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. Beowolff says:

    I kind of enjoyed the format of John Sidles posts – it was clear that he had put in some thought into them, but I feel that other people didn’t seem to get the format, so it never generated good discussions. Perhaps just eliminate the bolding aspect and keep the topic-comment structure. (I believe too many people were pattern-matching the bolding to “spam” comments)

    • John Sidles says:

      Do discourse restrictions afford benefits?   Hmmm … yes, the Streisand Effect is perhaps one such benefit.

      By the way, who noticed?   Queequeg’s eye-color.

      (aside) Did Scott alter Queequeg’s eye-color?   Not necessarily; I have personally seen blue-eyed blond-haired whaler-descendants among the children of the ultra-remote island of Satawal.

      What lessons are conveyed by blue eyes?   Genes are enterprising, and so are romantic individuals; and cultural memes are pretty enterprising too … even in the face of the strictest sanctions and taboos forbidding innovative elaborations and enterprises.

      What medical lessons might Melville’s Queequeg and SSC’s “It Was You Who Made My Blue Eyes Blue” jointly convey?   Scott’s fable authorize sand encourages his readers (well, me anyway) to consider the performative “exact sequence” of (1) utterance, (2) elaboration, (3) proof, (4) theory, (5) simulation, and (6) healing.

      Is there further literature along these lines?   Yes, plenty. Two recent surveys are Thomas et al. “The psychology of coordination and common knowledge” (2014) and Moises Enghelberg “Towards a medical aesthetic and its performative nature” (2014); the former is congenial to rationalists (`cuz hey, Steven Pinker’s a coauthor); the latter to humanists (`cuz hey, Enghelberg references Michel Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic); and yes, these two very different works are fundamentally in agreement (the way I read them anyway) regarding linked performative elements spanning generic STEM disciplines.

      So could a sequel to SSC’s “It Was You Who Made My Blue Eyes Blue” shed a brighter light upon the performative sequence utterance → elaboration → proof → theory → simulation → healing (whose natural end is medical transformation)?   Yes, these superficially diverse scientific and literary works, when considered sympathetically and in aggregate, speak to us in chorus, to authorize and encourage us all to exercise our imaginations in regard to performative elaboration.

      Got an à propos finishing quote?   As it happens, yes!

      “There are some novels
      that for a mathematician
      will be worth one hundred books of geometry.”
        — Henri Poincare
          (as quoted by Cédric Villani)

      Apologies are extended to all SSC readers who are offended by bold-face typography, or distressed by “topic-comment sentence structure” (of which the above remarks are scrupulously free).

      @article{Thomas:2014aa, Title = {The
      psychology of coordination and common
      knowledge.}, Author = {Thomas, Kyle A. and
      DeScioli, Peter and Haque, Omar Sultan and
      Pinker, Steven}, Journal = {Journal of
      Personality and Social Psychology}, Month =
      {Oct}, Number = {4}, Pages = {657--676},
      Volume = {107}, Year = {2014}}

      @article{Enghelberg:2014aa, Title = {Towards a
      medical aesthetic and its performative
      nature}, Author = {Enghelberg, Moises},
      Journal = {Journal of Medical Humanities},
      Month = {Dec}, Number = {4}, Pages =
      {439--441}, Volume = {35}, Year = {2014}}

      • PDV says:

        Yeah, it wasn’t pattern-matching the format to spam before, this still seems extremely spammy.

        • John Sidles says:

          For unfettered global access to unbounded quantities of the tastiest and most nourishing of all cognitive spam, thank you Al Gore!

        • I find the mock-spamminess of Sidles’ posts to be rather charming. So long as he isn’t actually trying to sell me anything.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But, is he actually adding to the discussion?

            I don’t match him to spam. I map him to the writings of bi-polar people in a manic phase. It takes me a while to tell he isn’t making any sense whatsoever. Everything is elliptical. Everything slides off the shell of his General a product hull.

          • John Sidles says:

            Economic and political life on the blue-eyed island of Satawal (mentioned above) is a neoreactionary dream:

              • minimal regulation (none, in fact)
              • minimal bureaucracy (none, in fact)
              • minimal democracy (none, in fact)
              • minimal police, courts, jails …

            The entire absence of money creates an economy that functions mainly by empathic exchange … each individual being only as influential and wealthy as other islanders freely choose to perceive them as being (yes it’s quite like the society of Jack Vance’s The Moon Moth)

            This illuminates a fundamental paradox of the neoreaction movement … the economic and political objectives of neoreaction, once achieved, act to create societies that, in practice as contrasted with theory, are far more concerned with empathetic social justice concerns than with abstract notions of rationality.

            One consequence (needless to say) is that a flexible, robust, liberal, and timeless sense of humor and humanity is utterly essential to survival on the outer islands.

            Perhaps that is why neoreactionaries are not encountered in the outer islands; both anthropologically and economically speaking, they are scarcely equipped to survive there.

          • Anonymous says:


            (…) neoreactionary dream:
            • minimal regulation (none, in fact)
            • minimal bureaucracy (none, in fact)
            • minimal democracy (none, in fact)
            • minimal police, courts, jails …

            That doesn’t sound like a neoreactionary. That sounds like a particularly ideologically pure libertarian. IIRC my Moldbug, his position on the size of the government and amount of regulations is that it’s irrelevant; the only relevant thing is whether the government and law enforcement and so forth work. If there needs to be a gigantic bureaucratic machine to make it work, so be it.

            Please don’t round off to the nearest cliche.

          • Peter says:


            Can we have less of the medicalizing people we disagree with, please? I’ve tried to give John Sidles a telling-off for this, so I think it’s only fair I complain here.

            (Although to be fair you could say, “I wasn’t medicalizing him as such, I was just reporting what my pattern match says”, and I’m not sure I’d have a good response to that.)

          • Zykrom says:

            On some level all consequentialist political ideologies are going to be about “what works.” It seems to me that MM’s idea of “what works” is pretty libertarian.

          • Peter says:

            Satawal – population 500. That’s about 2-3 times Dunbar’s number or. So you don’t quite have the everyone-knows-everyone-else-reasonably factor quite so well, so I’d expect to see some social structure to make things manageable. Dunbar does have a larger group size – 500-1000, and Satawal is comfortably inside that.

            A big of googling reveals: this and pages within. On the next page, we’ve got a description of the social structure – there’s eight clans, each with chiefs, and three of those are “chiefly clans” where the adult male members of those clans have speaking privileges at council. The chiefs and council appear to have a substantial role in controlling the economy – among other things you have chiefs collecting and redistributing food.

            This all sounds familiar from the smattering of anthropology that I’ve picked up. Basically Satawal seems to have the social institutions you might expect from something of it’s size.

            It’s a traditional society; I can see why people might think that NRx types might like it. But it’s a traditional society with institutions fitted to it’s size.

          • Anonymous says:


            On some level all consequentialist political ideologies are going to be about “what works.” It seems to me that MM’s idea of “what works” is pretty libertarian.

            I think the crucial difference is that libertarians assert that small/limited/weak government = good things. Neoreactionaries meanwhile try to figure out what government = good things. It’s not a point of dogma, even if individual reactionaries have strong ideas on what good-things-achieving government looks like.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            That is a fair criticism. I probably should have made it clear that a) I wasn’t suggesting the commentor is bi-polar (or any other diagnosis), b) that people who are bi-polar are somehow “bad” and that therefore, if I tie bi-polar as an association to someones argument, that it can then be discounted.

            I was trying to get at a real point though. Spam is almost always very clear. You can read spam and almost immediately tell what it is that the spammer would like you to do (usually some form of “pay them”). These posts are remarkably unclear. I usually have trouble out even what concept/prior post is being addressed. For instance the comment to me addresses absolutely nothing that either Mea or I side in our comments.

            Maybe it is performance art. I don’t know.

    • Anonymous says:

      Less “spam”, more “Time Cube”.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      The format was the least of his problems. The few times I’ve seriously engaged him I’ve found that the content of his links rarely supported (and in a couple of instances directly contradicted) the argument that they were supposed to be making.

      John Sidles is basically our resident Byronic hero, railing against the horror of enlightenment and the heartlessness of empiricism.

      It’s best not to take him too seriously.

    • AlexanderRM says:

      I’d just like to provide my one data point having looked over some John Sidles comments (from the Autism discussion), I did in fact pattern-match it to “spam” comments and even though I could clearly tell in this case that it was a human actually writing those things and not a bot, I couldn’t quite manage to take it seriously. However I can imagine that if I were used to it it might be interesting.
      I don’t think it’s just the format though, something about the actual content of his posts is pretty weird, involving various relational-thinking-esque tangents, that to some degree pattern-matches to spambot speech (the way they take specific words or phrases and post statements relating to them). I might just be imagining it and it really is the format.

      In any case, I think banning the structure has definitely made it worse, judging from his reply to your comment. I’d say just let him go back to making it explicit.

  2. Bakkot says:

    Comments now* have a link to their parent comment. This link appears at the bottom of the comment, next to the “Reply” and “Hide” buttons.

    Also, PSA, comments have a “Hide” button, which will hide them and the subthread rooted at them.

    This thread is a good place to talk about the comments system, probably.

    *may take a few minutes from the posting of this comment for them to actually show up.

    (Scott, do let me know if you want me to not do this sort of thing.)

    • Quirkyllama says:

      If this is the meta comment thread, can you change the mobile format? Very difficult to read comment threads on phones/tablets due to page format and indenting.

    • Nornagest says:

      Oh, thank god. That’ll take a lot of the pain in the ass out of deep threading.

    • Is there any way to make it easier to comment without losing the current state of your new comment markers?

      I comment in a separate tab, but this means I have to copy and paste the time/date of the last comment in the tab I’m using to keep track of the comments. It seems trivial, but it’s enough of an annoyance that sometimes I don’t comment.

      • ton says:

        I sometimes comment in an incognito tab. Copy the reply link, ctrl-shift-n, ctrl-v,enter, comment, put in name/email, ctrl-w to close. (In chrome).

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I usually find I can right-click the grey date and time info (under the commenter’s name), select ‘open in new tab’, and have it come up right where you want it in the new tab so I can comment there.

        But of course, I often forget to do that – for instance right just now 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        I write a comment, look at the rest of the new posts, then submit my comment when I’m done.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        To comment without losing my place, I press “Post Comment”, wait a second or two, and then stop my browser.

        The request has gone through and been processed, but I haven’t gotten the new page yet to read, so I’m still on the old page.

        I wouldn’t try to automate this, because if the website gets faster or slower than you expect it will fail. But by doing it manually I’m perfectly fine.

    • fghjk says:

      Hide function would be much more useful if it was at the top rather than the bottom of a comment, then I could use it to hide walls of text when I first see them rather than scrolling to the bottom

      Also thanks for doing useful things!

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      As for weekly vs biweekly open threads, weekly, thus shorter, threads would be easier on my computer. After several hundred comments, it hangs up, even after closing other programs and restarting.

    • Remember to update the code in your GitHub repo, too. I might contribute to it some time.

      • Bakkot says:

        Thanks. It actually is updated, insofar as the code which is running on this page is hosted on the gh-pages branch of that repo, but I should really write a proper readme for it, and properly deprecate the old extension. I’ve at least switched the default branch to gh-pages.

  3. LTL says:

    Can anybody recommend any good social skills advice that focuses more internal stuff (I.e. how to enjoy and feel good while socializing, and feel good about yourself socially, how to set up your social life to make you feel good, how to feel less anxious and awkward during, how to be more trusting, etc.) rather than external stuff (I.e. how to talk to people, body language, etc.), especially from an introverted, non- drinking, socially anxious perspective?

    Most stuff I’ve found focuses on the latter, and/or is for people who are autisitc (I am not on the spectrum). My issue isn’t the external stuff but rather that I don’t enjoy socializing, I often find people irritating, it feels awkward, I don’t feel good about myself afterwards, i find it to be really tiring, I have low tolerance for high energy “fun” sorts of interaction, and so on. You might say that I should just not socialize, but loneliness, desire for emotional intimacy, desire for social support, boredom, and horniness can only be satisfied by building a social circle.

    Sources I’ve already read/checked out: Succeed Socially, Mark Manson, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Captain Awkward, Dr. Nerdlove, and Real Social Skills (too focused on disability).

    • Basiles says:

      I don’t know if this is helpful, but I think I can definitely relate to what you are saying and I could make use of such or similar resources, as well…

      My main issue with socialization is I often feel me and the people around me have too little in common, or if we do have something in common, we appreciate it on rather incompatible levels. So I can talk to them, but I can’t really get much out of it and there’s not enough shared ground for us to feasibly develop anything. And that’s why I don’t really enjoy socializing. I think a lot of socialization feeds on similarity.

      The answer I arrived at is that if you are sufficiently unusual, you will need to find other sufficiently unusual people to socialize with, and there are not too many of those and they do not assemble well. But I’d be happy to hear a different hypothesis.

      • Rodrigo says:

        I think I feel in a similar way about having a hard time socializing with people who are not very similar to me. I am at college right now and pretty much all my friends are in the same major as I am (math), or are at least generally interested in math/science stuff, and have the characteristic “weirdness” of such people. And I think this is not just because I get to spend more time with other math majors (because of common classes). Usually when I meet a new person who is a math major I have an easy time socializing with them and and finding them likable / feeling they like me, as opposed to non-math majors, to whom my interactions are usually pretty awkward.

        I think your hypothesis might be true. But an alternative explanation is that for some reason we are biased to making effort in our relationship with people who are “strange like us”, and hence we feel that these people are a “better match” for us, even though a just as nice relationship could be built if we chose to spend this effort on another arbitrary person. The reason I think this alternative hypothesis might be true is that there have been situations in which I had no option other than making a large effort to socialize with someone who I usually not be friends with (like when being assigned to a team at work), and pretty nice relationships came about.

        In short, my alternative hypothesis is that we don’t “need” people “strange like us” to socialize, but we are biased towards making larger efforts to socialize with them (in my case I think I am biased toward math majors because of the clear advantage of being able to go through classes together, building a community with a common interest, etc.). If this hypothesis is true, though, it means that you can be missing the opportunity of socializing with people that could be good friends with you, just because you are not making an effort to socialize with them. Hence I could also take advantage of similar advice and resources. And I am also very interested in hearing other people’s experiences and ideas about that.

        • Basiles says:

          I feel like “work” is a very significant thing-you-all-have-in-common aspect, though. Everyone at my job is in a vaguely similar field and we often have hobbies that coincide. Same goes for things like sports teams or the military, for instance. And if I develop a friendship at work, it’s often rather hard for me to expand it beyond work unless we do have something else in common, which we sometimes do.

          And even that only works to a point. I’ve been on a few sports teams and things just didn’t work at all. Main issue being that I cared significantly less about the sport compared to the other people on my team, and then I failed on various social scales (I didn’t have the right clothing to go to a party in), which somehow ended up correlated to being on a sports team. This was not the case with my job.

          It’s just different levels of similarity and some of them cast wider nets than others and some of them are more precise than others.

          I don’t really feel like relationships are at all related to effort. In my experience, it’s either happening or you’re forcing it. I haven’t observed any correlation at all between me trying to talk to people more or listen to them more or put myself in more social spaces and getting new friendships. Most of the good friendships I got ended up completely random and had virtually nothing to do with any of my ‘effort’.

        • Jeffrey Soreff says:

          Kipling has said that ‘there is neither East nor West, Border nor
          Breed nor Birth, when two strong men stand face to face, though
          they come from the end of the earth.’ I do not hold with that: I
          profoundly distrust those strong men. But replace ‘two strong
          men’ by ‘two competent electrical engineers’ and though you
          slightly mar the rhythm you considerably improve the content.


      • bluto says:

        For me socializing got a whole lot easier when I stopped looking for people who had something in common with me and started looking at them as opportunities to learn about something (almost everyone has something they’re passionate about and frequently they’re things that are interesting to learn).

        I’m pretty unusual, but love learning about why something I had previously considered mundane was actually pretty interesting. It can be tricky learning how to navigate the time until you get the person on the subject of their interests, sometimes.

        • keranih says:

          This. When I think of other people as means to make myself happy or to entertain me, the gathering is fairly miserable. When I look at other people as their own thing, and not a means to an end for me, I tend to enjoy it a lot more.

          • LTP says:

            This is something I really struggle with. I struggle to find socializing to be intrinsically rewarding most of the time. Usually when I go to social events, it’s because I’ve been feeling lonely and want to make friends because I don’t want to feel lonely anymore (or, I’m horny and want to build a social circle to meet more women, or I feel like I have nobody to talk to and want to build a social circle to have people to talk about Feelings with, etc.).

            I find socializing in most situations to not be intrinsically motivating enough to do it consistently enough to build closer friendships and find dates, but for these ends that I want. Which, as I said, I realize is a big issue.

      • Nornagest says:

        Don’t define your interests too narrowly.

        To elaborate, the stuff you’re interested in was not handed down from on high on stone tablets. You make — consciously or not — the decision to pursue a certain set of things, and if you’ve constructed that set such that practically no one can contribute to it, that’s on you, not them.

        A lot of people assume that people who’re good at small talk have learned how to suss out shared interests with the people around them. There’s some of that going on, but more often I think it’s that they approach conversations with the assumption that everyone has something to contribute, even if they’ve never thought of themselves as particularly interested in it before.

        • Basiles says:

          I’m not sure why you, and some other people here, are now trying to imply various things about how I socialize and what believe while I merely suggested a hypothesis that I myself said is not definite.

          I didn’t start with that hypothesis, and then attempted to socialize. I’ve attempted to socialize, repeatedly failed to develop friendships or ties where I wanted to develop them, and attempted to create a hypothesis as to why. I’m happy you never felt the need to construct such a hypothesis, but there’s no need for the hostility.

          My interests are not narrow, at least not in any definition of that word I’m aware of. You have nothing to base your view that my interests are narrow on, other than that I apparently hold an opinion you don’t agree with.

          I’m not sure what your second paragraph is supposed to mean. Where did I say that interests are handed down from stone tablets? If anything, the fact that they aren’t further solidifies the problem, since the development of such things makes a person, and thus can make them that much more different. You need to explain to me what a non-contributable set is, as I know a few people who can contribute to it just fine, they just tend to not be people from real life. I never said the situation is on anybody. I do not believe it’s anyone’s fault. It may merely be a thing that happens. A side effect of statistics.

          You’re saying as if I don’t approach conversations with the assumption that everyone has something to contribute. It may just not work as well when the things people contribute are either too far behind or too far in front with each other, or when things are too polarized. Often /I/ don’t have anything to contribute. It’s useless to bring up people good at conversations here since, on average, people are good at socializing, so it cannot be a difficult thing requiring some high moral character to pick up. Much more likely, most people are good at socializing because they’re most people.

          Unfortunately, most material I’ve seen on socialization is non-scientific. If you have links to studies that examined socialization effects and practices I’d be happy to read them. But please lay off the assumptions and what looks like projection.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “but there’s no need for the hostility.”

            Allow me to gently suggest that this might be part of the issue.

            I was reading Nornagest as offering some fairly bog-standard advice (which might not apply, but we have limited information). You read him as being hostile.

            When I was young, up until I was in my late 20s, I tended to over read negative signals and under read positive ones. This really hurt my ability to socialize well. I felt weird anyway, because I found conversations about the explosion of Krakatoa interesting and nobody else did, but I had no interest in going to or describing the latest big-ticket concert event or what have you. But when I read people’s essentially neutral conversations as negative (and about me), this frequently doomed me. I felt like an outsider which meant that I acted like an outsider which meant I assumed I was being treated like one.

            None of this may apply to you, but you did ask, and we can’t rightly know how well it applies.

          • Nicholas Carter says:

            I think the inferential gap R.E. the “stone tablets” is this:
            Some of us have the developed ability of “choosing what to be interested in”. So instead of knowing what we’re interested in and looking for people who are good at it, we figure out what people are good at, and then rewrite our interests to be retroactively interested in what the person is actually good at. So for example, I have no interest in coding, unless I’m also within about 20′ of a CS major, then I *make* myself interested in coding.

          • Nornagest says:

            Exactly. My social skills got about 20x better once I realized that there was no true self that I had to live up to or else be betraying… something.

            It doesn’t feel like developing a skill so much as removing a barrier, though. Why aren’t you interested in, say, fashion? (To pick a common one out of a hat; I have no idea what anyone here is actually interested in.) Because that strikes you as frivolous, incongruent with your self-image as a serious, technical person with no time for frivolities? Congratulations, there’s no XML tag for “nerd” etched on your soul, and if you’re conversing with someone that likes fashion you’re already spending the time; you just have a choice between fashion and awkward silence. Why not learn something about it?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Exactly. My social skills got about 20x better once I realized that there was no true self that I had to live up to or else be betraying… something.

            Just speaking for myself, my social difficulties don’t have anything to do with feeling like I’m “betraying” my true self. Mostly I just never know what to say to people.

            Why aren’t you interested in, say, fashion? (To pick a common one out of a hat; I have no idea what anyone here is actually interested in.) Because that strikes you as frivolous, incongruent with your self-image as a serious, technical person with no time for frivolities?

            There’s no “why.” I’m not interested in fashion because I’m not interested in fashion. There’s no value judgment attached. I mean, I like a lot of stuff that other people would probably consider silly and frivolous. (Say, anime.)

            It’s like food; most people can’t control which foods are pleasurable to them and which are repulsive, and forcing yourself to eat things you find gross (or just bland) won’t make you like them more.

            Even if you’re someone who actually can control what you find interesting or pleasurable to talk about, or can train yourself to like something you previously didn’t like, I think it’s unfair to assume that everyone has this ability or that if they can’t do it they’re just not trying hard enough, or something.

            I mean, I guess I could spend several dozen hours of my life watching fashion shows and reading about fashion so I would be prepared to simulate an interest just in case I happened to run into someone who liked it, but obviously you can’t do that with every subject, or you’d end up spending your entire life researching things that you don’t even find interesting, and that strikes me as an unrewarding way to live.

            if you’re conversing with someone that likes fashion you’re already spending the time; you just have a choice between fashion and awkward silence. Why not learn something about it?

            Well, you can certainly listen and nod and go “uh-huh” once in awhile, and most people are happy to just keep talking, so if that’s all you’re after, I guess that’s fairly easy to achieve. But I don’t find that rewarding. And it’s exhausting trying to come up with stuff to say about something that I have nothing to say about.

            I spent too much of my life doing that. I’ve had a lot of acquaintanceships over the years where my primary function was “listener.” It gets old really fast.

            Actual conversations, where there’s a mutual exchange going on and both people are interested and learning from each other, are very rewarding, but unfortunately also kind of rare. And trying to fake it is just draining and leaves me feeling empty.

    • Unicyclone says:

      I like Nick Notas’s blog. His advice strikes a great balance between being friendly and supportive while still challenging you to improve. And you can tell his number one goal is to help you get what you’re looking for, instead of shilling for SJ or Red Pill talking points.

    • Asterix says:

      If it’s severe enough, I heard this, which made sense: make it your task to go to the event. You can then count this as a victory in and of itself. Only stay till it stops being fun, or till your discomfort reaches some level (like your first “I wish I were somewhere else” thought). The point is to avoid having a negative, anxiety-ridden experience that makes you hate social events even more. Instead, you can pat yourself on the back for reaching your goal of going in the first place.

    • BillG says:

      My best advice is the unfortunate, really– fake it until you make it. Find something you’re interested in and people you’re likely to have similar patterns with, and then jump into it. As someone suggested, make it an assignment to do X number of social activities per week. And then just be open for related options.

      When I moved to a new area two years ago I had a lot of lonely weekend nights (work makes sure I have few weekday, unfortunately). I joined a couple groups and made a real effort to go to them reliably. Over time I gained friends that fit into particular interests I had, and then a small group of them are close enough that they’re types I like to spend time with regardless of the activity.

      It was not always fun going to these activities. I mostly chose things I was interested in, but I’m naturally pretty introverted and often just did not want to go. But two years in, I’m really glad that I did because it has been a success.

      • Anonymous says:

        >fake it until you make it.

        This is it, really. From the outside view, pretending you’re good at socializing is no different from being good at socializing. Most of my social behaviors started off with me just pretending to be sociable as a sort of game.

        Socializing somewhere alcohol is consumed helps too.

        • unsafeideas says:

          “This is it, really. From the outside view, pretending you’re good at socializing is no different from being good at socializing. ”

          That is simply not true. If you are good at socializing from outside view, then you are already good at it. People who are bad at socializing not only feel unsure about themselves, they also come across as not-so-pleasant-to-be-around to the people they socialize with – and those are either ignoring them as result or become hostile.

          Being lonely in your room is bad. Being in a room full of people who clearly dislike you or completely ignore you is worst.

          • Bill G says:

            I don’t know that I agree with you. I very often act in ways that mimic those who I see as good at being social. While I’m doing this I often initially feel insecure and am exhausted by the “performance”. But over time I start to gain comfort and enjoyment in it.

            I think many who are now “good at socializing” are filled with these uncertainties all the time, to different degrees. I can tell you that in my experience, pretending I didn’t have them for periods of time allowed me to develop comfort with a group in which I now do not.

          • CatCube says:

            As I’ve gotten better at socializing, it hasn’t necessarily gotten more fun, but I’ve gotten better at not letting impatience show. I was talking to a senior guy in our organization once, and he confessed that he finds socializing tiring, too. He’s just good at faking it. I’d suspect that a fair number of the people you are saying are “already good at it” are just successfully faking it.

          • Anonymous says:


            Bill G and CatCube said what I meant. There is a difference between being good at socializing, and pretending to be good at socializing, much in the same way one can care or pretend to care. By forcing these socializing actions, you can practice and eventually do it without effort (be good at it). Just because others might think you’re good at socializing doesn’t mean you’re not sweating and frantically anticipating how to handle every word and movement.

    • ThrustVectoring says:

      I’d recommend reading “The Inner Game of Tennis.” Possibly also “Improv” by Keith Johnstone. These aren’t really about socialization explicitly, but reading them lead me to make the kinds of changes you’re looking for. I habitually over-think things and get inside my own head, and socialization is much more enjoyable when you’re not doing that.

      Specifically, I’d recommend using paying attention to someone’s facial expressions or posture/positioning changes for much the same reason that The Inner Game of Tennis recommends looking at the seams of the tennis ball or counting “bounce hit”.

    • Yrro says:

      This is anecdotal, not a list of sources… but the biggest things that helped me personally were:

      1) Practice. This sounds painful, but if you are *expending* massive amounts of energy on socializing/small talk then it will be exhausting and not fun. The less you have to consciously think about how to run your human emulation programs, the less tiring they will be. This is the real point of “fake it until you make it.” Eventually it becomes less work, and you can move on to #2.

      2) Find the things you like in other people’s interests. Football, believe it or not, is an *incredibly* complex game, both in terms of physical technique and strategy. Cars, fashion, politics, even entertainment stuff — there is a complex history behind all of it, hidden patterns to discern. And the more you learn about how *that* stuff works, the more you can understand humanity in general.

      3) Learning to enjoy making people feel good. If you make someone laugh, or find just the right conversation topic to make them really engaged and happy for a it… it can just feel good. And there’s an art to it. Even most social people go to a party wanting to have a good time, but don’t necessarily find it. Working to facilitate that good time can be rewarding for a bit.

      Honestly, some of the be practice for me was trying to play a high-charisma DND character. I still wear out/can’t really do it when I’m not in the mood, but *trying to play the game* is still a better way to spend a party than sitting in a corner feeling self-conscious and thinking about the dumb things you said/might say.

    • Matt says:

      Check out “The Blueprint” a PUA product by Real Social Dynamics.

    • Charlie says:

      Hanging out with the right people goes a long way to helping me feel trusting, happy, comfortable, etc – and I assume you have people who do that for you too. But the right people are not always wearing big signs on their back alerting you to their Rightness, so one may have to fish for people who show hints of righteousness. Why hello, human, you seem to be moderately witty. I wonder what’s hidden under your hard coat of scales.

    • Logan says:

      I’ve actually gone from introverted to extroverted over the last two years, though I’m sure I didn’t perceive all of the causes and mechanisms. I’ll present my findings, biased though they are, and I’ll use the second person though really I’m talking about my own experience. One of the keys was drinking. It makes it much easier to relax with people. But the other component was taking a more utilitarian understanding of what friends are for.

      Social interactions seem unpleasant because they are someone else’s space. Make them your own. You should constantly act in a way that you enjoy, and you should seek only those friends around whom you can act in this way. I’m not saying you should disregard all social convention. Just like you can walk around naked at home but not at someone else’s house, and you shouldn’t rent a room where you can’t walk around naked if that’s important to you; similarly you need to be nice to your boss but you shouldn’t invest in close friendships with people you can’t be naked around, if that’s important to you. Act how you want to, see if people start to avoid you. My experience has been that they don’t.

      Do only those things that you enjoy, and allow others to join you if and only if being with them is better than being alone. Don’t feel bad about finding people irritating, or being awkward. These feeling stem from expectations about what you think social interactions should be. It’s folly to think a person wouldn’t irritate you, you probably irritate them. I find much of the actual irritation comes from the cognitive dissonance of hating someone while being nice to them. Acting like they aren’t an idiot when you have no respect for them right now. Once you accept that these things have no real causal relationship, that cognitive dissonance is resolved, and you can just ignore their irritating habits.

      If a situation is awkward, take solace in the knowledge that the other person notices it too, and is equally impotent to stop it. Awkward moments shouldn’t be uncomfortable, it’s simply an inefficiency of the interaction. An awkward silence is like when someone at the DMV knows what you want and wants to give it to you but can’t find the right form. It’s no one’s fault, and ideally it wouldn’t happen, sometimes good things are just hidden behind pointless forms. But it’s worth it because you obviously need something you can only get at the DMV. In fact, try to think of all social interactions in terms of economics. Mutually beneficial exchanges, which are inherently symmetric, both parties giving something up and gaining something. One person has to invite, the other has to say yes.

      Once you understand what you are gaining and paying, you can 1) shave off those relationships that honestly aren’t worth it, and 2) to maximize the utility you extract from existing relationships.

    • Tom Scharf says:

      Mr. Cynical says: “Humans are overrated”.

      You know that gene that programs humans to want to form tribes and interact socially? Apparently that one was somehow lost when I was created, perhaps a stray gamma ray destroyed it at the moment I was still a single cell.

      Don’t like humans? Get a dog.

      But I jest, kind of. One day I was channel surfing and I noticed just how many shows were talking heads or were people, people, people. Maybe 90+%. Invariably I would unconsciously always stop at the ones about science, nature, etc. So why are humans so obsessed with themselves? I don’t know. I’m not.

      I guess I’m not sure how this comment could possibly be helpful. Perhaps you could examine why you really want what you want. Some introverts may be that way because they simply don’t like people very much, and this is seen as a “defect” in our social construct, and this is a defect that requires fixing. Maybe not.

      Social skills have value. But that value is what you give it, not others. Don’t fall into a trap that it is somehow a measure of your worth. This is easy to say but hard to execute. Maybe what I am saying in a round about way is that I found it a lot easier to socialize when I stopped caring what (almost) anybody thought about me. Fear of not being liked, being ridiculed, or being relegated as an out group person is a pretty powerful force.

      One good friend is infinitely better than zero friends. That may be all you really need.

    • nope says:

      I know exactly where you’re coming from, OP. I’m the exact same way. I satisfy my minimal social needs by finding 1 person I really like and spending most of my social time with them. Usually it’s the person I’m dating. The greater the amount of time spent with a person, and the deeper the connection, the more all the bad stuff like awkwardness and anxiety will melt away. If you feel a need for contact with more than one person, but not very often, and not obligatory, make sure this person is an extrovert so you can lean on their social circle when you feel like it.

    • For some reason this community seems to have an unusually high median IQ. If this includes you, and from the eruditeness of your comment that sounds likely, basically your problem is simply that lower-IQ people bore you. This is perfectly normal. You can struggle through it, but by 40 or so you will give it up anyway and find the time invested a waste. You will sit through it, with a fake friendliness on your face, chatting, and yet thinking all the time inside “Kill me now. Why can’t they talk about something interesting?” Ultimately this has to be given up.

      The traditional way to deal with this in Christian and Buddhist countries was to put the high-IQ crowd into monastic communities. They tended to refer to non-monks as the stupid ones.

      The point is, you have to find an activity, any activity, with a sufficiently high IQ filter. You will find the people interesting there and it will basically solve your inner problems. When you are actually curious what someone has to say, these problems melt away.

      It does not have to be typically geeky activities. For example I caught one rumor that contract bridge players tend to be really, really bright. Obviously, go to LW meetups as well. And go to whereever else those folks go to.

      • Mark says:

        I’m not especially intelligent, but most of my favorite people are even less intelligent than me.
        At what point of intelligence does other people’s high intelligence become their most attractive feature?

      • Creutzer says:

        It is a common fallacy to reduce the dissatisfaction of intelligent people to boredom with their less intelligent peers. Not to say that this is never a problem, but I have experienced similar issues to what the OP describes while living in a social world where my intelligence is probably about average. What he (probably) describes seems more related to the craving for intimate connection that certain (apparently predominantly introvert) people have, and which is very hard to satisfy (and to which many cultures are also hostile).

        • But intimate connection sounds like a less-intellectual (read: less probably for OP or for anyone around here really) and less-introvert thing to me. Depends on what it means. For example when my best friend, piss drunk at 3AM gave me a bear hug roaring how I am totally his bestest friend ever and basically an adopted brother, that to me counted as one – and it comes across as a less intellectual (more emotional) and not every introverted thing?

          • Creutzer says:

            That… is not an intimate connection. That’s just weird. (I’m kidding here, but I trust you understand what I’m trying to convey.)

            The kind of “intimate connection” I have in mind involves talking about your emotions and experiences to a single person in a private setting. It can very well happen at 3am, though the amount of alcohol involved tends to be limited in my experience.

          • LTP says:

            Creutzer, you got what I was saying right. That is exactly what I’m talking about.

    • Max says:

      Be genuinely interested in people. Think about it this way – even if 99% is crap there is 1% which is gold. Every person has some gold in them, some truth they discovered, some life experiences worth knowing. Getting this gold can be hard but is worth it. More social experiences you have easier this task of uncovering gold becomes and it enriches you.

  4. TheFrannest says:

    First off, I would like to express my gratitude for autism and pro-psychiatry posts. Albeit I am schizophrenic and not autistic, despite all the external suffering this has brought me, despite my near-death due to misapplied Haloperidol, despite the long-lasting damage on my psyche, my general allegiance with antipsychatry, despite the constant mockery and condescension, I still have no good things to say to people who claim that mental health issues are easily remedied by people being accomodating instead of neurotypical bigots and that those who seek mental health for their children just don’t try hard enough.

    Unrelated, but here’s a topic that has been bothering me for a while, as I prefer to adhere to the principle of charity and it is in its direct opposite.

    Has anyone else but me noticed this strange effect where the offensiveness of an argument is equated with its validity? Affirmation of a pre-existing stereotype, oversimplifying reduction of a social phenomenon that puts someone to blame, cynical disparaging of someone else’s idealistic views and such. It commonly, but far from always, gets paired with memetic sentences such as “calling a spade a spade”, “telling it like it is”, “the truth hurts”, “tough love”, or an apology for the statement being offensive that follows the old joke about the kid who calls a girl a bitch and then when told to apologize says “I’m sorry you’re such a bitch”.

    It is commonly reduced to being an edgy teenager or something to that extent, but, barring the group of people who think political correctness exists to hide the truth and therefore politically incorrect statements are likely to be true (which is not fallacious reasoning, but might be based on a faulty premise), everyone is doing it – the left and the right, the teenagers and the old people. Why is this? What forces are in play?

    • Basiles says:

      > Has anyone else but me noticed this strange effect where the offensiveness of an argument is equated with its validity? Affirmation of a pre-existing stereotype, oversimplifying reduction of a social phenomenon that puts someone to blame, cynical disparaging of someone else’s idealistic views and such. It commonly, but far from always, gets paired with memetic sentences such as “calling a spade a spade”, “telling it like it is”, “the truth hurts”, “tough love”, or an apology for the statement being offensive that follows the old joke about the kid who calls a girl a bitch and then when told to apologize says “I’m sorry you’re such a bitch”.

      Oh, God, yes.

      I think it’s just some kind of logic error, kind of a reactionary to a known issue where people want things to be true so they believe them to be true (i.e., people who deny climate change). So the reaction is that something you want to be true must be false and something you do not want to be true must be true. A crude, crude way to go too far in the other direction to combat a certain style of bias.

      As well as, of course, a cheap trick to discredit a position you don’t like if it happens to be more positive/idealistic. How well something feels or sounds should have no bearing on the perception of its validity. The tactic, especially used aggressively, doesn’t really add much to the discussion especially when the phrases used are canned…

      …and this is coming from someone who has some cynical and negative positions.

      • Anthony says:

        The logic of the phenomenon is something along the lines of “I understand that saying offensive things carries a social cost, so I won’t say things which are offensive and untrue, but truth has its own value, and therefore if something I say is offensive, it’s because it’s true.”

        • Taradino C. says:

          And when phrased like that, it becomes clearer that the person isn’t assuming it’s true because it’s offensive, but rather emphasizing its truth to counter the objection that it’s offensive and untrue.

          • TheFrannest says:

            I am not completely buying the offense = social cost thing, to be quite honest.

            Many offensive and cynical statements are not even controversial in a casual setting, for example, political discussions taking the form of reductionism “politicians are evil and dumb”. If it’s a genuinely offensive statement (specifically denigrating a social group) then there are many circles in which making such a statement will not hurt, or will even improve, your social status.

            Methinks it is somehow closer to some sort of a twisted analogue of cutting yourself shaving with an Occam’s razor, where you see multiple explanations for things and you pick not just the one that seems the most simple to you, but also the one that is overly cynical and grim.

            Note that “simple to you” here mostly means “less words” rather than “actually a simpler explanation”. For example, what is the explanation for homosexuality? “Actually, it’s a combination of various factors that-”

            “It’s a type of perversion promoted by Jews so that whites would breed less.” Never mind that it raises more questions than there are words in that sentence.

            And, finally, social costs do not matter when we’re talking about people deciding which PERSONAL opinions to hold.

          • Creutzer says:

            Not everything that denigrates some social group is automatically offensive. “Politicians are evil and dumb” is not even remotely offensive in most social contexts.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Politicians are evil and dumb” is a cynical statement, but it’s not remotely an offensive one. Even if you’re saying it to a room full of politicians, I suspect — having known a few — that most would just assume you’re talking about those other politicians.

            It’s not a profession that selects for self-consciousness or humility. And it’s not uncommon to campaign on a promise of screwing the politician class, a trick that’s a lot easier if you actually believe what you’re saying.

          • TheFrannest says:

            Offensive in the sense that you are making offense. Additionally, you are making the point for me, yes? The idea that a group of people is inherently malicious and extremely stupid should be offensive, but in this case the statement has become so normalized that people do not even view this as offensive any more.

          • Creutzer says:

            What do you mean by “make offence”? Also, whether you think that denigrating a whole class of people should be offensive is quite disconnected from whether it actually is.

          • Nornagest says:

            Offense is about “is”, not “should be”. You can go looking for neat symmetrical rules here if you want, but at the end of the day people are actually going to get pissed off at one and not at the other. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you ignore that.

          • TheFrannest says:

            Quite honestly: the claim that priests are all evil, rapist, lying scum is offensive, yes? People are offended by it, no?

            Well, it was not very offensive in the Soviet Union. It is a question of time and society. I can find you a group of people who unironically uses the term “mudslimes” in political discussions. You’re helping me too much.

            >What do you mean by “make offence”?

            The claim that you are not special and not unique and will not accomplish anything in your life is not offensive per se, it is a value judgement, but it does put you down.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, what’s offensive will vary between times and cultures. That’s because what people take offense to varies between times and cultures. You can’t separate the former from the latter. If nobody’s going to take offense in your cultural context, it’s not offensive, however contemptuous or stereotypical it might be.

            That doesn’t mean that there has to be someone in earshot to take offense, but it does mean there has to be an expectation that someone might. Let’s say I say that — to pick a group entirely at random — all !Kung people are assholes, and let’s further say I’m talking to my asshole friends who are all, for some reason, violently racist against the !Kung. It’s still an offensive statement, because we’re all aware that there’s a more general norm mandating offense when met with ethnic slurs. But in the politician example, I have more information about actual politicians’ preferences (viz. they don’t care), and there is no norm in my culture against putting down powerful professionals.

            (I suspect you’re overestimating how offensive the priest example is in the contemporary US and underestimating it in the Soviet Union, though. Soviet state atheism didn’t mean there weren’t a lot of Christians running around or that they didn’t respect their priests.)

        • Basiles says:

          That’s true right up until the point, as TheFrannest has noted here, that it stops carrying a social cost and actually makes the argument stronger. Now we just get a bias towards cynical arguments.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think it happens at least as often as the opposite case. How often do you see “that’s offensive” or a variant used as an argument against a position?

      The person defending the position can of course take steps to phrase their points in as inoffensive a way as possible. On the other hand, this often seems to require such defensive phrasing as to make the point impossible to make.

      • TheFrannest says:

        When people discount an argument because it is offensive, that is easily explained: in some way, it goes against their moral values.

        My father going on these tough-love, pseudo-motivational rants about how I have never amounted to anything and my suicidal tendencies are lies for attention obviously assumes that I am hurt by them because they are true and the truth deeply resonates within me.

        • keranih says:

          @ TheFranniest –

          I have no clue if this is going to help at all…but your father is almost certainly frustrated and ranting because he is deeply concerned about you and feels that your current path is not one which will end with you being happy and healthy. He probably would do anything in his capability to change the world (including you) so that you are happy and healthy.

          His toolbox for making those changes is not well equipped, hence him trying to use a hammer on the exposed bits instead of a wrench on the buried ones. It doesn’t make you any less bruised, from having been hammered on, but it might help you if you understand that he *is* trying to help.

          Try to guide him by articulating as frequently as possible when he does something that you appreciate or find helpful. No matter how old you are now, you will eventually become an adult who will need to interact with your father as an adult, and being clear on what you like about another person is one of the ways that adults bond and smooth social interaction. Practicing now may help.

          • Basiles says:

            I’d be much more concerned about TheFrannest here keeping their mental state intact than worrying too much about the future relationship. The mental damage from this sort of parental treatment can be quite immense. And it’s not a simple task at all to make such a party cooperate, and complimenting them may actually feed some of the nastier adaptations.

            Some relationships are not worth keeping, and being able to cut bad influences out of your life is a key to healing in certain situations.

          • keranih says:

            [snipped short-ish comments on the grounds that this is not my field]

            Given that TF is apparently not under professional care, I am disquieted by the suggestion to cut an important family relationship.

          • TheFrannest says:

            >but your father is almost certainly frustrated and ranting because he is deeply concerned about you

            Yeah, that’s a great point. Let me give you an example. I once mentioned, after yet another rant about how I’m a failure, to my mother in passing that I’m having suicidal urges again. Her obvious first decision was to call my father and complain about this.

            Ever since, he and his wife have an in-joke that whenever they see a hankerchief lying somewhere they give it to me so that I can have something to wipe my baby tears with.

            This is my life.

            >Given that TF is apparently not under professional care

            I was under professional care, I spent some of the worst months of my life in an asylum. There is a reason I am an adherent of antipsychiatry now. I did not just read some cute Wikipedia articles by fashionable leftists.

          • TheFrannest says:

            >being able to cut bad influences out of your life

            I am 24, and I am working fucking tech support for christ’s sakes. I’m not going to live alone any time soon, and I was told in no uncertain terms that if I don’t keep the house in pristine condition I’ll be kicked out, so I’ll have to be dependent.

          • nil says:

            Or he is cruel because he enjoys cruelty. Sure, no doubt with some rationalization attached, but only that. There are plenty of those sorts out there, and they’re perfectly capable of having kids.

        • Mammon says:

          “My father going on these tough-love, pseudo-motivational rants about how I have never amounted to anything and my suicidal tendencies are lies for attention obviously assumes that I am hurt by them because they are true and the truth deeply resonates within me.”

          This resonates with my experience. A close friend did something like this to me when she learned I was using antidepressants to control my depression. I think those people are enforcing the stigma against asking for help; they’ve always felt that a person should deal with their shit without looking for the “easy way out”, so they chastise you for not being able to 100% deal with your shit without accommodation.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m afraid you can blame psychiatry for this too. In psychoanalysis there’s this idea that you know you’re hitting something important if the patient gets angry about it. The classic example is if you just offhandedly mention a gay friend or something, and the patient jumps up and says “I’M NOT GAY! HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST I’M GAY!” then maybe there’s something going on there. But like everything in psychoanalysis, it’s infinitely easy to misapply and probably even worse when done by nonprofessionals.

          EDIT: Or maybe not original to psychoanalysis; even Shakespeare had “methinks the lady doth protest too much”

          Sorry to hear about your crappy family situation. Anything we can do to help?

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      It’s analogous to the path Ayn Rand went down.

      0) Genuinely seeks truth.
      1) Builds a reputation for deep-insights/socratic-edginess.
      2) feelsgoodman.jpeg
      3) Contrarian identity becomes more important than truth.
      4) Time Cube.

      Relevant: Scott’s signaling hierarchy.

    • Andy says:

      Has anyone else but me noticed this strange effect where the offensiveness of an argument is equated with its validity?

      I’ve seen exactly what you mean among some books and blogs marketed to American paleo-conservatives. Political incorrectness becomes part of the advertising sizzle for a book about Islam or economics or history written from a blatantly conservative viewpoints. I think of it as the old angry Republican equivalent of a hipster teenager’s spiked green hair and wince-inducing piercings – a “hey! look how shocking and contrarian I am!” signal.

      It’s a tendency that’s been passed on to some neoreactionaries: “I am spewing crimethink all over and your pathetic crazy liberalism can’t cope with my realness.” I’ve never, however, seen it attached to any argument with evidence, scholarship, or sense.

      • Echo says:

        You know what it does do? Fend off the kind of people they don’t want to associate with.
        Just like refusing to tag the colour blue and pomegranates as gore on tumblr.

    • Helldalgo says:

      “Has anyone else but me noticed this strange effect where the offensiveness of an argument is equated with its validity?”

      I believe I’ve come across this somewhere while reading about biases and fallacies. LessWrong Sequences, maybe? It was recent.

      In the interest of clarity, would the phrase “Of course a [whatever] would say that!” be grouped in with this phenomenon?

    • HlynkaCG says:

      For what it’s worth I honestly do think that political correctness exists to hide the truth. Or at least make it into something fuzzy an homogeneous enough that no one will recognize it. Otherwise there would be no need to distinguish between “politically correct” and “correct” in the first place.

      That said, I don’t think that it is quite as one sided as you seem to be assuming. For instance, people will say that a argument is offensive/racist/sexist/etc… without ever refuting the argument. I think that the perceived validity of “offensive statements” tied to the old saw about how “if you’re catching flak, you’re over a target.”

      • Andy says:

        Otherwise there would be no need to distinguish between “politically correct” and “correct” in the first place.

        How many people who advocate political correctness actually make this distinction?

        • HlynkaCG says:

          A fair portion in my experience, it’s the inevitable re-joiner in any case where inconvenient reality runs into ideology.

        • Nornagest says:

          People who advocate political correctness don’t think of it as political correctness — but they don’t think of it as factual correctness either. They think of it as a moral obligation; I hear phrases like “basic decency” a lot.

          • brad says:

            I don’t see it as much different from avoiding Anglo-Saxon four letter words in most settings.

            I’m not trying to hide anything by not saying “fuck this shit” at work. Nor am I trying to hide anything by not saying “spic” anywhere.

            When someone says “PC is destroying America” I hear “I want to be able to call people spics”. And my reaction is — you certainly free to do so, but other people are going to think of you and treat you like the guy who goes around doing that.

          • Nornagest says:

            When someone says “PC is destroying America” I hear “I want to be able to call people spics”.

            May I suggest that this might say more about you than them?

          • TheFrannest says:


            >When someone says “PC is destroying America” I hear “I want to be able to call people spics”.

            And that is an example of the very effect I am noting here! You’re cutting yourself shaving by Occam’s razor.

            Political correctness negatively influences science by flat out discarding race as “social construct”, ostracizing and even getting rid of people who research differences between genders. There’s a push towards chucking out the concept of IQ despite it being very useful.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Brad – “When someone says “PC is destroying America” I hear “I want to be able to call people spics”.”

            Large-scale immigration may have significant costs.

            The wage gap may not actually exist, and efforts to close it may be harming society or merely wasting effort.

            Ditto for the women in STEM crisis.

            Society’s current approach to race relations may make the problem worse, not better.

            At some point, social safety nets probably become unsustainable, and we need to have a plan for what we do then.

            If we are aiming for diversity, at some point we are going to have to accept the fact that some groups want nothing to do with other groups, and changing their minds involves unacceptable levels of coercion or violence.

            …I don’t firmly believe all of the above. I am pretty sure all of the above are currently politically incorrect. I’m pretty sure all of the above are at least open questions. Could you explain why questions like the above amount to, as you say, “calling people spics”?

          • JBeshir says:

            A more charitable interpretation might be that they don’t think those things constitute slurs, they just don’t think those are the main things the people advocating for the end of political correctness want to be able to say.

            This is likely an artefact of the reporting around the matter selecting for extreme positions, like “I should be able to say whatever slurs I want about any groups I want without anyone thinking worse of me, no one is allowed to judge anyone else”, rather than moderate positions like “People are allowed to judge you if they think you’re defecting on norms against trying to dehumanise groups to enable their members to be treated as lacking moral worth, but there shouldn’t be mass throwing of abuse at people you deem violators, or absurd oversensitivity hitting innocents, and academic debate in particular should be inviolable.”

            There do seem to be a fair number advocating the extreme position; people who do want to dehumanise tactically exist and so are naturally going to advocate that they should be allowed to do that, and people also seem to have a natural predisposition to support extreme positions in order to protect the moderate position they actually want, or as a means of revenge against people they don’t like.

            The thing to do seems to be to just hold a more nuanced position, probably avoiding phrases like “political correctness” entirely as being too vague. A bonus is that when you express things in clearer terms, you can call to rein in dehumanising or unpleasant behaviours on both sides rather than just encouraging one or the other.

          • brad says:


            Political correctness negatively influences science by flat out discarding race as “social construct”, ostracizing and even getting rid of people who research differences between genders. There’s a push towards chucking out the concept of IQ despite it being very useful.

            1) I don’t think what you are describing is the core of political correctness — which I understand to be socially mandated contextual speech norms. Like my example of not cursing at work, or the impropriety of discussing slavery at a dinner party in DC circa 1830.

            2) Even if we take what you say as completely accurate and PC the culprit you still haven’t gotten anywhere near “destroying America”.

            I’m in favor of unrestricted science and knowledge expansion for its own sake, but you go way overboard on the importance of these subjects.

            Take IQ, you say it is highly useful. It isn’t. Some people eagerly await IQ research, not because society will make use of those findings to optimize (it won’t) but because they want to shove unpleasant truths in the faces of their enemies. As I said if it were up to me there wouldn’t be taboos on scientific research but providing an opportunity for schadenfreude isn’t exactly curing polio or discovering the Higgs boson.

            Other than perhaps the women in STEM, none of those IME put you outside the bounds of polite conversation in an appropriate context in Blue America. And they sure as hell are okay to discuss in Red America. Which in turn means that they can be debated in Congress and have a chance of becoming official policy.

            Even if all those things were 100% radioactive to discuss at a scifi convention or the pages of the Oberlin student newspaper, so what? Where’s the existential threat? I probably couldn’t go to rodeo in Texas and wearing a shirt that said “Babykillers out of Afghanistan” with a picture of the army logo without suffering some severe social sanctions. Is that political correctness too? Is that also a sign of our imminent destruction?

          • Cauê says:

            The US had a very strong Schelling fence protecting freedom of thought and speech. It also serves as a powerful focal point influencing the debate in other countries. Your courts are still very good in that respect (well, the higher courts, at least), but the existence of a powerful movement (maybe “trend” is more apt) bent on bringing the fence down is honestly scary.

          • JBeshir says:

            A little under a century ago, the US was imprisoning people for distributing anti-war leaflets (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrams_v._United_States) and having it upheld by its Supreme Court. In the 1950s, it upheld imprisoning Communist Party leadership (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_v._United_States).

            People also used to be incredibly prone to censorship of books, movies, and television, at least if you ever wanted anyone to distribute or see what you’d made.

            Since then, speech has become gradually more free, not less, throughout Western society. The linked court cases are widely denounced, their precedent reversed, and you could hardly imagine such things being done in any Western nation nowadays.

            The extent to which norms against speech that dehumanises limit speech is something worth serious consideration when deciding how far they should go- but there’s no long-standing schelling fence against such norms existing, and so no irreparable harm from countenancing them.

            On my part, I’m alarmed people want to undo the long-standing negative social consequences to being obviously selfish, or obviously calling for some group to be thrown outside of the circle of concern. The extreme “no one is allowed to judge anyone for anything” advocates, whether they understand it or not, are asking for a lot more than undoing recent changes, and the expected level of empathy in politics is already too low.

          • Cauê says:

            Maybe fifty years appears to be a longer time in real life than it looks on paper, or maybe the contrast between what I see in the US and what I see and experience in not-the-US is driving my perceptions, but I was aware of the points you mention when I made my comment, and I stand by it.

            Other than that,

            On my part, I’m alarmed people want to undo the long-standing negative social consequences to being obviously selfish, or obviously calling for some group to be thrown outside of the circle of concern. The extreme “no one is allowed to judge anyone for anything” advocates, whether they understand it or not, are asking for a lot more than undoing recent changes, and the expected level of empathy in politics is already too low.

            I’d say this is strawmanning (maybe only weakmanning), but I think you’re just failing an ideological Turing test here.

            My instinct is to list examples of things I and others are actually bothered and worried about when it comes to PC, in a link-filled parade of horrors, but I don’t think it’d be worth the effort, in the sense that I don’t think they would be things you’re actually unfamiliar with (although of course this, 7th paragraph onwards).

          • JBeshir says:

            It’s predictable that the positions that I’d find most concerning would be the most extreme, and that the most extreme would be the weakest, so it’s not surprising they’re especially poor ones. They certainly exist; they dominate the *chan communities and are fairly popular anywhere on the wider Internet that dehumanising a group would be tactically convenient.

            The more moderate arguments can well be good ones, I think, so long as they don’t then end with “and thus we need to adopt the most extreme position of no norms against selfishness, no norms against throwing people out of the circle of concern, no judging at all, as a bulwark to ensure the moderate position is never touched”.

            Such a bulwark’s never been needed before or existed before and establishing it means tearing down too much that’s important, I think.

    • barring the group of people who think political correctness exists to hide the truth and therefore politically incorrect statements are likely to be true (which is not fallacious reasoning, but might be based on a faulty premise)

      I think political correctness is a tool to prevent discussion of a topic, which may or may not be a tool to hide the truth. It can be an attempt to silence a persistent lie in some cases, but erring on the side of discussion seems like a better approach most of the time.

      The reasoning you mention does appear to be fallacious though. Just because a cat is not pink, that does not make it blue. As the full set of possible statements contains more falsehoods than truths, then individual politically incorrect statements are not neccesarily likely to be true, even in the unlikely event that all politically correct ones were false.

      • Echo says:

        “This is why horrible STEM engineers like Scott shouldn’t be allowed to talk about the social sciences, except by checking the privilege and retweeting everything I say.”

        “Actually, he’s a psyc–”

        “Shut up and don’t mansplain to me, sexist”

        • Susebron says:

          Someone pointed out that there’s a phenomenon of engineers thinking that their knowledge generalizes better than it actually does. Someone else pointed out that Scott is a psychiatrist. The first person responded that a similar thing happens with doctors. Your characterization of the situation is wholly uncharitable and seriously incorrect.

          • TheFrannest says:

            According to whom? Salem hypothesis has already turned into “he is an engineer so he is a crackpot” and in many cases into “he is a STEMlord so”, but the person flat out substitutes “engineer” for “doctor” here when called out.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      I didn’t need any more of that “everyone who disagrees with my hateful and narrowminded take on gender relations is a misogynist” crap in my life. It’s sad to think that metafilter has become a worse echochamber than tumblr.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Do you not think that feminist theory’s foundations are as solid as heliocentrism’s?

        What is this metafilter place, anyway, what is its stated purpose?

        • birdboy2000 says:

          Very old guard part of the internet – contemporary of places like Something Awful and FARK, which not coincidentally went on a similar decline. Was always liberal leaning, but at some point (wasn’t a regular, so don’t know exactly when the shift came – but I definitely notice the difference from clicking links) they banned everyone who rejected identitarian ideology, and this is the sad result.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Surely WE can’t be wrong about them. This is, after all, the most open minded and enlightened community since the invention of abstract thought.

        • Phil says:

          Metafilter is a (very old school) link blog, with comments to each from post from site members.. Like Fark, a token entry fee ($5) keeps away random crap & active 24/7 moderaters keep things pretty civil.

          It’s always swung more left/liberal than not; in recent years that’s become a bit more pronounced, but you’ll find a mix of views nonetheless. Certain things are going to get moderated to oblivion however & those tend to include topics that SSC loves to chew over, so the two comment communities are probably not going to get on…

          (I am entirely unsurprised that Mark doesn’t like it. (Hi Mark: you may or may not remember me from bofh back in the day.))

          • PGD says:

            not much of a mix of views any more if a discussion touches on any of the metafilter sacred cows (transgender issues, feminism, race, identity politics in general).

        • PGD says:

          Metafilter is a disaster zone, it’s entirely made up of the most extreme trans/feminist/white guilt people me-tooing each other and blowing up if anyone disagrees with them in the slightest, let alone in some material way. It’s actually impossible to have much of a discussion there as mods will swoop in and delete posts that diverge from the consensus too much. Given Scott’s ability to maintain a comments section that allows for genuine diversity, as opposed to Metafilter’s efforts to make itself a monoculture, it’s pretty funny to watch them criticizing him.

        • >It’s everything bad about smug Tumblr-enas, with the worst of cane-shaking old farts, and none of the passion of the first or the insight or practical wisdom of the other.

          There is a certain internet stereotype of the male-feminist neckbeard fedore type who is mainly trying to signal “gentlemanliness”.

          I don’t really know if the stereotype is true (don’t waste my time in such places) or if it has anything to do with MF but your comment strangely reminded me of this meme – feminist combined with cane-shaking old-fart sounds basically like a “m’lady gentleman”.

          Here is a test: lot of atheism of the snickering look-how-stupid-they-are type? If and when finding a religious commenter, is there a certain tone of over-exaggerated, clearly show-offy “gentleman and scholar” pretentious politeness in the debate? Because that is what I would imagine as a good marker of this.

      • Matt C says:

        Worth noting that ask.metafilter.com is a somewhat different story than the blue. It’s a lot less political, though questions that relate to gender do sometimes get flooded by people with an agenda. (Not always. Haven’t figured out the pattern there yet.)

        Ask MeFi is most of the reason I have a MeFi membership. I have gotten good answers to several questions there, put in my $0.02 on others, and mostly enjoy the place.

        Also, the blue is useful when you want to get the thoughtful progressive take on a piece of current events. There is a lot of noise, but on something big there will be informed discussion too.

      • BBA says:

        Part of why I started hanging out here is that this is one of the few places where I saw disagreement with the “everyone who disagrees with me is a misogynist” crowd that wasn’t actually misogynist.

    • TheFrannest says:

      metadiscussion on metafilter is hilarious in a Pierrot-ish way. “We are not an echochamber, we are just an enlightened internet forum that solved ethics and our ideas are correct, that’s why we chase contrarians off”

      yes, the literal words enlightened forum have been used more than once

      also i don’t understand how this even works

      “here’s an analogy between antisemitism and nerd-dom and this is why i made it”

      “oh, it’s the guy who uses neo-nazi caricatures in his discussions on jews why are you reading this disgusting reactionary”

      • Murphy says:

        It’s easier to make fun of someone and try to associate them with the enemy than to actually honestly look at it.

        Most of them are too lazy to actually read anything that isn’t posted on metafilter so that “griphus” person complaining about how Scott obviously thinks that feminisms has an “explicit political structure” will never ever bother to actually read Scotts “ecclesiology for atheists” post or even consider that their statement perfectly mirrors many of Scotts own statements about feminism.

        And since it costs money to reply it’s unlikely anyone will tell griphus and griphus will continue spouting uninformed nonsense . (After all, who needs to get any information outside “the most Enlightened Forum on the Web”)

      • Nicholas Carter says:

        They reject the validity of the parallel, and view it as a cold-prickly applause light. So of course they view it as a cheap attempt at manipulation.

    • names are path towards namecalling says:

      I got completely lost when they started discussing dog whistles.

      • Technically Not Anonymous says:

        I think that term lost all meaning a while ago.

      • brainiac256 says:

        As I understand it, a dog whistle is like the converse of a shibboleth. Where a shibboleth can serve to mark outsiders by their different pronunciation, a dog whistle is designed is attractive to both outsiders and insiders at the same time, in a way such that both in-groupers and out-groupers are supporting the same thing in principle but only in-groupers have the *gnosis*, so to speak. The recent example I saw was the movement to repeal civil rights legislation in the South, which all in-groupers are meant to know is so that they can return to being racist as much as they want with no legal recourse against them, but for the out-groupers it’s all phrased as ‘small government’ and other related things.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Ah yes, those infamous right-wing dog whistles that are somehow only ever audible to people on the left. One starts to wonder who the dog actually is when that happens.

      • Zorgon says:

        “Dog Whistle” originally meant “coded applause lights”. And it wasn’t actually a bad term, since all ideologies have those.

        Unfortunately, it turns out that once people have a good term to describe the phenomenon of The Evil Bad Outgroup possessing Special Coded Language that they use to communicate their Evil Bad Outgroup Ideas, then it becomes in-group to constantly invent new potential “dog whistles” that the Evil Bad Outgroup are apparently using.

        That way you get to accuse the Evil Bad Outgroup of saying… well, anything you like! At all! They could say “We are in favour of fluffy puppies and infinite happiness!” and normally you have to jump through the hoops of saying “Well, they might say that but what about the NON FLUFFY PUPPIES, huh?” which runs the risk of making you look like a complete idiot. But with DogWhistles(TM), you can simply say “fluffy puppies is an Evil Bad Outgroup dog whistle for feeding arsenic to children” and job done! Even if the Evil Bad Outgroup denies it, they’re still on the back foot and you’ve managed to attach kiddy arsenic dinners to them without any effort at all.

        So unfortunately what was originally a reasonable term somehow mutated into an 80-gigaton semantic superweapon which is generally wielded with about as much discretion as one would expect from a 6 year old with an Ion Cannon. Like all of them.

    • Siah Sargus says:

      I saw this earlier on the subreddit. It’s basically “oh he’s so reasonable and well-read most of the time, except for this one topic I’m very emotionally invested in, so he probably just doesn’t *understand* that one topic.” It’s like the reverse of news amnesia. Also he presented multiple criticisms towards feminism, so he hates women, because that’s how that works, right?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What’s news amnesia? Gell-Mann amnesia, where you keep forgetting that the news is wrong about things you know about?

        How is that the reverse? Isn’t it exactly the same? Agreeing with most of the source and disagreeing with one corner? Maybe it’s the of reverse of the conclusion of the analysis of news amnesia, that one should not believe any of it, but it’s the same as the phenomenon of news amnesia.

        Is the difference whether the corner is what one knows about rather than what one is emotionally invested in? But that’s hardly the opposite. Maybe if one is emotionally invested in something, one should worry about being biased and defer to outside sources, but this putative metafilter reader also observes that Scott is emotionally invested, restoring symmetry.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Yeah, the difference is exactly the difference between knowing and feeling, which is a distinction these sorts of people are not always very good at making.

          • TheFrannest says:

            That is the danger of overemphasizing stuff like “lived experiences” and condescendingly dismissing attempts to exercise rational approaches to arguments as “stem circlejerk” or whatever is the meme these days.

            Also noted: people who use expressions like “[group] tears” and “what, your [group] feelings are hurt?” are also the ones overwhelmingly likely to use “this makes me sad, and I do not wish to be sad” as an argument for or against objective matters.

          • lunatic says:

            I think “you’ve gotta take people’s experiences seriously” is a good point along similar lines to the LW-sphere idea of the typical mind fallacy. Other people know what their world looks like better than you do, that sort of thing.

            In the contexts where I’ve heard the literal phrase “lived experience” used (as in “you’ve got to consider lived experience”), I suspect that the person using it regards it as a defence against getting eulered, which is a fine thing to have (has anyone ever explicitly discussed it along these lines?).

            So I think the idea has some fine foundations. It’s important that you trust yourself enough to be resistant to a bit of clever bullshit, and it’s also important that you are trying to be right and not just certain. I feel like, as you say, overemphasizing the “lived experience” angle can neglect the second part.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Why do I feel like the broad arc form of your comment is too rare?

            Why do so many want to make things simple, when they are clearly not? Lived experience is an example of pushing back against typical mind fallacy. Lived experience is also an example of typical mind fallacy. Both of these are true.

            For a space that is supposed to be attractive to people who want to be “less wrong”, the frequent desire to not recognize that swords have two edges is … depressing.

          • Cauê says:

            The problem with “lived experience” when it comes to the fashionable politically charged topics is exactly the same as when it comes to, say, people who have spoken to dead relatives through psychics. There’s what you experienced, and then there’s how you are interpreting it and what conclusions you are drawing from it.

            100% of the arguments I’ve had about “lived experience” have been about the latter, mostly with people who didn’t seem to notice there was a difference.

          • Dan T. says:

            “Lived experiences”, as this catch-phrase is used by the social-justice crowd, seems to be yet another of the things that have been termed “motte-and-bailey” on this blog. (I never can keep it straight whether the “motte” is the one that’s easily defensible and the “bailey” harder to defend or if it’s the other way round.)

            In its reasonable, easy-to-defend usage, it simply means that one should not be quick in dismissing the first-person accounts of somebody else who is directly affected by something in a way you’re not, merely because that account doesn’t happen to fit your own ideology or chosen narrative.

            But, once it’s in the hands of ideologues, it is weaponized into an insistence that certain “disadvantaged” groups have “lived experiences” that trump all else, while for others not considered disadvantaged, their own lived experiences are irrelevant. That’s seen in the linked Metafilter thread, in which people started picking apart Scott’s personal anecdote of getting in trouble in college for publishing something unintentionally politically-incorrect in the school newspaper. Scott isn’t in a protected class, so his own experiences are subject to being nitpicked, or even dismissed outright, if they clash with social-justice ideology.

          • Montfort says:

            Dan T.: Perhaps a visual will help.

            The problem you will run into, reading more about medieval fortifications, is that apparently people will also use “bailey” to refer specifically to the wall enclosing the area, rather than the area itself.

            You can also try motte/moat as a mnemonic. Though of course the two are different things, moat did descend from (the Old French) motte, for the obvious reason of their close association.

    • Lyle Cantor says:

      This is what I posted regarding this on the subreddit:

      Regarding some of the comments, I continue to find it strange how much people refuse to believe in biological determinism – despite tons of solid evidence. One thought I have is some countries and locations have a memetic comparative advantage. Parents polled in Asian countries are all for genetic engineering and embryo selection. Because of this, there may not be any point in arguing for such things here. This memetic comparative advantage will apply pressure eventually in the form of economic competition. So it may not be worth the status hit – though it would be worth the hit if the whole world shared our madness on the topic.

      On another note, I think Scott should work hard towards monetizing his writing in the form of eBooks or traditional publishing – as I could see this hate going uncomfortably far. These people have that terrible thing, a sense of moral justification. As Scott ascends in status their temptation to throw him to the twitter dogs will become increasingly irresistible. It would be nice to get an independent income stream before this happens.

      It’s already happening at a low-level. See David Gerard’s slanderous edits to his Rationalwiki page. This is a pretty typical paragraph:

      >Alexander explicitly states that he is not a feminist or an antifeminist (apparently saying things like “the sane 30%-or-so of feminists”, i.e. the ones who would not reject neoreactionaries and pick-up artists as reasonable intellectual discourse partners[5]), and gets annoyed that people repeatedly assume that just because he is not the knuckle-dragging ignorant variety of racist, he must be a feminist.

      Compare this to the previous wording:

      >Alexander explicitly states that he is ”not” a feminist or an antifeminist, and gets annoyed that people repeatedly assume that just because he is not a knuckle-dragging ignorant racist, he must be a feminist.

      “He is not the knuckle-dragging ignorant variety of racist.” Classy, David.

      David Gerard is the fellow who Scott is relying on to not attach his real name to that article. David will do this as soon as he feels morally justified. So about two minutes from now.

      This comment from MetaFilter also caught my eye:

      >It’d be nice if–since people seem so desperate to use us in their arguments–trans women could be asked about this stuff occasionally. Y’know, instead of having our words taken out of context and our anger packaged up and displayed as an example of what’s wrong with social justice.
      If, say, Scott Alexander has asked me, I could have told him exactly why using us as his example was shockingly hamhanded, insensitive, and damaging.

      It brought to mind my biggest problems with this whole privilege thing; it makes arguments like Bitcoin: not quite fungible. If the provenance of an argument starts to matter, meaningful exchange becomes very difficult.

      • Anonymous says:

        Again with the handwringing over not getting RationalWiki’s approval. Please, please, can someone enlighten me – why does anyone here care what RationalWiki says? It is, so far as I can tell, a left-wing Conservapedia – existing to push a viewpoint through whatever means necessary, rather than to seek the truth, or even to honestly promote the good arguments for their favored position and point out the problems with the bad.

        This is a very uncharitable guess, but does it have anything to do with the fact that they have ‘rational’ in their name? Do you think you would care as much if they were called LiberalWiki, for example?

        • Lyle Cantor says:

          RationalWiki is ridiculous and unfixable. However, it gets very good google results. If Scott’s True Name were attached to that article it would be very bad news.

        • DrBeat says:

          Because “Rationalwiki expresses contempt for you!” is used as a conversational bludgeon in a lot of the places that a lot of us folks like to go to, so we would like to minimize the ability to be bludgeoned by it?

          • Anonymous says:

            I would have to question whether it’s worth caring about the opinions of people in those places as much as you do, then. Or, alternatively, if they really are smart sensible people, whether it’s worth pointing out to them why RationalWiki is a partisan hatchet job and not a reliable source of information.

            I too go to places where people trust sources I think are obviously not worth trusting, and hold strange and odd ideas. It seems to me that the correct response is to let them have their views, and stop talking to them if they get so far out as to have nothing useful to say anymore.

          • DrBeat says:

            Internet communites are not totally fungible. Like, if you like role-playing games, your options are either to go to a forum where you will be bludgeoned with partisan hatchet jobs like RationaWiki, or go to a forum that gets like five posts in a week. I can’t make my own where people don’t do that and have anyone actually there, no matter how many people would like it. I think that’s the Facebook Effect. Or if it isn’t called the Facebook Effect, it should be.

          • names are path towards namecalling says:
          • Greed of Gain says:


            Have you considered 4chan’s /tg/?

          • Trevor says:

            What you are talking about is network effects. The more people use a forum the more desirable it becomes to use, so you end up with an equilibrium where you have one or a few dominant sites and many small decrepit ones for people with very strange preferences.

          • DrBeat says:

            Well, by Facebook Effect I meant specifically when the network effect is the only thing giving it value and everything else about it is hated, and everyone (or just “a lot of people”) hate using the service and would love an alternative that isn’t garbage, but none of those alternatives can exist because everyone using the service they hate gives it too much network-effect value for anyone to compete with.

          • Anonymous says:


            I have a feeling that is less true of Facebook than you say it is, at least for most people.

            What is it that you hate about it?

          • Echo says:

            Just cite their articles at people. A ’13/’15 comparison of Julian Assange’s article would be useful, tracking his status from “left-wing hero” to “unperson who must be no-platformed and sent to a literal CIA gulag”.
            Just bash the idiots constantly on every forum.

          • DrBeat says:

            People who decided “just bash the idiots constantly on every forum” was a good way to get what they wanted are how we got into this mess to begin with!

          • @DrBeat

            “Internet communites are not totally fungible. Like, if you like role-playing games, your options are either to go to a forum where you will be bludgeoned with partisan hatchet jobs like RationaWiki, or go to a forum that gets like five posts in a week.”

            Good point, but a place where such bludgeons are used haven fallen to the SJW Weaponized Sacredness anyway or are pretty close to, so even if you would broadly agree with leftie views it would be a huge timewaster because content then get crowded out by runaway holiness signalling arms races. ( see: http://new.spectator.co.uk/2015/04/hating-the-daily-mail-is-a-substitute-for-doing-good/ )

            It has fairly simple technological solutions. To keep yourself from engaging in this, recycle your username every 3 months. For a community, simply write the software so that users have to recycle their username every 3 months, starting with 0 karma again and there is even a minimal Levenshtein string difference so pielover cannot come back as pieLover, maybe as p1eluvvver yes, but that is a big enough difference to divest people from seeing their accounts as identity and thus to discourage signalling.

          • TheFrannest says:

            Or you can just go the way of the anonymous imageboard.

          • Dirdle says:

            @Greed of Gain, TheFrannest: You can lead a horse to an ocean of piss, but you can’t make them swim in it. The desire for a good, charitable, identity-presevering set of online communities should be addressed – if only we knew how to do that. Apart from “Scott for God-Emperor 2016,” I mean.

            I recall seeing the comment “gb2/ssc/” on /tg/ once, which I found very amusing.

          • Peter says:

            An SSC board on 4chan. Now there’s an idea.

            Perhaps it’s part of Scott’s inevitable migration – the part that comes in between signing up for GetStungByMillionsOfWasps and signing up for RationalWiki.

        • TheFrannest says:

          To the outside observer, Rationalwiki is this cute place where descriptions of fallacies, arguments against creationism, homeopathy, bad science, etc. go, so if we reject that place entirely citing its bias over the feminism thing, we will not actually be distinguishable from the people who made conservapedia. RW also has excellent google hits and is still used as an end-all-be-all for many skeptics. We already suffer from being hitler-ate-sugared to the actual Nazis, let’s not make this worse.

          …And yes, the same machine that says “feminism = women, you hate feminism = you hate women” will say that “well, rational is right there in the name”.

        • Peter says:

          Indeed, RationalWiki is not only a left-wing Conservapedia but was founded by people who had previously been trolling Conservapedia. I was deeply puzzled about RationalWiki until I found that out.

          • Zorgon says:

            It was an early casualty in the Atheism+ wars and never recovered.

            Before then it was surprisingly good, which is probably why it still gets trotted out as though it has any credibility at all; those who have updated don’t bother, and those on the same team like to pretend it still has it.

        • RationalWiki made me (wrongly) dismiss the rationalist movement as just pompous, self-congratulatory leftists before I started reading this blog and saw the light. It’s really hurting the brand.

        • Nicholas Carter says:

          The fear posted upthread is that one or more users of RationWiki (David Gerard is the example) knows Scott’s real name, and could at any moment Dox Scott to his political enemies.

      • Urstoff says:

        David was my favorite Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback. Shame to see that he’s fallen so low.

      • “Regarding some of the comments, I continue to find it strange how much people refuse to believe in biological determinism – despite tons of solid evidence. ”

        It’s taboo. Isn’t that obvious?

    • Jordan D. says:

      I found it interesting to compare and contrast that thread to the first time Scott was linked on Instapundit (http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/196002/). Obviously there’s some substantive criticism, some nonsense, but one type of comment attracts my attention-

      ‘This guy is clearly very intelligent, but he is preventing himself from seeing the light and joining my side because internet rationalism has been wholly captured by the balance fallacy and don’t realize that >other side< is WRONG.'

      I'm having a really hard time recalling any time the balance fallacy has been invoked where I didn't come away feeling more inclined towards the middle.

    • Murphy says:

      Wow, that user “ead” is an utterly intellectually dishonest.

      I usually try to assume the best of people but wow.

      ead read this

      “To many people, libertarianism means the belief that over-regulation is a greater danger than under-regulation and therefore the burden of proof is on anyone who thinks a problem can be solved with more regulations. I agree with this form of libertarianism one hundred percent, and if that is how you define the philosophy, I am a libertarian.

      But to other people, libertarianism means that politics must be seen solely as a cosmic battle between the State and the Individual, and that the only solution to this dichotomy is to oppose the State in all its actions. That any concession to “statism” is a betrayal of humanity liable to end in Soviet communism or worse, and that proposed regulation can be immediately dismissed as either a plot to seize power for the dark forces of Statism or as the idiotic fantasies of bleeding-hearts with no grasp on reality.”

      on the anti-libertartian FAQ page and and quotes just the bolded text.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yikes. I see everybody here talking about how Metafilter is a monoculture of people with a particular view that likes to put down every other view, and I’m sure it’s true, but this thread is pretty strong evidence that we’re also a monoculture and we also like putting down other communities.

      What’s the point of talking about how bad Metafilter is for disagreeing with us in some context where everyone probably agrees and they won’t see it?

      Also, I figured my views were weird enough that I couldn’t accrete a monoculture around them, but I guess I was wrong 🙁

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Well, people are getting called out on it here, at the very least, so this whole “hand out cookie points for contrarianism” scheme seems to have some positive side effects.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        The monoculture isn’t around your views- it is around you. Congratulations about being made a tribal totem. Being uncharitable to Scott is enough to invite scorn- after all, everyone here understands you enough to see if someone is talking nonsense (I suspect osmosis or possibly Ireland based mind control lasers).

        • Anonymous says:

          Agreed. Reading that Metafilter thread is irritating, but not because I agree with Scott on everything – I don’t, I probably disagree with him more than I agree. It’s irritating because Slate Star Codex is, to a small extent, my tribe, and seeing people putting down the leader of your tribe provokes feelings of irritation and dislike.

          • Murphy says:

            I think a few of the criticisms are fair but the ones which piss be off are the people saying “OMG he’s so misinformed, obviously he thinks [insert view which Scott has spent many many posts attacking]” or “OMG, he’s so misinformed, he doesn’t even realize that [insert exact copy of statements Scott has made many times]”

            Because they’re lazy. Too lazy to spend 30 seconds with google trying something like “inurl:slatestatcodex [keyword]”

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Put the shoe on the other foot and spend some time in these comment threads looking for people who would irritate you if you were pro social justice.

            You will find plenty of them.

            So, what I see on that meta-filter is a few users arguing one way, and other users pushing back. The mere existence (even if it is a plurality) of users who you disagree with/find irritating does not mean that you can right off the site or the commentariat.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The tribal thing is part of it but reading a lot of those comments was irritating to me because some of them share content with criticisms I would have, but still bug me in various ways.

            Eg, I have recommended SSC links to more than one friend along the lines of “here’s a guy who writes some really interesting stuff and has some really good ideas but he has a blind spot when it comes to feminism and you have to take that into account”. I mean, it is not that hard to spot this flaw.

            But some of the people in that thread seize on that one flaw and do stuff like:

            -conclude he’s a misogynist, etc, because nobody could hold the positions he holds without that
            -use a lot of jargon while stating that not using or not respecting the jargon is clear proof that someone is an autodidact trying to reinvent the wheel when there’s all this perfectly good jargon already
            -take the position that nobody could possibly be informed and still disagree with them, so he must not be informed (one commenter seems to be saying something like “well even if he read, that doesn’t mean he read and learned”)

            And so on. I guess what bothers me is that they deal with the problems in some of the articles involving feminism by just sort of shutting everything out.

            Also, the dual charge (admittedly not all by the same poster) of “ignores lived experiences of others” and “he must be reporting this traumatic event he says he suffered wrong” is kind of bizarre.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think if you spend time noting the the user who is commenting, you will find that you are mostly annoyed with 4 or 5 specific commentors.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A few more than that, but you are right – without avatars or anything like that it is kind of hard to differentiate commenters I’ve never seen before.

            The general tone seems more to be leaning towards them, though. More people are attacking Scott Alexander than defending him, or at least the ones attacking are posting more. And the attacks tend to be rather less honest than the defences, at least to me. You’re right that it’s not 100% “this guy is awful” – or at least that’s how it seems to me.

            The overall impression I get is a pretty classic mote/beam situation, though, with the added fun of “actually here’s why the beam in my eye isn’t a problem at all, and you’d understand if you weren’t horrible”.

            It’s kind of like a username-based version of why I don’t often get into Facebook arguments with people I went to university with: even if I agree with them on 95% of the actual stuff being argued about, the ways they tend to support their views tend to trouble me, and it’s hard to disagree with them a little bit or correct them when they’re factually wrong without getting typecast as an opponent. At least if I argue with a right-winger they’ll be accurate when they identify me as having different views.

          • onyomi says:

            Funny, I read Scott and think “here’s a guy with some really great ideas but a big blind spot in regard to utilitarian ethics.” Yet I think he’s just about right on with regard to feminism. It is very rare to find any commentator you agree with 100% of the time, and when you do, you should be suspicious, since it might mean you are more tribally aligned than thinking aligned.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >I think if you spend time noting the the user who is commenting, you will find that you are mostly annoyed with 4 or 5 specific commentors.

            While that might be the case, these comments are getting the most “favourites” (which I assume are kind of like upvotes).

            To be fair, though, none of them has a high enough number that one could extrapolate and clain this is a community wide issue, having an opinion on Scott seems to be, in itself, a niche thing.

          • Cauê says:

            People saying Scott has a blind spot when it comes to feminism seem to be a lot more common around here than are people arguing against his points on feminism.

            Maybe this is because of his soft ban on race and gender discussions, but this situation could be improved.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t perceive this community as fertile ground for productive conversations about feminism. Nothing that I say seems likely to survive the uncharitable interpretations of my arguments.

            I perceive that this would especially be the case because I do have issues I have with some of the tactics and (to my mind) muddled aims of some feminists.

            If I bring up, say, affirmative consent, and how it is the model on which essentially everyone should want relationships built, I have no confidence that the conversation would stay in any sort of productive place.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Cauê: It is hard to discuss someone’s opinion of feminism without discussing feminism without discussing gender, yes.

            People seem to get around it to some extent by discussing “SJ”, but Scott doesn’t seem to have the same negative reaction to all social justice stuff as he does to feminism.

            Some of the commenters in that MetaFilter thread seem to want to boil it down to “well-off white man doesn’t empathize with those the system has screwed” but I think they are wrong in that regard: his writings about working in the hospital do not betray a lack of empathy towards those the system has screwed – quite the contrary (his writing betrays a great deal of sadness that he can’t fix the system, all he can do is write prescriptions). If he didn’t feel empathy he might sound more like Theodore Dalrymple.

            By “blind spot”, I am not discussing object-level stuff. Rather, it seems pretty obvious (as in, others have observed this, and he has himself said it) that feminism freaks him out, because of stuff in his past. His writings on feminism are less charitable: the tone is different, regardless of whether you agree with his actual opinions or not.

            The MetaFilter commenters err, in my opinion, in trying to make this into a moral failing, and especially in trying to make it evidence of a larger moral failing. It’s quite nasty how they pick apart his explanation of what happened in his past – and it is definitely uncharitable of them to refuse to accept his explanation of why he feels a certain way, preferring to cast him as ideologically wrong, ignorant, just plain bad, etc.

          • Cauê says:

            HBC, I don’t know what a good defense of affirmative consent would even look like. I’d probably gain something from reading what you have to say. On the other hand, this place would probably be your best shot by far at having decent-quality criticisms of your idea (unless you’re more fortunate than me in your IRL circle of friends), which also seems obviously useful. I’m not sure what you think would happen, but it can hardly be less productive than not talking about it.

            dndnrsn, I’m not managing to read this focus on his previous experiences rather than his arguments as anything other than textbook ad hominem. For what it’s worth, I think Scott has been close to 100% correct in everything I read of his about feminism. I also don’t think he’s noticeably less charitable about that than anything else. Maybe I’m wrong, but people do seem to assert this a whole lot more often than they argue it.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Affirmative consent seems like a policy proposed by an economist. So in a way I’d agree that it’d probably be a good thing if everyone supported it, but most don’t (either explicitly or through actions), and it doesn’t seem like it’s something that’s going to change.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Cauê: I’m not attacking his positions, nor am I defending them, so it’s hardly a textbook ad hom (which would be “he’s wrong about xyz object level things for personal reasons”). His positions, or anyone’s positions, can’t really be discussed, due to the no race/gender in the OT rule. I am merely conveying my impression that a blind spot exists, in regard to charitability (not a word).

            You seem to be taking what I am posting as an attack on his object-level opinions on feminism. All I posted was that it’s a caveat I present to people I recommend links to, because the social bubble in which I live IRL (similar, I think, to a lot of people here) a left-wing one in which a lot of people have a hard time differentiating between a critique of something and a major attack on it.

          • brad says:

            As a topic affirmative consent has the unfortunate quality of being trivially easy to weakman in a mocking fashion (i.e. hurr durr filing forms in triplicate), which seems irresistible to many. On top of that everyone seems to have one or more specific scenarios from their history that they want to make sure is on one side or the other of the line, but they (reasonably) don’t want to share the details — so you end up with people talking past each other.

            The best discussion I’ve seen was in a law professor blog, and even there one of the posts in the series was linked from a law blog aggregator read by outsiders and went totally to shit.

          • Cauê says:

            dndnrsn, no, I was complaining about the lack of attacks on his object-level positions on feminism. It was also a general complaint, not specifically directed at you.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Cauê: In that case, I apologize; I misunderstood you. Are you talking about here, or on MetaFilter? Because while here there is, after all, the gender-discussion ban, if you mean over there I would agree. They don’t really bring up any of his actual beliefs or stated positions (for instance https://slatestarcodex.com/ssc-on-feminism/).

            It seems sadly common that people will assume someone is on the opposite side of the fence not just for disagreeing, but for agreeing in the wrong way.

            (EDIT: Which is to say that as far as I can tell, on the object level, based on his most recent statements on the subject, Scott Alexander is hardly an anti-feminist, and seems to agree with a lot of feminists. But he criticizes certain meta level things, has criticized some feminists and some things they’ve done, and has fallen afoul of some sibboleths, and is thus read as a misogynist, etc).

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            I think that saying “affirmative consent is the model on which healthy relationships should be built” is different than saying “anything less than affirmative consent is full-blown rape and the law should reflect this.”

            I agree with the former; I’m not so convinced on the latter. And I think (though I could be wrong) that the latter is what most people are talking about when they complain about affirmative consent.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ireland based mind control lasers

          Curses, my day job has been discovered! I humbly grovel in apology, Master Scott, and be assured the mobile platforms for the mind-control lasers will be moved to An Even More Secret Secret Location even as you read this,

          Your humble and devoted Irish minon 🙂

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Surprised you’re still proudly declaring your Irishness after today’s world cup result!

          • TheFrannest says:

            Yeah, did you see that ludicrous display?

          • Zorgon says:

            Yeah, did you see that ludicrous display?

            Have 20 points for that reference.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yes, we got hammered by Argentina. And prior to that, the soccer team lost to Poland and are now facing Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs for Euro 2016.

            However, my brother is the rugby fan (not me so much) so I wasn’t part of the rugger-buggers’ wave of enthusiasm about Ireland can do it and besides, what counts in all these competitions is “Did we do better than England?”

            And the answer to that one is “Yes” 🙂

            (Also, while Liverpool under Klopp’s first match did not end in a victory, neither did it end in a defeat. 0-0 draw with Spurs may not sound like anything to cheer over, but the memories of the 6-1 defeat by Stoke are still sufficiently raw that ‘not getting beaten’ is now looked upon as progress!)

          • tcd says:

            You guys were fortunate to land Klopp, he is an exceptional manager. Personally, I was hoping he would hold out (maybe go on a year and a half vacation or something…) and come to Arsenal. He is going to have it rough at least until the January window, not a lot to love on Liverpool’s current roster.

          • Anthony says:

            and besides, what counts in all these competitions is “Did we do better than England?”

            While I’m not much a sports fan, I do root for my local San Francisco Giants and 49ers. I recently saw a posting which captured the spirit perfectly:

            World Series Winners:
            2010 – Giants
            2011 – not the (LA) Dodgers
            2012 – Giants
            2013 – not the Dodgers
            2014 – Giants
            2015 – not the Dodgers

      • TheFrannest says:

        >but this thread is pretty strong evidence that we’re also a monoculture

        Not so. Like, disregarding the fact that the only people who comment on this are people who will be hurt by Metafilter’s insults towards you and your reader base, this thread is pretty strong evidence that metafilter is a monoculture so bad that people with literally opposing views agree that it’s a horrid circlejerk.

        Like, some of the content on this website obviously filters people, but people don’t unironically say “oh, that’s one of the local contrarians, we kick those guys out”

      • PGD says:

        repeating what Samuel Skinner said because it bears repeating — the only monoculture here is around loyalty to the site and to the effort you put into it, and to the idea that you are worthy interlocutor who doesn’t deserve to be demonized even when we disagree with you. This comment section accomodates a very impressive range of views. Everyone from near-communists to libertarians, from mainstream feminists to people who really do verge on misogyny, and manages to do it in a way that respects civility and exchange of views. Very rare on the internet these days. Sadly.

        • Yes I mostly agree with this. The SSC community has above average rationalism, well above average political pluralism, below average amount of name-calling, and a host that can write well with interesting ideas and somewhat neutral, limited but effective governance. I’m totally ok with there being an in-culture here of rationalism, political pluralism and politeness. I think the main thing is that no object-level group sets up camp and starts chasing others off.

      • suntzuanime says:

        You’re not as bad as they say. You are a good and reasonable person, and they have succumbed to the Blight. Take heart, don’t let yourself be consumed by darkness.

      • Zorgon says:

        Every culture is a monoculture. ESPECIALLY those that claim not to be. Only thing to do is try to make it as accepting a monoculture as you can.

        I’ll leave whether you’ve succeeded in that more or less than Metafilter despite having a fraction of the userbase as an exercise for the reader.

      • Anonymous says:

        Seriously Scott, like the others have said, the monoculture these responses highlight isn’t one of ideas, it’s one of respecting you as our host. And one of being able to have a discussion without telling each other how stupid we are. I’d be surprised if most readers agreed with most of your posts.

        P. S. I’m not supposed to bring up us all being crypto-reactionaries, right?

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        From the linked metafilter post:

        All arguments that fail to recognize the structural nature of gender oppression are misogynistic, regardless of any protestations by their authors.

        Scott, there are only two cultures to begin with: those who recognize the structural nature of gender oppression; and the misogynists. By the way comrade, it seems your comment forgot to recognize the structural nature of gender oppression. It’d be a shame if someone were to call this blog misogynistic, wouldn’t it?

        (If laughing at this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.)

      • Being a moderate isn’t really that unusual. It is a popular enough attitude to have merited its own canonical burn: https://xkcd.com/774/

        Not saying your are like that, but it sort of sounds obvious that you easily attract lots of “secretly feels superior than both” moderates.

        Worth noting. A few years ago I was having beer with a bunch of 40+, 50+ American expats somewhere in Germany if I remember right. One of them, a history professor doing research here mused: “When we were young we were 100% liberals and socially, culturally I am still so, but economically… after a few decades of dealing with sh*t like the rules regarding renting out your apartment, you can’t help but find yourself economically at least in the center. And then you feel weird because you don’t have a political home anymore, you just have your own views on your own then.” And the others seemed to agree. Moral of the story: perhaps far more aging Blue-Tribers are secret disgruntled moderates than you think.

        Actually the only thing somewhat weird about you that while you are a doctor, you have classic Silicon Valley programmer sensibilities: you find it far harder to criticize capitalism than to criticize religious social conservative values. This is IMHO a classic Valley thing… where even radical lefties think being a radical leftie means more women CEOs, and they would be entirely weirded out if someone reminded them being a radical leftie a few decades ago meant no CEOs at all, or at least oppose them all cuz they are all evil kinds of attitudes. Of course it could be that it is more a general demographic. Hippies turned yuppies? Bohemian bourgeois?

      • Urstoff says:

        Isn’t every online community a monoculture to some extent just by virtue of self-selection?

      • Bugmaster says:

        Don’t worry Scott, there will always be people like myself around, who disagree with about 50% of what you say (minus your articles on psychiatry, which I don’t know enough about to agree or disagree with). Unless, of course, we all end up getting banned 🙂

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        “Instead the community that has accumulated here is attracted to the methods and styles that you permit and encourage differing views to be discussed. Sort of a metamonoculture[…]”

        This is the draw for me as well. I don’t agree with many of the views, but know that my views can at least be heard and analyzed without dismissal.

        This goes both ways. I know I can get views I disagree with here, and they won’t get categorically chased off by my “buddies”. They get a fair shake, too.

        Only the metaculture opponents (bad faith arguers, browbeaters, intellectually frivolous, etc.) get run off.

        “smugness in the metaMF discussions about how the views uniformly expressed there were uniform because they were, of course, the completely correct views.”

        “Reality has a liberal bias.”

        • FacelessCraven says:

          “This goes both ways. I know I can get views I disagree with here, and they won’t get categorically chased off by my “buddies”. They get a fair shake, too.”

          This. I can check the validity of my own positions by making strong statements and letting the other commenters try to take them apart if so inclined. So far, this has resulted in several significant revisions of my opinions, and a wealth of contrary evidence that I probably would have never seen otherwise.

        • John Schilling says:

          To be fair, it wasn’t just the SJW contingent chasing themselves off, there was some external chasing going on as well. And they were, in some cases still are, among the most reasonable and discourse-worthy SJWs I have met. But it’s a fine line between honest discussion of the worst sort of SJW in the wild, and fair treatment of the better sort in this carefully cultivated garden.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Mark Atwood:
          “I do wish the SJW-apologists hadn’t chased themselves off, tho.”

          This is a very different kind of wishing. You wanted them to stick around so that you could continue to mock them. You didn’t want to engage in the arguments.

          You probably think I am being a jerk, here. That is unfortunate as it is not my intent. I just really think that adding those kinds of comments to discussions almost always is an impediment to actual learning and I wish people would acknowledge it and watch for it in themselves.

        • Nornagest says:

          Eh. I miss some of the discussion of social justice that we had in the early days of this blog, but I think I know why it’s gone and I don’t see any real way we could have avoided it. We did a pretty good job of civilly explaining our thinking to each other, but knowing the structure of an argument does no good when it turns out to be based on axioms — or not even axioms, but personal fears and formative experiences — that you don’t share. Once those differences became clear, talking about it further just made all sides frustrated that the other guys Just Weren’t Getting It, I Can’t Even.

          It’s like the oft-repeated observation that “we need to have a national conversation on $ISSUE” actually means “I need to talk, and you need to listen”.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          > You wanted them to stick around so that you could continue to mock them.
          >You didn’t want to engage in the arguments.
          >You probably think I am being a jerk, here.

          Whoa, easy there, Bob Cassidy.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Whatever Happened to Anonymous:

          I’m not reading minds.

    • 75th says:

      Hello, everyone! I thought you all, as the preëminent local wolf den, would be very interested in a BEAUTIFUL deer I’ve discovered! Its movements are full of grace and its coat is pristine! It’s the most aesthetically pleasing deer I’ve ever beheld, and best of all, you can see it yourself! It lives RIGHT OVER THERE!

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @75th – completely aside from the object-level issue, this comment pleases me for purely aesthetic reasons.

      • Cauê says:

        Are you sure you didn’t get the deer and wolves mixed up there? But bravery debates, etc.

        • 75th says:

          The wolf/deer metaphor was not actually about judging who were the Good Guys or Bad Guys, but rather just pointing out the naïveté of the one person who thought “I have a great idea! I’ll post about Slate Star Codex on Metafilter!”

          In fact, maybe you thought I was actually addressing SSC’s audience, when I was really parodying the original Metafilter post. I originally had quotation marks around it, but deleted them when it briefly expanded to two paragraphs and didn’t restore them when it contracted back down to one.

    • Spaghetti Lee says:

      Man, it’s not like this place is above criticism, but some of those people aren’t remotely pretending to be fair. That guy ead arguing that the author of the Non-Libertarian FAQ is totally a hardcore libertarian, that’s like something you’d get in a “name that fallacy” high school philosophy course.

    • edsq says:

      “The moral seems to be that in some fields, it is best to judge the validity of the results by examining the methods; but in social justice, it seems better to judge the validity of the method by examining its results. Transporting the one standard to other field may not achieve the ends of justice.”

      “‘Judge the validity of the method by examining its results’ does not mean ‘the ends justify the means.’ It means that in some fields the desired end goal is not in question: Social justice is not a scientific hypothesis which is falsifiable. Subjecting it to some parody of a dispassionate rhetorical inquiry is offensive.”

      Two comments which give voice and body to a nagging feeling I’ve had for a long time about the social justice movement. Its members are either simply convinced beyond reason of their truth or are only interested in ideas which help them construct a model that fits their worldview, as opposed to being right. The end result is that anyone who wants to work with the possibility that their views are incorrect is disagreeing with axiomatic truth, and bam!, welcome to the outgroup. What response does rationalism have for such ideology? I worry that the principles of rationality cannot possibly be effective when its core tenets are so wholeheartedly rejected.

      • Dan T. says:

        Obviously it’s a terminal value for them, rather than an instrumental value:


        If that is the case, it’s pointless trying to convince them that “social justice” (however they define it) is an “invalid” value to have, just like it’s pointless to try to convince a hypothetical “paperclip maximizer” artificial intelligence that increasing the number of paperclips in the universe is a silly value to have. You’ll have better results convincing them that helping you fulfill whatever your terminal value happens to be will also help maximize social justice (or paperclips).

        • JBeshir says:

          Yeah, I think this is a case where people more or less define “social justice” as “the part of my values relating to the wellbeing of other people”.

          You’d have a better chance convincing people that the particular behaviour they’re doing that defines social justice as you understand it doesn’t provide social justice as they understand it than outright convincing them that social justice as they understand it is bad, because social justice as they understand it is a reference to their terminal values.

          • Cauê says:

            I didn’t go back to check, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of disagreements Scott expressed with SJ was about facts, not values.

            And, while I often point out that my main problem with SJ is their tendence to assign moral value to beliefs about facts, I’m not quite ready to accept that some people have taken factual beliefs as terminal values and it’s therefore pointless to argue. I mean, not because I don’t see the problem (it’s basically a situation we already have with [other] religions), but the stakes are too high.

  5. Franz_Panzer says:

    Since I for once got on an open thread early enough so that I might be noticed, let me ask a (maybe stupid) question.

    When Neoreactionaries say that we should bring back monarchy, one argument against them is always: we tried monarchy, doesn’t work.
    When people on the left want more state control, one argument against them is always: we tried communism, doesn’t work.
    If you want to talk about e.g. eugenics anywhere that isn’t this blog, people will tell you that some people (Nazis) tried that in the past, didn’t really work out that well, no need to do that again.

    Now my question is why does this never come up when we talk about the free market? Because I thought there was a period in the 19th century when capitalism was in full stride with little state intrusion. And what we got is horrible working conditions in 7 day workweeks, child labour, a wage that was barely enough (if at all) to feed yourself and your family and so on and forth. This only ended after public uprisings, which were sometimes violent, and the creation of unions which gave workers enough bargaining power against the industrialists.

    Now, have I got my history completely wrong? Obviously the above paragraph is only an incredibly crude summary from stuff I remember hearing in school more than 10 years ago, but is it wrong that these things happened?
    Is this something that is frequently brought up, but at places I don’t visit?
    If no to both, why are libertarians, who want to disband unions, abolish minimum wages, and suspend regulations that deal with terms of emplyments, not immediately confronted with the same argument as all the other ideologies, namely: we tried that, doesn’t work.

    (P.S.: not saying that it is a good argument, not at all. Just wondering about the discrepency in its use)

    • The changes that Libertarians ask for are separable and don’t *individually* have catastrophic consequences. We don’t argue about imposing every libertarian goal but just a few. Abolishing the minimum wage doesn’t have Nazi/Communism-level issues. Disbanding unions same thing. Regulations does have some evidence of really bad consequences and I think has seen this argument (“Isn’t deregualtion how we get another great recession?”).

    • P. George Stewart says:

      Yeah, thatsense of history is kind of wrong. The period of most unrestrained capitalism was the period in which ordinary human beings saw the greatest rise in the standard of living ever (i.e. up till that point). The very concept of “progress”, so sniffed at today, was born in that time, because that was the first time people had seen actual, tangible progress in their lives.

      Obviously bad things also happened, but on balance, and when you look at it in context of life up to that point, capitalism in that period was absolutely a net positive.

      In that period, you see working people organizing themselves into self-help groups like unions, educating themselves and their children for the first time, etc. So much so, that some of the initial propaganda against capitalism at the time came from the Right (the real Right, the Right pertaining to the maintenance of privilege) – capitalism was leading to the peasants getting uppity.

      The trouble with all these debates is that not everyone makes a distinction that needs to be made: between “capitalism” as a technical term meaning “private property in the means of production and the habit of capital accumulation”, and “capitalism” as the historical fact of “what we’ve got”. But what we’ve got has never been wholly unmixed with attempts to steer the economy centrally. Not even in the 19th century. But on the whole, 19th century government tended to be more hands-off the economy than times subsequent (it was too weak to do otherwise).

      When people argue for their political ideas, they tend to argue in a way that makes their preferred ideal shine in its pure form, and juxtapose that with actually-existing aspects of what they oppose. Communist utopia all sounds lovely, certainly much better than any actually-existing capitalism we have. But actually-existing Communism has always been really, really shit compared to actually-existing capitalism. So what about ideal capitalism? Maybe that would also be better than ideal communism? 🙂

      • Agreed. That history is simply wrong. 7 day work weeks and child labour were bad—compared to today. Compared to the other options available at the time, or at any previous time in history, these things were a huge improvement! Peasants flocked to the cities in droves to be “exploited.” And what ultimately killed child labour was that living standards rose to the point that people could afford to put their kids in school. Anti-child-labour laws were only passed after most children weren’t in the labour force anymore.

        • keranih says:

          And what ultimately killed child labour was that living standards rose to the point that people could afford to put their kids in school.

          Plus the rise of the power of adult-only labor unions who wanted to protect the income of the adult workers. Forcing the employer to hire adults at adult wages (instead of kids at kid-level wages) was the goal. Any sort of advantage to the kids was secondary at best.

        • unsafeideas says:

          “7 day work weeks and child labour were bad—compared to today. Compared to the other options available at the time, or at any previous time in history, these things were a huge improvement! Peasants flocked to the cities in droves to be “exploited.””

          That is simply not true. It was better then starving unemployed on the village at the time, but it was far from better then “at any previous time in history”.

          It had both winners and losers, but 7 day work weeks workers and child laborers were both losers. If nothing else, just check out child delinquency rates, criminality rates, mortality, life expectancy and other social ills – people were breaking down.

          • “If nothing else, just check out child delinquency rates, criminality rates, mortality, life expectancy and other social ills – people were breaking down.”

            What are your data and what are they relative to? My impression is that the U.K. had an expanding population, which at least suggests increases in life expectancy.

            Life expectancy was low by modern standards, but that’s partly because of the improvements that occurred during the relatively laissez-faire 20th century. What is the evidence that it was lower than earlier?

            Life in the U.S. was sufficiently attractive to pull in about a million immigrants a year by the beginning of the 20th century, despite the very considerable difficulties of getting here.

        • “Agreed. That history is simply wrong. 7 day work weeks and child labour were bad—compared to today. Compared to the other options available at the time, or at any previous time in history, these things were a huge improvement” No, lifespan and health declined under early capitalism. Enclosures meant that meany didn’t have a choice about leaving the countryside.

          • John Schilling says:

            Can we taboo “Enclosure”, and anything else specific to the United Kingdom, in our discussions of why the Industrial Revolution was so horrible?

            More generally, in a pre-industrial nation there’s never enough farmland – except in the immediate aftermath of one of the catastrophes that leaves you with not enough farmers. There are always people who have to leave the farm or starve, and sometimes there is no place for them to go. The specific mechanism by which people settle the question of who gets to use the existing farmland and who has to leave or starve, even if it is less than ideally efficient, is irrelevant. Pick a nation, pick a century, I’ll show you the millions who are starving after being forced off their farms or trying to make a go of marginal ones. Those are the people who, if someone is building factories and cities, will line up to join.

            Somewhere else in that nation are the people who won the competition for good and adequate farmland, and are living well in the country at least for the time being. Probably they did something we would consider unfair to ensure that outcome. So what?

          • Cycles of starvation aren’t inevitable, you just need an ethos that keeps population to a sustainable level.

            Can we not taboo “enclosure”, because it is part of a wider point politically neutral, and generally ignored things like population density, are actually very important to the outcomes of political systems.

          • “No, lifespan and health declined under early capitalism.” I was taught that in school, too, but it doesn’t fit the facts. Life expectancy rose gently (or at least stayed flat) during the early period of the industrial revolution before radically increasing. It’s hard to quantify health that far back, but the population history of the UK shows a dramatic increase in the rate of population growth around 1800. If people were so unhealthy during the industrial revolution, how did they manage to pump out so many more living children than ever before?

            I think that the illusion of falling living standards during the industrial revolution comes from the fact that the growth of cities made poverty more visible to the writers and thinkers of the day. When a subsistence farmer starves to death, and nobody literate is around to document it, the event is lost to history. The industrial revolution brought the poor into contact with the literate on a large scale, and so that’s when we got the Charles Dickenses and Karl Marxes writing about poverty.

          • Svejk says:

            Can we taboo “Enclosure”, and anything else specific to the United Kingdom, in our discussions of why the Industrial Revolution was so horrible?

            Why would we taboo discussions of the specific social circumstances in the first nation to industrialize and the nation upon which most study of initial industrialization has been carried out in a discussion of the effects of the industrial revolution? That would be like tabooing a discussion of sedentary hunter-gatherers in the Levant in a discussion of the agricultural revolution.

            Also, while I agree that there was more heterogeneity in quality of life during industrialization than can be captured by presuming a universal decline in health, the mortality data reported for the era may be less affected by observer bias than we presume. For both cities and rural areas, much of our mortality and morbidity data comes from parish burial records – which for the north of England can be surprisingly comprehensive over centuries – and from direct pathological observation of human remains. The greater attention paid to the poor in the literate cities may have had social consequences , but did not necessarily lead to a streetlight effect in historical demographic data. Additionally, it is entirely possible for sedentary humans to experience a decline in overall health and nevertheless observe an increase in fertility(although it is far from clear that this happened universally during the industrial revolution); fertility is surprisingly robust to a number of biological insults, while height appears to be more sensitive .

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Is everyone using the same definition of “taboo” here? (I assume we are talking about this.)

            It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about whatever it is. You just have use the definition and not the word.

            @John Schilling: Are you trying to avoid use UK examples at all? Or you actually want people to simply spell out what the actual policy was that they were discussing?

          • John Schilling says:

            I want people to spell out the general, enduring, transnational policy of which they think the UK’s Enclosure Acts are a representative example.

            The Industrial Revolution happened in many places; eventually in pretty much all places. Even if we claim that all of the other places were just copying the UK’s example, which is false, they couldn’t have done it if the Enclosure Acts were a necessary part of the recipe. Every nation that ever industrialized, found a way to convince people to move from farms to satanic-mill factories, and almost all of them did it without Enclosure Acts.

            I think that the closest you will come to a general truth is, nations generally had policies which didn’t let the farmers of the first industrial generations have the use of as much farmland as their fathers had, such that some of them had to become not-farmers. But this is true of most of the other generations as well, because your father probably had more than one surviving son and outside of Holland he didn’t create any new land. The details of how this was managed in different times and places don’t seem to me to matter very much.

            If there’s a difference that does matter, if there’s a subset of “Yes, your father was a farmer and didn’t starve, but we’re not letting you have that option because someone else is going to be using the land you’d need” policies that is particularly favorable to industrialization, that’s something worth talking about. But the answer can’t be “Enclosure”, because that’s too narrow, and at this point I think it’s not helpful to say “Enclosure and stuff like that”, because it isn’t clear from the one example what constitutes “stuff like that”.

            And then there’s the pesky example of the United States, industrializing with a frontier full of unclaimed farmland and homesteader-friendly laws and customs.

          • The argument that “if industrialisation was so bad, why did people volunteer for it” is terrible on multiple grounds, not least the fact that people didn’t exactly know what they were geting into.

          • Svejk says:

            I have to admit that most of the time, I don’t understand the problem the rationalist taboo is trying to solve. For most use cases, I think ‘unpacking’ is more appropriate and as a bonus does not create confusion with a very useful colloquial meaning. In this discussion, I think it is appropriate, within certain bounds, to focus on England and its specific circumstances, using the words we have at hand, unpacked if necessary. The leading edge of a revolution is often different in character from the tails.

          • Doctor Mist says:


            terrible on multiple grounds, not least the fact that people didn’t exactly know what they were getting into

            When do we ever? What are some of the other grounds?

            You surely don’t mean that we can’t draw conclusions by seeing what people do. Lots and lots of people — if one guy falls in a pit of quicksand, we don’t assume it’s a great place, but if a million people do, one has to wonder.

          • nil says:

            @Doctor Mist

            “What are some of the other grounds?”

            The biggest one that comes to my mind is that the approach cuts both ways. The people who moved to the cities to work in the factories undoubtedly had their reasons and (given the numbers and the fact that they had an access to facts on the ground that we, seperated by a century, don’t) I think Schilling is right to say that those reasons were probably rational under the circumstances. I also don’t see any flaws in his recognition of the fact that there were always going to be some surplus people in agricultural societies regardless of how land ownership is organized.

            But if you’re arguing to give the benefit of the doubt to our great-great-grandfathers’ employment choices, then I think you need to also take their political choices seriously… and this was a cohort that embraced unions, socialism, and other forms of labor radicalism to a degree rarely seen before or since, to say nothing of the fact that they in large part wrote the very narrative that is being questioned here!

          • Jiro says:

            nil: When someone moves from the farm to the city, they immediately know whether they’re better or worse off. When someone supports a political group, the political group can promise something in the indefinite future or can ignore a bad effect of their policies that would come in the indefinite future. So trusting their judgment to work in factories isn’t really the same as trusting their judgment to support socialism.

          • nil says:

            @Jiro That would be valid enough if we were talking about polling questions or votes. But we’re talking about people who put their money where their mouths were, risking their livelihoods and safety in illegal strikes and sometimes their lives in violent action. That strikes me as a little much to attribute to the sweet nothings of outside agitators.

          • John Schilling says:

            The decision to move from farm to factory is necessarily made before one has first-hand knowledge of how bad the factory is, and once made can be difficult to reverse, so there’s not really a qualitative difference there. People anticipated that factories would make their lives better, they anticipated that unions would make their lives better, and they anticipated that socialism would make their lives better, in all cases based on foresight and educated guesswork rather than personal experience with the new plan.

            With the farm->factory decision, you don’t have to look as far into the future and relevant eyewitness testimony is more readily available, so there’s a quantitative advantage in the reliability of that decision at least.

          • Lupis42 says:

            But we’re talking about people who put their money where their mouths were, risking their livelihoods and safety in illegal strikes and sometimes their lives in violent action. That strikes me as a little much to attribute to the sweet nothings of outside agitators.

            You prove a little too much there – after all, that would be an excellent argument that all religions are true too.

            Past people had better knowledge of their current situation, and their immediate alternatives, than we do. That doesn’t mean their understanding of long run impacts was any better than ours is.

            ETA: @John Schilling
            With the farm->factory decision, you don’t have to look as far into the future and relevant eyewitness testimony is more readily available, so there’s a quantitative advantage in the reliability of that decision at least.

            For my money, there’s a much more relevant feature: people got the factories – it didn’t seem to change their priorities much, and other people sought to emulate them. People got the unions, and that didn’t seem to change their priorities much either, though there were fewer other people trying to emulate them. People got socialism, and millions died, while others risked torture and execution, and climbed over barbed wire fences trying to get away.

          • nil says:

            @Lupis42 Show me a person who is willing to fight and die for their religion, and I’ll show you a person who is deeply dissatisfied with the current situation. That doesn’t mean materially, as our contemporary middle-class Islamacist friends are happy to demonstrate–but it does mean you need some level of distress or at least anomie to set people off. It also proves out in the inverse–we live in an era where millions of people believe that we will see a serious worldwide climate catastrophe in their lifetimes. But only a tiny minority of people are willing to even spend an afternoon demonstrating to stop it, and now that the FBI has quelled ELF literally no one (at least in America) is building bombs or credibly fomenting revolution. Why? IMO, because you can’t make comfortable and content people into bomb-throwers just by telling them about the future.

            No, I think there’s two conclusions to be drawn from the actions of that era: the conditions of urban industrial labor were better than the alternatives, and they were sufficiently nasty to cause thousands of people to devote their lives to changing them and millions of people to support them in their efforts. Enough to rebut anyone who thinks the Industrial Revolution was bad for working people (which, to my understanding, does not include Marx himself, who consistently considered the transition from feudalism/aristocratic rule to capitalism/bourgeois rule to be a positive development) and enough to at least raise one argument against anyone who considers that era to be a model for the present.

          • Lupis42 says:


            @Lupis42 Show me a person who is willing to fight and die… and I’ll show you a person who is deeply dissatisfied with the current situation.
            I agree – but, as you point out, some organizations, such as ISIS, are still having some success. I think that Koresh and Heaven’s Gate both provided examples that people can be surprisingly willing to undertake crazy risks for nebulous future gain if there’s a persuasive salesman.
            In modern America, the salesmen mostly seem to have decided to go after wallets rather than uprising, and hence we see megachurches rather than Socialist demagogues, but frankly, I think that’s got more to do with the attractiveness of the televangelist lifestyle relative to the political revolutionary lifestyle, an increase in justifiable cynicism given the consequences of utopian movements.

            and they were sufficiently nasty to cause thousands of people to devote their lives to changing them and millions of people to support them in their efforts. [trimmed] and enough to at least raise one argument against anyone who considers that era to be a model for the present.

            I think that era was the best model we’ve ever seen for raising the long run prospects of humanity. It almost certainly involves trading some present aggregate utility for future aggregate utility – though how much, and over how much of a time horizon, are highly debatable. But to my mind, the consequentialist, case for that model is, first and foremost, the incredible difference in how much more numerous and better off are the descendants of places where it was pursued.

          • “You surely don’t mean that we can’t draw conclusions by seeing what people do.”

            If two groups of people are in different locations, and don’t have electronic communciations, and aren;t literate, then there are a number of barriers to “seeing”. A lot of people got a nasty shock on joining the army, and so on, as well.

      • Patrick Spens says:

        “Yeah, that sense of history is kind of wrong. The period of most unrestrained capitalism was the period in which ordinary human beings saw the greatest rise in the standard of living ever (i.e. up till that point). The very concept of “progress”, so sniffed at today, was born in that time, because that was the first time people had seen actual, tangible progress in their lives.”

        This is wrong. And I’m not talking about on the margins here. The beginning of industrialization is awful for people to go through. From 1730 – 1840 the average height of a British 20 year old dropped by 4 cm, and that didn’t recover until 1900. That’s not happening because the standard of living is going up.

        It difficult to overstate just how bad it was in the cities during early industrialization, so I’ll just mention that Liverpool had a life expectancy of 25 in 1860, and leave it at that.
        Now obviously things got better, and capitalism was a huge part of that, but there’s no reason to pretend that the beginning of industrialisation was anything other than objectively worse for most of the people involved.

        • keranih says:

          It would not be completely accurate to discuss the Industrial Revolution in the UK (and elsewhere) without including the co-mingled Agricultural Revolutions that proceeded the rise in factories and continued along with the urbanization of the population. Probably of major note was the increase of grains as dietary staple (as opposed to more fragile greens and fruits) and the population shifts, which pushed young people towards the towns, and left older people in the countryside. This change in demographics would be reflected in the vital statistics.

        • Svejk says:

          Patrick makes a good point. Additionally, there is a lot of evidence from economic history that there was a great loss of leisure time concomitant with industrialization. You get a sense for how the pace of life might have changed when you look at an old calendar or almanac and note all of the feast days and holidays that didn’t survive, or even when you look at some of the traditional European regional (not federal) holidays.
          To follow on keranih’s point, the experience of the agricultural and industrial revolutions suggest that ‘increases human happiness’ is not a necessary condition of a robust and expanding social system.
          The initial period of industrialization may have been a necessary evil to accommodate the demographic problems set in motion by the agricultural revolution, and the mode and pace of industrialization may not have been optimal.

        • Is Liverpool the right sample? The people working the most productive farms weren’t the ones migrating to the cities, it was the marginal subsistence farmers. The industrial revolution provided people who would have died after a single bad harvest with an alternative means of earning a living. Perhaps the choice was between living to 25 in Liverpool and not living at all?

    • Anon. says:

      The emergence of unions came at a time of increasing TFP growth, I think it’s extremely difficult to disentangle the two effects.

      In any case, the role of unions then and today is completely different, as is the basic economic organization of society. The situations aren’t really comparable. You can’t blame the industrial revolution for poor people; they were basically subsistence farmers before they were factory workers. Standards of living didn’t go down, the only debate to be had is about when they started going up.

      Also, I don’t think libertarians want to “dismantle” unions, they want to remove government-enforced union monopolies and compulsory membership.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      I don’t think your premise is correct. It might not come up in *your* libertarian-friendly social circles – but it’s a routine refrain in both the liberal and socialist criticisms of libertarianism I’ve seen. For instance, there was a very long and popular series on daily kos on how regulation came to be, and it was a pointed rejoinder at the “the market will provide” argument.

    • John Schilling says:

      And what we got is horrible working conditions in 7 day workweeks, child labour, a wage that was barely enough (if at all) to feed yourself and your family and so on and forth.

      You know what we didn’t get? We didn’t, for the most part, get capitalists sending thugs with guns to drag people away from their comfortable, bucolic farms and force them to work in the Dark Satanic Mills(tm). The capitalists sent their recruiters to farming communities and, without waving guns about, asked “Anyone here want to go work six long days a week in a factory for slightly-better-than-starvation wages and a chance of having their arm ripped off in the machinery?”

      To which the answer was pretty much always, “OH, GOD YES, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN THE PAST TEN THOUSAND YEARS, SIGN ME UP, PLEASE!”, repeated a million times over. Still is, in Africa and Southeast Asia and rural China, wherever capitalists are building horrid sweatshops to “exploit” the picturesque natives.

      You’ve been raised on grossly exaggerated views of how horrid nineteenth-century factories were, and equally exaggerated views of how pleasant nineteenth-century farms were. In the real world, pre-industrial farming isn’t the Shire, it isn’t Walden Pond or even Little House on the Prarie, it’s mostly a six-and-a-half day workweek (including the children) under horrid conditions with a good chance of being maimed and always being one drought or blight away from having to decide which of your children get to starve.

      The only path anyone has ever found that actually works to get from there to here, runs through a couple of generations of Dark Satanic Mills. Which tend to be worse when they are run by communists, but even then they are probably better than the farms.

      • birdboy2000 says:

        Poverty coerces as well as guns, and policy often played a huge role in creating that poverty – and the people who flooded into factories were the desperately poor.

        Then again, direct coercion into a wage labor system (quite often, as in the Congo, in producing raw materials for those early factories) and destroying the possibility of self-sufficient peasant farmers was a feature, not a bug, of imperialism.

        Ultimately, even Marx praised capitalism for raising the standard of living overall – and industrialization certainly did that, although as a socialist I do not see why industrialization requires billionaire industrialists, any more than agrarianism required nobles.

        But the road there involved no shortage of coercion, even if the story of enclosure and imperialism is told far less often than that of the gulag, and rarely connected as explicitly to the 19th-century factory.

        • John Schilling says:

          The people who flooded into factories had always been desperately poor. Except for rare and transient circumstances, e.g. the initial European settlement of North America, it is the natural state of preindustrial agrarian populations to be desperately poor for reasons quite accurately described by Thomas Malthus and valid from the dawn of civilization to the industrial revolution.

          Capitalism was not the cause of this, it was the escape from this. There is no policy for alleviating this sort of poverty other than building factories to build the stuff that will eventually make people less poor, and even that takes a good long while.

          • Zorgon says:

            “The people who flooded into factories had always been desperately poor.”

            Not actually true; see above notes about the agricultural revolution and population dynamics that were the actual thing driving marginal agricultural populations into the cities. People upped sticks to the cities in their millions because there wasn’t enough work for them in the countryside and they’d undergone decades of grinding poverty as a result. The problem wasn’t that being a farm worker was an awful life (it wasn’t), it was that most of them weren’t able to be farm workers.

            Besides that… “Desperately poor” is a relative term. Most working agricultural families were surprisingly well-off, especially compared to second-generation industrial urban families. Yes, they were very much dependent on the harvest for their wealth, but the Monty Python & The Holy Grail imagery of dirt farmers eating lice to survive is very inaccurate.

            I grew up in Merseyside and I don’t much appreciate people whitewashing the unbelievable levels of shit the industrialists inflicted on my ancestors. There are still skeletons at the bottom of the Mersey from people trying to get onto boats to get away from the “escape from poverty” you describe. I’ll accept the argument that the Industrial Revolution was necessary, but you’ll never convince me that it was good.

          • MichaelM says:

            Zorgon, the right way to think of it isn’t to look at the lifestyle people were coming from in the countryside, it’s too look at the lifestyle they would have had if they’d stayed. The industrial revolution happened concurrent with a period of demographic expansion, where brothers and sisters who would have died young survived on a marginal wage in the new factory economy. Agricultural populations had bumped up against Malthusian limits frequently in the past: It usually ended in famine, plague, and warfare reducing the population below those limits for a few generations until it all happened again.

            The change that happened in the late 18th century was that, suddenly, you DIDN’T see these periodic, mass generational die-offs. You had people who went from having ZERO quality of life (read: dead) to having very low quality of life.

            The broader point of, “We tried free markets they didn’t work!”, is best met with the same answer the communists have: No, we really didn’t. Say what you will about the USSR, but it definitely wasn’t communist, and 19th century Britain was only a free market in comparison to what we’ve got today. In reality the British state was very happy to interfere with markets when it meant favoring politically powerful constituencies (See: Combination Acts) or pursuing influential ideological goals (See: Peel’s Act).

            A libertarian might contend that they are not in favor of these kinds of things and that life would have been better for 19th century Britons if they had been able to form unions freely or freely enter the banking business.

            There’s a reason seriously committed libertarians will talk about how rare libertarian governments have been, and how even the most libertarian experiments have quickly gotten away from the original goal.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ birdboy2000
          Poverty coerces as well as guns, and policy often played a huge role in creating that poverty – and the people who flooded into factories were the desperately poor.

          I’ve seen the same argument about current logging and fishing in the Pacific Northwest: “Loggers and fishermen are leaving in droves to get away from those outdoor, dangerous jobs and work in the cities. Here are the figures.” Living here for over two decades, I’ve seen what the loggers and fishers are saying; they are trying hard to save their outdoor livelihood. They leave for cities when there are not enough fish and not enough trees.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            I think analogizing forestry policy in a functioning democracy (and hard environmental limits) to land use/rights policy in a country run by its oligarchy is a significant stretch, and I am far from convinced the move to the cities was a simple matter of malthusian limits.

            The limits on the European peasant in this period – let alone the African or Asian one under imperialism, subjected to forced labor or made to pay cash taxes (as opposed to taxes in kind, which could be met through agricultural labor) – weren’t natural. The land may have a carrying capacity, but policies like enclosure, the reaction to the Irish famine, and the Highland clearances – and that’s just some of the best known examples in one country – significantly reduced said capacity.

          • Zorgon says:

            As is mentioned above, the most pressing cause of UK population shifts in the period in question was the increasing change in farming methods. The enclosure acts and the rather twisted nature of land ownership didn’t help, but that was more in the sense of reducing the ability of the agricultural system to absorb the changes than anything else.

            People fled to the cities because it became impossible to be farm labourers. Within a generation or so, the rural UK went from having significant communities of permanent and/or transient farm labourers to one where you were a landowner or a primary tenant, or their family, or a secondary farming tradesman. Or you didn’t work.

            All at a time when increasing agricultural output was upping the population across the board. What choice was there but the cities?

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ve seen what the loggers and fishers are saying; they are trying hard to save their outdoor livelihood. They leave for cities when there are not enough fish and not enough trees.

            Same as the farmers, then. Human nature being what it is, people born in a pastoral environment will mostly chose to keep it so long as it isn’t too much worse than it was when they were growing up. And human nature being what it is, it will almost always be much worse than it was when they were growing up. Human populations, particularly preindustrial ones, grow in a way that the supply of real estate doesn’t. There are never enough trees and enough fish to maintain the Good Old Days; things keep getting worse for every generation until some great catastrophe resets the clock. Or, every once in a long while, a new opportunity arises.

            All at a time when increasing agricultural output was upping the population across the board. What choice was there but the cities?

            The same choices as always – slow starvation, or joining the army and going off to war. The growth of the industrial cities was one of those rare new opportunities. And for that matter, so was the opening of the American frontier, making the early United States doubly blessed in this regard.

      • Anonymous says:

        You know what we didn’t get? We didn’t, for the most part, get capitalists sending thugs with guns to drag people away from their comfortable, bucolic farms and force them to work in the Dark Satanic Mills(tm). The capitalists sent their recruiters to farming communities and, without waving guns about, asked “Anyone here want to go work six long days a week in a factory for slightly-better-than-starvation wages and a chance of having their arm ripped off in the machinery?”

        The enclosure acts sort of did this.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          That was landowners. They were a different group than the factory owners (and had done such actions before in the 17th century as well).

        • John Schilling says:

          The Enclosure Acts were also limited to the United Kingdom, in a way that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t. In particular, there was extensive industrial development in the 19th-century United States, even as good farmland was being handed out for free to anyone willing to actually farm it.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            The United States was also able to use peasants forced off their land through various acts of state coercion as their workforce, though – though the coercing states were the European ones and the workforce the immigrants migrating from those European states.

          • John Schilling says:

            Except that those dispossessed European peasants had the opportunity, through about 1890, to claim a plot of empty farmland at least as good as anything they had in Europe and homestead it. Which many of them did, quite successfully, and in so doing produced e.g. my mother. The ones who instead went off to the factories (and in so doing produced my father), did so by choice and with “landholding farmer” as one of the other choices.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Yes, that was a part of it, but generally, before they would go to factories and work as an industrial workforce to get money for resources they would need for their life as farmers.

            Of course, the availability of good farmland in United States was quite dependent on state violence of the other kind – namely the sort where the original inhabitants of that land would be forced off and the new settlers protected against their retribution.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Tatu Ahponen:

            Of course, the availability of good farmland in United States was quite dependent on state violence of the other kind

            True enough, but not relevant to the original question, which was “If city life was so horrific, why did people leave the farms?”

            they would go to factories and work as an industrial workforce to get money for resources they would need for their life as farmers

            If that were significant, you wouldn’t see the explosive growth of cities (in the U.S.) — the inward flow of people would be balanced by the outward flow of people who have got their grubstake and move on to sodbusting.

            To argue that the farmer’s life was superior to that of the exploited industrial worker, it seems you would have to posit some force that traps people in the city once there. I don’t say there isn’t one, but it’s starting feel like whack-a-mole here:

            Cities were hellholes!
            Then why did everybody go there?
            Enclosures: they had no choice!
            Not in the U.S.
            They went to the city to finance their farms.
            Then why didn’t they leave?

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Well, to draw it all together: You have immigrants leaving Europe for various reasons, one of them being a variety of policies making farming in European countries harder (one of them being the enclosures and other similar policies in other European countries.) While many of them move to European cities serving as an industrial workforce for European countries, others move to United States, attracted by the availability of farmland. Coming to America empty-handed, they usually work as a part of the labor force of American factories in the cities of the East Coast, but, again, for a variety of reasons, many of them do not eventually end up making the original planned trip eastwards, instead staying at the cities.

            Maybe they find love and their spouse doesn’t want to move, maybe there’s some other reason, maybe they’re only after wages (which are already higher than in Europe, because the labor has more power to negotiate their wages, one of the reasons for this being their possibility to actualize their move westwards – in other words, do the thing that was less possible in Europe due to, among other things, the Enclosures and the similar operations in other European countries which, according to Perelman, were intended to keep the urban wages down.)

            So, it’s a complicated affair, but my original point was that it’s not at all obvious that United States can be used as a counterpoint to the effect of Enclosures (etc.) on industrialization.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        “You know what we didn’t get? We didn’t, for the most part, get capitalists sending thugs with guns to drag people away from their comfortable, bucolic farms and force them to work in the Dark Satanic Mills(tm).”

        Michael Perelman’s The Invention of Capitalism begs to differ. https://www.dukeupress.edu/The-Invention-of-Capitalism/

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Have you never been told to move to Somalia?

    • Echo says:

      I’ll let other people dissect the agrarian utopia argument, but people flocked to the cities because they were tired of 7 day workweeks, universal child labour, and not-being-able-to-grow-enough-to-feed-yourself in subsistence agriculture.

      The old myth that pre-industrial civilization was better is used as an argument, but it’s so easy to refute that only agrarian socialists are foolish enough to use it.
      Basically: “we tried it, and it worked really well!

      • “We tried it and it worked really well!” is the correct answer. We can (and many researchers have) debated exactly when the industrial revolution turned into a fantastic bonanza for everyone at all levels of society. But the bonanza is undeniable, and it would be a pretty big stretch to say that what meager regulations and taxes existed were in any way responsible for it.

        In fact, it’s pretty clear that if we time traveled back to 1700 and convinced the world to adopt today’s regulations and tax rates, this whole industrial revolution thing would have been neatly nipped in the bud.

    • Patrick Spens says:

      “Is this something that is frequently brought up, but at places I don’t visit?”

      This argument is really common throughout the moderate left blogosphere, to the point where I’m so familiar with it that I had trouble understanding your question.

    • stargirl says:

      “Now, have I got my history completely wrong?”

      Yes your history is basically wrong. For a time following the Industrial revolution many countries had what you would call “unrestrained capitalism.” During this time living standards for the average person were increasing at a dramatic rate.

      It may be useful to look at the recent history of China. After Deng liberalized the economy in regions of China the jobs that appeared were often brutal. Even today working in a Chinese factory is no joke. Yet living standards in China rose by an incredible amount after Deng allowed capitalism in some regions.

      It is good to eventually instate some level of regulation and a social safety net. But you cannot do this until a country has industrialized. The wealth is not there to support such measures.

      A warning: Certain methods of “liberalizing” economies can be catastrophic. For example the “liberalization” of the Russian Economy after the fall of the Soviet Union. In practice liberalizing an economy is going to involve taking government owned assets and giving some of them to well connected people for a tiny price. Some amount of such nepotism can be endured. But if the liberalization is sufficiently nepotistic it is better to remain centrally planned.

      • Jason GL says:

        Two thoughts on industrial revolutions:

        (1) The fact that an economic change was good for a society does not prevent that change from being horrible for thousands of individuals in that society. NAFTA was great for the US economy as a whole, but if you were one of the thousands of US factory workers who lost his high-wage, high-dignity job and had to switch to working as a part-time cashier at a big box store, NAFTA really sucked. Similarly, the Industrial Revolution was great for Britain’s economy as a whole, but if you were one of the thousands of shepherds or small farmers who was pushed off of her land by changes in the nature of property or changes in the supply and demand for crops, and you had to switch from working long, moderately dangerous hours with your family in the countryside to working long, extremely dangerous hours in a cramped, smoggy boardinghouse full of strangers, then the Industrial Revolution was bad for you. It’s tempting to assume that each individual peasant would have suffered an equally bad fate even without the Industrial Revolution, but waving our hands in the general direction of Malthus isn’t enough evidence to support that assumption: there’s very little econometric data to back up Malthus’s conjecture that farming yields only improve at arithmetic (as opposed to geometric) rates. In the 1700s, Britain was making rapid improvements in the quality of its roads, sailing ships, breeding, crop rotation, civil order, and colonization. These improvements might well have been able to sustain Britain’s population growth indefinitely even if there hadn’t been a boom in coal and iron and mechanical cotton looms. It’s even more likely that these improvements would have been able to sustain Britain’s population growth for a couple of generations so as to allow for a more gradual, less disruptive industrialization process that eased the transitional burden on individual workers and families. If you think that a few hundred thousand people having a markedly worse quality of life is a totally acceptable price to pay for ushering in economic progress at the maximum possible pace, that’s fine, but we shouldn’t act like it’s *impossible* to save those 300,000ish people from having their lives ruined unless we actually have some evidence to that effect. I think it’s our responsibility to at least *try* to get things right so that a rising tide really does lift all boats, instead of just noting that the tide is a net positive for the economy as a whole and stopping the analysis there.

        (2) I frequently hear assertions that economic safety nets have to “wait” until a certain level of wealth has been achieved, but no one has ever been able to explain why. It’s obviously true that you can’t spend wealth that you don’t have, but for any given level of wealth, it seems like society ought to be able to funnel some reasonable fraction of that wealth into creating a more or less robust social safety net. Across many states and many centuries of the medieval era (presumably pre-industrial, no?), ordinary people could count on receiving a certain measure of what today we would think of as insurance or welfare from their churches, guilds, villages, and extended families. It’s not obvious to me that increasing the depth or breadth of this social safety net would have brought the medieval economy to a standstill; surely some of the wealth that the nobles spent on importing peacock feathers and nutmeg and fashioning gold and silver jewelry and hosting lavish balls and tournaments and so on could have been diverted toward feeding and sheltering people who were crippled or violently ill. There’s no particular reason to think that the level of social insurance that prevails in any given generation is “optimal” in the sense that it maximizes any kind of social utility function — the level of social insurance is probably selected politically, via processes that only dimly and imperfectly reflect what ordinary people actually want.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          @ Jason GL, in response to (2)

          I think that you are overestimating the amount of surplus a pre-industrial culture could reasonably count on. Ending up with literally “too many mouths to feed” was a serious concern until very recently in human history. Yes the elderly and the infirm could depend on a certain amount of succor from the community, but only so long as the harvest was good.

          Long story short, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You have to actually have something before you can give it to someone. The issue with social safety nets is that the productive class needs to produce enough to feed both themselves, and the non-productive if the population is to survive.

        • John Schilling says:

          surely some of the wealth that the nobles spent on importing peacock feathers and nutmeg and fashioning gold and silver jewelry and hosting lavish balls and tournaments and so on could have been diverted toward feeding and sheltering people who were crippled or violently ill

          The only thing on that list that is remotely edible is nutmeg, and I don’t think that makes for a healthy diet.

          If you have farmland that produces enough food for one million people but requires only eight hundred thousand people to farm, and you have one point two million people, two hundred thousand people are going to starve to death. At the same time, two hundred thousand people are going to have nothing better to do than to make luxury goods to enjoy, or maybe weapons to enforce a consensus decision as to exactly which quarter of a million people are going to die. A few people are going to live very well, while the masses starve. And the not-starved subset of the masses will produce another 1.2E6 people for you to deal with in the next generation.

          Nothing any of those people can possibly do, will stop two hundred thousand people from starving to death. No austerity or asceticism will change the end result, nor tearing down the rich nor any possible “safety net”. Making luxury goods and sending them off in trade for more food might, likewise making weapons and sending your excess young men off cattle-raiding or the like, but if the neighboring countries are in the same situation that just shifts around the starvation.

          Before the eighteenth century, pretty much all the nations of the world were in that situation. And if you see where they had set up some sort of a safety net, look for the fine print that says it only applies to people on the right side of the established starve/don’t-starve divide and some people aren’t invited in.

          • Jason GL says:

            “If you have farmland that produces enough food for one million people but requires only eight hundred thousand people to farm…”

            I think that’s the wrong model of agricultural productivity. Land doesn’t generate some fixed amount of food regardless of how intensively you cultivate it; rather, the more you work at improving the land, the more food it produces. Granted, you get diminishing marginal returns, which is why it makes more sense to put ten farmers on one 100-acre farm and ten farmers on the next 100-acre farm instead of all twenty farmers on the same 100-acre farm. Theoretically, the returns could diminish so much that a marginal farmer is burning more calories trying to work the land than he’s generating from it, so that the farmland would be 100% saturated with labor, but I’ve never seen any evidence that farmland in early modern Britain or Europe or America was anywhere near the saturation point.

            I’m not suggesting that the nobles should have shared their nutmeg with the peasants; I’m suggesting that the food that was used to feed the sailors and carpenters and merchants whose work was needed to import the nutmeg could have instead been used to feed additional farmers, because increasing the number of farmers would increase total food production, allowing society to feed (some more of) the indigent. Yes, some people still would have starved, especially during bad harvest years. I’m not claiming that earlier eras could have had a *perfect* social safety net, only that (a) they did in fact have a social safety net, that (b) it could have been a thicker net if the powerful people of that era had made social safety nets more of a priority, and that (c) an ultra-rapid pace of industrialization is neither necessary to nor helpful for increasing the thickness of a social safety net.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think that’s the wrong model of agricultural productivity. Land doesn’t generate some fixed amount of food regardless of how intensively you cultivate it; rather, the more you work at improving the land, the more food it produces.

            This is basically just wrong, at least for preindustrial field crop agriculture. There’s a bit of truth to it if you consider the transition from low-labor but low-productivity grazing to more labor-intensive but productive field crops. But once you’ve got the fields plowed and sowed, where is this “more you work, more food it produces” bit? One farmer can till, sow, and harvest X acres of farmland. X acres of properly tilled, sowed, and harvested farmland can produce enough food to support Y farmer. Values of X and Y depend on the type and quality of farmland, local climate, and the level of agricultural science and technology. But not on labor availability. As the first farmer is tilling, sowing, and harvesting the crops on his X acres, what is it you imagine the second farmer doing that will provide more than a tiny increase in productivity?

            If the first farmer nominally owns 2X acres, you might see a doubling of productivity when he takes on a hired hand, but that’s because you used to have one farmer working X acres and leaving another X idle, but that’s a fairly uncommon circumstance in a mature agrarian society. And a temporary one, because the farmer will probably have two sons.

            With preindustrial agriculture, food production is capped by land availability, or in some cases by water availability, no matter how much labor you throw at the problem. And almost all preindustrial civilizations pressed up against that limit almost all of the time.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            I think that’s the wrong model of agricultural productivity. Land doesn’t generate some fixed amount of food regardless of how intensively you cultivate it; rather, the more you work at improving the land, the more food it produces.

            Improve it how? I think you are assuming a level of industrial and social development that did not exist at the time.

          • nil says:

            @John Schilling If this were true, mechanization (and its antecedent, harnessing animal power in farming) wouldn’t have made the differences they did. The goal of growing crops in a temperate climate is to get your crops planted as soon as possible but not so soon you catch an late frost, and to harvest them as late as possible but not so late they catch an early one. Making hay has a very similar dynamic play out throughout the summer, as you want the cut grass to have sufficient time to dry, but if it gets rained on it loses most or all of its value as food. More labor means less time harvesting/sowing, which means you can navigate those challenges much more effectively.

          • John Schilling says:

            More labor means less time harvesting/sowing, which means you can navigate those challenges much more effectively.

            Where this is the limiting factor, and it usually isn’t, it’s an argument for migrant farm labor that follows the seasonal variations. There’s still a hard limit on productivity per acre, and a hard limit on the amount of labor that can be profitably devoted to an acre. Most pre-industrial economies were clever enough to allocate their resources so as to approach both limits at the same time, including the use of migrant labor where appropriate.

            And while my comments were explicitly limited to pre-industrial agriculture, mechanization per se mostly reduced labor per acre rather than increasing productivity per acre. If that were all there was to it, then the balance would shift from 800,000 farmers plus 200,000 luxury-goods craftsmen plus 200,000 starving in the streets, to 200k/800k/200k respectively, for a huge net gain in luxury goods with no increase in starvation (avoidable or otherwise).

            As it turns out, mechanization came hand in hand with e.g. artificial fertilizers and mechanical irrigation pumps, things which cause an absolute increase in productivity. Partly because the category of “luxury goods craftsmen” is broad enough to include various scientists and inventors, which we now had four times as many of.

          • nil says:

            @John Schilling Ah, I misunderstood you–I was just trying to note that farming is a lot more complicated and labor intensive that your synopsis indicated, but reading upthread your level of abstraction was appropriate for what you were talking about. I’m not nearly as sure that premodern societies routinely abutted the limit as you seem to be (what about the topsoil!?), but that’s a little more outside of my expertise.

          • Jason GL says:

            @John Schilling re:

            “There’s still a hard limit on productivity per acre, and a hard limit on the amount of labor that can be profitably devoted to an acre…But once you’ve got the fields plowed and sowed, where is this “more you work, more food it produces” bit?…With pre-industrial agriculture, food production is capped by land availability, or in some cases by water availability, no matter how much labor you throw at the problem.”

            I respectfully disagree with your logic. As I’ve acknowledged, there is at least theoretically a limit on the productivity of agricultural land, but I believe there were all kinds of things that Europeans using 16th-century technology could have done to radically improve their total agricultural output.

            For starters, the acreage under cultivation is not at all constant over time — when demand for food goes up, people start cultivating more mediocre farmland that would otherwise have been used as pasture or even left wild.

            If water is a limiting factor, you can build wells, canals, cisterns, terraces, aqueducts, etc. to help get the water where it needs to go, and you can employ more people in literally carrying water in buckets to help irrigate high-value crops.

            If fertilizer is a limiting factor, you can be more careful about recycling human and animal waste, and you can employ more people in transporting urban ‘night soil’ to rural farms.

            You can build fences that deter the deer from eating your vegetables, you can hunt down the wolves that are preying on your sheep, you can tinker with different strains and seeds to get crops that are better-adapted for your particular soil, you can set people to work breeding and feeding larger and stronger oxen so that your plows get pulled more efficiently, and you can invest in better forges and mines and blacksmiths’ shops so that your plows get built more efficiently. You can build houses and lodges that are more conveniently located to the various places where laborers have to do the farmwork so that they don’t waste so much time hiking back and forth, and you can build the houses up sturdier so that they keep out the cold better and you don’t waste so many calories shivering. You can tend orchards and groves that take a hundred years to fully mature so that you have apples and peaches and figs to eat, and you can build smokehouses and saltworks so that you can preserve some of the (cheaper) food grown in the summer and eat some of it during the more expensive winter.

            The Malthusian idea is that you will do *very nearly all* of these things, and then press up against the hard limits of agricultural productivity, and then start a war that kills off the surplus population *because* you can’t afford to feed all your teenagers.

            Adam Smith’s idea is that no society ever gets a chance to do even half of these things, because humans are intemperate, passionate creatures who will start *economically unnecessary wars* on a regular basis because of religion or ethnic pride or just sheer bloody-minded aggression. Plus you’ve also got all kinds of plagues and earthquakes and floods and so on that just happen to wreck society all by themselves, irrespective of the land’s carrying capacity. I’m with Smith.

      • “During this time living standards for the average person were increasing at a dramatic rate.”

        Judged by income rather than QALYs presumably.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          By QALYs as well.

          See micheal M’s comment above…

          • It’s well known that adult health declined in the early industrial revolution, so MichaelM’s point can only work in infant mortality is factored in. However, high infant mortality in the country doesn’t imply low infant mortality in the city.

            “The urbanisation which accompanied the industrial revolution of the 19th Century accelerated the spread of these contagious diseases. Epidemics thriving in the squalor, malnutrition, and overpopulation of slums and prisons radiated out across towns and cites meaning that life expectancy in the Victorian metropolises became especially dire. Disease was a large factor in Manchester’s 60% death rate for working class children under 5, while in London the average life expectancy for a labourer was just 22. Even in the 20th Century, pandemics could spiral out of control. The 1918 flu pandemic for example is thought to have killed up to 50 million people, or 3% of the world’s population at the time.”

          • To TheAncientGeek: Poor health is not synonymous with declining health.

    • blacktrance says:

      The Gilded Age wasn’t a time of laissez-faire – there were significant government interventions that helped Big Business: tariffs, subsidies, and so on.

      • MichaelM says:

        And the 800 pound gorilla that was government involvement in money and banking. The dramatic swings in financial and economic conditions in the United States during this era weren’t natural, they were the result of policy-makers designing a monetary system that was really good at funding the state and federal governments and not so good at adjusting to private swings in the demand for money.

        For all that the US can be held up as a free market utopia in its first century and a half (something that is difficult to do in any fine grain detail, granted), the US has NEVER had free market banking and money provision. The state governments got involved right from the get-go in the late 18th and early 19th century and the Federal government just followed the trend in during and after the Civil War.

        We’ve gotten rid of regulations just recently in the 1990’s that had otherwise been around since the very beginning of this country’s history when it comes to banking.

        • “We’ve gotten rid of regulations just recently in the 1990’s that had otherwise been around since the very beginning of this country’s history when it comes to banking.”

          I think the laws you’re referring to are unit banking laws, correct? For the uninitiated, these laws prevented banks from opening multiple branches (or in some cases, from branching across state lines). They were basically laws against diversification. We had no such laws in Canada, and the Canadian banking system has been much more stable as a result. Canada had a whopping zero bank failures during the Great Depression.

          Nonetheless, America’s success during its first 1.5 centuries shows us that a stable banking system isn’t a necessary condition for rapid growth. But maybe it would have been dramatically better without frequent bank panics? Counterfactuals are hard to construct.

    • Saul Degraw says:

      What I’ve noticed about liberals and libertarians is that they will argue differences over why things changed and will do so until blue in the face.

      Let’s look at child labor. There are not many people who say that child labor is good anymore except maybe a few people on the ideological extremes. The big difference is about how people constructive the narrative of why child labor ended.

      Liberals like me argue that child labor ended because of public outcry and government regulation and a growing sense of morality and ethics that children belong in school and not working in dirty and dangerous factories for 10-14 hour days for very low wages.

      I’ve known libertarians who will argue that child labor is morally wrong but insist that it only ended because of technological changes and advancements that made it no longer economically necessary or economic sense to employ children at low wages.

      Maybe they are right or maybe they are acting with a high amount of motivated reasoning so they don’t have to admit that government law and regulation can have a positive effect on human life. Maybe both. It seems to me that humans are endlessly capable of saying “Event X happened or did not happen because of my preferred ideological reasons” rather than being able to admit “Maybe the liberals were right about this one.”

      • Anonymous says:

        An argument for the libertarian side: isn’t it funny that child labor existed for the entirety of history before the Industrial Revolution, and that it being outlawed just happened to coincide with the rising wealth and living standards afforded by this new technology? If it were just down to morality and ethics, why didn’t these come into play centuries or millennia before to prevent children from having to work in agrarian societies?

        • unsafeideas says:

          “If it were just down to morality and ethics, why didn’t these come into play centuries or millennia before to prevent children from having to work in agrarian societies?”

          A child working on family lawn in an agrarian society is learning things he or she will need as an adult. The child is growing into healthy normal adult with bright future.

          The child who is working 10-14 hours a day in a factory is learning one simple task (sew buttons) and will grow into illiterate adult with no trade or special skill to keep himself employed as an adult. That is a problem in a world where illiterate adults with no trade have future practically only in criminal system.

          It is not just a wealth or morality and ethics. It is also “how does that child fit into society we are likely to have 10 years down the road” and the answer for 10-14 hours factory working child is “it does not fit in at all and gonna be a trouble”.

          • John Schilling says:

            If that’s the standard, then what’s the problem with child labor again?

            In an agrarian society, children are forced to spend ten hours a day doing hard boring stuff because, in addition to getting some useful work done on the farm, they learn the skills for the job they will likely hold for the rest of their life. This is considered tolerable if not laudable.

            In an early industrial society, children are forced to spend ten hours a day doing hard boring stuff because, in addition to getting some useful work done in the factory, they learn the skills for the job they will likely hold for the rest of their life. And they get paid for it.

            In a late industrial society, children are forced to spend ten hours a day doing hard boring stuff, none of it at all useful and for zero or negative pay, in order to learn the skills for the job they will likely hold for the rest of their life. This is considered laudable.

            So the one unambiguously evil plan of the three, all else being equal, is the one where the kids are doing something useful and getting paid for it? I’m thinking, if this is really the standard we are going to use, the definition of “labor” is looking mighty arbitrary, and all three paths are laudable iff you have correctly determined what the child is likely to be doing for the rest of its life.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            How is learning simple tedious repetitive tailoring tasks in a factory less relevant to general adult life than learning simple tedious repetitive farming tasks on a farm?

          • Jiro says:

            In a late industrial society, children are forced to spend ten hours a day doing hard boring stuff, none of it at all useful and for zero or negative pay, in order to learn the skills for the job they will likely hold for the rest of their life. This is considered laudable.

            In the late industrial society, precisely because spending hours in school and doing homework is not useful, a conflict of interest that is present in the earlier cases is missing. Factory owners profit from making things worse for the kids. Schools don’t (except to the degree that school administrators get paid for running schools at all–they don’t profit on a per-homework-page basis.)

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        “There are not many people who say that child labor is good anymore except maybe a few people on the ideological extremes.”


        The current minimum age is 9 (Oregan for berry picking), with 10 being the lowest for general labor (Illinois). So depending on where you draw the line it is technically still allowed (especially with illegals).

        Really young kids aren’t used anymore, but some of the jobs they did no longer exist (since we don’t need to have them open doors in mine shafts and the like). It is possible there are jobs were it would still be useful to hire them, but outside of acting, I can’t think of any that pay better than just using an adult.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      I wouldn’t say that you have your history completely wrong, but I do think that you are underestimating just how bad it was before.

      Those horrible working conditions, 7 day workweeks, child labour, etc… still represented a massive improvement over being a serf. As P. George Stewart said: The period of most unrestrained capitalism was the period in which ordinary human beings saw the greatest rise in the standard of living ever (i.e. up till that point)…

    • I can vouch that people sometimes ever make the “been tried and didn’t work” argument against Libertarians, because I do.

    • I haven’t seen it made often, but if you’ll excuse a little self-promotion I basically do make this argument – all the big ideologies have failed when applied in a purist sense. Probably you’d have to say capitalism has the smallest body count of the three twentieth century big guns, but its still failing to prevent fairly catastrophic environmental damage, or prevent monopolies with close ties to state interests. I think we should be looking for creative new political ideas and trialing them in a cautious way. For my own two cents I write a little about applying stricter market forces to a form of cooperativism, and more recently I wrote an article calling for applying a detailed separation powers to the economic sphere (instead of just the political separation of powers we have now). I think in more mainstream quarters something sort of like this is expressed in the skepticism about “ideology” in general in conventional centrist and centre-left politics, but I can’t remember seeing it as a detailed historical argument.

  6. FacelessCraven says:

    So, Most people here are familiar with the phrase “Cthulhu always swims left”. It’s an interesting and scary idea, and thinking of examples that lend support to it seems pretty trivial. What I’m curious about is, what’s the best counter-argument? What’s the best evidence available that the shift leftward is localized, situational, or counterbalanced by other shifts to the right?

    • TheFrannest says:

      I am not. I googled it. I am still not. What does it mean? Does it just equate leftism with Cthulhu? Lovecraft of course would agree but I don’t see the point of the analogy.

      • OldLamps says:

        Basically it just means that leftward shifts in politics aren’t constant or dramatic, but they’re irreversible.

        • TheFrannest says:

          Well, the division into left/right is oversimplified to begin with. Was the Soviet Union left or right socially?

          Communism is of course leftist, and the Soviet Union spearheaded no-fault divorce, abortion, equal rights for women. On the other hand, the Soviets condemned homosexuality as perversions of the bourgeoise, an argument so prevalent that it is entrenched in Russia even today, oppressed various ethnicities, and after defeating an empire built on antisemitism immediately switched to being the world’s main antisemites.

          As for social liberalism, people just aren’t likely to go back to hatred of groups they stopped hating, there needs to be some sort of a reason for this to occur, additionally, people are extensively memetically innoculated against intolerance due to handy examples of one German hobbyist artist.

          Methinks that people will swing more rightward due to the refugee crisis.

          • Phil says:

            IIRC Soviet society might have claimed sexual equality, but was in reality incredibly sexist nonetheless, more so than (say) the US of the time was.

          • Viliam says:

            I guess the Soviet version was more or less “both men and women are equally slaves of the system”. 😛

            Some of that was coincidentally aligned with some Western ideas of equality. For example, the system required both men and women to work as much as possible; no stay-at-home moms were allowed. Of course if you need someone to work, you also need to educate them, therefore equal education.

            Essentially, those forms of sexism which were seen as a burden on economy were removed. (Women were allowed to study and work.) Those forms of sexism which were seen as helpful for the economy remained. (Women were told it’s their duty to reproduce… after they return home from the factory… and then they were told to put their kids in the kindergarten and hurry back to the factory.)

          • TheFrannest says:


            Not quite so. Many outside accounts of Soviet gender inequality come from seeing people work physical labor and thus concluding that Soviets overwork women.


            Nonetheless, the USSR provided very good maternity leave, for example. That is on top of the guaranteed 24 day-long paid vacation.

            Women WERE told it’s their duty to reproduce because the population was devastated by wars and internal struggles.

          • Phil says:

            Attitudes to pain relief during birth (which appear to have mostly boiled down to: no you can’t have any) also implies that women had very little real political power in the Soviet system.

            (Admittedly my source for all this is mostly Francis Spufford’s “Red Plenty“, so may be biased, but it fits with bits and pieces that I’ve read elsewhere – that the Soviets liked to talk about gender equality, but women still had to do all the child rearing & the housework in addition to the expectation that they held down a full time job.)

        • Ciarán says:

          Aha! Okay, I think a lot of whether or not policies are irreversible depends on the specific kinds of institutions in place, as well as public opinion. The leftiness or rightiness of a policy doesn’t seem to matter.

          The United States in general has a hard time repealing any bill of any kind, once there is a slice of the population that benefits from it. A sufficient chunk of Senators opposing something pretty much leads to a roadblock, that’s as far as you can go. Same thing with the House or the President… If anyone has reason to oppose change, it won’t happen. Badly designed welfare program that benefits the poor? Unneccesary military base that employs a bunch of folks? Both are equally devilish to get rid of the States.

          A lot of this stems from the US’s philosophy of the vetting of bad laws. The founders wanted to keep bad laws/any laws down by preemptively vetting them: Having a strict constitution, and having various different veto players act as checks and balances.

          That doesn’t hold true for all democracies, pretty much just republican ones. Parliamentary governments operate under an understanding of retroactive vetting of laws. In Canada or Britain, if you want to pass a law, you just kinda… Do. Even if the government is a minority, the number of veto players is very small. This seems to be a better system, in larger part because a lot of the dumb parts of policies only become apparent once they are put into practice.

          While the US has been stuck with badly implemented policies that eternally accumulate forever and ever, even under normative spending-slashers like Reagan, parliamentary regimes have been able to consistently and effectively trim fat. Not talking about whether Thatcher’s reforms were good or not, just looking at her ability to implement them… Holy shit, that woman got things done. Something similar happened in the 90s in Canada. With the left of centre government in charge, there was a massive reduction in the government spending that had accumulated back in the 70s.

          http://www.amazon.com/The-Once-Future-King-Government/dp/1594037930 (How do I format links? I’m a bit of a newbie for comments here.) F.H. Buckely’s The Once and Future King is a really great look at the differences in political institutions can create, looking at Canada, the UK and the US, and with data from around the world.

          The big exception to a political institutionalist analysis of it would be ‘sacred cows,’ policies that are broadly popular enough that even governments that aren’t subject to veto actors don’t want to mess with. But if a policy is sufficiently popular, it’s going to be nigh on impossible to get rid of anyways.

          So, a summary: It’s not necessarily that moves to the left are irreversible, it’s that most policies end up being irreversible in the US. This doesn’t hold true for places that have different institutions.

          Edit: Minor change in wording.
          Edit 2: Added a summary.

    • OldLamps says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone dispute it directly — but if you’re a leftist, all that means is, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. Leftists think Cthulhu is inevitably swimming toward Star Trek: The Next Generation, and they’re thrilled about it.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        I remembered having read that, but looking at it again, I’m pretty sure I never made it all the way through. Thanks for pointing me back to it.

    • Anatoly says:

      Typical examples of Cthluhu moving rightward cited in the US are the Clinton welfare reform, the deregulation of banks, the rising income and wealth inequality.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      From a cultural perspective, no. Women’s lib, civil rights, gay rights, abortion, sex lib – all areas in which the left is triumphing. From an economic perspective, though, one could argue against it. The British Conservatives have privatised Royal Mail, for example, which was publicly owned for hundreds of years.

      Neoreactionaries tends to be enthusiasts for capitalism and often seem to skirt around the fact that people at the forefront of advancing cultural progressivism are closer to Milton Friedman than Karl Marx.

      • TheFrannest says:

        My observations are that neoreactionaries are not generally for anything, they are against.

        • Anonymous says:

          Expound, please?

          • TheFrannest says:

            Basically, NRs believe that the left is wrong, therefore the converse of anything they perceive as the left is right. That leads to not having consistent policies on anything and being a really weird mix of authoritarians and hardcore libertarians. Authoritarianism is good, but despite that free healthcare is bad because it is leftist. Political correctness is bad and censorship because someone’s sensibilities are offended is bad, but Putin’s laws against gay propaganda are pretty much what we need to do. They extensively flip-flop on Israel v Palestine in any audience where they cannot afford to say “Why don’t we drop a nuke there and kill ALL the stinky brown people in the area?” We must discard all emotion and build our society according to the findings of science… oh, wait, what are these? Not that! That is where science was infiltrated by leftism and that science is wrong, tainted science.

          • Anonymous says:

            Basically, NRs believe that the left is wrong, therefore the converse of anything they perceive as the left is right.

            Can you provide any actual examples of any NRxer stating something to this effect? I’ve not encountered such a viewpoint there, but rather a) that the opposite of insanity is still insanity, and b) anyone being wrong on *everything* is incredibly implausible.

            That leads to not having consistent policies on anything and being a really weird mix of authoritarians and hardcore libertarians.

            No consistent policies is a result of neoreactionaries being people from all over the place who found that the dominant elite viewpoints diverged markedly from observable reality. They don’t have any unified leadership, or dogma. Most are busy picking away at their particular bone in the leftist skeleton closet that they know most about.

            Consider the case of the traditionalist Christians and the red-pill pick-up artists. They hate each others guts, but are under the same neoreactionary umbrella. They have different goals, certainly, and very different ideas on what they should be doing, but they’re united in their overlapping area of interest (human sexuality and courtship mores) and their agreement in how things actually work (as opposed to the common leftist view).

            Authoritarianism is good, but despite that free healthcare is bad because it is leftist.


            Political correctness is bad and censorship because someone’s sensibilities are offended is bad, but Putin’s laws against gay propaganda are pretty much what we need to do.

            How is “you shouldn’t censor THIS, you should censor THAT” inconsistent? AFAIK, neoreactionaries are basically in favour of Singapore-style censorship to keep peace and quell social unrest.

            They extensively flip-flop on Israel v Palestine in any audience where they cannot afford to say “Why don’t we drop a nuke there and kill ALL the stinky brown people in the area?”

            Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even relevant to leftism/non-leftism?

            We must discard all emotion and build our society according to the findings of science… oh, wait, what are these? Not that! That is where science was infiltrated by leftism and that science is wrong, tainted science.

            If you mean social science, then yes, it is heavily infiltrated, barely replicates at all, and should be distrusted by default (as Scott does a great job of irregularly pointing out in his analysis of studies). Hard sciences are still doing pretty well.

            Like John Sidles, I think you’re rounding off to the nearest cliche without properly considering the overall matter. If nothing else, you should read Scott’s own anti-reactionary FAQ; Scott thinks, at least, that the neoreactionaries have plenty of valid points, even if he disagrees with them in the end.

          • Basically, NRs believe that the left is wrong, therefore the converse of anything they perceive as the left is right.

            Can you provide any actual examples of any NRxer stating something to this effect?

            “2. Right is right and left is wrong.”


          • Anonymous says:

            “2. Right is right and left is wrong.”


            That’s not exactly what I meant. I know the general heuristic is that the left is wrong, and the right is right. This is subtly different from TheFrannest’s statement:

            NRs believe that the left is wrong, therefore the converse of anything they perceive as the left is right.

            Unless we’re talking about some Platonic Ideal of Leftism/Rightism.

          • Jiro says:

            Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even relevant to leftism/non-leftism?

            In the USA, yes, and elsewhere, it’s often “no” only because everyone in the country has the same view on it, rather than because they have different views but the views are not distributed based on politics.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >In the USA, yes, and elsewhere, it’s often “no” only because everyone in the country has the same view on it,

            And unless the country’s name is Israel, it’s usually a Pro-Palestine position.

          • Anonymous says:


            Anissimov has been disowned by the other active big names in neoreaction. I am not familiar enough to tell you whether his VIEWS are still similar or identical to neoreaction.

          • HlynkaCG says:


            Although Anonymous already addressed the bulk of your post, I it necessary to address a critical point of order.

            Free healthcare isn’t bad because it is leftist. Free healthcare is bad because TANSTAAFL. This also explains NRx opposition to wealth redistribution schemes in general.

          • Is there anyone who really thinks free healthcare is free in some platonic sense, and not in some cost-spreading sense?

          • Asterix says:

            Ask yourself if the people you’re speaking for would say, Yes, that’s it, that’s what we’re about.

            If not, you aren’t describing them, but something you’ve constructed to take their place. In this case, a more repulsive and easier to loathe version.

            Nobody on the right (or left) has proposed that we nuke Israel.

            Try Scott’s principle of charity. Not just nicer, way more likely to be accurate.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @BDSixsmith – “From a cultural perspective, no. Women’s lib, civil rights, gay rights, abortion, sex lib – all areas in which the left is triumphing.”

        For me, the cultural shift leftward is the scary part of the argument, and thus it’s the part I’m looking for counterexamples of. It seems pretty obvious to me that abortion and gay rights are here to stay. On the other hand, gun control seems to be pretty dead, and while public education still enjoys massive government largesse, it seems likely to me that it’s going to have to change drasticly and soon. Neither resulty would, I think, be predicted by an unbounded leftward creep.

        Most of what makes the Leftward Shift such a scary idea is a fear that it never stops, which implies either a dystopian future or social collapse. If it stops at a reasonable point, and I find myself increasingly convinced that it does, then winding down the culture war is possible.

        • TheFrannest says:

          Gun control being dead heavily depends on the country. I mean, most of Europe successfully disarmed themselves, to varied results. The US is a unique case because of the right to arm bears.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I’m mainly thinking of the US here, since it’s where I live… but gun control is pretty dead in Canada as well, it seems to me. A national regiustry was attempted, met with mass civil disobediance, and abandoned. I’ve seen no indication that any further measures have been tried since. Likewise, it seems to me that unless you have complete abolition or are making active progress toward it, gun culture can adapt and grow. I would not be surprised if it recovers in Austrailia, for instance.

          • Echo says:

            I was actually going to mention the cancelled registry. It was the first example that came to mind of a left-wing policy that was successfully fought against and repealed, despite the usual “it’s-inevitable-and-you’re-on-the-wrong-side-of-history” rhetoric.

            I think the counter-argument is that “sometimes the left overreaches, and has to wait a few years”.
            The idea being that conservatives are fighting an eternal rearguard action without any realistic goals of their own. So the only outcomes are “slow defeat” and “fast defeat”.
            Someone please correct me if I’m misinterpreting their theories.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Echo – “I think the counter-argument is that “sometimes the left overreaches, and has to wait a few years”.”

            At what point does it stop being a few years? If Canada attempts registry again, why would things go differently the second time around? It seems to me that the trends are against them; black rifles are normalized now, even in Canada, and the long-term decline in violence seems pretty lethal to the core gun control position.

          • Echo says:

            It follows if you see the resistance to gun control as a localized one that will be surrounded and swallowed up by left advances in other areas.
            In twenty years it will be a lot harder to defend owning guns when you’re not allowed to drive your own car or print unapproved items on your 3d printer.

            My counter-argument’s basically just question begging, because inevitable leftward swimming is in the premise.

            Hmm, gonna have to do some thinking to get to the root of it.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Echo – “In twenty years it will be a lot harder to defend owning guns when you’re not allowed to drive your own car or read chemistry books without a permit.”

            …We can’t drive our own cars without a permit now. And do you think permitting for chemistry books is at all likely?

            Another thought: It seems pretty obvious that Academia has had a powerful effect in pushing society toward the left. Do you think Academia will still exist in its current form in, say, twenty years?

          • Echo says:

            Sorry, I changed the second example to avoid an in-joke and possible confusion about the “permit” bit.
            I meant “you can’t drive your car at all, because it isn’t allowed to have a steering wheel”.

            And have you seen the fights on wikipedia about including technical information about weapons/explosives? Or the recent “technical drawings of guns count as arms for committing ITAR felonies” issue? “Dangerous information” isn’t going to last long on the modern internet.

            The 3d printer example is a lot more direct, since it’s already happening.

          • J says:

            @FacelessCraven re Chemistry books

            I think Echo was referring to the clampdown on things like round bottom glassware: https://theboard.byu.edu/questions/67365/

            And the tendency of officials to raid home chem labs:

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Echo – “The idea being that conservatives are fighting an eternal rearguard action without any realistic goals of their own. So the only outcomes are “slow defeat” and “fast defeat”.”

            Again, I think the evidence is against that. Concealed carry has swept the nation. Full-auto capability is now cheaply and easily available, and suppressors are well on their way to being normalized. The idea that the NFA might be dramatically revised is starting to look politically feasible in a decade or two. The supreme court has ruled in favor of a personal right. None of this seems compatible with slow defeat.

            “I meant “you can’t drive your car at all, because it isn’t allowed to have a steering wheel”.”

            I think we’re at least a few decades off from that point. Moreover, I’m not sure it’s actually a bad idea. Car crashes kill a TON of people.

            “And have you seen the fights on wikipedia about including technical information about weapons/explosives?”

            I haven’t, but it seems pretty clear to me that the Internet as a whole routes around censorship of that type very, very easily.

            “Or the recent “technical drawings of guns count as arms for committing ITAR felonies” issue?”

            Never heard of this. more information/link?

            “Dangerous information” isn’t going to last long on the modern internet.”

            Really? I find this pretty difficult to believe.

            “The 3d printer example is a lot more direct, since it’s already happening.”

            Last I saw, people were printing AR lowers, complete single-shot guns, and even a laser-sintered 1911. What progress has been made in controlling printed weapons? Is 3D-printing control a thing now?

            @J – “I think Echo was referring to the clampdown on things like round bottom glassware”

            …well, those links fulfill my outrage quota for the day. Still, that “clampdown” seems pretty directly related to the war on drugs. How confident are you that the WoD is still going to be a thing in another two or three decades?

          • Kevin C. says:

            To support Echo’s position, I point to this in the Washington PostThe NRA will fall. It’s inevitable.

            To sum it up, being pro-gun-rights is basically a (rural) white thing, so given our demographic trajectory, it is inevitable that gun control supporting non-whites (and urbanites) will come to outnumber and politically overcome those dwindling bitter-clinger rednecks.

        • LTP says:

          I think this is a misleading phrase. What is “right” and “left” socially is always relative and changing, and those terms don’t even really mean much prior to the enlightenment. Besides, prior social norms seem to be retroactively defined as “right” given enough time no matter what, giving the mere illusion that we are always to the left of the past (even though cross-temporal comparisons of right and left are somewhat dubious in my view).

      • Anonymous says:

        “people at the forefront of advancing cultural progressivism are closer to Milton Friedman than Karl Marx.”

        Are they? Really? Really?

        • Echo says:

          Of course they are. Don’t you remember all Friedman’s quotes about the evils of liberal bourgeois markets?

        • Spaghetti Lee says:

          To tease that out a little, I think he meant something like “The ruling liberal/neo-liberal/capitalist class is perfectly fine with gay rights, women’s rights, and other anti-discrimination-rooted leftist goals, because they don’t interfere with the production of capital. If anything, they benefit it by creating a larger worker pool and allowing for the illusion of egalitarianism. Left-wing economic goals like the overthrow of the ownership class and worker self-determination do interfere with profits.”

          This isn’t exactly a new idea. One thing that’s always bugged me about neoreactionaries is they rarely distinguish between white-collar professional urban elite liberals and economically radical working class proletarian liberals. Like they’re either the same, or one group is a puppet of the other, or Jane Doe who listens to NPR and drinks her latte with extra milk is as hardcore communist as Karl himself*. It’s all just part of that big Cathedral. In my experience, the latter group hates the former group and wants to topple them just as badly as they do the capitalist class. I don’t blame the NrXers, though, because anything close to an actual communist is an endangered species in America.

          This is where America’s conflation of liberal and leftist really shows the stretch marks, in my opinion. And the lack of a homegrown landed aristocracy probably distorts the ways American conservatives think about class and society relative to their European counterparts in more ways than I can imagine.

          *-To the extent that those sorts of people have an economic agenda, it appears to be “We should help the poor, but not in a way that’s inconvenient for or guilt-inducing to me.” So the right-wingers harp on them for the former, the left-wingers for the latter, and both claim that Latte Jane is an emblem of the other side’s cultural hegemony.

          • Echo says:

            I think they just write off all ten to fifteen economically radical working class proletarian liberals as insignificant, and lump “decent hard-working trade unionists” in with all the other groups betrayed by our ruling elite.

          • BD Sixsmith says:

            Thanks. That was what I meant. (Though I should be clear that by “people” I don’t mean “all people”.)

          • Anonymous says:

            @BD Sixsmith

            Even so, to me it seems that this only works if ‘at the forefront of advancing’ is taken to mean ‘indifferent to’.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        I think the very fact that capitalism is today seen as a right-wing idea is evidence for the tremendous left-ward shift that has occured over the last two centuries. Two hundred years ago, liberals (i.e. proponents of something close to free market capitalism) were on the left of the political spectrum, while people on the right were in favour of traditional aristocratic privileges, monarchy, etc. and looked down on the money-grubbing merchants. People who hold these same classical liberal positions on the economy today are considered to be on the right, while people who still hold the old right-wing positions are now beyond the pale.

        people at the forefront of advancing cultural progressivism are closer to Milton Friedman than Karl Marx

        Something like half the demands that Marx and Engels made in the Communist Manifesto have been realised throughout the developed world. Most people today, even on the right, unquestioningly accept the existence of progressive taxation, central banking, or universal and “free” schooling. Compared to that, what major demands of Friedman have been realised?

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            That is a good point. However, you also have to consider that American men still have to sign up for selective service, and a draft might be reinstated at any time. Since the US hasn’t fought any major wars since then, it is difficult to say whether the absence of the draft will last.

          • John Schilling says:

            The only significant support for military conscription in the United States, and it is small, comes mostly from the Blue side of the fence on fairness, social engineering, and maybe-this-will-get-you-warmongers-to-stop starting-wars grounds. The actual US Army is pretty clear about not wanting draftees ever again, on account of draftees weren’t exactly the recipe for victory in Vietnam and war has become much more of a technical specialists’ game in the decades since. There’s no “…unless it’s a really big war” exception to that, either. At any scale, conscripts are an impediment to the US Army’s warfighting doctrine.

            And the vestigial selective-service registration system, is essentially irrelevant. It contains almost none of the information necessary to actually select people for military service – probably by design, because it was created in 1980 by a Democratic administration and congress as a way of playing a “yes, we are serious about national defense” card at essentially zero cost. It will remain in place for decades more to come because removing it would mean sending a (weak) “OK, so now we are soft on national defense” message for essentially zero gain, but it is inconsequential. In the extremely unlikely event that an actual draft is reinstated, we’d have to compile an actual selection list from other databases that actually include relevant data.

          • brad says:

            I agree. It is remarkable how fast we come to a broad national consensus against military drafts. Though you do from time to time see people float ‘national service’ proposals.

        • “I think the very fact that capitalism is today seen as a right-wing idea is evidence for the tremendous left-ward shift that has occurred over the last two centuries.”

          Only where “capitalism” means something like “pure capitalism” or “continually deregulate the markets” or “there is a free market solution to everything”. If it means “you have to have a private sector” or “the state can’t do everything” or “there is a free market solution to some things” then “capitalism” is now standard doctrine on the left, to the extent hat anyone who disagrees with any of the previous three claims advertises themselves as a dangerous radical…eg Corbyn.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I easily get frustrated with the left’s naive view of capitalism, but the left is much more accepting of market forces today than they were 50 years ago.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            I was specifically talking about classical liberalism, which typically is in favour of some state institutions and a little bit of regulation, but is for the most part in favour of laissez-faire. That position was considered left-wing two hundreds years ago and is now considered right-wing.

    • birdboy2000 says:


      Although admittedly, the people making statements like “cthulhu always swims left” tend to be far less concerned about privatization or worsening economic inequality than about… I guess what they’d call maintaining a traditionalist mode of non-economic social relations, although I’m not familiar enough with NRX thought to know exactly the words they would use. (My own terminology for their priorities would not be kind, and I can’t say for sure if it’s true, so I will bite my tongue there.)

      • Which is a nice way of saying that it is based on selective evidence.

      • Jiro says:

        Although admittedly, the people making statements like “cthulhu always swims left” tend to be far less concerned about privatization or worsening economic inequality

        “Cthulhu swims left” means that political opinion moves to the left. Worsening economic inequality is not a political opinion. What to do about worsening economic inequality is a political opinion, but that has indeed swum to the left after all.

    • Viliam says:

      First, we should have a working definition of what kind of change is a “shift”, and what is “left” and “right”. Then we should choose some space-time boundaries in human history, collect all “shifts”, classify them as “left” or “right” and compare the numbers. That would be a proper research.

      Otherwise we are just cherry-picking; two sides building two heaps of cherries. Even if one heap is larger, it doesn’t necessarily prove anything beyond that the group who collected them worked harder.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I think the definition problem is a major hurdle, which nobody seems to bother trying to jump. So much depends on what you decide to call right-wing and left-wing.

        Are eugenics left-wing? It was certainly Progressive, endorsed by no less than John Maynard Keynes. Prohibition was also a Progressive project at the time, and that was repealed (and is modern prohibition of marijuana left or right? What about cigarettes? What about big gulps?) What do we make of the left’s so-far failed push to normalize pedophilia in the 70s? How left-win are former communist countries compared to back when they were communist?

        • Anonymous says:

          Despite some objections I received last time I said this, which I found helpful in defining my position but did not persuade me of it being wrong, I continue to assert that the main difference between left and right is that left-wing is about being outwardly and obviously nice, right-wing is about being mean in the short term to bring out beneficial side effects and/or long-term consequences that outweigh the short-term meanness for a net gain. When a left-wing idea is wrong it’s wrong because the idea has negative consequences which more than outweigh the niceness of it. When a right-wing idea is wrong it’s because it is very mean and the beneficial side effects it produces are small or nonexistent. The right’s usual complaint about the left is that they’re naiive, stupid, self-destructive do-gooders. The left’s usual complaint about the right is that they’re evil, selfish, hateful monsters.

          This is not the whole story but I think it’s a significant part of it. Another big part of it is tribal affiliations. Some things can probably be seen as left-wing or right-wing, but once they get branded as one side then they are stuck there. Scott has made this latter point before explicitly; the first bit of my post is my attempt to find the common ground between what Scott has described as optimizing for a zombie apocalypse versus optimizing for a utopia, what Robin Hanson calls farmer versus forager mindset, and what mainstream people call being okay with inequality versus opposing inequality.

          • Me says:

            I’m pretty sure your first definition only works if you are willing to cherry pick quite hard. I’d even say that things are tilted in the opposite direction from what you said, when all relevant examples are considered.

            Take, say, gun control. The left holds that by being slightly mean to people no, by making them go through a while song and dance before they make their purchase, we can gain the overall future benifit of reduced gun violence.

            Similarly, take affirmative action. The left claims that if we distort things like college admissions, deny places to more qualified people in favor of less qualified people with the right skin color, we can reap the future benefits of diversity.

            And so on and so forth.

            The second definition you give, however, is a pretty spot on. I fully believe that this is the cause of the true divide, uncomfortable as that makes me feel.

          • Anonymous says:

            As I said, it is not always obvious which side is which. But I think both your examples work under my definitions. Allowing guns is mean – guns are scary! Guns are for shooting and killing people! The justification from the right is that yes, alright, guns are scary and kill people, but they protect us from tyranny and from criminals.

            Stopping people from having guns is a bit mean in the short term. But guns themselves are really really mean and scary in the short term. On the other hand, reducing gun violence is not a side benefit or a long-term goal. It’s a very nice obvious immediate upfront goal.

            On affirmative action, again I don’t think the left defends it by saying that yes, alright, some qualified people will suffer, but the side benefits make it worth it. They say that having more women and minorities in college is a great and worthy goal. Which it is – it’s a big immediately obvious nice kind good goal. The possibility of college graduates being less qualified is not an obvious upfront mean thing but a troublesome side effect.

            To an extent it probably sounds like I’m arguing nonsense here – that you could phrase any position in a way that makes it belong to either side. Indeed I remember Scott wrote a great description of global warming as a right-wing issue in one of his posts I mentioned.

            And yet I really do think there is something to this. It seems to me that guns really and truly are mean nasty scary things, and that if you’re going entirely by what’s the most outwardly nice thing to do, obviously what you want is no guns. Similarly, being okay with there not being enough women and minorities being let into college is a nasty position. That colleges ought to have to let more of them in is the nice position, the one that doesn’t need justification with “but when you take into account all the implications…”.

            If it came down to nothing more than tribal affiliations, I don’t think you’d see so many trends like society moving leftward, like people becoming more right-wing as they get older, like the right calling the left naiive and the left calling the right evil, that all seem to match left and right being down to something more definite and concrete.

        • onyomi says:

          “the left’s so-far failed push to normalize pedophilia in the 70s”

          Whoah, seriously? I mean, I was not alive in the 70s so I wouldn’t actually remember it, but really?

          • NN says:

            I don’t know if it happened everywhere in the Western world, but this was definitely a thing in Europe.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Scattered anecdotes because I’m short on time:

            Foucault, Sartre, and Simone de Beauvior all petitioned the French government to eliminate ago of consent laws.

            It was decades before anybody even thought about the implications of the Kinsey Report’s data on orgasm in pre-pubescent boys.

            More recently, one of the stories in the Vagina Monologues was about an older woman seducing a 13 year old girl. “If it was a rape, it was a good rape.”

      • Chalid says:

        Exactly. The definition of “left” seems to basically come down to “stuff that is different from a piece of history that Moldbug likes” and then of course march “leftward” because we keep changing.

    • Sastan says:

      Depends on the time frame. Last two hundred years? Cthulu swims left. Last two thousand? There are cycles.

      My theory is this: : “Leftism”, however we define that, is a product of plenty, peace and general good times. When people are relatively comfortable, and have few threats, they tend toward leftist politics. When threats are many and existential, people shift right, and fast.

      For a localized example, consider the case of Israel before and after the Second Intifada. Before, the legacy of the martyr Rabin had guaranteed a permanent Labor government……until the nation was under threat. The result? Fourteen years of Likud.

      For a historical example, the crumbling of the Pax Romana should do nicely. The liberal policies of the late empire both lead to its downfall and were replaced by the most reactionary form of monarchy, the local robber baron and feudalism, in most of Europe. The outside threats, from the Huns to the Vikings, guaranteed “right-wing” government for a thousand years. As Europe became an economic and military powerhouse, the policies begin to drift back. Once the Moors are driven from Spain and Vienna finishes the Turkish invasions, Europe is already in full swing toward the Enlightenment.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        Israel is also the story of changing demographics and a sign that left and right mean different things. Israel is still has a strong welfare state including a ministry of housing that is very popular. I don’t think a GOP style economic plan would fly there. Just like getting rid of NHS is dead in the water in the UK even if Brits do lean Tory these days. David Cameron is not and can’t be Scott Walker. From what I’ve heard, liberal Democratic people in the USA would swoon for the Tory platform largely.

        Yet Labour in Israel is seen as the party of the old Ashkenazi elite, largely Germans. Likud and the right-wing parties are largely the parties of Jews who came from Middle Eastern countries. Menachem Began came from Poland but his supporters came from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, etc.

      • nyccine says:

        There wasn’t a USA 2000 years ago. There wasn’t “Western Civilization” either. It’s not a reference to humanity at large, from the rise of homo sapiens onward, but to individual civilizations.

        Moldbug’s point about Cthulu always swimming left is just an easier-to-remember version of Spengler’s comments about “the City” overtaking “the Country” in The Decline of the West; at some point, as the Culture grows, eventually “the City” (identified with cosmopolitan liberalism) overtakes and seeks to destroy “the Country” (identified with traditionalism/conservatism). Although there is a reaction by traditionalists, it is doomed to failure, as at this point *everyone* accepts the basic tenants of liberalism; even if they feel that something is grossly wrong, they are unable to articulate why (at least, enough to convince anyone).

        • Saul Degraw says:

          Arguments about the “city” vs. the “country” and moral superiority are as old as human civilization. They are certainly a long part of American history and culture. I have yet to hear an argument about why the country is more morally pure and superior than the city.

          1. Prohibition was a last grasp of the country to control the much large cities politically. Prohibition was one of the most unsuccessful political programs in the United States and created a lot of vice and crime and arguably made things more socially loose.

          2. Julian Bond famously pointed out that a lot of Afrrican-Americans are pretty socially and culturally conservative but tend to vote Democratic because the GOP is completely tone deaf when it comes to speaking to African-Americans and they also choose the Southern strategy.

          3. There are a lot of people who the country was unwelcoming and dangerous especially religious and ethnic minorities. I’m Jewish. Why should I be easily convinced that things were better when Jews were a people apart and treated as second-class or third-class citizens? Interestingly the first professional code of legal conduct was created to keep “those Russian Jew Boys out.”

          4. Where neo-Reactionarism really fails for me is that all the holders seem to think they will be among the elite/monarchy/aristocratic class because of their talents and intelligence. How can they be so sure? Maybe they will be serfs who happen to do engineering as part of their serfdom? Or court doctors until they curry disfavor and then are offed?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            2. Julian Bond famously pointed out that a lot of Afrrican-Americans are pretty socially and culturally conservative but tend to vote Democratic because the GOP is completely tone deaf when it comes to speaking to African-Americans and they also choose the Southern strategy.”

            Under Nixon? The same man who instituted affirmative action in federal employment?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Where neo-Reactionarism really fails for me is that all the holders seem to think they will be among the elite/monarchy/aristocratic class because of their talents and intelligence

            I see this criticism levied generally to many ideologies. People supporting NRX must imagine they will be Lords. People supporting Libertarianism must imagine they will be rich. Etc.
            The implication seems to be no one would support an alternative to our current multi-party liberal establishment if they thought there was a chance of failure. Rawls “Blind-Womb” test or whatever it is called.

            Personally speaking, I do not imagine I will rise in the social ranks of any alternative social hierarchy and would fare far worse among quite a few, like Puritan New England. I do think that my quality of life and those of many others will improve under certain alternative political and social arrangements: say that if we abolished this ridiculous obsession with educational credentialing, I would be in my exact current job with an associates degree instead of a full-time degree, and my Wife would not have accumulated a quarter million dollars of student debt for 8 year PharmD, when my sister’s 6 year PharmD that was regulatory standard just a few years earlier was deemed sufficient in the murderous drug calamity that was mid-2000s America.

            This would mean several extra years of manpower for the economy, and several extra years of income for my family, and tremendously less death. This is a win for almost all parties.

            I do not, however, think this would turn me into Lord A Definite Beta Guy, Protector of the Realm, and Leader of the Chicago Freehold.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Saul Degraw:

            Where neo-Reactionarism really fails for me is that all the holders seem to think they will be among the elite/monarchy/aristocratic class because of their talents and intelligence.

            I don’t. Of course, I’m not a full-fledged neoreactionary yet. Being told that I would have to be in charge after the NRx revolution would be more than enough to make me oppose it.

            In fact, I have to say I doubt your assertion in general; my impression of NRx is that it has quite a lot of people like me, to whom its main attraction is the observation throughout life that you get better results when there is somebody responsible for those results. Popular sovereignty smears out responsibility so widely that nobody is accountable, and tacking a huge unfireable bureaucracy on top of that just makes it worse.

            Maybe they will be serfs who happen to do engineering as part of their serfdom?

            Why do you think that having a king means everyone else is a serf? We know now there are much better ways to structure an economy.

          • Nicholas Carter says:

            Because if you country does not have a feudal economic system, it does not have a King (or a Queen, regardless of what the British and Canadians will tell you).

          • Nornagest says:

            Because if you country does not have a feudal economic system, it does not have a King

            That’s, uh, really wrong. Feudal economic systems are historically pretty rare; you could call Japan prior to the Meiji (or possibly later Edo) period feudal without glossing over too much, and maybe Ethiopia too, but aside from that you’ll only find them in Europe between the Migration Period and the Renaissance (in some places the early modern period). That’s not a big fraction of the civilizations that’ve been out there, so the evidence points to feudalism taking some fairly specific conditions to evolve.

            Kings, on the other hand, pop up all over.

          • Nicholas says:

            The very core of my argument is that we have applied the term “King” to people who are not good examples of what a King is, because the term “hereditary sovereign” while more accurate, is a mouthful. Those people (including the Canadians, as already mentioned) are incorrectly labeling their leaders as kings, but I think that they aren’t kings.

          • Doctor Mist says:


            hereditary sovereign

            Well, I was using “king” as shorthand, since Saul used “serfs”. NRx folks sometimes explicitly suggest a hereditary monarch, but that’s not a terminal goal, and there are lots of other alternatives.

            Nevertheless, I don’t quite follow the claim that a hereditary monarch is fundamentally feudal. There were thousands of years of kings before there was feudalism.

          • Nornagest says:

            The very core of my argument is that we have applied the term “King” to people who are not good examples of what a King is, because the term “hereditary sovereign” while more accurate, is a mouthful.

            Yeah, I get that, I just think you’re wrong — at least about the necessity of feudalism. The very word “king” predates feudalism: it’s from the Proto-Germanic kuningaz (probably late first millennium BCE). Even at that point it seems to have meant hereditary monarchy; it’s etymologically related to “kin”, as in family, as in that one important family.

            You could make an argument that Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden is not a proper monarch, but I don’t think you could do that for, say, Beowulf, or Tarquinius Priscus. Neither presided over a feudal society, and both are conventionally called kings and have been for centuries.

          • At a slight tangent to the “king discussion,” I think the “king implies feudalism” claim is almost backwards. The kings who most closely fit our image are absolute monarchs, rulers of post-feudal societies. The feudal king was more nearly a coalition leader than an absolute monarch, because most of the knights belonged to the nobles.

            I saw a figure somewhere that at one point the feudal levy of Normandy was larger than that of France.

      • birdboy2000 says:

        Counterpoint: Some of the periods of sharpest left-wing changes in history (the French and Russian revolutions, notably) came as a direct response to bad times. Peace, land, and bread was a Bolshevik promise, not something peasants were already experiencing!

        • Sastan says:

          A fair point. I suppose I’d argue that the revolution didn’t happen against the really hardcore monarchs, but under relatively “liberal”, progressive monarchs. Ivan the Terrible and Louis the Sun King don’t get revolutioned, but Nick the Second does.

          It is when the country is shifting already, but not fast enough, that left wing revolution tends to happen. And, of course, there are always definitional arguments (I’d say that the left wing revolution in both those nations became right wing pretty fast, but YMMV).

      • “The liberal policies of the late empire”

        The Empire..that’s “empire” was more liberal than the republic?

    • Asterix says:

      I think the best response is that recent events always seem to overwhelm the rest of history. In the late 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, Cthulhu was swimming right. Maggie Thatcher’s Tories displaced Labour and stayed in charge for some time, breaking power of the coal union (definitely a rightward shift) and privatizing government housing. Deng Xiao-Peng introduced free trade in the People’s Republic. Gorby wouldn’t do that, but he allowed what Communists used to call “bourgeios freedoms.” Then he let Eastern Europe go, and most of it set straight way to establishing democracy and privatizing industry.

      In the 70’s, it was the Republicans that were proposing price controls, and nationalizing industry was something countries around the world did. By the 90’s, the former were unthinkable and the latter was being reversed. The Third World was dropping its plans for socialism and going for market economies. Clinton got elected by promising to get with the conservative program on economic issues. Then the Republican Revolution, the GOP grabbing the House for the first time since Truman, made him keep that promise. Welfare programs had been expanding, then shrank in the 90’s with prosperity and new rules about limiting benefits, and are now expanding again.

      Things don’t last. Now we see a trend to the left, so people say we only ever see trends to the left. A better description is the proverb about mankind being a drunk that, after falling off its horse in one direction, gets back on and promptly falls off in the other direction.

      • Skaevola says:

        I think this is the best answer.

        If anybody is interested in reading up more on a recent time in history where things took a definitive shift rightwards, check out the book Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century by Christian Caryl. He talks about several “counter-revolutions” where the revolutionaries were reactionary rather than progressive, including Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiao-Peng as you mentioned. He also talks about the Iranian Revolution, where a proto-liberal democracy was replaced by a conservative theocracy, radical Islam in Afghanistan, and the Catholic religious undertones in anti-communism in Poland.

        The world is complicated and unpredictable, but people still try to tell the future using linear estimation.

        • semiautorabbit says:

          I personally subscribe to a weaker form of the hypothesis: If you look only at the range of acceptable opinions among the cultural elite (especially the academic-media elite, what NRxniks call the Catherdral), then “cthulu swims left” looks a lot truer, IMO.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I hear that the hip new thing in EvoBio is Pathogen Stress Theory. It posits that high levels of disease beget more conservative cultures, and that the type of diseases suffered directly determines the cultural landscape.

      From this, it follows that leftward drift is contingent on increasing levels of cleanliness. So if the first world were to ever experience an epidemic, we’d probably experience a sudden rightward shift in politics (like Nazi Germany after the Spanish Flu from 1918 to 1920).

    • Spaghetti Lee says:

      I wonder how much mileage that belief gets out of the gay rights movement, which…might be an unprecendented example of public opinion reversal in human history? From shameful mental defect to loud-and-proud melting pot ingredient in just 50 years. Even comparing other left-wing social issues, the abortion rights movement isn’t doing so hot, the gun control and environmental movements have been consistently losing ground. The anti-racism/anti-sexism movements are at a boil right now, but I think there’s far far more light than heat there. Economic issues, changing technology might soon throw a wrench into things, but the Western non-communist leftist ideal of a strong, financially soluble working class bolstered by organized labor and worker protections is not doing so hot at the moment.

      So I wonder if neo-reactionaries think “the march of leftism is unstoppable; look at gay rights!” and then they focus on that and don’t put it in context with anything else.

      • Reporting in 🙂 The problem is confusing highly politicized “issues” with how the “Zeitgeist” moves. Inner vs. outer view, zoomed in or zoomed out. Guns for example. Sure they the anti-gun crowd is suffering some setbacks in the US, but they won everywhere else. Without even a fight. You think a political movement restricted to one country only can hold out indefinitely?

        But take even more of a step back and ask yourself this question – is the Zeitgeist moving towards the idea of a man defending his family on his own, so towards a sheepdog attitude, or more towards a typical civilian attitude where the average man is considered generally peaceful and relies on the police? Is the Zeitgeist trending towards hero-worshipping self-defense with deadly force? If your next generation man is 100% up to feminist standards, is he going to be his family’s hero, fighting and possibly dying for it? Are feminists teaching girls to shoot rapists? How is this looking in the longer run?

        So try looking at the broader view, the Zeitgeist is more than just issues.

        Of course the broader you look at it, the less accurate data you have to work with. I understand stats like % of people supporting gun control are at least accurate but simply not relevant enough.

        • multiheaded says:

          The vast, vast majority of rapists can be deterred without escalating to actual physical violence.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      People think Cthulhu always swims left because that’s what most of us have personally witnessed within our lifetimes. Cthulhu does swim left in times of peace and lack of (absolute) want, and Western civilization is enjoying one of those times right now. But the world seems to correct rightward–jarringly–when the perpetual human ills of conquest, war, famine, and death return.

      History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up.

      It’s like the old joke about academia, that the fights are so vicious because the stakes are so small. We get to worry about remembering the correct snowflake pronouns precisely because we don’t have to worry about the burst radius of a 155mm shell, whether those men outside with machetes are from our clan or the other one, or whether the wheat crop is going to fail. From our perspective, Cthulhu is swimming left. History tells us there will be a reset.

      • “People think Cthulhu always swims left because that’s what most of us have personally witnessed within our lifetimes.”

        If you are under 35 and a US citizen. See Asterix’s comment above.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t know if it’s a counter-argument, per se, but just as Cthulhu can be set back, so can be leftism. If you look at history, there are recurring events where leftoid movements rise and fall after creating substantial disturbance (follow the gnostic/Bogomilist/Cathar heresies, for example), quelled by agents who rightly see them as an existential threat (the orthodox Christian churches, medieval kings, respective to the earlier example). Cthulhu swims left; he can be banished from the physical realm for a while, but he’ll return again and again.

    • James Vonder Haar says:

      The simplest counterargument is that the United States won the Cold War. More broadly, the state of the world has shifted significant rightward in regards to economic policy for the past two or three decades.

      There’s also lots of examples of leftist stuff that just never caught on, even though at the time someone of Moldbug’s persuasion might be saying “yep, that’s where we’re gonna be in 20 years.” Some leftists of the sexual revolution were in favor of pedophilia, but the taboo against that is if anything stronger now than it was before the sexual revolution. People living in leftist communes in the 60s and 70s probably felt like they were the avant garde of a new way of living, but things didn’t work out so well for them. On the whole, most of the change has been leftward, but the vast majority of out there leftist ideas don’t get adopted.

    • One piece of evidence is that the world’s two largest countries (population) have been moving in the other direction, although in neither case as far as I would wish. It’s been a huge shift in the case of China, associated with an enormous increase in per capita income–twenty-fold from Mao’s death to 2010. It’s much slower in India, but a country that has been officially socialist through its entire history now has a president who favors moves in the direction of deregulation and privatization.

      I think forms of leftism collided with reality in two contexts. One was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fifty years ago, a lot of people believed that while the Soviet Union was not a free society, it was doing a better job of converting a poor country into a rich country than capitalist economies. Paul Samuelson’s textbook, the leading econ text in the country, claimed for something like twenty years that the USSR was catching up to the U.S.—despite the fact that each edition showed about the same ratio of GNP (accepting the Soviet figures) as the previous edition. After the collapse it became very hard to believe that that particular economic model was a successful one.

      The other was the experience of developing countries. Some, most obviously India, tried to develop on a model based on central planning and foreign aid. Others, such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, on a relatively free market model (again, of course, less so than I would want). The former stayed poor, the latter got rich. Eventually the contrast became sharp enough so that the old view went out of favor.

      At the same time, of course, there are always new arguments coming up, and in some ways existing developed societies are becoming more left. Some of those are ways that I, as a libertarian, approve of, others—the shift away from freedom of contract towards “you can only decide who to deal with if we approve of your reasons”—not.

      • Jiro says:

        The reason that China isn’t moving leftwards is the same reason that Japan has managed to keep the death penalty: many leftist ideas spread mainly by spreading rather than by arising spontaneously. And it’s really hard to spread ideas to a country that is on the other side of the world and speaks a language that you don’t.

  7. I seem to have particular failure mode socially understanding how to get from point A to point B and so never even attempt. I.e. It seems like relationships go from meeting and doing things together and talking about meaningless stuff. *Magic*. We understand each other very well and feel comfortable sharing nearly everything with each other.

    More details:
    My parents are going through a divorce. The scariest thing is not the divorce but the lack of people to talk about it with. I have a good number of acquaintances but no real friends. I am perfect comfortable sharing that my parents are divorced but don’t feel comfortable burdening them with anything and it seems it would be out of place and I don’t think I would receive too out of it.

    I feel like I am missing out on something happening between acquaintance and friend. It feels like magic. The issue is partially that I feel like there isn’t anything that *needs* to happen. Like I feel like if someone I felt I was close enough to in inferential distance was just like: “You can tell me anything, and I hope I can tell you anything. I trust you” I think that would accomplish this magic. Maybe I don’t understand the way communication of common knowledge works and that is the magic. I have the same issue with attraction, like how do we go from hanging out at the movies and getting dinner every week (being platonic friends) to kissing/snuggling/fucking.

    • Paul Torek says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of friends become friends because 1 of the acquaintances had a burden and shared it. I think one friend is worth quite a few acquaintances, so, I’d say go for it.

    • Echo says:

      You’re not alone in feeling that way.
      Some people supposedly have actual plans for the relationships. The rest of us just wake up one day thinking “wait, when did we start saying “I love you”?”

      It’s more of a crutch than a solution, but a socially adept Bro is worth his weight in gold for people like us. Workout buddies > romantic partners for meeting your basic “oh god I’m lost in a freakish hipster city and have no close friends” socialisation needs.
      Plus bro cuddles are the best.

      • When my first marriage ended, I was teaching at VPI, living in Blacksburg, VA. It occurred to me that I might be better off looking for a wife in a larger population, so I did a rough calculation—how many women were there in Blackburg who I would have to go out with at least once to eliminate as candidates, how rapidly was I searching that population. I concluded that the limiting factor was not the population but the search strategy.

        I also concluded that one way of improving it was to aim more at friends then at girlfriends, in order to spread a larger social net. One of my friends was a colleague whose wife suggested that there were a lot of nice girls at folk dancing. She was correct.

    • 27chaos says:

      ME TOO! I think maybe people just pretend that they are actually good friends once they reach the point where friendship is ambiguous, and if both of you are pretending at once then it happens?

    • onyomi says:

      I think what you may not be seeing is that, in most close friendships, one, if not both participants has, at times, gone out on a limb and said something that seemed awkward/beyond the normal bounds of the friendship. This is why most of my close friends are very outgoing people: they overcome the barrier I have to being the awkward one by themselves coming on “too” strong. I’ve learned through experience that my idea of “coming on too strong” is probably still more withdrawn than your average nun, so I intentionally try to avoid worrying about that and just say what I want to say.

      This is more obvious in romantic relationships where, at some point, someone has to make the first move of some kind, but I think it’s even true in friendships to a lesser extent and perhaps more in terms of what’s allowed, conversation-wise, rather than what’s allowed physical contact-wise.

    • Leo says:

      I don’t know either, but I’m happy to talk to you about your parents’ divorce. I have some experience with that situation and no burdens to unload. Message Leo on irc.hackint.org, or tell me how you prefer to be contacted.

      • I feel like the ability to have opt-in private messaging enabled on SSC would go a long way to making it feel like a community of friends rather than a debating/academic club. Then if we people got along well they could move to casually mesaging eachother without too much weirdness. I admit I haven’t considered whether that might undermine the culture in some unexpected way though…

    • LTP says:

      Have you considered seeing a therapist to talk about the divorce with? Even if it is only for a couple months to deal with this specific issue of the divorce, it could be helpful if you feel like you have nowhere to turn.

      • I eventually talked to a friend and it went pretty well, but they are accross the country so that is a bit unfortunate. Like the divorce is a major non-issue. The issue is more of that it makes me worry that if it wasn’t ok or if something else happens that I need someone to talk to with, I wouldn’t really have anyone.

    • Murphy says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this about friendship but I do remember having the same vague grey area re:romance until I finally got into a real long term relationship.

      There’s not some magic line it’s just one of those vague “becomings”. At some point someone is just someone you like to talk to a bit more than others and you occasionally hang out, a couple years later you’re going cycling/running with them regularly or doing some other activity, later you’re helping them move, later you’re helping them out when they’re in a bind or helping cover for them when they need to keep something important secret, later when something terrible happens in your life they’re there to help and a few years later you’re best man at their wedding. Each stage just implies a little more sharing and/or trust.

      Romance…. I can’t talk about so much because I’m pretty sure I just lucked out getting my SO but it’s similar to the above process only instead there’s a step something like “you’re hanging out after an evening out and leaning against each other and you’re talking and looking at each other and at some point start kissing” followed by a similar gradual process where the later steps involve looking up the costs of wedding venues(where I am now) and daycares (hopefully not soon).

      If you feel like you’re missing out my advice would be to invite the other person out some time rather than passively hoping that they’ll do all the legwork. Often people are quite happy to go for coffee or a few drinks etc with someone they’re a friendly acquaintance with. Be willing to help people out, share food and accept other peoples help when offered.

    • pdan says:

      There’s strong evidence that friendships develop partly from gradually increasing the level of vulnerability. Moving from small talk to real talk can enhanced by asking specific sorts of questions:

      Some of my favorites are things like:
      “If you could give one piece of advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be?”
      “What is a belief that you hold, which many other people don’t?”
      “What is one of your proudest moments?”

  8. eqdw says:

    Recently I’ve become aware of the fact that I’m very sensitive to noise. Specifically high levels of background noise. Think bar, restaurant, or office. I can’t enjoy going out and socializing, because it’s too noisy. I get to work every day already pissed off and stressed out because the subway is crowded. This has even started affecting my ability to do my job, because our office is overcrowded and open-plan. This is severely hampering my quality of life.

    I know that Scott is also hypersensitive to sound, and I think I’ve seen other people here mention that too. How do you all deal with this? I’ve taken to wearing high quality earbuds everywhere, just as stealth ear-plugs, but this is not always socially acceptable. Are there any other practical tactics? Mental exercises? Medications? Hearing aids that make things quieter instead of louder?

    • Gamer Imp says:

      Meditation under progressively more distracting/loud conditions worked well for me. I still have trouble focusing on occasion, or going to sleep, but I’m no longer getting angry or anxious about ambient noise.

    • arjan de lumens says:

      I used to have a quite severe variant of this problem, to the point of frequent half-psychotic dissociation. Things like MP3 players and similar sort-of-work for short-term situations where social interaction is not expected (assuming sufficiently loud and noisy music), but gets tiresome after a while.

      I was eventually put on olanzapine for this problem, which actually worked really well. I was, after about three or so years, able to go off the drug without the problem reappearing; not sure why, whether this represents a form of habituation or organic change to my brain I do not know; I don’t particularly care.

    • 27chaos says:

      There’s a bit in an Eoin Colfer children’s novel, The Supernaturalist, where a character breaks their nose, and in order to function despite the pain they focus on the pain and try to feel its center, rather than trying to ignore it. I am somewhat sensitive to sound, but I use a tactic like this when I’m in crowds and it works well. Let the sound overwhelm you, so that it becomes noise rather than meaning.

      Sorry, I know that this sounds very woo, but I don’t know how to communicate this idea otherwise.

      • eqdw says:

        I tried something like this the other day, in a particularly noisy restaurant. It…. well it didn’t make it worse. I’ll try it again

    • Helldalgo says:

      The earbud thing is great. Personally, I’ve had luck with propranolol. No, medication is not a solution for everyone, but propranolol is a cool little beta blocker that lowers your pulse. It’s fast-acting and the effects wear off after about five hours. I take it when I having a very sensitive day, and know that I’ll be around noise.

    • Kiya says:

      I’m also noise-sensitive; large groups of people all talking over each other are the worst.
      When it’s socially acceptable (like in a subway or office, although my open-floor-plan office somehow isn’t loud) I put in earbuds and play music—despite it being equally as loud as the background noise, playing a song I know doesn’t bother me. Feels more coherent.
      My most effective strategy for dealing with excessive noise in social situations where one cannot wear earbuds is by leaving said situation, permanently or temporarily (take a break to walk outside, then come back if I still want to). I don’t go to bars, and I avoid popular restaurants on weekends. I can stick it out in noisy places for a while by making extraordinary effort, although I get hyped-up on adrenaline, which is not the best mental state for most purposes. It helps to have something else to focus on, like a conversation, a game, or a task I’m working on.

  9. Doctor Mist says:

    As a contributor to the Steve Johnson thread that puts me at risk of banning, I was interested in the cognitive dissonance I felt between “Jeez, that’s not fair” and my conviction that as owner of the blog Scott can manage it however he wants. This conviction is also what leads me to believe that in general a business (like, say, a bakery) should be able to decide whether or not to do a particular commercial transaction.

    I’m curious whether anybody of a reddish hue, like me, had a similar reaction. (Perhaps my personal involvement explains the dissonance.)

    I’m also curious whether anybody of a bluish hue who applauds Johnson’s banishment sees any parallel with, say, a bakery making decisions about what customers it wants to serve.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      I’m of a very reddish hue… but of the red flag, not red tribe, variety, if you get my drift.

      The eagerness of many blue tribers to support blacklists and purges if the private sector is responsible and the right people suffer them was a major factor in my break from the blue tribe over the past year, of which I was formerly an enthusiastic member (if to the left of most of them).

      I’m very uncomfortable with moderation as a concept (it’s hierarchical and authoritarian by design, even if the moderator themselves is an anarchist, and therefore moderation is very much not in agreement with my political principles) and wish we had a better way to enforce civility and remove spam on the internet – heck, I wish I could complain about this stuff online in a place without a moderator!

      Then again, I’ve been banned from enough places that bias plays a role, too.

      • Adam Casey says:

        What do you think about reddit-style up/down voting as a way to produce civility? It doesn’t work well, but it can work well enough, and avoids the need for formal mod.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          It also encourages echo chambering, or at the very least the shutting down of people that are kind of out there. Like, I’m not a fan of John Sidles’ unintelligible posting style, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want his replies to be hidden-by-default because a lot of people think the same.

        • stargirl says:

          How much do you think in-civility even correlates with downvotes? I think if you are in-civil to unpopular people you will get more upvotes than if you are civil to unpopular people (within a wide range). The reverse holds if the target of your post is popular.

          This does not seem to solve the problem.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          As practiced on reddit, it’s a poor idea that enforces hiveminds at the expense of genuine discussion. Downvotes get rid of thoughtful things people strongly disagree with (and are too lazy to rebut) as easily as easily as actual spam/trolls, upvotes often mean “I agree with this”.

          I actually think hide ratings (ala dailykos or to a lesser extent slashdot) that rotate between regular users and strong norms against abusing them are a better idea – seemed to keep things in check much better than reddit does and my problems with those sites came from the maintainers, not the community mods. To be fair, however, my favorite fora don’t use either, and with all its incivility I still spend most of my time on 4chan.

          (Also, regarding community moderation, I don’t know any sites which use it *without* having fulltime mods with veto and ban power on top of that – so to me it seems like yet another imposition, and while community moderation fixes the hierarchical aspect I think bans and post deletion or hiding are an evil at *best*, if sometimes a necessary one.)

    • keranih says:

      I think the banning of Johnson was heavy handed and not done optimally. (Ie, there should have been a frank warning that he was getting on Scott’s last nerve first.)

      I also think it’s Scott’s blog and he can use whatever banning method he likes. I will think less of him if he continues to use non-optimal heavy-handed methods, but it will always be a balance with things I respect Scott for.

      I feel very comfortable in the area of “I can think, feel, do and say whatever I like, in an unlimited fashion, but my ability to force other people to say or do, much less think or feel, anything at all is very very limited.” I wish more people agreed with me on this.

      PS: Red Tribe. ‘MERIKA!

      • malpollyon says:

        Scott publicly stated several times before it happened that he was extremely eager to find a way to ban him. How much more of a warning do think he needed to give?

    • Adam Casey says:

      So, it’s kind of reasonable and inevitable that the person posting the banned thing would think it’s unfair to ban the post. If you thought it was reasonable to ban you for it you wouldn’t have posted it.

      So you cognitive dissonance is utterly reasonable. The general argument is clearly correct. These threads are clearly more like a private member’s club than they are like civil life. Banning someone is simply a reasonable execution of the implicit background rules of the club rather than an act of ostracism in need of a trial and the rule of settled law.

    • Spaghetti Lee says:

      As a blue-hued individual, I think there are a few important distinctions that allow me to support the former but not the latter.

      Action vs. behavior. Steve wasn’t banned for who he was, he was banned for how he treated people. Like, I guess an analogy would be if (every) gay person this business served loudly and obnoxiously accused the proprietors of homophobia for every action or non-action. Then I could sympathize with them saying “You know what, fuck this.” And it would have to be every gay person for the analogy to hold because…

      Individual vs. Group. If you want to ban one guy for acting out, he brought it upon himself. If you’re banning an entire group of people sight unseen, just because of who they are, that’s less defensible in terms of “they were making it impossible for me to run a business” (and I think that was Scott’s rationale; the biggest, most ban-worthy problem was that Steve’s presence was making calm polite discussion impossible, and that’s what this blog is supposed to be all about. Consequentialism!)

      Public vs. Private. I think businesses that avail themselves of public property and (indirect) public funding in commercial areas designed to serve the public don’t get to say that they won’t serve a particular subset of the public, for private (religious) reasons. Blogs, even big, widely-read ones like this one, are more analogous to homes, and I think people do have the right to keep whoever they want out of their own house. I am still quite skeptical of claims that someone’s personal ethics about gay marriage or birth control or abortion should trump the fact that we all still basically have to interact with each other in the public sphere. Not that those personal ethics are foolish or meaningless necessarily, but we need some sort of system that allows for the resolving of disputes, independent of who happens to have more power at a given time, and “interpersonal conduct in the public sphere should be governed by civic law, not personal belief” seems as workable as any.

      • “I think businesses that avail themselves of public property and (indirect) public funding in commercial areas designed to serve the public don’t get to say that they won’t serve a particular subset of the public”

        What does “public property” mean here? In U.S. law and politics, “public” routinely means “choosing to serve lots of people,” as in “public accommodations,” not “functioning on government property.”

        It’s true that any business is relying on indirect public funding in the form of police protection–but also paying taxes for it. If that counts, than your home counts as public too.

        I can see the argument that things run by a government, such as a public school, ought to have very limited freedom of association. But I don’t see your version in which, if I understand you, a bakery that sells to lots of people is punished for refusing to sell to people for reasons that you (and the government) don’t approve of.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      I think you’re dissonance is reasonable and to be expected. I’ve been in similar spots in the past and all I can really tell you is “them’s the breaks”. It’s Scott’s blog and thus his call.

      The trick to getting over the dissonance is simply to do exactly what you’re doing now, recognize the source, and work around it.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      After seeing a few comments, I feel I must clarify a couple of things.

      First, I’m not whining about Johnson’s banishment, or about my own threatened banishment. So I didn’t mean to elicit discussion of the merits of the banishment.

      Second, I’m not asking for help in resolving my cognitive dissonance. I’m an old man, and long accustomed to my mind not being unitary, and always interested when it does a surprising thing. My feelings were hurt, a little, but I would be in a sorry state if my ethics were required to never result in my feelings being hurt.

      Spaghetti Lee’s response was the most like what I was looking for. I can’t say I’m convinced by it, but I appreciate the thought that went into it. 🙂

    • Bugmaster says:

      I think that this is Scott’s blog, and he can do what he wants. If someone attempts to stop him from doing what he wants, I’ll argue against this. However, if Scott wants to do stupid things, then I will attempt to persuade him to stop doing those things. The two concepts are completely independent, as I see it. The same applies to bakeries.

  10. Gwen S. says:

    So how bad is adrafinil for your liver, really?

    • jeorgun says:

      If I can piggyback on this, are there any possible issues with using modafinil and/or adrafinil in conjunction with SSRIs?

  11. Anatoly says:

    Assume for the moment that the rise in Autism Spectrum diagnoses reflects a real rise in the condition (broadly considered) and not just better diagnostics.

    This rise broadly corresponds with the onset of “helicopter parenting”. In the last 30 years, parents in the Western world have been more protective of their kids than ever before. Children no longer have unsupervised access to the outside (“free-range parenting” is a minor backlash to this). Parents are more gentle with their kids’ feelings than ever before. Harsh discipline is rarer than ever.

    Is it possible that some of the rise of ASD is due to more kids than ever, already in the toddler phase, not getting enough negative emotions, enough tough parenting, and enough healthy parental neglect? Think by way of analogy of the theory that the rise of allergies is due to us being too sanitary in everyday lives, and toddlers not getting enough dirt on themselves and in their mouths (I remember reading that this theory hasn’t done well, but anyway). Here, by analogy, some kids would have trouble with emotional skills because they weren’t exposed to a wide enough range of emotions coming at them, including negative ones; trouble with the theory of mind because they weren’t getting enough of other people’s decisions antagonistically enforced on them; etc. etc.

    Has this been considered/written about/supported/refuted? Any personal opinions?

    • Oscar Cunningham says:

      I would have thougt that autistic parents would be least likely to helicopter parent (because they prefer to interact less with people in general, and so in particular will interact less with their own kids). So under your hypothesis you might expect autism to be anti-hereditary, which it ain’t.

      • Anatoly says:

        Perhaps the autistic-spectrum qualities can arise due to both hereditary and environmental factors, and the hereditary influence could both be the stronger and the rarer one.

    • It would correlate with a lot of other trends as well, though, and we could probably come up with semi-plausible explanations for many of them. For instance, video games have gone from non-existent to ubiquitous in the past 30 years. Perhaps too much time staring at a screen with no interaction with other humans causes autism.

      Obviously this is an absurd analogy, but that’s my point: the two phenomena are probably totally unrelated, but if you look hard enough you can find a potential connection.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      No, it’s the satanic kindergartens.

    • LTP says:

      Doesn’t autism present itself very very early in development?

      I think people are conflating things that should not be conflated. Socially awkward/nerdy/shy/introverted does not imply autism (though many autistic people are those things too).

    • NN says:

      So, basically the opposite of the refrigerator mother theory?

    • alexp says:

      I thought it had something do with older parents (including fathers). Though I recall that the age of parents only explains a part of the increase in autism diagnoses.

    • Autism is typically diagnosed by age 3, have people ever let children that young play unsupervised? Also I wouldn’t assume that the rise isn’t due to increasing diagnosis, quality research indicates it does.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Anecdotal counterevidence: At least inside kids’ books written in the 1960’s (and presumably intended to be realistic), mothers would routinely leave their babies in charge of kids as young as eight years old. Presumably, those kids would be significantly less attentive than the average modern mother.

    • Maware says:

      I don’t think so, because it’s not really a learned behavior.

      My own guesses are the increased age of the parents, and darkly, the possible effects of many drugs or past drug use on parents. Prozac, marijuana, Ritalin, etc. No proof to back this, but recreational and therapeutic drug use has increased and I can’t help but wonder if there’s some effect due to it.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Drug use has gone up and down. For example, amphetamine/ritalin use today is about the same as at the previous peak in 1970.

        • Maware says:

          Kind of find that a bit hard to believe as ritalin wasn’t promoted therapeutically in the 70’s. While recreational use might go up and down, therapeutic use has exploded. I don’t know enough about the subject to do more than idly speculate, but the therapeutic use of anti-depressants is a lot more common than back then.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, of course ritalin is a new drug. But it is quite arbitrary to propose it has magically different long-term side-effects than amphetamine. I am talking about amphetamine produced by drug companies. That’s not quite the same as therapeutic use, but it’s pretty close. There was probably more diversion in 1970 than today, but even so, there was more therapeutic use in 1970 than in 2000. I am talking about mg per capita, which is the relevant metric for your comment. Have a source.

            Yes, SSRIs are new. Marijuana has gone up and down. It is probably still below peak usage.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      I have no idea if this has been considered/written about/supported/refuted? but it certainly seems plausible.

    • Nicholas Carter says:

      If there is any grounding to an anti-immune response in the development of Autistic symptoms then I would expect this to correlate outside of any psychological effects, because helicopter parents also have a tendency to keep their children insistently clean.

  12. Arthur B. says:

    The problem isn’t how frequent the OT are, the problem is that the comment system of this blog isn’t suitable to them. You should point those to the subreddit exclusively, or upgrade the commenting system.

    • Anonymous says:

      The absence of a comment voting system is one reason why I find this place much much more pleasant and interesting than LessWrong, despite the two sites apparently sharing contributors to a considerable extent.

      • Arthur B. says:

        I also don’t particularly care for the comment voting. This is more about how readable the threads are. Either you go fully threaded, with no limit: then I would suggest running a NNTP server, or you go flat, like the XKCD fora for instance.

        • Anonymous says:

          One argument in favor of the way threads work currently is that it’s an implicit way to say “your sub-sub-argument has gone on too long now, you’re probably not saying anything useful anymore and are just derailing the thread”.

          I’m not sure I am entirely won over by that argument, but if I were defending the status quo that is the way I would do it.

    • Echo says:

      Who moderates the subreddit?

    • James Vonder Haar says:

      Yeah, following these threads can be kind of a pain.

      I really want an SBNation-style commenting system. It tracks which of the posts are new and you can zoom down to the next unread comment by pressing “z.” Would make these much easier to follow

  13. Oscar Cunningham says:

    Sometimes I worry that we’ll find a pre-natal cure for autism, but that it will affect the entire autistic spectrum and then the number of really good mathematicians will sharply decline. I’m not sure if the suffering of autistic people outweighs the advances made by high-IQ autistics.

  14. John Schilling says:

    Is it common knowledge that the photo heading this thread is of the narrator from the last one? Or do we need a stranger to point that out for us?

  15. Douglas Knight says:

    Why do you have both open threads and link posts? You could switch to weekly posts with a few links each. You once complained that one of the links draws all the attention; if you spread out the links, they are less likely to be overshadowed.

    • switchnode says:

      Yes, this. Link posts always end up half open thread anyway. (And there are so many of them in the existing link posts that I keep accumulating tabs.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think a lot of people would feel intimidated posting non-like-relevant things to link threads. Also, my link collection speed can be kind of uneven. Also, it’s harder to prominently announce things that need announcing in links threads.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Don’t call them link threads. Call them open threads, which happen to be prefaced by your links. Would someone be intimidated from posting if the thread began with the same instruction this one begins with? It can do that even followed by links. Just dump your accumulated links on open/link day, regardless of how many or how few. But if you have an announcement, just post the announcement, holding the links for the next week.

  16. Anonymous Regular Reader says:

    High IQ autistics: What advice do you have for a parent of a profoundly gifted autistic child? What do you wish your parents knew when you were, say, 9-12 years old? The child enjoys SlateStarCodex, lives in an upper middle class American home, and can pass for mostly neurotypical (except for the high intelligence) to a non-expert.

    • Anthony says:

      Posting to follow. My older daughter is very smart, but has serious social deficits which pattern with some level of autism. (Reading Baron-Cohen’s test for childhood autism really sounded familiar, too.)

    • Murphy says:

      It depends on the person and it depends on how much it affects their life.

      Being around a few more people with the same internal experience can be worthwhile, if you’re in a big city looking up a local hackspace could be fun. The first one I ever went to felt like coming home and I’ve heard similar sentiments from others when I’ve shown them round.

      If they have some central interests or obsessions don’t be afraid to encourage them, they’re often useful in later life since specialisation is rewarded in this economy even for quite unusual things.

      Any specific questions or concerns?

    • Anonymous says:

      What is her personality like, and how does she feel about her schooling? I did fine socially, but my middle and high school years were characterized by constant and increasingly bitter tangles with teachers and administration, in a way that has had long-lasting repercussions. At the time I blamed myself (OK, at the time I blamed them—shortly afterwards I blamed myself), but in retrospect I’m inclined to say that the adults involved didn’t really live up to their responsibilities.

      Causative factors included being very bright and loathing perceived inefficiency (which I would not be surprised if your daughter shares), but also a total self-direction and lack of instinctive respect for authority (which I couldn’t guess as to either way). If that sounds like her I’d be happy to say more, but if not any advice I could give probably wouldn’t be relevant.

      • Anonymous Regular Reader says:

        School is incredibly boring for him but he has two good friends and has so far faced zero bullying. He gets in minor trouble at school for talking back and questioning authority, but the school’s Vice principal is understanding. Very bright, loathing perceived inefficiency, lack of instinctive respect for authority: YES for these, self-direction to a moderate extent for things outside of special interests. I want him to skip one or more grades but my spouse and son don’t want this for social reasons. I hate that the school is (for the most part) not intellectually challenging him and that with almost zero effort he can be the best student in all of his academic classes. (I don’t blame the school for this. As he could literally handle the academic work of a child six years older than he is.)

        • J says:

          I hated public school and did much better once I started at the community college at 16. And I was fortunate to get a job at a local internet company at 15, which was an amazing way to start my career. Only knew a few other techies until I went away to university at 18, then had an “OMG these are my people” moment, so I like the “find a hackerspace” idea above. I also ended up hanging around with the local ham radio community as a young teenager, and got along great with the old grandfatherly types.

          A local genius mathematician gets by by tutoring young prodigies, which sounds pretty great for them.

        • Murphy says:

          Skipping grades is a good academic status signal but I’m not so sure it actually helps people in other ways. For one I’d want to avoid distancing him from the couple of good friends. Also it can sometimes be better to be the high flying one at the top of the class with kids your own age vs middle of the class with older. It’s more satisfying to put in lots of effort to maintain your place at the top than struggling to maintain your place in the middle.

          In any special areas of interest I’d suggest looking into what’s available outside of school, if there’s classes offered by local collages for gifted teens etc it might be worthwhile or if you can afford it a few tutors to go through the more advanced versions of things he’s interested in depending on his level.

        • Have you considered unschooling? For my view of the subject, see:


          I went to college at sixteen. At least in my case, I would still have been socially retarded if I had gone at eighteen, and sixteen got me a little closer to an age appropriate intellectual environment.

        • Another Regular says:

          (PG but non-autistic)

          …over a century of research says to skip grades, not just for educational but also for social reasons.

          Here’s one of the more recent ones. AFAIK this study is still ongoing.

          Young People Who Have Been Radically Accelerated…. The majority entered college between ages 11 and 15. Several won scholarships to attend prestigious universities in Australia or overseas…. In every case, the radical accelerands have been able to form warm, lasting, and deep friendships. They attribute this to the fact that their schools placed them, quite early, with older students to whom they tended to gravitate in any case. Those who experienced social isolation earlier say it disappeared after the first grade skip. Two are married with children. The majority are in permanent or serious love relationships. They tend to choose partners who, like themselves, are highly gifted.

          Two-Year Accelerands…. In general, they have enjoyed satisfactory personal and love relationships. However, those who were retained with age peers until fourth grade or later tend to find socializing difficult. Exceptionally and profoundly gifted students should have their first acceleration in the early years of school before they experience the social rejection that seems to be a significant risk for such students retained in mixed-ability classes. The skills of friendship building are first learned in the early years of school, and children who are rejected by their peers may miss out on these early and important lessons in forming relationships.

          Subjects Accelerated By One Year. The five young people who were permitted a single grade advancement are not deeply satisfied with their education. Their school experience has not been happy, and they would have dearly loved to have been accelerated further. After the euphoria of having new, challenging work, school became just as boring as it had been before the acceleration…. It is with this group that a serious dissatisfaction with friendships and love relationships starts to appear. Two have had severe problems with social relationships.

          Subjects Not Permitted Acceleration. The remaining 33 young people were retained, for the duration of their schooling, in a lockstep curriculum with age peers in what is euphemistically termed the “inclusion” classroom. The last thing they felt, as children or adolescents, was “included.” With few exceptions, they have very jaded views of their education. Two dropped out of high school and a number have dropped out of university. Several more have had ongoing difficulties at university, not because of lack of ability but because they have found it difficult to commit to undergraduate study that is less than stimulating. These young people had consoled themselves through the wilderness years of undemanding and repetitive school curriculum with the promise that university would be different—exciting, intellectually rigorous, vibrant—and when it was not, as the first year of university often is not, it seemed to be the last straw.

          Some have begun to seriously doubt that they are, indeed, highly gifted. The impostor syndrome is readily validated with gifted students if they are given only work that does not require them to strive for success. It is difficult to maintain the belief that one can meet and overcome challenges if one never has the opportunity to test oneself.

          Several of the nonaccelerands have serious and ongoing problems with social relationships. These young people find it very difficult to sustain friendships because having been, to a large extent, socially isolated at school, they have had much less practice in their formative years in developing and maintaining social relationships. Six have had counseling. Of these, two have been treated for severe depression.

          When I was nine I was offered what Gross calls a “token grade skip,” but I was afraid to skip grades. At the time I officially had a “best friend,” as well as other good friends at school and in scouts, but the reality was that I was very different from all of these kids, and in effect was socially isolated as described. I was afraid it would be even worse trying to deal with those intimidating older kids. My parents should have discussed the research with me and helped me gain the confidence to go ahead. (Actually, ideally they should have homeschooled me for a year and then sent me to high school.) Instead they turned it down. (I later arranged early college.)

          My beginning to read the research right at the cusp of adolescence–research my parents had lying around the house but had “never bothered to read” (well, not thoroughly and with attention)–resulted in two decades of recriminations. I’m talking repeated screaming fights continuing into my young adulthood. The issue is *still* somewhat touchy in our family.

          You see…my parents *had Stephanie Tolan’s book in the house*–the one with the famous “Open Letter”–and they let the damn letter go “in one eye and out the other.”

          You know…when *I* read the “Open Letter”, I cried. That’s how accurate it is.

          Have you read it?

          Did you allow yourself to empathize with the children described there?

          [Jason’s] parents have decided that next year they will try a new tack, in a new school, with whatever combination of radical subject-matter acceleration and out-of-school learning they can arrange. It has taken a long time to be finally convinced that [a profoundly gifted] child is so different that minor alterations of normal school methods can’t be enough.

          My parents very deliberately refused empathy for the children described in the research (not just the “Open Letter,” the longitudinal studies too). (Teen!Me would bring them passages from the research that especially reflected my experience, hoping for understanding…but…)

          If they’d allowed themselves to empathize, they’d have had to face that I had been hurt in the same way, and because of choices they had made.

          My parents went to school at a time when grade-skipping was routine. Each skipped a grade, and they are only discovering now, when reading former classmates’ obituaries, how many of them had skipped grades too. They never knew what they’d been saved from, so they never knew what a strong negative effect failing to skip grades tends to have.

          They say that now, in their old age.

          I consider them a cautionary tale of what happens when you never let your kid experience how bad inappropriate placement can be: He never *understands* how bad it can be (or, sometimes, what it even is), and therefore inflicts it on his kid(s).

          OTOH…dude. Over a century of research says to skip grades. Listen to the damn research.

          (I chose to rant a bit in the above because I wanted to illustrate the kind of, ah, bad parent-child relationship that you may be sowing by failing to take responsibility for securing radical acceleration. Over a century of research, my friend.)

          BTW, I don’t exactly disagree with Murphy’s comment. It’s just that (as I think you know) the issue for a PG kid isn’t “put in lots of effort to stay at the top” vs. “struggle to stay in the middle”; it’s “put in lots of effort to stay at the top” vs. “*don’t* put in any effort and stay at the top.” I actually am the type who’s happier to “work hard to stay at the top” than to “struggle to stay in the middle.” PG kids who liked to “struggle to stay in the middle” have graduated from high school at age ten. A PG kid who, like me, only needs the work to be just barely “hard” (complex) enough that they can focus on it at all…ideally *I’d* have *started* high school at age nine or ten.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      This may or may not be relevant, since your daughter may be an only child, but..

      .. Please, for the love of GOD, try not to make spur-of-the-moment decisions when shit happens, which I suspect it will.

      Like every other person on this blog pretty much, I’m on the spectrum and have a very high IQ, but social situations are things my two non-autistic younger brothers will trump me in constantly. As a result, to this very day, every time I get into even the slightest altercation with one of my brothers, whether it’s the most minor of fights or something verbal, our mother, and to a lesser extent father, will decide I did everything wrong and my brothers are paragons of virtue, constantly.

      The above paragraph is, of course, hyperbole, but the crux of the matter is that autists are bad at generating sympathy. In my case, it’s bad enough that I’ve given up on having parents who are going to understand me or care about my point of view most of the time, simply because they seem wildly uninterested/unable to comprehend such things a lot of the time. This is something I’d rather not see happen to other people, NT or not, so.. Please. If your daughter seems upset or off somehow, ask her what’s up, and try to be understanding even if her reasoning seems outlandish. The(an?) alternative to this is ending up with a daughter who disconnects with you on an emotional level to the point where she won’t even try appealing to your understanding anymore, which is something I doubt you’d enjoy.

      • “Like every other person on this blog pretty much, I’m on the spectrum and have a very high IQ”

        As best I can tell, I am not on the spectrum. I suspect a lot of other people here are not. The contrary appearance is, I think, the result of threads on autism which naturally pull people with first hand experience.

      • grendelkhan says:

        I also am not, so far as I can tell, on the spectrum. I was an unlikeable child, and I’ve had plenty of moments where I really wished that that could be followed by “because of something people would recognize as being outside of my control”, but so far as I can tell, I just liked trains and math, strongly disliked playing with figurative toys, and remain at least moderately introverted. So, regular nerd, not special nerd.

        Hm. I’m more bitter about my youth than I had thought.

    • US says:

      (Hi again :))

      I felt slightly guilty about disengaging during our last exchange as abruptly as I did, but I didn’t really feel I had any more to add and besides I’ve recently been trying to revive my habit of not giving people advice, ever. I figured I might as well tell you that rather than just ‘maintain radio silence’/’ignore you’.

      For what it’s worth, if I had a child like that I’d probably worry about social isolation and loneliness in adulthood. But I’d have no idea how to address that risk – my parents, especially my mother, tried, and failed (though I’m not comparable to the child you describe, as I was definitely not a ‘profoundly gifted’ child) – and it’s far from clear that this is even the most relevant problem to address.

    • Helldalgo says:

      I’m not sure what my IQ is, because my parents won’t tell me and I don’t have any interest in knowing as an adult. But I definitely got the “gifted kid” treatment. I started passing as neurotypical in high school, so I went through my middle-school years as a social pariah.

      My parents handled that age poorly for me. Not due to any real malice or ignorance, but because that’s when they started taking in foster children. I went from the oldest of two children, with a large amount of parental involvement, to homeschooling with a lot of autonomy in a nine-person household. My parents’ focus was on the foster children and their special needs. I was articulate, fairly responsible, and well-behaved, so my parents left me alone or had me operate in a parental role most of the time. I wrote, did math, and read my history books at a rate much higher than my peers, so my academic progress was mostly unmonitored. I never learned study skills, because I stopped working on things when they became hard. I never finished projects for the same reason.

      For a long time, this was fine. Things got difficult for me long after I’d surpassed my peers’ averages. The lack of structured homework and grading left me ill-equipped for high school and college. Even so, my “giftedness” got me by until about tenth grade.

      If I have on piece of advice, it’s to ensure that your child works on sufficiently challenging projects, through to the end, even if the end product is not perfect. I’m not saying to force the kid to do something they hate, but encourage them to power through the hard things. Eventually, giftedness will fail to be enough, and they’ll have to rely on effort.

    • Charlie says:

      In my hometown there was an “advanced” high school that taught science, math, and computer classes half-day. There may be similar options near you that would be a similarly good idea. Ditto taking intro college classes while in high school. I would guess it’s possible for their friends to do all this too.

      One thing I learned too late was that I could go to the library (or bittorrent), check out a textbook for something I was interested in, and read the textbook.

    • nope says:

      I’m not autistic, but I did test in the profoundly gifted range as a kid, and I also have ADHD, which has an incredible amount of overlap with autism symptomatically (particularly executive dysfunction, sensory issues and some of the social issues, but in a different way than autists). Don’t think that your kid can create their own structure to function in just because they’re smart and act independent. Autism involves varying degrees of executive dysfunction, but as far as I’m aware, it’s always present in the condition to some degree. This is perhaps the most important thing for you as a parent to learn about and accommodate, because it will probably have a bigger impact on your kid’s life than the social aspects of autism (especially if he can pass for NT).

      If he’s profoundly gifted, he won’t need much structure or accommodation to skate through middle and high school effortlessly, even at challenging schools. But you shouldn’t take his high grades at face value. This is the age at which people with executive dysfunction have to learn coping mechanisms or they will fall apart when they end up in a less structured environment, as college often is. I know from experience – I was undiagnosed and untreated in grade school because I got perfect grades in the most challenging courses my schools offered, so everyone thought I was a bit cavalier but fine. Then I went to college and and fell apart, and within a year lost my scholarship and flunked out. I had relied on outside structure that was ripped from under my feet as soon as I became a legal adult, and lost a lot of opportunities as a result. (If tech weren’t so non-credentialist, I’d be pretty fucked right now.)

      Thomas Brown does research on high IQ people with ADHD specifically, and while your kid isn’t diagnosed with ADHD, I would recommend one of his books for you in particular:

      Also, be aware that ADHD and autism are highly comorbid – several studies I’ve seen have found that up to 50% of autists also meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. It may be useful to read up on the subject in case your son falls in this category, and if he does, I urge you to start pharmacological treatment sometime before he leaves home.

  17. Loquat says:

    Public service announcement:

    If you or someone you care about is an American on Medicare, the annual enrollment period has now started and will run through December 7th. And since Medicare plans with prescription drug coverage are (a) allowed to vary significantly in what drugs they cover and what copays they charge, and (b) allowed to change what drugs they cover and what copays they charge from year to year, I strongly recommend that anyone taking much medication use the plan finder on medicare.gov rather than trying to find a whole list of medications on every individual plan’s formulary. The plan finder will tell you what plans cover your meds, what the copays are, and what if any restrictions your meds may be subject to, and it will do this for all the plans available in your zip code. I can even post a tutorial on how to use it if anyone wants one.

    (Yes it’s true, the US government set up the Medicare prescription drug benefit in such a way that it’s actually fairly challenging for any senior who really needs the drug coverage to find the best plan without recourse to an online resource like the plan finder. Foreigners from countries with saner healthcare systems may feel free to point and laugh.)

  18. Chris Thomas says:

    Note: Not sure if this is right, but it’s a perspective on gun violence I haven’t seen. Just trying it on for size.

    Violent Crime: Beyond Gun Prevalence

    Libertarians tend to be a pro gun lot (Lott?), reflexively resisting the claim that more guns lead to more crime. They may be right to do this, but it’s important to realize that there is no compelling a priori reason to take a stand one way or the other. Libertarians often point out that criminals don’t wish to prey on armed targets, and so an armed population, especially a population known to be armed, will be prayed upon less often. This is reason to think more guns will reduce crime, for the simple economic reason that widespread gun ownership raises the costs of predation. But this is not the whole story. Owning and having access to a tool will make its use less costly, ceteris paribus. Said another way, when a criminal owns a gun, the cost to her of escalating a crime to the point of drawing and firing it goes down. This is reason to believe more guns will increase crime. We are at an impasse.

    The reality, of course, is that these are both nothing more than tendencies, and there are many more besides. The question of which tendency or set of tendencies is the strongest is an empirical problem, and not an easy one. So why the libertarian hostility to claims that more guns lead to more crime? Is it because they understand the empirical literature in this field, and it all points to the title of John Lott’s book, “More Guns, Less Crime”? This is certainly possible, but there is another reason, and one that affects more than just this issue.

    Libertarians often conflate claims like “Guns lead to crime.” with claims like “We need more gun control.” This happens in many public policy debates, especially ones where non-state solutions are not obvious. The assumption seems to be that if someone opposes x, especially in the context of a public debate, they must wish to outlaw it. But notice this: if someone were to complain that there are too many lawyers, as opposed to too many guns, most libertarians could see through to the heart of this problem and say, “Yes, there are too many lawyers, and this is because the state artificially increases the demand for legal services with its Byzantine cornucopia of laws, laws which ordinary people could not hope navigate on their own. The solution, therefore, is not to outlaw or regulate legal services, which would only be treating the symptom, but to remove the laws which give rise to their need.” This, or something like it, is the appropriate response to many such complaints. The difficulty is in identifying the specific patch of dirt where the rulers have planted the diseased seed.

    The gun debate fits this pattern quite nicely, and it is baffling that more libertarians do not see it this way. Rather than joining the chorus of the establishment right in praising guns in all there banging glory, libertarians should be doing what they do best: pointing out the common mistakes and omissions of both left and right, and pointing a unique way forward.

    If this were a debate about smoking, for instance, libertarians would be pointing out (hopefully) that tobacco farmers (indeed, most large scale commercial farmers) are heavily subsidized. This is done directly as “farm income stabilization”, and indirectly through a variety of other means, including subsidized water for crops. So why on earth is nobody pointing out that the weapons industry is similarly subsidized? Indeed, how big could major weapons suppliers have become if it weren’t for the guaranteed patronage of police departments all across the country, as well as federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (saving America from guns with, what was it again?)? And this is to say nothing of the military industrial complex. Would it be a stretch to say that the Garrison State abroad, and the Police State at home have artificially stimulated the weapons industry? And isn’t that fact important in the gun debate?

    How else might our political betters be artificially stimulating gun ownership? One way would be by increasing the threat of violence. People who feel chronically threatened will be more likely to seek protection, and one avenue to protection is owning a gun. This will be especially true if other avenues to protection are closed off, as, for instance, with the monopolization of police services. If this noble monopoly doesn’t live up to its official mission statement, alternatives, however imperfect, will be found. And if we accept, as libertarians surely do, the standard picture of a monopoly as having chronically high prices and low quality, then isn’t this another way the state artificially encourages gun ownership?

    And this isn’t the whole story either. What kinds of things does the state do to increase violent crime? While it may come as a shock in mainstream political circles, libertarians, economists, and those on the anti-authoritarian left will not be surprised to see the finger pointed at the War on Drugs. Black markets encourage violence for a variety of reasons, and as Jeffrey Miron puts it in Violence, Guns and Drugs,

    …black-market producers of a good cannot use the legal system to adjudicate commercial disputes such as nonpayment of debts. Black-market employers risk legal penalties themselves if they report their employees for misuse of “company” funds or property. Purchasers of black-market goods cannot sue for product liability, nor can sellers use the courts to enforce payment. Along a different line, rival firms cannot compete via advertising and thus might wage violent turf battles instead. Thus, in black markets, disagreements are more likely to be resolved with violence.

    In addition, a meta study from the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, which reviewed the English language scientific literature on the effect of drug law enforcement on violent crime, found that “…existing evidence suggests that drug related violence and high homicide rates are likely a natural consequence of drug prohibition and that increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced methods of disrupting drug distribution networks may unintentionally increase violence. From an evidence-based public policy perspective, gun violence and the enrichment of organized crime networks appear to be natural consequences of drug prohibition.” On the other hand, Firearms and Violence, a meta study from the National Research Council on the effects of gun control, found that “…answers to some of the most pressing questions cannot be addressed with existing data and research methods, however well designed. For example, despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime [emphasis mine], and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms. The committee found that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions or strong policy statements.” So it seems as though drug prohibition is a much more robust predictor of violence than gun prevalence; and yet this issue is rarely mentioned in the gun debate.

    The point here is not that gun availability is an unimportant factor in determining levels of violence. It is rather that libertarians need not feel defensive at the possibility that guns might encourage crime. Even if true, such a fact would not count as an argument for gun control, or for any broader justification of the state. It could even count as a greater indictment of the state. After all, the state artificially encourages the weapons industry in various ways. It does this by being the largest customer of the major weapons producers, as well as by stimulating the demand for violent solutions through drug enforcement. These are artificial, state induced problems, and it may be that the tendency in a freer market would be toward far less guns, if only the state would get out of the way.

    • Anonymous says:

      The reason I don’t find the argument that guns cause crime convincing is because, so far as I can tell, what a criminal needs to be able to commit a crime is not a gun but a way of being more powerful than their target. Whatever weapons citizens can carry for self-defense, criminals will get the cheapest weapon that puts them at at an advantage. If citizens can carry fists, criminals will carry knives. If citizens can carry baseball bats, criminals will carry guns. If citizens can carry guns, criminals will carry – wait, there’s nothing that can beat a gun. So in this case criminals carry guns too, but it’s the only one of these situations where the citizen, not the criminal, has the advantage – since the law is on the side of law-abiding citizens and against criminals.

      This is, of course, an oversimplification, but the basic point is that ability to commit crime does not depend on availability of a particular tool so much as availability of any tool that makes the user more powerful than those they want to victimize – which depends on what the latter have. For uses of guns that do not depend on what anyone else is carrying, I would certainly expect cheaper guns to make these activities more prevalent. A connection such as “more guns, more shooting ranges” or “more guns, more hunting” is one I would expect to be true.

      • John Schilling says:

        If you are slandered in the New York Times, is the rational course of action to simply say that you don’t care what the editors of the NYT think and if there are any sensible people in the readership you’ll go about convincing them that the NYT is a partisan hatchet job, etc?

        RationalWiki is not the New York Times, but it is disproprotionately influential among the people we here might fruitfully interact with in the future. In part because at least half the time it does live up to its name, in part because even when it isn’t being rational it speaks the lingo, in part because it was in the right place at the right time to fill a niche. If it slanders Scott, or SSC, or all of us generally, that’s not something that can be addressed by writing off everyone who happened to stumble across RW before SSC, nor really by trying to persuade them all after the fact.

        I don’t have an answer for what to do about this, save that do nothing / ignore it is an unsatisfactory and ultimately expensive answer.

        • Dude Man says:

          One response would be to document all of RationalWiki’s misdeeds and write up a response that makes it clear what RationalWiki is and why it should not be trusted. I seem to recall Scott doing something similar in a post he had here, but he had since taken it down.

      • John Schilling says:

        There are really two arms races at work, and one of them is pretty stunted.

        Criminals vs. unarmed civilians usually stops when the criminals have knives. Almost everyone will yield to a knife, almost no one will prevail unarmed against a knife-fighter, and knives offer more control over exactly how much violence is being delivered. If someone ever invents a true SF-style “stun gun”, this race will take a new and possibly uglier turn.

        The more important arms race is criminals vs. other criminals, because criminals are in many respects each other’s ideal prey – dealing in cash and compact valuables, unable to turn to the law for assistance, etc. This almost always ends when criminals have the best portable or concealable weapons available, though some societies have managed to maintain an at least quasi-stable equilibrium where only the criminal bosses and their top-level enforcers have guns.

        There’s no real arms race between armed criminals and armed citizens, because almost all criminals would rather just back off and try the next hopefully-unarmed citizen. The few exceptions tend to strongly overlap the criminal-on-criminal predatory class.

        And except in failed states, there’s rarely a criminal-vs-police arms race, because the police can always just whistle up the army if it comes to that. If the weapons kept at hand to deal with other criminals also overmatch the average beat cop’s sidearm, they might be used opportunistically in that role, but almost no criminal has this as their master plan.

        Introducing gun control, unless it is done very carefully, shifts the balance of power against armed citizens, has little effect on the threat to unarmed citizens, and encourages criminals to add everything from cheap pistols to state-of-the-art military rifles to their black-market dealings.

        • Spaghetti Lee says:

          Here’s the thing though. It always seems like a weird non-sequitur to me. We have these mass shootings, the pro-gun-control crowd demands political action, the anti-gun-control crowd responds that banning guns will not solve problems, but they always map their statistics and scenarios onto muggings, not mass shootings, even when it’s mass shootings that people are angry about in the first place.

          If I were a criminal looking to steal someone’s wallet, yes, of course I’d scope out unarmed people. But the Chris Harper-Mercers and Adam Lanzas of the world aren’t out there to steal wallets, they’re out there to kill as many people as possible before dying themselves. They always use weapons that are designed for mass murder, not self defense, and they always buy those weapons completely legally. It seems odd to me given how many of these shooters point to crippling social isolation as a justification for what they did. Like, I’m supposed to assume they’d go find a street level connection for a semi-automatic if they couldn’t buy one legally? Doesn’t that not add up to anyone else? So I’m not sure how much I buy the argument that every shooter who uses a legally-purchased gun could have and would have also gotten one through illegal means.

          I happen to support the right to carry a weapon for self-defense. I don’t do it myself because I feel the costs outweigh the benefits, but if other people want to I don’t really care that much. But the type of guns that get used in mass shootings, the type that get talked about most often in terms of bans, are above and beyond what you’d need to scare off a mugger.

          It’s like, if some medieval king tried to ban the use of cannons because random rebels were using them to attack villages and people responded by defending how a good dagger could scare away your average highwayman. Maybe I’m missing something, but it doesn’t seem to follow.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think the relevant responses are:

            – Mass shootings are a very small proportion of all murders. If what you care about is stopping mass shootings, you might well be right. If what you care about is stopping murders, going after mass shootings is a bad way to do it.

            – What you say might not be as true as you think – last time this topic came up, someone, I think John Schilling, pointed out that there are alternative methods of mass killing such as arson. Would wannabe school shooters grab a can of gasoline instead of a gun if the latter were unavailable? I don’t know. Maybe.

            – It’s worth mentioning that mass shootings almost always happen in gun-free zones. My take on this is that if it’s really important to have a gun-free zone, you should probably search people entering it more carefully. A country that has banned guns is, in effect, a very large gun-free zone, and they keep it so by taking steps to prevent guns from coming into the country. It is probably not that practical for all schools, colleges, cinemas, and so on to take the same precautions. On the other hand, maybe not all of them need to be gun free zones after all.

          • Spaghetti Lee says:

            Well, I think that stopping mass shootings being more important than stopping ‘regular’ street crime is kind of an unspoken truth in the gun control movement, one that I personally agree with; I may be wrong, but it seems far more likely that innocent people, especially children, are likely to be caught in a mass shooting. I think it goes unspoken because it hides some fairly ugly assumptions, especially by left wing standards, about who deserves to die and who deserves to be safe, but I think if you gave people the option to magically eliminate all school shootings, keeping everything else about gun crime the way it is, lots of people would take it.

            People may also focus on it because it’s far more politically feasible than any sort of blanket gun ban (i.e. still damn near impossible) or because pro-gun-rights arguments about personal freedom and a defense against government tyranny hold less water.

            I think the problem with gun-free zones is that they’re largely a rhetorical concept. Either, yeah, actually enforce them, or do away with the polite fiction. I personally think that a society where a significant number of people were carrying weapons of a caliber that could stop a mass shooting would be less safe, because accidents happen, and people are way too confident about their ability to calmly and efficiently assess a crime scene and dispatch the shooter. You here stories about cops who have been through years of training screwing up often enough, so I frankly don’t so the argument that good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns as anything more than a just-so story. At least, I think turning the real world into a testing ground of that hypothesis would be a poor judgment call.

          • NN says:

            But the Chris Harper-Mercers and Adam Lanzas of the world aren’t out there to steal wallets, they’re out there to kill as many people as possible before dying themselves.

            No, they aren’t. If they wanted to kill as many people as possible, they’d be using explosives, or if they lacked the means to acquire or create explosives they’d be using gasoline and matches. The average mass murder with guns kills about 5 people, the average mass murder with fire kills about 7 people, and the average mass murder with explosives kills about 21 people.

            These people use guns because they want to attain as much infamy as possible, and for whatever reason mass shootings get way more media attention than arsons. Case in point: you’ve probably never heard of this deliberately set apartment fire in France last month that killed 8 people, an act of mass murder by any definition that killed more people than the Isla Verde killings.

            They always use weapons that are designed for mass murder, not self defense, and they always buy those weapons completely legally.

            No, most mass shooters use handguns, which are absolutely designed for self defense. The rest generally use hunting rifles, which are designed to kill single animals from a long distance. Only a handful have used machine guns, which are the only type of personal firearm that can even be remotely be described as being “designed for mass murder,” and which are already banned for civilian ownership.


            Would wannabe school shooters grab a can of gasoline instead of a gun if the latter were unavailable? I don’t know. Maybe.

            Note that there is at least one known case of exactly this (apart from the fact that it didn’t happen at a school) happening: the Happy Land fire was started when a guy attempted to acquire a gun to shoot up the club where his ex-girfriend worked, but he failed to acquire a gun and decided to set the place on fire instead. The resulting fire killed 87 people, which is as far as I know more than any civilian mass shooting on record.

          • Spaghetti Lee says:

            Well, I don’t live in France, so that might be a confounding variable in terms of whether I’ve heard of it or not. Also, it would seem to make sense that arson is less-discussed given how uncommon it is relative to other crimes: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2009/01/2007arrests.png

            You’re right that I should amend “while making sure everyone knows it was them” to “kill as many people as possible”. But I don’t think the focus on guns comes from the media so much as the murderers themselves. Opening fire in a crowded building is a much easier and less disputable way of saying “It was me! I did this!” then setting something on fire or biochemical terrorism or what have you.

            If your claim that mass murderers often place more value on attention and ego than on body count holds true, and my claim that mass murderers who acquire guns illegally would not necessarily do so illegally also holds true, wouldn’t it hold that keeping them away from guns specifically would reduce the number of mass shootings, since they wouldn’t, for various reasons, just turn to gasoline and matches? I’ll stay away from ownership bans because that’s a conversation killer, but would you object to more stringent laws on who is allowed to own a gun and what requirements they have to meet?

          • J says:

            Chances of dying in a shooting spree are ridiculously low. I don’t see good stats on it, but this page claims 383 deaths from mass shootings in the US in 2014: http://shootingtracker.com/wiki/Mass_Shootings_in_2015

            Looks to me like that includes things like gang-related drive-by shootings, rather than just “crazy guy walks into a mall and starts shooting” cases.

            So that’s a bit more than a 1 in a million chance per year, or perhaps 1:10,000 lifetime, making it less likely than dying from a plane crash, tornado or heat stroke, according to this chart:

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            The mass shooter is also trying to act out a certain narrative in their head, a common one in the modern society – the one where the hero, at some point, solves a problem by blasting a number of people with guns. (The end of Breaking Bad or that infamous Matrix hallway scene come to mind). Of course, the school shootings – and the reporting of them – have created a narrative in itself, one which attracts some people to try to play it out themselves.

            There’s not a similar heroic arson narrative. Arson seems cowardly and sneaky.

          • SUT says:

            The problem for the Pro gun-control side is that they’ve announced their intentions and agenda too publicly.

            I would say 99% of US would have no problem with a database for the purchase of an item that could be used as a deadly weapon. For example large fertilizer orders.

            But even Canada rejects a simple and useful proposal like that because it’s very clear what the next step from that gun database will be: complete disarmament. You can’t mutter about half the country “clinging to their guns” and then be like oh, we’re just trying to stop .00001% who are mass shooters

          • Anthony says:

            Another factor in school shootings (and similar events, like the movie-theater shooting) is that lots of these guys are suicidal or close enough, and if you can’t get the cops to kill you, shooting yourself seems a better way to go than throwing yourself into the fire you started.

        • DES3264 says:

          I don’t have a strong view of my own, but it seems to me that you are missing the category of gun crimes where the gun control case is strongest, and which were in my experience the primary argument of gun control advocates until mass shootings started getting so much media attention in the last five years or so.

          European level gun confiscation should significantly reduce impulsive murders. In a world where drug dealers, abusive spouses and just plain people with short tempers didn’t have guns in their person/home/car, these people’s disputes would be much less likely to escalate to lethal violence, because attacking someone with a knife or your bare fists is a much scarier prospect.

          It seems to me that, for consequentialists, the question is how many murders are of the above kind, versus how many are preplanned commercial endeavors. (Mass shootings being so small that they should just be ignored.)

          • Berna says:

            European level gun confiscation should significantly reduce impulsive murders.

            Also accidents. You never see news like ‘5-year old accicentally shoots 3-year old sister’ over here (the Netherlands).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @DES3264 – “European level gun confiscation should significantly reduce impulsive murders.”

            It doesn’t, though. Gun control or the lack therof has no measurable effect on murder rates. Research claiming to show an effect was produced by a clique of medical researchers in the 80s and 90s, but collapsed under scrutiny from the criminological field in the mid-late 90s. Since then, research has broken clearly and consistently against the gun control position. That’s why gun control shifted their focus to spree shootings in the early 2000s. The emotional appeal is the only option left to them.



          • HlynkaCG says:

            DES3264 says:European level gun confiscation should significantly reduce impulsive murders.

            If this were true one would expect to find stronger evidence. Great Britian implemented their Gun Confiscation scheme in 1997, but a review of archived crime statistics turns up no correlation. You’d also expect murder rates within the US reflect the rate of gun ownership within that particular state/city/region but they don’t.

            For what it’s worth, my own experience as a paramedic would seem to indicate that the majority of aggravated assaults and “impulsive murders” are committed by hand or some other “weapon of opportunity” like throwing rocks or hitting someone upside the head with a frying pan.

            Hell, even in a country as gun-happy as the US good-ole-fashioned fisticuffs and blunt force trauma still accounts for close to 20% of all murders committed.

            Edit: Ninja’d by FacelessCraven

      • Wrong Species says:

        Most gun consumers are private citizens so the idea that the military-industrial complex is the problem isn’t very convincing. I think you are really overestimating the effect of these “state induced problems”.

      • “. If citizens can carry baseball bats, criminals will carry guns. If citizens can carry guns, criminals will carry – wait, there’s nothing that can beat a gun”. There’s plenty that can beat a handgun.

        “ability to commit crime does not depend on availability of a particular tool ” Ability to kill someone does. Killing someone with fists is harder than killing someone with a knife is harder than killign someone with a gun..

        • HlynkaCG says:

          TheAncientGeek says:Killing someone with fists is harder than killing someone with a knife is harder than killign someone with a gun..

          …and predators prefer easy prey so…

    • Echo says:

      It was hard enough to introduce that kind of logic into the drug debate, and the gun argument is even more hysterical and soundbitey.
      One side is going to call you a coldhearted monster who doesn’t care that thousands of babies are being massacred every minute, and the other will listen for about ten seconds before kicking you out for not signalling political dedication.
      (And also being a smarty-pants who’s probably up to no good.)

    • Sastan says:

      So your argument is that libertarians should be pro gun, but agree with and amplify the propaganda of those who are anti-gun? Or am I reading you wrong?

      As a semi-libertarian (National Minarchist?), my defenses of the right to bear arms are on three levels.

      1: Practical, which you seem to be addressing. Will a given law have the intended effect, will there be unintended effects, is there an end in sight?

      2: Legal. Here’s where you get constitutional arguments etc. The rate of crime has no bearing here. It doesn’t matter if 50k people per day are murdered, the law says what it says. If you can get enough people to agree with you on the practical aspect, you might be able to change it, but until then…..

      3: Moral. Here’s the final barrier. I believe people have an innate right to self defense. This implies a right to the tools of self defense. Now, this does not mandate firearms necessarily, but given the restrictions of practicality (back to #1) it’s the best we have now. If we had 100% reliable stun guns which were as effective as firearms, I could see supporting a ban on (most?) firearms, so long as the stun guns were readily available to citizens.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Overall, I see the novelty in this essay as being its attempt to argue in terms of incentives from a free market libertarian POV. However, I also noticed some missing key RKBA viewpoints in it.

      1. Libertarians don’t actually conflate claims like “guns lead to crime” with claims like “we need more gun control”. Rather, they’re hearing the first claim and expecting the second claim to follow, from past experience. Gun control advocates have indeed used claims like the first to move the Overton window closer to claims like the second. In some cases, they’ve even stated that this is what they’re doing.

      This is bad news for anyone who wants to only make the first claim while actively denouncing the second, but if there were truly enough people in that group to make their frustration known, I think I would’ve run across it by now. (As it is, I occasionally see someone convince me they’re genuinely pro-RKBA, but call for a narrow restriction, and it suffices for me to analyze the restriction on its own terms.)

      2. Libertarians – or rather, gun rights advocates – do in fact ponder out loud how to reduce crime; I’m surprised the author hasn’t seen this, as it appears rather routine to me. The proposed solutions primarily center around legalizing drugs, and reducing the obstacles to civilian gun ownership. (Training is of course encouraged, but almost no one seems concerned that citizens are being stopped from getting firearms training. Meanwhile, the NRA is probably opposed to *mandatory* training, even though their non-ILA component would likely make a great deal of money from it, which ought to tell you something.)

      3. To my knowledge, gun manufacturers are not significantly subsidized. On the contrary, the government tends to try to make their livelihood harder.

      The guaranteed patronage of LEOs is opposed by libertarians in principle, but this is already covered by general aversion to police states. “Police state” arguments tend to be much more compelling than “monopolistic force agency distorting the market” arguments, so American libertarians go with the former, even though I think they’d also agree with the latter. Especially since more guns are probably owned by US non-LEO citizens than by US LEOs and US military put together.

      • I agree with you that whether more guns cause more or less crime is an empirical question. As you may know, the Lott and Mustard article on concealed carry set off a lengthy statistical controversy, with some scholars confirming their result, others disagreeing. Quite a long time it got above my level of statistical sophistication, so I can’t offer an opinion on which side is right.

        But it is worth noting one point I think you miss. Laws against gun ownership or against concealed carry can be expected to have a much larger effect on potential victims than on potential criminals, because criminals are less likely to obey such laws.

        So far as your specific examples …

        A high level of violence due to the war on drugs and/or poor policing does indeed increase the demand for guns. On the other hand, I doubt U.S. military and police demand has much effect. Firearms are sold on a world market, and with or without U.S. government demand I expect world demand is quite large enough to fully exploit economies of scale.

        With regard to tobacco, subsidized irrigation lowers the price. But price stabilization schemes in agriculture are usually designed to hold prices up, not down, so probably make tobacco more expensive, not less.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I agree with this… but it looks like it’s written as a reply to the original comment. Which makes me wonder if the latest comment software update has a bug.

          Bakkot, what do you think?

    • Have you considered unschooling? For my view of the subject, see:


      I went to college at sixteen. At least in my case, I would still have been socially retarded if I had gone at eighteen, and sixteen got me a little closer to an age appropriate intellectual environment.

  19. I finally got around to reading Scott Aaronson’s post on common knowledge. I feel like I have some intuitive grasp of his explanation of the agreement theorem, but I don’t understand the proof; specifically, this part:

    OK, but what does it mean for information to be common knowledge? It means that I know that you know that I know that you know, and so on. Which means that, if you want to find out what’s common knowledge between us, you need to take the least common coarsening of our knowledge partitions. I.e., if the ground truth is some given world w, then what do I consider it possible that you consider it possible that I consider possible that … etc.? Iterate this growth process until it stops, by “zigzagging” between our knowledge partitions, and you get the set S of worlds such that, if we’re in world w, then what’s common knowledge between us is that the world belongs to S. Repeat for all w’s, and you get the least common coarsening of our partitions.

    Could someone explain this to me in a simpler manner?

    • ton says:

      Let’s say we’re in w. What can we both agree on? I know whatever evidence comes my way in w, and you know whatever evidence comes your way in w. My evidence tells me that certain worlds are not possible, and your does the same. I ask “what worlds is it possible for you to consider possible”? If there are 5 worlds possible given what I know, then in each of those worlds, I calculate which worlds you’d consider possible. You then do the same for your evidence. Eventually we get to the set of worlds that are common knowledge between us. So, for instance, were I to say “we belong in S”, you would learn exactly 0 new information.

      Imagine we both see X together. Then S will be a subset of the set of all worlds where X happened.

  20. 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 often leans right… except that I’ve seen actual examples of right-wing screed text that grate on me, too.

        Which I take as an indication that I’m probably doing okay.

        This’ll sound wishy-washy, I’m sure, but: I almost never conclude I’m correct on anything short of mathematical theory. Rather, at best, I conclude that I’m either correct so far, based on the evidence I’ve seen, or that I *was* wrong and I can point to the specific information I was missing, or that my correctness is unknown and it’s currently too much energy to find out for sure.

        A Troubled Person: I think your heuristics for noticing bad arguments are looking pretty good. I think a good thing to check at this point is whether you’re sufficiently sensitive to bad arguments in defense of things you currently agree with, and not just things you agreed with in the past. (Notice how James is conspicuously mute on whether there are left-leaning arguments that look utterly ridiculous to him. 😉 )

        • James Picone says:

          (Notice how James is conspicuously mute on whether there are left-leaning arguments that look utterly ridiculous to him. ? )

          Well I did note that certain left-aligned memes tended to grate on me…

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            You did, and I noticed, and it’s to your credit. And I’m suggesting that it’s not sufficient; you also have to turn that eye to arguments you still hold dear. And it’s not specifically you (although your “utterly ridiculous arguments” remark did raise a yellow flag); I believe most people find this really hard to do, in large part because I find it hard to do myself.

            For example, I now have a nonzero emotional attachment to free market capitalism, such that I have to remind myself to buck that and approach collectivist arguments on their merits. It’s easy enough to avoid the trap of saying “this guy is nuts because he’s collectivist”; the trick comes in internalizing the assumption that “this guy is genuinely trying to make things better for everyone”, and seeing where that takes me.

    • Mirzhan Irkegulov says:

      I was a Marxist for 3 years. Then I read the Sequences. It was painful to finally throw away all my beliefs and identities, but it was worth it. But I still don’t feel any cosmic horror at all. I still consider myself super-duper left-wing, but the confidence of most of my political beliefs reduced significantly. Most people I hang out with are either of Labour/Green variety, or Marxists. Right-wing people of any kind are either extremely boring, or utterly insane, and I still can’t talk to them about politics without facepalms.

      I no longer treat my left-wing ideas as truths, but as good heuristics. In other words, I tell myself: “When it’s time to figure out politics and economics, I’d rather start with reading Naomi Klein, Ha-Joon Chang, David Harvey, etc, than reading Hayek or Alex Tabarrok”. For now, if you ask me about any policy, I would shrug and say “dunno, but vote Jeremy Corbyn/Bernie Sanders”.

      I don’t feel cosmic horror, but I am confident that almost everyone who talks about politics (including everyone on LW or SSC) have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. Marxists are wrong, libertarians are wrong, neocons are wrong, Social Justice people are wrong. Politics is hard, and the sanity waterline is extremely low as of now. Which is worrisome, because if we don’t figure out politics rationally in 21st century, the existential threat becomes too freaking high.

      I have zero idea how to improve political discourse. But one step that I’m definitely sure of is reading Death Spirals sequence.

      It’s much, much, much easier to stop worrying, once you become a rationality padawan. Because you can always remind yourself that from now on you won’t be mind-killed. If something is true, I desire to believe that it’s true. Therefore if through rationality and science I suddenly find out that some absolutely abhorrent right-wing ideology was actually correct all along, I would happily join it. But I don’t believe it’s plausible.

    • daronson says:

      I think we all live in religious communities, whether we want to or not. It’s human tribal nature. Most of the people who read this, probably, for reasons of socio-economic correlation, live among people who are religious lefties (religious in the not-so-good sense of believing high-placed people in their in-group not very critically). This is certainly the case for my friend group. Now the question that you ask yourself is, basically, “is this horrible”. If I lived in nazi germany and everyone around me was a national socialist, the right thing to do would be to say, “this is seriously wrong” and do something, despite people around me potentially telling me to chill out. But if I lived in a country that I believed had slightly sub-optimal economic policies, I’d probably just stay out of politics and vote for politicians who have views closer to mine. It’s your call whether you need to “do something” because you’ve recognized that the people around you are uncritical about some of their political beliefs.

      If you ask me, we don’t have any reason to worry at the moment. Here are a few things to keep in mind. (1) The world has survived much worse religions (seriously — what’s the worst thing that would happen if one of your friends came out as a conservative? Do you think they would get burned at the stake or just sent to the vice?) (2) Your friends are less liberal than you think. Very frequently, I’ll have a one-on-one conversation with someone in my friend group and it comes out that they are actually even more moderate/BS-averse than me. Your impressions of the beliefs of your friend group are probably based on people who post news articles on facebook and talk about politics at parties.
      (3) It might happen that someone ostracizes you because your revealed political views are not “pure”. They might also ostracize you because you’re the wrong height or you stutter. We have a word to describe these people across the political spectrum: “jerks”. Weed them out early.
      (4) (And this is the big one): When I really think about it, I trust that a critical mass of my friends are *reasonable enough*. A friend might hold a few uncritical beliefs, but if someone they consider an authority suggests something crazy (e.g. “castrate all homophobes!”), they would have enough cognitive dissonance to say, “wait… that’s not ok.” Moral/social progress is much more unstable and noise-prone than medical or scientific progress, but I believe that such a thing as moral progress exists, and that we’re still on track, even if the people who are most visible on either side make you a little uncomfortable. This is my point of view of course.

    • I’ve had some similar experiences (particularly relating to agreeing with environmentalism in many ways but being really worried about some odd stuff they said or did) when I was younger, though I’ve almost always had some right wing friends and apolitical friends along with the lefties to keep things somewhat balanced. These days I reject much of what both the left and right (and sometimes centre) like to push, and found myself getting fairly philosophical and into rationalism, which in turn allowed me to express my own version of politics that, while being on average centrist or centre-left, picks and chooses from all over the shop. Sadly being a bit of a contrarian doesn’t help a lot with fitting into an in-group based on a political position, so I tend to chat politics with individuals I meet along the way in life (eg. SSC) and build friendships around other commonalities. Having a pretty diverse set of friends is a good thing in many ways imo.

      Regarding humanity appearing doomed, I definitely get your concerns. I personally try to translate my perception of the grim outlook for us all into attempts to come up with new ideas (read my blog if you’re bored) that might contribute in some way to solving the ER that seem to be looming quite large. Seems like a lot of people online feel the same way generally, so that’s kinda nice.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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 definition