says:

      A possible test case for GBI is Native American communities with casinos – many tribes set up a profit sharing system whereby every member of the tribe is entitled to an equal share of the casino profits. These can be quite substantial, certainly to the size you could call a GBI.

      Anybody aware of research (or first hand knowledge) of how that works out? Anecdotally, there is the occasional family gaming the system by having a bunch of kids, and certainly many communities struggle with drug and alcohol issues (though the latter was true before the casinos too).

      • NN says:

        This Economist article claims that tribes that distribute casino profits as “per-capita payments” do worse than tribes that instead invest the profits in local businesses. I haven’t looked into the data close enough to see if the Economist’s take on this is accurate.

        • Gbdub says:

          A couple issues from the article jump out immediately:
          1) It’s not clear that using the same definition of “poverty” for workers and non-workers makes sense. As the opening story alludes, working introduces a lot of expenses (transportation, clothing, etc) that non-working does not. Plus its a huge time suck. So working might bump you above the poverty line, but not substantially improve your quality of life.

          2) The tribe used for the opening example only gives out $1200 a year – hardly a GBI. It mentions some tribes have payments of $100k or more (I’ve heard that it’s around $40k for one of the tribes here in AZ). THAT’S real money, and it would be interesting to see a study isolated to those cases.

          3) The article does show that, well, people can be dumb. And big lump sums can be a bad idea (e.g. 18 yr olds blowing their trust fund on a new car). So the question of “what to do when Timmy’s dad blows all the cash” is still a good one.

          Then again, investing is businesses probably gives a better return, but it only helps the tribe insofar as it produces more jobs or more profits to share. Either way, you’re still generating paychecks, and people can still waste them.

          How paternalistic are you willing to be to prevent bad decisions? And how merciless are you willing to be to protect from the consequences of bad decisions?

          • Lupis42 says:

            What if Timmey’s dad, through the miracle of electronic banking, actually gets $1.50 every hour. If 24 transactions/day are too expensive, have him get $36 every day.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            What if Timmey’s dad, through the miracle of electronic banking, actually gets $1.50 every hour. If 24 transactions/day are too expensive, have him get $36 every day.

            Then it takes about five minutes for some enterprising lender to show up and offer him an up front lump of cash secured against his future income (at a very reasonable interest rate, of course).

      • nil says:

        I have a decent amount of experience with a tribe whose per cap is right about at GBI level (a little over $10,000, I’d rather not be specific). There’s not really a lot of unusual results or surprises. There are a lot of issues stemming from the fact that minors’ payments are shunted to a trust fund which is disbursed when they graduate from high school, but that wouldn’t really be in play with a GBI. Some people live off of it, but there’s definitely stigma against that both within and without the community. Unemployment doesn’t really seem any higher than you would expect it to be in a community with their social history (although that might be confounded by how easy it is for members to get a job working with the tribe, which is a very large employer).

    • Kevin C. says:

      I’ve noticed in these discussions of a GBI, nobody seems to bring up Paul Graham’s “Why Nerds are Unpopular” essay, and the school/prison/ladies-who-lunch dynamic. In fact, to quote:

      Teenage kids used to have a more active role in society. In pre-industrial times, they were all apprentices of one sort or another, whether in shops or on farms or even on warships. They weren’t left to create their own societies…

      …Now adults have no immediate use for teenagers. They would be in the way in an office. So they drop them off at school on their way to work, much as they might drop the dog off at a kennel if they were going away for the weekend.

      What happened? We’re up against a hard one here. The cause of this problem is the same as the cause of so many present ills: specialization. As jobs become more specialized, we have to train longer for them. Kids in pre-industrial times started working at about 14 at the latest; kids on farms, where most people lived, began far earlier. Now kids who go to college don’t start working full-time till 21 or 22. With some degrees, like MDs and PhDs, you may not finish your training till 30.

      Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food, which evolved to exploit precisely this fact. In almost any other kind of work, they’d be a net loss.

      This particularly also applies to Cypher’s “school forever” idea above. (“if you want a vision of the future, picture