OT32: When Hell Is Full The Thread Will Walk The Earth

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

1. Comment of the week is Linch’s response to my request to evaluate the DRACO funding bid. They say that it’s probably not a good use of money, and a couple other trustworthy people agreed. Unless I hear something very convincing, I’ve decided not to donate.

2. I often edit posts after they’re done, sometimes long after they’re done. In particular, I take out parts that I decide were ill-advised or wrong after reading the comments. That means a lot of comments look mysterious and seem to refer to problems in the post that no longer exist. If you see them, please be aware that it’s my fault and not that of the commenter.

3. I’ll be in Boston the week before Thanksgiving; if you want to arrange some kind of meetup, let me know. Also, I’ll be in the East Bay December 12 for the Bay Area Rationalist Solstice, and in Manhattan December 19 for the New York Rationalist Solstice. If you’re going to either, I’ll see you there. If you aren’t, there may be some room for an SSC meetup either before or afterwards, though I’ve got to figure out whether the event organizers have their own beforeparties and afterparties planned. If you’re interested in putting this on, contact me.

4. The way I know the subreddit has really come into its own: it’s spawned an hostile schismatic subreddit full of angry rants about it, its moderators, and me. Also, the (orthodox) subreddit is hosting a survey on gender to investigate ideas like being “cis by default”. If that’s the sort of thing you might be interested in, check it out.

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1,084 Responses to OT32: When Hell Is Full The Thread Will Walk The Earth

    • Jiro says:

      His answers to objections sound convincing. But I think I’m in epistemic learned helplessness here; if he gave bad answers it probably would still sound convincing because I don’t have the expertise to spontaneously figure out if there’s anything wrong with his answers.

  1. FacelessCraven says:

    I read “The Northern Caves” last night, and much enjoyed it. That being said, the ending did feel rather abrupt, and left me confused as to the author’s intent for the story. rot13’d for spoilers:

    Vg frrzf cerggl pyrne gung Fnyovnavfz vf n trahvar cnenabezny curabzraba. GAP vaqhprf n fcrpvsvp nygrerq fgngr va obgu Nneba naq Cnhy, naq Nneba’f vaqhpvat fhvpvqr va gur erfgnhenag rzcyblrrf pyrneyl fubjf gung gur nygrerq fgngr vf cnenabezny. Nal pbhagrenethzrag jbhyq eryl ba gbb znal pbvapvqraprf gb or ivnoyr. Jurer qb guvatf tb sebz gurer? Cnhy’f qrfpevcgvba bs gur fgngr vaqvpngrf gung vg fubhyq fcernq, naq cebonoyl fubhyq or qvssvphyg gb rfpncr sebz. Jul jnf Nneba noyr gb oernx serr bs vg? Gur qvfzvffvir raqvat vf n ovg qvfpbapregvat, ohg hygvzngryl V fhccbfr vg qbrfa’g ernyyl nqqerff gur pber vffhr: Fnyovnavfz jnf erny, ohg Fnyol uvzfrys jnf bayl irel jrnxyl noyr gb vaqhpr rayvtugrazrag va bguref, naq irel arneyl snvyrq gb ng nyy. Jvyy Cnhy qb orggre? Jurgure ur qbrf be abg qbrfa’g ernyyl rssrpg gur pber cnlybnq bs gur fgbel, V fhccbfr. Fgvyy, jul gung raqvat? Jung jrer lbh tbvat sbe?

    Kudos on a truly Lovecraftian story, in the truest sense of the term. Definitely going to read Floornight next.

  2. Christopher says:

    I note that there is a broken image link in “Untitled” – the link is to https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/01/untitled/slatestarcodex.com/blog_images/fedora_collage.png, and obviously part of that is superfluous.

    Apologies if this is not the right (or most effective) place to report this.

  3. BBA says:

    On today’s ballot in Ohio is one of the more blatant crony giveaways I’ve seen. Issue 3 would legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana, provided that exactly ten licenses to grow are issued, and that those licenses are assigned to ten specific plots of land mentioned in the text of the proposed law.

    Now that’s chutzpah.

    • BBA says:

      And it didn’t pass – though more likely because Ohioans support the drug war than because of the proposal’s inherent awfulness.

    • Doctor Mist says:


      Wow, I thought you must be exaggerating, so I went out and found the text.

      …there shall be only ten MGCE facilities, which shall operate on the following real properties: (1) Being an approximate 40.44 acre area in Butler County, Ohio, identified by the Butler County Auditor, as of February 2, 2015, as tax parcel numbers Q6542084000008 and Q6542084000041;…

      Just wow.

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      Cultivation and sale? Not purchase, ownership, or recreational use?

      (Judging by how messed up the property thing is, it wouldn’t surprise me.)

  4. Anonymous says:

    A question regarding ethical frameworks.

    Why don’t there seem to be any deontologists who believe that it is their moral imperative to act in such a way as to minimize the number of rights violations that occur? The equivalent view for utilitarians is widespread, but seems nonexistent for deontologists. I don’t really understand why. One fundamental disagreement between the two groups is over what is good and what is bad. Utilitarians say utility is good and disutility is bad. Deontologists say rights being upheld is good and rights being violated is bad. But only one group makes the extra step or two into “one is morally obliged to make the world as good and as unbad as possible, with good and bad defined by [framework].

    Why is this?

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Well, for one thing, I don’t think deontologists think that “rights violations” are something that can be quantified and added up. For example, is it better to prevent five pickpocketings than four rapes? I don’t think any deontologists believe this.

      Their whole ethical framework is entirely different. It’s not about having some kind of goal which you are to maximize. There is some set of rules which you are supposed to follow, some set of prohibited actions, and a vast space of “neutral” actions in the middle. As long as you follow the rules and avoid the prohibitions, you are a “good person”. Some of the rules and some of the prohibitions are more important than others, but there is no fundamental scale of value that they map to. Thus, for the most consistent deontologists, one cannot break a lesser prohibition in order to achieve some more important goal, so long as the goal is not itself a binding commandment.

      That’s about as much sense as I can make out of it. Frankly, I think the whole thing is insane.

      • Anonymous says:

        I know they don’t think that minimizing rights violation is a goal they are obliged to pursue. My question is why. It seems perfectly possible to believe such a thing – also to rank rights violations in terms of how severe they are. I’m sure anyone could come up with some plausible justifications why rapes are more of a rights violation than pickpocketings if they wanted to; it doesn’t seem to me that the lack of doing so is down to inability so much as unwillingness.

        And it works the other way round too. A utilitarian could perfectly well argue that making the world as good as possible is certainly a good thing to do, but not a moral imperative: that the more you improve the world, the better a person you are, the more you make the world worse, the worse a person you are, but that you are obliged only to fall into the first group rather than the second.

        So in other words, “what is good or bad” seems like a separate concern than “how you should behave in light of what’s good and what’s bad”.

        • stillnotking says:

          “Deontologists” is a much broader class of people than “utilitarians”. You could probably find some deontologists who think exactly as you describe.

          Divine-command theorists are the most common type of deontologist — in the world at large, I mean, not in philosophy departments — and most religions do provide at least a rough hierarchy of offenses. I know the Catholics have spilled a lot of ink on the matter (venial vs. mortal sins, etc.), and Muslim sharia law is perhaps even more detailed.

        • Lupis42 says:

          We do have people like that, but we call them Utilitarians/Consequentialists.

    • blacktrance says:

      As I understand it, deontologists distinguish between the good and the right. The good can be similar a consequentialist conception of it, but the right consists of constraints or obligations that don’t seek to maximize the good, and can even be independent of it. Deontologists say that an act can have the best outcomes according to their preferred conception of the good, but that act should still not be done because it violates people’s rights or fails to meet the agent’s obligations. Not all deontologists believe that the right is completely independent of the good, but they do believe that they aren’t identical and that when they conflict, the right overrides the good.

  5. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Egg-manning: to argue against a position held only by people with no audience on Twitter http://combatblog.net/?p=8246

    It’s a bit like weak-manning, except it’s been voiced by a prominent writer.

    The linked Hitchner piece is also good, pointing out (near the end, among other things) that the outrage market causes people to write outrage-y articles.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mildly disturbed to see the writer of that article describe the internet as ‘democratic’. I think the internet is more like the least democratic medium ever to exist. And this is a very good thing. Imagine the implications that would arise from the internet actually being democratic. Perhaps Facebook users would decide that SSC is not partisan enough and vote for a law requring all posts here to have a political party logo attached so that readers know whether to cheer or boo.

      Or not. More likely the author is just using ‘democratic’ as a synonym for ‘good’.

      • Nornagest says:

        More likely they’re using “democratic” as an antonym for “authoritarian”. Which is only kinda true at the micro scale; the only scalable models of site administration anyone’s come up with are clanking Wikipedia-style bureaucracies and dictatorships with various levels of pettiness, but some of those dictatorships rule with a light enough touch that they look like anarchies in practice as long as you don’t trade in blatantly illegal content. But it makes a decent approximation at the macro.

  6. Protagoras says:

    OK, so my general impression is that there are some things that are better run by the government, and some things that are better run by the market (almost everybody seems to think this, apart from the extremely rare communists and anarchists the debate is over how much goes in which category, and which specific things). But having the government arrange for the private sector to do a job for them seems to almost always be worse than either; the incentives set up by businesses trying to get government money/favor are more perverse and destructive than those created by bureaucratic pressures within the government. That’s one of the reasons I tend to support Democrats, I suppose; even if I happen to think the ideal view is that of the libertarians in a particular case (which is not all that uncommon, though I’m sure I don’t lean as far to preferring markets as most who identify as libertarian), often the policies actually on the table are Republicans advocating privatization in the form of a government-regulated monopoly or government paying private contractors vs. Democrats advocating direct government control, so the Democrats look like the lesser evil to me. Since there are a lot of conservatives here, I wonder if there are any defenders of such policies who can point out something I might be missing. Are there cases where having the government pay private enterprise, or set up a government regulated monopoly, really does work out well? Or are those policies cases where the local conservatives hold their noses and put up with it from Republicans because they consider the alternatives worse, as of course I do with a decent number of the policies of the Democrats?

    • onyomi says:

      I think charter schools and vouchers genuinely work better than public schools run by the government. The key, I think, is the element of consumer choice and competition, which you don’t get if the government simply grants a monopoly to a single private company. In that latter case it seems like you have all the bad incentives of a government monopoly with yet another layer of greed layered on top.

      If the GOP refuses to become a serious free market party but instead insists on continuing to offer government-based quasi-private sector type solutions, I think they should move more in the voucher-type direction of giving money to the consumers rather than the “let’s hire a private company on the theory that the private sector automatically does things better.” Red tribe members like to complain about food stamps, for example, but food stamps are way, way better than having a subsidized, government-run grocery store, which would immediately become the most depressing place on earth without a doubt.

      • I have read some articles stating charter schools don’t work well in Sweden but the ideological motive was really clear so I would take that with a huge grain of salt. The author argued the paying customers are the parents, who want good grades more than good education so grade inflation happened.

        Sounds convincing, except that there have been plenty of private schools in the world that wanted to have standards because reputation because long-term money.

        So, even if those articles are not ideological hackjobs, seems like Sweden screwed up by finding corporations who wanted a quick buck and gave customers what they apparently wanted, better and better grades with easy curriculums, and not what they needed. Giving people what they need leads to longer term money through reputation.

        So it seems to be the challenge of establishing really respectable long-term oriented charter schools, not just inviting some corporations of the high time preference quick buck type.

        • onyomi says:

          In the US, at least, most news articles I’ve seen attacking charter school have, indeed, been ideological hack jobs funded by teachers’ unions or those sympathetic to them (which include a segment of blue tribers who love the post office a little too much and who inherently distrust private corporations). We’ve seen a lot of this in my hometown of NOLA, for example, where damage caused by the hurricane allowed for some much-needed school reform. Much to the chagrin of local leftists, it’s been working reasonably well, but that doesn’t stop Salon et al from grasping at straws and searching for any excuse to declare NOLA’s “free market experiment” a failure.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            a segment of blue tribers who love the post office a little too much

            I love this description a little too much!

          • Protagoras says:

            So charter schools must be a good idea because all of the articles saying they don’t work are obviously biased, and there’s this one case where an (obviously unbiased) person reports they seem to be working “reasonably well?” Do I have that right?

          • onyomi says:

            “So charter schools must be a good idea because all of the articles saying they don’t work are obviously biased, and there’s this one case where an (obviously unbiased) person reports they seem to be working “reasonably well?” Do I have that right?”

            This is so snarky and uncharitable I’m not going to respond.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Protagoras — Bias usually works more along the lines of selecting the stuff that comes to you. Onyomi, if he’s interested in the subject, has probably seen at least as big a stack of articles saying charter schools work as you’ve seen saying they don’t, plus another big stack of obvious ideological hackjobs on the opposite side.

            Now, in this case those articles might be right, they might be wrong, but as long as there’s a market for both sides there’s going to be volume ready to fill it. Every side on every issue has big stacks of articles, plus convenient straw articles from the opposition. Creationists do. Flat earthers do. Even the Time Cube guy is doing his best, and that’s a party of one. This is precisely why relying on the popular press for your opinion of anything contentious is… well, the polite word would be “fraught”.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Markets are an evolutionary algorithm. As such, they need three things to function:

        1. A fitness function: Death, in this case the death or bankruptcy of a company. Markets actually get more fine-tuned than this; amount of money is the fitness function, and there is space for companies that don’t get the most money as long as they get enough money to stay open. But we can crudely approximate this with either staying open or not.
        2. Variation: Companies need to be free to offer products which vary substantially, or there’s nothing for them to optimize.
        3. Reproduction: This is less clear than with biological organisms, since existing companies can mutate themselves, but a low barrier to entry generally results in much greater innovation via startups. This lets you improve much faster.

        So the question, for any given proposal, is how many of the above does the proposal allow for?

        For example, there’s been semi-privatization of DMV offices in recent years. This is limited; they basically only introduced death into the system (for so long as it remains easier to fire the contractor than the government employees). And that has resulted in some small improvements in service and convenience, but no major industry shifts because they really can’t vary much in terms of what product they are offering.

        Voucher systems are potentially much, much better. In it’s best form, you’re saying, “we want to optimize ‘education.’ Take this money and figure out how to do that.” The tricky part is that politicians need to restrain themselves from specifying the parameters of “education” so that variation can occur and new players have an easy time entering the market.

        At the other end, consider something like water delivery. We can get away with running this without any of the above because we know exactly what we want to do and exactly how to do it. As long as the officials running the program have *some* sense of responsibility, it can handle getting clean water to our homes.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Attacking from a different angle, isn’t Obamacare a prime example of Democrats doing what you describe as your worst-case scenario? Everybody is basically required to buy a product from a select few private companies, with the details of the product specified by the government.

      • onyomi says:

        Most liberals would say, I think, that they would have preferred single-payer, but that Obamacare was the best they could do, due to those intransigent Republicans and their private sector fetish.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I don’t think that lets them out: single-payer is also a case of government paying the private sector to do a job for it, and therefore another example of the “worst-case scenario”.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think the usual American thought-model for single-payer is something like England’s National Health Service, where the government runs most of the system directly. That’s not the only way to run single-payer, but is the most obvious and probably the most visible version in the Anglosphere.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            It gets confusing: In health-care debates, Americans of all parties tend to use “single-payer” as a lumpenym for “the national health-care system of every developed country except the US”. (They’re all alike, aren’t they?) But on the occasions where left-liberals get specific about what they want, more often than not they seem to have in mind some more centralized variant of the Canadian system.

    • brad says:

      Where does something like government contracting come in? It seems like there’s a spectrum there from buying paper (government is only one buyer among many) to buying roads (government is the dominant buyer) to buying submarines (government is the only buyer).

      • Protagoras says:

        True, it seems that the government buying something that’s already available on the market because there is substantial private demand doesn’t get into nearly as much trouble as the government buying something for which it is the main/only customer; I agree that the government shouldn’t make its own paper.

    • >OK, so my general impression is that there are some things that are better run by the government, and some things that are better run by the market

      The basic problem is what do we mean under the market. For example one could mean three diffent things at least:

      1) entirely faceless corporations own by non-CEO shareholders who just want profits
      2) corporations owned by the CEO who balance profits with the CEO’s personal values
      3) also charities, churches etc. CIVIL SOCIETY

      Obviously saying the market should run almost everything, a position I would support, depends on what market. And it is especially weird to call civil society the market.

      Isn’t it weird that people accept that kind of social engineering / large scale changes to move something from the market to the government or back, but not the kind of social engineering to change society so that there are more honest businesses on the market, more face vs. faceless businesses, more charities and churches, how comes this kind of social engineering i.e .a better market / better civil society hardly arises?

      This is partially the fault of conservatives who always opposed social engineering which when proposed by the left meant more power to government. But had no positive proposal.

      The positive conservative proposal would have been a different kind of social engineering. Not something the government does. But a change in society itself. Better civil society etc. So when lefties say “we need to educate the children of the poor better” and “we” meant government, conservatives should not have merely opposed it but should rather have said “we need to change society so that we produce more of the kind of people who choose to donate to the charities that educate the children of the poor.” Is this possible? Worths a try at least. Why should government be the only angle “we” can change something about society?

    • TD says:

      >OK, so my general impression is that there are some things that are better run by the government, and some things that are better run by the market

      This is, of course, true, but there are different theories on what these things are. Personally, I’d say that it is mostly competition, responsiveness, and economies/diseconomies of scale that are really important and not markets Vs governments per say. Things have their size at which the long run cost per unit of production is lowest; sometimes that means that the government is going to be inefficient because the scale that people want out of a universal public service goes above its economy of scale and ends up in a state of diseconomies of scale, but other times the private sector doesn’t have the sheer concentrated bulk that the government has to produce economies of scale. It all depends on the type of industry. Certainly the military seems to benefit from economies of scale, and so is best done by government (of course the government could theoretically be a single giant corporation, so…)

      In peacetime, governments aren’t under as much competitive pressure as corporations, which may be the advantage of the market in that it can generate peaceful competition kept peaceful by a government.

      >But having the government arrange for the private sector to do a job for them seems to almost always be worse than either

      Sometimes. Actually, the US military is one example where this seems to work “nicely”. People complain about the military-industrial complex because of moral reasons, but it is hard to argue that the intricate linkage of contracted corporations and government institutions hasn’t produced the most formidable and high tech military on the planet.

      Or maybe it would be even more powerful if it was just “government” (whatever that might mean)? The Soviets certainly didn’t seem to have a problem on the military front, and became a superpower. Possibly, this is just a scale thing; if something is government, then you can suck up all the resources you want to make as many of previously established designs into real equipment as possible.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yeah, perhaps I’m being too hard on them, but I do feel like the military is an example of this problem; sure, there are some things the U.S. military can do really well, but others seem to do pretty well while spending an infinitesmal fraction as much. I didn’t think it was a particularly controversial view that the U.S. military sometimes wildly overspends. And when it comes to using private contractors in place of soldiers, again all the (perhaps biased) reports I’ve heard suggest enormous costs and all sorts of problems.

  7. Proposal: introduce a new term for the kinds of intellectual-business elites who tend to cluster around San Francisco, as I am starting to think they not only differ from the upper classes of most of the world, but it looks like they also differ from the upper classes of the rest of America too. Would “Franciscans” do?

    Example. (Thanks, PSmith.) Does it surprise you that “Franciscans” think being muscular is uncool? http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/half-lifts-workout-says-social-class-85221 I have never met elites in my life who would think lifting weighs is uncool, and not only because I never left Europe, I think if I would fly to New York and talk to young, up and coming investment bankers they would also find it weird. I think they too are putting some effort in looking pumped for that pick-up evening in the bar. I think this attitude must be an almost exclusively “Franciscan” thing. Or clusters there. Notice how we tend to find such online articles on websites that focus on SoCal / Bay Area. Valleymag etc. This PSmag is Santa Barbara, not too far. Same cultural cluster. “Fransicans” may be the only western culture where Zyzz wasn’t cool. Apparently. (How they ended up electing the Governator beats me. Arnold has always been not-a-Franciscan in this cultural sense, even Republican.)

    I came up with this idea when reading Scott Adam’s How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big In Life. Most things he wrote about just felt irrelevant to me. I was just about to say “must be a American thing” when I realized no, many Americans like Eric S. Raymond write about things highly relevant to me. And when Scott Adams mentioned he moved to San Franscisco I began to feel a “Gotcha!” that there a pattern here. Cool in SF is not the same as cool in Pennsylvania. And cool in Pennsylvania is more relevant to cool in Manchaster, UK or cool in Nuremberg, Germany than cool in SF. Get it?

    What are the characteristics of Fransciscan culture?

    – extremely social, spends a huge amount of time socializing

    – therefore social status is extremely important, things like having some kind of a diet instead of eating random things can bring a lot of it

    – very success oriented, in the sense that there is zero difference between socially approved values (success) vs. personal values, this means, finds it easy to motivate himself to achieve success in socially approved values.

    – these traits are linked all ways: being very success oriented requires networking i.e. being social and extroverted, but being very social means status is hugely important, which boosts the desire for success (in socially approved/respected things)

    – Notice how the article stresses the approval of friends is important even in things like whether building your body is cool or not, this may be a very Franciscan thing. It is an everything is social thing… this may be why Franciscans, their Valley subsidiary, invented all this social media stuff. While this is popular everywhere, somehow it could be more core in the Franciscan culture which is inherently social, where friends are almost a given feature of life and not something earned by special sympathy and so on.

    – from the article: “especially those like my friends and myself, richer in fancy degrees than in actual dollars” (a fancy degree is not necessarily a money making degree, but a socially respected, friend-approved one)

    – a culture of self-control (see Protestantism)

    – anti-masculine values (dislikes physical dominance etc.)

    Is it possible that New York stopped to be the cultural capitol of the US? That the most dominant global narratives seem to come from the Bay Area now, more or less? There is a unique culture going on there, as reflected by the PS Mag and other regional publications.

    Let me stress my theory here is more relevant about cultural differences inside the USA than between the USA and other countries. For example, does anyone here live amongst the finance folks in NY? Do they also consider being muscular uncool? Probably not. Do they also think friends approval matters in your exercise choice? Probably not. Do they also find Scott Adams’ book strangely not relevant? Like for example why the heck to strive to be more liked? Because the only reason to do so is to be more succesful, networking, but it also means you have to be succesful in what those people value and society in general, not you?

    • anonymous says:

      I’m not in finance myself, but I’m in NYC and about half my college friends ended up in that industry. And the difference with you are positing doesn’t exist. If some IB analyst bulked into some hulk thing he’d be a figure of fun. The exercise of choice is long distance running, triathlons, etc.

      Twenty plus years ago on a trading desk (and only on a trading desk) it would have been a different story. But those days are over.

    • Some Other Guy says:

      >I have never met elites in my life who would think lifting weighs is uncool, and not only because I never left Europe

      Of course they wouldn’t. You can’t properly play Rugby without getting huge.

    • Psmith says:

      I think it’s a sector thing, not a geographic thing. Media and academia lead the way; I hear that energy and heavy industry are approximately the hindmost. Also, New York City is plenty strong in the WEIRD status-signalling department, I assure you.

      And anonymous has a point. Of interest: note which characters Tom Wolfe describes with phrases like “bulging sternocleidomastoid” in his novels. In 1987’s Bonfire of the Vanities, we have the high-flying New York bond trader Sherman McCoy and the Bronx DA Kramer. In 1998’s A Man in Full, it’s Atlanta commercial real estate developers–still rich men, but not Masters of the Universe exactly–and a college football player. I don’t remember 2004’s I Am Charlotte Simmons well enough to be sure, but I think the only “bulging sternocleidomastoid” types in it were college basketball players. And in 2012’s Back to Blood it’s a Cuban cop in Miami.

      • Would the worldwide Zyzz craze be considered lower class in those sectors? I mean, that guy was not only buff and handsome, also did a good job of not looking poor. So guys like him were the cool guys in my youth and I understand why was he popular among the young, as he seemed to be winning everything, looks, sex appeal and money, and I sort of don’t really understand the class of people who didn’t consider him cool. Tom Wolfe was in “my circles” always some uninterested egghead and people would read books that help you make money e.g. Dale Carnegie. Are you saying the standards of “egghead” intellectuals took over some sectors really so totally? So what used to be considered e.g. amongst women “blue stockings” or amongst men “egghead” attitudes they became more universal?

        Also interesting: AFAIK sternocleidomastoid exercises don’t exist, maybe Wolfe used it to refer to testosterone. I thought “liberals” mere deny that the emasculation of the West exists, I haven’t figured they celebrate it.

        • anonymous says:

          You seem to be describing a guido-like culture. In blue America, even when such types happen to get well off they are just the worst sort of nouveau riche, not high status at all.

          I have my doubts that this is really a worldwide thing, having observed to a greater or lesser extent financial elites from the NYC, London, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

          I can well believe that it is popular in Eastern Europe though given that the most successful people in many of those countries seem to be related in one way or the other to organized crime.

          You seem to be extrapolating fairly wildly from narrow idiosyncratic experience.

          • I don’t know why do I remind people of Eastern Europe. It could also be that I am confused with someone else, as my kind of east is so west that Ukraine usually scares me and strucks me as weird. A significant chunk of my life experience happened in Britain and Germany and I studied and later worked with people as far as India and Yemen. And my brain is got so much English language text uploaded to it that one could say my brain lives virtually in text-America. But in one where Tucker Max was a #1 NYT bestseller. Go figure. Sounds like a different one than yours where Tucker Max types could only be nameless criminals. And Tucker Max is even worse than guido-like cultures. Zyzz was popular mostly in Australia and Britain. I remember clubbing in a five story high dance club in Britain where every level had not only different music but also theme e.g. the chill section was themed like a ski center. Must have been crazy expensive and the entry fees were high, so it is was not low class people there and still you would see more Zyzz and Tucker Max types than “intellectuals”. Similarly if you read The Return Of Kings they seem to say the best pick up bars in America with table bottle service and all indeed seem to be more for the Zyzz types than the “intellectual” types.

            So I should perhaps turn the table and say actually it is bigger on the outside than the inside, the “intellectual” culture is not universal, in fact it is far more specific, and the other culture that values money more than education and values looks more than right opinions seems to be more universal. And it seems to me the “intellectual” culture is not even simply an American thing if I can believe the bar stories in Return Of Kings, but limited in class. But not only class, as the table bottle service customers aren’t poor. So one way to approach it is geography – the Bay Area thing. Another way would be Moldbugs Optimate vs. Brahmin class struggle thing. The rich guy loves getting status by showing off money and muscles who drops $500 on bottle service would be Optimate, the learned guy who tries to gain status by calling the previous guy a misogynyst would be a Brahmin.

            I mean, Brahmins are the ruling class. One thing being a ruling class does to people that it makes others invisible. So if you are used to Brahmin circles you are perhaps not seeing the non-Brahmin cultures everywhere. Test: have you ever used the term “townie” in an “outgroup” sense?

            But outside the intellecual elites “guido” stuff is pretty close to a universal because it is built in things people want (even if in an extreme and silly way): looking rich, muscular, and sexy in a spectacular, impressive way, son a very basic sense of success. If you look around e.g. in Britain, you see guys with second gen Indian / Pakistani ancestry pulling a perfect “guido” moves but again you need to leave the intellectual circles and go to the fashionable dance clubs. Because they are based on the human universals of money, power and sex. The weird part about intellectualism is signalling against these.

            The “guido” should be interpreted as a non-intellectual human universal, not some small Italian-American subculture. http://www.collegehumor.com/post/5872663/understanding-the-guido

            “The Guido of today did not come into existence fully formed; he evolved. Going back to the 19th century, Italian immigrants placed a high cultural value on the ability to look good, to dress sharp, to own valuable material things. Since so many of those immigrants were desperately poor, a nice suit or a fine watch would be a sign to the others in the neighborhood —and to potential mates— that you were on the up and up. And so it has gone for the last hundred years. A flashy suit and fedora gave way to slicked hair and a silk shirt which then gave way to blow outs and Ed Hardy.”

            It worked exactly the same way since someone in the Copper Age figured wearing gold is cool.

            “Because the Guido harbors no desire to leave home, to go west, or undertake any of the adventures many of us consider rites of passage, his has become an isolated culture.” Actually only “Brahmins” do this.

            “Ask any true Guido what he wants from life and the answer will be to get a job, marry a nice Italian girl, get a house, get a shore house, have some kids, and retire. That’s it. No “I want to be a movie star,” or “I want to backpack through Europe.” Just a simple, happy life in New Jersey or Long Island with a little place down the shore for the summertime. So for years now, the Guido has evolved away from the prying eyes of society at large.” Again the guido is the normal universal non-Brahmin non-intellectual human here. It is the authors that is unusual, but of course it is a site called COLLEGE humor.

            For example I never wanted to backback through Europe even though I lived in it. I waited until I made enough money to go to the kind of hotels that feel classy, with room service and some porter carrying my suitcases, as I found backpacking a shamefully poor-looking thing. A guido would understand, because the guido is just a normal human. An intellectual wouldn’t.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >It could also be that I am confused with someone else

            It’s exactly this, a lot of people here think you’re Shenpen. Or at least his long lost identical twin, which would make you, according to biodeterminists, basically Shenpen.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Your description here sounds like what I would call a “finance bro” or a “law bro”. I ran into them in my undergrad and in grad school.

            -their mannerisms and style of dress fit to the “bro” stereotype, albeit an upscale version. Lots of polo shirts and khakis, but no cargo shorts, maybe boat shoes instead of sandals, hats not worn indoors. A lot of them had literal “bro voice” – would it be fair to say that bro voice is the male version of vocal fry? Very jocular.
            -in undergrad, liable to be in fraternities.
            -studying something business-related, frequently corporate law.
            -right-wing economically, left-wing socially. Definitely not social conservatives. Liked to party as much as anyone else. I can’t recall anybody really disliking them for their opinions, and these were guys who cheered on Romney, despite not being Americans.
            -demographically not much different from the rest of the bubble I inhabited, which could solidly be called “Brahmin” or “blue tribe” or whatever.

            EDIT: And if these guys are not “Brahmins”, it seems weird to say that the Brahmins are the ruling class, because the guys I knew who fit this mold (and they were mostly guys; I only met one female law student who was doing corporate law, whereas I only met one male law student who wasn’t, and no female business students, and nobody in undergrad who fit the mold) are probably going to be way closer to actual real-world power than the people I knew/know doing PhDs.

          • anonymous says:

            I don’t know what Return of Kings is, but assuming from context that it is some sort of MRA/PUA site, thinking you understand American culture because you’ve read a lot of that crap is laughable. That goes doubly for Moldbug, and triply for collegehumor (!)

            The biggest problem with your analysis is that money is not the same as class. In NYC there are bridge and tunnel clubs that trashy types come in and spend a lot of money on table service and then go puke in alleyways. These people have a fair amount of disposal income, but aren’t in any sense high status. Australian has its cashed-up bogans and I’m sure London has its Chav made good clubs too (five floors!)

            You were the one that wanted to invoke elites. No matter which way you cut elite — money, power, family connections, status, even fame, you don’t see a bunch of muscle-heads. Maybe on the fame axis a couple of entertainers that cater to low brow audiences (e.g. “the rock”) and on the money side in a tiny handful of industries (e.g. private military contractors) but that’s it.

            That’s not really a regional thing either. Maybe rural areas are to the contrary, I don’t know, but even in Houston the movers and shakers don’t look like gym rats.

          • Cet3 says:

            I don’t know why do I remind people of Eastern Europe.

            My guess is that people are reacting to your grammatical tics – you don’t write like a native speaker, and the way you use articles reminds people of Eastern Europeans who learned English later in life.

        • Psmith says:

          “Would the worldwide Zyzz craze be considered lower class in those sectors?” Yes, definitely. Likewise Jersey Shore and Tucker Max.

          “Are you saying the standards of “egghead” intellectuals took over some sectors really so totally?” Is this not the entire point of Moldbug’s Cathedral stuff? A central point of The Ideology That Must Not Be Named? I mean, reasonable folk may disagree, but it’s at least prima facie plausible, yes.

          Tom Wolfe is, broadly speaking, conservative. The “bulging sternocleidomastoid” stuff is not sneering. Actual committed blue tribe types seem to find it distasteful; see, e.g., http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/15/muscle-bound

          “AFAIK sternocleidomastoid exercises don’t exist”
          Neck flexion. (Bridges, facing down.).

          “I can well believe that it is popular in Eastern Europe though given that the most successful people in many of those countries seem to be related in one way or the other to organized crime.

          You seem to be extrapolating fairly wildly from narrow idiosyncratic experience.”
          I pretty much agree, but it sure is interesting to hear about this (Eastern European?) culture even if extrapolations from it to the blue tribe bubble or products thereof (i.e., the media, academia, etc.) are generally inaccurate.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have lived in SF area for 1 year, and various other places for 29. I would have said with high confidence that nowhere is it normal for intellectuals/elites to be muscular, but that SF culture is actually more accepting of that kind of thing than anywhere else (think the sort of person who does the paleo diet, also, Google “bayesian bodybuilding”)

    • Deiseach says:

      Do the natives of San Francisco refer to themselves as Franciscans?

      Because using a phrase like Franciscan culture in such a context is very mental whiplash-inducing for me 🙂 Please call them SanFranciscans if you absolutely must!

      • Nornagest says:

        “San Franciscans”, usually. It doesn’t come up much. I’m fond of “Bay Aryans”, myself, but I can see why it doesn’t catch on.

        (I am Governor Jerry Brown/ My aura smiles and never frowns/ Soon I will be President…)

  8. semiautorabbit says:

    Has anyone else read the the latest Razib Khan?. Fascinating stuff, though I wish I had a better grasp of genetics to evaluate some of the evidence myself. A few of his contentions:

    -Within the past ~5,000 years, there were “several waves of migration of Eurasian groups back to Africa.”

    -“The pattern in antiquity down to the early modern period, from the Goths to the Mongols, was to extract rents and treat the farmers as cattle.”

    -There has been a transnational ruling class for a long time:
    “On top of the story of migrations of whole peoples, and the extinction and absorption of others, is the story of bands of men operating as units, related either in truth or fictively, which extract rents across a thickly populated landscape of human cattle.

    “The interests of men like this know no nation, nations are but ends to their will. The tension we see in our modern world, between egocentric plutocratic elites jostling nation-states like playthings, might be simply the repetition of an old pattern”

    • Not an easy article to digest if you aren’t an expert. But I can try to take a shot.

      All this talk about Y chromosome and migration out of the steppe ending up in NW Europe the sounds like “ancient white people who prolly looked like a Swede had harems of not very white women, and not sure if voluntary or slavery, and basically no nonwhite men had much chance reproducing (perhaps because dead)”.

      Which suggests to me precisely what the article is denying: “Outright genocide with weapons is a dangerous business.” Yeah sure tell that Caesar and the Helvetii. Genocide happens after you win and then it is not dangerous. What is dangerous is keeping grown men alive as slaves, who can revolt. Killing them all and raising their sons as slaves + taking their women was more common.

      Is Razid telling us they invented feudal serfdom 5000 years ago, and then the slave societies like Rome went on un-inventing it and returning to slavery? How about no.

      “Charles C. Mann notes that the mass death triggered by the arrival of Europeans and Africans to the New World had as much to do with the destabilization of society by illness as much as the illness itself”

      This makes a lot of sense. Safe-fail collapse is impossible largely for reasons like this.

      “The scenario then might be one where populations on the Eurasian steppe develop some of the basic elements which would lead to agro-pastoralism, and undergo population expansion. With numbers, and well fed on the agro-pastoralist diet, these tribes might have poured into the lands of the farmers as rapid mobile groups in their wagons. ”

      Wait, what? Pastoralism is not technically more complex than farming and could not be a later development. Their cattle and sheep wasn’t like the modern breed, far sturdier, they could take care of themselves even in winter as long as you chased the wolves away and kept them together. It was as easy as hunting for a stationary target.

      Is modern science really suggesting that pastoralism is later than farmin? That is fairly nuts… pastoralism is the logical next step after hunting. It is just hunting something that doesn’t run because is domesticated. Farming is harder, far harder.

      Wagon warfare is not that special. Ancient Egypt etc. had war chariots. If I had to guess, the innovation of the whites may have been cavalry. Counter-argument: ancient cavalry was shitty. No stirrups. Even Macedonian cavalry was shitty. How about: making better bronze or iron weapons or armor?

      “On top of the story of migrations of whole peoples, and the extinction and absorption of others, is the story of bands of men operating as units, related either in truth or fictively, which extract rents across a thickly populated landscape of human cattle. Another way to state this is that the thuggish state which imposed a monopoly of violence on a chaotic world where small-scale conflict was becoming too expensive allowed for the emergence of patriarchy as we understand in its customary form. Like so many hirelings, the men charged with protecting the people, made the whole world their possession and left dreams of their people behind.”

      Why should this be a Euro thing at 2500 BC when it was already so earlier in Egypt, Summeria etc. ?
      This seems to be the general pattern for most settled people in the Middle East as well, not a Euro / white innovation.

      ” But in other cases, such as R1b among the Basque and R1a among Dravidian-speaking tribal people in South India, what we are seeing is the long arm of the patriarchy reaching beyond bounds of cultural and genetic affinity. The great Cherokee chief John Ross was famously 7/8th Scottish in ancestry.”

      I simply don’t understand what patriarchy means here. Dominant Scottish men had sex with Indian women. That is patriarchy? What kind of a setup would not be a patriarchy? If anything, John Ross is an example of not-patrilinearity as he seems to identified with the people of his mother and grandmothers? “But he was a voice for the Cherokee people nevertheless. ” Is “fuck you, granddads, I am sticking with grandma’s folks!” patriarchy? What is this even about?

      “d. Like modern corporations the patriarchies were only loosely associated with other units of human organization, even if they used them as their vehicles of choice.”

      At this point I have no idea what patriarchy means here. Apparently it is not the common usage i.e. a rule of men / fathers but some sort of a patriliniear sub-tribe that organized as a miliary or whatever? Again, that is many many nonwhite tribes too. I just don’t understand this point.

      • Cet3 says:

        Is Razid telling us they invented feudal serfdom 5000 years ago, and then the slave societies like Rome went on un-inventing it and returning to slavery? How about no.

        Huh? Are you a doctrinaire Marxist? Otherwise, I’m not seeing why you would find this idea so implausible. If anything, classical slavery requires a more advanced/complex society than serfdom. Serfdom displaced slavery in the parts of the early medieval world which experienced the most economic and institutional regression from classical times.

        Is modern science really suggesting that pastoralism is later than farmin? That is fairly nuts… pastoralism is the logical next step after hunting. It is just hunting something that doesn’t run because is domesticated. Farming is harder, far harder.

        What you find ‘logical’ has no relevance to anything going on outside your own head. Aside from dogs, I am not aware of any animals domesticated before the development of agriculture ca. 10,000 BC. And most of the early domesticates (Sheep, Goats, Pigs, Cows) came from the same region of southwestern Asia where farming first developed. So there’s no good reason to believe pastoralism developed before agriculture.

        Wagon warfare is not that special. Ancient Egypt etc. had war chariots.

        Yes, after ~1500 BC. Well after the time period Razib is discussing. This is like writing “Gunpowder warfare is not that special. Iroquois etc. had muskets.”

        If I had to guess, the innovation of the whites may have been cavalry.

        “Whites” (which I guess you’re using to mean Indo-Europeans) were still using chariots in Caesar’s day. The population movements Razib is talking about took place in the 3rd and 4th millenia BC, so your idea can’t work.

  9. Linkage!

    Link: Buddhism for vampires is apparently a thing: http://buddhism-for-vampires.com/

    And written by the same guy who wrote an extremely awesome in-depth article that was able to explain perfectly to me why exactly do I feel Buddhism over there in America is somehow very “political” and not in a good way, while e.g. in Scandinavia it is not really so (think Ole Nydahl): https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/buddhist-ethics-is-advertising/

    Link: the start page of my dividuals.wordpress.com now is a table of contents with reverse order chapter numbers. Blogging like a book? Blogging like a book! Goal: to motivate people to actually read older stuff as well and not treat blogs like news services where older news hardly matter. That is not ideal when you try to convey some serious thoughts. Then again, that is the whole problem with the blogging format, what folks like me want is actually no-hassle easy e-publishing, and then they end up with a blog. Make it not bloggy is worth an experiment, at least, even if it turns out to be stupid. Also, everything that looks like a book automatically earns prestige points. Even if it is a flask for liquor (tested that one, too).

    Link: well, first some explanation. Maybe it is not so for younger people, but 35+ spending too much of your free time on a computer is low-status. It is dorky, nerdy etc. World of Warcraft players were often considered the biggest dorks, who live in a virtual reality because they cannot succeed in real reality. Remember this guy from South Park? http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/southpark/images/0/05/Griefer.png/revision/latest?cb=20120211222858 Also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Make_Love,_Not_Warcraft Now look at this link: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/games-and-gains-an-interview-with-pro-gamer-bajheera.html TL;DR it seems at least in my mind, but maybe in most minds, being a body builder COMPLETELY erases the status loss coming from being a dedicated (actually, in his case, a professional, competitive) gamer. It is apparently impossible to consider someone who has muscles a dork / geeky nerdy loser. We think gamers have no life, and apparently, muscles are life, or something, so we don’t think they don’t have a life if they have muscles. Weird. Probably because we predict that a man who has muscles also has a girlfriend (indeed) and having a romantic life is a big part of what is understood as having a life. And probably dorkiness or nerdiness is low status due to the low romantic success part, so if you advertise loud being romantically succesful, such as with muscles or anything else that works as an obvious I-have-or-can-have-a-girlfriend batsignal, you will not be seen as dorky.

    • Saint_Fiasco says:

      I think the low status of professional gamers relative to professional athletes is because athleticism is seen as a healthy trait, and sedentarism is seen as unhealthy and lazy, like you are not taking care of yourself.

      Asians don’t hold that view (I think they associate physical activity with low status physical labor, like you are not smart enough to have a sedentary job in an office), which is why e-sports is taken more seriously over there.

      • Anonymous says:

        My thoughts on a similar phenomenon – why time spent doing something in a video game, even something that requires lots of skill and effort, is considered more wasted than doing something similar in real life.

        I think part of it might be to do with how difficult it is to keep what you have created. When you do something impressive in a video game, it exists only inside the video game. When you stop regularly opening up the game to look at it, you stop seeing it. When you get a different computer, it might not support the game anymore. If the game, and accomplishment, is part of an online multiplayer, even worse – it exists only as long as the servers are kept up. You can’t keep it with you. Your creation is entirely dependent on the existence of a very fragile fictional world to use it in – so you are seen, not entirely unreasonably, as having wasted your time on creating something you never really have full control over.

        Similar examples: is programming seen as a waste of time? How about creating sand sculptures that will be washed away by the sea? My impression is ‘no’ to the first and ‘yes’ to the second. Which fits my hypothesis regarding the relevant factor (or at least one relevant factor) being how temporary and fragile what you are creating is: whether you will get to keep it, or whether it is destined to fall apart whether you want it to or not.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Anonymous – “I think part of it might be to do with how difficult it is to keep what you have created. When you do something impressive in a video game, it exists only inside the video game.”

          There’s more to it than that, I think. A great deal of “achievement” in video games is fake. A large portion of game design is built around creating the illusion of challenge, threat, high stakes, accomplishment and so forth where none or very little actually exists, even within the game world. Hitting the level cap in an RPG usually requires nothing more than patience and a lot of free time, for example, and beating the final bosses usually requires even less investment than that.

          • Nornagest says:

            Earning a black belt in judo usually requires nothing more than patience and a lot of free time, and some very basic physical fitness (you’ll have more than basic physical fitness by the end of it, but that comes naturally from spending a few hours a week on the mat). Is it therefore a fake accomplishment?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nornagest – Video games often require orders of magnitude less. There are exceptions, and some of them can be found on the e-sports scene; fighting games, in particular, seem to actually push the edge of human ability. Even in the competitive-based MOBA scene, though, you see perverse incentives creeping in. The basic problem is that the things that make Judo fundamentally valuable also make it less fun, and games tend to optimize for fun to the exclusion of all else.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Perseverance more than patience. A lot of people who take up a martial art like judo never reach black belt.

            It’s certainly more impressive than reaching level 60 or whatever.

    • Psmith says:

      “It is apparently impossible to consider someone who has muscles a dork / geeky nerdy loser.”

      …oh, man. https://mopeilitywod.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/fight-the-future-fulfill-your-destiny/

      Not to mention like all of /fit.

      • Strange. But also this relates to the new culture of power lifting (Rippetoe) not the old body building stuff, although the two overlaps. But these are guys who send out the “athlete” vibe so somewhat “puritan” ? Compare it to the Zyzz type body builder vibe which says “playboy”. Of course the two thing really overlaps but it is just an idea anyway. The kind of playboys I see doing body building would never debate if it is a real sport – of course not, but real sports are kind of nerdy anyway because you focus on achievement in some virtual rules based world instead of real achivements of sex, money and beating up someone who disses you, at least that is apparently their philosophy. In my experience they never discuss sports, they discuss last weeks rave or lays or dubious ways to get money. Etc. So I would say body building culture is closer to, um, Jersey Shore or the equivalent… than power lifting.

        • Psmith says:

          Very likely. But I think that’s an artifact of underlying personality types, not a causal effect of lifting. Zyzz notwithstanding, putting your average SSC commenter on a bro-split and a tren cycle will just get you a more muscular dweeb. (And the Jersey Shore types wouldn’t have been dweebs even if they didn’t lift.).

          • Good point. Still, the article about “Bajheera” was very enlightening in the kind of subconscious effect it had on me and unless my mind is very atypical, I think on others as well.

            (One reason I stopped reading lesswrong was that everybody was screaming Typical Mind Fallacy all the time. Fuck that. We are more similar than that. Why do certain foods or music becomes super popular? Because they hit something about our brain biology. It seems there is the equivalent of chocolate ice cream or Metallica for everything – in the sense that not everybody likes them but the amount of people who like it is so overwhelming that really says something about how the human brain is furnished.

            For example in case of chocolate ice cream we even know why it is so exactly: cold suppresses the sweet taste, and thus allows us to eat more sugar than we would enjoy the taste of, for psychoactive effects. It also has fat, which combines addictively with sugar, and the chocolate also has opiod type psychoactive properties. So it is not a matter of taste and differences and atypical minds. It is all about certain core features of what human brains want. )

  10. Deiseach says:

    Scott, I’m in need of some professional advice here (not for my own case).

    How do you tactfully ask a paranoid schizophrenic if they’re not imagining that they got married?

    You see, we’re going through our social housing lists and updating them. One of our clients hasn’t been in touch with us, and we found out he isn’t living at the most recent address on file with us. Anyway, it turns out he told a third party (also dealing with his case) that he got married and is going to move in with his new spouse.

    Which is fine, but… the new spouse is already a social housing tenant with us and it’s been three months and, although she has corresponded with our rents department, she has made no mention of a new husband coming to live with her.

    Which, let’s be frank, is not that unusual. Our tenants tend to forget these little details – like partners, spouses, kids, family, etc. coming to live with them – mean that (a) they need to apply for permission to reside (b) this means a change in the rent being charged.

    Since (c) this also affects their social welfare payments (if you’re co-habiting or married, your payments get cut), you can see why such minor details like “my new squeeze” slip their minds.


    This client has had trouble living independently before. The pattern tends to be: (a) can’t live at home anymore because of conflict with parents (b) moves out (c) can’t hack living on his own for various reasons (d) has to move back home (e) rinse, repeat

    So… I may be maligning the man, but I am not 100% confident he is not (a) imagining this woman is his girlfriend (b) imagining they are getting/have gotten married (c) he’ll be moving in with her.

    And that brings me back to: am I being offensive in presuming that simply because he is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and I (so far) have no evidence other than “he told someone who told me” that he is married, and since one of our other paranoid schizophrenic clients regularly turns up at our offices absolutely convinced we are spying on her by putting cameras down the drains which come up in her bathroom, that he may also be constructing a fantasy about a marriage and new place to live?

    I mean, it could all be true. I could be an idiot. But how do I ask without being offensive?

    • Vaniver says:

      Marriages are public record in the US. If the same is true in Ireland, couldn’t you verify it directly?

      • Murphy says:

        1: I think it costs money to get such records.

        2: I think you need to know where they got married.

      • Deiseach says:

        Need to be discreet; we can’t really go around accusing our clients of being nuts, so to speak. Accessing the marriage records is a bit more “official” than I’m willing to go at this time. I mean, you walk in to anywhere and say you’re “Mrs Jones”, do people immediately demand you show them your marriage licence? 🙂

        I think I’ll try with our rents office to see if the lady in question has acquired a husband, speak again to the third party involved, and see if anything shakes loose 🙂

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I can’t give you professional or expert advice, but maybe you could ask him “So, tell me about the wedding” or “Tell me about your time with her”. If he’s able to describe it all clearly, well – I guess it could still be a hallucination, but at that point asking him directly probably wouldn’t help much either.

      Also, are you allowed to ask to see marriage licenses? Are you allowed to ask the woman?

      • Deiseach says:

        Asking about relationships is Very Tricky No-No Area; we had at least one case where an applicant’s story sounded a bit fishy (‘oh yeah I’m living in the same house as this guy and sure I’m paying him rent but no I don’t have a rent book or a receipt or anything’) and the guy might have been her boyfriend, so we did the routine queries we ask everyone (‘please confirm your relationship with X has ended’) and got a very sticky letter back from her lawyer* about “How dare you ask such prying questions of my client?”

        Another applicant (who definitely was as slippery as an eel about her sources of income) blew up and had a hissy fit when asked “Is X your partner?” (meaning “business partner”) – how dare we say such things, it’s none of our business, she was going to complain to a superior about staff making sexual allegations about her, etc. etc. etc.

        Most people are reasonable, but there are those you cannot ask anything because they will take it as a personal attack, so we have to tread very softly when it comes to – well, everything, basically. So asking “Hey, so how’s the missus?” could get us in big trouble 🙂

        *It’s amazing how people who allegedly can’t provide housing out of their own resources manage to afford a lawyer. There’s one particular guy in town who is notorious for taking these cases, and a lot of people do lawyer up in the hopes of getting money out of the council.**

        **And the papers. There is going to be a front-page story tomorrow about one of our clients, big headline about “homeless family” – and we can’t tell the true story behind it all, so people are going to read it and come away with the idea of ‘heartless paper-pushers and red tape mean poor woman and her young family are suffering, typical government/public sector inefficiency’.

        (Edited to remove information I really shouldn’t be talking about outside of work).

        (But dammit, social workers really do need to have the rose-coloured glasses yanked off their eyes the minute they leave college and before they encounter their first client).

  11. Fj says:

    I was reading your old posts on Moloch, and the “this is the dream time” at overcomingbias, and a question I was idly pondering now and then percolated up and found a hard point of application:

    Why do lions sleep 20 hours a day?

    In fact if you look at the vast majority of higher animals, they are not at all as hellbent on reproducing as fast as possible as you would expect from the ruthlessness of natural selection. Bacteria and viruses do, I remember reading a paper where someone put a virus (or a bacterium, I don’t remember the details) in an environment full of preprocessed stuff it needed to reproduce and observed them losing three quarters of their genome because the raw speed of replicating RNA became the bottleneck, the shorter is your RNA the faster you can reproduce, so yeah. That’s how you do survival of the fittest.

    Higher animals in established biomes don’t do that. It would be beneficial for an individual lion (and for her pride, so for her genes) to hunt for five hours a day instead of four and raise 1.1 cubs instead of 1.0 baseline, so we should expect a Malthusian death spiral resulting in hungry lions hunting proportionally rarer prey for 20 hours a day, for the same subsistence-level fitness. Moloch commands that to happen!

    That’s not what happens. They slumber for 20 hours a day instead, and other mammals, reptiles, insects, basically everything that is not a bacteria or a virus is really really REALLY slacking on their reproductive obligations, spending a significantly nonzero amount of their time just chilling out.

    A basic and extremely interesting but ultimately irrelevant answer to that would be to point out all the safeguards that prevent lions from becoming ultimate meat-to-offspring conversion machines (and then finding themselves at the same objective fitness for all their effort, curse Moloch!). It’s irrelevant because a relevant answer must explain how those safeguards came to be.

    I suspect that it has something to do with group selection vs individual or even gene selection. Like, those safeguards are in because the pre-lions who failed at not going all Malthusian repeatedly died out, but without destroying the entire lion-shaped biosphere (allowing more conscientious lions to eventually repopulate the ensuing void), so here you have it.

    So, can we learn from that? That’s a way of subverting Moloch that basically everyone does, what makes us humans bad at it? When you look at it like that, being susceptible to Moloch is a sort of an exception really. Your favourite Comanches did that too, by the way, riding around, hunting, fighting and otherwise enjoying themselves.

    “But look where it got the Comanches (and also lions)” — nah, the important thing is that it did not get them to the supposedly inevitable Malthusian death spiral, so it’s not all that inevitable. They got outcompeted via a completely different way, by external forces. So if we can prevent that, a life without submitting to Moloch is a possibility.

    Also, about that overcomingbias article, it states explicitly “our distant descendants will fragment into diverse local economies and cultures” — that seems to be a recipe for avoiding the race to the bottom actually. If a pride of lions that mutates to hunt for 5 hours a day dies off without taking out all other lions in the world with it, then you can have group selection.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Sounds like r/K selection theory might be relevant here. You can spend your energy on having a lot of offspring (r strategy) or on nurturing a few (K strategy). The latter works better in niches that are close to carrying capacity. If the her cubs are fed less because mom is spending her energy popping out another sibling, they’ll be runts or something, and the fewer cubs of the more nurturing mom will be on top next generation.

      I’m not sure whether that relates to your analogy regarding Moloch. My first thought was that growing productivity means humans are never really that close to their “carrying capacity”, but despite that, we haven’t switched to a K-strategy. In fact, nurturing seems all the more important; there’s a story that birth-rates go down in affluent societies because it’s more expensive to raise a doctor than a farmer.

      That might not be germane to the question of why we work 40 hours a week instead of 5. That competitive landscape is not about literal offspring, but if you ask what it is about, you start talking about relative status and other artifacts of cognition. If the 40-hour week is an r-strategy in this meta competitive landscape, you could imagine a K-strategy, something like “work smarter, not harder”. But that landscape goes through huge changes in very short times, so finding a niche that’s stable enough for the lion’s strategy to work seems hard.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        I also just had this image of the lions sitting around saying, “Jeez, those bald apes are taking over everything; we’re trapped in this situation where we just can’t get ahead! We sleep 20 hours a day, but it doesn’t do us any damned good! Simba tried sleeping 19, but it just made him cranky. It’s like the nature of the universe implies that we will never amount to anything!”

      • Fj says:

        I think my question would remain the same even if lions reproduced by spores (but still slept 20 hours a day — would they do that btw?): why aren’t they trying harder? In fact it seems that K strategies are especially suitable for having but not using opportunities to try harder: hunting for two more hours would allow a lion to support one more cub per litter (wiki says it’s 1-4 usually) more or less bypassing possible questions like what if there is some hard biological bottleneck regarding digestion speed or something maybe.

        Anyway, I wanted to emphasize that my question was about the total amount of work put into reproduction, not about the way it’s split between few or many offspring. It seems to me that it’s way way too low in some cases. Maybe I’m wrong.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          my question was about the total amount of work put into reproduction, not about the way it’s split

          Fair enough. The r/K stuff sounded close, but I can see why you’re not completely happy with it.

          It seems to me that it’s way way too low in some cases.

          A bit of random googling led me to a paper summarized at this blog. Apparently large carnivores tend to prey on game that is bigger than they are (in contrast to a smaller predator that eats more continually on little things like mice or bugs). It’s an energy thing associated with being big. But hunting big stuff takes a lot of energy. So they’re not sleeping 20 hours because they are in top-dog kick-back retirement, but because they work really hard the other four. (You don’t see fat lions in the wild.)

          So then the question is not why they don’t spend another few hours reproducing — four hours of hunting require twenty hours of sleep, there are no more hours to be had — but why they don’t produce more offspring in those four hours. But that takes you back to r/K. You don’t succeed in the Lion Niche by spewing out a thousand cubs of which the best ten survive on their own; you succeed by having ten cubs and then spending the effort to make sure most of them survive.

          But I’m just a dilettante with a library card and a search box. Even the wiki page for r/K says it has been subsumed into a more nuanced theory.

          • Fj says:

            > But hunting big stuff takes a lot of energy. So they’re not sleeping 20 hours because they are in top-dog kick-back retirement, but because they work really hard the other four. (You don’t see fat lions in the wild.)

            That doesn’t check out because sleep doesn’t “restore energy” or anything. 4 hours of hunting gets
            them enough nutrients to pay for those 4 hours of working really hard plus 20 hours of sleep plus
            feeding offspring. 2 more hours of hunting would of course pay for themselves and more just as well.

            I don’t think it’s some sort of magic, I already said: I think it can be explained by saying “group
            selection” and waving your hands vigorously. If lions’ habitat is geographically big enough then any
            “cancerous” lions that try to reproduce as fast as possible collapse their local prey population and die
            off, to be replaced by lions that evolved all sorts of safeguards that make it hard for them to evolve
            to hunting for one hour more. And we know what happens when a species without such safeguards are introduced to an ecosystem, too.

            But if that’s true, then that is a strong argument against that “dream time” pessimistic outlook
            that says that everything is necessarily reduced to subsistence efficiency. Lions and Comanches
            weren’t. However it doesn’t mean that everything is necessarily _not_ experience this Malthusian
            regression, there probably are various non-obvious things (like having a geographically large
            habitat) necessary to prevent it.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Hmm. Well, I had not read the dream-time stuff; I just fell into the thread because of the lions. 🙂

            So now I have read it, and it didn’t strike me as especially pessimistic; the “subsistence” I think he’s describing would seem pretty posh to you or me. Subsistence doesn’t have to mean squalor — those lions are living at subsistence.

            While any given innovation seems to exhibit the S-curve, I’m not sure I’d expect, as Hanson seems to do, that innovation as a whole would top-off in that way, though it’s an interesting counterpoint to singularitarianism. But I don’t think that quibble is the one you’re trying to explore.

    • Anonymous says:

      Viruses are like startups. Composed of the bare minimum to succeed. Higher animals are like gigantic federations of mostly-cooperating polities strangled by a dysfunctional bureaucracy.

    • NN says:

      To me it seems like the obvious answer is that sleeping helps lions conserve energy, and since they are carnivores who primarily hunt other megafauna, a single kill can easily provide them with more food than they can eat in a day. Because lions are apex predators, they don’t have to watch out for other predators (apart from human poachers), so sleeping carries basically no risk.

      Also, while lions can sleep for 20 hours in a single day, they don’t sleep for 20 hours every day. From what I’ve read, they mostly enter a long sleep after they’ve consumed a large meal, which only makes sense. There’s no reason for a lion to go out hunting when it and all of its cubs have full stomachs.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was wondering something similar a while ago: for all territorial animals, is the size of territory they maintain equal to the minimum possible territory size that could sustain them and their offspring? My impression is no, because of examples such as lions that you mention, but I’m not certain.

      A better hypothesis would be something like “territorial animals increase their territory size until the benefit of doing so has fallen, and the cost of doing so has risen, to the point that they are equal”. Which would incorporate factors like Doctor Mist mentioned, of the possibility of creating a few very successful offspring being a better strategy than creating as many offspring as possible, quality be damned.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        is the size of territory they maintain equal to the minimum possible territory size that could sustain them and their offspring? My impression is no

        I’m guessing your impression is that it is larger than the minimum, because if it were smaller they would all be dead? I expect there is something like a supply-demand curve here: if you dropped one pride of lions down in a lion-less Africa, pretty soon there would be more lions, and the only thing that would cause that trend to top out is when the maintained territory is pretty near the minimum required.

        On the other hand, what’s “required”? The territory that works most years might be too small in a lean year, so it might be advantageous either to maintain a little more territory routinely, or instead to have fewer cubs when you’re hungry.

        creating as many offspring as possible, quality be damned

        And of course it’s more complicated than that. The r-strategy critters like fish are jump-starting natural selection because the thousands of baby fish are not identical clones: they’ve been produced with all the chromosomal crossover that sex is famous for (well, in some circles), so you get a wide distribution: some real losers and some real winners. The ones that survive might well be very high-quality. K-strategy critters are already subjecting themselves to the a primitive analog of what we mean when we observe that myopic, asthmatic types like me would probably not have survived in the ancestral environment. But if everything was r-strategy, the lion niche would be empty.

  12. AlphaGamma says:

    In interesting studies news, low resting heart rate correlated with violent criminality in Swedish males.

    I suspect at least part of the reason for this is that physically fit people consider themselves more likely to win fights, so are therefore more likely to start them. But that doesn’t explain the (weaker, but still there) correlation with non-violent criminality.

    • Wild guess – sociopathy -> limited exposure to fear as linking factor?

    • Sastan says:

      Psychology to the rescue!

      Introverts have high resting heart rates and high resting anxiety. This is why they are uncomfortable in complex social situations. Their brains are already running close to max load, all the time, overstimulation becomes easy.

      Extroverts are the opposite, low resting heart rate, low resting brain activity. They seek new experiences and frantic social interaction because they are bored, and need stimulation. Some subset of these folks will be male and risk-seeking behavior has a good overlap with criminality and maleness has a big overlap with violence.

  13. no one special says:

    Forgive me, Slate Star Codex Commentariat, for I have sinned.

    I have not confessed before.

    I am the person who introduced Scott to the term “motte and bailey doctrine”. From him, it spread to the political movement that must not be named, and from there to the alt-right, worker ants, MRAs, and various ilk.

    Now, I look around the internet and see people fighting stupid culture wars, (as one does,) and then someone says, “a classic example of the motte and bailey doctrine,” and I look at it and say, “I did that. This is my fault.”

    How may I cleanse myself of this sin?/Can anyone offer a utilitarian argument that this is better than it was before?

    • stillnotking says:

      Come now. “Motte-and-bailey doctrine” only refers to a single, narrowly-defined type of deceptive argument. Who could have a problem with your naming that?


    • Peter says:

      I had an allegedly-amusing comment about taking motte-and-bailey being a motte-and-bailey and did a few rounds of recursion, but I think the spam filter ate it.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      For your penance, please say three Litanies of Gendlin.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      It’s already escaped, so how about finding a term we need to fill the gap between Boring Motte and Way Outside the Far Fringe of Bailey? Like, a habitable zone for productive discussion. I don’t think Overton Window quite fits.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      You helped put a name on an incredibly dangerous logical fallacy used by all kinds of malevolent political movements. You have nothing to apologize for.

    • sabril says:

      I really like the “motte and bailey” concept but before learning about it, I used the phrase “bait and switch,” which I think works pretty well.

    • Jeremy says:

      If you didn’t introduce the concept, then other concepts would be used in its place which are at their core less sound. At least someone can be corrected in their use of the motte and bailey concept easily.

    • no one special says:

      (Note that I didn’t _name_ it, I just made Scott aware of the pre-existing paper that did.)

    • Next time I see Bach/Mozart/etc. played in a TV commerical, I’ll think of you.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Google the guy who invented it – I can’t remember his name, but he blogs on the same philosophy blog as Rebecca Roache – and he writes about it and seems to be pretty okay with it.

      • no one special says:

        I did see his post about it, so I’m not worried that we’ve gone beyond the appropriate context. It actually seems to be being used correctly, most of the time.

        I’m just shocked by how fast it’s spread. How could it be that one post of approximately “BTW, URL” could have such an impact. It blows my mind.

        • Vorkon says:

          It spread so fast because it’s a remarkably apt description for something that people have been looking for a good description for, for a long time now.

          If they didn’t have “motte and bailey” to use these days, though would just call it something else. Like sabril said above, “bait and switch” works pretty well. “Moving the goalposts” describes the phenomenon pretty well, too.

          Either way, you can console yourself with the fact that, regardless of whether they had the “motte and bailey” term to describe what they’re arguing about, they would STILL be making arguments in culture wars. You haven’t increased the total number of culture war arguments in any way, simply added a new term to the lexicon.

    • RCF says:

      BTW, I remember seeing a Jeopardy clue where the correct response was “What is bailey?” and no one got it, so U guess it hasn’t permeated into the general population.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Requesting a checkbox at the posting form to “keep the current time in the ‘new posts’ sidebar”. If you check it, the current value from that text box will be used. If you leave it unchecked, then it will update just like it does now.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Oh my God, yes!

      This is absolutely needed. Honestly, 4chan has a better comment system than SSC.

  15. multiheaded says:

    What do the libertarian-leaning people here make of this article about Uber/other peer-to-peer services and their regimes of control?


    The dozen Uber drivers I spoke with — all of whom requested anonymity — said they were skittish about whom they picked up, not based on what their customer ratings were, but on signs that they might give harsh ratings. Some avoided five-star passengers because it meant they were new and might not know that anything less than five stars is a failing grade. Others said that if they got stuck in traffic or the rider placed the location pin wrong, they’d cancel the ride rather than risk deactivation from a customer who’d be annoyed at the outset. If the riders are holding red solo cups or look like they might try to cram too many people in the car, drivers cancel rather than get rated down for telling them no. You have to be careful who you pick up, one driver told me. “Once you start the ride, you’re screwed, you put all the power in the customer’s hands.”

    • Adam Casey says:

      It seems like the customers get more advantage than the drivers get disadvantage, compared to a regular cab. Giving customers power means the driving experience is worse, but regular cabbies really need a shift in that direction.

      Yeah it means it’s harder to rely on uber as your only source of income, but that doesn’t seem to be the normal situation for most drivers from what I can tell.

    • tcd says:

      Interesting article. I guess you would expect the drivers to eventually find an equilibrium point.

      Two other things people who pay attention to Uber might find interesting, from the DC market:

      1. Of the two female Uber drivers my girlfriend and I have had, both admitted to carrying some sort of device for self-defense. (There was a third, but she turned a twenty minute drive into and hour and a half through unnecessary traffic despite our giving directions. She is the reason the rating system exists.) One carried mace and admitted she looked into getting a concealed-carry permit. The other carried a knife in her bag, but kept it in between her legs once the sun went down. (It’s ok, she claims she has never been in an accident…) Both admitted to having used the services Uber provides drivers that blacklists sketchy riders from their future potential ride-pools.

      2. There have been a recent string of sexual assaults in the DC area by a man/several different men posing as Uber drivers late at night (one on the same block as my apartment complex). Similar story in each case, a young woman ordered an Uber ride around 3-4am to a high late-night traffic area, upon going outside approached the first idling car they noticed, did not check to see if it was the car Uber sent since there was very little activity at that time of night, the driver asked if they had ordered an Uber and then drove them to a no-traffic area and sexually assaulted them. The police are still looking into the crimes. What I find interesting is this is a good example of a crime which only exists conditionally to Uber/a company like Uber existing.

      • Jason K. says:

        In response to #2

        The sexual assault has been pulled with regular taxis. It is just more expensive to do. That said, having used Uber a few times, the report sounds fishy. The phone has always been prominently mounted with the app up when I got in. In addition, The driver has your phone # and visa-versa. If there is any doubt, you can call.

        Plus there is the coincidence factor:

        1: Car just happens to be the only idle vehicle in a high traffic area waiting at just the right time?

        2: The woman approaching happens to match his type? (yes, serials generally have a type)

        3: The woman is drunk/inattentive enough to not notice that it isn’t the right car & driver? (you get a headshot and a vehicle description)

        It isn’t impossible, but it does tickle my bullshit detector.

        • tcd says:

          I agree with you, if you are using Uber correctly there should be no reason to get in the wrong car. [To be clear, the comment was not a jab at Uber, just an observation.]

          The victim in the assault near my building said she got into the wrong silver car, so it is implied that she did initially check the information on her phone. And, of course, the point about the taxis is a fair one. In fact, there was a fake taxi doing just that maybe four/five months ago in DC as well.

          Thankfully these crimes are very rare, but my interest was more in the “new crime distinction” angle. A few years ago very few people would be comfortable willingly getting in an unmarked car with a stranger late at night, now it is second nature to many.

  16. Influenzor says:

    I have an idea for a browser plugin but no idea how to build it or how hard it would be to build (ideally for Firefox). Figured I’d float it here and see what people think.

    MVP 1: you set a timer, and then your browser app quits when the timer’s up.

    MVP 2: there is a timer for each website on a list that you set up beforehand (maybe imported from a Bookmarks folder?). You say “I want this website to be open for 2 minutes, this one for 5 minutes, this one for 30 seconds” and it automatically closes the tabs after you’ve had them open for that amount of time, and then quits out of the browser after the last tab closes. You also set a timer that covers any web browsing you do outside of those sites.

    • Some Other Guy says:

      Sounds a lot like stayfocusd, a shitty chrome leechblock clone (shitty by virtue of being in chrome, it’s actually pretty cool otherwise).

      • Influenzor says:

        Hah, I like their website.

        Anyway it looks like Stayfocusd is basically a Pomodoro timer. I already have one of those. What I want to build is something that is more focused on helping people who want to break their web addictions do so, by automatically shutting down their browser for them.

  17. Deiseach says:

    The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.

    The older I get, the more sensible George Orwell seems to be. If he could see the state of things now, where “fascist” gets flung about to describe “person who asked me to take my feet off the bus seat so they could sit down” – he’d probably nod and say it was no more than he expected.

    • Peter says:

      The other good Orwell quote:

      It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

      And that was in 1944. At that time Orwell was holding out some hope that “underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning” but evidently his views had not yet reached full ripeness.

      (It’s interesting looking at how Orwell’s views change over time. The stuff that everyone remembers is from after World War II, and it’s interesting looking back at some of his earlier writings from when he was less jaded and cynical. The late stuff is the good stuff, though.)

    • stillnotking says:

      The word “socialist” is routinely applied, in America, to mean “slightly to the left of mainstream Democratic Party economic positions”. In some cases, this usage is even self-applied: see Bernie Sanders.

      It seems to be a sort of political version of the euphemism treadmill, where “X could lead to socialism” becomes “X is socialism”, then “Y could lead to X” becomes “Y is socialism”, etc. Pretty soon, people who are a million miles from nationalizing the means of production are “socialists”. I presume something similar happened with “fascism”, although that was before my time.

  18. Peter says:

    Has there been a discussion of this 8-way typology and the Blue/Red/Grey?/Violet??/???? system?

    I’m not an American, but score “Solid Liberal” – I know I’m here to hear people complain about the worst excesses of the Blue tribe, but the quiz wasn’t about campaigning tactics. There seems to be an arc from “Next generation left” through “Young outsiders” to “Business conservatives” which seem to have libertarian elements (maybe the first is more Blue and the second more Red), whereas “Faith and family left” looks like the Violet thing that some of the commenters have come up with. The “Hard-pressed skeptics” doesn’t seem to fit so well – it doesn’t seem like a demographic that’s big on SSC. And “Bystanders” seems like another way of saying “generic non-affiliated, with a big side-order of disengaged.”

    • Deiseach says:

      Well, I can never resist an online quiz 🙂

      I came out “Solid Liberal” which has me laughing (and which probably induces comparable mirth in any of you who have had five minutes’ exposure to me on here); I would have expected “Faith and Family Left” instead to be as far left as I got.

      This goes to show the difference between American politics, and quizzes on American-oriented topics, and the non-American view.

      I think it was the question on “do you need to believe in God to be moral and have values?” that tilted me over; I answered “no” which apparently makes me a solid liberal and probably a flag-burning anti-America Our Great Nation atheist who wants to do away with the recital of the Oath of Allegiance in schools as well. Have none of these whipper-snapper quiz-setters ever heard of the natural or cardinal virtues, for goodness’ sake, and virtuous pagans? Why it is that revelation is necessary for salvation, and the difference between the cardinal and the theological virtues? These folks need a course of Thomism! 🙂

      (EDIT: Okay, they acknowledge that the questions are deliberately blunt and push people to pick an answer they don’t fully agree with or that they feel lacks nuance, precisely because they want to use “forced-choice” as a way of testing underlying values and how people lean towards one side or another in the national debate, even if it’s not very strongly. I still think that question is slippery, though, as most people have a kind of Moral Therapeutic Deism notion that basically as long as you do your best and are a ‘good’ person – i.e. not a murderer or racist or rapist or homophobe or climate change denialist – you’re probably going to heaven and it’s rude to say that nice nonbeliever down the street is going to hell, which may or may not even exist anyway. This kind of attitude could crop up amongst Republican voters as much as Democrat voters, and even the Faith and Family Left which seems to be their version of “socially conservative, economically liberal” and tending to vote Democrat while having strong religious connections).

      Probably also because there was no question on abortion included, which would have definitely tilted my score right-wards.

      • Saint_Fiasco says:

        American-style politics does seem to have a problem categorizing Catholics.

        Here in Paraguay, I can’t help but think of the Jesuits when people say “Social Justice”, which caused me a lot of confusion.

        • Deiseach says:

          That’s because Social Justice is yet another thing for which we can Blame The Jesuits 🙂

          As it has been taken up and developed, it’s wandered very far from its roots.

      • Tibor says:

        As usual, libertarians do not seem to exist 🙂 I was labeled “business conservative”.

        Also, I think the poll is basically useless for anyone who is not from the US as many questions are country specific. Haidt does a much better and thorough job.

    • It thinks I’m a “Business Conservative,” possibly because it has no category for libertarians.

      • Peter says:

        This is the thing with cluster analysis; the things it picks out don’t always correspond to the things people pick out. This is often a problem with cluster analysis rather than people.

        Down at the bottom of http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/typology-detailed-tables/ there’s a line for how many people identify as libertarian – 27% of Business Conservatives do. The other highish numbers are 18% for Next Generation Left and 15% for Young Outsiders.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I got “Business Conservative” as well, which I think is quite reasonable given that “Business Conservative” on this poll indicates those who are in favor of the free market as well as social freedoms and immigration.

        Libertarians (like myself) are just a more extreme version of that viewpoint. But it’s understandable that the poll would not cater to every small intellectual minority.

    • anon says:

      “Hard pressed skeptics” seems closer to the mean SSC reader than any of the other categories: government should try to help people, but our current programs are wasteful, badly designed or totally ineffective.

      • Peter says:

        I suppose that’s something, however looking through the whole set of responses, it seems odd that one of the less libertarian groupings – the non-Bystander grouping least likely to identify as libertarian – should be highly represented on SSC.

        (Also I’m getting the feeling that the SSC demographic is pretty well-educated, or if not well formally educated then keen autodidacts (or keen autodidacts who also have good formal education), and also fairly young, and Hard-Pressed Skeptics really isn’t that demographic.)

    • Jeremy says:

      I got labeled “solidly liberal” as well, but every question I thought “okay wow no I don’t agree with that option…. wait the other one is even more wrong… okay, I guess I agree with the first one more,,,”

      I always thought that I used to be more liberal, but I guess saying “I support UBI over most current social services on economic grounds” doesn’t actually make me that conservative…

    • whateverfor says:

      I got hard pressed skeptic even though I’m not in that demographic (I’m a 20 something employed white programmer). My guess: when tests mix up moral/factual and general/specific questions, deep cynicism and general confusion are hard to pull apart. Either that or believing “Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people” and “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside of our control” is pulling a ton of weight.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        I also got Hard-Pressed Skeptic. And I also agreed with “Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people” and “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside of our control.”

    • keranih says:

      Business conservative – but wow did I loose track of the number of times my response was “wow those two options are both so very, very wrong…”

      (I was most annoyed at the refusal to separate legal and illegal immigration, so that I came out as pro-immigration (which I am) but without a way to say immigrants need to follow the rules, which I hold emphatically.)

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        If you think “immigrants should follow the rules”, you are not in any way “pro-immigrant”. “The rules” entirely exclude the vast majority of potential immigrants. Probably the most pernicious myth in the American immigration debate is the idea that there is some kind of “line” which illegal immigrants are unfairly “breaking”. If you are some random poor Mexican without a college degree, there is no line! You will never be allowed to come legally.

        A position that tells immigrants to “follow the rules” when that translates to “keep out” is not “pro-immigrant.” Under Jim Crow, the position that “I’m in support of Negroes so long as they follow the rules” was not a “pro-Negro” position.

        • John Schilling says:

          There are ~121 million Mexicans in Mexico, and ~34 million Mexicans or ex-Mexicans in the United States. It is not obvious that your “random poor Mexican” doesn’t fit into one of the categories where there is a clear path to residency or citizenship via family ties.

          Not all of them, certainly. For some Mexicans, as you put it, “you will never be allowed to come legally”.

          So what? The point of having rules is not to impose arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles after which everybody eventually does what they would have done if there were no rules. If a nation has immigration rules and those rules are not pointless trivia or obfuscation, then some people will be told to keep out, just as some other people will be invited in.

          You seem to be claiming that a person is “not in any way pro-immigrant”, unless they invite in absolutely every would-be immigrant with no more than a modest delay and some paperwork. I think that there is a much broader range of actually pro-immigrant positions than you give credit for. I also think that if you demand that everyone who calls themselves “pro-immigrant” adopt your absolutist position, you’re going to drive more of them into the anti-immigrant camp than the other way around.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Maybe you are free of this illusion, but millions of people in this country seem to think that there is some kind of “line” to get into the U.S., where the government checks you out to make sure you’re not a terrorist, and then eventually lets you in if you agree to follow the rules. Otherwise, the (extremely common) “why don’t they just wait in line like everyone else?” objection would be senseless.

            Furthermore, my “absolutist” position is not “driving people into the anti-immigrant camp”. They already are in the anti-immigrant camp. I would prefer that they be accurately perceived that way, since a large number of uninformed Americans consider themselves to be “pro-immigrant” in a vague way. It is commonly held that America is a “nation of immigrants” and ought to welcome the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. And many people seem to think that current policy at least vaguely resembles the mental picture they have of pre-1920s Ellis Island.

            If they knew that the status quo is actually heavily anti-immigrant, to the point of requiring employers to discriminate against immigrants in hiring decisions (to hire H1-B visa applicants, you must prove that a native worker couldn’t do the same job), they might be more reluctant to support it.

            Few people want to think of themselves as xenophobic nativists. If the case were widely made that our current policies are much closer to “xenophobic nativism” than to “enlightened cosmopolitanism” on the range of possible immigration regimes, they would feel some cognitive dissonance. As you say, “pro-immigrant” and “anti-immigrant” fall upon a spectrum. And I think that it is quite senseless for someone who supports the status quo to consider himself “pro-immigrant”, given our policies’ position on that spectrum.

            To use the Jim Crow analogy again, it was popular insofar as the average supporter could think of himself as a “moderate” who is “pro-Negro, so long as they follow the laws” (in opposition, perhaps, to lynch mobs). But when it is understood that to support Jim Crow at all is a bigoted position, few people want to identify as bigots. Even at the time, it was hard to stand up and say, “I support Jim Crow because I am anti-Negro.”

        • science says:

          No it isn’t a thing. Somewhere in the game of anecdote telephone someone passed along bad information.

          The only non-citizens who can categorically enlist in the military are permanent residents (“green card” holders), US nationals (e.g. citizens of the Northern Marianas Islands), and citizens of a tiny handful of former US possessions (e.g. Micronesia).

          Since 2009 there has been a program called MAVNI that allowed certain non-immigrant residents of the United States (including those in DACA status) with in demand skills to enlist.

          At least since the end of World War II* there has never been a program that would allow people with no connection to the United States to wander into a US embassy and enlist in the military. There’s no US equivalent to the French Foreign Legion.

          *And maybe not ever, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          @ science:

          Precisely. You got to it ahead of me.

          I would fully support such a program, if it existed. (I wouldn’t like the vast expansion of the military it would entail, but that’s a lesser evil in my opinion.) And if a program like this existed, the U.S. could easily fight all its wars with African and Asian troops (and save quite a bit of money), reserving Americans for the command positions.

          That might sound a bit segregationist (and it is), but it is less so than the status quo.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I knew a foreigner who enlisted in ROTC. After a year or two, they noticed and threw him out. But then six months later they gave him a green card and let him back in. I suspect that there was some unofficial quid pro quo there (this was before 2009).

        • keranih says:

          A position that tells immigrants to “follow the rules” when that translates to “keep out” is not “pro-immigrant.” Under Jim Crow, the position that “I’m in support of Negroes so long as they follow the rules” was not a “pro-Negro” position.

          Thank you for providing this exceptional example of how to move someone from being “partly on your side” to “standing in strong opposition to you, your horse, and everything you rode into town wearing.”

          (Also the ground your shadow falls upon.)

          Your primary mistake, sirra, is assuming that I don’t want the rules changed to allow more random poor Mexicans to come in. Which I do. By changing the rules, not by making it so there are no rules that anyone has to follow.

          Your second mistake was to jump into race-baiting. Fie on you, and your bleeding heart “but think of the childern poor random Mexicans” bs.

        • Sastan says:

          science, you’re wrong, unless that word “categorically” is doing more work than would be honest.

          Illegal immigrants can and do enlist in the US military, and get citizenship for it. They don’t do it through embassies, they have to be here already, but this happens, and it happens all the time. I’ve personally performed the citizenship ceremonies. I served with a guy from Niger doing that, a Somali and a couple dozen assorted Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans etc.

        • science says:

          The DoD is one of the most bureaucratic organization in the world. There are publicly accessible manuals and memos that detail every possible enlistment requirement down to exactly what kind of tattoos the recruit may have.

          Find a single document on a .mil or .gov site that contradicts what I’ve said.

          If they came in the MAVNI that might have been in DACA or TPS but they weren’t undocumented.

        • Vorkon says:

          I’ve also served with people who gained their citizenship while on active duty, but I’m assuming they were green card holders beforehand, as science describes.

          (At least, it never occurred to me to ask one of them, “you’re here legally, right?” And that’s probably a good thing, too, since that question would have most likely gotten me punched in the face. :op )

          The reason people enlist to gain citizenship is because it reduces the waiting period to one year, rather than five. As far as I know, you need to be a permanent legal resident before you can take advantage of the program, though. I’m not intimately familiar with the program, or anything, but a quick Google search tells me my assumptions are correct: http://www.uscis.gov/news/fact-sheets/naturalization-through-military-service-fact-sheet

          Now, I wouldn’t discount the possibility that a few originally illegal immigrants have managed to slip through the cracks, somehow. I’ve known some recruiters who would gladly knit a wool blanket to pull over their eyes if it would get their numbers up…

  19. Where would grey tribe sit within moral foundations theory?

    Blue and red seem to fit easy enough, but I can’t really see an obvious way to fit grey tribe stereotypes into this framework, apart from perhaps liberty from the somewhat libertarian tendancies. Then again, dark enlightenment people on the right periphery doesn’t seem to fit with this. Is grey an exception? Is the theory broken? What does everybody think?

    • Peter says:

      I think that odd tendencies on peripheries consisting of a few contrarian bloggers writing voluminous essays can fairly safely be, not exact ignored, but covered by “correlations in the social sciences are rarely very strong”.

    • Tibor says:

      Haidt on Libertarians:

      He also had a talk at CATO which sort of summarizes this article:


      As for non-libetarians who fit into the “grey tribe”, i don’t have a clue.

      Also, I think “libertarian” is too broad, since I would expect quite different foundations between consequentialist libertarians such as David Friedman and deontological libertarians such as Murray Rothbard. Then again, one could probably dissect the blue tribe and the red tribe as well and after all, I think this study by Haidt is best seen as a kind of a “first approximation” rather than a complete description.

      For what is worth, I could see myself quite well in Haidt’s description of libertarianism (and from the reactions to Haidt’s speech at CATO it seems like other people doo too), I would disagree that libertarians do not care about the care foundation though. In fact, if I remember well, he is saying that they care basically about liberty to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, being equally “one-dimensional” as the blue-tribers, only with a different – and more or less unique – foundation. I think that is oversimplified because I would expect a lot of libertarians to stop being libertarians if they thought that liberty leads to widespread poverty for example – I expect consequentialist to be more prone to abandoning libetarianism in that case than deontologists (although that is perhaps a trivial observation). And in fact, I think most deontologists (not just libertarian deontologists for that matter) who say fiat justitia ruat caelum only say that because they don’t expect the heavens to actually fall any time soon.

      I think the statement that “libertarians are hard to gross out/offend” is spot on though…and I think this actually might generalize to all of “grey tribe”.

      I also have a very instinctive tendency to be skeptical about the things “everyone knows are true” and generally whatever opinion is in the majority I have a tendency to oppose it. This can mean that when I talk to conservatives people sometimes mistake me for a left-winger and when I talk to social democrats I am often labeled as a right-winger…and when talking to some libertarians, I get to be labeled as a “statist” (although I am quite sympathetic to at least the David’s kind of anarcho-capitalism, if not entirely confident it would definitely work…but neither is he). I like playing the devil’s advocate because it is more interesting than just agreeing with people. This also seems to be more typical of libertarians than the blues/reds which seem to be more united within their own group and punish “heresy” more efficiently (but that might just be what it looks like from the outside). I think that again, “grey tribe” in general is like this – people who agree on 99% of the issues can argue to death about the 1%. But to me, this is actually a likable trait.

      • Thanks I find this really interesting!

      • Anonymous says:

        I think there are certainly some libertarians who care about liberty as a fundamental value – these are probably the kinds who cross over into the ‘preppers’ camp, have bug-out bags, and so on. I think there are also some libertarians who don’t care about liberty in the slightest, being libertarians entirely because of their beliefs that it will have more positive consequences than alternatives.

        A third category, which I don’t think I’ve seen others mention, and which I think is interesting, is the moral justification for libertarianism that starts by pointing out that most other political views take for granted that the state is the tribe – or, if not the state, certainly everyone else with the same political affiliation. I don’t know whether “the state is the tribe, the left/right (whichever side the speaker isn’t on) is a subfaction which wants to take us in a bad direction” or “the left/right (whichever side the speaker is on) is the tribe, the right/left is an enemy tribe vying for the same territory as us” is more accurate.

        But in either case, the argument is that most people view their tribe as an enormous group of people – either the nation, or roughly half the nation. Libertarians reject this. They believe their tribe consists of themselves, their friends, and their family. Within that tribe, they might want to organize things in a strict hierarchical fashion, to make sure everyone pulls their damn weight. Or, they might want to be nurturing and caring, to make sure that everyone’s feeling okay and nobody has to suffer anything they don’t like. Or a bit of both. But everyone else is not their tribe, and any forms of organization that allow people outside the tribe to force those inside the tribe to conform to some standard of conduct are wrong. Why should those people have any say over how we run our tribe? They can run their tribe however they like, but we are not part of it.

        Libertarians who have sympathy with this view will see interactions between people within a nation as inter-tribal rather than intra-tribal. Strangers exchanging services is seen as trade, not as family members helping each other out. Any political proposals along such lines as making things fair for everyone, all of us doing our bit, something something for the benefit of society, and so on are distrusted because they make the fundamental mistake of thinking that the nation is a tribe, which libertarians of this stripe simply do not believe.

        • Tibor says:

          I think most libertarians do care about liberty in a fundamental way, but almost none do so absolutely.

          I like your tribe description, but I think your tribes are still too large. The tribe size of a libertarian really is just 1 person, at least by your definition of a tribe (i.e. within the tribe anything goes). If I consider my immediate family and friends my property, I am not a libertarian, I am a bastard :).

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think this requires seeing your fellow tribe members as property. But within your tribe you may well have a place for redistribution, paternalism, and so on. This will probably be enforced largely by threats, social pressure, and the like – at the extreme end, being kicked out of the tribe if you don’t comply. This conduct might also abide by other libertarian moral frameworks, such as the non-aggression principle, or Rand’s ethical egoism, but it does not need to. I don’t think anyone does/will/should follow it strictly, because it probably breaks down when you consider extreme cases. My argument is only that I have a feeling that this is part of the appeal and emotive force behind libertarianism for some number of its proponents.

    • Cet3 says:

      At least some of the grey tribe/dark enlightenment (definitions vary) are better described as blue tribe malcontents than as red tribe offshoots. They’re disproportionately urban, educated, jewish, etc. relative to the general population.

  20. Tibor says:

    I have a small problem with the “comments since” function here. No matter which date I put in, it always tells me that the date is invalid (I’ve tried both the English and the normal ( 😛 ) date format). I use Firefox under Ubuntu 14.04 and delete cookies and history automatically after each session (which of course means the date is going to be reset each time I turn of Firefox, but the problem is that the manual date input does not work and that should have nothing to do with the cookies).

    Does anyone know how to fix this (ideally without changing the web browser)?

    • Vorkon says:

      I had the EXACT same problem, and only just figured out how to fix it as of the last open thread.

      Whenever I tried to edit what was in the “new comments since” block (i.e. changing “11/3/2015 10:11:00” to “11/2/2015 10:11:00” by simply changing the 3 to a 2) I would get the exact same error you are getting. I’d also get the same error if I tried to copy the existing date/time in that block, and then paste it into the block after refreshing my browser.

      However, I was able to get it to work by deleting everything in the block, and just typing out my desired date/time by hand, from the beginning.

      I have NO idea why this would work this way, but ever since I found that out, it’s worked for me every time.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      The only way I’ve been consistently able to get it to work as I want is writing the date as “YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS”, regardless of browser.

    • brad says:

      Here’s the problematic code:
      dateInput.addEventListener(‘blur’, function(){
      var newDate = Date.parse(dateInput.value);
      if (isNaN(newDate)) {
      alert(‘Given date not valid.’);
      dateInput.value = (new Date(lastGivenDate)).toLocaleString();

      Date.parse() is pretty strict with what it takes:

      and toLocaleString() produces plenty of strings that don’t qualify:

      I blame Brendan Eich.

    • Here is the JavaScript code for this site’s date text field. It says that when you defocus the text field or press Enter in it, the date is read from the text field’s contents with JavaScript’s built-in Date.parse function. That link explains how the parsing works, but basically, any string like “Mon, 25 Dec 1995 13:30:00 GMT” should be supported.

      If that information doesn’t help, maybe your locale has been changed to expect a different date format? Though the description for the parse function says it uses the standard ISO date format.

      Also note the documentation’s warning that

      […] results are inconsistent, especially across different ECMAScript implementations where strings like “2015-10-12 12:00:00” may be parsed to as NaN, UTC or local timezone”.

      So try using a time that doesn’t end in “:00:00”, if you have been.

    • RCF says:

      You seem to be under the misapprehension that the American system of dates is English.

  21. Peter says:

    I had this idea a while back: I’d got frustrated with talk about abstract and concrete things, I thought there was something about the interaction with well-definedness there. So I came up with a neat little taxonomy/pair of axes which people can try to use to explain everything and then get frustrated with in the usual way.

    Concrete well-defined: I’m worried this category may be empty. Fundamental particles? What computers pretend to be in the 99.999…% of the time they aren’t suffering from bit rot or whatever.
    Concrete ill-defined: Sandwiches. The land of “I know one when I see one”, family resemblance categories, things where coming up with a sort-of-OK definition is easy and handling all of those exceptions is difficult. But easy to work with in real life, and generally associated with actual tangible physical objects.
    Abstract well-defined: Mathematics. Logic. Parts of analytic philosophy – larger parts seem to aspire to this.
    Abstract ill-defined: Social construction. Most of continental philosophy. Large parts of art and literary criticism (a bit less than halfway down, look out for “MEANINGLESS WORDS”)

    Possibly I’m being unfair to the “abstract ill-defined” here.

    (Oh yes, I remember the frustration. There was something about people on the autism spectrum not liking “abstract” things, and me thinking, “how come so many of us like maths?”.)

  22. The left thinks greedy corporations basically run the world, the right thinks overbearing government bureaucracies run the world. Probably a more nuanced view includes something like this: The Iron Triangle. I think this is closer to accurate. Of course, the opposite of this is wild popularism (edit> or maybe anarhism), which I’m not comfortable with either. Maybe Moloch has a hand in all these pies o_O

  23. Walter says:

    I was scoffing at some Vox silliness recently, and an acquaintance told me that “You read slatestarcodex. Which is an a priori reason for me to reject your disparaging of Vox.” So I’m not stunned at the existence of a hostile reddit to this blog. Honestly its pretty cool, you know you’ve made it when people spend their free time fuming about your blog.

    • Whatever Hapenned to Anonymous says:

      The disparaging subreddit is just one guy, who didn’t even do it because he hates Scott or what he says, but rather was angry at getting banned from the SSC subreddit. I’m going to guess your acquaintance’s objection to SSC was more on the lines of “Scott Alexander literally thinks that women being allowed to have private property was a terrible mistake”?

    • Bryan Hann says:


      You could tell your acquaintance: I accept this reasoning, at least in principle. We have only finite time to spend and so we have no choice but to apply some filter to what we deem worthy to consider or to investigate.

      If your acquaintance approves of what you say then reply: Thank you. I hope that you will take my honesty with you as a posterior reason for thinking me a creditable person and that this might, in turn, lead you to update your rejection of my disparagement of Vox.

      If they show disinclination, you can say to them that you find it odd that you are inclined to reject my disparagement on the basis of the bare face that /I read a particular blog/, and yet reject to consider updating your priors through the opportunities afforded to know me personally through our present exchange. You did, after all, take time out of your day to tell me what you just did. You must consider me to be worth /some/ opportunity cost.


      If you just wanted to put him down, you could say “Whether or not someone happens to read a particular website or not is a good prior. But do you want to know an even better prior? Whether or not someone rejects a person chiefly because that person happens to read a particular website or not!”. And then smile amiably as if you were waiting for a response. 🙂


      You could reply: “That is indeed *an* a priori reason. But do you, *in fact*, reject by disparagement of Vox *because* of this a priori reason?”

      And if they say “yes” then you can say “Hmmm… You must get many false negatives.*”

      *(Or false positives, depending on how you are looking at it.)

    • RCF says:

      If your acquaintance thinks that they have a reason to reject your disparagement of Vox after learning that you read SSC, then isn’t that an a posterior reason?

  24. Yakimi says:

    I recently saw the first episode of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a film made fifty years too late to be relatable. The youthful resistance fights for the memory of a prewar America, a country as foreign to them as it is to modern Americans, many of whom would consider it only a slightly less fascist version of the powers that have occupied it.

    One of the protagonists acquires a film that appears to depict an alternate universe in which the Allies had won, and is converted to the cause as a result. (That Stalin might take the place of Hitler is apparently of no concern.) I doubt the series will go on to do anything interesting with this device, but I imagined a delightfully subversive scenario in which the protagonist is so appalled and confused by the world that she sees—communist atrocities, decolonial destruction, broken families, urban decay, a dysfunctional underclass, rampant social and sexual liberalism, massive Third World immigration, Florida Man—that she becomes a supporter of the status quo. After all, the resistance is fighting to restore the country that their parents remember, not to change it beyond recognition. It is not exactly clear that they should find this future any more attractive than the occupation they live under.

    I’d like to see some alternative history fiction which explores the banality of Axis occupation, long after indoctrination has replaced the need for repression, and depicts a resistance consisting largely of losers who admire Joseph Stalin. For example, its universities would teach Aryan studies instead of whiteness studies, and procolonial theory instead of postcolonial theory. Museums would honor the Holodomor instead of the Holocaust. The New York Times would write editorials in favor of homogeneity instead of diversity. Affirmative action would make institutions more representative of the population by suppressing disproportionate Jewish achievement. Every account of a white being attacked by a nonwhite would result in a media sensation. McCarthy would be President instead of a national hate figure.

    • PGD says:

      Ha, nice. I don’t really buy your implied moral equivalency but that would certainly be entertaining.

      In understanding the actual book though it’s useful to remember that it was written in 1962, a time when America was quite different and your WWII vet would not have been particularly shocked by it.

    • PKD’s Flow My Teass, the Policeman Said depicts a police state that is evolving towards liberalism.

      • anon says:

        Does it? Or is the ending gur erfhyg bs bar bs gur punenpgref gnxvat gur qeht naq nygrevat ernyvgl gb zngpu gurve qrrcrfg uryq jvfurf?

        Rot13d for spoilers

  25. PGD says:

    The following in the ‘cis by default’ link seems quite wrong to me:

    There are a lot of cis people who feel the need to come up with absolutely ludicrous explanations for why trans people (particularly trans women) are trans. The “trans women are self-hating gay men.” The “trans men want to gain male privilege.” The “trans women fetishize themselves as female.” The “nonbinary people are making it up for attention or for queer streed cred.” The “trans women are agents of patriarchy appropriating womanhood in order to invade women’s spaces.” These explanations aren’t just dumb, they’re obviously dumb. Very, very few people would put up with everything from gatekeeping to violence for the sake of their boner.

    I don’t think these are dumb or foolish explanations. The last sentence seems quite bizarre — ‘very few people would put up with everything from gatekeeping to violence for the sake of their boner’. Men will take ALL KINDS OF RISKS and do ALL KINDS OF CRAZY SHIT for the sake of their boner. Lust is one of the most powerful drives there is, particularly for men. I would think this would be obvious from knowing history and observing current events, not to mention the people around you.

    • I think the point is that many people try to explain away the transness instead of just accepting that transwomen want to be women and transmen want to be men.

      • PGD says:

        Well, it’s something that could use an explanation, since it often involves a violent rejection of one’s own body and a desire to do the impossible (change physical sex).

        • Except there is a difference between sex and gender. “Cis by default” asks why they need to match.

          Sure you are born male or female but why should that necessarily be your gender? I would wager nearly all people can complain about at least some of their gender’s expectations and roles. The idea is there are probably a reasonable number of people who don’t really care what gender they are but haven’t really thought about it since being transgender is scary.

          It’s very similar to countering people who think being homosexual is weird/abnormal by questioning how straight people are.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I had a similar thought about that last sentence: “Well, men have done much crazier things for the sake of their boners.” #NotAllMen, obviously. But there are people who will subject themselves to any kind of insane hardship if it slightly increases their chances of getting laid.

      And the “trans men just want to gain male privilege thing”…well, if you believe that women everywhere are viciously oppressed and victimized by society, it seems perfectly logical that some would try to pass as men.

      I don’t think any of those explanations are correct (at least, not for all or most trans people), but none of them strike me as obviously absurd, and all can sound kind of plausible to someone who hasn’t experienced gender dysphoria.

      • Tibor says:

        I think the self-identified trans people are a mix of very different people with very different motivations behind them.

        I doubt someone would willingly mutilate their sexual organs if it really really did not bug them how they looked (which is something I can probably understand on an intellectual level but never on an emotional. Even if I felt like a woman inside, I would not want to basically get mutilated which is the state of art of this kind of surgery today).

        That suggests that people who do undergo that kind of surgery really have a gender mismatch (probably caused by a mechanism similar to the hormone imbalances during pregnancy that seem to be the major cause of homosexuality) or people who suffer form some kind of a mental illness.

        I think it is a good idea to make sure that you don’t cut someone who really just needs some medication while at the same time you don’t force someone not to be cut when they would actually need just that…but that’s a psychiatrist’s job to tell those two apart.

        And then you have people in their teens or early twenties who go about telling everyone how non-cis they are or whatever, emphasizing the shock value and being the center of attention. Most of those are probably just posers who grow out of it.

        Slightly related perhaps – I know a couple of gay guys who really do not like the gay parade stuff and I myself suspect that such events are less about being gay and expressing yourself as one (whatever that means) and more about being in the spotlight. Even if you live in a country that restricts homosexuality in some way, or just want to gain more “general acceptance” in a country which does not, walking around in BDSM-like clothing, deliberately trying to look anything but “normal” is not going to make other people think “oh, these are just people like us, what is all the fuss about?”. Note that I am not saying these things ought to be banned or anything, I am just saying that it is more about exhibitionism than anything else and it should be seen as such.

        Generally, I think it is a good rule of thumb in these cases to say that the more someone is interested about showing to everyone that they are gay or trans or whatever, the less they actually are those things (it does not work always, some people just want attention one way or another and their sexuality lends them an easy way to attract the attention of others, but most people are not like this).

        • Nicholas Carter says:

          Historically the outrageous gay pride parade is more about “fuck you, we won.” Earlier pride parades were low key and normally dressed, but people still threw things at them and mocked them. so one day someone decided “you know what, if they think we’re freaks, then let’s just be freaks, and make them accept that too.” and now that the movement is over 50% victorious, we’re just rubbing your face in it.

      • Jason K. says:

        “trans men just want to gain male privilege thing”

        Trans men tend to report the opposite; that they feel like they have lost privilege. Now stick that in your ‘patriarchy’ and smoke it. (generic your)

        • hlynkacg says:

          Well one of the key tenants of “male privilege” is that females are inherently more valuable.

          Women get protected while men are expected to fend for themselves.

        • Peter says:

          Tend… maybe. There seem to be a variety of reactions. Some go into transition as fairly dogmatic feminists and come out as fairly dogmatic feminists. Some get more dogmatic and outspoken; they might see themselves as having lost privilege on net, but gained some male privilege and lost more cis privilege. Others… there are stories of people who get involved with radical separatist feminists and who then figure themselves out, figure that the reason they were angry with men is that the men got to be men and they didn’t, transition and calm right down.

          The thing that sticks in my mind is the story of the black person who transitioned female-to-male and then found that he had to a lot more careful with his driving in order to avoid being stopped by the police. Oddly enough[1], the people writing about him could report this without being accused of heresy at all.

          [1] As in, not oddly at all.

  26. Zippy says:

    Since I found this blog, I have desired to own a complete copy of it as a book, in physical form. (I would also like this book to contain Yvain’s top-level posts on LessWrong, Scott’s LiveJournal posts, and most of the stuff from raikoth.net) There are a variety of subtopics related to the creation of this book I would like to discuss, but I thought I’d just take a moment to register interest.

    I’m not sure I like the newfound weekliness of the Open Threads. They risk– in my mind– crowding out the regular posts.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What exactly do you mean by “crowding out”? If you don’t want to read an Open Thread, can’t you get past it with one scroll-down to the last real post?

      • Zippy says:

        Oh, I definitely could; I don’t mean to claim my mind makes any sense. I just feel kind of disappointed when the most five recent posts include 2 open threads, one links posts, and only two of your glorious essays.

        I also don’t understand the concern about Open Threads “filling up”. Is this a literal fact about the comment system, or a comment about our attention spans?

        But I do not wish to stand in the way of experimentation, by any means!

        • My personal reaction when faced with a OT post that already has three or four hundred comments is that a new thread is unlikely to attract as much interest as it otherwise might, so if I had something I wanted to say or ask I’m likely to choose to wait until next time.

  27. Outis says:

    I have a question about the inheritability of IQ. I have seen people claim that the Burakumin of Japan disprove the existence of a genetic component to IQ. The Burakumin are ethnically Japanese, but they have been discriminated against for centuries due to their association with occupations deemed unclean. They display an IQ gap with the general Japanese population similar to that of African-Americans versus whites. There is also a claim that, once they move abroad, their IQ gap disappears, but there does not seem to be clear evidence one way or another.
    There is also the case of Koreans in Japan, who are also discriminated against, and also show an IQ gap, even though Koreans in Korea do not have an IQ gap with the Japanese.
    What do you guys think?

    • Anon. says:

      We have way better ways to determine the genetic component of IQ — twin studies.

      • Outis says:

        Well, yes, but it’s unsatisfying to just leave the Burakumin unexplained.

      • multiheaded says:

        I was recently stunned upon learning that twin intelligence tests and surveys – as obvious as it might be in retrospect – necessitate the consent of both twins. Surely this is a pretty huge filtering effect at least for the twins’ personality and social circumstances!

        • gwern says:

          Sure, but it can’t be that big, for the simple reason that the GCTAs, the Scandinavian population studies like the Swedish Twin Registry where you are registered when you are born and then much data is compiled administratively as part of things like the mandatory draft evaluations (have I mentioned lately how amazingly awesome the Scandinavian population studies are?), and extended family designs, all turn in similar estimates of heritability on stuff we care about.

          (This is probably because the overestimate is countered by sources of underestimate such as measurement error of both genetic relatedness and testing and like a lot of methodological problems throughout science, it’s a wash. Any study or set of studies commits dozens of statistical sins, I’ve learned; the trick is figuring out if any of those sins are important enough to change the conclusions.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Here are some numbers for two twin registry studies of homosexuality. First, there was a list of all twins in the country in the cohort. Probably twins were asked if they were willing to be contacted about studies. I don’t know how many were lost at that point. Finally, the twins were asked if they would answer a questionnaire about sexuality. In Sweden 60% of pairs answered the sexuality survey. In Australia 55% did.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Twin studies aren’t that great. As I understand it, all they show is that identical twins are more similar than non-identical ones (in this case, in IQ). This could be because they share more genes, but alternatively because they have a greater shared environment – for instance if people treat identical twins more similarly than non-identical ones. Furthermore, that something is heritable doesn’t necessarily mean that it is genetic – studies might show that IQ is heritable because parenting ability is proportional to IQ and good parenting leads to cleverer children. The only way I can see to remove this problem of twin studies is to perform them on adopted twins, who are surely such a small proportion of the population as to be incredibly unrepresentative.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Unrelated but interesting fact about heritability of IQ I read on the Wikipedia page:

        Heritability of IQ dramatically increases as you get older. This is the opposite of what I would expect – I would have presumed that as people age, they are affected more by their environment and less by genes, but the opposite is true.

    • Psmith says:

      The Burakumin are endogamous, aren’t they?

    • anonymous says:

      IQ has a heritable component and an environmentally affected component. The two don’t contradict each other.

      It’s just like height. Height is obviously heritable. Children of tall families are taller for genetic reasons. At the same time, children who eat a more nourishing diet and are less exposed to parasites will grow taller. Which is probably the reason people have been growing taller since the industrial revolution.

      The Burakumin might be less intelligent because of environmental factors holding them down, which would explain how the gap disappears when they move abroad, if it’s true that it does.
      Or they might be less intelligent because their genes are worse than those of the other Japanese; the claim that they are “ethnically Japanese” is meaningless if they are an endogamous group.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I do think it’s possible they’re environmental, and yes, that does suggest other groups might be environmental too.

      On the other hand, if I wanted to push a hard-line biodeterminist position: imagine that tomorrow, the government declared that janitors were an outcaste and could only marry fellow janitors, and their children must be janitors, even unto the end of time. Then five hundred years from now, the government changed its mind and decided janitors could marry whoever they wanted and take whatever jobs they wanted. Eventually they would probably intermarry with everyone else enough to lose their separate identity, but until that happened they’d probably be at a disadvantage for the same reason the children of two janitors today are at a disadvantage.

      • Outis says:

        (S-senpai noticed me!)

        Yes, for centuries there were huge obstacles to intermarriage between buraku and non-buraku people, and even now people research family records to find out if their prospective in-laws are burakumin. So it’s pretty clear that a genetic component cannot be excluded.

        I think the argument’s strength hinges on the assertion that the IQ difference disappears when they move abroad, which is not really supported one way or another, as shown by Citationtrailoff. I was hoping that the SSC community might have some better data, but apparently not.

        Any ideas about the Koreans in Japan, though? I guess one possibility in that case is that the ones who successfully integrate hide their ancestry?

    • Citationtrailoff says:

      Jason Malloy:


      “I often see media assertions like Steve Olson in The Atlantic: “Yet when the Buraku emigrate to the United States, the IQ gap between them and other Japanese vanishes.” This claim is somewhat apocryphal. There is no data for Burakumin in the US. False claims about US IQ data have mutated second-hand from John Ogbu who claimed a study showed that the Baraku immigrants here “do slightly better in school than the other Japanese immigrants”. The book chapter Ogbu references for this claim (Ito 1966) however, is by a pseudonymous author who relied strictly on gossip from non-outcast Japanese communities in California to surmise how the outcasts here might be performing. The author’s informants believed the US outcasts were more attractive, more fair-skinned, and made more money. Though– as a testament to Ogbu’s immaculate scholarship– the author reported no gossip about how these Burakumin performed in school.

      * Ito, H. (1966) Japan’s outcastes in the United States. In G.A. deVos and H. Wagatsuma (eds.), Japan’s Invisible Race. Berkeley: University of California Press.

      Here’s one from a textbook. It’s pretty appalling stuff… yet typical:

      “But when Burakumin families immigrate to the United States, they are treated like any other Japanese. The children do just as well in school–and on IQ tests– as any other Japanese-Americans. (Ogbu 1986)”

      So not only does Ogbu make claims that go beyond his source, the scientists and journalists that cite Ogbu follow his lead and make up even more amazing lies about what Ogbu said. It’s all for the greater good!”

  28. Paul Torek says:

    Trauma is a giant risk factor for psychosis:

    Shevlin et. al. 2008 give these unadjusted odds ratios (95% CI in parentheses)

    1 trauma 2.53 (1.12–5.69)
    2 traumas 6.63 (2.53–17.42)
    3 traumas 15.49 (5.31–45.25)
    4 traumas 19.16 (3.35–109.71)
    5 traumas 53.26 (14.55–194.98)

    Counts were based on subjects’ Yes answers to 5 questions (Serious illness/injury/assault to yourself, Bullying, Violence at work, Violence in the home, Sexual abuse). N is only 8 for the 5-traumas category, but the rest have substantial to large N. The authors then do a logistic regression, but that doesn’t add much IMO; the above says it all.

    Just thought Scott (and Adam, and others I am forgetting) would like to know.

    • onyomi says:

      Somewhat related, I have the impression that childhood abuse seems to be like added ingredient necessary for creating serial killers and other deeply disturbed individuals (not sure about schizophrenia, but makes sense that abuse and other traumas would increase the risk); as in, there are some people who could be horribly abused and not grow up to be a serial killer, but probably very, very few serial killers were never abused. (Many, many things like obesity, nearsightedness, hearing loss, etc. seem to work this way).

    • PGD says:

      I believe trauma is a major risk factor, for sure, but I think these kinds of studies define trauma too loosely and it leads to problems. For example, here, many people have experienced something or other that could be called ‘bullying’ or ‘serious illness/injury’ or ‘violence at home’ *if they were disposed to call it that*. But there will be a lot of variance in whether people are disposed to label something trauma or not, and some of that variance will be related to whether you feel psychologically disturbed. For example, say someone is spanked as a child, but fairly infrequently and otherwise has a reasonably supportive household. That must be a common fact pattern for people above a certain age. But my guess would be that people who are psychologically troubled are far more likely to identify the spanking as traumatic or as the beginning of difficulties for them, whereas people who are naturally resilient are more likely to forgive their parents or to perceive themselves as having had a balanced upbringing. Similarly for being bullied at school and the like.

      Furthermore, people with psychosis are probably also more likely to behave in ways that may cause injury or assault — not blaming the victim here, it is not their fault, but there is a simultaneous causation problem.

      TL;DR — in this kind of study trauma can cause psychological damage but psychological damage can also cause trauma (or the perception of it).

      • Trevor says:

        I have heard it claimed before that many people that were involved in studies on LSD later claimed that the LSD caused their psychosis or paraplegia even though these people were actually in the control group.

    • This is why I (non-expert) feel like it might be useful to have a broad set of professional backgrounds involved when people present with mental illness (especially depression but anything associated with trauma). The current model, despite most people involved doing their very best to get good outcomes, feels like it treats the illness as if it were always acausal. If someone is going through a trauma, it might in many cases be much more effective to address the trauma itself as well or instead, using an appropriate intervention. That’s not always possible, but my impression is that the system doesn’t try hard enough to do that now. It worries me a little that we’re giving someone an anasthetic so they can handle getting beaten up by someone better.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Once you eliminate all the obvious confounders like poverty, there are three theories about this.

      1. Trauma causes psychosis.
      2. Pre-psychotic people tend to get involved in more traumas. For example, if pre-morbid psychotic people already have a tendency to act weird and aggressive, they might mouth off to the wrong person and get beaten up at a bar.
      3. Psychosis is hereditary, so psychotic people come from psychotic (or pre-psychotic, or having-traits-related-to-psychosis) families, which then cause traumas like child abuse, molestation, et cetera.

      There are some studies that claim to have adjusted for these factors and still found an effect, but yours isn’t one of them.

      • onyomi says:

        I’ve heard about this problem with divining the harm divorce has on children. Children whose parents get divorced are more likely to get divorced or have other relationship problems when they grow up, but is that because of the divorce, or because people who are hard to live with have children who are hard to live with? The fact that children who have a single parent because one parent died in an accident apparently have better outcomes than children with single parents due to divorce or being a deadbeat seems to point somewhat to the latter.

      • Paul Torek says:

        Obviously all evidence should be taken into account, not just one study. And the complexity of the hypotheses should be considered. I think #2 is pretty out there. #3 is more face valid, but encompassing the right effect size might be a challenge.

      • It seems twin studies have some relevance to theory number 3, but what I can find is beyond my expertise to assess properly.

        What seems strange is the idea that psychosis causes someone to be significantly more likely to be an abuser. That seems like it would be a very weak correlation at best, and combined with a weak or medium heredity, seems like it would make it a non-starter as an explanation?

        • Paul Torek says:

          Well the most important genetic factors in psychosis seem to be very polygenic. Gwern mentions some research in a goodreads post whose link I’m too lazy to look up right now. So even if it’s highly hereditary (and if psychotics tend to deal out more abuse), it doesn’t follow that the parents would have similar behaviors. Of course if you want to generate really complex hypotheses, you could speculate that having about half of the SNPs of a many-SNP complex tends to make you (or the other parent) violent, while having all of them tends to make you psychotic. But, the more complex the hypothesis, the more points of evidence one requires before taking it very seriously.

  29. The original Mr. X says:

    I had an idea about feminism and rape culture the other day, and I thought I’d put it here to see what people think.

    Basically, it happened as a result of an internet conversation about consent workshops. My interlocutor was of the opinion that they were very important, because consent is such a complicated and difficult-to-understand issue. His example for this was “What if a guy whines at his girlfriend until she has sex with him, even though she doesn’t really want to?”

    Now, my first reaction was one of unalloyed derision. (“What, so if I ‘whine at’ my girlfriend until she helps me out with some task, have I enslaved her? If I ‘whine at’ her until she comes to a party I’m throwing, have I kidnapped her?”) On reflection, my reaction was still one of unalloyed derision, but I had an interesting insight into the possible cause of all this madness.

    Basically, over the last forty or fifty years the left in general, and feminism in particular, has been repeating the message that, when it comes to sexual matters, you can’t criticise what other people choose to do, that consent is the sole criterion of the good, et cetera. But, if you’re feeling somehow used or pressured into sex — say, by someone who appears to love you but then drops you like a hot potato once you get into bed with him, or because (as in the example above) your boyfriend nags you until you do it with him — the idea that, because you consented, your partner didn’t do anything wrong and you have no cause for complaint, is likely to be one bullet more than you’re willing to bite.

    So basically, there are two other options that present themselves. You can abandon the idea that consent is the sole criterion of the good, and say, no, even if I did consent, that guy was still a sleazy scumbag and what he did was wrong. This, however, goes against the whole thrust of what the left in general has been saying about sexual ethics since at least the 60s or 70s, and probably pattern-matches far too closely to what those fusty old conservatives keep saying for a lot of people’s liking.

    The other alternative is what I think we’re seeing: radically narrow the definition of consent so that you can feel justified in your grievance whilst still ostensibly keeping to the “consenting = good (or at least neutral)” model. So, if you’re not feeling very enthusiastic, say, then clearly you weren’t 100% consenting, so your sex was non-consensual, so you’re now a rape victim and your partner is a rapist. QED.

    This would, I submit, explain two otherwise quite mysterious things about the campus rape scare. One is the existence of such a scare in the first place: as people have pointed out repeatedly, both here and elsewhere, the notion that modern western campuses are in the grip of some sort of Congo-esque rape epidemic is pretty hard to credit. However, the notion that campuses are in the grip of an epidemic of people having unenthusiastic sex because they feel they ought to is much more plausible.

    The other is the idea that consent is somehow difficult to understand. If you understand consent as simply agreeing to do something, then this doesn’t seem difficult at all. However, if your notion of consent requires you to be fully enthusiastic, with no mixed emotions or pressure of any kind, and obtaining consent requires knowledge of all the subtle nuances of your partner’s emotional state? Yikes, that sounds pretty hard, not to mention exhausting. No wonder campus activists seem so stressed out about the matter.

    Anyway, that’s just a few thoughts I’ve cobbled together. It by no means represents any sort of firm or settled conclusion, but since it touches on topic that often come up here, and since I have every confidence in this forum’s ability to rip bad arguments to shreds, I thought I’d put it up and see what people have to say.

    • John Schilling says:

      Your first reaction sounds pretty good to me.

      And I don’t think you can say that the left and/or feminism is unwilling to criticize other people’s sexual choices. Consider the cited example – a guy “whining at his girlfriend” until she has sex with him, even though she doesn’t really want to – how is that not a criticism of at least the guy’s sexual choice?

      The left is quite willing to criticize people’s sexual choices. A fairly large segment of the left criticize people who chose to engage in prostitution, particularly if they are the clients, and perversely I think more critical of unofficial prostitution (e.g. sex in exchange for fancy dinner) than straight-up cash exchanges. Sex in an environment of power inequality is clearly objectionable to the left, as is any expressed or perceived obligation to sex even if voluntarily entered into. Much of the left will criticize anyone who abstains from sex for religious reasons. Sex to cement an exclusive marriage that will endure even when one partner would prefer to end it, traditionally the only acceptable purpose for sex in most cultures, is clearly criticized across the left.

      I think it more accurate to say that, rather than being unwilling to criticize people’s sexual choices, the left now criticizes every sexual choice but one: Sex for immediate, mutual, short-term pleasure. Sex within a long-term relationship is acceptable, but only if immediately pleasurable to both parties and only if the relationship would exist without the sex. And anybody who doesn’t have sex for immediate mutual short-term pleasure, is criticized either as a prude or as a neckbearded loser so undesirable that nobody would be pleased to have sex with them.

      Getting from this to “rape culture” and “affirmative consent” is left as an exercise to the reader.

      • NN says:

        When you look at things closely, I don’t think your examples contradict Mr. X’s idea that much. By far the most common criticism of prostitution from the left is to say that it is frequently nonconsensual, either because supposedly most prostitutes are forced into it, or because having sex for money is inherently coercive. Anyone who abstains from sex until marriage is said to only be abstaining because their parents forced them to do it, etc. See Scott’s article on fake consensualism.

        If I understand Mr. X right, the argument is that certain people on the left dislike sexual practices for reasons other than strict consent, but when they criticize these practices they frame it in terms of consent because that’s the only way that their ideological framework allows them to criticize sexual practices. I think your examples would all fit with that.

        • John Schilling says:

          OK, but at that level all sex that isn’t immediate-pleasure-only sex is nonconsensual because whatever, other than immediate pleasure, the less-than-ecstatic partner gets out of the deal is a thing that is being withheld unless they submit to sex, probably a thing that they will be seen as having the right to have and the result of a power imbalance being exploited by the aggressive partner. Particularly in cases where the deal is less explicit than sex-for-cash.

          I don’t think this is a particularly helpful framing.

          • Evan Þ says:

            A helpful way to think about matters? No. An explanation for a lot of what The Left says? Very likely.

    • blacktrance says:

      A related thought: the debates about consent being the sole criterion of the good don’t seem to distinguish between good as permissible (not grounds for punishment and so on) with good as benefiting the person who experiences it. There is some kind of assumption that if there’s a concession to “consent isn’t everything”, then consent could also not be enough, and that there could be some things one wouldn’t be able to consent to. But this need not be the case. It’s possible to have consensual sex that’s nevertheless bad for one of the participants. That’s not rape, but sex can be bad without it being rape. Because it was consensual, neither of the participants has a claim against the other. But it’s still legitimate to say that (for example) sex was initiated in an unwelcome way (even though it was ultimately consensual), and therefore that person has done something wrong.

      Consent isn’t literally everything, but it is everything as far as coercive forces or their cultural cousins should be concerned. That gets us to the legality and acceptance of porn, prostitution, and so on, while acknowledging that people can consent to things that are bad for them.

      • John Schilling says:

        That’s not rape, but sex can be bad without it being rape.

        I think that one of the defining characteristics of the contemporary left is the belief that all bad things (bad/wrong human behaviors, anyway) should be prohibited things; there is no allowance for “that’s bad, but people have the right to be bad in that way” or “that’s bad, but it would be worse to try to use coercive power to prevent it”.

        Add to this the use of language as a tool for social engineering, and no, sex cannot be bad without it being rape – if it’s bad/wrong it must be prohibited, prohibited sex is traditionally called “rape” and inventing a lesser term for less-prohibited sex would weaken the social engineering, so bad sex = rape.

      • Anonymous says:

        It seems like you’re pointing out some things that form the basis of a distinction between morally permissible and legally permissible (i.e., what he did was wrong and he is morally blameworthy for it, but it is not something that we punish legally). I’d like to add that there’s an additional possible distinction between morally permissible and morally praiseworthy (and also morally obligatory). All of these gradations are likely intermediaries between ‘consent’ and ‘the good’. It’s not entirely clear if we can make any equivalences between consent and one of these lines (partially because there are different varieties of consent floating around and partially because the work just hasn’t been done yet).

        To the extent that ‘the left’ wants to equate consent with morally praiseworthy, it’s pretty clearly untenable (this is really what affirmative consent standards are trying to do, and I think most people have realized that it’s utterly impossible to have the same standard for legal permissibility). There are some strong arguments that consent performs magic for moral permissibility, but I’m not quite convinced of them. Equating consent with legal permissibility is better, but it’s still a little rough around some edges. To me, the only position that is pretty rock solid is that consent is a valid legal defense for a charge of sexual assault. This is much more specific and obviously leaves consent being a far cry from a general statement on ‘the good’.

      • Peter says:

        Conspicuous by its absence from the discussion so far: cheating[1]. It’s consensual between the participants, it’s bad, it’s generally legal.

        As far as I can tell, the general Western thing is that the courts don’t directly punish cheating, (except in a few red states?) they don’t allow third parties to use coercive forces to punish cheating, but divorce courts take it into account, both in terms of when and whether to grant a divorce and in terms of how to divide up the assets. The social mores seem to be more variable but there seems to be a “it’s a private matter between the people concerned, don’t get involved if you aren’t already” vibe where I am.

        I suppose the polar opposite is the vibe I got when reading the Arabian Nights, where there seemed to be the absolute horror of adultery.

        [1] Poly and open relationships aren’t cheating, they’re playing by different rules. Except sometimes people cheat by those rules instead…

        • Anonymous says:

          I suppose the polar opposite is the vibe I got when reading the Arabian Nights, where there seemed to be the absolute horror of adultery.

          Yeah. I recall that in Early Christianity, forgiveness for especially grievous sins – such as murder and adultery – was granted once, if at all. If you relapsed, get ye to hell.

        • brad says:

          In the modern era (i.e. post 1980s or so) divorce courts do not generally consider evidence of cheating in determining property division, custody, or spousal support. The exception is if there is something more than simple cheating, for example giving large amounts of marital property to the paramour.

        • NN says:

          The social mores seem to be more variable but there seems to be a “it’s a private matter between the people concerned, don’t get involved if you aren’t already” vibe where I am.

          Unless the people in question are your political opponents, in which case the correct course of action is to search the leaked Ashley Madison data for important people on the “other side,” and then write 10 zillion Gawker articles publicizing the fact that they are dirty cheating cheaters who cheat.

          • Peter says:

            Ooops, I should have said “in my social circles” (which are a weird liberal bubble), thinking about cases where I know people personally. The tabloids and the gossip rags are full of all sorts of stuff… and the thing which leaps to my mind is the monarchy. Oh, and Tory cabinet ministers who promoted “back to basics” and got caught in extramarital affairs. Although that latter one was more about the hypocrisy than anything.

        • anonymous says:

          NN, you seemed to have misspelled “make a living going on TV being holier than thou” as “political opponents”.

          Might want to reinstall spellcheck.

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t think the far left gives more than lip service to the notion that cheating is bad, and I’m not sure about even the center-left. More of a faux pas than a great moral transgression; obviously you should have told your former partner that the monogamous phase of the relationship had come to an end before hooking up with a new partner, but commitment to lifetime monogamous relationship is one of those bad old reactionary ideas that we’re doing away with so you were going to hook up with a new partner sooner or later anyhow.

          But I don’t hang out in leftist circles enough to know what social sanctions, if any, various sorts of leftist apply to known cheaters within their ranks.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I think you are vastly overestimating the amount by which politics influences attitudes to personal relationships. In my experience, polyamory is a fringe idea even on the far left. Indeed, I don’t think it is particularly left-wing at all – I expect that many polyamorists are libertarians. I think that the only way left-wingers are more positive about cheating than right-wingers is that they are less likely to condemn it on religious grounds.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which is why I didn’t mention polyamory. Polyamory is the three-sigma gray-tribe fringe version of what everyone else calls “fooling around”.

            And polyamorists have no monopoly on the belief that fooling around isn’t that bad. The rest of the world, while generally pointing and laughing at the polyamorists with their formal rules and structures for this sort of thing, holds a range of opinions on the subject of Just Plain Fooling Around that runs from “good, healthy fun” to “stone the fornicators”.

            The far left, and I submit even the not-so-far-left, is clustered pretty close to the “good, healthy fun” end of that axis even as they somehow fail to all line up and declare themselves polyamorists.

            And as for political attitudes influencing personal relationships, I’ve got two words for you: Free Love. Caused a whole lot of harm in the 1960s, and even more when it was depoliticized in the 1970s. Everything old is new again.

          • anonymous says:

            I think attitudes towards fooling around is more about class than ideology. The two sides (lower and upper) are far more understanding than the middle.

            I know plenty of people that work at leftist non-profits (i.e. pretty far left) that might condone something like consensual polygamy if asked in the abstract, but are plenty conventional in their actual day to day attitudes.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I took “but commitment to lifetime monogamous relationship is one of those bad old reactionary ideas that we’re doing away with” to be a reference to polyamorous ideas. What did you intend it to be? I take your point about free love, although I think you need to back up your claim that it caused a whole lot of harm.

            I concede that left-wingers are perhaps more OK with adultery than right-wingers, in that the people who stone adulterers to death are generally on the right of the political spectrum, and those who most audibly oppose them tend to be left-wing. I don’t think this is what you are talking about.

            Left-wingers are generally more positive about fornication in some forms – for instance premarital sex – as they tend to view marriage as a less an important institution than right-wingers. I don’t think that this attitude extends to adultery, since that seems to be to do with honesty, rather than purity (at least in my left-wing view).

          • John Schilling says:

            I took “but commitment to lifetime monogamous relationship is one of those bad old reactionary ideas that we’re doing away with” to be a reference to polyamorous ideas. What did you intend it to be?

            A reference to non-monogamous ideas that I would normally call “polyamorous” except that there’s a tiny group of people who have adopted that name, representing a tiny fraction of the people who are generally OK with fooling around but who sometimes speak as if they are the only ethical non-monogamists in town.

            When you say that polyamory is a fringe idea on the left, you are right with respect to people using the name “polyamory”, but off by at least an order of magnitude with respect to people who think that fooling around is no more than a minor indiscretion. I think it obfuscates to use the specific term, “polyamory” (and its variants), in this discussion.

    • Outis says:

      I found this very insightful. I think the phenomenon is also connected to a general erosion of the difference between legal and moral. Social pressure helps restrain behavior before the law gets involved; this is a fundamental component of any functional society, but if you want to deviate from social norms, or alter them, then it becomes an obstacle. The left wants to alter society using the power of the state, and it has the ideological mechanism to denounce social norms as instruments of oppression. Therefore, it’s easy for them to fall into a pattern where they attack the legitimacy of social pressure per se, while resorting to the law to exert whatever control they deem appropriate.
      It’s true, though, that this seems to have happened in the context of sexual mores above all others.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @The original Mr. X:
      “some Congo-esque rape epidemic”

      This looks very, very much like a framing that implicitly assumes that date rape can’t actually happen and the only kind of sexual violence that can be called rape is when a stranger leaps from the bushes with a weapon. Frankly, around here, I would almost want people to taboo the word rape, because the implicit assumption, when arguing about whether something is or is not rape, is that if it is not rape then it’s basically fine.

      This is a little like arguing “Well, it’s not murder. Only manslaughter”. This makes sense if you want to start talking about legal punishment. It does not make sense if you are talking about harm. Person is still dead.

      There was a fairly infamous reddit thread asking sexual assailants to relate their stories. Some of the stories are related on this archive thread. You need to scroll down and look and look for posts from UnholyDemigod.

      The particular one that always got me was this one.

      If you can ignore any bias you have against Jezebel and the word rape, this is a pretty good roundup.

      If it isn’t clear why I am bringing this up, it’s because it shows why people are legitimately concerned about affirmative consent.

      • Peter says:

        That Jezebel article; it’s notable that the author has to draw attention to the fact that she’s breaking ranks, going against party lines and even butchering the odd sacred cow. It’s worth reading just for that.

        I mean, there are things still wrong with the article, and with the author’s contribution to the comments, but compared with what I’ve come to expect from that part of the internet it’s a real breath of fresh air.

        (Oh, and I should add that if you have an anxiety disorder and things like Jezebel are one of your triggers for it, then it’s still going to trigger you.)

      • Jason K. says:

        I think very few people would argue that date rape cannot happen. I think there are quite a few people who are getting a bit tired of others implying that women have essentially no agency whatsoever when it comes to sex and need to be treated like they have the mental capacity of children. Tired of how we keep wanting to move the goalposts further and further, to the point where it is impossible to objectively ascertain where the line is.

        If you insist on playing in traffic and not watching for cars, you are going to get hit. Should the drivers try to avoid hitting you? Sure. But you cannot reasonably expect to be magically protected by a force-field from your bad decisions.

        Since HBC brought it up again, I am going segue a bit in order to lay down some smack with a pretty big clue stick (not directed at HBC in particular): Affirmative consent will not help get you laid. In fact, it will do the exact opposite. Affirmative consent isn’t to protect women from men like you. It is primarily so women have a bludgeon that they can use against the aggressive/assertive men that they are drawn towards, but can’t control. The kind that don’t care about ‘the rules’. It is to allow women to be more comfortable with pursuing those men, not you. If you are male, it is wholly against your self interest to support this. All the other talk about affirmative consent is scarcely more than a smokescreen to distract you.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @HeelBearCub – “Frankly, around here, I would almost want people to taboo the word rape…”

        Seems like a decent plan. What would your alternate term be?

        “…because the implicit assumption, when arguing about whether something is or is not rape, is that if it is not rape then it’s basically fine.”

        It seems to me that the assumption isn’t that it’s fine, it’s that the reasonable positions one might take aren’t systemically unenforceable, and the enforceable ones are not reasonable.

        “This is a little like arguing “Well, it’s not murder. Only manslaughter”. This makes sense if you want to start talking about legal punishment.

        …Isn’t punishment/enforcement a huge percentage of the actual conversation? Last thread the discussion started with why affirmative consent was a preferable framework for relationships, and nearly every thread ended with discussion of legal implications.

        “It does not make sense if you are talking about harm.”

        With no actual solutions available, we could talk about avoidance/prevention, but it seems to me that most of the strategies with a chance of actually being effective are condemned as “victim blaming” or otherwise putting the onus on the woman to avoid being raped. Likewise, our culture isn’t about to admit that maybe the sexual revolution and the other hedonistic elements of our culture might be a bad idea after all, so attempting to roll those back is out.

        Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure the school I went to when I was younger, which banned sex for all students on-campus or off unless they were married and drinking for anybody, had a lot less of a [insert taboo replacement here] problem than the nearest state university. But that’s an unacceptable abridgment of the students’ essential freedoms, I suppose.

        [EDIT] – Elsewhere in this comment section, someone else mentioned in the context of cheating that the Poly community has established its own complex rules of sexual engagement. Something like that is another option. My point, I guess, is the idea that we as a society can handle “no rules” sex is an increasingly shaky one. Sex is too complex, too powerful, and too dangerous. The rules are there to protect us, and we need that protection badly.

        “If it isn’t clear why I am bringing this up, it’s because it shows why people are legitimately concerned about affirmative consent.”

        I have several ideas about how I might help reduce the likelihood that my niece ever experiences anything like the events described in those links. “Concern about affirmative consent” does not appear on the list.

        • Anonymous says:

          @HeelBearCub – “Frankly, around here, I would almost want people to taboo the word rape…”

          Seems like a decent plan. What would your alternate term be?

          Maybe they’d have to use the actual subtypes. Like assault rape, forcible rape, date rape, statutory rape, both-drunk rape, regret-next-morning rape, marital rape, video game rape, etc, etc.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Faceless Craven:
          Sexual assault might work as a term. SAIR (sexual assault including rape) might also work. This is my own, unsupported, so I am not speaking for anyone else.

          My basic point was that the discussion of harm, wrongness and punishment are all related, but separate. If I am trying to have a conversation about whether something is wrong and/or harmfull, and you object to the wrongness by asserting something about punishment, it is basically a non sequitur.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “Sexual assault might work as a term.”

            “Sexual Assault” is a synonym for rape. I’m aware that it’s supposed to have more nuance than that, but it doesn’t really. Also, at least some of the examples in that reddit link seemed to involve no assault at all, but only manipulation.

            “My basic point was that the discussion of harm, wrongness and punishment are all related, but separate. If I am trying to have a conversation about whether something is wrong and/or harmfull, and you object to the wrongness by asserting something about punishment, it is basically a non sequitur.”

            I didn’t read the whole reddit thread, but none of the quotes I read claimed what they did was harmless or acceptable behavior. If even the offenders know that what they’re doing is harmful and wrong, then why is that still the topic of conversation? Who are you trying to convince?

            Punishment, avoidance, and minimization are the only things left to discuss, it seems to me. That certainly seemed to be the pattern in the last thread, where the sub-threads discussing harm/wrongness seemed to terminate in “affirmative consent is identical to what people are already doing”, and then diverted into questions of adjudication and punishment.

          • Vorkon says:

            There is a far, FAR bigger difference between murder and manslaughter than simply the punishments assigned to them.

            Assuming for the sake of argument that your harm/wrongness/punishment axis is the correct way for us to be looking at this issue, in the same way that you’re accusing John Schilling of conflating the wrongness and the punishment, (which I don’t think he is doing, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume he is) you seem to be conflating harm and wrongness. Yes, to the person who is killed, the amount of harm caused by murder and manslaughter is the same. However, murder is wrong, because the murderer intended to do it, and manslaughter is not as wrong, because it was a mistake. The punishments we assign to them takes this level of wrongness into account, but the punishments assigned are NOT the only difference between the two, by a long shot.

            Sure, it would be nice if we could reduce the number of manslaughters, but it certainly doesn’t have the same moral weight as preventing murder. And frankly, you have a much better chance of stopping people from consciously choosing to commit murder than you do of stopping them from making mistakes.

            If anything, the comparison between murder/manslaughter and rape/not-rape is an argument against the rape-culture theory and the affirmative consent standard, not for them. Sex without affirmative consent might be analogous to manslaughter, but it is certainly not analogous to murder.

            I do think you’re onto something about needing a term for what you’re talking about other than “rape,” however. In fact, one of the primary arguments of the opponents of rape-culture/affirmative consent is that the term “rape” is being devalued and used as a weapon.

            (I don’t think it’s a good idea to taboo the term “rape,” in general, because sometimes we ARE talking about rape, but we definitely need a better term for what happens on the fringes of what we call rape.)

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Sexual assault is not identical to rape. Randomly groping a man’s butt in a subway to get your jollies is sexual assault, but it’s not rape. Rape is contained entirely within sexual assault, but not vice-versa. The statistics do seem to be frequently reported in an aggregate manner though, so perhaps merely saying sexual assault is not enough.

            That is sort of where I was going with using a made-up initialization. Using a term like SAIR or SABOR (both made-up) might be able to get people to talk about the broad concept, instead of bogging down trying to discuss everything all at once.

            Re: “affirmative consent is identical to what people are already doing”

            I never said that. I did say that affirmative consent is not different from what the majority of people do, not different than what happens the vast majority of the time two people have sex. This is not at all the same as saying it is identical and I was actually quite lengthy on that point.

            It affects edge cases more than anything else

            I ‘m not sure why you would make that kind of fundamental analytical mistake. I doubt you missed that I did not intend to, nor did I say, “identical to what people are already doing”, so I am not sure why you would assert this now.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            First, OP was not John Schilling. It was Original Mr. X, and it is he I was replying to, and I was replying to a specific example which you seem to have slid right by.

            Note that I explicitly made the distinction that manslaughter and murder are the same in the amount of harm that comes to the individual, and also noted that we would want to distinguish between them for purposes of punishment. I did not explicitly say why, but given that I pointed at the third leg being wrongness, you can see that I actually implicitly made the point that you seem to be arguing invalidates my argument.

            SABOR is wrong. All the various forms of assault are wrong. SABOR cause harm as assault does. Punishment should be determined by the amount of harm and the degree of wrongness (I need a better word than that, but I fear that would get deep into a different definitional altercation).

            “Sex without affirmative consent might be analogous to manslaughter”

            What work do you think the word “affirmative” is doing in that sentence? I’m not sure if you caught the mile-long sub-thread in the last OT, but I have a feeling you and I are using different definitions of affirmative.

            But let’s remove the word affirmative, and what do you have? “Sex without consent.” What do you think that is?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:

            Multiple men said that they didn’t end up going as far as they had intended once they actually looked the woman they were with in the face:

            “I’m a good man. I have a wife and a couple of kids now and I’m a good father and husband. I’m a pretty moral guy. But I think the thing that has always stuck with me…is how close I came to actually doing it. If I hadn’t looked up at her face and seen what she was feeling, I might have continued. In my mind, at the time, she wanted it. I can remember staring at the ceiling while on the couch thinking “in a couple of minutes she’s going to come out here and get on top of me.”


            “…It was then I looked at her face. She was petrified. I at that point pulled myself together, rolled off her and apologized. My hormones were RAGING. I asked her why she didn’t want to. I told her what I thought above. She started to cry.”

            That is the kind of harm mitigation that comes with fully normalizing actual consent. Perhaps the word “affirmative” needs to be tabooed as well. Is normalizing consent than answer to stopping all SABOR? No. I honestly don’t think anyone is even arguing that.

            This sorry state of affairs should foster honest conversation, not suppress it. We should not be so desperate to establish the seriousness of rape that we stigmatize intelligent discussion of it.

          • Vorkon says:

            First, OP was not John Schilling. It was Original Mr. X, and it is he I was replying to, and I was replying to a specific example which you seem to have slid right by.

            Wow, I don’t know how I messed that one up. Some kind of Freudian slip in which I had just read a different post by him, or something? Either way, sorry about that!

            (Also, technically it was FacelessCraven who I confused with John Schilling there, not Original Mr. X. That doesn’t make it any less of a dumb mistake, of course, but it might help with context.)

            However, as far as the specific example you are talking about, you said “This is a little like arguing ‘Well, it’s not murder. Only manslaughter’. This makes sense if you want to start talking about legal punishment. It does not make sense if you are talking about harm. Person is still dead.”

            The problem with that statement is that arguing, “it’s not murder, only manslaughter” does not only make sense if you want to start arguing about legal punishment. There is a significant moral difference between murder and manslaughter, above and beyond the legal punishment assigned to either. If you’re talking about wrongness, you need to make a distinction between murder and manslaughter.

            You later assert that you are trying to have a conversation about something being “wrong and/or harmful,” and that FacelessCraven shouldn’t respond to that with a point about punishment. But you were not talking about wrongness in the previous statement, you were talking specifically about harm and punishment, and ignored the wrongness. So, like I said, it seems to me like you were conflating the wrongness of murder vs. manslaughter with the harm caused by murder and manslaughter. You can’t do that. The two things are very different.

            What work do you think the word “affirmative” is doing in that sentence? I’m not sure if you caught the mile-long sub-thread in the last OT, but I have a feeling you and I are using different definitions of affirmative.

            When I said, “sex without affirmative consent” there, I was specifically referring to sex in which one party believes they have the consent of the other, but where they actually do not. As I understand it, under the affirmative consent standard, properly applied, such a situation should not be possible, (at least in theory) hence my calling it “sex without affirmative consent.” I’ll gladly agree that this wasn’t the best choice of words, however, because a situation in which a person knows they do not have the consent of the other party, but has sex with them anyway, ALSO falls under the category of “sex without affirmative consent.” Sorry about the lack of clarity, there. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what other term to use for the situation I was describing. (In light of which, yeah, your proposal to taboo “affirmative consent” might just be a good one.)

            That situation is an important one to describe, however, because it corresponds to rape in more or less exactly the same way that manslaughter corresponds to murder, on a moral/wrongness scale.

            Also, yeah, I’m caught up on the thread from the last OT, but by the time I had a chance to do so, the discussion had already moved on.

            Also, as a side note, I see where you define SAIR, but I’m not entirely sure what you mean by SABOR. What does that stand for, exactly?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I completely agree that the level of wrongness matters in distinguishing murder from manslaughter. I am not disputing that.

            The specific example was “some Congo-esque rape epidemic”. I was objecting to that framing as it implied that the SABOR that occurs on college campuses is neither wrong nor harmful.

            In order to have clarity around SABOR, I think people need to distinguish which leg they are addressing. We should talk about harm, wrongness and punishment separately.

            I wonder whether I should even say what the initialization stands for? The point is to make it less meaningful. But, it’s not hard, so, Sexual Assault, Battery or Rape.

            People understand that there is a difference between, say, Murder I and Murder II, manslaughter, attempted murder, assault and depraved indifference. That type of clarity doesn’t exist around SABOR.

            Edit: Depraved indifference might not be so clear there. My main point still stands.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I ‘m not sure why you would make that kind of fundamental analytical mistake.”

            …I’m willing to consider the possibility that I’m exceptionally stupid/blind/mindkilled, if that’s helpful. In any case, my apologies, but see below.

            “I did say that affirmative consent is not different from what the majority of people do, not different than what happens the vast majority of the time two people have sex. This is not at all the same as saying it is identical and I was actually quite lengthy on that point.”

            “affirmative consent is identical to what people are already doing”
            “affirmative consent is not different from what the majority of people do, not different than what happens the vast majority of the time two people have sex.”
            …seems like a distinction in search of a difference. I apologize if I’m being obtuse, but your formulation seems like exactly what I was trying to convey, and I’m happy to abandon mine and proceed with yours. Yes, you claimed at length that there was a crucial difference, but I came away with no real understanding of what that difference is, how affirmative consent changes the actual rules for intimate interaction. All the differences I saw people pointing out, all of them involving serious downsides or absurdities, were shot down as not being part of real affirmative consent.

            You stated that affirmative consent was the model we should all want to base a relationship off, since normal people don’t want to have sex/intimacy with an unwilling partner. Pretty much everyone agreed that’s the model they’re already operating under, and the main problems relate to disconnects/miscommunications about whether the parties are willing. Obviously, the solution to a communication problem is to communicate better. But how? The last thread didn’t seem to provide an answer.

            “The statistics do seem to be frequently reported in an aggregate manner though, so perhaps merely saying sexual assault is not enough.”

            If the goal is to steer the conversation away from the punishment context and toward harm, borrowing technical terms from the criminal justice system might not be the best strategy. Might I suggest “violated”? It seems to me it communicates the issue of harm on a visceral level, while offering mental associations with deontological morality that hew closer to “wrong” and “harm” than “crime”.

            “That is the kind of harm mitigation that comes with fully normalizing actual consent.”

            …Except the people giving those quotes *thought they had enthusiastic consent*, yes? If you’ve offered an explanation for how Affirmative/Normalized Consent would fix a situation like those two, I haven’t seen it. Calling for more communication is easy, but they appear to have thought they WERE communicating and had a clear go-ahead!

            It seems to me that those quotes reinforce my point above: the problem is not edge cases, it is that we have abandoned any sort of formal structure to intimate relations. Individuals have to develop their own structures, on the fly, while operating under highly compromised states of mind, and then hope their structures are compatible with those of their partners. Communication is fraught because few realize that structure is even a thing that exists; most are operating off the assumption that whatever structure they’ve cobbled together is the norm for everybody. Structure mismatch (and some highly selfish structures are both powerfully incentivized and incompatible with just about all others) results in violation of one or both parties. Obviously a chaotic system like this is going to produce a whole lot of mismatch, and thus a whole lot of violation, and the general chaos offers loads of cover for intentional bad actors.

            Under the above model, the problem with Affirmative Consent is that it assumes a basic pattern to the structures everyone is using, and that the problem is only on the communication end. I see no real evidence that the pattern actually exists. Everyone wants a YES! to their proposition, but the propositions are all different in wildly complicated and exceedingly subtle ways, the differences are not recognized, and most people don’t have the grammar needed to talk about it or the spare brain-space to try. how can people get others to agree to what they want if they’re not entirely sure what they want themselves?

            tl;dr – In love as elsewhere, radical liberty tends toward Somolia, not Utopia.

            So what do we do about it? Well, for one, it’s pretty clear to me that everyone needs to understand that “the norm” doesn’t actually exist and can’t be relied upon to protect them from violation, intentional or not. Society as a whole doesn’t provide meaningful boundaries any more (assuming it ever did), so it’s up to individuals to both draw and enforce them. Enforcing boundaries can range from avoidance to saying “no” to eye-gouging and gunfire. Enforcement entails irreducible physical and social risks to the individual. Failure to enforce entails an irreducible and fairly high risk of violation, as well as physical and social risks.
            If you want a better situation, you can join a community that actually tries to enforce local norms. Higher education has been trying to do that and failing spectacularly. Other groups may be doing a better job. But again, the individual is ultimately responsible for drawing and enforcing their own boundaries, and the risk and consequences that result. Local norms can make that easier or harder, but can never remove it entirely. Trying to is a good way to get a lot of people hurt.

            I realize that is probably not a comforting answer. I’m increasingly convinced that it is the best one we have available.

          • brad says:

            For the sake of pedantry, manslaughter includes accidental killings with a mens rea of negligence or recklessness as well as killing where the intent was to cause serous bodily injury, but it also includes intentional killing with a mitigating factor like provocation or imperfect self defense.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            At the risk of repeating myself, suppose 90% of people engage in AC essentially all of the time. Suppose further that the average person ends up having 10 partners. That means the average person will have a 66% chance of encountering someone who is not engaging in AC.

            So, the overwhelming number of people practice AC, but a super majority suffer a non AC encounter.

            Do you see my point?

            “Except the people giving those quotes *thought they had enthusiastic consent*, yes?”

            First, Enthusiastic and Affirmative are two different things. Asuming you actually meant AC, then, no, I don’t think they did. If you don’t think you need to even look your partner in the face at regular intervals (especially during some kind “first time” and absent verbal consent) I don’t think it is reasonable to judge that you are sure you have consent.

            Convincing yourself that “s/he wants to” is different than waiting for them to “say” yes.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “So, the overwhelming number of people practice AC, but a super majority suffer a non AC encounter.”

            That is much clearer. My apologies for the communications difficulties.

            “First, Enthusiastic and Affirmative are two different things.”

            Perhaps naively, I presumed that “enthusiastic consent” was actually a more emphatic version of “affirmative consent”, and would therefore necessarily imply the former.

            “Assuming you actually meant AC, then, no, I don’t think they did.”

            I may be missing context from unquoted portions of the story, but both the quotes you gave sound like people who thought they were engaging in consensual sex, and stopped the moment they got a negative signal. If I understand correctly, your argument is that they should have been looking for positive signals, but it seems pretty likely to me that they *thought they were* receiving positive signals, ie not-negatives. If you are positing positive, negative, and neutral signals, I think your model probably exceeds the sensitivity of the average person’s signal-receiving apparatus.

            “If you don’t think you need to even look your partner in the face at regular intervals (especially during some kind “first time” and absent verbal consent) I don’t think it is reasonable to judge that you are sure you have consent.”

            This statement, combined with some of the stuff from the last thread, seems really, really off. As I understand it, you’ve said that verbal communication isn’t strictly necessary, and consent can be negotiated by de minimus escalations. Intimate/sexual contacts do not come labeled “major” and “de minimus”, and the people doing the interpretation are very unlikely to be thinking clearly.

            A close acquaintance of mine suffered Violation. She was sleeping over at a friend’s house with several other students, one of whom was a male acquaintance/friend. From her fairly brief description of what happened, he approached her after everyone else had gone to bed, and via what I’m pretty sure he would have argued were “de minimus escalations”, he “non-verbally negotiated her consent” for oral sex. I am pretty sure he was looking at her face before the oral sex started, and not to be crude but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t looking at it much thereafter. She considered it rape, but never reported it to any authorities, never talked to him about it, and didn’t even cut off contact with him. After hearing this story I had the disconcerting experience of meeting the acquaintance when we both ended up helping her move. I’m pretty sure he never suspected the encounter was anything but a fun, consensual little midnight tryst.

            “Convincing yourself that “s/he wants to” is different than waiting for them to “say” yes.”

            I do not think the two are practically distinguishable. That is, there is no fast, simple, foolproof method to determine whether someone you do not know well is actually “saying” yes. Facial expression sure as hell doesn’t seem like a foolproof method; what if their default nervous/panic reaction is a smile? Especially while horny, which should be the textbook definition of motivated cognition. Even more especially while slightly drunk, in the dark, subtly in public, or some combination of the above plus what other freakiness is popular with the kids these days. Saying that people need to “do it better” implies that it can be done well at all. It seems overwhelmingly likely to me that the only reason the violation problem is as small as it is is that sex is often pleasurable for both parties, which together with considerable social pressure leave them biased toward at least a modestly positive interpretation of the average encounter.

            Nor, it seems to me, does actual verbal consent and even enthusiastic participation offer a foolproof solution to Violation. One of the first examples on that Reddit thread was a person who claimed to specifically target rape victims, manipulated them into a relationship, used them to satisfy his sexual urges and then discarded them. It is not hard to imagine him securing full, ironclad “consent” from them throughout the process, in any sense of the term applicable to a casual hookup. The Violation nevertheless seems both real and obvious.

            On the other hand, positive refusal of consent IS fast, simple, and pretty damn foolproof, the majority of people will accept it, and for those who don’t we have eye-gouging, artery-stabbing, gunfire and jail. It seems obvious to me that if people have a problem expressing positive refusal to consent, fixing that is likely to be considerably easier than teaching people to read complex emotions via body language and nonverbal cues, or trying to convince the borderline sociopathic not to use others as sexual toys.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I specifically said that AC was not a solution to prevent all violation. It’s interesting that you seem to be saying “if it doesn’t solve the whole problem, then it is not worth doing”. There are even more examples in that thread of people saying “no” and it not being respected. So, I could just as well turn that argument back around on you.

            The argument is that, at least in the US culture, the expectation is still that the guy presses forward and the girl is “responsible” for saying no. She is the gatekeeper. The guys “job” is to then overcome this resistance. I would argue that, even then, most people still actually engage in AC, but the normative narrative is not supportive of AC. The fight for AC is, I think, largely a fight to change the normative narrative to match what people who aren’t jerks already do.

            I really don’t know why we can’t teach everyone to both seek AC, and say no if they don’t want to, and respect no if they hear it. Broadly, the message is “Talk to your partner clearly. Listen to what your partner is telling you. Communicate.”

            Part of my issue here is that I was being forced to “fight a war on two fronts” as far as what AC means. AC in terms of a long term relationship that has gone on for years and where the sexual behavior of the participants is not changing looks very, very different than AC in terms of an encounter with someone you just met tonight.

            I would be interested to hear more about your friends violation and what made her feel compelled to go forward with the act.

          • Vorkon says:

            The fight for AC is, I think, largely a fight to change the normative narrative to match what people who aren’t jerks already do.

            This seems to me to be the crux of the disagreement, here. People who aren’t jerks already practice affirmative consent. People who are jerks will continue to be jerks, regardless of what the normative narrative says.

            The obvious response to this is that, “well, the narrative changing will make it harder for them to be jerks,” but this is not the case. It is just as easy for a jerk to get a signal they can falsely point to and say “this was a clear yes,” even if they know that it was not, as it is for them to continue going until they get a forceful “no.” That is, it’s just as easy unless you ascribe to one of the “yes must be verbal or written” definitions of AC, which as you said in the previous thread, you do not.

            Absolutely NO ONE is saying that nothing should be done about violation, and that only violent rape is an issue. (I kind of like that term, by the way. Not sure yet if it’s the one we’ve been looking for, but it’ll do for now. Haven’t thought of a better one for violent rape yet, though. Sorry.) Claiming that people are saying that is extremely uncharitable. What we are saying is that the costs of pushing an AC narrative (such as an increased atmosphere of suspicion and increased false accusations, to name a few) do not make it worth the benefits. (Such as… Um… Sorry if *I’M* not being charitable now, but I can’t think of a single one. Like I said, jerks will continue to be jerks, and non-jerks will continue to try to hold themselves to an AC standard, but make the same sort of mistakes they are making now, since as you say, non-jerks are already trying to hold themselves to this standard.)

            As far as what we should DO about violations, though? (Because you’re right; they are a problem we should be trying to address.) Honestly, I wish I knew. I just think that trying to push an AC standard is a remarkably ineffective way of doing it.

            If I were to venture a guess, though, my recommendation would be for people to STOP trying to place the AC standard in opposition to the “No Means No” standard. “No Means No” fills an important role, which no other meme I’ve heard of has managed to replicate. It is a way of telling people “you know this prevalent narrative that holds that when a girl says ‘no’ she is really just playing hard to get? That’s bullshit. If you hear a ‘no,’ then STOP.” Yet, lately every time I’ve heard anyone try to teach people that “no means no,” they are met with a chorus of angry voices yelling “No! Don’t teach people that! Teach them that yes means yes!” I’m not trying to say that you are doing that here, or anything, but it happens.

            Holding “yes means yes” as being in some sort of opposition to “no means no” is a remarkably unhelpful and dangerous trend. The two concepts are describing entirely different things. When people say “yes means yes,” they are talking about AC, and AC is a generalized principle which states, essentially, “you must have clear consent before proceeding with a sexual encounter.” However, (again, unless you go with the “must be verbal or written” definition) it provides no guidelines as to what that “clear consent” actually LOOKS like. “No means no,” on the other hand, does not try to define what consent means, but rather provides a simple, easy to understand guideline for people to use in cases where the signs of consent are confusing. The two concepts are entirely different, and should not be held in opposition.

            I think a big part of the reason people adopted “Yes Means Yes” is that pushing “No Means No” hadn’t eliminated violations, and I can totally understand the frustration there. But like you’ve been saying yourself, we can’t expect it to stop them all, and that is no reason to abandon a useful tool for doing so.

            In short, AC is a great principle, which we should all try to hold ourselves to, but “Yes Means Yes” is a cancerous meme that should be eliminated. It carries no information in and of itself (because OF COURSE yes means yes. That’s what “means” means) other than to hold itself in opposition to the meme it is trying to replace, “No Means No.” But it doesn’t replace that meme at all. It is describing a mostly unrelated concept. Moreover, it is describing a concept which most people grasp intuitively, and which the people it is trying to reach can ignore with impunity.

            Switching gears a little bit, I was thinking about my previous comments, and something occurred to me, which I think I always knew, but never really put into words before. There’s a reason why the murder/manslaughter analogy struck such a chord with me. (Well, there are several reasons, actually; the first is that I’m an active duty Marine [hence why I didn’t have time to participate in the previous thread] and people who seem to be implying that “all killing is equivalent to murder” raises a strong tribal knee-jerk response from me. But there’s also a reason why I felt comparison of murder/manslaughter to rape/violation was such an apt one.)

            Basically, the reason we hold murder as being so much more reprehensible than any other form of killing is because it is premeditated, right? I think that the main reason we hold rape as being so reprehensible, a crime second only to the aforementioned murder in our society’s hierarchy of bad things a person can do, is because the definition most people are using of the word also holds it as being premeditated.

            The thing is, whenever this comes up, I see people saying that “rape is more than just a violent attacker hiding in the bushes.” You are guilty of that yourself, above. I’ll admit, the “congo-esque” line was uncharitable, snarky, and didn’t add much to the discussion, so I can’t really blame you for that there, but it’s still a meme I see repeated over and over, and most of the time it’s nothing but a strawman. NOBODY thinks that rape can only be called “rape” if it is a violent attack, or that date rape doesn’t exist. What people DO think is that rape, by definition, is a premeditated act, and that calling someone a rapist if what they did was not premeditated is equivalent to calling someone who did not commit murder a murderer. A violent attacker hiding in the bushes is NOT the only way rape can be premeditated, by a long shot. The example you listed above, from UnholyDemigod, is a perfect example of premeditated rape. It’s also a perfect example of how date rape can be (and often is) premeditated. There is virtually no one, on either side of this debate, who would call the things UnholyDemigod did anything other than “rape.” There’s a lot of people who object to people like the ones in your latest example, who stopped as soon as they noticed the look on their partner’s face and understood what it meant, being placed in the same category as UnholyDemigod, though.

            This, I think, is part of the reason I don’t particularly like your SABOR and SAIR proposals for a better term to use; they categorize “rape” as being in the same category as “sexual assaults which are clearly not rape.” This is the very reason we have the term “murder”; to explicitly separate it from more acceptable forms of killing like manslaughter and self-defense. It is important to do this not only because the term “murder” muddies debate, or because there is a far stronger moral imperative to prevent murders than other forms of killing, although both of those things is true. But the methods required to stop murders are different from the methods required to prevent other sorts of killings, as well. Nobody ever says “we need to prevent killing.” Doing so would basically require eliminating cause and effect. But we will gladly talk about “preventing murders,” “preventing mass shootings,” “preventing drunk driving accidents,” “preventing gun violence,” and so on. I would argue that the same is true of sexual violations. What we need to do to stop people like UnholyDemigod is far different from what needs to be done to save the partner of the person in your more recent example from feeling violated.

            (I’m not sure if “violation” is the best term for it, because it’s rather weak, but it’s the best I’ve seen here so far. “Sexual Assault” works, technically, but as FacelessCraven says, a lot of people conflate that with “rape,” and so it has a similar negative impact on discussion. It shouldn’t, because like “killing” it is very broad, but most of the time it does. Maybe just using “Sexual Assault” often enough for other purposes that people stop immediately connecting that and “rape” is our best bet? I honestly don’t know…)

            Either way, you’re absolutely correct that the terminology for different types of sexual assaults/violations/whatever doesn’t exist in the same way as it does for different types of killings, and that this is a problem. I just think that it’s important for such terminology to explicitly separate the different types, the same way that our terminology for killings does, and a lot of what we’re proposing doesn’t really do that. We need a term for sexual assault NOT including rape, just like we have terms for killing not including murder, and right now we don’t really have one. I don’t know what it should be, but we definitely need one.

            I do have two pretty concrete suggestions, though: One, we should stop saying “Yes Means Yes” and holding it in opposition to “No Means No,” when talking about AC, and that we should try to convince others to do the same. And two, we should only use the term “rape” when talking about a premeditated act. Those two suggestions won’t fix the discussion completely, but I think they’re a decent place to start.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            A few things, UnholyDemigod is just someone who retrieved a bunch of archived responses. He isn’t the attacker in those posts.

            You keep saying NOBODY in all caps, but what if I can find lots of examples of the NOBODYs in question? Would that cause you to update?

            “No means no,” on the other hand, does not try to define what consent means, but rather provides a simple, easy to understand guideline for people to use in cases where the signs of consent are confusing.

            I disagree with this statement. “She didn’t say no” is, I think, a frequently used statement to indicate that one believes one had consent. It says assume consent, unless s/he says no. Even if YOU don’t interpret it that way, I believe it to be a frequent interpretation.

            Edit: I want to respond to some of your other statements, but I won’t have time until later.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I specifically said that AC was not a solution to prevent all violation. It’s interesting that you seem to be saying “if it doesn’t solve the whole problem, then it is not worth doing”.”

            The problem is that I think AC theory might do more harm than good, because it seems to frame sex as a simple transaction, maintains that the consent component of the transaction is the primary or sole point of failure, and thus frames any violation that results as necessarily a failure to secure consent. This pattern, I think, not only fails to prevent violation, but conceals alternate causes.

            To be clear, the idea I’m chasing is that there is a difference between the practice of Affirmative Consent, which everyone in these threads has agreed is a good idea, and Affirmative Consent Theory, which is what you currently seem to be arguing for. I realize the distinction may seem perverse, but consider this part you wrote:

            “Part of my issue here is that I was being forced to “fight a war on two fronts” as far as what AC means. AC in terms of a long term relationship that has gone on for years and where the sexual behavior of the participants is not changing looks very, very different than AC in terms of an encounter with someone you just met tonight.”

            Suppose Affirmative Consent was a result of healthy relationships, rather than a technique for building them? Suppose that the healthy relationship is a necessary precondition for Affirmative Consent to work reliably?

            In a healthy long-term relationship, people are invested in their partner’s well-being and the health of the relationship, rather than in their own individual, short-term pleasure. Sexual consent is of limited relevance in such a relationship for the same reason that individual ownership of property is of limited relevance; not because it isn’t important, but because grounds for conflict over it are severely limited. In fact we can observe numerous examples of healthy couples taking a great deal of liberty with each others’ bodies* without anyone being violated and to the apparent gratification of all involved. Consent is a product of love and trust, not the producer.

            Campus hookup culture does the above backwards and blindfolded, with predictable results. “Serious” relationships are initiated via consent, often with little or no understanding between the parties of whether their interests are compatible or what they even are. When they are compatible, things work out okay. When they aren’t, one or both parties are Violated.

            Affirmative Consent Theory seems to ignore the question of whether the parties’ interests are actually compatible. It starts by assuming that they must be, otherwise the parties wouldn’t provide consent, and then assumes the corollary that if violation occurred, consent must not have been provided. It redefines all violations as consent violations because that’s the only category of “violation” it’s capable of recognizing. I think the wonkiness of the conversation in these threads is a side effect of this.

            “I really don’t know why we can’t teach everyone to both seek AC, and say no if they don’t want to, and respect no if they hear it. Broadly, the message is “Talk to your partner clearly. Listen to what your partner is telling you. Communicate.””

            (summing up here to aid in clarity)
            a) AC works when there is an actual relationship, and without the relationship becomes a whole lot harder and less reliable. Consent is necessary but not sufficient.
            b) The reasons people need to say no are often complex and hard for them to understand, especially if they are young, and probably cannot be taught reliably enough, fast enough, effectively enough to prevent a lot of harm.
            c) There is a percentage of the population unwilling or unable to learn to accept “no” as an answer, and they have to be accounted for.

            …obviously we need to teach people all of those things. My objection is that the problem is bigger than negotiated consent, so those are only partial solutions. Also, that the official conversation is using “rape”/crime where we are using “violation”/harm, which severely distorts the conversation. I am very skeptical that there is actually a campus rape epidemic. I am not at all skeptical that there is a campus violation epidemic. “yes doesn’t necessarily make it okay” is an outrage from a crime context, and obviously true from a harm context. Separating the two was an extremely good idea. Thank you for suggesting it.

            “I would be interested to hear more about your friends violation and what made her feel compelled to go forward with the act.”

            Some combination of feeling guilty/obligated for causing his arousal and feeling like she couldn’t say no. They may have exchanged some words, contrary to my description; I heard the story 15 years ago, and I didn’t press her for a lot of details. What she did say was that she felt like she “couldn’t say no”, and the impression she left me with was that she felt she wasn’t allowed to do anything but comply. She was clear that he didn’t threaten her or get physically forceful or violent. She had experienced violation previously, I believe on more than one occasion, but never related the details of those incidents. She was a very smart person, and obviously her story has significantly shaped how I see the issue.

            *waking ones’ partner up via sexual activity would be an example of this. Many seem to view it as an extremely pleasant way to wake up, rather than as quasi-rape. Is that a healthy way to view it? While I can’t answer that for anyone else with certainty, I don’t find the idea of providing my partner carte-blanche access to my genitalia terribly objectionable. Obviously communication would be a good idea.

          • Vorkon says:

            Well then, if UnholyDemigod is reading this by any chance, I sincerely apologize! Seriously, I would hate being accused of those things, and I’m sorry to have done so to them, even if inadvertently.

            In my defense, though, I only read completely through the Jezebel article and the link from UnholyDemigod which you said got you in particular, and that one didn’t exactly make it clear. Plus, since the original thread was supposed to be about rapists self-reporting their own stories, it was an easy mistake to make. I didn’t actually read through the entire thread itself, so I may ave missed some context. I started to, but I hate Reddit’s upvoting system and it became clear very quickly that the majority of the comments I’d be reading would be people talking about the scenarios being described, rather than the scenarios themselves, which seemed like a waste of my time, so I may have missed something. In fact, the very first comment in that thread was someone making the exact same mistake about UnholyDemigod, which made no sense reading before UnholyDemigod’s actual comment, (because Reddit-style upvoting is stupid) and left me with the information “UnholyDemigod has raped a shit ton of women,” rather than, “I mistakenly believed UnholyDemigod has raped a shit ton of women.” Still doesn’t excuse what I inadvertently accused them of, but hopefully that explains it!

            Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s move on to the meat of the discussion.

            There are two places in which I used an unmodified “NOBODY” or “NO ONE,” and I think they need to be addressed separately. The first:

            “Absolutely NO ONE is saying that nothing should be done about violation, and that only violent rape is an issue.”

            I normally try to avoid an absolute “no one” with no sort of modifier, (though, as this thread will attest, I sometimes fail :op ) but I did this one on purpose, and am going to have to stand by it. If you were to somehow find numerous examples of people who believe otherwise, I might be forced to update, but I think you will find that more or less impossible due to how much work “is an issue” is doing in that statement, and how broad a category of things “should be done,” covers.

            Sure, you’ll find plenty of people saying things like, “only violent rape should be called rape,” or “only violent rape should be prosecuted,” and you’ll also find plenty of people who say “the courts and/or college administrative boards should not do anything about [what we are calling Violation, even though they are probably not using that term],” but I don’t believe you will find anybody who would argue that Violation is not a bad thing, and that we wouldn’t be better off if less of it happened. (You might find some sociopaths who don’t actually believe it is a bad thing, themselves, but they certainly won’t argue it, and if you do find a “non-jerk,” as we’ve been calling them, who would argue for such a thing, not only will they be a tiny minority that can be safely ignored, but when push comes to shove, if the two of you actually come to a good agreement on what you mean by “Violation,” I think you’ll find that they also agree it is a bad thing, and were arguing against a concept that you were not arguing for.)

            One might say, “but Vorkon, that’s an overly broad description which isn’t specific enough to accurately describe a belief someone might hold or propose any sort of action we might take,” to which I would reply, “yes, that was exactly the point.” It was a response to a sentiment you raised earlier in this thread, (and, if I recall correctly, talked about in the previous thread as well, though I may be misremembering that) that “…the implicit assumption, when arguing about whether something is or is not rape, is that if it is not rape then it’s basically fine.” This statement is similarly overly broad, and does not describe a belief that anyone holds, or which anyone (including Mr. X, though I agree the “congo” line was also similarly unfair to your position) expects you to assume based on how they frame their argument. When people argue about whether something is or is not rape, they are not saying “rape is basically fine.” Assuming that is what they mean is extremely uncharitable, and is tantamount to assuming your opponents are all either stupid or evil. There is no logical connection between “something is not rape” and “something is essentially fine.” The implication that the thing they are claiming is not rape is not as bad as rape is certainly there, but it is a drastic leap in logic between “not as bad as rape,” and “essentially fine.”

            To be fair to you, I understand that you brought that line up in the context of whether or not we should taboo the word “rape.” (Which, as a side note, I don’t agree we should do in all cases, because we have no other term which means the same thing but does not also include what we mean when we say “rape,” and as such brings up all the same negative emotions, as I tried to argue above, when I said that the word “rape” should be reserved for premeditated acts, but that’s beside the point at the moment.) I’m not trying to argue that you are accusing, say, FacelessCraven or myself of believing that “something is not rape” implies that “the ‘something’ we are talking about is essentially fine,” or anything like that. I am, however, trying to argue that there is no reason for you to believe anyone holds that view. Hence, my “absolutely NO ONE” language, above. Perhaps it was too forceful, for which I apologize, but I still stand by what I was trying to express there.

            As for the second time I did it…

            “NOBODY thinks that rape can only be called “rape” if it is a violent attack, or that date rape doesn’t exist.”

            Yeah. That one was worded very poorly. I should definitely have included some sort of modifier to the “nobody,” and should have used italics, or not put emphasis on the word at all, rather than “RAWR ALL CAPS!!!” Sorry about that!

            However, I was also trying to make a different point here, which I don’t think made it across clearly. You’ll note that I modified this statement with “What people DO think is that rape, by definition, is a premeditated act, and that calling someone a rapist if what they did was not premeditated is equivalent to calling someone who did not commit murder a murderer,” afterward, and continued to describe the concept I was going for in the paragraphs that followed. I am well aware that “only a violent attack should be called rape” and “date rape” doesn’t exist” are both lines that, unfortunately, get dropped uncomfortably often when people start debating rape. That was actually why I phrased this the way I did; I was trying to describe what I thought people really meant when they said these things.

            Now, I know that trying to put words into other peoples’ mouths and claiming you know their own minds better than them is generally a fool’s errand. But as I continued on to describe, I think there is good evidence that, despite what they say, most people do not actually believe either of those things. Like I said, I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone, on either side of the debate, who would describe the things that the person in UnholyDemigod’s post has done as anything other than “rape,” even though it occurs during dates (and, thus, by definition is “date rape”) and even though it is not a violent attack akin to lying in wait in the bushes with a knife. Saying “NOBODY thinks… etc” was my way of attempting to reconcile the apparent contradiction between people saying things like, “date rape does not exist” yet still believing that the things the person in UnholyDemigod’s post had done were definitely rape. The only answer I came up with which satisfied me was that when people say “rape,” the image they have in their mind is that of a premeditated act. Thinking further about it, this seemed to match my own feelings on the matter, and it seemed reasonable to expand that to other people on my side of the debate, as well.

            Now, as I said at the very beginning of that section, this was an idea that only just occurred to me, since we were just comparing rape/violation to murder/manslaughter, but which I felt like I had always known, but just didn’t have the words for. So I’m not 100% married to the theory. And yes, if you are able to convince me that a significant number of people believe that what the person from UnholyDemigod’s example did was not rape, I would definitely have to update my priors. I’m fairly confident that anyone who would disagree with that is just a troll, however.

            It’s also worth noting that I think part of the reason I made the line so forceful was that the line is question was, in small part, also a response to another overly broad sentiment which you seemed to be unfairly ascribing to the majority of your opposition. Namely, that a statement can “implicitly assume that date rape can’t actually happen and the only kind of sexual violence that can be called rape is when a stranger leaps from the bushes with a weapon.” I have never heard anyone (and the unmodified extreme “never” is actually intentional this time) on the “anti-rape-culture theory” (for lack of a better term) side of this debate claim that “the only kind of sexual violence that can be called rape is when a stranger leaps from the bushes with a weapon.” There may be plenty of people who claim that only a violent act can be called “rape,” but the “stranger leaping from the bushes with a weapon” formulation is used exclusively by the “pro-rape-culture theory” side as an attempt to discredit their opposition, and, I suppose, occasionally by trolls on the “anti-rape-culture theory” side trying to mock their opposition by pretending to sound like them. It is not a fair assessment of anything anyone actually believes. It isn’t even a fair assessment of Mr. X’s congo statement, despite the fact that his statement wasn’t particularly fair to you, either. Either way, the “stranger leaping from the bushes” formulation tends to irritate me, and I think that may help to explain why I failed to catch myself before I used the forceful, overly broad, “NOBODY believes” formulation myself. Doesn’t excuse the lack of clarity, of course, for which I apologize, and I still meant the line mainly to reconcile the contradiction I was talking about in the paragaphs above, but I hope it helps you understand where I was coming from.

            And yes, if you’re able to convince me there’s a significant number of people who actually believe “rape” can only refer to strangers lying in wait in bushes with weapons, I’ll have to update my priors on that, as well. :op

          • Vorkon says:

            (This was originally part of my previous post, but apparently that one was too long and wouldn’t go through. Who knew? I always assumed this comment section was made with long-winded people in mind. :op )

            And now, onto our final, and probably most substantive, point of diagreement!

            “I disagree with this statement. ‘She didn’t say no’ is, I think, a frequently used statement to indicate that one believes one had consent. It says assume consent, unless s/he says no.”

            No, “she didn’t say no” is used to indicate, “I thought I had consent, and I have no reason to believe I did not because she didn’t say no.” The jump straight from “she didn’t say no,” to “I have consent” makes absolutely no logical sense without the intervening bit. Without already believing you have consent, you cannot say “I have no reason to believe I did not.” Therefore, saying “she didn’t say no” as a defense implies that you already believed you had consent for some other reason. (Well, either that, or it implies you’re a bad actor, but I’ll get to that later…) I fail to see how “no means no” is even capable of being used as a definition of consent, rather than a guideline for determining you don’t have consent.

            Frankly, despite what a lot of people are saying lately, the overal concept of “consent” is not a very complicated one, on general principle. It underpins basically every form of human interaction, not just sex. If you don’t have an intuitive grasp of what “consent” means, you would basically be unable to function in human society. People don’t need consent defined for them. What *IS* difficult to grasp, on the other hand, is reading other people well enough to determine whether or not you have consent. That is what “no means no,” is intended to help clarify.

            You can see this for yourself, in all the responses you got on the previous thread. There was a great deal of confusion, in which people assumed you meant “must have a verbal or written yes” whenever you said “affirmative consent.” Why do you think that was? If you ask me, it was because the “must have a verbal or written yes” definition of AC actually does fill the same role the people arguing against you were using “no means no” to fill. “Must have a verbal or written yes,” is also a specific guideline to use in cases where whether or not you have consent is unclear, just like “no means no.” On the other hand, AC, as you were describing it, is a general definition of the concept of having clear consent. The two sides are arguing at cross-purposes, over entirely different things, hence all the confusion you saw. Is it possible I am ascribing my own thought processes to others, when I possibly shouldn’t? Sure. But I think if you assign my thought process here to all of the people you were arguing with in the previous threads, and when I apply it to people I’ve seen arguing about this same topic in other places, it seems to match what is going on fairly well.

            Is it true that there are also a lot of bad actors who use “she didn’t say no” as an excuse to get out of punishment? Of course. But as others have pointed out, these people can, and will, simply use other excuses to get away with their rapes. It’s no easier to say “she didn’t say no” than it is to say “she had this look on her face that let me know she wanted it,” or something along the same lines. Perhaps a strict “verbal or written yes” standard might give them less wiggle-room, but as we established in the previous thread, that doesn’t match normal human interaction closely enough to be workable, and introduces a whole slew of new problems. The de minimis escalation you are describing does not make it any more difficult for bad actors to get away with things than the “no means no,” standard.

            The thing is, the people I am describing here know they don’t have consent, but go through with it anyway. The people you can actually reach by teaching them about AC already try their best to adhere to it anyway. These people make mistakes, sure, but what they need to be taught to prevent these mistakes is how to recognize consent, not a more jargon-heavy but mostly identical definition of consent. Everybody already has a good working definition of consent.

            As I said in my previous post, I believe the rise of the “yes means yes” meme is largely a response to frustration over how easy it is for people to get away scott-free by saying “she didn’t say no.” And again, I definitely understand this frustration. But it is not the fault of the “no means no” standard that these people are able to get away with it, and holding up the concept of AC as being somehow opposed to “no means no” is a uniquely unhelpful way of trying to fix it. It’s failing to recognize the actual source of the problem.

            You said yourself in a previous comment:

            “I really don’t know why we can’t teach everyone to both seek AC, and say no if they don’t want to, and respect no if they hear it.”

            I think I was remiss not to bring this up and praise you for this line of thought when I was describing how harmful I feel the the “yes means yes” meme is, earlier. The thing is, we absolutely CAN teach people this! But holding AC as being somehow in opposition to “no means no” is holding us back from being able to do this. Once you recognize that the general principle of “you should seek AC” should not be conflated with strategies you should use to determine whether or not you have AC, you should be able to see that “no means no” is a meme that is definitely worth holding onto, even if it is imperfect. And frankly, there is no reason whatsoever to frame AC as “yes means yes,” unless you are trying to hold it in opposition to “no means no.” This is counterproductive.

            So, like I said in the conclusion to my last post, AC is a great thing, and the type of behavior we should all strive for, but we should also remove “yes means yes” from our lexicon, and try to convince others to do the same.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This post may be now long dead, but I’ll throw this out there in the hopes that you see it.

            Much of what you are talking about, and I will slightly reframe it, seems to be the idea that the quality of the consent goes up the healthier and the longer the relationship is. Now, broadly, I agree with this, (leaving aside that plenty of awful stuff can happen even in a 40 year marriage.)

            To the extent that the horse was ever in the barn on sex before marriage, it is long ago gone. And there never has been anything like a “sex only if you have been dating for a year” model that was generally accepted and followed.

            My contention is that we are not willing to talk about sex and sexual relations enough in this society. Go read Dan Savage’s blog/column “Savage Love” for an example of what that would look like.

            There is the broad consensus in the US (and many other countries) that sex is shameful and that we shouldn’t talk about. To me this is sort of comparable to the idea that every teenager would be expected to sneak out of the house with the keys to the car from time to time, and that is how they learned to drive. We don’t teach our kids enough about sex. So much so, that they won’t even talk about in a meaningful way when they are planning on engaging in it.

            Does AC come anywhere close to addressing all that? No. Would better and more AC result from a process that actually did educate kids about sex? I think it would.

            But none of that means that standard isn’t/shouldn’t be AC.


            Absolutely NO ONE is saying that nothing should be done about violation, and that only violent rape is an issue.”

            Here is an article discussing some of the the history behind the claims that only forcible rape is legitmate rape. here is another one. It is a very old idea, going back to at least the Magna Carta, and partially comes from the idea that women would need to orgasm in order to conceive a child, which is obviously not true.

            Pro-life activists picked this up, and make statements like “When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase “forcible rape” or “assault rape,” for that specifies what we’re talking about.” This is ties in with the idea that if a woman does not struggle, or does not struggle hard enough, does not suffer physical injury, then it isn’t rape, and that idea is also old and has not gone away.

            This is an example of your statement “Sure, you’ll find plenty of people saying things like, “only violent rape should be called rape”. But, what do those who advocate this line think should be done about violation that does not fall into this form? Why they think the answer is that sex should not occur outside the confines of marriage. That is their only answer. Furthermore, I think you will easily find that their answer to date rape is “she should not have gone up to his room”, “she should not have been drinking”, etc. I don’t believe this is a canard that I am simply hanging about the socially conservative. This is how conservative societies function today. It is the woman who’s reputation is at stake, not the man’s.

            You might say this “thinking violation is an issue” and I say that this is “thinking women having sex (before marriage) is an issue”. Maybe you are young enough that this on now only subtext to you. But for me, it was a live and going concern as I grew up.

            No, “she didn’t say no” is used to indicate, “I thought I had consent, and I have no reason to believe I did not because she didn’t say no.”

            Here is a raw, simple example. You are 15 and with your date. She and you are engaged in making out. She is kissing you fervently. You take a hand and wiggle it under her skirt and inside her panties. Her whole body goes tense, she stops kissing you and is holding her breath. Did she say no? If you were defending your actio
            ns in a “no means no” context, what would your claim be?
            I can see a lot of possibilities for her actions. I can’t see anything like clear consent. But I also can’t see a clear withdrawal of consent. You do have reason to believe you may not have consent, even though she did not say no.

    • Wrong Species says:

      At least some feminists seem to be pushing back against the idea that all sex is either good or rape.


  30. Anon. says:

    What about “guaranteed work” (which would include training) at something like $5/h, instead of BI?

    • John Schilling says:

      There’s a guaranteed inequality in there in that while the pay may be fixed at $5/hr or whatever, the cost of the work to the worker (physical danger, fatigue, unpleasantness) will necessarily vary. The bit where you posit the absolutely fair and incorruptible officials to balance this is the part where I start laughing.

      There will also be a fuzzy border at the bottom where some people are deemed incapable of working at all but still need the money or they’ll starve, and another fuzzy border at the top where employers (possibly government agencies) would have to pay $7.50/hr to find workers in the open market but some of them have the clout to demand $5/hr serfs from the GW labor pool and some of them don’t.

      All of which means the “Guaranteed” part of the plan is necessarily subject to political fiddling and open to private corruption, the avoidance of which is the whole point of GBI.

  31. Forlorn Hopes says:

    Someone wrote a scientific paper with a linguistic study of twitter rape threats. Anyone here have the knowledge to break it down for a layman like me?


    • walpolo says:

      “Feminists on the one hand says they want to empower women, yet on the other hand
      want to constrain them by banning the practices by women who want to use their body for something
      other than to abort foetuses.”

      Interesting “scientific paper”

    • Jacob says:

      Well the intro is dumb. They argue that the term “rape” is being diluted (which I agree with), and give a handful of examples, but they make a big deal of one example which never uses the actual word.

      They also analyzed a grand total of 86 tweets. This paper is not worth reading or thinking about.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I’m amused by the last paragraph on Jonathan Bishop’s homepage:

      “My Trolling Level on the standard scale is Expert and on the GFP scale it is Authority. I am able to devise new trolling techniques and my research regularly analyses the different types of troll and trolling in relation to the narratives of others.”

      It sounds uncannily like “What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little bitch? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals…”.

  32. LCL says:

    I’m in need of product recommendations for something to block noise (particularly conversation) so I can concentrate better. I’ve seen it discussed here before but can’t now find it (and hope for an update anyway).

    Criteria, in order of importance:

    1. Blocks normal-level conversation in open office environment. Also TV, music, or any other audible speech. I am helpless to ignore audible speech of any variety.
    2. Is comfortable enough to wear for several hours. I have average-at-best tolerance either for sticking things into my ears or for wearing headsets that squeeze my head and make my ears sweaty. I think “most comfortable example of its type” will therefore be more important than choosing a particular type.
    3. Blocks non-speech noise. Still useful but much less important than speech.
    4. Looks office-appropriate. All else equal I’d prefer people not to wonder if I’ve just come from a shooting range or am about to fly a helicopter. But if those products are better on other criteria, I’d use them.

    I am willing to try plugs, muffs, headphones with or without associated noise generation, or anything else you think might help. Cost is not especially an issue.

    Thanks for any help!

  33. onyomi says:

    Can’t believe I’m arguing in favor of basic-income guarantee, but increasingly seeing advantages if it is relatively low (just enough to keep you from being homeless and starving, but not enough to ensure a comfortable lifestyle), unconditional, and replaces all other welfare programs (which distort the economy in weird ways a BIG might not).

    There is a great deal of hand-wringing on the left about how the decline of unions has heralded the death of the US middle class. I have long scoffed at this because a. I think it’s wrong to attribute the productivity which enabled a relatively wealthy US middle class to come into existence to unions, which exert a largely negative economic effect, and b. it seems clear to me that much of the gains of unionized workers come at the expense of non-unionized workers paying more for everyday items and finding it harder to find a good job.

    That said, there is a real sense in which union membership is basically a way to overpay people of average or below-average intelligence for doing work which could be done more cheaply by foreigners, teenagers, etc. This is unjust when it comes at the expense of the poor, but arguably less so if it just comes at the expense of society in a very general, even way (benefits of greater equality may outweight harm of slightly lower economic output overall).

    Now imagine a world in which there are no unions and no other welfare programs, but in which the basic income which everyone receives just for being a citizen+the salary the economy will naturally pay for working at an auto plant=enough for a comfortable, middle-classish lifestyle (ideally I’d fund it with a sales tax, which mildly incentivizes savings and investment over consumption; also simpler and less intrusive to administer and has benefit of maybe making people not worry as much about illegal immigrants, who will be paying for everybody else’s BIG every time they buy something, but not themselves receiving a BIG).

    This seems greatly superior to me maybe not to every possible alternative, but at least to a great many alternatives, including the status quo. Some of those inferior alternatives: stronger unions make some jobs artificially good at the expense of the poor and with the result of driving companies out of state and overseas; more generous but means-tested programs disincentivize work; we all pretend low-skill jobs pay more than they really should by mandating a $15 minimum wage, etc. in effect pretending charity is “earned”; etc. etc.

    In this theoretical world there is no one living comfortably at the expense of everyone else, but also no one starving, and anyone who doesn’t have a middle class-ish lifestyle is either severely disabled or not trying very hard. The elderly and severely disabled can live with their friends and relatives, who either have a middle-class-ish job or are also not trying very hard. This seems much more just and efficient than the status quo and might replace, in some minds, the need for unions (I’m against the state and against redistribution in principle, but I can prefer more just, less harmful ways of doing it, and it seems like this might be a way to achieve the supposed benefits of strong unions with fewer costs).

    • Sastan says:

      I’ve had this argument many times, and I don’t think the BIG idea works, although it does have an elegant simplicity. Some issues are as follows:

      1: It requires the citizens to be extremely hard-hearted about any additional problems. Johnny Underclass gets his BIG, blows it on hookers and blackjack, are we really hard enough as a society to say “welp, you had yours”? Now how about his family?

      2: How do you structure the incentives so it doesn’t create even more underclass births? If children get no benefits, see problem #1. If they do, the poor just knock out more kids, and profit!

      3: How do you pay for it? Any reasonable BIG that can replace everything from WIC to health care would suck up a very, very large portion of our GDP. And keep in mind there are huge swathes of government not covered by a BIG that still need to be paid for, courts, armies, roads etc.

      4: Who is eligible for the BIG? Children, immigrants, exchange students? If you don’t limit it to citizens, see problem #3. If you do, how do you stop immigration from overwhelming the system leading to #3? If you halt immigration…….well, no one is going to halt immigration, so #3.

      • onyomi says:

        I agree it would be very hard to implement in the US in practice, perhaps primarily because it would mean a big financial hardship for old people, for whom the BIG would not make up for the loss of medicare and social security. Perhaps it could be accomplished by gradually phasing in the BIG and gradually phasing out social security and medicare.

        1. I’m okay with this. I already don’t think it’s the responsibility of everyone to take care of everyone else. It’s the responsibility of you to take care of your family and friends, and I reject the assumption that the goal we want to work toward is a society in which anyone, no matter how disabled, young, elderly, or irresponsible, can nevertheless survive all on his own. We want a society in which those in need get taken care of–ideally by people close to them–but in which pro-social, responsible behavior are still incentivized, or, at least, not disincentivized.

        2. You don’t start receiving a BIG until you’re old enough to vote. Encourages parents to stick together so they can pool their BIGs and also encourages people not to have children they can’t afford.

        3. Ideally, a federal sales tax. Keep in mind it’s replacing social security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, and, ideally, even stuff like federal subsidies for student loans, etc. All the programs designed to give poorer people a leg up, it’s replacing. Re other expenditures, I personally am fine with eliminating a ton of them, as well as significantly downsizing the military, but even if we just say, “okay, what would we would have spent on social security, medicare, medicaid, ACA subsidies, etc. now all goes to BIG,” I think it would be enough to provide a not totally stingy BIG (say, $5,000 per voting age citizen, per year).

        4. All voting age citizens. Nobody else. This might actually lessen opposition to immigration so long as we don’t make it correspondingly easier to become a citizen. The more people are working and buying stuff in the US relative to the number of citizens, the bigger the pool available for the BIG.

        This gives me another idea: set up “special economic zones” or something near the borders of the US and allow anyone from anywhere in the world to live and work there so long as they pay the BIG tax on what they produce and/or buy, and so long as they relinquish any claims to “birthright citizenship” for their children. This would mean Americans would want as many immigrants as possible, since the more they pay in taxes, the bigger our BIG; we could even index the BIG to the revenue from the BIG tax, encouraging everyone to favor pro-growth policies, since the bigger the BIG tax revenue, the bigger your equal share of it (almost a kind of profit sharing at a national level) (and yes, I’m now just having fun finding different ways to say “big”).

        We could achieve the same effect without special zones just by eliminating birthright citizenship, but most people would probably find it immoral to have lazy Americans milking their citizenship at the expense of an underclass of guest workers who never get to participate in the civic life of the country they live in.

        My personal preference would be to eliminate the birthright citizenship but make it much easier to come here just to live and work. Then you create some kind of procedure whereby, if someone can prove they have already lived here with a productive job for over 10 years and no criminal record, then they and their children can become citizens, or something. People responsible enough to move to a foreign country and work hard for 10 years with no benefits are much less likely to sit back and try to milk the system after that, I’d imagine.

        Then again, there is probably a big unmet demand in the world simply to provide a space with a non-oppressive business climate (see: “charter cities”). The current US business climate is far from ideal, but still good enough compared to most of the world that many would voluntarily come flocking just to work under our rules and military protection.

        • Sastan says:

          1: You may be cool with being a hardass about it, I may be cool with being a hardass about it, but one thing we both know is that the American people are not. First NBC nightly news featuring kids crying because they have no money for food because mommy wanted new rims for her Escalade, and we’re back to stacking welfare on top of this vast new entitlement. Saying you think something is a good idea if only the people who will implement it aren’t the way they are is another way of saying it’s a bad idea.

          2: Fair enough, except for what we just went over. You may be hard enough to say “sorry, Laquisha and the Mormons maybe should stop knocking out fuck-trophies”, but you know damned well this will get enlarged. Politics is the art of the possible, and this implementation isn’t.

          3: Let’s look at the numbers: There’s about 225 million voting age adult citizens right now. Federal budget total is 3.5 trillion. That’s about 13 grand per, if you decide not to have courts or military, or anything at all, and people still can’t even buy health insurance. Chop that in half if you want a government still. $6500 per year. That’s well below the poverty line, so we’re back to problem #1. The American public won’t stand for it.

          If you drastically slash the military, raise taxes by 100%, you could conceivably get enough money to give everyone a $20000 BIG. Health insurance alone is 5-6 grand for healthy middle aged folks, much higher for the elderly.

          And all this is without getting into the problems of motivation and whether a society can long endure under this model. I’ve seen nothing to suggest it will, but fortunately, the practical problems will keep us from ever finding out.

          • onyomi says:

            1. Re being a hardass: I think the BIG in lieu of everything else is actually a compromise with respect to the level of hardassery which currently exists in the US. Most Republicans would be dead set against a BIG, even if it god rid of other welfare programs, as they’d see it as taking from grandma to give to lazy bums. Many Democrats would probably like a BIG *in addition to* the programs we have now. BIG in lieu of the programs we have now seems like a reasonable hardassery compromise.

            Sure, you’d have news reports about people falling on tough times, but the first question everyone will rightly ask is “what did you do with your BIG money??” If the answer is “blew it on booze and horse racing,” I think you’d find there wouldn’t be a ton of sympathy.

            Of course, all this is predicated on the notion that we want the US to work as a coherent nation, with reasonable compromises between red and blue tribe. If you think, as I do, that we really should break up into at least 2, if not 50, if not many hundreds of smaller nations or city states, then it’s a moot point. BIG is not my preferred solution, but it is a solution I think would be more amenable to most Americans where they are right now than my solution. Of course, it’s still not politically feasible right now, but I think it’s a lot closer to being politically feasible than anarchocapitalism or Snow Crash world: if I squint, I can sort of imagine Ted Cruz saying “I propose to replace the IRS with a national sales tax and replace social security, medicare, and medicaid with a universal BIG.”

            That is, right now, I think BIG is maybe sort of on the very outside edge of our current Overton window, whereas most of my preferred radical libertarian solutions are nowhere near it.

            Re: the budget: social security, medicare, and medicaid spend about 1.5 trillion a year. Divided by 225 million voting age citizens and you get $6,666 (…) per person, per year. That is certainly not enough to make you not poor, but it is also enough to put a rough over your head and a very spartan diet on your table, especially if you aren’t living alone, but are married and/or have roommates, each of whom will get an additional $6,600/year. There are many people in the world who would love to live on $6,600/year, even in the US with US prices, but again, the point isn’t to be something you can comfortably live on; it’s a supplement based on the assumption that you, or someone in your family will also have a job.

            Re. motivation, $6000/year/adult seems about right for motivational purposes: it’s enough to keep you alive and off the streets, but not enough to be comfortable. But if you are married to or living with at least one other adult, that’s $12,000 right there for a household. Now imagine each adult has a $30,000/year job, which is something most adults can manage with a few years’ experience, even without a college education. Now you’re talking $72,000/year/household, which is enough for a reasonably comfortable middle class life.

          • onyomi says:

            I posted this on the last OT, but since this is what got me thinking about it and since we’re talking about this here, I’ll repost it:


            Basically just a pretty good convo about ethics of BIG from a libertarian perspective. Interestingly, one of the most plausible arguments seems to come from a Georgist perspective which says that you are entitled to 100% control of your own body and the fruits of its labor, but you are not entitled to 100% control of land and natural resources. This dovetails interestingly with the fact that $6,000/person/year is about the amount you’d pay in rent for an okay place (outside NYC, Boston, San Francisco, etc.). That is, the tax paid to fund the BIG could be conceived of as the price everyone pays to compensate everyone else in the same territory for their property claims on land.

          • Ano says:

            I don’t think there’s a reasonable way for individuals surviving on BIG to afford health insurance at American rates, but that seems to have more to do with the wildly dysfunctional US healthcare system than any inherent flaw in BIG.

          • onyomi says:

            Medicare, Medicaid, and the income tax deductions incentivizing employer-provided health plans are big parts of why US healthcare is so unaffordable. Phasing them out as we phased in the BIG would help fix that.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            “Now imagine each adult has a $30,000/year job, which is something most adults can manage with a few years’ experience, even without a college education.”

            You appear to be saying “The unemployed won’t starve under this scheme, provided of course that they have jobs”.

          • onyomi says:

            No, as I said, $6,000/adult/year alone is enough not to starve or be homeless, and many people around the world would love to live on $6,000/adult/year, even with US prices.

            And, of course, unemployment is not as scary if you know you have $500/adult/month coming in, regardless. Most people could make due on that for a little while while looking for other jobs.

            The fact that it would provide enough of a cushion that you aren’t so desperate you take a job for which you are vastly overqualified while not strongly disincentivizing finding a new job before benefits run out, as the current system does, would be another advantage. In this way it could replace yet another program most progressives view as indispensible, but without many of the drawbacks of said program.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            My point is that it’s misleading to state that a hypothetical person has a $30,000 salary from their job when discussing how well they could live on $6000 basic income. How well people receiving both a salary and the basic income can live doesn’t matter – it is taken as given that if someone has a legal job then they are able to survive. The question is whether or not someone could survive on a $6000 basic income alone.

          • brad says:

            Of course a person could survive on $6000 a year. That’s more than $16/day, 8 times the global moderate poverty line (4x for a family of four).

            And before you object about cost of living, the international poverty line is at PPP, and living in an extremely wealthy country makes it easier to survive on less, not more. Consider for example the widespread availability of free potable water or discarded food that aren’t included in that $6000 but contribute significantly towards survival.

            Akin to the existential threat / nuclear war discussion above, the living wage discussion really isn’t about survival.

          • onyomi says:

            As Brad says, I think $6,000 definitely is enough to survive on.

            But the reason I brought up the question of how well one can live on $6,000+30,000 per adult is to point out that, in addition to acting as a floor below which even the poorest may not fall, a BIG might also be a more efficient way to achieve many of the goals of modern day progressives, most of which, as Brad says, are not about survival, but about achieving a so-called “middle class” standard of living.

            I’m saying that right now, we have all these policies in place or being put forward as means to make it easier for Americans to achieve a middle class lifestyle: $15 minimum wage, healthcare subsidies, the supposed benefits of stronger unions, etc. These are all supposedly about creating a strong middle class, not about preventing the poorest from starving.

            I’m saying that, if we accept the progressive premise that the people near the bottom of the ladder need some kind of “boost” to achieve middle class standards of living, then why not just directly “boost” them to that level with a universal cash subsidy, rather than distorting the economy and confusing the issue with all kinds of regulations, subsidies, means-tested benefits, and so on.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Obviously, you can survive on $6000. You can survive on $0 – just kill people and eat their corpses (neat lifehack!)

            Let me rephrase:
            Would it be a good thing to have large numbers of people surviving on $6000? I assert that it would be a bad thing if large numbers of people with no income adopted the serial cannibalism strategy. On the other hand, large numbers of people “surviving” on an income of $60,000 would seem unlikely to cause any problems with crime. Where does $6000 fall on this scale?

          • onyomi says:

            By asking “would it be a good thing to have a lot of people surviving on $6,000/person/year?”, you are assuming that a lot of people who are now working or making an effort to work would, if given an extra $6,000/person/year stop working/trying to find work. I don’t think this is true, since they don’t lose any of the BIG if they start working. The BIG will unavoidably create some disincentive to work, as any such transfer payment would, but it will be much less than means-tested payment.

            As an anarcho-capitalist, I think taxation is theft and that if we let the free market run itself, it will generate enough wealth that almost everyone will be much better off than they are now, especially if we assume that the young, elderly, and disabled are willing to depend, to some extent, on family and friends, which I think is a good thing, not a bad thing.

            BUT, most people are not anarcho-capitalists. Most people in the developed world today believe that some system of social welfare programs is necessary to

            1. Prevent the poorest of the poor and the most unfortunate of the unfortunate from completely falling through the cracks and dying in the streets.


            2. Counteract capitalism’s supposed tendency (which I would question, but let’s grant them this for sake of argument) to generate excessive wealth inequality over time/hollow out the middle class by outsourcing jobs, etc. through a variety of subsidies, mandates, protections, etc.

            These are two distinct goals and 1 certainly seems more ethically justifiable to me than 2 (because it’s justifiable to steal or use force to save a life, but not just to make someone more comfortable), but we in the reddish-gray tribes also have to recognize that a lot of people in the blue tribes think 2 is highly desirable and/or just as well.

            Right now in the US we have a mishmash of programs, mandates, subsidies, etc. designed to achieve both of these goals, but most new programs under consideration are aimed primarily at 2, since 1 is already mostly achieved.

            My contention is that these programs are very economically harmful, both in terms of their direct cost, and in terms of the opportunity cost of foregone productivity created by bad incentives for both employers and employees.

            I think, though I could be wrong since I haven’t yet read up on it much, that most proponents of BIG are more concerned about making sure 1 is well and thoroughly solved. But my point is that it could not only solve 1, but even solve 2 to the satisfaction of the blue tribe, but at much lower cost than the measures we currently use and are considering.

            It does not seem too implausible to me, for example, that $12,000/year in cash or in-kind benefits could make the difference between just barely scraping by and a comfortable middle class-ish living for a small family making a combined 50 or $60,000/year without any help.

            So let’s imagine that this couple, without any help either from direct subsidies or employer mandates, etc. is making $60,000, but needs $72,000 to have a comfortable middle class living (and if that seems implausible, I’d say you probably underestimate the difference an extra $12,000/year means to a lowish-income household).

            I would imagine that in order to create that extra $12,000 worth of value for them by using subsidies, mandates, etc. you will need to spend a lot more than $12,000 when you take into account administrative costs, lost productivity due to bad incentives, etc. So basically, you can “spend” (that is, spend+forego), say, $20,000 in subsidies and growth foregone to boost this family by $12,000, or you can just give them the $12,000.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I didn’t take into account the possibility of people wilfully becoming unemployed due to the basic income – I don’t think this would have a big impact, since living on $6000 probably isn’t attractive to most people in comparison to having a job (even at the minimum wage). The people I’m saying who would have to survive on $60000 are those who are currently unemployed.

          • anonymous says:

            I’d rather live on $6000 than work unless I have a job I love.

          • anonymous says:

            And you don’t have to commit crimes or do weird things such as dumpster diving to live with that money.

            Get a room in a town where rooms are cheap (even if rent will eat most of your money, it’s okay), buy dry grains and legumes in bulk (it gets incredibly cheap), ride a bicycle, that kind of lifestyle. No need to kill anyone.

      • John Schilling says:

        1. Johnny’s adult family can walk away, taking their own GBIs with them. Johnny’s children are presumably protected by the mechanisms we already have to protect the children of fully-employed, well-paid parents who choose to blow so much of their money on hookers and booze that they can’t afford to feed their children. These mechanisms may be presently inadequate, but that’s not one of the problems that GBI is meant to solve. That it doesn’t make them any worse, is sufficient.

        2. You’re hiding a step between “children get benefits” and “[parents] profit”, but this also falls mostly into the category of problems a GBI isn’t meant to solve and doesn’t make worse. Every socioeconomic system faces the problem that, if you don’t give parents free money for each child some of them will have more children than they can afford to feed, and if you do give parents free money for each child some of them will have more children than that society would want. The options are to relieve parents of at least the financial responsibility of raising their children, or trying to tailor any subsidy to minimize the problems – both of which work just fine with GBI.

        3. An absolute $5000 GBI would suck up roughly 10% of the US GDP. Social security alone is already 6% of GDP; the whole range of federal and state entitlement/welfare programs that a GBI would displace is almost certainly 10% or more of GDP. And since a GBI goes to everyone, including gainfully employed middle-class taxpayers, you can bump up taxes to recover a fair chunk of that.

        4. I will only semi-snarkily suggest that anyone who is collecting GBI is a citizen of your society whether you call them that or not, and that there are lots of perverse incentives if you’ve got GBI-recipients who can’t vote or vice versa. So, yeah, citizens get GBI. Minor citizens I would suggest get GBI, but ~half held in trust until majority and the rest transferred as a stipend to whoever is paying their expenses, but there are other ways to structure that. But do keep it simple so it can’t be gamed.

        Immigrants can pay their own way until they become citizens, and if their plan is to live here without ever becoming citizens that’s probably going to be an expensive proposition. Is that a problem? I am told that immigration is a good thing because the immigrants will be hard workers doing useful stuff; in that case they are going to be net taxpayers subsidizing other people’s welfare regardless of how we structure it.

        If that’s not the case, then taxes + no job + no GBI tells the immigrants that Maybe This Isn’t The Right Country For You. If necessary, we can have a separate program to provide a free ticket home to any noncitizen who falls on hard times.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It’s interesting to me that you couch all of this in an “against the unions” model.

      Now, on the one hand, I’m sympathetic to an argument that runs roughly like this: Much of what unions won via worker action in the mid 20th century is now mandated by law for all, even non-union shops. To the extent that what unions accomplish for their members is good, we should attempt to secure these good ends for other members of society. If we secure these good ends for all members of society, what use do the unions serve?

      But, as a libertarian, why would you oppose unions (to the extent that they do not engage in violence)? Unions engage in bargaining, and if they don’t like the bargain the employer is willing to strike, they withhold work.

      Perhaps you think every union workplace should be “open shop”, rather than simply binary? Past that I am wondering why, in principle, you object to unions as the freedom to associate seems endemic to libertarian thought.

      • onyomi says:

        I have no objection to unions in principle, but in reality they have been hotbeds of bad economic thought and are always agitating to use the coercive force of the state to achieve their ends through “closed-shop”-type arrangements, laws about whom you can hire to do what sort of job (see California movie business), and the like.

        If it were all truly just voluntary association–workers choosing to bargain with employers collectively rather than individually–then I’d have no problem with that. And if individual corporations wanted to strike a deal whereby they’d only hire union labor, then that’s also fine. But laws saying no one can hire non-union labor to do this sort of job in this state, for example, are decidedly anti-freedom of association.

        And the right to do the stuff I’m talking about here is not, and has never been, so far as I know, under threat in the US. The kind of thing people who bemoan the fall of the middle class as owing to the fall of the union are complaining about are “right to work” laws and such.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “And the right to do the stuff I’m talking about here is not, and has never been, so far as I know, under threat in the US.”

          Can you rephrase or expand this? I don’t think I am understanding your point.

      • John Schilling says:

        But, as a libertarian, why would you oppose unions (to the extent that they do not engage in violence)?

        Unions that do not engage in violence or convincing threats of violence, or successfully lobby the government to do so on their behalf, rarely accomplish anything of note. The organized labor movement from the start engaged in violence against management, against capital, and against rival non-union labor. Eventually, governments passed laws that imposed the sort of outcomes that used to come out of labor v. management violence, without the violence. But with a whole lot of armed policemen standing in the back saying “this is how it’s going to happen, or else”.

        Unions are not, in principle, objectionable to libertarians. Unions, in actual practice, are inherently suspicious to libertarians because if they accomplish enough for the members to bother keeping it up there’s usually something un-libertarian going on behind the scenes.

    • walpolo says:

      What happens to elderly and disabled people who don’t have non-lazy friends?

      To be against some extra redistribution for people who literally can’t work seems ethically problematic to me. Not as much in the case of elderly people, since they used to be able to work.

      • brad says:

        If you can’t work (and either never could or didn’t save up / buy disability insurance when you were) and have no friends or relatives, life is going to suck under this plan. You won’t be dying on the street, but you won’t be living a middle class-ish existence.

        If you are in that situation today, life sucks. SSI is ~$800/month, food stamps another ~$200, and you get medicaid. Some people who happen to live in the right place or who are old or whose parents signed them up when they were born also win the housing assistance lottery (section 8 or similar) but many don’t.

        I don’t know exactly what onyomi had in mind with “just enough to keep you from being homeless and starving, but not enough to ensure a comfortable lifestyle”, but I think it describes the status quo pretty well.

        So no one is worse off (not counting the revenue side) and many are better off. What’s the problem? That the “deserving poor” don’t get a relative improvement as compared to the “undeserving poor”? That’s a reason to oppose a paerto improvement?

    • Linch says:

      I’ve been arguing (not very seriously, but I do believe it) for a Universalized Basic Income for almost a decade now, but it has to be truly universal.

      Literally $1-$2/day to everybody on Earth can some a shitload of the world’s problems in elegant simplicity.

      • Wrong Species says:

        $1 dollar a day is pretty useless in a first world country, even for the poor. If you take out developed countries, you save a billion dollars. You could focus on the bottom billion and try to increase the amount of money but then you have to deal with incentive problems. This could be partially mitigated by focusing on poor countries rather than poor people though.

        • Anonymous says:

          I suspect it is largely ‘useless’ because you don’t think anyone in a First World country ought to have to survive on a dollar a day. And, as most people agree with you, there are numerous regulations that serve to raise the lower bound of what it is permissible to do to survive, that would be politically impossible to enact in a nation where lots of people actually need to do those miserable things (live in cramped poor-quality conditions, work in miserable dangerous jobs, etc) but not only politically possible but popular in a nation where almost everybody can afford not to have to do those things.

          In other words, I think the main obstacle to poor people living in similar conditions on one dollar a day in the First World as they would in the Third World is everyone else’s unwillingness to allow it.

      • RCF says:

        Distributing billions of dollars also causes a bunch of problems.

    • Others have said this better, but I think the cost for UBI is prohibitive. Milton Friedman is hardly my economic hero, but if someone asked me currently I actually think we’d do well to take a leaf out his book and move to negative income taxes for the lowest tax bracket. That way we make life a bit fairer for the working poor, but keep incentives sloped in the right direction. I’d combine this with tightening long-term unemployment but improving student support income, and keeping disability and aged support (the biggest chunk by far) mostly as they are, rather than trying to transition to UBI before we can afford it.

    • Torpendous says:

      How do you prevent people from just voting for the BIG to get higher and higher once it’s in place?

  34. Anon says:

    This is a weird thing, but I’ve found that wrapping a belt tightly round my waist, under my clothes, seems to help me focus on my work when I’m sitting in front of the computer. I have pretty big concentration issues which seem to be a combination of ADD & anxiety & possibly autism spectrum stuff.
    Have I basically just reinvented the hugbox? It feels like the reason it’s working is because the pressure is soothing something inside my brain.
    Has anyone else experienced something like this?
    Logically a waist trainer will work even better than the belt, right? Anyone tried one and noticed anything like that?
    Are there other ways to hack this effect? I’m a bit scared of the waist trainer though I would definitely use one if it works for this purpose.

  35. Raymond says:

    RE: NYC Solstice:

    The Reasonable NY Coalition will be sponsoring a before-and-after-party the day of (starting at 5:30pm, ending somewhere around 10:30 on the 19th) and people who aren’t interested in joining the musical portion are welcome to hang out there during the event itself. (The reception party is free, although you are encouraged to donate to pay for food etc).

    There will be some manner of meetup the next day for all the people in the city who just want to hang out, but I haven’t been able to give that much attention yet. Anyone willing to step up and be Megameetup Czar is encouraged to do so (this mostly means finding a big enough public venue).

  36. Odoacer says:

    About Disciplining students

    Have you heard about the recent incident between the student in SCand the officer who uses excesses force against her? This leads me to think what’s the best way to discipline students?* What should a teacher do when facing acting-out/disruptive students?

    *The Atlantic also has some responses here:


    • Sastan says:

      Hitting them with sticks worked pretty well for hundreds of years. But maybe I’m old-fashioned.

      • Anonymous says:


      • Saint_Fiasco says:

        If that were true, adults would ask their tutors to hit them with sticks so they can learn better.

        But only children are hit with sticks, which makes children suspect that adults hit them mostly because they can.

        • Anonymous says:

          Then why do militaries (composed of adults) practice physical punishments for misbehaviour?

          • Saint_Fiasco says:

            The whole point of military training is to develop a form of controlled Stockholm Syndrome so you are fanatically loyal to your country and your fellow soldiers. I bet high-ranked officers practice much less physical punishment with each other than low-ranked officers do with privates.

          • Anonymous says:

            My point is that pain application is an effective method of securing compliance in circumstances where other methods are ineffective (you can’t appeal to a dog’s sense of moral uprightness, you are unlikely to motivate a child or a stupid grunt by intellectual means). Sometimes that compliance is aimed at producing loyalty and discipline. Sometimes it is aimed at producing attention to material being expounded and attitude correction.

          • Saint_Fiasco says:

            I was going to write something like “would *you* pay someone to follow you around and hit you every time you smoke/eat unhealthy food/procrastinate/etc?”

            Then I realized that for an adult, the paying part would be more painful than the getting hit part, and that Beeminder exists.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          We don’t hit adults?

          • Saint_Fiasco says:

            I know some martial arts teachers hit their students when they stand in the wrong posture, some piano teachers hit their students when they hit a wrong note, and there is also the military, like Anonymous mentioned.

            However, I’ve never seen a language teacher hit their adult student when they mispronounce a word, which seems like it should be effective if physical punishment is effective at all.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            You’ve never been slapped for acting foolish, or been “politely” placed in an arm-bar and “escorted” from the premises?

            Yes, the regularity ubiquity of corporal punishment has decreased but that is a very recent, very WEIRD trend.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think you misunderstand. Such punishment is meant to entice the recipient to work harder and/or correct a failure of attitude, rather than directly make them learn faster. Making an attempt and failing is not necessarily a failure corrigible by punishment, but laziness and lack of effort are.

            I also question the prevalence of adult schooling before modernity.

          • Saint_Fiasco says:

            I see. So the reason adults don’t get physically punished as often in an educational context is that adults tend to be more self-motivated when it comes to education, and therefore don’t need to be disciplined.

        • John Schilling says:

          The purpose of hitting children with sticks is not to make them learn better. The purpose of hitting children with sticks is to stop them from interfering with other people who are trying to learn better, without wholly excluding the disruptive children from the learning environment if they should want to take advantage of it later.

          This isn’t an issue for adult students because they will only be in a school if they choose to be, they will very rarely disrupt it (or at least continue to disrupt it after being asked to stop), and if they do they will simply be told to leave, no more learning for them, have fun with your life as a menial laborer.

          If adults refuse to leave a school when told, or really any other non-public environment, then we absolutely do summon policemen with sticks and guns to remove them, and this is not at all controversial.

        • Sastan says:

          Oddly, adults are hit with sticks in many countries as discipline for minor crimes.

          There’s a strain of criminal justice reform thought that wants to bring this back. Which is more cruel, locking people up, or birching them in public?

          And then there’s the whole issue of children not being developed enough mentally to fully consider all implications of their actions. Sure, you could carefully explain to your child about cars and street traffic, and the speed limit, and human reaction speed, but when they’re five, it’s much better to slap them in the head if they even twitch toward the road. Everyone understands pain. Associate pain with bad behavior, and you have gotten on top of the issue.

    • Partisan says:

      I’m not sure what a teacher or authority figure should do if a student’s disruption is intractable. But I’m pretty sure that “have an adult man fling a teenage girl into the ground” should not even be in the set of choices.

      What would have been better than that? Almost anything! Suppose the girl won’t leave the classroom. How about the teacher takes the class elsewhere? Yes, that would be disruptive. But it’s less disruptive than “have an adult man attack her” has turned out to be.

      • Anonymous says:

        That would set a bad precedent.

      • Sastan says:

        SO any student can, at any time, force every other student and the teacher to relocate the class? Yeah, that’s not a terrible incentive structure. And when every class in school is relocated, where are they going to have class? And what if, when they get to a new location, yet another student whips out their phone and refuses to move? Move again?

        At what point is it in the best interest of the whole to intervene physically (incidentally, I think the officer in this specific instance reacted poorly, but he should have cuffed her and taken her out).

        • Partisan says:

          I mentioned “I’m not sure what a teacher or authority figure should do if a student’s disruption is intractable” originally; I acknowledge it’s not good to let a student control a situation that way.

          Nonetheless, I think we should agree “hit a young girl” is really something to avoid!

          • Sastan says:

            You can think we should agree, but I do not.

            Avoid hitting a teenager? Why? If it needs to be done, it should not be avoided. If it does not need to be done, then it should be avoided.

            I do like the Trayvonning you’re trying here though, “young girl” and all that, as though she were three. Did you take a journalism class for that?

          • Partisan says:

            Sastan, I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith. I don’t accept your criticism that calling a 16 year old (or however old she is) “young” is misleading, and I disagree with your equivocation between discipline administered by “every father in history” and what was shown on the video.

          • Anthony says:

            A 16-year-old female is a “young woman”, or a “teenage girl”, not a “young girl”. A “young girl” has a single-digit age.

            I haven’t looked through all the video or commentary, but I did see someone claim that the policeman was trying to remove the girl from the seat, and that her resistance to being lifted out was what caused the desk to flip backwards. Based on the additional video, this claim is plausible to me, but not proven.

          • Sastan says:

            @ Partisan,

            I already said that it was my opinion the force used was excessive. But force was justified. And the “young girl” in question had already assaulted the officer.

            What should have happened is the teacher should have had the authority, the ability and the training to beat the fuck out of that kid when she began disrupting the class. Barring that, the principal should have handled it. But since we’ve eliminated all forms of physical coercion from the discipline toolkit, thanks to people like you, we have to call the cops. And you hit a cop in the face, a dragging is the least of your worries. Doesn’t make it right, but if you think I’m wrong, you go out and tag the next cop you see right in the kisser. See what happens.

          • RCF says:

            I didn’t see any hitting. And if 16 is “young girl”, is there any point that “young” becomes not applicable?

  37. TD says:

    I’ve been wondering about how many people we need for society to be well fed. Primarily because a world with less people in it would be more pleasant (for me). Not that I’m proposing anything nasty!

    Previously(!), almost everyone worked in agriculture, and then that changed with the advent of advanced farming methods and machinery. You’ll often see the statement that incredibly small percentages of the populace are employed in agriculture today; “less than 2% of the US populace today is employed in the agricultural sector”.

    This kind of statement is misleading, because it isn’t actually true that only 2% of the populace are needed to maintain agriculture, it just means that only 2% directly perform work in it. You still need to include all those employed in manufacturing tractors, and those employed in oil wells, and refining it into fuel and so on, and then you need to consider distribution. The % absolutely needed for you and I to continue to enjoy our current diets day in day out is therefore much higher than 2%. Even so, it’s clearly still a reduction compared to our pastoral past, because we have many economic roles that have nothing to do with feeding the humans at all that would not have been possible under feudalism. Clearly some oil ends up used for diesel for farming, and other oil is refined for recreation. Tractors need to be built for us to eat, as do heavy goods vehicles, but the bulk of vehicles are cars used for commerce or recreation.

    How would you even go about working out what the true agricultural sector size is? Another way of phrasing this question is to flip it around; how much of the economy could you wipe out of existence without harming our capacity to stuff BigMacs in our faces?

    • Annonymous says:

      Remarkably enough there is an extremely simple way of calculating the answer to this problem. The amount of the economy necessary to support our current food habits is equal to the amount of money we spend on food. IIRC this is approximately 10% of the economy in the USA.

      • John Schilling says:

        Except that there are industrial economies of scale at work. If Parker’s Piston Works makes pistons for agricultural tractors and for sports cars, saying “no more sports cars, those are stupid luxuries and we’re trying to make sure everybody gets fed”, then the cost of tractor pistons goes up. Eventually the cost of food goes up, and 10% of the economy isn’t enough any more.

        Whether it winds up being 11%, or 20% or 50% or 90%, is not an easy question to answer. Probably not 90%. Probably not 11% either.

      • I’m not sure price is a straight-forward representation of the amount of labour involved, because other inputs like oil conceivably take up a large part of the cost. Still, your suggestion is the most sensible proxy measurement I can think of.

    • “Primarily because a world with less people in it would be more pleasant (for me). ”

      I’m curious about your reasons for believing that and whether the belief is consistent with your behavior.

      In a world with fewer people, fewer good books, movies, new medicines would be produced. The world would be less crowded, but population density varies enormously from place to place at present–do you choose to live in the least densely populated place you can at present?

      I also don’t see the link between wanting a smaller population and your initial question. A smaller population would require less food. To first approximation, with half as many people you need half as many farmers, so you can imagine a functioning society with half as many people whatever fraction of the population is engaged in food production.

      • Age of Utilitron says:

        In a world with fewer people, fewer good books, movies, new medicines would be produced.

        But there would also be fewer enemies.

        And it’s a negative feedback loop: Bigger populations led to more innovation, innovation leads to more and more people becoming either dangerous or economically obsolete. The end result is AGI, which will either destroy or enslave us, OR do what we want, in which case the resources will be divided by the number of people.

        Unless you care positively about the existence of more people, or you can select what kinds of people there will be, more is not better. Not anymore anyway.

        • Adam Casey says:

          >But there would also be fewer enemies.

          … You and I have radically different models of the universe. If it’s not too hard for you I’d love to know more.

          * Enemies in what sense? Do you mean people who want to find you and kill/injure you? Or just people who are dangerous unintentionally?
          * Are they your enemies in particular? Does it seem like decreasing the population makes things better for just you, or just for a class of people that includes you, or for everyone?
          * Is AGI the main thing here? Suppose someone discovered a proof that AGI is impossible, one so convincing that EY agrees it is correct. Would you still be concerned?

          • Age of Utilitron says:

            Enemies in the sense that they would harm you for free, even if they gained no personal advantage other than gratification. The harm doesn’t have to be big for it to count. We all have billions of those, just by being born into various reference classes.

            Extreme thought experiment: Random human A gains private, secret access to a button. Information about another random human B is displayed (e.g. religion, nationality, sexual orientation, wrongdoings etc.). Then A can decide to push the button or not. A will not gain any advantage or disadvantage either way. If the button is pushed, B will be tortured for an infinite time span.

            How many people would push the button for how many other people? Obviously it depends on which reference classes A and B are in, on the personality of A, etc. I’d expect only some tens or hundreds of thousands would push the button for a baby or a toddler. But I’d expect hundreds of millions for adults of any kind, and over a billion for people with multiple hated reference classes, e.g. gay atheists (to pick just one random example).

            Of course this is a bit unfair, because it focuses on the negative and doesn’t allow for the positive. Maybe even more people would push the button if B was sent to neverending happiness or prevented from neverending torture. But still, enemies abound.

            You are also right about the unintentional harm, or as I would emphasize, different conception of good and bad. One guy values liberty, the other guy values purity and hierarchy. They may not see each other as enemies per se, but they will always be in conflict as though they were enemies.

            Then you have the obvious real scarcities and resulting zero-sumness. I mentioned AGI because the substitution of human economic functions by machines reduces the positive-sumness further and further, until only the resource competition remains. Perhaps there are some intangible functions left, like attention from a real person, but even those can probably be substituted by some smart psychological equivalent.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        In a world with fewer people, fewer good books, movies, new medicines would be produced.

        New books and movies are not needed. Medicines are, but to quote Eliezer Yudkowsky, “the number of geniuses and the speed of progress in a civilization does not seem to scale anything like the total population size – maybe for the same reason that small startups can be as creative on average as entire large companies (whatever that reason is).”

        I also don’t see the link between wanting a smaller population and your initial question. A smaller population would require less food. To first approximation, with half as many people you need half as many farmers, so you can imagine a functioning society with half as many people whatever fraction of the population is engaged in food production.

        Agreed. The question as posed is bizarre.

        • Jiro says:

          I responded to the claim that new books and movies are not needed onLW but it’s been a while and it wasn’t posted at the same time as or on the same page as gwern’s original post, so I’ll repost:

          I think gwern sells short the argument that older fiction books are produced in different societies and reflect ideas and prejudices from those societies that we might not share. He addresses it in a reply to one of the comments, but the reply is mostly “there are prejudices in older works that don’t matter because the conflicts no longer exist” (for instance, the Pharisees in the New Testament).

          I don’t think that reply is on point. While there are some prejudices that are obsolete, there are others which are not–sexism is endemic in older works, for instance. gwern’s reply to that is that the world was sexist back then and it would be worse propaganda to depict the old world with modern values. But that is only relevant insofar as the fiction is about the old world–fiction which is set in modern times can simultaneously depict less sexism than older fiction and be true to the world in which it is set. It also fails to consider that there’s a difference between accurately depicting the world as sexist and writing fiction which approves of this state of affairs.

          And some ideas in some media are really new. Quick, how many American TV shows with female action heroes can you name that came out prior to Xena? Heck, forget sexism and any other form of -ism; how many American TV shows that are heavily story arc driven can you name that came out prior to about 20 years ago?

          He also didn’t address differences that are not propaganda-based, such as there not being Shakespeare plays about the Internet. Science fiction is especially prone to this due to advances in scientific knowledge.

          • Nornagest says:

            Quick, how many American TV shows with female action heroes can you name that came out prior to Xena?

            I was going to say The Avengers, but that’s British; ditto Blake’s 7. Charlie’s Angels counts, though. The Bionic Woman. Wonder Woman. The Seventies-era Battlestar Galactica might qualify.

            Interestingly, these are all Seventies shows (or Sixties, in the case of The Avengers); I can’t think of any from the Eighties, and few from the early Nineties.

          • Jiro says:

            “How many can you name” doesn’t mean “there are zero”, just that there are few enough of them that the low number becomes significant.

          • Nornagest says:

            I know, I just thought answering the rhetorical question might reveal some interesting patterns. And it did.

      • John Schilling says:

        To a first-order approximation, fewer people means the same ratio of manufactured goods and services to humans, but a higher ratio of natural goods to people. This would seem to be an absolute improvement – everybody is still well-fed with only 2% of the population working as farmers, but more people can have beachfront property, apartments within walking distance of Downtown Cool City, or large country estates.

        There would be the same reasons to fight, with the same relative lethality, over purely human concerns, but less reason to fight over natural resources. Pollution and other forms of environmental damage would be lesser concerns. Again, absolute improvement.

        The tricky bit comes with the second-order effects. Fewer people means reduced economies of scale in agricultural-equipment manufacture, but it means that farmers can abandon marginal farmland and concentrate on the most fertile ground. Net gain or loss? Hard to say. Fewer new books and medicines, but those have strongly non-linear productivity curves. On the demand side, the demand for new books is oversaturated to the point where we are pursuing very marginal returns in selecting the most-personally-optimal unread book from the stack we will never finish. Demand for new medicines, arguably supralinear with population as crowding increases the opportunity to spread new diseases.

        Determining the optimal population of Earth is a very non-trivial problem, and I think anyone who points out only the good parts of a population expansion hasn’t considered the matter closely enough.

      • TD says:

        “In a world with fewer people, fewer good books, movies, new medicines would be produced. The world would be less crowded, but population density varies enormously from place to place at present–do you choose to live in the least densely populated place you can at present?”

        Well, the least population dense places are probably not that survivable. It’s kind of a trade of between modern comforts and having loads of normies swarming about you.

        “I also don’t see the link between wanting a smaller population and your initial question. A smaller population would require less food. To first approximation, with half as many people you need half as many farmers, so you can imagine a functioning society with half as many people whatever fraction of the population is engaged in food production.”

        I’m skeptical that this would be so. I suspect (though I can’t as of yet prove) that there is a non-linear effect to this, due to economies of scale. This is very obvious if you compare the extreme ends of the scale; the billions of today Vs a world comprised of just 3 people. 3 people can neither generate nor maintain an advanced modern society. They don’t have the knowledge base or the necessary labor to create the possibility of modern living.

        Somewhere between those two numbers you have enough people so that all economic functions that require specialized knowledge can be fulfilled, and you have enough of a raw mass of people to engage in specialized roles in production line industry. The effect doesn’t seem to be linear, unless it only becomes linear above a certain threshold of people.

        From a first look, there are only 2% of the population involved in agriculture in developed nations, but there are actually all these supporting industries required to make that agriculture possible. If you kept halving the population, at some point all those supports for mechanized agriculture would no longer be possible, and the percentage of the populace directly farming should rise. In a (closed) society with 3 people, all of them have to be farmers to survive. In a society with a million people a larger percentage of them may have to be farmers than in a society with a billion people.

        We saw the industrial revolution as leading to high populations as it accelerated, but the effect may have been symbiotic, since the population and the development were both accelerating together. If we today massively reduced the population, it seems that there’s a good chance that the secondary and tertiary sector heavy economy would no longer be possible past a significant level of reduction.

        (Of course, automation changes that, which is one of the most interesting things about it.)

      • Paul Torek says:

        The Federal Reserve Bank of NY (pdf) sez:

        Using new information on output per worker for U.S. metropolitan areas along with a measure of density that accounts for the spatial distribution of population, we find that a doubling of density increases productivity by 2 to 4 percent.

        Huh. Is that all. Pretty small compared to the global effects of innovation that David Friedman mentions.

      • Natural resources, including mined minerals, clean air, fossil fuel, timber, beautiful or pleasant land areas etc etc. are in limited supply for the for the near-medium future. Less people means more natural resources per person. If as others have been saying, innovation and technological progress doesn’t scale very well with population over a certain size, then the optimal population size for maximising the two is probably much lower than our current population. Assuming he just wants a pleasant life for himself and nothing else, that could well be the logical conclusion. Obviously population is a bit of a touchy subject, probably with good reason to be cautious.

      • RCF says:

        “The world would be less crowded, but population density varies enormously from place to place at present–do you choose to live in the least densely populated place you can at present?”

        I recall hearing the argument that if different locations compete for residents, then relative benefits of different locations will be competed away, and equilibrium will be reached when all locations have their benefits outweighed by drawbacks.

    • anonymous says:

      I don’t understand your question and I seem to be the only one, so would someone explain to me:

      how do you infer a absolute minimal number of people who have to remain alive, from a percentage?

      Because it’s pretty obvious that if less people are alive, less will be needed to work in the food industry to feed all.

      Anyhow, define “well-fed”; you can eat a nutritionally complete, varied and healthy diet with 1/5 of what the average first worlder spends today on food. Maybe even 1/10.

      • TD says:

        “Because it’s pretty obvious that if less people are alive, less will be needed to work in the food industry to feed all.”

        You see, I don’t expect this to be true, proportionally speaking.

        Economies of scale are important. In modern society we have enough people that we can specialize enough to have and maintain mechanized agriculture. If you shrink to a smaller group, then that would no longer be possible. In a closed society of 10 people, it’s likely that all of them would have to be farmers. I mean, where are they going to get the tractors and fuel for the tractors from to make it otherwise?

        I even suspect (but cannot prove) that there is more of a symbiosis than people think when it comes to the relationship between the observed population growth in the industrial revolution and the economic changes that were observed. So, it’s not just that more people can be supported by a new economic structure, but that with less people you’d actually collapse back to an older form of economic structure. The examples with small numbers of people as above suggest there’s truth to this; the real question is to what degree this effect scales.

        Today we can have only 2% working directly in agriculture, but only because they are supported by all these other industries (that is the true number of people required for modern agriculture is being “hidden”). If we cut the population in half, and kept cutting it in half, I’m suggesting that it would NOT be the case that you could keep maintaining a state in which only 2% work directly in agriculture at every new level of population. I’m suggesting that at some point, specialized industries to do with oil extraction, refining, tractor production, steel etc would no longer be able to operate at the same scale, and this would consequently increase the number of people who need to directly farm to maintain the particular population level.

        It’s true though as you say that we could stand to be less fat than we are, and we could literally survive with lower levels of food consumption. I’m just assuming we would prefer not to.

        • anonymous says:

          I understand your point about the economy of scale, but my question still stands. You ask what percentage of the economy presently supports agriculture. Your goal is to understand how many people must remain around. How do you infer the absolute number of people who must remain around, from the percentage of the economy that presently supports agriculture?

          Because surely you will agree that if there were less people to feed, the abolute number of people required to support agriculture would shrink, even if the percentage of people required to support agriculture would, as you rightly point out, increase.

          Also – I didn’t mean eating LESS food. I meant eating the same amounts of calories per person, but from much cheaper (and equally healthy or healthier) foods.

          For example, calories and protein being equal if you grow beans for human consumption it needs enormously less work than if you raise a cow (which implies growing lots of stuff to feed it).

          You may object that you don’t want the lifestyle of first worlders to change, even in little ways such as making a shift from beef to beans. My reply to this would be: if preserving lifestyle as it is is an issue, then why do you only consider agriculture? Every aspect of the economy supports our lifestyle. Why are Big Macs (as opposed to rice and beans, not as opposed to starvation) more important than iPads?

          Another problem is that the economy of scale thing may work the other way around in certain ways. For example if there are less people, but the amount of fertile land remains unchanged, it might be possible (I don’t know this well, I’m just guessing) to shift to more extensive farming methods, which output being equal require more land but less work, thus increasing productivity.
          Also, hydroelectric power is really efficient, but its availability is limited by geography. If you reduce population energy might get cheaper because it’s possible for more of it to be hydroelectric. Again, just guessing, but it’s to illustrate a point.
          Think of fishing, I would guess that the less fishing boats around, the more productive fishing gets, at least up to a distant point.

  38. Neanderthal From Mordor says:

    Why should one be altruist?
    Is this question answered by leading rationalists like Scott or EY?

    I see a lot of discussions about how to make altruism more effective and little about why one should reduce the resources he can use for himself and his social circle, with whom he shares genes and memes (whatever he values most) for the sake of genetically distant and culturally different people.

    The only rational reason I can think is signaling, but I’m from Mordor and altruism here is a bit different from WEIRD countries, so if I engage in altruism for signaling purposes I spend my money more effectively by buying and sacrificing halflings for orcish feasts rather than purchasing malaria nets for humans in distant lands.

    Enlighten me with links and answers.

    • Jiro says:

      The answer is “there is no reason to be altruist”, of course. Effective altruism, and altruism itself, is often sold here as if it’s just the obvious way of living that everyone should follow. In fact it’s based on premises that nobody actually shares, but some people like to think they share (and uniformly aren’t willing to live up to, because they don’t really believe them).

      It’s just something that’s weird in the lowercase way.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Failure of imagination.

        Not passing the ideological Turing test.

        Neither kind nor true.

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        “Effective altruism, and altruism itself, is often sold here”

        If people here make money by selling altruism is not weird that they don’t question its rationality.

    • Anon says:

      If you share no moral intuitions with me, it will be very hard for me to convince you of anything. So most pro-altruist arguments start by laying out a specific scenario (e.g. this one), hoping we will agree on what is morally required here, and proceeding from there.

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        “Once we are all clear about our obligations to rescue the drowning child in front of us, I ask: would it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself? Virtually all agree that distance and nationality make no moral difference to the situation.”

        The fact that the child is in front of me triggers my brain’s emotional responses in a way an abstract child drowning in Congo River doesn’t because humans are built to instinctively respond to a child’s cries or screams.
        So I save the drowning child because of my instincts not because of a moral decision.

        • Anonymous says:

          why is there a magic line demarcating some of your preferences (“emotional instincts”) from others (“morality”)?

        • Jiro says:

          The reason I won’t help the faraway child is not just that I can’t see the child. It’s that there are too many faraway children. If a child were to drown in front of me I would try to help that child. If a couple of thousand children were drowning in front of me, requiring me to help children and do0 nothing else for the next fifty years if I wanted to save all of them, at some point I would stop saving children even if the children were right in front of me.

    • Age of Utilitron says:

      genes and memes (whatever he values most)

      You’re making it sound like genes and memes are what he values most, but it really should just be “whatever he values most” even if it isn’t genes and memes.

      But then it becomes tautological, he will value what he will value.

      E.g. I don’t care about my genes, I don’t even know their sequence. As for the memes, only as a means to an end, if at all.

      I don’t agree with Effective Altruism(tm), but that’s because I don’t believe it’s actually a useful and effective movement.

      Edit: I posted a thought experiement about why one might care about others here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/10/07/contra-caplan-on-mental-illness/#comment-245278

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        There are theories that give evolutionary explanations to altruism towards people that we are closely related with or are part of the same group like group selection.

    • Rauwyn says:

      “The only rational reason I can think is signaling” seems rather…limited, but you can reduce anything to signalling or selfish motives if you try hard enough.

      One reason is reciprocity – if both you and the people in distant lands agree to always cooperate and help each other out, in the long run it seems like this would give better outcomes than if you both ignore the other when they’re in need. Of course if you’re much, much better off than they are, it may seem pretty unlikely that they’d be able to help you out any time soon, but if you care about your descendants then helping the distant others now might allow them to help your descendants in the future.

      That said, I see altruism as pretty much following from (some version of) the Golden Rule – “Live your life according to rules such that, if everyone lived by them, the world would be a better place”. This is horribly vulnerable to being gamed, since you can make up rules like “Everyone should give all of their halflings to Neanderthal from Mordor”, so we try to patch it by saying “Wait, you can’t do that! No referring to specific people in your rules!” and then argue a bunch about which meta-level to define the rules on. But personally when I try to define rules, I end up with things like “If you have the ability to make others’ lives much better at small cost to yourself, you should.” So I try.

    • Jacob says:

      Logical inference has to start with some axioms. If you’re trying to maximize the spread of your own genes being an altruist might not make the most sense[0]. However, most altruists are trying to help people[1], and not just their own immediate friends and family. So if the axiom is “how can I help the most number of people” then you get EA.

      What axioms should you pick? Well that’s up to you.

      [0] Or it might, considering that all humans share the vast majority of their DNA, saving thousands of unrelated humans will spread more of “your” DNA than having a few kids.

      [1] At least they say they are

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        So basically EA starts with the how without ever establishing the why.

        • Linch says:

          Your question is pretty silly. It’s like asking “Why should we be good?” or “Why should we try to satisfy our preferences?”

          For me personally, there’s a giant gap between the world as it is and the world as I want it to be. The distinction exists, therefore I should fix it. If such a gap does not exist for you, nothing I say is likely to persuade you that it does, simply because our minds are so completely alien to each other’s.

          • Anonymous says:

            NFM’s objection is probably more along the lines of disagreement that EA’s chosen definition of ‘good’ (does it even have one?) is debatable. Someone might argue that inefficiently helping their close family is good, while efficiently helping complete strangers is not.

          • Linch says:

            *shrugs* Seems like a relatively uninteresting question to me, philosophically.

            One issue to consider is moral uncertainty. Being wrong* about the moral worth of individuals in extreme poverty, animals in factory farms and the far future all have tremendous costs. If you were wrong to value complete strangers not dying marginally more than your family, what’s the worst that could happen? Maybe a slightly rockier marriage and your child living on the 95th percentile of consumption instead of the 99th (actually I suspect the difference is even smaller for most practicing EAs). However, the cost of being wrong the other way is a lot higher, if say foreigners are as high as 2% as important as those in your community.

            I realize that for people with drastically different preferences from my own, this might sound like a Pascal’s wager/mugging argument. However to me it’s difficult to even wrap my mind around the idea eg. that a)people who I physically can’t see matter so little that their lives are less important than minor consumption differences of people I do know and b) I could be so certain that a) is true that considering the reverse is tantamount to Pascal’s mugging. This is why I normally avoid engaging with people who clearly state such preference differences, since the inferential distance seems to be too great and more fruitful discussions exist elsewhere.

            *For a given value of being “wrong”. It’s a relatively straightforward question for moral realists. For relativists, I think a broad characterization of being “wrong” in the sense of the stability/coherence of your opinions is still viable (at least that’s how I usually use the term). For nihilists, well, I don’t see any point in discussing morality with a nihilist. 😛

          • Anonymous says:


            But that’s an argument not just for making the world more like we feel it should be, but for holding a particular view of what it should be like.

            One objection to the idea that one ought to weight everyone’s concerns equally that I find interesting is to take into account how you’ve changed the person’s life from what it would have been like in your absence. Had you not existed, a stranger in the Third World would have remained as poor as they would if you exist and don’t give them your money. But if you hadn’t existed then your wife would have married someone else, someone who would have taken care of her and not prioritized strangers in the Third World over her, and yours and her children. So you have much more of a moral obligation toward your wife than you do toward strangers, because you have come into her life and made deals with her that would have been fulfilled by someone else in your absence, whereas you have made no such alteration to the life of strangers.

        • Jacob says:

          Well most people consider helping people to be the fundamental “why” of charity. So that part doesn’t need to be established.

          Besides, you can always keeping asking “why” for anything. Put another way: Think of everything you do in life. Why do you do those things? And for response, keep asking why. Where does that end.

        • RCF says:

          EA starts with the observation that there are altruists, and asks how altruism can be best practiced. It does not concern itself with converting people to altruism, but to making existing altruists more efficient.

          • Linch says:

            I think this is true to an extent. A lot of outreach work done by EAs now is through assuming that people are good people (ie, altruists), even if they aren’t currently practicing EAs and doing good right now. That said, once people clearly express a disinterest in doing good (in the EA sense of the term), obviously the effective thing to do is to move on.

            However, a LOT of otherwise effective people have not given serious consideration to even thinking about why we should benefit others, or how best to do so. So EA adds a lot of additional information/public knowledge to people who might have the volition to do good (in the EA sense of the term), but never the active/revealed preferences for doing so in the past.

            So EA as you said isn’t about converting die-hard egotists or communitarians to global altruism, but sometimes (actually often) just presenting the option adds new information, even though the new information seems really obvious in hindsight to many people.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      I’m not really involved in EA, although it’s not a *bad* idea – but I’d argue that I share genes and memes with the entire human population.

      • Linch says:

        Why aren’t you “really involved in EA”? 🙂

        I definitely agree with the point about “sharing genes and memes with the entire human population,” part of me honestly think that caring about your own community, race, etc. more than strangers is just a special case of the narcissism of small differences.

    • If you accept the concept of terminal vs instrumental values, then there is no real possiblity for someone giving a reason why you should have terminal goal X (altruism) over terminal goal Y (egoism). That’s because a “reason why” is really reducing one goal to be a tool for achieving something else, and thus turning the first goal from terminal into something that’s just instrumentally useful. This is sometimes used deceptively against altruism, for example by getting an advocate to say “altruism makes you feel nice” and then saying that “feeling nice is selfish! Therefore altruism is selfish” (usually this deception is done through equivocation of “selfish”). In the end, like some others say, if you have some instinct or intuition to be moral, then you have a “reason”, and if you only care about yourself then you have no reason, and are just a selfish person (though egoists don’t neccessarily suggest being an asshole). Remember the selfish option is no more rational – we can equally ask “why should I care about myself or my own feelings?” and quickly realise there is no non-reductive answers, no logical argument why selfishness should be the “default”, only instincts and feelings one way or the other.

      Having a altruistic or moral instinct is not the same as altruism being “as you feel like it” (ie. touchy-feely altruism), however. We can probably agree that being altruistic to faeries by leaving your lunch under their toadstools isn’t really altruistic, because we have plenty of reason to think faeries aren’t real (orcs from Mordor obviously know better than that). So it seems reasonable we should be altruistic in a way that relies on a highly accurate view of the world, and is logically consistent. I’ve written a series of articles here that try to help develop that approach in logical/scientific way. Others follow a pure utilitarian view, though personally, while finding quite a bit of merit in their general approach, I don’t find their notion of utility to be philosophically sound. Regardless, I think it all has to start with some kind of moral or altruistic instinct within the person that sparks them to investigate what altruism and morality actually is.

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        Thanks. Interesting articles.
        I liked how you talked about altruism in group selection, but group selection doesn’t explain why should you be altruistic towards someone who is not in your group. Helping someone from a different group may even be harmful towards your own group.
        If you think that there is no group towards which to show your altruism (altruism toward the entire human species or even life) then there is no group selection and no reason for altruistic behaviour to begin with.

        • Thanks I’m glad you liked the articles. Perhaps I can try to suggest responses to those points. (warning – excessively long response :-P)

          One interesting thing about humans, if you think about it, is that the mental qualities required to cooperate in a small group with a member you don’t see very often (say you’re in a farming community that’s a bit spread out) is pretty similar to what you need to cooperate/be altruistic to someone you’ve never even met, potentially the other side of the world. You need things like information/communication to identify them as a human, imagination to be able to vividly “see” them without frequent empirical reminders, and the ability to assess hostility/friendliness (I describe cooperation/altruism being withdrawn from hostile parties, to prevent exactly the group harm you describe) and the ability to morally grapple with abstract ethical concepts (eg. “community”). So the genetic change you need to go from community-size cooperation to global-size* cooperation is actually far less than you’d expect. I think of it as the graph of cooperative group size looking more exponential than linear, until other factors like coordination or communication problems come into play.

          Once there is only one group in existence (eg. everyone on Earth cooperating), you are correct that there is no group-selection force. However, you might also agree there is group-selection forces when we live in communities. If we remember that the genetic equipment is similar for communities vs global, it’s quite possible to imagine group-selection forces in communities creating the bulk of neccessary genetic infrastructure for global cooperation, and then culture “connecting the dots” as it were. The dots aren’t connected yet, however, and Earth might still falter at the transition.

          Organic chemicals first became life when they formed the bonds necessary to create a stable unit. I think morality is not unlike those bonds that helped form the first living cells, but morality’s role is creating something new, much larger and more dynamic. If we don’t form those bonds, our technology will destroy us and life, and Earth biosphere will be snuffed out like so many organic chemicals that almost but never formed a living cell. I believe this is the objective description of what morality is viewed on a larger scale. Knowing that, it’s our fundamental, individual choice to be moral, and part of that, or not.

          *Let me briefly note that global cooperation is not centralised world government or homogeneity – that is harm wearing a cooperative mask. Honest/fair market participation, democracy, pluralism or dutiful governance are better examples.

    • Sastan says:

      Because altruism is the best way to make people act in an evil manner. Once you are convinced of the rightness of your actions, and that the benefit outweighs the cost, you are free to commit theft, murder and karaoke with the blessing of your conscience which you have conveniently reasoned out of the picture.

      Every monster of history was a committed altruist, doing what he or she thought was best for everyone.

      Convincing people to shift their charitable impulses toward distant people is the best way of reducing charitable impulses. Fuck that cousin you have without a job, there are people starving in Africa! As the Screwtape Letters said, the key to corrupting a good man is to focus his goodness on people far away, and his badness on people close by (I paraphrase heavily).

      • Age of Utilitron says:

        Sure, but this cuts both ways. “My egoism is really noble” is equally convenient.

        The correct answer is, “It’s complicated.”

        • Sastan says:

          Absolutely. Egoism has the advantage of being predictable. Altruism is just as destructive, but has no guiding principle, it’s like the “voice of god”, it’s whatever each person says it is.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think it’s quite a stretch to call Genghis Khan a committed altruist.

        • Sastan says:

          Really? He’d been commissioned by god to spread the obviously superior Mongol civilization to all under the blue heaven. He enriched and ennobled his people, spread his culture and power throughout the known world, opened the trade routes between Europe and Asia, and laid the foundation of the largest empire in history. He is Saint George Washington to the Mongolians. The people he conquered, not so much. But I guarantee you, he thought he was doing good in the world.

          • Aegeus says:

            If Genghis Khan thought he was doing good for his own people, at the expense of a bunch of faraway people he didn’t care about, that sounds more like egoism than altruism. Genghis Khan’s goodness was focused on the people close to him, and his badness on people far away, the opposite of what Screwtape would suggest. And despite that, he was just as much a monster as anyone in history.

            So I don’t think that his altruism was the problem there.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            There are also many cases of someone doing something because they want to do it and then coming up with a rationalization to make it sound noble. I mean, I didn’t know Genghis Khan personally so I can’t say for sure, but at a glance he seems like an example of that.

            The most famous monsters of history (Hitler, Stalin, etc.) are usually trying to accomplish some vision beyond just personal gain, to fashion the world into something they’d consider better, so in that sense they’re altruists. But I guess it depends on how you define the word.

            Maybe someone wants to do something for others, or for the world, but maybe they want to do it in order to promote some inner vision of themselves as a savior or a great person. Is that egoism or altruism? Or both?

          • Linch says:

            At the object level, I think it’s not extremely obvious that Genghis Khan is horrible for humanity.


          • Peter says:

            When I read The Secret History of the Mongols, I got something a lot closer to Aegeus’s view than Sastan’s. But really, what seems to be the main motivator is a warped sense of justice – a great many of Genghis’s conquests and genocides are basically revenge for comparatively minor offences against him or his people.

            I get the vibe of an unphilosophical deontologist – someone who has a set of principles to live by, rather than caring too much about what he’s trying to achieve. That latter bit – even when he had the Tanguts genocided – his instructions were to slaughter the Tanguts for as long as he lived, which considering he was reaching the end of his life might not be long.

            Pax Mongolica: someone on SSC pointed me towards Dan Carlin’s excellent “The Wrath of the Khans”, it made the point that by going on about trade and so forth, you end up forgetting about the rivers of blood and mountains of bones. There are Chinese people who are still angry about what Genghis did to their civilisation.

      • Linch says:

        Both (self-described) altruistic people and egotistical people are capable of doing evil, it will be interesting to objectively evaluate what the net effect of each is.

        My guess is that the median altruistic person doesn’t do much to create global utility, but neither does the median egotistical person.

        I would also hazard (to pull numbers out of my arse, ~70% belief) that Sastan is correct in that “altruism is the best way to make people act in an evil manner” in the sense that the random altruistic person is more likely to do great harm (since low feedback effects, etc.) than the random egotistical person.

        However, I think(~85% belief) that on expectation altruists will do more good, after adjusting for their significantly smaller population size.

        In either case, the question is mostly dominated by the tails.

  39. stillnotking says:

    One Star Wars fan’s apparently serious and surprisingly well-argued theory that Jar Jar Binks was a secret Sith master, and will be the main antagonist in The Force Awakens, using the alias “Supreme Leader Snoke”.

  40. Liskantope says:

    Scott (or anyone else with medical expertise), what do you think of the commonly held opinion that there’s not much point in getting a flu shot, because there are about a dozen different strains of the flu each year and the vaccine only protects against one of them?

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I’m not sure where you live, but in the US most vaccines are trivalent or quadrivalent. But perhaps more compelling is that the flu vaccine does work empirically (1), and that is because the people who predict which strains are the best to vaccinate against are quite good at doing so. Please do get vaccinated, it will not only help you but the people around you.

      1) http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm

      • Scott Alexander says:


      • roystgnr says:

        This may be a silly question, but: how anti-inductive are those predictions? Imagine a time traveller (in a non-Novikov multiverse) comes back to tell us, “10% of the population gets the flu next season; here are the flu strains which account for 98% of cases”, and everyone’s so impressed by his flying train that we all get vaccinated against those strains.

        What happens when next flu season arrives? Does only the same 0.2% of the population still get infected by the strains that were missed? Or is there an “ecology” at work here, and when people aren’t home sick with strain A or B they’re instead interacting with more people and so more likely to catch strain C or D?

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          The preventative effect of vaccination is measured via case controlled and randomized studies so it is not subject that effect. Importantly, the effect is very large (70 – 90% prevention) and corroborated across many different study designs in many different populations.

    • US says:

      Interesting that you would ask this question today (…I made arrangements for getting an influenza vaccine later in the week just this morning). This isn’t a literature I’m super familiar with and depending on who you are my comment may also be a bit off-topic, but I recall seeing a paper a few years ago which concluded that repeated vaccinations in healthy young adults might not be a good idea because such a vaccination strategy over the long term might lead to lower resistance in old age, and I figured this made sense to comment on here:

      “A growing number of publications are recommending annual influenza vaccination of healthy children and adults. However, the long-term consequences of repeated influenza vaccination are unknown. We used a simple model of recurrent influenza infection to assess the likely impact of various repeated influenza vaccination scenarios. The model was based on a Markovian framework and was fitted on annual incidence rates of influenza infection by age. We found that natural influenza infection reduced the risk of being re-infected by 15.4% (95% confidence interval 7.1–23.0). Various scenarios of repeated influenza vaccination were then simulated and compared with a reference scenario where vaccination is given from age 65 years onwards. We show that repeated vaccination at a young age substantially increases the risk of influenza in older age, by a factor ranging between 1.2 (vaccination after 50 years) to 2.4 (vaccination from birth). These findings have important implications for influenza vaccination policies.”

      The basic idea is that if you actually get influenza (…in youth, while you’re still healthy enough to fight it off without too much trouble) the acquired immunity might provide long-lasting protection against subsequent infection in a way that vaccine-exposure to the same pathogen won’t. It should be kept in mind that in the context of influenza it’s actually really important how well protected you’ll be in old age – influenza most likely won’t kill you at the age of 25, but forty-fifty years later it might well do that.

      AS’ comments that the experts are usually reasonably good at figuring out which strains to vaccinate against and that the vaccines do provide some protection* I do not disagree with, but there is perhaps a relevant question here if this protection comes at a cost if you’re young and healthy. If you’re old and/or have a chronic illness like e.g. diabetes, I would definitely recommend getting vaccinated even if the vaccines are far from perfect. I’m pretty sure a lot of different national guidelines would tell you the same thing. I’m currently reading the textbook Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine which is written by British doctors, and for what it’s worth here are their recommendations:

      “[Vaccinate] if risk ↑: DM [diabetes mellitus]; COPD [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]; asthma (not mild); heart, renal or liver failure; immunosuppression (eg splenectomy; steroid use); haemoglobinopathy; medical staff; carers; ≥65yrs (esp. in institutions). Vaccinating all at ↑ risk poses logistic challenges in ageing populations.”

      *But only ‘some’: “Efficacy is ‘modest’ (relative risk of pneumonia falls from 1 to 0.88 after vaccination in the elderly; all-cause mortality is slightly reduced)”. (Also a quote from the Handbook).

  41. Kevin C. says:

    Consider how it seems that any institution (business, government, or other) with formal written rules and procedures, that some level of bending these rules appears to be necessary for the organization to function. After all, “work-to-rule” and “malicious compliance” are real and effective things (and consider also the related “three felonies a day” issue). So, the first question is how inevitable is this? Are codified rules always at least slightly at odds with getting things done, or can procedures not vulnerable to “work-to-rule” be created and maintained?

    Secondly, even if one accepts that a certain amount of rule-bending is necessary and expected, at what point does it become too much? If actual practice diverges significantly from the “on-paper” description of how things are supposed to work, and it’s agreed that this is because the “on-paper” theory is unworkable, and the actual practices are what’s needed to get things done, then shouldn’t one, at some point, seek to replace the unworkable theoretical rules with a ruleset more congruent with reality?

    What’s the SSC community’s thoughts on this?

    (As an aside, it was partially this New York Times article on Europe that helped bring this to mind.)

    • hlynkacg says:

      I think you need to define the scope of said rules and what they are supposed to accomplish.

      A common pitfall is to try and have an explicit rule or procedure for every possible circumstance rather than trust people to use their own judgment. The problem of course is that accounting for every possible circumstance results in a rule book that is too complex for anyone to actually know or follow in it’s entirety.

    • Jason K. says:

      “A common pitfall is to try and have an explicit rule or procedure for every possible circumstance rather than trust people to use their own judgment.”-Absolutely. This tends to generate a set of rules that are too complicated to follow. Even if the rules were being followed, the problem is fixed because there is the issue of how to interpret the rules.

      Another pitfall (related to the first) is that in order to protect the rule setter from liability, the rules tend to be extremely conservative. That way, if something does go wrong, the rule setter can point to the fact that the rules weren’t followed to absolve themselves of liability. These rules typically can be followed, but tend to be either/both extremely time consuming, or produce some proportion of crazy results.

      The third pitfall is that the people writing the rules may either not have experience with the subject at hand, a myopic view of the subject, or may have motivations that are not well aligned with the overall goal(s). The frequently results in rules that are impossible or counter-productive to follow.

      It is widespread enough of a problem that it is a minor story trope for an experienced worker to snatch the rule book from the hand of a less experienced worker, toss it out, and proceed to tell the person ‘how we really do it’.

    • Art says:

      David Friedman: “I don’t know a lot about the dark enlightenment people, beyond what I’ve read here.”

      I am curious why you don’t know more about Dark Enlightenment, especially considering that you spent so much time arguing on usenet with someone who is now an important figure in that movement.
      Is that because you are just not interested or are you avoiding exposing yourself to depressing arguments that you may find convincing?
      I am also guessing that being on record as possibly sympathetic to any part of their ideology may damage your reputation in ways that matter to you.

      • Anonymous says:

        arguing on usenet

        Usenet is still used?

      • I spent a lot of time on Usenet arguing with various people, and I’m afraid I don’t know which one you are referring to. My favorite Usenet opponent was probably Jimbo Wales, who went on to create Wikipedia, but I don’t think he is part of what you are referring to. I’ve known James Donald for a long time, but didn’t argue with him a lot that I can remember.

        The depressing arguments that I might find convincing that I avoid are by Thomas Sowell. And by S.M. Stirling, in fictional form.

        I don’t think I have avoided being on record with regard to my reservations about democracy. Off hand, I can’t think of anything from Scott’s description of their position that I both agree with and would want to keep quiet about.

        • Art says:

          I meant JAD.
          Sounds like you just don’t find these people interesting enough. I am surprised but I take your word for it.

  42. What do libertarians and anti-enlightenment/authority-centric conservatives think of eachother? Are there critiques of one by the other? They seem quite opposed but, even though both seem to be around here, I see only a bare minimum of disagreement between the two on SSC, in comparison to debate between left wing and conservatives (/anti-enlightenment). A simplistic google search doesn’t turn up that much for me.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m a mostly-libertarian with some sympathy toward the um, let’s abbreviate it AE/AC side. While there are some natural disagreements between the two (and I’ve seen the latter label the former as naive), my impression is that the AE/AC are much less totalitizing than the social-justicey left. Even the Monarchists seem to want a monarch who will mostly leave society to be, and even those who are anti-gay and so forth mostly seem willing to let behaviour in the bedroom slide. By contrast I feel like the social justicers won’t be satisfied with anything less than everyone conforming to their beliefs at all times and in all places, public or private.

      One way to put it is that the right wing seems more tolerant of private hypocrisy, which I think might be necessary in a society with imperfect laws and imperfect moral beliefs.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “seem to want a monarch”

        That seems … hilarious? Not getting what you want in a monarch seems sort of like the whole point. I dunno. Maybe that is a failure of imagination on my part.

        • Anonymous says:

          I think the point is to have a sort of national CEO, who is mostly caught up in his own tiny circle of acquaintances to torture and/or fornicate with, and leaves the common people well alone, unless you dare to petition him for a redress of some wrong, in which case there’s a solid chance he’ll actually fix it, because he has the power to do so.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Why would he redress it?

            Unless you have the power to do something unpleasant to the monarch, far easier to ignore it.

          • Anonymous says:

            Because he’s bored? Because fixing it is actually advantageous to him? Because he didn’t know about something he would like fixed? Because you convinced him with your mastery of words? Because he’s a human being who might have human reasons to do as you ask?

            Any reason at all, really. Since he has the power to effect changes, and isn’t some kind of warped genie who always makes your wish come out completely opposite of what you wanted, there’s a non-zero chance he’ll do it – as opposed to someone who doesn’t have the power to do it.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I think you need to be a bit more specific about what you mean when you say “anti-enlightenment”.

      In the US at least, traditional conservatives think that the “Libertarian utopia” sounds nice but would quickly devolve into a Hobbesean war of all against all without a pre-existing set of moral standards and strong barriers to entry. Libertarians on the other hand think that the Trad-cons are deluding themselves if they think that such standards and barriers would not be subject to gaming or abuse.

      That said, their “first principles” are, for the most part, in agreement which is why Libertarians ended up aligning with the Right rather than Left-wing.

      A decent analogy would be that both agree that “X” is a problem and while they may disagree about what constitutes the best solution, but they still know which side they’ll be on when the society for the maximization of X comes knocking.

      • Bruce Beegle says:

        I suppose it depends on how you define “first principles”. I suppose some libertarians may consider their first principles to be more right or more left, but I don’t.

        I suppose one reason why some people think of libertarians as sort-of-conservative is because college faculties and mass media are generally progressive. If college faculty and mass media were generally conservative, I’d expect some people to think of libertarians as sort-of-progressive.

    • Sastan says:

      If nothing else, the radical regressives are seriously unlikely to be able to implement any of their program that disagrees with more liberal/libertarian folks. We can ally with them without worrying about monarchy coming down the pike.

      SJWs are already down the pike, and under our beds, so it’s time to mobilize everyone we can. Furthermore, whenever the middle of the country figures out there is an actual pro-monarchy side, that moves the Overton Window in our direction pretty well. We get to be the moderates we’ve always considered ourselves to be.

      • hlynkacg says:

        There is that factor as well 😉

      • Technically Not Anonymous says:

        Wouldn’t associating yourself with people who believe things that most people on both sides of the political spectrum find atrocious just make the public hate your side? I mean, a lot of Gamergaters disavow Vox Day but people still point to him as evidence that Gamergate is full of racist misogynists. If you deliberately associate your movement with people who believe terrible things, people will think you’re terrible too.

        • Sastan says:

          That’s just a who/whom problem. The left has the media, so they can generate that hate and try to homogenize the public opinion of their outgroup. If the non-left can create enough parallel media output, that process can be halted or even reversed.

          If the non left doesn’t get to distance itself from Vox, the left doesn’t get to distance itself from their loonies. And trust me, if it’s people you don’t want to be associated with, the left has no shortage of targets. I may not agree with Day, but the Left has everyone from Dworkin to Lenin to defend. I’ll take that fight.

          • Technically Not Anonymous says:

            >The left has the media, so they can generate that hate and try to homogenize the public opinion of their outgroup. If the non-left can create enough parallel media output, that process can be halted or even reversed.

            You realize Fox News is the most popular cable news network, right? The right has no trouble generating hate for the left.

            >If the non left doesn’t get to distance itself from Vox, the left doesn’t get to distance itself from their loonies.

            Weren’t you just arguing that the non-left should treat the far-right as allies? That means not distancing yourself from Day, Derbyshire, et al. You can’t treat the far-right as your allies while distancing yourself from the people who represent the far right.

          • Sastan says:

            Re: Fox. Yes, Fox is the most popular cable news network. This is becuase it is cable, and it has that side of the ideological spectrum to itself. The right has Fox, maybe the WSJ and the Post. The left has everything else from every major newspaper in the country to every other cable news channel, to all the regular channels, plus all the government funded ones, NPR/BBC/W/E, all of Hollywood except Jon Voight, the music industry except Ted Nugent. The balance isn’t close at the moment, but it will be.

            As to distance, why not? That’s why they’re called “allies” and not “us”.

            Allies are people you hate slightly less than the people you both hate.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Sastan, Every major newspaper in the country? The big local newspaper where I live is decidedly right-wing, and that’s despite the fact that I live in an area where the Democrats completely dominate the political scene.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            “The big local newspaper where I live is decidedly right-wing, and that’s despite the fact that I live in an area where the Democrats completely dominate the political scene.”

            I want to ask you what city you’re in, but I don’t mean to be rude or attempting to find your location for some nefarious purpose, so absolutely feel free to not tell me.

            Personally, I can’t think of any widely-read newspaper in the United States that is right wing outside of the New York Post and the WSJ, and I vaguely remember some tabloid in Chicago which might not still be publishing. I’m sure there are a number of local papers which are, but in a Democrat-dominated place I doubt you’d find one of them. Some weird outlier like Orange County, maybe?

            Nevertheless, the vast majority of the media is indeed as Sastan states. The mere fact that we can sit here and in five minutes accurately list every major American media outlet that is conservative-leaning should tell you something.

          • The Orange County Register used, if I remember correctly, to be a libertarian newspaper, and was one of a group of “Freedom Papers” with a common owner. That was quite a long time ago, so I don’t know if still true.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m not that secretive, so I suppose I should have just said in the first place that the newspaper I mean is the Providence Journal, the biggest Rhode Island newspaper. Rhode Islanders who want a less conservative newspaper have to get the Boston Globe.

          • Sastan says:


            It may well be. Does anyone outside Rhode Island read it? I’m honestly trying not to come off dismissive here. I’m something of a news junkie, I read a dozen feeds every day, and I’ve never been linked to the Providence Journal that I can recall. And my reading skews non-liberal, which should make it more likely.

            I’m sure there are scattered local papers with non-liberal leanings. But if that’s your evidence to contradict the data that 90+ percent of all journalists vote and contribute Democrat, plus the very obvious slant of the news, not just the editorial pages, I’m afraid it doesn’t hold much water.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Sastan, I have no idea how many readers, if any, the ProJo has outside Rhode Island. It is a real newspaper, though, not a little tabloid or anything. I don’t really follow newspapers; it just makes me skeptical of your confident claim that the nearest to hand example doesn’t fit. Makes me wonder how many other local papers you just don’t happen to know about.

          • Chalid says:

            If you go by newspaper endorsements in the last close election (Bush vs Kerry), you get 208 for Kerry vs 190 for Bush; so hardly lockstep liberalism. (20M vs 14M circulation.)

            If you have a better measure, please share!


    • I don’t know a lot about the dark enlightenment people, beyond what I’ve read here. But my impression is that what they are opposed to is mostly democracy, not freedom.

      As a libertarian I’m neutral on democracy. It’s one of the bad ways of running a government, and whether it is better or worse than the other bad ways probably depends on circumstances. I sometimes describe the ideal form of government as competitive dictatorship–the way we run restaurants. I have no vote on what is on the menu, an absolute vote on whether I patronize that restaurant. That would work on the national scale if costs of moving were low enough, and seems to be along the lines of what some of the dark enlightenment people propose.

      On the other hand, if authority-centric conservatives means people who want laws against drugs, and laws against sex out of marriage and gay sex, and laws against pornography, I can respect those of them who make legitimate arguments for their positions but we are basically on opposite sides.

      • Where does the right to exit come from in competive dictatorship?

        • Anonymous says:

          Where does it come from in a parliamentary republic?

        • Ideally it comes from the difficulty of preventing exit.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Also, from the competition. A dictatorship that interfered with the right of exit would have trouble attracting productive citizens. We see this to some extent even now with megastates, but the effect is sapped by (a) the existence of only 200 or so competitors, some really enormous and (b) the myth that the state is the same as the ethnos.

          Still, you’re right to wonder. I don’t doubt that it would require a sea change in how we think about states, and that might be the failure point. The founding fathers underwent a sea change of that sort, but couldn’t come up with a framework that could survive the loss of that mindset.

          • Jiro says:

            Sometimes people are net taxpayers at one time in their life, but net consumers of services at another.

            If you want to prevent people from moving between the low taxes/low services and high taxes/high services states depending on whether they pay taxes or use services, you have to make people owe for the services if they move. But once you do that, you’ve given governments the ability to restrict movement by arbitrarily putting people in debt if they move.

            More concretely, you don’t want someone getting an education where there are high taxes to pay for education, and then moving to a place where there are few taxes and no free education. But if you try to bill them for education when they move, states that provide useless education could also bill anyone who leaves. And states which use taxes to pay for the “service” of oppressing the Jews can stick people who leave with the bill for it because otherwise they “benefitted all their life from our Jew-bashing, they need to pay for it before they leave”.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why would I want to prevent someone from moving to a high taxes/high services state when they are done paying taxes and needs services?

            It’s good for them, and as they are a person in need I kind of sort of care about them in the abstract. It’s bad for the state, but I don’t place moral value on the welfare of states in the abstract. It’s bad for the taxpayers of the state, but they are presumably also the voters who decided to run a high taxes/high services/open admission state, which I think is a damn fool idea but they presumably thought that it (and its obvious consequences) was a good idea. Who am I to override their values and decisions? And if it wasn’t their decision and they don’t like it, then they can presumably leave.

            Sounds like a winning decision all around, except for people who want high taxes/high services/open admission states that are paid for with Someone Else’s Money.

    • The_Dancing_Judge says:

      Many “anti-enlightenment” folks are ex-libertarians (this is a terrible nickname for that category of rightists that we may no longer name, dark enlightenment doesnt mean anti-enlightenment). This is important for understanding the philosophy. Peter Theil is someone who was on the edge of this development, and he talks about it here: http://www.cato-unbound.org/2009/04/13/peter-thiel/education-libertarian

      This is at least part of why there is such afinity between the two.

      • brad says:

        The US libertarian-ish right wing can trace a significant portion of its intellectual heritage to a group of ex-Trotskyites but the neo-conservatives came to hate those they left behind, they didn’t have affinity for them. So I guess that can go either way.

      • @Brad:

        What ex-Trots were an important intellectual influence on libertarianism? Frank Meyer is the only candidate who comes to mind, and although he was an ex-Communist I didn’t think he was a Trotskyite. And he was more an influence on getting libertarians and traditionalists into the same tent than on libertarian thought.

        • brad says:

          I didn’t say influential on Libertarianism but influential on the contemporary libertarian-ish right wing — which I think fairly describes much of the secular right. Irving Kristol and his crowd were who I had in mind.

          • Bruce Beegle says:

            Most people would agree with libertarian positions on a few issues. I don’t know your definitions of “right wing” or “left wing”, but I don’t consider either of them to be libertarian-ish. I definitely would not consider Irving Kristol to be libertarian-ish.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      A lot of people from The-Ideology-That-Must-Not-Be-Named are former libertarians, and still sympathetic about libertarian object-level arguments about things like freedom of association, licensing, and other economic issues. The biggest difference is on the meta-level. Mainstream libertarians believe in the democratic process and spend lots of time and effort voting and running for office, while extreme libertarians tend to be anarchists. Conversely, Moldbug’s teachings posit that elected officials have very little power and that sovereignty is always conserved, which means that trying to influence the democratic process is useless and anarchy is impossible. Instead, theoretical solutions involve investigating alternative forms of government such as monarchy and neocameralism, while practical solutions tend to focus on passivism and building alternative institutions.

      The other big difference is that the libertarian ethos tends to be rather… libertine. “The government should let me have gay sex with my boyfriend” and “the government should let me commit myself to having regular sex with my wife/husband for the rest of my life and raising the resulting children together” are both requests that the government stop interfering in your romantic life, and yet libertarians are much more likely to argue for the former than for the latter. Likewise, the question of whether abortion is permissible under a libertarian system is largely dependent on whether fetuses are considered living human beings or not, but in practice libertarians tend to converge on the answer that increases their ability to have consequence-free sex. Some people have said that the difference comes down to whether you think of individuals or families as the fundamental building block of society; the basic unit that should be protected from government overreach.

      • The inability to commit to marriage is a little more complicated, from a libertarian point of view, than your presentation suggests. You are not merely suggesting that the government should not stop people from making such contracts, you are suggesting that the government should enforce them once made. Even libertarians are not always in favor of enforcing all possible contracts.

        The obvious parallel is a contract by which you sell yourself into slavery, as was possible in some past societies. It isn’t clear whether the libertarian position is that the state should enforce such a contract, should drag escaped slaves back to their masters, or should not.

        So far as abortion is concerned, my impression is that a substantial minority of libertarians are opposed to it.

        • Anonymous says:

          You are not merely suggesting that the government should not stop people from making such contracts, you are suggesting that the government should enforce them once made.

          Without enforcement, a contract is idle words. It doesn’t have to be government enforcement, however. The Amish have their shunning, for example, for those who break their Ordnung.

          A scheme of “marriage recognition” could work – the government doesn’t do marriage, it just recognizes marriage contracts from marriage handling organizations, such as churches (maybe a sort of Unbeliever Marriage Service Database for the fedorakin) to determine whether a person or a set of persons are married.

        • Anonymous says:

          On the other hand, I think it could be reasonably argued that the restrictions regarding marriage go much further than just preventing people from marrying on terms that completely forbid divorce. The justification, as I understand it, for the kind of restrictions I’m talking about is that they’re for the benefit of the children. Couples may not do anything in a prenuptial agreement that would serve to prevent the best interests of the children being met in the event of a divorce (or if they do, it will be ignored).

          I think this is a somewhat flimsy justification, as at no other time are the best interests of the children so carefully considered: married parents can do an awful lot to their kids, from moving them across the country or the world, to intentionally living on a low income in spite of the ability to earn more. It’s only when they divorce are their wishes on how to arrange their lives discarded in favor of maximal concern for their children.

    • Matt C says:

      At least around here, they seemed to focus on contemporary culture gripes that lots of libertarians can sympathize with. If the topics center around exasperation with progressives and idiocratic culture, you probably can’t even tell the difference between those guys and reddish libertarians.

      Had those guys had spent more time talking up the promise of absolute monarchy or rhapsodizing over the return of chattel slavery, that would have been a different story. But I didn’t see those ideas getting brought up for argument.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I have been philosophically limited-government libertarian for some decades. The question is how best to obtain the kind of society in which libertarian practices are dominant.

      For a long time I held to the theory that espousing libertarian principles and voting for libertarian candidates could, at least in the long run, be effective. I did not expect ever to elect a Libertarian politician, but I fancied that showing the flag would keep the ideas alive. In libertarian circles there was the observation that the Socialist Party never took over, but the items in their platform were adopted by both major parties, allegedly because they never gave up and never shut up.

      Over the years I found that I no longer believed this would work. I now fear that there will be no gradual growth of a limited-government mindset, at least in the U.S., and instead we will see the behemoth grow more and more totalitarian. Practically speaking, I think this will happen because any single government intrusion will greatly profit some motivated minority but will not greatly harm the diffuse majority, so there’s no point where people say “Thus far, and no farther”.

      So there are two possibilities. First, the behemoth grows forever, getting asymptotically closer to As Intrusive As Possible. Second, it actually goes past that point, and society falls apart. At that point, you can hope only that somebody has some theory for how to handle the do-over.

      My personal hope is that Friedman-style anarcho-capitalism is what steps into the breach. But a couple of years ago I started trying to pick out the wheat from the enormous quantity of chaff that is Moldbug, and was fascinated to see what struck me as some overlap. This is very strange, and I begin to think I am the only person who sees it. Granted, the resemblance is funhouse-mirror resemblance. But his vision of a “Patchwork”, replacing the U.S. with tens of thousands of petty dictatorships each with a Right of Exit, seemed to me to have a lot of the same advantages as ancap without having to give up the tradition of tying sovereignty to geography.

      I don’t have any objection, myself, to separating sovereignty from geography; and it might be that this is a necessary part of breaking the statist mindset. Still, it’s a long-standing tradition.

      Moreover, there seems to be something about humans that likes kings. Americans fawn over foreign monarchs and their offspring; high fantasy is never about elections; even resolutely democratic Christians refer to their God as Lord. So I wonder if the edifice of, um, AE/AC might turn out to be the best way to dish up a decentralized post-collapse social order.

      Note that I am not a nut; none of this will happen in my lifetime. But I’d still like to have a correct understanding, and to express opinions that will be better for the world that postdates me.

    • Vorkon says:

      This entire comment thread (and several others I’ve seen recently) makes me think that the taboo on the commonly used name for the spectrum of positions that people are referring to here has been a failed experiment, and should be rescinded.

      Yes, it’s true that the word tends to evoke strong emotions in some people, which can influence the quality of the discussion. However, the lack of clarity we’re seeing from all the people stumbling around trying to figure out what to call it now seems to me to be reducing the quality of the discussion even further.

      It’s also true that the fact that it’s a spectrum of positions means that the commonly used term also introduces a certain lack of clarity, but even though not all of them agree 100% with Moldbug, for example, I think it’s a spectrum whose elements are closely related enough to make having a blanket term for it necessary.

      Either way, I’m finding that all this “ideology-which-must-not-be-named” nonsense is growing rather tedious.

    • Cet3 says:

      They both want to reverse Civil Rights legislation, the Great Society programs, and the New Deal. So why would they fight? Both groups know who the real enemy is: the Left.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think there is little argument between them only because conservatives are relatively powerless these days. If you are a conservative then your best bet is probably to join up with the libertarians, in the hopes that their decentralization will help you set up your own sub-societies where you can follow the rules you like, rather than having the left force left-wing ideas onto you without your approval. If you are a libertarian then fighting with the conservatives, who will probably be keen to support you for the above reason, is pointless and silly. As long as they don’t want to impose their conservatism on everyone then you have little reason to care, and even if they do want to they don’t have the political clout to make that demand credible.

  43. Siah Sargus says:

    Well, I’m going to apologize in advance, because this is but rambling and mostly complaining. But apparently the rules say I can post anything here, and I need to vent.

    Well, it’s 2am and I can’t stop shaking. I’ve been stuck at my parents house since my last “breakdown” towards the end of winter earlier this year. If current me could go back in time to me at my most depressed, in that appartment, I don’t think I could give him a sufficiently compelling reason to stay alive. The worst part is that the antidepressants seem to work, increasing the intensity of my good moods and diminishing the bad. But it’s two months till I’m twenty one, I’m several thousand dollars in debt, I’ve been jobless for over six months now, ditto for any college applications, I’m still a virgin, and I still have yet to put on more than a few pounds of muscle. There aren’t any good moods outside of brief distractions. Nothing has gotten better for my love life or my bank account in a very long time. I don’t see a future for myself.

    • When I am feeling down, it helps to do something that produces some positive effect, even if it doesn’t solve the problem I’m down about. Even cleaning off my desk or tidying up my (usually messy) room helps. In your case, that might mean exercising to put on a little muscle, or finding some way to earn a little money to reduce the debt.

      You don’t have to, cannot, solve everything today. But even a little progress helps.

    • Sastan says:

      Baby steps, kid! Do one thing useful every day.

      The hardest part of working out is getting your gym shoes on. Once you get started, it gets easier.

      My best advice on a larger scale is find something to do. Volunteer, get work, whatever. It doesn’t really matter. You’re probably going to hate it. But oddly enough, even hating work makes me feel better when I’m not working. Consider making some sort of medium-term commitment like a missions trip, Peace Corps, even the military if that’s your thing (if it isn’t, stay far away). Those sort of things can help get you jump started and focused outside yourself.

    • Fake Name says:

      What David said about making a little bit of progress helping really is true. Ditto for Sastan both on shitty jobs and on working out. Even pretty awful jobs give one a sense of purpose, routine and something resembling accomplishment. You may not like your job but you accomplished earning some money. If you hate your coworkers on the other hand, get out. On gaining muscle you must eat enough for it. I have found starting strength an excellent workout program. If you’re really underweight you can GOMAD, drink a gallon of milk a day. You are guaranteed to gain weight. If you work out while doing that a lot of it will be muscle and when you stop GOMAD the fat will fall away if you keep exercising.

      When I was 21 I had just dropped out of college saw little hope and could only get shit jobs. I had wasted thousands of dollars of my parents’ money and nothing that could reasonably be called savings. It took me a long time but I’m in my thirties, have a wonderful girlfriend, an ok job and some savings.

      On girls, all that PUA bullshit works. I haven’t read any soi-disant ethical pickuo artists like Mark Manson’s “Models” but Roosh V’s Game and Day Game both contain advice that works. Don’t buy his books, pirate them. He’s an awful human being. Alternatively acquire hobbies, talk to people and ask girls out. Easier said than done I know.

      Good luck.

    • wysinwyg says:

      Hopefully it’s not obnoxious for me to suggest a martial art. You’ll get:
      1) Exercise with reinforcement from other people (easier than going to the gym on your own for me)
      2) Community
      3) Social networking (might help you find a job, let’s you socialize with women in a space where your mind isn’t necessarily on romance or sex)
      4) A reason to get out of the house
      5) Hopefully, confidence

      For the love life stuff, I was in a similar spot at your age. I made it until 30 without having a serious long-term romantic relationship and only occasional bits of unsatisfying, somewhat embarrassing sex. So first of all, even if it doesn’t happen for you for a while, I can tell you that it’s survivable.

      I’d suggest not worrying about it so much and to try to focus on friendships instead. Friendly socializing with women without having any kind of agenda was helpful to me. When it did happen for me, it was quite random. I’d just suggest not having too many expectations about where it’s going to come from or what it’s going to look like.

      All that said, I know how painful it is to feel unwanted in this respect — and to feel it for years. So I won’t pretend it’s easy to just put it to one side and focus on yourself and platonic friendships. But try, because the spirals of self-pity I experienced were much worse than just being alone and being kinda OK with it.

  44. So I think I took the whole reason as memetic immunity and be yourself a bit too far and now I’m allergic to far too many things. I think I need to come back to normality a bit.

    It’s hard to relate to people when you don’t share any common memes. Society just has so much overhead and feels so weird and distant. It’s hard to hold political discussions when people hold silly views.

    This is probably somewhat related to depression as allergy.

    I suspect that mere exposure is a decent treatment. Ultimately, I wish there was a better way to relate to normal people.

    Edit: Relatedly, knowing social dark arts would be nice, but the whole thing turns into a mess of guilt, disappointment in the world, and ughness. Any ideas?

    • Anon says:

      Work on mindful self compassion or loving kindness, preferably in a group setting with a teacher. Reasonable evidence base IIRC, but I’m too lazy to look for studies. One major effect of these practices is becoming a more tolerant person.
      If that’s too much right now you could try keeping a gratitude journal for three weeks. There’s evidence of that working on mood, and in my experience it made me appreciate other people more. “Rationality” isn’t everything, or even the most important thing.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This is going to sound hokey, or BS or something, but I am going to throw it out there: If you are in a bigish city, find an open AA meeting, or perhaps an Al-Anon meeting. Then just listen.

      There is a metric shit-ton of pain in many, many, many lives. Realizing this is helpful.

  45. houseboatonstyx says:

    Here’s some real observation on a topic from recent threads: the experience of wild animals. It’s been said that they are stressed all the time, predators by hunger and prey by constant fear of predators. Apparently not….


    • Jiro says:

      The arguments for the existence of massive wild animal suffering are particularly acute for small, short-lived creatures who may often die early and who have less lifespan to provide positive utility compared to the negative utility from dying. The big animals in the study you describe probably do have a net positive life, but there are a lot more insects, baby fish, etc.

  46. J says:

    I have several data points now in favor of what I mentally call the “man up Nancy” school of psychotherapy. I learned about it from two sources: the first was a continuing ed seminar for medical professionals on Anxiety by a guy from Kaiser. And the second is Sarno’s “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection”, which sets off pretty much all of my bullshit detectors: it’s all anecdote from a single doctor, and he basically passes it off as a cure-all for everything from bursitis to bulged discs to agoraphobia, with no blind studies or controls or any of the expected stuff.

    But I have three data points now that the concept works. It’s been super helpful for my panic attacks / anxiety, and two of my family members who have had Fibromyalgia for years, such that it was painful for them to walk more than a few meters at a time, hip pain, hand, shoulder pain, etc., have been able to dive into their old activities with none of the pain they would have expected.

    The concept is, broadly, that your natural impulse is to baby your pain or anxiety or whatever, causing your boundaries to shrink inward and reset your comfort zone. And your expectations of pain or anxiety or whatever cause a feedback loop that reinforce it.

    So Sarno’s thing, which seems like it’s begging for a malpractice suit, is to basically just ignore your back pain or bursitis or whatever and go do what you normally did, after convincing yourself that you’ll be fine because you understand the feedback loop now and won’t be subject to it.

    Totally hokey, sounds like a recipe for disaster (or at least aggravated injuries), but it’s been a day and night difference for my two family members with Fibro, and it (primarily the Kaiser talk) was instrumental in convincing me how important it is to go out and do things like running that create the same kinds of symptoms I’d get in a panic attack: increased heart rate, labored breathing, sweating, etc., all while thinking to myself “this is healthy and normal”.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      A lot of cognitive-behavioral therapy essentially consists of saying “Man up and deal with it” in a more structured and gradual way.

      Your last paragraph describes the conclusions of decades of psychological research on dealing with panic attacks and phobias: identify the symptoms, recognize them for what they are when they occur, and just deal with them because they’re really not that bad when you don’t blow them out of proportion.

    • PJ says:

      Kind of sounds like a similar phenomenon to http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/30/the-itch. Some pain researchers/therapists have been working on a therapy called graded motor imagery which is designed to address chronic pain problems, http://www.gradedmotorimagery.com/. It still seems like early days, but there are some studies that have been done http://www.noigroup.com/documents/noi_ep_evidence_0610.pdf, though I can’t vouch for their quality.

    • Sastan says:

      With mental stuff, this is quite effective if structured properly.

      With physical things, there’s a lot of introspective work that goes into figuring out if this pain is signalling a real problem or just is something to be pushed through.

      I’ve been an Infantryman, so I have my master’s in pain management. Most of the time, I err on the side of “ehh, fuck it”, and drive on. But there are certain sorts of pain you learn to heed. Nerves are just nerves. If it’s just your nerve endings firing, harden up. If your kneecap is separating, you should probably slow down and immobilize that shit. But on the whole, the vast majority of people pay too much heed to their own aches and pains. In the words of Aladdin, you’d be amazed what you can live through.

      • Vitor says:

        Couldn’t agree more re: physical symptoms. I have chronic heart disease and once of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is to accurately read the warning signs coming from my body. I only started making real progress in this area when I accepted the fact that this is a skill that can be learned, even if it takes years to do so.

        At the same time, walking around in a very fragile body is a constant source of anxiety, and fearful thinking patterns constantly get mixed up with the actual physical signals I should be minding. There are times when the correct attitude really is to “man up and deal with it”, but this can lead to overshooting in the other direction (recklessness, wishful thinking etc), so even if “man up” is often correct advice, it’s quite dangerous and should be applied cautiously.

        • Sastan says:

          With things like heart disease, I concur completely. You have to think through the risks. But for most relatively healthy, relatively young people, the advantages to pushing through usually outweigh the risks.

          But you are also correct that it takes time to learn the difference between types of pain. That stab in the side when you run? Just nerves. It’s like hot sauce, just nerves firing. If you can feel bone grinding or separating, that’s a good indication to stop.

  47. Jeremy Jaffe says:

    content warning: Politics…read at your own risk of being mind killed (http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/)
    So question: what’s the meaning of “democracy”?
    I know some people don’t like semantic questions but I do –
    If only 200 people in the country can vote is that a “democracy”
    Or what if every state in the US was broken up such that all the republican voters were packed into a single district – so that there were only 50 republicans in congress – would the US be called a democracy?
    And by the way, this is not just a philosophical question – there are claims made in social science journals about “democracies are more likely to do x or y or whatever” – so classifying a country as a democracy or not will change what predictions you make about the country. And given the way congressional districts work in the USA, is it still a democracy?
    Do studies like this one matter in the classification: http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FPPS%2FPPS12_03%2FS1537592714001595a.pdf&code=b52f277e5985b60eef0a6e06d5ccf9fa ?
    I think about this question more and more each time I listen to Larry Lessig

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “I know some people don’t like semantic questions but I do”

      Is it irony that you are posting this disclaimer in a rationalist space?

      Roughly speaking, you seem to complaining about two separate things, but I’m not actually sure about what one of them is.

      what if every state in the US was broken up such that all the republican voters were packed into a single district – so that there were only 50 republicans in congress

      Gerrymandering is the common blanket term for concerns of this type. Gerrymandering is definitely one kind of failure mode in democracies. There has been quite a lot of work on this issue, and I think California’s recent electoral reforms were an attempt to address this. Broadly speaking, the principle might be articulated as “everyone in a population should have a vote of equal weight”. You can dicker about how to approximate this in practice, and it is never completely achievable, but the principle is sound.

      If only 200 people in the country can vote is that a “democracy”

      I can’t tell if you are complaining about voter eligibility or representative democracy. Representative democracy is virtually a requirement for a functioning democratic government. Voter eligibility needs to be universal, as much as possible, for democracy to function well for all in society.

      It’s reasonable to disenfranchise for just cause (non-citizens, felons while incarcerated, or youth before the age of majority, for example). But if the body politic does not represent society as a whole it could be said to be “democracy for me, but not for thee”.

    • Anonymous says:

      A parliamentary/representative republic is not really a democracy.

      It’s a system where a large body of common people vote on candidates selected by means obscure, in a multiplayer game against everyone else to satisfy individual and common desires, without assurance that the elected individuals and parties will do what they promised to do, and without effective means of punishing them for defection. Furthermore, those elected are arranged in another game against each other, through even more obscure means vying to get their decisions passed, which is yet another game against the bureaucracy where the elected bodies try to pass legislation such that the black box of civil service will spit out a result that they like.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        That strikes me as just a definition game. There is very little direct democracy in the world.

        The desire to redefine “democracy” to mean only “direct democracy” and not “representative democracy” seems myopic at best. Something, something … trees falling in a forest … sound.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t quite see how you can put power in the hands of the people without running direct democracy – although I’m open to suggestions.

          My point is that the legitimacy of the supposedly democratic states is based on the supposed rulership of the people, where in fact there is very little actual rulership in the hands of the people. Is a definition of a word supposed to have no relevance to the word? I mean, call the USA a republic, that’s okay, it is one. Call the USA a democracy, and that’s not okay, because it isn’t one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Call the USA a democracy, and that’s not okay, because it isn’t one.”

            That is only true using your definition of democracy. The common definition is different.

            “Democracy, or democratic government, is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.”

          • Anonymous says:

            Fine. I concede that the common definition differs from mine.

          • Comment Reader But Not Usually a Poster says:


            Yours and the official definiton are the same. Your issue seem to be more that people are bad/indifferent at democracy. A boss that only does periodic and half ased reviews is still the boss.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Comment Reader But Not Usually a Poster:

            I believe @anonymous is using the construction that is common in some libertarian circles that takes the form “The US is a Republic not a Democracy.” Although he seems to be using that form to argue that we should be a direct democracy, which is rare.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not. Direct democracy is unworkable and quickly collapses into “real” democracy. It’s sort of like the difference between theoretical communism and real communism.

          • Comment Reader But Not Usually a Poster says:


            The phrasing may be libertarian, but variations of the argument are used by all sides. I remember hearing it all the time, in Political Sciences classes, from very left wing students to explain why what they thought the people should care about did not match the governments they voted in.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “The US is a republic, not a democracy” is not a libertarian thing. It’s a Dick from the Internet thing.

          • Nornagest says:

            I associate the complaint with the kids that sat in the back row of my high school civics class.

          • RCF says:

            I don’t see how you can put power in the hands of voters with running a direct democracy. The California Initiative process isn’t very democratic. How you get an initiative passed is that first you spend several million dollars getting your initiative petition signed a sufficient number of times, then spend millions more on ads framing the initiative in such a way that people will vote for it.

    • Punk rock girl says:

      Gonna recommend Robert Dahl’s “How Democratic is the American Constitution?” as a way of introducing some of the basic poli-sci concepts your question touches on. Notice that he asks “how democratic,” not “is it a democracy?” That might be a helpful place to start.

  48. Simon says:

    I think it was through the comments here that I found a “I have no mouth, and I must scream”-type story about an outer space cat-goddess of pain that agonizingly digests evildoers forever.

    No amount of Googling seems to be able to find it for me – does anyone recognize it?

    • Psycicle says:

      “Yes, Jolonah, There is a Hell”

    • Unicyclone says:

      Sounds like the Queen of Pain from Orion’s Arm. The story is called “Yes Jolonah, There Is A Hell.”

      • Acedia says:

        That was horrible.

      • Outis says:

        I read that all and I want my time back. Read “I have no mouth, and I must scream” instead, and skip Jolonah.

        • Vorkon says:

          It wasn’t particularly good, but I don’t think it’s fair to call it “I want my time back” bad. I mean, obviously it’s no “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” but what is?

          I must admit, though, I absolutely cringed at that second “test.” That wasn’t a test for remorse or anything along those lines, that was a test for abject stupidity.

          (Also, a big part of what made “I Have No Mouth…” great, aside from AM’s diatribes and the word-usage therein, was the fact that all this body and psychological horror was happening TO people. It wasn’t just AM describing what he was going to do to them, and being all “oooh, you guys are gonna’ be really screwed once I start!” But still. “I want my time back,” is a pretty strong criticism, and I don’t think this story was terrible, or anything.)

          • Outis says:

            Just to clarify, I was not using hyperbole: I literally meant that reading it was not worth my time, and I would advise my past self not to waste time reading it.

        • Nornagest says:

          Hell, even Surface Detail did it better, and Surface Detail is no I Have No Mouth…

    • Simon says:

      Yes that is it! Many thanks

  49. Daniel Speyer says:

    I’ve run into a lot of discussions of medicine lately in which patients seem to view their doctors less as “ally who helps me with medical issues” and more as “authority figure who has the power to deny me access to medicine I need”. I’m getting most of this second hand, but this seems like a really bad combination. It’s got to be hard to get anything medical done without honest communication, and authority is antithetical to that.

    Are other people seeing this pattern (from either direction)?

    Does anyone else thinking separating the ally and gatekeeper roles would be a good idea?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Would you prefer a situation wherein a doctor were to go ‘awww shucks I -wish- I could give you these antibiotics but these darn pharmacists are at it again’? I can see why it’d be a benefit psychologically, but I’m unsure if the net effect would be positive.

      • Deiseach says:

        There’s a difference between “I won’t prescribe you antibiotics because they don’t work for viral infections” and “No, I won’t recommend you for a consultant’s appointment because I don’t believe the pain is as bad as you make out”.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I think this might be worse in Ireland than here. In Ireland doctors have to be stewards of the state’s scarce health care resources; here in a lot of cases we say “Eh, I don’t think it’ll help you, but it’s your money, do what you want.”

          (and then you get denied by your insurance company. See, we have separated out the ally and gatekeeper, we’ve just done it quietly.)

          • Jaxon Jensen says:

            Scott, I’ve had to order my own tests. I was able to do so because I am very aggressive and educated as a patient (so this meant that insurance clearing my choices was never a concern). But most patients aren’t me and as a medical professional, I am sure you can see the numerous issues resulting from educated, informed patients feeling like they have to literally play doctor with their own medical treatment.

          • Deiseach says:

            You make a good point, Scott, but we do still suffer dreadfully from “Doctor knows best” and there’s a genuine fear of being branded a troublemaker (and treated as such, which means being ignored when you make complaints or talk about symptoms) by doctors and hospitals if you ‘talk back’ – which means ‘sound educated as to what your complaint might or might not be’.

            I’ve mentioned it before on here, how I knew what the consultant was thinking was “Rule out cancer” and yet he still treated me as “typical middle-aged hysterical female, and sure women always exaggerate pain anyway, just keep her calm” when I asked him about it. First thing I did when I got home was hit the Internet and by luck hit on a diagnostic site training-in baby gynaecologists which told them: if patient is Fair, Fat, Forty and Fertile and presents with these symptoms, most likely cause is cancer so perform this procedure to check it out.

            I don’t know why he couldn’t have been honest with me and just said “Yes, the reason I’m ordering this surgical procedure is because we need to rule out cancer” rather than badgering me into having it done and refusing to explain why. Apart from “Doctor knows best, patients shut their cakeholes”.

          • Back when I was a post-doc, my father, having had a heart attack, suggested that I ought to get my blood cholesterol level checked. I went in to the Columbia University hospital, had the test, asked the doctor what the level was. He told me it was fine. I asked what the level was. He appeared reluctant to tell me.

            Eventually he did, I think after figuring out that I was a post-doc rather than an undergraduate. My conjecture was that he felt giving information rather than conclusions would encourage me to self-diagnose, which would be a bad thing.

            Interacting with physicians more recently, I didn’t get that impression. They seemed willing to discuss my medical condition with me, not just what they thought I should do.

            I’m not sure if that is a change over time or a result of the fact that I am now a professor and older than most of the doctors I interact with, both of which would tend to make them treat me as a higher status person than back then.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        Two benefits:

        * You could tell your doctor the symptoms that hint at a viral problem without risking your antibiotic access. The better-informed doctor can then help you pick the right antibiotic, or maybe decide on some other course of treatment.
        * If you try to argue with the gatekeeper, you would now have someone to help with that who knows the system pretty well. This is similar to how doctors today will help patients fight insurance companies.

    • Douglas Knight says:
    • James Picone says:

      I’ve seen that pattern once – when I decided that my sleep problems were becoming bad enough that I should seek medical attention. GP happily referred me to a sleep psychologist, after a while sleep psych suggests melatonin might be a good idea. I look it up, melatonin is prescription-only in Australia for some reason, and even in a special subclass of prescription-only that means you can’t legally import it without a prescription.

      I go to GP, mention melatonin, he says “Go to a health store”. I point out it’s prescription-only. We have a brief discussion in which he notes that it’s mostly used for old people and he isn’t very familiar with its use and also that the automated system has no easy way of prescribing it – it has to be a compounding script.

      I ended up having to get a letter from the sleep psych sent to the GP explaining why melatonin, how much melatonin, and including a photocopy of a study on the use of melatonin in delayed-sleep phase disorder for GP to prescribe it.

      Pretty low-key as far as doctor-as-gatekeeper, but immensely frustrating at the time. I’m kind of dreading what will happen when the script runs out and I have to get the GP to give me more. Seriously considering going on an overseas trip to somewhere where melatonin is over-the-counter and smuggling some back home.

      I’m not sure what a good alternative system would look like, though. An ‘ally’ is ideally someone who knows a lot about medicine and illness and can make good suggestions for treatment. A ‘gatekeeper’ is ideally someone who knows a lot about medicine and illness and can identify when a treatment is inappropriate. There’s a lot of overlap between those two.

  50. semiautorabbit says:

    Curtis Yarvin has a new essay up at Medium about his project, urbit. It’s an interesting meditation on internet history, revolutions, constitutions and the importance of design.

    The subheading “Filtering: community” reminds me a lot of Scott’s hypothetical archipelago.

    My favorite quote from the entire thing:

    One of the most praised texts in 20th-century political science is James Scott’s Seeing Like A State. Scott points out that successful governments encourage social structures which are structurally governable, like a forester planting rows of trees in straight lines. People today have names like “Carter” because medieval English barons made their peasants take surnames, just so their tax databases would have valid primary keys.

    A naive libertarian might call this a bad thing. Simplicity is not tyranny; simple government is good government, which is the opposite of tyranny. The simpler its task, the less energy the government must exert to achieve the same output. Anarchy and tyranny are cousins; so are liberty and order.


    • Seth says:

      Excuse for a moment while I rant, as it’s a topic dear to my heart.

      NO, NO, NO, this is like the distilled essence of wrong. It ranks right up there with all the similar stuff I’ve been seeing recently, which is causing me to think that rationalism/intellectualism/logic is most used for rationalization rather than learning. We just went through 20 years of Internet social development where the idea of society-via-TCP/IP failed as spectacularly as the worst of Communist ideologies or people trying to create communes based on simplistic behaviorism. And for exactly the same reason, it’s all based on toy theorizing that collapses the moment it hits real society. Yet we aren’t LEARNING from this, and the reaction is to try to do it all over again, but with only a better “TCP/IP” (Internet design). AARGGHH. It’s like hitting your head against a wall, and when that doesn’t work (and leaves you bruised and bloody), deciding the problem not with the relatively strength of the wall vs the weakness of your head, but rather that you need to hit the wall with a different part of your head!

      • Anon. says:

        What is Facebook if not society-via-TCP/IP?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Can you explain what you mean by “society via TCP-IP”?

        • Seth says:

          I mean the idea that if one creates a technical network protocol with certain idealized properties – “nonhierarchical”, any node can reach any other node, automatically resolve transmission conflicts – that will by magic (maybe a kind of sympathetic magic like voodoo) produce a human society where all individuals and organizations have these properties. That is, it (both network protocol and human society) will be self-organizing, without a central authority, amiably resolving conflicts for mutual benefit, etc.

          For the basic articulation of this, see https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html

          Note (my emphasis):

          “Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. …”

          This idea has failed so thoroughly that almost all the adherents now at least need to acknowledge that in some fashion. Unfortunately, the way many are dealing with it is by saying they didn’t get the network design right the first time.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            This seems to touch an important area, but I’m boggled at precisely what you’re talking about.

            Like, to some degree the Internet seems to have succeeded quite well in letting people form their own weird little communities, with this place here being a decent example.

            Granted, these communities are hierarchical and run by moderators/webmasters. Was there previously some belief that the structure of networks themselves would make this unnecessary? How?

          • roystgnr says:

            I think “saying they didn’t get the network design right the first time” only sounds nonsensical if you don’t think the “network” design is important. If you don’t see any difference between interaction on Usenet vs Metafilter vs Reddit vs Twitter etc., then that may sound sensible, but if so then you’re in the same class as the “Democrats and Republicans are two halves of the same party!” ideologues – your inability to distinguish differences near the median is due solely to your incredible distance from it.

          • Seth says:

            It’s a bit difficult to convey the, err, “enthusiasm” of 1996 these days, and how much some net-evangelists seriously proposed that the Internet was going to make national government obsolete. They weren’t talking about “weird little communities” of chatters. Rather, direct quote again:

            “Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.”

            That’s not about chatting, to put it mildly.

            The idea was “Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications.” Which, translated, was that the network protocol has certain properties, people use the network protocol to communicate, therefore (making clear the equivocation fallacy) people’s communications would have the same *semantic* properties as the idealized network protocol *structural* properties.

          • Seth says:

            roystgnr – But it’s true – Democrats and Republicans are extremely close by the standards of e.g. European parliaments. And even more so from the perspective of e.g. China. It does indeed look like an intra-party factional squabble in a permanent one-party state, from the perspective of many other countries.

            Which is not to say there are no differences – but that’s true all the time in factional disputes. Along those lines, I love this series:


          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Seth:

            Thanks for the “If It Happened There” link. They’re pretty great!

            Also, I completely agree with you on the Democrats vs. Republicans thing. Of course the differences will seem huge to people immersed in the day-to-day flow of politics, but overall they’re not very big.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Scott Alexander:

            There is a persistent belief in the Utopian ideal. Many people offer various different methods which they purport will lead to the ideal, but all of the agree that the the ideal is possible. And not just possible, but “fairly easy” to reach!

            What if it is not possible to achieve Utopia?

            This strikes me as the essence of Seth’s rant.

          • semiautorabbit says:

            I think the lesson from “If it Happened There” is how easy it is to spin an incident without outright lying, double for when it happens in a foreign country.

            Kinda like the War Nerd’s point about how when foreign media is on the side of the guys *getting* bombed, they show footage from the ground. When they’re for the guys *dropping* the bombs, it’s aerial footage.

          • Deiseach says:

            Scott, there really was this idea floating around that the nature of the World Wide Web would fundamentally change society because there really would be No Roolz!

            You can’t control us or shut us down, we’re self-organising, we are forming a new culture that’s completely transparent and free of censorship which is now physically impossible due to the nature of the transmissions on the Web and there will be a globally-connected cyberspace community that will act in its own interests and topple all old modes of government control and attempts to impose that on its members.

            William Gibson and cyber-punk had a hell of an influence on thought about what would happen. This is partly why I tend to smile at the whole transhumanism thing because (like all the former panics about what was going to destroy the world and global warming now) I’ve seen it before: computers will make everything different! We’ll be living in virtual-reality communities! Moore’s Law!

            Da Future is now and now is us! 🙂

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Seth – ““Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.””

            Property – changed massively, with more change to come. I personally am looking forward to downloading cars. I already can download guns.

            Expression – I think this one looks like a pretty solid win.

            Identity – I’m Anonymous. How do you do?

            Movement – I suppose it depends on how you define it, but I’d say it’s a minor win with expected gains in the future. The internet has directly resulted in me living in another country for a couple years.

            Context – no clue what he means by that one, so can’t judge.

            “This idea has failed so thoroughly that almost all the adherents now at least need to acknowledge that in some fashion. Unfortunately, the way many are dealing with it is by saying they didn’t get the network design right the first time.”

            How has it failed, exactly?

          • BBA says:

            @FacelessCraven: That’s evolution, not revolution. 20 years ago the cyberutopians were predicting that the Internet would make all governments and corporations irrelevant. Didn’t happen – the governments are all still there. The Internet killed a few corporations but launched its own to replace them. The old social order is still largely intact.

            It still might happen but I’m not holding my breath.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Wow, that “If It Happened There” thing is remarkably abusive. I really can’t imagine Slate publishing articles that sneered at any other country in that fashion besides the United States.

          • darxan says:


            Here’s one of those wide-eyed dreamers

            So guys, that is the plan: We destroy the state through higher mathematics. We do this by replacing the current institutional mechanisms of corporations with cryptographic mechanisms. This will give more people the opportunity to evade and resist taxes.

            Man, James A. Donald sure done changed.

          • BBA says:

            That post talks about PGP, with its anarchic web-of-trust model, like its adoption is inevitable. As it turned out it was too difficult for mortal users to figure out – who should sign your key, which keys you should sign and so on. Instead the dominant paradigm in cryptography is SSL/TLS with its feudal structure – the server gets its certificate from a CA, the CA is given the right to issue certificates by a higher-level CA, etc.

            How this corresponds to Mr. Donald’s current views…no comment!

    • What I found amusing about _Seeing Like a State_ was that the author was making interesting points likely to appeal to libertarians, but going to a good deal of trouble to make it clear that he wasn’t one of those horrible libertarians.

  51. Xerxes says:

    Scott, your item number 5 gives too many details, and I fear for the sanity of your readers. My advice is to go put the book back where you found it, and forget all about it. Posting about this was a huge mistake.

  52. Anon. says:

    When are you going to write a book, Scott? Aphorisms, essays, short stories, something. The book audience is completely different from the blog audience.

  53. Mark says:

    I would like to recommend the book Tough Trucks by Tony Mitton as a fantastic example of functional poetry.

    (“The driver starts the engine, and when the way is clear, accelerates along the road, and turns the wheel to steer.”)

    • How does “functional poetry” differ from other sorts of poetry?

      • Anonymous says:

        Instead of doing a few different motions and aiming for aesthetic-looking verses, they do verse-of-the-day and kipping (named after the renowned poet Kipling)

        • Still unclear. I’m a fan of Kipling. In what way is this work like/unlike his?

          • Mark says:

            I think that was a joke about “functional fitness”.

            Um… functional poetry? I don’t know, kind of like poetic prose maybe? It just struck me that Tough Trucks manages to get the information across in a really concise fashion, about an absolutely everyday topic, but with a poetic rhythm to it. It is a joyful thing – that rhythm, aesthetic qualities, do not interfere with the efficient transmission of purely factual information…

      • Tom Hunt says:

        Functional poetry has no side effects or external data dependencies.

        (Couldn’t resist.)

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      Another book recommendation: Carnivores by Adam Reynolds, which concisely analyses misapplications of the libertarian harm principle within ecological ethics. Three case studies.

  54. Mark says:

    About ten years ago, I got really drunk and overslept, missing work. I spent the day reading Lovecraft stories online before going to a concert in the evening.

    That was a good day.

    I have never done anything for pay that mattered. Working is completely pointless. The reason why working is completely pointless is because we make social-blah-blah dependent upon work – so people pretend to do useful things and then everyone else must do the same. There is some small amount of work that needs to be done, and it would be done better if all the other people pretending to work got out of the way.

    If you have a basic income people will still want to cure cancer. They will still want to grow and pick tomatoes. All of the other social shit will fall by the wayside and people will have dinner parties instead.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This seems intutiively right, but it doesn’t make sense that companies would hire more people than they absolutely have to.

      • Mark says:

        I don’t know. I really don’t know.
        But the longer I live, “it doesn’t make sense” seems to be less and less convincing as an argument against society having done something.

        • On the other hand, “it doesn’t make sense to me” is weak evidence that it doesn’t make sense. The world is a complicated place, each of us understands only a small part of it, and there is a natural tendency to underestimate how much we don’t know.

          My rule as an economist is, after proving that something people are doing doesn’t make sense, to try to figure what mistake I am making.

          • Brian says:

            I do this as well. If something doesn’t make sense to me, it is an indicator that I should try to find the piece of information that I am missing. This is a much more useful perspective, because it leads to “a more accurate map” of the world than the “This just doesn’t make sense” perspective.

          • Mark says:

            I think that the danger for *most* people is that our theories of how society functions interfere with our ability to observe evidence that contradicts those theories.
            If you suffer from *that* problem, simply acknowledging that evidence that you don’t understand exists, is a step forward.

      • Jason K. says:

        ‘What’s best for the company’ and ‘what the manager wants and can get away with’ aren’t always aligned. Extra bodies might be around because (not an all inclusive list):

        Manager likes them.

        There is a hiring freeze, so they are ‘spares’.

        Manager either struggles with or is psychologically unable to fire people.

        Manager is protecting/growing a personal fiefdom. A rough indicator of importance is how many people are under you.

        Manager doesn’t want a headcount reduction next year. In some places, if you don’t use all of your budget in a period, your budget will be cut the next period.

        That said, I disagree with the assertion that most people work in unnecessary jobs, at least in the private sector. A small percentage of waste? Probably. But I doubt it is more than 10-15% on average. The public sector isn’t quite under the same selection pressure, so it might be worse there.

        • discursive2 says:

          This, though I’d revise “‘What’s best for the company’ and ‘what the manager wants and can get away with’ aren’t always aligned” to “almost never aligned”. If hiring managers’ salaries equaled (company net profits / their personal share), that would be aligned incentives… but I can think of precisely 0 large companies that work that way.

          I also think it’s less of a factor of people’s entire jobs being unnecessary (which I agree is likely the minority of people in the private sector), and more of a factor of what percentage of work a person does that’s actually creating value vs just making work for other people / dealing with work created by other people.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        Companies are not purely economic institutions. They have an enormous social dimension. In additional to the principle-agent problems courtesy of Jason K, like every other social activity, we have norms about work.

        The ability to work is not evenly distributed. Either among individuals, or in the same individual across time. It is impossible to hire only people that are capable of working 20 hours a day, every day, indefinitely. It is just impossible. For one, it is impossible to determine their actual work capacity before hiring them. Moreover, if a company tried, as soon as one of those employees has a death in the family or contracts pneumonia, then the company would be screwed. So companies themselves have an incentive to build in a buffer.

        The vast majority of people really can’t (/wont) work much at all, and the few that do work ever so slightly more get meritocracied into the handful of jobs that require it (and the even fewer who are downright superhuman become entrepreneurs, or venture capitalists, or whatever). But since “not working” is an unalloyed sin, and nobody is capably of being a saint all the time, we have elaborate rituals around working that keep everyone in line with the herd. Anyone who fail to do the rituals while not working becomes evil, and those who do all the right rituals may be anointed and allowed to work more.

        Companies (say, Amazon, its been in the news) that try to eliminate these rituals, and force all their employees into being saints all the time receive social blowback, and run into problems managing their employees. Critical reports in the NYT and the unusually public and acrimonious rebuttals and counter rebuttals, for example. The “corporate culture” gets described as “toxic.” This is because everyone is explicitly evil. Both according to their prior lifetime of acculturation (because they are not allowed to partake in the usual rituals to excuse their failings) and by the explicit emphasis the company puts on excising evil. If you’re not crying at your desk at 3am, you’re evil and we’re going to fire you–do not pass “Go,” do not bring in a note from the doctor about your chemotherapy, do not collect severance benefits.

    • Jaxon Jensen says:

      What makes you believe this in a world where SSDI hasn’t brought about the mincome utopia? I also don’t see a lot of trust fund people out working the fields, even with WWOOF. My eyes have yet to observe people doing what you’re talking about it in the absence of a real work economy.

      • Mark says:

        What makes me believe it is everything I have ever seen at work, and the fact that I don’t know what SSDI is.
        (Your eyes might not have shown you what hasn’t happened yet because it doesn’t exist, but my eyes have certainly shown me what does happen and what does exist.)

        • Jaxon Jensen says:

          SSDI is Social Security Disability. In casual parlance among average people it is sometimes referred to as the “crazy check”. It was originally for extreme physical disability but has mutated in the last twenty years into a practically speaking mincome for several million people of varying health statuses. The Last Psychiatrist has written a bit about this. There were no flowerings of creative impulse among people of normal physical and mental health who were able to navigate the hurdles to receive this income (having a child who doesn’t speak English means the child can potentially receive SSDI, for example).

          But more directly speaking, we have the test case of trust fund recipients, people who explicitly don’t have to work for a living. And if you can demonstrate that they are a majority or even a plurality of our cancer-researchers or whatever, then I would be way more open to the mincome argument. But my own observed experiences with people receiving mincomes don’t reflect your optimism.

          • I believe Larry Niven was a trust fund kid, and still wrote quite a lot of good books. But that may be the exception rather than the rule.

          • rsaarelm says:

            Trust fund kids could do the sort of impressive stuff one can do by oneself, and that they mostly don’t is some amount of evidence. But you can’t research cancer cures alone, and you won’t be very effective with it if you only have other trust fund kids to work with. To make things get really interesting, you need a situation where everybody in the fraction of a percent of the populace who have the aptitudes and skills for eg. cancer research can just drop their paid jobs on a whim and get together to found a cancer reseach nonprofit that essentially runs on zero budget (medical testing still needs actual money, but the researchers staying fed and housed while they do literature review, write articles and plan and compose grants for the medical trials live on UBI).

            And you’d want to see the second-order effects where people dropping out of their paid jobs to form random nonprofit organizations where they work with a very day-job-like intensity but don’t care about getting a paycheck are a visible and sizable part of the public culture, so a lot more people are going to be exposed to the idea that you can just go and do something like that. The present problem is that most of the day-job-like-work capable people have actual paid day jobs, so they aren’t around interacting daily with the trust fund kids and the disability check recipients coming up with interesting things to do.

          • JDG1980 says:

            There were no flowerings of creative impulse among people of normal physical and mental health who were able to navigate the hurdles to receive this income (having a child who doesn’t speak English means the child can potentially receive SSDI, for example).

            The problem with this argument is that people who make questionable SSDI claims are pretty obviously not a random cross-section of the American public. Rather, they are self-selected for lack of work ethic and/or civic-mindedness.

            But more directly speaking, we have the test case of trust fund recipients, people who explicitly don’t have to work for a living. And if you can demonstrate that they are a majority or even a plurality of our cancer-researchers or whatever, then I would be way more open to the mincome argument.

            That’s not how we should be looking at the statistics. Suppose for the sake of argument that trust fund recipients are 3% of the U.S. population, but 6% of cancer researchers are trust fund recipients. (Those numbers are completely made up.) This isn’t “a majority or even a plurality”, but if true, would indicate that trust fund recipients are twice as likely as other randomly selected individuals to become cancer researchers.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            SSDI isn’t relevant because its MINCOME, not basic income.

            Key to basic income is that everybody gets it no matter what. On SSDI if you start making music and make money you lose the SSDI check, your health insurance, and if the music falls through you’ll be with no income whatsoever for over a year. Additionally the amount of money is so small (less than a minimum wage job, albeit with government healthcare) that people getting SSDI are generally genuinely unable to work. A combination of non total disability and a lack of skills.

          • discursive2 says:

            Do we have empirical evidence at all around the trust fund thing, or is this just anecdotes? My anecdotal sense is that trust fund kids bifurcate along “party and live it up” and “try to make a contribution” lines. Interesting article about rich chinese kids and their life choices: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2015-10-01/children-of-the-yuan-percent-everyone-hates-china-s-rich-kids

      • orangecat says:

        Does SSDI have the problem where it goes away if you start earning any measurable income, giving you an effective marginal tax rate of near 100%?

        • Protagoras says:

          Indeed it does.

        • I once calculated my effective marginal tax rate at roughly 200% – each extra dollar my employer gave me left me a dollar worse off. (Not disability, mind you; the main factor was child-care subsidies.)

          Without wanting to argue the rights and wrongs, it was a very demoralizing situation to be in.

    • I think this hinges on your definition of what work “needs” to be done, and I suspect yours is more narrow than most people’s.