OT 30: Comment Knowledge

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

1. These threads tend to fill up pretty quickly. Should I start doing them weekly instead of biweekly?

2. John Sidles is hereby forbidden to use bold text or to speak in a topic-comment sentence structure. He may continue to comment as long as he follows these two rules.

3. Comment thread on autism had a lot of unfortunate definitional issues (are we talking about turning everyone into Perfectly Conformist Jocks/Cheerleaders or about preventing people from being institutionalized/suicidal while leaving everything else intact?) but the stories from autistic people / caretakers were pretty interesting, especially Mai, Helldalgo, Alicorn, Ilzolende, Peter, Murphy, and seebs.

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1,140 Responses to OT 30: Comment Knowledge

  1. Take fertility health supplements that are rich in vitamins, minerals and amino
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  2. I love breakfast says:

    I’d like your thoughts on this Scott. They seem plausible + horribly biased and political at the same time. Should we be restricting long term psychiatric prescribing? Where are the priorities? If you were in a position to look at the prescribing for a medium sized city what would you do first? (No there isn’t time to read ALL the research or a budget to pay for that)

  3. Carinthium says:

    Requesting life advice on significant stuff. Trying to summarise as much as possible because I don’t want to be boring.

    (Refresh for those who don’t know. Superflous for those who’ve followed my requests for help:
    I was frustrated by my parents pressuring me to be a Roman Catholic when my actual beliefs are atheist and wanted to be a person who could date more effectively. I was advised I wouldn’t be able to get out of Roman Catholic pressures without moving out, so I made plans to. I have almost fully deconverted, as we have agreed I can stop going to Church after December if I still don’t want to be Catholic.

    Bad train luck thwarted my first speed dating and I had an emotional breakdown on the day. I’ve recovered, and have plans to move out to housemind a friend’s place with a roommate in December, fully approved by Mum&Dad.

    In addition to the agreement I can deconvert after December, I’ve achieved the symbolic step of been driven to Church to go myself a different time on Sunday than my parents (so I don’t have to take Communion though Mum&Dad don’t know that, plus I loiter around the back where I can move around without being noticed). I could take advantage of Mum’s rationalization that if my frustration is high enough I am “ill” mentally and so can just do readings in bed, but don’t want to push it. Maybe I shouldn’t have broken the ‘truce’, but I was having a genuine breakdown from uni stress and Mum offered.

    But my main problem right now is living costs. I failed to realize until now (incompetent I know), but Melbourne is very expensive. Mum suggested selling the house, but before Dad was even asked I pointed out I couldn’t bring myself to accept that (stems from my philosophical views*). Dad suggests renting, but I really hope there is a better option than accepting my parent’s money (around $12,000-$15,000 a year) to live on my own.

    A family friend has suggested I can live with them post-December. But it’s a place I visited often in my childhood with a major adulthood presence, so I worry that even after December I’ll be at risk of falling back into old habits.

    Without the status symbol of living on my own one way on another, I won’t be able to get a date. Living with my parents I am at greater risk at being pressured back into Catholicism (though that’s relatively low right now). Finally, it is psychologically a lot more difficult to become and stay independent if I stay in an environment where I am used to passive dependence.

    I need advice.

    *: I’m almost a metaethical emotivist, in that I think morality in practice is just a subset of desires, and that choices of ethical “right” are nothing more than clashes of preferences, some of which can be broadly called moral preferences. People do not intuitively believe this (I’m not fully emotivist), but it is the truth.

    (Minor Notes:
    -My frustration had gone down a lot because I felt a subjective sense of momentum and progress. Now I’m starting to worry again.
    -AMAZE turned out to be useless.
    -Tried a prostitute. Felt nothing. Think it was symbolically worth it, but may be rationalising.
    -Plan to get back to speed dating after University is over, so about two weeks before I make arrangements)

    • keranih says:

      I’ve only been lightly following your story. Did you say that you are employed?

      To me, it sounds like you’ve made a lot of progress towards your goals. Getting your parents on your side is good. (And as a Catholic, I agree – if you are struggling with faith to the point of rejecting the existence of God, it’s not ethical to take communion, *particularly* if it is your intent to continue moving further from God & the church community. So if that’s your intent, I agree with your choice to not take communion (although I find it regrettable.)

      I’m going to leave the dating thing be, hopefully others will add good advice.

      Regarding your living situation…it seems you have three options (so far) – stay in your parent’s home, accept financial assistance from your parents, or accept the offer of the family friend. There is the possibility for another option to arise, but perhaps your best path is to pick one of the options and run with it for now.

      Some thoughts for consideration of each:

      Parent’s home: Strongly recommend that you set an internal deadline 3-6 months post December, by which time you’ll have either found another option, or else will pick between accepting parent money, or family friend home. Knowing that you have these other options may take some pressure off.

      Parental money: What sort of obligation to repay your parents do you think you would entail, following the loan? Do you have a plan to pay interest, or make a mental commitment to help your parents as they grow older? No man is an island, we all help each other, etc, etc, but I think it might help you if you formally define the obligations that this would put you under (even if it’s just to yourself.)

      Friend’s home: What exactly are the accommodations there? How will this mesh with your plans to date? What will be your obligations in return for lodging? Frankly, this (to me) seems the best option for the planet, you, family, etc – you’re sharing living space that would otherwise go unused, you’ll not be borrowing from your parents and you might be helping the Friend, and your parents are likely to be far less tense about the situation if they can get third hand confirmation that you are still alive, eating, etc.

      (PS – if you’re going to leave the Church, what will you be doing with your time on Sunday mornings?)

      Hope this helps somewhat.

      • Carinthium says:

        I’m not employed- I’m a Melbourne University Arts Student, going half-time, all because of parental pressure to go and yet not do what they think I can’t handle. Because of a psychological need for control, I intend to take at least a semester off.

        Also, one of the things I resent is parental pressure which up until very recently has been to go to Communion. At a time in my youth they knew I had doubts (I genuinely changed my mind then, though for reasons I think silly now), yet they still pressured me to take Communion regardless of my own thoughts.

        On Sunday, probably just more gaming time. Overall in my life I’m torn between being sick and tired of work at all (from university) and thinking it’ll be better when I’m finally independent making some work worth it.

        I’ll try Friend’s Home until I can think of a better option, but as I mentioned it has it’s flaws.

        • keranih says:

          Everything has downsides. Paradise on earth, imo, is not a place w/o downsides, but one where you both know all the downsides of all options, and can make a choice without significant regret at what you’ve lost.

          Re: communion – if a person is having doubts and questioning the group, having them participate in group rituals will help strengthen their ties to the group, and so help them through the doubtful period and into a full return to the group. Permitting you to drop Communion while you were doubtful rather than committed to leaving would have been counter to your parents (and my) best wish, which would have been that you stay with the Church. Hopefully if you understand your parents goals/best wishes for you, it will help you be less resentful of their methods. (Again, given that participating in communion is an outward sign of inner desire for commitment to the church community, you are quite right, imo, to forgo participation when you have decided to deconvert.)

          I encourage you to find a thing to do, regularly, where you have a task (physical or mental activity, and physical might be the better option, if you can pick only one) and people who have some expectations of seeing you. 4-6 days a week would be best, but even just one afternoon a week of sweeping floors at the local dog rescue place/shelving books at the library/picking up cans at the park/whatever might be helpful.

          (Scott has linked before to studies which show a significant benefit to work.)

          I think choosing to take a semester off and spend your time as only you see fit would be sub-optimal. Most people don’t do well in that kind of unstructured setting.

  4. AlexanderRM says:

    Something I’ve been wondering for awhile now: As I understand it, in economic terms, corporations are a social interaction between laborers, investors, and consumers, arguably counting managers in some sense although in others they’re laborers. The stereotypical corporate model is that stockholders (the investors) elect the managers and thus control the company; is there anything stopping a corporation where laborers (or perhaps consumers) do that instead? Essentially, a bunch of workers get together, decide to start a corporation, and… probably sell bonds?
    Is there any economic writing on the subject someone could link to? Could be this actually *does* happen all the time but it’s just named something else.

    (another model obviously would be for workers to own shares themselves- build the factory with their own money or whatever- but unless wealth distribution is precisely equal, that’s an inefficient arrangement for everyone to do)

    I’m not sure it would actually help the workers that much overall- the economic competition should even it out so corporate profits are similar- but it’d be a very interesting and useful model to discuss corporations and econoics in (the thing that made me ask about it was having just had a discussion with several of the sort of Blue Tribe people who shout “corporations!” and “profits!” as arguments against various economic systems, or various corporations or the like).
    Regardless of whether or not it happens, is there any easy term for that model to convey that sense of “what if corporations were instead run by workers, would that change your opinion of the issue”?

    • BBA says:

      The word you’re looking for is “cooperative.” The customer-owned form is more common than the worker-owned form, and both have become pretty rare since once you get above a certain size the management will have effective control just like a stock corporation. The largest ones are insurance companies, and if there’s much of a difference between mutuals like State Farm and for-profits like GEICO I haven’t seen it, the ads are just as annoying either way.

      A variant form is seen in the “food coops” – grocery stores where the customers, employees and owners are all exactly the same people. I.e., you can’t shop there unless you’re a member, and you can’t be a member unless you’re willing to work there a couple of hours each month.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There is a theoretical analysis of cooperatives: the worker-owner wants to maximize the average profit per worker, while the pure owner wants to maximize the total profit. If there are diminishing returns to scale, additional workers will increase total profit but decrease the average. Thus, the analysis predicts that optimally run cooperatives will not expand as much as optimally run capitalist enterprises, which will dominate the economy. I don’t know if cooperatives actually behave that way. (The analysis probably also predicts that cooperatives will invest more in automation, which I’m pretty sure is false.)

      • Afaik in some cases they do, but it probably should be balanced with the fact that for-profit employees have greater incentive to defect from cooperative behaviour in their work (secretly being lazy etc). The psychological effect of being a partner in a business is quite significant up to a medium sized scale. My effort to research the topic led me to believe they are rare primarily because they’re difficult to get started because starting a business is risky and cooperative rewards aren’t high enough (most people are mildly altruistic/cooperative not very).

        Personally I’m a fan of small business over big business anyway, not in the least because I think small business is generally much more innovative and less often rent-seeking, so in my mind cooperatives allow a good alternative for more altruistically minded people to still remain effective in the marketplace environment. However, sometimes they’re fairly entwined in left-wing ideology, which doesn’t worry a pluralist like me who skitters across different factions comfortably, but probably would put many centre-right business-minded people off a bit.

    • As others have mentioned you’re looking for cooperatives. I’ve not had personal experience, but I’ve read up quite a bit on them and can tell you a few things. Firstly, they’re not exactly common but they exist in larger numbers than you might think in a number of places. The largest and most successful group to my knowledge is Mondragon, which employs upwards of 70,000 people, based in Spain but also in other places. Cooperatives are also quite popular in many third-world nations including parts of India and Africa. There are also various member-owned businesses in the West including the Anglosphere, particualrly in finance and some still remaining in agriculture.

      The empirical information I was able to gather was that cooperatives fail at a rate that is a lower than regular businesses (still high but better than for-profit small business). However, they don’t generally scale that well beyond medium size, and there may be a poor incentive structure for founding them that cause far far less to be founded (which is the main reason they are rare afaik). Some also find that once they are very successful the temptation to become for-profit leads them to transition to a regular corporate model rather than sharing that wealth with new entrants. Mondragon found that they had to increase their highest (managers) to lowest pay gap within the company from I think 3-1 to 5-1 or something like that, in order to attract professional management talent that they at first lacked. Coops that are founded perform far far better than those created where workers buy out a failing business structure to save their own jobs (no surprise, but common). Generally I’d emphasise that they’re quite successful but not especially popular or common. The reddit sub /r/cooperatives is quite good run by a nice guy but be warned its fairly leftist.

      My own work on the topic has involved trying to drag cooperative concepts a bit towards the centre by looking at creative ways they can scale and be better subjected to business principles, market forces and price mechanisms, if possible without losing their idealism too much. However I’m told my work on that particular topic ends up sounding very leftist despite my efforts to move the concept to the centre, so I now currently prefer to focus on other more recent ideas I’ve had on economics that you can see in my blog if you’re interested.

  5. Jeffrey Soreff says:

    Did anyone else react to the photo by humming aotearoa?

  6. Santoculto says:

    Rational is a human ”thing”, logical is just the ”things” that work in the nature ”and” universe. All systems are logical, but almost systems are predominantly irrational, even those created by human beings.

    Also there is difference between rational reductionism and rationality.

    But rational may can be described as logical because works, works in a genuine human way.

    Higher power of influence of phenomenologic interactions recquire good moral/rational discerniment.

    Human beings should start by this premisses but ”we” are as social systems more as masterless train. ” We ” we build the train, but we have no real drivers.

  7. onyomi says:

    Was reading Scott’s anti-reactionary FAQ, and the point about how some people thought the Victorians felt incredibly safe, and yet we also have news stories of them living in terror of “garroting,” made me think: maybe news reporting is somewhat responsible for some of the perennial sense that “things were better in the day.”

    Consider: as is known (good Dothraki citation practice), the news media thrives on sensationalism: they can turn a blip in murder rates into a big story by making it sound like blood is running in the streets. Therefore, people always have a tendency to feel that *right now* things are going to shit.

    But everyone also remembers when they were growing up, presumably not reading a lot of newspapers before the age of 14 or 16 or so, and everything was not, actually, going to shit, even if newspapers were reporting that they were.

    Maybe a shift from judging the state of the world against one’s own lived experience to, as an adult, judging it by sensational media reports, could be partially responsible for every adult’s sense that “the world is going to hell in a handbasket *now*–not like when I was a kid.”

    • Kabi-run-run says:

      There was quite a long period of time (50s-90s) where things actually were getting worse.

      Now, I don’t know if it’s just my contrarian instincts coming out, but I actually *feel* as if things have got better – when I was 14 ish there was a feeling of danger (and just general unpleasantness) that just doesn’t seem to exist to the same extent now (twenty years later). Young people seem far more sensible and considerate than they used to be, too.

      • BBA says:

        I used to hear people talk about their childhoods as an idyllic past when things were “simpler”. Well, all the complexity and nastiness was still there, but if you’re a child you can’t see it or your parents keep you sheltered from it.

        Myself, I’m with you. I remember the world being a scary place when I was young. It’s a lot less scary now. But then I live in New York, and it really was a hell of a lot scarier here when I was young.

    • Nornagest says:

      Of course it’s the news. Jack the Ripper isn’t famous because of his body count (there were far more lethal killers both before and shortly after), he’s famous because he had the good fortune to be a serial murderer operating in London, the center of Victorian England’s media, at a time when the modern concept of a news cycle was first taking off.

      His exceptionally grotesque methods probably didn’t hurt, either.

    • John Sidles says:

      Kabi-run-run opines “There was quite a long period of time (50s-90s) where things actually were getting worse.”

      It is the considered opinion of Friendly historians that the period in question (1950s-1990s) witnessed substantial improvements in regard to traditional Friendly concerns; these improvements are surveyed in the concluding chapters of Friends for 350 years; the History and Beliefs of the Society of Friends since George Fox started the Quaker movement (2002, updated second edition).

      These traditional Friendly concerns are commonly mnemonized as SPICES:
         • Simplicity
         • Peace
         • Integrity
         • Community
         • Equality
         • Stewardship
      Can we reasonably hope for, and even foresee, further SPICES gains in coming decades?   Only if Cthulhu keeps swimming!

      • Nornagest says:

        Reminds me of Bhutan’s “gross national happiness” index.

        I regret to say that I find it about equally impressive.

        • John Sidles says:

          Yes, there’s no doubt that people (and cultures) who seek to be “held in the dark” nowadays have somewhere to turn.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not a neoreactionary, if that’s what you’re trying to imply. But given the choice between neoreaction and unaccountable feel-good metrics, and nothing else, I’d be first in line to be darkly enlightened.

            (Do you get a Dark Mark with that?)

            Fortunately, I’ve got the whole Regular Enlightenment tradition as an alternative.

          • John Sidles says:

            Historians are well-aware that Enlightened sympathies naturally accompany Friendly sympathies … beginning 350 years ago, and continuing through and foreseeably beyond the present era.

          • Nornagest says:

            One can be sympathetic to a goal without endorsing it as an optimization objective for your civilization. I like order and stability, for example, but some seriously bad shit tends to happen when you try to maximize them.

            Besides, I’m pretty sure that’s not what the linked article says.

          • Nornagest says:

            This is starting to remind me of a neoreactionary I used to spar with, ironically enough. Whenever I said something he couldn’t immediately counter, he’d link me to a bad Gutenberg translation of some 17th-century political science tome — or, for some reason, the Song of Roland — and tell me all my answers were within.

            I finished one of them before I realized he was doing a Gish gallop on me. Call me dense.

            But to get back to the point, it’s usually a mistake to focus too hard on taxonomy. It can be helpful if you want to understand something’s history, but it throws up a lot of false equivalances when you try to take it beyond that: political libertarianism shares a lot of its pedigree with certain parts of the radical left, for example, but now they hate each other.

          • John Sidles says:

            Cthulhu speaks …

            “Insofar as radical really does mean a return to the radix, or root, every radical must trace their history back to its source — for no branch is nourished by the roots except through the other branches and through the trunk.”

            Witnessed in this light, the study of history becomes performative, enlightening, and creative.

            And scientists agree …

            I strongly believe that any self-respecting physicist should learn about the history of physics, and the history of quantum field theory is among the most fascinating. […]

            In all previous revolutions in physics, a formerly cherished concept has to be jettisoned. If we are poised before another conceptual shift, something else might have to go.

            Lorentz invariance perhaps? More likely, we will have to abandon strict locality.

            The pace of the resultant merging of enlightened empathic understanding and enlightened scientific understanding is accelerating … with medicine as the 21st century merging-ground … and the path of the enlightened minions of Cthulhu is illuminated thereby.

          • Nornagest says:

            This isn’t the kind of community where you can get cheap authority points by quote-mining some dude and then saying that it’s what scientists believe.

          • John Sidles says:

            Scientific history-mining has worked for me.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Nornagest says: Besides, I’m pretty sure that’s not what the linked article says.

            You’ll find that this is pretty much par for the course with him.

          • John Sidles says:

            Isn’t a lively respect (even a liking) for historical ambiguity and cognitive diversity essential to appreciating what singing and dancing and laughing is all about?

            That’s the problem with today’s young whippersnappers … vanishing respect for operatic diversity as an unbounded source of cognitive diversity.

            Not for nothing is it called opera … of which Cthulhu’s fellow-swimmers are big fans!

          • Nornagest says:

            Cthulhu speaks […] enlightened minions of Cthulhu […] Cthulhu’s fellow-swimmers

            Why are you still talking about Cthulhu? No one in this thread takes that metaphor seriously.

            Let me be explicit: neoreactionaries are a tiny minority on this blog. I’m not one, onyomi’s not one, Scott’s not one. I don’t know if Kabi is but they’re not talking like one. If you’re trying to score points against them, you’re tilting at windmills.

          • John Sidles says:

            For many (including me) NRx-ers play the same vital role in political discourse that Squidward Tentacles plays in SpongeBob SquarePants (note the ten million views).

          • Nornagest says:

            What vital role might that be, and how does it make the Cthulhu metaphor relevant?

          • John Sidles says:

            SpongeBob/Squidward plays the vital role of avatar of 21st century extra-rational cognition (to use ultra-prestigious mathematician Michael Harris’ language).

            Admittedly, Harris’ writings and lectures make mine seem laconic!

          • Nornagest says:

            How about you use your own language, preferably with a minimum of rhetorical questions and pop-culture free-association?

  8. Kabi-run-run says:


    Nice to see this guy getting some crowdfunding love, but I suspect that he’ll probably end up piddling along to around $20,000, whereas if he was promising some new and improved intergalactic digital dress-ups (with hyper-realistic pew-pew sounds) the sky (as his slogan would tell us) would not be a limit.

    And *that* is why we can’t trust important decisions to consumers.

    • Murphy says:


      I was following this with great interest a while back but then it all went silent. This crowdfunding seems absolutely bizarre.

      It appears extremely patentable, it already got media attention and if it works it should be easy to get funding from universities and companies to develop it into a marketable product yet now I see it on indiegogo? WTF?

      What information do the academic and corporate funding sources with a vested interest in supporting it have that we do not. Did half the test animals in the early safety trials curl up and die or something?

      • Kabi-run-run says:

        From what I understand, there isn’t really much private funding available for new, experimental technology.

        (For example, in the field of communications/computers most of the basic work to prove concepts is funded by the military – there isn’t really a similar body funding radical medical technology.)

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I’ve consistently heard good things about DRACOs as a concept. It’s not a total scam. I don’t know about this guy in particular.

        This seems important enough that I’ll highlight it on the next Open Thread and see what other people think. Especially interested to hear from Douglas Knight or Sarah Constantin. Might be a good donation opportunity.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          This guy is the main DRACO researcher. I think his lab is the only one ever to work on them.

        • grendelkhan says:

          Thank you so much for signal-boosting!

          I’d just run into the IndieGoGo announcement (I do a search every month or two to see if there’s been any more recent news; this is a hobby horse of mine), and I’m going to be throwing a chunk of my charity budget at this (I’ve been saving up for something just like this) and escalating to anyone I can think of in a position to do something significant.

          I know at least one person who works in biology; I sent him the original PLoS ONE paper and the SENS 6 presentation, and I’ll paste the reply in here within the next day or so. (I’m in transit at the moment, and short on internets.)

    • James Picone says:

      How excited should I be about this?

      If the pitch is correct in general and the research works out, I interpret this as being nearly as big a deal as penicillin. Kind of broad-spectrum, easy antivirals, yes?

      But the presentation, the presence on indiegogo, and a general too-good-to-be-true thing make me suspicious.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Yes, this is a new one on me.

        I note this text from the website:

        Currently, DRACOs are in the Valley of Death–the financial and experimental gap between the previously funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) proof of concept experiments and the threshold for convincing major pharmaceutical companies to advance DRACOs toward human trials.

        I don’t actually know if this “Valley of Death” is a real thing, but it seems plausible. If it is real, does anybody know more traditional ways of getting through it?

        • Linch says:

          I don’t know if the Valley of Death applies to this project in particular, but I’ve definitely heard of it in reference to other work as well.

    • onyomi says:

      Sounds very promising, but the video editing is SUPER annoying. Also, I expect we’ll all have some horrible new autoimmune disorder if this treatment ends up wiping out viruses, but maybe that will only be as bad as the way antibiotics mess up our intestinal flora (i. e. worth it in serious cases).

      • Matt says:

        DRACOs don’t persist indefinitely, so even if this became a problem it would be trivial to inoculate the patient with harmless viruses.

        I’m more worried about bacterial infection due to elimination of bacteriophages. Maybe it won’t be possible to apply it to chronic viral infections?

  9. Linch says:

    Hi Scott,

    I was crawling through your tumblr the other day while procrastinating (Bad Linch, I know), and I came across this:


    You said: “I’m not totally sure, but based on http://www.givewell.org/international/technical/criteria/cost-effectiveness#Thecosteffectivenessfiguresweuse it looks like they are talking about preventing one fatal incident.”

    This is somewhat inaccurate. In fact, GW was criticizing Sachs’ lax use of logic there. It makes little difference to save somebody from malaria if they die of polio a week later.

    GW figures for eg., the AMF are based on RCTs where “The summary rate difference, which expresses how many lives can be saved for every 1000 children protected, was 5.53 deaths averted per 1000 children protected per year.” In other words, the population effect on the treatment group has 5.53 less deaths than the control group. So we can expect eg., that a village with 3000 children to have ~16 less dead children if they had malarial nets than if they did not (of course, very large error bars, etc.).

    This is somewhat distinct from “preventing 1 fatal incident”. Eg, if 32 children were protected by insecticidal bednets, but 16 of them died of malnutrition/in a car crash, the RCT (and GW’s figures) will only be able to capture the effects of the 16 who on net (hah!) survived.

    I think their figures actually understate “number of lives saved.” If I was to start a charity evaluator from scratch, I would probably use QALYs as the gold metric to measure the effect of every intervention, and “a saved life” / “averted death” would just be an undiscounted point estimate* over a “normal” lifespan.

    Eg, if a “normal” person lives for 65 QALYs, I will say that a health interventions “saves a life” for every 32.5 QALYs it increases.

  10. The is-portal divide is the philosophical idea stating that there is no logical argument that be used to derive what is a door (‘portal’) from premises that only state what is true (‘is’). Lack of awareness of this problem has plagued many authors to make fallacious arguments about what is a door, without noticing that they’re implicitly assuming portal-statements such as ‘boards attached with hinges are doors’. Such assumptions are highly dubious once you consider pop-up picture books.

    Some philosophers have used the is-portal to argue that doors don’t exist at all, and that sentences involving doors are meaningless. Other philosophers dispute this conclusion, say that although the is-portal divide makes it difficult to reach any definite conclusion about doors, if doors didn’t at all it would be impossible to move from one room to another.

    PS. Technical problem: The first time I tried posting this, there was some technical problem and the post didn’t appear. I tried reposting it, but that made a notice appear saying that I already posted that. Hopefully adding some more text will make the notice disappear.

    • Psmith says:

      Following Hume I might say to my grocer: ” Truth consists in agreement either to relations of ideas, as that twenty shillings make a pound, or to matters of fact, as that you have delivered me a quarter of potatoes; from this you can see that the term does not apply to such a proposition as that I owe you so much for the potatoes. You really must not jump from an ‘is ‘-as, that it really is the case that I asked for the potatoes and that you delivered them and sent me a bill-to an ‘owes ‘.”

      -G. E. M. Anscombe, “On Brute Facts” (and see also her “Modern Moral Philosophy”)

    • I really like Hume, but I find your uncharitable parody of one of his main ideas to be hilarious for some strange perverse reason. I take it this is some sort of argument for moral realism? Can you point us to the details?

  11. tgb says:

    I just have to hand it to Scott again for the cleverness of the “comment knowledge” title and the blue-eyed savage punning off the previous post. Took me a second time to get it, which makes it all the sweeter.

    If you enjoy puns too, you might like Order of the Stick webcomic (giantitp.com) which has some of the best puns I’ve ever seen in the titles that most readers probably never even see (you have to view the lists of comics to see them). Comic 999 recently had a particularly good one. It’s also the webcomic I’ve stuck with the longest and hasn’t declined in quality in the least bit, but updates painfully slowly.

  12. John Sidles says:

    HeelBearCub wonders  “Maybe it [comments upon social justice concerns] is performance art. I don’t know.”

    A central concern of much recent STEM research (including mine) is not the narrow category of the “performance arts” but rather the broader category of the performative arts (especially in medicine); specifically the role of the performative arts in establishing what cognitive researchers call common knowledge … said common knowledge being (of course) the central theme of Scott Alexander’s recent Blue Eyes essay here on SSC.

    The cognitive foundations of common knowledge are admirable surveyed in an (above-cited) article — which is coauthored by Steven Pinker — “The psychology of coordination and common knowledge” (2014).

    Pinker and his colleagues do a terrific job of explicitly enumerating the performative elements of language and cognition (which include eye contact, blushing, crying, and laughter). And yet, it is a striking feature of Pinker’s article that the words empathy and affection never occur in his analysis.

    Whence this absence of empathy and affection?   It is natural to wonder,

    Even more strikingly, a Google Books search seemingly establishes that precisely none of the STEM articles that Pinker has collected in his recent opus Language, Cognition, and Human Nature: Selected Articles ever use the words “empathy” or “affection” … not even once.

    SSL readers are invited to comment upon this remarkable STEM lacuna.

    What can we conclude from all this?   It is tempting to speculate that a Pinker-style empathy-free, affection-free STEM literature cannot naturally accommodate the eminently plausible notion that “It all Turns on Affection” (as was so ably argued by Wendell Berry in his NEH Jefferson Lecture for 2012).

    Neorationalist SSC readers are of course free to hint (or even loudly proclaim) that Wendell Berry’s emphasis upon the crucial roles of affection and empathy — roles whose crucial importance is common knowledge (in Pinker’s sense) — exposes Berry and his colleagues as sluggishly schizophrenic agents of Cthulhu, such that their works may be rationally disregarded.

    And yet Steven Pinker’s writings, considered in aggregate, compose a strong argument against the empathy-free affection-free tenets of neorationalism, and more broadly compose a strong argument against an empathy-free and affection-free STEM literature and culture … equally by what Pinker’s scholarly works say and by what Pinker’s scholarly works never say.

    • stillnotking says:

      Pinker is an empathy skeptic, as I recall — he sees it as unimportant, even harmful, beside the dispassionate understanding gained from the scientific “view from nowhere”. Empathy unmediated by the intellect is dangerous. The Nazis were very kind to animals, and trumpeted that fact in support of the unprecedented humaneness of their regime. Marxism also can be seen as a disastrous triumph of empathy over reason, although one could argue whether empathy and fairness are quite the same thing.

      I think he has a point. The moral emotions are dangerous — as prone to burn the house down as to keep us warm at night.

      • John Sidles says:

        stillnotking says   “The moral emotions are dangerous — as prone to burn the house down as to keep us warm at night.”

        The house-warming/heart-warming analogy reminds us that, for house-warming furnaces, the odds-ratio (warm house)/(burn house) is of order 10^5. That’s why (essentially) all houses have furnaces.

        For similar reasons, heart-warming empathic capacity is strongly weighted by women in mate-selection. Namely, empathic capacity is far more commonly beneficial than harmful.

        Although moderation is advisable … even in empathy.

        • Nornagest says:

          Even if you buy into the analogy, which I’m not sure I do, we have no particular reason to think that the risk/reward setup for hearts resembles that for houses.

          And what’s the deal with the YouTube links? I get that you’re trying to go for illustrative rather than authoritative, but still… romantic comedies are to real-world romance roughly what porn is to real-world sex. Bad porn.

          • John Sidles says:

            Nornagest opines: “Romantic comedies are to real-world romance roughly what porn is to real-world sex.”

            More realistically

            “Romantic comedies are to real-world romance roughly what condensed matter physics is to quantum field theory.”

            Namely, condensed matter physics and romantic comedies alike grapple (successfully!) with performative realms that are not feasibly accessible to computational elaboration (aka “rationality”).

            In other words, rationality alone (aka computational elaboration) suffices to predict the dynamics of individual electrons and individual humans. But when larger numbers of humans and/or electrons begin interacting, then pure rationality fails, and other (more ancient) modes of cognition come to the fore.

            It’s no wonder that the most-cited articles in physics and the most-appreciated works of romance alike rely more upon inspiration and affection than upon rationality and computational elaboration.

            After all, what fraction of SSC readers are the progeny of an unbroken chain of successful attempts at reproduction that extends through millions of successive generations?

            That question is easy to answer.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ll believe it when I start seeing citations to Meg Ryan movies on arXiv.

          • John Sidles says:

            Seen among our mechanical engineering library’s new books this week: Sentiment Analysis.

            No, it wasn’t a typo.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Yeaaaaaahhhhhhhhh, not actually helping your cause, in my mind.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      And yet Steven Pinker’s writings, considered in aggregate, compose a strong argument against the empathy-free affection-free tenets of neorationalism, and more broadly compose a strong argument against an empathy-free and affection-free STEM literature and culture … equally by what Pinker’s scholarly works say and by what Pinker’s scholarly works never say.

      Map vs territory?

      A gentleman is one who does not use the word.

    • Paul Torek says:

      Rationality does not consist in discarding the insights of System 1 , including empathy, in favor of calculations done in System 2. The failure of some self described rationalists to grasp this notwithstanding.

  13. NA says:

    Heh, just wanted to answer to a reply (https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/08/05/ot25-obon-thread/#comment-224021)
    in an earlier open thread. If you let companies know about this you might actually be doing them a favor – my partner (in the software industry as well) will refuse to apply to any jobs with websites with that kind of picture featured prominently. She gets good reviews at work consistently, and never fights with people there – indeed, she often makes friends with them, just dislikes forced socialization. So knowing that this is going on might help the company avoid putting off applicants who would be perfectly capable employees.

    Also, sorry for stating the obvious, but there are many options between what I dislike and what you mentioned in jest. Like a picture with some people enjoying leisure time together, some people working together, some people working alone, and some people enjoying leisure time alone. Or a picture of cool technology, which is, after all, what drives many people to work for technology companies.

  14. Wrong Species says:

    Are there any known instances of depression in hunter gatherer societies?

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Are there even psychologists in hunter gatherer societies?

      • nil says:

        In a lot of pre-modern/non-western societies, mental illness often was/is treated as a spiritual malady by spiritual specialists. One classic example (and relevant, since it basically seems to be what we’d call depression, possibly comorbid with PTSD) is Susto.

    • Lorxus says:

      I think so? IIRC the argument was made that depression doesn’t hit nearly as hard in hunter-gatherer societies because there’s enough surplus gathering to let depressed tribe members sit around miserable for a little while before being able to return to work, as well as increased social ties to make sure they don’t stay that way for too long.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I would imagine that selection pressure is also a lot higher in hunter-gatherer societies, which would cause all the depressed people to die off pretty early in their life (which also applies to diabetic people, disabled people, people whose immune systems are not strong enough to ward off pneumonia, etc.)

    • rsaarelm says:

      You might want to look at the high suicide rates in Greenland and whether they only showed up after the move to modern society. There was a theory floating around that they are an old adaptation to living in tight family units with many periods of semi-starvation, where one less unproductive mouth to feed might mean higher odds of survival for the rest of the family.

    • I assumed this would be an obvious and extensively studied thing, but I couldn’t find much on the topic. Assuming suicide is an objective proxy for depressing which would be extremely difficult to objectively compare between societies, I did find this:

      It’s REALLY old and its mostly paywalled, but basically it suggests the norm of academic understandings is that suicide rates are lower, but there are multiple instances where it is higher. It would require much more reading. Based on this and my intuition, I VERY tentatively guess depression is not specifically a symptom of the modern lifestyle, but I think the modern world creates conditions that cause depression at a more consistent rate than tribal societies which only sometimes go wrong.

  15. Nero tol Scaeva says:

    So… anyone here a fan of video game music? I recently (re?)discovered Over Clocked Remix and I’m like a kid in a candy store!

  16. Lorxus says:

    For reasons that would be mildly complicated to get in to (but that I will gladly explain), I am trying to do some of what I think might be original complexity class reduction research for a tabletop roleplaying game. In essence – how much can you abuse the ability to send single bits of information back to yourself in speeding up decision and function-evaluation problems? I /think/ that you can decide problems in O(1) and that you can achieve some kind of speed-up on function-evaluation, but I’m not sure. Any help?

  17. TeMPOraL says:

    I wonder what the Fine Ladies and Gentlemen of Slate Star Society think about issues of privacy and surveillance. Most people in my environment (tech industry, don’t confuse with adtech industry) seem to be of opinion that privacy is a basic human right and needs to be maximized. Personally, I have some issues with that position, which I usually tend to summarize as “privacy vs. progress of mankind, pick one”.

    My primary observation is that discussions about surveillance and privacy tend to focus on negative uses of data collection – evil governments, bad advertisers. There are however many possibilities to use similar mass-collected data for good, that don’t get mentioned in those discussions. Some random, obvious examples – simulations of disease spreading, determining individual health problems in advance and aggregating that to predict dangers on a city level, optimizing traffic, energy use, enjoyability of urban environments. Incidentally, those are the same things we used to market cloud computing and big data with before Snowdengate broke out. I’m not convinced that any individual’s right to privacy is worth sacrificing all the potential for global optimizations.

    I start to feel that if we want to continue to grow as a society, beat Moloch and ensure prosperity, we need to get closer together, and the current drive towards maximizing individual privacy seems counterproductive.

    • brad says:

      Maybe I’m just a typical American, but I can’t really understand Europe’s notion of a fundamental right to privacy. I can certainly see complaints about the NSA or what have you, but Facebook is storing things that you thought you deleted? Well first no one is putting a gun to your head and telling you to post things to facebook and second what’s the big deal exactly? Then things like the so-called right to be fogotten not only don’t seem like anything close to a fundamental right — or even a good idea — but directly contrary to the right to free speech. Which to my mind, Europeans are entirely too cavalier about!

      • ” I can certainly see complaints about the NSA or what have you, but Facebook is storing things that you thought you deleted?”

        You’ve almost answered your own question. If the white hats aren’t respecting your privacy. that just makes things easier for the black hats.

        • brad says:

          So don’t use Facebook, find someone that has a deletion policy you like better.

          I’m not a hard core libertarian by any means, I’m all in favor of food safety regulations for example, but I really can’t see the government coming in and saying you need to follow this exact privacy policy. It looks like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer to me.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I think the Privacy/Surveillance battle has been won by the Surveillance side so decisively that having opinions on the subject is now pointless. You have no privacy, and you never will (unless you take fairly drastic steps like moving into a mountain hut and refraining from all electronic communication). So, at this point, we might as well attempt to extract some collateral benefits from all this data collection.

    • I think as interesting as those optimisations might seem, ensuring your country doesn’t fall to either terrorism/espionage (argument for less privacy) or big-brother authoritarianism (argument for more privacy) is a far far far more important set of concerns. I think we systematically underestimate the risk from these things because most people here live in countries that have been free from both evils within our lifetimes.

      I think one of the best things we can do, given the battle for privacy is being lost pretty comprehensively, is find new ways to achieve the same things privacy used to give us. For example, protecting people with contrarian politics, activists, or whistleblowers, or just unusual views, from bullying. Or, having much greater transparency in business and government processes, budgets etc. so there’s much less of a power imbalance. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how we’re not heading for a much more conformist, unpleasant and less free society.

      • Kevin C. says:

        But I see no evidence of any “new ways to achieve the same things privacy used to give us”, and enough personal experiece to make me fairly confident that so such substitutes for privacy are possible. I’m pretty sure that the “burn the heretic” instincts are imbedded too deeply in human nature, and libertarianish “live and let live” attitudes so rare, atypical and WEIRD, that “a much more conformist, unpleasant and less free society” is (barring civilizational collapse) pretty much an inevitability of technological determinism.

        • What about, for example, proportional deterants against people that bully individuals with unusual beliefs (provided those individuals are not attacking anyone)? I’m not calling for that neccessarily, but I feel there might be some sensible measures we can take but haven’t thought of because we’re too busy being completely horrified at the destruction of privacy.

          • DrBeat says:

            Any such deterrant would instantly be repurposed so it became another means of bullying individuals with unusual beliefs, by redefining all terms involved until their beliefs became bulllying themselves, justifying the use of the deterrant.

            Everyone loves actual bullies. People will bend over backwards to justify the behavior of bullies, to enable their bullying, and to reward their bullying. You cannot rely on any sort of scheme in which we punish bullies for being bullies, because nobody wants to punish bullies, they want to brand the victims of bullying as bullies so they can punish them some more.

          • Kevin C. says:


            DrBeat beat me to my general reply, so let me just second what he said.

            Though I do note that you said not that you think there may be solutions not yet tried, but that you feel so. How much of this is like that bit from the movie Awakenings: “Because the alternative would be unthinkable”?

          • Both your generalisations are completely different to my perception of humans, and as this isn’t a very specific empirical discussion I’m not sure how to take that further. I hate bullying and many people I know appear to hate bullying. My experience is that around half of peole, not specific to one political faction, hate bullying, and there is an ongoing struggle between bullies and their sycophants and other people who dislike bullying. In my experience some groups do attract (online SJW, far-right) or repel (moderate libertarian, non-identity driven social democrats) a higher rate of bullies, but there are many exceptions and variations.

            One reason I think this is that I see little evidence of significant efforts to do so, and a relatively short time frame in which its been something people are likely to put effort into. It seems very important and I feel like it would be bizarrely defeatist not to consider it? Sort of like wanting the bad effects to happen?

  18. Wrong Species says:

    I wish people would stop making the argument that “X is going to happen regardless of whether the government bans it, so we should legalize it” where X is either guns, abortion, immigration or drugs. Replace “X” with “murder” and see why that argument doesn’t work.

    • nil says:

      That’s not really a sufficient description of the argument. The real argument is “the costs of banning this item or practice outweigh the benefits;” the fact that people will attempt to and sometimes succeed in evading the regulatory scheme is just evidence of high cost and/or low benefit. You’re cuing in on the latter, I think, but it’s the comparison of the two that makes the argument work (when it works, which isn’t always of course). In the cases of drugs or abortion (or prostitution), you’re talking about black market externalities; in the case of guns, you’re talking about depriving law abiding people of non-harmful/beneficial use. Then, especially with drugs or guns, you’re saying the costs outweigh the benefits because the benefits will be mitigated by people evading the law.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The problem is most people don’t make that argument. Maybe they implicitly believe what you said but I don’t hear people make that kind of cost/benefit analysis. They usually just say something like “the war on drugs is a failure. Might as well legalize drugs”. So maybe my problem is that people talk about the costs of prohibition without discussing the benefits.

        • nil says:

          Certainly there’s going to be differences of opinion regarding the actual costs and benefits, and people being what they are the ones with the more extreme opinions are going to be loudest. Gun control advocates who see no utility whatsoever in gun ownership; pro-life folks who don’t see any positive aspects to abortion. The funnest ones have both, simultaneously–anti-prohibitionists often do ignore the costs of drug use or prohibitions inhibitory effects, while pro-prohibitionists basically never admit that there are also positives. Ditto sex work. And that’s not even starting on the great many people who don’t feel it’s their responsibility to mention evidence supporting the position they oppose.

          But in all those cases I think you’re basically seeing funhouse-mirror reflections of more serious arguments by more serious people who do see both sides. In cases like that (and assuming you have the grit/time/desire to do it) I think it’s best to try to bring out the platonic form of the argument.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      In the particular case of drug policy, it’s more that there has been, as far as we can tell, no noticeable correlation on average between punitiveness of policy and levels of drug use (as well as all of the well-known harmful externalities of prohibition). Though what you describe has two possible senses: did you mean “No matter how much we crack down on X, there will always be some amount of X that we cannot stamp out”? Or “No matter how much we crack down on X, it will not make any difference in the rate of X”? It would be silly to argue against punishing X in the first case, but not obviously silly in the second.

      Indeed, I will bite your bullet and say that if robust tests were devised and carried out showing that criminalising murder made no difference to the murder rate, I’d certainly be skeptical of the value of continuing to do so.

      [Edit – you’ve clarified a bit in your response to nil. Well, I think that if you just ask them to spell out what they mean by ‘failure’, they’ll usually be happy to do so. And if someone believes that a policy has failed to achieve its stated goals, or is causing more harm than a plausible alternative policy, then I don’t see what’s so unreasonable about wanting to end that policy.

      Of course, in the instant case, there is a wide span of what ‘not having drug prohibition’ could look like, and most of the sensible advocates are in favour of some sort of public health focussed regulation that can include the option of criminal sanctions for certain particular high-harm behaviour (such as dealing to minors, DUI etc), but simply assumes that the sale and use of a drug should not by default be a crime. See for instance Transform Drug Policy Foundation with their Blueprint for Regulation. ]

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s a bad argument on its face, yeah. But there’s a good argument behind it, and that is this: good policy works with the grain of people’s incentives, and bad policy works against it.

      Rule 1 of small-scale leadership is “never give an order that you expect not to be followed”. This can’t be transposed directly into policy, because once you scale up enough you stop being able to take individual circumstances into account, but the same principle applies. Make law that lots of people have rational reasons to route around, and you’re undermining your own legitimacy for no good reason. Once your legitimacy is gone you have nothing left but force, and you really don’t want to be using that on the regular.

    • John Schilling says:

      Every year, about fifteen million Americans buy guns, two million American women have abortions, one million foreigners immigrate to the United States, twenty-five million Americans use drugs, and about ten thousand Americans commit murder. Most of the Americans who commit murder are caught and punished; almost none of those who partake of illegal drugs, immigration, or guns are ever caught.

      One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong…

      When you hear arguments of the form, ““X is going to happen regardless of whether the government bans it, so we should legalize it”, understand that there’s an implicit “…a whole lot” right after the “happen”. People’s opinions of gun control, immigration, and the war on drugs would change dramatically (and not necessarily in the same direction), if it were at all realistic that number of violators could be reduced to ~10,000/year and most of those locked away in prison shortly after.

      At the other extreme, if after a couple of centuries of trying to enforce laws against murder we were still seeing literally millions of murders per year, I’d be looking favorably at proposals to maybe tax and regulate the wergild instead.

      So, since murder doesn’t really work in your analogy, what does? What’s the thing that’s going to happen millions of times a year even if it is made a felony crime and the focus of a czar-level enforcement effort, that you still think ought to be illegal?

  19. Edward Scizorhands says:

    My back hurts. I’m getting up in age. I want to be able to use my back in my 60s and 70s.

    Should I use my back less, because I only have 10,000 back movements left in my life, or should I use my back more, because that exercises it?

    If more, should I use it before it hurts, until it hurts, or continue on through while it hurts?

    If I should exercise, what exercises should I use, and what is the evidence that this is good exercise? I do a 30-minute bike ride 2x or 3x a week, depending on how much yard work I’ve been doing recently.

    • dndnrsn says:

      What part of the back?

    • Echo says:

      You need to strengthen your abdomen and back muscles to stop your spine giving you trouble. Google can help you better than anyone here, but my (80 y.o) dad swears by planks, side planks, stretching, etc.
      Pain is telling you something: stop.

      Also fix your sitting and standing postures.

      Bike riding isn’t really great exercise. It’s just cardio and a combination of muscles used for nothing else, which can cause knee and hip problems if they get disproportionately strong.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Edward Scizzorhands:
      Allow me suggest that you find a good physical therapist, someone who has experience with sports related physical therapy. That is is anecdotal and related to having had good results from seeing one.

      I think that back pain is very frequently related to poor core strength and, more importantly in my opinion, reduced flexibility, especially in the hamstrings. There is a really great hamstring stretch where you lay in a doorway with one leg on the frame and the other leg through the doorway. Inch yourself closer to the door frame until you feel the stretch in the hamstring. Lie there a while. Like, 5 minutes or more. Repeat for the other leg.

      Of course, none of that will help you if you have disc problems, which is a totally different thing. I good PT can help you cope with that, but only so much. Surgery can help with that when it is time.

    • Psmith says:

      I recommend reading Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training and making up your own mind. It is also worth noting that everybody’s back ends up hurting eventually regardless of what they do, there are different kinds of pain, and learning when to hit the gas and when to hit the brakes is a highly individualized process of trial and error.

      Contra HeelBearCub, my experience and reading incline me to believe that lots of disc problems are asymptomatic, lots of others hurt for a bit and will eventually get better with appropriate training, and surgery is recommended when the immediate symptoms of the disc problems are things like incontinence or being unable to walk.

      • onyomi says:

        Based on my own experience, I find serious barbell training to be inappropriate for most Americans. They lack the core strength and hip flexibility to do the major movements safely and correctly (can you squat to parallel or lower without taking your heels off the ground, rounding your lower back or tucking your butt under at all? Most people who didn’t grow up squatting on the toilet lack the internal hip rotation and core integrity). They should work up to that gradually.

        I also agree with Heelbearcub that poor core strength, especially of erector spinae muscles are a big contributor to back pain.

        I disagree that back pain is inevitable. If your back is hurting when you exercise, or after you exercise (other than in a good, “tired and sore” sort of way, as opposed to an actual “ouch” sort of way), you are doing something wrong.

        Not using your back is not a good solution to back pain, as in most cases, back weakness is a big part of the problem. The key is in finding a way to exercise it without irritating the nerves further. I suggest swimming and physical therapy.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The question of how to train the erectors is a big one – with a lot of movements, it’s pretty easy to shift the burden onto other, larger muscles.

        • Psmith says:

          “Based on my own experience, I find serious barbell training to be inappropriate for most Americans. They lack the core strength and hip flexibility to do the major movements safely and correctly….”
          My experience suggests the opposite. I think almost everybody can squat, deadlift, and press overhead just fine with a little coaching. When I’ve seen people struggle, it’s been because of poor coaching or because they’re not strong enough to, e.g., squat unloaded or press the bar overhead (and, of course, there are various things we can do about that–have them squat unweighted to a box, press a broomstick, etc.). By way of anecdotal evidence, my dad is 57, fat, can’t touch his toes, works at a desk, and has a wide variety of old injuries from motocross and high school football. It took him half an hour to learn how to perform a textbook squat, including a brief warmup on the rowing machine and some light stretching beforehand. Meanwhile, from a theoretical perspective, the lifts themselves are an excellent way to develop flexibility and “core strength”.

          “I disagree that back pain is inevitable.”
          To be clear, I meant in life, not immediately after or as a result of any particular physical activity. That is, everyone I know over 50 or so deals with back pain from time to time, regardless of what they did when they were younger or, for that matter, of what they currently do. From Wikipedia: “About nine out of ten adults experience back pain at some point in their life, and five out of ten working adults have back pain every year.”

          “I suggest swimming”
          This strikes me as a nice way to get tired and burn calories without making one’s back pain any worse, but a pretty bad way to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the spine. The relevant load is small and not very easy to titrate in measured increments.

          • onyomi says:

            “By way of anecdotal evidence, my dad is 57, fat, can’t touch his toes, works at a desk, and has a wide variety of old injuries from motocross and high school football. It took him half an hour to learn how to perform a textbook squat, including a brief warmup on the rowing machine and some light stretching beforehand.”

            No offense, but I honestly don’t believe your father could do what I would consider to be a safe, proper squat given the physical background you describe. Most Americans can’t even do an unweighted squat without rounding their backs or tucking their butts or using an extremely limited range of motion.

            For reference, this is what someone with the hip flexibility for a safe squat looks like


            I am not saying you would actually go *that* low with weights on your back, and even most third worlders will tend to round their backs a little at the very bottom of a deep, unweighted squat like this, but most Americans are not even close.

            Also, swimming does exercise your back muscles, along with most of the other muscles in your body. By contrast, I don’t think most people doing squats in the gym today are actually engaging their back muscles because they flatten or round their backs as soon as they get close to parallel because their hips are too tight. Don’t get me wrong, squats can be a good back exercise, but not as most people I see in the gym are doing them.

          • Psmith says:

            “I honestly don’t believe your father could do what I would consider to be a safe, proper squat given the physical background you describe.”
            I think that this is absolutely right, and that this is because your model of the squat (and barbell training in general) is wrong. I’m not going to try to convince you of this, because I have seen a lot of Internet arguments about squat mechanics and not a one was worth the pixels it was displayed on. However, I will say this: there are a lot of American adults, many of my personal acquaintances among them, who have spent their entire lives sitting in chairs, shitting in toilets, and wearing shoes just like the rest of us, and who train safely and productively with barbells. None of the trainees I know did physical therapy in preparation for barbell training, and most of them spend fewer than twenty minutes a week on dedicated stretching, “mobility”, “prehab”, etc. Some of these folks are even…old. Regardless of his eventual decision, OP ought to be aware of this before he decides that barbell training is an elaborate and subtle arcanum that should only be approached after years of wobble boards and brightly colored rubber bands. You ought to be aware of it, too, if you aren’t.

            “I don’t think most people doing squats in the gym today….”
            Most people in commercial gyms do not know how to train with barbells, yes.

            “swimming does exercise your back muscles”
            OK. What forces must the muscles that stabilize the spine resist, in swimming? How do the trainee and the coach know when those forces have been successfully resisted? How is resistance added as the trainee gets stronger? How is resistance reduced for very weak trainees?

          • onyomi says:

            Every time you pull through with your arms or kick with your legs in swimming your core muscles activate to stabilize. There is no need to lower the resistance for the weak because the advantage of swimming is that it’s very low impact and also low-gravity (means your spine can decompress just by virtue of you being in the water, relative to being on land). To make it more intense, kick harder, swim faster. It can be a pretty intense workout–certainly intense enough for someone who’s older or recovering from an existing injury. Is it going to make you hugely jacked? Probably not, but that’s not most people’s goal. Most older people would be very happy with a swimmer’s physique.

            I agree you don’t have to spend a lot of time on wobble boards or whatever, but most Americans are simply not flexible enough or aware enough of their posterior chain to do squats and deadlifts safely and effectively. These should be simple movements, yes, but for us sitting in chairs, etc. they aren’t.

            And if I dissuade people from barbell training by making it sound more complicated than it really is, then I think that is to the good: because I think for most people the risks outweigh the benefits. Most people can safely train their muscles on machines (the medex low back trainer is especially good if you can find one), swimming, walking, etc. without having to learn how to do barbells safely, so what is the point if you’re not a powerlifter or something? If you’ve got effective forms of exercise like swimming and most machines which don’t injure you if you do them wrong, and then you’ve got barbell training, which, while effective if done properly, can also injure you horribly if you do it wrong, why would you chose b, especially if we’re talking about older people whose primarily goal is usually just to be pain free, not to get huge muscles?

            If it sounds like I’m a bit pissed about this subject it’s because I am: I bought into the whole Rippetoe “serious lifters don’t use those pansy machines and anyone can easily do the major barbell lifts” thing, and, for me, at least, it was a big waste of time. I did the barbell lifts to the exclusion of machines and cardio for a few years and ended up in worse shape than I started. Now I mostly swim, use machines, and do some very light squats with very careful form and high reps and I look better and feel better by far.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The posterior chain is weird. It took me quite a while to get the whole “not rounding the back” thing down. Luckily, in that time I managed not to explode my lower back doing squats or deadlifts.

            I think a lot of people might be smart to go with stuff like goblet squats. The upright posture requires flexing of the core, but there isn’t the same risk of rounding, and weights tend to be light enough that if something does go wrong it’s unlikely to be catastrophic.

            You mention the MedEx machine: are you acquainted with Arthur Jones’ obsession with finding a way to isolate and train the lower back? He spent some ridiculous amount of time and money on that machine. Rippetoe is unfair to Jones, painting him as some kind of huckster. If he was a huckster, he was a pretty ineffectual one: Jones made his money outside of the exercise equipment arena, and then proceeded to blow a lot of it in that arena. His life story is … interesting, to say the least.

            On the subject of Rippetoe: I started out doing Starting Strength, and while I’m hardly an expert, he has a rather unpleasant combination of presenting himself as the only real-talking non-huckster, while making claims of improvement that are pretty wild (he makes it sound like getting to a bodyweight x1.5 bench press and double bodyweight squat is something that any shmuck can manage in a few months, and if you don’t, any fault is on your end).

            If I was going to choose a straight-talking non-huckster fitness guru, Dan John would be my man.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “he has a rather unpleasant combination of presenting himself as the only real-talking non-huckster, while making claims of improvement that are pretty wild”

            It may be unpleasant, but it is hardly rare. For one thing, that is the standard mode for almost every actual huckster.

          • Psmith says:

            “Every time you pull through with your arms or kick with your legs in swimming your core muscles activate to stabilize.” Stabilize what? How can you tell when you’ve successfully stabilized? “Intensity” is not the same thing as force production, and physical activity can be as subjectively intense as you like without being useful for anything whatsoever.

            You seem to think that people do not get hurt using machines. This has not been my experience. Meanwhile, barbell training is useful in that it is trainable to an extent that machines are not, and trains ordinary movements as unified wholes where machines cannot. (This is also useful for rehabilitating injuries, in my experience.). By way of example, if somebody has trouble picking up and carrying a bag of mulch, squatting and deadlifting will develop the ability to stand upright with a load in a way that no machine or group of machines can replicate.

            As for the rest…all I can say is that none of this has been remotely true in my experience or the experience of anyone I know IRL. I’m glad you found something that works for you. Peace out, and best of luck to the OP.

          • onyomi says:


            You don’t know anyone IRL who has injured themselves doing barbell lifts? I do know some who have injured themselves using machines, but it is generally a repetitive stress kind of injury not too hard to fix, whereas I know people who have suffered much more serious injury using barbells (Crossfit is the extreme example of throwing people into doing a ton of barbell lifts without adequate preparation or focus on form).

            Regarding training whole body movement: I agree it’s useful to be able to do the motions correctly: if you can do a deadlift correctly you can pick something up off the ground correctly, but this is a reason to learn to do the movement without weight first. Only once you can easily do the movement correctly with no weight do I see it as safe to try adding more weight, and I don’t see any real point in ever using a very large amount of weight unless, again, you are a powerlifter or something.

            And to clarify, I’m not saying it isn’t good to develop the flexibility and form necessary to do a good squat or deadlift; I am saying that I don’t think it’s safe for most Americans to jump into doing weighted squats or deadlifts without a significant period of developing the right kinds of flexibility and practicing those movements correctly without weight. If one can’t touch one’s toes without rounding one’s back, for example, how on earth can one safely do a deadlift?

            And while I do think learning to do a safe deadlift or squatting motion is useful for everyday life, I don’t agree with the notion that compound movements are inherently superior. Firstly, there’s no guarantee the person squatting is actually engaging all his muscles like he’s supposed to rather than just letting most of the weight fall on his joints and the muscles which are already strongest.

            Second, it’s demonstrably false that if, for example, you train your hamstrings and low back separately, that the strength they thereby develop will not transfer to a compound movement. It does–which is why baseball pitchers and hitters do so much weight training now: if you needed to train the motion you’re doing, then they’d need to throw a lead baseball or something, but that isn’t what works.

          • onyomi says:


            Yeah, I have a theory that, while our upright posture and head orientation make it natural we should focus, to some extent, on movements in front of us, modern life has amplified this to an unhealthy degree, to the point that, unless we are a ballet dancer, almost all our attention and movement is directed forward: driving, typing at a keyboard, sitting to watch TV, etc. As on the Simpsons:

            “Dr. Hibbert: Your spine is more twisted than Sinbad’s take on marriage.

            Homer: So? Just give me some drugs and surgery.

            Dr. Hibbert: Oh, I’d love to but, uh, to be honest, modern Medicine has a lousy record of treating the back. We spend too much time on the front.

            Homer: Yeah, there’s some neat stuff in the front.”

            This is another advantage of swimming: you are moving in a very 360 sort of way.

            And yeah, I used to buy into Rippetoe’s pov, but now I’m a much bigger fan of Jones, who does, indeed, have a very weird and interesting life story.

          • dndnrsn says:


            1. How do you practice the deadlift without weight? Even doing it with less than a 45 on each side requires putting the bar up on blocks to get the right distance to the bar.

            2. The bar for a set-up deadlift is nearer than your toes, and you don’t start with straight legs.

            3. Yeah, modern life is nasty for the back (and shoulders). I’ve done more damage to myself sitting, reading, and typing/using a mouse than I have in the gym.

            4. Interestingly, Jones and Rippetoe both have a very similar persona, when you read their writing – “gruff old guy who doesn’t have time for any of your BS”. Jones has been misrepresented both by his detractors (he was hardly a machines-only proponent) and his supporters (Darden hates on protein intake above RDI, but Jones recommends a primitive protein shake as a supplement that would probably contain close to RDI by itself for a normal-sized man).

          • Psmith says:

            Oh, hell.

            “You don’t know anyone IRL who has injured themselves doing barbell lifts?”
            Of course I do. “Safe and productive” does not mean “will never ever get hurt.” However, 1) I’ve gotten hurt quite a bit less lifting than I have running, wrestling, or riding bikes, and most of the people I know who have done anything physical other than lifting can tell pretty much the same story, 2) it has been my experience that most lifting injuries do not interrupt productive training, 3) it has also been my experience that injuries from other shit generally do interrupt productive training and are therefore more annoying than lifting injuries, 4) most (maybe all?) of the people I know who have gotten hurt lifting weights were training for reasons other than health alone, and 5) the injury rate of everyday life, or even everyday life at a healthy weight plus some yoga and brisk walking, is not zero either. I also don’t know very many Crossfitters.

            “there’s no guarantee the person squatting is actually engaging all his muscles like he’s supposed to rather than just letting most of the weight fall on his joints and the muscles which are already strongest.”
            The guarantee is that their form is correct. Muscles move the skeleton. If the limb segments are moving the way they should, the muscles are being engaged.

            “Second, it’s demonstrably false that if, for example, you train your hamstrings and low back separately, that the strength they thereby develop will not transfer to a compound movement.”
            It’s an empirical question whether Nautilus circuits or whatever will transfer better to performance at any given task than squatting and pulling. I know where I’d put my money.

          • onyomi says:



            Once you can do that, lose the bar, go further and touch the ground in front of you. If you can lean forward and touch your feet without rounding your back at all (okay and appropriate to bend the knees somewhat, of course), and then come back up maintaining the same back position the whole while, then I’d say you have enough hamstring flexibility and lower back awareness to do a deadlift, but not otherwise.

            For most Americans just doing this motion correctly and repeatedly would be quite a challenge. Then they can move up to picking up gallons of milk or light kettlebells this way. No need for them to pick up an actual barbell until they are way stronger and more flexible than, on average, a life of sitting at a desk has made them.

            And yeah, I don’t think I’d want to be friends with Rippetoe or Jones, but I think Jones contributed a lot more to the field.

          • dndnrsn says:


            1. But what’s the point of waiting to deadlift until you have more flexibility than is needed to set up the deadlift? Your toes are at the floor, while the bar is half a 45 closer to you. If someone couldn’t reach halfway down their shin without rounding their back, that would be a problem.

            2. A lot of people basically say Rippetoe just repackaged Bill Starr’s stuff, while reading Jones’ old stuff I ran across things I hadn’t heard before. So, you may be right. A fair number of people who hate on Jones echo things he said.

          • onyomi says:

            I mean, yes, you only need to get 2/3rds of the way down your shins to actually reach the bar, so technically one doesn’t have to be quite that flexible, true. But most Americans I know are not even close to being able to reach that point without compromising their back position.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Really? Geez. I thought I was inflexible.

            I guess Romanian deadlifts might be a better way to go for someone that inflexible. I know I started with them and they might have helped. The strain on the lower back is less than with a barbell deadlift, and it comes on in a way that is less potentially hazardous. Plus it will stretch the hamstrings.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I was trying to indicate that if the problem (which appears to actually be symptomatic) is, in fact, a disc problem, that the advice I am giving is not necessarily the right advice.

        Surgery would only be indicated after you have gone down the “can I get more or less permanent relief some other way” route.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Dang, my comment got ate. Responding to a bunch of different comments here.

        The spot on my back is the lower thoracic. I had trouble placing it until I went about my day and tried those planking exercises (http://darebee.com/workouts/five-minute-plank-workout.html). I took it easy but I can still feel it. My form may suck.

        I know I’ve lost flexibility. If I have to crouch or sit cross-legged for a period of time, it’s pretty tough getting back up. Stretching may be more appropriate than exercises but I’ll give HBC’s stretches a shot later today.

        I don’t know much about squats.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Edward Scissorhands:

          Should that be “I don’t know squat about …” erm, nevermind. 😉

          The key to the stretch I am describing is that should allow you to stretch the hamstring without exerting anything. “Easy does it” is good advice.

          Just get your leg up there and feel the stretch. If you stop feeling it, scoot towards the wall some. It should not hurt (i.e. don’t over do it, I don’t know how tight your hamstrings are).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Wow, that whole side conversation about lifts is totally over me. And I used to lift (under a coach’s instruction).

            Over the past two days I’ve been doing hamstring stretches (like this http://i.ytimg.com/vi/y1cVQARo8iI/maxresdefault.jpg but slightly higher) and some ab exercises (the planks and lying leg lifts) and I’ve been sore, which is what I want because I can tell something’s working.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Note that soreness can be deceptive: when your muscles get used to working, they will get less sore. It’s more a sign that your body is doing something it’s not used to than anything else; there’s overlap with improvement, but it’s not proof that strength is improving or hypertrophy is taking place or whatever.

            It’s also kind of individual: My upper back tends to get sore even when I’m used to the exercise, while my quads and hamstrings don’t.

  20. Ben Kennedy says:

    In your autism piece, you mention “As best I can tell fetuses have less personhood than cows, and I had a cheeseburger for dinner last night”. In the style you promote of “extremism in thought experiment is no vice”, suppose some people start believing that powdered fetus nose is an aphrodisiac and are willing to pay money for it. And, for the sake of argument, the extraction process consumes the entire fetus except the skin, which can be used to make shoes and jackets. There is no benefit to science. Because of the immense psychic benefit of this new product, people are willing to pay lots of money, so raising fetuses to 8 weeks before harvesting becomes very profitable.

    Would a human fetus-nose farm be approximately as morally acceptable as a current slaughterhouse? This would seem to be a consequence to a belief that cows and human fetus have similar moral agency. I’m not trying to debate personhood, I’m just curious how you are defining moral agency and the process by which you attach it to stuff

  21. Deiseach says:

    Scott, what was that you were saying about cardiologists?

    It looks likely that, in part, ‘malpractice’ is driven by money:

    In recent years, federal officials have brought several prominent cases against cardiologists and hospitals, accusing them of performing unnecessary procedures like inserting stents into coronary arteries. While medical professionals say there is no indication that cardiology has more unnecessary procedures than, say, orthopedics, they do note that the specialty has come under increased scrutiny by regulators because the procedures tend to be reimbursed by Medicare and private insurance at significantly higher levels than those in many other specialties.

    “Cardiology, whether we like it or not, is generally a big moneymaker for hospitals,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and the former president of the American College of Cardiology. “We are still a fee-for-service system, and that creates, in my view, misaligned incentives among some physicians to do more procedures and among some institutions, particularly in areas where there is not tight medical supervision, to turn a blind eye and enjoy the high revenue stream.”

  22. I really hope it is not Gojko Mitic on the picture.

  23. James Picone says:

    Pretty consistently, when details of a policy setup or regulatory framework or bureaucratic setup comes up here, and it’s from the US, I look at it and go “WTF? Why is it so obviously screwed up and broken?”

    I get this a lot less from Government Stuff here in Australia, even the bits that I think are wrong or poorly-implemented (example: When the government privatised our publicly-owned comms-monopoly company by selling it off wholesale, rather than doing the obvious thing by splitting it into a network-owning company and a telecomms-services company. This resulted in a private monopoly with an incentive to anticompetitive behaviour the public monopoly didn’t have).

    I feel like this is because the US Government Stuff is broken in really, really terrible ways. Worse than the Australian ones, anyway. I’ve seen this with a bunch of laws and areas of government – environmental regulation, education, health, welfare, etc..

    I’m trying to figure out why I get this impression that the US Government is hopelessly incompetent in ways that other comparable governments don’t seem to be. I’ve got a couple of working hypotheses:

    1) The US government isn’t more or less hopelessly incompetent than others, it’s just that most of the high-quality commentary I see on the internet comes from Americans, who are going to reference hopelessly-broken bits of their government.

    2) A combination of the US’ constitution making it hard for the government to do things and the US having been a democracy for quite a long time and having a terrible electoral system as a result combine to make the US government awful (Voting is relevant because simple-majority over the number of people in the US + all the other stuff significantly weakens the power of voting to drive governmental direction, the constitutional stuff is relevant because it means representatives spend most of their time fighting each other and various constitutional protections, rather than actually thinking about legislation).

    3) The scary one: The US is the largest not-really-obviously-corrupt democracy in the world by population, with India being the only larger country. The US might have reached a threshold population beyond which democracy as a form of government no longer scales.

    Any thoughts?

    • suntzuanime says:

      As an American, I get that feeling about Britain, so it’s probably just idiosyncratic.

      • JBeshir says:

        As someone in the UK I get that feeling about American bureaucracy (pretty much all of my personal interactions with government have been pretty quick and efficient) so I’m suspecting it’s just reporting bias.

        Although I *do* get the impression the UK has more laws which would allow the executive to do bad things, kept in check by risk of backlash against the government, rather than a risk of backlash against the legislature preventing broad laws from being passed in the first place.

        That probably arises out of different attitudes to how governmental controls should work, I think- rather than an attitude that the executive is expected to do anything it wants and the people controlling the legislature have a job to limit it, they’re treated as more or less a single elected entity which is expected to behave decently overall.

        So it might also be a matter of what aspects are being focused on.

    • PGD says:

      I would say much of it is a variant of (2), except that it’s not just length of time, it’s sort of baked into the system from the start. The US Constitution and governmental system make it massively difficult to address even recognized problems. First, it is not a parliamentary system, so the bicameral legislature is (two) entirely separate veto points from the executive — you need to basically have three different election results align in order to have the clear ability to push a single party’s agenda through. Second, government is extraordinarily federalized and decentralized, so even when you get a desire for change at the Federal level, it is difficult to affect state and local laws and administrative practices. FInally, the first past the post voting system leads to lock-in of a two party system, meaning that the parties themselves are massively heterogenous and it’s hard to push something to the top of a party agenda. All of this combined means it is very difficult to do the kind of corrective adjustment to established practices that you would want to do.

      Now, U.S. foreign/military policy is a somewhat different kind of fucked up, stemming from almost complete insulation from democratic accountability.

      I do think that (3) also plays a role.

      • stillnotking says:

        Now, U.S. foreign/military policy is a somewhat different kind of fucked up, stemming from almost complete insulation from democratic accountability.

        That’s an absurd contention; as with so many other critical analyses of US foreign policy, it ignores all the dogs that didn’t bark. It also ignores the Herculean efforts of US politicians to sell the public on their foreign-policy ideas, efforts they would hardly make if they were “insulated from democratic accountability”.

        If there is a military-industrial complex calling the shots of US foreign policy in order to fan the flames of global conflict, it’s remarkably bad at its job.

    • 4. A lot of americans would rather defect (ie use individualistic solutions, like home schooling, gun ownership) than co-operate in finding good solutions to problems, so good solutions don’t arrive, which proves to the defectors’ satisfaction that they were right in despising the government.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Also known as the “wreckers and hoarders” theorem.

        • ..in it’s extreme left-wing form. Forms of defection that right-wingers don’t like include draft-dodging, atheism, and nonstandard sexual/marital/family arrangments.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            …All of which they are pointedly forced to tolerate.

            So I guess left-wingers are just going to have to grin and bear it on the gun culture and homeschooling, right?

            Which does nothing to change the fact that by all available evidence, the good solutions you are claiming *do not exist*. There are a heap-TON of problems with the public school system. It is farcical to claim that all, or even most of them would be resolved if only the private- and home-schooled kids were stuck in the cesspit with everyone else.

          • James Picone says:

            I think TheAncientGeek is claiming that the good solutions exist in other countries. I think Finland is the standard example here? I don’t know much about public schooling in other countries.

            I don’t think his argument is correct – why are Americans so culturally different? What about the ways American government fucks up that aren’t associated with not getting buy-in from significant chunks of the population? – but there are better ways of doing most of the things the US does, because a bunch of other countries do them better (Public health in a lot of the rest of the world, for another example. University entrance mechanisms. Voting is kind of cheating because America is handicapped by the whole 18th-century thing, but, well, voting.)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @James Picone – I will cheerfully concede that other countries have working public school systems. We do not have their systems, and no plans to adopt their systems are within two decades of being implemented. We have OUR system, which is a combination of federal jobs program for the minimally employable and intellectual abattoir. Until that changes (and I hope it changes soon), claims that sparing your children from Baby’s First Penitentiary are somehow “defection” is a little maddening.

          • John Schilling says:

            FC: You left out one critically important part. The American system includes a great many very good “public” schools, funded by local property taxes in districts where housing prices have been bid up hundreds of thousands of dollars above the surrounding market due to the “free” access to good schools for children living in these homes. Imagine an exclusive (and expensive) private housing development where the homeowner’s association also runs a private school for the residents’ children, except that the US educational system is structured so that you can fit that sort of thing in the corners of the public school system.

            If someone tries to change that, BTW, the parent/homeowners in question will privatize the system on their end, in about a generation and after massive disruption to no good end. In the meantime, home schooling is for people who want a good but idiosyncratic education for their kids, or for people who want a good general education for their kids but can’t afford expensive houses. Both groups are too small to support a network of dedicated public or private schools.

          • brad says:

            @John Schilling

            If someone tries to change that, BTW, the parent/homeowners in question will privatize the system on their end, in about a generation and after massive disruption to no good end.

            We have a natural experiment on that point. In the Southeast because under the desegregation orders many large school districts were created that included urban cores and the surrounding suburbs and students were bused from one to the other. Judges made some sort of tentative moves to putting in place similar districts in the Northeast, which was just as segregated, but the politics of that was very different and integration of de facto segregated cities quickly lost steam. So in the suburbs of northern cities there are these tiny microdistricts that create might-as-well-be private schools as you describe, whereas in many southern cities they do not exist (or at least did not as of 15-20 years ago, things are changing now).

            Do we know if say the suburbs of Charlotte have a significantly higher rate of private school attendance than say the suburbs of Pittsburgh?

            Finally, I quibble with the no good end part. A kid in a most private schools is a win-win for the public — the child is educated with all the positive externalities that implies but at no cost to the public. There may be some private schools whose curriculum is so off the wall that equation changes, but I suspect not very many.

      • Anonymous says:

        Don’t homeschoolers typically band together in groups to ease the burden of the procedure?

      • HlynkaCG says:

        Objection! Presupposing such “good solutions” exist or that decentralization is not one such solution.


        • “Presupposing such “good solutions” exist ”

          Well, other countries exist…

          • HlynkaCG says:

            The existence of other countries says nothing about the existence of “good solutions” unless it is your intention to argue that the US is the literal worst and that any other country would represent a marked improvement.

          • I only have to argue my case on a solution-by-solution basis. Spree-shootings in particular are an area where the US is massively out of line with comparable countries.

          • John Schilling says:

            Didn’t we just go through this an open thread or two ago?

            The data does not support a claim that “Spree-shootings are an area where the US is massively out of line with comparable countries”, in large part because any signal is lost in a torrent of noise that includes spree killings worse thananything America has ever seen, in countries with stricter gun control laws than America will ever have.

      • Lupis42 says:

        There are an awful lot of debatable assumptions baked in there. Let’s extract a few:
        defect (ie use individualistic solutions
        Individualistic solutions are not automatically defecting. Defecting carries the assumption that the solutions chosen confer individual benefit at the expense of others.
        individualistic solutions, like home schooling
        Homeschooling is typically highly cooperative within a community – indeed, it requires much more co-operation with others than moving to a geography with a preferable mandated public school, or paying for a private school.
        A lot of americans would rather … use individualistic solutions
        I think it’s fair to say that there is a significant minority of Americans that consistently prefers individualistic solutions. If that’s all you need to count it as “a lot”, than the statement is fine, but it doesn’t really drive to the original questions. A politically relevant minority or majority may be found on some issues (e.g. gun rights), but there appears to be little consistency.
        co-operate in finding good solutions to problems
        It is dangerous to assume that co-operation will find good solutions. The Amish have co-operated and chosen a bunch of solutions, yet most of us do not find those solutions “better”.
        Would you consider teacher’s unions to be defecting or co-operating?
        so good solutions don’t arrive
        This assumes that good solutions are discovered through co-operating. Much of the history of innovation suggests that co-operating slows the discovery of new solutions and the rate of adoption of existing solutions.
        which proves to the defectors’ satisfaction that they were right in despising the government.
        I think the chain of reasoning here goes:
        Individualist solution ~= defect, therefore co-operate ~= collectivist solution, collectivist solution ~= government, therefore government ~= good, therefore if people would just stop defecting, it could solve all the problems humans have now, or will ever have.
        Is that an approximately accurate unpacking, or do you have a preferred version.

      • onyomi says:

        But they would rather defect because they have no trust in the government because it has no track record of doing a good job of anything recently because the coalitions necessary to get into office are way too vast because the country itself is too big in terms of geography, population size, and cultural variation to govern effectively. So, no. 3.

      • stillnotking says:

        “Finding individual solutions” is not synonymous with “defecting”. If I want to lose weight, I eat less and exercise more; I don’t sign up for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, but I am not thereby harming those who do. I imagine home-schoolers have similar feelings about the public education system. Besides, most parents who do send their kids to public school have no particular investment in improving the system as a whole. Their kids’ school, maybe — which opens up even more defection possibilities.

        • ‘“Finding individual solutions” is not synonymous with “defecting”. If I want to lose weight, I eat less and exercise more; I don’t sign up for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, but I am not thereby harming those who do. I imagine home-schoolers have similar feelings about the public education system’

          I dare say they do, but co-operators feel that if the better motivated and better off jump ship on the public education system (etc), that does result in degradation for everybody else.

          • stillnotking says:

            My point is that reasoning is easily susceptible to a reductio argument, where if there exists a government program for X, it is our obligation to sign up for that program, whether we believe it suits our needs or not. I doubt even the most ardent leftist would be down with that. (If they claimed to be, and were religious, I’d ask whether they signed up for GWB’s faith-based initiatives.)

          • I don’t think it follows that everyone has to sign up for everything because a lot of programmes are inherently of minority interest, so most people have “defected” by default. What the co-operators are concerned about is the big three that affect everybody: education, policing/security and health.

          • Lupis42 says:


            Would you agree that anyone who hires, rents to, or employs an illegal immigrant is defecting on the policing front?

      • Echo says:

        “A lot of americans would rather use an individually-tailored solution (that I demonize) rather than give their political enemies even more power to hurt them (in ways I approve of).”

        • Humans beings tend not to co-operate by default, so co-operation tends to be buttressed culturally, by praise of co-operators and demonisation of defectors, so demonisation of defectors is pretty standard, and not some idiosyncracy of mine..how does the average Republican feel about draft dodgers, for instance?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Your position is that people who choose to not participate in the public school system are comparable to draft dodgers? That’s a bold statement, but it sounds familiar to me. Is this a fair elaboration?


          • Lupis42 says:

            Does the average Democrat (or blue triber if you prefer) have strong opinions about the family that moves to a new location to get their kind into a better public school?

          • brad says:


            No, I don’t think so. Parents are excused all kinds of reasoning that wouldn’t otherwise be acceptable.

            A symmetrical example might be be driving a large SUV if you are in a very environmentally consciousness peer group. I think it is hard though for anyone without at least a Vietnam era parent to understand the strength of the emotions around draft dodging. Certainly the SUV thing doesn’t come close but it is probably a much weaker version of the same kind of disdain.

          • Lupis42 says:

            But if the argument, above, is that parents who pull kids out of bad public schools in favor of homeschooling/private schools are defectors, and morally comparable to draft dodgers, as suggested upthread, surely those parents who do pull kids out of bad public schools and move to expensive districts with good public schools are also defectors and morally culpable?

    • onyomi says:

      Number 3. America should break up into smaller nations. 100% serious.

    • SpaghettiLee says:

      The US government was roughly designed to be slow and inefficient. Are there other countries out there where a chief executive, two legislatures, a court, and a non-zero number of state governments are all required to agree on a law in concert for it to be effective? Like take the concept of the senatorial filibuster; a single person can hold up a bill just by physically not letting debate end.

      This is probably a good thing on the balance, but it’s a pain when you want to get things done. On the topic of breaking the country up, there’s quite a bit of support on the Left, too. Although I think the majority of people on both sides aren’t attacking the issue from a mechanical standpoint of ‘this just isn’t working, let’s try something else;’ it’s more like ‘once we get free from California/New York/DC/The South, which is clearly holding the rest of us back, we’ll be the freest, richest, most powerful country the world has ever seen’.

      Maybe it would be good long term, but I can’t see the short-term aftermath of an independent South or California being anything but ugly.

      • Nornagest says:

        There’s a few different world governments based on the American model, though the Westminster model might be more common (certainly by population, but a lot of that is thanks to India). Mexico’s government for example is set up almost exactly like Washington, and similar systems are common in South America though often with less state-level authority. South Korea’s also pretty close, although it’s unicameral.

      • JBeshir says:

        One of the downsides of the American system is that it’s virtually impossible to repeal anything or dismantle any public bodies put in place, compared to systems where once a single party “wins” it can more or less reform the entire government however it likes and is held more or less exclusively responsible for everything the government does, and you rely on the party wanting to win the next election to keep things sane.

        This has interesting knock-on effects on politics. You couldn’t imagine a Prime Minister of the UK anywhere decently into their time in office saying “government is the problem”; “government needs to stay out of the way”, “government should be small”, etc, would all make sense, but saying “government is the problem” is tantamount to saying “I’m awful at my job, please fire me”, since they’re responsible for deciding what the government should do and how it should do it and then making those changes.

        But it’s interesting how *little* it changes overall. I kind of wonder how the US would have panned out if the Republicans regularly got complete power to do anything they wanted- at the cost of having to live with the electoral consequences of having done so- and the Democrats got the same. I imagine at the very least there’d be less polarisation between the mainstream parties themselves.

    • BBA says:

      Re #2: Another misfeature of the American system is that a large chunk of the populace tends to attribute anything that happens to the President, even when they’re the responsibility of other branches or not under government control at all. Economy booming? Best President ever! Long lines at the DMV? Blame the President! This is particularly pertinent when the President and Congress are of opposite parties. The 1990s welfare reform was mostly designed by the Republican Congress, yet it’s known as the “Clinton welfare reform”. Likewise on the state level, Massachusetts’s health law, passed by a veto-proof Democratic majority in the legislature, is known as “Romneycare”.

      If we had a parliamentary system we’d be much closer to the elected dictatorship that people seem to think the government is.

    • Chalid says:

      I think there’s a lot of missing the point above. America’s national government is run… ok. Not great, and there are tons of exceptions (as there will be in any huge organization) but not as terrible as you probably expect. America’s state and local governments are the real horror show, and a lot of the terribleness you hear about is likely at that level.

      A left-oriented explanation for that fact would be that a) America tolerates way more regional variation than other countries and b) there is weak democratic accountability below the federal level. Example of a) – people saying that the public school system is horrific. And it often is, if you happen to live somewhere where the locals are either unable or unwilling to fund it properly. If you live in a wealthier area where there are lots of kids your schools are likely fine. (Property values in cities often have huge discontinuities, where houses on the side of the street belonging to a bad school district are worth way less than identical properties on the opposite side of the street.)

      For b), typical voters can hardly bestir themselves to vote in federal elections and can barely name their senators. They have literally zero knowledge of what is going on at state and local levels (which collectively are more important than the federal government), which means there’s little incentive for politicians at that level to do well.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Blaming lack of funding is a common refrain that needs to stop. Newark spends more per-student than most other NJ districts, but is consistently at the bottom in terms of results. Zuckerburg recently threw $100 million at them to no effect. The problem, whatever it is, is much deeper than lack of money.

        • Chalid says:

          Insufficient funding leads to bad school districts, but, as you say, high funding is not a sufficient condition for having a good school district.

          I don’t think the point really is affected by the object-level objection; there is a ton of variation in public school quality and you can substitute a long complex essay for the word “funding” if you like, and/or substitute some other public service for schools.

  24. Wrong Species says:

    I’m trying to decorate my apartment. How should I go about finding what paintings or pictures to use?

    • Megaburst says:

      Rasturbation is always an option

    • Deiseach says:

      Re: decoration – is there any particular style you are trying to achieve or that you like (e.g. pared down minimalism, chintz curtain and fluffy cushion, etc.)? What are the physical limitations (size, light, how much money you have to spend, any hand-me-down furniture from other people you could get)?

      Basically I’d say “Go with what you like”, but if you are trying to convey “I am cool hip and with-it” or “I am a deep-thinking person of serious interests” or “I am up to date with the fashion” or “Effortless, timeless elegance and taste”, then you might try looking for interior design websites (I’m sure there are plenty on the web, both pro and amateur).

  25. Technically Not Anonymous says:

    A lot of liberals seem to be pro-choice but against liberal/consensual eugenics. This seems contradictory. If fetuses don’t have moral relevance, then what’s wrong with aborting one because it’s likely to be disabled?

    • Spaghetti Lee says:

      Examples? Most liberals I know personally who have offered an opinion on such matters say that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to have an abortion. Most of them seem to be the real deal when it comes to “It’s entirely the woman’s choice, not my place to judge.”

      If we’re talking about a eugenics program of any sort, then yeah, there’s more opposition, because then it’s not about choice. For the record, though, most of the anti-natalists I’ve met have been liberals, and a few liberals I know have broadly mused about the government incentivizing people away from having children.

      • Anonymous says:

        How about if the reason is because the fetus is a girl and they would rather have a boy? I expect that even liberals who think that this should be legal will have to fight a little internal battle in coming to this conclusion.

        • Spaghetti Lee says:

          In my experience, most of them would acknowledge how sexist that is while still saying–grudgingly, unwillingly, and with extreme reservation–that a woman’s reasons are her own. I don’t hear much about that happening in America, so I imagine most American feminists don’t think about it much.

          This isn’t news to anyone here, but if there’s some terrible behavior that cannot be primarily attributed to white Americans, lots of social justice activists just kind of ignore it and hope it goes away. This includes gender-dependent abortions, FGM, honor killings, what have you. Even back when Adrian Peterson get suspended for beating his son bloody with a belt, you didn’t hear much about it from the left, because corporal punishment for children is more popular among non-whites in America, so it got a “that’s just how they do things” stamp of approval/malign neglect.

          • malpollyon says:

            What kind of feminists are you reading that don’t regularly decry FGM and honour killings? They’ve been rallying cries for decades.

          • Zykrom says:

            Ironically, I’ve notice feminists/blues are much quicker to condemn gender selective abortion when the context is China vs the west.

          • Protagoras says:

            I recall hearing plenty about Adrian Peterson from the left.

    • Murphy says:

      It’s 2 competing precepts.

      1: Bodily autonomy, right to choose etc.

      2: If you view groups like the deaf/blind/other communities as a distinct culture with their own traditions, their own languages/art etc so that things which might make them stop existing as a group fall afoul of the precepts that say that it’s bad to do things which lead to cultures being destroyed.

      As such personal-level choices to abort a particular fetus get a free pass because 1 but any organized attempt to cure various genetic diseases start to fall afoul of 2 without getting the halo from 1.

      • Technically Not Anonymous says:

        That makes sense. I disagree with it, but it definitely works with many liberals’ value systems.

        • Murphy says:

          From my phrasing you probably guessed that I don’t fully agree with it either but I believe it to be a coherent position with a sound basis.

    • This is not exactly what you’re askingn, and I’m not sure I’m liberal exactly, but I’m centre/centre-left and worry a little that consensual indiviudal eugenics will basically result in a society of idiot charismatic sociopathic fashion models (that’s my understanding of what people will effectively select for) and a vastly less diverse gene-pool (with the unintended health consquences that result – like selective pet breeding). That’s because I think people generally just want their kids to be individually successful, and don’t care about the unintended consequences that come of that. Traditional genetic changes compensate for unintended consequences through various laws of attraction, consensual/fashion eugenics do not. I think we should have strict limitations to disease erradication and cautious intelligence boosting, at least until we’ve thought a bit more about the sociological consequences. Maybe I might support what you suggest earlier in pregnancy, I’m not sure?

      • John Schilling says:

        What actual parents desire and would select for their children, if you ask them, are good health, general intelligence, and physical attractiveness. Generally in that order, and with everything else far behind. Nobody wants idiot children, nobody wants sociopathic children, and nobody wants “fashion model” children except to the extent that many actual fashion models are healthy, intelligent, attractive people.

        Yes, parents want their children to be successful. Approximately none of them believe that sociopathy is the path to success. Approximately none of them believe that idiocy is the path to success. Some of them believe that fashion models are an acceptably successful model for their children to aspire to, but only in the “healthy, intelligent professional” sense of the fashion model, not the “waif-thin airhead” sense. I think you may be, first, exaggerating some of the differences between nerds/geeks like ourselves and “successful” people, and second jumping to the conclusion that these differences are recognized and desired as the path to success by mundanes.

        • Well firstly I think what people say they want in a public social situation and what they will actually select are different. I don’t think intelligence is as high a priority for most people as it is for grey-tribe types. People wouldn’t neccessarily select for stupid, but there’s certain a lot less benefit in terms of “success” in high IQ as opposed to “EQ”, and I observe many nerds have the first in spades but little of the second. I also think good looks are something people will prioritise very highly, especially once selection techniques are available to the masses. Finally, I agree they won’t specifically select for sociopathy, but if it turns out altruism and morality are negatively correlated with success in a business environment, would it be unreasonable to assume people might choose small incremental steps that take the average in that direction?

          Also, I think its worth considering less common selections like genetically disabled parents who decide they want to specifically select for children to share in their disability.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, I get that this is what you believe. Do you have any evidence for the hypothesis that parents are lying en mass about what they would chose for their children, beyond a just-so story about what they should want if they think the way you imagine they do?

          • Actually you may notice that I didn’t make that claim. My original “worry”, as I worded it, that parenting preferences might not be as perfect and socially productive as some are assuming them to be (and might lead toward certain negative selections I mention), remains. By all means if you want to bring empirical evidence in to support your claim, which I feel is stronger in claiming to know what people’s parenting preferences are, go for it. Like I said, polling people’s opinions might not be the only or even most reliable source. People’s actual proven choices in how they raise their children and choose partners for parenting, which is an interesting clue, don’t seem to me to reflect the priority set you put forward, so I feel like we need some fairly compelling empirical evidence here.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          How do you know that’s what they’d want? Have you asked them? The best evidence I know is sperm and egg donation. I think CE’s description of what people want is more accurate than yours. But that’s not because their choices don’t match their claims, but because their choices don’t match your claims. (Perhaps it would be better to say that your description is confused than wrong.)

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Douglas Knight:

            The best evidence I know is sperm and egg donation.

            Elaborate, please? (I presume you mean people choosing donated eggs and sperm; the actual donation doesn’t seem germane to the question.)

            My impression was that people do actually choose “good health, general intelligence, and physical attractiveness” over the alternatives, and in that order; I’m fascinated to learn that I might be wrong and would be delighted to hear where I should go for details.

  26. thewitcher says:

    1/ sparkroot = modafinil right?

    2/ there’s lots wrong with sam harris’s defense of israel right? (first link when you google “sam harris defend israel”) especially regarding muslims’ non-outrage and lack of protests at ISIS etc.

    • Sastan says:

      “There’s a lot wrong”?

      Would you care to elaborate, or are you asking for a full on critique? I’m not a Harris acolyte, but I’ve read several of his works, and found him to be refreshingly honest and thoughtful on most subjects, even ones I disagree with him on. Not unlike our host here.

      As I read his article, I’m wondering what your problem is? Are you upset that he’s noticed that while some college-educated muslims in safe countries have criticised ISIS, you don’t see the so-called “arab street” up in arms? Fact is, most muslims agree with both the goals and the methods of ISIS, if they disagree about anything, it’s personnel. They want their tribe or sect to be the one crucifying infidels and reconstituting the Caliphate, not these new kids in ISIS. I say this from hard experience, from years lived in this part of the world, and from my own extended family, which hails from there.

      Have you read the charter of groups like Hamas? Have you listened to what they say about themselves? About what they want to do? Were you aware, for instance, that both the “moderate” PLO (now the Palestinian Authority under Abbas) and Hamas claim as an Islamic Waqf not only the entire land of the Levant, but also Andalusia in Spain? If you think their insanity is just about the Jews, I can assure you, the matter repays much more study.

      I know it’s fashionable to rave on about how horrible the Israelis are. It is true, they have committed certain atrocities. Some of their citizens have committed acts of terror. But the comparison must have context and scale. And no attempt at context or scale can end with the Israelis on the moral low ground against the Palestinians. I think Harris has this exactly right.

      If you want to compare the two, ask what would happen if each side got their way.

      If the Israelis went just nuts, ethnically cleansed the Palestinians and did terrible stuff, the Levant looks a lot like southern California.

      If the Palestinians got the upper hand, it would be immediate genocide, and the Levant looks like…..well, ISIS-controlled territory.

      I, for one, have no trouble choosing between these potential futures.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        @ Sastan:

        My feelings exactly.

        But I think a lot of it comes down to tribal signaling. Saying you support Israel against the evil Muslims is a Red Tribe thing to say. Saying you support the oppressed Palestinian people who live in an apartheid state is a Blue Tribe thing to say.

        And even then, if you strongly support Israel, you’re liable to wind up getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. Yaron Brook (of the Ayn Rand Institute) complains that he’ll write something giving a purely secular, non-nationalistic defense of Israel and its right to exist—only to get quoted by religious Zionist outfits like Arutz Sheva. They agree with him on the object level (no Palestinian state, Israel shouldn’t hold back in defending itself) but for completely different meta-level reasons (him because Israel is more civilized and rights-respecting; them because they think God promised the land to the Jews).

        • Jiro says:

          And even then, if you strongly support Israel, you’re liable to wind up getting mixed up with the wrong crowd.

          That can happen if you strongly oppose Israel too; you can get quoted by Stormfront or another white supremacist group.

        • Sastan says:

          Oh, I agree. And we shouldn’t let our defenses of Israel or anyone else bleed over into covering up their misdeeds.

          Governments are force, and all governments do bad things. The question is, do the misdeeds of Israel make them somehow illegitimate as a nation? Well, the list of things the US has done pretty well makes that a hilarious foregone conclusion, and that’s before we get to really bad actors like North Korea.

          I know why it is, but it still strikes me as so strange that the left is so reflexive in its defense of the most racist, misogynistic, retrograde religious bigots on the planet.

          Israel, for all its faults, is a pluralistic constitutional republic.

          Hamas executes people without trial for crimes like sitting in a car with a member of the opposite sex.

          And the left likes Hamas……….

  27. Spaghetti Lee says:

    Disclaimer: I’m not trying to argue that Group A has it worse than Group B or vice versa, this is just pointing out a weird parallel I’ve noticed.

    I’ve always been confused at the outright hostility a lot of liberals and libertarians have for religion as an institution, because it was so at odds with my own experience of it. I have a very religious Catholic family that is nonetheless full of doctors, professors, engineers, and so forth, so there was never any connection with me between religion and anti-intellectualism. My church and its priest were decidedly on the “Jesus Loves You” end of the spectrum more than the “You’re Going to Hell” end. We actually literally did have a black kid play Jesus in the passion play, which I find amusing for various free-floating cultural reasons. I have never seen a Chick Tract in real life, no one I know has ever told me they believe that Harry Potter books are an inducement to Satanism, or that dinosaur fossils are a plot to discredit the Church, or any of the other ‘kooky’ sideshow things people talk about when they criticize religion, let alone more things with more serious consequences like religion-motivated child abuse.

    So I admit I thought for the longest time that angry internet atheism owed a lot to “the sheeple don’t recognize my unique snowflake-osity”-style thinking. It’s only recently come to light for me that those sorts of people really are out there, and the people I was previously laughing at really did suffer under their heels as children and young adults to the point that ‘escape’ is a totally appropriate word. Not that they’re everywhere and ubiquitous, but they’re far from a fiction. This hasn’t deconverted me (from the most airy-fairy form of Christian-flavored pantheism possible, I admit), but I do feel bad for being so dismissive. Real people had their friends and parents abandon them, authority figures who they thought they could trust to be impartial betray them, and so forth.

    Well, we’ve had multiple discussions in this thread about how leftism feels like such an oppressive force, not merely abstractly, but in everyday life, to the point where people are asking for advice about how to avoid triggering the attack mode of the leftists by putting even the smallest toe out of line, and how to come clean about your true self without them abandoning you en masse. I’m not (really, seriously, I’m not) accusing anyone of lying, but I am just kind of curious. Who are these people? Where do they come from?

    Theoretically I should be right in the thick of it; I’m an English MFA student at a public university in New England, but just like I’ve never been told by a random street preacher that Satan is in my heart, I’ve never been called a privileged shitlord by a random passerby. I know those people exist, but if I want to see them I have to seek them out. When I see a headline like “College dean says that all heterosexual sex is rape” I file it in the same place as “Republican congressman says all homosexual sex is a sin”. Laughable, embarrassing, not exactly a positive marker of where we are as a society, but certainly not an existential threat either to me or to society. I don’t like Tumblr-style activism, but I do still think at this point it’s a sideshow, and I do still feel like history will vindicate me. It’s all cyclical. In 1993 the spiritual ancestors of these people were riding high, and in 2004 everyone within shouting distance of the left felt that the Permanent Republican Majority was the clearest threat to liberty and human decency.

    Of course, that’s what I used to think about the crazy fundamentalist religious stuff, that it wasn’t really happening, people were just giving it too much attention. So I wonder if I’m heading straight towards a sudden and shocking reversal of opinion.

    • Echo says:

      The usual suspects in charge of all the money at my college tried to get an inter-college party cancelled for having an “ablist” name. The engineering school’s Mad Science is quite problematic, don’t you know.
      Fortunately the sane schools were kind enough to route around the bureaucratic roadblocks and fund it for us themselves, so all it really did was harm our school’s status.
      But most of their energy is spent getting Queer Resource Center employees fired for not being “intersectional” enough.

      Do you know a single non-liberal person at your college? Is there a young republicans club?
      Perhaps you are not their favourite kind of target, and know well enough not to associate with Undesirables?

      • Spaghetti Lee says:

        I think I might have misspoke. I’m fairly liberal, but I’m dissatisfied with the direction the left is taking especially re: social justice and I’m not afraid to say so publicly to other liberals. And so far, this hasn’t really hurt me socially, even though I’m in an environment where, supposedly, it should (admittedly I haven’t been here for very long). Furthermore, I have reason to believe it won’t. I know a lot of people who think like me and none of them have been professionally torpedoed by the left either. Most people pretty clearly lean left, but I haven’t run into any of this burn-the-witch stuff that apparently happens all the time to commenters here. So I read all these horror stories about left-wing spite and hatred and wonder where it’s all coming from, and, yes, potentially, is it exaggerated, though I’m not accusing anyone specifically of lying.

        So I’m tempted to dismiss large chunks of it except, like I said, I used to think the same way about religious fundamentalists, that they didn’t really exist, and that’s giving me pause. My point is more that I suddenly feel ill-equipped to take either side of the argument, and I’m going to wait and see.

        This probably sounds laughably naive to most people here, but up until a few years ago I pretty much believed that pettiness, cruelty, egotism and small-mindedness were almost exclusively right-wing problems. Yes, go ahead and laugh. Thing is, a constant diet of “vaguely-right-wing person does something objectionable” on your favorite blogs will not only harden your mind, it’s just not enough to sustain the soul either. But for a lot of the left-wingers I associated with, there was no infraction so small it couldn’t serve as proof of the right’s moral bankruptcy.

        So eventually I just said “I need to stop basing so much of my self-esteem on political tribalism” (took me long enough to figure out), and then I found SSC and yay reason logic human decency meta-level thinking etc. etc. But I’m noticing a similar trend. “This conservative political figure just said gays aren’t people, civilization is doomed” and “This liberal academic figure just said straights aren’t people, civilization is doomed” are pretty similar on the meta level. A constant drip-drip of only the most outrageous things that the Enemy Tribe is doing is probably the worst way to get your politics fix. So maybe what this or that student union said isn’t the end of the world, just like I figured out what such-and-such Republican state rep said isn’t the end of the world?

        But like I said I still have these doubts. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned (or re-learned) from Scott is that people who aren’t ‘traditionally’ seen as victims can still be such. So these scare stories might be overblown but they’re still evidence of at least one person going through a lot of pain for no reason, and you should be able to speak against them even if they aren’t evidence of a larger social trend. Frankly, focusing on the human side of political philosophy is all that’s let me tolerate it whatsoever. I’m pretty much allergic these days to Us/Them grandstanding.

        I just brought up the religious stuff because it’s uncanny to me how similar the two stories are. “They’re merciless, they’re closed-minded, they hate me and everything I stand for, thank God I got out and found this community that accepts me”. Just swap in religious conservatives or social justice liberals depending on what happened to you. So that’s why I’m trying to make the connection to religion- or conservatism-driven hatred. It’s bad, it shouldn’t happen, but it is perhaps not indicative of the movement as a whole.

        tl;dr liberals tell the same horror stories as you do, but it’s not as bad as they think, so maybe it’s not as bad as you think? And coming out against the left even on their home turf might not be social suicide.

        • Technically Not Anonymous says:

          I realize this is tangential, but I feel like it’s worth pointing out anyway.

          >“This conservative political figure just said gays aren’t people, civilization is doomed” and “This liberal academic figure just said straights aren’t people, civilization is doomed”

          A key difference here is that the conservative political figure is making public policy while the liberal academic is writing some books most people will never read and teaching a few classes most people will never take. Anti-gay bigotry is much more mainstream in the American right than anti-white/straight/etc. bigotry is in the American left.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Technically Not Anonymous – “A key difference here is that the conservative political figure is making public policy while the liberal academic is writing some books most people will never read and teaching a few classes most people will never take.”

            That… does not seem accurate.

            The recent supreme court decision just set law of the land. It wasn’t a win for conservatives.

            The Title IX “Dear Collegue” letter is not an irrelevent document divorced from daily life.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            A key difference here is that the conservative political figure is making public policy while the liberal academic is writing some books most people will never read and teaching a few classes most people will never take.

            Observed reality does not seem to match this assertion.

          • SpaghettiLee says:


            Whose reality, though? The reality of a loose online community that puts a lot of emphasis on the misdeeds of the SJ Left? Yeah, of course they look scary from that vantage point. But I personally would be very surprised if more than 75% of Americans (let alone the world) as a whole knew what an SJW was, let alone a history of their major victories and defeats.

            I’m not on the SJWs side, but I still just don’t get the sheer depth of fear and anxiety that seems so universal here.

          • HlynkaCG says:


            I think that you are seriously underestimating the amount of influence liberal academics wield when comes to things like economic and social policy. See Scott’s own post on Tulip Subsidies or the Title IX kerfuffle mentioned by FacelessCraven for two recent examples.

          • nil says:

            @SpaghettiLee It’s not.. that hard. The commentariat here are nerds with a particular preoccupation towards ethical action. Sloppy feminists accuse them of acting unethically by lumping them in with men who have very little in common with them. Relatedly, a huge part of what drives feminism is “unwanted sexual attention,” a problem nerds rarely contribute to (and typically don’t even come close to contributing to, and who would often have better lives if they came closer to contributing to it in the form of unsolicited but not necessarily unwanted romantic approaches). So right off the bat, you have a group of people who find it important to be good getting falsely accused of being bad, often for behavior that is the exact opposite of their natural inclination.

            On top of that, a lot of non-sloppy feminist critiques rely on subtle and impossible-to-measure social circumstances that many nerds are uniquely ill-equipped to understand or evaluate. Finally, the main offensive weapon of feminists–shaming and mockery by women–while not that powerful in the grand scheme of things, is basically the primal horror of nerds.

            So you have all these barriers to understanding combining with the fact that those who are directly attacked are likely to find it uniquely traumatic (far more so than their attackers likely understand, since they spend most of their time thinking about the kinds of men who wouldn’t give a shit). Makes perfect sense you’d see a lot of angst, hostility, and fear.

          • Will S. says:

            @FacelessCraven — Comparing the dear colleague letters (which requires schools to have a procedure for handling gender/sex related complaints and someone responsible for said procedure) to leftist witch-hunting is beyond inane. Are accountants also in the service of hysterical leftism, because they’re required to make sure universities comply with government regulations?

            @Spaghetti Lee — Speaking as someone whose social circle is largely comprised of rabid leftists (although mostly people who are 25+) I think there are three aspects of this phenomenon, none of which is that it is completely fabricated.

            I think most of the “oppression coming from the left” happens on the internet. People read articles criticizing the white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy and take it as a personal affront. Or they engage in arguments on social media, where people are more upfront and aggressive than they would be in real life. My wife, for example, is very cordial discussing sensitive topics in real life, but on the internet she is much more strident or, if you’re on the receiving end, you probably think she is being mean.

            Second, what “oppression from the left” looks like to an individual differs. The scale runs from “puts you in prison” to “is mean to you,” and IMO most victims of leftist oppression who comment on this blog probably have real life experiences closer to “being mean to you.” For example, people really, really, really don’t like being told either that what they said is racist, what they think is racist, or that they are racist (see AlphaCeph’s comment above). So if we met in real life and had a disagreement and I called you racist, I would see that as being more on the mean end of the spectrum than the putting you in prison end. But you might not agree.

            Finally, I know very left-wing people who would, if given the chance, express deeply-felt authoritarian impulses. I live in an environment where there’s no chance of that happening. And to be clear, I live in a university environment. But I could see the stars aligning at a different university so that these impulses could be expressed, although the worst offenders are so notorious that they can be listed briefly. They are:
            1. Laura Kipnis being investigated (and found not guilty) after a student filed a Title IX complaint against her for an editorial she wrote.
            2. Brandon Eich being forced to resign from being the CEO of Mozilla.
            3. Men getting kicked out of college for false rape accusations. I believe this has happened, but it is much rarer than the opposite (men who rape someone and don’t get kicked out). And if you research this topic, news articles about exoneration are usually misreportings of procedural errors on the part of the university, which doesn’t bear on the actual point of contention (was someone raped?) one way or the other.

            All three of those are worse than being mean, but they are still very far from being put in prison. And just to be clear, your university can’t put you in prison through its Title IX adjudication process. It can only kick you out of school.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            calling it a “kerfuffle” is a bit of an understatement. It’s a blatant violation of civil rights that directly affects a vast number of americans (50 million college students, plus their immediate families). It’s pretty clear that the colleges in question are going to lose some seriously gruesome lawsuits, and the knock-on effects might be considerable. But yes, nothing about this bares any resemblance to “some books most people will never read”.

            @Will S – “Comparing the dear colleague letters (which requires schools to have a procedure for handling gender/sex related complaints and someone responsible for said procedure) to leftist witch-hunting is beyond inane.”

            I beg to differ. Mandating a parallel pseudo-justice system minus all the due process and civil liberties protections of the existing one is a horrifyingly bad idea. The legal activities of students are not the business of the government, and their criminal activities are not the business of the University.

            “I think most of the “oppression coming from the left” happens on the internet.”

            See my above comment, and those of others in this thread. Reading about Brandon Eich is one thing. Finding out the community you belong to and make your living in is now purging crimethinkers is another. The Internet IS real life. It’s where all my friends are, it’s where I work, it’s where I get paid. It’s where I need to find my next gig and my next co-workers.

            “Finally, I know very left-wing people who would, if given the chance, express deeply-felt authoritarian impulses. I live in an environment where there’s no chance of that happening.”

            What is it exactly about your environment that makes purging impossible? Bureaucratic structure?

            “All three of those are worse than being mean, but they are still very far from being put in prison.”

            This is pretty close to the standard Social Justice line that ruining someone’s career, getting them fired, or otherwise rendering them untouchable is fine because “it’s not like we’re putting them in jail”. I am pretty sure I would rather be actually jailed than be branded society-wide as an untouchable.

          • brad says:

            There aren’t 50 million US college students and every college student is only directly affected by the “dear colleague” letter in the most tenuous sense of “affect”.

            Also being kicked out of college — particularly a private college — is nothing at all like being thrown in prison. I didn’t see all this sturm und drang during the many many years when people were being kicked out of college for cheating without resort to full blown criminal trials.

            They hanged the convicted witches. Not metaphorically, they actually hanged them.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Brad – “There aren’t 50 million US college students…”
            You are correct, but I already edited the above. mea culpa. [EDIT] – apparently I didn’t edit it. mea culpa redux?

            “and every college student is only directly affected by the “dear colleague” letter in the most tenuous sense of “affect”.”

            I guess that’s open to debate. To me it pretty clearly looks like making examples of people as a way of shifting social norms.

            “Also being kicked out of college — particularly a private college — is nothing at all like being thrown in prison.”

            I’m pretty sure it’s not worse than a felony, but it’s pretty damn bad. Many thousands of dollars in debt and a couple years of your life wasted, plus a fairly public record labeling you a sex criminal, all without due process? I think that’s comfortably into “this is an outrage” territory.

            “I didn’t see all this sturm und drang during the many many years when people were being kicked out of college for cheating without resort to full blown criminal trials.”

            Presumably because those who ran afoul of the cheating guidelines had a very high probability of actually being cheaters. By contrast, those administrating the college rape tribunals have been quite open that the actual facts are irrelevant.

          • Will S. says:


            At some point I would like to write a SSC-style sexual violence FAQ, but that’s a lot of work.

            I don’t think you know anything about the reality of sexual violence, and are basing your beliefs on preconceptions you have and some poorly researched news articles or blog posts.

            There are 20 million college students, btw, not 50 million. But that’s not a substantive matter.

            “Mandating a parallel pseudo-justice system minus all the due process and civil liberties protections of the existing one is a horrifyingly bad idea. The legal activities of students are not the business of the government, and their criminal activities are not the business of the University.”

            Title IX was passed in 1972. This system has been evolving for over forty years. The adjudication stuff has been the law since the 90’s, it’s just been applied ad hoc. There’s now an attempt to standardize it and come up with rational procedures and guidelines.

            What you are saying is that if a student is raped on campus, in their dorm, by someone else who lives in that dorm, then they shouldn’t have be able to file a complaint with the university who put them in that dorm. I think (and Title IX explicitly states) they should.

            The US’s legal system is not equipped to handle sexual violence pretty much at all, and Title IX is better than the current alternative, which defaults to no consequences for the accused.

            “Reading about Brandon Eich is one thing. Finding out the community you belong to and make your living in is now purging crimethinkers is another. The Internet IS real life. It’s where all my friends are, it’s where I work, it’s where I get paid. It’s where I need to find my next gig and my next co-workers.”

            So have you gotten fired because of things you said on the internet? Or is it just a worry that you have?

            “What is it exactly about your environment that makes purging impossible? Bureaucratic structure?”

            No, it’s because the campus body is blue-blooded and conservative. I didn’t mean that this campus has figured out how to prevent these things from happening, just that the campus culture is not that of a northeastern liberal arts school.

            “This is pretty close to the standard Social Justice line that ruining someone’s career, getting them fired, or otherwise rendering them untouchable is fine because “it’s not like we’re putting them in jail”. I am pretty sure I would rather be actually jailed than be branded society-wide as an untouchable.”

            This is the standard Social Justice line, and with good reason. No matter how poorly Title IX is implemented, it will not be as bad as those things. And while you can think its bad, to read your (and others’) posts you would think it was one of the gravest threats facing the United States today.A lot of people do actually go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit, or go to prison for things like unpaid court fees, minor drug possession, etc. There are numerous and flagrant injustices in the world, and when repeated focus is given to the plight of the falsely accused not-rapist, it sounds like the person (in this case you) is engaged in white male identity politics.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Will S – “At some point I would like to write a SSC-style sexual violence FAQ, but that’s a lot of work.”

            Please do. I’d genuinely love to read it.

            “What you are saying is that if a student is raped on campus, in their dorm, by someone else who lives in that dorm, then they shouldn’t have be able to file a complaint with the university who put them in that dorm. I think (and Title IX explicitly states) they should.”

            Rape is a matter for the justice system, not an unaccountable bureaucracy. What does a complaint to the university accomplish that the justice system isn’t already supposed to?

            “The US’s legal system is not equipped to handle sexual violence pretty much at all, and Title IX is better than the current alternative, which defaults to no consequences for the accused.”

            “Defaults to no consequences for the accused” is a negative formulation of “Innocent until proven guilty”. I am not willing to live under a system that will not grant me the presumption of innocence. I’m not sure why anyone would ever accept living under such a system. If sexual violence is a serious enough problem that the presumption of innocence is being questioned, there are a whole list of other actions we should be taking first. Banning alchohol from campuses, for example, or strict segregation of the genders, or an outright ban on sex. Those would be both less draconian and more honest than undermining presumption of innocence. Oddly, none of the people campaigning on this issue seem to be interested in those steps, perhaps because they impose costs and downsides that are harder to ignore than simply denying basic human rights to half the population while asserting that anyone who objects is a rape apologist.

            Drunken revelry and one night stands are not a terminal good. Universities themselves are not a terminal good. I am a lot more comfortable with doing away with all three than I am with the idea that accusation alone should be enough to brand someone as guilty.

            “So have you gotten fired because of things you said on the internet? Or is it just a worry that you have?”

            No, I haven’t. But plebComics was. Gjoni was. Max Temkin and Wardell got their names smeared. Bain is self-employed, but they made a good effort at ruining him. Holkins and Krahulik begged for mercy rather than see their charities and conventions destroyed. Meanwhile, Kuchera, Alexander and their cohort publicly declared that people who hold opinions like mine should be driven out of the industry.

            So yes, I’m more than a little worried. If I thought my real name could be easily connected to what I post here, I would not be posting here. Does that seem irrational to you?

            “No, it’s because the campus body is blue-blooded and conservative. I didn’t mean that this campus has figured out how to prevent these things from happening, just that the campus culture is not that of a northeastern liberal arts school.”

            That is a fortunate position to be in. I work in the part of the Video Games industry most heavily reliant on the press, and the video games press has declared Listen and Believe to be official policy industry-wide.

            “This is the standard Social Justice line, and with good reason. No matter how poorly Title IX is implemented, it will not be as bad as those things.”

            If the wage gap and women in STEM are national issues without evidence that a correctable problem even exists, I’m pretty sure there’s room on the table for false rape accusations that are both numerous and verifiable.

            “And while you can think its bad, to read your (and others’) posts you would think it was one of the gravest threats facing the United States today.”

            Presumption of innocence is a hell of a thing to lose. Further, if we lose it in the universities, we’re increasing the risk that we’ll lose it in the actual justice system as well.

            For the record, though, I started this thread arguing that concern over Social Justice is overblown, that it is a receding threat and not a growing one. It just so happens that some of the nastiest examples are squatting on my home.

            “A lot of people do actually go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit, or go to prison for things like unpaid court fees, minor drug possession, etc. There are numerous and flagrant injustices in the world, and when repeated focus is given to the plight of the falsely accused not-rapist…”

            When repeated focus is given to the plight of those falsely accused of a heinous crime, you see that as a bad thing? I’m sorry, could you clarify?

            “…it sounds like the person (in this case you) is engaged in white male identity politics”

            If identity politics is the only game in town, sign me up. Maybe after Social Justice is a smoking ruin, we can go back to cooperating with each other to make a better world. In the meantime, I will hold out for actual justice.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Do the SJWs who want us to shrug off any injustice that fails to rise to the level of false imprisonment, and the SJWs who invented the “microaggression”, know about each other?

          • Sylocat says:

            Do the SJWs who want us to shrug off any injustice that fails to rise to the level of false imprisonment, and the SJWs who invented the “microaggression”, know about each other?

            You joke, but IME the answer is largely “no.” And the few of them that do know about each other, utterly despise each other.

        • brad says:

          >> So I read all these horror stories about left-wing spite and hatred and wonder where it’s all coming from, and, yes, potentially, is it exaggerated, though I’m not accusing anyone specifically of lying.

          I think a lot of people go online and seek out horror stories about their ideological enemies. They pass around again and again the same handful of anecdotes while willfully ignoring the denominator for these stories is absolutely humongous.

          Massive confirmation bias, basically.

        • Echo says:


          This is what happens when you give the left a gentle nudge on their home turf.

          The easy test is to try it yourself and see what happens to you.

        • TheFrannest says:


          Yeah, it’s the same people. “since our sides are unequal in status, me doing thing is okay, you doing thing is not okay”, microaggressions are a thing that exists within the context of structural oppression or something. Like, have you ever replied to the common microaggression of “When I go to a supermarket, I’m confused for a person who works there” with “yeah, me too” while being white? Did it go well?

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            It was sort of a quasi-non-rhetorical question from me really, since I don’t know all that much about the internal structure of the SJ movement. While I figured it was probably all the same people, I wanted to allow for the possibility that the stalwart microaggression hunters in the Straining At Gnats Dept. were in fact acting independently of the dedicated due-process abolishers in the Swallowing Camels Dept.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        This is basically like many of the “liberalism is such an oppressive force” posts: liberals or leftists are trying to do something… and failing. You’d think that the “failing” part would loom larger here than “trying”, but often it feels like the commentators think otherwise.

        • PGD says:

          I think leftists (I think of them as ‘anti-liberal leftists’ actually) are in fact having a lot of success controlling the public discourse.

        • Technically Not Anonymous says:

          Yeah. Someone somewhere (I think it was Popehat?) commented that while the far left is influential in academia, they’re never going to get much pull in mainstream politics because they’re obviously full of shit. I agree with the far left on some of the object-level issues, but most liberals aren’t going to buy into the “you can’t be x-ist against [majority group]!” crap. I’m not too afraid of the far left because only the really reasonable and unobjectionable ideas like “be nice to LGBT people” tend to prevail.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Technically Not Anonymous – “Yeah. Someone somewhere (I think it was Popehat?) commented that while the far left is influential in academia, they’re never going to get much pull in mainstream politics because they’re obviously full of shit.”

            …Which is why Social Justice’s last push specifically routed around mainstream politics, and focused entirely on shifting group norms and policy for private organizations. They claimed that “due process” was a concept that only applied to the justice system, not colleges or professional associations, etc etc. Obviously once your views are the de facto standard in the rest of society, bringing mainstream politics in line is a hell of a lot easier, yes?

            I mean, I agree that they do seem to be failing. But the likelihood of that failure seemed a lot less probable as recently as a few months ago.

        • dndnrsn says:

          How does one even count victories and defeats in something like this, though?

          I mean, I’ve seen lots of articles from people with various different political preferences. Someone could write an oral history of the Great Social Justice-Nerd War of 2014-15, in which everyone simultaneously claims victory.

          • Nornagest says:

            Usually how these things end is that both sides declare victory and then the political landscape ten years later establishes who actually won empirically.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m looking forward to Ken Burns’ GamerGate documentary then.

            [plaintive violin music plays while the camera pans across a sepia-toned photograph of Milo Yiannopoulos]

          • Nornagest says:

            Nah, there won’t be any major documentaries — l’affaire du reproductively viable worker ants is too niche. I was thinking of something more like how exposing children to pixelated gore was a huge controversy circa 1993 and now you can’t sign onto a Halo match without some squeaky-voiced twelve-year-old calling you a noob.

            (Or at least that’s how it was four or five years ago, when I last played online.)

          • TheFrannest says:

            “too niche”

            just in case major news publications giving their two cents on the controversy weren’t enough for you, the main figureheads of that debacle spoke in the fucking united nations.

            You can say whatever, it does not matter when the publications control conveying your message to people. In ten years it would be known as some sort of terrorist act, most likely.

    • Chalid says:

      I find it kind of amazing that you’ve never been yelled at by a random street preacher. I think it happens to me at least monthly, possibly weekly, and is occasionally quite scary. Have you never spent time walking around in a big city?

    • Megaburst says:

      I would guess it’s regional. Extreme leftists are more of a thing in the SF Bay area for example. The heavily male-skewed gender ratio also allows local feminists to become arbitrarily virulent with fewer social consequences (and having single guys hitting on them when they don’t want any more male attention gives impetus to this virulence, cue downward spiral as they post about how awful the tech community is towards women on their virulent feminism blogs. It’s a very depressing place to be a single guy.)

    • And I grew up third generation atheist in a mostly atheistic culture and ended up, while staying atheist, developing a significant respect for religion- and not even this airy kind, but the conservative kind. Not the Chick tract conservative, that is basically just a weird historical outlier (“conservative protestant”, i.e. “conservative radical”, a typical weird ‘merican thing), but for the more throne-and-altar stuff. Basically it happened so that I, purely on a secular basis, discovered more and more rot in modernity, and more and more merit in older, medieval, traditional, reactionary etc. thinking and then found its intellectual basis has always been near the church. So either I go towards a generic anti-intellectual conservatism, or I accept Tomism, and if I cannot do either, which I cannot, I stay in a weird limbo where I respect Tomist logic without actually accepting its whole basis i.e. that there is some conscious force behing the universe.

      The crazy fundie stuff from my angle is part of this ‘merican weirdness that people can be conservative and radical at the same time i.e. conservative protestants. This is probably related to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inglehart%E2%80%93Welzel_cultural_map_of_the_world – you will probably notice that the lower right corner, so traditionalism coupled with self-expressionism is the combo that is hardest to explain. I can explain the opposite, such as secular-rational survivalism far easier: for example it makes you anti-gay only in the sense that you want people to use their genitals to make a lot of kids in order to have lots of future soldiers so that your ethny can survive. This is a totally logical view for the top left corner, like Bulgaria. I am something close to being a secular survivalist myself, basically the rot I discovered in morality is basically the rot of big-ego, solipsistic self-expression values. But how does one even explain bottom right corner, USA, Ireland, traditionalism coupled with self-expressionism? Dislike gays but still don’t make many kids myself and probably party with strippers or what? The lower right corner is IMHO far less logical than any other of the three.

      So I think this can be part of the suffering of the demographic you mention that their parents may be traditionalist, but not the small-ego survivalist type but the big-ego self-expressionist type, you know what I am saying? Traditionalist, yet not humble?

      Kinda get what I am driving at? If not read the description. Combining deference to authority (traditional) with subjective well-being (self-expression)? That is a bit crazy, isn’t it? Combining deference to authority with survival and security is totally logical, it is a military mindset, but combining with self-expression values just does not compute for me. So if these kids have parents who expect deference to authority but instead of this “button up, the zombies are coming” attitude they are all like subjective well-being and quality of life… doesn’t that just feel like ones parents are huge hypocrites?

      Another part is that suffering in these things is always relative. It is not like they get beaten or something. If they are generic straight guy, they can probably have a normal life, 1950 normal, like study, read classics, play sports and all that. This is not necessarily a horrible life. It can feel horrible as a comparison with another life if you know what is like. It is when they went to college and realized others had a different life, that is when they blew up I think. I mean for example I suppose some of them had parents who forbade all videogames. My atheist parents didn’t, but we couldn’t afford a PC back in 1991. So imagine how I felt when I saw https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/688_Attack_Sub at a friend. Totally drooling from the mouth. If for example fundie parents can afford but still forbid this, maybe the child does not even find out what it is like, but he finds out at college and then he blows up.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I hadn’t seen that map before, but my immediate reaction is that any chart that labels Japan as the world high-point in anti-tradition does not pass the laugh test.

        • Does not necessarily have to be taken literally. It is clear they don’t have much in the way of “European Pre-Enlightenment values” which is obviously what a test made by a bunch of white guys will tend to mean under tradition. Whatever “pre-Enlightenment” or “non-Western” values they had of their own timeline was purged by the US post 1945. Now there are things like pressure to conform to community norms, but that is different. That is closer to survival stuff.

          Survival to Self-Expression is pretty universal, but Traditional to Secular-Rational is something not entirely clear outside the Western context: as the graph shows, Confucianism for example is in itself considered Secular-Rational, despite being a kind of a religious tradition.

        • stillnotking says:

          I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. The Japanese modernized insanely quickly after the Imperial era; they didn’t say “Well, time to build some more paper houses, because that’s how our ancestors did it.” In fact, I’d say the “traditional” aspects of Japanese culture have become much more toothless than America’s. Sarcastic or stylized takes on e.g. Shinto beliefs are quite common there, and are not read as statements of protest in the same way that, say, a sarcastic riff on Christianity or the 4th of July would be in the US.

          They are more concerned with cohesion and social harmony than Americans, but that seems like it belongs on the other axis. (I’m not necessarily sold on the schema, just going with it for the sake of argument.)

    • Protagoras says:

      My experience is similar to yours. I’m an east coast academic, so I should be surrounded by this kind of stuff, but I also have not, as you say, “been called a privileged shithead by a random passerby.” I also spent a few years on the west coast, and of course have friends all over the place. It’s possible, of course, that it has gotten worse in most place, and that where I am now is just lucky to have not gotten worse yet (and so my memories of other places not being so bad aren’t relevant because they’re of the time before it got so bad). But one thing I have noticed for a long time (and that I’m hardly alone in noticing) is that people behave worse on the internet. So I tend to assume that most of the stories about how the left behaves so awfully are a combination of those making such claims having most of their experience of the left come from the internet (where people are awful), plus some isolated incidents that are spread everywhere (and not infrequently exaggerated) by the internet, rather than any kind of widespread pattern. But of course I share your concerns that personal experience can be misleading.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        It could also be a case of not being an obvious target or not spending much time in contested territory.

        IE being the one 30 year-old GI biller in the university library when *student action group* decides to make a scene.

    • Sastan says:

      Some of it has to do with how well you handle social situations.

      These days, I’m far more to teh right of where I was at eighteen. But I was dreadfully socially awkward (home schooled in foreign countries by adherents of a weird cult will do that). The social predators of all sides prey on the weak. Feminists don’t go after Bill Clinton, they go after Scott.

      So, when I was eighteen, just left home, at college, I can recall being screamed at by a street preacher for holding hands with a girl on the way to class. I can also remember being screamed at by a young lady for who I had opened a door. No one does that sort of thing to me now. I’m bigger (it’s amazing how much this stupidity matters), more confident, more capable, and more practiced in the various arts of ruining people’s day. I can be far more controversial, and people hesitate to attack me, because I carry the threat of social retaliation.

      This is not immunity, but it is a measure of protection.

      • nil says:

        Hey, could I have you expand a little on your door-holding incident? As a nice Midwestern boy, I’ve always held doors open for everyone, and was very surprised to hear that some people consider it a gendered and potentially sexist act. I’ve also been a little skeptical, since reports of angry feminists always seemed either a “happened to a friend of mine” or coming from a clearly biased position–but I’ve also always assumed there was a nucleus of truth somewhere in there as well. You’re the first person I’ve heard say that they experienced such an event directly who also appeared to be speaking in total good faith. So, like, how the hell did that go down? Were you on a campus? What region of the country was it? Was there anything unusual about the person in question?

        • Sastan says:

          1999, NMU, central campus. UP in Michigan. Rural school, really, not a hotbed of activism like UM-Ann Arbor.

          It was pretty weird. I mean, I’ve made something of a hobby since of tweaking feminists, but at that time I’d have identified as one. Girl was someone I’d never seen before, and never saw again. Mid-morning, walking to class, spotted several girls coming in behind me, so I stood aside, opened the door for them. One in the lead stopped, and asked me (loudly) if I thought she needed someone to open doors for her. I said no, I was just being polite. She did say something after that, but I’m afraid fifteen years and my absolute mortification at the time obscure it from memory. Few things are more embarrassing to a shy young man than to be publicly shouted at by an attractive female.

          In retrospect, I should have insulted her and shut the door in her face. I’d have probably gotten a date out of it. It is my personal opinion that she probably wasn’t motivated primarily by feminism, but was playing some status game, and I looked like social prey. But I don’t know.

          What I do know is it forced me to re-examine my priors regarding feminism. It was the push I needed to think more deeply about the issues at hand. And it motivated me to learn more about navigating social situations. Long term, she did me a favor.

          • nil says:

            Thanks. On the one hand, it is a bizzare and gratitiously negative reaction for someone to have.

            On the other, I was thinking about it, and I realized there is something of a double-bind for feminists. Not with actual door-holding, since again I don’t think the vast majority of people consider that a gendered activity, but with social practices (especially outside the dating world) where women do receive benefits for their gender under traditional gender roles. Like, if they refuse this person who is doing something nice for them they’re bitches, but if they accept it they’re having their cake and eating it too (something MRA-types attack feminists for all the damn time). Seems like a lose/lose.

          • Jiro says:

            They could always refuse without taking offense.

          • Cauê says:

            I’ve had random girls ask me to get them drinks on multiple occasions.

          • DrBeat says:

            The benefits we MRAs attack feminists for receiving are things that are too big and too nasty to say that if they turn them down they’re “bitches”. Those things are on two different scales. Also, we generally attack them not for receiving kindness, but either A: advocating that they are entitled to kindness and men are not and that the only way to not be sexist is to have less empathy for men and think of women as victims more strongly, or B: saying that the kindness they receive is in fact hatred and proof of the hatred of women, while still accepting it.

          • Nornagest says:

            The benefits we MRAs attack feminists for receiving are things that are too big and too nasty to say that if they turn them down they’re “bitches”.

            Sorry, I’m having trouble parsing this. Would you mind expanding a bit?

          • DrBeat says:

            Nobody called a woman a bitch for refusing a scholarship based on gender (there’s way more of those for women even though there’s a lot more women in college), or not participating in other government benefits that reward her based on her gender, or for giving those benefits to other people (like the UN relief effort in… Haiti I think? but don’t quite remember, where all of the aid was meant specifically and explicitly to be given to women). And nobody expects women to turn down things like the ability to use domestic violence shelters (they get those and men get none even though they are equally likely to be domestic violence victims), or to refuse to call the police to get protection from an abusive spouse (men who do this are more likely to be arrested than the women abusing them).

            The benefits women recieve that MRAs complain about, contrary to what some people imagine, are not things like holding open doors. They are “Having a life that is seen as inherently worth something, and a well-being that is inherently worthy of promotion, when men’s lives are completely disposable and their well-being is utterly valueless unless it is used to benefit society as a whole.” It’s completely incoherent to say we would “call women bitches” for refusing this, because well over half the time it isn’t possible or it isn’t something we want ANYONE to have to do, and when it is possible — and they call attention to it — we say “Good, thank you!” or at worst “Okay, you’re where we want average to be.”

            I think the “calling women bitches” narrative is more of the same, seeing something that happens to men and women and concluding it’s proof of how women are hated because men’s well-being is so completely valueless it is invisible. People, regardless of gender, might get resentful or put out when they extend personal kindness to others, regardless of gender, and it’s refused. When a man does it, he’s a stuck-up asshole, and that was just the thing that happened. When a woman does it, she’s a stuck up bitch, and this is proof of how much people hate women and what a horrible bind women are in because look at how people are “calling women bitches”.

          • Cauê says:

            I always find myself agreeing with you until you get to the part about people thinking that “men’s lives are completely disposable and their well-being is utterly valueless”. This is so clearly false on its face that I suspect you mean something else, but in any case it’s hurting your overall argument.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Cauê – “I always find myself agreeing with you until you get to the part about people thinking that “men’s lives are completely disposable and their well-being is utterly valueless”. This is so clearly false on its face that I suspect you mean something else, but in any case it’s hurting your overall argument.”

            “Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.” -Hillary Clinton

            Think about that one for a bit. Near as I can tell, that’s a prepared remark that staffers signed off on, and Mrs. Clinton herself thought good enough to include in her remarks.

            Similar thoughts can be seen in examples from the various African bush wars, refugee crises, etc.

            Also the general narrative around the 2014 Isla Vista shootings.

            Also the gender gap in suicide rates, versus the gender gap in suicide prevention efforts. Other than the military’s stepped-up prevention efforts for Veterans, when was the last time you heard about how suicide hits the male population? 3x to 10x higher rate, natch.

            Or hey, check the debates over academic accomplishment, where males do significantly worse at every level of education, and that’s just how the way things are, but not enough women in STEM is a crisis.

            The gender gap in pay pretty clearly doesn’t exist, but it gets name-dropped in presidential speeches. The gender gap in workplace injury and fatality, on the other hand, is not only super real, but something like 95-5 male to female. Business as usual, right?

            more money for female-gendered health problems than male ones, massive, obvious bias in family law, obvious bias in the criminal justice system, ie charges, conviction rates, obvious discrimination in actual statutes ie primary offender law…

            And then there’s just straight-up social attitudes, of course. Does that help any?

          • Nornagest says:

            The gender gap in pay pretty clearly doesn’t exist, but it gets name-dropped in presidential speeches. The gender gap in workplace injury and fatality, on the other hand, is not only super real, but something like 95-5 male to female. Business as usual, right?

            As best I know, the gender gap in pay (in its most-cited form of 77 cents on the dollar or whatever it is now; there are more sophisticated ways of looking at it but they give you much smaller gaps) and the gender gap in workplace injury both come primarily from the same place: men, on average, pursuing and gaining higher-paying but sometimes more dangerous and more physically strenuous work than women on average do.

            We could endlessly debate the reasons for that tendency, and I’m inclined to think they’re on the benign side myself, but the statistical jiggery-pokery that gives you both figures is pretty much identical. I don’t see a way you can say the former’s real and the latter isn’t, or vice versa.

            (For brevity, I’m glossing over the contributions of maternity, etc. to the pay gap. Rest assured I’m aware of them.)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nornagest – “We could endlessly debate the reasons for that tendency, and I’m inclined to think they’re on the benign side myself, but the statistical jiggery-pokery that gives you both figures is pretty much identical. I don’t see a way you can say the former’s real and the latter isn’t, or vice versa.”

            A fair point, and consider me corrected. I suppose a fairer formulation of my point would be to ask why the formulation that privileges men is a national-politics meme old enough to vote, while the formulation that privileges women is a footnote.

            [EDIT] – also, jiggery-pokery is an amazing phrase, second only to BETA CUCKOLD ORBITERS.

          • Cauê says:

            FC, yes, those are things I agree with. But there’s a great distance from this to “completely disposable” and “utterly valueless”. If the argument were that we don’t care as much about men’s lives it would be on solid ground, but from the little I’ve seen from self-identified MRA’s I get the impression that the “utterly valueless” is not always meant as hyperbole.

          • DrBeat says:

            Things that kill men and cause women to feel upset are held up as examples of how bad women have it, how much women are hated, how all of us have failed our obligation to the wonderful, precious women.

            Nobody even notices this. When pointed out, they don’t go “hey, yeah, that is pretty fucked up isn’t it?” they attack the person who pointed it out as being threatening to women and morally inferior.

            Men’s lives have no inherent value; women’s do. Men must constantly earn the right to be actual human beings through performance of the masculine role in a way that is useful to society. So, if you’re thinking this means like “it is always okay for women to murder men”, that’s not what it means. But men’s lives, on their own and without constant action to earn the right to be a person, are treated as valueless. Men’s corpses are never considered as morally compelling as women’s tears.

            It’s really, really not hyperbole. People assume “oh you’re just blowing things out of proportion, it can’t be that bad”, because (unless it is an issue harming women exclusively) people say “it can’t be that bad” about everything — but it is. It really is.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Caue: But there’s a great distance from this to “completely disposable” and “utterly valueless”.

            The focus on a possible 30% wage discrepancy and conspicuous indifference to a 1300% workplace-mortality discrepancy would seem to put an upper limit on the intrinsic value of male lives at a bit under 10% of the intrinsic value of female lives. The incredibly tone-deaf Clinton comment is not strictly quantitative but in the same league.

            Where this sort of thing is noted and not promptly disowned or rebutted, I don’t think it is really that far from “utterly valueless”. Men may have some small intrinsic value, but per Clinton the thing that matters is their utility. To women.

            But yes, in the spirit of quantitative correctness, this brand of feminism acknowledges men’s lives as having maybe as much as ten percent of the intrinsic worth of female lives. Not sure where various sorts of transgender lives fall on the scale.

          • DrBeat says:

            Even that math assumes total parity between “making less money” and “being killed” — in other words, it assumes that (for men at least) the value of their lives is the sum of the money they make performing work.

            In other other words, their lives have no inherent value outside of the utility they provide to society.

          • Cauê says:

            Ok, let’s put it this way: people have fathers and sons, brothers and male friends, and they do value each of their lives intrinsically. We do commit resources to protecting the lives and well-being of men, and to punishing those who hurt men, and that’s without any previous test of whether they’ve earned it (around where I live, I’m pretty sure you’re more likely to get an angry mob for killing a bum than a cop).

            The differences in treatment, concern and outrage about men and women are there, and the discourse around them is ridiculous, but we really need to look for the causes somewhere other than “‘we’ don’t value men’s lives”.

            I mean, come on. The various circuses over women’s issues (and “issues”) aren’t proportional to how much “we care about women” – if they were they’d be about Africa and Asia, not a thin model on an ad. It’s virtue signalling and other interesting social dynamics.

            @John Schilling: I’m not talking about “this brand of feminism”, that would be a different conversation. And I don’t think that’s what Dr.Beat means.

          • John Schilling says:

            Ok, let’s put it this way: people have fathers and sons, brothers and male friends, and they do value each of their lives intrinsically.

            And if I have a black friend, I can’t be a racist. Every man had a mother, most have wives and daughters and female friends, so the Patriarchy is dead and Feminism no longer serves a purpose. Got it.

            But I think it’s more telling how people deal with strangers. And particularly more telling how they deal with strangers en mass, when they are themselves acting as part of a tribe. That’s the part where self-identified feminists keep coming within spitting distance of men suffering horribly, literally violently killed, and conspicuously fail to “do commit resources to protecting the lives and well-being of men” because over there is a woman who is suffering some much lesser harm. Not even an acknowledgement of the discrepancy.

            That’s not the way to convince anyone who isn’t already a feminist to give you the time of day, or to claim any moral authority higher than that of the average MRA.

          • Cauê says:

            And if I have a black friend, I can’t be a racist. Every man had a mother, most have wives and daughters and female friends, so the Patriarchy is dead and Feminism no longer serves a purpose. Got it.

            If that’s how you want to play this, I’m reading “men’s lives and well-being are utterly valueless” as a level of bullshit comparable to “rape is a tool used in the interest of all men to impose control over all women” or “men don’t care about rape because it’s something that happens to women” (to which, by the way, “fuck you, men love our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends” would actually be an apt response).

            I’m not talking about feminists, and I don’t think Dr.Beat was either. I’m not a feminist, or so I’ve been told for the past five years, anyway. The current dominant discourse is ridiculously biased and based on unexamined lies to an astonishing extent. This doesn’t mean people give zero value to men, and it’s not caused by people giving zero value to men. Additional examples of SJWs being SJWs don’t erase the counterexamples of people also caring about men.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Cauê – “I’m not talking about feminists, and I don’t think Dr.Beat was either.”

            Feminism didn’t create the Birkenhead Drill. Arguably, the logic behind the Birkenhead Drill isn’t even a bad thing. What it is, though, is deeply, fundamentally incompatible with radical egalitarianism. The problem with the old bullshit about how “feminism is the radical idea that women are people too” is that under the old system, men weren’t “people” either, and Feminism appears to be fundamentally incapable of engaging with their half of the equation. You can’t just take the egalitarian slide halfway down and then stop, and expect that to be a stable end-state. You have to actually go all the way to the bottom, or else try to climb back up to the top.

            [EDIT] – The idea that men’s lives are valueless isn’t a feminist creation. It’s the default assumption of society for pretty much all of recorded history. Feminism is simply blind to the problem, and actively making it worse by treating it as a “privilege” that must be atoned for, rather than removing it in any meaningful way. No, women in combat doesn’t count. It would have if Feminism had pushed for it in 1916 rather than 1996.

          • DrBeat says:

            A man that The Hypothetical You knows has value to The Hypothetical You based on that personal relationship.

            A man You don’t know has no inherent value, but a woman that You don’t know does. A woman’s pain is worth addressing even if she is unknown to someone. A man’s pain, if not tied to something he did that provided utility to society, is “manpain” and is to be mocked and derided. Making unknown women uncomfortable is a horrible thing that makes a person evil; making unknown men uncomfortable is a good thing unto itself.

            I stand by my statement. The lives of men have no inherent value and are utterly disposable. Feminist rhetoric that places the feelings of women above the lives of men is not where this came from; the proof of it, though, is that feminism is such an incredibly powerful and popular movement, that says things like this all the time, and nobody even notices how little value they place on the lives of men because that’s how worthless male lives are.

          • Cauê says:

            Men are protective of women (because [10 pages of inconclusive theorizing]). Men compete in status by being protective of women (idem). This explains the Birkenhead drill. Maybe men compete in status by displaying bravery, and women and children don’t. This explains the Birkenhead drill.

            Maybe people value women’s lives a little more, although they also value men’s lives. Even if only slightly more, this would also explain the Birkenhead drill. The tallest man in the world is orders of magnitude more famous than the fifth tallest, but that doesn’t mean people don’t think the other one is pretty fucking tall. Sometimes you just want to know how tall we can get. And sometimes you want to protect the valuable, but only after the even-more-valuable. And it doesn’t take a large difference to start a signalling game. (to be honest this whole “more valuable” talk already grants more than I’m comfortable with).

            A man You don’t know has no inherent value, but a woman that You don’t know does. A woman’s pain is worth addressing even if she is unknown to someone. A man’s pain, if not tied to something he did that provided utility to society, is “manpain” and is to be mocked and derided.

            Doctors care about male patients. People give money to homeless men. People help male strangers in need. People strive to be polite to men. If you actually mock a man’s pain you’ll be shunned (there are exceptions, but it’s true enough that the “man” part isn’t sufficient to explain them).

            making unknown men uncomfortable is a good thing unto itself.


          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Cauê – “Doctors care about male patients. People give money to homeless men. People help male strangers in need.”

            In the immediate personal situation, yes. In large abstract groups… Significantly less so than women. Again, suicide rates, educational priorities, medical research priorities, wage vs injury disparities, etc, etc. It’s not one or two examples. It’s freakin’ everywhere, and as far back in history as you can go.

            Check news reports on famines or atrocities or disasters. Check the gender of the adults shown. Does it lean one way or the other? (I actually have not done this, but I predict you’ll get more pictures of women and children, and this will be as true for the Ethopian famine in the 90s as it will for the Irish potato famine).

            Or we could go biblical: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” vs “This we commanded, that if any man would not work, neither should he eat.”

            Or consider the phrase “Poster Child”.

            Or look at any war propaganda in recorded history, from the Iliad to Destroy This Mad Brute.

            Men’s lives are valued according to the utility they provide. Women’s and Children’s lives are considered to have utility by default. If you want to bring evo-psych into it, there’s a pretty obvious story available for why, but the pattern seems pretty clear.

          • Cauê says:

            Men’s lives are valued according to the utility they provide. Women’s and Children’s lives are considered to have utility by default. If you want to bring evo-psych into it, there’s a pretty obvious story available for why, but the pattern seems pretty clear.

            Not that clear, as I’m not even beginning to see this “men’s lives are valued only for the utility they provide” thing.

            I gave counterexamples, and you say that “In the immediate personal situation, yes. In large abstract groups… Significantly less so than women”. Well, even this “less so” is very different from zero – it implies different causes, and would result in a different society.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Cauê – “I gave counterexamples, and you say that “In the immediate personal situation, yes. In large abstract groups… Significantly less so than women”. Well, even this “less so” is very different from zero – it implies different causes, and would result in a different society.”

            your disagreement seems fairly reasonable, as I have no way to quantify actual units of caring or value. What exactly would you see as the results of a true zero-value for male lives, outside their utility to women or to society?

            Further, what is the difference between “male lives are valueless outside the utility they provide to women or society as a whole” and “male lives are the lowest rung of society’s valuation scale, below even the comfort of women”? Wouldn’t even the minimal potential value to society or to unknown other women result in roughly the behavior we observe? Almost no man provides zero marginal utility to society or to women. Likewise, almost no man’s life has an actual value of zero. The question isn’t whether men have zero value in society, it’s where their observed value comes from, what increases it, and what decreases it.

            …Seriously though, your position seems entirely reasonable, so this is largely a theoretical debate from this point on. Thank you for the insights, though.

      • dndnrsn says:

        OK, side comment, but I’m curious. What exactly are the arts of ruining people’s day?

    • Bugmaster says:

      FWIW, I went to a liberal college, and I got yelled at by a feminist for holding a door open for her (explaining that she was behind me at the time and thus I could not possibly know her gender turned out to be the wrong move). I also get yelled at by random religious street preachers there (though not at the same time). I think both of these proselytizer types are just a lot more common in big cities.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @SpaghettiLee – “I’m not (really, seriously, I’m not) accusing anyone of lying, but I am just kind of curious. Who are these people? Where do they come from?”

      I’m a big fan of the comic Penny Arcade. The creators are personal heroes of mine; I’ve been reading them since their start, and they were a big inspiration to me when I was starting out as an artist. They got hit pretty hard by a completely ridiculous and highly public social justice shitstorm, and had to beg forgiveness on threat of having everything they’ve built destroyed.

      My current job is making video games, and my long-term goal is to be an indie designer. Large chunks of the video game community have just recently suffered an extremely nasty hostile takeover by Social Justice. Considerable effort was expended to destroy those who resisted the takeover.

      Other than video games, one of my main interests is tabletop gaming. The RPG Dev community appears to have been similarly taken over by Social Justice, with those who resisted purged mercilessly.

      I like reading a lot, particularly sci-fi. Care to guess how that’s going?

      And finally, one of my oldest friends, someone I’d known for more than a decade, cut off all contact with me because she concluded that I was a misogynist for disagreeing with Listen and Believe.

      I can appreciate that maybe I’ve just had bad luck, in that the communities I live in are the ones that keep getting invaded by the reavers of Social Justice. Generally, it seems probable that the flareup of late last year was a temporary thing, and the viciousness and toxicity of Social Justice makes it inherently self-limiting. That’s not a good argument for saying it should be tolerated, though.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I don’t think it’s bad luck; I think it’s a pattern. You are involved in many nerdy communities, and Social Justice Reavers have declared a War on Nerds, and thus all of your communities have been affected at roughly the same time.

        Personally, I don’t have the courage to stand tall and face the foe unto my dying breath, etc. I love video games, tabletop RPGs, and science fiction probably as much as you do; but I’ve had to do so in semi-secrecy for the first half of my life, or face social ostracism (and/or beatings). I have the skills now. So, when the Social Justice pressure gets too powerful, I’ll just go back to hiding. Who knows, maybe another Nerd Spring will bloom in my lifetime, but if not, oh well…

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there about the RPG dev thing. Primarily something about which edition of D&D you prefer being a marker of opinion on social justice issues, or something like that.

        Is there anywhere that has a rundown of what has actually happened that is remotely neutral? I play RPGs but haven’t followed any news or anything involving them in a long time, and don’t buy enough new stuff to really justify that. And unlike GamerGate, whatever has happened with tabletop RPGs hasn’t intruded into non-game media.

      • James Picone says:

        I play a lot of videogames, hang out in videogame-cultural spaces, know several indie game developers, and am on the organising committee for a videogame/anime convention in my city.

        And I really don’t see the infestation of exclusionary jerks you’re talking about. I don’t think it’s because I’m an exclusionary jerk; I’ve had arguments with friends about Adam Baldwin where I’ve been on the side of letting him come to conventions and so on, I’ve never kicked someone out of a thing I have authority over because I thought they were being x-ist, I’ve never stopped being friends with someone because of their political opinions. I can’t be an invader, anyway, I grew up with games.

        I have acquaintances who are into social justice stuff and also games. They have opinions. I’ve argued with some of them about, for example, Adam Baldwin, and they still talk to me. And, well, they grew up with games too. They have a right to their viewpoint. Even if their viewpoint is that Adam Baldwin shouldn’t be a guest at a convention or that comics shouldn’t use the phrase ‘raped by dickwolves’.

        (I agree that the dickwolves thing was ridiculous, but I think some of the secondary firestorms were more justifiable. The commentary about trans issues, for example, was kinda dickish on the part of whichever one the artist is; I don’t recall off-hand).

        When I’ve tentatively discussed this kind of thing, I’ve usually found that the majority of my friendship group broadly thinks that Social Justice Stuff Goes Too Far. I think that is likely far closer to the modal leftist viewpoint than a lot of the social-justice-scary commentary admits. These aren’t conservatives, these are politically-active highly-educated young professionals, and in this environment I can make comments like (not a literal quote, but extremely close) “Feminism is not about bullying people. If you find yourself bullying people in the guise of feminism, please stop” and get a fair amount of support, no comments telling me I’m a privileged shitlord, and nobody blacklisting me.

        I’m not American, so maybe this is a cultural difference and I just have to wait for it to be exported to the other side of the world. We’ll see.

        Interestingly enough, the only friend I’ve ever lost over a political disagreement cut me off because I disagreed with him about worker-ants, and he was hanging out on 4chan and linked to the Encyclopedia Dramatica page on the matter, if you catch my drift. I’d known the guy since high school, described his views on the matter as ‘conspiratorial’, and he hasn’t talked to me since.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Offline, I know multiple people who would probably get stereotyped as “social justice warriors” by the anti-sj types.

          However, only one really fits that mold in a major way, as far as I know, and is outnumbered by others who have expressed frustration with activist communities and individuals in them, and have used “SJW” as a mild pejorative.

          Hardening the camps into “sj” and “anti-sj” or whatever just makes things worse, because people are way more likely to be charitable to someone they are acquainted with.

        • Cauê says:

          Don’t you think there’s some tension between “I really don’t see the infestation of exclusionary jerks you’re talking about”, and the description of discussions about excluding someone from conventions because of his political views?

          (I don’t know what the argument with your friend was like, but ED is often good about having information on internet drama – nose-holding may be required for many, but still)

          • James Picone says:

            A couple of acquaintances does not an infestation make.

            To be clear, this wasn’t something they had any power over (except in the sense that they could refuse to go to the convention if Baldwin was invited as a guest).

            The ‘infestation’ framing carries a reavers-from-the-outside connotation to me, as well, and these people have been gamers for longer than me (by virtue of being older).

          • Cauê says:

            Well, if the precise word “infestation” was that important to your meaning, I’ll point out that the comment you were responding to didn’t include it, using rather “large chunks”.

            And, “couple of acquaintances” or not, it still looks significant that you used the fact that you weren’t excluded by people for disagreeing with them about excluding others as an argument that “exclusionary jerks” aren’t a problem (in that “if that’s the point he chose, what else is out there” kind of way).

        • Nornagest says:

          Saying in the abstract that a movement — any movement — isn’t about bullying is one thing. Actually trying to get it to stop bullying actual people is another.

          I have a lot of friends in the moderate SJ camp — not social justice warriors, but maybe social justice squires or heralds. I generally don’t talk politics with them anymore, because that’s exhausting and usually pointless, but back when I did I noticed a pattern: they’d voice concern over SJ witch hunts abstractly, occasionally even criticize tactics in a kinda weak and incrementalist way (e.g. “#killallwhitemen should not be people’s introduction to social justice”). But when it came to any actual controversy, not just an internal squabble but something pitting SJ against non-SJ, they’d fall in with the party line ten times out of ten. Even when it was grossly disproportionate to whatever its target had actually done, or when it was transparently ginned up as outrage bait.

          I think these people are a lot more common than the stereotypical social justice warrior. But I don’t think that actually does much to make the movement less toxic.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @James Picone – “I play a lot of videogames, hang out in videogame-cultural spaces, know several indie game developers, and am on the organising committee for a videogame/anime convention in my city.”

          I make them for a living. I work for a small studio of less that 10, not one of the big triple-A shops. GameJournoPro seemed pretty relevant to me. The editorial stance of Kotaku, Polygon, RockPaperShotgun, Giant Bomb, and GamaSutra are pretty relevant to me. Those are (or perhaps more accurately were) the channels my company is going to need to promote their game through. Likewise Reddit, and even 4chan.

          When I leave this company, I’m going to probably be trying to make it in the indie scene. The trends in that scene are thus rather important. Phil Fish may be gone, but he was hardly an outlier.

          “When I’ve tentatively discussed this kind of thing, I’ve usually found that the majority of my friendship group broadly thinks that Social Justice Stuff Goes Too Far. I think that is likely far closer to the modal leftist viewpoint than a lot of the social-justice-scary commentary admits.”

          With due respect, I rather think they see it this way now, a year or two or three too late for it to actually make a difference in the incidents mentioned above, and during a lull when no one is actually rousing rabble. Maybe the lesson has sunk in, and they’ll stand against the mob next time. I certainly think that attitude is spreading on the left, which seems a damn good thing; better late than never.

          That doesn’t change the fact that Social Justice is fundamentally corrupt. It may be less of a threat due to acquired immunity on the part of the mainstream left, but the fundamental ideas of Privilege theory, patriarchy, supremacy etc remain toxic.

          ““Feminism is not about bullying people. If you find yourself bullying people in the guise of feminism, please stop” and get a fair amount of support, no comments telling me I’m a privileged shitlord, and nobody blacklisting me.”

          Have you tried saying this in the middle of an actual shitstorm, to the people actually doing the bullying?

          “Interestingly enough, the only friend I’ve ever lost over a political disagreement cut me off because I disagreed with him about worker-ants, and he was hanging out on 4chan and linked to the Encyclopedia Dramatica page on the matter, if you catch my drift. I’d known the guy since high school, described his views on the matter as ‘conspiratorial’, and he hasn’t talked to me since.”


          You probably owe him a bit of an apology. Parts of the story involved actual conspiracy, or at least the closest approximation attainable by a gaggle of west-coast hipsters. ED is of course a cesspit, and the actual media coverage was… about what you’d expect for a fight with journalists on one side and civilians on the other. Wikipedia isn’t much better. Such is information war.

    • Sastan says:

      If my experience is any guide, I grew up in a faith-healing cult with an impressive body count, so I get the horror stories, believe you me.

      I’ve been in on many of the squabbles with the SJWs from the beginning, and I’ll take religious nutjobs any day, twice on Sunday.

      Religious nutjobs feel duty bound to register their moral disapproval, but the goal is to save yer soul!

      SJWs want to destroy you.

      • Chalid says:

        Eh that just means you’ve encountered a better grade of religious nutjob. I’ve encountered religious crazies that made me worry about my physical safety; I have a hard time imagining anything like that from the SJ side. e.g. a few weeks ago I was on a crowded subway car and somebody began shouting that the Lord was coming to punish us all for our sins and we would burn, burn, BURN BURN BURN BURN BURN… I’d take a lecture on door-holding over that any day of the week, thank you.

        And of course if you’re talking about “destroying” people, religious terrorism is actually a thing, SJ terrorism isn’t.

        • Sastan says:

          Hmmm……..be told I’m going to hell or be expelled from university, made unemployable, falsely charged with racism/rape/ableism/whatever is fashionable, be hounded from home and job with the digital Mark of Cain (how many problematics? ALL the problematics!), have people track down and threaten the lives of my friends and family, be excluded from my hobbies and any chance at academia.

          See, religious people have nothing I want. What are they gonna do, not invite me to the potluck?

          SJWs are shitting all over some good stuff. They are injecting politics into goddamned everything, and it is fucking up my world.

          • Chalid says:

            Well fine, if you’re going to go by the highly unlikely worst cases as opposed to just talking about personal experiences, how many people have been killed by SJWs vs religious crazies? Sheesh. This is a rationalist blog, I assume we are all pretty familiar with the evils that are done in the name of religion?

            I mean ok maybe you *personally* don’t particularly fear religious crazies because of your circumstances, and maybe your particular circumstances happen to put you particularly close to some bad aspects of SJ, but it is emphatically not true that in general religious crazies are simply content to register moral disapproval and then leave you alone. e.g abortions in Kansas were subject to a hell of a lot more than just moral disapproval.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s possible for a religious crazy to kill you, but religious crazies can’t use the threat of killing you to intimidate you (unless you’re an abortion doctor, and even that’s pretty much over now.) SJWs ruining people’s lives via college rape trials that lack due process affects more than just the few individuals actually given such trials; the affected population is a lot larger than the population of abortion doctors.

            (This also ignores Islamic extremism, but I would concede that that is an actual threat.)

  28. Pku says:

    Two awesome links I found recently:

    Complete History Of The Soviet Union, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWTFG3J1CP8 . (I AM THE MAN WHO ARRANGES THE BLOCKS THAT DESCEND ON ME FROM UP ABOVE.)

    Also, turns out Mikhail Gorbachev recorded a (surprisingly good) song album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmJ9jgXOlJc

  29. fghjk says:

    I remember Scott mentioning religous rehab groups that claim amazing success rates but are false, but I can’t find the post with that comment in it. Can anyone help me out?

  30. Chalid says:

    I’m sure there are many fans of Vinge’s Deepness In The Sky here. I recently ran across this post by Brad Delong. I read the book over ten years ago, so I don’t remember the book well enough to know what he’s talking about. Can anyone explain it? (Spoilers obviously.)

    In Vernor Vinge (1999), A Deepness in the Sky (New York: Tor: 0812536355). On pp. 699-700, a brief paragraph completely reverses your understanding of the progress of the book’s main plot:

    Sherkaner Underhill didn’t seem to notice. He moved his head back and forth under the [game] helmet’s light show. ‘There has to be reconnect. There has to be.’ His hands twitched at the game controls. Seconds passed. ‘It’s all messed up now,’ he sobbed.”

    When you finish that paragraph, your picture of what is going on in the story is turned upside down.


    • anon says:

      It actually came up in the comments of the autism cure post

      • Chalid says:

        Was this exact issue addressed? I scanned through and saw discussion of the book but not of this particular quote.

    • Murphy says:

      I get the feeling that Vinge likes to pull similar twists in a lot of his stories though the lurk in Deepness is probably the grandest.

    • roystgnr says:

      Huge spoilers, obviously:

      Delong should have said “when you finish that chapter”, I believe. It’s the conversation between Pham and Sherkaner-via-Trixia a few paragraphs after the quoted text that makes things clear.

      That’s the point at which it becomes apparent that the interspecies data-network-subversion in the book has been going both ways: some of the protagonist Spiders have been using steganography (disguised as crazy “videomancy”) to transmit their own data free of human espionage, while simultaneously beginning to penetrate the human ziphead+computer systems (via sympathetic ziphead translators, IIRC). They aren’t at the point where they can take over unassisted, or even past the point where they feel the humans “know us much better than the reverse”, but they can now at least use a ziphead to initiate direct communication with a human they hope will help them.

    • Can anyone explain it?

      V’z abg fher vs gung’f gur npghny cbvag va gur fgbel jurer vg orpbzrf boivbhf gur Fcvqref unir znantrq gb trg vagb gur fbsgjner argjbex bs gur Rzretragf & Drat Ub, ohg vg zvtug or, rfcrpvnyyl whqtvat ol gur nqqvgvbany rivqrapr gur negvpyr lbh yvaxrq gb yvfgf. V qb erpnyy gung orvat n zbzrag bs cbgragvny fhecevfr.

      Rffragvnyyl, gur Fcvqref raq hc cynlvat n abgnoyr ebyr va gheavat gur pbyq pbasyvpg orgjrra gur Rzretragf naq gur Drat Ub nebhaq.

      Jvxvcrqvn bssref guvf fhzznel (juvpu V’z dhbgvat orpnhfr V crefbanyyl nz greevoyr ng fhzznevrf):

      Gur pevgvpny zbzrag pbzrf jura gur Rzretragf nggrzcg gb cebibxr n ahpyrne jne ba gur Fcvqre ubzr-jbeyq va beqre gb frvmr cbjre. Gur pbafcvengbef fhoireg gur Rzretragf’ flfgrzf naq chg gurve cynaf va npgvba, ohg fb qb n fznyy tebhc bs Fcvqref jub unir orpbzr njner bs gur uhznaf naq unir orra jbexvat va frperg sbe lrnef gb fhoireg gurve Sbphfrq nf jryy. Gbtrgure, gur gjb fvqrf fhpprffshyyl qrsrng gur ehyvat pynff bs gur Rzretragf.

      Ubcr gung urycf!

    • Chalid says:

      Thank you for the replies!

      I very rarely reread books but I’m thinking that I should make an exception here.

  31. Josh says:

    This is my first post. I had a question regarding a statement Aubrey de Gray made in a video interview, he said something to the effect that your ability to add years to your life is limited because the data suggest that the difference between the middle 10% of the population (in terms of how old they are when they die) and the top 10% is small relative to the distance between the middle and the bottom. I was wondering if anyone is more familiar with the data, and would love to hear their commentary about it. I personally would love to find out that I can add many years to my life (eating appropriately, exercising, not smoking), but feel this is starting with the conclusion already accepted. So I guess at the end of the post my question is, do people here feel that attempting to lengthen one’s life is worth the effort, and if not how so?

  32. Anonymous says:

    A question inspired by something I read on Katja Grace’s site.

    When considering the disutility of pain, how important do you think the level of the pain is relative to its duration?

    Or to give the more specific question I have in mind, would you rather experience a day of stomach pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting – or five seconds of torture? Whatever your answer, what duration of torture would cause you to change it, whether an increase or decrease in duration?

    • Basiles says:

      I feel like this depends too much on what torture it is.

      Having went through a bout of gastroenteritis, which is essentially three+ days “of stomach pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting”, I would generally take 5 seconds of high pain over that.

      But I believe there are certain thresholds of pain that may cause lasting psychological issues (a certain species of jellyfish in Australia did this according to some article I recall reading), I wouldn’t really take that trade if 5 seconds as enough.

      It’s basically an evaluation relative to how forgettable this high pain is vs the loss of a day to feeling like crap. If it’s forgettable, I’d largely take it. If you could give me a device which would remove the memory, I’d take the 5 seconds every time. I don’t think 5 seconds is enough for the brain to do anything with it.

      • malpollyon says:

        Exactly, for me the answer to this kind of question largely depends on empirical facts about pain. The option I’d pick would be my best guess at which will have the lowest overall negative effect on me.

    • Peter says:

      There are some weird results to do with pain – I think I read about them in Thinking, Fast and Slow.

      Naively I’d expect that the disutility of a painful experience is equal to the “area under the curve”.

      One is the “cold pressor” test where you put your hand in a bucket of painfully cold water for 45 seconds or so (I forget the exact number), then you get a nice warm towel. Later, there’s another version where after the 45 seconds or so, you get another 15 seconds in a slightly less cold – but still painfully cold – bucket, then the towel. People seem to rate the second experience as preferable to the first.

      There’s this idea of the “peak-end rule” – the decision disutility, used in forming preferences, seems to depend on the most painful part of the experience and the level of pain at the end. Adding strictly more pain to an experience makes it seem less painful if the end isn’t as painful. There’s also “duration neglect” which is relevant here.

      There’s also Kahnemann’s “remembering self” and “experiencing self”. Suppose some doctors had come up with an alternative to anaesthesia during an operation, where you take a drug that temporarily stops you from forming memories (or other psychological changes). You’re told that during the operation the patients typically beg for mercy – but afterwards they’re fine, in fact they recover a bit better due to avoiding the complications of anaesthesia. People’s reactions to this hypothetical vary – a few apparently said “sounds like a good deal”, others… sort of saw themselves during the operation as if they were another person, and would feel sorry for that person. Me, it feels like putting “myself” through that would be immoral.

      Plugging things into utilitarianism, it seems to me that the “experiencing self’s” pain is what counts for ultimate disutility, and it seems it should be area-under-curve, but there’s a fair amount of “instrumental” and “decision” disutility that goes for the “remembering self”. (Is it just me or did I really butcher the grammar of that last sentence?)

      Conclusion: pain is strange, but perhaps no stranger than anything else to do with psychology.

      • Anonymous says:

        >Suppose some doctors had come up with an alternative to anaesthesia during an operation, where you take a drug that temporarily stops you from forming memories (or other psychological changes). You’re told that during the operation the patients typically beg for mercy – but afterwards they’re fine, in fact they recover a bit better due to avoiding the complications of anaesthesia.

        Sounds pretty awful. We could cheat a thought experiment against this by increasing the amount of time gradually. Would this be okay for one second? Two seconds? … One minute? … One hour? … Suffering during life is fine because you forget it all at the end.

      • Sastan says:

        Short anecdote which may be relevant.

        I had a traumatic injury which pretty well destroyed part of my hand. I lost a lot of blood, so by the time I got to the hospital several hours later, my blood pressure was too low for them to put me under. I had part of a finger amputated and the bone removed from another while conscious.

        Funny thing is, I was on so much medication later that I can’t remember it that well. I remember it hurt, but I don’t remember the pain, if that makes sense. I remember thinking it took forever, but I don’t experience that time in memory. All in all, that part of the process wasn’t that bad. I remember the physical therapy as being a worse experience.

  33. Anon. says:

    Nietzsche on “internet activists”:

    TGS 359

    The revenge against the spirit and other ulterior motives of morality. — Morality — where do you suppose that it finds its most dangerous and insidious advocates?

    There is a human being who has turned out badly, who does not have enough spirit to be able to enjoy it but just enough education to realize this; he is bored, disgusted, and despises himself; having inherited some money, he is deprived even of the last comfort, “the blessings of work,” self-forgetfulness in “daily labor”; such a person who is fundamentally ashamed of his existence — perhaps he also harbors a few little vices — and on the other hand cannot keep himself from becoming more and more spoiled and irritable by reading books to which he is not entitled or by associating with more spiritual company than he can digest: such a human being who has become poisoned through and through — for spirit becomes poison, education becomes poison, possessions become poison, solitude becomes poison for those who have turned out badly in this way — eventually ends up in a state of habitual revenge, will to revenge.

    What do you suppose he finds necessary, absolutely necessary, to give himself in his own eyes the appearance of superiority over more spiritual people and to attain the pleasure of an accomplished revenge at least in his imagination? Always morality, you can bet on that, always big moral words, always the rub-a-dub of justice, wisdom, holiness, virtue, always the stoicism of gesture (how well stoicism conceals what one lacks!), always the cloak of prudent silence, of affability, of mildness, and whatever may be the names of all the other idealistic cloaks in which incurable self-despisers, as well as the incurably vain, strut about.

    Do not misunderstand me: among such born enemies of the spirit there comes into being occasionally the rare piece of humanity that the common people revere, using such names as saint and sage; it is from among men of this sort that those monsters of morality come who make noise, who make history — St. Augustine is one of them. Fear of the spirit, revenge against the spirit — how often these propelling vices have become the roots of virtues! Even nothing less than virtues!

    And, a confidential question: even the claim that they possessed wisdom, which has been made here and there on earth by philosophers, the maddest and most immodest of all claims — has it not always been to date, in India as well as in Greece, a screen above all? At times perhaps a screen chosen with pedagogical intent, which hallows so many lies; one has a tender regard for those still in the process of becoming, of growing, for disciples, who must often be defended against themselves by means of faith in a person (by means of an error).

    Much more often, however, it is a screen behind which the philosopher saves himself because he has become weary, old, cold, hard, as a premonition that the end is near, like the prudence animals have before they die “they go off by themselves, become still, choose solitude, hide in caves, become wise.

    What? Wisdom as a screen behind which the philosopher hides from — spirit? —

    • PGD says:

      The first two paragraphs are highly relevant. The ‘wisdom’ part isn’t.

    • Franz_Panzer says:

      Since we’re already quoting Nietzsche, here’s my favourite bit of The gay science.

      The intellectual conscience.—I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lacks an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this “great majority.” But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.

      Among some pious people I found a hatred of reason and was well disposed to them for that; for this at least betrayed their bad intellectual conscience. But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors [discordant concord of things] and of this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning, without at least hating the person who questions, perhaps even finding him faintly amusing—that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human being has this feeling, simply because he is human. This is my type of injustice.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Regarding the question of whether robots will or won’t take all the jobs: it seems to me that the fundamental factor in this is ignored. That is – to what extent are the inputs to humans also the inputs to robots? If the limiting factor to creating and maintaining robots is something that isn’t an input to creating and maintaining humans, comparative advantage would surely apply, and questions about whether there is anything that humans can do better than robots would be entirely irrelevant. One candidate that comes to mind immediately is silicon. If robots require silicon and humans don’t, then it seems likely that even if robots were twice as good as humans at everything, there would still be a demand for human labor, for the same reason that there is still a demand for the labor of people in poor countries even if people in rich countries can do everything better.

    If this has been mentioned before then I haven’t noticed it. What I have seen has mostly been people talking across one another. Technological unemployment believers talk about horses – missing the fact that all the inputs to creating and maintaining horses can be put to other, more productive uses. Technological unemployment doubters talk about comparative advantage – missing the fact that it only applies to the extent that humans and robots depend on different resources.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Silicon is one of the most common elements in the earth’s crust. A better limiting factor would be rare earth elements and heavy metals- as a side benefit they are also necessary for things like power plants and solar panels so an increase in robots makes electricity slightly more expensive.

      Of course this depends on how much of the material there is, how cheaply it can be accessed and how long it takes. It looks like the answer to those is currently “we have enough to build all the robots we need”- after all, we haven’t run out of steel or computer chips yet.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Of course this depends on how much of the material there is, how cheaply it can be accessed and how long it takes. It looks like the answer to those is currently “we have enough to build all the robots we need”- after all, we haven’t run out of steel or computer chips yet.”

        True. On the other hand, robots cannot yet do everything that humans can do. If they could, the demand for those resources would presumably rise and mining would be expanded until the cost of expanding it further would not cover the expected return from the extra materials.

    • Chalid says:

      Energy is the big one in the long term. Should sunlight be directed to edible plants or to solar panels?

      Also externalities; is it worth it to the robots to go to the expense to maintain a breathable atmosphere around 25 C on earth?

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m talking about resources that are only inputs to robots or to humans – obviously inputs necessary to both are not going to be the limiting factor for only one.

        • Chalid says:

          I’m saying the (long term) limiting factor for both robots and humans is likely to be energy so comparative advantage doesn’t save humans.

          • Anonymous says:

            Since that would require being able to costlessly convert any kind of energy into any kind of matter and vice versa, I think that’s a long enough term that I’m comfortable ignoring it.

    • Mark says:

      Humans have comparative advantage as empathy targets. I suspect that is where the future of employment lies.

      • AlexanderRM says:

        …I just realize that in economic terms, that does in fact describe precisely my best-case scenario for robots replacing human labor, and probably most proposals for what to do about it (namely some sort of tax system such that when human labor becomes obsolete, we don’t wind up with a handful of people owning all the robots forever). Although generally my assumption/hope is that robots replacing humans will coincide with a post-scarcity economy, meaning you won’t need to “earn” much as an empathy target in order to get basic needs.

        • Anonymous says:

          What makes you so sure that robots will replace human labor, though – have you considered my point at the start of this set of comments? Are robots built from the same inputs as humans? Or are they, as it seems to me, built from different inputs? This might change; perhaps one day we will be able to put farms to use building robots for cheaper than they can build humans. But this does not seem to be obviously the case.

    • Murphy says:

      I suspect humans may struggle in a highly automated economy for the same reason that even if humans had a comparative advantage operating telephone switches humans aren’t going to be getting jobs operating telephone switches.

      If a factory retools daily and has to re-train it’s staff to match every day humans might have a comparative advantage one day but that doesn’t help tomorrow when their competitors have pushed out a software update which changes the market situation.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      comparative advantage would surely apply

      You might be interested in J. Storrs Hall’s Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of the Machine. It’s a somewhat discursive explanation of why he does not think superhuman AIs are an existential threat — not because he believes they are impossible, but because he believes they will be subject to the same transactional incentives as humans are.

      Having found Bostrom’s book unsettling, I can’t say Hall completely convinces me, and he’s not as fluid a writer as Bostrom, but it was certainly worth the read.

  35. Mammon says:

    How common is psychedelic drug use in the rationalist community? I feel like psychedelic drugs gave me the “mental muscles” necessary for dealing with the barrage of casual allusions and metaphors that’s characteristic of Scott’s writing.

  36. Mark says:

    My primary goal/dream is to reduce global levels of bullshit.
    Other than not saying anything, what can I do to achieve my goal?

    (And what tribe does that make me?)

    • Mammon says:

      Spend your social capital punishing instances of outrageous, highly public bullshitting.

      I don’t think your goal marks you as part of any specific tribe. Signaling and bullshit are close cousins; the entire concept of tribalism relies on bullshit.

    • Zippy says:

      That is the stated goal of all tribes. But I will take a guess that perhaps you are grey tribe.

      We need a grey/gray schism at some point.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        The former tribe drinks tea, and the latter has gray hair?

      • AlexanderRM says:

        I was going to say grey tribe, since I definitely associate “I don’t care if this argument is on my side, it’s bad!” with Grey, but I could see the argument that Grey Tribe usually applies that to Blue Tribe arguments, and Blue Tribe generally attacks Red Tribe BS*. In that case, if you start attacking Grey Tribe BS you’re probably Graey Tribe.

        *A good example might be feminists who criticize Red Tribe interventions as imperialist even if they might help women in an area.
        On the other hand another conclusion from that might be that Grey Tribe views bullshit the same way Blue Tribe views imperialism/violence. By this model Graey Tribe will be people who agree with Grey Tribe ideals, are willing to use Dark Arts/BS to promote them, but on the other hand take issue with some method or attitude that Grey Tribe thinks is fine.

    • Campaign to have strict logical argument / fallacies / bias taught in high school?

  37. Alphaceph says:

    I recently noticed that I have suffered a lot in terms of social connections for not conforming to what we call “blue tribe” beliefs around here. In particular a lot of people who I meet in all kinds of social situations (from dinner with family friends to college reunions to parties I go to) hold beliefs like:

    – Human genetic engineering (eugenics) is inherently evil, even if it is used to cure a terrible hereditary disease, and I am a bad person for daring to think otherwise. One long term friend openly said “Alphaceph, I’m beginning to wonder whether we should still be friends” over this issue.

    – Government spending on benefits is an unconditional good, and (for example) the government should pay for people in council houses to have spare bedrooms, at taxpayer expense, whilst people (like me) who work can live in one tiny bedroom of a houseshare. In the UK, people express this by saying that austerity is evil, and I am a bad person for thinking otherwise.

    – In the great gender wars, piping up and saying something like “sexual consent is a blurred, gray concept at the boundry, because any kind of question of consent or true volition becomes blurry at the boundries.” is considered utterly evil. The dominant idea of the time is that consent is simple, “like offering someone a cup of tea”, and if you question this rather glib argument, you are an evil rape apologist.

    – Immigration – even unlimited open border immigration is obviously a great thing, and if you question this you are a bad person and a racist, or at the very least irrational in the extreme for not being immediately compelled by the “place premium” argument.

    – the idea that different races or genders could have different innate average skills or g-levels or IQs or interests is evil, racist/sexist and also incorrect. By magic, evolution happened to exactly match all these properties across subsets of humans, and if you believe otherwise you are evil.

    – On democracy: I believe that democracy is a bad way of running things but that other ways are worse (thanks Churchill) and that the establishment/elite having more say than the average person in running a country could plausibly be a good thing, up to a certain extent (thanks Bryan Caplan). This is considered pretty heretical.

    I feel that I am taking a skill I excel at compared to the average person (rationality) and unintentionally using that skill to actively destroy my credibility in social circles whenever I express an opinion. This is a failure mode that I would like to find a permanent and general solution to. Obviously I am a questioning and intelligent person and I cannot simply unbelieve these things. I also cannot live a lie and try to forge deep connections with people based on a “front” persona that I have constructed specifically because I think it will be popular.

    The obvious solution is “get rid of your blue tribe friends”. The problem is, blue tribe is rampant, especially amongst people who are young and unmarried/without children.

    As a result of this trilemma, I feel that I am actually quite a lonely person – I have a lot of people who I can have a laugh with or socialize with, but very few people who I can actually let my guard down around. I was wondering if anyone else has had any similar experiences.


    EDIT: And by the way, I don’t particularly think this is a problem along the lines of “oh Alphaceph, you’re just SO right wing”. If I were swimming in a demographic that was very red tribe, I would have the same problem but with different specifics. I’m an atheist, I’m pro choice, mostly anti war, pro gay rights, in favour of doing something about global warming, in favor of a basic income guarantee eventually (the question is when not if), anti gun ownership, etc etc etc. The red people would haul me over the coals just as much as the blue people. Ditto classic libertarians – I think that ordinary people benefit a lot from “nudges” to do and believe the right things, and in some cases (cost/benefit pending) the government should stick its nose into peoples’ business.

    I think the basic problem is that “map-territory rationality” is fundamentally an anti-skill for normal people – unless you are running a billion dollar business or something, conforming to incorrect but socially advantageous beliefs is worth more than having true beliefs.

    • Echo says:

      Expressing opinions in social circles just means saying “I am part of the in-group and agree with everything good people think”. Expressing disagreement means you’re in the outgroup. Rationality doesn’t matter.
      Stop saying rational things if you want to have blue friends.

      • Dude Man says:

        Do you think the Greys are somehow immune from this?

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        Let me give a little more nuanced advice here: If you’re interested in talking with your friends about politics, do it one on one, and learn to couch it in terms of blue memes. For instance, the rape question; ask if it’s possible for two people to rape each other (while both incredibly intoxicated).

        Also, the “stop saying rational things if you want blue friends” applies to all colors of friends.

        • Alphaceph says:

          > and learn to couch it in terms of blue memes

          if you have to filter what you’re going to say and try to do a PR job on it, you’re not really connecting with somebody, you’re marketing and presenting at them. I have zero desire to convince random people of any of these points of view by trying to do a great PR job, so if it comes down to “well you could try and couch it like this and choose your words carefully”, then just not saying anything on the subject is much better. But then one ends up being that awkward person in the group who’s trying to hide what they really think, and that shows. People can tell, and it’s not how you find true friends – it’s how you would behave at an event you are forced to attend and your main goal is to get out without causing offence.

          • suntzuanime says:

            if you have to filter what you’re going to say and try to do a PR job on it, you’re not really connecting with somebody, you’re marketing and presenting at them.

            Welcome to interpersonal interaction, lol.

          • Alphaceph says:

            Not all interpersonal interaction is “really connecting with somebody”. A lot of it is, in fact, marketing and presenting.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah. In fact, all of it. Your problem is that you’re making a principled refusal to play the game, then complaining that you’re losing. Oh, boo hoo, people won’t connect with the “real me” just because my opinions are abhorrent to them and I refuse to politely moderate myself in interactions with them. You aren’t entitled to friendship, get over yourself.

          • Alphaceph says:

            > principled refusal to play the game, then complaining that you’re losing. Oh, boo hoo,

            It has been a long time since I’ve been criticised for being too principled. Feels good!

          • suntzuanime says:

            No, go ahead and be principled. Just don’t complain.

          • Alphaceph says:

            > people won’t connect with the “real me” just because my opinions are abhorrent to them and I refuse to politely moderate myself in interactions with

            seriously though, people need to find good, trustworthy friends and a life partner. Do you want to have a life partner who you get married to and have children with but have to politely moderate yourself around? I find it hard to believe that you think that is a smart idea.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think a lot of people manage it pretty well. But no, I personally maintain a principled solitude, I just don’t whine about it like you.

          • TheFrannest says:

            We are all liars, the trick is to carve a good-fitting mask and wear it well.

          • Alphaceph says:

            > no, I personally maintain a principled solitude, I just don’t whine

            I’d rather be the person who whines for 5 minutes on the internet than the person who makes suboptimal life choices for 5 decades, but maybe you are right and authenticity is fundamentally lonely.

          • suntzuanime says:

            oh no, suboptimal life choices, lmao

          • Alphaceph says:

            > We are all liars, the trick is to carve a good-fitting mask and wear it well.

            So you also want to spend your life lying to your closest friends and husband/wife/partner? uuuuum ok…

          • Jaskologist says:

            Do you really expect to have a marriage where you don’t politely moderate yourself? Good luck with that.

          • Alphaceph says:

            @suntzuanime: there’s no need to be an asshole.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’m just trying to forge a real connection with you by not filtering what I say and doing a PR job on it, lol

          • Alphaceph says:

            > Do you really expect to have a marriage where you don’t politely moderate yourself?

            What, on everything? Construct a fake persona and set of beliefs to impress your partner like some kind of coached mail order bride?

            I mean this is something that can be a matter of degree, obviously. Any two people will need to compromise, agree to disagree or remain silent with each other on some things. But when it becomes “basically everything”, I think you have a problem.

          • Alphaceph says:

            @suntzuanime: no, you’re being an asshole, which is a shame because earlier you had some interesting things to say. Oh well.

          • blacktrance says:

            Do you really expect to have a marriage where you don’t politely moderate yourself?

            Do you not? If so, I’m sorry. No wonder so many people are miserable in their relationships.

          • Hari Seldon says:

            Signalling… it’s all signalling.

            Political discussion is not a safe game to play in today’s society. Having the wrong (non-blue) views doesn’t just make you different, it makes you a pariah. You can either toe the line or be an outcast. It doesn’t mean you have to lie, but self editing is a good idea.

          • Wait, what? In whose society is this not safe? By what qualification do we call having opinions on the Internet unsafe?

            I mean, I talk about all sorts of stuff in all sorts of fora, under my real name, and I can’t say I’ve suffered for it at all in my real life. Can we think seriously about what the actual risk profile is for saying controversial things on the Internet, and get some actual numbers around how supposedly unsafe it is?

            I mean, either this is a wrong assertion to be making, or I really need to adjust my online presence sharpish. I’m kind of motivated to find out the truth on this issue.

          • Spaghetti Lee says:

            @Robert Liguori yeah, like I said below, I don’t want to assume anyone’s being dishonest, but I can’t help but wonder about this idea that if you offend the left you’re done for, that it’s both indisputably true and a major threat to us all. Isolated incidents, sure, but you can find isolated incidents of anything. Remember Scott’s cardiologist post?

          • TheFrannest says:


            >I’m just trying to forge a real connection with you by not filtering what I say and doing a PR job on it, lol

            I have a post above where we discuss the obsession with linking offensive and true. Can you share thoughts?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Seems like a pretty ordinary statistical effect. Even if truth is, in the space of all possible statements, uncorrelated with offensiveness, once you get people optimizing their statements for truth and inoffensiveness, you’ll get a correlation between the two.

          • Alphaceph says:

            @Hari Seldon: “Having the wrong (non-blue) views doesn’t just make you different, it makes you a pariah”

            Yup, well put.

          • brad says:

            You don’t need to agree or even talk about the interaction between race and IQ to have a long, fruitful loving partnership. You do need to agree on the role of debt in household finance, whether or not children ought to be forced to go to church, and roughly how often to have sex.

            Or at least that’s how the vast majority of people see it. If you do have the need to see eye to eye on every theoretical debate that will have zero impact on your life … good luck.

    • Mark says:

      Ah… cool parties.
      If you want to be cool, then that is image, isn’t it.
      You’re trying to be genuine in the wrong places – plenty of normal working young people have non- blue tribe views.

      • Alphaceph says:

        perhaps I should reword that part of my post because it gives the wrong impression. One second.

        EDIT: there, done.

        Parties was the first context that came to mind, but thinking through my life it is totally unexceptional – this problem just applies everywhere.

        • Mark says:

          I say just let rip.

          Grumpy old men with integrity, but no friends, have a kind of faintly obnoxious glory to them.

          And isn’t it better to be glorious than merely popular?

          • Alphaceph says:

            I think that people who forge deep connections with others usually do it whilst maintaining their integrity. That’s what makes it a connection rather than a con.

          • Watercressed says:

            Piously and sincerely arriving at beliefs acceptable to your social network is just playing the con on a higher level and about more important things.

          • Spaghetti Lee says:

            Steve Albini, Harlan Ellison, Gore Vidal…you’d be keeping some mighty classy company, that’s for sure.

    • Anonymous says:

      While blue tribe support is indeed rampant among young people, I don’t think it’s quite as much so as you imagine. Remember that being left-wing is nice and being right-wing is nasty. If you are 100% convinced that a particular right-wing idea is correct, you might say it in public. If you are 30% convinced that a left-wing idea is correct, unless anyone will confidently argue against you then you might as well say it – you will get points for being nice, and even if your case seems weak and/or someone corrects you, at least you were only trying to be nice. Compare this to what will happen if you make a weak case for a right-wing idea. What person would support a nasty right-wing idea unless they were absolutely certain that it was correct?

      My point is that I believe much of the left-wing sentiment is driven by a vocal minority, with the center-ground majority staying quiet or going along with the left because it’s a much safer option than voicing any right-wing thoughts.

      • Alphaceph says:

        Hence Cthulu always swims left… interesting.

        Also, rather appropriate given the previous post about common knowledge.

      • BBA says:

        Also note the “Shy Tory”/”Bradley effect”, which leads to a leftish skew in opinion polls as people are embarrassed to admit their rightish views to pollsters. I’ve seen this in numerous recent elections, and it appears to be universal – for instance, polling in tomorrow’s Canadian election shows a tossup but I bet it’ll be a clear Conservative victory when the votes are counted.

        • BBA says:

          This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong, won’t be the last either.

          • Chalid says:

            At least in the US, the Bradley effect is seen to be mainly about race, and most people think it vanished quite some time ago, well before 2008 and Obama. Also, I don’t think published polls have any systematic bias in the US, where the polling industry is quite competitive. I don’t know anything about the rest of the world though.

            I wonder if some people’s views about the strength of SJ and the like would have predicted an increasing Bradley effect.

            +1 for making a public prediction!

          • BBA says:

            The Bradley effect was about race, but so is American politics, to a much greater extent than elsewhere. (Or is that just my lingering SJ tendency showing?)

            The Shy Tory effect was very visible in this year’s British elections. Polls predicted another hung parliament instead of the Tory sweep that actually occurred. Also, in Israel this year the polls had a tie between right-wing Likud and centrist Zionist Union. Instead Likud won a decisive plurality…well, 23% to 19%, which is about as decisive as Israel gets.

            The common thread is that people say they’re leftish or undecided, but when the chips are down they’ll vote for the right-wing party. So it surprised me that Canada went the other way – polling showed a Liberal-NDP coalition government with the Tories in a close second, but it appears the Liberals won an outright majority.

    • alexp says:

      Honestly, if you’re at all worried about keeping friends you might start with your own self congratulatory attitude towards your ability to think rationally.

      • Alphaceph says:

        I’m not really sure what to say to this.

        Are you seriously suggesting that I am a Dunning-Kreuger victim or are you just trying to score points against me?

        It it’s the former, realise this is a fully general criticism of anyone, at all, who tries to accurately estimate their own cognitive skills and traits, and use that to plan their life. Can you point to more specific tests or attributes that distinguish between smart people realising they’re smart and irrational people falling into the trap?

        If it’s the latter, I really have nothing to say to you.

        • Alexp says:

          The former, sort of. I actually agree with you on most of your points, but everybody, including myself, could due with more epistemological humility.

          But that’s not exactly my point. From social standpoint, regardless of your internal beliefs, it’s best not to be so certain in a seemingly insufferable manner when it comes to even slightly controversial beliefs.

          Well, it’s best not to even bring things up. I live in Texas and have a lot of friends who have beliefs I disagree with. If I ever feel like I need to bring up anything controversial or contest a statement (and I usually don’t), then I certainly won’t due so in a manner that suggests I’m a paragon of rationality and they are all mindless, Alex Jones/ Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck following sheep.

          • Alphaceph says:

            > everybody, including myself, could due with more epistemological humility.

            It would be hard to even pose my question if I was deliberately lowballing my own rationality for the sake of humility. How would that read “hey, I’m pretty irrational and wrong about a lot of controversial things and people ostracise me… but I can’t just stop being wrong because um..”

    • I think the basic problem is that “map-territory rationality” is fundamentally an anti-skill for normal people – unless you are running a billion dollar business or something, conforming to incorrect but socially advantageous beliefs is worth more than having true beliefs.

      What, because some people in your social circle are using mild-to-moderate social pressure on you for having dissident opinions the same shape as Those Bad People Over There?

      I mean, I’m not claiming that you haven’t suffered, but the examples you’ve given seem a little weak. Sometimes you can find yourself in a generally unhealthy social group, or a healthy social group that just isn’t compatible with your own beliefs. But we live in the most connected era in human history; now, we can find new communities with the push of a button. Now, when we decide to leave a group for being too X-ist, we can find the community of disaffected former Xers almost instantly.

      If you truly feel that you are suffering because of nonconforming social beliefs, I recommend that you go on Meetup.com, find three meetups in your area that look interesting, and attend a few meetings each, while making an effort to be sociable, meet new people, and make friends. Then, if even one of those meetups is something you feel like continuing, you’ve got a redundant backup social network, and you can say back to your current social circle “Funny, I was wondering that same friendship question myself.”

      In my experience, it’s very easy to fall into a completely interconnected social circle. But it’s also easy to cultivate a bunch of smaller less-interconnected or in some cases even directly oppositional social circles. If you set things up right, you can diversify your social circle like an investment portfolio, so a sudden loss in the bond prices of one group pushes up your social stock in a negatively-correlated group. You can be authentically you, and have people who disagree with you still respect you; not everyone will, but you should never fall into the trap of fearing that you must always seek their respect.

      • Alphaceph says:

        > you’ve got a redundant backup social network, and you can say back to your current social circle “Funny, I was wondering that same friendship question myself.”

        Sure, you can do that, I think it’s basically a sound strategy though selection based on random meetup groups is likely to leave you a bit overexposed to “politically correct blue tribe risk”.

        I think it has just become de rigeur for young middle class people in the UK to be blue tribe. It’s how you signal you’re not lower class.

        • Linch says:

          Hmm…I think my general advice about advocacy applies here. Presumably you aren’t optimizing for “hit rate”-making the highest percentage of friends among people you meet- but some mixture between quantity-total number of new and interesting friends and quality-meeting the absolutely most interesting and genuine people. The more people go through your filter, the more likely some of them match your desired characteristics.

          Whether you’re optimizing for numbers or an extremum, this is a decidedly more optimal strategy than meeting a few people in high hit rate places.

          • Alphaceph says:

            I’m just not optimising at all, I think that’s my problem.

          • Linch says:

            Yeah, I think the general advice of meeting new people and not being too offensive/obviously political in the first meeting is probably a good one. If them not being blue tribe is important to you, consider bringing up subtle tribal markers that blue-tribers are less likely to prime on than grey ones (Bitcoin, famous libertarian/conservative novelists like Heinlein). If they get upset, just say you like good writing.

            Note that I live in the US and my own political views are somewhat blue in affiliation (mainline EA), so I’m not sure how useful my advice would actually be.

          • Alphaceph says:

            > If them not being blue tribe is important to you, consider …

            Yeah, I think I need to find good ways to actively filter these people out.

            I have started doing this on Facebook actually, if I see a few Guardian posts from someone, hit the unfriend button.

    • stargirl says:

      You should probably consider being more dishonest. In “public” I just pretend to be very blue. I have lots of disagreements with the blues and the reds. So I just emphasize my disagreements with the reds.

      I think you should only explain your true beliefs to people who you know to also have “Deviant” beliefs. Usually finding someone like this requires a process of slowly revealing more or your beliefs. If people you know are libertarians you should consider talking to them more. Some libertarians are closed minded, other are open minded. But anyone who is openly libertarian is already in the black hole and very unlikely to socially punish you for saying crimethink.


      Please, please do not bring up either rape policies or racial difference in general company. This is a very, very bad idea.

      • Alphaceph says:

        It is amazing how much this discussion is touching on the common knowledge post.

        > anyone who is openly libertarian is already in the black hole

        true, that’s interesting.

        > Please, please do not bring up…

        The problem is, the ever-growing list of things not to bring up seems like an ad hoc way of dealing with the problem. If you have to carry around a huge self-censorship list in your head when talking with certain people, maybe you should find different people instead of adding another item to the list.

        > I just pretend to be very blue

        Hah. Maybe we should start the rational/grey underground.

    • tcd says:

      A few observations post-graduation:

      1. Over time when interacting with someone, if you turn out to be reasonably correct about both common and obscure things, then regardless of disagreement you will be desirable to be around. Admit ignorance when you do not have a reasonable answer, call out suspected ignorance when you see it. Like everything there is a balance here, but in my experience over time other people value consistency and honesty over hearing the same old shit every day.

      2. Actually be honest.

      3. Self-deprecation is one of the most powerful forces in the social universe. In situations where you value the person in question, it buys you chances to call them out/possibly offend them.

      A few things I am less confident of:

      4. Depending on where you are situated, you might find couples (or individuals in committed relationships) a better source of social companionship. People who do not have to play a persona (genuine or forced) in the mating game seem on average much more willing to talk (argue) about controversial subjects.

      5. Some people are not interesting. Now, there are interesting facts about any person, and there are interesting experiences that any given person might go through, but if you can consistently emulate the person in your mind (or in real conversation by cutting them off), then it may not be worth your time. All relationships are reciprocal, why have a conversation with yourself.

      • Alphaceph says:

        > but if you can consistently emulate the person in your mind (or in real conversation by cutting them off), then it may not be worth your time

        A lot of people fail this test on anything political, there are standard “cached” blue trube arguments.

        Though sometimes more extreme blue trube people come up with something so extreme and ridiculous I haven’t heard it yet.

    • blacktrance says:

      Contrary to what some others have said, I recommend just being honest. Who knows if there are others like you, who are being quiet and hiding behind a mask of respectability? Make your dissent public knowledge, and you’ll attract them. I’m speaking somewhat from personal experience – I went to a heavily Blue college but had mostly Grey friends partially because I expressed views unacceptable to dedicated Blues.

    • Pku says:

      Point one: If you express disagreement in a reasonable way (e.g. “I’m not sure government spending on X is fair/efficient” as opposed to “STOP ENTITLEMENT SPENDING”), a lot of people will treat you reasonably, especially if they like you – they won’t want to pattern-match you to “evil red tribe”, so if you act reasonably they’ll probably put you as “reasonable person who disagrees with me”. (I’ve had some success with this approach, with some people. There are some people it absolutely will not work with, so it’s not a universal solution, but even having a few people on your side can really help with feeling surrounded.)
      Point 2 is that a surprising amount of people are reasonable non-extremists who are willing to question dogma (though OTOH, I mostly hang out with mathematicians, so I may be biased here). If you’re willing to give random people a chance, you can learn new ideas from people you wouldn’t expect to. (Again, this doesn’t apply to everyone, particularly the people who are loudest and most dogmatic, but it works surprisingly often).

      • Jiro says:

        PKU: Acting according to point one means that you are being a “concern troll”. although the actual term will probably be used less in real life than online.

        • Alphaceph says:

          Yeah… it’s a form of PR/spinning. As I have said earlier in the thread, at some point of doing this you’re like “why the f*ck am I doing this, I’m not getting paid commission, it would be easier to just not talk to these people”

          • Chalid says:

            You’re trying to convince people to change their minds, but you don’t want to do PR? PR is just framing your message in the way that makes it most likely to be successful – if you’re not willing to put in the work to make your message a high-quality one then you might as well just grunt and change the subject (which is what most people do when controversial stuff comes up).

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          Man I hate the term “concern troll.” It’s become the go-to excuse to dismiss anyone with a dissenting point of view.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “Concern troll” is a legitimate problem, although I concede the term can be misapplied.

            The best way I know of to tell the difference, is to look at how much trouble the candidate put into their concern. “I like free markets as much as the next guy, but…” is a really easy thing to write, and might indicate a concern troll. “I realize this spending will raise our debt and make it harder to pay off, but…” is a much stronger signal that the speaker is not concern trolling.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            I guess it’s the use of the word “troll” that bugs me. Your first example sounds like a case of someone who doesn’t actually like free markets much but is giving lip service to the idea in order to appear more agreeable to the person they’re talking to (who, presumably, actually does like free markets). That’s disingenuous, but it’s really not what I think of as “trolling,” it’s more a case of someone who can’t commit to their own opinions.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            In the old days we called these people “crypto-*”. Like cryptosocialists or cryptofascists or cryptolibertarians.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I live in a red state and the problem doesn’t seem nearly as bad. I can’t imagine losing friends over lack of red tribe affiliation.

      • Spaghetti Lee says:

        In “I can Tolerate Everything Except the Outgroup” (still the best thing I’ve ever read on political tribalism, I must say) Scott talks about how concepts like America and American are identified with the Red Tribe–by both of the major tribes. Reds feel like America belongs to them, literally and conceptually, Blues feel like foreigners in their own country. So maybe a liberal discovering one of their friends is conservative is like finding a assassin sneaking into a safehouse, and the opposite is like, I don’t know, a hobo wandering into a sprawling city. The Blues panic, but the Reds don’t mind, because they both know whose turf they’re on. Just a thought.

        Even speaking as a liberal I’d say liberals are probably pettier and cattier on the balance, but I would doubt that’s because of the liberalism itself and would predict that it’s derived from a third factor that contributes to both of the other two.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          As a Red Triber that sound like a fairly apt analogy.

        • Sastan says:

          Reds are concentric in loyalty, which means that blues are opposing, but closer than foreigners or opposing nations/ideologies. Blues are thought of as misguided (sometimes infuriating) relatives.

          Blues are inverse in loyalty, which means the worst thing you can be in the world is a heterosexual white conservative American. Reds are thought of as Pedophile Hitler.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      Are they saying you’re a bad person? In those words?

      I’ve noted a number of discussions where left-wing people attempt to go the extra mile to try to disagree with a right-wing person *without* saying that the right-wing person him- or herself is bad or evil, and the right-winger still going on about how he or she is being victimized by the lefties who are trying to paint him or her as a bad, evil person. Often you see this in the form of pre-emptive self-victimization – “Now, people are probably going to call me a horrible huge Nazi racist for saying this, but…”

      • Alphaceph says:

        Well as I said, one long term friend who I dated at college and who is now married to a good schoolfriend openly and pointedly asked whether we should still be friends …. over the subject of positive eugenics, which I originally had not even brought up, this friend had simply overhead me talking about it to another friend, and I was being extremely careful and cautious in that discussion. The first friend started grilling me on it, I didn’t push the subject, I just answered their questions honestly.

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          And the other subjects?

          • Alphaceph says:

            On austerity, I have had people tell me that I’m “ignorant” and a “total arsehole” for questioning spare bedrooms for people in council housing when me and my taxpaying friends live in small rented rooms in houseshares.

            On gender wars, I have been called a rape apologist for suggesting that consent is not always a simple, black and white question. And worse.

            On immigration I have been called an Idiot in a fairly private conversation with an intelligent person.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Those are still individualized examples apart from the austerity thing.

            Incidentally, when it comes to bedrooms, isn’t the debate more about the fact that the unoccupancy penalty system does not take into account things like the needs of the disabled people?

          • Mark says:

            I don’t think we should build social identities based on politics anymore, it is unhealthy.
            Let’s stop naming these groups, it just gives them credence. Everyone stop talking about tribes.

            Base our social identity on something uncontroversial and then we’ll be free to discuss the contentious stuff without all the baggage.

            I am a chocolate eater.

            I think that immigration is potentially dangerous.

          • Phil says:

            On austerity: have a little empathy? The bedroom tax is one of the stupidest implementation of a sensible policy (that benefits should be proportionate to need) that I’ve ever seen & the costs have been huge for very little actual financial gain. By signing up to it, you’re holding up a giant sign that says “I favour policies that signal my attachment to conservative goals, even if they don’t actually achieve those goals & cause great harm along the way.” This is unlikely to win you friends in the centre or left of UK politics for obvious reasons.

            Can’t help you much with the genetic engineering thing: If people are willing to break friendships over it then they’re a lost cause, although it might help to at least acknowledge that eugenics has had a long and awful history & that therefore considerable caution is both understandable and probably warranted.

            The immigration question is a rabbit-hole of ethical head-fucks that I have yet to emerge from myself, so I’m not touching that one 🙂

          • Mark says:

            I must admit I thought the bedroom tax sounded like a good idea, but reading what you’ve written it reminds me of the no-spousal-visa-unless-you-are-rich (but EU citizens are free to bring their spouse into the country with no restrictions) thing that I fell foul of, which was so popular with so many people. And which obviously completely failed to reduce immigration but made life miserable for an easily ignored minority.
            That is the Conservative modus operandi – make the policy around a one sentence headline, don’t worry about the details. Unless you are particularly interested in the topic you’ll generally just find yourself nodding along…. “100,000 apprenticeships… great!…What? Apprenticeships in being a social media expert!?”

          • Alphaceph says:

            @Phil: “The bedroom tax is one of the stupidest implementation of a sensible policy”

            – you may well be right, and if the facts support that point of view I would agree with you. However when I have talked about this with people, they have not used the “bad implementation” line of reasoning. In fact, they usually just don’t have any reasoning: “you’re an ignorant, selfish arsehole for even questioning left wing doctrine” is all they need. It is literally ad hominem attacks as the opening move.

            In fact I am not really committed to supporting it, I have just put out the point of view that it might be trying to solve a legitimate problem.

          • Alphaceph says:

            @Tatu Aphonen:

            “Those are still individualized examples”

            Most of them have happened several times, with different people, and there are other examples too.

            How much data do you want?

          • Phil says:

            @Mark To give one example of the stupidity of the bedroom tax, it expected councils to cut the rental benefits of people living in larger properties than they strictly need, *even* when it costs the council more to find a 1-bedroom property to house that individual when they inevitably default on their rent. (Nottingham council apparently tried to re-classify a large proportion of their council flats as being 1-bedroom, even though they actually had two bedrooms in order to get around this problem. I don’t know whether they were successful or not…) There are areas of the country where there are *more* empty 2-bed properties than there are 1-bed ones! Enforcing the bedroom tax in these areas is completely nuts.

            @AlphaCeph I think perhaps the wider social point that you are missing re: the bedroom tax is that precisely because it has been used by the right as a signalling device without concern for actual outcomes on the ground, the left ends up using it in exactly the same way as it makes a good counter-signal: if the right is determined to do something transparently stupid, opposing it is a cost free way to signal your leftness. If you don’t hold that in the forefront of your mind when you enter into a discussion on the topic and use an appropriately nuanced approach then you’re likely to be surprised by the strength of the response to anything you say, because people are just going to assume that you’re signalling your “rightwingness” rather than entering into any kind of honest discussion.

          • Alphaceph says:


            > the left ends up using it in exactly the same way as it makes a good counter-signal… …If you don’t hold that in the forefront of your mind when you enter into a discussion…

            If you believe that something is entirely about signalling allegiance, why would you even enter into a discussion about it? Football hooligans don’t “discuss” whether their team is better or worse, they just know to chant the right song and they know who to beat up or insult.

            But, you know, I am getting the impression from this and other responses in the thread that most people don’t do discussions, they do allegiance chanting dressed up as a discussion, and that I need to update strongly in favour of the Hansonian interpretation of life.

          • Jiro says:

            To give one example of the stupidity of the bedroom tax, it expected councils to cut the rental benefits of people living in larger properties than they strictly need, *even* when it costs the council more to find a 1-bedroom property to house that individual when they inevitably default on their rent.

            As someone who is not in the UK and has no skin in the matter, that isn’t necessarily wrong. Sometimes a policy to do X when Y can cost more if Y actually happens, but can also create incentives that reduce the occurrence of Y, and thus be beneficial even if in every visible case it seems harmful. It’s plausible that it costs the council more money to house such people, but the savings from the incentives not to take too large apartments in the first place exceeds this cost.

            (It’s the same reasoning as to why we punish murderers even if they are unlikely to murder again. Punishing such a murderer costs money and helps nobody, but it also discourages other murder, and that invisible benefit has to be counted.)

          • Alphaceph says:


          • Zorgon says:

            Quick note: “Object level debate” doesn’t mean “the part of the discussion I want to talk about”.

            The effect of the bedroom tax on the people it hits, the effect it has on social housing uptake and the potential increase in housing waiting lists and homelessness (all very much not about to be studied by the ONS, lest the results anger Our Dear Leaders) are all object-level subjects in this discussion. As is the incentive system you describe.

            That said, personally I’d suggest that the meta level debate in this case is significantly more interesting, being as it is the discord between:

            A) “People should be left alone as much as possible and not unnecessarily put through tumultuous housing changes” and
            B) “If government pays for your housing it should get to determine what kind of housing you get, to the point where it is permitted to effectively force you to leave your home if the size of your family drops.”

            It’s a strange situation we’ve ended up in, given that the right wing are supporting option B, which historically would have been a very left-wing authoritarian concept indeed.

            (Disclosure: I live in supported social housing in the UK and receive the rent relief in question, although my family are not subject to spare bedroom subsidy withdrawal.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Zorgon:

            Yes, this is a common tension among those who are opposed to the welfare state.

            On the one hand, we don’t want the government micromanaging people’s lives. We also don’t like needless bureaucracy.

            On the other hand, we want to cut these programs as much as possible. If there isn’t sufficient political support to simply get rid of government housing, limiting it based on need or moral character (see: welfare drug testing) becomes an attractive option. Similarly, if you make them really complicated and difficult to use, you will discourage people from using them casually.

            In my opinion, a balance has to be struck between these two alternatives.

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            I don’t think we should build social identities based on politics anymore, it is unhealthy.
            Let’s stop naming these groups, it just gives them credence. Everyone stop talking about tribes.

            While I think the world would be better if people didn’t feel the need to identify with a tribe at all, humans lumping themselves into categories seems to be a pretty universal phenomenon, even if the categories change from place to place. Not naming the tribes doesn’t make them go away, it just allows people to pretend that they’re totally neutral and unbiased even when their beliefs match to a clear pattern.

            I think it’s healthier to acknowledge them; it makes people more aware of their own biases.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        My personal experience as a “rightie” is that I’m going to be accused of being racist, sexist, heartless regardless of anything I actually say or do. So it goes

        It actually kind of annoys me to see fellow Red Tribers trying to preempt or get outraged over the outrage machine. It seems passive aggressive, and feels a bit like playing into the grievance-mongers’ hands to me. Playing the victim card is supposed to be the leftists’ thing and the only appropriate response as far as I’m concerned is amusement.

        • Alphaceph says:

          I don’t think I’m particularly right wing, as I said at the end of my OP, on issues like guns, abortion, atheism, basic income guarantee, etc.

    • JBeshir says:

      In my particular circles in the UK, the norm amongst my less than close friends, family, and co-workers has been something like “don’t evangelise, don’t bring up politics”. People in those circles share all kinds of stuff on Facebook continually, but don’t consider politics a thing suitable for polite company with acquaintances in RL. Usually I encounter them on a 1:1 basis, discussed cautiously and insofar as you expect the other person to be receptive, and often I’m the one bringing them up there.

      If someone does make an off the cuff political remark in such a group environment, the thing to do under such norms is politely ignore it, especially if you don’t agree with it, because the alternative is to have political arguments disrupting the pleasant socialising, and everyone is far more annoyed by disruptive political arguments than they are any particular position held by people who have no power to do anything anyway.

      If your friends are very politically inclined and keep starting political discussions, often, then you might want to try to find people who are not so much less blue as they are less inclined to talk politics all the time.

      On your part it might be useful to try to find other areas of study outside of general theorising about society, social justice, politics, that you can have interesting conversations about that are more suitable to politically mixed company, giving you things to talk about, and avoid initiating talk about politics yourself.

      In terms of closer connections I think you are going to need to find people who think your views are, at the very least, compatible with basic decency and believing that you’re honestly *trying*. I think the politically apathetic, “I don’t do politics” crowd are a more likely source for this than the politically engaged in any direction also, but I’ve really not enough experience with attitudes to right-wing views to know.

    • Anonymous says:

      One of the useful things I have found when confused by something my brain does is to ask what it is *for*. For example: I get angry, the anger is counterproductive, but recognizing that doesn’t make it go away. What is anger *for*? Maybe it is to cause me to plausibly signal violence by making my body ready for violence or some such.

      Similarly, when I ask myself what moral/political discourse among friends is *for* I get back something like “signal what sort of ally you would be/broadcast what sort of people you want to ally with.” This makes disagreements more sensible. They are trying to signal things about distribution of resources, I am trying to signal things about truth value, others are trying to signal things about what the tribe should hold sacred etc. Feeling strong emotions is just a way of signaling strong precommitments to these positions (i.e. I will follow the morality I am signaling now because I will be wracked by guilt if I do not. I am a reliable/predictable ally.) They aren’t mad at your positions. They are mad that you are signaling that you would defect when push came to shove about things they think are important.

      • Alphaceph says:

        Probably the most insightful comment in the thread.

        So basically, few people care about signalling how valuable truth is. Since I have learned “map territory rationality” through SSC and other online resources, I am now sending out signals in favor of a value that few people care about (truth), whilst simultaneously sending out signals against the two most commonly held values (redistribution and purity).

    • Government spending on benefits is an unconditional good, and (for example) the government should pay for people in council houses to have spare bedrooms, at taxpayer expense, whilst people (like me) who work can live in one tiny bedroom of a houseshare.

      And there’s no issue about lack of fluidity in the housing market, so that people can’t just move somewhere smaller, and end up topping up their HB out of their food money?

      In the UK, people express this by saying that austerity is evil, and I am a bad person for thinking otherwise.

      Austerity meaning “we’rer in a recession, everyone tighten their belts” or austerity meaning “wer’re in a recession , the poor tighten their belts,m the rich get tax cuts”.

      • Alphaceph says:

        > And there’s no issue about lack of fluidity in the housing market, so that people can’t just move somewhere smaller, and end up topping up their HB out of their food money?

        *On the object level*: Since I share a house with other people, (I have one small room) and pay them rent for the privilege, why can’t people on Housing Benefit do the same? Of course finding the ideal housemate or lodger is not easy, but I am exposed to that problem too, and have suffered serious consequences from undesirable housemates and from not being able to find housemates. I don’t expect the government to pay for all the other rooms in the house to be empty.

        *On the meta-level*: Maybe your argument is correct, in which case you will convince me. Maybe not. I don’t particularly care – I simply desire to believe what is true. However, I get the feeling that a lot of people desire to believe what is “bluetribe”, and me not wanting to take the quickest (no questions or objections) route to the “bluetribe” is seen as a problem with me.

    • Sastan says:

      People are tribal. When you say things that disagree with the consensus of the tribe, you mark yourself as a potential defector.

      This is more damaging when your criticism is correct.

      This is not a specifically leftist problem. I get the same thing all the time from my very right-wing family. So I went and got myself a trump card in the form of several Purple Hearts. One cannot out-right-wing the proven willingness to take shrapnel and bullets for one’s nation. Think of it as social proof that whatever our disagreements, I will always come down on their side if things go pear-shaped. It is trust.

      My suggestion is to find some way to immunize yourself thus from leftist criticism. I don’t know what is the status trump in leftist politics, but their status seems to be identity/oppression based. Once you hold that card, you have a certain amount of leeway in your behavior and opinions.

      Bill Clinton can be the most terrible feminist of all time, but it’s cool because of who he is! Find the weak spot, exploit the gap, profit.

      • Alphaceph says:

        > I don’t know what is the status trump in leftist politics

        It’s being of a historically oppressed race, gender and/or orientation.

        > My suggestion is to find some way to immunize yourself thus from leftist criticism.

        The red tribe bases status on what you’ve achieved, sacrificed and believe in, the blue tribe bases it on the race/gender/orientation you were born with, that doesn’t work.

        • Sastan says:

          Of course it works, you just have to find it. My example of Bill Clinton stands. He’s a rich white (nominally) christian corrupt southern male politician with a predilection for getting rapey with trailer trash. And yet, he’s one of the most beloved leftists of the last fifty years.

          I don’t know how it works, and I don’t know if it is worth it.

          But I do know it exists.

          • Alphaceph says:

            It probably helped that he was in charge of the mainstream blue party and fought the good fight against the red people.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      Epistemic Rationality: Map/territory alignment.

      Instrumental Rationality: Achieving your goals.

      You may have the first one down, but what about the second? In order to achieve your goals you have to know the rules of the game and exploit them to your benefit. You don’t complain that the rules of a video game don’t conform to the laws of physics if you want to beat the game; you learn the internal rules of the video game to beat it.

      What’s your goal in social situations?

    • Bugmaster says:

      When talking with your Blue friends, you should only voice Blue opinions (on the topics of genetic engineering, gender relations, social justice, etc.), or just grunt noncommittally when someone asks you a direct question to which you do not have a Blue answer. Similarly, when talking with your Rationalist friends, you should only voice Rationalist opinions (on the topics of Cryonics, FAI and the Singularity, etc.) — or just grunt noncommittally when someone asks you a direct question to which you do not have a Rationalist answer.

      That’s how all social circles work.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Many social circles simply say “don’t discuss politics at all.”

        Religion, politics, and money are usually off the table.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Yeah, that is the most obvious solution; I was referring to those situations when the issues of politics/religion/etc. come up despite the taboo.

        • Alphaceph says:

          Topics do, in fact, come up

        • Zorgon says:

          Certain ideological groups have recently begun making a point of forcing politics into discussion, generally under the guise of “safety”. Political ceasefire agreements all went out of the window about 2-3 years back.

          (And I have no idea why I’m being so vague when you all know exactly who I mean.)

        • brad says:

          Ya’ll need to get better friends. And I’m sure they exist in the UK — even among the dreaded young unmarried demographic.

          No one I know is forcing politics into the conversation under the guise of safety, nor does eugenics just “come up”.

          Or maybe the problem isn’t the friends. Not to be unkind but is it possible that some of you are the ones that can’t leave controversial subjects alone and keep picking at them like scabs in inappropriate contexts?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Change the topic to sports.

            I’m not a sports-guy, but this is exactly what sports is great for: you can stake out positions and argue about them, but very few people will un-friend you for liking the wrong sports team.

            If people are forcibly bringing up politics, walk away.

    • SUT says:

      Like you, I have a hard time getting offended by political policies of colleagues / friends, even at the extreme I’d just laugh.

      But I’m trying a thought experiment and finding myself not so thick skinned after all outside of polictics. Say I’m at a party with all startup people. And there’s this one guy who seems gleeful to go against the collective wisdom on most matters:

      “Oh you got VC funding? Hope you become profitable before this whole ridiculous bubble bursts, stupid startups, we’ll look back and laugh at them in ten years…”

      “Oh you have a problem with your appppppp? That’s cute, real engineers have problems with a national telco system. startup problems are soooo trivial, am I wrong?”


      So yeah the lone wolf might be more correct/truthful than the group’s groupthink. But he also is very _offensive_ because not only do all these people happen to work at a startup, they have all invested a significant amount of their identity into their own startup and the notion that startups in general are good for (or will save!) society. It’s doubly bad because you’re cheering on doubts they secretly wrestle with internally – “is what I’m doing a trivial use of my talent in pursuit of ego-boost?” On the other hand many people have no problem having their employer/whole-industry relentlessly criticized in social situations – “it’s just what I do for money”. But for people heavily invested into their vocation, this is more intolerable than even a personal attack.

      To map back to your original problem: the blue tribe tends to invest their identity into their political preferences and that’s difficult for the gray tribe to understand.

    • Sylocat says:

      Is “Genetic engineering is inherently evil” a Blue Tribe belief? No one told me that.

      • Jiro says:

        It depends on the reasoning behind the genetic engineering being bad. Genetic engineering being bad because of corporate coverups about people getting sick from genetically engineered food is left-wing. Genetic engineering being bad because we’re meddling in God’s work (also, when associated with human embryos) is right-wing.

        • Sylocat says:

          Good point… though the absolutist “it’s inherently evil, even to cure a horrible hereditary disease, and you’re an evil person for even suspecting otherwise” seems mostly a product of the latter reasoning.

          • AlexanderRM says:

            It seems that way because you’re assuming tribal beliefs are the result of taking a consistent moral framework and applying it to specific cases. You’re forgetting that “Hitler did genocide, therefore genocide is bad” is a valid line of reasoning to most people.

            Now obviously, there *are* some blue tribe people- myself included- who say “Genetic engineered foods that make people sick are bad”, or the like. But there are also people who say “Monsanto is bad, and Monsanto does genetic engineering, therefore *all* genetic engineering is bad”.

            (then of course there are environmentalist Blue Tribe types who say essentially the same thing as the Red Tribe ones but replace “god” with “nature”, but these are really hard to distinguish because as with all humans very few of them have an explicit consistent moral system)

  38. JRM says:

    SSC minor changes to my life:

    1. At Scott’s general request, I didn’t send him money, but donated to charity. Won’t quite be a record this year for charity donation for me, but a strong year. Including a car. A crappy, crappy car.

    2. Scott’s nutrition posts sent me on a scientific quest, and I quit Diet Coke cold turkey. (Gone to iced tea. Lots of it.) That and contributions from other sources (notably Penn Jillette’s advice to decrease exercise as a hunger-reduction device during weight-loss start-up) has led to losing 40 pounds, though the biggest clarity from the research is the battle is not won in the losing but in the staying-lost. Also, in the long-term, exercise or die.

    3. Scott’s posts abate much of the anger I have for the stupid stupid stupid political meme pics on my Facebook page. I don’t agree with Scott on several things, but the process is what’s important – if Scott and I had a political discussion, it would be with the same goals, same processes, and same fealty to truth. People can discuss politics with fewer biases and more caring about the actual better answer. Yay.

    These were nudges; some stuff would have happened anyway. But these are real contributions. Thanks!

    • Saul says:

      Where are Scott’s nutrition posts? I’m sitting in front of 3 empty cans of diet Diet Dr. Pepper and one half empty one I’m going to drink.

    • Echo says:

      Decreased exercise for weight loss? If you want to lose all your muscle weight, sure. If you want to lose fat, not so much.

      • JRM says:


        I’m not the only one for whom exercise reduction served as an appetite suppressant. I would suggest I have not lost 40 pounds of muscle. This isn’t an unalloyed good, but I am at least a datum that it works. (Muscle reduction from low-cal, low-exercise plans is an issue and means that returning to base weight is a significant downgrade from prior health status.)


        Google “Diet Soda Weight Gain.” You’ll get the morass of stuff there is, some of it contradictory. I have come to these conclusions:

        1. Diet soda may cause appetite gain and therefore weight gain. But it might not.
        2. Drinking half a gallon of diet soda a day is a bad idea. (I was doing this.)

      • Glen Raphael says:

        The Ray Cronise program is to lose the fat first (mostly via changes in diet), *then* exercise to regain lost muscle mass.

        When you are substantially overweight, exercise is really unpleasant and prone to cause injury and prone to increase appetite. After you lose a few dozens of pounds, exercise starts to become more fun and easier and safer.

    • Note: Low-content post.

      Also, in the long-term, exercise or die.

      Actually, it’s even simpler than that…

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Well I recently acted on Scott’s advice from a couple of years ago and got one of those Iron Gym contraptions … only to discover that there were no doorframes anywhere near my room that it would fit (it’s an old-ish house). Not willing to accept defeat, I got one of the ones that you actually screw into the sides of the frame instead. Yet to see how much I’m able to stick to doing much exercise long term, but at least I’ve cut out one trivial inconvenience.

  39. VintagePepe says:

    Please nuke if this skirts the gender/race ban, but is the prejudiced norm theory with regards to humour(summed up pretty neutral in this post: http://freethoughtblogs.com/brutereason/2013/05/01/does-sexist-humor-matter-a-review-of-the-research/ ) on the same level of shakiness as the stereotype? Possible confounders I can think of is limited replicability and self-selection among the participants of the research, but I am not trained in spotting confounders at all.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      1. The Viki et al. paper, the only one I’ve looked at, is flawed in the usual ways. I quote:

      This finding indicates that the highest levels of self-reported rape proclivity were in the sexist
      joke-acquaintance rape condition (M = 2.45, SD = 1.24), followed by the other conditions (i.e.
      nonsexist joke-acquaintance rape condition; M = 1.96, SD = 1.20; nonsexist joke-stranger rape
      condition; M = 1.54, SD = 0.7; and the sexist joke-stranger rape condition; M = 1.42, SD =

      In other words, the subjects who read sexist jokes before being given the stranger-rape story had (non-significantly) lower “rape proclivity” scores than the subjects who read non-sexist jokes. Worse, if the researchers had combined the two sexist-joke conditions (as they almost certainly would have had the study been pre-registered), the highlighted effect would have largely vanished. I also see no correction for multiple tests. This all reeks of after-the-fact cherrypicking to guarantee the hypothesis or a suitable reformulation thereof is confirmed.

      2. External validity (i.e. whether the results generalize from the laboratory to the real world) is going to be the biggest issue here, if the results in the other two studies hold up to scrutiny. To compare, social psych experiments have pretty consistently found that playing violent video games makes experimental subjects more aggressive, at least in the short term; meanwhile, crime rates have been plummeting ever since the release of the SNES. The lesson seems to be that the effects of playing video games on our psyches, whatever they may be, are small, fleeting, and ultimately swamped by everything else that goes into our decision-making algorithms. I would not be at all surprised if something similar was the case here– a small but replicable result in the laboratory with no plausible connection to real-world trends.

      3. I know this is a pipe dream, but they should have performed a gender-swapped experiment on women.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        It appears as though the Romero-Sanchez et al. study did not in fact “replicate” the Viki et al. study, as the freethoughtblogger claims– the relationship between reading sexist jokes and “rape proclivity” in their experiment was positive but not quite significant. This time, though, they were clever enough to only use acquaintance-rape scenarios– you don’t want a counter-intuitive result getting in the way of scientific progress, after all.

        Also, since you asked about confounds, the main confound here would be that men in the sexist joke condition are no more likely to rape than the men in the nonsexist joke condition, but are more at ease admitting to their antisocial urges because they just read a bunch of sexist jokes. But there’s really no need to worry about confounds until you have an effect, which they don’t.

        To sum up: you have a transparently p-hacked study with (roughly) an interaction but no main effect, followed by a non-significant “replication” which only goes after the interaction. By social psychology standards, that’s… pretty typical, actually.

        • VintagePepe says:

          Holy moly, that’s worse than I estimated. Thanks for the detailed reply!

        • Earthly Knight says:

          One more thing, from the Romero-Sanchez et al. study:

          Rape proclivity shown by participants exposed to the sexist
          joke condition (M = 1.73, SD = 0.70) was higher than that shown by those
          exposed to the nonsexist condition (M = 1.51, SD = 0.54)

          This is on a 5-point Likert scale. Even if the effect had reached significance, it would still be trivial.

          • Peter says:

            Ah excellent, we can calculate Cohen’s d (roughly, difference in means divided by standard deviation, with a twiddly bit for differing standard deviations), and with it, various other measures. 0.35. I think in “T-Shirt sizes” that counts as “small”, or as I like to say, “small even by social science standards”. We can go on to calculate R2, which works out at 0.03.

            So, 3% of the variance in answers to the Rape Proclivity Scale (which may or may not be a good measure of the thing you’re actually interesting) is explained by the sexist joke condition. Maybe. Plus or minus quite a lot. This is binary-variable vs. likert scale, but if it was a scatterplot, you’d have a big splodge which you might see some ellipticity in maybe… nah, just a trick of the light.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Cohen’s d assumes that the two populations have the same standard deviation. The fiddly bit is combining the data to estimate that joint deviation. It is for differing measured deviations assuming equal actual deviations.

  40. Alphaceph says:

    Slatestarcodex should really have a slashdot style system where all comments other than top level ones are collapsed by defualt, and you have a slider to slide to expand the levels gradually.

    Surely someone would step up to the plate and implement this if our illustrious host asked.

    • The public source of the JavaScript code that adds the Hide links on comments is at github.com/bakkot/SlateStarComments. The code hasn’t yet been updated with the new “↑” link-to-parent on that site, but after it’s updated, perhaps the creator, Bakkot, would accept a pull request that implements that feature.

      I agree that such a feature sounds useful. If anyone thinks this feature is not worth the screen real estate, or would have negative effects on the quality of the discussion, they might want to explain why here, to nip any implementations in the bud.

      • I suggest implement so that the comments are visible in the basic markup then Javascript hides them immediately, so if people have Javascript turned off for some reason they can still view comments.

        Kinda related – it would be great if we had some way off identifying the best comments on a article in case people were in a rush and didn’t have time to read all the comments, and so gems didn’t just get lost in obscurity, though I know of no fair or reasonable way to do this.

      • Alphaceph says:

        I would go even further and replace each *top-level* comment with a 3-line summary that you can click to expand, and order the top-level comments by number of children rather than chronologically, possibly with some priority given for newness so that stuff doesn’t get buried.

        I get that ordering comments by votes is problematic for free discourse, but there are better ways to order comments than nesting level+timestamp.

    • Katherine says:

      That sounds tedious. How do you find the new comments?

  41. Saul says:

    I think several people have already made comments similar to this one, but I don’t have time to sift through all the chains at this time. I want to mention some developments in my life that may feel familiar to some of you.

    I go to a large state school in a state far away from my home. I’ve never had trouble making friends, but I found it actually quite difficult now. I know many variables changed: the state, my peers, school workload to name a few. But these changes seemed to have caused me particularly to fail to make friends in college.

    I did make a few friends as time went on. These people happen to also follow SSC and have interesting ideas to discuss along these lines. Over the last 2 years though, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to even have a conversation with people outside of this bubble. I thought my social skills completely atrophied.

    But I was wrong. When I went to a LW/SSC meetup, I felt comfortable joining every group and making conversation. Moreover, I was stimulated in every conversation, and I wanted them all to continue. This is quite different from my normal party interactions where nothing is I say is interesting to the people around me, and nothing they say is interesting to me. I thought parties were entirely pointless because of this (and because of the typical mind fallacy, I had a hard time believing anybody else was having fun). Now I know that it was my personality becoming extremely unusual and cemented. Kind of like when you watch more and more bizarre porn to the point where normal naked women fail to do anything for you.

    I am not autistic, and I’ve had pretty normal friends in the past. I was never extremely social or popular, but I was enough so that I could just hangout with people on most days and have a girlfriend/romantic interest most of the year. I think my current life is incredibly alienating. My lack of a social life even hinders me from doing my schoolwork. To add to this, it’s hard to feel good about yourself when not many people have anything good to say about you (or really anything to say at all).

    So how do I fix this? Have any of you fixed this? Any and all advice is appreciated.

    • Murphy says:

      I found something similar after Uni, suddenly it felt a lot harder to make friends but it’s been going better since I realised what habits I’d changed.

      Nothing big, just things like suggesting hanging out or doing things with people. I’d become very passive.

    • Linch says:

      I’m not 100% sure what your biggest social problem is. It can be alternatively read as a) “I don’t have enough (irl) friends” and b) “I don’t have enough “normal” friends.”

      I will interpret your statement as primarily a function of a (possibly typical-mind fallacy, but I have never felt a need to optimize for b).

      Possible ideas/Things that work for me:

      1) Join student groups! Particularly the nerdier ones. In college, I was involved in sci-fi club, Chess&Games, martial arts, as well as a few organizations I attended less regularly. They have definitely been useful in meeting people I like hanging out with. Also, join or start an effective altruism group if you’re into that. It’s a great way to meet/forge people who’re One of Us. 😛

      2)Try interacting with people in smaller groups/one on one. I’m personally a huge fan of board games, but meeting up to chat about homework over coffee, or just grabbing lunch or dinner at the school cafeteria could be fine ways to interact (I’m also inclined to suggest dnd). I’ve always found parties pretty alienating in that it’s very difficult to carry a sustained, intelligent conversation. Smaller groups are annoying in the sense that you might find it difficult to detach yourself if the conversations are boring, but other than your time cost, they have the advantage of letting you shape the conversation into mutually interesting topics*, or, if none exists, to definitively realize that you should hang out with other people.

      3) Make yourself more interesting conversationally*! This is easier said than done. I’m not a naturally funny person, but I found utility in taking note of the funniest jokes I’ve found online/heard on standup comedy, and practicing the delivery. (Note that I find this intrinsically enjoyable. I don’t know how effective jokes are if you have no real interest in them). I’ve also found utility in memorizing interesting quotes, anecdotes, synopsis of scenes in books/movies that can be used to illustrate interesting points, etc. (eg, Lake Woebegone, 1970s Spanish Christmas lottery). Not sure how much time you’re willing to invest in being a good conversationalist. It’s definitely not cheaper in terms of opportunity costs…

      Also, I noticed that people seem to like me more after I increased my expressiveness: deliberately exaggerating the range of my facial emotions, hand motions, and tones of my voice; however I do not know how much of this is just correlation.

      4) Make friends with philosophy majors. Seriously, I find as many as ~1/3 of philosophy majors to be capable of fairly novel insights, or at least the ability to creatively regurgitate books I have never read. Sure, they have crazy beliefs like virtue ethics or deontology, but a surprisingly high number of them are charitable with alternative viewpoints. In addition, philosophy majors are more likely to be both capable of the higher levels of abstraction/”meta” that readers of this blog are familiar with instead of being stuck on object-level ideas, and (unlike many STEM majors), a large percentage of them can communicate to laymen effectively.

      *All of this assumes that you have the general intelligence of people at this blog and at least average social intelligence.
      **While I like myself as a person socially, I have not been successful romantically. YMMV.

  42. alexp says:

    Are there any fans of the Expanse series by James SA Corey here?

    I’d highly recommend the newest novella [/i]The Vital Abyss[i] even if you’re unfamiliar with the series. There would be some major spoilers in there for the first book and I guess the upcoming tv series as well, but includes a lot of themes this community likes: Basic income, brain modification, experimental ethics, etc.

  43. Dude Man says:

    Am I wrong for thinking that the tech industry hasn’t done anything innovative in the last five years? All of the examples of Silicon Valley innovation are either older than that or is a potential innovation if some more technological breakthroughs happen. On one hand, we don’t realize things are breakthroughs until after they revolutionize things, so this time frame may be too short to judge what we view as important in the future. On the other hand, tech has a nasty habit of over promising and under-delivering, and many of the promised benefits of technology never materialize (this is an industry that insisted their products would make geography irrelevant yet almost all of the most noteworthy companies are in the same metropolitan area). If innovation comes in waves, is the ICT revolution slowing down?

    It seems telling that the most talked-about tech company that began after the release of the iPhone is known for their relationship with regulators and not their technological innovation.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah I think “is a potential innovation if some more technological breakthroughs happen” moves pretty smoothly to “older than that” without much intervening time. When things explode into reality, they have generally had the groundwork laid for them for some time. Like, clickbait has been around almost as long as clicks, but it’s in the past 5 years that people have really refined it and set it up to devour the internet. Or, electric cars have been around for a while, but they only really got to the point where they were feasible as a consumer product in the past 5 years. Or, looked at the other way, there’s innovation going on in self-driving cars, and there has been for over 5 years, but it’s not ready to overturn society quite yet. Once it is, it will be easy to say “oh, self-driving cars are more than 5 years old”. Also, the online gambling market is being revolutionized by fantasy sports derivative products, but once those fully burst out into the main stream it will be easy to say “Hell, I was doing a fantasy draft with my buddies back in the nineties, where’s the innovation?”

      Even your example of the iPhone is just a PDA in a shiny case. Those had been around for a decade. Not seeing how it’s really more innovative than the Uber you sneer at.

      • Dude Man says:

        I concede your point that the groundwork is laid over a large period of time and by the time something explodes it has been around for a while. However, nothing that Silicon Valley has produced that has exploded in the last five years is really impressive. Innovation can’t simply be “thing has changed,” but also has to be “thing has changed and changed society as a result.” What has Silicon Valley produced that has exploded recently have the level of societal impact as what exploded ten or fifteen years ago, much less compared to some of the highlights of other waves of innovation. The stuff you describe in your paragraph that has already happened (clickbait, fantasy betting) isn’t all that impressive. Quite frankly, if the best Silicon Valley can do is sports betting but it still wants to fellate itself for revolutionizing the world, then I’m going to sneer at it for woefully under-delivering.

        As for your points about technology that will explode soon; let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. Tesla and self-driving cars could revolutionize transportation but there are still technological breakthroughs that need to happen for those technologies to revolutionize transportation and we shouldn’t assume that those breakthroughs will happen. A lot of promising technologies just never make the leap.

        • TheFrannest says:

          Are you implying that we should have come up with new physical theories and then put them to good use within the five-year window? That is a lot to ask, and for most of history science doesn’t really operate like this. It’s a series of improvements to existing technology.

          Of course Apple and other companies like it stifles innovation significantly: android had NFC years ago, no one cared, it was adopted by iphones, now it’s groundbreaking technology, what was the point of developing and implementing it first?

          Off top of my mind, computational devices become more powerful and smaller. Typical “my phone is smaller than the tower sized computer I had X years ago” thing.

          Electric cars. Self-driving cars. VR tech. Consumer-grade 3D printers. Those are things that will have wide adoption in the future. Remember, there was a road to go from Wrights’ first flight to consumer airlines.

        • suntzuanime says:

          “I concede your point that we wouldn’t expect to see innovation even if there was some, but still, I don’t see any innovation!”

          • Dude Man says:

            Let me put it this way: if we see innovation after a certain lag time, then what does it mean if we haven’t seen any in the last five years. Does it mean that 2005-2010 was shit and we’re just finding out about it? At what point can you say, “hey this revolution seems to have stalled?”

          • suntzuanime says:

            It’s not just that you only see innovation after a certain lag time, it’s that you only recognize it in hindsight. It’s hard to know what nascent technologies right now are the ones that are actually important. By the time the technology is indisputably important, it’s usually old. We can never see any innovation in the last five years, because we can only recognize innovation by looking at the effects it’s had over the course of five+ years.

            Maybe self-driving cars won’t matter. Maybe they will. Maybe gene-editing won’t matter. Maybe it will. Maybe sports gambling derivatives won’t matter. Maybe they will. We can’t know yet, so it’s impossible to identify recent important innovations.

    • NZ says:

      Where are you looking? It could be that lots of innovative things are coming out of the tech industry but they are business-facing innovations rather than consumer-facing. (I work in the tech industry for a company that makes innovative business-facing software, but I don’t feel qualified to say one way or the other.)

      What I wonder is, do we really want more consumer-facing technological breakthroughs? I don’t think I do.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Wikipedia was started in 2001 but didn’t get big until around 2006 or so. It will probably be easier to figure out the major innovations from this time period a few years down the road.

    • Tom Scharf says:

      5 years is probably too short of a time to identify a major change, until 10 years from now. It’s probably happening, but very difficult to see at the moment. Self driving cars, the ubiquity of smart phones to all people, etc. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit technically, but Twitter appears to actually be a real innovation.

      I grew up in the 1970’s, and have been an EE for 30 years. The internet didn’t just pop out of nowhere in a 5 year period. But looking back there is no doubt in my mind that this period of time will be seen as a revolution on equal with the industrial revolution, the computer revolution. It has been an amazing experience to watch it happen. It’s hard to imagine that there were barely roads and cars 100 years ago, the first airplane, ever, in 1903. Think about it. Humans have been around 10,000+ years and look what happened in just the last 100.

      It’s possible things may have slowed down, but that would only be because the exponential curve of innovation is hard to stay on forever.

      So, get to work millennial generation, you have a pretty high bar to meet, ha ha.

    • brad says:

      Tyler Cowen has a great stagnation theory that (basically) asserts we have squeezed most of the good stuff out of the fundamental scientific advances from the late 19th and early 20th century, and in the west we no longer have vast pools of uneducated and/or underutilized people (i.e. rural people and women) to get huge boosts from allowing to reach their full potential.

      For reasons to be optimistic he points out the possibilities for new scientific breakthroughs and the vast potential of the populations of India and China.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        The Great Stagnation roughly corresponds to the productivity slowdown that begins in the 1970s. This is observed across nations.

        The influx of women into the workplace comes after that and accounts for many dozens of millions of people across the Western world. We’ve also scaled up the average education level since then, not just in the West, but Asian nations as well (see Japan, South Korea, Singapore).

        We’re still stuck in the Great Stagnation. Which would be measurably worse, if not for the productivity gains in China.

        Not sure how additional Chinese and Indians will power INNOVATION to get us out of the recession. Though we have a lot of opportunity for capital deepening, or mundane scaling like irrigation and fertilizer in Subsaharan Africa.

        • brad says:

          US labor force participation rate for women was at 32% in 1948 when the BLS started keeping track. By January 1970 it was 43.3% and 51.6% in January 1980. It peaked at 60.% in early 2000 and is now down to 56.4%.

          Women entering the workplace straddles the start of the stagnation somewhat, but if anything more of it occurred before than during. There’s also some reason to believe that it was a front loaded in terms of ability.

          If you can’t understand how billions of people in Indian and China having the ability to contribute to their full extent of their abilities will power innovation, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe, check your assumptions?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Maybe, check your assumptions?

            I did. My initial assumption is that increasing the pool of potential innovators will increase innovation. The evidence post-1970 suggests that is wrong.
            Proportionally speaking, we increased the number of women in the labor force between 1970 and 2000 by nearly 40%, according to your statistics. In the same time period, we’ve moved from around 15% of the population completing tertiary or higher education to close to 25%, so we’ve upskilled as well. And we have more minds if just because our population has grown dramatically.

            Still no end to the Great Stagnation, in fact that’s precisely the period OF the Great Stagnation.

            I see little reason to assume the addition of Chinese and Indian business expertise will fundamentally alter the equation, particularly as China has a non-stable social and political model where 1/3 of urban workers are not even legally allowed to live in cities and India is still extremely poor on a per-capita basis.

  44. Nombre says:

    To what extent, if any, is the argument “Why are you protesting X, when you should be protesting Y, because Y is more important/evil/etc.” legitimate?

    My thoughts:
    It seems to me that this argument is justified, at least some of the time: Imagine some people were protesting a new mosque being built in the local town, arguing that it would snarl traffic. At the same time, a humongous new church is being built in a way that would be worse to traffic than the mosque, and the protestors are silent. In this case, it seems reasonable to me to ask the mosque-protesters why they are protesting it rather than the church.

    At the same time, I worry this could ham-string activists. Specifically, imagine an activist protesting against X, something that is very bad. Someone else could bring up Y, at which point the conversation would devolve into questions of whether X is more important/evil/etc than Y or vice versa, and there would be no, or less, protest against X, even though X is very bad.

    • Dude Man says:

      Maybe it’s legitimate if:

      1. The type of bad thing Y causes is the same as X, but the problem is worse for Y than X.
      2. The person you’re talking about cares about X but doesn’t care about Y.

      If both of those criteria are true, then you could argue that the person should be focusing elsewhere if he really wants to prevent the bad thing he’s complaining about. However, if the problem is that X and Y are both bad for different reasons, then you can say that there is no reason to hold off on fixing one problem until you fix the other problem.

    • stargirl says:

      In theory the Mosque can be evaluated on its own merits. Either the benefits outweigh the costs or they don’t. (property rights and such are another issue). The Church has nothing to do with the Mosque (few people frequent both). The reason you want to bring up the Church is because you want to accuse the protesters of being biased and possibly racist.

      I think it is almost impossible to have good discussion norms for when it is ok to accuse someone of bias. Once you accuse someone of being biased in this way you have declared the assumptions of polite discourse do not hold. You are claiming the other side is either delusional or acting in bad faith. Of course people often are racist, deluded and/or acting in bad faith. But since everyone is biased to some extant it is hard to figure out what norms should apply to such accusations.

    • TheFrannest says:

      In its core, it is a bad argument, as it can be countered with “Well, why are YOU not doing anything about that, instead of arguing with people about doing it?”

      I also limit myself from using it even if doing X or Y is technically mutually exclusive. Why did I donate $1000 to an animal shelter, as opposed to DWB? The answer is actually that I feel like it.

      This argument is really valid in my opinion when X and Y are not exclusive as such as people who do X WILLINGLY exclude Y.

      Now I know feminism is a bit of a dead horse here, but bear with me. Feminists very commonly use lives of middle eastern women as talking points. From sweeping global statistics about illiteracy, FGM and honor killings that are supposed to make first world men personally guilty to sharing haha look at the crazy patriarchy stories about women being banned from riding bicycles, etc. And yet… we see a bunch of twitter chatter about men spreading their legs a couple degrees too wide on subways (I had the honor of being photographed for such a blog by a lady who occupied an extra seat with a bag), and when people bring up perhaps the core issues that lead to this occuring – namely, islam and the culture that is built around it – they are accused of islamophobia.

      So why talk about women’s rights when you exclude solving the islam issue?

      • Anon. says:

        > “Well, why are YOU not doing anything about that, instead of arguing with people about doing it?”

        This assumes that the interlocutors have the same preferences, but that’s not necessarily the case.


        A cares about animals. Charity Z saves 10 puppies per dollar donated, while charity Y saves only 1. B does not care about animals so she donates to neither, but she can still tell A that it’s better to donate to the superior charity.

        • TheFrannest says:

          Yeah, well, not caring about animals and yet expecting other people to care about animals can qualify as concern trolling here.

          • Anon. says:

            If A donates to Y they demonstrably care about animals. Revealed preference is a wonderful thing!

            If A donated to neither and B told A she should be donating to Z then you have a point.

      • Spaghetti Lee says:

        On that specific issue a large part of it is that they don’t want to come off as Islamophobic or racist towards people of Middle Eastern descent, because that’s what conservatives do. Refusing to agree with your enemy on ANYthing, even when doing so wouldn’t violate any of your other moral principles (and failing to do so arguably would), is a helluva drug.

        Also, results-based activism. In this corner, we have millennia of cultural norms in countries halfway around the world you’ll never even set foot in. In this corner, we have a fellow subway-rider who can be photographed, memed, identified, and doxxed. Place ya bets, place ya bets.

      • Linch says:

        “Well, why are YOU not doing anything about that, instead of arguing with people about doing it?”

        Because it’s a more effective use of my time to change your mind than protesting right now?

        I feel like by that logic we can never talk about charities, since the most directly optimal thing to do is to make lots of money and donate to the best charities, instead of doing indirectly optimal things like figuring out what the best charities are, or convincing other people to donate. This seems like a relatively absurd position to take.

      • Murphy says:

        Hmm, I don’t think this is quite right.

        I see someone wearing a “save the trees” t-shirt, I talk to them and ask them what their main goal is. They say “I want to save as many trees as possible everywhere in the world!”

        They then reveal that their main occupation for the last 3 years has been sleeping in a particular tree in a nearby town to prevent it from being felled to make way for a restaurant.

        I may not care about trees very much but I might reasonable ask if perhaps they might have saved more trees if they’d let the tree be cut down and spent their time/money on charities which defend rainforests since even a few hundred bucks could save far far far more than one tree.

        At which point the most likely reaction is the person going into a huff.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      0) If X is more evil than Y, then protest X.
      1) X is more evil than Y.
      2) protest X.

      Let X = large church
      Let Y = small mosque

      Therefore, protest Church.

      Why are you protesting X, when you should be protesting Y, because Y is more important/evil/etc.

      What you’re doing is modeling their thought process and recognizing a contradiction. As Robin Hanson once said, “One man’s Modus Ponens is another man’s Modus Tollens.” That is, there’s several ways this can play out.

      A) The argument is sound: the protester acknowledges the correction and changes their behavior. If the protester genuinely cares about traffic congestion, then they will realize that protesting the church is more effective.

      B) Proposition 1 is false: the protester disagrees that the church is more evil than the mosque. E.g. perhaps the protester was simply rationalizing their dislike of the mosque. Perhaps their behavior is driven by a different metric of evil than dislike of traffic congestion, such as islamophobia.

      C) Proposition 0 is false: in which case, “minimize the most evil thing” is not the decision making algorithm the protester implements. E.g. perhaps their decision making is governed by warm fuzzies and status cookies. Or perhaps they’re following an algorithm modified for triage: the successfully protesting the church (though a little bit more evil) would require a lot more effort compared to successfully protesting the mosque.

      D) Both Proposition 0 and 1 are false. This is self-explanatory.


      At the same time, I worry this could ham-string activists.

      It sounds like you additionally wonder whether changing the protester’s behavior is generally productive irl.

      In a recent thread, Ozy mentioned that it’s really hard to have a conversation about female rape victims because some bro always steps in and says “but what about the menz?” (and vice versa for conversations about male rape victims). The problems men and women experience may share similarities but are ultimately distinct, which makes it difficult to talk about each problem simultaneously. So it’s possible that the anti-mosque protest is being held this week, while the anti-church protest is being held next week.

      There’s also an argument for diversity of activism. Stargirl says we ought evaluate the mosque on its own merits. But I disagree since economically, society’s scarcity of attention and resources entails opportunity costs. If the Ministry of Truth decides that cancer is objectively worse than heart disease, does this mean we should repurpose all available heart disease funds towards cancer research? Each cause is likely subject to diminishing returns. Maybe cancer research is a black hole because no cure actually exists. Putting all our eggs in a single basket is a losing strategy. Therefore, I’d expect there exists an equilibrium somewhere between “invest everything in cancer” vs “invest everything in heart disease”.

      Also, you run the risk depicted in xkcd: Charity anytime you criticize the efficacy of someone’s goodwill.

    • I think the argument is on the face of it legitimate, but I think we can also balance it with the fact that the marginal value of your engagement on an issue is probably much higher for issues where fewer people have engaged with the topic. For example, if you’re doing research and examining all sides of the story, as I think activists sometimes neglect at the moment, you are more likely to identify and argument or something else that nobody has thought of before.

      Also, I wonder even if the above wasn’t true, if it would be really that bad if we comprehensively solved the biggest ten problems in the world (or biggest ten solutions, cost-benefit etc.) and perhaps neglected the less important stuff for a while. Then we’d probably be more prosperous, less threatened and generally in a stronger position to solve the small stuff too.

  45. Anybody with knowledge of statistics have any thoughts on a recent paper analyzing “hot hand” phenomena. NYTimes coverage, and the paper itself.

    The basic idea is something called the “hot hand” effect, which is the belief that if somebody is on a winning streak they are likely to continue. Obviously this is a fallacy for games of pure chance (ie roulette), but for sports it’s entirely plausible that it could exist. There have been many studies done over the years, mostly finding a small but non-zero effect, this paper basically says everybody has been doing their stats wrong and underestimating the size of the hot-hand effect. I was having trouble wrapping my head around intuition for what they were saying, although the math looks solid.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I was having trouble wrapping my head around the math, although the intuition looks solid. Basically what they’re saying is that people are incorrectly treating all observed cases as having the same evidentiary value, even though some cases have more because they give more opportunity to observe the phenomenon in question. In particular, a case where a winning streak occurs provides more chances to observe “streakiness”, because there will be more wins that are able to be followed by another win (or not). If you treat this case as equally informative to a case with an equal smattering of wins and losses, even though the winning streak contains twice as many chances for a win to be followed by a loss, you are giving the observations in the case half as much weight as they should have. And since you’re giving reduced weight specifically to the observations where streakiness occurs, this will bias your results away from streakiness.

    • switchnode says:

      Your first link 404s for me. Also, hasn’t this paper (or some other coverage) been linked on SSC before?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      As a stylized example, suppose that each day a stock index goes either up or down, according to a random walk in which the probability of going up is, say, 0.6. A financial analyst who can predict the next day’s performance on the days she chooses to, and whose predictions are evaluated in terms of how her success rate on predictions in a given month compares to that of chance, can expect to outperform this benchmark by using any of a number of different decision rules. For instance, she can simply predict “up” immediately following down days, or increase her expected relative performance even further by predicting “up” only immediately following longer streaks of consecutive down days.

  46. Oleg S says:

    Hi! Could anyone recommend a good rational charity that prioritizes space exploration? Something that resembles GiveWell but focused on the best bet to get interstellar.

    • Zippy says:

      I’m afraid I don’t. But I am interested in knowing why you want one.

      … Also– with the requisite intellectual humility, I assure you– I’d conjecture that “a good rational charity that prioritizes space exploration” is an oxymoron.

      • Linch says:

        The obvious argument is that you want a back-up drive for existential risk. An asteroid, pandemic etc, aren’t likely to strike both Earth and Mars simultaneously.

        The less-obvious counterargument is…well, actually I don’t want to get into that one.

        • Anonymous says:

          “The less-obvious counterargument is…well, actually I don’t want to get into that one.”

          Now I’m curious.

          • 27chaos says:

            If it’s Dust theory I’ll lol.

          • Murphy says:

            My guess would be that for almost all cases you’d get almost all the advantages from building a huge tough self sufficient underground vault in the arctic or somewhere else very hostile and inaccessible.

            Pandemic? Wait it out. Nuclear war? wait it out. Environmental disaster? Wait it out. then repopulate the earth.

            It would be far far easier/cheaper than building the same on Mars and you wouldn’t need a space program on mars to re-populate the earth.

            At this point people start pointing out how it would be almost impossible to build such a vault in the arctic even with lots of water and oxygen easily accessible and come up with lots of practical objections, every one of them applies 100x to a huge tough self sufficient underground vault on mars.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It’s easier to run a solar panel array on Mars than underground, and people have further to fly if they want to root you out, loot your vault, and put you to the sword.

          • HlynkaCG says:


      • Oleg S says:

        I think the good test for rational charity is whether its goals are suitable for a superhuman AI. There are conceptual troubles in making an AI that would try to reach some traditional humanity-oriented goals, such as happiness for everyone, elimination of poverty, elimination of wars etc. Rationalization of such goals lead to concept of QALY, which is employed in regulatory decisions and prioritizing donations. However, if one allows for negative QALY, the reasonable QALY optimizer would eliminate of large part of humanity, which is scary. Restricting QALY to positive values makes way for equally scary scenarios when trillions of human beings live miserable lives cramped together like chickens on chiken farms. I don’t see another option for a QALY-optimizing AI of superhuman intelligence, and being unable to make rational choice myself, I frequently give in to charities that just resonates with me.

        Building von Neumann probe, on the other hand, looks like a safe option, because in the worst scenario I could imagine it would be just another life form, prone to all shortcomings of life forms. I’m not bothered with potential extinction of humanity as long as we have a fleet of automatic self-replicating probes, rapidly populating the Galaxy. These consideration are true if super-human AI is substituted by humanity (which in a sense is sort of a super-human AI). It may be a fleet of generation spaceships piloted by brave astronauts, or robotic probes with primitive instincts to replicate – I don’t really care, as long as resulting galactic structure is sufficiently complex.

        The motivation for a space exploration as a backup for existential risks is ok, but not the primary one since there almost always is a cheaper options for known threats (deep underground bunkers etc). And I can understand that refusing a dollar to a sick child to give it to space exploration may be a hard choice to make. But at some point I have to ask myself “How helping all these people make humanity closer to stars”?

    • Megaburst says:

      You could donate your time and try to get a job at SpaceX?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Step 1 is to not engage with the people trying to stop you from colonizing space, or telling you that your preferences are wrong for trying to do so.

      Step 2 is to figure out the most immediate danger for space colonization and work to lower it. If you wanted to go to Mars, for example, lots of people would want to bug you about radiation, but the real worry is failure of your launch vehicle.

      You don’t have to make things pleasant. You have to make things survivable enough that people looking for a challenge would go do it.

  47. US says:

    In the previous autism post Jeremy asked some questions about autism and writing in response to Peter’s comment linked above – I figured I might have something to add to that one.

    Some context from Jeremy’s comment:

    “I am always surprised by how little autism shows through in writing. […] while I would expect autistic people to be just as distinguishable in writing as in any other form of social communication, I have found to my surprise that I totally can’t see the distinction.

    Would you agree with my assessment that you don’t feel at a disadvantage or even out of the ordinary in the way that you communicate through writing? How does writing feel to you vs spoken communication? Is it really just the body language that’s different?”

    I have an Asperger’s diagnosis and I read/write a lot so this is my kind of question.. Some belated observations on these topics:

    a) I like to be precise when I use language, regardless of whether I’m talking or writing. Precision takes time. In some social contexts such precision-related (‘excessive’) time expenditure is not a problem, whereas in other social contexts it is. In a blog’s comment section it doesn’t matter that you spend an hour formulating a response to a question because no-one will ever know how much time you spent, and simultaneity is not a requirement. If you spend too much time formulating a response when interacting with others in person, the discussion will have moved on by the time you’re ready to contribute. I have tried to become more ‘pragmatic’ about my behaviour during verbal exchanges than I used to be, but this is difficult.
    b) In online interactions like the ones that take place in a comment section like this one, group size tends not to matter very much, whereas in face-to-face interactions group size will matter a lot. If I’m interacting with one other person, I can usually track both relevant non-verbal behaviour and the content of the discussion. If I’m interacting in group of five people, I’ll probably give up on following/trying to interpret non-verbal behaviour and stick to the verbal content. So group size is to me a potentially important variable that will affect my behaviour in face-to-face interactions but will not necessarily influence my behaviour during written interactions.
    c) The time expenditure involved when engaging in written interactions means that for me written interactions can be fatiguing and draining, just like person-to-person interactions often are. This is a similarity, not a difference, but one perhaps worth mentioning in this context.
    d) Most of the time I prefer to interact with other people in writing to interacting with them in person. ‘US in writing’ is in my mind superior to ‘US in Real Life’, in part because a lot of ‘irrelevant’ hurdles are removed from the equation, especially when using the so-called information-poor media. That said, I’d also much rather exchange messages on Skype than talk to someone on Skype, so it’s not just body language.

    It’s easier to hide your difficulties interpreting body language when there’s no body language to deal with. Information-poor media at least to some extent levels the playing field.

    • Megaburst says:

      Neurotypical here. I like talking about sensitive issues in person because the pleasantries of face-to-face interaction help me empathize with the other person’s perspective and help them empathize with mine. I think internet conversations are uniquely dysfunctional because of the lack of empathy. Also the faster back and forth of in person convos is nice for clarifying stuff.

      • Murphy says:

        I’ve found that a lot of people who struggle to open up talk find it easier to sit next to someone typing, best of both worlds. Face to face reactions, clarity of text.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Yes. This is very well put.

    • Kiya says:

      credentials: not diagnosed with anything; I’m a noise-sensitive introvert who likes math and had a lot of social trouble when I was a kid.

      I think in-person conversations are useful in some situations, for example brainstorming in a group of ~5 people. With the fast pace of talking and low cost of nodding or saying “yeah,” it’s easier to arrive at a sense of group agreement than in a text-based forum.

      I prefer text for conversation where I feel uneasy and want to be very precise and in control. If I start saying something in person, there’s a chance my conversation partner will interrupt or ask a question I wasn’t prepared for. In high-stress conversations I am highly likely to be misunderstood, or to end up defending a position I don’t hold by mistake. I can’t be stressed, think clearly, and talk fluidly all at the same time, though I can do any two of the three. Being stressed and talking fluidly without thinking clearly is not a good recipe for arriving at the truth. I found talk therapy at my middle school highly unhelpful for this reason.

      A strategy I invented in my teenage years for recovering from fights with my parents is to type up everything I want to convey to someone coherently, sit next to them while they read it, refuse to resume free-form conversation until they have finished reading it, and then talk. This gives me time to think about what I actually want to say and lets me express it clearly. It’s rather unusual, and I wouldn’t try it with people who don’t know me very well.

    • Rachael says:

      I agree with you and the previous commenter.

      Sometimes my mother and I have disagreements. When we do, she wants to meet up face to face to talk it over, and she thinks that’ll make it better. I prefer to talk it over by email, because I can take time to choose my words and clarify my thoughts, and express myself calmly and reasonably. Face to face, one or both of us is likely to get upset. When she’s upset, she’s angry and shouty and I still find it scary. When I’m upset, I cry and become withdrawn and inarticulate.

      (I’m nerdy with slight sub-clinical aspie-like traits, like most here; she’s very non-nerdy.)

  48. onyomi says:

    Re. “wireheading,” has anyone considered the possibility that, if it became possible, some people might use it to become super productive rather than just blissed-out vegetables?

    For example, if I could attach some wires to my language students’ brains that made them feel like they had an orgasm every time they learned a new Chinese vocabulary word, pretty soon they’d be better than me at Chinese.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      …Shit. Do we need to go to the hospital for this, or can you just get the black&decker and hook me up right now?

    • onyomi says:

      Related is an impression I’ve formed now in my second year of full-time teaching: especially in this age when almost all of human knowledge is freely available on the internet and/or through your interlibrary loan system, figuring out how to motivate students isn’t just one part of the job of a teacher; it’s seemingly almost the *entire* job of a teacher (the remainder probably being providing feedback).

      • Kiya says:

        Teachers are also important as curators of what, from the set of all information one could find on the internet, is accessible to a student now and will be useful to them later.

      • Saint_Fiasco says:

        Teachers are personal trainers for the brain.

    • Dude Man says:

      The problem with this analogy is that, presumably the person getting wireheaded would choose what the effects would be while your example is one where you are choosing the effects that other people would feel.

      • LTP says:

        Indeed, and if it was an awesome orgasmic feeling that you could control, you would probably be quickly be tempted to just make it happen with no effort at all.

        • onyomi says:

          Sure, some, maybe even most people would be tempted to set it up such that they could have the awesome feeling constantly or with a flip of a switch or a thought; I’m just saying it’s conceivable that *some* people might use it to become super productive, as it seems it would be an unbelievably powerful tool if used that way.

          And it’s also possible the wire heads would switch things up periodically: “uh oh, my body is atrophying from laying on the couch all day having orgasms! This has the potential to reduce my lifespan for lying on the couch having orgasms. Let’s temporarily rearrange the motivator so that jogging and eating vegetables makes me have orgasms.”

          And then there is also the quasi-dystopian example where the wires are, indeed, controlled by someone else, who rewires everybody’s brains to get orgasmic feelings from being a good citizen-soldier, or making paper clips, or what have you.

          Now that I think of it, I think Frank Herbert sort of explored a version of this in the later books of the Dune series with the Honored Matres: basically sexy Bene Gesserit gone to the dark side who have somehow created sexual techniques so powerful that they can motivate anyone to basically be their slaves through the providing/withdrawal of the sex.

          • LTP says:

            Maybe, I’m not sure if that would work in practice, but perhaps you’re right that some could do so.

            To be honest, though, if we lived in a society where we had that degree of control over our own brains, I’d rather do something like make it so I would grow tired of the feeling if I sat on the couch having orgasms for too long (much like how you feel full if you eat too much, or grow bored of even your favorite entertainment of choice for the day if you do it long enough in one sitting), and then stimulate a part of my brain to give myself above average, but still in the normal range of current human experience, motivation to exercise and eat healthy foods and socialize and so on. It would seem difficult to do those things if they caused orgasmic euphoria, and I wouldn’t even be experiencing them if I did but just gunning for the euphoria, I think.

          • onyomi says:

            The other thing people don’t so much seem to consider is the possibility that the constant orgasm chip inserted in your brain might make you simply enjoy other stuff more.

            For example, ecstasy is a drug which makes you feel super happy; it also enhances the experience of things like dancing, listening to music, and cuddling. That is, just because ecstasy can make you feel good in a vacuum, doesn’t mean you would just lie on the couch feeling good even if you had a non-serotenergic neuron-destroying IV of ecstasy hooked up to your veins. You might just use it dance all the time (and possibly die of thirst or something, but that’s another problem one could adjust for–presumably the sort of mental state most would chose if they could choose would not be one of constant mania, but rather one which alternated appropriately from really good active moods to really good relaxed moods).

    • Scott Alexander says:


      Doubt you could do it to yourself. Another person might be able to do it to you, but do you trust your Chinese teacher with the key to your soul?

      • onyomi says:

        I agree you couldn’t do it to yourself if it were as simple as “let me press the orgasm button every time I do a pushup and that will make me like doing pushups.” I agree that would not result in you liking pushups any more than you do now (and it’s funny you should mention it, because I just recently saw a strange article with some guy claiming he lost weight by masturbating every time he felt the urge to snack, the idea being that he would associate the virtuous dietary behavior with the pleasure of masturbation. If it really did work it’s probably just because it reduced eating by distracting with another activity, not because he conditioned himself somehow).

        I’m talking about a more fundamental rewiring of reward mechanisms such that doing the pushup is the proximate cause of the orgasm. I don’t think this would change me such that I’d like doing pushups in the absence of the artificially induced orgasm feeling, but I could imagine voluntarily choosing to install the “pushups give you orgasms” chip in my brain because a. I like orgasms, and b. I like the results of doing a lot of pushups but don’t normally find the reward immediate or intense enough to make me do a lot of them.

        The end goal would not be “I like pushups qua pushups”; it would be, “I like having a great physique because I did a zillion pushups because I had a chip in my brain that made doing pushups feel really good.”

    • Deiseach says:

      they had an orgasm every time they learned a new Chinese vocabulary word, pretty soon they’d be better than me at Chinese

      I don’t think it would necessarily be so; they’d maybe learn the equivalent of a dictionary full of vocabulary pretty quickly but would they understand how to put it together? How to speak in grammatical Mandarin or Cantonese, or to read it as well as speak it? Would they recognise it spoken with a different accent or regional intonation?

      I can see you getting a classroom of parrots who could learn to rattle off a spelling list of words for you in no time at all, but with little to no idea what they meant.

      • onyomi says:

        Switch the wires so they only get an orgasm when they communicate in meaningful, full Chinese sentences? Or maybe create a ratchet effect, where, at the beginning they get an orgasm from saying “ni hao,” but they have to keep producing new and more nuanced Chinese sentences to get the same effect until they need to comment intelligently on politics in flawless Mandarin to get the orgasm feeling.

        • Sylocat says:

          Well, then you have to decide what it means to “comment intelligently on politics” in flawless Mandarin…

          But overall, I agree.

        • Nate says:

          Portal 2 went into this. I’d have to ponder this a bit more (the two wireheads are very different), but you could get meth-junkie behavior from someone who was trying to get better at Chinese and failing.

    • Murphy says:

      OK I loved that book but for the life of me I can’t remember this. I remember references to some military-tech method of learning things really fast which one of the characters is supposed to have used far too heavily but I don’t remember it mentioning wireheading.

    • Same discussion in 1948: has anyone considered the possibility if people will not just use this sexual revolution thing to just have fun but also as a reward for productivity? Same discussion in 1968: has anyone considered the possiblity if people will not just use this new(ly fashionable) lsd thing to just have psychedelic fun, but also as a reward for productivity?

      It seems actually productive people are kind of ashamed to get or give these kinds of rewards. Even something some traditional like “Son if you pass your math exam you and me will drink a bar dry and I will pay the tab!” sounds a bit “off”, doesn’t it?

      I suspect the reason is that productivity requires a mood of delayed gratification. In order to keep that mood going, you need to work with delayed-grat rewards. “after the exam we go get piss drunk” is too not-delayed. “here is $100 towards the summer holiday you are saving up for” is more delayed. of course “we will get piss drunk and drop acid and enjoy hot dolphin sex 3 months after the exam” is sufficiently delayed and yet feels “off”, but again it is not so much about the timescale but about the KIND of gratification that usually tends to be delayed or not and thus seen as wholesome thing or irresponsible hedonism…

      In other words, productivity goes hand in hand with a bit of a puritanical mood where you are trying not to have too much fun.

      Or at any rate propose any theory why mothers don’t promise their daughters expensive deluxe sex toys if they manage to get into Harvard and that theory will work the same way as with wireheading.

      • Nate says:

        I heard one of my old classmates got regular trips to the titty bar paid for if he kept pulling straight As. Seemed to work.

    • Sylocat says:


      This ties in to one of the most common arguments against Basic Income: “But if we give people money, won’t they just sit around all day doing nothing?”

      Boredom is almost as primal an urge as lust and hunger. People LIKE to feel like they’re doing something. I don’t think most people would make the conscious decision to make themselves enjoy feeling like a useless drain on society (and when we’ve worked out how to assign reward-circuit activity to specific physical/mental actions just by typing on a keyboard, I think that you WOULD have to make a conscious decision to do so in order to wind up as one). Especially since the first people to sign up for wireheading will probably be the ones who have been thinking about it long enough to know the common risks.

      And if someone does decide to turn themselves into a blissful vegetable? Well, far be it from me to prevent them from altering their terminal values into something I find absurd. Forgive me for doubting that it will lead to a horrifying dystopia where a tiny beleaguered minority of Doers are running around subsidizing the hordes of useless Parasites.

      And of course, a relevant xkcd.

      (minor tangent, this is also why I laugh at people who complain that “giving kids Participation Awards makes them assume life is too easy and/or takes away their motivation to succeed” and so on. Have you ever asked an actual kid whether getting a Participation Trophy makes them feel like a winner? Spoiler alert, it does not)

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Sylocat – “Boredom is almost as primal an urge as lust and hunger. People LIKE to feel like they’re doing something.”

        “feeling like they’re doing something” != “actually doing something productive”. I feel like I’m doing something when I debate people here, or when I torp fat BBs in Warships, or when I play KanColle.

        I could be wrong, but I think the argument they’re making is that people on GBI might see no need to do anything productive, and the system collapses without a certian percentage willing to do the hard work necessary to keep it running.

        “minor tangent, this is also why I laugh at people who complain that “giving kids Participation Awards makes them assume life is too easy and/or takes away their motivation to succeed” and so on. Have you ever asked an actual kid whether getting a Participation Trophy makes them feel like a winner? Spoiler alert, it does not”

        Then why give them to the kids at all? Is the idea that subtle cruelty will encourage them to achieve more than regular failure?

        [EDIT] – okay, sorry, trying again with a bit more charity: surely the people suggesting the awards think that they can be given in a way that the kids won’t hate? And surely the people objecting to the awards think it’s still a bad idea assuming they succeed?

        • Sylocat says:

          “feeling like they’re doing something” != “actually doing something productive”. I feel like I’m doing something when I debate people here, or when I torp fat BBs in Warships, or when I play KanColle.

          True, which makes me wonder if people might use wireheading to find their way around such shortcuts. It doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

          But then again, I think the whole metric of “productive” is kind of broken.

          As to the systemic collapse thing, well, for the aforementioned reasons, I just don’t think that’ll happen. If I had a normal 9-5 job with shifts (as opposed to part-time supplemented with freelance work), I’d certainly want to work 20 hrs/week instead of 40, but I’d also want to work 20 instead of 0, and that’s not exactly a rare sentiment.

          Saying “but all people (except me) are lazy stupid cheats who just want to sit on their bloated asses and bilk the system” is a fun way to signal how edgy and cynical one is (and lest you think I’m taking potshots at anyone here, I will admit right here that I used to spout the same lines myself), but I’m increasingly skeptical that it’s true of, like, >50% of humanity.

          Now, whether this is because people are inherently good/ambitious or rather just because people have had puritanical fun-is-evil messages drilled into them since infancy (which isn’t likely to stop happening if BI becomes a thing) I will leave to the philosophers, but I don’t think the effect is appreciably different either way.

          Then why give them to the kids at all? Is the idea that subtle cruelty will encourage them to achieve more than regular failure?

          Well, I didn’t say I thought Participation Awards were a GOOD idea, just that the “They make kids think that there are no losers which doesn’t prepare them for the dog-eat-dog world of adulthood” argument against them is nonsense.

  49. onyomi says:

    As a libertarian/capitalist, I am constantly arguing that it’s better for the poor to be better off in absolute terms even if it means being worse off in relative terms. I still think this, but I also agree with the psychology described here:


    One of the biggest obstacles to laws mandating higher minimum wage, etc. is, I think, peoples’ notion of justice: I can stand the indignity of working for less than I’m worth at my crummy job, but not if other people dumber, less hard working and less educated than me are getting the same money for doing an easier job. This is a bad, but very powerful reason to support what I think is the correct policy (not increasing the minimum wage).

    • Anonymous says:

      It seems to me that that’s also one of the practical problems involved with the minimum wage: to the extent that wages are determined by ability, i.e. a higher wage job is more difficult and a lower wage job is easier, a raise in the minimum wage ought to cause some people doing jobs that were previously paying what is now the new minimum wage to switch to those easier jobs that were previously paying the old minimum wage, outcompeting the workers in those jobs with their higher level of ability.

      Also, regarding the relative/absolute distinction. It seems to me that this has an odd implication: that people in Third World countries aren’t actually doing as badly as you might think, because while their absolute level of wealth is very low, much lower than that of the poor in First World countries, their relative wealth is probably similar, if not possibly higher, because they are comparing to people in their own society, who are also (absolutely) poor.

      Has any impartial utilitarian here (i.e. people who believe they have a moral obligation to maximize aggregate utility) heard this argument before? Has it persuaded you that you might gain more from donating to, say, homeless people in your own society, or that open immigration might be a bad idea?

      • Linch says:

        Hmm…I think it’s objectively false that all people in absolute poverty are as poor as each other. This argument will seem to imply that all people in say Kenya (or better yet, “Africa”) are equally poor, whereas Americans are unique and special and have great income inequality. This is false for at least 50 countries:


        Indeed, GiveDirectly’s operating model is to look for very poor people *even in their own communities* for cash transfers.

        I guess it’s theoretically possible that donating to the American homeless could generate more utility. However, your $$ just goes so much further overseas that I find this unlikely.

        The point about open immigration is interesting. A lot of the gains from immigration aren’t reaped by the immigrants, however.

        • Anonymous says:

          “Hmm…I think it’s objectively false that all people in absolute poverty are as poor as each other. This argument will seem to imply that all people in say Kenya (or better yet, “Africa”) are equally poor, whereas Americans are unique and special and have great income inequality.”

          It doesn’t imply that at all, only that the standards of what is poor and what is rich are both lower in poor countries.

          • Linch says:

            I realize that I should have phrased it better. I think the most important takeaway from my comment was that 1)Gini coefficients are higher for at least ~50 other countries than the US and 2)if relative poverty is roughly the same in the US and a far absolutely poorer country, it becomes trivially obvious (from an impartial utilitarian’s perspective) that you should devote resources to places where your $$ goes much further, simply because of the way numbers work.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “As a libertarian/capitalist, I am constantly arguing that it’s better for the poor to be better off in absolute terms even if it means being worse off in relative terms. I still think this, but I also agree with the psychology described here:”

      Part of this seems obviously true, but I like reading old-timey stories from shtetls and stuff, and they always involve the village’s one Old Rich Guy who’s really smug and full of himself because of his wealth. And whenever they describe what in particular the Old Rich Guy has, it always sounds like a less than the average poor ghetto dweller today (obviously dependent on how many cows one car is worth)

      I have constant trouble reconciling “Everyone today is richer than even the pretty rich people of the past” with “The pretty rich people of the past were pretty happy, but today’s poor are miserable.” There’s a lot that could go into this – higher cost of living now, for example – but I can’t help but think a lot of it has to be positional.

      • Anonymous says:

        Scott – did you see the post I made directly above yours? What are your thoughts on the question I raised?

      • Saul says:

        I was pretty deep in the libertarian camp on utilitarian grounds, but I came to accept that relative wealth is much more important to happiness than absolute wealth and this changes the util calculation to be indifferent towards redistribution. This seems to square pretty well with the hypothesis that happiness/unhappiness are just rewards/punishments to get us to obtain food/sex. But we can’t permanently be in a higher state of happiness, because then we’d stop trying to compete for food/sex. Since we have mostly solved the food part, I think our happiness reward system is mostly pushing us to acquire higher status (which feels good in itself, but usually leads to sex/better sex).

        Hence, it seems like if I gain wealth, it’s almost zero sum. The extra services/products I’ve created aren’t really important to anybody’s happiness. But I gain status at the expense of people around me. This doesn’t necessarily mean that redistribution is good. +1 status to Bill Gates might be -1 status from the rest of us collectively. But +1 status to the rest of us with -1 to Bill Gates doesnt seem better. And still, wealth generation is *almost* zero sum, not exactly zero sum. So perhaps we have some small reason to prefer more wealth over status quo wealth.

        I’m also not sure why nobody talks about the other endowments in life like being pretty or intelligent. These seem to boost quality of life (by improving status), but in most political debates, it’s completely irrelevant. I actually feel kind of like a loser to even bring it up most of the time (“But some people are prettier than others!” responded with “what are you, in high school?”)

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m not seeing why this is an argument against libertarianism – although maybe I’m sympathetic toward libertarianism for different reasons than you (were). My point is, if you’re correct, the conclusion seems to be to find ways of organizing society such that the people we compare ourselves to are of similar status to ourselves – or preferably lower status. Why do you expect government to make a good job of doing this, any more than you would expect them to make a good job of doing anything else?

          “I’m also not sure why nobody talks about the other endowments in life like being pretty or intelligent. These seem to boost quality of life (by improving status), but in most political debates, it’s completely irrelevant. ”

          I too have noticed this – that a trait being really important and conveying large disadvantages to the people who lack it does not at all guarantee that social justice people will notice and start caring about it. Perhaps it is analogous to the observation that the industries that develop powerful unions and manage to get the things they want are generally not the industries whose workers are actually poor and most arguably deserving of special privileges?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Lets assume that the government decided to get involved in raising the status for some people. What would be the best way to go about it? Maybe the government could pay for plastic surgery or teach nerds how to talk to girls.

        • Murphy says:

          That sounds correct once people are pretty much tapdancing on the tip of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you’re not gaining additional food, shelter etc and it becomes a contest for scarce status which implies that significant utility could be gained by tinkering with the system since there’s large portions of the world where people are still worried about things like food and shelter.

          Imagine a compassionate gift economy where the developed world is still competing over scarce status but the ultimate status symbol was your personal “averted dead child” count instead of the latest Ferrari.


          If keeping up with the Joneses meant constantly trying to improve the lives of the worst off then I’m pretty sure we could get a hell of a lot of utility points scored.

      • onyomi says:

        Even as I agree with Helmut Schoeck that envy is a destructive social force that should be suppressed, I do certainly agree that human happiness does seem to be, at least partially positional. This seems at first to be an argument for more redistribution, but if, in fact, redistributing financial rewards results in better well-being for the poor due to primarily relative improvements rather than absolute improvements, then we have to face the fact that we are also detracting from the happiness of the more successful, whose happiness, presumably, derives in some measure not from their absolute comfort, but in feeling better than other people. And there is also the utilitarian problem with reducing the rewards of success and hard work while taking away from the unpleasantness of the opposite (the decision to turn the food stamps into what looks like a debit card, for example, for the seemingly innocuous reason of it being more “dignified”).

        That said, I think when contemplating the plight of the seemingly intractably miserable poor of developed nations today, one tends to underestimate just how miserable the poor used to be. Of the American poor people I’ve met (and there are quite a lot of very poor people living in my general region, which is quite rural) other than those who have say, drug problems or who are criminals–problems which presumably are absolutely bad, rather than only bad in comparison to others–most seem, if not happy, then at least not miserable.

        For comparison, look at what Taiwanese peasants looked like 150 years ago:


        Note that these are not miserable, poor peasants. These are not peasants who have recently suffered a famine or plague. These are peasants who are probably doing okay as peasant life goes. Note how some of them live in conditions that are one step up from what we might expect of stone age life–and this part of, if on the periphery of, what had, at one point, been one of the richest civilizations on Earth! And in one of its more fertile areas!

        The fact is the conditions we associate with civilization were the preserve of only a privileged few until quite recently. And when I look at these peasants I don’t see people who are about as happy as the American poor. I see people who are probably working a lot harder than most American poor yet enjoying life a lot less.

        Yes, they are almost certainly happier than WE would be living in their conditions, but I don’t think they are as absolutely happy as us, or even as happy as the average very poor American.

        And even for the very bottom, compare



        • SUT says:

          1. Alienation – it’s more soothing to work the land for even a meager living as opposed to kissing your boss’s ass all day for tastier food. Now there was always a steep power hierarchy in primitive society, but it seems people just accepted it more: e.g. a squire considered himself more like an executive assistant then someone’s bitch.

          2. A rising tide lifts everyone’s minimum-expense: I don’t mean this in the classic inflation sense where steel gets more expensive as more people do construction starts. I mean this more in what’s the minimal viable car you can get on the road? Car could run fine, but if the exhaust’s a little dirty there’s another $800 repairs or a Rejected sticker. Then there’s the liberal traffic citations, registration, etc.

          These are all things the average-income citizen in the U.S. can easily afford and most would say they’re willing to pay for catalytic converter to not breathe heavy smog. But for below average-income person, driving vs clean air are mutually exclusive, and they would probably prefer driving. In this way, poor people “pay” dearly for regulatory creep into essential activities.

          If you remember the NewYorker’s profile on Ferguson, this is exactly what was happening with people going to jail or minor vehicle citations they couldn’t pay.

      • Emily H. says:

        I don’t know whether this counts as “positional” or “higher cost of living,” but there’s also an issue where the amount of stuff you need to maintain a good standard of living rises — like, in the 1920s, a car was a fantastic luxury. But now, there are lots of jobs that are just not open to people who don’t have cars — and it’s not just jobs that involve driving; it’s jobs that are located in areas where public transportation is bad, or jobs that need you to be available for late-night shifts when the buses don’t run late enough. (It may be possible to get by with Uber now, but if you’re taking ten Ubers a week that starts to get as pricey as owning a car.) If you do a lot of freelance work or have a job that uses just-in-time scheduling, you’re going to be at a big disadvantage if you don’t have a cell phone. If you want to apply for a job, you’d better have an email address and access to a computer. It’s that much harder to get a job if you don’t have a permanent address. None of this is about envy — it’s about the world shifting to the expectation that of course everybody has one of those and it’s not going to accommodate the people who don’t.

        • onyomi says:

          I do think there is a very strong tendency for business and government to gang up against people ever feeling financially secure because, if people can be taxed more without getting really pissed, the government will tend to tax more (or covertly tax through inflation) up until that point where people get really annoyed (this is also made more subtle through withholding).

          Similarly, businesses produce stuff to a budget they perceive their clientele can afford. When living in poorer countries I always enjoy the fact that the food is so cheap. This is partially because of lower labor costs, but also because they are genuinely putting cheaper stuff into the food–less meat, for example. If you opened a TGI Fridays in Bangladesh with the same food and pricing as in the US, it would fail not so much because the Bangladeshi might not like to try American food, but because they couldn’t afford it.

          This is the same dynamic which works to keep you from ever having a super fast computer: every time the processing speed and memory capacity goes up, they invent fancier operating systems and bigger files.

          Of course, I am less pissed about the private business aspect, because, while they may be failing to offer cheaper options which I might perceive as “good enough,” they are still providing better stuff in exchange for the greater wealth they are taking.

        • Sastan says:

          I’m kind of with you, but the problem is less severe. Part of it is that we as a society in the US have become used to quick motorized transport.

          I’ve biked twenty miles one way to work for a while. It can be done. Took a bit over an hour, but plenty of people wait that long in traffic. It’s just that walking for an hour or two, or riding a bike for that long is “unthinkable”, while sitting in traffic for that long is perfectly normal.

          In related news, obesity is a problem these days.

          • Emily H. says:

            There are lots of jobs that just outright won’t hire you if you don’t have a car, though. (I’ve been on the job hunt for a year. I’ve seen a lot of these jobs.) And there are disabled people, people who have to pick up their kids from daycare… I mean, I’m not saying everyone has to have a car; I don’t; but our cities are, in general, built around the expectation that people will own and drive cars.

      • Anonymous says:

        Also, one notable piece of evidence against this: my observation is that people do not tend to move to places where the people they will be comparing themselves to are lower status than themselves – they do the opposite. People strive to move to richer neighborhoods from poorer ones, strive to enter more elite and prestigious social circles, strive to migrate from poor countries to rich countries. “Let’s buy the most expensive house in the poor part of town, so we can look down our noses at all the lower-class peasants!” said nobody ever.

        Perhaps this is because they are irrational. Perhaps it’s because they are actually comparing themselves against the entire world, not just those they are most closely acquainted with. I don’t find either of these counter-arguments entirely convincing, though.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I continue to believe that people mostly compare what they have at the moment to some combination of what they’re accustomed to having and what they expected, at an earlier stage of life, to have now.

          • JBeshir says:

            I think “what their friends have” is also a big deal, along with “what people they grew up with have”. Which makes a certain level of sense.

        • Wrong Species says:

          There are public schools and safety issues so it’s definitely not irrational.

          • Linch says:

            Yes, but the point is that those public schools and safety are (arguably*) not locally positional, which strengthens the “deprivation is more important than relative poverty” argument.

        • onyomi says:

          I think there is also the “big fish, little pond,” versus “little fish, big pond,” effect. Both can make you feel good about yourself depending on your mindset. Like, I think most New Yorkers subtly think they are somehow better than everyone just by virtue of living in the biggest pond in the US.

      • JBeshir says:

        One potential non-positional element that could be a factor in explaining this, aside higher cost of living, that’s come to mind when I’ve thought about this question to mind is stability; the extent to which your present quality of life can persist through bad fortune or poor performance.

        The poor nowadays often seem to be running pretty close to a short-term fall, potentially losing their employment if they lose their means of transport or it suffers an expensive failure, or if their employer decides to replace them with one of the dozen other people lined up to take their job, whereas the well-off can tolerate fairly major events with minimal hit to quality of life, and being harder to replace can have more slack between their best performance and unemployment.

        And while things have changed here too over the course of history- a bad harvest no longer means potential starvation for the poor in any civilised country, health is now much less of an immediate risk, for everyone- the improvement could still be small enough to enable an ancient rich guy to be better off than a current poor person, especially if the focus is on short-term stability.

        I find it intuitive to think that maybe people put a really high priority on stability when being happy, because I dislike a sense of being at risk myself, so my prior would have been to think this likely to be a major factor.

        That said, if people did strongly value stability I’d predict lots of effort to save in preference to increasing quality of life with any spare money, high demand for lots of insurance products, an extremely strong abhorrence of at-will employment, and I don’t see those things anywhere near as much as I’d expect them. *I’ve* not got those behaviours, so whatever is making me inconsistent might be making everyone else inconsistent, but that’s a pretty weak case.

        You’d also expect people to love subsistence farming most of the time. People do not seem to love subsistence farming, even in the good times, although they are prone to get weirdly utopian ideas about it.

        The idea that it’s mostly positional seems to run into some problems with predictions, too- as far as I can see it predicts that you’d expect communist efforts to put people on the same pay whatever they were doing to be hugely beneficial to happiness in a way we didn’t seem to observe. Could have just been drowned out by other things going on, though.

        • onyomi says:

          I think this is a very good point. I think a lot of what sucks about being poor in the US is not the absolute standard of living you are enjoying, or even the absolute standard you would expect should you lose your job, have your car repo’ed, etc. but rather that the poor are more likely to be teetering on the cusp of a bigger negative downturn.

          Like, if a wealthy person makes 20% less next year than he did this year, it may not effect his lifestyle much at all, but for a poor person that could be the difference between keeping their apartment or not.

      • Yes and it has a time-tested solution: don’t just have one hierarchy of rank/status, but multiple ones. The middle ages had three – money, holiness, and legal status (noble etc.)

        The weird part is this – while the American poor may feel pain due to low comp. monetary status, many blog posts say the American middle-class is largely engaged in signalling holiness status. Don’t you see a gap there? Shouldn’t be a group of people rather happy with their monetary status, but not wealthy enough to find that too unchallenging and thus engaging in holiness status games?

        Anyhow – basically figure out how to lionize / give a lot of status to the good kinds of poor folks without having to have it cost a lot of resources and you can reduce this suffering with it.

        Military style medals are obviously an idea, but today ideas like the government handing out Heroic Mother Medals sound kinda Soviet. That is, they are based on the idea that people actually respect government and that they can share this respect, but nobody actually believes that anymore, and the Soviets were the last people who at least pretended that people respect the government and will not laugh their ass off if other people boast about their government gave medals. Perhaps the reason government is so expensive these days is that it has no respect, it cannot give respect, it cannot give anything but money. Hm.

      • nope says:

        Eh, I don’t think poor people are more miserable because they’re poor, I think they’re poor because they’re more miserable. Or rather, what keeps them poor is stupidity and mental illness, and while intelligence doesn’t seem to be very related to lifetime happiness, mental illness definitely is. Which is one of the reasons pharma is so evil – it’s making sure the people who need help the most are the people with the least access to it.

        • onyomi says:

          Good point. I think this is the reason why the miserable poor are miserable. Hence my contention that the American poor–other than those of them who are mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or recidivist criminals–are not really that miserable. The fact that the mentally ill, the drug addicted and the criminal are much more likely to be poor may create a false impression that it was poverty that caused those things, when, in most cases, it was probably the reverse.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Do really believe in the just world hypothesis as much as this comment makes it seem?

          • onyomi says:


            Would you feel better if I said “many cases” instead of “most cases”?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What is the incidence of drug addiction among the poor? What is the incidence of disability causing mental illness among the poor? What is the incidence of criminal conduct (not arrest, prosecution, or conviction) among the poor? How do they compare to the incidence among those who are not poor?

            Now, what is the improvement in outcome for each of these conditions induced by “income/wealth/class status”?

            I’m not sure I have the answers to those questions at hand, but it seems like you need them in order to make what is, essentially, a comparative statement that assume causation.

          • onyomi says:

            I probably could find a bunch of statistics supporting these contentions, but in the area where I live, at least, there is no question: there is a huge correlation between poverty and drug use (crystal meth, mostly).

            I’m not saying all poor people are drug users; I am saying that I think many of the same factors which lead to drug use also lead to poverty, including prior drug use itself. I’m also saying that the poor people I’ve met in the US mostly don’t seem very miserable to me, unless they are drug users, alcoholics, or criminals.

            I’m saying that neither the absolute nor the relative level of material deprivation experienced by poor people in the US is sufficient to provoke significant misery in a vacuum. Sure, even healthy poor people with good habits are probably not as happy, on average, as people with higher incomes, but I think they are a lot happier than the poor of third world countries.

            And if I believed in a “just world,” then I wouldn’t expect the third world poor to need to work twice as hard or harder to achieve one half or less the level of material well-being enjoyed by the American poor–which they do.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure we are using the same definition of just world hypothesis.

            I was saying it sounds like you think those who are miserable deserve to be so.

            You aren’t saying (much) here about whether those who are poor deserve to be so, but it is a not infrequent tenet of libertarian philosophy.

        • Why does everybody from the English-language internet talks about the poor as if they were an aliens from Alpha Centauri – a group of people to form abstract theories about, but apparently there is no personal experience whatsoever? Don’t many people have the equivalent of a bum cousin? I suspect there must be some really rigid class and even racial barriers at play.

          At the very least, taboo “poor”, because that is merely an outcome, and talk about groups of people as:

          – the mentally or physically disabled
          – the illegals or even legals but at any rate people who even have language barriers at getting a job
          – those who work but still struggle
          – the perpetual criminals who never really intend to make a legal income
          – the multiple-gen welfare clients with no learned work ethic
          – school failures
          – single parents

          • grendelkhan says:

            You know, that’s a great point. In my earlier years, I knew burnouts who were incapable of doing well in the regular job market, I knew at least one very bright guy who spent years living pretty marginally because he couldn’t stand school, and I knew people who lived in that falling-from-the-middle-class limbo of service job after service job, mostly barista’ing, but weren’t really poor, no, of course not.

            As an adult doing reasonably well for myself, few of the people in my social circle are poor, and none are the multiple-gen welfare-client or severely disabled type. Class barriers are impressively rigid here.

    • At 40hrs/week, the minimum wage of $15/hour works out to $30k/year. That seems like an awfully low wage for a chemical engineer to me.

    • Deiseach says:

      How much is the owner paying herself or drawing from the company in the form of salary, and is it the same as she’s paying her newly hired chemical engineers? I can’t see how a relatively small increase in minimum wage for the lowly staff doing the grunt work means they’ll be earning as much as the technically qualified ones, unless she’s really squeezing the lemon until the pips squeak (and possibly relying on new grads to do the work because she can bedazzle them with the “This is art, not tawdry commercial sell-out stuff” and “Sure the pay isn’t that great, but it’s a foot in the door of the business and if you can put on your CV that you worked here, you can get a job anywhere on the strength of that!” kind of talk to make them think they’re not being exploited and we’re all bohemian artists above grubby profit in this together).

      • Spaghetti Lee says:

        Lots of people seem to be catching onto that “who needs wages, you’re artists” dodge, though, especially in the high-falutin’ cultural criticism industry that is stereotypically most susceptible. An empty fridge is an empty fridge, no matter how meaningful your unpaid internship is. Not saying that there’s actually a mutually agreeable endgame in sight, but I don’t think that particular feint has much life left in it.

        • onyomi says:

          The unpaid internship thing really does seem to be a case where it’s hard to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” so to speak. Because people whose families can support them during the apprenticeship period have a big advantage over those who need to actually pay for their own food and lodging while learning the skills of the trade.

          Good reason for fewer people to go to college and more child labor: do the unpaid or low-paying work while you’re still living with your parents.

        • roystgnr says:

          My favorite example of “catching on” is the rejoinder to “it’ll give you more exposure”: “Exposure is what artists die of when they don’t get paid!”

    • Saul Degraw says:

      I agree with the comment about 30,000 being low for a chemical engineer. The logic seems self-serving. I do have some questions about the psychology of wealth though. Money is time and time is money. The very wealthy people I know are always working even their hobbies seem to be related to money and making more money or networking.

      I like to listen to music on long car rides. I was once in a car with some guys who were dreaming of big times in start up land. The car ride was long and they wanted to listen to podcasts on business and working.

      This week for work (I am a lawyer). I had to go off-sight and oversee the scanning of documents on a case. The guy said that the scanning department started in house at the firm to lower costs (instead of hiring third parties) but the boss spun it out as its own business so he could collect money from non-cases and outside clients.

      Is this smart? Yes and it is a lot of work. I wouldn’t do it because it seems like more work and I value the free time of a lazy weekend afternoon and reading a book on my couch. I find this to be a form of wealth. But I wonder if there are people who think that time spent reading a novel is wasted because you can be doing something more practical. So do people with different definitions of wealth just have contempt for each other.

    • but not if other people dumber, less hard working and less educated than me are getting the same money for doing an easier job

      For me this is an overwhelming argument for meritocracy as orthagonal to the rich-poor gap (even if you feel like I do that strongly progressive taxation is advantageous). I personally feel neither the left or the right puts a serious effort into meritocracy anymore, instead ridiculuously arguing either that wealth is an automatically valid proxy for merit, or that everybody is somehow equally meritorious. For me we should be focusing more on ethics, ensuring hard work and innovation is identified and rewarded (and not exploited by others), and cheating/greedy/dishonest behaviours are gradually weeded out using sensible, safe policies. That way, you don’t screw up the incentives for economic excellence or good morality, and can safely have a system that rewards people a bit more proportionally than they are now (or safely not have it, though I’d disagree with that).

  50. onyomi says:

    I think weekly open threads would be a good idea. Sometimes I think of something I want to talk about and forget about it by the time the next OT comes around. Of course, I could always post it in the last OT, whenever it happened, but once they are more than a week old, people tend to stop looking at them. Also, it might encourage derailers (among which I count myself, if usually not meaning to do so) to take their pet issues to the OTs if there were more of them.

  51. keranih says:

    I would be interested in anyone in the EA lot has read Angus Deaton (esp The Great Escape) and if they have thoughts.

  52. ton says:

    One of the other Scott As seems to have read a lot more of SSC recently: http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2494

    • Cauê says:

      Thanks, this has made my day – in that satisfying, definitely-not-virtuous “This very smart high-status person is pleasantly reinforcing my biases and saying the things I say in a smarter, higher-status way than I can” sort of way. At least I feel kind of guilty about it, for what that’s worth.

  53. A Troubled Person says:

    Of all the weird corners of the internet, this place is the most pleasant and the most therapeutic for me. So, if you don’t mind, hear me out as I blog my story in this comment. It’s about personal problems that are difficult to talk about with… normal people.

    I used to be extremely into leftist politics, so I made a lot of lefty friends and talked a lot about lefty stuff with them. I also did some volunteering and was part of the environmentalist movement for a while.

    Then somehow, over the past two years, my perception gradually changed until today when I instantly feel cosmic horror as soon as I ready any remotely lefty stuff (with some exceptions, I can read Scott’s forays into The Left without issue, but the MetaFilter thread linked to above is exactly the kind of stuff that triggers my cosmic horror sense). This correlation is completely done by my brain and completely against my will. It’s getting to the point where I find it really difficult to bear hanging out with my friends because they always bring up something at least vaguely relating to politics, and most of them are very lefty. What’s keeping me sane is probably that among my group of friends is also one guy who is some kind of hard to define slightly-apolitical-but-occasionally-conservative-leaning-moderate, and I have come to appreciate him a lot more even though we weren’t that close before.

    I have very few real, intellectual objections to most of the policies my friends talk about. However, I have started noticing all the other stuff that they say and do that makes things so uncomfortable. Things like jumping to conclusions, always assuming the worst about their political opponents and assuming the best about their political allies, generalizing from one example, generalizing from fictional example, etc. It may sound lame when I mention it like this, but the magnitude of these problems are terrifying to me, and I worry about how much I have committed the same mistakes and spread misunderstandings and poor interpretations in the past – as well as how much I may or may not still do it. I am starting to feel like humanity is just – plainly put – doomed.

    I have almost obsessively buried myself in either work or reading about rationality lately. Work – because productivity is a good excuse for avoiding social events while also feeling rewarding, and rationality – because I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to BEAT my brain into submission with the full arsenal of rationality.

    So, here I am and it feels really tough to not have anybody to talk to about these things. I’ve exhausted the old Less Wrong sequences, too. That besides, I still keep an eye on SSC and some other rationalist blogs as well as Less Wrong. I wonder what’s next. Where do I go from here? Has anybody had similar experiences and, if so, how are issues like these resolved?

    Also, yo Scott, your blog’s amazing.

    • Phil says:

      At least some of those are “people things”, not ”leftish things” though: In/Out-group dynamics are pretty universal.

      Find a better in-group, but don’t abandon your principles?

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I went through a similar crisis last winter. It sucked for a while, but has gotten a lot better since. Talking to people here helped a lot. Hopefully it does for you as well.

      I will say that the bad part of the crisis came from suddenly recognizing the nasty behavior of people in the blue tribe, without having a long-term record to give a sense of scale. As time moves on, I’ve become more confident that it’s a self-correcting problem. People are always quick to demonize outgroups that they have limited contact with, but when it gets down to it decency generally wins out.

      • Anthony says:

        Maybe it’s a Bay Area thing, but I have seen friendships ended and people ostracized for having the wrong politics in circles that center around activities which aren’t politics. So I’m not so confident it’s a self-correcting problem on a decently short timescale.

    • Echo says:

      The group stuff is just in-group signalling. Your cosmic horror reaction is just good self-preservation, especially if you’re in Innsmouth-but-for-hipsters.

      Have you tried talking to friends one-on-one about this? Tactfully bring up how frustrating it is without blaming them individually?

    • Martin says:

      I am in the middle of a similar situation. I just ended up drifting away from my more vocal left-leaning friends and hanging out with the friends who were less political. They are funnier anyways, and it turned out they didn’t like the left-leaning friends either so it all worked out.

      Maybe you could try hanging out with your slightly-apolitical-but-occasionally-conservative-leaning-moderate friend one-on-one. As I get older I’m realizing that having lots of friends isn’t all as great as I thought it would be. Quality over quantity. Life’s too short to spend hanging around people you don’t really like.

      I also find that throwing myself into my work/studies has helped.

    • Emily says:

      I remind myself that what they are engaging in is just normal human behavior. People are, as Jonathan Haidt, fundamentally groupish – and that’s not a bad thing, even though we may not love all of its manifestations. Those of us who aren’t are the odd ones out, and that’s ok. You can still enjoy people who are very caught up in this stuff, particularly if you find other stuff to engage with them about.

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I just don’t talk about politics to most of my work colleagues, even the ones whom I’d consider friends outside the context of work. I have a few close friends whose politics I strongly disagree with, and every once in a while we’ll get into a long debate of some kind, but mostly I just avoid the topics, except with people I know are already at least sort of inclined to agree with me (I can more easily discuss domestic policy with Republicans and more easily discuss foreign policy with Democrats in the US). And that’s why I talk about politics with strangers on the internet.

    • Zorgon says:

      I had a similar issue over the last couple of years. It’s improved significantly recently, as the most prodigious thought-policer left the area and while she’s predictably been replaced, her replacement has a lot less built-up social influence and many people in my social circles actively dislike her, including but not solely because of her constant crusading. My immediate social circles are still not a safe environment for anything resembling rationality, but it does improve over time.

      And, of course, given another decade the whole thing will flip once again and we’ll be back to fighting off the right wing instead.

    • Beating your brain into submission is not a good idea. It is your friend and ally. These new emotions may be your response to becoming aware of something you weren’t aware of earlier. Instead of ‘beating’ them, or denying or repressing the experiences that brought them about, or trying to get rid of them, listen to what they’re trying to bring to you attention. You may reflect upon it and judge it incorrect; or you may integrate it. In either case, the act of listening non-judgementally, calmly, open-mindedly and seriously to what these emotions are pointing to shall (almost always) suffice to quiet them down. They are the means by which your mind is attempting to bring something to your attention, and having done their job, they shall dissipate on their own.

      I’d suggest the methods mentioned here instead. (I am personally familiar with, and can vouch for, the power of meditation to let arise, and let dissolve naturally, unskillful emotional responses. I have not worked with the particular technique mentioned in the linked post, but have worked with others, and seen their effects.)

    • Peter says:

      I’d been having issues like this, I’d had a bit of a crisis last winter, there’s been something of a recovery, but not complete. As people say, finding people to talk to is good, especially in person. My personal benchmark is “can I read Facebook without a filter”, and currently it seems the answer is “yes” as my filter isn’t working with the latest version of Firefox. But other times it hasn’t been.

      Possibly “beating your brain into submission” isn’t quite the right approach, as Freedom and Compassion says. At the risk of sounding like a hippy, what you need is healing and growth. Take the opportunity to pick up a variety of perspectives, and to find some additional social groups to split your social time between.

      I keep coming back to broken elbow metaphors; when you’ve had a broken elbow, in the short term the thing to do is to keep it away from anything that might jar it. In the longer term you need to deliberately move it in an uncomfortable-but-not-painful way to make sure it stays flexible.

      One thing that may or may not be an issue; how much is your sense of purpose, self-worth etc. invested in your political positions? Mine wasn’t hugely, but even then, losing a fair part of my sense of “being on the right side” feels like a loss. It might be an issue.

      Anyway, good luck. It’s not a pleasant thing to go through.

      • A Troubled Person says:

        Sense of purpose and self-worth? I suppose a part of it was my political position, at least a few years ago. Maybe more so was my identity as a humanist, but in the end I couldn’t stomach the continental tradition of my university so I ended up changing fields completely. It’s possible that part of my breakdown is related to that change as well.

        Also, I want to thank everybody for their comments. They were kind and reassuring, and Freedom and Compassion’s idea in particular seems like it might be useful (also going to keep in mind the idea to deliberately expose myself to equivalent doses of right-wing idiocy).

        This was my first comment on here, so it’s very much a relief that my first impression of the community ended up being as nice as it looked from the outside.

        • Peter says:

          A change of fields might well stir a whole bunch of stuff up. I can trace a lot of my current woes, many of them political, to roughly the time when I moved from academia to industry (a fair amount of it was when my move was in the pipeline but yet to actually happen), although that said there were interesting things going on in broadly-construed-political-discourse at the time too.

          If we could do the scientific method on the things that affected us in life, changing just one thing at a time and comparing against controls, we’d know a lot more than we do.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        …would you be willing to sketch out, in general terms, what the crisis consisted of?

        for me it was a general parting of the ways with Feminism, precipitated by UVA, Listen and Believe, and GamerGate.

        • Peter says:

          I think there are two things here – the “ongoing” crisis that’s been going on since 2009 or so, and last winter’s flareup.

          The general trajectory on feminism/SJ stuff has been from “yeah, there are some crazies, but they’re rare, count me as a vague background supporter” -> “what? why are people linking to this stuff with approval?” -> “actually these people are right and I need to learn this stuff” -> “there’s this thing I can’t reconcile” -> “ok, that is _it_, the most recent thing I read is the last straw, no more unconditional support” -> “hmm, the problems seem more widespread than I’d thought” -> “the more I learn about the contemporary movement, the less I like it” and the later phase has stretched on for quite a bit. Oh yeah, and there were at least three identity crises during all that, and somewhere around the “there’s this thing I can’t quite reconcile” there was a panic attack related to one of the identity crises closely followed by my first packet of SSRIs – I’m still on SSRIs for GAD… The things I’ve learned in the aftermath of those crises haven’t exactly endeared the shouty-activist party lines relevant to those identities to me.

          By the time the UVA thing rolled around, I was pretty confirmed in my views and the eventual collapse of the case felt like something of a vindication for my way of thinking, although really I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

          The recent crisis, the one of last winter – well, I think some of it was fluctuations in rhetoric coming from friends in various places. To be honest I’m finding it hard to pin down an exact cause, part of it might have been other stuff in my life and my general state of mind being fragile. I think I’d spent a while feeling socially unsafe and in terrible danger of being ostracised. Largely… largely I was able to say in fairly general terms that I was afraid, and do a few things like name-dropping SSC, and after a few months of the sky failing to fall in I think I’ve been recovering from that one.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          my trajectory was pretty identical, actually, but happened a lot quicker. “Actually these people are right and I need to learn this stuff” was my takeaway from the Dickwolves controversy, and I went into GamerGate more or less convinced that Feminist dogma was 100% accurate. Listen and Believe was too big a pill to swallow, though, and it gave me a nasty crisis and ultimately drove me out of the movement a week or so before the truth came out about UVA.

          Hanging around here (and Thing of Things, for a while) has done a lot to diminish the feeling of immediate threat, as has the sudden decline in horrible social justice outrages since spring or so. Also, living in Texas, the social climate is a lot more insulated from that sort of thing…

          • Peter says:

            I suppose there’s an element of “full circle” in my journey. The “some crazies”[1] – I suppose by benchmark issue was what they thought about the burden of proof in rape trials. A lot of the sticking points – but not the definitive breaking moment – were on similar themes. Sometimes I wish I could go back to having the sort of attitudes I originally had, but as I say, some of the problems turned out to be more widespread than I thought.

            [1] Also I’m PC enough to worry about using such terms these days. Ho hum.

          • Vorkon says:

            That’s interesting, because I always assumed people who took the feminist side in the Dickwolves controversy were more or less doing it for tribal reasons, not because they were being convinced by the argument. To me, Dickwolves was the final nail in the coffin that shocked me into realizing that, “wow, there’s something seriously wrong with the Social Justice movement” in the first place. The absurdity of the complaint about the original comic strip was self-evident from the beginning, and I kept noticing that the sheer act of defending it against such an absurd attack kept being rolled out as evidence that you were somehow supporting rape culture. The sense of “accept this ideology no-questions-asked or you will be unpersoned” was palpable, and more than a little unsettling.

            Admittedly, Mike’s escalating responses to the attacks got out of hand quickly, but that doesn’t demonstrate that his critics were right, so much as it demonstrates that mocking and meanness isn’t always the best response to being attacked. Demonstrating that “two wrongs don’t make a right” is a far cry from demonstrating that “not being on-board with feminism means you are supporting a culture that condones rape.” (Also, I hate to admit it, but “of course I know about Rape Culture, I’m pretty sure I went to one of their concerts last year,” or whatever the exact quote was, is one of my favorite comebacks of all time, mean or no.)

            I apologize in advance for bringing up such a mindkilley topic, and my intention was never to restart the debate about Dickwolves, or anything like that. It just stuck me as odd, seeing somebody describe it as their starting point toward feminism, when I thought the tribes were already pretty clear-cut going into it. Was it something along the lines of it being the first time you had heard of Rape Culture being discussed on a large scale, and you used it as an excuse to find out more about the subject, irrespective of your stance on the Dickwolves controversy, itself? I suppose I can grok that. I was already familiar with the term when Dickwolves sprung up, though the controversy certainly led me to research a bit further, so I can definitely see how it might have gotten other people looking further into it, even if it’s a little hard for me to put myself into that headspace.

          • Cet3 says:

            That’s interesting, because I always assumed people who took the feminist side in the Dickwolves controversy were more or less doing it for tribal reasons, not because they were being convinced by the argument.

            This is a false dilemma. Finding an argument convincing is commonly a matter of ‘tribal’ reasoning in the first place.

          • Vorkon says:

            This is a false dilemma. Finding an argument convincing is commonly a matter of ‘tribal’ reasoning in the first place.

            Oh, certainly, that’s a big part of why I made the assumption that the tribes in that situation were already predetermined, in the first place.

            I only made that comment because FacelessCraven’s personal story (namely, being introduced to the concepts during that particular debacle, and coming to agree 100% with the dogma, before becoming disillusioned with it by later events) seemed atypical, and didn’t match my own assumptions, and wanted to see if it was an example of a wider trend, or something unique to them, or if my assumptions were just plain wrong.

            Basically, I’ve seen people cite Dickwolves as an example of Rape Culture and/or the Patriarchy in action, and I’ve seen people (like myself, above) cite it as the point at which they realized Social Justice was going too far, but until today I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone cite it as the point at which they started getting into Social Justice in the first place. It struck me as interesting.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I think it was my first real in-depth introduction to the “rape culture” concept. I was very, very leftist at the time, and considered myself a proper, decent feminist, but that one was new to me. Seeing one part my tribe attacking another part of my tribe was devastating. I read up on everything I could find from the people leading the attack, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t that they were bad people, it was just this issue was SO IMPORTANT that something had to be done right away, so even if it was handled poorly, the attackers were still in the right.

            Abuse victim logic, basically.

          • Vorkon says:

            Like I said, that’s interesting.

            Thanks for sharing!

    • James Picone says:

      Hang out with politically-inclined right-leaning folks for long enough to get an equivalent dose of opposite-charged existential horror.

      I feel what you’re saying, though. Facebook memes about feminism and articles about rape have started grating on me a lot more since I’ve started reading SSC, although part of that was probably a conversation about feminist-adjacent topics that went extremely sour.

      One thing that’s accidentally made me feel a lot better was seeing right-of-centre people here defend positions that still look utterly ridiculous to me. Makes it more obvious to your hindbrain that yep, occasionally they really are wrong.

      • Peter says:

        Oh yes. Another accidental remedy which has worked for me from time to time is to catch sight of the headlines on the Daily Mail (for those not in the know, a lower-middlebrow right-wing UK newspaper). Getting annoyed by the Mail can oddly be an immense relief as I’m meant to be getting annoyed by it, and thus all is right? with the world. At any rate, no cosmic horror, just the Mail being the Mail.

        • Susebron says:

          Reddit’s /r/forwardsfromgrandma is a good way to get a large dose of low-quality conservativism, although the comments are exactly what you would expect from a place dedicated to mocking low-quality conservativism.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        It’s funny – James’ observation about the right would probably, likely, grate on me, as someone who apparently ofte