OT33: Opeth Thread

This is the weekly open thread. That may be a little too frequent for an open thread, I’m not sure yet. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.

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1,027 Responses to OT33: Opeth Thread

  1. Elliot Woods says:

    What is the most effective way to donate money and help refugees?

  2. Bryan Hann says:

    Hmm. White chicks dating black guys. Appropriation?

  3. In a recent post, Scott suggested that racial minorities tend to stick to the mainstream in other areas, rather than joining other minority movements. But I just came across a Gallup poll indicating that black, Hispanic, and Asian people are more likely to identify as LGBT than white people: http://www.gallup.com/poll/158066/special-report-adults-identify-lgbt.aspx Can you square that with that previous statement?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Any word on the potential Boston/Cambridge meetup?

  5. sartorius says:

    Scott, what do psychiatrists wear at work? Business wear? White coats? Scrubs?

  6. mordy says:

    I was thinking this week about how impossible it is to gauge the size + impact of a particular fringe political opinion. Some examples: How many people are boycotting the new Star Wars movies bc of white supremacist concerns? How many Christians are boycotting Starbucks because of the Christmas coffee cup fiasco? How many people are boycotting Israel because of BDS? How many students on college campuses are fueling the “coddling” trend stories?

    I have no idea for all of the above. And I don’t mean like I need a literal figure but more like I don’t even know if these are marginal phenomena or real trends. The biggest problem is that too many people have an interest in making them seem bigger than they really are. Proponents of these positions want it to seem like there is broad consensus for their opinion so that they can get their ideas out into society and normalize them, thus shifting the terms of the discourse over. Antagonists of these positions want them to seem large so as to galvanize people on the other side of the debate who might otherwise dismiss these positions as too marginal to worry about. The media wants these movements to seem large so that they have an excuse to devote coverage to a phenomenon that might otherwise not be noteworthy at all.

    So how do I have any idea which of these I need to pay attention to and which are total meaningless distractions?

    • Protagoras says:

      Yeah. I’m an academic, and I have lots of friends who are academics, and so I tend to assume that the horror stories about things going on at colleges are pretty fringe, because I don’t see stuff like that and none of my academic friends at other schools see it either. So it seems more likely to me that it’s a rare phenomenon that the media blows up whenever it happens than that my experience and those of my friends are non-representative. But I could of course be wrong, and I have no way to judge the other cases you mention and so share your uncertainty about those.

      • Guy says:

        Yeah, I tend to assume they are rare and/or misrepresented (see: Yale), but that might have to do with the kind of school I’m at and the departments I’m involved in.

      • mordy says:

        The problem with relying on your own personal experiences is that someone who has experienced these academic horror stories (and we know there are such people since they tend to be the professors writing about them for Salon, Atlantic, etc) can just as validly conclude that it is a real phenomenon. I think you’re onto the correct answer though which is we’d have to run polling (probably of professors and students alike) to get any kind of indication. One of my fields of interest is Israel so there I’m familiar enough with the data to conclude that the introduction of BDS, at least into American politics, has made no discernible impact on the polling of American opinions on Israel. Of course, that only tells me that there has been no impact to date but says nothing about whether it might have an impact in the future. If the argument for a given phenomenon being important is that it’s in its infancy but might become a major force, knowing its impact at this moment is unhelpful. But if the argument is that the phenomenon is already a major issue, then at least we can test that.

  7. Wolf says:

    Kickstarter for a Grow-Your-Own-Mealworms-Kit. The price is a bit steep, but it’s a cool project.


    • Teresa says:

      This seems absurdly expensive. You can grow your own mealworms for under $50. There are lots of instructions online. Look for them in the context of having pet reptiles.

  8. Guy says:

    So, I’m re-reading untitled and the main body font seems to have become all tiny since the last time I looked at it. This does not seem to have happened to other old posts, based on a random sample of one (this neat thing from the days of the Anti-Reactionary FAQ). Is this intentional discouragement against reading a controversial post, or a terrible travesty? Or something else? Is there a conspooracy?

    (also at least one image is broken; it is the collage of evil nerd-jews)

    • Fifey says:

      I imagine he made the font smaller to make it difficult to read, yes. Scott, thanks a lot for sticking up for yourself and not taking the post down, BTW. Apologizing never gets you anywhere with these people so all you can do is send a signal to others that they don’t need to give in to the bullying.

  9. Martin-2 says:

    What I think many of these comments miss is that to the appropriated party it can matter a great deal who’s doing the appropriating.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Pretty good article, with many examples of different sub-groups doing the … imitations. I’ve been thinking of making the SJW-esque statement that it matters whether the ‘appropriators’ have so many more resources (numbers, money, education, media presence, etc) than the appropriatees — that the -ed version can block the -ee version from the -ee’s, effectively ‘killing’ the -ee version.

      For example, suppose a tribe of Aboriginals in Australia are very poor, have little education in English and no formal instruction in their own tribal language, and the only exposure the young people have to concepts like ‘the Dreamtime’* is English pop psychology books. The pop psyc version may overwrite the original (or cause intelligent readers to dismiss the whole subject).

      With the gamers’ complaint, practicing their original culture required commercial game producers to produce what the gamers wanted. A wider market ‘appropriates’ those companies.

      When the –ee’s have a strong culture with resources of its own, not needing outside resources, they can just laugh at the clueless outsiders.

      I don’t think that serious versions of Christianity are harmed by pictures of angels on greeting cards (the harm, if any, has already been done).

      * whatever that really meant!

  10. Careless says:

    Ok, so I recently posted that my friends were not that dedicated to candidates, but since then, one of them has gone full Carson. *sigh*

  11. Mark says:

    Which is better, an obviously stupid statement, or an ambiguously clever one?

  12. Cauê says:

    Many explanations of why it could be annoying, not so much on why it would be wrong.

    And I say this as someone who’s significantly more surprised when Hollywood gets something right about my country than when they don’t (and the same is true in the other direction as well).

  13. vV_Vv says:

    To Scott:

    You mentioned in a post that many schizophrenic people have disorganized speech patterns known as “formal thought disorder”.

    I was looking at some samples of text generated by neural language models (that is, neural networks applied to text modeling) such as this one or this one, and it seems to me that they kinda fit the Wikipedia’s description of speech patterns in formal thought disorder: more or less syntactically coherent on the surface, at least locally, but with little or no discernible meaning or with sudden topic shift and interruptions of logical flow.

    What is your professional opinion about that?

    I think it’s interesting because these neural language model samples are more or less the textual equivalent of the image “dream” samples from neural networks for image processing. You commented that these “dream” samples might look like acid trips or mystical visions or visual psychotic hallucinations. Do you think it is possible that these text samples are analogue to the linguistic form of psychotic hallucinations?

  14. pls says:

    Migrate your site to a reddit clone similar to lesswrong where only you can post threads and weekly threads are automatically created. This should solve the comments problem.

    • While I wouldn’t want SSC culture to become too much like LW, their site format is fairly good and my personal kneejerk reaction is that this is a good idea. I guess the only problem is the inability to make casual or superficially anonymous posts without registering, which I’ve heard discussed as a positive thing on SSC.

      • pls says:

        You can always just disable email requirements. Getting a handle with some easy password should be no problem for someone who wans to post anonymously.

  15. Tentative, not fully formed idea I’d like everyone’s help with – Sometimes having no explicit incentives in a workplace is better than having poorly calibrated incentives, because we risk destroying subtle, informal incentives. For example, academic culture (let’s assume truth-seeking parts of academia and ignore all the political stuff for now). In academia, we can imagine a fragile but refined-over-many-years culture that provides non-financial rewards to being good at discovering the truth. For example, respect, admiration and status. In the absence of any other incentives, even if these incentives are weakish, they are the only obvious external motivators and as long as they’re carefully applied then you get desired results at least once in a while.

    However, introduce a powerful artificial new incentive or requirement, like for example tying tenure to a quantifiable level of publication with journal classification and so on, and you crowd out more subtle social incentive structures that might be in place. This is a real problem if the new incentives are not very finely tuned. So maybe John from research doesn’t care at all about truth-seeking, but just writing sensational or downright wrong papers that are optimised to get published. Not only is this a perverse outcome in itself, it also damages the existing social incentives by making the respect and status in the field seem inauthentic and artificial. Worse case, the new incentive isn’t an incentive, its compulsory and forces everyone to waste all their time generating sensational rubbish just to stay afloat, even if they are internally motivated to truth-seek.

    I’m certain in days gone by that there were lay-abouts who found academia the perfect resting ground. But I’d imagine there would still be plenty of social incentive for a reasonable subset of people to achieve highly. As I think intellectual achievement is a sort of finely tuned phenomenon, I’d prefer to accept the cost of a few lazy good for nothings so long as we don’t hinder the useful ones producing intellectual stuff of value. If laziness and inefficiency are simply at unacceptable levels, I’d prefer to less directly mess with academic incentives and instead try to manipulate the academic culture to really dislike time-wasting and uselessness. That seems possible given the subculture’s heros are curing cancer or inventing cheap building methods etc etc.

    • Chalid says:

      In business, tying pay/promotion too closely to individual performance can destroy team members’ willingness to help each other.

      • Nice example. I’ve noticed poltical/economic opinions on financial incentives range from uncritical unqualified approval in every situation to kneejerk disgust and an unwillingness to consider them at all. It seems the truth is more like it needs to be applied under specific conditions and structural scenarios. I’d like to further develop my understanding of those conditions/scenarios, if you have any suggestions for further reading.

        • Chalid says:

          Google “stack ranking” in Microsoft for a fairly notorious example.

          “Principal-agent problem” is the general academic concept, which should lead you to lots of reading (I alluded to it upthread too). Shareholders as principal and management/employees as agent is probably the #1 most significant and studied example of that problem. But I have no particular book recommendations.

          • The stack ranking stuff looks really interesting. Thanks.

            I’ve thought a bit about the principle-agent thing before. It seems to be a slightly different though closely related concept. Here it seems that the miscalibration is related to the person you are paying, rather than the thing you are paying for them for. It sounds like the two things need to be combined into a larger framework, but I’m having trouble thinking how that could work exactly. It seems to be quite contextually specific, or maybe I’m just not seeing the patterns 🙁

          • Predictably, I am not the first person to make the argument I made in this subthread. Looks like there’s some reading material available at least

  16. Arbitrary_greay says:

    I tried puzzling out what harms there were in cultural appropriation that weren’t outweighed by beneficial tradeoffs for years. It wasn’t until I got some “boots on the ground” perspectives that included tangible harms that I “got it,” or at least parts of it:

    But these examples have motte-and-bailey’d the term almost even more than the “systemic -ism means you can’t be -ist towards the privileged” bullshit definitions.

    So I still don’t really pay attention to the “don’t do it” school of appropriation thought, which is the regular bludgeoning use that you get, and to me, does not outweigh the tradeoffs, especially in artistic development, or scientific. Wheels can get incidentally reinvented. Tabooing further wheel development because of it’s sacred to someone is a bad thing.
    Instead, I try to examine the concerns as listed in that second link, whether or not a certain action might financially contribute to systems that exacerbate wealth inequality of the “poor get poorer” variety, or to unfair criminalization.

    I don’t worry too much about anything that falls under, as Scott put it in his latest post, “The conflation of the vitally important will toward political reform with the most trivial pop culture clickbait.”

  17. Bruno Brant says:

    Yeah, that’s their best song. Although I do love their new phase with the last two albums.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I actually don’t listen to them (yet; I probably should try them out sometime). I just Googled “best Opeth song” so I could have a video to put in here. I’m glad Google gave me the right result.

  18. Deiseach says:

    With the World Anti-Doping Agency report in the news, and the alleged widespread doping by Russian athletes, and Olympians being banned subsequently, does anyone think that the IOC will throw in the towel on this, admit they can’t get rid of it, that amateurism in sport only really counts for the tiny nations (like Ireland) that don’t have extensive, professional training regimes (we’ve just shot ourselves in the foot again re: boxing, where we do have a good record, with internal fighting between the governing agencies of sports meaning a top trainer has been pushed out) and that athletes nowadays are professionals –

    – so they’ll treat them like American racehorses and permit athletes to compete even if they’re taking particular compounds. There will be permitted levels of steroids and what have you and the only doping tests will be to make sure that athletes are not going over the maximum levels or taking the few banned substances remaining on the list.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Why would it be easier to enforce a “no more than X steroids” rule than a “no steroids” rule? I would think it would be harder, especially when you take individuald differences in metabolism into account.

      • Deiseach says:

        I really do think eventually they’ll throw in the towel on this, because it’s not stopping and it’s not going to stop, because the rewards are too great and unenhanced natural human performance is not going to make the big record-breaking feats that attract TV audiences which attracts sponsors which is where the money is.

        “World’s Fastest 100 meters!” where it’s 0.00001 of a second faster than the previous record is going to get boring fast.

        So either we go right back to amateur days and only the small nations are (relatively) clean and their athletes can be considered to have set honest(ish) records, or they accept reality and say “Okay, it’s dumb to slap a doping ban on people for taking over-the-counter cough medicine, so we’re let all those go. And we’ll relax the War on Drugs so that if you’re a bit over on [whatever], we’ll chalk it down to natural variance.”

        Think of it as the equivalent of letting junkies shoot up in clean rooms with needle exchange programmes and no punitive measures; accept that blood-doping and steroids are the way sports have gone, and hope to keep some kind of lid on it by agreeing “Fine, level X is okay, level Y is not”.

        Like not busting someone for having a controlled substance as long as it’s a small amount and for personal use only 🙂

      • Deiseach says:

        I really do think eventually they’ll throw in the towel on this, because it’s not stopping and it’s not going to stop, because the rewards are too great and unenhanced natural human performance is not going to make the big record-breaking feats that attract TV audiences which attracts sponsors which is where the money is.

        “World’s Fastest 100 meters!” where it’s 0.00001 of a second faster than the previous record is going to get boring fast.

        So either they ban all the top-ranked countries (as Russia is being threatened with a ban) and strip their Olympians of their medals (which is why the Irish guy who came fourth in the Walk is hoping to be awarded a bronze medal now the gold medallist is banned) and go right back to amateur days and only the small nations are (relatively) clean and their athletes can be considered to have set honest(ish) records – hope you enjoy the next Olympics with no Russians or Chinese or other top-ranked nations with banned athletes! and the USA may not be too sure of getting in either! – or they accept reality and say “Okay, it’s dumb to slap a doping ban on people for taking over-the-counter cough medicine, so we’re letting all those go. And we’ll relax the War on Drugs so that if you’re a bit over on [whatever], we’ll chalk it down to natural variance.”

        Think of it as the equivalent of letting junkies shoot up in clean rooms with needle exchange programmes and no punitive measures; accept that blood-doping and steroids are the way sports have gone, and hope to keep some kind of lid on it by agreeing “Fine, level X is okay, level Y is not”.

        Like not busting someone for having a controlled substance as long as it’s a small amount and for personal use only 🙂

        If the War on Drugs is not a shining success in the rest of the world, why do you think it’s going to be a success in sports?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          I have a few athlete aquaintences. One is a runner. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dope. I’m pretty sure if there were a maximum allowable level of dope, he’d be taking it. If you feel like you are in a tournament field, you will kill and die for any edge you can get. I think that’s a very different dynamic from the war on drugs.

        • Deiseach says:

          Not to sound snide, but from what I gather reading the comments on here, modafinil is illegal in the USA except for a very small list of medical conditions, right? And you lot are always discussing how to import it via slightly dodgy not-quite-legal-or-are-they avenues for its beneficial effects for your study, private work, or (I don’t know) day jobs.

          Imagine your work performance on modafinil meant you would get a bonus of anywhere between $30-100k per year. Would you all follow the path of virtue and say “No, no, my country’s government bans this unless I have the following conditions, which I do not” and plug away as your normal unenhanced selves? Especially if others are less scrupulous about using enhancement?

          Because you guys are pretty sure you know how to use it safely and that all this banning is a bit over the top 🙂

          So why wouldn’t athletes who can see the difference between an enhanced performance that will get them sponsorship deals worth $30-100k per year for the consistent Top 10 in the world and one that will not decide that, after all, they’re getting good medical advice about using steroids or whatever and that they know how to use them safely and all this banning is a bit over the top?

          Do you really think they have any more impetus to tread the path of virtue and plug away as their unenhanced natural performance selves, especially when others are enhancing their performance?

          Or that ever more draconian crackdowns and testing is going to be any more successful than the non-sporting War on Drugs?

          • Anonymous says:

            Nobody gets arrested for modafinil, and if you’re caught taking modafinil you don’t get $30-100k skimmed off your salary and blacklisted from prestigious jobs. If anything, I think your argument goes towards the opposite of your position.

    • Psmith says:

      Since working PEDs have existed, sports in general have trended pretty consistently in the direction of increased restrictions, and doping busts don’t seem to be associated with relaxing the restrictions. If anything, WADA and the like tend to treat them as notches on the gun butt, rather than reasons to reconsider. I don’t see this as any different.

  19. Dan Parker says:

    the first part of vox’s most recent podcast is basically “politics is the mind-killer” from LW in an easily digestible podcast format. ezra klein says “updating your priors” and everything! it’s not super high-quality but i thought it was pretty interesting to see that kind of discussion from a mainstream news outlet.


  20. Careless says:

    712 comments in a day for an open thread. Not sure “too frequent” is your problem

    • Anonymous says:

      The problem is that a comment section (or at least this particular one) doesn’t really scale well to handle the volume. Scott could possibly take some hints from the more advanced channer frameworks.

      Particular improvements I’d like:
      – a checkbox to not update the new-posts date-field,
      – a reply link at every comment, no matter how far nested, even if nesting still goes as far as it does now.

  21. onyomi says:

    I wonder what people think about the Ayn Randian perspective on family: namely that if you wouldn’t be friends with a relative if they weren’t your relative, then you shouldn’t feel any need to be friends with them just because they are a relative: after all none of you chose to be born, and while you may “owe” your parents something for raising you, they also “owed” you a reasonable upbringing by having decided to keep you. Moreover, it becomes less clear that you “owe” them if they were not great parents.

    I bring it up because I sometimes feel like if my girlfriend’s mother were not her mother, she would have broken off ties with her long ago. It’s not that she hates her mother, exactly–they have their good moments and are obviously bonded by strong ties of memory–it’s that every time she talks to her mother on the phone there’s a 50% chance she will be in a bad mood after. Would you keep being friends with someone who made you angry or sad half of all the times you interacted with them? And if you wouldn’t do that for a friend, do you owe it to your mother? I’m not sure I have a good answer, but am curious what others think.

    • Perhaps encouraging her to break down what exact patterns are going on in those conversations might be useful, so that she can identify when it starts to go bad and take action to prevent it, like ignoring bait for an argument etc.

    • Wrong Species says:

      If people treated their families like they treated their friends, that would be the end of the family as we know it. People shouldn’t treat their parents like voluntary, disposable, wishy washy relationships. It’s the basis of our entire species and is by far the most important social institution we have. Many people today don’t have a strong sense of community, lets not ruin the only thing they have left.

      • Psmith says:

        That’s an awfully limiting normative conception of friendship, even if it is broadly accurate as a positive description.

    • Jaskologist says:

      You do have a duty to your family, especially parents, but I have no argument that would be convincing to Rand. “Duty” is a metaphysical entity, and Rand does not believe in those. Her view seems quite rational to me, it’s just based on bad axioms.

      • Deiseach says:

        The only argument really is “you choose your friends but God gives you your family”.

        Genetics, in other words. If enlightened selfishness means you put yourself first, then naturally the descending order is “me, those most genetically similar to me/sharing the most genes in common, those least genetically similar, tribesmen/clansmen, nation, foreigners/strangers”.

        Those who most share your genes are going to be first your parents, then your siblings, then your children.

        Nature/evolution/whatever you care to call it doesn’t care about individuals, it’s about the group and the species. Who will survive under selection pressures? Co-operation between group members helps survival, and self-interest means you help those group members with most in genetic common.

        Hence the formalisation of rules and attitudes regarding duty to family members, to enforce these group bonds.

        Now, as for not getting on with family members, all you can do is recognise bad patterns and the pitfalls and what are the same old subjects that are sources of conflict (whether it’s “why aren’t you married yet” to “what is wrong with your career”) and avoiding them.

        If you can’t avoid them, because the other person insists on bringing them up, then you reduce or even eliminate contact to reduce friction, but without cutting all ties (unless that’s an absolute necessity). Make it clear that you love them, they are your family, you’re not severing all ties or blaming anyone, but rehashing for the six hundredth time the same old argument is not helping anyone and you have to distance yourself for your own mental and emotional health.

        • Bruce Beegle says:

          Those who most share your genes are going to be first your parents, then your siblings, then your children.

          Ignoring mitochondria, all should have half of your genes (parents and children exactly, siblings on average).

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I bring it up because I sometimes feel like if my girlfriend’s mother were not her mother, she would have broken off ties with her long ago.

      This is one of the qualities that makes family so important. Your family is like a group of friends who have credibly precommitted to stick by you through thick-and-thin, even if you stop liking each other, for the rest of your livies. Family is reliable; you can make long-term plans based on family relationships. With other people, you are limited to tentative tit-for-tat cooperation that might break down at any moment.

      • That is how it used to be. That is how it is supposed to be. That is not how it is.

        We used to have this awesome 20+ people extended family gatherings, it seems now only my dad and his bro were holding it together because when they died cousins had little interest in each other, and sadly, even siblings not. And we ain’t even individualist protestant types, we all believe we should care, we just “somehow never really get around to” invite each other for a dinner. Religious holdays and similar ceremonies are good Schelling points but we got really unreligious. ‘Mericans were smart to invent Thanksgiving as it is more nationalistic than religious so it can get a family together even if they don’t Jesus.

        Add to it the general fsckery that if you really love a woman or man and marry her / him it is almost guaranteed at least one of the four parents will be against her/him. Mostly the woman’s parents because she clearly Deserved Better, I Did Not Raise You To Lower Yourself Such, but it happens with men too that the only correct spouse from the moms angle is basically her clone younger, except not actually younger because aging women hate younger women so aaaaargh. Yes, that makes getting together with family sometimes positively unpleasant.

        It should be, it used to be, and virtually everybody I know feels guilty about it these days, but still…

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I think this is the best argument in favor of family, though it does seemss to apply less and less these days: like marriage, there is a pre-assumed strength to family relationships which seems like it might offer more advantages than disadvantages to those accept its importance. Unlike, marriage, however, you don’t chose your family, which, to my mind seems to imply less of a duty than a self-selected promise like marriage (though I think many people would throw a spouse under the bus sooner than a parent or sibling, and this may reflect some evolutionary impulse).

        So if you have less of a moral obligation to your mother than your wife (a dubious claim, I’ll concede, as I feel more indebted, myself, to my mother than to my fiancee, but my mother also hasn’t caused me nearly as much grief as her mother has caused her), then the main reason left for sticking to family is a kind of Kantian or game-theoretical imperative: the individual might gain by rejecting his family, but society would lose if everyone felt free to do so.

        Yet because the relationship to one’s parent is unchosen, I’m also a bit uncomfortable saying that you owe it to them to stick with them even if they make you miserable because you wouldn’t want to live in the sort of world where children feel free to cut their parents out of their lives whenever they feel like it.

        • Anonymous says:

          Why do you think unchosen obligations are less worthy than chosen ones?

          • onyomi says:

            Well, it’s not entirely clear to me that there *are* any unchosen, positive obligations (there are negative obligations, like, “don’t murder,” “don’t rape”). This is the problem libertarians have with “social contract” theories: the basis of such obligations “to society” are vague, and, imo, thus far not satisfactorily justified.

            Explicit contracts, on the other hand, represent a commitment by a consenting adult to do something. Since failing to follow up on such a commitment is basically fraud or theft (I take your money but disappear without providing the good or service promised, say), it seems more unambiguously wrong.

            I would also certainly say, for example, that someone who signed up to be in the military has a stronger ethical obligation to go to war when called than someone who was drafted.

    • One meta level up, let me propose something that feels very natural to me as an “Atheist Catholic” : it is okay to be what some may call a hypocrite, namely you try to have high moral standards, but you understand that you are weak and fail, and you can forgive yourself that, but still praise the high standards and you can even preach to others those high standards you yourself often fail to achieve, the only crucial difference between this an being a true hypocrite is to ADMIT you are often unable to behave so yourself.

      This should be contrasted with the weird modern notion of ethics namely that if you have any ethical convictions you behave according to them all the time. Really? People have infinite willpower now? Or maybe just really too easy ethical standards? Isn’t anything deserving the name morals or ethics should be something that takes effort and sometimes fails?

      So, from this angle, I highly believe in the importance of the family and sticking to your blood relatives through good and bad, but also sometimes “incompatible personalities” make it hard and then you fail and basically just give some of your relatives a call at Xmas and that is it. Try to live up to the loyal to family standards, but it is also OK if you fail.

      Also, there is this saying if something annoys you in others you probably have it too – you are annoyed at the mirror they hold. It is certainly true of me, it can be easily untrue in many cases, but if it is parent, the source of half your genes and upbringing, then perhaps it is really so. This is mostly an advice to you, if you wouldn’t marry her mom, then consider she could turn out like that in the longer run. The important thing is to try to work on getting rid of those personality traits in ourselves that annoy us in our parents and once they stop being a mirror we won’t find them so annoying.

  22. I saw a really frustrating example of bad science reporting today, which prompted me to write a rant on my blog. I thought it might interest some people here:


    The frustrating article in question is here – try to spot the science error if you can.

    • Peter says:

      “Moreover, I hate the seemingly prevalent notion that if you’re on the “side” of global warming, it’s right to support all arguments that show that global warming is a threat.”

      Oh, I’m sure that if you’re on the side of global warming, then Dr. Trauer would agree that producing easily-debunked obvious alarmist nonsense is clearly the way forward.

  23. JR says:

    Would anyone share their strategies to get past overwhelm on the comment threads here? Sometimes I read a post a day after it’s published and want to participate in the discussion, but then there’s hundreds of comments, and even individual comment chains I might want to jump into can be really, really long. …Do you just skim the top few dozen comments, or look for comments by people you’re interested in talking to, or what?

    • Anonymous says:

      Use the date field extensively to filter for new stuff. Copy and paste in that field.

      Search for your own username, or usernames of people who write interesting things, to find interesting/relevant comments.

      Search for keywords that relate to interesting topics. (Until Scott taboos them.)

  24. zaogao says:

    When a weekly open thread gets >700 comments in a day maybe it’s time to consider creating a forum. A forum organized by rough topics or groups would also help avoid the unpleasant experience of reading through one distended mass of comments.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      Maybe even, dare I hope, a forum that’ll tell me who replied to things I said when I log into it.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Stop trying to make an SSC forum happen. It’s not going to happen.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I feel like we would lose the cohesive community that we have now though.

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I don’t like the idea of a forum, because it balkanizes everything; I would appreciate an “e-mail me when someone replies to this” feature, though, ideally not just for my own posts, but for any post or subpost I chose to “watch.” This could potentially keep older comment threads vibrant longer, as interested parties would not have to keep checking back to see whether a dead discussion is still dead.

    • I disagree with others here and think if done right it might be useful. In particular there’s no easy way to contemplate links between old and new discussions on the same topic to actually try to construct a sense of progress on a topic, because anything older than a post or two is basically lost in time. I guess I’d like to think something (knowledge) should come out of the discussions, rather than just very high-brow entertainment (aka arguing with people on the internet), which it sometimes feels like.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Sometimes, if a discussion becomes interesting enough, Scott will mention some argument or conclusion that came up in it as part of a post. I think that’s the closest thing we have to canonizing these discussions into a form that permanently expands human knowledge.

        • One person mentioning stuff sometimes is too much of a bottleneck imo, with due respect to Scott who is probably the best kind of bottleneck we can hope for. 😛

  25. Sophie says:

    Hello. I’m a high school student trying to apply for university to hopefully eventually do research on solving senescence. I’ve asked similar questions before, but not this one specifically: What do you think would be a good major to apply for? Biochem? Cell biology? Genetics?

  26. Technically Not Anonymous says:

    What is a nerd? We all use the term as though it has a clear meaning but I’ve seen it used in so many different ways. I remember a comment by Nydrwacu in a Thing of Things thread last year (I remember weird things) where he described nerds as even more active in hookup culture than non-nerds and it confused the hell out of me. In my mind, having the social skills and desire to fuck lots of random people categorically excludes you from being a nerd. I guess my definition of nerd is “someone with unconventional or stereotypically nerdy interests who would rather spend time engaging in those interests than “going out”; also they’re probably at least a little bit weird.” How do you guys define it?

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m not sure that nerds have any less desire for sex than anyone else. Success, maybe not so much. Counterexamples from people on here might, I suspect, be more representative of the LessWrong culture than of nerddom as a whole.

      • Troy says:

        I seem to recall seeing data that IQ negatively correlated with amount of sex among married people (who presumably are not lacking for opportunity). It may have been on Razib Khan’s blog.

      • Technically Not Anonymous says:

        Fair point. I was thinking more “desire to go interact with a bunch of people you don’t know and try to use your social skills to get one of them to fuck you” than “desire for sex.” Speaking from first hand experience, at least.

    • zz says:

      My preferred definition comes from Paul Graham: nerds are those people who are so smart that they have better things to do with their time than maximize popularity. This matches a definition Julia Galef had at some point (interest + aptitude) and my own experience.

    • blacktrance says:

      Nerdiness defies easy definition, but it’s a real cluster in thingspace. Rather than giving a definition, here are some traits that contribute to someone being nerdy: relatively high IQ, social awkwardness, an inclination towards STEM, analytical thinking, interest in tech, liking fantasy and/or sci fi, disliking sports, having internet friends and regularly participating in internet discussions (less of a nerd marker now, more of one 10 or 15 years ago), atheism, curative fandom, liking anime, liking JRPGs and/or strategy games, libertarianism or anti-SJ progressivism, etc. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it points to something.

    • nydwracu says:

      Sure, that’s why they don’t fuck random people — they join a subculture and fuck lots of people within that.

      Which is a good enough recruitment strategy that I’m commenting on SSC despite that I disapprove of nerd culture and don’t think I’d have any problem with clubs. (But I haven’t tested this empirically because we don’t have any in Nowhere.)

  27. TomA says:

    Scott, do you care to weigh in on the recent news stories describing Communist China’s new program for controlling/modifying the cultural habits of its population. In a nutshell, the new system will actively monitor internet communications of all its citizens and tally a credibility score (consistency with state doctrine). You start out with a fix number of points; and they deduct for non-compliant behavior and add for parroting the party line. Loss of points causes direct and tangible negative consequences which may ultimately culminate in house confinement.

    • Anonymous says:

      Topic is way over my head, but seems like this is going to cause stagnation of thought in the country. Maybe you should link if you want people to see details?

  28. NN says:

    None of the attempts to steelman cultural appropriation that I’ve seen in this thread seem to account for situations where the people who are complaining about cultural appropriation are not themselves part of the culture that is supposedly being appropriated. See, for example, the baffled reactions of actual Japanese people to “cultural appropriation” controversies involving a museum exhibit letting visitors try on kimonos or an Avril Lavigne music video.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why should someone arguing against what they believe to be a harm done to members of a certain group have to be members of that group themselves?

      • Peter says:

        There are various issues.

        Firstly, I’m not sure “harm” is quite the right frame. Something more akin to rights may be better here.

        Second is the “expertise” argument: the people allegedly being harmed can be presumed to have the best knowledge of what’s good or bad for them, and one should defer to their judgement.

        Third is the “rights holder” argument: the Japanese act like “rights holders” for their culture, and if they’re OK with people dressing up in kimonos, then they’re within their rights to give permission for that, or to deny that permission is even needed. (Things get complicated when you have divisions within Japanese culture – in particular someone alluded to differences between Japanese-Japanese and Japanese-Americans)

        Fourth: there are a lot of people out there, each with their own foibles, allegiances, biases, agendas, etc. The number of complaints that could be brought “on my behalf” are potentially very large; much larger than the number of complaints that I could bring. If we treat every claim brought “on my behalf” as valid then an awful lot of stuff could get stifled – something I don’t want on my conscience.

        • onyomi says:

          “and if they’re OK with people dressing up in kimonos, then they’re within their rights to give permission for that, or to deny that permission is even needed.”

          There are 130 million Japanese, and I’m sure some of them hate seeing white people in kimono, some of them like seeing it, and a great majority don’t care or think the question is silly. Do we need to have a referendum to determine the official “Japanese” position on the issue? If 50% of Japanese are offended by white people wearing kimono does that make it officially offensive? Should the Japanese government issue a press release?

          Then Mexico can have a vote on whether or not Americans are allowed to eat tacos?

          And the UK should really issue an official stance on whether or not it’s offensive for Americans to perform Shakespeare plays… and…

    • onyomi says:

      See, I kind of object even to the question: “is it okay for white people to wear kimono?”

      Nobody gets to exercise that level of control over my aesthetic choices. If I like kimono I’m going to flipping wear a kimono.

      Now if the question were “is it okay for white people to wear a kimono for the purpose of mocking Japanese people,” then that would be a very different question and the answer would obviously be no.

      But that is not what they are asking. They are asking “is it okay for a white person to wear a kimono? full stop” This sounds to me like asking “is it okay for a white person to cook ramen or make sushi?” That is, it’s a ridiculous question on its face, as it would be ridiculous for white people to tell the Japanese to stop wearing suits and eating hamburgers.

      • Anonymous says:

        I disagree. I think it’s okay – as in, shouldn’t be illegal – for white people to wear a kimono for any purpose, even for mocking Japanese people. I think it might well not be okay – as in, I don’t have any strong view that it ought to be socially acceptable – for white people to wear a kimono for any purpose, even if it’s just because they think it looks nice.

        • onyomi says:


        • Anonymous says:

          Which part?

          I don’t think it should be illegal to wear clothes that offend people because I am doubtful that the upset caused to others from doing so is really more than the benefit to the wearers of getting to wear what they like, and because I think the kind of mechanisms required to enforce laws like “you aren’t allowed to wear anything on this list of offensive clothes” work very poorly at producing good outcomes.

          I think it’s fine for things to be socially unacceptable because I think there are good mechanisms to allow people’s preferences on social acceptability to be satisfied. Also because I don’t think I can prove or disprove the correctness of people’s opinions on what they find offensive. To give an example other than the kimonos, it is socially acceptable for a white person to wear a mask depicting the face of a black person, and socially unacceptable for a white person to wear blackface makeup. That seems to me to be determined entirely by historical events. I don’t think there’s anything inherently more offensive about blackface; I can imagine an alternative universe in which a mask of a black person is considered offensive and blackface is considered fine. So I don’t find any arguments along the lines “you shouldn’t find that offensive, it’s just ____!” to be convincing.

          I will add that regarding the first point – whether wearing offensive clothes should be illegal – I am saying nothing about whether it should be legal or illegal in public. I think there is a case to be made that, if the state is going to own public spaces such as parks and streets, possibly it should be. I certainly don’t think it should be illegal to wear a kimono or blackface in private, even if you’re doing so because you hate Japanese or black people.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I am skeptical as to how important it is to allow people to wear what they want. Apart from certain basic considerations of temperature, durability, and ease of movement, variety in clothing seems mostly to be driven by a positional signalling rat race. It’s not clear to me that we wouldn’t be better off with a government-mandated dress code to save the time, effort and money that are wasted on fashion to no net benefit.

        • onyomi says:


          How is that different from a government-mandated nutrition square to replace all the money and time wasted on fancy food, most of which is bad for us anyway?

        • Anonymous says:


          What makes you think that it is at all likely that the government would make good decisions regarding the best choices of clothes?

          Why do you think that fashion is so costly so as to require this kind of costly, poor-functioning intervention? For example, how much of your annual income do you think is wasted due to fashion demands?

          Are you sure that people who choose to invest a lot of money in fashion do not have a higher than average level of interest in it?

          Are you sure that people who choose to invest a lot of money in fashion do not gain quite a lot in relative status by getting to look down on everyone else who is unfashionable, but without those people in turn feeling equally upset over being unfashionable? In other words, is it not plausible, perhaps likely, that fashion-based status is positive sum not zero sum?

        • onyomi says:


          I don’t think there’s any point in repeatedly mentioning you’re not in favor of outlawing white people wearing kimono. I don’t think anyone is even proposing such a severe measure–even the staunch “cultural appropriation is bad” police.

          The question is whether or not it’s offensive for a white person to wear a kimono for no other reason than thinking it looks nice. And I think it is not.

          But isn’t “offense” just in the eye of the beholder? On some level yes, but by that standard no one can wearing anything ever (nor be naked, for that matter, so pretty much no seeing anyone ever) without potentially offending someone, so the question is whether or not it is reasonable to take offense to it.

          Blackface has historically been used to make fun of black people, so it’s reasonable for black people to be offended by it, though I can think of cases where it might not be inappropriate if the intent is clearly non-malicious (see, for example, this picture of young Adam Carolla dressed as Mister T for Halloween–not to make fun of Mister T or black people, but because he was really into the A Team at the time and had poofy hair conducive to the costume: http://adamcarolla.com/wp-content/gallery/2012-11-16-greg-fitzsimmons-brea/11-adam-and-ray.jpg). This is a costume a teenager could never get away with today, but I don’t see that as a good thing.

          Wearing a kimono by itself has not historically been used as a means to ridicule Japanese people, and I think any reasonable person can see the difference between:




          A Japanese person could be offended by the first picture, as well as the second, but the question is, is it reasonable to be offended by the first picture, and I think the answer is no.

        • Anonymous says:


          On some level yes, but by that standard no one can wearing anything ever (nor be naked, for that matter, so pretty much no seeing anyone ever) without potentially offending someone, so the question is whether or not it is reasonable to take offense to it.

          I agree with the first part, but not the second. I don’t think the question is whether it is or isn’t reasonable to be offended at something; I think the question is whether that preference can or can’t be effectively satisfied. And I think it can. If the view that those clothes are offensive is widespread enough and strong enough, and the cost to you of stopping is low, then social pressure, or in some situations property rights, will get you to stop. If the cost to you of stopping would be great, and the cost to others of you continuing would be small, then social pressure and property rights will allow you to wear it.

          This is not a perfect system but I think it works better than trying to decide whether something as subjective as being offended is or isn’t ‘reasonable’. On some level I agree with you that it is unreasonable to get offended about certain things. But I am nowhere near convinced enough of this to feel in a position to tell others that their offense does not count, or that they should not be able to satisfy their preference of not being exposed to something that offends them.

          Note that this only applies to offenses that go away when you’re not exposed to them. Being offended that someone, somewhere, is wearing clothes you find offensive, is something I have enormously less sympathy for, for the reasons I gave on why I oppose any calls for offensive clothing to be made illegal.

        • onyomi says:

          “If the view that those clothes are offensive is widespread enough and strong enough… something as subjective as being offended is or isn’t ‘reasonable’.”

          But who but us is being offended or not being offended by these things? Who is making the offense widespread or not? Logical arguments can change whether or not people feel offended by something. Most of the audience of Breakfast at Tiffanys was not, at the time, offended by Mickie Roonie’s performance. Now they would be. This is because of people having had new experiences and discussions about what is and isn’t offensive–a discussion like we are having here.

          It is not unreasonable to discuss what should or shouldn’t offend any more than it is unreasonable to discuss what is or isn’t immoral.

          Further, reason 101 I’m not a utilitarian: whether or not one should worry about offending should not be based solely on a utilitarian calculus. 100 years ago, it might have profited a gay person little and upset many people a great deal for said gay person to live as an openly gay person. Yet those offended would still have been wrong.

        • Anonymous says:


          All I can really say regarding subjective opinions is that I have them. I don’t know why onions are tasty and leeks are not, or why cycling is fun and jogging isn’t. As far as I can tell, being offended is subjective. Arguments about what is and isn’t offensive might be able to change minds, but a subjective opinion being popular doesn’t mean it’s correct. Perhaps it’s correct to like leeks and dislike onions, to like jogging and dislike cycling. I would not feel at all confident that by getting more people to adopt my preferences, I would be making things better.

          The common factor to these opinions is that they can be satisfied reasonably effectively using market institutions. Insofar as I think there are opinions that are bad and ought to be changed, they are opinions that can’t be satisfied effectively using market institutions – opinions that require large numbers of people to cooperate, disregarding their own preferences in the process. Being offended that anyone might be doing something you don’t like somewhere you can’t see – whether smoking marijuana, having premarital sex, or wearing clothing you find offensive – is one such opinion. Having a preference for state-run industries over private industries – not just a belief that they work better, but an ideological commitment to them as an end in themselves – is another.

      • onyomi says:

        And regarding the ridiculousness of trying to stop Japanese people from eating hamburgers, I think the opposite case–of French people trying to stop French people from eating McDonald’s–proves the point. A culture never died out from too many dilettantes and outsiders getting interested in it, as there is nothing to stop the “inner circle” from continuing to do what they were always doing, and, indeed enjoying greater prestige as the originary practitioners of the now popular trend (unless it was being misunderstood and unaccepted which they liked). The fact that the Japanese like putting corn, squid, and mayonnaise on pizza does not detract in any way from my enjoyment of “authentic” New Haven pizza, nor, I assume, does American pizza detract from Italian pizza.

        Conversely, when members of your culture start appropriating the artifacts of another culture en masse–that’s when you should be worried that your own culture may be on the way out.

        Imagine there were a sudden fad for white Americans to learn Navajo: would that somehow be bad for actual Navajo people, even if the white Americans spoke with a bad accent and imitated Navajo culture in a lame way? I would say quite the reverse: the big fear of most keepers of Native American culture is that their children will speak only English and never think of their ancestral culture as something “cool” or interesting, which is exactly what a fad in the mainstream culture would make it.

      • Jacksologist says:

        Perhaps what we need to do is label all things with “For Whites Only” and “For People of Color Only.” That should make everything clear to all involve, and have no negative repercussions at all.

        • keranih says:

          For a person with a snowman icon, you spend a lot of time tempting the torch-and-pitchfork response…

        • Jacksologist says:

          The snowman likes to pose tough theological questions.

          I have, as you may have guessed, no sympathy whatsoever for “cultural appropriation.” It looks like yet another way to seek out new strife and new conflagrations. I think that railing against appropriation is logically equivalent to a calling for segregation. And as little sympathy as I have for segregation, I have even less for “segregation for my group, but not yours.” If I am culturally appropriating sushi and sexy ladies dressed in kimonos, Asians are appropriating science and the internet and business suits. The latter is obviously absurd; so is the former.

          There are arguments to be made for segregation (the recently linked Psuedo-Erasmus inadvertently made one). But if you’re going to make that argument, just be honest about it, and don’t pretend that you’re any different from white separatists.

        • ??? You linked to a commenter at my blog, not to me, and even he was not speaking about racial segregation.

        • Jaskologist says:


          Fair complaint. I certainly did not make it clear that you were not the one actually making that argument. I think the commenter was talking about racial segregation, and his argument relied on the concepts discussed in your (very interesting) post.

    • Agronomous says:

      Headline: FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades

      First sentence of article: The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

      Better Headline: FBI claims to have occasionally told the truth in court during 20-year period

      Moral: If you ever find yourself on a jury, treat law-enforcement forensic experts with the same respect and regard that you should have for science journalists.*

      The most infuriating thing here is that it’s not hard to check the accuracy of these procedures: you give them a bunch of matching and non-matching samples (preferably mixed in with their actual work), and you see how many false positives and false negatives you get out. But nobody did, and no judge required them to.

      This is a continuation of the incredibly-fraudulent bite-mark ME,[1] and the folkloric fire investigator body of “knowledge”.[2] It’s almost as if we worship Science, rather than taking a scientific attitude toward it.

      [1] https://reason.com/archives/2009/05/15/a-forensics-charlatan-gets-cau
      [2] https://www.google.com/search?q=“fire+investigation”+”junk+science”
      (*Spoiler: None.)

  29. Held in Escrow says:

    So I’m looking to donate my old car, and figured this was probably a decent enough place to ask what the best charity is to give it to. Givewell doesn’t exactly have a “best charities to give your car to” listed from what I can see, but I figured someone here might know more otherwise I’m probably just going to give it to the Red Cross. I’m a Virginian if that helps

  30. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Anyone else thought more about Kegan’s developmental milestones, via Chapman? (https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/developing-ethical-social-and-cognitive-competence/)

    In particular, I used to be a fan of Objectivism, and my transition away from that seems like it has to be either a 2->3 or a 4->5 transition. Yet it doesn’t feel like I’ve gained any new capabilities or ways of thinking. I guess I didn’t always have the concept of unendorsed emotions, though I can scarcely remember otherwise, but I have no sense of my subject and objects changing; rather, a stabler, more meta set of motivating desires came to take precedence over others via basic stage-2 desire reconciliation processes. I have no idea what it feels like to ‘be relationships’.

    I’ve also recently absorbed from social justice the habit of critiquing structures in terms of who they benefit, which seems to resemble stage v. I think this is very important, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly radical shift–it seems like the same skepticism I always had for kings who talked about the divine right of kings, being extended to more subtle contexts.

    Does anyone have a sense of stage progressions as radical changes in consciousness? Do I have any company in seeming to have progressed without a sense of any particular change?

  31. TD says:

    I apologize if this is a bit scattershot, but just some thoughts I’ve been having that I would like the clever minds here to have a go over.

    Isn’t it interesting that we’ve settled on a political paradigm where the overwhelmingly dominant form of debate is one where one side argues that the government should do something, and the other side argues that the government shouldn’t?

    That is, we never seem to have debates where its taken as a given that the government should do something and then we just debate how or what. Well, not never – debates on military issues come closest to this – but even then it’s dominated by a lot of “cut the military instead of entitlements” vs “cut entitlements and expand the military coz threats” debate. So even where we all agree that something should be done by government full stop, the dominant form of debate is still “how much gubbermen in it?”

    If we ever achieved socialism (or democratic state capitalism if you don’t believe in the abstraction of society wide collective ownership of all production by all people), would that change?

    Normally a debate over public transport, would be about how much public transport we should have and correlate with general arguments to have less or more gubbermen.

    Plausibly, however, a debate over public transport could instead of pitting limited government vs activist government sides against each other, instead pit people agreeing completely about public transport arguing for different fulfillment of what that concept means and/or what’s the best way of achieving it. Example: the railway social conglomerate goes to war against the bus social conglomerate for funding in the senate.

    It seems like the logical outcome of democratic politics within a totalitarian command economy. Without prices, you have to make political decisions about which outputs are prioritized from common inputs (make more metals into trains or buses?) Is there any evidence for this in the former Marxist-Leninist and Maoist states? IIRC democratic centralism collapsed pretty quickly into a top down bureaucracy in the USSR, so something like this never emerged, since these decisions were mostly made in an antidemocratic fashion. Perhaps they were more consumed with beating the capitalists first.

    Segueing into a different but related discussion, I can’t find much discussion of hypothetical post-capitalist intra-socialist political conflict anywhere. I think it’s because capitalist advocates assume capitalism is eternal, and sincere socialists (we are not talking about wishy washy mixed economy “socialists” here) tend to be of a Marxist stripe, so its built into their assumptions that socialism equals harmony and pure communism is the purest expression of that. Politics is replaced by people just taking as they need and giving as they can, because of superproductive machinery. A big part of socialism and communism in particular is the idea of world peace being a given product of global socialization.

    There’s a huge gap here for fiction by people who assume capitalism will be replaced by socialism (or democratic state capitalism if you are a real cynic), but are willing to suspend the idea that this automatically means a reduction in politics, competition, and world conflict.

    I’ve talked to Marxist-Leninists about this, and it’s like it hasn’t even crossed their minds. They take it as a given that the triumph over capitalism is also the triumph over politics and the triumph over war. It’s built into Marxism after all; if the history of conflict is the history of class warfare, then if all wars are caused by class war, and in our time the bourgeoisie trying to exploit the proletariat, then the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in oppressing the bourgeoisie should bring an end to war (at least within proletarian territory), and in full time, in transitioning to full communism ends all possibility of war since all class distinctions have been erased worldwide, and in creating no space for class conflict, the main cause of war historically is destroyed. This is part and parcel of historical determinism.

    Of course, in reality, we see proletarian states unable to maintain unity, because they can’t decide who is authentically proletarian or not. This is why we saw Maoist China fall out with Stalin’s USSR, and both call the other a corrupted worker’s state. I’ve heard it said that this would different if it wasn’t for the capitalist powers getting in the way, but wouldn’t division be even worse with no common enemy uniting them?

    I think I don’t see much examination of the idea of conflict within a socialist world at all. Capitalist orientated people write books about how socialism doesn’t work or how capitalists would overthrow it, but they don’t get to the real interesting stuff by assuming it “works” and then going from there. Marxist orientated people usually treat it as a binary unfolding of world peace as per historical materialism so the idea can’t be examined, since it doesn’t exist.

    So there are two kinds of questions here (with sub-questions). Assume a world comprised only of socialist states and that this has been the status quo for a long enough time that capitalism is as dead culturally as feudalism is to us, and then look at these issues:
    1: Since a sufficiently historically entrenched command economy is unified culturally around activist government, what would democratic politics be based around instead?
    1(a): industry Vs industry?
    1(b): How are the new macroscale binary coalitions likely to form? In our world, left is a coalition of minority ethnic, sexual, cultural groups and activists in favor of redistribution and tackling issues of poverty and environment through activist government with academia and celebrities acting as rallying figures, and right is a coalition of majority ethnic sexual and cultural groups and activists in favor of limiting the scope of government within their communities while acting as a bulwark against disruptive outside forces with businessmen, generals, and church leaders acting as rallying figures.

    In this new world, if economic activism is assumed, then how do the new left and right coalitions shake out? If things work out as industrial groups against each other because of command economics, then who is grouped with who? Would the bus people fight the train people because of shared scarce inputs, or would they group together because they are both transport based? Can you divide an economy into two factions that share more interests with each other than the other side?

    2: What about politics between different socialist states? If a state rules in the interests of the proletariat then what those interests are is up for debate either words or war machines.
    2(a): Or a world socialist state could be assumed, but there is still the issue that in Marxism the state is supposed to wither away, and when that is supposed to happen or why is up for debate. In our world far-left rebels fight conservative capitalist forces, but in the future even farther left forces will fight conservative socialist forces. The Marxist-Leninists are the most conservative, then Trots, then all manner of left-communists, and then anarchists who want the state to be destroyed immediately.

    There’s no objective answer to any of these; they are more hypotheticals, or even the basis for sci-fi future history fiction. Like I said…

    3: Is there any fiction that deals with what I’m talking about here? Assume a Marxist/socialist future but then deal with conflict within it rather than against it? Much how our modern conflicts are so far removed from feudalism that we don’t see large groups trying to bring it back into politics. So, the equivalent here is socialist political fiction that completely ignores capitalism. The dragon is dead. Now what?

    • Anonymous says:

      Capitalist orientated people write books about how socialism doesn’t work or how capitalists would overthrow it, but they don’t get to the real interesting stuff by assuming it “works” and then going from there.

      Isn’t that the kind of question that public choice economics is concerned with?

      EDIT: I’m not sure if you are exclusively looking for fiction books here.

      • TD says:

        It doesn’t have to be fiction. I’m just focusing on fiction, because I’ve only seen orthodox economists use things like price signals to show that socialism doesn’t work and that it would break down and so on. That’s like a “story” in which socialism fails and capitalism comes back again.

        I’m more interested in how the economic logic of a command economy would change politics (we still assume its a democratic command economy), and give rise to new binary coalitions. I guess that public choice economics would be appropriate here, yeah.

        • Anonymous says:

          The argument involving price signals is, as I understand it, intended to show that socialism will produce bad outcomes, not that it will break down or fall apart or inevitably be replaced by capitalism.

          The only way I can think of that economic theory suggests socialism might inevitably collapse is the extent to which there are large economies of scale in national defense, meaning that a state cannot afford to be inefficient beyond a certain extent, as doing so puts it at risk of being invaded by a more efficient state. It doesn’t seem like that was the case with the USSR, though – they managed to be a significant threat in spite of the mass starvation.

    • Preferences aside, I find your assumption that the future will be socialist-looking to be hard to picture, especially as both the West and China seem to be moving towards something like state-capitalism, where big business and government are kind of the same thing?

      I think regardless of the system of government you will indeed have structural economic conflict of the kind you mention. Even in command economies people aren’t satisfied with their “needs”, because a signficant number of people are really seeking status, and material goods beyond the basics, or an expansion of the size of their department, are a means to that end.

      To prevent that turning into a corrupting effect on your country, I think regardless of whether you’re left or right wing, you should aim for sophisticated economic separation of powers (from my blog – part 1 , part 2). That means identifying economic functions that generate corrupt or inefficient outcomes when combined (eg. heavy industry and pollution regulator) and keeping them in the hands of very different and independent people as best you can. Then you try to align incentives (internal/external, financial/price signal/social/cultural) to make sure each function is doing its job efffectively.

  32. Sudanna says:

    Why do we have periodic open threads here instead of, like, a persistent forum or something. Cuz it would be a lot of work? Some fear of dividing the community? Because there are subreddits? Does anyone honestly prefer this format? It seems a strange practice.

    • Urstoff says:

      Scrolling through an open thread is so much easier than clicking into individual forums for each discussion thread.

      • semiautorabbit says:

        I think it’s easier to keep track of conversations and bookmark specific conversations in a forum. Here, my only real tool is control + f for the names of participants to find a specific conversation.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If the subreddit’s barely used, why would a forum be moreso?

      • I think it’s a critical mass/snowball effect where it needs to be populated enough, in order to attract people, in order to grow, in order to be more attractive…. I think you’d have to plug it more consistently and give it a better defined role for it to be successful. A forum might make that easier to do automatically, and might be less risky of causing a split because its closely integrated into the site. I feel like now you’ve got this big community an option would be to put it to work solving problems or generating usable knowledge that’s more directed, organised and creates a lasting legacy. Or maybe it would ruin things, IDK.

      • Anonymous says:

        Barrier to entry.

        If the forum were accessibly by one-click from the article that drew the commenter here, it’d be pretty populous. The reddit’s just some extra-site place nobody cares about. I mean, who goes to the reddit to check if you’ve posted a new thing? Far better to just check SSC directly, and when you finish reading the new post, there’s the comment section right there (or it takes merely a click to get to).

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Still confused. The subreddit is one click away (see link sidebar). How could a forum be less than one click away?

        • Anonymous says:

          Have to scroll up again, have to remember it exists. Also people are commenting here anyway, so you read them here, and reply to them here. No guarantee that they’re over there too.

          If you want them to use the reddit, close comments in a given thread.

    • Mammon says:

      I think the subreddit holds promise as an avenue for open discussion. Getting the ball rolling is obviously pretty hard; the subreddit doesn’t meaningfully differentiate from the blog at the moment, so there’s really no incentive to get into the habit of browsing it.

  33. Wrong Species says:

    Since there seems to be some interest, I’m going ahead with plans for the SSC book club. I’ll do it every two weeks(starting two weeks from now). Right now, I think I’ll start off with my original suggestion “Hive Mind
    How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own”. I hope we get a good discussion going.

  34. Emily says:

    I find myself disliking books for small children that try to teach them things like kindness, sharing, forgiveness, and friendship. This makes me feel like the parent in the McSweeneys piece “OUR DAUGHTER ISN’T A SELFISH BRAT; YOUR SON JUST HASN’T READ ATLAS SHRUGGED,” but, nonetheless.

    For instance, my kid was recently read a book in which the characters decide to be generous and as a result, wind up with more stuff than if they hadn’t been generous. I guess if I’d written the book, they would have chosen to be generous and wound up with less but that would have been ok, anyway. (I am not seriously arguing that this would be a good book.)

    Or there was the one that took place [in a specific historical environment in which incomes were very low], and the characters shared their government-provided bread and so no one goes totally hungry. And that’s great as far as it goes – we should share our bread if it’ll keep our neighbors from starving. But a) it doesn’t actually say much about situations my kid is likely to be in and b) it doesn’t really focus on the (technological or economic) reasons why starvation is much less widespread now.

    I know this sounds ridiculous.

    • Urstoff says:

      I made the mistake of reading The Lorax to my daughter recently. I didn’t remember at all what it was about before I read it, and it turned out to be preachy garbage. I’ll stick with One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish next time. Anything overly preachy annoys me; I don’t mind lessons being taught (be nice, share, respect others, etc.), but when it become overtly political or moralistic, I’m not going to read it.

      • Emily says:

        Yup. The Lorax is definitely one I’d like to avoid. What kind of conversations of you have with your daughter about this stuff (assuming she is old enough to have conversations with)?

        • Urstoff says:

          She’s three and a half and just really starting to be able to follow narratives well (she now finds parts of Disney movies scary that she was completely oblivious to six months ago), so nothing much in the realm of “hey, businesses aren’t always evil; there just needed to be a strong property rights regime concerning the Truffala Trees”.

          Honestly, I don’t know how much the “lessons” of stories really matter to the behavior of the child. I remember watching Captain Planet as a kid but never really imbibing the over-the-top message (ditto with D.A.R.E. and the McDonald’s recycling events at elementary school). I’m just going to avoid nonsense like The Lorax so I can also enjoy reading stories to her, not so much that she won’t internalize silly notions about the world (she generates plenty of those on her own).

      • Seth says:

        Wait a minute, exactly what’s wrong with the story of the Lorax? As in, how would a “strong property rights regime concerning the Truffala Trees” affect the ultimate outcome? If the trees are more “valuable” being cut-down, they get cut-down, no matter who owns them. Do you really need a introduction that starts “The trees were OWNED, OWNED is the best, and I bought ’em all, being the smart-est. Property, property, its fantastic and good, it lets me do what a profitable business should!”.

        (right, right, I’m not Seuss).

        • Urstoff says:

          It’s a hilariously heavy-handed environmental fable. GREEDY BUSINESS vs. the environmentalist who pretty much does nothing but shout at the GREEDY BUSINESS for most of the book. The Lorax just says “you’re going to regret it” rather than making any sort of argument; he could have explained how cultivation and conservation is in the Once-ler’s long-term interest. He could have rallied the Bar-ba-Loots to drive back the Once-ler who looks to be simply invading their territory. Instead he did nothing and was basically the crying Indian in those 1970’s litter PSA’s. Clearly the Lorax didn’t care about the environment, but then exhorts others to care (UNLESS) because he’s a failure on a massive level.

        • Also, I suspect it’s not a coincidence that the trees are being for a ridiculous-sounding consumer product.

        • CatCube says:

          An owner has reason to maintain a forest, where if the trees belong to everybody, the incentive is to grab as much as you can before somebody else does.

          It’s why chickens, despite being stupider as living critters than as McNuggets, are one of the most prolific species on the planet. Owners of flocks have reason to protect them from predators, breed them, and keep an ongoing stock.

          • Seth says:

            Strip-mining, clear-cutting, slash-and-burn agriculture, etc all show cases where obvious short-term incentives override proposed long-term maintainability. The objection doesn’t seem to me to be that the _Lorax_ situation portrayed is incorrect or unreasonable. But rather, that it shows a common and devastating failure-mode of economic development, as opposed to being a promotion for it by emphasizing other circumstances where such a failure-mode could be avoided.

            Huh – “He could have rallied the Bar-ba-Loots to drive back the Once-ler who looks to be simply invading their territory. ” My god, you’re proposing a children’s story where squatter hippies use *force* and *violence* against a businessman (businesscreature?) who is simply developing his property-rights? What sort of Communist Stalinist Maoist *Liberal* are you? (sigh, I’m joking). He’s not “invading their territory”, he’s likely properly purchased the forestry rights from the corporation which owns them, which has been happy to sell them to him for a cut of the royalties. That forest isn’t doing anything to help the stock price as it is. Why should anyone listen to a bearded granola-eating grump about “conservation”, when there’s an expected earnings number to meet?

          • Anonymous says:


            If it really is more profitable to prioritize the short term over the long term, is that not evidence that doing so is the better option, provided the costs and benefits are mostly internalized in each case?

          • Seth says:

            @ Anonymous – The devil is in the details there. All sort of games can be played with “mostly internalized” and who gets the costs and who gets the benefits. The group getting the benefits has a strong incentive to overstate them, and to minimize the view of the group getting the costs. If the former is much more politically powerful than the latter, this becomes even more of a problem.

          • CatCube says:


            Mineral mining isn’t a renewable resource, slash-and-burn is people having uses for a stand of trees as something other than a stand of trees, and clear-cutting proves exactly what I’m talking about.

            I don’t make the claim that ownership will prevent resource extraction without externalities, I claim that owners will maintain the value of a resource that can be expanded. Where I come from, Mead Paper owns huge tracts of land. You can tell when you’re on Mead land, because the trees are in rows. They clear-cut their land, then replant it. This is so they can come back and cut it again. If they were cutting on land they didn’t own, they wouldn’t bother, because they would have no way to guarantee that they wouldn’t be able to exploit the regrown trees.

          • Chalid says:

            It’s the principal-agent problem. Owners might be better served by a long-term sustainable business, but if the relevant manager making decisions has his bonus tied to quarterly profits and he’s retiring next year, then it’s goodbye forest.

            Well-run corporations keep this sort of thing under control, but not every corporation is well-run, and managers can be good at hacking the incentive structure.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Let’s not forget that The Lorax was written in 1971. What seems obvious and preachy to us today was not necessarily so at that time. This was prior to the energy crisis and the rise of the environmentalist movement, an era when gross pollution and waste of resources was business as usual.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          That sounds backwards to me. Shouldn’t preaching to the modern choir sound less preachy than it sounded to potential converts? I guess something aimed outsiders should sound repetitious to insiders who know it all, but is that the same as preachy?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If the purpose of preaching is to convert, and preaching that sounds preachy is less likely to convert, then there is strong incentive to develop preaching that does not sound like preaching.

            If preaching, like any speech, can be tailored to an audience at the expense of its impact on anyone not in that audience, then it stands to reason that sufficiently sophisticated preaching will sound like not-preaching to its intended audience, and yet appear very preachy to others, particularly people living in later times.

            (I skipped a few steps here.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Regarding children’s books with messages – when I was very young I read this book. A couple of months ago I remembered it of nowhere, and was amused to realize that it seems intended to advocate for polyamory. Something that totally slipped by me at the time.

    • Troy says:

      The Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children has some good books for talking with children about these kinds of issues in more nuanced ways. This webpage suggests that they aren’t making more print copies, but you might be able to find old ones on Amazon, or wait until they make them available online:


      • Emily says:

        Those look interesting for talking with older kids about reasoning. Where we are now is that I see a lot of mainstream books with good stories around which you could also have conversations with kids about values and behavior, but also a lot of books I’d like to be able to avoid.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Try Aesop’s fables. They teach children virtues in non-retarded ways.

    • John Sidles says:

      Urstoff says “I made the mistake of reading The Lorax to my daughter recently …”

      Pray that as your daughter gets older, she doesn’t turn to SpongeBob Squarepants cartoons, or Ursula LeGuin’s young-adult fiction, or most corrupting of all, Wendell Berry’s environmental speeches and Jeffersonian essays.

      Fortunately, unrelenting exposure to Ayn Rand train-fiction will accelerate your daughter’s maturation along cognitive paths that are marked by exclusively rational developmental milestones.

  35. Tanks says:

    Can anyone recommend other blogs that frequently (once a week or more) do good links posts?

    I already know about MarginalRevolution.

  36. keranih says:

    An attempt at steelmaning “cultural appropriation is bad”

    All cultures are made up of a complex tangle of multiple facets and layers, so that there are both attractive and “ugly” aspects, and parts that are largely superficial and cosmetic, and other portions that are deep fundamental factors. In order for the culture to “work”, the fundamental factors – including the boring and less attractive parts – also have to come along.

    Cultural appropriation tends to take up the superficial aesthetically pleasing pieces, and puts much less emphasis on the most fundamental portions (which can be difficult and limiting to the individuals in that culture). When the culture is transmitted by “appropriation” rather than by “authentic members” it lacks the fundamental foundation that the culture really needs to survive, and so will wither away.

    Depending on the culture, the fundamentals may or may not be accessible at all to adults who did not grow up in the culture. In others, “pop culture” may gloss right over the deeper structure in favor of the cute & easy aspects. (One of my favorite example of this (because I went through this process myself) is the Christian Franciscan mysticism, which is all too often shortened to “admiration of a mild and happy Saint who loves animals and nature”, and completely missing the madness, deprivation, and physical torment.)

    • Sastan says:

      The most common argument I see is similar to this, that people appropriate the popular bits, but didn’t have to struggle through whatever bad experiences to get them honestly. And I get that, up to a point. All subgroups defend their shibboleths.

      I guess my best steelman would be that it is like people claiming fake military decorations. If you didn’t earn it the hard way, you have no right to it. But then, of course, we’d be down to claiming “cultural appropriation” every time someone sang a cadence or wore a military costume to Halloween. Even that argument runs up against the proportionality wall pretty hard. There’s a difference between faking membership and paying tribute (Rachel Dolezal versus Eminem).

      • keranih says:

        I don’t think we’re talking about quite the same thing…the harm in “culturally appropriating” military decorations is not that it takes respect away from the people who have “earned” them, it is because “military decorations” are part of a broader culture of “military service”, of which the “go into battle and get shot at and shoot at other humans” is the difficult and ugly part, which is fundamental and necessary. (To the culture, and to society in general, which is why the broader society defends this particular culture.)(*)

        And yes, as noted below, there are things which can be appropriated, and things which can be mocked, and then there are the things which can not be appropriated or mocked.

        (*) There are disagreeing opinions.

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh crikey yes with regard to St Francis! The fluffy bunny saint who wuvved the widdle animals!

      The notion that he preached to animals as part of shaming the humans who were neglecting their religious duties just sails right over their heads, never mind the “going to convert the Sultan” and the stigmata, plus the whole fight between the Conventuals and the Spirituals towards the end of his life – the pop culture sugary sentimental figure is not even grazing the surface.

      • keranih says:

        Mad Frankie is one of the scariest beings in the pantheon, far beyond most of the original 12 and sometimes rivaling the third body of the Trinity. And I don’t care if that’s heresy, the little man scares me.

    • Anon. says:

      >and so will wither away.

      That hardly follows. The “true believers” are still around, are we to believe that they are rendered incapable of transmitting the deep bits if the superficial bits are popular? I very much doubt it.

      • keranih says:

        The “true believers” are still around, are we to believe that they are rendered incapable of transmitting the deep bits if the superficial bits are popular?

        I was perhaps not clear enough. Each culture is a living and breathing thing itself, in this argument. To go on living, it needs to find new humans to live in. Those “complete culture” adherents are competing with the “pop culturalists”, who are spreading an incomplete and “sterile” version of the culture. Because the complete culture is more complex and less appealing than its individual shiniest bits, people tend to glom onto the pop version, leaving fewer people to take on the whole kit and kaboodle.

        In some cases, the extra publicity of the pop culture version will yield a wider audience for the complete culturists, and will end up expanding the original complete culture. In others, the pop culture will “steal away” even the few heirs the original culture had.

        (I perhaps should have said that I am not fond of the “CA is bad” argument, and don’t actually agree in most cases.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Are you taking into account the benefit enjoyed by those who get to have fun with a superficial version of the culture, as well as the costs incurred by those who want to do the culture properly but have to suffer seeing other people around them doing it wrong?

    • Anthony says:

      I’m not as convinced by your steelmanning as I am by the motte of the argument I’ve seen made by those who get worked up about cultural appropriation, which is something like this:

      People who aren’t members of a culture cannot fully understand the implications of the various trappings of a culture, and often adopt the styles of other cultures in a way which is disrespectful or even mocking of the culture being “appropriated”.

      Now as a motte, that’s not bad, but the bailey the anti-cultural-appropriation types try to claim is much more questionable.

      It’s even less convincing when these same people do not object to (or participate in) obvious and deliberate mockery of Catholic symbols, even though most of them aren’t Catholic, for example.

  37. Anonymous says:

    To anyone who has had success improving productivity, etc. with modafinil or similar:

    Before starting, did you suffer from some kind of functional deficit? (Below-average ability to cope with everyday tasks, productivity not commensurate with your abilities and work ethic, something similar?)

    If so, how would you describe it? (Tiredness? Focus issues? Procrastination? (Out of disinterest, or anxiety? If the latter, results-related? Objectless?) Other?) What changed?

    • zz says:

      Haven’t/don’t have any sort of deficit; *afinil just sort of turns me from a normal human to a superhuman, capable of sitting down and studying for a double-digit number of hours with no respite or slogging through 450 Anki cards because I was busy and got really (really!) behind.

  38. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Two questions about the Trans Pacific Partnership:

    1) Would it allow goods to be sold in a country that couldn’t be sold prior?

    2) Will it affect intellectual property laws within any country, or will it only affect situations that arise between countries?

    And is there a historical precedent for either?

  39. Adam Casey says:

    Linking back to the common knowledge post. One result of Myanmar’s election, even if the results are annulled tomorrow, is that “basically everyone hates the military” is now common knowledge. … Good luck trying to run a junta in that case.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      You think that despotic governments only survive when it isn’t common knowledge that they are despotic?

      • Adam Casey says:

        Not quite “that they are despotic” but “that they are unpopular”. Short of absurd amounts of firepower it is hard to impose a dictatorship on a whole population if they are united in opposing you. Normally the reason dictatorships keep going is that it’s unclear how many are collaborators.

        I won’t rebel because I expect my neighbour will inform on me (because he suspects his neigbour would inform on him if he didn’t). If it’s common knowledge that the regime is disliked I’m confident my neighbour wont inform on me (because he is confident his won’t inform on him).

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        It’s Scott Aaronson’s thesis. From “Common Knowledge and Aumann’s Agreement Theorem”:

        OK, now for a darker example of common knowledge in action. If you read accounts of Nazi Germany, or the USSR, or North Korea or other despotic regimes today, you can easily be overwhelmed by this sense of, “so why didn’t all the sane people just rise up and overthrow the totalitarian monsters? Surely there were more sane people than crazy, evil ones. And probably the sane people even knew, from experience, that many of their neighbors were sane—so why this cowardice?” Once again, it could be argued that common knowledge is the key. Even if everyone knows the emperor is naked; indeed, even if everyone knows everyone knows he’s naked, still, if it’s not common knowledge, then anyone who says the emperor’s naked is knowingly assuming a massive personal risk. That’s why, in the story, it took a child to shift the equilibrium. Likewise, even if you know that 90% of the populace will join your democratic revolt provided they themselves know 90% will join it, if you can’t make your revolt’s popularity common knowledge, everyone will be stuck second-guessing each other, worried that if they revolt they’ll be an easily-crushed minority. And because of that very worry, they’ll be correct!

        (My favorite Soviet joke involves a man standing in the Moscow train station, handing out leaflets to everyone who passes by. Eventually, of course, the KGB arrests him–but they discover to their surprise that the leaflets are just blank pieces of paper. “What’s the meaning of this?” they demand. “What is there to write?” replies the man. “It’s so obvious!” Note that this is precisely a situation where the man is trying to make common knowledge something he assumes his “readers” already know.)

        The kicker is that, to prevent something from becoming common knowledge, all you need to do is censor the common-knowledge-producing mechanisms: the press, the Internet, public meetings. This nicely explains why despots throughout history have been so obsessed with controlling the press, and also explains how it’s possible for 10% of a population to murder and enslave the other 90% (as has happened again and again in our species’ sorry history), even though the 90% could easily overwhelm the 10% by acting in concert. Finally, it explains why believers in the Enlightenment project tend to be such fanatical absolutists about free speech–why they refuse to “balance” it against cultural sensitivity or social harmony or any other value, as so many well-meaning people urge these days.

    • Mammon says:

      Can you elaborate? What’s changed?

      • Adam Casey says:

        We’ve had reasonably free elections and it has been publicly announced that the regime got basically no votes. Everyone knows that the majority opposes the regime, whereas previously the official election results showed the regime winning, and even if everyone knew the official results were fake, they didn’t know that everyone else knew that.

  40. Anthony says:

    I have a hypothesis I’d like to hear people’s opinions of:

    Background – if you follow financial news, the Federal Reserve keeps not raising interest rates despite the (allegedly) improving economy, even though many Fed-watchers predict, and economic theory would dictate, that the Fed should raise rates slowly as the economy improves.

    Deeper background – Krugman, and various of his acolytes, has claimed that the U.S. government budget deficit is too *low*; that we should borrow more while rates are historically low. However, I’ve seen the claim that over the past something years, the maturity of U.S. government debt has been growing shorter and shorter – less of it is held as 30-year or 10-year bonds, and more is held in 1-year instruments. (Sorry, don’t have a source at this time.)

    Hypothesis: The Federal Reserve is deliberately keeping rates low not to “stimulate growth”, but to prevent the debtpocalypse. If rates go up, the government’s borrowing costs go up, which makes the budget deficit bigger which makes the total borrowing required even more, which reduces investor confidence in the debt, etc.

    Does this sound reasonable as (a) a policy to follow (ie, if you were a Fed governor, would this convince you to not raise rates), and (b) the real reasoning behind the Fed’s actions or lack thereof?

    • Chalid says:

      Average maturity is not shortening (though it may be shorter than most people expect). This explains some of the dynamics:


      What do you have against the standard explanation, that lack of inflationary pressures means there was no reason to raise rates?

      • Anthony says:

        I couldn’t see the article, possibly because of some adblocking I’ve got, but the comments say that most of the longer-term debt is held by the Federal Reserve (though doesn’t the Social Security Trust Fund have some?), and that the private market in U.S. government debt prefers fairly short maturity these days.

        The bits I read about shortening maturity were talking about trends over decades, not annual fluctuations. Since work is being annoying, I may spend some time trying to track it down.

        • Chalid says:

          Ah, I don’t know the very long term trends and will let you do the work to find out 🙂 The article that I posted has a plot showing maturity rising from 1980-2002, falling through 2009 (though the “low” is higher than 1980), and then rising again since such that we’re near the 2002 high (as of 2014 when the article was written).

          But I’d reiterate that I think the “boring” explanation of below-target inflation and (until recently) high excess capacity is a totally sufficient explanation for the Fed’s behavior.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      If that were the case they would have raised rates as the deficit shrank wouldn’t they? Its very very low right now.

    • brad says:

      The treasury chooses the average maturity of the debt. They could have been issuing more 30 year bonds all this time and locking in low interest rates, or even issued 50 year bonds like Canada. Maybe at some point those auctions would have failed or sharply increased yields, but we never saw anything even close (and the fed can step in to prevent that), so I’m skeptical that they felt they couldn’t.

      I’m not sure how to explain the falling maturity, it is possible that there’s some legal reason.

    • Brian says:

      The “Background” part of your post is a little too general. Specifically this part: “.. though many Fed-watchers predict, and economic theory would dictate, that the Fed should raise rates slowly as the economy improves.”

      There are plenty of solid economic arguments for not raising rates, and plenty of Fed-watchers have made them.

      The Fed’s goal is low unemployment and stable prices (which they translate into “at or just below 2 percent” inflation. Many people do estimate the U.S. economy is at or very near full employment currently, however inflation remains below the 2% goal, and the Fed’s own median projections do not predict it to rise to 2 percent until 2018.

  41. stargirl says:

    Alot of people seem to be claiming that “Free Speech advocates” are really the people against free speech. Scott discusses this here https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/12/29/the-spirit-of-the-first-amendment/ – Scott’s article is short.

    Maybe the anti-freeze peach people have a point? I am going to post what I think and ask if this is similar to what other “free speech” people think:

    1) With very few exceptions it is not virtuous or moral to directly target people because of their views. And when you criticize someone publicly you should try very hard not to misrepresent their views. Ganging up on a single, normal non-famous individual is extremely dangerous and very rarely right (The one case I can think of where it was right was when everyone piled on Martin Shkreli for raising Daraprim prices so much.)

    2) It is bad to be racist/sexist/etc. But in some sense people have the right to be wrong about these sorts of things and be left alone if there is no evidence they are directly harming others (left alone by society and the government). In the vast majority of cases it is not morally virtuous to disrupt people’s attempts to discuss ideas you consider dangerous. So protesting speakers on campus is almost always wrong (again not always).

    3) The government should not be in the business of banning speech in either case. Even harassment laws should not be applied to liberally. And we should be skeptical of laws about cyber-harassment that would expand government power.

    There are a large number of potential contradictions here. For one I seem to have the intuition that people have a “right to be wrong in peace” about racism/sexism but not about insulting racists/sexists. To some extant this is explainable because I think it is ok to oppose people who are directly harming others and attacking racists/sexists is causing direct harm.

    In my defense I think of people’s attitude toward violence. Most people think that “violence is not ok except against people who have themselves committed violence (plus some other like doing drugs or not paying taxes.)” so there seems to be some basis to “Don’t try to control what people think except on the issue of whether its ok to try to control what people think!” Even if it seems kind of odd on face value.


    • TrivialGravitas says:

      I think the contradictions might hinge on the difference between protesting and disruptive protesting. If students protests Greer on the basis of things Greer actually said and did, without shouting over her, it’s just speech vs speech, and I’d side with the protesters, I find Greer despicable. The problem with modern soft censorship is the reliance on no platforming, disruption (Chanting while she’s talking) and libel intended to justify this behavior. both from a free speech AND from an anti-Greer perspective (disruption and dishonesty allows targets to be dishonest in turn with anybody they do get their message through to, which she’s taken advantage of by pretending the students disrupting her are upset over minor things rather than the whole ‘history of outing and advocating discrimination’ thing).

    • FacelessCraven says:

      It seems to me that you can have a stable state where people are allowed to be wrong in peace, or you can have a stable state where social conformity is enforced. The problems come when you’re in the middle of the two. The solution is tit for tat with forgiveness, I think.

      If SJ is a thing that’s going to be happening, then the correct response is to fight. If SJ can be contained and minimized, then the correct response is to cooperate with anyone willing to contain and minimize it. Likewise with examples on the right; the best response I’ve seen to the KKK is that black guy who befriended a bunch of them and convinced them to give up their robes, but that only worked in a specific time and place. in other times and places, the proper response was gunfire.

    • lvlln says:

      “There are a large number of potential contradictions here. For one I seem to have the intuition that people have a “right to be wrong in peace” about racism/sexism but not about insulting racists/sexists. To some extant this is explainable because I think it is ok to oppose people who are directly harming others and attacking racists/sexists is causing direct harm. ”

      Do you really have an intuition that “insulting racists/sexists” is wrong in a way that doesn’t deserve peace, even though being a racist/sexist is wrong in a way that does deserve peace? That does seem contradictory, and your explanation doesn’t do much in resolving the contradiction, since your explanation addresses the case of “attacking racists/sexists,” not “insulting racists/sexists,” which I perceive as very different things.

      Of course, “attacking” and “insulting” aren’t the most precise of terms, but I perceive “insulting” as being limited to commentary about the racist/sexist without sanctions beyond the potential emotional harm from reading/hearing commentary insulting to oneself, while I perceive “attacking” as something that could include insults but also potentially including other, more concrete sanctions.

      From my pro-free-speech view, being racist/sexist who says racist/sexist things deserves peace. Insulting racists/sexists deserve peace. Committing racist/sexist actions does not deserve peace. Committing actions to harm/silence someone who is racist/sexist does not deserve peace. It is acknowledged that there can be some ambiguity and blurriness in the boundaries between saying racist/sexist things and committing racist/sexist actions, as well as between insulting racists/sexists and harming/silencing racists/sexists. But I don’t think figuring out on which side any given specific incident lies isn’t an intractable problem, and I believe that these are consistent views.

      • Anonymous says:

        Committing racist/sexist actions does not deserve peace.

        If I date men but not women, am I committing a sexist action? If not, why not?

        • Deiseach says:

          Depends. Are you male-identifying or female-identifying?

          If you are male-identifying and date men, then you are a gay person and thus a protected minority so rock on, brother-person or whatever term by which you prefer to be addressed.

          If you are female-identifying but were coercively assigned male at birth, then you are exercising your choice to explore your sexuality as feels comfortable to you, as is your right, sister.

          If you are female-identifying and assigned female at birth, then shame on you for cis het privilege and you should work on your transphobic, biphobic, homophobic, genderfluidityphobic attitudes right now (for instance, have you considered you may be cis-by-default and not cis-by-conviction or cis-by-strong-identification?)

          • Anonymous says:

            I know you’re joking, but…

          • Deiseach says:

            What makes you think I’m joking, Anonymous? My consciousness has been raised so much, I need binoculars to see over it! 🙂

            As to the newspaper piece – eh. Maybe, maybe not. I think it’s because we’re culturally sexualised in one element only: female bodies. Male bodies treated as explicitly sexual is gay and not mainstream, but you can plaster women in lingerie to sell ice cream on bus shelter posters.

            Think about what is considered “sexy clothing”; most of us will have the image of a curvy female in stilettos, stockings and a bustier pop into our heads, whether we’re male or female. There’s no equivalent of “Albert’s Secret” selling wispy lace frivolities for men, after all (though some male lingerie lines are starting up, and even there it’s divided into fetish wear, which is minority interest and specialised, or imitating female lingerie).

            So both sexes get conditioned that SEXXAYYY means “female body” because that is what is primarily and majorly presented to us as the example of sexual desirability in the mainstream, which is why I’m not surprised women can become aroused looking at images of both men and women.

            I’d like to see a similar study done on a society where men and women grew up seeing images like this where ads in glossy magazines had men in such poses, not women.

            I bet you’d find similar results: “males are not exclusively straight, men can get turned on by sexy images of both men and women”.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Think about what is considered “sexy clothing”; most of us will have the image of a curvy female in stilettos, stockings and a bustier pop into our heads, whether we’re male or female. There’s no equivalent of “Albert’s Secret” selling wispy lace frivolities for men, after all (though some male lingerie lines are starting up, and even there it’s divided into fetish wear, which is minority interest and specialised, or imitating female lingerie).

            The male equivalent of female lingerie is a well tailored suit, as the saying goes. You simply can’t optimize for male attractiveness the same way you optimize for female attractiveness. Men are attracted to curves in the right places, females are attracted to status and power.

          • anonymous says:

            Just so!

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            The male equivalent of lingerie is… lingerie.

            They make lingerie for men; I own several pieces. And anyone who thinks you can’t turn a woman’s eyes with well-accentuated curves in the right places isn’t paying attention.

          • NN says:

            Male bodies treated as explicitly sexual is gay and not mainstream, but you can plaster women in lingerie to sell ice cream on bus shelter posters.

            Apart from romance novel covers, Twilight (especially the movie sequels with Jacob and his constantly shirtless werewolf pack), Magic Mike, gratuitous male shirtless scenes in various movies, especially romantic comedies…

    • Anonymous says:

      >Scott’s article is short.

      There’s a sentence you don’t see too often.

    • Alphaceph says:

      > It is bad to be racist/sexist/etc. But in some sense people have the right to be wrong about these sorts of things and be left alone if there is no evidence they are directly harming others

      What do you mean by “racism” and “sexism” such that they are wrong in a map-territory sense?

      I feel that these words suffer from motte-and-bailey definitional creep, and that people use the versions of them that are nonfactual and totally objectionable to silence the versions of them that are plausibly true.

  42. Artemium says:

    In another news..
    Left-swimming metaphorical Cthulhu has just eaten the fictional Cthulhu.

    World Fantasy Award To Abandon Lovecraft Bust

    Yeah I know.. Racism and stuff. Still, feels kinda bad.

  43. Simon says:

    Maybe someone could give me some pointers on a recurring dilemma that I occasionally struggle with.

    Say you’re offered an interview on a very popular TV-show. 60 Minutes or maybe the Late Show or something. You’ve just sponsored an important paper or published a popular article about your work in The Atlantic or a similar magazine. You’re good at your job and have something interesting to tell, but it’s very likely that if you pass, they’ll book someone else whose job is even more interesting with an even better story. Should you decline?

    A friend has scored two tickets for the premiere of the new Star Wars and calls you if you want to go with her. You like Star Wars and will eventually watch the movie, but aren’t very invested in it. Mutual friend B however really loves Star Wars even though he wasn’t able to get tickets, and will probably be the second pick if you decline. Should you take up the offer, ask the kind of uncomfortable ‘why don’t you ask B first?’ or lie that you don’t have time and decline, knowing B will now get to go?

    You’re watching a very interesting debate between Elon Musk and Barack Obama. There’s a Q&A round and you have a question you have wanted answered for a long time, but it’s very personal and the answer only of great use to you personally. With lots of people holding up their hand to ask a question, the moderator announces there is time for only one more before the two will be executed. Do you put down your hand?

    I don’t think I very often act upon these kinds of things, but they do occasionally bother me a lot. And then I wonder if I’m only inclined to answer “get out” to all these because it allows me to evade risk. I don’t know.

    • James says:

      In the first scenario, I feel like you should trust the show’s researchers to know better than you who would be most interesting on their show. After all, it’s their job! The situation where their second choice is more interesting than their first choice is probably rare enough to be the exception rather than the rule, so you should probably operate on the assumption that they picked right.

      In the Star Wars scenario I wouldn’t lie about not being able to go, but if I could find a non-awkward way to put forward the alternate friend then I would.

      In the Q&A scenario I might lower my hand.

    • Anonymous says:

      It actually took me about thirty seconds to work out what the dilemma was in your first example. I’m supposed to be altruistically interested in the objective quality of a show I don’t watch? Heck no, getting mine.

      I would certainly suggest B go with her, though. “Actually, B really wanted to go and he couldn’t get tickets—you should ask him. I’m gonna torrent it and watch it at home where I can shout at the screen.” What’s awkward about that? It’s true, B would enjoy it more, she would probably enjoy it more as well being with somebody who was really hyped, she might not have known B couldn’t otherwise go, and even if for some reason she wanted to go specifically with me we can hang out whenever.

      Hand stays up. No guarantee about quality of other people’s questions. If the Q&A session had so far been uniformly fascinating, I’d consider dropping it—but a) it sounds like this is the sort of question it would be hard to get answered elsewhere, whereas I can read interesting people talking about impersonal but interesting things any time, and b) if so far I’ve thought all the questions were really good, even though they were other people’s, there’s a decent chance that my question will be interesting to other people, even if it seems personal to me. Nobody is as unique as they think.

      I’m not sure what to say about that kind of altruism-as-risk-avoidance. It does sound a little bit impostor-syndrome-y (‘but does anyone really want to hear what I have to say?’), but clearly I’m so much more selfish than you are that I wouldn’t know genuine altruism if I saw it.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Ah, the classic tradeoffs between personal gain and the public good. I think there is no general answer, but in my opinion:

      First case, definitely accept the interview. You probably underestimate the interestingness of your own work because you are familiar with it, but if there really is someone else more deserving then they can probably get their chance. When it comes to your profession, the world is not kind, you have to fight for yourself. It is the unspoken rule and if you don’t stand up for yourself, you’ll inevitably have lower salaries and fewer opportunities than you could have.

      In the second case, giving the ticket away is a fine gesture. I would probably do so if I’m not very interested in the movie. I wouldn’t feel bad about accepting it though, clearly the friend values your company otherwise they would not have offered you.

      In the Q&A case, I would ask the question, that sort of opportunity is very rare whereas people like Barack Obama are very frequently answering commonly asked questions.

    • Jiro says:

      Say you’re offered an interview on a very popular TV-show. 60 Minutes or maybe the Late Show or something. You’ve just sponsored an important paper or published a popular article about your work in The Atlantic or a similar magazine. You’re good at your job and have something interesting to tell, but it’s very likely that if you pass, they’ll book someone else whose job is even more interesting with an even better story. Should you decline?

      I would accept, because like everyone else who is not from around here, I don’t believe it is my obligation to maximize all human beings’ utility equally, so it doesn’t matter that my replacement would have a more interesting story.

    • Peter says:

      Haaaaaang on a minute. “the moderator announces there is time for only one more before the two will be executed“??? Are debates with Q&A normal in this situation? Or is “executed” talk show lingo for “moved offstage”?

      (I was going to say – get the interview, suggest B should have the ticket, see how you feel about the question at the time, but suddenly I’m a bit more confused here.)

      • Simon says:

        You could of course ask this question to Musk or Obama, but it seems like a waste, since there are better ones to ask. And also because they will be executed afterwards.

        (it’s an absurd situation to heighten the sense that you will never be able to get your question answered if not now)

        • Peter says:

          I think, “OMG they’re gonna DIE!!eleven!” is going to swamp out any concerns about the propriety of selfish question asking.

          I mean, these sorts of things are all about carefully weighing conflicting motivations, and there’s nothing like impending death to put its thumb on the scales.

          Also, it would be a Strange Hypothetical, so by my maxim, you should shoot someone. In this case, maybe as part of a daring rescue.

  44. Any thoughts about how to find doctors who listen and think? Even granting that people who have bad doctors talk about it more than people who are satisfied by their doctors, it does seem like there are a lot of doctors who don’t pay attention.

    I don’t think it’s just a moral failing on the part of doctors– at least some of it is that they’re given very little time per appointment.

    • keranih says:

      Consider using a “cash-and-carry”/concierge type practice. These physicians build a practice around patient satisfaction, which generally includes listening to patients. Being (at least partly) off insurance, they are also far more responsive to the market.

    • Anthony says:

      If you listen to Deisiach (and others), don’t be fat. If you’re fat, all your physical problems can be solved by losing weight.

      I think Scott had something about picking a psychiatrist a while ago; much of the advice would be transferrable.

      In my case, I’ve given up. My doctor does pay some attention, and I’m not very fat, so I get some of what you’re looking for. I’m on Kaiser, so if I come in with something urgent, they’ll see me, but no guarantees if it’s my doctor, or another one. I’ve found that being seen by a resident gets me more attention, and more thought, but there’s no good way to guarantee that.

  45. Tanks says:

    Can anyone point me to reliable data on rates of Amish defection over a long period of time–say, the last 100 years?

    I’ve tried a bunch of different DuckDuckGo searches without success.

  46. Sastan says:

    Not a steelman, but perhaps an explanation. “Cultural appropriation” is hated because it is acceptance by the dominant society, which tends to decimate subcultures. Yes, it is acceptance of a cartoon version, but acceptance nonetheless. The danger to a subculture in the West is not that they’ll all be murdered, like in most of the world. The danger is that they will be co-opted.

    So for nerds, the problem is not that they’ll be lined up against the wall and shot, but that all the high-functioning nerds will be accepted by larger society and leave for greener pastures, leaving only the people who couldn’t function well in society to begin with as the “real” fans. Outside threat is what maintains the solidarity of a group. Without that, who cares about labelling themselves a “nerd” if there is no danger? Tom Cruise can call himself a nerd, and no one cares.

    Same thing with black society. Segregation and discrimination forced them to be a cohesive society, and kept the most talented members in their communities. The end of all that creamed off everyone with talent and drive and let them integrate. This leaves an aggrieved community bereft of leadership with a constant brain drain (and athletic drain) siphoning off their best and brightest.

    Integration is great for some members of a sub-group. I can talk about my WoW days without every woman in hearing distance leaving. But it is very bad for the group itself. If the social stigma were higher, I might still play. But all the people I raided with got married, had kids and got adult jobs. Outside success ruined the subgroup. This is what people who can’t assimilate for reasons not related to the actual subgroup fear. That they will be left as the last rump of dysfunctional people. The seriously socially avoidant nerds, the seriously underclass blacks, the last hick southerners. They fear that without the subgroup to conceal their other problems, discrimination against them will be more warranted and less taboo.

    • LTL says:

      That sucks for those people, but in the long run I can’t help but see this as being good for a group, especially the newer generations.

      • That depends on how important cultural variation is. I think we’ve been fortunate to have semi-separate cultures and sub-cultures which have had enough time and privacy to develop interesting things before those things are assimilated into the mainstream.

        Having a monoculture might not be as good.

      • Sastan says:

        It’s not good or bad, it just is. It’s good for some people, bad for others. The question is, which group do you value more, the dominant society, or the subgroup? It’s all tribalism. Sure, you’re Irish-American, but what are you REALLY? Irish or American? If you’re primarily American, stupid St. Paddies Day celebrations are fine. If you’re primarily Irish, they’re an abomination that tricks people into switching groups.

        If you value the subgroup, you must cheer for discrimination, and if you can’t find any, you better manufacture some, quick, before your co-sub-culturalists realize that nothing is stopping them from having the same opportunities everyone else does. So you start hanging nooses on campus or smearing shit-swastikas around in the hopes you can both scare your fellows and provoke a reaction.

    • onyomi says:

      I think this is an excellent description and confirms my suspicion that it is largely about maintaining group distinctiveness by not letting non-group members in.

      The problem is that the new “salad bowl” society now favored by liberal elite thinkers over the old “melting pot” sets forth an impossible task: accept us into all your institutions without discrimination, prejudice, bias, or stereotyping yet also please make no attempt to understand us by directly engaging with our culture. You must simultaneously distance us and embrace us… impossible.

      Unless the goal is to just keep the perpetual grievance machine going: white male oppressors aren’t supposed to actually learn to stop being oppressors. They’re supposed to keep playing their role as nominal oppressor so oppressed group can keep defining themselves against them. If they object to their status as eternal, silent whipping boy, well then they shouldn’t have had slavery and imperialism.

      • Sastan says:

        We’re seeing the results of the perpetual grievance machine in Yale and Missouri most recently. “Multiculturalism” is exactly this, the denigration of white males mostly by white males to serve as a launching pad for their status bids. Hence Shaun King et. al.

  47. onyomi says:

    What strikes me as especially bizarre about the whole “cultural appropriation as bad thing” idea is that presumably part of what proponents are reacting against is the supposed dominance of WASP culture. But the whole reason US and WASP culture are so dominant today is that everyone in the world keeps “appropriating” it! We mentioned in a recent thread that almost everyone in the world is wearing a suit for formal occasions. If everyone in the world were wearing a kimono for formal occasions, wouldn’t that be a success for Japanese culture, rather than something to bemoan?

    The only thing I can imagine is that people *want* to keep their distinctive minority identity by keeping others out of it. Like, as if by white people enjoying blues music they were somehow diminishing black culture or black people’s ability to enjoy it. I would say the opposite: white people growing familiar with black culture probably sped up integration and diminished racism.

    If minority groups simultaneously want to be thoroughly accepted by the dominant culture and yet have their own culture remain pristine and distinct and never infringed upon by the dominant culture, I think they are trying to thread an impossible needle.

    Related was this minor controversy:

    Even though the little girl looks kind of weird in the geisha makeup and messes things up by doing a Thai greeting at a supposedly Japanese tea party, I still largely agree with the sentiment of the comment defending it.

    The key, to my mind, should be whether or not the other culture is being held up as an object of ridicule and stereotype reinforcement or enjoyment and appreciation. It seems this girl is attempting to enjoy and appreciate Japanese culture rather than ridicule it, so I can’t see anything wrong.

    And maybe there’s the argument that it reinforces stereotypes about Asian female submissiveness, as was maybe more appropriately applied to Katy Perry’s performance, but I really don’t see that here, either. Geisha/maiko are a real thing and are pretty well respected in Japan. And I don’t think the parent is thinking “haha, I’ll dress up my little girl like a submissive Asian whore.” He/she is probably thinking, “isn’t it cute how my girl likes Asian culture?”

    • Deiseach says:

      There’s two ways of looking at it: first, the over-reaction to what are harmless and generally well-meant efforts (such as wearing kimonos).

      Then there’s the probably more subtle damage, such as “Western Buddhism”, where a sophisticated philosophy or element of a culture is cherry-picked and twisted around to suit the adoptive culture. That’s not quite the same as adapting to local conditions; that’s taking the bits that suit you and creating a fantasy version: the Orientalism or Noble Savage or Margaret Mead’s “Coming of Age in Samoa”, which – whatever the soundness of her research or the complexity of the society she studied – got boiled down, in the popular understanding, to “young Samoans can have all kinds of sex without bad social consequences”.

      • onyomi says:

        This certainly happens much, if not most of the time with cultural appropriation–new culture takes what it likes and leaves the rest–but is this inherently bad? Like the fact that America has invented a weird version of Chinese food that bears little relation to any actual Chinese food does not, in my mind, detract from actual Chinese food.

        If it’s a negative stereotype without nuance, like “young Samoans get to have lots of sex with no consequences,” then I can see how that might be bad, but isn’t that just plain old stereotyping, rather than appropriation? Like, if you use this to say “I love Samoan culture and have decided to adopt their sexual practices in my own life,” then, even if you’re getting Samoan culture wrong, does it actually harm actual Samoans? If you say, “those dirty Samoans and their permissive sex–I’m so glad I’m not like them,” then that is certainly bad, but it’s not appropriation; just stereotyping.

        So maybe there is an objection to be made to *bad* appropriation as contributing to stereotyping, but in the case of the girl in kimono, the criticism was not that she was doing Japanese culture *wrong* but simply that, as a white person, she had no business doing Japanese culture *at all*.

      • moridinamael says:

        But what about this is damaging? Who is being damaged? Where are the concrete harms?

        I can’t shake the feeling that this is just Nancy Lebovitz’ “felt right to be offended” whenever somebody has a negative emotion.

        FWIW, I can’t credibly steelman the “CA is bad” position myself.

        • Nicholas Carter says:

          The idea, I think, is that CA is not the harm, but CA is the necessary but not per say sufficient cause of a collection of harms that are all harder to stop than CA, so CA needs to be the Schelling point.
          Imagine if “Rationalism” suddenly took off as a cool subculture in the mainstream, all of it except the part about “Actually Changing Your Mind.” And now that it’s mainstream, nobody can gate-keep that Rationalism requires “ACYM” or it doesn’t actually work. Everyone is just walking around misusing your jargon and turning your principals into the Motte of their Bailey and flooding your discourse with the kind of poorly thought out hash that makes productive discourse at that place possible because they keep derailing it and now you can only go to Bay Area meetups if you are also Baptist. Either you build a fence, or you get Theseus’ Boat-ed out of your own community.

        • Deiseach says:

          The examples I’ve seen that make a kind of sense are, for instance, the craze for bindi dots and henna tattoos on white girls.

          That’s fine, if you’re white and walk out in public like that, you won’t get in trouble. But brown people from those cultures are likely to be mistaken for the Enemy of the Moment and attacked, e.g. the stories of Sikh men being mistaken for Muslims and beaten up.

          And I did see Twitter comments about Miss America 2014, who is Indian-American, being insulted and told go back to her own country by people who assumed she was Muslim and Arab, and calling her a terrorist and that it was a disgrace a real American girl wasn’t picked.

          So Miss America 2014 was castigated for being foreign (even though she was born and raised in America), although she dressed, spoke and acted like any other American contestant. If she looked even more visibly “foreign” (e.g. bindi dot, henna hand tattoos), it would provoke even more insult. But white girls playing around with Indian cultural traditions can have the fun of exoticism without paying the price of being regarded as an alien within their own society.

          I suppose in the same vein is the pop Kabbala red-thread lucky charm notion as well.

        • Anonymous says:


          Um, that sounds to me like an argument that what the white people in the situations you describe are doing is harmless, because they are not causing anyone else to be associated with a disparaged group in the process of imitating their culture. That doesn’t sound like a view that those upset about cultural appropriation would endorse.

        • lvlln says:


          Regarding Deiseach’s examples, I think the point is that white people have the privilege of enjoying such bits of culture w/o fear of the negative repercussions that people who actually are parts of that culture and/or other brown people would have to fear. Now, you are absolutely right that the white people who appropriated culture in those examples didn’t do anything directly harmful to the people whose cultures they’re appropriating, and as such one would reasonably conclude that there was no harm in these examples of cultural appropriation.

          However, such white people exercised their privilege, which, to some eyes, is harmful, regardless of whether or not it caused direct observable harm by the logical consequences of their actions. And my intuition is that people who believe privileged people exercising their privilege is harmful regardless of measured or observed harm make up a significant portion of the people who claim that cultural appropriation is wrong or bad or unjust.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @ Deiseach
          White girls wearing a bindi dot or henna tattoos are destigmatizing those attributes. Behaviors that you see rarely because only a few people do it can seem weird/foreign/alien/scary. But once you see the same thing on random kids in random places (halloween, clubs, burningman) it stops being unusual, hence stops being scary – even when presented in the original context.

          We should WANT attributes like dreads or bindi dots to get “appropriated” – the faster that happens, the faster any associated negative stereotypes get diluted away into meaninglessness.

        • Urstoff says:


          That seems to me like a privilege anyone in a first-world country can enjoy; do minorities not have the privilege of doing the same with white culture (assuming that’s a distinct thing) or the cultures of other minorities?

      • nydwracu says:

        Then there’s the probably more subtle damage, such as “Western Buddhism”, where a sophisticated philosophy or element of a culture is cherry-picked and twisted around to suit the adoptive culture.

        Oh, you mean like Central American Christianity? Or, going back a bit further, Germanic Christianity?

        (The kimono controversy itself looks to be an instance of this: the Japanese in Japan don’t care, but Japanese-Americans who have adopted the norms of American progressive culture get weird about it, because that’s how American progressive culture works — and then presume to speak for all Japanese everywhere, even in Japan, never mind that they don’t care.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Adapting to local culture is different to cultural appropriation.

          Jesuits in China investigating whether rice could be used for the Host instead of wheat (ruling by the Vatican: no) because that was the local grain is legitimate. The Jesuits making decisions to adopt dress associated with the locally-recognised religious/scholars, and to put their missionary work into understandable terms for the local culture as far as possible is adaptation.

          Saying the Virgin Mary is the same person as Kwan-Yin is not adaptation, it’s appropriation. See the difference?

          Westerrn pop Buddhism being all about “spiritual not religious”, mixing and matching different influences, chanting to get wealth/success, vague notions of karma, etc. is skimming the surface, picking off the attractively exotic parts to give yourself an aura of special snowflakeness, and not doing the work to understand the philosophy.

          It’s scattering Buddha statues and sand gardens around as décor to give your place that chic minimalist look, with no more depth to it than that.

          The Japanese notions of Christianity, for instance, are weird and wonderful and are an interesting comparison for exactly the same reason: a mirror image of how something is seen as foreign, exotic, and wildly misunderstood then used in a very altered form in the adoptive culture.

  48. Neanderthal From Mordor says:

    Anyone knows a good, free, non-verbal, online IQ test?

  49. Alexandra says:

    How realistic is the concept of the memory palace as found in modern pop culture? (Sherlock, etc.) From what I understand, it draws on several accepted memory techniques, but I’m not sure if it would be possible to make an actual “palace”.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      A “memory palace” is just a place you know well, used as a mnemonic device by mentally “placing” things there and tapping into whatever kind of memory you use to keep track of locations to “go back” and find it still there. It’s a fairly effective technique, and you can start with something along the lines of a single room in your house.

      The only drawback is the encoding – it’s usual to do things like using objects that rhyme with numbers to store individual digits, which is incredibly lossy. It’s enough of a pain the neck that I’ve never ended up using it in everyday life.

    • Nicholas Carter says:

      I’m told you start with a real palace: The biggest building you’re personally familiar with. After a while the palace in your head diverges to accommodate your memories better. For example, if you’ve used the memory of actually distant rooms to encode seemingly disparate information and then you learn that those two facts are actually strongly connected, you’ll develop a door that connects the two rooms.

    • zz says:

      Method of Loci is well-supported by the literature. Alas, I’m yet to encounter a situation where it’s actually useful.

      Near as I can tell, popular culture representations do that where scientifically-illiterate writers take some result that may or may not be actually correct (“humans only use some percent of their brains”) and interpret in a way that’s definitely not correct (“therefore, we’re going to unlock your brainpower and make you arbitrarily smart, but still write you as level-0 intelligent”). Method of loci, for what it does, is 100% witchcraft; what it does just isn’t overwhelmingly useful for most people.

      • Alexandra says:

        That’s exactly why I was so skeptical of the Sherlock-like “memory palace”. I’ve seen plenty of characters do impossible things that seemed completely plausible to me before I read the relevant scientific literature. And then there’s the whole repressed memory thing, which is the fastest way to make me throw a book into a wall, or possibly the trash, depending on how egregious the mistake is.

    • Samvel Arshuni says:

      There are memory competitions, and forums dedicated to this.
      I’ve tried this first ~3 years(?) back, with a New York Times article (Moonwalking with Einstein) providing a means to test yourself. I did it only with words back then, and quit after reaching the level of being able to memorise ~40-50 words in 5 minutes. Those words are, if I remember correctly, nouns, and that’s mostly useful if you want to remember a shopping list or I don’t know. Or maybe you want to impress someone with your skills at that match-two memory game.

      I wanted to try it with numbers, too, but finding a proper encoding scheme is a pain, so I did’nt do it untill recently: I ended up with more random associations instead of phoneme-number, and if you want to try it, I recommend you to do the same, otherwise you will end up not doing it.

      I’ve made some python script to test me in memorizing a string of numbers in one minute, determining it’s length based on my record. I made this app run as a ‘screensaver’, so when I came back to my computer, I had to do it, or at least had it presented to me, so I’m aware that I’m still doing that thing. Sometimes of course I closed it, cause I had more urgent things to do, or started, then closed it (not producing a record), with the excuse mostly being “it’s freakin-late-o-clock, of course your memory sucks now”.

      Nevertheless, I have some logs of my progress:
      First 5 lines are dummies, each list is of the structure (‘length of string produced’, ‘booched numbers’, ‘date’)
      So it comes down to 67 minutes + whatever time was needed for recall (which I did’nt measure or controll) + however much fake starts I had to be able to memorise 27 numbers in a minute. I quit at that point because I had 30 in mind, and that close, it was not obvious if this was of any use for me right now.
      I imagine Scott could’ve more easily memorised ‘I need to give “pope fornicates with a reindeer” grams of this drug to this person’, but people don’t generally need to memorise numbers, do they? I guess being able to memorize a phone number may be the only time, and if you don’t write it down, questions are gonna be asked. And you probably want to go for sure, either way.

      Here, you can find the current records for lotsa things:

    • Anon says:

      Hmm… Now I’m tempted to try it. I’ve had some small successes with encoding memories as a series of images, including this question. Does it seem like a sound technique to just interconnect those images and then place them in rooms in your palace? Or am I missing something about how this would work?

      Edit: I’m Alexandra, I posted without specifying a name and now I can’t change it. Is there a way to edit the name?

  50. Here’s one I didn’t get in on the developmental milestones discussion, and I’m hoping no one else brought it up– developing a theory of mind isn’t a one step process.

    It’s interesting and important that believing other people (and animals) don’t perceive exactly what one does, but there are more advanced stages, like believing that other people might have very preferences and experiences.

  51. Any thoughts about the future of exoskeletons?

    They seem like they could have huge effects both for disability and for war, but this depends on how good they get and how cheap they become.

    • Aegeus says:

      For war, the impression I get from current stuff in the news is “pack mule” rather than “Iron Man.” We aren’t trying to make soldiers run like a car or jump tall buildings, we want them to be able to carry 100s of kilos of gear on a march without getting tired (which means heavier armor and more ammo). We’re still just trying to get the things to follow a soldier’s movements, so it’s hard to say how the final product shakes out.

      I don’t think it’ll totally reshape the battlefield – even if the standard soldier becomes bulletproof, RPGs and IEDs are incredibly common already, and power armor won’t be bomb- or rocket-proof.

      The other current problem with exoskeletons is the power supply. I believe the current prototypes use gas engines, but I have no idea what sort of mileage they’re supposed to get. The logistics train for an army of exo-soldiers could get pretty ugly.

      • I wasn’t expecting exoskeletons (and yes, robot mules) to make soldiers into Iron Man, but just being able to walk more quickly and carry more is no small thing.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        disclaimer – I am a military science fiction nerd, not an engineer or professional soldier.

        …It seems to me that there’s a gap available for powered-armor infantry as shock troops. Picture an APC/IFV type vehicle carrying six or so PA troops. Each suit could carry it’s own power supply, but could also draw power from the vehicle’s power supply via a tether. Sealed powered armor inside an IFV seems like they would be a hell of a lot more survivable on approach than regular infantry, since each trooper has their own personal sealed armor to protest them from overpressure/spalling/fragments/shaped-charge jets. when they deploy, they can carry significantly heavier weapons, have similar mobility within the tether’s range as regular troops, and are protected from anything up to light-AT weapons. Seems like a system that might be pretty effective for urban combat. I don’t think I’d want to do urban combat against a force that used m2 brownings as personal weapons and were immune to smallarms fire.

        Likewise, something like the above might help keep armor viable as ATGMs grow more and more sophisticated. The current idea is that you have to prevent a penetration at all costs to protect the crew. But if the crew inside have their own protection, that gives you a considerable margin for error; you now have active defenses, slat armor, hull armor, and personal armor to penetrate before you actually kill anyone.

        • Being dependent on a tether during combat sounds awful to me, though no doubt there will be a quick release in case it gets snagged. How long a tether do you have in mind?

          Using a vehicle to move in shock troops who have a limited power supply sounds reasonable.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Figure a hundred yards? somewhere in that order? the point of the tether would be to allow the troops to dismount and take up area security without having to drain their own on-board power supply, or to “boost” an assault for as long as possible. I’m assuming that with current technology, the onboard supply is going to be rated in minutes at best… but if you can cover the first hundred yards powered by the tether, assault another hundred on the suit’s power, and then when the suit powers down the trooper pops out and uses it as a heavy weapons emplacement.

            Deploy it in a one-two-three formation, where the first platoon of powered armor spearheads, the second platoon acts as a reserve if the first platoon gets swarmed, and then regular infantry move in close behind them to mop up and secure the new positions.

            Also bear in mind that RPGs and most similar AT weapons can’t actually be used indoors because of the backblast.

          • A hundred yards? I hope someone who knows something about combat weighs in on this. A hundred yards *might* be alright in an open space.

            At this point, I think the system would be improved (and definitely look better in the movie version) if you have tethered smart power relay towers (I’m imagining them as about three feet tall, with both feet and wheels so they can optimize for terrain) and smart tethers for the soldiers. That way, the connection to the main vehicle is much less vulnerable.

        • CatCube says:

          I can’t see how the tether won’t instantly turn into a snag hazard. Get 100 yards of rope and drag it around anything other than a mowed lawn. It *might* work in a desert, but I think rocks will probably snarl it up pretty quickly.

          • keranih says:

            It might work for two people on either side of a vehicle. Three or more will get hopelessly ensnared if they have to do any sort of maneuvering, I think.

    • svalbardcaretaker says:

      While exoskeletons are being developed and they will see minor use, they are mostly irrelevant to future combat. Drones in every possible shape and form (will) outperfom humans so very much that Nick Bostrom and other AI-researchers have asked for international agreements on non-proliferation of autonomous weapon technologies; however, any effective interference seems very unlikely to happen (<10% in the next 15 years).

      A human life is worth about … a few millions, give or take. For that price you can buy a few thousand robots, and there are few scenarios were a single human can outcompete thousands of robots. Considering that large scale warfare has already been shown to devolve into a game of numbers and materials and information, robots absolutely have the upper hand. A drone in every house of the city you try to control!

      We are already seeing the scales beginning to tip towards that “new” robotic style of warfare.

      This means that we should see a drop in military casualities, and robotic stalemates over eg. the korean demilitarized zone. Info-warfare is going to become ever more important (eg. hacking the enemies drone control frequencies, as Iran did.)

  52. onyomi says:

    Personally, I like the more frequent open threads and don’t think it detracts from the other posts. If, after a month of weekly open threads, comments on the other posts had gone down, I would be suspicious, but I would expect them to, if anything, go up. This is because the more activity on a blog, including open posts, the more likely people are to check it regularly. The more they check it regularly the more likely they are to chime in while the discussion is still active, both on open threads and non-open threads. Are there any stats on non-open threads thus far?

    Plus, conversely, anything that decreases the total number of posts on each individual OT without decreasing overall interest in the blog is good, imo, considering this thread wasn’t here when I went to sleep and now has over 200 posts when I woke up.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ onyomi
      If, after a month of weekly open threads, comments on the other posts had gone down, I would be suspicious, but I would expect them to, if anything, go up.

      They did go down. I kept checking the Developmental Milestones thread and those following it, and they went down quite quickly.

      Plus, conversely, anything that decreases the total number of posts on each individual OT without decreasing overall interest in the blog is good, imo, considering this thread wasn’t here when I went to sleep and now has over 200 posts when I woke up.

      Threads too-large hang up my (archaic) system, yes.

      * misses Usenet *

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Woops, let’s say the four or five threads previous to this present one. (Sorry, bad connections here.)

      • onyomi says:

        If comments on the non-open threads are going down, then that is a concern. Personally, I was hoping to see more on the Huemer and morality thread. I do notice an effect where people strongly gravitate to whichever is the newest thread. In terms of timing, therefore, though I guess Scott just posts them whenever he finishes writing, it might be better not to post a non-open thread right before an open thread. Or maybe it will be necessary to drop back to every-other-week. But personally, I’ve enjoyed the greater frequency thus far.

  53. I have a belief that a lot of people under… let’s call it 70… are going to die of neglect unless they’re well above average in love and/or money (probably will need both) or there are some big technological changes.

    I haven’t run the numbers on this, but I look at the amount of care aging people need, and I see smaller and possibly poorer cohort to supply it. Admittedly, some of the care is actually “care”, but a lot of it isn’t. Likewise, better organization would help with some but not all of the help people with physical and mental problems need.

    Is this opinion reasonable?

    • Anonymous says:

      You mean because they won’t have descendants to take care of them, and the state will be too busy trying to patch up more critical money shortages caused by a population bust to help them?

      • “You mean because they won’t have descendants to take care of them, and the state will be too busy trying to patch up more critical money shortages caused by a population bust to help them?”

        Maybe they won’t have descendants to take care of them. It’s at least as likely that they won’t have enough descendants to take care of them. Imagine two siblings who are the only descendants of two aging parents and three aging grandparents.

        Money is a surrogate measure. If there aren’t enough hands and minds for people to take care of themselves and their children and their elders and a share of additional elders, it doesn’t matter how the money is distributed.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          >Imagine two siblings who are the only descendants of two aging parents and three aging grandparents.

          To illustrate a bit further, could you provide ages for all involved in this example?

          • Anonymous says:

            F.eks: 94, 85, 83, 56, 55.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Both parents there seem to be of working age. By the time they’re 70, the chances of even one of the grandparents being alive is pretty low.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Consider my situation. 89, 84, 62, 64, and myself at 34. I’d kind of like to be married and have kids but I’m single and don’t really have the disposable time or income at this point to spend on efforts to rectify this (or on kids if I were to actually find someone).

            I know just looking at my own peers that my situation is far from unique.

        • Error says:

          I’ve actually thought a good bit about this, given that I don’t intend to have kids and therefore expect to one day be elderly with little to no family remaining.

          At the moment I’m hoping someone will crack the problem of aging before then. If not, the backup plan is to save more than one normally would for retirement, and take up dangerous hobbies when I get close the the point of not being able to take care of myself.

    • Adam Casey says:

      I note there’s a middle ground between what I think of as “dying of neglect” and “current US levels of spending on the elderly”. People in the past weren’t nearly so expensive because they died earlier. But they didn’t die earlier because they were neglected, it was just that people didn’t pay unreasonable amounts to extend their lives.

      A hospice that did all life-improving treatments but no life-extending ones would be a very nice and non-neglectful place to die in, and cheaper per old person than our current setup.

      Not sure that’s actually the right way to go, but one possibility.

      • Agreed, but even good maintenance and palliative care is a non-trivial amount of work.

      • Winfried says:

        I don’t plan on spending every last dollar I can squeeze out of my insurance, the government, and my family when my end approaches.

        I’ll probably follow the lead of my grandfather. His body went south and my grandmother’s mind left and as soon as she died he quit trying to stave off his own death.

        At her funeral he said he had fulfilled his promise to take care of her. He died one month later.

        If my health declines faster than my partner’s, I’ll do what I can to make sure they are taken care of then I’ll shove off.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d like to think that medical and robotics/prosthetics advances might alleviate this problem, but so far such advances have only extended lifespan rather than eliminate the end-of-life helplessness and suffering.

      Maybe a change in suicide mores? I’m not ready to die, but maybe I will be when I’ve lived a full life and would rather not go out suffering.

    • Matt C says:

      The USA redistributes quite a lot of money to old people. I don’t think it’s possible for trend lines to be sustained. Medicare can’t keep growing and will have to be reformed. Social Security also, though I believe SS is not as badly broken and probably won’t change as much.

      Likely we’ll spend proportionately less on old folks than we do now. However, I don’t think we’ll do the onyomi thing and cut all of their medical care and and SS income to fund a BI. Old people are still pretty politically influential, and probably lots of politicians will be old themselves and have sympathy for seniors.

      Maybe old people will only consume half as much in health care as they do now, and maybe only get 3/4 as much Social Security income as they expected. That’s a big hit, but I don’t think it gets you to lots of old people dying of neglect.

      If the USA gets poorer overall, then things get worse for old people along with everyone else, but I still think we’re a ways from lots of old people dying of neglect, assuming lots means millions and not dozens or hundreds.

      More seniors getting shuffled into less and less appealing retirement communities and nursing homes seems fairly likely.

  54. Deiseach says:

    It may not exactly count as cultural appropriation, but I’m of a generation that is seeing American Hallowe’en replacing traditional Hallowe’en over here, which is the original of the species after all!

    It’s discombobulating, to say the least.

    I suppose that’s where the outrage comes from: your own tradition is taken up, modified, altered, changed around to be a different thing entirely, then packaged and sold back to you, and the new version drives out the old version, so the new generations don’t know anything else of what is their own, original, tradition but rather this bastardised version.

    I am given to understand that Thanksgiving is really your big winter celebration in the USA, rather than Christmas (which gets reduced to a single day after two solid months of commercialisation leading up to it).

    Imagine [picks country at random] a Korean version of Thanksgiving, where traditional dishes, practices, customs, etc. get mutated to fit Korean taste. Then the new version gets marketed back to you, and now your nephews and nieces/grandkids/friend’s kids look at you as if you’ve got two heads when you try to explain to them that kimchi is not originally a traditional dish associated with the day. Cranberry sauce? Why would anyone eat that with poultry?

    • Peter says:

      Oh, don’t be so random, pick Japan. They’re – sort-of – the masters of at least the first part of the process. Japanese Christmas, Japanese Valentines Day, if you’re not already familiar with these, have a read. They don’t seem to do a lot of the “exporting” bit though.

    • It isn’t always about selling back– Christian Identity is a bunch of occasionally murderous anti-Semites who claim to be the real Jews.

      It isn’t always about selling–preacher is wrapped in a Torah scroll in a highly offensive ceremony.

    • Eli says:

      Actually, “cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving” was invented by Ocean Spray in a series of adverts.

      Sometimes, you just have to admit that your “tradition” is actually a particularly dumb social construction. But maybe you like it anyway after knowing how recent and non-cosmic it actually is.

  55. Deiseach says:

    I am going to have to start making notes, because I have a ton of things I want to talk about on the next Open Thread, and then the next Open Thread comes along and I’ve forgotten them all.

  56. Peter says:

    There was a thread a while back: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/29/ot17-their-hand-is-at-your-threads-yet-ye-see-them-not/#comment-194512 – so I’ll just link to it rather than re-hashing my half-baked memories.

    My thought: “cultural appropriation” looks a bit like IPR violation, except with informal IPR. IPR breaks down into a variety of forms; important ones being patents, copyright and trademarks. The complaints about cultural appropriation that seem to have the most substance are ones that work parallel to trademarks. Patents expire, copyrights have expired (but possibly nothing after Mickey Mouse will expire, if people are right about current trends?), a trademark can keep on going if it is defended.

    Except with a trademark, the thing actually being a trademark is pretty hollow; the value being protected is its association with the thing it points to, rather than some internal value. Compare with a copyrighted work which may very well stand alone. Making a “trademark” claim about some allegedly appropriated bit of culture seems to devalue it somewhat.

    Oh, and something I remembered, which didn’t talk about cultural appropriation at all. Apparently some Americans were out in Japan, and wanted somewhere to go for the evening. “Bar Manhattan” sounded like a good place – maybe they were homesick or something? Anyway, they turn up, and there’s a sign saying “no foreigners”.

    • Anonymous says:

      The problem there is that the argument for intellectual property rights is that it incentivizes the creation of intangible things. If you spend hundreds of million dollars making a movie, and someone can make a copy of it and screen it without giving you any of the proceeds, that is a strong disincentive against making movies. Movies will not get made and everyone will be worse off as a result.

      Does the same argument hold for cultural appropriation? Would you make fewer interesting cultural creations if you knew that eventually a simplifed caricature of them would be sold to people with no interest in the culture’s origins? I doubt you would. First of all you were not planning to sell the cultural creation, certainly not to the same audience and in the same form, so they are not taking away any customers from you.

      I think all you have to go on is feelings of being upset that other people are doing something similar to you without doing it ‘right’. I find it extraordinarily unlikely that it really costs your group more in upset to know that there are people imitating your culture incorrectly than the amount those people gain from getting to buy or take part in something they consider to be fun, cool, interesting.

      That’s without getting into how difficult it would be to favor your preferences over theirs even if they did matter more.

      • Native Americans seem to have it especially bad– they get white people nagging them to supply more of the dumbed down version.

      • Deiseach says:

        That is what happened with the porcelain craze – factories set up in China to produce mass-market items for the European market based on European faux-Oriental designs, not native ones (think of the famous Willow Pattern, which is a Europeanised hodge-podge of elements taken from Chinese works with a legend invented to ‘explain’ the design).

        Because Europeans were used to the Dutch blue-tile version and the real cultural samples didn’t look ‘authentic’ enough.

        That’s the problem with appropriation.

  57. Anonymous says:

    How do I get the “$N comments since $DATE” menu to save my date? I have first-party cookies enabled. Do I need to accept cookies from WordPress or bakkot.github.io?

    • Creutzer says:

      If I remember correctly, it doesn’t use cookies, but the local storage of your browser. If you have set your browser so that it clears local storage when you close it, for example, the script won’t work properly.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If the problem is not accepting cookies, you should still have a box for entering the date floating in the upper right hand corner of the window. If you don’t have that, the problem is running third party scripts, namely from bakkot.github.io

      (The cookies are first-party. As Creutzer says, they are technically local storage, but that’s unlikely to make a difference.)

  58. Anonymous says:

    Maybe with a shoutout from Scott, Opeth will deign to play Black Rose Immortal live.

  59. Anonymous says:

    SSC readers might find “nerd/geek culture” a more-salient example of cultural appropriation (but really any subculture will do). You have something that you love and is special to you, and it’s made mainstream and mutilated and sold back to people who don’t care at all about the things you do, and now your subculture itself doesn’t exist because it’s been cannibalized by normal people who just don’t get it. A celebrity “comes out of the closet” — “I’ve always been a huge trek fan, Darmok and Jalad, when the walls fell.” Everyone knows ABOUT your hobby, but no one KNOWS it. It’s all superficial. And when you try to engage with others about it, you’re met with the Hallmark Card, safety-pin button, blockbuster wall poster version of it. Your subculture has been perverted and this perversion is what people practice now. You were part of this, but it’s theirs now. You were proud of your identity, but it’s theirs now.

    • Acedia says:

      Huh. I’ve always been skeptical of the concept of CA, but I think you just changed my mind with this comment.

      • James says:

        Yeah, I eventually realised I can only reason about these things by doing a little work to analogise to a (sub)culture I actually care about, such as (though not limited to) geekdom. Who is it around here who says “if you don’t care about your culture being overrun by outsiders, it isn’t really your culture?” Seems right to me.

        • Daniel says:

          I forgot who said that, but it was a good comment that helped me realise that geek culture wasn’t really my culture.

    • Torpendous says:

      This can be seen as part of a broader pattern of cultural mixing in modern globalized society.

      the character of alienation is different now than it was in 1970. Meaninglessness is no longer the problem; it’s the onslaught of innumerable fragmented meanings, without good resources for selecting among them or integrating them. The internet is definitely a major source of this problem. This fragmentation of culture, of meaning, leads to a fragmentation of society and of the self. My take is that this is irreversible, so the task is to learn to dance with it, rather than to attempt to reassemble a coherent culture, society, and self.

      (here; the author has written more on this topic elsewhere but I don’t remember where)

      I’m inclined to agree with Chapman that reversing the globalized internet culture blender is an exercise in futility. Though I do wonder whether any subcultures of the future will attempt to define themselves by the aspects of the subculture that you’re not supposed to discuss online.

    • JGFC says:

      Seconding mark’s request for more explanation.
      Anon, your description does (IMO) a good job of communicating the gut level feeling of why it’s bad, but it still seems more of a ‘mainstreamization’/commercialization is bad argument than the reinforcing-oppression argument that normally plays a role. I feel like your explanation sufficiently explains why it’s pretty bad, but does not explain why it is such a horrible, horrible thing so as to cause public outrage etc.

      • Anonymous says:

        It destroys your subculture. You’re not part of the mainstream, but anything “cool” you have can and WILL be taken from you and twisted until it’s a mockery of you. You suffered when you didn’t fit into the mainstream, but as soon as you create a place of your own, as soon as you carve out your own space, it’s ransacked for anything of value.

        • JGFC says:

          Right, so appropriation creates a ‘join the mainstream or be left uncool’ force. I can see why that’s bad, especially for fringe groups, which as you say normally have trouble with being respected etc. This is bad, yes.
          Though more often I see appropriation being used in a different context, one where it’s not the most valuable/respected parts that are being copied/devalued but some other thing, something less ingroup-defining. Why is it bad when those things are copied away? Or is this just an example of over-application of a useful concept?
          (Side question: why does copying not increase the respect for the copied thing? after all, it’s only worth copying if it’s of value, so non-copied things are valued less highly)

        • Nicholas Carter says:

          I think the reason that you see so much heat at the fringes is that there’s a slippery slope argument that goes something like “when they came for my culture’s food, I said “it’s just food” and when they came for my culture’s music… and when they came for my culture’s religion, there was no culture left to speak up.”
          To use a parallel, my brother and I were about the same size as children, so he would steal all my high quality clothes; when I confronted him about it, he would say “These clothes can’t be your’s, all of your clothing is crappy.” And I said “That’s only true because you steal all my good clothes.”
          This is similar to how, for example, Rock and Roll started out as “Black Music” that had about as much respect as Rap had in the 90’s. In the 90’s people said about rap things like “Black Culture has never created good music, name one thing Black Culture created as artistically rich as Rock and Roll.”
          Once the mainstream has shorn your group of every good thing, they will point out that your group is incapable of making good things, that everything you make is bad, and none of the things that belong to your group hold a candle to [appropriated thing from your group].

    • Adam Casey says:

      … So you’re saying the commercialisation of thing a subculture is into is bad for that subculture? Which seems … obviously false.

      Take comic conventions, sure, they let in a lot of fake nerds who don’t really understand it. But those of us who want to be even more snobby have loads of shibboleths to find each-other (subs not dubs!), and lots of small sub-forums where we can talk to each-other.

      Like, it seems obviously false that the Star Trek fandom being flooded with cumberbitches hurt that fandom. Rather it injected a whole bunch of new money and interest into it so that new exciting toys and books and so on could be made, which the “real fans” could get all the benfit of. Sure you might have to move to a new even more exclusive forum, but that’s not much of a cost.

      • Deiseach says:

        Of all my complaints about reboot Trek, Benedict Cumberbatch is not part of them. He’s not Khan, of course, but that’s not his fault; he did what he could with the character as it was written and given to him (they had to address the mess they made of reboot Khan with an issue of the tie-in comics, where the Admiral used 24th century plastic surgery to change Khan from Desi to White Brit as a Cunning Disguise. Yeah, that sounds reasonable!)

        I’m not even going to yell at the new fans who only got into Trek through the reboot because new blood is welcome.

        But JJ is not of the body 🙂

        I am holding my fire on the new TV series; I need to know more what it is going to be like before I decide if it’s crap or not. I know some of the Bad Robot team are associated with it, but give them their due: they seem to be able to do good television.

        Reboot Trek’s main fault was that Abrams self-admittedly never cared a straw for Trek. He was using it as a show-reel to prove to the Powers That Be that he could handle the job of the new Star Wars, which is his fandom.

        So that’s why he changed even so small a detail as to make the phasers more like blasters (oh yes, I noticed; did you think I wouldn’t?) and generally “Star Wars”-ified the heck out of it.


        • Troy says:

          (they had to address the mess they made of reboot Khan with an issue of the tie-in comics, where the Admiral used 24th century plastic surgery to change Khan from Desi to White Brit as a Cunning Disguise. Yeah, that sounds reasonable!)

          So that’s the explanation. Sounds about as reasonable as that TNG episode’s explanation for why all the alien species in Star Trek look more or less the same.

        • Deiseach says:

          A large part of the reason I am so cross about the mess they made of the reboot is that it’s not a bad idea at all.

          There is genuine potential there and they had a good cast, but they (a) left too big a gap pass between the first movie and the sequel (fair enough, I suppose the studio wanted to see if it was worth committing to a follow-up) (b) they dumbed it down immensely.

          Okay, an action blockbuster is pretty much the way to go in order to re-introduce the franchise, but you take away the flash-bang-wallop from both movies and there’s nothing left, which is disheartening: plot of both movies – villain with semi-sympathetic reason for grudge against Earth/Federation and whopping great starship is going to destroy them all, bwa-ha-haaa! “Enterprise” and whopping great starship duke it out in the skies over San Francisco, which gets a hammering in both movies. Kirk is triumphant, The End.

          The treatment of women – from three female characters in the 60s to one remaining, Uhura, who is made the love-interest for Spock. No rank designation on the women’s uniform so we can’t tell an ensign from a lieutenant (unlike the men’s uniforms, and even unlike the Mirror Universe in the original series, which had an edging of gold braid on Uhura’s and Marlena’s uniform crop-tops to indicate their ranks as liuetenants). Winona Kirk drops out of the picture (literally) after she gives birth. Amanda Grayson is killed in the destruction of Vulcan primarily to give Spock an emotional melt-down. Chapel is reduced to a mention about how she’s gone off to the frontier after Kirk fucked and forgot her. Carol Marcus and her underwear scene. Alien cat-girl twins. Deleted scene about how Kirk can’t tell one Orion girl from another – the abortive apology to ‘Gaila’ after he’s screwed her over in order to cheat on the Kobayashi Maru test. Grrrr!

          Khan- an absolute waste of an iconic villain/anti-villain/sympathetic antagonist/how you like. Never mind the whitewashing; in the 60s one brown actor was the same as another which is why the Hispanic Ricardo Montalban was cast to play a Sikh, but what is the excuse in the 21st century which cast a white British actor in the part of a character who was deliberately, not accidentally, created to be non-white? Again, not Cumberbatch’s fault, who does really well with the scraps he’s given; it’s the production/direction/writing team who are to blame.

          ALSO, THEY BLEW UP VULCAN. This is unforgivable and I won’t let that go 🙂

          What’s really interesting is that it’s very easy to see this alternate-universe timeline in the Reboot as the precursor to the Mirror Universe; I had a long and enjoyable discussion on Tumblr with other Trekkies about this, and really – twenty to fifty years down the line, this version of Starfleet and the Federation could become the Mirror Empire we’ve seen in the original series.

        • keranih says:

          @ Deiseach

          but what is the excuse in the 21st century which cast a white British actor in the part of a character who was deliberately, not accidentally, created to be non-white?

          Their chosen non-Caucasian actor declined six weeks before filming started. Reality, as they say, ensued.

          I actually adore that they blew up Vulcan – it changes the Vulcans from the equivalent of Switzerland (wealthy, secure, snobby, above your petty concerns) to, well…Israel. On a meta level, it’s awesome.

          I do agree with you on the uniforms, the decreased number of women’s roles (and frankly, it’s hard to out do TOS on that aspect, although not unexpected for the military-centric shift) and most esp on the Mirror Verse implications.

      • Peter says:

        I think there’s an issue with boundaries, gradients and work.

        With the whole “geek” thing, everyone knows that “geek” is a nebulous amorphous thing that doesn’t have real boundaries; there’s no sharp line where you can say “this person is a geek, that very similar person isn’t”. Also internal differences. So different people investing more-or-less energy into different forms of geekery produces a “geek gradient” where you have different people with different levels (and types) of geekiness, and this can be recognised. The other thing is that it’s obvious to everyone that geek cred is earned, you can’t just say that you come from a long line of geeks and expect to be taken seriously everywhere.

        Compare and contrast with ethnic minorities. For a lot of minorities, there’s a strong in-or-out distinction, there’s a lot of people marrying within their community which works to preserve that. Membership there is easy to treat as a birthright.

        Of course, with the latter I’m guessing a bit more wildly than I am with the former. With the former, I’d say I’m on “home turf”, except I’ve sort-of deconstructed the notion of “home turf”.

        • Adam Casey says:

          But we do still have gradients within the cultural apsects of race right? Like, you can be a black middle class lawyer who can’t play basketball and who listens to opera. And you can be black and from “the hood”, sell drugs for a living, listen to rap and play basketball. Both of these people can be clearly black by brithright, but there’s a strong cultural difference which I think acts the same way as with geeks.

          I wrote all that and then realised that Jewishness is the much much more obvious example of this thing.

        • Peter says:

          Oh yes, I was thinking Jewishness too, as a counterexample.

          I think, yes, there are gradients, but it’s not all gradients in the same way that geekery is.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Wouldn’t that weaken the argument for the terribleness of the situation, though? No matter how many cornrows they wear (or whatever), white people are never going to be able to claim they are “black” and take over the cultural identity. In such a situation, the dread evoked by the comparison upthread seems significantly lessened.

          Of course, there’s cases where the distinction is less clear (“I have 1/2^n Cherokee blood” and the like).

        • Winter Shaker says:

          No matter how many cornrows they wear …

          … the dread evoked by the comparison

          I see what you’ve done there 😛

        • Peter says:

          @Whatever Happened To Anonymous

          Yes – I mean, I’m pretty skeptical of the the whole “cultural appropriation bad m’kay” thing, but I thought I should have a go at the whole steelmanning thing. On the other hand, I think it weakens things but doesn’t get rid of them entirely.

          (What’s the word for the thing where you defend a weaker version of the thing being complained about; steelmanning is using stronger arguments. Maybe “watermanning”?

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      An excellent description that defines exactly the role cultural appropriate plays in the cultural mixing pot.

      …wait, are we supposed to be thinking CA is a bad thing?

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      So basically, the fake gamer girl trope…

    • Urstoff says:

      I liked that band before they got popular.

    • Max says:

      …Are you saying that the people who complain about cultural appropriation are the [ethnicity] equivalent of those hardcore nerds who won’t accept women as true trekkies/con-goers/gamers/in-groupers unless they pass a trivia test?

      Not sure that’s a favorable analogy.

      • Jiro says:

        It’s not women, it’s people, it’s just that social forces (which nerds cannot control) make it easier for women to get away with it than men.

        • Deiseach says:

          Hm – last comment got eaten?

          Anyway, re: the testing the ‘fake’ gamer girl (because it’s easier for women to get away with it, “it” I presume being faking interest and jumping on a popular bandwagon), I wanted to point people to Diane Duane’s anecdote about this “you probably didn’t even play the game, somebody told you about it” that happened to her:

          But then after all that work, and the game itself released to not-so-bad reviews (though everybody raved about the footage, the game engine was said forever after to have been a bit buggy, but that wasn’t my fault)… then, that afternoon in Oriel (it was a nice bar/restaurant in Sloane Square, gone now alas), remembering the pains that work had cost me – to have some snotnosed baby-boy gamer in a shiny suit and a cheap tie come try to tell me that I did not understand the game structure that I can still remember whiteboarding for Erin Roberts and the rest of the team…?

          I. Think. Not.

    • Stezinech says:

      So, basically, like watching “The Big Bang Theory”?

      • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

        Wow, I was pretty dismissive of this argument at first, but if 99% of the mainstream treatments of all the things I held dear was like TBBT I guess I’d be pissed off too…

    • Urstoff says:

      Persuasive in what way? I think of people who complain when their subculture goes mainstream as fairly ridiculous.

      • Svejk says:

        This is an interesting analogy. ‘Going mainstream’ can sometimes massively increase search costs for deeper, more ‘authentic’ experiences. To use the Trek fandom example, it gets harder to find speculative fiction with intricate worldbuilding about Cardassian politics when the fandom is overrun with ‘texts from last night’ gifs. I think the real anxiety is that the popular version will displace the indigenous version through sheer weight of numbers.

      • Urstoff says:

        I find that somewhat hard to believe, as there always tend to be spaces (be it websites or whatever) that cater to the old core of the subculture. Some people still are on usenet, after all.

      • Svejk says:

        But now they are on the periphery, rather than the center, and their spot in the alternative status hierarchy is no longer so rewarding as to justify the intense effort.

      • Urstoff says:

        I guess that may be true, although I think most subcultures have alternative status hierarchies that are determined by who is more “true” than others, with obscurity and seniority being major determinants of status.

        Either way, I’m still going to find as ridiculous people who complain that their subculture has been displaced as a result of their status hierarchy being transformed, especially when their place within their smaller hierarchy has very likely not changed at all.

    • Mike says:

      That’s convincing to me as to why someone would find it annoying… it’s not convincing as to how it should be considered a mortal sin on the part of the person doing the appropriating, other than encouraging a general attempt to actually *learn* about the culture, too. In many cases it seems as though there *is* no good way to do it if you don’t have a personal or genetic connection, which also seems wrong.

      I guess, “go away, don’t come to our cons, noobs” is different from “They’re having the wrong kind of fun over there!” I think The Big Bang Theory isn’t something I want to watch, but I don’t think it’s a great offense against nerds that it exists…

      I guess, an incursion on the community that supports the culture is problematic, but I don’t see the problem of bringing the culture to your own community.

    • blacktrance says:

      That strikes me as a good reason to dislike it and wish people wouldn’t do it, but I’d never go around actually requesting people not to appropriate from nerd culture, and I’d tell those who do to suck it up. So in some ways this makes me less sympathetic to complaints about cultural appropriation.

    • TerraCotta says:

      Does this make sense when applied to Halloween costumes though? If I wear a Native American headdress as a costume, I’m not trying to signal that I’m Native American, or a great warrior, or a tribe chieftain or something. I’m just wearing a costume on a day when everybody else is dressed up in costumes.

      Just like if I wear a doctor costume to a costume party, I’m not trying to signal that I’m a member of the medical subculture, or that I’ll respond when somebody shouts “Is there a doctor in the house!?”

      Is the ire directed at “culturally appropriating” costumes mis-directed?

      • Stezinech says:

        I think in the context of Halloween costumes, the complaint is more often about reinforcing racial stereotypes.

        Of course, people will use “cultural appropriation” because it’s more easily defensible (cf. motte & bailey).

    • OldCrow says:

      This example works to get me to understand the gut-level feeling, but I still think the way people react is whacked. A lot of what I get out of geek sub-culture (I’ve always been more D&D than Star Trek, but I think the same thing applies) is that I get to be around people who are like me – and can therefore extend a measure of trust and lower the defense mechanisms a bit.

      If D&D suddenly gets a hit HBO show or popular blockbuster, yeah I’ll be unhappy about it. But I’m not going to get in anyone’s face about appropriation, because one way or another my people will figure out a way to find each other.

      I mean, really. Does anyone think that a white dude in a kimono is successfully going to “pass” as a member of a culturally Japanese group?

      • Anonymous says:

        In fact, complaining about other people who don’t get it is a great way to identify yourself as part of the in-group.

        • OldCrow says:

          Eh. It’s a decent way to identify yourself, but not a great one. Too easy to fake. Something like LARPing, though…

        • Anonymous says:


          It’s not easy to fake if you complain about the specific ways that outgroup members are getting the culture wrong.

      • Stezinech says:

        I think a part of the difference in the reactions is that nerds/geeks were never an “officially” discriminated against group, as say African Americans.

        • OldCrow says:

          I was mostly talking about my own reaction, and what I think a reasonable response is. The more common reaction isn’t all that different from the people yelling about cultural appropriation, just with different terminology. It all boils down to “Get lost, you’re not really one of us,” which is what makes this a good example.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      Nope, still not getting it. If the stuff I love is cool, I want the world to like it too!

      If the world-at-large suddenly decides it likes watching Firefly and eating Soylent that expands the market for products like that which benefits me too – the next Firefly won’t get cancelled so quickly and I’ll hear about it earlier; the next Soylent will be cheaper/tastier/more-convenient due to a bigger R&D budget and more competition. If the world-at-large suddenly decides to share my atheist/anarchocapitalist sensibilities, I’ll see fewer rage-inducing posts in my FB feed and possibly a better economy. If the world decides it loves listening to nerd-folk I’ll find more groups I love and get more fans and be able to take my band on a stadium tour. What’s the downside?

      The only thing I can think of that kind of fits the mold is SSC itself – the more people discover how great SSC is, the harder it is to have meaningful discussion in the comments and the more Scott is going to be tempted to self-censor.

      But in general: sharing is good. Appropriation is good.

      • Gamer Imp says:

        I can make it more formal, then:
        You like X, which has n arbitrary features, of which you like m.
        X becomes suddenly very popular because of a feature “n” that you do not like.
        All cultural media like X, including X, then quickly grow to maximize this arbitrary un-liked feature at the expense of other features m.

        You now have less things with m in the world, barring outside events.

        • Anonymous says:

          At which point there is a gap in the market for producing X substitutes that contain m and do not contain n.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          If the world-at-large decides it loves a thing I love, is there some reason to think it likely that they will do so specifically due to some sub-feature that I dislike rather than due to (and maximizing) features that I do like? Because when I try to translate that math back into actual examples, I draw a blank.

          If the world likes dreadlocks, what feature about dreadlocks would count as “n”?

          If the world likes Firefly, what feature of “sci-fi western with clever funny dialog and good actors with good chemistry” would count as “n”?

          If the world likes Soylent, what feature would count as “n”?

          The only “n” I can think of that fits the mold is exclusivity. If I’m proud of the fact that only a few people know about my thing, or if wearing the thing makes me stand out in a good way, then sure, more adopters will reduce that factor. Dreads are less “special” if more people wear them. But dreads are also less “weird” and “alienating” if more people wear them, which seems like an offsetting benefit.

        • Anonymous says:

          @Glen Raphael

          If the world likes Firefly, what feature of “sci-fi western with clever funny dialog and good actors with good chemistry” would count as “n”?

          The world liking Firefly would likely involve the world liking a thing called Firefly, with the same setting and character names as the Firefly you liked. It may well not involve the world liking a sci-fi western, or clever funny dialog, or good actors with good chemistry.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          The world liking Firefly would likely involve the world liking a thing called Firefly, with the same setting and character names as the Firefly you liked.

          That experiment’s been done! I liked Battlestar Galactica “before it was cool” back in the 1970s/1980s. Recently the world decided to like it too and did so exactly as you describe: Same names, different characters, different KINDS of stories. The old one was an allegory for the cold war and Starbuck was a dude; the new one made Starbuck a dame and added more mysticism and kept the ham-fisted propaganda but reversed the polarity on most of it.

          And…I liked that one too. I’m glad it exists.
          (Pity about the ending, of course, but these things happen…)

        • Andrew says:

          It’s weak proof, but if a piece of cultural media X isn’t *already* mainstream, that implies that the attributes it is perceived to have aren’t giving mass appeal. Sometimes things can be given situational attributes / signaling attributes that have little to do with their content. Picture: Liking Star Trek means you’re smart, and smart is good. So people start liking Star Trek that don’t give a shit about the actual attributes of Star Trek, and so more Star Trek is made that doesn’t give a shit about the actual attributes of Star Trek.

          Star Trek here is X, and I think the real travails of Star Trek are more complicated than this, but that this is a partial example. Superman is probably even closer to a pure example. Country music is too. Beer, through the long stretch of macro-domination before the craft beer revolution. There are lots of things where the mainstreaming of a behavior involved the maximization of some element x that wasn’t the reason the smaller original fans liked it.

        • Agronomous says:

          I can make it more formal, then:
          You like X, which has n arbitrary features, of which you like m.
          X becomes suddenly very popular because of a feature “n” that you do not like.

          A real math nerd would have used i for the feature, not n.

      • blacktrance says:

        There’s a tradeoff between being interesting to wider audiences and having high appeal to narrower ones. Imagine that some writer writes books for a relatively small number of fans – he’s going to care a lot about what they think. Now suppose he writes a particularly good one that catches on among non-fans, and now he’s somewhat of a household name, so he can now make more money by writing somewhat different works that appeal to a broader audience and don’t have some of the specific things that you liked about it (because the general public wouldn’t like them).

        Imagine Scott got a huge offer to write articles for the Huffington Post, as long as he doesn’t write about certain subjects. We SSCers would be justifiedly disappointed.

        • Anonymous says:

          The argument that this is a bad thing, though, would surely have to depend on weighing up the gain to Huffington Post readers against the loss to SSC readers.

        • blacktrance says:

          As long as we acknowledge that it’s a loss for SSC readers, it’s not hard to see where the opposition comes from.
          Also, being an SSC reader, I’d rather the Huffington Post readers took a loss than us.

    • Psmith says:

      Cultural appropriation as entryism?

    • Linch says:

      Huh. Well, at least I’m consistent. I’m also pretty outspokenly against the “real gamer/true gamer” mindset (I’m super pro-inclusivity! :P), as well as being *very* comfortable with people who donate small amounts calling themselves EAs.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      As a First Worlder I deeply resent seeing people from Third World backgrounds appropriate #FirstWorldProblems in this manner.

    • stillnotking says:

      Everyone knows ABOUT your hobby, but no one KNOWS it. It’s all superficial. And when you try to engage with others about it, you’re met with the Hallmark Card, safety-pin button, blockbuster wall poster version of it. Your subculture has been perverted and this perversion is what people practice now. You were part of this, but it’s theirs now. You were proud of your identity, but it’s theirs now.

      Except what actually happens with this dynamic — and it has happened with geek culture; see Big Bang Theory — is that the “real” geeks get the additional glow of feeling smugly superior to all the bandwagon fans who just don’t get it. They also get to post long rants on reddit about how terrible “mainstream geek” things like TBBT and Candy Crush are, which activity they presumably enjoy, since they do it constantly.

      I assume Tumblr people who whine about “cultural appropriation” are scratching exactly the same itch, i.e. they are not genuinely upset, but rather pleased to have a chance to complain/feel superior. Admittedly, I am less familiar with them than I am with geeks, so I could be wrong. But in both cases it’s very difficult to see where the real injury could lie.

    • Error says:

      One of the things I love about this community and the LW-sphere in general is that sometimes posts like this actually happen.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      I grew up in an area with so few geeks that even finding someone who was into the simplified, bastardized stuff to talk to was like getting let out of a sensory deprivation chamber. It was an amazing experience when blockbuster movies based on my favorite things came out, I can’t even begin to describe it. Cartoon Network showing anime was even better.

      I suppose that’s the main reason I have trouble getting outraged about cultural appropriation, even when it’s transferred into a culture I identify with.

      I also wonder if geek culture is distinct from other cultures because it tends to be self-adopted, rather than absorbed from the environment. I didn’t rent black and white monster movies instead of the latest popular film because I grew up in a culture where that was respected. It was because that was my interest that I proactively sought out. Lots of solitary geeks cultivate their own special interests before meeting any other geeks. I’ve occasionally heard of people who learn new facts about their ancestry exploring their newfound heritage. But not with the same frequency.

      I don’t know if that means geeks should be more or less defensive of their culture, or if it doesn’t matter at all.

  60. James says:

    I’ve seen it claimed both that MAD—mutually assured destruction—during the cold war was an extremely precarious, unstable position and that it was an extremely stable one. Which is it, and how sure can we be?

    I suppose my own position is that given the stakes and the fact that you only need to be wrong once for catastrophe to occur, I’m inclined to be very wary of MAD-style policy, regardless of how convincing the arguments in favour of it might be, on the grounds of Confidence Levels Inside and Outside an Argument-type considerations. How reasonable is this?

    Somewhat relevant: I heard this morning that Jeremy Corbyn is being criticised for saying he wouldn’t push the nuclear button if he were in power, on the grounds that a deterrent ceases to deter if you precommit to never using it.

    • Anonymous says:

      >I heard this morning that Jeremy Corbyn is being criticised for saying he wouldn’t push the nuclear button if he were in power, on the grounds that a deterrent ceases to deter if you precommit to never using it.

      A standoff can only wind down if at least one side tries.

    • It should be considered in the context of alternatives, for which there needs to be a realistic plan of implementation. Perhaps others can correct me, but I’m not aware of very many proposed alternatives, other than comprehensive disarmament which is a major coordination problem. I do think its worth putting serious resources into discussing and investgating alternatives, however, because it’s a pretty flimsy approach we’ve got at the moment.

      Edit > Totally support reduced levels of armament if that happens tho.

    • roystgnr says:

      The number of close calls we had during the Cold War is strong evidence that MAD-style policy might have awful consequences.

      What I don’t see evidence for is the existence of a less awful alternative for a world with multiple hostile nuclear-capable powers. The most popular alternative, “nobody gets any nuclear weapons”, was essentially tried by default during World War II, but that policy has an implicit “unless they can build some in secret” loophole, and the result was a couple of exploding cities.

      Since that outcome also qualified as a close call (nearly any other superpower developing nukes first would have been even worse) and the world had a number of advantages then which we lack now (nukes weren’t common knowledge, nuclear expertise was less widespread, fusion weapons weren’t worked out until after the existential war was over), it’s easy to see how repeating the attempted-nuclear-free-world policy could turn out much worse the second time.

      • I have a horror of large-scale war between major powers, even if it’s limited to conventional weapons. It may not be as bad as nuclear war (which adds radiation to the effects of explosives), but putting off a conventional WWW3 counts for something.

    • bean says:

      The answer is sort of both, although the instability had more to do with implementation than anything. In the 50s, US nuclear doctrine was based around overwhelming force, and it worked pretty well. We weren’t going to attack because in a democracy it’s politically impossible to deliberately trade a few cities to wipe out the enemy, and the Soviets weren’t going to attack because we’d wipe them out.
      In the 60s, a group of people came to power who thought this was a bad plan, for reasons that still mostly defy comprehension. They decided that we should stop having overwhelming force, and instead seek parity with the Soviets. Fortunately, some of them grew something of a spine when the Soviets actually decided to seek parity. (We had missiles in Turkey which were just as close to them as the missiles in Cuba were to us.)
      This is where the problem started. As part of their theories, these people decided that defensive systems were destabilizing, because they might allow one side to attack the other without fear of retaliation. Never mind that no defense system is perfect, and democracies can’t randomly accept the loss of cities. This was a bad plan. A lot of the Cold War close calls resulted from the lack of defensive systems. For instance, a detection of a few incoming potential missiles (which an ABM system could deal with) would be a lot less dangerous because it would give the decisionmakers more time to think, instead of having about 5 minutes to decide to press the button or not.
      Corbyn’s comments are potentially very dangerous, although I’m not sure it’s likely to be the end of the world (no pun intended) because if someone were to nuke Britain, he’d be replaced by someone who would, or the French and/or Americans would become annoyed and launch. Also, he’s not in charge.
      Some interesting reading on nuclear strategy can be found here, here, and here.

      • I think there is plenty of evidence to think elements on our side would be willing to accept major losses or risk of major losses (eg. certain generals in missile crisis). And it doesn’t seem to me that the other side in the cold war perceived us as unlikely to attack in an escalation, even if that were somehow true. Obviously strategic decisions are insanely complex and maintaining a strong posture is vital in some situations, but I have trouble believing the answer is a simple one.

        • bean says:

          Generals don’t run the country. Politicians do, and I suspect that General LeMay was posturing for the benefit of those politicians. (On the other hand, given the relative capability of our nuclear forces at the time, the risk was smaller than you’d think.)
          As for Soviet perceptions, there was often a disconnect between what they thought and what we thought they thought. This lead to things like the Able Archer incident, when we were confused at how seriously they were taking our drills.

          • I’m no miltiary historian, but claims that LeMay and others like him were just posturing seem fairly speculative. It’s fits basic consequentialist logic, and pretty standard military logic, to accept a small loss to prevent a bigger one, and if it fits with anecdotal and historical evidence of warfare that such things sometimes happen, I believe the West is willing to follow through in extreme cases. And I feel that claiming the soviets didn’t think we’d fight in an escalation is very counter-intuitive given their military spending and general behaviour, and that we need much much stronger evidence for that position to be possible.

          • bean says:

            Thinking over it more, I’m not quite sure how serious he was, but as pointed out, he wasn’t in charge. Explaining why will require a short detour into the history of strategic thought.
            The basic strategy of the Eisenhower Administration was “We can win a nuclear war at a reasonably low cost, but we’re not going to because we expect that if we hold the line long enough, the Soviets will run out of money and collapse.” (Note that this did actually work.)
            The basic strategy of the Kennedy Administration was “OH NO!!! We might accidentally start a nuclear war, and that would be really bad!! Quick, solve this.”
            And in the second context, it’s useful to point out that we could win the war, and at a relatively low cost.

            I think you may have misunderstood what I said about the Soviets. It wasn’t that they didn’t think we’d fight in general. It was that when we said ‘no first use’, we meant it, and when they said ‘no first use’ they meant ‘no first use unless we think we can get away with it’. It’s said (I’m not sure how accurately) that every day when he woke up, whoever was running the Soviet Union asked the head of the Strategic Rocket Forces (or someone of that nature) “Today?” and every day, the head of the SRF said “Not today.”

  61. Torpendous says:

    In relation to recent discussion of animal suffering: In 2012 Carl Shulman wrote this analysis of reducing animal suffering by breeding animals to be happy living in cramped conditions, ala Wirehead Gods on Lotus Thrones. The objection offered to this plan (see the addendum at the end of Carl’s post) was that breeding companies are already breeding farm animals intensively for productivity-related characteristics, so breeding for welfare-related characteristics would offer an opportunity cost. Even if you were to take the maximally productive chickens on the market and spend a few years breeding them for welfare, during those few years the state of the art would advance so that your chickens which were formerly cutting edge productivity are now substandard productivity.

    I don’t know much about genetics, but I’m wondering if new genetics technologies like CRISPR might give animal welfare advocates an “in” here. They might allow you to leap out ahead of other breeders and produce an animal that was both higher productivity and higher welfare than anything on the market. In this latter case, it probably makes sense to make a move ASAP before CRISPR finds its way to the mainline breeders.

    Note that this is likely an extremely neglected cause area since many mainstream animal advocates won’t touch it. You might start with fish, since the aquaculture industry appears to be slow on the uptake of breeding technology, despite the potential for massive gains, and Brian Tomasik thinks fish likely cause more suffering per kg than any other sort of food. You might even be able to make a profit doing this.

    • Torpendous says:

      The next action here is probably to develop better animal welfare/happiness metrics so we can understand the target we’re trying to hit?

    • keranih says:

      Following onto Torpendous – intensive production systems are already selecting for low-stress responses to the environment in which the animals are raised. This has been going on for some time – Jersey and Guernsey dairy cattle were more selected as grazers compared to the Holstein-Frisian, which was more accustomed to having fodder & feed brought to it. Relatedly – original genetic selection for laying hens was done by penning the hens separately and counting eggs over an extended period (this was Science, you see – one could keep track of just how many more eggs each genetic line produced.) Unfortunately, this did not allow the hens to be assessed for interaction skills, so that the high-laying hens had daughters who were very unsociable and pecked the dickens out of each other. By the 1970’s, testing had been modified to be done by comparing small flocks of 20 birds or so, and counting the eggs from each group. Groups of friendly, low stress hens produced more eggs than chickens who attacked each other, and the “lifespan within a group” could also be measured. As a result of this selection, modern layers are far less likely to attack each other than in decades previously. (They are more likely to attack each other than broiler birds, but not so bad as, say, mixed sex lots of turkeys, who just beat the hell out of each other.)

      There are many other examples of the on-going mental/behavior modification of domestic animals. (And of how the modification has been negative and very bad for the animals (and sometimes people) involved.)

      • Torpendous says:

        Why has the modification been negative?

        • keranih says:

          I was not clear. The modifications have been at times negative – animals imprinting on humans rather than on con-species, reduced mothering ability, etc. A mixed bag of positive and negative, trending (imo) positive but not without some errors along the way.

  62. Jiro says:

    I’m not on Tumblir and have no intention of going there. But I’m thinking about Scoyy’s post (which I ran into after looking at Lightman’s reference to a different Scott post) here where he wonders what the difference is between Nazis following orders and Americans following orders to let an Afghan keep a sex slave on the grounds that stopping him means destroying the mission and ultimately letting more people suffer.

    I think there are differences.

    1) The decision to allow the sex slave may be wrong, but it’s arguably right, with an argument that isn’t beyond the pale. The argument that it’s right would still recognize that child sex slaves are people and harming them is bad–the argument would just balance the badness against other forms of badness. An unacceptable and more Nazi-like equivalent would be saying that it’s okay because sex slaves aren’t people and their interests don’t need to be balanced against anyone else’s interests in the first place. These are different types of arguments, even if they come to the same conclusion, and it’s the second type that is prohibited under “I was just following orders”.

    2) Protecting the Afghan child molester chiefly, and probably entirely, involves inaction. Not being allowed to use “obeying orders” as a defense is mostly about action, not inaction. Scott is forgetting that making no distinction between inaction and action is quite unusual and certainly not shared by all ethical systems.

    • suntzuanime says:

      What arguments are “beyond the pale” depend on which country is trying you for war crimes. I feel like there are a lot of people for whom justifying child sex slavery as a military necessity would in fact qualify as beyond the pale, and the fact that you feel differently is unlikely to work in your favor at Nuremberg.

      • Jiro says:

        The point is that there’s an important difference between “these aren’t people” and “the interests of these people and these other people need to be balanced “.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I feel like you might be surprised how consequentialist people can be when your moral failure has caused their children to be held as sex slaves. It was wrong, you should have known it was wrong, you did in fact know it was wrong, why do I care that the person who gave you this evil order was, according to you, following a less fundamentally evil mindset when they decided to give this order which you knew was evil and carried out anyway?

        • suntzuanime says:

          “I felt bad about it, but I had a war to win” is not recognized as a defense to a war crimes charge, so why would “my superiors felt bad about it, but they had a war to win” be?

          • Linch says:

            The (Definitely Not Consequentialist) philosopher Immanuel Kant would say that in your private use of reason as a soldier, the right thing to do would be to follow your orders while potentially denouncing those same actions publicly (in your public use of reason as a scholar), and that if the contradiction is sufficiently high, you should resign.

            OTOH, Eichmann quoted Kant in *his* “private use of reason,” and didn’t exactly bother to denounce Nazism or resign.

        • Anonymous says:

          Consequentalists defect in local coordination games so people you don’t care about can win in global ones.

    • RCF says:

      Did you go to Afghanistan and stop people from keeping sex slaves? If not, what arguments can you give for sitting on your ass and not doing anything to stop slavery, that don’t apply to soldiers? There are lots of countries that practice slavery that the US has not invaded. Why do US soldiers have an obligation to stop slavery in Afghanistan, but not in those countries? This seems like an example of the Schrodinger Theory of Morality.

      Also, I take it “Scoyy” was a typo? (As well as “Tumblir”?)

      • anon says:

        RE: The US’ responsibility to combat child sex slavery in Afghanistan

        When they were in power the Taliban enforced a ban on Bachi Bazi, adult men grooming young boys for sex. Since the US toppled the Taliban government, the practice has seen a resurgence.

        • Sastan says:

          No, they didn’t. It was an excuse they used to execute some people they didn’t like, but they sure as HELL didn’t enforce it with any fervor. It’s a well-established social norm, engaged in by approximately 100% of the male population. If they’d enforced a ban, there wouldn’t be any afghans.

          • anon says:

            100 percent of the male population? Really? Forgive me if I have trouble believing that every single Afghan man is a child rapist

          • Tarrou says:

            Have all the trouble you like. If you’re interested, you can always go there and hang out for a few years. The afghans have a pretty Spartan approach to child rape. Almost all male children are victimized and virtually every adult male is a perp. However, it is taboo to be exclusively attracted to young boys. That’s a major no-go. Muslim culture is hugely anti-gay, but they don’t consider nonexclusive pedophilia to be”gay”.

          • Anonymous says:

            That seems extremely unlikely – because what kind of father would allow his child to be used that way? Doing so openly would surely attract instant murder and blood feud, given that Afghani society practices a honor culture.

    • Mark says:

      1) I think genocides have been carried out against “people”, on utilitarian consequentialist grounds: Killing all the Jews is bad (we tried to ship them off to Madagascar), but we have to do it to preserve the purity of the German race/ overthrow their menace/ whatever greater good argument, and this wouldn’t fly at Nuremberg.

      I think 2) is key in a war crimes context, but you might be being a bit generous to the Americans: Aren’t they actively supporting the rule of that person and cooperating with them militarily, and hunting down and disrupting/ killing the people who would stop him molesting children? (and also start executing a bunch of innocent-by-western-standards people themselves…)

    • CatCube says:

      This, of course, gets you into the “what are you going to do about it?” problem. Nobody–and I mean nobody–in a position of authority in US Forces Afghanistan likes the situation as-is. However, we’re not actually ruling their country. Short of kicking perpetrators to their knees and shooting them in the back of the head, the leverage we have is pretty limited. (An SF Soldier was court-martialed for beating the hell out of a child rapist after the Afghan legal system gave him a slap on the wrist.) If their own legal system won’t punish people, how do you create the norm to do so? Are we going to have the Sexual Harassment Panda do a travelling roadshow through Kandahar Province?

      During one of my classes, one of our instructors was from an allied country (Country A – I won’t be naming the countries in this anecdote, because I don’t know what’s public information and not). He told us that when he was in Afghanistan, one of the warlords in his area of responsibility was a known child rapist. One of the other allied countries (Country B) refused to deal with the guy in any way because of this. Country B’s Soldiers got rocked every time they went into that warlord’s territory, while Country A dealt with him as normal and was left unmolested.

      How many people under your command will you sacrifice to make a point, given that it probably won’t make much difference?

  63. Linch says:

    On a related note, a friend from a local EA group is floating around the idea of having a antipoverty/research NGO that looks for a relatively isolated geographical location and then promise to give a basic income to it. He has a very slight preference for Kenya because of personal connections, but agrees that the experiment can be set up wherever is cheapest/most feasible.

    This is distinct from GiveDirectly’s model since it promises income in perpetuity (or at least as long as the program lasts) rather than a single unconditional cash transfer.

    While obviously there’s the direct antipoverty goals that this program will benefit, there’s also the advantage of adding empirical data to the universal basic income question. So in theory at least he can attract investment/donations not just from bleeding hearts but from Blue/Grey Tribers intrigued by the idea of basic income.

    [I couldn’t figure out whether this is sufficiently different from the above thread to make a new thread. Feel free to make [meta] comments on that issue].

    • Tim C says:

      Utretch in the Netherlands is currently rolling out a trial for UBI, to start in a few months:


      Just in case you didnt know and wanted more data on how different starting conditions could affect the outcomes, which I think will be one of the bigger questions that UBI is going to face (I would not be shocked if it worked great in Germany and horribly in the US).

      Also, as an impact evaluation specialist in development, if your friend is actually serious about implementing the idea I would love to help out in setting up proper monitoring and evaluation systems, if thats not a skill they already have. UBI is one of my passions, and its criminally understudied.

    • Handing out money in poor countries seems to bypass/miss out on some of the positive cultural changes that are associated with complex work and the especially the education involved. Perhaps tying basic income to educational attendance and/or performance might be better than no-strings-attached? Otherwise most of the incentive to become highly educated is removed.

    • TD says:

      Since we are going to have to have Basic Income to avoid economic disaster when automation really hits hard, I’m a little of two minds about trying to push it too early. If these early pilot schemes fail badly then that may sour people against it, and then when we really need it, it will be held back until disaster and then people offering more extreme solutions will take over. On the other hand, if we don’t push it now, how will people be attracted to it politically to get it off the ground when its needed?

      • Anonymous says:

        Since we are going to have to have Basic Income to avoid economic disaster when automation really hits hard

        Why? Are you that sure that the inputs to automation are also the inputs to human labor?

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        We need BI before automation hits hard, because automation will ramp up slowly.

        Conversely if BI detractors are somehow miraculously right and everybody takes early retirement we need to know that now so we can plan ahead, because barring singularity automation is never going to be 100%, even for unskilled work.

  64. anon says:

    Your legislature asks for advice to increase your country’s birth rate. What do you propose?

    Hard mode: You can’t do anything that would violate the constitution (or equivalent) where you live

    • suntzuanime says:

      Constitution as interpreted by whom?

      • Anonymous says:

        This suggests a measure by itself: Replace the SCOTUS’ members with Amish.

        • Anonymous says:

          Would that work, though? Would it be viable for them to interpret the constitution in a way that the majority of the population of the US would disagree with?

          My view of constitutions is that they act something like propaganda. If you can get your preferred political views enshrined in a constitution, that provides an argument that will convince some number of people, and sway a lot more people to some extent toward supporting the view. Any constitution could in theory be interpreted to mean anything; a constitution that the relevant people disagree with is meaningless. But simply by existing it provides a (very weak) argument in favor of the most plausible interpretation of the rules it contains.

          • Anonymous says:

            Did the majority of Americans agree with the latest “it’s a tax!”-style interpretation? None of the increasingly weird interpretations issued by the SCOTUS are challenged.

          • Technically Not Anonymous says:

            “None of the increasingly weird interpretations issued by the SCOTUS are challenged.”

            Citizen’s United.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I consider it completely unimportant who will write the constitution, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this–who will interpret the constitution, and how.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Throw money at the problem.

      First, increase the child tax credit. A lot.

      Then, institute free prenatal care, free daycare, free infant healthcare, and free maternal counseling. Finally, I haven’t looked into how extensive adoption services are, but I’d make sure they are extensive and easy to navigate.

      Oh, and if I get to change the constitution, maybe outlaw abortion? Ethical considerations aside, it’d ensure more children are born (with help from my free prenatal care, and a lot of them would probably go into my extensive adoption services), but some women would probably try their hardest not to get pregnant in the first place. I wonder if there’s been a study on the subject?

      • nydwracu says:

        If we’re ignoring where the money comes from: make college free.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Under the current situation, I guess.

          But, I’m thinking the college bubble will pop in the next twenty years or so, and providing a guaranteed government funding stream will simply prop it up.

        • Creutzer says:

          Many EU countries have effectively free college education. Doesn’t look like it helps much. (Of course, you could argue that without that, the birth rate would be even lower, but that would seem very extreme.)

          • Anonymous says:

            You could also make the case that overeducation stifles breeding. If you’re in full-time, unpaid (or worse, paying to have it) training until 25, resources for family formation are going to be scarce before you’re 30ish, and by then female fertility has substantially declined.

          • anonymous says:

            Indeed; one important leg of the solution should be to decrease the years of education.

            Education being mostly a negative sum game of signaling.

          • @anon

            Year or hours? I think people should start part time working as early as possible, have one work afternoon per week at 14, then 4 hours a day from 18 and then slowly up. While studying of course, but this would get young people’s head out of the clouds and give a taste of real life and sanity.

            When I scream at people like an grumpy old conservative “you are immature thinking, you need to grow up” I basically mean I need them to work, because in work one gets a sense of how chaotic and illogical human life is.

            And, you know, that way you can decide better what you actually want to do. People choose to learn civil engineering without ever having seen a brick. It is ridiculous.

            And it would break the “I need experience to get my first job, I cannot get experience without getting a job” spiral.

            Let’s not be so opposed to child labor that we don’t people people apprentice. 4 hours per week at 14, 4 hours per day at 18-19 at work is absolutely educative.

          • Creutzer says:

            @TheDividualist: Somehow I doubt that what the world needs is more unqualified part-time workers… We’re not in the 1950s, unqualified young people cannot just go and get a job. I also don’t see why it would break the experience-job-presupposition spiral.

          • 1. Most office work is incredibly easy and requires hardly any qualifications. When I interned it was like here there is 100 page inventory list from one software and another 100 page from another compare and find differences. I could use a part time assistant just for the following job: when someone sends me an idiotic support requests, call them on the phone, have them explain in detail WTF they mean and just write it all down. And someone could just basically stand at the printer and bring everybody stuff they printed out. The horrible inefficiencies and ridiculous disorganization of office life would warrant it.

            2. Not find jobs, obviously, this is part of the training, the school would send them as interns to firms. As long as they don’t have to pay for it, it is not a bad deal. Otherwise there is this danger that all students learn is how to take a test.

            3. Because it would generate real work experience.

        • Elaborate please as I think 100% the opposite. Educating women and pushing them towards careerism is the No. 1 reason for low birth rates and it is statistically demonstrated and all that. If anything, banning tertiary education for women would help except that it is politically impossible, so the politically survivable alternative is making it as easy as possible to have career AND children: maternity leave, cheap or free kindergarten / nursery, firing protection, part-time work and all that.

          Or if you want to retain some sense of economic sanity, then just a huge tax break for working mothers and they’ll hire help probably or sort it out anyway, but basically if you can advertise to working women that having a child is equivalent to a large salary raise it could sound really good.

          Note: we live in a country where we get the above freebies but little in the way of tax break. We’d trade them for a tax break, we could find a retired relative who could move next door to us and babysit. And tax breaks are good for rewarding productivity as well, the smarter she is, the more she gains from having a child or three, which is eugenic and all that.

          • ” If anything, banning tertiary education for women would help except that it is politically impossible”

            If someone can demonstrate that the birthrate thing is a real problem, it would help. You need to begin at the beginning.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            If someone can demonstrate that the birthrate thing is a real problem, it would help. You need to begin at the beginning.

            I thought everyone agreed it was a problem and we just disagreed over solutions (importing immigrants vs. subsidizing children vs. traditional gender roles)?

          • keranih says:

            “The country needs to increase its birthrate” was proposed as a given, and suggestions solicited for meeting this goal.

            Had the question been “does $country need to increase its birthrate?” or “given the likely methods that would effectually increase birthrate in $country, do the upsides of increasing birthrate outweigh the downsides?” my answer would have been a bit different.

          • onyomi says:

            “I thought everyone agreed it was a problem and we just disagreed over solutions (importing immigrants vs. subsidizing children vs. traditional gender roles)?”

            I don’t think people think of it as a problem in the US. They do in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and, recently, it seems, in China.

          • brad says:

            It’s multiple solutions all looking for a problem that would require them.

            People that think women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen are perfectly happy to agree that low birthrate is a huge problem and let me tell you about this great solution. Same with the people that think everything to do with children ought to be massively subsidized. Same with the open border types.

      • Anonymous says:

        Then, institute free prenatal care, free daycare, free infant healthcare, and free maternal counseling. Finally, I haven’t looked into how extensive adoption services are, but I’d make sure they are extensive and easy to navigate.

        This doesn’t work. Norway, for instance, has this, but has the same fertility as everyone else in western Europe.

        Oh, and if I get to change the constitution, maybe outlaw abortion? Ethical considerations aside, it’d ensure more children are born (with help from my free prenatal care, and a lot of them would probably go into my extensive adoption services), but some women would probably try their hardest not to get pregnant in the first place. I wonder if there’s been a study on the subject?

        Outlawing abortion and contraception worked in Communist Romania.

        • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

          “Outlawing abortion and contraception worked in Communist Romania.”

          Not well. After each decree there was an increase in births, but it was short lived as people found ways around it, so a new, harsher decree had to be issued and so on.
          Outlawing abortion and contraception was done in Romania in concert with restricting foreign travel. Without it you have abortion tourism and black market contraceptives, not to mention your population simply fleeing like Romanians eventually did cancelling any long term population gains. Romania has now both high emigration and very low birth rates.
          Also, these days plastic manual vacuum pumps are cheap and simple to use for early abortions, so underground abortions will be far more common.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, “works, poorly” is something you can improve upon, unlike the measures implemented in the west so far.

      • Agronomous says:

        Evan Thorn wrote:

        Oh, and if I get to change the constitution, maybe outlaw abortion?

        Assuming you’re talking about the U.S. Constitution, which parts would you need to change?

        • Nornagest says:

          The Roe ruling relies on a right to privacy implied by (if you’re a liberal) or discovered in (if you’re a conservative) the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment. But a theoretical amendment banning abortion probably wouldn’t invalidate the 14th, it’d just say something along the lines of “abortion shall be prohibited, and Congress shall have power to enforce this article”. More specific parts of the Constitution (or other law) trump more general ones, all else equal, and the penumbra is particularly easy to supercede.

    • Jiro says:

      Import lots of unskilled and uneducated immigrants. (Presuming that they count as part of “your country” after they immigrate).

    • Anonymous says:

      These are things to try and see if they work. As far as I know these measures have not been tried as means towards raising fertility. I don’t know if any of these particular things will work, but instead work from a heuristic of imitating groups with high fertility.

      1. Eliminate social security such as elderly and disability pensions. If necessary, legally obligate descendants to take care of their incapable ancestors. (Inspiration: Amish.)
      2. Similarly, eliminate various handouts such that people will be forced to rely on their family in times of need. (Inspiration: our own ancestors a century back.)
      3. Counteract urbanization by whatever means likely to work. Taxing the hell out of urbanites? I don’t know. (Inspiration: rural folk as opposed to urban folk.)
      4. Actively support the moral authority of the Catholic Church, up to and including making it the state religion. (Inspiration: tradcaths.) May require constitutional changes.
      5. Drastically cut public education, eliminate schooling duty beyond age 12. (Inspiration: populations of developing economies whose female population did not receive schooling past age 12 versus those that did.)
      6. Eliminate restrictions on child labour. (Inspiration: our ancestors a century back.)
      7. Forbid contraception. (Inspiration: Romanians in the 1957-1990 period.)
      8. Provide tax reductions based on number of children of a married couple. (Inspiration: Victorian English.)

      Numbered list because comments don’t allow UL tags.

      • Deiseach says:

        4. Actively support the moral authority of the Catholic Church, up to and including making it the state religion. (Inspiration: tradcaths.) May require constitutional changes.

        As a Catholic, I would say no, don’t do this. It hasn’t been good for the Church generally and in fact, in places where the local church is tied into state structures (such as Germany, where after Bismarck the local church very much wanted to co-operate for survival reasons) this has a corrosive effect: when you’re getting the state dole, you are less likely to criticise the Emperor’s lack of clothes and much happier going along with what the Zeitgeist wants.

        • Anonymous says:

          This is not the kind of state church interaction I’m proposing. I’m proposing the throne-and-altar, everyone serving a public function must be a Catholic in good standing with the Church, infidels are grudgingly tolerated but don’t get airtime – kind of relationship.

          • Zykrom says:

            This would probably still have a corrosive effect on Church virtues.

          • Deiseach says:

            What that would get you is hypocrisy: everyone making a show of public virtue (or at least adherence to the outward forms of religion) while not necessarily practicing them in private.

            Like the local gentry family who go to church every Sunday because while they might not believe in this God stuff very deeply, it sets a good example for the tenantry.

            If that’s the social effect you’re after, it may work, but it gets diluted very quickly within a few generations.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s probably superior to the nowadays alternative of getting neither piety nor private virtue.

      • Agronomous says:

        Anonymous wrote:
        4. Actively support the moral authority of the Catholic Church, up to and including making it the state religion. (Inspiration: tradcaths.) May require constitutional changes.

        You have this exactly backward: if you want to support the moral authority of the Catholic Church, you should ban it. Compare Poland and Spain.

        As Deiseach points out, establishing the Catholic Church is also a good way to ruin Catholicism, which I’m personally fond of and don’t want to see ruined. I would in fact prefer you ban it.

    • Anonymous says:

      In the real world this problem is usually solved via immigration.

      • Anonymous says:

        By importing people who breed more?

      • brad says:

        The top poster didn’t mention a problem, just a solution (presumably in search of a problem).

        I agree if the worker:retiree ratio is the problem a country is looking at, immigration is a good choice if the country is wealthy enough to attract immigrants.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s a stop-gap that does have its own problems. If conditions in the country are such that it becomes some sort of elephant graveyard, you’re reliant on the existence of places which have conditions in which people breed. So why not actually make your own country a place where people will breed and cut out the middle man?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Because the conditions in which people breed are not very aesthetically appealing to our refined tastes.

          • Anonymous says:

            Doesn’t it count as some sort of colonial exploitation to import people from places “not aesthetically pleasing” to work and die for your comfort?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Colonial exploitation has a lot to recommend it, for the exploiter.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t disagree.

            Not certain about the utility of a solution that leads to one’s inevitable extinction, though.

          • You need a way of increasing fecundity that doesn’t also drop GDP.

          • brad says:

            It’s a stop-gap that does have its own problems.

            In the long run we are all dead.

            If conditions in the country are such that it becomes some sort of elephant graveyard, you’re reliant on the existence of places which have conditions in which people breed.

            Global underpopulation is a “problem” that those people alive can deal with when it comes up. It isn’t a problem for those alive now. I don’t see any reason to worry about it.

            So why not actually make your own country a place where people will breed and cut out the middle man?

            Because we have a much cheaper and more satisfactory solution available to solve the relatively minor problem of falling worker:retiree ratios.

          • Anonymous says:

            The Spanish transition between high and low fertility did not appear to have done anything to their GDP/capita.

            These are not satisfactory answers if you care at all whether your family/kinsmen/ethny/nation will survive in the long run.

          • Chalid says:

            Importing adult citizens/taxpayers is much cheaper than raising them from birth!

          • brad says:

            @Peach Anonymous

            That’s an awful lot of slashes. Are you claiming those concepts are all extensions of each other? Maybe for some tiny nations, but certainly not for the US.

            And again, in the long run we are all dead. Not just personally, but at whatever level of generality you wish to look. Obsessing over immortality is a good way to waste your life.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            That’s an awful lot of slashes. Are you claiming those concepts are all extensions of each other? Maybe for some tiny nations, but certainly not for the US.

            The US is made up of several smaller nations. See “Splitting Apart the United States” and “Map of United States Based on Facebook Connections”.

            And again, in the long run we are all dead. Not just personally, but at whatever level of generality you wish to look. Obsessing over immortality is a good way to waste your life.

            Thank you for demonstrating that leftism is a suicidal ideology.

          • brad says:

            Not nearly small enough for peach anonymous’ slashes to make sense. Well, except, perhaps for Mormonia.

            And, uh, you’re welcome I guess.

          • Anonymous says:

            The ‘slashes’ make sense in most of Europe. USA isn’t the center of the world, nor a typical country.

          • brad says:

            Let’s take Spain, do the slashes make sense there given the differences between Catalonia and Andalusia? What about Italy and the differences between Sicily and Lombardy? Those countries look pretty far away from a scaled up kinship group.

    • Many incentives are structured such that they work least well on highly educated people who we actually most want to breed more of. This is especially the case for “baby bonus” measure such as the Australian model, which I’ve heard quite often gets spent on drugs and plasma TVs rather than stuff for the kid. Really, you should try to target educated people who have none or one child as the best ROI, rather than just handing out cash to people who already breed lots but are poorly equipped for parenthood. This is the middle class you mostly want to target – providing incentives to the richest is very inefficient because the incentives need to be so big.

      Educated middle-class women/couples sometimes avoid having children because it will negatively their career. What you really want to do is try to remove the conflict between career and children. Off the top of my head, I’d do the following:
      – Disincentivise/punish very long hours (one normalised they are barrier to kids)
      – Free child care vouchers for first two or maybe three children
      – Incentivise work flexibility and telecommuting in skilled jobs
      – Free high quality primary and secondary education system
      – Encourage, where possible, a model where both parents share parenting and work part-time, rather than putting one parent’s career totally on hold.
      – Subsidise part-time income for first/second time parents for the first year or two, so they can work less hours to do child-rearing stuff, but still participate to retain the better part of their previous income.

      • Anonymous says:

        The second paragraph’s ideas are already implemented in a bunch of European states (such as Norway, as I’ve mentioned above), with no apparent effect on the natives’ breeding habits.

        I guess you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink.

        • As they are the most “middle-class” cultures in the world, I’d assume they would be worse without the measures that they have, though I haven’t examined the data in detail. Still, maybe its something you need to actively encourage in the popular culture too. I’d probably agree with the right that more stable partner bonds would help, though I’d not agree with their full agenda on that issue.

          My worry with most of the other measures proposed in this subthread is they have fairly bad side effects, such as basically wiping out the middle class.

          • Anonymous says:

            My worry with most of the other measures proposed in this subthread is they have fairly bad side effects, such as basically wiping out the middle class.

            How do you mean?

          • For example, I think the following would have a serious negative effect on the size of the middle class: 5. Drastically cut public education, eliminate schooling duty beyond age 12. (Inspiration: populations of developing economies whose female population did not receive schooling past age 12 versus those that did.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Isn’t “middle-class” a relative thing to lower-class and upper-class? Are you saying that the measure will expand the size of the lower-classes and upper-classes at the expense of the middle? It doesn’t seem to intuitively follow, especially since education is only a small part of what constitutes being middle class.

          • I think education is pretty central to the middle class. Without public funding I think we’d bleed large amounts of the middle class to become working/lower class. I feel this is bad for reasons you can probably guess.

          • Anonymous says:


            I don’t see why you’d expect that. Middle class might be marked by higher education but I don’t think that’s a necessary factor for its existence. Middle class is more like everyone who works in jobs that pay better than ‘pretty badly’. Those kinds of jobs will still exist whether or not the people who do them bear any particular signaling marker. Employers are not going to suddenly start using manual labor for everything, or experience a massive increase in their bargaining power, simply because the factor they used to sort candidates on no longer works.

            This is all true only to the extent that education is signaling. To the extent that it isn’t, some alternative would surely appear in its place. Perhaps it would look more like those coding bootcamps or something similar, I don’t know.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Well, if I think of middle class (which objectively has many possible definitions) as people in households supported by jobs requiring skills which are not commodities (e.g. doctor, lawyer, custom craftsperson, project manager, etc.), then education does stand out as a distinguishing factor – but only a certain type of education, namely, that which enables the profession. Without that specialized knowledge, the ability to fill that role goes away, and so does the resulting wealth, and in turn, the status.

            This is important, because it’s possible to fund a great deal of education that confers knowledge that doesn’t enable such roles. Or that enables roles for which there is only limited demand, which amounts to the same thing. (You could pay to teach everyone about 8th century India and tensor calculus, but the world does not need that many 8th.c India historians or tensor mathematicians.)

            This suggests to me that a publicly funded education program will run into problems when it tries to figure out relative demand for roles in a market where education prices have now been effectively fixed.

          • keranih says:

            @ Paul Brinkley

            Doctors, lawyers, and other specialized degrees are hard to fit into the “middle class” box, imo.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            No doubt you’re expecting doctors and lawyers and high-specialists to be in the “upper-class” box instead.

            My personal method here didn’t outline a clear definition of what’s upper-class; I mainly focused on the middle / lower distinction. If I had to pick a set of tests for upper-class, it would probably include stuff like notoriety and some arbitrary cut-off for % of wealth being generated by existing wealth, and likewise for % of time spent on social signalling; the result would be that some doctors and lawyers and specialists would be upper-class and some would be middle. Would that align more with your sense of them?

            Either way, I don’t think it matters to the point at hand, which is whether and how education lifts people from lower to middle class. (We’re apparently not worrying here about the middle / upper conversion.)

          • Middle class is more like everyone who works in jobs that pay better than ‘pretty badly’.

            Based on my own education, the most common definitions used in social science are that middle class is generally considered to be people who sell their intellectual and social labour rather than physical labour. You may see why I think this is pretty closely tied to education – if you don’t have an education its a lot less likely you will have intellectual skills to sell. And if those skills don’t exist, businesses (and therefore jobs) performing those functions will go overseas (or disappear).

            Those kinds of jobs will still exist whether or not the people who do them bear any particular signaling marker.

            I know in rationalist circles its currently the thing to consider everything signalling, but I think its fairly clear that education still teaches actual skills required to build bridges, treat illness and so forth. Even if it just signalling, which I don’t think it is, if people don’t have a degree to signal they can build a bridge, the bridge building business can’t just employ people random people. The jobs are created by the productive skills available. Kill that and you kill the productivity and the jobs.

            I agree with Paul – generally upper class don’t sell labour, they earn money through stuff they own like investments. Lawyers etc are still middle class until they are wealthy enough to live off such investments.

          • Anonymous says:

            I know in rationalist circles its currently the thing to consider everything signalling, but I think its fairly clear that education still teaches actual skills required to build bridges, treat illness and so forth.

            That’s largely:
            a) vocational education of various sorts,
            b) non-trash tertiary education.

            General education up to tertiary doesn’t actually teach very much useful stuff (as evidenced, for example, by unschooled kids being equivalent to just a single grade below publicly schooled kids). Trash degrees, arguably teach even less useful knowledge, especially job-market-related.

            I have no data what percentage of tertiary education is useless, but seems intuitively pretty substantial.

      • ThrustVectoring says:

        Do you want to incentivize more children in highly educated parenting environments, or more biological children of highly educated parents? There’s a difference between the two – a highly subsidized sperm/egg donor program can get the second at a fairly cheap rate.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Related question that puzzles me: Both China and India have become demographically lopsided, with many more boys than girls, due to selective abortion or just plain infanticide … and their governments are now worried about what happens when a large cohort of young men can’t find wives.

      It wouldn’t solve the problem for the current generation, but why are these countries not providing a direct subsidy for parents raising girls, to the exact extent needed to restore the balance? India seems to be kind of half-assing it with an educational subsidy, but I’m not sure if that has had much effect.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        In China there is an informal penalty to having a son, having to save up from his time of birth so he can afford to get married, and I remember hearing this has made daughters seem more attractive to would-be parents.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Interesting. But it presumably doesn’t outweigh the more overarching tendency to favour boys over girls – or is this a thing that has only arisen since boys have begun to noticeably outnumber girls?

          • Anonymous says:

            AFAIK, the imbalance came in due to China’s antinatalist policies (recently loosened up) – previously, apparently people were content to have a girl or several, then roll the dice again and again until they got the son they wanted. When they were restricted to how many overall they could have, they got creative.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          There is a formal penalty to having a daughter, however; the legal obligations of daughters differ from sons. Sons are required to provide material support to their parents in their old age. Daughters, unless the laws have changed in the last decade, are not.

    • Deiseach says:

      All the suggested remedies ignore one big thing: the past fifty years have been spent drumming it into people’s heads that becoming pregnant destroys your life.

      Whether it was the first-line feminists who decried housewifery as drudgery and slavery, to sex education classes trying to scare teenagers into not getting pregnant, to drives to promote contraception and abortion in order to cut down teen pregnancy, the mantra has been: don’t get pregnant, your life will be over because you can’t get an education, it will wreck your career, you will be stuck in the house doing a thankless job society does not value (who values child-raising? give me an example), and if you want to participate in the good things of consumer society you need two salaries, which you won’t have if one of you has to stay home with the brat(s).

      Your freedom will be gone: instead of living to please yourself and being able to pick up and backpack round the globe if you feel like it, you will be tied to a demanding entity for eighteen years or so. It is horribly expensive to have and raise and educate a child, that is money you could be spending on yourself. It is not fulfilling and only stupid, unambitious, underclass women pop out babies.

      Having children is selfish: more than replacement levels, even more than one child, is destroying the earth, the planet can’t support unrestricted population growth, why would you bring a child into this world with all the war and pollution and problems, if you want unconditional love a pet is more fulfilling (I don’t understand people who call their cats and dogs their babies and unironically refer to themselves as the mommies and daddies of a pet).

      When you have successfully inculcated an attitude at large such that someone, in all seriousness, can write that “to some, foetuses are people” in the tone of an anthropologist reporting on some obscure tribe’s mumbo-jumbo, how on earth do you think you will reverse momentum and make pregnancy, child rearing and having more than one child attractive and appealing and natural once more?

      • Urstoff says:

        I think this is definitely part of it. And the attitude I hear from many of my peers is “I don’t like kids”, and I just want to reply “But you’ll like yours, dummy”.

        And although there has been something of a cultural shift towards emphasizing the importance and satisfaction of fatherhood, we still have a long way to go. Our culture discusses whether someone can be a CEO and a mom but never mentions the simple fact that workaholic CEO’s aren’t good fathers either. Women can’t “have it all”, but neither can men.

        • >I think this is definitely part of it. And the attitude I hear from many of my peers is “I don’t like kids”, and I just want to reply “But you’ll like yours, dummy”.

          This is a tad more complicated. Both my wife and me feel roughly this way: we are incredibly attached or addicted to our child, in the sense that we would be heartbroken if any harm would happen to her.

          But liking, as in, enjoying spending time together happens only about 25% of the cases. 75% is “Put that down! Put that one down, too! Don’t play with the light switch! For the storm’s sake, don’t pull the blinking cable out of my computer! And stop whining, why are you crying now? You have a million toys so don’t mess with things that aren’t. Here, let’s play wit this ball together. Now why are still crying? Will you please stop? Will you please stop already?! Aaargh I am gonna find a rope and hang myself, this is unbearable.”

          It is perfectly possible that we suck at this, although have read a lot of how to be a parent type of stuff. Mostly they are perfectly useless because they assume you have infinite patience and unselfishness. Sure there are ways to find out the reason for the crying but not really when you are pissed off and can hardly keep yourself from exploding. Somehow the parenting advice is based on a pink dream attitude that you want to be the perfect parent. Well, I want to protect our own nerves first and foremost, assuming it does not harm our child, just not raising her in an absolute perfect way is not a big issue for me.

          But then if she is spending a day or two with grandparents we are hopelessly lost. We are addicted to our child, attached to her, but don’t actually like the experience of having to put up with hours of whining every day and having to tell 4000 times a day to put that blessed thing down.

          Disagree on workaholic CEOs. Fathers just need to be role models mostly. Son, this is what you do, not be a street thug. Daughter, this is what you marry, not a street thug. It is nice to play with your kids, they enjoy it, but as long as they have other people to play with it has about zero effect on outcomes. The main reason to do it is because you yourself enjoy it actually. Most children are even happier with playing with neighbor kids than with fathers who, as well all know, are awfully likely to turn every play into a teaching.

          Really if adults want to do kids a favor the best thing they can do is to get them together and fsck off for a while. They really feel happier without supervision.

          • Urstoff says:

            Okay, new criteria then: are you impatient and high-strung and/or were you an asshole as a child? If so, you may not want to have kids. Otherwise, have at it. Kids, of course, are still kids and will not be easy all (or even a majority of) the time, but I’m not one to favor a util-per-minute calculus to make decisions. Without getting too grandiose, rearing a child is one of those fundamental human experiences (like sex, humor, and intellectual investigation) that one should seek out if possible. As you can see, I’m very much in the Caplan pro-natalist camp.

            As for the CEO thing, I don’t find workaholics to be particularly good role models no matter how much they make (at least compared with a normal person that has a full-time job; obviously not in comparison to deadbeat or lazy fathers). I also don’t think the motivation for spending time with one’s children should be for the benefit of the child; it should be because you love the child and want to spend time with them. Workaholics (in this scenario, at least) don’t do that and don’t want to do that. Note that spending time with your child and giving your child freedom and independence is not mutually exclusive.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Dammit. I have to agree.

      • The Anonymouse says:

        who values child-raising? give me an example

        The LDS Church. Which, at least in the US, is neither small nor fringe (at least of late).

      • hlynkacg says:

        This, many times.

      • keranih says:

        This. We spend decades telling girls and young women that pregnancy – much less motherhood is hard, damaging, limiting, and will make them miserable. That a baby is the last thing they want – because even if they think they want it, it doesn’t matter because they’re young and stupid and will ruin the child.

        Nobody says, you will be able to handle this. No one says, as a woman you have different strengths than a man, and you will be able to “do” motherhood.

        Nobody says, on a fundamental, biological basis, this is what you were made to do.

        Now, no woman is going to be a perfect mother, no less than any man will be a perfect warrior or hunter. But this is a thing that women can do very very well.

        • There was a Cathy cartoon about having one afternoon when your body is perfect. The ass and breasts are just so. The punchline is “And then you find out you’re pregnant”.

          My reaction was “We’re doomed. This is a culture which does not deserve to survive. If the (extremely important) ideal female body is one that looks as though it’s never been pregnant, we’re just too anti-biological.”

        • Eli says:

          Nobody says, on a fundamental, biological basis, this is what you were made to do.

          The thing about “a fundamental, biological basis” making X “what you were made to do” is that it doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be particularly good at X, or will be able to emotionally bear the struggles of X. It just means you’re not so incompetent at X that the entire species dies.

          Evolution doesn’t give a fuck how you feel.

        • anonymous says:

          Nobody says, on a fundamental, biological basis, this is what you were made to do.

          Probably no one says that because it’s not even wrong, it’s incoherent.

        • keranih says:

          @ Nancy – There is something to the idea that a late-teens woman is healthier and more fertile (and hence “hotter” to the male lizard-brain) than women of other ages…but we’ve conditioned ourselves to think of that person as a “girl” – not a functional adult.

          @ Eli – I agree, Momma nature is a right bitch, and she just doesn’t care. *But* I suggest that pregnancy and motherhood are not as horrifically hard, nor as physically or emotionally devastating, as the West has led our daughters to believe. At any rate, we should not assume that the average female would struggle with it all that much.

          @ Anonymous: I await your coherent explanation for tits, early emotional maturity, a womb, elevated body fat, extra capacity for multitasking, and a broad pelvic canal being packaged all together in the same model. We’re like that in order to bear and raise children. We *can* do other things, and imo we should rejoice in our versatility, but our baseline function is to ensure the species goes on. IMO it’s not rational to pretend otherwise.

          • anonymous says:

            No explanation is needed or applicable, because there is no design or purpose. No one was made to do anything. As I said, incoherent nonsense.

          • Design is a useful and informative metaphor for the logic of Darwinian evolution. The fact that evolution explains the appearance of design is the major reason that it is threatening to traditional religious arguments.

            If you recognize that the implication of evolution is that we are as if designed for reproductive success, what is the point of of objecting that there is no design or purpose?

          • anonymous says:

            >> Design is a useful and informative metaphor for the logic of Darwinian evolution.

            I dispute the premise. First, we don’t design things like an idiot blind god, so it isn’t even an accurate metaphor. Second, metaphors are supposed to illuminate, but that one instead leads people astray. They just substitute ‘evolution’ for ‘god’ and update nothing else.

            We can see an example in this very conversation.

          • Tom Hunt says:

            Evolution is very much teleological. (This is why teleological arguments in biology work regardless of whether the audience is actually religious.) The purpose of hands is to manipulate; the purpose of the heart is to pump blood; the purpose of legs is to walk. If the relevant organs do not do these things, we refer to them as defective. Similarly, the purpose of the various quoted differences in female anatomy is to facilitate the bearing of children. (In fact, this is more or less the purpose of having sex differentiation at all.)

            You can argue over whether or not this purposeful nature is a fundamental metaphysical reality, or an illusion caused by selection. But on the level on which the question actually affects us, it’s immaterial; the argument from purpose will have the same implications. In particular, the original contention, that women are unlikely to be that heavily traumatized by bearing children since it’s in accordance with biological purpose, is entirely valid. Childbearing can’t be an always life-destroying thing, because (pick one) God didn’t make women that way, or women who were that way in the EEA didn’t successfully reproduce themselves. The argument has the same force either way.

        • Part of the story is the mom forums online which are engaged in incredible status games into shaming each other into “you are a worse mom than me” way and I assume for people who actually have a social life this happens IRL too.

      • NN says:

        If you want to blame feminism, then you have to explain why Japan, which has a much stricter emphasis on traditional gender roles that the West, has a sub-replacement fertility rate. In the 2000s, the Japanese government tried to increase fertility by encouraging the “baby-making machines” to stay home instead of working, only to find that the fertility rate dropped even further as a result.

        • Anonymous says:

          You could conceivably blame the west (and by association feminism) on that, since America conquered Japan at one point, inflicting their way of doing things on them in many respects. Among things I’ve seen blamed in Japan’s case are female emancipation and shift away from arranged marriages.

          • Japan is patriachal (actual as opposed to SJW notions) and has very strict gender roles. So even if you link it to the West, there’s no link to feminism, because they haven’t embraced feminism, they’ve basically ignored or rejected it, significantly more than any Western country I can think of. There is a link with consumerism and money-orientation, but for reasons that are beyond me many participants of this subthread here don’t seem to consider those a possible cause. I feel its obvious, comfortable people who rely on money and career for status have a disincentive to go through uncomfortable and career-adverse child-rearing.

          • Anonymous says:

            Japan is weird, and may not be representative of the overall problem.

        • Jaskologist says:

          As a general rule, I think Japan should just be excluded as an outlier when trying to fit data to our social theories because:

          a) It seems to genuinely be an outlier; all social theories I’ve seen seem to fail to explain Japan.

          b) I think the internet’s understanding of what “Japan” is like is probably wrong and completely unrepresentative or the reality.

          • NN says:

            It seems to genuinely be an outlier; all social theories I’ve seen seem to fail to explain Japan.

            Might that indicate that there is something wrong with those social theories, rather than that there is something wrong with Japan? Because I don’t think we can just write off a major first world country of 127 million people.

          • onyomi says:

            But this also applies to Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore…

      • Anonymous says:

        Surely part of it has to be down to how enjoyable work is, no? When society is poorer and work is harder, it is done solely for the purpose of production. Work sucks, but you do it because it makes you money which you can use to buy things to consume (with a very broad definition of ‘consume’, essentially things you want, this does not imply ‘consumerism’). When society is wealthy enough that workers can afford to take less money and have better working conditions instead – as well as technology improving conditions via more of the work that needs to be done being done in an office rather than a coal mine – work becomes partially a consumption good. Working, having a career, is fun in itself. At which point there is much more of a demand for work from women.

        In other words, when you’re a housewife and your husband works in a coal mine, you are missing out on a miserable experience but getting to consume much of the income it produces. When you’re a housewife and your husband has modern office-based career, you’re getting to consume much of the income he produces but you’re missing out on having a fun career yourself.

        • Tom Hunt says:

          From personal experience alone… I have an office job. It’s not miserable, nor even unpleasant. But if I had the option otherwise, I would certainly choose not to have a job at all. Then my computer-related work could be regarding actually interesting problems, rather than “wrestle with terrible legacy Perl script #436”.

          I don’t have any real data as to how central my experience (or, for that matter, my mindset) is. But my intuition suggests that, if you stripped away all the economic and status components, you wouldn’t find that many people who would choose to work office jobs, as currently defined, for the object-level pleasure of the experience. (In particular, all the “women in the workplace” boosting I’ve seen has referred to economic independence and ambiguously-specified ‘equality’, not to the wonderful fun of office labor.)

          • Anonymous says:

            This matches my experience. It is alien to me what women see about office jobs and having a career, if they could secure resources without having to partake in it.

          • Not want to be an ass about but it, how many women wrestle with Perl scripts? You typically find women in the marketing, PR, HR, so the “human oriented” department and that can easily be far more fun, basically a big social life type of thing. And project management. So basically working with people. Assume you like people, which is for me a bit of a tough assumption, but let’s do it. If you like people a job in HR or marketing or project management could make you look forward to every day.

            I am not a big fan of David Graeber’s highly leftwing analysis: http://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/ but it seems a lot of people agree that the bullshit to productive job ratio is getting worse. And there are the horrible kind of bullshit like fill out form #454 and there is also the other kind of bullshit which is basically just talking a lot with other people. Don’t you find it plausible many women would enjoy that?

            There is a huge trope on the internet how having a lot of long meetings are counter-productive and people hate them. You will find that it is typically men who hate them. Since a meeting is largely getting together and talking, why wouldn’t women enjoy them?

      • nameless says:

        The past 50 years have done this??? I’m pretty sure that women being highly concerned about possible ill effects of pregnancy is not a new development. Pregnancy is less sucky and scary than it used to be. The new development is reliably avoiding pregnancy.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Produce lots of studies that show that people who have children have overall higher life satisfaction/happiness.

      They may or may not be true, but who’s going to try to disprove them, the anti-natalist movement?

    • Svejk says:

      1. Promote education tracks allowing young people (especially women, who may mature faster) to complete their secondary and higher education at an accelerated pace. Entering university or vocational training two years earlier might be enough to jumpstart life history significantly.
      2. Examine the tax code to remove any excessive penalties attached to part-time employment. Investigate any other governmental incentives increasing the natural inefficiencies associated with part-time hires.
      3. Take a skeptical look at any licensing regulations inhibiting the ability of parents (particularly mothers) to run a business or service out of their homes (hairdressing, reiki, interior design, small electronics manufacture, whatever)
      4. Increase the child tax credit.
      5. Adopt a generally oppositional stance to any policies artificially reducing the availability of housing (although these policies usually occur at the local level).
      5. Generally support tighter labor markets to reduce uncertainty about having the consistent employment necessary to support a family.

      Frankly, I’m not sure that any governmental policies would be as effective as a social shift toward viewing children as a type of wealth, and parenting as a high-status activity.

      • Anonymous says:

        Frankly, I’m not sure that any governmental policies would be as effective as a social shift toward viewing children as a type of wealth, and parenting as a high-status activity.

        Probably not. But could government action cause a social shift?

      • Deiseach says:

        Take a skeptical look at any licensing regulations inhibiting the ability of parents (particularly mothers) to run a business or service out of their homes (hairdressing, reiki, interior design, small electronics manufacture, whatever)

        This is part of the tenancy conditions for social housing here. Partly because say something happens and a client gets burned in a hairdressing accident; who pays? Who is liable for the insurance? The local authority, which owns the house, or the tenant?

        Secondly, this can be inconvenient for the neighbours (noise, disruption, cars parked all over the street, etc. when someone is running a business out of their house) and can you be sure the income is being declared for tax purposes? Also, how can we be sure that the reiki business really is reiki?*

        Thirdly, you would not believe how bitchy neighbours can be; informing anonymously on other tenants for running businesses, having people staying in the house who shouldn’t be there, etc. Particularly when they’re holding grudges over “so-and-so got that house and my sister/daughter/friend is still on the list for a place”.

        *We have one tenant we’re suspicious is running prostitution out of her house – or rather out of a mobile home parked in the front garden – and we can’t prove it. That the kind of small business you thinking of? 😉

        • Svejk says:

          I confess I was thinking in the context of single family detached homes + homeowner insurance. In any case, I see licensing bars as a different issue from zoning and insurance because for many sectors they constitute unreasonable bars to entry that people might prospectively take into account when considering “How can I quickly re-enter the work force on terms compatible with childcare responsibilities?”

          EDIT: additionally, having regular (presumably trusted) clients of your hairdressing/brewing/catering/ bespoke circuitry business in the home provides adult interaction + a sense of agency that many stay-at -home parents crave/fear losing.

        • I hope you are being sarcastic, in the sense that you agree these are horrible priorities for the government to have. As these are all minor complaints compared to the HUGE not only economic but also psychological boost to earning money as opposed to being on the dole. The noise is nothing compared to the chance of not having a dull neighborhood but always be able to pop in to the hairdresser for a chat and besides everybody complaining about noise during working hours should be laughed out and told to get a job, tax not reported is earned back by not paying welfare to them, Germany basically proved prostitution isn’t a huge problem but only traffickers and pimps are, and insurance rules would be trivial to change. Just part of the tenancy contract. So I mean I hope you agree this is not a good list of priorities for the government.

      • Theo Jones says:

        In responce to point 1 (education). I think a better reform would be to allow for non-standard course lengths, and to make being a part time student easier. In more detail 1) create more courses that are not the standard 12 week, one semester classes. I.e offer one month/two month/six week/self-paced classes. 2) reduce scholarship conditions that discourage part-time students. At the university I attend, pretty much every merit-based scholarship has a 15 unit per semester minimum. Get rid of that type of rule.

        • Svejk says:

          Good ideas. At the risk of over- generalizing from my experience, I regularly meet teenage women with the energy, temperament and intelligence to be competent web developers, nurses, nurse aides, home health aides, physical therapists, etc ( I am focusing on the health sector because it seems particularly attractive to young women). What if it was not unheard of for able women to fast-track into these fields in their late teens, take time out for child-rearing, and then re-tool as doctors, consultants, small business owners, or anything else that strikes their fancy in their mid to late 30s? Seems to be a net increase in freedom and utility on all fronts, and congenial to nature.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      Have a Stork Derby every 5 years.

      • Anonymous says:

        This only rewards women who already were going to have many babies. It doesn’t cause them to have the babies.

    • bluto says:

      If one really want to increase the birth rate, one of the most effective policies would be eliminating all government assistance (grants, loan guarantees, etc) for female college tuition.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ceasing to propagandize for more female labour participation would help too. Deiseach has a lot of good points on the propaganda front above.

      • Svejk says:

        Women have always participated in the work force. Staying at home with children all day is just as alien to human evolutionary psychology as leaving them with a childminders all day. It is the formal, rationalized midcentury modern economy that is inhospitable to female fertility. As long as paid work outside the home is valued above parenting/home production, high-status women will opt for this work, and others will follow.
        Incentivizing lower age at first birth by taking advantage of women’s generally faster maturation (and acknowledging the disutility of much formal state-mandated education) would be more effective in increasing fertility, especially in middle and upper classes. Additionally, decreasing barriers to cottage industry would allow women to participate in the economy – and in social life, which revolves around the economy- without forgoing childrearing. As a happy accident, the college bubble would probably deflate significantly. But legislation explicitly foreclosing opportunities to women specifically is a non-starter, and would be bad political advice (exploding the college loan market entirely for both sexes is another matter).

      • Evan Þ says:

        Alternative: Eliminate all government assistance for women’s college tuition… except for mothers.

        (Couple it with free on-campus daycare, of course.)

    • Chris Conner says:

      Subsidize social drinking. Everyone gets a voucher for two free drinks every Friday night.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t think that would raise fertility rates but I can see a future where everybody is so isolated from other people playing virtual reality games that the government decides to enact this kind of policy.

    • NN says:

      I honestly don’t know if there is anything that can be done, as economic development seems to just inevitably bring down fertility rates, and nothing that any government has tried in an attempt to counter-act this trend, from the Scandinavian countries’ generous child care services to Communist Romania’s bans on contraception and abortion, has worked so far. The Amish have a lot of kids, but that’s because they deliberately live a pre-modern lifestyle. Certain sects of Ultra-Orthodox Jews who live on welfare and spend most of their time studying the Torah also have large families, but that obviously isn’t sustainable on a large scale. So short of deliberately undeveloping the country Khmer Rouge style, there may not be anything that any government can do about this.

      Well, I suppose opening up immigration to less developed parts of the world will bring the average birth rate up, but as far as increasing the birth rate of the native population, I’m stumped.

      • Wrong Species says:

        What about Mormons?

        • Gamer Imp says:

          Very strong traditional gender roles are pretty clearly linked to increased fertility- hell, there’s a good argument to make that that’s *why* they are traditional roles.

    • Anonymous says:

      All these people trying to find ways to let women take time out of work for parenting, and no one thinking to do it the other way ’round? Ridiculous!

      Make it socially acceptable to take a more distant interest in one’s children—providing, guiding, and advising, but outsourcing more of the day-to-day labor (particularly emotional labor) to hired help.

      If there isn’t enough help to hire, bring back babysitting: encourage young women (and, why not, men—participation rates won’t match but we can keep it equal on paper) to put in some time looking after children, probably in some kind of centrally rewarded way. Schools will work—you can wrap it up with mixed-age instruction and call it the next progressive education fad, or replace those profoundly economically dubious community-service requirements. Letting girls have a crack at childcare pre-motherhood, with help available and without the pressure of raising their own children, should help to normalize the whole thing.

      There—now you do your bit during (middle and?) high school, when there isn’t anything important going on anyway, and either you enjoy it and raise your own when you’re old enough, or you’d prefer a career and some independence no matter what, and you can hand them off to the next cohort and skip playing “mommy”. I’d have a kid if I could do it Victorian-style. Interviews alternate Thursdays.

      • Emile says:

        If there isn’t enough help to hire, bring back babysitting: encourage young women (and, why not, men—participation rates won’t match but we can keep it equal on paper) to put in some time looking after children, probably in some kind of centrally rewarded way. Schools will work—you can wrap it up with mixed-age instruction and call it the next progressive education fad, or replace those profoundly economically dubious community-service requirements. Letting girls have a crack at childcare pre-motherhood, with help available and without the pressure of raising their own children, should help to normalize the whole thing.

        That sounds like a pretty good idea! It kills two birds with one stone: it makes people more ready to deal with kids, and it increases the supply of people to take care of kids.

        To make it even better, you could integrate a daycare into every high school, and have the high-schoolers help with the kids (and get graded on that).

        Morally-dubious-but-interesting: girls are graded on how good they are at taking care of kids, and those grades (and those grades only) are published on the internet for all to see (and of course kept there decades afterwards).

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      James Donald has some relevant thoughts. From “The collapse of fertility”:

      Spandrel has a post wondering where all the babies went, and whenever I propose one of the usual suspects, for example no fault divorce, denormalization of masculinity, and such, he says “Ah, but many Muslim countries also have fertility collapse”.

      Good point. So let us look at a Muslim country with dramatic fertility collapse, and see if we can find any of the usual suspects.

      So I looked at Iran

      1: Harvard on the Arvan Rud.

      While most of Iranian society is pretty much what one would expect of a Muslim society, for example poor employment prospects for women, legal enforcement of husband’s authority, and so on and so forth, school and University is Harvard on the Arvan Rud. Despite… the fact that very few girls will wind up in employment (the rest of society still being quite Muslim) 62% of people admitted to university are female and only 38% are male. Schools and universities consider it their mission to raise female status and lower male status, to transform those horrid old fashioned obsolete unprogressive aspects of Islam. All students are compelled to attend courses urging them to have fewer children, and denigrating marriage and motherhood.

      2. Who cares about 2? OK: 2 is Sodom and Gomorrah in Harvard on the Arvan Rud. Iranian girls are very strictly controlled until they get to university, coed university, whereupon… most of them are ruined for any man who would be inclined to marry her, since they will now see him as low status and insufficiently handsome and manly

      From “Raising fertility”:

      What is the highest fertility country in the world (ignoring black African countries, since they achieve high fertility by methods we cannot emulate and should not want to emulate):

      Afghanistan, 7.07, increasing the population three and half times every generation, where they artificially lower female status by drastic and brutal methods in accordance with the Koran and Islamic tradition. Right up with the highest fertility black African countries. Afghans are caucasians, light skinned, dark haired, but a reasonable proportion of them have green eyes or blue eyes. They are generally white enough to pass if dressed in a business suit rather than Islamic costume.

      OK, we might not necessarily want to go full Taliban. What is the highest fertility non black Christian country?

      Timore Leste, 6.53, Nearly the same as Afghanistan and the high fertility black African countries, still increasing the population three and half times ever generation – and their generations are pretty fast.

      OK, Christian, not black, and they are giving Afghans and African blacks a run for their money, how do they do it?

      They don’t do it by brutal means. They have benevolent patriarchy in accordance with the bible and Christian tradition.

      And from “The cause of population decline”:

      The demographic transition is nothing to do with whiteness, nor with wealth and economic development. Nothing to do with having a Malthusian system. It is not poverty that makes the difference.

      Nepal is a good example of a very poor third world country with low fertility comparable to that of the advanced west – but its low fertility is a mix of very high fertility women and very low fertility women, which should make it easy to see what causes the difference.

      In Nepal, which is as third world and poverty stricken as you can get outside Africa, females that have been exposed to western schooling to age twelve or older have a fertility rate similar to that of the most infertile wealthy advanced white western nations…

      If they don’t get that class at age 12, because they went to a Muslim school, or because they did not go to school, their expected number of children is six or seven, even if they went to a high class ladies Muslim school. If they got western education at age twelve, then they have western fertility levels, far below replacement.

      There is something taught to twelve year old girls in Nepal in Western schools, but not in Muslim schools, that drops fertility from six or seven children per female to less than 1.5 children per female.

      This is what Boko Haram is complaining about. They view it, reasonably enough, as genocidal.

      This Nepalese data is consistent with the high fertility of the Amish: The Amish absolutely insist on controlling their kids schooling. They also ban television. They allow their adolescent kids out into the world to visit the fleshpots, but not, however, the classrooms. They fear both the classrooms and the televisions, but primarily the classrooms.

      I would say that it is memetic infection, the same memeplex, propagated both by soap operas and the education system, each reinforcing the other, but primarily by the education system.

      And that memeplex is exemplified by “Sex and the City”, and the nine year old learning to put a condom on a banana, but not learning that a woman’s fertility window is a lot shorter than that of a man, and a lot shorter than her career window – learning that normal everyday behavior for women is to follow the same life plan as men – and not learning that that life plan, naturally enough, is consistent with men producing children, but not really consistent with women producing children.

      • utu says:

        Surely anyone inclined to read Mr. Rape knows where to find his noxious crap. No need to quote large selections in a respectable forum.

      • Evan Þ says:

        So in short, what he’s saying is that, by and large, women do not want to have children; and population growth happens when they’re legally forced under their respective husband’s domination. If true, that is a very depressing conclusion. (Of course, this isn’t a counterargument.)

      • NN says:

        I try as hard as I can to separate the merits of an argument from the person making it, but this still doesn’t seem very convincing to me. Nepal may be a counter example to the economic development = low fertility trend, but the fact remains that all of his examples of high-fertility societies are quite poor and underdeveloped.

        Jim’s argument also suggests that, even if one were to accept all this as true, there isn’t much that can be done about it. If the Islamic Republic of Iran can’t keep courses “denigrating marriage and motherhood” out of its universities (which are mostly owned and run by the state) then what chance does anyone else have?

        • Anonymous says:

          The Islamic Republic of Iran, just like just about every other country, happens to be under memetic assault from western progressivism.

          I wonder what conditions are needed to become immune to that sort of influence.

    • Emile says:

      Just like there are quotas for people with disabilities, require that at least 50% of management in companies above a certain size have two or more children (this should indirectly make having children seem more prestigious).

      Subsidize childcare services with flexible times (you can pick up your kid late etc.).

      Have married alumni with kids give lectures at universities/colleges about their career.

      (I have two kids by the way)

    • Brian says:

      (Non Hard Mode) solution inspired by the Chinese: mandate a 4 child policy. Some have proposed a tax credit for children. I’d frame it as the stick rather than the carrot — 10% marginal tax rate increase for every missing child under 4 children by the time a woman is 30.

      (Edit) Looks like Emile beat me to it.

    • Linch says:

      The obvious solution, assuming no ethical boundaries and that fertility rates is the only thing you optimize for, is to “reverse” all the advice about what causes birth rates to go down in developing countries. This means getting rid of or reducing:

      -female literacy
      -access to contraception
      -access to abortion resources
      -early childhood education
      -social safety nets
      -easy access to financial vehicles/investment
      -sanitation guidelines

      Also, have legislations that:
      -ban the iodization of salt
      -covertly re-introduce common childhood killers
      -create government sponsorship of “Vaccines cause autism. Also atheism” studies.
      -patriarchal norms
      -encourage corruption in gov’t to decrease general trust in a society (generally, the lower the trust is in a society, the more people rely on familial bonds).

      Problem solved.

      • Anonymous says:

        How do these:
        >-easy access to financial vehicles/investment
        >-sanitation guidelines
        >-ban the iodization of salt
        >-covertly re-introduce common childhood killers
        >-create government sponsorship of “Vaccines cause autism. Also atheism” studies.
        increase fertility? I can sort of get childhood mortality increasers, if you’re banking on couples overcompensating versus mortality. But does that actually happen?

        • Linch says:

          Basically, all of those are proposed reasons for why fertility all over the world has been dropping the last century. So in theory reversing the course will increase fertility.

          And well, reductions in childhood mortality translates to couples having less children, so it’s reasonable to expect a causal direction the other way. Eg, by getting rid of sanitation guidelines and persuading people to stop vaccinations.

          Actually, coming to think of it, couples don’t even need to “overcompensate” to increases in childhood mortality. They can just normally compensate, and fertility rates would naturally go up. 😛

          salt iodization is associated with IQ increases. People often claim that lower IQ is correlated with high fertility.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think it’s within the spirit of the OP’s challenge to pass dead babies as increasing fertility.

    • Anonymous says:

      It might be instructive to study the case of Spain, in what to do if you want to decrease fertility. Then reverse that for a policy of increasing it.



    • Latetotheparty says:

      As I understand it, people (whose-political-label-shall-not-be-named) who are concerned about fertility rates in developed countries don’t just want more fertility in general. After all, the world is not having a problem with fertility in general. There are plenty of Nigerians having babies. To people who are worried about demographic death in developed countries, this is exactly the problem.

      They don’t just want more babies. They want more future citizens that are:
      *high IQ

      Very well, then. Incentivize that! Here’s what I would propose:

      At age 18, young adults take a series of tests. Only caucasian-skinned applicants need apply. These tests will test for:
      *English skills
      *Whether the applicant has been a juvenile deliquent at any point (not really a test, but more of a look-up on that students’ record).

      For young adults that score in the top 5th percentile on this test, their legal guardian(s) at the time of the test-taking get a one-time cash bonus of $100,000.

      Problem solved.

      • Anonymous says:

        As mentioned multiple times upthread, cash incentives are not working. This is what the legislatures are trying, with determination of madmen, endlessly subsidizing, hoping that this time, it’ll work. I wish it did. But it doesn’t.

        The problem is not lack of money. A peasant of a century back had less, much less, but had kids all the same. If you live on the standard of a peasant on a typical salary, you’ll get 90% of your pay saved.

  65. Linch says:

    What do folks think of this new article on cash transfers? [apologies on still not figuring out how hyperlinking works]:


    Apparently there’s evidence that neighbors of people who get unconditional cash transfers will experience significantly decreased life satisfaction. Although I thought the way the researchers measured this might be partially responsible (if rich Westerners came to me several times to remind me that I almost could have gotten a large cash transfer but shucks, the RNG just wasn’t in my favor, I’d be pretty miffed too). The researchers themselves also note that

    -the results measuring the negative psychological impact on neighbors are only significant, at the 5 percent level, for 1 out 5 or 6 indicators, whereas the positive psychological impact for recipients is significant on almost all indicators.
    -GiveDirectly has moved to a model in which all eligible households in a village receive a transfer, rather than only a subset.

    Still it’s an interesting study on the effects of envy/relative vs. absolute poverty that people on previous open threads have discussed.

    • Anthony says:

      Was this the study where the transfers moved people from near-average in their community to significantly wealthier than average? I would expect that to have a different psychological effect than giving cash to people at the economic bottom of their community, especially if it didn’t much change their position in the rank ordering

    • Deiseach says:

      Apparently there’s evidence that neighbors of people who get unconditional cash transfers will experience significantly decreased life satisfaction.

      This just in: human beings suffer envy!

      What about the neighbours of lottery winners? Any studies on that? I mean, it’s not hugely startling that “Joe next door lucked into a fortune, the jammy bastard” would make you feel grumpy, no matter what the source: why not me, when it was no hard work or virtue of Joe that got him the money?

      • Linch says:

        “This just in: human beings suffer envy!”

        Please don’t take it the wrong way, but it’s easy to come up with “common sense” explanations for research findings ex post. Ex ante, not so much. 😛


        One interesting point about the lottery is that lottery winners *themselves* often experience greatly decreased life satisfaction outcomes several years after winning the lottery, which has so far not been the experience of GiveDirectly’s (far more modest transfers’) recipients.

        • Anthony says:

          This just in: Money doesn’t buy you happiness.

          Nor does it buy you good habits with money, especially if you didn’t work for the money.

          This is probably why the size of GiveDirectly’s transfers work, and the lottery mostly doesn’t.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I like the proverb pairs. That reminds me of an experiment I’ve tried occasionally with interesting results: consider “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Is moss good or bad?

          I have encountered roughly equal numbers of people who take this proverb in two diametrically opposed ways. To some it is an admonition to keep advancing and not let your past tie you down. To others it is a reminder of the need to put down roots and form strong attachments.

  66. Wrong Species says:

    I’ve been reading books on “The Great Divergence” between the west and everybody else and I want to make sure I have all my bases covered.

    So far I have finished:

    Why the West Rules for Now by Ian Morris
    Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
    A Farewell to Alms by Greg Clark
    The West and the Rest by Nial Ferguson
    Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

    I plan on starting The Great Divergence by Kenneth Pomeranz soon. What other books on the topic should I read?

    • Montfort says:

      These are primarily focused on the military side of things, including finance, but I found them useful and interesting:
      The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000 by William H. McNeill
      The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 by Geoffrey Parker

    • Tim C says:

      I have one for you! Its called “The Great Divergence” by Kenneth Pomeranz :p


      Its very much focused on China/East Asia vs Europe, but I think it will fill the gap on some of the more structuralist ideas of the divergence that your books I think dont quite cover – plus Pomeranz is a historian, compared to the political scientists/economists who authored most of your books. (I havent read Farewell to Alms though) If you want good details on things like the interactions of natural resources and land policy, and relations between market rules/structures and the composition of “firms”, and so on, I think its a great choice.

      Also, Pdf copies are pretty easy to find online, so thats useful too.

    • JK says:

      The Uniqueness of Western Civilization by Ricardo Duchesne. I didn’t find his explanation of Western dominance very credible, but he makes some well-placed criticisms of Kenneth Pomeranz in particular.

    • Yakimi says:

      The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes (Niall Ferguson’s teacher).

    • Salem says:

      What Went Wrong by Bernard Lewis.

    • Jaskologist says:

      It should be mentioned that Guns, Germs, and Steel is not well-regarded, according to r/AskHistorians. I myself am not qualified to adjudicate these claims. They’re not too keen on Pinker, either.

      (My memory of What Went Wrong was that it never actually got around to explaining what went wrong, just chronicled things going wrong.)

      • James says:

        Any Pinker in particular? I’m just starting Better Angels of Our Nature right now.

        I got some way through Guns, Germs and Steel and have been planning to come back to it, because it is a reasonably interesting read, but in the time I’ve spent away from it (almost a year) I’ve found myself less sympathetic to its thesis.

        • Jacksologist says:

          If you’ll scroll down on the link a little, they talk about Guns, Germs and Steel specifically. Again, I do not have the expertise needed to say who is right here. I can only offer the studied opinion of r/AskHistorians. For all I know, they’re the hacks and Pinker, Diamond, etc are brilliant.

          … All that said, I do know a tiny bit about ancient history, and this little snippet about Pinker: “He tends to take ancient chroniclers at their word, which is never a great idea for big numbers. For instance, the numbers he cites as the death tolls of the Mongol invasions would mean that every individual Mongol soldier killed around 350 people.”

          is extremely damning.

      • Tim C says:

        On that same line, Niall Ferguson is considered by most academics to be a hack- while never lying, facts are very selective and he has a clear preconceived agenda that he wants to push. My personal opinion on this isnt strongly held, but I do agree with it.

        Most historians and poli scientists disagree with Jared Diamond in my experience, though I dont think anyone considers him to be a poor or deceptive thinker, just too didactic. Everything I have heard of Pinker suggests that he is held in pretty high regard – lots of people strongly disagree with his book, but thats different from considering it to be poor. Still, he is not a social scientist, so Better Angels does have a few weaknesses in that regard.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Niall Ferguson is considered a hack? I know he’s criticized for his conservative views but he does have a PHD in history and as far as I know, he doesn’t do anything dishonest in his work. I looked up some criticism of him, and it seems to boil down to “he’s racist!”.

          • Urstoff says:

            Every academic is considered to be a hack by most academics.

          • Yakimi says:

            He’s an aggressively public intellectual, writing exclusively for a popular audience, advising political campaigns, and is a conservative controversialist.

            I’m not an intellectual or a scholar, but if I were, I can see how choosing the path of celebrity might be considered “hacky” and “beneath serious scholarship”, the quality of his works aside.

          • Tim C says:

            I dont hold the view particularly strongly, all I am reporting is the views of the History Departments of Georgetown, Columbia, and U Chicago from conference and dinner convo’s, which I assume are fairly representative. While not survey data, the attitude was not “I disagree with him”, it was “im sorry, is this a mother’s book club? serious topics please”, which suggests some universality. None of this applies to the House of Rothschild, by the way, his book before he become a mainstream commentator.

            You can make of that whatever you want of course, academia has tons of institutional biases. But in the context of “Jared Diamond is widely criticized”, i thought it relevant to mention Niall Ferguson is much more widely attacked in my experience.

            Edit: Just to give some more anecdotal evidence, here is Andrew Gelman, a statistician and a bit of a “bad research/data analysis” watchdog tearing into him, in the kind of way that shows that his lack of credibility is sortof a given http://andrewgelman.com/2012/09/12/niall-ferguson-the-john-yoo-line-and-the-paradox-of-influence/

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Have you actually read their complaints about Diamond? There are a few specific complaints, but almost all of it is that he’s a “determinist,” that he isn’t allowed to answer grand questions. But if Wrong Species is asking such questions, he doesn’t care about such bans. One guy (linked three times) says that Alfred Crosby said the same thing with more humility. Sure, Diamond probably says that he has The Answer and if so, you shouldn’t believe him, but if Wrong Species is gathering many competing hypotheses, that isn’t a problem.

        • Wrong Species says:

          This is pretty much it. As far as I can tell, although criticism of GG&S is politically motivated, there does seem to be some truth to what they say. Still though, his book is cited a lot, so I figured I should probably know what it says.

      • I can’t speak to _Guns, Germs and Steel_ which I only read part of and found interesting. But I read an article of his on something I know quite a lot about, saga period Iceland, and it sharply lowered my opinion of him. It was in the form of a review of several books, didn’t bother to mention when its claim about how the society worked was the opposite of the claim in one of the books.

        The central argument, which might well be correct, was that the Icelandic landscape looked like that of Norway but was much more fragile, with the result that the settlers, using it as they thought appropriate, badly damaged it, in particular eliminating virtually all of the woodlands. He tried to use that to imply that the unusual political institutions—decentralized with no king or executive arm of government—were responsible for the problems. But if Iceland had been under Norwegian rule, the same thing would have happened—the Norwegian monarchy knew no more about modern ecology than the Icelandic settlers.

        He offered as evidence of how badly the system worked some pirate raids, without mentioning that they occurred after the end of the Commonwealth, when Iceland was under Norwegian rule.

        • Chalid says:

          Why do you think that a monarchy would not have stopped it? The deforestation couldn’t have happened instantly; there would have been a point at which everyone had figured out what was going on but no individual had an incentive to stop their behavior.

    • Chalid says:

      Maybe take a look at The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Paul Kennedy? It focuses more on internal competition within the West than the rest of your list.

    • I found The Origins of Political Order very valuable. I’d sort of been wondering “Gosh, how does a bunch of Turkish nomads end up with the most efficient bureaucracy in Europe in the 1500s” and finally got a good answer there . It might be worth reading The World Until Yesterday first to get a better sense of the conditions in human societies before state building started.

      The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 had a lot of information on improving infrastructure in England during this time period and the institutions that made them possible.

      For technology I recently read Medieval Machines which talked about the roots of European industry. There was a really great book I read once that really put European technological development in context and did a good job of explaining why nobody around the Indian ocean wanted European rigid hulled boats and why the Ming iron industry was so easily disrupted during the Manchu conquest but I’m afraid I can’t remember the title.

      Books on the topic I’ve read recently that I’d anti-recommend would be Why did Europe Conquer the World? and Bourgeois Dignity.

      • Wrong Species says:

        What did you not like about those books?

        • I’ve mentioned the other but the general idea of Why did Europe Conquer the World was that some economists created a toy model of competition between states. Then they showed that it would result in European dominance. The problem was that it was a simplistic model and the assumptions that I thought were wrong were exactly the assumptions they didn’t defend in detail.

      • I found _Bourgeois Dignity_ repetitive, but McCloskey is a serious thinker and the central argument might be right.

        • The problem was her argument style.

          1) There are N arguments for why Europe won.
          2) I can show that none of them, in isolation, can completely explain the facts.
          3) Therefore the explanation must be something else.
          4) Therefore it must be this particular new argument I’m proposing.

          Some of the dismissals were good, some poor, and in one I think she missed the point of the argument. But none of that actually justifies her conclusion to any substantial degree. The whole structure was ridiculous and it just seemed like she was trying to pull a fast one since she couldn’t find good evidence to directly support her thesis.

        • Peter says:

          I’ve not read it (it’s on a vague mental list of “books I should get around to reading these days), but my general experience with McCloskey is that the things she says are interesting and provocative and she had a knack for providing interesting perspectives; in some cases, IMO a real breath of fresh air. Her style is distinctive and I could see why some people might not like it. Still, for me, if you imagine a Pareto surface with two axes, “rightness” and “interestingness”, then IMO she’s near the surface, towards the “interesting” side.

          She’s also a raving egomaniac – see the bit in The Secret Sins of Economics (well worth reading, BTW) where she gives herself the bronze for personal arrogance (when I first read it, I didn’t know who the person was she gave the gold to, but now I look again, I’m moderately amused by this).

    • Wrong Species says:

      Thanks for the recommendations everyone!

  67. Martin-2 says:

    I like the new format, and in fact I favor a greater frequency of Opeth threads.

    Godthread’s Lament
    Serenity Painted Thread
    For Absent Threads
    Ghost of Threadition

    Think about it.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      That’s what she thread
      The quick and the thread
      Dawn of the thread
      Night of the living thread
      Better thread than red
      Red thread redemption

      Hey, this is pretty fun.

      • Adam Casey says:

        THREAD, THREAD, and never called me mother!
        The thread of winter
        Loud enough to wake the thread
        That is not thread which can eternal lie
        In the democracy of the thread all men at last are equal

    • Anonymous says:

      No one seemed to get what you were going for, so I”ll chime in with some lesser ones:

      April Threadereal
      The Leper Threadffinity
      Still Thread Beneath the Sun

      …Those sucked. You took all the good ones! 😛

    • Doctor Rock says:

      I suspect that posting open-thread-title-pun candidates here is the equivalent of popping the cork on the bottle of champagne you’re hoping to convince someone to try … a week from now.

      • Martin-2 says:

        Yeah, you’re right. I could only come up with “thread” titles though. I never realized how much more difficult “open” puns are than “thread” puns. I don’t know how Scott keeps it up.

  68. Wrong Species says:

    Anyone interested in an open thread book club?

    • Wrong Species says:

      I have the perfect book too. “Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own”. Relevant to many commenters here and it comes out soon.


    • Linch says:


      I absolutely would love a SSC book club. See here:
      for some idea of books I really enjoy (though the YA ones probably would make for poor book clubbing here).

      What do you envision is the timeframe for the book club? I don’t think weekly is very realistic.

    • MasteringTheClassics says:

      Heck yes; I’m in if this gets off the ground.

    • Adam Casey says:

      How would this work? We agree a book one week and talk about it the next? Sounds awesome, would force me to actually read more. I’m in.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I’ve been thinking about doing something like that, but my idea was more like “science-fiction short story of the week” rather than “non-fiction book of the month”. Is there any interest in that?

      • switchnode says:

        Hm, I’d be down for this. Recent releases, or whole-genre?

        • keranih says:


        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Whole-genre; don’t see any point in restricting it to recent releases. I would restrict it to stories with online copies, but that’s a pretty easy requirement to satisfy.

          If I get one more statement of interest, I’ll do it.

          • Linch says:

            Ok, sign me up. Hard sci-fi only or would, eg. Ted Chiang’s stories count?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I’ll start us off with a hard sci-fi story, but we’ll probably branch out in the future to avoid getting too repetitive.

            Okay, our first story is going to be “Crystal Nights” by Greg Egan. Open Threads move at a pretty fast pace, so the first one of us who sees the next one will make a top-level comment to discuss the story. I’ll have decided what our second story will be by then, and comments can include suggestions for future stories.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Yes, I’m in.

    • Ydirbut says:

      I’d be very interested

    • Wrong Species says:

      Just in case nobody sees my comment below, I just want to reiterate that I plan on starting the book club in two weeks starting with my original suggestion “Hive Mind
      How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own”. I hope you guys will participate.

    • Anonymous says:

      Something something, commitment strategy. Yes, I’m in.

  69. Vamair says:

    Virtue = personal quality that is useful for your allies? Or are they just usually the same, or is one of them a subset of the other?

    • Depends on meaning of “allies”? Many conceptions of virtue include acts that help people outside your immediate in-group (brave solider, help old lady across street). Or, I guess we might take that to imply a very broad in-group.

      • Adam Casey says:

        Alternative reading is that virtue is a signal that you will be helpful to your tribe. The fact that you’re so uncontrollably helpful that this spills over into helping outsiders is one such signal.

        Being a soldier (in the abstract and before Vietnam) is more virtuous than average, so it’s strictly being good to the outgroup.

    • blacktrance says:

      There’s some overlap, but neither is a subset of the other. Tidiness and punctuality are useful personal qualities, but traditionally aren’t considered virtues. Courage and justice are commonly acknowledged virtues that may lead one to betray one’s ingroup.

  70. Siah Sargus says:

    Why don’t we milk whales?

    • Evan Þ says:

      You want to go out into the ocean twice a day to milk them?

      Or how expensive (not to mention hurtful) would it be to keep them caged?

      • Siah Sargus says:

        >You want to go out into the ocean twice a day to milk them?

        That doesn’t sound awesome?

        • Evan Þ says:

          Sure, sounds awesome now, but don’t underestimate the power of a frequent routine to become… well, routine. Not to mention, expensive and time-consuming.

          If you could somehow get tourists to pay to go out and milk the whales, though…

        • Anonymous says:

          I forget where — perhaps even here — I read this: a poster said his friend did window cleaning for the CN Tower. After the first two weeks it was as routine as any other job.

    • drethelin says:

      By the time we gained the technology to contain and domesticate whales, we already had cows.

      As it stands, if you wanted to effectively get milk from whales you would have to build an infrastructure to contain them, feed them, and breed them. You would be competing with millenia of deliberate breeding for docility and milk output with cows, as well as centuries of post-industrial revolution technology. In principle, genetic engineering could allow you to get the equivalent of millenia of breeding a lot faster, but in practice we don’t really know how. It might be simpler to try to breed a whale-sized cow.

    • I seem to remember there is an old sci fi book that included this concept. It could be The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke, but I don’t remember exactly so you might want to double check that. Anyway its Clarke so it shouldn’t be too bad either way.

    • Matt says:

      I’m guessing whale milk is a bit fishy, but I’ve never tried.

      • Doctor Rock says:

        “There was a fishy flavor to the milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen’s boats, I saw Hosea’s brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the sand with each foot in a cod’s decapitated head, looking very slip-shod, I assure ye.”
        Melville’s so damn funny.

  71. T. Greer says:

    OK, so I got a real strange question for y’all.

    By now you have probably all seen the “This Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop “ video making the rounds. The video mentions that pooping on toilets is more likely to cause hemorrhoids than pooping on a squatter. I have heard this claim made elsewhere. But here is my question about this:

    are hemorrhoids more likely to happen on a squatter because of your sitting position, or because people spend more time on sitter than on a squatter?

    Figured if I found an answer to this question anywhere, it would be here.

    • svalbardcaretaker says:

      IIRC the last time I looked into it the higher risk for hemorrhoids on normal toilets comes from the increased pressure/strain of pushing uncooperative feces out. In which case another solution is to A) get enough fiber in your diet so you never have to push B) use the relaxation technique over the pushing technique.

    • James D. Miller says:

      I have been using a Squatty Potty for several years.

    • Vaniver says:

      Yes, you should squat when pooping. The difference is easily perceptible. I don’t think it’s necessary to get a Squatty Potty–I just perch on the toilet rim.

      • Urstoff says:

        So is leaning your torso over while pooping functionally equivalent to squatting? I can’t imagine actually pooping in a “proper posture” sitting position.

        Edit: torso-thighs at a 45 degree angle vs. a 90 degree angle. Is squatting an even more acute angle?

  72. Geirr says:

    How bout them coding bootcamps? Has anybody done one of the online ones like Thinkful or Bloc.io? Are there any Europeans who’ve done them and are working in Europe?

    Why aren’t there bootcamps for things like math or statistics/

    • I haven’t done one of these, but as a professional software developer I’m extremely skeptical that they can produce competent programmers in the span of time some of them claim to. Most programmers are still shit after years of education and practice, and some never move beyond being able to write passable but difficult-to-maintain code. (Lest this sound like elitism, I include myself among those who still have much to learn.)

      On the flipside, traditional education systems are pretty broken, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these bootcamps are a good place to start. But the ones that advertise that they can make you employable in the field with a few months of intensive training? If that’s the extent of your experience, I sure hope you’re not writing code for anything more important than Cookie Clicker.

      • Geirr says:

        As far as I’m aware what they’re really doing is producing very junior developers, basically interns who won’t be going back to college after three months. if you look at Bloc’s syllabus it’s really about getting you from completely useless to mostly useless.


        I think the dev bootcamps are a US thing because it is very, very hard to hire and companies are desperate and don’t want to pay for competent people. Elsewhere they’re not desperate. There are enough programmers that the wages aren’t going up much.

      • RCF says:

        “If that’s the extent of your experience, I sure hope you’re not writing code for anything more important than Cookie Clicker.”

        So what experience do you expect people to have, and how does one get that experience, given that you apparently think people should get experience before getting a job?

        • James Picone says:

          I’m a professional software engineer, and the experience I used to get into the industry was a university degree (3/4 done when I got my first actual job) and some hobbyist projects.

          While I’m not Mitch Lindgren, I agree with him – if your /only/ experience is a coding bootcamp, I would prefer not to be working on anything serious with you. I’d be spending more time fixing your bugs and design missteps than I’d gain from having a coworker.

          Things change if they have a portfolio of hobbyist stuff. Even one reasonably-sized hobbyist project. That demonstrates they can program sufficiently well to make A Thing work, even if the code is a toxic hellstew, and it implies a desire to be a good programmer which reflects well on their ability to learn and so on. To be fair, attending code bootcamp signals that as well, but not as strongly, and without the actual functioning project.

          I would be nervous about somebody just out of tertiary education with a relevant degree as well, but less so. Firstly because they’ve just plain learned more, what with all the extra time and all. Secondly because they’ve probably learned some of the more fundamental theoretical bits that are almost certainly not covered in a bootcamp – big-O, data structures and their performance characteristics, some of the basic algorithms like mergesort, quicksort, A*, etc.. And you really do need to know those things to be a good programmer, ultimately. Similarly to bootcamp-kid, having some personal projects would be a strong indicator that they wouldn’t be the worst person to work with.

          Some of this might be because I do a lot of C++ and distributed programming, and newbies will screw everything up a lot harder there than they will hacking together Javascript for client-side validation or some enterprisey Java nightmare.

          • Mike says:

            You know, I’m fully in favor of people learning and understanding the theoretical stuff — but the problems my team solves on a daily basis have *nothing* to do with any of them.

            The software engineering most people do is going to depend on a good concept of abstraction and good habits around testing. Other than that? Use a map for maps, and use whatever collection.sort() uses. The big performance decisions should be above your pay grade as a junior developer anyway (and will likely have more to do with how many joins your database calls are making).

            I can see using a boot camp to jump start your training, but whether you get a degree or not your ability as a programmer is really going to rest on your ability to teach yourself and your willingness to continue to do so.

          • @James Picone: You wrote pretty much exactly what I would have. 🙂

            @Mike: I completely agree with your last paragraph. I actually couldn’t care less whether or not someone has a degree. I frequently see people with Master’s degrees and PhDs who have a great deal of theoretical knowledge but are quite poor at writing readable, maintainable code.

            I don’t care where you get your experience (as James said, hobbyist stuff is great), but unless you’re an absolute prodigy, you’re going to need more than a few months of experience before you’re really going to be a productive team member on any project of even moderate complexity.

          • OldCrow says:

            Throwing in my opinion as a fairly recent (and happily employed) bootcamp grad, it seems like your last paragraph explains a lot.

            I mean, there’s a reason all the bootcamps focus on web development. It’s not really the demand, it’s that web development is programming on easy mode. A single-page javascript app can get fairly complicated, but frankly if I fuck up some client-side code it’s not a big deal. It’s a good filter to see if new people can actually hack it without exposing the employer to too much risk. If I’m good (for my level of experience, obviously), they move me to more complicated/mission-critical projects. If not, well, they do still get some productive work out of me.

            Seems like the difference between a CS degree and a bootcamp can be split into technical content and the ability to act as an IQ filter. For web development, I think the bootcamps are hands-down more efficient than a degree at picking up relevant skills. As an IQ filter they kind of suck. If you’re working on super-complicated C++ project than yes, a three-month program isn’t going to produce people that you’d be willing to take a bet on. But in companies where you can have them bang out some Angular for a while and still be contributing, it makes sense to give them a shot.

      • Jesse Bangs says:

        Hi. I work for Thinkful, so I’m obviously biased here. Thinkful is not really a “code camp” — it’s more of an online learning course with guided mentors. It works if you’re the sort of person who can learn on your own, but you benefit from occasional personal guidance, the individual mentoring being the main thing that distinguishes Thinkful from other online learn-to-code courses.

        And yeah, when you’re done with Thinkful you’re obviously not a fully-qualified developer. You’re an entry-level developer, who might be able to get hired doing low-level code monkey stuff, which you’ll do for a couple of years while you gain more experience. But everyone starts as a Level 0 Code Monkey. There is no course of any length which can make people into Level 12 Ninja Wizards out of the gate.

    • Vitor says:

      >> Why aren’t there bootcamps for things like math or statistics/

      Math is much more difficult and diverse than coding, at least the way “coding” is understood in the context of these bootcamps: being able to glue together existing frameworks into a website.

      What exactly do you imagine the goal of a math bootcamp would be?
      My guess is, if you asked 10 people who “want to learn math”, you’d get 10 different answers. I can very well imagine that you can get someone already good at math in a pre-rigorous way (highschool level) and give them a solid foundation of rigourous math in 3 months. But that’s just barely the ground floor of actual math. Most people are not willing to work for months just to implant a tiny seed in their brain that takes years of further work to grow into anything useful. It goes completely against the vibe I get from these bootcamps, which are all about instant employability and the before/after photo, selling you the dream that you can skip the 5 years those other people spent on college if you just work really hard for 3 months.

      • Geirr says:

        > What exactly do you imagine the goal of a math bootcamp would be?

        I imagine as much of an engineering degree’s math syllabus as you could fit into three months. Linear Algebra and Calculus, as much as you can cover. Little else approaches being as useful over as many domains.

        The reason I think this would be useful is that that would cover more than most “prefresher” math courses for quantitative social sciences courses.

        This is the bare minimum needed to function in an elite grad program. It lasts 10 days (Harvard). Think what you could do in nine times as long.

        If Math is genuinely useful it should be an employable skill unless the market is so flooded that a degree is absolutely necessary.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      “Why aren’t there bootcamps for things like math or statistics”

      Because the population of people who can do math is really high, while the population of people who can do anything with a computer is comparatively low.

      I know people studying for Doctorates who can barely use their computers.

      I knew multiple chemistry PHDs who were impressed by excel macros.

      (On a related note, a pure science degree makes shit money, my dentist told me he did major work on vaccine for swine flu and got paid 40 000 for his trouble and was so angry that he couldn’t bear to be in the building anymore. And a lot of the chemists I worked with are currently unemployed after that facility went under)

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I believe that maths and stats bootcamps are called degrees.

    • James D. Miller says:

      I’m waiting for the investment banking bootcamp that accepts 18-year-olds who have gotten admitted to an elite college.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Probably wont happen, most people who can get into an elite college want to go to an elite college- you get a scholarship (or your parents pay for it) and you get to hang out with other people like yourself.

        The people taking bootcamps are likely people who just don’t like college or who want a job *now*.

        Also, given how many people already want in on finance, it doesn’t seem as though they have any need to cast their net wider.

        • Anonymous says:

          So you would argue that people who learned to code through a bootcamp are usually not very good coders? That sounds like it might upset some people here. Do you have any good arguments as to why you believe this? I’m willing to entertain the idea. Certainly I can imagine that people who learn to code without learning much of the theoretical side of computer science might end up with a shallow idea of programming. Is that an accurate description of these bootcamps, though?

    • anonymous says:

      There is a certain species of computer programmer that gets very upset about them. They spent 4 years and $x00,000 and so should everyone else.

      I find this attitude rather silly. For both signaling and intrinsic reasons graduates of computer science programs have a huge leg up in the industry and will rarely or never have to compete with bootcamp programmers or even the self taught with many years of experience. There’s no threat to their status. Yet time and time again I see a ton of vitriol.

      The fact is that there is a demand for programmers that can’t be met by the traditional pathways. Yes, all other things being equal it would be preferable for all programmers to have some category theory and linear algebra under their belts, but if these bootcamp coders didn’t exist there wouldn’t magically be more MIT CS grads. An O(n^2) sort is better than an unsorted list.

      And while some of these coders will never amount to much more than the moral equivalent of LoB access programmers, a) that’s needed to (and you sure as hell aren’t going to do it) and b) some will continue learning on their own and grow into great programmers. The industry has a proud tradition of autodidacts.

      • suntzuanime says:

        This does not seem to address the point of the post you’re responding to at all, and is a simple reiteration of the attitude it criticizes.

        • suntzuanime says:

          My field is your field, that’s not the issue. Again, you’re not addressing the point of the post you’re responding to. Do they have reading comprehension bootcamps?

      • anonymous says:

        I’ve seen crap like that, number variables converted into strings, strange arithmetic done through string manipulation, and then the result converted back into a number type, the worst sort spaghetti code, and all kinds of other WTFs. My point still stands.

        God only knows how sometimes but these guys manage to write programs that people find useful. And there aren’t enough good programmers to go around and solve all the problems that can be solved with computers.

        So what’s the problem exactly that justifies all the vitriol? Some ribbing fine, but why vitriol?

        • anin says:

          because up until recently all we got from suits was “how hard can it be? my 12 year old nephew writes programs on his commodore 64!” and we’d just got past that, we’d just got to “actually its fucking hard, this is what you need to do to write good code” and we were getting traction when all of a sudden the fucking www hit and now suddenly programming == html and “how hard can it be? just do a bootcamp!” so its wearisome.

      • James Picone says:

        Have you ever seen The Daily WTF?

        If I didn’t work in a specialised area of programming that’s more immune than most to low-skill entrants, I’d be kinda worried that the average coding bootcamp output is going to turn out code that’s suitable for being posted there.

        The fear is that they’ll be negative-productivity.

      • Agronomous says:

        There’s no threat to their status.

        The threat is not to my status, but to my sanity. For various reasons, I’ve spent years parachuting into situations where either inexperienced developers or stupid management (or both) have produced accretions of code that are very hard to work with, but of just high-enough quality that scrapping them isn’t the way to maximize value. Many times I end up surgically separating chunks of inexplicably intertwined code (“Why the hell does your formatter care about the database???”), then either replacing or heavily refactoring the chunk of immediate interest.

        The value of a Computer Science degree is not in learning about O(n), O(nlogn), etc., but in learning to see connections between things that don’t, on the surface, look related—and then to exploit those connections to be vastly more efficient (either at producing a solution or in the time that solution requires to run). This conceptual hyperconnectivity is what I like the most about mathematics.

        A second major point I absorbed getting my (non-Engineering-School) B.A. in C.S. was something I find hard to express: often you look at a system (be it microcode or a rules engine or a GUI framework), grasp a piece at a time, then shockingly realize that that’s it—nothing more is needed to make the system function correctly.

        One thing undergrad was worthless for was basic how-to-build-software skills like version control (never mentioned, even in labs), unit test suites, and how to extract requirements from end users.

        And on related but different topic: I find it hard to view what most developers (including myself) do as “engineering”; Ian Bogost (the Cow-Clicker guy) had a provocative article about it someplace recently (GIYDS), which made me both agree with his headline point (it’s not much like engineering) and want to punch him in the face (he thinks it should be, with certifications and licenses and government involvement and all that).

    • Harald Korneliussen says:

      Coding bootcamps are probably thought to be a quick way to a reasonably productive career, even for someone who suffers from a lack of intrinsic motivation to study things for their own sake.

      They can be. I know people who have made good use of short vocation-oriented programming courses, sometimes in rather outdated technologies, even.

      I don’t know if you could do the same for statistics or math.

    • Chalid says:

      bootcamps for things like math or statistics

      I’m told there are Wall Street quant bootcamps which teach options math, portfolio optimization techniques, and the like. (But they call themselves “courses” or “classes” not “bootcamps.”)

      And there are data science bootcamps.

  73. Clay says:

    In light of the Gail Herriot “Mismatch” piece linked to, at Heritage.com, does anybody have cogent thoughts on the social marginal value of donations to, e.g. the Thurgood Marshall College Fund? http://tmcf.org

    Before any effective altruist Aspergers type complains that the big returns are overseas: What with Angus Deaton’s “Nobel” prize highlighting his claims that international aid to people living under failed states can reduce incentives for those states to develop accountability and institutional capacity (which Fukuyama has also occasionally speculated about); and what with my being an American and thereby having an historical connection to certain terrible acts, it seems like a good cause that is within my political-moral sphere of special responsibility.

    But if they’re badly managed or something, then maybe not a good idea?

      • Clay says:

        thanks, that’s very helpful and relevant. I already give more than 4 times as much to GiveWell charities and J-PAL than I would to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. My second point still remains though, regarding establishment (let’s say Anglo) Americans’ special duties to African Americans. I like to give to some causes to which I have a social connection, and I think it’s legitimate to weight those things more than distant causes, such that giving rate would be nonzero, despite the smaller effects per dollar. Just like I weight my own and my family members’ utility more than that of my neighbors, I weight my neighbors’ more than that of people to whom I have only a very tenuous connection.

  74. Nebfocus says:

    I quite enjoy prog metal, although the use of death metal vocals leaves me cold (Opeth and Meshuggah I’m looking at you).

    • I wonder if there’s a higher-than-expected overlap between rationalists and metalheads…

      • Mark says:

        I’d expect it to disappear once you controlled for the nerdy white male thing.

      • Anonymous says:

        Now is as good a time as any to start a heavy music discussion:

        Black metal, (Burzum, Enslaved, Moonsorrow). Especially more atmospheric (Negura Bunget – Om) or experimental/far fucking out there (Njiqahdda).

        Sludge, (early Isis, Seven Sisters of Sleep, Dragged Into Sunlight), but most sludge is boring.

        This was going to be much longer but I lost motivation. I’ll say Celeste is a very heavy band in the intersection of metal, hardcore, and sludge. They are quite good.

        • nydwracu says:

          Njiqahdda didn’t strike me as that far out there. Botanist, Harvey Milk, Jute Gyte, The Nine Treasures, Shining, Voodoo Kungfu, Whourkr.


          Black metal: Bealiah, Csejthe, Esthete Sinistre, Kjeld, Numen.

          Atmospheric black metal: Alatyr, Caladan Brood, Kanashimi, Pyha.

          Other metal: Drottnar, Ego Fall, Kvelertak, Nechochwen, Therion, Wreck of the Hesperus.

          Never got into Negura Bunget or Isis. Haven’t listened to most of the rest. Burzum is indispensable, of course.

          (I’m not adding links for every band there — too much effort all around.)

          • Anonymous says:

            What, no Drudkh? No Winterfylleth?

          • Anonymous says:

            Nji. Njiijn. Njiiijn. has some parts I feel are incredibly “vast” and alien, and I when I focus I feel as though I am close to…something. Like the feeling you get when you are half-asleep and dreaming awake, or when you are inhaling nitrous oxide and about to lose reality. That’s what I mean by far out. I get the same feeling with Paysage d’Hiver although they are not as psychedelic. Attetstupa is another group that evokes the feeling but they’re not metal, just sort of noise/post-rock. Will take you to a faraway place though.
            I actually haven’t checked out any of the bands you listed after Njiqahdda, so I’ll have to add them to my list.

            Negura Bunget has some hit or miss stuff. I loved Om immediately, and slowly grew to like the rest of their work. Every time I listen I grow more and more appreciative of the amount of detail they put into that album.
            Later Isis is boring but Celestial is immense, and Mosquito Control was one of the first “heavy” releases I heard that wasn’t quiiiite metal, so it made a big impact on me.

            I threw Burzum in because I wanted to list more bands but listing only less popular bands hardly any knows about is a great way to shut down a nascent conversation about music. (That’s not a dig at your listing — now that we’ve engaged in discussion, it’s both acceptable and encouraged to dump names, and I’ll try to come up with a cool list later!).

            Kvelertak was fun but grew old fast. Not a big fan. Do you like Nachtmystium? Not sure why but they seem to me to inhabit similar intersections of styles.

            Buried Inside – Chronoclast is one of my favorite metal albums, even though it might be more metalcore (I hate that term) than metal. Still highly recommended. Incredible energy. I love the composition of the album.

            Does anyone here like screamo or hardcore?
            Screamo gets a bad reputation because almost every well-known screamo band sucks. Circle Takes the Square (a favorite of mine), Mihai Edrisch (another favorite), I Would Set Myself On Fire For You, Daitro, Raein, Le Pre Ou Je Suis Mort, Heaven In Her Arms, Todos Caeran, Youth Funeral
            Not a fan of most hardcore but France must put something in the water because all of the best hardcore I listen to comes from there. Plebeian Grandstand, Birds In Row.
            Some “post-hardcore” is good — normally when it takes influence from math rock — (Novallo, Hail the Sun, The Fall of Troy) but most makes me roll my eyes.

            I went off on a tangent there. I’d talk about instrumental rock or post-rock or math rock but I feel like those are bad descriptors for pretty much everything in those categories, and I’ve also spent enough time rambling for this post.

            On a related note, who here uses last.fm? It sucks now, but some aggregated data is better than none!

          • Anon says:

            Don’t worry, we’ll talk more about instrumental post-rock in next week’s thread, “Every Thread Heart Shines Toward the Thread Sun”

          • GCBill says:

            Your Jute Gyte link is borked. Here.

          • nydwracu says:

            I had to look up Negura Bunget to make sure I wasn’t confusing them with Dordeduh (one of those folk metal bands that totally fails to live up to its own potential, like Whispered), so I’ll check them out again. I haven’t heard that particular Njiqahdda album (aside from the first minute or so; I just pulled it up on Youtube), but it sounds like it has similar effects to Wreck of the Hesperus, which is what got me into metal in the first place. (You have to respect a metal band that has the balls to pull off a six-minute drum solo.)

            I liked Kvelertak’s first album, but Meir didn’t catch my attention. I might try again later. They’re in the same mental bin for me as ‘caveman rock’ bands like Birds of Maya.

            I haven’t heard any Nachtmystium. What’s their best album?

            I don’t pay much attention to screamo or hardcore — a lot of it is from around here, but it’s always struck me as too high-schoolish. I used to like Trophy Scars and Botch, but I haven’t listened to either in a while.

            Post-rock has the same problem as screamo: GY!BE and so on are just boring, although I’ve heard some good post-rock. And I’m not sure what the boundaries of the genre are: if Grace Cathedral Park is post-rock, why not Balmorhea or Natural Snow Buildings (~psych-folk for people who listen to metal)? If it’s about long instrumental sections with rock instrumentation, why not Les Rallizes Denudes (another one of those indispensable bands, but you have to know where to start — Heavier than a Death in the Family is usually recommended, but it’s garbage; their best album [well, six-album set] is Double Heads) or Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat?

            GCBill: Not sure how that happened. I meant to link to this track. Hopefully it’ll work this time.

          • I always liked the ideas, aesthethics, feel, message of “viking” metal of the Enslaved kind but the music itself somehow, I don’t know… I have a theory that people are at some very basic level are either tuned for melody vs. rhythm so guitars vs. bass and drums, and I am the later. This is sometimes characterized as white vs. black music and indeed I am musically for some weird reason extremely black, a fat funk bass groove always made intuitive sense to me, a guitar solo just didn’t. Does anyone have a theory how this works? Esp. how my ancestry is pretty much Central Europe and maybe a little whiff of Central Asia.

            But I actually prefer human percussion music more than electronica, and human percussion music with a similar feel as “viking” metal is hard to find.

            Finally it seems Les Tambours Du Bronx fit the bill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2LINU3bt20

            The question is, can anyone recommend anything like that? Percussion, rhythm based, drumming typoe music with a fiery “barbarian” feel? Can also be electronic if must be.

          • nydwracu says:

            Most of the music that I know of that fits that description is electronic. Feindflug, Triarii, Drumcorps.

            But some of it isn’t. OOIOO, Sielun Veljet, Boredoms, early Swans.

            There’s some rhythm-heavy metal out there, like Wreck of the Hesperus (I would’ve linked their song Prolix but it’s not on Youtube — it’s thirteen minutes long and half of that is a drum solo) and Liturgy.

          • Thank you, Nywdracu, Psmith!

            So, on the category level higher, apparently there is such a thing as Martial Industrial or Military Pop. Close, close, but not 100% what I meant, but at least I know what I am looking for: I would describe it as a “pagan/viking/tribal industrial”. Which according to Wiki is a large genre called Neofolk. Still not sure I am 100% there – why nobody describes Les Tambours Du Bronx like that? – but at least the territory to search is dramatically smaller now, thanks! This industrial stuff definitely sounds like something made by and for metal minds but funk groove ears, sort of.

            Interesting that when I was young industrial was kind of a big deal. Nitzer Ebb… Then in the nineties sort of everybody thought it was just a forerunner to the glory of techno and trance and we all are Gatecrasher kids now. Hm.

            Clanadonia, genres like Drums And Pipes, Fife And Drum Blues also looks like something I somehow never noticed before, thanks.

        • Tanks says:

          I wonder if I’m the only person who likes heavy rock but doesn’t find metal to be heavy. It just sounds like a lot of noise and hot air. More like a whooshing sound or something.

          Helmet sounds way heavier to me than Emperor for example.

          • Urstoff says:

            To be fair, John Stanier can make anything sound incredibly heavy. He’s one of the best rock drummers out there.

          • Tanks says:

            True, but even the later stuff with other drummers sounds extremely heavy to me. And I’ve seen them live a couple times in the past year or two, and the new drummer more than does justice to the old Stanier-era songs.

          • Anon says:

            Heaviness is probably a poor term as a genre umbrella. Emperor, and a lot of black metal in general IMO, is atmospheric. Boris is a metal band I would consider heavy, though.

            re Stanier: Saw Battles live once. Way heavier than anticipated. Albums and live video simply cant do it justice.

          • nydwracu says:

            Not all metal is supposed to be heavy — in fact, most metal subgenres don’t try. Black metal tends to be atmospheric, death metal has gotten more and more technical over time, and so on. Emperor is atmospheric black metal, so of course it’s not heavy.

            Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s manifesto basically said that metal developed teleologically toward maximum heaviness, but reached it with black metal and so had nowhere else to go, except (for whatever reason) toward nihilism. So Liturgy doesn’t try to be heavy, and this is presented as some sort of great breakthrough — except that’s nothing new, given that Eluveitie and Korpiklaani are basically pop bands now (cf. blues -> R&B), techdeath exists (cf. blues -> jazz), there’s a significant strain in black metal going all the way back to Burzum (hasn’t Varg said he was influenced by Tangerine Dream?) that doesn’t even try to be heavy, and so on.

            On the other hand, you do have bands like Whourkr and Shining (both Shinings, really) that productively approach heaviness from a different direction. Hungry Hungry-Hippo makes a big deal out of introducing dynamic modulation into metal, but Shining has been doing that for a long time, as has Harvey Milk, which does try to be heavy… and which recorded a standard rock album. (This and this are by the same band.)

          • Tanks says:

            I’ll check those bands out later and see if they strike me as heavy (the ones you describe as heavy, I mean).

            I’ve tried to deconstruct heaviness a bit. Here’s an incomplete list of elements that I’d say “tend to contribute” to heaviness in rock music:

            – riffs/melodies not confined to one key or mode, preferably with unconventional chord progressions
            – large dynamic contrast: loud/rough punctuated by soft/smooth, with a ratio of between 4 and 6 to 1 (respectively)
            – sparser use of the sonic spectrum (no “wall of sound”) and mostly simpler chords
            – melody rather than noise
            – lyrical content that is not theatrical, on-the-nose, and isn’t deliberately stupid or silly. Nonsense is better than whiny.
            – vocals pretty much have to be a husky male voice (sorry ladies), almost exclusively singing (this means he needs some ability to sing in tune), and the few times he doesn’t sing it has to be yelling–not screaming. There’s nothing heavy about screeching like a bird or belching like a frat boy.

            You can also think of this list in the converse: if the opposite is true of the music then it probably isn’t heavy.

            I was going to add an item up there about tempo, but tempo’s complicated–at least, too complicated for one item. Maybe it’s more like this:

            – Slow: has to just be full-on brutal, and the drumming has to carry it more.
            – Medium: can groove a bit, but needs a lot of dynamic contrast.
            – Fast tempo: also needs lots of dynamic contrast, also needs extra audio spectrum minimalism, and must do all this while not sounding like punk. Shouldn’t sound “fun”.

          • Tanks says:

            OK, I listened to those Harvey Milk links. The first one wasn’t heavy at all, the second one sorta tried to be a couple times (I skipped around) but never really got off the ground. It doesn’t help that their singer is completely tone-deaf and sorta groans rather than sings. Reminds me of Courtney Love’s vocal style.

            Do you have links to examples of heaviness from those other bands?

          • nydwracu says:

            I was selecting for contrast rather than heaviness there; otherwise I would’ve linked this. The vocal style is intentional.

            For Shining (NOR), here’s a King Crimson cover — they were a jazz band before they shifted to metal, so their songwriting tends to be wanky. If you switched out the vocals and replaced the saxophone with another guitar, you’d have a standard hard rock cover. Not sure why I listed the other Shining.

            I assume you don’t count grindcore as heavy, so that rules out Whourkr, but here’s a link anyway.

          • Montfort says:

            When someone is primarily looking for heaviness, I find gojira is always worth a shot. I’m not sure if it fits your definition exactly, but if it doesn’t, it’d be an interesting point of departure, at least.

            ETA: nydwracu, I found the Whourkr link very enjoyable.

          • Any thoughts about the relationship between heavy metal and prog rock? Blackwater Park sounded to me like at least half prog rock.